I am the will of Crandolph Fitzgerald-Mayhew. I am also the devourer of Crandolph Fitzgerald-Mayhew. While his good-for-nothing spawn plotted to cut off his air supply or subtly induce an aneurysm, all I had to do was wait until visiting hours were over and slide out of the valise he’d requested from the estate lawyer. It was child’s play to crawl up the hospital bed and tear into his flesh.
Today, his children have gathered in the towering home of their patriarch to decide the fate of his estate, and they have only just realized that none of them have me. I peer out from under the scale model of his third wife’s second yacht on the mantelpiece. With as many of my eyes as I can slide out from underneath, I watch.
All parties present are vying for large chunks of the estate, and the screaming began as soon as they walked in the door. Now, the many peons of my late master scatter through the house to track down the piece of paper that could be the difference between upper class and upper middle class. I unfurl myself and begin my hunt.
Slithering across the floor of the library, I make my way to the far side of the room and lock my many eyes on my first victim: Ebenezer Fitzgerald-Mayhew.
Ebenezer first scans the shelves devoted to 19th-century Russian ornithological illustrations, slowly moving on to the section on the history of the railroad system in Central America, and then the roomful of books arguing that the moon landing was faked. After the speculative catalogs of far-future rake designs, he gets bored and moves on to the liquor wing, where I wait, sipping a whiskey older than Crandolph’s great grandfather.
Ebenezer grabs a bottle of his father’s shittiest liquor (which still costs more than his house). He sits down, opens the bottle, and quietly practices his in-progress diss-track of the 45th president of the United States, who once fired him with a Tweet.
I slide under his chair, nudging the heel of his cheap loafer. He bends to pick me up, and I play dead, like an innocent piece of paper. He begins to scan my contents, drink in hand, when I spring into action. The vocal cords take precedence here, as Ebenezer’s prolific rap career has already produced over 40 tracks of what is essentially the same song. I saw him a lot during Crandolph’s elderly attempts to reconnect with his children, and if I have to hear one more time about his epic quest to “mack honeys,” I might need to have my ears stapled down.
Once his throat is torn open, I dive mouth-first into his chest, tearing and ripping at any skin I can sink a fang into. He’s too stupid to scream, opting instead to douse me in house-priced vodka that smells like lighter fluid. I only bite harder, crunching bone in my maw as I burrow deeper into his chest. I am dripping in gore and liquor when I finally reach his heart and bite down hard. Ebenezer gives one last pathetic squelch of breath before slumping back into his chair, never to mumble another rap verse.
I spit up a few bones and teeth, cleanse my palate with some aged cheese and a fine dipping mustard, and slink onward to the hall of music.
Here, Cereal Milk Fitzgerald-Mayhew—who went by Thomas until one fateful night of hotboxing a houseboat in his 40s—tries to play one of the organs. Massive, discordant noises boom through the hall, ringing in each piano, bouncing off the strings of each and every cello, theremin, standing bass, and Stradivarius. I creep among the instruments, watching him—waiting. He turns away from the organ and reaches for a contrabass flute, and I pounce. I take his head in one bite; I take the rest of him in countless small, well-mannered ones. He tastes like natural deodorant and those plastic bead bracelets they hand out at raves.
The last of Crandolph’s children is Josephine, named after his favorite mistress. (Well, Josephine isn’t quite the last–not yet. On my way to the eggs and breakfast meats kitchen, where she’s hunting for me, I bump into Jen. She’s the one Crandolph tried to keep out of the tri-annual portraits. I forget I saw her before I finish eating her.)
Josephine poses the biggest challenge to both myself and her siblings (or at least she did when they were alive). She ran rings around them in life, securing a high-powered position at an elite law firm by the time she was twenty-three, and she’s always frightened me because she wears very pointy heels and has a nervous habit of tearing up bits of paper.
She stands in front of the stove, inspecting every nook and cranny of the kitchen for dust or dirt. Her father added numerous special clauses to the many drafts of his will over the years to try to keep her from finding a loophole to screw her siblings out of their fair share, but she still thinks of the house as her own.
I creep around the kitchen’s edges before barreling towards her at top speed. She screams when I make contact, and I gag on the mouthful of hair I’ve gotten in the process. A hard bite to her shoulder takes a chunk out and brings her to the ground. She continues screaming as I take bites at random, savoring the last of the Fitzgerald-Mayhew bloodline. A final bite to the femoral artery is all it takes to bring down the harshest member of the whole family. A shame really; I thought she’d put up more of a fight.
Crandolph wasn’t the kind of man who had friends. His relatives—except for a few extremely distant cousins—now rest in pieces in my papery stomach. So the mansion he spent his life building will lie abandoned, or at least it’ll appear to.
I’m not going anywhere, of course. Here, I have cabinets of scotch to drink, endless rooms of beautiful books to befriend, a bunkerful of Cuban cigars to smoke. And soon, perhaps a few inquiring cousins, or lawyers, or illegitimate children to eat. Maybe the military will lay siege to the house after hearing of me, and I’ll get to devour an entire nation’s armed forces.
And if not, this place will become the subject of a thousand ghost stories. Imagine how many tourists and daring teenagers will sneak in, never to be seen again.
I can’t wait.
Isaac Fox and Abbie Hoffer are students at Lebanon Valley College. This is the first time they’ve ever written a short story in less than an hour.
i walk across plush, emerald grass. cool dew and soft earth kiss my calloused feet, and i feel grounded. concrete. i slip on my sandals and continue forward. it’s only 4:30, but the sky is already beginning to turn a hazy pink. and while part of me misses lingering summer evenings, i feel lucky that i don’t have to wait so long anymore for my favorite time of day. i gaze at the clouds made silhouette by the setting sun and try to absorb the sweet stillness around me. i come across a puddle. i love puddles. i especially love the way they reach into the ground and unearth the sky.
my sandals are in my hand again. i can hear the sound of water, unrelenting and also gentle. maternal. nearing the fountain, i welcome sharp pinches of gravel as my toes flick up sand. clouds of dust envelop me and reach toward the sky as though they know her. i teeter on the edge of the fountain before i lower myself into the biting ripples. they wash my feet, and i wonder if this is how it feels to heal. cleansing, necessary, harsh. i am reminded of an old negro spirtual as i stand in the water, and i decide that this is healing. i decide that this is hallowed ground.
it’s dark now. the new navy sky shakes its head, as the last street light flickers on. late, like me. my feet are no longer wet and are no longer bare, so i walk. i find myself under my favorite tree. once, a friend cautioned me to ask permission before plucking leaves from low-hanging branches, and i chuckled. but now i enjoy my conversations with trees who sit low enough for me to greet them. tonight, my leaf is a small one. a quiet ache courses through my shoulders, tickles my spine, and squeezes my calves. my body asks for rest.
inhale. i take a moment to trace constellations and think of the moon, suspended. i think of her and feel with her. understanding that our brilliance is little without the light of our mothers. exhale. i keep moving. green and purple flowers lace like fingers through a chain link fence, and i know i am almost home. i let my leaf drift onto the ground, giving her back to the earth. for the last time, i am barefoot again. i lift myself up the five small steps to my house and leave one home to enter another.
And a squeaky voice, clambering up beside her ear, pushing paper into her face. “I made you a pitcher!”
The days were gray and the nights were navy, a pool seeping into her bones and compressing her lungs. Tears fell because words could not, exhaustion made eating too much and bathing a forgotten past time. The guilt of it all, because she could not fight through what immersed her, was plum. Like bruises. Like storming skies. Like the witching hour, when the sound of her thoughts was too much.
But the tiny body lying on hers? The giggles and the cuddles and the divine peace that settled in when they read together?
These were yellow. Nala was yellow.
“Hey Nala-roo, Mommy’s not feeling good today. Let’s go eat our lunch okay? We can come check on her later-” Cyrus was orange. They’d been married for seven years, and still he turned up in the most unexpected ways. He knew, somehow, when she needed quiet. He was blood orange then, dependable and rich. And then, when washing her hair was a heavy thing and her limbs were frozen, there was the bright tangerine. Bringing her plates of things easy on a queasy stomach. Brushing a warm kiss against her temple.
Liv herself had been red, always. Crimson and extreme. Her love for him was like cinnamon and her pain was a rust that bled into wine. She could be coy and a handful of cherries he loved to nibble on. Her eyes had been red-rimmed and her nose like a fire engine in the frigid air when he got down on one knee.
And then three years after that, here came the sun, rising on a day like no other.
“But I wanna show mommy my picture!”
“I know sweetie. But we can do that after.”
Her little girl was a bright, bursting thing. Nala’s laughter was like the sunshine’s warmth pressing into you during the summer. It came from deep down in her belly, her round cheeks scrunching as something amused her. The little smooches good night, the sleepy arms around Liv’s neck in the morning were the same golden as fresh bread.
“Give her a kiss and let’s go eat.”
And on days like this one, when her eyes saw only charcoal and sepia, Nala’s refusal to give up on her mother or let her drown was whipped butter. Yellow’s palest shade, there if you were to squint, rich for a reason you could not name.
A lump under the covers and then a sticky little mouth kissing her cheek. The dim bulb strengthened. Liv’s arms encircled the small body, pet thick dark curls.
“Do you feel better now mommy?”
The charcoal was fading, more mist. Liv was teetering and tired. It wasn’t perfect. But her heart warmed.
“Nala, will you help mommy paint her toes?”
“Mmhm. What color should mommy do?”
I’m 27, drink too much tea and trying to train my dog and rabbit to be ghost writers for me. When not working my 2 jobs I enjoy knitting, crying over fictional characters and short walks on the beach
Every inch of my skin had been scorched by the sun’s rays. The high temperatures were evaporating a lot of moisture from the air. I felt as if I were submerged in a hot spring’s mist, making it difficult to breathe. I glanced out into the bleachers, where the fans were expecting me – the game’s final inning pitcher – until I heard my mom cheering me on from the sidelines. As I dragged my feet from the dugout to the mound’s center, spinning the ball between my fingers, it felt like I was miles away. My heart was racing, my hands trembled, and I was perspiring profusely like a porous ‘pitcher’. As soon as I walked atop the mound, my muscles and bones sprang in a surge of vigor. I took advantage of my strong power by swerving around to face the catcher’s glove, which was perfectly positioned behind home plate. I inhaled deeply and braced myself.
About six months ago, when no one else on my team could, I began pitching. No pitcher, no game – I was desperately needed at first, but I’ve loved every minute of it since. ‘New pitcher, watch her!’ yelled someone from the opposing team right in my face during an earlier game. I was enraged, but I continued to pitch as if nothing had happened. The ball, on the other hand, did not always stay by my side. When I got home from that game, I scribbled ‘listen or lose’ on the ball and trained it in my backyard, rain or shine, day or night. I hoped that one day, ‘the ball’ would become ‘my ball’.
My summer tournament season would be over if we lost this game. I wouldn’t be surprised if Tsunami, a higher-ranked team, defeated my team Hailstorm. It was a huge draw for us though to be the underdogs, or even to pull off a major upset against them. We fought like warriors, hitting, sliding, and stealing bases as we left cloud-forming dust trails in the air. At the end of the third inning, we were all tied. My courage grew as the game progressed into the final inning. After striking out the first two batters, I was on the verge of striking out the third. If I made it, my team would win by just one point! Unfortunately, the ball was then struck by a ‘heat stroke’. The third batter took a swing at my third strike ball but failed to connect. I dashed towards the ball as the catcher spun back to dive for it, hoping to keep it from hitting the ground. The ball, however, was moving too quickly for a save. I couldn’t do much but watch the ball fly through the air. The batter sped across the diamond like an arrow on a string, arriving safely ahead of the ball at first base. Hailstorms were heartbroken, and I wasn’t myself anymore. Tsunamis began wreaking havoc on all bases, including home. In the end, we came up just short. Without the ball in my glove, tears streamed down my cheeks as a wave of sadness swept through our team. The season seemed to be coming to an end, but I knew I’d given it my all, as had ‘the ball’. I was proud of what I had accomplished, and more importantly, I had thoroughly enjoyed the entire experience.
Tsunami’s coach surprised me a week later by inviting me to the season’s final tournament with his team. We played in the sweltering heat for hours again, until nearly midnight. But this time, after overcoming the difficult loser bracket, we came in second place! Soon after, I received my FIRST tournament ring, and ‘the ball’ was dubbed ‘my ball’. I was exhausted, but as I dozed off in the car with my pals held tightly in my palms, I whispered, ‘Although I’m very pleased with my ball for earning me my ring in the second tournament, I was also proud of myself in the first when the heat stroke stole my ball away.’
As I reflected on my newly discovered softball path, my ball entertained me while also teaching me how to overcome obstacles, be my best self, and never give up. Success doesn’t come easily, and it’s more of a byproduct of my life’s experiences than a goal. Regardless of the outcome, my friends and I are always on the road.
Your mom keeps your door shut. The stale smoke packs your room like canned beans stowed away for the end of the world. Your bed looks like we climbed out of it late this morning. I steal one of your last t-shirts, crumpled like you threw it to the floor only a day ago.
Hurrying to work, I throw it on and search for a forgotten scrunchie, a hair band I left before you boarded your plane.
I snap a photo of a photo: you with the long hair I told your barracks friends you kept before you had to buzz it, proudly sharing the parts of you I knew before the you they know now.
I close your door one last time, walk to the top of the staircase, and out the front door, where
your mom has begun removing summer’s garden decorations: a simple wind chime, a tin watering can, a bowling ball covered in shiny pennies, each carefully placed.
After the winter, they’ll again find homes along a stone path, jagged yellow flowers, patches of budding greens.
Allison Bliss is a 26-year-old living in Miami. But not for long. @ms.bearimy
The Motel signs boasts “Color TV.” The rooms fan out in two wings; outside of Room 4, a caked string mop stands propped against a statute of Santa in a cowboy hat, a pot of dead chrysanthemums at his feet. On the sidewalk in front of Room 12, a decapitated reindeer head lays nestled inside an Easter basket among faded strips of plastic grass. In the window of the Main Office, a Halloween spiderweb catches a few pieces of tinsel, blown about by the air conditioner. The fuel gauge in my car reads “helpless.” I pull in.
Elizabeth M. George is the author of Glass Teepee (Gallery of Readers Press, 2017), a collection of short fiction.
To all the humans who hooked up with me once, then never spoke to me again, it’s okay. To all the humans I hooked up with once, then never spoke to again, I’m sorry. I’m sorry we couldn’t have been more than we were. I’m 29 and have always known I was dying. I hope I made you feel alive for a second. My nerves hurt, and my body may or may not be failing. But no matter how bad the sex was, Or how much we hated each other in the end, I know you were human like me.
Graham L. Bishop (ze/him) is a queer writer on the autism spectrum living in the South. You can find zim on Twitter at @animalcosmonaut or Instagram at @grahammatology.