The Ghost Town Robbery

Photo by Matthew Henry on Unsplash

I want to make it clear that this story mentions suicide.

Eight days. 

That’s how long it took for Farzana to reach this town. She came to the right place. Remote, but not in the middle of nowhere. She could blend in if she ever would need to. A town everyone left during the day to go to work. 

She parked her car at the very end of the street. Strictly speaking, it wasn’t hers, it was her foster parents’. Her seventh. The ones that she ran away from eight days ago. The ones that probably worried more about their car’s whereabouts than their foster daughter’s safety. Fuck that. 

She opened the glove compartment and took out her five-dollar ski mask, the most she could afford. She didn’t mind. After this, she would have more than she needed. She pulled on the mask and turned the mirror towards her. She snickered. She looked hideous. She looked even less like a professional robber and more like a lost twelve-year-old. Then she reached the back seat of her car and dragged out her ragged skateboard. It took a bit of effort. At least I’ll look like a cool twelve-year-old. It had a cartoonish cat drawn on it and a middle finger painted above. She didn’t even remember how she got it, or when. 

She took a deep breath and stepped out of the car. The empty street made the houses look like a collective ghost town. She walked across the street in broad daylight. Running was a bad idea. She slipped behind the first house she laid eyes on. 

She peered inside. The lights weren’t on. But she had to make sure. For another thirty seconds, she carefully listened to any signs of people inside, but heard none. This is it. She lifted her skateboard above her head and thrusted it towards the window. The skateboard simply bounced back. She quickly looked around. Still no one. She leaned the skateboard backwards as much as she could and tried again. 

The window shattered dramatically, some of the pieces landing on Farzana’s hands and feet. 

“Fuck!” she whispered. 

At least it was enough for her to open the window by reaching inside. Abandoning her skateboard outside the house, which she didn’t care about anyway, she climbed inside. She hadn’t used it how it was supposed to, not since graduating from middle school. 

The house was eerily dark, suffering from a severe lack of windows. Too organized, too. Farzana wrinkled her nose in disgust. It reminded her of the house of her fifth foster parents. They were freaks. She would never let her own house be this clean, if she would ever live in one.

She sneaked towards the kitchen counter to her right. Marble. Ugh. There was barely anything on the surface. Do these people even cook? She crouched lower to touch the handle of a drawer. Maybe she would find priceless dishes inside that she knew people never use. She hesitated. Her hand pulled the drawer open. 

Hunter woke to the sound of breaking glass. The first thing he did when he stood up was to rummage through the boxes in his closet. Then he found it. A Glock 41. He had kept this gun for years, letting dust settle on it for occasions exactly like this. Even his girlfriend didn’t know about it. 

It sucked that Alma wasn’t here today. He didn’t like being alone, especially not now. He loaded his gun. He quietly slipped through his already open bedroom door, fingers closing around the pistol. 

More sounds came from below. Is it the kitchen?

It sounded like it was. 

His socks made not a sound as he moved down the carpeted stairs, one by one. He raised his arms, pistol held steadily in front of him. He knew what he was doing. He had had practice. If anything came in his or Alma’s way, he would not hesitate to shoot. 

When he reached the last step, his eyes took in his new surroundings. A shattered window, for instance. He groaned. How much did he have to pay for that? 

He knew it was a girl, because the figure in front of him had a yellow hoodie and black jeans with incredibly long and extremely untidy hair that bounced off her back as she opened drawer after drawer. 

“Turn the fuck around!”

She didn’t. Instead, her hand reached towards the knives gathered together and grabbed the handle of the biggest one.

Bang.

He missed his first shot. The girl turned around, her eyes wide — 

Bang. Bang. Bang. Bang.

Five shots. Three hits. Not bad. It was over in less than five seconds. Her body slid down the floor, blood soaking the front of her hoodie. She had a ski mask on. He smirked. He leisurely walked towards the body and yanked the mask off his intruder’s face. 

It was his girlfriend’s face. 

He dropped his pistol. Clonk. He froze, his eyes wild with unsettled confusion. His hands trembled as he slowly reached for her face, then shook it from side to side. 

“What have I done?”

Before he knew it, his hands were full of kitchen towels. He dropped to his knees. He tried desperately and uselessly to clean up the endless stream of blood pouring onto the previously spotless kitchen floor. 

“I don’t understand.”

He moaned, his face in his hands, body rocking back and forth. For how long he stood there, he wasn’t aware. But less time had passed than he thought did as he heard the distant jingle of keys from the direction of the front door. 

Who else? Hunter picked the pistol back up with his hands now caked with dried blood. He was ready. Soon enough, the door opened. 

“Hunter? Hunter, what the —“

Bang.

Alma grabbed her right arm with a piercing scream. 

Bang.

“You’re not real.” The pistol shook in Hunter’s hands. Tears streamed down his face. His eyes were unfocused, staring at something outside of this world. “You were fucking dead, Alma.”

Bang.

Alma dropped to the ground, lifeless like a stuffed doll. “I killed you. You’re not real. You’re not real.” 

Bang.

“You’re not real.” 

Hunter paused. He pressed the barrel to his head.

Bang.

Silence. 

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The Gifted

Photo by Andrey Zvyagintsev on Unsplash

Smack. A frantic warning. A screech. A brief headache. That was all Dinah remembered as she lay on the crosswalk. She was not alone. A shopping bag. Rose petals scattered all over the place, getting trampled by the people surrounding her. She grimaced. That was Aliya’s gift for her birthday, which happened to be today. Just my luck.

She opened her eyes. Dramatic gasps soon followed from the crowd. 

“She should be dead.”

“The tires went over her neck.”

But she was alive. In fact, she felt even better. She blinked once, then again, and stood up, much to everyone’s astonishment, including hers. Not even a limp. Red in the face, Dinah scooped the shopping bag from the ground and fought her way through the crowd. 

A woman grabbed her shoulder, forcing her to turn around. If Dinah could guess, she was around thirty five. Judging by her attire, she was just back from work. She should’ve kept walking. 

“You should go lie back down,” she said. 

“But the driver?” 

The woman averted her gaze. “He’s… hurt. More than he should be, actually. It’s weird. Apparently nasty, too. But are you okay?”

Dinah impatiently nodded. “I’m fine.” 

Ignoring the woman’s attempts to embarrass her further, she walked faster until she reached a corner. Then she dug her phone out, sighing when she realized that it, unlike her, had not been spared from the accident. 

A day later, and it was still broken beyond hope. She felt its absence when she walked down the stairs leading to her biology class. She should have been texting Aliya then, a minute or two before Mr. Hernandez would force her to put it down. 

She was still feeling sorry for the rose petals she left behind when her footsteps slowed down. The sea of students behind didn’t. She missed a step. Before she knew it, her arms were flailing in the air, and she lurched down towards the staircase. Face first. 

One. Dinah heard her own name, repeated twice. Two. Not again. Three. It took her three seconds to tumble down to the third floor. She got up, straightening her shirt, hoping that people would have continued their way forward by now, but of course they had to stand around her. She felt her face heat up. She groaned. She didn’t enjoy attention, not in the slightest. 

“Don’t worry about me,” she insisted, but the worried looks on their faces did not change. “I’m serious. I have to get to class.”

She tried her best to act like nothing happened while she walked towards the classroom with all eyes on her. Just like yesterday, her body felt even better than before. Almost like she had been healed. 

Heal. That was the word she was looking for. There was no other explanation that could be made. She could heal herself. She was invincible. She could jump in front of a hundred cars and still emerge without a scratch. That didn’t cheer her up. But what if she could use it for the greater good? To help someone? 

When she opened the door to the classroom, two seats were missing instead of one. So I’m not the latest, Dinah thought, relieved. 

“Sydney’s not here today,” Mr. Hernandez clarified. “She felt sick and had to go home.” 

Oh. Sydney. No one reacted. She was the kind of girl that would say exactly that and then book a three-day trip to the Bahamas. Alone.

Her new abilities did not stop her from dozing through the entire lecture, and nor did Mr. Hernandez. By the time she woke up, everyone was already leaving the room in a line, towards the auditorium where the speech contest was about to be held. All seniors were required to attend. Why, she thought as she hastily packed her bag and jogged to keep up with the rest of the class.

They were almost the latest to arrive. Dinah knew this because they sat on the third to last row. Next to her was Taylor, who was friendly enough to make way for her as she made an excuse to go to the bathroom. She didn’t actually use it. She just stayed there as long as she thought was socially acceptable and quietly returned to her seat. 

The podium was replaced by three more speakers by then, and this time it was Ivana, the gymnast. She said something about a metaphor and gymnastics and life and everyone laughed. Except for Dinah, who was too busy counting the minutes until the end of Ivana’s speech. 

Dinah had had enough. Her head drooped to the side. Then a single bang. Ivana stopped speaking. Dinah jerked back up. The entire auditorium squeaked as people turned in their seats. A girl in a black jacket and mask had her gun out. Towards Taylor. Taylor.

Taylor obviously knew her, because he wasn’t as surprised as the rest. The crowd erupted, some screaming in terror, some shouting, “Gun!” and others just running out of the auditorium. The shooter wasn’t interested in stopping them. She calmly loaded her gun and pointed it back at Taylor. More panic.

Taylor grabbed Dinah’s right arm, visibly shaking. His eyes locked with the shooter in a silent plea. Dinah did the same, except the shooter wasn’t paying attention to her. She knew what she had to do. She looked around. Half the auditorium was already missing. Others were in the process leaving. Only several people stayed behind, staring at the back of the shooter in terror, frozen in each of their places. 

Dinah yanked her arm out of Taylor’s grip, lunged towards the gun with both her arms extended, and the shooter pulled the trigger: bang, screams, crying. 

Dinah stumbled back in her chair. Her vision went black. She touched her head. There was a distant ringing in her ears. She heard something drop to the floor next to her. The gun.

Then as if by miracle, her eyes snapped back open. Her heart was still beating. Beating fast. Instead of the shooter was a black mask on the ground. Dinah opened her mouth in shock, then in celebration. She did it, we did it, she was about to tell —

Taylor. His body sank lower and lower, blood gurgling out of his neck. It was Taylor all right, but not the Taylor she wanted to see, expected to see, had to see. Dinah’s face turned white. This didn’t make any sense.

Then she thought of the woman, the driver she mentioned that was hurt more than he should’ve been, then Sydney, and she realized that her power was no more than a curse. 

A curse that she herself was forbidden to suffer from. 

More people filled the auditorium, staring at Taylor, then at her, expressions changing from shock to anger. “Look, I can explain this, there’s something that I didn’t —”

But her words were drowned out by a chant that started with two people but was soon joined by others, and Dinah tried to raise her voice, but the people moved in closer. They soon surrounded her, all chanting the same thing, singing:

“Murderer! Murderer! Murderer!”

Mental Illness

Photo by Artem Kim on Unsplash

the monster is awake.
it is a bad day.
it reaches inside my cage,
it starts clawing me,
I tell it to stop.
it replies back, you deserve it.
you are nothing,
you are pathetic,
you are despicable.
I open my mouth to scream,
but all that comes out is, I agree.

I make my way to the monster,
because I deserve it.
I deserve the monster.
but the monster goes slack.

I turn around, and tied to a bar
is a balloon. it is a good day.
I say, the balloon isn’t real.
it’s too good to be true.
I am afraid of it,
afraid it would pop,
afraid it would float away.

so again, I make my way to the monster,
because I would rather feel something
than nothing at all.
the monster lifts its head.
our eyes meet, and I am not sure
if I am the monster, or the monster is me.

it is a bad day.
it is a good day.
it is neither.
I am not sure, not anymore.

Witchcraft

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

Cassandra was more than ten minutes late for her debate club. Not that she really cared. She was sure no one would even notice. She buttoned the last of her shirt and was about to place her hand on the handle of her door when a loud thump interrupted her. She spun around. On her previously spotless bedroom floor lay the almanac that she forgot to put in her bag. She glanced at the open window and back at the book. Just a freak coincidence, she firmly told herself. 

“Are you going anywhere today, Cass?” her dad asked from the kitchen. He was busy rummaging through the kitchen cabinets, opening them one by one. His back wasn’t even turned. 

“Yeah, I’m attending a meeting, nothing too serious, and then I’m meeting a friend.”

“Alisha?” he asked, referring to the girl she brought home often when they were in sixth grade. He did not approve of Alisha’s electric blue hair then, and he probably still did not, because he remembered her and her only. 

She laughed. “Alisha’s not my only friend, Dad.” 

She glanced at her mom’s unfinished work still standing on the kitchen counter. Her creations were often so intricate, so delicate that they took Cassandra’s breath away, and this one was no different. Eleanor King was quite the mechanic. A witch, as she called herself. “I can make anything for you and your dad,” she used to say. That sentence modified itself as she started arguing with her husband on a daily basis. Cassandra thought she even heard screams of pain sometimes coming from her parents’ room. Her dad was too nice to fight back, she guessed. When her mom left three days ago, along with half of the family’s income, it was probably a relief for her dad, but she could have at least left an explanation or a warning so he could have prepared himself. Well, she didn’t. 

She rolled her chair back and forth, barely even listening to the team captain’s lecture. She would’ve watched the ant on the wooden floor carry its single crumb all the way to the other side of the room if her phone hadn’t pulled her back with a ding. It was her dad. He wanted her to get peanut butter. She typed back, Sure. It wasn’t like her plans with Olivia were until thirty minutes later, anyway. So she didn’t mind. She felt like she couldn’t. Besides, this was a good excuse to leave the group. She stood up. 

“Guys, I’m sorry but I think I have to go and run some errands.” 

No one even looked up. Cassandra shrugged and pushed the glass doors open. 

She had never been here in the supermarket before. The place was huge and unusually empty for its size. She walked past at least ten aisles before she found the condiments section, or at least part of it. She decided to start from the left. 

Clonk. A plastic jar fell to the floor out of the corner of her eye. Not believing what just happened, she stood frozen to the ground, staring at the jar before she managed to move again. She slowly walked over and picked the jar up. It was Skippy. Her dad’s favorite brand of peanut butter. 

Her mind was completely blank. She clutched the jar tighter in her hand, then shook her head. She obviously missed someone standing next to her. They probably dropped the jar and didn’t put it back because they didn’t want to deal with it. It was the work of an irresponsible customer, not some Interstellar shit or whatever else came to her mind. If there was something that deserved her attention, it was not that peanut butter. She paid for it and hurriedly left the store before she let anything else happen to her. She walked faster than normal. And then she ran. 

Cassandra arrived at Burger King before five minutes even passed, too early to just sit and wait, especially considering how Olivia had a history of arriving late. She decided to get herself coke to pass time. The employee in red uniform came back in less than a minute to hand her the cup. With her purse, shopping bag and cup in both of her hands, she stared longingly at the straw dispenser to her right. 

“Can I help you with anything?”

“No, I—”

Her words were cut off when a single straw dropped down with a pop. 

“What the fuck?” she said out loud. The employee stared at her. 

“Sorry,” Cassandra muttered, barely grabbing the straw with two fingers. She returned to her seat, her eyes barely focused on the coke or anything else in particular. This was no coincidence. It just wasn’t. Someone was following her. Someone capable of tricking gravity. If a person told her yesterday that this was possible, she would have laughed in their face. But this was real. It was real, and it was happening to her. She frantically looked around her, looking for the safest possible space. The bathroom. Coke forgotten on the table, she headed towards the bathroom, trying her best to act casual, her hands in her pockets. 

When she opened the door and stepped inside, she knew she made a major mistake when a single sheet of tissue fell from its container, accompanied by a disturbing whir. She heard locks clicking. She had locked herself in. 

“Who the hell are you?” 

Silence. 

She turned to the stalls, one closed and the other open. Curiosity won over fear. She approached the left stall and yanked the door open. She screamed, hands over her mouth. Sitting on the toilet, legs apart, covered with streams of blood, eyes wide open, was the victim of a murder, stabbed multiple times in the chest. 

It was her dad. 

“Dad!” she wailed as she held his face in her hands, hoping that it would somehow wake him up, but those eyes did not blink once, and she knew it was too late to save him. 

“Who did this to you?” she whispered, her voice hoarse. 

A sick sense of recognition got hold of her as her suspicions pointed towards the only person that cared enough about her dad to kill him. But her speculations did not last long as a distant banging on the door intensified, and the door finally gave way with a loud creak as one of the local police officers kicked it open. 

“Turn around! Put your hands above your head! Now!” 

She obeyed, taking her hands off the lifeless body as tears streamed down her face, putting her hands above her head. 

“I had nothing to do with this!” she screamed, but the police officer ignored her as he practically dragged her out of the bathroom. Her kicking stopped, her mouth hanging open in shock when she saw her mom sitting on the nearest table, all alone. 

Eleanor smiled. 

I Came Looking for the Flowers

Photo by Jonas Weckschmied on Unsplash

The low hum of pipes and random machinery, added to the occasional creaks and constant dripping, meant that there was no such thing as silence in the house. But once, not one of these was loud enough to be heard during the day. Her brother, being the three-year-old he was, used to dominate the house with his giggles. It was unbearable then. Now, she needed it. 

When she put on the last of her clothing, a light fleece jacket, she was all set. She put one hand in her pocket and the other on the handle of her door, stopping only when a slight whir broke the atmosphere. She opened the door wide. It was her family’s old Roomba, sitting in the corner of the kitchen with balls of dust settled on its once shiny surface. 

But there was no one in the house. 

She shook her head and moved past the kitchen. But the Roomba came to life, lurching forward, and she took a hurried step back, then two. She grabbed the glass of orange juice she left on the counter, gripping it tighter as the Roomba came closer. She closed her eyes shut and flung the glass blindly towards the robot vacuum. The glass shattered into a hundred pieces, orange juice all over the floor and on her jeans. She didn’t have time to care. She lunged towards the back door. The Roomba ruthlessly ground on the remains of the glass, keeping its distance from her, almost as if on purpose. 

She slammed the door behind her. 

The Roomba banged itself against the door. Thump. Thump. She walked confidently away, knowing that unless the robot vacuum was from Metalhead, it wouldn’t be able to make it through. But the banging refused to stop. Thump. 

She pulled the door open. 

The Roomba happily glided past her to wade through the grass, tall and uneven because no one made an effort to trim it, and stopped where the dandelions were gathered. She stiffened. Everything in front of her was a copied scene from the past, except for the absence of her brother, who used to snatch the remote from their mother and laugh and run away from her as the Roomba zipped past her fingers and rammed itself into the flowerbed—

She stooped to pluck a dandelion. Its seeds swayed in the wind, some of them making their way into the sky. The Roomba moved left, then right, almost as if shrugging, then forwards, towards the flowers that her mother used to care for, emphasis on used, but staggered as a violent rustling sound overtook it, and she, trembling, pulled a black plastic bag from under the robot vacuum’s wheels— it lifted itself, ever so slightly, almost as if thrusting its imaginary arms in the air.

I Don’t Want to Be in the Dark

Photo by Cody Schneider on Unsplash

Before anyone reads this story, I want to make it very clear that this story mentions suicide.

The first thing Harlow did when she woke up on a Tuesday morning was to check her Instagram. No notifications, but she pressed that little heart on the bottom of the screen anyway, immediately crestfallen at the lack of support, though she anticipated this long before she went to sleep. She clicked on her profile and scrolled through the dozens of posts, all of her singing into the cheap mic that her mother couldn’t be bothered to buy for her. It’s okay, she told herself. The tears in her eyes told her otherwise. She put on her best white blouse, then spent a little more time choosing which jeans to wear, but in the end picked her only black ones. It was unfortunate that her room was directly connected to the kitchen, because that was where her mother was waiting for her. 

“Harlow Shin.” Her mother crossed her arms. “Are you going to that singing competition?” 

Startled, Harlow stared at her. “How did you know?” 

“I think I told you to stop. How many times do I have to explain that singing doesn’t make us less poor? Are you really that selfish? What about me, what about the woman that her dead husband left behind?” 

Harlow pushed the front door open and ran out before her mother could say another word. 

When she arrived at school, there was already a sizable number of people gathered in front of the auditorium, and she realized that she probably should’ve come earlier. She thought she caught people reluctantly glancing at each other as they made way for her. Maybe it was just her paranoia tricking her. Not everything is about me, she forcefully reminded herself. 

The waiting room was full of people getting ready to perform, and she froze on the spot when she discovered Tara Abelman. Tara, whom she used to be friends with in eighth grade but decided to start the trend of abandoning her instead, stood with some of her equally popular friends, bending over and dramatically giggling. Harlow had nothing to do with them now. She tried her best to avoid them, but the room wasn’t large enough to stay out of their sight. Within a few seconds, Tara noticed her, and her eyes widened. She pretended she didn’t though, as she turned back to her friends and whispered something that was clearly audible to Harlow. 

“Does she seriously think she has a shot at this?” 

Claire, who was next to her, shot a glance at Harlow, and laughed. “Did you see her Instagram? She’s pathetic. Only nine followers and she’s still going.” 

“Shut up,” a girl she didn’t recognize frantically nudged them. “I think she can hear us.” 

Tara shrugged. “Who cares?” 

The tears that managed to stay in all morning were now too heavy not to betray Harlow by dropping to the floor. She didn’t have time to adjust herself, though, as the host called her name from the stage. She was first to perform. She had no choice but to wipe her face the best she could and push past Tara and her friends to come up to the stage. 

No one said anything as she tentatively fiddled with the mic. Not a single cheer. Not a word of encouragement. “I… I’d like to introduce my song, it’s called “Shadows,” and um…” Her voice broke. Hundreds of blank expressions greeted her. “I tried my best to make it reflect my emotions, like how fire and shadows work around each other, just like in all of our hearts…” She heard snickers. “So yeah. This is “Shadows,” and this is my favorite work as of yet.” 

She cleared her throat once again and straightened the mic. 

“… so I ran back to my fire

hoping it would burn brighter, 

but the shadows—”

She stopped. She could probably keep going if she tried, but she didn’t want to. “She’s pathetic.” Claire’s voice echoed in her head, over and over again until she couldn’t hold it anymore, and she let go of the mic, excusing herself from the stage as ghosts of laughter followed her into the waiting room. She picked up her pace and ran into the nearest classroom she could find. She dug out a small, portable speaker that she bought for herself on her birthday. She turned it on. 

Nobody wants to listen to her singing. Not her mom. Not Tara, who used to be her only friend. Now she doesn’t even have any friends. “Singing doesn’t help make us less poor.” “She’s pathetic.” Pathetic. She was pathetic. She doesn’t have anyone. Why should she? Why should she continue doing this anymore? 

With that question lingering in her head, she slowly walked over to the window, opened it, and looked down, softly singing along to the song that played from the speakers, her favorite song. She hesitated for a second, then two, but she’s had enough, enough, she thought as that last word pushed her to the edge, literally at that, and she fell, fell to the ground. Nobody told her not to. Nobody could. 

A loud noise followed, a deafening sound that a teacher in the hallway heard, to which she opened the door to the auditorium and screamed at Tara to stop, whose turn it was to sing. Students exchanged worried glances, some shocked, as they filed out the door and into the classroom, where the speaker was still going strong, and where the teacher was standing, looking out the window with her hands locked behind her head. 

Tara fought through the crowd to push the teacher aside and looked down too, which she regretted as she turned around to face the silenced crowd with tears in her eyes, tears that Harlow spilled less than ten minutes ago. She wordlessly pointed at the speaker, which played ominously in the background, breaking through the atmosphere, which finally got the audience its owner yearned for. 

“… so I ran back to my fire

hoping it would burn brighter, 

but the shadows came closer 

until they swallowed me but

I don’t want to be in the dark, 

I don’t want to be in the dark, 

I don’t want to be in the dark, 

I don’t want to—”

The Umbrella Story

Photo by Craig Whitehead on Unsplash

He stands next to the door, nervously tapping his fingers against the wall. It feels coarse, covered with unevenly spread paint. He watches as students file into the classroom, one by one. He can’t go in now. He needs them to fill the emptiness that he dreads so much to face.

No one seems to want to know why he does it. They don’t give him the slightest of stares as they pass him. Either they don’t notice him, or they don’t care. He is fine with both. But he glances around anyway to check if anyone is looking. His eyes meet the wall next to the long row of lockers, expecting to be greeted by a familiar smudge of orange. Instead, what he finds staring back at him is a blank wall painted grey. 

His hand absentmindedly reaches the inside of his pocket. His eulogy sits there, carefully folded, opened only once in its short lifetime. He opens it again. 

“She used to have this umbrella since we were both so young,” it reads. “It is, to this day, the most orange umbrella I have ever seen. One of the earliest memories I have of her is her swinging that umbrella in the rain. Rain splattered all over our faces, but I didn’t mind.” Written in pencil over that was, “Actually, I did.” It proved to be a nice addition, as people shared laughs when he read that in her sister’s funeral. 

He skims through the rest of the eulogy, a poorly written series of sentences that could have been almost poetic if he tried. Although, he recalls, that didn’t stop the modestly sized crowd from giving him polite smiles when he finished reading, except for his father, who remained as stoic as ever, who chose to live with his sister and not with him, until she died. At first, their father told his wife and son that she died of cancer. She got furious that he didn’t tell her about the diagnosis. Then he confessed that she actually died of suicide. No one knows why, and why he lied at first, either. She thinks he knows. But if he does, he hasn’t told anyone yet. 

The paper scrunched up in his fist, he shoves it back where it belongs. The umbrella. Its disappearance was too coincidental, too bizarre to let it slide. It was always the only orange umbrella each rainy day amongst the sea of black and blue. He was almost sure the entire school knew. During the entire time she was alive, the umbrella hadn’t been off the wall except for when it was raining. But wasn’t today as sunny as it could get? He rushes to the nearest window, and yes, the sky is a perfect blue without a single speck of white in sight. Who steals an umbrella on a day when it can’t serve its purpose, and why? 

He hasn’t got the slightest clue. But he can’t let them slip away. He sprints up a flight of stairs, then another. He’s never been here before. He grabs his knees, unable to catch his breath. He looks up. There’s a girl, laughing with what seems like her friends. He walks up to her and taps her on the shoulder. She turns around, rather reluctantly. He asks her if she has seen an orange umbrella. She asks him who goes looking for an umbrella on a day like this. That’s his point, he says. The girl laughs, then turns back to her friends. They don’t understand…

They don’t understand what the umbrella meant to his sister. Yes, he tells himself firmly, she loved it very much, that’s why she had it for so long. He didn’t know her well enough to confirm it. But he was sure of it. 

Maybe, just maybe, if he could find a replacement for his umbrella, something as orange and plain as the original was, it might not matter as much. He runs all the way down to the school entrance and out to the nearest convenience store. Next to the door is a rack filled with umbrellas for sale. He picks the most orange one he could find and hands it to the cashier. It’s not orange enough, but he’ll take it. 

He’s halfway to school when he feels something cold brush his hand. Then another. It’s raining. Having no other choice, he reluctantly opens the new umbrella, which does so with a fresh pop. His shoes brush against the sidewalk, his footsteps barely audible over the splatter of the rain. At last, he sees the school entrance, which seems empty, probably due to the lack of students, but also because of the added effects of the rain. He puts his foot on the first step towards when he sees a flash of orange. Instinctively, he turns around. There stands the janitor, with a matching orange umbrella in his hand. It’s the umbrella. 

“Sir—”

The janitor turns around. None of them say another word for a few seconds. Both of them stand in the rain, one much more orange than the other, one in search of the other. He opens his mouth, but his arm, raised in the direction of the janitor, did not know whether to chase the umbrella or his sister. His mouth closes on its own.