The Red Candy

Photo by Shane Rounce on Unsplash

“Where’s my chocolate?” asked an impatient Alex, tugging at her mother’s sleeve. 

“What chocolate?” 

“The one you bought me yesterday.” 

“I threw it away.” 

“What do you mean you threw it away? There was one left inside,” Alex said. 

“The trash is already outside. The garbage collector will be here any minute.” 

“I hate you!” Alex screamed, her short arms uselessly flailing at her mother like a feather would at a tree. She stomped away from her and pushed the front door with an incredible force one would not expect from a ten-year-old.

Sandra sighed. She teared her eyes off her daughter and continued to beat the single egg that was alone in her fridge this morning. The yolk spattered off the bowl and landed on the pile of letters to her right. Every two days or so, that pile welcomed yet another letter. Today was that day.

Maybe you deserved to get divorced.

Who divorced who, Eric?

You should burn in hell.

Yeah, right. It was almost comical. Sandra didn’t remember her ex-husband being such a jerk. It wasn’t like she cared, though. The luxury of being able to not give a shit was exactly why she went through her divorce. As long as he stayed away from her and Alex, she was fine.

She stopped reading the letters after a week. But she collected them, anyway. 

She looked up at the small, textured window on the front door, not that she could see through it. Was Alex was still looking for her chocolate? 

Not really. She used to, but then she heard the rumbling of a huge truck approaching. It must be the garbage collector that her mother told her about. She ran to the side of the house and peeked ever so slightly from behind. She didn’t like strangers. Her mother taught her not to like strangers. 

The garbage collector had a uniform on, neon yellow — or green, if you may — with a silver stripe in the middle. It hurt Alex’s eyes. It wasn’t the thing bothering her the most, though. The woman was not acting like your typical garbage collector. Instead of heading straight towards the garbage where Alex was near, she cautiously stepped towards the mailbox, keeping her eyes on the house as if someone was about to step outside any minute. She took out the envelope that was inside, reached inside her pocket, and replaced the letter with an identical one. Alex’s mouth opened. The woman finally walked back towards the garbage, which is when Alex ran to the back of the house and waited for five minutes or so until she was sure the woman was gone. 

Freya took one last glance towards the house. She was sure that Sandra was there, but she also knew that she wouldn’t give a damn about an ordinary garbage collector. If there was one good thing that came out of Freya’s career, it was meeting Sandra. Not personally, nor directly. When she laid eyes on Sandra, she became all she cared about. She always lingered in front of the house, hoping that she would run into Sandra, hoping that she would say a single thank you. But she never did, Freya was just a garbage collector, so this was the most she could do. Fake letters until you make it. 

The woman was indeed out of sight when Alex returned. She eagerly opened the letter. The first few paragraphs were nothing but hasty scribbles of random mean words that Alex could not figure out. She skimmed through the exhaustingly long and aggressive letter until she reached the last paragraph.

It’s been a while since I sent you a letter and honestly, I don’t care if you break down after reading this because you deserve it, Sandy. You took my money and job away from me, and because that wasn’t enough, my daughter too. Forgot she was also mine, didn’t you? I hope you don’t feel safe for long, because I’m going to take her from you. I am.

Eric

Alex wasn’t really sure what he — or the woman impersonating him — was talking about, but if she knew one thing, it was the word daughter and the fact that she was the one the letter mentioned. She stood there on the front lawn, letter in one hand, deep in thought as her chocolate continued on its journey to disposal, long forgotten by its owner. 

Maybe she should tell her mother about the woman. Maybe she could help figure the whole thing out. Or maybe she didn’t want that. Her mother often cried out of nowhere, not just silent crying, but hysterical sobbing. She didn’t like seeing her mother like that. It made Alex sad, too. 

So she put the letter back inside and walked back home with hands in her pockets like nothing was out of the ordinary. 

Between school and more bars of chocolate, the woman was not the most interesting nor important topic Alex’s mind dwelled on, until exactly a week later on a sunny Tuesday, she observed a letter sticking out of the mailbox on her way to school. She knew it wasn’t from the garbage collector, because that woman wouldn’t be here until at least ten minutes later. 

To say the least, the letter was not what Alex had been expecting. 

Sandy, why haven’t you been returning my letters? I told you, I’m sorry that you felt I wasn’t the man for you but I’m ready — I’m a different person than I used to be. Please give me a second chance. Please tell me that I deserve you. I don’t know how many times I have to say this.

Alex shoved the letter back into its envelope. Her head was spinning. She had read enough to know that the woman was deliberately replacing these letters with angry ones because she cared about Alex’s parents’ relationship. But why? She was too young to understand. Just adult things. 

This time, she was ready for the garbage collector. She hid behind the bags of garbage and waited until the weekly truck made its way down the street. She watched without a sound as the woman walked towards the mailbox again, as leisurely as if to tell the world that it was perfectly normal behavior. 

Alex emerged. She waved the letter in front of the woman’s face. “I know what you’re doing.” 

The woman yelped, but quickly regained her posture. She smiled, but even Alex could tell that she was nervous. “What do you mean, sweetie?” 

“You have a letter in your pocket,” Alex recited. “You’re going to put it in the mailbox. My mom cries every time she reads your letters.” 

The woman’s face turned red. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” 

“I’m going to tell her, then.” Alex swiftly walked towards the front door. 

“No, wait, wait!“ the woman whispered, grabbing Alex’s shoulder. She turned around. The woman knelt, looking Alex directly in the eye. “I know that you’re a good girl.” She fished something out of her pocket. A candy, bright red. Alex’s eyes widened. 

“Promise me not to tell your mom, and I’ll give you this.” 

Alex squirmed. “But she —“

“Shh. She never has to know.” 

After a tense second or two, Alex finally nodded. The woman handed her the candy. Alex happily started to remove the wrapper. 

It was a mistake for the child, but an intended one for Freya. She watched, making sure that the child was out of view from the house. She swallowed the candy in whole. It didn’t take her long until she started to choke. Good. Her legs shuddered, then she fell to the ground. White foam formed around her mouth. Her eyes dimmed. 

Freya knew this was her only chance. 

“Somebody help!” she screamed. She rummaged through her pockets and fished out an old eye drop. There. Now she was crying. There was a series of hurried footsteps as Sandra rushed out of the door, stopping in her tracks when she saw her daughter’s head in Freya’s hands. 

“Alex. Alex!

Freya deliberately met the grieving mother’s eyes to display the fake tears flowing down her cheek. Her heart took up its pace when Sandra looked back. Face to face. She never would have thought. A minute spent with her. Maybe she didn’t deserve it. But she had it right now, and that was what mattered. 

She shook her head. She had to keep acting. She couldn’t forget that. 

“I saw a man give her a candy, but I didn’t know — I wouldn’t have known —“

“What man?” Sandra asked, her voice barely a whisper. It was like she already knew the answer. 

Freya sniffed dramatically. She recalled a photo of Eric and Sandra together. “Tall… he had thick glasses… I think he also had some sort of a beard —“

“Eric,” Sandra said. 

“Sorry?”

“It’s nothing,” Sandra muttered under her breath. 

She cradled Alex for the last time and rose to her feet. “Please…” her voice broke. “Call the ambulance for me, if you won’t mind, I won’t be long. Please take care of her.” 

“Sure.” I’ll do anything for you.

Sandra ran to her Prius, started the engine, and drove onto the road to hunt down an innocent man. Freya watched as she disappeared behind a building. She sighed. Then she turned her attention back to the girl, who, by then, had stopped making gurgling noises. The candy was effective as hell. 

Freya smiled. “You look just like your mother, Alex.” 

Advertisements

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. 

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!”

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.