There was a girl. She sat at a white desk in a white room with her hands folded neatly in her lap.
Peter stood before her with his pockets turned out.
“I don’t have anything to give you,” he said. He spoke very quietly. Shame does that.
She didn’t move, but he thought she shook her head.
“I don’t need anything like that,” she told him. “I do not desire your buttons or baubles, although I am sure that they are quite lovely.”
He thought she smiled, but she did not actually do that, either.
“I don’t understand,” he confessed. He shifted from foot to foot. She really did smile then, but only in her eyes. He bit his lip and continued. “I thought…that you wanted something from me. In exchange for your help.”
“Oh, but I do.” Her skin was white, and her hair even whiter, but only just. When she smiled—if she smiled—her lips were disconcertingly red. The rest of the time they were only the palest of pink. He had the impression that something parasitic sucked the breath from those lips while she slept, but what could he do about it?
“Please tell me what you desire.”
“I want to be happy.”
“Then I will help you.”
She pulled a ceramic jar out of nowhere. It was the color of sky and looked cool to the touch. He flexed his fingers.
“This is the Container of Sorrows, Peter. Do you understand?”
“Yes.” He didn’t.
Her lips barely twitched but it was as if the snow melted and he tasted spring.
“This is how you will be happy. Tell me one of your sorrows. I will keep it here for you, and the burden from that particular sorrow will be no more.”
He felt stupid and stared at his shoes. They had holes in the toes.
“Do you…not wish happiness?”
Her voice was strangely brittle, as if she were trying not to cry. He was hurting her somehow, he decided, but that didn’t make any sense. He took a deep breath.
“I miss my mother,” he said, and the words fell from his mouth like vapor. The girl opened the jar, and the mist zipped inside. She closed the lid with a satisfying click.
“There,” she said, and her smile was real this time, genuine. “Don’t you feel better?”
He thought about his mother. Her warm brown hair, the apron that she used when she baked cupcakes. He thought about her more aggressively. The police telling his father that they had discovered a broken body. The funeral in a town without rain.
“I don’t feel sad,” he said in wonder, and the girl looked pleased. She kissed him, and he woke up.
Peter’s lips burned where she had touched him, and he kept his fingers pressed there for most of the day. When the boys razzed him about his poorly trimmed hair, he didn’t mind so much. When they taunted him about his mother being a whore who got what was coming to her, he was surprised to find that he didn’t care at all. He ate dinner silently and changed into his worn pajamas without being asked. He brushed his teeth and climbed into bed with an eagerness that would have been pitifully endearing if anyone had seen it.
Sleep came instantly, and there she was. She was wearing white flowers in her hair.
“Did you have those flowers yesterday?” he asked her.
Her cheeks flushed delicately. “No.”
Peter didn’t know what to say. “I had a better day at school than usual. Thank you.”
The girl again produced the smooth blue container out of thin air. “Tell me another sorrow, Peter. Tomorrow will be even better.”
“I’m tired of being called poor.”
The mist of words spiraled into the Container of Sorrows. He nodded his head once, and she nodded back in a very serious manner.
And thus it went. His sorrows disappeared. “I hate seeing dead birds. I wish that I had a friend. My father doesn’t notice me.”
The jar devoured his sorrows with an agreeable hunger. The pale girl’s lips turned up all of the time and her eyes began to sparkle. Peter grew more confident at school. He stood up straight. He looked people in the eye. He made friends.
He was almost happy.
On the last night that he went to her, something in the air had shifted. The atmosphere was holding its breath, and it was undeniable.
“Hey,” Peter said, leaning casually on the white desk. “There’s only one sorrow that I have left.”
“Only one?” asked the girl with something that sounded exquisitely close to hope. Her eyes shone. Her white hair and pink lips were glossed with fragile expectation. She produced the Container of Sorrows and carefully removed its lid. Peter’s sorrows ghosted around inside, smelling of lavender and brokenness.
“Natalia Bench never looks at me at school.”
The vaporous sorrow swirled from his lips and settled into the jar. The girl’s white fingers didn’t move, so Peter put the lid back on for her.
He smiled. “Now I’ll be brave enough to talk to her tomorrow. Thank you very much, Girl of Sorrows. I am happy.”
The girl held the jar very close, and she looked up at Peter. Her lips were pale, strawberries buried under layers of ice. He was reminded of that feeling that he had once, long ago, where he thought that something supped from her lips at night. How frightened she must be. How alone.
“Goodbye,” he said, and kissed her cheek. Had her touch once burned? She was ice under his skin. She was a corpse. Peter turned and walked away without looking back.
There was a girl. She sat at a white desk in a white room where she wept, clutching a container full of somebody else’s sorrows.
~ Mercedes M. Yardley
© Copyright 2017 Mercedes M. Yardley. All Rights Reserved.
I watched as he dragged his torso through the smoldering debris toward me, and thought, another. Unlike most, he hadn’t surrendered. I wondered if he knew where he was headed, or of the puss-ridden trail he left behind. No matter, it would soon be ended. I didn’t choose who suffered the searing heat; I only quenched the burning once they arrived. Fate appraised his soul, meted out its judgment.
“Have you your papers, then? There’s ta’be no entry without them.” I lilted. He stared back through hollowed sockets. I sighed. They all think the pearly gates so easy to attain.
The Thirty Second Burn
Lee A. Forman
The massive door opens on screeching hinges. My legs tremble, reluctant to carry me into the mouth of the iron beast. I know what waits in The Box.
Thirty seconds a day. Every day. Only the strong endure. But they are cursed to face the flame again and again.
The weak are lucky. To die is beautiful.
The guards guide me inside.
As the air itself boils, I know not pain or suffering but a great joy. I revel in the satisfaction of knowing I won’t last—I’ll expire quickly; my torment will end nearly as soon as it began…
Joseph A. Pinto
You call me deranged in my volatile state, yet you remain void of oxygen, void of all to sustain a fire. You know only of cleaning my ashes from the hearth, while I have schooled myself, keeper of this flame. Within my charred cage once an inferno raged; rose and fell, with hope, absolution. Dearly did I wish for us to go down in a state of combustion. Now, the landscape has changed. I am left to smolder—a cruel fate, this blessing; my curse. So perhaps you are right. Perhaps I am all you label me. Blistered. Branded. Blackened.
The Other White Meat
“It smells like barbecue.”
“You try putting sauce on that and I’ll kick your balls inside out.”
Jett turns the knob as far as it will go, the flames sharpening, going from sunburst orange to a cold, vicious blue.
“Jeez that’s gotta hurt,” Peter says, leaning closer. Jett sees the trickle of saliva at the corner of his mouth. He wants to drive his fist into his stupid, leering face.
“It would if the devil wasn’t in her.”
Clarissa’s flesh blackens and crackles. She doesn’t flinch.
Jett struggles to hold her down.
“Sometimes, you got to fight fire with fire.”
Christopher A. Liccardi
The whomp sound of the flames dashed up from under the element. The metal box was large enough to fit inside, but no room to turn.
He woke to the stench of rotten eggs and sudden heat on naked skin.
The thought never made it through his mind. He glanced up and saw that wretch of a wife staring, upside down into his face.
She’d dared him to see who could hold out longer and he laughed in her face proclaiming he’d been waiting twelve years already.
She smiled prettily, knowing who was going to win this one.
Let It Die
My god, it’s here! We never thought we’d see it again. In this cold world, this dark existence, it remains. Many years have gone by since it’s been seen. We’re all drawn to it, attracted by the warmth and hope it represents. The flames flicker and dance, a performance for the ages. We feel the cold and dark encroaching on the light. Evil is here. Around the flames I see the faces of the others. We are afraid as death awaits us, yet we’re determined. Now that it’s been found, it cannot perish. We can’t… we won’t let it die.
“Roasting chestnuts by the fire.”
I sung a few bars of the song as I watched the searing flames. Beautiful blue flames bending, beckoning to my soul. Perfect for chestnuts. Maybe marinated on a skewer with some juicy fingers.
Or possibly eyeballs. I like the smell of roasting eyeballs.
I glanced at the salesman I had trussed up on the floor. I watched him squirm, trying to scream through his gag and break the zip ties.
I smiled and picked up my butcher knife.
Nope, definitely fingers. He has nice fat ones. Stew the eyeballs for dessert… with chocolate sauce.
Broken Boy Blue
Mercedes M. Yardley
The sheep’s in the meadow, the cow’s in the corn. While Adam was sleeping in the hay, breathing starlight and pharmaceuticals, the Catchers took his father behind the barn. They broke his teeth and fed him like livestock on gun metal and bullets. They torched the house and his withered mother was the most beautiful of candles. His sisters took longer, but even the rosiest things ignite with enough tenacity.
They overlooked Adam, but he would always see the Catchers in his technicolor dreams. They played a starring role, laughing and cheering his family on as they danced, danced, danced.
The Chant, The Charm
Veronica Magenta Nero
Born in me it was, the chant, the charm, bile sitting in the pit of my belly. Until it began to creep, the chant, the charm, to lodge in the crook of my throat, a constant niggle I couldn’t clear. Soon it was on the tip of my tongue. Like an insult or a lie. Must keep it in, keep it down. Thick stitches popped one by one, so I took the torch, searing a heavy smooth line for lips. But now from the corners of my eyes it seeps, the chant, the charm, no voice to stop the magic.
The Hell train’s engine runs on flames and meat. The Railwayman rides in the locomotive. Dressed in blood-stained overalls and cap, he enters the tender car to a mound of body parts. In a black cloud of flies, he shovels severed limbs, heads, and ribcages―tosses them into the firebox. The smoke smells like barbecue. The train makes its rounds along America’s tracks. Hapless passengers climb aboard. The conductor punches tickets. As the train shrieks down the railway, skull-faced cleavers roam from car to car, doing their chop work. They refill the tender. The Railwayman shovels meat, feeding the blue-flamed beast.
Black smoky tendrils snake around my body, languid movements that if made by human hands would have been sensual. I sit in the chair, unable to move. A single blue flame bridges the gap; a moment passes where my thoughts and actions are untrue to each other. The Zoroastrians say nothing, my fate sealed. I offer myself to be judged, to join them. Only the righteous become one with the perfect element, the rest are destroyed by it. The creature pierces me, my body ignites from inside. I open my mouth to scream but there is no sound, only fire
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