Category Archives: Fiction

Urban Legends

The first person to approach Neil was Jared. He placed his coffee cup on a stack of completed forms and seated himself in the chair facing Neil’s laminated name plate, scooting forward and folding his hands on the desk. Neil patiently removed the mug from his stack of papers, setting it on a coaster.

“Man, we gotta talk.”

“All right,” Neil responded, setting down his pen.

A long moment passed during which Jared watched his coworker, his face a careful blank that was negated by the blatant concern in his traitorous, expressive eyes. He cleared his throat, looking down at his hands. “Man- I don’t know how to say this.”

Refusing to engage the man with the disheveled hair and the crooked tie, Neil waited.

“You are an awesome guy. You’re smart and funny and- and I know you don’t want to hear it, but Becky really does like you. Anyway, the bottom line is, you’re really important to this business. And I know I’m not best friends with Bossman, but I can tell that he thinks highly of your contributions.”

A drop of hazelnut coffee had been standing guard on the rim of the mug and now began its journey downwards.

“Man, are you listening?”

Neil looked up. “Yes.”

“Are you sure?” Jared leaned forward. “’Cause I don’t think you are.”

“The boss thinks highly of my contributions.”

One dark eyebrow rose. “And?

“And I’m awesome.”

Jared threw his hands in the air and an invisible burst of energy exploded forth from his endless reserves. He leaned back in the chair to cross one leg, his face hidden behind his knuckles in thought.

“You really are something, aren’t you?”

Neil forced himself to maintain eye contact. The bead of coffee dripped into the coaster and disappeared.

“You got everything, man. Nice house, good money, great family. That mama of yours makes hash browns like she has a black belt in it… I don’t get it. What’s not to like?”

“What do you mean?”

 “I mean why you gotta go and make stuff up for attention?”


“I haven’t lied since last January when I told the waitress at Krazy Fries that I’d take the online survey.”

Jared’s hand dropped to his lap. “Really? You are really going to do this right now? To me?

Neil stared at Jared, blinking once. Shaking his head, the man stood, grabbed his coffee, and left the room.

 – – –

The next person to confront him was Janet. She knocked three times, loud enough to make the pens rattle in the penholder. They seemed to Neil to be shuddering in fear.

The fabric of her corduroy skirt groaned in protest as she shuffled in and slammed the door. She seated herself with an unceremonious exhalation of air. It reminded Neil vaguely of a gas-filled yard decoration deflating.

“Mister Astor.”

He waited patiently for her to continue. Her eyelids batted sluggishly, the left a split second ahead of the right. She let out another whoosh of air and continued.

“As you know, my position here is as the public relations advisor and administrator. It is my job to ensure that employee interactions with our cherished customers are upbeat and productive.”

Neil wondered privately how he wouldn’t have known such a fact, as he had worked with Janet for just under seven years.

“It has come to my attention that you have been discussing work-inappropriate issues while on duty.”

This moment, apparently, was the appropriate one to heft her gargantuan, construction-site clipboard onto the desk. One of the faded orange flower stickers on the plastic was beginning to peel.

A seafoam-colored pen clicked, poised in the woman’s endless fingernails. She jotted down what appeared to be the date on the top line of the legal pad.

“You’ll have to excuse me, Janet.”

Janet looked up, her brow furrowing as if she would never forgive him for interrupting her writing of the number “3.”

Swallowing, he continued. “I’m not sure what I’ve said that was inappropriate.”

The woman’s massive body heaved upward, settling in a dubiously upright position. “Well what do you think, Mr. Astor?”

Mr. Astor took a moment to collect his thoughts. “It has been my understanding that inappropriate subjects are threatening or sexual in nature, or are the spreading of rumors. Or lowering morale in general.”

The gust of air that emerged from Janet could’ve knocked him out of his chair. “It has come to my attention that you have been discussing questionable issues in the workplace. And by questionable, I mean that they’re distracting, and they put employees in an awkward position.”

Neil cleared his throat. “Awkward, ma’am?”

“It means people aren’t sure how to respond.”

At this moment, crinkled flower sticker decided to make an escape attempt.

“You’re telling people to believe things that they aren’t sure they believe. It makes people uncomfortable, Mr. Astor, because they’re torn between acknowledging you by lying and being honest about their feelings.”

“But wouldn’t that make any opinion a party disagrees with an inappropriate workplace discussion?”

“I’m here to tell you that it can’t happen again. If it does, you’ll be in quite a spot. If it happens in front of a customer, Mr. Lewinsky will be offering that spoiled brat of his a nice consultant job.”

When Neil had no more contributions to make, Janet scribbled something down on her pad of paper. The flower raised a single petal to Neil. Neil thought it must be asking for his help.

When she left the room, the door slammed so hard that his monitor flickered before returning to his screensaver.

 – – –

After a day of relative normalcy, the door creaked open so quietly that Neil hardly heard it over the hum of his computer.

“Um, Neil?”

Minimizing the spreadsheet he was filling in, he looked up. Becky’s eyes were wide, and she shuffled through the crack in the door before closing it as if her life depended on the finesse of the act.

She seated herself in the chair across the desk and immediately began to squirm. “Um.” The blonde let out a small laugh, prompting her face to flush a brilliant red. “I guess I heard from Jared that – well, and I heard it myself too. Um.”

Brown eyes flickered up to his gaze and immediately dropped back to her lap.

“You said you’ve seen something s-strange, and I – I guess I wanted you to know that we don’t all think you’re crazy. Not that you thought that we thought that you were crazy. I just wanted you to know that you’re important to me – well, important to us.”

Becky pursed her lips and squeezed her eyes shut for a brief moment. Neil could see her pulse in her neck, hammering like that of a tiny bird.

“When I was little, I would see things. I … I knew that they were real. So I know what you’re going through, not to insult you in case I don’t, but I just…” The petite woman sucked in a breath and held it for a long moment. “At the time, the things I saw seemed so real that I believed them, but I know now that it wasn’t my fault. Things can seem so real, and that doesn’t make you crazy. It just makes you flawed, a-and that’s what I like about-”

I’m not seeing things.

Neil had risen to his feet and slammed his fist on the desk before he knew he was acting. The crease in his brow disappeared and his mouth fell open, embarrassment blocking the flow of any semblance of an apology from forming on his lips.

A sob tore itself from the woman’s throat as she cowered back into the chair.

“I’m sorry,” he felt himself mutter, mind a haze of disbelief at his own rage. “I’m…”

Becky had run out of the room before he could complete his sentence.

 – – –

The next discussion off the matter came not five minutes later when a small but round figure appeared through the mottled glass of Neil’s office door. Mr. Radjeet’s tired, sorrowful expression seemed for once to be intentional. He seated himself without a greeting.

“Mr. Astor, do you know why I’m here?”

Neil stared at a spot on the desk between them. “Possibly.”

“Rebecca Morrison just walked past my office, very upset. Several of your co-workers reported an altercation of sorts that came from this room. A shouting.” He cleared his throat, a task that sounded like a great and fruitless undertaking. “Would you happen to know anything about that?”

There was a speck on the desk, Neil realized. Dirt, perhaps. “Yes, I think I would.”

“Neil,” Mr. Radjeet uttered, leaning forward and forcing his weary gaze to be met, “we’ve had this issue before. A few months ago something was said repeatedly to employees, and it started up again a couple of days ago. I sent Janet over to speak with you, and she seemed assured that the issue was resolved.”

“She was mistaken,” Neil heard himself reply.

A sliver of irritation was beginning to line the chubby man’s voice.

“Neil, this behavior is unacceptable. You cannot force your urban legends on people who are here to do a job. It would be one thing if you say you think you saw something in the woods once while you were drunk, but you’re telling people it’s coming into your house!” He sat back, and Neil’s eyes returned to the speck on the desk. It couldn’t be dirt. Maybe ink?

“I have given you ample time to fix this problem, Neil. Our benefits cover counseling services as long as your doctor refers you. You’ve been employee of the month six times! I don’t understand why you aren’t content with your position here.”

He looked back up at his boss. Yes, it was most definitely ink. A rose-colored sheet of paper slid across the desk, pushed by Mr. Radjeet’s stubby fingers.

“For the good of the business, I have to let you go, Neil.”

 – – –

The door closed behind him with a creak, and the man shuffled his feet across the welcome mat. His shoes clattered to the floor followed by his keys clattering onto the bookstand. Not bothering to remove his coat, Neil shuffled into the kitchen.

The figure at his kitchen table set his beer down when Neil entered. As usual, a deck of cards was sprawled across the table. “Hey, man. How was work?”

“I got fired,” Neil answered simply. The figure grunted, and his eyes lowered beneath the thick curtain of fur that covered his face.

“Awww. I’m sorry, Neil.”

“You have to leave.” Gathering his courage, he looked at the massive creature and forced his voice to be stern.

With a sigh, the thing in his kitchen picked his hand of cards back up. “Now why would I do that? Free power, hot showers … and those hash browns your mom brings over every Sunday? Amazing.”

When the thing said no more, Neil shook his head tiredly and went up the stairs.


Six Small Moments In the Life of Ellie Kane

It was a profoundly normal day until Sarah padded into the room with a small, brown lump in her mouth, her tail swishing proudly behind her.

The tortoiseshell’s silhouette registered distantly in Ellie Kane’s mind as she flipped through a comic book, one of many that were stacked neatly like loyal sentries on either side of her folded legs.

“Sarah, Sarah, Sarah,” the girl mumbled in a singsongy voice, flipping through the section of advertisements placed directly in the middle of the book. Sarah’s head bobbed once and a small item plopped unceremoniously on the floor. Ellie looked up.


Climbing from her spot, Ellie sprinted across the living room. The cat’s ears swiveled back in a moment of alarm and it scrambled away into the foyer.

“Oh, no.”

The item on the floor was very still. Its eyes were bright and unblinking, and its sides rose and fell minutely with its shallow, rapid breaths.

“Oh no.

Heart pounding in her ears, the girl brought one foot forward and rested it cautiously on the cold linoleum. The mouse didn’t move.

In a dreamlike trance, the eleven-year-old cupped her hands on either side of the mass of fur and shifted them toward one another. A tiny, cold foot rested on her palm, followed by another. A miniscule tail twitched before settling on her wrist. Ellie lifted the creature to her face.

The whole world reflected in its brilliant, black eyes.

“Come on,” the girl murmured, her voice shuddering with excitement as she closed her left hand over her right. “Let’s find you a place to stay.”

– – –

The following day was a Monday, and the sky was blanketed with a thick cloud of sleep. The buses rattled violently through the suffocating fog and the prepubescent voices overflowing with gossip lacked their usual rasping excitement.

The spelling test was administered with the same ruthlessness as always: Ms. McCauley’s first words upon the late bell ringing were five syllables long at minimum, leaving the occupants scrambling violently for unbroken pencils and paper without reproductive anatomy drawn on it in permanent marker. A list of questions to answer afterward was scrawled on the board in barely legible handwriting.


The whisper was lost behind a wall of thought, one composed of careful calculations. Ellie’s pencil streaked over the margins of her homework in tiny, precise movements.

“Yo. Ellie.” A moment passed. Trevor fidgeted.


Blinking herself awake, she peered over her shoulder. She stiffened and turned toward the boy who was staring at her intently.

“Who is that?”

“What?” Ellie squinted and leaned toward him, her face reddening almost immediately.

“Your drawing,” Trevor rasped, now barely whispering. His football jersey glimmered in the apathetic sunlight, seeming to radiate with his uncontainable energy. “Who is it?”

“Oh,” she stammered lamely. “It’s just a character from a kids’ comic book.”

“Is it Elpha?”

Eyes widening, Ellie’s voice cracked in disbelief. “What?”

“Shhhh!” Marianne Darbey was craned around in her seat, glaring daggers at the

back corner of the room.

“Is it Elpha?”

Ellie’s heart leapt in her chest, sending more blood pouring into her cheeks in a heady mix of embarrassment and exhilaration. “Yeah.”

The quarterback’s boyish features twitched toward an expression of sincere interest. It struck Ellie that at no point in her life would she have expected Trevor Jonston to give her such a look.

“Did you read last month’s issue?”

“Yeah, yesterday!”

“Can you believe that The Agency chose Reggie to be the leader of the Death


Ellie began to realize that the tingling in her face was the stretching of her muscles into a sudden and genuine smile. “See, I thought that would be their decision, because if Reggie leads the Squad in its attack on Elphairia’s base, Jennie can stay behind and oversee tactics while still being a, y’know, an influence.”

Shhhhh,” Marianne contributed.

“No talking, please,” droned Ms. McCauley, and the conversation was ended.

– – –

“Today went pretty well.”

It was Tuesday. Ellie had her book bag on her lap and her arms wrapped around it. Her father sat in the driver’s seat, his hands seated on his lap. His stare was vacant and his hands hesitated on the keys when the journey to the house was interrupted by conversation. “Mmmm? What did you do?”

“Not much. School was boring. I ate a snack and started my homework, and Claire sat on my shoulder and we watched some TV.”


Ellie’s heart stuttered. “Claire is my mouse.”

“Oh.” His hand ran across his stubble, his pale eyes fixed on something outside. Turning to face her, he frowned. “A mouse?

“Yeah. The cat found her.” It felt strange to refer to Sarah as ‘the cat,’ but the impersonal tone felt Dad-like. “She looked like she had some internal injuries, but she’s eating, and she drank two bottle caps full of water last night.”

“Mmmm.” He pulled his keys out of the ignition and they clinked against each other abrasively. “Don’t get it too close to your face, and make sure you wash your hands after you touch it. Rats and things carry diseases.”


When the girl didn’t speak again, her father shouldered the door open and stepped out of the truck. He headed inside, making sure to leave the door open for Ellie behind him.

– – –

It was Thursday night when Ellie sat down on the floor, a glass of water in one hand and a basket of clean laundry dragged along by the other. “I hate laundry, Claire.”

Ellie tossed all of the socks into a pile. They looked hurt at such careless treatment, but she considered that they were usually on her feet and decided that they could handle it.

When she turned back to the basket, something large and round caught her eye.

The shoebox filled with shredded newspaper and old hamster food was penetrated by a perfectly circular hole cut by tiny teeth marks. A feeling much like being suffocated under dozens of heavy blankets came over her.

For a long moment, she closed her eyes and focused on her breathing, pretending to be somewhere far away. Taking a deep, shuddering breath, she turned back to her basket and began to pull the underwear out.

– – –

On nights when she was the last one awake, she would pad into her room and climb into her tangled mess of sheets, and imagine that the mouse was somewhere nearby, its whiskers trembling and its ears twitching with every sound. It would scamper to and fro, collecting old candy and tiny spiders to eat, but that was only after she had fallen asleep. When she was awake, it was the spirit of the night, watching over her in her greatest moments of vulnerability.

– – –

The cafeteria was being renovated, so the herds of infuriated students were forced to sit at the five open tables, jamming themselves into every available seat.

A girl named Kailee had followed Ellie to an open spot, squeezing in beside her and excitedly chattering about people Ellie had never heard of before. She nodded at all the pauses, grunting affirmations through her mashed potatoes.

“Yeah. She said that to him. She honestly said that.”

Trevor’s voice made Ellie look up. He was on the opposite side of the table with a lunch tray full of extra milk cartons.

“Are you coming to the team meal tonight?”

“Nah, dude. I’m skipping out on this one.” The kid next to Trevor scoffed and rolled his eyes. “I have important things to do!”

“Like reading Elphairia?”

Freezing, Trevor looked up. Kailee had been mid-sentence, and stared at Ellie in a puzzled stupor. She swallowed, her heart speeding up as she forced herself to make eye contact.

“Huh?” He laughed, leaning forward and smiling the way one would at a puppy or a very small child.

Like reading Elphairia?

“Reading what?” The kid next to Trevor glanced from Ellie to him, grinning in amusement.

“You said last week that you read Elphairia. You were talking about Reggie being picked as the militia leader, remember?”

“Elf- Elf what?” He squinted, cocking his head to the side. “Yeah, I have no idea what you’re talking about, dude.”

Turning to look at her tray, Ellie set down her fork. Kailee leaned in, her earrings jingling loudly. “Ellie? What’s wrong?”

– – –

When her mother asked what was had happened, she shook her head and said nothing. Laurie had taken her by the shoulders and knelt down. “Honey, what’s the matter? What happened? Did your father say something to you?”

“Leave me alone,” was Ellie’s reply, and she jerked away from Laurie’s hands to run to her room and slam the door. Sighing heavily, Laurie turned back to the study and resumed her phone calls.

Throwing herself on the bed, the girl curled into a ball, covering her face with her hands. She had been whispered about in hushed tones, the way people speak of an eccentric relative whose exploits are mildly amusing, but worrisome nonetheless.

Ellie Kane said something to Trevor today.

Something about elves? It was like she thought he would know what she was talking about.

Yeah, he’s being a good sport about it. He thinks it’s funny.

When the fog of warm heaviness that follows heavy crying settled around her, Ellie picked herself up and walked over to her basket of laundry. She began separating the blues from the grays, setting one pile on one folded leg and the other pile on the opposite. Her knee bumped something cold, and she picked up the half-empty glass she had forgotten days before. Her breath caught in her throat.

A small mound of fur was floating in the water.