Stories

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    Cold DNA

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    “Hell yeah. I don’t know them.”

    Featured Image: Team GHB

  • Parked in a crowded department store lot, Clay Wind sits locked inside his car, staring at a small black case and the brown paper bag it was delivered in. Compared to the other cases he received, this one is unmarked and suspicious.

    Regardless, Clay’s private acquaintance, known for their skill in retrieving the finest of Earth’s lost treasures, came through in record time.

    “I’m going to invite everyone over tonight to watch this.” Clay says, beaming with confidence in the rearview mirror.

    He starts the engine, racing home.

    Hey, come over?

    Clay asks his friends in an ongoing group chat, eager to get everyone together.

    Tom: Heyoo?

    Tonight. I got the hookup I was talking about, remember? An old movie from Earth.

    Victor: It’s not a movie with someone in a courtroom the entire time, is it?

    Emilian: Or unnecessary explosions and/or singing?

    No. It’s a dark psychological thriller by a renowned filmmaker and storyteller.

    Emilian: I don’t live in the district.

    Why you asking questions then, man?

    Victor: I’ll come.

    Tom: Make sure your girlfriend comes too, and her friends.

    Emilian: Hmm.

    Emilian left the conversation.

    Bring everyone! I’ll get food.

    That evening, fifteen friends gather at Clay’s house.

    They dine on melty pizza, juicy milk-lime mint burgers, chilly chocolate shakes and hot crinkle fries while Clay set the movie up.

    After a hearty bite of sausage jalapeno pizza, he presses play. The living room falls quiet. An image of a rotating Earth and triumphant music plays, followed by the intense baby blues of a red-haired little girl in the opening scene.

    “Heyoo?” Tom asks. He leans forward, squinting at the eighty-inch screen.

    The little girl stands in perfect form, steadying a shiny rainbow-colored ball up to her face. She lunges, the ball slips from her fingers, soaring through the air. It strikes the wood floor with a mighty thump, rolling through the standing pins. Only two nonadjacent pins remain.

    Determined music ensues as she grabs the rainbow ball again, going for the killer shot.

    Victor scans the room, looking confused. “Is this the movie, bro?” he asks.

    Clay nods. “It’s just coming on.”

    Voices whisper, one after another, merging into the same shared concern.

    “Babe, look… It’s not the same movie.”

    Victor’s girlfriend Violet whispers to him, holding her phone screen to his face. His eyes shift left to right, studying it. He scowls at Clay.

    “That shit about bowling!” Tom blurts. He links arms with the women between him, heading for the door.

    “C’mon Clay, that’s not M. Night Shyamalan’s Split, that’s bootleg. I thought you had the hookup.” Victor says, disappointed. He and Violet follow Tom out.

    Everyone else does the same.

    Featured Image: Canva

  • At a table for two inside a hipster cafe, Clay Wind stares at two crème brûlée frappuccinos in front of him.

    The drinks are visual masterpieces complete with pricey caffeine shots, whipped cream, and drizzle add-ons. As a black coffee guy, filling out the order slip for them was like filing his taxes.

    Even the barista was skeptical when Clay ordered.

    “Whaaat? Dudeee. You order a black coffee every. single. day. What are you doing?”

    “Ah, I just… I dunno.”

    “Oh. My. Gosh. You ordered two? You like someone!” She waves to another female barista making drinks. “Clay ordered two!

    “Whaaat? Nooo way!” She yells back. “Who’s the other drink for?”

    “Wait… Is it that one girl? What’s her name? She comes in every Thursday around this time and orders a crème brûlée frappuccino. Ooh, it’s on the tip of my tongue…”

    Katie. Clay remembers.

    “Uh, I don’t wanna… I’m just taking a chance, I guess. We’ll see.”

    “Aww. So adorbs. Good luck!”

    She passes Clay the drinks.

    He drops a twenty in the tip jar.

    Glancing out the cafe window, he spots familiar legs in pink-colored heels.

    Katie.

    Clay watches her read the daily specials scribbled on the window. She looks sweet as caramel drizzle in her short pink dress.

    Frowning at the specials, she walks away.

    Clay leaps from his chair and runs out.

    “Katie!” He calls, trying to keep up.

    She frowns and continues walking.

    “Katie, wait!”

    “My man, come here.” A guy feeding a parking meter says, motioning Clay over.

    “What is it?”

    “You were calling for that girl, the one with the pink dress?”

    Clay nods. “Why?”

    “That’s not her name, bruh. I know her. We work in the same building.”

    “No, no, her name is Katie. I see her at the cafe. The barista calls her by that name.”

    He snickers. “Kasie!”

    The guy falls in beside Kasie, greeted with a smile.

    Frozen on the sidewalk, Clay watches them leave together.

    Featured Image: Canva

  • ,

    Stranger Talk

    “Oh, now look… See? I knew this would happen. A guy is walking.” Wife said.

    “Really?” Husband asked. “Where at?” He looks around, stumbling into training wheels in front of him.

    “Beep Beep Daddy!” Daughter yelled. She pedals faster down the sidewalk.

    “Sorry sweetie! Where’s the guy?”

    “Straight ahead, he’s carrying bags of something… groceries, maybe? That looks like the Food Hippo logo. Why is everyone out when we are? We should start taking our walks later.”

    “Oh, never seen him before…”

    “We’re gonna have to walk past him. Do you think he’ll say anything when we do? Should we say something? Who goes first?”

    “He won’t say anything.”

    “Ugh! I don’t know what to say if he says something.”

    The guy comes closer. Inches away.

    “My! That’s a pretty cool bike you got there!” Guy says to Daughter with a smile.

    “Thank you!” she giggles.

    Beaming, the husband and wife wrap up their brief interaction with gratitude and echoed warm goodbyes.

    “So that’s how it’s done.” Husband said.

    “Hm?” Wife asked.

    “That’s how you talk to people. Just compliment something nice.”

    They go on trailing behind their daughter, excited for the next person to pass by.

    Featured Image: Canva

  • From the backseat, Tehanie leans in Lux’s ear. “So excited about this. We missed you so much.”

    “Huh?” Lux chuckles. “Missed me?”

    Tehanie looks up to West. His eyes flick to the rearview at Tehanie.

    “What’s… going on?” Lux asks. Tehanie keeps smiling. Neither she nor West speak. The dash reads 105 miles per hour, 106, 107… 110. Lux’s heart pounds. Something isn’t right. “No one’s gonna answer?”

    “It’s okay, Lux.” Tehanie whispers. “You don’t have to fear us.”

    “That’s enough, Tee.”

    “Us? Wait, you two know each other?”

    “Yes, and we know you!”

    “Tehanie!” West snapped.

    “She needs to know!” She grabs Lux’s arm. “West found me right after the accident, but we couldn’t find your soul anywhere… because you were reborn.”

    Lux pulls away, staring out her window. “I um—I’m so confused. Where are we going?”

    “Our home.” West said quietly.

    In her lap, Lux reaches inside her clutch purse; the blade isn’t there. “And… where is home, exactly?”

    “Where you’re gonna remember what we had.” West says. His gaze is magnetic.

    Lux shut her eyes. Her wild side wants to keep going, the other wants to escape. “What is this?” Lux asks Tehanie. “I… I saw you take a photo of his license plate! You were lying all this time? Pretending?”

    “I just wanted to make you comfortable. I know how you are, Lux. We’re not here to hurt you. You wanted to come! You chose! And you chose correct because deep down you know you belong with me and West.”

    Lux jiggles the door handle. “Let me out!”

    “No.” West commands. The steering wheel creaks under his one-handed grip. The other seizes her hand. “I can’t lose you again.”

    Why does his touch feel so good? Just like Tehanie’s, Lux thinks. They split her mind. Who are they?

    “We love you, Lux!” Tehanie squealed.

    “Oh my God. I don’t know you. Let me out!”

    “No West! Don’t stop!”

    “Let me out!” Lux screams. She reaches across West for the wheel, fighting him for control. Her nails dig into his hands. She pulls hard, the truck swerves and tips…


    Lux shoots up from bed with her hand on her heart. She gazes around, confused. She’s at home, four and a half hours away from Vegas. “No, we crashed…” Her head pounds remembering getting in a white pickup truck. She remembers it on its side in lonely desert beneath moonlight. The white truck color changes to red as the sun rises…

    Shaking it off, she covers her naked body with a robe and runs downstairs. She checks the garage. Her car is there, backed in.

    “There’s no way I parked that.” Lux couldn’t back into the garage or parking spot to save her life. She goes back in; the luggage she brought to Vegas sits by the front door. “What the holy fuck? How did I get home?” Careful in step, she looks around. “Who’s here? I-I have…” She runs into the kitchen and grabs a knife. “A GUN!”

    Her phone chimes on the kitchen counter. Lux reads the text:

    Vee: Where’d you go?

    Alright, now I know I’m not crazy. I was there. Lux thinks.

    Lux: I’m home! Is Tehanie with you?

    Vee: Who’s Tehanie?

    Her fingers pierce each letter with murderous frustration.

    Lux: Tight aqua dress. She was getting everyone riled up, yelling bitches when I was in the shower last night.

    Vee: Who?? That was you yelling. It was so funny too cuz you never say that. Glad you had fun and ur ok, you didn’t have to leave so fast though!

    The doorbell rings.

    Lux screams and drops her phone.

    The door pounds. “Lux! It’s Jackson! Are you okay?”

    “What the hell, man! What is happening this morning?” She stomps to the front door ripping it open. “WHAT DO YOU WANT?”

    Jackson leaps backward. He’s dressed up in his sharp suit and tie with perfect hair, holding his leather work bag. “Jesus Lux! What are you wearing? Get inside!” He shoos her in, quickly closing the door. They head into the kitchen. “Is this what you do at home? Scream in your grandma’s robe every morning?” He pauses, looking her up and down. “What’s up? Rough night?”

    She turns away.

    “Hey… You good? It’s not really a grandma robe, it just reminds me of a quilt and when I think of quilts, I think of grandmothers…”

    “Shut up!” She scoffs, shakily ripping out tissues from a box. It felt empowering to tell a boss that.

    “What happened?” Jackson whispers. “Can I help?”

    “I don’t know…” She blows her nose.

    Lux sees the red truck again, flipping down a lonely desert highway on a sunny day.

    Breathe in… breathe out. She couldn’t have a panic attack, not now. Breathe in… breathe out. Because panic attacks don’t exist. Breathe in… Breathe out… Fuck them. Not today, Lux thinks. Feel brave, feel strong. Breathe in… breathe out… The breathing exercises kick in. She closes her teary eyes, blocking out the red truck.

    “Why are you here, Jackson?”

    She opens her eyes, a little recovered.

    “Are you okay?”

    “What do you want!”

    “Okay, okay, jeez, all I want you to do is open, er, unlock the file.”

    “Great. You and your stupid file! Why should I do that?”

    “Because I’m trying to save you!

    Lux frowns. “What?”

    “There’s going to be layoffs, so I’m making moves. And I know you can do all that computer sorcery.” Lux groans. “Listen, just hear me out.” He drops to his knees. “I wouldn’t ask you to do this if I knew you’d be at risk. If it makes you feel better, I’m using a burner laptop, brand new. See?” He holds it up. “Untraceable.”

    “What happens after I unlock the file?”

    “I modify it, save and submit.”

    “That’s it? And this is because of layoffs?” Jackson nods. “So, you’re trying to save jobs? What if there’s other files with the same names on them somewhere else?”

    “There is only one file, this one. Mind you, I was sleeping with the head of Human Resources for a reason. That’s how I know what I know, including where you live, and what’s inside that file. I just couldn’t unlock it to edit.”

    “Wow, you went through hoops to save your job.”

    “My job didn’t need saving. But yours does, and other hard workers who don’t deserve to be let go because an algorithm decided.”

    They smile at each other. And suddenly, Jackson Scotch didn’t seem so bad.

    Lux unlocks the file in three seconds.

    Jackson deletes her name and the others on their floor, saving their jobs. It’s unbelievable she would be let go after thirteen years. Although, with her tenure, a severance package would equate to a full year’s salary. She could live it up and continue adding to her savings without tapping into it.

    “Put it back, Jackson. Keep my name on there.”

    “What? Why? You’re the best employee I’ve had when you’re not bleeding.” He smirks, nudging her shoulder.

    “No, I’ll take my severance. I’m tired of working for the man, it’s killing me. I need to do my own thing, be my own boss.”

    “Are you sure, though? If so, you can’t prove what happened today if you’re planning on ratting me out later.”

    “I won’t say anything.” She drags her hand down her face. “I got enough drama.”

    “Well, you’re always welcome back if you reconsider. Or, since I wouldn’t be your boss anymore, we could go… get a coffee together.”

    “Are you asking me out?”

    “Just testing the waters.”

    The bizarre ask is surprising and likeable. Lux laughs and plays along.

    “If we go out, I expect a heartfelt apology for your rudeness to me as your employee. And a copy of a recent STD test, in case things were to progress between us. I don’t trust HR.”

    They laugh, and in that moment, West and Tehanie flash in her mind, waiting for her beside a red truck on a sunny day. Her heart aches, like she was missing out not being there. Why?

    Jackson takes off. “Thanks for your help. So, we’ll talk soon?” Lux nods. “I’ll have my test results sent with my written apology and your severance package information.” He grins and waves goodbye.

    After a long shower, Lux crawls into bed refreshed and exhausted.

    On her nightstand sits a photo, a single red rose, and a black piece of paper. Lux stares at it for a moment.

    “No…” In the photo, a tall man in a cowboy hat stands in between two dark-haired women. All have bright smiles standing in front of an old red pickup truck. “Wait, what…” Lux looks at the women again, then flips it over. The cursive on the back reads:

    My Ladies Tehanie & Lux—Vegas, 1973.

    “I wasn’t born yet. How could that be?” Lux grabs the black paper. It’s a note, written with white ink in the same elegant cursive as the photo.

    Here’s to our past, present, and future.

    Love you Lux

    See you soon

    xx

    Weston & Tehanie

    At her bedroom door, there’s a knock.

    Featured Image: Canva

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