Honey, I’m Home

I used to have pets. They were good company but one by one they died and I didn’t have the heart to replace them. I had been single for a decade. Still youngish at 40 I wasn’t worried about it. I was lonely sure, and nights were a bit cold in my drafty apartment but I managed. I even got in the cute habit of yelling out, “Hey honey, I’m home,” every night as I tossed my laptop bag onto the hall table and my keys into the bowl.

It was a silly thing to do. It wasn’t hurting anyone and for a fleeting moment it made me feel like I was in a 50’s sitcom and my significant other would be waiting in the living room, maybe not in a dress wearing pearls with a martini but maybe with a pizza and some mixed drinks. And if they weren’t there in real life, online ordering apps handled the pizza end of it.

Friday, I opened the door after a long day of being called an idiot and all I really wanted to do was skip right to the drinks. I opened my mouth to greet my imaginary partner and sighed. What was the point? Shrugging, I ignored my black mood and called out, “Honey, I’m home! Did you miss me?”

“I did, darling,” a voice called back.

I dropped the laptop bag on the floor. The tantalizing scent of pineapple and ham pizza drifted to me in the foyer. I walked down the hall to the living room. Curled up on my sofa was a petite brunette with a pixie cute in silky striped pajamas, holding two drinks. “I made you a seven and seven. We’re out of rum,” she said and made a face. “It’s gross but it gets the job done.” she took a sip to prove her point and grimaced. “I am sooooo um, well drunk. Work was traumatic. You?”

“I-ah, it was also traumatic,” I replied wondering if I had had a stroke.

She waved for me to come closer. I did, magnetically pulled to the sofa. I collapsed next to her and she handed me the drink. I sipped it, coughing. “Gah, this is revolting.”

“Mm,” she agreed.

I gave her a sidelong glance. Her eyes were so brown they were black. Her skin was a nice medium tone like a natural tan and a hint of cleavage could be seen where she had misbuttoned the top two buttons on her pajama top. Shapely legs were pulled up under her and she had one hell of a wicked smile.

“You are my dream girl,” I told her.

Her cheeks flamed red and a giggle escaped her. “You’re in a mood,” she commented, flipping the pizza box open. “Get a slice in you before you puke up all that whiskey.”

I ate a slice. It tasted fine, not like LSD or any other hallucinogens. Not that I would know. Listen, it tasted like ham, and pineapple and lovely mozzarella.  My drink tasted like suffering which is what whiskey always tasted like to me, so it wasn’t the food.

“How long have we been together?” I asked.

Her smile faltered, “Janie, don’t ask questions like that. It makes me think you don’t want me here. Don’t you want me here?”

Something in her eyes glowed oddly. I blinked and it was gone. My dream girl smiled and grabbed my free hand. Her nails were manicured in a matte black giving me the illusion of a wolf’s claws. Her skin was warm and the scent of pizza, whiskey and something wild hit me. Her smile was wistful.

“I do want you here,” I replied. “I must have hit my head or something at work today, honey. I’m sorry.”

That pleased her and she squeezed my fingers. The black in her eyes started to fade to a root beer. She tugged on my hand until we were half in a cuddle. The shock to my system was instant. I couldn’t remember the last time anyone had wanted to touch me, let alone huddle up on the sofa together. Her warmth seeped into me.

“Am I dreaming?”

She frowned. “Janie please.”

“I’m just… happy you’re with me,” I said when her breath hitched, eyes flashing black again. Whatever she was, she wanted to be with me and as she placed a gentle kiss on my cheek, I realized I wanted her to be with me too. “I can’t remember your name.”

“Janie,” she warned.

“Fine,” I said. I wasn’t allowed to ask or know who or what or where she came from if I wanted to keep her. Was I that lonely? Had I been fooling myself with my little game? Had I called something into existence? Someone? Was she a demon? Did I care?

She slid her free hand up my thigh.

No.

I did not care.

“Do you want me to stay,” she asked, a hint of points showing in her smile.

“Yeah,” I said, “Stay with me.”

Her smile was brilliant.

Honey, I am home.

End.

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Better than a Seance

“Come on, somebody has to want to use this thing,” I called out.

The party was in full swing around me. People dressed as pop culture icons milled around with the staples. A sexy witch offered a sexy marshmallow (I shit you not) a can of beer before walking over to a sexy dead girl to talk about a guy in a state trooper uniform. I slumped down against the sofa. My costume was a classic. I was a wolfman. Not that I had the head on, it had been hot and I had taken it off a long time ago.

I called out again, trying to get someone to notice the ouija board on the coffee table. The thing was ancient, the varnish chipped and the letters fading a bit. Some mobster had dropped an empty can of beer on it like it was an elaborate coaster. If I didn’t move fast, others would follow and no one would even notice it was a cool thing to talk to ghosts on Halloween Night.

Standing up, I slinked over to a couple and whispered in his ear, “Hey, why not have a seance.”

When his response was to shove his tongue farther into the girl’s mouth, I whispered in her ear, “How scary would it be if we contacted a ghost?”

She shivered.

To be honest, I think it was because of that guy’s tongue and not my neat idea. I wandered away, rolling my eyes. The music kicked up a notch. It was all thump, thump, thumping with electric instruments. Lights flickered along with it and people flickered, slowing and speeding up in the flashes. The partiers got into it and the living room became an impromptu dance floor.

Huffing, I went outside to get a breath of fresh air. I slumped down on the steps next to a girl in all black. Her conical hat was off to the left and her fishnet stockings were artfully torn. “Ah, a sexy witch,” I muttered, thoroughly over it.

“Thanks,” the girl answered brightly. “I wasn’t going for sexy though, I was going for authentic. Because I am. Authentic that is, not sexy generally. Thanks for that.”

I opened and closed my mouth a few times. “Ah, um, well, you are and you are welcome.”

She giggled. Her bright gray eyes sparkled in the moonlight. She leaned back and I got to see just how long her legs were through a split in her not-meant-to-be-sexy black dress. She caught me ogling and snorted. I rolled my eyes.

“Hey, you want to get a seance going?” I asked.

“Why? I don’t need one to talk to you.”

I huffed. “It’s not about talking. I want to possess one of those dumbasses for the night.”

The witch’s eyebrows went up. “You’re Kevin.”

I nodded, beaming at her. She was not only a sexy witch, she was a smart one too.

“You’ve been dead for like-”

“Ten years, yeah,” I interrupted. “You weren’t lying about being an authentic witch. Is that why you can see me?”

She nodded and gave me a once-over, flattering.

“Should I help you move on or something?” she asked.

“Yeah,” I agreed, widening my eyes at her, “you can help me into that guy over there.”

I pointed to a guy who looked a bit like me. He was thin, tall, and dressed as a mummy. “Then I can buy you a drink.”

“The drinks here are free,” she remarked and glanced over at the guy, “What happens to him?”

“I get to be him for a night,” I answered. “I get to hang out at the party. I get to drink and have fun. He gets the hangover. Come on, help a spirit out.”

“Do you know who that is?”

“Random guy, who might be me for a night? No, I don’t care. I want to eat chips and pizza. They ordered from my favorite place. Come on, please? I only get until dawn. Don’t make me beg.”

“No, shut up. I’m telling you that’s Carter Greene.”

“So?”

This was exasperating! Why wouldn’t a witch want to help me possess someone? I am proof of the supernatural and no one ever got hurt. It was just one day to them and it meant the whole year to me. One night of life to get me through death…

“He killed my cat,” she said her voice dropping low and dangerous.

“Do you want me to contact your cat on the other side or something? I can do that for you,” I offered. “I hang out with my neighbor’s dog. He was cool in life and he is super creepy in death.”

“This is your lucky night Kevin,” she said tone sultry.

I perked up. “Is it? I hope it is. Why is it?”

“Because I know a spell.”

“You’re a witch,” I replied, “aren’t you supposed to know a lot of spells?”

She laughed. “I like you.”

I flashed her a grin. She was great, really great and it looked like I was getting my wish. I could already taste the cheese and sauce. “I like you too.”

“Great, because after tonight, you’re going to owe me one.”

“Okay,” I agreed easily. I was a ghost. There wasn’t much I could offer. Company? Might be nice to have someone new to talk to after Halloween. Of course, she’d have to come here to the O’Briens. It was where I haunted after all. “Sure. One favor.”

“Let’s go.”

Inside the dance party had broken up into small groups of hard drinkers. My witch led me into the kitchen where she mixed two rum and cokes. She drew a symbol on one with runic swirls or something and whispered into it. The cup glowed green. I didn’t get it, was the spell to make whoever drank it want to start a seance? She gave me a wink and walked into the party on the hunt for Carter.

He was smashing a beer can against his forehead. We rolled our eyes at him. Squaring her shoulders, my witch stalked over to him and turned up the charm by acting sloshed. Bumping into him, she slurred, “You’ve got to help me, Carter.”

“With what, Brin?” he asked, steadying her.

“Mandy made me two drinks,” my witch said, holding up her cup and then the enchanted one. “I’m so gone. Can’t waste it.”

Carter’s smile was predatory. “What do I get for helping you?”

Brin leaned in and whispered in his ear. Carter took the cup she offered and downed it. Done, he crushed the red cup and chucked it at a girl in a unicorn onesie. The girl ran from the room and Carter laughed darkly. He reached for Brin and pulled her close. The urge to punch him flitted through my form as he sealed his mouth over my new friend as if he were a vacuum hose. Brin slipped an arm around him, holding him upright as a blurry image of Carter fell out of his body and crashed to the carpet, looking hazy and indistinct.

Brin’s finger crooked at me.

I looked at Carter. I looked at Carter’s body. Oh, ho, no way! Brin’s expression became strained and she crooked her finger again and indicated the body. I didn’t need to be told a third time. I flitted forward and slipped into Carter’s skin. It was like sinking into a dirty bathtub. It was slimy and gross with leftover dark thoughts. I filled up the dark corners with my spirit until I clicked into place and took over the kiss.

My arms tightened around Brin. I gentled the pressure on her mouth from bruising to gentle and she reached up to touch my face. We separated by inches, smirking at each other. I glanced to the floor to see Carter fading away.

“Brin,” I whispered, “What did you do?”

“Uh uh, you owe me a drink and a favor,” she said and placed a finger over my lips.

“Is this…”

“Permanent? Yeah, come on,” Brin’s grin was brilliant as she took my hand and led me into my new life.

end.

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Take Out

The house music boomed, making her hot blood pulse. Cloven hooves tapped out the beat setting the anklet to jingling with its tiny golden bells. Her wings were furled but the black feathers gleamed purple and green with iridescence. Her fellow demons had laughed at her for sneaking out of the Underworld to visit humans without being called by them. Soul-stealing was a jumping business in this economy. No need to go on soul scavenging trips when sad little pathetic humans were tripping over themselves to get talents or wishes granted.

She didn’t want a soul for the devil. She wanted one for herself, a pet human, a friend, or lover. She dressed the part, in a form-fitting black leather dress that did nothing to hide her ample bosom and long neck. Her tail, hooves, and horns were all painted with purple glitter. The party would be the perfect place to snare a tiny beating heart.

A human male with dark eyes and fluffy hair approached her with a bottle in each hand. He was thin, shorter than her by half a foot, although as a demon she was nearly seven feet tall and taller still if you measured the horns curling back from her head. He had horns as well, paper-mache ones painted in vermilion. The beers were sealed.

“Wow, great costume! Are you a demon?” he asked, “I’m a demon. I couldn’t get the wings right but I did the tail.” He spun and wiggled his butt. “I put a string on it, so I can control it. Made it out of weed barrier. I’m a landscaper. You want one? It’s sealed.”

The whirlwind of conversation amused her. She nodded and he popped the cap off of a beer with his bottle opener shaped like a shark. He handed it to her, popped his own cap and clinked his bottle into hers. “Cheers!”

“Cheers?”

He drank half his beer in one go. She followed suit, unsure of the drinking customs in this time. He winked and polished his off. She raised her eyebrows. He grinned brightly. She was unsure of how to proceed, so she stared. The smile on his face dimmed.

“Am I bothering you? I can go. Only, everyone inside is dressed as TV characters and you and I are the only demons. Thought it might be fun to hang out with another demon for a bit,” he said.

She grinned, showing him miles of sharp pointy teeth. “Yes, we demons should stick together.”

“Good, great,” he said, laughing in relief. “Want another beer?”

“Yes,” she said, amused with her new human friend.

He disappeared and reappeared with a small bucket full of them. She let him open her beer for the second time and he flipped the caps into the bushes with a bit of flare. He took a sip but didn’t chug it, so she copied him.

“So, what made you want to be a demon for Halloween?” he asked.

Ah, humans did like small talk. Demons not so much. “I was looking for someone to go home with.”

He flushed. “You-what?”

“I came here to find someone to take home. Haven’t had any company in a few centuries,” she explained, knowing he would never believe her honest truth. He would think her funny with metaphors.

“Oh,” he replied and downed his beer. It seemed to give him strength for the next moment he offered, “I could go home with you. If you want me to.”

Sometimes it was too easy.

fin.

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Slaughter

“I’m going to carve 100 pumpkins,” Laura said.

My daughter held up a rusty steak knife and lightning flashed behind her. Thunder rolled across the heavens and all thoughts save two were blown from my mind on a Halloween breeze:

  1. Where the heck was I going to get 100 pumpkins?
  2. When did my daughter get that steak knife?

“Darling,” I said, “that’s a lot of pumpkins. You’re seven. Last year we did two and we both needed to have a nap.”

Laura wielded the knife like an ancient Viking warrior. “I must have pumpkins, Daddy.”

“Great, I’ll bring the car around.”

My little princess sheathed her rusty sword in a little scabbard she had made herself from one of those felt sheets that were foam instead of felt, so a foam sheet thing from the craft store and I made quick calculations on both of our tetanus shots. She was unconcerned. I decided to roll with it. We had had a tough year and if pumpkin slaughter would make us feel better, why not?

Out of the car as soon as it stopped, she drew her steak knife and charged the patch. I handed my credit card to a surprised teen with bright blue hair and an apron that said, ‘Happy Acres.’ I should have known she would eventually go on a berserker rage. It was in her blood. I had once tried to cut down a tree with a butter knife while in a similar mood. I texted Carrie, my wife, a picture of our daughter dragging pumpkins into a pile by their stems with the caption, ‘bonding.’

I waved at the teen and he brought me a jug of cider. I chugged it. Laura was now randomly stabbing the pumpkins. I sighed and approached the murder scene. Laura grinned up at me. She was dripping in pumpkin juice and had managed to get the top off of one of her unfortunate victims. I offered her the jug of apple cider.

She took the jug and handed me the knife. I stabbed a pumpkin. I know I should have taken the knife and been a responsible adult. I didn’t. I just stabbed the pumpkin again, forming a crude triangle eye. My daughter doused herself in apple cider and let out a war cry. Another rusted piece of cutlery appeared in her hands, a spoon this time, and she attacked the guts of a scalped pumpkin.

Her wide gray eyes were bright with excitement, joy, and an eensy bit of crazy. I called the teen over as my little Viking carved her first pumpkin by caving its head in. “We’re going to need more cider,” I told him.

“And donuts,” she said as she bit into a pumpkin, growling.

God, I live for Halloween.

End.

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The Apple Thief’s Friend

The deer was not majestic.

Behind the chain link fence, the deer had his tongue out in a blep. He was scrawny and undignified. Lane eyeballed him and he stuck his tongue out at her before blinking. Lane, dressed in deer patterned leggings and an oversized sweater, held her white bucket tightly. It was loaded to the brim with gala apples.

“No,” she told him.

The deer tilted his head and licked the fence. Lane rolled her eyes at the deer. She pointed to the ‘no deer in the orchard sign.’ He was unimpressed and stomped a delicate hoofprint into the wet ground. Nose twitching, he tilted his head toward the gate.

Lane’s sister approached her with her own bucket brimming with Granny Smiths. “I’m going to make a pie and some turnovers before I let Mom turn the rest into apple butter or oooo jam! Whatcha doing?”

“Talking to this deer,” Lane told her sister.

Allison was in black leggings but her sweater was a smaller version of the one her sister wore. She did her hair in the same braids as Lane even though hers was cornsilk to Lane’s fawn-colored hair. They had the same green eyes but Allison was not one to talk to deer.

“Deer don’t have vocal cords,” she remarked.

It was just like Ally to be literal and factual and scientific. Lane ignored all of it and pointed to the deer who was still scrawny, still undignified, and still offering her an unobstructed view of his tongue. Lane huffed.

“He wants to get into the orchard,” Lane remarked as the deer bobbed his head as if in agreement. “I’ve told him deer aren’t allowed by indicating the sign.”

“Deer can’t read,” Allison countered.

“It’s a pictogram,” Lane argued. “See,” Lane said to the deer as she pointed to the cartoon version on the sign, “This is you, and this is no. Savvy?”

The deer stared. Blinked twice.

Allison shook her head. “I’m going to get some Winesaps too. You coming?”

“In a minute, I’m in the middle of something here,” Lane said.

Allison bounded away with her bucket of apples. Lane stared at the deer. The deer stared back.

“I’m not letting you in,” she told him.

He blepped.

“Seriously, you can’t come into the orchard, it’s not allowed,” Lane insisted.

The deer’s eyes went from hers to the gate and back again.

“No.”

The deer’s eyes went from hers to the gate and back again.

“No, stop.”

The deer’s eyes went from hers to the gate, paused, he pawed the ground, and looked back again.

Lane looked to the heavens. When she looked back, the deer was still there. The deer was still staring. He was still poking his tongue out at her adorably with his scrawny undignified person. Lane opened the gate, stepping back out of his way. He bowed.

“Yeah, you’re welcome. If anyone asks, I was never here.”

The deer slipped into the orchard and disappeared into the trees.

The End.

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Benny Tells Lies

“I met Michael Jackson before he died,” Benny said, embellishing the story. He had seen the King of Pop on a corner and waved at him. “He was super nice and let me listen to his new song. He did the moonwalk for me and they interviewed me for a national paper. It was cool.”

Maya nodded. “Cool,” she remarked.

Benny sighed. Nothing he said ever impressed Maya and he so wanted to impress her. She was gorgeous with her rich russet skin and large grass green eyes. Her hair was in long braids down her back and she had dressed conservatively today in a harvest gold dress with a floral print. Her expression wasn’t pretty, however. She looked irritated. He had no idea why. He’d tried telling her about his stint with Nirvana in the 90s and she hadn’t even acknowledged him. Sure Kurt hadn’t let him play guitar on stage, but he had done a soundcheck once when the sound guy was in the john. He had regaled her with tale after embellished tale making himself seem whimsical, intelligent, caring, and just plain amazing. Still, she never fell into his arms. She never loved him.

“Why don’t you like me, Maya?”

“Ben,” Maya said, her tone saying she was annoyed and about to disappear back to her desk. She was only talking to him now because the coffee hadn’t finished brewing and Maya loved her coffee. Benny knew that and had taken the last of the coffee, so she would get one from the fresh pot and maybe stick around and talk to him for a moment. “You’re full of garbage. You haven’t told me one true thing in the five years we’ve known each other.”

“That is so-I always tell you the truth,” Benny argued. Well, he did tell her kernels of truth. He just liked to add icing on top to make them better and more impressive so she would be impressed.

Maya rolled her eyes. “Tell me one true thing right now. No lies, no embellishments. Just pure, unadulterated truth.”

Benny frowned. “I always tell you the truth.”

She poured herself a cup of coffee before it was done percolating. Benny stood there listening as the coffee awkwardly pinged against the bottom of the maker. Coffee was spreading from the base to the table as she poured. She eyed him the entire time, daring him to call her out for making the mess.

“Admit you took the last of the coffee so you could terrorize me with one of your garbage stories, and maybe I’ll thinking about downgrading my hatred of you, to a rich dislike.” Maya dared him as she reached for the creamer. She had to reach past him because he had moved it farther away so she would have to reach past him. He had put new cologne on. He was convinced if she got a proper whiff of it, she would like it, and in return him. She leaned back and sneezed.

Benny worried the cozy on his paper cup. “I knew you wouldn’t want to drink the dregs.”

“Hm,” Maya said. He was blocking her way out of the room. “But you didn’t start the new pot. You waited for me to start the new pot. Yeah, think I’m going to stick to a deep-seated hatred of you if it’s all the same.”

“No Maya,” Benny protested. “Come on! I like you. Why won’t you give me a chance?”

“Because you tell lies, Benny,” Maya answered. “You tell lies and you make my life more complicated and annoying just to tell me these stupid lies. You never stood a chance, Ben.”

“But-but,” Benny sputtered. “I once saw Death eating a fudge pop!” he blurted.

“Eat a fudge pop, Benny,” Maya said in a nasty tone. “Talk to me again and I’ll call HR.”

“But that wasn’t a lie! Maya! That was true! I did! A woman had a heart attack at an ice cream truck and he took her fudge pop!” Benny chased after Maya.

Maya went to HR. Benny was outside holding his box of supplies by the end of the day. That night found him sitting on the Trenton Bridge looking down at the murky, polluted waters. A man in a black tracksuit walked up to him.

“Hey,” Benny called out to the stranger. “Do you like hoagies?”

“Sure,” the man in the tracksuit replied, slowing to a stop. “Why? Do you have one? I gotta tell you, I haven’t had a single thing to eat in forever. I can barely remember what it was…”

“No, well, I don’t have one on me. I was just going to say, I invented them. So, you can thank me for that,” Benny said, trying to perfect his breezy tone. There was something unsettling about the man in front of him. He had a shock of brown hair, nice features for a guy but his skin was a sick milk color. “I mean, you don’t have to thank me…”

The man leaned against the bridge’s rail and eyed Benny up and down. “Hoagie inventor, huh? Worked at the naval yard then…? Or are you just lying, Benny?”

“I-I no, I did work at there and it was after this guy Hogan, Irish guy and we…” he trailed off as the man stared.

His expression was a mixture of disappointment and disgust. “Seriously, Benny?”

“What-?”

“You want your last conversation ever to be about some urban myth about how hoagies got their name? Ugh, why do I even bother!” the man rolled his eyes and snapped his fingers, “Oh wow! I remember now. The last thing I ate and it was years ago now, was a fudge pop!”

End.

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Salt Water Taffy

“So, you come here often?”

I was an idiot. I have no idea how to be suave, so the sentence escaped my mouth in a rush of adrenaline. It was definitely a ‘panic pick up line.’ I am too much of a coward to ever speak to people. I get tongue tied, make a few noises, panic and leave. I’m not stupid. I know she was just people and I’m people too-erm, a person too-but anxiety is crippling.

She stopped shoveling salt water taffy into a box long enough to look up at me with her wide spaced sparkly gray eyes. Those eyes did things to my insides. Everything was suddenly too close and too warm. I had never in my life seen eyes that deep and full of glitter. I’m not poetic. She had glitter eyes.

Stunned, all I could do was stare and I try desperately to remember how to breathe. A large tee covered her from neck to mid-thigh like the tackiest dress. ‘Lifeguard’ in red swam across the shirt and it was soaking wet in spots. She or the short or the shop itself smelled like something had crawled out of the high tide. She was shoeless.

No one seemed to have noticed her but me. They were all blind, probably, because her hair was shockingly pink and down to her t-shirt covered butt. And on top of the bright hair and outward weirdness, she was the most attractive woman I had ever seen.

“It’s Salt Water Taffy Season,” she told me, smiling with bright white teeth, “I love saltwater taffy. Do you like it?”

“I ah, it um get’s stuck in my teeth,” I reply brilliantly.

Her gray eyes flood with worry. “You have to suck on them until they get soft,” she tells me.

“Thanks,” I said and got a soft smile as my reward.

She tossed her hair over one shoulder and went back to trying to fill the box with all the salt water taffy the store had. Once the box was full, her eyes met mine again, calculating. With a wide wink, she stuffed the entire box under her shirt and raced out of the store. The teenager watching the register didn’t give chase. He hardly even looked up from the magazine he had spread over the counter. In an even tone he said, “Hey, you stop.”

I slipped out of the shop a few seconds later so the teenager wouldn’t think I was in on the salt water heist, not that he would care. He was definitely up for employee of the month. Once out in the bright sun, I scanned the crowd for pink. The boardwalk was teeming with children, parents, and couples. Giant stuffed animals trailed from tired parents’ obscuring the view. I walked from one end of the boards to the other before giving up. The thief was gone. The disappointment I felt was a punch to the gut. She was the most interesting person I had spoken to all summer and now she had vanished into the air. I went home.

I tried to give up on her but the Salt Water Taffy Thief stayed with me. Every time I was near a shop or on the boards, I couldn’t resist the urge to hunt for her. Sometimes I thought I would catch a glimpse of her but it was always my imagination. Still, I kept my ear to the ground for any more salt water taffy heists. There were three. A man at the pizza shop told me pounds of the stuff had gone missing. He didn’t know she was the pink haired beauty I had met.

I spent every summer down the shore watching the house for a friend who hated the tourist season but hated the idea of renting more. The house was on the bay with lovely color themed rooms and it was a great way to recharge after teaching ten-year-olds all year. And because I was practically a local, I preferred to go down to the beach after most of the families and the lifeguards had gone home for the day. I would set up my blanket, slather on sunblock and pull out a book to read. A week after I had seen the thief, I did just that.

The lingering heat forced me out into the ocean. I swam out past the breakers and rolled onto my back, only doing what I had to do to stay afloat. Blue sky arched above me with not a single puffy cloud appeared to ruin it. This is how the world should look; serene and blue, not noisy and full of spitballs.

Before I knew it the blue was deepening, darkening. I sat up and started to tread water. The sun had slipped down to the edge of the water and as I watched the sky turned a magnificent crimson tinged in cinnamon before fading into a dark plum. The ocean ate the sun and left me alone. I sighed. It was time to go back to the house.

Except the shore was much farther away than I remembered it being. I rolled my eyes at my own stupidity. I struck out with long strokes. I wasn’t worried. I was a strong swimmer. I was more annoyed that I was going to ruin my peaceful moment with a dash for the beach. A tail slapped the water near me. Startled, I spun to see if it was the soft rounded dorsal fin of a dolphin or the more vertical, straighter of a shark.

The slap happened closer to me. I backed away and continued to head for the shore. The current picked up and at first, I thought it would be a bro and toss me up onto the beach. Instead, it dragged me backward, closer to the tail slapping the water. But the ocean was crueler still and I hadn’t checked to see what the undertow was before swimming out. A large wave crashed over my head and I was dragged under.

I was in inky black unable to tell up from down as the currents buffeted me. Things brushed my legs and arms. My lungs burned. I wanted to exhale. I didn’t. I knew better. What was in my lungs was all I had left. I made a decision to strike out in a direction. I had no idea if it was up or down. The water was numbing my extremities now. The pressure in my ears was building and the things were terrifying. I still didn’t know whose tail had been within slapping distance of me and where it was now.

I chose wrong. The pressure increased. I spun around to try again. Flailing, I was lost in the dark, cold water. My mouth opened and bubbles escaped. Heaviness filled my bones. I was too tired to panic. I stopped fighting.

I shot forward gasping for breath. I flailed and a strong hand gripped mine, squeezing it. Confusion flooded me as sunlight hit my skin and soft blanket met my legs.

“Safe,” a familiar voice told me. She repeated the word until it seeped into my sun-warmed skin.

My saltwater taffy thief sat beside me with her cloud of pink hair. It was damp and curling around her face making her a pink fluffy angel. She was grinning. I smiled back. Surrounded by saltwater taffy wrappers and sitting on my blanket in her bare feet, she fluffed my hair affectionately. She was wearing a lemon yellow muscle tee with a whale on it and nothing else.

“Hi,” I said, dazed.

“You want one,” she asked, holding up a plastic bag full of candy.

My stomach felt like it was full of saltwater. My head hurt and my sinuses burned. I was dry but since I had sat up, water was trickling out of my ears and I could feel sand everywhere and I mean everywhere. Sugar was the last thing I should be putting in my battered body.

“No thanks. I’m not hungry. What happened?”

She sniffed. “You didn’t listen to me. I slapped the water to get you to go away from the bad currents but you swam right into them.”

“You slapped the water? I thought I saw a tail. I thought you were a shark!” I exclaimed to giggles.

“Lucky you, it’s still Salt Water Taffy Season and I was near the beach. I dragged you out.”

Bemused, I thanked her and offered, “You can get salt water taffy all year long. They don’t stop selling it after the tourists leave.”

She shook her head like I was a particularly stupid specimen of the human race. I couldn’t blame her. I felt that way about myself most of the time. “Can’t steal it if there’s no crowd to disappear into. As it is, I’ve hit my last store. I have to be careful and not steal too much. I can’t get caught.”

“Why not buy some?” I asked.

“No money,” she said and her gray eyes brightened, the sparkle swirling. I felt like I could drown in them which was unfortunate after my almost drowning. “I don’t have a job. Jobs are a weird concept. Do you have one?” she asked.

“A job? Yeah, I teach math,” I told her.

She counted out loud as she ate candy and I grinned. I wanted to see her again. I wanted to see her again and again.

“Do you live out here?” I asked.

Bobbing her head, she gathered the wrappers and raced them away to a trash can. In seconds she was back, stretching long pale legs out beside me. The skin was just a bit too pale, almost like the underbelly of a snake or a fish. She took large handfuls of her hair and finger combed it until it behaved. Her body was lean if well-muscled.

“Do you have a home,” I asked.

She glanced out at the water and ignored the question.

“What’s your name?”

No answer came and she bumped my shoulder before standing up. “Stay out of the bad currents.”

“Wait,” I called.

She walked out into the waves. Halfway out, she turned back to wave at me. I waved back.  Seconds later a tail slapped the water.

Three days later I bought all the salt water taffy I could find and left it on the beach.

Fin.

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