Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Affinity CoLab's First Halloween Micro-Issue!

Happy Halloween Dear Readers!

We have a spooky edition for you tonight! So, let us entertain as you wait for that doorbell to ring or as you settle in after a night of trick-or-treating with a pile of sweets nearby with:

The Sweatshirt, a short fiction piece by Katy Comber
Three Stories, by Abby Cohen
Ghost Stories, a poem by deep blue river
Birthday Present, a short fiction piece by Sharon Hajj
The Town, a chilling poem by Katy Comber

Happy Reading!

Yours,
Affinity CoLab


Ghost Stories: Words Left Unsaid, Katy Comber

The Sweatshirt
By Katy Comber


Kendra perched before Adam in the worn out Penn State sweatshirt. She never just sat flat on her rear. Always antsy; never quite comfortable with the surfaces the world provided. The sleeves of the sweatshirt were frayed from years of being constantly twisted and stretched into balls tucked over and into her consistently icy hands and her impossible habit of gnawing on the cuffs whenever she wanted a cigarette. Her unwashed hair in a lopsided auburn knot and the heavy bags under her eyes made the words he'd planned to say halt midway and form a lump in his throat. For some reason he wanted the sweatshirt back. It was more hers than his at this point, but--but it felt wrong to see her in it.
Adam cleared his throat and smiled gratefully up at the waitress refilling his water. He could feel Kendra eyeing them both warily. Adam didn’t dare look in her direction. He knew the smug expression he’d find if he did. The expression would say the words Kendra could not say out loud: “See? You treat everyone better than me. Everyone. Even the dumpy waitress gets that megawatt smile.”
Adam sighed and straightened. Cleared his throat again. Kendra cleared hers too. Was she mocking him? Adam refused to look at her. The person across the table, picking at her pizza like a bird, was not the person he met four years ago. She was a stranger. There was too much to say. The right words were on the tip of Adam’s tongue.
“I think we should end it.” Her words rung in Adam’s ears. Then Kendra pulled off the Penn State sweatshirt, folded it neatly onto her chair, and left.
Relief swam through Adam.


Kendra perched on her chair. The seats were sticky from a mysterious red residue. Hawaiian punch? Maybe? Kids spilled their drinks so often at Tony’s that she hardly ever found a clean seat. The sweatshirt hung loose on her shoulders. She and Adam used to be about the same size. They were both so tall that when they first started dating, Adam put on a pair of her jeans as a joke. The denim hugged him so well and the skinny jean was so on trend, that Kendra joked that his ass looked so much better than hers and he should just keep them. Kendra remembered how much fun they had pulling them off, too.
Now, her athletic build was shrinking and his was expanding. No more jokes about sharing clothes. The sweatshirt was falling apart, but she wore it today with optimism. A reminder of the good times. Adam had only glanced over at her once the entire meal. He woofed down his half of the pizza while she could barely chew. Her stomach wrestled into knots.
The waitress appeared. Kendra scanned her body. A full-figured beauty. She watched Adam smile at the waitress like he used to smile at her. She looked down at the shirt-sleeve cuffs and dared herself not to chew on them. She’d quit smoking months ago. Adam coughed and seemed annoyed when she choked back the sob that had been welling up since the moment Adam walked in and looked at everything and every person in the room but her. She knew this was it. She knew that the month of separation would be extended indefinitely. They didn’t talk anymore. Too many things had happened unremarked and ignored. She had to be the one to say it. This would be her final gift to him. He never liked being the bad guy.
“I think we should end it.” He still wasn’t looking at her, but the relaxed slumping of his shoulders indicated gratitude. The sweatshirt felt suddenly tighter. Suddenly confining. She took it off. Folded it. Placed it on the chair. And without hesitation, walked away from the best and worst four years of her life.

The waitress looked at the couple occupying table 18. They were in here a lot less than usual, but regular faces just the same. The guy always tipped well and would occasionally come in without his girl. Lately he’d been ordering a large all meat to go. The girl always ordered broccoli and pineapple. The first time that order came through Tony asked if he was being punked. Then he took one look at the cheerful redhead, grunted, and made the order with more pineapple the waitress had ever seen on a Tony’s pizza. The girl was stunning. Even now when she appeared unshowered, sleep deprived, and shrinking into that raggedy sweatshirt. When the guy ordered his usual, the waitress looked over to his date in shock. The girl just smiled wanly and nodded. Now, the waitress observed her quietly picking off the meat and playing with the slice in front of her. What was the guy thinking? It looked like they were going to break up. When it looked like the guy was about to speak, the waitress hurried over to refill his water in hopes of overhearing something. He smiled as she poured. That smile chilled her to the bone. He looked up in her direction, but his eyes went right through her. As though she were a shadow and he was smiling at everything behind her. She did not return it. She did not know how. Instead she retreated to another table. A family of four. Goofy and a mess, but warm. The next time she looked at the couple’s table, the girl was gone and the guy with the absent grin was zoned out and munching on the last slice of pizza.

The bells on the door tinkled lightly as Adam left the pizzeria. The sweatshirt hung limply by his side. An overfilled trash bin sat on the corner in the opposite direction of where he needed to go. He looked down at the tangible ghost, now gripped tight in his white knuckled hands. The threads of blue and white drifting out from the cuffs and the stretched out collar. A phantom of a memory: A morning after. Finding Kendra curled up in his sweatshirt. His heart ready to burst with joy at the sight of this girl. His girl.
The bells of the door chimed behind him. Adam jumped. The waitress started at his expression and quickly turned to busy herself with locking up for the night. She's pretty. The thought struck Adam as he walked over to the trash bin and dumped the sweatshirt on a pile of overflowing refuse. 
The waitress shuddered to herself as she remembered that haunting bemused grin from before. In order to walk back to her apartment, she had to walk by him. It was the most efficient way to go. Her entire body ached from a double shift. Even her hair hurt. She just wanted to go home. She swiftly passed him hoping to go unnoticed. Her heart thrummed and then slowed. He wasn't looking at her. He was just very still and dazed. One of her final thoughts was how odd he seemed standing there staring down at something he'd thrown away. 
Adam looked up and observed her from a slight distance; he watched the sway of her hips as she strode. Then, without thought or invitation, he began to follow-- leaving the sweatshirt, seeped in memories, in its own wake.

Ghost Stories: Words Left Unsaid, Abby Cohen

Three Stories
by Abby Cohen

ESCAPE

This is a locked room. There is no escape. No windows. One door. They are coming back soon. There is no escape.

They think I did something wrong. Something bad. They came and took me from my home. No explanations. The neighbors saw me being taken away. How will I ever go home again? Will I ever go home again?

The light in here is odd. Not the one classic glaring light bulb. But diffused. It’s coming from the corners of the ceiling. Somehow I find that more alarming. I would rather the cliched light bulb.

There is no escape. I keep looking at the ceiling. But. This is not a movie. I can’t go up above the ceiling tiles. There aren’t any. It’s a solid piece. I don’t know what kind of material. Why am I thinking about this? Why do I care what the ceiling is made of? I need to get out of here.

There is no escape.

Can I talk my way out? They seem very grim, these people. No chitchat. Solemn forbidding faces and a gray pallor. They have spent too much time inside this building with no windows and strange light. I doubt they will talk to me of anything. If only I knew what I had done?

There is no escape.

THE DOOR

What’s behind the door? Why is it closed? Is there something on the other side people are hiding? Or someone? A fugitive from justice or the law-not always the same thing.  A refugee from a bad marriage, bad parents, a bad life? What’s behind that door? Illegally gotten gains, paintings displaying a horrifying inner life, science experiments beyond all acceptable codes of ethics?

What’s behind that door, why is it closed? To keep us out. Some outcast of the freak shows at the circuses we no longer have. Someone who simply can’t cope with human contact and has arranged for his/her whole life through the mail and meals through a slot on the door.

What’s behind that door? Why is it closed? A visitor from outer space who controls the people of this house. Or are helping voluntarily keep it safe from the government or corporations who might do ghastly experiments on it.

What’s behind the door? Why is it closed? It might be mundane. Mounds of dirty laundry and so forth. But maybe not.

What is behind that door? Why is it closed?

THE SOUND

The sound was faint but definitely there. It was hard to define. There were rustles coming from corners of the room, but nothing appeared when she looked. Not quite like the crinkling of leaves. More like the rustling of ladies dresses. Which was even more odd. Ladies never wore dresses like that anymore. Except to award ceremonies or fancy fundraisers. And less and less even there. And this was not that sort of place in any case. Just a little old house that had never seen anything fancy in its whole life. No lady with wealth had ever set foot in here. 

The old house had always been the domain of the working class. Both parents factory workers or a lady renting out the spare bedrooms for room and board; maybe even putting the odd stray in the basement for a lesser sum of money. Would those sorts of women have had dresses that rustled like this? And why was she thinking about it? 

It must be an odd noise coming from the ventilation system; maybe, some piece of paper stuck against a duct was making that whispery sound. It had to be. After all, she was a realtor and a realist. While she didn’t believe in ghosts, she knew some people did. She had done her research and no one had died here. No appalling crime had ever happened in this house.

Still this faint little noise continued. She whirled about and looked again. The rustling. She decided to wait outside for the client.

Ghost Stories: Words Left Unsaid, Debbie Carrier and deep blue river

Ghost stories 
By deep blue river 

The tap of my boot on a railroad track
As I go running across the bridge and running back

Watching
as the train noise rumbles around the bend
( friends are cheering)
hoping not to catch my boot in the slats between the ties
and hollerin' hallelujah
I made it ( again) beer bottles clankin'
Small college town
Nothin' much better to do
Than tell ghost stories
About words left unsaid
Around campfires
Smoke of longing manifesting
A runners high
Like desire

I try not to
Do that

Leave those words hanging
Still in the air
But sometimes
Best intentions
Puff up like cloudy
Adjectives
That don't deflat quickly
Or become bubble gum
Expanding outside
The lip line
Suspended
Saturday afternoon fizzy lifting drinks
Where verbs
Just ponder
The quietened atmosphere
Takes a javelin
Sometimes to bring them down
Swiftly

Runner on fire
Pants on fire
Your head's on fire
Your heart's on fire
To dance

Screaming across the railroad tracks
Suspended over a rocky creek
Stones tumbling
Tumbled
With time and graceful washing
Oh! The wanting

Not to get your foot stuck in the slats between the tracks when the train is coming
Head on
Straight on for you
Danger
Is a player that's a head on train
Full of force and steamy passion
Don't get your foot stuck
While screaming
Hallelujah!
Cause you ain't no saint
Just a college kid
Sitting
On the sidelines
Telling ghost stories about the ones
That got away

So words
Don't get left
Unsaid

Cause I try not to
Do
That.

Autumn is a good time to sit on the tracks
When not
As many trains come.
And watch the steamy fires
Carve a pumpkin
Eat some apple pie
Wear a scarf
Wrap yourself
Up

In a blanket.
Contemplate
Words.

Ghost Stories: Words Left Unsaid, Katy Comber

The Town
by Katy Comber

The sound was faint but 
it was definitely there. 
The entire town its audience. 
A creaking. 

In the cool mist settling 
there was a creaking.

Lights remained on. 
Lights remained blazing. 
As the townspeople lay shivering, quaking. 
Creak. Creak. Creak. 

A rocking after the 
snap, snap, snap 
ringing out; echoing.
A rocking. A creaking.

What have we done? 
What have we done? 
A witch! A witch! 
What have we done? 

Autumnal leaves vibrant in the full moonlight 
against the gray world. 
Dreams of specters pinching 
and yellow birds flitting 

A witch! A witch! 
What have we done? What have we done? 
Three nooses swaying, swaying. 
Empty, but still there was a creaking. 

What have we done? 

Ghost Stories: Words left unsaid, Sharon Hajj


“Birthday Present” by Sharon Hajj


Virginia Maple laid her book on the side table. The frayed cover left speckles of dust beside it. The book, still her favorite after all these years, reminded her of better times. It had been a gift from her husband for her 45th birthday. He had arrived home early from work to find her folding laundry.


“Honey, come downstairs for a second,” George called from the kitchen.


Virginia left the laundry on the bed and puffed up her hair. She walked down the stairs hoping he’d brought flowers home for her special day. When she turned the corner towards the kitchen, she caught him smoothing his hair and standing up a bit straighter. She smiled at how debonair he looked. After all these years of marriage, her heart still skipped a beat when she saw him.


He greeted her with a kiss and held up his hand which had been tucked behind his back.
In it, a thick navy book with elegant gold lettering was tied with a red ribbon.


“Happy Birthday! I wanted to find something special for you. Since you love books, I thought you could keep this forever. It’s a first edition from 1940. It has been kept so well it looks new.” George’s face lit up. He reached out to Virginia’s hands and placed the book on her palms.


Virginia looked down at the book and let her hands move and grip the edges.


“You should have seen the older woman there who helped me. She must be in her 80’s and knows every book in her store. I told her all about you and she found the book. I hope you love it.” George reached out and hugged Virginia, feeling the book pressed between them. When he let her go, tears streamed down her cheeks.


“Thank you, George. This means the world to me.” She wiped her cheeks and moved to her favorite chair. She opened the cover of the book, and after a few moments, looked back to George. “This is perfect.”


The book had always been there for Virginia, through the loss of their grandson, George losing his job, even when she had to sit with her mother, comforting her in her final days of life. The thick heavy book brought some stability to her life, a sturdy foundation even when she felt her world crumble around her. She carried it with her when she got the call her husband was in the hospital. She squeezed it under her arm when she had to face him lying in the bed with tubes coming out of his arm.


“Virginia… I have to confess….”


Virginia leaned over his body and pressed her lips to his forehead. “I’m here. I love you.” The beeping on the monitor played in the background while she waited. “George?”


The beeps slowed. He struggled to take a breath. An alarm rang on the machine and nurses ran into the room jumping between the two of them.


“George!” Virginia held tight to the book. Her head spun and the lights in the room swirled around her head. Suddenly, the scent of astringent stung her nose. She moved around the nurses and slumped into the chair in the corner. In an instant, her life changed right in front of her eyes.


When the doorbell rang bringing her back to the present moment, she patted the book, as if putting her memories away with it. She lifted herself from the chair and held onto the edges of the furniture as she moved towards the door. She grimaced when her arthritic hand gripped the handle. With the door open wide, she peered out to see an empty porch. She stepped out the door to get a better look. Out of the corner of her eye, she noticed a small light flash right above the rail. When she focused on the spot, the only thing moving was a small butterfly.


“George? Have you come to check on me?”


The door slammed shut behind her. She stepped to grasp the rail and look at the chrysanthemum her daughter had brought over to brighten up the front of her house. “You never did like chrysanthemums, did you, George?” She lifted the pot from the small table and with care, stepped down the front steps. “You sure would laugh at me walking without shoes!” The moist grass felt cool on her feet. She kept going until she could place the flower pot down next to her neighbors porch.


When she turned around, the scent of astringent startled her. After all these years, she recognized it immediately. It was the exact same scent as in the hospital room that day.


“Virginia….”


Her name sounded inside her head. It was immediate and intense.


“I have to confess….”


Virginia moved her frail legs as quickly as she could until she reached her front steps. Reaching out to catch herself, she collapsed hitting her ribs on the edge of the porch.


“Virginia….”


“No, George. I don’t want to know. Let me keep the good memories.” She realized she yelled when the neighbor across the street looked up at her.


“Are you okay, Mrs. Maple?” He asked.


Virginia nodded. “Yes, I’m fine. Thank you.”


“I have to confess….”


Unable to control herself, Virginia burst into tears. “I didn’t want you to leave me, George.”


“I have to confess….”

Virginia shook her head and lifted herself up from the steps. She made her way to the front door and twisted the handle. Before stepping into the house, she turned back. “You keep an eye on me from out here. That’s good enough.” She walked in and shut the door with a firm push. After making her way back to her chair, she picked up the navy book and hugged it, the stiff cover making her feel safe and secure once again.

THE END

For more about this author, see our Featured Books section!