SMOKE: By Rachel Unger

Fire filled the apartment.

Flames washed up the wall in yellow, sick-making ripples.  Smoke boiled in the corners.  There were faint pops and crashes as overheated ceramic dashed itself to pieces against the floor, but overwhelmingly it was the fire that roared in my ears.  I watched it break the furniture down, the kitchen table collapsing in on itself.

Ravenous. Devouring.  Beautiful, insatiable hunger.

In a strange way, it reminded me of her. The hunger, the heat – the pain.

No one expects a stranger to bite them, you see.  Or maybe they do.  Maybe that’s why, the reason, the lure.

When she’d looked at me across the parking lot, I’d wanted to believe that hunger was for me.  Her eyes glowed gold under the sodium-yellow streetlights.  Her breath steamed in the air.  I remembered the cold touch of her leather jacket under my hands when she leaned into me.

I’d reached up to brush away a strand of hair, caught between my mouth and hers.  Then my lip stung and it was bleeding.  She leapt away, a flash of luminous eyes and a waft of hot breath her only goodbye.

No one thinks things like rabies, when kissed by a stranger on New Year’s Eve.  Communicable is perhaps the farthest the thought goes. Just a kiss, if a bit rough.

No one expects to go bounding across rooftops clad only in hair and hunger a week later, but it happens.  I found something reddish under my nails the next morning, a bit crusty.  Like dirt, but… not.

I watched the news, wondering about fingerprints and DNA.  Wondering if those change, too.

Waiting for the knock at the door.  Where there’s smoke, after all.

I took to walking at night obsessively, my steps returning endlessly to the parking lot and the surrounding streets.  I never saw her.

It was the bright gleam of the streetlamps that gave me the idea.  Warm, golden glow, like molten gold.  Fire.

I waited until the dark of the moon, just in case.  I doused the apartment in gasoline.  Nothing fancy, nothing really well planned.  I doused myself.  I looped the chain of the handcuffs around the gas intake pipe for the furnace and ratcheted them shut.

The rasp of the match was louder than the whumph as the fumes ignited.

The fire stole the breath from my lungs, just as she had. I hoped the consumption this time would be more thorough.

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©2013 Rachel Unger

 Rachel has seen the sun rise from a mountaintop, faced down a tarantula in the wild, and seen the Milky Way from the desert. She used to play with dirt for a living, but these days is finishing her thesis work on Devonian carbonates.

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ROOM 13A: By Anthony Santana

“Are you sure that’s all you remember?” Detective Lane asked Patricia.

The detective and Patricia Harper sat on the porch around midday, the sun lighting up the once dreary day. She made attempts to recount the events that had lead her to that hotel room despite the tears trying their hardest to come out.

“Why don’t we take it from the top? Just one more time.”

“Why? I told you everything…” She said.

“For my notes. Just one more time, I promise. Please, try to remember as much detail as you can.”

She took a minute to compose herself, mindlessly staring at the Detective’s tie. In all reality, Patricia has no desire to recall the past few hours. She could still recall the smell of his cologne, the way his hand felt on her thighs, and they way his mouth moved when he lied.

“He told me his name was Jim. Jim Craven,” She said, “and we had been seeing each other for a few months.”

“Jim came off as caring and funny. Everyone liked him, and it was no surprise when I fell for him at an office party. A few months later, we were dating. It seemed… right. W-we planned a vacation for ourselves; ‘Vegas!’ he said. ‘It’ll be great!’ he said. I was a fool…”

“Miss Harper?” The detective reached his hand across the table to comfort her, but Patricia pulled away.

“I’m fine. Anyway, we were well on our way here when things started seeming strange. He was acting off, watching the mirrors of the car constantly. Every few minutes he’d check those goddamn mirrors and play with his collar. He insisted that everything was okay.”

“What happened next, Miss Harper?”

“We got to Vegas. Everything was great at first. We went to great restaurants, had champagne in the hot tub, and relaxed with each other. But in the middle of the night, someone knocked at the door.”

“Who was it?”

“I couldn’t see them. I could barely hear them. They said something about ‘paying what you owe’, and when I asked Jim about it he said it was room service at the wrong room. I was stupid. I wanted to believe it. The next day I heard him on the phone with someone, he said something about getting the money to them soon.”

Patricia started crying a little, but she pulled herself together and continued the story.

“The next night we were making love and…”

“And?”

“And they came in…”

“Who are ‘they’, Miss Harper? Who did you see?”

“They wore masks. I do—I don’t know who they were! They barged in the door, yelled ‘Time’s up!’ and just shot him. H-his blood was all over me! I ran before they could shoot me too! I just ran!”

She began crying hysterically, and Detective Lane rubbed his temples. She hadn’t seen much and there was nothing he could really go off of. The rest of the police officers had already taken the body to the morgue and the hotel had cleaned up the rest of the mess. At most, the Detective could try to comfort her.

“His real name was James Turner. He was a professional con man back in the day. Until he conned the wrong mafia syndicate out of a few hundred grand and made his escape. I think he came here to try to give them what he owed them back. I honestly believe he wanted to change for you. I’m sorry.”

Detective Lane got up, placed his hand on her shoulder, and said, “I’ll do everything I can to get them.” He walked out of the room and called a number on his cell phone.

“She doesn’t know anything.”

“Get rid of her anyway,” the voice on the other line said.

“Sir, I—”

“You know the rules. Do it.”

“…Yes, sir.”

The detective hung up and cocked his gun.

“I really hate this part of the job.”

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©2014 Anthony Santana
Anthony Santana is an aspiring writing who’s currently attending Full Sail University.
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