Auld Lang Syne

by Derek Hamilton

I’ve seen this exact same party in stupid teen movies. The dining room’s primary function has been transformed to accommodate for beer pong. The kitchen counter is littered with dozens of bottles containing various types of alcohol. The front door is at the end of a long narrow hallway directly in front of me. I wish I could walk out that door right now. Annie wants me to be here, or at least she keeps making it seem like she does.

“What’s wrong?” she asks.

I think about how I could be spending New Year’s Eve anywhere else with my actual friends instead of in this shitty house with these idiots pretending to be adults. I lie and tell Annie that nothing is wrong, because I know that’s all she wants to hear. I can tell she doesn’t believe me. She nervously tucks her hair behind her ears, leans in, and kisses my cheek. She forces a smile and flutters off to join in the next round of shots at the kitchen counter.

It’s at this point that the host of the party, Lauren, stumbles into the bedroom door to my left. She’s so drunk that she can’t walk in her stupid four-inch heels. This is her house though, so I don’t know why she doesn’t just take the heels off. I have no idea.

She attempts to sit on the end of the bed, but slides off in a lurch. The enormous purple comforter clings to the bed frame, partly suspending her like a makeshift hammock. She calls to me, still holding onto her drink somehow, and asks me to help her up.

I really don’t want to be in a bedroom with an inebriated girl unsupervised. I look over my shoulder and can’t see Annie anywhere. She must have stepped outside for a smoke or gone to the bathroom.

Lauren grumbles incoherently as I grab her outstretched hands. She shakes her head like a toddler, waiving me toward her, signaling that she wants me to lean over to pick her up.

I can’t believe this shit.

Two or three girls gather in the doorway to raise a commotion about me putting the moves on Lauren. Fucking morons.

Annie appears in the doorway now, from wherever she was.

“GET THE FUCK OUT OF MY ROOM!” Lauren screams as she pushes me out the door and into the crowd gathering in the living room. Annie pulls me into the kitchen as everyone else’s attention quickly shifts to the TV to watch the ball drop.

“What was going on in there?” Annie asks.
“I was just trying to help her. She’s drunk as shit.” I explain.
“You don’t have to lie. It’s okay, you can tell me.”
“Nothing was going on, I swear. Why don’t you believe me?”
“Look,” she cups her hands and holds my face gently, “it’s totally fine if something happened,” she assures me, “I’ve been in those kinds of situations too, so I get it.” She giggles expectantly, hoping that I’ll join her in the laugh.

“What does that mean?” I ask sharply.
“I’m just saying, that’s how I’m sure I want to be with you,” she tries to convince me. “Just because I was with other guys doesn’t mean…” She continues on from there, but I already stopped listening.

Everyone in the living room counts down from ten. The crystal sphere descends upon Manhattan.

I reluctantly look into Annie’s eyes and see fear. I recognize it. It’s the same fear that consumed me two months ago when she told me that she didn’t want to be with me. It’s the same fear that tore me apart every night.

Annie’s slender fingers graze my cheek. I remember when I used to find peace from her touch. Now, it’s like the pores on my skin are electrified at every point of contact with her. Each charge sparks back to a memory from the break-up:

The gossip I would hear from people at school. Her late-night, drunken calls that would make me worry so much I couldn’t sleep. That hollow feeling in my stomach that wouldn’t go away until I heard her voice again.

And that’s when it happens. That’s when I realize – I don’t love her anymore.

I walk past Annie and head toward the front door. Our shoulders brush, but she stands her ground. I continue to pass by as she reaches her hand across my chest, her last attempt to stop me. I push her hand away.

She strings together a combination of obscenities and hurls them at me, but I don’t respond. I open the door as everyone in the living room cheers, welcoming the New Year.

I step on the lawn and the cold air hits me in the chest. Snow falls slowly, accumulating on the frozen lawns. I can still hear the muffled cheers from the living room, contrasted by the silence of the winter night.

There are dozens of cars lined up on the front yard, and that’s when I remember – Annie drove me here. I think it’s safe to say she won’t be giving me a ride home.

She’ll probably stay here all night. She’ll probably try to drink away the pain. She’ll probably fuck somebody she hardly knows. She’ll probably call me tomorrow and expect me to forgive her.

It wouldn’t be anything new because it’s all happened before, but it doesn’t matter now.

I bury my hands in my pockets and tilt my head up to the navy-blue sky, watching the gray clouds gather in front of the moon. I figure it’s about a five-mile walk home from here, but that won’t be so bad. Actually, it’s a good thing. New Year’s Eve is typically the night that most alcohol related automobile accidents take place.

Ah, who the fuck am I kidding? I wish I’d driven separately.


Derek Hamilton is a writer, musician, voiceover talent, and self-proclaimed nerd from Northeast Ohio. He’s a Columbia College Chicago alumni, a published poet, and currently works as a streaming media producer. You can find more of his work at derekhamiltonedits.com

Strangers

by Aria Starling

“A minute at the bottom of a staircase can change your life forever.”

Molly Baker, twenty-nine years old, single, no children, made that comment to her best friend Jill Katz somewhere around Christmas last year.

One afternoon, Molly shopped for holiday gifts with Jill, twenty-eight, married, one child. Molly had quit her job on Madison Avenue to teach high school English and whistled as they walked.

They took a wrong turn on 71st Street and passed a handsome stranger in a suit and tie who sat on the bottom steps of a townhouse. He yelled something into his cell phone about the price of gold.

They stared at each other until he said: “Nice hat.”

Molly smiled politely and stopped, praying for a hopeless romantic and not another creep.

He remained seated and tugged on the hem of her red winter coat.

“Sam Wolfe,” he said.

“Molly Baker.”

She relaxed and told Jill to go on ahead and meet up with her husband Andre and their son Jake.

She returned to Sam and listened.

Thirty-two, single, no children, a former poet turned hedge fund manager. Unhappy with his job, but he liked the tons of money and his new Mercedes and the beach house he rented with his buddies from college every summer in the Hamptons.

At one point while they were talking, she realized an hour had passed as he told her all about himself.

“I should be going.”

“Alright,” he said.

She shook his hand and he laughed and took her in his arms and kissed her so passionately in the dark outside the townhouse she heard violins and a choir singing Hallelujah.

Christmas time, a year later.

Sam’s parents wanted to finally meet Molly before their vacation in Greece. She bought a new dress and heels for the visit to their penthouse apartment on Park Avenue. After a stressful day at the office on Wall Street or what he called slithering in a bowl of pythons, Sam tossed on a pair of jeans and a T-Shirt.

Sam’s father, a corporate lawyer in a suit and tie, opened the door, holding a half-empty tumbler of scotch. He sneered as he examined Sam from head to toe.

Sam glanced at Molly and scowled as if she was the one who told him to wear a T-shirt.

Uh-oh, she thought, as she crossed into the grand living room filled with porcelain and oil paintings. This night is not going to end well.

Dinner of small talk and silence from Sam. His mother, her hair coiled elegantly on the back of her neck, asked Molly if she’d like some of her famous pumpkin pie.

Before Molly could open her mouth, Sam snorted. “Are you kidding me?”

Molly paused and cleared her throat. “I can speak for myself, honey.”

He glared at her and smoked cigars with his father on the terrace while his mother took Molly into the kitchen and asked if marriage and children were in the air. Molly smiled.

Later that night, Sam watched the news in the living room on his 110-inch Ultra HD TV and begrudgingly ate his mother’s famous pumpkin pie.

“What’s wrong, babe?”

“Nothing.” He stared at the TV screen. His voice was calm but his eyes screamed I COULD KILL YOU and his furious look made her body go limp.

“What did I do wrong?”

He looked at her from head to toe and sneered, “How dare you disrespect me in front of my father?”

Hot butter poured over her skin as he enumerated everything wrong with her. Salt and pepper danced in her eyes. Twine wrapped around her soul and her heart roasted on a rack at 450 degrees.

Exhausted, she said, “Please, let’s stop fighting. Come to bed with me.”

“No, thank you.” He massaged his fork in his hand like a weapon.

“Why are you so angry?”

“I’m not angry!” He threw the pumpkin pie across the room.

The plate hit the wall and shattered like a shotgun shell. Explosion of crust and orange chunks of pie landed on the 110-inch TV, on her hair, on her new dress and heels. The thing slithered along the wall like a heart burst wide open.

Molly looked at him in disbelief as if meeting Sam Wolfe for the first time.

She put on her sneakers, grabbed her coat, and headed for the front door.

Sam blocked her way. “Where are you going?”

“I’m leaving.”

When he wouldn’t budge, a rage shot from her belly through her entire body.

She glared up at his six-foot-frame. “I said: I’M LEAVING!”

She pushed past him and threw open the door. Past the elevator, down six flights, past the doorman, into the street. Fresh winter air on her face.

She ran and heard him yell from a window above her.

“Molly, come back! I’m sorry!”

“Fine! I don’t need you!”

“I need you, Molly, let’s work it out!”

“Don’t you ever come back here!”

She ran in the direction of Central Park as his words echoed in the wind. “I need you! I hate you!”

She ran all the way across the park, weeping and whispering never again, never again, never again. She finally arrived at 86th Street on the West Side where she wiped her tears and considered going back home to her parents in Pittsburgh. Or moving in with her younger sisters, both married with children.

Somewhere Judy Garland sang Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas as she passed a handsome stranger who sat quietly strumming his guitar at the bottom steps of a brownstone.

They stared at each other a moment before he stood and smiled gently: “Hello.”

Molly sighed. “Hello.”


Aria Starling is a writer who lives with a menagerie of family and friends and cats and dogs in New York City and Los Angeles. She’s currently editing her novel and keeps a virtual home at (WIP.) You can also follow her on Twitter

Dear Santa, It’s Alfie

by Chantel Sandbach

Dear Santa,

It’s me, Alfie. At fifteen, I probably shouldn’t be writing to you. Or believing in you at all. Truth is, I spoiled it for Denny last year when he overheard me talking to a couple of kids at the bus stop. Since he was only nine, he still believed. Boy, he was upset! Mom had to go get him from school because the teacher said he cried and told her he “wasn’t buying what” she “was selling” when she told him to pick up his art supplies – said he knew the truth, and wasn’t going to be “jerked around, anymore.”

That’s why I am writing to you, sir. I want to show Denny that there still is something magical about Christmas. I want him to believe, a little longer. See, it’s been a rough go for awhile, even before I opened my big mouth at the bus stop last year. Mom and Dad decided that they couldn’t be married anymore because Mom needed to “get to know herself”…while Dad said he already knew her, and didn’t like her much, anyway.

So we actually have two houses now, and it’s not so bad – it means two Christmases and less fighting between the parental units, ya know? Heads-up though – only Dad’s condo has a fireplace, and I’m not sure if there’s an actual chimney attached. Mom’s place has baseboard heat, so not ideal at all, Christmas-wise, but I know you’ve got alternative plans.

I guess I am supposed to tell you what I want – about how good I’ve been or whatever. But considering the whole “he’s always watching” thing…you and I both know, I haven’t been the greatest this year. I’m sure you saw me pull Jeff’s chair out from behind him when he was singing the anthem, and when I forgot to do my homework and blamed the dog (as you know, Blackie’s been gone since I was ten). Also, there was the time I intercepted Brandon’s love note to Kelly and then I got to be the one to kiss her behind the jungle gym. There were all those times Mom asked me to take out the garbage and I never got around to it…and of course, I’m sure you watched me hide Dad’s cell phone every time he’d had a “few too many” and wanted to text my mom. I wasn’t sure whether his texts would be mad or sad, but either way, Santa, I did what I thought I had to. Sometimes parents need to be taken care of, too. It’s better now, though. Mom met a man who she goes to yoga with and who tries to feed us weird food without any meat in it, but he’s nice enough. Dad is doing okay too – he started going to the gym and quit drinking and started getting emails from e-Harmony.

Denny doesn’t like it much, though. He’s been trying to act tougher since the divorce. He got into a fight at school and quit doing his schoolwork for a month straight! He could have failed but Mom told them about the “situation” and they cut him some slack.

Anyways, I found him writing something a few minutes ago. I thought maybe he was drawing dirty pictures so I took it from him and held it above his head until he quit jumping for it, and looked to see whether he was drawing boobs or writing swear words, but it was neither. It was a letter – to YOU. He started squawking, said he wasn’t actually going to send it. That he knew you weren’t real and he wasn’t a little kid, anymore.

This is where I have to tell you, sir – my last transgression this year was a swear and a lie. “Are you shitting me, Denny?!” I said. I told him that last year at the bus stop had been me trying to look tough, and that I was worried that because of it, I wouldn’t be getting ANY gifts this year. I told him that I was in the process of writing a letter to plead my case.

Denny started looking hopeful. He asked me to pinky swear (the next thing to a blood oath, Santa, in case you aren’t familiar with the term). He smiled and said “I believe you, Alfie.” I let him take his letter back. I didn’t expect what he did next. He’s smart kid, though. He tore the letter up. He told me that since it was MY mistake that led to his disbelief in the first place, I owed him AND you an apology and therefore he expected that my letter would contain an explanation, contrition and HIS list. That any gifts I received would be shared with him. Sir, I don’t think I have to tell you that he had me by the short and curlies at that point.

I’m writing you this letter while Denny sits across from me, watching. He’s going to follow me out to the post office once I’m done. Probably put it in the box, himself. At least I was able to convince him that letters to Santa have to be private between the sender and the recipient, so he doesn’t know what this says.

So – Denny’s list is attached and I would respectfully inform you that he’s ALWAYS been a faithful believer and any appearance to the contrary is no fault of his own. It was all me, Santa. Whether I believe in you or not, is irrelevant.

I don’t know if this letter will go anywhere after we post it, but it is enough that it made my little brother smile again.

Sincerely,

Alfie

PS – No matter what the list says, Denny DOES NOT need a real crossbow – items 1 through 12 are probably fine, though.

PPS – In the unlikely case that you ARE real, I’m truly sorry for my lack of faith – and I could make good use of a new skateboard.

PPPS – Merry Christmas, sir!


Chantel Sandbach’s job is a prison, literally. She’s a parole officer in a federal penitentiary by day, out of necessity, and a writer by night (and day, and on weekends and holidays and anytime the inspiration strikes her), also out of necessity; the soul-fulfilling kind of necessity. She still doesn’t know what she really wants to write when she grows up, but has had her flash, fiction and creative non-fiction accepted for publication by The Flexible Persona, The Passed Note and The Same online literary journals. Follow her on Twitter @SandbachChantel

Rapid Eye Movement

by Kaleb Tutt

My name is Max Walters and I can’t sleep. No, I don’t have some rare sleep disorder. I’m not some medical anomaly. I can’t sleep because I saw my Lucid Self. I wish I had never read about lucid dreaming. It was the worst mistake I ever made. I should’ve just listened to my mom.

Don’t play with your dreams. Your dreams are another realm. You don’t play around with that kind of stuff, you hear me?

I said I heard her, but I didn’t. Not really. I heard the words but I wasn’t listening. I was reading, over and over, drowning myself in esoteric knowledge. Online forums and communities promised me something I never had before – control. They told of splendors and grandeur I could achieve through my dreams. I could be whatever I wanted, have my every desire.

They didn’t tell of the Lucid Self.

Y’know that itch in the spot you can’t reach, the one in the dead center of the spine? No matter how much wriggling and reaching you do, it lies just out of arm’s length? When I first read of lucid dreaming, it was like that itch appeared, but now I could scratch it. With lucid dreaming, anything is possible.

That is not always a good thing.

When you first learn of lucid dreaming, it opens an infinite universe of possibilities. Flying dreams are always fun. Like any drug, though, the mind builds up a tolerance. You can only jump off of so many buildings.

That is when it becomes dangerous.

It seemed so innocuous. I read about it online like any good teenager. Someone told a story about their dream experiment. They, like me, had grown bored of the mundane (odd word for dreams) and wanted to expand their horizons. I recall the story so clearly because I wrote the steps down in my dream journal. In fact, here are those very steps:

1. Perform reality checks throughout the day
*Note – reality checks are when you attempt to do something impossible in daily life; like flying or sticking your finger through your palm. Do this throughout the day so when it works, you will know you’re dreaming.

2. Stay calm. Keep yourself composed to ensure you don’t wake up too soon.

3. Have fun, but stay focused. This dream will be like no other. You will discover things you probably shouldn’t.

4. Find yourself. No, not metaphorically or like you’re “discovering your inner light.” I mean, find yourself literally. You’ll have to search hard. Your Lucid
Self doesn’t want to be found. It has secrets. Knowledge.

5. Once you find yourself, don’t talk. This is vital. Just listen. If it wants to speak, let it. If not, don’t pester. Once you wake up, you will never be the same person again.

The doors of possibility revealed themselves to me through these words. Knowledge. Wisdom. Things unknown and things I shouldn’t know. I guess that’s the real draw, the shouldn’t. What mysteries lie in my Dream World? I can’t wait to find out.

Tonight, I become aware the way a girl crossing the street with her eyes on her phone realizes she’s in the center of a busy intersection. The world around me is real yet artificial, a construct of my mind.

I have been here before. The walls and floor are white as good china. On the wall in front of me hang 6 translucent discs, each the slightest off-kilter from the other. I walk up and touch one and in explosive chain-reaction, they all burst into glowing gold orbs of pure light.

My body tenses as I hear a familiar yet foreign clutch of an opening door. A panel separates from the wall then dissolves. Out from the nether crawls something evil. It has my short chestnut hair, but its eyes are much blacker than mine. Its skin is melted candle wax. Worse, it crawls on upside-down arms. I wonder for a moment how it will share its secrets with me if it doesn’t have a mouth to speak.

My Lucid Self does not want to speak to me. It scuttles away, a swine backed into a corner. Its elongated finger-claws tink against the white porcelain stone as it creeps back into the darkness. It hums a haunting lullaby, calling to me. Arms outstretched in zombie-trance, I follow. It leads me into the nether and as my feet fall from under me, I toss my arms to grab ahold of nothing. The sensation is that of a flying dream but I am not flying. I am falling infinitely into infinite blackness. Faint words of warning whisper in my ears.

Don’t play with your dreams.
Don’t pester. 

My name is Max Walters and I can’t wake up.


Kaleb Tutt is a kid from South Louisiana who has an affinity for the odd. He is currently studying Creative Writing at Southeastern Louisiana University. Read more of his work on his website and follow him on Twitter @KalebT96