The Idle Traveler

A gray wall flashed in a blur outside the window, with occasional wires striping its surface. Sage had always hated traveling underground, it made her feel buried, but in a city of this density there were few other means of efficient transportation. The few times she’d come to this city, she’d had company to converse with. This night was a solo voyage however, one her grandmother hadn’t been too keen on her taking. 

Sage searched the compartment. An old woman sat knitting by the exit; by her side was a child, possibly her grandchild, who played on his phone, mesmerized by the pretty colors on the screen. The pair reminded Sage of an old superstition her own grandmother believed in. It was something about traveling with an idle mind. 

The idle traveler gets led astray. 

Sage would always be given some arduous task to stay occupied: count the lights that passed by outside or say the alphabet backwards in her head. Such busyness keeps the mind too tired to wander. It was baseless superstition, no doubt something her grandmother made up to get Sage to sit quietly on the train as a child. 

The train came to a stop. The platform seemed nearly deserted. One lonely bulb lit the concrete island, giving light to only the few feet surrounding it. 

As the doors closed, a man stepped into the train. He was nearly caught between the mechanisms of the door, which seemed to pay him no mind. The sentiment was mutual as he kept an even pace, squeezing into the compartment, unbothered by the metal frame that tried to crush him moments before.  He saw that Sage was watching him, nodded politely and took his seat on the other side of the compartment. She returned a polite smile before continuing her observation of her remaining company. 

The old woman was scolding her grandchild now, as the latter put away his phone. The child whined, but the woman’s insistent complaints brought the phone back out. The child fixed his gaze back on the screen, less captivated by what’s on it than avoiding what’s not. The woman too seemed anxiously fixated on her needles as they clicked together. 

Sage turned to the man, to see if the lone traveler was also uneasy. He simply sat calmly meditating on the floor of the subway. His platinum hair was slicked back, revealing a wide forehead with a sharp widow’s peak. He sat with a slight slouch, blinked periodically and swayed slightly with the train. A sudden stop might toss him out of his seat. The scarlet sweater he wore hung loosely over his frame, giving him the look of a scrawny Victorian child that had managed to live to his twenties. His tired eyes, that were hollowed with thin green veins pressing against his eyelids, studied the space before him. Sage was not entirely sure what his gaze was fixed on. 

Stirring from his stillness, the man yawned delicately, covering his mouth with long fingers. The seconds between the gesture, Sage caught a glimpse of stained yellow teeth that stood out starkly against his pink mouth. They were a deeper yellow than one would expect from a coffee addict, and perfectly straight and sharp. She stared for longer than what may have been polite, and was caught. 

Ashamed of her blunt rudeness, Sage averted her gaze. She searched for an object of interest to focus on until the heat died down from her ears. In her search for another party to focus on, she realized the old woman and the boy were no longer present. They must have departed at the previous stop. 

A voice spoke over the speakers, informing the two remaining passengers that the train was approaching its last stop. With a start, Sage realized she hadn’t been paying mind to the last several stops. A glance at the map told her she would have fared better if she’d glanced at it ten minutes ago, for this was the last train to run for the night and she was several miles away from her destination. 

All rights reserved © 2023 Josephine Joyil

Driving Uphill

Gail sat in the passenger seat, watching Avery not watch the road. His dark brown curls were pushed back against the wind blowing in from the open windows, the kind of windows that you crank down with that strange lever that Gail had never learned the name of. This car was older than Gail was, probably older than Avery too, then again, how old is Avery? 

Avery was scrolling through his phone, which he balanced on his knee, glancing down every so often to check the route.

“I can tell you the route if you want.” Gail offered, looking at the phone as it shifted in his palm. He held it loosely, almost tossing it up with the heel of his palm every so often to have better control over the screen. 

“I have GPS.” Was all he replied with.

And I have the will to live, so get your eyes off the damn screen. 

Gail said nothing, but Avery laughed, as if her worries were written on her face. Avery always laughs easily, and runs his hand through his hair if it was something that had caught him off guard that shocked a laugh out of him. Gail watched the red thread bracelet shift over his wrist as his fingers knotted in his curls, the other hand still holding his phone — no hands on the wheel — and held her breath. 

“I’ll get you there in one piece, Abigail. I promise.” He slapped the wheel straight and continued speeding down the road in dizzying spirals as they ascended the hill. Thin hillside air rushed in from without, smelling cleaner than anything had the right to in this day and age. 

Avery has yet to wreck the car, whatever damages ol’ Bailey had faced were inflicted by the previous owner, not Avery. That they were left unresolved was what really concerned Gail. 

“You’re like a well, Aberdeen.”

“Care to explain?” He requested. 

“The kind that a child looks down, just to see what’s on the other side, without realizing they might fall in.”

“And you?” a coy smile worked his lip, “The child?”

“I’m the rope they’d use to bring back the body.”

He frowned. 

“Too depressing?”

“Lil’ bit.”

“Then do tell, what would you prefer that I be?”

He thought about it,“One of those metal nets they put on old wells to keep dumb kids alive.”

All rights reserved © 2023 Josephine Joyil

All the Noise

The traffic back from the city was slow. Reclined in the drivers seat, Gail shifted uncomfortably, trying to awaken her numb left leg. The inch forward had declined to stagnation fifteen minutes ago. The sun was teasing the horizon, steadily leaving those who needed it the most in darkness. On the stretch of road that expanded before her, lampposts were sparse. Soon, she would have to be guided solely by her headlights, that illuminated the two meters before her with all sincerity, and the hazy red taillights of the cars before her. 

Right when she reached the brink of frustration, she turned to see a grey Toyota Camry pulled over at the shoulder. Its hood was up and a young man fidgeted with the engine. His face was a series of lines and planes, held still intently. Strands of straight blond hair escaped from the rest and fluttered over his forehead as he fought frustration. He was muttering something, and Gail may have assumed he was talking to himself if he hadn’t been peeking over his shoulder every few minutes. 

The car before Gail inched forward, so she followed suit. The scene at the shoulder shifted, and Gail saw that the young man wasn’t alone. On the concrete sat a girl, with her phone pressed to hear ear. The sight brought Gail some comfort. At least the young fellow had some company. 

As she inched away from the pair, a name rang in the back of Gail’s mind. 

 Griffin Taleth 

From the dark corner, where memories go to rest, the sound of his laughter resonated. Perhaps it was the sight of blond young man—who so closely resembled her old friend— that brought back the memory. Or perhaps, it was the sight of the girl, sitting on the pavement without a care in the world as her company held the weight of the world over her, that made Gail’s heart ache in a way she hadn’t remembered it could.  

Like a picture coming to life, a memory played in her mind. It was her second semester of freshman year. Gail had just finished her first exam for General Chemistry Two. She wasn’t feeling optimistic about this one. With the teeth of her keys pressed into the flesh of her palm, she rode the elevator to the seventh floor of Camp Hall, where she once shared a room with a woman she can only describe as a walking beauty standard. Bea was her name. Bea was the sort of person that could not walk into a room and go unnoticed. Gail should have been insecure, and probably would have if she hadn’t liked the girl so much. Now that she occupied the space alone, she couldn’t help but miss Bea.  

Biting her cheek, Gail tried to think of a reason not to go back to her dorm. By floor five, she had half convinced herself to go back to church — for the second time that day — to pray, for what she didn’t know, perhaps for wisdom, perhaps for a cure to loneliness, though if there were a cure, it would no doubt be sold at the Common Market on campus at overpriced rates to desperate freshmen.  The double doors opened with a ding. Stepping out into the lonely hallway, she counted the doors, considering the potential company behind them.

Room 6 held a boy from her english class who made an appearance precisely once. There was room 8, the twins who insistently show up to every conceivable event  as a matched set. Gail still could not tell them apart. By the time she reached her own door, she had crossed off most of her prospects, deciding she was not desperate enough to plaster a smile and fake interest in a superficial conversation. 

“Gail.” It was a soft voice that spoke. 

She turned to see her neighbor, Griffin, shut his door behind him.  He held a longboard close to his waist with one hand and pulled the doorknob —which was cartoonishly minuscule in his large hand— with the other. 

“Taleth,” Gail greeted,”Going out for a stroll?”

“I’ve gone stir-crazy.”

She smiled in solidarity,”I’m getting there.”

He furrowed his brow, “But you just got home.”

“But at home I’ll stay till even the sun tires of the day.” she sighed to herself, still gripping her keys. There was a part of her that couldn’t let herself walk though the door. 

“Sad little lady.” Was all Griffin had to offer. 

“Would it be appalling of me,” Gail asked, without the decency to sound even vaguely embaresed by the request, “To ask to shadow you?”

“Yes,” Griffin said, “But what are manners amongst friends?”

The clouds were heavy in the sky, grey and dense, promising a storm. Red brick buildings stood vibrant against the overcast sky, still damp and saturated with color from the last downpour. Cherry-blossom trees framed nearly every walkway, still blooming with flowers, though only sparsely. In a matter of weeks, they will be stripped naked of their blossoms under the influence of turbulent weather. 

In the middle of the campus meadow stood a gazebo, its dark tiled, cone-shaped roof was softly speckled with moss, giving it the air of something that was pulled out of a fairytale. On lonely evenings, Gail would often find herself sitting in the gazebo, watching the sun set behind red brick buildings, imaging that with the coming of twilight, the gazebo converted to a portal to some fae world. She may have felt ashamed for having such childish fantasies had she been presented with any alternative escape from the imprisonment of boredom.

That evening was not such an evening. A group of moderately attractive students in formal attire stood circling the gazebo, taking turns smiling stiffly at a camera. 

“Damn frats.” Griffin muttered under his breath. 

“Not a fan?”

 “Is anyone?”

Gail laughed.

“It’s all the noise.”

“You’re scared of the noise?” She did not expect that. 

“And the energy, the raw, driving roar of a pack,” Griffin gestures widely at the invisible holder of such bravados, “It’s blinding, overshadowing.” It was the biting envy in his voice that resonated with Gail. It was a sentiment she could remember sharing.

“All of those people, who are a lot of noise, are really just screaming into the void just to hear something.” She told him, “The silence is painful.”

“Peaceful,” he suggested under his breath.

“Painful.” she affirmed.

“Maybe you would fit right in with the pack,” Griffin laughed. 

“And you’re what?” Gail snorted, trying, but failing to think of a metaphor to connect her thoughts.  Griffin looked down at her puzzled,”You’d be like— the center of all attention. A nucleus attracting charge from all directions.” 

“Negative charge.”

Gail groaned,”I bombed my gen-chem test.”

“Non sequitur, but ok.”

“That should be my tagline.”

It had been nearly two years since she last saw Griffin.  He was one of the first friends she made in college. They were both in an 8 am calculus class that met three times a week, a mistake they would never again make. She wondered if they could still be friends if they were to catch up now. When they’d first met, he’d been so approachable, still defining himself as a person, not quite concrete enough to feel insecure around. They all were, it was what made it so easy to meet people as a freshman. Or maybe it was his quiet, even-tempered nature that made him seem so safe. Despite the curly pink hair and piercings that ran in metal spirals up his ear, Griffin always seemed like the calmest thing in the room. 

Gail imagined picking up her phone and calling. She’d never texted Griffin. He’d never liked how impersonal it felt. It was always a call.  He’d pick up, or call back. That was one thing that Gail knew would remain constant despite the years. Griffin Taleth was not one to make people feel ignored. 

But what would be the point? She would only be reminding herself that she is no longer the person she was two years ago, that Griffin had changed too, that though their paths briefly crossed, there was ultimately no meaning to their meeting. 

Let the past decay, she resolved, as she has a million times before. It was was deadweight anyway. Cutting it off would be the the only way to maintain momentum for the future. 

A horn blared. Unbeknownst to Gail, the car in-front of her had picked up speed. Following suite, Gail left the young couple, and all that they had stirred, behind and chased the sun toward the horizon. 

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Push start and begin the cycle.

The moon shone high in the night, radiating icy white light over the plains surrounding the campus of the Barrow Academy. Aside from a handful of students with impending finals, the lonely lands that stretched for miles held only dormant life. Gail never had the fortune of being invited into this dormancy.

A gust of wind pushed past the curtains into the room, allowing the lengths of white cotton to waltz aimlessly, framing the near midnight sky without: the whole and brilliant moon guarded by loyal stars. The image was otherworldly.

For a moment too long, Gail stood mesmerized by the image of a perfect night. It was the kind of beauty that deepened the pain of loneliness. The breeze blessed her once more with its cool caress and Gail leaned out of the window to receive it. 

The weariness of another restless night dissolved with the sight of the night that stood before her, holding mysteries that were veiled thinly. 

On another night, with good company, perhaps she would chase the stars to the horizon. When finals end, and she has the time and energy to give proper attention to the beauty that surrounds her, she would surely run to meet it like an unbridled stallion. 

Such were the lies she amused herself with to gain courage to face another day. 

An alarm sounded. Her laundry would be ready by now. Perhaps with at least clean sheets to sleep on, her mind can rest for what precious few hours remained of the night. 

The hallway lights were always left turned on in the dormitories, even in the dead of night. It was something that Gail could never get used to. When she moved in as a First Year, it seemed to be a waste of resources. Now, with no time but midnight to do her laundry, she knew better than to question the small conveniences provided for her, regardless of their apparent lack of necessity. 

The nearly full length windows in the laundry room —yet another seemingly useless feature— presented the image of the midnight sky once more. There was a red dot blinking though the sky and the moon stood fragmented as a double image against the panes of the window. With fluorescent lights that could have disoriented the average person’s circadian rhythm, bright green walls that peaked between washer-dryer units and confetti tiled floors, the laundry room stood as its own otherworldly image. 

Standing there, with a laundry bag, ready to fold towels, sheets and underwear all the same at two in the morning, Gail wondered at what point the sparks of impulsivity that sustained the momentum of her life could be diagnosed as insanity. 

Gail settled the laundry bag on the ground and reached for the dryer handle, ignoring the green letters that flashed on the tiny screen by the buttons. Clean, warm fabric might be enough to justify this madness. One can imagine her shock when her fingers tangled in just the opposite. 

Push start and begin the cycle. 

Gail blinked. She read the green flashing letters once more, not for want of confirmation, rather as a challenge to reality, daring it to push her over the edge.

Push start and begin the cycle. 

It’s—O.K. Just stay calm. 

Gail’s toe slammed metal, denting the machine slightly. Aside from shooting pain up her foot, the act did nothing. It was an ugly dent too. Looking up, Gail caught the CCTV camera glaring at her with condescending judgment. 

Swallowing her pride, Gail did what she should’ve done an hour ago and pushed start to begin the cycle.

All rights reserved © 2022 Josephine Joyil

Back Down

Gail tried to drown out the crowd that cheered from the arena seats that surrounded her. The overwhelming stench of salt and copper that hung in the humid air did nothing to calm her nerves.

Clad in wool and armed with a wooden staff, Gail felt like an overdressed child readying for some imagined sword fight.  It was a joke the hosts played; half the fun of this production was watching overdressed fools try to remain standing in the heat of the arena.

Across the field, she spotted her adversary. Unarmed as he was, he was neither a fool nor an imagined threat. 


His name rang bitterly in the back of Gail’s mind, bringing a scowl to her lips. Her enemy remained unreadably blank faced. Such was the pattern these days. 

He wore a pair of blue jeans and a flannel shirt. They were borrowed clothes, ofcourse, that hung too loosely around the shoulders. Gail couldn’t help but notice that he’d lost weight rapidly since their last encounter. Nonetheless, he had height to his advantage, along with several years of experience within the arena. The lumberjack aesthetic didn’t make him any less intimidating. 

All you need is an ax.

As the distance shortened between them, it grew apparent to Gail that she had committed herself to a suicide mission. It wasn’t a novel thought, just one that had the habit of popping up at the worst of moments. 

In her stiff grip, her weapon grew to be a deadweight. Avery’s eyes remained calculating, like he’d already formulated six ways to use the staff against Gail. 

“Avery.” she greeted, grateful her parched throat roughened her tone. 

“Back down.” His reply was an order, one of the many Gail chose to ignore.

The knot in her stomach tightened. “Bite me.” 

Her company remained unamused. That should have brought her to her senses and made her listen to the wiser company.

All she could feel was the overwhelming desire to break something, anything in her way would do. 


The staff arched towards his mandible. It met obstruction quickly, too quickly. The shock of impact rang through Gail’s knuckles. Her palms burned. The staff was torn out of her grip, then jabbed back at her shoulder. She didn’t know when the ground slapped her skull. The pain radiated through her brain just the same. 

“Back.Down.” Avery stood over her, dark eyes stern, accustomed to being obeyed. He held her staff with both hands, whitened knuckles holding it still. 

Gail blinked the warm dampness from her eyes before refocusing her gaze on the man that loomed above her with the grandeur of Goliath. 

“No,” she groaned though half a breath. 

A blunt smack met her jaw. Coppery wetness flooded her mouth. For a moment she was sure he’d torn a muscle in her neck.  Running her tongue across her cheek, she felt the slit her teeth sliced into her flesh. 


Blood and saliva pooled in the back of her throat. She spat a mouthful onto the orange dirt before pushing herself onto her elbows. 

“Back down.” 

I back down. 

But the words failed to slip from her tongue; the latter was busy trapped between her teeth. 

The staff jabbed into her ribs. 

“Back down.” 

Pain snapped in her shin.

The ground swayed beneath her and she shut her eyes, but it kept swaying nonetheless. She was on a poorly made raft being thrown about some grand ocean. 

“Back do—”

“Stop—” The word slurred thickly in her swelling mouth. “Please—” she struggled through bloodied teeth. Though her eyes were shut tightly, she could sense his figure blocking out light and trapping her in his shadow. 

I back down. 

Someone bothered to put Gail on a stretcher, to drag her to the infirmary. She was infuriatingly conscious through the whole affair. For the most part, her eyes remained squeezed shut in a hopeless attempt of keeping the spinning world still. When she tasted bile kick its way up her throat, she rolled over and let it out. Her attendants were none too pleased. After a string of colorful language, they maintained their course, an act Gail was grateful for. 

Loudspeakers blared the name of the next contestant, sending a roar of excitement though the arena. Gail was too disoriented to catch the name. Whatever came next in that pit would be Avery’s problem. She looked forward to their reunion in the infirmary, not from the want of company, simply for the satisfaction of knowing someone painted the dirt with Avery’s guts.  

Gail felt her weight sway against the stretcher before it came to a halt. Someone swore. Curiosity got the best of her and she opened her eyes. She now had new reasons to throw up her insides. 

“He’s dead meat, that Aberdeen.”

And Avery really was, for the next contestant was no burly man, but a burly bear. 

All rights reserved © 2022 Josephine Joyil

The Land of Her Birth

As Sage watched the world beneath her shrink into a thousand diamonds, a prayer ran through her mind. This was not a plea to God for safety, nor a cry in desperation — as its many predecessors have been — rather a humble request.  The lyric of a hymn to the immaculate Mother surprised the girl as it sounded from her mind, seemingly from dormancy. Seeing her motherland disappear from the airplane window, she repeated the words to herself, placing weight in each one.

I beg that you’d watch over the land of my birth. 

Just three short weeks ago, these words would have been a hollow title, a happenstance. Birth was merely the event that started the string of chaos that followed. After a lifetime of detachment, Sage did not expect to find herself sentimental over this vaguely familiar notion: national loyalty. But the knowledge was there, deep beneath the layers of denial, that this was the country that generations of her ancestors have lived, loved and bled for, the one her parents called home: the land of her birth.

Hearing her mother-tongue spoken freely around her— without a moment of hesitation— drew out sadness that she hadn’t know persisted. For these last few hours, in this plane full of strangers, she will not be a minority. She is amongst countrymen. 

The right to belong may be one Sage gave up — voluntarily at times — but the girl sought comfort in knowing she will always be entitled to her motherland: the land of her birth.

All rights reserved © 2022 Josephine Joyil

Exhaust Fan

It’s a silly fear, a child’s fear, but one that sends cold shivers down Sage’s back even now when she wakes from a restless nightmare featuring it. Marking her earliest memories, it was her oldest companion, this fear.  

Sage was a girl of seven, or eight, too old to have such silly fears. The thought occurred to her on the car ride to the hotel, it was a vivid image of five sharp blades conjoined in the center, surrounded by a perfectly square frame. Always presiding in the top corner of the shower window, it watched you, naked as you are with nowhere to run. 

No, Sage told herself, it won’t be there, not this time. 

But praying and wishing never kept it away. 

The elevator was ascending now. Excitement sparked amongst the other family members. Mom’s been waiting for this vacation for ages. Dad’s been researching the local scenic spots, eager to fill his new camera with family photos. Even Mai seemed vaguely happy at that moment. 

“Now don’t sit there sulking, Sage.”

But she couldn’t help it. Sage closed her eyes and it was waiting for her: five sharp blades spinning fiercely. 

The bellboy was walking them to their room, and Sage already had her senses on high alert, waiting for signs of its presence. 

The key clicked and the door swung open. Crossing the threshold with her breath held, she listened closely for the persistent hum. It was distant and faint, so quiet, for a moment Sage allowed herself to believe that she imagined it. 

“Help your sister with the bags.”

Sage made herself step forward, following the hum. It was cut off by silence. 


She took a few curious steps towards the bathroom. When the door swung open, she didn’t flinch. 

“What?” her father laughed nervously, “Go help Mom unpack.” He was never a good liar. 

Pushing past him, she grabbed the bathroom door handle. Though there was hesitation, she pushed through. 

The ceiling was too high and the lights too dim. The bathroom mirror only reflected the lower half of the room. It was a room hand tailored to deceive Sage. She knew what she ought to do, so her work commenced.

Her reflection caught her eye —angry and prepared— and ordered her to stay strong. She scanned up to the top of the wall and was relieved to find its corners bare. Inching her focus to the left, she found two more corners that housed nothing but an abandoned spider web. 

One more corner, she told herself. 


One more—

The door was in the way. She’d have to step in to get a proper look. Bracing herself, she treaded the tiled floor carefully. 

Just a little further in. 

The sight pricked fear into her heart. 

“Why are you just standing there? Oh—” Mai’s disappointment could not have been more thinly veiled, “Mom—”

It took a minute for Sage to force herself to look at the Fan. It lay dormant, a subtle breeze might wake it. Its blades were still, too still. If she broke her gaze, they were sure to move, so she never broke her gaze. There was an illusion of safety that the glass shower door provided Sage with, as it stood transparently between Sage and the Fan. 

The Fan grinned slyly down at her, knowing it had the power to pin her in its presence. The glass door that stood between the pair will soon cage her in. It has a long term alliance to consider and no time to spare Sage’s feelings regarding the matter. 

All rights reserved © 2022 Josephine Joyil

A Little Fish in the Big Sea

Sage looked around to see faces broken open in glee. Red faces, freshly blushed from the midwinter storm that they just walked in from, smiling at each other in familiarity. There were no eyes willing to meet hers. 

Of course. 

People were too predictable.

Sage looked down at her own hands, fingers darkened and slightly swollen from the aggressive cold. Clenching them, she tried to calm the buzzing of her frozen nail beds. A sigh escaped her before she tried to pull a smile onto her face, to match those surrounding her. 

At times like these, she was sure she had made a mistake. 

“You’re doing this out of habit.” 

Her roommate’s words were far from a lie. It was a foolish pattern Sage had fallen into. When days blended together into a predictable march, a kindle sparked within her. She needed to burn down the life she built for herself just to know she can build something different from its ashes. Now, looking around at the damage she had done, she realizes she has no idea which pieces she needs to pick up to put back together. 

To make things worse, there were just too many people here, too many faces that have already grown familiar with each other. It would take a decade to beat this cacophonous noise into a predictable march. 

Is this what you moved here for?

The question, with all its bitter contempt, slapped her back into the present. 


There would be time later to mope around and feel sorry for herself, or maybe there won’t. Right now, she had ashes to collect and not time to focus on the unfamiliar noise. 

Scanning the room, she was adamant to find a space to pry herself into amidst the chaos. A friendly face caught Sage’s attention, and she fought her gut instinct to break eye contact. Though she couldn’t put a name to it, she feigned familiarity, and waved. They waved back. 

Of course. 

She could not help but let her smile grow genuine. 

People were too predictable.

The latter beckoned her over and she obliged. 

All rights reserved © 2022 Josephine Joyil

The Travelers

It came to Gail like a sweet dream that night. A memory of a better time. A different time. They had been so young. Avery had just managed to grow a few inches taller than Gail. It was her first month on the streets. The dampness of the city was what bothered her the most. There was no dry land to settle down on. She was sure she’d catch a cold within the first week.  

The pavement was damper than Gail had been expecting. Clammy fabric clung to her skin. A shiver ran through her, unsolicited. Gritting her teeth, she wrapped her threadbare shrug tightly around her shoulders. 

“Cold?” Avery smirked, while trembling himself.  

“What’s it to you?” Gail snapped with as much spite as she could muster though clenched teeth. 

Avery sat down next to her, radiating heat, inviting, tempting, scarce heat. Gail scooted towards him. 

“Uh-uh!” Avery put up a lean finger,“Ask nicely.”

Gail scowled. “Avery.”

The latter smiled attentively. 

“Sweet Avery.” Gail swallowed her pride,“Be a dear and don’t let me freeze to death.”

Avery considered it. “You can do better.”

Gail scowled. Gathering what was left of her dignity, Gail peeled herself off of the pavement. Her limbs moved lethargically. “Avery-”

Avery waited, amused. 

“I swear,” Gail took a shaky breath, “When my fist thaws,” The words turned to mist before her, “I’ll plant it between your eyes—”

He was giggling now. “C’mere.” 

Avery’s arm fell heavily around her shoulders. He smelled like week old body odor, but to be fair, she did too. She let him know, nonetheless. 

“You’re a real dear, you know that?” He pulled her closer, still laughing. 

The sun was setting in front of them. Its rays refracted, aiming to burn her retinas. Rather than squinting, she closed her eyes all together. When the red passed from the back of her eyelids, she opened her eyes. Avery was peering down at her, a fly in her peripheral. Looking up, she met his eye. For a moment, the world went quiet and all she could hear was the heavy “thump” of his heart. A labored note against her eardrum. 

“Where do we go from here?”

He rolled his eyes,“Do you always need to have places to be?”

“And people to see,” She affirmed, resting her head more comfortably against his shoulder.

“Close your eyes for a while, Gail,” Avery did the same,“The people can wait.”

If there were any people left for her to see, she doubted they could afford to wait, but she closed her eyes nonetheless.

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The wind blew through Mai’s hair. Sand rushed past her toes when she wiggled them. To her left, the waves crashed desperately against the shore, only to be dragged back into open sea by the currents. Someone kicked, from behind, at the soft spot on the back of her knees. She knelt on the sand, having no reason to stand back up. Her palms sank into the soft sand. Succumbing to its invite, she leaned in, until the warm grains pressed against her cheeks. 

Someone laughed. She looked up to see them run before her. Someone else called for her to follow, and for a moment she almost got up to pursue her company. But she waited for too long and that made all the difference. For just a moment too long, she stayed put in the sand, allowing it to pour over her, against the howling wind. 

Maybe she would wait, and they’d return to fetch her. Maybe they won’t. The seconds poured in, the laughter grew to a distant echo and all she could hear was the desperate crash of the waves inching its way closer to her lying form. Growing closer by the second, never to reach her. 

All rights reserved © 2021 Josephine Joyil