DP FICTION #57B: “The Train to Wednesday” by Steven Fischer

Charlie Slawson sat alone in the transit station, watching a set of empty train tracks and wondering why the train was late. Truth be told, he hadn’t known until just then that temporal trains even could be late. 

He looked around the underground station—its old, brick walls lined with gaudy digital displays, advertising exciting trips to next year, next century, and beyond—before noticing a man stepping onto the platform from a little door beside the tracks. He wore navy blue coveralls and a tall pair of work boots. His close-cropped, grey hair was half hidden beneath a faded baseball cap.

“Excuse me,” Charlie called. “Any idea when the train will arrive? I think it’s running late.”

The man stopped and frowned, then walked over to the bench. “You sure you’re in the right place, son? Which train are you waiting for?”

Charlie nodded and motioned to the marquee above the tracks. “Train to Wednesday. Just like it says.”

“Hmmph,” the old man grunted. “Wednesday’s never been one of our peak destinations. Especially not a Wednesday that’s just a few days away. What’d you want to do a thing like that for?”

Charlie turned the tablet in his hands so the old man could see the picture on the screen. That day, years ago, when Dad took him fishing out west of Cambridge. The first time he’d ever been to the train station. 

Dad tried to keep the trip going every year after Charlie left home, but life got busy, then they drifted apart. Charlie had always assumed they’d have time to catch up later, but he would give anything to have that day back, now.

“Your father?” the man asked.

Charlie nodded. “His funeral is this Wednesday.” He thought of the tearful video message he’d received this morning from his mother, his siblings already bickering in the background over funeral venues and seating arrangements. 

It was foolish, all of it. It would make no difference to Dad if the memorial dinner served chicken or beef, or if the service was held at the church on High Street or Main. What Dad would have appreciated was more time with his son, but Charlie hadn’t given him that. And no memorial, however perfectly it was planned, could do a thing about it. 

More time at home would just mean more time to feel guilty. More awkward conversations with distant relatives, more photographs and memories, more reminders that Dad had always been there for him, but he hadn’t done the same. 

“I loved my Dad,” Charlie said. “Even if I wasn’t the best at showing it. I wouldn’t miss his funeral for the world, but I’d just rather skip all the mess in between.”

The man nodded and fished a hand into his coveralls, coming up a moment later with a small, silver pocket watch. Inscribed on its cover was the looping infinity symbol of the Temporal Transportation Administration. 

The man opened the watch and tilted it so Charlie could see. Dials and arms littered the watch face, twisting together in an intricate dance that Charlie struggled to make heads or tails of. The man tapped the glass faceplate and made a sound which fell somewhere between a chuckle and a sigh. 

“Well would you look at that,” he said. “Seems you’re right. Train should’ve been here at least thirty seconds ago.”

“Is that normal?” Charlie asked.

“Nah. But it ain’t unheard of either.” The old man bit his lip. “These tunnels have been around almost as long as I have. Every once in a while the track is bound to run a little slow.”

Charlie looked down at the screen in his hands and sighed. “Okay. Any idea how much longer it’ll be?”

“Doesn’t work like that.” The old man shook his head. “A little hiccup on the other end might mean just a few extra minutes here, or it could mean a few days, or more. No way to tell without heading down the tracks and finding where the train is stuck.”

“Christ,” Charlie mumbled, staring down into the empty tunnel at the end of the station. “Is that safe?”

The old man shrugged. “Life ain’t safe. But there’s no reason it should be especially dangerous, provided we’re careful.” He turned and started to walk towards the tracks.

“We?” Charlie asked.

“Course.” The old man climbed down onto the railway and motioned for Charlie to follow. “Any extra delays stack up real fast down the line, so once we get her going again, the train won’t stop until the next station. You’ll have to board wherever we find her.” 

“You’re joking,” Charlie muttered, glancing down at his dress slacks and new oxford shoes, then at the puddles and mud waiting for him beside the tracks. 

Then he thought of his father, and the nightmare the next two days would be without him. He grabbed his briefcase and jacket and hopped over the edge of the platform.


Charlie tiptoed along the rail line, as close to the man and his flashlight as he could manage. Above their heads, aging brickwork dripped water and something much darker in thick, black droplets that clung to the floor. 

“You sure it’s safe to be in here?” Charlie asked. “These walls don’t look like they’re holding up so well.”

The old man grunted in agreement. “Been around a long time. It’s a wonder they’ve held up as long as they have.”

Somehow, that didn’t comfort Charlie. “Why hasn’t anyone bothered to replace them?”

“Ha!” The old man laughed, then turned back to face him. “When are you from, son?”

“When?” Charlie asked, shielding his eyes from the beam of the flashlight. “Don’t see what that has to do with anything.”

“Course you don’t,” the old man replied. “Because you don’t remember when they put these things in.” He patted the brick wall with obvious affection, then turned down the tunnel and started to walk again. “It ain’t just something you can go and replace. Takes a lot of time, and a lot of lives to dig a set of tunnels through spacetime. To pull the two apart so that you can move through one by moving through the other. It also took a lot of problems to make men and women willing to take that risk. Problems that you couldn’t just hop on a train and skip.”

Charlie grimaced. He wasn’t skipping the problem, just the mess. “So how does this work?” he asked, hoping to change the subject. “Aren’t we traveling back in time?”

The man laughed again, like Charlie was a child. “Course not. Trains can only go forward and so can we. Can walk down the tunnel as long as you want, but you’ll never reach a previous station.”

“And what if you managed to get outside the tunnel?”

“Wouldn’t want to do that.” The man pointed his flashlight at a pool of ink-black liquid. “The tunnel’s old enough here that some of the outside’s dripping through. All you’d find out there is a big sea of black.”

“Unless you found another tunnel?” Charlie asked.

The old man shrugged. “Suppose so, but you wouldn’t last that long. Just the tunnels and trains that can survive in the void.”

As they walked down the tracks, the dripping grew more frequent and louder, until the darkness spilled from the walls in neat little rivulets. 

“Careful now,” the old man muttered. “Better keep your feet on the tracks and avoid them puddles altogether.”

“Otherwise?” Charlie asked.

The man’s voice was stern for the first time since they’d met. “Otherwise I don’t know, and I don’t want to find out.”


The train was near wrecked when they finally found her. That much was clear the moment the old man’s flashlight beam fell onto her engine’s crumpled exterior. 

“Well that doesn’t look good,” Charlie managed to mutter.

The man shook his head and wandered closer to the engine. He pointed his flashlight down onto the ground, stepping carefully around the small, black stream which poured from the brickwork where the train had collided with the wall. The engine was lodged halfway through the wall itself, the only thing plugging a massive hole to the void.

The old man crouched beside the damaged tunnel and ran his hand along the bowing stone. Little waterfalls of thick, black liquid flowed from the brick around the sides of the train, pooling into a narrow brook which ran both ways along the tracks.

“Well?” Charlie asked. “What do you think?”

The old man grimaced. “I think we’ve got a big problem to deal with.”

Charlie looked at the line of train cars behind him. Aside from the engine, the rest of the train was largely undamaged. Passengers milled about inside, uninjured, pressing their faces up against the small, dark windows. A woman in a floral dress and an ancient-looking hat leaned her head out of one of the passenger car doors and began to climb down the emergency ladder. A young, mustachioed man in a charcoal-grey suit followed closely behind.

“The train doesn’t seem so bad to me,” Charlie said. “Just needs a new engine, probably.”

The old man nodded, then noticed the couple exiting the train. He wagged his finger like a grandfather scolding a pair of children. “And what exactly do you think you’re doing?” he called.

A guilty smile crossed the woman’s face. “Just coming to have a look. Maybe see if we could fix whatever’s the matter.”

The old man sighed and dipped a finger into one of the pools of black. The liquid crawled quickly up his hand, until he withdrew it from the puddle. He held his arm in the air a moment before pressing it against the edge of the train. The blank, dark space where his hand had been simply passed through the metal as if nothing was there.

He fixed the couple with a glare. “And what exactly are you going to do about that?”

The woman’s smile vanished and she mumbled a half-hearted reply.

“Exactly,” he replied. “Now you two get back inside and close that door, and let the experts handle this.”

Charlie chuckled. He certainly didn’t feel like an expert.

The old man frowned at him, then pulled a small, silver rag from his coveralls and wiped his hand clean. The black which had coated his palms seemed to simply fade into the fabric. “It ain’t the train that I’m worried about. This wall gives any further and the whole tunnel will be swimming in the black. Station too. Maybe the next station down the line. Nothing to stop it moving forward once it reaches that point.”

“Christ,” Charlie muttered. “What can we do about it? I imagine there’s someone that we’ll have to call?”

The old man glanced at his pocket watch. “No time for that. It’d take ‘em at least as long as it took us to get down here. But we can start by getting this engine out of the way.”

“What?” Charlie asked, feeling the knot in his stomach tighten at the idea. “The engine is the only thing plugging the hole. If we pull the plug, the entire tunnel will flood.”

The old man shook his head. “Don’t work like that, kid. The tunnel isn’t any happier about it being broken than we are. Given the chance, the hole would seal itself right up. As is, the train’s the only thing keeping it open.”

He pointed at the spiderwork cracks running through the tunnel wall. “It’s like a knife in a wound. Might bleed worse for a minute when we pull it out, but the longer it’s in there, the more damage it does.” 

The cracks seemed to grow even in the short time the man spoke, new drips and defects popping up around them. “Well that’s easy then,” Charlie replied. “We just put the train in reverse and pull the engine out.”

“Mmhmm,” the man replied. “Provided she’s still working.”


Charlie sat in front of the train’s aging control board, horrified that humans had ever trusted their safety to technology so primitive. Although digital networks had replaced the engineers running the rails decades ago, the engines were built in a time long before then and still sported a panel of manual backups, littered with dials, levers, and other relics of the past. Charlie glanced over his shoulder at a small, dim screen that showed a live feed of the passenger cars. Come to think of it, most of the train’s passengers were relics as well.

Out the cabin’s small side window, the old man stared at Charlie and gave him two thumbs up. He’d stayed outside to make sure the hole sealed shut, his hands full of minor patching equipment which Charlie was entirely sure would be insufficient if actually needed.

Initially, he thought he’d gotten the better end of the deal. But now that he was inside the engine room, with only inches of glass separating him from the horrible emptiness which stared back through the front windshield, he wasn’t so certain. The darkness in front of him swirled and writhed like a pile of living shadow, feeling and squirming its way towards the cracks in the tunnel wall. Charlie couldn’t see it, but he felt it. Felt it the same way he felt this might not end well. But what choice did he have?

He could climb back outside the engine and tell the man he’d had enough. Walk straight to the station and wait out the rest of a painful week at Mom’s. That wouldn’t be so bad. It’d be tearful and frustrating, but certainly not deadly. 

But it had taken nearly an hour to walk this far down the tunnel, and there were no guarantees the wall would hold long enough for him to get back. Besides, if the man was right, and a spill on this end of the track could creep into the future, who was to say he’d make it to the funeral at all?

At the end of the day, those thoughts didn’t matter. The only one that mattered was of Dad, standing on the train platform all those years ago, bending over to pick up a piece of crumpled paper from beside the trash can.

“Never walk past a mistake, Charlie,” he’d said, his quiet, certain voice rising over the sound of the station’s bustle. “Not when it’s in your power to fix.”

Dad had lived his life by those words, and Charlie would be damned if he couldn’t live up to them, especially today. It was the least he could do.

“Alright, Dad,” he muttered, staring down at the large, red lever on the control panel. He glanced out the window and gave the man a thumbs up in return, then threw the lever into reverse. 

Behind him, the engine whirred to life, rumbling and shaking as it struggled to throw the massive weight of the train backwards. Charlie gripped his seat and stared out the window at the man beside the tracks, but the train didn’t move.

The man shouted something that Charlie couldn’t hear, but he knew what it must mean by the waving of the man’s arms. Turn the engine power up. Charlie nodded and spun one of the dials to full. 

The knot in his stomach tightened even further as he felt the train start to shift backwards. Its metal walls screeched and scraped against the brickwork as it pulled itself back from the hole. Then, just as soon as it had begun, the train slammed to a halt.

“No, no, no,” Charlie mumbled, spinning dials left and right. Despite his attempts, the train wouldn’t budge. Outside the window, the man motioned madly for him to kill the engine, rushing out of the way of a sudden onslaught of black liquid. 

Charlie stared at the river and raced through his odds. A portion of the wall must have broken loose as he reversed, lodging itself behind the rear wheels and holding the train in place. The void was coming in, even if he stopped the engine. 

He looked at the growing stream of black with mounting certainty. Even if he stopped now, it would be enough to flood the tunnel. The only chance to stop it was to get the engine out, so the hole could close. 

Through the windshield, the void tumbled over itself with anticipation. Nothing but black in its horrible depths. Nothing but black…and was that a streak of silver?

Charlie stood up from his chair and pressed his face to the windshield, struggling for a better look. Somewhere below, in the sea of emptiness, a small line of silver glimmered brightly. Charlie traced its path until it ended in a box, so far below it only looked like a little dot. 

But it wasn’t a dot, of that Charlie was certain. In that moment, he knew it was a train station—some other year, some other century, lingering in the darkness below. 

It was a train station, and he had a plan.

Charlie sat back in his seat and took a deep breath, then one final peek out the small side window. The black stream had grown into quite a torrent already, pouring both ways down the tunnel. The old man still motioned for Charlie to stop the engine, but he was standing pressed up against the opposite wall to avoid the darkness as best as he could. 

Charlie tapped a small red button on the dashboard, feeling a clunk behind him as the engine detached from the rest of the train cars. 

“Alright, Dad,” he muttered. “I’ve never been one for walking anyways.” With that, he gripped the engine’s lever and shoved it towards the waiting void. 

The engine lurched forward with a tremendous screech, and Charlie turned around in time to see the wall snap closed behind him and the world vanish from view.


The engine crashed through the station ceiling some time later. How long, exactly? Charlie wasn’t certain, and he doubted he ever would be. It felt as if he’d spent no time at all in free fall, and yet it felt as if he’d spent his whole life. All he knew was that he was happy when the collision threw him forward against his restraints and he was suddenly staring into someplace bright and living again.

The moment the engine came to a rest on the empty platform, Charlie unclipped his restraint and scrambled to the door. He climbed awkwardly out of the twisted, tilting vehicle, prepared to shout at any bystanders about the need for evacuation. Instead of spotting a stream of black liquid behind him, however, he noticed that the engine had fallen straight through the ceiling, which had, indeed, sealed itself right up behind him. 

The few commuters on the platform stared at him with surprise, but not dismay, until a middle-aged man wearing dark blue coveralls shouted at him from a across the platform. 

“Hey! Hey you!” he called. “What the hell is going on?”

Charlie stared at the brightly colored baseball cap atop the man’s head and smiled. He ran across the platform and wrapped the man in a tight embrace.

“What do you think you’re doing?” the man grumbled, shoving him away with a confused frown.

“What year is it?” Charlie asked suddenly, catching sight of the posters which lined the station walls. He remembered seeing them years ago.

“Oh Jeez,” the man muttered. “Don’t tell me you got yourself lost somehow.”

Charlie felt the knot return to his stomach as he shook his head and grabbed the man by the shoulders. “No, no, no. You don’t understand. I just need to know the date, or at least the day of the week.”

The man stared at him for a moment without answering, but Charlie already knew the answer. On the tracks, a train was waiting, its doors preparing to close. Inside, a young boy and his father were too busy staring at the fishing guidebook they’d brought along to notice the commotion outside.

“Wednesday,” the man muttered, but Charlie was already running towards the train.

© 2019 by Steven Fischer

Author’s Note: I spend most of my life waiting for moments. Counting down the days to big events like graduation, or the minutes to small ones like the end of a shift. Too often, I’m so busy looking forward that I forget to look around, and I find myself wishing later I could have those moments back. Time-travelling trains might make for fun scifi, but even in fictional worlds time only moves one direction, and in real life you can’t cheat your way around that. 

Steve is a resident physician in the Pacific Northwest. When he isn’t too busy cracking open a textbook (or a patient’s thorax), you can find him exploring the Cascades by bike, boat, or boot. His stories have appeared in places like F&SFGrimdark Magazine, and Flash Fiction Online, among others. You can read more of his work at www.stevenbfischer.com, or find him on twitter @stevenfischersf. 

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DP FICTION #33A: “When One Door Shuts” by Aimee Ogden

The whole family wants to know when Mia is going to walk through the door, but no one has asked her about it. No one will.

The front door of Mia’s parents’ house is painted emerald green on the outside, off-white on the inside, with a knob contrived to look like real brass. No one has opened it for six months. Mia hates that door, has hated it for its full half-year of disuse. Ever since the front door of every house on the street became a portal into death.

Or a portal to somewhere else, at least. But it’s the dead who walk through from the other side. The Garcias’ stillborn little boy was the first one to come back, crawling through their open door as a fat, cheerful one-year-old. George Bojanek, who died of a heart attack three years ago in May and who was buried in the military cemetery at Fort Custer, strolled through one day. None of them have anything to say about where they’ve been and how they came back, certainly not the one-year-old and not old George and no one in between.

The doors are a mystery, but the trick of operating them is not. All it takes is someone opening the door from the inside of the house and walking out. And disappearing forever. Dead, Mia supposes. A cosmic tit-for-tat. But no one knows where George Bojanek’s elderly mother-in-law is now, and the Garcia baby certainly can’t tell what happened to his mother’s little niece.

The doors are almost all anyone can talk about these days, though their voices drop when Mia walks into the room. Yes, the doors are inscrutable, but to Mia they’re also infuriating. She visits her parents’ home as infrequently as she can, preferring to keep to her own apartment in her own town, where the doors are just doors and the only expectations hung on her are that she will arrive at work on time and get things done while she’s there.

But whenever she parks on the too-familiar street for a visit, she has to walk around and enter the house through the garage. When the postal carrier rings the bell to announce a package, it means finding shoes and making the tedious trip around. And each time Mia finds her mother standing in the doorway of Allison’s room, pretending to close the door as if she hasn’t been standing there staring into the darkness for hours, she has to pretend she didn’t see as she walks past to the bathroom.

It’s Allison’s room now, and it always will be. Once, it was Mia and Allison’s. For fifteen years, it was. Mia has had the privilege of having her own room, elsewhere. A series of rooms. A dormitory, a studio apartment. Briefly, a roomy space in Lee and Amanda’s attic. White walls, blue, gray. Her scenery has changed; Allison’s has stagnated in three static shades of pastel green with white geometric-patterned curtains, ones that fifteen-year-olds must have considered the very height of style. Softball and Science Olympiad trophies still line the bookshelves. No dust. That much at least is different from how it was when it was still Mia’s room too.

Mia goes into the room sometimes, when she thinks her mother isn’t looking. She’s not certain it would start a fight, but she’s not certain it wouldn’t. She has as much right to be here as anyone. It was her room too, once. And it’s not as if Allison is here to object. She sits on the bed, rumples the spread. Thumbs through the copy of 1984 on the nightstand. Allison liked to say it was her favorite book, though Mia was certain she never actually read it. She flips to the first page and reads: the clocks were striking 13. She slams it shut and throws it back into its place. It slides to a rest against the white plastic base of the bedside lamp.

Sometimes, often, Clayton is downstairs, playing video games with Mia’s younger brother Brandon. Like Allison’s bedroom, Clayton is a relic left untouched in the wake of her passing. If Allison were still here, Clayton certainly wouldn’t be. She would have outgrown him, like she would have outgrown those atrocious curtains. Someone should have outgrown Clayton, because he doesn’t seem to be aware that he ought to have outgrown himself at some point in the last eight years. At least he’s of more utility than the sepulcher of a bedroom. Brandon likes him, anyway, and he’s nice to the kid. And if Mia’s parents aren’t going to discuss the fact that Clayton was the one driving the car that night, then Mia certainly won’t broach the subject herself. Mia was the one who didn’t insist Allison wear a seatbelt. She was seventeen minutes older, and thus, her sister’s keeper. Nothing to keep anymore, except a silent green room and an old boyfriend with male pattern baldness.

There are pictures of both of the twins in the house—all three children, with baby Brandon making his debut during Mia and Allison’s second-grade year. It’s a polite fiction, the window dressing on the household’s grief. No one has ever come to the library in Rochester where Mia now runs the children’s section. But every year, the whole family makes a pilgrimage to Ann Arbor to visit Allison’s first-choice college and med school.

On her birthday—their birthday, Allison can keep their childhood bedroom but not this, not the entire day—there is no party planned, no bright-colored envelope waiting in the mailbox at Mia’s apartment. She bakes her own birthday cake using a box of Betty Crocker mix, as she’s done the past seven years. She adds extra butter to the store-bought frosting to make it taste more like the stuff her mother used to make. No candles. They seem like a waste. She leaves the finished product on her kitchen counter, untasted, before she heads over to her parents’ house for a silent, miserable Saturday afternoon. She’ll go out with her coworkers next weekend: Tobin, who runs the circulation desk, has a birthday at the end of the month, so they’ll split the difference. It’s oddly reassuring to share a birthday again.

She lets herself in the side door using her key. She’s had the same one since she and Allison were old enough to come home from school alone. Her key ring has changed, but the locks have stayed the same. Most things have stayed the same in this house. Mia wonders what will happen when Brandon graduates and goes to college.

Her footsteps are light on the peeling linoleum of the mud-room. She leaves her shoes under the bench, where no one will trip on them. Where no one will wonder what kind of shoes Allison would have been wearing today.

The grade door closes silently behind her, and she ghosts through the house in her stocking feet. She peruses the contents of the fridge, peels back the lid on a container of cold spaghetti, thinks better of it. Her mother might have plans for lunch already. In the basement, Brandon and Clayton shout at their football player avatars on the big-screen TV. There was a time when Scott, her own high school boyfriend, was just as much a fixture in the house as Clayton is now. She hasn’t spoken to Scott since graduation. What is he doing today? She can’t imagine him playing video games with a teenager. In fact, she doesn’t want to imagine him at all. Too hard to think of a life that’s not chained in orbit around that single day. She drifts upstairs instead.

The door to her mother’s room is cracked open. Not far: just far enough for Mia to catch a glimpse inside as she comes up the stairs. She can see her mother, facedown on the floor. Shoulders twitching in great silent sobs. Fingers twisted into the rug.

Eight years. Eight years of this. Mia remembers a class trip when she and Allison were nine, to a petting farm on the other side of the freeway. One of the chickens was missing feathers, open sores mottling its head and sides. While the girls stared, another hen strolled over and lit into the wounded bird’s neck with its beak. “Why did it do that?” Mia asked, and the farmer shrugged: “They just can’t let it alone.”

A break in the smothered sobs. Mia’s mother looks up from the cradle of her arms. Her fingers slacken on the much-abused rug. Her stained eyes meet Mia’s. A flicker of recognition, of contact. And Mia wonders: was this an accidental intrusion on her mother’s private pain? Or was the whole scene staged for Mia’s benefit? Is this just another pitstop on the nearly decade-long guilt trip Mia has embarked on?

And does it matter?

Even in nothing but socks, Mia’s heels bang on the wooden stairs. She likes the sound. For so long, she has tried to be a silent presence in this house, neither seen nor heard. An unassuming hitchhiker on the long road to nowhere. It feels good to make noise. She is here. Let them remember that.

Someone calls after her—Brandon?—but too late. Her hand closes on the doorknob; her wrist twists. She looks back over her shoulder. Brandon’s face, too pale, just behind her mother’s shoulder. Just behind him, Dad, close-mouthed and frowning. Her mother’s arm is outstretched, but as Mia turns, it falls back down to her side.

No turning back now. That would be a cruelty to all of them.

Mia closes her eyes. Time to go.

The front door opens, and Mia steps through.

And into the foyer of her parents’ house.

For a moment, disorientation shakes her. This isn’t right: she should be gone. But everyone is still standing there, silent and staring, just as she left them.

But no, this is not the same smothering sameness Mia has acclimated to. This is not her family’s house, not exactly, not entirely. Not the same family she left behind when she walked through the door. Her mother’s arms are still by her sides, but they come up now, and Dad grabs onto the wall for support. Brandon sits down on the stairs. “Mia,” her mother breathes, and when she tries to say it again, her voice shatters.

Mia takes an uncertain step forward, looks back at the door she came through. “No!” her mother cries, and Mia turns just in time to be crushed in those strange, familiar arms. Brandon wraps around them both, his threadbare teenage pride tossed aside for the moment, and both he and their mother are weeping, and Mia doesn’t understand why until Scott comes up the stairs.

She hasn’t seen him for five years, not since senior year, when they parted ways to different colleges and different lives. She’s never considered what her life would have looked like if she’d hung on to her high school sweetheart. Having Clayton around was always enough of a souvenir of those days. “I thought I heard … ” He looks as if he’s seen a ghost, and of course, he has. “She did it,” he says, and that word, she, hangs over Mia like a cold shadow.

All Mia’s mother can say is how much she’s missed Mia, and she tucks the hair behind Mia’s ear: an uncertain, familiar gesture. They want to show Mia the house, and she lets them. They emphasize the sameness, the house as museum or mausoleum, but she already sees it: every untouched crack in the linoleum, all the foot-worn carpeting.

Somewhere during the tour, Brandon ducks out. He returns with a birthday cake from the corner store, a packet of multicolored candles, and a lighter. While Dad is digging in the farthest reaches of the freezer for a theoretical carton of Moose Tracks ice cream, Mia excuses herself to the restroom.

There are no bathrooms on the first floor, and given the choice of basement or second story, Mia moves upward. There are pictures on the walls in the staircase, as she’s used to seeing. Just like she’s used to, the family history depicted there screeches to an abrupt halt: smiling pictures of the twins, baby Brandon, suddenly stop in the girls’ junior year of high school. The final picture on the wall is as familiar as a reflection, and just as strange: a high school graduation photo. But of course, the face under the tasseled black hat is Allison’s, not Mia’s.

The bathroom is at the end of the hall, but she stops first at the only closed door. It opens at her push, and she leans into the doorjamb as she looks inside. No sports trophies here, only hand-made picture books and a third-place ribbon from a high school poetry contest. On the bureau, a dog-eared copy of The Fountainhead. Mia grimaces, turns her face into the doorjamb. The walls are green and the curtains are patterned in geometric black-and-white. She wonders if she will have to sleep here tonight. She looks over the bookshelves: there is no copy of 1984, not that she can see.

She closes the door quietly, but she wants to slam it.

Mia uses the bathroom, splashes water on her face. When she comes down the stairs, the family is waiting for her, with Scott in anxious orbit. They sing “Happy Birthday” to her. She eats cake and freezer-burned ice cream. No one asks her what has happened to Allison, and she does not tell them.

© 2017 by Aimee Ogden


phhfhrs4gkAimee Ogden is definitely not six angry badgers in a trenchcoat. She enjoys baking, reading comics, weightlifting, and digging cozy burrows. Her work has also appeared in ShimmerApex, and Escape Pod. You can keep up with her on Twitter or at her website.





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