Future Repeat Offender by Matt Neil Hill

I can’t breathe, wrapped in all this thick, bland plastic. Really I’d always been suffocating, I just didn’t know it before. Not until last night. When Audrey showed me what I’d been missing, with a little help from Ray.

I have no idea where Audrey is now, I only know where she isn’t. I’ve managed to figure out Ray’s location, and I know what he’s not. Not anymore. This room is full of tape-sealed bags and E-Z-Stor boxes of all shapes and sizes, but no Audrey. Uniformed people—mostly men, the occasional woman—walk up and down beyond the heavy wire mesh that keeps all of us evidence under lock and key. They haven’t yet cleaned the blood from my flat, bright face or my sharp edges, but then I suppose if they had then I wouldn’t be evidence.

In my past life, I dealt exclusively with fruits and vegetables. I don’t want to dwell on it, but even before Audrey woke me up I can kind of remember being jealous of my bigger, bolder siblings and their superior air of visceral glamour. They rarely spoke to me, but when they did it was usually to rub my pointy little nose in all their adventures with skin and meat and bone. Runt of the litter, they called me. It’s no fun being looked down on, treated like dirt. Once upon a time we were all atoms in the same boiling, shining soup, and I had no choice about what mould I got poured into. I cut, just like them, only on a smaller scale.

Audrey mostly used me to peel and chop, but sometimes—on those increasingly regular days when she was worried Ray would come home in one of his pitch-black moods, buzzing with bad temper, all his rage glowing white in his fists—she’d craft delicately sculpted flowers and birds from tomatoes or radishes or cucumbers, all kept on ice till her burning stressball of a husband bounced through the door. Sometimes those exquisite little works of art calmed him down—at least enough that he wasn’t too rough with her—but sometimes they made it worse, and her reward for what we’d created was chipped teeth and clumps of copper-coloured hair pulled from her scalp, the sunset-purple corona of battered blood vessels framing her faded blue eyes.

Last night he came home early, when she and I were in the middle of discovering the cute little bears that lived inside rough chunks of crimson and golden beets she’d boiled up earlier that afternoon. Audrey had been chattering happily to herself about Michelangelo and humming a pretty tune while we carved. The music died when Ray got home, making it no secret that he’d had an especially bad day at the office.

If any of these uniforms ask me, I’ll tell them: I genuinely don’t think she meant to do it—well, not at first, but I guess I don’t need to tell them that. But I didn’t do anything to stop her, so I don’t know how much they’ll believe me. And oh—that first taste of Ray’s hot insides, surging up through the artery in his neck that parted surprisingly easily beneath the edge of my blade. Whoa. I had no idea.

Divine.

And so much better than the bitter grey jelly inside his eyeballs a few minutes later, I can tell you that. By the time Audrey got it together to call 911 her hands were slippery wet, and shaking so badly she needed to place me down on the countertop, blood dripping quietly from my tip while those small and tangy bears stared at me open-mouthed and wide-eyed. Like bears are really that innocent. Anyway, after that it was all bright lights and white noise, and here I am.

I hope I’m not stuck in here too long. I hope they take it easy on Audrey—I mean, she hasn’t had the easiest life, and Ray was a huge dick. But you know what I hope most of all? I really hope I get to do all this again. And soon.

I feel like I’ve finally found my calling, you know what I mean?

Trash Flowers by Matt Neil Hill

There’s a baby inside Mary that’s either her sister, brother, niece or nephew as well as her daughter or son, depending on who had the strongest swimmers. My own womb twists in sympathy. I know the not-knowing, the fear. The abortionist’s resolution. Golden threads wrap themselves around my bloodied fingers as I hold her hair away from her flushed porcelain face. She pukes a bright cocktail of citric and gastric acid across the roadside daisies pushing towards the light between all those bleached-out beer cans.

“Shit, Jaime, I’m sorry.”

My heart aches, but doesn’t tear in two.

“Hush, baby,” I say. “It’s okay.”

Nineteen days since I first laid eyes on her in the shadows at her folk’s gas station and already we’re on the run. It’s a trip I’ve taken before. By now her father and brother will have found her bed and closet empty, along with the nails I clawed from the window frame left scattered like prophecy in the yellowed forecourt weeds. Probably had time to fix their slashed tyres as well. There’ve been way too many impossible-to-refuse comfort breaks over too few miles, the sun directly overhead now and glaring at us from its blank sky. The sweat down my spine’s forced to detour around the gun butt sticking out of my jeans. Mary coughs and spits, shoulder blades pitched like angel wings beneath her church dress. I trace love letters between them, lighter than the rain of feathers falling from a shot bird.

She turns her face to me, radiant with apology. The cloud-soft press of my lips on hers is a benediction for us both. I inhale the taste of fermented oranges and electricity, the bittersweet exchange of our breath. My heart quickens and my fingertips caress her soft scalp, her eyes blue like sea ice barely an inch from mine. No time for any of this though, our last set of wishes close to expiring. She sighs, hands on my shoulders to help her stand. The wide curve of her abdomen slides against my hip bones. We walk conjoined towards a battered Ford Ranger born the year Cobain died, what little either of us cared enough to salvage from our lives wedged behind the seats—clothes worn and washed near-transparent, a bible with a broken spine and a carton of cigarettes. The narcotic contrails of pollen-slicked bees break apart as they alter their flightpaths around us. Their drone morphs with the slow creep of hallucination into the growl of an engine as a dust cloud crowns the brow of the hill. Mary follows the sound with a tiny suck of air across her teeth.

“Jaime?”

Her fear will be contagious if I let it. I made her a promise. She’s determined to keep the kid—says it’s not their fault, so why should she punish it. I’ve spent far too much time torturing myself about the past to argue with her. I know she’s right. The tornado heading our way could be spawned by any set of wheels in motion, but it’s not. It’s them. It always will be, as long as they’re still breathing.

“Get in the truck, baby.”

She’s so obedient it makes my teeth itch. I pull out the .38 and dry it on my t-shirt as best I can, the brief summer breeze whispering a lullaby across my exposed belly. I meet her gaze and give her my best I-got-this grin. She smiles back and this time my heart does break. I feel the coming storm swell, rocks crushed to powder beneath the weight of destiny rushing towards us. Too late for any more running. She’s never going back—the life inside her deserves a better chance than either of us ever got, and anyway, it’s not the first time I’ve had to do this. But maybe I can do it better this time. I turn from Mary’s brightness as the stained and ugly sword of family vengeance does its damnedest to fall upon me.

My finger on the trigger, the future belongs to us alone.