Lady Fingers

Three Cheers and a Tiger ~ Bronze
Amanda Divine

“Holy crap. Look at this.” Taj set down the book and stared at the photograph. “I always want to find money in books, not fingers.”

“How can you find a finger in a book? Seriously,” said Lana, shutting the cash drawer and waving goodbye to a customer.

“Well, not a finger. But a picture of a finger. Is this for real?” She handed Lana the picture and rubbed her eyes. “Tell me that’s not a finger.”

“Did you read the back?”

“What? Gimme that.”

“No, no, I’ll read it,” said Lana. “‘You know what you owe us. You have two days. Every hour after is another snapshot.'”

“It has to be a joke,” said Taj, taking back the picture. “The date stamp is two days ago.”

“That is really creepy.”

“This is the book it was in.”

Lana peered at the title: “How to Disappear Completely and Never Be Found? There aren’t enough words for how creepy that is.”

“And guess who brought it in. That Craig guy.”

“Oh my god. And we thought he was a wacko before. Do you think…?”

“He put it there? I’m sure he’s on the receiving end… unless… what if this is for us?”

“Well, I don’t owe anyone any money. And I don’t recognize that finger.” Lana held up her hands. “See? All ten…”

“How can you just forget about a ransom note? Did he think he was going to get extra store credit for it?”

“He is insane…”

“But he thinks he’s rational. How else could he have written an entire website devoted to ending all wars through the use of hypnotism?”

“Don’t forget his plan to kill the president…”

“…endorsed by his contact at the CIA…”

“But I really doubt the CIA would send him a ransom note.”

“Well I really doubt the Tri-Cities has a mafia.” Taj sighed. “So do we think this is a prank, or do we report it to someone?”

Lana smiled. “Why don’t we ask him? You still have that crazy email he sent you about interpreting the Bible through the use of secret hand signals.”

“To my great regret. And what do we ask him? ‘Excuse me, Craig, is this photo of a severed finger yours? Really? You owe how much? That’s a shame, really it is. Perhaps you could offer them some of your store credit. Of course we’d be glad to help.'”

Lana said nothing, just continued smiling.

Taj shook her head. “I don’t think I like the way you’re looking at me.”

“Please? We need an adventure.”

“Okay, fine, whatever. Just be glad it’s almost closing. And if we get blindfolded and tied to chairs, they damn well better be your fingers and toes that get cut off first.”

After locking up the bookstore for the night, even Taj had to admit she felt intrigued. After the mundane bookmarks and ticket stubs she found every day in the books people brought in, there would occasionally be money, family photos, clippings, and even a pot leaf, once. But never before had she found anything more intriguing than someone’s Scotch-tape covered page of instructions for an unknown nanny. A picture of a severed finger, just sitting there on a paper plate. It looked real, but with so much digital reconfiguring anymore it was impossible to tell. And anyway she’d never actually seen a finger chopped off before, and certainly wasn’t going to test for authenticity with her own fingers.

“All right,” said Lana, leaning over Taj’s shoulder. “You type; I’ll dictate.”

“Okay. But you’d better make it sound good. Time’s running out, you know.” She opened the old email and hit Reply.

“Sure. I’m all about authentic. How about: ‘Craig. We know you’re in trouble, but we don’t know how we can help. Who is after you? We have connections that can give you time…’ How’s that?”

“Super. Great.” Taj tapped the screen. “‘We have connections?'”

“Well, why else would he tell us what’s going on?”

“Because he wants us to bear his children?”

“Eww… no, I’m sure he rather have an alien baby.”

“Maybe this is the finger of his alien baby. Maybe he kidnapped an alien baby and the aliens want their baby back and this is his mother’s finger.”

Lana poked her in the back of the head. “Just hit Send.”

The response was almost immediate. Taj had assumed they wouldn’t even get a reply, much less one that indicated Craig was psychic, or stalking them. They both read it on the screen:

“Thank you so much for contacting me!! You are blessed and must help me. I have so much to tell you and not much time. I will be at the Richland Public Library in the occult section until they kick me out tonight. Bring resources and prepare your mind for mental combat!”

“So do we do it?” asked Lana. She twisted her silver pinky ring, as she always did when she wanted something.

“Do what? Are you crazy? There’s no way I’m gonna go meet him somewhere.”

“Oh, come on. It’s at a public place. It’ll be a good laugh. What else were you going to do tonight?”

“Not get murdered? You’re gonna owe me a drink when this is done.”

“I’ll drive; you stare at the picture.”

In ten minutes they were parking under the oak trees at the library. The October chill made Taj shiver. “Are you seeing men in trenchcoats under every tree or is that just me?”

“Don’t be silly. I’m sure he just got some kind of Halloween prop and thought this would be a great joke. You have to admit this is better than going bowling after work.”

“I will admit to nothing.”

“Then I hope they’re not after your fingers. Come on already. It’s cold. Let’s go inside. I think I see him through the window. They close at seven so we don’t have to stay very long.”

Taj and Lana strode in, moving quickly before they became cowards. Craig sat at a reference table with four or five open books in front of him, running his fingers over the columns of words in two different volumes.

“Ah, excellent,” he said as they approached. “How did you find me? Wait, nevermind. We don’t have time for that. I only hope it’s not too late.”

“Too late for what?” asked Lana.

Taj tossed the picture onto one of the open books. “Whose finger is that?”

“I can’t…” Craig sighed, cradling his forehead. “I can’t tell you that… yet. But the rest of those fingers are very important to me. And since you have connections…” He looked around the room, trying to appear casual but instead giving the obvious impression of someone guilty and paranoid.

“If you want our help you have to tell us more,” said Lana sternly.

He craned his head toward them. “I know that since you sell sci-fi books you are familiar with convincing people to believe the unusual.”

Taj and Lana exchanged glances, then leaned on the table like two bad cops.

Craig spoke in a whisper. “You have to convince them to give me more time. If they take the rest of my fingers I will be doomed to fail and the world will meet its demise.”

Taj straightened and rubbed her chin. “Let me confer with my associate.” She and Lana stepped a few feet away and turned their backs on him. “What is he talking about? The rest of his fingers? I count all ten.”

“I have no idea,” said Lana. “But he’s pretty obviously still nutso. Just play along.”

They sat down across from Craig. Lana spoke first. “We can push for a delay, but we need specifics.”

“I don’t think you understand how important this is. This is worldwide. This is cosmic.” He seemed petulant.

Lana crossed her arms.

“Alright, alright. You win. They’re trying to get rid of me, because of the news that I spread. They have crossed through time to do this. Listen, right now, at this particular time intersection, I have all of my fingers.” He held up his hands and wiggled the stubby digits. “But they are crossing through time. Each hour I waste is another finger gone. You see them now, but somewhere else in time they are being pincered off with pruning shears. That’s how I got the picture. You must have gotten it through some other jump in time. But it’s all intertwined, see? You belong here helping me destroy them. I can already feel my fingers being saved.”

“Who are ‘they’ again?” asked Taj.

“The people running this machine, this video game we live in. The ones who control us. That’s why they want me, do you understand? Because I’m spreading the truth about your sense of reality. I’m the disrupter.”

Lana picked up the picture, holding it up as if to compare to Craig’s finger. They did look similar. “And how did the date stamp get to be in the past, if your fingers aren’t chopped off until the future?”

“Their technologies are quite advanced… and that was the date when my warning began. I would have thought it would be a countdown to a date in the future, that the date would change on the picture itself, but it seems firm.”

“And what, exactly, do you owe them?” Taj leaned back in her chair, looking at the picture rather than making eye contact. A severed finger was starting to look pretty normal, whether or not he purchased it from a Halloween store.

“I owe them revision of history. But I’ve laid too many loops and traps for them, and now it’s payable with my life.”

Lana looked at Taj and raised her eyebrows. “Well,” she said, “Our work here is complete. We’ll do what we can.”

“You’ve probably already done it.”

“Right,” said Taj, as they all stood up. “Good luck.” She put the picture in her back pocket. “I’m sure you’re… ah… doing a great service for humanity.”

“Luck is the devil’s business, and that’s a whole different plane of existence. My future fingers thank you.”

Outside, Lana whooped with laughter, breath exhaling in thin white clouds. Taj began to giggle. They barely made it to Lana’s car, but once inside were able to calm themselves. “Ah,” said Taj. “That was awesome. If not incredibly awkward and pathetic.”

“The only mystery now is how he got to be so crazy.”

The next morning, before the bookstore opened, Taj paced back and forth in the breakroom, unable to drink her coffee. Something didn’t feel right with the world.

The breakroom door handle rattled and she jumped. Lana entered and tossed a newspaper on the table. “He’s dead.”

“Dead?” Taj paled. “Craig? How can he be dead? We just saw him.” Lana collapsed onto the couch and recited from the article. “Richland man found dismembered at library. All fingers removed and missing. Indication of foul play.”

“I thought he was crazy,” said Taj, sitting down next to her.

“He was crazy. Completely whacko. And now I must be going crazy, because he’s dead.”

“He could have died of natural causes. Maybe he was on drugs. His website said he was on drugs.”

“Yes, that’s the rational explanation for why his fingers had all been chopped off!”

Taj shrugged. “People on drugs do crazy things.”

“They don’t chop off all of their fingers and then make said fingers disappear completely without a trace.”

Taj stared at her, and slowly moved her hand to her back pocket where she had put the picture the previous night. “I can’t look…”

“We’re not crazy. Photographs can’t change.”

Taj placed the picture upside down on the table. “On the count of three…” The picture of the severed finger remained the same—the same fat pinky finger set in the middle of a paper plate—except, and they only noticed this after a moment, the date stamp on the edge no longer reflected a date three days in the past, but read yesterday’s date, followed by a time of 19:08:32. And as they watched, another finger appeared on the paper plate, initially vague and transparent, but quickly looking just as real as the first. It was shorter and more slender, perhaps a woman’s pinky this time, and at the base, just above the bloody gash, was a thin, silver ring.

Amanda Divine lives in the Tri-Cities, WA and sells books, comics, games, and words for a living. She has several pieces appearing in Northwest Boulevard and Toasted Cheese, and will never be a kung fu master. E-mail: amanda[at]

The Nightmares of H83

Three Cheers and a Tiger ~ Bronze
Amanda Divine

The padded walls muffled most of the screams, but Dr. Zkhedhm would have smiled even if she could’ve heard them at full volume. The preliminaries on the humans were progressing well, and she anticipated the delivery of several more subjects in the next few days.

The wiry tentacles growing from her head sensed the phone call first, but she was too busy gloating to pay attention until the phone actually rang.

“Dr. Zkhedhm speaking… Senior Vgharhm, hello. They’re going quite well, actually. We have three patients hooked up to the generator right now. I expect each to produce a full power pack by tomorrow morning. Excellent. Eight o’clock? We’ll be expecting you.” She hung up the phone and rubbed her forehead, allowing the tentacles to twist around her fingers. It was unfortunate they couldn’t sense what phone calls were going to be about. She loved lab work, but like most Sthenians, she hated the politics of bureaucracy. The Seniors could be a hard bunch to please, but if the humans produced without incident throughout the night, three power packs would be a piece of Gaergon cake.

“Dr. Z! We need you downstairs. Something’s gone wrong with H83.” The head of her intern, Hrhna, peered around the office door, tentacles at attention.

The doctor groaned and grabbed her injection case. It wasn’t often that problems with the humans couldn’t be fixed by a little shot of adrenalin. She followed the intern down the stairs, noting with some pride that Hrhna had shrunk at least two inches since she signed on with them. Sthenians began large and became smaller with age, physical control and digestive efficiency compacting them as they matured. Only the most advanced ever made it below four feet. Dr. Zkhedhm had been five foot two since her thirty-eighth year.

The psychiatric hospital consisted of two floors—sterile offices and a few padded rooms on the ground floor, with the generators, test patients, and other equipment in the basement. Five cells lined each side of a short hallway; the open doors of the seven empty cells gave the doctor a start, but she quickly patted down her tentacles, remembering that only three cells were currently occupied. She focused on the last door on the right, where H83 stood, in striped pajamas, looking out through the bars. He seemed oblivious to the shrieks and cries from the other cells.

“He was fine at last check, crouching in the corner, but then the computer recorded disruptions in his heart rate and breathing, and when I came to check he was just standing there. I don’t think he’s afraid anymore.”

“Damn it, Hrhna, that’s impossible.”

“Yes, doctor. But you can see for yourself. He’s definitely not cowering, and the power pack is not registering any incoming.”

Dr. Zkhedhm gave her injection case to Hrhna, stepped directly in front of H83, and crossed her arms. “You,” she said. “Why aren’t you trembling?”

H83 leaned his shoulder against one of the bars and tucked his other hand into the waistband of his pajama bottoms. “I’m not afraid.”

“Nonsense. You are a diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic and you have been on intravenous dicyclomine for the past five months.”

He scratched his elbow, looking at her out of the corner of his eyes. “Maybe I’m cured.”

“I severely doubt you could be cured with amygdalae lesioning and a daily injection of norepinephrine by Sergeant Hsffu. You should be insane with hallucinations.”

He shrugged. “I guess you know best.”

Dr. Zkhedhm stepped back, hand on chin, tapping her cheek. “I think I know what the problem is. Where is it?”

“Where is what?”

“The Nightmare.”

“The what?”

“You know what I’m talking about. The fear spawn. The hate baby. You became immune to fear. Some humans do. It is rare, but it happens. So your body rejected it, expelled it in physical form. A Nightmare. Where is it now?”

“Search me…” H83 spread his arms. “I’m just the crazy guy, remember?”

“I will and I do. You will stand there, and insert your arms through the bars. Hrhna, restrain him.”

“Yes, doctor.” Hrhna strapped his wrists together, tightening the bands until he grimaced. “You’ll fear us again, soon enough,” she whispered.

H83 smiled, but made no reply.

“We must be quick,” said the doctor, punching the keypad to unlock the door. “If it is small enough it might have escaped already, but it could be hiding in the generator. Sabotage could set us back ages.”

“His terror levels have been off the charts, doctor. I’d worry that any emotional offspring would be too large to fit through the bars.”

“Sometimes the birthing process expends so much energy that much of their power is lost, and they are born small and weak. They can grow, however. They feed on fear, just like our machines do. Now watch him while I open the generator. Is the power off?”

“Well, it’s obviously not hooked up to H83, and I doubt we could do more than startle him at this point anyway.”

“You forget your place, intern.”

“Yes, doctor.” The intern’s tentacles sagged.

Dr. Zkhedhm sighed. “The Seniors are coming tomorrow,” she explained. “Full inspection, detailed reports. I promised them power packs.”

Hrhna’s tentacles fell limp against her neck. “Oh dear.”

“Yes. Here we go.” Dr. Zkhedhm lifted the lid of the generator box and peeked inside. “Oh dear, indeed.”

“That bad? What does it look like?”

“That’s not the problem. The problem is what they look like. And what they’re chewing on.” She started to put her hand into the generator box but stopped herself before a lick of flame and black smoke could reach her fingers. “Why dragons?” she asked the human.

“I’ve always liked dragons.”

The doctor shook her head, dismayed at his every reaction. She’d never been fond of dragons. Aside from their nasty flame, she had trouble understanding their emotional weaknesses, if they even had any. “Sergeant Hsffu,” she said, addressing the chameleonic bulk standing at attention against the wall, “please escort this human to Padded Block A, then report back here immediately. Hrhna and I will be containing the Nightmares.”

“Yes, doctor,” he barked, wrapping his body around H83 until pajama-like stripes replaced his stone-gray color, and the human became obscured. Then Sergeant Hsffu began lurching toward the stairs, made slightly off-balance by his cargo.

The dragons chirped inside the generator box, absorbing the sudden panic of the human. Dr. Zkhedhm’s tentacles twisted around each other, pleased. The dragons would grow rapidly, feeding on residual fear energy from the cell, as well as stray emissions from the other humans. If H83 continued hallucinating that he was in no danger, she might not be able to acquire the third power pack, but now she had dragons. Real-life Nightmares. A long-term strategy to be sure, but Nightmares in the wild had produced irrational fears and a steady stream of psychiatric cases for centuries, even before the Sthenians had come to turn that fear into power. The Sthenians were merely the first to channel that fear for commercial uses, rather than absorbing it directly.

“Their teeth look pretty sharp, doctor.”

“Haven’t you learned your history, Hrhna? They won’t bite. They come from terror and that’s all they can digest. But they can spit fire, so go get me a metal transport case and a large pair of tongs. If they stay in the generator box any longer we’ll never get them out.”

“Yes, doctor.”

While Hrhna scurried off to the storage room, Dr. Zkhedhm peeked into the generator box again. Her tentacles flinched at the growing contents, and she began to have a very bad feeling about the rest of her night.

Upstairs, the unmanned security camera monitor for Block A, Sub Room 2, showed the white mass of Sergeant Hsffu sliding away from H83, who remained curled on the floor. After several minutes of inactivity, a small red dragon emerged from H83’s shirt pocket. It hopped and fluttered, stretching its wings, until it gained enough height to perch on H83’s neck, where it lowered its head and began to feed.

Amanda Divine owns and operates a book, comic, and game store in Washington with her husband and fantastical dog. She has been published in Northwest Boulevard and Toasted Cheese and will someday write a story about her three pet ducks. E-mail: amanda[at]

Small and Red

Three Cheers and a Tiger ~ Bronze
Amanda Divine

Maude looked down at the spot on the end of her nose, closing her left eye and pressing her tongue into the sharp bottom edges of her upper teeth. It really is bigger, she thought to herself. Definitely. No doubts.

She had noticed it last week, though it had probably been there beneath the surface for months, planning its attack through the layers of her skin with subtle alacrity. A spreading red web of capillaries, the spot remained only the size of the body of a mosquito dead of old age, not the broad spreading force of a hand. The spot didn’t itch, or feel, to her finger, any different than any other freckle or smudge on her skin, but she had the distinct impression that it was numb to the touch of her finger. Hard to tell, though, she thought, rubbing the whole bulb of her nose with the pad of a forefinger. She half expected to feel a massive heat arising from the area, erupting in blood and fire and covering her hand, the force dripping down toward her elbow.

But it didn’t. It was just a spot. She had to remember that it was just a spot. So what if she hadn’t noticed it before—it couldn’t have just appeared; nor could it have grown to that size in just a week, if it had started out as something as simple as a bruised pore, or anything else so mundane.

Her vision was fogged as she leaned close to the mirror, eyeball to nose as much as possible within the dimensions of bathroom and glass. The spot had most likely started as a tiny red dot, a feature she’d occasionally noticed in her childhood upon the cushy areas of her palms, but had departed along with the memories. Branching from the tiny spot were two, no, three, she counted, tiny lines that bent slightly before disappearing into the dark tan of her skin. A baby octopus with only two arms, waving at me, she considered, or a period with wings. She stuck out her tongue, biting softly in the middle, and brushed her hair out of her face. Enough.

The next day she counted four lines, each starting to curl as it lengthened. She sighed as she counted again, then pressed her nose into the mirror and stared into her own eyes. Tomorrow, she mouthed, pressure pain building in the flesh and cartilage, tomorrow, it’ll be gone. Just like that. She certainly wasn’t going to believe that it would keep on growing, at least at the same rate. It was ridiculous. It was just a mark from where she must have scratched it in her sleep, damaging the blood vessels but nothing on the surface. Like a pin prick. But how could she have done that in her sleep? She shook her head, slowly, letting the hair tickle the bridge of her nose. She would have to think no more about it—it was just a mark on her nose. Appearance be damned. And if anyone at the office looks at me funny…

On Friday the spot had spread and Maude could see it with either eye, the red marks reaching horizontally across the front, maintaining more width than height, making her feel like a lumbering bull. She was constantly rubbing the spot now, feeling the flesh dimple into the cartilage like it always had, running taut finger skin over the tight rims of her nostrils. It had occurred to her that this continuous touch might be some of the cause of the mark, but she couldn’t help it. Her finger and thumb prodded and petted without reason, following the air to her nose like wisps of cobweb. Besides. Her fingers would have made her whole nose red, not just a thick line of spreading capillaries. At least it’s Friday. And on Fridays, most people were out of office, and there was no Ray to assault her cubicle with his constant coffee fumes and that horrible mug and say something like—Hey, Maude, have you thought about getting that checked? Ray, with a puffy mole just under his eye that Maude would swear he had to trim hourly, was really in no position to point out infrequencies on anyone’s face.

The lines still spread out from the original dot, still on the right end of her nose, but just a hint bigger now. The lines were pencil lead thin, waving across to connect the faintly unsymmetrical halves of her nose, curling around but never entirely, branching into new lines but never crossing back on themselves. Never repeating the available space on her skin, but ranging across as much distance as they could. The upward lines were still short, as if the force of gravity were too strong for their featherweight.

Saturday noonish, when Maude finally dared to crawl out of bed, the lower lines, as if to prove the gravity theory, had advanced across the bottom tip of her nose and broached the skin of her philtrum. Her heart beat slowly, seeming to pause in anticipation of each message to her brain, while she felt along the new lines, and imagined a new variation of texture, but knew that her skin was still smooth. The growth, if she could call it that, was two-dimensional. Her heart sped up a notch. What if the third dimension goes down, what if it’s eating into the stuff below my skin? Cupping her hand around the end of her nose, nearly frightened that it might fall off, Maude shuffled back to bed. A package of Nyquil and the soap channel kept her out of it for most of the day.

In the evening, she washed her face, scrubbing the end of her nose for whole minutes with soap and a washcloth. It’s hideous. Maude wished she hadn’t slept all day, as she could have been calling the doctor. Is it serious? What is it? Will it stop? It has to stop, don’t be silly. When will it stop, Doctor? Doctor? Her list of questions grew as she imagined scenarios in the doctor’s office. One of the worst that came to mind was the doctor telling her that everything was fine, nothing to be worried about, her nose is normal, while never looking her in the face. He would look at his chart, the poster behind her head, her sneakers, but never once look her in the eye while he told her there was nothing wrong. Meanwhile, in her imagination, she could see the red web growing across her entire face, reflected in part by the doctor’s glasses.

After her wash, Maude dressed in some slumpy clothes—jeans and a T-shirt that she could practically sleep in—and drove two blocks to the grocery. She couldn’t imagine walking all that distance, having to place her hands, having to avoid her nose and the people passing by. The clothes themselves were for hiding in, a retreat against the stares of other customers, an excuse to look at the floor. She didn’t even want to go out at all, but her reasoning was inexcusable. And she was entirely out of milk.

At the store, Maude followed the lines of the squares, glancing up only to the bottoms of displays so she could turn corners properly. The dairy department was not nearly direct enough, not nearly close enough. Her skin was chilled beneath the airy shirt, and she crossed her arms and hunched her shoulders even more, wishing she had brought a sweatshirt to protect her arms. She risked a glance up the aisle, the yellow glow of the milk shelves looming backward with every squeaky step Maude took. It’s so far away. Mid-step, Maude almost paused. She would never make it. There was no one else in the aisle; Maude knew they were avoiding her. Like the plague. Ohmygod… What if it really is the plague? Maude covered her mouth, her eyes widening. She glanced back over her shoulder, calculating distance. She had come so far, it was too late to go back.

Maude covered her eyes. It was entirely ridiculous. She couldn’t even buy milk on a Saturday night, horrifying herself with what was very unlikely. It’s Saturday night. Who shops on a Saturday night? Of course no one’s in this aisle. Maude shoved her hands in her pockets, her nose cooling again from the absence of protective appendages, and started walking again to the milk.

The return came much faster, her hands occupied with the cold jug, her eyes allowed to play over the items on the shelves, pretending to shop. There was a short line at the checkout, only one checker on duty. Maude stood behind a stooped old man with a case of beer, who in turn stood behind a large woman writing a check for a huge stack of frozen entrees. Maude stared at the woman’s ankles, which extended out of pink slippers into, at some point, her calves. Maude’s eyes traveled jerkily to the candy shelves and back to the old man. He had placed himself in the exact center between the two sets of candy shelves, most likely unknowingly and habitual. His head was down as well, his plaid flanneled shoulders just slightly lopsided by the weight of his purchase. Maude looked up his back, at how sharp his shoulder blades looked, pushing out of his skin, at the porous and wrinkly surface of the back of his neck. He was mostly bald on the top of his head, with normal grey wisps at the sides, but in small, sparse patches on the top, his hair growth continued unevenly.

Maude transferred the milk to her other hand, almost dropping the jug when she tried to unclench her fingers from around its cold handle. The woman at the head of the line finished her transaction and carted away eight or so plastic bags of food, stepping so slowly that Maude thought even the old man would pass her on his way out.

The checker was a young man; too greasy. It’s how I feel. I wish I’d showered, thought Maude when she looked at his hair. He was easy to look at, like the woman and old man, because they weren’t looking at her. In fact, the checker wasn’t even looking at the old man as he took the wad of bills, glancing at the hands that paid him and for a long time at the register itself, but not really looking. This may be easier than I thought, thought Maude, but I really, really want to be home. Where no one can see me and this hideous thing. She started to rub her nose again, hoping the spreading itself wasn’t visible, that no one could see the lines actually moving, but the weight of the jug stopped her. It was too much effort to take her other hand out of her pocket either, where it refolded and gripped the dollar bills.

Maude handed the boy the money, and watched the milk as he hauled it to the end of the stand. She couldn’t tell if he was looking at her or not. And that was the worst of it, that she knew she felt like this for nothing, that she wasn’t ugly, she just had a mark on her nose. She could say she walked into a screen door, if anyone asked. She’d rather be clumsy than ugly. Not that anyone was going to ask. No one was that rude. Except for Ray, but by Monday the thing would be gone and she wouldn’t have to worry about it any more. Guuhhh, Maude sighed, expelling breath that she knew smelled rotten. She had passed the checker and was on her way out the door. It was over. She could practically trot out the door with her milk, and be in her own car until she was safe at home. Maude lifted her chin a few inches, head almost level. She could see her reflection approaching in the automatic doors. It didn’t look so bad, just a red mark on her nose. She could live with that. She nodded to her reflection as the doors opened, missing the image of red lines branching over the bridge of her nose, feeling a bit freer on her way home.

Behind Maude, the checker rubbed at the growing red spot on his neck and leaned against the counter. He hated this job, this life, where he had to face so many people every day.


Amanda Divine (adivine1[at] is not an alcoholic, in jail, or eighty years old with 300 cats, but instead maintains a husband and three jobs in the Tri-Cities, WA, USA. She has work appearing in Northwest Boulevard and Comic News Japan, and is currently up late working on a novel.