Justine Champine

Janice

By Justine Champine

Janice was on an airplane headed to a conference she didn’t want to attend. The woman next to her spilled a cup of wine on Janice’s lap and then, a few minutes later, turned her nearly empty bag of miniature pretzels inside out to get at the broken bits in the corners, showering Janice with salt and crumbs. Behind them, a child howled for an entire hour. Above, one baggage compartment door kept coming unlatched. A flight attendant shut it several times but it wouldn’t stick, so she moved the luggage to another compartment but the door kept flapping around as the plane trundled on.

About halfway through the flight, the seatbelt lights flashed on. The attendants whispered in a cluster at the back of the plane before buckling themselves into fold-out seats. A disembodied pilot’s voice brought warning of severe turbulence. Soon, the cabin went dark. A rush of air swept through the aisle. 

In the end, the plane made a fiery crash landing in an icy field. Janice remained conscious throughout the entire event. About half of the passengers survived. Janice untethered herself from the wreckage, managed to find her suitcase, and emerged onto the ice where some of the uninjured survivors wandered aimlessly, their sooty faces contorted in disbelief. Emergency personnel arrived along with a television crew. As the unaffected loaded people onto stretchers and set up their cameras, Janice stood off to the side behind a pine tree. She realized this was her one chance to disappear entirely, without questioning or investigation. Everyone would assume she had been killed in the crash. A team of men hoisted large hoses up to the smoldering debris. Janice pulled a cigarette from her cape and walked into the snowy forest, dragging her suitcase behind her. She had always enjoyed the cold.

 
 
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Myrtle

By Justine Champine

 
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Myrtle had always been beautiful and fashionable but was blinded in a fox hunting accident at the age of thirty-five. Because of this, her husband divorced her, and Myrtle fell into a bitter depression. She woke up in the night, stricken by terror, with the thought of forgetting what a hummingbird looked like. She sustained a number of cuts and burns learning how to cook for herself without sight in an unfamiliar kitchen. Eventually, Myrtle learned braille and became a widely sought after narrator of audio books. Everyone loved her deep voice. 

Her former husband caught wind of her success and invited her over to what was once also her home to have dinner with him and his new wife, whose voice was unbearably cheerful. Over dinner, the ex-husband lauded Myrtle’s fortitude. He claimed to have always known she would persevere. The food was terrible.

After the meal, Myrtle pretended to go to the wash room. Instead, she crept silently upstairs and into what was once her dressing room. On the vanity was a jewelry box. Myrtle emptied its entire contents into a secret pocket she’d sewn into her cape for this very purpose. Then she pretended to be exhausted, and showed herself out the front door. Thank you for your generosity, she shouted over her shoulder on the way out.


 

Matilda

By Justine Champine

Matilda wandered away from the picnic in search of her glasses but soon found herself lost in an untended thicket of vines. Each direction she turned looked identical to the last. Beyond the vines she could see only the shapes of more vines, and strange fruited flowers climbing upward toward the sunlight. As she walked further into the swamp, the light grew weaker and the vines were all covered in moss. Matilda could still hear sounds of the picnic she’d left. It was a party thrown by her family to celebrate her 101st birthday, which was not actually for another week. Everyone spoke to her in a loud, painfully slow voice but she tolerated it because now, when she cleared her throat to say something, everyone went completely silent and listened with rapt attention. Sometimes she only meant to ask what time it was, though sometimes she did want to share some recollection from earlier in life and her children and their children gave her such thorough and unwavering audience Matilda was almost flustered by it. She thought about this as she ambled further into the thicket. Throughout her girlhood the law still barred women from owning property. She could remember making money as a teenager scrubbing cloth diapers on a washboard for wealthier families. As a woman, Matilda was unable to open a checking account without the consent of a husband she did not yet have. People began listening to her so intently only when she got so old as to be aspirational. They were always asking, What’s the secret to such a long life? She’d had to answer questions like this so many times she began to make things up. I start every morning with a shot of cold vodka, she’d explain, or A handstand every night before bed, for the circulation. Matilda reached a clearing in the vines and came upon a hole in the ground about as wide as a garbage can lid. She crouched down to peer over the edge and felt a vague suction pulling at her hands, like a weak vacuum. In the hole, she could see not only the glasses she’d gotten lost searching for, but also every item she’d misplaced over the last century of life. A gold wedding band, an innumerable collection of hair pins, a seal skin coat left on a train, many tax documents and pencils and sets of keys, an antiquated biology textbook, a purple suede glove with seed pearl buttons, bottles of medication. The hole was deep. She could hardly make out the bottom of it beneath all the lost things. Matilda plucked her glasses and a pack of cigarettes from the top of the pile and slowly made her way back to the picnic.

 
Matilda

Matilda

 

 

Brunhilda

By Justine Champine

By the second day, Brunhilda had grown bored and had enormous regret over drinking the grenadine. She’d already polished all the stones in her jewelry box and re-read the books stacked on the nightstand and gave herself a manicure, then she pulled all the loose threads from her throw rug and from them wove another much smaller rug. That night, as she was falling asleep, she wished aloud for an end to the agonizing stomach cramps. 

In the morning, the cramps had not subsided but there was a small, green creature at the side of her bed. It looked like a little child, but had tiny curled horns like a ram and could speak and walk like any grown person. Good morning, it said, I heard your wish. Brunhilda stared at the creature. I can fix you for a

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small price, it continued. She rubbed the sleep from her eyes and yawned. She still felt very ill from the spoiled grenadine. The creature pulled a scroll of paper from behind its back and extended it toward Brunhilda, you just have to sign here, it explained, pointing its slender little finger at a blank space toward the bottom. She read the contract over. What’s this about my first born? She asked. The creature shook its head, opened its mouth to say something, but Brunhilda crumpled up the contract and tossed it to the side. Get real, she told it. Fine, the creature continued, how about that bottle of nail polish on your nightstand? I’m very fond of the shade. Brunhilda sighed and rolled her eyes up to the ceiling, This color is discontinued, she groaned. 

In the end, an agreement could not be reached and the little creature disappeared in a puff of smoke. Brunhilda recovered but lost all tolerance for the taste of grenadine.