'Step Inside My Circles' by Riley Cross

Life is a loop that you can’t escape. That’s what Daddy says, staring across the foggy sea. I rest my chin on the safety rail and reach for my parent’s hands, but they don’t notice. I grip cold metal instead.

Mommy has that look as she tells me to go inside and play. I walk away but leave the door open. Their words slip through like unwanted dust particles.

“You’re texting her again. I thought we agreed to give this a chance.”

“Can you blame me, Anna? This trip is a waste.”

“It’s not fair John. You can’t have your family and mistress too.”

“You want to talk about what’s fair? I’m being billed for a family therapist whose only solution was, ‘Go on vacation together!’ Book an expensive cruise with a VIP suite just so we can argue somewhere with a view!”

“At least I’m trying for our daughter’s sake!”

“Oh yes, play the martyr card. That’s your classic move.”

I reach inside my bag of clear marbles. The marbles are cool to my touch. Calm, untroubled surfaces. Sunlight streams through the suite’s open window. I hold up a marble and close one eye. It heats up in my hands.

I gasp as gold flecks of sunshine dance inside my once colorless marble. Around me, the space darkens while the glowing orb warms my palm.

I drop it into the bag and grab another marble. I line up the glassy surface and stare directly at my favorite teddy bear. I temporarily close one eye, excitement building. I giggle as the marble shivers in my palm. Inside are brown buttercream swirls. My teddy bear, however, is gone.

“Last bag of Magic Marbles!” the shopkeeper had advertised to the tourists on shore leave, preying on the thirst for vacation memorabilia. Daddy had willingly pulled out his credit card when I begged. Mommy just mumbled that I had enough toys to sink the cruise ship already.

They started arguing as the shopkeeper handed me the leathery bag of glassy treasure.

“You have excellent taste. These will make you happy child,” the shopkeeper had whispered, her breath reeking of a strong herbal tea. “Choose wisely what you put inside. The present is free but the past requires sacrifice.” She winked before whispering an incantation over the bag.

The marble in my hand speaks to me now, as the memory of the shopkeeper’s chant grows stronger. I will fill my marbles with beautiful things.

I grab out another one, and squint until I can see the calm ocean just outside.

Swirls of blue and green siphon into the sphere, topped with white foam speckles. The ship rocks as the ocean complains, reacting to the water displacement. I run to the open door to check.

The ocean is foaming angrily, but at least I didn’t take all the water. Something tells me I would need more marbles.

The now choppy water makes Daddy stumble. His wine glass slips from his grip and the red liquid expands across his white shirt. Mommy laughs. He doesn’t.

I duck back inside before my parents notice me. I reach for another one, wishing I could remember the last time Mommy and Daddy laughed together, instead of at each other.

The marble reacts to my mood as memories play across the surface like a tiny screen. I smile at the final memory it shows me. Everyone was happy on Mommy’s birthday last year. She looked like a princess in that eggplant-purple dress.

The marble absorbs the memory, changing into a perfect purple shade.

Outside, I hear a metallic click. It sounds familiar.

“Carrie, stay inside!” Mother sounds scared. But she shouldn’t be afraid. Daddy said he could keep us safe from sea pirates, monsters, and vampiric mermaids with his custom, ivory handle pistol. It’s our little secret he said, when I caught him hiding the gun inside his suitcase.

I drop the purple marble in the bag at the same time a shot rings out across the deck.

Daddy screams. “I didn’t mean to! That wasn’t supposed to happen… You’ll be fine. Breathe, Anna. C’mon! Breathe!”

The marbles are whispering to me now. Don’t move. Stay here. Some things are better unseen.

I dig deeper into my bag. The new marble shifts into wavy layers of clear glass, gray smoke, and wine-red droplets. It’s just the way I remember Daddy, relaxing with a cigar and an evening glass.

“I don’t want to do this!” He is sobbing. Another gun shot. The marble colors solidify.

I grab the remaining marbles, giggling for the first time in months. I feed them my joys, watching them consume each one into a cloudy ball of compact layers. My sparkly red sneakers were next, followed by a bag of chocolates, and every single one of my toys, including a plastic model of our cruise ship. I now had everything I wanted. The perfect vacation.

My fingers clutch the last marble.

I close both eyes this time, picturing myself. I want to join. Everything is so lovely in my marble circles.

I find myself falling, dancing on warm sunbeams with my arms around my mother’s waist. Father’s smoke paints clouds against a blue sea. I feel warm all over, as if surrounded by a fuzzy bear. Flashes of red sparkles complete the spell as I dance across the waters in my favorite shoes.

Somewhere in the distance I can hear photographers flashing their high-grade cameras. I smell the scent of blood against the salty sea and the ripping of yellow crime scene tape.

“And the eight-year-old daughter?” comes a muffled voice. “She was supposed to be with them.”

“Nothing yet. It’s just strange there are no toys in sight. Just a bag of marbles. If they brought a child onboard, I have no clue how they planned to entertain her,” came a woman’s reply. “The marbles show up as a credit card purchase at the last seaport. Surveillance cameras indicate the daughter was still with them at that time.”

“Better request to drag the ocean floor. Divers too. Search for another body.”

“Look at this view. Can’t afford that on a homicide detective’s salary. Rich pricks. I’ll never understand.”

I float as the marble bag is held up. The clinking of glass fills my ears like a wind chime. The other marbles press up against my own circle, creating a kaleidoscope sky.

“Place these into evidence.”

I smile as the voices are drowned out. That realm is fading. My fingers touch the glass edge of my current circle. It shivers at my presence and I step out of it, jumping into the next orb.

Daddy was right. Life is a loop.

But I don’t want to escape it.


Riley Cross is a SciFi writer who loves merging the elements of fantasy, science, and reality together. When not typing or taking care of her two (demanding) children, she enjoys brewing chocolate coffee and dancing to pirate-themed music. Follow her on Twitter @RileyCross20 for snarky comments and giveaways!

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