"Oh, damn it," Gemma curses. She holds a tag reading 'English Breakfast' in one hand, its corresponding teabag disappearing beneath the milky liquid. She has already begun her mental complaint—that's a fine way to start the day, isn't it, too-strong tea— and the teacup is gone, nothing left but a dainty pile of ash and the slightest whiff of sulfur.

Gemma brushes the spot where her teacup sat only moments before. She jerks her fingers back at its heat, punctuating the gesture with a sharp intake of breath. More than ever, she wishes for a calming cup of tea.

If this is going to be an improbable sort of morning, might as well embrace it. She wishes, aloud, "I want another cup of tea." Her voice, high with panic, echoes in her empty apartment. Another approach: "I have a cup of tea." Again, nothing.

I've lost it. I'm crazy.

Gemma slowly rises from the table, as though reality might vanish as easily as her teacup. She pulls another mug from the cupboard and cups it in her hands, inspecting it for any unusual traits. It's a gag gift with a fluffy white kitten clinging to a branch, the words 'Hang in there!' stenciled across the bottom. Nothing supernatural about it. It's tacky, but otherwise rooted in reality.

Still moving as though any sudden movements will cause other objects to vanish, Gemma pours water into the kettle and turns the stove up to boil. While she waits for the whistle, she frowns and resolves to tell no one that her first response, upon seeing a teacup vanish, was to wish for another. A blush creeps up her neck and Gemma scans the areas of the kitchen that might conceal someone spying. The curtains are drawn, the space beneath the table is empty and there is nothing in the pantry but two cans of green beans and a box of spaghetti. She reminds herself to go grocery shopping later, and exhales a long, calming breath. Grocery shopping is normal. She could use some normal, on a morning like this.

The teakettle screams and she starts, jolted back into the moment. She turns off the stove and plucks a new teabag from the box. Tugging on the string to make sure it is sturdy, she places it into the mug and pours steaming water over the top. It brews outward in whorls, and Gemma stoops down to peer at it at eye level. It looks normal, no mystical shimmering or ethereal qualities. She sniffs it, and finds the scent earthy and tangy with no hint of sulfur. Normal.

Gemma shrugs. A fluke, then. Everyone must experience a disappearing teacup now and then, she thinks, chuckling to herself. Distracted, she brushes the kettle with her elbow, burning her tender flesh.

"Damn it!" she shouts again, and then the kettle is gone. Gemma screams and springs backward, her flailing hands knocking the mug to the floor. It shatters, and one blue feline eye stares up at her from under her chair, bidding her to 'Hang in there!' Gemma kicks it away.

"Crazy," she mutters, refusing to look at the pile of ash on her stove.


Her kitchen, with its white tiled floor, its lemon-striped wallpaper, its delicately pattered curtains, is the picture of ordinary. It is a normal kitchen, reflecting her interest in cute knickknacks and complementary colors, and it is a place where supernatural things do not happen. Gemma takes deep, calming breaths and shoves her hands into the pockets of her robe. If she can't see them, she can pretend they aren't shaking. She steels herself and swipes a finger through the ash, bringing it to her nose and taking a delicate sniff. Sulfur again. The smell and the ash trigger a memory—a preacher at her childhood friend's church, his fire-and-brimstone sermons alive with sensory details, the burning stench of sulfur and the dry dustiness of ash. Her mind races to make a connection and it clicks in a horrible realization; 'damn it,' she'd said, and then both the teacup and kettle had vanished, leaving the incriminating evidence.

Gemma walks back to the table, tracking spilled tea across the kitchen. She opens her laptop and hovers her fingers over the keyboard, unsure of how to best phrase her query.

'Accidentally damning things,' she types, but finds nothing. "Did you mean accidentally damaging things?" the search engine suggests. Gemma supposes that she sort of does, but she shuts the laptop and crosses her arms over her chest. The first pile of ash sits before her, accusatory. It rises to an even peak in the center, with only a few flecks scattered to the side. She stares at it as if it will offer her some sort of explanation.

She's not a particularly religious woman—no more devout than 'Oh God, please let me find my car keys!' and 'Oh thank God, they were under the couch the whole time!'—but the connection between her outbursts and the smell of brimstone is undeniable.

Her mind flits from possibility to possibility like an anxious bird, afraid to settle too long on any one idea. 'Crazy' is a good place to start, she thinks, but it lacks ground. The evidence sits in front of her, and she doesn't feel crazy, just bewildered and a bit frightened. It could be real, she muses, but Gemma is nobody, just a girl with a foul mouth and, it seems, an abundance of willpower.

She wonders if it works on people, and thinks of her neighbor who plays guitar at three a.m., but shoos the thought away. That's too much power for one person. Gemma considers calling someone—a priest, maybe, or a shrink. She pulls her cell phone from the pocket of her bathrobe and instead dials her boyfriend's number.

"Hey, babe," he says, rushed. "I'm at work right now, can I call you—"

"Something's wrong, Tommy," she says, her voice stark, harsh, a knife cutting into his protest.

He pauses, his tone changing to concern when he speaks again. "What's going on? Are you all right?"

I don't know. Am I? "I'm okay. It's just—things keep, um, disappearing."

He doesn't respond for a moment. "Have you been drinking?"

"Christ, Tommy, it's nine in the morning."

"Yeah, all right, I was just checking. What do you mean, things keep disappearing?"

To his credit, Tommy sounds neither mocking nor annoyed. "I, uh. Okay, look, this is gonna sound really weird, so don't—I'm not lying, I swear," she says. The words spill from her mouth like water through a cracked dam.

"All right, I'm listening."

"I—I had this cup of tea, right? And the string broke and the bag fell in. I was annoyed, I said da—" she catches herself, unsure of what will happen if she says the magic words without a definite target. "That thing that most people say when they're upset that means, you know, 'send it to hell.'"

"Damn it?" Tommy asks, bewildered.

"Yes, that. I said it, and—and the cup was gone, and now there's this little pile of ash, and it stinks like brim—like sulfur, and then I burned myself on the tea kettle and I did it again, and I just don't know what to do, Tommy. What do I do?"

Another pause. "Look, hon. I'm not going to judge you if you've been drinking, I just want to help you—"

"Damn it, Tommy, I haven't—" she claps her hand over her mouth, too late, and the phone slips from her fingers. She knows, without hearing, that he is no longer at the other end.

Gemma blinks several times as if it'll clear things up. Her apartment is almost silent, disturbed only by the droning refrigerator.

"I take it back," she says, a hint of hysteria bubbling up within her like something foul at the bottom of a witch's cauldron. "I didn't mean it," she assures whoever or whatever granted her this absurd power, "I—give him back, please, I never wanted this, I didn't ask for this."

Her pleas remain unanswered, and she sits alone in her kitchen, her delicately pattered curtains trembling in the breeze.

Damn It

Melissa Brinks