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News & Features » August 2016 » “Breath” by Cezarija Abartis

“Breath” by Cezarija Abartis

Mondays Are Murder features brand-new noir fiction modeled after our award-winning Noir Series. Each story is an original one, and each takes place in a distinct location. Our web model for the series has one more restraint: a 750-word limit. Sound like murder? It is. But so are Mondays.

This week, Cezarija Abartis counts her options in Minneapolis.

by Cezarija Abartis
Minneapolis, Minnesota

Elizabeth didn’t know what to do. Go along with the kid holding the knife and the other kid with the gun? Lie? Try to escape? Yes, escape—that was it. But what if Cordelia came back home? Probably those two young thugs would be gone by then. But they might wait for her daughter. And if Elizabeth were dead, how could she save Cordelia? This was a maze.

Outside the open dining room window she smelled the lilacs. Cars rolled down the quiet street, birds chirped to each other, planes flew. It was possible to move and escape. She could run away and find Cordelia. The thought caught in her throat. She could run to Cordelia, warn her, take her hand and run away with her, someplace where they would never be found.

She heard steps. The door opened. Cordelia stood, fists clenched at her side.

A tall boy towered over her. Cordelia was rigid, her face terrified, eyes open, lower lip dropped, as if gasping for air. Panic.

“She can’t breathe,” Elizabeth cried. “It’s her asthma.”

“Looks funny,” the tall boy said. “Kind of like a fish. I expect her to flop around.”

“She needs her inhaler. There’s one in the cupboard.” She turned toward the kitchen, half-apologetic about the mess.

“I bet there’s one in here.” He lifted Cordelia’s purse and dangled it. He smirked and threw it to Elizabeth. He must’ve known all along.

She pulled open the flap. Her fingers searched and found the smooth cylinder at the bottom.

Cordelia’s knuckles jabbed the air, her shoulders angled up, her head shaking.

Elizabeth brought the inhaler to Cordelia, who released the cap, raised it to her mouth, and pushed air in. She went limp with relief.

Elizabeth rubbed Cordelia’s arm and shoulder. Alive and breathing. Elizabeth took a breath herself. She sensed the air go all the way down and into her lungs, fill them, so she felt light enough to float above all this. She sat beside Cordelia and rested her forehead against hers and took in sweet air. She could hear Cordelia’s breathing, her in and out of breath, now slow and calm.

Cordelia let out a cough. It was not a fit nor seizure. She was all right. The world was okay. Elizabeth’s forehead still touched Cordelia’s. She kept feeling the breath go in and out.

Light flickered outside, and above she heard a helicopter, its engine churning, lifting an injured person to a hospital, saving a life, floating on nothing.

In her arms she held Cordelia, warm and alive, trembling, teary-eyed.

Elizabeth would not be prey. She would try to run, but if they wouldn’t let her . . . she would become a killer. They would be sorry, they would not be safe, they would die die die.

She would run for the door and drag Cordelia behind her. Cordelia coughed and sat, breathing hard on the couch, exhausted, open-mouthed, eyes closed, the inhaler in her limp hand. How would Elizabeth get her to run? She could not carry her. She would have to pull her.

Was it better to wait or to run now? Something good might happen yet. Their captors might tire of this or change their minds or find what they were after and leave. It might all turn out well yet. She would threaten them, issue an ultimatum. They would have to obey.

The second boy, the one with the knife, watched Cordelia, and his eyes flicked to Elizabeth, and back to Cordelia. His face showed revulsion. Elizabeth couldn’t tell if it was because of Cordelia’s spasmodic breathing or his judging of himself, what he feared he might do. That frightened her. She mustn’t continue thinking that. She would be paralyzed, a mound of vulnerable flesh, a pleading victim.

But this she could do.

She had hope, she had energy, she had vision and empathy. None of these would help—only strength and swiftness, deployed luckily, marshaled forcefully. Only bloody-mindedness, dire calculation, firm resolve, no mercy, a punch and a kill, a kick, a shovel to the face. The kitchen was full of weapons; she needed only to get there. She took a deep breath.


CEZARIJA ABARTIS’s Nice Girls and Other Stories was published by New Rivers Press. Her stories have appeared in Per Contra, Pure Slush, Waccamaw, and New York Tyrant, among others. Her flash “The Writer” was selected by Dan Chaon for Wigleaf’s “Top 50 online Fictions of 2012.” Her story “History,” published in the Lascaux Review, was chosen by The Committee Room as Story of the Month. Recently she completed a novel, a thriller. She teaches at St. Cloud State University. Her website is http://magicmasterminds.com/cezarija/.


Would you like to submit a story to the Mondays Are Murder series? Here are the guidelines:

—We are not offering payment, and are asking for first digital rights. The rights to the story revert to the author immediately upon publication.
—Your story should be set in a distinct location of any neighborhood in any city, anywhere in the world, but it should be a story that could only be set in the neighborhood you chose.
—Include the neighborhood, city, state, and country next to your byline.
—Your story should be Noir. What is Noir? We’ll know it when we see it.
—Your story should not exceed 750 words.
—Accepted submissions are typically published 6–8 months after their notification date and will be edited for cohesion and to conform to our house style.
—E-mail your submission to info@akashicbooks.com. Please paste the story into the body of the email, and also attach it as a PDF file.

Posted: Aug 1, 2016

Category: Original Fiction, Mondays Are Murder | Tags: , , , , , ,