Monday, October 24, 2022

“The First Stage” • by Matt Krizan


Mark is singing Happy Birthday to Layla—loudly and out of tune, as was their custom—when someone knocks on the front door. He ignores it, watching Layla blow out the candles, but the knocking continues.

“C’mon, Mark,” says his sister Sara, “I know you’re in there.”

Mark doesn’t respond. He’s giving Layla her present, waiting for her delighted smile when she opens it.

“I brought donuts,” Sara says. “Those cream-filled ones you like? Mark…?”

Grumbling, Mark pulls off his VR Hood, and Layla and her present vanish. He rises from the sofa, knocking over an empty vodka bottle. Crumbs fall from his pajamas as he shuffles to the door and opens it.

Sara’s eyes widen at the sight of him.

“Oh, sweetie,” she breathes. “You can’t keep torturing yourself like this. It was an accident. There’s nothing you could’ve—”

Mark takes the box of donuts and shuts the door.

He returns to the sofa, tuning Sara out as he shoves a donut in his mouth. He wipes his hand on his pants and pulls on his Hood.

“It’s beautiful.” Layla eyes the necklace, smiling.

“You’re beautiful,” Mark murmurs, echoing his recorded voice, tears welling in his eyes.



Matt Krizan is a former certified public accountant who writes from his home in Royal Oak, Michigan. His short fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in various publications, including Daily Science Fiction, Martian Magazine, and Dark Moments. Find him online at and on Twitter as @MattKrizan.