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The Writers’ Block A Literary Magazine of Creative Writing from Anderson High School Students Volume 1, Number 1 Fall 2009

Photograph by Glenna Nelson


The Writers’ Block Fall 2009

TABLE OF CONTENTS Author

Title

Page

Alec Mosier

Invitation

3

Jen Barras and Sarah Panico

Several Dirty Little Secrets

4

Cassandra Coriolan

Picture Response

6

Allyson Coldiron

Innocent Hope

6

Callie Massey

Sarah Smiles

8

Ana Hoffman

Freeing the Sane

12

Angela Lupher

April Showers

17

Aaron Davis

A Dream

21

Evie Ladyman

Riley’s Flowers

22

Anne Urban

Wings

26

Sarah Panico

As Seasons Change

28

Taylor Covington

Changing

29

Bronte Bejarano

The Edge’s Birth

30

Shaan Heng-Devon

Ragnarok

31

Ariela Schnyer

Envy; Trust Me

32

Grace Maverick

Cockroaches

33

Dartagnan Kallick

Observations

36

Grey Martin-Buhrdorf

God(s)

37

Jasmine Gulick

Corruption’s Fiery Rain

38

Angelica Aros

One More Loss

39

Jeremy Nicot

A Short Walk

43

Jin Hyung Lee

Untitled

44

Yingthi Piling

Heliage

45

Kelly Pajares

When Can the World Wait?

46

Naomi Hasegawa

Most Shameful Moment

47

Lauren Burton

Mother

49

Madeline Vuong

Last Christmas

50

Megan Muller

The Case for Compassion

51

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The Writers’ Block Fall 2009 Molly Gillespie

Personality

52

Kelly Gramlich

Pollution

53

Matt Perez

Shamu

54

JJ Barron

Adventures

55

Joel Brook

Lethal Mushrooms

56

Hannah Bones

Procrastination

57

Kendra Smith

The Rise and Fall of Chuck E. Cheese

58

Katherine Stratton

Cheater, Cheater

60

Katie Shultz

Glitter and Its Flaws

64

Molly McCann

Cheap and Chic Fashion Diva

65

Rex Ferguson

Ode to Lucky Charms

67

Fallon Behrens

Ode to Chocolate Strawberry

68

Ivan Calderon

Why Abstinence Matters

69

Max McCready

Dear Johnson: an Idiot Letter

70

Jason Craft

Dear Myself: an Idiot Letter

71

Savannah Kumar

Numbers, Neighbors, Nightmares, Nothing

72

Samuel Chapman

Sparkles

76

Lucy Chibesa

Life as I Never Knew It

84

Kathleen McKenney

Hoes Over Bros

85

Camille Currey

So Much They Never Knew

89

Dear Readers, This is the second year I have been fortunate enough to teach the creative writers at Anderson High School, but this is the first time I’ve gathered their work for publication. I am thrilled to share their work with you. Since this is a high school publication intended for young adults and adults, some of the word choices, themes, and imagery may not be suitable for younger readers. Please use discretion in sharing the contents of our magazine with impressionable young minds—otherwise they could turn out to be as strange as the writers contained within these pages. A special thanks goes out to those who have supported and made this collection possible: our principal, Donna Houser; the teachers of the English Department; student editors Evie Ladyman, Madeline Vuong, Grace Maverick, Grey Martin-Buhrdorf, and Ariela Schnyer; the Writers’ Club of Anderson HS; Creative Writing students past and present; Crissie Ballard; Todd Taylor, and the people I’m forgetting. ~ Jason Farr, Creative Writing Teacher jfarr@austinisd.org

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INVITATION

I first heard about the new literary magazine a few months ago at the beginning of the school year, and I'm not gonna lie; I thought that as Anderson High School's foremost Misunderstood Genius, it was beneath me to debase myself by submitting a piece of writing. I will be frank once more. Time has not changed my feelings on the matter in the least. However, something must have happened. Something must have occurred to force my hand, or else you wouldn't be reading my wonderful, eye-tickling word-candy, now would you? No. No, you would not. In answer to the quandary that I previously stated, and I'm sure you all are asking, what changed my initial decision not to contribute was the knowledge that our submission would be graded. And that Mr. Farr apparently keeps items in various drawers of his desk that may or may not be legal. And at the moment he's working through a bit of a rough patch with the Missus and is taking it pretty hard. And the alcohol doesn't exactly improve his mood. And he's standing right behind me with one of the aforementioned items in hand, as well as a bottle of what smells like rubbing alcohol. So, as my qualifications as Anderson High School's foremost Misunderstood Genius, as well as Anderson High School's foremost Maker-of-Promises-I-Can't-Keep permit me to do, I want to guarantee that within these glossy pages you will find a wealth of articles, written in an elegant, captivating style, about interesting subject matter and with all consideration taken to make it a riveting read. You will enjoy yourself. I promise.

Alec Mosier

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Several Dirty Little Secrets (that bring you closer into the mind of a creative writing student) By Jen Barras and Sarah Panico Students in Creative Writing. You’ve seen their work, but you don’t really know them. Here is an interview of a Creative Writing student to let you have a glimpse into the mind of one of these crazy writers. Q: Describe your life. Jen: I’m just along for the ride. If I overanalyze it, things will start to suck. Q: What's the first thing you notice about the opposite sex? Jen: I go out of my way to notice eye color, despite what Mr. Farr says about how hard it is. Q: Your current relationship status? Jen: Single. Q: Do you wish your relationship status was different? Jen: Aren't we supposed to be talking about my writing? Q: What is your current mood? Jen: Confused. Q: Have you ever noticed any similarities between you and other authors? Jen: Finally! A question about writing! I write similar to authors that I like because I like how they convey their messages and how they describe things. Q: Who was your favorite author when you were young? Jen: Dr. Seuss. Q: What genre of books do you like to read? Jen: Anything fantasy or sci-fi. I like being able to be taken to a different place with a book. Q: How have your personal experiences affected your writing? Jen: They have a way of helping me put more emotion behind characters and events. It’s a lot easier to write about things you yourself have experienced. Q: Who are your heroes? Jen: Sarah Panico Q: How do you get started with writing a story (as in, how do you start developing the story, how do you get inspired for it)? Jen: I usually sit down with an open notebook and an open mind and just write down something. It can be just a name or an event and I can usually base an entire story on it.

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Q: Were you always good at writing? Jen: I’m okay at writing anyway. I don’t think I always have been, I mean everyone goes through the phase where their writing totally blows, but your parents think it’s gold. Q: What advice would you give to people who "run out of creativity" when writing? Jen: Just sit back and relax for a while. Everyone gets writers’ block at some point, but you can reuse an idea with different phrasing or you can just wait for something to pop up. I wouldn’t recommend leaving your piece to sit, but rather take it with you for those instances where the light bulb comes on in your head. Q: Do you still watch kiddy movies or TV shows? Jen: No. They get scary once you understand certain things. Like The Lion King, and The Little Mermaid. Q: Do you use real-life facts based on true stories and your OWN experiences in your writing? Jen: I do more often than not. I also warp some of my experiences to fit certain themes. It’s just a lot easier to write something with value when you have a personal connection to it instead of just guessing. Q: If you could go back in time and change something, would you? Jen: yes. . . Q: Have you ever had a near death experience? Jen: Not that I’m aware of… I'm pretty sure I would remember something like that. Q: When naming your characters, do you give any thought to the actual meaning? Jen: I’ve started to more, mainly because I caught myself using the same few names over and over so I wanted to get new ones in the mix and I figured if they were new they might as well mean something about the character. Q: What are the major themes of your work? Jen: Perseverance. I know in my own life it just annoys me when people dwell on the past or make a big deal about a small thing so I like to put the theme of just putting it all behind you in my writing so that, hopefully, when people read it, they’ll think “Hey that’s a pretty good idea.” Life’s too short to dwell on the little things and I think that, unfortunately, people do it a lot. Q: What are you thinking about right now? Jen: Winter dance show, talking Japanese watches, and I’m wondering why I have headphones in with no music playing. Q: What should you be doing right now? Jen: This actually. Creative writing is awesome! Q: Finally, who was the last person to make you smile? Jen: Sarah Panico. 5


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Picture response By Cassandra Coriolan My feet are freshly covered in dirt, spit, spilled coffee, dry gum, and other peoples’ emotions and lives that they left behind from their footsteps. I wish I could find the train to 35th Street. I think when Mommy walked through here she left more than feelings and words; she left me. I just want to find home. Until then I’ll keep walking and figuring other people out, and hopefully someone will come across my footsteps to feel and hear my emotions. Just as I felt theirs.

Innocent Hope By Allyson Coldiron A little girl sat alone in a train station. She was seated on the ground very close to the tracks. A train passed by. She watched it pass. He’s coming. Mommy said he isn’t coming, but he is. Isn’t he? . . . He sure is taking a long time. I walked all this way and he’s making me wait. Home is a really, really long way from here. I had to walk past three shops between The Train Place and Home. Maybe he’s upset

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that I didn’t come with Mommy. But it’s not my fault that Mommy wouldn’t come. Maybe he’s mad that I pretended to be asleep during nap time. How does he know I was pretending? Another train passed by. That’s a train. I’ve known what a train is for a long time. Mommy used to hold up a card with a train on it. These trains don’t really look like the one on the card, though. She’d say ‘train, train, train.’ At first I didn’t know what she wanted. When I finally said ‘train,’ she got really excited and kissed my cheek. Another train passed by. I keep watching the trains, waiting for them to stop, waiting for him to come, but none of them stop. Last time I was here the first train stopped and he was on it. I was with Mommy. Mommy wouldn’t let me play on The Stairs in The Train Place that time, but I got to play on them today. Mommy wasn’t here today. I hope she’s happy now. She was really sad today when I left. I heard her crying when I pretended to be taking my nap. I think it was because I left my books out. I put them all up before I left so she should be happy now. She said he isn’t coming this time, but he wouldn’t do that. He always comes Home. He’s coming; I know he is. A train stopped at the station and people poured out. The little girl stood up and wandered closer to the train. Daddy?

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Sarah Smiles By Callie Massey

It wasn’t her hair or skin that made her shine. Her eyes were now usually wild and blank, so they added nothing. No, it was her smile that made her really sparkle. That smile that slapped you with a sudden burst of youthful vitality that you never would have known a woman of her age possessed. But, Sarah wasn’t like the other women her age. She shuffled. As big a cliché as that was, Sarah really did shuffle. Even when her daughter got her a cane so she could support herself, her small feet still slid across the tiled floor. And, while that shuffle may have given the impression that she was an old woman who needed people helping her every step she took, Sarah refused to be frail. Her head was always a little bit higher than she really had a right to hold it, even when she forgot what she had to be proud of. That was one of the many traits my mother said I shared with Sarah. “I’ll be me, and you be you.” That was classic Sarah. A woman can only be like that for so long, though. Maybe the dementia was God’s way of putting Sarah in her place, reminding her that she wasn’t anything special. She’d always been strong and proud despite what other people said. “White trash.” “Poor woman.” She had heard them all at this point. I don’t remember ever seeing something that another person said to Sarah keeping her from looking that person square in the eye. The best memory I had of her was at a small resale shop. “I don’t think that’s really in your price range, ma’am.” Sarah had looked the saleswoman in the eye and smiled sweetly. “I’ll take it.” She didn’t even bat a lash. My mother said I was just like her, and I liked that. It only made sense that she’d lost herself with illness. Isn’t being sick supposed to rob you of the most important things? And Sarah was the most important—to all of us. My dad swore I didn’t know the half of who Sarah was, that I couldn’t imagine the woman she had been. But that didn’t stop me from writing about her for every “Who Do You Admire” assignment given to me in school. My teachers hated that. I never understood why Samantha Reese could write about Susan B. Anthony every time, but I was the “unoriginal” student. “Susan B. Anthony is an American hero,” Mr. Polar, my seventh grade English teacher, would say. “Nobody has heard of Sarah.” And nobody ever would if he didn’t let me write any papers on her. Apparently this concept was more than Mr. Polar could understand, but it was enough to get me detention for talking back. It was when I visited my mother that I heard the truly impressive stories about Sarah. I loved being an adult and going to the retirement home whenever I wanted; Mom would talk happily and easily with me about Sarah when she was young. I was almost a mirror image of the old Sarah with my black hair and green eyes. Of course, Sarah’s hair had grown grey with time and her eyes lacked their old spark. But I had only to look at an old picture to know who she used to be.

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My father used to love telling stories about Sarah, but now they depressed him too much. So did looking at me. I knew he loved me, and I understood why it was hard for him to look me in eye, but that never seemed to keep me from getting a little bit more bitter every day. Christmas dinners were now tense, and I refused to go to his house during Thanksgiving. That had been Sarah’s favorite holiday, and it brought out the worst in my father. I suppose that you could say there was a bright side to holidays with him: he’d get drunk and talk about Sarah for hours on end. On the last Thanksgiving that I spent with him, he told the best one yet. It was the day he met her. “I think she hated me,” he’d said with a slow, easy smile spreading across his face. This was how he always looked when he remembered her. “I was sitting by myself off in the corner. I don’t know, I guess she thought I looked lonely. She skipped over to me.” And then he’d stopped talking for a while. I guess he just wanted us all to get a visual of a young Sarah skipping around like she didn’t have a care in the world. “Then she flopped, literally flopped, down next to me. I wish you had all seen her. She asked me how I was doing. That was classic Sarah.” Then he pushed back his glasses and leaned back in his chair. His bottle of beer was now being held between his knees and the condensation was slowly leaving a wet circle on his khakis. “I don’t even remember what I said back. It really doesn’t matter. It was rude, I know that. I know because Sarah reminded me of how rude I was for years after that; reminds me to this day. I left that night thinking she was an outrageous moron.” He laughed. “She left thinking I was a jerk.” Then my dad took a long drink of his beer. He was going to cry, but not in front of us. My mother told me that he had never cried in front of another human being except her. Her and Sarah. “I am a jerk, aren’t I?” My brother then did what all the men in my family would do when they were faced with an emotional situation. He clapped my dad on his shoulder and tried to be funny. “If you weren’t a jerk, you wouldn’t be Dad.” My dad smiled; my other brother offered a pity-laugh on his behalf. But I did what Sarah would have done. “Yeah, you are.” I said. Then I got up and left them all with their mouths hanging open. That was Sarah’s flaw, and my own. We never thought before we spoke. My dad was hurting, and I had rubbed salt in an open wound. “Maggie?” My mom’s voice brought me out of my thoughts of dad and Sarah. “Yes?” “Am I so awful to take care of?” she asked. “No, Mom. Why would you think that?” I knew why she was asking. It was because I had done what I always did: thought about something else instead of dealing with my responsibilities. That was another Sarah trait, I guess. My mother knew about that one all too well, I’m sure. And then came the routine questions. She didn’t know who or what she was asking about. All she knew was these names in her mind. They didn’t connect to anybody, but she asked anyway. “How’s Gary? Dad? How is he?” How did you tell your mother that the man she didn’t remember she loved was at home completely crushed because he had lost his wife to an invisible stranger? You didn’t. 9


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“He’s great.” “And the boys?” Also crushed, heartbroken even. Two strong, southern boys who could rip splinters from their hands and not flinch were reduced to tears by a small, old woman sitting in a nursing home. “Wonderful.” And then it happened. My mother’s lips spread into a strong, youthful smile. I felt the air leave my lungs; there was that slap. Bam! There she was. My mother was back; she was Sarah again. It was times like these that I understood why my father loved her, why my brothers cried for her and why I came here every other day. Not because she was a small, frail old woman sitting in a nursing home looking out a window into a yard that she wasn’t fully aware existed. We did it because she was our mother, Sarah. “Did I ever tell you about the first time I met your father?” she asked. “No, ma’am.” She laughed just a little bit. “He was rude.” “I’m sure he was. Isn’t he always?” “I tried to be friendly, and he shot me down.” This time, her laughter bubbled over. “I guess some things just don’t change.” I felt a replica of the smile on Sarah’s face taking over my own. And that just sent her grin closer to her eyes. “I love your father.” “He loves you.” “He loves Sarah,” she whispered and her smile dimmed. “I wish I could be her all the time.” “You are always Sarah, Mom.” But she shook her head. She knew the truth as well as I did. As well as Dad and my brothers did. “Only in name. I forget who Sarah is,” she said. “When you come here, I recognize you… and me. But that doesn’t mean that I can always connect myself with who Sarah is.” But then her smile returned. “I’m Sarah right now. Like it?” “I love you,” I said. My father would be here tomorrow. Maybe she would smile for him; maybe she wouldn’t. God, I hoped she did. He needed it. And when she did smile, he would cry like baby on her shoulder. And, as long she was Sarah, she’d tease him until he was laughing harder than he was crying. And that would make her cry. “I’m tired, Maggie.” She was almost gone. “Maggie?” I looked at my mother. She looked scared and her eyes were growing dull again. “Where’s Gary?” she cried. “He’s at home.” “He’s going to miss Sarah! What if she doesn’t come back?” I rushed to her side. This was the worst part. She would kick and scream for my dad. Maybe she’d call my brothers’ names. She’d hold my hand and squeeze tightly. And then she’d get mad. “You!” she shouted, looking into my eyes. “You! Help me!” 10


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“I can’t, Mom!” No matter how many times I saw this happen, it never got easier. Tears sprang to my eyes, and I wished my father was here. In a daze, I saw a young woman sedate my mother and the last of the light finally left her eyes. My mother fell asleep, and I could almost feel Sarah’s presence going out the window. There she went; my best friend, mother, role model. No Sarah, no smiles.

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Freeing the Sane By Ana Hoffmann This is such a dreadful place. A dreadful place filled with dreadful people that seem to suck the life right out of you. I hate working here, but I can’t quit. I guess you can say, I’m stuck here . . . for life. It’s true what people say about places like this, you go in once and you never come out . . . even if you’re not supposed to be there in the first place. It’s raining outside. Outside is begging me to come and play. I can hear it rapping against the roof and the barred windows as I walk down the halls of this giant maze called Happy Trails Hospital. Happy Trails Hospital is anything but happy. You don’t see it at first, but as time goes on, you start seeing another side of this place, something darker. This doesn't seem to affect the other doctors; then again, they probably go to bed every night feeling like they made a difference in somebody’s life, that they converted the insane back to their former sane selves. I can’t do that. I can’t sit with someone for an hour and try to talk them into being sane again. I know this is a terrible thing to say, but I feel like I’m talking to brick walls rather than people. Brick walls, with big, wild eyes, that scratch the walls and scream all day long, creating an inside covering for the whole mad house. “Why is it that every time I come here you start attacking me with insults?” a voice, big and sophisticated, echoes through the hall. One of the doctors must be having a session at the moment. “Because I’m sick of having to see you. I want somebody else to talk to.” She sounds rather rude, that girl that’s having the session with the doctor. There is a long pause, and then the first voice, the doctor voice, continues. “Like who?” “That doctor, I want to see that doctor with the dark circles around his eyes, the one that looks sick. I saw him when I was put in to this hell-hole.” “You know I can’t let you—” “If I can’t talk to him, then—” “I know, I know; you’ll never say another goddamn thing to me.” My curiosity is getting the better of me, and I walk towards the room from which the voices come. Which doctor are they talking about? All the doctors here seem well-rested and healthy. “I’m not kidding,” the girl says, defensively. “Why do you want to talk to him anyway?” “He has the same eyes like me, the ones that look like he can’t go to sleep at night . . . I want to know what keeps him up.” “You think he can’t sleep?” “Didn’t I just say that?” she snaps. There’s another pause, this one is short and seems to cut through the air, destroying the noises that cover the halls like a thick layer of dust. “What do you think keeps him up?” I can almost see the patient shrugging as she says, “I don’t know. This place, maybe… Your hour’s up. Get out.” The door opens and out steps one of the other doctors. I can’t remember his name, maybe Patrick? His face is crumpled up, almost like a newspaper, and he’s watching the door to the room with a look of pure hatred. 12


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I try to sneak past him, afraid I’ll get accused for eavesdropping. I get past him unnoticed and was just about to turn a corner when he notices me. “Peter? What are you doing here?” he asks. I have been caught. Accused of a crime. “Taking a walk.” The words slip out of my mouth and hang heavy frozen in the air. The doctor chews on his lips and then asks me, “Peter, what would you do if a patient refused to talk to you unless you gave them something they wanted?” “I’d give them what they want.” I say, pretending to give it some thought. “You would? Should I?” “I don’t know; it’s your choice isn’t it?” “Yes, yes.” he mumbles to himself. I’m about to turn the corner again, but he stops me. “Peter, can you talk to that patient? She’s been asking for the doctor with the dark circles around his eyes. I’m going to go look for him. Can you keep her preoccupied?” “I…I guess.” I say. How long was it since I had last seen a patient? 3 days? It feels like so much longer. “Thank you, Peter. I knew I could count on you.” The doctor, Patrick or whatever his name is, takes off sprinting down the hallway like a … mad man. The door is standing right in front of me. Behind it I can hear the girl humming nursery rhymes. The room has swallowed her and now it’s threatening to swallow me. I push the door open and, for a moment, I’m wondering if I’ll get stuck in that room too, like that girl. She looks up from the floor, her finger still tracing figures on it. “They actually let you come.” Behind me the door closes. The room has swallowed me; I can no longer escape. “You’re really here.” She gets on her feet and walks over to where I stand stiffly. “Hello, your doctor is, uh, getting the doctor you asked for right now. I, uh, was told to talk to you till he, uh, finds him.” “But you’re right here,” she says, “aren’t you?” All I can do is nod; my brain cannot process what is going on right now. “What keeps you up at night?” she asks. “I…I, uh, what keeps you awake at night?” I reply. “How do you know I can’t sleep?” She sits down on the ground, watching me with big, dark eyes that seem to expand the room, keeping it from trapping me—us—inside it. “Your eyes.” The words flow out of my mouth; there’s no hesitation. She cracks a smile, small at first, but then it grows. “This place, there’s something wrong with it.” “What is it?” I ask. The question bubbles up inside of me threatening to burst inside of me 13


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if it doesn’t escape quickly enough. “What’s wrong with this place?” She starts tracing shapes on the ground again, “Once you come in, you can never leave. This place traps you.” “You…you, think so, too?” “I knew it! I knew it from the moment I saw you!” she says. Her smile grows even bigger; it seems to cover her whole face now. “Knew what?” I’m eyeing the door, my escape only a few feet away. “You’re different from the other doctors, you know what’s wrong with this place!” “I don’t know what you’re talking about!” “Yes, you do! You know everyone else is crazy, except for us!” “I’m, uh… I have to leave now.” She’s up in a blink, her eyes burning with rage and her nostrils flaring. The room seems to shrink again as she blocks the door. I try to push her aside, gently, and reach the door but she transforms into a brick wall. “You can’t leave.” “No, not with you in front of me, I can’t.” I say, trying to make light of the situation, but the words come out twisted and threatening. “If you leave, you’ll be crazy, too, and then…you’ll be all alone.” Alone. Such a small word can shatter the world into pieces. “Alone! Alone! Alone! Always alone!” That blasted word keeps weaving in and out of my ear and I try swatting it away as if it were a bug. “Aren’t we all brought to this world alone? Don’t we all die alone?” I ask, trying to keep my demeanor from cracking and peeling off the thick layers of skin surrounding me, until I am nothing more than a jumble of bones that you could see right through. “Why should it matter if I’m alone now?” “Don’t you ever get lonely?” she asks, her eyes wide with astonishment as if my words had suddenly lifted a cloth off the cage she was in and she was finally seeing where she was for the first time. “Sure I do. This place whole place makes me lonely.” I want to tell her that I feel like Happy Trails Hospital will close in on me and devour me as if it were a wild animal, that the patients are brick walls, that outside is calling me to play, but I keep my mouth shut tight and lock my words up tight inside my mind. “Do you know why I’m here?” she asks me. “No.” I watch as she sits on the ground and pats a spot beside her for me to sit down on. I hesitate for a moment wondering if the floor would crack open and swallow me, dropping me into the room right below this one. She waits for me, patiently, to sit down and then opens her mouth, the words nearly spilling out. “I locked myself and my friends in a closet and swallowed the key.” She starts laughing, and soon enough I’m laughing alongside her until I think my ribcage will crack open and all my insecurities will fall out, leaving me happy and carefree like I used to be. She wipes her eyes, “I thought that if I did that, they’d never leave.” “Do you want to know why I’m here?” I ask, wiping the tears from my eyes. “Sure, why not,” she said, shrugging, a huge grin plastered on her face. “My big brother jumped off the roof with a red umbrella. He thought he could fly off like Mary Poppins.” I chuckle at the thought. “He got locked up in a place like this and when I’d visit him he’d tell me how he felt trapped in that place. I wanted to make sure that that never happened to anybody else, and now… now I feel trapped.” 14


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There is a terrible sound: someone wailing, screeching. I look up at the girl, thinking that perhaps it was her, but she watches me with a dry face. That’s when I notice the big, fat teardrops rolling off my face. She pats my back, trying to somehow comfort me, but not knowing how. “You know, sometimes I think the only reason I’m not locked up here too is because we ran out of rooms a long time ago.” “What do you mean? You look perfectly sane to me.” “You look perfectly sane, too. The man in the room next to you looks perfectly sane—” “Seriously? That guy is cuckoo.” I ignore her comment and she rolls her eyes at me. “Everyone in this goddamn place looks completely normal, but you want to know what?” I don’t wait for an answer and just continue on my tirade, “we’re all insane, but nobody notices because everyone is so busy looking for everyone else’s faults and they can’t notice their own.” “What do you mean?” she asks, her voice cracking. “What do I mean?” I repeat, trying to get a grip on my emotions. “Don’t you see, I’m trapped in this place because I need to help all these people that get locked up in here.” “No, you’re not. You can just quit.” She says, lying down, pressing her left cheek against the ground. “I can’t. I feel an obligation to my brother; I need to convince people that they’re okay, that even though the world thinks you’re a key-swallowing freak or something, you’re not.” “But what if I know that I am a ‘key-swallowing freak or something’ and you can’t convince me that I’m not? Won’t you just have to give up?” “I don’t think I could.” “I didn’t ask if you could; I asked if you couldn’t convince me that I’m not a—” “‘Key-swallowing freak or something.’ I know, I understood you the first time.” I say, watching as the girl starts tracing shapes on the ground again. “I guess I’d have give up, eventually.” “You’re wasting your time then,” “I don’t see how trying to help people is a waste of time,” I hiss through my gritted teeth. “Then go, help someone who wants your help. Leave me to myself, after all everyone dies alone, right? What difference should it make now if you leave me? You never had to come anyway.” “That’s not true, your doctor told me to—” “To what? Keep me company?” She looks up at me, her eyes penetrating through my body, making me feel hollow and cold. “Do you even know his name? Do even know my name? Do you even care?” “Of course I know his name.” The room is slowly starting to cave in. “What is it?” I keep my mouth shut and look towards the door, hoping Patrick, or whatever his name is, would hurry up and let me out. “I knew it.” I feel my mouth moving, but no words come out. We don’t speak; it is so silent that I can hear the room creaking. “Do you really think I’m wasting my time?” I ask quietly, hoping that she doesn’t hear me or doesn’t feel like answering. “Well, nobody has ever left, so it’s clear that you haven’t really had much of an impact on anyone stuck in this place.” “Oh.” “Do you really think I’m going to die alone?”

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“I think you’re reading into what I said too much.” The girl’s head lowers and she keeps tracing shapes, except now she’s pressing her finger into the floor so hard that it makes a squeaking noise every time she makes a straight line. “I highly doubt that you’ll die alone. But…maybe you should open up more, stop being so…so defensive. You won’t be so lonely then.” “Yeah.” We sit silently, and when the other doctor finally comes to let me out, I can feel the cement surrounding my feet crack, letting me float back to the surface and take a great big swallow of fresh air. “I didn’t find the doctor she was talking about; maybe he’s a figment of her imagination. What do you think, Peter?” He asks me as we walk down the hall. “No, he exists.” “But, Peter—” I put my hand up to stop him and smile, taking off my white jacket. “I don’t think I remember your name, what is it again?” “It’s, uh, Parker.” “Well then, Parker, it was nice working with you.” With that, I hand my jacket to him. “Wait, Peter, where are you going?” “Outside. I need a breath of air,” I say. “Oh, and tell your patient I said goodbye and that I’ll be seeing her again soon, hopefully.” “I…I, okay, Peter.” he says as I turn and go my way. It’s raining outside. Outside is begging me to come and play. I can hear it rapping against the roof and the barred windows as I walk down the halls of this giant maze and finally, after all these years, find the exit.

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April Showers By Angela Lupher

It rained the day they buried her. At first, he didn’t mind; it hid his tears, even from himself. It silenced the restless movement of dutiful friends, those who hadn’t ever really known her. It blurred his vision, so it was harder to see her cold lifeless face. But the rain didn’t stop. Not that afternoon. Not that night. Not the next morning. He knew that, contrary to the evidence, the accident hadn’t happened because of the rain; the rain had happened because of the accident. Even the weather was mourning her. The rain didn’t stop, she didn’t come back, and after a while, nothing could hide the tears. Then, he wished the rain would go away. Would stop reminding him of what he once had. He tried to stay away from the place where she was imprisoned, where she had been left to be forgotten. He tried, but couldn’t. Three days, three lifetimes, three eternities after she left him, he went to her. He hadn’t meant to; it just happened. He’d just bought flowers and walked away before he realized what he was doing. They were carnations, not roses – she hated roses, he didn’t know why, he’d never bothered to ask. It hadn’t seemed all that important, and now he would never know. He made his pilgrimage through the rain to the little cemetery where they’d put her. It hadn’t stopped raining since they buried her; maybe it never would. The world would stand poised forever, balanced on the brink of chaos, in awe of what it had lost. A girl stood in the rain by the rusted black gate. She looked up at him, hair hanging limply down her face. She smiled. “Hello, Daniel.” The girl reminded him of another life. Her hands spoke of gentle brushes and quick squeezes: her eyes of intimate secrets. Her voice was so familiar… Yet there was something wrong about her. She was too beautiful and graceful to be real, too natural to be anything but alien. He frowned and wished she would go away. He was here to see Elizabeth, not some alien thing. Tears ran down his cheeks, but the rain hid them even from the girl’s all-knowing eyes. “Hello, Daniel.” Angrily, he pushed past her and knelt before Elizabeth’s grave. Gently he laid the flowers down before her; a sacrifice to her beauty, an acknowledgement of what had been, yet no longer was. The girl stood, watching him. “Aren’t you cold, Daniel?” He wondered why he should be. “It’s like thirty degrees out and you’re in a t-shirt. Why aren’t you wearing a jacket?” Annoyed, he turned away and began walking briskly down the carefully maintained path. “You really should be wearing one, Daniel,” she called after him. He broke into a run. “I’ll send you one.” He escaped the cemetery and her watchful gaze. A few blocks later he stopped running and sat. He watched the rain until his mother called and ordered him home for dinner. If she wondered where he’d been, she didn’t ask.

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He visited her again the next morning, before school. Thankfully, the cemetery was empty of the almost-girl. He stood for a while at the altar of his unfulfilled passion. In the distance a car honked. Startled, Daniel glanced at his watch and realized first period was already half over. Numbly he turned away and saw something out of the corner of his eye. There, hanging from the branch of a sickly looking tree, was a dark blue jacket, like the color of her eyes. Without really knowing why, he slipped it on. In spite of the rain, it was dry and warm. The next day was Saturday. He took his books with him so his mother would stop glancing nervously at him and muttering about a shrink. He sat by her headstone and watched the rain drizzle dully from the sky. “Your books are getting wet.” He glared at the almost-girl and sneezed moodily. She examined him, frowning. “You’re not wearing your jacket.” He sighed. “What do you want?” She smiled and rocked back on her heels. He glanced at her suspiciously; even her subtle movements were too right to be anything but wrong. “I want you to be happy, Daniel.” He snorted. “You want me to be happy?” She nodded gently. Like the last time, anger seeped in, filling the numb space. “Do you know who this is?” He gestured violently toward the headstone. “Do you know what I’ve lost!” As his voice rose, hers softened. “Yes, Daniel. I know who you lost. But you have to move on.” He fell to the ground and cradled his head in his hands, racked with silent, frustrated sobs. “Do you think she’d want this for you?” her voice rose slightly. “Do you really think sitting here in the rain freezing your butt off is going to bring her back?” The anger vanished as quickly as it had come, leaving sorrow and desperation in its wake. “I miss her.” “I know.” She sat down next to him and reached out to touch him, then seemed to think better of it. She withdrew her hand awkwardly and wrapped it around her knees instead. “I need her.” “No Daniel, you don’t.” Her eyes were the color of the sea and held within their depths a compassion both familiar and foreign. “You don’t,” she whispered. She watched him for a moment, her eyes searching his for something. Finally, she sighed. “Go home and put on something dry. Watch TV or something.” For some reason, he did what she said. Sunday it was still raining. He sat at home, watched TV, studied for algebra, and sneezed his brains out. Monday morning came and he left the house, books in hand, fully intending to go to school. Somehow, though, he ended up going in the opposite direction. There was time, he told himself, he didn’t need to go straight there, didn’t need to feel the stares of the others or hear their whispers before he stumbled into view. He turned a corner and found the girl leaning against a lamppost. She smiled when she saw him. A full, beautiful smile. For the first time since the funeral, the rain had drained away into a gentle mist. 18


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“You’re wearing the jacket.” He nodded. “It looks good on you.” She paused and examined him with a gentle efficiency. “Hey, you wanna go get something to eat?” He glanced back towards school. “Daniel, school started half an hour ago. Besides, something tells me you wouldn’t exactly be a model student today.” Placidly, he followed her to a little diner down the street. She stood back while he pushed the door open, somewhere inside a bell dinged. She slipped into a booth and he sat across from her. They were silent for a few minutes until she glanced pointedly at the paper placemat menu. “Order something.” Obediently he ordered a steaming mound of grease-covered eggs and bacon. She watched intently while he ate. “Isn’t it a beautiful day?” She cocked her head and smiled at him. He stared at her blankly and continued to shovel food mechanically into his mouth. “Now, Daniel, you agree or disagree with me. This is what we call ‘making conversation.’” He rolled his eyes. “It’s miserable. It’s wet and depressed.” “April showers bring May flowers,” she recited in a sing-song voice. “It’s March.” “Honey,” she slipped into a deep Southern accent. “We in the South. Sugar, down here it’s been spring since February.” She giggled and he smiled a little. He couldn’t remember the last time he had smiled. They were silent for a moment and his wan grin vanished. “Where are they then?” She raised an eyebrow. “The flowers. If Spring started back in February they should be here by now.” She sighed and her own smile faltered a little. “They’re coming, Daniel. They really are.” “I don’t think I can believe you.” He sneezed and she frowned slightly, eyeing him carefully. “You should go home now, Daniel. Get some sleep.” He got up and followed her from the diner. She left him at the corner and he made his way home. It wasn’t until he was lying in bed staring at the ceiling that he realized that they had never paid for the food. Tuesday he went to school. He answered a few questions in Algebra and managed to stay awake through English. On the way home, he picked up flowers again. As he walked toward the cemetery, he realized he wasn’t sure who he had bought them for. Angry and guilty, he threw down the scarlet carnations and ran. Wednesday he dragged himself to school, then followed the familiar path to the cemetery, not allowing himself to think about why he was going. She was sitting there, waiting for him. The sodden flowers he’d bought the day before were lying in front of Elizabeth’s headstone. He stared at them, and she cocked her head knowingly. “Hey,” she smiled at him. “Come sit.” He sat down on the soaking grass next to her. “Tell me about her.” He glanced questioningly at her. “Elizabeth. Tell me about her. What made you love her?” He sighed and stared up at the threatening sky. “She was… She’s Elizabeth. I don’t know why I love her, but I do. I love her so much… I love the way her face lit up when she saw 19


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me. I love the way she laughed. I love her passionate defense of the things she cared about. I love—” he laughed. “I love how incredibly stubborn she could be. How narrow-minded. How pigheaded…” he trailed off, and realized tears were escaping down his cheeks. She waited patiently for a few minutes until he pulled himself together. “You know,” she began. “When I was little, I believed we were all here for a reason, to learn something, and once we’d learned it, we moved on. Everyone was here for as long as they needed to be and left when they were ready to.” “What do you think now?” “I’m not quite sure…” She sighed. “I guess what I’m trying to say is, she’s where she needs to be.” She stood up. “Daniel, come with me. I want to show you something.” He got up and followed her. She hopped the little fence surrounding the cemetery and slipped into a nearby green belt. She led him into a clearing and knelt. “Look.” He crouched beside her. There, amongst the decaying leaves, were little flower buds poking out of the mud. She smiled. “Smell them.” They smelled of earth and green things. They smelled of life. “I keep my promises, Daniel.” She rocked back onto her feet and turned toward him. “She’s happy. Trust me.” He looked up into her eyes. “I do.” “And she loves you very much.” “I know.” “I have to go now, Daniel.” She turned. “I’ll miss you,” he called. “For a while,” she smiled knowingly. “Goodbye Daniel.” He waited. A little less than a week later, the mist faded. When it did, he made his way back to the little cemetery. He hopped the gate and walked slowly down the little path. She wasn’t there. He hadn’t expected her to be. He approached Elizabeth’s headstone and saw a fluttering out of the corner of his eye. There, in the tree where the jacket had once hung was a note. It was written in Elizabeth’s round, firm hand.

Thank you

For loving me He freed the note from the branches and looked up. The hill was full of flowers.

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A Dream By Aaron Davis While walking through a shadowed glen, A thick fog rolled in to block all sight, And thus I found a she-wolf’s den. She bared her teeth in a fright, And let loose a dreadful growl, Which would keep me there for the night. Movement she would not allow; Midnight passed with a full moon To which she released a howl. She then looked like she wished to commune, Much to my surprise, she did speak, And said to me, “You must attune That which you only think you seek. I speak of Love, ruler of all. It’s this you fear which makes you weak. You have put ’round your heart a wall, So dark and cold yet one not seen, And will lead you to your downfall. You must get out of this routine, And the gods give you such a chance, For when you wake up, choose between, A life alone or true romance. Be not afraid of what may come, But throw yourself into the dance.” She ended her speech, left me numb, And so I was falling, but then I awoke, to choose what to become.

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Riley’s Flowers By Evie Ladyman

Up ahead of him there was a large castle-like building, probably a church, full of turrets and stained-glass windows. Riley found himself strolling across the street to it and walking partway up the stone steps. For a while, he stood staring at the huge oak doors, open and inviting. After a few moments, a man in a robe walked down to him. “Are you coming inside?” Riley paused, not wanting to sound rude by saying no. But really, he almost felt like he should be in there. Hesitantly, he nodded. The priest smiled and led him the rest of the way to the double doors. “Have you ever been to a service before?” he asked Riley. “No, sir.” He had slept in a couple of churches before, but doubted that counted. “Just sit where you feel like. You don’t have to participate in any of it if it makes you feel uncomfortable, but you’re very welcome to.” The priest smiled at him, ushering him through the doors. Then he closed them with a muffled thump. The service had already started, though just barely, by the look of things. Riley headed towards one of the back pews and leaned back, staring at the ceiling. It had been painted with a beautiful mural of what looked like people with wings and halos surrounding a large figure in the clouds. Riley stared around at the paintings on the walls and the stained glass windows, fascinated. They were full of people, people who were obviously very important, who were doing things like holding lambs and children and healing people, and they were somehow familiar. Eventually, Riley realized that the man in front had stopped talking and he was mostly alone. There were only a few people scattered around praying, nowhere near as many as there had been. Feeling slightly self-conscious, Riley stood up and slowly started making his way back towards the entrance. Halfway there, the priest from before met him. He smiled kindly. “Did you enjoy it?” he asked. “Um. Yes,” Riley said. He shifted his weight, trying to make a decision. “Actually, can I stay a little longer?” He didn’t relish having to stay another night out in the park. “You can stay as long as you like.” Riley blinked. “Even tonight?” he blurted without thinking. He felt himself blush. The priest smiled again. “As long as it’s all right with your family.” Riley couldn’t help but smile a bit. “I don’t think they’ll have a problem with that.” The priest showed him to a side room, with cots set up for all the people who had the same idea he did. Most of them were dirty and unkempt, signifying homelessness. Riley picked a cot in the corner and set his pack down on it—he didn’t have to worry about theft; there was nothing of value in it, just a bit of food and some dirty clothes. Another priest popped his head around the doorframe. “Brother Andrew? Would you mind helping us to move some tables? The Ladies’ Charity Bazaar is tomorrow, and we need to set up.” “Sure, I’ll be right there. Will you be all right?” This last was directed to Riley. “Yeah, I’ll be fine, thanks.” Several hours later, unable to sleep, Riley wandered down the halls of the old church, looking at all the murals and crosses on the walls. His bare feet were cold against the stone of the floor, but somehow he felt more at home here than anywhere else he’d ever been. 22


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“Beautiful, isn’t it?” Startled, Riley spun around, nearly hitting the man behind him in the face. “Sorry,” he sputtered. “I didn’t hear you …” The man from before—Andrew—smiled. “That’s quite all right. It’s easy to get caught up in some of these paintings. This one’s of the stoning of Stephen.” “Why was he stoned?” Riley asked. The priest told the story to Riley, about the man who forgave the people murdering him with his last breath. He then went on to the next mural, of David among sheep, and the next, on down the hall, telling all of their stories. The words that went along with the paintings were even better than the pictures themselves. * * * The next day, Riley woke up to a clean change of clothes, a ratty pair of tennis shoes, and a bowl of oatmeal. He couldn’t remember the last time he had had shoes that fit. He hastily polished off the bowl and found a bathroom to change in. After a few moments of wandering he found the main room again, the one where the service was held. There wasn’t one today, it appeared, but there were still a few people kneeling or reading from what Riley assumed were Bibles. Riley noticed in particular one girl who looked about five or six and who was there with her mother. She had a flower in her hands, and it looked like she might’ve been crying. Andrew walked up to him. “Do the clothes fit fine?” he asked. Riley nodded. “They’re perfect. Do you know who that girl is? The one with the purple bow in her hair?” The priest glanced over to where Riley was looking. “Yes. I don’t know her name, but she and her mother come here every Sunday.” He watched the two with a sad look on his face. “She’s been here every day for the past three days. I think her father was in the military; he may have been hurt or killed.” Riley frowned. “Well, she looks lonely. I’m going to go talk to her.” As the girl walked up to the front to put her small flower by the altar, Riley stepped up to her. “Hello. My name is Riley.” The girl blinked up at him, surprised anyone was talking to her. “I’m Lizzy.” “Is that flower for your dad?” Internally, Riley winced at his choice of words. He had been meaning to save that for later in the conversation, once he’d gotten to know her better. Lizzy shook her head. “No, it’s for my kitty. His name was Paul.” All of a sudden, she looked like she was going to cry. As usual, Riley blurted the first thing that came to his mind. “Well, I’m sure he likes all the flowers you’re giving him. Is yellow his favorite color?” She sniffled and wiped her eyes on her sleeve. “Yeah, it is.” Riley nodded. “Then I’m sure he’s got a lovely garden right now, if you’ve been bringing him lots of flowers.” Lizzy gave him a watery smile, grabbed him in a quick hug around his middle, and ran back to her mother. Slightly stupefied, Riley returned to Andrew to thank him for the clothes. * * *

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“HEY!” Riley spun around, almost dropping his funnel cake. A small boy was running after him, waving an inflatable sword through the air. “Hey, I want your cake! I’m a pirate, and I’m pirating your cake!” Behind him, a woman in a navy blue business suit tottered after her son in two-inch heels. “KEVIN! Kevin, come back here now and stop harassing that young man! I told you to only use that sword on the birds in the park!” Kevin paid no attention. “GIMME CAKE!” Riley almost regretted leaving the Charity Bazaar and escaping to the park, even though he’d managed to snag a cake from one of the booths beforehand. The boy slammed into Riley’s legs and began hitting him. On instinct, Riley held the plate with the funnel cake on it high above the kid’s reach, showering both of them with powdered sugar. The mother finally caught up to her boy and managed to pull him off of Riley, apologizing in embarrassment. “LEGGO!” Kevin twisted wildly in his mother’s arms. Then, without warning, he went stone still and screamed, “LOOK! A plane!” Riley couldn’t help but glance at the sky. Sure enough, a jet was leaving a vapor trail across the sky. By the time he had looked back, Kevin had been staring slack-jawed at the plane for a few seconds, but as soon as Riley had time to register what was going on the boy wrenched himself from his mom and ran to the side of the path. “Mommy, look, a nickel!” As he squatted down to pick it up, his face lit up. “LOOK! A dead thing!” “EWWW, Kevin, get away from that!” His mother ran to his side and grabbed his arm, a horrified look on her face. Kevin, however, would have none of that. He reached out and snatched up a small ball of black fur, running over to Riley. “Here, I’ll trade you my dead thing for your cake!” “KEVIN!” “Uh, sure. Here, I’ll take care of that for you,” said Riley, more to the mother than to Kevin. He accepted the gift and handed Kevin his paper plate. “Kevin, put that down! Don’t eat that until you’ve washed your hands!” Kevin once more managed to pull away from his mom and ran off towards the swing set, forgetting about his cake now that he had released it into his mother’s custody. “Mommy, come play with me!” he cried. * * * Riley scanned the crowd in the pews, looking for one head in particular. Right there, that bow. Riley followed her with his eyes until she reached the doors. He walked over to her. “Hey, Lizzy,” he greeted. “Hi!” the girl brightened up considerably when she saw him, which was good. Riley hadn’t thought she’d remember him from Monday. Riley grinned. He reached deep down into his jacket pocket and pulled up the little ball of fur he had been keeping for her for the past two days. The kitten uncurled and yawned at Lizzy. She repeated her past performance, only more so. “Mommy, Mommy, Can we name him Peter? Can we mom?”

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Her mom came over, a confused look on her face. “Can we name who Peter?” As she spied the kitten, a look of surprise flitted over her face, followed quickly by joy. “Look, Mommy, he even looks just like Paul! He’s all black and everything! I bet Daddy’ll be so happy when we tell him we got another kitty!” The mother smiled down at her daughter. “Yes, he will, won’t he?” Riley handed her Peter. “I know you’ll take good care of him,” he said. As Riley watched them walk away, he felt a clear sense of the rightness of his actions. Maybe he really did have a purpose for being here, a place where he belonged. Lizzy, turning around to wave, smile, and admire his beautiful wings one last time, would have agreed.

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Wings By Anne Urban

She no longer

The girl stood on the stage knees shaking heart wings flittering ready to fall. The lights heated her skin her heart

beat the soft earth. As vibrato took her throat and caressed it with such care she kissed it. And her heart lifted into the sky for everyone to see, and emotions spilled from it. Every recognizable emotion and every feeling misunderstood. In colors, thousands of them, swirls that spilled onto the sand, tinting it bright colors, and they licked the tips of the horizon. Her heart

beat the life of a bird within it. The bird took off with a note and the girl was no longer there. She was far away, the exotic wind blowing through her hair, it felt like nothing else, and she had chills. The beat of the earth pounded deep inside her, from where the bird had flown. And she was no longer on the mountain but lying flat on the jungle floor. Primal notes winding up her legs and binding around her wrists and she was filled with invigoration, power over her own self that made her smile. And her voice whirled on. It brought her flying into the sky and she hit the white sands of the deserted beach. Her heart suddenly snapped as if love had been snatched away. and she

beat beat beat and filled the crevasses in the soil. And with the dispersion of the chord, she sank to her knees completely calmed. The silent vibration in her throat even, almost inaudible.

beat

And she sang, quiet, heartfelt.

the ground with her fist and tears ran down her face . . .

And she was home. She could feel the sun in her eyes. 26


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The wind in her soul. The fire in her mind. The fantasy in her heart. And she was whole, because the notes brought her together.

than it ever had before. Her voice caught for the last triplet, and slowly slid away. The walls rang with the beautiful tone. The ties to the world.

The bird above her drifted down, pressing itself against her. Melting into her chest, to her core. And her heart

And the girl stood on the stage knees shaking heart wings flittering.

beat Ready, again. Ready to take on more

to fly . . .

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As Seasons Change By Sarah Panico Heat beating down on our skin The light around us filling in the spaces The acts of many unplanned sins The memories of times and places As seasons change Raindrops fall fast to hit the ground Leaves fall from the trees to lie in piles I'm falling for you but what I've found My distance to fall keeps going for miles As seasons change The mornings grow colder and darker outside The birds sing their sad songs as they wish us good-bye I reached out to hold you but hard as I try As the time changes the magic starts to die As seasons change The sensation in the air begins to feel broken The animals fidget as if they're afraid Needless regret of words left unspoken My concealed feeling I could have conveyed As seasons change No longer do I feel scared and trapped My mind’s thoughts slowly rearrange In due time I will adapt For through the seasons We all change

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Changing By Taylor Covington Upon the waves of certain glee, And down the road of travesty, I found myself missing thee. The day broke, open and clean. I met you there, a golden dream. The night and day collapsed, too lean. We met again in evening gowns, And left again when the sun went down. Now time apart, the queen’s lost her crown. The time we spent, I’ve lost track. Too starry-eye my night and never looking back, Under burning sun and endless black. With whirling winds and changing light, My pink fresh skin burns red, then bright. And now the summer day has turned to winter night. When light breaks open black Fall sky, My skin is rough, and the last memory will die. Morning kisses leave with an angry sigh. We have new heels and higher boots, Thicker skin and harder shoes. Our hair was long, Then cut short and held back. Candle wax Burns for our day And crumbles out for the world’s one sun. We look again to that shimmering dream, And find that it scares us, that glimmering gleam.

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The Writers’ Block Fall 2009

The Edge's Birth Bronte Bejarano The days begin with the screech of flashing red numbers, the fiery baptism of a blue room with ancient morning light, the song of placid birds and cars whizzing hurriedly past. Some mornings weary eyes, hugged by pale black, watch the world chase the cold moon's kiss. Others see eyes watching bright orphaned images acting out plays that will neither be remembered nor forgotten, ghosts of the internal chemical world. Whatever the mask peered through, the actions, the actors, the world remains unchanged. Black cracked pavement, rubber spinning, lights fading from green to yellow to red and back, until a monstrous structure severs the loop as it cuts the sky. School has begun. Bells clang, signaling the birth death of classes. Days and weeks bleed before me, differences indiscernible or simply ignored, the loyal black hands moving still. Forever stuck in a loop, weary eyes, my weary eyes, watch as around me people grow tall. Eyes shut for a moment, I just need rest, but fresh gaze reveals matured faces. Black hands spin fast, the ticks sounding to my heart, and they grow tall, eyes blinking into cold clouds as they reach towards the heat of golden stars. Their familiar faces grow foreign and distant, maturated mirages and shadows of people who were children moments ago. They begin suddenly to move, jumping for an object beyond my vision. My shrunken frame sleepily fights to escape the cold numbers that rain from their monstrous frames, but the numbers merge and walls of cold steel grow tall, swaying to the beat of black hands and bright light. Cold light reflected off endless metal faces fills weary eyes, escape seeming impossible. Then, amidst the interwoven metal, the sea of light, something dark shines through. Black pupils lock hard as light chases the dark tighter and tighter. Breath hitches and legs push off shaking earth, the dark drowning, being pushed farther down. My feet clear right as the dark lets out a last rattling breath, forever hidden by the pale light of reflecting metal. Location unknown, I breathe cautiously, warm air swirling deep into cold lungs, the smell of earth following swiftly after. Black meets black and time loses itself, its black hands blinded by absence. With no keeper my weak, blandly beating, plastic heart grows erratic, chaotic; it grows and shrinks in irrational spurts. The black burns on. Moments lost, meaning and black flow fast around my frame, jostling me until fear prickles my skin, settling heavy as the need for purpose is etched inside, ghosts from the chemical world painting the sensation a brilliant red. Suddenly the kernel of memory of mornings lived flashes from inside, spilling tiny red numbers into the black belly. Protected by the warmth seeping from hidden lives lived long years past, the red grows, growing stronger and more vivid as it does so. With a resounding crack, the red bursts from the skin of black and continues its growth upwards, to sights unseen by sight or sound. The black, once a comfort, seems dangerous in its simplicity, and with only a shaky breath, I climb the red. Light bounces sharply on my eyes, but my chaotic heart beats back stronger, and I continue upward, the clouds tickling my nose. Light and altered figures move around the red, their size pulling me left and right, yet I climb on. Finally, as the clouds end and the sun lies bare, the red abates. As I reach the edge, the heat of the sun dancing around me, I look below. Below, cold metal still reflects revealing faint traces of my journey; above lies much more.

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The Writers’ Block Fall 2009

Ragnarok

By Shaan Heng-Devon

I stand on a hill and look over the crying city.

The consumer siren song rings in the ears of the crying children.

The hipsters cry for love, and the Angels sing to the dying drug dealers roaming suburban streets. I can hear the angels sing, and the devils brandish their newspapers, hiding under white cloaks to disguise themselves from the pure.

The screams turn to music, turn to sirens, turn to love, while glass shatters over the bloodspattered pavement. This is my Jerusalem, my Mecca, my Eden, a world separate from our own on the spiritual path to the apocalypse now. I live and I die with the cold specter of past governments and states, nations and leaders hovering over my head, asking for peace. This is the advent of Satan; the epoch of God.

The Paladin revels in his requiem, and the duties of the chivalrous are left to bloody stem cells languishing in eternity.

And when the howling swamp shoots tear gas into the green sky, the black clouds spit acid rain at the ground. A golden palimpsest steals the future away from the heathens and the worms.

And from above, a starry dynamo looks down and just laughs, long and hard, at the machinations of a generation destroyed by the disease called faith.

Tealeaf futures, trade stock tips, and guns blaze while gypsies crave a Secret in Peyote carpets.

While promises rot in semen-filled gutters, the blackened fibers of hearts gone awry sell quick fixes on stanzas of messy bed sheets. Don’t look back, don’t think twice, don’t judge between the naughty and the nice. Don’t even try to eschew a lie, and fit puzzle pieces to shape the weeping sky.

Jazz induced, turpentine highs are what drive us now. The inevitable crash is our parents’ destiny, not ours. Gently sing of indifferent walls, and save yourself while you still can’t. 31


The Writers’ Block Fall 2009

Envy

Trust Me

By Ariela Schnyer

By Ariela Schnyer

She wonders what you do, when you can’t handle it anymore. When stars stop shining, when going to bed seems like the best thing to do. And no one seems to say a word that means anything. Her heart beats erratically, emotions on the rise and fall. Sometimes in the effort to look happy, she sounds crazy, or hyper. It’s hard to pretend. How do little kids do it so well? She thinks it’s harder when your sanity may be on the line.

You said, trust me.

You said that you would keep me safe, that you cared, and that the world would cradle us in its palms, hiding us from its darkness. It was hard for me to believe that I should, but your kind smile, seeming truthfulness, entrapped me, spun me into your shimmering web. I began to believe. I began to believe the words you whispered about beauty and love. The kindness you bestowed upon me—soft, gentlemanly, chivalrous, never pushing, always cradling, softly, tenderly. I began to believe that I might truly be safe in your arms, in your voice and your eyes, and your skin and your hair, and your hands.

He wonders what to do when his mind is about to jump out of his skull. When fists of thoughts are beating on the confines of his mind trying to escape, and there are so many, it’s like a cup filled to the brim. He doesn’t try to look a certain way. Doesn't care if others see him as sad. He just takes each day as it comes, deals with it his own way, lets the world take his battered and confused body wherever it may take him.

And then it shattered. Shattered into millions of brilliant, beautiful, broken pieces. I heard two stories, wondered which to believe. More importantly, wondered which truth, was right. Wondered who I could trust.

She watches him, and is envious.

You said, trust me.

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Cockroaches By Grace Maverick She sat in the middle of the room, clutching her knees to her naked chest. She couldn’t stop shaking. Her skin twitched, and muscles spasmed with faint memories of touch, the feel of the dank air pressing against her. She kept her eyes closed, for the shadows of the corners in the grimy, stained room taunted her, reminded her of the visions. She thought they were visions. She hoped they were. She hoped she was crazy, because that meant the rest of the world was okay. The room was empty, nowhere for them to hide, but she felt something brush her foot, and she held back a shriek, convulsing as her grasp of reality slipped away again. She heard the sound of wings crackling, hard shells clicking against each other. Exoskeletons, the logical part of her brain told herself, but it was too late. She opened her eyes, watching in horror as the moldy splotches of the room started moving and turned into clusters of brown, inch-long shapes, with spiny legs and split backs. Soon there were more and more of them, climbing the walls like some grotesque ivy. She gasped for breath, claustrophobic and nauseated. Her skin stretched thinner and thinner across her ribs as she gulped for air, her sight became dim; her muscles were tense. The rational part of her brain that helped her cling to reality, told her she hadn’t eaten in days. She awoke, staring up at the ceiling in a room so white, she was almost blinded, the complete opposite from her dark apartment. As all her senses came to life, she felt something covering her body and an acrid smell burned her nostrils. She shrieked with all of the strength she could muster, fueled by adrenaline, and she flailed, throwing off the sheets, trying to claw at the thin gown that covered her stomach, but her wrists were bound to the metal bars on the side of her bed. She screamed again, tears pouring down her face--the textures, sensations, the new smells, the thing in her arm all driving her crazy. She didn’t know where she was or what had happened. In her room, she could tell herself facts; she knew things, but here, reality was different, and she didn’t know how to find this reality. She kept screaming and screaming, even after people came in and tried to restrain her. Her voice was hoarse, but she didn’t care, 'til someone jabbed her other arm, and everything went black again. This time she woke up sore and aching, in the same room. Looking around lethargically, she noticed the needle in her arm again. IV, she named silently to herself. Sibyl Roy, the band around her wrist named her. The sun lit the room, shining through the barred windows. She smiled to herself, feeling warm and safe. The room was sparse, but not in the barren hostility of her apartment. It was clean, comfortable. The lights were bright and vanquished the shadows, but still, lines were fuzzy; nothing felt sharp or harsh. The person sitting on the other bed smiled, hir* face soft in the warm light. The room was empty of any personal touches such as flowers, photos, or books. Even the bed looked pristine; the sheets looked freshly starched, though there was a person on top of them. The roommate could have been any other patient, except for hir soft, wavy, golden locks, framing hir face like a halo. Sibyl couldn't quite decide what gender her roommate was, but there was an automatic attraction. All of hir seemed to glow, shifting in the gentle breeze. Sibyl opened her mouth, but her throat was dry, and sore. The person stood and walked over, hir non-descript, standard issue sweat suit floated around hir as ze poured ice from a pitcher into a cup on the table between them and held it to Sibyl’s lips. * Ze and hir are gender neutral pronouns. Ze is used in the place of she or he, and hir is used in place of her, hers, him, or his.

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She took it graciously, the crushed ice soothing her throat. She finished the cup and lay back down, but when she looked over her golden-haired roommate had disappeared and a doctor walked in. He said, “Hi there, Sibyl. I'm Doctor Weiss.” He enunciated each word like he was talking to someone of diminished mental capacity. She squinted, trying to make out his face, but she could barely keep his white coat and pale skin from blending into the walls. He took a step closer. “How are you feeling today?” Sibyl just stared. She didn’t know what he wanted her to say; his condescending manner froze words in her throat. She looked over for some guidance, but her companion was gone. The doctor was talking again, but the words blended together, just like he faded into his surroundings. She tried to concentrate, “… bad shape when you got here… gave you… Nurse Sophi…” but it was just white noise. She blinked, but she couldn’t understand what was going on. She opened her mouth, and tried to ask about her situation, but it came out as hoarse gibberish. She tried again, but the doctor merely smiled, and walked out. She looked around, but soon felt exhaustion claim her. When she woke up, the florescent lights were brutal; noises were sharp. Her eyes darted around the room, as an innate, primal fear over took her. The buzzing sounded like the flight of thousands of small insects; the click of hard soled shoes on the tile became crackling shells. She writhed, squeezing her eyes shut against the vision, but her eyes flew open the second she heard the door open. She watched in horror as the nurses walked in, cockroaches covering them like some twisted fashion statement. She pulled against her bindings, fighting, trying to hide, as they came closer and closer. She squeezed her eyes shut again, till she felt a light, soothing touch on her arm. She looked up, and the nurses were gone, everything was swept away by the light of hir golden hair. She sighed, released tension flowing off her with a shiver as she relaxed against hir. The golden haired angel wrapped hir arms around Sibyl. The embrace was weightless, but reassuring nonetheless, as Sibyl fought to keep her eyes open. She felt the faint brush of lips against hers, soft against the sharp prick in the crook of her arm as she fell back into unconsciousness. During the next few days, Sibyl was allowed access to the rest of her floor. She wasn’t allowed downstairs to the cafeteria yet, because of her outbursts, so she spent most of her time wandering the halls, her medication keeping her lethargic. She saw little of her roommate, and the only thing that could bring her back from her trance-like state was a glimpse of golden locks. She ached for the sight of hir, but she could never catch more than the fleeting light of golden hair. The only people she talked to were the barrage of shrinks, and even then, she didn’t say much. She hadn’t gotten any visitors: she stopped talking to her family when she got a job as a financial analyst for a large business, stopped talking to her friends when she got one promotion after another. And now she didn’t have a job. Her life, even her old life, was empty, and now, in this monochromatic facility, the only color she could find was her golden-haired roommate. The next week, she was allowed downstairs. The instant she walked through the doors into cafeteria, the cacophony of noise overwhelmed her. The words hung over the crowd like some dark precipitation, bombarding her ears. She stepped into the line, picking words out of the air as she picked items from the counter. Turning to take her tray back to her room, the people pressed against her and rattled her sanity, 'til she saw a golden head in the midst of the dull flow. She pinpointed the exact table her savior sat at quickly took the seat next to hir. Sibyl 34


The Writers’ Block Fall 2009

turned towards hir, basking in hir glow, feeling the bubble of sanity welcome hir. “Help me...” Sibyl whispered, finding the words difficult to form. “I’ve missed you…” Ze smiled, and warmth grew in Sibyl’s chest, mirrored by the warmth in her cheeks. She felt embarrassed and awkward, but safe. Ze stood, and she followed. Ze nodded at her tray, then the door and she eagerly complied, hir reassuring smile never fading. She followed hir to their room, and they sat side by side on Sibyl’s bed. She felt like an awkward schoolgirl as she scooted over to rest her head on her roommate’s shoulder, golden hair soft beneath her cheek, as the golden-haired one wrapped hir arm around Sibyl and laid her down gently on the bed. Sibyl closed her eyes, besieged with sleep, and when she opened them, ze was gone. The days went on, and she improved. She started returning to her former self, before her break down, before the roaches, and before her angel. She was returning to that strong, independent person, that cold, efficient person. She would always be strong, she told herself. She would not be weak. Not when she realized no one in her life truly cared for her. Not when she lost everything human to the job she dedicated herself to. She would not be weak. She would return to her job, forget this lapse. Forget being weak, and dependant. Forget letting someone in. Forget falling in love. She would be strong. Her doctors beamed at her, so proud of her improvement. She was doing very well. She could leave very soon, everyone told her. She took her pills and told them exactly what they wanted to hear. She was glad to be gone from this mar in her planned, scheduled life. That’s what she told herself when she laid in bed at night and her loneliness washed over her. She missed hir, and it hurt to admit it. Tomorrow was her last day, or so the nurses told her. She curled up on her bed, clutching her knees, scared, but she didn’t know why, scared to admit it. She was trembling, shaking so hard it hurt. She shrunk away from the feather light brush of fingers along her arm, the warm glow of hir aura. She wasn’t sure if she was more afraid if ze was real or not. She looked up at hir, feeling her walls crumble all over again. Ze smiled, but there was a shadow of sadness in hir eyes, and she was reminded of her childhood, and the movie about labyrinths. “Remember fair maiden, should you need us… Yes, should you need us for any reason at all…” She knew ze would always be there for her, but Sibyl couldn’t bring herself to finish the line, admit that she needed anyone. “Well done, Sybil,” her doctor told her as he handed over the discharge papers for her to look over and sign. “It’s not often a patient improves so quickly without a roommate.” He beamed at her as she handed over the papers, now bearing her neat and perfect signature. She turned, and walked out the doors. A roach scurried after her.

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The Writers’ Block Fall 2009

Observations By Dartagnan Kallick

Someone once told me that chauvinistic cynics are the best writers. Someone also told me to “Go for the aesthetics.” A person is smart, but people are stupid, panicky, and prone to internal combustion. Genius has its ways of showing through simplicity, I’ve noticed. Small unidentifiable details that go unnoticed by the general populace, when discovered by one man, are usually more important to us than water and air, and even YouTube! I personally think comedians are the smartest people on the planet (with exceptions like Dane Cook and the new writer of The Simpsons). They notice the faults of society, dust them off and exploit them as humor. It takes a genius to do something so outlandish. Although what determines what’s intelligent and what’s gibberish? Nothing is ever what it seems.

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God(s) By Grey Martin-Buhrdorf A worn temple, Echoing of madness and calls for wine, Of celebrated incest, Of infanticide, Of the rare thunderous survivors, Of spoiled killers, And crippled artists, Of kidnapping husbands, Of delinquent fathers, Of sea foam with more beauty than depth, Of lying messengers, And celebrated bastards, But no pleading hymns. I like it here.

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The Writers’ Block Fall 2009

Corruption’s Fiery Rain: A Combination of Three Poems By Jasmine Gulick

An innocent girl and bad boy That's all to say A gentle mind, a kind soul Fell in love with corruption that day

She wanted to give him a second chance She wanted to help his life He broke it off, saying it would only get worse She felt stabbed in the back, a twisted knife

His eyes are a fiery hole, warm and loving Or a dark chasm of pain, but most of the time A little flame just struggling To stay lit and sane

She has to let you go But she wants you to know She loves you still She’s losing her will

Never did he pressure her Never was she sad But one little act Just made her so mad

Broken inside, nothing but pieces She will never again be innocent But he will always be her bad boy For their love was magnificent

Rain's falling down She cries without a sound Everything's so wet She can't bear this just yet

She gets nothing Just lend her something A bird can't fly in the rain Not while in pain

A bunch of kids, a lot of drinks Got into trouble that night And when she was told of what occurred It dimmed her cheerful light

This is not how she wanted to live But what else could she do For through all the drama and strife She still loved you

When will she be found Weeping on the ground A cold so deep Her heart just can't keep

Rain's falling down She cries without a sound

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The Writers’ Block Fall 2009

One More Loss By Angelica Aros As I waited in line to order the coffee, I began to think about whether this was the wisest thing for me to be doing. The book was important to me, sure, but could I really handle my emotions? What would she think of me? Would she anger me? Would I be able to handle the truth behind everything? Would she even tell me the truth? All of these questions were running through my mind, giving me second thoughts about the whole thing, but I knew I couldn’t throw it all away now. Not after everything that had happened. After sitting down with my coffee, I heard the door open. I turned and looked. It was the blonde-haired, blue-eyed woman that matched the photograph. I stood up as she walked over to me. She came up to the table and we shook hands. “Hi. I really appreciate you coming down to this interview.” She smiled, and then sat down across the table from me. “I got you a coffee,” I said. “Thanks.” I sat back down. “Maybe I should start off explaining a little bit more of why I asked you here for this interview.” I took a sip of coffee. “Well, the book—my book—is almost finished. I just have the ending left to write, but I can’t seem to write it without knowing the truth about everything . . . And only you would know the answers to all the unanswered questions I have.” She looked me in the eye. “Well, okay, what’s your first question?” she asked, fidgeting with her cup of coffee. “My first question is . . .” An image of Gertrude came to mind. “How was your relationship with your daughter?” She looked down at the table and then back at me. “It was a mother-daughter relationship like any other.” She quickly took a sip of coffee. “Okay,” I said, writing down her reply in my notebook and trying to think of what a typical mother-daughter relationship was like. “So what kind of child was your daughter?” Her face expression changed. “Gertrude was the kind of kid who was really quiet, well-mannered, but different from all the other children she was around.” “Different?” I asked. “Well, she wasn’t very independent. Most of the children she grew up around were, though, and I guess that bothered me a little.” “Bothered you?” I asked. “Why would it bother you? I mean, if you were around, why would she need to be independent? She was just a child; you couldn’t possibly expect her to be self-sufficient,” I said, feeling kind of angry. Why had this woman even had Gertrude? “Are you angry?” she asked. I pulled myself together. “I’m not angry. I apologize if I sounded rude. I’m just trying to understand what happened.” I took a calming sip of coffee. “Maybe we should move on . . .” “I wanted her to be independent because I lost my mother at a young age. I saw myself turning out like my mother, and I felt like Gertrude would lose me just like I lost my mother. I just wanted her to be ready. You know? You never know what tomorrow brings,” she explained.

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I began to feel a little bit more understanding and the way I felt about her started to change. Instead of being angry, I began to feel sorry for her. “That makes more sense. Now, can we talk about the accident?” “The accident?” she asked. “Yes. Could you tell me how it all happened? What was going through your mind at the time?” Tears began building in her eyes. She stopped fidgeting with the coffee cup and looked out the window. “It all happened too fast. I didn’t have any time to think. So . . . I went by what I knew.” “What you knew?” “Yes. And what I knew was that I was raised to run from reality.” “Why would you run?” “When I found out about everything, I knew things were going to change, and it was all going to be too much for me. My mother raised me to run when things seem too much to handle. My father said reality is something he ran from his whole life and I should do the same.” She began to cry. “It wasn’t my fault. He took her from me that night. He took her and never brought her back.” I handed her a tissue. “Thank you.” She wiped her eyes. “So Gertrude’s father took her from me that night. He had been drinking. When I got the call and heard about her condition, I knew it would be way too much for me to handle, so I decided to run. I decided to run and never go back for her.” “Why would he take Gertrude from you?” I asked. “We were divorced and he lost his visitation rights after the court found out he had a drinking problem. I told him I wanted him to have nothing to do with her and that I was moving to New York. He didn’t like that much, so he just took her from me.” I could feel the tears building up in my eyes. “May I ask you a question?” she asked. “Sure,” I answered. “Why are you writing a book based on my daughter?” she asked. “I, um . . .” A tear fell slowly down my face. “I, uh . . .” I wiped away my tear with a tissue. “I adopted Gertrude.” “You adopted her?” she asked, shocked. “How did you find her? When did you find her?” “My daughter June . . .” I began to see images of Gertrude and June in my mind. I felt like this whole interview was bringing up what my book was supposed to be helping me to let go of. “My daughter June was sick in the hospital. She was a regular patient there, but she passed away two nights before Gertrude showed up at the hospital.” She looked me directly in the eye, again. “I’m really sorry for your loss.” “It’s okay. I happened to go back to visit with one of the nurses that had become a friend of mine. It was then I met Gertrude.” My thoughts went back to that stormy night. “She doesn’t have many visitors,” Jennifer said. “Not even parents?” I asked, shocked. “Her mother took off after her first night. The father fled town. Social services are supposed to get her once she’s ready to be released. It’ll be a while before that happens.” 40


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“Why would someone leave their sick child alone?” “I have no idea, but I try to come and sit in here with her when I can.” I picked up the little girl’s hand in mine while I studied her face. “She looks strong like my June. She’ll make it through.” “We’ll hope for the best.” “I’ll try and stop by every day if I can. That way, she’ll have someone here when you’re not able to stick around.” “That would be great. You know, I really admire you. You’ve gone through so much, but you never let it bring you down to the point where you just want to give up,” Jennifer said. I looked at the sleeping girl, Gertrude, and gently stroked her hair. Then I placed June’s old teddy bear down by her head and exited softly. “Well, I’m glad she had someone there for her,” she said, breaking into my reverie. “I know you said you left Gertrude because it would be too much for you to handle, but I don’t get how you could look at her and just walk away, knowing that she would wake up sick and alone. That she could die alone.” “It’s all over and done with. It doesn’t matter anymore.” She took a sip of coffee. I changed my mind about feeling sympathetic. I could never respect this woman. “Yes it does; it does matter! You have to come up with something better than just ‘I ran away because it was too much to handle.’ She was your daughter, for God’s sake.” “Neither you nor anyone who reads this book will ever understand, so there really isn’t any point wasting time explaining it.” She picked up her purse and stood up from the table. “Where are you going?” “I think we’re done here.” “Look, please just sit back down for a minute or two.” She paused, indecisively, but finally sat back down again. “I adopted Gertrude because I lost my daughter and I blamed myself. I blamed myself for not being there when it counted. My daughter passed away while I was on my way home to pick up a book to read and a couple of movies . . .” I looked her in the eye. “I left my June alone and that’s how she died.” I began to cry. “I just couldn’t live with myself knowing that another child was dying without anyone around to be with her.” “Then we’re in similar boats.” She handed me a tissue. “I left Gertrude because I couldn’t be hurt again. I knew if I had stayed, I would’ve been devastated. I had already been hurt way too much in my life, and I just couldn’t bear to watch my child waste away before my eyes.” “The doctors told you there would be hope in her surviving; why didn’t you even stick around to see if that was going to be the case?” “Because I didn’t want to be hurt if it wasn’t the case. I couldn’t deal with the aftermath. I did research and found that if she had come out of it, she wouldn’t have been herself. She wouldn’t have been the daughter I once had. She would’ve been someone completely different.” “Different.” “A different person from the old Gertrude and different from all the other children she would be around.” “It was never really about Gertrude, was it?” I asked. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

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“Well, it sounds like you were just worried about what was best for you. You were worried about being hurt and about having your daughter be different. Where does Gertrude fit into all of that?” “I knew you wouldn’t understand. We’re done here.” She picked up her purse and coffee. “Are you leaving?” I asked. “I’ve had enough of this. Look, I wish you and your book the best, but I have nothing more to say to you.” “Do you regret the decisions you made?” I asked. “Regret?” she asked. More tears welled up in her eyes. She sat back down as if she no longer had the strength to stand. “I’ve been trying to put the pieces of my life together, but they never seem to fit. They never seem to be the pieces I need to understand why the events that took place had to take place. I haven’t forgiven myself for what I’ve done and I don’t think I ever will. So do I regret it?” She took a deep, shuddering breath. “Yes. More than anything. I regret abandoning the one person that ever made sense to me.” I wrote down her exact words. “I think that maybe if I could just find a way to tell her how I really feel, to tell her that I adore her, and . . . To tell her that I’m sorry, I’d be able to forgive myself. And then maybe life could go on. Maybe things could be okay again and we could live out the happy lives I’d always dreamed of for us.” “It’s a little too late for that.” “Too late?” she asked. “Gertrude passed away a month ago.” A great deal of silence came between the both of us and remained there.

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A Short Walk By Jeremy Nicot

It was dark, darker than it usually was at this time of day. The sidewalk was long and twisted, with no clear end or beginning. The concrete was cracked with fissures running in zigzag patterns all through it. Standing immobile in the walkway was the sad silhouette of a man broken in his years. The man started along this forlorn walkway of depression with no destination in mind. He walked wherever his feet carried him. He had never meant to start walking this walk, and all he had to wear were the clothes he left home with: a tattered blue jacket, a pair of ripped blue jeans, and a brand new baseball cap. He was an object of pity to the glances of people speeding by in colorful, bright, new cars. As he trudged along, he thought of everything that had led him here. He thought of everything that had gone wrong in his life, everything that had made him follow this path. Suddenly it began to rain, a strong rain—every drop bringing him a new memory. The rain picked up and the ground became slick. Cursing himself for getting into this predicament, he started running for the nearest bridge or shelter. Just as he was crossing a busy highway, a careless car careened into him. As the car hit him, he felt his heart and body give way until there was nothing. No more thoughts or emotions. Just nothing.

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Untitled By Jin Hyung Lee We, the citizens of the world, are confused. We pride ourselves on not being the psychopathic dysfunctional families in movies; But we are. We separate ourselves from our cousins. We alienate them, Valuing materialistic goods And dumb abstract ideals. We tell our children to grow up and be courageous, To fight for what they believe in, And to hope for the best. But we oppress them, We destroy their happiness at a young age by overpowering them, And treat them as vessels. We neglect our Mother’s plea to come over for dinner. Instead, we do our best to hurt her. We abuse her and take advantage of her. We run away and shoot up. Then we cry back to our Mother, When our lungs start to hurt, When our skin starts to burn. And when Mother Earth tries to help us, We once again hit her and spit in her face. We don’t see the compassion Mother shows us. We take it all for granted, The breath of life she gave us The food, the water, the community of family members. We waste food. We exploit our family members for power and money. We’re young and immature, Still an infant, Not knowing what to do. Mother, help us grow, Grow into moral Beings like you. So that one day, When we invite our family members over for dinner, They come. 44


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Heliage By YINGTHI PILING

At such heights, Do the pieces of all earthly problems, Maintain a pose. At such a fine surrender, Are the full-length troubles Put on hold. Our happiness is enabled; That is only as I’ve been told. Riots of boredom, A thousand scared entanglements, Caught on, finally; malice it will be. Stemmed to the harpist, Leaning on the totem, Or the root-bred Flute player, Raising the hill he sits upon. Went, stop! Across bewilderment! I can only laugh now, For your face is scarred with gold, Low, low, go! Maybe I laugh in fear, For your mind is stuck in mold, Suddenly. . . one day: Let go. At such peaks, Do the pieces of lonesome, Become ready to crawl Into the hole they grew in. Mind you, not To audit bad memory, More and more, It’s our time to be content; That is only as They’ve said. Hearts of Anguish, Only a hundred could be strangled, And ten left to glisten, The sitar sat alone on the rock, With no one to play it, Along the road lay my djembe, Used and stolen. 45


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When Can The World Wait? By Kelly Pajares

The teacher spoke the dreaded words, Not your mother who was sick with grief, Not your father who sat still at his easel, Waiting for inspiration that was gone. The Grim has shown itself, but we did not see. But the world does not wait, It moves and it turns, Day turns to night, But the world does not wait. There they came, Tears ran down your face, No sound, A gasp for air, The tears ran faster. But the world does not wait, It moves and it turns, Day turns to night, But the world does not wait. It was your mother who spoke, Quiet and calm, Relief filled her voice, All despair had vanished, For you were at peace. Then the world waited It stood still and silent, Day stayed, not yet night Because the world waited.

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Most Shameful Moment By Naomi Hasegawa When I was little and I would go out shopping with my mom, I would always hide from her. If it was at the clothing store at Dillard’s, I would hide inside the racks of shiny clothes. If it was at Pottery Barn, I would hide behind the lumpy couches. I don’t exactly remember why I did it. But I do remember that it drove my mother insane. She would frantically search for me, during these “hide-and-seek” sessions, pulling out her hair and screeching out my name in panic, until I would pop out from behind the couch, five minutes later, smiling sweetly and displaying an air of innocence. But of course, one can take these things a bit too far. . . And that is exactly what happened one summer day when I was eight years old. My mother and I were at HEB, buying groceries. Well, actually, my mom was the one buying groceries, while I ran around HEB like a maniac, my black hair trailing behind me. We were in the vegetable section and while my mother was looking at the peaches, I searched around for a good hiding place. Usually, I would hide in a place that was less than 15 feet away from my mom and she would find me in about five minutes, before she got too panicky and told the store manager that her daughter has been kidnapped (well, usually before that anyways). But that day, I was feeling a rush of adrenaline. Yes sir, I was an eight-year old rebel rocking out in a Hello Kitty t-shirt and a matching hair bow. I had a hunger for risk. So, I sneaked over to a completely different aisle of HEB. The cereal aisle. As soon as I entered the aisle, I was greeted by my favorite characters: Captain Crunch and Tony the Tiger. The cereal aisle had a wonderful, sugary smell wafting through the air, and I decided that this was going to be my hiding place. Giggling, I went down on my knees and I crawled into one of the shelves. I squeezed myself between the boxes of Lucky Charms and Frosted Mini-Wheats, wrapped my arms around my knees and waited for my mother to find me. Minutes crawled by, as I waited between the cereal boxes. But still no sign of my mother. Being eight-years old, I soon started getting ants in my pants and I started impatiently drumming my fingers on the metal shelf. More minutes crawled by, and I couldn’t stand it any longer. I dragged myself out of my hiding place and I decided to go look for my mom back in the fruit section. I skipped back to the shelf stacked with peaches, the place where I had last seen my mother. However, when I got there, she was nowhere to be seen. The first waves of panic rushed over me as my eyes frantically scanned my surroundings for my mother. “Mommy?” I called out. But there was no answer. Suddenly, I felt utterly and helplessly alone. I was surrounded by strangers in a gigantic grocery store, and my mother was nowhere to be found. I decided to search through the grocery store, and I ran past the aisles. I passed by shelves piled with bread crusted with nuts and raisins, racks with high-calorie gummy worms, and freezers with Blue Bell ice cream. But my mom was nowhere to be seen. After five minutes of searching frantically, I started crying. I was faced with a terrible situation I had never encountered before in my whole eight years of life. My mother was gone. At this point, I believed that my mother had left me forever. Maybe she got tired of my mischievous pranks. Maybe she got tired of making dinner for me every single night. My eyes welled with fresh tears when I remembered all the terrible things I had done to my mother, like accidentally breaking her favorite china or drawing all over her checkbook. 47


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I trudged back to the cereal aisle, my head down, face wet with tears. And this time, when I looked up at my favorite characters of Captain Crunch and Tony the Tiger with my tearridden, blurred vision, they didn’t look so friendly anymore. And the sugary smell of the aisle that had seemed so mouth-watering a moment ago was suddenly overly sticky and nauseating. I crawled my way back between the two boxes of Lucky Charms and Frosted MiniWheats, put my arms around my knees and cried some more. I thought I was going to be in the dark, tiny shelf forever. Suddenly, two hands grasped around my shoulders and pulled me out of the dark space into the open. I glanced up and saw my mother, standing there with the most relieved look on her face. She picked me up, and hugged me tight until I thought I was going to suffocate. “Mommy . . . I . . . can’t . . . breathe,” I managed to gasp out and she finally set me down on the floor. She looked down at me and said, “Let’s go home.” I took her hand and we quietly walked back to the car. I realize now that there was millions of things that I had wanted to say to my mom. How I was sorry, how I was happy she didn’t leave me, how I was scared to death. But I never did say any of those things. I guess I just didn’t need to. Well, needless to say, I never played hide-and-seek again. And Captain Crunch and Tony the Tiger still give me the creeps.

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Mother By Lauren Burton

I have no reason to feel secure, she says. Her voice is overwhelmed by the drip-dripping of the raindrops against the window. I want to hold her, tell her it will be okay. She always told me that I was her star, The sunshine that always brightened her day. Now she is missing the sun and stars in the dirt and clouds, She’s gotten lost in a storm of unfortunate events. I want to tell her to look up, to remember to hope. But she’s lost hope. Mother and I, we don’t talk much these days, She’s gone away now, locked herself in her room again. I can hear her weeping on the floor, telling God of her pains and fatigue. Her hands don’t work today, she says. Nothing works anymore. Thunder cracks loudly outside, God must be bowling with the angels again. I want to stop the rain, Dry her tears, And pick her up off of the floor. I want to fix my mother, Make her better than she has ever been. “Mom?” “GET OUT!” Her voice, tainted with sorrow, echoes in the empty room. Her tears hit the floor, tapping, tapping a steady rhythm. Just like the rain outside. I whisper a quick “I love you” before leaving And bite back a sob as I hear the thunder crash again. It bounces off of my eardrums and back into the sky, Hitting the tops of the clouds so hard That the lights go out. It’s too dark now. My mother, she’s crying again. I wish I was still her sunshine.

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Last Christmas By Madeline Vuong Bright green bridge rails, like watermelon candy canes Grasped momentarily in slightly sticky, mittened hands, Before clattering to the shop floor, bounce on road. Oops. I’ll eat it anyway. Ten-second rule! I wonder what Crayola would call that color. Finger paint green? Something jolly. Who’d have thought metal could slide like that, Skittering like an errant Christmas tree (Dad, I meant to tie it tight!) Across the asphalt, Looking like some kid’s popsicle stick project from kindergarten, Rebounding off each of its gumdrop joints. Maybe Newton blinked? Missed the apple zinging back up, Like a bouncy ball, A tenacious ornament, Albeit dropped on carpet, (Sorry Mom, it slipped away from me.) Apparently Jesus isn’t the only one who can do it, ‘Cause I’m skimming, hurdling forward still; Everything flies by in the holiday rush. A silver wrapped chocolate coin, I’m hovering like the ladle of Aunt Les (who’s dieting), Surreptitiously waiting to get a glass of eggnog. Then I hit with a sploosh, The sound turns everything heavy again. I can’t think when I’m not floating, Going down, sinking in the iron waves, And so much slower, too. My thoughts are like sludge, Cold, viscous, and mixed with car exhaust; It’s the grey color of bags under my eyes. Overworked, I outgrew fun. I’m getting crushed, Steely ice water rushing in, Constricting my breath; Ice needles in my lungs, And all I can think Is that I hope the Christmas sweets don’t get wet. I’ve got them in grocery bags in the car. Winter is a bleak season, When you’re buying candies for no one in particular. 50


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The Case for Compassion By Megan Muller There he is, in his high-rise Manhattan condo, lounging around in his Armani suit, waiting for his chauffeur to pull around the Rolls Royce. Simultaneously, there are emaciated children crying, waiting for the return of their mother who is in the streets scrounging for aluminum cans to cash in for a chance to possibly have dinner tonight. This is a problem. I can’t comprehend the backward inner workings of the minds belonging to such uncompassionate people. The primary contribution to this lack of compassion for others? Greed. Currently the people with the top three percent of income levels in the United States have more money than the entire lower 95% combined. It starts in part with the free market system, primarily large conglomerates. The people running these corporations have an obsession with nothing more than bettering their personal business. This leads to an overwhelming need to make more and more money. And of course, in order to get money, you have to obtain it from an outside source. This is where the selfishness comes into play. These businesspeople fail to see the big picture. They get so wrapped up and consumed in their own greed that they do whatever it takes to get what they want, even at the expense of the lower classes. Therefore, we see extensive amounts of lobbying in Congress, which rarely is supported by actual moral decisions. This starts a vicious cycle: the ones with the money use it to keep the people without the money down. Thus, the ones that actually need the government’s help can’t get it because the ones that actually have the money for lobbying are only spending it to better their own chances for getting what they want done. For instance, take the current health care debate. The insurance industry has been lobbying nonstop throughout this entire issue. But what’s the irony of this? The very basis of their business is to insure that people will be able to gain the help they need when something bad happens to them. Yet, what they’re lobbying for in Congress is the exact opposite of what their organizations advocate. They are so wrapped up in their own gain that when it comes to the impacts of their decisions they act as if they are unaware that any exist. They don’t think about the millions of people who will die from chronic illnesses in the future simply because they wanted to make a few extra bucks that they probably didn’t need anyway. This lack of compassion towards others is an issue that affects everyone in some way, exceeding in importance any issue that is merely represented within only one family, community, or generation. We all have an inherent responsibility to do our best to insure the welfare of humanity as a whole. Therefore, in order to achieve this, we all must make an effort to show compassion and generosity towards others in the world around us.

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A Demotivator By Molly Gillespie

PERSONALITY The key to having a personality is losing the fear of breaking away from the pack and following your own path. Just like an iceberg before it melts.

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A Demotivator By Kelly Gramlich

Orange clouds are prettier.

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A Demotivator By Matt Perez

The Japanese word for animal cruelty.

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A Demotivator By JJ Barron

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A Demotivator By Joel Brook

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A Demotivator By Hannah Bones

PROCRASTINATION I’ll find a picture for it later.

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The Rise and Fall of Chuck E. Cheese: From Pop Sensation to Infamous Bad Boy By Kendra Smith

Chuck E. Cheese: a name we all know and, until quite recently, loved. “I saw it coming,” says Helen Henny, former band mate. “He was bored. Bored of the band, the good boy image. He had enough.” So what caused the sudden change in Chuck E.? “Life,” answers Helen, “He was miserable. Being an adolescent pop icon isn’t exactly what you could call a ‘good’ time. He needed more.” So after 32 years, Chuck E. called it quits, and said goodbye to his band. Shortly after his decision to leave, Chuck E. was surprised when the band announced they were going to continue to perform without him.

“Son-of-a-bitch thought he was the only thing keepin’ us goin’. We met up after we found out we were gonna go on without him,” informs Mr. Munch, former band mate. “He said to me, ‘Good luck. I look forward to watching the four of you crash and burn to the ground.’ And the bastard laughed in my face. But we showed him.” Contrary to Chuck E.’s beliefs, the band did not “crash and burn”; in fact, attendance at their local gigs doubled within the first month of Chuck E.’s departure. And if that wasn’t enough to make Chuck E. choke on his words, the band delivered the final blow just three short months later, when they went public with a new fifth member: Disney’s golden boy himself, Mickey Mouse.

“He took it hard,” says an anonymous inside source. “Poor thing barely had the heart to get out of bed in the morning.” Indeed, Chuck E. did take it hard. He walked away from the Chuck E. Cheese franchise entirely. Continued . . .

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As funds ran low, Chuck E. tried to use what was left of his fame to get into the advertising business, but sadly his attempts resulted in failure.

And at the 2009 MTV Music Video Awards, during an attempt to launch a solo career, the rumors were proven to be true. “I knew as soon as he walked on stage he was using. The old Chuck E. was dead and gone and in his place was nothing more than a shell of what he used to be. An empty, coked out shell,” Helen says tearfully before excusing herself from the room. While on stage performing his cult classic rendition of the birthday song, “Birthday Star,” Chuck E. collapsed and was rushed to the hospital.

Disturbing rumors of gang activities and hardcore drug use later arose, which Chuck E. denied. He told US Weekly in a 2006 interview that the rumors were the equivalent of schoolgirl gossip, “juvenile and untrue.”

He was pronounced dead at 8:42 pm from an accidental overdose of crack cocaine, but after 6 minutes of CPR, he was miraculously revived and shipped to a rehab facility just outside L.A. for treatment. Though he swears to his sobriety, Chuck E. declined to give a statement. However, his manager/publicist/long time friend, Nolan Bushnell, insists that Chuck E. is doing well and will make a full recovery.

Even so, pictures (like those above and below) continued to swarm the web.

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Cheater, Cheater By Katherine Stratton First and second grade were the worst years of my life. This statement might seem unusual to the people who knew me at the time because on the surface, I was a perfectly normal and happy little child. I was still intact despite numerous Zip-line accidents. I wasn’t beaten or locked in a closet by my gang member parents. And I wasn’t observably malnourished, even though I did have a tendency to eat things off the floor. I blame no one for the trauma I experienced in my early childhood except myself. It all began with a new seating chart. Mrs. Faust, my loving and enthusiastic first grade teacher, announced at the beginning of class that because we had behaved so well, we were going to change seats. Excitement buzzed in the air as she began to direct us to our new chairs. She had originally arranged the desks into pairs of two, and the current resident of my partner desk was constantly battling what seemed to be an eternal cold virus. I had endured his snot-crusted nose, used tissues, and infuriating sniffles for over half the year. To say that I was ready to change desks would have been a serious understatement. With her long blue jean skirt whooshing at her ankles, Mrs. Faust finally called my name, pointing to a seat near the window. To my utter delight, booger boy was on the other side of the room, but more importantly, my new desk-mate was the famous Sarah Bilby. Sarah Bilby, daughter of a rocket scientist, was the smartest girl in the class and, according to my first grade self, she was practically a genius. If there was anyone you wanted to be partners with, it was Sarah. After we were all settled, Mrs. Faust began to distribute Math Drills, a sheet of paper crammed with simple addition that made my brain feel like it was going to explode. Sure, things might have been easier if I had spent a little more time hitting the flash cards instead of spending hours cutting my Barbie’s hair and playing “Spy” underneath the dining room table with my sister, but I don’t think that ever really occurred to me. She handed me the last test, upside down like everyone else’s, and set her timer. We had ten minutes. “Ready…GO!” The papers swished like butterfly wings and pencils began to scratch furiously, racing against time. I turned mine over. 1. 6 + 9 = I didn’t know the answer; I didn’t have enough fingers to do that one! I looked over the rest of the test and to my horror, realized that I didn’t have enough fingers for any of them. Panic set in as I looked around at all the others concentrating on their tests and filling in answers. I glanced all around until my gaze settled on Sarah, Sarah the genius, whose test was already half way done. Mrs. Faust constantly told us to “keep your eyes on your own paper” but I couldn’t help myself. I peeked at Sarah’s math drill. 60


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1. 6 + 9 = 15 My stomach flipped and I quickly looked at Mrs. Faust to make sure she hadn’t seen me. It was the first time I had deliberately broken the rules and I got away with it. I had bypassed the system. Staring hard at my own paper, I concentrated on the first problem. I watched as my hand slowly wrote a 1 and a 5, almost like it had a mind of its own. Relief flooded me; I had an answer, I had answered a question and I knew it was right! And then it occurred to me, Why don’t I just copy all of her answers? So I did. My heart pounding, I transferred the answers from her paper to mine well before the time ran out. And it was fantastic. It was so…taboo…and I had gotten away with it. It was just like actually knowing the answers except I didn’t have to do any of the work! When I got my test back that week, there was a scratch and sniff sticker on my paper and Mrs. Faust had written ‘Good Job’ in her fancy curly cursive. Over the next several weeks, I got many more stickers and curly cursive writing on all my work. Copying always wasn’t easy though, Sarah’s 5s and 6s looked almost exactly the same which was quite irritating at times, but after much practice, I was able to discern between the two. Life was good. Thanks to Sarah Bilby, I was acing math, states, and science with ease. I had no problem basking in the praise of my parents, pleased at the change in grades, and I gratefully accepted the ten dollars they gave me for getting all A’s on my report card. It wasn’t until Chapel the following month that I realized there were strings attached to my newfound success. Mrs. Howell, our school principal, spoke on how cheating was just as bad as stealing, and that when you copy some else’s answers, you are stealing from them. “Stealing is a sin against God,” she said. During her talk, a lump of guilt permanently lodged itself in my throat, sliding back up every time I tried to swallow it. CHEAT. I hated that word. I hated the way that word sounded. This whole time I hadn’t been sharing answers with Sarah, I had been cheating. I had been stealing. Tears began to well in my eyes. My mind replayed clips of my elated parents, that stupid curly writing, and me cheating off of Sarah. Later that night, my mom tucked me in and asked if everything was ok. “I’m fine, Mommy,” I tried to say in my most convincing voice, but that stupid lump kept getting in the way. It was the first time I had ever hidden anything serious from my mom, but I had to because if she knew what I did, I thought she would stop loving me. If God was mad at me for sinning then it defied all my first grade logic that my mom could find it in her heart to forgive me. I couldn’t sleep. Haunted by memories and burdened by guilt, I curled up with my new beanie baby giraffe and sobbed until I was shaking. Then I realized the animal I was holding was the giraffe I had bought with the ten dollars my parents had given me for grades. The grades I had stolen. I had to let him go. “I’m sorry, Giraffetti,” I said as I looked deep into his dark bead eyes, stroking his soft orange head and trying to make him understand. After one last parting hug, I slid him under my bed onto the cold hard floor, hidden so that he wouldn’t remind me of the terrible thing I had done. The next day at school I walked up to the teacher’s desk in an attempt to tell her the truth, I had cheated. My heart pounding, I stood in front of her desk speechless and staring stupidly at her face. 61


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“Yes, Katherine,” she said with expectation. “I—umm…I,” I began to blubber. Swallowing the lump, I looked right in her eyes and tried again. It was now or never. The air felt still like space and my ears started buzzing. “I—” “—Mrs. Faust, can I use the restroom?” Snot boy piped up. My momentary courage shattered, I chickened out. “Never mind,” I said, my cheeks burning as I quickly retreated back to my desk. I began to realize how close I had come to ruining my life. Everyone would have known I was a cheater. I probably would have been kicked out of school! My mom and dad might not have let me be the flower girl in my uncle’s wedding. Maybe they wouldn’t have let me go on the family vacation to Colorado that summer. So I made up my mind then and there that I would never whisper my dark secret to anyone. I would hide it, deep inside so no one would ever know. But I knew. It killed me when Mrs. Faust gave me the “Integrity” award at the end of the year. And destroyed me when she passed away from a brain tumor the next year, because I never told her the truth and I would never get the chance to. Time passed but the guilt never left me. Like a parasite it clung to my conscience, sucking the joy from my life and replacing it with poison. It tainted every happy moment that I enjoyed, whispering in my ear that I didn’t deserve to be happy because I stole from Sarah Bilby, that if everyone knew what I really was they wouldn’t love me any more. For two years, I spent my nights overwhelmed with guilt and despair. Until one night in second grade, I broke. I just couldn’t take it anymore. My web of lies had enveloped me and I couldn’t breathe. I felt like I was in a dream as I padded down the hallway to find my parents. The tears were streaming down my face as I entered the family room where they were sitting. “What’s wrong, Katherine!?” They exclaimed with obvious concern. The sobs were coming so close together now, I couldn’t breathe. “What’s wrong!?” After minutes of blubbering I finally choked out a four coherent words, “I did something t-t-t-errible!” “What did you do?” My mom exclaimed, beginning to panic and bracing herself for the worst. What had her sweet baby done?? “I did something t-t-ter-rible,” I whimpered again before falling into a whole new set of body shaking sobs. “Sweetheart,” she tried again, this time in a more soothing voice, “you know can tell us anything…What did you do?” I couldn’t look at them any longer, I was just too ashamed. So I closed my eyes. The images that haunted my dreams began to flash across my mind: “CHEATING IS A SIN AGAINST GOD!” Mrs. Howell screamed, her loose, doughy chin quivering and her old watery eyes shining with conviction. “Good Job on your Math Drill, Katherine” Mrs. Faust rasped, lying on her hospital bed. “We both got 100!” Sarah told me, an encouraging smile lighting her face.

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“Here’s ten dollars…good job, Pumpkin,” my parents said as they handed me a crisp $10 bill. “I’m cold, Katherine,” Giraffetti moaned from under my bed, tears glistening on his innocent little face. “I don’t understand; why don’t you love me anymore?” The parasite throbbed inside my brain, destroying me. My black secret swirled deep inside me, bubbling up higher and higher until— “I…I…I CHEATED!!!” The truth. Opening one eye at a time, I looked hesitantly at my parent’s faces. And to my absolute surprise, they were smiling and laughing. “Is that all?” My Dad asked, unable to control his laughter. Flabbergasted at their pleasant reaction and utterly confused, I tested the waters. “So…you’re not mad?” “No!” My Dad exclaimed. “I am actually relieved. From the way you are acting, I thought you had done something awful!” “Me, too,” my Mom confessed. “Don’t get me wrong: cheating is still not ok, but I think you learned your lesson.” For the first time in two years, my burden was gone. I felt like I was walking on air as I hugged my parents goodnight, finally able to accept their embrace, knowing that even though they knew my secret, they still loved me. And as I snuggled under the covers late that night cradling Giraffetti, I promised myself that this was the last time I would ever let a secret control my life.

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Glitter and Its Flaws With a Tangent on Preferable Princesses By Katie Shultz I had a project in World History for which I had to make an artifact. I was going to make the crown of King Richard the Lion-Hearted and thought it would be a good idea to use glitter. FALSE!!! Glitter is probably the most annoying, sticky, sparkly, patronizing art supply ever. Not only does it cling to you in all the wrong places and you never thought it could get there; it also gives people the wrong idea about you. You see, when I was little, I was waaaayyy into all of that sparkle, princess, pink-promdress crap. I wanted to be a princess when I grew up. I wanted a handsome prince to find me and carry me off to his castle and, of course, love me at first sight, with me feeling likewise. And I absolutely loved Cinderella. I thought she was the perfect princess. But now I realize how naïve and very un-self-sufficient all of these ideals were. I mean seriously, Cinderella works her butt off and she never stands up to her stepmother and stepsisters. Apparently she has no courage or ambition. And when she does decide to do something her stepmother forbids (going to the ball), her stepsisters rip her dress to shreds, so she goes off and cries. So I might cry as well, but I would go down with a fight. She should at least grab onto one her stepsisters’ hair and scream like a banshee. My favorite Disney princess is probably Belle, because she’s kind, but she also makes the best out of her situation. Granted, she does cry after confrontation, but you gotta understand why, and she stands up to the beast and doesn't take any of his crap. She says what's what in the beginning so he knows how she feels. And she tries to escape, which is more than Cinderella can say. Belle also got to know her prince before she even knew that's what he was. She loved him for who he was and not what he was. Cinderella's prince could have been a total jerk, but he was a prince so all jerkiness is excused apparently. Geez. But back to glitter. It's patronizing, not to mention part of a stereotype because if you use it and it gets stuck to you (which it always does; there's no avoiding it), it's like saying, "I wanna be a princess," or "I'm a ditz." Yick. See what I mean about the stereotype? I mean, I like glitter as much as the next girl, but I have to admit when I see glitter that's what I think. I like the effect that glitter has on some occasions, and I hardly think that I am a ditz myself when I use it for fun, but, for some unfair, stereotypical reason, when I see someone else wearing glitter that's what comes to mind. I'm pretty sure that's what other people might think, though not quite so vehemently. Glitter also has a filthy habit of getting into places that make it very difficult to remove, like hair and clothes and many other assorted places. Though it makes an excellent craft supply, it is hardly a brilliant idea. The world could have definitely lived without glitter. Unless, of course, it is glitter glue. Now that was a brilliant idea. It gives one the ability to outline or write one's name on some piece of artwork. It's creative and you don't have to worry about sneezing at the art table, which is nice. All in all, glitter is okay when it’s in glue, but never in any other medium. If you are going to choose a Disney princess, you don’t want one who won’t fight back and then goes off to cry when her dress gets ripped. But most importantly, when you are going to make an artifact for a History project, don’t use glitter.

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Cheap and Chic Fashion Diva! By Molly McCann Dear Readers, It has come to my attention that several of you are concerned about the winter season’s new fashions. Well, I am here to help! I’m not sure if the readers were particularly concerned about what’s new in the fashion realm, or how to wear it, so I’ll be covering both! Make sure to buy clothing made from material you can actually pronounce; and stay away from “dry clean only” and “hand wash” materials as much as possible. Many things have changed in fashion for the winter 2009 season, but there are several old stand-by’s that have carried over from past years. One trend that I love are scarves! They are so versatile and colorful; they go with practically everything! And the great thing about them is that they range from very inexpensive, to designer label prices. I’d highly recommend buying a few, because this trend looks like it’s here to stay! Another trend that is popular right now is over-the-knee boots, or thigh-high boots. This trend is better suited for people that are very confident in showing a little leg. Also, if you are investing in a pair, I’d get some in an elegant suede color, to dark leather. Speaking of leather! A surprising trend that has come up is leather everything. Fall/Winter 2009 fashion shows have forecasted leather skirts, leggings, shorts, etc. Leather material is something that will last for decades if you treat it right, so invest in a classic article of clothing, that you know you’ll wear forever! If you’re a girly girl, this season is for you! Bows and ruffles are in, big time! Even menswear has become fresh for the new season with tailored looks and other added girly touches. You can find fun and funky bows, and more classic subtle ruffle accessories at places like Target or Claire’s! Chunky knits have also come back into style! If you are going to wear a knit, make sure you pick a knit that is open-weave—the style is fresh and looks less like your grandma’s “Christmas sweater.” Also, pick a knitted style that shows a little skin; it’s youthful and freshens up the old favorite. Ripped tights, leggings and stockings are also in style. If you are going to follow this trend, I’d suggest buying a pair of relatively cheap ones, and hand cutting them yourselves. There’s no need to spend $20.00 on a pair of ripped up leggings when you can do it for $5.00! See-through clothing used to be something left for the club-goers, but is now a highly anticipated Spring/Summer 2010 staple. Sheer materials left over from past seasons can definitely be used in the upcoming months. Just make sure you wear them in basic colors (black, nude, white, grey) to not look too busy or too casual. For office or school use, keep it appropriate with a solid tank top underneath, paired with an undergarment that matches your skin tone (white/black bras that are revealed through clothing is just Unattractive!!). One-Shouldered Dresses and Tops are another great trend that can be carried over from the Fall/Winter seasons to the Spring/Summer seasons. Single-shouldered dresses are very feminine and elegant. Also, a flowy one-shouldered shirt would look great with dark jeans for a 65


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night out. Anything with asymmetric shoulder-lines will make you look more feminine and show off your shoulder muscle! Military jackets…are we over them yet? I guess not! According to the runways, we are far from the day we put this trend to the back of the closet. You can dress it up, down, make it sleek, or make it grungy! It’s so versatile, I’d go ahead and say invest in one that you truly can wear with everything. Forever 21 has come out with some great jackets that are budget-friendly and super chic. Ripped denim is yet another trend I am hoping is gone, and then, BAM, it’s back again. If you’re going to wear ripped denim, please, for my sake, do it with a little class! Don’t wear too baggy or too tight of jeans, especially with a top that doesn’t flatter. You can work this trend without having to spend a thing! Just take a pair of old jeans that you can bear to part with, and a razor and some scissors. Next, just cut and “shave” the jeans. Make sure to make the holes small enough that when they start to fray, they won’t turn into a gaping hole that shows more leg than necessary. Finally, the major thing that designers think about before making any outfit is: what color should it be? Colors can do so much, yet they are just pigments in a fabric. The colors I’d look into are: olives, greys (any shade), reds/salmons, jewel-toned blues, and off-white/ivory colors. I will leave you with my last tip of advice: girls, no matter what you wear, as long as you wear it with confidence, you’ve got a great outfit! Be smart, be thrifty, and have FUN!

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Ode to Lucky Charms By Rex Ferguson Oh, Lucky Charms, Marshmallows as colorful as the rainbow, Waking up to a bowl of you is like waking up in heaven, So tasty, so bad for me, Yet apparently a part of a balanced breakfast, Because of calcium and Vitamin D. General Mills, You’re my God, And Lucky Charms Your gift to me. And although you have a creepy Leprechaun for a mascot, That won’t keep me from your delicious taste And your Hearts, Stars, Hourglasses, Balloons, Horseshoes, Moons, and Clovers, And—of course—RAINBOWS.

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ODE TO CHOCOLATE STRAWBERRY By Fallon Behrens Your shape is a delicate red heart You are full with lustful juice of youth You’re soft and tender, erotically whole and innocent You are the sweet strawberry And he, your protective lover He is a dark security, strong and hard He wraps himself forever around you He is chocolate, and he is true And you and he and he and you Alone, yet together, and frozen forever You lie, and you remain Together; in the dark you wait He stays with you For you are lovers frozen in time Though only for a moment For nothing lasts for always Bright and bold the light pierces the darkness Your loving isolation roughly torn away Together you are taken And together innocence is lost As with fair, sun-kissed Romeo And his sweet Juliet Together you leave the world Yet together you remain

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Mad Lib: Why Abstinence Matters! By Ivan Calderon

__________ is defined as ______ in sexual matters. ______ ought to always_____ by the rules of this abstract noun noun plural noun verb

concept. If you disobey, the ______ ______ of the _____ government, it will ______ your ______. adjective plural noun place verb noun

Additionally, abiding by the laws of this concept is _________ for your ________. adjective body part

It is quite possible to _______ avoid ________ your romantic partner. Other activities in which to adverb verb(ing)

engage may include______, _______, or simply _______ together. verb(ing) verb(ing) verb(ing)

__________ will make you a (n) ________ person and will _______ your life to make it ______. Some abstract noun adjective verb adjective (Same as above)

examples of people who embrace this lifestyle choice are __________ and __________, but certainly not person’s name another name

________. If you have any concerns, you should _______ this issue with your ________ __________. yet another name verb adjective plural noun

Good luck, and stay _________! adjective

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Idiot Letter from a Nut By Max McCready 2839 Dirt Road Clearview, OK 80392 December 6, 2009 Johnson Customer Service 9610 Clean Street Johnson City, TX 56741 Dear Johnson, a Family Company, I am writing to inform of you of the extreme pleasure that your product, Windex, has brought me. 7320 days ago, on a Wednesday, I was self-diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. For the first 97 hours, I didn’t know what to do with myself (eek!) because it just hit me that everything in my house was dirty. So I started vacuuming anywhere I could – from the roof to the walls to the windows. But that wasn’t enough, because there were certain places I couldn’t vacuum, for instance the handle of the vacuum. You ever thought of that before? Then, after searching Google for the “top ten cures for OCD,” I stumbled upon Windex. Deciding to give it a try, I put on my glove and went to the store. My life has never been the same. It started with the glass in my house. I remember coming home and scrubbing my shower door for an hour straight, which brought me one of the sweetest memories I have. It is of being able to see my (then) 13-year-old daughter perfectly, unobstructed by the crystal clear glass, as she took her shower that night. Have you ever had a similar experience with a loved one? Then, one day, this fly was incessantly buzzing all around me so I looked up from my (now) blue carpet and immediately knew how to kill it. One spray of Windex drowned it to death in toxicity. A few days later, I was able to trap a rat in my attic and all I had to do was spray it roughly 20 times in the face with the Windex for it to lay there without moving. Maybe Johnson could build a partnership with exterminators. Please let me know what you think of that idea. I do have a serious inquiry, though. Why do you restrict your product labeling to glass cleaning when Windex works so well for so many other uses? After I realized its life-taking abilities, I started to discover it’s life-giving abilities. For instance, it was used to decontaminate the wooden kitchen floor that my wife gave birth to our (now) 6-month old baby on. Since then, instead of buying baby wipes, I simply spray Windex on a paper towel and use that to clean Candy’s tushy when it gets dirty. In fact, “Sweet Thing” (as we call her) no longer needs baths. We just wipe her down. Don’t you think you would get more customers by advertising these uses? Then, you could truly be “A Family Company,” just as you have helped me raise my family. Cured, Turk Pippy 70


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Idiot Letter from a Nut By Jason Craft Jason Farr, (the evil one) St. David’s Psychiatric Hospital 6917 Quaker Dr. Detroit, Michigan 70711 Jason Farr, Patient St. David’s Psychiatric Hospital 6917 Quaker Dr. Detroit Michigan 70711

Dear Myself, I’ve noticed recently that you have been very critical of me…you should stop complaining! What did I ever do to you to make you so critical of me…besides complaining so damn much? Every day you look at me and say I keep getting fatter and fatter, but you shouldn’t be talking! Stupid fatty! Maybe you should look in the mirror before you decide to criticize someone…never mind. That won’t work. Every time I look at you it makes me want to vomit. But I’d rather die than have your puke on my floor! They say the faults we see in others are merely reflections of ourselves. So next time you want to make a criticism of the way I look, why don’t I take a look at yourself. Our therapist says you are becoming the end of me! That is why at lunchtime I plan on poisoning your drink. Best wishes, Jason Farr P.S. I am aware that you are currently writing a complaint letter about me. As a matter of fact, you are writing it right in my face! If you do not stop, I will be forced to write one about you complaining about me. P.P.S. I love you. P.P.P.S. If I see you again, I will punch you in the face. OWW! That hurts! P.P.P.P.S. You must remember to take your pills on time or you will complain about me.

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Numbers, Neighbors, Nightmares, Nothing By Savannah Kumar When I was four, five used to be my favorite number. It used to be my favorite because it’s right in the middle of zero and ten, right in the middle of all the important numbers. The middle was my favorite place to be, sitting between my favorite friends so I could talk to them both, playing in the middle of the day when the sun was bright, and squished right into the center of a hug. Now I’m five, but five isn’t my favorite number anymore. Now I know that middles don’t even exist because I don’t remember what being wrapped inside a hug feels like, so that means it can’t exist. And if middles don’t exist, that means I don’t exist either. I think I do exist though, and that’s why Mommy is sad. This morning, when I woke up, Mommy was still asleep. Sometimes she stays in bed until I’m all ready for school because she doesn’t sleep much at night. Those days my hair looks silly at school because I’m not very good at doing my hair yet. Today’s morning, Mommy was still in bed even after I had brushed my teeth, pulled on my comfy pants and butterfly shirt and tied a ribbon into my messy hair. Then, it was time to go to school, but mommy still hadn’t come out of her room. I tiptoed over to her room and stood next to the door. “Mommy, I think it’s time to go to school now; I’m all ready!” I said, using my whispery indoor voice. “Alice. I’m not taking you today. Go ahead on your own,” Mommy replied in her stiff voice. I didn’t know what to do. All I could do was wait for a while because sometimes Mommy says things that she doesn’t really mean. So I waited. And I waited. And I thought about how tomorrow, my teacher would say “Alice, we missed you yesterday! Are you feeling better?” Just like she says to everyone when they come back from being sick. And I thought about how I wouldn’t know what to say because I’m not sick. And then I realized something terrible. I realized that what I was doing was playing hooky! Because I wasn’t sick, but I wasn’t at school either, so that meant that I was doing the thing that my teacher told us was against the law! I don’t know exactly what ‘against the law’ means. I think the law is something really fragile that grown-ups built and everyone has to be really careful not to break it. But I broke it already. I knew I needed to find a way to get to school, quick! There wasn’t a morning bus, so I would have to run there myself. Before I could think about it anymore, I sped quietly around the room, grabbing my flowered backpack and sticking together the velcro on my shoes, I squeaked the door open and squeezed myself outside of it. I started to run. Up the path, down the driveway, left on the sidewalk. Or should I go right? I couldn’t remember. I didn’t know which way my school was. I closed my eyes tight, trying to picture which way Mommy turned when she drove me to school every morning, but all I could see was the nothing that was inside my eyeball. When I opened my eyes again, I saw him. A man. He was the oldest man I had ever seen in my life. I knew he was old because of his face. His face was falling together in all different directions and on his forehead he had lots of thin upside down smiles. He had a smile on his lips too, so he was smiling both rightside-up and upside-down. He had lots of tick-tack-toe boards near his eyes, but beyond them, there were bright eyes that were the same color as the grass he was standing on. I realized that I had been staring, something that my teacher says is rude, so I looked away real quick, but I could still see 72


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him a little bit, and he was still smiling. “Sweetie, where are you runnin’ to? Don’t you need to be at school soon?” The man asked with a voice that seemed to come from deep inside of him. I tried to answer him. I tried to say that I was running to school, but then I remembered. I remembered Mommy not coming out of her room this morning and telling me to go away. I remembered that my hair looked silly. And I remembered that I had broken up the law. My voice started to get shaky before I even started to speak and instead of answering his questions, my eyes began to cry some tears. I wiped them away quick. Crying was not a good thing (Mommy had taught me that). I expected the man to yell at me, just like Mommy does whenever I accidentally cry, because crying is for babies, that’s what Mommy says. But the man didn’t yell at me. He kneeled down. It took him a little while because his knees weren’t very bendy, and he put his arms around me and pulled me right up close to him. My tears wetted his sweater, his sweater that smelled like soapy smoke. I felt stiff standing right next to him, but also I felt calm. I didn’t know what to do. I felt confused, too. I had known my Mommy my whole life, but she had never acted like this, she doesn’t touch me unless it is to push me away. This man reminded me of those Mommies from storybooks. He couldn’t be my Mommy though, that’s for sure. I have a Mommy already and I love her. So maybe he is someone else. Maybe he could be my grandpa. “Grandpa,” I whispered into his sleeve, testing out the new word. The man walked me to school. He told me a little about himself, like his name, Chester, but I think of him as “Grandpa” in my head. He told me that my hair looked very pretty; I guess he can’t see very well. I don’t remember much else that he said though. I was paying more attention to just his voice. It made me feel safe, like the whole world was being nice to me. At school, I drew a flower for Mommy. I gave it lots of little pink petals connected to a green handle with some big, green leaves coming off of it. I colored it with those markers, those markers that make colors flow out like the bathwater my mommy pours for me sometimes. The colors shoot out fast, even before I really know what I’m going to draw. But this time, I knew what to draw: a flower for Mommy. I knew to draw a flower because my teacher read a book today about a little girl who bought lots of flowers with her daddy for her mommy and in the picture, her mommy smiled. I think she might even have been happy. I don’t have a daddy though and I don’t have money to buy flowers, so I drew one. I asked my teacher whether my drawing was good enough to make my mommy smile, like the mommy in the picture. My teacher laughed at me and told me that my mommy would be happy no matter what I drew her. That my mommy loves me and she will be proud of me. Always. That’s why, when I got home from school and I saw that mommy was still sad, I smiled. I knew I had something for her that would make her happy right away. I rushed up to my room, two stairs at a time. I went up a little too fast and scraped my knee on one of the steps. A little red seeped out of my knee, onto the carpet. I rubbed the fibers of the carpet together so that the color might go away. Mommy doesn’t like messes. Once I got up to my room, I shut the door real quiet and pulled my drawing out of my backpack. I put it on the floor and smoothed it out with my hands. Then, I pulled the loose ribbon out of my hair and rolled up my drawing. I circled the ribbon around my drawing and tied it into a knot, just like I tie my shoes sometimes. The drawing got a little crumpled, but I didn’t think mommy would notice. I walked carefully back down the stairs because now that I had Mommy’s present all prepared I didn’t want to ruin it. Mommy was sitting on the couch; she was pounding her hands against her legs. Not hard or 73


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anything, just in a rhythm, like she didn’t know about the rest of the world. Just her mind, pound pound pounding. I stood in front of her with the tied up picture held behind my back. I tapped her shoulder lightly, snapping her out of the world she was in. Mommy slapped my hand away, and I nearly fell over, but I balanced myself. I handed her my drawing. I was so excited, I almost started to laugh. I couldn’t wait until my mom would smile. I closed my eyes real quick so that I could open them right when Mommy unwrapped my drawing. Before my eyes opened, I heard the sound. My eyes shot open and I saw the pieces of my picture on the living room floor. Mommy hadn’t even unwrapped my picture. The ribbon was still holding a piece of it together. “Alice, how can you even imagine that a scribble will make anything better? Get away from me,” Mommy said, turning around. Now, it’s later. There is a noise in the kitchen. I think maybe Mommy is making music, like we do sometimes in a circle at school. We all sit around with blocks and sticks and shakers and other musical instruments and bang them together to make a joyful noise. The noise in the kitchen doesn’t sound very joyful, but maybe Mommy just needs a little help to make the music sound better. I know I can help her make prettier sounds because I learned how to at school. I go into the kitchen and I find a huge mess. Mommy doesn’t like messes. There are pots and pans scattered all over the floor and everything is dumped out of the drawers. There are knives, too. Knives shouldn’t be out of drawers on the floor; that’s dangerous. I should pick them up because Mommy could get hurt, but I’m a little bit afraid of knives, they might cut me up. I don’t see Mommy, but I can hear noises again, different this time. I don’t know what the noises are, but they sound a little scary. I walk a little farther into the kitchen, opening up the pantry where the noises are coming from. Where there are little red sequins stuck to the ground. I see her. I see Mommy, and I run. Because that’s all I can do. I run, run, run outside, not being quiet. And he is there. “Grandpa! Grandpa! Mommy is sadder!” I shrieked, forgetting to call him Chester, like he told me to. He looked a little surprised to hear me call him that, but he didn’t show it too much. He peeled off his gardening gloves, laying them on the rock that looks like a turtle. I held his hand; it was warm, probably because he had been wearing those gloves. He came inside with me and he heard the noises and saw the sequins and he pulled out his phone and slowly typed in some numbers. I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know why Mommy is always so sad, I don’t know why those pots and pans and knives and sequins were laying out. I don’t know how long “soon” is and how many numbers make up five and whether it’s a middle and whether I’m a middle and whether I exist. Because I don’t want to exist. I make my Mommy sad. Chester is still here with me. He keeps telling me everything will be okay, that the people who took my Mommy away were just helping, that she had to go to the doctor because she’s sick. But not the super bad kind of sick—she’ll be all better soon, I think. I want my Mommy. Chester is telling me that I’m strong and beautiful, but I don’t think that I’m those things either. There is something else that I want to be. “Chester, could I ask you something, please?” I ask softly, looking into his tick-tack-toe eyes. Chester smiled and nodded. “Could I… could I please be your granddaughter and you be my grandpa?” I whispered real fast, blurring my words together. I realized how silly I sounded.

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Chester looked back down at me and smiled again. It was a different kind of smile though; it looked kind of sad. I didn’t even know smiles had emotions and that they could be sad, but Chester’s smile had emotions. Then some crying started to come out of his eyes, too, and I stopped breathing. I had made Chester sad, too. But Chester smiled again and said, “Alice, I’d be honored to be your grandpa.” And then, he wrapped me up right into the middle of a hug. And that’s when I knew: middles do exist, and so does Mommy. And so do I.

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Sparkles By Samuel Chapman Jason Townsend, chronically inclined to miss every highway exit he was searching for, noticed the river road only when his eyes were drawn to the peculiar sparkles at the end of the bridge. Forging a path in his small car, a luxury model useless for the weather, Jason was for a moment annoyed at his inability to think up a better word to identify the chaotic lights playing just at the left of his vision. Sparkles, he thought. Pixies. Fairy lights. Children’s dreams. As far from childhood as he could have ever imagined himself, the limitation seemed woefully immature. He slowed involuntarily as he spun the wheel to the left, landing in a patch of heavy mud he hadn’t judged to exist. His GPS lay dead in the glove compartment, and the road he turned towards was marked on none of the pile of maps that covered it. For miles, Jason had been navigating only with his memory, which was predisposed toward error—it added a smooth road, a rush of wind, a flawless blue sky. On his last arrival at the exit, he would have cowered from the storm as though it were an air raid. Now he sat still, barely jumping as a thunderclap shook his BMW with the sound of a birthing iceberg. Ignoring caution, he threw his foot onto the gas pedal, and the car lurched forward about a foot before sinking down into the mud. Jason grunted in annoyance and effort, pushing the pedal still harder and knowing it was pointless—he would go no further on wheels. His eyes were drawn again to the sparkles, which he now noticed were bursting like a fountain out of a single point. For a moment he considered the possibility of fireworks, but even through his fogged mind he realized that the rain would dampen any amount of gunpowder. At that point something entered his mind, a horrific memory: sparkles, just like the ones he saw now, then a fall and a scream; a jolt, once, twice, and then silence. Expressing himself to no audience, no longer even bothering with frustration, he closed his eyes and let his head drop onto the steering wheel, as though he were asleep. Jonas Townsend was not a man predisposed towards grandfatherly behavior. He rarely gave hugs and never gave life lessons, and he did not tell war stories, having dodged the draft in 1941 by severing two of his own fingers. He did not even deign to become an angry old codger, waving his newspaper from a sunlit front porch and growling at unlucky children. He was distant and unapproachable whenever he was with Jason, and uncomfortably close to his life when they were apart. His first official act as grandfather was to force his son Frederick Townsend into naming the baby Jason after discovering that it was an anagram of his own. After that, he treated his grandson like a farm owner treated his fields: he knew the boy had to be plowed, watered and raised, but was happy to let his laborers, Fred and Martha, do the dirty work under his orders. So when the old man died of pancreatic cancer just after Jason’s seventeenth birthday, Jason was reluctant to attend the funeral. Every mourner was asked to take a shovel in turn and drop a mound of earth onto the casket six feet below them in the grave. When Jason’s turn came, he fumbled with the shovel, and ended up collapsing half the mound of dirt into the hole. This made his parents cry still harder; Jason could never, not even in maturity, describe what he felt at the time. Sadness which could have been forced. True sorrow for his parents, but confusion as to whether they felt the same sense of dutiful mourning as he. Ambiguity towards everything—could he be happy that 76


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Jonas was gone? Was he allowed? Who wouldn’t allow him? And where—or what—was Jonas Townsend now? Scanning seventeen years of memories, Jason recalled little more than one afternoon with Jonas he would be willing to keep in his subconscious. He couldn’t remember how the circumstances had come about, but at the age of about seven, he was sitting in the front seat of a car for the first time, with the window down, as Jonas drove and skipped through the radio stations. He paused for a while at one, a gritty male voice accompanied by guitar. “We went down to the river,” it sang, “and into the river we’d dive, on down to the river we’d ride…” “I wanted someone to see this before they ruin it with power lines like they ruined everywhere else,” Jonas told him. “Someone young, too. Someone who’ll tell his grandkids. Who could that be but you?” Aged seventeen, Jason was unsure of the meaning of this sentence, but at seven, he was certain his grandfather had favored him with a sparse compliment. The young boy decided he was enjoying himself. “Highways in the woods here are awful, but what you get from ‘em is worth it five times over,” Jonas was saying. “Don’t ever think of movin’ away from here, kid. Texas is the only place in the world—the only place—” he coughed and had to steady himself, “where being born is nothin’ less than a gift. Don’t ever forget.” The song, after one last run through the lilting refrain, was beginning to fade. Jason was sorry to hear it go. Jonas switched again and Jason returned his attentions to the landscape outside the window. In his experience with fairy tales, he knew forests as lively places where animals scurried and dreams came true by coincidence. Through a young lens the Piney Woods were just that, with light filtering in through needles and dappling on the ground, through which mammals, alone or in groups, would scurry. His heart leapt as he saw four deer in single file vanishing into a hole in the trees. It was more than he had ever seen at once, and he gasped in delight as he saw that their antlers looked just like they did in pictures. “Here it is,” said Jonas, spinning the wheel to the left. The deer were thrown out of Jason’s line of sight, and he turned to his grandfather. “Grandpa, I wanted to see the deer!” Jason pleaded. “Forget the deer, Jason; they’re all over the place.” Jonas took the car around another two bends in quick succession, then slowed to a stop. “What I’m about to show you beats them any day. Well, come on, get out,” he went on, turning off the engine and unlocking all the doors. “Why can’t we just drive there?” Jason asked. Jonas waited until he was out of the vehicle before turning to answer. “No way forward by car,” he replied. “Walking’s not gonna kill you.” With no other choice, Jason jumped from the front seat and landed on his feet on a bed of fallen needles, long since turned brown. The forest floor was littered with them and they muffled Jonas’s footsteps as he moved through the trees. Jason scurried after him. Light was breaking through the canopy in thin rays, and he could hear nothing but his surprisingly speedy grandfather, the terrified escapes of squirrels, and the calls of birds. It smelled like a wood as well; damp, heavy, and suffused with primordial wonder. Something else was nearing too—a rushing and gurgling, like the earth laughing. Illuminated in a clearing between two trees, Jonas was now standing still. Jason rushed up beside him and caught his breath.

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The birdsong opened up into a choir as he stepped under the sky, and the sun, halfway through the downturn of its immense daily arc, tossed hundreds of diamonds across the surface of a meandering river, leaving a brilliant pattern of sparkles. Jason glanced around and saw a sturdy branch stretching over the creek. He jumped onto it and craned his neck in every possible direction, drinking it in like he was trying to drain the river with his eyes. Just from where he was standing, he could see at least three different bends, each lined with trees in dazzling variations of green and banks of a brown soil that seemed the essence of the planet Earth. Swollen from spring rains, the river was gliding over smooth soil in some spots, and in others, rushing over rocks in fountains of white spray. It created a glorious sound better than any symphony; a blend of soft running and joyous splashing that made the whole forest come alive. Jason wavered on the branch, then dropped to his hands and knees. Supporting himself with one hand, he laid his stomach across his perch and reached down into the temperate water, letting it caress his hand, then pulling it back out, the air chilling his hand up to his wrist. He once again breathed in the deep smell of the wood, and felt like something had momentarily clicked together in his soul—something he had never understood before, and would never again. After fifteen minutes, during which Jonas waited patiently, Jason rolled backwards off the branch. The old man stepped forward beside his grandson. “I said you’d like it.” A shadow of a smile crossed his face, the closest thing to one Jason would ever see. “I love it!” Jason shouted, and ran in a circle around Jonas. “Grandpa, it’s the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen!” Jonas did not reply, but continued to half-smile, staring at the rustling trees across the water. He remained there for the next hour, as Jason ran up and down the bank, exploring the trees, chasing animals, and soaking his feet in the current. At last, Jason tramped back and dropped down onto the soil, letting his shoes dry in the air. “Jason, what do you want to be when you grow up?” Jonas asked without looking at him. “I want to be rich,” Jason answered, pleased with his quick reaction. “Kid, you don’t understand the question.” “No, Grandpa, I understand. If I’m rich I can buy this river, and another hundred, and anything else I want. That’s who I want to be.” Jonas did not reply, but turned towards the woods, leaving Jason, with one last glance backwards, to follow in his wake. From time to time, when he nearly caught up with his grandfather, Jason heard him humming a faint tune. “We went down to the river, and into the river we’d dive…” The road was no longer what it had been. Twenty years ago it had been an idyllic countryside path, even by East Texas standards. Now the live oak was dead, the pine was scant, and the road he had fallen victim to a halfhearted attempt at repavement. The deer had long since vanished. Jason’s greatest fear was that the river itself had been attacked: dammed up, fished out, or used to dump toxic sewage. Ruined, as Jonas would say, just like they ruined everywhere else. Jason looked out the driver’s window and sighed again in frustration as he saw a length of power cable running to the invisible distance in both directions. Was there nothing life would leave alone? The maddening sparkle still existed, dancing in front of him and taunting him: Come and get me, Jason Townsend, come and try it, and I’ll let you choose how fast you die. It can be just 78


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at once, or it can take a while. Just long enough for you to want to live again. Then you remember you lost that chance. Then it’s over. Jason tried to clear his head. Personifying the object of one’s rage, he knew, was the first and surest sign of madness. He gripped the dashboard and forced so much hatred and madness into the body of the car that he expected cracks to begin running the length of the chassis. His hands, turning white, gripped as his knuckles cracked and his weak arms vibrated. Some other mind then ordered him to move. He jammed his foot down on the accelerator and his spirit jumped as the surprise attack caused a gain of less than a foot. This quickly vanished as he went on forcing the pedal, the wheels spinning in the mud that held him fast, and worked himself into an inescapable position. Terror welling up inside him, he shifted to reverse and kept his weight on the gas, seeming to rise backwards before reaching the inevitable barrier. Ready to cry, he switched gears again, shuffling madly between the three levels of drive, something he’d never understood. The last remaining neuron holding his brain together severed itself in agony as he shifted forward and backward, never releasing the gas. He shook the gearshift and threw himself into the seat as he heard a sickening crunch—after which the wheels no longer spun. The transmission had given out. The BMW wouldn’t move again. There was no way forward by car. The Townsends as a family had always preferred soft lighting for their quiet evenings. Kevin, taking up a remarkable amount of the sofa with his five-year-old body, was fluctuating between waking and sleeping states, his eyelids dropping and rising over a beginner’s chapter book. The 20-point font on the page was lit halfway by a yellow wash from the only light in the room, which Kevin’s father, Jason, was currently using to see the buttons on the remote control. Grace, in the home office working on family’s taxes—a project she insisted on undertaking herself—would occasionally pass through the living room on the way to the kitchen to refill her glass of water. On these brief appearances, she would always ask Jason to switch to the Weather Channel, looking for information on the progress of a storm system, ominously colored on the Doppler in shades of darkening red. Kevin, who was said to have inherited his mother’s intelligence and his father’s resolve, had never been afraid of anything, least of all storms; and Jason, seeing that his son no longer needed the company, decided to carry the boy to bed. Kevin’s room was at the end of the hallway, an offshoot not on the original floor plans, which contained entrances to two rooms: the office, which Jason and Grace used to complete work they often had to take home, and their son’s bedroom, which had over five years evolved from a rubber-duck-lined nursery into a testament to a boy developing complex tastes: landscape photography, amateur art, and science fiction among them. Kevin opened his eyes to slits as Jason placed one arm under his knees and one under his torso, lifting the boy in a pose that would have reminded Kevin of the Swamp Thing carrying its beautiful captive. Heaving under the effort, Jason made it to the hall doorway before Kevin realized what was happening. “Jason,” he murmured, using his father’s first name as he always did when he was annoyed, “I can walk by myself.” Jason smiled. “But why would you when you’ve got me?” “I like walking, Jason. I’m really good at it.” 79


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“Yep,” Jason replied, still grinning. “You’re a world-class walker. But even the pros take breaks.” Kevin seemed to acquiesce. “Is there a world championship for walking, daddy?” They had reached the bedroom, and Jason turned sideways to fit through the door. “If there’s not, there should be. You’d win it all.” He laid Kevin down on the bed, and, carefully removing his arms from underneath his payload, moved to cover his son with the sheets. Kevin shook his head. “Let me tuck myself in, daddy.” “What?” Jason teased. “Getting too big for me?” “Jason,” Kevin said, employing his favorite sigh, “just let me.” The boy’s words were weighing on Jason’s heart more than a five-year-old’s normally would as he closed the door on the darkened room. He had never admitted it, not even to Grace—especially not to Grace—but there were times when Kevin seemed not like his son, but a stranger who had wandered into his house and simply stayed. He had that problem, in varying degrees, with almost every part of his life now—as though he would soon wake up and be eighteen again, about to embark on a new, free existence. He had observed, in darker moments, that people did not build their lives, only fell into them. He had found himself with a start in the Halliwell Brothers Law Offices, who, he had realized only after taking the job, specialized in all the most boring aspects of legal interpretation. He had not driven to Nagodoches just wake up there, in his paper mansion next to his wife and son. He did love Grace, but in the same way he mourned at Jonas’s funeral: he knew that he had to love somebody, and she was his choice. Love, he had thought but never said, consisted of two people with this same feeling choosing each other to fulfill the requirement. “Honey, can I ask you about something?” He jumped. Grace was peering around the door of the office, casting a beam of light across the white hall carpet. She was looking at him using a trademark Grace Madsden Townsend expression: inquisitive in a curious way, yet probing, interrogative, almost angry. Behind her eyes she was carefully playing her emotions. “There’s an oddity in the finances, Jason. I think you could explain it.” She glanced down the hall. “Is Kevin asleep?” “He’s in bed, but with him that’s no guarantee. Can I see the books?” Jason was fighting not to let his sense of dread show in his face. Grace made her living as a tax accountant; if there was something in his finances she couldn’t figure out, it could only be exactly what he feared. Grace did not move. “Grace, show me the books.” She opened the door wide, and he followed her in. The study was a small room, carpeted like the rest of the house in a thick dusty white, and lit by a lamp and a single large window that faced into the peaceful street. In front of the window was a large oak desk with four drawers running down each leg. Grace had spread all of the Townsend family finances across the polished surface, and Jason moaned internally as he saw his perfectly arranged documents thrown down in a haphazard order. “What’s the matter?” he said. “You can’t get them to balance?” “Sort of. There’s one particular place I’m worried about. It’s the finances you’ve gotten for work projects.” Jason’s breathing was becoming shallow, and he knew his face was turning white. He knew he’d made a mistake; he knew he’d gotten complacent, not covering himself as well as he should have. 80


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Grace was still speaking, but Jason was barely listening. “There’s few thousand dollars the company gave to you that I can’t seem to find. And not only that, but I looked at some tax forms for the last several years, just to see if it had happened before, and the same anomaly shows up every year. Sometimes more than once. It adds up to hundreds of thousands gone missing. In fact—every year since you took the job at Halliwell. Do you have any idea where it went?” She had done it again—an inquisitive statement, innocently phrased, though posed as a CIA interrogator might have done. “I couldn’t say,” Jason managed at last. “Are you sure the math—” “Oh, Jason, of course the math’s right. Listen, dear,” she said, moving in close, almost comforting him, “I know this couldn’t be what it seems—” “What does it seem!?” he yelled, in a voice not his own. Grace recoiled and stared at him. “What does it seem?” he repeated, more calmly. Grace seemed to be afraid too at this point, and Jason hated himself for it. “It seems—” she stopped and restarted, “It seems like you’ve been hiding the money. Like you’ve been taking it away, hiding it. Embezzlement. Like the crime. But that’s not it.” Jason’s mind was in freefall. His highest capacity for thought was to acknowledge that his brain was useless in this situation. He had heard of people who felt feelings of relief the moment the cover was blown off a crime, but he felt none of that. He was dropping, farther and farther down; he realized then that his entire life had been painted on a sheet that Grace had pulled away, and behind it was a man huddling in the corner, cowering from the light. And then, as he sunk deep into darkness, he hit stone. His solution seemed much too simple to encompass such a repulsive act. It was awful, horrific; words he had never considered could describe something Jason Townsend was capable of. He hated himself for even considering it. But he had only one choice. What he had told Jonas that day, his excuse for a childhood dream, was all he had to cling to. He had become rich, but he hadn’t bought any rivers; nothing but a ranch house in Nagodoches and the big-screen TV on which the Weather Channel was prophesying their doom. He could not bear to side against Grace, but there was no other path he could take. Looking into her eyes then, into her rounded face that sat several inches below his own; her beautiful short brown hair, in danger of premature graying; her softly hooked nose and her mouth that sat always closed, never parted—he shut her out, pushed her away. She was a stranger now. “Jason, that’s not it,” she repeated, more surely but somehow less sure. “I know it’s not. Are you all right?” “No,” he said, letting his voice carry itself again. “Grace, it’s not all right. Not at all. I—I just saw on TV. The storm’s coming here. They’re evacuating the town. It’s going to be bad.” Grace took a long, deep breath to calm herself, then waited a long time before speaking. “You have to wake Kevin up.” “No!” he shouted. “No, Kevin’s not coming!” Grace looked bemused, all traces of suspicion gone. Jason knew they were still there, kept in waiting like all the other emotions. “What do you mean, Kevin’s not coming? Of course he’s coming.” “No, they said—” Again he was scrambling for thought. “They said to leave children; they’re going to take children to a special place, to keep them safe—”

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“Well, Kevin’s not going there,” Grace replied coldly. “He’s not theirs. He’s ours. Go get him!” “Grace, we have to listen! We can’t panic!” Jason grabbed her arm and pulled, overpowering her with his weight and heaving her toward the door. She stumbled into the hallway and crashed against Kevin’s door. “Mommy, what’s going on?” came Kevin’s voice. “Jason, get off me! I’m not going anywhere with you or without him!” “Grace, come on!” “Mommy!” Kevin shouted. “Daddy!” “Kevin,” Jason called, his voice breaking, “Sweetheart, I’ll be right back!” “Jason, no!” He twisted the golden metallic knob on the door that connected the garage and living room, and the blast of cold air and a prison-like stone scent twisted together and struck them both. Jason, at this point, was dragging Grace, who was actively resisting, pulling back, away from the car door. Jason practically carried her around to the passenger side, which was unlocked like all the others. “Jason, please, stop!” He noticed that Grace was no longer resisting and slackened his grip. She reached behind herself for the door handle. “All right, Jason, all right. I’m sorry I ever found those books! I’ll get in the car if you promise we’ll come back. And you won’t hurt me.” Jason, or the thing that was using Jason, nodded and let go. Grace opened the door, stepped inside and coolly closed it. Then, as Jason watched, then hurried to the driver’s door in horror, Grace vaulted across the seats behind the wheel and hammered on the garage door opener, trying to make the sluggish maw behind her open at a speed that fit the situation. Jason grabbed the door handle and rattled it, loosening and dislodging it, until the door snapped open in his hand. Grace watched in horror as he threw her backwards, then cried in pain as her back struck the armrest between the two front chairs. She landed in a crumpled heap on the passenger side, then scrambled up into a sitting position. Jason slid into the space she had occupied, shifted gears into reverse, and pressed on the gas pedal, sliding into the street. “That lock’s always been loose,” he said, almost apologetically. “Jason, you’re crazy,” Grace was pleading now. “The road’s not safe. Power lines are probably down somewhere. We could slip on the asphalt.” Her voice was beginning to rise in pitch. “Jason, this isn’t about the storm at all! I found out what you did, and now you’re trying to do—something—but you don’t have to! Listen,” here she changed to a practical tone, “If you turn yourself in now, get some representation, and strike a plea bargain, it’s one to two years in minimum security. Kevin and I will support you. You’ll be right back out again, on your feet; you’ll get a new job. We can pretend this never happened—” Jason said nothing. He had vowed to say nothing. He had nothing, so it followed he had nothing to say. He didn’t know what first steered him onto the highway of his youth. Some vestige of his old self had clawed to the surface and was manifesting a form in memory. Grace was still to his right, babbling needless practicalities, speaking in circles, her tone inexorably rising. Jason drove; he was nothing but the road and the wheel. Nothing drew his eyes but the sparkles. The few houses they passed displayed no lights, and the cause was now easy to see: a power line had snapped, and was now lying across the side of the road, sparks firing from the 82


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point of severance. Whatever had taken hold of him—the new Jason Townsend—began to slow the car. “Jason, thank you.” Relief washed up in Grace’s eyes. She was convinced they were turning around. “Honey, I love you. You know I do. You made the right decision. I’m behind you all the way.” Tears welled up in the crystal blue and spilled over onto her cheeks. “Let’s go home. Let’s just go home.” Jason leaned across her and opened the passenger door. “What are you doing?” Grace asked. “Dear, don’t do that. There’s a power line down over there. It could be dangerous.” The sparkles rested in a current of water running along the highway’s shoulder. Jason, in a grotesque parody of his fatherly gesture not thirty minutes prior, placed his arms under her and heaved. Grace tumbled out into the street, and staggered upright. “Jason, you’ve lost your mind—” He stepped out of the passenger door. “Please, Jason—” The end of the sentence would never be spoken. Jason pushed, one hand on her chest, the other on her stomach. Grace staggered backwards, overbalanced, and fell into the stream beside the sparkles. A scream, a jolt, once, twice, and then silence. The driver’s door, always loose, needed only a push to open. It swung easily over the rain-swept mud, and Jason Townsend’s path was clear. The mist was his life. He’d built a ladder of cards. His wife was gone. His son would be better off without him. The only merit in his existence was one afternoon, given to him by his gruff, eightfingered grandfather. The only way back was through the sparkles. He had to see it again. He would. There was nothing else. Jason plunged both of his feet into the mud. The waves of energy surged through him until the connection was broken, and he dropped, prostrate in the grime beneath his ruined BMW, never to decide whether or not he truly wanted it. There was no room left for anything in his mind but a small snatch of song, a gravelly voice and instrument, twenty-five years old. “We went down to the river, and into the river we’d dive, on down to the river we’d ride…”

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Life as I Never Knew It By Lucy Chibesa You know how parents lie to their kids about how a guy goes around climbing into people’s chimneys delivering gifts and bringing joy to children all over the world in one day? The way they try to hide it from them even if it means telling them that Santa didn’t have enough room on his sleigh for the box little Bob’s scooter came in. Well, I wasn’t given that luxury. No, I only knew about the tooth fairy, but that’s another story. (The Tooth fairy is real; she is just on hiatus because of the bad economy) As a kid, I was never told about Santa. I was never given the opportunity to get disappointed by the realization that such a character didn’t exist. And that shaped me; my parent’s realist culture rubbed off on me. In school while everybody was excitedly chatting about their plans for Christmas, a few kids had the misfortune of asking me what I was looking forward to and our conversation went as follows: “So Lucia, did you write a list?” asked Cattie. “A list for what?” I replied, taken aback by the possibility of extra homework I wasn’t looking forward to doing. “Santa silly!” she exclaimed. “Who is that?” I inquired. Who is this Santa guy everybody is talking about? I thought. “OH MY GOSH!” she exclaimed. “You don’t know who Santa is?” Annoyed, I just stared, expecting a definition of sorts as to who Santa was. “He is only the most important thing about Christmas! He goes around giving kids who’ve been good all year gifts. The thing is, he does it in one day!” she blurted out in one breath. “Oh” was all I said. Why didn’t I know this? That night I asked my Mom why other kids got gifts from Santa and I didn’t. I felt bamboozled; I felt robbed and a little insignificant—until my parents sat me down and told me the guy didn’t exist. They said there is no such thing as magic and that it was illogical for a single human to travel around the world in one day. I could relate to how the Trojans felt. My supposed annual Christmas gift correlated to their gift from the Achaeans. Our gifts caused some kind of…damage. The next day I was itching to tell the other kids what’s what. I didn’t know it was important to keep the lie going, to let them believe the guy actually existed. So I walked up to Cattie and the other kids and smugly blurted out, “Santa isn’t real! It’s impossible to go around the world in one day and the gifts you supposedly get from him are from your parents.” “That’s not true!” retorted Robert. “Think about it,” I said. “Look at how big the earth is! How can one guy go around it in one day if you said it took your aunt 13 hours to get to China? Now if you add the time it would take for him to find the gifts, double check to make sure he has the right house, make sure everybody is sleeping, get on the roof, squeeze into a chimney… and that would take more than 24 hours, so it’s practically impossible.” Silence and blank stares fell upon my friends as they pondered on that. Future wrinkles surfaced as they tried to come up with a better argument. They all stayed quiet for a while. I thought I was bringing the truth, but I now realize that I took away the magic of Christmas from them. My realist views ruined not only my imagination, but theirs, too.

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Hoes Over Bros: A Fairy Tale By Kathleen McKenney Once upon a time there was a magical land called Nap-Ville, and the reigning princess, Chelsea (code-name Chels), was worried about the dance competition coming up. She was sitting in her castle, in the town of Sleepy-Hollow, when Princess Celeste (code-name Celester) from Huh-Huh-Ville walked in, bringing her ridiculously awkward laughter with her. “Hey girl, what’s happenin’? Huh-huh!” Celeste squeaked as she jumped on the fluffy couch Chelsea was hogging. “Hi. Where’s SJ?” Chelsea was too tired to get pumped up just yet. She needed Princess SJ from Suns-Ville. Princess SJ (code-name Funky SJ), was never tired. “IDK! God, why can’t we like, practice at Suns-Ville; I’m always SOO tired when we practice HERE!” Celeste didn’t respond well to having things not go her way. “Chill, Celeste. You know we practice here so that we can use the mirrors. You don’t have mirrors at your place because you always break them thinking it’s funny, and there’s none at SJ’s because it’s way too bright already. Last time we tried to install mirrors, I was blind for a…month…” Chelsea wasn’t used to talking for so long. By the time she was done, the fluffy couch had sucked her up into a calming nap. “Great!” Celeste said, getting up and waking towards the door. “Now I’m alone in this, like, hell. Who says laughing a little is a bad thing, anyways! I bring joy and laughter to everyone around me, GOD-DAMMIT!” “Obviously because you’re so light-hearted.” Funky SJ stood in the main-hall with her hands clasped behind her back. As a princess, SJ was proper and lady-like, but as soon as she changed into some sweats, she earned the ‘funky’ part of her code-name. She could do the snake like no other! “Funky SJ, wuz-up! Chels wonked out in like five minutes. I swear she sleeps like fifty hours a day!” Celeste paused, then looked down at her fingers in confusion. Looking up, she said, “Ha-ha, JK! I totally meant ten! Silly me, there’s only fourteen hours in a day!” Celeste laughed as she skipped back into the room where Chelsea was sleeping. “Girl, guess who’s here! You’ll never guess!” Celeste screamed in Chelsea’s ear. Chelsea didn’t need help waking up with Funky SJ in the house. She was up and awake for the first time since SJ had left their last rehearsal three days ago. “Hey, Funky SJ!” Celeste screamed up and down with excitement, “Who am I?! WHO AM I!?” SJ laughed as Celeste fell to the floor and began fake snoring as if she’d fallen asleep. “You’re Chels, silly. Now, I made up a schedule for our practice time. We have enough time to warm-up for twenty minutes, and run all of our dances before Jackson comes. He said something like it was dope, so get ready.”

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Chelsea “accidentally” kicked Celeste on her way to the stereo, so she could start the music. “Huh-huh-huh, OW! Jeez, it was just a bit of fun!” Celeste jumped up as soon as the music started. She could laugh about almost anything, but when it came to dance, she was serious. Well…almost serious. “Celester! Stop krumping; you have to stretch. The last time you decided stretching was for wussies you pulled your hamstring…best three weeks of my LIFE!” Chelsea secretly loved all of Celester’s funny habits and attitude. It made her regret being born in a place where everyone slept AT LEAST fifteen hours a day. “LADIES! Buckle up and get ready for a storm. Winter’s coming early this year!” Kali, princess of the Chemistria sub-state of Over-Achievers-Ville, barged into the room. Usually she was too busy studying to actually practice, but she always found a way to make it work for their performances. Kali’s code-name was Battery, because she was like the Energizer Bunny. She could do anything and everything required, and made the rest of the people from OverAchievers-Ville look bad. And THAT’S saying something. “Say WHAT? Girl, you trippin’! Queen Winter ain’t comin’ till Christmas. Otherwise she’ll melt fo-sho!” Celeste wasn’t having her best day. Usually she was SOMEWHAT aware of what was coming out of her mouth. “She isn’t a witch, you idiot. People don’t actually melt!” Chelsea cried. She had had enough of Celeste for the day. Queen Winter ruled over the entire Northern hemisphere. She also, however, ruled over the awesome dance-crew, in which Princess Kali, Princess Chelsea, Princess SJ, and Princess Celeste were the only members. “Aw, man, Queen Winter’s so… so… cold! WE haven’t even learned our choreography yet and she’s coming to watch it! What the hell are we going to do?” Chelsea wasn’t up for a minor crisis today. She was tired, and not just of Celeste. She was tired of the day, and really wanted to just make her annoyance of the day official with a nice long nap. If only there were more Nap-Villians in attendance. Only they could truly understand her. “Everything will be fine,” SJ said with a calm smile on her face. She turned around and grabbed Kali before going out of ear-shot and asking, “What the BLEEP are we going to do?!!” “Huh-huh, I heard you, you said the f-word!” Celeste always thought cussing was funny. But when it was SJ, the only person who could stop the laughter was Queen Winter herself. “I don’t know! Just let me think for—” “You will no longer need to do that Kali, seeing as I am now here to do the thinking for you!!” Queen Winter stood tall with her assistant, Farr the slug, on her shoulder. “Farr, would you please set up the video-camera. I would like to record the dance now, and watch it when we’re done, so I might console myself when I start believing the dance looks worse than it did before. Hopefully the video will prove me wrong.”

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Celeste, for once, fully grasped the problematic situation in front of them. They had about a minute to come up with a dance Queen Winter had never seen before that might pass for a contest dance. “Queen Winter, might you give us the day to make it look a little better. We would hate to hurt your eyes with the bad technique and memory we’re sure to have if we do it now, huh…” Celeste swallowed the end of her laugh. There was no way she was going to laugh in front of the Queen. SJ looked at Celeste with something close enough to relief to make Chelsea believe that SJ might have felt panicked after all. Queen Winter looked at their faces and laughed. Farr the slug squeaked then slimed his way into the corner. Although he knew that the Queen was just messing with them, he had to act his part. The Queen had always been mean, but when the ambassador of the South came to her palace and stole her heart with a potion of magic beans, everything changed. “If you think I’m going to let you lose this competition and make me look bad, you belong in the nut-house!” The Queen had backed them into the far wall with her VERY loud speech, doing her best to keep a straight face. “Huh-huh, I’ve always wanted to know what nuts do in their houses!” Celeste slipped before remembering that she wasn’t going to laugh in front of the Queen. “Oh… uh, can I take that laugh back. I mean, I like totally didn’t mean to laugh like that. I meant the part about the nuts in their houses though…” SJ’s look of horror was enough to take Celeste’s open mouth and close it. And with that, Queen Winter could no longer keep up the façade. She burst out laughing and fell onto the couch, allowing it to swallow her enough to hide the obnoxious sobs of laughter coming from her body. “You laughed like that… ha-ha… And then you took it back… ha-ha… and her face… OH MAN, I don’t think I can stop laughing!” Celeste, SJ, Chelsea, and Kali stood there in shock as Farr the slug came out from the corner to explain what was going on. “The Queen wanted to come and watch your practice with Jackson, and decided to have a little fun with you first.” As that was all that needed to be said. Farr the slug quietly returned to his Queen’s shoulder. Celeste was hardly fazed, and even walked forward to high-five and laugh with the Queen. Just as Chelsea, Kali and SJ were getting used to this bizarre change in the Queen, Tanner stepped into the room to announce the arrival of Erik. “Prince Erik of Arch-Nemesis-Ville, here to challenge the Princess Chelsea to a danceoff, and invite Princess SJ to join him in victory against the Princess Chelsea of Nap-Ville!” Chelsea waved her boy-toy away and stalked towards her worst enemy. “If you think you can bring me and my crew down, name time and place and we’ll be there!!” Her voice 87


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never went over a whisper, but the challenge was clear. It seemed the top dogs in the dancing community were going to have their competition a little early. Chelsea, Celeste, and Kali started walking out the door, the Queen right behind them, when they realized someone was missing. Turning around, they stared in amazement as SJ looked from side to side as if not sure how she was going to choose: her secret lover or the dance crew and friends she’d had for as long as she could remember. “I think I’m going to have to sit this one out, guys,” SJ said slowly, as if she herself didn’t believe what was coming out of her mouth Chelsea was speechless. She had sponsored SJ’s training when her parents refused, convinced it was un-ladylike and repelling to suitors. Silently she turned around and walked out the door, taking her boy-toy with her for some quality comforting. “Think long and hard about why you’re doing this,” the Queen said. Although she was upset with SJ’s choice, she understood her hesitation over who to choose. “Hoes over Bros, chica! Don’t like ever talk to me again!” Celeste yelled. SJ paced back and forth. How was she supposed to choose! This just wasn’t fair, the only way to win was to not pick at all, but that hadn’t worked either. Finally, she decided that Celeste’s statement, though crude, was right. She wasn’t turning her back on her friends for some BOY! And they all lived happily ever after, triumphing over Erik and winning the competition.

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So Much They Never Knew By Camille Currey Noah was on the steps of St. Christopher’s Lutheran Intermediate. Every day he took one full moment to think of how odd it was that a Lutheran school should be named St. anything, considering that worship of the saints was one of the reasons Martin Luther broke away from the Catholic Church. Then he took another full moment to think that intermediate was such an odd word, and why couldn’t they just use ‘middle school’ like every other place in the world. Deciding that this was out of his control, he walked through the large oak doors— obviously meant to look older than they feasibly could have been—to his spring semester of sixth grade. So far, middle school wasn’t that bad. At the very least, none of the eighth graders had beaten him up. But he didn’t really have many people that he considered close friends; he’d left them in Minnesota back in July. Noah walked into his first period Literature class. Everything seemed to be in order, but Noah had that feeling. It was that feeling that you get right before something big happens, like saying your line as the squash in the Thanksgiving play, or right before you go down the big hill on a roller coaster; it was that feeling of cautious excitement. As Noah’s eyes landed on a mop of dirty blond hair, he realized why. There was a new boy. So Noah decided to be that kid, the kid that makes the first move. “Hi, I’m Noah. This is Michelle’s seat, there is an open one by me, though,” he said cautiously. “I’m Jack,” said the boy simply. Noah moved to where they would be sitting and Jack, after a moment of sizing Noah up, followed. “So where are you from?” Noah asked politely. “Nevada,” Jack replied throwing back some of the hair that had fallen into his face. “Cool! Like, Las Vegas?” “No.” “Oh.” Both boys fell into silence and kept to themselves as their ancient, nasal-voiced teacher, Mrs. Zilkey, called the class to order and began the morning’s lesson. They were reading something about Saturdays, and it seemed like nobody was paying any attention. Finally after forty-five excruciating minutes, the bell rang. “People, just calm yourselves for a second. Stop packing up; I have papers to pass out to all of you. Now this is about swine flu. This is very serious, people. People, people, please. I need your attention here, swine flu is a very serious disease,” Mrs. Zilkey said hurriedly, spittle in the corners of her mouth. Jack mumbled something Noah didn’t catch. He turned from the decrepit woman to his new friend and asked, “What did you say?” “It’s all a conspiracy between the news channels, the doctors, and the Anti-Catholicism League,” Jack stated as if were something that everyone knew. “What?” Noah asked, stunned.

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“You know, the news channels’ ratings were plummeting, so they got together with the doctors and the Anti-Catholicism League and set up swine flu to improve the ratings,” Jack said conspiratorially. “But wait, aren’t the doctors the ones trying to stop swine flu? And what is the AntiCatholicism League?” Noah asked, eyebrows pulled tightly together. “No, man,” Jack shook his head slowly. “The doctors are used to making a ton of money, right?” Noah nodded. “Well,” Jack continued, “with the recession and everything they needed a way to save their BMWs and beach houses, so they made the disease then partnered up with the news channels so that they could use their press badges to get it into otherwise restricted areas. Plus the government totally picked up on this. That’s why it’s taking so long to make the vaccines.” At Noah’s blank look, Jack rolled his eyes and plundered on, “They’re using the vaccines for mind control. They thought that this was a great opportunity to legally insert the devices. They’re arguing that this is all perfectly okay because people are taking the vaccines of their ‘own volition.’” “But what about the Anti-Catholicism League?” “There’s this group of people that hate Catholics. They’ve been trying to eradicate them for years, but it’s hard because a lot of Catholics don’t believe in using birth control, so they multiply at a super rate! The ACL or ‘The League’ pretty much have most of them rounded up in Mexico now, and the swine flu was one of their attempts to get in, massacre, and get out. They get really bad indigestion from the salsa, see, so they couldn’t stay long enough to eat a meal,” Jack said pointedly. By this point in time, Noah wasn’t sure if Jack was being serious. He was going to point out that people did actually eat other things in Mexico beside chips and salsa, but it didn’t matter because now they had to run to P.E. “C’mon Jack! If we’re late, Coach Chambers will make us run suicides till we puke!” He took off running down the stairs toward the elementary and the gym. “You think I’m kidding,” Noah huffed, “but he made that foreign exchange student blow chunks everywhere last Tuesday.” At this, Jack paled slightly and began to run faster. After a grueling workout, the boys changed and headed off to World History. As they walked in, Jack was jarred by the sight a colossally pregnant woman at the front of the classroom. She had short brown hair straightened and flipped at the end with a multitude of highlights streaking through it. “Stop staring. She hates it when people do that,” Noah admonished. “Come on, we don’t have assigned seats in here.” Jack followed with glances back at the massive woman trying to confirm that someone could actually become that big. It was not like Jack had never seen a pregnant woman before; he did have two younger siblings. It just didn’t look right on this woman. She was barely five feet tall with very thin arms and legs. He imagined that the size of her midsection accounted for at least double the size of the rest of her. “I know, it’s weird, right?” Noah asked, privy to the thoughts of his new friend. 90


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“It’s just… just…” he trailed off. “Yeah I know, and believe it or not this is baby number five. I heard that she and her husband are trying for a boy. And I heard from Marty’s older brother—he’s in high school now—that she just keeps getting bigger and bigger and bigger and he said that if she gets pregnant again then they are going to have to give her her own zip code!” “Shut up! She’s coming over here,” said Jack jerking his head toward the waddling woman. “Hello, you must be Jack Lancaster. I’m Mrs. Hartjen and I teach all of the intermediate History courses here at St. Christopher’s. I am so looking forward to instructing you for the next two and a half years,” she cocked her head, a picket fence of teeth gleaming. Jack was mesmerized by the focus of her blue eyes as she cocked her head to the side like a bird watching a particularly defenseless, albeit juicy, worm. She was obviously part of some infamous THEM. The question was: which one? Jack’s question was quickly answered as Mrs. Hartjen waddled back to the front of the class and wrote:

The Middle Ages: Feudalism, Code of Chivalry, Religion, and The Crusades. in what Noah could only describe as girl writing, messy in a pretty kind of way, but legible to the extreme. Noah heard his father say once that women want you to know what they are saying but they also want you to have a little trouble figuring it out, and if it didn’t reflect in their handwriting then his name was Jehoshaphat. (His father’s name was Keith.) “Class, can anyone tell me what you think of when I say ‘The Middle Ages’?” Mrs. Hartjen asked, smiling demurely. Kaalah’s hand shot into the air and she didn’t wait to be called on before blurting out, “Knights in shining armor!” “I’ll be your knight in shining armor, Kay,” stage-whispered a handsome and intimidating boy in the back row. “Shut up, Colton,” snapped the attractive blonde. “ENOUGH!” shrieked Mrs. Hartjen, reclaiming the class’s attention. “Now,” she continued, “the most important thing to remember whilst studying the Middle Ages, Medieval Times, or ‘Dark Ages’ as they are often called is— ” “That they never existed,” supplied another male voice from the back of the class. “Mr. Lancaster, I am sure that I need not remind you that you NEVER get a second chance at first impressions,” crooned the very frustrated and slightly crazed teacher. “Well, I think that in school people should learn the facts, and the fact is that The Middle Ages never happened,” Jack shrugged. “Well. Mr. Lancaster, then how on earth do you explain all of the history that came out of this time period? If the Middle Ages did not exist then what year are we really living in? Hmm?” she tutted, the hormones rearing their ugly head as each question climbed octaves in leaps and bounds, with her head shaking, and streaked hair frazzled. “Well, ma’am, we are indeed living in the year 1712 AD.” At his proclamation, the class roared with laughter. Colton actually hit the ground and began to gasp clutching his sides. There were only three people in that room who managed to 91


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exercise some control over themselves: Mrs. Hartjen glared at Jack; Jack stood, solemn faced, staring right back; and Noah sat, mouth agape, completely shocked by the way in which his new friend had spoken to a teacher. “Jack. Sweetheart. I think that you must be confused. Here at St. Christopher’s we don’t really joke around in class. I will however let you off, this being your first day.” She had reverted to being sickeningly sweet. “Thank you, Mrs. Hartjen, I really appreciate that, but I hate to see a civil injustice. This is like trying to deny Troy.” Why? Why God? I finally get one friend. One stinking friend, and he is completely off his rocker. Why! thought Noah. Well Noah, you asked me for a friend, you never specified that you wanted one of the sane persuasion, Noah could hear God’s booming voice answer him. “I’ll be sure to clarify next time,” Noah audibly grumbled. During Noah’s divine exchange, Mrs. Hartjen had phoned the principal and was now gesturing wildly into the receiver. “I DON’T CARE HOW MUCH HIS PARENT DONATED TO PREVENT HIS EXPULSION! GET HIM THE heck OUT OF MY CLASS, GLEN! STRESS IS NOT GOOD FOR MY BABY, AND SO HELP ME IF SOMETHING GOES WRONG I WILL TAKE YOUR B-U-T-T TO THE CLEANERS!” Slamming the receiver back down on the hook, looking more worn than any of the students had ever seen her, Mrs. Hartjen rounded on the boy who was the source of her anxiety. “She does know that we know how to spell ‘butt’ right?” questioned Colton, who had somehow managed to worm his way into the seat next to Kaalah, who promptly rolled her eyes. Derrek, who lived for a classroom in uproar, shouted across the twelve different conversations in the room, “Hey! Jack, why don’t you explain your theory!” “Well,” Jack began, “I am sure that you have all heard of the Anti-Catholicism League.” Upon receiving blank stares, Jack heaved a sigh of exasperation. “The Anti-Catholicism League are, in part, responsible for the invention and spread of swine flu, but that is another facet to be explored later. Anyway, the Anti-Catholicism League started in protest to the Medieval Movement put into effect by Pope Otto III. “He basically wanted to be remembered as the first pope of the new millennium; his only problem was that he lived during the early 700’s. We all know that Rome invented our current calendar, so under the instruction of Pope Otto, the historians fudged the dates some 300 years. He also employed several writers to work closely with the historians to create fictional historical characters that over time were thought to have actually lived. By the reaction of our lovely teacher you can see that this propaganda has infected the minds of millions. “But don’t worry, not only do you now know the truth, but you don’t have to worry about dying in 2012. That’s not for another 300 years! Actually that is just another conspiracy set up by the FBI. They have all of your phones tapped so that they can tell whether the mass state of panic is at all ensuing. And…” but Jack never got to forewarn his new classmates about the horrors of the FBI, because at that moment the blustering, red-faced principal, Glen Kieshnick, stormed into the room.

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At some point during Jack’s dissertation on the Middle Ages, Mrs. Hartjen had sunk to the floor of the classroom, silent sobs wracking through her. Mr. Kieshnick took in the zoo before him, and settled on his frazzled employee. He sighed and called, “Jack Lancaster.” Jack jumped down from the desk and shot a winning grin over his shoulder, a very knowing glint in his eye. Jack never returned to school. Rumors flew like lightning from one end of the hall to the other and back again. Some claimed that the Anti-Catholicism League had finally gotten him; some claimed that it was not the Anti-Catholics, but the Catholics who wanted him dead for slandering one of their Popes, while others (probably started by the teachers) said that he was only kicked out of school. It didn’t matter. None of the children could answer the phone for weeks without yelling obnoxiously, “FBI, I know you’re there!”

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Thanks for reading!

The Writers’ Block A Literary Magazine of Creative Writing from Anderson High School Students

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