The gold mine Issue Four 2012-2013
CAMERON UNIVERISTY 1
STAFF Faculty Editor: DR. HARDY JONES Assistant Editors: CASEY BROWN, KAITLYN STOCKTON, REXANNE RIEMER, SHELBY STANCIL Copy Editor: DR. HARDY JONES Layout & Design: CASEY BROWN
TABLE OF CONTENTS Creative Non-Fiction Keaton Lamle
These Ears of Mine
Abundant Metaphorical Resonance
All The Old Haunts
A Woman Called Nana
My Favorite Song
The Ravenous Well
Zachary A. Ellis
Conclave Part I
Conclave Part II
Leigh Holmes Nonfiction Contest Winner 2012-2013 Resurrection Day By Keaton Lamle “Truly decent, innocent people can be taxing to be around.” -David Foster Wallace The Uncanny (Das Unheimliche - "the opposite of what is familiar") is a Freudian concept of an instance where something can be familiar, yet foreign, resulting in a feeling of it being uncomfortably strange or uncomfortably familiar. Because the uncanny is familiar, yet strange, it often creates cognitive dissonance within the experiencing subject due to the paradoxical nature of being attracted to, yet repulsed by an object at the same time. This cognitive dissonance often leads to an outright rejection of the object, as one would rather reject than rationalize. - wikipedia entry on “The Uncanny” May 2012
APRIL 06, 2012
I've been asked to the Resurrection Day party, even though I'm
not Presbyterian. As I nervously saunter from car to shindig one thing is obvious: The 12 pack of craft brew I am brandishing will be the only alcohol at the event that wasn't brewed by one of the attendees. I've arrived an hour late and the buffet is still full, with a few conspicuous absences: There is an abundance of turkey and a lack of ham. I decide to fill up on beer and slices of cheesecake1. During my time at the buffet I run into the hostess of the Resurrection Day Event and two elders from
1 This would prove to be a rookie mistake.
************* Presbyterian Church. We make small talk for about twenty minutes, discussing the party host, a guy who I attended a Baptist church with as a kid. While we are talking it occurs to me in a mid-sentence snap-association that one of these men is the father of an eccentric delinquent that I used to work with at a restaurant. At the time that I knew him, the kid had dropped out of the military, claiming the Marines sent him home on account of his being â€œtoo smartâ€? and consequently he was working as a busboy. The last I 'd heard of him, the kid had put on his military garb, constructed a system of homemade body armor, grabbed an air rifle, and headed to the park down the street from my house, where he engaged in a shootout with local police, who surrounded him and opened fire. The busboy was shot, as were a few police officers. Albeit, not by the busboy. Apparently friendly fire is common when members of a circle shoot towards the center. A firefighting friend told me that one of the officers was injured when he forgot to park the police car he was driving, instead simply jumping in front of the vehicle, weapon drawn, running himself over. Firefighters love to goad policemen, and apparently this event caused a riot down at the station. In 68 minutes I will see the former marine/busboy for the first time in years when I accidentally kick over his beer while walking through the garage in search of a restroom. When I offer to grab him another bottle and ask what he was drinking he informs me that it was a home brew and was the last oneâ€”the indication clearly being that I have wrought irreparable damage, and that the situation is beyond recovery, and fuck off. I will skulk away. But for the moment I am talking to his father and thinking that a man this socially well-adjusted can bear exactly 0% of the responsibility for what happened with his son and the cops in the park that day. I decide that our encounter has been a moderate success, tell the elder so, and saunter towards a barrel of fire that has caught my eye. This party is awkward and sublime. There are no old people here. Every RDE2 attendee seems to be between the 2
Resurrection Day Event
ages of birth and 55, with spikes on the graph near 8, 27, and 40. There is exactly one black personâ€”a middle-aged woman named Ebony; and my Batman swimming shorts appear to contain one of three commercial logos at the party. These Presbyterians do not appear to be the most avid mall-shoppers. I am tracking trends and corralling demographics as I approach the burning trash-can and square-dance line (!) that has formed between the fire and a system of chicken coops. The dance is a cycle and, when lit by the interceding flame, becomes mesmerizing in the way that only the most rote and repetitive of motions can. I find myself staring at one kid in particular. He can't be younger than 11, although he could be as old as 16 if his lanky frame is any indication, and he has this sort of painted on smile that is creepy in its lack of fluctuation. Someone solos on the fiddle, and for a second it seems like the scene is playing itself in slow motion and reality takes on a grainy quality reminiscent of old photographs or those Dos Equis commercials. It should be comforting, but I am unnerved as the kid's smile starts to looks like a grimace, like the facial expression of one who is either way too aware or blissfully ignorant of what is going on with their face. I chalk this up to my horrendous diet choices in the buffet line. After a long and eventful trip to the bathroom (where I spill a sociopath's beer) I return to the square-dancing scene. Truthfully, the bathroom trip was more about recalibrating my sense of reality, confirming that I had not somehow gotten drunk off of 21 oz of beer, than any actual need to relieve myself. But it didn't work. I mean, I confirmed that I was not even a little drunk, that the weird feelings were probably diet/environment related, but if anything I felt worse after my jaunt into the house than I did during my first staring session with the pre-teen square-dancer. Here is what happened: As soon as I open the door to the house my heart sinks: There is a line to the bathroom. And there is but one bathroom. I distract myself momentarily by examining the host's DVD collection, eventually turning around to check the line's progress. Before I process how much we have moved, the man standing in front of me in the queue offers his hand and we make small talk. He is a military man from the Bronx, stationed at Fort Sill, attending ************* Presbyterian because his dad did 6
the same when he was a military man from the Bronx, stationed at Fort Sill, because for any self-respecting Calvinist it truly is the only game in town. “Yeah my dad had this church recommended to him by some higher ups in the denomination. They were pretty impressed with it,” he tells me with a surprising amount of gusto. “I hear really good things about it,” I say, admiring his enthusiasm. “I have a friend who attends there. Several friends that do.” “Do you go anywhere?” “Yeah, I actually just helped plant a church. We meet in a conference center at the University.” I can tell that I am losing his respect with every word. “What kind of church is it? What is it called?” “********* Church. And I'm not sure what 'kind', really. Just sort of normal Christian. Salvation, the resurrection. The works, ya know.” I tell him, secretly hoping that he thinks I am a decent Christian and not a heretic. He doesn't respond, so I talk more and faster. “I guess our theology is vaguely Baptisty if you had to get techni...” A grimace has overtaken his previously smiling face. It must require a hideously strong disgust to overpower such a firm, capable looking jaw line. He looks ill. He looks frustrated. He looks like he might hit me. These thoughts race through my brain as he begins to chuckle menacingly, before retorting, “Yeah I've been to a Baptist church before. In Georgia once. It was basically the only option is why.” “Well we try to steer clear of that moniker. I don't even think we are even affiliated with the...” “Oh. What then? You guys Evangelicals?” Good grief. He is relentless! I am fighting hard to keep urine from soaking my Batman swimming shorts (How old am I? What kind of adult doesn't change out of his cartoon swimming suit before a party?) and trickling into the white carpet. Then again, that contingency couldn't be much more humiliating than the episode I currently find myself acting in. And at least the swimming shorts would dry quickly. I 7
begin to give this escape route serious consideration, putting the conversation on auto-pilot. “Nah. We are maybe halfway between you guys and them.” I am not specifying my pronouns. I am making no sense. I am a complete “It's pretty groovy. And you guys are too. In fact, this is just about the bitchinest shindig I've been to. You know...for Easter.” SHIT!!! I said “Easter”. It's “Resurrection Day” around here. RESURRECTION DAY. Easter is pagan in etymologic origin. How could I be this stupid? I begin to visibly squirm. I begin a sentence, but as words will not come, I find myself holding out a monosyllabic, “um” for upwards of 4 seconds. Heaven, in its infinite mercy, opens the bathroom door and as a small Presbyterian spills out the Reformed Sgt. puts me out of my misery with one final concerned look, saying “Well I'm gonna use this toilet.”, and turns around, shutting the door. The same gracious and goateed Presbyterian elder who I spoke with earlier crosses the room to approach me and casually whispers, “You know, man, unless you've got serious business to attend to in there, there are dozens of trees all over this property. Just pick one.” He is a saint. As I search for a tree to pee on I spill his son's beer. This night is humiliating and magical. Star-gazing and urination have freshened my senses. I have regained my resolve and once again find myself staring at the square-dance through the flames from the barrel fire. Someone is still playing that same riff on the fiddle. The gangly kid is still dancing there, in his baggy-but-too-short khaki pants and odd-fitting polo. The barrel fire in front of him dances with significantly more ease and grace. At this point the poor guy doesn't really even seem to be dancing, so much as it seems like someone is dancing him, some metaphysical Geppetto holding him by his arms from above and contorting him in all sorts of unsightly directions like a puppet on a string. As ridiculous as it sounds, this is the best way I know how to describe this particular Presbyterian's gyrations. His arms and legs seem to move indiscriminately, as if controlled by some other (and decidedly un-benevolent) force. His dancing partner 8
appears to have at least as much say over his motor skills as he does, and things could get out of hand any minute. And I realize that this young man is probably home-schooled (Many SW OK Presbyters avoid public school at all costs, sometimes even referring to it un-ironically as “Babylon”), but on the off chance that he isn't, we are dealing with a kid who square-dances to 19th century American roots music on Friday night, sings the Nicene Creed on Sunday morning, and eats lunch with a bunch of kids whose favorite song (if the high school kids on the internet are any indication) has a chorus that features the word “Ass” repeated sixteen consecutive times.3 And the song goes downhill from there. The “Babylon” hyperbole is beginning to seem reasonable. The Presbyterian zeitgeist is contagious and revolting. Watching the dance, I realize that this scene could have taken place in any decade of the 20th century. Set against the backdrop of a sloping field and some chicken coops, the panoramic doesn't contain any object that could enable it to be dated with any real accuracy if it were preserved as some sort of artifactual sepia toned-photo. Nobody is playing on cellular phones. The girls all wear ankle-length dresses that look suspiciously homemade. As previously stated, none of the clothing immediately advertises a logo of any kind, and I am not about to try and get close enough to the back of a pair of khakis to see whether or not they are Levis or Lee or what. Imagine explaining the position of my face in that situation to somebody in this crowd. Truthfully, the whole scene makes me feel vaguely pathetic. For as long as I can remember I have been non-plussed by the idea of being without technology, specifically media. As a child (literally from 2 years old), I would require a fortress of entertainment before confronting any boring situation. For some reason the thought of facing the outdoor family reunion without my Walkman was paralyzing. As I became an adult the Walkman was at various times accompanied by books, laptops, and Game Boys. It is true that I am probably dodging reality via this media with which I relentlessly entertain myself. Neil Postman would vomit with rage and angrily
3 “Dance (A$$)” by Big Sean featuring Nicki Minaj
ask why my parents indulged my weirdness4. As it is, the best insight I have into the situation is to say that it is no wonder I hate camping and spend the whole time wondering what movies are in theaters and whether or not Linda Cohn hosted the morning edition of Sports Center. It isn't that I don't like “roughing it.” And it isn't that I don't participate in those types of situations (walking with the grandparents, watching a square-dance, etc...) because I do. But I need a safety net. I need an escape route. I need a book in case shit gets boring. And when I forget to bring one I find myself sitting in line for a haircut, or sitting in my grandmother’s living room after everyone else has gone to sleep and cursing loudly about the wasted time, about the fact that I have gone fifteen minutes without consuming anything. Nobody here has that problem. Each Presbyterian's face proudly dons a look of complete contentment, of peaceful resignation to the situation. They are happy to be somewhere. With each other. Having fun. It occurs to me that it is difficult to imagine the pre-teen square-dancer playing basketball or watching gooey manufactured tween dramas on television. Try though I may, the only image I can create of this kid is one of him soaking in a comically, mountainously oversized bubble-bath reading a biography of Martin Luther. And what if that is the case? What if he does that? Is there some sort of price to pay for completely ignoring much of culture, just going on as if it didn't exist? Is there even any value whatsoever in “culture” that repeats the word “Ass” sixteen times in a row before dissolving into pornographic nothingness? And since the answer appears to be “no”, doesn't that mean that ignoring depraved idiocy might not be such a bad idea after all? For instance, if I had to choose between seeing my 13 year old son square-dance around a burning trash can or having him lurk around the internet, taking sex ed from Nicki Minaj, which would I choose? Doesn't the answer start to seem a little ridiculously obvious? But is that a result of an inherent oversimplification, a “new=bad” false dichotomy existent in all sorts of religious thought? Does reading Puritan literature in order to avoid more mainstream spirituality like The Purpose Driven Life in order to not end up like Nicki Minaj border 4 Probably because they knew how miserable most of those situations were, and secretly wished that they could be reading or playing Metroid, too. As a Baptist Pastor's son you just spend so many hours in hospitals against your will, or at dysfunctional parishioner’s houses while your dad tries to talk the Mr. of the property off the roof, and to maybe slide that gun down too, if he could.
on throwing the baby Jesus out with the bathwater? Is a rejection of pop culture in connection with the sacred actually birthed out of a fear that the latter has been rendered obsolete by the former? Are many people secretly afraid that the world that birthed their religious beliefs no longer exists, and that consequently those beliefs might not be worth much in the strange new amalgam that has arisen to take the old world's place? Is my inherent, only semi-intentional disassociation from this Presbyterian religious subculture any less judgmental than the Presbyterian rejection of all things trivial? What sorts of postmodern sins have I committed by deeming the dominant U.S. religious culture “normal” and this one “deviant”? Who is the real Pharisee here? And what of the unbelievably cool, middle-aged elder, the one who told me to pee on a tree? How does he fit in to all of this? Does he know something I don't? Have I missed some axiomatic fact woven into the fabric of the universe? Why do I feel so weird about the whole scene? Is it because I just don't fit in? Do I feel vaguely threatened by good conduct and self-sufficiency? If so, why? Is it because I practice neither? And what of the square dance? Where did these guys find the time to learn all of those archaic instruments? Does God bless you with special powers when you become a Calvinist? And why does the demographic of this church seem to suggest that only ridiculously intelligent, semi-insecure people become Calvinists? Is it possible that theological leanings are directly correlated with personality bent? Do only smart shy kids make the reformed jump? Have I got the causality backwards? Do people who become Presbyterians just tend to get smarter, and kind of insecure as a product of their upbringing? Is the insecurity a product of not really fitting in? Of being “in the world but not of it?” And why do I need to know so badly? Why does my mind race with all of these questions? Do I think I've missed something? Am I secretly evaluating this group for validity in hopes of making some decision about accepting or rejecting their beliefs? Is this what every non-religious person goes through in their friendships with religious persons? If so, is it sort of funny that a former Baptist is going through same with Presbyterians? Are the ideological gaps between two Christian groups really as big as the one between those who believe and those who decidedly do not? 11
Doesn't it sort of seem ridiculous to suggest that as true? If these Presbyterians and I are so similar in belief then why do we feel so different? If these home-schooling, home-brewing Calvinists are so unbelievably different from me in practice then why do they feel so familiar? Why does this party in which I find myself continually and awkwardly out of place feel so much like home? I'm not sure. I'm confused and I'm too tired to determine where these questions are coming from or how to answer them. Fairly decent people can be taxing to be around. When something is familiar, yet foreign it can create a feeling that is either uncomfortably strange or uncomfortably familiar. I experience cognitive dissonance as I am paradoxically attracted to and repulsed by something simultaneously. This usually leads me to reject the object in question as I find it much easier to reject than to rationalize.
Leigh Holmes Nonfiction Contest Second Place 2012-2013 These Ears of Mine By Carson Stringham My ears are so big my dad could put me on the roof to get better reception. My ears are so big they make Dumbo jealous. On a windy day, all I have to do is strap skates to my feet and let the wind take me where I want to go. In fact, I heard the governor was thinking of officially changing the lyrics of the state song to say, “Oklahoma, where wind sweeps Carson ‘cross the plains.” My wife says it is amazing that even though my ears are half as big as my head I still can’t hear her half the time. All my life I have had these huge ears that have earlobes that look like something that Rocky Balboa might have used during a training montage, yet what I have come to realize is that these ears of mine are actually a blessing in more ways than one. The first thing I ought to mention is that I got my ears from my father. Now, some of you out there might be saying, “Well, duh!” but let me explain further before you completely dismiss this essay as a means of pointing out the obvious. I am adopted. Toasty brown skin, jet black hair, chocolate colored eyes, and only 5’4”. My father’s looks are quite different by comparison: he is what I would consider to be a typical Caucasian pinkish/white, what was once a rich, earthy brown mane and beard are now peppered black and white; hazel eyed, he stands over six feet tall. Side by side, you would not think that we are related, until you looked at the ears. They are a perfect match! My father’s ears are just as big and beautiful as mine. Were we both characters in the Mr. Potato-head universe, you could take our ears off, mix them up, put them back on our heads without a care about who got which ones because they would look exactly the same (skin tone aside). Together, Dumbo, my father, and I could start our own branch of the Air Force: The Super-sized Ear Squadron. Our mission would be to fly over enemy territories and listen in for intelligence information while flapping our ears safely under the enemy’s radar scans. 13
If we ever came into contact with the enemy, Dumbo could shoot peanuts at them while my dad and I turned back towards friendly skies. I have come to cherish my ears as symbols that my father and I were meant to be related to one another. However, I didn’t always think big ears were so great. When I was in about second grade, I got picked on a lot by other kids for many different reasons—being the only chubby, adopted, Mexican kid with huge ears and big buck teeth at school will do that—but I got teased about my ears the most out of everything. I remember coming home from school one day and feeling extremely depressed about the name calling, all of the Dumbo and satellite dish jokes, the “Hey, get your ears out of the way, I can’t see the blackboard!” comments and so on that I was receiving at school—things I would actually have found funny if they were directed at someone else. My father went to the bookshelf, pulled a large black book from among the volumes stacked there, and sat me down next to him on the white over-stuffed couch in our little living room. I didn’t really pay too much attention to what was happening; all I knew was that I felt like going back to my room, throwing myself onto my bed—covered with a Ninja Turtle bedspread—and crying into my pillow like a little baby. The book turned out to be a history of movie actors and actresses; besides giving brief biographies of each star, the book also provided pictures of them in some of their most iconic roles. My father turned the pages until he found the one he wanted. “Do you know who this guy is?” he asked. “He looks familiar,” I said, “but I’m not sure where I’ve seen him before.” “His name is Clark Gable. Do you see anything interesting about him?” The man in the picture was fairly handsome, with a clean mustache, pleasant smile, well groomed head of hair, and a manly build… but I saw none of those things until later when I took a second look; the first two things I noticed, just as my father had hoped, were the two enormous appendages protruding from the sides of Clark Gable’s head. I remember being dumfounded for about a minute. Smiling, I turned to my father and said, “He has humungous ears just like me!” I grabbed the book from my father’s hands and began flipping through it to look at the rest of the pictures. When I saw the picture of him in a still frame from 14
Gone with the Wind, I realized that he was the character I had seen in all of the old Disney cartoons that would portray Mickey and Donald hobnobbing with their reallife Hollywood counterparts. I could see the cartoon in my mind where Clarabelle Cow was making eyes at Clark Gable, shaking her cowbell at him, and he waved back with his ears; this made her blush and grab him by the neck, giving him a kiddie-censored kiss (you know what I’m talking about, where they hide the kiss behind a semitransparent object so that only the shadows are visible or turn away from the camera as if that were enough to confuse us as to what was going on) and then turning back to face the screen, his face covered in lipstick and her head spinning around. I remember feeling a sense of power, like what had been portrayed in the cartoons was a secret ability that big eared men had over women, and I couldn’t wait to test my own abilities on the ladies. I had decent success with women while I was still dating, but as far as I know none of it was due to my ears. Still, I am not disappointed. I cannot remember if my father read the biography or if he recited by memory the story he told, but it doesn't really matter. What I learned that day was that Clark Gable had had huge ears and that the movie studio he worked for had originally wanted him to pin his ears back so that he would be more aesthetically appealing, but he had refused. "If they cannot accept me for who I am, then that's their problem," is the essence of what my father told me that he said. Later, after watching Gone with the Wind, I secretly hoped that what he had really said was, “Frankly, I don’t give a damn.” Clark Gable’s story showed me that even adults get picked on, that I might get teased the rest of my life about my ears; but, it also showed me that if I ever felt insecure about my ears it was not anyone else's fault but my own. I realize now that it was at that moment that my whole philosophy on my appearance changed. From that point on I decided to stop worrying about the things that I could not change and only care about what I could: I made sure my hair was slicked back with mousse, hairspray, and gel just like Uncle Jesse from Full House; I tried to keep up with the latest fashions, such as tight rolling the bottoms of my jeans, or wearing outrageous, neon-colored clothing that most people would not be caught dead wearing today. I was one slick-haired, brightly-colored son of a gun, let 15
me tell you. I would have to admit that I became somewhat of an egotist with regards to my looks from that point on; I worry about my looks even if all I am doing is just going to Dollar General for a container of milk. I have not had any problems with my ears since being in grade school, at least not any that have come to my attention or that people have had the guts to say to my face. In the Army, it was interesting to see how even though they tried to make us all look the same—especially at Basic Training with our newly-shorn heads and brand new uniforms— we still kept our own unique traits. When you have a bunch of guys standing next to each other, row upon row, it is really easy to see who has big ears; I found that I was not as alone in that aspect, as my younger self had once thought that I was; I also discovered that the Super-sized Ear Squadron, were it ever formed, would be a most formidable force indeed. I guess you could say that for the first time in my life I got to see for myself that ears really are big all over. Getting married and having children of my own has allowed me to pass on my genes to a new generation and I am proud to say that my sons now carry on the tradition of having the Stringham ears. They are the same ears that their father’s, grandfather’s, great-grandfather’s, and great-great-grandfather’s. To my mind, it is something that bridges the gap not only of time, but of what it means to truly be a family. I have asked my sons if they had ever been picked on because of their ears; both of them said no. I pray it stays that way. I asked my oldest the other day how he felt about his ears. He crossed his left arm over his chest and, resting his right arm on top of it, grabbed the bottom of his chin in quiet contemplation. I tried to help sway his position by reminding him that his ears are a family trait and something he should be proud of. Finally, he put his arms down and said to me, “If I had a choice, I would wish for different ears. No offense dad, but they ARE really big.” I smiled. What else could I do? I have been there in his exact same position; hopefully, he will feel differently about the subject one day. My worst fear is that I will pick up my teary-eyed son from school, and on the ride home he will tell me that someone said something about his ears that hurt his 16
feelings, that he wishes he had never been born with the ears he has, and that he doesnâ€™t want to go back to school the next day. If that ever happens, my plan is this: I will sit my son down on our brown suede couch, retrieve the laptop computer from the kitchen, do an internet search for Gone with the Wind, and scroll through the images until I find the face of my hero. I will tell my son of my own painful past and what his grandfather did for me, how hearing about the struggles of a Hollywood star changed my life and my perspective on living. And hopefully, if all goes as I hope it will, Clark Gable will be able to work his magic one more time. I hope that these ears of mine are a trait that will continue to be passed down through the family line, that future generations will be able to make it through the cruel jokes or disparaging remarks that may come their way, look in the mirror one day and say, â€œI am proud of how I look and who I am.â€?
Leigh Holmes Nonfiction Contest Third Place 2012-2013 Mommy By Mikayla Riddles “Mommy?” a little girl with blonde curls and big blue eyes stares up at her mother from the floor where she sits playing with her Barbie dolls. “Yes, Mikayla?” the woman with brunette hair and light blue eyes says as she sits reading a book in a chair. “Mommy, why is it that you limp when you walk? Is your foot too heavy?” the girl asks. “Well, baby, no, that isn’t what it is. I have a disease, baby,” the woman says looking down at her daughter. “What is a disease, Mommy?” the girl asks with a puzzled look on her face. “Mikayla, I’ll explain it to you more when you get older,” the woman rises and sets her book down on the small table next to the chair. She reaches for her daughter’s hand and lifts her up from the floor. “Okay, Mommy,” the little girl says as she holds her mother’s hand and follows her to the kitchen. This is a conversation I think I had with my mother about a dozen times when I was a young child. Every time I’d ask, “Why do you walk funny?” or “Why is it hard for you to braid my hair like other moms?” or “Why can’t we go to the park and play together as much as other kids and their moms?” My mom would always try to gently explain to me that it just hurt her to do too much movement, or to bend her fingers too much. I couldn’t comprehend that kind of thing as a child. I still can’t imagine the kind of pain she feels every day, and not to mention the struggles she must have faced with the fact that she couldn’t have a child naturally. I am adopted. That adds a whole other level of complication to our relationship, and it has made our issues that much greater. My mom suffers from rheumatoid arthritis. It is a degenerative disease of the joints. Parts of her body are slowly deteriorating and have been since she was only 18
twenty-four years old. She has had several operations to help with walking and other physical issues. Her ankles are completely fused, and her feet and hands are crooked. She shuffles when she walks and has to be in a wheel chair if we go shopping for more than an hour, or if we go to an amusement park. I will never be able to accurately describe how it must feel for her every day. I watch as she struggles to do the smallest things that the rest of us healthy people take for granted. Can you imagine having to take at least ten minutes to tie your shoes in the morning? She has difficulty opening bottles and jars, as well as gripping some things. That’s not even mentioning the time, an extra 20 to 30 minutes every morning, to put on the extra padded socks or the special shoe inserts. Also, all of these things cost a small fortune, sometimes up to $500 to procure.
She has to
really pace herself because her energy level is much lower than others. She also has had to take all sorts of different medications over the years. These medications have had many side effects. One of these a pill she takes known as Prednisone caused her to actually grow a hump on her back. She eventually weaned herself off of it at one point and had the hump removed.
Since then, though she has had to take that
medication again. This time she is hoping the hump won’t return. These are just a few of the annoyances she deals with every second of every day. In addition, she has also had to raise a very high spirited, stubborn girl in the process. I was by no means an easy child to deal with. I wanted to play hide and seek in clothing racks at the shopping malls, run and jump into ponds and lakes, and all the things my mother would almost scream at me for doing, because, well if something ever happened she couldn’t jump in to save me or get to me fast enough. One of the hardships of her adopting me was her fear that someone might try to take me away. As a teen I struggled in dealing with my mom’s illness and her insecurities. I would swing from the loving caregiving daughter, to the “Go away, you’re embarrassing me, and I don’t want you to be my mother anymore!” evil brat. Sometimes though I would be in the middle, on the fence, secretly hating all the things her disease and her fears kept me from enjoying with her, while pretending it was all good. I acted as though I enjoyed pushing her around malls and amusement 19
parks, and that I liked her watching me like a hawk because she cared. I would say “No sweat, Mom, I’m building my leg and arm muscles,” or “It’s okay, Mom, I understand. It’s because you want me to be safe.” She always laughed and smiled when I said those things. It made her feel loved, and I have always loved my mother. I just haven’t always understood her. I remember one time in particular when I was in middle school getting into a big fight and throwing a complete fit with my mom over her disease. I was a soft ball player and all the other girls on the team always had their hair braided in very intricate cool ways for the games. I wanted that done to my hair so badly, too. I wanted to fit in with the others desperately, but unlike the other girls I did not have a mother to show me how to accomplish this with my own hair. She knew how to braid from when she was a child before the disease took over, but she couldn’t show those things to me. Her hands being deformed made it impossible for her to perform the tasks needed to fix my hair in that style. “Mom, it is so not fair! I want my hair to be like Britney’s and Kelsey’s! Why can’t you just try? Please, Momma!”
I yelled while staring at her brush in hand
pacing the living room floor. This is when her stern voice would come in. That defensive tone she would use to let me know that I should stop right there and now. But I couldn’t let it go. I wanted my hair braided. “Mikayla, I just can’t, okay? You’ll just have to try to get along with your usual ponytail” she said while looking at me from the couch. “Mom, I hate you right now so much! Stupid arthritis! UGH!” I screamed at her and stormed out the front door. My dad stood there by the door watching the whole scene with sheer disappointment in his face. Looking back on that moment I can see that there was pain in her eyes. I can’t say for sure, but I bet she cried that night while my dad and I were at the game. He would try to explain things to me, but deep down I always resented it. I felt like she was holding both of us back. I regret that feeling so much now. It took me years to really look at any of this from my father’s perspective. He has had to miss out on some things too. He has never once complained about my mother’s inabilities to be more active. He is very healthy and loves to play sports and 20
enjoys going and doing things. I always assumed he had to feel a little deprived of my mother’s company during these times. But actually he enjoys going to the court by himself, and he doesn’t seem to mind having those outings alone. He has always pushed Mom in a wheelchair when necessary and never even flinched about it. He tried so many times to explain to me what my mother was going through and how much my attitude would hurt her, but I just blew him off a lot. He really loves my mother and wants her healing just as much as I do. He is just a much more patient person than me and I think he is the reason I have learned to understand my mother’s illness a bit better. I remember after the hair braiding argument the conversation he had with me in the car, “Mikayla, Why do you do that to her?” He looked at me with that horrible disappointment in his eyes. I can never stay angry with that look in his eyes. It makes me feel like the worst person in the world. “I just hate it, Daddy. Why can’t she just be normal?” I whined and puffed up my lips with a pout. “Because there is no such thing as really normal, and your momma loves you. But it hurts her hands to braid; you know you could ask the other girls to help you do it. Stop upsetting your mother.” I never responded, and just turned away from him. I knew he was right, but I just couldn’t admit it. I was always stubborn when it came to fights with my mom or about my mom. Dad wanted to just have peace. He tried not to take sides even when things got really heated between mom and me, but when I caused her pain or she went too far on the “keep me safe stuff”, he would step in and bring some sense to the situation. Faith is vitally important in our family. We are what most in the religious community call word of faith believers. We hold strong to the scriptures regarding faith and belief that all things really are possible with God. In our religious belief system healing is very important to us as believers. We believe that as in the Old Testament book of Isaiah that: “…by his stripes we WERE healed.” The “were” is the key. We believe in faith that when Jesus died on the cross He took upon Himself all our sickness and diseases. My mother has stood on this belief, meaning she has 21
always trusted in this scripture and others like it in the Bible. Since the moment she was told she had rheumatoid arthritis she has stood in faith for her healing. I have heard from her the story of how the doctors told her that she would be in a wheelchair permanently by the time she was thirty, but she stood in faith and believed on that scripture. She is now sixty years young and still not in a wheelchair permanently. I have also stood on this scripture many times asking God to make my mother’s body whole again. I have been frustrated by the slow process sometimes in my life. I remember as a child laying hands on my mother and staring at her twisted fingers. I told God, “I’ll know my mommy is healed when I see her thumb pop back to normal.” To this day, any time someone lays hands on my mom and prays for her healing, and I am there, I watch her thumb. I have memorized the angle and shape of it so precisely that I know if even the slightest change occurs, I will see it instantly. My mother tells me daily how she is feeling better. God has provided her with the best medical people available associated with her illness. She even sees a special “healing hands” chiropractor. He does natural acupressure with his hands on her head twice a month. He says it detoxes her. This means that all those spots he is pushing on her head causes the toxins to loosen and eventually leave her body. He is also a firm believer in faith healing, and he prays while he is working on her. She can do so much more now than she ever has in my lifetime. She can handle at least an hour walking at the mall, and she even enjoys more rides at amusement parks. The blessing of having a mother with a disease is that it has taught me how to be a certain way in life. I see her with her strength in her faith, and I strive to be stronger in mine. I see her press on every day to do the house work or to go shopping for groceries, and it makes me want to press on in my daily life whether in my work or at school. My mom never whines or complains about her pain. She never cries in front of me or my father when it hurts her. She always puts us first and tries to keep up with our schedules and needs. Yeah, sure, you can think, “Well that is what a mother is supposed to do, right?”
But you try to simply walk five steps with no
ankles and see how much of it you can tolerate. I get defensive on this topic as you can clearly see. It hasn’t been an easy life 22
that is for sure. Mom and I have fought time and again over all kinds of things from braiding my hair to simply walking around a mall. Finding my biological mother has made it even more difficult on our relationship. You see, because of the disease and some other health factors, my mother could not have children naturally. My father and mother adopted me when I was just three days old. I never knew any other parents growing up except the Riddles’. When I was about five they revealed to me I was adopted, and about twelve years later, through a simple miracle of an old man claiming to be my grandfather, I met my biological mother. It hurt my mom deeply at first that I developed a close relationship with my biological mother. I was just seventeen and starting my senior year in high school. My mother tried to help make things easier, but I still remember the first time I called my biological mother “mom” in front of my mother. It was like daggers shooting out of her eyes. It was at that moment that the little brat in me started using this obvious jealousy to my advantage. I would play them against each other for things. My biological mother being younger and in good health could do all the things my mother couldn’t, and I loved it. I had her braid my hair all the time, and we would spend hours shopping at malls. I remember the first time I used her against my mom. I asked her the first night they came to visit if she would braid my hair in an intricate French style. She, of course, agreed. We sat there in the living room right in front of my mom just talking while she braided. Looking back on that moment I can see the hurt and fear in my mom’s eyes. I didn’t really notice it then. I just thought it was jealousy, and I was angry at her for not wanting me to have my birth mother in my life. I couldn’t understand what it was really doing to her. I regret that time in my life so deeply, and I can never truly convey it to my mother. I wanted those things so badly, and my poor, sweet, somewhat naive biological mother couldn’t understand why she was upsetting my mom. She wanted so desperately for us all to be one big happy family. I even went to live with my biological family for a couple of years. It was due to the fact that they supported a relationship I had with a young man and my adopted parents did not. My mother cried over that time for many nights, my father later told 23
me. It cut her to the core, but all I heard on the phone was her disapproving tone. She always had to seem strong. This was the last time I ever played my mothers against each other. In the end the young man turned out to be a loser as my adopted parents predicted, and both my families bonded together to help me end it. My birth mom actually contacted my mother for help with talking to me. She couldn’t figure out how to reach through my stubborn resolve because she was afraid I would hate her for it. It was at that point I think my mother realized just how much they truly had in common. Thank God I finally came to my senses, and the two moms began to spend more time together. After that they both agreed the most important issue was that they both loved me and wanted the best for me. Now they are communicating with each other instead of using me as a go-between. We now have a great relationship, and I never use my biological mom against my mom anymore. All in all, what I'm trying to say is that my mother may be different due to her medical problem, but it doesn't mean it must ruin our lives. I couldn’t see that as a child or a teen. I was blinded by my selfish nature to want everything to focus and center around me. It took me a long time to realize just what a selfish person I can be and how much I didn’t deserve to have such a strong woman as my mother. Writing this I have tears in my eyes because I can still think on all the times I know I hurt her feelings over being upset about how her disease affected me. I rarely took the time to see how it really was her that was suffering the most. “Mom?” a young woman with blonde curls and big blue eyes asks while sitting at a table reading a book. “Yes, Mikayla?” a brunette woman with light blue eyes says while sitting at another chair at the same table also reading a book. “I love you so much, and I just want to say thank you,” the young woman says with a small smile. She stands up, sets her book on the table, and offers her hand to her mother. “I love you too sweetie, but what are you thanking me for?” the woman asks while setting her book down and letting the young woman lift her up and hug her. “Everything, Mom, everything.” 24
Depression By Kaitlyn Stockton You saw the gun. You didn't know what to do. You never experienced something like this before. You had your phone in your hand, but you couldn't make your fingers move. You watched her. You watched her freak out and jump back. You watched her gather her strength and protect you. You heard her cuss. You heard her yell, scream anything she could at the man. You watched her throw trash, throw her drink. You watched her throw the money out the door. You watched them argue. You watched the idiot waved his/her gun threw the air. You watched the idiot search for the money. You watched him/her run away. You laid your stuff down. You lay on the ground. You cried. She called. You called. He didn't answer. They talked. They laughed. You hurt. He messaged. You were done. He was gone. You froze in place. You were the coward. You were the weak one. If you could have moved, you would have run away. You would have left her on her own. You are weak. You cried for months. You were scared. Everyone left you. They were there, but not really there. You screamed. You retched. You hurt. You hurt others. You were selfish. You were pissed. You missed him. You didn't want him. You wanted another him. Then another. You screwed up. You weren't yourself. You told yourself this. You told her. She was upset. She was angry. She thought it was her fault. She took you to the doctor. He gave you medicine. You were thrilled. You still cried. You cried for weeks. You went back. You met him. You cried. You cried on him. You woke up like it never happened. You left many others. You knew they wouldn't understand. They are 25
strangers now. Blocked. No longer in your life. You wrote. You wrote a lot. You hurt. You still do. You always will.
The House of Robevci
Blagica Ristovska 27
Modern Meets Tradition
Blagica Ristovska 28
POETRY John G. Morris Poetry Prize Winner 2012-2013 Senility Sestina By Amanda Bell A woman, quite old, sits lonely at the bar, Sipping a fancy martini with a lemon And doodling on the stack of napkins Dropped off by the obnoxious waiter. She stares out at her parked car, But stays rooted firmly to her chair. It is not a big, attractive chair, But a high-backed one, made just for a bar With a parking lot full of shiny cars And a patron who lingers and chews lemon, Avoiding the eye of the stressed-out waiter, And adding up the tip on the napkins. She presses too hard and rips the napkins. Shocked, the drink spills onto the ugly chair. The steady dripping draws the panicking waiter, And cheers come from the back of the bar. She wishes she could rescue just the lemon, And take it with her safely to her car. The lemon would be happy in her car, She thinks while fetching new napkins. 29
If the world was perfect, the currency would be lemons; The peels would be left to air-dry on tall chairs. One could buy drinks with them at the bar. The old woman looks around for her waiter. But speak of the devil- here’s the waiter. He offers to escort her to her car. She must pay her tab and leave the bar, But she scribbles a note on the topmost napkin And leaves it sitting on the damp chair, Resting secure under the wedge of lemon. She dwells on it for weeks, that lemon, And thinks about that young waiter. Surely he has long forgotten her by now, and the chair, And the way he escorted her out to her car. But he didn’t, and the scribble she left on the napkin, He keeps in his pocket each night at the bar. It said: “These lemons, dear, are for the car Of a handsome young waiter who brought extra napkins To a lonely old woman in a high-backed chair, in a seedy little bar.”
Abundant Metaphorical Resonance By Jacob Jardel “You don’t remember what happened. What you remember becomes what happened.” --John Green, An Abundance of Katherines That rush, That wave that crashes Against the rocks, Eroding all in its path; It reveals itself, Like Hazel Grace’s love, Slowly, Then all at once. But then, The wave leaves, Pulling away from shore And drowning In horizon. Until it comes back again, Slowly, Then all at once, Taking more in its path, Hammering away Toward that Soft, Loamy, Center— 31
Ad infinitum Until that center Is all thatâ€™s left. Yet still it comes, Slowly, Then all at once, As if to make an Indelible mark On that Soft, Loamy Center: A lasting reminder of That rush, The waves that come Crashing, Both an act And a memory That comes Slowly, then All At Once.
All the Old Haunts By Jacob Jardel Fling open the doors, See the red-light district Of “EXIT” signs— A ghost town In the bustling city, Where time Just Stops As everything around races by Faster than the speed Of speed. Walk through the doors, See intangible people Do tangible things, Walking shadows Who strut and fret Across the stage For hours (Those poor players) Before they fade away As if they were Brief candles Close the doors, See what’s behind But don’t look back— 33
Otherwise, All the old haunts Arenâ€™t old anymore: The lights come on, The shadows reignite, The ghosts materialize, And the haunts just become The doors.
A Woman Called Nana By Sara McLaughlin I once knew a woman called Nana. Nana loved babies. All babies. Short babies, tall babies, Skinny babies, and fat babies. Light babies and dark babies. Every baby was loved by Nana. Nana loved babies like the trees love the first drop of rain in spring. Babies are soft, warm and sweet. Babies loved Nana the way she loved them. Nana was soft, warm and sweet. Nana could do all the things for babies that they couldnâ€™t do. Nana fed babies. Bathed babies. And read them all sorts of stories. Nana made babies happy, But the babies never knew how happy they made Nana. When Nana talked the babies listened. Her words were like the songs of birds. The babies didnâ€™t always understand what she said, But the sound was clear, musical and calm. Nana misses those babies And those babies miss Nana. 35
From way up high She watches those babies grow. The tall babies, the short babies The fat babies, the skinny babies The dark and light babies. Nana watches those babies run in that first spring rain And she listens to the birds who sing their songs clear, musical and calm While the babies play. The babies read And grow. More babies come And Nana watches. I once knew a woman called Nana. Nana loved babies.
My Favorite Song By Mikayla Riddles there it is again that tune coming into play as soon as I wake up I turn on the computer and look it up to ease the desire. At first I play it low for only me to hear, but the addicting intro finishes and I must have it louder. then the beat moves me, I can feel it pulsing through my veins like a shot of adrenaline to my soul. I love this song each note, each chord is almost tangible, I long to touch it.
I can picture the performer in my mindâ€™s eye He is beautiful dancing in beat with the bass. there is a reason they call this pop music. 37
He sings and his voice carries that perfect melody I yearn for more. sure He has a group with him but his voice is the one I hear perfect pitch just the right highs and lows He amazes me. This song touches me at the moment of need, it is like a drug to me my own personal high just singing at the top of my lungs and moving to the music. the song it seems so long so beautiful, such a perfect moment in time
itâ€™s like it was written just for me I am the girl he describes beautiful and self-conscious it fades out and the computer picks the next tune and now I have a new addiction.
Hailey D. Harris 39
FICTION Matt Haag Fiction Scholarship Winner 2012-2013 The Ravenous Well By Amanda Goemmer Cynthia Crawford had lived on Baker Street for five years now, ever since she and her husband Bill had married. She was a respectable woman. Quiet, well mannered, and an excellent cook, everything a wife is supposed to be. Her dark hair was always pulled tight into a bun at the top of her head, stretching her scalp back until it was red around her hairline. She took pride in the fact that her home was impeccably clean. Not a soul came through her front door without remarking on how tidy the sitting room was. Of course, she rarely had guests go so far as to enter the kitchen with her, but if they had, she just knew they’d love how the tile gleamed under their heels. They would marvel at the wide French doors that led into the garden, and then they’d beg to smell the delicate pink blooms on the butterfly bushes. Over the years, stories about Cynthia’s secret cookbook started to float from ear to ear at all the dinner parties. Of course, no such thing really existed; Cynthia kept all of her recipes safe inside her head. “No one can ever get at them in there,” she told herself. While she did host the occasional dinner party when they first moved to the neighborhood, it had been some time since her last. She spent most of her time at home, cooking, cleaning and of course, gardening. On this particular day, Cynthia sat on the terrace enjoying her morning coffee, already making plans for what she would serve for dinner for that evening. “Maybe a roast,” she thought. “A roast, and apple pie for dessert. Bill hasn’t had an apple pie in ages. He’d like that.” She was quietly watching the steam from her mug rise slowly to kiss the cool morning air, when she saw the little beast flying across the lawn. Her eyes followed it carefully, so that she could be sure where it landed. “Another one,” she sighed. “It seems like nothing is strong enough to kill those things!” At once she was on her feet, heading to the little shed in the far corner of the garden. 41
If you weren’t searching for it, the ancient structure would be easy to miss. It lay playfully hidden behind a six-foot wall of oleander shrubs, through which it played peek-a-boo if the wind was strong enough. Its roof sagged down in such a threatening manner that you might even think twice before going in. Not Cynthia, she trusted it. She loved the worn cobblestone walls, and the smell of earth that seemed always to linger there, no matter the season. She stepped over the threshold and moved straight to the wooden shelving on the back wall, pulling the chain on the light she’d had installed a few summers ago. “Let’s see, mask, gloves,” she stood on tiptoe, stretching to reach what she needed the most, “And spray.” Her gray eyes sparkled with excitement as she rushed out in search of the kamikaze beetle. She muttered, “I have a special treat for you today….” Her feet marched toward her beloved hydrangeas, pausing only a moment to carefully place her coffee mug on the lip of the old well. Then, she shook off her robe and let it fall into her wheelbarrow, making it easier to slip the gloves over her fingers and securely snap on her mask. Her silk nightdress didn’t quite reach her knees, and her bun protruded over the strap of the mask in a very odd manner. It didn’t really matter how she looked in the garden though, the flagstone walls were high enough so that no one under six feet tall could poke their nose over the top. That was one of the reasons she and Bill bought this house, for the privacy. Like a cat she crept, slanting her eyes in search of the fiend. She was moving among the hydrangeas when something a bit strange caught her eye, a small crack in the cobblestone. She had bent to get a closer look at the oddity when she saw him. “Aha,” she thought. There he was, sitting smugly on a bundle of sapphire buds. She raised the label-less black spray bottle until it was only a few inches away, then she let him have it. One squeeze and he was doused in an odorless, tasteless draught of death. His wings fluttered a moment before he fell defeated to the hungry earth below. “Yes! It works!” she shouted aloud, punching her fist into the air. She had finally found a pesticide that could kill the little petal-munchers. Of course, she did have to special order it online from Russia, and it did cost a small fortune for the 22 oz. bottle, but it was worth it. Bill had been skeptical; it had taken weeks to convince 42
him that she should buy it. She’d tried to go an easier route but it couldn’t be found in the States anymore, the EPA had banned it some years back, too toxic they said, or at least, that’s what the website said. All that she had to do now was locate the nest, and she’d be rid of them for good. In her enthusiasm Cynthia spun around and reached for her mug, but missed, nudging it with her extended fingers just enough so that it tipped back and vanished inside the mouth of the well. “Oh!” she said, peering within, but fully knew it was lost. The well was overgrown with thick twisting vines and green leafing plants; anything that fell inside vanished beneath the flora and went straight to the bottom. “Shoot,” she thought. She tried to move some of the plants around, hoping it had become lodged somewhere within arms reach, but no luck. An audible sigh escaped her as she gave up the search and stared into the mass of tangled green. She thought to herself how wonderful it would be if she could shove troublesome things down the well. Bad memories, mismatched socks, burnt biscuits. She walked back into the shed and began to put away her gear, making sure that everything was in its place. For a moment she stopped to admire her tools, all neatly arranged and suspended by hooks on the walls. The shears and clippers gleamed; they’d been freshly sharpened only a week earlier. A few lengths of rope hung on odd hooks here and there, and several spades leaned against the back corner in shadow. After a final glance to the shelves to be absolutely sure that everything was in order, she tugged the light-chain once more and left, retrieving her robe and making her way into the house to dress for the day. Bill would be awake soon, and she wanted to sit with him during breakfast. By the time she finished her shower and slipped into her jeans, she found that Bill had already gone out. A half empty glass of scotch sat unattended on the kitchen table, which was otherwise spotless. After washing and returning it to its place on the shelf next to the bottle of dark liquor, she went to the living room window, searching for Bill through the glass. His muscular figure was knelt before the white picket fence in front of Ms. Wood’s house, busy hammering a panel into place. She hated the thought of him working for that horrid woman at all; the sight of him on bended knee in her front lawn as soon as he had finished his breakfast was nearly too much for 43
her to take. Cynthia had just finished absorbing the scene when the woman appeared at his side, offering him a glass of iced tea, which, to Cynthia’s dismay, he accepted. She pursed her lips, and decided that it would be a good time to check the mail. As she walked outside Bill set back to work, but she could feel Ms. Wood’s green eyes following her all the way to the end of the walkway. Cynthia waved to her, trying to be cordial. Ms. Wood started toward her. “How are you doing today, Cynthia? Why don’t you come over for a chat, I haven’t seen you out and about in a while,” she said. Cynthia stared down her nose at the little woman, who twisted her fingers a moment before going on. “You know, I’m leaving town to visit my sister tomorrow evening and I was hoping you might think about letting me borrow that cookbook of yours that everyone is always talking about. I know she’d just love your cherry cobbler –” Cynthia had to focus all of her energy in order to keep her eyes from rolling in her head. “Ms. Wood, there’s no cookbook. I’ve never had a cookbook,” she snapped. Ms. Wood blinked at her. “And I’m sorry I don’t have time to talk today. Bill’s going to go pick up my rose bushes, so I have to get the ground ready for them.” Ms. Wood’s eyes grew dark, and her jaw hardened. Cynthia was thoroughly unprepared for what Ms. Wood said next. “Oh you and that little garden,” she laughed, waving her hand dismissively. “You know, now that I think of it, maybe you would appreciate what my husband gave to me yesterday… a rare Ghost Orchid! Can you believe that? I haven’t even put it into the ground yet.” Cynthia laughed, and crossed her arms, “That’s impossible… I mean, you don’t expect me to believe that do you?” A wide grin spread across Ms. Wood’s face, “Well, my husband has his ways. Just ask Bill, he was there, and I’m surprised he didn’t tell you. He said it was the most beautiful thing he’d ever seen.” Cynthia’s face turned scarlet, and she stared open-mouthed at Bill, who was too far away to have heard what had been said. Ms. Wood smiled at the shock on Cynthia’s face. “Well, I’ll let you get to your gardening then. You should take a break later to come see the orchid; I don’t expect you’ll ever have another opportunity to see 44
anything so… exceptional.” Cynthia watched her glide away, and hated her for swaying her hips, and even hated her raven hair for blowing in the wind behind her. Cynthia trudged back into her house thinking about the orchid, imagining its delicate white petals dangling from its slender green stem. She wondered how Ms. Wood’s husband managed to get hold of one. Feeling rather morose, she retreated into the kitchen to sulk. When Bill came in for lunch, Cynthia had ready two bowls of cold melon soup on the table. They ate in silence at first; Bill didn’t seem to appreciate the meal at all. He slurped it down, spoonful after spoonful, dribbling a bit of the mint colored liquid onto his paint stained shirt. Cynthia watched in disgust, thinking of the mess she would have to clean up when he was finished. They went on like this for quite a while, until she decided to ask him something she’d been thinking about since her conversation earlier with Ms. Wood. “Bill…did Ms. Wood’s husband really get her a Ghost Orchid?” She sat up straight, staring at the bumblebees zooming around the lilies along the terrace. “Yeah, so what?” he said, as he wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. “Why didn’t you tell me?” she swallowed. “Because it’s just a flower.” “Ms. Wood said you thought it was beautiful.” “So what if I did?” Cynthia looked down at her hands, and began twisting her wedding band around her finger. “She doesn’t deserve it. She doesn’t even appreciate it. And….” “And what?” “I don’t like you going over there every weekend.” “She needs my help around the house Cynthia.” “I need you too.” She paused, and then said, “Why can’t her own husband help her?” He sighed, and when she looked at his face, it seemed to flicker with some understanding. She was surprised, Bill was never a man to furrow his brow, or look 45
as though he were thinking at all. Standing, he opened the cabinet and grabbed his scotch glass, filling it to the brim with the amber poison. She sighed. “Bill, do you love me?” “Of course.” “Would you do something for me?” She hesitated a moment before going on. She’d never asked anything like this of him before, and she knew she had to be persuasive. “Bill, I want you to steal the orchid.” He looked down at her, startled by the request. She stood and rushed around the table to him, taking his hands in her own. “She doesn’t know how to take care of something that precious,” she said. “I could plant it in the garden, it could be our secret!” He took a step away from her, backing into the counter. He scanned over her with his eyes, as though she had switched places with someone else when he wasn’t looking. “Cynthia, I can’t do that – ” “But you can! Listen, Bill,” she pulled his face toward her own, trying to keep him from walking away. “They’ll never know it was you, she trusts you!” She dragged her fingertips down his cheeks, feeling the rough stubble catch beneath them. His breath filled her nose and burned her eyes. He gazed down at her desperate face; Cynthia tried to read his mind, then tried forcing her own thoughts into his head. He looked away, and took a drink of scotch, “Cynthia, I love you, but I’m not going to steal that flower.” She pulled him toward herself, silently pleading. He softly pushed her away, “Come on, this is silly, it’s a flower. I’m not going to do this, Cynthia.” Suddenly livid, she snatched the scotch glass from his grasp and flung it down, watching it shatter to pieces at their feet. Her face burned, while his wide eyes focused on the amber liquid creeping across the tile floor. They stood still for a moment, glaring at one another. Bill’s hands were slack, and Cynthia’s were balled into fists. Her eyes brimmed with tears as he shook his 46
head, then turned on his heel and left the room. Cynthia heard the front door slam, and began pacing the room, crying in frustration. “I want that orchid,” she thought, absentmindedly crushing a piece of the broken glass beneath her heel. She bent, and started picking up the pieces with her hands. She felt a sudden sting in her finger, but continued picking up all of the slivers, even as her blood began to streak the tile floor and mix with the liquor. She went to the bathroom, and washed her hands with warm soapy water. It burned her finger, and she ignored it. Her swollen eyes were fixed on the reflection in the mirror; a few bits of her hair had come free from her bun, framing her round face. She tucked them back into place, and with some difficulty managed to curl her lips into a faint smile. “I have to get dinner started,” she thought, “And the kitchen tile needs scrubbing.” Although she couldn’t remember when it happened, she had decided not to make the apple pie. Instead, she went straight into making the roast. Chopping up the carrots, potatoes and celery vigorously so that she could get to cleaning the floor. She took the thawed slab of beef out of the refrigerator and plopped it onto the cutting board. While she applied the seasonings her thoughts jumbled together. “Salt, Pepper…how could he do that? Paprika, ground onion… garlic, who does he think he is to tell me no? Now where’s the flour….” She grabbed it from the cabinet, and a sudden pang from her finger caused her to very nearly drop the bag. “Oh!” She looked at the slit, now filled with a wet mixture of spices and blood from the meat. Clearing her throat she carried on, quickly covering the beef with flour and tossing it into the pan of vegetables. After pushing dinner into the oven and setting the timer she began scouring the floor, paying careful attention to the mess Bill’s scotch had made earlier. Once the kitchen seemed clean enough Cynthia examined her spice rack, making sure that each had been returned to its proper place on the shelf, and then remembered that she had to prepare the garden bed for the rose bushes. As she walked outside the smell of rain rolled over her. Retrieving her spade from the shed, she began driving it into the waiting earth. It was cathartic, digging…she grinned as the blade severed several earthworms in half in one stroke. Rain began to fall lightly as she formed a U shape around the well. If she went all the way around, no one 47
would be able to get close enough to see the crumbling stones that she admired so much. “The face of it should be perfectly aligned with the terrace,” she thought. As she worked, she had filled the wheelbarrow with soil, and smiled, knowing the roses would arrive later, eager to be torn from their undersized plastic pots. She lifted the arms of the wheelbarrow, heavy with earth, pausing to watch clouds as they raced through the sky, and noting their strange ashen hue. She decided it would be best to put the wheelbarrow inside during the storm. Thunder rolled as she trudged to the shed, slipping a little on her way. When she came back out the rain was picking up; it pelted her shoulders and trailed down to the small of her back as she walked toward the terrace. Suddenly, Cynthia thought she heard Bill’s voice, but it wasn’t coming from inside the house. She moved to the garden wall, and knelt down in the wet grass, peering through the crack she had discovered earlier. There he was, standing at Ms. Wood’s back door. Cynthia was confused, “What’s he doing?” she wondered. For a wild moment, she thought that he had changed his mind about her proposal. Then, she gasped. Ms. Wood leaned in and kissed him full on the mouth… and he didn’t pull away. They looked…familiar with one another. Cynthia’s dirty palms flew to her mouth, just as the squeak of shock and betrayal burst through her lips. They laughed and spoke in hushed whispers; he touched his forehead to hers. She couldn’t make out what they were saying; she couldn’t hear anything for that matter. Her ears were filled with the sound of rain and thunder. She backed away from the crack in the wall. It seemed monstrous now, enormous…much larger than it had been a moment ago. Bolting upright she looked to the shed, realizing she had left the light on. Her features hardened, an onlooker could have mistaken her for a statue if they had come upon her now. Then, cutting through the rain like a blade her marble frame moved through the entryway of the shed once again. Jerking the light-chain with unnecessary force, she said, “I think I’ll make a cobbler tonight.” Cynthia was soaking cherries in a sugar mix when Bill came in. She had just added the final ingredients, and watched as each cherry bobbed on the surface of the mix; a few had already begun to sink, heavy with syrup. She’d had time to change her rain-soaked clothes, although her hair was still a bit damp. She placed Bill’s full 48
plate on the table along with her own. “Where did you go Bill?” she called, taking a seat. “I just went on a walk, I needed some time alone,” he said, entering the room. A muscle in her face began to twitch involuntarily at the sight of his boots, which were covered in mud. Her eyes followed a trail of prints, which she imagined led all the way to the front door. She smiled at him then dropped her gaze, and began staring at her wounded finger. He stared at it too. A minute passed, and he walked behind her, wrapping his arms around her. A small part of her wished he’d stay there, frozen with her. He lifted her finger to his mouth and kissed it, but if a look of regret had passed over his face, she didn’t recognize it. “Bill, did you remember to pick up my roses today?” she asked. “I’m sorry, sweetie,” he muttered, resting his chin on her head. “I completely forgot, I’m sorry…I’ll get them first thing tomorrow okay?” Cynthia nodded silently. He let his hands slide to her shoulders. “You wanted the white ones, right?” She noticed that his watch was missing, and closed her hand over his wrist where it should have been. After a second of deliberation, she decided she wasn’t going to bring it up. “I’ve changed my mind…I think I want red roses.” He nodded, and took his place at the table. They ate in silence, listening to the silver dance across their plates. When they finished, Bill stretched, and stood, leaving his plate on the table. “Are you coming to bed?” He asked. “Oh, no…I have to stay up and finish making my cherry cobbler,” she said. Bill left the table, and walked out of the room without a backward glance. She listened sadly to the familiar thumps and swooshes that came from the bedroom, and then sat for what seemed like ages in the silence that followed. Bill had been sleeping for over an hour when Cynthia had finished making the cobbler and clearing his mess from the table. She took his decanter of scotch from the cabinet, and placed it on the counter in front of her, thinking about what she’d seen through the wall. She ran her fingers along the glass bottle, and admired the way the light shone through it, seeming to illuminate the liquid within. Her thoughts raced, darting from the muddy footprints, to the orchid, and to the garden. She stood, and walked around the table, opening a cabinet filled with rarely used appliances and long forgotten Tupperware. She reached behind the deep fryer and pulled out the black bottle she had hidden there earlier, then placed it on the counter 49
next to the scotch. She stared at the two, “They’re both poison…” she thought. She began to bite her lip, and fiddled with her wedding band, twisting it slowly around her finger. She squeaked, and snatched up the bottle, putting it behind the deep fryer once more. She crossed the room, and pulled her cleaning supplies from under the sink. After filling a small bucket with bleach, she began to scrub the muddy tiles. It was such an odd thing, but Cynthia swore that the more she scrubbed, the more mud there seemed to be. She scrubbed as fast as she could, going in vicious circles that caused her hair to fall out of its bun in random places. A sudden knock at the door made the air catch in her throat; her voice cracked when she shouted, “Who is it?” No one answered. Startled, she shoved the cleaning supplies back under the sink. “Who could that be?” she thought. She walked on tiptoe to the door and opened it just a crack. “Oh, my…” she said. “Is everything okay?” Ms. Wood asked. She peered curiously at Cynthia’s disheveled hair and reddened hands, then around her into the house. Cynthia paused a moment, then said, “Sure is.” “Okay…well I brought Bill’s watch over. He must have taken it off when he was working on my fence. I found it outside.” Ms. Wood batted her eyes. “Isn’t he home?” “He’s sleeping,” Cynthia answered. To her extreme irritation, Ms. Wood stood there on the front step, twisting a tendril of hair around her finger. The rain began to blow into the house, dotting the hardwood floor. “Where did you say Bill left his watch?” Cynthia asked. “Near the fence, on the lawn,” she said. “Odd. Bill normally keeps his watch on unless he’s getting into bed,” Cynthia said, taking a step toward Ms. Wood. “Well, maybe it got in his way when he was working….” She blushed, holding the watch outward, and Cynthia took it from her gently. “Maybe,” Cynthia smiled. Ms. Wood’s hair caught in a sudden gust of wind, blowing up about her face. She shivered, and just as Cynthia thought she would turn to walk away, Ms.Wood said, “I’m sorry, Cynthia.” 50
Cynthia gaped, “Excuse me?” “I’m sorry, for rubbing it in about that orchid,” she said. Cynthia blinked, taken aback. Ms. Wood was shifting nervously from one foot to another, staring at Cynthia’s fingers, which were once again twisting her wedding band. “I shouldn’t have done that. I don’t even know anything about that flower, I only asked my husband to get one to make you jealous. It’s already dead, I had no idea what I was doing with it….” she blurted. Cynthia’s head jerked up. “It’s dead?” “What?” “The orchid…it’s dead?” “Well, yes. But, I’m leaving to visit my sister tomorrow and I just wanted you to know that I am sorry, really.” Cynthia stared numbly at the ground. She had never even lain her eyes on it, and it was gone. Her mind drifted back to Bill. “If he’d only stolen it like I told him to,” she thought. She became aware that Ms. Wood was staring at her. “Thanks,” she said. The word felt like a jagged chunk of ice as she forced it upward through her constricted throat. “Oh, and, could you ask Bill to stop by tomorrow? I want to talk to him about…” she paused, “my gate.” Cynthia glared at her, seething with rage. “Sure, I’ll tell him.” She watched as Ms. Wood rushed back through the rain to her house, and then she closed the door. Cynthia didn’t get to bed until well after midnight. The storm had begun to pass as she crawled under the blankets beside Bill’s slumbering form. In the dark, she wrapped her arms around him. She fell asleep like that, counting each breath that he took beside her, while the rain fell lightly, and with indifference on the roof above her. The next day, Cynthia delivered the message to Bill, and afterward they had little to say to one another. He went out as soon as he woke up to get the rosebushes, and for the most part, they really were wonderful. They bore the sweetest smelling 51
blossoms and only a few petals were bruised; she could tell that Bill had taken great care in choosing them. She spent the day in the garden, planting her roses, and he spent the day working on Ms. Wood’s fence…presumably. She stayed well away from the garden wall. That night, after dinner, Cynthia gave Bill a saucer of cherry cobbler. A huge corner piece, they were his favorite. She sat across from him, staring past him and out at the wheelbarrow, now empty. Bill ate as he normally did, without chewing. Sweat beads formed on his forehead, and his face slowly turned a deep shade of pink. Cynthia had cut a small piece from the edge of the dessert for herself, and had only taken two bites before Bill had finished his serving. It took him perhaps a minute to finish the entire thing; and of course, Cynthia noted, he’d dropped countless crumbs on the table. After his plate was clean he belched, and stretched. Cynthia smiled at him, deciding it was time to talk. “I forgot to tell you that Ms. Wood brought this over last night,” she said, holding out Bill’s watch. He looked at it, and then at her. “Oh.” She leaned toward him, and let it fall with a bang to the table. “I saw you two together, Bill.” He hung his head, and folded his hands on top of the table. “What do you want me to say, Cynthia?” “Tell me why.” “Let’s not do this, it doesn’t matter why,” he said. “It does to me. Do you want to leave?” she asked. He looked down at his empty plate. “Yes.” She rose slowly from her chair, and marched toward the cabinet where his scotch sat hidden behind the door. “Are you sure? There’s nothing I can do to make you stay?” she asked. Bill drummed his fingers on the table, and looked over his shoulder at her. “I do love you, Cynthia,” he said. She started to let her hand drop from the door. “I just can’t deal with your obsessions anymore. I can’t do it.” She yanked open the cabinet and pulled out the crystal bottle. 52
“Fine,” she said. She poured a huge glass of scotch, and set it carefully on the table in front of him. He looked at the glass and then at her, his features twisted in bemusement. “Do you really want to hear why, Cynthia?” “Yes.” “It’s because things are strange here,” he said. He tugged his beard as his brown eyes flitted between Cynthia and the terrace. She raised an eyebrow, “What do you mean?” He leaned toward her, placing one hand on top of hers. “Cynthia, you treat me like I don’t feel anything at all. You treat everyone that way.” He lifted her chin. “I think you should talk to someone,” he said. “You weren’t always like this. You spend all of your time in the house, or in the garden. And after that scene yesterday, I’m just not sure what’s going on in your head; there’s something wrong, I can feel it. You’ve never acted that way with me.” “You’re having an affair, but I’m the one who needs help?” she said. “You told me just yesterday that you loved me. What a fool you must think I am!” “Cynthia…” he said quietly. She watched him intently, and shifted in her chair as he took a huge drink of the scotch she’d handed him earlier. “You should have stolen the orchid, Bill,” she said. “What?” “She killed it. She killed the orchid, and she killed you too.” “What are you talking about?” he asked, breathing heavily. “It didn’t have to be this way; I didn’t want to do this.” He stood up, slowly, and her eyes followed him, as she slowly began sucking the cherries from the tip of her fork. “Stay in your seat, Bill…It’ll be easier that way,” she said. She rose, and quickly strode to the cabinet containing the black bottle. After pulling it out and slamming the cabinet door, she shook the empty container in front of his face. “This stuff really works, Bill. I told you it’d be worth the money,” she said. Bill’s eyes began to bulge; he rose slowly, walking around the table, stumbling against the refrigerator as he passed it. Cynthia tugged at him, trying to force him 53
back into his chair. “Sit down, “she said. He pushed her away, unable to speak. His body began to convulse wildly; falling, he cracked his head against the counter before landing with a thud on the floor. She watched him writhing, and found herself thinking, strangely, of the earthworms in the garden. When he finally lay still she knelt beside him. A trembling hand she held over his mouth, and felt no breath. She traced his lips with her fingertips, and pressed her forehead to his. Satisfied with her handiwork she stood, but then she noticed the small puddle of blood that had started to pool beneath Bill’s head. She panicked, “This was perfect Bill, and you had to go and ruin it. Why couldn’t you have just stayed in your damn chair?” Hastily she grabbed a kitchen towel from the cabinet and wrapped it around his head, tying a knot at the front. She knew she had to hurry now, before the blood soaked through and made a huge mess. Stumbling, she ran around his body, and lifted a leg in each arm. After turning him about by spinning him on his back like a morbid top, she dragged him slowly out onto the terrace, stopping intermittently to re-wrap his head. Cynthia managed to get him onto the terrace without much hassle. “Now this is going to be the tricky part,” she thought. She tilted the waiting wheelbarrow onto its side, and rolled Bill’s torso onto the edge. Then, she ran into the shed and retrieved a length of rope. She wrapped it around Bill and the wheelbarrow several times over, to ensure that he was quite secure, and then arranged herself so the bottom of the wheelbarrow faced her. “Okay, here we go….” With all her strength, she pulled. It took some work, but finally the wheelbarrow and its cargo flipped toward her, and she dove safely out of the way. Bill was in the wheelbarrow. She had to think that thought over and over again. Bill is in the wheelbarrow. She twisted his limbs about, hoping he would be easier to push that way. It was slow work, but she made it to the well. The wheelbarrow was positioned perfectly, right in the center of the U, with its edge against the lip. She untied the rope, so as to be able to slide Bill’s body into the wide hungry mouth. Resting his shoulders on the rim, she moved to the other side of the well and stretched carefully across, trying to avoid crushing any of the new rosebushes. She slipped a bit on the grass, but managed to get a firm grip on Bill’s shirtsleeves. She pushed against the base of the well with her feet, and pulled Bill toward her with all her might. 54
“Goodbye, Bill,” she muttered. Cynthia couldn’t have predicted what happened next. The wheelbarrow shifted, pulling Bill’s body away from her, and as she tried to get control, she fell forward into the well. The only thing that kept her from being devoured entirely was that she had clung desperately to Bill’s body, which was now hanging half in and half out of the well. She panicked, watching as Bill began to inch downward on the inner cobblestones. She kept her grip on his shirt, and tried to climb out, reaching for his belt. She lost her footing, panicked, and began to kick frantically while screaming for help. The wild movement caused Bill’s body to lurch forward, but his boot caught in a bundle of twisted vines, keeping the two of them from plummeting to the bottom of the well. Cynthia tried pushing her foot against the stone wall, and felt something crunch beneath it. She had finally found where the kamikaze beetles had made their nest. Her intrusion sent hundreds of them flying around inside the small stone enclosure. They were humming through the air all about her; the sound flooded her ears, echoing off of the cold walls. They crawled all over her body in the dark. She screamed, inhaling several that had attacked her face. As Cynthia tried desperately to claw them from her mouth, she called for Bill, for Ms. Woods, but she was alone. Tears streamed down her cheeks as she hugged Bill tightly, burying her face into his chest. A final screech echoed in the well as his body broke free from the tangled branches, and the two vanished into the darkness. The night was silent as the beetles tore from their hiding place, whirring hungrily toward Cynthia’s hydrangeas, where they dined undisturbed on flawless sapphire blooms.
For Emily By Amanda Bell The sun had set in Widdecombe, and all was quiet. The birds had gone to roost, the villagers had returned to their homes for the evening meal, and the village vicar, Thomas Steward, was sitting alone in his room, examining maps, as was his hobby. The Kingdom of the Four Arrows was large and prosperous, and the vicar greatly enjoyed looking over its features, wondering at the places he had never been – and never would be. The life of a parish priest was none too glamorous. However, he made do. He’d had several opportunities to leave the village behind for a larger parish, but he always stayed, content to stay among his flock of forty-five villagers. He briefly wondered if Farmer Prence’s wife had given birth yet. Better make it fortysix, just in case. His dear hometown of Widdecombe was a small village in the south-east of the kingdom, situated perfectly on the bank of a small and peaceful river. Surrounded on the remaining three sides by dense forests, the town was mostly hidden from view. The people had everything they needed to survive - a harbor for trade, the forests for game and lumber, and fertile soil for farming.
Thomas wouldn't trade his life in
Widdecombe for anything else, not even the capital city and all the jewels in the Crown. Settling down more comfortably in his chair by the fireplace, he allowed his thoughts to wander, concerned about the rising tensions in the north of the kingdom. The city of Hepbury, where the kingdom’s soldiers were sent to train in cold weather, had been rumored to have found a new type of weapon that would help defeat any invaders from nearby kingdoms. Thomas himself didn’t see the point for any new war technology – the Kingdom of the Four Arrows had been at peace for over a century. Not to mention, being of the priestly class, alchemy made him distinctly uncomfortable. It was far too reliant on magic and not enough on God, for his tastes. A sudden knock on his door shook him out of his thoughts, and he rose from his chair to see who it was. None of the villagers should have been out at this time of 56
night, and Widdecombe hadn’t seen any new faces in many months – the forests took care of that. Thomas peered through the window, startled to see a young, dirty face staring back at him. He opened the door quickly. “Emily! What on earth are you doing out after dark?” The girl said nothing, but stepped past him, knowing without asking that she was welcome, as always. “I got lost on the way back from the forest, and it was dark before I got to the village gate. I thought maybe I could stay here tonight, so I don’t have to walk all the way home?” Emily, the youngest daughter of Farmer Prence, lived all the way at the other end of the village, near the docks; not a very long trip, but hard for a tired child. Thomas frowned at her, not giving in just yet. “Your mother and father are probably sick with fear by now. Why don’t I just help you home?”
Emily pouted and began to whine, scuffing at the floor of his
cottage with one bare, dirty foot. “But I don’t want to go home! Robert’s come back from Hepbury, and he’s acting all queer. It’s like he’s not even the same person anymore!” Thomas had hardly been listening, used to drowning out Emily’s complaints with his own thoughts. Years of Sunday school had taught him the best strategy for ignoring her. However, he perked up when he heard her mention Hepbury. He knew her brother, as one of the king’s soldiers, had been sent to train there, but he hadn’t known the boy would be back so soon. Of course, he really wasn’t a boy anymore after joining the army, was he? “Has he now? Well then, I’d better go see your parents and offer my blessings to Robert for a safe journey home. So, why don’t I just walk you home and kill two birds with one stone?” Thomas smirked, knowing that for all of Emily’s conniving spirit, she couldn’t come up with a logical argument against his plan. After a few loud protestations, during which Thomas managed to gather a basket of fruit from his garden (it was a particularly long tantrum, he noted), they were ready to leave. They headed north from his cottage, going over the bridge that led to the other side of the village. As they walked along the cobbled streets, he tried to make small talk with Emily, and find out a little about the discovery at Hepbury at the same time. “Has Robert told you anything about his months in Hepbury? Rumor has it that 57
the royal alchemists have been fast at work.” Emily shook her head. “He won’t tell me anything! Mama and Papa keep shooing me out of the room every time he starts to talk about being a soldier. And he keeps talking about this new sort of book that everyone has to read. I keep telling them that I’m old enough to listen, but all that gets me are more chores to do, so that I can’t eavesdrop. They had me picking wild onions from the forest edge earlier, and that’s why I’m all dirty. It took me hours to find a good sized patch of them!” “Emily,” he asked quietly, “can you tell me what soldiers do?” She gave him a wide smile in response. “Sure! They play games with the King so he doesn’t get bored, right? That’s why I don’t understand why Mama won’t let me listen! I want to learn the games that the capital children play! And I bet that book has lots of fairytales in it!” Thomas nodded silently, thankful to Heaven that Emily’s parents had sheltered her so far. She’s still too young to know about war, and the cost of a safe kingdom, he thought to himself. But it wouldn’t be long until her childhood was over, and she’d have to learn the harsh truths. It seemed like only a blink of an eye since he’d christened her, and now here she was, eleven years old and growing fast. “Vicar Steward,” she asked, “are you okay?” Snapping back to attention, Thomas realized that it had been several minutes since he’d asked her the question, and that he’d been woolgathering for almost the entire trip. He could see Emily’s house in the distance, a shadowy figure waving its arms in the air. It was probably Elizabeth, her mother. But as they drew closer, he realized that it wasn’t Elizabeth at all, or even one of the Prence family at all. It was William Tench, the village sheriff, and his face was drawn and grave. Thomas looked down worriedly at Emily, only to see that she wasn’t there. She was running ahead to cheerfully greet the sheriff, unaware that anything was wrong. He envied her innocence. He walked the remaining distance slowly, watching as Tench drew the girl aside and whispered to her, keeping a tight grip on her arm. Something was very, very wrong. “Sheriff!” he called out as he approached the pair. “What happened here?” Sweeping his eyes over the house, he took in the important details, feeling dread grow 58
heavier in his stomach with each second – the door was broken, hanging off of one hinge. The interior was dark and silent, and he could see nothing but a few dark shapes, and a growing puddle of wet dirt as whatever was leaking soaked into the floor of the cottage. He had a sinking feeling that he knew exactly what that puddle was. Emily, having realized something was amiss, was struggling in Tench’s grip, calling out desperately for her family. Thomas headed warily inside the cottage, muffling an oath as he saw the devastation laid bare before him – Farmer Prence and his wife were lying on the hard dirt floor, the surface stained with absorbed blood. The woman’s belly was still full, and he knew without having to examine her that the child had been lost as well. Robert was slumped in his chair by the fireplace, eyes glassy. It had been a ruthless killing, cruel and methodical. Thomas sent a quiet prayer to Heaven that their souls would find peace. He exited the cottage carefully, just as Emily broke free from Tench’s grip, and he tried to block her way in. However, she was much too fast for him and slipped past him, taking only two steps into the cottage before her high-pitched scream echoed from the walls and spread along the streets. Thomas ran in after her and pulled her away from her family’s bodies, kneeling down outside the cottage and letting her cling to him as she sobbed. He looked around for Tench, idly stroking Emily’s hair as a weak attempt at comfort. He noticed that a group of neighbors had gathered across the street, drawn by the commotion, and Tench was in the midst of them, probably interrogating them. Catching his eye, Thomas quickly ushered the sheriff over. “William, what went on in that cottage? Did no one help them? Did no one hear the screams?” He was horrified at the thought that a family could be murdered in their own home, and their neighbors could have let it happen without so much as a whisper of trouble. Tench shook his head. “I’ve asked everyone that lives on this street. Whatever happened, it happened after sunset, and it was quiet.” He hesitated for a moment, and then his voice grew hushed and cautious. “You think it has something to do with the boy and whatever’s happening up in Hepbury? Those alchemists are queer folk, 59
and I don’t rightly know why King Richard lets them get anywhere near him. They’re dangerous, what with messing around with all that magic. It’s not natural. They’ll do something horrible someday, and it’ll come down on all of our heads. In fact, I figure that’s what happened here. Something bad happened up in Hepbury, and someone made sure that Robert didn’t live to tell anyone about it.” Thomas stayed silent for a moment, contemplating, before noticing a slight tug at his robes. He looked down to see Emily’s tear-stained face staring back at him, eyes red and puffy from crying. It reminded him so deeply of the tantrums she’d thrown as a little girl that he almost smiled. But this wasn’t a tantrum, it was grief. True, honest mourning, for a family and a life she’d taken for granted. His heart ached for her. But there, in the midst of the pain and sorrow, he saw a flicker of something else. Something that burned. Thomas’s attention was drawn back to Tench, as the sheriff shifted uncomfortably on his feet before letting out a heavy sigh. “It looks like the only way we’ll ever find out what happened is to go sniffing around for soldiers. There were a few boys from Foxham that went and joined the army too. If they’ve been…” he trailed off, but to Thomas it was obvious where his trail of thought was leading. If they’d been murdered too, the evidence led only to Hepbury and the king’s alchemists. “I want to come with you,” Emily said after a few silent moments passed. “I have to find out what happened to Mama and Papa, and Robert… and I don’t have anywhere else to go.” She looked up at Thomas fearfully, as if she thought he would force her to stay. She should have known better – he was never able to say no to a sad child. He tried again and again to coax her to stay, all the while feeling his resolve weakening. Eventually, his words lost their power and all he could do was look at Tench for backup, but the support didn’t come. The sheriff just nodded his head in agreement. “She needs to come, Vicar. It’s for justice.” Thomas just shook his head, trying again to be stern. “Don’t be ridiculous. It’s not justice; it’s suicide!” I’m not going to give in this easily. Emily deserved the remaining shreds of her childhood. She certainly didn’t need to be dragged on a wildgoose chase with casualties. Emily rocked back and forth, still clutching at his tunic. 60
Every once in a while, she let out a soft, anxious whimper as Tench and Thomas argued about what to do. The discussion was over within minutes–Thomas and Tench would start the journey to Foxham to look for other soldiers. If they found – well, if they found what they thought they would find, they would move on to Hepbury and investigate there. But Thomas was firm on his decision that Emily was not going to come with them. At least, he pretended to be firm. Inwardly, he was quaking. What would happen when his resolve finally vanished and he had to give in? He sent a silent prayer heavenward, asking for strength. There was no reply. Emily cleared her throat and wiped her face, looking up at the adults with a calmer expression. “I knew the soldiers didn’t play games with King Richard…and they didn’t get to read fairy tales. I just wanted to keep pretending for a little longer. Last year, Robert wrote a letter home to Mama about how horrible it was to be a soldier. He didn’t mean for me to see the letter, but I got to it before Mama did. He forgot that I learned how to read. I tried not letting Mama know that I found it, but I always remembered what I read. How cold and hungry he was, and how scary it was to think that at any moment, he could have died. Robert was so scared of being a soldier, but they sent him to Hepbury anyway! They made him train, and fight, and now he’s dead, and they killed him! I know they did! So you see, I have to go, and find out what happened. I have to make those stupid alchemists sorry they hurt my brother. I’ll even fight King Richard if I have to.” An audible silence fell over the crowd of neighbors across the street, and Thomas quickly covered Emily’s mouth. “Hush child, you’ll get us all hanged for treason! Besides, it is not your place to judge the king. We don’t even know if he’s involved. I’m sure if he knew what happened here, he would have his best soldiers searching every inch of the kingdom for clues.” Thomas continued to murmur platitudes, although the leaden feeling in his stomach, growing heavier with each passing second, told him that his words were meaningless. The king had to be involved, in one way or another. Either he knew what had happened, or the alchemists had been keeping him completely in the dark. Thomas wasn’t sure which was worse. Emily kicked and bucked, trying to force him to remove his hand, and finally 61
managed to wiggle free. While she was wise enough not to say anything more about the king, Thomas was the recipient of a glare that could turn ice into molten iron. It was Tench who made the next move, coming closer and kneeling down to Emily’s level. “Fightin’ the king isn’t going to bring your family back. Now I’m a firm believer in justice, and I think that since it was your family that this happened to, that you should be part of the investigation. I also believe that you should have the say as to what happens in your own life. I’m willin’ to let you come with us as a member of the investigative force” – A nice name for a group of ragtag wanderers, Thomas noted – “But not if all you’re going to do is talk foolishness and get us all killed before we set foot out of Widdecombe. You’re going to have to grow up at some point, girl. I won’t be putting my own life on the line for a child’s happily ever after story.” Emily remained quiet for a moment, thinking about what the Sheriff had said. Thomas thought he almost saw cart wheels spinning in her head as she contemplated an answer. Finally, they received an answer in the form of a weak sigh. “Fine then. I’ll leave the king out of it, for he is the rightful ruler and the divine guardian of the kingdom, and everything else that we were taught to say. But I’m going to Hepbury with you, and nobody is going to tell me differently!” She stamped her foot in emphasis, and Thomas smiled, glad to see a small remnant of childhood in her. That meant he still had the high ground. But could he honestly deny her the right to see her family avenged? The small voice in the back of his head, which he had long since come to associate with his better judgment, whispered in the negative. Let her go, Thomas. She deserves to see this through. Only God can shelter her from the storms – she’ll have to face the rest herself. There was no denying it any longer – he would have to let her come, knowing all the while the dangers they would have to face, along with many other things he could only dare to dream of. But he had to. She needed to go. She needed him to let her. The choice was made with a few words, though they were the hardest he had ever had to speak. “Alright, Emily. You can come.” 62
Transparent Lovers By Maurice Buckner They sat there on the rocks as waves crashed in, spraying sprinkles of water in every direction. After a deep inhalation of the watery mist mixed with the Pacific air she said, “It’s much better on this side don’t you think?” Avery hesitated to answer. “It is,” he said, taken back by the scenery. “I never felt the ocean like this before, like I’m one of its waves, one of its ripples.” Avery had a very deep connection with his emotions, so it wasn’t unusual for him to talk directly from them. “It is pretty intense,” Melissa replied. “To think, I never made time for this before the change. School and work and jerk boyfriends, that’s where my time went; I’m happy we’re here, back to our innocence.” “Yeah, me too. You mind if we head somewhere else for a bit?” “No. Where to?” “The Golden Gate Bridge. I wanna feel the wind of the cars as they go by; and the wobble of the bridge. Gives me a rush.” “Sure, I’m game.” They got up from the rocks and walked across the fluff of sand and broken seashells to the paved walkway, where Avery brushed shoulders with another beach walker and his girlfriend. The guys gray runner’s jacket slid and slouched to the outside of his shoulder; his hair flickered with the breeze. “Whoa, babe, did you feel that?” the guy said to his innocent faced girlfriend. She squeezed with warmth and affection on the un-grazed arm, sighed and replied, “No, I didn’t.” Several other walkers felt the cold chill as Avery and Melissa walked by. “How do you wanna ride toady,” Avery asked. “Bus, streetcar or cab.” Melissa thought for a second. “Let’s take the bus. I like fogging up the window and drawing smiles on it.” They waited on corner with the other bus riders. They stood next to a girl wearing a tank top and slim tight jeans. She began to rub her arms to break the goose bumps that had begun to form and mumbled to herself, “when did it get cold?” 63
The bus arrived. They took a pair of seats towards the back. Shortly after, the window begun to lightly glaze over; the way windows do when summer’s humidity lifts and fall’s chill air, drops in. With her index finger, Melissa began drawing her first smiley face; two dots for the eyes, a quarter-moon for the smile. “Why do you always do that?” Avery asked. “I don’t know. It’s my thing. Because I’m happy I guess.” She continued to add to her mural a sun, a tree and four smaller smiley faces. A little girl with roaring red hair, sat across the aisle with her mother. She noticed the drawings taking place. She tugged at her mother’s blouse and said, “Mommy look!” Her mother looked and said, “Oh, honey, that was done by the person who was just sitting there.” Avery asked, “Who are the four smaller smiley faces you’ve added?” Melissa smiled with childlike grace. “People. Little people. Kids.” “Oh. Why don’t you add a stick dog or something for the kids to play with?” “I don’t like dogs.” “Why not?” “Because. They bark at us.” “Well, for the purpose of the picture and its happiness I mean—a dog would be nice.” Melissa sighed. “Okay, just this once.” She added the stick dog and all was well, harmonious, in window art land. The little girl noticed the addition of the stick dog and let out a joyous laugh. Three seats up a man reached to pull the bell cord at the same time as Avery. They got off on the corner where the sidewalk connects to the Golden Gate Bridge and begun walking. Melissa fanned her arms out wide, fingers spread, letting the wind pass through them. Her golden waves moved like an untamed river, violent yet poetic. Her pleated mesh skirt blew, getting trapped in-between her legs. She broke the silence. “Don’t you love this, only having to go and be where you want to?!” “Yeah, it is a pretty great thing,” Avery said. Melissa is all smiles for the quarter of a mile walk to the bridge. 64
On the bridge, they sat and let their feet dangle over the edge. The light shade of green and the dark shade of blue contrast but made for good visual. The movement of a hundred thousand cars, trucks and vans made the bridge wobble and sway. “I love the motion of the bridge,” Avery said. “The sound of the tires creates a lullaby; the air created as they’re passing is like invisible hands wanting to push you over; push—push. I can feel them touching me. Almost like a massage to death.” “You’re crazy,” Melissa blurted out. “But that’s what I love about you; your weird perception of things. Before you died, did you ever think you’d be hanging out on a bridge like this?” Avery froze for a second before he answered. “You know—I don’t know,” he said. “I believed in Christ and the whole God thing partially. But I figured you’d never really know until you were gone. What did you think?” “Well, don’t call me crazy but, I didn’t think, I knew. I figured, if life is a blessing than death must be also. I didn’t know we’d be doing this exactly but, what better way to spend death doing what you couldn’t do in life you know.” The two sat on ledge of the bridge admiring the aquamarine bottom. Wordless. Just staring. Melissa broke the silence. “Let’s go somewhere else—like on a trip.” “Where to,” Avery asked. “Chicago,” Melissa replied. “I hear Lake Michigan is beautiful this time of year.” Avery arched his eyebrows and said, “I’m in but under one condition; we fly.” Melissa smiled. “Deal.” They got up, they locked arms and they walked.
Memories By Zachary A. Ellis You pushed me off the ledge. It was you who drove me to fall away from these places: to say to hell with it all, to leap into our faith – or the lack thereof – and to let Jesus take the wheel. It was everything you did and didn’t do – said and didn’t say – that mattered while I was around. This isn’t about us; how could it have been? It’s never been about us: it’s been about you, it’s been about me. We never did and never will matter. Before we met, before I asked you that gut-wrenching question, before all of our bickering started, before we fought every night, we were ignorant – I was ignorant – of our truth. We didn’t know each other then, and, I fear, we still don’t. I didn’t even notice you walk in out of the cold, frosty morning bundled up in your pink and black checkered scarf. You had on jeans and black boots or shoes or high heels – whatever. All you wanted was a little coffee to warm your fingers and to continue your day – no hitches. So, I remained busy behind the counter, like I was every morning, waiting to take your order in the coffee shop; I had worked there since the beginning of my first semester of college – and I was staring. At the time, you didn’t care about us because you didn’t’ know us – so you only glanced here and there, never at me. You stood in line tapping your foot, in those black shoes or whatever, impatiently catching looks down at your phone – checking how much time before you left without your tall macchiato with just a drizzle of chocolate in the whipped cream. Your phone didn’t ring, but you checked it. You tapped your foot some more. You checked it, the phone again, even though you knew, and I knew, it didn’t ring. You sighed at my ineptitude – at my staring – the entire time you waited, impatiently. You were in a hurry and I was not. I loved to stare – and still do – always have. I ogled you and you glanced around me, hating me, wishing I would just hurry the fuck up. You came to the front of my line and stared once again at your phone ordering your drink with that tone you loved to use in public – you know, that degrading one – all the time. It was as if you stared at the screen, and not at me, out of some vindication for me making you wait – a desperate attempt to get back at the 66
man who had caused so much time to be lost in your precious life. You never looked up and it never rang. You were still shaking, your teeth chattered still from the cold as you spoke and, in that short instance, I heard your t’s chatter and clatter like chimes in the distance. So delicate and so elegant and so soft, even while you were so angry, you spoke, and I listened – I had to, I wanted to. You had me at the edge of your words. You spoke so well and never once looked up. I knew that you shouldn’t be disappointed. You didn’t deserve disappointment. I wanted it perfect for you. “Nonfat macchiato with sugar and a light…” you said without looking up. “Drizzle of chocolate in the whipped cream.” I had finished your sentence. You looked up. I was nervous to ask. The city looks so bright from where I am standing. The ledge divides this life from the next and, with it, the finality of my choice – of our choices. The life of the city, much like ours was, is always turbulent: always moving, never sleeping, never noticing. The busy traffic screeches by too quickly to observe anything or anyone other than what is, or is in, their path. So, who’s to stop this weak gargoyle from breaking loose of their grip from this ledge? The cars are all too busy; they hurl insults at one another with their loud, nasty honking as the people inside hang out of the windows desperately trying to get by the congestion. You can’t get around the congestion – silly people – and you can’t stop the congestion. It happens naturally from too much stuff trying to just happen in the road. Different agendas and different concerns cause these congestions naturally, and then there are miscommunications between the cars. One car, with a squeal of its tires, bashes into another car; and there is the nasty honking. The drivers scream and shake their little arms at one another. The scenario from up here unfolds like a paper plane; but these people are yelling at each other about something I can’t hear from up here. They each saw it differently and each has the real story. They’re not so different – these people – from us and our problems. Singularity of views and blind faiths only keeps them dim to everything happening around them – silly people. “Can’t you read?” “Don’t you know colors, asshole?” There’s a brawl between the two drivers – both men. (They could be women though. From this height, it really is hard to tell.) Why do I care? I never cared about any of it – the romance and tragedy, the beginning and the end. I can’t 67
care. You made that painfully honest staring at me over the crib of our newly born corpse in the dark as you tried to shake our lifeless baby. I couldn’t do anything – you know that now – but you still blamed me for it. You panicked and I stood resolute – lifeless. Just like our baby, I didn’t move. How could you know about the torrent breaking inside my voided frame? How could you know that for every day since that night I wouldn’t look in a mirror – ashamed? You were frail – just like me – and you collapsed, breathless and silent over our angel tears streaming down your face. I didn’t say anything – and now that I think of it – I never held you. I couldn’t – I didn’t know how to hold something so delicate. It felt like trying to clutch sand. I guess we aren’t so different from each other. We both mourned – in our own way – our own loss. You and your weeping and me and my crying are only different means. I took a U-turn on a green when the sign said, “No U-turns”; and you had your green and went. We both were headed for the same crash, we just had different views of whom to blame. You sat there for three hours not speaking to me and not looking at me. You spoke to our baby and kissed every inch of the face hoping and pleading that a mother’s love would be enough. The moment before choosing one or another, life or death, is an amazing feeling – the anticipation, the decibel level of what usually isn’t heard, the explosion of feelings. For a moment before you fall, the stomach is tensed with a split decision – the last moments of filtered personality still trying to be rational. “Don’t do it.” “Do it.” “Step back. Step forward.” I can hear snatches of some conversation down below me – “You know if you rub some ointment on that it won’t get infected.” “Let’s go get some pizza, Andre.” “Can we go to the zoo tomorrow, Dad? Please!” For that split, indecisive moment, I tear away from the decision at hand and remember how it was. The image of how things were between you and life and all flashes, and, for a moment, I drift away from the ledge and its finite-ness. There is no ledge anymore; there is only that time we went to the zoo before the baby was born. I stood at the lion cage looking at the giant kittens lay around being lazy – gently pawing at one another, giving love nips without any care for who was around or watching. I loved that – their love nips - I wanted to do that to you, but you didn’t want my love nips; you had had a bad day – a terrible day. I had only tried to make it better. It looked so 68
peaceful and pleasant. I wanted us to be with those cats, not caring, and loving our moment of relaxation. The Big Cat yawned with a trap that would rival a gator; he stood up, stretched for a moment and then lay back down – his third biggest event today, next to breakfast and lunch. “That must be so easy.” It is you don’t have to say anything. Just enjoy it, enjoy this, enjoy us. “What must be so easy?” Don’t answer! It’s a trap! Remember: SHE HAD A BAD DAY! “Being one of those big cats! Being lazy all the time like them! It must be great to just relax all day in the sun.” “Why?” Look at her face! She doesn’t get it! You’re going to fight with her and leave and be stupid! Don’t do it! Please, DON’T DO IT! “Why not? It looks GREAT! Just sitting there and licking each other.” I can’t believe you winked. What are you saying? Leave her alone! Just leave her be to look at the lions herself! Don’t force anything! “So, being lazy is great? So, the big collage-man loves being lazy? What are you saying Mr.? You love being lazy? Are you getting tired of your obligations and everything else that needs to be taken care of?” I know you see it this time! You’re digging yourself deep! Stop TALKING! “No, not at all! Nothing as bad as forgetting my ‘obligations’! All I said was how lucky is it they get to be lazy and taken care of? Not to have worries like us? Don’t ya think? I mean everyone needs to be taken care of…” Wrong answer. “No! I don’t think that at all. We don’t need to be taken care of! We need to take care of! What’s wrong with you? You’ve studied! You’ve had school! You know better! You really think that’s what we need? To be taken care of? It’s that kinda thinking…” Bite your tongue! Bite your tongue! BITE YOUR TONGUE! “Would you just get off your high-horse and pissy-ass attitude! I wasn’t trying to say that’s what we needed! I was only saying that it would be nice. I’m not gonna go get lion transplants. I’m sorry I even said anything. Just appreciate the God dammed day and getting to be together for a change. Fuck.” “I was fine until you decided to drop fuckin’ language at me. Fuck you. Who do 69
you think you are talking like that to me? Hey! Where are you going?” “Car.” I should’ve stayed, but I didn’t. I should’ve said I was sorry for the language, but I didn’t. You just stood there in the same spot I left you in staring at my back as I walked away from you not caring about your day and not caring about you and not caring about us. I waited in the car for you like I thought I said I would. You stayed in the zoo until it closed two and half hours later, and when you had returned to a silent car it was obvious that we had both messed up. I’m sorry, I wanted to say. You don’t deserve this and I know you had a bad day. I’m trying to make things right. I wanted to say. It never came out, like a dark secret, and we drove home in silence. It’s too late for any of it at this point. That moment before the moment of decision is gone, and, somewhere between now and then, I made a choice – a final choice – and I wait for that end. Free falling is wonderful and terrible. It comes so fast – twisting and twirling in the air like an acrobat and still invisible. It’s calming to be floating around without a care anymore. I feel like something I saw one time on the science channel after our baby happened. A cosmonaut was in orbit discussing science stuff and going through his checklists and experiments and whatnot. He floated and flipped and flew around the shuttle. He discussed his zero gravity trials and the importance of something he was doing at the time. He looked like he was having a blast being so scientifically serious, with his smiling. He looked like he knew how to balance out well – work and pleasure. He was serious – really a science nerd – but smiled the whole time. ‘Now for the fun,’ he had said. He withdrew a small plastic bag from a storage bay that was labeled, ‘Drinks’ and another bag from a different compartment labeled, ‘Provisional Appetite Suppressants’. The drink bag had a white tube-spout from which he could drink from and then snap shut when he wasn’t drinking the liquid. The second bag was a bag of skittles – I laughed, a rainbow in space was impossible. In a moment of self-inspired amazement, the cosmonaut shot out three rotund balls of clear liquid and tore apart the bag of skittles; in one fleeting instant, the man looked like a child staring at a magic trick at their friends’ birthday party. He stared at each ball with infant amazement as it wiggled around in midair on the television. He floated on all sides of the part of the shuttle as he orbited the 70
blobs of drink and floating sweet treats. Every so often after admiring every inch of the blob or the treat, he would open his mouth wide to where the camera could see his little dangly thing and chomp down chewing with a wide grin. He must have done this a million times and counting but each time held the same expression – like the surreal met the real, for a moment, and everything was right despite the out-of-thisworld experience. We both were held in our places by a magnificent spectacle; for that moment, that little blob floating around was beautiful. Then, your clothes iron brought us both sharply back to Earth; the television exploded leaving only a gaping hole and a momentary eruption of angry looking sparks and a loud crashing sound. For a moment, the world had ended in a brilliant shower of glass and light; but then our world had come back into the light after the sparks subsided with only rage and hate to take its place. Since the baby, you had started drinking, I had started using and both of us began to fight and abuse each other every evening that followed. And, so it ends, abruptly – our story, our love and my life. I can see the finish line getting closer as I hurriedly race towards it. I have no regrets about what has happened in our time together as it does not matter anymore. It’s done with – us, you and myself – and I have nothing more to say. This world is barren and dull. That same shimmering hope has faded into a grey apathy, and I do not care – as we never did – anymore about what will happen in this place. I’m ready to move on like you were before me, and maybe – just maybe – we’ll have another chance to make things right.
Conclave Part I By Jacob Jardel And with that, Martin was done. He was in the hotel room he’d been in for about a week, fleur-de-lis sprawled out ad infinitum across wallpaper that embraced the wall about as tightly as three decade-old wallpaper could cling to humid stucco. He stared into the bathroom mirror, face wet from evaporated tears and cold sink water, his third bottle of mojito Bartles and Jaymes clanking down as he finished off the first half—setting it down with a muffled force just like she always did. He grabbed the bottle of children’s aspirin and tried to figure out how many pills it would take to have an adult dosage before giving up on his calculations, chugging down the rest of his disgusting brew, and flopped onto the bed lifeless. Problem is he couldn’t get to sleep. Fantastic. He turned to his right side and stared out the window. For a cheap hotel, this place had a pretty decent third floor view of the cars driving by to wherever they decided to go that night, whether a particular place or a particular oblivion. In his inebriated stupor, he wondered what got him into this fake-French hotel to stare out crappy Venetian blinds out onto the streets of foreign cars after drinking 75% of some of the worst alcohol he’s had in his life. He contemplated his decisions, her decisions, life’s decisions as he came to the conclusion that something needed to change. Since she wasn’t changing and life sure as hell wasn’t changing, he thought he might as well take some initiative in his godforsaken life and do some changing on his own. But that involved going back to the house one last time. What was there, he didn’t know. The only certain thing was that something was there. Martin woke up the next morning, head clear except for the monstrous headache wreaked upon him from a night of god-awful alcohol. He got dressed, packed up what he had, and walked back to the house, the whole time thinking about what he would find there that could answer his questions or, at the very least, lead him down the right path. He walked up to and opened the front door to notice 72
two things: she’d finally left, and she didn’t clean a goddamn thing. He walked around, noticing the unorganized dining table, the stacks of Popular Science swarming the guest room like a plague of locusts, and the ’65 Mustang stuck in the garage with a list of ailments that would make it seem like a hypochondriac. He searched through the forested mess, looking for a place to start cleaning when he came across a tattered spiral notebook filled with his high school-aged self’s musings about life and the last time he was overwhelmed with his depression. He opened it up and started reading about the abuse his step-father had inflicted on his mother and himself, the eerie similarities between that abuse and the abuse that caused his mother to leave his father, and the many assertions of wanting to run away or commit suicide. Martin flipped the page and was happily greeted with a different piece of writing: a small snippet about a girl named Tanith. Just seeing her name made him close the book—he didn’t need it. It was all clear in his head. They met in a park in his hometown; specifically, they met in a secret segment of the park they both, apparently, kept as their secret spot. It was both their spots, but it soon became their spot away from their homes and schools, the conclave. He gave a sigh of reminiscence as he opened up the notebook again. He scribbled a few things about how depressed he was, but, holding onto that notebook, he knew that the catalyst for change was not in the house, but it was at home. It took him some time, but Martin got the Mustang in functioning order. It may not have been the best fix, nor was it really “fixed,” but it could get him out of the newly-cleaned house with the rest of his things packed up in the trunk. His music was playing and the spiral notebook was sitting shotgun as he sped off for home, top down and wind blowing through Martin’s freshly-cut hair. Ahead of him, the prospect of answers; behind him, the many questions that led him to the road in the first place. Martin had never been the progressive type of person, the type to take action and get out. But something about this situation made it different. Maybe it was the fact that the last string broke and he decided to finally repair it, or it could be the fact that he needed new strings all together. Most likely, though, it was Tanith. As much 73
as it could have been the need to repair and replace strings, the memories of Tanith— sneaking alcohol to the conclave of trees, messing around the arcade and at home playing video games, staring out at the pond in the park where the water and fauna just disappear into the horizon—seem to fuel every part of this scene except for the car itself. One memory pushed him more than the others. It was the first time his stepdad had hit his mother in a week, and he threatened Martin with even more physical injury if he said anything to the cops. Martin snuck out around evening time to Tanith’s house, chucking pebbles futilely at her window before realizing it was 2004, a time when he could easily text her to the conclave. They met there, Tanith carrying a half-consumed bottle of her grandfather’s gin and Martin coiled next to a juryrigged fire. Martin, finally finding what he felt was a safe haven, poured out the story about the abuse he’d lived with for virtually his whole life and the inability to escape it for one reason or another. He felt trapped, repressed, depressed about trying not to bring shame to himself or the family, but he felt Tanith was about as safe a haven as he could afford. The entire time, Tanith held on to him, arm draped over his shoulders, trying her best to console him—and succeeding. They shared a quick look, but quickly averted their gazes so as not to go too deeply down the wrong rabbit hole. They just sat there and lived in the moment. Martin came back to reality as he finds the driveway of the house, his mother’s car still parked slightly askew in the left side. A feeling rushed through him, like all the abuse and imbibed alcohol from high school resurfaced in him, and welled up in his person in the form of almost paralyzing fear that makes him forget to take the car off of neutral. He finally got his bearings together enough to park the car, get out of it, and remember the house in front him was no longer the desert he encountered before. At that moment, it was a promised land. Martin’s mom had greeted him with open arms, welcoming him and his company back home. He reacquainted himself with the surroundings, settling into his room like he hadn’t left nine years ago and making his way around the kitchen like he still had a secret stash of gummy bears in the snack cabinet. He told his mom 74
he just needed to stay for a little while, but she insisted he stay as long as the both of them were still alive and kicking. The first few days he had been home had seemed to go by in a stagnant blur, a series of reunions and nothings. He’d walk around the park occasionally, look at the tree-filled area that contained the conclave he used as his second home, stare out at the pond where everything disappeared into the horizon—but nothing much else seemed to happen, partially out of his unsurprising reclusiveness. His tendencies toward hermitage came to bite him late one night when he began to argue with himself about calling Tanith. He imagined a phone call, talking with Tanith and asking her out for what he felt would end up being a one-night ordeal: the two of them would build everything up for what would turn into an anticlimax of false eminence and realized disconnection, and it would end with an empathetic-yet-indifferent kiss and a subsequently swift exit after realizing the night won’t turn into subsequent nights. This concept alone kept him from calling her up to that moment. But he came to realize that this type off talking slowed him down with Tanith and slowed him down with other aspects of his life. He’d been, to this point, driving into a corner while, at the same time, burning rubber from keeping his foot firmly on the brake. He did, after all, go on this journey of self-exploration to change this pattern of life; so he decided it would be best if he let things unfold they way they would, maybe let his foot off the brake for once. Maybe then, he could make some sort of forward progress. Martin woke up the next morning and decided, finally, to rummage through all the stuff in the old stuff in his closet. Among the plethora of clothes that no longer fit and countless fallen hangers sat the record player his father had given him for his fifth birthday, the last gift he got before the divorce and the one thing he couldn’t bring to college because of its delicacy. There was even a record in it: the 45 for Jonathan Edwards’ “Sunshine.” He had grown to realize that the song was originally written as a Vietnam War protest song, but Young Martin still used it as a coping mechanism. Present Martin decided to take the record player out and play the song. As soon as the needle dropped and the first chords came through the speakers, in his 75
head, he could hear the glass shatter against the wall, thrown across the room in his stepfather’s rage. He was seven at the time, and he realized that the yelling and arguing was a sign of bad things to come because none of the other kids in his class had parents who would yell this loudly or break this much stuff. He turned the volume up all the way to drown out the noise then, and he did the same in the present time. The volume hit max when he had a different flashback, this time to seventeen when he had the single on his thrift store portable CD player. That single had become his new security blanket, so he had to have it with him everywhere he went. The same was soon to be said for Tanith, who had been the lifeline he needed to the outside world. He had brought the CD player to the conclave one night when Tanith eventually caved and asked what was on the goddamned CD that required its surgical implantation to his side. After taking listening to Martin’s story, Tanith took a moment to collect her thoughts and, finally, explained to him the abuse going on in her home, how her maternal grandfather would emotionally and physically attack her father and her for the untimely death of her mother, how she couldn’t handle being in an environment where her father was crumbling underneath so much weight, how she just wanted to get out of that hell more than anything in the world. He did the same thing for her that she did for him once before: put his arm around her and tried his best to console her. He had hoped he did his best then, and hoped the same as the last chord faded. As much as he loved the song, Martin needed to get out of the house to clear his head some. He took a walk through the park, as he was prone to do; but, as he passed by the conclave, he noticed Tanith talking to a friend, unaware of his presence. He had one of two choices: approach her and say hi for the first time in a while, or hide in the conclave and watch until she left. He snuck into the conclave. Something about the situation at hand froze him in his path, whether it was the fact that he hadn’t bothered to call her at all since he’d been home or the fact that he hadn’t bothered to call in years since they last saw each other. 76
They were both around eighteen now, and Martin was helping Tanith dye her hair a lovely shade of magenta in her bathroom one day off from school. They got done with the messy work and, after Tanith took a quick shower to get the color set in, just hung out in her room to waste some time as they were prone to do. They started talking, and it wasn’t long before the conversation turned to how they were going to get out of their homes. They joked about how they could run away together, but it didn’t take long for the joke to turn into serious conversation about whether or not they would go through with it. After all, they were closer to each other than they were to anybody else, they both needed to get out, and they both shared so much already. Though their relationship was relatively transparent, there was still a wall, a glass barrier that had but one hole in it through which the two could become close without being completely together. Throughout the months after that, the distance between them grew and grew until they were only as close as the distance between them. Conclave visits seemed to be conveniently staggered, both of them stayed home more often than they would have liked, and Martin moved to a different town to try his hand at college. Though the two of them could have easily talked, what with the internet and the advent of cell phone technology, but they just didn’t. And they grew apart, taking separate metaphorical paths that nearly came together physically about nine years later. Thanks to Martin’s brilliant on-the-spot thinking, that collision didn’t happen. He just waited on her to walk off, and he followed suit in an opposite direction. As he walked home, Martin began to ponder why exactly he hid in the conclave instead of just manning up and talking to her. Hell, he wondered why he had been riding the breaks with everything in his life, from high school days with Tanith to the situation that got him back home in the first place to the events happening right now with Tanith—again. He wondered why he was always hesitant when good things in life came his way. He walked down the path and thought to himself about what in his past or what in his current could have kept him held back from truly doing anything other than ride the brakes. He soon came to what he believed was the most logical conclusion: the abuse. While Tanith was fully aware of the situation happening within Martin’s household, 77
nobody else was privileged with that sort of information. The main reason behind this secrecy was shame, the same shame his father and stepfather instilled in him, whether directly or passive-aggressively. In fact, his mother was vehemently opposed to him saying anything about this situation either; she did not want the shame associated with it to associate with her family and her family’s name. And, this entire time, he’d been blaming himself for wanting to say something or for not saying anything at all. Thus, he came up with two logical conclusions: be more open with the events of the past—even if a door-to-door confession was in order—and somehow use this to bring Tanith back. Either way, Martin’s goal was simple: tell as many people as he can about what happened, and things will fall into place for him to feel better, surely. Most importantly, he wanted to get Tanith in on it any way he could. He just needed to get over the hump that was his mother’s staunch non-disclosure. If he could get that taken care of, then he would certainly be on his way to recovery. Martin, filled with the vigor from a new-found epiphany, walked down the stairs to find a way to get a hold of Tanith when he ran into his mother opening the door, home after a quick grocery run. Curious as to Martin’s sudden chipper disposition, his mother inquired, almost jokingly, about what got him in such a good mood. The answer he gave did not please her, to say the least. No matter how much he tried to convince her that it would be better for them both to be more open with the abuse, Martin could not sway his mother. She, with slightly labored breath, fervently denied the worth in such a plan, instead posing that this plan would do nothing but bring shame to her and him. She did not want their dirty laundry aired out on the front lawn for all to see, so she was staunch in keeping it all at home in the laundry room. Both started raising their voices to counter the other’s points, both believing the other was nothing short of illogical. After some time, the civility seemed to leak through the windows along with the angry yells; those yells made the neighbors feel compelled to call the police, who arrived on the scene about ten minutes into the argument. Upon their entrance, Martin’s mother pleaded to the officers to do what she and Martin couldn’t—keep the situation quiet. She took short, forceful breaths as Martin said that they needed to talk about the situation at hand and come clean. 78
Her breathing stopped. She clenched her chest. She collapsed at the threshold.
Conclave Part II By Jacob Jardel Her breathing stopped. She clenched her chest. She collapsed at the threshold. The officers radioed for medical assistance as Martin raced to his mother’s side, sobbing apologetically and begging, pleading for her to get up and forgive him. The ambulance raced into the driveway. Medics rushed in and performed their duties. They rushed her to the hospital, through the ER, in hopes of doing something, anything to help her recover from an apparent heart attack. All to no avail. Turned out, an argument that heated did not mix with the tachycardia she rarely monitored and never told anyone about. The washer could only hold so much dirty laundry before spinning off the hinges. When that happens, the dryer goes out of commission for a while; and out of commission Martin went. Without his mother and without any motivation to do anything anymore, Martin holed himself in his room, seeing no one and getting up only to eat twice a day and make necessary responses to nature’s calls. Three days after his mother’s fatal unhinging, Martin was in the sea of catatonia, tears, spit bubbles, and cheap white wine—otherwise known as his room— when Tanith walked in, hoping to cheer him up or at least help him though this entire ordeal. She sat beside him, doing her best to comfort him, but he was too far out to sea, shaming and rendering himself and his family extinct. But she still talked in hopes of bringing him to shore. She reassured him that she would be there as long as he needed. She held his hand and told him that would move on. She said whatever she could to make him feel as optimal as possible. She made a passing comment on how long it had been since they talked or saw each other, and something in that comment flipped the killswitch. He shot up from the bed and screamed in anguish, eventually grabbing a pillow and sob-screaming into it to decrease the direct shrieking projected into Tanith’s ears. The volume of those screams was almost immeasurable, packed to the brim with memories of abuse, memories of his mother’s death, memories of missed chances with Tanith; so 80
he responded the only way he knew how: turning up the volume on the record player to the max. Tanith, at a loss for words, just reached in and held him, and all Martin could think to do was wrap his arms around her and sob into her shoulder. Normally, he’d have been happy to be in her arms again. At that moment, he just needed to be in her arms to feel normal. Over the next few days, Tanith and Martin spent countless hours together cleaning and organizing he house that now belonged to him. They took this time to catch up with each other. Martin told her about his experiences at work and at school as well as the broken house he left miles upon miles away. He told her about his grand journey to find answers to questions he didn’t know existed until that night at the cheap hotel. Tanith talked about how her grandfather died, but not before he drove Tanith’s mother out of the house and drove Tanith to insanity and copious amounts of stress, seeing as she had to care for herself as well as her grandfather. Full-time working and full-time at the community college drained all that it could out of her; by the time her grandfather died, she barely had the time to tend to it mentally or practically. It also did a number on her love life, which was non-existent except for a cat or two, which didn’t really count. So, she had pretty much been working her way to spinster status slowly but surely. They both agreed that they needed to do some exorcism of their respective demons somehow. But first, they needed to take care of this funeral. This funeral happened on the following Monday after sleepless preparation. Martin and Tanith both gave heartfelt eulogies at the service, but it was otherwise somber, more somber than one’s typical funeral, for whatever reason. Perhaps release of the closeted skeletons left ghosts roaming in the air for a while. Regardless, the church echoed with the sounds of monotonously mumbled hymnals and responses whenever the organ wasn’t playing. After the priest said his final words, they were off to the interring. At the cemetery, as the priest continued on with the interring service as Martin stood there, still dumbfounded and paralyzed with the ghosts that obviously travelled with the funeral party. He was sad at the loss of his mother, sad at how the whole 81
situation went down, sad that everything had gone down the way it had since he came home. He began to wonder whether or not he made the right move coming home. Maybe the answers were elsewhere. Maybe there were no questions to begin with. Maybe what he thought were clear signs were nothing metaphorical whatsoever—just objects. He started to slip further and further into the state he was in when he was shotgunning horrendous amounts of equally horrendous alcohol. He regressed in a way he didn’t think possible at the onset of this trip, and he worried if he’d ever even figure out the question, let alone the answer. Then, the crying of a young child three plots away snapped Martin back into reality. The young boy was crying over the balloon he didn’t keep a good enough grip on floating away into the trees. Martin noticed the birds in those trees, tending to a nest, the mother feeding the young in a somewhat disgusting regurgitation process. They were unfazed at the sound of distant sirens blared, but it evoked in Martin the memory of something his mother told him whenever he was a young boy and the haunting reminders of abuse would creep into his pre-pubescent brain: while things in your world seem abnormal, the world around you still spins madly on. Even if, in the corner of your world, things are slowed down to the point of sadness, there are still things in the world to look forward to, no matter how mundane. So Martin, noticing the birds, the boy, the blaring sirens around him, took solace in the mundane movements around him. He knew that his mother was there in the nest, in the comforting touch of a parent, the medic driving the ambulance. He knew she was there because she loved him no matter what. He knew that, sometimes, just letting the world spin would ease the dizzying pace of life. At that point, Martin noticed Tanith there next to him. The girl he let get away, the girl he came back for, the girl who helped him with everything, whether she knew it or not. And she was right next to him again. He reached for her hand, slipping his fingers between hers, and pulled her in a little closer. Tanith turned her head to him, to her hand, and back to him. She squeezed his hand and snuck in a smile as she scooted in a bit closer. So here he was, at his mother’s funeral, holding Tanith’s hand, the last of their kind. As he stared at his mother, who collapsed from repression and tachycardia, he 82
knew that one day, he’d collapse, too. But, at this moment, he made sure to take in the mundane; he never knew when it would eventually collapse. A few days passed since the funeral, and life was starting to get back to somewhat normal for Martin and Tanith. Martin spent most of his time tending to the house that was now empty except for him and the music that blared through the old record player, and Tanith became something more than a shadow, but almost less than a person—at least to Martin. They hadn’t really talked or seen each other much since the funeral. Right after Martin’s mother was interred, they walked off together, back to that place where everything fades to the horizon, walking right past the conclave. From there, they just went their separate ways. Just like last time. No calls, no texts, nary a sound either way. That changed one day when Martin was washing dishes and he heard a chime from his cell phone. He opened the phone to a text, from Tanith, with five simple words: Get to the park. Now. Who was he to disappoint Tanith? So, he took a walk to the park, looking around the pond, the playground, and everywhere else before he realized where in the park he needed to go. So he found that gap in the trees where he could get into the conclave and crawled in to see Tanith, curled up in a corner, listening to her iPod. She noticed him enter and immediately shot up to talk to him. She asked him why he didn’t text or call or anything since the funeral, why he was virtually absent after being so present the last week or so. She wondered how he really felt. And the first thing Martin could do was ask her the same exact questions. She didn’t call, text, anything. She disappeared just as much as he did after the funeral. They sat in silence. Not holding each other, not huddling together. Just sitting across from each other. Staring. Not knowing what to say next. They both knew why they separated in high school, even if neither of them ever said it. They both felt like a burden on the other, a hindrance, even. They felt like bad influences, broken people that couldn’t make the other whole. They didn’t want the past to haunt the future. They didn’t want to accidentally use the person as an escape, be it from home or from 83
life in general. Most of all, they didnâ€™t know how to handle moving away from another person. So they just left. Now, they worried about the same thing happening now. Martin broke the silence. He took her hand and held her in closer, apologizing for everything. He promised her that heâ€™d do his best to keep close to her if she promised to do the same. Tanith just reached up to him and shared a quick kiss with him. They stayed in the conclave the rest of the night.
Trailing Sails By Katherine Johnson Here I stand now, at the head of my ship; or rather, my father’s former ship. Everything is ready for our departure. The goods have been placed below deck, the crew is all accounted for, and I grow weary of this desolate village on the sand. As we sail off, I stand at the head of the ship, looking off into the distance, the water shimmering like liquid silver in the moonlight. I remember. I grew up in a small village near the ocean. My father: a scoundrel, a pirate, a thief – my hero. He had left me there, hiding me. For pirate captains could not afford the luxury of showing emotion. Even to their own children. Me especially. I was a special case, which is why he left me in hiding, to protect me. I was not from this small village, but it became my home, and had been for as long as I could remember. My father loved me with all his heart, and I him. I may not have been built big and strong like the local boys, but my spirit has always been that of a sea-farer. He always came back to visit, offering gifts from his pillaging adventures. His stories were colorful and grand. I would always ask, “Can I go with you this time, Papa?” He shook his head every time. I remember he would stroke his beard, pondering the thought each time. He told me one day, when he was long gone, I would have to take up the responsibility of manning his ship, and keeping his crew together. I was young, and had agreed to this heavy promise. In between the chores my care takers set forth for me, I studied maps, navigation, and everything I could imagine needing for my future ‘job’. I wanted to be just like Papa. Years went by, and I became lonely. My father had not return with a story in quite some time. He returned soon enough, however. The day he came back was a day of horror. Father and his crew had been fleeing an opposing group of pirates. When they pulled into dock, Father thought they had lost them; he was wrong. The ratty ship forced itself into the dock and slimy, dirty men piled out, their dark beady eyes intent on harm. The townspeople were afraid. Some tried to fight, but most 85
resisters were struck down by swords and knives. The evil men killed, broke, burned and stole everything not nailed down. I was forced to stay inside the basement with my caretakers, remaining silent. There was a small crack above the rafters, and I could see glimpses of the doom. Father would not have this, not without as fight, at least. I saw him outside, striking down each enemy that came forth. He was amazing. I knew my father was a fearsome man when he wasn’t with me, but this was truly awe-inspiring. The way he wielded his blade and pistol was almost poetic – a dance of smoke and blood. He and his crew had pushed most of them back, and they were hollering in victory. I screamed, trying to warn my hero, but my caretakers pinned me down and covered my lips firmly with their hands. He never saw him coming. The captain of the other ship, covered in dingy brown and black garbs snuck up on Father and shot him in the back. He fell to the ground and grunted in pain. Father took aim from the hearth and shot his attacker straight in the heart; he was dead. With their captain defeated the stragglers of his ship fled, and Father’s crew wiped them out. His top men carefully picked him up and brought him to the home of my care takers and lay him in the bed. He had taken the musket shot like a man, but his body was only that of a mortal and he was dying. There was nothing neither the local doctors, nor his crew could do. I remember my father bellowing out, “Leave me be! Ge’ out! I need to speak to someone here!” It was me. The men scattered, obedient until the end. His clothes were torn and bloody, both dried and fresh mixing into a sick mixture of brownish crimson. I approached him, my eyes burning. I had taught myself how to not cry in front of others, and even then, at my father’s deathbed, I was trying to make him proud. He took my hands in his, and smiled through the pain. “Little one,” he said. I wasn’t little anymore – I was seventeen. But, I listened quietly. “I…I’m not going to be here much longer. I think it’s time I ask ye to fulfill your promise.” This was the moment I had been preparing for all of my life. So why did my body shake so much? I had suddenly, in that moment, felt afraid, the full force of the situation slamming into me like a wall. “Have one of the locals take the job, they’re 86
much stronger than I am.” I said. I tried to explain to him I wanted nothing to do with my former promise any longer. I ranted and raved, almost having my tears spill from my eyes. He just smiled at me, that smile my father always had when we were together. I remember he squeezed my bony hand, wincing a bit from the pain. “Little one….I need you to take care of things. They need you. You’re strong; you’ve got that spirit that longs for the travels and adventures of the seas. You’ll be able to pull the men under your control. I have nothing but faith in you.” He knew I would agree. I was good at keeping my promises. I nodded silently, taking his hand in both of mine and squeezing it back. He smiled at me, stroking his beard lightly one last time before leaning his head back on the pillow. The angels from above had called his spirit away. I remember quietly placing his hand on his chest, before walking away. I packed my things, and got dressed in silence. One of the maids took a stiff piece of leather and wrapped it tightly around me as I put on my new uniform. The final touch was a brown captain’s coat, decorated around the sleeves and trims with gold and purple stitching. Just for me. The last gift from my Father. I picked up my bag and headed out to the docks. The villagers stared at me, without a word. His crew looked at me, frail of body, with disdain. I coughed, clearing my throat before I bellowed out their orders to return to ship. Their eyes went wide, not expecting such a strong presence from such a small-built individual. Who I assumed to be his first mate stood his ground and stared me down. “Why should we listen to some scrawny girly man like you?” I thought for a moment, trying to suppress the waves of fear rolling from my heart. I had to do this. No matter what it took, I needed to be strong. “I am the…the son of Captain Ezekiel ‘The Shadow’ Mathius. I will take command of his ship and you will do as I say, lest I strike you down.” My voice surprised me. It was so commanding, so calm. It frightened me. One of the very underlings decided to become gutsy and lunged at me with his sword. “Captain Shadow never had a kid!” In one quick motion, he was lying on the ground, his insides pouring forth from his stomach. The villagers backed off, gasps being released in the air like a frightful choir. The first mate’s eyes widened for a moment, before silently walking back to the ship. “Come on, men…that sword skill is indeed from our dear ol’ Cap’n.” 87
He led me to the ship and was begrudgingly helpful in assisting me with familiarizing with the ship. I went to the captain’s cabin and asked him quietly if I could be alone for a moment. He bowed his head in response and closed the door lightly behind him. It was much simpler than I had imagined it would be. There was a fancy chair behind a simple wooden desk at the back of the room, his cot next to it. The shelves up above were filled with golden trinkets, maps, and other odds and ends. A candle lamp sat, unlit, on the desk. The window of the back wall let in the most fantastic view of the sea. This was Father’s life. Though the quarters were simple, there was a mysterious, unexplainable beauty to it. A few tears strayed from my eyes in the moment and I hesitated, smiling, before wiping them away. That was ten years ago, and I am still captain of this ship. I can out drink any of my subordinates, my gunmanship is far above even my best sharp shooters, and no one has ever survived my blade. We take what we both need and want, taking care of only ourselves and those we treasure. I have made a name for myself, without relying on riding upon my father’s coat tails. People cower when they hear the scarlet scourge of the East is approaching. I look out at the waters as my fingers wrap around a gold pendant Father gave me, and I whisper, only the cruel mistress of the sea able to hear me. “Your little girl’s made you proud, Papa.”
Beyond Bourgeoisie By Rhiannon Poolaw Five o’clock! My daily sentence in this hell hole has finally ended; I am out of here. I walk as quickly as possible, without breaking into a full-fledged run, towards the elevator. Nothing anyone could ask me would slow my escape from this prison. Thank God for Fridays. After I’ve spent a week listening to these backstabbing bitches and their scandalous office gossip, my overly attentive bitch of a boss who loves having a male assistant that she can demean at her will, it’s all I can do to leave here without a self-inflicted bullet to the brain. I’m pushing the button for the lobby, the doors are closing, and ‘WHACK!’ The wrinkled and veiny hand belonging to my wannabe middle aged boss claws the door back open. “Tyler, make sure you finish going over that paperwork this weekend. I need to get the contractors working on those houses ASAP.” ASAP? Honestly ASAP? Could you be anymore retarded, you old hag? I press my lips together and give her a firm nod to acknowledge I heard her. “Thanks, Doll.” The doors close. What she means is that I need to get the contractors out there next week. What does she do beside plaster her face on every billboard in town? She is determined to ruin my weekend by doing her work. According to my mother, I should be ecstatic at the opportunity to work for someone with such prestige and class. Besides the fact that they are old high school classmates, they share the same hobby, criticizing me. If mommy dearest only knew that Satan was hidden beneath the sagging skin of the most successful real estate agent in Minneapolis. It’s no wonder I’ve ignored her last seventeen calls. I’m sure Oprah’s life lesson was really influential today and I could very well apply it to my life and become more successful both personally and professionally. Seriously, who would want to deal with that? I head straight from the office to the bar. It’s a dark and dank hole-in-the-wall kind of place where everyone is too consumed with their own miserable sorrows to bother asking about mine. I find the furthest stool from the door at the bar and 89
signal the tender. He doesn’t ask what it will be; he knows me. He knows what I like. He knows that I, like everyone else in this place, am looking for an escape. He slides me the three fingers of scotch and a beer, “fancy seeing you here.” I take a sip and mimic his sarcastic tone, “It is fancy, isn’t it.” I loosen my tie and swivel around on the barstool, “Anything new?” That’s when I spot her seated at the only table in the bar, legs crossed at the knee, and staring straight at me. The bartender is going on about something before he finally senses that he has become the annoying buzz of a mosquito in my ear. I glance around to make sure of whom she’s looking at and all eyes are fixated on her. I can’t say I’m surprised; we don’t get many ladies in here. The occasional working girl or wife barges in her robe and curlers to drag her drunken and belligerent husband home in the wee hours of the morning. But never any one of her stature. I turn back to the bar, no need in fantasizing over what will never be. A girl of that quality is surely taken and even if she was for sale I couldn’t afford her. A gentle yet unmistaken touch grazes my shoulder. I instinctually jump, forcing myself to choke on the alcohol. She slides down onto the stool next to me, waiting for me to finish gasping for air. My stomach, throat and even my nose burn from the poison that they have just unexpectedly been subjected to. I reach for the napkin that served as a coaster and wipe my face. “Are you okay? You don’t look okay,” she says. I can already hear the regret in her voice at choosing to come over. “Sure, sure, I’m fine,” I lie. Obviously, I’m not fine. She’s not blind. I’ve not only embarrassed myself but I’ve injured myself and I really just want to tuck my tail and run. The bartender, Frank, refreshes the glass that she brought over with some pretty girly drink that I didn’t even realize they served here. “Buy me a drink?” she asks with a wink. Why not, I think. I pull out my wallet and slide Frank a ten. Though, I really don’t have the money to support my own habit, let alone hers. I was looking forward to getting drunk, going home and passing out. I’m not in the entertaining mood, especially when there’s no chance that she will reward my efforts. Besides, I’m sure she could find another desperate man in this bar 90
to feed her drinks all night. Maybe if I leave now I can pick up a twelve pack on the way. Perhaps she can sense my discomfort because she leans over and whispers the cliché line, “Want to get out of here?” into my ear. Gently her lips press against my ear as her sultry voice sends a shiver down my spine. Was that touch intentional or is she as intoxicated as I think she is? Hell, she has to be. The hottest girl I’ve ever seen trying to pick me up? Yeah, that doesn’t happen without one too many drinks. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I don’t consider myself to be hideous, but I’m definitely no Robert Pattinson. Dark hair, dark eyes, medium height. Normal. Mediocre. Unimpressive. Like my life. Her, on the other hand, wow. I never considered myself as into gingers, but man if she didn’t set me on fire! Black four inch heels conceal her feet with the exception of red polish peeking out the tip. Black fishnets cover the length of her legs up to the skin tight red attempt at a dress she’s wearing. Like I’m going to pass her up. I take a minute to enjoy being not only considered desirable but to check out every inch of her own desirability. My eyes finally reach her bright red lips and then her enchanting green eyes. I’m shaken back into reality and all I can manage is a nod. I can’t help but wondering why she chose to approach me. What is wrong with her? I have heard of seemingly beautiful women picking up men, taking them home and turning out to be men in drag. I don’t think that is what it is, but her attitude and the way she carries herself is different. Different than any person I’ve met. As I rise, I trip ever so gracefully over my barstool. Great, that could have just ruined my chance for the first sex I’ve had in fourteen months; with someone other than myself that is. But low and behold she grabs my hand and leads me behind her. Does she want me to look at her ass? I really can’t believe this is happening! Just then I realize that I have no idea who she is. We exit the bar and turn to walk down towards the dark dead-end of the alley. Confused and still in shock I point to the street and stammer, “Hey! I uh... the uh... we can’t get out this way.” “I know,” a seductive and mischievous smirk creeps across her plump lips revealing faint dimples in her cheeks. “We don’t need to go anywhere, trust me.” Oh, I 91
trust her alright. Trust her enough to fuck the shit out of her in a corner of an alley where the florescent light of the street lamps does not reach. She leans up against the back wall behind a dumpster and pulls me in close. It’s a good thing her perfume is so strong, the smell reeking from the dumpster is almost unbearable. “I’m Tyler, by the way.” “I am Erzebet” “Erzebet? After the Hungarian serial killer in the 1600’s? That’s disturbing… “I remember the name from one of the other secretaries that use at my firm. She was way into vampires. Her style and clothing was way too edgy for the boss’s taste; so she didn’t last long. “Yes, something like that. My parents were a little eccentric. We... I mean they, were fascinated with the Blood Countess ideas of obtaining eternal youth. “I think I would have changed it by now if I was you. Either way pleasure to meet you, Erzebet.” “I am positively charmed to make your acquaintance, Tyler.” She wraps her arms around my neck and runs her fingers through the hair on the back of my neck. She hikes her leg up and I grab her thigh and hold it about waist high. “Though, I am sure that the pleasure will be all mine.” She kisses me, followed by a nibble on my bottom lip. We continue making out and exploring each other’s bodies, before she makes a strange and unexpected request. She bites my shoulder, “Hit me.” Shocked, I immediately stop fondling her immaculate breasts. I don’t think I heard her right, “Hit you?” she nibbles my earlobe and kisses my neck. She leans back and speaks so clearly that her words would be unmistakable, “Slap me across the face.” I’m hesitant but I would really rather her take care of my growing problem than stumble home with blue balls and have a really unfulfilling personal encounter. “Okay.” Hey! Who am I to judge if she’s into S&M? Besides, what man doesn’t fantasize about rough sex? Better yet she’s initiating the relations. I don’t complain at least not about this. I indulge her, smacking her playfully across the face. Her persona immediately transforms, “Is that all you got? C’mon really hit me!” I stop; I’m in 92
shock and disgusted and aroused. Who is this girl that approached me at the dark end of the corner pub? I assumed she was looking for a sucker to buy her a drink; obviously, I’ve made an ass out of both her and me. I push away from her, “I’m really not into that kind of thing.” She digs her red polished finger nails into my back and forces me towards her, “Well, I am. If this is going to happen you’re going to have to man up. What kind of guy are you anyway?” I hit the wall next to her face. Hard. My hand is stinging but it has obviously done the job. She giggles and encourages my efforts by untucking my shirt from my pressed khakis and unbuckling my belt. She kisses me and then kisses my neck and then a sharp stabbing pain shoots through my body originating from a radiating burning sensation in my neck. My hand instinctually grabs for the spot of the worst pain. I had forgotten all about the passion and all about Ezrebet until my hand hits the back of her head on the way to my neck. Her teeth have sunk so far into my neck I’m sure that they’ve punctured my jugular. An unknown animalistic urge in me to survive drives me to grab a hand full of her shoulder-length hair and pull her backwards. She won’t let go. I involuntarily move forward with her and the pain intensifies. I flail uncontrollably. I haven’t been in a fight since elementary school but I struggle against her with everything I have, all my strength. No holds barred. Try as I might I cannot get her off of me. Shortly, though she pushes me away. An unexpected weakness in my legs in combination with the most excruciating pain I’ve ever felt forces my body to the ground. I try to crawl away from the beautiful assailant but after only a few feet I have to stop. I roll over onto my back and pressurize the punctures in my neck that continue to pulsate blood. “Try not to struggle against it. It’ll only make things worse,” she says stepping over me and lighting a slim. The pain is unbearable. It’s everywhere. My entire body feels the pain. I close my eyes and pray. Pray for escape. Pray for relief. Pray that the pain will cease. And finally pray for death. My mind scours through the hours preceding the bite; through the days, weeks and years that made up my existence. The most I could muster through the agony is a moan. Finally, I am able to barely whisper, “Why?” 93
“What more did you have going for you? Drinking all alone in a hobo’s bar? I’m sure that I ruined a lot for you. I mean only your whole life, right?” She reaches down and strokes the side of my cheek as I lay dying on the wet brick of the alley. “The sustenance I received from your life is more than you’ve gained from your existence.” Finally, I remember where I’ve heard the name Erzebet. With that she was gone. She sucked the youth from me and left me, quite literally, in the gutter. The fainting clicking of her heels was the last thing I heard as I succumbed to the agony that riddled through my body and drifted into darkness. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------I arise, not from a sleep but from a dream all the same. My throat aches from dryness and my tongue scrapes across the roof of my mouth like sand paper. Why am I in this alley? I struggle to get to my feet. My body is so weak that as I begin to straining walk home I have to stop every few feet and lean against the wall to keep from falling. It’s already dusk but I’m not sure what day it is. It’s a good thing that my apartment, the bar, and the alley are all located in such a close proximity. I cross the street and burst through the backdoor of my apartment building and begin crawling up the stairs. After thirty minutes and only 4 stories, I reach my door. It is already pried open. I walk in and glance around my old shithole apartment filled with little more than debris; most of which is the result of my own carelessness concerning my living quarters. I rush to the sink seeking relief, gargling the water and spitting it into the drain. The burglar that kicked in my door must have heard me and walks from the bedroom into the living room with a knife drawn. Just as quickly I am filled with a deep sense of rage. Animal instinct takes over and I run towards him. Before he can react I’m tearing him apart limb by limb and tearing out his jugular with my teeth. Blood splatters all over the walls and the carpet. Body parts lay mangled and twitching. My thirst is quenched and my strength is returning. The rage continues to pulsate through my veins. There’s rage towards the people in the streets below, rage towards the person responsible for what my life has become, rage towards life and its terrors and injustices. Why is it only after the most precious gift, life, is taken from you that you realize what its worth? I can’t stay here. 94
Blood still dripping down my chin and air escaping my lungs with sounds that resemble growing I throw open my door and head up the stairs towards the roof. As I crouch on the edge of the roof of my mini high rise apartment, I sigh deeply to myself, and reflect on what my life is now and what I’m becoming. I watch as the cops pull up below me and rush inside. Someone must have found what remains of the intruder. I’m not concerned with my escape route. I take my time enjoying what’s left of the sunset. It’s my favorite time of day, always has been. Not because of the beauty of the horizon that seems to enrapture so many poets. Trust that I’ve seen plenty of sunsets and that is not the true beauty of life on Earth. In my previous life, it represented the end of the daily grind that not only plagued but encompassed my life. Oh, how I hated my life! Once I awoke dreading the day ahead. I hated my boss, coworkers, even my family. I looked onto other people’s relationships with jealousy and envy, though, I never sought one out for myself. I ignored the people who tried to befriend me. What I wouldn’t give to have the chance to embrace life! What I wouldn’t give to have even a minute small talk conversation with someone without wanting to rip their throat out! I hear the police following the blood trail up the stairs towards me. I stand on the edge of the roof right above the busy main street and step off towards the twilight.
A Wedding By Shelby Stancil When you get married you take all the things that make you, well you, and mash them up with someone else’s things that make them, them. It’s not just the physical things like books, movies, hell even furniture. It’s the personalities that are the kicker: The things that can be the hardest to mash up. No matter how great the chemistry and love there are between two people there will always be hitches. The trick is taking those hitches and loving the person anyway. As I sit on the bed of my hotel room drinking my coffee in its standard white hotel coffee cup I can’t help but think of all of this. Even though I hate old movies, have a horrible addiction to reality TV and can’t stand the smell of beets I know that Robby accepts me anyway. Just as I accept his adoration of classic movies, hatred for reality TV and love of beets. I smile and sigh, put the cup down onto the small bedside table. “Guess it’s time to get showered up. The girls will be here soon,” I say to the empty room. Gathering my jeans and purple “future Mrs. Lowland” t-shirt along with my bra and underwear I make way to the bathroom around the corner. Turning the water to a nice warm temperature and stripping off my ratty sleep shirt I step into the shower. The water feels nice and the pressure reminds me of rain. I smiled as I slipped back to the moment where Robby and I first met. “I’m going to be so freaking late and it’s all your fault Lola!” I screamed at my best friend as we ran from our dorm room to the music hall across the street. It was 7:50 in the morning and the sun hadn’t even begun to shine yet. The down pour of rain that had yet to let up since starting yesterday was continuing full on making the whole situation worse. Classes hadn’t even begun yet and the semester was already starting off oh so great. “It’s not my fault! You’re the one that unplugged the damn alarm for your precious phone, Celia.” She screamed back at me right before we hit the doors. We made it to the brick building with enough time to find our classes. Both of us were senior English majors and in our last year of school. Neither 96
she nor I wanted to take the remaining class we had for our general education credits. Lola opted for Introduction to Theatre and I chose Choir. “I’ll see you after this for English,” she said as she turned into her classroom. I nodded and continued on to the choir room. The next thing I knew I felt myself slip in a puddle. My feet went out from under me and I painfully felt the floor connect with my backside. “Oh shit, are you ok?” a voice behind me asked as I started to get my bearings again. I looked up to see a scrawny sort of guy with blonde hair and glasses; wearing a Zelda t-shirt and the most unholy color of pink converse looking down at me. “I guess. My ass just hurts,” I replied starting to pick myself up off the gray tile floor. “Here let me help,” he said smiling as he grabbed hold of my arm and hauled me up. For a scrawny guy he sure had strength. “As long as you didn’t hit your head you should be alright. A bruised ass is way better than a bruised head. I would know,” he said with a grin. He still had a hold of my arm and I couldn’t help but look up at him. He was really tall and handsome in that dorkish way. Call is stupid all you want but I got butterflies in my stomach right then. Turns out we had choir together. We snuck in while the teachers back was at the white board. After drying off and getting dressed I checked the clock. 12:00 pm on the dot. “Wow. I’m actually on schedule this time. That’s a shocker,” I say. I’m usually a good fifteen to thirty minutes late to almost everything. About that time Lola, may maid of Honor and my two bridesmaids Cathy and Kendra came knocking on the door. “Open up woman! We need to get going to the salon whether you’re showered or not. Otherwise we’ll end up late. Your dad’s already called me like ten times to make sure your up.” I hear Lola’s yell. I gather up my suitcase, and the box with my dress, shoes, veil and jewelry in it and head to the door. “I’m coming. Hold you’re horses!” I yell back, fumbling with the door knob. I make it open and am instantly rushed at by all three women into a tackle of hugs. “Oh I can’t believe you’re getting married today!” I hear from who I think to be Cathy. “We’re so happy for you!” Kendra half chokes out as she tries not to cry. “Thanks girls. Now can you please get off? I kind of can’t breathe here,” I say laughing and hugging each of them. Lola grins and says, “Ok now we really need to 97
get going. We need to be at the salon by 10:30.” With that we all grab our stuff and head out to Cathy’s black Honda after I pay and turn in my room key. The quick ride to the salon is filled endless chatter of where the honeymoon is going to be at and what all we’re going to be doing there. When we reach the salon and hop out Cathy and Kendra go on a head to let out hair dresser Brent know that we’re here. Lola takes my shoulders, looks me dead in the eye and asks, “Are you one hundred fifty thousand billionths sure you want to do this?” I just look at her, close my eyes and smile. “Yes Lola I do. Just because the idea of marriage scares you, doesn’t mean that it scares me. I’m ready for this. Hell I’ve always been ready for this.” Her arms drop from my shoulders. “It doesn’t scare me. I just think there’s more to life than being with one person. I mean, don’t you think you guys are a little too young to be doing this?” She asks. I just stare at the person I call my best friend for a moment and then reach over to hug her. “I love you, Lola. You’re my best friend and I know that you’re just looking out for me. I wouldn’t have said yes if I didn’t really love Robby and want to marry him. Everything will be alright. You’ll see, sis.” I say to her as I let her go and head into the salon. As Brent starts to curl my hair and his assistant Mandy does my makeup I drift into thinking about mine and Robby’s first date. It was about a month after we met that first day of class and as excited as I was I was also nervous. I didn’t date much in high school and the same now in college. I only had one boyfriend and that was the beginning of sophomore year for only a couple months. I want to do things right this time to I spent hours picking out just the right outfit. I’d finally settled on my nice jeans, a purple V-neck sweater with my black converse when Lola came in. “Better take your jacket, home skillet. It’s probably going to rain again and those shoes will get soaked.” I looked out our small dorm window. There were a few clouds around the setting sun but nothing major or anything that seemed like rain. “I’ll take my chances, Lo. I think I’ll be alright. Should I curl my hair or leave it straight?” I asked. She looked me up and down then told me to curl it. I always look better with curls. I spent thirty minutes curling my medium length dark brown hair then 98
proceeded to put my make up on. I went full out which was a challenge, considering I don’t normally wear any makeup at all; all the while with Lola watching me like a hawk from her bed. Knock knock knock. “Oh God he’s here,” I said as I grabbed my purse off my bed. “Just be careful, Celia. Don’t do anything stupid,” Lola said before I opened the door. Upon opening said door I was greeted by an adorable looking Robby in khaki pants, a green sweater with his blonde hair spiked up for the occasion; he held a bunch of purple daisies. “Hey, Celia,” he said with a grin, “I hope you like daisies. I thought they seemed more you then roses. Not that you’re not the romantic rose type but you’re cooler than roses. I mean-“. He was just sort of rambling so I took the flowers from them and gave him a hug. “Thanks, Robby. I love them,” I said with a smile. I laid them on my bed and we went on the date. It was dinner and then a walk through the park. To some it may seem stupid but it was actually very sweet. We spent the entire time talking about what we liked and didn’t like. Our families and the stuff you’d normally talk about on a date. We stayed at the park for the longest time. It had started to rain at some point and Robby gave me his jacket. When we finally got back to my dorm he hugged me and we kissed. I was so happy when I closed the door I jumped up and down like a maniac. I knew it was the beginning of something amazing. “Alright, sugar. You’re all done and I have to say, you look gorgeous,” Brent said snapping me out of my thoughts. I look in the mirror and can’t help but get teary eyed. “Oh, sweetie, don’t cry! For one you’ll mess up your make up and for two I’ll start crying too,” he said. My hair was all curled. Better than anything I could do and with the amazing makeup job Mandy did and my veil in place I can’t help but think I actually look gorgeous. By then the rest of the girls also have their hair and makeup done. “You guys look amazing!” I gush as I walk up to them. Lola’s red hair, Cathy’s blonde and Kendra’s Black is all in chignons at the back of their heads with fringe on the front. Each of their make-up looks astounding. “Mandy, you did such a great job!” I tell the stylist as I give her a huge hug. We pay and leave then head to the church. By now its 2:30. The ceremony is 99
supposed to start at 4. As we grab all our stuff from the trunk and head inside it occurs to me that Robby will be headed here soon too. I smile as we head to the bridal room. Setting down our stuff Kendra asks me “How did Robby propose?” Cathy looked over at me and said, “Yeah you never really told us. Was it some big thing?” I took my dress and hung it up. It’s the perfect dress. My dad and I looked everywhere for it. A tea length vintage sweetheart neckline with a lace overlay. Absolute gorgeousness. “We had been dating a year and it was a couple months after grad. We went to the community theatre one night. They were doing Cinderella. Once it was over and we were about to leave he stopped me on the steps, got down on one knee and asked me. I said yes obviously,” I said to them with what I knew was the biggest goofiest grin on my face. I could feel my eyes get teary but remembered what Brent had said about my make-up. “Then she called me, crying and saying how happy she was and that she couldn’t wait to get married.” Lola said with her back turned to the three of us while she hung up her light blue Maid of Honor dress. “Well that’s a good thing don’t you think? I mean you are her best friend. You’ve been together since high school. We’ve just known Celia for what, three years,” Cathy said. My dad came into the room then and told us we should get our dresses on because by that time it as three. “I’ll be waiting outside for you, sweetie. Just let me know how if you need anything. Your mother would be so proud of you,” Dad told me as he kissed me on the forehead. My mom had passed a few years ago so it was a little bitter sweet. “Ok daddy. I love you!” I told him. “Alright girls. Let’s hop to it.” We proceeded to change into our wedding attire. The girls in their light blue dresses and me in my white one. We were a gorgeous sight and before we knew it, it was time to head down the hall to get in line. As we met up with my dad in the hall he nearly burst into tears. “Honey, you look absolutely gorgeous!” Dad said hugging me tight. “I’ll be right back. I have to check something” Lola said as she went into the next room. “I can’t wait to walk up that aisle. I love Robby so much,” I told Cathy and Kendra. They both smiled and hugged me. We waited a bit but Lola didn’t show up. “I’ll just go see what’s keeping 100
her. Be right back sweetie,” Dad said as he went in the same direction Lola had gone. The girls and I filled the time with chit chat about how nice the weather was and how glad we were that it had hung on so well and not rained. “That son of a bitch,” I heard my dad say as he came back into sight. “Daddy what’s wrong? Is everything ok? Where’s Lola?” I asked him feeling suddenly frantic. He just looked at me then grabbed me in to another bone breaking hug before saying, “Baby, I don’t know how to tell you this but Robby and Lola ran off. Together. I’m so sorry. If he ever shows his face around again I’ll kill him.” I started crying and saying no over and over again. I couldn’t believe it. My best friend had run away with the love of my life. I rode in the back seat of the car after my dad told everyone to go on home. He didn’t explain exactly why but he got the point across. I still had on my wedding dress, my perfect, amazingly awesome wedding dress. I still look beautiful and I still can’t believe it. Dad drove us to his house, not wanting me to be alone tonight. Once we arrived I went to my old room with all my old things from high school and when I began college. After everything my best friend betrayed me. Did I miss something out of all the times we had hung out as a group? To my knowledge they hadn’t even been left alone in the same room. Still in that blessed wedding dress I went down stairs to get something to drink. On dad’s side table was a letter addressed to me. It was dated today so it must have been mailed either yesterday or earlier this morning. I picked it up, opened it and proceeded to read Dear Celia, I never meant to hurt you but recently I’ve realized I don’t want to be married. We’re only twenty-two. We have our whole lives ahead of us. Lola feels the same way. I thought that I would change my mind but I didn’t. By now Lola and I would have taken the tickets we were going to use for our honeymoon and gone. You’re a great girl you just have the personality of a wet mop sometimes. I need someone with spunk. Basically I need Lola. I hope one day you can forgive the both of us but know that I did love you and that I was going to marry you. We just aren’t compatible. I love classics and you hate them. I can’t stand that ridiculous thing you call TV. Those 101
are only the minor things. There are more. I guess what I’m saying is have a nice life and I’m sure you’ll find someone else. Love Robby I guess not everyone can mesh personalities. I guess there are some times where things are so magical that they aren’t truly real. There has to be a breaking point somewhere. He couldn’t handle my hitches. He didn’t want the life I wanted. I think of the furniture in our new apartment. Half his and half mine as I sit on my dad’s couch. I have the rest of mine in storage so I can either sell his, p it in storage, or keep it. I don’t want that no good traitors furniture. I smile as I think of the most awesome idea. Guess Cathy, Kendra and I will be making a trip out to the country with a trailer of furniture to burn next weekend.
CONTRIBUTORS Amanda Bell was born in Lawton, Oklahoma. Always a lover of words, she attended Eisenhower High School, where she gained an interest in creative writing and decided to pursue a degree at Cameron University. In addition to reading and writing, Amanda enjoys baking and overanalyzing obscure web comics. Amanda considers herself blessed and looks forward to graduating from Cameron in May 2013. Maurice Buckner is a rare native Lawtonian who left but soon returned. He served in two branches of the military, Army and Navy, where he was a Unit Supply Specialist in the former and a Hospital Corpsman in the latter. He is the father of three children: Tylik, Coben and Arianna, who he contributes to keeping his mind sharp, alert and alive. He writes because writing is one of the few places where he feels as himself. He enjoys the parched, bland outdoors that Southwest Oklahoma provides. He defends this landscape and wouldn't trade it for the world! Amanda Goemmer is a senior English major at Cameron University. After graduation, she plans to attend the MFA program at the University of North Carolina. She writes poetry, fiction, and creative non-fiction. Her work has been featured at the Scissortail Creative Writing Festival. She lives in Elgin, Oklahoma with her husband and two children. Hailey D. Harris is a student at Cameron University double majoring in graphic design and printmaking. Since her first years as an art student she has grown to appreciate all types of mediums and enjoys experimenting with anything from traditional art to digital art. In November she was recently accepted into the “Oklahoma: Centerfold” Regional Juried Show at the Leslie Powell Gallery with her piece “Alluring Display”, and has been awarded the Leslie Powell Scholarship for the 2013-2014 academic year. She is a recipient of the Laura Fields Scholarship, McMahon Scholarship, and is a member of Aggie Ambassadors, Cameron Art Guild, Aggie Sharp Start, Phi Kappa 105
Phi Honor Society, The Whoâ€™s Who Award, and the Top 20 Students Award. Jacob Jardel is a senior at Cameron University, majoring in Psychology with a minor in English. Born on Guam, he has spent most of his life in Lawton, where he graduated from Lawton High in 2009. He is a member of Cameron's Honors Program and President of the Honors Student Society. He's also a member of the Mind Games academic team, Psi Chi, and Phi Kappa Phi. Jardel is also a proud Hufflepuff and Nerdfighter. His favorite Doctor is Ten, and his spirit Pokemon is Psyduck. Katherine Johnson is a Junior English major attending Cameron University. She is twenty two years old, and loves writing fantasy fiction and poetry. She is an avid gamer, and fancier of felines. She lives in Lawton, Oklahoma with her family, two cats, and dog, Smokey. She has high hopes of one day becoming a world-renowned author. Keaton Lamle writes non-fiction about pop culture, religion, and politics. He is a columnist for Okie Magazine and regularly contributes to the Burnside Writers Collective. Upon graduating from Cameron, Keaton will be pursuing an M.F.A. in Creative Writing at Kennesaw State University. Sara McLaughlin was born and resides in Lawton, Oklahoma. She currently attends Cameron University and is pursuing her bachelors in English with an emphasis in creative writing and a minor in communications. She is married and has two children. Indie Michaels is a radio personality on Magic-95 and publisher of OKIE magazine. She is originally from Kansas City, Missouri. She has working in publishing since 1995, radio since 2000, and been a resident of Lawton, Oklahoma since 2004. Rhiannon Poolaw is a junior at Cameron University and is a member of Sigma Tau 106
Delta English Honor Society. The past two semesters she has been listed on the President’s Honor Roll for maintaining a 4.0 GPA. Rhiannon worked on the staff of the Spring 2013 issue of The Oklahoma Review. She has been happily married for four years to Ross Poolaw and together they have a two year old Princess named Ryleigh Nevaeh. She is an avid reader, collector, and movie enthusiast. Mikayla Riddles is an Oklahoma native who didn't realize her love of writing until the age of 23. She grew up in Duncan, Oklahoma, graduating from Comanche High School. After High School she traveled and then attended missionary bible training school in Tyler, Texas. With this organization she traveled to South Korea, and Germany. After returning home she began attending college at Cameron University and is now in her junior year working on a Bachelor's in English Literature with a minor in Creative Writing. She credits her love of poetry to her love of music.
Blagica Ristovska is a young artist and aspiring architect from Stip, Macedonia. In 2013 she graduated from Cameron University earning a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in studio art. While studying at Cameron University, Ristovska held the position of Vice President for the Cameron Art Guild and a Senator for the School of Liberal Arts at the University’s Student Government Association. She is a member of the National Honor Society Phi Kappa Phi and three time recipient of the Who’s Who Award. The Macedonian culture reflected in the architecture throughout the centuries has become an inspiration for her art. Her love for architecture and historic preservation has motivated her to pursue a Graduate Degree in Architecture to become professional licensed architect. Shelby Stancil is a senior at Cameron University majoring in English (Creative Writing) and minoring in Journalism. She lives in Lawton, Oklahoma with her family. Shelby hopes to pursue a career as an editor at a publishing company degree and live in or around New York City, as well as travel to the United Kingdom. In her free time she likes to read anything she can get her hands on, edit and criticize newspapers articles for fun, and watch reruns of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. 107
Kaitlyn Stockton is a senior at Cameron University. She is an English major with a concentration in Literature. She is minoring in Journalism and currently writes for the school newspaper, the Collegian. She is a member of Sigma Tau Delta, Phi Kappa Phi, and Phi Eta Sigma. She dreams of becoming a copyeditor for novels. Carson Stringham is a senior English major at Cameron University, with a minor in Journalism. Carson has been married to his wife, Jennifer, for eleven years and they have four children. Carson spent ten combined years of Active Duty and National Guard service in the Army, deploying to Iraq twice. His poetry has appeared in Crosstimbers and been featured at The Scissortail Creative Writing Festival. He is a member of Student Veterans of America, Phi Eta Sigma National Honors Society, Phi Kappa Phi National Honors Society, is the VP of CU's Magic Lantern Film Society, and is VP Sigma Tau Delta English Honors Society.
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS The Gold Mine is a literary and fine arts journal of student work by the students of Cameron University in Lawton, Oklahoma. Special thanks to all of the editors and readers who selected from a large amount of wonderful works and to all of those who submitted. The editors wish to thank Vice-President Jennifer Holland and the SAFAC committee members for their help in making The Gold Mine possible and Susan Hill for her help with promoting the journal. Thanks to the faculty of the Departments of English and Foreign Languages and Art for their constant support to student writers and artists.