The Reynolds Young Writers Workshop at Denison University - Anthology 2021

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Stories Are Never Finished: Only Left Behind

The Jonathan R. Reynolds Young Writers Workshop 2021


THE JONATHAN R. REYNOLDS YOUNG WRITERS WORKSHOP

2021


Table of Contents Alexandria Adams………………………………………………………………………....………………………….1 Jake Alley………………………………………………………………………………………………………..…… 3 Ashden Bagwell…………………………………………………………………………….………………………5 Chloe Costa Baker…………………………………………………………………………………………..………7 Derek Bao……………………………………………………………………………………………………...………9 Amelia Barfield……………………………………………………………………….………………….…………11 EJ Bookout………………………………………………………………………………………………....…………13 Chiara Burson………………………………………………………………………………………………....……15 Leah Cashin…………………………………………………………………………………...……………..………17 Anne Chen……………………………………………………………………………………………..…...…...……18 Thierry Chu……………………………………………………………………………………………....…….……19 Ford Clark………………………………………………………………………………………..……………………21 Fheyanna (Fhey) Corral……………………………………………………….………………...……………….23 Megan Davis……………………………………………………………………………………………..……………25 Gage Diehl……………………………………………………………………….………………………………….…26 Nicholas Dlugos…………………………………………………………………………………………….………28 Zeran Fei…………………………………………………………………………………………………...……….…30 Anna Ferris……………………………………………………………………………………………..……….……32 Charlotte Hagen…………………..…………………………………………………………….…………..………34 Randall Hatfield…..……………………………………………………………………………………..…….……36 Olivia Hoffman-Paul………………………………………………………………………………………….……37


Lucy James……………………………………………………………………………………………………….39 Genevieve Jobson………………………………………………………………………………………………41 Liann Keren………………………………………………………………………………….……………………42 Sydney Kim……………………………………………………………………………….....……………………44 Amelia Knaysi……………………………………………………………………………………….……………46 Katie Koeppl………………………………………………………………………………………………………48 Harper Kucik…………………………………………………………………………………………………....…50 Gretchen Lamkin…………………………………………………………………………………………………52 Olivia Le………………………………………………………………………………………………………………54 Sophie Lee……………………………………………………………………………………………………………55 Janey (Jay) Li…………………………………………………………………………………………………………57 Amy Lindberg……………………………………………………………………………………..…………………59 Nicholas Manetas……………………………………………………………………………...……………………61 Quinn McNaughton…………………………………………………………………………………………………63 Sonia Mehta……………………………………………………………………………………………………………65 Jaden Moore…………………………………………………………………….………………………………………67 Bennet Mosk……………………………………………………………………………………………………………69 Molly Murphey…………………………………………………………………………………………………………71 T-Wolf Nguyen…………………………………………………………………………………………………………73 Lexy O’Dell…………………………………………………………………………….…………………………………75 Sarah Ogden……………………………………………………………………………..………………………………77 Maya Oliver………………………………………………………………………………….……………………………79


Gunner Onkst………………………………………………………………………………………………………81 Naim Ouafi…………………………….…….…………………………………………………….………..………82 Anastasialy Pacheco……………………..…………………………………………………….…..……………84 Ria Parikh………………………………………..…………………………………………….…....………………86 Jack Payne……………………………………………………………………………………………………………88 Neptune Peterson………………………………….………………………………………………………...……90 Christina Polge………………………………..…………..……………………….………………………………92 Trinity Polk……………………………………………………………………………………..……………………93 Deeya Prakash…………………………………………………………..……..……………………………………95 Izabella Ramirez……………………………………………………………………………………………………97 Eryn Richards………………………………………………………………….…………………………….………99 Maydali Rosado…………………………………………………….……….…………...…………..……………101 Myla Ross……………………………………………………………….…….…….…….…………..…………..…103 Maddy Russell………………………………………………………….….…….………...……….………….…..105 Ryan Sheppard……………………………………………..…………….………..………...…….………………107 Jake Shevitz………………………………………………….……….….…………..…………..….………………109 Henry Shriber………………………………………………..…..…………………..…………….………………111 Hallie Smith…………………………………….……………………………………..……….……………………113 Sarah Tibbits…………………………………………………………………………..……………………………115 Ava Marie Trask…………………………………………………………………………...…………………….…117 Caitryn Tronoski………………………………..…………………………….………..…….……………………119 El Varner Waltz……………………………………………………………………..………………………………120


Sophie Walgren…………………………………………………………………………………………………………122 Grace Wang………………………………………………………………………………………………………………124 Abby Wilber……………………………………………………………...………………………………………………126 Mia Zottoli……………………………………………………………………………….……………..…………………128 Quotes from Reynolds 2021………………………………………………………………………………...……..130


1 Alexandria Adams

Repairing A Bruised Brain My feet drag, Fighting my brain Who’s thoughts roam incessantly. My hands hold coffee to my heart, In hopes of hiding the tragedy. My fingers’ joints were once untouched, But now spattered with bruises-They seem to speak, On behalf of love, And not who wins or loses. Stories run deep Beneath the flesh, Black and blue from impact. Their origins blur together, In streaks of the abstract. Purpose lacks as I trudge, Regardless of the backlash. Streetlights are the first to judge, As my presence passes. Shadows looming overhead, Have more to say than darkness-Within warning and support,


2 They guide me to my conscience. Nevermind the selfish past Or what was once a conquest. I use this time to be set free, From expectations of the longest.

My shoulders breach their hunched locale, Taking pressure off my backside. My coffee now cold, Leaves my mind feeling allied. At pity parties once within, Guests’ glasses leak half empty. Validity reassessed, I leave without sense of sorry. I recognize the rationale Rejuvenated by richness. Emotions left to fall, No longer can I witness.


3 Jake Alley

A Thousand Stars Gazing out over the once red land, Abe felt a sense of cool placation overcome him—a giddiness that came with the quite literal sight of hard work finally reaching its destination. Grass was growing amongst the red soil, and indentations and chasm in Mars’s barren lands were beginning to accumulate moisture—and soon that moisture would pool and recycle itself until they were ponds and flowing rivers… which, from there, would feed into the clouds and the atmosphere beyond them. Soon, Mars would be a second habitat for humanity. From there, anything was possible. Personally, Abe believed there would come a time where humans were so spread out amongst the cosmos that only a minority of them would have ever set foot on earth—around the heavenly body, Gaia, there would be a sense of mysticism that could never be unraveled or paralleled. At one point, the planet we once all called home would be like a religious homeland to make pilgrimage to every odd decade or so—and that was only if one could really afford it. He couldn’t see prices for space travel decreasing in the next thousand years. Abe, through the glass dome of the observation deck, gazed at the stars that dotted the night sky like little pinholes that had been poked through a black tarp to allow light from God only knew where to pry through. It was beautiful. And somewhere amongst the motley of whites there was earth—there was almost a trillion people living in a disastrous cacophony of war and disease. Mars would be different for a time. Hell, it was already different know. Abe glanced over his shoulder, through the other side of the deck’s glass top, and noted the way the soft curves of the United States Observatory were almost perfectly hidden amongst the canyons. He could scarcely tell at the moment, but those canyons were beginning to flower—even now, if he looked


4 carefully and diligently enough, he could see the glistening ripples of light from the faraway sun cascading over the mutated fauna. It looked similar enough to earthling plants from so far away, but getting up close meant taking full advantage of all the subliminal details that had had to be changed within the plants’ genetic code to enable them to survive the harsh conditions of Mars—soon, however, they wouldn’t be so harsh. Abe prayed such a time might come before his death, but with his failing health and murmuring heart he knew this was not likely. He was far too old. In birth, colonization on Mars had been but a dream glazing the tongues of the most creative and driven entrepreneurs in the world; in death, it would be a hostile planet only tenanted by a couple dozen scientists who were protected at all times either by thick walls or compact space-suits. One day, he told himself. One day… He could almost see it now: instead of rocky spires, soft green hills; instead of canyons, oceans; instead of storms and blights so harsh that they had already claimed six lives, lightning and rain that fell at semi-regular intervals; and interrupting large, vast plains there would be cities and metal structures meant to aid in the conversion of carbon-dioxide into breathable oxygen. It was all so plausible… yet so out of reach, if only by a few years. A few too many years, seeing that he was already pushing the natural bounds of how long people were meant to survive. Nevertheless, the time would come. Humans would have a second home. And, in due time, they would be able to fully do away with the first, until humankind’s original sun only existed in the annals of space-age folklore that had only just begun to develop.


5 Ashden Bagwell

Phantoms of the Deep God knows how long they have existed, these things that take the shape of black masses made up of murky vapor found in the deepest depths of the ocean. They have no organs and no skeleton, just masses of black fog who work like parasites, possessing the mind of a host. They were first discovered somewhere in the mid-nineties by the few who dared to discover what lies on the deepest seabed. Somehow, they were able to catch one of these things and bring it back with them for research. The group wanted to conduct experiments on their new specimen, conducting trials upon trials to see what this thing would do with other specimens. Poking...prodding...obsessing...never leaving it alone...never letting it out… Since the first day of experiments, everyone was too terrified to even touch these things, due to the carnage they were capable of. What they found out was that these foggy masses will surround its host, then sink itself inside the host through pores of its skin and any major holes in the body. The host’s eyes dilate, then are paralyzed for up to an hour. The parasite carves its own memories into the host’s mind, causing delusions and horrific visions; it’s almost like having a nightmare, but with your eyes wide open. Why do they do this? Is it to embed their history into the mind of a host? Is this how their legacy moves along generation to generation? Professionals believe that this is their way of speaking through others. A lot of the time, the


6 specimens died of shock or even committed suicide because the terrors were too great. No problem for the parasite, just start the cycle over again. Humans react just a little differently than the fish described above. They have a strong, panicked need to record what they see as soon as they awake from their paralysis. An entire journal of nightmarish descriptions was found in the apartment of a researcher who made close contact with the parasite who forced itself inside her mind. In barely legible handwriting, she wrote about her visions of containment, claustrophobia, torture, darkness, and death. Dr. Graham’s doctor and other collaborators in her field worried that this parasite was driving her mad. They all claimed that this thing was transforming her into a paranoid insomniac who fears these nightmares. They keep telling her to get rid of it, but she doesn’t know how. She has even admitted to fantasizing her own death to rid herself of the living hell of witnessing something else’s memories through her own eyes. She fears falling into a coma or drowning in the deep seabed with no way out. No way out. No way out. No way out. You are probably very skeptical of what I am sharing with you. It seems so made up, right? It seems like something only a madman could make up one late night. It seems too fantastical and terrifying to be real. You must be wondering why I even bother to write this. Am I just trying to write some campfire story to scare children, somehow creating a cautionary tale about man being a disturbance to nature, or about what we don’t know about our ocean? Well, I wish I was creative enough to think of something like this from my imagination, but I couldn’t make this up if I tried. My name is Chelsea Graham, and as of now, there is a foggy black parasite living deep inside my head.


7 Chloe Costa Baker

i. Anxiety’s Companion I wish I could be free of that anxious person who frequents the theater in my brain. They watch every social interaction as a horror movie, peering through their fingers, unable to look away. In spite of themself, they never miss a showing, watching certain features multiple times. They love and hate the suspense of it all. It puts them on edge, their skin crawling, anticipating. They live for the dread, waiting for the jump scare. I wait for the credits to roll. The anxious person’s companion is more unshakable still. The picture of charisma and composure. The kind of person who talks during horror movies. They mock the protagonist’s stupidity; their callous voice bears the careless humor of the casual critic. While their friend cowers, they laugh, unencumbered, and it echoes in the dark theater until it is all that I can hear. ii. Blessings and Their Disguises Once upon a time, a baby girl was born. Fairies came from far and wide to bestow gifts upon her--intelligence, humility, grace. But one fairy, intent upon sowing discord, cursed the baby with an iron tongue, ensuring that her words would grate upon all that heard them. The last fairy took pity on this fate. She declared that when the girl learned to speak, her tongue would not turn to iron, but to gold, the most precious of metals. Now each word would be worth more than her family’s fortune. Naturally, they were overcome with gratitude. No one considered that gold is far heavier than iron. iii. Chat Now our face heats and our body courses with adrenaline--we are tired from the sprint, the clumsy rush forward, our voice stretching breaking reaching for the finish line--and now the chat box fills up with words of praise and so we take a picture--maybe because it warms our heart,


8 maybe because it could vanish before our eyes, and maybe it’s the same part of us that is always so desperate for a conversation’s end, so ready to be done talking yet so terrified of the silence--and now it’s so clear we should have read slower, should have enunciated more, shouldn’t have stumbled at all, but isn’t it just so typical of us to trip over terrain we created? iv. Did you know? I remember the first time you thought about being perceived. You were in the third or fourth grade, maybe nine, maybe ten. You were wearing a red shirt, I think. Or maybe it was that shade of purple your mother called periwinkle. Regardless, that was the moment you first considered how you appeared to the outside observer. It made you uneasy, that there existed a vision of you you weren’t privy to. Innumerable visions, one for every person that beheld you. How did you sound to them? How did you come across? You would never know. It was an awakening, to be sure, a splitting open of consciousness, a head turned inside out so that the hard parts went inward and the soft parts faced the world. It was waking up in the depth of night to find that what you’d thought were stars above you were really thousands of wide-open eyes. v. Etymology Lies: present tense. Lies here. Lies ahead. Lies in wait. Lies: third person. Lies with you. Lies to you. Lies within you. Lies: subtle. Lies supine, submissive, servile. Lies prone and passive. Lies on the ground, the ground you walked on. The ground that broke your bones. vi. Filters Words drown the page; waves crash on sands of white. Words: rainwater collecting in my head. They drip into my fingertips instead. Because, it seems, my lips are watertight.


9 Derek Bao

Staring at Ceiling Tiles Once You’re Gone Outside the rain fell, running through the dark as we did, hitting the ground as our shoes did. But now, I stare at the moth-covered lights, their wings scattering everything I could see. The promise of bells in starry nights, of mustard flowers in swirling fields, were replaced with these swaying moths. Instead of running through the rain, I lay on this old, carpet floor, in this cube of mildew walls in this room where above me, the ceiling tiles were swollen and curved, covered in brown stains from the rain. All I could do was stare, stare at the ceiling stains. I lay here, in this room, this cube, this place, where moths had replaced us.


10

I thought that I had found something, stumbled upon what could be mine. A bag filled with what I desired, open for me. But as I ate those seeds that I thought would not sprout, their roots stretched into the cavity of me, and the flower spread itself in my chest. It glorious petals brushed against the inside of me, the sensation a bloom at my heart. I thought it was love, but it was pain instead.

The flower rests in the hollow space in my chest, its weight heavy. Heavy like a concrete block, like tons of iron. It makes me want to kneel over, to cry out, to scream because of the agony it causes me. And everytime I speak, the flower chokes me, and forces me to cough out its petals. Even now it sits there, like a crown in my chest instead on my head.

I can only hope it withers.


11 Amelia Barfield

Excerpt from Lightbulb Land Lana walked out of Lightbulb Land wearing her long royal blue winter coat, prepared for Cold to come. The coat did nothing to keep Cold out. She felt the chilling wind of his breath disrupting the flyaway hairs that had come loose from the sloppy bun at the nape of her neck. Irritated, she took a deep breath as she allowed the glass door to her store close behind her, not looking back at her bright yellow flickering florescent sign proudly advertising LIGHTBULB LAND. Instead she looked straight ahead of her, out onto the downtown area, where the luminous, non-flickering signs advertising restaurants and clothing stores and movie theaters shone obnoxiously, too many colors that made them overwhelming. She tried never to look behind her on nights like this. Cold liked to sneak up behind her, and she tried to give him the satisfaction of believing that he had surprised her. She sensed his arrogant energy first and had to resist the temptation to turn around and bop him on the nose. He hated being treated like a child and thought himself quite mysterious, but to Lana, he seemed like a little boy playing pretend that he was one of the tall, dark, mysterious types in the movies. If she were to give into the temptation, he would storm off into the night, disappear, and not speak to her for months. Cold was like an angsty teenage boy, but Lana had to give in to his facade because he was the only person who spoke to her like she was sane, and she needed a companion, no matter how ridiculous he was. Then, she felt his cold hand, spidery fingers and all, on her shoulder and whipped around to see that he had appeared directly behind her, entirely too close to her face, staring at her intensely, as he often did. His icy blue eyes caught hers and burned into her mind. She was always unnerved when she saw them,


12 despite having seen them so many times; they were unnaturally whitish-blue, or, Lana supposed, supernaturally blue. Cold was a being of nature, and his eyes, therefore, could not be unnatural. He was lanky, tall and slender to the point of looking sickly. When Cold and Lana went to the local cafe together to share a meal, there would inevitably be an older woman who passed them by at the ordering counter, shoving her way in front of them, addressing the cashier, insisting, “I’ll handle it. I’d like to pay for their food,” before slapping a twenty dollar bill onto the counter. Lana would try to convince the woman that she could handle it herself, but the woman would reply with something to the effect of, “You have enough to worry about,” as she smiled sincerely. When the cashier handed the woman her change, she would reach out for Cold’s hands, which he would reluctantly surrender, and press the coins into his palms. The old woman would then clasp her hands around Cold’s, the chill of his fingers seeming to confirm her suspicion that he was terminally ill, and gaze into his blue eyes as his shoulders tensed uncomfortably. She’d shake his hands, looking down at his ghostly pale, almost grey, papery skin. Just as Cold began to consider yanking his hands away, she would nod and give him a pitying smile before releasing her grasp and parting, muttering to her husband or friend, “… such a shame… so young… so sad.” Cold hated the attraction he drew in public, so he tried to go out only at night, but his eyes seemed to glow even brighter in the darkness, when wearing sunglasses to hide them would only attract more attention. He tried to eliminate every other extraordinary aspect of himself as well. He wore dark colors and typically draped a heavy, baggy, black coat over his shoulders to conceal the way his ribs appeared to protrude through thinner fabrics. He wore a grey beanie, the trendy sort that people wore across the small city of Oakbrook, to conceal his curly, black-as-night hair. He kept his hands shoved into his pockets and his shoulders slouched forward, making himself look more like an under-confident high-school kid than an ancient power that people feared and wished away year after year.


13 EJ Bookout

Dog Days The roses by the porch drop petals like half-moons, innocence-pink with a stench that clings to your neck like a noose. You peel the petals from drooping heads, and pink flesh stains your palms, spilling across the calluses you’ve bartered for since you were a baby. No one has noticed that your nails are bitten down to the quick, or if they have, they haven’t given any indication of it besides the pitiful glances that make you feel as if you’ve bathed in gasoline. The phantom stench of it floods your lungs, even here, wearing a black dress swallowed up by the shadows in the cypress trees. The cops told you that you’re a victim, too. They sipped black coffee from gray thermoses, and they reassured you that they were doing all that they could. That they would bring justice. You grabbed the tissue box, then, because you felt like you were drowning every time they knocked on your door. Because you are the child who found the body, barely sixteen, and now you are the one who sits on the porch, watching the sunset kiss blood across the Louisiana skyline. While the rest of the community mourns, you are the one who stares at the sun to force your eyes to burn. You’re wiping away false tears when the screen door slams open and Davie shoves a green cup into your periphery.


14 You take it like a blessing. Tell him thank you. He looks like his father when he smiles, blood welling up in the cracks between his teeth and his gums. This should bother you, but his cheeks still bruise red-blue when he blushes, and his eyes still crinkle up the color of the couch stuffed with mourners. He may look just like his father, but you know that there’s nothing Davie resents more than his own face. He still wears it, though, so when you sit with him like this, gnats circling you like planets in orbit, everyone gives you a wide berth. Three moths crash into citronella candles before he speaks. “Those cops came to see your ma again.” You do not turn around. They do not suspect you, and even if they did, there’s no evidence. You knew enough to douse it all in gasoline. “How long are they stayin’?” Davie shrugs. “I dunno. You weren’t around, but Sheriff Johnson stopped over last time I was watchin’ Kate. Left pretty quick. Just asked somethin’ about Pa’s enemies.” You hum. Lean back until you can feel splinters shoot warnings into the flesh behind your knees. Davie looks at you like he always does—too knowing. “You goin’ home?” You take a sip, and the lemonade burns all the way down. There’s no point in replying; he already knows. You’ve read the books, you’ve watched the movies. It’s a small town. You’ll stay just long enough to apply for a job in the city and then get the hell out of Dodge. Until then, you’ll avoid the grandmothers clotting like blood on the street corners, staring you down from the windows of white-washed churches like Jesus himself never could. You’ll pick at the roses and drink warm lemonade, answering questions and bowing your head until the trail goes cold.


15 Chiara Burson

Sisters “Viola.” I shoot awake, looking down at Cove. She’s still fast asleep in her spot by the creek, her black hair in a thick braid across her shoulder. The sight of her makes me smile briefly, but my stomach drops when I hear a disturbing chuckle. “Come now, little sister. Do you honestly not recognize the sound of my voice?” Cecily has always been more beautiful than me. Her skin is a smooth tan, her blonde waves perfectly arranged across one shoulder. Her eyes lock onto mine I turn around, and her full lips pull into a cruel smile. “Wha-” I stammer, getting to my feet. “Cecily, what are you-how-” “With the snow curse, I would have found you much sooner if these woods were a field.” I hug myself. I know my albinism isn’t a curse; just the result of unlucky genetics. But my sister started calling it “the snow curse” when we were kids, and it caught on to everyone, even my parents. Poor Viola, they said, cursed with freakishly pale skin, hair white as snow, and eyes that seem like poorly-cut rubies embedded into her skull. I look down at Cove. She somehow doesn’t stir Cecily looks too and smirks. “Well, now that this is all sorted out, I’ll take this girl and you back home.” “What?” I exclaim. “But-she didn’t even do anything!” “She’s Jurian. That’s enough.”


16 For the briefest second, I look at the tattoo on Cove’s shoulder that signifies who she is. A water drop surrounded by a perfectly round circle. The Jurian people that have built their home on the sea, and whom my own people despise for their prosperity. I remember her washing up on our shores, her pale skin easily identifiable in the rough gravel of our beach. All that it took was one look at that tattoo, and she was thrown into a cage in the town square, as people spit at her and demanded to know the secret to entering Juria. She was scorned for who she was. Like me. That’s why I broke her out. We ran for days into the woods, and she was surprisingly optimistic and could always make me laugh. But now, as I look at her peacefully sleeping form, I feel a longing in my heart. For her. Cecily’s smirk drops. “Well?” She makes me shrink back, but. “She did absolutely nothing to us. She didn’t hurt anyone. She was more kind to me than you or our parents or anyone else ever was and…” My voice trails off, my cheeks now feeling like they’ve been lit on fire. Cecily blinks, and then laughs. “You’ve got to be kidding me. I didn’t think even you would go this low, Viola.” “Vi? What-what’s going on?” Cove is sitting up now, awake. She takes one look at Cecily and her face pales. “Vio-” In one swift movement, Cecily takes out a club and slams it against her temple. She falls flat on her back, her eyes closing as she goes silent. Then, my sister grabs my face in her free hand. “Did you really think you would have a chance with her? With anyone?” She purrs. “She isn’t stupid enough to want you. I never wanted you. Our parents never wanted you. I don’t know what it will take for you to see it, but let me tell you now: No. One. Wants. You.” The words stab at my heart. They keep stabbing as she shoves me to the ground. They keep stabbing as she picks up Cove and carries her back into the woods. They keep stabbing as I bury my face in my hands, hating myself for truly believing her. Cove doesn’t want me. No one wants me.


17 Leah Cashin

Smoldering Darkness Light flares and flame dances amongst the shadows. A cigar in hand, the man stands, poring over the great expanse. Rivers, lakes, tiny streams. They cleave the land like a bloody fist cracks a mirror, the force of the punch spider webbing across time and space. The man lets out a sigh and takes a long drag from his cigar, blowing out a puff of billowy smoke. The tent is empty, save for the man and a long, wooden table pockmarked and littered with scars. Cigar clenched in his teeth, the man’s fingers grasp a pocket knife. He admires the sharp edge as it glints in the candlelight. It looks sharp enough to pierce that wooden table, sharp enough to drive home into someone’s heart. The man drops his cigar, allowing it to burn and burn and burn through the heart of the continent, through the rivers and lakes and tiny streams. Only when a great, gaping hole remains in the center of the map does the man pick up his cigar. He stares at the hole. In its gaze the man finds a pair of hollow, sunken eyes staring back. Black and charred, the eyes are his own.


18 Anne Chen

Portrait of the Ballerina What is a dancer? The quiet between meals and the hush between turns and the callused sole squeaking on gray marley. The cleanliness of a silhouetted line divided into palatable bites. I guess I’d describe it like brushing eraser shavings off a blank printer page. Stay with me here: the older girls were holy to us, especially when they said things like tuck your belly in. Oh, come on now. Please, let’s all be adults here. Think of those pounds like spare change. Useless. What is a dancer? Our studio only ever had one prima ballerina. The girls themselves fluctuated; her name was Juliana one year and Molly the next, but there was one prima. She undressed between classes and we offered to hold her leotards, slick with sweat. We tried not to look eager. They tell me I’m losing these things now, but after all I still have her forearms, thin like our voices, hoarse after silent rehearsals. The impression of heat, the sour beating fluorescents, her lithe body. It was dark, even in summertimes, by the time I left the studio and drove home, and I remember how I picked at the leftovers, staring into the soup bowl, chicken bones twice boiled.


19 Thierry Chu

Chloe Akin to moths drawn to a flame. Zipping around the parent’s master bedroom, like it is a gold rush, like greed funguses itself on our fingers. An ogre of a fifth-grade painting squished behind the silver Ikea shelves. My clear box labeled “Mary: 9th to 12th Grade” filled to the brim with teacher’s approving scribbles upon tests and literary analysis of The Scarlet Letter. My brother beelines for his lost teddy-bear which hugs itself into the right corner behind the grey couch-thing. An undercurrent of buzzing across the room where my sister stands next to the tangle of cable wires and extension cords. Look at this and come see this and aren’t you guys so precious and what is that. No, what is that. Faded yellow legal paper. Ink smeared from age. Little minute tears at the edges from a rough handling. My father’s handwriting. The first line reads, “My dearest Chloe”, and my name isn’t Chloe, and my sister’s name isn’t Chloe, and my mother’s name isn’t Chloe, and my... Three Pecan Trees This is an excerpt from the larger piece of creative non-fiction. When I was thirteen and the exhaustion of a spring softball game enveloped me like a blanket, I would pass these trees bewildered at their size. During a time when the world felt confined to girl’s gossip, I did not comprehend how a seed could grow so big, almost touch


20 God’s hand. The seedling’s knuckles must have punched through the shell, continually grappled at air until it felt God’s grip. Its feet wiggled like little pigs in the dirt until it found its rest in nutrients’ depths. Jesus whispered honey-soaked wisdom to the mustard seed’s friend. Nothing would be impossible for them with pecan-seed faith. These trees were my church. Spring brought pecan rains. My brother and I would burst through the front door, ears tickled by familial laughs and the rustle of plastic bags as pecans were dropped, dropped. I stood at the altar, hand cupped in anticipation for pecan precipitation; for this is my body, broken for you. If there was a problem with the trees, would my body wilt without its holy Eucharist? Was there even a ladder so tall to get that high, to reach that far? I concluded humans were not worthy enough to touch God’s hand, to guard the world like the three pecan trees. When I was sixteen with my driver’s license and the gate moved in hour intervals at my departure and arrival, I nodded at the trees in what felt like a courtesy: a kind of obligatory acknowledgement of what was there, rather than what could be. The knot of my naivety slightly undone and my cynicism tightening the slack.


21 Ford Clark

The Ball in the Brush Outside on that fair sunny morn I looked upon the grassy court Inhaled the smell of spring, of May And worries caused me pain no more It caused a change in me not felt So long ago was past remember My shoulder’s Atlas now removed A loosening unmatched in measure Although this sense was so profound It troubled me the force was there So powerful and good but yet It’s origins were unaware Hazy thoughts of feelings old Conscious in my head once more forced my eyes to the wooden gate And Told me of my life before I made with purpose to the point A trance-like state I walked across The yard in which spent my youth One with the smell of spring, not loss My hands unlatched the gate with ease A motion lost yet not forgotten And viewed upon a ruined highway Once bustling but not since trodden The Ball once bright and bold was trapped In thorns and roots that made the brush And weathering had run its course And greatly dimmed the sphere’s gold flush Just as fast as it had come


22 Spring’s sweet breath had left my lungs A Herculean effort’s end Brought brain’s return to modern tongues Despite the turn to worldliness I made a vow to keep my hue Prevent the roots and thorns to trap What makes me who I am to you The Great Savannah There was a Great Savannah Many legends to its name It bakes and burns, it snakes and turns But was not known for its game In terms of life and homeliness The great plain so did lack For whenever a seed needed water to feed It’s environs fought it back Despite this lonesome history, A change would soon be brought For it’s vast expanse, there was great advance With the first rose, life it sought It broke the brittle, hardened ground Determination in its veins But as it started to bud, a foreigner sought blood And ended the bold campaign The upended roots and dark black bud Lay dead upon red rock As the lava bubbled, and the heat stayed double It was one of one in stock When crossing through the paths of fire A local, lifeless shell Looked at the corpse, in his devilish court “How did this grow in hell?”


23 Fheyanna (Fhey) Corral

Jitter-Buggy On my window and another on the walls. Wing beats echo at the end of the hall. Ran like an engine and loud like it too. I look at you there, but when they see it you're gone. And with conclusions like a corkscrew, I forget to catch on. A slip on the rug and another bump behind me. I turn again yet you stare with both legs and eyes wonky. Now you look sorry, flustered, and even teary. I lift your sappy, tattered wings. It was not goop but rather honey with pure worry for a poor thing. A sticky carpet and a patient hand. The efforts we knew were of concern not demand. Helping him up high, I sigh and he grins. “At least you’re not your sap brother,” I say with a dead glare. Startled, I see the door and next to it the twin. Chest puffed and bullwhips flared. His juiced meathead brother? He was present right there. Surreal as Cereal The void, a true value. The cosmos give a crunch. Stir the stew of cheese moons. Eternity's big brunch. Told me, she used to say, “I don't really eat much.” Raven hued licorice. I hoped you'd notice this now we’ve all snapped. Another day thought gone before your snack. Jostles forward yet entirely back.


24

Who ever knew solace was soggy, iced, wet. Say, how come we've never met? Why don't you want us to meet? You kept dusty sleet yet admired my swift defeat. Realized you offer poison treats just to see. Or no, careen me. You lump me with the rest of them. A lump in the throat from the sweets not yet bit. Careless, I would admit. You weren't careful in the slightest, not one bit. Corn kernels that double turn evil. He had us made or maybe not. Smutch that still and again, simmers. Our psyches pop another in mouth. Still nothing to laugh about, a steal most see as ill. Yes, we cooked it, it was us. Made from a thing finer than stardust. While we may lay bare with heat, frost, or crush. Did you forget what you ate yesterday, already? Was it nostalgia? Because you have it every time. Nevermind nougat nebulas. Or when the clock chimes once you swallow. An uprush as whatever is touched sooner evolves. Into dust or a bitty bitter mush. Despite all detrimental. Don't be deterred from chewing your keep right. Out of spite, a new drink. Just to stay awake at night. Be happy you have supper and tomorrow. For I guarantee, ganache and a stuffed pantry. In a lifetime, again and again. Is way ere than the end so eerie. Sprinkling our past to frost the future. We'll be seen and baked again maybe someday.


25

Megan Davis

Vines on the Fire Escape My fingernails hug the rusty iron Of the fire escape rails Hush I comfort Eliza You’ll scare the neighbors Just stay calm Lizzy’s cries dance across the air As her tiny sneakers peak Through blackened metal Fifty feet airborne. Scorch marks kiss her fingers And tears kiss her eyes Please I beg As her wails bound by my ears Just stay calm Let’s go Tommy His feet grow roots Into the charred floorboards As the fireplace flourishes Into playful vines and flowers I won’t jump Confident in his final verdict The garden takes him in as One with the sunflowers And pushes us away, The insignificant weeds that we are.


26

Gage Diehl

The Chase Alyssa Stevens sprinted through the carpeted living room, refusing to turn her head around even for the slimmest shred of a second, her long cascade of brown hair flowing behind her as she ran faster than she ever had. The wooden staircase leading up to the second floor of her house on one side and the leather sofa on the other were none other than blurs to Emelia. Her shoes leaving inconspicuous imprints in the carpet, she finally reached the door leading into the kitchen, which in any other circumstance was used by her mother to cook meals that were all eaten at the counter by Alyssa herself and her parents, who were both running errands at one of the grocery stores. But tonight, Alyssa was alone, and she was being pursued by the local farmer, who had, at random, chosen her as his next victim. When Alyssa, her heart hammering ferociously under her heaving chest, grabbed for the brass doorknob that would allow her to follow her plan further, her clammy palm slipped off the handle. She let out a panicked cry and finally mustered the courage to turn around and stare out the open front door. To her great horror, Alyssa saw the farmer walking up the driveway with steady strides, his straw hat casting a shadow over his aged face and a pitchfork grasped in hand, the metal tips gleaming with blood. Facing the door again, Alyssa made a second attempt to open it, then a third, and a fourth, but the door refused to be opened. Then she realized that her sweaty hands weren’t the issue. The door was locked. Thinking quickly, Alyssa reached up, felt the top of the doorway, then pulled her hand back down with a key in her fingers. She stuck the brass tip into the doorknob and didn’t turn around again until she swung the door open, which slammed against the kitchen wall with an echoing bang! The farmer was now in the house, striding through the living room and approaching Alyssa with his yellowed teeth gritted. Alyssa bolted into the kitchen, across the titled flooring, and over to the knife rack sitting on the counter against the wall. Alyssa grabbed the black handle of the steak knife and turned to face the farmer, who was now feet away. He swung the bat at her,


27 cracking it into her hip. Alyssa cried out in pain and dropped the knife, then she planted her foot on the farmer’s, and he screamed too. Seizing her chance, Alyssa swiped the knife from the floor and drove it through his left breast, piercing his heart that ceased its beating. The farmer’s eyes invisible but his mouth open in pure shock, he dropped to the floor along with his clattering pitchfork, and he no longer moved. Before Alyssa knew it, a small handful of the police force had arrived at her house and were taking the body, concealed in a white blanket on a stretcher, into the back if an ambulance parked in front of the house along with the police vehicles, the wails of their sirens blaring through the front door, which was still ajar. Finally, Alyssa’s parents arrived home and embraced their shaken daughter, relieved the night’s events were finished. When the performance reached its end, the wide expanse of the audience seated in even rows in the huge auditorium broke into applause that thundered the walls as the cast members lined up on the edge of the stage, which was also occupied by the small living room and kitchen assembled for the production. Standing with her peers, Alyssa was no longer Alyssa. She was now Caitlyn Rogers, the name given by her real parents, who beamed for their daughter. On either side of her stood her classmates, all of whom were around the same age as her for being mid-to-late teenagers. Caitlyn’s classmate, Alex, who had played the main antagonist, took off his straw hat to show his face to the crowd, who whooped and whistled for the successful play the high school had dared show to its students’ proud families.


28 Nicholas Dlugos Dark Sword

He wrought the blade from its scabbard and prepared for the incoming onslaught. It had been days since the last time he had to use the deadly tool and it would be mere seconds until he had to use it again. Those were days when time seemed to stand still, when he could retreat from the war cries and try to rest. Fate had not favored the tired figure. Blaring war horns sounded, calling his name, shouting for him to reveal himself. The prey would not readily give himself unto the hunter. The man hid, waiting with a heart pounding like a drum as the iron-clad enemy drew ever closer. Out came the man from his hiding place with steel nerves, prepared for what could be his end. The enemy’s scream flew out over the dead trees around them, and at once was muffled by the hands of the hidden warrior. The path laid deathly silent for a moment. His enemy jabbed out from the grasp with his elbow. A new voice screamed, he had been silent for months; not a word escaped his lips. The two men stopped and stared at each other as if they had known each other in another life. “Come back my brother, you do not have to be alone.” Silence. “Talk to me, brother. It has been so long since we last met.” “No. I will not give into his lies, your lies.” “Then you have truly betrayed the legion. You have betrayed me, brother.”


29

The swordsmen got into a fighting stance and circled each other, sizing up the opponent, waiting for the first move. One mistake led to death, one wrong move was the end. After what felt like days, the tension snapped, and the men began their deadly dance. Steel flew about the air, each attack perfectly parried, expertly blocked. There was no opening in their defenses. Both men had met their match. The maddened rhythms of their battle clashed and their swords sounded like waves crashing against rocks. The fight raged on just as ferociously as it began. They were brothers no longer. Whirling steel was met with sparks as the enemies dueled. One would leave the path alive, the other would lay upon the cold ground and die. Steel clashed against steel and steel drew blood against flesh. Each man had becaome littered with slashes and wounds. His brother had been sent to find him, to kill him. He would not be forgiven. A storm of anger crashed over the battered renegade, fueling his last attack. A dodge evolved into a strike from behind. Silence. The Black Blade greedily drank the blood of the enemy and let it spill upon the ground. The last breath left his lips and flew into the sky. Silence returned as death descended upon the enemy. He was not allowed to mourn for long. The biting call of the war horn cracked the sky and instilled a great pain in his ears and tore his heart asunder. He was being tracked and it would not be long before he was once again fighting for his life. Unable to give his brother a proper burial, he closed his eyes, nearly vomiting from the sheen of the lifeless and glassy eyes that stared back at him. The slight scar across his brother’s cheek wounded his already crippled heart. The blood emptied from his wounds like a spilled cup of wine, staining the ground, tainting the earth, poisoning it. He felt the Dark Sword revel in sadistic glee in the sheath, its Black Blade now stained a dark crimson by the blood of his kin.


30 Zeran Fei

Purple Hyacinths

I planted two purple hyacinths in our garden. I planted them among the daisies, I hope you don’t mind. The daisies were withering away already, anyway. We haven’t watered them in years, and the smell was distracting me when I saw them outside the window. So I planted the hyacinths. Our hyacinths.

On Tuesday your hair was the same color as the flowers in the garden.

The first time I told someone about our hyacinths I cried. There was no reason, really. It was silly, but the tears spilled over the brims of my eyes, under the jelly rolls. I stood there on the tiled floor of the third floor hallway, trembling. It reminded me of when we were five and in the playground. I cried then, too. You called me oversensitive and I became silent. I’ve been silent ever since.

You don’t sound like yourself anymore, on the rare days your gaze meets mine. I can’t blame you, because I can barely recognize my own voice. We’re fragments of everything we touched. And we touched everything but each other.


31 They say one of the hardest things to do in life is mourn the loss of someone who’s still alive.

I didn’t care, for a long time. Then I cared too much, too long. When you get on a one-way train, there is no going back. I lost the ticket. Our ticket. I left it boiling on the saucepan six years ago when you gave me the first, crisp white letter.

I pressed your letters to the bottom of a box. I pressed flowers between the letters. I thought if I kept pressing and folding, one day everything would settle into place. In theory, if you fold a piece of paper forty-five times you would reach the moon. Maybe you weren’t the moon, but I could never reach you anyway.

Parallel lines travel the same exact direction—anywhere but each other.

Oftentimes people look into mirrors to see themselves, but we don’t. We never look at the mirror now, because there is no reason to. When I do, not a semblance of myself remains. The girl in the mirror seems to change everyday and I can barely recognize her. She’s someone I unlearned for six years. One day, I won’t even remember her name.

In the language of flowers, purple hyacinths symbolize jealousy and sorrow. I think about you.

In the language of us, purple hyacinths symbolize a fleeting memory.


32 Anna Ferris

perpetua and felicity in their final days this is the situation: two young women in a cold cell in a hot city. (do you think they keep the cells so frigid on purpose, perpetua?) one expecting, one with an infant in arms feeling holy in this stone room they will not die, they will be Saved. (oh felicity, how lucky your child will be to be born already imprisoned for the piety of his mother.) nobody speaks of the games, the hunting ground where lovely ladies meet their Maker. (perpetua, do you remember the taste of wine?) the emperor looks over them and says he will have them draped in jewels this common servant and this fine lady “they will eat only honey and syrup and i will make them sweet.” saint perpetua and saint felicity, Martyred for a roaring crowd. (if i had one last wish, felicity, i would have sent a serving-girl to my father with a letter of my love. too late, alas.)


33

these men with axes, engineers of suffering gave one great mercy. no one in this empire will die without her child. perpetua lay her golden head on the block, so meek, crown jewel of carthage. holy traitor. (this child was born unto me a few days ago, sweet perpetua. your blood is her baptism.) from heaven, the Father looked down at his soldiers, dripping with diamonds and the silk smooth skin of youth. children who have children. the women, with their proud chins jutting skyward would not renounce. the axe fell like a Fatherly stroke through the hair of young perpetua, then through the servant felicity. how the dust billowed in that hot afternoon. felicity thought: “i am mother mary, if just for today.” perpetua clutched her son and cried, “i did it all for the love of you!” (felicity, they shall write us a passion play and we, we will not be gone.) (my child, perpetua, she will not die. my daughter will not, will never-) (this child will live!)


34 Charlotte Hagen

And so the Fire Burned In retrospect, it makes sense that it happened. History is hardly a direct path from point A to point B. Things happen for multiple reasons, and multiple consequences come of it. People, places, and events weave over and into each other, forming an intricate tapestry no one will see the full realization of. The drama club had no money. They relied on the goodwill of the staff, students, and parent volunteers each passing year, diligently putting on show after show. Sets were built out of borrowed materials, costumes were made for and by their actors, and the stage crew sacrificed radios and headsets for simple hand signals. Each successful performance was a miracle that brought a collective sigh of relief from the cast and crew. Each successful performance was a testament to the strength of a community. Not all performances had that luxury. Stomachs dropped at the sound of splintering wood, and a cry of pain brought everyone within earshot to the stage. It was two hours until showtime, and the lead actor had fallen through the set. As people struggled to free his leg from the aging wood, a stagehand rushed a bottle of rubbing alcohol and bandages onto the set. Not thinking in the moment, she tripped, and the alcohol was sent flying from her grasp. Scrambling to her feet and muttering countless apologies, the stagehand retrieved the bottle and screwed its cap back on. The spilled contents seeped wordlessly through the wood.


35 With no time for serious repairs, a rug was hastily thrown over the hole. Curtains were drawn. Places were called. The lead walked onstage with only the slightest limp and a broad smile. Audiences are forgiving. When actors trip over themselves, or stumble over their lines, they will always be cheered on the moment they recover. The audience unconsciously understands that they are part of the show, too. It is their job to applaud, to cheer, to get to their feet and shout “encore!” as the actors bow. Those on the stage are less forgiving. They remember which lines they flubbed, what cues they missed, and at the end of it all how tired they’ll be. They’re also superstitious. Even if nothing else were to go wrong, they would see the ghostlight had gone out, overhear someone speak of a certain Scottish play, and perform as if the theater could cave in at any moment. The audience forgave the actor who bumped into one of the lamp posts onstage, shifting it ever so slightly. The actor, already filled with anxiety from the previous mishaps, did not. The rest of the cast and crew didn’t think much of it until the curtain was drawn for the final time. As the curtain closed far too quickly, it caught the moved lamp post and sent it smashing against the set. Actors fled in every direction as a plume of flame and smoke rose high in the air. The audience looked on in horror. Everything happens for multiple reasons. There was no money for a good set, and so the actor fell. There was no time to think, and so the alcohol was spilled. There was too much that had already gone wrong, and so the lamp post was knocked askew. All of this happened, and so the fire burned.


36 Randall Hatfield

An Opossum in Two Halves First Oh, Can I take a walk Out in crisp, clear dark? I promise, I won’t get lost I’ll stay off the road And if someone comes I’ll just play dead Just like I always do Oh, Don’t worry for me I can take care of myself Just as I can look up and see no stars, I can look to the tunnel and see a light And it comes closer And it comes closer Second I don’t like to drive. It’s not the car So powerful and complex If it had a brain, we’d call it an animal, maybe It’s not the sights The trees like walls that close me in, The dead opossum, Still fresh, Or the flies that scattered as I passed by I think it’s the danger I could crash at any moment The suit of armor would bend like foil And then!!! Maybe we should take a lesson from the opossum Play dead too often And we won’t know when we really are


37 Olivia Hoffman-Paul

Hollow The bear reached for yellow And so did I But without an armor of fur, the bees attack Again and again The bear turned to hand me honey the bees find my fingers and fill them with venom The bear tries to hand me honey The bees find my lips and sting them till they swell shut On my knees I gaze up at the bear Confused, he still holds the honey It drips on the floor in front of me We both like honey, I want it But I’m not strong enough to withstand the bees They’re not lethal, but I’m tired The bear now has to eat the honey alone For me to have my body, I can’t have honey I can’t have both Dreams Movies play across my mind in sleep smiling in silence as heat drips from the ceiling, runs into ears, causing a firing mind fog the paralyses and hands reach out across my chest


38 A figure of tiredness and exhaustion hold my arms Walking down a pier with kids from the year above say what you want, dare to repeat, only some have the right to acknowledgment turning to the red-faced girl on the toilet to tell her what happened She responds with diastase, my creation of false image and disingenuous trait Surely I was wrong, the roots of the discomfort are only my inability to socialize Sweat and oil slide across my forehead and the fan whirs A pitiful breeze flows over the covers Cold air dries my lips in a frown white noise, in madness lull me back to sleep Formulas, meticulous, continuous, My actions have consequences and therefore I must be mindful The boy is not bad, aggressive or malicious I hate the confusion he brings, the smile Why are you here? Who let you in? Over, the boy knows it and so do I, so stop, Stop it now! A meteor saves a young woman by crashing into her house the randomness burns everything to the ground a couple, we clap and the credits roll The characters look like us He would never, so I open my own door His jacket stays on


39 Lucy James

Frost She told him she needed a friend and he saw that she needed a lifeline. He sat by her side during the nights when her eyes wouldn’t close. He showed her pictures of the people she missed. There was never any uncertainty in their gazes towards each other. Curled up with one of her favorite books, she would watch the snow from outside her window for a few minutes at a time before diving back into the intimately familiar story. She turned back to the partially frosted glass. Her reflected eyes were clouded, her smile crinkled slightly in an effort to mimic contentedness, but the warmth was absorbed into the pane, and dispelled. Windows always did something peculiar to you, she mused. They seemed to suck you in with the natural curiosity as to how you look at the moment. Then, depending on your state of mind, you are either as beautiful as you’ve ever been on a normal day, or everything wrong with your face summons your long-suffering self-criticism. Ooh, that nose, the frizzy hair, the spots that are quite happy to stay forever. They’ve signed a lease, one that ends only when you’ve moved past the vulnerable insecurity. Which you should have done already. Seriously, everything you’ve told yourself you’re going to do to change is well in reach. So if you’re not being lazy, then what in the world is taking you so long? She heard her more clearly at night, the girl with the same shade of brown curls on her head and blue socks insulating her toes. Once again, the girl was angry. Despite the heat vacuum that was her window, it was all too easy to recall the tangible flames of her ire. It was her own loneliness that created the divide between them, the chasm she wasn’t strong enough to cross. The girl with the same view in a mirror could no longer reach the things that formerly gave her joy, and this spawned the hourly argument between them. Why don’t you just try harder? Everyone else is doing just fine, and your life is easy compared to those of your friends. You’re


40 disappointing them for no reason, and you have no struggles they don’t deal with themselves. What is it, if not your own worthlessness, that holds you back? She would try to scream back, cry out that she was doing her best, but a shield cracked before the impact of a sword is rather ill-suited for defense. He always seemed to sense when her mental tussles reached a zenith and came to surround her with stalwart arms as well as whispered mountains of reassurance. He coaxed her into releasing the flood from her mind as best he could, but the dam couldn’t be fully broken as long as she saw the feud worth continuing. Of course she wanted peace, but the tide churning in her chest ebbed with a squashed longing to truly call for help and flowed in with her loathing of her current state, and every muscle was exhausted from her years of swimming. Every day, they broke the silence of the morning by talking about one thing they found beautiful about the world. Every day, she got up and did what she could, even if it meant returning to bed within a few hours after a simple task. She knew it was enough for him that she was trying. He brought her into his arms and told her everything he couldn’t imagine living without that she added to his world. Tomorrow, they said, is the day they’ll take a slightly bigger step than she took today, and her level of success will have no bearing on how much she is loved. The girl sat with the book with the frost by her side and lifted her palm to the glass. The warmth from her skin melted just a bit of the icy layer, and she was starting to see through more clearly than she had in years.

https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/1995/09/25/bullet-in-the-brain


41

Genevieve Jobson

Pickled Sunrise I cherish memories of you like a pickled sunrise Twice fickle and hard to find Rosy in the glow of melted halos Smelling of sweet nostalgia that sweeps across broken vistas Your absence leaves a strangled sunset I am the scorched tongue of the desert Where the clouds hold the dry earth in contempt Bleached honeycomb earth With cracks like viens bled dry Your memory is not enough to ease the drought They say it will, eventually, But eventually feels as distant as the stars you sit among. — Genevieve Jobson


42

Liann Keren

The simple danger School is an unsafe haven. It protects me from the gravest external dangers, the ones that roam freely outside and will not hesitate to find a weak link and capture it, but what about the simple danger -- the one that follows me around as I travel from class to class? It follows me through the halls, a lurking predator waiting for me to let my guard down. Maybe it’ll catch me in Algebra, trying to find the value of x; or English, trying to explain why the advertisement uses pathos; or perhaps in Chemistry, when I’m trying to find the molar mass of a substance I’ve never even heard of. Even in a class I excel in, one I enjoy and find myself thriving in, it finds a way to ruin it. Even the far thought of me being happy is an intolerable one. It’ll latch onto my legs with one arm and my chest with the other, squeezing with insurmountable strength, as if afraid I’ll run away and escape its grasp. It’ll press hard, hard, and then harder, until I’m shriveled up and trembling. I have to maintain my composure, responding to the teacher as they address me, my classmates when they ask for help, and myself as I struggle through a simple worksheet.


43 It’ll wrap me in a warm blanket, allowing the release of cold moisture from my body, to bring me back from my agitated state. Then, it’ll remove the blanket and rattle me again. I must request a hall pass but am limited to one a day. Should I use my pass now? But what if it comes back again? It’ll heighten every sense and magnify every neuron in my body, amplifying the sounds of papers rustling in every corner of the room, and morphing every pencil grain on my desk into a dangerous glass shard. The usual smell of whiteboards and sweat that I’ve grown accustomed to over my 16 years alive is suddenly the worst scent in existence. My lungs, on the edge of collapse, push against my chest with the strength of 1,000 whales. Maybe a release by vomiting will shake the hand off my chest. A third hand appears and pulls my head backward, hammering its finger down into my skull. The seat below me heats and clasps onto the backs of my thighs, escorting me into an uncomfortable rhythm of shifting positions. Just as wet fear begins to flow down my cheeks and the room begins to fade, it’ll release me -- just as fast as it came. The tears dry up and the room unblurs. It’s never gone for long, however. It’ll be back.


44 Sydney Kim

nocturne op. 9: no. 2 an exhausted grand piano patiently waits for her coming in the morning for their glorious aubade he once possessed ivory and ebony paraded in glossy brass shoes dressed in creamy rich mahogany he once dipped and twirled daily as she led leaped and commanded she used to grace him at this hour but visits grew scarce so now he waits dipped drenched drowned in dust he doesn’t mind much tonight is different hours before sunrise she’s here a single candle she brings illuminates her face a rare welcome sight dainty fingers trembling as she lifts them to his chipped ones and a coy touch of his b flat anchored by her steady left hand begins


45 a waltz a lullaby whimsical but familiar gentle waves of nostalgia lap at their feet as glowing stardust dashes across the sky leaning in so close he can count her freckles something forever young about her trace of a smile as the dance blossoms burgeons booms he wishes he could capture it savor it save it for when he’s waiting but he’s too busy lost in the opia of it all ricocheting off bubbles of rain rippling and snapping like silk in a gale like froth collected from unhinged tides she’s crying salty drops of melancholy dripping over his hands soaking his feet pouring her grief her mourning as the song slows to a close as her feet press more gently as her hands land on a final cloudy chord he forgot his age until now it rushes back she leans on his aching chest runs her hand along his dying wood his pummeled leather she leaves a hollow kiss on his forehead slipping away taking the candle leaving him alone again sloshing around in the moonlight waiting for the sky to explode into a riot dead until her touch and he doesn’t have the chance to say they should do this more often.


46 Amelia Knaysi

An Excerpt from The Doll Maker (A Novel) I have liked to play with dolls, ever since I was a little girl. There is something about them that seems to make my stomach fill with excited butterflies. The thing is, I have grown bored of JUST playing with dolls. I long for something more, something better. Something that will fill that gaping hole in my chest, something that will revive those

long

dead butterflies. I have found my something. Yes, it is true, I have grown bored of

JUST

playing with dolls, which is why I am going to start making them. The thing is

these dolls

will be better than the ones in the stores. No, you’ll see, they will be more authentic, beautiful, special, just like me. I put down my journal, which was a light blue and had little gold flowers painted on the cover. Sighing, I looked up at my computer once more. It was time to stop fantasizing and get back to work, and even though some days I hated it, it did give me a chance to work with what I love the most, smiles. I looked at my computer which had the report of the girl who was my last patient displayed on the screen. Millie Fryer, she was a beautiful girl who had a beautiful smile. That of course did not come naturally. It took some quality time with some braces to fix that mess in her mouth. But now, she had a pearly white smile with perfectly straight teeth. My mind was elsewhere, not focused on my work. Close the tab Haley, we’ll work on her later.


47 The familiar clip clopping of shoes was heard in the hallway, growing louder as the individual came closer. Then a small squeak entered the room as Miranda aggressively pushed open my door. Even though I was expecting her, I slightly jumped as she peeked her head in. “Peter Cromwell, the new patient, is ready for you Haley.” “Sounds good! Go ahead and send him in.” She closed the door, and I heard her footsteps retreat. I took a deep breath and pulled up Peter’s information, which was sent to me by his last orthodontist. The sound of Miranda walking towards my door could be heard again. Then the aggressive squeak from the hinges. “In you go, Peter! Don’t worry, Dr. Johnson does not bite.” The shy boy peaked his head around the door and practically tip toed in. He was looking at the ground and had his arms crossed, he was very closed off. “Well, hi there Peter! It’s nice to finally meet you! I am Dr. Johnson.” Still looking at the ground, he nodded. “Do your parents want to come in and sit with us while we do our checkup?” In a quiet voice, almost like a whisper, he said “My mommy dropped me off. She had to go grocery shopping.” “Well, that’s okay! Let’s get started, shall we? Go ahead and sit on the chair.”


48 Katie Koeppl

How To Climb The Stars Zoe stepped out of the dusty minivan and into the crisp October night. A second pair of shoes crackled behind her on a gravel driveway, and Zoe’s older sister Olivia, a skinny girl with bushy blond hair, appeared by her side. Olivia fumbled with her purse for a moment before locking the car and heading up the creaky front porch. Zoe had never seen streamers, flashing lights, or a row of awkwardly parked monochromatic rental cars quite like what she saw at this house. The entire place reeked of high school stupidity. They strolled together into the bustling house, and the aromas of vape and soda filled Zoe’s nostrils. The girl standing closest to her, a brunette with a silver nose ring, stamped over. “Kayla, this is my little sister,” Olivia said to her friend, giving a slight eye roll. “Nice to meet you,” Kayla said, waving. Zoe was incredibly satisfied. She had worked hard to get ready for this party. At 5:30, Zoe had rushed over to her room to find her perfect dress. When she opened her closet door, the expanse of the universe unfolded out before her, spiraling back into perpetual darkness littered with a carpet of colorful stars. She stretched her head out over the edge of the doorway, and a gust of fresh galactical breeze lifted her long brown hair up into her face. Zoe reached out to the first star in front of her and grabbed it tightly; it didn’t feel much like anything except slightly fuzzy. She took a breath, stepped over the threshold, and placed her foot onto the wide star in front of her. It provided an excellent flat starting point for her climb. She reminded herself that the blue stars were good handholds, while the red ones were more unstable. She reached up to the next star just a few inches above her head and pulled herself up. Her back foot came off her bedroom carpet and onto a second foothold. Now she was wholly


49 suspended over the entirety of the universe. If she fell, the universe would not catch her, and she’d become subject to a painfully long fall before a black hole crushed her. Zoe now knew precisely where to put her feet. Her destination was only about ten feet away. Once her hands grasped the top shelf, she saw her old dress folded neatly before her. She slung the dress over the back of her neck and began to climb down. However, she was too focused on positioning her hands to notice the red star her foot approached. As soon as her toes touched its surface, it began to shake wildly. Her foot slipped off the edge, and she let out a gasp as her whole body hung by her lanky arms over the endless pit of darkness. As she reached for another blue star to support herself, her dress fell off her shoulders and fluttered down slowly into the folds of space. Zoe’s stomach lurched as she watched the only chance she had at becoming popular fade out of existence. But then the galactic wind started up again, sending the dress over the threshold and into her room. Zoe’s heart leapt. She clambered down the star staircase, making sure to avoid any more red ones. As her toes finally sank into the soft carpet, she saw the dress lying on her bed. Her fingers ran over the sequined skirt and spaghetti straps to be sure it was real, and she turned back the stars. “Thank you.” The closet responded with a windy sigh as the door closed itself. Zoe smiled again at the good impression she had made on Kayla. In the dim strobing lights, she caught a glimpse of a super cute junior with short curly hair standing in the corner. They took a puff of their cigarette and blew out a cloud of galloping horses that faded into the thick air. Zoe wanted to talk to them and ask how they did that. She wanted to be able to try new things and make animals out of smoke and socialize like a normal human being. It all started here at this party. Zoe fixed her hair quickly, smoothed her dress, and sauntered over as confidently as she could towards an uncertain future.


50 Harper Kucik

Excerpt from “Side Effects” (This is an excerpt from a fanfiction about a K-pop group I’ve been writing. Because of this, you will see the term “hyung” used a lot. “Hyung” is a Korean word used by younger males to show older males respect, literally translating to “older brother”; younger males will either replace the older male’s name completely with “Hyung” or attach it like "Name-hyung.") Chan sighed as the two walked back to the kitchen. “Nothing’s happening between us, Minho. He doesn’t...he doesn’t see me like that. I’m just a friend to him.” Minho opened his mouth to argue, but Chan cut him off effectively. “And even if we were something more, we would be careful enough not to get drunk and broadcast that fact on a livestream.” Minho gritted his teeth. “Y’know what, Chan-hyung? I’m gonna get Jisung to bed and then go to sleep. I’m not talking about this anymore. My relationship with Jisung is my relationship. You don’t get a say in it.” He turned his back to Chan, shoes squeaking on the hardwood floors, and made to walk away before he felt a grip on his wrist. Minho halted, but didn’t turn back around. “...Look, Min. I’m just- I’m scared. Not just for our jobs. I’m scared for you and Jisung, for Felix and myself, the other members. I don’t want you to get hurt. I want to be able to protect all of you, but I can’t, and I’m terrified about what might happen to us.” Minho stiffened as he felt Chan’s arms wrap around him, his breath hitching when he realized the usually composed leader of their band was crying, his tears soaking into the back of Minho’s


51 shirt. Minho stood completely frozen for a few heartbeats before breaking free of Chan’s grasp, only to turn around and engulf the crying boy in a proper hug. “Chan-hyung, it’s not only your responsibility to protect me. As much as I appreciate your care for all of us, you don’t need to feel at fault for my mistakes. I don’t want you to be stressed because of me, okay?” “I-I should have tried harder. I couldn’t protect us...he left, Min! We weren’t good enough for him and he left. I don’t want to l-lose anyone else.” Chan sobbed into Minho’s shoulder. Minho felt tears begin to sting his own eyes at what the other boy was referring to. “You’re not going to lose us, Hyung. And losing him wasn’t your fault at all. There wasn’t anything you could do.” He pulled away and took in Chan’s tear-stained face. “Hyung, it’s really late. Why don’t we all go to bed?” “But-” “No buts. I’ll take care of Jisung, okay? We’ll figure everything out in the morning.” Chan hesitated before nodding silently and allowed Minho to lead him out of the kitchen and through the open doorway to the living room. The two paused at the sight of Jisung passed out on the black leather couch. “I’ll fight harder this time. I won’t let anything happen to you.” Minho smiled. “Thank you, Chan-hyung. Now go to sleep before I have to knock you out. You desperately need more than three hours of sleep tonight.” Chan sighed. “Alright. Goodnight, Minho.” Minho wished him goodnight and watched Chan head down the adjacent hallway to his bedroom before turning back to Jisung. He moved to kneel down in front of the couch, wincing slightly as his knees made contact with the hardwood and reached out to poke the sleeping boy’s chubby cheek. “Ji, baby, can you get up?”


52 Gretchen Lamkin

“I Am On Fire” Someone doused me in gasoline And lit me on fire. They watched me burn, like witches in Salem. The fire wasn’t always visible, As if hidden like a magic trick. All I saw were the burns and not the flames that caused it.

It took me a year or so to realize I am on fire. There are flames all over my body.

Once I realized, The flames pulled me in deeper, Burned brighter, And cackled harder.


53 The flames sucked me in. I start to see the beauty in them. It makes me want to keep them. I want to watch them burn, To watch them devaste and ruin. It pulls me in like oxygen. I can’t look away.

I used to try to put myself out, But I couldn’t. There are too many flames Burning on me and Leaving scars I cannot erase.

I had the chance to get them to calm down, But I did not take it, In fear of burning others with my flame. So I sit in front of my mirror, And I look at myself Knowing I will always be on fire.


54

Olivia Le “When War Paws” by Ollie Le He dropped the sword in disgust. “You lounge here, on your ivory throne, as your people starve and bleed and die. When war paws at your front door, you throw the meat of the poor and restless to the woods and sleep easy. Do you imagine that because you are at peace with yourself, you sit among the halls of kings? The choirs are romantic, Your Highness. They sing of kings who loved long and fought peace with their own blood. They sing of the bridges between near and far they sing of shining levees they even sing of medicine. But you are a fool to think that you can mesmerize the young to love you. When the hallmarks of your character will rust and crumble in cowardice. You fight this war with your body or watch ours close this fine and rotting door to your fine and rotting kingdom.”

“for the love of God” by Ollie Le when i prayed i used to tuck my wants in the dusty crooks of my maman’s saturn-old statues it was a poor proxy to scribbling them careful into the untrustworthy riverbed of my recall, to scarring every sun-gold daydream with cement fangs sunk in sick by urban concrete

when i wished i used to devour pages with scars of thronged useless selfishness and covet blind until every gleaming white had fallen casualty to the zealot ink of ingratitude and i taped my whispers to maman and me’s wrinkled drywall and stared into the mangled scowl of our popcorn ceiling, i swore i would want not until the day i died and even then, but for silence


55 Sophie Lee

Open Letter to Mundanity (Eventually) Two houses down was a little boy on a swing, hanging from an oak whose leaves would shiver at each sway, almost rhythmically. It wasn’t the type of swing children would play on at school; it was a distinct type of swing, probably hand-picked by the boy. Patterns of rainbow chromatics trailed along the edge, its shape resembling a saucer. Or maybe it was more like a U.F.O., as if he was boarding the spaceship to fly away from the world he did not yet understand. Perhaps that was what he was thinking about as he laid his stomach on the swing and propelled himself by running against the ground, as fast as possible. His arms were spread like wings, and his eyes were closed. He was chasing sensation. Maybe he was pretending he was the spaceship. I stood on the slope of my front yard, watching as I was about to begin my usual walk to the mailboxes (which are unnecessarily far from my house). I probably looked strange standing there, watching a boy indulging in typical child activities. But it was difficult to tear my eyes away, and I could not place my finger on why my steps felt sluggish as I began to walk. Had I been momentarily living vicariously through him? Was I feeling the exhilaration he had pursued, one he wanted to savor so much that he closed his eyes? I was envious -- how many things have I already grown out of? What have I been doing in the time that it took for me to become a teenager? If not chasing after that continuous excitement, then what? I eventually settled on an answer: discovering. Not just about atomic composition or the old men on which America was unfortunately based, but building my knowledge of the emotional spectrum this world has offered, over and over again. So Dear Mundanity, Because of you, that spectrum has yet to encounter boundaries. Growing older is not equivalent to losing sensations we once had. Rather, time makes way for new ones -- new


56 experiences that each serves as an opportunity. Especially the seemingly dull moments, passing so fleetingly that a second thought is rarely given. You are the mild calm of waking to sunlight rather than an alarm when wafts of breakfast have already filled the Saturday morning air. You are the moment of hesitation when a speck of jam spills onto my shirt -- should I lick or wipe it off? You are the jolt of fear and panic that run up spines at the sight of a wasp, and you are every peculiar combination of emotions we have yet to name. Your presence runs just as deep as everything that is sensational, though your presentation may not be quite as show-stopping. Did you know that the comfort you offer through consistency, tranquility, and consoling silence is not something that is easily replaceable? You did, didn’t you? I can imagine you as a master of cunning elusion who relishes laughing in pride of their own stealth. Regardless, I thank you for sustaining me during those moments of relief after long days of school, and for disguising your esoterics within my day-to-day life. You have been irritatingly coy about it this far, but you cannot stay concealed forever. I look forward to unveiling more of your secrets. Best Regards, Sophie Lee P.S. No need to bother with the obscurity anymore.


57 Janet (Jay) Li

things that remind me of you: birds: the way they sing along, a melody the language you both understand. being in the right place at the right time to wake up to one outside your window. remembering to look up in the day; seeing one pass by overhead. they could go anywhere in the world; they still chose to fly to you. hot chocolate: mini marshmallows lazily floating around. the warmth that rushes over you after being frozen by the cold. a blanket being placed over your shoulders by someone unnamed. the moment after a run when everything goes quiet; coming to a stop and looking around. thousands of small steps have led to where you are. monochrome sketches: limits are moments for creation; being put in a box means you have the chance to think outside of it. with one color, you can create worlds. the difference between a color and art lies in yourself. anything can become anything else, if only you can see it; if only you can make it a reality. leaves: the one on the ground that catches your attention. sometimes beauty is found in unexpected directions; not everything worth reaching for is in the sky. falling leaves had to come from somewhere; you see it because it chose to leave something behind. it won’t live long on the ground, but it’s made more wonderful because of that. melon: watermelon, cantaloupe, honeydew; something with just a hint of sweetness. summer days where the light seems never-ending. bright colors and soft sugar that you wouldn’t


58 have been able to see from the outside. the day has never been more vivid; you have never come closer to touching the sun. blue: a specific shade you can’t exactly name; you try to nonetheless. borrow from an ocean’s wave, a robin’s egg, a flower’s petals. it’s okay to think of things with overused terms, especially when the terms come from truly beautiful things. it only means that someone else has seen that beauty too. someone, somewhere, compared two things they loved the same way you are now. melatonin: the middle point between sleep and wake; lying between ideals and reality. being in the present, pulled by the past and the future. the best moments happening without your intention; memory holding treasures so they always remain with you. dreaming of more to come, of new moments to hold dear.


59 Amy Lindberg

The sun slowly sinks out of the sky as we sit with the hard edge of the tin roof beneath us, all of us together, like a makeshift pack of wolves. The wind rolls softly against our hair a gentle reminder of the present, instead of the future that plagues our minds. A future of college and new cities with new faces, as opposed to the ones that are looking at one another now. Faces that have endured the generational tourutre of middle school, and bonded over the angst of being stuck in a city with a population of 900. “Do you think we will all be together again?” A voice asks; it’s irreverent which, as the question fulls all of our minds. The eldest rolls their shoulders back, “I’m not sure it matters. We’re all here now, and that’s good enough to last a while.” Silent agreement runs through the pack. Someone unzips a bag, the run of the zipper cutting through the steady silence, and pulls out a sweatshirt. A sweatshirt blazed with the emblem of the school we now sit atop of. The school we cursed and complained about and swore to leave. The school that gave us the greatest sense of family we could’ve ever achieved. The grass beneath the shabby building waves against the steady breeze. The same grass


60 we ran through as children and tasted when we became too competitive in PE kickball. The grass that watched as we learned how to drive in the parking lot and walked to the gym for dances and borrowed our friend’s annotated copies of the required reading. Time is relentless, isn’t it? Was it not yesterday we woke early to watch the morning cartoon specials? When the Earth was a little brighter and time seemed to slip away from us as we ran from house to house? When we rode bikes down the Big Hill and watched the imperfections of the world with awestruck eyes and a heart of beauty? When did the green world of animals and bugs and sky turn into a screen and dread for the days ahead? As the children sit on the setting of their adolescence, an invisible thread winds through each of their hearts; forever grounding them to the people that turned buildings of cinder block into a home.


61 Nicholas Manetas

“Euphoria” Set apart from the roaring road, the house stood firm, A modern day castle overlooking its domain, Low hanging willows its dutiful subjects, The hill below a kingdom conquered. Absent of its ruler, the edifice had fallen Out of style, out of care. A creamsicle death-note invited the vultures To pick at the chipped paint, to claw at the crumbled cobblestones, Leaving me the sole witness to this haunting history. Some untold story lingered by as if waiting to be coaxed Out by the patient hand; great glory days forgotten What story did you hold? To tell you the truth, I’ll try my best, But remember, this is poetry, pictures of the mind confessed. A great producer had bought it, a retreat to nature, and he’d furnished The French manor with two dalmatian dogs out front, stern statues of status, Whose all-seeing gaze shone down On the hood of a race-red roadster, parked beneath those sturdy Corinthian columns, Fragments of Delphi. Champagne fizz, the dive pool’s splash, He danced the night away; Filled the house with strangers, A message to relay, “I am the king of the castle”, he was often known to say. In an instant, his life, a shining comet Drizzling a trail of fairy-dust and myth, Blazed by in a euphoric haze; Funds dried up and the friends, Flew away, songbirds unentertained.


62

For what was he but his money, the source Of a good time; He was that fleeting feeling We all strive to find, so often pursued But never achieved; The very transience Of life, the absurdity of joy, his dollar bill smile Could hold the room - but only for an instant. The wine-skins dried out; the stars fell From his temporary sky; Each one that wilted Possessing a tiny piece of his soul; He was paper-mache, a marionette dancing On strings of opinion. From the hollow holes of his body, His life-force leaked away. Lights turned out, windows obscured, The house deformed Into a whirlpool of grey. Just like his flowers, He slowly decayed, dying in a desolate tomb. Ten years later, to the day, that he first bought The transient trophy, he rejoined the soil Over which he once ruled. All that remained Of his once blazing presence, a solitary headstone; Mockingbirds his only kin. Startled from my bliss, a little neighborhood boy jumps Out from behind me, a story to relay; “I sometimes see him as he haunts those hallowed halls; I fear his choked voice when he calls for me to stay”. Roads Forward Sunrise. New day. The habit of daybreak trudges on; The sun’s favorite son, most loyal by far, Your destination one I can never know. Like the famed Santiago, your catch swims just beyond scope; A future locked behind your eyes, Written in a language I’ve not learned to speak. You block out the inevitable whispers That scream in the face of ambition; Even now, as the downpour assails your raw body, Your footfall never falters, never doubts its intention.


63 Quinn McNaughton

“Lavender Fields” The colors seemed brighter here I looked down to see a short dress and a belt that might make people turn their head to sneak a second glance I raised my hand to my hair and I felt a tight bun They used to call it a beehive I looked around me to see dark walls splattered with the occasional flash of silver light

A disco ball No, that seemed odd But my eyes were usually reliable and I had been correct A sphere of mirror and light clutched the ceiling like a bat from a cave

Bright colors flashed around me Circles, flowers, silk, red, orange, white, pink, blue It took a bit to realize they were people I glanced at the disco ball once more to see a smile had appeared on my face and my arms waved

above my head in a motion that somehow matched those around me I closed my eyes and absorbed the smell and feel of my place


64 A deep bergamot, honeysuckle, lemon, and peach smell clouded around my head Yves St. Laurent Rive Gauche, maybe I opened my eyes to see my scene had changed Perfume no longer filled the air and the disco ball had left me Instead, the smell of spring, new life, and green filled my mouth and nose I heard bees around me and one touched my hand I did not shake it away I admired its familiarity, the comforting black and yellow that closed around its small body in a corset-like fashion My hand eventually moved and I watched it fly away across a field of wildflowers I brushed my hand across their petals and pollen emerged from them like a perfume atomizer As I did, everything faded away Because I am 17 I am not 61 I have never been to a disco, instead I frequent Goodwill stores and coffee places where millennials take pictures of their latte at three in the afternoon I don’t even live near a field of flowers and I only remember hearing about one in Block Island Where my friends own a house and watch the moon rise and fall beside a field of lavender I sit at my computer and write because I find it comforting to conjure images that I may never see I read in my brick house and watch the moon rise from my roof, which angers my parents every time I do not see a disco Or a field of flowers I see a MacBook.


65 Sonia Mehta

Darker Than Black They call it Turquoise Blue Waters But my eyes reflect in the window, Churning Black Ink flickers of white foam bubbling on the brink of the boat’s steel underbelly Murmurs floating from family fill my ears About oaky notes of drinks with ground pine But the remote hum of the ship's whine Fills every crack, crook, and crevice of my skull My heartbeat in clandestine with the ruckus Picking at my thumb draws shooting pain & my father’s anger but I am as numb to his scolding as I am to the ruby wine now trickling from my cuticles Dripping and staining my new black-silk dress I didn't know something so dark could be stained but I guess whatever was in the blood was darker than black I turn my attention from my dress to gaze back at the water


66 I know it must be glacial 8:17 P.M. on Christmas Eve But I’ve never seen a warmer substance: Hiraeth The molten charcoal invites and I wonder if it had not been for the inches of thick porthole glass between my body and the sea what a wonderful thing it would be would I have dove in? enveloped by the blue-green but seemingly black waves of the Caspian Sea My blood would stain the water as it did my dress


67 Jaden Moore

Vacation Mrs. Nicole’s frail, pale hand wraps around mine. She looks almost ghostly compared to my dark color, but that could also be the sickness. Even her veins look ill and tired and rotting. She lets out a soft moan—of agony or maybe it’s desperation—and then squeezes my palm. Her words come out in ragged breaths, like she’s gasping for air when she knows that there’s nothing left for her lungs to hold. I can barely make out her words when I drag my eyes up to hers. She’s wearing a goofy grin on her face that could fool anybody into believing that she wasn’t scared. “Do you think it’s nice?” She asks, her thumb grazing over mine as her chin bobs, like she’s trying to taste the stench of hospital and death one last time before she withers away. It takes a second for her words to register. My mind is staring at the wrinkles around the corners of her lips from 80 years of smiling. And I’m admiring the lines of wisdom rimming her gray eyes and etching into her cheekbones and her forehead and her pale skin. “I don’t know,” I spit out. Silence falls across us again. It’s not uncomfortable, but I wish that there was something other than nothing to fill the space. The doctors had dragged out all of the machines hours ago, save for the heart rate monitor. I didn’t realize that she’d still be talking and making any sense of the world until 2 in the morning. I shouldn’t even be in the room at the moment, but I’ve known Mrs. Nicole for a few weeks and I didn’t want her to die alone.


68 She squeezes my hand again, maybe she squeezes to comfort me or maybe she was trying to reassure herself that I was still here. She breathes all raggedy again and I rest another hand on top of hers, trying my best to keep her tremors and her fear down. “It might be like a vacation though?” I offer her a smile. She registers it, squeezes my hand again, and then her lips tremble into an image of one too. It’s a beautiful toothy grin that breaks her face into a million shattered pieces of glass and I can see the tears glaze over her eyes. “Yeah,” she huffs out a sigh and her chest rises, it’s shallow and I can feel the effort thrumming through her bones, “like a vacation.” She mumbles the words under her breath again and then looks towards the window on her left, repeating and repeating those words over and over again under her breath until she’s lost the meaning of them. I know she’s looking at the stars, admiring them from afar as those words start to still on her thin lips and she stops trembling. I know she’s imagining herself among them as life leaves her eyes and is replaced by a dead nothingness. And I know that the next time I look up into the sky I’m going to see her wise gray eyes and sage smile when her hand relaxes into mine.


69 Bennett Mosk

Long Gone The footprints that had once before caked the dirt were long gone, washed away with the rain. Porous worms had filled them in, made them their own home. Andy had looked back then, from where he stood now, and had seen the small, prairie house, standing alone, quietly. He had seen the vast expanse of nothing, the unplowed fields for miles upon miles, the great Sierra Nevadas like sentries at the gates of some sort of heaven. But then one light had turned on, in the corner room on the top right, and in that moment, so long ago, Andy had stood frozen. He had seen just a rising silhouette, first moving slowly, but sooner rather than later bursting into motion, lights flickering on throughout the house. Andy thought about his mom in there. Did she really still care for him, or had her boyfriend pulled her, a politician playing his constituents, to a point of no return? Were tears streaming down her face? Were her hands trembling with fear and anxiety, and was she biting the corners of hair, five years old again in her own hometown, like she always did with trouble? Or was she excited, laughing, zooming around the house just to make one final check that her true dream had finally come true, that he was finally gone. He imagined the two of them in there, her and her boyfriend dancing to Elton John just like they had done on that first night he had stayed over. They had been drunk that night…


70 Andy snapped out of it. He ran and he ran and he ran, the milky light of the moon guiding his way towards the city. To his front the shadows of the bats still swinging from above were only apparent in the moonlight. Thick trees swayed in the breeze. Andy felt the cold sting of the wind against his swelling cheek, still raw and red. Today, no frantic searching, but an open window behind him. “Hey!” Andy whipped around to see the slobbering face, complete with a massive tattoo wrapped around his cheek, his bald head glistening with sweat in the moonlight. Andy heard Bennie and the Jets playing in the background, instinctively flinching. “Get back here or I’ll Goddamn bring you back here myself,” he snarled. Andy gave him the finger. “Imm comin for ya ah swear.” he hurled the words like he would have a punch in a barfight, slurring his words, waving around his liquor like it was a cocked gun. “Get the hell away from here, away from my mother and I’ll come back.” My mother’s head poked out the window. “He didn’t even hit ya that hard boy, get back here.” At that moment, for the first time, Andy didn’t think about his mother. The Elton John Song humming in the background was only that– background. And he turned around, heading due west, and ran


71 Molly Murphey

It Was Unanimously Decided At The Community Meeting Their hands were red from searching through dirt Dry and hard as bone. In a city of tents, a fence of scrap metal Proclaiming Stay Out, We Bite. In Orchards of apples with worms, mistaken for cannibals.

The man reclined in a lawn chair Guarding his trailer in a field Its screen door unhinged Suspended as a tooth soon to be removed, The flypaper full, a graveyard above ground. I don’t give a damn where they go. The meeting American Gothic Angry Mob, Pitchfork, Salem. The representative for the other coalition Stood in a trashcan, moaning Arm thrown across his eyes. They too saw the abandoned car on the freeway Its seats, dinner for the mice Hungry as the line at the soup kitchen Jesus Saves The whining of neon In the warm, heavy night.


72 He awoke in his bed The ground littered with gleaming probosci Of morphinic butterfly. The head of the tribunal Prodded him with a stick You have to get out. His broken thumb extended Bandaged with whatever was around. Going West? They asked. Of course, he said With a nod of the head. Where else was there to go? Dracula in the Doctor’s Office (excerpt) The nurse had spiky hair dyed the faint purple you see on older ladies like my swim instructor, Irene. She pushed me into a squishy vinyl chair and it felt like when the older boys forced my head under water in the lazy river, my lungs all hot from breathing too hard. The room was beige. My mom, smiling, my dad rubbing his arm, a brochure dangling from his limp hand. Just a liiiiiiittle pinch, the nurse said. Waves of cinnamon tumbled out of her ancient mouth. But it wasn’t just a pinch; it was two and three and five. She used every limb I had. When it was over, she wiped my tear-stained cheeks, slapped a penguin-shaped ice pack on my knee, and ran the bill. When you’re taking a four year old to the Amazon, you get shots at a private vaccination clinic. You pay a squat lady with an office in a strip mall to inject your child with Hepatitis A, Typhoid, Yellow fever, and Malaria. It’s all that you can do to get the neighbor who babysits her to stop knocking on your door with the Why don’t you just leave her here with me while you go on the trip? It would be safer anyway and to banish those images of the babies in hospital beds with tubes up their nose and parasites in their veins from your dreams. My mom did what she had to do and got years of tantrums with each doctor’s visit in return. My mantra became: I would rather get the flu than the flu shot. I said it often, I said it when my mom looked at me hopefully on ambush trips to CVS. When my best friend got Whooping Cough— pertussis— and brought it to summer camp, this got a little harder to say. I watched her little body bent over, stomach convulsing like a baby bodybuilder and pleas from the CDC to quarantine piled up in the mailbox.


73 T-Wolf Nguyen

Time stands in two places Time stands in two places, but never still Still, you’ll see me wanting to sit at ease Even as they walk away From each other, From me, Standing alone despite my desire To make it anything but. Don’t you wish for the same, Same as it had never been yet We spin around, thinking it had? Had we so little that we treated it like so much Much more than we had before and now We never turn around at the same time Sneaking glances and pauses of clarity But never could we backtrack, And any loop only turns into a circle, Spinning to no end and avail. Time stands in two places, Digited minute and hour The body and the heart You and me And the mind, an unsuccessful mediator Who failed to halt the change. Repeat such forevermore, and know it’ll always be the same. Perfect


74 Could I be? No, never. What we give so much thought to yet not the action, Sitting stale on our tongue as the colors dry and flake off The placard warns “do not touch” for a reason. Tossed around in our language and beliefs, That there could only be one, Unthinkable, Undefinable, Yet in doing so we try to anyway. A dream friend, Or lover, Or god, But in all practical living it dissipates in smoke. Smoke that you could not recover, Only lighting another cigar in the hopes that it’ll be familiar enough And it is. But familiar is not the same So we keep on burning up Igniting and breathing in the lies that we are given We feed. But we are always hungry. And so I think it’s time to stop. And so you think you’d give me that definition. And so we think it still exists. And yet I’d only claim perfection By giving it all to you.


75 Lexy O’Dell

Cage I stepped out of bed I had to leave in a little under a hour My mind was cloudy and I felt nauseous I wobbled around my room trying to overpower The aggressive ways my body tells me ease My alarm blared over by my bed But I could not stop it for a headache was a guarantee I read that during an intense research session Searching for answers to problems i didn't know i had Because fear and worry were my own prized possession I organized my closet by season then by color And looking at the fallen hangers I knew there would soon be another number On my list for which i make three a day Trying to remember the best way To extinguish anxiety and remember all my parts For this was not a blessing or a showcase of drive But a trap in which my brain and I collide It was not an equal alliance With one forcing compliance So until i find the key that unlocks both of them from this cage They will both sit in defiance

Untold Truth of Sports By: Lexy O’Dell


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I passed up the ball with no pain, The nerve cells in my forearms had died a while back. Thoughts of time and commitment kept me chained For all the expenses I paid for playing Because to the sport you were not good if not to gain. My teammates would roll their ankles or have the feet stepped on But I was stepped over laying Anthology 2 The way he laid down the law. An empty position did not matter Because I couldn't be powerful enough to fill the Power dynamic, Hatred for the master. The ball seemed to slap harder in the silence And sting my fingers As they felt the pain of pointing rather than guidance The strongest chain linked onto the weakest Saving the last link before she fell We were stronger together, but together didn't mean level So I relied on my love of the power this sport brought me Even if I could not gather enough courage To step across the net The fear of leaving the court a puddle of discourage


77

Sarah Ogden

When the Sky Speaks Electricity surging Within this darkened dome Birds lined up in a row Perched just below its cackling. Then, trapped static unfurling In a single slithering bolt Birds jolt, fly as if hurled From their gathering. They disperse, fleeing From the amplified roar Ceding to the voices Of the rampaging storm. Star I stare in awe at the fierce, brilliant stars


78 How they sear the black, each leaving a scar As they starve to stay aflame among dark.

Like pushpins they stab the lone, barren air Must start with a spark to climb that first stair They then spar to stir the following glare.


79 Maya Oliver

Tales of a Fallen Angel You and I are snowflakes. Fallen angels released by the Heavens. Small, delicate figures coddled in the cool caress of the wind. Swaddled by its comfort as we are shifted between currents. Passed around, until we become too much of a burden to carry. We soon become vagrants, desperate for nothing more than a sense of belonging. Yearning for the touch the wind once gave us, we fall for false promises given by the incoming storm. We are led astray by the promise that we will become a part of something great. Or maybe out of fear that we will soon plummet.


80 In reality, we are nothing more than expendable soldiers. Fighting for a cause that we fail to understand. We become snowflakes in a snowstorm, blind to the chaos we will bring. Society is a snowstorm. Created by the fallen angels released by the Heavens. It was never coddled in the cool caress of the wind, or swaddled between its currents. It never reveals its true intentions. And the public underestimates its true nature. But this is what it was created to do. You and I are snowflakes. Small, delicate components, unleashing chaos onto the world. Never on purpose. But this is what we were created to do.


81 Gunner Onkst

Wilted Roses The old lady who lived in our neighborhood always made everyone smile. She lived in a bright blue two story house with a porch in the front where she could go out wearing one of her many floral dresses and read whenever she wanted. If you were to walk by you would always see her making one of her famous apple pies, or tending to her rose garden where the sun would shine down to make them bloom. Everyone loved her because of the monthly cookouts she threw for the kids. She would set out her pies, and have help flipping hamburgers on those sunny evenings. The lady was always there for everyone, helping them with cooking or talking to anyone if they ever needed someone to listen to them. That’s why no one suspected her when the children started to go missing. The whole neighborhood was now in crisis and there were no more cookouts. Everyone started to suspect each other and one kid turned into two and then into three. Her house started to reflect the neighborhood with the paint starting to peel off which made it look like a snake was tearing off a new layer. The smell of the pies was no longer there, and her roses started to pass on and wilt. The kids just went over to talk, I needed somebody to talk to. Now as I lay underneath the old rose garden I always saw passing by on the sidewalk, I’m buried there, shattered knowing that I will never smile again.


82 Naim Ouafi

The Temple of Rock The forest as thick as fog surrounded the men, where was it? The key, the key, all they needed was the key. “Found it” the man yelled, his call summoning courage and hope among the others. As quick as lightning the men dashed inside the old hallowed halls of a once sacred temple. The temple was cool and oddly calming but something was not right, as if the very walls themselves watched their every move. They turned the corner in the winding temple and stood face to face with a man, about 7’8? Then again he was off the floor hung by himself, not intentionally the man seemed quite keen on living but something else had other plans. The fear palpable like a sour gumdrop swept across the halls. The thought finally sinking in, they were not alone. The men panicked rushing every which way to escape the temple, however their efforts were in vain whatever had killed the man at the end of the hall was now trapped inside with them. There was no escaping the fate that lay before them, so with hastened breath they began to move forward again. *click* the last sound they heard as a tile pushed further into the floor as the sounds of a moving boulder grew nearby. The men ran and ran like no other ever had, they were no match for the boulder for it was the fastest and it proved itself the champion. Alone a single man sat with his leg pointing out in different directions like a poorly constructed zig zag. His fate lying in his hands alone he moved on much slower than before. With every step forward a pain so sharp it made him wish he had died beneath the boulder shot through his body, but with the resistance of a soldier he moved ever onward. Soon he reached a room in the temple that smelled of many plants and pheromones. Looking over he saw medicines and old unused wood and cloth. Salvaging what he could he managed to bandage his leg against a straight piece of


83 wood hoping to once again walk on both feet. He stumbled on not yet having the hang of a broken leg, he breathed in sharp breaths of oddly refreshing air. The temple was an oddity of feelings and sensations, there did not seem to be any life within the temple although it seemed perfect for animals to live in. Strange, the man thought but he moved on not thinking too hard on a place he had never been to, maybe it was just the way it was. Moving forward into the ever expanding maze the man learned of a few things, for one he must reach the end before being allowed to leave, and second there were many, many traps that would stop him from doing so. Pitfalls, spikes, arrows, and snakes every cliche movie trap flew at him, as real as the skin on his face and the blood on his body. He soon reached the middle of the temple, beams of light shot into the room from far above coming through cracks in the ceiling. “There it is” finally he could get out of this horrible pit of death and despair. He ran up to what seemed to be a small stand made of stone and marble, atop sat a bag of what he did not know but he did not care, for escape was all he thought of. He ripped the bag off the pedestal finally thinking he was free at last, but sadly nothing was so easy. The walls began to shake like an earthquake that surrounded the man on all sides, the walls began to cave and the ceiling fell in blasting the room with a bomb off light. The man screamed in surprise but he was already too late. He sat and waited. He knew his time would come, there was no escape, no help, no chance of survival. His very last moments of life trapped beneath a labyrinth of traps and rock. He relaxed, the feeling of drowsiness slowly seeping around him, his eyes drifting open and closed and open again. He opened his eyes to meet the gaze of another; however this one outnumbered him 2 to 8, his last thoughts as he drifted off to sleep forever.


84 Anastasialy Pacheco

Slim Thick

Some parts should be skinny and others must be full. The face symmetric not anorexic, unless you’re talking about the belly, that should be flat. But below the back, it should be all jelly, the butt can wiggle, but when the arms jiggle, drop and give me six. The legs should not be sticks and not too thick, and cellulite is social suicide. Another feature you have to hide. Where is your thigh gap? It’s best you skip that nap. Better to ride a bike. A 10-mile hike, become the one boys like. Round breasts on your chest, with smooth skin. The recipe for a win. We don’t like thin and we don’t like fat. And when you have acne, stay in your habitat, the scars on your face, are undeserving of embrace. It needs to be fixed. We have our values mixed. ~Anastasialy Pacheco


85 64,527 There are 64,527 words starting with the letter “c” . Yet, everytime I think of that letter there’s only one word that pops into my head. 18.1 million cases a year, 9.5 million deaths per year due to that one word with that one letter that stands out to me. Throughout the 64,527 words starting with the letter “c”, can you guess the one word that comes to my mind? 64,527 chances to think of another word yet my mind ALWAYS goes to that word, not taking an extra few seconds to let one come to mind, no waiting, just that one particular word. It kills me everytime. 64,527 words, why does my mind just go to that one? Then I remember, 18.1 million people go through it and out of that 18.1 million people, 9.5 million of them die. My mind doesn’t just randomly go to that word, it’s attached to it. He was part of that 9.5 million people attached to that word. My best friend became a part of the 18.1 million people with it, after a lot of fighting he also became part of that 9.5 million. Even though I never said that one particular word, you still know which one I’m talking about. So yes, out of 64,527 words starting with the letter “c” , my mind goes straight to that word, every single time. And yes, it will always be that one word starting with that one letter that comes to my mind and that? That will never change. ~Anastasialy Pacheco


86 Ria Parikh

light without darkness

the Sun begins her cyclical journey advancing further down with each passing minute bringing us the peace and safety and tranquility once promised for we all know She will be up and shining when we wake

we take this seamless phenomenon for granted, trusting blindly the blinding sunlight will peek through our blinds every morning the comforting warmth of her rays will raise ease upon our sleeping faces

how do we know that each night will bring another day along it has been this way our whole lives– that is why all of us spoiled with our obedient Sun, who rises and sets only as expected


87

what would happen if She decided to abandon us one day leaving us in the serenity of the dark sky would we learn to adapt to this new life without her or question why our universe failed us

i am curious to know what we would think of a sunrise having lived without one curious if you would see the same beauty in it realizing that it had left

curious as to how much we can miss something that has always been there for us

because without darkness there is no need for light


88

Jack Payne

Clouds I dream of clouds. Endless drifters of an open world. They journey everywhere but reside nowhere. I aspire to float among them, learning their many mysteries, studying their many lessons. As I lay underneath their loving shadow I wonder why? Why do they swirl in the air like cotton candy on a stiff cardstock pole? Why do they dance above me with such elegance and posture? Why do they endlessly wander across the ceaseless sky? Why are they never home? Or are they always home? They seem magical to me, the way they hold the mysteries of life before me and foretell for life to come. I lay under them pondering their meaning, if any at all. They crackle and spark as they release droplets of life from their gentle hands, They provide an ever forgiving shade as a child drifts away under a tree, They comfort a sorrowed soul on a downed day. Maybe their meaning is for life and prosperity! Or maybe there is no meaning at all. Maybe they wish to provide shelter to any soul in reach, or enchant the juvenile morning glory sprouting from the earth on an early Sunday morning. Or maybe just maybe they wish to better a drowning world. Maybe they venture from planet to planet, or maybe they lie dormant in the soil waiting to be called home by their ancestors.


89

Maybe their travelers, visitors from a different cosmos, Creatures from an exterior world Or maybe just maybe, they're just clouds, floating along with no purpose, no meaning Prisoners to a stagnant world. The Ever Changing Mind A dark crested horizon begins to run swiftly along the tree tops. Lightning sparkled clouds collide with the force of one-thousands explosions. The blue beauty once above falls into ruins across the ground, Chaos is brewing The darkness as thick as wool, dances around every being Particles of light fight the drowning darkness, But are devoured Sinking in an orb of overpowering chaos, a thread of light punches through. It dances upon the crusts surface, a trail of life following Spurts of green are reborn from dust They join the prance A once dejectioned horizon is resurrected Life is retrieved, and chaos diminished The mind is calm.


90 Neptune Peterson

Mitch - Chapter 1 - The Last Day of July - Excerpt And so it went. Michelle. The willow tree. The pond just a few feet away from her unknowing, closed toe Dr. Marten boots she wore with so much pride every time she went for her morning and nightly bike rides to the place she had learned to call home more often than the place she fell asleep in every night, though, most of her pleasant resting came from the lush grass on the shaded valley, enveloped by the massive willow tree in which many kind birds perched themself, having the freedom to leave this mess of a world any time they’d like, but never did, because they’d suffocate anywhere else just like Michelle would if she were to leave. Would she succeed? No. Not without an ounce of hope, money for a train ticket, and fuck ton of luck. She watched, as the vivid color of the male, mating ducks flashed and reflected against the clearest pond, and listened as the silent noise of humming honey bees were making their final trip of the day to some daffodils Michelle would later perch on her dirty blonde, wavy hair and let fly away the next time the bitter, summer wind hissed at her to make her way back home, and even though she heard nature’s request, she never listened as she always found herself falling asleep on her thin, hand woven blanket she had received as a gift on her 12th birthday from her now deceased grandparents, letting the blades of thin grass tickle her cheeks as they danced in the sun’s beams that seeped miraculously through the fine willow tree vines, that Michelle would appreciate so much during the long summers, as all the pretty little leaves would disappear magically during frigid November and not come back until rainy April, and with relief she would say “mother nature is only there for those who want to love her as their own mother” but Michelle did not like her mother, and so adopted the willow tree to care for her instead, give her the shade and protection that no one else will give her. She never cared to be cared for until her new mother willow tree, mother nature, offered her majestic helping hand.


91 My world My world is perfectly round and shielded by you. wise angel, untouchable, with fragile limbs that fall weak with every step you take closer. my rose coloured world, ever so bright, that the moon need not shine for there to be light. and yet, the sun, the moon and all the spirits in the universe radiate from your body and glisten. my world, made of love’s ashes, bares no ills. bashful i am, but my world still spins. my tear drops turn to dust when wiped by your fingers and your words turn to dreams as they leave your soft lips. vast oceans two inches deep engulf my world to renew the land and give life a second chance. my world. made with love and where love is made, is shielded by your divinity. Your divinity shan’t last long, however. As the oceans part and land comes to the surface, so do our evil spirits, and differences too large to look beyond. it comes down to the bitter nature of our speech, words unsuited for our connection and brains to brittle for our love. and thus, we part. indignant towards my words, you leave the way you came in: as a stranger. My world is not shielded by you any longer, but by the remnants of positive energy and lessons you left behind, planted in my brain, lingering. my world will never look the way it did, but will always hold that sense of hope that you have always told me to keep near. my world, although not as full, will renew itself again. However, this time, I shall be its protector.


92 Christina Polge

Hunger I am hungry. Why am I always hungry? Sometimes I feel like I could eat the whole world if nobody was watching. I am hungry. Why am I hungry for something I cannot eat? I am hungry for stories and dreams and love like the stars said I’d get. Love like I was hungry and now, I am full. But I’ve never had that, never had someone slip their arms around my waist and say you are my favorite, never been someone’s favorite, never stopped longing. I think that is my biggest problem. I never learned how to be satisfied. I am hungry. Why am I hungry for the feeling of hunger? There is a car commercial on TV right now. I don’t know why I am thinking of you. There are words dancing across my page. I don’t know why they are all about you. There is a lump in my throat. I don’t know why it wants to say your name. There are feelings in my stomach, but nobody ever taught me the difference between fear and love, so I suppose I will just call it hunger. I am hungry. Why am I hungry for unnamed things? You is the idea of a someone who belongs to me in the same way that this plate is my plate, in the same way that this body is my body, in the same way that this heart is my heart, in the same way that I am yours and you are mine. It’s the way the words sit on the tip of my tongue: mine, mine, mine and I would wrap the whole world in my arms if I could stretch wide enough because mine, mine, mine is never enough. But, it all comes back to this. I am hungry. Why am I always hungry?


93 Trinity Polk

Those Ocean Eyes Trance I drowned under the crashing waves of what seemed like an ocean. Deep and dangerous, Something so easily to be swept by and crushed. I screamed under the water, Hoping for someone to hear my cries. But no matter how hard I tried, It seemed like I was the next victim that came by. The more I stared, It was another second that I couldn’t breathe. I was too busy frozen from what I had seen. A tall, fine man, Who I remembered from my past. Trapping me once again, With his ocean eyes. Damaged Trash at the bottom of the sea, There was I, A damage thing, That was unwanted, Nor cared for.


94

I was a nobody, A person that wasn’t able to be loved, A person no one had desire for, A person that had no type of future. And there was no point in fighting, As I remained still I was devoured by the depths of ocean And the only thing that I could picture Was those devilish eyes that remained on mine. There was he, As I sat in my chair And covered my puffy under eyes and the scar on my cheek, No matter how hard I tried, I just kept looking into his ocean eyes. The Past Behind And like that I felt like I was hit by a familiar wave, I ached and trembled, As the memories of the past made a special appearance. I stared amongst his eyes, Those eyes that got me in trouble the first time. With ease, He drew me in like a predator targeting his prey. It’s like he knew I wouldn’t run away. That I’ll be stuck, frozen in fear, And be put in his trance every time he appears. But I remained calmed and at ease, I no longer see those ocean eyes a danger to me. All there was is a man who is stuck in his own sea. And I walked out the door, leaving, as I so pleased.


95 Deeya Prakash

An excerpt from “The Space Between” Despite how wise we think we are, humans are actually unaware of how planets came to be. The prevailing theory is that there are nebulas that simply cannot take the pressure of something as vast and unknown as space and, after a few drinks, collapse, leaving dust and gas in their wake. A protostar forms at the core of this debris, and a bit of accretion and accumulation later, there forms a planet. Color and size are to be determined later, but for a singular moment, it is just like the rest. Gaseous, volatile, and mysterious, captivating the simple eyes of a species so far away they may as well be specs. They are reminded of their insignificance often, sometimes even by some of their own. But it is when they gaze upon the planets that they truly feel the weight of such a perspective. *** My father often asks, “what is wrong with you?” as if he doesn’t know the answer. I like to remind him that I am his descendent, that anything wrong with me is also the case with him, but I shield this argument from view in efforts to not contradict my usual sermons about independence and having a mind of my own. While an effective tactic, it leaves me vulnerable to his pestering, his escalation of thought. One moment, we are discussing a swim meet, and my desire to arrive early because of my fear of tardiness. The next, something is wrong with me, because what am I going to do there, sweep the floors? *** Once, my best friend called me at 10 p.m. in hushed tones because her mother was asleep in the next room. “Deeya,” she whispered. “Do you want to see Saturn?” I drove with my foot like a weight on the gas pedal, parking in the middle of “Love Story” by Taylor Swift. I was still humming it when my eye pressed to the cool metal of her telescope. For a moment, there was


96 nothing. And then it moved into view, the orb bright and monstrous, it’s rings a swooping arc, protecting it from harm. I couldn’t breathe. There is something about reading, investigating, researching something so magnificent that you forget it exists in the same universe that you do. Saturn has rings, but does it? It wasn’t until then that I truly believed it did. But I must have done something for I could no longer see it. “The planets are constantly moving, so we won’t be able to see it anymore. It’s behind that tree now,” my friend said. How could I know something that ethereal was out there, see it for a moment, and then accept the fact that it was gone? I haven’t seen Saturn since last December. *** “If a man ever touches you, drop everything and come tell me,” he says. We are sitting in my parents’ bed, the comforter squishy underneath my Thomas the Tank engine pjs. We have had this conversation four times in the past month, and I am only eight years old. I fight the urge to roll my eyes because good grief, not this again. “Even if it is someone you know. Even if it is one of my friends.” His eyes are stern, resting just below the wispy hair that he will lose soon to age. I will taunt him about looking like an egg and compare him to a baseball. I’ll tell him he looks like Venus. He will narrow his eyes and tell me to go back to my homework. *** It doesn’t feel right to write about my father. He is a celestial being, large and imposing and scary and strong. But he is also tender. He is ticklish. He yawns after forty-five minutes of ocean documentaries. He laughs at jabs I take at my mother under my breath when she is being unreasonable and she knows it. He gives me a hug after a golf tournament because trying your best is all that matters and I don’t care if Eleanor beat you because you’re my daughter and Eleanor is not and I am proud of you. He loves me. He loves my sister more. But he loves me.


97 Izabella Ramirez

L’obsession Fatale

Curse my name, I can feel the weight fall off your lips. Tell me that you still hold my heavy love. I understand, You didn't want to see me. I crave to crumble beneath the soft touch of your hand. Will the Heavens forgive me for the lustful thoughts towards him? Impure, Unwanted, Abandoned. The days get colder, As does the look in your eyes. Sometimes I can't feel your heart's silent beating. I know you'll never stay, I'll let you use me once more anyway. Never did I think I want a man to the point where he can't want me. Will the Heavens forgive the weakness in my heart for beauty? Impure, Unwanted, Abandoned.


98 The sun shines again, As the Spring chases the cold. Sadly it failed to melt your soul. The flowers are dying around you, And it's only now that I realize the obsessive truth. But the only thing I can do is clean your peaceful grave. I ask both you and the Heavens for forgiveness for my selfishness. Perhaps in another life I can do more than search for earthly pleasures. Summer nights, They seem so silent now. I miss the sound of your soothing voice. The crickets are quiet, It's as if the world were dead. Shunned as I stare at the moon's cold shoulder while standing on the cliff's crumbling edge. I live with my soul impure, My company unwanted, And my body, abandoned.


99 Eryn Richards

The One-Eyed Man The One-Eyed Man cannot see what is in front of him. He stands in constant night, a dark canvas. But a pinprick guides him. A star, poking through, and he knows: a sister has entered the world. He careens for her. His light. His first glimpse into a world more than inky black. She leaps forward and sees through him as he sees through her. They intrinsically know the other is their only window into the physical realm, the only escape from their shared consciousness. They are siblings. The only two of their kind in the universe—cursed to look only through the other’s eye. Yet never look in the other’s eye.

I envy their celestial connection. His ability to see across the expanse of space and experience a world untainted by my people, by me. One I can never visit, even glimpse. I imagined it once, his sister’s world, but my mind splintered with its alien perfection.

Perfection, yes, but can I comprehend the isolation? Infinity apart, they are destined to hide behind each other’s eye while the cosmos echoes the cruel laughter of fate. I can not fathom that,


100 as I meet his gaze, he can never gaze back. But is that the fair price of witnessing exaltation so far away?

I do think I envy the One-Eyed-Man, just not his millennia spent alone. I do envy him… just not his bygone stare as he cries, “Where is my light?”

The last in the universe.


101 Maydali Rosado

The Alley The alley is the most ugly place I know At least for me who has to go out to a Chicago alley everyday to throw out trash. Trash, it is everywhere Sometimes it is in trash cans that are tipped over Sometimes it is in the open trash bags that are spilled all over the ally The stench is horrendous, a mix of someone’s 10 day old leftovers And used baby diapers? Old beer bottles? I don’t know but as my sister says Que asco, or, how disgusting And the rats are hiding in there somewhere I don’t know where But they are there No one cares much for the ally It’s just trash Trash waiting to be taken to the landfill Waiting to be burned and destroyed Or just waiting there as it breaks down and decomposes But it’s nice knowing that somewhere in that trash There is a broken pen that someone used Maybe to sign an important document, a new job? Or a pizza box that once held a delicious and warm pizza with extra pepperoni Maybe some team ate that pizza as they celebrated their team’s win that day perhaps? Or maybe there is a little pink teddy bear thrown in there Perhaps a girl must’ve finally gotten over her ex and is ready for that fresh new start?


102 And there is going to be a sanitation worker who gets paid and is able to buy food for themselves Able to pay their rent and bills Able to take care of their child And there are also recycling bins there The trash we see can become something new. That old soup can might become someone’s new bicycle that they will use to win a cycling race. The phrase one man’s trash is another man’s treasure is true then huh? Maybe the Chicago alley isn’t the ugliest place. I guess there is beauty everywhere. See me on top They all look down at me, noses high up in the air It’s like they don’t even want to breath the same air as me , like I am contaminating it They do the same for others, like the man sitting on the bench waiting for the bus Or the young woman carrying her child To them, I'm a girl who is currently looking at her phone trying to find what building I am supposed to enter. They all have on their suits, their ironed dress pants, their suitcases. They held onto their overpriced, nine dollar coffee from an expensive cafe. They just look down just to see me with my two dollar champurrado I got from the tamale lady. They know we were different. They know they had more than the others they looked down to. However, they don’t know that I have finally found where I am supposed to enter. So as they walked into that big building They saw me walk up to the door They opened the door for me, asked me what floor I was going to, and held me to some respect. And as I stood on that podium, they all looked at me in shock They saw the girl who they thought was below them, is now above them on a podium. Now they had to sit and listen to me. Because now I am on top. Now I am on top. Now you can all finally hear me Not that you ever were going to, but because you are now being forced to listen to me Listen to me talk about how I know that you think of me as below you. Listen to me talk about how I made it here on my own Listen to me speak for those who can’t be here but who are like me Listen to the voices that you hold below yourself because we have less than you. Listen to me. Now I am on top.


103 Myla Ross Heartstrings Desperate, protruding eyes unkept beneath blonde hair sat on the bed. Clutching a pillow, pretending to be her, finally he rose from the bare mattress and tried not to think of the things she’d said, but... when he stood from the bed, a numbness took his hands, tied them to a chair without touch, without her hands in his hair he was... alone. Like a rhythm he knew every night she wasn’t there between bed sheets, between hungry and tired. She no longer felt his love beside her. Beside her bedside table: the cable that was his heartstrings before coiled pitifully in the corner. Before when love was spent mercilessly moments gathered in his chest. Kept there, was his love for her like he wanted hers. So he caught it. Went out and bought it: a ring to put there on her left, second tallest finger. He’d tie her heartstrings down, he’d brand, and cherish, and keep her. but, Oh!, foolish boy. Don’t you know better? Though love may travel by string,


104 it is love that comes naturally that is better. Warmer than any sweater, could provide you with a love like hers. Or maybe someone... better. So let her, let her energy, her chi, her empathetic credibility be her own. It is not yours to own or to maintain. Dear boy, Love lets go of restrain so too should you let go your reigns: your Heartstrings.


105 Maddy Russell

“Redwoods National Park circa 2019” There is something quiet and crunchy All at once about the forest, the curling Of moss and the howling of cicadas. You Left on a Wednesday in October, at the beginning of of your favorite season. That & the flapping of cards Each Valentine’s Day, something so Hallmark about the holiday, and later on, the forest. After we hiked you would drag me through the gift store just to gawk at the souvenirs and frenzied customers, the Stuffed animals in the sweaty palms of children, who become shoplifters just to stare into the creatures’ beady eyes A second longer, just as hollow as yours in the Shadowy dew of that morning. I thought they Were brown before, like the redwoods I draped Myself around, too wide to see the other side Without cheating, but now you’re too far for me to Observe them, your circumference too enveloping. Like redwoods we grow slowly until the other plants are swallowed


106 whole, Strangling each other to gain access to light. we only got one item from that gift shop, a postcard for a distant relative in New Mexico, the one who would only send one dollar bills through the mail, as if they were puzzle pieces, Something worth waiting on, stringing along, Tucked between folds of a hallmark card With a slogan you don’t read, but I keep, something about Valentine’s Day and bad karma compels me to, anyway, and I finally understand how easy it is to leave big things behind yet hold small things so close.


107

Ryan Sheppard

Daydreams in Russia It was the first time I had been out in months. The cold air snaggled its long teeth into my skin as I took a deep breath of the clean, fresh mountain air. I had no idea how long I had been locked up in that factory, but it was a wonderful experience to be out. For the first time in what felt like years, I smelt more than rusted scrap and mildew, the smog of industry. My skin had been blackened by the constituent smog. My hair no longer vibrant, my eyes no longer held life. Now all that was left was for my mind to catch up to my body. It was snowing, and I was thankful. It wouldn’t be enough to clean my blackened hands and soul, but it was refreshing on my hot skin. I stopped, the wooden bridge before me. If I went over it, there would be no coming back. He would be far too angry with me to allow me to come back. I take a moment and glance back to the factory. It was still spewing great clouds of black and dull green into the air as I heard the gentle whines of the machines inside. They were always loud. I take one step forward, the board creaking under my weight. After another moment, I put my other foot in front of it. Halfway through the bridge, I take a moment and lean over the side. The wood, though covered in mold and moss, supports me. My left hand comes up, and my eyes train on the gold band encasing my ring finger. I roughly rip it off and throw it down into the stream. It was worth little, even when I was in love. There were simply too many broken promises to have it retain any.


108

I start off again, more “pep in my step” as my Opa would put it. I wish he was around to save me. When I was little, he would sit outside with his old shotgun. He would claim he was keeping an eye out for wolves, but we all knew what was in the woods were far more dangerous than wolves. We all knew a shotgun had the same power as a stick to the woodland creatures. I can’t help but chortle at the memory. Opa was an odd one. I make it back to town, taking another deep breath of the air. It smells like my childhood here. But it’s too quiet, and the air isn’t filled by the smell of home: bread baking, fish smoking, meat cooking. Who would be here to do all of those things after all? All of them were long gone, disappearing into the framework of our tiny town. I walk past the old market, the stalls overrun with birds and a few loose pigs. I walk past my old home, the windows were blown out and the wood has long since turned black. All the homes in our village are like this now: dead. The sun starts rising on the horizon, and I stop to appreciate it. The factory had no windows, and the light is always so beautiful after the dark. It paints the sky in a pale rainbow, the only color here now. As it starts its long rise to the peak of its journey, I notice the shadow of the Church. It was on a hill overlooking our homes and was always imposing its will as such. I start my walk towards it. If it is really gone, destroyed like us, I would leave. There will be nothing to save here. But it’s not. It’s in the best condition I have seen in years. My family and I have been attending this church since our family moved here from Lithuania in the 1800s. Even in the oldest photos of the church, the wooden exterior was never this glossy, this white. The windows are clear, and there are no scratches on them. What’s weirder is that they are covered by thick, black lace. Curiosity killed the cat, and I’m next.


109 Jake Shevitz

He saw it from the bottom of the stairs before it saw him. The eyes were probably the only reason he was alive. Their gold glow reflected on the open window, like two extra stars in the night sky that symbolized a quiet, choked death. Its skin was the color of what was behind it, the dark of the wall combined with the opaqueness of the window. He wondered if its visibility was a show of aggression, dominance, silently broadcasting a signal of I am here, I am here to kill you, but it had its back to him. It was waiting for him to pass by it. The window had saved him. And now, focusing, he could see the faint outline of a human-esque shape. Ray carefully stepped backwards, blindly groping for his gun. Where did it come from? He reckoned that it must have followed him home. But there were plenty of opportunities to come up from behind and wrap its rough hands around his neck. It could have gotten him when he was out by the barn—but I could have had weapons in there. He thought back to the wolf with the broken neck. It was not killed in the open. It was in front of its den—Ray had been tracking rabbits for supper, and he had come across it—it was killed while trying to go home. The thing wanted his guard to be 100% down. Ray had been hearing stories around town, about people who went out to hunt, same as him, and three who had never returned. Only “Big” Dave Reynolds, and his son “Little” Dave had come back with a story. “It don’t live in the woods,” Big Dave had insisted to a group of folk who had come to hear him speak, “it is the woods.” He groped behind him, his shotgun he took with him hunting in case of grizzlies laid against the wall, and his back hit the door. The sound wasn’t loud—if Ray was sleeping, it would not have roused him—but the thing swiveled on an invisible axis, the glow of its eyes


110 illuminating the space ahead of it. It broke into an immediate sprint, its feet producing minimal noise as it descended the wooden stairs. Halfway down, Ray took his gun and fired, hitting it squarely in the chest, stray buckshot cracking the glass on framed pictures of college graduation and he and his brother. The thing fell almost comically down the rest of the flight, its head cracking against the final step before landing on its back. Almost immediately it stood, slightly dazed, the only evidence of any gun discharge being the frames. It quickly regained its bearings and ran towards the now open, swinging door. Ray stopped halfway across the field in front of the house and turned around. It emerged from the house, still the color of the window-guarded night sky and dark oak wall, but as it ran towards him, its head and chest took on the wall’s colors, while its midriff and legs became the grey of the cobblestone porch, and its feet the green grass. The only thing that did not change were the eyes, staring dead ahead, their target bracing itself in a fighting stance. It leapt at Ray like a feral cat, and he grabbed for its face, in hopes of putting out the beacons and leaving it blind and defenseless, and more importantly, unable to attack. But it was strong, and it overpowered him and pinned him to the ground, and hands that felt like tree bark closed on his throat. He grabbed frantically for his knife, concealed in its hip holster. His arm was at too awkward an angle to go for an eye, so he uselessly jabbed at its side, coughing and gasping as the world began to turn as black as its upper body. He felt the knife hitch under something and he dug in deeper and pulled—something came away—and then resumed jabbing until he hit something. The thing made no noise, but fell away from him. He stood. The knife was buried in its side, in a spot of pink flesh. The skin there was chipped away, and he noticed it in the grass. It looked like a scale. Ray picked it up and flipped it in his hand, the glanced at the thing, which had turned fully black, the color of oil. It began to leak blood of the same shade, staining the grass and his hand with darkness. As he removed his knife from its side, two pairs of golden eyes watched him from the trees.


111 Henry Shriber

Pacing, around the kitchen island where my thoughts race behind me. My 9:00am alarm feels like a guillotine. Always to the next checkpoint, next destination. Traveling but only seeing what's ahead. To do lists, notebooks, checkmarks on my graphite boxes. All to reap the fruits of my labor. And I thought the grim reaper was a tall tale. Spending every day in front of a piece of glass. A flat film transistor liquid crystal display. A slab of wood is the most important place to be, and the chair has wheels so there is no reason to stand. Outside a storm erupts but the lamplight shines onto the keyboard and I clack away. A storm unleashed upon the western red cedar longhouses. Built by the Makah, harvested from the elements. The rain drops thud against the window, and I stare through it. I am dry. Suburbia like a labyrinth. Neighbors Park their cars around the Cul De Sac. Fences draw the line. Each home a unique culture within itself. Within the set boundary the family has its own dogma. Multiplied. Generations expand. And the sun sets behind the houses. Shadows of their roof vector against the asphalt. Innocence leads to ignorance. We tend our own garden. The lawn mower’s engine buzzes and the sprinklers ignite. A basketball bounces off the sloped driveway and it is chased down the hill. The Barbeque grills steak for the guests. Empty soda cans pile up in a technicolor blend. Middle aged mothers laugh, drinking their wine. A kitchen remodel is underway. The voice of the sports commentator, touchdown.


112 The kids pass around controllers while the disc is inserted. I hear a knock at my door. I am a vampire shrouded in darkness. Doom scrolling to oblivion. I am supposed to change those letters. But I see everyone on the app as if they’re with me. Breaking news, top 10, my favorite album will be released when? It's 11:47 but I can finish. Infinite information one click away. From the death of Julius Caesar, what the Enron scandal was, how to make a banana launcher. But my world depends on if I submit a pdf. Digital hearts or thumbs up. A broadcast of daily life that deletes in 24 hours. What is printed on the fabric that I wear. The next big thing, the cool thing, a trend that determines my validation. When a virus has changed the world for more than a year now. When I need to write a poem that uses literary devices to symbolize how I am feeling. When I feel like I am running out of time and whatever I say will be wrong. When I imagine myself doing things the way I imagined them to happen. But ‘when’ will never come. There is only now. I can theorize about the future, analyze the past, but this moment means everything. So I get out of my room, Rise from the coffin that is my bed, Unravel that cocoon of blankets, Escape the comfort zone of indifference, And stop trying to know everything but live it. Stop assigning analogies to what I can’t understand and simply face it. Start to not view life as one slow burning tragedy, but realize I am the author of my own story, not an audience member . To be grateful for every moment that shapes me.


113 Hallie Smith

Blue Bicycle

The old bike’s wheels don’t move anymore. It was blue, once, you can tell, but now it is less blue, like it is trying to remember how to be a blue bike and not quite getting the details right. I feel the same way too, like sometimes I don’t quite remember how to be a human. It’s rusty, too, this bike: spots of brown covering the metal spokes that criss-cross the wheels like a spider’s web. The rust is what I imagine makes the bike stay stagnant in one place, leaning up against the brick wall beside it like it needs the support. I see this bike everyday from my spot on the warped, wooden park bench across from the public library, my wrinkled hands grasping a faded old photo from the same spot fifty years earlier. My white hair is always pulled back into a braid that drapes down and brushes softly against the ticklish part of my lower back, though it’s the spots on my legs and hands that betray my age. I feel like an oak tree sometimes: crack me open and you can count the years of my life in perfect rings. Regulars to the library will walk past, dipping their heads in silent acknowledgement, or murmuring a soft hello, carting all sorts of interesting books past. I always nod back, because it wouldn’t be polite not to, but I never engage in conversation, or move from the specific spot on the park bench. I’m waiting for someone, you see.


114 Occasionally, when the thoughts that glide through my mind like raindrops on glass aren’t enough to keep me entertained, I’ll glance down and take a quick look at the photograph, before jerking my gaze back up and re-focusing on the bicycle. By now, though, I have the photograph memorized. The picture is me and him kissing, me in a pretty sundress, him in his sharp new Army uniform, neatly pressed with perfect edges. We’re in front of the bike, back when it still remembered how to be blue. There are words on the back, nigh unreadable now, from the number of times I’ve traced his handwriting with a single fingertip, trying to conjure him up when he wrote it. “I’m on my way home. Meet you in our spot.” Every morning, I wake with the joy of knowing that I will see him today. I put on my beautiful sundress from that day the picture was taken, now hemmed countless times against rips, with the sunflowers that were once vibrantly sprayed across the front faded from where I put it in the wash so many times. I walk the same path to the park bench across the public library every morning, lunch wrapped in a brown paper bag that is clutched in my hand. But every day, he is delayed for another reason, so when night falls, bones creaking, I stand up from the park bench and begin my journey home. It’s slower now, I’m not as quick as I was fifty years ago, but it gives me comfort knowing I’ll see him tomorrow. Knowing I can finally put my old sundress in the box with “our things,” waiting to introduce him to his son and grandchildren, and tell him about the fifty years he’s missed. But for now, I sit on the park bench, staring at the bicycle with a bad memory, smoothing the photograph over and over in my hands, thinking that today, he’ll come. Today, he’ll come.


115 Sarah Tibbits

White Means Bad News White is not purity. It is not chastity, or childhood, or beauty. White is not your Protestant idea that premarital sex is sin and children are innocents. Have you ever been in a hospital room, sitting with a doctor, staring at that painfully white ceiling, holding back tears as they tell you you’re going to die? I spend so much of my time in doctor’s offices and on exam tables that white is the only color dancing behind my vision when I go to bed. You stare at that damn white ceiling with dread, and nausea, and loneliness, and the knowledge that life is really just going to shit. And you’ll stare at that damn white ceiling when you die, too. White is not for doves, it is for dying children. You can’t tell me that the kids in the room next to mine aren’t staring up at the same ceiling, having the same thoughts. White is impersonal. Doctors speak to me, stone faced in their white lab coats, unfeeling when they say my body is failing me. Shouldn’t they have some pity? I am only a child. White is lonely. I go to these appointments alone. I cannot decide whether it is harsher to hear these harsh truths on my own. They tell me I will not live long enough to see my own wedding. Brides are the only ones allowed to wear white, and I wonder how many women have felt forsaken at the altar. As forsaken as I do on the examination table. I remember back in Christian school when they told us heaven was all white. It was unsettling to me then, and feels even worse now. No, I want to tell them. Heaven is lush and green and blue and brown and mottled with all sorts of colors. White is for death. White is for Hell. There is a cold quality to that sickly sort of brightness. When you touch a white wall in the middle of summer, it absorbs none of the heat, your palm is now cooler than the outside air.


116 White is the same snow I stare at through my window. I am not allowed outside. The doctors say I am too frail. But I know that if I stuck my hand in that sort of cold it would feel more like fire. There are seasonal fires where I am from. White ash pours out of the sky more often than rain, and I can’t go outside. It is toxic, and deadly. A health warning has been issued. Somebody on the third floor dies of smoke inhalation. White is so easily stained, so easily changed, and doesn’t everyone agree that that off-white color looks a little like something rotting? If you don’t clean those stupid white ceilings, they’ll start to yellow, kind of like the skin of the kid the next room over with jaundice. So white is sterile. Have you ever been to a hospital where the doctors don’t wash their hands? Neither have I. They offer you sanitizer every five minutes. It’s annoying. I don’t need to sanitize; I’ve been sitting in this same white bed, with white sheets, under the same white ceiling, on the same white floor, surrounded by the same white walls for hours. Nothing has changed. You don’t need to cleanse me. This misperception that white is pure haunts me. Yes, pure only because white means that a thing has been cleaned a thousand times. And you only clean things to cover up what was there before. Bleach is white. Bones are white. Ghosts are white. My stupid dying skin is white, and turns whiter by the minute. White people committed mass atrocities. White is terrifying, and sickly, and harsh, so damn harsh on my eyes that it’s blinding. Blinding because nobody wants you to see that white is horror and death and suffering. When I die, somebody, somewhere, will say that I should be buried in a white shroud. Don’t you dare. Yes, I am a child, and a virgin, and now I am dead. My “innocence” and “purity” did not save me. I will come back to haunt you. Screw your false narrative.


117 Ava Marie Trask

“As We Know It” Dream infinite intersections between the paradise and the underworld—some sort of purgatory that is purely transcendental. Maybe it is an over-exhausted metaphor run mad, but what of it? When language nimbly dances across the page and the woes lightly weave themselves into phrases, there is sanctitude in the darkly mundane (or rather beauty in the wickedness of the world). A quill dipped in crimson scribbles the occurring monstrosities with a style drenched in divinity. Consider something horrifying elaborated in such a stunning sense. Where obscurity for obscurity's sake is no longer a discreditation to an artist, but instead praise to the highest degree, for something unattainable becomes part of their world, part of their narrative. Art for art’s sake. Let the hideous become the gorgeous by bathing in the trenches of truth. There is something implicated by stigmatized experiences, but speak of the unabridged fear. Feel terrified.


118 “The Art of a Story” From her lofty viewpoint, a child with soft blonde hair and deep hazel eyes observes the magical fairytale unfolding before her. The story emerges from her mind’s branches of creativity like a pure and Wilde dove. She creates a feminine protagonist with the strength of the mountains and the understanding depths of the oceans. This character has the surreal ability as a dream weaver to concoct tales of witches, merfolk, and pixies. The delicate child’s orbs delve into pools of imagination and wisdom as she untangles the intangible threads of the character’s consciousness. And as the worn pages turn, she gazes upon the magnificence of this fantasy, without truly understanding the Wordsworth. Years and years pass, while the tides of knowledge continue to ebb and flow. Until one day, the “little” girl has grown in her appearance, but continues to radiate the Hughes of youth and fidelity. The clock’s Frost slowly melts as seasons elapse, yet she has the power to capture time in the form of a story. It is only then that she recognizes the power of being perched on a ledge and envisioning the poet you want to become.


119 Caitryn Tronoski

Butterflies My body fills with the sickly dread of hyper awareness Their knowing gaze, their watching eyes I suffocate in the stimuli, Too much but never enough The butterflies come to yank my stomach from my body. I am both alone and surrounded. I am both imprisoned and hopelessly lost. What will I say when it becomes unbearable? When the butterflies slice through my stomach and spill the truth out to the world. How do I explain myself when my mind is racing but my will is dying? I ring my hands I dart my eyes I suffocate in the stimuli I tread water but the tide’s to high My thoughts are jumbled, don’t cry, don’t cry… …the eyes. I lose again to the butterflies.


120 El Varner Waltz

The Fiern Inspired by Monster Portraits by Del and Sophia Samatar. Blink and they’re gone. Flickering through the Wilds, the Fiern are revelers. Dances filled with life and song, uncontrollable. It is best to watch them from afar for, if you get too close you may never come out. The dances are beautiful but deadly. Your feet driving grooves into the dirt. Twisting, turning, endless unforgiving motion. Dead-eyed and spinning-unable to turn away from your beautiful partner. Your song becomes a hoarse cry, a river bed slowly drying up, voice stolen. And still--the need to create sound pushes through. The Fiern don’t know. They don’t realize that you wither away while trying to keep up, trying in vain to emulate their endless strides. They only see the next dance, the colours of their intangible bodies swirling endlessly. Tall, lithe, like flames leaping from the hearth. They don’t see you turning inside out, becoming a dead thing--a monster that dances with them forever. I saw them once dancing in the distance, the flickering lights calling, calling me. In between the trees they beckoned, seemingly unending. And then--nothing. Afterthought The world was empty. The earth had cracked and mutated.


121 Shadows crawled and slinked, Oil slicks swimming through a broken sky. The fish were floaters now, Bobbing dead and bloated on the surface of the water. Buildings lay broken and torn open Like monuments to a lost world. Which in a way it was. I think, out of everything, I missed food most of all. Not the nutrient packets we thrive on, up here in our ships. Circling worlds like a murder of crows, fleeing. No--Yesterday I walked past our kitchens and for one moment, I smelled--bread. The heady aroma of yeast dancing around my nostrils, Swirling up my nasal cavity to my brain, Enthralled.--I remember-, I remember Poppa, arms like logs carrying flour every day to the shop. Falling into those bags expecting them to be soft, Only to be met with a rock-like surface. Mama scolding me, Then sneaking me bits of fresh pastry from the morning. Each piece unraveling like a delicious thread, Chocolate, lemon, and lavender. Like old friends surrounding me in a warm embrace. No more.--No more sage and butter. No more sesame seeds crowning a glorious loaf. No more cakes spinning on pedestals, Pulling customers in with their sirens call. Enough now. That world is gone. Now there is only us Circling like a murder of crows, Fleeing.


122 Sophie Walgren

The Blacksmith’s Apprentice The Kingdom of Reneshia was busy preparing for the upcoming Festival of Triumph. In every city, town, and village, people flocked the streets, setting up decorations and stands to sell various delicacies and souvenirs. The festive atmosphere was most prominent in the capital city of Dara. There, every house was decorated for the upcoming festival. Strings of flowers were stretched between opposite houses on a street, and purple and gold flags lined the balconies. The smell of freshly baked bread and pastries wafted into the streets from the bakeries, and children played in the streets, watching as the preparations around them unfolded. Daegan Nirez picked his way through the streets of Dara, heading toward his master’s blacksmith shop. In his arms, he carried several bars of steel, freshly retrieved from the ironmaster. With the Festival of Triumph on its way, he and his master were busier than normal. The king had personally asked his master to produce several swords, which would be used in a reenactment of the knight Andreas’ fight against the Vieladro. Daegan rounded a corner, passing by a group of children huddled outside a bakery, their mouths watering as they imagined the delicious treats they would be able to taste in a few days. At the end of the street, four children were play-acting the story of Vieladro’s defeat, and Daegan stopped for a moment, watching the children act out the story and remembering a time when he, too, had once been fascinated with it. The story of the Vieladro’s defeat had always felt like some made-up story to Daegan, but he knew from his parents’ recounts of their time living under the Vieladro’s cruel reign that it


123 was real. Of course, there were parts to the story people exaggerated or got wrong, but the story was true. There had been a monster named the Vieladro who had once ruled the people of Reneshia through means of terror, using its powers to control people’s minds and cause them to distrust and turn on each other. The monster was a shapeshifter and had been able to live and walk among the people of Reneshia undetected. In some stories, people tried to describe the Vieladro’s appearance, but the truth was no one really knew what the Vieladro’s true form looked like. Daegan could clearly remember the time his parents had first opened up to him about the experiences they had lived through during the Vieladro’s reign of terror. He had been seven years old when they told him, old enough that his parents had thought him ready to learn the truth but not old enough to fully grasp the gravity of what they were telling him. “Daegan, what we’re about to tell you might scare you,” his father had said, sitting him down beside them on the couch in the small house they lived in, “but we want you to understand the true reason why we celebrate the defeat of the Vieladro.” “If you get scared, don’t worry. We’ll be with you the whole way,” his mother had promised, reaching out to squeeze his hand. “Before you were born, the world we lived in was a very different place,” his father had begun. “Back then, there was a powerful monster called the Vieladro who had the ability to reach inside people’s minds and control them. The Vieladro used its power for evil, inflicting great damage on everyone. People tried to stop the Vieladro, but it was impossible to tell who the Vieladro was and who was under the Vieladro’s control. Fear and suspicion arose amongst people for that reason, and lots of accusations were made. Many fights broke out, and innocent people were thrown in prison, hurt, and even killed.” (continued)


124 Grace Wang

Raising the Young In their home They lay alone and waiting Or perhaps accompanied by their mother or father

As one goes to locate a meal There they are Young, unaware Little strength to explore

Almost featherless More simply little hairs The bodies cold and weak

Close, they maintain warmth

A parent brings the food Beaks open wide The worms soon satisfy the children


125

Mother and father Assisting Providing Ensuring a sense of survival

Water’s Variance Few times have I experienced hail, But with each weather warning There is that familiar threat

Water turned solid A fresh weapon

Icy chunks of anger Hurling down The pebbles pelt at the metal of helpless vehicles Harsh and cold

Snowballs are a softer form Each toss Accompanied by gleeful cheers of the youth Gentle and loving


126 Abby Wilber

Excerpt from “Never With her Eyes Open” Inspiration finds her in the dead of night. Not romantic nights out on the town, nor haunting nights alone with moon-cast shadows through curtains. Never through grim focused thin lips, nor tears with candle wick reflections on their glassy surface. Never with the hum of her conscience and inner critic to dampen good ideas. Never with her eyes open. She does not have to curse and watch her life pass her by to spend hours coaxing lives from blank pages, because when she wakes up the ink is all there in her head, and she empties it on the page almost insensitively, without the delicacy many consider is customary to devote to newborn ideas. It comes from her effortlessly as though it couldn’t breathe stuck inside her mind, as though if she hadn't given it permission, it would have forced itself out, maybe spewing everywhere. Her dreams are spun from the thread of the future. Every night she closes her eyes as if stepping into an airplane terminal. She slips away from the life she lives during waking hours, but always knows that she’ll land somewhere else. She experiences the turn from days to nights like walking along pavement, slipping and being on her way to a horrible fall, only to fall through the one-dimensional sidewalk and end up on the other side, standing, breathing, walking—in the inverse of life above.


127 And there, in her dreams, she has another life. Vivid, real, and as removed from herself as the one her conscience is tied to, but she can only spectate. In the depths of sleep, adventures sweep her up like whirlwinds. It’s nothing she can ever expect but always wonderful, like falling in love for the first time every night. In the morning, it’s all carefully filed away in her memory. These dreams don’t betray her and dissolve as she rubs the sleep from her eyes. There, magnificent, always the kind of thing that people want spun and swept up into a pretty cover. So just before the sun rises, right amidst the seam between night and day, she scrapes the mahogany chair out from the desk that was her grandmother’s, perches there, and writes. Dreams are just a unique and strange processing of the actual world, yet their manifestations on paper are her legacy. The strangeness of her livelihood being a paradox is always there, and like the dreams themselves, can always be marveled at. In the light of day they are just that: strange but wonderful. Lucky. But as the light left over after the sun has dipped below the horizon fades, they begin to loom in an unwelcome way. She is always haunted, but her registration of this fact is fleeting. But more than the eerily unexplained and uncontrollable nature of the dreams, she is plagued by the steadfast and harrowing truth that they define her. She has nothing to offer the world without them, and nothing of her own intentional creation to offer the world with them. She is nothing more than a vessel.


128 Mia Zottoli

The Dream House “Couldn’t we stay like this forever?” It was the last sentence she spoke to me. A sentence so innocent it could be nothing but scandalous. It was fitting, for that was the nature of my relation to her. Those close to me will say that she was my undoing, a catalyst to the series of events that would eventually leave me alone and nameless, but, looking back on my life, the only time I ever escaped the darkness was with her. On that fateful night, her heart didn’t stop, her brain didn’t cease its activity, but I do believe that the woman I loved so violently, so beautifully, died that night. Forever, it was such a loaded word. I believed her when she said it, whispering gingerly in my ear, and I couldn’t help but imagine what our forever could look like. A small house, modest but stylish, maybe seated on a lake, with a large stone patio out back, our bedroom, our bedroom, leading out to it. The dream house did not differ greatly from my current domicile, but it was never the house that mattered. It was her, always her. I imagine her residence with the same picture; a fleeting hope that she still holds onto a piece of me with the same strength that I hold on to every single memory of her. Hers would be fuller than mine, though, with children running around at will, her husband probably sequestered in his office. The same house, but a completely different reality. That night is becoming more difficult to remember. I cling desperately to the image of her long black dress, the fabric swishing against my bare ankles as we danced, to the gold hue of her


129 hair tied back neatly behind her head, but over the years details have faded, such as the gentle music playing in the background and the type of drink I held in my hand. The Swing Lounge was the only place away from my apartment where she loved me openly, the only place we were allowed. We let our guard down there, and that night we were so trapped in the love we held for each other, that when the lights above us began to flicker, neither of us noticed. It was a minute of bliss, as she and I held each other, imagining an impossible future. We had to come to our senses. The door slammed open, and instinctively, we sprang apart, albeit reluctantly. Another image clear in my mind is the look on her face when she registered what was happening, when she saw the uniforms and badges on the people who had just stormed into the club. It was a look of terror, similar to my own, but after a moment it turned into something that I could never bring myself to feel: defeat. An officer arrested me, placing me in a wagon with all of the other people not quick enough to get away. She managed to get away. Foolishly, I expected her to be there the next morning to bail me out, with that familiar mischievous grin on her face. She never came. The only time I would ever see her name again would be in the newspaper, in a notice of marriage, between her and a Mr. Richard North. It was that moment when I realized we would never have our forever. That beautiful, idyllic house would never leave our minds, and it would never become more than just a dream.


130 Quotes from Reynolds 2021 “Milk and grape fanta!” “Mashed potatoes are the meaning of life.” “Snow White is the strongest princess.” “Thanks, Aristotle.” “Poems are never finished. Only abandoned” “Because if I wait for the muse to get comfortable, I may never write again” - Melissa Febos “Untitled Document”

“It’s a contradiction to love the earth without loving ourselves.” - Parasyte (2015)

"Art just kind of is." --Ava Trask

"Absorb your influences." --Mike Chen

"Poetry is a way of saying things without saying them." --Christina Veladota

"I think most writers don't get the recognition they deserve." --Henry, age 10 (Ali’s son!)


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