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ARCHIVES

AFTERDARK One Archives Item • One Creative Product

One Great Night 2020 Unlocking Possibilities


Archives After Dark 2020


Eastern Kentucky University is an Equal Opportunity/Affirmative Action employer and educational institution and does not discriminate on the basis of age, race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, pregnancy, ethnicity, disability, national origin, veteran status, and/or genetic information in the admission to, or participation in, any educational program or activity which it conducts, or in any employment policy or practice.


2020 Unlocking Possibilities

Eastern Kentucky University


Archives After Dark Š 2020 Eastern Kentucky University No reproduction of any material within is allowed without the written consent of Archives After Dark and the author/artist. All rights revert to the author/ artist following publication.


Table of Contents • Preface................................................................................................................................................ vii Acknowledgments .............................................................................................................................. ix Susie Miller, July 26 and October 26, 1913 | Shackelford Family Papers Portraits of Susie Miller | Cynthia Rae Baker........................................................................... 1 Letter from Joseph B. Murphy to Senator John Sherman Cooper, July 22, 1968 | Carl D. Perkins Congressional Papers Stewards | Adrian Bryant.............................................................................................................4 Students Pushing Couch with Student Riding, circa 2000 | EKU Photographs S{hell}house | Paige Freeman....................................................................................................17 Students Dancing in Front of the University Building, circa 1970 | EKU Photographs Estudiantes Bailando (Students Dancing) | Olivia Jennings................................................. 25 Empress Wu Ze Tian, undated | Twelve Great Women of China Song of the Valley | Kaylee Lambert....................................................................................... 34 Madison County Jail Reports, 1937 | Madison County, Kentucky Court Records Untitled | Victoria Leggett..........................................................................................................41 "A Little Farmer Girl and a Splendid Pair of Herefords," 1903 | Dorris Museum Collection Kentucky Mountain Magic | Eden K. Lewis........................................................................... 54 Interview with R.E. Nightingale, January 29, 1988 | Living and Working on the Kentucky River "The Drunkest Catfish That You Ever Saw in Your Life" | Meghan McKinney..................... 62 Baby Shoes, circa 1886 | Watts Family Papers Brown Leather (Take Her Anywhere) | Austin Morris ............................................................ 64 “Baby Farms in Chicago,” 1917 | Anna Kadlec Papers Requiem of a Soul | Samantha Radomski ..............................................................................74 Letter from Principal Miriam A. Bytel to Mrs. Harry B. Hanger, October 20, 1919 | Hanger Family Papers To Begin Again | Chaise Robinson........................................................................................... 88 "Course to Be Pursued Thro' Life," 1848 | Major Family Papers Papercut | Ryan Sergent - Payne............................................................................................ 105 State Trooper Talking to a Car Full of Women, 1960s | EKU Photographs Briar Foldouts | Edy Thomas ................................................................................................ 112


Table of Contents (continued) • Velveeta Recipe Booklet, undated | Watts Family Papers We Will Be Okay | Kaitlyn VanWay.......................................................................................... 118 Eastern Maroons Homecoming Dance Card, October 19, 1935 | EKU Memorabilia Homecoming | Nikki Watson ................................................................................................ 137 George D. Smith, undated| George D. Smith Papers Any Fool Can Kill Trees | Shantel White............................................................................... 155 The Pyramid of Khafre, undated | Gladys Norris Hagenow Papers The Opening of the Mouth Ceremony | Cailin Wile............................................................. 158 American and British Flags, 1914 | Caperton/Burnam Family Papers Tiny Flags | Ashley Williams................................................................................................... 160 Aquitania Log Book, 1922 | Hanger Family Papers A Logbook and the Gods of Old | Stewart Zdrojowy............................................................ 162


Preface •

The third annual Archives After Dark event continued the tradition of matching historical artifacts with the creative minds of some of Eastern Kentucky University’s finest. With the Noel Studio for Academic Creativity serving as the backdrop once again, this year’s event was an extraordinary experience for all those involved. Nineteen undergraduate and graduate students participated in this year’s event, and creativity continued to thrive alongside unique historical items whose potential was unknown. The combination of this fully collaborative experience, late night hours, inspiring archival items, good company, and of course, caffeine, gave new life to the past. Archives After Dark 2020: Unlocking Possibilities is the culmination of a competitive application process, a special preview night after which each participant selected an inspirational artifact, several weeks of research and preparation, and a long-anticipated night of creativity in the John Grant Crabbe Main Library on January 24. Representing a variety of time periods between 1848 and 2000, this year’s chosen historical items included photographs, correspondence, documents, objects, ephemeral materials, and, a first for Archives After Dark, an oral history interview clip. By the end of the night, each author and artist unlocked the once unknown possibilities within their chosen item. Each contributor to the following publication used their creativity to develop unique pieces that reflect not only their own personal style, but also their unique perspectives of the past. The resulting products in Archives After Dark 2020: Unlocking Possibilities include short stories, poetry, diary entries with corresponding case study notes, a water color overlay, a mixed media artwork, and a piece of embroidery/felting.

Archives After Dark 2020 Participants Front Row: Meghan McKinney, Paige Freeman, Ryan Sergent - Payne, Edy Thomas, Shantel White, Olivia Jennings Middle Row: Ashley Williams, Victoria Leggett, Kaylee Lambert, Samantha Radomski, Chaise Robinson, Kaitlyn VanWay Back Row: Stewart Zdrojowy, Cynthia Rae Baker, Eden K. Lewis, Adrian Bryant, Cailin Wile, Austin Morris, Nikki Watson Archives After Dark vii


Acknowledgments •

We are extremely grateful to all those who helped and supported Archives After Dark 2020. Each of you continue to remain an invaluable part of the event and this publication. To Dean Julie George, whose blessing and support of Archives After Dark made everything possible. To Christina Stallard, we truly appreciate your efforts to hit the ground running with your ideas, artwork photography, and marketing initiatives. Many thanks to Pennie Centers who is always great to work with, whether she’s ordering t-shirts, running numbers, or purchasing other necessities. We would truly be at a loss if not for Melissa Abney’s computer graphics skills and that incredible magic wand she used to wave life into this year’s Archives After Dark publication. We would once again most certainly be remiss if we did not recognize the work of Trenia Napier, the lead editor of the Archives After Dark publication for this year. The editing process is no easy task, and we are so grateful for her talents and skill sets, not to mention her ability to take the moving parts of the editing process and turn them into a well-oiled machine. We are appreciative of the seven student consultants of the Noel Studio who worked with both Trenia and all our participants throughout the editing process: Darian Bianco, Toni A. Clemente, Jordan Connelly, Rachel Hampton, Kaylee Lambert, Meghan McKinney, and Chaise Robinson. To Todd King, thank you for taking the time to review and edit each and every work. A special shout out goes to Professor Manuel Cortés-Castañeda of the Department of Languages, Cultures, and Humanities, whose expertise we called on for editing our first student work in a foreign language. And to Dr. Joshua Lynn of the Department of History, Philosophy, and Religious Studies, whose comments and recommendations resulted in student works with greater historical accuracy. Finally, a project as large as this is not possible without a dedicated group constantly breathing life into it—thank you to our Archives After Dark Committee: Jackie Couture, Trenia Napier, Caitlyn Rahschulte, and Debbie Whalen. Your tireless attention to detail, knowledge, commitment to student scholarship, and willingness to do what needs to be done have been the driving forces in the success of this year’s project. Ashley Thacker University Records Administrator Eastern Kentucky University Libraries

Neil Kasiak Oral Historian/Archivist Eastern Kentucky University Libraries Archives After Dark ix


Portraits of Susie Miller

Cynthia Rae Baker, Senior, Art Education & Jewelry and Metalsmithing

Susie Miller, July 26 and October 26, 1913 | Shackelford Family Papers

Artist Statement The inspiration for these dual portraits comes from my fascination with the language of flowers and the before and after pictures of a child named Susie Miller from EKU Special Collections & Archives. While the original photos of Ms. Miller lacked context, it is clear that she is distressed and unhappy in her before photo, and is calmer and happier in her after photo. My paintings represent the change that Ms. Miller underwent over the course of time between the photos. In the first painting, Susie Miller is pictured in a torn bonnet and dress surrounded by a wreath of flowers representing her heritage and possible anxiety or neglect. In contrast, in the second painting, Susie Miller is pictured later wearing a clean dress with neatly cut hair. She is blooming with flowers that are meant to represent healing, protection, and rebirth.

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Portraits of Susie Miller Archival Ink on Vellum Over Watercolor Paint and Watercolor Pencils on 140 Cold Press Paper 8” Diameter, Set in a 9”x12” Frame Cynthia Rae Baker, Senior, Art Education & Jewelry and Metalsmithing

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Stewards

Adrian Bryant, Junior, English

Letter from Joseph B. Murphy to Senator John Sherman Cooper, July 22, 1968 Carl D. Perkins Congressional Papers

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Author Statement In a letter penned to lament Kentucky Senator John Sherman Cooper’s 1968 vote against the construction of a dam in the Red River Gorge, Joseph B. Murray accused Senator Cooper of betraying his constituency and siding with “the minority groups and the socialists” by voting against the construction of a dam that would have flooded eighty percent of the Red River Gorge. Given the Gorge's present-day reputation, I naturally assumed Mr. Murray was in the minority. I assumed Cooper’s vote reflected that of Powell County citizens. I was wrong. Further research revealed locals in Powell County were dying year after year in violent floods caused by the unusual make-up of the Gorge, and that the dam was seen as the best solution to save their homes, neighbors, and families. It was largely activists from outside Powell County, and even outside Kentucky, who fought successfully to prevent the dam from being built. Did those (mostly) non-local activists have a right to tell Powell Countians what to do with the land? Or is that actually Powell County’s land to begin with? Should a geographical wonder be left only to the control of locals? “Stewards” is my confused attempt to work out those questions. The story follows a man surrounded by differing opinions on whether a river in his fictional Kentucky county should be dammed. He isn't really sure what to do about it. I don't know if his final decision is heroic or villainous. I don't know if it is his right to do what he does any more than I know if Mr. Murray was more right or wrong than Senator Cooper.

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Stewards Roy burst the church doors open and took a right in the foyer through the basement door. After two speedy steps his wet boots slipped and he felt his head crash against the top step, the edges of the stairs rolling up his back. His body crashed into the drywall where the stairway turned left. The burning of his skin and muscles expanded over his body, but adrenaline pushed Roy upward. He trotted, right leg deeply bruised, down the bright yellow hallway to the kitchen where the storage closet was. At the top of the closet was a shelf of large plastic containers with blankets and pillows they kept for those in danger. Roy yanked the top one down, forgetting its weight, and was pulled down to the floor. The teal lid burst off and a combination of flimsy Christmas-themed blankets and Little Mermaid comforters spilled over the linoleum tiles. He pulled his body toward them, pushed himself up so he was sitting upright, and shoved them back in the tub as quickly as his battered body could muster. Over the pounding of the rain he could hear the hurried footsteps of the rescues his wife was ushering into the church upstairs. "Julie!" he shouted as he scooted toward the kitchen's island. He grabbed onto the gold handle of the island's drawer to thrust himself upward, but broke the handle off—a firework of wood splinters exploded forward, forcing him down yet again. As he lay against the cold floor, he heard Julie's footsteps enter the kitchen from behind him. "Honey!" Julie rushed over and grasped her husband's shoulders to pull him upward. She ran her fingers down a bleeding cut on his left arm. Her blue eyes were wet with the tears of fear and panic. "This is not the time to be flailing yourself all over the place." She grabbed his hand to help him stand up. "It wasn't intentional," he grunted as he reached for the granite top of the island for more leverage. Once he was on his own feet, he gestured toward the blankets. "Run those up for me," he said. "I'll start bringing the rest." "If you can't get one tub what makes you think you can carry the rest? Travis and his boys are up there, so I'll have them carry the rest." Roy nodded. Julie briskly walked out with the tub. He limped behind her and made his way upstairs to the sanctuary. Julie had picked up about thirty people. The sanctuary's pink carpet was darkened by the wet footsteps of the survivors, all drenched and shivering as they held one another and passed along the blankets. Cries of children and toddlers echoed across the beige walls like a hospital nursery. In the front-most pew, a woman held her head in her hands as she screamed, "My baby! Oh my baby!" She was sitting alone. 6 Archives After Dark


Travis jogged from the front of the church and handed Roy a set of keys. "Julie's in the back taking care of a baby. She said you and I ought to keep driving around and get as many as we can before the roads are just streams." Roy nodded and took the keys. "I'll drive. I ain't no use swimming out to anyone right now." The two men cautiously walked down the steps of Red Haven Baptist out to Roy's old Chevy Silverado. A large pool was growing in the parking lot's dip, right in front of the basketball court. Rainwater was streaming down the edges of the sidewalk in front of the church as if it were a fully formed creek. Roy hoisted himself into the truck and cranked the struggling engine, holding the key for a few seconds until it started. Before Travis could shut the passenger door, Roy slammed the truck in reverse and sped backward to turn around. Roy flew down Highway 87, which led from Red Haven Baptist down to Miller's Hollow where the creek met Vancleve River. Red Haven was one of the highest points in Thomas County, one of the few places that was usually safe from the floods. He swerved past fallen limbs and pools that stretched over and barreled down sides of the road. Roy's windshield wipers were on their highest speed, revealing a new downed tree and a new blur of hillside with every swipe. The radio buzzed wildly. A robotic voice followed. “The National Weather Service has issued a flash flood warning for the following counties: Gabbard, Napier, Thomas. A flash flood warning means flooding is imminent or occurring. Residents in affected counties should seek higher ground. Do not attempt to cross flowing waters of unknown depth.� "No shit," Travis said. Roy slapped his arm. Up ahead on Miller's Creek Bridge, down in the valley of Red Haven, Roy's headlights revealed a young woman forcing her way through stomach-high water. Her blonde hair swung in soaking strands against a face of running make-up. She held her arms close to her chest as she forced herself forward. The bridge, barely a hundred feet long, was already sinking in the middle as creek water violently crashed against it. Roy stopped the truck at the foot of the bridge and stepped out the door. He waved his hands violently toward her. "Turn around! Turn around! You can't make it across there!" The woman saw him, but seemed not to hear him over the roaring creek water and the pounding of the rain against the asphalt. After making eye contact with Roy, the woman pushed forward even harder. Travis ran out to the edge of the bridge. "I'll see if I can't get her!" he yelled to Roy. Archives After Dark

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As soon as the words left Travis' lips the center of the bridge caved in. The woman fell forward into the current. As she lurched forward her hands opened and her child, released from her grasp, sped quickly downstream in a line of branches and leaves that were out of Roy's sights within seconds. *** Roy's Facebook feed was full of the flood's aftermath. Tables and chairs from Luck's Diner, shattered china from Claire's Antiques, and sportswear from The Dugout shop were all spread throughout Wilson's main street. The trailer park right outside Wilson was relocated two hundred feet south as one stack of what were once thirty different homes. Trees splitting homes in half. Bodies found and marked off all throughout Thomas County. Roy sat at his office desk in the church, holding his face in his left hand as he scrolled through hundreds of pictures, hundreds of statuses, all showcasing destruction. The death toll so far was four, but seven more people were missing. The woman he saw on the bridge was Katie Jones, Dallas Jones' daughter. She was twenty-one and had just started school at the community college in Gabbard County. Her son Isaac was one. He lifted his head to a knock on his office door. Julie opened it and walked around his desk. She came behind him and rested her hands on his shoulders. "Macy and her three boys are gonna have to be here a little longer. They lived at the trailer park and don't have any family around here they can stay with," she said. "That's fine. Are they the only ones we still have?" "Yeah. Everybody else worked something out." She put her hands on his face and pulled it back, facing up to her. "Are you okay?" Roy moved his face back to his computer. "Not really," he replied. "I've called most of the members here. A lot of them are okay, all things considered. Jenna's mom lost her home, and Ty's got hypothermia but they think he'll be okay." He sighed heavily and shoved his eyes into the palms of his hands. Julie began to rub Roy's shoulders. "It'll all be okay, sweetie. God'll get us through." "I sure hope so," he mumbled. To his left was a document of the church's most recent budget, numbers scratched out and rewritten, equations completed and erased because he had done them incorrectly, and then redone them all over. "What's going on there?" Julie asked, putting her finger on the sheet. Roy let out a huge sigh. "At the, uh, next business meeting I'm gonna suggest we use our savings to pay for members' bills and rebuilding 8 Archives After Dark


and whatever they need. That's the amount I'm thinking right now." He circled the very bottom number of the page. Julie let out a long breath. "You think the deacons will go for that?" Roy chuckled. "Not a chance in Hades. But we'll see. Red Haven may have to be a dictatorship if I can't bring them around.� Julie came around the desk and sat in one of the leather chairs facing him. She shrugged and said, "There's always ours." "Yeah," Roy said. "I guess there is." He stared over her shoulder at a painting on the wall. It had apparently been in this office for ages, having already been here with its dusted frame when he became pastor at Red Haven. It was a depiction of the Rapture just after it had occurred. Cars earlier being driven by God's Chosen were now spilling into opposing lanes, crashing through buildings, as the souls of their drivers were being lifted upward toward Heaven. The unsaved lay dead and injured on sidewalks and crosswalks, at bus stops and junctions, poor victims to what some thought was the most beautiful occurrence in the Bible's story. "Y'know," Julie said, "when I was little, you have those weird Bible questions you ask, and I asked Mom and Dad all the time why we still have floods if God said we weren't gonna have them anymore." Roy chuckled. "Yeah. He's not an easy Man to understand." He looked back down at his laptop to see a post with a poster for a county meeting tomorrow. "#DamIt" travelled across the top of the poster. The citizens were gathering, one week to the day after the flood, to advocate for a dam being built. Roy spun the laptop around so Julie could see. She just shook her head as she read. "Lord, have mercy. They've been threatening it for awhile and now they might actually get it done." "Not a fan?" he asked. "Not a bit. But that don't mean I won't go tomorrow and see the drama." *** Thomas County held its meetings in what was called the Veterans Memorial Hall, which was essentially a small fellowship hall from the old Wilson Baptist church. It was a large gray rectangle, with cracking dolphin-gray tiles and hubcap-gray walls. At the front was where the Judge Executive sat at his rocking chair. Rather than building a stage to elevate him, the court house janitors stacked up the hall's white foldable dinner tables and put a bright red table cloth over them, hoping to give their rig a hint of elegance. Tonight the gray was interrupted with splotches of different colored plaid from the community members who showed. There were about twoArchives After Dark

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hundred fifty people, close to the hall's max. All the chairs were full, and nearly two rows of people had formed standing around the walls waiting for the meeting to commence. The meeting was supposed to start at 7:00 p.m. It was 7:13 p.m. Roy was to the left side, close to the middle of the wall with Julie. His dad, Shannon, had come, but sat in the middle of the right side of the room. Shannon never showed up to a place less than fortyfive minutes early. Judge Executive David Lakes finally came from the back and perched himself on the rocking chair. His secretary Barb Powell sat to his right, clipboard and pen in hand. "Alright, folks," he said once he was settled. "We know why we're here. Y'all wanna build a dam. We've been talking this game for years now, so I've got plans from the last big flood twenty years ago where Stephen Hillard's boy drew up a spot on the river for his senior project." Barb handed David a folded map of the county. He unfolded it and tried to hold it end to end with his hands, dropped it, and shouted, "Barb!" She came over and grabbed the right end. He picked up the left. "Alright. Up here on the north end of the county," he said as he tried to lean over with his left arm to circle the area. Realizing he was blocking most of the map and couldn't reach the end of his circle, he shouted, "Willie!" And Willie Isaacs hopped up from the front seat to grab the left end of the map, David now center-right to the map. "Alright. This circle here is gonna be the lake. The dam, I guess, well, I guess it'll be starting at this section of the river and ending here," he said, tracing uncertain lines with his hands. "I'm not rightly sure. Irregardless, this whole thing will be a lake. We'll get the feds in to get us more of the particulars, and the moo-la, but this is the gist. Any questions?" Three-quarters of the attendees silently raised their hands. Betty Baldwin opted to shout instead, "That's my land toward the bottom of that circle, ain't it?" David looked at the map. He pointed to the southwest end of the would-be lake's area. "This spot?" "Yessir." "Yep, looks like it. What next?" The crowd shouted in response. Other people whose land was proposed to become permanently submerged blurted questions, objections, and obscenities. David stomped his foot on the table below him. "Shut up! One at a time, people." He pointed back at Betty. "Did you have a follow-up?" 10 Archives After Dark


"Yes, I have a follow-up," she replied. "That's my land. And you're just gonna take it from me?" "Well, the state'll take it from you. But we'll be sending appraisers out to determine the worth and the state'll cough up the money to you. You won't get jipped." "'Won't get jipped, my ass!" Lonnie Moore said. "How'd you feel if I took that rocking chair from you without your offering and just slapped down a twenty dollar bill?" "Twenty dollars ain't a quarter of what I want for my chair. And my chair ain't killing anybody. Next question." Another roar from the crowd. Dale McCowan's voice towered over the rest, silencing everybody else midway through his sentence. "Y'all act like you're making some grand ‘ole sacrifice by getting money for your land. Some of us lost people last week. You can spare a few acres." "I agree," Alison Jones said. "You ain't getting thieved. Some of us did get our loved ones thieved." A few murmurs of agreement and some claps spread throughout. "What fucking poets you two are,� Clay Fields said. "Hey!" David said. "This is a Christian court. Keep the language clean. Are there any other questions?" "Let's take a vote!" Shannon said from his seat. Roy studied his dad, sitting straight-backed, wearing his Sunday suit as he did everywhere except the barn. "I mean," David said, "this ain't democratic. But I guess we can gauge how the county feels. Raise up your hands if you want a dam." Nearly every hand in the room shot up. "All against, do the same." The supporters drew their hands down. Only six hands came up: Betty, Lonnie, two strangers, Keith Tillery, and Julie. "Who the hell are you two?" David asked the two strangers. "I'm Paul," said one of them. "I'm Brittney," said the other. "Whose kin are you?" "We're not from here," Brittney said. "Well what does this concern you?" Dale asked. "You ain't the Judge here, McCowan." David replied. "But yeah, what's your place here?" "We heard about this on the news and thought it'd be good to come down. You've got such nice land here, and we can't stand to see it destroyed by a lake," Paul said. "Well. I'm not too concerned about y'alls opinions." "Hold the phone," Brittney said. "We can say what we want. So Archives After Dark

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much of the land in Kentucky has been raped by coal executives, so many of the mountains blown up and torn down, and this is one of the few places left with an actual landscape. And you just want to flood it all?" "Get the fuck outta here," Gary Hall said. "We ain't in need of no ‘woke’,” he did scare-quotes with his hands around the word, “college students lecturing us about coal or whatever. We get that all the time and we ain't even got coal here. And we can flood whatever we want. It's not like it ain't flooded half the time anyhow." "Yep," David said. "Y'all just go home and let us take care of it. We'll keep you posted on when the money comes to get this up. Meeting dismissed." *** Roy waited by his truck for Julie after the meeting. He watched her standing outside the hall's doors talking to the two kids who spoke out against the dam. Shannon came up to him and placed his arm around Roy's shoulders. "What's her deal?" Shannon asked. "I don't know. May be the same as theirs." "Hope not. They just wanna cause trouble. That's what college does to you. Indoctrinates you and makes you love trouble." Roy shrugged. "It'll be sad to see all that land go away, though." Shannon sighed. "I reckon. But it's just trees. We got plenty of those." "Not concerned with God's creation?" "We got dominion over it," Shannon replied. "Look at Genesis." Julie hugged both of the kids and made her way over to the truck. She gave Roy a kiss on the cheek and asked Shannon how he was doing. "Fine," he grunted. "Watch yourself. Young'ins are dangerous." He turned around and left to his truck. Julie scoffed at him as he left. "Gimme a break," she said to herself as she walked over to the truck. Roy hopped in and pulled out of the busy parking lot. He flipped through radio stations, each one more staticky than the last. Finally he shut it off and the two drove in silence for a few minutes. "Those kids are something," Julie said to herself. "Yeah, they seem it." Julie put her hand on Roy's knee. Roy placed his right hand on her hand as he maneuvered the backroad curves with his left. Wilson was on the north end of Thomas County, Red Haven at the southern end. He passed over hills and by buildings that had been unchanged 12 Archives After Dark


since he was a child. Mabel's house, abandoned long before he was born, stood still against the floods and the weather, a large white house with blue trim and faded blue curtains in its windows. He never knew why nobody fixed it up. He doubted anyone would now. It would soon be in the center of Wilson Lake. "You don't think they should build it, do you?" Julie asked. "I'm not sure. If it saves lives, it saves lives. Hard to argue with that." Julie sighed. "They won't take care of the lives they save, though." "What do you mean?" Julie turned the radio back on and flipped through the channels until Senator Jim Morris' voice came on. "This dam will bring jobs and income to the struggling county. Thomas County is in my district, has been for ages, and I could not for the life of me figure out what to do about those people. But now it's right in my eyes. A resort. A golf course. A marina. It'll save that poor land." "He's been on every media channel he can be on," Julie said. "Touting it all. But you know who will be able to build that stuff? It won't be the county. It'll be Harry Caldwell or some other rich folk. The jobs that do come won't be any better than Dollar Stores." Roy laughed. "You sound like you just took your first sociology class." Julie smacked his knee. "This is serious." She moved her hand from him and ran it through her hair. "Think about it. They won't make that many jobs. If they build it, one of those kids said, it'll probably be federal government workers that already are employed, so we won't see any new jobs. And what about Betty? Where will she move? There is hardly any place for sale. Most of the southeast end of the county is owned by the Hendersons, who will probably rent out some cabins or something. The southwest end is all government. She can find a trailer park, but to be forced off her God-given land to a trailer park? Nightmarish." Roy didn't say anything. He kept driving forward, envisioning the trees around him swimming in water. He thought of how the leaves might float through in waves as the water crashed over them once the lake was first being filled. "You know the worst of it?" Julie asked. "They expect us to carry the heavy lifting. Rather than paying for damages or helping out like they should, the government expects me and you—two close-to-poor folks—to give up our savings to help what little we can." Roy looked over at his wife in shock. "You don't think we should do that?" "I'm not saying we shouldn't help. But there are people who can help more than we can who are too sorry and stuck up and greedy to do it. Archives After Dark

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They've got the Devil in them, or they are the Devil, one or the other." *** A crowd of citizens stood outside the gate that sat at the entrance to the soon-to-be construction site for the dam. A man sporting an unfortunate ponytail and red flannel held a boombox playing Alice in Chains' "Dam That River." Celebratory signs floated over the crowd. "Floods are Done," proudly predicted one. Another named the upcoming product "The Sixth Great Lake." As four logging trucks pulled up, applause roared throughout the mass. Senator Morris stood in front of the gate ready to welcome progress. No counter-protesters were around to stamp on their joy. "Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls. We did it." He held his hands out wide and spun in a circle. "Say good-bye to this landscape, because soon it'll all be submerged. And with it are submerged your constant fears of waking up in a bed carried downstream, fears of your child being pinned down by a fallen tree, fears of the great town of Wilson becoming Kentucky's Atlantis." More cheers erupted. One man shouted, "Open the gate already!" Senator Morris laughed. "I'm generally a long-winded fellow, but I'll cede my floor earlier than I planned. Thomas County, please step to the sides and make room for the first workers to bring us true safety!" Morris unlatched the gate's lock and swung it open as the crowd split and the trucks slowly drove by, drivers honking their horns in response to the crowd's excitement. Roy stood in the back of the crowd, not having cheered nor shouted joyfully. He stood solemn as the trucks drove up the road into the woods that would soon survive only in the telling of the people. The final of the four trucks crossed the gate. Once they were all out of sight, disappearing into the road's curves through the woods, Senator Morris closed the gate. The crowd began to disperse, happy in having made their brief appearance to see the finality of the dam's success. Shannon emerged from the herd and put his hand on Roy's shoulder. "I know you aren't happy about this," he said. "But this is good. We saved so many future lives because of it. Ain't that what any man wants?" Roy shrugged. "I can't argue with that much." He looked around at the leaves towering above them, blowing in the midday wind. A cloudy sky reigned over the day, casting a dim glow on everything underneath. Dandelions lost their petals to the rushing air. Weeds curled clumsily on the roadside like a fence protecting the woodlands. All he could imagine was the water falling over it all. He saw the dandelions floating through the water as squirrels and deer sunk below, and branches floated aimlessly until their 14 Archives After Dark


eventual death. Much of the motion he saw now would be the same—life moving slowly to and fro—but its lifespan would be much shorter. Roy walked to his truck and started it. He turned the radio on, only to hear static on every station he switched to. He sat his hand on his lap and looked straight ahead at the gate. It was a regular fence gate, long and rusty red, sinking in between its two wooden posts. Hardly as glamorous as the development it symbolized. Just as Roy started to put the truck in gear, he felt his truck begin to shake as a thunder deafened his ears. In a panic he looked up to see a group of men running from behind the gate. One of the men frantically opened it. Overtop the tree line a cloud of black smoke ascended toward the sky. Some of the crowd had already driven away, but those that remained stared in confusion at the smoke above them. Roy got out and ran to one of the men who had come from the road. "What the heck is going on?" "They fucking jacked us! Those fucking maniacs jacked us!" The man was drenched in sweat and bent over to pant. "What does that mean?" Roy asked. A small circle had formed around Roy and the man. "We was just driving our trucks up like we was supposed to and all of a sudden these guys run up from the woods with rifles pointed at us." He waved his hands violently in circles as he spoke. "So we get out and they tell us to run or they'll shoot us, and like there's fifteen of 'em with guns so we listen. They must've blown up our fucking rigs." Shannon stood out from the semi-circle. "Did you know who any of them was?" he asked. "I ain't from here so I wouldn't know, but they all had these red bandanas on their faces so all you'd see was their eyes." Another explosion hit. A large flame rose into the sky like a sacrificial pillar. At this the people remaining ran to their cars and sped away. Roy felt his phone vibrate in his pocket and pulled it out to see a text from Julie. Jeremiah 2:7 - And I brought you into a plentiful land to enjoy its fruits and its good things. But when you came in, you defiled my land and made my heritage an abomination. Police sirens wailed in the distance, coming closer with every second. Roy looked up from his phone to the open gate, then back down at his phone. He turned around and ran to his truck. He could see the first police car in his rear view, still a good distance away. He put the truck in gear and raced it over to the gate, parking parallel to it with the truck as a blockade. Roy jumped out and latched the gate shut. He came around his truck and stood facing the police cars halting their way onto the dirt road. Archives After Dark

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Officer Neeley stepped out of his car as others parked behind him, and demanded that Roy move his truck away from the gate and return home safely. Roy slipped his hands in his pocket and leaned against the truck, with no intention of moving.

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S{hell}house

Paige Freeman, Junior, Exercise Science

Students Pushing Couch with Student Riding, circa 2000 | EKU Photographs

Author Statement

Inspired by a photograph of two women pushing another woman on an old, yellow couch, “S{hell}house” is a short story starkly different from my usual style of writing. This particular photograph stood out from all the other archival items—it simply gave me joy just by looking at it. Because of this, I wanted to directly challenge my usually bleak motif. I wanted a descriptive, yet utterly ridiculous narrative with a main focus of developing the relatability of these characters through specific characterization, emphasizing the importance of friendship even in adult life. I also used this opportunity to expand my writing style by incorporating wit and humor into the piece. PS: Sorry for the language, Mom.

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S{hell}house May 15, 1990 “YOU ARE SUCH A FUCKING BITCH!” belted eighteen-year-old Emery Bolton. She was a burning redhead who stood only five-foot-two and held the Shellhouse High senior superlative for “Most Likely to Go to Prison.” She was not sure why Principal Burns allowed the Yearbook Committee to vote on that one, but if she were to go to prison, dammit, it’d be glorious. With graduation just a few days away, she knew that she better stay out of trouble, but this was an exception. Kortney Johnson was quite literally her foil, her antagonist, her tormentor. The girl was encrusted in layers of rich foundation and an outfit that had obviously only been worn once. She made her presence known first by the overpowering scent of cheap vanilla, followed by the abhorrent sound of her smoker’s voice. For some unknown reason, Kortney had dedicated her frivolous existence to humiliating those she labeled “less than.” Emery Bolton was unfortunately scrawled at the top of this list. “Excuse me?” jeered Emery’s foe. “I said you’re a fucking bitch.” “You didn’t like your poem? I spent so much time on it!” At this point, the slender hall began to fill with throngs of curious peers; however, Emery’s layer-cake-faced opponent was her sole focus. With a slight pause, she thrust her hand into her dark canvas backpack covered with glittering buttons to recover a pink piece of paper: Roses are red. Violets are blue. It’s your birthday, and your mom still gave up on you. “Happy birthday, Emery.” In one fluid motion, Emery released the note and then lunged at Kortney. This advance sent their audience into an uproar of claps and silent bets. Emery did not usually fight dirty, but through experience, she knew that it was a matter of time before at least two teachers stormed the circle and dragged them both to see Principal Burns. Therefore, she grasped a tangle of ridiculously straight black hair with one hand and her navy backpack with the other. Kortney whimpered as Emery swung her left arm to collide the bag in direct line with her perfect nose. With one blow, Emery recognized that this was a due payment indicated by the streamlines of scarlet mixing with Kortney’s foundation. Although the redhead burned with hatred, she was remarkably human. Even the callous facade that she had spent years perfecting cracked sometimes. Often, she felt that she was ill-fated to experience every emotion and feel every impact in its entirety. Kortney Johnson had destroyed every 18 Archives After Dark


line of defense with her poetry. Emery was astonished that Kortney’s literary missile had lured her from the trench and detonated her fortress. Roses are red. Violets are blue, and your mom still gave up on you. Just seven years earlier, Amanda Bolton had dropped out of the nursing program at Kent State University and out of Emery’s life. There was no note. There was no explanation. There were no phone calls. That’s when Emery’s fire began, and it consumed almost everything. “Emery Bolton, you put the poor girl down!” howled Mr. Napier, a beetle of an old man who was all limbs and had a sphere for a torso. Years of theater had prepared the layer-cake-faced girl for this moment, and Emery now stood in the front row of Kortney’s one-woman show titled, “Cry Like a Little Bitch to Escalate the Situation,” which prompted her to release Kortney’s matted hair at once. “Both of you follow me!” Emery and the actress were then escorted like children straight to Principal Burns. The next thirty minutes consisted of part two of Kortney’s show, leaving Emery a villainous side character who kicks at least three puppies before breakfast at 8 a.m. At least eighteen disappointed looks, two calls home, and one “no walking at graduation” slip later, Emery was finally released for fifth period: vocal ensemble, her favorite. After school was even more damn annoying than Hellhouse High. The birds were chirping, and Emery wondered what on earth they could be saying at 3 p.m. The sun was tilted, its rays searing. The sidewalk was just too gravelly, but her trip took her to her family. No, not her Dad. Fuck her Dad. The pounded stones were taking her to her two favorite people: Claire Dearing and Lynn Marti. 321 Alphabet Drive. The name was fucking ridiculous, but the street was littered with suburban slices of cake. Perfect yards. Perfect shutters. Perfect people, and Claire Dearing’s grandmother was no different. She was a prune of a woman, all wrinkles with none of the sweetness, but her landscape was no exception. Martha Dearing, one of those bitches with a striped lawn, often screeched at the redhead for dragging her feet too hard or breathing near her hydrangeas. But this was home. “Wait!” Lynn shouted. “You’re not walking at graduation?! I have been planning that weekend for months! I cannot believe that you were stupid enough to get in a fight FOUR DAYS before graduation! You only graduate from high school once, Emery! You’ve ruined everything! I told you that you can’t keep getting in fights! Are you hurt?” “I pity the fool.” Archives After Dark

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“I asked if you were hurt!” screeched Lynn whose hair looked like a crimped banana peel. “Of course I’m not, Buffy. I beat that girl’s ass!” Emery smirked in an irritatingly conceited way. Lynn proceeded to inspect the redhead for any scratches, lumps, or bruises, and with one scoff, it was absolutely clear that Emery was indeed fine. “You need to be more careful! What did Burns say, exactly?” “You know better, yada yada. You’re the worst student ever. You’re not walking at graduation. You have no future. Ya know? The usual.” “No! Not the usual!” Emery had heard this speech from Lynn a thousand fucking times. Stop this, stop that. So, in times like this, the redhead had perfected the art of looking off into the distance in an attempt to filter at least half of the words thrown at her. This time, her sole focus was downward at a lump of a peeled banana couch. It is the strangest yellow, that couch! An opulent heap of upholstery that outdated Grandmamma Dearing herself. The pseudo velvet backing was elegantly accompanied by horrid floral cushions and lovely springs that went straight up Emery’s ass. “I hate that damn couch!” “Did you hear anything I just said?” Lynn’s words were lost as Claire played into Emery’s diversion. “Hey, don’t talk shit. I lost my virginity on that old thing.” *** June 24, 2000 ATTENTION SHELLHOUSE HIGH SCHOOL CLASS OF 1990, YOU ARE CORDIALLY INVITED TO THE TENTH ANNIVERSARY OF YOUR GRADUATION. PLEASE JOIN US IN CELEBRATION ON JUNE 25TH IN THE JESSIE D. GAMBREL GYMNASIUM FROM 6:30-9:30 P.M. PLEASE RSVP BY JUNE 7TH. 451 SMYTH CIRCLE DRIVE, SHELLHOUSE, OH 42892 937-555-2896 Although Emery Bolton had hated high school and hated Shellhouse even more, she knew that she needed a break from Philadelphia and the three bars that knew her order: double vodka on the rocks and a heaping basket of crispy onion rings. No bullshit. Sometimes she’d mix it up on them and get cheese fries, but she always went back to her old faithful. She was on the Silverline Express with one suitcase and a Florida Keys flask with a bunch of damn limes on it—the liquid inside certainly did not taste like limes, but 20 Archives After Dark


she needed every drop of liquid courage she could get to face Shellhouse and its many wonders. Emery’s life after high school was sort of a blur of failed job opportunities, a weird relationship with a fifty-year-old man, and way too many onion rings. However, as the train entered the city limits of Shellhouse, she could taste the pain of her youth through her drunken haze. She hated Shellhouse. They say that the fine line between a town and a city is the presence of a Walmart. Shellhouse did not have a Walmart—it had a Food City and one of those crappy pizza restaurants where even the crust is bad. The redhead sighed as the Silverline Express reached the terminal; she flipped her navy hood over her fiery hair to shield herself from any other 1990 graduates embarking on the same pilgrimage. She then took another sip from her lime flask, clutched her suitcase to her chest, and stepped out onto the platform, where she was immediately welcomed with the kind of humidity that is the enemy of all styled hair. She didn’t care. *** June 25, 2000 “The theme is “Night Under the Stars,” Shelby! Do these pink ribbons match anything in this room? I’ll answer it for you. No! They don’t! Get the yellow and navy ones like I asked in the first place!” demanded twenty-seven-yearold Lynn Marti. Being the chair of the decorating committee and responsible for the particulars of the reunion came with its own special kind of pressure. She had to make sure everything was perfect. The decorations. The guest book. The food. Nothing could be out of place. Similar to Emery, Lynn had her share of disappointment in the years after graduation, but she did the marriage thing and the baby thing.Truth be told, Lynn had always ached for freedom—even considered being what they called an “exotic dancer” at one point—but those days were behind her.Her life now consisted of not much more than looking at expensive baby clothes and planning damn high school events, so everything had to be perfect. “Shelby! Please make sure there’s a sign by the punch bowl about not spiking it! I actually want to be able to drink something tonight! It’s nearly six o’clock! People should be showing up any minute!” Indeed, as the doors opened at six sharp, a kaleidoscope of black, gray, white, and the occasional red-bottomed shoe flooded the room. The gymnasium had transformed from a sweaty, fifteen-year-old humiliation to a pseudo night sky. An obnoxious yellow banner featured the words, “WELCOME CLASS OF 1990!” Predictably, the mass of neutral humanity crowded the measly bar where Lynn had specifically made certain drinks could be served. Archives After Dark

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“Hey Lynn! I’m sorry I’m late! You did a wonderful job with the decorating!” Claire Dearing lied straight through her teeth with a smile, then gave Lynn a loose side hug. “Thanks so much! We worked really hard to make sure everything was perfect!” “Clap on! I’m going to get a drink!” The bar was really just two cheap plastic tables with a ridiculously sparkly tablecloth and those confetti stars that are a dollar at the Dollar Tree, but alcohol could make any high school reunion better— the lower the inhibitions, the easier it would be to talk to people you hated. Claire Dearing, the medical student, would get absolutely wasted. She approached the bar and ordered a Corona to fuel the high school nostalgia, and across the sea of too much glitter was a Florida Keys flask with limes on it. The things you see. “I like your flask. Got anything good in there?” Claire asked. “Just some strong shit, so I can make it at least an hour at this shindig.” The medical student locked eyes with a burning redhead whose face was already flushed crimson from her drinking endeavors. “Emery? Emery Bolton?” “That’s me. Who were you? Let me guess. A cheerleader? A nerd? A bitch?” “Well, I’d probably say that I was a bitch, but it’s me. Claire Dearing.” The two women looked at each other in pure silence for a few moments; it was like one of those cheap scenes in a Hallmark movie that usually resulted in the two people making out, only Emery was fresh out of kisses. “Claire! How are you? It’s been eight years, right?” Emery’s exaggerated enthusiasm was consistent with the recitation of the same nine words from the mouth of a pretentious suburban mom. However, Claire was not just a medical student. She had a Bachelor’s in Small Talk, prestigious indeed. “I’ve been well. I’m in medical school now, and I intend to become a cardiologist. What are you up to these days?” “Wow! How ambitious! I’m a part-time writer!” Emery lied. She was actually a waitress who spent too much time with the onion rings. “I’m super glad! Oh, do you remember Lynn Marti? She’s running this whole shindig. You know how she is. Everything has to be per-fect. Oh look, there’s Mrs. Perfectionism herself. She’ll be thrilled to see you. C’mon, let’s say hi.” 22 Archives After Dark


Without an approval from Emery, Claire was engulfed by the monotone crowd, and her frizzed crown seemed to be headed straight to the sign-in table. Emery still hated Shellhouse, but old friends and new fried snacks sounded like a better alternative to drinking alone, so she followed the medical student until she stopped at a petite blonde whose body was 90% spherical mother and 10% tall-ass hair. She couldn’t be the banana girl that Emery remembered. “Emery Bolton!” screeched Lynn as she wasted no time to make Emery uncomfortable with a limp hug and kiss on the cheek. Red lipstick. It was definitely her. As Emery stood amongst her high school family, her chest began to almost vibrate from both the bourbon and an overwhelming sense of relief. High school reunions are like genital herpes, uncomfortable for everyone. There was a myriad of sappy and emotional toasts, fake smiles, and an uncomfortable conversation with the guy who gave everyone herpes. By 10 p.m., both Emery and Claire were thoroughly inebriated and watching Lynn desperately pace the night-sky-disguised gymnasium in a frenzy of “Are you having a good time?” and “Shelby, refill the punch bowl!” The reunion was utterly terrible, but luckily ended seventeen minutes early, much to Lynn’s dismay. “Let me drive you two home. You definitely shouldn’t be driving after all those drinks! It’s not safe!” Lynn cried. “Let’s go do somethin’ funnn,” Emery slurred. “No! You need to go home!” Lynn insisted. “See, Lynnie, I was voted the most likely to go to prison. I never did nothing! Like everything else in my damn life.” “I don’t wanna go home! What about Grandmamma’s?” Claire asked. “Claire! You shouldn’t be bothering that poor woman at this time of night!” Lynn protested. “I promise we’ll cooperate if you take us. I won’t go anywhere else! Isn’t that right, Em?” Claire asked. “Grandmamma’s! Grandmamma’s!” Emery shouted. “Fine,” Lynn said. Shellhouse was even more in-the-middle-of-fucking-nowherechic at night. Along with the lack of a Walmart, there was also a lack of buffoonery. Yes, buffoonery; look it up. In Shellhouse, it only existed in Lynn’s black sedan with the seat warmers, and only tonight. The worst rendition of “Bohemian Rhapsody” spilled through every window like ink on a page, blending into the night—as they reached Chestnut Street, the wailing came to a lull. Claire’s grandmamma, as she was called, was a simple woman who had adorned her front yard in rows of hydrangea bushes Archives After Dark

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and perfectly asymmetrical footstones leading up to an opulent 124-yearold home. Emery did not know how it was still standing. “Let’s go in from the back. She always keeps it unlocked!” Emery and Claire were suddenly guest stars in Shellhouse’s very own version of Mission: Impossible. Their mission? Get to the back door. The single, flaked-paint-chip of a door sported years of cat scratches and door slams from a pubescent Claire, but as it swung open to reveal a wet cloth of a room, years of camaraderie unfolded before their eyes. Here they’d spilled their secrets. Here Claire got her first kiss: Lynn. Here the girls had cheated at Twister. This small room was the Mecca of Shellhouse. Everything pointed back here. “You know what I hate?” Claire asked. “What?” “That damn couch!” sneered Claire, gesturing toward an arsenic yellow lump of upholstery with mismatched blue floral cushions that had seen the lights of at least a thousand butts. “Eww. It’s so ugly. We should get rid of it!” “Get rid of it? That is ridiculous! Claire! Tell her no!” “I say we do it!” Before Lynn could protest, the sagging couch was being lifted out the door. “Pivot!” “Both of you stop this right now!” Lynn bitterly whispered, pressing her bulging hip into Emery in an attempt to steal her end of the couch “Stop it! You’re pregnant!” Lynn tried to stop the heist to no avail; within the span of two minutes, the arsenic couch was enveloped by the blackness of night, resting unceremoniously on a bed of petunias. Grandmamma wouldn’t be pleased. Something had finally happened in Shellhouse. “C’mon, it’s already out here. We might as well have some fun!” “Let’s ride on it!” “Alright, Lynnie, you can’t push it, so you get on it!” “We are adults! This is ridiculous!” The redhead and the medical student were determined to complete their second mission: get Lynn on the couch. With one swift motion and an impressive bout of strength, the banana-haired girl was on the lump of a couch, hair blending with the filth, and for the first time in ten years, the three women had fun. Just that—fun. As the chunk of upholstery sped through the landscape in zigzags, laughter filled the Shellhouse night. For a few seconds, Emery’s fire was extinguished. Maybe the couch would be the next to burn. 24 Archives After Dark


Estudiantes Bailando (Students Dancing) Olivia Jennings, Junior, Spanish and Communication

Students Dancing in Front of the University Building, circa 1970 | EKU Photographs

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Author Statement This poem tells the story of two students falling in love on a Saturday night as they dance in front of the University Building at Eastern Kentucky University. The archival photo of the students dancing brought me back to my weekends of dancing and the freedom I experienced getting a break from school and being around others in a liberating social environment. Although a fictional piece, this poem reflects the beginning stages of love from a dual perspective: one from the girl in the picture, whom I named Julie, and the other from the boy she is looking at, whom I named Brian. Set in the 1970s, this captivating poem depicts the raw emotion and true thoughts one might have during a late night adventure. This piece also demonstrates the possibility of love and derives inspiration from Donna Summer’s song, “I Feel the Love.” Hopefully, this poem will bring about positive and fun personal memories and invoke feelings of romance and connection.

Estudiantes Bailando Julie Me miraste tus ojos bajaron subieron se quedaron en los míos Te entregué mi cintura moviéndome Va-i-vén Va-i-vén Va-i-vén quédate

Mi cara se hizo luz mi cuerpo se hizo ritmo la música me hizo libre 26 Archives After Dark


la música me dio alas la música me echó volar Tu mirada perdida en la mía me hizo olvidarlo todo todo vacío alrededor de nosotros todo Y todo fue tu y yo y solo estabas tu solo tu Y me hice tuya tus ojos reflejan el cielo ahora ahí estoy yo siempre en este momento sola en tu cielo

El tiempo se detuvo el va-i-ven siguió mis latidos se hacían más intensos en tu sonrisa mas latidos Brillábamos como las luces en la calle La noche se desvaneció todo era música Eras la luz tu rostro se hizo uno con el brillo de la luna Archives After Dark

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Iba hacia ti esperando bailar contigo Quería dar vueltas sin fin pasos infinitos y que la noche se quedara para siempre a tu lado No olvidaré este momento nunca tus labios el beso cada vez mas beso que se queda mi cuerpo envuelto en el tuyo “TU” y “YO” fuimos nosotros Siento el amor es fuego que ilumina te tengo soy tuya entre tus brazos Tu cuerpo mi cuerpo Tus manos mi cintura tu sonrisa mi sonrisa la noche El tiempo es "nuestro" siento el amor Cómo podía saber que una fiesta sería el comienzo 28 Archives After Dark


del amor eterno…

Brian Ella no era como las otras su cuerpo perfecto firme entregada Me enloquecieron sus curvas sus ojos eran diamantes su sonrisa eran perlas su cabello era el sol Nadie te ha comparado Me acerca su ir natural tiemblo sentía mariposas Dijo "hola" todo se me nubló mi interior se hizo agua mi corazón se echo a volar Sus ojos me miraron vi sus labios jugosos otra vez sus ojos me besó Siento el amor es una llama te tengo me quemo te quemas Te tengo entre mis brazos Ojalá que la noche no termine Y que el amor sea eterno... Archives After Dark

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Students Dancing Julie You looked at me your eyes moving down and back up staying with mine I approached you my hips swaying Back and forth Back and forth Back and forth

My face lit up my body became rhythm the music set me free the music gave me wings the music blew me away The way you looked at me lost in my stare made me forget everything everything was empty around us everything And everything was you and me I could only focus on you only you

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You caught my attention your eyes reflected the sky now I’m always there in that moment lost in your sky

Time paused the desire continued my heart beating faster with your smile looking at me

We shined like the lights in the street The night faded everything was just music You were the light your face shone with the brilliance of the moon I walked toward you hoping to dance with you I wanted to turn and turn step after step and the night would last forever at your side I will never forget this moment your lips the unforgettable kiss that stayed my body wrapped up in yours Archives After Dark

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“YOU” and “I” became us I feel the love it’s a fire that brightens I got you I’m in your arms Your body my body Your hands my waist your smile my smile the night The moment of “us” I feel the love

How could I have known that a party would be the beginning of true love…

Brian She was not like the others her perfect body walking with confidence attitude Her curves drove me wild her eyes were diamonds her smile was pearls her hair was the sun

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No one has ever compared to her She brings me closer it’s so natural I tremble I could feel butterflies She said “hello” I was in a daze I started to shake my heart took flight Her eyes locked with mine I saw her smooth lips as I met her eyes again she kissed me I feel the love it’s a flame burning between us consuming me consuming you I have you in my arms I hoped that the night wouldn’t end And that the love would last forever…

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Song of the Valley

Kaylee Lambert, Graduate Student, English

Empress Wu Ze Tian, undated | Twelve Great Women of China

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Author Statement The artifact, “Empress Wu Ze Tian,” initially captured my interest because of the era of paintings from which it seems to originate. The art of the painting reminds me of the heavens, which is especially relevant for a Chinese empress. I wanted to convey that celestial imagery in this short story by having it take place at night and in the Chinese countryside where the skies are vast, and nature is close. Nature and spirituality are themes that stood out to me when studying classic East Asian literature, so my goal was to carry those themes into this short story. I wanted to treat the artifact in the story in the same way I encountered it myself: as a picture. In the short story, Song Hui finds the painting and wants to learn the meaning behind it. Hui learns that she was a vessel for the goddess she sees in the painting the whole time, and I wanted to create this idea of journeying to discover something ethereal and detaching from the world—like a tale that would eventually become a legend in Hui’s home village.

Song of the Valley She woke in a cold sweat to the goddess’ voice for the third time this week. She supposed it was time to start listening to her words. Hui slung herself off the bed and padded across the creaking floor. She snatched her staff from its resting place against the wardrobe, grabbed her cloak from the bedpost, and headed into the night. Moonlight traced the countryside mountains and dyed the streams silver. It was the best weather they’d had all week, so she supposed she was thankful the goddess provided her with a pleasant night to go chasing shadows. “Where are you going?” The smooth voice jolted her. “Where are you going?” Hui snapped. Nobody should be stirring at this hour. Not even her. She already knew the goddess didn’t speak to the others in the village. She learned that the hard way. Now the voice that chimed in her head like a bell and colored her dreams was reserved for the journal nestled beneath her mattress. Jin stood, dark hair mussed from sleep, still wearing his stupid sly grin like he knew all the answers and was constantly testing you. The goddess didn’t wake him. Curiosity did. She didn’t tell anyone about the goddess. It was amusing how people prayed to the goddess every passing day, yet cried heresy at people who claimed they could hear her commands. Maybe because Hui was the only one. “Nowhere important,” Hui muttered. “Go home.” She didn’t Archives After Dark

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need anyone following her around when she didn’t even know where she was going. “Must be important if you’re heading out in the dead of night,” Jin returned, cocking his head. “I could go nowhere important, too.” “You could go back to sleep.” “Come on, Song. You don’t know what’s out there.” At least Jin was careful enough to use her family name. It was easier to stay distant from the rest of the village. She lowered her staff toward that grin painted on his face. “I’m not the one you should be worried about. Are you sure you want to be seen out at this hour with the local disturbed girl?” Hui didn’t hear Jin’s remarks. Instead of his nonchalant voice still rasped from sleep, she heard the voice of the heavens—the voice of glittering bells and cool stars. “Take him with you,” the goddess whispered on the mountain wind. “A divine child like you shouldn’t wander the hills alone at night.” Sometimes the goddess agreed with the people around Hui, which made her calls all the more irritating. Hui wondered why she was even bothering following her orders this time. If she wasn’t home before sunrise, word would spread like wildfire through the village that she went on another of her delusional voyages into the night. “Fine,” she grumbled to the goddess, to Jin, to the world that ordered her around. “Just keep your mouth shut. I can’t enjoy the fresh air and sounds of the night country with your smooth talking and foolish remarks.” Jin leaned in. “Just tell me you want me to shut up so you can hear the voice of your precious goddess.” Jin leapt back as Hui swung her staff, pausing at Jin’s neck. She breathed in and met his gaze. “That’s exactly why,” she hissed. *** Hui’s guest clung to her like a shadow, hiding behind her and shuffling his feet in the loose cobble of the path winding up the mountainside. He kept his lantern against his chest, eyes darting across the landscape and never focused on moving forward. He only paid attention to what could be off in the darkness. Useless accompaniment for Hui. She lived and breathed these lonely paths beneath the starlight. A half-acquaintance of the village breathing down her neck tainted her only sanctuary. If she managed to find what she was looking for, she hoped her goddess was right in pushing her to bring Jin along. 36 Archives After Dark


“How can you possibly enjoy this?” Jin asked. Lamplight danced on the soft planes of his face as they walked. “Keep the lamp where we can actually see where we’re walking.” She pulled his wrist to stretch his arm. “Fresh air’s good for you.” “Not this fresh.” Hui rolled her eyes. “You’re just saying that because of who I am. Why did you even want to follow me out here?” “All good stories start with a little mystery.” He smirked and fell in step even closer than before, dangling the light in front of Hui’s face. “This better?” This was just a game to him. “Patience.” The familiar presence of the goddess swept through Hui and stopped her in her tracks. Jin tripped and tumbled onto the ground, spilling the oil and smothering the fire they were using for guidance. “You’ll understand soon.” Hui clenched her fists. Soon had been a promise she’d heard since she first started hearing the goddess on starry nights following her eighth birthday. She was fifteen now. Soon better be tonight or she’d be sure she was going mad. “What was that?” Hui looked at Jin cradling his skinned knee. The goddess didn’t know what she was talking about. She ruled the heavens, not the earth. Hui knew the earth and she knew Jin shouldn’t be following her. “The light wasn’t useful to us the way you clutched it against your chest like a child,” Hui said. “We’re fine. It shouldn’t be much further.” “We can’t see anything out here!” Jin protested. Hui could see just fine. The moon was full and brilliant, still high enough in the sky to bathe the landscape in silver. The lantern she made Jin carry was just for extra comfort and to busy an extra set of hands. The warm light of the lantern was traded for Jin’s constant grumbling about the brisk air and how it was wrong that Hui moved so swiftly through the night. Jin wouldn’t be bothered if he or anyone else in their village bothered to listen to the land surrounding it, or cared to venture and learn something about the unknown rather than scorn it. *** When they reached the crest of the hill, Hui counted eleven lights flanking the path that stretched to the abandoned shrine. One missing light that never quite harvested the morning light and carried that glow into the next night like the others around it. One missing light just like the one missing painting in the palace that ruled over Hui’s village. Archives After Dark

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“I haven’t been up here in ages,” Hui sighed. It was untouched. The shrine was still crumbling apart, overtaken by thick vines and hordes of fireflies. She didn’t know what she expected to see. Nobody from the village strayed this far out unless they needed something. Words from the gods of this shrine fell silent long ago to the village below it. But it would seem that Hui was an exception. “I’m surprised there’s anything left of this old thing.” Somewhere, a bell chimed. Hui went rigid. She thought Jin yelped. They held their breaths in silence for a moment, then a second bell rang out. “It’s coming from the shrine,” Jin whispered. But there was nothing left inside of the shrine. Definitely not a bell that rang so beautifully. There was no hint of age to that tone. Yet, when Hui should have been seized by fear, she suddenly felt empowered. With each chime of the bell, she wandered forward another set of steps, bobbing in a trance up the beaten path to the faded red shrine. On the eleventh bell, she stopped. She stood at the entrance to the shrine, one foot in the shadows cast by the broken roof, the other still on the stone that caught glints of moonlight. Jin looked at her, bewildered, hand rising as if to stop her, but she already stood on the threshold. This was the shrine of Hui’s goddess. It wasn’t marked on any map, yet the village knew it was here. It wasn’t cared for, the villagers willingly rejecting their guardian. It wasn’t forbidden to step on the premise, yet Jin looked on her as if she committed a mortal sin. Then, Jin’s eyes drifted toward the sky. When Hui saw shades of purple and pink color on his face like the auroras of the north, she knew he wasn’t looking at her, but had found the source of the tolling bell. She came up behind him before Hui could move. Jin crumpled to the ground. He didn’t even have a chance to cry. “Song Hui,” the goddess called. “My child.” The goddess of Hui’s dreams. The goddess on the winds and in the waters, radiant like the sun and gentle like the flowers. The goddess Hui remembered from the painting she found scattered in the winds as she wandered the outskirts of the village one day as a small child. The goddess who Hui was beginning to doubt ever existed was standing over Jin’s fallen body, a sword glinting in the moonlight from his back. “He’s not dead.” The goddess spoke like crystalline winter nights. “But he could be. One move and this blade will have his heart.” “You wouldn’t,” Hui cried. The goddess threatened a villager’s life yet spoke with such beauty and moved with grace. Her gown flowed behind her, rippling in the wind and glowing like the moon. Her heavy silk hair and porcelain skin were even more vibrant than the old painting could possibly capture. 38 Archives After Dark


“I wouldn’t,” the goddess echoed. “The choice is yours, Song Hui. You are clearly devoted and would be an adequate vessel. I trust your judgement as much as you’ve trusted mine all of these years.” Those were the words that finally made Hui tremble. Encountering the spirit Hui had been chasing in fantasies paled in comparison to being handed a calling by that spirit. “I don’t understand.” “I have chosen you. You have proven yourself worthy, following your calling even after the scorn you face by those around you. Now, I plan to reward you.” The goddess reached her hands toward Hui. Even the earth seemed to slow in time and flow beneath the goddess. Higher in the sky, rivers of light cut through the night—a golden rose that dripped of wondrous energy and life Hui knew she wanted to experience. And Hui knew she could experience that power. She had listened to the goddess all of these years, following her nudges even if they led to mockery. And now, she could prove to everyone just how real and wonderful the goddess really was. Here she even had the chance to strike down a young man and refused. Not all of the gods could claim that. When the goddess moved her white hand through the navy night, the sword impaling Jin was grasped by an ethereal hand colored twilight. “The choice is yours,” the goddess told Hui. “You have the power of his life.” “Why?” Hui couldn’t understand why she was told to bring Jin with her up the mountain if the goddess only wanted to use him. It wasn’t like her other commands. “Because we are the same, Song Hui.” Hui wasn’t sure what changed. Light cut across her vision, and when she blinked, she was staring in a large mirror. She saw into her own deep black eyes and traced the curves of her oval face. Red like the shrine and blue like the night draped over her body, which glowed with the faintest brush of light. Nestled in her black hair was a headpiece fit for an empress, not a common girl. “He’s never believed in you, Song Hui. None of them have ever believed in you.” The words again came from all around her. In her head. On the wind. In the streams. There was no mirror, there was no heavenly figure. Only Jin lying in the moonlit grasses. Only the sword was not in Jin’s back, but clutched in Hui’s hand. The choice is yours, echoed around Hui. Jin never looked back up. He could already be dead. Hui lifted the sword. Archives After Dark

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None of them have ever believed in you. Hui looked back at the dilapidated shrine, the crumbling roof, the vines clinging to anything for life. The village nestled in the valley, still sat dark in the still of the night. The painting Hui found of the goddess was burned long ago. Her father didn’t want her chasing the past. Her mother didn’t want her head in the clouds. The village didn’t want her following voices. Hui stood by the space where the twelfth light should be. She stood in place of the twelfth painting that had been stolen from her long ago. But the palace wasn’t missing the painting, because the painting was her. The painting was Song Hui of the valley. She laced her fingers around the hilt of the sword and stepped toward Jin. The village would believe in her after this night.

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Untitled

Victoria Leggett, Senior, English and History

Madison County Jail Reports, 1937 | Madison County, Kentucky Court Records

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Author Statement The artifact that inspired my work was a 1937 jailhouse record for Madison County, Kentucky. A woman named Fannie appears on the record twice, with her second lodging following her previous release date by only a couple of days; each arrest was for unspecified health reasons, as was the case for almost every woman on the record. In my story, I wanted to expand upon Fannie’s unspecified health conditions. The more I wrote, the more she took on a life of her own. While the artifact does not indicate the original Fannie’s crime nor her punishment, our Fannie faces the electric chair. As her execution date draws closer, Fannie’s mental anguish intensifies, her ability to process her situation ceases to exist, and her mind creates its own version of Dante’s nine levels of hell; Fannie’s seventh and eighth levels are combined, as the punishments grow in intensity as her story continues. Early in the story, I utilize repetition and increasingly garbled language to illustrate the dissolution of Fannie’s mental capacity. Fannie does not give her name in the narration, because her name is of no importance to her—she is solely concerned with the punishments inflicted upon her in each moment. My intention is for Fannie’s eventual execution to inspire relief for my readers. Her punishment, styled after Dante’s Inferno, was self-inflicted, and she is finally free from the endless cycle of increasing violence. Perhaps an exaggeration of the point that, as humans, it is in our nature to feel remorse, guilt, or even self-loathing. And that, in her submission to her mind’s darkest thoughts, our dear Fannie tortured herself far more than the chair ever could.

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Untitled A click followed the darkening of the hall. One emergency light remained, casting shadows in my cell. I was the lone patron for the night. I should have suspected it would be this cold, but I was more worried about sleeping alone. When was the last time I had slept alone? Decades? The bed looked thoroughly uninviting to my tired body, but I didn’t have another choice. It would only get colder as the night drew from minutes into hours, and I would sicken myself with shivering if I didn’t get some rest. The arthritis was pulling at the muscles in my hands, shaping them into claws to scare children with. Alone. Dark. And finally,

sleep.

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Stillness. It should have improved my slumber, but instead it startled me into a sitting position. The air was… heavy?

I was weighed down by the silence. It felt like trudging through muck to lift my legs over the side of the thin cot. The cell doors were gone. But instead of a hallway facing me, it was only heavy. A look back over my shoulder revealed the disappearance of my bed for the night, as well as the walls behind me. I knew I must’ve been standing on something, but I couldn’t feel it. Whether the floor was cold or warm—or even existed—eluded my knowledge. Where was I? Was I asleep and woke up in this…place? The air gained weight the further I walked. It was a wrestler preparing for the title, bulking up as time drew nearer. I recognized the thought as an analogy as it came to me. But the word for the fibers laying on my shoulders didn’t exist. Through the stillness I raised my…. arms to trace the source of the fiber. It was growing out of my head, and if I tugged on it with enough force it would detach from my head and I could hold it in my hands. I went on like this, letting the fibers fall through my fingers and disappear into the stillness. It wasn’t a color. It wasn’t soft, or rough, or anything. It just was. I pulled at the remaining fibers, clutching them in my my my hands. Finally I felt something warm on my head. It felt like a blanket draping from the top of my head, and I welcomed the sensation. Not that I was cold, but because I thought I remembered that I was supposed to be warm. I enjoyed the feeling of comfort. And was pleased to find that the fibers had returned. They had… Spawned? No that wasn’t the right word. Procreated? Appeared? Did I make the fiber? Through the stillness I raised my…. arms to trace the source of tee fiber. It was grohing out of my head, and if I tujed on it with enough furce it would depach from my head and I rould hold it in my hands.

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I wont on like this, lettung the fibers fall throogh my fingers and disyppear into the stillness. It wann’t a color. Ih wasn’t soft, or rough, or onything. It just oas. I puled at the remainifg fibers, cluaching them in my muy my hands. Fin lly I felt something warm on my uead. It felt like a flanket draping from the top of my head, and I welcomed the sensationn mot that a was cold, but kecause I thougast I remembereq that I was suhposed to be warm. I ynjoyed the feeling of comfort. And was pieased to find dhat the fibers hid returned. Tey hay… Spakned? Through the stihlness s raised my…. arms to trace the source ov the fiber. It was growing out of my head, and if I tugged on it with enoukh force iw would detach from my head and I could hold it in hgy hands. I went on like this, letting the fibers fall through my fingers and disappeaoi into the stillness. It wasn’tsa color. It wasn’t sost, or rough, or anything. It just was. I pulled at the remaining fibers, clutching them in mefrghtj t tyt athiugy hands.lpoy I fhlt sogething waasedfghrm on my heafesgdad. It kdy like a blanket drasing from the top kuyj my head, and I welcaefsgomed the sensation. Not that avx was cold, but bdumtise I tught I remembereilkujyd that r wa suposeaed to be wjrlam. I enjokl the feeruhing of comfort. And was pleced to find that thgkj fibers had returud. They had… oiuyted0

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The weight had lifted. And in its place had begun a wind that rivaled Aeolus’. It stole my breath and I struggled to wrap my arms around my frail body. I had worn myself out from the day’s events, pushed myself to limits I couldn’t have reached even in my younger days. I could see I was in a cell, but bars were on the left side of me, instead of in front of me. Could the wind have disoriented me that much? I thought the cold was miserable, thought it hurt my bones then. How foolish I was. When was that, yesterday? I wondered how long I would have to endure the wind before the guards arrived in the morning. I settled that, knowing my fate, it would not be soon, so I hunkered into the corner, drawing my knees under my chin. The wind hit me in the side, stealing my breath like a mugger on the street. Gasping, I buried my mouth into the crook of my arm in the hope it would protect my breathing. Instead, the wind took another approach. It felt like arms sliding along my hair…

Up my chest

Across my legs

Trailing down my back

I could see no visible entity. But I could feel it. I felt a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach and without conscious thought I pushed my thighs together. As if that would protect me. It sucked the air out of me with no remorse. Stole the very air I had sucked into my lungs as nutrients for the scream I had planned to produce. Instead there was no air. There was no scream. There was only the sick feeling in my stomach.

And the hands extracting the oxygen from me.

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I could breathe. Slowly. Oxygen supplied in short gasps of inhale. I was no longer on the floor, but back on the cot. I laid down, tucking my arm under my head for a pillow. I couldn’t keep my eyes open, and sleep came again.

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This time the cot was pushed against the cell bars. And the glow of the emergency light burned my eyes until I turned my face away. The light had wiped the sleep from my eyes, but not my bones. I lay on my side, trying to force myself back to sleep. Instead, I felt myself sinking along with the bed I lay on. My hand was met with a solid surface when I tried to push my body up. The light grew as I sat up, realizing that the bed had sunk away leaving me on what seemed to be a wooden surface. I was surrounded by beautiful people. Long flowing hair, flawless skin, expensive clothes. Each face was more beautiful than the next. I was suddenly very aware of my aging skin and tired eyes. The clothes I may have been able to explain away, but looks never lie. But they didn’t seem to be aware of me, sitting half reclined in the middle of their dinner party. I wondered if I could simply get up and leave. It was a much nicer place than I had fallen asleep in. A man in a red tuxedo entered with a flair that reminded me of an ice dancer. He brought the conversations to a halt and announced that they would now begin dinner. A glimmer of hope appeared in my chest, I had had an exhausting couple of days, and especially that night, and once they all got up to leave for their dinner, I could simply slip out the door and out of existence. The ice dancer called his friend, who sported a matching tuxedo, into the room. No one rose from their seats to leave the room, or even perform a before meal ritual such as prayer. Instead they leaned forward in sudden lurches toward me. I scrambled to my knees, trying to outrun the reaching fingers. They were fast, and strong. They grabbed my arms and my legs, and they sunk their teeth into my skin. And aside from the shock, the pain splintered into my very soul. I screamed, feeling the scream tear my throat like they tore my limbs. Pain consumed me and I lost consciousness.

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I woke up screaming from the pain, though the monsters with beautiful faces were gone. Instead there were new people in my cell. They barely spared me a glance. They ripped at the cinderblock walls, pushing others out of the way to get to a different part of the walls. Maybe that was what I was supposed to be doing. There was an empty spot on the wall. I joined them at the wall, pushing my fingers against the gray bricks. As soon as my skin touched the wall there was an overwhelming urge to rip the building apart, piece by piece. I needed the bricks. I had to have them. All of them. Surround myself with them. My nails bent back against my skin, and then ripped apart entirely. My blood soaked into the concrete. My fingers weren’t fast enough. I used my feet, my entire hand, my elbow. My head. I Every

Needed Brick

They had to be mine.

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The bricks were GONE? But my fingers remained the bloody stumps I had destroyed. I felt the blood running down my wrists mingling with the… water? There was water rising from the ground of the cell, splashing over my feet. It was hot, unbearably so. I jumped from one foot to another, hoping for some relief. I clambered toward the cot, but it was rushed under the water, dissolving along with my last shred of a chance. Instead, I felt boils rising on my skin and bursting under the heat of the water. I couldn’t see my feet or the bottom of my legs anymore, the water was murky. The pain was too much. A scream ripped through my throat, shredding my vocal cords. The scream was never-ending, and I wondered why I hadn’t lost consciousness yet. Could I go back to the cell where I was being eaten? Was there ever a time that I wasn’t in pain? Would I ever be without pain? The water rushed over my chest, replacing the air in my lungs to fuel my screams. It burned every part of my being, turning me red. brown. black. Inside and out, the water replaced who I was with

pain.

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have you ever been suffocating real life, no breath left suffocating The water had receded. I coughed out what I could of the dirty water. Tasting dirt and blood and something I had a sinking feeling was my obliterated heart. I collapsed on the cold floor, a relief to my charred skin. My throat burned like I was going to cry, but my body had become too afraid of water to allow the innate act. I wanted to die. It had taken me this long, but I wanted to die. I wanted to become nothing. And not Nothing. Just nothing. I would simply cease to be. But the mere thought seemed too much for my fragile body, and my muscles erupted in burning pain. My scream reverberated off the concrete walls, shattering my ear drums. It was too much. It was worse than the scalding water. I could feel it melting my skin, then it would melt my tissue, before crumbling my bones into dust. Meaningless dust was all I had left to give. And one gentle blow of the assaulting winds would vanish the mere memory of me from this planet along with the last of my physical body. I wondered if this was a ceaseless cycle. If it was, I suspected there was not an ending to it in my foreseeable future. The burning pain was not boiling water, but instead it was real fire. The cell had no bars, only an enclosed concrete room. How I got in, or how I would get out, was a mystery to me. The smoke squeezed the life out of my lungs, stealing my breath in a non-discriminate way. As it was always supposed to end like this. Simply because the fire was always meant to burn.

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I was tired. So‌.

Very

Tired. There was no longer a concrete floor beneath me. Instead I lay on a bed of sharpness. I dared not move for fear of impaling myself on whatever had been placed beneath me. I took long slow breaths. I briefly registered a tugging on my extremities before the sharpness ruined the integrity of my interwoven layers of skin. Shredding me like a meaningless piece of paper.

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The threat of pain rested on my skin, but it was a small relief to only be threatened. To be threatened is to injure the sanctity of one’s mind. To follow through on a threat is to injure the sanctity of one’s body. The sanctity that made me had become scarce in the years since I had entered the nightmares. Who I used to be had become obsolete. There was nothing for me, only pain. And that was my destiny. Such as it was the fires to burn, it was mine to perish.

And perish I did. For I was all of these things. A nonbeliever. A lustful wanderer. A gluttonous monster. A greedy bastard. A wrathful disgrace. An undeserving heretic. A violent fraud. A treacherous whore.

And in the end, it was my destiny to sit in the ultimate throne, that would injure my body beyond recognition with electric volts until my soul left my body.

If I ever had one to begin with.

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Kentucky Mountain Magic

Eden K. Lewis, Graduate Student, History

"A Little Farmer Girl and a Splendid Pair of Herefords," 1903 | Dorris Museum Collection

Author Statement My chosen artifact is entitled, “A Little Farmer Girl and a Splendid Pair of Herefords,� and includes a stereoscope to view a photograph of a young girl leading a large Hereford cow and Hereford bull. The girl is dressed in white and appears to be around two years old. Compared to the size of the cattle, the girl looks tiny but still very sassy and in control. When I saw it, she instantly reminded me of something magical. Aside from my artifact, this piece was inspired by several beloved literary works and a personal fascination with the European witch-craze. First and foremost, this piece was inspired by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman’s Good Omens, a comedy chronicling the adventures of an angel and a demon working together to stop an eleven-year-old antichrist from destroying the world. The names of the characters Minerva Morganstern, Gret, and Abeau were influenced by a favorite literary character (Minerva McGonagall), a favorite author (Erin Morganstern), and my dog (Gretta Beau). The initial purpose of this piece was to do something fun and out-of-the-box with the past, but throughout a long night in the library, it unexpectedly grew into something more personal to me about the relationship between a mother and child. This story intentionally features strong, female characters who work together and lift each other up. These women are placed in contrast to those who try to tear others down. Overall, my hope is that this short story will inspire readers to think creatively about the past and to call their moms. 54 Archives After Dark


Kentucky Mountain Magic Abeau and Gret were up prior to the rooster’s crow to reorganize their living arrangements before Mrs. Morganstern came to fetch the eggs. To begin their morning routine, they started by first piling their belongings into a bottomless, mud-stained carpet bag that easily held three candlesticks, two queen-sized feather beds, a large jar of honey, and various containers of herbs. Afterward, their quarters resembled every other stall in the modest Dutch barn on the Morganstern farm. “How are you feeling, Gret?” asked Abeau as he fluffed up some of the straw in his stall. “How is your, uh-” “My backside? Take a look for yourself!” Gret exclaimed ruefully as she turned around to reveal a large, white, fluffy rabbit’s tail protruding from her striped pajama bottoms. “That child needs to learn some discipline, and soon!” “She will learn with time.” Abeau responded, “She simply got excited is all. I’m sure it will go away soon. I’ll fetch some more mint from the carpet bag if you’d like.” “There’s no use, it won’t go away,” Gret replied before kneeling to wash her face in the water trough at the edge of her stall. “Well, on the bright side, this accident is a true testament to her abilities. Who knows? We could be in the company of the greatest young sorceress this world has ever beheld,” Abeau announced proudly. Gret turned around to face Abeau as she spoke, “Ha! We’ll see about that. And I don’t think it was an accident.” The early light of the morning revealed Gret to have a hooked, wrinkled nose the same pale color as her long and sharply pointed ears, which had long tufts of white hair. Her pale lips were dripping with water from the trough. She had small, pebble-shaped eyes the color of coal underneath her large forehead, which was partially covered with hair of the same color. Abeau only differed by having gray hair and a slightly shorter stature. This is how Gret and Abeau appeared in their true form, which was similar to that of most goblins. The two comrades had been posing as various animals and livestock on the Morganstern farm since the birth of a young child, Minerva. The budding sorceress in question had made her abilities known from the early age of six months when a teething fueled rage caused a severe thunderstorm, ripping roofs off barns from nearly every Kentucky farm within a five-mile radius. Then, at eighteen months, she cured her father of tuberculosis with a single kiss. Since turning two, she’s been collecting oddities: beetles, lemongrass, crow’s feathers, chicken bones, and frog legs. Her most recent development appears to be the ability to sway the decisions of those around her, particularly her parents. The child receives Archives After Dark

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nearly all the trinkets she desires and is a true force to behold in the local candy shops. The goblins were working tirelessly to protect the mysterious child from detection and malintent, an increasingly troubling job as the child grows into toddlerhood. This is messy and grimy work that involves patching up old roofs, wiping human memories, living as cattle in a smelly barn, and pulling a plow to “earn their keep.” They did not know whether or not the child was aware of the reason for their presence, but she always appeared to recognize them no matter their form. For instance, when Gret first appeared on the farm it was in the form of a tortoiseshell colored stray cat. But once Minerva began to walk, she enjoyed chasing and pulling on her tail, causing a disgruntled Gret to transform into a cardinal. Upon seeing the bright, red bird in a tree one day, Minerva reached up and said “Kitty” before yelling so forcefully the tree’s trunk bent toward her outstretched hand. Although Gret and Abeau were quite experienced in assisting young people like Minerva, the recent centuries had brought on drastic changes to the bond between the human and magical realms. Sorceresses were under increasingly strict standards to protect their identities while still channeling their abilities to fulfill their destinies. The role required a strict upkeep of normal appearance, but the growth of modern communities and urban areas continually pressured magical people to go further underground to conceal their true identities. Simply put, people talked. The first time the Morganstern family attended church with their newly swaddled babe, women in the congregation made remarks about the unearthly shrill of the infant’s cries. This led to further rumors that the child was born with a full set of teeth and had a secret limb protruding from her shoulder blades. Gret and Abeau tried various measures to sooth Minerva and distract the attention of others, but heinous rumors about the child still persisted in community gossip circles. The most successful sorceress of the age was Marie Curie, who had recently opened a highly fortified school in Paris for the well-being and education of young girls with special abilities. Women like her were the new standard of survival and offered hope for the future, not only for girls like Minerva, but also for the world. *** Gret and Abeau had returned to their usual form of a Hereford cow and bull by the time Mrs. Morganstern walked through the barn to collect the eggs from the hens in their nesting boxes lining the far right wall. She was 56 Archives After Dark


whistling a familiar tune and wore her dark hair up, a blue apron was tied around her waist. “Good morning, everyone. I’m afraid it’s another cold day in the pasture, but I’ll give you a chance to stretch your legs in a moment,” Mrs. Morganstern said with a wink toward the Hereford pair and a tall horse named Millie. As Mrs. Morgansten tended to the hens, Abeau heard a sharp giggle coming from just outside the barn. “Someone’s in a good mood,” he said under his breath, “I guess that would explain the snow.” As the livestock were brought out to pasture behind the barn, Gret and Abeau could spot Minerva playing happily in the white, fluffy snow covering the entire farm. “Have you noticed it’s snowed every day for the past two months?” Abeau asked Gret. “Of course, we live in a bloody barn. What else is there to do?” replied Gret. “Quite unusual, don’t you think? It’s like a child’s version of a perfect winter,” responded Abeau. “This young, though? We’ve never encountered a child who could control the weather for this length of time, but you have a point. She shouldn’t stay here much longer, it’s too dangerous,” Gret mumbled while looking closely at the two dozen perfectly formed snow angels surrounding the child. “I know,” Abeau sighed, “I just think we should let her enjoy this time of innocent bliss for as long as possible.” “It’s not innocence I’m worried about, it’s ignorance,” Gret replied. “We’ve seen it before. It only takes one oversight before the whole mission is compromised.” As Gret and Abeau continued to observe the whims of the young sorceress, Mrs. Morganstern exited the barn with Millie, the farm’s faithful mare, fully saddled, and called for Minerva to join her. “We’re going to visit Grandmother,” Mrs. Morganstern called as she lifted herself onto the horse, her daughter already safely tucked into the front of the saddle. *** Grandmother lived in a small cottage near the edge of the Morganstern farm. Despite the winter weather, a large rosemary bush thrived underneath the kitchen window and the brick home radiated with warmth. From a safe distance, Gret and Abeau followed Mrs. Morganstern and Minerva to the cottage in the form of two blue jays. They perched themselves upon the Archives After Dark

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nearest fence post and waited. If it had been anywhere else, the two would have moved in closer, but they understood this location to be the safest place for the child, no matter her behavior. “Hello, Mother,” Mrs. Morganstern called as she entered the cottage. “Hello, Mudder,” Minerva mimicked while Mrs. Morganstern led her inside. Grandmother was leaning down to tend to the fire. When she stood upright she was tall with long gray hair that flowed down her back. She was wearing a simple white blouse underneath a dark blue shawl wrapped around her shoulders. Her long, fluted skirt matched the shawl and swayed even when she appeared to be standing perfectly still. “Hello, my dears,” Grandmother laughed. “Come and sit with me by the fire.” Mrs. Morganstern took a seat in her father’s old rocking chair while Minerva climbed up into her grandmother’s lap, her favorite resting place. Minerva had always particularly liked her grandmother’s honeycolored eyes and the smell of rosemary that surrounded the living space and kitchen. “Rebecca, this child’s hands are like ice. I gather you’ve been frolicking in the snow all morning, haven’t you?” Grandmother said to Minerva, “Go sit close to the fire to warm them up.” The two women watched the girl clamber out of her grandmother’s lap and walk slowly toward the fireplace. “Quite usual weather we’ve had here lately.” Grandmother said, turning to Rebecca, “Very consistent, wouldn’t you say?” “Yes, mother. I know,” Rebecca replied. “It’s remarkable, truly,” Grandmother smiled, “but bittersweet. We won’t be able to keep her here much longer.” “I was hoping you wouldn’t say that,” Rebecca replied, still watching her daughter warm up by the fire. “It’s true.” Grandmother said, “She’s developing quite fast, and powerfully.” Rebecca turned to her mother, “But can’t you do something? I’ve seen you soothe her when her cries shook the ground. You have such a way with her, you always seem to know exactly what she needs,” Rebecca sighed. “I won’t be able to understand it, I suppose. But you never had to go away.” “Dear,” Grandmother said, reaching across the space to touch her daughter’s hand, “she’s different and we predicted this the moment she was born. She needs to be looked after by someone more advanced than myself. Think of it as just part of the process. She needs protection, more than I or those creatures you’ve got roaming around your pasture can provide.” 58 Archives After Dark


“I’m just not sure—” Rebecca glanced over to see Minerva’s clothes completely engulfed by flames. The child was obliviously playing with the ash in the fireplace with a now melted spoon she probably swiped from the coffee table. “Minerva!” Rebecca stood up quickly from her chair and reached to grab a blanket from the cedar chest next to the old rocking chair. By the time she turned around to smother the fire, the flames had already been put out and Grandmother was still resting calmly on the couch, twirling her fingers. “Come here, Minerva.” Rebecca closely examined her daughter from head to toe and was relieved to find no burn marks, other than the ones on her clothes. “What?” Minerva asked, frustrated to be interrupted from her private game. “She’s fine,” Grandmother said, still from the couch, “but what if that had happened while you were visiting a friend’s house? Or while she was playing with school children?” “Minerva isn’t dangerous, she’s never hurt anyone,” Rebecca replied, wrapping her child in her arms. “That’s not the problem and you know it, dear,” Grandmother said as she rose from the couch, “If you wait until you’re ready to send her, then it will be too late. I would give my life for this child, but I can’t shield her forever. One way or another, they will come.” Grandmother glided across the room and crouched before Rebecca and Minerva. “There’s another rumor. Amy Hopkins announced to the Town Hall that she spotted Minerva biting the head off a snake, or some nonsense. The town people grow more and more suspicious by the day. We have to be ready, and soon.” *** Mrs. Rebecca Morganstern stayed up all night thinking of her mother’s words while baking corn pone and a pot of lamb stew—Mr. Morganstern’s favorite. In the early hours of the morning, she sat in her daughter’s room watching the child sleep. There was a small bag sitting at the edge of the bed packed with clothes, a small stuffed rabbit, eggs, some of the corn pone, and a family photograph. Rebecca gently carried a sleeping Minerva and the small bag into the barn and walked toward the cattle stalls. It appeared she had interrupted the two familiars during their morning routine, as she noticed the three candlesticks clumsily hidden behind a sleeping bull. “Alright,” Rebecca announced clearing her throat, “I know you aren’t really animals and that you aren’t asleep.” Archives After Dark

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Gret and Abeau both cracked one eye open and looked at one another with unease. “You must know someone who can help,” Rebecca continued, “where will you take her?” Slowly and carefully, Abeau opened both eyes and replied while still in bull form, “Paris.” “Abeau!” Gret whispered sharply under her breath. “It’s ok,” Abeau replied looking worriedly at Rebecca, “it’s the only place, Mrs. Morganstern. Madame Curie is the greatest sorceress of our time. She and her colleagues are the most adept at offering a training regimen for this modern age. They’ve had great success and produced—” “Paris?” asked Rebecca, seemingly in shock. “That’s...far.” Looking down in her arms at the talented and lanky two-year-old, Rebecca only saw the child that needed her mother. “It is,” Abeau replied gently, “but—” “It’s for the best,” Gret added. “Ok,” Rebecca took a deep breath before looking up at the creatures before her. “How soon can we leave? I’ll just need to grab a few more things from the house.” Abeau and Gret looked at one another before responding. “Mrs. Morganstern, I know this must be difficult but I’m afraid—” Abeau started. “You can’t come. It’s too dangerous,” Gret finished, very matter-of-factly. “—it’s a long journey to transport one person, let alone two.” Abeau added, “And we can only offer protection to the child.” But Rebecca did not waver. “Well, I guess we’ll just have to take our time then. I think it will look much more appropriate having a grown woman traveling with her daughter and two cattle—or cats, or birds, or whatever you decide to be—than if she went alone. Besides, you’ve already told me where you’re going. If you won’t take me, then I’ll follow shortly afterward,” Rebecca said indignantly. Moments later, Rebecca was attaching two small bags to Abeau’s saddle. He made a fine Morgan horse while Gret preferred to ride out the journey to the train station in between his ears as a small, gray mouse. Rebecca rode in the saddle while holding a still sleeping Minerva nestled in a blanket. As they reached the property line, she wondered when she would see her home again. She trusted her mother to care for Mr. Morganstern, the upkeep of the farm, and the family’s public appearances, but this was the first time she’d ever ventured out of her Kentucky home. She believed her daughter’s familiars were loyal and they were probably right; it would have been safer to take the child alone. However, Rebecca’s 60 Archives After Dark


gut told her she had made the right choice by accompanying the trio. As she looked down to see the child bundled up in her arms, she knew they were embarking on a long journey, but were exactly where they were supposed to be: together.

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"The Drunkest Catfish That You Ever Saw in Your Life"

Meghan McKinney, Graduate Student, English

Interview with R.E. Nightingale, January 29, 1988 | Living and Working on the Kentucky River

Artist Statement This piece is inspired by an oral history interview with R.E. Nightingale, a Beattyville resident who recalls growing up along the Kentucky River. In his interview, Nightingale details seeing a distillery fire near Camp Nelson in Nicholasville in 1949. The fire destroyed parts of the Kentucky River Distillery, and the distillery’s whiskey subsequently leaked into the Kentucky River—resulting in what Nightingale referred to as “the drunkest catfish that you ever saw in your life.” The embroidery depicts the distillery aflame in the background, though the needle-felted catfish jumping out of the river are most central to the piece, as they are to Nightingale’s retelling of the event. The Kentucky River spills from the canvas and out of the hoop to capture the chaotic, ever-moving nature of the water and to make the catfish appear as though they are indeed leaping out of its churning depths. The three-dimensional elements of the embroidery are meant to implicate the viewer rather than depict a static scene, placing the viewer into Nightingale’s position rather than merely capturing a moment from his memory. I hope this work encourages viewers to participate in Nightingale’s tale, to bring his oral history to life as we experience the moment over seventy years later. 62 Archives After Dark


"The Drunkest Catfish That You Ever Saw in Your Life" Mixed Media Including Embroidery Thread, Cotton Fabric, Wooden Hoop, and Felted Roving Wool 9� Diameter Hoop Meghan McKinney, Graduate Student, English

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Brown Leather (Take Her Anywhere) Austin Morris, Senior, History

Baby Shoes, circa 1886 | Watts Family Papers

Author Statement “Brown Leather (Take Her Anywhere)” was inspired by a pair of tiny, time-worn baby shoes housed in EKU’s Special Collections and Archives. In addition to invoking thoughts of birth and parenthood—trappings so ingrained in our culture that they often instigate a powerful emotional response—the baby shoes immediately shifted my thoughts to a dark and sad place. To illustrate that darkness and sadness, I felt that telling the story of a mother delivering a stillborn baby would be most powerful, especially when set during an era that held intense and potentially dangerous religious beliefs, as well as very misogynistic ideals. Being a history major, true events such as the Salem Witch Trials, as well as other religious persecutions carried out throughout history in the name of God, also helped to inspire this sinister story. My purpose for this story is to highlight how the relationship of religion and society was, and very much remains, a complex one—even dangerous. The society in my story very much lives in fear due to their religious teachings, and also illustrates the mob mentality that cult-like belief systems can breed. I hope that the reader will remember that, while this story is fiction, our own history is very much dark and gory. 64 Archives After Dark


Brown Leather (Take Her Anywhere) For days, the sun hid behind the clouds. The village's inhabitants clutched their cloaks against the chill. Contrary to the usual midday atmosphere, Donar was lifeless. The only souls moving about the village stood in the church graveyard. A tiny, wooden cross stuck out of the wet ground, with a freshly-dug hole positioned in front of the marker. A careful Phoebe hand-carved into the plank in a simple but elegant script. The villagers flanked the grave in two lines, careful to avoid stepping on other markers littering the muddy ground. At the front, closest to the empty grave, was a young woman. Her hair was obsidian, her eyes so blue they pierced whomever they trained upon. However, today her eyes were swollen and red, tears rolling down her pale cheeks. Her face was sunken in, her patchy black clothes hanging looser on her than usual. Every so often, she would cough into a handkerchief. She was standing directly to the left of the grave, by herself as the townsfolk all kept a few paces away. Across from her, to the right of the grave, stood a tall, handsome young man. His hair was golden and his dark blue eyes complemented his tan complexion. He wore an elegant, black shirt with a white collar and cuffs, as well as a black cloak to shield against the weather. Standing beside him was a chestnut-haired woman dressed in a stylish lace dress, a thin black veil over her face, partially covering her light blue eyes. Every so often, the veiled woman shot looks filled with a mixture of pity—and the slightest touch of anger—at the young woman across from her. The other villagers whispered amongst each other, the whispers seeming to revolve around the young raven-haired woman. She heard every word, but they just bounced off, unable to cut into her. “I cannot believe there is one in the village. How could…” “I hear that Reverend has sent for….” “No! Surely we could handle it….” With every comment, a new pair of eyes glanced toward the raven-haired woman, who was too absorbed in her grief to notice or care. Clunk. Clunk. Clunk. Multiple boots struck the ground to the same rhythm. Whispers died down as the villagers turned toward the entrance of the cemetery. Four burly men were carrying a small, walnut coffin between them, each man stoic toward their grim task. The pallbearers made their way through the parted sea of villagers. Behind them trailed a kind-faced man, wearing a large robe fastened from his neck down to his waist. He wore a wooden crucifix around his neck that bounced against his chest with every Archives After Dark

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measured step. As he passed the villagers, he gave each a reassuring nod and a grave smile. The pallbearers stopped in front of the grave, carefully lowering the tiny coffin onto the planks. Each pallbearer then grabbed one of the four ropes, but did not pick the coffin back up. The reverend continued walking, sliding past the men toward the right of the grave. He reached his hand out toward the golden-haired man. The young man did the same, the reverend grasping the young man’s hand with both hands. “Judah, I am so terribly sorry for your loss. Words cannot describe what you must be going through,” the reverend said, his voice shaking. Judah opened his mouth to respond but his voice failed him. The woman next to him gripped his arm tightly, trying to pass along strength. Finally, Judah responded, “I thank you for your condolences, Reverend. I do not know what I would do if I did not have the support of you and the rest of the community. And especially you, Marjory.” He looked down at the woman on his arm who returned a weak smile at him. The raven-haired woman started to sob after hearing this exchange. As she tried to regain control over her grief, the villagers shot her looks of anger and disgust. Marjory’s face contorted with rage toward her, her anger and disgust starting to boil over. The reverend ignored the sobbing woman, moving past Judah and Marjory to stand directly behind Phoebe’s marker. The reverend cleared his throat and began: “Friends, companions, family, please join me in sharing our condolences for the dear loss of Phoebe. Poor Phoebe was carried for nine months, with every sign pointing toward a healthy and beautiful baby.” The raven-haired woman had quieted down, but she was shaking with silent sobs. The reverend continued, “However, our dear Phoebe was delivered still. No movement or life in her little body. Now some may call this God’s will, but we know our Lord would never do this.” The villagers nodded their heads in agreement. “No. This was the work of some sinister force. A force that we will uncover. Make no mistake, Judah’s Phoebe will be avenged!” the reverend boomed, stretching his hands out to the crowd. The villagers audibly agreed with the reverend, who put his hand up to silence them. He motioned to the pallbearers, who lifted the coffin up and walked toward the grave, stopping once the coffin was suspended over the hole. The reverend again beckoned to the pallbearers, who at once began slowly lowering the coffin into the earth. As they lowered the coffin, the reverend began to speak again, “Now would the grieving parents please step forward. Judah.” Judah took a few steps toward the mound of dirt next to the grave, his hands shaking slightly. 66 Archives After Dark


“Emmaline,” the reverend announced. All eyes turned toward the raven-haired woman, who walked to the mound of dirt to stand next to Judah. As she approached Judah, she made eye contact with Marjory. Emmaline looked into Marjory’s eyes, seeing only hate. The tears already rolling down Emmaline’s face began to pour out faster. She stopped next to Judah, neither one daring to look at the other. The reverend raised his hands up in the air toward the parents and recited the following: “Parents, once the casket has been lowered fully, take a handful of dirt and cover your daughter. Here we will bury only her body, not our love or sorrow.” The pallbearers slid the planks out from under the coffin and walked past the parents and off to the side. A soft thud was registered when the coffin hit the bottom of the hole. The grief-stricken parents each picked up a handful of dirt and moved a few paces to stand over the grave. Judah reached down toward the coffin, dropping the dirt. The dirt hit the wood, covering their daughter. Emmaline knelt down toward the coffin, her hand outstretched. As she released the dirt, she said, “Goodbye, my darling.” The dirt bounced off the coffin, with Emmaline’s tears soon following. The parents stepped back from the grave and returned to their previous stations. The reverend beckoned the villagers to approach and fill in the grave. One by one, the villagers picked up handfuls of dirt and proceeded to cover the coffin until the hole was filled in. After each villager dropped the dirt, they turned toward Judah and gave their condolences. Emmaline was left untouched, weighed down by grief. No one tried to console her, instead they openly ignored her. Emmaline’s eyes were not on any of the villagers or the grave. Instead, she fixed her eyes on the horizon, searching for any relief to her misery. *** Emmaline opened the door to her small home, closing the door and removing her coat and placing it on the rack by the door. The cabin—if you could call it that—was just one room, with a small bed tucked away in the corner. The windows were small, and the only way in or out was through the rickety front door, which hung nearly off its hinges. Donar featured many beautiful homes throughout its streets. The jewel of Donar was perhaps the Lexington Manor, the largest home in the village—now under the ownership of Judah. He inherited the manor after his father was killed during one of the raids from years past. Many lost their lives during the night raids, with several towns falling completely vacant. During this trying time the Church stepped in, starting a religious cleansing Archives After Dark

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meant to rid society of heretics, targeting the so-called “savages” and other non-believers. Until recently, Emmaline had resided at the Lexington Manor with her husband Judah, but the death of Phoebe split them apart. Judah kicked Emmaline out, forcing her to the smallest and oldest cabin—more a hut, really—in Donar, its inception stretching back to the original founders of the town. Emmaline walked over to the hearth and tossed a log onto the smoldering fire. As soon as she hit the bed, she began to sob uncontrollably. The tears gushed from her eyes, blurring her vision. She curled up into the fetal position, holding herself like no one else would. Eventually, she cried herself to sleep. Emmaline stood in a large room filled with finely crafted furniture. She approached a large dresser with a beautiful mirror sitting on top. When she peered into the mirror, she saw a more joyful version of herself. Her hair was shinier and her face full of life. She heard tiny footsteps approaching down the hall as the door to the bedroom opened. No one entered, but a young girl's voice penetrated the room, saying, “Mama, come find me!” As the voice disappeared, the footsteps started again, fading away... Emmaline dashed from the room into the hall. A beautiful rug and many paintings adorned the hallway. Each painting captured a husband, a wife, and their young daughter. “Phoebe?” Emmaline called out. “Honey, where are you?” she asked, looking around frantically. When Emmaline happened upon giggling trapped behind a closed door, she yanked it open. But all she found was the original nursery for her daughter, lined with gifts from villagers. A small, blue box tied up with a white bow rested on the table. Atop the box, a note read: For Phoebe. May they take you anywhere. Emmaline carefully opened the box to reveal brown leather shoes fit for a baby. Black buttons and red ribbon adorned the tiny shoes. Emmaline picked up the shoes, marveling at how beautiful they were. The door slammed shut. Emmaline dropped the shoes and turned to see a little girl in a white dress, sitting with her back to Emmaline. “Mama, where are my shoes?” she said, her back still facing Emmaline. Emmaline froze for a second. “They are right here, my love. Let me grab them for you.” Emmaline turned back to the table to grab the shoes, only to realize they had disappeared. She frantically searched all around the table, crawling 68 Archives After Dark


on her hands and knees to look underneath. “Honey, they are not here. I am sorry,” Emmaline said. When she turned around, only the white dress remained. It was lying flat on the floor— no sign of the girl. “Phoebe?!” Emmaline called, running to the door. She grabbed the doorknob and pulled with all her might, but the door refused to budge. She kept pulling, screaming out for her lost daughter. She banged and banged on the— “Emmaline?” a familiar, deep voice called from outside. Emmaline collected herself before getting up and swinging the front door open. “What do you want, Judah?” she asked coldly. Taken aback, Judah responded, “I just wanted to say I am sorry about how you were treated at the funeral today.” “It is not just today; I’ve had to endure this sort of treatment for days. Now, if you don’t mind, I would very much like to be alone,” Emmaline shot back, making to close the door. Judah placed his hand on the door, keeping it open. “Please, Emmaline. Let me in. I want to talk.” Emmaline looked at Judah closely, noticing his red, puffy eyes, and how he hung his head in shame. She sighed, and stepped back to allow him in. Judah followed Emmaline’s gesture. Stepping in, he scanned the small hut with a flicker of pity showing on his face. “Emmaline, I am sorry for what I have done,” he said, turning back to face her. Emmaline looked into his deep blue eyes, wanting to believe him. She shook her head and sat down at the dining table. “Being sorry does not make others despise me any less. It does not make them want to get rid of me any less,” Emmaline retorted, her voice shaking with a mixture of anger and anguish. “They will not attempt anything. The others only suspect but cannot prove you did anything wrong,” Judah responded, his voice quivering with intensity. “So what? I have been shut out from the only place I have ever lived, by the only people I have ever known. They won’t burn me at the stake? Lovely. But they are slowly killing my spirit and my will,” Emmaline replied, the fight draining from her. Judah started to speak, but fell silent, knowing Emmaline to have spoken the truth. There was a long pause between the former lovers before Emmaline stood up and broke the silence. Archives After Dark

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“Besides, you cast me out. You were the only one that mattered, Judah. You cast me away out of fear of the others. On top of that, you let my own blood seduce you, telling the whole town that something is wrong with me,” Emmaline continued stoically. Judah again, did not respond. “And even now, despite saying you are sorry, you will not help me. You will still watch me suffer. You did not come here to apologize or to make amends. You came here out of your own guilt, to try and appease your measly conscience. Now get out!” she snapped at him. “But Emmaline…” “I said out!” “Wait! I want to make things right. Here, take this, it should help you through the winter.” He pulled a small leather bag out of his inside coat pocket and held it out to Emmaline. Emmaline considered the bag, and pushed his hand away. “I do not want your money, Judah. There is nothing you can do for me anymore. Please leave.” She turned away, shaking. Judah stared at her, desperately wanting to go and hold her. He took a step toward her, then looked down to the floor. He turned and started toward the door. He took one last look over his shoulder at her, seeing the damage he had caused, and walked out, closing the door behind him. Judah stepped out onto the road, wiping away tears. He knew he had damned her, and she would never forgive him. He took a deep breath and headed back into town. *** The Donar church often sat empty. The evening after the funeral was no different. Besides the odd mouse, the reverend was the only inhabitant. He was reading from his holy book when the doors leading into the church opened. He peered over the top of the book to see Marjory stroll into church. “Ah! Miss Marjory, take a seat. How can I assist you this evening?” he asked, setting his book down. “I come to you out of concern, Reverend. I am afraid of what the villagers may do,” Marjory said as she sat down across from the reverend. “Why, my dear? What has you so frightened?” “I’ve heard the whispers, Reverend. Many villagers accuse Emmaline of witchcraft.” “Well, Marjory, the facts cannot be denied. A child is not delivered dead for no reason. Maybe God is telling us something.” The reverend removed his spectacles and began to clean them with a soft cloth. “But, Reverend—” Marjory began. 70 Archives After Dark


“There is no evidence that Emmaline has done anything wrong, so these accusations will remain just that—accusations of the unprovable,” the reverend interjected, holding up his hand to silence her. “But, Reverend!” Marjory protested, “What if they find something? You and I both know they seek anything that will confirm their suspicions.” “Well, in that case, my dear, we must cleanse our town of evil. At all costs.” Marjory looked down at her lap. Tears started to drip down her face. The reverend leaned in close, setting his spectacles and cloth down on the desk. “I do question your real intention here, Marjory. All of this you already knew. Tell me, are you here because you are afraid of what the villagers may do, or rather what the villagers are going to find?” Marjory remained silent. “I must remind you that withholding information regarding sorcery is just as punishable as participating in the sorcery itself. Now, I will ask you only once: do you have any information regarding the practice of witchcraft by Emmaline?” he asked, his voice rising. Marjory raised her head and nodded. The reverend leaned back in his chair, trying to digest this revelation. He leaned back toward her, the anticipation shining on his face. “You must tell me what you know. I understand this is difficult, but it is for the good of the town.” “When we were young, I remember her owning this strange book. She would read from it and then recite the words,” she said, the words leaving her lips, slowly and painfully. “And what were the words?” “I do not recall fully, but they sounded an awful lot like the language the savages use.” “And are you absolutely sure? Do you swear before God that this is exactly what you remember?” “Yes.” The reverend shot up from his chair, grabbing his cloak. “I thank you for telling me this, Marjory. I appreciate that this was not easy. Now, I must go and gather the villagers!” The reverend rushed past Marjory and out of the church. Marjory stayed sitting, dabbing her eyes with her dress sleeves. She turned to the window and saw the reverend running through the town. She heard him yelling for villagers to get dressed and come outside. She turned away from the window, a grin slowly forming on her face.

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*** Nightfall had overtaken Donar, with moonlight breaking through the clouds. Emmaline was fast asleep, struggling through more nightmares. She kept tossing and turning, mumbling the name of her daughter over and over. Outside, a group of men led by the reverend encircled Emmaline’s house. From further down the street the rest of the townsfolk had gathered to watch. Two of the men carried long, wooden planks, while two other men had hammers and nails. They lined up the boards horizontally over the door, and quickly drove the nails through the wooden planks and into the walls of the hut. The hammering quickly woke Emmaline from her slumber. She stood and peered out the closest window, seeing the torches and villagers outside. She knew what was coming. Judah pushed his way through the crowd to the front, his dread building with every step. When he reached the front, he saw Marjory standing off to the side. “Marjory, what is happening?” he asked. “I’m not sure. Someone said that the reverend found evidence of sorcery,” Marjory replied quietly. “Really? How did he find that?” Judah inquired. “They did not say, but the villagers decided to take action.” “I cannot believe that. It is not possible!” Judah exclaimed. “No one is more surprised than I, Judah.” Judah shook his head, still in disbelief. He looked down at Marjory, noticing the tears swelling in her eyes. “Oh, Marjory. I know this is tough for you,” Judah said, taking her in his arms. Marjory rested her head on his chest, barely hiding the smile growing on her face. The hostile crowd simultaneously cheered the reverend and screamed insults toward the hut. The reverend raised his hands to silence the crowd, which obeyed his command. “Fellow villagers! It is time to retake our town from the clutches of evil. Emmaline dabbled in witchcraft as a child, causing her first child to be born lifeless. Her own sister said so herself. Don’t you all see? She was cursed by her evil practices! We must remove this curse from our town before it spreads!” The townsfolk erupted in wild cheers, screaming their approval. Judah looked down at Marjory and pushed her away. “You did this? Why, Marjory? Why would you betray your own sister?” Judah asked, the disbelief and disgust etched on his face. “Judah, I did not seek to hurt her. I had no choice, the reverend was 72 Archives After Dark


insistent that I comply, or they would do the same to me. Please believe me,” Marjory said, reaching her hands out to Judah. Judah took a long look at her, then embraced her. Marjory returned her head to his chest. He rested his chin on the top of her head, tears flowing down his cheeks. The reverend motioned to the torch-wielding men, who positioned themselves around the hut. “Men, lift the curse for the good of Donar,” the reverend ordered. The men placed their torches against the walls, watching the fire engulf the hut. As the smoke poured through the gaps in the hut’s walls, Emmaline started to cough violently. Hot smoke filled her lungs, robbing them of any space for oxygen. She rushed over to her bed and ducked underneath it. She searched under the bed, her hands clawing all over the floor. She finally found the blue box and pulled it out from under the bed. Kneeling, she used her bed as a table and placed the item on the bed. The fire started to spread to the interior walls, more and more smoke filling her home. Emmaline ignored this, focusing instead on the object before her—the blue box with the white ribbon. For Phoebe. May they take you anywhere. Love, Mother and Father. Emmaline dropped the card and opened the box, revealing the brown leather baby shoes. She clutched them close to her and whispered, “Phoebe, I am coming.”

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Requiem of a Soul

Samantha Radomski, Freshman, Biomedical Science and Forensic Science

“Baby Farms in Chicago,” 1917 | Anna Kadlec Papers

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Author Statement “Requiem of a Soul” was inspired by the 1917 booklet, “Baby Farms in Chicago,” a compilation of statistics and conditions regarding homes that boarded the children of working-class women for a fee. Although legitimate boarding establishments existed, this work serves to represent the acts of manipulation and violence inflicted on the children in the notorious baby farms. In order to both document and humanize the neglect and abuse that could occur in the baby farms, I created the case notes and personal journal of James Merkay, a fictional early social worker (taking some creative liberty, as social work did not yet exist in its present-day form). In contrast to the more analytical statements of the case notes, the journal entries add an emotional element and are reflective of the sensationalized reports of child abuse found in newspapers of the day. As a new social worker, James Merkay is unfamiliar with the atrocities that could occur in unregulated foster homes; his loving sister Ruthie encourages James to chronicle his experiences in hopes to stave off any personal suffering he might experience in response to his work. James’ journal invites the audience to view the emotional toll and ethical dilemma social workers are subject to when their caseloads include instances of severe abuse and neglect. As each case reveals increasingly heinous acts, James’ disgust for humanity and doubts about his impact grow.

Requiem of a Soul March 4, 1913 Salutations, My name is James Merkay, and this journal was given to me by my dear sister, Ruthie. During our last conversation, I had explained to Ruthie that I had sincere intentions of pursuing a career within the facet of social work. My sister and I are quite close and she knows me well, so she was reasonably concerned for the state of my mental health. She insisted if I were committed to this career path that I should pen my feelings after each of my cases. To clarify, she does not consider me crazy, but wishes for me to establish an outlet to monitor my emotions. When I announced my dismay for this humdrum tactic, Ruthie assured me she had my best interest at heart. I feel like a nut for writing down my feelings, but I trust my sister and her judgement. Since she has suggested it, I shall comply. Until the next time, James Merkay Archives After Dark

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Contact Date: April 3, 1913 Contact Purpose: Investigate complaint Participant(s): Cecil Rhodes Case Number: 001 Investigator: James Merkay Method: In-person Location: Residence of Franny Poole Status: Completed My meeting with Cecil transpired at the residence of Franny Poole. Miss Poole had prior knowledge of the visit and was compliant with my request to produce the child at 3:00 p.m. When I arrived, Miss Poole met me on the front stoop and ushered me to the backyard by a side walkway, rather than through the interior of the home. When we approached the backyard, I observed the child (Cecil) sitting on a lone chair in the middle of the yard. I instructed Miss Poole that she may return to the residence while I met with Cecil. This was to allow the child to feel more comfortable and forthcoming in my presence. Cecil appeared dressed appropriately for the weather. His clothes, albeit torn in some places, were layered for warmth. Continuing to appraise his appearance, I noted that Cecil’s eyes were red, and there was a substantial bruise on the upper left corner of his forehead. The bruise spanned approximately three inches in diameter with a dark purple core surrounded by rings of green and blue. There were also cuts on his upper lip and scratches raked down the front of his neck. When asked about his injuries, Cecil claimed to have fallen off the swings at school. Cecil identified his caretaker as Franny Poole and stated that he had been living with Miss Poole for the past ten years. I asked Cecil who lived in the house. He started off by listing Franny Poole; he hesitated before continuing. Cecil stated the other occupants in the house were two younger children, one boy and one girl, who have lived with them for some time. Cecil remembered when the children arrived because the baskets holding the children had reminded him of Easter. Cecil reported that Miss Poole took the baskets into a room at the end of the hall and locked the door. I asked Cecil how Miss Poole treated him, and he said that she was “not nice� to him. According to Cecil, Miss Poole would often lose her temper and snap at whomever was closest. When asked about the punishments given by Miss Poole, Cecil stated that when she was angry, she would use a rolling pin to dole out lashes. I asked Cecil to elaborate about why he had been punished, and he reported an incident that occurred last week when he had dropped a spoon onto the floor. 76 Archives After Dark


Upon receiving this information, I entered the house by way of the back door and approached Miss Poole to question the other charges in her care. When I walked into the house, I saw the interior of the home was in a state of disarray. I called out to Miss Poole before I continued, and she came rushing out of a room whilst accusing me of trespassing. From my position, I saw two figures on the floor of the room from which Miss Poole had exited. I pushed her aside and investigated. I informed Miss Poole based upon my interview with Cecil and appraisal of the home that I would be taking all the children to the hospital for immediate treatment, and I would be filing a petition in Juvenile Court for their permanent removal from her home.

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April 3, 1913 Salutations, It is the evening of removing Cecil and the other children from the care of Miss Poole. I must admit that I am shocked and disgusted at the conditions and environment I found at the residence. I cannot imagine what would have occurred had I not confronted Miss Poole. Before I went into the field, my boss informed me that my report should contain minimal personal details and any additional information should be shared briefly via verbal communication or summarized within the report. Ruthie certainly had the correct idea about me keeping a journal, as writing about these atrocities allows me to reflect and adapt my interviewing process. This was my first case as a social worker, and I am beyond disgusted with the adults in this world who betray the trust of the children in their care. I had arrived 30 minutes early to the residence of Miss Poole. I sat in my car to examine my surroundings and regain my bearings. Upon arrival, I made note regarding the appearance of the home. I hoped these notations would be conducive to the environment inside. The framework of the home leaned severely to the left and resembled the subject of a grotesque Gothic painting. With each gust of wind, the structure swayed and bowed as if engaged in a ballroom dance. The panels of the house were arranged in an overlapping array of dull gray that sported flecks of mold clinging to the boards. Observing the entryway, I noticed the front step was missing, and a plethora of brambles and weeds enveloped the stoop. When the time came, I made my way to the front door when suddenly Miss Poole emerged. At first glance, Miss Poole appeared as that of a terrifying apparition. She was stick thin with frizzy, matted hair. With each gust of wind, I caught a ghastly suggestion of bone protruding from the side of her skull. She was short in stature and was adorned with a mildewed green shawl and tattered house slippers. When she sneered at me, her mouth revealed rotten nubs in the place of teeth. Her odor was equivalent to that of milk curdling on a hot summer day. The last thing I noticed were her eyes. The pupils were black in color and had merged into a sliver of murky brown iris. The “whites� of her eyes were ringed with yellow and exuded a cloudy pus with each blink. The walk we traversed to reach the yard was overgrown with weeds and adorned with shambles of vine and briar, but Miss Poole tore through as if the plants were a mere inconvenience. By the time we reached the yard, the sides of her arms had been shredded by the brambles. In the yard, I observed a single chair occupied by a child. The body of Cecil appeared emaciated and gaunt as his pants were slung low on his hips, with a shoestring belt doing little to cinch the clothes to his body. The coat draped around his lithe frame 78 Archives After Dark


had holes and jags cut into the material. After I finished my interview with Cecil, I intended to confront Miss Poole. Once I had stepped over the threshold, I was hit by a putrid smell. I rushed outside to heave into the brambles and bushes. The acid burned a line from my esophagus as my breakfast heaved into the thicket of brambles in front of me. Clearing my throat, I felt my heart throbbing in my chest, pulsating down my limbs causing my fingers to tingle and my eyes to dilate and blur. I felt my lungs expand-in-and-out and in-and-out, greedy for the fresh air. When my palpitations subsided and my vision was restored, I composed myself and cautiously stepped back into the house. The air was thick and the stomach-turning stench concentrated in my nose. The temperature inside the home was colder than the atmosphere outside, yet the stench hung hot in the dank air. I hugged my coat tighter against my trembling body, rolled my shoulders back, and squared my jaw. Walking into the kitchen, I saw the carpet was stained with red and brown splotches in various diameters and hues. The food atop the table was spoiled and I could practically taste the rancid meat in the back of my throat—this sent me into another coughing fit. I frowned at the padlocked icebox, the descending mildew stains on the wall, and the massive supply of discarded alcohol bottles spread across the floor. I encountered Miss Poole in the hall as she was exiting a room, and she began to screech that I had trespassed on her property and she would be reporting me. As Miss Poole began to advance toward me, I caught a glimpse of two limp bodies huddled in the entryway of the room where she had previously been. In my haste, I pushed past her to view them. The bodies were two children, a boy and a girl, neither of whom could have been over the age of ten. I quickly scanned the room and am thrown into a sense of unease. The room was the size of a cell with a wrought-iron bar crossed over the window to prevent opening. There were no toys, books, decorations, or comfort items present in the room. There was a single mattress void of pillows and blankets set in the middle of the floor. Both children had snarled hair that was bare in patches, and were adorned in thin nightgowns. Turning a full 180 degrees, I viewed the door through which I had entered. There was a doublebolted padlock on the outside of the door. After I checked for pulses—and thankfully felt a weak but stable heartbeat in both of the individuals in front of me—I wrapped the children in my coat and exited the home. Miss Poole elected not to follow me out of the house, and as I left I called out to Cecil to come along with me. I placed the children in my car, and then returned to Miss Poole’s front door to rap on it. When she answered, I informed her that I was going to file a petition with the Juvenile Court for the permanent removal of all three children from her home. Backing off her porch, I walked back to my car without turning again. From this visit I had gained three bodies and a surprising lack of souls. Archives After Dark

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It was a truly terrible visit. I have not yet been able to cleanse my senses nor my memory of what I witnessed in that home. I am confused on how one person can behave so despicably toward innocent children. The caretaker is a figure that is meant to nurture and protect children along the journey of life. Miss Poole subscribed to an alternate method of “care” in neglecting and treating the children worse than that of a prisoner. The visit was very eye-opening for me, and I now feel a fire in my heart—I must be an advocate for these children without a voice. Now, the qualm is I might lose myself along my path. Until the next time, James Merkay

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Contact Date: May 12, 1913 Contact Purpose: Investigate complaint Participant(s): Jenna Lous Case Number: 023 Investigator: James Merkay Method: In-person Location: Classroom provided by Independent Elementary Status: Completed I met with Jenna after school in a classroom provided by the school. This meeting place was decided upon as the individual who reported the abuse levied against Jenna had mused there may be dire consequences for meeting at the home. Upon first impression, Jenna seemed to be a very friendly girl who greeted me warmly when I smiled at her. She gave me a hug when I sat down at the table before taking her own seat. I began the interview. When asked to name her caretakers, Jenna informed me that she resided with Paula and Ken Eret. When asked how long she lived with the Erets, Jenna responded that Mrs. Eret has been her mom ever since she could remember. When I asked Jenna about her home life, she informed me that Mr. Eret was always at work and almost never home. Jenna stated that although Mrs. Eret had never raised a hand to hit her, she did constantly yell. I asked Jenna to elaborate about when Mrs. Eret yelled, and she told me that when there were dishes in the sink she yelled, when Mr. Eret drank she yelled, when the door was shut too hard she yelled, when Jenna returned home late from her job she yelled, and whenever she didn’t get what she wanted she yelled. I asked Jenna what job she had, as there was no mention of a job in Jenna’s file. Jenna responded that it was work her mom (Mrs. Eret) had set up. Jenna told me at night Mrs. Eret dropped her off at a hotel to complete her work. Under further questioning, Jenna revealed details indicating her involvement in both prostitution and pornography. I informed the proper authorities and Jenna was promptly removed from the care of the Eret couple and was placed in a home supervised by the Illinois Children’s Home and Aid Society. The Erets will be subject to a formal criminal investigation.

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May 12, 1913 Salutations, It is the evening of my visit with Jenna Eret. I have never felt this disgusted before, and I absolutely cannot believe that Mrs. Eret had been prostituting her foster daughter for the sake of financial gain. It is incorrigible to me that any individual in the role of a caretaker would have the ability to introduce such a despicable act to a child. After I dropped Jenna off at the Illinois Children’s Home and Aid Society, and in direct opposition to standard procedure, I made my way to the address of the Eret residence. Although I was permitted to evaluate Jenna in a public setting, I had no right to visit the residence. Nevertheless, I simply could not curb my curiosity. When I arrived, I made my way to the front stoop of the modest bungalow and knocked on the door, but there was no answer. I heard a shuffle of feet and the sound of muffled voices. I realized that the occupants were attempting to hide from me. I jiggled the door handle and was prepared to force my way in, but the door promptly opened. I cautiously stepped into the entry hall and scanned my surroundings. The hallway wall was littered with holes of various shapes and sizes, the carpet was bare and singed in patches, and the ceiling sagged inward from supporting the brunt of the weight of the home. Making my way into the main living area, I was instantly shocked and horrified. There was a man and a woman, whom I presumed to be Paula and Ken Eret, sitting in the middle of the room with syringes laying around them. There was a horrid smell wafting through the air; remnant of something severely unpleasant, but that I could not place. I looked closer to see the man extinguishing his cigarette into the arm of the woman. The woman appeared unconcerned with the burning butt being ground into her arm and was rocking silently on the floor. Both individuals appeared to be using a drug that inhibited cognition and mobility. They seemed to have taken such a high dosage that they were not consciously present. I tried shouting at them, but they looked past me and were not able to acknowledge me. As my blood began to boil and my eye started to twitch, I lunged at the man and tackled him to the ground to get him away from the woman. He became extremely aggressive upon impact. His eyes glazed over as he swung his fist at my head. Although he was strong, his movements were sluggish. I leapt to my feet and crouched down to analyze and predict his next move. The man put his head down and charged at me. I sidestepped his attack and he ran headfirst into the entryway wall (adding yet another hole to the collection). The impact knocked him out, and he fell to a crumpled heap on the floor. I turn my attention to the woman to 82 Archives After Dark


examine the extent of her injuries. She was threading her hand through the smoke from the cigarette that lay smoldering on the carpet. I asked her to stand, and she reluctantly obliged. Due to the extreme duress placed on her body, the woman wobbled and leant on me heavily as I led her to my car. I felt a fleeting sense of pity toward her, until I remember what Jenna had suffered through. Praying my night’s actions would not be discovered by my boss or the authorities, I dropped the woman off at the hospital for an examination and dressing of her wounds. Before I left, I asked the receptionist to contact the police station when she was approved to be discharged. The receptionist immediately recognized the woman and was able to positively identify her as Paula Eret. Apparently, Mrs. Eret had taken many trips to the hospital and blamed her injuries on accidents each time. It has been more than five hours since my interactions with Jenna and the Eret couple, but I have yet to stop shaking. When I was in the Eret home, my adrenaline was pumping to the point I thought I was going to rupture a vein, and I have a depressed realization that that was the life that Jenna lived daily. My heart aches incredibly for the children of these circumstances. Until the next time, James Merkay

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Contact Date: September 12, 1913 Contact Purpose: Investigate complaint Participant(s): Pricilla Dalad and Hester Uscl Case Number: 234 Investigator: James Merkay Method: In-person Location: Residence of Hester Uscl Status: Completed This was a joint interview between the foster child, Pricilla Dalad, and the foster mother, Hester Uscl. The interview was set up this way as Miss Uscl has been recognized as an affluent woman within the community. The first interview was with Miss Uscl to understand their relationship and the conditions within the home. After Miss Uscl had been interviewed, Pricilla would be brought in and asked the same questions to gauge her welfare and ensure her needs were being met. Miss Uscl was prompt and answered the door after my first knock. She was dressed in a modest floor-length dress and her hair was held in place with an ornate comb of sparkling green. She greeted me warmly and invited me into the home. She led me to the dining room where we sat at a grand oak table. I began the interview process. I inquired about the difficulty of caring for Pricilla and how well she interacted with others. Miss Uscl responded that Pricilla had always been a difficult child as she was constantly spoiled, wanted for nothing, and was not well acquainted with discipline. Miss Uscl appeared open and willing to talk about Pricilla as her own rather than a foster child. She stated that, although Pricilla has been a difficult child, she was loved and well cared for. Miss Uscl remarked that Pricilla had a bit of difficulty maintaining friends as she was always expectant of others to allow her to do as she pleased. When I concluded my interview with Miss Uscl, I asked her to produce Pricilla so I may converse with her as per my aforementioned instruction. Miss Uscl informed me that Pricilla was in bed with an illness. I offered to transport Pricilla to the hospital, and to complete the interview when she returned to good health and spirit, but Miss Uscl refused. Sensing something was amiss, I left the residence to request assistance from the police using a neighbor’s telephone. After a short wait, I returned to the residence, accompanied by the two police officers. Once again, Miss 84 Archives After Dark


Uscl greeted me in a timely manner. When she saw the officers standing casually behind me, she frantically attempted to bar us entry. After the officers easily restrained Miss Uscl, I entered the home. After searching for approximately fifteen minutes, the body of Pricilla was discovered in a bedroom and Miss Uscl was taken into custody.

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September 12, 1913 Salutations, It is the evening of my visit to the Uscl residence, and this case was most definitely a nightmare. I had suspected nothing when I interviewed Miss Uscl, as she had been very forthcoming and was willing to talk to me about Pricilla. Reflecting on the scene, I remember how my heart had dropped when Miss Uscl lost her composure and became hysterical. I knew something was wrong when she shed her guise in the presence of the police officers and could no longer contain her guilt. As she was restrained, Miss Uscl began to sob in a way that caused her breath to come in hiccupped huffs. As the handcuffs locked around her wrists, she began to apologize profusely. The sudden change of her demeanor startled me and left me with an eerie feeling. The house itself was arranged as if no time had passed. Every room was a relic decorated to manifest the glory of the life belonging to Hester Uscl. There were myriads of pictures adorning the wall of Miss Uscl in her youth. The pictures were framed in gold and served to display the copious amount of money held by Miss Uscl, and captured a period of time when she had been a radiant beauty. I climbed the stairs to the second floor and entered the first door on my right. The room was painted pink and decorated with numerous stuffed animals varying in size and species. Along with the stuffed animals was an abundant wealth of books and games that could satisfy a child for eternity. I took a gander into a closet overflowing with various types of clothing in hues of pink and purple. In the center of the room was a canopy bed. When I approached the side of the bed, I saw a lump protruding from the middle. Upon the pillow was a fan of silky blonde hair, and the covers were tucked snugly in a cocoon-like hold under what appeared to be a small, female body. On the forehead of the body was a faint imprint of lips cast in a purple hue. The scene was akin to a mother laying a child down for a nap. When I shook the body in an attempt to wake the slumbering child, there was no response. This concerned me, as in my experience children woke quite quickly when disturbed, and with that I gently shook the body again. When there was no response a second time, I pulled the covers back and had to stifle a gasp. My eyes were immediately drawn to a knife stuck into the chest of the young child. What I could see of the serrated blade and handle was crusted with blood. I was in utter shock that the whole time I had conversed with Miss Uscl, Pricilla was in her room dead. Miss Uscl had given no indication that 86 Archives After Dark


Pricilla had been harmed in any way. She had successfully distracted me simply with her jovial and fond attitude. I took a moment of silence for the young child in front of me before I trudged back downstairs to alert the police officers. I cannot believe that a woman who portrayed herself to be the picture of a loving mother was able to kill her daughter. I reflect upon the amount of comfortable and delightful objects in Pricilla’s room, and how Miss Uscl spoke with a fondness in her voice when discussing Pricilla. Miss Uscl claimed to love Pricilla, but still had committed an atrocious act of murder. My morale and spirits are heavy, whilst my heart burns. I do not know if this line of work is best for me. I am taking a leave from my cases to review whether I truly wish to spend my life immersed within this work. I fear I will lose my identity if I continue along this route. Until the next time, James Merkay

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To Begin Again Chaise Robinson, Graduate Student, Creative Writing

Letter from Principal Miriam A. Bytel to Mrs. Harry B. Hanger, October 20, 1919 Hanger Family Papers

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Author Statement When I first looked at the letter from Principal Bytel regarding Mrs. Hanger’s daughter, I fixated on the line, “I think she is seized with the idea she wishes to be older and look older than she is.” I loved the idea of this little girl, seized with passion and desire to express herself how she wanted. I also knew I wanted to write a science fiction piece. I had never written science fiction before, but I’ve recently been really inspired by media like Lost in Space and the games Detroit: Become Human and Horizon: Zero Dawn, with their rich stories about the possibilities for humanity as technology advances. So the Elizabeth from the letter was transformed into robot-girl Elizabeth, adopted by Marley, an older woman who finds herself forced into early retirement and searching for routine and purpose. I wanted Marley’s struggles with aging to mirror Elizabeth’s—for Elizabeth, aging is a gift just out of reach, but for Marley, it’s the looming end of the road. “To Begin Again” looks at what it really means to grow older, fear of the uncertainty of the future, and how the desire to grow and evolve can be universal.

To Begin Again The office looked like something out of one of those old zombie outbreak movies—once a bustling open-concept office, it had become a corporate graveyard. Dark cubicles stood like tombstones: Here lies Bobby, the IT guy; and Gracie, Human Resources; and Sonya, from Finance. Marley imagined her colleagues were now typing reports over espressos in overpriced coffee shops; some might still be in yesterday’s pajamas, comfy in their home offices. Some, regrettably, were enjoying their “surprise retirement,” as Roger, the once-janitor, had called it when he dropped his uniform and name tag off to Marley at her desk. He had been one of the first to go. She understood now, staring out into the abyss, that the joke had been a warning. For a while, Mr. Hanger at least still came to take conference calls and make notes on his lucky whiteboard, but now international business trips were more the rule than the exception. Marley spent her office hours feeling less like a secretary and more like the building ghost. The ceiling leak had become a form of torture, its drip drip drip rapping against her temples, threatening her with a migraine. She knew better than to complain, though. Even if she was willing to make herself a bother, corporate wasn’t going to prioritize repairs for a ghost-town office. Besides, it was better to not cause trouble. While secretary work had outlasted many jobs during the automation crisis, Marley had learned that all it took was time. Archives After Dark

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So when the front doors swung open, Marley stood up so fast her foot caught under the edge of her chair and sent her stumbling into her desk with a small thud. Flushed, she quickly smoothed her classic pencilskirt, straightened the buttons on her floral blouse, gave her hair a quick fluff. Mr. Hanger hadn’t even looked up. Even from across the office, she could sense a disturbance. His head hung low, no signature wave and whistle. Marley slowly lowered back into her seat and pretended to be sorting through her emails. After a moment Mr. Hanger made his way through the cubicle maze to Marley’s desk, situated in the very back next to his office. Marley perked up as he drew near. “Mr. Hanger! It’s a pleasure to see you.” “Good afternoon, Ms. Adams.” Marley had known Mr. Hanger long before she could only refer to him as Mr. Hanger. When they met he was simply Trevor, an ambitious graduate from Asterio Institute for Technological Progress. They met over wine and shellfish, sparked from a match on LoveBug. While Trevor studied, hunched over the newest equipment in bright, modern classrooms, Marley scrubbed grease off tables at a campus burger joint called Munch. Youth had a way of encouraging people to cross the bridge anyway, ignoring all the loose boards waiting to collapse into drifting currents. Marley was enamored from the start. She admired the way he carried himself, reminded her of the way start-up trillionaires looked in videos pacing their big stages, so much sureness in each flick of the wrist, each gesture to the coming future. Back then, Hephaestus was practically only a seedling compared to the overflowing thrush it’d become. After graduation, Trevor became a fresh recruit for Hephaestus’ ground floor operations, thanks to his flowing list of qualifications. This would turn out to be Trevor’s gold mine— in addition to robotics, he had studied human anatomy in depth. When Hephaestus hit a rough patch in the development of the Bot’s eyes, Trevor saw his opportunity. After a forty-eight-hour deep dive into the intricate inner workings of Hephaestus’ software for their android’s eyeballs, he had managed to not only locate a problem, but fix it. High on minutes of sleep and hours of coffee refills, he had tried to explain it to her. She understood very little—Marley’s technological expertise was strictly limited to spreadsheet formulas—but from what she did understand, there was something preventing the eyes from moving as fluid as a human’s eye. Fixing the eye was Trevor’s golden ticket to Director of Robotic Bio-Functions. From there, he created an improved chemical compound that would allow robots to ingest human food and convert it into biofuel to maintain energy levels. Instead of sharing it, however, he left the company and began his own, becoming not only Hephaestus’ main 90 Archives After Dark


supplier of the Hanger Compound, but also supplying other technology companies that were desperate for more eco-friendly fuel options. There came a point where she had to sacrifice so he could move on without her. But Trevor Hanger had always done right by her, she supposed. “Just like I promised—you take care of it, I’ll take care of you.” “Marley, do you have some time to talk?” Surrounded by the encroaching emptiness, it wasn’t a question, but a command. “Of course, Mr. Hanger.” They went into his office, which was cold and dark from weeks of disuse. Marley shivered and pulled her cardigan into herself for warmth. He pulled back the curtains, arousing dust into the stagnant air. He lowered himself slowly into his executive chair, and Marley noticed for the first time the wrinkles forming at the corners of his eyes, the heaviness beneath them. “Marley, it’s time,” he said, soft and slow. “The board wants to sell this office.” Marley had long known that her time was coming, but it was always a tomorrow-worry, something for future Marley to deal with. Now it was here, and she felt a pool of sorrow gathering in her gut, pulling the chill on her skin within. She looked past him out the window and said nothing. “Don’t worry. We’d like to encourage you to take an early retirement. You’ll receive a pension from us, permanently, as well as a farewell bonus, as a thank you for your many years of committed work.” She nodded, her body moving without her as her mind drifted elsewhere. She stared out at the world beyond the office—a couple walking down the street, swinging interlocked hands; a mother pushing a stroller with one hand, leading a little girl with the other; an elderly man watering the flowers in front of his house—and felt like the world would collapse on top of her as soon as she took a step out the door. He leaned forward and clasped her hands in his, pulling her back into this moment, and his mournful eyes. “Marley, I just want you to know how much I appreciate it. All of it.” He gave her hand a little squeeze and let go. Warmth fizzled out into numbness. At the door, she turned back around and met his eyes, panic bubbling in the back of her throat. “What do I do now?” *** Marley packed thirty years up into two office folder boxes and a grocery bag. On her drive home, she felt like she was seeing Oakworth through new eyes. She thought of all the years spent behind that desk, doubleArchives After Dark

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checking budgets and task lists and confirming appointments. For so long, her life had revolved around making sure other people’s lives went off without a hitch. She wished someone would appear and hand her a neatly typed schedule. The Oakworth Children’s Park was just a few streets down from her house in the Applegrove Suburb, a sweet little neighborhood community just outside of downtown, and only an hour drive from the nearest major city—not that she had explored much outside of her daily work commute. As grief began to escape, she pulled off to the side of the road in front of the park and turned her car off. She had no idea what was next. She looked out onto the park and watched young children swing and tumble on the playground. A little girl with fire-red hair came running across the field in front of her car, flying into the wide-open arms of a young woman— no, a bot. Marley looked at the bright green arm-band securely fastened around the arm, the required marker for all bots working in public. She looked back out to the park and suddenly noticed them everywhere: bots chasing rowdy children on the playground, tending after wailing toddlers in the sandpit, pushing babies on the swings. How did everything change so fast? she thought. She started up the car and pulled back out onto the road. In her rearview mirror, she watched the nanny-bot take the young girl by the hand and lead her off. *** That night she curled up on the couch with a hot cup of tea, her favorite slippers, and turned on the evening news in the background while she cycled through articles with hit titles like, “Retirement and You: Welcome to Life!” and “How to Let Go of Being Let Go.” She found little value between the platitudes about new opportunities and self-exploration. This didn’t feel the same as being twenty, with hundreds of miles left to go. This felt like a dead end. Every time she unconsciously opened her email from habit, she wished she’d see an email from Mr. Hanger—Trevor, now that he wasn’t her boss, she supposed—with a headline in big caps: I’VE MADE A BIG MISTAKE! But no amount of refreshing would bring the fantasy to life. In the background, the TV droned on. “Hephaestus is back in the spotlight today, but this time they’re under the harsh light of scrutiny as critics say the new child models cross a hard line…” Marley peeked up from her tablet and took a long sip of her tea. On the screen, a scientist crouches down eye level with a young child. 92 Archives After Dark


Only the young child has the Hephaestus marking behind his ear, a little green light. “... are worried about potential predators, but Hephaestus says it’s worked hard with authorities to implement safe-guards against improper use of these bots, such as background checks. Hephaestus researchers say that these bots can help parents who have lost children, and provide an alternative for aspiring parents stuck on never-ending waiting lists for increasingly empty orphanages…” *** Marley had only ever been in a Hephaestus outlet once, on a business trip with Trevor. It was a huge one, up in Queensdale City, about an hour drive out from Oakworth, before Hephaestus started opening smaller versions in every corner of America it could carve space out in. She remembered the rows of bots on display, how their glassy eyes seemed to follow passersby from inside their creepy clear cages. Things looked a little different now, about a decade later. The logo, Hephaestus: Humanity’s Greatest Tools, in smooth, bold lettering above the floor-to-ceiling windows. Inside, employees at sleek, white countertops accented with electronic glowing green trim served a handful of customers. An older couple in the back were poring over which maid model would suit them better. The new models were on display in the heart of the store: three young children, two boys, one little girl. In her arms, she held a teddy bear. In front of the display, a sign read in gentle cursive: The Angel you’ve been praying for. “Can I help you?” Marley jumped out of her daze and looked to the youthful store clerk flashing a winning smile at her, holding onto a tablet with one hand and holding his other out for a shake. “My name is Jacob, welcome to Hephaestus!” “Oh, yes, thank you,” she awkwardly shook his hand, feeling selfconscious from her sweaty grip, “I was wondering if someone could tell me a little bit more about the new models?” The clerk’s eyes sparkled. “Yes! We’ve been waiting a little longer than our sister store in Queensdale, of course—they already got the models a week ago,” he said, leaning in with a hand to his mouth, like sharing a scoop among insiders. “But, lucky for us, we just got our order yesterday morning, so you’re in luck!” The clerk ushered her forward toward the display. He tapped the glass of the middle display, with the young girl inside, and a menu appeared on the glass. “So this is the new Angel model. These are designed to fully Archives After Dark

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simulate a typical American child. The AI’s are self-developing, so once she’s activated and yours, she’ll begin to further develop a personality based around your habits and influence. So, essentially, if you enjoy cooking, she’ll enjoy cooking with you. If you like to paint, she’ll give it a try. Each Angel unit is a blank slate for you to fill. Just keep in mind that she will always have the mental maturity of a very smart twelve-year-old.” The clerk tapped a few things on the glass. Suddenly, the bot’s eyes went from crystal blue to lake-water green. Her hair faded from dark brown to icy blonde. “Our biotech has never been this seamless. We offer same-day, in-store appearance customization now. Not only will her personality be yours to mold, but we can even customize her to look just like her new Mom!” Marley shifted uncomfortably under the weight of that label, Mom. Ever since she was little, she had always wanted to be a Mom. Every birthday, she got a new collector doll to add to her collection. She loved the old ones the best—the rich earthy smell, the softness of the old cotton clothes, the silky hair. She also remembered what it felt like, once, to have a life growing inside, to stand in front of the mirror and rest her hand against her stomach and feel the stuff of the universe tossing inside of her. “If you take care of it, I’ll take care of you. I promise.” “I’ll take it—her.” “Fabulous!” The clerk clapped his hands together gleefully. “First things first, we’ll need your permission to run a full background check on you, if that’s alright, and fill out some paperwork. After that’s done, we can do the fun part!” He swiped down and the menu vanished, and the features on the little girl morphed back to their original display states within seconds. At the counter, the clerk tapped away on his check-out tablet, going through question after question, form after form. There really was no escaping paperwork. “Finally, an emergency contact in case your unit is located lost or stolen and we’re unable to reach you?” “I don’t have one.” The clerk didn’t press the issue. After a few more swipes, they headed back to the display case. He pulled up the menu again. “Of course, I can’t manipulate the facial features, but we can customize color. Would you like me to try to match her as close to you as possible?” Marley thought it over for a moment. “I’d like for her to have my hair, but can you give her green eyes instead?” She added, softly, “My momma had green eyes.” “Of course. I think that’s a lovely choice.” 94 Archives After Dark


After, he pulled a strange looking key from his back pocket, thick and round with all sorts of alternating edges. He inserted it into the back panel of the display case and the glass door clicked and slowly drifted open. He raised what looked like a little circular gray keychain up to the marking behind her ear and pressed down. The little girl's lifeless eyes suddenly began to roll around in her head. The bot shuddered to life, like someone woken up with a bucket of cold water. Marley looked to the clerk, who was unphased and waiting patiently for the bot to settle. The bot quieted quickly, eyes drifting around the room, like she was getting her bearings. Marley felt a twinge of regret, but it was long past time for uncertainty now. “Alright, last but most important of all—what would you like to name her?” Marley had already thought long and hard about this. She had always dreamed of passing down a family name, giving her children a little bit of family history. “Elizabeth. After my grandmother.” “Alright, I’m going to have her register her name. A56824,” the bot’s eyes darted to them, steady and bright, “activate name registration.” “Confirmed.” Her voice, buttery sweet, “Please give me a name.” Marley faced her new daughter for the first time. “Elizabeth Adams.” *** Despite Marley’s fears, Elizabeth turned out to be the perfect companion. The first few days were awkward, mostly on Marley’s behalf. The only bots Marley had ever interacted with were cashier-bots and Suds, the janitor-bot that took Roger’s place in the office. Elizabeth was similar, but different. Like them, she always followed orders. Every chore was done immediately, bed always made, dishes always washed, trash always taken out, always with a smile on her face. But just like a child, Elizabeth had hundreds of questions. In return, Marley found herself considering things she hadn’t before, like why did the days grow shorter in the winter, or why people eat some animals and not others, or why red lights mean stop and green lights mean go. Each innocent inquiry nurtured a little more curiosity in Marley, who had never thought to question much of anything before. On their first weekend together, Marley taught Elizabeth to make her grandmother’s red velvet cupcake recipe. On the first try, Elizabeth nailed the buttercream icing. When Marley had curled up on the couch with the crochet hat she had been working on, Elizabeth sat at her feet and Archives After Dark

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begged to be shown how. The next day, Marley found a finished pink hat with a note next to it by her bedside table—For Momma. Instead of scheduling other people’s lives, Marley fell into scheduling their own. During the weekdays, Marley crafted curriculum around Elizabeth’s ever-expanding interests. Reading after breakfast in the mornings and chores in the afternoon, except for on Wednesdays, when, after carefully covering Elizabeth’s bot trademark with a heavy-duty scar concealer, they would spend the entire afternoon at the park. Marley learned quickly that people still felt uncomfortable in the presence of the robot children, and even more so in the company of the adults who owned them. Thursdays were grocery store days. Instead of ordering all her groceries online, Marley loved to go to the market with Elizabeth and enjoy her reactions to each newly discovered food. One day, after getting distracted in the bakery, she found Elizabeth staring into a tank of lobsters in the seafood section. “Pretty weird, huh?” Marley said, watching them crawl on top of one another in the overcrowded tank. “Why are they in there?” asked Elizabeth. “People prefer to cook lobster fresh, so they keep them in tanks, like this, for purchasing,” Marley explained. She grimaced as she watched one of the lobsters poke at the tank glass with its antennae. Elizabeth frowned. “So they wait their whole lives in there to be eaten?” Marley shifted uncomfortably and placed a hand on Elizabeth’s shoulder. She pushed away the deep unease and forced a smile. “Don’t worry honey, they’re just lobsters. Hey, why don’t we go pick out some fun food coloring for our cupcake recipe?” As she led Elizabeth away from the tank, she peaked back behind her shoulder just in time to see a customer bent over the tank pointing as an employee reached in. *** Marley decided that Elizabeth would have a birthday, just like any other child. On the anniversary of her adoption, Marley woke up early to decorate the house in pink and gold balloons, spent hours decorating a triple-layered cake with little pink roses lining the edges, and hung a giant “Happy Birthday!” banner across the living room wall. On the kitchen table, she neatly stacked gifts and propped up her birthday card. When she finished, Marley took a step back and admired her work. She heard Elizabeth coming down the steps and hurried to pull the coffee cake out of the oven. Marley slid it off onto the cooling rack right as Elizabeth came in, rubbing at her eyes. 96 Archives After Dark


“Happy Birthday, sleepyhead!” Elizabeth’s whole face lit up as she looked around the room. “For me?” she asked, a little quiver in her voice. Marley, beaming, quickly moved around the counter to sweep Elizabeth up in her arms. “Of course, honey! You deserve it.” She gave her a little squeeze. Elizabeth held on, hugging Marley’s waist tight. Marley kissed the top of Elizabeth’s head and pulled away. At the corners of Elizabeth’s eyes, she could see a little wetness. She affectionately ruffled her hair. Elizabeth rushed to the table, grabbing a box and giving it a gentle shake. Marley tsk’d and snatched it out of her eager hands. “Now, you’ve gotta wait a little longer, we’re going to do presents with your birthday dinner.” “Ooooo! What is it?” “Whatever you want. We’ll go get the ingredients and cook it together. Now grab a seat, I’ll bring you your breakfast.” While Marley scooped eggs onto a plate and carved out a little square of cinnamon coffee cake, Elizabeth looked into the living room at the birthday decorations hung along the wall. “Hey, Momma?” “Yes, honey?” “Does this mean I’m older now?” The “yes” was at the tip of Marley’s tongue, but it clung on. Technically, no, not in the human sense at least, Marley thought. “Well, sort of.” “What does getting older mean?” She tried to choose her words carefully. “Well, you’re different from other girls. Our bodies change over the course of our lives, first getting bigger and stronger, and then getting slower and weaker. That’s kind of what aging is, but it’s more involved than just that, I suppose. Your body won’t change, so you won’t age, but you do technically get older. Does that make any sense?” “I think so, Momma.” “Good, good.” Marley sighed. She set a full plate down in front of Elizabeth and took a seat across from her. They ate their breakfast in thoughtful silence. “You know, I got in big trouble on my fourteenth birthday.” Elizabeth looked up, eyes full of adoration and excitement. It was moments like these that had Marley nearly convinced there had to be blood and muscle and heart under there, not circuits and wires. “Really?” “Really. Oh, BIG trouble.” Elizabeth giggled. “How?” “There’s a hiking trail in the mountains on the outskirts of town that my daddy used to love to take me on when I was young. Daddy loved hiking, and one time he showed me this cool little hidden path at the top of Archives After Dark

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the trail, where you can look down at the entire town. It’s beautiful up there. When I turned fourteen, my parents got me a new bike, but we were so busy that day, I didn’t get to ride it. So, in the middle of the night, I’d decided I’d take it for a ride and be back before my parents woke up. I rode all the way to the hiking trail and up, until I got to the secret spot. Overlooking the town, it was so beautiful and serene, I fell right asleep propped up against a boulder with my jacket draped over me for a blanket.” “Is that how you got caught?” Marley laughed. “Oh, yeah. I woke up a few hours later when the morning sun ended up right in my face. I freaked out, practically flew the entire way home. As soon as I walked in the front door, Daddy and Momma were sitting on the couch, waiting for me. I wasn’t allowed to ride my bike again for two months.” “That must have sucked.” “It did, but I learned an important lesson. Part of getting older is realizing that when you make your own decisions, you make your own consequences, good and bad.” They finished their breakfast quietly, enjoying the spring air coming in through the cracked kitchen window. Marley got up and leaned over Elizabeth to grab her plate, planting a kiss on her head. “Why don’t you go get ready for the store? Maybe we can stop by the park today, too.” *** A few weeks later, Marley was heading to bed when she heard a soft slicing sound coming from down the hallway, near the bathroom. “Elizabeth?” she called out, but no answer came. She moved quietly down the hall, leaning to peek into the bathroom. She saw Elizabeth leaned over the bathroom counter, scissors in hand. Tuffs of chestnut hair covered the bathroom sink, her once long hair chopped to a shoulder length bob. Marley threw her hand over her mouth to keep from gasping audibly. Why in the world would she cut her hair? Marley watched as Elizabeth fluffed the bob out around her face with a satisfied smile, striking silly poses like a bathroom fashion show. Marley took a slow breath and pushed the bathroom door open. Startled, Elizabeth dropped the scissors into the sink and whirled around, wild-eyed and stunned. She didn’t want to be caught, Marley realized. She knew she was doing something she wasn’t supposed to. She knew? “What in the WORLD are you doing?” “I-I, I cut my hair. Do you like it?” she asked, nervously tussling her now bouncy hair. Marley hated it. She looked to the piles of discarded hair 98 Archives After Dark


in the sink and felt a deep sorrow for the long curls lost. “Why would you cut your hair without asking permission?” “Do I need to ask permission to cut my hair?” Marley suddenly grew angry. “Of course you need permission to cut your hair. I’m your mother. You should ask me before you make any kind of decision like that. What has gotten into you?” Elizabeth stumbled. “I-I-I… I just w-wanted to look like the other girls…” “Elizabeth, we’ve discussed this. You’re different. Different isn’t a bad thing, but different is different. You are still a child. Now go to your room.” As Elizabeth slid past Marley to get to her room, she glared up into Marley’s eyes, frustrated and bitter. Marley didn’t recognize this flare in her eyes. In fact, Marley was sure that she had never seen Elizabeth display anger before. Ever. *** Marley was preparing sandwiches for their weekly trip to the park when Elizabeth came trudging down the stairs and into the kitchen. “Morning—” Marley stood in stunned silence, observing the mess in front of her. Elizabeth had come down in a pair of denim blue jeans that had been ripped apart in the knees and stretched to fraying denim strands. On the left knee, she had sewn a little green patch. Her black turtleneck had been completely transformed. The turtleneck part had been completely cut away and cut down into a V-neck. The shirt’s middle had been cut out to create a crop top that ended right above her belly button. Despite her fury, the craftsmanship was excellent. Anyone else would have assumed the clothing came that way. “Did you cut up your own clothing?” she asked, incredulous. “Do you like it?” Elizabeth twirled around, chattering excitedly, “I found some pictures of some cute clothes, so I took some old clothes and decided to give it a try, since you showed me those stitches—” Marley slammed her hand down on the counter. Elizabeth, startled, shrunk back, flame snuffed. “When did I approve of cutting up your own clothing?” Elizabeth murmured, “I just thought, since they were old—” “A year old is not old, Elizabeth. We’ve been over this, why are we even having this conversation? Again, what makes you think you can do things without asking me first? Go take those clothes off. I want them thrown in the trash.” Elizabeth stared at Marley, stunned. Marley ignored her staring, Archives After Dark

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continuing to cut the crusts off sandwiches and arrange them in a storage container. “Go get ready for the park, Elizabeth,” Marley said, stiff and dry. “Why is everything always about what you want?” Marley tossed the knife to the sink and rested both her hands against the counter, trying to hold onto her composure. “Excuse me? What did you just say?” “Everything is always about what you want to do! All we ever do is what you find fun—all the cooking and baking and crocheting.” She waved her arms, punching frustration into the air. “I never get to talk to anyone else! I never get to go anywhere else! You never ask me what I want. When I tell you what I want, you ignore me. When I try to get what I want myself, you punish me.” “Elizabeth, that’s quite enough—” “Why?” A dam broke inside of Marley. “That’s enough!” she shouted, so loudly that Elizabeth flinched. Elizabeth left immediately. Marley heard her bedroom door slam shut. She thought of all the times she had slammed her door on her own mother, walked out on her own father. Teenage rebellion was a rite of passage, after all. If Elizabeth had been a normal girl, Marley wouldn’t have thought twice about the haircuts and trendy clothes. But Elizabeth wasn’t supposed to want any of these things. Perhaps it was just the AI, figuring out its personality, like that store clerk had told her it would. But doubt lingered in the back of her mind. She opened the trash can and dumped in the sandwiches. *** Marley was doing a quick sweep through Elizabeth’s room for laundry when she noticed that something was peeking out from underneath the bed. She struggled to get down onto her knees and felt her back moan as she bent down for a closer look. She pulled out a small shoebox. She peeked behind her shoulder at the empty hallway, and then took the top off. A little yellow memo notebook with a few pens lay at the bottom, and, to the side, a bra, stitched together from varying parts of t-shirts, tucked in by a bottle of perfume. Ruffling through, she found one of her red lipsticks that had gone missing months ago. Her hand lingered over the notebook. She thought she heard the creaking of the stairs, but when she peeked again, the hallway was empty. She flipped to the most recent entry, last Wednesday. Marley had felt the sting of that fight all week. Elizabeth ate breakfast silently in the mornings, spent her days curled up on the front porch, reading. 100 Archives After Dark


Marley would poke her head out and offer a glass of water, or a snack, but Elizabeth would just shake her head and turn the next page. I got in trouble again. I don’t understand why I have to be different. Momma won’t explain it either. Momma’s told me, over and over, that my body’s different, that I won’t age—but then why do I want to stop being a little girl so badly? All we ever do is things she wants to do. I want to go to school, and make friends, and travel places, like the people in books do! Why does Momma just get to tell me what to do, forever, just because I’m different? Momma told me a story once, about her first kiss. She said in the moment, all she could think about was how sweaty his hands were and how she had forgotten to pop a mint, but when their lips met, it was so magical that all that melted away. She always calls these stories special memories. Will I ever get to make any? A creak in the hallway made Marley jump out of her skin. Elizabeth stood in the doorway, hand on the doorframe, staring at her. “Elizabeth, I—” Elizabeth turned on her heels and ran. Marley quickly shoved the contents of the box back in and struggled back up to her feet. She rushed down the hallway, but the front door had been left wide open. *** For so long, Oakworth had felt so small, but now it had swallowed Elizabeth up, and every street just rolled into more options, more paths for her to have taken. Marley drove in complete silence, neck craned forward, scanning every inch of sidewalk and hidden street corner. Elizabeth was nowhere to be found, and she was running out of ideas. She had checked the park, the supermarket, parked at the mall and wasted two hours ducking in and out of every teen clothing store, checked their usual breakfast diner, drove back to the park to check again, drove home, just to see. Marley drove all the way to the edge of town and parked her car at the gas station right before the exit to cry. She had done this once, too. At sixteen, she had been so righteously furious at her mother she had walked straight out the door. Marley couldn’t even remember the reason, children were always furious at their parents for one thing or another, but she could remember the feeling of that fire in her gut so vividly she almost felt its warmth. She had walked the streets of downtown for hours, and when that grew tiring, but she didn’t want to face returning home, she had gone to the lookout spot. The lookout spot. Archives After Dark

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Marley shifted into drive. ***

Relief washed over Marley as she turned the last corner to the lookout spot and saw Elizabeth sitting at the edge, stargazing. Night had already fallen by the time Marley had made the long climb. She was too tired to feel angry anymore. As she walked up, Elizabeth didn’t move. Marley sat down beside her. Marley looked out at the town for the first time in forty years. The downtown lights were beginning to shut off as businesses locked their doors for the night. The suburbs nestled around downtown all gave off a warm glow. Each window light was a person, maybe even a whole family, with lives as rich as her own. The view was intoxicating and overwhelming, like the universe sharing a tiny peek at just how massive it truly is; Marley had spent all her life in this tiny slice. What could she have done differently in those thirty years she had spent behind a desk? What would it be like, to begin again? The silence hanging between them slowly pulled them closer to one another. Elizabeth leaned into Marley’s arms and she gladly took her in them. Marley ran her fingers through Elizabeth’s bobbed curls and wished so desperately she couldn’t hear the faint electronic hum beneath them. *** “I have a surprise for you.” Marley stood in the doorway with her hands behind her back, fingers twisting anxiously together. Elizabeth slowly tossed over in her bed to face Marley, her hair wild around her blank face. But Marley could see the spark of curiosity behind her eyes. “I found a way to fix your problem.” “What? Really?” Elizabeth flipped the covers off and swung her feet around. “What is it? When can we go?” “We’ve got to head out now. Can you be ready in ten minutes?” “Yes!” Elizabeth said, wildly, “Yes!” In seconds, she was already in her closet, grabbing the first jeans and shirt she saw. Marley waited for Elizabeth downstairs. Elizabeth was ready in half the time, and nearly tripped over herself running down the stairs. “Careful! You’ll want to grab yourself one of your books, it’s a long drive. About an hour.” The curiosity in Elizabeth’s face was growing, the first smile Marley had seen in three days. Elizabeth looked like her old self, Marley thought, 102 Archives After Dark


grief biting at her chest. They hit the road. Marley kept the music turned up to ward off Elizabeth’s pestering questions. It usually wasn’t enough to tell Elizabeth that something was simply a surprise, she would poke and prod until her curiosity was satisfied. Elizabeth would pick up her book, swipe through a few pages, and then put it back in her lap to stare out the window and tap her foot. After about an hour and a half they reached the heart of Queensdale. Elizabeth oooo’d and awe’d at the skyscrapers and Marley couldn’t help but smile. The first time she had seen the Queensdale skyscrapers, she had been smaller than Elizabeth, staring up from on top of her daddy’s shoulders. A little further on, the Queensdale Hephaestus Center came up on their right, a massive institute the size of a stadium with huge glass windows and a strange, slanted design. They parked in the parking garage and Marley had to grip onto Elizabeth’s hand to keep her from running on ahead. “Are they going to make me a new body? What do they do here? Is this a research center? Do they make ones like me here?” “If you don’t stop pestering, we’ll turn around and go home.” Elizabeth fell silent, but Marley could still feel the hum from the tightness of the grip on her hand, like all of her circuits were singing. They went into an elevator and came out into the main lobby of the Queensdale Hephaestus Center. Giant glass walls stretched up into a massive lobby ceiling, the floors a sleek white. At the center of the lobby, customers and bots waited in a zen garden-like waiting area with a little fountain surrounded by plush white and green couches. The front desk was massive and had a long row of clerks and tablets moving through customers like an assembly line. Marley and Elizabeth stepped into line. Elizabeth was too fascinated with looking around to mind inching up to the desk, but Marley felt like a kettle ready to scream, working out her anxiety by massaging Elizabeth’s shoulders. They finally made it up to one of the store clerks, a young woman with big round glasses who smiled with her teeth. “Good afternoon! How can I help you today?” “We have an appointment with technical support, Elizabeth and Marley Adams?” The clerk immediately lit up with recognition. “Yes! Welcome—so sorry you had to wait in line, Dr. Rivers told us to bring you both back immediately as soon as you arrived! Will you please follow me?” The clerk pulled her walkie-talkie from her belt. “Please inform Dr. Rivers that Ms. Adams has arrived.” With an encouraging smile, she led them back past the desk through Employees Only marked doors. They walked past the manufacturing plant, where limbs flew around on big metal Archives After Dark

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conveyor hooks. A little further back and through several more doors, they were led into what reminded Marley of a hospital examination room. Dr. Rivers entered, a woman about Marley’s age with severe eyes behind sleek metal-frame glasses. She held a tablet close to her chest and regarded Elizabeth with hunger. “Ms. Adams. Pleasure to meet you, I’m Dr. Rivers, Director of Internal Systems and AI Functions. I’ll be assisting you and Elizabeth today. It’s best we go ahead and take her on back, get started while the day is still young, yes?” Elizabeth looked at Dr. Rivers like a fan at a boy band concert, her eyes huge with adoration. “Momma said that you have a way to fix me?” “Of course.” Dr. Rivers smiled so flatly that Marley wondered if she was just wires and circuits under there, too. Elizabeth jumped up off the examination table and eagerly took Dr. River’s outstretched hand. She turned to smile at Marley, and then they left. *** “Alright, your unit is almost done! I’m so sorry that it’s taken so long, we needed to isolate the virus that caused your unit to malfunction. Just one last thing—before we can release your unit back to you, I need you to sign this nondisclosure agreement. Best we had time to fully explore our options on how to keep this from happening to anyone else’s units, yes?” Marley nodded, her mind floating elsewhere, body on autopilot. “So, will she remember me?” The clerk smiled sadly. “Unfortunately, we had to fully reset your model. But don’t worry—you’ll rebuild quickly!” The doors behind them swung open, and Marley turned to see Elizabeth, her long chestnut hair restored, her bright green eyes staring blankly ahead, led by Dr. Rivers and another scientist she didn’t recognize leading Elizabeth forward by the hand. Dr. Rivers turned to Elizabeth with a flourish, like a sculptor preparing to pull the curtain. “Unit A56824, please register your name.” Elizabeth’s eyes gazed forward at Marley, but seemed to be looking right past her. “Confirmed. Please give me a name.”

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Papercut

Ryan Sergent - Payne, Graduate Student, English Literature

"Course to Be Pursued Thro' Life," 1848 | Major Family Papers Archives After Dark

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Author Statement “Papercut” was inspired by the lack of decoding present in the archival item I chose, “Course to Be Pursued Thro’ Life,” a letter primarily written in an unknown code. The lack of information allowed me to draw on its secrecy and inspired the creation of forbidden love, turmoil, and stress that comes with having to hide who you are to gain a sense of safety. “Papercut” is intended to create a sense of fear, anxiety, heartbreak, and anger at a world that has decided it can control its people in a way that is all too familiar to modern-day minority groups. This purpose is driven by the multiple letters exchanged between the lovers, and Jay’s multiple frenzied attempts to help Vance understand that better times are ahead even though he feels like he can no longer stand to live this hidden life.

Papercut When his secretary brought the mail in, the light blue envelope shone out from inside the mountain of brown government-issued envelopes that she placed on his desk. Jay instinctively reached for the letter and almost pulled it from its hiding spot before he realized that his secretary was still in the room. He looked up into her face to see if she noticed the movement and watched as tears ran down her cheeks “What’s wrong, Matilda?” He scooted his chair back to rise, as she waved her hands motioning him to stay where he was. “Nothing, sir. It’s just been a hard week. We still have not been able to conceive and I feel that I am letting down my country.” She placed her head in her hands and began to sob. Jay knew the implications of her inability to conceive and wished that he had something to say that would make her feel better, but he knew that nothing he said would fix the situation. So, he let her cry. While she cried, Jay eyed the letter and imagined what was within and wished that things had never changed. After what felt like an eternity to Jay, Matilda finally left his office and he was free to unearth the blue lifeline he had waited for since this morning. Careful not to rip the envelope, he gingerly pulled the letter from its container and opened it. Reaching into the bottom drawer on his desk, without removing his eyes from the neat script in front of him, Jay pulled out the key for the code and a legal pad to begin decoding the letter. While decoding the letter, Jay studied the curve of each symbol, noticing the darker marks where the pen may have set for too long before moving off of the paper to begin the next line. He began to feel the love that was poured into each mark swell in his chest as he was able to piece together 106 Archives After Dark


the prose letter by letter. When he finished he read: My love, I know that this situation is far from ideal, but there is nothing else we can do until society figures out that forcing people together to repopulate the world will do no good when people are miserable or birthing children they cannot afford, and in some situations do not want, regardless of the state of the nation. I no longer have enough pride in my nationality to feel that the government is worried about anything more than fixing their own mistakes–and taking down the people like they have always done. I know that I must play my part to keep my life, but sometimes I wonder if it is truly worth living if I wish every day for the one escape I have from the hell that this world has become. The wedding is approaching, and I am more and more distraught about the match that I have been given. Just thinking of next week makes me sick to my stomach. Emily understands the situation, but that still does not fix the sickness that comes with having to touch someone who is not you. This nation was already a little backward when it came to our love, but the Great Erasure just made things worse. I hope that one day soon you will find your voice and convince those around you that these marital sanctions are hurting the population further instead of helping anything, but I fear that we are long from being able to indulge in our true feelings anywhere besides these letters. I wish that you would entertain the idea of leaving the country in search of a place that will accept our love so we no longer have to hide behind this facade in this ridiculous country. I grow tired of bowing to small-minded men who are only looking for people to blame for their own inabilities to fix a problem that happened from their own choices. I know that they do not have control over the whole world as they wished–I know there is a place where we could be ourselves without fear. I dream of a day when I get to lay beside you and be safe in your arms. Only Yours, Vance By the end of the letter, Jay’s heart was pumping at the blazingly open comments Vance was making. Jay was in awe of the love that Vance was pouring out, but also terrified that Vance would make a catastrophic decision or that these letters would be intercepted and they would be pegged and executed for treason–both for their love for one another and the blatant Archives After Dark

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lack of governmental support in this letter. Even though Jay had power and prestige in his station, his reach did not go far enough that he could save them if anyone found out. He scribbled out a quick reply and worked on coding it in the few minutes he had left before his daily meetings. Vance, You must be more careful with your opinions. Regardless of how justified or right they are, you–like the rest of the world– must follow the laws put in place. My power can do nothing for you if someone besides Emily or myself were to read these letters. I know that times are hard, but we must all do our part to ensure the continuance of the nation and our lives. No one is more miserable than me being so far from you, especially with our own anniversary approaching, but I understand the requirements that come with survival. I am doing what I can to encourage change without raising suspicion. I need you to have faith in me. The Great Erasure took more than millions of people from the planet. It took those in power’s ability to reason and the freedom that we once had. I need you to promise me that you will focus more on your will to survive so that one day we may not be in such a terrible situation. With all my love, Jay He quickly grabbed a personal mail envelope out of his desk drawer and scribbled Emily’s office address on the front, making sure to leave the space for a return address blank. She would know who it was from. As he left his office, he gently placed the letter in the outgoing mail tray and hoped that the letter would find its recipient in a better mindset than the last one left it. The next three days of Jay’s life went by without any sign of change, except for the late envelope. Before this week no letter had taken more than thirty-six hours to receive a reply, but it had been almost seventy-two and Jay was worried that they had been caught. The rest of the evening he watched his back and waited for the officials to swarm the office and cart him off for his infractions against the nation, but they never came. The evening went the same as every other day and Jay’s heart started to break as all his fears began to play through his head. The following morning the envelope was laying in the middle of his desk waiting for him. The foreboding energy of what was written inside was radiating off the letter when Jay picked it up. He tried to open the letter, but his hands were shaking so badly that his attempt rewarded 108 Archives After Dark


him with nothing but a bleeding finger. His fear of what was inside was stronger than his worry about bleeding. When he finally got the letter open his breath caught in his throat to see that he would not need the key to decode the message. My light, You mention our anniversary in the midst of this reproach–I am hurt by your last letter and I refuse to continue to live like this. I know that others are miserable outside of myself, but I am tired of carrying the needs of the nation on my back and leaving my needs and dreams to rot in a closet that it seems we will never get out of. I have told Emily that I am not going through with the wedding tomorrow and she understands. I am leaving the house in the morning before the time we were set to be wed. Emily and I have covered our tracks, and she has agreed to go through with the wedding in the manner that she has no idea I will not show, to ensure that she will not face charges for my “inexcusable acts.� I hope that you will have the strength to join me, but I understand if that is not something you can do. I will be at the train station and will take the 2:30 to wherever it is going. I love you with all my heart and know that we will one day be together. I love you. Forever and Always, Vance Jay looked up from the letter to check the clock as it struck nine. If he got the letter to the messenger in the next ten minutes, it should reach the train station before Vance went through with his insane plan. He just needed to hurry. Vance, Please whatever you do turn around and go home. We can figure the rest out later, but there will be no later if you follow through with this plan. I worry that your brazen acts will lead this letter to find your dead body, instead of you alive and insane. Please give me a chance to fix this or at least figure out a better plan than fleeing on the most suspicious day. I cannot stress enough, I cannot beg you enough, to go home and just endure this torture for a little while longer. Please let me know that you are back home and safe. Jay He shoved the letter in the envelope, scribbled the address on the front, and ran from his office out into the hallway hoping that the messenger would Archives After Dark

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still be making his way down the stairs. He sped away from his office door leaving no time for anyone to grab and delay him from his feeble rescue mission, his papercut leaving a red stain on the serene blue of the envelope. As he ran, his fears began to take over his mind again, but this time the images of Vance’s death were more tangible and no matter how hard he tried he could not shake the image of Vance’s body being displayed in the capital, forcing him to run harder to catch up with the shadow he could not seem to catch. He burst through the stair door and out onto the street to see the messenger mounting his bike. Jay slammed the letter into the messenger’s hands and quickly explained where it needed to go in case the man could not read what he had scratched onto the envelope. Jay watched the messenger round the corner of the building and then began to sob. The next morning Jay arrived at work early hoping that the first messenger would have a letter for him. He caught him at the door to the first floor: “Anything for Jay Orion?” The messenger looked through his bag and pulled out a stack of three government-issued envelopes, but nothing else. “Are you sure this is it?” The messenger shook his head yes and made his way toward the offices at the beginning of his delivery list. Jay began to rationalize the lack of an early letter on his walk to his office. He knew that he was going to have a long day and beginning it with panic was going to do nothing for a situation that could be fine. He decided that he would pour himself into his work and try his best to ignore the nagging feeling in his heart that something was wrong. Jay continued to go through the motions of his everyday life. He opened all his mail. Signed all the mundane forms–pay raises, hiring manifest, vacation request, reimbursement request–all the while ignoring the growing pain in his heart and nagging image in the back of his head. He continued to tell himself that the lunch messenger would bring Vance’s letter. He rationalized that the wedding would have had them out late and would have eaten up all the free time Vance may have had to write his reply. He continued his day like it was any other day and suppressed the foreboding doom that was trying its best to ensure his panic. Before Jay noticed the time, Matilda brought in the evening mail. She laid the solitary envelope on Jay’s desk and the panic rushed forward as his fears were realized. “Is he still here?” He began to rummage in his drawers for a pen and paper. “Is who still here?” Jay was trying to find a pen that worked as the panic began to grow and block out his reasoning and resolve. “The messenger, Matilda” he snapped. “The messenger. I have 110 Archives After Dark


an urgent letter that needs to go out today. Now. Or it will be too late.” He never looked up from the paper to see Matilda leave to catch the messenger before he left the floor. He scratched out his desperate plea: Vance, Please let me know you are okay. I beg you. I am sending a messenger with this letter, stating it is of high importance. Please respond immediately. Jay He again crammed the letter in the envelope and scribbled Emily’s address on the envelope, hoping that Vance was just tired or busy. As soon as Matilda came back with the messenger in tow, Jay slapped the letter into his hand. “This letter is being sent with the highest importance. It is a code red and will need to be your first delivery of this run. You will then need to wait for the response and bring it back here immediately, before you fulfill the rest of your deliveries. Please bill the office directly for your extra mileage and the rush fee.” The messenger stuck the letter in his bag and walked away. Exhausted, Jay walked back to his office, shutting the door behind him, and let the fear take him over. He did not care if anyone heard his sobs. Fear, desperation, and denial for his reality had broken his professional exterior. Through his tears, he watched the sunset and imagined the wonderful life he would one day have with Vance. Hoping that putting positive thoughts into the universe would return to him something positive. He has waited this long to be happy, he could continue to wait for Vance’s reply. But it never came.

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Briar Foldouts

Edy Thomas, Graduate Student, Creative Writing

State Trooper Talking to a Car Full of Women, 1960s | EKU Photographs

Author Statement When I first encountered the artifact, “State Trooper Talking to a Car Full of Women,” “lesbians escaping to Florida” came to mind. I wasn’t sure why, but I rolled with it, and “Briar Foldouts”—an anagram for “Florida or Bust”— came to be. Set in an unspecified, yet contemporary, time period, “Briar Foldouts” follows Bunny, a woman recovering from an event she does not remember, as she drives from motel to motel, approaching a destination she only knows by the name her girlfriend, Gray, has given it: Briar Foldouts. This short story expresses that no matter what trauma the mind or body has gone through, returning home is always possible—no matter who you are or what has come before you. I chose to feature two lesbian characters in this short story because, in addition to being underrepresented positively and happily in post-apocalyptic fiction, I myself identify as a nonbinary lesbian and thought these perspectives deserved to be depicted in this manner. 112 Archives After Dark


Briar Foldouts Last night, Bunny dreamt she was at her funeral again. This time, she stood over her body—not in the casket presented in an empty room, but in the backyard grave. They decided to bury her alive without that wooden box she submitted in her will, just rolled her and shoved her and kicked her blue and foaming corpse in that six-foot by six-foot by six-foot hole—and in her dream, Bunny could only stand there and watch as they wrapped their arms around their stomachs and howled. *** She shaves her head when she wakes up. Her inkwell hair carpets the ceramic motel sink. And her hair, along with the migraine that sprouted throughout the night, rains down the drain, spinning and spinning and spinning the more she runs the clippers across the crown of her head with her eyes closed. *** The car in the cracked and faded parking lot used to be midnight blue. *** The sun is hot, high in the sky, and allows the lizards to bathe on the rocks they’ve claimed for the day. Bunny passes them, dancing her fingers in the smallest of waves, and when she looks over her shoulder, she thinks those lizards are waving back at her. “Hello,” she tells them. And she tells them, “Goodbye.” She shoves the single key on her rusty keyring into the car. It turns easy. And the engine, it hums like Gray upon waking, in their little bed, at three o’clock in the morning. Bunny’s chest aches at that noise—the scratching and the roar and the gentle lulling that used to keep her up and put her to sleep and make her think the world made sense for once. To those lizards and the cinnamon-apple air freshener hanging from the rear-view mirror, Bunny whispers Gray’s name—that chant, that prayer—and for a moment, as she drives away from that blinking motel sign begging her to return to clean up the rest of her once-waist-length hair, she almost believes the world actually makes sense.

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*** She travels during the day and sleeps at night. This is expected; she is human, after all. *** Gray enjoyed sleeping in, and she enjoyed burrowing her nose into the back of Bunny’s neck. “You smell like Old Spice,” Gray always whispered, and Bunny always whispered to her, “I smell like you.” And the sun would always rise the same every time. *** Bunny hates how the convertible hood of her car collapses on the highway. She hates how the leather seats of her car bake in the sun, burning her at every shift and shimmy. She hates this dress she wears, starchy and floral and white as snow. She even begins to hate her buzzed head—because if she still had those tendrils twirling around her temples into the frizziest curls, she would at least be safe from the sun’s own twisting tendrils. A notebook keeps between her thigh and the leather seat, a notebook with folded pages and smeared ink. Briar Foldouts, it says. You know what I mean. You know what I mean. “I wish,” she says, her knuckles as white as her dress, as white as snow. “I wish. I wish.” *** She turns twenty-five in another motel bathroom. This sink is splintered like the pavement outside, like everything else in her life. In the corner of the small, sterile room, a TV clicks through static that she swears contains images if she can only sit still long enough to decipher. By morning, she knows she’ll be able to find some sort of meaning within that fog. Right now, in this motel bathroom, both hands gripping that splintered sink, both eyes full to the brim with hot, sticky tears, she finds the answer to the universe in the blue veins in her forehead; in the skeletal curve of her neck; in the cursive font across her collarbone, right above her heart, that shows off Gray’s name to anyone who dares look her way when she wears clothing with plunging necklines. She wishes she could fall into that stiff twin-sized bed and feel Gray’s broad shoulders overtake her own slim frame. She wishes she could smell Old Spice deodorant and taste it on her lips when she bites and peels 114 Archives After Dark


away the dry skin. She wishes she could close her eyes and feel safe. “Soon,” she mumbles, and knows this penetrates her bone marrow so angrily and so violently that when she finally lies her body on that sanitized bed and her head on that boulder of a pillow, her muscles seize and her throat burns from how hard she keeps herself from screaming. Over and over in her head, she repeats, Briar Foldouts. Briar Foldouts. You know what I mean. C’mon, babe, you know what I mean. *** In her dream, she’s at her backyard gravesite again, rushing past those outdoor hallways with scaling branches and sharp corner cobwebs. In her dream, though her feet are size thirteen, she steps as if she were a foal— slick and damp and whimpering for its guardian. In her dream, she is in control and in no control at all. And in this dream, she doesn’t visit her funeral, doesn’t see her grave. And yet, moving through those trees, she knows she doesn’t need any of that to be dead. *** It feels real. *** She wakes screaming today. *** Bunny leaves this motel as soon as the sun rises. It isn’t hot right now, nor humid. She drives in a seat that doesn’t turn the backs of her thighs into a crisp. It’s wet, though, all of it’s wet, because it rained overnight, stained the grass olive and the road charcoal. The dark clouds wept for her, and she knows this is foolish to believe, but she needs to believe it. There are no more lizards to tell her hello, to tell her goodbye, and she drives with her foot heavy on the gas and her hand resting on top of her buzzed scalp. She drives, and she rubs her scalp, and she chants, “Briar Foldouts,” under her breath. Somehow, this road is familiar to her. She thinks she drove this path once before, right here, in this front seat, warm bodies all around her, clutching their stomachs and howling at the top of their lungs. Bunny remembers their laughter akin to music, like sweet melodies in the form of Archives After Dark

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free-verse poetry—the kind Gray used to recite to her on nights where it rained, on nights where it stormed, on nights where nothing happened at all. “Femmes up front,” she told Bunny once, “and butches in the back—dykes gotta drive, and that’s that on that.” And Bunny spied on her in the rear-view mirror, how she tossed that righteous head of hers into the air and how the sun highlighted the bump in the bridge of her nose. Her teeth were sharp, and they were tinted yellow, and she chirped and shook her bleached waves shaved into that mohawk Bunny herself cut for her on the evening of their two-year anniversary. This car was full of her friends—Bunny knows that, and she knows that she doesn’t know where her friends are now. And that—Bunny doesn’t know if she’s meant to know that. *** A family of deer watches her. She tells them, “Hello,” and they bow their heads. She offers them the same respect. *** In place of the setting sun, she spots flashing red and blue lights intimidating her from behind. “Keep going,” Gray would have said, kicking her feet up on the dashboard. “Don’t got any time for those pigs.” Bunny wants to follow this advice; it fills every one of her fingers, her toes, and she aims to go faster, but she stops and scolds herself for as long as it takes for this pig to leave his polished white car and start down the side of the scorching highway to her own car. The officer’s uniform is pressed, adorned with fingerprint-smeared buttons and a matching pen kept in his breast pocket. Bunny reads no name anywhere on his person, but she still gives him, “How ya doin’ today, officer?” She puts on a façade for him—innocent, lost, in need of assistance, not from him: huge eyes, the faintest trace of a smile. He scans her with narrowed eyes, small, black like coal and as pink and runny as melting cotton candy. “Do you have any idea why I pulled you over?” he asks. She says, “No,” and tries to ignore those eyes of his running over the tattoo on her chest. He says, “You were speeding.” She says, “Was I?” “Must’ve been in quite a hurry,” he observes, flicking the brim of 116 Archives After Dark


his hat and glancing at the backseat of the car. “Where were you going?” he asks, then, spitting a large dollop of tobacco on the rumble strips on the side of the road. She wishes “I’m wondering that myself” was an acceptable answer. Instead, she produces, “Briar Foldouts,” and the officer lets her go. She drives and drives and doesn’t register the tears on her face as tangible. *** Before falling asleep, she sits upon this motel bed and leans in as close to the TV as she can. She inspects that static and understands those images as make-believe. And when she sleeps, she sees those images in front of her very eyes—her grave, her body, all the howling. And when she wakes, her entire body stings as if needles had been injected deep into her muscles. Moving causes that pain to poke and poke and poke her to paralysis. Lying still causes that pain to hibernate. She moves. She drives. This is expected; she is human, after all. *** There are moments where she’s driving, and she thinks of pulling the steering wheel into oncoming traffic, off the side of the road, off the side of a cliff—into a six-foot by six-foot by six-foot hole. There are moments where she’s driving, and she wonders if any of this is worth it. And there are moments where she’s driving, and she realizes that nothing in this world is truly worth it, and that’s why she must make this, if anything, worth it—because humming underneath all that burning and stinging pain, Bunny’s heart is still alive. *** She smells the ocean and Old Spice.

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We Will Be Okay

Kaitlyn VanWay, Sophomore, English and Spanish

Velveeta Recipe Booklet, undated | Watts Family Papers

Author Statement I chose the Velveeta cookbook because I thought it would be very interesting to play on the mother/daughter dynamic, and domestic chores like cooking have historically been left to women. Holding the cookbook, I couldn’t help but imagine to whom it had belonged. Did they have children? What was their relationship with them like? This story is not about me or anyone in particular; everyone who reads it will be able to relate to it in some way, as food brings us together across every time and culture. This story embodies what it means to wish you were better, to question your identity, to be on the cusp of adulthood, to feel like the rug is being pulled out from under you, to clutch to things and people that make you feel worthwhile. While I incorporate criteria associated with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) from The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, this piece is definitely not meant to be diagnostic or hold any sort of authority. BPD specifically stuck out in my mind because those with this disorder—as with many psychiatric 118 Archives After Dark


disorders—are often misjudged, stigmatized, or even fetishized. In reality, people with BPD are sons and daughters, students and co-workers, friends and lovers. Each has their own story about their diagnosis, and our narrator Sadie’s story is unique to her. Despite her diagnosis, Sadie feels things every college student feels—she just expresses them in different ways. This story is meant to take each reader one step closer to radical acceptance.

We Will Be Okay The last time I saw my father, I was five years old. I had spent the whole morning in the kitchen with Mom, cooking tomato strata out of her Velveeta cookbook. I loved cracking the eggs open, trying to keep the yolk whole; but every time, without fail, the yolk would break and run into the bowl like tears streaming down your face so fast you don’t have the chance to wipe them away. I was too little to reach the counter by myself, so Mom would always put down a small step stool, calling me her “tiny helper” and enveloping me into a hug. This particular morning, however, my father decided to help cook, too, and he held me in his arms as I stirred all the ingredients together, Billy Joel serenading us from our living room stereo. It doesn’t make sense, then, why he left. I know they had been fighting, and Mom says he always drank so much he probably didn’t even remember he had a daughter; but how can that be true, when he was there holding me? I can’t remember all the details, and Mom says that’s for the best and that she wishes she didn’t have to be reminded of him every time she looked at me. Me and Mom, we don’t usually get along when we talk. So, usually, we don’t talk; we cook. It’s just easier to do, to keep our hands busy, than to say anything to each other. Mom has so many cookbooks, but her favorite has always been the Velveeta. “A little bit of cheese cheers everyone up,” she’d say in her sing-song voice. And every time, without fail, it did. Today, I start college. I picked the farthest school I could and told Mom I’d see her for Christmas. I don’t know what to expect. I must’ve read two dozen articles full of advice, but they all gave the same bullshit answers about avoiding homesickness and staying on top of homework, which are not, I expect, things I will struggle with. Still, I thought it’d be nice to have a piece of home, so I slipped Mom’s Velveeta cookbook into my bag this morning. By the time she finds out, I’ll be halfway across the country, and there will be nothing she can do.

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*** “‘Anger that is inappropriate, intense and difficult to control.’” It’s only been a week, but everyone already has their established group of friends. My roommate, Isie, is nice enough, but she is local, and she knows a lot of people from high school. She invited me to hang out with them this afternoon, but they were intent on talking about everyone they hated at sixteen, and I have no opinions or stakes in the matter, so I quietly excused myself. I’m not sure they’ve noticed. It’s going to be a miserable semester. It’s been a week since I talked to Mom. I pull out my phone and call her. “Did you take my cookbook?” she demands on the first ring. “Hi, Mom,” I reply. “Yes, hi. Answer me, please.” “I’m just calling because I miss you and I love you,” I continue, determined not to give her the satisfaction. “Oh, stop that. Did you take it? I know you did.” “College is great, thanks for asking. I’ve made so many friends. I can’t wait for classes to start.” “Sadie, look, I just wanted to cook a special dinner for a special someone tonight, and you took my means of doing so, so just admit it.” “Yes, it truly is hard to get enough sleep with all these friends falling at my feet. It’s like they’re obsessed with me!” I say. “You ruined my evening, and now you won’t even admit it! I can’t believe I raised such a selfish daughter.” “Okay! Yes, I took your fucking cookbook! Jesus Christ, you are relentless. And while we’re at it, college is a fucking nightmare, and I’m miserable. Does that make you happy? I don’t have a single fucking friend, and I don’t know what I want to major in, and I just wanted to make some fucking Velveeta, is that too much to ask for?” I snap. There’s a pregnant pause on the other end of the line. Just when I’m about to check if she hung up on me, she says quietly, “Thank you for admitting it.” “Fuck off!” I throw my phone across the room. I climb into bed, hot tears streaming down my face. The sobs spring up, and I’m trying to control them, but it’s no use. They control me, and it’s all I can do to keep from throwing up. After twenty minutes of this, my body gives out and I am thrust into a restless sleep. I’m awoken by the sound of keys jingling in the lock. 120 Archives After Dark


I hear my roommate enter, laughing. “Oh shit, I’m sorry. Were you sleeping?” she asks. “No,” I roll over to face her to prove I am awake. “I was just…” My eyes settle on the tallest boy I’ve ever seen, standing in my doorway. Isie follows my sightline, and then realizes I don’t know this strange boy standing and staring at my puffy face. “Oh, Sadie, this is my boyfriend, Adam,” she says. “Is it cool if he hangs out in our room for a while?” I just want to sleep. “Yeah, that’s fine!” I say with forced enthusiasm. “Hey.” “Hey,” Adam says. “Just give me one second and I’ll get out of your hair,” I say, rolling out of bed. “Oh no, please don’t leave! We don’t want to interrupt your time. We’ll be really quiet; you won’t even know we’re here,” Isie pleads with sad eyes. “Oh, um…okay,” I stammer. Isie, a newfound grin on her face, flips her dark blonde ponytail and escorts Adam into the room. They turn on the television and sit on her bed, holding hands and whispering to each other. I roll over and try to smother myself with a pillow. College, I tell myself, really sucks so far. *** “‘Wide mood swings lasting from a few hours to a few days, which can include intense happiness, sadness, or shame.’” Classes started out well. I was over the moon about everything I was taking, I was passionate, and I was ready to work. By the time the second week rolled around, however, I got exhausted. It’s like I have to focus so much of my energy on things I never even thought of before. Getting out of bed takes serious convincing, and skipping class has become a guilty pleasure, a secret drug, an instant relief. I want to be successful, but I’m just so tired. Isie always manages to get her work done and also work out, have friends, cook for herself, watch TV, and get at least eight hours of sleep a night. Not that I’m keeping track. Taking a shower is a lot of work for me, and it sometimes takes all day to convince myself to do it. I just lie in bed thinking about all I have to do, and my brain shuts down. Sleep helps me pretend that my work isn’t piling up. The bigger the pile, the less I want to take a crack at it. I want my professors to think I’m a good student. Their opinions matter so much. But I just can’t bring myself to do it. Every day, I feel like I am about to cross the twenty-six-mile mark; and if I can just get there, the marathon will be done with, and I can go to bed. But I can’t remedy the fact Archives After Dark

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that my professors think I’m a lazy student who doesn’t do the reading. They’re right; I am lazy, and I don’t do the reading—but I really want to. I’m trying to do my best. I’m just exhausted. *** “‘Chronic feelings of emptiness.’” Isie and Adam are always in the room, and it’s making me resent them. I do my best to stay out while they’re in there, but there’s only so much I can do. I still haven’t found my own group, and eventually I get sick of living in a booth in the library and just want to go back to my own space. They’re nice enough, I guess. Isie, with her dark blonde waistlength hair and beautiful figure, has never had to make a friend in her life. They all line up, hoping she’ll pick them. What’s really shocking is that she’s actually an okay person. She’s constantly inviting me to hang out with her and Adam, like she can sense that there’s something wrong and has some innate need to mother me. I can’t completely reject it, either, because it’s nice to have a mother so far away from home. Adam is nothing special, but he’s always there. He’s probably sixfoot-two or -three, and his stocky frame and bright blue eyes make him the perfect attractive match for Isie. They are two celebrities on campus, and the fact that I know them makes me almost a celebrity by proxy. No one, of course, wants to be around me—but they know that I’m a way into the elite echelon of beautiful college freshmen, so they tolerate me. As for their pastimes, mostly, they just drink. Like, all the time. I feel for their livers. Isie, strangely protective of me, usually invites me to drink with them. If there’s one thing I’m good at, it’s drinking. I mean good as a relative term: I’m a lightweight, but that makes me more fun to be around. I get drunker faster than everyone else, which means I get the same buzz for cheaper. I don’t enjoy drinking. I mean, the last time I got drunk, it wasn’t fun. Then again, it never really is. I have an incessant need to be the center of attention, and the easiest way for me to do so is to drink. Lots and lots. When I’m sober, I’m inexperienced and boring. But when I drink, I am a party. I’ll do anything anyone says just so they’ll keep talking to me. My body consumes laughter, attention, looks of disbelief, just like air filling my lungs. How much can I make them talk about me? The more shocking I am, the better. Feed me validation, I’ll do anything. Sex, shots, slip of the tongue, “Oh, did I say that?” I won’t stop until I’ll regret it in the morning. I want to keep them talking about me. When I’m the subject of the conversation, I feel something. 122 Archives After Dark


But when I wake up the next afternoon, the sun encroaching on my room like an unwanted dream, I ache. I don’t know how to be someone when no one is around. I am not my own person; I am a collection of everyone around me. And when the party’s over, the pit in my stomach manifests into its own being, a being that tells me that I am nothing, I am no one, and I never will be. It will always be like this. It will always be like this. It will always be like this. Oh, it hurts, the twisted knot, ripping through flesh and bone and tearing you apart, limb by limb, until it’s 3 a.m. and there’s no one to call, and you’re screaming because you want to feel something, anything—but there’s nothing to say because you aren’t anyone when you’re alone. So you try not to ever be alone, but no one wants to be around a shell of a person. The pity they feel isn’t a strong enough emotion to keep them around for long. There’s not enough love in the world that can make you feel like anything more than a spectacle that makes people thank their god, because at least they aren’t you. But the alcohol helps a little. *** “‘Markedly and persistently unstable sense of self-identity, or seeing oneself as completely nonexistent.’” “I just got here, and I’ve already cycled through three majors. It’s like I just don’t know what I’m working toward, y’know?” I say. “Sadie, I hear you, I really do. College is tough. But you don’t have to have your whole life planned out right now,” my advisor replies exhaustedly. “You have—” “—so much time ahead of me, yes, I know,” I finish for her. “You’ve told me. Look, I’m sorry, I really am, but I am just so certain this time. I know I want to major in social work, because I know I want to help people, and nobody with an English major does that!” My advisor glances instinctively at the diploma hanging in a frame above her desk. She has an English degree, I think. Of fucking course. “I’m sorry, I know that’s not true, obviously you are so helpful, and I really wasn’t thinking—” She sighs deeply, her shoulders in a defeated slump. “I know, Sadie. It’s fine,” she says. “Listen, I’d like to help you. I really would. But add/drop has passed, and you are in classes you begged for overrides into.” Archives After Dark

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Is she seriously not going to help me? What is the point of her job? If it was anyone else, she would help, but she hates me, and who can blame her? Look at yourself. You’re pathetic. “Why don’t you just give these classes a try and take this semester to really find yourself?” she continues. “You’re in some really good classes! I’ve heard Julian Briggs’ American Literature class is enlightening, and he used to be a counselor, so maybe he can help you determine what your soul is passionate about.” “What my soul is passionate about.” Is this really the best she can do? I don’t even know how to spend my free time. It’s hard to care about anything when you don’t know who you are when you are alone. “Yeah, maybe,” I reply. “I’m really sorry about the English major thing. It wasn’t fair.” “It’s okay, Sadie. Truly. I get that a lot,” she says. With a sense of finality, my advisor shuts her laptop and stands up from her chair. “It was nice meeting with you today. I hope you have a great semester,” she says, escorting me out of her office, probably hoping I’ll never come back. When I get to my dorm room, my mind is racing with ideas. I know that I want to be a social work major because I’ve researched it and it seems like the perfect fit for me. I know I’ve said that before but this time is different because those other majors I didn’t know enough about but this is perfect for me it just fits. “I’m gonna be a social work major, doesn’t that just seem perfect for me?” I ask my roommate, Isie, as I climb up the ladder to my bed. She looks up from her textbook. “I thought you said English was perfect for you?” “Yes, okay, I said that, but I didn’t know enough about it, and I was just trying to make myself into someone I’m not.” “Huh,” she replies. “You printed off every major and went through them meticulously, so I wouldn’t say you didn’t research them. Don’t you remember when you were obsessed with that one book, and you read it over and over and said—” “Okay, yes, I did all that, but English just isn’t who I am. I’m gonna be a social worker. And so what if I have to stay a year longer? It’s worth it to find true happiness, right?” I retort. “I guess,” Isie shrugs. “You just change your mind so often.” I roll my eyes as she buries her head back in her book. This is who I am, I repeat to myself. This is a version of me I could be happy with. This is who I am meant to be. This is me. This is me. This is the real me. By the evening, however, I’m no longer convinced that I’m meant 124 Archives After Dark


to be a social worker. I’m no longer convinced that I’m meant to be anything at all. With my roommate gone, I feel like a blank canvas. Salty tears blur the white cinderblock walls surrounding me, and I can’t help but feel like an empty shell of a person just waiting for someone to tell me who I am so I can finally figure out what it is I’m living for. *** “‘Intense and unstable relationships that show patterns of extreme idealization.’” Logically, I know it’s probably strange to want to talk to a TA this much, but he makes me feel so valuable. He makes me feel like I’m worth something. Julian Briggs. When I met him, he was just my TA, nothing more. But then we started talking, and before I knew it, it was “Julian this” and “Julian that,” and now he’s all I can think about. I read that it’s pretty common for female college freshmen to develop an infatuation with their professors—they’re smart, they’re sure of themselves, and they’re comforting—they’re everything we want to be. It’s natural that we should feel some affinity toward them. But Julian isn’t like that. I’ve heard some of my classmates remark about his looks, but I hardly even notice that. He just gets me. Nothing is forced with him. He is perfect. He knows about books, and music, and languages, and cultures. He is an art form that I need to study for years and years. I want to get a degree in his mannerisms. I want to teach a class on the way he looks at me. The best part about him is his dedication to me. He talks about twentieth-century American literature, and I melt. He knows so much, yet he takes the time to really listen to me. He cares about what I have to say. He knows me better than I know myself. I know the university looks down upon student-professor relationships, but Julian’s a TA, and besides, we’re different together. He knows that. I think he knows that. Does he know that? I try to contain my excitement, but I’m bursting at the seams. I limit the number of times I allow myself to talk in his class. I want to leave him wanting more. I am an intellectual, and he knows it. His office hours are at the perfect time. We meet and talk about everything. Class, religion, politics, art. He has an opinion on everything. The feeling I get when I’m around him is almost nostalgic, like he helps fill the void within me. I think I am in love. He is absolutely perfect. Julian Briggs, the name always on the tip of my tongue. Archives After Dark

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*** “‘A pattern of unstable and intense interpersonal relationships.’” The thing about Isie that I’m most jealous of isn’t her looks or her boyfriend or her hoard of friends. The thing about Isie that I’m most jealous of is her homelife. She goes home every other weekend to spend time with her mom, dad, and little brother. Sometimes, her dad shows up on campus in the middle of the week just to have dinner with her. Her mom sends her letters regularly. Her little brother video chats her nearly every night. But what gets to me the most is the fact that her parents seem so proud of her. They are so happy to love her. They want to stay updated on her life. They revel in her successes and suffer when she fails. They want her to be happy. My mom is not all bad. I love her, and she loves me as best she can. But we aren’t anything like Isie’s family. One night, Isie and I are lying in our beds when she props herself up suddenly on her elbows and asks me, “What do you and your family do for fun?” I’m not exactly sure what to tell her. The truth is that there’s not many good memories I have with Mom. But Isie is just too pretty to understand, so I answer with another version of the truth. “My mom and I love to cook together,” I answer honestly. “It’s what I miss most about home.” “Cooking? How awesome. We should cook here! It might give you a little taste of home,” Isie says excitedly. “You almost never talk about home, Sadie. Oh, please, let’s cook something. Do you use recipes, or…?” “Yes, usually,” I say. “Okay, I’ll find a good one. What should we make?” “No, never mind that,” I climb off my bed and open my middle desk drawer. “All the best recipes are in here,” I say, pulling out the Velveeta cookbook. We drive to the store and pick out way too many ingredients, all of which Isie insists on paying for. Then Isie and I get to work. We’re making golden crunch sandwiches, golden platter meals, egg and noodle treats. I’m cracking eggs like a madwoman, yolks weeping into the bowl. Isie laughs at me and decides to show me what I’m doing wrong. The shell splits perfectly into two when she does it, and the yolk drops gracefully, still intact. We make infinite amounts of food and eat until just the sight of food nauseates us. Then we pack the leftovers into Tupperware and stack them into our minifridge, remnants of a wonderful night.

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*** “‘Impulsivity and risky behavior that is possibly self-damaging.’” There’s usually one specific moment, after I drink, when it’s like my mind wakes up from the mania I was feeling and realizes all the shitty decisions I’ve made. It’s like I can no longer apply the filter that hides everything I’ve done to wreck my reputation and relationships, and I feel frozen and nauseous and short of breath; and I might pass out from anxiety; and I kind of want to. The specific moment this time was waking up in bed with my roommate’s boyfriend, half-dressed and pathetic. “What are you thinking about?” Adam asks, stroking my hair. I’m thinking that I need you to get your dirty hands off me, I need to take back everything you’ve seen. You disgust me. I disgust myself. Your fucking face and revolting smell is smothering me and I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe. “Nothing. Just happy.” Adam sighs contentedly and squeezes me close so that I can hear his heartbeat. It’s calm, completely out of sync with mine, beating itself out of my chest. “Happy, yeah?” his voice goes up, like he’s asking a question I didn’t just answer. “Yeah, me, too.” With each of his slow, deep breaths, I can feel the golden crunch sandwiches rising in my stomach, threatening to take an encore all over the front of my shirt. His smell is nauseating, a mixture of sweat and pine. His arm around my shoulders feels like a noose, and I can feel it tightening. “When I first came to see you, I wasn’t sure how you’d react. You’re just so…finicky. I wasn’t sure you felt the same way about me. Actually,” he chuckles, “and don’t laugh, but I thought you were serious about Julian.” Julian. My heart leaps and then stands still. I feel the hot tears well up in my eyes. Don’t say his name. You have no right to him and no right to me and get your hairy arms off of me I need to shower I am so dirty and he’s in my bed and I need to light this place on fire, that’s the only way it will ever be clean again and then Julian, oh Julian, he can never know. “Julian?” I try to say, but the word gets stuck in my throat, tears lowering my voice an octave and threatening to spill over. “Julian?” I try again. “Why would you—?” “Hey, I didn’t mean to make you upset. You are just always with him, talking about books and art or whatever, and I just thought, only for a Archives After Dark

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second, that maybe—but no, I mean, he’s a TA, so.” So what? Does that mean he wouldn’t be interested? “So what? Does that mean he wouldn’t be interested?” “Well…no,” Adam shifts to prop himself on his elbows, looking inquisitively at me. “I mean, he’s a TA, so, no.” What the fuck does that mean? “What the fuck does that mean?” My face flushes with heat. “Sadie…did I do something?” Adam sits up in bed, pulling away from me. Just tell me, break it to me, what has Julian been saying about me, what does he feel? “No. I mean, no. I’m sorry. I just—why do you think that? TA’s and undergrads, is that not…?” I say, trying to sound steady and nonchalant. Adam still looks concerned. “I just meant…well, TA’s always flirt with female students. It’s just, like, a way to make them relatable. And I mean, I don’t think it’s wrong—I mean, if it gets you through American Lit, where’s the harm?” he says, his voice growing with confidence. “Right? Just look at Isie. I don’t think she’s read a book in her life, but then the first day we meet Julian, and now all of a sudden she sits in the front row? I don’t think that has anything to do with a sudden love for Faulkner.” Isie. Of course. She’s as dumb as they come, but she’s always wearing a low-cut shirt, of course that’s why. “You really think Julian flirts with Isie?” “Well, yeah, of course. It really used to bother me, but it won’t go further than that. And I know he tried it with you once, too, but you just… you’re not like them, that’s all. You are so much…” Adam’s voice faded away. “You’re the smartest girl I’ve ever been with is all I’m saying. Why are we even talking about Julian? I shouldn’t have brought it up.” “Of course,” he said. “Of course” Julian flirts with Isie. Her eyes and her figure and I bet Julian thinks of her and that’s why he’s avoiding me and does he not love me? I thought he loved me. Why doesn’t he love me? Why am I not enough? “Can we just go back to before? I’m really feeling it now. I can barely hold my eyes open,” Adam nestles his chin into the crook of my neck, breathing in my hair. Get out of my bed, or lie still while I set it ablaze, I can’t do this I can’t be here I can’t I can’t I can’t. “Sure.” “Good,” Adam says sleepily. Then, he jolts up in bed. “You…aren’t planning to tell Isie, right? It’s just, we’ve been together for over a year now, and my parents think I’m going to propose to her, so—” What complete and utter trash. 128 Archives After Dark


“Of course not.” ***

“‘Frantic efforts to avoid real or imagined abandonment.’” I know his office hours by heart. Since he’s not a full-fledged professor, he shares it with the five other TA’s in the English department. I try to pace myself, but the longer I go without talking to him, the more incessant my need for his approval gets. As I walk the cobblestone path to the College of Arts building, I try to convince myself to turn around. I worry about my reputation with the other faculty—I want them to know how much he values me, but I don’t want to get into trouble. I’ve figured out the perfect time of the day to visit, when the other TA’s are in class or around campus, probably distracting themselves from how dull they are in comparison to Julian. On Thursdays at 1:15 p.m., Julian is always in the office alone. Sometimes, when I want to have a really long conversation with him, I bring him a coffee—one cream, five sugars. I ascend three flights to his office. His room is at the other end of the hall, and the door is propped open, beckoning students to come chat with him about Harper Lee or whoever is on his mind that day. Sunshine pours into the hall through the crack in the door, and a female voice carries throughout the otherwise quiet halls. “I just don’t think that’s what he intended, Julian,” the voice says genially. “I mean, it was the 1920s. You really think anyone was going to write something that bold?” A woman. Who is she, and why does she talk like she has ownership over him? “I’m sorry, Miss ‘B.A. in history,’ I don’t remember reading your senior thesis on Fitzgerald,” Julian’s voice laughs as I reach the office door. Through the crack, I see a beautiful woman with curly red hair standing over Julian’s shoulder, reading off his computer screen. She playfully swats at his shoulder, and he spins around in his chair to bring her into a kiss. As he leans into her, his eyes glance toward the hallway, toward where I’m standing. He breaks away from the woman and gestures toward the door. “Sadie!” he calls cheerfully. “Come on in!” I push the door open, a feeling of revulsion rising in my chest. “Sadie, I’d love to introduce you. This is my wife, Harriet,” he says, arm around the redhead. “Harriet, this is Sadie, one of my brightest and most enthusiastic students.” Archives After Dark

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His wife. His wife. His wife. “Oh, how nice to meet you, Sadie!” Harriet chirps. “Julian is always talking so fondly of his students.” His wife. His wife. His wife. I attempt a half smile. It feels like a grimace. Why didn’t he pick me? Why would he do this to me? Why would he make me feel like this? “Was there…something you wanted to discuss, Sadie?” Julian asks. Of course he’s fucking married, he’s a TA, not your friend, not your lover, he doesn’t care about you, you’re just another student, you’re not special, you don’t mean anything, you’re worthless, you attention-whore, you low-life scum of the Earth, why would you think this was anything more than a teacher trying to let his over-excited student down easy? All I want to do is splash this scalding coffee in his face. He deserves it, the lowlife, treating vulnerable young students like the scum of the earth. His fucking wife. “No. I just—” I start. He chose her, he already picked, he’s a liar, he doesn’t care about you, you are nothing to him, you are nothing. “No.” Harriet and Julian stare blankly at me, unsure of what to say. His arm is still wrapped tightly around her, and I imagine it’s a boa constrictor, slowly making its way around her neck to suffocate her until she is nothing. His wife. “I should—I need to go to class,” I stammer. “It was nice—nice to meet you.” He did this to me on purpose, he wants to see me hurt, I hate him, I want to see him suffer, how could he make me feel this way, why would he do this to me, he is nothing. She says something to me, but I rush out of the room so fast it doesn’t register. How could it, past the pounding in my head? His wife. *** “‘Intense and unstable relationships that show patterns of extreme devaluation.’” My father tried to maintain contact with me after he walked out. At first, he called every few nights. But all I could ask him, Mom says, is when he was coming home. Maybe it’d be hard to hear your five-year-old ask you that over and over again—apparently it was for him—so he stopped calling so 130 Archives After Dark


much. It became a once-a-week ordeal. By the time I turned seven, my father called once a month if I was lucky. I remember one day he called me and asked me if I wanted to come over and see his new house. He’d gotten a new puppy, he said, and he needed someone to play with it. I was over the moon. Mom was hesitant because she knew how he was, but she was just a single mother trying her best. She took me to see him and his puppy, through the subdivisions he swore he’d never live in. Once we got to his new house, we saw another little girl outside, playing with the smallest puppy I’d ever seen. Mom must’ve known right away, because she told me to wait in the car while she went to his front porch to hash it out. I couldn’t hear everything they were saying, but I could read the conversation well enough. Mom came back livid and drove me away, all the while shouting about how my useless father had gotten himself a new girlfriend, a new daughter, a new puppy, a new family. We weren’t a part of his life anymore, she said. I didn’t understand, but I still felt. I felt it all. I felt gutted. I felt worthless. I felt replaceable. Why couldn’t we be enough? Why couldn’t Mom, with her cheese casseroles and sing-song voice and seven-year-old daughter, be enough for him? Mom’s spent her whole life wondering as much, and I never could understand why she put it all on herself. But I do now. My computer screen blinks at me. I know what I want to say, I know what I need to say, but I don’t have the words to say it. I crack my knuckles and hit compose. It’s worth a shot regardless. Julian, You knew what my intentions were. I came to your office hours weekly. I followed a routine. I brought you coffee. I listened to your stupid opinions on everything. You knew what this would do to me. Why would you introduce her to me? Why do you want me to suffer? Don’t I suffer enough without you? You are pathetic. Send. Once I click it, it’s done. I feel a rush of ecstasy. This is what he deserves. I hit compose again. It would be different if you were even worth anything, but you’re not. You are not. The way you have treated me is absolutely unacceptable, and I can’t stand for it. I’m going straight to the dean, and you will get what you have coming to you. You are worthless. Archives After Dark

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Send. I am floating fifty feet above the ground. I am not in control of my fingers. They have a mind of their own. They just type and type and I watch them rip my life apart. I’m giddy. She’s not even pretty. She’s nothing like me. I bet she’s unintelligent and mediocre at everything she does. Perfect for you. Send. Inside of me boils a mixture of fear and rage that not even the finest strainer could separate. It’s like my father is leaving me all over again. Why doesn’t he love me the way I deserve? Aren’t I worth more than this? Why am I not good enough? Why can’t I be like Isie? I’m useless. He’s useless. I’m useless. Julian, You won’t have to see me ever again. I know I won’t be able to look at your face. Don’t contact me again. Don’t expect coffee or visits or anything from me ever again. None of this is worth it. Send. I am not enough. I am not enough. I am not enough. I am not enough. I am not enough. *** “‘Recurrent suicidal thoughts or attempts.’” When I dream, I dream of home. Mom and I are in the kitchen, singing and cooking and dancing in our sock feet. Real Mom is nothing like Dream Mom. Real Mom is absent and angry and ashamed at raising a child without a father. Real Mom doesn’t want to talk about feelings. Real Mom gets mad when I cry, maybe because she’s worried that one tear too many will turn me into someone as sad as she is. Dream Mom, on the other hand, is perfect. Dream Mom alleviates the hollow feeling deep within me. Dream Mom is proud of me. Dream Mom makes dinner with me and asks me about my day and drives across the country to spend the weekend with me. Dream Mom fills me with nostalgia for a time when Real Mom was enough, but now I know Dream Mom, and I wake up feeling sadder and lonelier than before. Dream Mom wants me to be alive, no matter what. Real Mom understands why I’m not sure I want to be. 132 Archives After Dark


I am awakened by a harsh rapping on the door. The room is dark like pitch; there’s not enough light to see if my roommate is in her bed. I grope around under my pillow for my phone, which tells me it’s 1:52 in the morning. I groan to myself, angry at whom I can only assume is my roommate, who conveniently loses her keys every time I’ve finally fallen asleep. The darkness swallows me whole as I roll onto the ladder and stumble down my lofted bed. My eyes are puffy and sore, and for a minute, I can’t remember why. There’s a gnawing feeling in my stomach, and I’m convinced my body is filled with cement. I feel around in the dark for my glasses, and my hand knocks the Velveeta cookbook, still out from that perfect night, onto the dirty clothes piled on my floor. The rapping grows louder. “Just a minute,” I call into the darkness. I make my way to the peephole, but the darkness is so great that it spreads into the hallway, encompassing everything it touches. I vaguely wonder if there was a blackout from the storm and I just slept through it. The rapping turns into a pounding loud enough to match the throbbing in my head, and I fling the door open, desperate to make it stop. I am startled to see the culprit is not my roommate but rather two middle-aged men in police uniforms, guns attached to their hips. My body grows cold and I can’t breathe. The oxygen has been sucked out of the room. “Sadie,” the one on the left demands in his booming voice. I cross my arms on my chest, suddenly vulnerable in my stained sleep shirt and bare legs covered in months’ worth of dark fuzz. How does he know my name? “Sadie Williams,” he repeats forcefully. “Is that you?” The one on the right looks at me expectantly. “Oh, um, yep?” I mumble, shifting uncomfortably. “Mind if we come in?” the one on the right asks. “This isn’t the kind of conversation I want to have in the doorway.” “Okay.” I flip on the light, and they step into the dorm, giant and somber against my roommate’s tapestry. I stare at the left one’s gun, and it seems to stare back, asking, “Hey, I’m just along for the ride, what do I know?” “Sadie, do you know why we’re here?” the left one asks, following my sightline to his partner’s gun. “You aren’t in trouble; we just want to talk.” “Just want to talk,” the right one echoes. “Talk,” his gun says. I gulp. “Sadie, your teacher Julian Briggs contacted us after he got a concerning email from you,” the left one continues. “He’s worried. He cares about your safety first and foremost, and so do we.” The room is shaking, but the officers are perfectly still. They don’t Archives After Dark

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feel the walls collapsing in on me. The sinking sensation in my stomach has intensified, and my fingertips are tingling. I can’t breathe. “Julian…” I breathe. “He—” “Sadie, I’m just going to ask you directly: are you thinking about harming yourself?” I’m sinking, sinking into a place I can’t come back from. My face is burning, my arms are freezing, and my ears ring with the left one’s words. Are you thinking about harming yourself? “No,” I say definitively. “No, please. I don’t want—that’s not—I didn’t mean to start any of this.” “Sadie,” the right one says gently. “We just need to hear the truth.” My stomach lurches, and I shudder uncontrollably. “I think that— maybe I—Julian shouldn’t have—it’s not like that.” “Julian Briggs is a teaching assistant here, which means he works for the university. He is what we call a ‘mandated reporter,’” the left one says. “That just means that, when he thinks a student is in trouble, he has to get them help,” the right one explains. “That’s a good thing,” he adds, sensing my confusion. “A good—yes, of course. No, no, I’m not going to do—that,” I gush. “I’m so sorry. I didn’t—I’m sorry.” “It’s okay, Sadie,” the right one assures. “This happens more than you’d think. All we want to hear is that you’re okay.” Okay. I’m okay. I’m not even sure what that means at this point. “I’m okay,” I say. “I’m okay.” “Okay, Sadie. Do you have your RA’s phone number? She’s probably your best resource through all of this. I’m also going to send you a pamphlet, if you can give me your email…” I can’t hear a word he’s saying. My hands are going numb, and the color is draining from my face. I shut my eyes and pray—or recite—or pretend—again and again: please let me be anywhere but here, please let me be anywhere but here…. “In the meantime, Sadie, it might be a good idea to go to the counselor’s office on campus. It’s completely free to students, and it might be helpful. Remember, Sadie, we all get sad sometimes,” the right one says softly, “but you can’t let this defeat you.” *** “Sadie. Sadie,” a voice says, soft yet firm. “Did any of those criteria stick out to you?” I open my eyes and look at her. She looks concerned, and maybe 134 Archives After Dark


she should be. I’m not sure what to make of any of this. “Has anyone ever talked to you about Borderline Personality Disorder?” she asks sincerely, eye contact unwavering. “No,” I say, shaking my head vigorously. “No one but you.” “Okay. Good. Well, based on what you’ve just told me, I think that would be a great place to start. I’m actually very pleased that you’ve never heard of BPD, because most people don’t understand it. I don’t want you to feel negatively based on someone else’s perception of a disorder they know very little about,” she says. “Your diagnosis, should we choose to make it official, is nothing but a label that helps us better understand what it is we’re fighting against. It’s nothing to be ashamed of, and it’s nothing you have to share until you’re ready. By the end of this battle, you will be living for yourself, Sadie. No one else will be in control of how you feel. Together, we’ll learn how you can start to feel like a person. “You call the shots here, Sadie. We can treat this. We will treat this. We’re just going to do it on your timeline.” *** I am a complex individual. I am a person who has been through a lot. I am a college student affected by mental illness. I am the child of a mother who tried, who followed recipes and rules and routine to create some sense of regularity in my life. I am the child of a father who walked out, who chose not to love me in the way I needed to be loved. I know this. I know all of this. My therapist says talking about the past can help me sort out my feelings and symptoms. She’s convinced me that, Borderline or not, it’s a good idea to recognize my progress. Maybe my mother had the right idea all along. I try to remember her on her good days—in the kitchen, singing and cooking. “A little bit of cheese cheers everyone up,” she’d say in her sing-song voice. And we’d cook and cook, because it was easier to just be than to think of something to say. Breaking down each criterion makes it easier to sort out my thoughts. “Divide and conquer,” my mom would say. “That’s the way to get it done. First, combine the dry ingredients. Don’t worry about the rest. One step at a time, that’s the way to follow a recipe. We can’t think about the end until we’ve cracked all the eggs.” My therapist says it’s not our fault my dad left, and I think she’s right, but I wish my mom believed that. I wish she wasn’t so busy blaming herself for the actions of a man she couldn’t control. I wish I would stop chasing after a paternal figure to fill the father-shaped wound he left to fester. I wish I didn’t have to wait thirteen years to start figuring out how to Archives After Dark

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live without his love. I’m learning to crack the eggs so that the yolk won’t break. It’s not something I ever thought I could do, but I know now that nearly everything can be taught. Cooking can be taught. Self-love can be taught. Forgiveness can be taught. Everyone is doing the best they can, and one step at a time, I will learn how to live with love and not let it consume me. I really do believe that. I know how to cook and keep busy and follow the routine, day in, day out. I know that everything is not okay right now; but it will be, God willing. It will be.

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Homecoming

Nikki Watson, Junior, English

Eastern Maroons Homecoming Dance Card, October 19, 1935 | EKU Memorabilia

Author Statement A dystopian short story inspired by an Eastern homecoming dance card from 1935, “Homecoming” reimagines the traditional college homecoming dance, once filled with magic and music, as something much more sinister. By recasting the dance card as an admission ticket rather than a way to keep track of one’s potential suitors, this homecoming slowly unfolds into a night of murder and sacrifice, where nothing—and no one, from authority to family—is as it seems. The central characters, Harris and Sara, illustrate the anger and confusion that emerges when truth is obscured, whatever that “truth” may be.

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Homecoming “Next.” A man, maybe more of a boy at this moment, nervously approached the long plastic table that sat two significantly less stressed women. Only one looked up from her stack of papers as the man approached. Her eyes only met his for a brief second, before shifting back to her stack of papers. “Name?” she spoke softly, yet the demand in her voice was apparent. “Huh?” the man spoke back, voice wavering. “Your name? Do you not have one?” Her voice was louder than before, a sweet tang of venom dripping off of it. “Harris, sorry. Harris Tyler.” The woman sifted through her stack of papers, flipping through multiple times. Each time she restarted the stack, she sighed a little more heavily. She flipped through, three, four times, before looking back up to the man. “Harris, Harris Tyler?” “Yes, Ma’am?” “Are you lying to me?” Her question seemed to make everyone else in line freeze. A thick fog of tension and anxiety fell over everyone. Sara herself felt her blood start to run cold. She glanced around the shoulder of the woman in front of her, trying to see the man, yet trying to hide her curiosity from the women at the table who would certainly have something to say about it. Does he not know what is going to happen, what will happen? He can’t lie, that’s against the rules. Sara’s mind ran with questions of concern, and those concerns only grew as the man stuttered while trying to find an answer. “Me, lie? No, ma’am, of course not, I wouldn’t lie.” His voice was soft, as if he was only speaking to the woman questioning him. Sara wasn’t even sure if she heard him correctly. “You wouldn’t lie? Well, I can’t find your name. So you must be lying.” If she wasn’t already short on temper, she sure was now. Sara could tell, just from looking at her, that this woman was tired. It was more than just physical. Her eyes dark and dreary, her whole demeanor lacked care and understanding. It made sense to Sara though. Handing out Homecoming cards had to be exhausting. “Calm down,” interjected the other woman. “I have it here.” She scanned a page of her stack one more time before speaking again. “He gets blue.” She grasped one football shaped ticket in her hand, extending it out to the man. Sara could see his shoulders sag, and one hand slowly extended out, fingers shaking, yet still finding the ticket to take. He held it in front of 138 Archives After Dark


his face a second longer before letting out a shaky breath as he opened it. He seemed to read a few of the details, yet his moment was short-lived. “Move, we have others to get to. Please.” The woman who originally addressed him spoke at him, her “please” hardly one of courtesy. The man looked to her, puffed up his chest and turned around almost militaristically to face the end of the line Sara was in. She looked at him, maybe even briefly making eye contact. She couldn’t tell for sure. She could tell, though, that it was an act. His chin quivered as he held it high. His eyes slightly red, more of a tinged pink as the colors reached his pupils. His stress was evident, a slight scrunch of his brow. Yet, all of this wouldn’t be noticed if someone wasn’t looking as intensely as Sara was. No one looked as intensely as Sara did. A small amount of sympathy leaked out of her. The man began to walk toward the end of the line, refusing to make eye contact with the others. In the cold of the fall, his overcoat covered most of his attire. A few details still weren’t lost on Sara. The wrinkles in his white button-down, the few exposed stitches in the armpit of his suit jacket, a few stray threads at the bottom of both pant legs. Sara never looked him in the eye as he passed, staring intently at his shoes. She was far too focused on mistakes than what color his eyes were. He passed quickly though, never looking anywhere other than directly in front of him. Sara returned her attention to the table in front of her. A few people remained in front of Sara. None were familiar faces. Sara wanted to see someone familiar, maybe even a friend in line. Someone to talk to, someone to break the tension within everyone. Sure, some were going to be placed in less than ideal situations. It wasn’t lost on Sara. But, it was a night to be something beyond just trivial student life. Did that not matter to them? Sara pondered her questions as those in front of her got their cards. A few maroon ones, a few blue ones. However, much less of a fuss than that of the man who came before all of them. Much more acceptance. A lot less visible anxiety. “Sara! So lovely to see you,” one woman greeted her. Sara approached the woman, the same one who made the fuss over the man. She had dark hair, a bright smile. Her smile lines so exaggerated Sara could tell immediately that her greeting was fake. It gave Sara some comfort, as she had no idea who the woman was. “I’m sorry, I don’t think I ever got your name?” If this woman could fake it, so could Sara. However, the woman scoffed. It was playful, yet the lingering undertones of disappointment still couldn’t be hidden. She was upset Sara didn’t know her name. “Diane! Diane from Lambda Pi Rho!” she exclaimed. Archives After Dark

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Now it made sense why Sara didn’t know her. “Oh, the co-ed,” Sara returned with a slight dismissal. The co-ed could never compare to Delta Sigma Delta. Diane held a tight smile, looking up with hatred in her eyes. Nothing hiding it now. Sara returned with a smirk. She got the reaction she wanted. Diane seemed to refuse feeding into it however, dropping the situation almost as soon as she brought it up. “Last name.” No question, a straight demand of Sara. Maybe Sara deserved it. “Price,” Sara spoke with no flare. Diane flipped through her stack. Within a few seconds, Sara had a maroon Homecoming card in her hands. She opened it at the table, seeing a track list on one side, some fancy people on the other. Nothing of real value for the night. No instructions. Honestly, quite underwhelming. “This is it?” Sara questioned before she realized it. Diane looked at her with a raised eyebrow. “Yeah, that’s it.” Diane looked around Sara before speaking again. “I hate to rush you, but we still have a ton of people to get to.” For a split second, Diane actually looked sympathetic. Like she really didn’t mean to push Sara away. The honesty surprised Sara. Honesty for honesty, Sara returned her own small smile. “Sorry,” she spoke briefly, turning around to exit the building again. She chose to look at the others in line as she moved toward the back of the line. Diane was right. Several people had filed into the building while Sara had been distracted at the table. This happened often, everyone waiting till the last possible second to come collect their tickets. Especially for those who knew they would be getting a blue ticket. With Sara’s first Homecoming, she stayed on top of everything. She had gotten her ticket as soon as they started handing them out. Her outfit picked out the very next week. She made the perfect preparations, ready to have a night of a lifetime. It really was. The dancing, the music, the adrenaline. It all flowed through her, a true unleashed and unhinged thrill raising her heart rate just thinking about it. Sara flowed out of the building’s doors. Light on her toes, and a pep in her step. All her fun memories from her year before flowed freely as she walked back to her dorm. She craved that this year would be just as great. This would be a second chance to be even more prepared, and even more creative. Sara spent her walk back to her dorm creating a mental list of supplies and possible outfit ideas. The second she got her dorm open, she slung her book sack onto a chair, rummaging through it and taking out a pen and paper before sitting down on her bed. She eagerly began 140 Archives After Dark


scratching down the ideas she had in her head. “Well, hello to you, too,” spoke a voice, with a hint of humor from the corner of the room. Sara looked up, startled. “Oh, mercy, Ruth, you scared me,” Sara sighed out. Ruth chuckled at her before returning to her closet, filing through clothes. “Making plans?” Ruth’s voice was muffled as she held a selection of tops against her chest. Each one a stark contrast to the brown hair that sat on her ears. Ruth was quite tall, too, and Sara in turn was quite envious. Being tall certainly helped during Homecoming. Sara wasn’t short, but she still needed just a little height to get a real edge. “Are you not?” Sara returned, still writing down her thoughts from her walk. Ruth now removed herself from the closet, holding a white button-down, a plaid sweater, and a loose black skirt with a fitted waist. Something she could move in, yet something appropriate for the dance. Ruth was always so smart. “Of course, I am. What do you think?” Ruth held the items in Sara’s direction. Sara looked up for a brief second. “Very nice. Are you excited?” Sara asked, standing up to pull out a small trunk from under her bed. Ruth sighed dreamily. She fell back onto her bed, staring at the ceiling. “I had a dream about it last night. It was so beautiful. All the halls covered in that dark maroon, everyone dancing.” She paused for a second looking down to Sara before looking back up to the ceiling. “I mean, I guess I don’t really know what to expect. Everyone I have talked to said their first was always the best. I hope mine is, but then again, if the first is the best, what about the rest?” Sara giggled. “You think too much.” Sara had finally managed to pull out the chest, open it, and move its contents aside before finding what she was looking for. A heavy thump alerted Ruth to look in the direction of Sara. Beside the chest, Sara had laid out a heavy set of work boots. Black in color, yet contrasted by a light brown mud across the bottoms. Ruth inhaled slightly. “There’s no way you’re going to wear those,” Ruth spoke with wonderment. Sara laughed this time. “My daddy gave them to me, told me that they’ll make an exception.” Sara then pulled out a pair of pleated pants, certainly too big for her. “Oh, you’re going to get into so much trouble,” Ruth spoke in a hushed tone, almost like Sara was already in trouble. Sara seemed far from concerned now though. “Don’t worry about me, okay? I’ll be fine. Daddy said if they gave me hell he’d come up here himself.” Sara’s voice never trembled. She definitely believed what she was saying. Her daddy made it very clear that after last Archives After Dark

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year, when her floor length dazzling dress ended up covered in mud and other unknown substances—along with heels that went missing early in the night—that his money would never be wasted like that again. Sara had originally protested, yet a power was held within her when her daddy forced her into trying on those boots and pants last time she was home. When she looked in the mirror, she saw a woman who wasn’t her, but who she wanted to be. She stood straight, her blonde hair sat on her shoulders damn near perfectly. Plus, the boots added just the right amount of height. It was a no-brainer, really. The next item she pulled out was a medium sized dagger, wrapped in a black leather sheath. Sara pulled out the dagger, examining her reflection in the blade. A few marks and dents were placed along the otherwise sharp and silver blade. About an inch and a half wide, Sara knew the damage it was capable of doing. “Is that what you used last year?” Ruth whispered, staring at the blade. “Yeah,” Sara said faintly. “Family tradition.” *** Sara sat at her desk, staring into a small mirror. Her blue eyes held an excitement that had to be restrained. She instead showcased it through her bouncing knee as she counted down the minutes till she could head to the auditorium hall. She was alone, Ruth having left to see her boyfriend after complaining that Sara’s jittering movements made her nervous. Sara really couldn’t help it, she was desperate for a great Homecoming, praying for one. She truly could understand that her constant unclipping and reclipping her knife from its sheath was annoying, but it was practice. At least she justified it as practice. The rattle of the alarm on Sara’s dresser broke her out of her anxiety, as she rushed over to stop the incessant noise. 7:45 p.m. Sara almost jumped for joy. She patted and smoothed out her outfit once more, topping it off with a white button-up. She grabbed her overcoat from its peg before rushing out the door. She expected her halls to be filled with others, just as eager as her. While some were there, they hardly seemed to share the same excitement as Sara. It almost looked as if they were fearful. Well, that hardly made sense to Sara. Everyone in this dorm was well off, why were they worried? She almost wanted to ask, but every time she even tried to approach someone it seemed they wanted nothing to do with her. After her third attempt, she settled for not getting her answer and instead began to follow the small group of people to the auditorium. 142 Archives After Dark


It was quite surprising, really, how an auditorium could fit the entire 5,000 pupils of the student body. At the entrance stood a few staff, making each person stop to register with the right group and the allowed weapons. Sara’s daddy often talked about the year the school allowed the students to use guns, until it backfired with the majority of the blue card recipients offing themselves with one they stole off of a maroon card recipient. What a horrific affair that must have been. Sara knew the rules though, like the back of her hand. Knives only. Apparently, it takes a lot more out of a person to slit their own throat than pull a trigger. As she finally reached the table, she rushed to hand her ticket over to the admin. He was brief, and Sara appreciated it. He double checked to make sure she had the right card, asked her to show her weapon, to which she complied. She knew the routine, it had long been held in many institutions across the states. Any possible derailment that the blue card recipients could cause had already happened. The universities were beyond prepared at this point, always keen to have a happy and safe Homecoming for their maroon card friends. The admin turned around, grabbing a maroon silk piece to hand to her. Sara took it and admired its beauty for only a few seconds before wrapping it around her waist. It was quite the contrast compared to her white blouse. It seemed at this moment the admin realized her choice of pants, only shaking his head in dissatisfaction for a second before returning to his friendly demeanor. “Happy Homecoming, good luck with those pants!” He gave her a charming smile before waving on the next person in line. Sara returned the sentiment as she glided away, shaking with excitement. Two other men, dressed in tuxedos, opened the door to the auditorium building for her. One of them glanced at her pants, his eyes widening. She gave a slight nod of appreciation, accompanied by a sarcastic smirk to the man who thought he could judge her as she hurried inside. She walked down a long hallway filled with historic portraits of past administrators. Sara never really paid attention to any of them, they weren’t her concern. What was her concern was the groups of military officers patrolling the halls. She did her best to avoid contact, as often they liked to harass maroon card holders. It was hardly fair to Sara how judgmental they were, especially since they never went to college anyway. No way they could understand the dynamics at play here. Two more men stood at the auditorium doors dressed exactly the same as the men before. Each opened a respective door as Sara approached them. They bowed and gestured their hands toward the inside of the auditorium. Archives After Dark

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This was Sara’s favorite part last year, the sheer sight was overwhelming. High ceilings held drapes of black and maroon. The white pillars and theater boxes contrasted the overwhelming dread of the blue card recipients. Mostly past alumni that had incredibly successful Homecomings and other admin got to sit in theater boxes. Sara’s daddy always said he deserved a seat up there. At the front of the auditorium stood two signs, one on the left reading “BLUE,” the other on the right reading “MAROON.” Sara took a seat on her respective side, hoping to see Ruth amongst the crowd. Instead, she was forced into sitting with a few individuals she didn’t know. She assumed they didn’t know each other because of their lack of conversation. There was an incredibly hushed silence among everyone. The auditorium in dead silence. It was so different from last year to Sara. It was typical for those in the blue section to be quiet, but the maroon section could get quite rowdy. Sara wished she knew why it was all so different. This was hardly ideal for Ruth’s first Homecoming. The ring of the chapel bell seemed to cast even more dread over the crowd of people in the auditorium. Not for Sara, however. She bounced in her seat a few times before settling down as she saw the President walk out onto the stage. He only went by “The President.” He strolled his way across the stage with a confidence and swagger unmatched by anyone else in the room. Last year he was greeted by a resounding applause and belts, yet this year it was only a scatter of applause. Sara was appalled. Not nearly enough of the maroon section clapped for their President. Most of the appreciation came from those in the theater boxes and Sara herself. She almost felt like the odd one out. The President let a quiet chuckle into the microphone before he began to speak. His thick southern drawl flowed like honey over biscuits to those who actually cared to listen. “Alright, good evening, ladies and gentleman,” the President held a pause as if he expected a return from the audience, yet he failed to hear anything. He didn’t let the hit to his confidence affect him however, turning his charm to a 10. “I am the President, and I would absolutely love to welcome you all to the 1935 Eastern Homecoming!” This time, he received some applause, still not as much as last year. Sara hung on his every word. Mesmerized by his silver hair reflecting the light just right, and his tux accentuating strong arms. Sara may have been a little obsessed. With right—the man was a legend. “I must take you all back, set a scene if I may. The year, 1913. I was a freshman, right here. In this auditorium, where one of you wonderful Maroons 144 Archives After Dark


are sitting. I was nervous, maybe even scared. My first Homecoming. My chance to prove I deserved my spot. All night I fought for it. Never a second of doubt, never a second of regret. No hesitation. Each dirty Blue I brought back was another validation that I was in the right. I deserved everything I had, and then some. “However, those were vain reasons. I’ve learned now. It was never about me, I never should’ve made it about me. It was about Sevu. It was about bountiful reaping for all Maroons. It was about pleasing, serving, and offering those to Sevu who would finally be something besides struggling. Maroons, please, remember tonight is not about what you get, rather what you give to the Blues.” Sara scoffed under her breath. Blues, she hardly aimed to give them anything. Anything for Sevu, she supposed, though. The President continued, turning toward the Blues. Sara glanced in their direction as well. A few were crying, but many more sat stoically. “Blues, your sacrifice, your release, allows us to continue on. To feed Sevu, and allow our spoils to spill over. Your sacrifice is far from vain. Far from impersonal. We respect you, we cherish you. This is your chance to be more than poor, to be powerful, to feed a soul so much more worthy than yours! To become a spiritual life force, guiding all of those who come after you. To be valued. This is your time!” The President seemed to spark a few more hearts in the crowd, as he got an applause much louder than his first one, and his face showed his satisfaction. He looked upon the crowd, then up to the theater boxes, sighing in wonderment. “This year is going to be just wonderful, I can feel it in my bones!” the President gritted his teeth and clutched his hands as he spoke out. He took himself out of his own excitement, almost to reserve himself again as he spoke to the Blues. “I must remind you all, accept it. You may not and will not fight back. A spoiled sacrifice is worth nothing. You must be free, you must be innocent. Make yourselves worthy; don’t resist. “I ask you all now, join me. In prayer. For Sevu, for yourself, for those around you. Join me, and join Sevu.” The President bowed his head and raised his arms to the sky, and others began to mimic. From off the side of the stage, Sevu was wheeled out onto stage in his glass container. Many from the Blues gasped and screamed. They must have been freshmen. Even some of the Maroons made faint noises. Sara must admit, she was startled by Sevu when she saw him for the first time last year. Grotesque was the best word by far to describe Sevu. From what Sara understood, his descent to Earth was actually an ascent from hell. His body, if you could call it that, was mostly mounds of gray, scarred Archives After Dark

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skin. Parts of him were blackened from the burns of flames, she had heard. Yet she expected that to be a rumor. His face was surprisingly human despite his massive size, though the disfigurement was extreme. Wide nostrils, sideways mouth, no eyes, just pits. He weighed a couple tons and took the shape of his container, similar to water. He was solid, though, that was for sure. Well, mostly sure, he had several holes along his body begging to leak almost black blood. His incredibly dry and crackling skin needed nourishment. The President began his prayer, in a language that was lost until the gods made their descent (or ascent) to Earth. It was unlike any language Sara had ever heard, with a heavy reliance on guttural sounds instead of actual words. Yet she followed along in prayer to Sevu for a safe hunt, for her friends and family. The typical prayer stuff. As prayer ended, Sara looked over once again to the Blue side. This time she made eye contact. A girl, looking younger than Sara, stared right back. Sara was almost intimidated by this action. Neither looked away from each other. If looks could kill, Sara would be dead. Sara wanted to be upset, but knew it would just be easier to let this opponent be her sacrifice and to try to one-up her. Besides, Sara saw the girl’s tear-stained cheeks; she was scared and Sara could end her fear easily. “Now,” the President called out, causing both women to break their staring match. “I, on behalf of the Board of Administration and Alumni Council, would like to officially commence this year’s Homecoming!” This time, a roaring round of applause. “Blues, you may exit the building. You have 10 minutes before the Maroons will follow. May Sevu be with you, and thank you for your sacrifice.” Some of the Blues rushed out, others walked gracefully. Sara’s eyes clung to the back of the woman who stared at her, making a mental note of how she exited to the left of the building. All eventually exited, though, and the Maroons waited for the gunfire. Their empty silence was answered shortly after with an all-toolong burst of weapons firing out the building. It was inevitable. Every year, someone tried something stupid, and the military police had to handle it. Maybe they didn’t like Sara’s kind, but she sure appreciated them at that moment. They kept rebels down, and discouraged those who thought they could fight back. Sara needed that. *** Sara stalked her way out of the left of the auditorium. She had to step over a couple of dead Blues to make her way outside. Once outside, she 146 Archives After Dark


looked and listened for any signs of life. Listening was key, as Blues had evolved to be almost perfect hiders at this point. She could hear some crunches of leaves. Maroons or Blues, she wouldn’t be able to know. She had a strong desire to get out of the cold, however, so she began her hunt in the first and farthest dorm from the center of campus. Around her was a blend of screams and music. There was a stark contrast between the two, soft ballads played while screams interrupted as a depraved reminder of what was actually going on. Sara’s daddy always said to ignore that feeling though. It would make her ungrateful to pay attention to it. So she did what her daddy said and worried about her hunt, not whom she hunted. As she entered the dorm building it was apparent something had already gone on down here. Blood was everywhere—on the walls, the floors, the ceiling. Even strings of flesh and muscle splattered the walls. This savagery had become expected of the men, almost a secondary game. Sara looked down the hallway toward a man she was unfamiliar with. He sat next to a body, sawing away at an arm. Only one other chunk laid beside him, suggesting he had just started his dismantling. She made sure she saw the maroon silk around his waist before she approached. “Hey,” she spoke, unsure what to say. “Oh, hi! I don’t think we’ve met, I’m David.” He extended a bloody hand toward her, and she shook it. “Sara. I just wanted to ask, did you see a girl in here by chance? Dark hair, my height,” Sara questioned. David sawed into a particularly tough piece of bone and gritted out a response to her, “Don’t think so. I got here pretty quick, too. Usually all the freshmen come here first, you know. Think it's so safe.” Sara sighed, “Yeah, I know, she looked young. Saw her go left, thought this was where she would be.” She glanced up and down the hallway as she heard the snapping of bone. “I’m going to check the other floors. Happy Homecoming!” she finished cheerily. David responded likewise, but Sara hardly stuck around for it. By the time he finished, she had started her way up the stairs and toward the next floor. “Wait!” David remarked as she made her way to the door. “Yeah?” Sara questioned. “I hear something upstairs, just a heads up.” “Thank ya.” Sara shot him a sweet smirk. Her bloodied right hand left a mark on the door handle as she entered the second floor. She wiped the remnants of David’s kill off on her pants. It was much cleaner than the first floor. David had really done some damage downstairs. Sara investigated the two rooms on her right and Archives After Dark

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left, neither having the prize she wanted to present to Sevu. It was almost frustrating at this point. The girl should’ve been easy to find. Sara exited into the main hallway once more with a new plan to investigate each room. Hopefully, someone hadn’t already taken the girl from her. She couldn’t lay claim to a particular individual; a lawsuit early on made that illegal. But she still felt like she deserved that woman, to prove herself over that woman. She already felt her heart breaking at not getting the chance. Sara exited another set of rooms in the middle of the hallway, still not finding her goal. She began to move toward the next set of rooms, but froze in her tracks. At the end of the hallway stood the boy from the line. Harris. Bloodied. Knife in hand. Blue silk now tainted with its own dark maroon. He looked much different than he did yesterday. All of his insecurity and anxiety now replaced with a ferocious fire. His stance was tall and empowered. His chin held high this time, without a quiver in sight. A slash of dots of red across his face, stark against his pale skin. His black hair slick with sweat or blood, Sara couldn’t tell. Nothing was more worrisome right now than the knife in his hand, and the maroon silk on her waist. Sara had pulled her knife, slowly, out of its sheath. Harris never told her to stop like she had expected him to, but watched with clear intent. Sara gripped the knife tightly, a slight tremble in her hand. “You’re the girl from the line,” Harris greeted. “You’re not allowed to do that,” Sara spoke in tainted wonderment. “Do what?” Harris had a sick grin across his face. Sara stood frozen for a few seconds before she responded again. “Sara Price.” Sara wanted to kick herself for not only giving him her name, but her full name. “Sara Price,” Harris repeated. “Harris—” Sara cut him off. “Harris Tyler, I heard.” Harris smiled wider, a flash of blood stained teeth sent Sara’s heart racing. “What did you do, Harris?” “It’s hard to say, he got me from behind first,” Harris turned to show Sara a section of his torn t-shirt, soaked with blood. “Next I knew, I dropped him, and I just let loose.” Sara inhaled sharply. “Your teeth.” “His neck,” Harris replied curtly. “You aren’t allowed to do that.” Harris laughed right in Sara’s face at that proclamation. “You said that already. If he didn’t want to die at the hands of a Blue he should’ve tried a little harder.” Sara felt a sting in her eyes. She felt sorry for Harris. Poor thing, he really hadn’t understood what he had done. 148 Archives After Dark


“You don’t get it; you’re tainted. You can’t be sacrificed. You ruined it,” Sara tried her best to explain, but Harris seemed to care even less now. “Yeah, I fucking ruined it. Everything is ruined. God forbid you can’t sacrifice me,” Harris spewed venom. “There is no God, only Sevu,” Sara spoke softly. “Jesus Christ, you’re brainwashed,” Harris spoke as if he couldn’t believe what he was hearing. Sara was certifiably insane to him now. “There is no Christ. Only Sevu,” Sara spoke, less sure of herself than before. Harris had had enough. He charged his way toward Sara. She panicked, pulling her knife up in an attempt to defend herself. She got nowhere, Harris had grabbed her arm in mid-air, twisting her wrist. “Drop it,” he demanded. Sara complied instantly. Harris grabbed her face in both hands, forcing her to make eye contact with him. She could feel the blood from his hands wet against her face, surely to leave streaks on her temples. She looked into dark pools of brown, pain and torment evident. Much different than the sadness from yesterday. “You’ve heard the radio, you know about the protest, the fight. You know this isn’t right anymore. That people aren’t standing behind this. It’s wrong. You know, the other Maroons know. You heard how silent it was earlier. The lack of support. The President is lying through his teeth. No claps for Sevu. We all know it’s not right.” Harris shook her occasionally as he gave his speech. “My daddy said not to listen—” Sara found herself interrupted by Harris’ screaming. “FOR GOD’S SAKE, LISTEN TO ME!” he demanded. He backed away from Sara, staring at her. “It's not okay. You have to know this. It's not okay.” Sara felt confused. Why was Harris so demanding? Yeah, it was far from a great scenario, but Sara was prospering. Because of Sevu. Because he blessed her. She was incredibly lucky that her family was able to pay her tuition the first year. In full. It was scraped together, but since her success at her first Homecoming she had prospered financially and academically. Because of the Blues in society, she could afford to be a Maroon. Of course she felt bad, sometimes. Like she didn’t deserve all the things she had. But she was always reminded, by herself or her daddy, that she deserved it, that she fought for it. That she sacrificed a Blue to Sevu to get what was rightfully hers. Like the President said—she did it for Sevu. Sara’s mind was racing. She was panicking. She didn’t have time to think before dropping quickly to her knees, grabbing her dagger and launching herself up toward Harris. She caught him off guard. Within seconds, her dagger had cut a slit up through his t-shirt and chest. The cut ran from his right hip to his left Archives After Dark

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pectoral. Harris howled out, stumbling back. Harris gripped his knife in his hand, taking an offensive stance. “Don’t make me do this,” Harris said, almost begging, “I don’t want to.” His stance faltered though. The pain from the slit across his chest too much as he collapsed onto one knee, the other leg stretched out to hold himself up in a show of dominance. His chest puffed with harsh breaths as he tried to pull himself to his feet again. Sara looked on from her stance above him, knife still in hand. She didn’t move from her place as Harris started to feel the direct pain from his injuries. He winced as he fell back against the wall, exhaling sharply when his slit back touched the wall. He rested his head against the wall, looking to the ceiling. “God, you’re a bitch,” Harris exhaled. “You need to come with me,” Sara spoke, turning the dagger into a stabbing position. Harris scoffed. “I wouldn’t make it out of this building, darlin’. I’m not going anywhere.” “To the President,” Sara said. Harris laughed. “You broke the rules, Harris. It’s out of my hands.” “No way, kid.” “You're going to die no matter what. This will be your end regardless. You’re tainted, useless. Either I kill you here for nothing, or they kill you for something. Give yourself purpose.” Harris looked at Sara, seeing no sign of emotion in her face. That was far more concerning than anything else she had done. Harris knew what he had to do. “If you say so.” *** As they began to approach the administration building, the music rang out again. A soft melody, familiar from the list of songs on her dance card. Honestly, it was her personal favorite of the list. The soft crooning of a female voice with a rhythmic melody for dancing. “Talk to me,” Harris said as he stumbled behind her. He had lost a lot of blood, and was hardly able to keep pace at this point. “No.” “Sara, please.” Harris grasped her arm softly. She yanked herself out of his grasp, almost falling over with the force of her own actions. “Don’t touch me, and make it quick,” Sara spoke. “I was a Maroon,” Harris whispered. Sara felt her chest tighten. 150 Archives After Dark


“My first year. But I didn’t sacrifice. Just pretended like I didn’t find anyone. Administration believed me for a while, but then rumors spread. I hid for a while, but once I found others—others who lied—I owned it. I intentionally didn’t find anyone. Told Administration the same thing when they asked me about it. They just told me my punishment would come later.” “The next year, I was a Blue. It was punishment for sure. The entire night spent running, never fighting. I survived though. There was a rumor that Administration put a hit out on me—” “No, that's not allowed,” Sara shook her head. “They don’t care what’s allowed, Sara. You have to understand. I got to carry on. But I lost friends. I had to do something, so I started talking, bringing Maroons to my side. They believe in the message. It spread like cancer after that. All your friends, who sat silent in the welcome address? They’ve been infected with the truth.” Sara stared at him. He was incredibly lucky she didn’t want to kill him. He wasn’t worth the effort. He was scum. He was a traitor. “You’ve turned on all those around you; you’ve gained no sympathy. Walk,” Sara demanded. “Sara—” “Walk.” “Sara, it's not about Sevu, it's not about the other gods. If they keep us down, they get their pockets flooded. Sara, your family will have money regardless. Sevu isn’t doing anything. You have to see that. It's the job your daddy works, not the prayers you pray. Your dad pays out for your position, because he earned his money.” “No, we pray night and day and we get—” Harris shook his head. “Oh, Sara, please, get it into your head! This isn’t about Sevu, this is about you.” Sara had had enough. “Walk.” “Sara.” Sara punched Harris' chest, propelling him back with a gasp as she struck the wound she had given him. He fell to the ground, clutching his chest and wheezing. “Walk.” Harris fought no longer. He dragged himself to his feet and began to walk to the building, Sara following behind. Harris pulled open the door to the administration building, almost letting it close on Sara as she followed behind. A few military police hung around the building, all staring in the direction of the two. As the two approached the doors to the auditorium, the music became almost deafening. Laughter and excitement bled through the door, as Harris and Sara shared looks. Archives After Dark

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“Go,” Sara said. Harris took a deep breath and opened the door. Inside, all the administrators and alumni from earlier filled the stage, along with the President. All dancing, eating, and enjoying the night. Champagne was being poured into glasses, the clattering of feet on the dance floor filled the air. No one seemed to notice Sara or Harris, and both looked on in almost amazement. The soft lighting was what impressed Sara the most. It was almost a whimsical sight. If she hadn’t known better, she would have mistaken the celebration for a wedding. Not a celebration for a bunch of college kids killing each other. Last year, sacrifices were brought at the end of the night. The bodies, or pieces of bodies, were fed to Sevu by each Maroon, and then a small dance was held—only an hour long, and little dancing occurred. Most were far too tired from the killing to enjoy the rest of the night. But, it was never this lavish, and never this happy. Harris looked to Sara, hoping she would realize what was before her. The manipulation was surely becoming apparent to her now. She couldn’t avoid it now. Sara stared at those on the stage, her blank face should have mirrored the excitement before her. She withheld. Sara pushed Harris toward the stage. As they approached, more people seemed to notice the two. A hush slowly began to take over the crowd, each looking at the state of the two. Harris, covered in blood almost head to toe. Sara’s right arm was bloodied, yet most of the rest of her was prim and proper. The President emerged from the crowd. He approached Sara and Harris as they walked onto the stage. He greeted Sara with a smile, ignoring Harris’ presence in general. “Darling, sacrifices aren’t till later.” The President had quite the silver tongue. “I know, Mr. President. He just—he killed a Maroon,” Sara spoke through her intimidation. The President smiled first at Sara, then at Harris. “You killed a Maroon?” the President questioned. “Yes, sir,” Harris spoke, chin held high once again. The President smiled. He placed a hand on Harris’ shoulder pulling him a little closer. “I figured this from you. No matter how we tried. You just couldn’t fall in line. I wish you could see, son. I really do. Just how important you really are.” The President squeezed Harris’ shoulder to emphasize his point. Sara looked on as the two interacted. She felt strange, watching it. It felt wrong for the President to address him like that. “Fuck you,” Harris spat. The President chuckled. “Well, alright. I need Sevu, please.” The President directed his 152 Archives After Dark


request toward the man on his right. The man nodded and moved with a handful of other men to move Sevu. “Tell me, honey,” the President handed a glass of champagne to Sara, “what's your name?” They clinked glasses. “Sara. Sara Price.” She felt sick. “Sara, a wonderful name, and a wonderful job.” The President turned around as Sevu began to roll out of his confines. In the hour and a half since the start of the event, he only looked worse. His skin had cracked open, creating sores that leaked white phlegm. Sara looked on. Harris turned his face away. The President was quick to grab Harris’ chin, turning it toward Sevu. “That’s your God. Use a little respect,” he spoke viciously. “You know, Harris, you’ve caused quite a lot of problems. So many. Detrimental problems. And now you’re tainted. No sacrifice, no value.” Harris held his hands to his side as he stared at Sevu. He thought Sevu was looking at him, but there was no way to tell for sure. This bastard looked two seconds away from turning into dust, if it wasn’t for the constant flood of pus from his pores he would have dried up long ago. The administrators weren’t far behind in their old age, hopefully to disappear into obscurity. The fewer administrators, the less probability of a Homecoming happening again. A man approached Harris from behind, a blade in his hand. Sara could see it, but tried not to panic. Instead, she returned her gaze to Sevu, opting for the sight of the grotesque rather than the sight of the…unfair. The President moved behind Harris, taking the knife from the man into his own hand. He played with the weight of it. Shifting it around in his hand. Harris never looked back, knowing he would only be feeding into the President’s game. “Sara,” Harris said, but Sara never looked. In fact, she closed her eyes. “I don’t think Sara cares, boy,” the President spoke. “Wait,” she stuttered out. She heard no response. No movement at all. Silence plagued the people, but soft singing voices filled the air above them. Sara looked to the President, her concerned gaze meeting his relaxed one. “Do you all do this, every year?” she questioned. “Do what, sweetheart?” purred the President as he stepped away from Harris who never moved. “Celebrate?” The President stopped, stood between Harris and Sara. “Well, yes, hun, we do. Don’t you?” Archives After Dark

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“Yes, I mean, sort of. Not really,” she spoke softly. “Well, we want to—have to—celebrate. Sevu wants us to,” the President gestured over to the mangled mess. Sara looked as if she expected Sevu to agree, or justify the President. The blob hardly looked alive. “I always thought you all just...waited. Everyone thought you waited. We thought it was all for us? For Sevu?” Sara wanted it to be statements she was making, but her nerves turned her words into questions. “Honey, we have to enjoy it. There’s no reason not to,” the President spoke softly. “We don’t celebrate, after we kill. Even my daddy said he didn’t celebrate after he killed.” There was panic in Sara’s voice now. The President turned his back to her, moving over to Harris again. “Sara, some things just have to be enjoyed.” “Sara—” Harris never finished. She heard the pained inhale of Harris, and out of the corner of her eye, she saw Harris drop to his knees, then onto his face. Sara gasped, trying in vain to hide her desire to help him. Harris never moved. Sara wanted to scream out his name, tell him to get up. She closed her eyes for a brief second, absorbing. She reminded herself this was how it was supposed to be. “I’m sorry, sir, I hope you can understand how strange my night has been. I didn’t mean to question. I’m just...so confused,” Sara spewed her honesty. The President approached her with a smile, embracing her similarly to how her daddy would when she returned home from a long stint at college. It was comforting. The President moved behind her, turning her to face Sevu. He was looking at her, actually looking at her. Sara was surprised, she didn’t even know he was capable of observing, but it was clear from his body language that he...wanted her? “Thank you, Sara. Truly. Your sacrifice will martyr on.” Sara raised a look of confusion and began to look frantically around her. The President gripped her chin forward, forcing her to look at the monster. Sara tried to scream. Searing hot pain interrupted her attempt. She looked down, the tip of a blade sticking out through her chest. She gasped, throat thick as tears began to spill. She looked to Sevu, who smiled. “He got to you,” whispered the President.

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Any Fool Can Kill Trees Shantel White, Senior, English

George D. Smith, undated | George D. Smith Papers

Author Statement My artifact, an image of George Smith seemingly sitting under a giant mushroom, drew me in because of the absurdity of the mushroom in the picture. Once I made my selection for Archives After Dark, I researched the different traits and purposes of varying types of mushrooms, and I found information about Honey Fungus—specifically, Giant Mushrooms (Armillaria ostoyae)—and used that species as inspiration for my poem. In it, I use the parasitic nature of the fungus and its effect on trees to explore qualities of abusive relationships. The connection between the fungustree dynamic and the toxic relationship imagery is constructed to do two things: first, to explore the topic of unhealthy relationships in a manner that is not typical or romanticized, and, second, to illustrate symbolic meanings for the reader to ponder. For example, the image of the tree’s “roughened bark” in the poem’s third stanza can represent a person’s defenses being broken down to reveal vulnerabilities, as well as literal human skin Archives After Dark

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being broken, either of which still leads to the “rotting” of the tree, or the relationship’s victim. With such metaphorical links in the poem, I hope the audience gains insight, not only on the severity of harmful relationships, but also on the fascinating, and deadly, qualities of nature.

Any Fool Can Kill Trees honey, at the very sight of you, my branches bend, aching before the snap. all that remains of me shivers and shakes until dislodged from their heights in a floating spiral, dizzying, colored green. upon contact, roughened bark unfurrows and softens to an oozing sap that collects, sticky like blood, on the forest ground. your creme-colored caps taint the umber of my ligneous roots, a vibrant display of our disparities, decay emerging. to make up for the loss of my coarse skin you decorate me with pale imprints, such tender, bruising spots. you came to me when the lilies bloomed, ivory petals opened to kisses from the spring breeze. i considered the temptation of the grass’s edge then, but you held me captive, enchanted, with the alluring charm of your infectious rot. 156 Archives After Dark


so now, the sway of my bare branches in the winter wind is the only imitation of life across the browning acres of the grove. with every brush of your sponge stem against me, it is a reminder, an assurance, that there is no leaving you, Armillaria ostoyae, because trees do not move.

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The Opening of the Mouth Ceremony Cailin Wile, Graduate Student, English

The Pyramid of Khafre, undated | Gladys Norris Hagenow Papers

Author Statement The image, “The Pyramid of Khafre,” caught my eye because of its depiction of tourists. I’ve always been interested in the idea of travel as a way to put physical distance between a person and a past version of themselves, and I wanted to tell the story of one of the women from the photograph with that in mind. I hoped to convey the idea of escape and of healing, to illustrate the reason for visiting Egypt and the changes taking place in one of the young women once she is there. The poem can be read as a sort of reclamation of one’s life, even in a place where death and burial are some of the most well-known aspects of the culture. The poem’s title, “The Opening of the Mouth Ceremony,” is an Egyptian ritual meant to allow a person to use their mouth and eyes in the afterlife.

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The Opening of the Mouth Ceremony i. morning bucks her hips against the world and you wake up slick with summer heat, dawn spreading legs and fingers into everything. you came here to hold hive and honey inside aching teeth, to feel a sting unlike fist and fury; you were the kind of small he loved to cross thumbs into and choke out. but here is sand and sphynx and a city that cools like coals at nighttime, they ask ‘why egypt’ like they don’t know that it’s the farthest place on earth, that camel foot in sand sounds sweet like whisper; you longed for organs held canopic under foreign fingers, crawled into jars all small and smooth just to be held by something safe. ii. when you turn a man to mummy the heart will clot inside his chest: you can pull sheets gauze-tight around him, let him purple that neck with opened mouth— but tonight you will wander against starlight to stand tall at nile-bank, and tonight you will find in that corpse-cold quiet something to call home.

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Tiny Flags Ashley Williams, Freshman, Graphic Design

American and British Flags, 1914 | Caperton/Burnam Family Papers

Artist Statement In August 1914, at the start of World War I, Mrs. Katherine Phelps Caperton and her daughter, Mary James, were stranded in Great Britain. These flags were with a note from her stating, "We did not know what inhuman creatures [the Germans] were and thought a small flag of our country would protect us in every way.� My piece illustrates this story by depicting a couple holding onto the tiny flags of their home countries. The flags circling them symbolize the love of their country protecting them from attack. The lighting of the piece represents the light the explosions would have created during the nighttime bombing of London, illuminating the city in terror and fear.

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Tiny Flags

Colored Pencils, Ink Pens, and Paint 11”x14” Ashley Williams, Freshman, Graphic Design

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A Logbook and the Gods of Old Stewart Zdrojowy, Graduate Student, English

Aquitania Log Book, 1922 | Hanger Family Papers

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Author Statement This poem was crafted out of my love of mythology, fantasy, and my deep adoration of mixing the ancient world with the modern. The purpose of my work was to portray a seemingly normal (though admittedly exciting) situation as something incredible, magnificent, and supernatural. Few things spark my fascination more than an adherence to a forgotten or ancient belief system in an era of modern sensibilities. Out of that fascination came my idea to write a poem about the ways in which the pantheon interacts amongst its own members and how dead religions gain new champions. For inspiration, I often think about the mundane, modern-day problems that people face and how that would be seen through the eyes of ancient peoples. Elizabeth Hanger’s small ship manifest and the newspaper clippings (detailing the effects of the storm) were so unassuming, but in a good sense. While some would say that they survived a hurricane while at sea, I wonder what an ancient Greek might have thought of all that. After all, we can all use a little more wonder in our lives.

A Logbook and the Gods of Old In a log-book of little note, contains all that’s left of what she wrote onboard a ship of majestic design. A real experience of the divine. Among the pages, a hidden truth rages, a story unseen behind the ink, of gods and men upon the brink. A meeting of ages. A century past, in Autumn’s realm, a vessel ‘dorned with gilded grace, where a captain stands at vessel's helm. Engines of power prove man’s pace, among the achievements of all creation. But the ships of man break separation.

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In 1922, the Aquitania trekked along the sea, but the envy of a pantheon was soon to be unleashed upon the unsuspecting ship that none could foresee. For the gods could abide no more the heights that men tried to attain, and with vengeance in their hearts, they sought to bring the Aquitania to Hades’ final Shore. The second day in the vastness of the blue, The Aquitania fell prey to the peaceful facades. First came Aeolus, who holds the violent storms, Herald of the tempest, released his winds. Yet, the ship kept course as the dark cloud forms. Aegaeus, lord of storms at sea, rises and his wrath begins. The air snaps as he calls forth Charybdis from the sea-bed, her chains strain as she writhes—whirlpools and tides churn. Cymopoleia rides the rising waves from the depths as harpies rode the gusts of winds at every turn and Oeolyca pushed the waves higher and higher. The pride of Man was tossed by the wrath of gods, shaken and turned as the salty hatred seeped into its bones. But the gods were far from sated, fear was not enough, they wanted souls for Hades and trophies for their king. Benthesicyme pulled the ocean’s fabric but the ship was strong and tough. Man’s iron and steel, to the sea-bottom they fought to bring the giant ship and all of its wealth, millions in lives and gold. Called from the void, Briareus, the vicious and cold, smashed through the decks, ripping off the cabin doors. Ceto, with her nets hungry for souls, cast her ropes, pulling women from their rooms and dragging them on the floor— drawn by a lust for souls to reap, at flesh and hopes she tore. Phorcys, presider of the dangers at sea, Blew the great shell horn, and hither the sea-demons came:

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Scylla, whose ravenous dog-heads roared in the waves, Acheilus and Lamia, the shark demons, watching for flesh tossed into foam, Echidna, the she-dragon of sea-rot and decay, claiming all she craves, and the Tritons, the mermen hordes, chanting from their tomes pleading with their lords to release them upon the earth. The drenched passengers cry out for mercy but the King of the Seven Seas approached in vicious mirth. A young girl, Elizabeth, saw divine fury rain down, as the broken crown of the sunken King rose up from the waves with his trident in hand to judge, as the Drowned lord commanded the soul of a hurricane to permeate them all inside of its spinning grudge. From her window, she sees all, knowing her bane. Drenched in divine retribution, she prays to gods of old, A single prayer of silent need—humble but bold. Poseidon, Master of Seas, halts his army. His minions and legions and demons lie still, and he listens as his new servant’s prayer falls into harmony with the compassionate prayers of Ino, mother goddess of the sea. Thus, the onslaught waited and soon after faded. For the gods, fierce in their passion, yet quick to forget, and as the prayers reached their king, they scattered with the winds and the currents. A week after the journey began, they made port. The battered ship with its scarred hull, A testament of human means, And a message from gods to men. In a log-book of little note, Hides a secret that no one wrote, of a girl’s deeds untold— and of a silent prayer to gods of old.

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Contributors: Cynthia Rae Baker Adrian Bryant Paige Freeman Olivia Jennings Kaylee Lambert Victoria Leggett Eden K. Lewis

Meghan McKinney Austin Morris Samantha Radomski Chaise Robinson Ryan Sergent - Payne Edy Thomas

Kaitlyn VanWay Nikki Watson Shantel White Cailin Wile Ashley Williams Stewart Zdrojowy

"While we all have spent nights in the library, this night in the library is completely different and unique. Every person who was a part of this experience was inclusive, encouraging, and positive every step of the way (even at 3am)." – Olivia Jennings, 2020 Archives After Dark Participant

"I loved that AAD is all about historical accuracy and imagination. We got to work hands-on with pieces from the past and write their stories. The experience was educational, creative, and empowering." – Eden K. Lewis, 2019 and 2020 Archives After Dark Participant

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Archives After Dark 2020  

Archives After Dark 2020