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LITERARY REVIEW

Ever After Review

ISSN 2164-5779

1

January 9, 2012

Volume 1 Issue 1


Tableof Contents

Snowy Tracks

Misty McMillan ...........................................................Cover

Let Go

Nancy Devine ......................................................

Settled in Stress

Ernest Williamson III.........................................

Page 4

Page 8

Years

Michael Keith............................................................ Page 9

Empty Apartments

Ken Rosen............................................................. Page 13

Chapel

Lorie Summerlin ..................................................... Page 15

Heroes Usually Die

Ryan Brooks ............................................................ Page 16

The Other Side of Sorrow

Ernest Williamson III.............................................. Page 22

Misery Lights

Dan Davis................................................................. Page 23

Icicle

Misty McMillan ........................................................ Page 28

The Ghost

Alexandra Oh ......................................................... Page 29 2

Ever After Review


Welcome to the first issue of Ever After Review. We’re very excited to share these stories with you all. Last summer, I had the idea to start a literary journal and decided to give it a shot. The journal would not be possible without the help of friends, family, and the authors of these great stories. It has been a lot of hard work and very time consuming, but now it is all worth it. I hope you enjoy these stories as much as we have here at Ever After Review. Tell anyone you know about our newest issue and help spread the word. We look forward to releasing many more issues in the future, so keep checking back with us. We hope each issue will continue to grow bigger and better. Remember: Every story has an Ever After.

Chase Cline Founder/Head Editor

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Let Go By Nancy Devine Sirens pierced the state fair sounds as though they were enemies: barkers guessing young women’s weight, race cars grinding the track into sprays of dirt at the grandstand, screamers on the Tilt-A-Whirl spinning in the warm air like mosquitoes above a stagnant pond. I smoked, trying to ignore all of it as I waited for my boyfriend Dylan to show up at the beer gardens. “Not going to quit those?” Dylan said as he walked toward me, his drying hair combed back, his jeans and t-shirt without wrinkles, smooth as perfectly rolled out pie crust. ““Great to see you, too, Dylan. Oh, and you’re late.” “Whatever. I took a shower in the dressing room’s grandstand entertainment showers. Pastor Gary’s sister manages the place. It’s really nice in there. And there’s a steam room.” Dylan leaned in and kissed my cheek, his mouth fragrant with vanilla and almond. He volunteered at his church’s fair stand which sold homemade pastries and coffee, though most people went there for the lefse rolled up with sugar and butter. Because I made and sold Indian fry bread at a booth not far off, I smelled of hot oil and dough, which dried on my fingers like plaster. It was loud and hot and miserable to work our stand at the fair, but it was a break from the typical summer work of driving it to a different parking lot Monday through Friday, a procession of days that became a blur of weeks until fall arrived and then winter. “Did you hear those sirens? Maybe ten minutes ago. Sounded like they were coming from the midway. I was just getting out of the shower.” “I did, but I figured it was just one more noise among the many here.” “No. Some kid went flying out of the roller coaster and was killed. Remember last night? There wasn’t much to hook you in.” “Yes. But it was kind of a pathetic little ride.” “Well, that pathetic little ride killed a ten-year-old boy. And his sister’s arm was severed. I guess as he fell out, she tried to grab him or something. Anyway, the wheels of the car severed her arm. People from the church were saying that maybe it could be sewed back on.” We paused a moment, me sucking on a Player’s cigarette that crackled like a piece of wood with a knot in it popping in a fire place, Dylan looking off into the dark distance toward where the prized cattle, pigs and sheep raised by 4-H kids were kept before competitions. The noise around us persisted, the voice of the announcer at the race track booming against car engines climbing the arpeggios of their screeches, music from a local band playing the evening’s first set in front of the commercial exhibits building. I dashed my cigarette in a sand-filled outside ash tray, one that looked like an overgrown, upside down finial, and put on some lip gloss, which tasted sweet, a simple syrup that masked the smoke, the raw remnants of tar. Or was it nicotine? “I think we should tonight. It’s been long enough, hasn’t it?” I said.

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“I don’t know. We should be careful, shouldn’t we? How long did the clinic say to wait? Six weeks? It hasn’t been that long,” Dylan said. He touched my elbow, his suggestion that we go into the beer gardens. “Four weeks. And it’s been five weeks and two days. I’m not keeping track of hours or minutes. But I’d say the procedure was done at two in the afternoon and it was sort of a rainy day, so maybe add seven and a half hours to what I’m not keeping track of.” We entered the beer gardens, a huge room under the grandstand that was converted every fair week every summer into a bar. Someone slapped up some Miller Light posters, a few Heineken wall sconces with a silhouetted shade that had fishermen backlit, and some shelves with randomly placed sports trophies and called it good. And patrons showed up to drink keg beer from white plastic cups with a rib near the lip. I kept walking, looking straight ahead at several long tables in the middle. A bar was set up to the right of the tables tucked under a bulkhead that must’ve housed part of the buildings ductwork and plumbing. Near the back, at a small counter, two women with flat-ironed hair sold pull tabs and beer coupons that unwound from a thick roll of red. Dylan and I went there first and got four tickets, two apiece. Then we made our way to the bar where several kegs were tended by college-aged boys in polo shirts and plaid shorts. We got our cups filled, the head on each like a vanilla milkshake. As we stepped away from the kegs, Dylan, his free hand on my elbow, nudged me toward an entrance opposite the one we came in. There we stood to the side of the doorway and against a wall where an almost-breeze cooled us slightly. I reached for another cigarette from my back pocket. “You can’t smoke in here. Remember the law passed last month?” “We’re practically outside,” I said thumping a cigarette against the pack. “Well, you can’t.” “Oh, yes! It passed. One more place I can’t smoke,” I said as I put the cigarette and then the pack away. “Wanna sit somewhere?” Dylan asked. “No. I don’t.” Though the plastic was sticky and flimsy, I held the cool cup to my head, not much relief from the heat but it was much better than actually drinking the beer, which was all you could get. People didn’t seem to mind. They stood in line for coupons and then beer, as if we were at some outdoor keg during high school, a farmer’s field overrun with drunken teenagers. But I didn’t see anyone I knew from high school or anywhere else. It was as if I wasn’t in my home town, rather some new place contained between entrances. “Dylan, we don’t have to wait any longer,” I said and resorted to a quick sip. “I want us to really be together again.” “God, Stacey. Quit needling me on this. I mean it.” “I’m not ‘needling’ you,” I said. “And that is a really bad choice of words, by the way.”

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As quickly as I could, I got out of the beer gardens through the entrance near us. I pitched my beer into a steel garbage can just outside the door, and some of it splashed a poster for monster truck races at the end of the week. The night had grown stifling, as if it and its contents were pressurized in a drum, the noise in it distorted, amplified, something, that would erupt—if it were not contained—into a cacophony louder and more discordant than the mess of noises at the fair itself. I thought I was going to vomit; my mouth flooded with spit and the aftertaste of keg beer, but I swallowed hard and kept walking, past four church stands serving home-cooked food, a cotton candy vendor, a snow cone stand, three booths selling necklaces made of puka beads and a group of women that looked like they might’ve been my classmates at one time, though I didn’t know if it was junior high or high school. When I got to the midway, I kept going, right under the arches that signaled its beginning, its tall columnar supports garish, painted the green of John Deere tractors, each festooned with metallic spray stripes that shone like re-used tinfoil. On the midway, people moved as one thing, a giant paramecium overtaking one of the paved walkways that wrapped around all the stands and the rides, including the huge Ferris wheel whose individual carts spun as the wheel rotated at the farthest end. But I found myself pulled, overtaken by something that kept me walking past all of them and all of it until I finally got to the roller coaster where the boy had been killed earlier. I stopped. A thick chain, slack and rusted, strung between two end posts prevented entrance, and a single sign on the control booth window read, “Closed Until Further Notice,” a strand of turquoise Mardi Gras beads hanging down below it, some carnie worker’s totem carelessly left behind when fair officials shut down the ride. It was no surprise that it was dark and silent, and no one was there. But beyond it—those four cars tethered at the end of the track by silver cable and yellow “Do Not Cross” tape, none distinguishable from the other except for the order in which each car sat 1, 2, 3, 4—at the edge of the midway lights, you could see the trailers the fair workers slept and traveled in, what they hitched up to something, so they could get to the next midway, the next town…. Were they as tired of driving those around as I was driving the Indian fry bread trailer to a different parking lot every week day? “Stacey, what the hell are you doing?” I heard Dylan’s voice, nearly on top of me, like a hand on my head. “I’m sick of you punishing me about all this. I’m sick of you blaming me for the abortion. I’m sick of all of it. Do you understand?” “Alright, Stacey. Calm down. I don’t blame you,” Dylan said. “Just stop. I thought we worked this all out. We can be together tonight if that’s what you really, really want.” He pulled me close, though it felt strange, as if the gesture came from somebody I’d just met. “What do you think those parents thought when they saw their child fly out of this rollercoaster? And what about the girl reaching for her brother? What do you think she thought?” I asked. “I can’t imagine,” Dylan said. Though I didn’t say so, just then I thought I heard a siren, another horrible noise needling the night or maybe it was just one of the rides, the clatter so loud you could never tell if you were falling or not, in danger or safe, strapped in and secure or unprotected as you approached the highest point from which you’d be sud-

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denly let go, your stomach dropping, like a child suddenly in free fall. Dylan and I stood in silence for a moment, though I couldn’t just tell who was holding and who was being held. “Let’s get outta here,” I said, my voice muffled against his shoulder, his damp hair cool on my brow. “Are you sure?” It took a few minutes before it seemed okay to move on; I mean…to really let go.■

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Settled in Stress Ernest Williamson III

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Years By Michael C. Keith He more rightly deserves the name of happy who knows how to use the gifts wisely –– Horace When he was a child, aliens had entered Vince Abbott’s life. The encounters were not infrequent, coming about a month apart over a period of a year. The first time he was abducted, at seven years old, he felt more curiosity than fear. It seemed like an odd dream involving cartoon-like creatures with huge luminous eyes and warm smiles. They had done nothing to arouse his anxiety or cause him discomfort. Little Vinny, as his parents lovingly called him, had been gently removed from his house and taken to a white, windowless room. There he was placed on a soft table the shape of the mushrooms his grandmother picked on the hill above her house. During his captivities––as the strange creatures touched him without seeming to touch him––he heard sounds that reminded him of the melodic chirping outside his bedroom window at sunrise. The several encounters that followed left him with no immediate memories. In fact, two decades would pass before Vince would begin to recall the long-ago nocturnal visits. At first the recollections trickled in and began to spook him. He feared he was losing his mind and wasn’t sure what to do. He thought about seeking a professional explanation before telling his wife, who was suffering the effects of a difficult delivery of their first child. In the end, he chose to hold off on both counts because of a growing sense that he had been given something important, even precious, by the extraterrestrials. What it was, however, remained beyond his grasp. Until late one night . . . On his way to his daughter’s room in response to her cries, the answer hit him like an unexpected thunderclap. One hundred years, thought Vince, they gave me a century of life to use as I see fit. His sketchy memory of the aliens’ farewell gesture began to crystalize, and now he knew that it had been their way of offering recompense for whatever it was they derived from their transactions with him. Their gift of time, the greatest gift of all, was payback for services rendered. Thankfully, he bore no physical evidence of their explorations. I can live a hundred years beyond my normal lifespan, he reflected, amazed and excited by the prospect. I’d be the oldest person in history! Maybe one hundred eighty years old or more. Being famous for being old was not something Vince had fantasized, but fame was fame, and the idea intrigued him. *

*

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Vince told no one about his extraordinary revelation, believing such an admission would be met with skepticism, if not ridicule. What’s the matter with you? You’ve really lost it, he imagined everyone saying, including his wife, Michele. As the days passed, the idea of using the remarkable largesse just for his own benefit struck him as selfish, and he decided to share the bequest with his loved ones. He would extend the lives of his wife, mother–– unfortunately his father had recently died––sister, uncle, and best friend. Since his baby daughter had her full life ahead of her, Vince felt he did not need to invest her with additional years. The actuarial tables had her living to be one hundred anyway. Time was on her side. He knew that by touching those he wished to endow with surplus years and silently repeating the amount

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of time he chose to give them would result in the transfer. Somehow that knowledge had been programmed into him too. After considerable thought, he decided to keep forty years for himself, giving his wife twenty years (reasoning that women normally lived longer) and the others a decade each. Vince wondered if the aging process would cease when they entered the extra years or whether they would continue to show the effects of time. God, what would I look like at 120 years old? he mulled, with a shudder. In short order Vince had extended the lives of those he had chosen. One by one, he altered the trajectory of their existences. I give you twenty years, Michele. I give you ten years, Mother . . .. He wished he could tell them how lucky they were, but how would they react to the news, he mused? It pained him that he could not let them know without their thinking he had gone over the edge. You did what? Extended our lives? What, with your magic wand? If he did let the cat out of the bag, he would then have to reveal his childhood encounters with the aliens, and that would be the clincher. He’d be rushed to the loony bin. Five years into his career as a cop would be jeopardized if word got out. The law enforcement profession was not known for its compassion when it came to employing the mentally ill, and that is how he would be classified. So you were abducted by little green men? Well, isn’t that nice. Your final check will be mailed to you, Officer Abbott. No, he would have to keep quiet about it and derive satisfaction from the knowledge he had done something wonderful for those he loved. That would have to be enough, yet the thought of not revealing his magnanimity gnawed at him. It took awhile, but eventually Vince accepted the situation for what it was. He derived solace in the fact that those he most cared for in the world would live longer because of him. Ultimately the thought made his life sweeter. Unlike the rest of humankind, Vince and his kin would not suffer the usual effects of heredity and happenstance, at least not for many years. *

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All in all, life was good for Vince . . . until it took a sudden dark turn. A week after the Abbotts’ daughter Nina’s second birthday, the toddler took sick. Less than a month later she was diagnosed with a rare form of lymphoma and given a limited time to live. Vince and Michele were beside themselves with grief. They spent endless hours desperately searching the Internet for information about the disease, hoping to come across some experimental treatment that might extend their child’s life. However, their formidable effort went unrewarded. No remedy existed that would reverse or even forestall her death sentence. As Nina’s condition began to deteriorate, the Abbotts were told the child would have to spend her remaining time in the hospital. “We can make her comfortable. She won’t suffer,” promised the oncologist. “I don’t want her to suffer,” said Michele, as if not hearing what the doctor had just said. “She won’t suffer,” he repeated. “Little children should never suffer.” “We do our best to prevent that,” assured the doctor, wanly. “We’ll see you on the fifteenth. Let me know

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if anything changes with Nina before then.” “We will,” replied Vince, escorting his distraught wife from the doctor’s office. Since his daughter’s diagnosis, regret about not extending her life as he had the others plagued Vince. If I had just given her a few years, it may have made a difference. A cure may have been found in that time, he obsessed. As the date to take her to the hospital approached, his regret turned to deep guilt and self-loathing. How could I have been such a thoughtless parent, he lamented, as he lay awake night after night. It was during this sleepless period that Vince wondered if he could make contact with his former abductors. If he could, he would beg them to let him reassign his years to his dying daughter. If reconnection with the aliens was at all possible, he figured he would need to be alone. Thus he used his insomnia as an excuse to move to the guest room. He encountered no resistance from his wife, who had become nearly mute in her grief. It was obvious she wasn’t getting any sleep either, because he had seen her staring at the ceiling at all hours of the night. Vince lay awake in the guest bed for several hours and, near dawn, finally drifted off. In a light dream state, he sensed the presence of the aliens. He was not, as in the encounters of his childhood, removed to a windowless room and placed on a mushroom-shaped table. Nor did he see the creatures that had hovered over him on those occasions. Nonetheless, he felt they were there, and he made a desperate plea to let him give his years to his dying daughter. Not long after, he awoke with a vague feeling that something significant had happened and slowly recalled that night’s experience. Uncertain whether he had actually encountered his abductors, Vince nonetheless ran to his daughter’s room to make the time transfer. As he gently caressed his sleeping child, he repeated the words, “I give you my years. I give you all my years.” Almost immediately, he felt intense fatigue, as if the incantation itself had drained him of all of his energy. It took a huge effort for Vince to return to the guest room bed, where he slipped under the covers and immediately fell into a deep slumber. *

*

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Michele Abbott watched as the sun rose over the distant hills. She had passed another night steeped in her measureless grief. “Please, God, don’t let this happen,” she mumbled repeatedly, as she put on her robe and headed to her daughter’s room. As soon as she opened the door, Michele knew her prayers had been answered. Nina was standing on her bed with her arms outstretched in greeting to her mother. All the color that had left her face in recent weeks had returned, as had the sparkle in her large eyes. “Mommy . . . mommy, let’s play!” she shouted joyfully, leaping to the floor and running to her mother’s side. “My darling, you’re better. So much better” cried Michele, ecstatically grateful for her child’s miraculous transformation. “Can I have some ice cream?” asked Nina, with a wide smile.

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“You can have anything you want, sweetheart, but first let’s show daddy how happy we are.” Michele took her daughter’s hand and they went to the guest room. “Vince! Vince!” she shouted, gleefully, opening the guest bedroom door. “Honey, we have our daughter back. Look . . . she’s completely recovered.” Michele pulled the covers off her husband and let out a scream. Before her lay a withered old man, whose half-open eyes gazed out at eternity. ■

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Empty Apartments By Kenneth Rosen It was nothing like his father’s. It wasn’t on the seventeenth floor of a luxury high-rise. To his father his new apartment was repugnant. It had a bathroom and a kitchen, both as afterthoughts. To his credit Abram kept it as clean, though, following his father’s practice of meticulous scrubbing even in the deepest of joints and voids. Laying on his mattress pad, settled into his new apartment, Abram envisioned the layout. Yes, yes, a futon across from a TV. Next to them a bookshelf, maybe. A coffee table atop a circular rug, perfect. And so he continued dreaming of a blue- and silver-handled utensil set that could match a set of blue and white tableware. After preparing his first dinner alone, Abram could swing from his shoulder a dish rag and retire it to the towel rack he bought and installed earlier that day. He wanted, first, the needs and not his wants. He sought essentials. Abram remembered the self-cleaning, automatic-grinding coffee maker from his father’s home and went out and bought one of his own. “That was a nescient buy for you, but I did love mine,” his father said one day. “My new one has an alarm clock that begins brewing at precisely at 7 a.m. I’ve got another call.” Abram would look into trading his in. Next he’d found himself in search of dishware only to fumble with change, nickels and quarters, in front of an agitated cashier. Instead he checked out with paper plates and cups, but was much happier. When he returned from the store he then noticed the absence of a dishwasher. Disposables were a good choice, he thought, less cleanup. A practical solution for the college undergrad. He then wanted art, something to hang on his wall, something of certain validation. Something he’d be proud of. “Hey Pop,” Abram said, “Are you free?” “I’m never free … only available,” his father said in a laconic breath over the phone. “Just wanted some advice on art. I’m looking around for the new apartment.” “That’s something we’ll have to discuss later, call me in the office tomorrow.” Abram figured he could do without the advice for now and find something on his own. A painting of hedgerows in Europe or a landscape of the Aegean, so when guests asked if he’d been there, he could impress them and answer in the affirmative. In Adam’s childhood home there was a particular painting, one feverishly favored by his father. It was an oil painting smeared and dripped and brushed and scrapped and dolloped with ranges of beige, shades of gray and thin-limb trees of burgundy. A gradient sunset or sunrise fell or rose behind the line of trees, leafless and bare they stood upright with not a single branch astray. Before her death, Abram’s mother was openly pleased at how it complimented the armchair in the living room, or how the grays went well with the drapes in the foyer. After work his father would come home and drop his briefcase below the mantel where the painting hung. Mounted on the wall above the dining table, framed in flawless, scuff-free aluminum frame the painting’s presence was viscerally palpable. And then it was gone. Left ajar by an unknown burglar, the front door had been kicked in. Abram’s father hurried into the dining room. Resting his hands at either end of the mantel Abram’s father bowed his head. A semblance of the painting was the dust free square on a vacant wall. He stayed there well into the night. After the break-in his suitcase was never seen under the mantle again. Abram had a similar emptiness on the wall above his futon. He pondered ways to fill it, ways his father would have if he’d been deco-

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rating the apartment. On Avenue B Abram perused a local artist’s gallery. Uptown he sought more refined, much pricier pieces. Still, across the river he found nothing. A despondent Abram entered the framing shop around the block from his apartment. A last ditch effort. Parallel to the entrance on the far wall above the counter hung an unblemished silver frame. Secluded from the rest by a single spotlight, proud, defined, immaculate, respected. The sound of the hammer was reassuring to Abram. And the frame veiled the wall’s void completely, making the soft hue of abandoned space seem at home within its borders. Although he lacked the color spectrum, he set to work on a copy of his father’s prized painting knowing his rendering could never instill within his father what the original had. And Abram became reconciled in its acceptance. ■

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Chapel at Lee University Lorie Summerlin

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“Heroes Usually Die” By Ryan J. Brooks Brooksy slowly poked his head out of the hole, his eyes scanning the wet, shadowed terrain, searching. Searching for what? He didn’t exactly know, but he would know it when he saw it. He always did, and it always saved lives. He could never put it into tangible words. It was just a knack he had for noticing things - minute things that just looked out of place with the rest of the world, such as one stick lying out of sync with all the rest of the sticks scattered on the jungle floor. A tell-tale sign of a trip wire lying unseen across the trail. Sometimes, it was a leaf that was turned over wrong, exposing a dry surface — all the symptoms of a pit fall full of sharpened stakes just underneath. Yes, this knack of his saved lives, but at times it put his own in a precarious position. Having good eyes, as he called it, often landed him the title of “Point Man”. A job most grunts saw fit for the platoon knuckle-head. However, putting a knuckle-head at point was very dangerous. It often resulted in good men being killed while the knuckle-head survived. So men like Brooksy were always chosen to keep men alive, as the saying goes. Tonight was no different. A mortar attack had seriously wounded one of his two assistant gunners, leaving him one third down. That’s how it always was in the Nam. He looked down at the wounded man who slept soundly, oblivious to the chaos surrounding him. Brooksy wondered if the man dreamt in that slumber. A slumber brought to him through a pain so unbearable that he lost consciousness to escape it. Would his sub-consciousness explain it to him? Would it help him understand why things like this happened? If he died this night, would he grasp the meaning of such meaningless ideas as war and combat, or would he pass on into oblivion, never to be thought of again by a world that never really seemed to care anyway? Brooksy thought these things as he surveyed the area around their hole. Then he heard “Poof Poof ”. It was the sound of two parachute flares in the distance. Either from his side or the enemy, but it didn’t matter. It produced the same effect. The light from the flares, like that of two street lights suddenly flipped on in the sky, allowed both sides to get a good view of the area. That strange orange light gave a new perspective to all for a minute or so while it floated slowly to the ground. Brooksy took in every part of the jungle in his field of vision with a passing glance. Just as the light twinkled and faded, he saw it. An unnatural clump of leaves lying about thirty meters to the right of the hole. Such a thing was never seen in the jungle. In this endless humid climate, dead things on the forest floor decomposed very quickly. There was almost no layer of leaf litter. Sometimes, run-off from the torrents of rain caused by the monsoons would push up piles of leaves, but the season was wrong for that to be the case this time. He squinted through the darkness, trying to mark the position of the pile. He thought he had it, and it almost seemed like it was moving. He turned his head and whispered over his shoulder, “Hey, Professor. You see that man?” There was no answer. Brooksy looked down and saw why. The Professor was still hunkered down as far as he could be into the bottom of the hole, his head between his knees, and his hands covering his head. His rifle lay on the ground, its barrel in the mud. Brooksy shook his head and nudged the man with his foot.

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“Hey, Professor. You alive in that cocoon, man? You better pick up your weapon and clean it off. You might be needing it here directly.” The Professor quickly raised his head, a look of horror on his face. He looked at his M-14 lying in the mud. Slowly, and with trembling hands, he grabbed his rifle. Using his shirt, he wiped what mud he could off of the barrel. He looked up at Brooksy and said, “Everything’s ok isn’t it? We’ll be alright won’t we, Brooksy?” Brooksy could see the fear in the man’s eyes. He had seen it plenty of times before, in men just like this kid here, only 18 years old. His parents had sent him to an Ivy League school, hoping to keep him out of the Nam, but the kid had barely spent a semester at school before he got drafted. However, the kid constantly mentioned his college experience. That’s why everybody called him the Professor, even though he was just a kid. Brooksy called him a kid, but in all truthfulness he was only about a year older himself, although you wouldn’t know it to look at him. Brooksy had only been in the war eight months, but this made him a seasoned veteran, an old man to new recruits. He wore the signs of experience in his eyes. He had the stare, the stare of a man who had been given a terrible burden. An unusually large amount of insight that young men should not yet have. A wisdom that usually comes to people with old age. All men who had been in this place long enough had the stare. Brooksy nodded his head and said, “Sure, Professor, as soon as you get your butt up and check on Bull. Make sure he’s alright and check his dressings. Don’t let them get too wet.” The Professor stared at him for a while, then nodded and slowly checked out their wounded companion. Brooksy watched to make sure he did it right. The Professor might be a newbie, but he had all the makings of a knuckle-head. Brooksy went back to monitoring the suspicious pile of leaves. Only now he couldn’t find it. He looked back and forth, searching for the misshapen lump. It had vanished. How could he let himself lose track of something like that? Messing around with the newbie, that’s how. He could feel the panic starting to creep up his spine, and he felt fear entering his mind. He pushed it back. Fear was the mind killer, he told himself. The Lord did not give him the spirit of fear. At least that’s what Preacher would say. This made him smirk. The last thing he needed to do was flip out. That could mess things up worse and get people killed, so he concentrated on locating the suspicious pile of leaves. It took him a few minutes, but he found it. It had definitely moved. Brooksy was absolutely sure that it was closer to their hole. He stared at it for an endless expanse of time. There had been no movement from the pile of leaves, and Brooksy was beginning to doubt that what he saw was anything more than his own imagination. He thought that he should give it up and scan the rest of his area, but something just kept nagging him about that pile of leaves. It wasn’t supposed to be there, and Brooksy knew it. Then it happened. It was a slight movement, but he caught it. A part of the leaf pile projected itself forward and moved something out of the way, then the whole pile moved forward and stopped. It was motionless, becoming a part of the forest floor once again.

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Brooksy now knew what he was dealing with. It was something all grunts knew about. This pile of leaves was a deadly enemy. A trained killer of the NVA. A warrior known as a sapper. These hardened men spent hours crawling on the jungle floor throwing grenades disguised as pieces of wood into the holes of unsuspecting soldiers. They were unwavering and fearless. They meticulously picked their way through the leaf litter, slowly choosing the best route, moving leaves and sticks out of their way. Then slowly placing a knee, an elbow, an arm, a leg down. Then nothing. No movement at all. This process could go on for hours until the silent assassin became close enough to deliver his deadly package and move on. Brooksy eyed the misshapen lump with a new-found respect and an ever-growing fear. He had not met anyone who had encountered a sapper. This was probably because anyone who had was dead now. If not from a sapper, from some other form of death in the Nam. There were just so many ways to die here, especially in this particular area. Brooksy’s unit was in the Arizona. Death seemed to love this place. You could almost feel it in the air. All marines dreaded it and knew that once they entered it, many men would not leave alive. The Arizona was always hungry for new blood. A great ball of fear and apprehension rose into his throat. Brooksy had been put to the ultimate test. From the minute he stepped onto the soils of Nam, he had been given grace enough to pass it. Always controlling his feelings and keeping his head when things got crazy. However, this was different. This was a sapper, and he was heading straight for Brooksy’s hole. It made sense. This was a key position along the perimeter. Brooksy was a 60 gunner. If his hole got taken out, it could open up a huge gap for the gooks to over-run the encampment. He had probably been marked in the fire fight right after sunset when the enemy had made a few runs on his position to test the boundaries. Brooksy and his AGs had to open up a few times. Then the mortars began, and Bull was wounded. Brooksy decided it best to stop awhile and switch to the M-14s. The M-60 was a good anti-personal weapon, but it also became a target when its position was marked. The sapper probably knew the weapon was in this general area and would dispatch all the holes around here to be sure. Brooksy swallowed the hard lump in his throat. It went down easy and stayed down. He didn’t have time for fear. He had a job to do. Many men would die if he did not kill this sapper. If Brooksy failed, then the sapper most likely would not be seen by any other. If the assassin passed his hole by, Brooksy could not get word to any of the other holes. Even if he could, it was not certain that anyone else would be able to locate the mobile lump of leaves. The only man in his hole he could depend on was wounded. The other was new to the Nam. No, it was up to Brooksy, right here, right now. He had eyes on the target, and it was headed directly for him. It might be a mighty warrior crawling toward him, but he was only a man, well trained and nothing more. Brooksy grit his teeth. He was a warrior himself. He had proved that, and he would prove it again. He slowly moved his rifle into his shoulder and pressed his cheek against the stock. He rested the end of the weapon on his forearm and placed his finger on the trigger. He sighted his target, picking a part of the leaf pile that Brooksy thought was the head. He took a deep breath and slowly began to pull the trigger. Nothing happened. He pulled harder, but the trigger did not move. A panic raced up and down his spine. He did not know what could be wrong. His weapon was well-taken care of, and there was no reason why it should malfunction. Then he realized what had happened. He laughed at himself. He had forgotten to take the

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safety off. He quickly took his finger off the trigger and flicked the latch from safety to fire. The sapper began to move again, and Brooksy changed his sighting, making a better judgment on where the head might be. The sapper made his movement and stopped once again. Brooksy slowly put his finger back on the trigger. Everything happened all at once. Before his weapon could fire, there was gunfire all around him. The silent jungle erupted with activity. Men were yelling, and there was movement throughout the perimeter. Explosions could be heard in different areas, but none close to Brooksy’s position. Both sides were fighting hard, and men were dying. Death had arrived in the Arizona. Brooksy became angry with himself. In all the mayhem, he had lost sight of the sapper. He searched for him once again. It was no use. He had vanished. Bullets whizzed by over-head. He couldn’t worry about that now. He had to locate the sapper before it was too late. He could hear the Professor cringing in the bottom of their hole. “Hey, Professor! Get up and put out some rounds.” A bullet sailed past Brooksy’s ear. He could feel its heat as it passed. “Hurry up!” The cringing man didn’t move. He was gone, locked safely away in whatever place in his mind he felt secure from all of this. Brooksy left him alone. He didn’t have time. The sapper was out there, and it was only a matter of minutes before he began to kill. It was hard for Brooksy to focus on anything. There were tracers and flashes from explosions all around, not to mention the constant bullets racing past his head. The sky was suddenly lit up as flares were fired. Brooksy got a good view of the landscape. He scanned every inch of it. Finally, he found the sapper. He was only about fifteen meters from their hole now and wasn’t moving. Brooksy quickly sighted him up. The light from the flares faded, but Brooksy didn’t lose aim of his quarry. He waited a moment while his vision re-adjusted. The sapper made a quick movement. Brooksy watched, thinking he was going to move again, but the leaf pile was still. There was a soft thud next to Brooksy’s foot. He glanced down out of the side of his eye. There was nothing there but a stick. But then Brooksy saw something else; a thin wisp of vapor rising from the stick. It was very faint, barely visible. Brooksy’s eyes widened. Without thinking, he reached down, grabbed it, and threw it as hard as he could. There was an explosion seconds after. It was pure reflex, but it had saved Brooksy and his companions’ lives. He couldn’t believe he was still alive. It was actually amazing what had just happened. In fact, it could only have been God that saved them. The wooden grenades used by the sappers, while effective, were susceptible to moisture. That faint wisp of vapor that Brooksy saw was the fuse burning in the grenade. The rain from earlier had blanketed everything with a good layer of moisture, which had obviously saturated the fuse. He quickly returned his attention back to the sapper. He had no trouble locating him this time. He

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sighted the sapper for a final time, taking a deep breath and releasing it. He placed his finger on the trigger. The sapper was on the move again, slowly pushing debris from his path. For a moment, it seemed as though Brooksy could see the man’s face. He could clearly make out two dark circles where the man’s eyes should be. He squeezed the trigger and said, “Not anymore old Ngyuen.” The rifle fired just as the rest of the calamity died down. It sounded as if Brooksy’s weapon ended it all. An eerie silence fell over the jungle as everyone tried to take toll of the losses. The sapper stopped his movement as soon as the rifle fired. He lay there motionless on the ground. He would never move again. Brooksy did not move either. He kept his weapon aimed on the pile of leaves and stayed that way until someone violently shook his shoulder to snap him out of it. It was the corpsman, going around looking for the wounded. “Hey, Brooksy. You alright, man? You look like death. Are you wounded?” Brooksy looked up and said, “Nah, I’m fine, Doc. But Bull is busted up pretty bad. Took some shrapnel from mortar rounds last night.” Brooksy released the grip he had on his weapon. His hands and fingers ached. He looked down at the Professor still curled up into a ball, sleeping. He had been like that the whole night. He gave him a soft kick with his boot and said, “It’s wakey time, slick. Get up out of there and give the Doc a hand with Bull.” The Professor lifted his head and stared at Brooksy. Then he nodded his head and helped the corpsman get Bull onto a leader to carry him to the choppers. Brooksy stared after them, shaking his head. Bull was a good marine and a good friend. Brooksy hoped he would pull through. He didn’t deserve to die in this place. No one did really. Not even the Professor. Brooksy turned his head toward the dead sapper and said, “Not even the NVA.” With his M-14 pointed and ready to fire, he walked over to the now immobile leaf pile. The sapper was lying face down. Brooksy kicked the man’s boot a few times, without getting a reaction. Then he slowly turned the body over so that it was face up. He lowered his weapon. There was no doubting it. The man was dead. There was a hole right through his left eye. The Professor came walking up behind him. He looked down and said, “Whoa, Brooksy! You got one didn’t you? Man, he was right here at our hole too. Look at all the grenades he has on him…is this a sapper?” Brooksy nodded his head without looking up. “Well sir. You took out a sapper. We’re lucky he didn’t get us. You probably saved us all, Brooksy. You’re a real hero.” Brooksy looked over at the Professor and said, “Man, get away from here. Get your stuff together.” “Alright, alright. Sorry man, I was just thankful is all.”

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The Professor left, and Brooksy continued to stare down at the dead sapper, a fellow warrior who died in the service of his country. No American soldier could have done better if he were in his place. It was strange what Brooksy felt at that moment. It wasn’t remorse. It was more like a realization, a dreadful realization of the true nature of things. He wondered if this man had a family somewhere in the world. If he did, they would never see him again because of Brooksy. Yet, he did not wish the man to be alive. If that were so, then Brooksy and many of his fellow marines might not be. No, this is what was meant to happen. These two warriors were brought together by forces out of their control, and God had favored Brooksy that night instead of the sapper. Nothing could be done about it. He sat down beside the slain warrior and prayed. He gave silent thanks to the Lord for bringing him through another night in the Nam. He prayed for the sapper’s family, then left. He walked over to his hole and started preparing to move. They had a few more nights left in the Arizona, then they would be heading to the rear. He thought about the Professor calling him a hero. No, that wasn’t right. Brooksy did not think he was a hero. The kind of heroes the Professor was talking about only existed in comic books. In the real world, heroes usually died. Lots of soldiers did rash things trying to be heroes, and they almost always paid for it with their lives. Brooksy didn’t want to be a hero. He was just doing what was necessary to keep him and his fellow marines alive. To him, they were all heroes. All soldiers who fought in this war – or any war for that matter – were heroes, including the enemy soldiers. He even thought the Professor was a hero. After a short meal, the platoon moved out and headed into the jungle, searching for the enemy. Brooksy gave one last glance at the scarred patch of forest where many men had died last night. It wouldn’t be too long before the jungle consumed all traces of the battle. Then another unit would stop there for another battle, leaving more dead and more scars. Who knew how long the cycle would continue? This was the Arizona after all, a part of the Nam. The previous night was only one day and one fire fight. Brooksy had been through so many that he had actually lost count. Walking through the jungle now, he knew that at any moment they could be fighting the same Viet Cong they did last night. With that thought, Brooksy was thrown to the ground as an explosion erupted from somewhere behind him. He was disoriented, and his ears rang. He grabbed his rifle and made ready to return fire. But he realized that there was no shooting. Brooksy looked in the direction of the blast and saw several men from his platoon quickly trying to provide medical attention to two marines. He made his way over and saw that a claymore mine had been tripped, blasting the two guys in between it. The one in front of it would be ok; his pack had absorbed most of the shrapnel. But the guy behind had taken the full force of the blast. Brooksy could barely make out who it was. An icy chill settled in his stomach. It was the Professor. The corpsman worked hard to revive him, but it was too late. He was gone. Brooksy was dazed. A fellow warrior, one whom he didn’t think much of, still deserved better than this. Brooksy was taken back to just a few hours earlier when he was looking down on another fallen warrior. He dropped his head as the cycle of death continued. He was about to mutter a prayer and mourn his fallen brother, but he had no time. The jungle around them erupted in gunfire. The enemy had ambushed them. Brooksy dropped to the ground, rifle in hand and returned fire. ■

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The Other Side of Sorrow Ernest Williamson III

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Misery Lights By Daniel Davis Strobes of blue, yellow, and red danced off the midnight snow. Patrolman Skip Manley, three years on the job, watched as spidery, translucent fog slowly crept across his windshield. With each exhalation, the view became minutely smaller, the world narrowing before his eyes. It was humbling, though not nearly as much as what lay out there. You don’t know. You don’t know. But he did. “Car 23, what’s your status, over?” The volume was low, but the squawking still made him jump. “Skippy, come back. What’ve you got?” He reached for the mike, slowly brought it up to his mouth. Fletcher, the lucky bastard on dispatch duty tonight, hailed him again. “Here,” Manley said. He let the static hiss for a second. “I’m not sure what I’ve got. It might be nothing.” “I’m not psychic, Skippy. Describe it to me.” “Tracks. The wind’s starting to cover them, but they’re still there. May be our snowmobile, may not be.” “Want me to send someone out? Clyde’s only ten miles from your position.” Manley wanted to be alone. But he needed the help. “Yeah, send him. I’m gonna go ahead and investigate.” “Be careful, Car 23. It’s cold as a witch’s left tit out there.” Manley signed off but didn’t get out of the car. With the roads in this condition, it would take Clyde an easy fifteen minutes to get to him, assuming he came right away. Probably, he would wait an extra couple of minutes, finishing his assigned patrol first. Clyde was like that. Manley glanced at the clock. 12:06, in bold blue strokes. A week before Christmas. Almost nine months to the day since the proudest moment of Manley’s life. A moment that, until just a few hours ago, had offered up an endless well of self-confidence. Yes, he could say to himself, I did that. That was me. Matt Hooper. What a poor, unfortunate, messed up kid. And right now, Manley hated him. Saved his life once, hated him now. Irrational hatred, directed more

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at himself than the boy. He knew what he would find out there, and part of him wanted to find it. Just a small part, one that wouldn’t be there in the daylight, maybe, but it was there now, and it kept Manley in the car until he couldn’t stand it anymore. Until he felt the pressure from outside pushing in on him, and he could no longer fight against it. He opened the door. The wind tried to close it. He got out, turning his face so snow wouldn’t get in his eyes. It was cold. Bitter. In the steady gale, snowflakes became pellets that gouged the skin. This kind of weather could cause a man to bleed. Nature became violent, unforgiving, irredeemable. Rebellious, like the boy whom it had just consumed. Manley pulled his coat tighter around his chest. He felt for his flashlight. The weight in his hand was comforting. He didn’t flick it on yet; the headlights illuminated the edge of the road better than his handheld light could, and there was nothing to see except the shallow tracks, quickly filling with snow. He knelt beside them. The muscles in his legs and back popped. He stood and stared out what little of the field he could see. Barren, winter-dead. The fields north of town were never interesting—a rotating pattern of corn, wheat, and soy. Now, in December, buried in snow, they were blank, a grey and white slate. In the distance, Manley knew, was a small grove of trees, perhaps even a creek. But before that was a good half-mile of open field. Kids trespassed in the fields every winter. They were the perfect place to take snowmobiles and ATVs. No one got hurt, and landowners generally didn’t mind. In the summer there would be parties amongst the corn, and the arrests for underage drinking skyrocketed. But in winter? No one was going to arrest a bunch of kids for having some harmless fun. But what kid would take a snowmobile out on a day such as this? The wind and snow that buffeted Manley were the remnants of one of the fiercest blizzards Charleston County had seen in twenty years. Schools and businesses had closed with only an hour’s notice. Matt Hooper, privileged and troubled son of the town’s preeminent lawyer, should have been sitting in his eighth grade geography class. Instead, he had taken one of the family’s snowmobiles out for a spin. The search had focused on the area south of town, where the Hoopers lived. No one could be careless enough to try to take such a vehicle all the way around to the north side of town. It was unthinkable. Manley knew Hooper better than that. The kid was on a first-name basis with local law enforcement, and even his parents couldn’t deny that he was trouble. But Manley knew him better than anyone. He knew that Hooper, for all his blustering, for all the trouble he had caused the county, was just a child, and always would be. He wasn’t stupid; he was naive. His own mortality would never have occurred to him. All that existed to Hooper, and others like him, was the action itself—the task at hand, the curious and exciting idea resounding in his head. Circle the entire town. No thought about gas, or the cold, or the inevitable impossibility of such an undertaking. Just do it now and boast later. The soil beneath the snow was frozen; Manley could feel it even through his boots, the rough contours of the tilled earth. With no barriers, the wind fought to push him down, knock him to his knees. Manley was a big man. How could a thirteen-year-old boy even stay upright? Hooper was small for his age. Fragile-looking, with

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a mop of curly black hair and freckles that made him look even younger. His looks, and his wealth, had convinced Hooper that he had something to prove. But even the largest ego succumbs to nature. Hooper had to be made of strong stuff to make it this far. If indeed he had. Of course he has. He’d crossed the road from the west. Probably turned around in the blowing snow; thought he was heading back to town, when in fact he was running parallel to it, aiming for nothingness. The lights in the nearest houses were out, and just a few hours ago, they would have been all but invisible. No sense of orientation. If it weren’t for his cruiser’s lights, Manley would have no idea which way was which. Face turned down against the wind, eyes squinted to bare slits, shadows pressing in all around—everywhere was the same. Nowhere. The tracks weren’t straight. They meandered. Hooper had been exhausted by the time he got this far, probably panicking. Just a little farther. Almost there. Ignorant hope. The same kind that convinces a kid that mid-March ice won’t break beneath his feet. Half of a small town cop’s job was trying to prevent such thinking; the other half was cleaning up after it. Manley could only see the tracks when he was standing on top of them; a few minutes ago, they had been clearly visible from the cruiser. Before long, all traces of the boy’s path would be obscured, as though he had never existed. Manley didn’t walk; he stumbled. The wind came in from the south, strong and steady. Maybe another blizzard coming in. The weathermen didn’t think so, but then, they hadn’t predicted this last blizzard. If there was a second storm on the way, the boy could go undiscovered until the New Year. Illinois winters had a tendency to drag on for two or three weeks at a time, miserable stretches where the days coalesced into a seamless lump of dirt and snow. Beneath the swirling flakes and the alternating thrusts of colored light, Manley could barely see the ground. He moved more by touch than sight. Each inch was new territory. Part of him hoped, part of him dreaded, that it might be the last inch he had to take. The sooner this was over, the better; but if it never ended, he could at least pretend that nothing had happened. But you know it has. His right foot struck something hard. Manley looked up. A mound lay before him, mostly obliterated in white. He reached out with a gloved hand and wiped some snow away. The cruiser’s headlights reflected off sparkling red paint. Manley wiped more snow away, creaking a shiny strip a few inches in length. A gust of wind came along and opened the wound further. The snowmobile was on its side. Manley did a quick analysis. The driver was tired, fell across the handles. The vehicle turned too sharply, toppled over. Manley used his foot to find his way around the machine. Thud. Thud. Short, sharp kicks, until his foot hit nothing but air. On the other side was a smaller mound. Curled. A few bits of clothing were still visible—part of an orange glove, blue coat. Hooper was an Illini fan.

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Manley knelt, brushed away enough snow to check for a pulse. The boy’s skin was colorless. Manley knew what he would find, but pulled off a glove and felt the frozen neck. Nothing but cold. He put his glove back on and wiped the boy’s face clear. His eyes were closed, his expression peaceful. They say you got warmer before the end. Your body’s final attempt to pacify the mind, to ease the panic of death. Hooper had also been cold the last time he and Manley were this close. No one had dared him onto the ice; he confirmed that later, in the hospital. He just suddenly got the urge. Walk across the pond, his mind had told him. Like Jesus did. Hooper wasn’t religious; afterwards, he couldn’t tell the doctors where the Jesus analogy had come from. It had meant everything to him at the time; later, it meant nothing at all. Manley had been on routine patrol. Just another day. He didn’t see Hooper go in; instead, he saw the crowd gathering at the pond’s edge, pointing, shouting. Manley pulled up, gathered what had happened in bits and pieces. Even before the full story emerged, he’d spotted the hole in the ice and was making his way towards it. Loud cracks resounded with each footstep. He slid the last few inches on his stomach, spreading out his body weight. Matt Hooper knew how to swim. Was, in fact, a decent swimmer. It was about the only sport his lanky frame could handle, except basketball, and he was too short for that. He spent summer days at the pool, doing laps, not really trying to impress anyone. Which was a good thing, because he never did. He wasn’t very good— no form, no finesse. He swam like he walked, as though no thought were put into it, as though he wanted to get it over with as quickly as possible. That afternoon, the cold sapped the knowledge from him. As soon as his feet touched the icy water below, all rational thought left his mind. All he knew was wet and cold, and though he made a few feeble splashes at the surface, all that kept him from sinking was his natural buoyancy and the frantic spasms in his legs. It wasn’t even kicking—it was just motion, kinetic fear. Manley could see it through the ice, streaks of movement, chaotic. Hooper couldn’t think, and Manley didn’t have time. He shoved his arm into the water, up to his elbow. Then further, to his shoulder, grasping blindly. He brushed the boy’s face, felt the gasp of desperation and surprise. Reversed the motion, grabbed the boy’s jacket, pulled upwards. Hard. Hooper was flung out of the water. Manley had never felt so strong, yet so powerless. His arm was numb by the time it cleared the water. The boy fell onto him; the two rolled over on the ice, so that the patrolman’s arms were around the boy. Manley felt the boy’s cold seep into him, through his jacket, into his pores. Bitter, sharp, as hard as the ice they lay on. Hooper’s chest moved, and breath misted from his nostrils. Signs of life. But such cold. The boy couldn’t have been in the water more than a minute or two, but he felt as though he had been down there all winter. “Come on, kid,” Manley said. His voice was just a whisper, a hiss. He clutched at Hooper’s chest, as though his fingers could pierce the skin and seize the heart, force it to beat faster. Manley’s body heat leached out of him, into the boy. No one else had ventured onto the ice—only Hooper was that careless, and only Manley that impulsive. They lay there, Manley listening to the pops in the ice, hoping they were nothing more than normal settling sounds. The boy’s breathing steadily grew to match Manley’s own; eventually, Manley felt a cold hand clutching at his arm. Instinctive, needy. The boy’s raspy breath became

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more focused, and Manley recognized the gasps as words. “What’s that, kid?” he said, leaning his head closer. “Why did it break?” Hooper asked. One word at a time, each as surprised as the one before it. As though ice breaking underfoot was such an alien concept that the boy couldn’t even grasp the possibility of it happening. Nine months since then. Awards, accommodations, publicity. The promise of a promotion. And through it all—pride. A life saved, a legacy left behind. Yes, I did that. And now it meant nothing. None of it. From one icy day to the next. That was all it was—Manley had merely postponed the boy’s death, not defeated it. “Come on, kid,” he said, but there was no conviction in his voice, and Hooper didn’t listen to him. Probably hadn’t the first time, either. He’d just merely done what felt right at the time. Impulse. Action. Living one thought to the next. Manley tried. Think of something, anything. But he was too cold, or too tired, or too old. He couldn’t follow the boy’s example, because he had no thoughts. Nothing but the blowing snow, shifting from red to yellow to blue, and the feel of futility in his frozen arms. ■

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Icicle Misty McMillan

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The Ghost By Alexandra Oh The day I turned thirteen, I decided to visit my grandmother once every week for a month. I made this resolution because, the day before, my friend Hye Ri and I went to a Confucius fortune teller in Sinchon who told us that we didn’t have boyfriends because we were not filial. And so, the day after I turned thirteen, I took the Bundang line on the subway from line 2, totaling thirty-three stops, and walked the fifteen minutes from the station to Grandmother’s apartment in Sunae, a subsection of Bundang, the southernmost district of Seoul. I really wanted a boyfriend. When I arrived at Grandmother’s apartment, I pressed my birth date into the numbered pad outside the apartment and opened the door. I could see Grandmother on the balcony watering her plants with a paper cup. Taking off my sneakers, I put on the little slippers Grandmother left out for visiting guests. Grandmother’s apartment was small—a kitchen, bathroom, and bedroom attached to a living room with a balcony. Our apartment in old Seoul was a little larger, with three bedrooms to hold Mother, Father, my two sisters and I. Grandmother lived alone, Grandfather having died from an illness before I was born. There was a framed photograph on top of a cabinet in the living room picturing Grandmother, Grandfather, and Father as a little boy. When I was younger, and when it was winter, I used to grab the little photograph off the top of the cabinet and bring it outside onto the balcony. I would sit in Grandmother’s favorite white chair and press my face to the glass of the picture and blow air onto the face of my father. I thought that, maybe then, the lines of his lips would curve upward. Grandmother called me from the balcony. “Min Hee,” she said, her voice hoarse. I stood still for a moment. “Min Hee.” Grandmother called again. I shuffled to the balcony and stepped into grandmother’s garden. Grandmother’s petite body looked even smaller when sitting. Her white cat, Hana, greeted me with a purr. Grandmother was sitting in her chair, the only piece of furniture that could fit on the little balcony, so I positioned myself on the floor with Hana digging a hole in my lap. “Your mother called, Min Hee.” Grandmother pointed to a small box on the table. “For your birthday.” I opened the box, inside a green ring sat in the corner. I feigned surprise, hands raised to my cheeks. “Oh Grandmother, Thank you very much.” I put the ring on my pinky. It felt cold against my skin. Grandmother must have had small fingers when she was my age. Several times she had told me how much she loved this ring. Since I can remember, it had sat in a little case next to the photograph on top of the cabinet. It was a present from Grandmother’s own grandmother. “My own grandmother gave me this ring on my thirteenth birthday. Have I ever told you this?” “Yes, Grandmother,” I sighed. I turned the ring on my finger, and sighed again. Fidgeting on the hard floor, I wondered how long I would have to stay with Grandmother in order to be considered filial. I started thinking about what I learned in school about Confucius and all I could remember was the story of the girl in China during the Qing Dynasty who threw herself in the river because she wanted to follow her deceased husband in death. The government had erected a ceremonial arch in her honor. Hye Ri and I thought it was romantic, but after seeing the Sinchon fortuneteller, we realized it really had nothing to do with being filial and paying attention to one’s grandmother. “Did I ever tell you that I lost it in a boat? During the war. It found its way back to me one night, afterwards.”

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Startled, I turned my gaze to Grandmother. She wasn’t looking at me, as usual. Her eyes were on the sky. “Yes, Grandmother.” I groaned a little. Grandmother liked to repeat her stories. Mother said it was because of “senility.” I closed my eyes. Grandmother and I were both silent for several moments. I thought of my girlfriends meeting boys from school during the weekend. I wondered if they were at coffee shops in Hongdae or in Ehwa. The waiter at our favorite hang-out in Hongdae looked like Song Joong Ki, my favorite Korean actor. “Have I ever told you about the man I once loved in the North?” I opened my eyes abruptly. I began shaking my head, but Grandmother couldn’t see. Her small face was turned towards the sky. “He stole my ring the day after my grandmother gave it to me, claiming it was from a sweetheart, the Kim family boy or the Japanese school teacher. ‘How could you be so fickle,’ he asked, laughing, and then he gently put the ring on my fourth finger and said, ‘I’ve touched the ring now, so I’ve touched it last. You will remember me, won’t you, over the man who gave this ring to you?’” “I remember that my father had said that In Soo was a member of the proletariat, but you know, it was the way he looked at me that made me feel like climbing to the top of Baekdu mountain and screaming, a raw and scratching sound, and yet, also to whisper, yearning words. I both feared and hoped the winds would carry my words to his ears to wherever he was waiting. During occupation, our family was honored by the Japanese emperor for being a Japanese Language Family because everyone in my household spoke Japanese fluently, and we spoke it both outside and inside the home. My youngest sister was named Aki, as if she were of Japanese descent and not Korean born.” “But with In Soo, I never spoke Japanese. When we spoke, I could see my words in Korean floating into his ears and clouding his brain. And In Soo would whisper his own words of our country into mine like the wind in the rice paddies, “shh shh,” the curves of his hair rippling from his breathing.” Grandmother closed her eyes and leaned her head gently against the back of the chair. “Is it hard to believe? Where have you gone? I am a flute, which shrills at the touch of your lips. You said, wait for me on the other side, you said you would come to me at the end of the storm.” Grandmother sighed, “But, In Soo, my darling, I am tired, tired… and old.” Grandmother’s eyelashes fluttered closed. I left her curled up in her chair, a light blue blanket covering everything but her tilted head, Hana slumbering at her feet. Walking slowly back towards the subway, I went through a small resting area outside grandmother’s apartment. On a bench a young man was sleeping, a small red book tucked underneath his head like a pillow. Curious, and feeling romantic, I walked close to his bench, even though there was a lot of space to maneuver past. Dark eyelashes cast shadows on his soft cheeks. He was in a blue uniform. A student. I wondered what he’d look like in green. I whispered a word into the air, a word borrowed from my Grandmother. He moved, mumbling, and startled, I walked quickly away. The next week, I took the Bundang line again, but this time stopped at the station before Grandmother’s in order to pick up cookies from the Tous Les Jours bakery. I walked over to Grandmother’s, which took another thirty minutes. When I arrived, I found Grandmother on the balcony again.

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“I don’t think I’ve had cookies for ten years,” she smiled softly, lips closed. I poured her a drink of water and she softened the cookies before placing them on her tongue. “Grandmother, won’t you tell me about the boy you once loved?” Remembering the boy I saw on the bench a week ago, and the way his eyes looked when they were closed, I added, “Was he good looking? Did he have long eyelashes?” I touched my eyelashes with my fingers. Grandmother laughed. “Oh yes!” She placed her wrinkled left hand against my cheek for a moment then placed it back on her lap. “Very good looking. I was quite envied in the village because of the attention he gave me. But, not too envied, no. Everyone knew that nothing would come of it. He was of a lower class and I was betrothed at a young age to a man in Pyongyang. That is how it was.” “That’s horrible! I’ve only read about those sorts of things and I thought arranged marriages only happened in China!” These words burst from my mouth suddenly, and I was about to ask Grandmother if Grandfather had been the man from Pyongyang, but I hesitated. The cold wind from outside made Hana give a soft mewling sound and I quietly picked her up and put her face close to my mouth. She turned away as I blew air on her fur. Grandmother reached out her hand and tucked some of my falling hair behind my ear. “I was from the highest class. My father had lots of land and lots of friends before the war.” Grandmother coughed. “I only had two friends, Soo Ae, my closest friend who I left behind in the North, and In Soo. There were rumors in the village that the Japanese were losing the war to the Americans and people were gathering in groups in the marketplace to talk. Whispers followed my father around, who had the most to lose because he had the most friends. But, I didn’t know this until later, after the war. Back then; my congested head was full of clouds. You see, the night before the Emperor’s Address, In Soo took me out to the fields behind the schoolhouse, where the wildflowers grew. Stretching out both his arms, like an airplane, like the ones we often saw in the skies above our village, he raced through the meadow ahead of me, gathering flowers in his hands. He came back to me, feet shuffling, and with both arms trembling, grasping wildflowers in blue, green, and purple, he brushed them against my cold cheeks.” Grandmother reached out and grabbed my hands, tracing the lines in my palms with her fingers. “And his hands were scratched.” After my second visit with Grandmother, while passing the forested resting area on my way to the subway, I found the same boy from a week ago sitting, reading his red book. I approached him and held out my right hand. “Hello,” I said. Shading his eyes with his left hand he brought his right hand to meet mine. I felt his hands, soft but for several bumps and grooves, as if they were scratched. “Oh,” I gasped. Wrenching my hands away from his light grasp, I ran. The next week I asked my grandmother more questions about In Soo. Did he like to read? Did he have longish hair that curled behind his ears? Grandmother coughed and answered, “He was always carrying books. He had one by Nakae Chomin, and he had another in English, and he had one small red book.” I stood up quickly. “Grandmother, I think I’ve seen a ghost!” But the elderly woman didn’t react to my outburst. She pulled her blankets around her and looked to the clouds again.

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“The rain feels different in the South than the North. But it’s all the same.” She sighed. “My dear, won’t you help me inside. And tell your father to see me tomorrow.” But, I wasn’t listening. I was thinking of the young man on the bench. When I arrived at the resting area he was standing by a tree, his red book in his hands. When he turned and saw me I yelled, “I know who you are and it’s about time you… you… went back to her.” I felt nervous suddenly, a breeze lifted the edges of my skirt. My hands were cold, but my legs felt warm. The young man hadn’t moved from his spot, but was still gazing at me. Suddenly, I was afraid. I had thought to bring my Grandmother to meet him, but his dark eyes were on me, curious, and I was afraid. I whispered, “In a week. I will come for you in a week.” And then, I sprinted to the subway station. Four days later, my grandmother passed away. Father found her in her favorite place on the balcony, sleeping with Hana pawing her slippers. After the funeral, dressed in my white dress, Hana in my lap, I sat on the bench in the resting area. It was a week since I last saw my grandmother. It was fully winter now and the snow on the ground was brown, not white like Hana’s fur. I kissed her softly on the cheek. She purred, and then growled a little when it started to snow. The snow falling from the sky left little tracks on her fur. I unzipped my coat and put Hana inside, zipping it closed around her. She purred and then growled again when several tears fell on her head. Sitting on the bench, I thought of the boy with the red book and the scratched hands, and I wondered if he would meet me in time or if he’d never come back. ■

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Contributor

bios

Ryan Brooks teaches high school Biology, Chemistry, and Physics in Laurinburg, North Carolina. He currently lives in South Carolina with his wife and three kids. His fiction has been published in the “Snow Island Review” and the “Rising Sun”. Dan Davis was born and raised in Central Illinois. His work has appeared in various online and print journals. You can find him at www.dumpsterchickenmusic.blogspot.com Nancy Devine teaches high school English in Grand Folks, North Dakota where she lives. She codirects the Red River Valley Writing Project, a local site of the National Writing Project. Her poetry, short fiction, and essays have appeared in online and print journals. Michael Keith is the author of an acclaimed memoir and three collections of short stories. You can find him at www.michaelckeith.com Misty McMillan lives in North Carolina and is married and a mother of one. She has been a graphic designer for over 15 years, but is currently obtaining an Associates Degree in Digital Media Technology. She does freelance work and can be found at www.onegirldesigns.com. Alexandra Oh studies creative writing and East Asian history at the University of California-San Diego. She is working on her first novel. Ken Rosen is a student at the Savannah College of Art and design in Savannah, Georgia. Lorie Summerlin resides in Chattanooga, TN with her husband and two dogs. She is currently a student at Lee University, where she is in the process of obtaining her Masters in Psychology. Dr. Ernest Williamson III has published poetry and visual art in over 350 national and international online and print journals. His poetry has been nominated three times for the Best of the Net Anthology (http://www.sundresspublications.com/). The poems which were nominated for the Best of the Net Anthology were as follows: “The Jazz of Old Wine”, “The Symbol of Abiotic Needs”, & “The Misfortune of Shallow Sight”. He holds the B.A. and the M.A. in English/Creative Writing/Literature from the University of Memphis and the PhD in Higher Education Leadership from Seton Hall University.View more of his work here: www.yessy.com/budicegenius

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Ever After Review