Totem 2024 - Gannon University

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Totem is Gannon University’s annual studentproduced literary-art magazine containing poetry, short stories, prose, artwork, and photography submitted by the students, faculty, and staff of Gannon University. Totem strives to highlight the creative talents of those in our university community by sampling a diverse range of artistic media and perspectives.

All work is judged anonymously and on the merit of the individual work, and the work of the Gannon students is given first priority throughout the

process. Totem is published in early spring of each year and is distributed free of charge throughout Gannon’s Erie, Pa. and Ruskin, Fla. campuses.

Submissions can be delivered to the English Department or the Totem office, both located in the A.J. Palumbo Academic Center, or emailed to by the end of the fall semester.

No part of this magazine may be reproduced without written permission of the artists and writers whose works appear.

Gannon University

109 University Square Erie, Pa. 16541-0001


Totem 2024



Jillian L. Wells


Jada Abrams

Charlize Harding

Dale Hyland

Sophia Messenger


Ann Bomberger, Ph.D.

Associate Professor, English


Jillian L. Wells

Andrew Lapiska

Experience Designer and University Brand Manager, Marketing and Communications


Naaz Sumaiya


Ann Bomberger, Ph.D.

Associate Professor, English

Derek DiMatteo

Assistant Professor, English

Charlize Harding ’24

Julie M. Ropelewski

Instructional Designer, Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning


Iahna Adkins

Anna Brink

Ann Bomberger

Thomas Caulfidd

Emily Cummings

Matthew Darling

Derek DiMatteo

Lia Eberlein

Shreelina Ghosh

Charlize Harding

Carol Hayes

Dale Hyland

Rachel Jessup

Douglas King


Annah Maphis

Molly Mauer

Sophia Messenger

Kaustav Mukherjee

Tyler Niebauer

Genevieve Preston

Joe Preston

Dominick Prianti

Ava Stripp

Joe Spiegal

Paribhn D. Thapa

John Vohlider

Peter Wagner

Great care was taken to select the written and artistic works that are published in Totem. All work was judged anonymously on its literary and artistic merit. The judging panel for the written work consisted of an undergraduate student, a graduate M.A. in English, and faculty members, who were not permitted to submit their work to Totem. The authors’ names were removed and each piece was assigned a log number. After reading and re-reading the submissions, the judges met and discussed each submission one by one to choose those that best represent the university. For the art, a mix of students and faculty members scored their choices of work, which also had the names of the artists removed.

Totem is grateful to every artist and writer who submitted their work this year. The submission pool is open to students in all majors, to faculty across the disciplines, and to alumni.


Totem 2024 EDITOR’S NOTE

Life at its very heart is meant to change as do the seasons, the tides, and the weather. Going to Gannon and being a part of the English community has surely brought its fair share of challenges and changes. As an individual who started her college career in Biology, I have truly found a home in the English Department. Mrs. Carol Hayes brought me into Totem as a freshman, and I have been involved in its production ever since. Through the years Totem has taught me about the importance of communication, leadership and teamwork. Without the incredible work that is put in by everyone involved the awards Totem has won would not be possible.

This semester provided its own challenges with a new advisor, Dr. Ann Bomberger, and a new team of editors. Mrs. Hayes and Andrew Lapiska each provided wisdom for how to create a Totem worth being proud of. With their guidance, Dr. Bomberger and the editorial board were able to collect 108 art pieces, 26 poems, and 11 prose pieces. From this wide selection of submissions, we have printed 20 art pieces, 12 poems, and 6 prose pieces. The success of Totem would be nothing without the amazing pieces collected from students, faculty, staff and alumni each Fall. I thank all of you for making Totem possible! I would also like to especially thank the Gannon Press Staff for all of their hard work printing Totem each year.










9 PRESQUE ISLE Luke B. Bratton

12 HOME Jada Abrams



17 METANOIA Josna Susan

18 HUMAN NO RIGHTS Melaninnmaryy

19 IN THE WINDOW Jillian Wells

21 THE LUCKY ONE Jillian Wells





34 PASSION DIARIO Priyadharshini Manohar


33 A LITTLE GIRL’S JOURNEY Nomuunchimeg Ganzil

34 GROWTH THROUGH Maryam Abdulfattah



37 UNTITLED Honey Saileshbhai Parekh

38 SKYLINE Bella Fried

39 FLOOR-E Bell, Franz, Kelly, Malinowski

40 CHANGES Alejandra Tosado


42 TO BE GREEN Jillian Wells

43 CATCHING THE FERRY Skyler Parsons

44 HEART OF STEEL Molly Maurer



47 MORMON ROW Dr. Richard G. Orlando

48 UNTITLED Naaz Sumaiya

Totem 2024


52 WANDERTREIB Luke B. Bratton



68 MUERTE TOTS Anonymous

71 INTO A KNOWN PAST Emily Cummings

81 THREE SPIDERS Erica L. Peterson








Lori Jakiela, a Gannon University alum, is the prizewinning author of seven books. Her work has been published in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Chicago Tribune, LA Cultural Weekly, Brevity, Chautauqua Magazine, Belt, and more. The actress Kristin Bell performed Jakiela’s essay, “The Plain Unmarked Box Arrived,” on WBUR, and Jakiela has been featured on NPR and in PBS.

Jakiela directs the writing program at The University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg and teaches creative writing in the doctoral program at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. She was a co-founder of Veterans Write, a program that offered free writing workshops to veterans and their families.

Jakiela appeared at Gannon in 2024 as a distinguished author at the 47th Annual Gannon Writing Awards Program.

They told me I was going to Paris so why am I stuck in Atlanta, Georgia in a tiki hut on Bobbie Brown Boulevard eating crab legs out of a dented bucket?

A guy in a blue Hawaiian shirt loads the jukebox with a $20 and plays Jimmy Buffett’s “Why Don’t We Get Drunk and Screw” over and over and over then sends me a beer with a note that says, “Smile.”

I raise the beer to say thanks, hold a crab leg up in a salute, then ask the bartender for a pen. Somewhere there’s an ocean. Somewhere beauty’s waiting. On the note, I write back, “I am smiling.

Sincerely, Mona Lisa.”

Turning Point Books, reprinted with permission


I saw a scorpion in my bathroom roughly two and a half years ago, though it was not my bathroom, but one that housed my toothpaste and an array of blemish-fighting products. A temporary space–whose mirror I never quite got used to seeing my reflection in. I had finally left the shackles that trapped me in my hometown, one that has advocates who love it through the pits of its deepest potholes.

I stood there, frozen as if hit by a lake-effect snowstorm. It was then, that I knew I don’t belong here, no matter how much I hate the familiar roads and summer tourists when trying to get a chocolate & vanilla twist on a hot summer day. It was then, I knew, killing that scorpion would set me free of the delusion I put myself in.

I was born to live with chapped lips, to find myself in the place that I lost myself, even if for the rest of my life I plan on partially lying and saying I’m from “north of Pittsburgh” when asked where my hometown is. To smell of cheap vanilla perfume and wearing my father’s old crewneck he bought from an NFL game in the eighties. To be curled up in my temporary bedroom, flipping the fresh pages of a book I bought several months ago that I am just now getting to read–my own epilogue in this place slowly being written as I learn to dream realistically.

I can escape the smell of stale breath tainted with alcohol Trading it for fresh linens on a queen-sized bed, and I can reminisce About the first snowfalls that drown the last of autumn’s colors until the spring, where they dully emerge awaiting the rise of new life. This winter of mine is colder than those of my past. Even the ones I swore hypothermia would stop my heart. Yet, the seeds awaiting germination will be carried Far away, hopefully somewhere not infested by scorpions.

First place prize in the 2023 Gannon University Poetry Contest.


First sights on a ski trip, a proposal on a mountaintop, and a honeymoon in a blizzard.

First steps and then first ski boots. for children follow suit

Sunday mornings, each and early, under dawn’s light. A packed car and winding roads

Lured by fresh air and powdery landscape

Flat inclines called bunny hills holding on and letting go

Soon we seek trails marked with inky gems

Jumping and screaming and racing The wind is our only competitor.

On passionate feet

we descend freely and controlled. like the sweep of a fountain pen, white on white we stripe the slope with our signatures, but for only a minute.

At the end of the day,

When there are roses on our cheeks we retreat to the lodge.

O Tannenbaum

Deep, dark, heavy leathery, sweet, and smokey *

My mind has memorized

The spiraling inlays

On the thick oak table

And it is there where I now sit. The news half holds my attention

And in the background the plague I hear singing, Happy Birthday to you

I pull on my heavy wool socks

They were born in the United States and my boot’s beginnings in Austria and my mittens manufactured in China

I’ve seen the makings, but not the maker

Outside the tongue of snow licks

ski wax and epoxy backs

Spring is just warming Her throat It would be a nice day for a wedding Wouldn’t it?

The television reminds me…

We see them rise

With incandescent hearts

And motivations so humble

But He has stained his mind with the idea …of falling and so have the skiers and so have I, falling out of my old loves

Second place prize in the 2023 Gannon University Poetry Contest.

Today is a birth and a wedding and a funeral Which would you attend?

I have the world we made together, but I cannot see you in it.

We wrote this anthem a century ago But it was inapt on our Father’s lips Does it ring anymore true today?

Should I ski today, when the world is ending.


Izaak Bryson


Seagulls at the beach

Crying and wailing for naught Sirens in the air

I love the city but it wears on me

Came home to the beach to set myself free

Offering them bread

In exchange for some silence

Make the peace I need

Writing quatrains while the train dashes by Dropping off one-time visitors who sigh Clouds approach the sun

Challenge the authority Of the summer light

This town is nothing more than a birthplace With stubborn storms that only locals face

Rain comes crashing down

I flee to the dry tool shed

Immersed and alone

Writing quatrains while the rain is falling I hear the sound of my mother calling Earthly cinema

Nature is a performance

Standing ovation

Third place prize in the 2023 Gannon University Poetry Contest.


Bright and alight

We are stardust from eons

Let’s mature

Never burn ourselves out

But dance around and about

Outshine the clouds

Arouse the electromagnetic fields of our hearts

Sure- what we are made of

Is the same energy lighting our days

As the woman sways

Herself across the floor

Before she finds a mate

And all the folk are great

How can one ask for more?


Bella Fried


My Apollo, your laughter is pure poetry

Your smile warms my face with its sunlight

I need medicine for this crippling addiction to you

My Achilles, the jar of my heart is overflowing with ambrosia

From the pools of your bright and shining eyes

Every movement turning my body into carnelian stone

My Artemis, the night is silent in your name

Your voice a melody gracing a breath of wind

Shall we make more constellations?

If you are the sun,

Let me be a sunflower, following your every move

If you are the moon, let me be the tides drawn toward your glow

Like an Ancient Greek kiss, carrying a legacy of grace

You dance through my thoughts

Just as impossible to extinguish as Greek fire


Luke B. Bratton


“Presque Isle,” part two of a series of poems called Part and Parcel

I. The Bay

An ancient bay scattered with boats, Often frozen solid by March. She hugs the city, Looking over her people. Remember her past, she does so, with pride.

Indigenous lands, a sandbar for protection, and her friend...

The almost island.

Protected her, protecting her, Presque Isle sits by through it all, Watching each other.

Lake Erie, harsh and crushing at times,

But the bay? Glass.

Because of her friend,

The almost island. She survives to watch over her people. Her city.

II. Beaches

Sand, like abundant blazing needles on the soles of my feet, Burning, sharp... relaxing.

I gaze out into the abyss of our Great Lake, Erie, and she gazes back at me. Children and families play, Teenagers fall in love as sandcastles dry in the hot Pennsylvania sun. Books of summer are consumed as the smell of sunscreen wafts by. The totality of happenings clouds my reason and I—asleep on her shores. When I awake, red and refreshed, I cool down in our retreated and defeated glacial swimming pool.

I am cooled in her arms.

Thank you, I whisper.

You’re Welcome, she waves back.


III. Pathways

Veins of the park pump tourists around,

But I am no tourist of your veins.

I am part of you—your winds gust through my veins.

We run together, live together, with and through each other.

I walk your pathways, among your trees,

Your rocks,

Your creeks,

And waters.

In them I see myself—I have never been closer to myself

Than when I am with you.

IV. The Bayside Banks in Winter

Knives of silver threaten trespassers,

Windy shores blow water away as icy freezes stay the water.

Water in the air, frozen in time.

Icy knives colder than the coldest of days, but the wind does shake, rattle, sway

These pillars of water, solid and firm, unkempt.

The colder it gets, the sharper it stays. Ice: Unthreatened, Undisturbed, Unbothered.

I aspire to be sharp and cold, unbothered and unthreatened—

But you are also fragile.

I aspire to be as fair, as sharp, as brief.

I aspire to be like the bayside banks in winter.

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V. Lighthouse

Tall and Strong: a beacon.

Tall and Strong: a background.

Tall and Strong: an antique.

Tall and Strong: an attraction.

Tall and Strong: a vestige.

The age of technology has rendered you useless.

The age of tourism has rendered you profitable. Do you want to go back to work? You are a beacon no longer...

Tall and Strong: you remain a beacon, to me.

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I am from barefoot games of tag and the squish of muck between my toes, From sticky popsicles dripping across the wooden planks of the little house we pretended was ours, and long ropes attached to the seat that would swing from the old oak tree.

I am from creaky steps, scratched pine floors, and landline phones.

From the strum of a guitar not touched often enough, the clang of tools in the old garage, and the hum of a red tractor on which I took my first ride.

I’m from long roads without yellow lines and the wind blowing though my hair in my Papa’s TR6. From the tops of hills where fields stretched for miles and you could feel Heaven if you lifted your chin high enough.

I’m from a kitchen wafting smells that couldn’t help but make your belly rumble, a well-loved wooden highchair which stood steady for ten messy little babies, and a table that was always full.

From thanking my Heavenly Father for the food that sits before me, the family that sits beside me, and the life that lay before me.

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From bonfires in the cove at the edge of the yard and making shadow puppets against the canvas that would protect me from the creatures of the night.

From campfire tales and the echo of “Michael Finnigan” as marshmallows drooped off the metal sticks that twisted and twirled above the flames.

I’m from fuzzy kittens that appeared at the end of the driveway, a result of an owner’s neglect but my reward, the bark of a dog in the still air, disappearing into the trails, hidden by tall grass.

From learning the perfect “moo” thanks to the Holstein cows at the end of the drive, and how to catch the most lightning bugs, sometimes more than five.

I am from the clatter of dominoes and laughter that I’ll smile about for years. From hearts bigger than this state and a family far too big to possibly sit at one table. I’m from warm arms wrapped around me and love bursting from under the roof. And when I remember where I’m from, I’ll never forget that it is here.

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Our fridge was overrun by condiments and insulin, My sister’s Novolog taking over the butter drawer.

The roads were rarely big enough for two cars to pass by comfortably

And were usually made of beaten dirt or cheap stone.

Along these roads spread crater-like potholes,

And old couples strolling through retirement,

Making passive remarks about the town’s slow demise, Reminiscing on the “Good O’ Days.”

Our home was never without dirty laundry,

And laughter amongst friends.

My dad’s sports car from ’79 sat promptly in the driveway,

A statue earned by the pennies scraped in his teenage years,

Working the family farm and tending gas wells to get through college.

Mason jars lined the cupboards and dirty dishes filled the sink,

The wooden floors were worn from water damage, And nineteen years of living-room dancing.

The house grew as I did, Our names dried in the concrete.

I can still hear my mother’s sweet voice, Singing over her favorite CDs that blew out the speakers in our rusted pick-up.

I can remember the old couples dancing to cover bands during my shifts at the local bar, There was something about small town love and alcoholism, And the views atop the hills that you could mistake for heaven.

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There was something in the art of noticing it all, And romanticizing something so tragically ugly.

It was the feeling found in laughter and a warm home, Cluttered with mess, clean water, And stars that disappear under city lights.

It was the sad unjudgmental respect we had for each other, And open air that filled our lungs.

It was the restless need to leave, Restrained by an attachment to familiar roads.

It was welfare checks, broken backs, and blue-collar work.

It was fearfully “coming out,” While breaking in new work boots.

It was our parents praying we turned out better than they did.

It was Stars Hollow with a drug problem, You couldn’t quite fall in love with it, But you could never really leave.

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You seem happier now

Than you ever were before.

I didn’t even know you back then,

But the way you see the future

With longing eyes made me wonder:

How can one not feel the present?

Perhaps your smile is awkward

Because there are woes behind it.

Perhaps your smile is awkward

Because those muscles are untoned.

To me, unbridled smiles are authentic, Just like true laughter is boisterous.

I only understood when I got older,

Something the young me would hate,

That the toughest soldiers grey early.

Every silver strand was a sign

That you were victorious over youth

And lived to see mirroring waters.

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Josna Susan METANOIA

Golden sun-kissed lake, Lily of the Valley blooms, and we welcome May.

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Years in a cell life became jumpsuits and four walls

They came home to freedom to freedom that feels so small They learned, they grew, became rehabilitated

Came home to freedom but still, they feel gated put in applications and waited How come freedom feels like still being incarcerated

No one gives you an opportunity

The world becomes your judge and jury making it hard for them to continue their path

Second chances that’s what they’re told But it feels like one strike

where’s the opportunity they’re sold

When all the world sees is their crime

And they want to prove that they’ve changed

But rejection is what they get in exchange

America the land of the free

But somehow, they still feel shackled and chained

Second chances and opportunities are all they’re trying to gain

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I noticed her first from the corner of my eye. Beautiful I thought as I turned to look. Her hair a mess; strands falling from loose pigtails sprouting from her head, (not that she minded). She had a small nose, which crowned her lips. A blush, which brightened her cheeks. Her eyes, her eyes captured me, I couldn’t see the color, but they were glassed in wonder, a glimpse into her very soul.

With eyes so bright,

I wanted to see her smile, so I danced

(it’s all I could think to do). I swung my arms wildly. She waved her arms back. The cancan played in my mind, echoing through my flailing legs, she kicked her legs too. We swung our heads as the music crescendoed.

I looked away only for a moment, looking to the mundane world, wondering if in their monotonous day they’d noticed her.

There was just the bustle of a city. people rushing to work, the scream of a child,

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the bark of a dog, the rolling clouds coming through the sky on their way to block the sun.

Disappointed, I turned from the world.

As the girl in the window looked back at me,

I grappled with the ability to talk to her, to understand her, to see her eyes light up again.

The smile she gave reflected mine strained by the world, yet still there. I watched, and really looked at her.

Her hair was still a mess, her nose still small, her lips slightly grinning, her eyes letting you see inside her mind.

We smiled a little brighter.

You see, my hair was a mess, (from a day of grease) my nose still small, (different from my family) my smile only growing, (I had been dancing) my eyes, the windows to my soul.

(full of memories)

No one saw her, but that day I fell in love with the girl who danced in the window’s reflection.

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I pricked my finger on a safety pin, I burnt my mouth with impatience and hot soup, I stubbed my toe on the corner of the table, I shut my finger in a door while I was in a rush, I walked into a wall too engrossed in conversation, I tripped and scraped my knees.

But don’t worry, I’m the lucky one. Allow me to explain,

You see,

I smiled at lunch with my friends, I used the monkey bars until calluses bloomed on my palms, I slept surrounded by comfort and contentment, and I didn’t flinch at slammed metal doors, and I didn’t shiver under a desk grasping my friend, afraid.

I didn’t face the barrel.

So you see, I’m the lucky one.

Yet I hear recordings of a mother crying out “Is my child dead?”

Yet I see news stories new school new kid new thing to brush under a crowded rug

Yet the luckiest of us sit down while we grow tired of “luck” run dry. I don’t believe in luck.

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Dale Hyland


“Merry Christmas to all, and to all a goodnight,” the jolly man said while concluding his annual flight. He steered in his sleigh to lead it back home, and the last house he hit was the Pope’s back in Rome.

When he and his reindeer pulled into the shed, Santa Claus quickly dismounted from his red sled. He took the long dangling hat off his head, and “Thank you, my reindeer,” he gratefully said.

Santa walked to the door through the snow and the slush, and, on seeing him, Mrs. Claus began to blush. She asked how it went and offered him soup. He graciously accepted and recounted his route.

The warm chicken noodle he gulped down as well and related to her all that he had to tell. When all was completed, Santa mustered a grin and began to relax until he must do it again.

He unloaded extra gifts and the black clumps of coal and kicked back to relax and begin his sabbatical. For 364 days he would now live with ease until next year when again he would be riding the breeze. He retired to bed and reflected with joy at the work he had done for each girl and each boy. Examining their presents and smiling with glee, there were now dozens of new goodies under each tree.

As the weeks passed by, Santa’s wife pulled him in. “Guess what?” She remarked, “We need groceries again.” She asked her husband to go, and she gave him a list. For the trip down south, he bundled head, feet, and wrists.

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After he gathered all the groceries, Santa then went to the front desk after some of his money he spent.

There at the customer service desk is where he and all others could buy cigarettes and play lottery.

Santa is not a smoker, but with his extra bills, he asked for some scratch-off tickets to will. He gave each employee a ticket he bought and wished them good luck, interested to see what each got.

A young boy spoke first who was working until dinner, when he scratched off his ticket, it told him, “not a winner.”

He thanked the kind man and bid him adieu while his coworkers had some more scratching to do.

The manager spoke up and said, “I won twenty dollars! “How exciting this is, I can’t wait to tell my daughters!”

She asked for a picture with the jolly old fellow, “My youngest will love this. Santa is so mellow!”

Santa smiled and accepted the gratitude given, and then he departed, his car to be driven.

On the way home he passed through the trees, which, covered in snow, he had not seen such as these.

The winter wonderland paved a bright path as Santa returned home to not face his wife’s wrath. She thanked him and helped him move the groceries with care then they lit a fire, and they spent that night there.

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Later in summer the couple decided to go on a week-long vacation away from the snow. They settled on Florida, adorned with palm trees and to get there they rode on an airplane with ease.

Santa kicked up his legs and relaxed on the beach while Mrs. Claus enjoyed a bright, ripe Florida peach. After their trip including waves, sand, and sun, the two returned home for their vacation was done.

Santa’s elves were at work preparing with joy when Santa returned home with a list of each toy. He understood what was wanted by Sally and Sue thanks to mall Santas and his helpers like me and like you.

They spent the rest of the year in a seamless function making new toys and joining parts at the junction. Some would paint, would carve, and some would create, while the intention of each was for kids to elate.

For in a few hours, the whole world would wake, and with gladness all would have new presents to shake. T’was the night before Christmas and all through the house, not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.

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(a semihistorical account)

‘Twas the day after Christmas and all through the house, signs of Christmas were nary, thanks to my grinch of a spouse.

Stockings once hung from the mantle with care, were now packed up in cartons, leaving the fireplace bare.

Young daughters watched bewildered while scratching their heads, as mommy told daddy to “get his %$& out of bed.”

And she in purple t-shirt, leopard jammie pants, black socks, slowly eased her OCD by jamming ornaments in a box.

When out from the kitchen, daughter Emma said in a tizzy, “Mommy I’m hungry, and I feel kinda dizzy!”

Oblivious, my wife, to the cries of her kin, headed back to the cellar for another storage bin.

I sprang from the bedroom, to the pantry I dashed. “How ‘bout some potatoes? I can make home fries or mashed.”

On the stairs to the basement, my wife let out a yell, “I can’t open the door, and I almost just fell!”

“One minute,” I called, and put potatoes in water, “I’m making some breakfast, for your destitute daughter.”

But compassion is lost when she gets in this mood, “She’s been eating candy all morning, she can’t possibly need food.”

So off to the basement door I did race, tripped over some boxes and fell on my face.

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Onto the floor I fell with a SLAM!

Advised by young Avery: “Dad you shouldn’t say ‘DAMN!’”

Under my weight, ornament boxes were smashed. Had she been there to witness, my head she’d surely have bashed.

“If anything’s broken, I swear I’ll go nuts, those are special to me, don’t be such a klutz.”

As she rose from the cellar, in my direction a sneer, I started to snicker, due mostly to fear.

I attempted to help, grabbed a box from the shelf, “You’re doing it wrong, I will do it myself.”

The cleaning up process is solitary, you see, there’s no place in “Christmas Clean-Up” for the children and me.

Toys that were unwrapped just mere hours before, were stacked high upon shelving, behind closed closet doors.

Leftovers from dinner, cards sent by our friends, would not be salvaged, the trash can their end.

But it isn’t as heartless as first it may seem, friends’ pictures were saved, tossing those would be mean.

With the last box of ornaments filled to the brim, and the last signs of yule tide removed from the trim,

Surely, she’d finished, with this weight off her chest, Surely, she’d sit down with the children and rest.

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But post-Christmas cleanup wasn’t over just yet. The vacuum, the cleaners, the dust rag came next.

This is the tradition that makes her feel whole. Soft Scrub and Lysol ease her tempestuous soul.

Now the house glistening brightly, with a strong odor of bleach, and all sorts of cleaners now out of arm’s reach.

The children sat speechless, in awe of their mother. I reminded them softly, “Mommy’s crazy, but we love her.”

There will be many more holidays we’ll celebrate this year. Ones that pay homage to Cupid and have us drinking green beer.

But none where we’ll decorate, and no presents we’ll wrap, “Christmas is over, now let’s all take a nap.”

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Halavath Venu


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Priyadharshini Manohar


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Khang Mai


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Nomuunchimeg Ganzil A LITTLE GIRL’S JOURNEY

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Molly Young


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Honey Saileshbhai Parekh UNTITLED

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Bella Fried


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Emilio Bell, Allison Franz, Caleb Kelly, Anna Malinowski

Alejandra Tosado


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Morgan Schmitt


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Jillian Wells


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Skyler Parsons


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Molly Maurer


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Andrew Lapiska


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Dr. Derek DiMatteo


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Dr. Richard G. Orlando


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Naaz Sumaiya

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Luke B. Bratton


The morning sun irritates my eyes to open and pushes my cold face toward a smile. I peel my glued eyes open with the quiet force of an ant pulling a fallen leaf from the entrance of its hill. I place my feet on the cold, oak floor and extend my legs with a mechanical unraveling of bones frozen in sleep. My morning routine, the same as always. Each limb wakes up at separate times until I am fully ready to embrace the day. Today, I say to myself as I do every morning, Today is the day. Then it is time to walk. I do it every day, one foot overtaking the other, a mutual respect of movement. No thoughts can penetrate my action. It is movement. It is what I do.

Walking is a spiritual activity. It is reverent. I do not walk to work or to school. I do not walk anywhere anymore. Now I know that I have never walked anywhere, for that would be a mistake. When traversing someplace, my mind pilots my body. It is mechanical; a methodology, a pace, many determinants affect my movement toward something. My mind is the pilot, and the destination is the focus of my movement. When I walk, it is not my feet that are in control, nor my mind that pilots my movement. It is a total execution of my Being, a floating, a wandering. My Being is not directed, moved, rushed, or situated toward something. I am an existent in an existence, a series of pushes and pulls, a series of steps on an open plane. This is my morning routine. I walk, do not dare ask me where, for that is an insult to the wanderer.

It took me a long time to learn how to walk, but I remember the day it clicked quite well, to be certain—a Tuesday. I remember that Tuesday, when I ran home, hastily shuffled through my desk drawers, rummaged through my keepsakes, knickknacks, trinkets, and trifles, when I tore through old boxes of files and long forgotten projects and finally found it: a blank notebook and a pen. I remember that Tuesday when I impulsively ripped that book open from its empty slumber and began scribbling fragments of what he told me. I remember the taste of the air that Tuesday, that crisp, inspiring autumn air. I remember the way the September sun beat down on my face and kissed my forehead on my brisk walk. The sun, it was the warm embrace of a mother lost so long ago. I remember the smell of the bar—smoky, old like the dusty concrete of a forgotten fruit cellar. Cigarette smoke still lingers in the rafters of my head.

I was twenty-two, grateful to be done with collegiate life—bestowed with a degree in God only knows what. I graduated on Saturday, went home, and

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slept until Tuesday morning. I awoke that morning to the world waiting for me, ready to have me climb on its shoulders and look overtop it. Instead, I slept on the doorstep of its opportunity. I showered and sped into town. Dizzily, I trod down the city streets and back alleyways. I stuffed a lighter in my palm and wrapped my fingers around it to make a fist. My grandfather once told me to do this in a fight to avoid breaking my fingers. I wasn’t expecting a fight, but something compelled me to do this. Either way, I was ready. I walked and walked, then jogged a bit, then ran a bit. By the time my consciousness caught up with me I was out of the city, in a small village of farmers and miners. Thirsty, I walked into a small country bar, and sat at the counter.

“What’ll it be then?” The grizzled man running the bar called out to me.

“What do you have?” A stupid question, in retrospect.

The man, who I later knew to be John, was a veteran who purchased the bar after making a small fortune selling his land to the government for strip mining. He looked at me deeply, and from this look, I suppose he knew everything about me. I didn’t look rich...I wasn’t. To be frank, I was quite poor. This drink was going to be a treat, a treat that would cost me a meal, but I was in the bar already and so I figured I ought to get one. But he looked at me, poured a pint of stout, slid it across the bar, and with a look of disapproving approval said, “First one’s on me.” I nodded graciously, manly-like and backed away from the bar. When I turned around and looked at the others in the bar, I felt smaller than the pieces of earth caked on their boots. However, one man near the end of the bar looked inviting, I felt I could sit closer to him with the smallest amount of regret—a utilitarian decision. I sat next to him at the bar, close to the wood-burning stove that was barely burning, as this September day was particularly warm.

When I plopped down on the hard, worn-in barstool and raised the stout to my lips and pulled the bittersweet liquid, he put his hand on my arm and lowered the glass from my mouth. At first angry, I turned to him with a look of discomfort and anger. He put his hand on the bottom of my elbow and raised it, thus raising my arm higher and the glass back up to my mouth, helping me to sip beneath the froth and sip from the heart of the pint. When I set my glass down and wiped my lips, I looked at him and nodded. This

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nod was not the submissive, manly nod I gave John. It was a gesture of pure thanks; John was pitying me—this man was educating.

“Are you a miner?” I asked him, though it was just after I asked this question, I saw his attire. He shook his head softly, gesturing no.

He wasn’t a farmer, nor a miner. His clothes were strange. Tough denim pants with mud stains on the back of the calves, worn boots covered in mud, a gray flannel shirt with patches on the sleeves, with a brown leather messenger bag, an olive-colored bush hat, and an oak walking stick, engraved with symbols and names of places. I was intrigued. My eyes moved from his clothes to his face, a gray, cleanly trimmed beard, unkempt hair, matted from his hat, and wrinkles deeply carved into his face by the passage of time— carved like the ridges in the bark of trees. I suppose he was seventy years old, but my guess is as good as yours. I looked at him as he shook his head no, and asked him, “What do you do?”

“Walk.” He said in a thick accent, an accent that made remembering his words difficult. But I will try to recount the essence.

I asked him where he walked, now understanding the laughable ignorance I was coming from, and he did laugh a small, hearty chortle. He reached into his messenger bag and pulled out a small clay pipe. The stem was short, but the bowl quite deep. And then he grabbed a small leather pouch and pulled a pinch of tobacco from it. He filled his off-white clay pipe with the brown, beige, tan, and dark ribbons of pungent tobacco and struck a match from the same leather pouch. He lit his pipe and then shook the life from the match. After taking a few precise puffs to ensure the persistence of the ember, he looked at me and said, “How did you get here?”

I was taken aback by the suddenness and random nature of the question. His accent was also so strange and hard to place that I had to process the words individually to avoid the embarrassment of asking him to repeat. But once I gathered myself and understood his question, I felt no need to lie. I told him of my college years, my hopelessness, my depression, and my day—the events that led me to that country bar. I told him I walked there. He looked at me and said, “I believe you did.” What did that mean? He believed me? That whole story and all he cared about was that I said I walked to this bar? So, in my youthful hubris, thinking this man was some drunk, I felt better than

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him for some reason. I laughed at this “belief” he had in my ability to walk to a bar. He recognized this and his face changed. He knew every thought I had the courage to think.

“You do not get it.” He said as he put a ten-dollar bill on the bar. John came over and swooped up the ten and began pouring two more stouts with such skill, two glasses in hand. I felt small once again. Did this man pity me too? He looked at me in the same way a teacher looks at you when you forgot to read the book, or simply chose not to. It was a disapproval with an edge—an edge that implies an incoming lesson. I would not dare scoff or disengage. At this point, I was fully prepared to learn—to accept what was coming. John set the glasses of stout on the table. “Danke,” the mysterious man whispered in German. I thanked them both. John nodded and shuffled back to his conversation with his fellow countrymen. I looked at the stout and waited for the man to drink so I could drink. The man took his first sip, wiped his mouth, and took a deep breath. Silence.

I waited for him to say something. I waited until we had both finished our drinks. A hefty silence sat in between us. It interrupted me every time a thought to speak occurred. Then he stood up. I stood up. He looked at me and put his hand on my shoulder. I cast a deep, uncomfortable gaze into his eyes. Bluish-gray eyes looked at me—he looked past me, through me, into me. A 360-degree view of my entire Being. He held me in suspension. I was in limbo in his gaze, waiting for my judgement. Then it came. He picked up his walking stick and handed it to me. He chuckled lightly and stepped past me, turning to me before leaving and softly speaking, “Use it to learn how to walk—you know nothing.”

“Thank you,” I muttered or more aptly, mumbled. He started through the door, turning to me once again.

“Ein wanderer sein.”

Those were the last words he spoke. I slumped back in my chair and reflected briefly. What did he say? I thought. That was when I sprung up and ran home, past the countryside and through the streets. Bursting forth into my room, shuffling through the desk drawers, finding that empty notebook and simply writing those three words—they were all I could remember. Ein wanderer

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sein. That was fifty-two years ago. I never did return to that bar, nor did I see those men again, other than John, who would come into town from time to time.

Thus, today—after exhausting you with my yarn—I awoke and continued the routine I have kept for these fifty-two years. But now my bones remain frozen in sleep longer. The pain in my legs infringes on my mind and disrupts my walks—I have lost my ability to wander. But I have pushed through, each day tougher than the last, but I push forward. No longer can I wander, no longer can I walk, now I merely grind down further on the machine that has automated my movement. Today is the day, I mutter to myself as I do every day. But today I mean it. Today is the day I end my reign as a wanderer. Today I take my last walk, my last day.

The walking stick moves on to my daughter—a wanderer in her own right. This stick, my thumb worn into it, impressing into it, fifty-two years a mainstay in my routine. Now, a new thumb will impress into it. A new hand will wrap around it and stamp the ground. It is the instrument with which the wanderer works, the pen for the writer, the hammer for the workman, the rifle for the soldier. She is the heiress to the fortune that man granted me fifty-two good years ago. Lord, let her wandering—let her life—continue longer than mine. Ein wanderer sein.

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I. I splashed in the small creek adjacent to my house. The cool, crisp water felt heavenly in the blistering heat of the summer sun. Below the surface were minnows frolicking among the rocks and water reeds that lined the bottom of the creek. It wasn’t very deep, only a few inches, but to a child, it was nature’s pool. My younger sister and I spent hours upon hours down at the creek, flipping over slimy, moss-covered rocks looking for crayfish and frogs, and climbing vines that hung from the trees which overlooked the water like gargoyles, protecting our sanctuary. Dragonflies floated around, painting the water with flashes of blue, green, and black. Despite being located in the backcountry of northwestern Pennsylvania, it was the most serene place I had ever known. This seemingly insignificant body of water was my lifeline through many hardships in my life, the sound of trickling water pumping consolation and reassurance into my brain the way the heart pumps blood and oxygen throughout the body. It was my safe place, the leaves on the trees offering me a blanket of nature’s protection.

II. When I was about twelve years old, my sister, Jessica, and our close friend, Michayla, decided to go fishing at the small pond behind our house. The water was clear on the surface, unlike the murky brown slop that coated the bottom, constantly being stirred up by the bullfrogs that inhabited every inch of the waterhole. The sun was shining, the birds were singing the sweet songs of summer, and the frogs splashed in the water to take cover as we approached. There were not many fish in the pond; it mostly consisted of bluegill. A warm breeze kept us company, and after just a few minutes of casting their lines, they had caught a decent sized fish (probably only a pound, maybe not even, but large for a sunfish in a pond not much larger than an oversized puddle). It was about seven inches long with sharp spikes lining its spine. Its olive-green and gold scales sparkled in the sunshine, and its mouth opened and closed, gasping in the waterless air.

Typically, whenever we caught fish, we would just throw them back; we had no need to eat them. This time, however, my sister and our friend decided that they wanted to keep the fish and use it for a “science” experiment. They brought the fish to our creek and put it in an isolated pool to swim around in while they built a small fire out of sticks and notebook paper. Once the fire

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was roaring, they placed a rock on top to act as a pan that would help them cook the fish, although their original plan did not involve eating it. Now, I had to give them credit for taking such a mature initiative at just eleven years old. However, at the time, I was of the mindset that it was wrong to kill the fish for no good reason.

I begged them to let the fish go, wailing that it wasn’t fair. With tears running down my cheeks, I apologized to the fish over and over again for not stopping them. I blamed myself, sobbing that it was all my fault and that I should have done something to save it. Amid my sniveling, as I looked into its dying eyes, I suddenly felt a sense of calm. It looked at me as though it understood my misery over its life, and it appeared to give me reassurance that everything would be okay. After the fish eventually died on its own, Jess and Michayla did end up cooking and eating it to make me feel better, in a moral sense. It is amazing to me, though, how I could be so upset over something as insignificant as a mere fish. I have always known that I am a caring person, but the raw compassion I had for that creature in that moment will stick with me forever.

III. When I was little, my family (my mom, dad, and sister) would often go for walks in the woods behind our house. One day, we had been on a walk when a large black dog came upon us. It bared its teeth and snarled like a wild animal. Its fur was matted and dirty as though it hadn’t lived with humans in quite a long time. In an attempt to scare it away, my parents made as much noise as they could while waving large sticks in front of us like spears. It worked, but realizing that we might not be safe, they took us back to the house.

A couple of hours later, my sister and I were playing in our wooden “tree” fort when the dog appeared again. It stood at the base of the ladder and growled at us, snapping its jaws like we were cornered prey, either not knowing how to climb the stairs or trying to lure us down. We were both frightened, but despite my fear, I put myself between my sister and the dog in order to protect her if it decided to come for us. Being only five at the time, I was really too young to understand the danger we were in, but I knew that this dog was not like the loving, protective yellow labs that lived in my house and snuggled with me in my bed at night.

Not long after, our parents realized that the dog was back and fired a

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couple of shots in the air with one of their hunting rifles. After that, the dog disappeared for good. Over time, I have carried the same courage that allowed me to be able to sacrifice myself for my little sister throughout the rest of my life. Every time I walk in the woods at dark or even around Erie at night, I remind myself that I am brave.

IV. When most people think of stamina, they envision running marathons or lifting weights. For me, however, stamina is much more than that. It is the ability to sit in a tree stand twenty feet in the air through sun, rain, wind, and snow. It is being able to show patience in times of frustration, staying awake when you’re bored or tired. It is training your body to sit perfectly still and then moving without being seen or heard.

I have gone deer hunting since I was twelve years old, and let me tell you, it is not as simple as picking off deer like a sniper in the comfort of a box in the sky. As an archery hunter especially, hunting takes precision and dedication. You must practice shooting your bow over and over again until you cannot miss your target. You have to train your eyes and ears to pick up on every flash of movement, every crunch of a leaf. And that’s not even all of it. Assuming you manage to fire a shot, you must be able to use sufficient tracking skills to find a blood trail and follow it entirely, even when it is tapered down to droplets the size of the eye of a pin. Then, upon locating your deer, you must be able to field dress it and transport it back to your vehicle. Do you think this sounds easy?

My first solo experience took place on a beautiful October day. I was seventeen years old, and my energy matched the radiance of the sun that was shining down on me. It was just beginning to set, turning the remaining leaves in the skeleton-like trees gold. The final hour of light before dusk is typically the most active time in the woods; the deer are beginning to move and forage for their dinner. I was sitting alone in my stand listening to the screeching gobbles of a flock of turkeys in the distance when suddenly I heard a loud snap to my right. There, in the tall grass, was a beautiful sixpoint buck. He was no monster, but for my first archery buck, he was the perfect specimen, with a rack that wasn’t quite as wide as his ears and three points on top of each beam of his antlers. One of the points on the right side of his rack was broken off into a stub, but it still counted towards the legal requirement for my WMU (Wildlife Management Unit), 1B.

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I slowly stood up and reached for my bow, careful not to draw his attention. Once I had my bow in hand and knew he wasn’t looking, I drew back and prepared to take my shot. In theory, it’s easy. All you have to do is focus on your target and pull the release. In the real world, however, you have to be precise and prepared for anything. Upon focusing my pin in the vital area (the area near the shoulder that contains the heart and lungs), I took a deep breath and let go of the string. The arrow sailed and hit exactly where I had aimed, or so I thought.

You see, I had made a good shot. When I found the blood trail, there were bubbles in the blood, which meant I had hit a lung. I was sure I had a dead deer somewhere. The thing about deer, though, is that they are incredibly resilient, and this one showed greater stamina than I, as a woman and an archery hunter, had ever thought possible. My family and I tracked that deer for two days. We waded through creeks, ducked under thornbushes, walked miles and miles, and yet we never found it. I was heartbroken. Not so much because I didn’t get the deer, but because I felt bad for not making a better shot and leaving it to potentially die and rot.

Two weeks later, however, my mom was on her way home from work one day and saw that same deer, with the same rack and the same broken off point, near our house, appearing as healthy as can be. She couldn’t even tell that he had been wounded not that long ago. Not only was I relieved to find out that he had survived and was still thriving, but I was also able to let go of the immense guilt I had been feeling.

Hunting is not a sport to me and my family; it is our way of life. We hunt to provide food for ourselves throughout the year; we do not buy any beef products from the grocery store because we consume deer venison instead. Sometimes we process the meat ourselves, but usually we just take it to our local butcher that we have been using for over twenty years. I do not just view deer as game animals, I view them as sustenance and life itself. Every time I harvest one, the first thing I do is thank it for its life and providing food for my family.

One of the things that I am most proud of in regard to my hunting career is the fact that I have learned everything I know from my mom. She has been hunting since she was around my age, and over the course of her adult life,

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she has learned many skills, tips, and tricks in order to be successful in the woods. I can remember begging her to take me hunting with her when I was just a little kid. She didn’t let me go during deer season until I was about twelve (rightfully so, because a tree stand plus a small, noisy child equals no deer in sight), but she would take my sister and I turkey hunting in a ground blind when we were only four and five years old. As I got older, I was inspired by her passion for hunting, and eventually found my calling in it, too.

I am almost twenty years old now, and just the sound of crunching leaves in the woods gets my adrenaline going. I have gone out hunting several times this year (2023), and most recently, I was able to tag a large doe on the opening day of rifle season (11/25). The sun shone brightly in the cold morning air, and after I took the shot and located her, I placed my hand on her head, looked into her eyes, and once again showed my gratitude for this deer’s life. It takes a lot of respect to hunt. For me, it is even more difficult because I truly don’t enjoy the act of killing another creature, but knowing that I have utmost admiration for such beautiful animals is what allows me to appreciate them a lot more than the average hunter. After all, the circle of life exists everywhere, and we must always remember that in the end we are dust, and to dust we shall return.

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5:30 A.M.


My eyes bolt open because I know I have T-1 minute before the treats are poured across the table and the other Furball eats my pile. I leap off the bed and begin my quick strut, which seems like a sprint to me. Sleeping in the girl’s room in the basement puts me at a disadvantage because I must climb the steps with all twelve pounds of my body before reaching the top of the stairs, rounding the corner, and walking to the table.

As I reach the top of the steps, the Furball is nearing the table and the Lady is grabbing the treats from the drawer.

“Good morning, Gertie!” she says.

“Good morning, Lady!” I meow. She smiles at me. It’s pointless to even try to tell her anything, she never seems to understand. I like her anyways. And just when I thought I couldn’t like her any more, she pours me my own big pile right in front of me.

8:30 A.M.


Lady closes the door behind her, disappearing for the first half of the day. Now, I’m all alone in this empty house, minus the Man downstairs who stares at his computer screen all day. All the little ones that follow Lady around all day and never stop talking disappear, too. Girl #2 and Boy leave first, and Girl #3 leaves with Lady. Don’t even get me started on Girl #1, she’s been gone forever. Now, it’s just me, Slobbery Dog, Yippy Dog, and Furball. It’s time to assume my position in the basement again, right on Girl #1’s bed.

9:30 A.M.


62 TOTEM 2024 | PROSE Jada Abrams

10:30 A.M.


The garland rips from the big tree in the living room far easier than I imagined it would. When the glimmer caught my eye earlier this morning, I knew it had to be mine. I stash my collection of shiny things under Girl #1’s bed, a few presents for her return. As of yet, no one has found my secret collection, but every once in a while, I see Lady scanning the room with a confused look on her face. She’s in the active pursuit of looking for the many missing shiny objects. It’s not my job to ease her confusion; my job is to collect shiny things.

11:30 A.M.

Resting with my eyes closed.

I hear Man get up to go get himself food, Slobbery Dog and Yippy Dog in his wake. The Crisis of 2020 is what brought Yippy Dog into our lives, and every chance she gets, she tries to eat me. For these reasons, I’ve decided our relationship is too toxic. Slobbery Dog is bearable, but sometimes I wake and find his nose in my rear. His lack of boundaries is annoying, but I can’t be upset—he is a dog after all! Even Lady complains about his endless rampage of licking every guest that walks through our front door, but he is totally unaware. I guess they say ignorance is bliss after all. He’ll beat me to greeting Girl #1 when she comes home someday.

1:30 P.M.


Lady flings the door open.


A loose boot is haphazardly flung my way. The nerve Lady has to not look at her surroundings before so carelessly kicking off her shoes. She seems flustered as she enters for the first time since I last saw her this morning, and

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she is carrying armfuls of bags filled with glittery ribbon and paper. How nice of her to bring home more items to add to my collection…she knows me too well.

As Lady sets the bags on the table, I sneakily scale one of the chairs in order to get a peek at what she brought home for me. She goes to the refrigerator to make herself a late lunch, and while she’s occupied, I pull a spool of ribbon out of the bag. It’s surprisingly longer than I thought, and I’ve pulled it thirteen feet across the kitchen before Lady notices.

“Gertie, get away!” shouts Lady.

“Ugh,” I hiss in defiance. I suppose the glitter ribbon wasn’t for me after all. I’ll resume my nap on Girl #1’s bed.

3:30 P.M.

Beep. Beep.

I’m startled from my slumber by what must be the little ones returning home from a trip on that large yellow rectangle. All I can hope is that maybe today Girl #1 will come home.

“Mom, we’re home!” I hear Girl #3 scream.

“I failed my spelling test!” shouts Girl #2.

“I hate school!” yells Boy.

Not a sound from Girl #1. I leap off the bed and crawl underneath it to look at my secret stash, a marvelous gift for her return home. Then, I decide to relieve myself so that she knows I’ve been waiting for quite some time.

I walk upstairs to visit the family and realize that Lady has moved the bags of ribbon out of my reach, as they now rest on top of the refrigerator. Obviously, she isn’t taking any chances.

“Gertie, come here kitty,” says Girl #2 while she pats her lap. She is sitting at the kitchen table and watching videos on her phone.

“Here I come!” I meow. Since Girl #1 left, Girl #2 has become a close second

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favorite, but it’s not the same. I strut to her and gracefully leap onto her lap, which is slightly too small for my body. However, I appreciate her efforts.

“You’re so cute and squishy,” she coos as she rubs my ears. I purr in response, but I wish all the humans would stop commenting on my weight. You would think they would’ve learned their lesson after Dr. Fette told me I needed to lose a pound and almost lost a finger at my paws. “Guess who’s coming home today?” she asks.

“Who?” I meow, but her phone begins to ring and prevents her from hearing my question.

“Oh, shoot. It’s Gabby,” she says and pushes me off her lap.

“How rude! Who’s coming home today?” I screech, but she walks away anyways. “Hello! Girl #2!” I meow after her. Suffice to say, I received no response and could only hope she was going to say Girl #1 is coming home.

5:30 P.M.


I hear the brakes screech, and they awaken me from my slumber. I leap from my typical resting spot and run up the basement steps, reaching the top as the front door flies open. And what to my wondrous eyes should appear? But Girl #1 filled with cheer. She looks just as I remember and has many bags in her hands…I can only assume they are filled with things for me to add to my collection. We make eye contact, and I feel my heart skip a beat.

“GERTIE!” she exclaims.

Look away. Look away. Look away. She can’t learn of the desperation you reek of.

How can she act so happy after the emotional destruction she has caused me? You wait and you wait and you wait, then they expect you to just accept them with open arms. I must show her who’s boss, and in a power grab, I walk back to my napping spot. If she truly wants me, she will come looking for me.

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6:30 P.M.


I suppose Yippy Dog stole her attention; she has a tendency to do that. Laying here basking in my self-loathing, I search for a scheme that will make her realize her neglect. Man opens the basement door that leads to the backyard and walks outside, and in this moment, I know that I have a wonderfully awful idea. I stealthily jump off the bed and creep to the door where I can see him taking the garbage to the can. This is my chance! I scurry as quickly as I can out the door and under a nearby bush.

7:30 P.M.


Regret pangs within me as I realize the awful mistake I have made. I believed that in my pursuit of the outside world, Girl #1 would swoop in and save me. I could not have been more wrong. The temperatures are low, there are bright, blinding lights lining the front yard, and I hear dogs barking from nearby yards. These are perilous conditions, inhumane even. How could I have let this happen to me?

I can hear the family laughing in the house, enjoying each other’s company in front of the warm living room fireplace. I’ve never stooped as low as to scheme like this, and now I’m being punished for it. In a desperate attempt, I hop up the front porch steps and paw at the front door in the hopes that someone will hear. No luck. I’ll have to get crafty.

8:30 P.M.


Sacrifices were made, and I determined that if I was going to get the humans’ attention, it would come at a cost. Lady had set up two trees on the front porch covered in lights, and after a large leap, one seems to have fallen over. The curtain in the front window opens slightly, and I can see the eyes of Girl #3 peering out.

“Mom, the tree fell over again!” she shouts.

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“Oh, forget it. It never stays upright…I’ll fix it in the morning. I’m too tired to care right now,” I hear Lady respond drowsily.

My plan has been foiled again, and now I fear that no one will come for me. It’s nearing Lady’s bedtime, and when she goes to sleep, everyone goes to their rooms. The future is grim.

9 P.M.

Tick. Tick. Tick.

Time creeps by. I have now been outside for an eternity. I have no family. No home.

“HELP! HELP!” I screech.

“Do you guys hear that?” says Girl #1. Could it be? Will she save me? The front door slowly opens, and I paw at it hopelessly.

“Gertie, how did you get outside?” Girl #1 says, alarmed to see me in this state.

“Oh, Girl! You have no idea what I’ve been through out here,” I cry as she scoops me into her arms. “It’s so cold and heinous, and I couldn’t wait to be rescued.”

“You poor thing! I’m so sorry,” she coos.

Thank goodness she finally came for me. The situation had become dire. After all this time, Girl #1 still saved me, what a lovely hero. I nuzzle up to her as I decide it is finally time to forgive. If she leaves again, we will never get back together.

10 P.M.


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Her back cracks as she rises from the dead of day. The night swallows the earth, allowing her to wake. After being dead for the day, a girl could eat. Stepping down from the tall bed, she takes a look in the mirror, her reflection only showing her earrings dangling as she fixes her hair. The burn in her throat is almost too much to handle; the thirst is beginning to feast on her. She looks around the mansion that used to be bursting with life. In her eyes, the lush plants still hang around the room, the sheets are still soft, and the colors of the walls are still just as vibrant as the day the estate was built. She tightens her corset and takes off down the hall of the east wing. Finding the grand staircase, she descends to the lower level and turns into the dining hall. The great dining table stands strong as she gets to work. Plates, spoons, forks, knives, cups, and clothes are set out for exactly seven. She gives a glance to the table, fixing everything to perfection. The only thing left is the meal. From the kitchen, she decides that the table should be given a starting salad, the main course, and of course, a delicious dessert. If they make it that far.

The six dinner guests walk into the house. The butler asks for their coats. Everyone is dressed to the nines for the evening. Expensive gowns and ringlet curls. Fine suits and slick backs. The hostess is the most beautiful person in the room, her eyes bright emeralds, hair strategically pinned back, tan skin, and plump wine-stained lips. Nothing is to worry about as they take their seats at the beautiful table. At first glance, the feast looks delicious, but a double take is needed. The silly little mortals will not even notice. And they did not, the beautiful illusion sitting in front of them on their plates and in their glasses clouding their minds, and through their eyes, the platters of steak and chicken are juicy and tender. The fruit is bright with intense color, the wine like silk. The room is relaxed; the guests lean back in their chairs as they get ready to enjoy their meal. Perfect. They begin to eat and humor each other in conversation. Soft music playing in the background. This was all too easy. And that it was, as everyone feasts and laughs, joy and alcohol running through their veins.

The guests should know something isn’t right when the music seizes, and Butler hasn’t been seen since he opened the door. The crystal chandelier flickers once; the food is starting to show its true colors. The cheese is sour and browning, the vegetables that were once fresh and vibrant are now dried

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and decayed. You can smell the fermentation of the fruit and see the blanket of maggots on the meat that is spoiled. Twice, she stands and pushes her back from the table. All it took was a blink of an eye and the woman’s skin goes porcelain as she ages like the food in front of them. The third and final flicker; razor sharp teeth bare from her ruby lips. The veil is lifted, and her true nature becomes exposed as the six other people in the room realize they are not guests; they are the meal. Everything goes black.

While the lights are off, screams of terror and the ripping of limbs can be heard. The aroma of panic and iron fills the room. Her thirst is finally being quenched; the burn extinguished. She starts with the heavy-set man that could not look her in the eye all night because he was busy focusing on her breasts. She can taste his insecurities in his blood. Too bitter. When he no longer has a pulse, she lets his body fall to the ground. Moving to the woman that had been seated next to him, the one that continuously checked her reflection in her spoon throughout dinner. She has to chase her a little, grabbing her by her hair, plunging into her jugular. The alcohol moving through the woman isn’t mixing well. Too tangy. The next three aren’t very tasty either. Too sweet, too sour, just downright disgusting. She has to take what she can get. The last guest is found shivering in the corner. She knows that this last woman is the one. As soon as she gets close enough, she can smell that nothing is intoxicating her blood. She smells like sunshine. She had been quiet for most of the meal, only speaking when spoken to. The woman tries to crawl away, but the night walker grabs her ankle, yanking her to break the skin of her thigh to indulge in the women’s femoral artery. Just right.

The lights come back on, and the last victim still has enough life left in her to look around the once beautiful dining room. She sees limbs and organs scattered around the room, hanging off chairs and laying across the table and floor. She looks at the fanged woman on top of her, now face to face. The last thought the woman has coming out of her mouth is a whisper.

“Who are you? ”

The sharp ears of the monstress hear it, but she does not answer. She proceeds with her attack until the dying woman’s breath shallows, her heart slow, and her eyes close for the last time. Now that the party is over and her meal is finished, she walks out of the dining room to the grand staircase. She

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walks up to the main hall of the east wing back to the master bedroom. She loosens her corset, lets her hair down, and goes back to the mirror. She takes the only object that can be seen out of her ears and wipes the concoction of lipstick and blood from her mouth. Even with blood-stained skin, she walks over to the tall bed and climbs into it. She must have taken longer than she expected to finish her meal because she can feel her orifices beginning to leak rich, red, metallic liquid. Sunrise. She lays down, and right before she is about to prevent the bleeds by dying for the day, she speaks out,

“I am Muerte, I am Death.”

She then dies, but not forever. She will rise in the night, all the same as the night before, and what has been hundreds of nights before then.

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Charlie’s grandfather had warned her against becoming addicted to it, but she didn’t care. She’d worked all week at the thankless office job that paid the bills but offered little more than financial stability, and she deserved to take another journey. She fought the urge to take the steep stairs two at a time to get to her fourth-floor walkup that was the size of a shoebox. It would be there, waiting for her on her bed. The music box.

Once her apartment door was closed and the deadbolt was latched, she stopped only to feed Petunia, her dainty little angelfish, before turning on the lamp at the head of her bed. Its soft light chased away some of the shadows of the winter evening as she quickly shed her sweater and pixie dress pants and went to her dresser. The plain brown dress she’d managed to keep on her back from her previous trip was buried underneath her jeans and sweatshirts. Once she’d tugged it on, she sank down into the comfort of the old quilt her mother had made for her when she was fifteen and they were still on speaking terms. She brought her legs up and crossed them underneath her, the slightly rough fabric of the full skirt pooling around her.

Taking the music box from the foot of her bed, she tried to slow her breath and steady her fingers. The familiarity of the intricately carved wood under her fingertips helped immensely and soon she felt as if she could nod off, the headaches of the day drifting away. She’d learned that it wouldn’t work the way she wanted it to if she was scattered or fidgety. It was as if the music box grew confused if her thoughts and emotions were all jumbled up, and it would transport her to an era of equal tumult. She had barely survived the French Revolution for that exact reason.

Once she felt that her mind was a blank slate, Charlie opened the music box. She barely had time to exhale a sigh of relief when she saw the rocking chair slowly spinning around as the sounds of a fiddle wafted up to her ears. She felt the familiar pull behind her navel, not quite painful but bordering on discomfort. And then she could feel herself falling, her eyes closed against the kaleidoscope of flashing colors that always encircled her when she went back in time.

It was always a surprise where she would be deposited, and when she felt solid ground under her feet again, she opened her eyes and was relieved to see that she was in the middle of a barn. There was a mare in a stall right next

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to her, and she nuzzled its nose before peeking around the barn door to make sure no one would see her. This barn was familiar to her, just on the outskirts of Boston proper.

She’d learned a great deal from her many forays into the past. If you were calm enough, you could not only control what time period you went back to, but you could also keep returning to a place that you’d loved before. It had taken her years to perfect that part of it.

Satisfied that no one in the estate house would see her crossing their back lawn, she quickly plowed through the six inches of snow blanketing the ground, grateful that she’d remembered to wear boots this time instead of flats. No cloak, though, she thought remorsefully as she shivered, picking up her pace at the thought of finding a warm pub to slip in the back door of.

The dirt road leading into the city was also covered with snow, but the grooves of the carriage tracks gave her a path to walk in. It was a clear, cold night, and she looked up at the great expanse of twinkling stars in the sky. It always caught her off guard to take in how many stars there really were. She would forget during the work week just how pronounced Boston’s light pollution was in her own time.

After finding a pub where she could warm up a bit (and pilfer a cloak), she took the familiar twisting lanes to a residence in the middle of the city. The house was a sturdy, two-story, brick colonial, candles blazing in every window and the cadence of a fiddle drifting out through a cracked window. The familiar tune flooded her with both trepidation and hope. She snuck in through the servant’s door on the side, knowing that they would be busy serving General Washington and his guests.

She made her way into one of the two parlors at the front of the house and did her best not to draw attention to herself. Getting thrown out of places she didn’t belong had become commonplace during her travels, but she couldn’t let that happen. It was essential that she blend in until she found him.

He wasn’t in either of the parlors and she tried to quell her dread as she kept brushing up against other soldiers who weren’t him. Just as she was about to succumb to full-on panic at the thought that maybe he’d been detained with his militia somewhere out in the cold, she spotted him conversing with one

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of the officers in the hallway leading to the kitchen. His back was turned to her, but she would recognize his mop of unruly hair anywhere, even if it was currently pulled back into a haphazard ponytail.

She inched closer to the two men, trying to eavesdrop while feigning interest in a candelabra on the hall table. Snatches of their conversation reached her ears, though she wasn’t completely sure of the strategies they were working out between them. From what she could gather, fighting had ceased for the next fortnight as Christmas was only days away, and the general and his officers had been close enough to Boston to take their respite here. Charlie had been lucky, then. The Continental Army’s officers did not always meet with the militia leaders during this annual ceasefire around the holidays.

He turned suddenly and she nearly faceplanted into his royal blue jacket, the shine of his front buttons dazzling her for a moment before his arms reached out to steady her.

“My God, I’m so sorry. I didn’t see you there,” he said, and she looked up at him. He hadn’t changed since the last time she’d seen him a couple of months ago, save for a new scar just above his right eyebrow. She worried over what had caused it for a moment but tried to concentrate on her current predicament. Keeping her wits about her was essential to her plan of not getting thrown out.

She could see a faint recognition in his brown eyes. He didn’t remember her, of course. That was one of the stipulations of the music box; Anyone she encountered in the past would forget her after she’d left. But the way he took her in gave her hope that there was some part of him that knew her.

“Again, I apologize for my clumsiness. You caught me off guard, miss.” His voice had grown softer, and all of the hard edges of the house seemed to soften with it. Her traitorous heart began to thump wildly in her chest as she tried to keep the blush from her cheeks.

“Do not fret, sir. I’m still upright. No harm done.”

“Still, you should probably sit down. Let me find us a quiet corner.”

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She couldn’t help the smile that overtook her lips. He was almost definitely making more out of this than he needed to be closer to her.

He took them further into the house, a small sitting room seeming to materialize out of nowhere just to the left of the kitchen. It was quiet, indeed, with only one other couple in there, speaking in low voices. They claimed the corner diagonal from them, and Charlie was suddenly surrounded by the inviting aroma of old books. She looked up and the built-in shelves stretched up on either side of her nearly to the ceiling, the crackling fire in the hearth directly in front of them adding to the room’s coziness.

“Forgive my forwardness but I feel as though I know you from somewhere. That isn’t possible, though. You must have a familiar face, miss . . .”

“Charlotte,” she supplied.

“Benjamin,” he said in return, and she had to fight the urge to reply, I know.

She had not intended to keep returning to him, but America’s colonial history had always fascinated her. The first time she’d come to this time period, it was only to get a feel for the era and to help her write a term paper she’d put off during the spring semester of her senior year in college. But she’d allowed herself to develop a connection to the people she’d met and had traveled back even after she’d turned the paper in. That’s when she’d quite literally run into Benjamin as she was attempting to enter a tavern, and he’d nearly bowled her over in his haste to exit said tavern. He hadn’t even bothered to check to see if she was alright, and she remembered glaring after his loping back.

The blunder of that first meeting had left a sour taste in her mouth, but on her next ill-advised journey back, she’d been on the wharves and recognized him. In her attempt to avoid him, she’d inexplicably done the opposite when she knocked over a crate of squawking chickens.

He’d offered to walk her back to the home she didn’t have, and she’d begrudgingly had to accept. She’d learned that he worked for a merchant and hated the monotony of his days, which Charlie could relate to on an uncomfortably close level. It had led to his admission that the dumping of tea in Boston Harbor that past December had ignited a rebellious streak in him that he couldn’t quash. She’d purposefully lost him in the market an hour

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later, and a pang of loss had taken her by surprise when she’d returned to her comfy bed in her own time.

She had tried to ignore it. This was what her grandfather had warned her against when he’d lain on his deathbed and revealed the music box’s power to her. Don’t get attached to anyone, he’d whispered, the uncharacteristic seriousness in his eyes making her take notice. You’ll regret that you cannot stay with them.

But she’d been weak and allowed Benjamin and his relatability to burrow under her skin. She kept returning to Boston, telling herself that it wasn’t the end of the world if she didn’t see him, but sobbing when she came back from the trips and couldn’t find him and talk to him. That was when she told herself she could only use the music box once a week. It had begun to take over her life, and she couldn’t afford to get fired from her job.

On the trips when she had run into him and managed to pin him down for a conversation, she’d gleaned snippets of his story. That he was of workingclass stock and didn’t think he’d ever rise above his station when he was a boy. That ending up in command of one of the Boston militias in charge of protecting the city from any wayward British troops or ships had given him a purpose he’d never dreamed he’d have the privilege of experiencing. She still didn’t know much about the widowed mother and sisters he provided for, but he’d mentioned them from time to time. What would it be like to be part of that kind of close-knit family?

She was so lonely in the present, the family members who mattered to her gone or outside of her grasp. Her mother barely spoke to her anymore now that she had the music box. It was too painful for her to know that Charlie could do what she couldn’t anymore. The music box’s power was contained only to members of their family. Once you spoke of the music box’s existence to anyone outside of their circle, its charms became unavailable to you. Her mother had made the grave mistake of exposing their secret to a man she thought loved her.

He had been a boyfriend in a long string of boyfriends, and Charlie couldn’t even remember his name she’d been so young. But she did remember her mother’s muffled sobs emanating behind her bedroom door when she

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realized the severity of her error. He’d walked out calling her mother crazy, and she’d lost not only him but an ability she’d become addicted to. The one Charlie held close to her chest for fear that it would slip away from her, too.

That was to say nothing of her friends from Stonehill College who were now scattered to every corner of the country. Even Bethy, who’d stayed in Boston alongside her, was hard to pin down. Bethy and her girlfriend had just moved into a much-too-expensive brownstone together, and her supposedly entry level publishing house job took up the rest of her time. They were lucky if they could FaceTime each other even once a week.

Was she ready to tell someone, anyone, in this time, about the music box? If she did, she would remain here, unable to return to her own time. It was impossible to know the consequences her sudden erasure from the present would cause. And if she did remain in the past, would her and Benjamin’s potential relationship even work? It was one thing to fantasize about their connection becoming something more if she stayed. It was an entirely different prospect to live what could potentially be a very grueling life without modern amenities. Was the illusion of what could be a better life worth the risk?

That was what was swirling around in her head as she made the same polite small talk she had engaged in variations of more than a dozen times before. In that moment, she wanted to delve deeper, ask him questions that she didn’t already know the answers to. What happened to your father? What secretly brings you joy? What makes you cry when you’re alone and the weight of the world settles on your shoulders?

The earnest expression in his eyes as she skirted the truth with her answers and tried not to lie outright to him was particularly overwhelming today. It was all too much, and she was dangerously close to allowing her secret to escape her lips. Her cheeks must have turned scarlet as concern replaced the earnestness and he asked her if she was feeling unwell.

“I, um, must get some air. Excuse me, sir,” she said, turning away from him so that he wouldn’t see the tremble of her chin. He yelled after her, but she couldn’t risk turning back. Her two hours were almost up, and she needed to get away before disappearing into thin air before all of their eyes.

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Charlie staggered out the way she’d come into the house, and it was a good thing, too. The pull in her midsection was already beginning, and before she knew it, she was back on her bed in her apartment, snow now coming down heavily outside her frosted window.

Not today, she thought, unable to keep a few tears from streaking down her reddened cheeks. But it may very well be the next time.

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Morgan always swept the front porch on Mondays. It wasn’t the dirt. It was the spiders. In the corners. On the light fixtures. On the mailbox. Everywhere. She promised herself and the spiders that she wouldn’t kill them, though she tried her best to encourage a few of them to relocate. She took a minute and closed her eyes. Took a few deep breaths. She knew exactly what she was going to see when she opened her eyes. Her arms hugged around her torso, hands locked firmly beneath her arms. Her face projected mild disgust tempered with terrified curiosity as she opened her eyes to behold the array of webs re-spun since last Monday. She thought back to the day she made the promise.

I. Science

There was a spider. A large spider. Not the largest one she had ever encountered—when she was in seventh grade, her neighbor Tony had caught that one in a spice jar so she could take it into science class, but it died, bathed in the smell of nutmeg, before the school day was over.

II. The Second-Largest Spider

This second-largest spider had taken up residence on the balcony of the third-story apartment Morgan lived in. The balcony was her private space, her hideaway. She had a wrought iron table and two chairs, though she would be the only one to ever sit in either of them. That summer, she had planted a garden, the plants all lined up against the railing in terracotta pots that she had hand painted to look as though they had lace trim. The white lights stapled to the overhead beams twinkled as the brightly colored dragonflyshaped lights alighted on the blossoms of her hanging flower baskets. Tucked in amongst the forest of stems were figurines of various animals—a turtle, two frogs, a rabbit, and a fat little chickadee, all the same size. Their herald is a cement statue of a fairy, painted white and chipping, who trumpets through a white cement Allamanda blossom, her whimsical beauty offset by her dead eyes—all white, no iris. The varying heights of the hanging baskets and the stalks that had grown to a height exceeding four feet made a barrier behind which Morgan could sit virtually hidden from sight on the narrow balcony.

The spider’s clustered gaze broke the seclusion. She had situated herself

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L. Peterson

on the outside of the balcony’s vertical metal rails. Being outside the rails was the only thing that saved her from becoming a stain on the bottom of the partnerless flip flop that Morgan had reserved for exactly that purpose. Protected by distance but with trembling hands, Morgan took a picture of the lady spider and sent it to Dianne. Dianne called back immediately, knowing Morgan’s lack of patience in such matters, but asked her to hold on. Morgan heard Dianne’s phone connect with the wood of the bookcase with a hollow resonance followed by the almost mechanical rustle of pages turning. She knew Dianne had retrieved the Audubon Field Guide to Insects and Spiders Morgan had a copy, too—purchased at Dianne’s recommendation the last time Morgan called with a spider crisis—but Morgan identified just about every spider as a Goliath Birdeater. Dianne returned to the phone and said it was Argiope aurantia, a yellow garden spider, an orb weaver, and assured Morgan that it was perfectly harmless. Dianne knew what was needed. She added that spiders are a sign of creativity, and the harboring of a spider would be a gesture towards honing and nurturing one’s own creativity. Morgan liked the sound of this. She could live with this. She decided to live with this spider.

Thus, the spider was permitted to remain. Morgan took to calling her Aurora. Naming her made her feel more domesticated, less fearsome, and working from her genus and species allowed her name and, by extension, her presence to evolve into something beautiful and full of light. And she liked that the spider had a name, or a nickname, really. Her own name didn’t have a nickname, and that was by design. Her mother decided that everyone was going to call her daughter by the one name that she had in mind for her to be called. No nicknames.

A need for visual confirmation that Aurora remained in her designated area on the outside of the railing marked each dawn. Morgan would approach with the same arms-crossed-hands-tucked position each morning, and each morning, Aurora rested in the center of her web that she had meticulously spun on the correct side of the railing. Except this day. This day Aurora was gone.

Morgan researched everything; she would research this thing. She retrieved her Audubon Field Guide to Insects and Spiders from the back of the shelf— hidden there so that she could avoid the images on the cover, even though

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no spiders were featured—and she read with curious disgust all about the orb weaver and its tendency to devour its web at day’s end. This is what she assumed had happened. It was autumn now, and Morgan and Aurora had had a lot of time together. More, Morgan had had plenty of time to grow accustomed to Aurora and her habits. Aurora just hadn’t rebuilt yet today. Morgan watered the garden and went back inside, making a joke to herself that when Aurora did decide to rebuild, it had better not be across that doorway. At least, she told herself it was a joke. Despite all of their time together, Morgan hadn’t truly grown to trust Aurora. At all.

The next morning revealed a brand new web stretching across the doorway, Aurora at its hub, unerringly at face level. Had Morgan not been appropriately concerned about Aurora’s disappearance the day before, she would have walked directly into her. She imagined her face and hair swathed in the sticky threads and backed away from the open door to take a couple of puffs on her rescue inhaler. It was 5:17am, and she pleaded with herself to just go down to the woods to get a stick—she had already read up on how to relocate a spider. Just in case.

By the time she convinced herself to get the stick and review the relocation instructions, an hour had passed. While it was fear that made her stall, it was also fear that made her act as she thrust the stick through the upper left corner of the web, winding it around the stick in a clockwise motion, ending at the spider. It all went as planned until she remembered that they were on the third floor, and the stick from which the irritated spider now precariously dangled looked so much shorter now than when she had collected it. The spider was advancing, Morgan’s brain was begging for suggestions, and she was crying through another puff on her inhaler. Ultimately, the spider, its web, and the stick flew from a third-story balcony at or around 6:30am, Eastern Standard Time.

As if in retribution for Aurora, Morgan started seeing spiders. Everywhere. At first, she thought this was like when she bought a red Honda and then everywhere she went it seemed like the only cars that existed were red Hondas. But then she really started seeing them: on the arm of her recliner, creeping towards her; from the visor in the car, lowering towards her; from out of a sneaker she was about to put on, crawling out towards her. She opened the yellow pages, and the black and white sketches of

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spiders scrawled amongst the ads spawned images of her respiratory tract systematically shutting down. Her chest tightened. She called the exterminator. After exploring beneath the apartment building, the man returned to report the unfortunate news that there were nests beneath the building. Nests. This was enough. Morgan started packing boxes.

III. Retribution for Aurora

It was Monday, on the porch at the new apartment, and Morgan greeted Matilda, Tilly for short. The apartment had been vacant for some time, but its porch had not. Tilly’s web had clearly been left undisturbed for some time now. She had constructed it across the mailbox, which hung directly beneath the porch light and was thus the optimum hunting ground for a hungry spider. The web hung thick and grey, holes wore through some spots while others dipped under the weight of partially consumed matter. Tilly’s web led to some rather unfortunate surprises for both Tilly and Morgan in the early days, not to mention the mailman. After some coaxing, Tilly moved to the corner over the light fixture. Everyone involved felt that this was a more suitable arrangement, and, to reward Tilly’s compliance, Morgan was sure to leave the porch light on every night to increase Tilly’s chances.

But there was something different about Tilly’s web on that Monday. It was colorful. There was a section of web that prominently featured a bright pink string. Morgan recognized that color. She leaned the broom back into the corner and went inside. Dumping the contents of the laundry hamper onto the floor, she uncovered the bright pink sweater that she’d worn the previous Monday while she swept the porch. Returning to the porch, staring with resignation up at her sweater’s mislaid thread woven into Tilly’s web, Morgan started making excuses that she convinced herself were valid reasoning. Morgan’s own home was full of bright colors, so she concluded that she wouldn’t begrudge Tilly a little bit of color for herself, though she wasn’t really sure if Tilly could even see in color. What Morgan wouldn’t consider was how Tilly had managed to carry the thread up to her web or how she had woven it so completely into her design. She resolved that she would think the addition charming. She finished sweeping the porch and went back inside.

In a week, Morgan found herself standing out on the porch gazing up into Tilly’s web again. The pink thread from her sweater was still there in

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the lower left corner of the web—the corner that anchored the web to the uppermost corner of the door frame. But now there was something else. Long, dark brown hairs. Three of them. Crudely braided. Morgan’s hand uneasily reached to where her hair met the back of her neck and ran nervous fingers cautiously down her own braid. Jerking her hand back to the broom stick, her finger caught the chain of her necklace and snapped it, sending tiny silver links scattering across the cement porch. She collected the charm and swept the remains into the bushes.

On the third Monday, Morgan’s attention was drawn to the web yet again when something glinted in the sunlight. She didn’t have to think about it. She knew it was the chain. Several tiny links created new junctions throughout the web, tiny traffic circles in the system of translucent highways and byways. It was near one of these silvery crossroads that Morgan saw a freshly enwebbed insect. Claiming it from the sticky strands, she carried it into the house, pushing the door closed hard with her heel and setting her compensation on the corner of the table just inside the door alongside her car keys and yesterday’s junk mail. Before making it to the other side of the room, she abruptly turned around, realizing the palpable horror of what she’d just done, and returned to the table bearing the insect, confined in its suspended animation. She concealed the thing beneath a set of coupons from the newest grocery store in town and slammed her hand down on top of it, putting the pitiable creature out of its misery and wiping the stain of its memory down her pant leg before going about the rest of her business.

Returning from a walk later that evening, she stepped up onto the porch and knew, without even looking, her miscellany was yet confined and suspended in that web. She reached up and plucked another unfortunate prey item from the sticky tendrils and carried it into the house. Bypassing the table by the door, this time she placed her claim on the mantel, settled it in amongst her family photos, a bowling trophy she had won in the sixth grade, a ceramic statue of a pirate that her niece had painted for her.

It remained there for weeks.

Today, the porch was littered with fallen leaves and papery, wing-like seed pairs from the big sugar maple in front of the house. The samaras brought to mind an image of flattened wings from tiny, dry angels. Morgan liked to

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hear the crunch of the detritus beneath her boots as she walked across these corpses, leaving a sunset-colored confetti in her wake.

Before crossing the threshold back into the house, she paused in front of Tilly’s web, motionless in body, but with an obvious liveliness in her thoughts and eyes. It was as if she was searching through the catalog of her mind. Her arm seemed to lift itself into a reach, but she fought the impulse, bringing it back to her side, her hand a bit shaky. With hesitation, she partially reached back out with the same hand and paused about halfway between its resting position and the web. From there, she calculatingly reached out and claimed an insect from the web, passing it between her lips and into her mouth.

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Totem 2024



Freshman, Undecided “Growth Through Pain”

The inspiration for this painting came from the pain and hardships I’ve experienced. It represents how these experiences have molded me, imparting strength and maturity. My goal was to convey the concept of growth through adversity. The flowers symbolize the beauty that can blossom even in the face of challenging circumstances. Everything we learn from our struggles and hardships contributes to our personal growth and development as individuals.


Junior, Secondary Education English “Home”

This poem describes the meaning that my grandparents’ house holds to me and my family, along with many of the memories I have there.

“The Cat Who Loves Shiny Things and Girl #1” Gertie is my sassy, ten-year-old, orange cat, who inspired this short story. I imagine that life through her eyes looks similar to this embellished portrayal!


Sophomore, Industrial and Robotics Engineering


Sophomore, Psychology and Biology Pre-Med Major


Sophomore, Computer Science and Software Engineering


Sophomore, Public Service and Global Affairs, and Public Relations


This piece was created for a class project where we were given a hypothetical client in need of a product. We were asked to create a vacuum for a twenty-something year old young man living on his own for the first time. We took inspiration from Disney’s Wall-E, and created Floor-E.


Junior, Philosophy and English “Presque Isle”

Driving around and walking around Presque Isle State Park one sees many beautiful scenes of nature that are inspirational. These poems are part II of a series I am writing called “Part and Parcel” about various facets of nature.


While studying abroad in Ireland, I found walking to be a sort of meditation. Combined with living with Germans and reading more Emerson and Thoreau, this story was born.


Freshmen, Professional Writing

“We Are the Stars That Shine”

Carpe Diem and the bewildering wonder of being.


Sophomore, Global Cultures “Soldiers Grey Earl”

We all face personal battles that scar us, but the scars we bear from them are also signs of victory.


Alumnus; current position at Gannon is Student Services & Communications Specialist in the CHESS Dean’s office “Into a Known Past”

I’ve been working on novel length projects for a while now and thought it would be a nice change of pace to craft a short story. This one was inspired by a writing prompt I came across. The idea of time travel into the past has always fascinated me and I enjoyed exploring that idea!



Assistant Professor, English

“Preparing for the Yamaboko Junk (2023)”

I encountered this giant parade float on the side streets surrounding the intersection of Karasuma and Shijo streets in Kyoto, Japan on July 15, 2023, which was yoiyoiyama of the yamaboko junkō during this year’s Gion Matsuri


Freshman, Physicians Assistant Program

“Lightkeepers Quarters”

I try to capture what I see and what I feel, and what I saw was a place that felt like a fairytale.


Sophomore, Social Work and Theatre and Communications

“Patroclus Poem”

This poem is about a Greek love, when a crush feels timeless and ancient, when you find someone so beautiful it feels like the sunlight is giving you a hug. Love is the most beautiful, but also the heaviest thing I have ever felt.


Graduate Student, Strategic Communications

“A Little Girl’s Journey”

My inspiration was the kid’s story named “Am I Small?.” The girl was not sure about this question and kept asking various animals that she met on her journey. Eventually, she found a wonderful answer.


Junior, Philosophy and Writing

“The Offseason Santa”

While completing my first creative Writing Workshop assignment ever, I used tidbits from my personal experiences and imagination to concoct a poem detailing what Santa Claus does for the other 364 days each year.


Alumni, ‘09M

“Mid-Night on the Manatee”


Junior, Computer Science

“Nostalgic Day”

A little nice walk on one beautiful afternoon with Luca, Charlotte and Fehmi, ended up at the playground. The swings brought so much beautiful childhood memories.


Freshman, Data Science

“Passion Diario”

My inspiration for this painting stems from the most influential person in my life, my mother. Her Strength, grace, and creativity have been a guiding force, infusing my work with passion and purpose. My mother’s life stories, rich in emotion and wisdom, breathed life into my artistic vision.


Sophomore, Clinical Mental Health Counseling

“Heart of Steel”

This was my mom and I’s idea to cure boredom during the pandemic lockdown. It is a heart-shaped piece of wood that I attached various nails, gears, and random items from a junk pile in my dad’s garage. This piece is one of many that I have made, and I love finding new items on each one every time I look at them.


Senior, Social Work

“Human No Rights”

It was a part of an essay I wrote for my Policy Practice class with Dr. Lichtenwalter.


Sophomore, English

“Tales from Outdoorswoman”

I wrote this piece for my memoir assignment in creative writing last semester. It is just a few of the hundreds of stories I have about my time spent in nature, all of which are a huge part of who I am.



Freshman, Physical Therapy

“Stars Hollow with a Drug Problem”

This piece was inspired by a conversation had with my best friend about our hometown and realizing that many things can be true at once. Something can be ugly and beautiful at the same time, and experience can both be objectified and romanticized. It is hard to not think of something as black and white, but I think finding and accepting the gray is what makes life the most honest and meaningful.


Gannon Alumni, ’76 and member of the Gannon University Board of Trustees “Mormon Row”


Gannon Student “Untitled”


Senior, Exercise Science

“Catching the Ferry”

I remember stopping to appreciate the beauty of the sunrise, as well as wanting to remember every moment of my experience with TRAVEL Greece 2023. Shoutout to my fellow travelers. Thank you for the adventure of a lifetime!


Adjunct, English

BA in Poetry from Penn State, MA in Literature from Wichita State University

“Three Spiders”

My story “Three Spiders” was inspired by my all-tooreal arachnophobia that has been triggered again and again throughout my life. The spiders in this story are all real spiders that stand out in my memory, but my students will be relieved to know that the protagonist in the story is entirely fictional.


Senior, Biology

“A Queen Upon Her Throne”

My cat Pumba is a very unique character. She’s chubby and angry, and seeing her sit with her arm propped on the chair was too cute. I had to draw her.


Gannon Student “Untitled”


Second Year Graduate Program, Strategic Communication “Metanoia”

I wrote this Haiku towards the end of April 2023. This was my first winter experience and I was lucky enough to witness the world around me transition from white to all the colors found in a rainbow. The chilliness of winter had just begun to disappear, and the world was ready to get warm. I focused on the month of May because I was born in May and just like nature, I was getting ready to begin a new cycle. Lily of the Valley is often connected to the month of May since it is seen in all its glory during this month, and I was lucky enough to spot a few around the lake area. And finally, the title of the Haiku “Metanoia” is a word that has its origin from Greek meaning, the act or process of changing one’s mind, penitence, repentance; reorientation of one’s way of life (oxford dictionary). I chose this word because coming to another country for the first time in my life has been nothing but an experience that involves change in ways I cannot explain.


Sophomore, Sports Management and Marketing “Changes”

Walking back from class this specific tree stood out to me because of the stark contrast and vibrant colors. I knew it was something that needed to be captured.



Sophomore, MCIS: IT

“Mysore Palace, India”

It is Mysore Palace located in Mysore, India. It used to be the official residence of Wadiyar Dynasty.


Senior, English

“In the Window”

I wanted to capture the innocence of childhood through the eyes of an adult. The image I had in mind was walking down the street and seeing your reflection in the buildings around you.

“The Lucky One”

The Lucky One was meant to be an observation of the current education system in which students have to practice “lockdown” drills in the case of a school shooting. Growing up this was not something I had to concern myself, but my nephews and niece will unless something changes.

“To Be Green”

This photo was taken during a trip to the Duke Gardens in May of 2023. The vibrant appearance of the greenery drew me to take this photo.


Assistant Professor, Applied Exercise Science

“Twas the Day After Christmas”

My lovely wife is an admitted Scrooge when it comes to Christmas decorating. Each year, the tree goes up the day after Thanksgiving (my choice) and comes down no later than the day after Christmas (her choice). This piece is a mostly accurate narrative of what December 26th looks like in the Willow household.


Gannon Student

“Life Within Destruction”


Totem 2024


Totem 2024 was designed by Jillian Wells, Totem Editor, and Andrew Lapiska, Experience Designer and University Brand Manager in Gannon University’s Marketing and Communications department.

The cover art, “Untitled,” is an acrylic knife painting by Naaz Sumaiya.

This year’s Totem artwork is comprised of acrylic painting, digital photography, model-making, sculpture, still life, and pencil drawing.

Headline text is set in Interstate and body text throughout is set in Dovetail.

The cover was printed on 100# Accent Opaque Coated Cover and internal pages were printed on 70# Accent Opaque Smooth Text.

The layout for Totem was created with Adobe InDesign CC 2024; photographs and artwork were prepared for publication with Adobe Photoshop CC 2024.

This journal was printed and bound by the Gannon University Press with the assistance of the Totem staff. The cover was die-cut by McCarty Printing, Inc. in Erie, Pennsylvania.

Funding is provided by Gannon University. Totem is distributed free of charge.

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