GHS Writers' Den Volume 1 2020-2021

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Grandview High School’s

The Writers’ Den

Artist: Patrick Fore

Literary Magazine Volume 1 2020-2021


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Table of Contents “Beyond the Journey” .............................................................................. 4 “Stiletto” ................................................................................................ 10 “Love’s Sunken Dreams” ....................................................................... 15 “Who Are You?”.................................................................................... 17 Chapter 1: The Stones of Zeolite............................................................ 19 “Wings of Freedom” .............................................................................. 27 “A small light in my Life”....................................................................... 28 “A Passion” ........................................................................................... 29 “Popcorn”.............................................................................................. 31 “To Be Silent” ........................................................................................ 40 “Live the Life That You Desire” ............................................................ 42 “The Lake” ............................................................................................ 45 “I Am From” ......................................................................................... 49 “Manipulation” ...................................................................................... 50 “Casual” ................................................................................................. 52 Trigger Warnings: Homophobia, transphobia, accident outing, violence “Sitting still”........................................................................................... 65 “Boundaries” ......................................................................................... 66 “Courage, or lack thereof” ..................................................................... 67

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“Beyond the Journey” By: Inspire-Sun “Please sir! Please just give me a chance and I will prove to you that-“

“Rae, I already told you that we already hired someone okay? The spots are filled!” Rae listened to his words as if they were stabbing knives wanting not to waste any piece of her flesh, “Look… there has clearly been no luck for you…. Maybe it is time to consider trying something else?” This certainly did not make Rae feel any better and Mr. Blayson just wanted her out of his office so he could continue on with his day, “It was nice meeting you…..” ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Rae walked and walked not knowing which direction to go and not caring for the least. Going home to her parents was definitely not a choice. They had warned her that life was not just going to hand her everything she ever wanted, but rather tear her down. Going back to her own home was not a choice either. Life was not going great and so Rae hated to admit that her parents were right and she was wrong. She kept on walking for hours until the sun had begun to set. Upon seeing a bench, she laid down to look at the stars illuminating the black sky. "HEY! GET BACK HERE!" She heard someone yell and a shadow came running towards her but then turned to an alley and disappeared into the night. She watched the police fly past where the shadow had gone. It quickly came out and it was revealed to be a young teenage boy. “Ah it’s just you…” She was getting ready to lay back down, but the conversation seemed to have sparked right then. “Just me?” The boy asked, offended. “Yeah! Just a scrawny, pale, black haired teenage boy.” She laid down and went back to staring at the sky.

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“Well then let me introduce myself! I am Kygo!” Kygo peeked his head above hers. “And?” She turned aside. “And I could really use your help with something….” Kygo reached into his pocket and showed Rae a piece of paper that contained a list of many different things. “What’s this? A resolution?” She looked at the long list containing at least 33 things, “What are you 8?” Kygo frowned, “13 actually and no this is not a resolution LIST! It’s a… list of random things I want to do!” Kygo smiled as Rae stood up. “And you want me to take you to these places?” He shook his head, “And if I don’t?” “Well….. Um…..” Kygo looked at her guitar and snatched it from her which caused her to let out a small yelp, “I will take your guitar and you will never see me or it again! Plus, you clearly have nothing better to do.” He truly had a point and he already took Rae’s guitar so Rae had no choice but to follow through with his plan, “Okay… what’s first?” “Well I already saw the biggest diamond in California so….. A fancy restaurant it is!” “You have got to be kidding me…..” She looked at the list and got an idea, “Follow me then.” ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~  They walked for miles but to Kygo it felt like days. While Kygo sounded annoying Rae could only focus on the intellectual fact that she was drowning in her sorrow and here came a boy wanting to complete his dreams in an annoying and childlike way. Kygo at least tried to get her to

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talk but nothing would budge. Finally, they reached a little bar in between two huge buildings. "What... is.... this?" Kygo looked at Rae. "It's a restaurant!" Rae said with an annoyed look with her hands in her pockets.  "I said fancy!"  "Oh come on! You also want to go to a bar right?" Kygo's brooding look made her roll her eyes just pull him in.  They went inside to an empty western like bar with a cheeky bartender. Rae picked a table exactly in the middle where they could get a view of everything. Both of them sat down but Kygo seemed interested in his surroundings. “What can I get ya’ll?” A man handed them menus. “Um… let me get a burger with fires, hold the tomatoes and onions and a beer please.” He handed his menu to Charlie who chuckled. “Nice choice kid, you?” Rae just starred at this kid who acted like a crazy old man or something. “Uh…. Get me the same, but make my drink a Sprite please.” The man finished writing down Rae’s order and took her menu as well. Just minutes after, he dropped off Kygo’s beer and then went into the kitchen. Kygo and Rae stayed silent for a minute, but Kygo has never liked silence so he spoke. "Hey, so why the interest in music?" Rae didn’t really feel like answering so she thought of the shortest answer possible. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

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"Well.... since I was 5 I have loved to sing and then I learned to play guitar and,” She shrugged, “Now I am here.” "Okay so why not do it professionally? Wouldn't that be cool?"   She laughed, "Not everyone gets their dreams come true kid.” Her laugh turned into a cold stoned face looking away. Kygo remembered those exact words, “You know…. My parents would always say that. I just don’t like to believe it is true.” “How so?” "My grandma would always tell me that if I wanted something in life, my heart needs to want it way more than anything else! And those people that give up……” He shook his head. Kygo always believed his grandmother to be right even if he had doubts. Rae gave it a careful thought though. No one had ever explained it to her like that, and while she didn’t believe it to be true a part of her did, “I guess that’s true.” She smiled. “Aren’t you gonna drink your beer?” Kygo now had second thoughts about it, but Rae assured him not to think it over and as he drank that first beer, all Rae could focus on was his classic, hilarious face. Throughout the day, Kygo and Rae spent their day doing the unimaginable to both of them. They visited the “Natural History Museum” and broke something, they took silly pictures at UCLA, and they watched a match of Rocky Balboa and even got into a little match of their own. Check by Check, Rae and Kygo had the time of their lives! And so as another day came to fall from their grasp, they watched the beach of Santa Monica by the rails being illuminated by the warm sun.

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“Alright well finally it is just spending one full day at the beach….. “ Rae clicked her tongue, “That may be a tough one….” “Why?” Kygo coughed a bit and then looked at Rae. “Well if you wanna spend one whole day then…. You want to do other things right?” He nodded his head not quite getting the point, “Well you need money kid.” “Right…” He rolled his eyes as he coughed some more, but this time it came with some blood. Kygo turned away from the blood with his face just shocked by it. “Kid? You okay?” Rae observed to see if everything was fine. All he did was nod his head and look back at the sunset, “Okay well… I think we should get some money. Come on!” They both began to walk but halfway through, Kygo collapsed on the floor unable to breath. Rae reacted as quickly as possible when she saw the blood and rushed to the nearest Hospital. The nurses quickly took him into the emergency room and it lasted a whole night before finally a doctor came to explain his situation. “Ma’am this boy ran away from a hospital in San Diego some months ago. Unfortunately….. This means he may not have enough time to survive the night.” Rae, shocked as can be sat down in the chair with her eyes wide open, starting to fill up with tears, “If there is anything I can do-“ She dried her tears, “Actually….. Could you um… do me a favor?” ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Rae and Kygo walked up to the beach just in time at 5:00pm for the sunset. Charlie, a friend of Rae’s, waited for them in the car. “How did you-“ “Doesn’t matter…. Come one.” She took Kygo out of the chair and both rested in the middle of the wet and dry sand where the water could hit them slightly.

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“This is…. Beautiful…..” Kygo said as he rested on Rae’s head. She shook her head in agreement and felt tears coming to her eyes, “Can you…. Sing me a song?” “Of course….” Her voice trailed off but she began to sing. Taking a deep breath as she felt Kygo’s heart thump slowly and slowly. “Don’t give up Rae….. Don’t let go….” He whispered. And both watched the sunset until the sun said its last goodbye.

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“Stiletto” Writer: Annie Rodgers

Alex

I walked into the coffee shop that morning thinking nothing of it. I woke up and got ready for work as usual and it seemed like a normal day until I made eye contact with the man sitting in the back corner of the cafe. His brown hair was tossed around on his head as if he had been running his hands through his hair several times. He only looked into my eyes for a brief second but I felt something in that second. It was a feeling that I can’t quite explain. It was like a pulling sensation in my chest. Pulling me towards him. At that moment, I shook it off. I couldn’t let myself get distracted. I had a big day ahead of me. I had a client coming in for surgery. It would be my first major surgery coming out of med school and I was nervous. However, no matter how hard I tried I couldn’t pull my eyes away from him for more than a second.  In the background I heard someone yelling and it pulled me out of the daze that I was in.  “Ma’am. Ma’am! You’re next.” The barista said nodding in my direction. I walked up and gave her my usual order. Nevertheless, my eyes never left his frame for more than two seconds. I wanted to make sure that he wouldn’t leave my sight. I had to say something to him. “That will be out over there in just a moment,” she smiled and then looked behind me to the next customer. I walked away from the counter and stood over at the other end. I pulled out my phone so that I didn’t look suspicious as I glanced up at him over and over again.  They called my name and I picked up my drink from the counter. I decided that it was best for me to just ignore the sensation in my chest and walk away. It was useless. He clearly didn’t see me as anything else but a stranger in a coffee shop. I looked over at his spot once last time before exiting the door, but he wasn’t there.

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Before I knew it I was on the ground and my drink had spilled all over the pavement outside the door to the cafe. I looked up to see why I had fallen and I made eye contact with him. He picked me up from the ground and gave me a tight lipped smile.  “I am so sorry about that Miss. My name is Chris by the way.” His voice was silky smooth and his eyes were a shade of green that I had never seen before. It seemed as though I could get lost in them forever. I did.  His brows furrowed as he looked at me and he waved his hand in front of my face. “Miss. Hello?” “Oh. Hello. I’m Alex.” ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Chris She was by far the most beautiful girl I had ever seen. Her hair was pulled into a low ponytail and her face was an angelic heart shape. I had only made eye contact with her for a moment but I knew that she would be the next one for me. I didn’t want to make my admiration look obvious so I didn’t look back over at her again. Even so, I could see her looking over at me almost every second. I watched the way she spoke to the barista, the way she smiled, and the way that her eyes crinkled when she did. I began to pack up my things, knowing that I would have to be walking out of here soon. As I slid my laptop into my bag she began to walk out of the store. I walked as fast as I could to assure that she wouldn’t be able to see me coming. Never begin the attack from the front.

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The words from my lessons as a child rang in my head. I got behind her just in time. She tripped over my foot and fell on the ground. I saw her drink fly out of her hands and spill all over the pavement.  “I am so sorry about that Miss. My name is Chris by the way.” I helped her off the ground and she brushed herself off. When she looked up at me she froze. She made eye contact with me. Lure her in. “Miss. Hello?” “Oh. Hello. I’m Alex.” Her voice was perfect. She was going to be the best one yet. Her chocolate brown eyes looked up into mine and I saw all of her innocence that would soon be gone. She was the one. She looked exactly like Heather. She was perfect. “Are you okay?” “Yes. I’m perfect.” Yes you are. “I saw you inside and I couldn’t help myself from talking to you. I was just wondering if I could get your number. Maybe we could get dinner tonight?” It had to be tonight. I wouldn’t be able to wait any longer than that. “Sure, that sounds lovely.” Perfect. “Okay, well here, put your number in my phone and I’ll text you the details tonight.” “That sounds perfect.” When she took the phone from my hand I felt it. I knew it. We had that same spark that Heather and I did. “You look really familiar. I don’t know where I’ve seen you, but I know that I have.” She smiles down at my phone when she speaks. I tense my jaw because I know exactly what she’s talking about. The police 12


released a sketch of me to the public. The last one got away and ran to the cops. She even got the feds involved. They’ve been here for a couple of days so I’ve been laying low. I just hope that she doesn't figure it out before tonight. “It must just be a coincidence. Well, here to go. Let me know what time and I’ll send you my address.” I smile at her and she walks away. I watch her retrieving frame and I am mesmerized by every part of her body. She’s perfect. The day goes by like any other. Except for the fact that I have a date with her tonight. We talked briefly about the plans and I have her exact address. Let’s just say that she won’t be going anywhere tonight. But I will. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Alex Everything was going to be perfect. He was right where I wanted him. He may think that he has the upper hand, but in reality, it will always be me who beats him. We had been playing this game for quite some time now. It all started a couple of months ago when we met on a dark web chatroom. He was one of the most messed up ones that I had ever seen. He always went into great detail about all of his murders. We started talking privately and became pretty good friends. The only thing was that we never knew each other's real names. We only knew each other's screen names. We were planning to meet in the future but I just couldn’t wait. I had one of my close friends trace his username to who he really was.  I found him and it was easier than expected. I will admit that he is quite attractive. I was mesmerized when I first saw him. Even so, he needed to be taken care of. As they say “This town isn’t big enough for the both of us.” I knew that he was planning to kill me tonight as well. He spoke with me today about this girl he met at a coffee shop who was the perfect surrogate for his old girlfriend Heather.

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I had everything ready for him. I was wearing a skin tight red dress that was knee length and I had on tall black stiletto heels. This was the perfect lure. It was going to be exactly the way I planned. I had my weapon of choice on my feet and I was ready. I heard the doorbell ring just as I was finishing putting on my lip-gloss. I ran to get the door and I saw him standing there in a crisp black suit. “You look beautiful,” he said. “Thank you. You don’t look too bad yourself. I have to run upstairs to grab my clutch. I’ll be right back down,” I smiled at him and began walking down the hallway. I heard his footsteps following me and I knew that there wouldn’t be a better time to attack.  I spun around and kicked him in the abdomen. He fell to the floor in pain and the knife in his hand flew across to the other side of the room. I had him. It was over. I beat him. “I win.” I said, adding a tilt of my head and a cocky smirk. I ended it by pushing the tip of my heel into the side of his neck. It was a shame though. He was good looking. I looked at myself in the mirror across the hall. “But I’m better.” I winked at myself and walked back down the hall victoriously.

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“Love’s Sunken Dreams” Writer: LOA Creator What is it about love; that makes people rush into a relationship Thinking it will last forever Not building a stronger structure Not knowing if their ships are going to sink like the titanic They don’t know if it will hold on Hold on through the storms that come ahead Some think of these things Thinking that the only solution is that the days should repeat and stay the same But they don’t know that the days that came happy for them Came bad for others They don’t know that others relationship is sinking like the titanic Because of a gigantic mess Even if they think they could rebuild their titanic But there is always going to be an Atlantic between them Some try using an emotion called: Love But that solution never worked But sent them deeper it the hole of distraction; No one knows anything about love Some are in a relationship not because of love but because a hate Being too late To try and change their fate Not finding their soulmate But still trying to find their missing piece Relationships are full of hurtful words And love leaves a scar that would never heal There is no meaning to love Nor is there an everlasting to relationship

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Everything thing is changing With no direction to go But to let fate control Even though, it might feel to controlling And too suffocating But sometimes all through these obstacles and misunderstandings fate could still have a happy ending Even though Love is like a storm leaving destruction to a relationship There are still different relationships and love

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“Who Are You?” Writer: Inspire-Sun You say, “Let’s talk.” I say, “Okay.” Pulling me off to one side You tell me that you’re my best friend. Pulling out a picture of the old days. Showing me a poem I wrote. All of these things are familiar, But when I look at you I know they don’t. But I say, “Who are you? I don’t remember the piercings and cool attitude. I never saw you with the dark over you. The old you knew how to keep it behind you. And so my apologies, But who are you?” You keep on insisting Telling me fantasies that have ceased. You point at the scar that you got When you saved me. But if the eyes are the window to the soul Then I don’t see what you’re telling me. And so I say, “Who are you? I still don’t know. I can’t see that friend that I used to know. All I see is a cocky kid, Trying to prove to the world the kid’s worth it. Trying to forget the past, Make out the future And say goodbye to the present. So please just go. Cause I still don’t know.”

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Could you just leave me alone? Stop telling me I’m wrong. Cause I know this kid that is now gone Isn’t you at all. So please just go! Find someone else to hold. So you can break them and tear them And watch them die in front of your eyes. You walk away from me. I finally think, “It’s over.” And when you turn away from me, I saw that person that once loved me.

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Chapter 1: The Stones of Zeolite Writer: Inspire-Sun Long ago, in a land far far away, there laid a stone called Zeolite. One day, it shattered into four great stones: Air, Water, Fire, and Earth. These four great stones became the foundation of the Earth and it kept everything in balance; Air representing peace, Water representing wisdom, Fire representing strength, and Earth representing beauty. However, two other stones were also created. The stone of Light and the stone of Darkness. It is said that these two stones are the most powerful of all and that somewhere out there, they lie in a cave that is divided. The one who finds it becomes the ultimate! But beware, for the dark stone seeks to conceal the heart of any who steps in its path if their heart is not within the light. You see? That is the story. The story of how our kingdom came to be. My mother and father became the rulers of Zeolite and the story about the four stones and the light and the darkness still remains a mystery. But it was no mystery anymore. When my parents decided to have children, it just so happens that they had four children each with a natural and mysterious gift. Sitting in the garden makes me think about my own purpose. Sure I have the gift of controlling water, but is that all that I am? Sometimes I wish I was all four types just so that I could have more fun! But no. I got water. Water is apparently calm, cool, and loving. But it is also strong and firm and gives away wisdom like no other. I, however, am not wise at all. Loving? Yes I guess. Calm? Not even close. And being cool may mean something else in that vocabulary, but in mine I am nowhere close to it. “Miss Ishani!” I heard Livia call me, “Miss Ishani!” I looked back to see her picking up her dress and running through the garden, “Miss Ishani!!!” She kept on calling me, which I have told her not to. Once she reached me, she stopped to take a rest, “Livia! I told you not to call me ‘Miss’. You are royalty too you know. For being my cousin.”

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“I know!” She gasped for air, “But you are in line to be the next Queen….” She stood up and arched her back which POPPED, “And I just design everything and make you look cooler.” She smiled and laughed which I followed with, “Anyways, your mom wants you to get ready for the Big Ball tomorrow!” She jumped excitedly. I rolled my eyes as she took me by the hand and dragged me all the way back to the castle. Everyone was getting ready for one of the biggest events in the Zeolite Kingdom. The day the oldest daughter turns Queen. It might sound very exciting to most people, but to me the excitement is not the word to describe it. It’s more like the torture. And not only that! I will also need to marry the future King if I am ever to be accepted as a proper Queen. In the Zeolite Kingdom history and law, a Queen cannot govern a kingdom on her own, considering that a Queen is not as strong as a King. Couldn’t have put it more mildly myself. And also, a King has to take on battles if any should arise. A Queen, however, does not. But what about a Queen with super powers? “Okay! I have the perfect dress for you! Designed it myself.” Livia took me to her room where she set me up on a stool and grabbed a dress from her closet, “Tada!” She showed it in front of my face and it isn’t exactly what I had in mind. The dress was big with poofy sleeves, shoulder view, a cream white color with fire flowers all over it as patterns, “What do you think?” “This looks more like something for Mirri!” Mirri (My third youngest sister) has the power to manipulate Fire and it just so happens that she loves Fire flowers. Also, fire seems to fit her personality quite perfectly. “Oh come on! You can’t just limit yourself to one color!” She had a point, but with one look it told her that being a Queen with the power to manipulate water meant that you have to live up to that dedication! Of having water powers, “Fine…” She got out another dress that was more modest, still big, no puffy sleeves, visible shoulder, but a beautiful light blue color with white butterflies at the bottom.

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“That’s better.” I nodded my head. And yet, deep down, I still didn’t have the same satisfaction of being Queen. “Good! Now your mom says your hair must be up in a Bun with two curly waves on the side!” Livia said excitingly. She always had the designer in her. Making everything and everyone look beautiful and handsome meant everything to her! Not to make people something that they are not, but to make them bring out their inner self by expressing their show of fashion and style. “She actually agreed to that?” My mother always tells me that I never look good with hair on the front. She always says it has to go on the back. No bangs, or else I don’t look good. I do have a bit of luck on my side that my mother never uses words like “ugly” or “horrendous” even though I still hate the fashion tips she gives me and makes me have. “Surprisingly yes! I mean most of the time your hair is a mess and you have to remember it is extremely curly, but if I straighten it up a bit it should be good as new!” She quieted down as she realized what she said could’ve had an offensive view, “You know what I mean.” I sighed, “Liv? What do you think about the whole… A Queen needs a husband thing? Isn’t it a bit… much?” “That depends. What do you think about it?” She turned around from what she was doing and looked at me. I played with my ring as I thought of what to say. The words just came out, “I just think it’s a little bit unfair. And… I don’t want a husband! Neither do I want to be a Queen!” She gasped. I guess these words must have shocked her. It’s one thing to say you don’t want a husband but quite another to say that you don’t want to be Queen. Soon, I realized that she was just joking, “How dare you.” “Seriously?” I looked at her, “Be serious! Am I wrong?”

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“Are you wrong… hmm….” She pondered on that question, then snapped her fingers, “I honestly think you are…..” She stopped. I awaited her answer with all of the tension, “Crazy.” I frowned, “Yup! You are crazy!” I knew Livia was just joking. After all, she hates having to talk about serious matters…. Sometimes. But I needed someone who would understand me and perhaps actually listen to me. Someone who has had experience in these things and who has become the greatest person in life! Someone who will give me a straight answer. My Mother. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ “Alright Mirri. I need you to focus. Hit the target.” My mom told Mirri, who was standing in front of a dummy with a target trying to hit it with her flames. “Alright!” She jumped and huffed. Then, she positioned herself so that she could hang on in case her fire was too strong. She concentrated and placed her hands out! Just like that, Mirri was shooting fire out of her hands like a dragon, but this time into the target. She burned up the whole middle part of the dummy and, in case this would be a real human being, she burned up it’s heart and basically made it suffer a painful death. “Great job Mirri!” My mom gave her a high-five as Mirri passed by to join us on the benches. Then she turned to look at me, “Ishani, you are up.” I haven’t had much luck like my sisters. Being a teenager with much emotion to show doesn’t make it easy to control your powers. Especially when you have many contradictions against your own kingdom, “Mom! If a Queen isn’t supposed to fight, then why are we learning to fight!” This came out as more of a sarcastic question. “Ishani… I have told you not to question your training.” My mom was always serious. At times she is fun with my sisters and sometimes she and

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I joke around! But now that the day had arrived, she treated me as more of a student rather than her daughter. “Dad doesn’t like it! Nobody likes it!” I have always done this. Question everything that I have to do. My studies, my training, my social training, my Queen ship, everything! And still I haven’t gotten a straight up answer as to why all of these things were exactly necessary. “I am not worried about what others think. This is important!” She gave me a death glare, “Now go!” Her voice is not even close to a scream, but not far from a punishment act. I have no other choice but to do what I am told. As I have always done. I placed myself in front of the new dummy that was placed. But the target was up above it’s head. I felt as if I was already being punished, since I had no idea how I was supposed to hit that tiny dot in the center 12 feet away, “Mom!!” “Don’t mom me! Go!” She sounded urgent. I rolled my eyes and just thought, Get on with it. I placed myself just as Mirri did since I have been known to get out of control. Water seems to be the hardest to control. Not always are you going to find a water pool nearby, so I had to learn how to collect the invisible steam all around us to attack. I calmed myself, cleaned my hand and placed my left hand in front of my face, sideways. I felt the water droplets starting to group together to form hundreds of rain drops and when I opened my eyes, confidently, a huge water bubble laid on top of me. I felt a lot of anger and disappointment in me and this fueled the water to become bigger and strong. Water, the softest thing, can penetrate through even steel. With much anger, I stomped my back foot forward and signaled the water to move forward at a high speed by placing my right arm in front. It moved so fast that it made the dummy explode and cut a hole right through the wall behind the dummy. I breathed in and looked at my mom. She didn’t look too happy with my results. “Training is done girls. Get ready for bed.”

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“Yes mom.” Venilia vowed in respect to her and then tagged Ginger on the head and both started to chase each other with Mirri following behind them. I started to follow them as well until my mom stopped me, “Not you Ishani.” She said forcefully. Her voice was as terrifying as a Tranimaticus-a sea monster with eight legs, four eyes, and terrifying teeth! I swallowed hard, “Let’s take a walk.” She sounded calmer as she walked towards the back doors that led to the front of the Garden, “Come on.” She called and I ran to follow her. We walked along the path for 30 minutes, not saying a word to each other. The lights of the Gardenias illuminated like the bright moon. The path of stone probably leading me to my death or a life lesson. As we walked, I looked at all of the different plants and nocturnal insects that played harmonious music. It'll make you as calm as a feather. Some plants were born with light, others were born with patterns. And yet some were born with natural abilities to grasp any prey in it’s mists. Finally, we reached the arch that had lit up daisies all over it and a pond beneath it. We crossed the tiny bridge and she sat down on the bench and gazed upon the pond. I was a bit puzzled at first, but I figured that I might as well sit down with her. She kept on looking at the pond and before I could say anything, she said, “Do you know why water is the most important element of all?” I couldn’t say anything since I didn’t know the answer. She took my response quite well, “Because it controls all the other elements. Water, Ishani, is beneficial to all and keeps the balance of Zeolite.” “Mom… “ I sighed as I tried to figure out how to put my words, but my mom knew anyway. “You don’t want to be Queen.” She looked at me with a sincere face, “But that’s not all that is bothering you.” “How did you know?” Is all I could ask.

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“A mother knows Ishani.” She sighed, “Ishani, I am not trying to control your life. I am just here to make sure that when I am gone, YOU are going to take great care of yourself and the kingdom.” She paused, “So please, tell me what is going on in here.” She pointed at my chest. I knew that this is what I wanted to talk about, but I was afraid of what she was going to say. I reminded myself that she always taught me to treat her, also, like a friend. And so, I did, “It’s the whole…. Husband thing too.” She nodded her head, “I don’t think being a Queen is the problem though.” She sounded clear. “No that is definitely a problem.” I was clear too. It is a problem. A very big one. “Why?” “Well for one I don’t want to spend my life caring for other people’s responsibilities. I am not responsible! You have even said it! And two, I don’t want to spend my life in a castle! I want to go out there!” I pointed towards the skies. Something beyond what I have ever imagined, “I want to see the world! I want adventures and… and… life!” I stood up and looked towards the sky, hoping it would one day take me with it and show me all there is to see, “I want to live mom. I want scars and bruises and stories to tell! Like Grandma.” She stood up and put her arm around me, “Look, I hate to break it to you but…. You don’t have a choice. This Kingdom needs a Queen. And being a Queen is more than just tasks and signing papers of choice. Being a Queen could just be everything you want to be.” She sighed and then leaned on the rail, “Now about the whole… suitor business…. Trust me Ishani, if I could I would deny it. But a Queen is said to govern with too much heart and less reasoning. And it is sad to say but that is right.” She looked at me, “And you have a lot of heart.”

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“Is that a bad thing?” I questioned with dignity and also offensiveness on my part. “Yes. Remember, the heart deceives one. But the mind, it acts with reason and with feelings at times but it always does what is best.” She reached her arms out and hugged me. Her hug made me feel warm and safe. Secure to be there with her. At times I do wonder where I would be if I didn’t have my mother. And where am I going to be when she is gone, “There is one thing to remember.” “What is it?” “At least you get to choose whoever you want to marry. So make sure you choose, not just with your heart, but with your head.” She looked at me and rubbed my cheek, “Never listen to your heart when it calls for you.” “Yes mom.” “Now let’s go. You need rest for tomorrow.” I nodded and we both walked down the path again, this time laughing and joking as we used to do. It felt good to have someone understand me and listen to me and also tell me what I needed to hear, not what I wanted. It is true, the heart is the most treacherous thing in the world! Because it doesn’t think at all about the consequences that could happen. Only about the happily ever after that 100% will never happen. That is another law that I have adored and wished I had listened to sometimes. But even then, I wonder if it is right…. I got into my bed and looked at the chandelier in the shape of the moon. It brightens up the blue, dark wall, much like the real one. I laid there and wondered if it was right to not listen to your heart. To not follow it. I questioned if perhaps the law was wrong…. My heart is questioning if it is wrong.

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“Wings of Freedom” Writer: Carmen Rose My Wings of Freedom, who are you to me? What is it you need? Maybe it’s a key? Or that single strand of hope that is no bigger than a seed? My Wings of Freedom, you come in one body A body that is the same color as ours Our story is almost like a copy And we have those same powers My Wings of Freedom, you come in more than one form Just like us It isn’t, in this society, just the norm Which forms our distrusts My Wings of Freedom, we will find our way home I can’t hide this fear I still have in my heart But wherever you shall roam We can only follow and take part

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“A small light in my Life” Writer: Ima Mervin There are some seeds, That only sprouts with the help of rain. And There is a small light in my life, That ignites only by love. Holding my thirst for love, With burning petals An unmentioned word of love That spreads over his lips Just by looking at each other. Between the color of silence There are some seeds, That only sprout with the help of rain and sunlight. And there is a small light in my life, That ignites only by love. When time passes by on the shore We shall go as deep as the soil And make a silent piece of art Into a piece of heart. When separating becomes a problem There are some seeds, That only sprouts with the help of rain, sunlight and love. And there is a small light in my life, That ignites only by love.

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“A Passion” Writer: Inspire-Sun It is still as time, Valuable as breathing. His voice so strong and pure That I faint to my knees If it were so. I can never describe it. He is the knight of my story, The mysterious prince. His glorious honey skin shining gold. His mysterious dark eyes Make even the night jealous Of the beauty that his silence brings. The twinkle in his eyes Can only mock the marvel of the stars. His pitch black hair makes me get Lost in a world of wonder. Is it his laugh? Or his smile? His look? Or is it simply his love? I don’t know what makes my stomach Flutter most. He is dark and cold but Hides a true deep nature for love. A love I hope he spends with me. Our love has become triumphant over death. Over scolding and darkness, Over the sadness and depression of the cold. And as the leaves brought change and fell Into our cold hands, It couldn't change our feelings, not for a minute. It has overcome even the hardest seas, That blew and blew and knocked us around. No matter, it has come this far

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And I want it to keep going. I have this passion for someone, Yes it’s true. It’s a rhythm of love I can finally dance to. A dance that keeps me moving That keeps me going on through life. He brought me back to my feet, I can’t deny it. He has opened my heart to new possibilities, And new voices and melodies to dance to. Yes, I’ve been broken and torn But he picked up the pieces of my heart, Let me rest as he put them back together. And as I cried and cried He listened and did not go like most. Yes, this is love. I won’t have it any other way.

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“Popcorn” Writer: Carmen Rose To start off this letter, I, in no way, condoned what happened to that poor kid or what I did to them. I will tell you all the truth of what happened, and even what I did in detail. I was only trying to help them in all honesty, at least that’s what I told myself. They were just so young at the time, especially for them to be running away. It happened all in less than a day. It was dark and foggy that night, which was pretty rare weather for Texas. I was kinda driving the bus around when I saw this kid with this bright hair. They had a suitcase and backpack, wearing some shorts and a anime looking t-shirt. And their hair was the brightest color I’ve ever seen. It was way too bright to be considered blonde, it was almost completely yellow. At the time, I didn’t know if their hair was dyed or not, but I learned later that it was their natural hair color. It was uncombed and it sagged down their back in long curls. It was such beautiful and happy hair for a sad person standing there underneath the bus stop. I made my last stop for the night in front of that person. They were pretty quiet when they paid the bus fare and sat in the seat nearest to me. “Where you headed to, sweetheart?” I figured the kid needed a ride to a hotel or something, although I was kinda hoping it would take less than 10 minutes. “There’s a train station at the edge of town, can you just take me there?” They asked. I didn’t question it at the time, just did my job. But I think they were thinking about hopping the train to get out of Texas, which is pretty much illegal, and the kid looked young as well, so I drove for a while till I said, “Are you thinkin’ of hoppin’ the train, sweetie?” They were silent for a moment before they whispered a soft “yeah”. “How about you stay with me for the night? Ah know it sounds suspicious, but ah don’t want you to be freezin’ out here in this cold.” Their answer was quicker this time when they agreed to it. And then there was more silence. I figured they weren’t in the mood to talk, but my nosy

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self was also curious, “So is there a reason why you were standin’ out there in the rain?” “...I ran away.” They said. I was surprised they trusted me with that info in the first place. Texas laws didn’t exactly like runaways, neither did the snitching folks here either. They were either naive or had nothing to lose. “Is there a reason why you ran away?” Silence. I decided to ask again later. “You gotta name, sweetheart?” “...popcorn.” “Could you repeat that, sweetheart, ah couldn’t hear ya.” “...Popcorn.” It was a weird name, I’ll give them that. No parent would ever give birth to a child and think of calling them “Popcorn”, but I didn’t ask anymore questions. I couldn’t exactly look at them, but I could tell they were tired and didn’t want some rando interrogating them. They finally got some sleep as I headed back to the office. Just as I parked the bus, the boss caught me unfortunately(the privileged bastard had the audacity to carry HIMSELF an umbrella) and I couldn’t exactly just lie about there not being a kid literally sleeping in the bus. “You just finishin’ up?” He asked as I stepped out of the bus. “Yeah, caught a runaway on my last round.” “What, you kidnappin’ the kid?” “No, Imma report them to the cops.”

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Unsurprisingly, he went to check himself. The poor kid was wide awake, glaring at us in confusion, anger and betrayal...and it wouldn’t be the last time they did that. The boss flicked his cigarette away, “You picked up this dirty ass girl on the side of the road?” “I’m not a girl.” They snapped. The boss snorted, “Don’t tell me you picked up a kid that has gender problems.” “It’s called being nonbinary.” “Ah, so you did. You might need to get this girl to the police asap.” “Will do, boss.” I lied, “Wouldn’t want the poor kid to be all alone anyway.” “Night, Lizzy.” “Night, boss.” I didn’t expect the kid to go after me after he left. Popcorn seethed, “So what, you manipulate me and now I’m going back? Back home? Is that what you do? Manipulate kids and snitch on them?” “Woah woah woah, kiddo, ah ain’t doin’ shit. Ah only lied to boss to protect you.” They froze for a moment, feeling clearly guilty. They were a sweet kid, and they were probably on edge. After putting a few pieces together, I figured out that they weren’t exactly running away, but more or less kicked out, or at least that’s what I figured at the time. “You were kicked out, weren’t you?” Popcorn tensed up, looked away from me for a while. I think they were expecting me to kick them out or take them to the cops. They finally looked up. I think they were trying to cry, but didn’t want to at the same

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time, “No. I ran away because my mom didn’t accept me for being nonbinary.” Again, I was shocked. I didn’t really expect them to open up that easily, but that was probably the naivety of the young. “She didn’t let me go outside anymore because she was ashamed of me and tried to take me out of school. It didn’t work, but she told me to never come out of my room until college unless it was for school.” “All that for the fact that you were nonbinary?” “...yeah. She’s been trying to find a therapist to help me with my ‘problem’.” “What makes you think you are nonbinary?” They tensed up again and glared at me, “It’s not that I think, I AM nonbinary. I just know it. I’ve just...never felt like a woman. It just never sit right with me. I hate my chest and just hate the way my cheeks are shaped, but I really liked wearing skirts and stuff because it just felt like it fit me well...sorry, this is all personal stuff and I know it’s confusing-” “It’s fine, sweetheart.” The words felt empty in my mouth, “Imma trans woman.” Popcorn’s eyes lit up for the first time we’ve met, “Really?” “Really? Ah ain’t never had my ma been that much of an ass to me as yours, but ah understand what it’s like, especially in a place like Texas.” I felt my stomach churn. I wasn’t exactly lying per say, I really am a trans woman, and my mother was such a supportive pillar in my life for that. But I held it back, helped the poor thing out because what was I supposed to do? Leave them on the bus? I was in it for the long haul now, “So where to?” “Um...if it’s not too much to ask, I’m headed to Lawton, Oklahoma.”

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It wasn’t too far at all, just an hour away, maybe even less depending on how early we left in the morning. I nodded, “Mkay, ma car can take that. We leave in the morning.” They deflated and looked a little nervous. “We’re prolly both tired, sweetheart. You just left your ma, ah drove drunk people around today, ah think we should head home.” They looked a little more convinced, but they probably decided they had nothing else to lose at this point. I think they preferred to be kidnapped than to be taken back to a transphobic parent. We got to my house just a few minutes later in my dinky little pickup, the rain wasn’t slacking any less. I’ve seen rain before, it has rained in Texas before, but the rain made me more nervous than it was supposed to. It was almost like God knew what I was gonna do, and He was giving me a chance to just make it right. I didn’t listen. And no, to clear up some rumors, I didn’t do anything to Popcorn that night. I never even touched them without their consent. All we did was shower, talk, eat and sleep. They talked about how they had always been nonbinary ever since they were a kid. They never considered themselves a girl or a boy, but they found the term online. They connected with other people in the LGBT+ community and actually fell in love with two people. I didn’t know their genders at the time (One was a trans man and the other was a cis man, I am very sorry to the two men I hurt). So, after their mother locked them in their room, or at least tried to, they planned to move in with one of their boyfriends since his family was okay with it. They were hoping to apply for emancipation before their mother found them again so they could make it official. I was a little surprised at how much they thought about this elaborate plan, like they had been planning for months instead of days like they insisted they did. “I really didn’t think my mom would react like that.” Popcorn’s voice sounded tired, probably just too tired of crying now, “Dad used to be an ally, he loved to show his support. He died during a pride parade shooting,

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it’s just...shitty for her to disrepsect his memory like that, and disrespectful towards everyone who died that day.” I heard about the shooting in 2005. It happened just in this same town, just down by my road before I moved in. At least 23 people had died, including 5 children. I felt my heart twist more. All I could think was ‘God why, this poor, poor kid just wanted to live their life.’ We went to bed right after that, we had to leave early in the morning, or at least that’s what I told myself. Boy did I cry myself to sleep that night. I don’t think I’ve ever had that many tears fall from my own eyes. Normally I’d have my ma comfort me, but what the hell could she do while she was stuck in the hospital. And I really don’t mean to guilt trip you all into forgiving me, but I don’t want you all to think I just did what I did for the hell of it or for the money. I really did feel guilty for doing it. We left in the morning like I said. Popcorn was happier when their stomach was full of pancakes (I had never even met a person who inhaled pancakes as easily as them). They were beaming with joy that day, even though it was raining. And their beautiful, beautiful hair was so much brighter and fuffier. It almost guilted me out of doing it. Almost. I don’t think I did that much talking that day, and I don’t think they really cared/noticed. They really were excited on the way there, and their excitement didn’t let up. Their excitement got worse when we finally did arrive. I think the rest was a blur, or not a blur per say, but I guess the rest was kinda like watching my body doing it. Like I was just another person watching it all happen. We both got out of the pickup and they practically bolted up the driveway even with their suitcase. They were so happy. I ain’t never seen a happier and more genuine smile in all my life. They rang the doorbell more than once, screamed their partner’s name so loud I think the neighborhood had woken up. That boy who recorded most of it was having a smoke outside, I think he had to be as young as Popcorn. The door opening in front of them was the slowest door opening of my life. I don’t mean to be dramatic, but it was like it went on for hours but it was also like it happened in a few seconds.

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I could feel the excitement out of Popcorn just vanish when that door was violently thrown open (yes, violently, the door was almost off the hinges). And I just watched it all happen. It was their mom, screaming and yelling at them so loud that if Popcorn’s yelling didn’t wake the neighbors, you were damn well awake now. I think she said a bunch of slurs at Popcorn, called them an attention seeking brat, a suicidal psychopath and some other stuff, but I don’t really remember the rest. I just watched. What else could I do? Their boyfriend (the trans one) stood in the background, held back by his parents because what could they do? If their mom was going through that many hoops to keep her kid, only God knew what she would frame the poor boy as if he tried to do something. The parents couldn’t do nothing either as long as Popcorn was a minor, especially since they weren’t emancipated. The court would easily rule in favor of Popcorn's mom. To this day, I never knew what strings she pulled to get into their house and invade their property just for the sake of her child. And no, they couldn’t have warned Popcorn because their phone had been taken away, and they didn’t leave with it(at least that’s what I think, I didn’t know if they had their popcorn). I kept my tears in, I didn’t deserve to cry at the moment, I thought. At least until Popcorn turned around and gave me the most painful look I had ever gotten. Yeah, they were pissed, but they were also confused, hopeless, and just...hurt. Very hurt, obviously. I think they knew I knew. “Why...you took me back to my mom? I trusted you! I told you everything! I...I gave you my entire life and you just...go behind my back and did this? Weren’t we supposed to stick together in this community?” I felt a lump in my throat. I wanted nothing more than to die right then and there. It was too late then, though. It was done. I made my choice and the dye had been cast. I placed a hand on their shoulder, and they flinched away. “How could you?”

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Damn, I really wanted some to just jump me right then and there. “Listen, sweetheart, Popcorn-” “Don’t call me that!” They shouted. I think their mama had enough, “That’s enough (deadname)! You should be thanking this woman for protecting you! You had no right to run away from me!” “You locked me in my room!” “Because you are insane! You are a girl! I birthed you and I raised you as such!” “Popcorn.” I tried to explain, but I don’t think they were listening, “Popcorn, listen. Your mama made a deal with me. My own ma is stuck in the hospital and ah just don’t have the funds for the doctors to help her. Your mama promised me at least $10,000 for her surgery. My ma has a chance to survive, ah just needed the money.” The last thing they said to me was, “So you’d sacrifice someone else’s life for money?” I really didn’t think much of it at the time. I thought that they just didn’t understand at the time because they were young. Especially where we lived, people would do anything for money, I just wanted my ma to survive. And that was also the last time I saw them, obviously. Popcorn’s mom paid me and I left without another word. My job there was done. I drove off while their boyfriend and his parents were trying to comfort them, or they were all probably saying goodbye. I wasn’t exactly sure. I don’t think I did anything for the rest of that day other than just sit there and just think about what the hell I had just done. The rest was history, as you all know. Popcorn had meant what they said: They had killed themselves a week later, the community was pissed upon learning what had happened. Then the interview happened with their mom obviously training to gain sympathy, but we all know what the real outcome was. Riots and protests broke out, mainly with parents of lgbt+

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kids, because of the fact that their mom repeatedly used their deadname and misgendered them. And I was practically in the middle of it all, just like Popcorn. Yes, I know my situation is controversial, especially in the community. Maybe I shouldn’t have gone through with it and told Popcorn, maybe it was a good choice. In the end, though, despite my efforts, my ma did die. It was rough, it really was. Despite literally putting Popcorn through hell, despite getting all that money, my ma didn’t survive the surgery. Now I’m just lost in this world. I lost two people all for nothing. I murdered a young person for nothing. All that money for nothing but riots and more inequality and hate. And maybe some of you are saying that I should’ve never even thought about betraying Popcorn, but here’s my question: Wouldn’t you do the same? I never would’ve known it would end like this.

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“To Be Silent” Writer: Inspire-Sun To be silent is not merely a form of disability. It isn’t a sign of non-educational entities, Nor should it be taken for granted. For it is the silent that have much to say. Much to do and much to flow about for. For you see, I too was silent at one point I too possessed the inability to speak with the tongue. It was a curse that haunted me since birth. But I was rather normal For a young girl who would just sit silently. Now who wouldn’t want that? But the curse began to progress. I enjoyed no one's company but my own. Lost in a way of close fantasy But that made me an easy target for an evil That presented itself towards all the Earth. And school wasn’t any different. There I am, sitting in the corner of the class. In the middle or in the front And sometimes even in the back. Watching my peers as they all raise their hands willingly To answer a question the teacher offers. My hand slowly goes up, trembling. We are taught that it’s okay to be wrong. But is it really? Is it okay to not tie our sails And hope the wind will just carry us through In the right direction? Is it okay to adorn the sky in a bloody red When it should really be painted a bright blue? Such ideas, if presented, would have been judged

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By all and mocked. And so my hand goes down with no hesitation. In utter silence, my world was captivated. I could hear the laughing and joy of others As their kites drifted away by the wind. I could see phosphenes twinkling in front of me Illuminating my very picture of what I ought to see. And then I was presented with the most Formal way of speaking: Writing. Yes, it was that time the pencil in my hand Could no longer be guided by it. It was at that moment when the words caught on my White piece of paper floated high and above, Coming to life with every emotion I felt! The key to the cage was turned And my heart fluttered out as free as a bird! I am still silent. You will still see me with moving eyes. My graceful brown hair being blown about by the wind, Drifting away into another world in my sleep. I may not have much to say, But when I lay down my work of art in front of you You’ll see, The words have been spoken! And I have been set free.

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“Live the Life That You Desire” Writer: Annie Rodgers Love. A word. A feeling. A warmth. A breaking point. A mystery. Love. I’ve put a lot of thought into this one word. This one word that drives me crazy. It is a complicated word. It is something that I think a lot about. Love is interesting. A good friend once told me that love is being vulnerable enough to let someone hurt you but trusting that they won’t. It is giving a person a gun pointed at your heart and trusting that they won't pull the trigger. That is the fall. The moment you trust the person you are in love with to catch you. The catch is when they put that same faith in you as you did in them to hold onto you. The catch is what we all hope for. The catch is euphoric. The crash is what we dread. The crash is when they don’t catch you. When they let you keep falling until you hit rock bottom. Except, that bottom can be very arduous to find. However, that bottom is crucial. So crucial that you may even have to build one yourself. That can be strenuous. That is why we fear the fall. Because we know that it could lead to the crash. So, really it isn’t the fall that we’re afraid of, it’s the crash. However, we can’t always be focused on that. Life is so short. Sometimes we must take that risk without thinking and without knowing what the outcome will be. We just have to trust that in the end, even if it ends up hurting us. That we are stronger in the end because of it. The time that you spend investing your heart in the people that you love is what will matter in the end. So, even if it is only for one minute, to tell someone that you love them because that one minute could change their entire life. That one minute can change everything, because a lot can happen in one minute. Sixty little seconds. In one minute, Usain Bolt can run over 745 meters. In sixty second 255 babies are born around the world. In that small amount of time, your heart beats an average of 72 times. But, bad things can happen in that time too. Around the world, 105 people die every minute. That is why when something significant happens that alters the course of our life, like love, we begin to say things that we never would have said before that. All of the mistakes that we have made or the people that we have upset, that all becomes insignificant.

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So, my question is, if life can be gone so quickly and unexpectedly, why don’t we say those things before we might not have the chance to? Well, it can be hard to live in such an extreme way; a lot of people might not know what to say. But there are certain times where it is better to say too much, then to not say enough. Think about it. What’s the harm in doing so? Even if you end up being hurt or embarrassed even, nothing lasts forever. That is the true beauty of time. Eventually, things will fade away. Why wouldn’t you say too much? So, while you’re at it, love too hard. I don’t think it’s possible to love someone or something halfway. Either you do or you don’t. So, if you do, give it everything you have. At least if it fails, you’ll know that you laid it all out on the table. You gave it everything you had. Pride gets in the way of a lot of potentially beautiful moments. After some time, all the little things that you could have said or done start to pile up. And then, you are left with a heavy heart and all kinds of regret. All because you wanted to stay safe. I’ve been in relationships where I knew from only a few days in that it wasn’t going to work out. But I gave it a shot, because, in the long run, each and every one of those relationships helped sculpt me into who I am today. I went for it because of the chance that I could find the thing that we all strive for in our relationships. Something rare. That thing being love. Even if those relationships didn’t work out, there is always a lesson to learn from each person who enters your life. I’m an endlessly hopeful person in that way. I usually end up getting hurt. However, I’m still here and I’m a better person because of it. You can’t let the hurt change you, as hard as it may try. Stay vulnerable, stay kind, stay understanding, and stay gentle. We are a result of the experiences life hands us and how we react to those experiences. Not all the experiences are going to be the happiest, but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t important. If you have lived all your experiences in that “halfway” range, what kind of a person does that make you? Of course, the events of everyday life can't be extraordinary. That just simply isn’t realistic if you factor in all of the responsibilities and obligations we have to keep up with daily.

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Make the days with more responsibilities important too. Make life fun. You’re not going to be how old you are right now forever. You could die after your next birthday. When your mom asks if you want to sleep in her bed, say yes. One day she’ll be in a hospital bed and there won’t be enough room to make up for right now. Stop canceling plans; go out and use your legs while they work. You’re guaranteed nothing. Stop denying affection. You’ll never be able to love someone as a teenager the same way at thirty-five. Someone, many someone’s, are going to tell you they love you. Don’t keep quiet because you’ve been told it too soon. If you love them, say so. Be brutally, beautifully honest. Go out and change the world. Fight for peace, equality, and change. When you’re seventy and can only watch the news all day you don’t want to see the same issues still going on when you had every chance to fight it. Stop romanticizing the “I don’t need anybody” and “I don’t have feelings” attitude. It’s easier to make friends in high school than in nursing homes. Embrace feelings and intimacy. Don’t apologize for caring and don’t let anybody make you feel guilty for caring even if it’s one-sided. You’re only a teenager for 2,555 days and then you’re twenty. Life never slows down. Bones become fragile and break, people die, and hearts become weak. With every atom in your body, live right now. And live the life that you have, at this moment, to the fullest. And honestly, for me, sometimes living life to the fullest means going back to bed and getting those extra hours of sleep that my body is begging me for. But we can all do ourselves a small favor by saying what we need to say and saying it a little more often. Even if it only takes a minute.

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“The Lake” Writer: Elly Reussow The year is 1908, there has been a string of missing children in Midwest North Dakota. So far 10 kids, ages 8 to 15, have vanished. Nobody knows who is doing it or where the kids are going. Parents are terrified and barely letting their kids leave the house, the only time you would see people are on the streets were right before the school day and after the day ends. I was sitting on my bed reading through my assignment for school when there was a tapping sound outside my window, my body seemed to jump about three feet in the air. I looked out the clear glass and saw a brunette standing at my window with a huge smile on her face. I get off my hard bed and walk over to the window, sliding it open, “You are a terrible person,” I scold. “I’m sorry Tess but you should have seen your face,” She laughed crawling through the medium size window. “What are you doing here Allie? I highly doubt that your mother let you out of the house,” I scold. “I snuck out obviously,” she says jumping onto my bed and laying on her back. “When you get kidnapped and murdered brutally, don’t haunt me because I warned you,” I tell her, pushing her over so I could continue doing my homework. “No matter how I die, I will be haunting you, and if you die first, I expect the same”. She tries to pull the papers from my hands but I just swat her hands away. “Let’s go do something,” she pleads.

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“No. One, I don’t want to get murdered, and two, I need to get my homework done,” I say, turning my attention back to the page in front of me. “Please,” she begs. “Fine but only for a short walk, if my mom finds out I left, we will never see each other again,” I sigh and place my work down on the bed. After my shoes are on, I lock my door and we crawl out the open window. “How about we walk down to the lake and back?” “Yeah, ok”. I love my best friend so much, but I really hate that she can talk me into anything, without hardly trying. We continued to walk and talk about things, mostly about school gossip though. Once we reached the lake, Allie started to take off her shirt, “What are you doing?” “Going swimming,” she says nonchalantly. “You said we would walk down and then back,” I fight, as she strips down to her undergarments. “I did but I never said we wouldn’t stop and go for a swim.” She flashes me an evil smile, turns, and jumps into the large dark lake. “Allie,” I whine. “Common, loosen up,” she smiles swimming in circles. “Fine,” I say then slide my top and bottoms off and jump into the dark abyss. After I come up for air she laughs and says, “see isn’t this fun?”

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“Yeah it is,” I laugh. She seems so happy; I can’t disagree with her. Not that it isn’t fun but it’s not as fun as she thinks it is. We float there for a few more minutes laughing at nothing, when all the sudden her body goes underwater, and it doesn’t come back up. “ALLIE,” I yell repeatedly. I continually yelled her name for what seems like hours until finally her body reemerges, and she is laughing. “I hate you”. “No, you don’t,” she laughs as I make my way to the shore and start to climb out. “Hey, wait. I am sorry, don’t go yet.” “I love you, but I have homework and my mom will kill me if she finds out I am not at home,” I say before pulling my pants on, then moving to my shirt. Once my shirt is over my head, I look over the water and see nothing. “Really Allie, I am not going to fall for it again,” I laugh. When nothing happens I start to panic again. “Allie common.” Finally her body came up again, only this time she was not laughing, her body was face down in the water and completely still. “Allie?” I ask shakily. When no response comes, I jump back in the water not caring if my clothes got wet. I pull her body back to land and climb out before pulling her with me. When I flip her over, I see her face, for the first time and I jump back and scream. Her whole front side is covered in deep cuts. There is no blood coming from any of them, they’re just there. It doesn’t make sense that she isn’t bleeding, she was only under for a minute or two, that is not enough time to bleed out or even get that many cuts. I look back at the lake and see more large items start to float to the surface. There were the bodies of all the missing kids. I stand to my feet, turn and run as fast as I can back to my house. I am about to turn the knob when I feel something grab my feet and pull me down. I try to scream but I can’t, I can’t make any noises. I claw at the

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ground trying to stop but it doesn’t help. I am pulled all the way back to the lake full of children. Whatever is pulling me pulls me into the water, which seems colder than before, and continues to pull until I am at the bottom of the large lake. I try to move and swim to the top, but I can’t, my body is paralyzed. I feel pain at my side then everything goes black.

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“I Am From” Writer: Annie Rodgers I am from salt in my veins and sand in my soul. I am from paradise. From a wobbly doorknob and a laundry room next door. I am from snow on the trees and high altitude. I am from jello parties and laughing over nothing. I am from Kristin Francovitch and Rich Rodgers. I am from Florida trips, oh so many Florida trips And seaweed infested waters. From Fourth of July parades. And faces that will stay that way. I am from the wind whistling a happy tune. I am from two wonderful brothers. I am from Florida trips, oh so many Florida trips I am from crying boys and father-daughter dances. From snow in my pants. I am from salt in my veins and sand in my soul. I am from paradise.

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“Manipulation” Writer: Carmen Rose Manipulation was a word Marcus knew well. One moment ne was being told ne was loved, the next ne was being yelled at for letting the dog bark. Earlier in nis life, ne would’ve fallen for it. According to nis mother, it was always nis fault, ne was the fuck up. But Marcus learned over time that nis mother was to blame. Ne wasn’t manly enough (ne wasn’t even a man), ne was always lying (ne wasn’t a saint, but that wasn’t true), ne was a ungrateful brat (ne had always been grateful, but after a while Marcus wasn’t sure nis mother deserved it). Nis mother, outside of all that, told nim that she loved nim. She manipulated nim and made Marcus feel that ne could trust her, before she made it clear that ne couldn’t even trust her at all. Marcus made a note to not tell her anything personal, lest she twists it into more abusive words. Sometimes it would be that fake concern for nis mental health, or she would say she was nis mother and she’d “always be there for nim”. But that wasn’t the only way Marcus’ mother would pick nim apart. She would point out the imperfections on nis body, like she was pushing nim to be her own perfect image of nim. Although Marcus had stopped listening, she’d point out the scars, stretch marks and fat ne had, saying ne should hide it because it was “embarrassing to bring nim anywhere with her.” On top of all that was the daily abuse that was supposed to be “tough love”, that she was looking out for nim. Marcus knew that wasn’t love. Those threats that had nim concerned for nis own life weren’t out of love. “Come near me today and I’ll put you in the hospital.” “I swear to God I’m gonna lose it and kill you one day.” “You don’t wanna piss me off.” But all of that didn’t matter, not anymore, as the door closed behind Marcus. It was a sign that meant the end of their relationship for good, the end of the threats, abuse, and manipulation. For years, ne had waited for the opportunity to leave and it finally came after his graduation. No more

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manipulation, lies, or threats. Ne left without a goodbye, because nis mother didn’t deserve one.

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“Casual” Writer: Carmen Rose Trigger Warnings: Homophobia, transphobia, accident outing, violence Gray was at an age where gay people were mostly accepted, or at least he thought so. It never crossed his mind that his family would be somewhat against it. In fact, it didn’t even cross his mind after he came out. He guessed it was the fact that his parents had gay friends, so it would be fine. Although they looked a little skeptical, they nodded and said they’d support him. Ever since then, he had been content with his boyfriend. Very rarely would he experience homophobia, and very rarely would his boyfriend experience transphobia. He guessed it was because of where he lived. Yet all of that changed in one moment. He had just got home from school and was eating a snack when his father, seemingly excited, jumped over the couch and sat next to his son, “Gray! You’ll never believe what I just found!” “Lemme guess, another outdated meme?” Gray rolled his eyes. Sometimes his parents did too much just to try and bond with him. It creeped him out a little when his dad didn’t exactly respond to his jab, “No, but look! My co-worker’s daughter is wanting to date someone and she seems to be very interested in you after I showed her a picture!” Gray bristled uncomfortably, “Dad, I’m gay, remember?” “Oh…” his dad deflated, “You’re still on about that?” “On about what?” “Being gay! How do you know that you’re gay when you haven’t dated yet?” Gray’s teeth grinded hard against each other. But despite this being the first time he ever heard this from his father, he knew what cards to play and what not to play. He couldn’t let his boyfriend go under fire, not yet.

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He stood up, and glared at his father, “How did you know you were straight before you started dating?” With that, he left his father spluttering. He felt a sense of pride as he left upstairs to his room. But it didn’t stop there. Sometimes his father would “forget” he was gay as he tried to find his son a “real woman”. But Gray felt somewhat privileged, maybe even spoiled. He hadn’t been kicked out or threatened, it was just a bunch of side comments! So he didn’t think much of it, even if it hurt him. Shortly after that incident, his mother unfortunately joined in. “Son, I’m a little worried.” Gray was confused. His grades had always been the same, and he was passing his classes. So he pressed on, “About what?” “Well...are you sure you’re not being gay because everyone’s doing it?” Gray rolled his eyes, “Yes, I’m sure. And being gay isn’t a trend. Kids don’t really wanna risk their lives just to lie about being attracted to the same gender.” “But has someone touched you to feel this way?” Gray flinched and looked up from his book, “No, mom, what? I’m just gay because I’m attracted to men!” “I’m just asking! You never showed signs! Even now, you don’t look gay!” Gray stood up from his chair, “Being gay doesn’t have a damn look, mom!” He stormed off up to his room to read his book in peace, ignoring the excuse of “I’m just curious!” After that, his mother would ask if he needed a therapist, and question if he was he actually gay. Even Gray was starting to doubt himself!

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He wasn’t surprised when his brother wasn’t too keen on him being gay. After all, he was one of those types of homophobes. He was one of those people who thought being offensive was cool, before he defended it with “I’m not homophobic, but…” Gray knew better than to trust him, and yet he just had to open his damn mouth. He knew it would be too much to ask, he knew he should’ve just dealt with the noise. When he had asked his brother and his friends to keep the noise down because his boyfriend was coming over, he was bombarded with questions, invasive questions. “Actually, we wanted to ask you about that.” His brother asked. Gray couldn’t help but smile, not knowing what was coming. He had always wanted to be asked about his sexuality, for some odd reason it excited him. Gray said, “Alright, spill! And if you wanna know any lgbt+ safe spaces, I know a lot of places. You know how homophobic parents are.” A couple boys chuckled nervously before Gray’s brother asked, “Thanks, but no. I just wanted to ask, like, who wears the pants in the relationship?” Gray could almost hear a record player scratching, or maybe one actually did, “What?” “Y’know?” One of the other boys asked, “Who's the top and whose the bottom?” Gray felt disgusted, “Are you kidding me?” Gray’s brother put his hands up in defense, “Hey! I’m just asking! Who's the man and who's the woman?” “No one. That’s not the point. And that’s none of your damn business.” “Oh, so you’re a virgin?” Another boy asked, “Well, can you get back to us on that? We wanna know.” “No, because it’s still none of your business even if I wasn’t a virgin!”

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“Hey, we just wanna know!” “Well it’s invasive, so don’t ask.” “Okay, okay, man, chill out!” Gray’s brother laughed, “We’re just joking!” The rest of the boys agreed, laughing at Gray’s frustration. He felt angry tears threatening to spill out of his eyes. He knew he couldn’t just tell his parents because that would just result in more invasive questions. “Pretty sick joke to me. Just keep it down. Thank you.” Gray spat as he made his way back downstairs from the attic. “Woah, man, hold up! We just got one more question!” “No. I’m not answering. Good nigh-“ “How are you two even gonna raise a kid without a mother?” One boy asked. Gray whipped around, “Like normal parents do.” “Well, isn’t that, like, unfair? Poor kid won’t even have a mom.” “Last time I checked,” Gray narrowed his eyes, “Single parents exist. It doesn't matter how many parents there are. It doesn’t even matter the gender of the parents. Anyone can take care of a kid if they’re responsible.” “Woah, he’s just asking, no need to be defensive!” His brother said. “Stop asking homophobic questions and keep them to yourself!” “Hey, we’re not homophobic! We have a gay friend!” “Don’t use that twisted logic on me. I’m guessing you’re not racist because you have a black guy in the group?”

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Almost on cue, the only person of color perked up and stared right at Gray’s brother. Said man quickly defended himself, “N-No!” Gray fought a victorious smile as he went downstairs. He opened the door and greeted his boyfriend, who was in his usual hoodie and beanie. Gray kissed him, “Damn, you don’t know how good it is to see you, Jax.” Jax frowned, “Oh no, what happened?” “My brother and his friends being assholes. He actually asked me who wore the pants in the relationship.” “Soooo don’t say I’m trans?” “Knowing my family, they...wouldn’t be transphobic, but they’d definitely ask questions...gross ones at that.” “D’aw.” Jax kissed him again, making Gray smile. He’d never tire of his kisses. Jax wandered to the kitchen, “How about I make popcorn and we’ll watch a movie?” “You’re the best…” “I know I am.” Months had passed by. His family continued to ask questions. Gray did love his family, and he understood that they were either just trying to learn or were worried about him, but the questions irritated him to no end before Gray had finally scheduled Jax to meet his parents, just a month before graduation. Jax had worn a plaid shirt with neat jeans and his usual beanie. The two sat next to each other and they spoke as if Gray’s family wasn’t there. Gray almost didn’t notice the tension. Almost. That was until his brother, once again, had to open his big mouth, “You look kinda girly for a boy.” Jax flinched as Gray started to get defensive, “What do you mean?”

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“I mean just look at him! He just looks like a girl pretending to be a boy. Like a dyke!” Before Gray could say anything else, his mother thankfully scolded his brother, “Jonathan!” “I’m just saying!” “That is very rude!” Gray felt a smile creep on his face. HIs mother had learned a little, but that didn’t stop Gray’s anger when he saw his boyfriend’s glossy eyes. “So what if my boyfriend was trans? He’s still my boyfriend.” Gray snarled as he stood up. Jax quickly pulled at his sleeve, “Hey, calm down, I’ll be fine.” “Are you saying he’s a tranny?” His brother asked. Jax continued to cower into himself while Gray defended him, “The correct term is ‘trans guy’.” And he’s a boy!” “Just answer the question! Is he a real boy?” “Yes! Yes he is! Just like every trans guy!” “But they don’t have a dick, therefore they’re not really men.” “That’s not even true! You’re just being an ignorant asshole!” “Gray Harold!” His father stood up and yelled, “You will not speak that language in my house!” “But he’s-” “It doesn’t matter! He’s just saying his opinion.”

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Gray was once again frustrated. He gripped the table cloth so hard it hurt his hand. But before he could say anything, he saw a blur from the corner of his eye. Jax was leaving! Gray went after him, “Jax, wait! I’m sorry!” Jax broke down outside the house. Gray shut the door behind them and sat them both on the swinging chair, rubbing Jax’s back, “Jax, I’m so-” “Don’t!” Jax exclaimed before rubbing the tears out of his eyes, “It’s not your fault.” “But I just outed you.” Jax gave Gray a sad smile, “It was bound to come out at some point. There’s going to be ignorant people, Gray. And sometimes it’s better to be patient and explain…” A pause, “My parents used to be like yours. Saying things like ‘surgery is permanent’ and ‘but your biology says you’re a woman’. It took a while, but eventually my dad called me his son and sometimes took me hunting. My mom took me hunting through the men’s section one day. It just takes a little patience for some people.” “But not everyone wants to learn…” “Then that’s their fault. There’s no point in fighting a battle you’ve already won.” They both sat there, sitting and listening to the crickets and watching a party across the street before a car pulled up in front of the house. Jax sniffled again, “Those are my parents.” Gray kissed him on the lips, “Sorry again for tonight.” “Don’t apologize for tonight. I had a great night.” Jax playfully punched his arm before he leapt off the porch and went to the car. Gray sighed. He wished he could go with Jax, be with a family that would actually understand. HIs boyfriend did have a point, but how could he communicate with a family who only saw things their way? Either that, or they were just queerphobes with excuses. He ran his hand through his gray hair before

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going inside. The table had been cleaned, like nothing had happened. He snorted. Typical. They went to bed. They didn’t even apologize. He walked through the door and saw that they didn’t even leave the floor. They were all watching a movie. Gray didn’t want to do anything else, at least with his family. He was still pissed off, and if they said one more bigoted thing, he would blow a damn gasket. The floor creaked underneath him as he attempted to sneak upstairs, but luck was clearly not on his side as his mother noticed him and called his name. Gray turned around, and put on a clearly fake smile that communicated a “fuck off”. “Is your friend okay?” His mother asked. Gray answered, “He’s my boyfriend. And yeah, he’s alright. Just a little hurt that you basically told him he’s not a real boy.” “So you’re not gay?!” “No, I am. He’s a boy, not a girl. Get it through your damn heads.” Gray repeated. He felt his blood pressure rising. His brother cackled, “But it has a vagina. I thought you were attracted to dick? Oh well, at least we know who the real man and woman are.” The next few seconds were a blur. He felt a sick sense of pleasure as he felt his fist connect with his brother’s face with a delicious crack. He ignored the offended calls of his name. Unfortunately, that was the only punch he could land before his parents yanked him off his brother. HIs brother held his bloody nose, “Dammit! I think my nose is broken!” “Good! Don’t you dare say that about my relationship! Take your head out your asses and fucking listen to me for once!” Gray shouted. He didn’t think anyone listened as his parents stressed over his brother’s nose. But he didn’t care. If that was what needed to happen to get his point across, then he’d do it 1000 times more. He calmly walked up to his room. He slept like a baby that night. Gray didn’t talk to any of his family members, mainly because he didn’t come out of his room after that day. It was his spring break, he could spend it however he damn well pleased. He spent the next couple days

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talking to his boyfriend or going on social media. When he could, he snuck out of his room for food, but that was about it. He couldn’t help but feel hurt his family never called for him when he knew damn well they saw him. But it wasn’t his fault. They said they were supportive. They said they would do their best. Yet his parents defended his brother. His own brother who called his boyfriend a girl. Gray gripped his pillow hard. He had to get through these last two months. Just these last two and then he’ll be off to college. Away from his homophobic parents and transphobic brother. But did he want to brave the last months? He was 18, so he could practically live wherever. His boyfriend even offered him a place to stay since Jax’s parents absolutely adored him(as long as they both didn’t “fool around”). That’s when Gray heard a knock. He felt his face tense up in an angry snarl before he forced his face to stay neutral. He needed to be the bigger person this time, violence and yelling wouldn’t solve anything, he needed to set things straight...in a figurative manner. Gray swung open his door and met his mother’s eyes, “Unless you’re coming to apologize, then I don’t want to hear it.” His mother flinched before she took a deep breath and said, “I did come to apologize on behalf of me and your father.” “Where is he? Can’t he apologize himself?” “He’s at work.” Gray fought the urge to bite his lip, “And my brother?” His mother stayed silent before some tension left her shoulders, but not in a good way, “He...he didn’t care. He refused to learn from his mistake. He’s locked himself in his room as well.” “Oh? Well, he can stay ignorant. How about his nose?” “It’s fine, it’s not broken.” His mother said, “You need to apologize to him.”

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Gray felt his anger flair up, “I don’t need to do anything. People like my boyfriend are always being treated that way. I don’t apologize to ignorant people.” “Okay, okay. I’m sorry, I didn’t come here to fight, Grayson. I...I’m really sorry for how your father and I have been treating you. We reached out to a few people and we’ve been learning about how to be a better ally. We never realized that we were being...so cruel to you. We just wanted to make sure with you.” He could see where they were coming from, he really was, but borderline gaslighting wasn’t exactly a good look for allies, “Then you know why those questions were messed up. Being gay isn’t a choice. It’s just like being straight. It wouldn’t make sense for me to ask those same questions to you, would it?” “I guess when you put it that way, I can see that.” Gray felt like laughing. Normally he’d be in his mother’s shoes, and yet here he was now, scolding his own mother for her homophobic comments. He guessed his boyfriend was right, people could learn. “I’m really truly sorry. Your father and I will do our best to listen to you. We both love you for who you are, please don’t forget that.” His mother looked close to crying already, and although Gray knew he should stand his ground, he felt that he was being a bit unfair. After all, people deserve second chances, right? Everyone, at some point, was somewhat ignorant on a topic, as long as they learned from their mistakes and did better next time. He sighed and held out his arms, “Alright, I’m sorry for yelling at you before, mom.” His mother let out a shuddering breath and sagged into his arms. She sniffled into his shirt. Gray chuckled, “Are you going to do my laundry later?” “I will, just let me have this, okay?”

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It did get better from there. Not right away, but Gray didn’t expect perfection from everyone. He was horrified when they asked if it was okay to ask his boyfriend if he was getting the “surgery”, but they didn’t argue while he explained why it was bad to ask Jax that. Of course, his brother never spoke to him again. It was both a blessing and a curse: A blessing because he no longer had to hear his brother speak crap about his relationship with Jax, but that meant that their relationship might never be the same. With that came guilt, but his parents didn’t dare push the two to talk. They both silently agreed that whatever happened happened, that it was up to Gray. And he didn’t want to apologize to his brother. He got his answer for his transphobia, and if he wasn’t going to learn from that, then there was no point in wasting time on him. Eventually, years passed and Gray had graduated from college and started living with his boyfriend. His mother and father called from time to time, but there was never a single call from his brother. Gray would be lying if he said it didn’t bother him. But, God bless his boyfriend, Jax had been there to reassure him and convince him not to do anything he would regret. “He can’t keep this up forever. He’ll come to you eventually once he sees you’re the one in charge.” And boy was Jax right. It was a dark October night, almost 2 in the morning when Gray got a phone call. He checked the ID. It was his brother. He wasn’t really shocked, but he was annoyed that his brother would call him at this time after what he had done. Gray picked up his phone and rubbed his eye, “Who the hell do you think you-” “Yes, I know I’m the worst person in the world.” Gray was confused. Was this a prank? Jax shuffled behind him, “Who's calling at this hour?” “It’s-“ “Hey, bro? Are you still there?”

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Jax was suddenly wide awake and wide eyes, staring owlishly at Gray, “Wait, is that your brother?” Gray sighed, “What? You came here to apologize? Seriously?” “Yeah…” Gray deadpanned, “You didn’t even say sorry. Plus, this isn’t my apology to accept.” “I know, know, I’ll get to that later but...I’m sorry for being a homophobic dick.” Jax gave Gray a confused look while Gray shrugged. It was all so sudden, they both didn’t know how to take it. “How do I know this is a real apology?” “...well, I have a girlfriend now.” “So?” “She’s trans.” Gray paused. He was hoping his brother wasn’t saying what was being implied, “You do know you’re not gay for dating her, right?” “No! I’m not gay, I’m straight! Am I really that transphobic?” Jax spoke up, “Was that rhetorical?” “Okay, okay. The point is that she opened my eyes like a lot. I was a complete douche and I know that you’re not gonna be ready to forgive me so….I’m sorry to both of you. I was an ass and a terrible ally.” Gray snorted, “Ally?”

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Jax elbowed him. His brother thankfully laughed with him, “Okay, I wasn’t an ally at all. I was homophobia and transphobic. So accepted?” Jax physically nodded before realizing Gray’s brother wasn’t in person, “I forgive. Gray?” Gray paused and sighed. He wasn’t ready to give him another chance, not just yet. He didn’t want to forgive him until he saw some change, ACTUAL changes. “Hey, Gray? It’s cool. I’m okay with that. Just promise me one thing.” “What?” “You two are gonna meet my girlfriend this Friday. Deal?” Gray chuckled. Well, he could give his brother a second chance. “Deal.”

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“Sitting still” Writer: Aneesah Alsaffar I’m a swing when it’s still when Its still everything disappears Everything so slow Like I’m drifting away no one to see me gone as it sits still, start to unload all the spirits

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“Boundaries” Writer: Aneesah Alsaffar boundaries are foretold as diarys boundaries feel the curves + pokes as a pencil hits the dry wrinkled paper led starts to unfold and fall onto the forgotten paper, led then rolls to create a box. tbc blank box Empty space worldly thoughts no where to escape, but the thick black lines, that extends beyond the universe

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“Courage, or lack thereof” Writer: Tobin Walzel Groves of doubt are often in Droves and clout the mind Making it rather hard for any sun to be shined. But that’s okay, because the rays Leave plenty of shade to hind. Or at least that’s what I’d say if I was okay with that. My own blunt uncertainty in reality is drowning For example, I’ll take the most innocent words to be the most confounding Or words of interest to be maleficent So I ought to stop self conforming And just ignore what my doubt is forming.

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