Georgia Oâ€™Keefe, Artwork by Sarah Wenke
Fall Issue 2016
Table of Contents Georgia O’Keefe, Artwork by Sarah Wenke……………………………………………….Cover “I don’t think I could survive…,” Poem by Amanda Gratsch…………………………………...4 “The Very Definition of Modern Art,” Fiction by Josh Zeller…………………………………..5 Sploosh, Photograph by Marissa Wisman………………………………………………………..8 “Smell of Smoke,” Fiction by Megan Simmermeyer……………………………………………9 “Leave,” Poem by Emma Sule………………………………………………………………….12 “Racism: Hitting Home,” Essay by Marlon Foster……………………………………………..13 Rachel, Artwork by Rachel Fairfield…………………………………………………………...17 “Three Takes on a Murder,” Fiction by Carolyn Kesterman…………………………………...18 “Light,” Poem by Brittany Hein………………………………………………………………...23 River View, Photograph by Marissa Wisman…………………………………………………...24 “The Leader,” Fiction by Megan Simmermeyer………………………………………………..25 “Heklugjá Saga,” Poem by Brendan Savage……………………………………………………40 “Storytime Stormtropping,” Fiction by Brittany Hein………………………………………….41 Frozen Orange Rose, Photograph by Carolyn Kesterman……………………………………...43 “The Cousins,” Essay by Megan Simmermeyer………………………………………………..44 Giraffe, Photograph by Marissa Wisman……………………………………………………….46 “Walking the Line,” Essay by Brett Weaver…………………………………………………...47 “Alexs,” Fiction by Carolyn Kesterman………………………………………………………..49 Submission Details……………………………………………………………………………...52 3
I don't think I could survive Poem by Amanda Gratsch I don't think I could survive without artistic creativity's sheer complexities, invigorating depths of soul weaved throughout my entire being only to be breathed out and released into the world for a stream of others to experience these blossoming perceptions with me. To be accepted, cherished, and brilliantly burdened by a world averse to feeling. Numb to speaking with the heart, aloof and withdrawn from sensations of the soul, as theirs are born to feel but have been stifled, constrained, and barricaded by circumstances, cast into a black hole lacking the ability to feel. Our souls are not born to die, but born to replenish a universal energy that we all are capable of restoring. Creating is the food for our soul, allowing us to feed into its mesmerizing and mysterious allure. It is purifying and persistent with us to release it, a worldly force presented to us and intensified by one's dedication to its rejuvenating and dreamy grandeur. In efforts for us to feel, and to be felt. To force our imagination into an action to be pursued time and time again. It will not give you a reason for it to leave, unless severely neglected. When present, it will remain loyal and patient until released full-heartedly. Succumb to its tendencies to lead and devour your time as it strays you from your surroundings and throws you headfirst into a rushing river of colorful articulation and awestriking sensory perceptions; ebbing and flowing with unwarranted thoughts often drowned by a clustered whirlpool of reality. When reality tunes out and steps off its arrogant pedestal, creativity seeps its way through the cracks of our subconscious into full consciousness, one idea spilling out into the next, forming a Web of epiphanies and gloriousness. From creativity stems joy and motives to sit alongside it; enthusiastic to elevate feelings of contentment. A joy within a constant state of marvel, shedding light on a spectrum of happiness that the universe offers to those deserving and willing to receive it. Our creative ideas are hidden and locked away in an oblivion of languished thought, tired of working day-in and day-out from the demands of life, demands that creative distance with the soul as it finds any opportunity to escape this powerful and invasive evil. Clawing and scratching away at doors that have never opened for them but joy waits for them on the other side for them to release themselves, to become un-strangled from these detrimentally crushing thoughts with no intention to nourish but to deplete. Like savages teeming with uncontrolled violence, creativity releases itself erratically with bursts of pent up frustration until it revels in overcoming something so powerful, attributing to its fervent nature to conquer; breaking down the barrier in raw efforts to simply exist peacefully. To collide harmoniously with joy, and never taking a single, fragile moment for granted.
The Very Definition of Modern Art Fiction by Josh Zeller “Did you see his last exhibit? It was absolutely marvelous! It made me feel such…such…emotion!” “I’m afraid I wasn’t able to catch it.” “Oh, my, my, I’m terribly sorry for your loss! Well, it’s a good thing you’ve come to this exhibit of his, then. You surely won’t be sorry!” “No, I don’t suppose I will be. Or at least I shouldn’t be, considering the price I paid to get in.” “Five-hundred dollars is a small price to pay in order to see such culture, to see the very definition of modern art itself!” “Do you own any of his works?” “Oh yes, I’ve bought a piece from all two of his shows so far. Only cost me tenthousand!” “For all of them? Well I suppose that is a bit steep, but if he’s the very definition of modern art—” “Oh no, dear, ten thousand a piece! Paying any less would be terribly insulting to such a genius!” “You could say that.” “Don’t you just adore this gallery? I’ve been told that he designed it himself!” “Oh, yes, it’s breathtaking! I love the bare concrete walls, the splashes of red reminiscent of blood, the spray painted obscenities, the…parking spots?” “He converted a parking garage, darling. You know, it’s so interesting, they say that at least twelve murders were committed here? He channels the negative energy into inspiration.” “Oh my.” “I’m glad you feel as I do! It has that whole urban decay theme going for it. Just how I would describe his work.” “I’m sure you’re right. And what is his medium? The flyer didn’t say whether he was a painter, or—” “Well, the first exhibit I went to was an exploration of two-dimensional shapes and how they have feelings.” “Shapes have feelings?” “Oh yes, yes, certainly! The work that most struck me (and the one, coincidentally, that I bought) was called Portrait of an Angry Triangle.” “That’s interesting.” “You see, it’s an examination of the masculine triangle and what the artist pictures to be his awful rancor at being only three-sided.” “Why does this anger the masculine triangle? And what is a masculine triangle?” “Oh darling, the artist knows all the secrets of the world of geometry; you know, their customs, their folklore, that sort of thing. The triangle is jealous of the handsome square, you see. Geometrically speaking, having four sides is considered to be the aesthetic ideal, the peak 5
of sexual attractiveness. Unfortunately, having only three sides is considered rather unattractive.” “Oh, how I sympathize with the masculine triangle!” “As did I! So I bought it up quickly.” “How was the composition arranged?” “Oh, I’m so pleased you asked! The canvas was painted one, uniform shade of red with a hasty black triangle painted slightly off-center.” “Mesmerizing!” “Isn’t it? The next show I went to was an exploration of the line and its relevance to the history of art. For that show, he did modellos of the Masters!” “How interesting! What piece did you buy?” “A dazzling copy of Mona Lisa, which the artist also titled Mona Lisa. I’ve never been so affected by a work of art before in my life!” “Really? How was it done?” “The canvas was left completely blank except for a single, short line in the center of the work. Stunning…” “How is that like Mona Lisa?” “Ah, I’m glad you asked! It’s ingenious, really. He says that the mind has such a vivid picture of Mona Lisa burned into its brain—due to its legendary status, you know—that the eyes can simply see the line and from there complete the rest of the picture! What do you think of that?” “Ingenious!” “And now with this exhibit, well, I know that he will stun me again. I can’t say that fainting will be out of the question once the masterpiece is unveiled!” “I hope that will come soon, I’m feeling a little woozy waiting in this room for some reason.” “Oh, that’s just from the gasoline stains on the floor. They never do quite go away! But don’t worry, you get used to it.” The collector (a rich woman of sixty) and the man (only thirty and still unsure of why he attended this event) continued to chat for another hour until, finally, the manager of the Parking Garage Gallery came out and told everybody that it was time to go into the viewing room. The crowd made its way in, and gathered around a single, medium-sized canvas concealed by a white sheet. Standing beside it was the artist, dressed in a white turtleneck, white jeans, and white tennis shoes. He had also dyed his hair white. “Oh, I’m so terribly excited to see what this new composition will be all about. The artist has kept the theme a secret and never before has he exhibited just one work on its own! It will be so grand, I’m sure, and I shall probably have to bid fiercely with the others to buy it!” “I won’t stand in your way.” “Oh, thank you! My faith in humanity is restored! Of course, that will happen anyway, once the artist unveils his new piece to us.” “Undoubtedly.” The manager began a brief introduction (the artist sulked in brooding silence next to his new painting), discussing how the theme for this exhibit was “the beauty of snow and the 6
varying effects it has on the human consciousness.” Never before had the artist or any artist in history been so completely and emotionally involved in a work of art. A tall man, bald and muscular (and dressed in a white sweat suit), materialized from nowhere, and stood behind the painting; the manager signaled for him to rip the white sheet off of the painting. The audience held their breath in anticipation. The sheet came off and everyone was at once assaulted with…a completely blank canvas. Entirely white—nothing on it. Gasps at once escaped from the people in the crowd and the eager collector stumbled, actually looking faint. “I-I don’t believe it!” the old woman quivered. The man smiled sympathetically at her; he whispered, “Don’t be too disappointed, he can’t always have a hit—” “It’s MARVELOUS!” the collector screamed, “R-REVOLUTIONARY! S-s-stunning…” And with that, she hit the floor in a dead faint. The other people in the gallery proceeded to batter the artist with high praise, shaking his hand and slapping him on the back as he cringed and rolled his eyes at them. The man slowly surveyed the room in utter disbelief before walking out of the viewing room; already the collector was getting up and eagerly shouting out her interest in buying the piece. Right before he left the gallery to venture out into the winter night, he didn’t fail to notice her casually tripping one of her competitors—an old man with a cane. Once the man arrived at his car after walking in the blizzard that had suddenly started outside, he sighed and clutched his throbbing head. The beautiful snow was piled high around his car, and it was telling his consciousness something: the artist owed him five-hundred dollars.
Sploosh Photograph by Marissa Wisman
Smell of Smoke Fiction by Megan Simmermeyer The smoke curls between her fingers, little plumes of white with shots of gray. Flame slowly eating at the glossy image, she watches it edge closer, closer to her fingertips, and she grips the edge of the photograph until the bite of the flame scorches her. Even then, she lets the pain hesitate there for a minute before dropping the still-burning paper into the glass dish. Already, dusty ash lays thick at the bottom, and the pile of photos beside her remains tall. Each holds a memory to forget, but burning can only offer temporary relief to something that cuts much deeper. She looks at the next photo, memory flooding in. Isa pinched her nose, trying to stem the flow of blood, as Finn ran in circles. He had hit her in the face with a soccer ball—again. Last time it had stung but there was no blood. No such luck this time, but her nose wasn’t broken. “What do I do? What do I do?” Finn shouted, tiny arms in the air. They were only six, but when Finn kicked a soccer ball, it felt like a twelve-year-old had done it. “Isa, are you okay?” Isa’s mom came out into the backyard, her face twisted with concern. “I heard Finn—Oh.” She saw the blood and Finn’s frantic running, so she ran in to get a towel. When she returned, she pressed the towel to her daughter’s nose. Finn crept closer to sit beside Isa, repeated sorrys running between his lips. While her nose still hurt, Isa had forgiven Finn as soon as he started crying and running in circles. How could one be so displeased with that performance? That was the second photograph: Finn and Isa sitting on the garden bench, a towel pressed to Isa’s bloody nose and tears reddening Finn’s cheeks. She strikes another match against the side of the box, bends her head back so the sharp fumes do not suffocate her. That first puff of smoke from the newly lit match curls higher into the air, and it hurts her lungs. She never intended to start The Burning, but things had changed. Finn grinned at her over his textbook. The front featured a family of penguins huddled over the ice, and at their feet Science was plastered in sickly yellow. Rather than working on their project, Finn was reading Isa the most disgusting parts of the book he could find and then pelting her with spit wads. His twisted grin tugged a matching one from her lips. Studying could wait just a bit longer. That was the seventh photograph: Finn and Isa brandishing their arms at a poster board covered in penguins. The feeling of isolation pours into her as she sets the tip of the burning match against the next photograph. This one stings particularly, and she can’t focus her burning eyes on the blurred figures. Is the camera just out of focus or are those tears warping her eyes? She doesn’t 9
know and lets the burn of the smoke course into her mouth, up her nose. Watching the images consumed by fire, she isn’t sure if this is helping or hurting. Which is better anyway? Clearing the future or destroying the past? Does it even matter? She can’t decide and burns another picture. Finn ducked around his mother who was trying to lasso him with a tie. “I can go without one, Mother,” he asserted. “No one else will be wearing them.” “Everyone’s going to be wearing them,” Isa said, fingers flipping through her magazine. She had been dressed for hours, had even allowed her mother to curl and set her hair. “Why do we even have to go?” Finn mumbled. “Student Council.” Isa didn’t even look up when he swore and his mother slapped him. If she had, she would have giggled at his silly, puckered face. Whenever Finn wanted to cry but deemed it unmanly, his face turned red and he ground his lips together. It was his way of “holding it in.” “I’d have rather worn a dress,” he mumbled, glancing over at Isa who had finally looked up. “Isa seems more comfortable.” His mother wrapped the tie around his throat and began tying it, but he never looked away from Isa. Despite the scowl on his lips, Finn’s eyes were already seeing the fun they would have tonight. Isa knew he may curse the Student Council now for having forced him into dress clothes, but she also knew he would be praising them by the end of the evening. She knew he would dance like a duck, try to grind against hot juniors, and probably get popcorn stuck in his tightly gelled hair. Because that was Finn, the dork, athlete, and genius who had no clue how much she valued him as a friend. That was the thirty-second photo: Finn and Isa, arms around each other, standing in front of Finn’s dark, sprawling one story, she in a floral, blue and white dress and he in a gray dress shirt and black slacks as the sun faded behind the fiery autumn trees. It is definitely tears that sting her eyes as she burns the next picture. How could he do this to her, leave her alone? It isn’t a black hole that cleaves her down middle—it’s something darker. She feels it, like a vacant cavern filled with tears of regret, isolation, and abandonment, and it is breaking her apart, wearing her down on the inside as the water laps at the edges of the cavern. She is eroding in his absence. Finn held her hand in the waiting room. They knew her dad was on the other side, and they knew he wouldn’t come back. Had they been minutes earlier, maybe he would have lived, but the car had stalled, the traffic stifled the streets. Everything had been slow, an agonized crawl, and they had clung to hope, prayed the blood would stay inside her dad rather than staining the sheet wrapped around his leg. There had been blood droplets scattered on Finn’s floorboards, their dull crimson like ink from a broken pen. If she thought about it too long, Isa would connect those dots to her father rather than the pen, and she couldn’t do that. Finn’s fingers tightened, and she looked to see her mother on the other side of the doors. Her lovely face was contorted in sorrow deeper than anything Isa had known, and she knew at 10
once that she could never share in that grief. Some part of her mother would always blame Isa for having not been faster, not breaking laws to get her father to the hospital, though Isa had tried as she held her father’s hand and shouted for Finn to go faster. With her senior year dissipating in the last days of spring, Isa felt a yawning gap opening before her, and she clung tighter to Finn’s fingers. It was captured in picture 143: Finn and Isa, each clothed in gold and black graduation attire, their hands linked as Finn held her up so her father’s death didn’t weigh her down. His funeral had been the day before. Burning those photos is like burning her soul. Each one a memory, each one a pain. “What do you think?” Finn asked. Isa stared at the tiny object in his hand, and she had to turn away. “You don’t like it?” he asked. “It was all I could afford, but I think it’s a good one.” Isa shook her head. “No, it’s perfect.” But it wasn’t hers. “You don’t look happy about it, Isa.” “I am. It’ll be great.” She forced herself to look at the textbook open before her, anywhere but Finn’s face with its ethereal glow. Looking at him prodded an ache that had been dormant since her father’s death. She hadn’t even realized it was there, or she had forgotten it. “Isa?” She looked up at him, his pretty smile. When would he notice? Photo 234: Finn and her. Isa behind the camera for once, not beside Finn. “Isa?” Finn stands above her, his expression perplexed as he squints through the smoke. He wears a perfectly pressed tux, a white boutonniere on his lapel. “What are you doing?” He doesn’t see the photos—Isa burned them all. “Nothing,” she says, smiling and standing. “Your tie is crooked.” Finn allows her to straighten it, and then he takes her hand. “I’m glad you’re here, Isa,” he murmurs. “I don’t think I could do this without you.” His smile is beatific, and it hurts her more than the photos. Seeing him happy has always been her wish—she only now wishes she could have been the one to make him happy, not the girl waiting downstairs, but the girl wrapped in a flawless wedding dress. That will be 248: Finn and his bride grinning at each other, Isa pressed to the side, a broken heart adorning her sleeve.
Leave Poem by Emma Sule I remember learning what leaving meant at a young age. My dad traveled for work and I couldn't understand why some nights he was there to tuck me into bed and other nights he was gone. A staticky voice over the phone saying good night. I went to elementary school and learned what it meant to travel. To fly away on an airplane ride off on a train, boat, bus, or car. Leaving the known and heading out into the world. I looked up to the sky at recess watching the birds fly. Wishing that I too could see the world from up there. To leave, to escape, to adventure. I wanted to go, I didn't know where. But I wanted to leave, to know what it felt like to be free. I held a red balloon tightly in my tiny hand watching the red latex wiggle against the vast blue sky. I held tightly for fear of it leaving. When I let go by accident I cried as the balloon drifted higher and higher into the blue cloudy mess. I understood what it meant to leave though I hadn't quite grasped the concept of being left.
Racism: Hitting Home Essay by Marlon Foster As our nation’s first black president took office in 2008, an aura of anti-racial support and claims of racial freedom took precedence over the underlying sociocultural micro aggressions that still exist in our everyday lives as Americans. As a matter of fact, I would stretch my own claim far enough to say that having an ethnic-racial African American in office set our country back 30 years as far as our beliefs. The overall social effect may be seen on any mass media blast, social network newsfeed, and heard in any political debate regarding young African Americans and police brutality. As a young black male, the statistics don’t favor me. There is a microcosm of fear, a thought in the back of my mind that tells me, if I ever get pulled over, there is already a wall built of infinite possibilities, all of which come to fruition with me somehow ending up face down, on the ground begging to go home. For some, it’s even deeper than that: the day-to-day trauma, the interactions, and the treatments. Minorities, as a whole, see the world through a different lens; a spectacle that sees the hope, but is fogged by the backlash of the new wave of racism in America. In “A Post-Racial Society in Which Ethnic-Racial Discrimination Still Exists and Has Significant Consequences for Youths’ Adjustment,” Adriana J. Umaña Taylor discusses some of the rawest facts about racism that can be uncovered today. Her findings came out as a plethora of studies that all support that somewhere there is a drop in ethnic-racial children who go unaccounted for when asking the question, “Who is still affected by racism?” All conflicts start at the internal level with that first question, “Who am I?” For a young African American like myself, the person I am today starts with Martin Luther King Jr., for he paved the way for my foothold in today’s society. The externalized racism of the south in the 1950s and 60s was far more intense on a daily basis, especially given the context that every march, every speech, every article, and every social event that he attended could be his last. Racism as a whole, and as a state of mind itself, has changed. Our society has let go of some of the old-home values where whites stay with whites, blacks stay with blacks, Latinos stay with Latinos, and so on and so forth. Now the battle is internal, and I find myself conflicted at every twist and turn that my life takes, because I not only worry about my racial integrity, but what someone else may have to say about every answer that I give in class, every grade that I get on an assignment, every social interaction that I have, the relationships that I carry and the overall safety net of comfort that I have built for my own mental stasis. From 2008 until now, my life and the people around me have changed, tremendously. At about age 10, kids laid into me about my family supporting Obama just because he’s black. Not only that, but all of a sudden the shoes that I wore mattered, the way I presented myself mattered, my parents’ jobs mattered and the older I got, the worse it became. “The increase in the prevalence of perceived ethnic- racial discrimination during adolescence is of particular concern, given that it is during this developmental period (i.e., beginning around age 10) that children have the cognitive capabilities to understand the links among social categories, the bias associated with such categories, and the social consequences of such bias. Therefore, although children under the age of 10 are aware of ethnic-racial differences (i.e., based on physical or other tangible features), it is not until about age 10 that 13
children begin to understand that ethnic- racial differences are connected to social disadvantages, such as differences in social class, and to prejudicial views and opinions based exclusively on ethnic-racial group membership” (Quintana, 1998). This quote really struck a chord somewhere deep inside me because this was my new beginning, my first bout with racism. It doesn’t stop there; she delves deeper into the constructs of the adolescent and pubescent mind, explaining that somewhere along the lines of recognizing difference from your peers, you can delineate who you are and box in those who are different than you. The new age of racism is by subconscious choice, not by fostered practice, and home-taught racist ideals. With a black president as the figurehead of our nation, the color difference as a new social platform from which all citizens now have a voiced opinion. On the positive side, racial issues can be discussed like never before, pro-black, pro-Latino, and pro-Asian support groups have arisen as racial pride has taken an upturn. In the new age of mass media we are quick to call out racists, bigots, and, even the KKK has been surprisingly “quiet” outside of their political support and voiced social agenda. At the forefront of American society we see racism as being squashed, but behind closed doors, is it really dead? If racism is declining in the society that we stand so proudly for, then why do 64% of Chinese-American, DominicanAmerican, and African-American children between the ages of 10 and 14 report depressive symptoms and self-esteem issues? (Niwa, et al). That study is just in New York, one of the largest cities in the United States for its diversity and overall ethnic blend. So what really goes on behind closed doors? What is it that holds a child down, not physically, but that mentally constricts even the best and brightest of minorities of a creative oxygen supply that can spark a new flame for the ethnic-racial torch to be carried proudly from generation to generation? These are my questions as I read and dissect Umaña-Taylor’s article. A number of the reports start at the aging process for many adolescent and young adult minds. To me, it’s the comfort aspect of my relationships. Receiving micro aggressions and beating your own racial stigmas can only be so empowering for so long. Your own perception of who you are comes first and foremost, but the idea that the person you’re supposed to be is coming from someone who has never walked a day in your shoes can be unsettling. Think about it this way: the Asian kid in your math class can only take that question, “So, do you want to do my homework?” so many times before they either have a positive or negative response to it. An estimated 78 to 84% of Chinese American kids ages 13 to 17 show depressive symptoms in the state of California (Juang & Cookston, 2009). All of these symptoms can be argued to stem from one source, a sense of belonging. That’s yet another topic of political debate in this year’s election, but who is to argue who belongs in America, the great melting pot, where your sense of self drains into the stew as the world around you boils. So many people come from so far to see our shores and have tears of joy just to see their first skyscraper, but little do those parents know that there is a whole new psychological jungle that feeds on their children. America: the land of opportunity, where your child can be a hollow success who lives only to see his reflection at the bottom of bottle. Welcome to the land of opportunity, but they’ll never tell you about how many roads to recovery we’ll have to pave, or how many sob stories they replace with the Black Lives Matter Movement on full display. All of the riots, all of the turmoil, all of the conflicts are somehow related. In “7 Ways Racism Affects the Lives of Black Children” Jermaine Starr immediately addresses one of the conflicts that I had to face with my parents 14
starting at a young age. He discussed how Freddie Grey, a Baltimore man was brutally killed by police but explains that his conflict didn’t start as a 25-year-old man; it started much younger, around the age of 11 when law enforcement begins to target black children. Truth be told, we no longer live in a society of white privilege, but the social structure somehow slates black consequence, the ideology that being born black in America is nothing to be proud of, just another factor that you can’t change or run from. This article not only answers my question, but confirms some of my own viewpoints as an African American. When a black child enters preschool, the odds of him being suspended are already twice as high seeing that blacks make up roughly 18% of all enrollments nationwide for preschool but account for almost half of the suspensions. That’s just from ages 2 to 5. Overall enrollment says that we make up 16% of the total in school population but we account for 42% of all suspensions nationwide. So to start our growth and maturation we’re already more likely to not spend time studying at school but out of school because of suspensions. You can already see that a school system that’s supposed to be built for the better education of all has somehow seen its fair share of failure to effectively educate black youth. No wonder a sense of belonging can never be established. The reality is even worse once a young black child leaves school. The discussions that I have with my parents, peers, and even intellectual discussions that I chime into all end the same way, no matter how I choose to live my life or present myself, there is a small chance that the next time I get pulled over may be the last time I’m breathing. To answer my first question from Umaña-Taylor’s article, here is what is really happening behind closed doors, “The hidden racism of young white Americans” by Sean Mcelwee eliminates the stigma that old racists die and new age, progressive thinkers are quick to take their place. As a matter of fact, the studies go to show that not only are 17-34 year olds biased by race but they have even stronger racial beliefs than their older white counterparts. Some 33% of white Americans between the ages of 17 and 34 claim that blacks are lazy, while their older counterparts at 65 and older are sitting at about 36%. My new question is, where is all of this racism coming from? Has Obama started a new race war that can’t be fixed by protests and marches like the Black Lives Matter Movement or social media blasts? Or is our nation really on the fringe of a rude awakening? Harboring a hatred for our counterparts will only, in turn, destroy us and what we’ve claimed to be all along: a melting pot, the acme of togetherness. As a nation we see ourselves as superior, but we can never let a tourist see the horrors that black families see on the streets of Baltimore or South Central LA. In conclusion, the stigmas stick. Minorities are naturally slated against, however you split it. However you divvy up the dirty details, the truth is in and minorities are out. The messages we receive every day now are that we can’t be accepted completely, equally, or rightly. Being black in America is no longer something to say with pride but with fear. Being a Latino in America means that you deal with the devaluing of your culture, cuisine, and livelihood, as people perceive you as a working class member of society before you ever opening your mouth. Then, for Asians in America it is much more of the same, the depression symptoms run rampant and these traits aren’t just picked up genetically. To each his own, but to every individual that environmental animal factor prevails. Asking, “Who Am I?” doesn’t stop at who you are today but it changes as the environment you are in makes or breaks you. The evidence is there, racism exists and its prevalence is evident across the country. 15
Works Cited Mcelwee, Sean. "The Hidden Racism of Young White Americans." PBS. PBS, n.d. Web. 21 Sept. 2016. Starr, Terrell Jermaine. "7 Ways Racism Affects the Lives of Black Children." AlterNet. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 Sept. 2016. Umaña-Taylor, Adriana J. “A Post-Racial Society in Which Ethnic-Racial Discrimination Still Exists and Has Significant Consequences for Youth’s Adjustment” Current Directions in Psychological Science. 25, 2, p. 111-118 8 p. (2016)
Rachel Artwork by Rachel Fairfield
Three Takes on a Murder Fiction by Carolyn Kesterman Frank Whoever the murderer was, I was going to personally pack ‘em away for good. Picture this: I go home after a long day at work, eat a nice dinner the wife made, and am just sitting down to watch Johnny Carson when I get the call that somebody’s bagged a guy outside a night club. One night of peace is clearly too much to ask for. I pulled up by the alley that was now surrounded with flashing lights and stepped out into the crisp autumn air. Davie the coroner was just putting on gloves when I walked up. “No rest for the weary,” he said with a nod. “Not a damn second. What have we got?” “Just got here myself, but they think it’s a robbery. Oh, here come your partners.” I didn’t want to turn around; it was bad enough I had to put up with them during the day. But I sighed and turned to see little cocky pipsqueak Jimmy walking up to the alley entry, his eyes climbing all over my other damn partner, little Miss I’m-a-woman-and-therefore-can-doanything-in-the-sixties Paula Chesterfield. A green swinging bachelor and a woman. It’s like they were letting anybody be a detective. “Sorry I’m late, boss,” Jimmy said, clearly trying to make his voice sound deeper than it actually was. “Friday night, you know.” I ignored him. “Body in the alley. Maybe a robbery. Let’s go.” We walked up to the body where the photographer was snapping pictures and Davie was bending down to examine the body. Middle-aged man, Caucasian, bulky build, lying on his stomach with his face turned to the side in a pool of blood. But from where? Davie lifted up the body’s head to reveal a gash on the forehead. “Blunt force trauma,” he said. He studied the head, then the wall beside him that had blood on it. “Brick marks seem to match. There’s your weapon, so to speak. Must’ve slammed his head into the wall.” I crouched down to check the man’s pockets. I pulled out a wallet. “Well, it looks like it wasn’t a robbery. There’s fifteen bucks here,” I said. “Maybe it was a mob hit,” Jimmy said, his eyes glancing over to see if he had impressed Miss Suffragette. “If you want to scream ‘mob hit,’ Hollywood’s on the other coast,” I said. I looked over at Davie, who was examining the deceased’s fingernails. He looked confused. “Whatcha got there, Davie?” I asked. “His fingertips have been washed off with alcohol,” Davie said as though he didn’t believe it. “What?” I asked, Jimmy and Paula leaning forward, too. “I was checking to see if there were any skin fragments under his nails, you know, to see if there had been a struggle, but there’s not. Thing is, though, the rest of him is dirty. You can see lines where the dirt ends and the cleaned areas begin.” He held up one of the hands to show us. 18
“Sounds like someone didn’t want us to see something,” I said. “Skin color?” Paula said. I rolled my eyes. “We can see he’s white.” “I meant the skin of whomever he had a struggle with.” I bit my lip. The broad had a damn point. “Maybe.” I stood up and looked around. “Who found him?” I asked. Davie pointed to a man standing with the policemen who had barricaded the area. It was a young white guy in a tux with some sort of instrument case at his side. He looked ill. “I heard them talking to him before,” Davie said. “He’s a musician from the club. Said he came out the back door and found the body. Ran back in and called the cops. Nothing more.” “We’re gonna need to ask questions in the club and notify any relations based on the ID. That can be your job,” I said, tossing the wallet to Jimmy, who was off in la-la land. He blinked himself back to reality and looked at the ID. “Says here his name’s-” “Oh my God, is that Greg?” someone said behind us. Jimmy I was actually excited when I got called in. It’s funny, I spent years and years wishing I could be on my own in the big city, and now that I finally am, I spend all my time wishing I had someone to talk to at night. Sure, I’ve got a cat, but it doesn’t talk. Not yet, at least. If I’m alone too much more, it might start to. But yeah, I was just reading one of my old comic books when I got the call, so I had to do a fair amount of sprucing up so I’d look the part when I got there. I pride myself on my appearance, plus there’s a real babe that got placed with the same detective as me. When I got to the crime scene and saw her walking up from the other direction, I couldn’t help but think that she looked like she belonged in one of the comics I’d been reading. Heck, she was prettier than that. And she was a detective. There was something wrong about it that was also really hot. I tried to make my walk seem bouncy as I reached the alleyway just as she did. “Sorry I’m late, boss. Friday night, you know,” I said, giving my voice that deep sound that drives the women mad. Old Frank wasn’t amused. “Body in the alley. Maybe a robbery. Let’s go,” he said, making me feel guilty. As much as I wanted Paula to like me, I also wanted Frank’s respect. I was getting better at steeling myself for seeing dead bodies, so I didn’t flinch when I saw the blood on the wall leading to the poor man on the ground. The coroner gave a quick analysis of the situation which said that someone had pushed him into the wall to kill him. It must have been a heck of a push. Frank pulled a wallet out of the guy’s pocket and looked through it. “Well, it looks like it wasn’t a robbery,” he said. “There’s fifteen bucks here.” The answer immediately came to my mind and I jumped at the chance to impress old Frank. “Maybe it was a mob hit,” I said. I glanced over at Paula to see if she agreed and thought I was smart. Maybe she’d agree to get a drink with me afterwards. Gosh, she was pretty. No dice, though. “If you want to scream ‘mob hit,’ Hollywood’s on the other coast,” Frank said, putting me in my place. Man, did I feel embarrassed. Cautious, I looked up at Paula to see if she thought I was stupid, and that’s when I saw it. 19
Makeup. I had studied Paula a couple times during the day, so I knew she hadn’t been wearing any makeup then. But there was a faint touch of that black stuff around her eyelashes, as if she had quickly wiped some of it off before she came to the crime scene. And I couldn’t blame her. It was obvious Frank didn’t like a woman on the cases. Heck, I sometimes had a hard time thinking of her as our equal, but I was trying. Makeup would only make Frank see her more as a woman. Bright girl. She knew how to work things in her favor. That didn’t change the fact that she was wearing makeup at night. She must have been on a date. I felt my heart sink a little. My attention was brought back to the case when Frank spoke to the coroner. “Whatcha got there, Davie?” he asked. “His fingertips have been washed off with alcohol,” Davie said. “What?” Frank asked, and Paula and I leaned forward to see. Sure enough, they were clean, even though the rest of the guy was covered in a layer of dirt. “Sounds like someone didn’t want us to see something,” Frank said. “Skin color?” Paula said. I flinched as Frank rolled his eyes. “We can see he’s white.” “I meant the skin of whomever he had a struggle with,” Paula said. I was beaming when I looked at her. What a woman. Even Frank had to admit she had a good idea. “Maybe,” he allowed. I stared at Paula. As a boy, I had expected to have a wife who would wear a little apron like one of the housewives on television, spend all day making cakes, and massage my shoulders when I came home from a long day of being a detective. But I liked Paula, and I thought that maybe she was just what I needed. I almost had a heart attack right there in the alley as I realized I loved her. I had known since the first day I saw her that I thought she was gorgeous; anyone would think that. Sometimes I’d imagine pulling the clips out of that beehive style to swim my fingers through her brown hair, or giving her one of those dip kisses in the rain. But now I imagined other things. Like hugging after solving a case all by ourselves. Or coming home together to have dinner and discuss suspects. She wasn’t one of the secretaries I flirted with or one of the unrealistic girls in the comic books I read. She was real, she had guts, and we could be perfect together. If only I hadn’t botched things up with the fake bravado. A woman like that didn’t want to marry the dumb chauvinist bachelor. She wanted an equal. And in my teen-like stupidity, I had presented myself as anything but. Paula I was ready for the ring when it came. I set the bottle of rubbing alcohol down on the bathroom counter and took a deep breath before walking over to the phone in my underthings. “Hello?” I said, not a tremor in my voice. The policeman on the other end of the line told me that there had been a homicide in the alley outside of the Moonlight Pagoda Nightclub, and that my team had been put on the case. 20
“I’ll be right there,” I said. I walked over to the fireplace to see if the Cheongsam dress and soiled rags had finished burning. They had. I scooped up the ashes and remaining metal fasteners in a cup, and took them back to the bathroom to flush them down the toilet. Then, I put the alcohol bottle back in the medicine cabinet and sprayed some perfume on me to mask the odor. I threw on the lavender skirt and jacket that I had worn to work that day and removed the glass chopsticks from my hair. A last look and I was out the door. The drive back to the nightclub calmed me, and my face was appropriately neutral when I walked up to the alley. Jimmy said some lie as he came from the opposite direction. He didn’t have the calmness required to make a good lie, which was sweet. But I knew how to keep emotions off of my face, so when I walked up to the body in the alley, I looked as though I was seeing it for the first time. No fear, no coping laugh, just a look of detached concern no matter how much I wanted to run away rather than look at that man ever again. Davie the coroner examined the body. He saw the gash, he saw the blood on the wall. It didn’t take much effort to come to the conclusion that someone had pushed him into it. Frank pulled out the man’s wallet and decided it wasn’t a robbery. I had thought it would be too obvious of a cover-up to dispose of the wallet. Then of course, Davie found where I had pulled out the rubbing alcohol from the first aid kit in my purse and wiped the fingertips clean where my makeup had been. The nightclub owners could have created a sketch if they remembered the woman who came into the club every week wearing that shade of blue. “Sounds like someone didn’t want us to see something,” Frank said. “Skin color?” I said. I had to divert them, even if it was just a little. Frank, of course, rolled his eyes. “We can see he’s white,” he said in his usual condescending tone. “I meant the skin of whomever he had a struggle with,” I said, which he had to acknowledge. If the future wasn’t so much in the air, I would have celebrated my tiny victory over his prejudgments. Frank asked who had found the body, and I felt sorry when I saw that it had been Robert. He was a gem on the saxophone, and I had chatted with him several times after shows. The poor man looked ill. He had too good a soul to find bodies in alleyways. I was just about to offer to help Jimmy rather than conduct interviews in the club when I heard Donny – one of the bartenders – behind us. “Oh my God, is that Greg?” he asked. The policemen who had blocked off the scene immediately started apologizing to Frank and trying to pull Donny away. Frank held up a hand, though. “You know him?” he asked. “Yeah, he’s a regular here,” Donny said. “Man, that’s too bad. I guess his way of life caught up to him, huh?” “What do you mean, ‘way of life?’” Frank asked. “Aw, he’d hit on girls every night he was here. I got tired of watching it. Sometimes he got tired of ‘no.’ One time he smacked a girl for refusing a drink.” “No one told the cops?” Frank asked. 21
“Nah, he’d get thrown out occasionally by our own boys, but no one ever put up a fuss. I thought he was a little too feely with some of the women, though. We all were waiting for the day when he’d cross the line and get his butt out of here for good. Sorry to see him like that, though.” Jimmy looked to Frank. “Sounds like our suspect pool just opened up considerably,” he said. Frank nodded. “Could have been an angry boyfriend or husband.” “Or one of the girls,” Jimmy said. “A girl couldn’t have pushed him that hard,” Frank said. “She might have been able to push him off of her, but that would’ve taken some strength and balls. To shove a man’s face into the brick like that, and then have the foresight to clean his fingers off. No, we’re looking for a man.” “I’m not sure I want to find him,” Jimmy said, his voice suddenly raspy. “Well, no matter what his reasons were, it still would be manslaughter. If he wanted to get justice for his girl, he should’ve gotten the cops involved.” Trouble is, I thought, when you come out of the powder room and a strange man pushes you into the alley with his hands all over your face to silence your screams, you can’t call the cops. And when you push him away and he starts back at you, saying what he’s going to do, the cop in you pushes him into the wall as hard as you can. The problem comes when you can’t stop.
Light Poem by Brittany Hein If my name was an object, it would be a drop of light. Small, mighty, and full of strength that darkness cannot conquer. It cannot be fully understood. Tiny as a mustard seed, it roams rich fields, leaving a trail of drops of gold like breadcrumbs. The droplet makes the sound of soulful merriment as it leaves its mark upon the lips of flowers at daybreak. Should the droplet speak, it would beckon come. Come share the mystery of life, keeping the shadows of anxiety and fear at bay as we combine and brighten our drops of light.
River View Photograph by Marissa Wisman
The Leader Fiction by Megan Simmermeyer Part One: Them I could tell from the set of their shoulders, their smirks, and the trailing figure at the back whose body was slick with blood that they were returning from a hunt. Whenever the Vipers returned with death cloaking their steps, the Society erupted in celebration because death meant success, and the Society adored success—you could see it in the faces of those flocking to the front hall. “Annika,” Margot hissed. I looked over my shoulder at my short friend struggling to see past two tall girls. “What’s happening?” “They’re back,” I whispered. “I can’t—” Reaching between the two girls, I jerked Margot forward. She hissed at the pain but nodded gratefully now that she could see. “They look impressed with themselves,” she muttered, eyeing the Vipers. Her eyes skipped over the bloody figure at the back—everyone’s did—and latched onto the broad shoulders of the leader, Theo. When he turned, his thin, kissable lips parted in a smile, and he threaded his fingers through his icy blond hair, his eyebrows raised in awe, as if he couldn’t believe the crowd gathered before him. “We should get closer,” I said. “How?” Bodies clogged the tight entrance hall of the castle, and only a faint path had been opened for the returning Vipers. If we wanted to get closer to the Vipers—to Theo—we would have to pass the bloody figure, the one everyone drew away from. “We could—” “No,” Margot snapped. “I won’t pass by that monster.” Turning my eyes back to the Vipers, I tried to force my sight to remain on that monster, that blood-drenched body, but I couldn’t. “You’re right.” “I usually am.” I sighed. “Margot, I want to be a part of that.” “Part of what?” “The Vipers.” She snickered and elbowed me in the ribs. “Don’t be daft.” “I’m serious.” The crowd of Society assassins pressed closer to the Vipers, one girl falling into Theo several times before he backed away. Grinning and clapping, the crowd wanted to envelope the conquering heroes, but Theo raised his hands, silence dropping instantly. “We’re glad to be back,” he shouted, handsome face broken by a grin. “But we need rest. Perhaps tonight, a feast?” 25
He was met with roars of approval, and the Society elders lining the edge of the crowd nodded. Like always, the Vipers received what they wanted, and I wanted that kind of power, the ability to demand things whenever I pleased and never be denied. “Girls don’t become Vipers,” Margot said. “Then, I’ll have to be the first.” I kept my eyes on Theo, the handsome leader whose vibrant blue eyes scanned the crowd in pleasure. He was my ticket in—he would be my target. X X X Margot and I twisted our hair into braids, piled them onto our heads in true Airdonese fashion. For the feast tonight, we wanted to look our best because I had told Margot my plan, and when she had finished laughing, she regarded me with joyful tears streaming down her cheeks. “Sure, sure,” she had snorted. “I’m sure your plan will work.” Even so, she helped stuff me into my only dress and fixed my hair. “It will work,” I whispered to my reflection one last time before leaving mine and Margot’s shared room. The mirrored me didn’t look so confident, but I steeled myself all the same. After ten years with the Society, I refused to be cowed by the prospect of an arrogant boy. Theo was a beautiful creature whose body thrummed with death and power, but he was still a boy, a human. Having been told my entire life I was also beautiful, I felt I could sway him to accept me into his group, and if not as a Viper, then a lover, someone who still held power but in a less obvious way. I want that power, I thought. I want it all. The hall had been adorned with the Vipers’ colors—poisonous green and slate gray— rather than the blues of the Society. Seeing the people pass beneath the colors, smiles of admiration plastered across their faces, goaded a smile from my own lips, and I imagined them bowing to me. “Get that smirk off your face,” Margot said, pushing past me. “Someone might think you’re arrogant.” I ignored her and proceeded into the dining hall where tantalizing aromas permeated the air. For the Vipers’ return, the chefs had prepared the best fare, and all the crew’s favorites were present—roast quail, shrimp from the Ariatic Sea, candied fruits, chocolate eclairs. Someone even had the audacity to request the Society’s sacred bird—the falcon—to be roasted and stuffed with spices and herbs. “What kind of monster would request something like that?” I muttered to Margot as we slipped inside the vast hall. “Request what?” “The falcon.” “Oh.” She curled her lip as we passed the table with the falcon. “It might be Theo. He would have the nerve to request something the Society wouldn’t likely give.” “I don’t know…” We pushed farther into the hall. Hundreds of candles clustered along the windowsills, their red wax drenching the walls like blood. The sight had to be intentional, but I still shivered. Despite having been with the Society’s assassins for half my life, I hadn’t had to take a life yet. Would that make me less desirable to the Vipers? “There’s Nina,” Margot said. “Let’s go talk to her.” “Nah, I have plans, remember?” 26
My friend snorted and stalked away. Watching her go, her stout body disappearing between a much taller gaggle of young males, I pitied her. To have no ambition, no plan for life. I would have died of boredom. Turning back to the tables heavy with food, I reached for a plate at the same time a darker hand did. My eyes traveled up the arm and hesitated on the face an instant before looking away. A Viper, but not the one I wanted. “Take the plate,” he said, his voice much softer than I anticipated. “Thanks,” I muttered, snatching it from the stack. Damn you, damn you, I cursed myself. My first interaction with a Viper and I couldn’t speak? How the hell was I supposed to get Theo if I couldn’t talk to any of the others? I forced myself to look at the boy again. He had taken a plate and moved closer to the food. Like many of the other Vipers, he was handsome but less so than Theo. Theo was classical, never to be mistaken for ugly, but this one held subtler beauty in his face, though he tried to hide it beneath a growing patch of scruff along his jaw and shaggy, unkempt hair. “Stop staring,” he said, a flash of his teeth revealing one missing from the bottom row. “I can’t abide staring.” “Too bad,” I snapped, forcing venom into my voice. He cut me a calculating glance but shrugged and ripped the leg from the falcon. My lip curled. So he asked for the falcon. “Do you despise the Society, or are you just an ass?” I asked. I wanted bravado, wanted to force down my fear of this boy, but I may have overdone it when he set the plate on the table and allowed me his full attention. “Both,” he answered. “I despise the Society for what they are, vicious bullies, and I choose to act the part of an ass if it gets me what I want.” I burst out laughing, my unfortunate reaction to terror. Margot had chided me for it, said to laugh would only make things worse, but I couldn’t help it—I covered my fear with giggles. The boy raised his eyebrows. “No one laughs at me.” “Is that a threat or a statement?” I asked around my snickering. “Statement.” “I only laugh because I’m terrified.” I wanted to suck the words back into my mouth as soon as I said them. I wanted to disintegrate into the very air, or at the very least trade places with the dead birds scattered across the table. At least they were dead and not prone to blurting foolish things. “Terrified,” he repeated, musingly. “I have never actually had someone admit to such before me. Most don’t even look at me.” “I’m looking.” Another stupid statement. “You didn’t earlier.” I frowned. “Earlier?” He laughed, a very bright contrast to the black of his clothes and dark features. It was a high, pretty laugh of short bursts. “Yes, when I was soaked in blood.” I began laughing harder, tears leaking from my eyes. Dear God, he’s the one no one ever looks at, the monster Viper. He’s probably going to murder me in my sleep. “Don’t murder me,” I laughed. 27
His lips twisted upward, but I couldn’t tell if it was good smile or a murderous one. “You are very direct, Annika.” My name, he knows my name. I panicked and lurched from the table, my plate abandoned beside the dark, strange boy. I found Margot with Nina and Abigail near the front of the dining hall, and even though I considered all of them my friends, I didn’t want Nina and Abigail to hear what just conspired. Dragging Margot into the darkest corner I could find, I whispered what had happened. She stared at me, her mouth twitching side to side in nervousness. “You know they call him the Black Viper,” she said. “Yes.” “They say he kills people who frown at him.” “I don’t believe that.” “Why?” “He would have killed the entire world by now.” She snorted and shook her head. “And you laughed at him? Nika, you can’t just laugh at a murderer.” “I can’t help it.” “Try.” I shook my head and stood shivering beside her. Theo and the other Vipers hadn’t made an appearance, and most people probably hadn’t recognized the Black Viper without his cloak of blood. I know I hadn’t. Without the security of laughter, I began to shrink deeper into the dark corner while Margot stood guard. “Annika, you can’t hide here forever,” Margot said after a while. Over her shoulder, I saw Theo and the other Vipers had arrived, but the Black Viper encounter continued to unnerve me. I watched him devouring his falcon at the edge of the food table, thick juice dripping down his dark fingers, and when he saw his companions, he left his half-eaten meal on the nearest table and approached them. Theo was the only one to smile, the others stared at the floor. The Black Viper’s lips moved with words, Theo responded, but we were too far away to hear. Suddenly, Theo looked up, his eyes searching the crowd as it pressed closer to him. Whereas before his stance had been relaxed, ready for food and enjoyment, it now pulled taut in anticipation. Did he expect someone to attack him? As much as I wanted to attach myself to him, gain his approval, the laughter still trembled in my throat, and I didn’t want to laugh at him like I had the Black Viper. “I thought you were going to ensnare Theo,” Margot muttered over her shoulder. “He’s right there.” “And he looks tense. I don’t think he’ll be willing to be seduced tonight.” Many of the female assassins stepped as close to the Viper leader as they dared, but something about him was keeping them away, and for once, I didn’t think it was because the of the Black Viper lurked at Theo’s elbow. What had the Black Viper said to Theo when he entered the hall? Probably that there was an insane laughing girl creeping about. “Do you think I’ll ever be able to live down my embarrassment, Margot?” I asked, lowering my gaze to my dress hem. “Eh, doubtful. You’ll just have another laugh attack.” 28
I swore and stepped back into the light of the room. Theo and the Vipers had been swallowed by the crowd at last, the tops of their heads the only visible part. Thankfully, the Black Viper was too short to be visible, and I stalked from the dining hall. Margot didn’t follow—she said she preferred less sullen company for such an event. How could I blame her? I had wanted to seduce the powerful Viper leader but ended up laughing in terror at the most notorious murderer in a Society of assassins. Laughing at the sheer stupidity of myself, I pressed a palm to my aching stomach and another to my grinning mouth. As the party and revelry dissolved behind me, the halls dimmed until I encountered a torch every six yards instead of feet. Here, in the dank, chilled halls, I found myself alone, not even a suit of armor or display of torture devices to keep me company. I knew I was getting close to the training rooms and the pool. I avoided the training rooms, knowing that someone might be lingering there—the mats were very soft for late night lovers—but the pool would be empty, as it was forbidden for anyone to enter without the accompaniment of the instructors or an elder. A young trainee had once thought himself above such rules and sneaked into the pool area, but he never came back. Everyone said he had been swallowed by a sea snake, and for a while, I had believed the tales of monsters and devilry. But too curious for my own damn good, I sneaked into the enormous underground cavern a few weeks later and found it ordinary. I was sure others hadn’t believed the lies either because no one had known the boy in reality, but tonight, everyone would be too preoccupied with the Vipers to care to sneak away from the party for a late night swim. If only I could be as carefree. Too bad I was stupid enough to laugh at the Black Viper. I probably can’t show my face again, I thought sulkily. He is positively going to tell Theo. I reached the steps leading to the pool and started down the winding staircase. The steps spiraled into a gaping black pit—no torches gleamed here, another deterrent to trespassers—but when I reached the bottom step, I could see a faint glimmer issuing from the end of the long hall. Glow worms residing in the ceiling and cracks of the pool’s cavern eliminated the need for any sort of torches. But the fat worms also lent an eerie glow to the place. When I entered the cavern, stood at the edge of the giant pool, and looked over the shiny mirror surface, I hesitated. The water would be warm—it always was—but tonight, I felt as if something was about to happen. Good or bad, I couldn’t tell. You’re being stupid, I grumbled to myself. It’s that damnable Black Viper. He broke your concentration and ruined your chances with Theo. Muttering obscenities under my breath, I circled to the farthest shore of the pool until the entrance was opposite where I stood. Here, I could easily exit the pool and hide should anyone chance to come down to the pool. Confident in my plan, I shucked off my dress, wincing when Margot’s tight stays bit into my skin before I could loosen them, and then, I dove into the oddly warm water. The black liquid closed over my body, distorted my sense of direction for a long moment. Breaking the surface, I sucked in the cool air hovering above the pool and dove again, this time heading for the small island at the pool’s center. Large, smooth masses of rock dotted the water surrounding the island, their bulk offering the perfect shelter should another person wander in. Some girls claimed there were underwater caves where pockets of air were trapped and that one only had to dive deep enough to find them. I usually scoffed at such silly stories, but I would have given anything for them to have been true as two distinctly male voices filled 29
the space. Their tones were low, intimate, and I dreaded having to witness a quarrel or worse, a display of affection, when my sole purpose in the pool was to forget any other person existed. I swam to the edge of the island and huddled among the rocks as two dark figures entered the cavern. Both were instantly recognizable. Shoving a fist into my mouth, I tried not to choke on my hysterical laughter as Theo and the Black Viper prowled the edges of the pool. “I think you should reconsider,” Theo said, his voice rising and echoing about the cavern. In the dim light, he seemed confident that he and the Black Viper were alone, that there were no ears to overhear. I watched the Black Viper’s shoulders rise and fall in a shrug. “I want to try it out.” “Oliver.” Theo’s voice tightened around the name, as if the Viper leader hated having to say it aloud. So the Black Viper has name, I thought. Perhaps he is human. “Theo,” the Black Viper mocked. “You aren’t prepared for something like that,” Theo said, ignoring the jab. “I don’t want to see you get hurt.” “Me? Hurt? Those two words don’t belong in the same sentence.” Theo stopped, and I realized he was a few yards short of my discarded clothing. A few more steps—I pushed both hands against my mouth, against the laughter trapped behind my lips. Tears stung my eyes from holding my terrified laughter inside, and my throat began to ache. “Oliver,” he began again. “I don’t think you’re accustomed to this kind of hurt.” The Black Viper snickered, and even from my distance, even in the deep, eerie glow of the cavern, I knew, when he looked away from Theo, that he saw my clothes, my undergarments. By now, the laughter pushed at my throat like a living thing, its vicious claws trying to tear past my skin, break free by any means. “Theo,” the Black Viper said, his voice soft, silky, “I don’t care.” He stepped in front of his leader, cutting off Theo’s path to my clothes. “I don’t get hurt.” “You don’t understand, Oliver,” his friend said, a pleading edge distorting his words. “It’s not physical. This experience—” “Is something I want,” he finished. “And something I will have.” Theo sighed. “When you get hurt, because you will, don’t cry to me.” “I tell you—” “Don’t lie to me, Oliver,” Theo shouted. “I may not be your master, but I am your friend, and I demand that you don’t lie to me.” Growling with suppressed rage, Theo turned from the Black Viper and stalked from the cavern. Alone, the Black Viper rocked back and forth on his heels, his face turned up toward the glowing cavern ceiling. My laughter had subsided at Theo’s disappearance, but I could still feel it, knew it wouldn’t disappear so long as the Black Viper remained. He took a step away from my clothes, and another and another. He was leaving, leaving—he stopped. My heart stuttered in my chest, and I felt the laughter threatening again. Across the stretch of dark water, the Black Viper sank to the floor, stretched his legs before him, and began removing his boots. Dear God, he’s going to get in, I thought. He paused after removing his boots, and a fleeting shred of hope entered my heart. But then he stood and removed his jacket. 30
Piece by piece, he stripped his body of clothing, and as dismayed as I was by his actions, I couldn’t look away until he started to peel away his pants. Still, I listened intently. Had he finished? Was he in the water? I counted thirty heartbeats and looked back toward the shore, now empty of human life. Where— I froze, not wanting to look behind me, not wanting to see what I feared was there. In watching the Black Viper undress, I had let my hands fall into the water, and I couldn’t stop the laugh that burst from my mouth. “There it is.” His voice curled around the rocks, its softness reaching for me. When I looked over my shoulder, I didn’t see him, and his voice was not close. With a sigh of relief, I realized he hadn’t found me yet. So if I could just reach the shore— I pushed away from my rock and dove beneath the surface. Being a powerful swimmer, I knew I could reach the shore. I knew—something slimy brushed against my stomach beneath the water, and I shot to the surface spewing water and coughs. Even through my streaming eyes, I could see the Black Viper staring at me several yards away. He wasn’t blinking water from his eyes nor was he laughing. “Did you touch me?” I asked. He shook his head. “Why—” I shot past him, my arms pumping to reach the shore. Behind me, I could hear the Black Viper following, but there was hesitation in his movements. He didn’t understand why I fled, and I didn’t care. Better to be thought crazy now and explain later than to be eaten by some unknown water demon. When I reached the shore, I pulled myself from the water and scooted to across the floor until my back was against the wall. The Black Viper reached me a moment later, a perplexed frown narrowing his mouth. I was too disturbed by the slimy touch against my stomach to be concerned by his or my nakedness, a sentiment he did not seem to share as his eyes traveled up and down my bare legs I had drawn up against my chest. “Why did you ask if I had touched you?” he asked, forcing his eyes away from my legs. “I felt something in the water.” “Hmm.” He scooted over beside me, his back also pressed to the wall but with his legs straight in front of him. I focused my eyes elsewhere, like my bundle of clothes a few feet out of my reach. “What were you and Theo arguing about?” I asked. He didn’t answer, so I asked again. When he still didn’t answer, I finally looked at him, a grin jarring his dark features. Like his bright laugh, this joy tilted his lips and lit his eyes, distorted his features. I wasn’t prepared to find it there, so it came as a shock. “Why does it matter?” “Because I asked. I want to know why Theo thinks the Black Viper can be hurt but the Black Viper disagrees.” I earned another laugh. “You are very bold, Annika.” “No, just stupid with little filter between my mind and mouth.” He seemed just as drunk on laughter as I was because it continued to issue from his mouth, and I had a feeling he rarely laughed. “Did you know that we entered the Society together?” 31
“No.” “You were a very noticeable girl with your loud mouth, but you weren’t a very good student. In fact, it took me less than a week to surpass you in skill.” I wished I could protest, but it was no use. I had wanted to deny Margot when she sarcastically wished me good luck becoming a Viper, but I had known that she was right. My skill would never allow me to become part of such an elite team, so I had stooped to seduction. “At least you remembered my name.” “And your face. It is a very memorable face.” “Yours isn’t.” Yes, I was very stupid—telling a murderer that he was forgettable. But he only laughed, and I struggled not to let my eyes drop from his face to his naked body. “No, I suppose it isn’t. Theo is much better looking than I am, and I tend to hide behind scruffy beards and layers of blood. Perhaps that is why no one remembers me because I’d rather hang at the back than be presented at the front. That’s why Theo is my Second.” “What?” Theo his Second? The Black Viper cocked an eyebrow at me. “I suppose I forget that everyone thinks Theo is the leader.” “Isn’t he?” More bright laughter filled the air between us, and I had to look at his shoulder, anywhere but his smiling eyes. I found scars on his skin, tiny flecks of lighter flesh and raised ridges. “Theo is my Second. I am the leader of the Vipers, but no one looks for the leader among the outcasts, not when there is a brighter, shinier object to adore.” “Like Theo.” “Yes, like Theo. I never started that myth by the way. When the elders organized the Vipers, they did not choose a leader but let us decide. It was no contest, the Vipers all voted for me, but I found outsiders looking to Theo more than they ever looked at me. I know it was because I came back the bloodiest, the most monstrous, and even among assassins, they don’t want to see the violence we have wrought because they pride themselves on their subtlety, their discreetness. And I was always too open. “However, I find this to my advantage. No one hinders me in my exploits. No one questions my actions. If the words and the requests come from Theo’s golden, beautiful mouth, he is never denied. Even in the beginning, before I drenched my skin with blood and scars, my requests were denied. Perhaps they didn’t believe I was the leader, that I was only a page boy for the true leader, so they didn’t acknowledge my authority.” He shrugged. “Their ignorance suits me fine. I can deal greater crimes in my freedom.” I twitched under the knowledge he offered me. Theo wasn’t the leader? My plans of seduction began falling from me—all the plans I had made for when I was appointed a Viper, gone. “Well that is disappointing,” I muttered. He laughed again. “Yes, for you. I suppose you had plotted to seduce Theo and garner the attention of the lead Viper for your own gain.” He tsked and shook his head at me. “Poor Annika, I fear that you never attracted Theo at all. He never knew your name before tonight.” “What do you mean before tonight?” “I told it to him when I spoke of you, when we came to this cavern.” 32
When they— I laughed until my sides ached and tears burned my cheeks. “You’re saying that the conversation I overheard was about me?” “Yes.” I laughed harder, but this time it wasn’t just fear but hysteria, too. The Black Viper was talking about me, I was the thing he “wanted to try.” “You’re saying,” I laughed, “that you want to try me out? That you what? Want me?” Too much laughter—it threatened to push me apart, like a water skin filled with too much liquid. “Yes.” He leaned closer until his scarred shoulder brushed against my bare skin. “I want to try you out, want to taste your skin and you.” “Nope, nope.” I scrambled away from him, baring my naked back as I scooped up my scattered clothes. As I strode around the pool, I pulled on my dress. Underclothes be damned, I pressed them to my stomach and all but fled to the sanctuary of my room. X X X Margot crept back to our room around two in the morning, and roused by the opening of the door, I looked over and sighed in relief when she was alone. Her soft footsteps drifted over the carpet toward my bed. “What do you want?” I grumbled. It was too dark to make out her features, and I didn’t feel like lighting a candle. “Margot, what do you want?” She sat on the edge of my bed, and as the sleep cleared from my eyes, I noticed that she was too tall, too lean to be my friend. “Sonofabitch.” I reached for a candle, but a slim hand clasped my wrist, halting my action. “No, no, Nika,” he purred. “I don’t want you to ruin the moment.” “What the hell are you doing here?” I struggled against the Black Viper and his soft voice. Giggles were already spilling past my lips, and I feared full-on laughter would soon follow. “I want to talk, Annika.” “No.” “Please.” This was a new tone, one that begged quietly and without mockery. I ceased struggling, and he let me go. “So talk,” I whispered, my laughter absent. “I just—I wanted to try something new with you.” “What?” “I—well, no one really speaks to me outside of the Vipers, but that’s because the Vipers know me. No one else wants to, not even the girls who flock to the Vipers, who give themselves to anyone. And I, I want to feel something besides the death clinging to my hands. I know you only talked to me at the table because you didn’t know who I was, but I want to believe you’ll continue to talk to me.” I hesitated. As my eyes adjusted to the dimness of the room, I could make out the whites of his eyes and the stiff outlines of his clothes and hair. In the darkness, he lost his sharpness, his cruelty. “I don’t even know you.” “And you won’t try? Please, Annika. I don’t want—” “What?” 33
“I don’t want Theo to be right. I don’t want to get hurt.” I flinched. “How could I hurt you? We don’t even know each other.” “You don’t have to know someone to hurt them.” “To really hurt them, you do.” He remained silent, but he shoulders shifted as if he were wringing something between his hands. “I don’t believe that,” he said at last. “Well you should.” I nudged him none to gently with my foot, and he flinched at the contact. “You don’t hurt me with your words.” “You tell lies, Nika,” he murmured. “Lies to yourself and me.” But he rose and left the room without turning back. I waited for Margot to return in the hours following the Black Viper’s departure, but she never did come back before I fell asleep. X X X Part Two: Us I regretted what I said to the Black Viper as soon as I woke the next morning. Margot snored from her bed across the room, and judging by her lack of undress, she had been very intoxicated when she finally stumbled back to our room. Someone else shared her bed—boy or girl, I couldn’t tell. Leaving them to sleep off their stupidity, I slinked from the room, a bundle of fresh clothes under my arms. If my friend was any indication, the rest of the castle would be slumbering and the bathing rooms would be empty, or so I hoped. When I reached the women’s bathing chamber, I heard laughter bubbling through the thick curtain, so I backtracked to the shared bathing space where silence greeted me. Pushing aside the curtain, I strode into the empty room and chose the bathing pool farthest from the door. As I sank beneath the surface of the water, I heard someone else slip through the thick curtain. Great, I grumbled to myself. I wanted peace. Resurfacing just enough so that the bottom of my nose skimmed the water’s surface, I blinked the water from my eyes. The other person had chosen a pool next to mine, but he faced the other way, toward the tall windows set high in the wall. Blond hair curled over his ears, a dazzling sight in the brightness of the morning creeping through the glass. Had I not been stuffed with guilt and sleep, my mind might have recognized Theo sooner, but even when I did recognize him, the Black Viper’s words breezed across my ears: “He never knew your name before tonight.” Bastard. To both of them. I finished bathing—Theo never once turned at my splashes—and crawled from the tub. Lacing my limbs through my pant’s legs, my shirt’s sleeves, I sulked from the room, disappointment coursing along my body. That moment—that opportunity—had been perfect. Theo and I alone, clothes scattered to the wayside. I would never have another chance like that again, and I had squandered it by feeling bad about what I had said to the Black Viper, a murderer. Why couldn’t I be as cruel as Theo? As forgetful and oblivious as Theo? “He never knew your name before tonight.” Why did that not bother me as much as I thought it would? 34
Because you thought of him as a means to an end, I answered myself. But you never seriously thought anything would happen. And I really hadn’t. Theo was that pretty, shiny object in a shop that everyone wants but has no practical use. What about the Black Viper? What about Oliver? I shuddered at my inner-voice but couldn’t stop the laughter tickling my throat. Could I seriously consider Oliver—the Black Viper—as a replacement for Theo? “He probably won’t speak to me after what happened yesterday,” I muttered to myself. I stopped by my room and dropped my dirty clothes at the foot of my bed. Margot and her companion continued to sleep, so I went to breakfast alone. The dining hall had been returned to its dull, usual collection of wooden benches and normal fare. Bowls of fruit, porridge, and hunks of bread had replaced the delicacies on the tables along the wall, though my eyes lingered where the roast falcon had been the night before. Did they destroy the leftovers? Or had the Black Viper requested the spare falcon be sent to his personal chamber? Sitting alone in the sparsely populated dining hall, I let my mind fantasize about what to do for the day. Our training would be suspended in the aftermath of the Vipers’ return, a welcome respite for those sleeping away their intoxication, but I found I was loathe to spend the hours on my own. A group of three girls farther down my table burst into giggles, and I saw them watching me. Ah hell. Had someone seen the Black Viper sulking about my room last night? Or had they seen Theo go into the shared bathing chamber while I was there? I doubted the latter because they would have been glaring had they known about the Theo incident. One of them, a darkhaired pixie, scooted down the long bench so that she was within speaking distance. “Nika, I heard a boy ran terrified from your room last night,” she whisper-shouted. “They say you bite anyone who gets too close.” “Shut up, Mia,” I snapped. “There was no boy in my room.” It was the Black Viper, and he is far from a mere boy. “And what do you mean terrified?” She shrugged. “Nina said she and Margot were about to return to your room but someone came out cursing. They said he was wringing his hands, too. Poor girls had to take refuge in my room for hours waiting for him to leave.” Those bitches, I thought. How could Margot and Nina tell Mia the Gossip Queen? “I have no idea what you’re talking about,” I lied. “Margot was drunk anyway.” Mia snickered and moved away. The Black Viper left my room cursing and wringing his hands? I thought. Surely not. It was just Margot being intoxicated. Still, I worried over the incident for the rest of the morning. Hoping it wasn’t true, I wandered the grounds behind the castle and hid behind trees whenever anyone drew close. It was late afternoon when I saw Mia and her friends again, and this time, they were elaborately acting out the late night flight of the Black Viper. “Save me, save me,” Mia squealed. “Annika just bit me.” The others roared with laughter. I wasn’t amused, but as I caught sight of Theo advancing across the lawn, two other Vipers in tow, frightened laughter pressed against my lips. Ducking behind the nearest apple tree, I watched Mia waving to the Vipers, her thin hands beckoning them closer. 35
“What’re you lovelies doing?” Theo asked, his beatific smile overwhelming the gathered girls. “Mocking that wretch Annika,” Mia said. She twisted as close to Theo as she dared. Despite his desirability, no one dared touch Theo unless he granted permission, and he rarely granted it. “Annika?” He mulled over my name, and I noticed the precise moment when he recognized it. As it had in the dining hall, his stance shifted from one of relaxation to nervousness. So now my name means something, I thought bitterly. How convenient that it was only in response to something the Black Viper had said. “Why would you degrade her?” Theo asked warily. “We heard a boy left her room last night,” Mia said, oblivious to the change in the Viper. “He was terrified, probably because she bit him.” She and her cohorts laughed, and Theo forced himself to oblige them with his own dark chuckle. “Poor sap,” he said softly. “I suppose he didn’t know what he was getting into.” “Not with Annika. Stupid girl thinks she is too beautiful for the rest of us, and she keeps with that degenerate Margot.” “Margot?” “Short, stumpy, ugly. I saw her in the dining hall not twenty minutes past.” Theo chatted with Mia and her friends a moment longer, but he and his friends soon left. If I were smart, I would have fled deeper into the Society’s orchard or even to the maze, but I was stupid and chose to follow Theo and his Vipers back to the castle. As I suspected, they headed straight for the dining hall, where I saw Margot and Nina slumped over a cold midday meal. I hesitated outside the door. If I went in, they would see me, and I didn’t want to confront Theo just yet, didn’t want to prove him right about the Black Viper being hurt. Why? I asked myself. What do I care if he’s right? You don’t even like the Black Viper. I turned from the dining hall. “Hullo.” Flinching, I raised my eyes to two more Vipers. They weren’t the ones who had been with Theo—I’d seen them sitting down with him beside Margot—but I could tell they knew who I was, knew what the Black Viper did. “I’m just going for a walk,” I muttered, trying to inch past them. But they moved with me. “Nice day for outdoors, hmmm?” the one on my right said. “Much better than our last trip outside the castle.” The other boy tsked and said nothing. “Perhaps you’d like to wander off by yourself then,” I said. Already, I could feel the laughter threatening my insides. If I didn’t laugh soon, I was going to explode, but I couldn’t laugh in front of them. “You’re probably better company than I am.” “It’s true, Luca,” the left Viper said. “From those girls’ story, Annika seems to be a threat to boys.” “Good thing I’m not a mere boy,” Luca answered. “I can’t imagine she would hurt any man.” 36
I burst out laughing, taking them both by surprise. I knew they were talking about the Black Viper, knew they were trying to protect him, but my terror of these murderers prompted me toward irrational thinking. “I didn’t do anything to him,” I said, trying to force the laugh from my voice. “He just left my room.” More laughter erupted from my throat, and I clapped my hands over my mouth. Still, a few more bursts dripped through my fingers. Luca frowned at me. “I suppose you haven’t done anything yet, but you will.” “What’s that supposed to mean?” He shrugged and nodded to his companion. “We’ll see you later, Annika. Just know you can’t outrun us.” I stumbled outside to the shade of the orchard where I collapsed into a fit of laughter. Had I just been threatened against hurting a murderer’s feelings? Absurd and terrifying—the situation brought tears to my eyes. I had aimed for the Viper leader but found him to be a false target. Instead, I found the true mark without even trying. X X X Eventually, the lunacy of the Vipers’ return faded back to normalcy—the Black Viper didn’t visit me again, I knocked Margot unconscious in sparring practice (“That’s for ratting me out to Mia.”), I avoided the pool room, and the Vipers disappeared on another trip. “Stop staring out the window,” Margot hissed, kicking me beneath the table. We were in the library learning about the best way to poison a noble and get away with it, but my eyes continued to drift to the rain-drenched window. Rumor had it that the Vipers were expected to return tonight though it had only been two weeks since the last disaster party. How had they managed to complete another task so quickly? “Nika.” This time Margot lobbed a book at me. “What the hell was that for?” I snapped, looking up at her. “You know what,” she said, raising her eyebrows. “Ever since your failed experiment with Theo, you’ve been sulking.” “Mmm.” I wasn’t bothered by thoughts of Theo anymore. Rather, my thoughts were drawn to something black. Since the party, I could feel my thoughts twisting, my dreams becoming more engrained with black swirls and twisting vipers. More than once Margot had slapped me awake, said I was muttering “Oliver” over and over. I had blushed but hadn’t told her who Oliver was. “Hello, girls.” Mia and her crew dropped into seats around us, and she leaned closer to me. “Annika, can you believe the Vipers return today? Perhaps you’ll have better luck with one of them.” “What are you talking about, Mia?” Her breath reeked of garlic, and I was tempted to lean away. “Just that Vipers don’t scare easily. Perhaps they would be better company than the boy you terrorized after the last party.” “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” “Don’t tell lies. Margot saw him. Tell her, Margot.” Margot glared at her book, a fat, faded volume on noble lineage. “Perhaps Margot didn’t really see anything,” I said, enunciating each syllable in slow monotony. 37
Mia snorted and tossed her black hair. “Stupid girl. It doesn’t matter anyway. I really came to tell you that I intend to conquer Theo tonight.” I burst out laughing, a genuine laugh not born of fear. “Good luck with that,” I snickered. “Theo will eat you alive.” “He will not.” My grin widened, and I leaned across the table toward her. “Don’t forget you’d have to endure the other Vipers, even the Black Viper.” Fear creased her face, but to her credit, Mia didn’t back down. “Say what you want, peasant, but I will be the first female Viper.” The bitch troop left, and Margot glared at me. “Why do you provoke them?” she asked. “Mia’s just going to keep coming after you.” “Hmm.” My eyes had drifted back to the window. It was fogged over, but little rivulets of rainwater streaked down the exterior, like tears. Of sadness or joy I couldn’t tell. X X X As promised, the Vipers returned that evening. Rain continued to plague the castle, but many of the Society’s assassins had braved the rain to capture the first glimpse of the Vipers. Margot and I were not among them, but we were leaving the dining hall as the crew burst through the front door. Screams of excitement and fevered applause knocked into us, and we almost lost our footing as others streamed through the dining hall’s doorway behind us. Theo, of course, led the pack, his fantastic, sun-tanned face tipped high, basking in the praise. Behind him lurked Luca and the three other ordinary Vipers, but I found myself searching for another face, one probably covered in blood. “Who are you looking for?” Margot asked. I knew she had forgotten what I told her about the Black Viper’s and my first conversation, that she stood guard in the alcove for twenty minutes while I fought against my terrified laughter. Poor Margot forgot nearly everything. “No one,” I answered out of habit. Mia materialized beside us, and tossing me a triumphant smirk, she strode forward, moving into a space in front of Theo. I watched her twitch her long curtain of hair, swivel her body closer to the Viper Second, and I watched him smile at her, watched him reach for her hand and kiss it. And I felt nothing. My plans, my goal to become a female Viper, my decision to seduce Theo—I didn’t care anymore because my thoughts were painted in black. In black. Slinking through the still open castle door, the Black Viper—Oliver—appeared. He dripped rainwater across the entrance hall flagstones, and I saw blood mixing with the dirt and rain on his face. Sometime while he was away, he had shaved the scruff from his jaw, but he left his hair long, haggard. “Annika—” “Shut your face, Margot.” I pushed aside my friend and strode straight for the Vipers. Mia saw me coming, and she drew closer to Theo, a sharp scowl murdering her beautiful face. “You—” I shoved her aside, Theo too. Luca, the other three Vipers—I didn’t give a damn about any of them. Reaching my dirty, bloody Black Viper, I grabbed his shirt front and fit my 38
mouth against his. I knew that Oliver would be different than Theo, that Oliver would be someone to share life with and never be a tool for power. Breathing in both the foul and intoxicating scent of him, I whispered, â€œI want to try something new with you, too.â€? X X X
Heklugjá Saga Poem by Brendan Savage Prologue Past gates of dawn, o’er sunset sea A broken ship sails placidly. Aboard is no soul at watch or rest As the Valiant sets its final test.
Time has passed since glories reigned And now the legends are seldom named Of when Ingrid strode the rocky strand With sword and shield held fast in hand.
A mighty rover of the sea is Valiant, Its courses carry the breeze most gallant. Waves may toss and trouble brew, The old sea-rider struggles through.
Ingrid strong, proud Sigmund’s daughter Raised by hand of the King, her father, Left her home for glory and fame, And was never to return again.
Day and night the Valiant drifts Past lively coasts and barren cliffs Where fishermen ply the ancient sea And widows cry out mournfully.
Ancient words held against the king “His love will die in serpent’s rings Where the Ash may wither in the mud And mankind drowns in dragonblood.”
The golden hordes of eras past, Which lie at rest in crate and cask, Is treasure in the Valiant’s hold Gathered there by warriors bold.
Gone is glory, gone is light The ship once led by human might Now drifts along the salted foam Lost and never going home.
Storytime Stormtrooping Fiction by Brittany Hein He only had to channel his anger, not completely encompass it. His mission led him to journey to a horridly small library that stood in a quaint niche in the country. It was worse than he anticipated. He, Darth Vader, was doing both storytime and craft time. It was either follow his master’s bidding, or be mercilessly tortured for an uncertain amount of time before his life expired. This task was only somewhat below the intensity of that particular death. His master had told him he must find younglings to bring to the dark side, and this had been the opportunity most promising. He was instructed that all he had to do was force the younglings to paint and read atrocious children’s books such as Goodnight Moon—but he was going to make this experience fantastic. In the children’s section of the library, bears appeared to be the theme, and he couldn’t help but think upon that annoyance of a side-kick of Han Solo’s. The children were seated on a large area rug in a cluster in front of him, while a few parents were seated on chairs that lined the back wall. One parent looked perplexed and was going to question why he, Darth Vader, was doing storytime, but Darth Vader gave him a withering look from under his helmet. It worked, for the parent refrained from pursuing his blasphemous questioning further. Darth Vader also had two Stormtroopers accompany him in the case that things went awry. He heard most of the children cheerfully whispering amongst themselves concerning how cool he was. They were smart children already. One child was tugging as his fabulous cape, so he, as gently as he could, swatted his hand away. Darth Vader grasped the book they were going to read first, and held it up as a professional storyteller would. The endless hours of practicing to his master had been torturous. He couldn’t fathom how his master could read with such powerful emotion. “Younglings, we are going to read Feelings and How to Destroy Them,” Darth Vader said, finally beginning the torture. He had found this book in his master’s library, and it had greatly impacted his life after reading it. These children will surely come to the dark side after this tale. “‘Concerning color, black is going to always, always be the best choice—although red is acceptable too—as other colors may make you feel flowery emotions. Should you see a fellow youngling wearing a horrific color such as pink, they shall be shunned,’” Darth Vader read. One of the little sprouts gave a cry of protest, and Darth Vader quickly observed that she wore a pink dress. “Silence,” Darth Vader said. “We will have time to burn that piece of clothing later.” He saw mist had begun to gather in her eyes, and sensed that she was about to erupt. This would surely give the other younglings the inclination to turn into a frenzy as well. Darth Vader motioned to the Stormtrooper that was stationed on his left side to remove the urchin from the area. A confused and moderately outraged mother met the sniffling girl outside the children’s area, but Darth Vader disregarded the scene. The miniscule yellow seat that he sat in was suffocating. It was also making his limbs numb. Or perhaps the atrocious color was burning his skin. Of course they did not possess black chairs here; the Force was weak with them. He cleared his throat and continued to read. 41
“‘If ever given the opportunity to poke a sibling, parent, or anyone, do so without restraint,’” he said, and held the book open while he turned his torso from left to right so that all the children may perceive the picture. It depicted a boy poking his sister, the former projected an impish grin while the latter was in a silent scream. Darth Vader noticed that some of the younglings poked others who sat close in proximity to them, and, alike to the picture, those on the receiving end of the poke opted to shriek. “Excellent,” Darth Vader said, and continued on to the next page. The shrieking had turned to chaos, which he approved of, but he had much more to teach them. “Shut. Up!” he said, and partially arose, but when he found the yellow seat remained on him like a growth, he quickly seated himself down once more. The children silenced. Then screamed. This would not please his master. Perhaps it was time to begin painting. “Younglings, we will now begin painting,” Darth Vader said. A few of the children froze in place, happy anticipation on their faces. He motioned to one of the Stormtroopers, who presented sets of paint in various shades of black, mostly Vader Black (his personal preference), grey, and miniscule vials of ruby red. The few happy expressions departed, which was excellent. “Use that anger to paint your pictures,” Darth Vader told them as the Stormtroopers passed out sheets of blank paper and paint brushes to each child. He briefly thought they should do this in a different location, but who cared if paint got on books or the carpet? He felt the presence of a girl approach; she was similar to the one with the pink dress. “Mr. Vader,” the puny little sprout squeaked, “can I have cookies?” “Cookies are only rewards for evil doings,” he replied. The youngling looked confused; poor thing. “Please?” “No.” One of the boys who plainly enjoyed cookies too much stepped forward. “Attack!” the boy cried, and pumped his fist toward Darth Vader. This would certainly give his master reason for punishment. Then the rats began to scramble all over him, Darth Vader, the creator of Vader Black. In the midst of the chaos, Darth Vader wondered what use Stormtroopers were. He didn’t want any of these children to be an apprentice anyway. Darth Vader stood up, and a few children clung to his neck like monkeys. Parenting one of these vermin would be a worse death than any his master could conjure. He plucked the repulsive yellow seat from his body and fled the library, and used the Force to release the monkeys from his neck. No regards for the Stormtroopers; they had failed him for the last time.
Frozen Orange Rose Photograph by Carolyn Kesterman
The Cousins Essay by Megan Simmermeyer Sitting on my dresser, I keep a small black photo frame, the words Cousins, childhood playmates…forever friends stenciled across the wood. The photo behind the glass was taken years ago, when my cousins and I were all still in school and our biggest decision was what to have for an afternoon snack. In this photo, we are posed in front of our grandparents’ pond, and it was Labor Day Weekend. Having spent our three days of freedom camping, fishing, and foregoing sleep in order to have more fun, we were disheveled and more than a little grouchy. Still, our smiles stretched across our faces, our arms looped about each other in affection. That photo is aging with each passing year, but we continue to carry on the tradition of Labor Day Weekend camping at my mother’s parents’ home. Grandma and Grandpa have acres of trees with hiking trails, a large field perfect for soccer and sports, and a fantastic pond. Perhaps one of my favorite camping activities involves the pond, and 2016 was especially memorable in that we were allowed to use an old rowboat Grandpa had stashed away. It was on Sunday, after waking and eating breakfast, that the cousins and I decided to go fishing. There weren’t enough large fishing poles for everyone, so some of us had to make do with the tiny child-size ones. (Mine was Scooby-Doo.) We grabbed some well-stocked tackle boxes, too, and thus equipped, we hurried down to the pond to unearth our boats—an old rowboat and paddleboat, both of which had been dry-docked all summer with no one to use them. While the paddleboat was useable, the rowboat required a quick patch job, but once we pushed it into the water, it floated with no trouble. Us getting in the boat, however, posed a greater difficulty. My cousins Seth and Jacob, my brother Ryan, and I all clambered into boat with me at the front. I was quick and steady, Seth and Ryan, too, but Jacob kept wobbling the boat, and I feared we were going to tip. Fortunately, we remained upright, and we pushed free of the dock. Ryan, Jacob, and I each had our own poles, so after rowing out into the center of the pond, we began casting. Jacob was the first to hook a fish—a bluegill—but it didn’t take me long to catch my first, too. Even with my child-sized pole, I managed to catch a total of four fish—three bluegill and a bass. Jacob also caught four, Ryan two, and everyone else zero. (It seemed Jacob and I were to be the fishing champions of the day.) We probably fished for an hour, but growing bored, we began to chase each other with the boats. Uncle Bruce and cousins Jason and Cecelia manned the paddleboat and tried to outmaneuver our rowboat. That fun lasted about another hour, and then, we returned to shore to pass the afternoon eating and playing soccer. When we returned to the pond that evening, it was for more boating fun. This time, the fishing poles were forgotten. (I actually broke mine earlier. I guess I was reeling in too many fish.) I was again in the rowboat and even got to try my hand at rowing (I wasn’t very good. I kept pulling the oars out of their slots). From the shore, my cousin Lauren kicked a soccer ball into the pond, and each team of cousins—paddleboat vs. rowboat—had to race to snatch up the ball first. Eventually, that game deteriorated into a boat-ramming/water-splashing session. We all ended up soaked but laughing. 44
At the end of the day, we always ended up laughing. I have spent my entire life surrounded by family, and to be able to count my cousins as my closest friends is a blessing. While we donâ€™t always get along and end up waging a pond-splashing war, our anger never lasts, and we can always trust each other to never rock the boat too much.
Giraffe Photograph by Marissa Wisman
Walking the Line Essay by Brett Weaver That day, despite being so long ago, still sits in my memory, like an old, rusted car that is unusable, yet still tenderly cared for by its owner. It means a lot to me, because it is a fond memory that I have and share with someone I care about. It happened on a Saturday morning sometime in September, not quite winter, but cold enough that I had to be bundled up for the excursion. My grandpa and I, riding in his old, rusted truck that never seemed to be free of the piles of clutter that filled the interior, pulled off on the side of the road. I remember being nervous about getting out on the road, but my grandpa quelled my fear. “It’s a back road, so there isn’t a lot of traffic. We should be fine; just be careful,” he told me in his gruff yet kindhearted voice, only subtlety carrying the inflections of a country accent. Carefully looking around, it was not difficult to believe this place did not see much traffic. The road was just a large slab of concrete, and everywhere I looked, the surrounding area was nothing more than fields and woods, with the exception of an old ghostly abandoned house that only served vermin. I let out a sigh. This was the last place I wanted to spend a Saturday, even if it was just until lunch. As soon as I got the call the previous night, and was asked by my grandpa to help walk the fence, I knew I couldn’t say no. Especially since my mother said yes before I even had the chance. “Oh well,” I thought, “This couldn’t be that terrible.” After my grandpa took out a strange looking bundle from his truck, we began walking toward the fence surrounding his property. My grandpa owned this enclosure of forest and field in order to grow crops and also provide a place for his cattle to roam. The reason we were out there on that chilly morning was so that we could make sure there were no breaks in the fence that would allow the cows to get loose. To get in, we had to climb over the rusted, green gate that was the only opening not covered in barbed wire. We could’ve opened it, but that would’ve been more difficult, and grandpa had his hands full with that bundle. Even so, the prospect did not appeal to me, since I have a phobia of taking both feet off the ground to climb things. “Go ahead over, then I’ll go next,” my grandpa said, completely oblivious to my plight. “Ok,” was all I could say. Even though I was afraid, I did not want my grandfather to think less of me, so I steeled my courage, felt it flow though me, and stepped over one rung at a time. Once I was over, I started to feel pretty good about myself as if I had accomplished a great feat. The elation coursing through my veins went unnoticed by my grandpa. After my grandpa made it over, bundle and all, he removed one of its contents and handed it to me. I nearly gasped at what I saw. It was about four feet long, with a worn wooden handle covered in several years’ worth of duct tape, and a blade dull and rusted from being valiantly used for so long. A machete. “Go on and take this, and cut down any of the big weeds you see. There are a lot of them in this field, and they hurt the grass the cows graze on.” I knew exactly what weeds he was referring to, since they grew on the edges of my yard as well. They were big, sometimes taller than me, with a multitude of thorns coating the stalk, and a big bulb on top that might be pretty 47
if not for their sickly shade of pink. All in all, they were pretty nasty looking things, and I generally tried my best to stay away from them. Now though, I was being told that I had to get close to them and cut them down, with a machete no less! To my grandpa, the machete was nothing more than an ordinary tool that he used every day. But to me, it was something much more serious than that. To me it was a weapon, something dangerous, something that could get me killed if I messed up while using it. But again, I did not want to disappoint my grandfather, so I reluctantly took it, holding it gingerly as if it were rotting and stinking like roadkill. Not long after that, the two of us set off toward the woods, following the wire fence as though it was a line on a map. Before too much time had passed, we spotted a cluster of those weeds, standing as tall and proud as statues, yet as out of place in this field of tall green grass as a penguin in the desert. “You get that one, and I’ll get these over here,” my grandpa said casually as he walked toward his helpless prey. I mournfully did the same. The weed was just as intimidating close up as it looked in the distance, and I still felt an enormous amount of apprehension at having to cut it down. I had never used anything as close to a weapon as that machete in my life, and I was nervous I would somehow hurt myself in the process. Stomach jumping and feeling those nerves, I turned and looked at my grandpa. He wielded the blade in one hand, walked up to the weeds, swung, and cut them both down at the stalk in a matter of seconds. It was an amazing sight to see. For reasons I still don’t quite understand to this day, seeing my grandfather do something with the ease of someone that had done this task an unimaginable number of times in one’s life, gave me the resolve that I needed to at least try. So, that’s exactly what I did. Utilizing what little courage I could muster, I gripped tightly to the handle and swung as hard as I could. The weed fell over in one swoop, apparently not as thick as it had originally appeared. “Good job. Just try and aim for the bottom next time so that it can’t grow back as easily,” my grandpa said. A warm glowing feeling flooded inside me and I felt happier than I ever thought I would be that morning. I applied his advice to the next several weeds I cut down. It was actually fun once I got into a rhythm, and the two of us wandered further down along the fence, mending the breaks in the posts with the bright yellow clamps my grandpa kept in his pocket. It took us several hours, but eventually we managed to mend all of the breaks in the fence, and had cut down all the weeds that we saw along the fence line. Sweaty, exhausted, but satisfied and filled with a sense of accomplishment over a good morning’s work, the two of us made it back to the road, and climbed in the truck. “Well, I think we got it. Thanks again for helping me, I really appreciate it,” said my grandpa. “No problem. That was a lot more fun than I thought it would be,” I replied, meaning it, as we drove back home. This memory sticks out to me, not only because it was a time I conquered a fear, or a time I spent with a loved one, but because it was really the first time I realized just how much I respected my grandfather, for how hard he works and for how he is so easily able to do many things I cannot, most of them a bit more difficult than cutting down weeds.
Alexis Fiction by Carolyn Kesterman Alexis was the kind of girl that the boys aspired to be. I remember being slack-jawed the day I met her, staring as she climbed higher and higher up the big oak tree in the playground. She didn’t stop where the trunk tapered into two or where the branches grew as narrow as her waist. She only stopped when she was out of the clear and could see the school building at the bottom of the hill below and likely much more, although we’d never know. In that moment, I knew I was going to spend my whole life trying to be that bold. I was more your average type little girl, and before I changed schools in the second grade, I’d never met anyone like Alexis. At my previous school, kids would ask you if you were a girly girl or a tomboy, and both were kind of frowned upon. I’d never known how to answer the question. I liked playing with dolls and reading books about fairies, but then I also loved playing outside and getting dirty. I was also soft-spoken and shy, which was something tomboys weren’t supposed to be. After the teachers who were supposed to be watching us yelled at Alexis to get out of the tree and we went inside to have lunch, I heard her speak and learned to my surprise that she was quiet like me. Maybe she was a little more talkative and a lot less shy, but her voice had this weird calm quality about it and whatever she said was always thought-out, not careless as I thought daredevils like her were supposed to be. I was fascinated by this fearless free soul, and I wasn’t alone in the least. Girl, boy, they all wanted to be like Alexis. When we pretended at recess, everyone wanted to be called Alexis or Alex. She never ate alone, never needed to find a partner, never had an unkind word said about her. Yet if there was ever anyone who was eating alone or needing a partner, she was the first to welcome them into her group. I’ve often wondered if I’d have grown up as considerate if it weren’t for her influence. Actually, there are lots of things I know I wouldn’t have been if it weren’t for her, and the same goes for my classmates. Though we didn’t learn this until much later, our class was recognized by the teachers as being the most respectful, assertive, and high-reaching that they would see for years. I remember the last time I saw her at the old school. It was the end of sixth grade year, and I was running around with her and the others in the big soccer field up on the edge of the hill the playground was on. We weren’t playing a game; we were just running and laughing. It always seems weird and hokey to people when I tell them this story, but there was something holy about that moment. For thirty minutes, I came as close to knowing what heaven feels like as I ever will while on this Earth, and if it hadn’t been for Alexis, none of us would have known how to reject all the social lids people put on that part of their brain that lets them be free and imagine, if just for a moment, that there is light in everything. Like I said, it seems weird to say, at least as an adult. You had to be there to understand. You had to feel the wind rushing through your hair and clothes like you were a stallion, to hear the unbridled laughter come spilling up through your mouth like you’ll never hear again, to feel the grass on your skin as you came tumbling down to lay at the crest of the hill when you finally ran out of breath. 49
We all stared out at the late afternoon sun, the last of the giggles fading away. I remember looking over at Alexis, who suddenly looked contemplative but determined. I asked her what she was thinking about, and she smiled, her face all goldeny as she continued to stare at the sun. “This day’s been perfect,” she said. We all agreed. She nodded, then said one of those philosophical statements only children can get away with. “If we hold it tight in our hearts, it’ll never go away, you know?” Then she looked right at us. Into all of our eyes, one by one. Later, we realized that had been her way of saying goodbye. When we filed into our new seventh grade classroom the next autumn, Alexis’ name wasn’t on any of the desks. The teachers told us she’d moved to Vancouver. I watched as our old group of friends started to change and separate, Alexis having been the thread that tied us all together and grounded us to our truest identities. I didn’t exactly lose the will to be free and bold, but I did forget about it, if I’m being truthful. I forgot it a lot. There was a day toward the end of my freshman year of high school that I found myself thinking about that afternoon on the hill, though. I was in art class, and started crouching my body closer and closer to the canvas as I tried to recreate the exact way the sun had looked above the trees below. I think I had spent an entire hour on it when I realized someone was leaning close to me. I turned and saw Tom, one of the kids who had been in that old group of friends, his face intrigued as he stared at my painting. “That’s really good, Lily,” he said. I was surprised. We hadn’t talked much since the group broke up. “Oh. Thanks, Tom,” I said. He opened his mouth to say something else, but then he smiled and shook his head like he felt foolish. He started to scoot back to his place, then changed his mind again. “It reminds me of Alexis,” he said. I whipped my head around. “What?” “I don’t know, it just reminds me of something. I don’t know, sorry.” “No, you’re right. I was thinking about her. You know, that last day we talked to her?” “That’s it,” he said, smiling. “That’s what it reminds me of.” “I just can’t seem to get the light totally right,” I said. He smiled. “You can’t. But I see it. Leave it the way it is.” That brought Alexis back to the forefront of my mind again. At lunch, I asked another friend from grade school if she had kept in contact with Alexis. She hadn’t. But it got us all talking at the table, remembering the good times and the silly games that had seemed so important then. At the end of lunch, I was silent. I didn’t remember how to go back to talking about boy bands and what we were going to wear to the next dance. It was like the previous three years had been a dream, and I was getting a redo at being free and bold. For the first time in my life, I saw who I wanted to be, and it wasn’t Alexis, but the equally free-spirited girl she had chosen to be her friend. 50
One day during the final weeks of my senior year, Tom sat down next to me in a class out of the blue. “You know,” he said, “I’ve heard people saying how it seems odd that the valedictorian rides Dead Man’s Crater on a motorcycle every day.” “Do they now?” “Of course, it doesn’t seem odd to me.” “Mm.” “You and I both knew someone like that once.” I smiled. “We did.” “Did you ever think you’d turn out like her the first time you saw her climb a tree?” “You remember the first time I saw her?” “Everybody’s first memory of Alexis is her doing something like that.” I chuckled. “No, I didn’t think I’d ever be like her, but I wished I’d be.” “Yeah. Me, too.” “Oh?” “Alexis was everyone’s hero. Still is in the mental freedom if not the physical.” I tried not to let my eyes glance down to the forearm crutches he used after a car accident his sophomore year. He had no hope of climbing a tree ever again. “You ever hear from her again?” I asked. “No. You?” I shook my head. He hesitated, biting his lip. “Tell me, what’s it like?” “What?” “To drive Dead Man’s Crater. Is it like…” He trailed off, looking embarrassed. I leaned closer. “What?” “Is it like that day in the field?” My eyes lit up. “Yes,” I said. His eyes didn’t reflect the pain I thought would have been there. Instead, it was the happiest face I’d seen in years. “Tell me about it,” he said. I thought for a moment, then smiled. That afternoon, I tied his crutches to my motorcycle and helped him onto the seat before sliding in front of him. I could hear his sharp intakes of breath every now and then as we started up, as we pulled out into the street, as we leaned far over to turn a corner. nuarlong stretch of road called Dead Man’s Crater, the sun was just beginning to set. I turned to look at his face, and it was all goldeny, just like that last day with Alexis. He met my eyes for a second, and I knew in that glance that he felt free again. Then I upshifted and led us down the winding road.
Submission Details Initiated in January 2005, Lions-on-Line is a literally collection of works by the students and alumni of Mount St. Joseph University published online with the cooperation of the Liberal Arts Department. Lions-on-Line is published online twice yearly, during the fall and spring semesters. When our budget allows, Lions-on-Line goes “in print”. We take submissions during all twelve months of the year. If you are currently a student or a graduate of Mount St. Joseph and you would like to see your work published, you may submit your work to LOL simply by emailing poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction or artwork to LOL@msj.edu. For full submission guidelines, consult our website. Lions-on-Line is always looking for new staff members. If you’re interested in joining LOL, please contact faculty advisor, Elizabeth Taryn Mason, Ph.D. at the following email address: email@example.com.
Editors and Staff President/Fiction Editor:
Treasurer/Creative Nonfiction Editor:
Ashley Belanger Olivia Dean Penelope Epple Brittany Hein Carolyn Kesterman Tiffany Nacimento Emma Sule Kathryn VandenOever Sarah Wenke
Elizabeth Taryn Mason, Ph.D. 52
Student Literary Magazine featuring poetry, fiction, essays and visual art, out of Mount St. Joseph University in Cincinnati, OH.