CONTENTS POETRY Nik Rajagopalan Samantha Mamani Abigail Mills Audrey Morales Soph Zelizer Bridget Levesque Daniel Rivera Mari Zambrano
Inkwell Alchemy | 5 Glove Check | 22 Solitary | 7 Dusk | 8 Bonded | 11 Little Peanut | 12 Cape Cod | 26 War Against Time | 28 chronology of fading stars | 32
PROSE Sara Thompson Elena Haley Elysia Kour McKenna Baxter
Miss Grosvenor’s Goldfish | 14-15 The Windows Above Sydney Harbour | 17-18 The Forest of Eden | 24 The Velvet Inbetween | 30-31 Taking | 34-35 The Still Heart | 36-37
VOLUME 31 2
ART & PHOTOGRAPHY Catherine Carstens
Parker Prue Fathima Zainab Samsudeen Tony Ngyuen Nadya Steare Ash Smith Mariana Luna Landeros Emily Prieser Adriana Monterroso Corvalan Lecsi Pillar Celeste Cortes Olivia Dantzler
Executive Dysfunction | Cover The Trials and Tribulations of Life, Death, and All of the Perils That Fall Inbetween | 33 R AW | 4 trouble on the table | 38 Unforeseen | 6 Escapism | 9 Litha | 10 Vache Volante | 13 Spiral | 16 I’ll Be Watching You | 19 Humans of the World Series - Kenya and Honduras | 20 Flying Rainbow | 21 Sea of Mountains | 23 Phallus Indusiatus | 25 Fall Forest | 27 Seeking Higher | 29
MISSION STATEMENT Volition serves to elevate the creative capacity of the Mason community by fostering freedom of expression across diverse mediums.
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R A W | Parker Prue | Mixed Medium Collage 4
Inkwell Alchemy The written word is my Philosopher’s Stone As I construct my final body of ink and of bone Sit down and pull together parts from all around great minds Influence flows through me like a current, to other things I am blind. I build with furious intensity, I put my nose to the grind I experience tunnel vision; I know only pen and page. The limbs of the poem come together at last This is a battle for my soul, let it continue to rage My mortality will soon be a thing of the past I live to be remembered, for I will soon surely die Daredevils don’t breathe long. In stratosphere we fly We hit the ground twice as hard. Our end is nigh But the power of words grants me eternal life My ideas remembered, alongside pain and strife I cannot die, as long as I am read
| Nik Rajagopalan 5
Unforeseen | Fathima Zainab Samsudeen | Charcoal and Graphite 6
Solitary You are the color of infinity staring deep into my eyes. A reflection so thick with negativity that I weep with no emotion. You’re a void. A moving, soulless figure absorbing fire that grows and turns everything red. I can’t breathe. Your fire engulfs me yet I feel like I’m drowning. There is nothing else but you, and I feel the pain drenching the air like a curtain of black that never lets the stage light through. A play so eager to begin that it begs and it screams, but you won’t let them in. You won’t let them see the joy that it could bring. You will not let the play unfold. Instead, the light casts upon the empty stage, glistening against the waxed wood floors, so ready to shine but met with the opaque, endless darkness. There’s a loop as your fire sets the curtain ablaze and all I can do is wait. I can wait for the fire to go out, I can wait for the smoke to subside if it pleases, or I can wait for the curtain to fall. How I so desperately want that curtain to fall to the ground and let the light through so the play will finally begin. But in the empty auditorium, all I can see is the source of the light, the red velvet of the chairs, and the dark path that I know extends to doors that I can never reach. Because with you I cannot move. And so, I watch you pass me by. I watch as your fire ignites and your darkness consumes everything around me. I feel your heaviness. I feel our weight. I know that you are mine and I am yours and we will always be by each other’s side. You are the color of infinity staring deep into my eyes and I am trapped within you.
| Samantha Mamani 7
Dusk she is the sky, all of it the mason jar full of melted snow– fire and ice simultaneously gray and carefree. stickered stars on the ceiling break free into galaxies blue when she’s happy; and explosive thunder streaks through sky because she was angry– but forgot why lazy as moonlight, dimming like saturn– forgotten as pluto. The heavens declare her beauty crashing waves on barren beaches beneath the peachy morning glow up as she glides, painting prideful promises across silky skies– in seven colors I fell in love at dusk; the sky has not fallen.
| Abigail Mills 8
Escapism | Tony Ngyuen | Ink and Digital Painting 9
Litha | Nadya Steare | Mixed Medium on Canvas 10
Bonded Have you ever known a person better than you know yourself? A person that is your other half. A person even when they are not near, you feel as if they are. A person where you share the same thoughts and emotions. When one is in pain, the other knows and feels it too. A bond similar to a twinkling diamond, as its hardness makes it difficult to break. A bond where you are each other’s anchors, grounding each other to this plain. A bond of the soul, where you physically could not live without the other. When you disconnect, you always find each other. The Sun and the Moon of each other, Opposite cosmic beings, independent, but needed for balance. Together, a solar lunar eclipse, where we become one entity. Your souls are so intertwined it is impossible to detach. If your person dies, you die with them. A Greek tragedy of a bond, to be with or without them is pure poetry. Your heart will sink into the depths of the sea and ache for its missing soul. Your life will be meaningless and cease to exist without them. The gods will admire our deaths in the constellations, As our bond becomes immortal when we glisten in the stars.
| Audrey Morales 11
Little Peanut At first, we called And called and Called Panchita, little Peanut, Chita, Preciosa Watching her fold with every name Licking her burns and goathead pricks Rattled by the world Until we named her after a flower Watched her sprout Unfurling towards the sun I asked myself If I was going to continue to lick my wounds Or acknowledge the wisdom Left trapped in between pain and past And ask to hear it on others lips Watch my own eyes light up The way hers had when we got it right
| Soph Zelizer 12
Vache Volante | Nadya Steare | Gouache on Panel 13
Miss Grosvenor’s Goldfish Is there any creature on Earth who experiences as much abject suffering as the common classroom pet? Looking back, the elementary school experience hardly seems incomplete without a small animal tragedy of some description, either repressed or remembered as comedy. Miss Grosvenor meant well, but she was very young and hardly knew how to teach; much less keep a goldfish. Maybe, if she had been given more years to learn and settle into her job, then her skills in both areas would have improved. There was the potential for a middleaged Miss Grosvenor helming a third-grade classroom with a large and vibrant community aquarium. But that was not the case yet. Bubbles lived in a plastic drum bowl by the window, so that the light trickled in when the window-blinds were open, filling the bowl with a dull and cloudy glow. The color of his gravel was neon rainbow, the plastic plant which loomed over him was birthday-cake-puke pink. Bubbles lived in a technicolor hell. By the end of the first quarter, the students were already debating among themselves who would get to take Bubbles home. Miss Grosvenor told them that whoever was the best behaved would be able to have him, as long as their parents agreed. And as the conversation turned to misremembered care advice, both children and teacher were too busy talking to notice that Bubbles had stopped hanging listlessly at the top of his tank, and had instead swum over to the side of the bowl closest to them, listening intently. The kids were put to work in group activities, and Miss Grosvenor stepped out in the hall to walk down to the supply room. The door swung shut behind her, and the sound of her footsteps faded as she walked briskly down the hallway. When she was gone, the kids began to laugh and talk loudly among themselves, getting up and darting between | Sara Thompson 14
tables. They had been warned not to be naughty, but what good is a warning that can’t be enforced? “Kids!” a man’s voice called out. The classroom ground to a halt. “Who said that?” said one boy, putting down his marker. “I did,” said Bubbles. Immediately, every kid in the class jumped from their seats and ran over to the table where Bubbles’ bowl sat, crowding around him in a sea of giant, grinning faces. Bubbles floated in the center of his bowl, his fins flared around him, hanging in the center of the water column as he addressed the class in a deep baritone voice. “Bubbles, you can talk!” a girl squealed, springing forward to hug the bowl. The water sloshed. “Let go, please,” said Bubbles, bumping into the side of the bowl. “Of course I can talk. I’ve always been able to talk.” “I knew it!” said a tall, curly-haired boy. “Why didn’t you talk before?” “I haven’t felt like it,” said Bubbles. “But now I think I do.” “Then you’ll be our friend,” said the same little girl, who was still stroking the side of the bowl. “A friend forever?” “A friend forever,” Bubbles said, sinking down to the bottom. “Of course.” He then fell silent again, for five, six, seven seconds, until Miss Grosvenor re-entered the room. When she did, the kids ran to her, tugging at her shirt and demanding that she come and see how Bubbles had talked to them. At first she thought it was some kind of fairy tale, a story they had all made up to prank her somehow. But with the entire class very insistent on what had happened, she acquiesced and walked over to the tank to see what all the fuss was about. Bubbles sat on the bottom of the tank,
underneath his plastic plant. He stared out at the world with big emotionless fish eyes. The kids tapped the bowl, trying to get him to speak again, but he didn’t. Eventually, the teacher crouched down slightly, to put herself on eye level with the fish, still expecting some kind of prank. “You!” Bubbles shouted. Miss Grosvenor screamed and jumped away from the tank. Bubbles swam over to the cloudy plastic side of the bowl, staring down at her with eyes incapable of blinking. “You’re the one!” he said. “You’re my tormentor!” “Oh my God!” screamed Miss Grosvenor. “Every day of my life I live in pain because of you!” said Bubbles, lashing his tail. “Every day of my life I wonder if I’ll die because of you! What kind of life is it anyway, living in fear of being flushed away half-alive, of being replaced with a new fish, of being too afraid to die and too injured to want to live?” “The fish can talk!” Miss Grosvenor said. “Oh my God, the fish can talk!” “So often I felt helpless, helpless to do anything to save myself from this situation,” Bubbles continued. “And that’s what the worst part is, the helplessness of finding yourself at the mercy of a greater creature, hoping and praying for a mercy that would never come, because you are like a God to me . . .” Miss Grosvenor got up and ran from the room, and Bubbles again fell silent, only swimming in slow circles to indicate his seething anger. The kids were no longer laughing. They were no longer attempting to approach the bowl. They sat riveted in their seats, eyes locked on the fish. Bubbles had achieved what Miss Grosvenor could not; he had managed to make twenty eight year olds sit still and be quiet. “I’m telling you, it spoke with a man’s
voice,” said Miss Grosvenor, as she walked in with the assistant principal. She was sweating madly and on the verge of hysterics at the mindbending encounter she had just experienced. The assistant principal was every bit as skeptical as she had been, when the students had first reported the story to her. They walked over to the bowl, where Bubbles was quietly swimming. “Go on,” said the teacher. “Talk.” Bubbles only spat a little bubble from his mouth. “Do it,” said Miss Grosvenor. “I know you can.” Bubbles did nothing but continue to swim. They stood for a few moments watching him swim, and nothing broke the expectant silence but the ragged breathing of the humans. Then the assistant principal took Miss Grosvenor by the arm. “Let’s go down to my office,” he said. “I have to make a few calls.” Bubbles never spoke again, though Miss Grosvenor insisted to the psychiatrists in the hospital that he would if only they would bring him to her. When the janitor who had been tasked with cleaning out Miss Grosvenor’s room to prepare it for a new teacher found Bubbles’ bowl still sitting on the back of the table by the window, he thought at first that there was no life present in the neglected and slime-covered water. But when he held it up to the light, he could see Bubbles’ red-streaked gills still pumping softly, as if the tenacious little fish had still had an ounce of life left in him. Taking the bowl out back behind the school, he cradled it in his arms as he walked across the playground, careful not to splash any of the nasty water on himself. And kneeling by a shallow drainage creek at the edge of the property, he poured the bowl out into the swiftlymoving water, which carried its contents away.
Spiral | Ash Smith | Oil Painting 16
The Windows Above Sydney Harbour Thumb-sized boats chug along against a blue backdrop, leaving white streamers in their wake. Closer, the sloped peaks of the opera house are framed by a different blue background, the sky. This view is one that Trevor Bailey had tired of long ago. He’d had this office for almost five years, and was beginning to wish for a different view of Sydney Harbour. He needed to look at it from a fresh perspective. The promotion and subsequent raise that would also come with this new office would also be nice. “Daddy, look!” Trevor looked up from his computer, over to one of the windows, to the panel of glass that provided the best view of the water, least obstructed by the other high rise buildings. It was where Trevor’s three-year-old son, Ben, liked to sit and watch the boats every time he came to the office. Unbeknownst to those boaters in the harbour, they were babysitting Ben Bailey free of charge. The only downside to this was that Ben wanted his father to look at every single boat. This was the fourth time in ten minutes that Ben had found a boat he wanted Trevor to see. Trevor turned away from his computer screen to look at his son. Ben was perched lopsided on his knees, floppy brown curls flying away from his forehead in a nestlike array. In one hand he was clutching a red toy car (he currently had an obsession with anything that could go fast) and his other hand was splayed against the glass, no doubt leaving a handprint. There would be several of those by the end of the day. Once Ben had Trevor’s eye contact, he repeated. “Daddy, look!” Trevor nodded and smiled. “I see it, Ben. I see it.” “Look!” With a sigh, Trevor looked back at his computer. He supposed the emails could wait, just for a few moments. It was Isabel’s weekend with Ben, so this afternoon would be the last chance Trevor would have to spend time with his son for the next few days. Trevor got up and walked towards the window, crouching beside his son. “Where is it?” he asked, trying his best to match Ben’s enthusiasm. “Which boat is it?”
“That one!” Ben pointed to a mundane looking, eggshell white deck boat cruising out from underneath the harbour bridge. It looked exactly like half of the other boats Ben pointed to, but his excitement never dulled. Trevor didn’t understand his son’s excitement, but he supposed he would be a bad father if he didn’t indulge in it. So he did. At the end of the day, with the sun setting through the windows, Trevor packed up his things while Ben slept in his desk chair. He paused for a moment to gaze out the window, out of the same panel of glass Ben adored. Trevor stood there for a while, trying to see things the way his son did. After a while, he realized he couldn’t. It would be many years before Trevor would be able to, years too late. But, for this moment, neither Trevor nor Ben knew there would come a day when they wouldn’t coexist peacefully. Trevor left his office, Ben in one arm, his briefcase in the other, suit jacket draped over one elbow. He would quickly nod goodbye to all of his coworkers before getting on the elevator. Ben would wake up just in time to do one of his favorite things: press the button to take them down to the ground floor. The sun set over the harbour, over the ferries and boats and the high rise building where Trevor worked too many hours. A moment in time so fleeting, not being noticed for how sweet it was until much later. Years later, Trevor would look out at that harbour from a much bigger office, with more windows than Ben ever could’ve dreamed of at the age of three. He would watch the boats pass, think of calling his son and telling him about how great the view was, but he wouldn’t do it. Trevor had never been able to see things the way his son could. Now was too late to start.
| Elena Haley 18
I’ll Be Watching You | Ash Smith | Chalk Pastels 19
Humans of the World Series-Kenya and Honduras | Mariana Luna Landeros | Photography 20
Flying Rainbow | Emily Prieser | Photography 21
Glove Check He checks his gloves and finds himself in the rain tonight There will be no escape from the dragon in his brain tonight He sees malefices in his enemies, He is their reckoning Will bloodshed be an escape from the pain tonight? Still, he stands. Powerful, resolute. The truth of the matter is his bane tonight Who watches the watchdogs? All eyes are closed, there is nothing to gain tonight. “Where is the son of Adam?” “I am not my brother’s keeper,” said Cain tonight. A great king once spoke, “All things are dust before the wind.” If only we remembered his reign tonight. Hit after hit, each man’s life flashes before his eyes Death’s hand does not abstain tonight. And I ask you, Nik. How long can you wear the mask of the invincible? No longer. The façade splits in twain tonight.
| Nik Rajagopalan 22
Sea of Mountains | Adriana Monterroso Corvalan | Photography 23
The Forest of Eden For those with the thirst for adventure and exploration, the call of nature is hard to ignore. Humans are a part of nature, and women are humans-contrary to what some are taught to believe. One morning, Eden goes on a hike in search of some peace and quiet, nothing more. The trail took her far away from the city from which she came. Far away from peering eyes, catcalling mouths, impatient hands, and ugly words. There was none of that here. The only eyes and mouths belonged to Eden and the animals who would scatter as soon as she crossed their path. Some birds, a couple of squirrels, a snake. Eden even caught a glimpse of a snow white tail as a doe bounded away from her in fear, disappearing from sight, into the deep forest like an apparition. The only hands and words belonged to Eden. The weather was perfect, too. As she cautiously crossed a small stream, Eden told herself there wasn’t a better day she could’ve picked to go on this hike. Mother Nature made a world of pure things, but none of those things are simplistic. Everything’s complex, one ring in the spiral of a tree trunk. Many things still happen with no explanation, no rhyme or reason. Eden would be found downstream, body crumpled behind a crowd of thistles, placed there with a carelessness only another human could have. There she would lay to be gazed upon by the trees and the doe who could sense the danger she could not. She would become a spectacle in the news for people to gossip about over the pot of coffee in office break rooms. Something for suburban mothers who use true crime as a distraction from their dead-end lives to discuss while they wait for their kids to come home from school. Eden wasn’t any more a person than the rocks and twigs she hiked upon. Objectified by the person who was uncaring enough to discard her like compost, only to be objectified by bored strangers who wanted to give the illusion of caring. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.
| Elena Haley 24
Phallus Indusiatus | Lecsi Pillar | Pen and Ink 25
Cape Cod I feel hollow at night, as the cooler air creeps in. I’ve dreamt of you more than I ever have -All of these new faces around me, new people, But none are you, not familiar like we once were. Soft touches, warm laughter, comfortable silence, Now just television static, Like waking up from a sweet, sugary dream; The sudden removal of your favorite blanket, Now frayed at the seams And left buried in the sand.
| Bridget Levesque 26
Fall Forest | Celeste Cortes | Digital Painting 27
War Against Time With the walk of the Clock My heart was racing With sweaty hands And the cold body Time was running out. Despite the wall of doubts that separated us, Your perfume escaped Between the small fissures Of that terrible construction. The needle advanced and as One flash, you got up Overlooking the horizon You walked without looking back. Imposing, determined and beautiful As always. And as an innate instinct And with an open mouth Showing the absenteeism of A few safe words, I stretched my hand for first time without fear. Sadly, the time was upon me You were leaving and with you my Dreams, my smiles And my happiness; The only thing you left behind, Were these tears
| Daniel Rivera 28
Y el caminar del Reloj Aceleraba mi corazón, Con las manos sudadas Y el cuerpo frio, El tiempo se me acababa. A pesar del muro de dudas que nos separaba, Tu perfume se escapaba Entre las pequeñas fisuras De esa terrible construcción. La aguja avanzaba y como Un destello, te levantaste, Con vista al horizonte Caminaste sin mirar atrás. Imponente, decidida y hermosa. Como siempre. Y como instinto innato Y con la boca abierta Mostrando la ausencia de Unas palabras seguras, Estire mi mano por primera vez sin miedo. Tristemente ya era tarde, Tú te ibas y contigo mis Sueños, mis sonrisas Y mi felicidad; Lo único que dejaste Fueron estas lagrimas
Seeking Higher | Olivia Dantzler | Photography 29
The Velvet Inbetween I wanted the voices to be normal again Scratching beneath my pillows at night To hear any sound but the sounds a mind can make Vivid words in a drifting mindscape Hardly known to me. My eyes are red From the sleep I’ve lost Tossing and turning and learning My hands just shake One, then both Tremendously, greatly— Then suddenly, not at all. But the world didn’t sleep When I lost that gift. Memory didn’t leave me When it failed to work: And when all couldn’t be seen The dark blood churning I turned to the ever-burning stars. The fabric between those glowing points of light was eternal and far and endless— Spiraling hopes and dreams of worlds I couldn’t know were frozen in light I’d never see reach me They stood and they stood And they never once moved anchorpoints to an entire universe— —yet, somehow, the stars could never hold me. | Elysia Koury 30
Skittering visions of a pounding pulse Hands only belaying every action— every notion— with the moments between the searing terror a nervous void of thought. The things I knew became things unknown, and my Past came to light before I learned it wasn’t all My world narrowed, then cracked and burned a supernovic living thing, barely still held together— And I forgot that I forgot that I ever could have understood every single part of me. The shards examined did me no justice just hurt and stabbed and burned; the fragments showed things I could become if I stayed uncaring and self-reliant Ourself remained important, but Ourself became enlightened. I pulled the threads together, tying even as I cut them I could only weave so much in hand with fingers still barely shaking— but I stopped to take a shuddering breath and looked back up at the stars. The velvet in-between them then had still remained intact, unchanging
from the last time I looked at it As if it could barely see The tiny specks within it; Gas and heat fused into metal died deaths that killed the thousands yet that light would never reach me. Futile as it was, I knew them well, these nighttime points I saw walking down the concrete to my ensured hell I held onto the brilliance of what once, for them, was. They never left when all else left me— in the end, I held onto that— Yet even then, when I gazed to them, the stars could never hold me. Broken and failing Somehow still flailing for my position— a dissolving position, one I never even wanted, tainted with the acid of indecision and denial and regret— that, despite itself, remained my only option. Crumbling foundations are hardly ever foundations But the bedrock underneath is only revealed through those last stones disappearing into the void which is why the last of which I stand on must finally rot away.
I bit back the tears From years ago Just to look at the sky, to float To not mourn the deaths of billions-old light so that I could know them to be forever. And those tears fall, now, though those stars do blur, that black between them remains constant. Their lives are constant records of their Pasts Of how they keep moving on The ‘verse may see them long after they are dead, only to remember them for what they saw until even that winks out. They were right, the voices within my head: That gas could burn and the ‘verse could turn But the stars never held me— they anchored me so that I could fall into their Velvet Inbetween.
This doesn’t mean, though, who I was— fear spikes and twists at the thought of that— rather, so, the misconceptions that arise from a closed-looping mind.
chronology of fading stars broken star, shining dim no place among the stars be as it may, i’ve faded away into the deep blue cosmos found the the best and the worst and the galaxies worth keeping oh, be as it may all i see is death and decay the sparkling nebula that belongs to only the grimmest of us the graveyard of souls, ripped apart in a split second, ashing from the start be as it may, i’ve seen time and space in disarray the stars align for the wrong side worlds split in two, till no one can hide past, present, future, it all ripples forth the universe will never determine my worth.
| Mari Zambrano 32
The Trials and Tribulations of Life, Death, and All of the Perils That Fall In between | Catherine Carstens | Art
Taking It appears in many forms. Male, female, ambiguous. Cloaked in robes blacker than night with a silver scythe, foreboding and unmovable. Blue-skinned in supple swaths of crimson cloth, austere and commanding. Skeletal, flowery, clad in beauteous, colorful robes, grinning resolutely. Death comes for all. The young, the old, the good, the bad. Humans, dogs, beasts of any kind. It is always easier to take the bad, the unforgivable, irredeemable. Of this, Death is certain. It takes no pleasure in the deed, but pleasure is not a luxury Death is afforded. The difficulty comes with those undeserving and youthful. Taking the unready from their mortal bodies, from their families and homes, Death grapples with its conscience. The mourning is unsurmountable. The grieving, endless. Perpetual suffering, like the permanence of the glistening constellations in a pitch-black sky. Like the stars, respite from sorrow is lifetimes away. Death falters, but never desists. Everyone who has ever lived, who will ever live, is just another soul for Death to collect. Despondent, Death has no choice but to amble the grim path carved out for it. Collecting the deceased is all it knows, and all it can do. A herald of mortality, a reluctant gatherer of the departed. That is all it will ever be. But one day, the last being will pass on. Death will take one final soul. And there will be no one left. Death takes solace in this fact. Finally, free from the intractable guilt. But that will take an eternity. Only when every single leaf of every single tree on Earth withers away in the elements one by one will there be no living soul left to claim. The very lifeblood of the Earth, vanquished forever. Until then, Death resolves itself to do what it does best. It takes on the emotional burden of relieving the dying of their physical burdens.
| McKenna Baxter 34
It somberly brings them into a cool, quiet, dreamless sleep of demise. Death does its best to tune out the sobbing, the wailing, the howls of bereavement. It solemnly hears the tolling of timeworn bells and the mournful brass of trumpets. One day, those mourning will meet the same fate, assuaged by a soothing void of nothingness. This only comforts Death triflingly, neglecting to absolve the guilt. Many abhor Death. Many more fear Death. It stings, but Death acquieses these scathing judgments. Others celebrate Death, the final destination, the moment every life has built up to. The grand finale. Reassuring as it is, Death still wishes it could find something meaningful to contribute. It may be silly, but Death has always hoped for a domestic life. Living in the suburbs, working a perfectly normal, boring office job. Grocery shopping with a spouse, filing taxes at midnight hunched over a desk with a broken lamp. Death would eagerly accept a life that those it collects take for granted. Death wishes most of all for an animal companion, a friend to unconditionally love. A friend to call its own. Maybe a black cat or a Pesquet’s Parrot. Maybe both. But presently, Death has no animal companion. Death has no spouse, no office job, and no taxes. Death only has loneliness, and the lives of billions resting in its hands. If only that weren’t the case. If only Death could create and add something to the world. But all it does is take, take, take. Death tires of the taking. Death tires of it all.
The Still Heart Dr. Elise Qiu was properly stumped. This autopsy was nothing like the others even though it had started out that way. Her notes regarding the body’s physical appearance were simple enough. The body, Nicholas Price Newman, was exactly six feet and 176 pounds upon his sudden death. His eyes were green, his hair was Auburn brown and about 1.8 inches long with short tapered sides, and he had a faded, jagged scar longways across his neck. He was Caucasian and exactly 23 years old, as he had inexplicably dropped dead on his birthday in the middle of a parking lot just two days prior. He wore a plain grey sweater with blue jeans and black sneakers with no socks. The body had been received at the medical examiner’s officer two days ago shortly after the death had taken place and had been refrigerated in the morgue until Elise could begin the examination. The seals of the body bag were broken, the body photographed inside, and notes had been recorded on the positions of the clothing the body wore. After closely examining the body’s clothes, Elise removed them, keeping a watchful eye for any abnormalities as she looked over the body itself. No paint flakes. No gunpowder residue. No bullets. No drugs. No blood. One black pentagram tattoo on the right hipbone. After gathering hair, nail, blood, and skin samples, Elise made the appropriate notations on her body diagram before reaching for her recorder. “Throughout the external examination, the body has exhibited no abnormalities nor external traumas,” Elise stole a glance at the body as she spoke. “The pupils have dilated and the skin is pallid and cold to the touch, and though there is nothing else of note, the body is beginning the process of Rigor Mortis | McKenna Baxter 36
late at exactly two days, two hours and thirtythree minutes after death. Additionally, there is no lividity whatsoever on the body despite the lack of a heartbeat for two days now.” Elise carefully placed a body block under the patient’s back, stabilizing it as best she could. Steeling herself, she steadied her hands and carefully made the first incision running from each shoulder joint to the sternum, then down to the pubic region. As she prepared to peel back the tissue with her scalpel, Elise felt herself freeze in place as her skin suddenly went cold. A heavy weight hung in the air, a weight that emanated agony, loss, and bereavement. She shivered as the fleshy sensation of an unseen hand scraped down her neck, unable to shake the insurmountable feeling that somehow, despite being alive and well, someone had just maliciously stepped over her grave. Shaking her head to clear the cobwebs, Elise pushed the enigmatic imagery from her head as she moved the skin and tissue back. She pulled the chest flap up to expose the ribcage before making two quick, precise cuts on each side. Slowly, she incised the tissue behind the ribcage before removing the bony structure from the body altogether. A bitterness hung in the air, tasting of anguish, torment, and sorrow as Elise set about detaching various organs. She pushed through the unwavering memories that bubbled up in her subconscious, though she absentmindedly noted that they did not feel like her own. An unexplainable onslaught of images assaulted her mind, her very being, as she worked on the body. She saw herself lying on the body block completely nude, throat slit, unseeing, terrified eyes wide open as they misted over in death. The scrape of
metal and flesh tearing echoed in her ears as inky sensations clouded her vision. Elise felt the breath pulled from her throat as a distorted vision appeared before her. The light faded from her eyes, some inscrutable darkness plucking her melting eyeballs from the sockets as they liquefied. Her healthy skin paled to a sickly grey, and her curly, black hair began to smoke, invisible flames burning it down until all that remained was her charred scalp. In the haze of her mind, Elise could feel a shadow seeping across a room, trickling darkness like a dying man bleeds red. Examining the organs exposed to her, she found herself deafened by a distant heartbeat so loud, the sound of blood flowing into the arthbeaderies rushed to her ears. A hazy swirl of rich crimsons, varying in shade and hue, erupted in her mind as she stepped away from the body to regain full focus, an intoxicatingly metallic sourness hanging in the air. Suddenly whisked away into a dark hall of blistering heat, Elise screamed to unhearing assailants as an unearthly anguish rent the flesh from her bones, burning hotter and brighter than a funeral pyre. Ancient words rode her wails through the halls, past splatters of blackened, rotting blood on tattered tapestries, timeworn yet still imbued with delirious terror of times otherwise forgotten. In the veil of moonlight through the worn hall, Elise howled as her ribcage exploded, blood and innards streaming outwards in a despondent dance of death. Elise gasped, holding a hand to her rapidly beating heart. Sweaty, shaken, and left with lifetimes of terror and pain seared into her subconscious, she exhaled shakily, resolving to finish the procedure and take some time off after the ordeal. She had been
planning her honeymoon for some time, and she needed a vacation now more than ever. Globules of sweat beading on her face, Elise pushed through her shakiness and carefully cut the heart out of the pericardial sac, freeing it. Turning the heart over in her hands, she immediately realized something was wrong; the presence of black, oily blood and veins. Her chest felt empty, her rapid heartbeat slowing until she couldn’t feel it at all. Her fingers darted to her neck, feeling desperately for any hint of a heartbeat as the panic crept back into her mind like a tidal wave of agony and terror rising over a drowning, exhausted man desperately clinging to life. A gentle, rhythmic thumping in her hand attracted the attention of the rattled doctor. Though her own pulse had curiously disappeared, the heart in her hand had slowly resumed beating, black beads of slick blood spurting from the aorta, a sinister forest of black veins creeping over whatever red and pink there was left. Warmth and color bled from her skin, hands and arms turning a sickly bluish grey. “It doesn’t make sense,” Elise rasped, eyes frantically darting from the heart to her own skin. Her voice rose to an unhinged scream, nails digging into the tender flesh of the heart as she tightened her grasp. “It doesn’t make any damn sense! I’m alive without a heartbeat, and the heart is beating without a body!” Perturbed and frozen in place by a sudden, potent otherworldly presence, Elise cautiously shifted her clouded gaze from the once-still heart softly beating in her hand to the pallid cadaver before her. Slowly, almost trancelike, the body opened its unseeing eyes.
trouble on the table | Parker Prue | Digital Painting 38
STAFF Executive Editor Sally Deen
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