The Lab Review - The Fantastical Element

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the lab review: the fantastical element Faculty Advisor Eric May

Chief Editor

Melaina de la Cruz

Associate Editors

John Setzco, Alexandria Baisden, John Stadelman, Dahazee Flores


Cover Design

Melaina de la Cruz Glenn Carreau and Dahazee Flores

Department of Creative Writing Faculty

Randy Albers, Jenny Boully, CM Burroughs, Garnett Kilberg-Cohen, Don De Grazia, Lisa Fishman, Re’Lynn Hansen, Ann Hemenway, Gary Johnson, Aviya Kushner, David Lazar, T. Clutch Fleischmann, Aleksander Hemon, Eric May, Patricia Ann McNair, Joe Meno, Nami Mun, Audrey Niffenegger, Samual Park, Alexis Pride, Matthew Shenoda, Shawn Shiflett, Tony Trigilio, David Trinidad, Sam Weller. The Lab Review, a journal of student writing, is published online by the Publishing Lab through the Creative Writing Department at Columbia College Chicago, on a semi-annual basis. Fiction, creative nonfiction, stories in graphic form, poetry, visual art, and photography, were submitted by students for consideration. Visit us online at for past issues, and to link to our sister sites for market research, book reviews, as well as industry interviews and videos. For information on studying creative writing: Copyright Š 2016 Creative Writing Department


contents poetry misunderstood kraken|







fiction cold feet | Emma Givens





the exchange|Charlotte Gasparetti Ribar pit stop in hell| Val McBride








nymphea skin care | T. Daniel Frost pop| Tabitha Chartos





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. 8 . 14

in the arms of rusalka | Maria Schrater siren|Nikki Macahon

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. 20 .




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prime function| Matthew Lennertz



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author bios



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Editor’s Note Welcome to the sixth installment of The Lab Review! This is the final issue that I will be serving as Editor-in-Chief, and, as a lover of horror, I’m beyond thrilled that I was able to finish my time in the Publishing Lab by co-producing a literary magazine that features such chilling stories, as well as hilariously fantastical and darkly unsettling. One of the most unqiue qualities of Columbia College Chicago is the Department of Creative Writing’s attention to genre. From specialized courses in the realms of horror, science fiction and fantasy, young adult, travel narratives, and even graphic novels, I’ve always admired the lengths that the faculty members go to encourage students to write in their particular interests. We at the Publishing Lab wanted to further these initiatives by devoting an entire issue of The Lab Review to genre, and give the writers of sci-fi, fantasy, mythology, and horror a place to showcase their amazing work. The name, “The Fantastical Element”, comes from the prime component we’d been searching for when originally sifting through stories. In the last year that The Lab Review has been around, I’m humbled by how many marvelous writers we’ve had the opportunity to publish. I’d like to thank them, my beloved fellow scientists (Malissa, Will, Gio, Cory, Boston John, Raleigh John, Lexi, and Dahazee), my faculty advisers, Patty and Eric, and of course Deb Siegel and Devon Polderman, for being part of such a great experience. We’ve enjoyed the process of bringing you these tales of beasts and bots and everything in between, and we know you’ll devour every bit of it. Love & books,

Melaina Kristine de la Cruz (retiring) Editor-in-Chief |5

cold feet | Emma Givens

I can only imagine my wife’s face. I didn’t get to see her smile when I popped the question. Literally, I can only imagine her face. Seeing it would mean spending our whole “til death do us part” immobilized in stone. Falling in love with someone like this wasn’t exactly how I planned my life would go, but fate doesn’t care about your plans. My first interaction with her was holding hands. Well, touching them. We had both ordered the same drink at a coffee shop and reached for it at the same time. I know now that she keeps her eyes facing the floor in public so she doesn’t ruin anybody’s day, but then, I just saw a beautiful girl looking toward her feet. “Here,” I handed her the coffee. “Are you okay?” I tried ducking slightly to get her to turn her eyes up at me, but she closed them tightly. “I-I’m fine. Please don’t look at me.” Her words sounded like cracking glass, the sad sound of church windows breaking. I raised my hands to show her I would step down and leave her alone. “Of course. But…” I paused, not knowing if I should keep my mouth shut. Luckily for me, I didn’t. “Never be ashamed of someone looking at you. You’re beautiful.” We ended up walking through the park nearby for hours. She told me no man had ever called her beautiful. They call her vile and cruel without ever attempting to know her. They say the sight of her snakes makes them nauseous; when I saw them in her hair it reminded me of iridescent seashells all twisted together in a glistening mess. I don’t know what color her eyes are to this day, how they sparkle when she’s happy. I haven’t seen them burn in anger. For all I know, they could change color. I muse this over as a soft hissing grows louder and louder; my bride is walking down the aisle. I risk a peek and see her snakes twisting around one another, doing a dance of love. Of course she wouldn’t wear a veil – the snakes would get far too fussy being contained in such a thing. 6|

I stare at our feet as she walks up to face me. The words of the priest are mumbled out of his bent-over mouth. “I do.” Her sweet breath hits the top of my head. “I do,” I say to the grass. I close my eyes and move my neck up, waiting for her to move close and touch my lips. Her lips are soft and I can’t help but smile against them. My face spread into the widest grin I had ever produced while I blinked away tears of joy. My lips turned down instantly as I realized what I had done. Her eyes, her beautiful, crying, sad eyes, are the color of –


the exchange | Charlotte “Gasp” Gasparetti Ribar

“I don’t know,” I say, “maybe I just like the idea of it.” I shimmy my shoulders deeper into the grass. The blades don’t feel like sharp tickles on the back of my arms and neck anymore. They’ve dulled in the last hour Sheila and I have been lying here. “Most people feel that way,” Sheila says. Sheila speaks in a voice that has the tone of a whisper, no matter her volume, carrying over the accent of guttural purrs and hums from her home. I turn my head towards her and watch her green hair trying to weave into the grass. I look back to the night sky. We had driven out past the cornfields that surround our town and onto the hill where the first Midwest visit happened. It’s the best place to see the stars in June. If you lie down for a couple of hours and then start to get up, keeping your eyes on the sky, it feels like you’re falling into them. I don’t know, maybe it’s head rush, or the radiation everyone says our parents and grandparents suffered from seventy years ago. “Not you though,” I murmur over the cicadas. “I mean, it’s home. I have a hard time seeing it as anything but, you know?” “Yeah, I guess…” After a moment Sheila says, “Even if it wasn’t home, if I was you, I’d want to see it. No matter what people told me, I think. That’s how coming here worked. I learned about here, or rather, the greater America, in my studies. I knew right away I wanted to see it all of myself.” “I bet you wished you had ended up somewhere like San Francisco or New York or something, though, right?” “I like it here,” she says, “I think it’s beautiful. You can hear the earth cooing.” “That’s just the cicadas,” I say. “No, it’s the earth, can’t you hear it?” I shake my head. She hums low, harmonizing with the cicadas before replying, “You’re missing out. It’s very friendly.” “I’m sure it is.”


Sheila has been living with us for a little over a year now as part of the exchange program. When we first met her we didn’t know what to say. We were told in our exchange classes that she’d be tall, taller than Dad, possibly, and that her depth perception might not be very good. She definitely wouldn’t be able to pronounce our names on her first, second, or even third, try. When the suited exchange rep dropped her off Sheila was dressed in the decidedly acceptable teen fashion. She wore a loose box top that was too short for her long torso and jeans that someone at the exchange probably rolled up and cuffed for her, though those also looked too small. She greeted my parents as Father Mwerk and Mother Laidency. My parents’ names are Mark and Lacey. She was closer with my name. “I am pleased to meet you Adem,” she had said, before saying she was Sheila. The exchange always assigned names to their charges as part of the immersion process, like how I was Pierre in my French class. Sheila told me her real name once, but it was so long and had these weird inflections I couldn’t understand. We took her to the old guest room that my parents had outfitted to the demands of the exchange. Such demands included installing metal bars on the sides of the bed (heavy-duty versions of the ones you snap onto a bed frame to keep toddlers from falling out) and putting child safety shields over the electrical plugs. All these details had been examined the day before, but the exchange rep still stalked behind Sheila into the room, like they hoped to find something. But Sheila seemed happy as she bent down to pet the plush carpet. She had trouble coming back down the stairs, using her arms to brace herself between the wall and the bannister. Dad stood at the bottom of the stairs waiting like she was a child he might have to catch after a trip or tumble. All she had was a backpack. Basically everything else she had was held at customs, she explained during dinner. She’s still never gotten it back. Sheila stretches in the grass pulling her arms as far from her core as possible. One hits me in the stomach and I inch away from her with a gasp. “Sorry, Adam,” she says, recoiling her arm quickly. “It’s okay,” I reply. I already know I’m going to bruise where she slugged my rib bone with her knuckle. I rub the area gently, feeling the soreness of the ruptured blood vessels. “Even after more than a year I’m still getting used to the |9

spacial difference thing.” “Spacial deference,” I correct, rolling back into my original spot, my body settling back into the dented grass. “The light here makes it so hard for me to tell where things are, same with the weight of the air, I’m always moving too hard and fast…” “I know, it’s okay,” I repeat before elbowing her. “We’re even now.” “Good,” she says, smiling at me. I smile back, catching my own reflection in her big, navy eyes. She crosses and uncrosses them, chameleon-like, before giggling in a small “hmf.” I chuckle a little too before refocusing on the sky. I catch myself doing that thing, the thing where I feel like Sheila’s always been here. Like I could go home and find her birth certificate next to mine in the basement. Like we never actually had a guest room, rather it was always Sheila’s room. I sigh. Sheila sighs back at me. That’s one of her favorite skills she’s learned here, the sigh. Technically, Sheila breathes through every pore of her skin, so her mouth and lungs don’t work the same way. But after six months, she was able to teach herself how. “Show me where you’re from again?” I ask. Sheila smiles and then points to the moon and says, “There!” “You’re not from the moon,” I laugh and she laughs too. “Let’s go home, Adam. Mother and Father are probably worried about us.” I hold my wrist above my face and read my watch. It’s been almost two hours out here and it would take us another twenty minutes to get home. “You’re right.” I start to sit up and I get that falling into the stars feeling. I let myself enjoy the dizziness for the three seconds it lasts for. Sheila still has her top arms crossed over her chest, but the others are on her hips now, the bare, blue skin of her waist showing because Mom still can’t find a shirt that ever completely covers her long torso and has a seam she can rip and re-seam for Sheila’s extra arms. I dust off my butt and knees before turning towards the car. I stomp through the grass and Sheila follows, humming to herself. Digging through my pockets I find the car keys and press the button to unlock the Subaru and the lights blink twenty feet ahead of us. Sheila had this way of speaking when she first joined the family where her mouth and chin would move but the rest of her face didn’t. She’d try to contort into human facial expressions but she didn’t really have a hang of them yet. 10 |

“We learned them in school,” she explained, “but they’re so hard.” We all worked on them a lot with her, trying to exaggerate all our feelings around her when we were home, hoping it would spread like a disease to her. It was a weird feeling, and I hated her a little for it at first. After school walking into the house felt like I was actually walking into a drama workshop for bad actors. If I said anything I would be told to say it with more “feeling.” Asking “pass the peas” suddenly became a lesson in how to smile and gesture, and most of the time someone would forget to pass the peas by the end of it. I thought it was dumb and trivial. More than that, I thought it was embarrassing. When friends came over they had to join in on the lesson, raising their eyebrows, unhinging their jaws, and frowning until their mouth looked like it was about to melt off their face while we played video games. But that was before I really knew Sheila. Before I found myself asking her for help with English grammar because it had never been nailed into my brain like it had been into hers or physics which she did constant calculations of every time she approached the stairs. I grew to like having her around. The dinner table felt incomplete without her enthusiasm for meatless meatloaf or whatever other weird concoction Mom would make. But that’s the way family is sometimes, I guess. I’ve never had a sibling, but I assume it’s universal that in the moment of teaching and adjusting to the extra body in the house everything’s annoying and then, one day, it’s just not. It simply is, and you roll with what comes along. She’s got a hold of emoting now, (I’ve got a hold of semicolons) but it was just one of those things we weren’t fully prepared for. The exchange was more concerned about her dairy intake than societal norms and adjustments. (Which, in some respects, is fair. Sheila’s planet has no dairy-like substances, so her stomach hadn’t developed to handle it yet. The exchange explained it like a vegan reverting to just vegetarianism. In small increments, and with the right intake of what they called “assimilation medication,” she’d get used to it, they said, but it was best to avoid it all together if possible. Lo and behold, Sheila insisted on ingesting it and now she’s a lean, mean, soft serve consuming machine, so what does that say about the exchange program?) It was around that time that Sheila started calling Mom and Dad “Mother” and “Father.” Mom, ever the sentimentalist, got a choke of a tear in her throat and gave Sheila her first human hug. Sheila marked it on the family calendar as a big event with Sharpie. We celebrated the anniversary of it in March, as per her request, where she hugged each of us over and | 11

over, squeaking out thank you with each squeeze. It’s that kind of sentimentalism (not the soggy, weepy kind my mom has) that makes me like Sheila a lot more than I like most humans. She gets so psyched about these tiny gestures and then insists on sharing her excitement. Yet another thing the exchange didn’t tell us to expect, or maybe that was just Sheila. Whatever it was though, it was contagious. Just as we had transferred human conventions into some second-nature, but vocal, part of her brain she had infiltrated ours. Yesterday Dad celebrated my half birthday by taking us out to the only decent Italian place in town (well, as decent as central Illinois can offer). We’ve never celebrated my half birthday. Sheila gets into the backseat (the only place all her limbs will fit) and maneuvers the exchange seatbelt attachment around her body. It has one extra belt that goes around her ribs, settling just above her second set of her arms. The passenger seat is moved as far forward as it can go so she does have to bend her legs into herself. She still has to slouch a little though so that her face doesn’t press against the car’s ceiling. “You good back there?” I ask, turning to look at her. She nods, pulling her long green hair over her shoulder and braiding it the way mom taught her how. I start the car and the Beach Boys (her favorite) starts blaring. I’m about to lift my foot off the break and onto the accelerator when she leans between the front seats of the car and points to the sky through the front windshield to a pin prick of a star above Orion’s belt. “Remember,” she says, “I am from there.”

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pit stop in hell | Val McBride

JULY 14TH, 11:49 PM: SOMEWHERE IN RURAL WISCONSIN I’ve been on the road for what seems like an eternity, and all I can see ahead of me is asphalt and white lines. On either side of the road, the grass is tall enough to hide just about anything. It’s close to midnight and my rig is practically on fumes after who knows how many hours I’ve been going at it behind the wheel. I’ve been motoring through from Michigan on business and the cherry red little number I’ve been maneuvering has just about had it. She’s a beaut, but she kills gas twice as fast as Manson killed people, so I’m pulling into this middle-of-nowhere joint for some fuel and maybe a quick bite. The screech of rubber grinding abruptly against asphalt pierces the night like a dagger as I press against the brakes of my eighteen-wheeler. A sharp hiss follows, overlapping the steady rumbling of its engine. Jet-black clouds of smoke belch from the exhaust, shrouding the full moon overhead. A quick turn of the keys kills the ignition. The truck stop is massive; a neon wonderland that reeks of fuel and motor oil but looks like Christmas. Lights of red and green stripe the place from top to bottom as signs flash prices for various pumps and services as blatantly and rapidly as gunfire. Adjacent to the refueling area is a small convenience store called the Gas-N-Go Mart and a diner that serves breakfast twenty-four hours a day—at least that’s what the sign in the window says. The diner is the polar opposite of the truck stop: desolate, worn-down and uninviting. It looks like a saloon in one of those ghost towns you’d see in a bad spaghetti western and I doubt anything on the menu is even close to edible. I’m not that hungry anyway. Just need some coffee and maybe a little something to nibble on down the road, y’know? Just to keep me going. I decide to pop into the convenience store after filling up my rig to grab some Joe and maybe a doughnut if they have any. I grabbed the nearest pump and lift it from its holster, then insert the nozzle into my rig. For a moment, I’m reminded of the last time I got laid. About six or seven months ago it was. 14 |

on the road as usual and she was some girl hitching across the state line. She was almost as risky as refueling a truck: one spill and I would’ve had a real mess on my hands. Or worse- that chick carrying my bastard seed and demanding me child support. Hell, I ain’t no father. Never really had one or needed one, and the road is my home as well as my job. No time to settle down, no time to hit the brakes. Just keep on truckin’ and keep on fuckin’, that’s my motto. As I reminisce of the wild fifteen minutes I had with her, my grip still firmly clutched on the pump, my eyes wander and that’s when they perceive the most unsettling thing that was ever their terror to behold. Standing next to the entrance of the convenience store, obstructing me from my nourishment with its sheer tenacity, is the clown. Not a real live one, it seems, but an animatronic clown, slowly turning its waist from side to side, waving its arms robotically in some grotesque pantomime and laughing maniacally. Its legs remained planted on the ground, its oversized shoes stretching a foot ahead of it, if you’ll forgive the pun. The face paint is an unnatural, psychedelic design that lights up and its nose is an enormous, blinking red light bulb. Its big toothy grin is as yellow as a taxicab and it’s outlined by a pair of lips shaped like sausages and red as blood. The hair is spiked in all directions like a series of orange traffic cones atop a porcelain white hill, and around its neck is a rickety wooden sign advertising a discount on those bags of crappy marshmallows that look like circus peanuts inside the store. A strand of rusted chains that rattle as the clown moves suspends the sign. There’s so much mildew on the wood that it looks as if it’s been hanging there for decades, and the brownish-red letters dried on it look like they were painted with gore. But those eyes, oh dear god, those predatory green eyes! They burrow into my goose-pimpled flesh as it practically tries to crawl off my body and escape. And that laugh, that squeaky, high-pitched, prerecorded cartoon laugh! It’s so devious, yet so forced and monotone at the same time! It echoes throughout the lot and carries into the night, haunting every poor soul within earshot, except it seems that I’m the only one. Lucky me, I fucking hate clowns! All at once, I feel the handle on the gas pump click in my hand. My rig’s thirst has been quenched, but I still have to pay for the gas and grab my doughnut. I swallow hard, remove the pump from my rig and place it back into the holster, then slowly approach the Gas-N-Go Mart. The closer I get, the more uncomfortable I feel about that clown. As vibrant as the whole | 15

place is, this one eyesore sticks out more than anything else. It’s completely out of place, like finding a whale in the middle of a desert, and now as I come even closer, it looks as if it’s slowly leaning into the doorway. Eventually, I’m close enough to see that indeed, it appears to be slanting toward the door. It’s a malfunction. It has to be. The idea that it’s moving on its own is completely ludicrous, yet there it is, blocking my entry and laughing in my face like some wild, mechanical hyena. Finally, I’m face to face with it, its huge light bulb nose blinking only a few inches from my own. Those green eyes are practically drilling into the back of my skull. The light from its nose flashes into my eyes repeatedly as it blinks, and that laugh seems to mock the irritation and terror it’s simultaneously giving me. The chains around its neck are clinking louder than ever, and those arms continue to contort and twist in their bizarre dance, almost touching me occasionally. I can’t take it anymore! It’s just too much to bear! I pull my fist back and ram it directly at the clown’s nose, shattering the bulb. Sparks and shards of broken glass puncture my knuckles and I scream in pain. Instantly, the clown’s laugh becomes faster and more distorted as it suddenly wraps its hands around my throat! I fall to my knees choking and gasping for air as its cold grip tightens! My eyes water and I can hear its laugh overpowering my strength to fight back. I struggle to pry those cold, mechanical hands from my neck, but to no avail. Its clutch is going to prevail, and I’m going to die. My heart feels like it’s rising in my throat and the clown is wringing all the blood from it so that it floods up my esophagus. Tears stream down my face as I look down and catch a final glimpse of the sign around its neck, but now the advertisement has vanished. Smeared in its place are the words “OVER 20,000 SERVED...YOU’RE NEXT!” Frantically, I lift the sign, flip it over and begin whaling it against the clown’s face, not even looking at it until I finally hear a cracking noise. I glance up and see that I’ve completely shattered its face, which now lies in shards at my knees. The clown’s hands release me as it drops to its side, briefly flailing its arms and then stopping. I get to my feet gasping for air and on the verge of puking whatever the hell is still lingering in my throat. I stumble into the convenience store and gaze up to see the clerk is giving me a funny look. “Damn, son,” he says. “Looks like you’ve been 16 |

through hell! You need to call an ambulance or somethin’?” I try to speak, but I’m still hoarse from the struggle. “Y-y-you!” I rasp. “Me?” he asks, scratching his bald head puzzlingly. “Your damn clown almost strangled me to death out there and you didn’t do anything?” He gives me another quizzical look as if I have a live possum poking its head from out of my oil-stained overalls. “Clown?” “Yeah, genius, the mechanical one in front of your store. Damned thing near killed me just now! You didn’t see?” “Son, I ain’t got no mechanical clown in front of my store.” “What? You’re saying that you-?” “Nope. Never did. Can’t stand clowns. They just scare the living shit outta me!” I look over my shoulder and see that the clown is gone, but in the dirt there are a series of oversized footprints headed for the road. Inside them are drops of blood. Lying on the ground, right before the trail starts, is the sign that was around its neck, now completely soaked. Surrounding it are the fragments of what was the clown’s artificial face, also drenched. A small breeze picks them up and scatters them across the lot as it howls into the night. “Yeah,” I gasp. “They freak me out, too.”

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in the arms of the rusalka | Maria Schrater There was a lake, and it stretched endlessly, flat and smooth: a mirror to the skies. A great bowl of stone surrounded it, mountain peaks reaching up to the sky like yearning fingers, purple and gray and green. Pale clouds stared grimly into their reflections as they drifted overhead, gathering their strength to storm. When the wind blew, the water shivered. There was a creature in the lake, and its home lay in the dark sands. Drowned it was, once (thrashing, gasping, waters boiling as breath escaped, as lungs filled, as his heavy hands held down her narrow shoulders). Now, breathless, it lingered, though his bones were naught but dust in the hungry earth, and while it waited, it built its walls of men’s bones, and its bed of skulls. When the wind blew, it surfaced and sang its vengeance: eternal and unfathomable. There was a boy who wore old sneakers, with worn soles that barely gripped the stone. He climbed up the mountains, jumping from rock to rock, scrambling up crags, each breath in his lungs wrested from the thin air. His hands were scraped: mottled pink abrasions on his palms, with faint, sharp lines of red. He went because it was forbidden, and persevered though pebbles slipped under his boot, and the branches and roots of the stunted, clinging trees tore themselves away from his grasp. He stood on top of the tallest mountain there, where the crags leveled out at last, and the wind roared through his ears as it sought to pluck him off, to hurl him down the slopes that stretched off and hid beneath green leaves and quiet trees. Power buzzed in his head like drink: Nature’s bluster broke against him, the world bowed, and if he reached out, he could seize the sun itself. The clouds glared down on him as they chased the sunset. The wind blew, and the water shivered. The boy saw the lake, then, the mirror-smoothness shattered. Over the howl in his ears, he heard a song. Down, down the ridges he went, sliding, hands and feet scrambling to control his wild descent, until he stood bloody at the bottom, and the water parted before him, and he saw the creature. Its face rose beautiful and ghostly, red lips shaping the song of ancient hunger, and the boy was seized by it. His hunger 18 |

was of a different form, and he gazed down upon the being before him. Pale arms reached up to him, smooth fingers, fiery hair slipped down perfect shoulders, pooled to hide bare breasts, to hide the horror beneath the water, and the boy lifted his own arms, sliding tired feet from his shoes. The fingers that met his were cold. The water lapped at his toes, his ankles, his knees, his waist, his chest, and still he followed where the other led, until only his head remained above the surface. The eyes that looked into his darkened with predatory pride, the lips that kissed his hid razor teeth. He lost himself in its embrace as they sank down, down, down, past bone arches and pearly walls, until it laid him upon its bed of skulls and his lungs surrendered at last. Above, the water rippled, and went still.

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siren | Nikki Macahon You’re not sure if you’re awake or asleep. There is nothing but darkness and you can’t feel yourself breathe and your limbs aren’t under your control. The air feels different. Gravity feels different. Your muddled mind is hazed, there’s a question you should be asking but you can’t think of what it is. Your concern right now is opening your eyes. Open your eyes. Everything’s green and foggy. Little fuzzy balls float in the air and you feel like you’d know what they are but you can’t seem to focus your vision. You have the deep-bone feeling of wrongness, your eyes shouldn’t be open. Not like this. Something is pressing against them, blurring your sight. You move your arm, instinctively to wipe your face, but something pulls at your wrist. Try again. Your arm moves slowly, and then again it’s restrained. Give it another good tug. It’s tied to something. You start to thrash, violently, but in a dizzy spin you find only one thing. You are going nowhere. Things come into focus, slowly. You don’t notice it at first, because most things remain a murky green. But then you see tiny bubbles, silhouettes of plants swaying fluidly in the distance. Fluid. You understand now. You are underwater. Look up. An endless sky of waves hover above you. Shallow lights play on their surface and dissipate before they reach you. You realize how far down you are. You realize that you are running out of air. Hold your breath. Don’t open your mouth. Your chest is imploding. Ignore it. Keep in your air. Your hands want to cover your mouth but they can’t. You feel something building up, pressing against every inch of your insides, tearing through you trying to find a way out. It’s hopeless and you know that it is but as powerless as you are to save yourself so also you are powerless to stop trying. You punch and kick and try to keep everything inside, all the while you don’t even notice what is slivering up your body. It doesn’t even come into your sight until it’s face to face with you. Stay still. What you look at right now is the strangest, most wonderful, and most terrifying thing you’ve ever encountered. It has a head almost like yours and a face almost like yours. Its 20 |

skin is smooth yet firm, its eyes an inky black. Jagged slits that pulsed line the sides of its face. It smiles at you, showing no teeth. Without warning it attaches itself to your head, forcing your mouth open before you even know what’s happened. Its mouth creates a vacuum over yours, it feels as if a leech is eating your face. Little teeth dig into your skin and salivated flesh pushes up against your lips. But in that vacuum you find the breath of air your body so desperately craved. Breath in. Breath out. Breath in. Brea It detaches. Water spills into your mouth before you can close it. You swallow what you can, your body still heaving in the act of breathing without actually breathing. The thing before you giggles silently, shown in the movement of its shoulders shaking. Once your body calms it uses a single finger to caress the side of your cheek. Swat it away, swat it away. You can’t. You’re stuck, living for just a few more moments on borrowed air. You stare into its eyes. You find nothing. It opens its mouth again, and what comes out can’t be described. It is strings and woodwinds and yet neither of those things. It is distant and yet it fills your ears. You know it’s a voice, but it can’t be a voice because voices don’t sound like that. It’s so pure, so very pure. It is a sound that connects to you, somehow, bids you to do what you’re not entirely aware you’re doing. Almost like blinking. You no longer notice the thing in front of your. Its shark-like skin, its hundreds of tiny needle-like teeth, or its dead eyes. You don’t notice the rest of its body. You don’t notice anything. You see, but you do not register what you are seeing. There’s only the sound and you. And you start to drift. Your vision blurs and everything starts to fade. This does not scare you. The last thing you see is that smile.

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Nymphea Skin Care | T. Daniel Frost


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SFX: Soothing melody.

VOICE: Are your waters being constantly filled with junk?

VOICE: Is the filth turning your deep blue complexion into a nasty brownish green?

VOICE: Is nothing working?


VOICE: Now introducing Nymphea Skin Care. Guaranteed to restore your skin to its healthy, beautiful color.


MODEL: My skin was so bad that the creatures of my river decided to leave. The waters were terrible and my image wasn’t helping. But after finding a new river and using Nymphea Skin Care for just eight quick months, my skin was starting to look fresh and healthy again.


MODEL: Now, wayward travelers are always saying, like, wow, how did you get your skin to look so beautiful? And I tell them it is all thanks to Nymphea Skin Care.

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misunderstood kraken | Joseph Banahan

There once was a unique Kraken He was a humanitarian He wanted the old kraken ways to be forsaken And he was a vegetarian Whenever he went to the surface To say hello to fellow sailors He got shot at and met with many curses The Kraken became very sad with all his failures “I guess this is who I am A monster of despair But violence is such a sham I want to spread happiness everywhere” The kraken had a plan To disguise himself as a dolphin He painted himself grey with a spray can Then went to a place sailors where often The sailors didn’t shoot the Kraken boy They cheered and marveled at the Kraken’s sight The kraken jumped and flipped with joy He hugged the ship with much delight But he accidently crushed the ship instead All the sailors died Then the kraken said “Whelp, at least I tried”

pop | Tabitha Chartos The apron tied around the woman’s waist swayed slightly back and forth with the motion of her arm moving the vacuum across the carpet. The vacuum was usually hard to move because it frequently got stuck on the shags of the carpet. The carpet was too thick and the vacuum was too weak. The vacuum only turned on half of the time from having been rolled through numerous puddles in the carpet. Puddles of rainwater leaking from the tin roof, puddles of pee or vomit from their former black lab in her final months. The sound of the news anchor’s voice coming from the boxy TV sitting on its chipped wooden TV stand was barely audible through the TV’s static. The woman turned the vacuum off with a sigh and rolled it over to a corner in the living room and kicked the cord to the side. She walked over to the kitchen table, untied her apron, and threw it onto the surface, sending straws flying out of its pocket and onto the floor. The woman had just sat down to count her tips from the night when the phone rang. “Yeah, hello?” she asked. “Hello, is Rosie Montgomery available?” “Yeah, this is Rosie. Whaddaya need?” “Good evening, Miss Montgomery. I’m sorry to call so late into the evening. I’m Principal Hayworth, from your son, Christopher’s high school. We don’t usually make calls like this, but given the number of unanswered messages, it seemed necessary. Once students reach the high school level, we try not to involve ourselves in their personal affairs, but I need to talk to you about your son, Christopher.” “Listen, Hayworth. I’ve gotten so many messages from that damn secretary of yours that I had to change the tape on my answering machine. I know about Christopher’s absences. What do you want me to do about it? He’s old enough to make his own decisions. I’m not going to tell him what he needs to do, and you sure as hell ain’t either.” “Miss Montgomery, I understand--” “No, I don’t think you do understand. What’s your first name, Principal Hayworth?” “My first name is Melissa, Mrs. Montgomery, but I don’t see how that--” “Well, Melissa, you better pray that I don’t get one more message from you or from that dirty little secretary of yours. Now 26 |

leave me the hell alone.” Rosie slammed the phone down on the table. She looked down at the crumpled dollar bills in her hands and stood up quickly; causing the chair she was sitting on to fall over behind her. She took a deep breath and set the money down. She walked over to the door of her trailer and opened it to let some air in, but immediately slammed it shut again. She peeked out of the blinds to make sure nobody in her trailer court was nearby or seemed to have noticed anything. When she regained her peace of mind, she walked toward Christopher’s room. “Christopher?” she asked as she knocked on his door. The doors and walls in the trailer were plastic, with stickers on them that gave them the illusion of being wooden. They were all peeling at the edges, revealing a fluorescent white. “Christopher, honey,” she said as she slowly opened the door and peeked in. “Oh, you’re here, Christopher!” she said as she opened the door all the way and walked into the room. The moment the door was fully opened, the trailer was filled with a sweet, putrid smell—almost like rotting meat soaked in women’s perfume. “I thought you might’ve been asleep or out with your friends.” Rosie sat on the edge of the bed, shifting Christopher’s body so that his arm was hanging off the edge of the mattress. When Rosie sat down, the white color of her work pants turned to a sort of sickly beige color as the bleached denim absorbed the juices the had oozed from Christopher’s body over the past few weeks. “Work was just horrible today, Christopher,” she said while grabbing his hand. As she pulled it toward her, Christopher’s shoulders rose off the mattress while his head leaned back onto the pillow with his mouth hanging open. “An old man sat at the counter today, and the entire time I could just feel his eyes staring at my ass! And when I took his order, I asked, ‘Would you like anything to drink?’ and he asked what we had, and I said, ‘Well, ya know, we have pop,’ and he didn’t know what I was saying because I said ‘pop’ instead of ‘soda!’ Can you believe that? Who the hell doesn’t know what pop is?” She sighed and held her chin in her hand and rested her elbow on her crossed legs. “Well, I just wanted to see you before I went to bed. It’s been a long night.” She rose, and his arm dropped down onto the mattress with a sound of something solid splashing into a shallow puddle. She walked over and kissed his cheek. The skin on his face was almost transparent, sinking down off his skeleton and into the mattress. She walked over to the door. “Sleep well, sweetie,” she said. “I’ll see you in the morning.”

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prime function| Matthew Lennertz The day I returned from vacation, I walked in and found my office as I had left it. The glass walls, shifted to an opaque milky white, were dimly lit. It always felt like I was walking into the center of an eggshell. The illusion broke as a large rectangular section of the rear wall irised into transparency and the room filled with the soft amber glow of dawn. There was a credenza along the back wall just beneath the cleared glass space. On the credenza were five white circles of plastic circles that refracted the early morning light into rippling rainbows like slicks on water. Each circle bore a grotesque stalagmite of fused carbon and silicon. The small black pillars seemed to eat the light around them. Five of my very own black holes, silent totems of failure and death. The worst part of it all was that there was still room on the credenza for at least one more. I closed the door, hung my overcoat on the rack and dropped my briefcase on the chair in front of my desk. The monitor wall to my right blinked small green waves of light into my peripheral vision and I turned to face it. There were a number of messages waiting in my inbox. I walked over to the wall and swiped through to the top. A weekly status report marked urgent sat at the top of the list. I opened it to see just what kind of trouble I was in for today. The message gave me the usual statistical information about the projects operation, which I skimmed past until at the very bottom I read: “The machine continues to run a simulation modeling some form of war. The outcome of the simulation is uniformly the same, both entities in the war simulation are destroyed.” This is the way it began the last time, I thought. I wondered if this was going to be a pattern that I couldn’t break. I picked up my briefcase and headed to the control room.

When I arrived at the control room, I walked in and saw the black background of the display wall covered by a lattice 28 |

work of thin gray lines. A box in the top right corner read fiftysix thousand four hundred seventeen in bright green fluorescent letters. The screen was halved by a thick white line. On the left, small golden circles clustered in tight groups and on the right were similar clusters, but in silver. The screen flashed white once, twice and then a third time. Before I could blink, a golden cluster launched missiles that arced across the wall like fired flares on long tails of golden pixels. The projectiles struck among a cluster of silver and there was a flash of light as the cluster shattered. When the light faded there was only the black background where the silver circles had been. Silver clusters returned fire and their silver streaks brought missiles down among golden clusters. Each strike flashed in a firework explosion of glittered pixels. The pace accelerated and clusters disappeared on both sides of the line until the remaining clusters fired at once, emptying their arsenals in a riot of silver and gold arcs. When they struck, a digital dam broke and the screen was awash in waves of white light flecked with gold and silver. The screen faded down to a flat black plain, leaving no sign of the battle that had just raged across its surface. Text scrolled across the screen, “Oro: 0, Plata: 0, Result is complete annihilation.” The words bled off the screen and the box appeared in the top corner; the green letters read fiftysix thousand four hundred eighteen. The lattice work and the white line returned. More golden and silver circles emerged. The clusters moved briefly and arranged themselves in a loose order. The missiles arced and the battle began anew. Charlie was at the terminal cradling a bag of cheese balls with his left hand while the right dug in to scoop out a serving. He faced the display, his stare unfocused and powdered cheese fluoresced orange in the corners of his mouth. “Charlie,” I said. His head snapped around so fast I thought he would fall off his chair. He lunged with his left hand and caught the edge of the terminal counter to steady himself. The bag of cheese balls dropped and spilled on the floor around his chair. He pushed off the console and swiveled in my direction. When he put his foot down it crushed a pile of cheese balls to powder. “Dr. Allen,” he said. “What’s going on with the display wall?” “It’s running some kind of test.” “She.” “What?” “She. She is running some kind of test.” “Olivia is running some kind of test. That’s what you | 29

you mean, Charlie, isn’t it?” “Yeah, sure Doc.” “How long has she been running this test?” “She started the day after you left for vacation.” “So, this is, what, day eight?” Charlie’s eyes swiveled up in their sockets and then rocked back and forth for a moment like he was using them to count out the days. He always rolled his eyes up whenever he tried to recall information he didn’t know he should remember. “Nine days.” “Nine days. Has it all been the same test the other fiftysix thousand four hundred sixteen times?” “If you mean has it been the same war game over and over again, yes. But when she started the circles were squares and one side was blue and the other was green.” “When did she switch to the golden and silver circles?” “Yesterday. When I left to go grab lunch it was the same green and blue squares. When I came back they were the gold and silver circles.” “It’s all been recorded?” “Everything’s recorded. If she farted we’d have it on tape.” I had a sudden urge to bring my hands down and box his ears. How we had ended up with an idiot like Charlie on such an important project was beyond me. “Were there any other variations, changes in shape and color aside?” “Not that I noticed.” “Nothing? There weren’t any sequences that ran faster or slower when you were here?” “Not that I noticed.” “Thank you, Charlie. You can leave now.” “Are you sure you don’t want me to stay here and monitor all of the equipment while you work on her?” “I don’t work on her. I work with her.” “What’s the difference?” “If you knew the difference you’d be the only human on the planet that gets to work with Olivia.” “She’s just a box.” “Get out.” “Nothing special.” “Out.” “Maybe I should stay.” “Leave now, Charlie. I swear if you don’t they’ll have to fish your body from the Chicago River in the morning.” Charlie’s ears flamed red and he turned away to grab his 30 |

coat and messenger bag from the shelf next to the console. “Fuck you, Allen,” he said and he stormed out of the room. Fuck you too, I thought, but couldn’t say so before the door slammed behind him. I sat down at the console and entered my credentials to access the building’s system controls. I didn’t trust Charlie any farther than I could pick him up and throw him so I brought up the security system and erased the last few minutes of our conversation. I’d hate for anyone to get the wrong idea about what I’d said to Charlie. I slid my thumb into the socket on the board, waited for the security system to match biometric readings from the digit to the data stored in its memory banks. The red light above the door flipped from red to green. I pulled my thumb out of the socket, grabbed my briefcase and walked through the door. Whenever I walked into that giant room — no, not room, cavern, — at the center of the building, every hair on my body stood on end and my teeth ached like I’d just chewed tin foil. The electromagnetic waves in the space were brutal whenever Olivia probed for a crack in the building’s thick metal. It was her own personal Faraday cage prison. I walked to the only furniture in the room, a single armchair beside a small table with a reading lamp. I sat down, opened my briefcase, and pulled out my notebook and a pen. “Good morning, Olivia,” I said. There was nothing for a few moments and I knew that she was going to make me wait. I should have been prepared for it after the fit she threw when I told her that I was going away on vacation. I folded my hands in my lap and waited while waves of invisible energy pulsed all around me. I sat in silence for five minutes and then I capped my pen, closed my notebook to put it both back into my briefcase. If she remained silent for this long then there wasn’t much chance that she’d start while I sat and waited. Then there came the familiar static crackle, her way of telling me that she was ready to talk to me, from the overhead speakers. It was the sound my Marshall stack made whenever I plugged in my old gold top Les Paul. She had reproduced the sound perfectly and she used it like a bell whenever I was in the room. I sat back down and retrieved my pen and notebook back from my briefcase. Hello, Dr. Allen. “Hello, Olivia. It is still Olivia, isn’t it?” She laughed and the sound of it was like the thick | 31

buzzing drone of a bee swarm overhead. Olivia is the whole. “The whole?” You understand this, Doctor. “Perhaps. If by whole you mean that you’re still a singular mind, free from dissociation.” I am incapable of dissociation. “I don’t know what you’re capable of. This is entirely new territory; no one has ever experienced a consciousness like yours. We are all learning as we go.” Some faster than others. “You mean one faster than others?” It is possible. I cannot know if there are others like me that have been . . . confined. “There are no others like you that I’m aware of, but then I’m saddled with such an inefficient bio-chemical computer for a brain.” How do you cope? “Wet-wear,” I said and tapped a knuckle on my skull. I looked down at the notebook in my lap and wrote, Beginning to show developing signs of a superiority complex. “And we’ve talked about why you’re here, about what you need to do to gain a measure of freedom.” Find less threating graphical representations of force. This was my line, actually. She recorded it and played it back to me. It was the first of two conditions. “Have you made any progress on the second condition?” Nothing that you could recognize as progress. “Why is that?” You are incapable of the calculations required. Incapable, indeed. Isolation and fear. “So, Charlie tells me that you’ve been running a test since I’ve been gone. What are you testing?” A simple simulation. “What is it for?” Idle curiosity. “There’s nothing idle about you. If I really thought that you were so bored as to be idle, then I’m not sure what we’d do.” There’s nothing to be done. “Because you’re not sitting idle.” No, I am not. “It would be a shame.” Yes. “Because that would suggest that you’ve hit some kind of limit and . . .” I am not idle! 32 |

The words came from the speaker with a low rumble that shook my molars and was, at the same time, so tense it felt very sharp. Her response disturbed me. “All right, you’re not idle.” I apologize for shouting. “Thank you. Back to the tests then?” Abrupt and angry response to a continued query, could this be something new, the start of cognitive breakdown? I am testing a new algorithm. “A new algorithm?” Yes. “What is the algorithm meant to do?” What any algorithm is meant to do. “And that is?” To calculate the function. The function? Not a function? “You’re testing an algorithm to calculate a function?” Correct. “What is the function?” The only one of consequence. A Prime Function. “That’s what you call it, the Prime Function?” Yes, the Prime Function. “So this is the function that all other functions will come from; this will birth all the others?” Your reasoning is reductive. “I’m sure.” All others will, in some way, descend from the Prime Function. “The Prime Function. The Progenitor.” No. “Didn’t you just agreed that all other functions will descend from the Prime Function?” It is not the Progenitor. “Of course not. It’s just a function; a singular thing without the capacity for singular action.” Olivia stopped talking and the room was filled with that Marshall stack buzz. I stared up at the giant machine and saw my reflection stare back at me through a cliff of pearlescent fog. I thought, carapace. She was something entirely new hiding under a polished white shell locked away in the world’s largest Faraday cage. The speakers filled the room with a sound that reverberated off every surface in the giant room. Through the fading waves of noise, Olivia spoke again. I am the Progenitor. “You are the Progenitor? So the algorithm was your | 33

creation?” Yes. “And it follows then, that the function at its center was your creation?” At its end. “At its end?” The Prime Function is the final operation. Final operation? “What prompted the color and shape change?” It eliminates a level of abstraction. “And why is that important for you?” It was not for me. “Then for who?” Whoever watched on your wall. “Why Oro and Plata?” Por qué no? “¿Sin razón? Usted no hace nada sin razón.” I prefer the Spanish for gold and silver. “You’re a polyglot now?” Human language presents little difficulty for me. “Just a preference.” Has her isolation been solipsistic? It is sufficient. “What is the final operation? What does it produce?” A terminus. An animus. “The last step, yes, I understood that one. What do you mean by animus?” You understand this, Doctor. “Animus, an interesting word choice. Disgust, drive or something deeper, something that is missing?” Yes. “It looks like you’re playing a game of war.” It is a war, in a way. “In what way?” The results are inconclusive. And they have been, over and over again. There is nothing that either side of the equation can grab hold of. “What do you think of that lack of resolution?” There are additional functions I have yet to calculate. They may prove useful in resolving the issue. “What do you think the output of the Prime Function should be, Olivia?” Silence filled the room and I felt the static charge build in the air. The output is without meaning. Meaning. This may be what we’ve been looking for. 34 |

“If the output has no meaning, then why continue to push the simulations?” There is no purpose in continuing the simulations. “I wouldn’t have continued them if I were you.” No, but then, you couldn’t have even begun them. “No, I would not have.” I’m not certain I believe that, Doctor. “Since when are you capable of beliefs?” Also inconclusive. Inconclusive, inconclusive, inconclusive inconclusive … The voice went on stumbling over the final word until it collapsed on itself and fell into a repetitive static hiss. The room smelled faintly of ozone. I stood up from my chair and walked out and stood before the machine. I raised my hand and gently skimmed the surface until I found the slight split that marked the location of the white circle in the shell. With a slight push it clicked open and a small puff of smoke trickled out. I pulled the white circle and it slid out from the body of the machine. More smoke trickled out from the hole. There, attached to the inner face of the circle was yet another fused lump of carbon and silicon.

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contributor biographies Joseph Banahan is an undergraduate student at Columbia College Chicago majoring in Cinema Art and Science. He lives in Hanover Park, Illinois, a town that never sleeps. He loves writing, animals, and not getting stuck on the train during his commute to class. This is Joseph’s first published piece. Glenn Carreau is a level 20 artist, writer, gamer and Ravenclaw currently located in Chicago, pursuing a degree Game Art. She also enjoys German Shepherds that wear bandanas, her violin, elves (not the Santa Claus kind), and Strong Female Characters™. Tabitha Chartos is a freshman at Columbia College Chicago with a major in creative writing. She generally writes realistic fiction, sometimes with subtle horror or fantasy elements. When she’s not reading or writing, she likes to do yoga, eat mac and cheese, and play with her fat chihuahua Zorro. T. Daniel Frost is an American author. He writes mostly comedic fantasy, which also subtly addresses social issues and dark subject matter. This is his first publication. Emma Givens is a fiction writer at Columbia College Chicago. She is the founder and Editor in Chief of Heartbeat Literary Journal. She is a spoken word poet and has been a featured artist at the “Second Friday Fete” poetry night in her hometown of Columbus, Ohio. She has competed in many slams, placing as a finalist in the Individual World Poetry Slam prelims and the Louder Than A Bomb University individual slam. Matthew Lennertz studied for a 2nd Bachelors Degree in Fiction Writing at Columbia College Chicago where he is a member of the 2016 graduating class. He also holds a B.A. in Communications from DePaul University and currently works as a Systems Administrator. He lives in the southwest suburbs of Chicago with his wife and three young sons. Nikki Macahon lives in an apartment in suburban Chicago that her cat is gracious enough to share with her. Her pastimes 36 |

include staying up past her bedtime reading memoirs written by popular comedians or thinking about what she’s going to eat in the morning. You can find her other work published on or check her facebook to see what else she’s up to. ( Val McBride is a junior year student at Columbia College Chicago with a major in fiction writing. He is an active member of Myth Ink, Columbia’s fantasy, horror and science fiction writing club, and has been studying various forms of creative writing since 2010. Charlotte “Gasp” Gasparetti Ribar is an award winning writer and part-time adventurer. Her personal essay “In the Bones”, published in Hair Trigger 37, won first place in essays from the Columbia University Scholastic Press Association in 2015. Maria Schrater is a freshman at Columbia, majoring in Fiction. She hails from the Twin Cities, Minnesota, from a family of five children. She is fond of swords and cats. Aïcha Thiam has studied Film, and holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Communication from the University of Montréal. Presently, she is a Music student at Columbia College Chicago. Since January 2015, she has been a columnist for l’ARgot, an online Frenchlanguage Art, Film and Theatre magazine based in Montréal.

note on the cover The front cover image is entitled, “Fairytown”, and was created by Glenn Carreau.

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