THE FOX HAT REVIEW est. 2013
Vol. II, Issue 1
All work ÂŠ 2015/ respective authors. April 2015 All rights reserved. Published in the United States by The Fox Hat Review www.thefoxhatreview.org
THE FOX HAT REVIEW Vol. II, Issue 1
Made in Nerdfighteria, 2015
STAFF Charlotte Victoria Marriott, Founding Editor Meghan Bee, Executive Editor Ameris Poquette, Associate Editor Lizzie Hill, Associate Editor Christina Abes, Junior Editor & Social Media Coordinator Aaron Lockman, Junior Editor Corinne Demyanovich, Multimedia Liaison
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Greetings, Nerdfighters! We made it to the second issue! That is entirely because of you fine people. But you might not have heard all the good news, so here goes. At the end of 2014, we at Fox Hat decided to ensure that John Green would find the thing, and used a Project for Awesome perk to let him know. The Tweet is excerpted on the front cover of this issue. We also have a full staff this time around. Rising with our second issue, Meghan Bee and I welcome new members Ameris Poquette, Associate Editor; Lizzie Hill, Associate Editor; Christina Abes, Junior Editor and Social Media Coordinator; Aaron Lockman, Junior Editor; and Corinne Demyanovich, Multimedia Liaison. Biweekly staff meetings have made a faster, much smoother publication process possible. I am excited for all of us that now on the team are Ameris’ great ideas and extensive experience with literary magazines, Lizzie’s great talent at improving others’ writing (including my own on several occasions), Christina’s outstanding, passionate dedication to Nerdfighteria and this project, the rock-star-esque enigma and crazy talent that are The Aaron Lockman, and Corinne’s love of the community, MuggleNet affiliation, and exceptional multimedia sensibilities (if you need evidence, just look at her Project for Awesome video). We continue to work out snags in this endeavor. There are still some glaringly vacant positions available to Nerdfighters who would like to join our team. Fox Hat is now seeking applications from graphic designers and layout editors. We are also always on the lookout for cover artists to put their spin on our logo, an orange F. We hope to expand into web video, and anyone who would like to get involved with that expansion should write to us, especially (but not exclusively) if you already have an existing YouTube channel we can view! I should note that Shane Barr’s submission to this issue is an excerpt from her exciting YA novel, Reset, which can be found and purchased on Amazon when you inevitably fall in love with the excerpt that is published here. Spring, 2015’s is a small issue, which is kind of nice after the monstrosity/triumph (that’s an opinion thing) which was Issue One. But please don’t forget to think of us by our May 25 deadline for summer! DFTBA! Charlotte Victoria Marriott, Founding Editor
CONTENTS POETRY POETRY “A Princesses’ Tale” by Charlotte Victoria………………………………………………1 “Cory” by Jill Sebacher………………………………………………………………….8 “Another Art” by Jill Sebacher…………………………………………………………10 “Family Flight” by Jill Sebacher………………………………………………………..11 “Squinting” by Corinne Demyanovich…………………………………………………13 “Narcissus Finds Echo” by Alicia Caruso………………………………………………14 “Sirens” by Dianne E.C.E.………………………………………………………………15 “How to Avoid Doing Things” by Rachael Bahr……………………………………….16
FICTION “Orbit” by Amy Deyerle-Smith………………………………………………………..17 “Dust” by Aaron Lockman……………………………………………………………..26 Excerpt from Reset by Shane Barr……………………………………………………..32 “Love Many Things: a Two-Minute Play” by Auden Granger…………………………43 “Writing Advice” by Amani Onyango………………………………………………….47
NONFICTION “Snowfall” by Jill Sebacher……………………………………………………………53
VISUAL ART Scarlets by Alicia Caruso Bubbles by Alicia Caruso Evening Flight by Corinne Demyanovich Bit of Blue by Corinne Demyanovich After the Storm by Corinne Demyanovich Fall Bridge by Samantha Richardson
Cover art by Charlotte Victoria
A Princesses’ Tale Charlotte Victoria
In every kingdom throughout all the land, knights and kings achieved mighty successes. In the heart of the land was a finishing school bent on instructing princesses in all of the things that a lady must do: look pretty, gain suitors, and gossip. Some girls could do just as they were bidden, while others detested each topic. They learned the names of radiant girls who modeled over the ages how exactly young ladies should conduct themselves: how one glides with poise, listens, engages. “Your eyebrows are too bushy!” the teachers would say. But Miriam liked her eyebrows that way. Yet she yanked and she plucked till her forehead was sore, and much redder and splotchier than ever before.
“Your waist is too wide!” the teachers might scold, making it hard to do as you were told. Some girls became sad, and others went hungry, because of the way they were put down so bluntly. And others were chided if their knees were too knobbly, or if they stood too tall – these were told that they’d probably never snag husbands, scared off by their height – and so every princess was caught up in this plight. “A lady does this, a lady does that – she says very little if her opinion is asked. It’s important to be diplomatic and pleasing, and even when it’s not, you must make it look easy!” Some were made to feel different just if their skin was freckled or dark or colored like cinnamon. Others felt unpretty because of their hair, or birthmarks, or noses, or heads that were bare. The young ladies realized – oh, it didn’t take long – that their teachers were messed up, mistaken, wrong! How could the way "2
that someone was born make her in any way inferior? One day, a brave girl asked, “Why are we here? I’ve got a great brain between my two ears. Why waste it on people I don’t care to impress? I’m so very much more than a pretty princess.” “There’s nothing wrong with cleaning or cooking, with knitting or fanning, but I can’t keep from looking at my real dreams from outside them, and I shouldn’t have to. Why should being a girl limit what I can do?!” “And furthermore, why don’t boys learn to do chores? We’re given broomsticks, but they’re given swords! We’re told to keep quiet, while they’re taught to speak. That’s stupid, preposterous – GIRLS AREN’T WEAK!” Crystal agreed the rules needed debunking. She’d long had a secret love of spelunking. In notebooks kept safe beneath a loose board, her memoirs of adventures and discoveries galore!
Soon, word spread through the kingdoms and all around the world: How foolish to limit such wonderful girls! What a waste, what a pity, to keep them confined, to make them feel less special, to gloss over such minds! Princes pranced through the fancies of Imani and Ruth, though other adventures cost scrapes and a tooth. Lucy loved flowers and Molly loved chess – while Annabelle dreamed of another princess. Zakiyyah proudly wore her hijab to school, as was her choice – and it looked very cool! And Sophie donned glasses to discover with glee that the world looks much better when you can see! Penny loved puppies and all manner of pets, so she studied and studied to become a vet. In her garden of flowers and peas and bok choy, who could care busy Beatrix was once thought a boy? Grown-ups thought one little girl couldn’t learn, but they weren’t counting on the spirit of Fern! She learned to love letters – "4
oh, the power you get when you know your way around the alphabet! Thérèse chose dresses; Emma, armor and pants. Laura liked fabrics in which she could dance. Every princess was happy throughout all the land. They worked hard, they were clever, oh, it was just grand! Maggie wanted to be like a work of art so she drew on her hands and her feet and her arms. She loved her uniqueness and after she grew, her biggest problem became fitting one last tattoo. Beck knew she was gorgeous at any size, but it pained her to watch some friends try to disguise their natural beauty – oh, things were quite tense till they all learned to emulate Beck’s confidence. Charlotte couldn’t care less for the boys at the joust. They’d rather write stories in their favorite treehouse. They learned it was right to say what they wanted – they were nervous at first, but with practice, undaunted.
Luisa knew in her heart dragon-slaying was wrong, though heroes slew dragons in many old songs. Though they might breathe fire at sword-wielding strangers, dragons, by now, must be very endangered! So she gathered some friends to confront the injustice, and they saved a great dragon, majestic and lustrous. She let no one persuade her; she let no one change her. She grew up to become a dragonâ€™s lair ranger. Lee loved children of every age. She wanted to be a mommy, and that was okay, because what you love most is the thing you should do, no matter if anyone else would approve. Meghan walked around with her nose in a book; Ana gathered specimens down by the brook. Maria loved history, and Gillian math â€“ Kate explored fishes in ponds, pools, and baths. Shanelle had what it took to become a great nurse. She cured the afflicted, the ill, and the cursed. Donika could not bear "6
to see others in pain. She memorized the skeleton, muscles, and brain. Soon, many parents felt rather impelled to visit their daughters from all over the realm. Mothers and fathers, kings and queens, heard of these triumphs and wanted to see. For a nice visit, Francesca’s two daddies came: the King and King Consort of a noble domain. When they saw all she’d learned, they did clap and applaud her. They were ever so proud of their talented daughter. The girls took it up as their personal mission to spread the good news of their grand newfound vision. They wrote letters and articles, signs and decrees: “Girls can do anything! Just you wait and see!”
Jill Sebacher I didn’t know eight years ago these castles were built in the air, their only foundation, sky – blue like the background of the pajamas some sweet nurse dressed him in. I didn’t know something seemingly simple that I’d done before could go as wrong as that storage room lined with cardboard boxes of inked footprints – paper-thin proof of his existence. I didn’t know I’d be left to swim alone through February memories threatening to drown even after eight years – they play out, images lit with sorrow, the red and green trains just as vividly roving twisted paths across those smallest pajamas. It’s a boy – I didn’t know.
I didnâ€™t know there was something between miscarriage and stillbirth that he would appear so complete tiny, beautiful, human at twenty-one weeks â€“ his nickel-sized hands perfectly formed the most minuscule of fingers reaching out to me. And then I knew I would want him miss him love him, weep and pray and imagine a life for him, relive this hello and good-bye to him forever, and that it would hurt just as breathtakingly badly even after eight years.
Another Art Jill Sebacher
The art of Alzheimer’s is hard to master; first, the forgetting seems simple, but then the doctor’s diagnosis—it’s disaster. You curse hours lost, searching over and over for things just held—your glasses, keys, book, pen. The art of Alzheimer’s is hard to master. Forget what you love: golf, cars, the computer— fade in a prescribed haze of medicine. Swallow pills with hope you’ll avert disaster. Cry through Friday lunches when you remember working, driving, the man you’d been when Alzheimer’s wasn’t yet your art to master. Then lose those memories, the tears, words and numbers, names and dates; your own birthday now forgotten— sick magician’s trick, approaching disaster. Four days of coma dreams, courting the hereafter, and then your brain forgets to breathe again. The art of Alzheimer’s, a killing master— so many deaths precede that last disaster.
Family Flight Jill Sebacher
The seat drops but my hearts seems to stay pounding out of tune with the deep metallic rumble of air currents gone awry. Suddenly, I am seven again, or maybe eight, on a plane with my then family if you could really call it a plane if you can really still call it a family. Pilgrim Airlines or as Mom calls it sardine cans in the sky— this does not inspire confidence on the short hop from Laguardia to New Haven. I remember running in the frigid outside wanting to stop to view the white world of snow but no, we were late, Mom, frantic, running with luggage, the real kind too, plus us two kids. I see a beige building large enough to swallow me up with silver drain pipes, a corner turned and then the plane— again, if you could call it that— to me it seemed a toy, "11
a trick, too small to fly. Would our suitcases even fit? Next, I remember night not wanting to fall like stars, not wanting to fall anymore. My tiny hands won’t wrap around the metal ends of the armrests I grip. I feel the cold metal still, the belt pulled tight across girl-sized hips, a true terror, turning me to statue as my brother whoops from the cockpit chair: “Again, do it again,” he pleads to the laughing pilot who tells him he’s not doing anything, it’s the air. I recall the startling deep deeply startling drops, and realize we, this family of three, always spent more time moving up and down than forward.
Corinne Demyanovich If I squint enough, will I see clearly? Light is too harsh, blinding. I wish I crawl into the darkness. Light strikes like lightning strikes the spring ground. It’s shocking, unbearable. Strike me now, right in my eyes. I’d rather be one or the other - not in between Sight and blindness. I cannot live a life of squinting, of seeing, But not seeing quite enough. I am a fogged window. I want the darkness to fall over my eyes As the heavy satin curtain falls Over a stage production. You can save me the grand ending, though. I want the instant gratification Of the darkness. I’ve seen enough. I want it to come like a butcher knife Severing the light from my life.
Narcissus Finds Echo Alicia Caruso
Step into the brambles, under the night sky which shines with stars, Under the silver blue brown swirls of color before my eyes. I cannot count each twisting branch as each reaches out of the rich, raw swamp morass. Only see as I can tell, This one twists and captures the mind as it forms a shape, like â€Ś A dove sitting on the branch and Facing it, the next branch over bears a question markâ€“unfocused but alluring. I take a few steps more, with each more determined. I must discover each bit in search for something singular. A notch of hope, a thorn of caution. The landscape wavers and morphs, And in one corner of the swamp a small dancing shape... Glows with a lime-colored edge. The glowing shape a hole in the mud, So I climb through and on the other side I find I... Step into the brambles, under the night sky which shines with stars, Green and before my eyes I cannot count each pointed stem as they lift out of the soft and new grass. Here another flavor of the same design. Is nothing me? Is nothing mine?
Dianne E.C.E. They perch on a scattering of rocks, wet Hair loose, thick and glossy over their shoulders, Bright blood lips colored by mariners met While whispering and lounging on boulders. Unaffected by the existence of borders Nor the speeches garbled by mortal breath. Beautiful creatures with minds like soldiers And an all-consuming desire for death. Burdened by blue waves that leave them bereft Of power against nature, but not men, Who they drown and drag into deep, dark depths; Examples of what should be bipedal women. They are draped over slick, sharp, stone thrones; Kalopsia voices masking a need to atone.
How to Avoid Doing Things Rachael Bahr
Open a bottle of wine. Pour. Sip at first, then let the flavor Go down like a babbling brook. Stare at the wall and wonder if The paint is key lime or just green. Plow through the debris in your room, Forging a path from the mountains Of laundry by the door to the Sea of stuffed animals in bed. Donâ€™t spill wine on the comforter. Look up: wonder where the sun went. Browse Netflix for something to watch, And wonder what you had to do That was so important. Who knows? Look around. Find the bottle of wine. Pour. You can just do it tomorrow.
There are eight planets, five dwarf planets, and one hundred and seventy six moons that orbit our sun. Orbiting us is one moon, nine hundred and fifty eight satellites, one International Space Station, and one pair of pants. The pants belonged to astronaut Dave Shoehill, and are now immortalized in YouTube videos and animated gifs. One second they were tied to his bag, and the next the knot had come loose and they were floating in space, out of reach – he had tied them there with the Tool Bag Incident of oh-eight in mind, as something he could catch if his tether were to disconnect. All in all, it was one of the better outcomes. “Better my forty-dollar jeans than my fifty-grand tools,” he’d said in his vlog, rubbing the back of his neck and failing to look directly into the camera. Every major news station has a stream tracking the relaxed-fit stonewashed blue jeans as they drift through orbit. Some religious pundit has offered two million dollars to anyone who finds them once they land, to prove that ‘the scientists are wrong.’ The guy’s an idiot. They’re going to burn. Everyone knows that. Even CNN knows that, although that didn’t stop them from having a panel on where they might land if the atmosphere just decided to take the day off. They’re idiots, too. Meteorites hit the ground every couple months, it’s just that they’re most likely to land in the ocean or on poor people so nobody notices. That’s where the pants would end up, if they got that far. Which they won’t, because the atmosphere has a great work ethic. Levi’s is probably making a fortune off the free publicity. “You still there?” I’m lying on my back right now, staring up at the night sky. It’s not a true stargazing experience, because they’re having a bonfire half a block over, chucking in old clothes and furniture and screaming like humanity hasn’t been setting things on fire since we got down out of trees. It doesn’t do much for the serenity, but I take what I can get. “Yeah,” I say, tucking the phone back in against my ear. “Yeah, sorry, I was just thinking about the pants.”
Andy laughs, but it’s distorted by the distance and sounds more like static and snorts. “Of course you were,” she says. “I swear to God, someone has added that gif with the caption ‘whoops, there go my pants!’ to every photo of someone being hot.” She’s on her back, looking at the sky, too. But she’s probably wearing sunglasses, because it’s – I check my man-in-the-moon watch – about three in the afternoon in Sydney. “I’m closer to the ISS than I am to you,” I tell her, even though she knows this. “You’re closer to the Space Station than you are to Topeka, dork. It’s only – ” “Two hundred and five miles up.” I know the numbers, and I know the names. Recite them to myself, when I’m trying not to yell at someone, or when I’m trying not to say anything I shouldn’t. (Moons of Pluto – Charon, Styx, Kerberos, Nix, Hydra. Distance to the Andromeda Galaxy – two billion, five hundred million – ) “Ugh,” Andy says. “I wish we were up there.” She always talks like this. Looks at space and wants to become a part of it, as though distance from earth will bring her closer to anything else. Me, I – “I wish you were here.” “That, too.” “Have you made any friends?” I ask. “I mean, I get along with the team okay. And I asked a girl in my chem class for a pencil and she said I could keep it.” Well, there’s a promising sign. “What, she didn’t trust you not to ‘forget’ to give it back?” “Probably. You know me. I have ‘pen thief ’ written on my forehead. In Sharpie.” “Stolen Sharpie.” “Just trying to fit in.” Here she changes her voice. “Australia, as everyone knows, is entirely peopled with criminals, who are used to not being trusted by people.” “Just as you are not trusted by me,” I lie, finishing the reference. Andy and I became friends in the fourth grade, after years of indifference. We were partners for a solar system diorama – then we discovered that she liked my dog, and I liked her bike. Friendships have
been formed on less. And after my sister’s pregnancy and miscarriage, we shared an orbit. Going in circles around each other forever. “Wouldn’t it be funny if there was a note or something in his pocket?” I ask. “Who, the Sicilian?” “Huh?” “The Princess Bride?” It takes me a second to realize that I’ve changed the topic completely. “No. Dave Shoehill. In the pants. And it came out and there was, like, his shopping list for all the universe to see.” “If the universe had a really good telescope.” She seems to consider for a moment. “When I’m at the space station, if you aren’t there yet, I’ll send you greeting cards that way.” There’s a certainty in her voice – I always believe her when she talks like this. It’s only later that I have to remind myself the real odds of her spacewalking. That the last space shuttle is going up in July. There are only seven people up there right now. “I’ll get a big sheet, and I’ll paint MERRY CHRISTMAS, MICA, stuff like that on it.” I smile. “How are you going to paint it in space?” Dave Shoehill originally came to fame for his instructional videos – how to cook in space, how to shave in space, how it’s possible to rally your fellow astronauts and do an a capella cover of “Space Cowboy” in space. Andy and I had spent hours going through his playlists, so I have it on good authority that he never covered painting. “I’ll make them before I go.” “I don’t think they let you take stuff out – it’ll be like, space litter.” Andy makes a farting sound with her mouth. “I’ll find a way,” she says. “And it’ll either burn, or float off to find an alien race and they’ll think that Mica is some form of goddess.” Now I know she’s joking. She knows about gravity, and how far away sentient alien life forms are. “Well, if not Mica, then maybe ‘Merry’ or ‘Christmas.’” It occurs to me that aliens won’t be able to read English, and we’ve gotten very unscientific. “That’s the spirit.” Andy huffs into the phone, causing a burst of static. “How is everybody? Sophia and Jenna and them.” It takes a moment to sort through the last few weeks. “They’re okay,” I say, when what I mean to say is they aren’t you. “Sophia got into the jazz "19
band, Jenna is off-again with Matt. Again. There’s a drama going as to whether Sophia can invite Matt to her birthday party next week that I’m staying out of.” “That sounds like fun,” Andy says. She doesn’t really care; they were always more my friends than hers. But she asks about them anyway, every time. “Oh, and guess who dropped out of KU?” “Who.” I pause, to build up the suspense a little bit. “John Freeman.” Andy sucks in a breath. “Baby Daddy? You’re shitting me.” “Nope, I saw him at 7/11 the other day. He’s telling everyone that the, what was it, ‘the partying and hook-up environment at the University wasn’t conducive to a full spirituality.’ He told me that he was actually just flunking and wanted to go home, but everyone over forty is all abuzz over his exemplary faith and how inspiring is it, that even he can become a respectable young man.” I don’t hold a grudge against John Freeman for almost destroying my family. It was only half his fault – it takes two to have unprotected premarital sex, and all that – and Dad is one of the ones who believes in his reformation. If Dad’s made peace with him, then I’m not getting in the way of that. I’m also not telling Dad that he’d asked about Chrys – it had been the price of his University confession – and had been disappointed to learn that she loved college and loved Omaha and loved not being in Kansas. It’s one thing for a boy to be repentant about knocking up your daughter; it’s another for the boy to want to talk to her again. That’d probably get his face pinned back on targets – John had really done wonders for Dad’s aim. “God, I should tell my mom. Maybe she’d move back.” “It’s worth a shot.” I’m not even being entirely sarcastic. “Did I tell you, she’s gotten caught up in office drama here already.” “Your mother seeks out drama like a – ” I can’t think of an appropriate comparison. “ – like a person who seeks out drama.” I think that Andy makes that static-snort laughing sound again. It’s hard to tell with the renewed screaming from the bonfire. “She really does.” Margaret operates like gravity, pulling everyone in, making all their business her own. That’s what solidified my friendship with Andy, really – "20
Margaret’s love of gossip, and Johnny Freeman’s penis. The August that Pluto lost its planetary status was the August that my fifteen-year-old sister Crystal accidentally caught the pregnant, and I started spending extended periods of time at Andy’s house. At first it was just to avoid my own, and then it was because I fit so perfectly into her life and her in mine that it seemed dumb that we hadn’t become friends sooner. She took the Pluto thing harder than I did. “What will My Very Educated Mother Just Serve Us?” she asked me, over and over. I came up with increasingly ridiculous answers – noodles, nunchucks, nerds – while at the same time trying to consume as many of her mother’s cookies as possible. Another draw of Andy’s house: Margaret was always willing to trade baked goods for details of the scandal. Of my parents, Dad was more pissed. He screamed at Chrys for two hours solid after she told them: about how she’d been going to church all her life, John was barely even her boyfriend, and he’d raised her better than this. Around the time he’d talked about making it right with God, he’d run out of ideas and started the whole spiel over again. When he was finally out of steam, he didn’t talk to her for three days. Mom seemed more offended that Chrys hadn’t told her that she was having sex. I caught her waving a condom in my sister’s face, wanting to know if she remembered what they were, and that she’d have set up an appointment to get her the Pill if only Chrys had said something. I’d walked into the room in the middle of this lecture, which resulted in me getting sat down for The Talk. I wasn’t supposed to tell Dad about The Talk. But she didn’t say anything about telling my classmates, and so for the first two days of school, my knowledge of condoms and the Pill made me – and by extension, Andy, the most popular girls in the fifth grade. Andy would have been more excited about that if she wasn’t so upset about Pluto. I pointed out that that meant there were still things to learn, and so there’d be even more reason for us to go into space. That didn’t console her, so I fell back on coming up with as many ridiculous words starting with N that I could. Somewhere around ‘nipples,’ ‘noogies’ and ‘nincompoop-boys-brains,’ we stopped being popular. Which worked out fine, since we spent most of our time after school hanging out with Chrys, coming up with lists and lists of names for the "21
baby. Andromeda, Luna, or Elara for a girl; Leo, Alax (short for Galaxy) or Large Magellanic Cloud for a boy. Chrys told us we had A Problem, but she gave each name its due consideration anyway. It wasn’t until I got a job babysitting annoying eleven-year-olds that I started to wonder why she tolerated us, and it took freshman sex ed for me to figure out the answer – she thought that we were the only ones who were going to love the baby with her. Of course, there wasn’t a baby. Around October, Chrys started hurting all over, and then bleeding and bleeding. Dad cried the hardest. Everyone who knew must have thought that this was one of the better results. She hadn’t been showing, so the pregnancy could be passed off as a rumor. Johnny and Chrys were too young to have a kid, but they hadn’t had to do anything unspeakable. Now the people who had condemned them could mourn with them, for they had suffered a tragic loss and thus they were redeemed. I’d thought that Chrys should name the baby anyway, so that we could bury one of the rags under a gravestone and pray properly for its soul. She said that all the names on her lists were space-related and she didn’t want us to start associating space with sadness. She’d never come up with any on her own. She also said that the baby didn’t have a soul yet, and when I told Dad this, he didn’t even get mad. I’d made it a gravestone anyway, out of one of those stepping stone kits. ‘Crystal and Johnny’s baby, August-October 2006,’ and put decorative stones around the words in the shape of constellations. If I squint, I can see the gap it makes in the plants. I can hear Andy’s breathing, and I dig my fingers into the dirt, pretending I can feel her through the nine layers of planet between us. We’d never been cuddly, but I regret every missed hug, now. Every missed chance to assure myself that she was still safe on earth. “The ISS only takes ninety-two minutes to orbit,” I say. “If the pants are going about the same speed,” and they should be, “then in – ” I check the time. “Two minutes, they’ll have gone from me to you during this conversation.” “Lucky pants.” “Yeah, seriously. It’s like forty degrees here. You’d be doing your turtle impersonation.”
“Jesus, I’ve been practicing thinking in Celsius – you nearly gave me a heart attack. I will say that for Sydney,” Andy admits. “The heat is great.” “It’s not really cold. It’s not close to freezing.” Also, I’m wearing warm clothes and haven’t really been paying attention. Anyway, it can’t be that cold if the bonfire people still have the energy to holler. “Wimp.” “I never said I wasn’t.” I can see Orion, just barely. Betelgeuse, Rigel, Bellatrix, and the Three Kings. They’re so far away. Most of the stars I can see are bigger than the sun, hundreds or thousands of years away – going on maybe forever, and that scares me. I can barely imagine how big the sun is, the number of planets that are out there, the number of things we don’t know. The universe is expanding, but I don’t know what it’s expanding into. I’m closer to the space station than I am to Andy, but distance is relative. It feels much farther away. I didn’t know all the things I didn’t know when we swore to go to space together. We were eleven, too old to want to be astronauts and too young to understand what being an astronaut entailed. Andy still talks about it like she’s not scared. Like she doesn’t know about Challenger and Columbia and Apollo 13. Like she doesn’t know that too long in zero-G will increase your risk of Alzheimer’s and you’ll lose one fifth of the blood in your body. So I haven’t told her yet that I’m terrified. I can’t betray her like that. Not when she’s on the other side of the world. It might break her orbit, let her float away from me. I don’t want to think about this. “How’s the soccer team?” I ask. “Football, Mica.” “First Celsius, now football. Next you’ll be tor-kin’ leyek’ th-ears.” I get nearly ten seconds of dignified silence. Then – “Nobody sounds like that.” “Whort, uh sayeein thayte – ” “Stop!” She’s laughing now. I join her, and when I wrinkle my nose, I realize that it’s gone numb. I should go in soon. Sleep, and all that. Even if I won’t get much with the goddamn screaming coming from down the block. At least two pieces "23
of burning material have floated by in the last hour; they’ve both gone out before they hit the grass. “Wimp,” Andy echoes when I tell her. “It’s eight o’clock.” I check my Kansas-time watch, to make sure I’m not insane. “It is definitely eleven forty-five.” A pause. “Wait.” Then – “Ugh, I think this spazzed out again.” I can hear her tapping the face of her own moon watch – she’d gotten us Timex Kids moon-face watches as a gag gift that turned serious when we set it to the other’s timezone. “Is yours working?” I squint at it. “Depends, is it three forty-five?” “Something like that. I’m going to try getting a new battery. Maybe this one’s just screwy. Stupid thing – ” I can hear the tapping again. I don’t really think that’s going to help, but I don’t think it’ll hurt, either. “ – Anyway. I’ll talk to you on…?” she trails off, and I try and think. “My Friday night,” I say. “I’ll Facebook you.” “Mm’kay. Tell everyone hello.” “Will do. Love you.” “You too.” Another breath, and then I hang up first. I don’t stand up right away. It’s cold, and moving feels like a lot of effort. The clouds have shifted, and the Three Kings of Orion’s Belt are the only stars I can still see. Reminding me how small and insignificant our planet is. How there’s no reason for it to hold onto someone like Andy. Three years until she comes back for college. I’ll tell her then. And maybe I won’t have to. Three years is long enough for me to grow a pair, or for her to find a terrestrial calling. (Although if she does, maybe she’ll stay there instead – Australia doesn’t have a space program, but if she no longer needs one – ) One of the stars seems to be getting closer, and I’m wondering if I’m having a metaphorically relevant hallucination, but it’s only glowing around the edges now, because it’s not a star. It’s floating towards our garden, in a push and pull with the wind; the flight pattern is erratic. NASA would never approve. It’s this that finally gets me to stand, and I think I’m too young for my joints to be creaking like this as I run after it. Make sure that our dead plants aren’t going to catch fire.
They don’t. The glowing edges go dark just as I spot it; it’s sitting on top of the gravestone I’d made, right in the middle of Pegasus. I test it with the back of my hand, waiting for it to cool before I pick it up. It’s a piece of denim about the size of my thumbnail. Sticking off of one edge is half a Levi’s label. For a second I think of Dave Shoehill and believe the impossible, and then I look back at the smoke and bits of junk rising from the bonfire. I put the scrap in my pocket anyway.
The best thing about living in the glorious state of Maine is something I discovered on a cool May evening during the final stretch of my senior year of high school, and that something is this: it is entirely possible – at one in the morning – to drive down to the beach with your boyfriend and two of your friends, lie down on the sand, and smoke weed while looking up at the stars. If you did this in Chicago, you would most certainly be either mugged, shanked, raped, or some monstrous combination of the three. “This is dope,” said Dylan, my boyfriend. I was lying next to him on his ratty New England Patriots towel, his arm curled around my shoulders, my arm on his chest. “This is the dopest thing I’ve done in, like…forever.” He stared up at the sky absent-mindedly, high as a kite. Dylan is horrifyingly dumb even when he’s sober – and, to be perfectly frank, I was only dating him for his body. His gorgeous, gorgeous body. I inhaled deeply from the joint and passed it back to him. “Sweetie,” I said, “you should probably stop talking now. You’re ruining the moment.” “And technically,” said Clyde from somewhere off to Dylan’s left, “it’s not dope. It’s weed.” There was a pause. Clyde then erupted into hysterics – endless peals of high-pitched, irritating laughter that sounded like a guinea pig choking on a rubber duck. I hated Clyde. He had originally been Dylan’s friend, and I had only recently begun hanging out with him by association. He was just as unintelligent as Dylan, but lacked his bumbling grace. An asshole, basically. It is worth mentioning that I couldn’t see Clyde; I could only hear his idiotic laughter echoing through the night. It was too dark to see anything but the stars, and I was glad of this. They were beautiful, and there were a shit ton of them. Another key difference from Chicago. In cities, the sky is just this big, annoying THING that does nothing but stare at (and occasionally rain on) you. In Maine, however, the sky comes alive at night, especially when you’re at least two miles away from any major light source, as we were. The stars shone like quiet little fairies. It was almost "26
magical. “Doing okay, Macey?” I asked. “I’m good,” responded a cool, calm voice to my right. Macey was my first friend when I moved here. It is seriously HARD being my friend, and Macey’s really a trooper. She really is. For instance, she doesn’t smoke pot. At all. But here she was, hanging out with three high people just to make me happy. I love her. “I’m glad you’re here, Macey,” I said, feeling slightly loopy. I could feel the pot starting to get to me. “You’re good to me, you know that?” “You’re welcome.” I could hear her smile when she said that. Girl of few words, Macey, but an angel. I felt serene in that moment, which doesn’t often happen to me. I was cuddled up against the unbelievably gorgeous physique of my boyfriend, looking up at a sky full of faint glimmering lights. It was one of those moments where time seems to suspend itself, a moment I knew would be etched in my memory forever. “Do you guys wanna see my dick?” said Clyde. Wow, Clyde. Wow. “Did you know,” I interrupted, simultaneously trying to preserve the sanctity of this moment and prevent Clyde from getting out his dick, “that the stars we’re looking at aren’t the stars as they actually are now?” “That’s deep, babe,” said Dylan. “Real deep.” “You see,” I continued, undeterred, “the light from the stars can only travel so fast, and they’re so far away that it takes years for the light to reach us. So if a star is, like, twenty light- years away, the light it emitted twenty years ago is just reaching us now. The star could be gone, and we wouldn’t ever know about it until twenty years in the future.” There was a pause. I could tell that Macey was listening, but the boys’ attentions were elsewhere. “So in a way,” I said, “looking into the night sky is like looking into the past.” “You guys want me to tell a spooky ghost story?” said Dylan. “FUCK YEAH!” shouted Clyde, far too enthusiastically. “You’re terrible at telling ghost stories,” I told my boyfriend, stroking his bicep and using my best sexy voice so he wouldn’t know I was insulting him. “But I’ll bet you haven’t heard this one, babe,” he said. “The guy "27
who sold me this weed told me this one, and it’s scary as fuck.” “Tell it, bro,” yelled Clyde. “TELL IT!” “Macey,” I said, “Do you want to hear Dylan’s ghost story?” “Sure.” Poor thing. She said it as though she was actually interested – inflection and everything. Such a peach. “Okay, Dylan,” I said, running my right hand across his abs to calm myself down. “Tell us the story.” “Here goes,” he began. “This weed. This weed we’re smoking…it’s haunted weed.” There was a pause. “Give me a fuckin’ break, brah!” said Clyde. But he was quiet, whispering. I think he was genuinely scared. “I’m not joking, man. Tyler, the dealer at school? He got this from that old farmer, that creepy old guy who lives off North Street. Dirty, scruffy guy with the beard? The legend goes, back in the day, he fell in love with a witch who lives in the forest up there.” “Very original,” I said. “But the witch got tired of him real quick, and so she tried to just dump him. But he was so in love with her that he wouldn’t let her go. He tried to cast a spell to make her obey him or something, but she found out about it. And the spell backfired, and ended up just making her pissed. And so she cursed him, and she cursed the whole farm. She cursed it so that everybody who eats anything he grows will die. Just like that. Poof. And when he started growing pot, people bought it from him without thinking, ‘cuz you don’t technically eat it. But then people who started smoking his pot…they didn’t just die. No, they straight up disappeared. You know that kid Troy Johnson who disappeared last year? Legend is, he was smoking one of the old guy’s joints when he turned into dust and just floated away.” “This seems like it’s turning into a cautionary tale,” I said. “And I, for one, am somewhat offended by the rather blatant preachiness of it all.” “Hey, I’m just tellin’ it like I heard it, babe.” “Macey,” I said, “what did you think of that story?” “It was actually alright,” she answered, her voice velvety and amused. “Better than I expected.” “You’re just saying that ’cuz you’re nice,” I rallied back. “No, I really enjoyed it.” "28
“Macey gets me,” said Dylan. He squirmed on the towel, wrapping his arms more tightly around me. “Hey Clyde, what’dja think of it? Did I scare ya?” There was no answer. “Clyde?” Still no answer. We were quiet for a minute, listening to the gentle swish of the waves and looking blindly into the nothingness. “Maybe he fell asleep,” suggested Macey. “Nah, he’d be snoring by now,” said Dylan. “He’s just screwing with us,” I said. “He’s being quiet, so we’ll all think he’s disappeared. Turned into dust.” There was a pause. “Who has a phone?” Macey asked. “Use the flashlight.” “Mine’s in my purse, in the truck,” I said. “I ran out of battery like two hours ago,” said Dylan. “Stop it, Clyde!” I shouted, suddenly really freaked out. It’s weird how irrational being high can make you – how quickly you panic. “Just say something, for fuck’s sake!” I was digging my hands into Dylan’s tshirt, my heart beating unnaturally fast. “Maybe he got up and went for a walk,” offered Macey. “We woulda heard him,” said Dylan. “He woulda made noise, we woulda heard footstep – ” He stopped mid-sentence. His gorgeous, broad chest, which had been rising up and down as he breathed, my hand resting on his sternum, halted mid-breath. “Sweetie?” I said, my voice quivering. “Dylan?” “What?” said Macey. “He’s frozen,” I murmured. “He’s just. . .” “What? He’s just what?” But I had stopped talking as well, because Dylan’s sternum was crumbling beneath my hand. It was like when you’re trying to find something under your bed, and you haven’t vacuumed for months, and you reach under and stick your hand right in a dust bunny. That gross, soft, furry feeling. That’s what was happening to Dylan’s chest. And his strong, well-built arm was draped around me, and that was disintegrating too. His rigid muscles were collapsing, becoming soft, powdery. It was like he was turning into sand that was slowly bleeding into the bottom of an hourglass – except sand was more solid. You can hold sand in your hand. This was wispy, immaterial. And it was silent. "29
Utterly, totally silent. And after about fifteen seconds, he was gone. I was lying sideways on his ratty New England Patriots towel, the cool summer breeze flowing over my skin, carrying off the remains of my boyfriend to who knows where. “Lindsay?” I heard Macey say. She was quiet, worried. “Lindsay!” “I’m here.” “Where’s Dylan?” “He’s gone.” “What do you mean, gone?” “He melted. No, he…he turned into dust.” “That’s ridiculous.” “He’s gone, Macey.” “DYLAN!” she shouted. “Wake up!” There was no answer. “He’s asleep,” said Macey. “They both are.” “No,” I said, at a loss. I didn’t know how to explain it. “They’re dust. They’re just…dust.” “You’re high, okay?” Macey reassured me in her best reassuring voice. “You’re just panicking and talking nonsense. Do you want to hold my hand?” Macey. The best friend ever. “Yes,” I said. I rolled onto my back and reached out my right hand, the one that had been on Dylan’s chest. I found her hand, and it was warm and familiar. “Oh God,” I said, as a thought occurred to me. “What?” “I smoked it too. The weed…I smoked it. I’m gonna end up like them. Dust.” “No, you’re not.” “Why not?” “Because,” Macey said, playing along with me, “I won’t let that happen.” “Good.” “Even if you do start to get all dusty, I will patch you back up with duct tape and you’ll be yourself again in no time.” I could feel myself starting to cry. I was glad that my hand was "30
holding Macey’s. When I dissolved, she would feel my hand turn into dust. She would know I wasn’t delusional, or dreaming. “I’m glad you’re here, Macey,” I said. “Me too,” she replied. I looked up at the stars again. Each one stood out brightly in the void, but even so they all wove together to make a singular, beautiful picture. A sparkly, shimmering blanket, hundreds and thousands and millions of years in the making. There was a quote from the documentary I’d watched in order to know all that stuff about lightyears: “We are all starstuff.” I liked that. I liked imagining the light from the stars as little particles of dust, zooming through space towards me, lying on this beach. The starstuff filling me up, becoming me. Dust, I reasoned, is a lot like starlight. Starlight just knows where it’s going. Dust wanders. I squeezed Macey’s hand harder, and she reciprocated the gesture. It no longer felt like we were lying on a beach, looking up. We were clinging to the skin of the Earth, looking outward. Into the stars, into the vast everything. And I felt myself becoming dust – floating, crumbling, falling.
Excerpt from Reset Shane Barr
Chapter One Tia Noelle “Don’t worry, don’t worry about tomorrow; it’ll all take care of itself. Don’t worry, don’t worry about yesterday; nothing you can change there anyway.” —Big Kettle Drum
miles swept by us, marked by scruffy palm trees and countless empty yards. We traveled north on Highway 441 in Florida, hoping to skirt the National Guard barricades at the Georgia line. I passed the time with my face pressed against the cold window of the Jeep, noting the occasional unique mailbox. There was a faded Florida Gators one, shaped like an alligator, and another fashioned to resemble garden overalls. The high beams of Adam’s Jeep cast light and eerie shadows onto the shoulder, winking off the occasional opossum or raccoon as they ventured out on their nightly forage. Something cold and wet rubbed against my neck, pulling me from my highway hypnosis, and I turned to find Samson nestling into me, trying to get more comfortable in the Jeep’s cramped backseat. The beautiful guard dog brought me back to the present with his wise, reddish-brown eyes. He nuzzled my hand, and I absentmindedly scratched behind his ear as my thoughts turned back to the attack on the compound. I couldn’t stop thinking about Mom. Was she alive? Could she have made it into the bunker before the hangar exploded? What about the others? All of the children—did they make it out? I couldn’t dwell on what might’ve happened; my heart couldn’t take it. Answers would come. Put it all in a box, Tia. Mom would want you to focus on the present, stay alive. Samson sighed and lay his huge head on my lap, placing one paw over his muzzle as if he too needed some solace. Poor puppy. You lost "32
someone you love too. What’s going on in your doggie mind? As if in answer to my thoughts, Samson whimpered and then stiffened. Caught up in comforting the dog, I was jarred when the Jeep swerved violently. “Damn! Too many of them. They are everywhere. We must find another road,” Mikhael exclaimed as he veered a few more times to avoid the people standing in the road, their heads all tilted to the left like a pack of marionettes, waiting for their puppeteer. We’d started calling people like this—those activated by nanites—Fries, because their brains have been fried. It felt like we were on the set of a zombie movie, but these fried freaks hadn’t gotten their gruesome makeup done yet. The creep factor was elevated by the fact that there were no houses around. It’s just miles and miles of prairie and wetlands. So, where did the Fries come from? We’d just entered the portion of the highway that runs through Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park. It’s a huge area of wetlands, marsh, and lakes that I remembered driving through a few times with my parents. When I mentioned the oddity of water lilies sprouting in the middle of a prairie, Dad had explained to me that many of the acres were actually underwater. Mikhael slammed on the brakes and took a road to the right, careful not to run off onto the unpaved shoulder where we would get stuck in the muck. A small, brown sign identified a campground. He called back over his shoulder, “We will stop here for a few minutes. I can not get through all of the people right now.” I held onto Samson as we bumped and rolled over the dips in the road. Some overgrown palm shrubs scraped my side of the Jeep as Mikhael skirted around the worst of the huge, water-logged potholes. I jerked back as they whipped and slapped at the window. Miraculously, Pee Wee snored through all of this in the front passenger seat. Beside me, a still-unconscious Derrick groaned as the wild ride tumbled him around the backseat like an old sneaker in the dryer. Somehow, Samson squirmed his way over and placed his body between Derrick and the doorframe, resting his snout on Derrick’s shoulder, nudging his head away from the window. Now that he was facing me, I could see the deep purple bruise on Derrick’s left temple. It looked almost black in the darkness and spread down to just below his left cheek. That’s gotta hurt. He got that saving me, "33
shielding me from falling debris during the drone strike. Please God, let him be okay. Please. Thankfully, we came to a stop in a small clearing. There was a trashcan encased in metal with a grate over the top that was padlocked in place. A small slot in the center of the lid was barely big enough for a soda bottle. Beside the heavily guarded, trash receptacle sat a lonely porta-potty. Gag. I hate those things. Gross to the max. But what’s my alternative? The woods? With three guys around? Nope. Not gonna happen. Mikhael pulled the handbrake and commanded, “Tia, stay here for now. I will check the perimeter.” He hopped out, opened my door, and leaned over me to speak softly to Samson, “Bo! Ch’pous.” After this whispered command, Samson dutifully jumped over me and began scouting the area. I sat there waiting for the all-clear, needing a good stretch. This portion of the trip should’ve only taken about thirty minutes, but all the obstacles and side roads we’d used had turned a short trip into three hours of dodging and backtracking. In the front seat, Pee Wee was rousing from his nap. He stretched his arms and yawned. “We there yet? I must’ve gone to sleep. Must’ve needed some sleep. My leg sure does hurt. You okay, Tia?” He peered back at me as he wiped the sleep from his eyes, which darted to Derrick before he added, “He’s gonna be alright. He’s tough. Don’t you worry.” Mikhael came back and signaled that the site was clear, so Pee Wee and I climbed out. I began stretching my stiff muscles while Pee Wee started hopping up and down and shaking his hands like a runner trying to keep his momentum going when forced to stop. Glancing around nervously, he began shifting his weight from foot to foot. “You reckon we’re stayin’ here tonight?” he asked, peeking at the porta-potty. “Go ahead, Pee Wee. I can wait. I’ll check with Mikhael and see if we’re making camp here.” So I made my way to the back of the Jeep where Samson was sitting dutifully as Mikhael pulled out some provisions. I watched as he grabbed a small shovel, one of the cases of food, and a canister of gasoline. “We will eat and rest here for a while. I will fill up the tank too.” Mikhael handed me the shovel, my cue to begin digging a shallow fire pit as he rooted around in the food case and selected a few cans.
From behind us, a scream bounced off the trees and echoed in the stillness of the marsh. We both jerked around, and Samson ran to the porta-potty, which rocked back and forth like a possessed armoire from some twisted version of Beauty and the Beast. Mikhael reached it before me and ripped the door open. Pee Wee spilled out—his pants around his ankles. Oh my. Are those Superman briefs? Seriously. Thank God he still has those on! “A snake. There’s a snake in there! It hissed at me. I think it bit me.” Pee Wee was yowling and hopping around, trying to get his pants pulled back up. “Don’t you look at me in my drawers, Tia. You gotta look away. You can’t see me in my drawers,” he cried before finally winning the fight with his pants. Realizing I was gaping at him, I shifted my gaze to Mikhael, who was now holding a five-foot long, black snake. He gently carried it to the other side of the campground and released it into the wood line. Wiping his hands on his camo pants, he turned to us and stated: “An Eastern Indigo. She will not hurt you. They eat venomous snakes. She was seeking a place to make her nest.” Addressing Pee Wee, he ordered, “Show me where you were bitten.” Pee Wee hobbled over and stuck his right foot up on a fallen tree branch. “Right there. On my ankle. She bit me. Am I gonna die? Do you have to suck out the venom? I saw that on one of my animal shows. You gotta suck out the poison before it gets to my heart.” He grimaced as Mikhael examined his ankle. Curiosity getting the best of me, I joined the inspection. Right above his ankle sock there were several reddish marks. Mikhael rubbed the area with his thumb and pulled out a tube of antiseptic from one of his pockets. He applied the ointment and patted Pee Wee’s leg before releasing it. “You will live. She bit you from reflex. The Indigo does not attack humans. There should be no worry of venom from her warning bite. Now, come eat something before we must leave again.” “I still gotta go. Can’t go back in there though. Think I can go in the woods? Momma never let me go in the woods. Always wanted to go in the woods, like I was free.” Pee Wee waited hopefully for Mikhael to nod his assent before he lumbered off in the opposite direction of the snake. "35
“Do not go too far. You must keep us in your view at all times,” Mikhael called as Pee Wee ducked down behind a tree. Pee Wee hollered from his not-so-stealthy position, “Can y’all see me? I can see y’all.” I shook my head and turned my back to him and peeked in the Jeep at Derrick. His head was still tilted to the right, resting on the headrest, but his grey eyes were looking directly at me. He winked, then winced as he used the driver’s seatback to pull himself up. “Hey, you. How’re you doing?” he queried, gingerly attempting to step from the backseat. I reached out to help him as he seemed unsteady on his feet. “Yeah. I’m alright. How are you doing? That’s a pretty nasty bump on your head. Dad would say you’re probably concussed and you shouldn’t be sleeping.” Derrick’s dark hair fell over his left eye, artfully hiding the bruise from view as he dismissed, “Yeah, I’m good,” before asking, “Hey, any word from the others? I don’t remember what happened after I…landed on top of you.” I cast my eyes away, blinking back tears as I responded, “No word. I don’t even know how they can reach us. I’m sure there’s a way. But…I don’t know if my mom made it into the bunker…before…before it exploded.” Sniffling back my fears, I wiped my eyes and helped Derrick walk over to the makeshift picnic spot Mikhael had laid out on the ground behind the Jeep. “You’re awake! Tia, Derrick’s awake!” Pee Wee exuberantly limped back over to us. “I’m glad you didn’t die. Thought you might be dead. You got hit pretty hard. Had to pull a big chunk of buildin’ off ya. Sure glad you didn’t die.” Pee Wee dug in his pockets and pulled out a green bottle of sanitizer that he squirted all over his hands. He rubbed them together furiously and then clapped Derrick on the back. Pee Wee’s over-zealous greeting sent a weak and off balance Derrick careening to the ground, almost taking me with him. He landed on his knees and winced again from the shock of the movement. “Hey, take it easy on me, big guy. I’m a little wobbly still. But, yeah, I’m alive. Thanks for looking out for me. I owe you one.” “I’m sorry. Sure didn’t mean to hurt you. Momma always said I didn’t know my own strength. Don’t owe me a thing. ‘Doin’ right is livin’ right.’ That’s what Preacher Brant says. Always did try to listen when "36
he’d get to preachin’. He sure preached a lot. Sure preached long. But I tried to listen when I could.” Pee Wee plopped down beside Derrick and started examining the canned goods. “Peaches! Can I have the peaches, Mr. Mikhael?” We opened up a few random cans and dug in. Not the best meal, but the idea was to keep a low profile while we traveled to our next destination. I had ended up with Mrs. Brewster’s beef stew. It’s so weird —I’m eating Adam’s mom’s food, and he’s with my dad right now. Are they okay? We were finishing up our meal when a shrill, siren-like sound erupted from the Jeep. Mikhael sprinted to the driver’s side and yanked the door open. The noise got louder, filling the night with ear-drum-bursting decibels. I watched as he pulled out his K-Bar knife and stuck his head under the dashboard. Then he unceremoniously jerked the radio from its housing, tossing it on the ground. Just as suddenly as it had started, the sound ceased. Mikhael proceeded to stomp on the unit and hit it with the shovel, decimating it into bits and bytes of useless technology. “We must move. They will be here soon. I did not pay attention. It would appear Adam had one of the radios that your friend, Lexi, was selling. They could have been tracking us. Everyone, in the Jeep. NOW.”
Chapter Two Frankie In uncertain times, true friends finally found. But now separate paths we must forge. A last glance good-bye; our plane leaves the ground, Ahead of the approaching storm. —March 29 I once read this book where the author kept writing her protagonist into riveting situations where she spent tons of time sitting around staring in silence. She stared at the wall. She stared at her books. She stared out her window. The poor girl stared so long that the silent seasons shifted while she just sat there, staring. How freaking original, Madame Author. Who the heck spends that much time sitting around staring in silence? "37
Well, that’s what I thought until today. Since our plane had taken off from the prince’s compound, that’s all Joseph, Mom, and I’d been doing. Yep, we’re on this semi-swank, private plane—piloted by my jerk-of-astep-father—heading to God knows where, and all we’re doing is sitting around in silence, staring. Joseph, my little half-breed—um, I mean brother—was super excited to be on the plane. He had wanted to ride in the cockpit with his dad but was denied that wish for some odd reason. Phillip rarely tells the little genius no. Me? That’s all he tells me. But little bro? Never. To be fair, Joseph is a damn good kid. He’s got super-human genius genes or something. The kid can calculate complex equations in his head in seconds and then recite almost verbatim the entire Harry Potter series. I think Phillip, aka The Step-monster, must’ve been feeding him some weird brain juice from the time the little guy could hold a sippy cup. I, on the other hand, am not a heightened intellectual mutant. I can barely keep my grades above a C, but I do read a lot. One of the things I’d read lately was an article about the frequency of small plane crashes, so I gripped my leather armrests as if they were floatation devices while the clouds swallowed up the ground beneath us. One of my favorite authors, Stephen King, had written a short story once about a group of people that were on an airplane. As the plane travelled, this weird cloud behind it ate away at the fabric of reality, and when it landed, the people had gone to a time that was between time. It was a weird tale, but that is what stuck with me as our plane crested the trees bordering the compound. I pushed my face as far into the window as I could to see the compound below us. Realistically, I knew I wouldn’t be able to see Tia and the others, but I still wanted to keep them in sight for as long as possible. That’s how I came to see the glowing ball of fire hit one of the buildings. I mean, it looked like that. Maybe it’s one of those freaky thunderlightning storms that you only see in the clouds? Please let that be it. At the time I saw it, I gasped loudly enough to pull Mom from her staring-in-silence bit. “What’s wrong, honey?” she asked. “Uh, nothing. I just thought I saw some lightning. You know how I hate flying. Storms only make it worse. The statistics are that every airplane gets hit by lightning at least once every few years—I read that somewhere.” "38
Joseph, Mr. Photographic Memory, piped in: “Actually, Frankie, a plane is much like the Faraday cage they were talking about at the compound. Although airplanes do get struck by lightning, just like a car, they absorb and diffuse the charge. So all the electrical equipment would be fully operational. That engineering technology is built into every plane.” He grinned at me as if it were so simplistic as to be understood by a mere mortal such as myself. “Oh, you go back to reading your encyclopedia. One of these days, you’ll need a neck brace to hold up that giant, eidetic brain of yours,” I replied as I swatted him with an old magazine from the seatback pocket. “You two, settle down. Once we get to a reasonable altitude, I’ll find us some snacks. Besides, Phillip has been flying planes since before I met him. He can even fly those large commercial jets.” Leave it to Mom to be our in-flight attendant and Phillip’s campaign manager. I don’t care if he’s flown the Millennium Falcon. I don’t like flying! Feeling like the only person not feeling the Phillip fandom, I fell back to the clichéd standard. I turned my face to the window and stared out in silence. This just feels wrong and weird—like I’m in one of those reality shows where the ultimate joke is on me. After about thirty minutes, Phillip broke radio silence and announced over the plane’s speaker that we had entered into Georgia airspace. He said we’d be in the air for another hour or so and that it was safe to get up from our seats. Wow, just like on a real airplane—we are “now safe to move about the cabin.” Yeah, like I want to walk around a flying coffin. No thanks. I’ll stay right here, strapped to my very safe leather seat that will likely disintegrate upon sudden impact. Mom pulled out a plastic tub from her overhead bin and started extracting various sandwiches and drinks from it. She gave Joseph and me each a meticulously wrapped bundle and a bottle of water. There were even homemade chips in small zippie bags. After she pulled out a salad and water for herself, she sat back down. That’s odd. She always serves Phillip first. “Um, Mom. Aren’t you going to give Phillip some food?” She just shook her head, swallowing a bite of her salad, motioning to me with her hand to wait a minute. After gulping down some water, she stated: “No, he warned me before we took off to leave him alone while he flew. He said he needed all his attention on flying this plane as he had "39
never flown it before. He doesn’t want any interruptions.” She just shrugged as if that made perfect sense and speared a piece of radish with her fork. “Oh, that reminds me, Joseph, you have to take your vitamin, sweetie.” Mom sanitized her hands before giving Joseph his gargantuan pill. Sanitizer and pills—things that will always remind me of Joseph. He’d been a sickly baby, so I wasn’t allowed to touch him or play with him unless I properly washed. I remember my hands being cracked and dry from the special sanitizer that Phillip kept in the nursery, and during the winter months in Virginia, my skin would crack and bleed from the harsh chemicals. By the time Joseph was two, he was on all kinds of vitamins and medicines to control his immune system. He really wanted a dog, though, so Phillip got him a Miniature Schnauzer for Christmas. Apparently, they’re hypoallergenic dogs—whatever that means. Like how the heck can you sanitize that fur ball? Really, folks? The girl still has to practically shower in sanitizer, but the dog gets a pass. Criminey! No matter how hard I tried to follow their rules around Joseph, I never seemed to do the right thing. Phillip seemed convinced that I would contaminate my little brother with some bug I’d picked up at school. It didn’t help that he was home a lot at that time. Mom said he’d been “laid off.” My eight-year-old brain didn’t understand that. Whatever it meant, it made him very cranky, so I tried to steer clear of him and his mood swings. But luck was not on my side the day I came home from second grade, nervously clutching a letter from my principal. Mom had gone to the store, leaving Phillip home to tend to Joseph. Upon seeing the official envelope in my hand, Phillip snatched it from me and started reading while I stood in the doorway, peering at Joseph as he played with Widdle Wok-Wok, his puppy. I was grinning and giggling along with Joseph as Widdle licked his face and chewed on his chubby fingers. After he’d finished reading the paper, Phillip set it down on Joseph’s dresser and marched out of the room. “You stay right there, young lady. Don’t you dare go near Joseph.” His tone seemed to cement me in place. I heard him opening cabinets and drawers while I stood there watching Joseph. It seemed like a few minutes had passed, and I eventually gave in to my desire to play with my baby brother, taking one step into his room. "40
The force by which I was yanked back brought tears to my eyes. Phillip had me by my ponytail and was dragging me into the hallway bathroom. “You want to bring filthy lice into my house? You are nothing but dirt. You’re just like your mom. She used to think she was so smart and pretty until I straightened her out. Well, I’ll straighten you out too, little missy. I can’t risk you giving my son a disease.” Spittle flew from his mouth as he ranted at me. My legs wobbled, and tears streamed from my eyes as I tried to reason with him: “But, but, Daddy, they checked me, and there was no lice. That’s what the letter says. No lice. I don’t have it. They had to check all the kids because some of them had it. Not me. I promise.” My hands were both clutching his, trying to alleviate the tension on my ponytail. Relief flooded me as the pressure was quickly released. I collapsed to the floor and attempted a watery smile as I looked up at Phillip. My smile vanished as he leered at me, holding my ponytail in one hand, a pair of scissors in the other. “Oh, don’t worry. I’ll fix you right up. Teach you a lesson. Don’t you ever talk back to me. I am the man of this house, and I will decide what is right.” He pulled the dog’s clippers from his pocket and turned them on. I screamed as they touched my head. My hair had been down to the middle of my back. My friends all loved how long and thick it was. It was an unusual shade of brown with bits of red and blonde in it. Now it was falling to the floor around me, in one-inch chunks. I tried in vain to gather it, hoping I could reattach it before Saturday’s ballet recital. “There. Now I can properly inspect your nasty head to make sure you’re clean enough to be around Joseph.” Phillip took out a comb and began spraying disinfectant on my head as he roughly searched my scalp for signs of lice. By the time Mom made it home, the damage was complete. My hair was a chopped up mess. It stuck out all over and in some places was shaved down to my skin. I could hear Phillip explaining to Mom why he’d had to do it. She said nothing. She just pulled me into the bathroom and tried to fix what he’d done. I stared at myself in the mirror as Mom shaved my head. It was less than an inch all over by the time she was finished. "41
I lost a lot of things that day. I lost ballet. I lost my friends. But the most hurtful, was that I lost faith in my family. I realized that Mom would always listen to Phillip, and it didn’t matter what I had to say. Francesca disappeared that day. I haven’t seen her since. The next morning, I found a picture of our family I’d drawn in kindergarten taped to the refrigerator. It was the standard, crayon drawing of a mom, a dad, a sister, and a baby brother. We were all smiling, and I had drawn myself being held in Phillip’s arms. Mom was holding Joseph in hers. A bright red heart surrounded the family, and I had written: “I love my family because they love me.” The sight of the picture made me physically ill. Mom told me it was just hair and would grow back. She said I probably wasn’t the only girl who’d had to shave her head. I nodded and said nothing. Phillip had already gone out, and Mom asked me if I was feeling better. She was cheerfully feeding Joseph and tried to make small talk with me as I ate my oatmeal. The worst thing for a kid is to feel that she is completely alone. I knew that I was alone and unprotected. A few days after the lice incident, I yanked the picture from the fridge while Mom was doing laundry. I tore it into tiny bits and threw it in the toilet. I watched it swirl around, flushing my dreams down with it. There’s no use dwelling in the past, but that awful story popped in my head as I watched Joseph gulp down the giant vitamin. He’s always had special things that Phillip makes Mom give him, like the drops that go in his food and his water. I guess they’ve helped him. The kid sure is healthy. He never gets sick—not even sniffles. Looking out for Joseph in a den of snakes has become my mission. He’s the only one worth saving in my family. The kid’s pretty awesome even if he looks like a nerdier version of Harry Potter. Joseph had finished his food and curled up in his seat. Mom wrapped a blanket around him, and I watched as he fell asleep. I then resumed my position of staring out of the window as the flat landscape of southern Georgia disappeared beneath us. Purplish-blue mountains approached on the edge of the horizon. I wonder how Tia’s doing? Will they run into trouble crossing into Georgia? I hope they’re all okay. Dang, I even hope Sophia’s safe. Maybe after this we can all go get tattoos. Nah. That’s a step too far. I don’t like her that much.
Love Many Things: a Two-Minute Play Auden Granger
[A young figure stands in a gallery of Van Gogh paintings, labeled with something like ‘Dutch Masters’ or ‘Masters of Impressionism,’ etc. deeply moved, even to silent tears, by the paintings around them. They are clearly alone, but surrounded by other museum visitors. They do not appear to be the traditional ‘serious art museum’ type – they move their hands, mouth something to themselves as they move around the museum. One of these ‘serious art museum’ types approaches the painting in front of them, Two Farmers, and looks at it intently, but critically, and clearly just for the sake of looking critical. Other paintings in the exhibit should include Almond Blossoms, three PORTRAITS OF VINCENT, Starry Night Over the Rhone, and possibly Starry Night, as well as some other farm/road scenes with figures, like Entrance to A Public Garden in Arles, Potato Eaters, At Eternity’s Gate, White House at Midnight, etc.] YOUNG GUEST [Looking over at the Connoisseur, shyly at first, nervous hands, biting lip, etc.] Do you like Van Gogh? CONNOISSEUR [Looks up, startled to be asked, but not too much – expects attention, to be seen as an expert, but they do seem off in some way. He is kind, but distant]: His works present a mastery of color and texture that are unrivaled in – YOUNG GUEST: But that’s not – that’s not – CONNOISSEUR: Are you saying Van Gogh is not a master? There is no one more well-known for portrayal of peasant life, no one more celebrated for magnificence in form and figure – [The FIGURES in the painting (Two Farmers) before them begin to move, slowly, plowing the Earth in their little frame, as distanced as possible from the stark world of the museum, but a little closer for the speech and presence of the YOUNG GUEST. Throughout the piece, the painting moves, steadily, slowly, and with each piece of the YOUNG GUEST’s speech, more paintings as referenced begin to move, and move more "43
quickly, until the energy has risen to breaking point. As they move, it is clear that nobody but the YOUNG GUEST and the audience can see their movement.] YOUNG GUEST: [not aggressively, but with genuine curiosity] It isn’t about mastery. Everything, everything here says ‘master.’ But I – I’m – can you look at his paintings without seeing his joy and his hope and his passion and his optimism and his fear of himself ? His anxiety, his sadness, and – and the way he saw those things in other people, too? Is it just color and brush strokes and beauty? Did you know, he, he said, once – PORTRAIT OF VINCENT: When asked if I should feel no attraction for a beautiful woman or girl, I answered that I should rather come in contact with one who was ugly, or old, or poor, or in some way unhappy, but who through experience and sorrow had gained a mind and a soul. [CONNOISSEUR watches throughout] YOUNG GUEST: I can’t look at Starry Night Over the Rhone without seeing his, his wonder at the universe, without seeing a man who believes that (in unison with SECOND PORTRAIT OF VINCENT) ‘the best way to know God is to love many things – ’ SECOND PORTRAIT OF VINCENT: ‘The best way to know God is to love many things – ’ YOUNG GUEST: A man who knows nothing with any certainty but (in unison) ‘the sight of the stars makes him dream.’ THIRD PORTRAIT OF VINCENT: ‘The sight of the stars makes me dream.’ YOUNG GUEST: I can’t look at Almond Blossoms without seeing an overjoyed uncle making something bright and hopeful and full of light and life for above the crib of his little nephew. Something for little Vincent, born the year his uncle died. [SCENE of VINCENT 1, cradling his young nephew] YOUNG GUEST: [slower, steadier, gesturing along the lines of Almond Blossoms] Those brushstrokes that are so full of passion and love, painted less than
a year before those hands would take his life, before he would look his brother in the eye and say, VINCENT 1, 2, 3 (in unison, quietly, earnestly, Vincent 1 still holding nephew): ‘The sadness will last forever.’ YOUNG GUEST (after, quietly, sadly): ‘The sadness will last forever.’ [break] YOUNG GUEST (Looking passionately and almost desperately towards a REDHEADED MAN who looks like Vincent, holding his YOUNG SON, who backs away): His sketches show a man who had a wish only to [in unison] ‘make some drawings in which there is something human – ’ VINCENT 2: ‘Make some drawings in which there is something human – ’ YOUNG GUEST: – a man who knew that his work was strange and new and different, who was constantly torn down and thrown aside in everything that he attempted, from selling art to preaching to painting, but who felt that in spite of this, he must keep painting – a man who painted not what he saw but what he felt in what he saw, he – a man who took the darkness around him and made it into something so bright and thick and full of color, and when you look at his paintings, you can see his passion, and, and his love and his care, and you can see his pain. His story is there for you to see in the hundreds of pieces he made during his life – [YOUNG GUEST gestures up to the sky, either to Starry Night or to something only they can see] YOUNG GUEST: It’s, it’s that human idea of optimism and, and hope in struggle, of fear and pain and love and joy and contentment all at the same time, of, of, I – [too flustered to find the words] VINCENT 3: Being sorrowful but always happy. VINCENT 1: Of making drawings in which there is something human.
[YOUNG GUEST sits in the middle of the gallery, surrounded by the paintings. This is the first time Vincent has spoken for them, has given them the words, and they are clearly grateful, but as they watch, the paintings become still again, and they are left alone. They put their head in the hands, and the scene goes black.] [CONNOISSEUR stands off to one side, unseen by the guest, clearly drawn in by the guestâ€™s speech and by the paintings, but still distanced from the guest. They both stand alone, but together with the paintings, and with Vincent.]
Writing Advice Amani Onyango
With a triumphant hoot, Elise sat herself
down in front of the room, leaving those who didn’t survive the scramble to file into the back. Elise shared a smile with the rest of the victors, as they relaxed in their front row seats, all waiting to meet Neha Adnan-Branson, Queen of Women’s Lit, and Everything Including Life and the Internet (a.k.a. Elise’s hero, duh). Her less fortunate friend gave her a forlorn wave from the back; Elise blew her a kiss. Not having someone to exchange knowing glances with and laugh in all the right places was disappointing – but not so disappointing as to beat out the victorious euphoria that had settled over her like the finest of fairy dust. She fidgeted in her seat, mind wandering back towards her own half done manuscript that was already half out of the window, because nothing could measure up to Neha. Neha, whose debut novel about a girl falling into an affair with a married man had opened Elise’s eyes to the world (and good writing). The book had fast become the benchmark for women’s list, cementing Neha’s place amongst the superstars of the genre. And as an aspiring women’s lit superstar, the book was also Elise’s benchmark. Which meant that if her writing wasn’t as good as Neha’s, it wasn’t worth anything. A soft hush fell over the room, and Elise looked around for the source of the quiet. Neha was gliding towards the front, wearing a dress woven with stars and a smile filled with magic. Elise wanted to cheer, but her voice seemed caught in her throat. Seeing her in real life, with her tiny pixie face and fathomless eyes made a sharp chill run down her back. Neha sat down at the front of the room and adjusted the microphone stand. “Thank you so much for coming today,” she said, her voice like honey and summer breeze. “I really appreciate it.” Elise was in love. “If you are here, then I can assume that you are a rather special breed of reader,” Neha continued, and Elise felt a shiver of delicious "47
pleasure. “The ones who read in the hopes to create just as much magic as they’ve taken so freely.” She paused to look around the room, and her deep gaze settled on Elise. “But not everyone gets the chance to pay their debts, and sometimes, the consequences can be personally devastating.” The room was silent except for the hum of the air conditioning. Neha smiled, sending a sharp and painful chill down Elise’s back. “As a writer, the most frequent questions I am asked dealt with the art of writing itself,” she said. “I rarely answer these, because there is no true way of writing. All of us must make it on our own. This is a lonely path we walk, and we must learn to be content with whatever is thrown at us on the way. Perhaps then we can find fulfillment, and break free from the frightening fate of being bound to read and never create.” So quiet was the room, even the air conditioning seemed to have switched itself off, though Elise could’ve sworn that the temperature had dropped at least ten degrees. “There is another reason why I don’t give advice,” Neha continued. “And this is far more mundane, and perhaps a lot less interesting. However, it is important that such stories are shared. Perhaps we can leave the room more aware and compassionate, and remain forever vigilant, for there is dark to all light, and all stories have their hidden dangers.” Elise sat on her hands and shivered again. She wished she’d worn a sweater. “When I was a child, reading was closer to my heart than my own blood. As I grew, the love for writing began to take its place. As a novice writer with little experience in the art of words and life, I turned to every source of guidance I could find. And then, he found me.” Elise stared, transfixed, as her hands grew numb under her thighs. “He had a way with words,” said Neha, “and he taught me the best ways to use them. I was young, barely more than a child, and I was ready to give up everything to learn.” The outside world seemed so far away to Elise, who, like the rest of the room, remained entranced by Neha’s voice. “But, like everything, they came with a price,” said Neha. “And as all of you must know – or if you don’t, should know – words are the most expensive commodity in the world.” "48
She paused again to look around the room, but her deep gaze did not sweep over Elise this time. “He taught me how to steal a reader’s attention from the first line, as he hooked my heart and tore it away from my chest. He taught me to bewitch, to make one feel as though no time has passed, even when days have been lost. Time is precious,” she said, and indeed, everyone could feel the seconds she was stealing ticking away from them. “And he taught me to steal it from others when he stole mine.” Elise was almost scared to draw breath, but she managed a shallow one, unnoticed – almost. “He taught me how to spin my words in ropes of metaphor, to lasso readers and pull them in. The sweeter the words, the stronger the pull, and his words pulled me into his arms, with promises of healing the wounds he’d inflicted.” Pausing again, her gaze flickered towards Elise, who flinched. “It is important, therefore, to make your readers bleed, for reading is a contract that demands a price. If you are unable to make them pay in blood, you will never be able to access the true power of words. “He had such power, and he promised it to me,” she continued. “But the price, the price was great indeed. When my heart wasn’t enough, he began to demand my soul. And I gave it up, willingly.” The audience with their rabbit hearts remained silent and wary. “A twist in the tale is important,” said Neha. “To hold onto a reader, to keep them captivated so that nothing can stop them from reading. Just like his marriage didn’t stop me from wanting him, like it didn’t stop him from keeping me around, you must learn to twist your stories to keep them trapped. Your job, as writers, is to make sure they do not leave, and when it comes to this, there are no rules.” A shudder ran through the room. “If you know how to wield the words, you will know that no one can stop you,” she said. "Readers are masochistic by nature. You can lie, steal, kick them when they’re down, and they will still beg for more.” Her gaze swept across the audience. “He taught me this by playing the hot-cold game, by turning me away and making me feel unwanted, and coming back and telling me that he missed me. When he told me that I was the one who was angry, I
believed him. I believed it because I was angry, but when he turned on the heat again, I always went back.” Elise noted a spark in Neha’s voice, and braced herself for the fire she knew would come. “I had friends once,” she said. “But he took them away. He was the only one that was good for me – or at least he made me feel that way. And he made me follow the rules. He knew how to use the words, and I knew that if I broke the rules, if I told anyone, he would use them against me. But I didn’t know what was happening.” She paused and blinked a few times, her soft hand still on the microphone stand. “It’s important that you learn to draw your reader in slowly, like a frog being cooked, so that they don’t know what’s happening until they can’t turn back anymore.” The audience drew a collective breath as Neha’s voice burned with the fury from her past. “I had nowhere to turn, so I tried to turn to writing, but he had locked away my muse while he fed on me. And when I asked him how inspiration came, he would tell me to go live, and watch as I struggled to escape his chains. I had been trapped, and he watched and did nothing as I struggled to escape.” Elise took her hands out from under her thighs. She couldn’t feel them anymore, and they were imprinted with the texture of the chair. “I was once a meticulous keeper of diaries,” said Neha. “And it was only natural that I would write down what was happening with him – what was happening to me. And being down on inspiration forced me to exploit my own self, my own life, and unwittingly, the lives of everyone I’d ever touched, who’d ever touched me. I’d marked sections of my diary to spin into stories, because I had nothing else to use.” Elise bit her lip. “He knew I’d written about us,” she said. “I told him about it – I told him everything. And when I came back the next day, it was gone. He denied it of course, and threw dozens of plausible reasons at me, saying it must’ve been my own fault, because I was careless, you see? And as the months passed, I began to believe that it was my own carelessness…” She paused to take a breath and closed her eyes. “Always learn to mislead your reader. They’ve to take a few wrong turns before they get to the point. "50
“Of course, when I finally broke free, he blamed me for leaving," she said. "I ran away from him, but his voice followed me, filling the spaces where my heart and soul used to be.” Her deep eyes opened, and Elise saw a flickering spark light up her face. “As most stories you will have read, this one does not have a happy ending,” she said. “But you will find that satisfactory endings are just as good for closure as the happy ones are – sometimes better. Yes, you at the back.” The spell shattered and rained over them like glittering glass as everyone’s heads swiveled around. Elise’s heart swelled in an odd mix of envy and pride as she saw her friend, Suha, with her hand in the air. “Do you still follow all the rules he taught you?” she asked. “I do,” said Neha, her cold smiled still fixed on her face. “I find that his tactics, harmful as they were, brought me results. You are here because I still follow his rules.” “But you said that everyone takes their own path,” continued Suha. “You must’ve deviated somehow.” A sudden warmth flooded Neha’s smile. The room was now infused with sunshine, and everyone relaxed, their rabbit hearts slowing down. “It is disgusting that I owe my success to him,” said Neha. “But I suppose certain things cannot be helped.” “But you got here through your own hard work didn’t you?” said Suha. “Just because he taught you, doesn’t mean you owe him your entire career!” “True,” said Neha. “But you’re right about my deviation – I wouldn’t have succeeded without breaking his most important rule.” “Yeah?” said Suha. Neha smiled again, and looked at Elise, who felt very hot and bothered all of a sudden. “One evening,” she began, “and this was after the diary incident – of course, I was convinced that I’d left it on the bus by then.” She let out a nervous laugh, shifting in her seat. “We were lying in bed, and his wife was out. He was quiet… deep in thought… and when I asked him about it, he shook his head. I didn’t dare push, so I tried to change the subject, and I was talking about dinner, he interrupted me.”
Neha sighed, her quiet “hmmm” the only sound in a room crackling with tension. The audience waited with bated breath, fists clenched and sweaty, hearts racing against time. “What did he say?” asked Elise, her voice finally breaking free. With a giggle, Neha’s triumph erupted. “By the way… this – us? This is not the kind of thing you publish.”
How are you guys feeling?” This is a question my brother, Eric, and I are asked a lot lately—far too much, really, seeing as it just reminds us that we’re supposed to be feeling bad about something. The adults are the ones who ask this, not our friends, and their faces wait expectantly for an answer. The priest at church, nuns at school, Mom’s assorted acquaintances, the therapist, the social worker—all stare us down, the look of pity palpable, and ask this question we weary of answering: “How are you guys feeling?” It’s the courthouse cop, a tall man with a scary, gray mustache and a nametag that reads “Thompson,” asking now. He kneels down in front of our chairs and waits patiently. My eyes land on Eric’s matching blue ones. He nods at me and begins fidgeting with the buttons on his white dress shirt. I know he wants me to give my answer, the one that makes the adults think for a second and go away more quickly, without any probing follow-ups. The black gun attached to Officer Thomspon’s belt feels too close to me now. I concentrate on not swinging my eight-year-old legs back and forth, fearful that my Mary Janes might manage to kick it. I wish he’d move back, wish adults would stop asking us things, wish Eric would answer for a change, but I’ve already figured out that none of my many wishes matter. “It’s like,” I begin, letting the words fill me with confidence, “they’re playing a game of tug-a-war, and we’re the rope.” The officer nods quickly, showing the straight, side part in his closecropped hair. “Are you ready, little man?” He directs the question at Eric. He’s only nine, I think, hardly a man, little or otherwise. It’s entirely unfair that the judge wants his opinion and not mine—we’re almost the same age, only twenty months apart, and I’m way more mature. I’m almost his height, and plenty of people ask Mom if we’re twins (which drives him nuts). “Remember what she said,” I whisper to him as he hands me his sketchbook and colored pencils before standing. "53
Two sets of footsteps echo across the marble flooring of the atrium as the giant man and my comparatively dwarf-like brother make their way to the elevators. I look to my left at the wooden double doors leading into the courtroom where Mom and Dad—together for today— disappeared a couple of hours ago. “Why aren’t they going in there?” I ask Val, Mom’s best friend, who sits on the chair directly behind me and looks up from the thick textbook resting in her lap. “The judge will talk to him in his chambers, not in the courtroom. That way, Eric won’t feel pressured.” I try to imagine what a judge’s “chamber” would look like, but all I get is some sort of medieval castle, and I know that’s not right. “Chamber?” I ask, staring down at my pink-painted fingernails. Mom had done them last night for the “big day.” I’m not sure why as no one wanted to talk to me—except for the social worker, but it was too late to change those answers now. “Oh, it’s just his office,” Val responded, closing her book and giving me her full attention, brown eyes warm and tinged with just a hint of mischief. “How about we check out those vending machines over there?” “Yes!” I shout, jumping up from the uncomfortable chair and tucking a stray piece of my blonde bob behind my ear. I’m confident Val won’t make me get something healthy like Mom would—no peanut butter crackers or pretzels—and I’m right. Minutes later I’m back in the chair watching powdered sugar drift down from the tiny donut in my hand onto my black, velvet skirt. “Look, Val, it’s like snow is falling!” I’m not worried about my mom and dad, not worried about where I’ll end up living after this afternoon, not worried that Eric will tell the judge what Mom said right before the social worker showed up to ask us her questions, not worried that Dad will win this “custody battle” and Mom will kill herself like she said. For these few minutes, watching the sugary snowfall, I’m just a kid again.
Scarlets by Alicia Caruso
Bubbles by Alicia Caruso
Evening Flight by Corinne Demyanovich
Bit of Blue by Corinne Demyanovich
After the Storm by Corinne Demyanovich
Fall Bridge by Samantha Richardson
Published on Apr 16, 2015
Published on Apr 16, 2015
The Fox Hat Review is Nerdfighteria's first literary magazine! Our Spring, 2015 (and second-ever) issue is OUT! Please submit work by May 25...