THOROUGHFARE Spring 2014
TABLE OF CONTENTS 1 Cherry Blossoms Minglan Yang 4
From the Mouths of Babes
14 Recipe Megan Hennessey 15
Eggs in Skillet
19 Sleep Recipe Eleni Padden 20
Solidarity with the Sun or a Universal Declaration
On the Discontinuation of Revlon Rosewood Red Number 19
Alone in the Waves
Yes. No. I Don’t Know.
Si Yeon Lee
I am a Rookie Summer
Carly M. Cox
At the Ends of the Earth
Michael B. Nakan
Strathmore, New Jersey
Carly M. Cox
The Edge of the Shoreline
White and Navy Peppermint
Carly M. Cox
Your Soul is a Dark Room
Aporetic or Poetic
The Vision of the Hand
Better Not to See
Five Ways to Murder a Violin
A Fresh Coat
Cleaning Out My Auntâ€™s Crashed Car
Colonial City in Quinto
Nha Trang, Vietnam
Phu Quoc, Vietnam
Noms from Down Under
Castor and Pollux
Children surrendered to the magic of the carousal. They crossed Patagonia’s Ice Fields— They crossed in strappy heels— They did that, one after another, until their bare arms and legs are streaked with the splattering blood. Taking unnecessary risks to lie or hide things —Much study is a weariness of the flesh A boy with a toy gun peers at passing street scenes from a car window in worship of the sun, lakes, and stars. The visual power of extreme desolation Is translated And poured Like honey over the golden grass, That grows on once barren land. Part of the miracle of the Adirondacks is just how quickly these abused lands healed. The brightest supernova in 400 years will resemble a cosmic string of pearls— Satellite galaxies of the Milky Way usually perish in its grip Like the feeling one gets after picking wildflowers on a summer morning. The gently flowing Nile is a place to escape the frenzy of Cairo’s chaotic streets. They may revisit the bones of the deceased for months, even years.
Stock photo courtesy of humusak2 at www.freeimages.com
PICKING WILDFLOWERS Thalia Patrinos
FROM THE MOUTHS OF BABES Kat Lewis
Fire and pitchforks followed me into the
cast the light of his torch on me just as my shoul-
woods. The winter wind carried the sounds of
der dropped from its socket like a rock in water.
angry feet stamping through snow. The cold nipped at my hands as I ran, holding up the skirt of my dress. My fingers bent backwards, stretching their skin white with pain. A tree root snagged my foot but I caught my fall on its trunk.
“Clara?” the rider said, his voice stained
with worry. The light of the burning stick danced over him and highlighted the panic scribbled on his familiar face. Silas, I thought, sighing in relief the best
My contorting hand scratched at the tree’s bark. I
watched the bones of my fingers break and rear-
I could with my lungs choking under a crack-
ranged themselves. Each time a bone moved, the
ing ribcage. It had to have been the fourteenth
skin squirmed, undulated in throbbing waves.
time Silas had seen me turn but no human eyes
Horse hooves clopped against the ground
behind me. My head jerked towards the sound of crunching snow. The mare neighed at its rider that pulled her to a stop. The man on the horse
could get use to such an unhuman sight. My arm wrenched backwards and wrapped itself around my waist in an aberrant hug. Silas glanced at the sky, an excuse to look away. My eyes followed his. It was dark with the very last remnants of the
sunset purpling the horizon. “Why aren’t you
for man of his stature. The throng’s roar slow-
ly settled to sporadic murmurs and Hattie’s doll
Fighting my twisting bones, I replied in
between gasps. “The Mayor insisted that I’d dine with him and his family. I think he’s suspicious of me.”
Silas grimaced as claws shot out from my
nail beds. “I wonder why.”
stopped dancing. “Tonight’s the night we put an end to the beast that has plagued our village with the blood of our brothers. Before our beloved governor, John White, left we told him we would take care of what he was leaving behind. And take care of it we shall!” The crowd cheered, the men thrusting their fists and tools in the air while the women meekly stood behind them.
Earlier that day, the villagers flocked to the scaffold in the town square for the Mayor’s monthly speech. My little sister and I made out way closer to the front of the stage. Hattie stood next to me with the red hood I made her pulled over her dirty blond hair. A smile crossed her face as she played with her well-worn but wellloved straw doll. While Hattie made the doll dance around, my eyes rose to the Mayor. He was a short, chubby man who loved that stage
“This world is no longer the New World. This is Our World and there is no room for that monster in Our World.” As enthused shouts emitted from the crowd, a young boy pushed past me. He was one of the farmer’s sons, barely fourteen with wide eyes eager to see his hands wet with blood. “Mister Mayor!” the boy shouted. “Mister Mayor!” The colony’s voices quieted and the Mayor’s gaze cascaded down to the farmer’s son. “Will be joining us tonight in the hunt?”
more than he loved his wife. He barely came up
The Mayor hesitated, his eyes batting
to most people’s shoulders, myself included. The
about as he raced for the most diplomatic an-
lot of us looked down at him. That platform pro-
swer. “My prayers will be with you brave men. I
vided the only occasion for him to look down on
unfortunately have colony business to attend to
us as his subjects, his servants, his plebs.
The Mayor cleared his throat. He did so
The Mayor shared a few more words of
in vain as the clamor of the crowd continued to
encouragement before the crowd dispersed to
hang in the dry, frosty air. “People of Roanoke
resumed their daily activities of farming, smith-
Island!” His voice boomed surprisingly loud
ing or drinking. I watched the Mayor lumbered
down the steps of the stage. Silas waited for him
I opened my mouth before my mind could
at the bottom of the steps, his Deerhound puppy
churn up a response. Luckily, the Mayor’s wife
wagging its shaggy tail beside him. I could only
imagine the ludicrous smithing project the buffoon commissioned Silas and his father to do. “The Mayor’s a scaredy cat,” Hattie said. “It’s not fair everyone else has to fight.
“Clara!” she said with feigned excitement. “You’re exactly the person I wanted to see.” Hattie and I replied with a curtsy. “The Mayor and I are dying to have you over for dinner tonight.”
“Scaredy cat or not, he’s a smart man. If
I inwardly groaned at the fact that she
you saw the beast, you’d be running the other
called her own husband “The Mayor”. “But to-
night’s the beast’s night.”
I started towards the market, although it
“We’ll dine early. Say, five o’clock? Unless
could hardly be called such. It consisted of lop-
that’s a problem.” Her voice was light but she
sided carts with missing wheels and the faint
laid a disparaging gaze on me. Her severe eyes
smell of the herbs and spices we’ve long run out
picked apart every facet of my expression. In that
of infused in their eroded wood. Hattie strolled
instant, one of my fears came true. She had an
along side me, picking at the straw of her doll.
agenda. A list of persons. And she wasn’t going
“Have you ever seen the beast?”
to stop until she had raked every single person
My stomach dropped. How do you explain to a child that have not only seen the beast but have seen through its eyes? How do you explain that there comes a time when your favorite color is the blood of your victims and you live
across the hot coals of her judgment. While the blood of a powerful beast ran through my veins, I couldn’t tap into the power whenever I pleased. Most days, I was just as fragile and as humans as anyone else. Up until now, I took solace in that.
for the thrill of the hunt, the glory of the kill and
A smile slipped onto my lips. “Dinner
the feeling of fresh blood draught from jugulars
sound lovely. I’ll see you then.” Mrs. Mayor an-
between your fingers? Most of all, how do you
swered with a smile that didn’t touch her eyes
explain to that rosy-cheeked six year old that in
before curtsying and walking away.
the coming years she will also meet the monster within herself?
As soon as she was out of earshot, Hattie groaned. “I don’t want to go to that lady’s house.
Can’t I stay home?” She looked up at me, her blue
White will be back any day now and I’ll more
eyes glazed over with endearing hope. I loved
crops than I can plant.”
that about Hattie. She always saw the brightest things in the darkest times.
I smiled at his optimism before turning
back to Hattie and her friend. The two of them
A reluctant sigh left my lips. “I suppose
scratched pictures into the muddy snow, the boy
one hour alone couldn’t hurt.” A smile broke
drawing with his stick and Hattie with the toe of
onto her face as she cheered. “But, I’m going to
her shoe. I could see the bright smiles dancing on
have Silas check on you.”
their faces and hear their laughter faintly singing
Hattie spun around, her red cloak and
dark dress twirling about her waist. “Thank you!” she said before glancing down the street. A Lumbee boy Hattie was friends with squatted on the side of the road. He drew pictures in the ground with a stick while his mother bartered fresh animal pelts for cooking tools. “Can I go say hi?” I nodded and watched her skip down the road to the boy.
While Hattie played, I walked to Mr.
Nicholes’ fruit and vegetable stall. I reached into my basket to pull out the new dress I sewed for his wife. “I hope it’s to Mrs. Nicholes’ liking.”
“I’m sure she’ll love it,” he said, handing
under the bustle of the square. Their grins and giggles dropped to the ground when his mother walked over. She was young woman with a strange, faraway stare. It was the type of gaze you’d expect from an old woman. An ancient sight of wisdom. Disgust etched its way onto her face as she said something to Hattie. The woman held Hattie’s gaze a moment before spitting on the ground and dragging her son away.
My sister returned to my side with a swirl
of confusion and bruised feelings on her face. “What’s with Samoset’s mother?”
“She said ah-dem-mah. You know their lan-
guage. What does it mean?”
me an assortment of vegetables and bread. “I’m
sorry it’s not much.”
I picked up some of the natives’ language. Only
Shaking my head, I put the food into my
basket. “It’s plenty. I know things have been hard.”
Mr. Nicholes nodded. “But Governor
After spending the last year on the island,
enough to trade and on occasion converse. “Ahthem-wah,” I corrected her pronunciation.
“Well, what does it mean?”
“Dog,” I said, my eyes watching Samoset
and his mother disappear into the woods that led
gobbled down his plate while his wife neatly pat-
to their village.
ted crumbs away from her mouth with a napkin.
Hattie didn’t seem to realize she had been
insulted. “Oh, I love dogs. Is it okay if I give Silas’ puppy a snack?”
My gaze moved to the bread in my basket.
“You can give him a small piece.”
I couldn’t stand the squishy smack of the Mayor’s chewing. “So, when do you figure Governor White will make his return?” I asked. “I’m sure Mrs. Dare and Virginia would love to see him.”
Mrs. Mayor looked at her husband expect-
ant. “He sure is taking his time. I mean it’s been a
“But he doesn’t like bread.”
“How do you know that? He’s a dog. He’ll
“He’s doing the best he can. Times are
hard,” the Mayor replied.
“He told me so.”
I laughed. “Just like your doll tells you she
doesn’t like the dresses I make her.”
“No, really. He did.”
That was a typical thing for growing up
like us. One or two lucid conversations with another beast, a growl slipping out when you’re
“It’s 1588 for heaven’s sake. It only took us
three months the first time around.” She took a sip from her glass. “What is this, Ancient Rome?” Her scrutinizing gaze shifted from her husband to me. “Where’s the rest of your family, Clara?”
“My sister’s at the house. She can be pret-
ty impatient with these types of things.”
“And your parents?”
were the kind of things that happened to us when
“My mother died giving birth to Hattie.
we’re children. I turned to Hattie and pinched
Our father passed away on the boat ride over
her cheek. Her face wrinkled up in discontent.
upset, a territorial instinct to protect toys. Those
“Your imagination is adorable.
A frown creased Mrs. Mayor’s brow. “I’m
sorry. I didn’t realize.”
An hour before sunset, I sat at the Mayor’s
I smiled and shook my head and dinner
dining table, nursing a glass of wine in an awk-
went on just like that. Mrs. Mayor would ask
ward silence. At the head of the table, the Mayor
a prying question and then apologize. I would
accept her apology and she would ask another
churned with worry. I was turning earlier than
question. It was a vicious cycle but nothing was
normal. After saying my goodbyes, I hurried out
as vicious as her last question.
of the house. The sun had hardly set and the mob
“What do you make of the beast situation,
Clara?” She kept using my name after every question as if she knew me like a friend or family. For
had already congregated in the streets. I couldn’t hear anything but the sharpening of steel and the hiss of fire on torches.
some reason, she thought a facade of familiarity would give me cause to lower my guard and say something to support a witch-hunt against myself.
Silas reached for the handkerchief in his
pocket. It was a gift I gave him last Christmas. I had embroidered an anvil in one corner and in
“What is there to say? It’s a terrible situ-
the other I sewed To Silas From Clara. That year
ation and I hope the best for the men going out
he gave me silver chains. Chains that I should
have been locked down with by now. He melt-
“Well, I say we leave and don’t look back.
I hear Croatoan Island is nice and the natives are friendly enough to the English.”
ed down his mother’s silverware to make them. It was a present I never wanted to accept but I had to. For the sake of him and everyone else. As Silas wiped his face, I let my eyes linger on
The Mayor sighed. “You know we can’t
the black thread of the handkerchief. Tokens of
do that. Governor White will be back soon with
memory always slowed the process. Or at least
that was what I liked to think.
“He did say to leave our destination on a
“I- I was on my way to check on Hattie,”
tree if we chose to leave.”
he stuttered. “Why are you turning so early?”
As they bickered back and forth about the
“I don’t know. Something’s wro–” My
future of the colony, I speared the last bite of my
lower jaw jutted out with a symphony of crack-
dinner. I nearly chewed through the inside of my
ing bones. The insides of my mouth stuck togeth-
mouth. One of my molars was twice its normal
er and smacked apart. I glared at Silas. “Get out
size and growing. “Dinner was lovely. I really
of here.” My voice sunk in pitch. The words fell
need to get back to Hattie before the moon’s up.”
from my tongue raspy as if my vocal cords were
I kept my voice leveled although my stomach
made of sandpaper. I could feel my nose and
have knocked me out. I couldn’t remember a
mouth scrunching together as my lips peeled
thing after turning. My eyes rolled about, taking
back to bare a pair of lustrous fangs. Silas hesi-
in the thatched-roofed buildings around me. I
tated a moment, looking so small in my eyes as
could see the creaky sign of Silas’ forge swing-
he sat on that horse with fear tearing through his
ing in the breeze. There was nothing to be heard
countenance. “Now!” He kicked his horse, stir-
but the wind that whistled through the streets
ring up dirt and snow as he galloped away. I ran
and a Flag of England flapping in its wake.
Not once in the last thirteen months I spent in
So desperately, I needed to turn slower. I
thought about all the things that made me happy. All the things that made me human. I thought about my love for Hattie’s laugh and Silas’ smile when I gave him that handkerchief. Despite my efforts, my body kept bending and breaking. As I skidded down a hill, my shoes popped, bursting at the seams with tufts of hair. My house came into view and I could see little Hattie’s candle waving to me from our bedroom window. Until suddenly, it went out.
that village had I ever heard so much silence. I snatched the flag hanging by a shop’s entrance and wrapped myself in it. Through the street I walked, glancing into windows. I saw no one, just unfinished tasks, like dirty dishes on dining tables and open-closed signs strewn across shop floors. Frantic footprints were scattered through the snow. Among the chaos engraved in the snow were countless animal tracks. They looked much like a dog’s but were six times the size of a Great Dane’s foot. Even a bear’s print would only fill the bottom half of the beast’s mark. The
The angry feet grew louder and I saw the
prints curved around a corner. I followed them,
flames and tridents cresting the hill behind me.
my eyes skipping from step to step. Flakes of
My head yanked back against my will. A howl
red sprayed across the white ground in bursts
ripped up my throat and everything went black
like fireworks. The sanguine blotches grew big-
ger and bigger before crowning at a body. Some blots led to another corpse and other splotches to
Sunshine nudged me awake. I laid in the snow dazed and bare. Ears ringing, I touched a knot on the back of my head. Someone must
a third. I quickly lost count and licked my mouth, surprised that the usual iron taste of blood was missing from my lips. My stomach pitted with realization. I looked at the constellation of bodies
connected by blood and found my sister. Amid severed limbs and torn out throats sat little Hattie, naked and crying with her gore-splattered hands open like something was stripped from her grip. This wasn’t right. I didn’t turn until
“We leave.” “But what will happen when Governor White comes back? Where will he think everyone went?”
last year when I was eighteen. Samoset’s mother must have been giving Hattie a warning. The na-
I left Hattie in Silas’ shop and stole a dag-
tives had a sixth sense for things like me. Things
ger from his workbench. At a post of the fort sur-
like us. They were probably long gone by now.
rounding the colony, I slashed and scythed into
Blood dribbled from Hattie’s quivering
the wood. I felt like I was hacking for days. At
maw as she spoke. “I can still hear them scream-
last, I stood before that post, catching my breath.
ing.” They say from the mouths of babes comes
I tossed the knife to the side and stared at the jag-
truth and wisdom. But as I watched Hattie’s
ged word notched into the wood:
crimson canines shrink back into her gums, I knew she could bring no candor or acumen to this world. Only pain. I took the six year old up in my arms and stroked her hair. “Shh. . .” I whispered. The first phase was always the hardest. “Let’s find Silas.” He always knew where to hide. He always knew when it was safe to come out. He would know what to do. He would know where we should go. As I stepped over our neighbors and friends, something black in the snow caught my eye. My gaze fell to a red hand clutching a stitched anvil. I froze, the shock causing me to squeeze Hattie too tight. She sobbed into my shoulder. “What do we do?”
RECIPE Megan Hennessey
Grandmother told me, Always pick the granny smiths, Skin the apples until theyâ€™re pearly white, Cut the wedges into equal shares, Make the crust yourself, And always throw the flour down first.
Mother told me, Add some extra cinnamon for your father, Donâ€™t skimp on sugar and use the real stuff, Make sure the flour is leveled off just right, Use a spreading knife if you have to.
I always buy bleached sugar and premade crusts, And add extra cinnamon, And lay the flour down first.
Eggs in Skillet Eleni Padden
Some friend in the morning Amidst the bleariness, alongside emptied coffee mugs, Surrounded by disjointed newspaper piles, Submissive pumpernickel crusts, Quick splashes of sticking orange juice, The grin-and-bear-it rush. Not a frying pan, but a Skillet. Not an heirloom, but a Living thing. Crackling, bubbling up at us all With eggs and pork sausages and grease and hope. Look to the stovetops! Thereâ€™s hope on the burners, Just left of the kettle, Heavy and gleaming black, Cast iron kitchen goddess Pepper and salt on her edges and Heat in her core. Sheâ€™s radiating for us, ten thousand degrees Fahrenheit, Slabs of bacon cooked in nanoseconds, A great shimmering and popping, And now, the final order of a Monday morning: A pair of eggs, Sunnyside up, Goldenrod yolks looking happier than a birthday or a first love, Undersides brown and warm. The skillet is heavy and gleaming black.
Stock photo courtesy of Jocilyn Pope at freeimages.com
BUZZIN Samuel Cook
Image courtesy of Dan Gerding at www.freeimages.com
Where’s the sleep The starstuff With it comes the glow, the shine but When it escapes, puffs away into corners of night, there’s nothing except The yawn, the tight smile Where are the pink backs of eyelids, Long blue slumbers As good as rebirth Long blue slumbers deeper than Oceanic trenches Instead, red dreams about scaling cliffs made entirely of Books, old strange books, one hundred million books—they keep the brain ticking, Dreams of craggy books jutting over greyblack seas, Over swells and swells and swells. They make for short red slumbers and frankly, Sometimes the best thing for it Is to trek down a favorite street in cold air, On a night, good and dark, Very late, On a night like spilled-ink and yeah, yes, The best thing for it is to Hurl snowballs at stop signs or Mailboxes or Cheerful lawn flamingos A throw and a holler, A trajectory and the burst of flakes against matter. Hard times in Charm City.
SOLIDARITY WITH THE SUN OR Meg O’Connor
I was walking through a sculpture garden on my way to class on a cold October morning in Baltimore, worrying about tomorrow when I looked up and realized it was fall. The leaves had begun to redden and turn and surely this had happened overnight because how could I have missed this metamorphosis. Some trees had amber leaves like the tea my dad sent from England, others orange as my mom’s hair, but none clung to their green and I halted. Some things sneak up on you, yet all around me the flowers were wilting and the trees were wasting until there was no beauty left at all and just yesterday was my little brother’s birthday – I thought he was turning six but actually he became eight years old just like that. I remember a sunny winter day in Madrid wandering through El Retiro, where a big man blew bigger bubbles with two great wands and small children danced trying to catch them. I smiled in the Sabatini Gardens at nightfall, touched by the way the moon shone no matter where she was and even though she knew she had to go so soon. I blinked into Barcelona and “Sanctus Sanctus Sanctus” seared across La Sagrada’s spires, which soared so high one could spend a lifetime staring skyward and still never truly see it’s zenith. Down below, I wandered through the Fiery Fields under Naples and Pompeii, in underground caverns that sustained the ancients with yellow tuff, a volcanic ash from the explosive past of Vesuvius, that morphed under pressure like diamonds into life-giving sandstone and gave way to sunken reservoirs.
R A UNIVERSAL DECLARATION I resurfaced after crossing the Adriatic, through Albania and into Thessaloniki, where I rose like the White Tower and scaled its spirals till spring spilled down to shower the steeples, slickening them so I slipped and thought for sure I would sink, but instead I was transported to the twin tower in Istanbul, and there I saw the flowers sweep across the hills like wildfire. I tore through Turkey, spanned the –stans and cruised across the Caspian till Zhengzhou, China, to the Shaolin Monastery in Mount Song where I summoned my own Shaolin, Staten Island, and Shakti, the yoga center where I meditated in the summertime, listening to the shrill chirps of crickets and the slow, mournful howls of the wind… to shrill chirps of the crickets and the mournful howls of the wind, who rattled the wood-paneled windows, as if to remind me to stop and smell the incense. I awoke in California, where my mom asked me never to go because I might like it too much and never come back, since I always say I can’t stand the seasons, those bitter New York winters, and maybe I should stay where it’s sunny all the time and things don’t seem to change. But then just think of all the colors I would lose; static blinds us to the beauty of difference. The sun may struggle to rise, but the moon lingers for just a bit longer, and truly time wouldn’t seem to be going anywhere at all if I only stopped to look more often.
A scream scraped up my throat. With
“Can you understand me?” I looked around the
that cry, awareness slowly rose from the soles of
room again and noticed a blacked-out window.
my feet. Staring at my toenails, a scalding flame
crawled through my veins. A machine groaned
My throat ached. It felt like cobwebs caked my
and the fire sprinted up my knees and to my
vocal chords that were bending for the first time
head. I flailed at the pain that stabbed, scathed
after years of silence.
and shattered me. With one last force like a ham-
mer to my chest, the fire stopped. As the pain
door flew open. “Doctor, it isn’t safe.” A woman
softly slipped away, a small thud thumped in-
warned as a man started into the room. Sever-
side me. Duh dah, duh dah, duh dah. I sang along in
al people in white coats tried to hold him back
my head, sucking in my first full breath. My eyes
but he wrestled his way in. Despite their efforts,
shuttered open and I realized I was alive.
none of the people in white dared to cross the
I wonder if it had always been there –
threshold to me. I strained to look at the man.
that inner song. It felt invincible, like ripping
His face was whiskered with white. Joy, disbe-
iron with your bare hands would be easier than
lief and twist of terror etched their way into his
scratching its surface. Yet it also sounded so deli-
expression. Such a visage made me want to apol-
cate, like the slightest touch would change every-
ogize but I wasn’t sure if he were repulsed or im-
thing. I breathed slowly again and again because
pressed. “Release her,” he mumbled.
the song played again and again. After prying
my attention from the tune, my eyes scrambled
around the room. Four titanium walls kept me
caged in. They smelled the way your hands do
ing through his shout. There was a click and the
after you hold nickels for too long.
restraints on my wrists and ankles retracted into
“Yes.” The word crept from my lips, raspy.
Gasps hung in the stale air before the
“Sir, you know I can’t do that,” the wom“Release her,” he screamed with spit filter-
“Hello.” I flinched at the voice. I tried to sit
the metal table. I winced as the steely air kissed
up but metal braces bound my wrists and ankles.
the raw skin around my joints. How long had I
NUMBER 324 Kat Lewis
been there? I lifted my hands to ceiling, rolling
thing summed up in one simple syllable.
my wrists around. They crackled like grease in a
frying pan. The florescent lights cast a silhouette
have it too.” He stepped closer to me and bent to
over my hand as I wiggled my fingers. I traced
my eye level. The people in the doorway yelled
my wrist with the other hand and rubbed away
for him to back up but he took my hand and
the tender impressions from the handcuffs. “This
placed it to his Life. Duh dah, duh dah. The others
is astounding,” Sir said as I sat up.
watched on in awe, though I couldn’t imagine
“Me?” He nodded. “How?”
why. Why were they terrified? Why wasn’t Sir
He thought for a moment. “You are the
scared? And most importantly, why was I there?
My reaction painted a smile on his face. “I
beginning of a new age, the restoration of civili-
zation. You are our blueprint. You are our Bible.”
at me as if he just discovered a missing puzzle
piece wedged in the most obvious places. It was
“Bible?” He nodded again. “Who is Bi-
As I felt Life beating in his chest, Sir stared
like a lost man in the desert finally finding the
ble?” Sir and the others laughed. “So much to
reason why he was lost. Like his voracious thirst
teach you.” His hand wrapped around his chin
was impossibly sated with just a smile. My smile.
and he hummed in thought. In his silence, I heard
“Extraordinary.” The word hailed from his lips
my song louder than ever.
hushed. I patted my face, wondering if I had
grown an ostentatious mole or a second nose.
“What is that?” I whispered, not wanting
to interrupt the drum. He glanced to me, not fol-
“I’m sorry. You must have so many questions.”
lowing. “The song.” His ancient eyes wandered
the room, apparently not hearing it. I curled my
in my gut. “Who. . .” My voice trailed off as I
fingers into a fist and gently patted them against
thought of which question to ask first. I was al-
my chest. “Duh dah, duh dah, duh dah.”
most scared they were worth something – that
I’d run out of chances to ask. “am I?”
“Life.” I smiled at the word. Such a good
I nodded, noticing the clueless inkling
Beaming, Sir took my hand and helped
me off the table. He led me to the window. An
The people in white surrounded me in
equally excited and white speckled face stared
a new room. They poked me with needles that
back at us. Next to him stood a girl, frail in design
drained Life from my arm. Sir said it would give
and paler than freshly fallen snow. Thick stitch-
other people Life too. Somehow, that made the
es, that looked like train tracks, ran along her
pain worth it. A woman wiped the spot where
arms. I touched the hollow under her eye. Spiny
the needle had been. She grabbed a dispenser of
with blue-black veins, the bags under her eyes
medical tape and ripped off a piece, nicking her
spoke volume to her lost sleep. My hand drifted
finger on the dull razor. The irony smell of blood
to her nose and eased over her forehead. Hedg-
nipped at my nose. “She’s bleeding,” I said,
ing on her hairline, I admired her light brown
watching her pop the finger in her mouth.
hair and the occasional wave that dashed from
her roots. Lastly, I stared into her eyes, a shocked
please.” The people in white took more measure-
blue. They looked surprised like she’d been giv-
ments but I couldn’t pull my nose from the wom-
en sight after knowing nothing but darkness.
“You, my dear, are number 324.” He
“She’ll be fine,” Sir replied. “Stand up,
“Sh- She’s bleeding,” I stuttered again, my
paused a moment before glancing back to the
presence seeming to fade from the room. A video
door. “Let’s take some tests.”
played in my mind. I was in an alley that smelled
On the walk down the hall, Sir explained
of sewage and death. Flies were buzzing in my
to me that three years ago a disease broke out
ear as I stood over a carcass. It laid on the ground
in the United States. Its symptoms consisted of
grossly contorted, still sullying the concrete with
dementia, loss of pigmentation in the skin, fits
blood. Most of the ribs were gnawed to nubs and
of rage and in its final and inevitable stage, can-
the remnants left to the flies. I touched the corner
nibalism. Sir and the others had been working
of my mouth and pulled back a hand covered in
since then to help the infected. He said I was his
the fresh, sanguine essence of Life.
My eyes never left the woman. Absently,
I walked away from Sir and the others towards her. “You’re bleeding.” The words left my mouth a third time. Behind me, Sir asked me to sit down but I didn’t. I took one last step before my jaw dropped and I lunged at her.
The woman braced herself, Sir screamed
and a deafening bang panged throughout the room. Blood burst from my side and I hit the floor with a warm pool forming under me. I stared at the people in white’s feet, my eyes searching for Sir’s shoes. As my vision blurred, I reached a red, Life stained hand out to him. Voices flooded the air but my ear found Sir’s. “Experiment #324 failed,” he said. My vision reverted to the darkness and my ears filled with static whispers. In the black of those last few moments, the music kept me company with its final measure: Duh dah. Duh dah. D–
On the Discontinuation of Revlon Rosewood Red Number 19 Megan Hennessy
My grandmother put on red lipstick in the mirror of the armoire in the guest room. I had never worn lipstick but I knew she wore it better than anyone else. Wine red against wrinkled white skin and perfectly white hair. â€œLet it go gray, just let it go,â€? she said. She hummed a song by Carole King, and danced a little, so that her skirt swung around to show her knobby ankles. I asked her if I could be beautiful too, with that rosewood lipstick, and she smiled and smoothed it on. I have never been more beautiful than when we stood there and looked at each other, matching red smiles mirroring mismatched eyes. For twenty two years, we giggled, and laughed,
Stock photo courtesy of Jean Scheijen and Michal ZAcharzewski at freeimages.com
and fell over and cried.
Heâ€™s never seen a pigeon die
too smart, he thinksâ€”
More beautiful things
have died horribly
The first time is in the park, the second
in the middle of the street
downwind of a garden or a dump a cemetery
Its wings splayed out like sunbeams only darker oil in water. Eyes hanging, berries on a summer bush,
he presses them until they burst
and leak between his fingers
She lounged in white lawn chairs during
the summer, when he saw that dead pigeon guts open
like her legs wet long
he was too smart too
So you finally convince yourself to get your lazy fat ass out of bed and wade through
from the tan corduroy couch you got for ten bucks at a yard sale.
the piles of dirty laundry that line your bed-
You think back to when you were a lit-
room floor and you find one clean pair of jeans
tle kid, how you were going to be an astronaut,
and a tee shirt that should probably be washed
or a doctor, or a Nobel peace prize winner, and
but it’s okay, you can throw that hoodie over
you wonder vaguely where it all went wrong,
it—the one with your college’s name embla-
where your train to success derailed and left
zoned across the boobs—and you get yourself
you in a pile of student debt and failed expec-
out the door, remembering your keys at the
tations. You decide you’d be happier if you
last moment, and then after trudging down the
had a family sized bag of
block, you’re standing in the grocery store and
barbecue potato chips and
they don’t have your fucking shampoo and
you spend the last two dol-
you just hate the entire world and wish it were
lars in your wallet on shame
socially acceptable to sit down in the middle of
the aisle at Safeway and cry.
Your porn star roommate has someone
You’re twenty-four and you’ve got a
over when you slink home dejectedly. He’s
bachelor’s in sociology from a school your
wearing leather pants and you almost laugh
parents had to take out a second mortgage to
but instead you start to cry and you regret
afford. You work at a frozen yogurt store and
buying the chips because they’re just two more
every day it feels like an accomplishment that
dollars’ worth of reason why you haven’t got-
you haven’t committed homicide. Like, Jesus,
ten laid since senior year of college. But then
you deserve a friggin’ medal. You’ve got three
leather pants dude winks at you—winks—and
roommates and one of them doesn’t pay their
says his name is Geoff with a ‘G’ and you de-
rent and the other one must be shooting a god-
cide that’s a stupid name and your self-esteem
damn porno in their room or something. They
meter goes up from mountain troll in the dun-
third one has feminist meetings in your living
geon to somewhere around zoo animal. Un-
room one a week and you get that they’re try-
til your roommate steps out of the bathroom
ing to make a statement but it takes at least
without a shirt on and your self-esteem drops
three days for the smell of armpit sweat to fade
back to around troll status.
You were going to do something with
your computer to futilely try to update your
your life. You were going to go places. Paris,
résumé. What’s a way of making “froyo serv-
Shanghai, Law School. Not a dingy two bed-
er” sound like a real job? Frozen yogurt franchise
room apartment with peeling paint and non-
associate, you type. Associate is a great word for
existent water pressure. You deleted your face-
making something seem important when real-
book account because you hate seeing everyone
ly all you do is swipe credit cards and some-
you went to school with living these fantastic
times mop the floor when your boss shows up.
lives that could have been yours. Your stoner
Geoff is sounding like a goat now that
roommate from freshman year made an app
he’s grunting faster and faster. Even Dead-
to find places to buy food
mau5 can’t drown that out. There’s a voicemail
at three in the morning and
from your mother on your phone and you’d
now she’s working for Ap-
rather light yourself on fire and swim in a bath
ple. That guy you went on
of acid than hear the disappointment and con-
a blind date with to the school cafeteria has a
cern in her voice. How are you feeling? Are you
recurring role in a CW show, and is hot now
eating properly? Paying rent okay? Have you made
that he’s waxed his unibrow. You wish it were
any progress with your job search? Do you think
that easy. You wish you could just go to a salon
you need to see someone?
and come back a different person. But instead
You probably should. See someone,
you’re stuck with stringy hair, persistent acne,
that is. You’ve spent enough time on WebMD
and zero motivation to get out of bed in the
to know what’s wrong with you. But the only
thing worse than being the person you are
Geoff with a G sounds like a dying cow
now is being the person who lays on a shrink’s
when he screws your roommate. Your head-
couch and talks about their issues to the sound
phones can barely drown him out. You put
of scribbled prescriptions. So instead you just
on your “workout playlist”—a compilation of
burrito yourself into your blankets and look at
EDM and europop songs which are supposed
pictures of cats on the internet, ignoring your
to motivate you go get your ass to the gym,
résumé, ignoring your phone, trying to ignore
which is downstairs for Christ’s sake you real-
your roommate faking an orgasm in the next
ly are the laziest fuck on the planet—and open
n i e n o l A
v e a W the
It's funny, that first step off the solid, weathered wood of the boardwalk onto the gray-white sand. The second you step onto the sand, the grains give way under your weight, filling the space between your toes, but, still, their collective force can hold you up with deceptive strength. The sand is cool under the mottled gray sky, and soft, altogether, but the individual grains of the long-dissolved rocks and shells have an odd rub on the skin. Trekking through the sand with shoes in hand, past the ugly metal barrels, you stare down the shoreline, stretching for miles into the distance towards a dim set of buildings. A cold wind clips your cheeks, yet it's the sweet salt on the air, not the cold, that seeps into your bones. It makes you think of warmer, sunlit days, of tanning lotion and cracked open paperbacks. You've heard that the ocean absorbs solar radiation. Perhaps that is what charges the breeze blowing off the water, carrying the sun's energy into the darker days. Still, there is something about this cool, cloudy day that is precious in itself. The ocean, ahead, is a dark green under the pale sky. At the horizon where the gray and green meet in a solid line, the body of water seems still, lazy, but here at the shore its constant state of motion is clear. From far out you can trace the wave, from the first ripple out on the water. You watch it surge forward, gaining water, gaining height, darkening as it presses the shoreline, until it crests, doubles over in a gracefully arc, and collapses in on itself, crashing with a clap as it turns to the white froth that surges to greet the shoreline. But, they don't all look the same. Sometimes, the wave folds over all at once, smacking the water with resounding force. Sometimes, it starts to curl on one end and sets off a domino effect that makes the whole thing topple, or it starts to curl at both ends, meeting in the middle as the wall of water comes down. Who knows what decides the shape of waves, but it's fascinating to watch. And of course, waves don't exist in isolation. They interact, one following after the other, sometimes collid-
ing into each other as they crest, combining into one. Even in this perceived chaos, there is a rhythm to the ancient process, evidenced in the music the waves make as they meet the shore. From a soft rush of water in the distance, the sound, like the wave, crescendos as it curls upwards until the final smash, like a pair of cymbals at the end of a symphony. Yet, the sound of the cymbals is a cacophonous one, brassy as it barges in and interrupts your thoughts. The sound of waves is more akin to the sound of the wind. It has a natural cadence that moves with the rhythm of a mind in constant thought. The sound, like the scent, like the wind, floods into you, and you invite it, arms outstretched. You find yourself running now instead of treading, sand flying behind you as you surge down the slope to greet the ocean's surge. The wind rushes past your face, through your hair, and you feel the sand turn hard and damp beneath your feet, see the arcs left by older waves, webbed tracks left by seagulls. You feel like you could go on forever, but you dig your heels, literally, into the sand and stop as the surf reaches up. You almost step back, but no â€“ you let it wash around your feet. The electric bite of cold shoots up the body, the sand under you turning more liquid than solid so that it sucks your soles under. You take a couple more steps, and even in the shallows you can feel the power imbued in this ocean, tugging around your ankles as the tide draws back. You pull off your sweatshirt and shorts, throw all your things onto the dry sand, and stand facing the water in a one piece. Further down and in, the pull of the tide increases as the wave-water plows against legs, then thighs, then stomach, until finally it is too deep to keep your feet on the sand. You float up, freed from gravity, and bob on the ocean's surface. It's a blissful sensation, letting the water cradle you back and forth, the beginnings of smaller waves rolling under your back. You keep your legs pumping, eyes on shore, not letting the water take you completely. But, the gaze shifts, sometimes, away from the shore and over the waves to that straight horizon line. You know, of course, that the earth is not flat, that if tried to swim to that line, it would just keep stretching in front of you until sank. Still, what if you could fall off the edge of the world? What if you let the tide carry you out to sea, your cares seeping into the shadowy depths as the clouds rolled by overhead, until you toppled over the edge, into the open air. And even then, you wouldn't care, because there's nowhere to go, no ground to break your body â€“ just a never-ending sea of stars. You could fall through those stars until the end of your days, and it wouldn't be a bad way to go. After all, there's no Mom or Dad to call you back anymore. You ride the waves back to shore, your body feeling heavy as gravity settles on your shoulders again. The breeze now feels cold, the sand sticky. So, wrapping the towel around you, you pick up your things and head back up the beach. But, not without one last glance at the dark waves, still churning under the pale sky.
’T K Take down the pictures again. How many
O. I D
W O . N
My mother calls. She’s worried about me,
times has it been? Five? Six? I’ve lost count. Put
as usual. She blames dad. I’m tired of listening to
them in the bottom drawer, make sure they
her talk about my life as though everything that
don’t get bent or torn. Bury them under a few
happens is a product of my parents. I tell her I
loose items: a shirt I never wear, a vomit-colored
make my own decisions. I tell her these choices
paisley scarf someone got me for my birthday a
are my own, that they’re created from my own
few years back, an old notebook left over from
mind, not from some fault in the way I was
a writing class I signed up for last summer and
stopped showing up to after the third class. Re-
She says I’m too young to understand.
member where they’re hidden so that I can take
I’m twenty-five years old, Mom.
them out again when he calls, which he will. Give
You’re twenty-five years young, she jokes.
it a week, two weeks, a month—sometime before
Please. I’m like, already cozying up in my
then, he will.
deathbed, waiting for the casket to close.
Friends keep calling. I have the same conversation a million times. It’s unhealthy.
Your humor is morbid, Eliza, she says.
You’ve never understood me.
She says, That’s your father’s fault.
I know. Why don’t you stop?
I don’t know.
You’re doing this to yourself, you know.
my mother. I say that I have. He asks if she men-
tioned him. I say no.
My father calls. He asks if I’ve talked to
Don’t lie to me, Eliza, he says. The woman
can’t get through a single conversation without
saying something bad about me. Everyone says
barely too cold. And maybe too white, too. I sit
in a chair and it isn’t soft enough. The therapist
Do you always listen to what everyone
The therapist’s office is too cold, but just
is a bit too serious looking, with her eyes peeking out sadly just above her small pair of glasses
Other people’s opinions matter, Eliza.
and her eyebrows knit in just the perfect, I-prac-
I don’t think so. Not really.
You get that from your mother.
way. Everything in the room makes me uncom-
I tire of these conversations easily. For
as long as I can remember, I’ve been getting
wrapped up in conversations where my parents
that I lay on and tell you about my dreams or
talk about each other. Some days I wonder if they
something? I ask with a glance around the room.
remember that I’m the child of both of them.
This isn’t that kind of therapy, she says.
I have to go, Dad, I say.
Oh, I say. I pat down my skirt.
He says not yet. He hasn’t gotten to his
She says my parents tell her that I have re-
Isn’t there supposed to be, like, a couch
reason for calling.
I beg him not to give me life advice.
Your Mom and I are in agreement on this
know, really. I guess I do. I don’t know.
Well, I say, I guess they think so. I don’t
one, he says.
That catches my attention.
eryone think my relationship is so abnormal.
We want you to go to a therapist, he says.
I say, We break up a lot.
No, I say. No way.
Then I say, He breaks up a lot. With me.
He says they already got me an appoint-
But he always comes back, I say. Like
She asks what exactly it is that makes ev-
ment. He says they’re paying for it.
within a week or two.
He says, Please.
He says, For our sake.
with air quotes.
I say I’ll do it. But only, I say, because I’m
So it’s very “on again, off again?” she says, I guess so. Is that what it is? I guess. Yeah.
too tired to argue.
On again, off again.
He says, That’s good enough for me.
She asks why I think that is. I say maybe
he gets overwhelmed or something. I say it’s just
the way he fights. I say I can’t read minds. I don’t
know, I say. Ask him.
I guess, I said. Yeah. I mean I don’t think
Have you ever asked him?
about it that much. Not in that I’ve-been-plan-
Yeah, I guess. I don’t know. He never real-
ning-my-wedding-since-I-was-six kind of way.
ly gives me an answer.
wedding would you want?
She takes notes on some paper. I imagine
If we got married, he said, what kind of a
she’s writing down that I’m an idiot.
Um. I don’t know, I said. I guess I would—
I would want it to be real big, he said. I
She asks me why I think I keep taking him
was looking at him, but he was keeping his eyes My mom thinks it’s daddy issues, I say
on the ducks.
with heavy irony. She ignores my tone of voice.
Okay, I said.
Do you get along with your father?
What about kids? he asked. Do you want
Sure, I say. Yeah.
Did you always?
I think so.
I want three kids, he said. And I want to
Your mom says he wasn’t around a lot.
live here. Near my family.
Do you think maybe that’s what this is about?
life. For our life.
I cross my arms across my chest. I say,
He went on about what he wanted for his
My mom is the one who has issues with my dad,
He always asked me what I thought first.
okay? Not me. Maybe she’s the one who needs
He always cut me off before I got to give
Hmph, she says. Her lip twitches. She
scratches a few notes in her notepad. Hmph.
6 When I was in elementary school, I was
not what you would call smart. I was maybe avOne time when we were “on,” he brought
erage as a student, which never really bothered
up marriage. It was early fall. We were sitting at
me. I was happy where I was. At least until third
a park by the duck pond.
Have you ever thought about getting mar-
ried? he asked.
In third grade I met Eddie. Eddie was pretty smart. And I thought he was pretty cute
too. We were in the same class for a while, until
didn’t give me a choice. They told me that I was
they separated him into the accelerated learning
just overwhelmed at finally being in a class that
track, the class where all the smart kids went.
matched my intelligence and that I had to stick
I liked Eddie and wanted him to like me too. So I begged my parents to let me take the
with it because I needed to take classes that would push me.
placement test to get into the accelerated learn-
I never did get moved out. I struggled my
ing class. I told them regular classes weren’t chal-
way through higher-level classes out of elemen-
lenging enough for me. I said I could be doing
tary school, into middle school, into high school,
better in classes if I cared about them but regular
and I continued to do just barely mediocre, if that.
classes just weren’t interesting enough for me.
I told my parents every year, a hundred times a
They agreed to let me take the test.
year, that I should be taking regular classes.
At the time I thought it was a great idea to
That’s your opinion, my dad said.
move myself up to the higher-level class, even if
My mom chimed in with, And your opin-
I couldn’t keep up with it. Truth was, I cheated
ion doesn’t matter until you’re out of this house.
my way through the placement test and ended up in a class way too hard for me. At first I was
happy. I got to spend a lot of Eddie. He sat next
to me at lunch sometimes. He kissed me on the
Tom. Tom went to college in Massachusetts. Tom
cheek at recess behind a tree. We held hands on
majored in business. Tom was going to graduate
the swings. I hated the class more than anything,
in a year and already had a job lined up for him.
but I thought Eddie was worth it.
Tom had connections.
Then one day Eddie stopped talking to me.
It was the summer before college that I met
I liked Tom. He was handsome and smart
He didn’t pass me notes during history hour or
and maybe a little boring, but I pretended not to
give me his extra applesauce at lunch. The prize
think so. I laughed at his jokes that weren’t fun-
of Eddie was gone, but the accelerated learning
ny. I nodded with interest when he talked about
class was still stuck with me.
the stock market. He talked a lot about the econ-
I told my parents that I didn’t want to be
omy. He talked a lot about the rights of corpo-
in accelerated learning anymore. I told them the
rations. He knew terms like “break-even point”
truth. I told them my grades proved it—I wasn’t
and “fiduciary” and “venture capital.” He had a
exactly a star student.
lot of money. We went out to a lot of fancy din-
But they didn’t believe me. And they
He would make a great husband, my mom
money. Turns out majoring in business wasn’t where the money was at for me. Maybe it’s only
At the time I thought about financial stabil-
ity. I thought about paying off loans for college. I
where the money’s at when it’s where you want to be at too.
thought maybe Tom would make a great husband and that he knew it all, knew all the secrets to
making money right out of college. He was old-
er and smarter and I would listen to whatever
stretches on. I watch the clock on the wall. I wait
he said. I wanted to impress him. I wanted him
for my hour to end so I can leave.
to like me. I wanted to be successful the way he
Because it seems that you don’t want to be here
He asked me what I wanted to major in
At the therapist’s office, my appointment
Was it your choice to come here? she asks.
once when we were at dinner.
Kind of, I say.
Your parents made the appointment for
I told him English. I had wanted to major
in English since I was ten.
He cringed at his steak and looked at me
Yeah. They want me to sort myself out.
as though I’d physically pained him. You’ll never
Do you think you need sorting out?
make any money doing that, he said. You should
No. Yes. I don’t know. No.
major in business. That’s where the money’s at.
So why did you come?
Okay, I said.
My parents told me to.
So I majored in business. That was where
Do you find that you often do what peo-
the money was at.
ple tell you?
I hated it right away. But Tom was so
No. Yes. Yeah, I guess. Yeah.
proud. I could keep up conversations with him
Why do you think that is?
now. We would be a power couple, he said.
I don’t know.
Hmph, she says again. She looks at her
My fifth semester in college, Tom broke
up with me. He said I had been a great now, but
watch. She says it looks like our time is up. She
I just wasn’t his future. I spent the next three se-
says it was nice meeting me. She says I can make
mesters miserable. At the end of it all I graduated
an appointment any time.
with a BA in Business.
I didn’t get a good job. I didn’t make good
That’s it? I ask. Aren’t you supposed to
tell me what I should do? How I should sort my
like a shirt I never wear, an ugly scarf, a barely
That’s not my job, Eliza, she says. That’s
Shouldn’t you prescribe me medication or
He says, Look, I want to fix things. We can
talk about that stuff later, okay? I just want to fix
Do you want medication?
I don’t say anything.
I don’t know! I say, throwing up my
Are you there?
hands. Don’t you tell me that?
He says, I said I want to fix things. Did
Therapy isn’t about me making the right
choices for you, she says. It’s about helping you
you hear me? That’s what I want.
make the right choices for yourself.
have an answer prepared. He’s never asked me
I’m quiet for a moment. I gather up my
When he asks me what I want, I don’t
jacket and my purse.
that before and really meant for me to answer.
But this time he waits. This time I hear his breath
Do you know how to make the right choic-
es for yourself? she asks.
through the receiver. Heavy, fearful. Waiting for
Yes, I say automatically. Then I say, May-
be. Then I say, Not really. I guess no, not really.
Well, she says, maybe that’s the problem.
When he calls, he says he’s sorry. He
wants me back.
I say I want a small wedding.
He says, What are you talking about?
I say I don’t want kids.
He says, Where is this coming from?
I sigh on my end of the phone. I don’t
know where to begin with the answer. It’s coming from me, from the real opinions I have, from the place deep inside of me where I bury all the things that I want. Cover them up with things
ELEANOR Si Yeon Lee She was this country club girl from Bakersfield I met at a Mardi Gras house party I snuck into, saw her slip a roofie in her own Dom Pérignon. Sex on her fainting couch, she wasn't getting back up. The magenta leather stained. She wanted to know about me. I told her "I castrate Brad Pitt in my dreams, cheating mother fucker." She laughed. Her porcelain dolls all had black eyes, once, before she clawed the paint off. She said her chinchilla Squeeky had the same button eyes, before it died of hunger. She tried to stab mine in my sleep. I moved her in with me, dressed her in a tube top too loose and hooker heels, and got her a new name. She liked Crystella. One night, she brought me flowers, got on her knees, and proposed to me, naked. I caressed the fuck out of her. In the morning, I saw she poked a hole in the condom. I said, “I’m going to have to ask you to run away.” She said she loved me. I told her "The devil worships me. It's kind of a mutual respect thing." Give me liberty or give me death. Like a modern day Harriet Tubman, I had freed her and I freed her again.
Stock photo courtesy of Stasi Albert sxc.hu
I AM A ROOKIE SUMMER Carly M. Cox I am the beachside yellow cottage, shutters swallowed by flowers. I am the purple Hampton Cruiser, dum-dums at the Post Office. I am Steph’s Spicy Chicken Salad No Tomatoes, Cape May County’s and a jug of spiked Gatorade. I am seven AM tears in my goggles. I am paddle board wax rashes and duct-tape repaired oars. I am a mouthfull of seaweed and radio chatter. I am Sherman to Seacliff and the Sun Block Nazi. I am a salt-stained visor and polarized wayfarers, a finger whistle, and a seven man rescue. I am code blue and a fast lieutenant, the racist mayor, and African Rock Fish. I am Maybelline waterproof, Forsman’s parties, Tequila, ta-kill-ya, and Rich Kelly’s abs. I am toe-blood on the gravel, and the adrenalin of the ocean, and a big, blue Powerade. I am a Baconeggencheese from the Old Shack. I am Pandora on the stand and William’s Street.
MONDARIAN Lauren Blachowaik
The Mondrian lay in primary glory, Lit by our gaze lost between line and each other. Oil on his eyelids condensed like the foam on fresh coffee, Splashed to the canvas as his eyes dropped mine. Reds, yellows, blues, Mirrored between the famous and his own, Tasted like the first bite of an apple, fresh and cool, Between the tired curves of unheard words. But we broke the Mondrian, tangled his lines, Across the wide swells of the Atlantic Into the decaying labyrinths that were our minds, where Colors mixed to grey. My bleeding lips reached towards his to kiss, To kiss the lifeless back to color. He drowned me instead, whispering The boogie was fun while it lasted. The chipped acrylic of loss fell into my Gut, punched out the air. Frames of tarnished gold lay at our feet, Throwing out the dying lights of Spring â€“ We pushed through the spectrum, pulled out its heart, Only to recognize ours, trampled and bruising, instead. My throat could not break his cream and his sugar and He has won, he has won, as I fall. His blinking skin sunk back into the portrait, while I, The crippled, crawled back to the ocean. Blistering hands softened with each brush stroke until They were as pure as white against black. We were only ever line and color, Beauty in an arc. Red fades, yellow listens for eternity â€“ Blue.
I hope that One day I explode
AT THE ENDS OF THE EARTH John Sweeney
An ordinary Sunday Spent in silence at the grocery store Or reclining on the back deck in the shade As I stretch for a jar on the top shelf Or to move my drink out of the sunshine I will suddenly burst into a million tiny pieces Not gruesomely as in a war movie But splendidly as a beautiful vase Meeting a lonely floor Or as a wave crashing Against a thirsty beach Or as my cold shoulders Buckling under the pressure Of the weight of the world People will stop and stare As “Piano Man” rings from the radio And bounces off every solitary, stationary stranger A woman drops her coffee Her baby cries out And her husband’s glasses slide down His sweaty nose As he turns to see nothing Where there once was a man Or, like suburban salvation, Birds will fly from their nests, Squirrels will dart across the lawn, The neighbor’s dog will bark to warn of the emptiness In the chair, in the neighborhood, in the world Where there once was a man But I will never truly be gone I will be Forever free Swept under soles of shoes Or away with the wind I will find myself at the ends of the Earth Not nowhere But, finally, Everywhere at once
Stock photo courtesy of Teresa Howes at freeimages.com
MY FRAME Sofia Dez
THE CONTESTANT Michael B. Nakan
This day, like every other day, he woke
the beachfront. His eyes recalibrated as his iris
up alone on another world. He uncoiled his wiry
receptors adjusted to the brightness of the beach;
arms in a long stretch accompanied by a deep
in less than a second, he was back online and
yawn, and swung his legs off the wireframe bed.
His bare feet touched the sand floor of his hut, and he wriggled his toes back and forth, dragging the small grains in circles. They feel so real, he thought – to think that this planet was a hunk of red rock just two hundred years ago! If he hadn’t seen the old landing tapes of the astronauts, he would have struggled to believe it.
He felt the wind blow through his bare legs and run over his barreled chest – and he knew that every person following his adventure through their Experience Reality machines felt that wind, too. The Contestant was not a large man, but he was in good shape and supremely adaptable – a product of spending years hustling
The hut was barren save for a tap stick-
dope in the police state of Manhattan. He ran a
ing out of the wall, a green bamboo chair and a
hand over his hooked nose and chiseled chin, to
small wooden dresser. Covering his eyes with
give the audience a taste of who they were today.
his hand, he took a few steps out of the hut onto
He took a deep breath of frothy air and licked
Stock photo courtesy of Roger Kirby at freeimages.com
the salt trapped against his molars. The Contes-
island to the broadcasting center on Phobos. The
tant understood why someone on Earth would
word he chose was “Omari.”
pay to taste the ocean air as he did each morning. Hell, he had been saving up for an Experience Machine himself before the raid. He returned to the hut and put on today’s costume – ripped denim jeans, sweat stained white T-shirt, licensed red splashed sneakers. Then he sat down in the bamboo chair, blinked three times and shut his eyes. Updates from the Producers lit up the blackness, words and images flashing in front of his eyes and rattling through his eardrums. Ten seconds later, the Contestant was up to date on news from Earth, as well as the wellbeing of his estranged family. He saw the stockpiles of wealth increase in his bank accounts and heard the promises of more bonuses to come. But most importantly, the Contestant received his tasks from the Producers for the day. The Contestant had two ways of easily communicating with the Producers. When he blinked three times, the chip in his brain downloaded information packets prepared for him by the broadcasting center – there were typically three such packets per day. He could receive these packets anywhere on the island. The bamboo chair in his room served as a relay link to the Producers. When he sat in it he could send
He tapped the button under the chair to activate projection. The keypad emerged in front of him and he wrote: Good morning. Can I see my daily tasks broken down, please? The Producers responded: Certainly. And the tasks were displayed on the wall of the hut in front of him. They were extensive as usual, but the Contestant skipped to the end and examined the summary. The first task of the day was to gather food and wood. There were also instructions to retrieve an object from the bottom of a canyon in the center of the island, which made the Contestant smile. He was often bored on the island, and enjoyed a break from the monotony of simple survival. The drop offs were usually additions to his mountaineering toolkit that he could use to explore new areas. He decided to retrieve the wood first. He had been told that he would soon have to chop down trees in the forest to provide wood, but for now the Producers left him precut stacks nearby. He suspected the object of today’s retrieval would be an axe.
messages to them using a virtual keypad. The fi-
It did not take him long to drag the wood
nal method of communication was an emergency
across the beach back to his camp and pile it next
word that would result in the Experience being
to the fire pit. It was not especially heavy labor,
terminated and immediate extraction from the
although he knew that for most of the wealthy
audience the aches in his arms and back would
once more, turning it on again. No response.
be unprecedented. The Contestant reveled in
The Contestant was confused – it was unlike the
the knowledge that an untold number of peo-
Producers not to respond immediately, although
ple on Earth were Experiencing him throughout
they did tell him that they sometimes had minor
the day, that his actions had a direct impact on
communication issues with contestants during
countless people he would never meet. He had
primetime Experiencing hours. He wrote anoth-
never felt such a thrill before, to have complete
control over the senses of another. It was time to eat, so The Contestant head-
Please send me an information packet with your response.
ed for the berry fields, where his traps had likely snared one of the island’s wild boars. He trudged across the beach until he entered the forested section of the island. It was a long road through the forest, and it took him quite a while to navigate the winding path through the bark trees. He was disheartened to see that without exception his traps were empty. On the way back to the beach, he noticed that there were no berries on the bush-
The Contestant picked up his mountaineering backpack and made his way back across the beach to the barren green forest. Without stopping to check his traps, it took much less time for him to navigate through the trees. He began to feel a dry heat, devoid of moisture, the kind of hotness that stole some moisture out of his mouth with each breath.
es. The Contestant was baffled, as there had al-
ways been berries there.
but he wasn’t worried. He had been granted an
When he returned to his hut on the beach, he was exhausted. Never before had a scouting mission for food been so unsuccessful. He went into his hut to get a break from the sun and poured himself some water from the tap. He sat down in the bamboo chair again and pressed the projection button, calling up the virtual keypad. He wrote: Where have all the berries gone? And the words were reflected upon the wall. He waited for a response. None came. He pressed the button, turning off the projection:
The Contestant was beginning to feel faint,
extensive tour of the Experience facilities while still incarcerated, and had seen first-hand the intensive stream of information the Producers received through his cranial implant. The immediate sensory information that made up an Experience was just a small part of the data transmitted instantly to the computers on Phobos. Heart rate and blood pressure were monitored constantly, with even slight dips reported to a crew of medical technicians. Even the firing synapses of a contestant’s brain were under intense surveillance, with algorithmic checks to determine if the subject was beginning to feel depressed or suicidal.
At the edge of the forest there was a hill,
through his fingers, marking the way back to his
and with each placement of his sneakers onto
rope. He continued in this manner as he made
the soft earth the trees ahead of him thinned and
his way along the canyon floor.
in their place emerged an expanse of blue sky marred by wispy clouds. The heat became more intense as he climbed the hill and the sodden dirt abruptly became deep sand. He had entered a vast blood red desert stretching as far as he
The object gradually became clear: It was a green bamboo chair – the same exact chair as the one that he used to communicate with the Producers back in his hut.
could see. The Contestant trekked onwards, his
There was also a box. It was smaller than
feet disappearing with each step and emerging
the seat of the chair it sat on and it was made
full of sand.
of a yellowmarked brown paper with a frayed
At length he came upon a tree stump at the edge of the canyon. He sat on the stump and peered down into the unnatural blackness far below. He circled the tree stump with his rappelling rope, snapped the clip into place and began to
white string tied around it in a bow. He put the flashlight in his mouth and undid the string with both hands. He lifted the lid off and shone the flashlight inside to reveal a small rusty hatchet, no bigger than the palm of his hand.
abseil down. It took him a long time to reach the
The Contestant was confused. He imag-
bottom, and when he did he was shrouded in
ined that the Producers had intended him to cut
darkness. He unclipped the flashlight from his
down trees with this hatchet, but it would be
backpack and turned it on. Even with the flash-
impossible given how small and blunt the blade
lights beam, he couldn’t see anything. He won-
was. He sat down in the chair. The knife he used
dered why anyone would be interested in Expe-
to slaughter captured boars was much sharper
riencing someone flounder around in the dark,
and decided to discuss this assignment with the Producers when he returned to the hut.
He put the hatchet in his backpack. The sun would be setting soon, and he was in equal
He blinked three times and shut his eyes.
measures hungry and exhausted. He had to speak
The expected update on the absent berries didn’t
to the Producers and, given that he had never
come. Instead, a yellow square appeared at the
seen another relay link on the island, he thought
edge of his vision. He rotated until the square
they had to speak with him too. He pressed the
was dead center and then opened his eyes and
projection button on the base of the chair and the
shone his flashlight forward. In the dimness he
keypad appeared in front of him. He wrote:
could make out a shape a few dozen feet away. He took climbing chalk from his bag and let it fall
What am I supposed to do with this hatchet? And the words appeared on the side of
the canyon, then slowly faded away. Suddenly
caught a glimpse of the setting sun and he felt
the wall was lit up in large, bright letters:
that he could almost cry. He stopped for a moment, suspended between light and dark, his feet bearing imperceptibly into the eternal rock face.
I AM COMING TO GET YOU
He had never felt more afraid. There was simply no way that it could happen. Blackouts never lasted more than a few minutes, and he had been
The Contestant stared up at the wall for a few seconds. Who was coming to get him? There was no life on the whole island other than a few wild boars. He typed: I donâ€™t understand.
without normal communication for the whole day.
For the first time, the Contestant realized
he was alone.
He was so focused on climbing that he
The words faded away and then the can-
didnâ€™t look up for a long time, but when he did
yon wall was blank. He pressed the button un-
he saw something staring back at him: a silhou-
derneath the chair, then pressed it again. The vir-
ette with six arms billowing out of its torso, star-
tual keypad did not appear. He pressed it on and
ing down at him, the white of its teeth set against
off a few more times. Nothing.
the blackness. He screamed and lost his footing
The Contestant shone his flashlight back
and forth down the canyon floor. All he could see was cloying blackness. He stood up, pointed the flashlight down at the ground and began following the chalk powder back toward his rope. He walked slowly for fear of tripping on the uneven ground and dropping his flashlight. At long last he reached the rope, strapped himself in and be-
and fell hard into the rock face, splitting his forehead open against a jagged stone. The blood fell into his eyes and blinded him for a few moments as he groped to regain his balance. Eventually he found his footing. He felt his iris receptors recalibrate as he wiped his eyes clean of the blood, but by the time he was broadcasting again the silhouette was gone.
gan to climb back up to the surface. All thoughts
When he reached the surface he gazed
of hunger, thirst and fatigue were forgotten, and
around the unrelenting desert and tried to get
in their stead was an all-consuming fear â€“ a fear
glimpse of the figure. His head was pounding
of the unknown, of the trees bordering his beach,
from the impact and when he spat he spat brittle
of the shadows of the night. He felt as if his stom-
ach was sinking out of him, like grains of sand slipping through an hourglass.
When he was halfway up the rock face, he
He left his rappelling rope tied around the rock and made his way back towards the forest,
clutching the rusty hatchet in a white knuckled
in the final hours of his life, his fear broadcast
across the world for all to see. That was an eternal *** The Contestant woke some time later face
down in the sand. Waves lapped soothingly over his skull. He felt at peace; he wished he could sleep there, on that sandy beach, forever.
record he could not stand for. He looked down at the hatchet in his hand. They had given him a weapon, and he would use it. Some time later, The Contestant watched the figure move through the forest from the vantage point of a tall tree. The searching move-
His head was full of broken glass. He sat
ments of the figure were as swift and precise as
up slowly and looked around. He was on the
the police patrols that swept through his apart-
beach, a mile or so from his hut. He barely re-
ment block during his youth. It was dark and
membered walking back from the canyon. He
sometimes he lost track of the figure – but the
had lost a lot of blood, and his vision was blurry
two moons in the sky shone bright enough that
as he stood.
he always found him again. Eventually the fig-
He set off toward the hut and as he did
so he realized he was still carrying the hatchet,
ure went back onto the beach and sat down in the sand, back to the forest.
although somewhere along the way he had lost
Slowly, slowly, the Contestant climbed
his backpack. He staggered through the sand, lis-
down the tree and slowly, slowly he stepped for-
tening to the soothing ocean noises and he said
ward from the treeline. The figure sitting a few
softly: “Omari.” He didn’t expect anything to
feet in front of him, moonlight bouncing off his
happen, and nothing did.
dark hair, was no frightening beast. He was just
He smelt smoke before he saw fire. In the dim moonlight his hut burned. Seized by a sudden adrenaline, the Contestant darted into the forest and took cover behind a tree. He knew what was expected of him and why they had given him the hatchet. It seemed obvious now that the only reason the Producers had paid for him to leave prison was so he could die here, on this island, with the whole world feeling his horror as he was hunted down by a six limbed monster. Enough! He could stand the cheap dramatics no longer. He would not be their puppet,
a man, similar in shape and size to the Contestant. He must have imagined the six arms back in the desert. Perhaps that entire experience was a hallucination. With each step his resolve faltered and another question sprung into his mind, until eventually he stopped still. He was not a puppet: He would not play their game. Instead, the Contestant said: “Hello.” The Man did not move. The Contestant took another step and said: “I’m not going to hurt you.”
The Man sitting on the beach said: “I don’t
The world may have changed, but humanity had not. There was a market – a large, ever
believe you.” Then the Man scrambled to his feet and sprinted toward the Contestant, letting out a guttural roar, wielding a large branch over his head. The Contestant pulled his arm back instinctively and using all the energy he had left wound up and buried the hatchet deep in the Man’s skull. For a horrible moment they stood there, the Contestant gazing into the twitching eyes of the Man he had just slain. Then the Contestant took a step back and pulled the hatchet out and dropped it on the ground next to him as the Man fell back on the sand. In his final moment, the Contestant noticed that the Man he had just killed had a cranial implant just like his own. Then his head exploded. *** The Producers were pleased with how this Experience had ended. Never before had two of their subjects engaged in conversation before the killing, but it had certainly heightened the drama and garnered positive feedback from their test screeners, so they were happy. Together, the men in dark suits compiled two Experiences to broadcast from the reams of sensory data they had collected over the past twenty-four hours. In a few minutes, millions of people would either track and kill a man with a rusty hatchet or feel that same hatchet smash into their skull, all from the comfort of their Experience Reality machine.
expanding market – to feel the rush of murder or the terror in the moments before death. The Producers were not bad men, though their work was sometimes unsavory. But someone had to do it. Someone had to create these Experiences and relay them back to Earth. There was no telling what their most ardent audience might do if they didn’t meet their weekly quota. The Executive Producer smiled at his peers as he hit the transmit button and The Contestant went live. “Well, my friends,” he said. “I think that’s a wrap.”
THE PR Kathleen
The old man, at seventy years of age, was
boots scraping against the growing depth of mud
no way at his prime. His back was slumped after
and soil. The sty was almost always covered in
the years of tilling fields and raking hay, his skin
inch-deep of dirt, but the man was impervious
coarse and wrinkled from exposure to the harsh
to the smell. He was used to it, having traced this
year-long heat. While he used to be able to take
path for every single day of his life. He may be
care of his ranch single-handedly, he now felt en-
losing his memory, but he still remembered to
tirely helpless without his sons and daughters.
enjoy the budding flowers that broke through the
Despite his growing weakness, though, he still
layers of dirt, the browning grass, and the view
insisted on taking care of his beloved animals –
of his rickety house from afar. The man loved his
his turkeys, birds, cats and most of all – his hogs.
The old man had always been especially
Wheezing, he continued his journey and
fond of the pigs. “They were incredibly smart,”
finally reached the familiar sty. He pried open
he would reason whenever asked about the mat-
the door of the wooden construction and heaved
ter. “They could help this old man remember
his buckets in. Almost all at once, the pigs started
things.” Even though he was getting old, frail
to squeal, scream, grunt for attention. They knew
and slow, he would still find the energy to lift
this routine as well as the old man did, and their
buckets of food and deliver them to the sty every
stomachs begged to be fed.
day. It was his last wish to his children – to be
“Settle down, settle down,” the old man
left in charge of the sty – and so it became the old
exclaimed, closing the door and making his way
man’s sole routine to do the feedings.
through the fence that separated them. The pigs
Today was no exception. By the time the
squashed together and shrieked and gawked,
sky glowed red to signal the impending dawn,
brushing past and knocking into his legs. These
the man was ready with buckets dangling off his
were heavyset, plump pigs and the old man
hands. He trudged his way up the hilly lanes,
stumbled here and there, crying a little when the
oldest hog crashed into him, almost knocking him down. “Now, now, Jeremiah! Don’t do that to this old man…”
“Oh!” he screamed, eyes blurring with specks of red and black. “Oh oh oh—“ The pain came in a burst, spreading from
As he then tried to pour the contents of his
his hip and to his spine, then to his head. Soon
buckets out, he realized another problem. They
unadulterated agony enveloped him, and the
man found his awareness slipping away as the
“Darn!” he swore to himself. It was no
squeals filled his eardrums and the pink bodies
secret that his memory was failing quickly, but
squeezed in to shove at him. He weakly called for
this was a new turn for the worse. Sure, he forgot
help, but his gestures were drowned in the suf-
names and certain tasks before, but how could
focating number of pigs swarming, surrounding,
he have carried empty buckets to the sty without
slowly trampling over his legs and arms. From
even realizing it? He must have been older than
where he laid, the pigs now seemed huge, mon-
he thought he was.
strous, superior. Their snouts nudged at him and
Grudgingly, he turned back to exit the sty,
flared and sniffed and snorted, inspecting close-
but his path was blocked as the pigs swarmed
ly. The old man caught the eyes of the pig hover-
his feet agitatedly at the absence of their prom-
ing above his face – big, black and staring. They
ised reward. The old man murmured a croaky
seemed to spread and magnify, swallowing his
apology, sighing as he tried to step over them...
whole vision until he felt nothing but numbness
but the animals would have none of it. They con-
and a distant cacophony of squealing pigs. In the
tinued to shove at him, and one rammed itself
last moments of his consciousness, he wondered
into the old man’s leg as he was stepping over.
if his pigs would get to eat that day.
The man couldn’t keep his balance this time. He went down, buckets clattering away across the sty, and he hit the hard ground with a crunch.
Vaguely, he felt teeth sink into his left arm.
Stock photos courtesy of Jarpur and Anita Berghoef
Strathmere, New Jersey Carly M. Cox
On nights as warm as these, the slugs were slow to schlep atop the wooden porch, but you and I were quick to fry those little guys to death with table salt. And while the salt was out, we’d always find some shots and limes to keep us warm under the sheets of stars. Our love cried louder than the crickets’ roar that lulled us fast to sleep those summer nights, hummed faster than the boats we scrubbed at Frank’s. We worked and slept, side by side, wrapped up in Jersey’s spell. We dove real deep into true love, we thought, but really was come fall a Sunday-morning headache’s painful lull, the back bay’s muck, the sand you can’t shake off.
Emerging from the water at the age of thirteen, we discovered a dead white muskrat along the jetty. It lay in a bed of mussel shells, a hard black tomb, seaweed draped over its crooked torso and left foot. Its single lifeless gray eye stared through me onto you as you poked it with a piece of ragged driftwood and its flabby white gut imploded into the sea, reeking of gutters and sewers and muddy rain. I grabbed your hand and ran through the sinking sand and we watched from the safety of the boardwalk as the tide spun its glassy eye further into the shore.
The Edge of the Shoreline Katherine Quinn
WHITE AND NAVY PEPPERMENT Carly M. Cox
as soon as the car stopped I used to run into the house head straight for your den straight to you in your chair you scooped me up in your long branchlike arms and when I hugged your neck your white willowy beard tickled my back I would press my face into the shoulder of your suit always navy always striped like candy canes and you smelled like your peppermints too I would then press my face into the back of your chair big and soft and green and cushioned but it never did smell like peppermint it was always had I been a good girl finished all my schoolwork said my please and thank yous I answered yes and held out my hands for our special exchange you reached slowly into your navy jacket pocket pulled out the small candy tin I’d been waiting to see and for the price of a kiss I’d get a peppermint and a wink sometimes now when I come over I peek into the closet and see Nana with the jacket she holds it up to her wet cheeks and presses her face into it I don’t ask Nana if there are any left in the pockets I pretend I had never seen her with the jacket but all I really want is another turn at pressing my face into your shoulder and breathing in the smell of your peppermints
Stock photo courtesy of Dave Dyet from www.freeimages.com
Your soul is a dark room on Christmas Eve. Listen to the scuttle of presents delivered by Santa, the crackle of wrapping paper, the yelp for a stubbed toe against Daddy’s Sunday paper arm chair. Your soul is a dark room after sex. Aglow with soft breaths and a twinge of regret, rest your head on his chest. Listen to his heartbeat quicken as your mother’s heels click down the hallway. Listen to Daddy crack his knuckles and the quiet rapping on your door. Your soul is a dark room after dinner. Don’t listen to the whir of a lighter’s flame, or the embers that gnaw on tobacco leaves, or the dry cough of a smoker. Listen to the jet-engine purrs of Daddy’s cat. Your soul is a dark room after a horror movie. Ears hyperaware, listen to all the clichés that go bump in the night. Listen to the hands of trees scratching windowpanes. Listen to the nails of Daddy’s cat as they rip up his armrest. Listen to the groan of floorboards under your mother’s feet as she shuffles from her bedroom to the guest room. Your soul is a dark room after your father’s death and in the shrill silence you swear you hear his newspaper turning, his knuckles cracking, his cigar-stained breath breathing.
YOUR SOUL IS A DARK ROOM Kat Lewis
APORETIC APORETIC OR OR POETIC? POETIC? Ryan Keating
Like a sudden brightness in the night, The blank page stings my eyes with white. But even filling it with similes May be a test of my abilities.
Only clumsy consonance comes to mind. Only simple rhyme schemes do I find. Anaphora and litotes aren’t unmanageable, But can I use them in a way that’s admirable?
Inspire me, O muse, in the use of apostrophe, Or perhaps better served I’d be by anastrophe. Metonymy will enhance the meaning of this ink, At least that’s what my schooling’d have me think.
An allusion to Virgil seems pedantic, But at this point I’m getting frantic. Will an end-stopped line be puissant? Or would it be best to use Enjambment?
These words elude personification Despite my staunch determination. And though it’s perfect rhyme I want, I see it’s now becoming slant.
But at last I’m at the end Of this poem that I’ve penned. Who knew it’d be so hard To serve a sentence as a bard.
The Vision of the Hand Is not just to save man from the chaos of the deep, but to awaken him from his unconscious sleep, To reassure him of his purpose in life, not to be brought down by his struggles and strife, But to be the strength of the creator within, and know that love is his savior and friend, It will broaden your horizons on the highest plane of life and defeat his foes with all his might. For a brother to me is like the one in me who’s trying to succeed in a world that refuses our needs, that’s slowly bringing our people to their knees, because we fail to take heed that We need Unity, Nationality, and Divine Creed being universally taught to all nations and all lands. Listen up my brother man, For this society has written a script for me to live, For them to take, And for me to give My life for their own selfish gain so we can remain behind in this cruel game. My morals and principles are all jeopardized when they realize my eyes are on the prize, but when I take the time to look within, I’m proud of being in this brown skin, at the same time honoring my next of kin. This society can’t change me my friend, For my vision is for us to be the Kings of men... By: Darryl Cooper “Mujahid” #911-539 Baltimore City Detention Center
Stock photo courtesy of John Lopez
THE VISION OF THE HAND Dennis Pang
BETTER NOT TO SEE Minglan Yang
Introduction: Everyone has very beautiful memories, filled with laughter and tears, of the years when you had a crush on a boy all through high school, and thought a hundred of times of saying “I like you,” but never did. After many years, when you see him again in a cafe on a peaceful afternoon, that strong feeling deep in your heart suddenly surges up and you are taken back to those unforgettable days in a second. The peace of your life is destroyed, and every moment after meeting him again is uneasy. However, you have your own path in life, and he has a partner as well. Then you say to yourself: Better not to meet.
Translation: Better not to meet, all of my memories about you have faded away as peacefully as flowing water, and as lightly as dissipating smoke You could never know how surprised I was at the moment of your appearance, nor could you know how long my days have become since the short talk that ended with your sweet smile. These days are composed not by seconds, minutes and hours, but by your face, eyes, and hair; the strings of the violin compose a song of my heart, they are so hot I dare not touch them, for fear that I’ll be burned. You make my days so uneasy and I can’t stand a moment more. Better not to see, then you will fade again in my mind; better not to see, then everything will come to a peaceful end.
HELL Thalia Patrinos
DOODLE Thalia Patrinos
AFRICA Thalia Patrinos
When I was thirteen, Mimi came to me
and asked if I had any advice on how to skip a
might have been looking out at me even if she never said thank you.
violin rehearsal. Mom and Dad had been hyping her playing for months, and half the town would be going to watch her. In a display of sororal solidarity, a few hours before she had to leave I slipped into the sitting room where she
Mom and Dad made her play the concert anyway on the kind of rental instrument you can get on a half-hour’s notice. Everyone who actually went said that she sucked.
always practiced while Mom fussed over the finer details of hair and makeup, and took her
Three years later we sat on an empty
beautiful old violin, Figaro, from the velvety
train, waiting to arrive at the California villa of
case where it slept when she wasn’t using it.
this year’s lucky relative so our parents didn’t
have to look at us for the summer. They were
I lathered it with olive oil I had stolen
from the kitchen, pouring a bit into the little swirly holes on each side of the middle, and carried it by the neck down to the fire pit in the back yard. I let it slip out of my hands, slippery and sticky with half-dried oil, and took
getting kind of desperate for candidates so this year was Uncle Jasper, who was rich at this point for some unexplained reason. I assumed it was illegal. I could’ve probably just asked, but that would’ve killed the magic.
one of Dad’s old cigarette lighters—sorry, cigar
Jas was just someone we didn’t hear
lighters—out of my pocket. It was sharply cold
much of in general. He’d been basically dis-
against my hand.
owned when he was fifteen for drinking a
bunch and stealing a bottle of vodka, which
I didn’t bother to clear out the old leaves
and sticks before I set it ablaze, so even though it didn’t look that bright and impressive in the morning sun I still got that nice, bitter, smoky smell and that feeling of heat on my face like a blush when I leaned over. But then my eyes started to water and I didn’t want my parents to be able to smell the smoke on my clothes so I left it snapping and popping a staccato behind me and left to roam while the fiddle burned. Before I did, though, I took a glance back up at the house, at Mimi’s window. It was too sunny to see inside, but I like to think that she
I honestly thought was a rather lame reason. Mom had loved to tell us about how he just disappeared and left them once he wasn’t a minor, until much to her dismay he had reappeared as a success when we were in elementary school and begged Grandpa to let him make amends. I was disappointed too, because I knew before he did that it was a lost cause. He still hadn’t quite given up.
I sat across from Mimi, who was leafing
through the instruction manual for the new GPS our parents had promised to get her in exchange
for good behavior until Labor Day (on which of
looking up. She crossed her legs under her sun-
our parts, I wasn’t sure.) The seats were cov-
dress’s skirt to knock my foot away.
ered with some awful scratchy blue fabric, with a couple of red zigzags and faded-to-mustard yellow squares as an excuse for a design. It had
“I just want to talk. I’m bored.”
“We get off next station. You have to wait
officially become too dark to bother looking out
for less than ten minutes.”
the window, so I kicked my leg out in front of
me and repeatedly tapped on my sister’s knee
We barely even know Uncle Jas!”
with my sandaled foot.
“Don’t worry. I’m sure he’s heard all
“No,” she muttered dryly without even
IN L IO
W E AY V I S F
about you.” From Mimi’s tone I could tell she
V A R
E D R
“But I want to talk to you, not Uncle Jas.
Stock image courtesy of Pascal Thauvin
The cellar door creaked open, knocking
suspended for being honest to my Social Studies
over an old bat that I’d leaned against it in case
teacher. Mom and Dad were out for the night
of combat. “I thought I heard you girls. Want
at a wedding for some tangential acquaintance,
to help me drain a few bottles? I just got some
promising they’d deal with me when they had
great old vintages and want to clear up some
free time, and I had thought it would be a pretty
good opportunity to try out that a plan I’d been
Mimi glanced at me with something akin
to panic, but I shook my head. “No, wine sucks.
You should smash it over a boat or something.”
of the kitchen, trying to see if I could break the
I didn’t mention the fact that both my parents
lock on the cutlery drawer barehanded when
wanted me to be an alcoholic so it would be
Mimi put a hand on my shoulder. It was the
easier to lament and explain where they’d gone
first time in a while that I had seen her without
wrong, and I just didn’t want to deal with that
makeup. She just gestured to me with a bag of
shit. Plus, I didn’t need to be sucked up to.
microwave popcorn and said I could pick the
“Wine tasting has always seemed like
I was in my pajamas kneeling on the tile
such a fascinating pursuit. Would you show
me a few of the basics? Ignore her.” Mimi ges-
more fun to just borrow Dad’s laptop and lie
tured back at the pool, where I was thrashing
on Mimi’s bed together all night. It was always
and blowing bubbles like I was trying to drown
a tradition of ours to pick movies we hated, so
myself to escape the brown-nosing.
I’d always go with rom-coms and she’d find the
“I’d be happy to. As long as I’ve got you
girls, might as well send you back to your mom with some new skills, right?”
Mimi smiled gracefully and went inside
for a glass, and when I passed by the kitchen on the way to the shower later I saw her nursing a
We had a pretty big TV, but it was way
most obscure and corny horror she could find. It balanced out that way.
We were a movie and a half in and a
Leprechaun serial killer was stalking the heroine when she finally asked. “What were you trying to get to the knives for?”
glass and having some cheese, like she’d prac-
ticed when she thought nobody was looking.
knives, but I was in a decent mood so I let it
I hated that she just assumed it was the
go. “I thought it would be really funny if I had The last time I’d been in Mimi’s room had been when she was a freshman in high school. I had still been in middle school, but was
stigmata since Mom won’t let me go to church anymore.”
She just looked at me for a while and
sighed. “Don’t do that.” Someone in the movie
basics. The table in the lounge were soon cov-
ered with sampling glasses and strewn printed
“Because you’d be hurting yourself.” I
looked back at her with the blankest face I could muster. “And Jewish people wouldn’t get it. And they can close wounds without leaving scars now. It’s a bad plan.”
I pouted at her for showing logic. We
didn’t talk much until the credits rolled, when she blurted out, “Have you ever wanted to talk to someone? Like therapy?” “Why?”
“Because you’re not happy, and if you
opened up and tried to change you might be.”
“You’re not happy either.”
“Not the point. Don’t you want help?” I
really didn’t, but I nodded anyway because she was clutching her hands and looking so earnest. I ignored her for the rest of the movie.
The only other thing that I heard about
that was the next morning, when I was sitting at the top of the stairs with some teacups to throw and a voice snapped downstairs, “Just stop encouraging her! She’s not going to be helped.” I rolled my eyes and tossed a cup.
guides on wines and how they stacked up, occasionally supplemented by a couple of articles that I had found on how tasting was bullshit designed to make you look classy. Jas let her try everything she wanted. I think he wanted to demonstrate that he could be a classy influence.
Mimi a couple times when Jas was busy, I tended to avoid her when she was like that. She was way too determined and happy to support.
A few days before the announced gala,
I had gotten bored and used a baseball bat I’d found to smash a few neglected flowerpots I thought nobody would miss, and was trying to find something creative to do with the shards when a drunk Mimi came crying into my bedroom.
“I just got off the phone with Mom,” she
sobbed, “and she said I can’t get my GPS because I’ve been drinking. She thinks he’s trying to make me an alcoholic. It was practice!”
“Okay, but let’s be honest,” I replied,
turning over a sharp sliver of clay in my hands, “Dad was never going to spend money on that anyway. This is why I don’t try for any good behavior awards.”
After getting roped into helping quiz
“I wanted a car, but I didn’t want to ask
Jas apparently had an annual big wine
for a car, so I asked for something for a car and
tasting event to rub his prestige in the faces of
now they said no. I thought we were supposed
anyone who happened to stop by, and Mimi
to make friends. Then why did she send us? Did
had determined that she would teach herself the
wanted me to think this was a bad thing, but she never has appreciated the value of an excuse to skip introductions. She still didn’t look up.
I sat back and thought of ways that I
“Awesome. It probably wasn’t an exag-
geration.” Dude deserved fair warning. I’m fully aware that I’m the main reason we always need
could get weapons past the transit security. Not
to find a new relative to sponge off every year. I
that I ever would, of course, because despite
what people always assume I don’t actually want to hurt anyone, but the sheer amount that they do to stop you kind of makes you want to try just to see if you can. I was on a stone knife inside a wedge heel when the loudspeaker called our stop, and I got ready to see our uncle for maybe the third time.
It really wasn’t that long until the train
stopped, but I glared at Mimi anyway when we disembarked. Uncle Jas stood waving by the entrance to the station. He’d grown an irredeemable whole-wheat mustache, and was shorter than I’d thought he was. Mimi paused for a half-second when she saw him, her back straightening as much as her almost-perfect posture would allow.
He grinned at her when she walked over.
“Miranda? I can’t believe it! This woman can’t be my little Miranda.” He took her suitcase, which was half the size of mine. I wondered if he knew we didn’t like him.
“It’s so good to see you! It’s been way too
long,” replied Mimi with rehearsed timing. She had her “please love me” smile on.
Nodding, Uncle Jas glanced at me. His
grin slipped a bit. “Anna. I’ve been hearing a lot
Mimi didn’t like this topic. As we slipped
into his sports car, me in the backseat, she shot out, “Anyway, I can’t wait to see your home! I’ve heard it’s wonderful. Mother told us about how popular all of your events are.” I wondered where she’d heard that.
“Really? She tell you about how I show
off my collection?” He sounded kind of hopeful, like he was only half kidding. I wondered which one was more desperate.
I didn’t have to see Mimi’s face to know
that she was cornered. If you didn’t know her, you wouldn’t notice or expect a slight high pitch in her voice when she said, “I’m sure that it’s wonderful, but I’m not quite sure what you mean. Mom must not have mentioned. Or maybe she did. I think she did. Art, right? Paintings?”
“Wine,” he replied, sounding a little
deflated. He probably had genuinely thought she’d been interested. I kicked out and brought my foot down to rest in his cupholder. It sounded like something small inside it cracked. “What the hell, kid?”
“Sorry, stretching,” I replied.
For as long as I can remember those
tures, but I grinned like the devil the whole day.
were our talents. I was always good at breaking things, and Mimi was the absolute best when it came to disappointing people. We were complementary like that. I think I first realized it when very early on, after her First Communion, Mom had spent hours picking out her dress, long and white and perfect and pure like a tissue before you blow your nose in it. Mom had thrown a huge party to make sure all our relatives came, and Dad had hired a professional photographer who seemed determined to catch Mimi posing with every grown-up there, and Mimi refused to even sit down in case the fabric got wrinkled. I was paying more attention to the blue-frosted cake and face paints and a gaggle of kids who were allegedly cousins with a big muddy yard to run around with them in. All through it, Mimi just stood around in the middle of the adults and posed for all the photographs they wanted. A few days later Mom lectured her for not smiling enough in any of the pictures. Two years later, when it was my turn, I dodged that bullet before it was even fired. The
Coincidentally, a few months later Mimi and I were sent away for the summer for the first time.
I didn’t want to admit it, but Jas had a
really nice house. It was once the main house at an old evil plantation farm, but all that had gone to seed a while. The forest was trying to creep back into where the crops had been, and if you wandered for a bit you could find the remaining scraps and cornerstones of old buildings that had been worn down by time, ruined by neglect better than any way I could’ve come up with. I liked to just wander around, swat mosquitoes, and admire the loss, plodding around barefoot on prickly grass until my mouth got dry and sticky and my back was slick with sweat. He even had a pool right next to the cellar entrance that you could jump in fully clothed when the heat got to be too much. I kind of liked it.
“Does that mean that you’ll behave your-
self?” Mimi asked me hopefully, sitting on the side of the pool while I splashed in said pool.
“Of course not. Mimi, he has a mustache.
morning of my ceremony, before we left for the
Please have some standards.”
church, I squirted all of the food coloring we
owned up and down my new dress. It was red
care of us. He’s barely even around most days.
and green and blue, splotchy and random, and
You’re you. Just please make an effort not to
it mixed to an organic coffee brown in places
and was absolutely perfect. My hands were stained for days. I didn’t have to take any pic-
“He’s nice. He’s our uncle. He’s taking
“You kind of suck, you know that?”
I just fuck up?” She was holding her head in her
that made my shadow look dark blue. It was
hands and sniffling a bit on each word. I decid-
cool down there despite the heat that had per-
ed that she was a really sucky drunk, and pulled
meated every other corner of the plantation, and
her by her hands to sit next to me on my bed. I
as organized as a library, with bottles stored
held her close and rubbed her back while she in-
by vintage and label and type, nested safely in
coherently babbled about love and appreciation
wine racks that were full to the brim.
and effort and all those other things I’ve never really gotten. I hoped that she’d gotten this drunk off of all of the really expensive wines.
She was rubbing at her eyes when she
I selected a bottle at random, drawing
it slowly and deliberately out of its place like Excalibur before letting it drop to the concrete ground with a crash muffled by the splash of
finally said something coherent. “Can you give
maroon wine that spilled out like blood and
me an excuse to miss the tasting? I promised
covered the floor and the sharp little remnants
Uncle Jasper, but Mom said I’m too young.”
of shattered glass. I hadn’t put on any shoes so
“Please. I’ll do something nice for you. Ill
get therapy for you if you don’t mind or whatever horrible thing you can think of if you do. Please.”
Mimi really was drunk. The therapy
scheme had been abandoned years ago when Dad declared there was no reason to spend money when I had the option of just getting over it myself, and she knew that I never really wanted anything from her. But I digress. When have I ever turned her down when she asks like that?
I could feel the wine as it splashed across the floor to reach the side of my foot, lapping at its bottom.
I dropped another. I didn’t think I even
really needed the bat, because it was fun to watch how they all looked different when they fell, red wine and white wine and the kind with the rabidly foaming bubbles that mixing on the floor to make a nice rose color, one that stained my feet as I walked over it even more than the blood from the glass I had decided to ignore, but there must have been a thousand bottles and just falling got boring when you knew there was that satisfaction awaiting you, of taking something heavy in your hands and swing and
I hadn’t actually been down to the cellar
before the night preceding the tasting. But oh well. It was an exceptionally dark and brown
watching as something shatters against your touch and spills out onto the floor like paint on a masterwork.
room of wood and concrete, with the one light
I decided that I loved Mimi.
bulb near the entrance giving off a sepia light
Time started to blend like the blood and
wine and glass splinters on the floor, and my
“Doesn’t look like it. Probably ten min-
arms were sore from smashing the bat again
utes,” she replied. When she turned to look at
and again. When I finally got to the last bottle,
me I noticed that she hadn’t put any makeup on.
a white wine with a French name, I uncorked it and took a swig just for the hell of it. It tasted terribly bitter, with an aftertaste like cough syrup, so I poured it out before throwing the empty bottle behind my shoulder and just listening to it crack apart.
My hands had been stained purple at
some point, and my shirt and shorts and feet as well, and I was finally starting to feel the cuts on the bottom of my soles, so I went out through the outside entrance and stood by the pool. I’d thought to throw a match down after me, but apparently wine doesn’t burn that well at room temperature so I just let it be and dipped my poor aching feet in the water.
I was lying on the lawn, waiting for Dad to come and pick us up. Apparently I was in big trouble this time, like I hadn’t been before. That was interesting, at least. Jas refused to even look at me when he made sure that we had all our stuff. I would miss his house. Mimi had done her best to apologize for my out-of-control behavior, wringing her hands enough to make me wonder if they’d get callused. She seemed to have given up now, though, as she stood at the end of the drive, looking over at the direction Dad would be coming from. “They here yet?” I asked her.
I considered that a victory as I waited in the silence of the ten minutes she had to thank me.
A Fresh Coat Katherine Quinn
I stand in the downstairs hallway staring at the empty, naked room. The couch is missing, and the table is gone— the one where I spelled my name wrong and you stuck a piece of gum under the chair. The smell of fresh paint hits me even though I was the one who painted the walls: they’re bare without the Barbie sticker I spackled over and the messages we wrote to one another. I painted them over and over again. I painted over empty bottles, blank stares. I painted over midnight phone calls, raised voices and words I didn’t mean. I painted over the bridge that collapsed, where we road our bicycles years ago. I painted them over and over again But still— My unsaid words are seeping through.
Stock image courtesy of Billy Alexander and brandon818 at www.freeimages.com
Cleaning Out My Aunt’s Crashed Car Lauren Blauchowaik
You know now that car crashes Do not always smell like marijuana. They can smell like
Anything – not always your familial shame. But You did not know that then as you scraped Back the smoke from the cloth seats, Nine years old and counting Cigarettes like Seconds between empty promises. Dear Auntie, you asked, why so sick? But she slips you a twenty – medicine for Medicine, a pact the devil would create. Your hands Wrinkled like Twisted metal when you Reached for the pipe, junkyard dogs Barking snapping begging just One more light. Untold nursery rhymes Lost like Smoke out the window on that fine Summer day when you held that Pipe and learned about dime bags And pills and ruining lives In the drippings of integrity mixed with taillights. And later you held the phone in Your hand, nine fourteen eighteen Years old and dying To scream that you never wanted to know A car crash could smell like marijuana.
LOLITA FROM FEATURED ARTIST: VI NGUYEN
COLONIAL CITY IN QUITO Vi Nguyen
HALF-DEAD Vi Nguyen
NHA TRANG, VIETNAM
PHU QUOC, VIETNAM Vi Nguyen
MINDFUL PRACTICE Vi Nguyen
OMS FROM DOWN UNDER Vi Nguyen
CASTOR AND PULLOX Evelyn Ho
Shooting comes easily to him. Doesn’t matter the firearm – Desert Eagle, AK-47, some old pawnshop sniper rifle – or who he is – the boy in love, the weapon he became, or some messed up version of the man in-between. Any time he holds a gun, though never let it be said he didn’t know his way around a bow and arrow or some tactical combat knives, his body automatically knows what to do. Steady, aim, pull the trigger. It’s oddly calming, but this is what he knows. He’s heard of the exactness of science and numbers. They’re reliable. There’s always an answer. You just have to find it. He thinks his fixation with shooting is exactly like that. He knows every time he looks through the scope or aims
at someone’s head that in the distance, the target will fall. Die, probably. Not the most positive outlook, but this is what he knows. And for the past however many years suspended in a state of reality, conditioning, and gods, all he’s ever had is what he knows. What he knows is this: twenty-seven years old, falling in and out of consciousness in the ice cold ground, but his body completely on fire from pain, blood and broken bones. What he knows is waking up, not remembering who he is, not having one memory to call his own. What they tell him is that he’s a hero who escaped with only his life, and they ask if
he would like to continue to serve the country. What they tell him is, “Say yes.” What they tell him is, “Here are the targets.” And what he says after the nightmare is over is, “It wasn’t your fault. I’m here for you.”
What it means is… What it means is…
* * *
“My, aren’t you a pretty dame?”
The woman turns and gives him an once-over. Next to her, her friends giggle. She raises her eyebrows and he gives her his most disarming smile while he waves down the bartender. “A Manhattan please and a Sidecar for the doll.” The bartender goes to pull out two glasses and sets to working on the cocktails. He turns back to the woman. “And does the pretty girl have a name?” “Virginia,” the woman introduces. She can’t be older than him, possibly younger. Her face is so full of life, so eager. As the bartender sets down their drinks, Virginia comments, “You look like a soldier.” “So I am.” He winks and adds, “Special forces,” in a whisper. Then he raises his drink and she follows suit. “To the end of the war,” he toasts. He shoots her group of friends a wink too and they giggle once again. One hour later, he’s gone, she’s dead and Virginia’s father, a weapons supplier, understands the message being sent. “Well done,” his handler tells him after that first mission since he’s been brought back from ice. He feels no pride. It is just a job and he is doing his duty as a soldier. This is what he was born for. This is what he was made for. “We will proceed in your training.” * * * What he knows is this: how to fight, how to shoot, where the pressure points are, how to kill a man in less than 30 seconds. What he knows is turning his head at the last minute and feeling that fear flare up as he pulls his gun on instinct. He’s a mile away and a damn ol’ handgun ain’t gonna cut it, but he shoots anyway, because if he doesn’t then… Then… Then the man would’ve been killed… would have… No, no, NO!
No. Look through the scope. Line up the crosshairs. Do not think of anything else. Shoot the assignment. * * *
FILE CODE: YNVJA3K CODENAME: CASTOR NAME: [REDACTED]
UPDATE: Weapon CASTOR retains basic combat functions. Skills include operating all firearms, hand-to-hand combat, fluency in English and passable German. Proceed in training of tactical skills and language abilities (Russian, French, Italian, Japanese, Mandarin) while specializing combat abilities. UPDATE: In the most recent sniping mission, Weapon CASTOR showed signs of deteriorating programming. Authorization given to increase desensitizing methods in conditioning. Currently shows no other signs of memories returning. Precaution taken to erase emotional dependence. UPDATE: Reprogramming and conditioning efforts successful. Continue close monitoring of mental, emotional and physical states. Authorization granted for Weapon CASTOR to be deployed in only the most sensitive of missions. Will be kept in mental stasis when not use in order to ensure maximum, efficient utility and prevent memory resurfacing. * * * What he knows is this: love divides loyalties, compassion is for children, and he is the best at what he does. What he knows is this: assassin, killer, shadow, ghost, efficient, get it done, and no questions asked. * * * Somewhere in China, a young girl runs barefoot down the dirt road, bits of broken beer bottles and dog shit sticking to her feet. Before she can finish shouting out “ye gou,” he shoots her in the back. She’ll die slowly and painfully by bleeding out – the poor skinny girl. His destination is the house at the end of the poor excuse of a street. The front door is in shambles, the windows cracked. What is left of the glass panes
are covered in mud and grime. He slips inside the door like an uninvited spirit and stares down the old, frail man he has been ordered to kill. “Ye… gou…” The old man rasps. Red pools and trickles down his face, courtesy of a .22 caliber bullet. He moves north and somewhere in Russia, a house burns down. Accidental fire the neighbors say. The old woman left the gas stove on and it caught fire. Of course, what really happens is something she will take to her grave. She spends the last moments of her life staring at the face of an old acquaintance, one she thought was long dead, pleading, “Nyet tovarisch, nyet!” After his business in St. Petersburg is done, he travels west into France and poisons a man in his sleep. “Fantôme,” he is called as he slips in and out of the shadows. “Fantôme,” the old man gasps as he’s suffocated to death. “Fantôme,” the orderlies say. They give him a proper burial, but there’s nothing dignified in a dying madman, even if he was a war veteran. His final assignment is a former MI6 officer for the United Kingdom. She lives with her granddaughter in the countryside of Wales. When he tracks her down, she is waiting for him alone with an array of drinks. “I always prayed you were alive,” she gravels as he approaches silently from behind. “Followed the trail you’ve been leaving, found out what they did to you, what no ordinary person can undo. Thought, ‘I didn’t quite pray this much.’” He rounds her and he knows he should put a bullet between her eyes, blowing her brains out. Her eyes flash to the alcohol on the table. “Pick your poison,” she tells him and he understands. He pours a glass of red wine and tips in a few drops of an extra something else. “Don’t remember you ever having class,” she laughs in spite of the situation. “You hated wine. Always whiskey and romancing dames, you were.” He hands her the glass and she takes a single sip. “But you were always his.” He does not understand, makes it a point to try not to. “Zhang in China, he called you wild dog.” Her breath slows and her words slur together. “Sharapova
still called you comrade.” Slower still. “And Moreau said you were a ghost. This is my word for you...” Despite the fast-acting poison flowing through her aged body, her last word is clear as day. “His.” * * * What he knows is this: thirty-four (or ninety, or two hundred, or a thousand) years old and called upon for yet another assignment. How many years have passed since the last time he was aware, he isn’t quite sure. He might think and feel thirty-four, but his face looks twenty-seven. He thinks he’s secretly older, but that’s not for him to decide. He does not decide. This time his target is a man who looks like he stepped out of an Abercrombie catalog, defined muscles in all the right places, strong jawline, and styled blond hair. The man’s handsome as hell, actually kind of hot, and definitely the closest he’s ever seen to a Greek god. The codename for the target is Pollux. He’s a war hero of the enemy, his handlers tell him. He is a dangerous soldier and must be eliminated. * * * What his handlers want is a public execution. They want to make an example of Pollux – that no one is safe from them and no one will ever escape them. Their defeat may be crippling, but it is not total, and they will always have pieces to play on the chessboard. He has no opinion. He is trained to have no opinion on the matter. He only obeys. The job is easy enough. First he sets video and audio feeds on loops and then knocks out all of the rooftop guards. Down below, Pollux is making a speech about freedom, brotherhood, faith, and mountain of enemy nationalistic bullshit he doesn’t have time for. Instead, he raises his rifle, aims, smirks and fires. Quick and clean, the bullet sails through feet of air… And past Pollux’s left ear, burying itself into the glass panel of the building behind him. He missed.
He never misses.
Immediately, his target reaches up to his ear. The bullet barely grazed him, not enough to hurt, but
enough to alarm all of the agents at the press conference. In an instant, they swarm Pollux, trying to cart him off to a safe house. Reporters press forward like vultures, eager to get a scoop on the action. Watching the chaos unfold below, he curses himself for his one mistake in years of missions and ditches the sniper rifle on the roof, opting for the knives strapped to his leg and the handguns strapped to his hips. Up above, helicopters have already converged, searching for the rooftop sniper. In a flash, he pulls out three grenades and hurls each one of them at the choppers with deadly aim and velocity. The crafts explode in midair, pelting debris into the crowd below. Everyone scatters and the helicopters crash into some of the buildings, including the one he was just standing on top of. But no matter, he’s long since disappeared into the streets below. Around Pollux, the agents quickly drop like flies, felled by bullets. Some of them have knives sticking out of their bodies. He hurls his last knife at Pollux’s neck while the man is still turned. At the last possible moment, Pollux whirls around and plucks the knife right out of the air by the handle like he’s grabbing a drifting feather. Then the knife clatters to the concrete as the man drops his mouth open in surprise. Pollux says something that he can’t quite make out, but it sounds like music to his ears. For a moment, it feels like he’s frozen in the snow all over again, trying to fight his way into the realm of the living. Then he regains his senses and launches himself at his target. So be it that he has no weapons left on him, no more bullets to spare. He’s taken men down with nothing but his bare hands and this guy might have some tricks up his sleeve, but it’s not Pollux that’s the best. It’s not him that never loses. But the fight is evenly matched. Pollux parries and blocks each hit like he knows what’s coming, but occasionally, they do each land a fist or a kick on each other. That musical word Pollux keeps saying constantly rings in his ears. He doesn’t understand why, doesn’t understand what it is or what it might mean. Then all of a sudden, Pollux speaks again. That same musical singing. And again and again and again. The next thing he knows, both his arms and pinned down and he’s got an arm pressing against his throat. He stares up at his target, eyes icy cold but blazing with fierceness. He moves his legs to throw Pollux off, but he can’t fight the weight.
His target is crying – weak, pathetic, pleading and crying – and he keeps saying that disarming word. He won’t stop and it’s suddenly too much for him to handle. That word, that word, that word. He belatedly realizes it’s a name that Pollux is crying out. It’s all too much, too much. He wants him to stop. He needs the man to stop and… And, and, and… …It all comes rushing back to him, just like the wind did on the day he fell. * * * What he remembers is this: when he was thirteen years old he met a strange golden boy with the shyest little smile, mysterious written around the curve of his lips. Then when he turned sixteen, moved out of the orphanage and in with the boy to split the rent, he fell in love. When he was eighteen, he went to church and pretended he didn’t feel a thing. Come twenty, he had a reputation around town as a skirt-chaser. What he remembers is this: when he was twenty-three years old, war raging on in Europe, he put on a brave face and kissed the boy who never really needed him, but let him tag along anyway. He tasted like ambrosia and nectar. Then at twenty-four, they went off to war together, agents for a special team, trained to be the best. And what he remembers is this: when he was twenty-seven, he was backed to the edge of the mountain by the enemy. When the ledge crumbled beneath him, he lost his balance and plummeted towards the snow-filled depths below. He heard the boy, the man’s, screams and what sounded like a prayer to gods up above to save him – “please save him!” * * * He screams and it’s gold and chains and everything. * * * What he learns is this: men do not rule the world. That belief holds an arrogance that can be likened to the gods – who are exactly the beings that rule the world. But the gods have always
been arrogant and men were created in their likeness so the idea isn’t that far fetched. With a world now ruled by science and calculations of probabilities, men haven’t needed gods for centuries, since even before he fell. Now there are champions, certain individuals selected, blessed some would say, by the gods. History would have called them heroes – men not exactly of the gods but granted power and strength, allowed authority in battle, given positions of leaders. And Pollux, well, apparently he’s their favorite. They’d never have granted his prayer otherwise. * * * He looks different now that he has the time and permission to properly inspect himself in the mirror each morning. It’s not the military haircut, shorter than he had it when he was in the War. It’s not the sharper angles of his face accentuating his fiercer eyes. It’s the scar on his right arm he got from stupidly throwing himself in front of Pollux during a particularly rough firefight back during the war, the scar that’s not there. In fact, none of his scars remain, not the ones he got from various missions after he fell, not the ones from back alley fights when he was a kid. It’s the painful truth. He’s changed more than once, changed into something that doesn’t resemble who he first was. It leads to days when he doesn’t know who he is and times when he looks down at trembling hands and fingers that don’t seem to belong to him. That’s usually when he introduces his fist to the nearest wall, table, chair, stove – you name it. There’s no pain from the punch and when he pulls away from splintered furniture, there are no scratches, no bruising. Not one sign to say that he can be broken. The idea of him not being quite human – it’s worse than falling and being fashioned into a weapon. From being drafted into the army to being drafted into something bigger, “Champion,” he smirks to himself. “What an arrogant word.” Despite everything, Pollux still looks at him with stars in his eyes. His face holds none of cynicism of longevity and all of the naiveté of an idiot. Of course the guy would think that his name as a magic word in a godly language he suddenly understands would solve everything. If there is anything that he
knows, it’s that the gods enjoy a good show from their champions. He isn’t alive because of some miracle or because their precious champion Pollux wished it hard enough; he’s alive because it’s amusing. The amusement continues in a form of another assassination attempt nearly one month later. His former handlers aren’t happy about the failed mission and the supposed death of their ultimate weapon and best, most loyal agent. In order to make it past the security, they send in a whole team. They storm into Pollux’s personal office – ten, fifteen, twenty top enemy agents swarming the room. They’re not matched in his enhanced strength, but Pollux lacks agility in combat. Brute force is not the way for them to defeat these agents. He would know. He’d been one of them. While Pollux is occupied slamming people against the wall, he instead wrenches opens the weapons crate. He empties a round of bullets from a handgun, easily taking out half of the agents. Then he goes for two knives and launches into the fight, moving with less strength, but a greater amount of finesse. The fight is over in less than five minutes. He sees the first bullet before Pollux does and shoves him to the ground. The bullet buries itself in the wall of Pollux’s office. Without hesitation, he grabs one of the spare rifles and dashes to the window. When he raises the gun, he sees the female sniper and all points of her exit, all the trajectories his bullet could take depending on where he shot.
He sees her fire another bullet.
As it sails towards him – chest, right below the collarbone, he predicts – he tells himself that this time it’s different. He’s not killing someone because he was ordered too. He’s doing this out of his own free will. No war, no conditioning, no gods. Just him.
It’s only ever been him.
Splat. The bullet lodges right where he knows it would. Bang. He fires, not letting the blood blooming on his chest deter him. The woman falls down the side of the building. He falls back into Pollux’s waiting arms. * * *
What he knows is this: twenty-seven years old, falling in and out of consciousness in the ice cold ground, but his body completely on fire from pain, blood and broken bones. What he knows is this: thirty-four years old, broken remnants of a man he once was and the weapon he became. What he knows is this: he is miles from being sane and he knows a hundred thousand ways to kill, but that means a hundred thousand ways to protect. What he knows is this: the sharpness of his aim comforts him.
Stock image courtesy of Caroline Hoos and m4tikat www.freeimages.com
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