Issue V, Volume ii u n d e r g ro u n d
u n d e r g r o u n d Undergraduate Art & Literary Journal Spring 2015 Volume V, Issue ii
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Editor-in-Chief Raven Neely
Production Editor Rachel Pickett
Underground is funded by student activity fees. Issues are provided free to all Georgia State University students, faculty, staff, alumni and guests. All work located herein is the creation of Georgia State University undergraduate students.
Editor Becca Doane Staff Katherine Teems, Erin Teal Waxelbaum
Editor Kelly Barraza Staff Tayina Fenelus, Anna Theodore
Editor Carla Bazemore Staff Chelsey Cashwell, Tamar Gould, Caleb Roberston
Editor Hunter Bishop Staff Kacee Cooper, Nadia Deljou, Sarah Joy Richards
Sarah Joy Richards
Bryce McNeil, Ph.D.
Ashley Harkins, Inversion mixed media on crescent board
Underground retains â€œfirst publication rightsâ€? for submissions accepted by the journal. It is our understanding and intent that all rights for accepted submissions remain with Underground until the submissions are published, at which point all rights revert to the author. For more information, visit us online at undergroundjournal.org. Click to connect with us on our social media platforms.
Contents Letter from the Editor 8
I fell into feeling against my free will Najwa Hossain 91 Floating Ashley Harkins 92
Downtown Alley Raven Schley 9 Sparks Ashley Harkins 13 White Hairs Ashley Harkins 15 Time Ashley Harkins 21 Roger Morgan Byrd 23 Sam Ashley Harkins 44 Red Barn #1 Raven Schley 45 Ryan Morgan Byrd 50 Colors Hannah E. White 52 Saints #4 Raven Schley 53 writ with unimaginable anxiousness Najwa Hossain 57 The Ballad of Edgardo Anna Marker 63 Paths Ashley Harkins 76 Persistence Ashley Harkins 90
The Society Ashley Robertson 27 I Love the South Arun Gopal Click to Listen Space Bound Arun Gopal Click to Listen The Hidden Voices of The Forest D. Ellis Elzie, II Click to Listen Athens Scotty Krieg Click to Listen From Tickle to Kill Steelwood Sound Click to Listen Take a Break Steelwood Sound Click to Listen
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The Heart of the City Solomon Luke 9 Blood on the Concrete Christian Bowman 10 Glossy Red Balloons Nadia Deljou 12 Son to Mother Charles C. Bailey 13 Back Home C. Marie Cashwell 14 Bible Studies Kelly Barraza 22 Finding Truth at the Bottom of a Shot Glass Josh Coursey 26 GRIT C. Marie Cashwell 40 In School R. C. 42 Meadow Song William Parks 44 Solstice Christian Bowman 46 Upon Sugar Hill Christian Bowman 46 bones Josh Coursey 47 German Expressionist Cinema Alex Hurtsellers 50 Lost & Found India Davis 51 Beginning&End India Davis 59 Carbonado Breathes with Borken Lungs Josh Coursey 78
Revelation #2 Raven Schley 89 Wheel of Fortune Josh Coursey 91 March 22, 2009, â€˜til the end of time Anonymous 92 Wet Was the Gravel, Upturned the Sky Kelly Barraza 93
Mercy Lindsey Baker 11 Terminal of Happiness Ashley Graves 16 Metaphors Virginia Ulmer 22 Renouncement John Miller 23 The Game D. E. A. Moon 32 Bolt Action M. G. Boal 48 First Sight India Davis 54 Eleven 40seven Brianna E. Simpson 57 October 3rd India Davis 60 Cannonball Cammy Moreno 63 A Ways Away Cory Zijian She 68 Working Girl Blues Stephanie Moore 77 The Last Dream of May Whit Bolado 79 Biographies 95
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Letter from the Editor
In the last issue of Underground, I put my staff through hell in an attempt to do something this journal hadn’t done since the first publication rolled out in the Fall of 2010. We interspersed art throughout the journal, pairing them with written pieces that fit so eerily well together it gave us goosebumps. And we did it all in color. The cost was high—about as much as our entire printing budget for the year—but we were willing to sacrifice a second print issue in the spring. We realized we needed a greater presence in the GSU community; we needed to change. To make up for our inability to pass out a physical copy of this issue at the release party, we hosted a series of events dedicated to actively engaging our staff and contributors. In the past four months, this journal and its staff has sponsored: a day of love, garnering contributions from the sales of carnations and love quotes; the first ever Mega Workshop in collaboration with the Writing Studio, where students partnered with mentors on speed dates to gain a multitude of critiques from various perspectives; and an untrodden collection scheme to acquire submissions for the first fully digital edition. We expanded the submissions criteria with the addition of a Miscellanea category to include works of all creative genres—film and cinematography, music composition, screenplays, and anything else of the like—which we’ll debut in correlation with the digital release of V. ii. Oh, and by the way, we’re hosting our first off-campus release party at a little place down the road with striped pink and yellow walls home to five awesome dudes dedicating their lives to showcasing 8
Atlanta’s underground artists. This issue celebrates an artist’s resiliency, a journalist’s fatigue, a businessman’s passion for music, a biologist’s love lyrics, a composer’s hidden voices, an economist’s sense of authenticity, and every unexpected event in life that compels the makings of a story, either with words, colors, or music. It was made with a little bit of liquid courage, the drippings of under-meditated shower water, ink and lead, fingers and keys. It is the first issue to be shared with a global audience on deck after V. i. opened the doors to an international following on the internet. It took us five years, but we’ve finally structured a strong creative community on campus committed to the stuff we, the students of one of the most diverse, eccentric, and constantly evolving universities in the nation, craft. And this is only the beginning.
The Heart of the City
The more and more often I sit in the courtyard The more the sirens begin to sound like singing birds The voices carrying around become a river crashing into the boulders beneath And I realize that I have been sitting here for far too long when cigarette smoke begins to smell like the bonfires I created in the wakes of my childhood way back in the woods
Downtown Alley, Raven Schley color film, chromogenic print
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Blood on the Concrete
There’s something to be mentioned about the attention that I gave my skateboard back when staying still was not an option. These days I’m filled with obligations, but the more I feel the need to move the more I stay away from them. I swam and swore in the sweltering heat, melting my feet to the grip-tape, my breath and my sweat in sync with the stink of my ass because hard work plays often. Solitude and company were synonymous and anonymous dudes held out their hands asking “are you okay?” Today, I would be because satisfaction is working the wounds of yesterday. I could be sad and sullen but I’d hop on and pop an Ollie that would make Mullen proud or I’d turn around and cruise the ground because I’m not a poser and I will never be a poser dammit. Yet I can’t remember the last time I completed my last line. My ollies have lost their style and while I can still ride a skateboard goofy, I don’t ride regularly. 10
In my closet, behind all my college books and clothing hooks, meshed betwixt my stash of drugs and my lack of fucks and my hipster clothes and my bluish Chucks upon my writing notebook from the 6th grade— Here lies some worn Etnies shoes that are waiting to be torn some more. I haven’t grown since high school, and I want to find them like a smoker wants his cigarettes. But the more I feel the need to move the more I stay away from them.
Mercy Lindsey Baker
Mercy Park has a huge merry-go-round with great silver columns and a dozen or so animals covered in bells and ribbons. When I was 8, I used to go there for hours and hours, riding up and down and around again and again, on all the different animals, watching the little kids giggle while their parents held them on top of the giraffe, the tallest of the animals. My favorite was the ostrich with a golden bridle hanging out of its beak. Now I come here to smoke. Mercy Park has been overrun by homeless and heroin addicts for the last five or six years. I mean, it’s totally safe. Me and the gang meet up here, sit on the motionless animals (many of whom are missing chips of paint or appendages), and smoke blunts. No one bothers us, except for that one bum who sometimes offers to trade us blowjobs for a hit. Sometimes Alex brings a can of spray paint and we’ll go tag some walls around the park. Alex’s tag is a pair of boobs with wings on either side. I always asked him, what the fuck does that mean? And he just shrugs and says boobs are boobs. My tag is “FOR ZELDA.” My friends think it’s from the legend of Zelda game, but really it’s a reference from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s books. Zelda was his wife, and he was crazy about her (and she was pretty crazy too I guess). I live with my dad a few blocks down from Mercy Park. That area is bad, yeah, but our neighborhood is about as nice as it gets. Our house is three stories, and we have a pool in our backyard. There are 31 rooms. Dad has been trying to sell that house for the last few years but hasn’t had any luck. I mean, like I said, it’s
a huge house. But people aren’t trying to buy big empty houses anymore. Not to mention there’s probably value lost with the way the park has turned out, like those chips off of the paint on the merry go round. He has hundreds of half completed home repairs and improvements going on at any given time. Every door in the house, except for our rooms and the downstairs bathroom, have been torn off of their hinges to be sanded and repainted. They’re sitting in a pile in our basement getting a little moldy because it’s still so damn damp down there. When he isn’t reading some fix-it book, he drinks. Not a lot, okay, like, I don’t think he has a problem. He just drinks beer. The watery kind, too. He used to smoke cigarettes a pack a day, he told me once, but he made himself quit when I was born, cold turkey. So I think if he did have a problem he would be able to make himself stop. He’s just that kind of guy. Before he and mom split ways and me and her had our blow up, we used to all go to the shooting range together. Kind of a weird family thing, I know, but it was a lot of fun. I had my own shotgun, and I would shoot skeet sometimes. I once won a big contest for shooting skeet when I was 11—I was the youngest to ever win that contest. I remember hearing my parents’ cheering, muffled through my big orange ear protection pads. After the contest, we went out for ice cream. When I started high school, after the divorce and everything, we stopped going shooting. The guns are in my dad’s room now, under his bed, coated in dust. Some of them are probably all fucked up from lack of maintenance. I guess neither of us really have any use for guns. But man, I loved the way it felt. Shooting skeet. It was like, this electricity in your hands when you’re following the clay with the edge of your shotgun, all of the potential energy stored up in your fingertip. And then when the time came you pulled the trigger and felt the
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kickback of a miniature explosion, one that you made all on your own. It was so simple and neat and clean, and the results were so sure. Wait, pull, boom. Done, you’ve won the contest! I graduate high school in about a year and a month now. Assuming all of my grades are up. I kind of slacked off this year, but hey, life is about living, not about sitting around writing things down on a piece of looseleaf. I do pretty good in English though. Well, I mean. I do well in English. Reading about other people’s lives, reading their voices, their descriptions. It’s like taking a little mini vacation away from your mind. Also, English teachers are the only ones who actually care about their students; everyone knows that. I have never had an English teacher that I didn’t like. They’re always so helpful, so nice. They want you to like what you’re reading because they love it so much. It always pisses me off when Alex fucks with Mrs. Zephyr, or when he talks about how hot she is behind her back. She’s the only one who has ever asked me about the bruises. We’ve been reading this one book for the last two weeks, Of Mice and Men. It is actually about mice and men, except not really. Well, everyone knows what it’s really about. I spent one whole class wondering if in the end, I’d be Lennie or George. I wonder what exactly I loved so much about this merry-go-round as a kid. I mean, sitting here now, on top of this stupid ostrich that used to be so much taller than me, I don’t see the big deal. It must have been the motion I liked. If I close my eyes, I can almost imagine the sensation, the air blowing on my face, the push of the animal moving up and down underneath me. When I open my eyes, I look to the shit smeared mirror to my left, and see myself, a 17-year-old boy sitting on a worn out ostrich with a cigarette poking out of his lips.
Glossy Red Balloons
Glossy red balloons, purple and yellow danced around her feet. Above the gravel where scuffed knees and elbows, too, temporarily healed. Until the biting crave for another surge of adrenaline demanded her attention. Shutting her once innocent eyes, ten years passed. Aged like (molded) cheese, 10 years too serious, 10 years too worried. Goodbyes came too early; the sideline seats, plush with green cushions, became too comfortable. Too comfortable, her knees now remain untouched. Undeserving of joyful memories of “I did that!” Maybe it was fear that stopped her from living; Maybe she never lived at all.
Son to Mother
Charles C. Bailey
Well, momma, I hafta say, Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair, either. But them tacks got pulled up, and The floorboards are new, So splinters cain’t pierce my feet. Ain’t no carpet, but I still see Your footprints pressed into the Floor. Those landings and warped corners Been lit cause of you. I can’t rest on these steps They were much harder on you— So I’se don’t fear falling; I’m reachin’ the top for your splinters, Tired feet, and blind faith. . . Life for you momma, ain’t been no crystal stair, But ever since you been climbing, that staircase has been changin’ And shinin’, And by the time my chillun start climbin’, That staircase will be Polished like diamond.
Sparks, Ashley Harkins prisma colored pencil, water color, and pen on crescent board
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C. Marie Cashwell
The only thing that fed our excitement More than the landing plane Was the car ride, rounding that curb in Passing the white Baptist church And taking a turn down the dirt road Leading to the brick house on the right. From the street, the house grinned Back with a “come on in.” Tires crawling over gravel was stomping Bubble wrap or cracking knuckles, A relief I never anticipate the increasing Heart rate of the first time, every time. Notes from an acoustic sifted Through a screen door, echoing the garage, Sheer joy of a long awaited return. Shameless of the hairnet she wore while cooking, Grandma, giddy as her grandchildren Hollered for us to hug her neck. Setting down his Alvarez Yari, Grandad rose to a tower over us, Face flushed with a grandfather’s glee. Arms that could wrap around me twice Lifted me from below, In peppermint embrace.
There was no feat greater than pushing Through the hunger, taunted by oven baked honey ham And a stove steaming, softening backyard Garden grown veggies, to dinner prepared With hands that were in the dirt hours before, Reaping what they’d sown. The Georgia heat was loved and hated For nights that didn’t require a sweater, And beaming rays pounding flesh. The grandchildren whined when forced to stay outside, But Grandad reminded us of the sun’s necessity And to quit the bitchin’. The tractor’s engine roared over our voices, And I couldn’t take my eyes off the giant tires— Less the urge for useless chatter. Lost in the wonder of unbridled space, admiring The field beyond sun-spotted hands guiding a steering wheel, I didn’t know I would remember this forever. The church we used to pass around the bend Still stands, but the road is blocked And a new route is taken down a paved road To the brick house on the left with the smooth driveway. Driving down the path, the branches reach to greet me As I make my way home after being gone too long. The tractor rests under a shelter out back, And the garden is smaller requiring less tending. The savory scents still permeate the room Because of a wife, mother, grandmother Who refuses to let anyone else do work.
Grandaddyâ€™s calloused fingertips Have softened, and the guitar glows From the denâ€™s corner with a warmth Much like the sound of fingers picking chords. We pick up the instrument far less, But Grandad never forgets how to tune it.
White Hairs, Ashley Harkins charcoal on colored paper
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Terminal of Happiness
I think the terminal of this world is at the end of the sorrow beyond the answers. Will I die soon? Isn’t that scary? Things that began are always waiting for the end. And yet, I still want to be happy. -Tatsurou Iwakami “Do you ever get the feeling that something bad’s gonna happen?” “Why, were you watching the news again? I told you, Luke, you’re overthinking things.” He heard her sigh on the other end of the phone, probably tapping her French tips on the countertop. “You do this every time you go on a business trip; I don’t know why you’d think now would be any different.” This was why he didn’t like calling her with his anxieties. Not that she didn’t mean well, she just didn’t understand. Being crammed into a metal tube for hours on end with no certainty that the pilot was sober or the weather would be adequate for keeping them in the air in the first place? Driving made more sense; at least there, he could be in command of the vehicle. He could see his surroundings, have the controls in his hands. Not in a plane, though. Not when he was at the whim of stewardesses and a faceless person in the cockpit. What part of it was supposed to be safe? “Planes crash,” was his only answer. “Who’d wanna pay that much money just to die in a fireball?” “Well, I’m sure they don’t want to, but—honey, you’re more likely to get killed by a shark than a plane, 16
alright? You’ll be fine. Look,” he heard a rustle of fabric on the other end, the creak of a leather strap, “I gotta go pick up Jamie from school, so call me when you get to your gate, okay?” “Jess, wait—” “Later, honey!” The click in his ear sounded before he could get another word out, leaving him in the barren loneliness that was his hotel room in the middle of Denver. Great, he huffed, blowing hot air through his nose. Now who was he supposed to have talk him down? His flight left in three hours, giving him ample time to make it to the airport and through security with his lone carry-on with the hope of making it back into Atlanta by midnight. The trains would still be running at that hour; in the off-chance he landed, he could make it to his car parked in the northern suburbs and home before the moon hit its peak. At least, in theory. The rain outside his hotel room window had him thinking differently, hoping it wasn’t a sign of anything to come. He made it a point to check the weather forecasts on a daily basis; even at home, he was always watching out for any storm that might impact his travel to and from the office, anything that might slow traffic and break his perfectly tailored schedule. As long as the weather cooperated, everything ran smoothly. Everything would be fine – right? That didn’t stop him from tapping the heel of his shoe on the floorboards of his taxi the entire fifteen-minute drive from his hotel, down Peña Boulevard into the maze of parking spaces at Denver International Airport. The spires of the building’s tented roof scraped the tops of lowhanging clouds, rain still pouring down in sheets, pinging off the fiberglass roof and cascading to the pavement below, drenching the streets and every surface imaginable. It was a miracle he paid his fare and made it inside without the wind ripping the umbrella out of his hand. With any
luck, his flight would be either delayed until the weather cleared or cancelled altogether. With the latter, he could drive home in a rental car and make it back before the end of the week. Sure, he would have to call out of work for the next few days, but it was better than ending up dead in a field somewhere. After checking in to his flight, he noted the scheduled times displayed on the blue-backed departure board behind him; every flight was planned to leave on time, including his, bound for Atlanta at 4:05 in the afternoon, much to his displeasure. The illuminated hands of his Breitling read 1:32 in the dim light streaming through the glass-ceiling overhead. What was he supposed to do until then that didn’t involve staring holes into a wall? At least he had the forethought to charge his phone before leaving; silently he thanked whoever created smartphones for helping him take his mind off of the airport and passengers wandering the corridors and the thunder that cracked incessantly over his head. Only after he belatedly saw the lights flicker did he hear the intercom overhead announcing that all current outbound flights were delayed for an hour or until further notice, the woman saying something about the storms clearing within the next two hours at the minimum. “Great,” he groaned, leaning his head back, closing his eyes to the bright lights of the terminal. It probably wouldn’t even affect him in the long term if the meteorologists knew what they were talking about. “Should’ve just cancelled—” “Excuse me, but can. . . ?” In hindsight, he really should have looked up from the glow of his iPhone before nodding his assent and moving his suitcase off the chair to accommodate the stranger – in a completely empty section of the airport, no less. There were more than a few dozen other chairs in the area, perfectly unoccupied. Why next to him, of all places? He didn’t understand why that was the most concerning
aspect of the situation, not when a man in a stark white suit was staring down at him with the darkest of irises, dark makeup expertly smeared around his eyes, full lips dyed a brilliant black and pulled taught into a wary frown. The paleness of his skin was offset by the strands of black hair that flowed midway down his front, stray wisps draped across his shoulders in soft curls. He wasn’t wearing shoes. Nothing about him was professional – that wasn’t what worried him. Any other day, he would have ignored the man and continued staring mindlessly at his cell phone. But now, faced with the sight of one of the most horrifically intriguing people he had ever seen in his life, he couldn’t bring himself to look away. At least the stranger didn’t mind, simply seating himself and folding his hands in his lap, leaning his head back to stare at the glasspaneled ceiling, apparently oblivious to the eyes boring holes into his head. What was going on? “It hasn’t rained like this in a while,” the stranger spoke before turning his eyes to catch Luke’s gaze, a smile curling his lips. “Something wrong?” It took Luke a moment to finally stammer out, “No, it’s just. . .Why’re you wearing that?” He motioned to the man, now fully facing him, his eyebrow cocked at an angle. “You’re not exactly. . .subtle.” “I wasn’t trying to be,” the stranger shrugged, turning to look at the receptionists further down the terminal, all paying him no attention whatsoever. “It’s not like they can see me, anyway.” Wait. Though it would explain the man’s unkempt appearance and the general air of foreboding around him, it couldn’t have been possible – right? He wasn’t staring into the face of a ghost, or demon, or whatever he was. He had to be just another wayward human looking to scare tourists into thinking the airport was haunted, probably getting a quick laugh before moving onto his next victim.
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He couldn’t be real. “You’re joking,” Luke told him, pushing his glasses back up the bridge of his nose, malice in his voice. “You’re fucking with me, aren’t you?” “Does it look like I am?” He faced the ceiling again and slumped in his chair, arms crossed behind his head and legs stretched out, pants blending into the white tile floor, bare feet tapping in an out-of-sync rhythm. “You know, most people hear my spiel before they start asking questions.” “Why are you here?” Luke asked him, arms crossed. Who did this guy think he was, thinking he had the right to sit next to him and start preaching about how he wasn’t human? He should probably contact an attendant, tell them someone from the local psychiatric hospital escaped and was running rampant in an airport. “And what’s your name, anyway? You know, so I can tell somebody you’ve escap—” The man’s hand to his wrist stopped him from standing, coaxing him back into his seat with a discolored hand, sable skin creeping up under the sleeve of his shirt. Within a blink, it was gone, flesh as alabaster as ever. He must have been hallucinating. “You’ll be doing none of that, Luke Lawson. Sit. I’m not here to hurt you.” How did he know his name? “Yeah, that’s what you say,” he growled, voice shaking with nervous laughter. “But the second I look away, you’re gonna hit me over the head with an ax. . . . Look, I just wanna get on my plane and go home, alright? I don’t have time for your—whatever you’re doing here!” “Please calm down,” the man stated, brows furrowing the longer he watched Luke. “You’re making a scene.” “Oh, I’m making a scene?” Luke stood despite the hand on his jacket sleeve still tugging him down, yanking his arm away. “You’re the one waltzing in here dressed like that, saying no one can see you! And I’m not supposed to 18
make a scene?” “I’m not the one talking to an empty chair.” The bastard had the audacity to smirk, crossing one ankle over his knee. “Please, sit. I’ll tell you whatever you want to know.” Against his better judgment, he complied with the request and returned to his seat, eyes trained anywhere but the man beside him. “You have five seconds to start talking.” “You don’t have anywhere to be,” the man spoke, amused. “My name is Misael, and I have news to deliver regarding your welfare.” Weird clothes, weird makeup, weird name – what next? Luke shook his head and crossed his arms again, fingers gripping the fabric of his suit jacket and threatening to rip holes in the seams. “What, are you gonna tell me my plane’s gonna crash and I shouldn’t get on it?” His heart dropped at Misael’s lack of response, no sense of concern visible in those black eyes. “. . .Fuck, you’re not serious.” “You don’t have to believe me,” Misael offered, indifferent. “Your life is your own, feel free to make your own decisions whether you live or die.” Carding his hands through blond hair, Luke glanced down both ends of the terminal, spotting nothing out of order. Above them, thunder was still rolling in waves, rain pelting the roof in thick drops, all of it deafening to his ears. “You’re telling me I’m going to die today, aren’t you?” Luke growled, turning to Misael, face taut in disgust. “You’re here to tell me I’m gonna crash and burn, right? Shit, I knew I should’ve gotten a rental car—” “Are you happy, Luke?” “. . .What?” What was he getting at, asking him if he was happy at a time like this? He was about to die and some strange makeup-clad man was asking him if he was content with his life? “The fuck does that have to do with anything?”
“It’s a simple question.” Misael rotated to fully face Luke, folding his feet beneath his thighs and resting his hands in his lap. “Are you happy with your life? With everything you’ve done?” A chill shot down his spine as another clap of thunder sounded overhead, shaking the terminal with the force. “I’m perfectly happy with my life,” Luke growled, tapping the heel of his shoe to the tile. “Again, why’re you asking this?” “Because I know you’re lying.” Luke’s eyebrows shot up at Misael’s statement, his jaw clenching. “You lie because you’re a coward, Luke. You hate your job because you have to travel, but you don’t have the heart to quit, to tell your family you’ve failed again, just as you always have. But you do it out of the goodness of your heart, don’t you? You want to provide for the people you care about the most, even at the expense of your own happiness. You live by a schedule thinking that if you live in monotony, you’ll be surprised by something out of the ordinary. But that never happens, does it? So you sleep at night in your bed, with your beautiful wife, and your son in the next room, and you ask yourself, ‘Why am I not happy?’ ‘What am I doing wrong?’” Something was wrong – was this another nightmare? It certainly felt like it; the foreboding atmosphere, the strange man dressed in white threatening to take him away from this life, the fact he was about to get on a plane of all things. All of it left a sense of unease in his stomach. Digging his nails into his palm only confirmed to him he was very much awake, and a strange man with porcelain skin and black eyes was watching his every move, knowing his every thought. “How—How do you know this?” Misael ignored him. “You were always bright in school, weren’t you? Top of your class, star of the football team. Shocked everyone when you went into corporate instead of going pro. You got the girl of your dreams,
the son you always wanted, and the money isn’t half bad either. But that still doesn’t answer my question – why aren’t you happy, Luke?” Because you’re telling me everything I hate about myself. Because I don’t deserve what I have. “You’re a smart man, Luke,” Misael continued, oblivious to his inner turmoil. “So you must understand the fact that you’re needed in this world. No matter how much you hate yourself or you don’t think you deserve the kindness that others give you, there’s no reason for you to put yourself in harm’s way. Cling to what you have and cherish it. Cling to your past, your present. Your wife, your son, your family, find your happiness in them if you can’t find it within yourself.” Above them, the rain slowed to a shower, thunder now a far off memory. “You know how hard it is to believe that?” Luke questioned, eyes to the floor. “How long I’ve felt like this, and you think you can just. . .just make it better by telling me to be grateful for what I have? That someone else has it worse?” “Happiness isn’t just how you feel, Luke.” Misael reached over to place a pale hand on Luke’s elbow, gaze soft, almost pleading. “It’s how you make others feel. There are people who care about you. People who trust you, love you. Who want you to make it home on your own two feet. So believe me when I say that you’re safer driving home tonight.” How was he supposed to believe him? Or, was he supposed to in the first place? Listening to strangers that wandered into his life with the worst news imaginable wasn’t on his list of things to take seriously. But the words Misael spoke permeated deeper than he wanted to admit. Luke wasn’t happy; he hadn’t been for a long time, maybe ever. But those around him – his friends, family, even their dog – all appreciated him for who he was without asking for anything in return. Maybe with them, he could uncover
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his faults and reorganize his life, spend time with them rather than working himself to death at an early age. Luke made his decision and rose to stand, hand on the handle of his luggage, back turned. “I’ll take my chances,” he said, gathering the rest of his confidence. “You’re right, though. I’m not happy. But knowing that they’re still there, that they’re waiting for me. . .I think I can live with that. But—why me?” His question fell on deaf ears. At his back, he found Misael’s seat empty and cold, the man gone from his life, if he had existed in the first place. He should have taken solace in it, reveled in the fact that it was probably the longest hallucination he had ever had. Instead, he left his seat at the front of the terminal and headed deeper inside towards the gates with a heaviness in his heart, unsure of where fate would lead him. I’ll see them in a few hours, he confirmed, the thought calming the jitters in his hands, the shakiness of his breath. I’ll see them again.
Time, Ashley Harkins oil on canvas
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There it was. Nestled in the corner of the unnaturally bleak floral section with a lifeless gold ribbon tied about its frail stem base. It was the perfect bouquet of imperfection and flawed craftsmanship and half-assed effort, accented with a dash of brilliant, burning crimson. In poetic terms, it could easily represent a brilliant depiction of their fuckedup relationship, broken and disheveled and shattered like the discarded bits of a once-precious china doll. It was an amazement that the drying, decaying petals had not shaken free from their captive prison of a sepal and fallen to the floor in a clump of paling red. Just like the thinning tendrils of the similarities and adjoining circumstances that surmised such a dysfunctional, decrepit relationship. With tender, smooth hands the well-groomed man picked the carnations from its equally unfortunate neighbors, hauling the flower bunch up into the air away from the glory of fresh water and sunlight and fabricated happiness. There was a brief flutter of motion breeze similar to the awaking sensation of sunshine and prairie winds, only replaced crudely by the touch of rubber and red LED and clinking metal as a cha-ching! echoed in the prepubescent cashier’s ears, beyond redemption, beyond fathomable hope of return to normalcy both mental and psychological. The young man watched the representation of all he had worked for and torn down, broken and ripped into unidentifiable shreds slide towards the stout bagger’s hands to be wrapped and transported to an entrapping glass vase far away from here. Fate be the authorizer, as the deal was sealed.
It’s not redemption I want, but the veering glance across the nave—the way it touches (without hands) but like a hand, like a hand passing a basket of charity, like a hand brushing my loose fingers. It’s not the sermon I need, but your psalm against my aching psalm. Not the brick-church in the middle of a paved road, but a shack in Bethlehem with a roof woven from blushing palm fronds (a roof that lets in the rain). And our bodies should not be devout neighborhoods, should not be like houses seated neatly by each other on pews of Astroturf. Our humid prayers should open like the spaces beneath bridges: obscured with shopping carts left in reckless abandon. We should pink, like a lush at confession. And pray for all the wrong virtues, but feel like the thin pages of a hymnal—feel like the grass between our curling toes.
Daniel Morse 1949-2015 Rest is Thine and Sweet Remembrance Ours. . .
Roger, Morgan Byrd large format photography
. . .read the polished stone. The funeral was over, and a priest and thirty or more half-friends left shortly after Danielâ€™s body was lowered into the ground. I waited until the grave digger filled the hole with soil and remained a few minutes after he and the undertaker departed. I was careful not to stand on the loose soil and put weight on the body below. My wife waited in the car while I stared at the headstone, trying as I had for the past week to believe that my best friend was now a corpse. After a while, I began to walk down the burial hill over an enormous blanket of autumn leaves covering the cemetery ground, and I watched the molting skeletal trees gently sway against a pale sky. I walked past tombs, statues and family plots, but it wasnâ€™t until I saw a large stone cross near the front gate that I realized I would have to live with what I had done forever. I awoke suddenly that night, then the next night and the next. Because I was interrupting her sleep, my wife lent me pills which only seemed to intensify the jolts that woke me. After lying restless for hours, I would kiss her shoulder, slide out from under our blanket and dress, then stand alone in the kitchen as the sun slowly rose. Once she woke up and began making breakfast, I would prepare for work and force-feed my disagreeing stomach. This became our routine. u n d e r g ro u n d
I decided that if I wasn’t going to be sleeping, I would use my time to catch up on all the work that I had been forsaking while Daniel was sick. The task proved to be daunting, but over the next few days, the towering pile of papers on my desk slowly declined while my wife benefited from peaceful rest. I was resolved to not only catch up, but to speed forward with a proficiency that would impress even my boss. My wife was not as understanding as she could have been. She would tell me that I needed my sleep and that the amount of work I was doing was unhealthy. Anyway, how would I know the work was any good if I was completing it so quickly and thoughtlessly? I had no time to consider such questions. What did they matter when the work was finally disappearing? Would she prefer that I not work, fall behind, and get fired? How would we survive then? Drinking became my analgesic. The bars I would go to were loud and unbearable, but the thick, heavy sleep that followed was worth the ordeal. It even stopped the dreams. I knew that I could never by any means drive home from the bar drunk. I wasn’t afraid of dying in a crash, I was afraid of hitting someone, though it amused me to think of destroying the car, rendering my wife unable to use it. My wife with her groceries, shopping, women’s clubs, and Sunday school. No, I couldn’t drive, so I walked home. These walks would, without fail, lead me back to the top of the burial hill to Daniel’s grave where nothing lived but the sound of the icy wind and my own voice reading his epitaph, Rest is Thine and Sweet Remembrance Ours. Then I would wander through the cold and lonely town, pass by our church where there were memories of him, continue down the road through suburbs where I would watch families through their windows, couples who loved each other, living out their 24
healthful lives in warm and nurturing homes as they put themselves and their children to sleep. One night I saw Mrs. Morse alone in her nightgown, climbing into an empty bed. Daniel’s impression was probably still in the mattress, a hollow outline of the body she was accustomed to wrapping her arms around, an indent left by the weight that used to make her feel safe, a depression that would slowly disappear and flatten as time went on without him. One day my wife’s concern began to show. She said that she had been praying for me, but that God had told her that her prayers were not sufficient. You need help, she said, You need to stop drinking because it’s only making your grief worse. I worry about you, Robert. I don’t even know where you are half the time. Are you at work, at the bar, or locked in your study? I’m here for you and I love you and you know that God loves you too and we both just want to see you get through this. What she didn’t understand was that it was all her fault. I would be able to sleep if I wasn’t constantly afraid of waking her up, inconveniencing her precious slumber, and I’d be able to take it easy at work if I wasn’t supporting her expensive hobbies. Did she want to be broke? Of course she didn’t, then she’d have to give up her precious curtains and her stupid leatherbound bibles. She wouldn’t be able to afford to bake cookies for her Sunday school students, or to stitch together Jesus and Lazarus sock puppets for them. The sound of my hand hitting her face rang louder than I thought it would, and the tears that followed ran from different eyes than I expected. While her face remained constricted and red, my sight began to ripple with the weight of the water I had been holding back. That Sunday, I went for confession. The priest behind the box’s lattice was invisible, but his voice
buzzed with a quiet, bassy depth, and I recognized it as the voice of a man I was friends with, whose secrets I knew just as he knew mine. He was, in fact, the priest who presided over Daniel’s funeral. To him I repented, with God as my witness, that I had struck my wife and that I had been indulging in hard drink. These are only manifestations, the priest said, of a deeper sin. What is your deeper sin? I was too exhausted to deny anymore, so I dug down into it. Of course the priest remembered Daniel, God rest his soul, and was grieving for him in his own way. Daniel had been a well-loved member of our church. With his penchant for volunteer work, he could often be spotted behind the altar during service, waiting in the vestibule during choir practice, or dressed as one of the Magi in the nativity. He would always be willing to talk, whatever issue one might be having with work or wife, and he would always have a bright and welcoming smile that broke through his gray beard. He was hardworking as well, having been the coordinator of many volunteer mission trips. I accompanied him and his group on one or two of them and was always stunned with how well a man in his sixties could build a shed or raise a barn roof, and how slowly and thoughtfully he did it. One Thanksgiving, my wife invited him and his wife over for dinner. They were the cheerful, affectionate and synchronous elderly couple that me and my wife aspired to be. I asked Daniel what he did for a living, and he said he worked a desk job, the paperwork for which he was always staying up late to complete. My wife asked them if they had any children and he said they did not, that God had not intended them to have children of their own, but wanted them to care for the many children who attended our church. My wife found this delightful as she and I were, at that time, getting
ready to have our own children. But we never did. Of course there was a dark side to their relationship. Daniel had been a bit of a drinker, and had been abusive towards Mrs. Morse during times of weakness. Apparently he struggled with the problem for much of his life, and it had taken a heavy toll on his health. He did his best to swear off it once he married her, and he was successful save for one or two binges, and a handful of abusive episodes. He was above all a particularly precious friend to me. We began a routine of waking up very early in the morning each day to go for a walk as the sun slowly rose. He said he needed to walk every morning because, however old one might be, it’s important to keep the blood pumping. It was on these walks that we would share our strangest thoughts and most idiosyncratic observations. It was also on one of these walks that we discovered we had the same blood type. When his sickness finally caught up with him, he was going to have an operation which would have most likely saved his life, but I refused it because of the near certainty that my body would shut down as a result. Smiling sadly from the hospital bed, he said, Don’t worry, buddy, God gave each of us one liver, and I used mine poorly. Mrs. Morse said nothing, my wife said nothing, and I said nothing. I knew that I should have argued with him, but I didn’t. So there you have it, Father. That’s the deeper sin you wanted to hear about. It’s something I’ll have to live with for the rest of my life, something that will sit like an indent in my brain. That might be the case, the priest said, but you should only concern yourself with repenting of that sin and correcting the harm that it caused. You’re right, I said. He paused and added, You know what God wishes for you to do, Robert. Yeah? He wants you to atone for your sins by quitting hard drink, u n d e r g ro u n d
setting your work aside and showing Mrs. Mitchell more kindness. In this way, you will not only respect her and yourself, but you will respect Mr. Morse’s memory. I guess you’re right, I said. Do you renounce your sins to Christ, my son? he asked. I do, father, with full knowledge of what I should have done differently, and what I need to do now. What should you have done differently? he seemed to ask out of personal curiosity. I would have done what I was called upon to do, so that the right man could have been here, in your precious confessional, giving his own confession. Is that right? And what would his confession be? I don’t know, father, I said. It might have begun with a polished stone, one that read. . . . . .Robert Mitchell 1966-2015 Rest is Mine and Remembrance Yours.
Finding Truth at the Bottom of a Shot Glass
Same ol’ routine—my head ain’t thinking clearly, but my heart is. What’s this? Jack or. . .Jesus, it’s a grey (gray? Gris?) routine. I still see that orange tabby in my dreams. And I raise a toast to heartbreak. That’s how poetry is made.
Luke slides his hands into his pocket.
Ashley Robertson Yup.
EXT. JAMAICA BAY, NY - MORNING Grey clouds. Lingering fog. Garbage relaxing on the pavement. Filthy rogues. Cracked streets. Rundown buildings. Rats the size of puppies. Jamaica Bay, NY, a sight to the human eye. LUKE GATLEY (24) strolls through the streets of Jamaica Bay. Swaying his head from left to right he notices a mutilated body lying on the sidewalk, a dirty pregnant lady in pain. Down the street sits Luke’s favorite hot dog stand, Uncle Rufus’s Dogs. UNCLE RUFUS (66), pudgy, no-teeth, raspy voice, greys out the ass—
UNCLE RUFUS Luke? Is that you?
Uncle Rufus rubs his eyes.
RUFUS (CONT’D) Boy! I haven’t seen ya since you were this big. You’re all grown up now. How ya been?
Luke embraces Uncle Rufus. They break their hug. Uncle Rufus levels his hand to his saggy man boob. LUKE
I’m good, Rufus.
RUFUS I take it you’re here for the funeral?
RUFUS Sorry about the loss. Your father was a great man. I remember the time he saved me from being mugged by those band of misfits. He just swooped in like a hawk and took no prisoners—
LUKE As much as I would love to stay and chat, I have to go. I’ll see you another day. Nice seeing you, Rufus.
Luke moseys on to his car, gets in, and drives off. EXT. SAINT RAYMOND CEMETERY - AFTERNOON Dark clouds. Pouring rain. Weeping citizens. Gloomy faces stare at the grave. Luke watches his father’s coffin enter the burial plot. Slightly, raising his head Luke scans his surroundings. He spots an old couple smiling, a female laughing, his older brother TOM GATLEY chattering with a man drenched in black. Suspicious much? Luke lifts an eyebrow. EXT. POLICE STATION - NIGHT A black muscle car pulls up. The driver’s door opens. Two white sneakers step out. The sneakers inch closer to the entrance door. Guarding the entrance are two muscle bound police officers. The first cop watches Luke’s eyes.
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COP #2 What official business do you have here, boy?
Luke enters the station.
LUKE My name is Luke Gatley. I’m here to see my brother, Tom Gatley.
INT. POLICE STATION - CONTINUOUS
Cop #2 reaches for his walkie talkie.
COP #2 Breaker! Breaker! 1435.
COP #2 There’s a Luke Gatley here to see you.
Send him in.
Cop #1 slams Luke against the brick wall. Pat! Pat! Pat! Checking Luke for suspicious weapons. Does Luke look like the type to carry a weapon?
LUKE Don’t get happy back there—
Cop #1 ceases his inspection.
COP #2 Walk through, and it’s the first office on the left.
Walking through the halls Luke observes the accolades mounted on the wall. One of the photographs features Tom smiling with a German Shepard by his side. Luke continues his journey to his brother’s office. INT. TOM’S OFFICE - POLICE STATION CONTINUOUS Inside the tiny four-sided white room Tom sits, shuffling through a pile of police reports. Is he really working? Tom pauses. Looking to his left, he detects Luke’s presence.
TOM Well, well, well, the black sheep returns. After being gone for six years, I was surprised to see your wretched face this morning.
LUKE Call me what you want, but I’m still a part of this family, Tom.
TOM Oh, really? Then where the hell were you when our father was face down at his desk with a bullet hole, the size of a damn quarter, in his fucking skull? LUKE
I-I was in school.
TOM And look what your selfish decision led to. Today,
Bill and I had to bury. . .can’t you fathom the heart ache?. . .Why couldn’t you just stay in the family business?
LUKE I didn’t come here to listen to your criticism, Tom—
TOM Then why are you here?
Do you know?
TOM No, and even if I did, I wouldn’t be inclined to tell you, seeing that you aren’t a cop.
Luke steps towards Tom, yanks his forearm.
LUKE Tell me who killed him!
Aggressive much? Then again. . .wouldn’t you be? Especially, if it’s vital information? Tom glances at Luke’s skinny hand then set his pupils back on Luke.
TOM Putting your hands on an officer is a crime, so unless you want to spend the night here, I suggest you let me go.
LUKE Not until you tell me—
TOM Luke, you’ve already made a stupid mistake once.
Don’t do it again.
Luke releases his grip.
TOM (CONT’D) Like I said before, you aren’t a cop. Therefore, you aren’t inclined to official information. Understand?
Tom sticks the reports in his desk, locking it. He puts on his jacket.
TOM (CONT’D) It’s getting late. I suggest you go home. That is, if you have a home.
Before Tom exits, he turns and looks at Luke.
TOM There’s something I’ve been wanting to tell you. . . . Fuck you!
Tom exits his office. INT. TOM’S OFFICE - POLICE STATION CONTINUOUS
LUKE Fuck me? No, fuck you!
Luke’s bare fist collides with the computer screen. BANG! Knocking the computer down. DING! Goes the cup filled with pencils crashing into the wall. CRACK! Tom’s family photo breaks across Luke’s knee. Luke sends a chair crashing into the wall. Luke flips Tom’s desk on its back. He stops. BREATHES DEEPLY. Luke, devilishly,
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smiles at the desk. He dashes towards a broken chair leg. Luke returns with a weapon in hand. WHACK! WHACK! WHACK! WHACK! WHACK! WHACK! He uses every ounce of fiber in his being. No success. He ceases. HYPERVENTILATES. Staring at the muck. The broken glass shards reflect the monster, Luke. A hollow man. An immature bitch. He sees himself. He runs for it. INT. MICKEY’S PUB - NIGHT Mickey’s Pub. Irish. Old, but rowdy, a mirror image of the owner himself. Broken glass. Broken chairs. Broken people. The pub shelters the souls of Jamaica Bay. Luke pulls up a seat at the bar.
BARTENDER Hello, Sugar! Welcome to Mickey’s Pub. What can I get. . .
Bartender observes Luke’s gash.
BARTENDER (CONT’D) Would your hand like a drink?
Luke glares at her.
LUKE Double scotch. No ice. Got it?
Bartender fetches his drink. A hairy husky man wearing leather pink pants gazes at Luke.
LUKE See something you like? MAN
Yes, I do, handsome. How’s about I buy you a drink?
LUKE Not trying to dismantle your heart, but I don’t swing from poles.
MAN Honey, don’t knock it until you try it.
Luke WHOMPS the man’s nose. Down goes the man! Down goes the man! Silence. Mouth’s a gape. Blood trickling down the man’s nose. The man skedaddles. CLASH! Glass shards, beer drenches a man. A fight erupts in the back. Fiiiiiiiiiiiiight!
Fists fly. Bodies collide.
BARTENDER Just another day.
The Bartender sets the liquid courage in front of Luke.
BARTENDER (CONT’D) Here you are, sugar. Double scotch. Hold the ice. Anything else?
Luke aims his icy grey eyes at her. The Bartender scurries. He takes the drink. Observing the crowd, he eyes a man wearing glasses and a blazer. With the drink in tow, he fixates his corneas on the glass. Guzzling down the devil’s juice, Luke rumples his face. JOE EVERETT (28) comes in. He thrives on playing the
good guy. But that’s the problem. He’s a baaaaaad boy. Joe steps into the bar. Noticing his vampire bites are showing around his collar, he adjusts it. Joe plops down next to Luke, who’s watching the anchorman talk about Jamaica Bay’s death toll.
JOE Bartender! Give me a shot of whiskey, please?
BARTENDER Sure thing, sugar.
Joe leers at Luke.
JOE Hey, what are you in for?
LUKE The same reason you’re here.
JOE Score some drunk chicks?
Luke rubs his eyebrows.
JOE (CONT’D) Relax, man. You need another drink. Bartender, give my friend here another one of whatever he was having. Put it on my tab.
LUKE Friend? You don’t know me, sir. And I damn sure don’t need your charity—
JOE You need something. In fact, you look like
something is eating you alive. What’s the matter? Lost your dad?
Luke jacks up Joe. Joe struggles for his balance. JOE Didn’t mean to strike a nerve.
Luke lets him go.
JOE (CONT’D) I understand your pain. I lost my father too. To jail that is.
Luke furrows his brows. JOE (CONT’D) He was framed for shooting some miscreant teenager. Now he’s withering away like a decomposing corpse. He’s serving a twelve year sentence.
LUKE At least yours is still roaming the earth.
Bartender places their drinks down.
JOE However, is he free? Sure we have freedom to do whatever we want, but that doesn’t mean we’re free .
Joe picks up his demon rum, tossing it into his mouth.
JOE (CONT’D) You see, your father is free. No longer is he forced to suffer day in and day out, having to listen to some
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sorry piece of shit. . . .
Joe signals the bartender for a refill. Bartender obliges.
JOE (CONT’D) Telling another sorry piece of shit what to do, or how to do his job. That’s life for ya, isn’t it?
Joe knocks back another shot.
JOE (CONT’D) By the way, my name is Joe.
Joe extends his left hand. His left? Why not his right? Luke shakes Joe’s with his right hand. Luke.
JOE (CONT’D) Luke, let me tell you something my father once told me. We all have broken hearts, but the sooner we forget, the faster we heal. Joe sets a twenty dollar bill on the bar top, he pulls out a small paper, a pen and scribbles something secretive. He slides it in Luke’s direction. Luke analyzes it. But, by the time he finishes Joe’s gone. The paper reads: 1400 West 2nd street. Tomorrow. Midnight. Follow the buzzards before they finish what remains. . . . FADE OUT.
The table stretched on forever. On one side, myself; on the other, the man opposing me. He wore eyes the green of the Emerald Isle after the late summer rains. They are like miniature reflecting pools that are murky from the deep green depths. “You a gambler, boy?” His smile was a well-honed knife. “I’ve been known to play a game of chance every now and then.” “The stakes are too high at this table, too rich for your blood. Wouldn’t you be better suited playing with the rabble in the first ring?” My clothes are threadbare and worn from hard travel. I have been to twenty cities in the past twenty months. The realm of the fae is elusive at best, and the fae market is hateful to any mortal trying to return. I have returned several times, at first to continue my father’s work, later for more personal reasons. “You’re the type of person that loves to hear himself speak, aren’t you?” “With a voice this sweet, why wouldn’t I be?” Chuckles. “Are you that eager to lose?” “Just eager to begin.” “I might actually feel bad about taking that paltry sum off of you, but if you are that eager, we’ll have a game.” I smile. My grandfather was a thief. He stole the pocket watch that I now carry. My grandfather’s watch does not give the time, but it does keep it. There is a soft staccato thump-thump emitting from the miniature heart. I pull out the burnished silver watch and flip it open. The inscription engraved on the inside of the simple silver-
side states ‘Time is a torrent that extinguishes all things save one.’ It is the same watch that this devilish fae once carried. His eyes burn into the metal. I lock the clasp, and slip it into the hidden pocket in my coat. “Let’s begin, shall we?” When my father died, I received, in the mail, a small parcel. Within, there was a small unadorned pocket watch and a personal journal. My mother insisted that my father had left us, left her, for some imaginary fairy tale. He broke her heart, and in turn, she broke my love for him. I was only eleven at the time, but I knew enough to keep the remainders of my father from the fury of my mother. His journal was composed with the most ridiculous story. Wherein my grandfather had stolen, the very watch in the parcel, from a fae creature. At first, I was tempted to throw away the watch and burn the book, but something in me refused to believe that my father had wasted his life like a fool. Perhaps, it was simply that I wished to believe that my father had not abandoned me and my mother in vain. It was shortly after this that the watch began to call to me. Like many things of the fae, the watch was not meant for mortal men; however, in my ancestor’s hubris, he bound his life to the watch. The story unfolded quickly after this, that not only had he managed to bind the watch to himself, but to all of his male descendants. He had intended to gain the properties of time. The process only partially worked. Henceforth, if the owner of the watch remained in any place for any prolonged period of time he would wither rapidly unto death; but if he traveled with the cycles of the moon, time seemed to exclude him from its current. This has been the curse of my family for generations: the curse of wanderlust. My father had left in an attempt to find the realm
of the lost ones and broker a deal. His plan had been to break the curse by peacefully returning the watch, or he presupposed that stealing something of greater worth and binding to it would supersede the other. It is the nature of the fae, he noted, to work within a hierarchical scheme. My grandfather had managed to bind himself, and my family, to the watch through some hidden knowledge. The riddle on the inside of the watch, according to my father, was the key piece to the binding process. Any knowledge I gleaned from my father’s journal remained hazy and hesitant; however, he did note that there could be any number of binding rituals. The crucial part required a piece of fae magic, and something of vital importance to the individual evoking the binding. My grandfather, in his ignorance, bound his very life-force to the watch, but according to my father, the process of binding is used by the fae for many things. He died before he could ever set foot into their wilds, but he managed to gain immeasurable amounts of knowledge through fae creatures he summoned and questioned. All of his knowledge he left to me in his journal. Armed with the wisdom and sins of my predecessors I, also, set off after the magical folk. My endeavors have left me with more luck than my father. After the first few visits, returning to the land of the lost became remarkably hard, but leaving became even harder. The sprawling vastness of carts and vendor booths stretched forward in a caricature of some bizarre spider web. Its layers were complex and engulfed the entire night. Throughout the outer ring, farthest from the center, there were goods of all kinds and hawkers vocalizing the virtues of their wares. Music came from several sources, and yet it seemed to mingle and blend in the heavy night air as if in a reunion of long-lost friends. The rich smell of roasting meat and fresh pastries filled the area with a heady intoxicating scent. The first time I visited the market, I had been naïve enough to sup on the food of the fae. Like
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many things that belong to the strange folk, their food is not something meant for mortals. I initially met her on my first visit around the outside ring of the fae market. Her multifaceted auburn hair like fire in the wind shifted from smoldering red to flaring orange with the slight flurry. Although, my father’s journal had brief instruction on how to arrive at the market, he personally had never been. My first time through, I stumbled across blind. If not for my grandfather’s pocket watch, I would be dead, or worse, enslaved. Even with the protective nature of the watch, the food and drink made everything seem more beautiful and vibrant. Of course, with the inebriation from the outer ring she seemed beyond compare; I could feel the ticking of my metallic heart begin to race at the sight of her. “Excuse me ma’am, but you’re quite tempestuous.” In my inebriated state I botched the words tempting and voluptuous; only later in a sober mindset could I find humor in the accuracy. Her eyes, crystalline eyes, narrowed like a bird of prey. I know now that she must have instantly hated me, but at the time I thought she was giving me intense flattery. “You’re drunk.” “Yes. . .yes I believe I am, but, Miss, that does not change the fact that you are beautiful.” “Are you sure?” I thought for a long moment. Long enough for her to have turned and walked away. I knew she was leaving, that I was losing her. Before her red hair could vanish into the vivacious crowd, I called out in a vain attempt. “Are you real?” She seemed taken aback, but it managed to pull her back into my world for a moment longer. “Would you know if I wasn’t?” “The question isn’t if I would know, but if I would care?” 34
“And would you?” She grinned and I knew, in the pit of my stomach, that I was lost. Hers was a grin that pulled the side of her mouth up in a mocking question. Full of mischief and guile, and beyond anything human. I could have loved her for only that smile. “For a woman like you, absolutely not. I’d have you real or purely imaginary.” “Pity.” She gracefully moved to the tip of her toes and kissed my cheek. “For a boy like you, I wish I could be real.” With a wicked wink and flourish of fiery locks she was gone. I woke up the next morning on a park bench in London with the worst hangover of my life, and the haunting images of fire without heat. “I’ve heard we might have more business after our game.” His smile is easy, but his eyes betray him. They dart back from his hand of cards to my breast pocket. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the throbbing of the watch reflect in tiny pulses of his unnatural green pupil. “Then you’ve heard right.” “Have you come to return my watch then?” His chuckle slithers from his clenched teeth. I notice that his canines protrude in a sickening way. “Oh, yes, I knew your grandfather, a vain, silly man. Thought he could become one of us. I sent him away with a small consolation prize.” “That’s odd; I heard that he managed to cheat you.” “It’s all very well and everything to try and save your family some face, but don’t speak blatant lies at my table.” He folds his arms and yawns like a lazy dog, bored with chasing rabbits. “You’ve seen the watch; you know how useless it is. Why would anyone ever go through the trouble of stealing that damn thing?” “Seems just fine to me.” I look around at the gathering crowd. “Seems to look just fine to them, too. I
suppose they want to see what I will do with it.” “Please, boy, they’ve come to see me beat you bloody at cards. But down to business. If this isn’t about my old watch, what’s it about? I doubt a lout like you owns anything worth trading, and I’m robbing you blind at cards.” “I came for the girl.” “Oh, now that is rich.” His laugh echoes throughout the small crowd. “I’m sorry to tell you, but, boy, she ain’t for sell.” “Funny, that, because I heard the fairy market is where a man can get anything he wants, if he’s willing to pay the price. Have I misheard?” At this, those laughing in the crowd fell silent. It is a serious point of pride for the fae to provide any service for a price. “If you want a girl go see one of the peons out in the first ring. I am a busy man, and the stakes at this table are too rich for your blood.” “I don’t want a girl. I want that girl.” “Son, you don’t have the right currency. Add up everything you have and I’d be willing to sell you a scrap of her clothing. . .maybe.” The clustered group chuckles through sheer perverseness. Many of them had once been in this very chair getting treated much the same way. “I get to choose the scrap.” They laugh out loud for that. “You’ve got gusto; I’ll give you that.” He folds and unfolds his hands twice. Cards are wearing on him. Any day of the week this creature could destroy me at the game, but tonight I can see the façade wearing thin. He wants to be down to business; he wants to get his watch back. Exactly how I wanted this game to unfold.
Earlier tonight, I had navigated the web-way of
the roasting meat, non-species specific meat, and wines flavored with indigo and passion. Torches and lamps spread the deep amber light of feigned hospitality. The black-purple sky became an enormous canvas tent lightly enveloping the nightly proceedings. The first segment of each loop held a seemingly benevolent aspect, with a much more malevolent purpose. All of these things were meant to lure mortals deeper toward the mouth of the spider. It was nearly impossible to avoid the food, and with its intoxication, it was nearly impossible to detect the subtle changes in the atmosphere. I had been to twenty markets and found that there were only a few helpful individuals in the lot of them. With their help and the protective nature of the watch, I avoided many of the dangers that fell upon other mortals. Many, but not all. I learned quickly how to avoid consuming the food, and who to talk to about gaining rare items. Tonight I came for the fake watch; I had it commissioned after I first met her. The fae I met stood by a wagon the color of Scotch and blood. “Haven’t found anything to slate that mighty thirst of yours?” In order to proceed deeper into the rings, a mortal usually had to be drunk on the pleasures of the food. This prevented them from seeing the true nature of the beings beyond. Given a sense of clarity, mortals would be able to notice the small oddities that littered the fae. These fae were the incarnation of the half-seen glimpses out of the corner of the eye. This one bore two too many ears, but his large vest covered his lower ones rather well. He was a smuggler; his purpose was simple, his payment not so. “No, friend. I have a thirst, but the drink I need remains elusive.” I pulled out a small bag and gave it a shake. “Thirty-two white and pearly.” His eyes gleamed with greed. A sly smile slid onto his face, and he held out his hand.
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“Glad you brought these, but the price went up.” “Don’t play me for a fiddle.” “Look, there isn’t a thing I can do; they have tightened down since last time.” His smile spoke of only fake solidarity. I smiled back. This was all part of the ballet, and I knew how to dance on cue. I produced another small bag and said, “I was holding on to this for something special, so at least tell me who’s working the second ring.” “Maybe, what’s in the bag?” “Tail of an unborn cat.” The creature practically drooled. I pulled the bag back as he snatched for it. “Names first.” “There’s Talis, Ordane, Jessup, and Regal.” He dropped the watch in my hand, and I left to go visit with a woman who was everything but her namesake: Regal. “You know if you wanted, we could call the game now. Go ahead and get straight down to business.” This is outside the normal operating procedures for a man this skilled. The show of the game first, any game, before the game of brokering a deal, was a staple to the world of the fae. Here in the center ring, my host managed to win a table for himself, the implications are that he knew how to work people over. I either had him exactly as eager to make a deal as myself, or he is playing me better than I hoped. The only option when put in this position is to continue unto death or madness. “Why don’t we simply gamble then? My watch for the girl?” His teeth seem to extend even longer, and his green eyes narrow. He is measuring my character, I attempt to play dumb. “There are rules, boy, and with as much as I’d love to 36
win the watch so easily, it wouldn’t amount to anything.” He holds up his hand and counts, “Sentient Fae, and the subsequent bastards they produce with mortals, cannot be gambled, only bought, sold, or traded.” Pinkie finger. “Fae creatures of lesser intelligence, cannot be gambled, only bought, sold, or traded.” Ring finger. “Fae magic or magically imbued items cannot not be gambled, only bought, sold, or traded.” Middle finger. “You should know the rules, if you want to play the game.” It was earlier this evening that I met Regal by the Origin of All Regrets. Her nose had been severely broken at one point, and her white hair grew in uneven tufts. She carried the eyes of the blind, with the smile of the knowing. In all of my travels I found she unnerved me more than most; but her prices were reasonable and her methods were discrete. “Regal, how lovely to see you again.” “Three.” “It was two last time.” “Yes, but now it’s three.” “If you continue at this I will have nothing left.” “Not my problem.” “I’ll give you the three, but first you have to tell me where he is.” “I don’t barter.” “Then I suppose you’d like to miss out on my first kiss? Or perhaps the time when I broke my arm at the park near my house? Or the first time I got lost in the woods?” Love, Pain, and Fear: strong enough to tempt anyone. She seemed to be chewing the air, but refused to swallow. I knew she’d want these memories, but I could see her working out the likelihood of trouble coming back to her. After a moment, her blind eyes bore into me, and she rasped out a single, “Fine.”
I plucked three hairs and held them out toward her, but waited for her to continue. “He is near the gardens working out of his stall tonight. Now give me my payment.” “Is she there?” “That wasn’t part of the deal.” “As always you are technical to a point. Now, if you will, make it a good glamour?” She wove her gnarled hands over the counterfeit watch and my grandfather’s at the same time. There came a low rumble that seemed to emanate from the pit of her stomach. The words were drowned in the air, but in their repetitive chant something akin to death throes could be heard. After a moment, she held the watches up. “He won’t know the difference unless he gets a good inspection of the piece.” I lifted the two watches and stowed my grandfather’s in a special pocket. The gardens of the inner court awaited. “I’d say your hand is trash.” His words are rough and heavy, impatience with the slow paced game. He has nearly wiped me clean of all of my valuables, everything that I have saved for the past several months. “It does appear I am running out of any semblance of luck.” I set my cards face down on the table and wipe my brow. My eyes dart around the inner chambers of the fae market. Here the commerce beats like a heart pushing groups of fae and mortals alike through the chambers of business. These pulmonary chambers are divided by a growth of flowers beyond compare. They are the deep shades of the deviant mind’s dark corners, and the bright pigments of alien paint-pallets. Flowers the size of horses, and flowers the size of pinpricks besiege columns of incandescent hedges. Private areas are sectioned by seemingly naturally growing plant life, but the twisting
paths all lead to the opening at the center. There are lights hanging on nothing save air, and shimmering in a thousand hues with names beyond mortal language. “Perhaps we should move to business then?” I want to keep him foaming at the mouth for a bit more, but he is clearly a better card-shark than me. “I believe you might be right.” As soon as the words leave my mouth, he snaps his thin skeletal fingers, and the table between us is rapidly removed by his many servants. She, my fire, my reason for being here, strolls out from a path nearby. Around her neck hangs a thick green emerald pendant. I remember when I first saw the damned object. The rules of the fae are odd things, like the creatures that created them. Outside of the hallucinogenic-like food, there were other dangers. I was lucky in finding her a second time, and I was lucky in learning something most mortals experience firsthand. It had been three months since we had first met. I found her by a large fountain at the center of the second ring. The second ring is more melancholic than the other two. The colors were muted, and the sky is pitched in a constant battle between rain and wind. It is as if I could see colors shifting in the wind with the upheaval of a storm. The scarves from the local clothing vendors reached like the hands of the long, lost dead. In this place it might have actually been souls trapped in the threads of the garments, fighting in hopes for freedom. Interfused with the tempest, mournful notes spilled forth rising and plunging from a hunched man and his frail instrument. In front of this man danced a young woman. Her hair fell like a dark curtain over her face, and she swayed in a mesmerizing arc of motion. The paper lanterns burned in manifold shades, flickering like miniature galaxies during the birth of the universe. Clouds
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flirted with the silver moon like ladies spinning about the may-pole. There was an undeniable aspect of magnificence to this area. It created a contemplative atmosphere so thick that every breath brought in a buried regret. This provoked a deeper hunger for wishes, a deeper need to right mistakes, a deeper need to make a deal. The large fountain dominated the second circle, and although, I had learned enough to avoid the food, I did not know how the fountain worked. She showed me. “Excuse me ma’am, but you’re quite tempestuous.” Her emerald flecked eyes were watching me from the still black water of the fountain. “You’re not drunk.” “You’re no longer imaginary, but just as beautiful.” “You flatter, but you do not know.” She had lost her playful grin. She became a smoldering ember. And even that little amount of fire in this dead world, brought me warmth. “Then tell me, so that I can know.” “Words would fail me, and even if they didn’t, you would not understand.” She looked up from the fountain. “Do you know what this is? This is the Origin of All Regrets.” Her hands dipped into the water and brought forth a handful of midnight liquid. “It will hurt, but if you drink this you will understand my regret.” I knew from my times in this realm that consumption meant pain, but I also knew that if I did not drink it meant a different pain. It meant that I would lose her here, forever. I did not hesitate. As soon as the black water hit my lips, I saw. I saw everything. She had grown up in a small town in Ireland. On her mother’s side, generations removed, she had been part fae. The magic of the strange folk flowed in her veins. With the boy she loved at death’s door, she thought she could find a cure in the magic of her people. Inexperienced as she was in the politics of her foreign ancestry, the 38
thought never passed her mind that the fae she summoned to make a deal would weigh the scales crooked. The boy lived, but she became the slave of the dealmaker. The pain came, not from the consumption of the water, but from the intensity of the remembrance. It shook the very core of me, and left echoing traces in my dreams for months to come. But for the time being, I could only focus on her. I looked into her eyes, and I found she was searching for something in mine. I know now that she was looking for some amount of pity. To her pity is a poison that chokes out the possibility for love. Lucky for me, I had no thoughts of pity, only a determination to free her. Whatever it was that she saw she must have liked, for she did not leave. “Looks as if my flattery is even better deserved.” “How can you say that? I was so stupid, so naïve.” Her frown deepened and her eyes danced with green fire. “Almost as bad as you.” “You were young and stupid and foolishly brave.” “First flattery and now insults. You have quite a way with the ladies.” Her hand reached up to the emerald pendant she wore, and her eyes became the same dark, almost lifeless, stone. “I have to go.” Abruptly, she began moving across the courtyard, and deeper into the heart of the market. I met her at the edge of the alley with a handful of black water. “You have time for a regret from me. It’s only fair.” She hesitated, something warring across her face. Her curiosity won out against her haste, and she took a mouthful. After a moment, her mischievous grin broke out, and the fire came back to her eyes. “Names are powerful things here.” “So I will be left with another moment of regret?” “You want something to call me?” “More than anything.” “Then call me yours, for at least a little while.”
“I will.” I held her hand for a brief moment before she turned and left. Long after she was gone, I stood watching the lane she had disappeared down. Repeating. “Mine.” In a soft voice. I was locked up in a psychiatric clinic in Belgium, because for three weeks, I was left with only this word on my lips. “So what is it you want?” “I want the girl.” She will not look at me. “No, boy, I want to know what you really want.” He folds his spider fingers before his face, and his green demon eyes stare out from beneath the brim of his hat. “What motivates you? Is it a lust for flesh? Or Glory? Riches? Fame? Something makes you tick, besides that fancy watch your grandfather stole.” “I want the girl.” She still will not look at me. “And I’ve told you she’s off the table, she’s part fae and too expensive for that magic trinket.” “Oh, but it’s not just the watch you’d be getting.” “How would you sweeten the deal?” “My grandfather stole this watch, he besmirched your good trading record; doesn’t it bother you to have let it get away?” Whispers race through the small gathering. “With this trade you get back your reputation and your watch.” I could see the hunger beat out any real sense of caution. The dangling watch helps to feed his lust. He finally speaks. “I’ll give you her pendant for the watch.” A hush falls over the crowd in anticipation. “Deal.” She finally met my eyes. Hers were full of anguish, and mine with realization. “Deal.” He says. His smile is the smile of a man who believes he has won. A man that smiles, because he knows what winning feels like, and has forgotten the taste of defeat. He hands
me the pendant with a chortle. “Go ahead, take her. That was the whole point of this wasn’t it? Take her and run off. Isn’t that your plan?” He reaches inside his vest to remove a small ring fashioned entirely of emerald. “Oh, you can’t control her can you? I must have failed to mention, son, but that pendant ain’t what binds her to me. This ring is.” His gloating is as loud as the crowd around him. I smile. My primary plan has failed, but at least I now know her seal. Slowly, I pull my grandfather’s watch out of my secret pocket and look him in the eye. Realization comes a few seconds later for him, and a few minutes later for the crowd. His features scream fury as he looks for the words on the inside of the fake watch. The glamour seems to shatter as he crushes the fake watch in his hand. He snatchs for the true watch in my hand, but I move it out of his reach. “You want the girl. Fine. I’ll trade her life for yours right now. Price: the watch that your grandfather stole from me all those years ago.” He grinds his teeth, and his veins throb at his temples. It had almost all been worth it, just to remind him what losing was like. I grin the grin of a man insane with purpose. “Price: the seal that binds her to your will. Deal?” “Deal.” He hands me the emerald ring in exchange for the watch. No sooner is the watch in his hands, then his voice turns to venom. “You still lose. I own you now; through this watch I will break you, through you I will own the girl. You have gained nothing, and I will make you pay for wasting my time.” He lets out a snarl of triumph. “I win.” “I can at the very least have one small victory.” I turn to wipe the tears from her eyes. She slaps my hand and my comfort away. “Excuse me miss, but you’re quite tempestuous.” My usual line earns a scowl, but I continue
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regardless. “And if there is one thing I can’t stand, it’s seeing something so wild confined to a cage. You deserve to be free.” I grab her hands and force the broken fragments of green gemstone upon her. “With the destruction of this seal, I set you free.” My father’s journal had given me the idea, but she had spurred me into finding a way to break her seal. I turn back to stare at the face of her previous captor. “You asked what drove me, what I really wanted; what I wanted is for her to be free. So, I have gained everything.” “But you have lost yourself.” I feel him pull a finger across the surface of the watch and whatever magical tether that binds me to it trembles. “I have no need to remove you from the binding your grandfather made, in fact, I think it might be fun to have you around for a while.” Pain begins in my left hand that radiates up my arm. I drop to my knees, and my vision blackens. . . . But then her fire is there. It pulls me back from the darkness. She screams at the green-eyed fae and then moves to help me up. “You are young and stupid and foolishly brave; and I will not let him have you. With this kiss.” She wraps her arms around me. Her kiss is fire. It burns my soul and pulls the air from my lungs. “With this breath.” I am spinning into a place of nothingness, but from the void a small spark speaks. “With all the fire I possess, I bind you to me.” I take a shuddering breath and wake up to cobblestones. People have said that Paris is lovely in the rain. Paris is lovely at night. Paris is lovely in spring. The truth is that I have seen Paris on a rainy, spring night, and it was beautiful. I say this, so it is understandable, when I say that all of Paris that night became the pale, distant stars to her immediate fire.
C. Marie Cashwell
I descended from my perch at your arrival, Dropped down from the willow And stuck the landing. Two braids bounced about my face In my dash to the door to meet you. Your grin gave you away— You had something for me. I fixated on your backpack, Curiosity filling me to the brim, Unknowing of the moment’s gravity. The leathery scent invaded my nostrils Before I registered what it was. I suffocated my new acquaintance in a hug, You let out a chuckle and said, “It’s stiff now, but you’ll break it in.” Shiny as a brand new penny, Special, but the first of many. Feeling like my first day of school, My first pre-game warm-up is a blur. The stretching, throwing, batting bleed together Like watercolors in my memory. Sullen and slouching on the bench, I looked over to you, And lifted the corner of my mouth, A lousy attempt to smile. Expression softening, eyes smiling Back, warm and hopeful. The clap-CLAP of my coach’s hands Snaps me forward facing the field again, “Three up three down ladies.” On my way out of the dug-out,
My coach directed me back inside. “Our catcher today is late, Suit up and get behind the plate.” I took on a new identity that day, And my gear became my armor. Waddling like a baby giraffe, I was quite unsteady in my new get-up. But I slid, dove, and blocked, With a spirit unrelenting. And with a clickety-clack-clack, My armor begged to be adjusted. Removing the bulk after the inning, You flew in to the dugout. Tousled my chest protector, Then drew it closer to my heart. You wiggled my leg guards, pulled At the straps, then crisscrossed them. You rattled my cage with a pat-WHACK of your hand, And tightened my helmet to fit snug. “Feel better, little dove?” “Just right. Just like a glove.” Endless diamond escapades Allowed my armor to become one with the flesh. Unmoved by the discomfort of heat and moisture, I bore the cross of the sun like a Stoic. My two braids became one, And I traded my rubber cleats for metal. Outside the powdered lines of the field, I freed myself from the pressure Of having to be a team player. I saw past the pettiness of being a teenager, And sought out my purpose in a journal. I created a world in spaces of white And explored its parameters for leisure.
In my isolation I grew stealthy and stout, Surpassing my judgers on the field. I mowed down insults with the CRACK of my bat And brought honor to my name with the scoreboard. But in my rare moments of seclusion, In the presence of nothing but my own thoughts, I often saw a different life for myself, And the urge to seek it out grew with each day. I learned from my heart and developed my soul, Maintaining a singularity apart from the whole. Crouching hunchbacked behind the plate, My pitcher awaits my signal. I scoop up a handful of sand, Squeeze to let it dry my moist palm. The incandescence of the scoreboard Shouts two outs and a 2 and 2 count, Top of the seventh And their last chance to score. I let the grit fall through my fingertips In a cloud illuminated by stadium lights. I finally flash the signal, Rise from a resting squat, Now on the balls of my feet, And ready mitt ajar. UNC UGA FSU and others, Behind the fence, Behind me. I hear the lift of radar guns, A sound like war, but But they’re not going to battle, They’re here to select us like cattle.
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The pitch is thrown but takes a bad hop, And with a THUMP it’s blocked with my chest. It’s drop third strike and the batter takes off, But a throw from my knees ends the inning. I remove my helmet and breathe in the glory, Knowing that this is the end. I keep my head down on the way back to the dugout, And ignore the celebration at hand. Packing up is different this time, And I methodically place in my bag each item. I kiss the helmet that protected my mind, And lay it on top of my leg’s outer shells. I put down my mitt that taught me to trust Atop the chest protector that guarded my heart. Zipping up the culmination of my passionate career, You meet me right outside the dugout. “They’re waiting to talk to you about school in the fall,” And I shake my head in disapproval. It took me the whole season to make up my mind, But I knew what I wanted at the end of the line. “Ma, it’s time to move on and shed my skin, I’m trading in my glove for a trusty pen.”
In school, I learned the rules of 2 plus 2s, abc’s and do-re-mi’s How Christopher Columbus Travelled the seven seas to find new degrees to free man’s beliefs In school, I learned the rules of how to tell time, and rhythm and rhyme like, “In a box! Or with a fox!” Of Green Eggs and Ham But not Uncle Sam?! In school I learned the rules To get the applicable tools to be a hard worker and never be a shirker Work 24/7 and I’m sure you’ll go to heaven In school, I learned the rules BUT Beyond a shadow of a doubt
they clearly left out the nation’s moral deformities of obedience and conformity like 300 years of slavery or 200 years of penury Or how the smallpox disease Was given to the Cherokee In school, I learned the rules To go to school To get a job? To pay for school?! Rack up a lot of debt Ensure my life is a wreck
In school I learned the rules To never ever meddle in the powerful assemble We’ll put your life in peril For trying to be a rebel Oh school, I learned to play the fool abiding by your rules I’ve become a useful tool To which this world is oh, so cruel
In school, I learned to play the fool To be a sheep And go to sleep “Here. . .buy this Jeep! Watch tv, And have one, great heap Of lots to eat!” In school, I learned to play the fool “Don’t ask no crazy questions!” This is mankind’s natural progression Congress is in session Keep your obsession With glorified accession And “Please! Show more aggression” to countries with maniacal oppression While we’re in this Great Recession
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It seems that thereâ€™s a thing Down at the meadow spring Where kids come to play Nearly all the day Where a boy comes to hear And a girl listens sincere To all the noise around From the animals abound The bear shows the boy the strength of the creek Flowing across the tongues of the meek The sparrow sings of the grace of the air Dancing its way through the young girlâ€™s hair The wolf howls all alone The deer hum their gentle tone Sam, Ashley Harkins prisma colored pencil, water color and pen on crescent board
Day becomes night As they catch sight Of one another Of the other Frozen in place Now, face to face Happy to tell Their little tale
He shows her the creek She misses the meek She sings of the air He canâ€™t feel in his hair He will howl, She will hum The sparrow will count, the bear will drum
Red Barn #1, Raven Schley black and white infrared film
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Christian Bowman Autumn is the jazz of nature and her saxophone scatters the sweetness of red and orange. I listen to the leaves whisper “tss tss” to the cymbal rhythms while the wind wails skit-skat-shoobops on tree branches that tickle the piano’s cackling keys. There is harmony in death. Yet in the midst of the chorus a cold cacophony calls me to settle the score, and a chill crawls up my spine like a hurried spider; Halloween impends. Curtain call, fade to black, and cue the drizzling applause of rain as Winter begins its melancholy blues. It’s 6 o’clock at the nearest coffee house, and the sun shuts its eyes as December hums a deadly dirge. I stand frozen in the frigid moans of the flat fifth, a blizzard of ghastly bellows that cries to the remnants of yesterday.
Upon Sugar Hill
I plodded through the city of graves where I became acquainted with sixo’clock and as of now, I am to be found in insidious stench, with letters from God: ruined love-essays addressed to ghosts, a compelling argument signed “I promise.” I remember why I hate promises; they’re a burden to drag to the grave, and I live weightless as a ghost. As for love notes, I carried exactly six: five meant for myself, and one to God. Truthfully, I’m convinced he never found it. Meanwhile, rapists and murderers find a purpose in the midst of an empty promise. The irony screamed down my throat, godstruck; I wanted justice for their graves, and while weeping, my eyes counted sixty children, and sixty more letters I ghostwrote. Who would want to whisper to a ghost, when there is no secret to be found? I thought I met one once when I was six, but turns out, it was just a broken promise that (somehow) escaped from that shallow grave. Yet, the children needed to fathom a portrait of God.
I scribbled, “Forsaken, I have listened for God but he remained unheard, disguised as a ghost,” a cold revelation that solemnly iced the gravestones. I tried to find solace in my pea coat, but found two halves of a cigarette. Yet, I had promised my mother I wouldn’t smoke at sixteen. I might have drowned in my chagrin at 6 o’ clock but there I stood, naked in the pit of God, violently vomiting chunks of broken promises as my throat was saturated with ghost stories. Hell cannot compare to the horror I found purged, unforgivingly, upon those pitiful graves.
I promise that this graveyard has despondent ghosts lamenting at six o’ clock. I’ve heard their woes, but God still hasn’t found the time to count their graves.
The first rib was the hardest to give and since we’re being honest, the hardest for her to take. Skin stripped from bone, she studied my skeleton. Her hands probed every intercostal space. Her eyes admired every sternum inch. Every bone quaked when she finally ripped the rib out and tasted the marrow. I would never be the same. Three more floating ribs, then we reached the truth. Fourteen of those, seven rows, before the false ribs came too soon. Now, twenty-four bones later, I’m at my cage’s end and I want my ribs back. I am nothing but my ribs, collected in a shoebox and hidden in her dresser drawer until she decides to throw me away.
I promise, there’s just lonely ghosts at six o’ clock, a tragedy, but God never found the time to dig a grave.
I am nothing but my ribs, encased in polyisoprene and stuffed into her purse until she decides to put me on display.
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I am nothing but my ribs. And since all that’s left are my rib bones, I am alone, tossing myself to the dogs and letting them bury me in clay.
M. G. Boal
Pull it back. He ignored the crimson waves that broke through the air. The scent of rubber was the only assurance he had that his sense of smell still functioned, and he had grown accustomed to it within the first month of training. The winter air itself was as odorless as it was deadly, but there was more than enough death mixed in to make up for that. Line it up. “Keep formation if it kills you, boys! We’re taking this fucking hill yesterday!” The squad handler—Instructor Jabreau, he was called—barked orders amidst the artillery fire, the words broken up into nigh unintelligible fragments by the thud of dirt clods against the war-torn permafrost. Squeeze the trigger. He couldn’t tell if the man behind the bunker had taken the hit or ducked. He didn’t care who he shot and neither did his country. With enough manpower putting enough bullets in the direction of the hill, it would eventually become quiet. Pull it back. The bolt resisted his arm with force. It was oddly comforting, the struggle to operate the weapon. There was no resistance when someone got shot; they simply fell over and died, or fell over and thrashed until they died. For all the screaming, it felt far too easy. The rusted mechanism put weight back into the act of killing a man. Line it up. The sound of bullets rending flesh was close, but he did not look to see which of his squadmates was dead. None of them had been given the chance to develop a relationship with one another. Someone had decided it was a detriment for cannon fodder to care about cannon fodder, and so they had taken to cycling soldiers between
units. When numbers are negligibly large, and enemies comparably limited, why care about acting as a team? They only kept tidy lines because the field commanders needed for whatever reason to be able to estimate how many soldiers were in play at a time. Squeeze the trigger. They did not fire in unison. The Grand Infantry did that, thanks to years of training and experience. The antithesis of the indentures. Get good enough at fighting, he thought, and you don’t see so much of it anymore. Survive to young adulthood, and get to live to retirement. One in five, was it? Pull it back. He watched the edge of the entrenchment grow close, the whites of his enemies’ eyes narrowed in anger or precision, both of which were oft punctuated by the crack of a rifle. How soon before the handler spurred them into a charge that could only end in death? Line it up. “Move the fuck up! If you don’t get up there and clear the hill, I’ll shoot you myself!” It was an idle threat. Though the handler thought nothing of their lives, to waste a bullet like that would leave him open to the defenders. Squeeze the trigger. The spatter of blood across the ground this time was all telling. A lucky hit, perhaps. He was grimly satisfied, as the ancient wood and metal husk in his hands was not accurate. It didn’t matter if it was a vital hit. The Lexian military’s fondness for chemical warfare was a doubleedged sword. Pull it back. They were close enough that he could make out the fog on their masks, like miniature ghosts peeking out of a mass grave, ready to be put back to rest. He waited for the order to charge, as they had practiced so many times in the months before. But the order never came.
Line it up. He looked over towards the handler, only to realize the handler wasn’t there. Inspector Jabreau lay on his back several paces back, a tear in his mask the size of a fist. He stood alone, a rage building inside of him. Squeeze the trigger. So he fired. He didn’t have a target this time. Just a direction in which someone probably was. There was no response, so either he had fired at nothing or a target had died instantly. Pull it back. He found it funny that they called it the heat of battle. The air was cold as so many soldiers found eternal rest beneath it. Line it up. The first trench was stilled when he leapt in. The liveliest person aside from himself was the soldier who tried to moan but had a darkening splotch where his lungs were. Squeeze the trigger. All alone now. Pull it back. He didn’t know if he had any rounds left. If he did, they had a place where they belonged other than in his gun’s internal magazine. Line it up. Come to think of it, he didn’t even know if there were any targets left. But he continued just the same, because he couldn’t see well enough to make that call. Squeeze the trigger. The bolt clicked against an empty chamber, and he made an addendum to his routine to replace the clip. It too resisted his efforts, more reused equipment that should have long been discarded. And as he reached for his munitions pouch, he saw for the first time the slick upon his own uniform.
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German Expressionist Cinema
The most pretentious book on my bookshelf is German Expressionist Cinema by Ian Roberts. I swore to myself, on the day that I bought it, Iâ€™d never read it. It fills space and makes people think Iâ€™m smarter than I actually am, like most of the books on my bookshelf.
Ryan, Morgan Byrd polaroid and digital photography
Lost & Found
The last time I saw you Was on the floor in Brookside Talking, laughing Giving and leaving And then waiting For you In snow and rain and by hills and lakes And dances When the notes were too familiar And the stars stared me down like you once did I didn’t even try To wait I forgot Most days. . . The first time was on a train Riding to nowhere and thinking of poetry of kissing rain and silver lullabies Langston Hughes. . .close enough
Fool’s dream My dream That wasn’t real Pin prick sharp but temporary in pain And still I didn’t move For a moment Then back to forgetting Until I came to a frozen sea With half boats sunk in tables Waiting to be put together
And then Turning around I was frozen too
You were supposed to be the song stuck in my head The background music that refused to quiet The hiding place in Brookside And yet You Are Here
And I don’t know if you were late Or you never came but I waited And it no longer mattered “But I’ve waited for you” You shouted with exasperated impatience Your shady nonchalance abandoned like a— u n d e r g ro u n d
Colors, Hannah E. White digital photography 52
Saints #4, Raven Schley black and white film
u n d e r g ro u n d
The thing I remember about her best is that she carried three books in her purse. The book she needed for class, then a book I’m sure was just for pleasure, and then a copy of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. That stuck out to me the best and I guess in a way best described her. What’s needed, what’s wanted, and what’s unexpected. No, I didn’t know her. I didn’t know her at all. Well I guess I kind of knew her. I heard her speak about literature. She was intelligent, that girl, very at ease with herself. She admitted when she was wrong or confused and did so without being self-conscious. She was confident. And more than anything, she was distant. But for some reason, she expected something of me. I knew this from when I would catch her eye every now and then and there would be a small connection. A tiny bridge that she would dare me to cross but I was not so sure nor was I that graceful to ever think about balancing on it to get to her. So I would look away and let it break. Each and every time. Yes, of course I remember the first time I fell in love with her. I still didn’t know her at the time, but we crossed paths enough. There was really only one place to go in between classes for students: Cumberland Street. There were plenty of shops and a university library down there so you could get food and relax or study. But there were two places that I somehow knew she would go. It was Au Lait’s, a coffee shop that wasn’t too expensive for a change and served the best beignets around (we weren’t anywhere near New Orleans), and then the bookstore, Brookside. It was four stories, like most of the shops around here: a 54
ground floor, two upper levels, and a basement. Now, this day was a slow day. Only a few customers frequented the store on every level except the top floor. There was no one up there. No one except her. I guess this solitude mixed with the fact that she didn’t seem to hear me coming up the stairs gave her a bit of courage. And I heard her singing. It was a song I didn’t recognize, not until I heard the line “In a sentimental mood. . . .” Then I remembered. It was an old jazz song that would buzz in the back of my mind sometimes. It was soothing but I never knew that there were words to it. She sounded beautiful. Not flawless and not exceptional either. But it was something just outside that jazzy sound that worked with her. Just enough so that you knew the style of the song, but there was something undeniably unique about it. And it was good. Just as soothing as the instrumental. So I sat on the stairs and listened to her sing the rest. She did a couple more short songs after that before circling back to “In a Sentimental Mood.” This time it was stronger, surer. Better. And when she finally fell silent, I snuck back downstairs to browse through the books but the song stayed on my mind. Even later that night when I listened to the real song, I could hear her voice laying over it. And that feeling of hearing John Coltrane, Duke Ellington, and her in my ear all at once. . .it was euphoric for reasons I couldn’t explain. I still can’t years later. I just knew that as I put that song on repeat and fell asleep to it, a part of me was in love with her. She stopped paying attention to me. Whenever I saw her, she no longer saw me. The bridge that she had built was no longer there. It was closed. We danced together a few months later at a reception.
It was strange. For a person who was normally so subtle, she was wearing one of the brightest dresses in the room. It was floor length and silver. I’m not sure what kind of material it was, but it almost seemed like mirrors that were meant to reflect even the smallest amounts of lights in the room. Yet, I constantly lost her. Why was I looking for her, I wasn’t sure. I hadn’t thought about her since she stopped thinking about me. Maybe it was the dress that kept attracting my attention, causing me to look for the constant distraction. Either way, she stayed on my mind. I was dancing with a professor when the music switched and they excused themselves. And right behind her, turning around the exact time they walked off was she. I knew she didn’t plan on that happening because she seemed startled when her eyes met mine. The crowd around us was swaying and I thought “what the hell” before holding my hand out to her. She looked at it for a second before accepting it with a small smile. She put her hand on my shoulder, I put mine on her waist, and we were gliding. She was a good dancer, even though her feet got mixed up sometimes, in which case she would laugh and continue. Nothing was said, but her eyes spoke volumes. They were the darkest brown I had ever seen, just short of being black. Yet they sparkled. They questioned, they danced. . . .She was saying more now than I ever heard from her before. I spun her out slowly and brought her back. Suddenly, we paused. Her eyes were staring into mine and I felt that same haunting feeling I felt when she sang in the bookstore. Yet, this look was so different from the one I was used to. It wasn’t expecting or asking or ignoring. . . . They were just staring. Seeing. Seeing me. The music ended and the audience clapped. She didn’t step back like I expected her to. She just smiled and spoke to me for the first time since we saw each other.
“Thank you,” she said before stepping out of my arms and disappearing into the crowd. The rest of the night, I swore I saw her right in the corner of my eye but whenever I turned she was never there. So I was never sure if I was just imagining her or missing her all over again. I tried to tell my friend about her. “So you like this girl that you see all the time but has never talked to you. . . . You sure she’s not a stalker?” “No, she is not a stalker. We have the same class. And go to the same bookstore. And the same coffee shop.” “Nice.” “She likes to read. And considering that Brookside is the closest one to the campus, of course she would go there.” “And the coffee shop?” “The beignets.” “True.” “Thank you.” “But I don’t get it. One dance and you like her?” “. . .” “Oh you really like her.” “Now is not the time for you to be condescending.” “I’m going to look this girl up. What’s her name?” “I’m not telling you her name so you can stalk her on Facebook.” “Why? Don’t want to stalk her like she stalked you?” “She did not stalk me!” “Anyway, here are the photos from the banquet. . . .” “I doubt she would be in there.” “Yet you sound so hopeful—whoa. . .” “What?” “Is that her?” “Yeah.” “Oh my god, I know her.” “What?”
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“Ray tried to date her last year.” “What happened?” “She turned him down. She likes the ambitious type of guy. Had a class with her too. She’s kind of a bitch.” “She is not! Don’t talk about her like that.” “Wow you really like her.” “I—I don’t know. I’ve never had a real conversation with her in my life. But I can’t stop thinking about her and. . .she likes Alice in Wonderland. I’ve never met a girl who actually reads Alice in Wonderland.” “More than I care to know. Look, I’m telling you this as a friend and because I love you. The girl you want is a ‘Future Business Leader of America’ type. She’s ambitious and wants a man that’s the same way. If you want her, you’re going to have to make a move. Girls like her don’t wait around for guys to get a hint.” Well lucky for me, I already knew that. I made that mistake months ago.
slight blush coming over her cheeks. “My dad used to read me poems from that book when I was little and I wanted a copy for myself. It was my children’s book growing up. I didn’t even read anything by Dr. Seuss until. . .third grade,” she told me thoughtfully. “Wow,” I said and she laughed. That was shocking, and yet it made so much sense at the same time. She looked at her watch and her face fell. “Class,” she said with regret. She stood up reluctantly and looked at the book in her hand. She bit her lip before handing it to me. I took it from her cautiously. It felt like an offering of some sort. Not the books but a part of herself, a part she’s never showed anyone else. “Thank you,” I told her. She nodded. “Don’t let Wayne see you,” she warned before hurrying downstairs to the exit. I read a few more pages before I did run into Wayne. But only at the register when I bought it.
The next time I saw her she was reading graphic novels in the history section on the floor. She looked up when I walked past and waved. I almost stopped in surprise but managed to wave back. Maybe it was the tiny feeling of triumph but I decided for once to walk over to her. She looked at me with a bemused smile as she watched me sit down next to her. I leaned over slightly and looked at the largest graphic novel I had ever seen. People and snowy landscapes filled the pages. “I read them up here.” She explained. “It’s the only place Wayne doesn’t look for me. He hates it when I read the books in-store.” I nodded and started to read the pages. She slowly flipped the page and I didn’t protest. We carried on like this for about ten pages until I noticed the stack of books that sat between us. I looked at the one on the top. It was a book of classic children poems. “Robert Louis Stevenson,” I said. She nodded, a
Sometimes I stare at that book she handed me. I don’t read it anymore although it’s nice and worth the price I paid. But it’s so painful to read because it reminds me that that’s the last time ever I saw her. It’s the very last memory I have of her. She wasn’t in class the next day or any of the days after. She didn’t come back next semester. Strange how the one time we have a real conversation is the last time I’d ever talk to her. Maybe talking jinxed our silent relationship. . . . Wait that sounds kind of creepy. Anyway, this is the way I see it: she hurried down the bookstore steps and out of my life for good.
writ with unimaginable anxiousness, Najwa Hossain pastel
Brianna E. Simpson
The Earth shifted underneath my flip-flops. Grains of sand wedged between the thongs, etching their presence into my flesh. The roach was nearly out, but I could already feel euphoria surging. My heart raced madly. My body felt weightless as my gaze landed on the horizon. Just hours ago, the sky was a painterâ€™s dream, filled with streaks of blues, reds, purples, and greens. But now, where the sun kissed the Earth goodnight, the heavens and the sea morphed into a body of darkness. The bustling noise from the Miami nightlife began to fall silent. The clattering pitter-patter of pedestrians; the honks and screeching brakes from various vehicles; and the cacophony of music from beachfront shops diminished from a mighty roar to a faint whisper. A hazy, orange glow engulfed the surrounding buildings, but their artificial light could not outshine the captivating stars overhead. As the ocean waves below softly rolled onto shore, they danced in delight among the noctilucent clouds. The air was cool but humid, like the breath of a lover anticipating a kiss, sweetly blowing against my skin. My own lover was the only other on the beach this night. His almond-shaped brown eyes were low, glazed over in euphoria, but still full of the same light as always. We exchanged smiles, the kind that should have ended seconds ago, but we were too awkward to stop. I set my things down on the steps of the lifeguard tower, removed my sandy sandals, and ushered him to do the same. Though the moon wasnâ€™t visible, hidden somewhere or possibly with its own lover, the sun, I still felt its presence, pulling the tide as well as myself closer. u n d e r g ro u n d
I planted my feet into the sand and braced myself for the stinging, cold waters. The waves retreated briefly, and then gently inched closer to where I stood. I focused my attention back to the horizon and let the possibilities and wonders of life drift out to sea. To my surprise, when the waters washed over my feet on this November evening, it was warm and inviting. “Baby!” I exclaimed to him, “The water is warm!” He beamed with joy and joined me by my side. He did the same as I had, planted his feet into the sand, and braced for the water. Another set of waves crawled in, splashing between the creases of our feet. The clouds had begun to accompany the dancing stars, swirling about in passing. I gathered my maxi dress so that it wouldn’t get wet and walked further into the ocean. He held my hand all the while. As the water splashed against my lower calves, I closed my eyes and focused on my breathing. Inhale. My chest expanded and filled with life. Exhale. All my troubles, worries, insecurities, and burdens had fled. He grasped my hand firmly, assuring me that he was still here. I shook his to let him know I was fine. I opened my eyes, only to find his staring me down. He grinned his boyish grin, the one that allowed his baby dimple to show, and pulled me into his chest. His heart was beating slow and steady. There were no skips, no drags, or any sudden acceleration. It was a peaceful, rhythmic cadence that excited my dying internal flame. I’ve never known love to exist in this form: as an energy constantly being exchanged from one being to another. I’ve seen it manifested into superficial and material things. I’ve seen it manipulated and compared to lesser entities. I’ve seen love whither, crumble, and decay like an autumn leaf, leaving no trace that it ever existed. But these moments shared between he and I were nothing of that sort. It surpassed human definition and 58
comprehension. Our eyes locked and without uttering one word, we had come to the same conclusion: we have reached what all the love songs and cheesy rom-coms try so hard to be, a place so unique, boundless, and ever growing. At about 11:47 p.m. I had finally discovered bliss. I beamed from ear to ear, blinking back tears, yet he let his fall, and I let the walls around my heart crumble to a pile of rubble. I took his face and gently caressed it in my hands. “I fucking love you,” was all that I could manage to say.
In out A breath that waits for another In the dark Heat cast over Your shoulder * Blink, a shift A rhyme and way But i am confused who Started what? * A lick, a shadow A moment of my doubt in which you stay strong And I
Tell me how You introduced me to myself * We drifted in a way I never knew before Taunt A rope between us that refused to tug us closer or unravel from strain Instead keeping us uncomfortable * Could-be, would-be, should-be A whispered promise Neither of us could keep * Breathe, breathe, breathe Truth awaits calmly, patiently, in moments too sweet * Dip, slip, fingertips In a boundless epiphany Intertwined this way Suddenly, I find your hand
Wander carelessly * A muted laugh thatâ€™s shared by unspoken company
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October 3rd: “How many fingers am I holding up?” I asked him, waving my hand over his face. Even though there was a thick layer of plaster over his eyes, I knew he was glaring at me. “Enough for me to want to break your hand? On second thought, fan me. I’m hot!” He said irritated. “Yes, you are. You are smokin’,” I told him as I grabbed a nearby magazine and fanned him. He let out a breath of relief as the cool air hit him. I could imagine him closing his eyes. “So did they actually take out your eyes or are they still in there, all cut up in pieces?” “They’re still inside my head and whole. They just got scratched up a bit.” “A bit?” “The doctors say there’s a possibility that I could get them fixed but it will be a while before they’re sure. So for now, I’m getting home-schooled and have to learn how to read braille,” he explained. “Don’t forget the awesome stick,” I added. He grimaced before nodding slightly. He pressed the button by his bed. A nurse entered a few minutes later, asking him if he needed something. “Can you kick her out my room?” he said, pointing at me. I leaned to the side so he was pointing to the window before shrugging at the nurse. She gave me a “well sorry to do this to you” look. “He does need his rest, miss,” she said. My eyes widened. “Wait, he wasn’t serious,” I told her. “Of course not,” she said. “You have to go.” She 60
gently put her hand on my arm and led me out the room. I looked at him shock. “Wait, no, it’s. . .are you serious? You’re kicking me out? But I love you. WILLLLLLSOOOOOONNNNNNNNNN!” I yelled dramatically. I saw him smirk. “I love you, Lucy!” he yelled back. October 10th: He starts learning braille. And I offer to help him study. “This looks like Morse code,” I commented as I looked over the alphabet chart the doctors gave him a few days ago. “I wouldn’t know and could you please give it back? I would like to at least read my name by the end of the day,” he asked. “You don’t even read on a regular basis,” I pointed out as I pushed the paper over to him. “I read material for class and articles on Facebook. It’s close enough. Aw, great. I just thought of another thing I can’t do. No social media. . .you know, this might not be bad after all.” He mused. “No YouTube either.” “. . .Never mind. Thank you for ruining everything. Again,” he said with a sigh. I glared at him before smirking mischievously. I waited as he went through the chart studiously. Then he fumbled for his bag, where he would search for a pen. No, I didn’t take or ruin the sheet. I simply turned it upside down. I bit the inside of my cheek as I saw his eyebrow scrunch up. I saw him mouth “what the fuck?” about four times before he noticed that the line was crooked. He looked up (does it still count as looking?), fuming. “You. . .you—” He reached out to grab me, but I swerved out of the way just in time and started running
away. “No fair!” he yelled after me as I heard his cane clicking the floor a couple seconds later. October 12th: We went for a walk. “Okay, go right,” I instructed as we walked around the neighborhood. I was on the inside while he was closer to the street. It seemed like a good idea until we approached a turn and he took a step to the right. “No, left. Left!” I yelled. He huffed in annoyance. “Seriously? It should not be this hard!” he said. “I get confused!” I defended as we walked down the street and approached another corner. “I can’t believe this shit. . . . Which way now?” he asked. I looked in both directions. “Right?” “You sure?” “Yes.” I said confidently. I jumped when I heard a car beep. “Why did you go left?!” “I thought you were still going opposite!” “I was right that time!” “Someone help me. She’s trying to kill me!” October 17th: It took two weeks for me to see him cry. I was looking for a pen in his room when—BOOM! I rushed towards the sound, which led me to the bathroom downstairs. I could hear him cursing as he picked up the items off the ground or at least tried to, but they kept falling out of his hand. He only stopped when a razor cut him. He mentioned a few times that my steps were quiet so I’m guessing he didn’t hear that I came down which was why he broke down right in front of me. He hated crying, and it was ugly. Snot was running down his face as he sobbed, banging his fist on the ground. I pressed my
back against the wall outside the bathroom, flinching at the sound of his cries. I didn’t say a word as I stared at the wall in front of me. He couldn’t see me but it felt wrong to watch him. It felt worse not saying anything. I peeked into the bathroom again when he quieted down. He was still crying but his hands hid his face. I crept back upstairs to his room. I waited fifteen minutes before I went back downstairs, walking as loudly as I could and clutching the pen like my life depended on it. I found him on the couch in the living room. “Hey,” I called. “I heard a crash. Everything okay?” “Yeah, just. . .dropped some stuff in the bathroom.” he said tiredly as I sat down next him. “Okay. Well, do you want to study some more or. . .” “Let’s just take a break for now,” he mumbled. “Okay. I’ll see what’s on TV,” I said breezily. The words felt insensitive but he didn’t seem to care. He just nodded as he rested his head on my shoulder. I didn’t look at him until he was asleep, his head drifting from my shoulder to the crook of my neck. I bit my lip as I wrapped my arm around him, holding him tight to me. I made sure to be as quiet as I could as I felt the tears fall out of my eyes. That was the day I had to stop lying to myself. I couldn’t pretend any longer that my best friend was okay. So what happens now? October 20th: “Do you want an orange? My mom didn’t go shopping and that’s all that’s left in the fridge,” he told me. “You know she doesn’t go shopping unless it’s empty and that I hate oranges,” I pointed out. “You say you hate oranges but in reality, you actually don’t mind them,” he said as he tossed the fruit to me. I caught it and scowled. “This is a tangerine.”
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“You are so ungrateful and insensitive,” he said. I laughed mainly because he expected me to. He sat down beside me and reached out to me. I met him halfway. He grabbed my wrist and moved it towards my face. “Now, eat. You’re less grumpy that way.” He squinted at me. “What’s wrong with you anyway?” “Projects suck,” I told him. I looked down at my laptop. Information on eye injuries filled the web browser, but I couldn’t tell him that. I couldn’t tell him that I was afraid he wouldn’t be okay. October 27th: I sat on the bench on the edge of the park near his house. He only had to walk three blocks so I didn’t think he needed my help today. If nothing else, the shrieks of kids would lead him here somehow, someway. It was a grey, fall day. The leaves were brown and golden, half on the ground while the rest still clung to the trees. These were my favorite days of fall. There were enough leaves to pile up and jump in. I could also wear my favorite jacket and boots along with my favorite scarf while doing it. I sighed as I rested my chin on my hand. It was my favorite type of day, and I still wasn’t happy. “I hope it’s the right person because it would be really awkward if I was talking to a complete stranger,” he said as he sat down beside me, taking off his shades. “It’s me,” I said blandly. He raised an eyebrow. “You seem to have misplaced your morbid sense of humor,” he said as he sat back. “For once, I’m kind of glad I did,” I said. He turned to me expectantly. “I’ve been joking this whole time from the very beginning, but the harsh truth is that I could’ve lost you. And I would rather crack a cruel joke before admitting that or even thinking about admitting it. God, why am I such a jerk?” He stayed silent for a long time before reaching out towards me. His hand landed on my 62
shoulder and he reached up, making sure my face was my face, before patting it quickly. It wasn’t hard but I could tell it was a proverbial slap to the face. “You are too sentimental for your own good,” he said. “I’m glad you of all people reacted the way you did. Because I’ll take a cruel, sick but normal joke over tears, like my mom, or awkward silences, like my dad. Or obvious questions, like everybody else. I know you, okay? So when you sit at my house all afternoon and make me suffer through Mean Girls even when I’m blind, I get it. You care,” he said before giving me a knowing smile. “You watched The Fault In Our Stars again, didn’t you?” “I couldn’t help it. It was just sitting on my shelf, asking to be watched. ‘Pain demands to be felt!’” “Please for the love of God stop quoting the book.” “‘Dying sucks.’” “True, but everybody already knew that,” he said as he placed an arm around my shoulders. “Either way, can we please go get a burger at that place where you get your disgusting tea before I decide to go back home? I have very good news.” “The correct word is ‘anyway,’ and you made this a tradition, not me. You order that disgusting pumpkin cider,” I pointed out. “And what’s the good news?” “I’m not telling you until I get my cider. Just because you’re too foolish to enjoy it does not make it any less delicious. Now follow me, peasant. We shall seek the promise land!” he exclaimed, placing his hands on his hips for emphasis. I rolled my eyes while laughing. I stood up, and we started walking and talking about things we would forget about later. Just like old times. October 31st: “Today was good. Today was fun. Tomorrow is another one.” -Dr. Seuss
The Ballad of Edgardo, Anna Marker digital art
The rising sun spilled over the steam that muted the flashing gleam of brass, copper, and steel workings of the city, but wasn’t quite strong enough to burn it off today. Gears clicked in place, powering the city with occasional sharp hisses to relieve pressure. Giant, creaking, whirring ships sailed low enough that their hum vibrated in the streets below, where small children played in wet streets, and adults created glimmering metallic machines. But high above the air ships and automobiles, an elevator was rising on a glistening spire. Four partners were inside, the newest one so nervous he could barely feel his legs. A gold hand reached their number on the dial and gave chime. The gates hesitated long enough for him to glance at his crewwoman Dia, who stood stoic, except for the ever-present annoyed look. He wished he could be as placid as her. For one of the weaker sex, she knew how to handle a situation. Not for the first time, he found himself envious of her skills. Trier was an upstart, and although his new Captain had warned him about his inexperience, he’d disregarded it. His cockiness had been unexpectedly killed and buried when he’d foolishly upset the wrong transporter. His Captain, an honorable man, took responsibility and bought him time, but now they convinced him to make a deal with a world-class sniper who didn’t work for money. Rumors of him were enough to throw black privateer ships into panic. He’d already crossed the wrong people; he didn’t want the chance to cross another. How the crew knew him personally, he wasn’t sure he wanted to find out. u n d e r g ro u n d
The cage-like gates swung open and a group of men in black suits met them. Trier couldn’t help but notice their hands so obviously at the ready of shiny pistols and felt his breathing go shallow. A suit caught him staring, and he quickly looked away, swallowing a lump of fear. Their leader sized up the Captain. “You ain’t gamblers. Yer business?” “We’re here to see Cannonball,” Captain Abrams replied quietly but firmly. The leader’s face twisted to a sneer of false politeness. “The Boss’s been expecting you. He says ye don’t drop by for tea as much as he’d like ye to.” “Honestly, he’s hard to catch.” “He likes it that way. It’s how he and the lady have fun.” He half-bowed, gesturing them to follow him. “Right this way.” The men pulled the gold handlebars on a pair of black marble double doors, leading into a gallery of black marble, gold plating, and scintillating diamond decor. A bright, flashing casino room spread under a fragrant smoky haze, blaring sounds of coins and buzzers. There was overt laughter and snickering as cards were dealt, bluffed, and folded, and the chips thrown. Ladies hid painted lips behind feathery fans studded in jewels and mirrors—if they could get away with it. Darts thudded targets along the walls, and the lines of slots sang out. A full orchestra played above them, and servers passed like ants beneath a ceiling hung in gleaming chandeliers. The whiskey and champagne didn’t stop flowing, and the smell of it in the air was enough to get one buzzed. Dia and Jessebelle strutted forward, sliding gracefully between the crowd of top hats, evening and cocktail gowns, protruding bellies and pompous beards. Their stoic faces melted into polite, practiced smiles as they avoided collisions with monocled gentlemen and giant hats of ladies. Trier hurried after them for fear of getting lost in the 64
kaleidoscope of people. The Captain stepped beside him, his calm, purposeful demeanor rubbing off like treading ground after a nasty storm. The Captain was solid that way. They were led across the room, up red-carpeted steps, past another set of locked double-doors, into a room with a louder ruckus than the first. Only then did the bouncers leave. Trier didn’t feel any safer. There was an electric air in such close proximity of the gunslinger. The rich and mighty were here: the hard-edged, and easy-going, quick-to-shoot type of folk made merry without any formal constraints. Everything was being thrown across a boisterous crowd. Gold jewelry, watches, and brooches gained and lost on verbal bets were given up and tossed to their new owners along with bottles of bootleg-fashioned moonshine, shot glasses, cards, and jugs of gin. He ducked just in time to avoid some emptied ale bottles being passed back to a server behind him. There was the acrid smell of gunpowder in the air, too. A loud bang went off and a huddled crowd went ‘oooh.’ He couldn’t see what was going on, but he knew who it was. Dia, Jessebelle, and Abrams cut straight through the crowd. Queasy, he saw the back of a tall man in a fancy tan trench coat, and a long auburn ponytail running down his back, shooting a custom-load rifle at a crazy display of moving targets. The rifle went off thrice more, in succession, shooting down three different targets from opposite sides of the show. He switched hands. BANG. The polished wood twirled in a flash. BANG. Shot from the hip—BANG. From behind his back—BANG. Another twirl—BANG. BANG. BANG. BANG.
He turned round so they could see his front and slid his rifle down behind his shoulder. His sly grin was all they could see from under his dark Stetson. BANG. The last tiny target fell and the show was over. His onlookers clapped and he lifted his face, smiling. “Gents! Have another round on me!” The crowd roared, returning to their gambling tables. Returning his gun to his hip, among an array of pistols, the cowboy opened his arms to Dia and Jessebelle. “Ladies! Show me some love!” Trier was about to remark, a bit too smartly, that ‘the ladies’ only did business, but to his surprise they both smiled, sailing into his arms on either side and gave him a peck on the cheeks. “Hello, hello. Captain Abrams, it’s been quite some time,” he addressed the Captain in a deep, slow accent. “It’s mighty fine to see you at last.” “Yes, it has, Nathaniel.” “What brought you to my neck of the woods?” “Business rather than pleasure, I’m afraid.” He nodded. “Upstairs. Everybody! Enjoy the games and booze and make sure to love someone until I return!” ‘Upstairs’ was surprisingly quiet. It was his private gallery, with golden light from ornate chandeliers shining on his prized possessions—guns. Rifles and pistols lined the walls and in glass cases; gleaming black wood, light wood, gilt in gold, silver, and ivory, rifles, flintlocks, and fancy new percussion pistols. When the heavy doors closed and locked, he let his arms slip from the women’s waists. He crossed the room to his desk and uncapped a bottle of scotch. “And what can I do for you fine people?” He leaned against the desk, letting his half-unbuttoned shirt slide back to reveal the ridge between his pecs.
“One of my hands made a mistake with a Kullship Trader,” the Captain spoke for him. The man jerked and made to spit out his drink. He swallowed, fixing incredulous eyes on me. “Boy, I may be backwater, but even I know not to deal with those kinds of haulers. How in the hell did you manage that?” “I thought I could own up to it. It was just a onetime—” “Son, there ain’t no ‘one-time’s with Kull traders. Once yer in, yer in till yer dead.” He hadn’t even known they were Kull. He felt heat on his cheeks he hoped that no one saw. Captain Abrams took the drink he was offered. “What do you owe?” “2K Medallions.” He whistled. His voice rose involuntarily. He wanted to explain that he was responsible and that he didn’t often lose on his bets. “If my friend hadn’t cheated, I’d have gotten my money. I had a system—” “Shoot, kid. Systems don’t work in gambling.” He held his drink to his lips. “It’s all loss and luck!” Any rebuttal died in his lips as an interior door opened and in fluttered a woman clouded in gold. She smiled, swaying right over to Nathaniel. “Hey there, sweetheart. Give me some sugar.” His arm hugged her bodice, and they kissed. “For the idiot in here, this is my lovely wife, Cassandra. Why don’t you pour some drinks, love?” Cassandra unclasped Dia and Jessebelle, who were suddenly giggling, smiling girls, from her arms. “Of course! What are y’all doing standing ‘round for? You’d think this was your first time here! Except for you.” Her eyes fixed on Trier, who flinched under her sharp gaze, even under that bundle of blonde curls that
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made her seem so naïve. “Who are you?” “Trier, ma’am.” “Master Trier, what sort of tea do you like?” As the cause of this mess, he didn’t feel like he could accept such hospitality, or having tea. “I’m good, ma’am.” “If you don’t take my tea, I’ll be upset.” She stared at him with her deadly serious eyes. “I think I’ll take a stiff black, if you will, Cassandra. Thank you.” Captain Abrams raised his eyebrows at Trier from over his steaming teacup. He panicked. “Greene. Greene Tea is fine. Thank you.” Nathaniel gave a brief nod and everyone sat comfortably on the thickly-cushioned sofas and chairs. He sat directly across from Cannonball Nathaniel. The girls all curled up on one sofa, their steaming aromatic raspberry, white and sweet tea wafting around the room. The automachine dragon bracelet around Dia’s wrist unclasped and flapped its metallic wings, nipping at the automachine butterflies in Cassandra’s hair. He watched in fascination as Cassandra’s brass pins flapped out of her hair, and the tiny robots played a game of tag in the air above them. Cassandra spoke quietly, and all the girls’ attention back on themselves. “So, Jess, you have to tell me. . .” Trier’s tea was untouched on the coffee table. Nathaniel leaned forward, hands clasped in front of his thin mouth, eyeing him with quietly fierce brown eyes. “Now, how exactly may I be of assistance?” “We were hoping you could co-sponsor us. Trier here, for all his faults, is a pretty good pilot and we were planning on winning the Tern Heights race in two weeks.” He tried to find his voice. “If I win, it’ll fully cover what I owe and the rest will be a down-payment to what I’ll owe you. I am a good pilot, sir.” 66
“And I always pay my debts. You know that,” the Captain added. Trier’s shoulder fidgeted, as he couldn’t pay his. “I know you always do, and you know you wouldn’t have to with me, Abrams. How many times have you flown?” “All my life, sir.” “Ever competed?” “Back alleys, maybe twenty-some times. Sanctioned, five.” “Ever placed?” “First in the Air Hawks, first time. Second place twice at Spiral Mountain. I’d have placed again if-” “I am not interested in excuses. Ever burn out?” “Never, sir. I handle. I don’t crash.” “What about paid pilots? Can you handle them?” “Hell yeah, sir.” He pointed a finger at him and his eyes held him prisoner in the most terrifying way “Now you listen to me, boy, if this is going to go down—” A blast through the wall cut him off. Glass from display cases shattered everywhere, and the treasures they protected sprawled across the floor. Fire from the blast ate up the loose rubble dust and disappeared, leaving a yawning rupture in the wall. Moaning outside the aperture was a black privateer ship, dark with chipping paint, silver rimmed portholes, cannon barrels, and crumbling silver embellishments down the sides of the hull. There was a brief second that nobody noticed but Abrams. Cannonball and Cassandra had flipped out pistols and shot on opposite sides of the ceiling, setting weighted balls moving down brass carriers through a series of levies and switches. Men in black dusters poured out of the port in the hull, firing silver-inlaid percussion caps. There were clicks on the ceiling and rows of guns
emerged from the woodwork, firing in rotation at the far wall. The privateers danced while Abram’s crew took shelter behind the furniture and drew their pistols. The timed gunfire bought them mere seconds and they fired on their assailants. Dia glided out from behind the sofa, perfectly calculating all her shots from her three flints, broke one of Cannonball’s glass cases and continued to fire. When the gun was empty, she came close quarters with a privateer, caught his gun arm, and spun around to his back. Breaking his elbow, she kicked his knee in and left him incapacitated on the floor. Her dragon automachine joined the fray, firing tiny stinging bullets into their faces. She drew her Webley Bulldog and moved on. Jessebelle and Cassandra floated onto the gunshow, spinning back to back, moving lightly on their feet, swiftly gunning down their attackers. Jesse used two pretty little Derringers and Johnsons, painted with roses and gold. In a flurry of arms and legs, she broke formation and killed them the old-fashioned way—bruised stomachs and broken necks. Cassandra pulled two gold-gilt sixteen-round revolvers from the bows on her dress and rattled the air with loud, yellow flashes. Trier rushed out, under cover fire from the Captain and Cannonball. He pushed aside a gunman’s arm, punched him in the gut, kneed him in the face, and tossed the unconscious body aside. He tried to concentrate on his aim as the glass gun cases shattered around him. Two more fatal shots and he was back in a grappling game. Somehow, he ended up on his back and could feel glass biting into his arm. Two hands gripped around his throat, and he took the chance. With his arms free, he cupped them at his belly and punched up through the man’s arms. He shoved him to the side, dealt a blow to his neck and snatched up his gun. Abrams and Cannonball shot loud rounds, grounding anyone else otherwise unengaged. Abrams, calm as a salt flat, never missed. The cowboy’s loud whee-
oohs! added to the din of fire and smoke. His collection kept his crew well supplied until Cannonball decided his fun had run out. He spun about two rifles, lifting one, and leaving the other nearby. Trier couldn’t look away once Cannonball stood without cover, aiming his shots. The gun went off. Suddenly a man was unexpectedly without a head. The body fell, and the men froze before turning. Another man fell, and by then the men were running. Cannonball picked up the other rifle; two more shots. Some men still held out, firing volleys; but it wasn’t over yet. Lifting his prized rifle from his side, he took aim. The blast from his gun stopped everyone. The gaping hole left in the hull of the ship made the remaining privateers freeze in cold fear. One, two, three, four, five more shots tore up the side of the hull, exposing the metalwork and crew before being clouded by busted steam pipes. The ship groaned, sinking away from the wall. Cannonball started whistling something fanciful as he put away his rifle. The men started yelling to the crewmen aboard, running after the receding gangway and jumping to the ship. A man with a face full of scars gave Trier a wicked look. “See you in the race.” Trier held off putting his guns away until all the men had jumped to the ship. The cowboy chuckled and winked at Cassandra. “Well, Master Trier. I’d say the fun’s about to get started.”
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A Ways Away
Cory Zijian She
The pilgrim let the engine on her gyrocycle idle on a little longer before switching off the ignition and kicking down the stand. It made a violent sound of protest before belching loudly and then puttering out. The pilgrim’s companion, a girl younger than her with startling blue eyes, hopped down from the side car and gave the headlight an affectionate pat on the head. “Ody seems kinda grumpy today, doesn’t he?” the little girl remarked. The pilgrim grunted, shaking her hair out of the riding cap she wore. “He’s going to need maintenance sooner or later. Probably stop by the next town and see if they have a decent gyrochanic.” “I thought you said you would never let Ody in someone else’s hands ever again after the last gyrochanic swiped the chain?” “I know what I said,” the pilgrim replied gruffly. The little girl, used to the pilgrim’s reticent manner, simply shrugged and patted the head light again. “Hang in just a little longer, Ody.” The pilgrim wrapped the girl sharply on her head. “Stop giving nicknames to everything and go get the tent set up. We’re stopping here for the night.” As the little girl struggled to unfurl the roll from their packs, the pilgrim took out a map and notebook from inside her trench coat pocket. She spread the map out on the handlebars and seated herself down, making notes and frowning as she measured how far they had come. “Picked a great place to break down, you piece of 68
junk,” the pilgrim muttered. “If you weren’t a hand-medown from father and if Seph wasn’t so attached to you, I would’ve sold you for spare parts a while ago.” The gyrocycle made a funny wheezing noise, as if mocking the pilgrim and her plight. The pilgrim nudged it with her foot. “Keep it up, wise guy.” “I’m done, Mom!” The pilgrim looked up with a well-practiced scowl. “Don’t call me that,” she said curtly, folding the map back into her coat. “Did you make sure to plant the stakes firmly?” “Yep!” “Are you sure? Remember what happened last time?” “I’m sure!” the little girl planted a foot on the peg for emphasis. “Can we please eat now?” The pilgrim sighed but nodded. Now that her concentration was gone, there was little point in worrying over the next step in their journey. “Fine. Get the kindling out. And no, you aren’t allowed to start the fire,” the pilgrim said sternly when the little girl opened her mouth. “You can start the stew and that’s it.” The little girl groaned but set out to do what was needed without a word of complaint. She went about whilst humming a vague sort of tune underneath her breath and watched with envy when the pilgrim struck a match to light their campfire. Soon, a hearty blaze was burning in front of them, adding a welcome glow to the slipping daylight. Just before the pilgrim was about to set the stew over the fire, she felt the little girl tap her on the shoulder. “Mom.” “What is it?” The little girl simply pointed forward at the road they had been traveling on. The pilgrim followed her finger. In the distance, she could faintly make out the sight of a cart enveloped by steam coming towards them.
“Caravan. Hm.” The pilgrim frowned faintly. “This time of year?” “Where are they headed?” asked the little girl. “Who knows?” “Do you think they know the way home?” “I don’t know. Maybe.” The pilgrim hesitated, before adding reluctantly, “Probably not.” The girl was silent for a few seconds before asking, “Should we hide?” The pilgrim considered it for a second before shaking her head. “No. If we can see them, then they can definitely see us. Besides, there’s not enough cover in this clearing to lose them for long anyway.” “So what should we do?” The pilgrim reached down and tossed another stick into the fire. “We’re going to have dinner. Now, sit down.” By the time the stew finally started to simmer, the caravan had come close enough that they could make out the drivers and hear the purr of the gyro-gears powering the massive wheels. The pilgrim slowly stood up and brushed off her trench coat while the little girl followed closely behind, an unabashedly curious look in her eyes, yet she knew better than to speak first. One of the drivers, a young man with a scratchy goatee and messy hair, hopped down from the driver’s seat and made his way over to them, a large smile on his face. The smile did not waver even when the pilgrim shifted slightly to show the .38 Kinos holstered on her hips. “Iktos val laik hvegdra? Hvegdra?” Catching the blank looks thrown his way, the goateed man switched tracks. “Common? You speak the Common?” The pilgrim cleared her throat. “I do. A little.” “Ah! Augut! That is fortunate, friend! I am called the Aita.” The goateed man waved to the two men sitting in the back of the caravan. “These are the brothers of mine, Dis,” the man with the sharp scar over his lip gave them
a curt nod, “and Orcus.” His companion, slightly pudgier than the rest, gave a cheerful wave and a jaunty salute. The pilgrim briefly touched the brim of her cap and inclined her head to the two before turning back to Aita. “A pleasure.” “Yes, yes. We saw the light over and would want to know if it is the, ah,” Aita snapped his fingers. “If it is alright if we join you for a company?” When the pilgrim remained silent, he rushed to reassure her. “Oh, but do not worrying! We have our own dinner for us to eat!” The pilgrim shrugged. It wasn’t like she could say no anyways. What then? They’d simply set a camp a little further away most likely, still in view. “Do what you wish.” Aita beamed widely. He clapped his hand and issued a command that got his two brothers down from the caravan and unloading their goods. The pilgrim meanwhile, turned back to her own fire and lifted the pot. She took an experimental sip and stirred it for a few turns. The little girl followed but her eyes remained glued to the three brothers. The one called Orcus noticed and gave her a wink followed by a funny face that quickly went away when Dis slapped him on the head. The little girl giggled. “It’s rude to stare, Seph,” the pilgrim said dryly, flicking the girl lightly on the back of her head. The little girl pouted in response and stuck out her tongue. “Oh, no harm, no harm, friend!” Aita came over and sat down, sticking his hands out to warm near the fire, his brothers following behind. “She is but curious, yes? Is natural for young girl.” The little girl huffed indignantly. “I’m not young! I’ll be thirteen the next Culling Moon.” Aita laughed heartily and held his hands up in placation. “Thousands of pardons, then! How old is the sister?” The little girl cocked her head. “Sister? Oh, she’s not my sister. She’s my mother.”
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The pilgrim dropped her cap over the little girl, who had to shove it upwards to scowl back at the pilgrim. “I’m not her mother either. And I’ll be turning twenty one next Warring Moon.” “Oho! Then nothing like us lao gackt! Old men!” He shared a chuckle with Orcus while Dis remained stone faced. “So, then, where is the road taking you?” “Where is it taking you?” the pilgrim countered before the little girl could open her mouth. “Me and the brothers are heading back home to Lycia. Just finished selling stock in Ilia.” Aita pointed his thumb back to the empty caravan. “A good bounty this year.” “I see.” The pilgrim was silent for a little longer as she scooped helpings of stew into wooden bowls, giving the larger portion to the little girl. When she was done, she said, “Me and Seph are headed home.” When nothing further was said, Aita ventured forth another question. “Home. . .where?” The little girl piped up before the pilgrim could stop her. “We don’t know. We’re still trying to find it.” “Seph!” “But Moooom,” the little girl said in an exaggeratedly plaintive tone. “They seem nice!” “That’s not for you to decide,” the pilgrim said flatly, eyes flashing. The little girl hunched over in response and pouted over her stew. Aita, however, looked confused. “But a pardon. . .but you know not where home is?” The pilgrim rubbed her face wearily and decided to give in a little. “We’ve been travelling all of Elibe searching for it.” “So then. . .you are the orphans?” A sudden look of realization flashed across Aita’s face. “Was it the Mourning Wars?” “No. . .I was born a little after them, when people 70
were repurposing their gyro tech from the battles. My father told me he had been a soldier in them but I’ve been on the road ever since I was born.” The pilgrim put down her spoon and crossed her hands over her mouth. “My mother and father were separated during the war and he spent the remainder of his life searching for her.” “Then father is. . . ?” “Dead. Before he could tell me where home was.” Aita looked visibly sorrowful. “How awful!” He slammed his fist down but shot the little girl an apologetic look when she was startled. “Those damned Bernese! Starting this wars! Ruining lives!” His brothers tensed up at the mention of Bern, and Dis actually growled. “How ‘bout you, little one? Are you war orphan as well?” The little girl straightened up when she realized she was being addressed. “Yes! I mean, no. I’m not a war orphan. But I was an orphan. But now I’m not.” “Because you have a mother now, right?” asked Aita, shooting a sly look over at the pilgrim. But the little girl shook her head. “No, I meant, I was an orphan. But I wasn’t before. Before she came along.” The pilgrim elaborated at the confused look Aita was giving her. “Seph had a family when she was little but she can’t remember them. From what she remembers, I think they originated from Sacae.” Aita and his brothers startled when they heard that and they turned to converse amongst themselves for a few seconds before Aita turned back to address the little girl. “Sacae destroyed first in the Mourning Wars, yes. Bloody battle, yes. Awful battle. Very sorry to hear that, little one.” The little girl shrugged, used to by now the response. “I guess. It’s okay though. Mom’s still alive.” “Oh! Then you searching for the mother as well?” The little girl giggled. “What? No, my mom’s right there.” The little girl pointed to the pilgrim. “Stop calling me that.”
“But. . .” Aita fingered his goatee as he tried to sort out meanings in his head. “You had the father, and the mother, but the father is gone and the mother is. . .” He trailed off. The pilgrim had lifted her head to stare blankly at him with her grey eyes. It wasn’t a warning per se, but he still backed off. “Ah, enough of the gloom! Brothers! Iil glut! We eat!” The rest of the evening passed agreeably enough. The pilgrim said little else for the rest of the evening, but she did reluctantly allow the little girl to curl up on her chest when the little girl finally forgave her. She even cracked a smirk when Orcus began to stack the used plates on Aita’s head just to get him to react in comical ways. And Dis surprised all of them when he took out a strange three-stringed instrument and began to sing softly while strumming a pleasant tune. “Is good thing,” Aita remarked as the little girl cheered for another song. “Dis seems to like you, yes?” It was around this time, when the little girl began drooping in the pilgrim’s arms, that the strong drink Aita offered started to erode the last of her consciousness. The pilgrim had to stifle a few yawns herself; it was a rather powerful drink. “So, you are not the mother,” Aita said when things turned silent and the little girl had fallen asleep in the pilgrim’s arms. “But little girl calls you the mother anyway. Why is that?” Maybe it was the drink, maybe it was the belly filled with food, but either way, the pilgrim found herself relaxing the tiniest bit and answering the question truthfully. “Seph believes what she wants to. If I say we’re going home, she believes me and just asks, ‘How much further?’ She believes me when I say I don’t know and she accepts that we may be on this damn road for the rest of our lives, searching for home.” The pilgrim paused and used her hand to shift a lock
of hair that had fallen over the little girl’s face. “But the one thing I can’t get her to believe is that I’m not her mother. No matter how many times I’ve told her.” “Then. . .” Aita looked like he was afraid to ask, but he did when the pilgrim nodded. “What happened to the real mother?” The pilgrim was silent for the longest time before she finally answered. “I killed her.” The rest of the evening was spent in silence. The pilgrim knew as soon as she woke up that something was wrong. Her eyes felt unnaturally heavy, as if someone had put weights over her eyelids and her whole body felt sluggish and unresponsive. But the most telling sign was that she could not feel the little girl curled up by her side. Fear shot through her heart, forcing her to wrench her eyes open. It was completely dark, save for the faint glow emitting from behind the caravan. The pilgrim could hear voices, hushed whisperings. Aita and his brothers were nowhere to be seen. The pilgrim got up unsteadily onto her feet and lurched her way over to the caravan. The feeling of cotton in her head slowly subsided to be replaced with anxiety. She could make out the voices now. Aita’s was noticeably louder than his brothers. She stumbled to the side of the caravan, surprising the brothers who jumped when they saw her. Aita openly gaped at her. “Daos Heivant! How are you the standing? We gave you shadelock enough to put out raging gluggen!” The pilgrim ignored him, instead focusing on the slumbering form of the little girl he was carrying in his arms. A cool rage rushed over her, obliterating the effects
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of the drug. “She is not to be sold as a slave.” Aita scowled furiously at her. “You knew?” “I noticed the shackles and I know that Ilia doesn’t buy livestock since Ilia is a frozen wasteland consisting of only mercenary woman.” Aita sneered back at her. “Then you know that the Sacae are the ones who started this crazzit war! They attacked the Lycia first and Bern followed like greedy snake!” “She has nothing to do with it,” the pilgrim shot back. “She is as much a victim as you are.” “She is the enemy!” Aita growled, visibly tightening his grip on the girl. “And she is going to hell, no matter what, you stupid alvaznic!” The pilgrim shook her head while her mind quickly took in the situation. She needed to stall for time. “Look. I don’t care about you, your brothers, or your stupid slaver’s agenda. Give her back. I’ll pay you.” The pilgrim paused to let Aita think on it. “This doesn’t have to end with blood.” Aita sneered and spat on the ground. “So you can protecting the filthy Sacaen?” Aita shook his head. “No, you stand back and Orcus and Dis will not killing you.” At his nod, the two drew out their revolvers, faces hard with disgust. “We outnumber you, little girl.” “That’s where you’re wrong, because you assume I play fair and that—” The pilgrim didn’t bother finishing her sentence, and instead she whipped out one of her Kino’s and shot Orcus. Orcus went down, a bullet hole straight through his forehead. Before the brothers could even shout in surprise, the pilgrim whipped out her second Kino and shot the single lantern hanging off of the caravan side. Instantly, the world went dark. The pilgrim crouched down and rolled to the side, putting cover between her and the brothers. She closed her eyes, letting her eyes acclimate 72
to the darkness quicker and strained her ears. Somebody fired a shot, and briefly, the pilgrim’s heart stopped. “Idiot! Do not wasting the bullets! Find the cratz! Then shoot!” The pilgrim let out a sigh of relief and checked her rounds. Damn. Judging by the fall of the steps, Dis was circling around the caravan while Aita stayed put. As quickly and quietly as possible, the pilgrim leaned down to scoop up a hefty-looking rock and then lifted herself into the caravan. The two brothers were bigger and most likely stronger than her, so she had to match strength with cunning. When the footsteps came close enough the pilgrim, still lying on her back, lobbed the rock over the side. It impacted the ground with a dull thump. “Cratz!” Bang! Quickly, she lifted herself up and pounced on the unsuspecting Dis, whose back was turned away from the caravan from the distraction. In the same motion of her leap, she drew the serrated knife she kept hidden in the folds of her coat. With barely a sound, she leapt onto his back and inserted the knife smoothly into the soft of his eye. Dis went down with nary a gasp and the pilgrim barely spared him a second glance. She wrenched the blade out and quickly wiped it down on the slaver’s shirt before inserting it back into the folds of her coat. Light suddenly flooded the area and the pilgrim whirled around, drawing her revolver at the same time. Her heart froze at the sight. Aita had pulled out his own revolver, his pointing directly at the little girl’s head. He held a lantern in his other hand and the arm was curled around the little girl’s neck. The girl was standing, the disorientation on her face
quickly being replaced with fear. “Seph!” “Mom? Wh-what’s—” Aita tightened his grip and the little girl whimpered. “Shut up!” he hissed, glaring venomously at the two. “You ruin everything! And for this cratz! You-you—” Slowly, so as not to frighten the slaver, the pilgrim raised her hands in surrender. “Let her go.” Aita pointed the gun at the pilgrim and shot. The bullet impacted her shoulder and red, fiery, pain blossomed from the wound. The pilgrim dropped the gun, free hand reaching to reflexively grab her shoulder. “Mother!” “Quiet!” Aita snarled, tightening his grip. “You. Drop other gun.” Breathing shallowly, the pilgrim drew out her second Kino and dropped it to the ground. “Let. Her. Go.” The little girl began to sniffle. “Mother.” Her eyes flicked over to the little girl and her eyes softened. “Stay still, Seph.” Aita snorted viciously. “Shut up,” he said, before shooting again. This time, the shot was hot, and then cold, so cold. As the pilgrim doubled over in pain, she knew instinctively that the bullet had passed thorough something vital. Her shoulder, wracked with pain just seconds before, was now eerily numb as was the rest of her body. Distantly, the pilgrim was aware of the slaver yelling something in his harsh native tongue but all she heard was buzzing. It was as if all sound was being filtered through a tube of bees. But what he was saying didn’t matter. One shot. That’s all she had. Slowly, the pilgrim straightened up and looked Aita straight in the eyes. And then her hand flashed. The slaver’s eyes widened in shock, but he couldn’t make a sound, the knife having stabbed straight through
his windpipe. He made a wet gurgling noise and glared at the pilgrim with unbridled hatred before collapsing. He spasmed for a few seconds before lying still. The little girl squirmed out of his grasp and looked up just in time to see the pilgrim wobble and fall backwards. “MOTHER!” The little girl rushed over, nearly tripping over her own feet in her haste and knelt down beside the pilgrim’s figure. Tears were streaming freely down her round cheeks. “Mom! Mom!” The pilgrim coughed and feebly tried to wave her off. “Is he down?” “Yes. Yes, you got him.” “Good.” For a brief moment, the pilgrim’s vision blurred alarmingly before focusing again. “Stop. . .crying. Won’t. . .accomplish anything.” The little girl sniffed one more time and nodded, tears held back for now. “Good girl.” The pilgrim tried to sit up but the lower part of her body seemed unresponsive and all she could do was feebly incline her head. The girl figured out what she wanted and began to drag the pilgrim to sit herself up by her gyrocycle. If the girl was worried about the blood smear that accompanied the dragging or the lack of protest from the pilgrim, then she kept those thoughts to herself. She propped the pilgrim against the gyrocycle and was alarmed to find the pilgrim’s eyes were closed. “Mom?” The little girl’s voice gave out on the word and she tried again, gently shaking her. “Mom, wake up.” The pilgrim gave a sudden gasp and her eyes fluttered open. She twisted her head around to look around, disoriented. When she spoke, her words came out in shuddering gasps, as if every word cost her greatly. “Where’s. . .where’s m’ cap?” The girl looked up, spotting it lying near the ashes of the campfire. She scrambled up to get it and brought it back
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to the pilgrim. The pilgrim shook her head. “You. . .keep it. Gets cold. . .at night here.” “W-what about you?” “‘m fine. I’m just. . .really tired.” The pilgrim coughed again and this time, flecks of blood peppered her lips. The little girl bit her lip at how pale the pilgrim was. “Get. . .get the matches, S-Seph. Right coat pocket. . .Good girl.” The pilgrim winced and put a hand over her stomach. “N-need you to. . .relight the fire. Stave off the cold. I kn-know. . .you know how.” The pilgrim interrupted when the girl opened her mouth. “You’ve seen me do it. . .enough t-times. And I’ve seen you playing with them. . .when you. . .think I’m not looking.” The girl nodded and took a match from the box. She tried to strike one, but her hands were shaking too badly to strike properly. Without saying anything, the pilgrim gently took the match from her hands and struck the box. A tiny flame sparked into existence, and she handed the match back, watching with drooping eyelids as the girl quickly but carefully fanned the fire back into life. “We need to get you to a doctor, Mom.” Everything seemed to be slowing down. The pilgrim made an effort to arrange her thoughts. “Yes. . .but in the morning. It’s—” The pilgrim paused to cough violently, and the little girl held her steady until the coughs subsided. “It’s too dangerous. . .tr-traveling night r-right now. They. . . they may have had friends.” “Then at least let me put on some bandages!” The pilgrim looked like she wanted to refuse but then she nodded, and the girl quickly went to work, tearing the sleeves of her tunic to fashion a makeshift tourniquet for the pilgrim. The pilgrim hissed when the girl tightened it, but smiled encouragingly when the little girl looked up with worry. 74
“I’m fine. Just need a little. . .nap.” The pilgrim’s eyes fluttered closed, and she was silent for a while. Just as the girl was going to call her name again, the pilgrim’s eyes opened back up. But her gaze was unfocused. “Re-remember to clean up the fire in. . .th-the morning.” “I will.” “And remind me. . .t-to bury them too,” the pilgrim said, nodding towards the caravan. The little girl started, “But—” “W-what’s my one rule?” The pilgrim interrupted gently. The little girl closed her mouth. “To respect. . .to respect all ways of life.” “That’s right.” The pilgrim leaned back slightly. “They may have been scoundrels. . .but what they believed in. . .who are we to judge?” The little girl looked like she wanted to argue but she nodded dutifully instead. “Okay.” “Remember to get. . .Ody checked. . .next town, alright?” “Of course, Mother.” “Good, g-good.” Another wracking cough, more blood. The little girl held the pilgrim steady until they subsided. “And when you’re paying him. . .make sure to. . .only show him. . .your smallest coins. Better to let others think. . .you have. . .less than what you actually. . .have. . .lest they b-become . . . greedy.” “I-I understand.” “And try not to let him . . . swipe the chain,” the pilgrim sighed out with a wan smile. The little girl started to cry again. “I w-w-won’t, M-Mother. I p-promise.” “Oh, shh, shhh.” The pilgrim gathered the little girl
into her arms and rubbed her back soothingly. “Seph. . .Persephone, shh, no more tears, alright?” The pilgrim tilted the little girl’s chin so that she could look directly at her. “I’ll be there. . .with you. You just need to start. . .learning these things is all, okay, Persephone?” The little girl was still crying, but she nodded emphatically. “I-I-I know, Mother. I know.” “Good. . .girl. Just keep following the road. . . and . . .and. . .you’ll be fine. You’ll. . .we’ll be home in no time.” The little girl looked up with tear streaks on her face and eyes red. “You promise?” “Promise,” said the pilgrim without hesitation. Satisfied, the little girl nodded and sniffed once more before nestling herself into the pilgrim’s arms. She was still crying but her tears had slowed down. Yet she clung to the pilgrim, as if hoping that her small body would anchor the pilgrim’s. The pilgrim made no remark and simply shifted to the side in order to get as comfortable as possible. The pilgrim began to sing, haltingly at first, but slowly gaining speed. It was an old lullaby, one that her own father had sung to her and one that his father had sung to him. The meaning of the words had been lost long before, but it wasn’t necessary. Not once did her voice waver, nor did she ever descend into another coughing fit. By the time the pilgrim was done, the little girl had been lulled back to sleep and the pilgrim’s own will was fighting a losing battle with consciousness. Strangely enough, the pilgrim was no longer cold. She looked down at the little girl sleeping in her arms, and she smiled softly before looking into the dancing flames from the fire. “Warm. . .like home.” Then she closed her eyes and let the winds take her away.
The pilgrim woke as soon as the morning sun struck her eyes. But her mother did not. No amount of gentle cajoling or pushing would stir her from her slumber, and the pilgrim knew that her mother had gone home to join the rest of her family. The pilgrim did not cry. Instead, she chose to clean out the campfire. She did not cry when she checked to see if her mother’s gyrocycle would run properly and if the chain was still able. She did not cry when she set out to bury the dead, a task that took too long because of her small hands. She did not cry when her mother’s cap kept falling over her eyes, and she had to keep pushing it back up in order to see where she was digging. Only when the pilgrim finished carving out her mother’s epitaph did she let a few rebellious tears escape. “You promised,” the pilgrim said in a whisper, but not an accusation. A warm wind caused her to grab the cap on her head from flying away, and her eyes landed on the road before her. She looked back up at the large elder tree she had chosen for the inscription and she whispered again, “You promised.” The wind shook the leaves on and the tree let out a fond sigh. The pilgrim stood silently for a few seconds more before sniffing once and wiping her nose on the sleeve of the coat that was much too large for her. The pilgrim walked over to the gyrocycle and kicked the stand twice until it finally flipped back. The pilgrim began to awkwardly push the much bigger gyrocycle along, her gait evening out once she found her traction and balance.
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A warm breeze brushed by her face and the pilgrim breathed deep. Once. Twice. She looked back to the tree and mouthed a farewell. And then the pilgrim set off, walking the road back home.
Here lies a pilgrim. At rest, At home.
Paths, Ashley Harkins mixed media on canvas
Working Girl Blues
unsatisfying work, my confounding school assignments, in long-forgotten hobbies. Most of my time is spent alone with my dog, and deep down, what she really loves is the sound of kibble hitting her bowl. I stand on the sidewalk with wet stinging knees. I fight an ugly cry, dial the phone, telling them I will be late. And then I limp to the stop and sit down to wait for the next bus.
I tried to run in the rain to catch the bus. No sooner had I turned the corner after my mile walk to the stop than I heard the high-pitched rumble of the number 85 hurtling past. I ran in holey shoes, crippled by a heavy bag and already breathless. Inconceivably, I slipped in mud or dog shit. Something. I felt the panic of lost footing, the rush of pain in my hands and wrists. And I was upright in time to see the winking red lights of the bus grow smaller and fade. I was yards from the stop. I know the driver saw me. I’m sure everyone saw me: the gods, the passing motorists, the cicadas in the trees. I felt the weight of their derision. And I had no excuse. I should have started walking from home earlier to make the bus. I will once again be late for work. And while this time the bastard bus driver might make a sympathetic story, I can’t explain the other times I sat just outside the employee entrance and couldn’t even stand to go in. It isn’t just the passing motorists in their cars, but my customers, the managers, my coworkers, my disappointed parents: an audience of people bearing witness to my ineptitude. Everyone hates me. They are tired of my lame jokes, my nasal voice. They’re disgusted by my appearance, my messy hair and crooked teeth. Later, after a cup of coffee and some music, my heart will lift its wings, and I will once again be my own favorite person. But in the moment of stinging knees and bruised esteem, I can’t find redemption from my mood; not in my u n d e r g ro u n d
Carbonado Breathes with Broken Lungs
A ship sailed into New Amsterdam before the Noort was turned into the Hudson— before Brooklyn kings drank Long Island tea as their Queens drank rose hip wine. The Queen stepped off the ship, walked the waterline, and danced every borough alive to Bronx poetics and Staten drums— or standard poetics and bronze drums with all those beat poets and subway hums. Call her Carbonado, the Queen— she still shimmies on a dance floor made of blood, family, the Irish, good whiskey, and concrete. O, concrete, contraire! Carbonado, your soul is air and your heart’s black diamond drum beats passion and fashion with no satisfaction. Manhattan, bring me dreams, because this city feels like a massive machine and that ship sailed so long ago. Where did the Queen go? She stopped spinning when the skyline and I lost our two front teeth. And now a fire burns beneath those streets— burns the fleet! She inhaled airplanes of smoke into her vibrant lungs and forgot how to foxtrot freely. But she keeps breathing. Carbonado’s drum 78
keeps beating. Beating that broken ship against the shore and she’s not afraid of dancing anymore. There’s a shipwreck in my mind, but I will learn to sway to her rhythm in time. Long dance the Queen of New York City. You know I never sleep.
The Last Dream of May Whit Bolado
When he went to prison for the first time, Elijah had dreamed of May. After he watched her drive out of the parking lot of his tiny apartment complex in East Asheville, years ago, he had dreamed of her often enough. As the months wore on, images and memories of her voice were gradually replaced with family members, friends, houses, and other abstract interpretations of reality unrelated to her likeness; when he was doing well, he never thought about her. Still, he would find himself calling her on certain days; after his second interview of the week had begun with the taste of whiskey and cigarettes still on his teeth and gums, or when he would get up at five in the morning to go to work in the next state over because he had found himself there, he would call her, after midnight, from the back of a porch in shirt sleeves, a couple beers in his gut. Still, it was different than before. It wasn’t the dream of her turning around to face him in the snow, and it wasn’t the one where she was obscured behind color and darkness. She spoke to him, a voice real and true, her face as crystalline as the photos that he had taken down from the wall and now resided in the trunk at the end of the bedroom. When he had run into her that night, they had only known each other for a few months. He had actually set out hoping for a chance meeting. Elijah knew that she was on patrol, that she had to lock all the doors to the public buildings on campus. Still, he did not know where she really was, and he had decided to let it be a night walk and was wandering down the hill when she called out to him. He was shy with her; by contrast, May was inviting
and open, immediately launching into the details of her afternoon trial with the laundry machine that ate quarters, and she walked close to his side as they headed towards the office to which she had to report. As they came close, she turned to him, told him that she was planning on smoking a joint in the greenhouse which she had neglected to lock up—she’d be off-shift in an hour if he wanted to meet her. When she arrived to find him standing by the door to the greenhouse, she had changed out of her work clothes and instead she wore tight jeans and a periwinkle V-cut longsleeve. Afterwards, they had laid out on the empty table, potting soil stuck to their damp skin, and passed the joint back and forth, a little comet arcing across the sky over their heads, almost as bright as the moon, visible through the glass. Elijah slept off and on the entirety of the eighteen hours he was locked up. There wasn’t much else to do. He would cover his head with his jacket and hunch himself down on the bench or jam himself against the cement walls, pressing himself against hard surfaces until he found a position that was not bad, and he would nod off. But whenever an officer opened the door to let someone in or call someone out, the clamor of the keys at the lock and the whispering squeal of the hinges would rouse him from where he lay curled, even before the door slammed, and he would be pulled from whatever short, disquieting dream he was in. Sometimes another man in the cell would shout out through the door for some kind of justice, some sort of answer from somebody on the outside, some kind of food to sustain him. As absurd as it was, the final request was the one that was answered most often. They were fed three meals while Elijah was in, the same thing each time—some kind of patty, some kind of grit, Texas toast.
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He had dreamed that he couldn’t stop stealing cars. That he would flag down a driver in the road or in a parking lot and pull them out when they stopped for him. He would get in and drive off, through green front lawns and white picket fences until he crashed and then he would steal another. He did this over and over, even after cops gave chase, even after he’d been shot and run over and beat up. He stole corvettes and minivans, pickup trucks and rusted old pintos, without reason or care, until he stalled an SUV that he’d driven over a fire hydrant. He got out and looked up the road at a Volvo, old and white, with a dent on the rear passenger side, and waved and shouted and started for it. They had dropped an hour ago, two hits apiece, and the world was taking on the light, halo-esque quality that made Elijah want to explore. The rain was really coming down now, and May held out her hand from under the gazebo to feel the drops on her palm. The water danced through her fingers, exploded in bursts made luminescent by the street lights glowing down from across the street. It was the heavy, sudden sort of storm that reminded Elijah of childhood, and as it picked up strength, it pooled to overflowing in the gutters and spattered down in thick columns and sheets, laying out a perimeter of water where it came from off the roof above them. May dashed out into it, shouting back to him to hurry up, that it was nice, and as he felt it melt through his hair and clothes, it was, the perfect temperature, cool in the summer evening. Dark wet green grass and lush black mud in between his toes, he chased after her, across the slick wood bridge and down the hill, crossed the road, pavement 80
still warm from earlier that afternoon. He followed her as she entered the barley field, slipping through the tall stalks, and when she disappeared for a moment, and Elijah noticed that the night had truly set. In between lightning strikes, he picked his way through, fragmentary images of barley brown and white rain and black nothingness and May, a few steps ahead. She turned suddenly, and he collided with her, almost losing balance, and he put an arm around her waist and moved the curls away from her eyes with a wet finger, and she pushed against him, a hand against his ribs, and he kept his eyes open, took in her lashes, her cheeks, the smell of her mingling with rain, all within the litany of explosive light that bloomed methodically in the storm around them. After they checked his blood pressure and heart rate, they drew blood samples. Then they sat him down in front of the doctor. She was middle-aged, heavy-set, with a black braid that wasn’t pulled tightly enough to hide the strays, but showed off the small pearl earrings she wore. She opened a folder in front of her and held it up so that Elijah could only see the blank manila, and read it over before tilting her head up so that she could see him through the small glasses she wore at the end of her nose. “Ok. . .Elijah Hersh. Are you currently taking any medications?” “I’m taking a multivitamin,” he replied, and shifted in his seat. “Do you have any allergies?” “Just pet hair.” “Pet dander, ok. . .” she said as she raised an eyebrow. “Any current medical conditions?” “I have a regular arrhythmia.” “A regular arrhythmia?” “My heart speeds up and slows down as I breathe.”
“And when were you diagnosed with that?” “When I was seventeen, so maybe four years ago.” “And how’d they find it?” “I went in for a physical for cross country.” “And are you taking any medications for it?” “Just cigarettes and multivitamins,” he said and crossed his legs. She frowned and made a note in the folder. “And nothing else?” “No.” “It says you’ve been diagnosed with depression.” “Yeah I was,” he said, and crossed his legs the other way. “And when was this?” she said. She thumbed through pages in front of her, opening and closing the folder as she did so. “About eight months ago.” He tapped his right thumb on his left. “Is there a history of depression in your family?” “Yeah.” “And alcoholism?” “Pretty much everyone in my family.” “And how ‘bout a history of suicide?” “Not that I know of.” “When did you try to commit suicide?” “About eight months ago.” “And did you seek help?” “I went to DeKalb Medical.” “Did they prescribe you any medication when you were there?” “They wanted me to take antidepressants, but I didn’t want to.” “And was this the only time you tried to commit suicide?” “Yes.” He looked her in the eye. “And what kept you from doing that?”
“My sister called a hotline, and they threatened to lock me up.” “It was good she did.” “I suppose.” “Good you got someone to look after you.” “I suppose.” After that, the doctor gave him a red wristband to go with his white. A young cop escorted him out of the office and instead of leading him to the holding cell he had come from, the cop took him to another, with a large window. Looking out of it from a seat on a bench at the back, Elijah watched a woman in a black blouse who sat at a raised desk facing him, but she seemed preoccupied with her work, and after a few minutes, Elijah stretched out on the bench and closed his eyes. He got a full forty minutes of sleep before the young cop who had escorted him there came and pulled Elijah for fingerprints and put him back in the main holding tank. When he got to the door of the Volvo, he tapped on the glass and readied himself to force the door open, but when the window rolled down, he paused. “What are you doing here, Elijah?” May asked. She was wearing a tight brown hoodie and jeans with a flower and a gold finch that she had embroidered onto the pocket. “I’m stealing cars,” he said to her. “Why are you doing that?” Her hair was pulled back in a ponytail, but her thick black curls made it bush out, and the bush bobbed as she spoke. “Because we used to steal cars,” he said. “It was fun.” “I don’t steal cars anymore,” she said as she shook her head, bushy tail swinging back and forth, green spiral gages glistening in the sun.
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After May moved back to California, Elijah had set out to visit her for a few weeks. He had stood in the standby line, a cup of coffee in his hand, a duffel bag on his shoulder, and flew across the country to touch down in the San Francisco airport. When May pulled up to the gate in her aging Volvo and leapt out to throw her arms around him, her shuddering breath echoing against his chest, he whispered into her ear that he had missed her, and she told him that she loved him. May showed him her parents’ house where she was staying while she finished a semester at a nearby community college, and she showed him the pathway to the park, and drove him to her grandparents’ house to meet the family. Individually, uncles and aunts approached him, drinks in their hand, one for Elijah, one for themselves, and they would lean in and explain how wonderful May was, how great it was that she had found someone nice, and that if he broke her heart, there would be hell to pay. Later, when May’s grandmother left the keys to the house in their care while she vacationed in Mexico, May had explained from where she sat in an aged loveseat that when Elijah flew back, they would be done. She wasn’t going to be in a long-distance relationship, and she wasn’t going to be able to do what she needed to do on the East coast. Elijah agreed; it was for the best. While May was in class, Elijah took her car to the Muir Woods National Monument. The air was foggy and crisp, and the elderly visitors that walked along the boardwalks between the massive red-woods were cloaked in plastic ponchos in bright primary colors, the vibrancy clashing with the calm neutral stillness of the forest, and Elijah wandered out past them, up the steep staircases, moving faster and faster. He took off his coat first, laying it across a bush to pick up on his way back, and then his 82
sweater, casually set to the side of the trail, now running. He was out of the forest, and from the rolling hills, he could make out the ocean sprawling out gray blue beneath him. He tossed his shirt onto a patch of sand and sprinted towards the beach. When they first brought him in, they stood him facing the wall for fifteen minutes, his hands cuffed behind him, while they entered his information into the database. He shuffled his feet and counted the white cement blocks in front of him for a moment, but lost interest and scanned the cell doors out of the corners of his eyes. Most of the cells were either empty or half-full, except for the one in the corner, which had a black capital “C” painted on it. He was leaning his head back to peer through the small window in the door when an older black cop turned him around and stood in front of him, one hand on his shoulder. Officer Riley’s belly had grown somewhat, and his gray stubble seemed to shine in the florescent light of the station’s lobby. He looked him up and down, and said, “Ooooh, what have we got here?” Elijah stood in front of him and nodded a couple times. The cop frowned and he looked back over his shoulder, hand still on Elijah’s, and shouted to someone sitting at the desk that ran, raised, an interior circle within the room. “Finally! Some white guys in here.” He returned his gaze to Elijahs’ face, and bobbed his head back and forth as he spoke. “What’d you do that brought you in here? Rob a bank? Knock a liquor store?” He didn’t wait for a response, but stepped back and continued, “It’s about time we got some of you in here. You’re gonna love it in this joint, boy.” Elijah shuffled his feet and looked at the other guards in the station. They had not responded to the cop, but
continued to pace, fill out paperwork, talk quietly on the phone, oblivious to anything around them that wasn’t their own work. Elijah looked back at him and tried to stifle a yawn. A glint came to the cop’s eye, and he turned Elijah’s head sideways with one hand, as if inspecting produce, and said, “How old are you, son?” “I’m twenty-one,” Elijah said, addressing the hallway to his left. “Twenty-one!” Officer Riley let go of Elijah’s head and put his hands on his hips, as if waiting for something. Elijah looked back at him and replied “Yes, sir.” “You got some long hair, there, boy.” “Yes, sir.” “You like your hair, don’t you boy?” “I guess I do, sir.” He paused for a moment before shaking his head slightly, as if coming out of a reverie, and said, “Ohhh, I cannot wait to cut it off. Get you somethin’ nice and clean. Like this. . .” He ran his hands parallel past his own buzz cut, slowly. Elijah looked down to hide a smile and shuffled his feet before looking back up into the cop’s dark eyes and said, “Yeah? Well, maybe I’ll take you up on that next time.” The cop’s eyes narrowed for a minute as he stared down at Elijah, but then he shrugged and turned to the woman at the computer to ask, “Claire! We gonna put this young man in C?” “Why don’t you steal cars anymore?” He was sitting in her passenger seat, but looking at her from outside the driver’s side window. Her hair was as long as it was when he first met her, and she was wearing the red dress she made, the one with
the skull-pattern fabric. “Because I’m trying not to,” she replied as she navigated the car around a curve in the road. “Because I’m trying to do other things. I read and write. I’m in college, Elijah. I’m about to graduate. Next year, I’m going to be applying for grad school, and I’m going to go to the Rockies to hike the trail with my father.” “What made you decide to stop?” She looked at him before answering. “I just don’t want to anymore. That was a long time ago, Elijah. Don’t you want to do something else?” “Yeah, I do.” “Then why don’t you?” Elijah pulled up to the park, the truck tires rubbing against the curb. He turned off the headlights, pulled the parking brake, and turned the ignition off before he stepped out of the Nissan and reached back through the driver’s side to grab his cigarettes from the dashboard and the baggie of weed from the glove compartment. He walked around his truck and down into the grassy valley, across the field and up the embankment to the top where he sat at a bench by the tennis courts. He began to roll out tobacco from one of the cigarettes, collecting the thin-cut leaves into a rolling paper, while he waited for Jerome to show. They had both been back in Atlanta for a while, Jerome’s summer raft-guiding gig at the Outdoor Center having come to a close and Elijah having quit school, and now they were both jobless and home again. A few minutes later, Elijah watched Jerome dial his number from across the park, and when his cellphone lit up, Elijah held it in the air and waved it a few times to catch Jerome’s attention. “Hey, I was wondering when you would be here,” Elijah said from his spot on the bench as Jerome trudged towards him.
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“Yeah. I walked here from my folk’s house; it took longer than I thought it would,” Jerome replied. “You walked here?” “Yeah, I’ve been going on a lot of walks, recently. I walked all the way to our old high school the other night,” Jerome said as he sat down on the bench by Elijah. “Why’s that?” “I donno.” Jerome pulled a pack of Camels from the pocket of his father’s army jacket and made to light one before he continued, “I guess I just have to wander. There’s not much to do anymore, now that I’m back in a city.” “Yeah, I know how you feel.” Elijah pulled a cigarette of his own out and held it in his lap in solidarity. “But hey, at least you got that red-head of yours, right?” “Naww, she—” Jerome lit his Camel and inhaled deeply. “We called it quits. Just a crazy bitch.” “Oh, man, that’s too bad; she was good for you.” “Yeah, and a banshee in the sack. Speaking of which, you ever hear back from what’s-her-name?” “You mean May? Yeah, I guess we’re through. She emails me a lot, still. I call her periodically.” “Oh, that’s gotta be weird.” “Nahh, it’s alright. I don’t hold anything against her or anything.” Elijah flicked the butt of his cigarette out into the darkness. “Yeah, except that she fucking broke up with you at the beginning of vacation and tried to get you to move out there with her.” Jerome smoked his cigarettes slower than Elijah, and took another puff. “Well, either way, I got this spliff, rolled up especially for you, Jerome.” Elijah fished it out of his chest pocket and waved it a couple times in the air. “Happy birthday, man.” “Aww, you shouldn’t have.” Jerome took it in his fingers in mock-reverence. “Are you gonna smoke another cigarette while we 84
smoke this?” Elijah asked, leaning his elbows on his knees and looking sideways at Jerome. “Nahh, I can’t handle that much tobacco at a time.” He lit the tip and the earthy, violent smell of cigarettes mixed with the sweetness of marijuana as he exhaled, coughing. “Well, shit dude, don’t kill yourself, but we aughta have a cigarette going just to cover up the smell,” and Elijah had one in his lips before Jerome finished his coughing fit. “You ok?” “Yep,” Jerome squeezed out. “Just don’t smoke too much anymore. Ohh, but this is good. Something’s gotta calm me down, and my gas station up the street got turned into a Valero. A Valero! I mean, what the fuck? Where’s an underage kid gonna go to buy alcohol now? I’ve been buying beer from them since I was fifteen, man.” “That’s pretty rough, dude,” Elijah said, smoke escaping his lips. “Hey, dude, how’s your family?” “Oh, they’re ok. They’re a handful. I mean, my sister’s going through some shit right now…” “You mean, uh. . .Ella?” “Yeah, she’s going through some. Depression type shit. And Mom’s all freaked out, ‘cause she wants to quit school, and Dad’s mad ‘cause Mom’s mad. It’s all fucked up right now. I’m constantly running interference.” Jerome took a long drag off the spliff and held it in, teeth clenched. “But this stuff really calms me down. It takes the edge off. I’m gonna go home and eat a ton of bacon, watch YouTube, and go to sleep.” “Hey, sounds like a plan.” They sat in silence while Jerome finished off the last of the spliff. Elijah thought about the last time he had eaten, and couldn’t come up with it, but he didn’t know if that was the situation or an effect of the spliff. He lit another cigarette off the tip of the one in his mouth before tossing it, and he was looking up at the night sky when above him the silhouette of an
owl swooped low over his head before sailing out over the grass and into the trees across the park, the image of it transforming from black to gray and then into nothingness as it disappeared into the branches. As it got close to morning, he couldn’t sleep any more, and Elijah sat up and put his coat back on. He looked around the cell, now a smaller one in a different corner of the facility. The dirtied green paint on the walls had chips raked off so that the white mortar showed through, grimy but somehow brilliant in their place. Stained, three-slat wood benches ran along the length of them and cut the room in half, and upon them sat three other men. There was a white man in his thirties wearing glasses and a collared shirt talking with a black man in a hospital gown and a younger black man in a track suit. A ripped trash bag that contained the old man’s clothes sat at his feet. Elijah had seen, earlier in the main holding cell from which they had all come, a crazed homeless man reach out from under a bench to snatch at it, and the older man stood up, six-and-a-half feet tall with his gown lapping at his thighs, and bellowed, and the homeless man cried out a wordless sound and retracted further under the bench to press himself against the wall. “If you aren’t going to stay in Atlanta, what are you going to do?” the old man was asking the younger man in the track suit. “I think I want to travel the world a little,” the boy said. “Try to find a place I can be happy. And then I’m going to take some classes at whatever college is around me when I get there.” He was perhaps in his early twenties, and he had been brought in on public intoxication charges. “That’s a good thing, you know,” the old man said, shifting his gown around his knees. “I missed my chance to
travel when I was young. I had to take care of the family, and I never got an education.” “Yeah. And I know I don’t want to work at a hotel all my life.” The boy shook his head as he spoke. “There’s just not a lot of money in it. Atlanta’s a different place than outside The Perimeter. Out there, it’s quiet. I never really think about it when I’m out there, how different it is. And there’s things I like about Atlanta, inside the city, I like how it feels like something’s happening even when it’s not. But I think it’s too much for me, I mean. . .” “That may be true,” the man with the glasses stated, “But keep in mind that you also just made a mistake. I haven’t drank in. . .well, not three months like you, but I don’t drink very often, but tonight, I just. . .I just got carried away.” He too, had been brought in on public intoxication charges. “Don’t let this color your opinion of a place, because it’s not always the case that you go overboard and wind up in jail. Give it some time before you decide it’s not for you.” “I agree,” said the old man as he scratched at his beard. “It’s probably a good idea to stick around and save up a few thousand dollars before you hit the road. But I really think it’s good for a young man to see a little of the world. Don’t you?” He addressed his question to the man with the glasses. “Oh, yeah, don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying ‘don’t travel.’ I’m just saying that you need to be able to make a reasonable judgment of a place, and you cannot do that when you’ve hit bad luck.” “I can see what you’re saying,” said the boy. “I like that idea. I have to practice moderation. And that just gets me closer to God anyway.” He looked up briefly before continuing. “I have some money right now, about three hundred dollars in the bank. I think I’m gonna go up and see my cousin in Charlotte, just for a weekend.” “Yeah, but whenever you travel, you always end up
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spending more than you think you will if you’ve never been there, because you don’t know what it’s like. Are there decent buses or trains? Is the food cheap? Where you going to sleep? You gotta think about those things.” “This. . .this is a real change for me. From the other cell, I mean.” The white guy pointed his thumb at the wall, indicating the cell they had been entered into originally, and shook his head. “In there, there was. . .everyone was quiet and angry, and. . .I guess I was too, but sitting here listening to this conversation, it’s really been, therapeutic. It’s opened me up some, let me get out of my shell a little. That’s a step in the right direction, right?” He looked back and forth at the other two, and the both of them looked at each other and him, and everyone nodded, and chuckled, and smiles crossed their faces. Elijah sat, arms crossed, breathing in the smell of stale urine and sweat and poorly circulated air, and set his head back against the wall and closed his eyes.
on either side, watching them pass: Elijah’s mother, with the sad look on her face; his boss, tall and skinny with the large square glasses; old classmates from college, some of them the same as when he had last seen them and others somehow cleaner, more respectable. “Do you ever feel lonely?” May asked him as she climbed wooden stairs, two-by-fours set into the hillside with large nails. “I don’t think so. I don’t let myself. My family lives close by.” “Do they know you’re stealing cars?” “I think they do, but they never mention it.” They were at the top of the hill, now, and the path led them out of the timberland and onto a large grassy field. They had been here before; Elijah could smell the cow patties, the dew on the grass, the blossoms on the one apple tree.
Elijah stood outside the passenger side of the Volvo and looked up at the sky, green roiling nothingness flying past, and May was on the other side, in an oversized coat that had belonged to her father and a skirt, sandals on her feet. “Where are we going?” Elijah asked. May pointed, and Elijah looked to see a path that ran from the street into a dense forest, and she started off. “My mother still asks about you, but she goes back and forth between hating you and loving you.” “Your mother?” Elijah asked, trying to keep up with her. “Yeah. She wants to know how you’re doing, if you’ve met someone new, or anything like that.” “No, I’m alone right now,” Elijah was trying to keep up with her as she walked, looking back at him over her shoulder. She didn’t seem to notice the people in the woods
On summer nights, weekends, Elijah was in the dish pit, scrubbing away at pots and pans, running glasses through in bulk, and the Mexican line cook would yell out to him “Platos! Ahora!” It was one-hundred-five degrees by the dish pit, but the line cooks stood at one-hundred fifteen, and there were no breaks. Plates came and went – stacks of dishes from the bar, the tables – and as the night wore on, the bartenders would swing back into the kitchen, pour five shots tequila, and raise their glasses. “Salud!” Then back to work, scrubbing at knives, tossing steaming pots and pans into water, racks of glasses four-high pushed over rubber mats and out the double doors. The better the night, the more often the bartender would come swinging back into the kitchen, and when he came with whiskey, the two Hondurans would pass their glasses on to Elijah or the line cook. Elijah would stumble out at three in the morning, once everything was finally done, drenched in
sweat and dishwater, head to toe, the night air instantly cool on his face and arms, and he’d stop off at the gas station for the nightcap on his way home. Elijah had left Ellison’s house at the same time as Jerome, and he was driving home when he saw the blue lights flash in the rear view mirror. He pulled over, shut off the ignition, and waited. It was dark, but when the officer shined her flashlight at his face he knew that his eyes were beet red. “Sir, do you know why I pulled you over tonight?” “No, ma’am, I do not.” “You’ve got a tail light out on your driver’s side. Could I see your license and registration?” “Sure thing.” Elijah fumbled in the glove box, dropping the screwdriver and his owner’s manual into the passenger seat, before righting himself and handing her the information. The officer shined her flashlight down at his license and looked at him, biting her lip. “Sir, do we have any reason to suspect that you’re under the influence right now?” Elijah shook his head, “No, ma’am.” “Because if we search your vehicle and we find something, it’d be considered a worse crime than if you told us about it in the first place.” Elijah didn’t say anything. “Do you have marijuana on your person right now?” Elijah bit his tongue and nodded. “Can you point to it?” Elijah pointed at his chest pocket, and the officer asked him to exit the vehicle. Soon, another cop car pulled up behind him, and they began to search through his vehicle with blue latex gloves on. They sat him in the back of the second cop car, and he waited with his hands cuffed
behind his back. When the second cop returned to sit in the passenger seat, Elijah asked him if he could call anyone to come get his truck so it wouldn’t be impounded, and the officer held the phone to Elijah’s face as the line went through. “Jerome? Jerome, I need you to help me out, I’m in the back of a cop car.” “What’d they get you for?” “Pot. Listen, man, I need you to do two things for me; I need you to call my sister; her number is four-ohfour, six-three-six, zero-one, zero-zero. You got that?” “Let me get a pen. . . .” Elijah looked at the cop holding the phone, and the man looked away, pretending not to hear. “Ok, it was four-oh-four, six-three-three—no, no, sixthree-six, zero one, zero one.” “Alright, I got it.” “Ok, now can you get my truck so they don’t impound it?” “You need me to get your truck?” “Yeah. They’re going to let me leave it here, by the square, and you can come get it.” “I, uhh. . .” “I just need you to move it so it doesn’t get towed,” Elijah pleaded. “Alright, man, I can do that.” “Thanks, Jerome. You’re a good friend.” Elijah convinced the officer holding the phone to put his keys under the wheel well, thanked him profusely. It was cold in the back of the cop car, but Elijah wasn’t shaking. He leaned his forehead against the window and followed the empty sidewalks with his eyes as they drove away.
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“What are you doing besides stealing?” She was sitting on the hood of her car, her knees pulled up to her chin. She was wearing an old navy sweatshirt that belonged to him, and a pair of jeans that she had created a larger pocket for to show him up for teasing her about how small “girl pockets” were. “I work. I don’t really do anything else.” He smoked a cigarette, and the smoke spiraled backwards into the tip as he sucked in air. She grabbed it from him and smoke exploded around them, and for a moment the grass on the hillside was obscured, but Elijah waved his hand, and the view of the mountainscape flooded back into clarity. “Why don’t you do something else?” “I don’t know what else to do.” She puffed again, and the smoke she exhaled dripped out of her mouth onto the dirt and pooled there. “You should start thinking about that, Elijah.” “I don’t know how.” “You can’t steal cars forever.” “I know.” “You’re not a kid anymore.” “What can I do?” “Are you happy where you are?” “I don’t suppose I am.” “You could always move. You could go somewhere else.” She stood up on top of the Volvo’s hood and held out a hand for him. He took it and stepped up onto the hood to stand next to her, and looked out at the view. In the distance, he could make out a small town nestled in a valley, a diminutive community with a school, a fire station, a busy town square. He imagined himself there, imagined himself in that town. “Listen, Elijah. The cops are coming. You have to hide. Get into the trunk. They can’t get you if you’re not 88
doing anything.” He nodded, and climbed down into the trunk of the Volvo, through the molded upholstery and spare tire, deep. Above him, he could hear someone saying “Elijah Herch. It’s time to get going.” New Year’s Eve, two years back in Atlanta, and Elijah had drunk the handle he had brought with him to the party, and was searching for something else to drink when Jerome reached over and grasped his shoulder. Elijah asked if there was anything else to drink, pausing to focus in between words, and Jerome told him that the party was done, that everyone who was good to go was going, and that he was making breakfast for dinner if he wanted to eat. Elijah nodded and began to lurch for the door himself. When Jerome told him he wasn’t going to be driving home, Elijah elbowed him in the face, an almost accidental maneuver, and Jerome and another wrestled Elijah to the ground, ripping the keys from his hands. Elijah, defeated, simply lay on the ground, panting, for a moment before he sat up on his knees, told them he loved them, that they were good friends. It wasn’t untrue; Jerome had been there for some of the worst, kept Elijah in the driver’s seat when Elijah had wanted nothing more but to stop the car. But he was going home, one way or another; Elijah wasn’t going to be kept. When he got out, they handed him a check worth the amount of money he entered with, all fifty-one dollars and nineteen cents, in addition to his belt, his shoelaces, and his dead phone, and a car charger. It was night time when he stepped out into the blustery December air, and he stopped at the corner to ask a cop about where the closest check cashing place was. He pointed across the
street to a liquor store, and told him that the bus stop next to it went to the train station. He cashed his check and bought a pack of cigarettes, ripping off the cellophane and lighting one before he was out of the parking lot. Elijah was on his second by the time he got to the bus stop. He watched the bus rumble down the highway towards him, the lights on the bus shining in contrast to the gray-purple night sky of the city, the blue of it shining in the staccato lamplight, and decided to walk the two miles to the train station. When he got to Jerome’s house, Jerome wasn’t home but his family was there. They invited him in for tea, and Elijah sat on the couch and talked with each of Jerome’s sisters, including the youngest, at ten years. Jerome’s father offered Elijah a beer, but he declined; he had work to do. Jerome’s eldest sister introduced her fiancé to Elijah, and passed him a plate of cookies. He swapped Christmas stories with Jerome’s mom in the kitchen, away from the younger children, as he washed his cup and set it in the drying rack. Finally, he told them that he really had to go, that he had work in the morning, that he wondered if Jerome had left the keys to the truck somewhere reasonable. Elijah plucked his keys from off of Jerome’s desk, said his goodbyes, hugged each of the women and shook hands with each of the men, and walked down the lawn to the road where his truck sat. Elijah opened the door and sat down in the driver’s seat, re-adjusted it to fit his own frame. He put the keys into the ignition, buckled his seatbelt, started the engine, and went home.
We all say we know everything Because saying that we don’t Would somehow render us undone Like admitting that the answer is obscure Would mean that we are inadequate We are lovely creatures We rise in the morning and We lay back down in the night Sometimes still unsure of everything But we go on We live until happiness finds us in The most unlikely places Until the puzzle pieces seem To assemble into a coherent vision None of us really know the answers But we go on, still
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Persistence, Ashley Harkins
Wheel of Fortune
I spun my wheel of fortune when I movedâ€” bought a vowel on the street corner; pretended she was U. And Iâ€™m still picking bits of her peach pit out of my teeth. I swear the Devil went down to Georgia with me.
I fell into feeling against my free will, Najwa Hossain spray paint and pastel
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March 22, 2009, ‘til the end of time. Anonymous
Somehow I can’t kiss bare skin any more without remembering the way you used to taste like blood and vodka and cigarette smoke, and I can’t give a hickey to a trembling neck without imagining yours, laid open for the final time by the scalpel in your right hand. Somehow, I can’t look away from strangers’ smiling eyes that I can clearly see are painted over a ten-year foundation of terror and agony and lonely tears. Somehow, I couldn’t save you, and I still can’t find where your beautiful bones are being cuddled by earthworms, and it still keeps me awake at night. Somehow, you’re gone.
Floating, Ashley Harkins acrylic on board
Wet Was the Gravel, Upturned the Sky
i. I was the one with no gathering moss with men coming, going, through the kitchen door, the tangle of my hair, the slip of my palms. ii. It would be weakness to say: I didn’t want to give you up. It would be giving up the licks of dignity I stick behind my ears like chewing gum. iii. I cannot speak for the rocks you drove over to leave: the way they wrenched with wet, like the ground clearing a cough; and I cannot speak for the place on the end of my bed where you sat, spoke, with a shrug in your throat, with a flickering wick in your eyes (that I could not bear to touch); I can only speak for myself, if I can— if I can find the handle of the door, and bring my finger to the dip in your throat, touching your breath as it leaves you.
iv. During fire, I must seek exits: must duck, crawl, through the lung-brimming smother. v. I wanted you in my parentheses, but I know I only trapped smoke with you. vi. I want to flicker in your head when you go to scratch it: I want to gather in your eyes and wander with your hands; I want to be your hands: the way they traced me in the pitch of night; you touched my face and said, “I see your eyes, your nose, your mouth. . .” vii. And in the pitch, I could not see the ribs wrapping my red-pink heart: each bone an hour scraping in the tremble of my chest; how deeply scraped was I when I took the razor to rock: how I cleaned that gathering green, those pink-red beats; and how profoundly moved am I to have held, and to have been held, for the briefest hush: to have felt you warm on my north-facing stone. viii. The rubber of your tires as they slid down the gravel driveway—
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ix. You touched beneath the ribs, the smother, you said, â€œI see your rocks, your licks, your bone-picked heart. . .â€? x. And the ruin of the rain as it slicked the windows of the kitchen door.
Alex Hurtsellers, Freshman: English Poetry, especially today, is it too melodramatic and tries to put so much on the reader. Alex believes melancholia and sadness are not inherently bad, but it seems many writers try to force the reader to feel a certain way. Writing like that gives a goofy message of some brooding person sitting in a coffee shop, wearing a turtleneck, and drinking burnt coffee. This poet also thinks that writing today is overly sexual. While Alex appreciates honesty in work, it seems that people are using sexuality purely for the sake of it. Although Alex doesn’t currently have great ambitions for writing poetry– choosing rather to teach English – this poet admits that mentality may change. But for now, he’s perfectly content with sharing his work on the level that he does—and so are we.
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Anonymous, Junior: Chemistry, Minor in Music; Anthropology The piece featured in this journal is about a very specific aspect of this person’s life story. In fact, it has served as an inspiration for several other pieces, though not all in the same vein as grief and pain. Beauty can be born through indescribable pain and heartbreak, and by allowing those emotions to flow onto paper, Anonymous has been able to find a sense of closure and contentment. This particular story is not the sole muse of this person’s life, or the lives of others, but it is a significant one, and Anonymous hopes that those who have endured something similar can find solace in these words. When it comes to writing process, this person has two words: alcohol and naked—remove as many inhibitions as possible and you can set yourself free, and a little bit of liquid courage always helps.
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Anna Marker is a mystery to us all. Sciences Arun takes a lot of inspiration from many artists in the music industry, past and present, particularly people like Kanye West, Puff Daddy, Jermaine Dupri, and Outkast. A perfectionist, he is extremely hard on himself, especially when it comes to music. One day, he hopes to start a record label and maybe work in A&R (Artist and Repertoire) for upcoming artists. He claims he always has an ear for new music.
patterns for settings, most of which take place in the middle of nowhere. Oddly enough, she gets a lot of her ideas in the bathtub. Still, she works best on days with nice weather, specifically in the Spring or Fall, when she can open the windows to her apartment, turn on the jazz station on Pandora, distance herself from the internet, and finish whatever projects she’s working on at the time. In her opinion, you can’t avoid certain topics for too long, especially if the story leads in that direction; the story goes where it wants and needs to. If it exists in the world, it affects people and places and society as a whole. There’s no way you can ignore it, even in literature.
Ashley Robertson, Senior: Film and Video
Ashley Harkins, Junior: Art
Arun Gopal, Freshman: Business – Managerial
Ashley considers screenwriting to be more difficult than writing a piece of short fiction for the lack of abundant imagery. So when her former professor told her that she catches the reader’s attention with suspense and mystery through a series of active-driven reveals, she gained a lot of confidence for her work. Her creative process is rather meticulous and unexciting: characters’ desires, physical attributes, three lines of dialogue, and boom, we have a scene – or the start of one at least. Rather than immediately thrusting herself onto the scene, she wants to continue to hone her craft and gain new skills she hasn’t encountered before. She has big dreams for her screenplays to one day air as a television show on ABC or maybe even a box office film, but she realizes she still has a lot to learn.
Ashley Graves, Senior: English – Creative Writing After moving to Los Angeles for a year and reminiscing on Southern California culture and the scenery and the endless dust and throngs of people, and her undeniable hatred of it all, she began writing travel fiction, getting more involved in scenery and weather 96
Ashley was surprised to see her work published in this journal since all the pieces featured here were made a year and a half ago. But thinking back, even though her art has improved significantly, she realizes she hasn’t made a single piece that carries as much weight as those of her earlier works. And that has to change. Time to get back to work.
Brianna E. Simpson, Senior: Journalism – PR,
Minor in Art In her paintings, Brianna focuses on the overall feeling of a piece – what mood do the colors evoke, what memories or ideas will the composition trigger in the viewer? She then translates those same things into her writing, choosing descriptive words to paint a picture in the reader’s mind. Her goal is to share a bit of herself with others, to provide an alternative outlook in hopes that it sparks new ideas and thinking. She thinks making work more personal—for the audience to see a bit of themselves in a work—makes them feel like they’re part of something bigger than themselves. Real life experiences are what shaped her writing style and the vulnerability
of her emotions, she believes, is what makes her work genuine. The prose piece featured in this journal is based on a true experience, and she says she is inspired by those unexplainable moments in life where you just breathe and exist.
Cammy Moreno, Senior: English – Creative Writing From what we’ve heard, Cammy is kind of into fanfiction and enjoys incorporating vivid colors and images into her work. Charles C. Bailey, Junior: English – Creative Writing
(Fiction) Charles attributes most of his later work to his battle with cancer three years ago. While he was sick, he saw some of his darkest days and the absolute best of humanity. The experience taught him to hold onto the people and things he loves and to never give up, especially when life knocks you down, because in the end, it is precious. Writing about love, the pursuit of dreams, and the ideal relationship between two people, he expects his audience to keep an open mind about his work. While he understands that universal popularity is improbable, he hopes that his audience appreciates his works, which he considers his labors of love. He also hopes that they will enjoy every word as if they were savoring sweet fruit or a melody from their favorite song. His three instances of most interesting feedback are first when a friend said his book Lyrical Gemstones is “amaze-balls”; second: an old crush shed a tear at a series of poetry he wrote for her, and third: his mentor and former English professor told him, “Your words are a calling from God.”
C. Marie Cashwell, Senior: English – Creative
Writing Her sister’s diary is one of her major influences.
The first book she ever read, this is where she discovered the freedom of pen and paper, butterflies, and the raw and unfiltered outpour of the everyday sludge. The most interesting feedback she’s ever received was when someone told her that her writing made him picture her sitting in a corner of a smoky bar with the sound of a single bongo in the background, wearing all black, writing, and tapping her foot to keep rhythm. She hopes that her creative ambitions will inspire. If one person can say that her writing helped him or her in any facet of life, than that’s a huge accomplishment.
Christian Bowman, Junior: English – Creative
Writing Other than being pretty great to listen to while writing, Christian thinks jazz is the poetry of sound. It always puts him in a pensive mood, and its sporadic nature mimics his musings. He says that he doesn’t write for an audience outside of himself, since he considers writing a way to purge his thoughts and emotions. He also says if he were to consider what other people would think of his work while writing it, he’d never get anything done. In his work, he strives for a balance between ambiguity and frankness. He wants people to have enough clues to get the overall mood and subject of the poem but not necessarily think exactly what he’s thinking. If he could, he would like to have dinner with Jimi Hendrix. But only after they play guitar together at the dinner table and he gets some quality lessons could they go to town on some soul food. One more thing, he hopes for his work to take him to the moon and beyond. If we ever inhabit other planets, he’d want to be the first writer there. Christian Bowman, Space Writer... it sounded better in his head.
Cory Zijian She, Junior: Computer Science; English
Cory was kind enough to break down his entire
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creative process for us. Step 1: Have a sudden brain wave while showering. Step 2: Run to the computer, open up a Word Document, curse the thing for starting up so slowly, and oh god, he’s dripping water all over the keyboard and really should have dried off first, and now the computer froze, and great this is life, ugh. Step 3: The walk of shame back to the shower. End. For an experimental piece, he’s always wanted to try writing without quotation marks, in part, so he can get a better feel for the character, and secondly to curb his excessive use of adverbs. Also because without borders there can only be anarchy, and we can smash the system.
D. Ellis Elzie, II, Senior: Music Composition
His inspiration comes from everyday situations such as school, work, listening to music, and daily Bible study. He claims that his aural imagination began to expand while listening to pieces he didn’t necessarily like. In this way, some of the best sources of inspiration come from unexpected moments in life. His current creative process is very methodical. He sets rules for himself, rules that he must never break no matter how badly he wants to. This forces him to think outside of the box to achieve the same effect as hearing a specific line in his head. For example, when writing an experimental piece, the set of rules he would create would be to the effect of order and not chaos. Then he would try to understand why he’s creating the piece in the first place. If he were to do random things, he would never reach his destination in the piece he’s writing. His goal as a composer is to write music for films. He’s also interested in collaborating with other disciplines such as art, dance, and writing. Maybe we can help him out here.
D. E. A. Moon, Neuroscience
Creativity allows the creator and the audience a chance to know things beyond their own experiences but in 98
an individually intimate way. As such, Dusty strives to use universal themes that are profoundly human and to feature them in a very personal manner.
Hannah E. White, Senior: Art Education – Photography In a lot of ways, she thinks her work is a response to situations and realities in which certain aspects of perpetuated socio-culture limit and confine our identities. She has found that the effects of perpetuated social constructs can often place us into boxes we do not fit into and do not desire to be inside. As a photographer, she commits herself to being constantly aware of visual culture, and her work is always being affected by what she’s seeing. She hopes that her viewers are confronted with an initial sense of ambiguity. Her intent is to raise questions, and she wants viewers to be conscious of the visual signifiers in the work and the connotations the viewer associates with them. She’d also hope that while viewing her work, they think about images they would typically see, and how her images are functioning in that domain. On another note, if she could have dinner with anyone from history, she would do so with Tristan Tzara because he was beautiful, in every way. India Davis, Junior: English
Some of her best stories come from when she’s bored and has nothing to do, when she has space to think things through. Music impacts a lot of her writing, and she’s easily influenced by songs which often help her keep focused on the mood she wants to portray. In her work, she tries to make the little things in life significant, and she says it’s those little things that build up the big moment where everything either comes together or falls apart. Foreshadowing, flashbacks—she uses these to make a puzzle that can happen to anyone. Even in the present, she
thinks a lot of people find themselves thinking backwards or forwards. She works best when she’s busy or sleepy. The sleepy mood, believe it or not, works for her in that the walls are down, and there’s an urgency to really capture the moment. She tries to avoid technology or social media in her work because they’re constantly changing so that by the time she finishes a story, what she was talking about might not be relevant anymore.
John Miller, Senior: English
John believes love and death are the two great influences on everyone’s life and that everything else comes from them. Although he has no central muse, he testifies to the weirdest, most senseless logic leading to some interesting ideas when you follow your whimsy and don’t get too self-critical. In almost everything he writes, he tries to make the narration conform to thoughts—both of the characters and of the reader—so the reader can better understand the progression from one idea to the next. He believes that one thing that tends to make a work succeed on an individual level is total, unashamed oversharing. He has some interesting ideas about an experimental piece in which a guy keeps returning to the kitchen to check on some food he’s cooking, but every time he returns, the food he’s preparing is different. For any story, he strives to stay away from literality, and modern technology. If he could have dinner with anyone, it would be a historical chef like Auguste Escoffier. That way, there’s a guarantee the food will be good, whereas there’s no particular guarantee the conversation will be good with anyone. Smart guy.
Josh Coursey, Senior: English – Creative Writing; Film
and Video For him, part of being a writer is paying attention to how others write and implementing what you like in your own way. As far as a muse in concerned, he imagines
an Italian woman named Beatrice. She certainly helped Dante, at least. He was once told that every good poet is a little bit suicidal in that they scrape the bottom of their souls to feel something, and more often than not, that something is sorrow. That’s what he tries to emulate in his work – the feelings we naturally have and how we are never alone in those feelings. He uses personal experiences and thoughts in hopes of accomplishing that. He believes that at the end of the day, you have to say what you feel. And if that means some people will think less of you, so be it. He agrees that a poem can stand alone, but he also thinks alternative methods and media can enhance a poem’s meaning; and he’s got some interesting ideas for a “Choose Your Own Adventure” experimental piece to prove it.
Kelly Barraza, Junior: English – Literature, Minor in
Film She has previously been published in Underground and has poetry forthcoming in The Allegheny Review. We’ve also loved her as our Poetry Editor this year. She would like you to remember that sex sells.
Lindsey Baker, Sophomore: English
She’s been lucky enough to know some incredible people who have been through some very incredible things. All of those things and all of those people, both good and bad, influence her writing. She writes for them, whether she likes it or not. When it comes to her creative process, she’s a big believer in the subconscious. Anything that can be done while letting your head wander off is a good deal – vacuuming the house, folding laundry, painting your nails. The boys in the basement, as Stephen King calls them, are hard-working guys who are up to stuff that is none of your damn business. It’s best to let them do their job, and then you do yours. If she can write any measly thing that might inspire someone to pick up writing and look at the layers of
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their world differently, then she will have gone way farther than she could have hoped.
M. G. Boal, Junior: Computer Science
Most of his ideas come from two places: music and technique. He listens to music, imagines what scene it would be the soundtrack to, and turns it into a story. Alternatively, he looks at rules of writing, bends them, emphasizes them, or breaks them to see what sort of narrative he ends up with. Check out the story in this issue for an example. As it happens, this piece was his attempt to make a story out of writing the same three lines over and over again. He often looks to strange techniques for more conventional narratives. But if he ever writes another experimental piece, he’ll probably try doing it using all verbs. He doubts it will work, but he still wants to try. He expects his audience to enjoy his work, the characters and themes he presents, and to connect with them on some level. He writes to entertain, and while he has nothing but respect and admiration for writers who expect more, he never intends his work to be especially deep or thoughtprovoking. Some people might read it a lot, but he really just wants to give them a grand ol’ time.
Morgan Byrd, Senior: Photography
She’s found that the central themes throughout her work are the people she knows. Her biggest muses are her family and friends. They are the most entertaining to her, and she’s interested in studying them. The most important thing she wants to convey in her work is a sense of emotion. She enjoys the people that she photographs and tries to reveal as much as she can about them with just a picture. She feels most creative when interacting with people since that’s where she comes up with most ideas for her work, which can happen anywhere.
Nadia Deljou, Senior: Sociology – Women and
Gender Studies Her creativity flourishes when not only her mental state is a mess, but her physical surroundings are also cluttered. When her belongings are disheveled, she finds it easy and cathartic to create in order to cleanse. Once she releases that energy, she feels an urgent drive to clean in order to physically manifest that process. She usually lets her thoughts and emotions linger for a bit until they’re ripe. Then and only then she knows it’s time, and she can heal. Without a doubt, she wishes she could have dinner with Emily Haines, the front woman for the Canadian band Metric and solo artist of emotionally raw, feminist, poetic music that will make you curl up into a ball and recess your entire life. In her own work, Nadia makes a conscious effort to express the sad, the happy, the highs and lows, the heartbreaks, the achievements, the deep-seated thoughts, and the realizations. She thinks it’s a common misconception that poetry or art needs to be this utterly sad creation that comes from a raw place of depression. Rather, it should be practiced in many lights as a form of interpersonal and social consciousness.
Najwa Hossain, Sophomore: History; Economics
Artists often hear the word ‘talent’ in reference to their work. As far as talent goes, she doesn’t think she has any, and she’s sure a lot of artists will agree. This is the way it is according to her: Most of our so-called ‘talents’ arise from repetition, from crumpled up rough drafts and piles of eraser shavings. They come from hours and hours of sitting in one position with breaths half-held, from blank blinking expanses of nothingness, from paint stains on our favorite shirts, and sleepless nights on school days, from grocery bag camera umbrellas, and doodles in the bathroom. But most of all, they come from our hearts. So, when you look at our work and exclaim, “Wow! You’re
so talented! I can’t draw/paint/write for shit!” or when your fellow artists tell you, “I would not have done this particular thing,” it kind of hurts. Kind of a lot. Because we didn’t do it for you to think it’s about you. We did it for you—we did it for ourselves—but also you. Just tell us what it makes you feel. Tell us what you think it is supposed to be about. We may think we know what it is about already, but let’s face it, we’re all looking for a stranger to come into our lives and tell us things about ourselves we didn’t already know. Be that stranger, if only for a moment.
Raven Schley, Senior: Journalism
Generally, the inspiration for her works comes from personal experiences or thoughts she feels the need to express; however, she always leaves room for spontaneity. Her current creative process involves constantly wielding a little notebook in which she can jot down ideas. She admits that her scribbles look like chicken scratch and sometimes she has no idea what she was trying to say, but she also gets some really good ideas that way. There is never a specific time or place for her to work on her creative pieces. She writes things out when she feels like she can’t contain them anymore. Similarly, she photographs things that feel interesting or important to her in some way, and that’s an ongoing process.
R. C., Senior: Film
We understand this fellow has many creative pursuits, so be sure to keep a lookout for his name to pop up elsewhere.
Scotty Krieg, Junior: Managerial Sciences
If it weren’t for his dad, he wouldn’t have discovered his first musical inspirations: Eric Clapton, Eddie Van Halen, Guns ‘N’ Roses, Deep Purple, and all
those other great classic rock groups. If not for his mom, he wouldn’t have discovered the Beatles, Waylon Jennings, or Johnny Cash. They were a huge inspiration through his transition from awkward adolescence to awkward adulthood, in which he now wears cowboy boots – yeehaw! His songs are reflections, observations, and stories from things that happen in daily life, to him or others. He wants them to come across as honest and authentic. Everybody’s got hopes and fears and skeletons in their closet. Some write in journals, some go to therapy; he writes songs. He believes you shouldn’t have to give your audience too much background; the art should speak for itself. He prefers to work on his creative projects somewhere with a guitar and a bottle of whiskey, and he hopes his ambitions will take him somewhere with a bottle of whiskey and a guitar.
Solomon Luke, Freshman: English
As a sophomore in high school, he witnessed a man die. A month later, his grandfather passed traumatically. For the rest of the year, he was surrounded by death. These experiences gave him the ability to see life for what it really is: temporary. But also, fragile and beautiful. He is inspired by three things: God’s interaction with man, man’s interaction with nature, and women. That last one he is completely fascinated by but can’t seem to figure them out for the life of him. For his readers, he simply hopes to connect them to one another (and to himself) so that they might feel less isolated before they read the poem. In his eyes, words will never be enough but they’ll have to do because they’re the fastest way to become over-personal with a stranger. More often than not, his process begins with something he has seen or heard. It might be a woman walking back and forth like the world is going to end, or his friends lifting each other off the ground. Lately, he’s had a method of learning a novel word he never knew
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existed and putting it in his poem. If he could, he would like to have dinner with his grandfather, one more time, so he could ask him how he was able to love people the way he did. His perspective is the one he desires in his writing.
Steelwood Sound, Senior: Sociology
You may know him as Rin. Given that he constantly edits his work as an organic project evolving over time, the most significant circumstance to affect his work has been getting a new computer; some of his project files did not come through, and he had to remake entire songs by ear. He doesn’t really have a source of inspiration. Most of the time he hums something or taps out a beat then immediately runs to his computer to save it, so he can begin changing it into a song. When he’s working, he tries not to talk to anyone and also avoids listening to music while juggling notes in his head. He wants to trust that the piece he’s working on is of his own creation and not an echo of a song long gone. He uses his personal reviews of his work as a way to capture moments in time when emotion was powerful. When he looks at his work, either moments or months after it was composed, he often sees the core of what he trying to accomplish. After obtaining well-deserved critiques of his technique, he’ll alter it so that the project becomes more in line with what he truly wants.
Whit Bolado, Senior: English – Creative Writing
Simply put, her work is affected by the books she reads, and they are also her source of inspiration. She hopes her audience would read and empathize, as if they were listening to a love song and remembering how it felt to live those lyrics.
Writing for him can be exhausting. In the beginning stages, when he’s coming up with ideas, there’s a flow of energy that gets stronger as his idea solidifies, but as he starts to edit and really get down into the details, a couple pages becomes a taxing endeavor; something about getting into a character enough to make their reactions plausible takes a lot of concentration. When he finishes working on something important, he usually ends up feeling a little emptied by the product. He recently moved to a faraway location, and although he hates the hour and a half commute, the bus ride gives him the opportunity to scribble every day because the alternative is to stare at the old woman sitting across the aisle for so long. He likes the idea of having regular weekly or semi-weekly dinner-lunchcoffee things with Billy Collins because he’s got such a great attitude towards life, and process, and he’s hilarious.
Virginia Ulmer, Senior: Speech
William Parks, Senior: English – Creative Writing
Stephanie Moore, Senior: Biology
Virginia would like her audience to identify with her piece, see a bit of it in themselves. “Metaphors” 102
comes from an interesting emotional place in her life, and she would like to see how others attach meaning to it in present day. She loves the senses, especially when they are so stimulated that in a single moment you feel so alive and aware of the uniquely human experience. She tries to capture that feeling and make every piece a sensory experience, something so detailed that you could close your eyes and perfectly see, hear, smell, feel, and taste the world thaat she’s creating. She understands that writing makes it easier to know where those hectic emotions that feel like a weight on our shoulders are coming from and helps to process them in a healthy way. Note: it’s always better to get those feelings out of you and living on paper rather than let them fester in your heart.
He’s a subtle one.
Special Thanks This issue of Underground could not have come to fruition without the help of several dear friends and patrons of the journal. In particular, I’d like to thank the following: Bryce McNeil, still the most awesome advisor ever; Boyd Beckwith, whose guidance and counsel helped to establish Underground as its own organization; the CSC board and all zealous citizens in the world of student media; Jody Brooks, Josh Russel, and all the wonderful professors in the English Department who continue to promote the journal’s ambitious goals; Ethan, the guy who worked the desk on the day of the Mega Workshop; Cristine Busser and all the mentors of the Writing Studio; Brian, William, and all the cool dudes at the Mammal Gallery; my glorious staff, especially Anna Theodore, Sarah Joy Richards, and Chelsey Cashwell; the faithful editors, Carla, Becca, Kelly, and Hunter; the journal’s previous commanders, in particular Parker Hilley and Emily Owens, who set the foundations for a legacy of art and literature; all contributors past and present without whose beautiful creations this journal would still be only an idea rather than a fully realized entity; dear family and friends who have supported the journal either by simply liking our Facebook page or presenting a gift to promote our endeavors. Thank you all. You are our primary audience, our ten thousand hands carrying the flame of our lantern to new heights. This is for you. Cheers, Raven Neely P. S. And a very special thank you to Rachel Pickett, who has just retired from being Underground’s production editor for the past two years. This journal will forever be indebted to all of the dedication and committment you have given it.
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