Underground F15 Extended Edition

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underground Undergraduate Art & Literary Journal Fall 2015 Volume VI, Issue i

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Editor-in-Chief Raven Neely

Production Editor

Carla Bazemore-Colclough

Art Editor Jessica Burnett

Staff Maddalena Alvarez, Shae Edman, Kofi Stiles

Poetry Editor Kelly Barraza

Staff Savannah Elder, Chad Moore, Teal Waxelbaum

Prose Editor Chelsey Cashwell Staff Whit Bolado, Cassanda Stanton Miscellanea Editor Christian Bowman Staff Nadia Deljou, Brooke LeBlanc Media Advisor

Bryce McNeil, Ph.D.

Cover Art

Cycles, Katrina Judd silkscreen reduction print with white, black and gold ink onto tan paper

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. Underground retains “first publication rights� 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 www.undergroundjournal.org.


Hello viewer! Welcome to the Fall 2015 Extended Editors’ Edition! Throughout the course of these pages, you will find the original content of the printed journal as well as additional material exclusive to the digital format. The majority of these extra pieces were chosen as some of the editors’ favorites. Take your time as you move along some of the pages, especially those with our lovely lantern logo. You’ll be pleasantly surprised as you make these little discoveries. At the end of this edition, you can also find our basic guidelines on how to submit for the next issue of Underground. The Spring 2016 issue will be entirely digital, and we plan to experiment with as many interactive capabilities as we can pack into one punch. Thank you for always looking forward to the next issue of our journal and for supporting GSU’s student artists. In case you missed one, we invite you to peruse our various internet outlets, where you can find more information about the journal’s sixyear history, digital copies of previous issues, and even how many friends we have on Facebook.

Read, view, listen, and click your way through our latest installment of the creative craft. Enjoy!


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Contents Letter from the Editor xii


Hallowed Charles C. Bailey Dust Christian Bowman Fish Tank Anna Cuthrell Motherhood Nisa Imani Floyd jailbreak Rachel Ponce de Leon Leland Shae Edman The Hermit Samarah Fenelus Abandoned Train Michelle Aguilar Abandoned Stadium, Florida Michelle Aguilar Memory of Home No. 3 Toan Nguyen Night Scene No. 1 Toan Nguyen Colorado Plains, Storm Coming on Parker Bradford Take Pride. It’s A._ Shae Edman To Belong Shannon Anderson Sinking Rachel Bjorn Catalina Hills Vase Parker Bradford


2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17

The Marionette Tequilla Gray Blood-Shot Addict Ivan Lichtenstein A Good Boy Eric Mann Noir et Creême Joshua Alexander Plaster Saint, Ch. 1 Anastasia Jones Did You See the Sunrise? Ashley Graves Waiting Cassandra Stanton let us dream, let us sail away Nadia Deljou Grunge Fashion Bria Howard How to Survive the Zombie Apocalypse Josh Coursey space doubt Rachel Ponce de Leon he knows he can find me Rachel Ponce de Leon

18 31 32 41 42 56 59 60 61 62 63 64


Future Lights Jessie St George The Harvester (We Are Constellations) Uduak Ita Jörmungandr (World Serpent) Katrina Judd Memory of Home No. 4 Toan Nguyen Hamsah Asmaa Malik Motherland Toan Nguyen F12 Shae Edman


67 68 69 70 71 72 73

u n d e r g r o u n d Don’t Make Me Let Go of This House Maddalena Alvarez The Tigress and The Emperor Uduak Ita Mother Moon and Father Sun Uduak Ita Memory of Home No. 1 Toan Nguyen Memory of Home No. 3 Toan Nguyen tea time Nadia Deljou I Will Prevail D. Ellis Elzie II The Face Jessica Burnett Dark Beauty Anna Cuthrell The honest poem Rachel Ponce de Leon Joel Osteen Remembers Your Dream Kelly Barraza Southern Cross Stephanie Brooks The Adventures of Felicia: Supercop E.E. Sands Tsunami Kelly Barraza Taunting God Kalyn Hardman The Nurse Tequilla Gray


74 75 76 77 78 79 80 81 83 85 87 89 90 92 94 96

Beep Teodora Mitroi 98 At Recess Nisa Imani Floyd 100 Dandelion Parker Bradford 101


Boats in Central Park Parker Bradford 102 Senoia Water Tower Parker Bradford 103 Just Pretend Shannon Anderson 104 Weily Shae Edman 105 Chinese Hat Vendor Michelle Aguilar 106 Pipa Player Michelle Aguilar 107 Burp Darian Matthews 108 Kaleidoscope Fridge Nadia Deljou 109 Slang Nadia Deljou 110 For My Brother Minh Huynh 111 Braided Up Charisma Dozier 112 Boats in Punta Arenas, Chile Michelle Aguilar 113 Taylor Shae Edman 114 Cliffhanger Maddalena Alvarez 115 Smile, You’re on Camera Hannah White 116 Summer Sale Nadia Deljou 117 We Made It DJ QuietStorm 118 Grit Stephanie Brooks 119 A Common Space Elisha Kim 121 Papa Gray Tequilla Gray 124


u n d e r g r o u n d From the Sky Kristina Scurry 126 Old Rocker Chelsey Cashwell 129 Hard Living Camille Jenkins 131 The College Diet - A Sestina Lizzie Clanton 134 Appletree Christian Bowman 136 Redefined Josh Coursey 138


The Worst Sin Makeda Phillips 140 Playing Dress-Up Chelsey Cashwell 143 On a Scale of One to America Josh Coursey 145 A Is For Alpha Nadia Deljou 146 Epiphany At 30,000 Feet Anonymous 147 Today I witnessed a beautiful thing Teodora Mitroi 148 Noise Lindsey Baker 150 Hurt Feelings Shannon Anderson 153 Fleur Parker Bradford 154 Does This Spear Make My Butt Look Big? Katrina Judd 155 Puddles in the City Darian Matthews 156 The World Samarah Fenelus 157 The Mind’s Eye Alayna Fabricius 158


Matter in the Mind (We Are Constellations) Uduak Ita 159 What Are THOSE! Charisma Dozier 160 Lopsided Bob (Cherry Edition) Uduak Ita 161 Stargazer (We Are Constellations) Uduak Ita 162 Breckenridge Flower Heart Parker Bradford 163 Sleeping in the Summer Minh Huynh 164 August Flowers Kristin Rogers 165 Breathe Rachel Bjorn 166 I don’t find things, I come across them Najwa Hossain 167 Confetti Twigs Maya Glass 168 Welcome to the Jungle Bria Howard 169 Who would you have me be Najwa Hossain 170 Wedding on a Beach at Sunset Parker Bradford 171 Wreckless Abandon Cobalt Composer 172 Plaster Saint, Ch. 2 Anastasia Jones 173 My Guitar, My Cigarette Christian Bowman 186 Lament of Lilies Kayla Marie Stockton 187 Ode to Homelessness Walter Henry Percy Maria y Isabella D’Arensbourg 188 The Skull-Crusher Chelsey Cashwell 191 The Garden of Eden T. Joshua Ruby 198


u n d e r g r o u n d I found a spoon E.E. Sands 207 Justus Now Shae Edman 208 Call of the Wild Christian Bowman 210 Charity Charles C. Bailey 211 Spitting Ammunition SC 212 Robin’s Egg Rachel Ponce de Leon 213 Then or Now Eric Mann 214


Letter from the Editor Dear reader, In order to understand the pieces that were chosen for this issue, it is important to recognize something shared by both the people who selected and those who created them. First, we are students. That much is clear. But take a moment to contemplate that position. We are students at an urban campus experiencing new pieces of the world little, tremulous and exciting steps at a time. What’s more, many of us are entering a time when the world is coming at us in so many different ways, when we are being asked – or forced – to take on roles we may not be prepared for, when we notice for the first time the frailty of life, and we discover how suddenly the people who we grew up with can fade away. The transitions can be frightening, but they have also made us bold. For every person we lose, there is someone new to guide us as we reach toward distant horizons. For every hardship we face, we invent a solution. We will probably screw things up a few times in the process, but we figure it out eventually and accept our failures as the growing pains for future successes. That’s kind of what brought us to the format for this issue. We all loved how V. i came out. Full color images interspersed all throughout the journal—it’s gorgeous, sexy, invigorating. If only it weren’t so damn expensive. We knew we couldn’t afford to pull that off again, but we couldn’t let go of the desire to have the pieces flow together in a way that could not be wrought from having all of the art fixed to a single place. Our solution was two-fold: to split the art evenly amongst four thematic sections and to simultaneously release a digital extended edition alongside the printed journals which would feature extra material chosen by our editors that simply could not fit in the physical edition. As we had experimented with V. ii, the digital version allowed for us to include interactive capabilities and thus feature the genre of Miscellanea, and we are very excited to repeat that prior success.


u n d e r g r o u n d During our marketing campaign, our production editor introduced the concept of illumination. In our call for submissions, we played on the idea of our lantern shining a light on undiscovered talent, and we also sought stories that held flames on their own. We chose a piece by E. E. Sands to serve as part of the inspiration for the four sections, and his words precede every theme. We appreciated his endeavor to “make sense of the space between the words� and wanted to apply it to our own interpretation of the pieces within this journal. Something else to keep in mind as you page through this issue is the many forms of light. It may be the subtle glow of a memorial candle, the backlight of a beloved cellular device, the twinkling curiosities of starlight, or even something that is not plainly seen, absent, but the heat of which is still felt as a burning sensation. What you see hereafter are GSU students and the artistry they have molded from the medium of life. We hope you enjoy these pieces and that they inspire you to carry a flame of your own. Onward, Raven Neely


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loss, longing, loneliness

“Every thought and every action has brought me here. Every thought and every action has brought you here. When I write this, I am me, but when you read this, we become one together and separate from ourselves.�


Hallowed Charles C. Bailey Humanity is quiet. One would expect Corridors of the arts To be livelier, Save the scent of baby oil And the fluttering skirts that Hormonal men Try to turn a Blind eye to. Books the size of boulders Bring us to earth While other academia Wear their tuition afoot. Polished toes and shapely legs Shuffle about like walking trees, Stepping over The open spaces built on King George’s legacy. This is a state of pilgrimage Where The first fiction Beckons The talented tenth.


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Christian Bowman

When you crumble in my hand and settle a powder upon my palm all I can do is weep and blow. You’ll go flying, my golden sand while I hum a solemn psalm and you’ll rest gently in my hand like a glove cradling fresh snow. A feathered departure, light and calm— I’ll say my prayers, I’ll weep and blow. A subtle gust, my chest expands— be brave in that familiar realm— you’ll leave your colors in my hand, and write a message; “I let you go.” Whilst exhaling, I’ll quell my qualms and go to crush some other blow. I think I finally know where I stand; I’m meant to give the poor my alms. But when you crumbled in my hand all I could do was weep and blow.


Fish Tank Anna Cuthrell

“Can I feed the fish?” The question is inevitable when someone notices the clear, ten gallon tank on the side table. No one looks close enough to see that it’s empty. The tank was a birthday gift. It came with a trip to the pet store to choose fish and decorations. I chose four tropical freshwater fish and gravel to match. Three were almost identical, orange bodies with black tails, but the fourth was the one I’d already become attached to. He had been in a tank alone, and followed my finger when I traced it along the glass. His body was the color of early tangerines, and his fins a deep gold. He objected the most to being put into a bag for transport. I prepared their new home the moment that I returned to my dorm. A clear plexiglass tank with black borders and tan gravel. I should have put the fish in after it was ready, but I didn’t. I didn’t want to risk the new fish dying prematurely because I hadn’t let the water sit for 24 hours. I checked the fish before I went to bed that night. They were frantic, swimming around their small confines. That should have been a clue that something was wrong. I simply assumed that they were eager to have some space from each other. No one told me that 24 hours was too long to leave them in a pet store bag. No one told me that I should have asked for them to be bagged separately. No one told me that a fish could drown. The next morning I found their lifeless bodies settled at the bottom of the bag. “We don’t have any fish yet.” I always respond politely to new guests. The tank remains alone and empty in the corner of the living room.


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Motherhood Nisa Imani Floyd Cigarettes ashed out in mahogany Wine; follows only those that crave its warmth Streetlights made your French lips look tempting That night all the stars pointed north There is no better hunger than your greed No greater mistake than that, which is ours No one could have given me galaxies Or devoured me like bees do flowers Sweet! Oh how the smell of you still lingers A child not yet born sleeps in my womb But when I left that place the world took her An innocent died and I was her tomb Still tears will not be shed. Mom cannot cry Born gone. At least you have your father’s eyes


jailbreak Rachel Ponce de Leon i am tired of it, all this smoking weed alone. such imagined tension serves no man, no genderless being who merely wants to hang, who, under the palm of atlanta summer, in a fever fat with flowers and fatigue, finds their way to a spot in the forest, eyes shining like bowl bottoms at the focus of painted-on skies, to walk in the middle of green and begin to merge with the flies trying to enter their centers. feet lichened to green, craggy corpse flesh, it will cover all but the heart; the roots will rot off before forming to emerge from the top of the head and reach something so far away. the sole chance is to return as a creature better suited to a core that stings when the wind changes pace, but never whimpers, wanting more.


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Leland, Shae Edman photography


The Hermit, Samarah Fenelus photo manipulation


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Abandoned Train, Michelle Aguilar photography


Abandoned Stadium, Florida, Michelle Aguilar photography


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Memory of Home No. 3, Toan Nguyen monoprint on paper


Night Scene No. 1, Toan Nguyen oil on canvas


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Colorado Plains, Storm Coming on, Parker Bradford photography


Take Pride. It’s A ._, Shae Edman photography


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To Belong, Shannon Anderson copic marker, pen on paper


Sinking, Rachel Bjorn pen and water color on bristol paper


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Catalina Hills Vase, Parker Bradford photography


The Marionette Tequilla Gray

Beep. Beep. Beep. Sigmund Freud once said, “Illusions and dreams commend themselves to us because they save us pain and allow us to enjoy pleasure instead. We must therefore accept it without complaint when they sometimes collide with a bit of reality against which they are dashed to pieces.” I once thought that was a profound statement. Now I think it’s the closest I can currently get to roadside crap, what with my denial of its truth. Regardless of what he said however, if I could speak, I would be complaining. I can’t tell whether this is an incredibly detailed dream, or a waking nightmare. I came to awareness not too long ago. I don’t think it was too long ago. It’s not like I can check to see because I can’t move. I can’t even open my eyes or twitch my fingers. I breathe heavily through my nose, and there is an increasing beep in the background that is becoming rather annoying. I hear a door open and the fluttering sound of cloth as it moves. I can feel the pressure of a hand as it reaches up and smooths over my hair in a calming gesture. The beeping in the background begins to slow down, and I recognize it as a heart monitor. It becomes clear then that I’m in a hospital. I wondered why I was here for a fleeting moment before the question flittered away, my mind naturally shying away from things I don’t understand... or rather don’t want to remember. I heard a voice somewhere say it doesn’t matter anyway. Not like I could change the past, and not like knowing could help me move. I admitted the voice was probably right.


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Beep. Beep. Beep. The sound of my own heartbeat has become a monotonous drum in the background. That and the soft dripping sound of an IV. I can feel the needle slightly in the crook of my elbow. I would like something deep fried and smothered in chocolate, but I haven’t been able to eat anything close to that in months. Probably would have sent my blood pressure sky high and ended me in this forsakenly boring place sooner. Maybe a little bit of carrot soufflé wouldn’t be so bad, though. I can smell the pungent scent of antiseptic, so strong it burns the inside of my nose. Nurses not long ago had come in and moved me around, lifting me and bathing me before putting me back onto what must have been a hospital bed. I could hear their conversations even if my eyes wouldn’t open, but it held no interest to me since it was only entertaining for them and their hissing giggles over some hunk of a doctor on the sixth floor. The voice thought they were immature idiots who shouldn’t be nursing anyone. I was inclined to agree. Beep. Beep. Beep. BEEP. BEEP. BEEP. BEEP. I hate that sometimes when I wake up, or rather become aware that I am no longer unconscious since I cannot move or open my eyes, I think that the beeping of the heart monitor is my alarm clock at home. In my half aware state, I attempt to move and turn it off, but panic when I realize that I cannot move. The increased beeping sound of my alarm clock (which I now realize is my heart monitor that has gone haywire in my panic) is drawing the heavy sound of footsteps from the nurse’s desk. “Poor thing, she must be having another nightmare.” “Yeah, well I’d be having nightmares too if I had done what she did. I’m surprised they put her in here and not some mental institution.” “Jesse, come on. She’s in a coma, not some raving schizophrenic in need of LSD.” I feel hands smooth down my hair and continue to listen. My heart beat is still unsteady, but now for a different reason. “...Besides, are you saying you wouldn’t have done something


Gray similar if someone had done that to you?” Someone made that funny noise of blowing air between teeth. “Yeah well, I can honestly say that jerk had what was coming to him. And LSD? Why would you give a schizophrenic LSD?” “That was Sigmund Freud’s treatment for the disease, and I think...” The voices faded out as they left the room and closed the door, locking me in with my own thoughts. The quiet had never felt so loud. Now that they had brought it to my attention, I couldn’t remember how I had gotten here. And despite the voice’s incessant persuasion to let the matter rest, to not delve deeper, I can’t help but let my mind drift towards curiosity and maybe even a little dread. What did someone do to me? ...What had I done? Beep. Beep. Beep. As the days progress – and I’m sure they do since my telling of time is off and is only measured with the feeling and hearing of nurses as they come in every six to eight hours to check on me – my memories begin to fill in. The first one that comes was of my first memory of death. I remember, vaguely, that first glimpse of death in that sort of distortion of color that occurs when the memory is from when you were a child, and now older, you can’t decide whether it was a memory or a dream. It was of my mother in her casket. Lilies were draped in bundles across the bottom, and I remember being fascinated with the paleness of her skin, a contrast to how it was normally rosy and flushed with life. It had sickened me how she had been painted over with make-up to give the illusion of life, as though this could fool me. I, who knew her warmth like no other, being an only child, and had cuddled into her lap on many days. The worst part of that memory had been the feel of her skin. I had touched her. I had to touch her. That feeling, even if the memory is dream-like in its quality, is still as sharp to me now as it was then. When I saw her face, so different from how I remembered it, yet still the same, I unconsciously understood that there was something deeper and irreversible and inevitable that had happened to her.


u n d e r g r o u n d Touching her, I can still sense the feel of it on my fingertips. Cold and clammy and empty; it was such a new experience I had nothing to compare it to, and still don’t. She felt like wet clay. The empty shell left behind to degrade and return to dust. Beep. Beep. Beep. It amazes me the things I hear. Being in a coma has its ironic benefits in that family members tend to come and tell you things that they would have never told you had you been aware. Sometime during the day when I was sure I was going crazy from boredom and the inability to alleviate it – that and the voice was unusually quiet today – I heard the door open and close. A sound much like a choking pig being muffled startled me, my heart monitor sputtered for a moment before evening out into its normal pace. My hearing was strained, and I waited. “Jesus.” I recognized the voice, but couldn’t immediately place it. It was male though, that I could tell even through his held back sobs. “Mom, why’d it have to be you? And why now? I told you that you should have left. I knew I should have stayed, but...GOD! This is too much!” His voice was becoming thicker, even though it never rose above the same timbre. Ah, I had a son. And his name was James. I remembered him. The sound of his muffled and choked sobbing was replaced with a clear memory of a seven pound, nine ounce baby boy with a tuft of black hair and the same gray blue eyes that every new born child has. Then of those same eyes turning a deep hazel filled with tears from falling off his skateboard and of his graduation from his alma mater. “You knew Charles’ was bad for you Mom. You KNEW this! At least...you had to have known....Why did you stay with him? Had you asked I would have come and got you, I would have taken you away! He didn’t deserve you, even if he was my father. I hated what he had turned you into.” I could feel the sharp pain of his words in my heart, each sentence like a knife twisting. Tears were gathering, and I knew that they would fall despite my shuttered eyes.


Gray His heavy breathing was interrupted by the sound of the door opening. “Ah, Mr. Morrison,” a pause, “I hope I’m not interrupting anything.” I could hear James quickly wiping his face and pulling himself together. “No, no of course not. What’s the news?” “Ms. Morrison is doing much better, but I’m afraid that the damage from the dimethylmercury poisoning is irreversible and inevitably fatal. I’m sorry.” My son choked again and I...well I’m sure I stopped breathing. It’s a harsh thing to hear of your coming demise amongst people who had no intention of you hearing it. Shaky air drifted from my nose as I took everything in. I knew I was in shock, and soon to be denial. “Can you tell me how long that–” he strained as if holding onto words he wanted to say, “HE had been poisoning her?” “With dimethylmercury poisoning, it only takes one time of exposure for it to poison you. It’s rather strange considering that the poison itself has only ever occurred once in history and is a manmade poisoning. Mr. Morrison was an inorganic chemist and quite possibly could have made the poison and brought it home. He would have had to have spilled only a couple of drops on her clothes or her hand and the poison itself would be complete. Side effects don’t start occurring until around 4 or 5 months after the initial exposure. However, if it is not treated immediately, well…it is inevitably fatal. Unfortunately, despite the symptoms such as numbness of hands and feet and difficulty walking, eating, seeing, and hearing, Ms. Morrison never came in to be examined.” Silence, and then, “How…how long does she have?” His voice had become small and hollow. For once I was glad I didn’t have the ability to open my eyes; I couldn’t stand the sight of him crying, especially not over such a sorrow as losing a mother. Even if I was young, I remembered how that felt. “Maybe a week before her vitals begin to shut down, give or take a few days.” I could hear movement, a quiet “thank you” from my son, more movement and then the closing of the door. A hand wrapped around my own and clenched it. I could feel the rough calluses, proof of his hard work on his grandfather’s farm, as they rubbed against the smooth skin of my smaller hand. Rough fingers touched my face, and I can feel moisture being wiped away at


u n d e r g r o u n d the corner of my eyes. “Oh, Mom. Did you hear that?” I could hear his voice crack and his breathing becoming even more ragged than it was before. Arms reached down and hugged me, lifting me up slightly into a warm embrace. “I wish you didn’t hear that. I wish you could speak to me. I want to hear your voice…just say anything.” He paused, his grip becoming tighter, and I could feel the tears coming again. “I’m afraid, momma. I haven’t visited in such a long time that I’m afraid that if I lose you, I won’t remember your voice or the color of your eyes. I feel like this is my fault. I knew what kind of man he was and I left you there, even if you did have the last word in the end.” It was quiet for a while. My tears were drying on my face and I could feel lukewarm drops drifting through my hair to my scalp. They were my son’s. “I hope you can forgive me. I doubt I will ever forgive myself.” His words were spoken quietly, and if I could I would have turned around and held him. But I couldn’t. Not long after, he gently laid me back on the bed. “I think you should know Grandpa passed away. He told me to tell you he loves you. I didn’t have the heart to tell him what happened. Perhaps you will see him soon.” I felt my heart clench, regret tasting bitter and stale in my mouth. Why haven’t I seen him in so long? Sounds of movement. A door opening and then closing. No other words were said. Beep. Beep. Beep. Back when I was younger and more aware of my own mortality, I hoped that death would come upon me quietly in my sleep and take me painlessly. Now, with my current situation, I realize that dying in such a way is incredibly anticlimactic. The rest of the day I dreamed of dull-colored visions that cycled between vague memories and the heavy mix of anticipation and fear of what’s coming next.


Gray Beep. Beep. Beep. Charles was a good man…once. I had fallen in love with him right out of high school. His hair was wild and dark and his eyes changed in shades of blue depending on mood. I remember how he’d come pick me up in his red Mustang, the top down and his shades on, looking for all the world like some rich actor on vacation. He’d drive me around town and tell me of his dreams, flirtingly including me in the picture. I’d tell him of mine, but now that I’m older, I realize that he was humoring me. I couldn’t completely blame Charles. He grew up in one of those testosterone-driven households where the man was taught to reign over and control the wife. Later on in our relationship, we’d argue over who was the best at this or that, man or woman. I thought it all in fun, but I’d sometimes recognize the deep flush of his cheeks as real frustration and wondered. Looking back, I should have wondered deeper, and questioned more. The voice only grunted in agreement. The voice knew, as well as I. Charles never hit me. But you don’t need a physical hit to knock someone down. Before my mind could entertain any more memories of my husband, the voice, stronger than I knew it could be and stronger than I knew it should be, pushed the memories back. Don’t. It was a command. I acquiesced. Beep. Beep. Beep. Today I remembered that my mother was murdered. I don’t know why this particular memory rang back to me. She collected marionette dolls, the old ones with the strings still attached to two, small flat sheets of wood crossed in the shape of an x. She would teach me how to use them. The simple movements of the puppeteer – my mother said they were called manipulators – made the marionette dance and walk. I was fascinated, and my mother, her face vague but her voice clear in my memory, thought my interest endearing. One night I had been asleep in my room until a crash from downstairs woke me. Getting out of bed, I slunk down the hall and came across a scene I shouldn’t have forgotten, but I knew my childlike mind had pushed it away as a safety mechanism to keep my


u n d e r g r o u n d sanity and perhaps my innocence. My father stood over my mother, his broad shoulders lifting up and down with his heavy intakes of breath; his face was flush and his eyes wide with slowly dawning realization. My mother had been pushed, her body falling through the glass of the table and her head hitting the metal lining. I watched as her eyes stared wide-eyed in reflected shock at my father, but then the light and awareness in them slowly faded. My mother’s eyes were hazel and closer to green. My son had inherited them from her. As the light in them dimmed, they turned brown; a dull, hollow brown like the bark of a dead tree. Before I ran back to my room, I remember vividly the limp body of the marionette in my father’s hand. He threw it across the room, and it hit the wall shattering. The broken body fell to the ground and I noticed that the strings were missing. Looking back at my mother, I saw that the strings were in her hands, having been ripped out with her fall. Beep. Beep. Beep. I think I heard the flutter of wings today. But I’m sure that was some hallucination brought on by being in that delirious state between sleep and awareness. The drugs they had me on probably helped too. The voice told me to ignore it. I wasn’t inclined to fight it, so I did. Beep. Beep. Beep. I smiled at the vision flickering across my eyelids. It was the last Christmas I saw my son, two years before. He was planning to move in with his grandfather before saving and moving to the city for college. The house had been decorated in reds and golds, and the Christmas tree flickered with dancing lights through our downstairs window. Stockings were hung up the banister since we didn’t have a fireplace. He used to ask how Santa got in if we didn’t have a fireplace. I always told him that Santa knocked on the front door when he knew he was asleep. I don’t know why I remembered this particular Christmas,


Gray aside from it being the last with my full family. James, black curls sharpened into stylish spikes on his head, helped me set the table. I had cooked, like I always did, the full spread: turkey, stuffing, yams, cranberry sauce, greens, fresh baked bread, and pecan pie. Charles sat across from me and my son to the right. It was a beautiful night, all the gifts opened and carted off to the bedrooms. “Hey, Ma.” I looked up. James’ eyes were on me, even though the fork full of pie hovered at his lips. “Why don’t you come with me for a week or two at Grandpa’s house. You know he wants to see you. He hasn’t seen you since you and Dad–” Dad was said with slight bitterness that I didn’t take the time to dwell on, although I could see Charles’ eyes narrow from my periphery, “–threw me that surprise party when I was 9. He’s not doing well, Ma. He really wants to see you.” “I–” “She will not be going.” Charles’ voice cut in like cold rain through skin. It rang in the air, hovered, and seemed to choke the happy spirit from the atmosphere. Funny how I noticed that now and not when it was actually occurring. “Excuse me, Dad, but I was asking my mother–” “James, please.” James looked back at me, his eyes hurt and sorrowful. I wanted to comfort him, but I didn’t feel like fighting. When I was younger I was up to fighting and debating with Charles, but over the last few years…it was like my strength had given out. Whenever we began to argue, it was like he sucked the strength from me. Soon, I just stopped fighting. James didn’t say a word. He just got up with his slice of pie and went upstairs to his room. I looked over to Charles. His eyes were on his plate as he picked up a piece of bread, but I saw the victorious edge of a smirk at the corner of his lips. Beep. Beep. Beep. I had a nightmare last night. And it had to have been a nightmare; there was no way that it could have been real. No way could it have been a memory. I had woken up at home, my room a light shade of lavender that glowed slightly silver in the morning light. Getting up, I began my daily house wife activities: taking a shower, dressing, making


u n d e r g r o u n d the bed, fixing my breakfast since my husband was off to work, and beginning to clean what I was capable. I was feeling much better that day. Most days I was hardly able to move around the house, and my legs constantly tingled in that way when they’re asleep, but today I took advantage of my energy, even if my stomach revolted against my breakfast, releasing it in the toilet only half an hour later. I heard the sound of an engine roaring down the street, and looking out the kitchen window I realized it was the mailman. Going out, feeling too lazy to even put on shoes, I walked through the grass of the front yard, enjoying the cool feel of nature between my toes, and opened the mailbox. I flipped through the mail quickly as I made my way back to the house. Just as I crossed the threshold I remember coming across a thick letter with Thrive Life Insurance on the front and it was addressed to Charles Morrison. The letter itself wasn’t curious, but the Open Immediately was. I closed the door and walked further in, my hands already opening the envelope. Dear Mr. Morrison, We would like to inform you that we have accepted your request to increase the life insurance policy of Mrs. Jillian Morrison from her policy of $100,000, updated as of six months ago, to our $1,000,000 life insurance policy. Our agreements, payments and interests’ information are included. Thank you and have a great day, Thrive Insurance Jim Canapé I remember gripping the paper and shaking my head, trying to come up with plausible scenarios that were better explanations than what was going on in my mind. The better explanation never came. The rest of the day anxiety wore on my fragile nerves and even more fragile health. What happened between closing the envelope and my husband walking in the door was a blur, but I do remember grabbing the crow bar from the garage and pulling out one of my mother’s marionettes that I had kept. Even now I don’t know why I grabbed it, perhaps for the comfort of knowing my mother was with me. Its face was beautiful porcelain, her dress a pile of blue and white lace, and a blue bonnet was tied to her mop of brown horse hair. I heard him pull up in the drive way, and I stood behind the


Gray door. I just watched him. After putting everything away, he came further into the living room, and I wondered when I had not noticed how happy he looked. Not that I didn’t want him happy. But I was aware that if your wife was extremely sick you don’t come bouncing in the house, lips red and swollen as if he had breathlessly been kissed, and whistling an uneven tune. I knew I couldn’t have been the one making him so happy. I gripped the crowbar and swung with a force I didn’t know I had against the back of his head. In the dream, I had wanted to laugh. “Hello, honey.” My voice was overly sweet. He rolled over on the floor, his hand gripping the back of his head as blood dripped through the openings between his fingers. His eyes looked up at me dazed. “Babe…what the hell are you doing…why?...” “That is a very good question. Why, you asked? I want to know why my insurance policy has just gone up from $100,000 to $1,000,000 in the span of six months. I want to know why you’re so happy when your wife is sick.” I watched him closely, seeing that twitch of a smile, despite the pain he was in, when I said the increased price and darkening of his eyes when I questioned him on his happiness. With anyone else, they wouldn’t have noticed, but I was his wife of nearly thirty years. I knew him. “Listen, babe–” I swung the crowbar across his face before I registered that I had even moved. The pain, hurt, and anger were culminating in my stomach and causing me to be completely calm in my head. With the calm, I knew I was dangerous. With the calm, I knew I was positively deadly. At that moment, I loved it. He howled in pain, a slash from the rugged edge of the crowbar bloomed across his cheeks and lips, blood spurted from the wounds like fountains. “Jillian, please, I–” “Shut-up. I want you to answer me truthfully and depending on the answer I may or may not let you walk out of this.” He nodded, real fear and pain and surprise warred in his expression. God, that felt good. I felt drunk off the power of being in control, but the anger was like lead in my stomach. It weighed me down, kept me focused. “Are you trying to kill me?”


u n d e r g r o u n d “No of course n–” I swung again, but missed. He scoots back in fear and shock. “Yes.” “How?” His face has changed now. The facade he had clearly been wearing for me had fallen away to reveal contempt. When had it come to this? “Poisoning.” “Why?” He laughed; a deep throaty laugh that was bitter and full of resentment. “Because you had become boring and easy. Not that you weren’t always like that, but the novelty had worn off. You weren’t always so…” Right here he smirked, the expression through the flooding of blood was grotesque and made me wonder how I ever thought he was good looking. “Obedient. You used to have fight. But now, you’ve gotten old and, like I said, boring.” He spit the last word out with a wad of blood, the goop landing on the beige carpet. “You just–” I had cut him off with a sharp flick of my wrist against his temple. There was so much blood, and in the now marred face I saw my mother. I sat in the rocking chair beside him and began to clip the strings off of the marionette. This time I was hoping she wasn’t going to break into a million pieces like my mother’s marionette did. That’s when the voice had showed up. At that moment, it was quiet and laughing. Beep. Beep. Beep. I lay in bed wondering…about heaven and hell. About death. If I killed the man who killed me, where would I go? Wouldn’t our deaths just cancel each other out? Perhaps I am already dead. Perhaps death is just an endless dream – if so, I want clouds that taste like cotton candy. Perhaps death was endless nothingness. Perhaps death is the onslaught of everything. The voice was oddly quiet throughout my musings. Beep. Beep. Beep. The feeling of trying to grasp for breath is like being caught in an underwater current, your body bobbing to the surface and your


Gray lungs gaining a small bit of air before you’re being dragged back down to the bottom. You know you are dying, and it’s impossible for you to stop it. I was dying alone in a cold hospital room. For a brief moment my eyes fluttered open, the brightness of the room blinding me, before the strength to open my eyelids was wiped from me. As a coldness that I never felt before seeped into my limbs, I asked myself what was the purpose of a marionette if there was no one to control it? It was such an insane question, I wanted to laugh. The voice told me to let go. I did. Beeeep...


u n d e r g r o u n d


Blood-Shot Addict, Ivan Lichtenstein film


A Good Boy Eric Mann

Some time had passed before the restaurant began to wind down, and we still sat alone, like an island within a sea of empty chairs. It was forty minutes past scheduled party time, and Mallory, the birthday girl, was opening her menu and closing it again, looking confused. “Where is everybody?” she whined. “Even Marissa is going to be late? How is even Marissa going to be late? “She’s coming, she’s coming,” Abigail assured. “She told me she may be late. You know how it is, with no one wanting to be the first to arrive and all that.” Mallory’s face drew cold. Her eyes hardened into a deep seriousness. “Well that June Farnaby better not be so late. They’ll probably fine me if all the reservations aren’t filled.” Her face suddenly relaxed and both the girls laughed over themselves, their powdered faces blushing red. Still, I watched Mallory blink, and I felt a spec of fear trickle from her awkward expression as she reopened the menu and began flipping through it once more. That’s when I sort of fell into myself. I looked out the window that lined our booth, only now it was dark outside, and all I could make out was my own reflection staring back at me. I looked into my dull eyes, lamented over my boring face, then began to think of my father. Family members always assured that we looked just alike, shared the same facial features, but I couldn’t see it anymore. Not like I used too, when I was just a kid. Nobody mentions my father anymore though, on account of him having left the family, running away after some crazed alcohol-induced break, where he decided nothing was worth anything anymore and he’d live on his own somewhere. He’s in jail now, after shooting up two defenseless women in the parking lot of a lonely ice cream shop. But before that we had quite the relationship. I remember him taking me to the shooting range, when I was just a boy, and he’d cheer “That a boy!” again and again as I popped off shots toward a target down range. It’s like a dream now, something I always come back to when life gets rough, or to pass the time when you’re sitting with two bimbos at a sad party. It really is something I can’t forget, my own father egging me on in such a way, with hot shotgun cartridges raining at my adolescent feet.


u n d e r g r o u n d “Oh stop, hunny” said Abigail, throwing down her menu. “Who cares if that Farnaby shows or not. She’s always so indecisive on things, acting as if she’s always got something to do. “Oh I hate her,” said Mallory, rolling her eyes. Then, quite expectantly, like she so often did, Mallory turned her head and smiled at me. Only this time it was different, not like she had smiled when I told her that I’d come to the party. Not something sexual. It seemed that she were smiling for me, and only me, simply because I was sitting in a chair next to her. She wasn’t the popular type, and I figured nobody would show for her birthday because nobody really liked the birthday girl. Not even me. Still, I somehow fell into a sorrowful gaze toward her. I stared at her, and tried to figure if I could ever be intimate with her, intimate with the birthday girl. The idea was certainly plausible, though crude, and I tried to imagine what it would really look like, what it would really feel like, and I looked into her eyes trying to get a taste of it. Her hair was curling over her shoulder, and for the first time, within the lighted restaurant, I got a real good look at her face. Her cheeks were bony, but it was clear that she had tried to soften them with makeup, and her eyes settled then blinked as if she was falling asleep then waking again. She had these thin painted lips, and she reminded me of a doll, a very frightening doll. And that’s when our waiter reappeared at the end of the table, looking curious at our situation. “Are you guys still waiting?” he asked cheerfully. “Or would we like to order anything?” “God dammit,” Mallory moaned. “We’re not ordering anything until at least somebody arrives.” The waiter smiled fearfully. “I’m sorry, ma’am,” he said. “But we close in fifteen minutes” Then, quite suddenly, another waiter swooped in and placed a small plate in front of Mallory. “Oh they’ve brought you a cupcake!” Abigail shouted. She leaned over the table to get a better look at the pastry, as if it were some kind of marvelous specimen. “Oh, that’s just adorable,” she admired. “Reminds me. We should all go down to Harry’s after this and get ice cream. I’ll pay for yours, Mallory.” Abigail peered into her, and Mallory peered into me, and I peered out the window, or rather, looked at myself within it. It seemed everybody was looking at everybody, and it was silent, and


Mann empty, and that’s when the birthday girl finally wiped her face, rose to her feet, and forcefully trotted toward the other end of the restaurant. Abigail ran after her, shouting in horror, like some tragedy had enveloped us all, and her voice gave me the shivers as I watched each of their naked legs disappear into the women’s room. Then, like that eerie silence after a gunshot, all was quiet again. I smiled at the waiter, suggesting that none of this was real. That it was all some kind of big, horrible joke, and the girls were like ghosts who somehow, by unknown means, had wandered into this world, and had taken me hostage within it, within Charlie D’s bar and grill. The waiter wiped his brow with a white cloth that was hanging from his khakis, then turned towards me. His eyes were expressionless, until, after a moment, he opened his mouth just barely. “Would you like anything?” he asked. “Could I have some kind of beer?” I asked, hesitantly. He handed me this big fancy menu with a long list of names I was unable to pronounce. Things like Château Lafite and Domaine de la Romanée-Conti and Laderas de El Sequé. I asked if I could just have a rum and coke. The kid nodded then collected my menu. When he came back he placed the glass down in front of me, then leaned his hip against the chair like he all of a sudden knew me from somewhere, and he must have, because that’s the first thing he asked. “Don’t I know you, kid?” Mallory’s red balloon was bobbing up and down over his head, and I decided to just watch the balloon instead of his face. I have a big problem with staring at people’s faces. Especially guys like this, where you can tell girls probably think they’re handsome. “We go to school together or something?” he asked. I watched the balloon rise a bit. “No,” I said. “You sure?” he asked. My eyes finally fell from the balloon to his face. I took another sip of rum. “I’m not from around here,” I said. “Just here for the party.” He grinned at me, like he knew something. “Look,” he said, leaning down towards me. “These two broads you’re sitting with, I know them.” He stood back up straight. “I really know them, if you know what I mean.” The rum glass in my hands started to rattle, like it were some kind of earthquake, but I guess it was just my tremor, so I placed the


u n d e r g r o u n d glass down on the table. “Wild,” he said. “Absolutely wild girls like this are. You know what I’m saying?” I had no idea what he was saying, but I smiled instinctively, then went for my rum once more. “I saw you come in with them buddy, and I knew. I knew, man. I know what’s going on here. I know how these girls are. But hey, I’m not blaming you, man. I’m all over that.” He paused for a moment, his eyes scanning the other side of the restaurant. The last customers, a middle aged couple who had been snuggling in their booth, finally exited, and he watched them disgustedly. “Look,” he said, leaning back towards me. “How about you let me get in on this? It’s two girls, bud. I’ll even take the chubby one.” I sipped on my rum hoping it would keep my hands from shaking so much, but it didn’t seem to do anything, so I placed it back on the table. “I don’t know,” I said, desperate to say something coherent. “I really don’t know, man.” “You don’t know what?” he said. “I know these kinds of girls better than you, bud, and if we worked together on this it will make this whole thing real easy. If you get what I’m saying,” he smiled at me showing a line of white teeth. “Look, buddy, the place is pretty much closed. I’m closing up shop, and we got two lonely whores crying in the back, waiting for you to make a move. Now I’m no creep, but no one knows these girls better than me. Nobody. They’re begging for it, man, absolutely begging.” Suddenly, he put one arm on the table, very cool, and then lifted his dress shirt revealing the butt of a pistol which he had stuffed down into his pants like they do in the movies. “You see that, buddy?” he asked. “I’m telling you, I don’t play. You gotta let me in on this. Besides, these girls love guns. They think it’s sexy.” I nearly spilled my drink. “Are you crazy?” “No, but you are,” he fired back. “So don’t act like you’re not.” Seeing his gun made me think of my own firearm experience. My dad, before he ran off and all, was big on guns, and he always assured me I was the best shooting kid he ever knew. “That a boy!” he’d always say, and I’d just keep shooting and


Mann shooting. It was really no big deal. But still, seeing this kid with a deadly weapon shoved in his pants made me sweat a bit. I felt it drip down my face. I pressed the rim of my glass against my lips, then, as steady as I could, tipped it up and let the rum drizzle down my chin as I gulped. It burned my throat, and for the first time, my hand finally settled a bit. “I don’t know what the hell you’re talking about,” I said, not wanting to look at him. “Bullshit,” he said. “Cut the crap, alright. You think I don’t know you? Everyone knows you, even these two bitches know you. I know, and they know the kind of shit you’re into. You’re a goddamn celebrity, man. Like the way serial killers become celebrities. It seems these two girls are the only girls in the whole school that pretend to be dumb enough to not know exactly what you are, and what you’ve done, and that tells you something about the kind of people they are.” He put both his hands on the table and leaned forward. “Now stop acting all nervous and innocent, and I’ll help you on this one.” I felt a shiver shudder down my neck and into my spine. I didn’t know what to say. “I’m ready to get a little high tonight, if you know what I mean. I’m ready, bud. It’s a goddamn golden opportunity and I’m not letting it slip by, buddy. Enjoy your drink.” Then he walked off across the restaurant. He entered the women’s room and I just sat there, watching the closed door for a long time, thinking things over, until eventually I heard the allpiercing cry of the birthday girl’s voice. She was screaming bloody murder, and I felt my heart rise into my throat. It was a type of sound I was used to, I know, but somehow, this time, it just about killed me. “Son of a bitch,” I mourned. “You can’t be serious.” The cries persisted from the restroom, like someone was being murdered. It was like the goddamn movies, and I just sat there listening. Listening and listening, until eventually the restaurant went completely quiet again. I took a last sip of my rum and waited expecting to see one of the girls come running out, but nobody ever did. I couldn’t believe it. I wasn’t sure what happened, and eventually, after losing my patience, I stood up and walked over to the restroom. I put my ear to the door, and heard sobs. Girly type of sobs. And so, I opened the women’s room door. The first thing I noticed was Mallory, the birthday girl, sitting beneath the sink, legs apart, with her dress mangled. She was


u n d e r g r o u n d sobbing, her lip bloodied. I looked into her eyes, and she into mine. “Help,” she whispered, crying. “Help us.” I turned to my right, and beneath the stall I could see Abigail, the chubby girl, down on her knees with the waiter’s black loafers standing behind her. I watched him turn and walk out of the stall. He noticed me then smiled. I smiled back at him. “Looks like you’ve joined the party,” he said, chuckling. He held the pistol in his hand. I didn’t say anything, just walked over to the stall and peered in. Abigail was nearly naked with her face hung in the bowl of the toilet. Her hair was wild now. Her large breasts were hanging out, but this time I couldn’t bear to look. Her thick legs tempted me, I’ll admit, but something about her unconscious face, her closed eyes, gave her the innocence of a child. And I felt it was something I’d never be able to get past. She seemed like just a kid. “Sorry I had to take the initiative,” he said to me. I looked into his face. “I don’t much like the dirty work,” I said. He looked at me coldly. “You’re a real bull-shitter, aren’t ya?” “No bullshit,” I said. “I really don’t. Not anymore.” He walked over to Mallory and put the barrel of the gun to her head. “I know you like the high. I know you like girls like these.” The waiter whipped the pistol across Mallory’s face. A tooth slid across the tile floor, and she laid her bloody head on the ground. The waiter caressed her hair then looked up at me. “Come over here, buddy,” he said, waving me over. “Come on, give it a shot. Take a hit. Get a little high with me.” I stood still for a moment, frozen, then walked over. “Take the gun,” he said. “Come on, take it.” I wrapped my hand around the grip. It felt warm and sweaty and familiar. It took me back to my days at the range with father. It took me back to last summer, when I held a girl up with her boyfriend behind a restaurant just like this, when I put the kid’s teeth on the curb and ruined his smile. It took me back to ten years old, back to blowing up squirrels, and lighting little bull frogs on fire in the driveway of our trailer so they all hopped about like living candles in the summer air, and it was beautiful. Mallory looked up at me with tears draining from her eyes. Her broad cheeks glinted in the florescent light.


Mann “Come on bud, hit the bitch. She deserves it.” And looking into her face, I began to feel sick. I began to feel depressed, analyzing the sick bastard I was. Here I was, just like old times, sticking a gun in the face of some poor innocent girl. But I just wanted that feeling again. That feeling of stepping out of this world and entering another. One where nothing is real anymore, where things don’t matter, and you’re one step closer to some kind of un-reality. I tried and tried to resist it, I’m telling you I tried, but it’s like a goddamn disease, and once it takes hold I can’t help but feel there’s no going back. I used to have the privilege of taking it out on the animals of our country neighborhood. I’ve beheaded the neighbor’s chickens, castrated the pasture cows, even split open a poor goddamn horse and let the guts fall to the floor like some great bloody waterfall. Still, none of it compares to holding a gun to a pretty human face, and watching the quiver in their eyes as they wonder about life and death and everything else, and how terrifying that is. And so, I gave in. I admit it, I gave in, and whipped the butt of the pistol across her cheek. She spit blood and I felt a surge of energy run through my body, like electricity, like something I always craved. Like an addiction. Like a drug. And for a moment, I was high. I couldn’t suppress the feeling of sheer idiotic joy. “There you go, buddy! Now we’re getting a little high,” cheered the waiter. I slapped the pistol across the birthday girl’s cheek again, this time the other side, and once again my muscles were electrified. “Yes yes!” cried the waiter. “That a boy! That a boy!” And in that moment, hearing those three words “That a boy” made my blood run cold. It reminded me of my father. The long gone figure who hadn’t been in my life for many years, but I’ll always remember that old dream of mine, at the range with him, being only a little boy, and him cheering “that a boy!” each time I fired a shot off into the body of the target down range. I remember my father. The relationship we used to have. I remember what a great man he was, before he left me and mom but I don’t blame him, and I don’t feel anger towards him. I actually love him very much. But somehow, someway, this goddamn son of a bitch waiter calling me a boy, just like my father used to, dug into my heart like a knife. It made me crazy. I turned and pointed the gun in his direction. “What you calling me that for, you son of a bitch!” The waiter looked stunned. “Calling you what?”


u n d e r g r o u n d “Boy!” I said. “I’m not your goddamn boy!” “I never said you were my boy, you crazy son of a bitch.” “Only my father calls me boy,” I said. “And he ain’t around no more to do so.” “Oh what a sad story,” said the waiter. “On account of you being a complete psychopath, I’d think you’d be tough as nails. Never meet your heroes I guess.” “I’m a human with a heart just like everyone else,” I said. He laughed at me. “That’s insanity! You have no heart, buddy. Never have and never will. You’re a goddamn crazy person!” “I still got a goddamn heart!” “Bullshit,” he said. “You got the heart of a killer. You are a killer. So why don’t you start shooting! If you’re gonna point a gun at somebody, make sure you got the balls to pull the trigger.” “I got the balls,” I said. “Then do it! Boy! Pull the goddamn trigger!” I squeezed off a shot. The gun sound clapped then echoed. A shot cut through the waiter’s chest. He went down like a ton of bricks, screaming like a girl, and I felt that special energy charge like a drug through my bones. It was pure euphoria. I smiled to myself, watching the waiter roll across the bathroom tiles, and that’s when I suppose I lost it. Cause I put my finger on the trigger and just started shooting like I used to at the range. One shot after another, again and again. Pieces of tile flung across the room, and Mallory, the birthday girl, screamed the whole way through. I walked up to the waiter, who somehow, by the grace of God, was still alive. “I ain’t your boy!” I said, kicking my boot across his head. I lifted his head by his hair and whipped the pistol across his pretty face a good ten times. I just kept on hitting him, again and again, like it were nothing. I couldn’t stop, no matter how hard I tried, and eventually with his face drizzled in bloody tears I gave up on hurting him. I looked back at Mallory, the birthday girl, and she was crying. What a terrible person I was, I thought. I had truly ruined her birthday, and there was no taking it back. Then I leaned against the wall next to her and slid all the way down onto my bottom. I touched the birthday girl’s hair, and she didn’t fight it. I looked at the gun in my hand. “I’m sorry for all this,” I said. “I don’t know what’s wrong with me.”


Mann She didn’t say anything. Her face was draining blood. At that moment I started feeling very sad. Very depressed at what had happened and at what I had done. I just wanted it to be over. I felt Mallory’s shallow breaths. I leaned against her. Just then, Abigail came shuffling out of the stall and sat down beside me, sandwiching me between the two girls like they were my dates. The waiter was quiet now, and I rested my eyes for a moment, then asked for Abigail’s phone. She gave it to me, and I called the cops and told the 911 lady that some tragedy had unfolded in the restroom of Charlie D’s bar and grill. Then I waited, and after what seemed like hours, the cops finally busted in, guns drawn, and carried me out of the building by my arms and ankles like I was some sort of madman. And I guess I was. In the back of the deputy’s car, with my hands cuffed, the officer asked me what had happened. I myself thought of what happened, and somehow, someway, wondered how I would ever function normally again. I thought of the type of person I was, what I had become, and decided I never wanted to go back home again. Never wanted to go anywhere at all. I never even wanted to see my father again, and I knew I never would. “I beat them girls,” I said. “Beat them dead.” “Well luckily, they aren’t going to die,” said the officer. “Paramedics are taking care of them.” “That’s good,” I said. “I’m glad. I’m glad for the girls, that’s all.” “Anyone else involved in this?” asked the officer. I looked up into his old face. I thought over what to say, then I looked into the window of the cop car. I stared at my reflection, only, this time, I almost swore it was my father staring back at me. I looked back at the policeman. “No,” I said. “Nobody except that dead son of a bitch waiter.” And that’s when they drove me away. Down the darkened streets, and knowing I was going away and never coming back, I was hit by a sudden surge of peace. Almost the same peace I got from shooting up that waiter kid. I smiled all the way down to the county jail, thinking of daddy to ease the pain. Thinking of his voice “That a boy – That a boy – That a boy” again and again as I unloaded half a dozen shots down range. I wondered if he’d still think of me as the same boy today. A good boy. A boy I always longed to be.


u n d e r g r o u n d

Noir et CreĂŞme, Joshua Alexander music-composition


Plaster Saint, Ch. 1 Anastasia Jones

It was the eve of his son’s sixth birthday, and even in the moments prior the vampire had doubts that poked at the back of his mind. He himself was a newly turned, and it had been a most awful fate. He would always regret slipping up on that hunt a year or so ago, but ultimately, it had allowed him eternal youth. Even though that was a prize in itself, Ignatius Baines was restricted to nights. He didn’t mind the darkness as sunlight had always bothered him, but once changed, taking care of his young son had become increasingly difficult and nerve-wracking. There was always the fear that Joseph would run off, that strangers would infiltrate their home, that Ignatius would be killed in his sleep, or that Joseph wouldn’t be able to take the loneliness of an empty house. Ignatius had been woken many times by his son during the daylight hours. Usually, it was from his cries. Ignatius’ eyes would open to see the lack of light in his coffin before opening it and peering out to see his little boy leaning over with his hands rubbing his eyes raw. Every time Ignatius saw the display, his heart ached, and he lifted the child into his coffin. Joseph would cling to him as Ignatius whispered reassurances that everything was just fine. More often than not, Joseph would cry himself to sleep. He tried his hardest to stay up as long as he could, so he could see his father. It was a wonder that they managed to stay with the routine for so long. Ignatius couldn’t bear the heartache of Joseph’s loneliness, so he figured that the only solution would be to turn the child. There were laws against it, but Ignatius told himself that the whole ordeal was just morally grey. It was the right thing to do, surely…. Joseph


u n d e r g r o u n d would no longer be alone. They could spend their nights reading and laughing, and they could both sleep during the day. It would change everything for the better. “Joseph,” Ignatius spoke, effectively finishing the story that he was reading to his son. The young boy looked up to his father expectantly. The parlor was silent as Ignatius closed the book and set it aside. How was he going to break the news to him? He began by giving Joseph a close-lipped smile. It was soft enough, but it most certainly had worry behind it. He remembered the day in which he experienced his change. It was absolute agony, and he could feel his body deteriorating and his nerves ripping at his limbs. By the time his human life had ended, it was maybe an hour or so later. It felt as if he had been tortured for days. Once his new senses took over, everywhere he looked he could see vast amounts of colors, and even in the dead silence of the night, inanimate objects seemed to dance and spring to life as the flora and fauna sent mother nature’s music into the crisp, night air. The world was absolutely beautiful through a vampire’s eyes…but only the night. “Yes, Dad?” Joseph asked. Even though his father had been silent for a few seconds, it felt like so much longer. Ignatius woke from his memory, and his smile widened a bit before relaxing in an attempt to show his son that nothing was wrong. “Joseph, are you lonely? During the day when you’re all by yourself, and I can’t come out, are you so lonely you can’t stand it?” Joseph nodded quickly and gripped onto Ignatius’ waistcoat. “Yeah…I—I’m still allowed in the coffin, right?” Stone-faced, Ignatius pictured the notion but deemed it as cruel and laughably unrealistic. “No, Joseph, of course not,” he said as he wrapped an arm around the boy, holding him close. “No, that wasn’t what I was thinking at all.” Joseph visibly relaxed at that, resting against his father’s chest. “I was thinking about your birthday.” Joseph leaned up and nodded again, though this time his movements were enthused. “Yeah!” A grin lit up his unmarked face. Six was a very mature age. Joseph had been waiting for his gift for days. Ever since his father clued him in that it would change his life, Joseph had tried guessing hundreds of things—many things more than once. “Can I have my present?” he asked. “Well…” Ignatius glanced away, trying to think of the best


Jones way to word what he wanted to say. “Do you like the sunrise, Joseph? How the skies are painted with red, orange, and pink?” He tried his best to remember what the sunrise looked like. “Do you like the night and staying up with me?” Again, Joseph nodded, but this time it was hesitant. He was curious as to what exactly Ignatius meant by asking all these questions. “Yeah…Dad, what is it?” “I know that you can’t always stay up the entire night. You need your sleep, but that means we don’t have much time we can spend with each other.” Ignatius paused before giving Joseph’s back a reassuring pat. “Wouldn’t you like it if we could spend all our time together? You could always stay up the whole night with me, and we can sleep during the day. Would you like that, Joseph?” Ignatius watched as his son’s eyes grew and shined with realization. It seemed that all sorts of scenarios flashed through Joseph’s mind, and his bright grin returned. “Yeah!” He shouted and bounced in his seat. He had his son’s consent. His son was only six…. He couldn’t possibly understand exactly how taxing a vampire’s restrictions were. Even if Ignatius did explain that Joseph could never see the sun again, that his life would be dictated by his thirst, and that there would always be people that wanted to kill him, he would likely not be able to deter him. He dismissed the explanation, thinking it wiser to move things along. “Dad?” Concern gradually crept into Joseph’s once exuberant expression. Ignatius put more effort into hiding away his doubts and gave Joseph a brilliant smile. At the sight of that, Joseph’s worry lessened if only slightly. “My apologies. I was distracted. We’ll stay awake and watch the sunrise together. I’ll give you your gift when I wake again.” A grin splayed across Joseph’s face. Ignatius cemented his decision, and then he returned to the book they were reading. Joseph chose another story to listen to. Before they knew it—or rather after a series of attempts at keeping Joseph awake—the Sun began to rise. Joseph sat in front of the large window that faced east. Ignatius had pulled the thick, dark curtain back so Joseph could have full view of the forest’s skyline. Ignatius stayed by his side from behind his fabric shield. Ignatius faced away from the window and kept himself from


u n d e r g r o u n d glancing at the brightening sky. Joseph asked why his father wouldn’t watch with him. “It’s too bright for me,” he said before looking down at Joseph with a gentle smile. “Would you describe it to me?” Joseph nodded, and though his eyelids were heavy, he gazed at the rising sun and did his best to stay awake. “There’s—purple out over the trees. And…and there’s some orange and really, really dark blue way off over the village.” The village itself was about a mile or two away, but Joseph only knew the general direction. “It’s coming up real slow,” he commented. Ignatius closed his eyes and listened to his son telling of what he saw. His own skin warmed to an uncomfortable temperature. He hoped that Joseph wouldn’t miss the sunrise terribly. “It’s lovely, isn’t it?” His words betrayed his real opinion, but being with Joseph dampened how detestable the sun was. Joseph nodded, and then he yawned, rubbing his eyes. “About time for bed?” Ignatius asked, noting his son’s exhausted stretch. The boy shook his head and squinted at the sunrise. When his eyes fell closed and his posture slackened, Ignatius soundlessly closed the curtain and scooped his son up in his arms. The vampire then carried him up to his bed and tucked him in. Joseph protested softly and gripped at Ignatius’ clothes. “Stay,” he demanded in his gentle-but-firm tone. On any other occasion, Ignatius would assure Joseph that he would see him again that evening, but now, Ignatius sat down beside the bed and held Joseph’s hand. He had every intention of staying by Joseph’s side until the child let his fatigue overtake him. Ignatius curled away from the beams of sunlight that snuck between the gaps in the bedroom’s curtains. It wasn’t long before Joseph was fast asleep, allowing the vampire to sneak out of the room and into his coffin. Ignatius’s sleep was interrupted once or twice throughout the day. Joseph hadn’t slept for very long and once his energy was renewed, he was bursting with enthusiasm and could hardly wait to receive his gift. On the third time Joseph visited his father, Ignatius finally climbed out of his coffin. It seemed as if the sun had just set, and there were still a handful of pink strokes in the sky – ghosts of the sun’s presence. He couldn’t deny Joseph by saying it was still day; the boy had waited long enough.


Jones “Dad, I’m ready!” The child grinned and tugged on his father’s hand. “I’m ready for my birthday present!” Ignatius gazed down at his son’s bright, sunny face. He practically radiated excitement and adoration. Ignatius hoped that the adoration would stay after the hard night that would lie ahead of them. “Very well.” He held Joseph’s hand, gently rubbing his thumb against it and guiding Joseph to the gold-trimmed sofa. There would be no easy way to do this, and it would probably sully Joseph’s memory of the parlor. Ignatius forced the thought out of his mind. Once he seated Joseph, he took his time fetching a clean dish towel from the kitchen. He gazed at it with unnerved eyes as he headed back to the sofa and to his son. Upon seeing Joseph grin and bounce in his seat, the concerned look dissipated, though the smile he conjured did not quite reach his eyes. Wordlessly, he sat down beside Joseph and gripped the cloth he held. “Joseph,” Ignatius spoke clearly, or rather, that was his intent, “before I give you your gift, you need to know what it is.” His son shook his head. “I want it to be a surprise,” he spoke with a determined tone a few octaves stronger than the vampire’s. “I want—I want to be surprised when I open it!” Ignatius’ lips pulled tight, and he abandoned his smile. “It’s not the sort of gift that has pretty paper and ribbons. I need you to listen to me and to understand what I’m going to tell you.” His serious voice wiped the grin from Joseph’s face, his exuberance effectively leaving him. Ignatius waited a moment or so before continuing, “…I know that you’re lonely here often. I know that it would make you happy if our schedules were the same. And with my gift, you’ll be able to share my coffin every day. We can stay up together. We can share meals. We can do whatever you like…save for being in sunlight.” Joseph watched as his father explained the conditions to his birthday gift. “But why?” He asked. He loved all those wonderful things Ignatius spoke of—he really did. He was just curious. “…I was planning on making you like me.” It took all of Ignatius’ strength to keep his eyes focused on his son. “I cannot stand in sunlight, or I will burn. In order to survive I need to drink blood.” At the frightened look on Joseph’s face, Ignatius quickly backtracked to try to make the conditions sound less horrific. “Ah—But—It’s—,” he stuttered. There was no easy way to put a positive spin on a


u n d e r g r o u n d vampire’s lifestyle. “I get it from the containers I keep in the kitchen.” It wasn’t entirely a lie, but it helped to calm Joseph a bit. “The world that I see is different from yours, Joseph.” As if to back up his point, he looked out the window at the abundant greenery. His tone embodied nothing but gentle tones and promised lovely things. “It’s beautiful. There are more colors than I can describe. So many greens and blues… You can run with the deer if you so choose it. You can sleep surrounded by rabbits.” Ignatius looked back to his son with warmth nestled deep in his eyes. “We could do it together. Would you like that?” Joseph watched Ignatius and diligently listened. He didn’t have anything to say for a few moments, but the thoughtful look on his young face did not give Ignatius any relief. “You,” his voice finally came out in a whisper, “you want—you want to…change me, Dad? I thought,” his tears began to bubble forth, “I thought you liked me… like I am. You don’t like me anymore?” At that, the warm expression completely fell from Ignatius’ face. He ceased his breathing and shook his head just barely. “No— Joseph—,” Ignatius’s stumbling through his words only caused Joseph’s shoulders to shake and the tears start to drip. The boy sniffed as his reality hit him. His dad didn’t like him as he was. Immediately, the vampire drew his child to his chest. His arms protectively cradled the boy and Ignatius bowed his head. He couldn’t bear to see the tears. “No, Joseph, no, I love you with all my heart. I promise y–” He leaned back and rested his hands on Joseph’s shoulders, staring into his eyes. “I promise you, Joseph. You’re very special and you’re such a gracious blessing. I’m so lucky to have the opportunity to raise you.” He prayed that his words reached his son’s ears. “You misunderstand. Yes, this will be a change, but it will be a change that will let us spend more time with each other. Wouldn’t you like that, Joseph?” He began to soothingly rub the boy’s back. Joseph rubbed his eyes and sniffled, leaning into the comforting touch. His nod started off as non-committal, but gradually grew more determined. The palms of his hands rubbed at his eyes until his cheeks were red. Joseph’s hands fell from his face and they balled up into fists. “Mhm. Y—Yes.” He was absolutely sure. A relieved smile pulled Ignatius’s lips taut. They were stepping in the right direction. He moved his hand to grip the kitchen cloth he had abandoned.


Jones “What’s the cloth for?” Joseph asked, curious though cautious. “For biting,” Ignatius answered simply. Dread filled him as he began explaining what would happen next. “Even though we both want this change, it’s going to be hard. I remember when I went through this…that it did hurt. It was scary, and I was all alone when it happened.” He observed Joseph’s reaction just in case the information put him off in any way. Joseph remembered. He remembered when his father didn’t return home after one of his hunts. He had not returned for a few days. Joseph had to go around town asking people about his father. The townspeople were kind enough; they fed him, they housed him, and they told him that his father would return. And return he did. Joseph had gazed upon his father. He had taken to wearing dark clothing, only walking in the night, and his expressions were more fluid—more graceful—as were all of his other actions. At first Joseph was wary. He didn’t seem like the father he once knew. And now Joseph would be like him. Breaking Joseph from his memory, Ignatius assured him, “But you won’t be. It will be scary, and it will hurt, but you won’t be alone. I’ll stay right here with you while it happens.” All he could do was present the information to his son and hope that Joseph would still agree to go through with it. Gulping lightly, he kept his eyes trained on Joseph. “Do you trust me?” Joseph kept his gaze on his father, and his eyes twitched back and forth in thought. He warily nodded his head and answered, “Yeah—Yes, I trust you, Dad.” He gripped onto Ignatius’s shirt. He wanted to skip over the pain, but it wouldn’t hurt forever, right? And his dad was right here to keep him safe and to comfort him. He said it would be scary. Joseph could be brave. If it would make his father happy, Joseph would be the bravest six year old ever. Ignatius knew that Joseph hadn’t grasped the severity of what would happen, but the boy would understand soon enough. “Whatever happens, you need to do exactly as I say. Once I’ve started, I can’t stop it,” he warned. Joseph listened, intending to do the best he could. “Tilt your head,” Ignatius instructed in a firm, but gentle tone. He watched as Joseph did exactly as he said. Joseph’s jugular thrummed with life.


u n d e r g r o u n d Ignatius held the clean cloth to Joseph’s lips, giving him the choice to bite into it or not. Wordlessly, Joseph opened his mouth and bit into the cloth. He still was not sure why he would need the dish cloth. He could keep quiet no matter how badly it hurt. Ignatius tilted his head and leaned forward, brushing his fangs against Joseph’s neck. He felt his son tense up. He began to soothingly rub Joseph’s back to try and calm him before sinking his fangs into his neck. The vampire could feel his son’s whimper reverberate through his small body. Joseph’s nails dug into his chest, and the boy gasped—or, rather, he tried. The cloth made it difficult to intake air through his mouth. Even though Ignatius kept his eyes squeezed shut, he knew Joseph trembled in fear and—bless his heart—tried not to struggle. Even through this traumatizing experience, Joseph still tried to behave for him. Not traumatizing. Necessary. Right? Ignatius jolted awake from his thoughts when he felt Joseph smack—or, rather, as hard as a little boy could smack—his chest incessantly as he cried, “Dad—Dad—,” The voice was soft and muffled with the dish cloth. The hits had lost their energy. Joseph was afraid. Even though he trusted his father implicitly, he could feel himself close to death, and it terrified him. It was almost time. Once the vampire had taken the majority of his son’s blood, he retracted his fangs from the child’s neck and pulled back. Joseph was pale. Ignatius gently lifted the cloth from Joseph’s clenched jaws, and the boy heaved breaths. “I—is it done?” Oh, Joseph. “Did you do it, Dad?” Joseph, no. “Is—is it done?” Those eyes were filled with so much hope. He thought he had finished the task his father had set for him. “Am I like you now?” Ignatius hardly shook his head, but the hope fell from Joseph’s eyes nonetheless. “No, not yet.” The vampire brought his wrist to his lips. Joseph watched him, still breathing labored breaths. “Dad,” he whispered, “Dad, I’m sleepy….” “I’ll tuck you in soon enough. We can read a story together.”


Jones Ignatius sunk his fangs into his own wrist and tore it, allowing the now-mixed blood to bead forth from its confines. “Won’t that be nice?” he smiled, his lips and teeth stained with blood. The boy’s eyes widened when he saw the bloody smile. He loved his father’s smiles, but when paired with blood, the image was frightening. When his son did not respond, Ignatius held his bloodied wrist to Joseph’s mouth. The boy could only stare at the wrist in fear. As the seconds ticked by, the vampire grew more anxious. “Joseph, you must drink.” “I don’t want to,” he uttered, fatigue pulling at him. Ignatius raised his voice with urgency and moved his wrist closer, “You must. Joseph, there’s no turning back. You have to drink.” The commanding tone was a necessary evil. If Ignatius did not manage to get Joseph to accept, then the child would surely die. At Joseph’s whimper, Ignatius decided that there had been enough stalling. As much as he hated scaring his son, he would have hated so much more to see him dead. The vampire pressed his wrist to Joseph’s mouth, forcing him to drink. There was a brief, muffled whine from Joseph, and he pressed his small hands against his father’s arm. He had fully intended to push him away, but in the moments he tasted the mixed blood, Joseph was unsure. The first drops were repulsing. The next few drops were unwelcome. The first gulp, however, was most accepted. Joseph’s eyes slipped closed, and he moved to wrap his arms around his father’s. When Joseph finally succumbed, Ignatius let out a relieved breath. His son would be fine. The ritual had begun and was continuing on. The worst was yet to come. “Joseph,” Ignatius spoke in a tone free of the urgency he had before. Joseph still clung to his father’s arm, drinking as much as he could. He couldn’t help himself—not many fledglings could. “Joseph.” The panic was beginning to return as he tried to pull his arm free. Joseph kept a firm grip on his father’s arm. The vampire started to feel weak as Joseph’s strength grew. “Joseph, you have to let go now. You’ve had enough!” At the shout, Joseph instinctively released his hold, and Ignatius managed to pull his arm away. The boy stared at his father with a blank expression. He sat with his back straight. His eyes were wide, but not filled with fear. He would embody innocence if not for


u n d e r g r o u n d the blood that had dripped from his mouth and soaked the entire front of his shirt. There was silence as their gazes locked. Suddenly, Joseph’s eyelids fluttered, and he looked down. His arms still held the position when he had clutched Ignatius’ arm. His fingers and frame twitched and his wide eyes slowly began to squeeze closed. He took in shaky breaths before letting out a scream and clutching his sides. Ignatius immediately recollected himself. “Joseph,” he spoke quickly, trying to get out any useful information he could, “this part is the hardest.” Joseph felt a pang rip through his body, and he let out another scream, falling off the couch’s cushions to the floor. The floor’s collision drew no grunt or whine from him, but the waves of whatever was happening to Joseph jolted through his body still, disallowing him peace. Ignatius knelt by Joseph and rested a hand against the side of his son’s face. “It’s going to hurt,” he stated as clearly as he could between Joseph’s breaths—or, rather, shrieks. “Everything will be okay. It will be okay soon enough.” No, it wasn’t okay! Ignatius continued to explain the process, “your body is dying. That is why it hurts.” If Joseph had heard what he had said, Ignatius wouldn’t know. “It lasts for just a little while, then it’ll be over. You’ll be like me. It’ll be okay, Joseph. Everything is fine.” He used a voice as calm as he could muster. Joseph gazed up at the shaky image of his father and briefly registered that he was not doing a thing to stop the waves of torture. Another flare of pain decomposed parts of his insides, and he let out another scream in a breath. His father—He knew—He knew that it would hurt. Again, a shriek ripped from Joseph’s throat, and he twisted away from Ignatius. This time Ignatius remained where he was. Joseph climbed onto his hands and knees, the agony still wracking his body every second or so. The boy stood, or he tried to the best of his ability, and backed away from the vampire. He had loved his father. His father would care for him and read him stories. He would tuck him in. He would sing him songs. He would feed him. The creature that forced him into the pained state could not have


Jones been his father. The monster with blood on his lips. The nightmare that hurt him. He had said it would hurt. The creature had never said he would die. “Joseph,” Ignatius inched forward and eased into a standing position; Joseph moved farther back. “Joseph, it’s okay.” It was difficult to reassure his son as he heard his whimpers. After another moment of gazing at the monster, Joseph turned and ran as fast as he could out their home’s exit, intent on avoiding his father. Just as he passed through the threshold, Ignatius seized Joseph’s arm, eliciting a sudden shriek from the boy. Joseph whipped his gaze around to view Ignatius with fear. Reddish tears had bubbled over and dripped down the child’s cheeks. Ignatius froze. It was unraveling. In Ignatius’s temporary state of shock, Joseph broke away from him and ran off into the sea of trees just beyond. He heard his son’s whimpers disappear as he stared at the thick line of trees. Joseph was not supposed to run away. He was supposed to bear with the transformation, and Ignatius was supposed to hold him and reassure him that all would be just fine—that after Joseph’s human life ended, they would go for a walk. Ignatius would watch as Joseph grew amazed by all the gorgeous sights around him. He had run away, and Ignatius needed to retrieve him. Joseph’s feet tramped against the ground as they propelled him through the forest until the ground disappeared out from under him. He tumbled down the dirt slide and slipped down to the creek. The only sounds that accompanied him were his own pained whines. The cold water that lapped at his body offered little comfort, but comfort nonetheless. Joseph panted deeply, his human body refusing to carry on. Joseph’s mortal life flickered down to a dull flame until it was finally doused. For a time, he was silent. Initially, he noticed the absence of decaying pain, and then he felt the creek’s water rush around him. He relaxed in it. Each drop thrummed against his back before either flying over his shoulder or sliding over his neck. Joseph willed his body to sit up, and his eyelids opened, allowing him a visual of the creek bed. He watched as—for the first time—he saw the forest breathe.


u n d e r g r o u n d The trees had so many colors, so many textures. He never knew purple hid in the bark or that smears of orange and flecks of maroon could give water such glitter and shine. In one seamless motion, the fledgling stood and gazed down into the watery mirror at his toes. His real legs and feet were visible, but his reflection was nowhere to be found. He would have briefly mourned his loss, but the whispers of the night took hold. Water rushed, crickets chirped, rabbits rustled around in the bushes, and laughing…. Joseph looked to the direction in which he heard the laughter and talking. Smoke and smells of tomatoes and bread wafted above the lush treetops and dispersed into the night air. It was the village. The fledging found himself drawn to it—drawn to the talking and the families. Without effort, the warm atmosphere pulled Joseph towards it, entrancing him through the forest’s hidden paths. Eventually, the vegetation parted, and he reached the grass that lay beneath cobblestone. Joseph soundlessly dragged his gaze over the village, just catching sight of the adults hurrying their children inside for dinner. He gingerly stepped towards the center of the village, and his footsteps echoed through the dark, bare town square. His movements were exact; every process was absolutely effortless. They were, however, until an adult spotted him. “Joseph?” The woman called after him, “Joseph Baines, is that you?” His head lifted to see the older villager standing in her doorway. She couldn’t have been more than twenty feet away. A young girl peaked out from behind her mother’s skirt, her wide eyes brightened upon seeing the boy her family had taken care of a few months back. Slowly, Joseph nodded and called back, “Yes, ma’am.” Save for his mouth and head’s joint movement, he remained motionless. Before then, he felt mostly nothing, but upon seeing the two, a need burned within him. He wanted to go to them, to be near them, and to have the familial comfort he had previously lost. He needed it. “What are you doing all the way down here?” the kind woman asked as she brushed the flour from her hands. Giggling, the little girl hurried out from behind her mother and ran towards Joseph. “Does your father know you’re out here, love? He didn’t leave you alone again, did he?” Once the girl caught a clear view of Joseph’s clothing, she


Jones stopped, and her smile disappeared. She saw it. She saw the blood that soaked Joseph’s shirt and the river’s water that clung to the remainder of his garments. Joseph kept his eyes locked on hers. What was she so scared about? Didn’t she want to lead him inside? Perhaps to have dinner with her and her family? He wanted it badly. He wanted, nay, needed to be around a loving family at that very moment. She reached out a hand and rested it against Joseph’s cheek. “Are you okay?” Her voice wavered, “Did you get hurt?” Her touch sent a jolt through him. His eyes widened ever so slightly as his nerves screamed at him. The thrumming he had been filtering out for minutes had grown deafening. “Joseph?” She tilted her head, concern lacing her features. When Joseph neglected to respond, she drew her hand away and yelled to her mother, “Mum, something’s wrong with Joseph!” It had all developed so fast. He had heard screaming. He had heard it from both far and close as if the sound was merely imaginary. His vice grip held her in place as he took what it was he needed so badly—his brand new need. Joseph had never tasted the ambrosia from the Greek tales his father had told him, but he guessed that what he was drinking came fairly close. The blood stained his cheeks and trickled down his throat. It was not until he felt a solid blow to his head that his right mind returned to him just as his body smacked against the cobblestone ground. He sat up and watched silently as the scene finally registered. The nice woman cradled her daughter to her chest, assuring her that she would be okay. She would be okay. Right? Joseph’s eyes widened in horror. She would be okay. She would. He couldn’t have done anything wrong, could he? He couldn’t possibly have harmed her, could he? The family’s father sprinted from the house, armed with a blunt instrument. Joseph didn’t take the time to determine what the weapon was. Instead, his body yanked him from his stance and ran fast as his legs could carry him back into the forest. The village disappeared in mere moments, and he halted, looking back in surprise. He was already so far away. Despite his new athletic abilities, remembrance of the attack kept Joseph in a state of horror. He pressed a hand to his throat as the little girl’s blood clung


u n d e r g r o u n d to the walls of his esophagus. He had stolen it from her—he stole life. A series of coughs forced their way out, and the recoil sent Joseph to his knees. It had to be wrong to feel so good after doing something so awful. He coughed harder and gripped the grass beneath him. Flecks of blood flew from Joseph’s mouth and peppered the viridian blades. He heaved breaths in and out as his eyes bubbled with fresh, red tears. “Joseph.” The fledgling lifted his head to see his father standing before him. He looked the vampire up and down before sending his attention back in the village’s direction. There were shouts and yells about a demon attacking a child. Ignatius knelt beside Joseph, the blades of grass bowed under his dark shoes. “Joseph,” he whispered, “did you…?” Joseph yanked his gaze from the village and set it on Ignatius. The tears dripped down his cheeks, and he tore at the red spotted grass. “Daddy,” he whimpered, “I didn’t—I didn’t mean to—She—!” He hiccuped between his words, “She just—And—!” Then came the gasping and the sobs. Ignatius gently wrapped his arms around his son and drew him to his chest. The vampire soothingly rubbed the child’s back as Joseph’s violent sobs shook him. Of course his first feed was scarring. Of course he was scared. It was Ignatius’ job as a father to comfort him and care for him. As the villagers migrated closer, Ignatius ventured through the forest and up the path towards his mansion.


Did You See the Sunrise? Ashley Graves There’s a man here. He has been here since the facility opened five years ago, a treatment center for soldiers and trauma victims to get away from the pressures of society and spend some time by themselves, away from where people don’t understand them and don’t bother. Typically, they wander the halls and the rooms of other patients when their doors are open, never when the Do Not Disturb knocker hangs from their knob. They’re not the chattiest bunch, but they make do with the little company they have. Except this one. He sits on the edge of his bed every morning for two hours, hands gripping the bedspread like he can’t decide whether he wants to stand or not. He’s handsome, face kissed by the sun for his past thirty years, freckles dusting tanned skin from his nose to his arms, faint reddish dots marking him at every angle. Whatever hair he has is shaved, just enough to run a hand over to feel the peach fuzz there. Even his eyes are sad, grayed irises glazed with some sort of ingrained sorrow, dark circles coloring the skin beneath them. He sleeps enough, but the pain of whatever torment he endured is still there, living on in his memory. In the afternoons, he sits by the window in a rocking chair, staring out at the ocean beyond the grassy yard, at the teenagers bumping a volleyball back and forth over a net on the beach. No matter the weather, he’s there, rocking idly with a blanket over his lap, sometimes with a book, other times with a stuffed animal that he almost never lets out of his sight. A teddy bear missing an ear, with black eyes and a glossy little nose, bearing worn down initials over its heart. He doesn’t get many visitors aside from the wandering souls that grace his room; they normally sit on a spare barstool or in one of the plastic chairs in the corner of the room, rarely used, always dusty. But every once in a while, a man wanders in under the name


u n d e r g r o u n d of Maxim and spends a day with him, sometimes lounging on his bed, other times occupying the spare chair. They’re quiet, together. Sometimes Maxim talks to him, but he never responds. “I heard he was an old boyfriend,” a nurse tells you one day, sounding oddly giddy about it. “Somethin’ happened with his family, somethin’ that tore him up real bad. He ain’t said nothin’ since. But that man?” She urges you to look at them, on the fifth year of his stay and the first year of your residency, and all you can do is stare, watching them watch the sun descending beyond the ocean. “He’s the only one who’s ever got him to talk.” His name is Lawrence Smith, from what it says on his chart. You’ve never looked at his papers before, at least not in full. Your job is to deliver medication if he wants it and bring him meals, never to ask ‘how’ or ‘why’ he ended up here. Born in St. Augustine, a college graduate with a work history at a mom-and-pop tourist shop on the beachfront with his parents. No siblings, no spouse, no pets. Clean until 2010, when he ended up here, with nothing to his name other than a knapsack filled with scorched books and a stuffed bear. Whatever happened to him, he doesn’t talk about it. But Maxim knows. You know he does. As the summer blends into fall and fall to winter, you watch Maxim’s presence dwindle from once a week to once a month, and then nothing until Thanksgiving. He shows up with a card and a sheepish smile, and you leave the two alone for the day, only returning with dinner from the cafeteria after the crowd dies down. You never see Maxim leave that night; the only sounds echoing through the halls are that of the hum of the air conditioner and hushed whispers, never meant to be heard. “There was a fire,” Maxim tells you in the hall Christmas morning, a wrapped box under his arm, a green bow stuck to the front. The most you’ve spoken before this is passing greetings in the hall, when you’re between rooms and he’s either preparing to leave or just walking in. He’s attractive, with blue eyes and unruly hair and a smile that could melt anyone’s heart. Now, he’s solemn, worrying his lower lip between his teeth. “Gas leak in his home, almost set a few houses on fire nearby. His parents were asleep, and he was in Daytona with me. We didn’t hear about it until the news started covering it.” You tell him your condolences—it’s the least you can do, considering the circumstances. “I gave him that bear as a joke,” he laughs, his voice hollow in his throat. “But it’s the only thing that


Graves survived the fire, and it’s all he has left of me when I’m not here.” “Why don’t you come around more often?” you ask, purely out of curiosity. He shrugs, something rattling in his chest that sounds oddly like a choked sob. “I want to,” he admits, head lowered. “But it kills me to see him like this. He blames himself for what happened, and this is the only place where he thinks he won’t hurt anyone.” A breath. “Including me.” He bids you ‘goodbye’ after that, disappearing into Lawrence’s room and leaving the door ajar, just enough for you to see into the gap. It’s still dark outside, faint hints of red beginning to tinge the horizon outside of his open window. He’s sitting on the edge of the bed again, dressed in a white shirt and sweatpants, hands gripping the bedspread for dear life. Maxim places a hand over one and the tension lifts, just enough to be noticeable. Behind them, the present sits, unattended. They’ll open it later, when the flashbacks subside and Maxim can hold him to his chest, let him cry his sorrows into his shirt until breakfast. There’s a party this afternoon, a gathering between residents where they can exchange gifts with the nursing staff and each other. Lawrence and Maxim don’t make it, purely content to stay in Lawrence’s room to watch the sun rise over the horizon, reds to oranges to purples to blues, a cloudless sky for their morning. You don’t hear him speak, but you know that somewhere in his eyes, Lawrence thanks Maxim for what he does for him. Knows that in his heart, all he wants is to see him again, to forget the past and move on. Maybe this is what love is. Maybe this is the closest to happiness you’ll see for the both of them. You leave them to sit alone for the morning, the stuffed bear in Lawrence’s lap. For now, he’s at peace.


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Waiting Cassandra Stanton I’ll only be here for a moment; if you can make it a moment in itself I’ll never really leave. I sit here, sighs up to my thighs Excuses enough to pay rent Your memory dances like a smell I’ll always adore but never recognize Instead I’ll inhale with the utmost expectancy the high is euphoric in the way it kills Knowing it’ll never wrap its way around me Keeps me sane I need nothing but the sound I’ve memorized The sound in my head A click of sorts The second I knew you’d be the oar I sigh here wading for

I think its pheromones Or maybe just your bones That I can hang on to


let us dream, let us sail away, Nadia Deljou photography


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Grunge Fashion, Bria Howard fashion


How to Survive the Zombie Apocalypse Josh Coursey 1. Go to a bar 2. Grab the shotgun behind the counter 3. Drink all the bourbon 4. When they come for you, don’t fight— let them eat you alive. She’s gone and life don’t matter anymore. All those plans for how you two would survive… they don’t matter anymore. The firefly has died. You don’t matter anymore. And the bourbon inside you screams Maybe you never mattered at all! 5. When you feel the alcohol in your veins give way to the insanity, that’s when you fight. Don’t reanimate. Swallow the shot(gun).


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space doubt Rachel Ponce de Leon i should have warned you before that i am an inch of string, and even in the absence of nervous hands i may easily fray at both ends, writhing like a white worm over nothing. you fool, couldn’t have known what something real would make me. how you turned me colors. i should have made clear my life is scarcely real the second u had me singing like Sylvester, i have to find myself in gaps, you know: bits of lichen or cracked brickwork on buildings i’ll never enter, i cry dreaming of dead masons. and in wind passing thru leaves—this i told. for that hour we forged something tender, my heartbeat sang something, something is happening—instead of me thinking it myself. so when you left i just cooked rice and it was nice not having to know the effect would be the same as ever.


he knows he can find me Rachel Ponce de Leon

he knows he can find me. right now i am crouching in a hallway made of books. he smokes a cigarette far away, facing downwind his hair that sticks out comes to life. what is in your brain, how is it sunset now that we stutter again? the smile still voids my tongue. a big cockroach rustles the pages of his home and you flicked it away, walked in from the cold. he knows he can find me. is this a surprise? what more could be done with us? don’t conclude anything when you cannot speak. if tragedy is inevitable so is malaise. he knows he can find me, i am sleeping in a nest in his hair but cannot hear dreams. just the click of cracks between concrete slabs, just hair, and he knows how to whistle. i awake tied up in my own scalp.


u n d e r g r o u n d he knows he can find me, and i know it isn’t up to him. only february wind seeks out, calls confusion, makes yellow smiles all we turn true. but the dream, i do taste it reveals itself dribbling down from the ceiling over the field where tall horses sniff the grass alongside a row of dead trees. tonight he appears in the form of a white shadow, i appear like eris and we have no words but night is ours at last, when the palms sing for want of nothing at all. i look for you in absences and find creations of my own mind, blue boy— i’ll never reconstruct whatever is happening to us.


faith belief, courage, light “Freedom from worry is a dare to dream, a dare to dream is to think positively, and to think positively is to make your dreams reality.�


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Future Lights Jessie St George

Time seemed to slow down because of the mist. It hung in a thin layer on top of the road. It wasn’t enough to be significant, but it was enough that slowed me down. I quietly drove past shops and restaurants, streets littered with poorly parked parallel cars. The restaurants decorated with strands of hanging lights. They emitted a glow when paired with the thin layer of fog like a scene from a movie. Quite romantic and idealistic. However, it lit up a sense of longing in me. I saw myself sitting beneath the humming vibration of the incandescent bulbs. Corner booth. Leaning into you as you make me laugh, stealing a quick kiss while no eyes are on us. I saw us walking on the motionless, dimly lit sidewalk, our arms wrapped around one another. Our silhouettes casting shadows invisible to passerbys. Us in our own little world. I saw us drive home past the glow of the shops and restaurants. I looked over to see light dance across your cheekbones, shimmer in your eyes, and intermittently illuminate our hands to show our fingers entwined. I saw us come home to lay together in our familiar bed. Crickets chirped over the distant sound of flowing water, the smell of rain whiffed through the open window. Moonlight shined through open blinds outlining the picture of you holding me, my head tucked beneath your neck, your arms surrounding me, your legs tangled in mine. I felt complete, as if nothing else existed. But for now, I drive home with the passenger seat empty; however, I know I am not alone. Your light shines through me. It projects so far I can see. I am happy because I see us, I see our future.


The Harvester (We Are Constellations), Uduak Ita ink


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Jรถrmungandr (World Serpent), Katrina Judd insular style, soft ground, soap ground effects, zinc plate, tan paper


Memory of Home No. 4, Toan Nguyen oil on canvas


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Hamsah, Asmaa Malik acrylic on canvas


Motherland, Toan Nguyen oil on canvas


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F12, Shae Edman photography


Don’t Make Me Let Go of This House, Maddalena Alvarez photography


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The Tigress and The Emperor, Uduak Ita ink


Mother Moon and Father Sun, Uduak Ita ink


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Memory of Home No. 1, Toan Nguyen monoprint on paper


Memory of Home No. 3, Toan Nguyen monoprint on paper


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tea time, Nadia Deljou photography


I Will Prevail, D. Ellis Elzie II Music-composition


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The Face Jessica Burnett

Jason was right; things do become rather dull after the ninth dimension. The molecules in my fingers are dancing around each other in an entrancing cyclical motion, glimmering in a polychromatic prism of colors that change faster than the speed of light. They reflect the blinding stars around me that, like objects in a rearview mirror, are closer than they appear. It is much nearer now to the end, a paradox at its best in an ever expanding universe. My multi-planet powered watch is rapidly decreasing in energy with the passing of each second. I can’t depict what year it is anymore; after the millionth century I practically stopped keeping track. I turn my neck to the left, searching for signs of other creatures. It rotates more slowly than usual, with an uncomfortable stiffness and tension between my muscles. Memories of the third dimension are flooding back now, back on good ole Earth where I could only turn my head 90 degrees in each direction. Life was so simple then, before my first memorable transition. Mars was astoundingly less exciting than the Earthly hype. My mind rushes back to the present as every limb of my body stiffens. My limberness is waning away with the time on my watch. I’m not sure what is happening anymore and I don’t know where I am. “Summer?!” a faintly familiar voice calls out. My body glides in the gravity-barren abyss, forcing my stiff limbs to make complete motions. “Jason!” My voice strains to increase in volume. I can’t believe he’s here. “My God, Summer! I haven’t seen you since the 5th dimension and I must say you’ve evolved beautifully,” he was always a charmer. “Ah, still trying to get in my pants,” I joke. He chuckles, “Well, after I discovered how to read minds between the galaxy between Jupiter and Saturn, creating pickup lines became much easier,” he admits with the most humble confidence.


Burnett “So, what are you doing here?” I ask. “Here?” he responds with a smile that quickly fades into an expression of despair. “I don’t know where in the universe we are, babe.” “This is it then, huh?” I confirm to myself. “No,” Jason reassures me. “This, this is what you’ve been waiting for.” “But, what is its—he’s not...” I’m panicking. “You are a goddess, Summer, an intergalactic Queen. No one would keep you around this long only to let you go,” Jason wraps his equally stiff arms around me. “What about you?” My eyes stare past the moving molecules of his body and into his sea green eyes. “You know I’m always okay.” He forces a smile. The cells of our bodies are moving more rapidly with each passing millisecond. We can see the atoms now, the nucleus, the mitochondria, the ribosomes falling apart to be created into something else, until we can no longer see ourselves at all. As my body disintegrates, my spirit is humbled and in the control of some other power, as I look up to see what I’d only imagined in my entire existence, the face of God.


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Dark Beauty Anna Cuthrell

The first thing I noticed was his aura. He glowed of brilliant colors that radiated from his core. The different hues spoke of his experience and showed the virtues of his heart. They showed his strong spirit and told stories of love and heartbreak, success and failures. The ability to see the colors and lights dancing around someone’s head is both a blessing and a curse. It means that the general good and bad in a person is always visible to me before I even meet them. This can be cause for great disappointments when the outer beauty of a person does not match their apparent inner beauty. Or vice versa. However, with this young man, I was not disappointed in the least. He looked to be just as mature as his aura hinted, and you could look into his eyes and tell that he had experienced some things that would not be forgotten, even though he was still young. I use the term “young” but it seemed as though he had not truly been young for a very long time. He was of average height and medium build with dark eyes and thick hair. Nothing about his immediate looks would make him significant in a crowd, but there was something about him and the colors that drew me in. As we grew to become friends I began to notice the little things about him; the things that added the swirls to his colors. When he walked into the room everyone’s faces brightened a bit, and smiling was easier when he was around. Many times I watched as he feigned strength simply to ease the load of others who were near him. I grew to become close friends with him, and I had a slight advantage over my peers, but even I did not immediately notice the darkness that sometimes clouded his eyes, or the shadowy parts of his aura that added depth and made the beautiful hues more radiant. I had thought nothing of the calls from him that I left unanswered, thought nothing of the scars and scratches from his “feisty cat.” I was not even alarmed by the bottle of pills he kept


Cuthrell handy, or by him seeming to disappear from the earth for a few days at a time. I was not at all concerned when he missed a couple of school days. I didn’t even mind when he never returned my calls. I wasn’t worried for him until I watched his aura fade out into a pool of blood. Now I look at myself in the mirror and stare at the aura around me. It is beautiful. There’s a new depth that wasn’t there before, and the colors are far brighter than they have ever been, but it does not seem to fit. I do not feel any of the beauty that clouds around me, and I would never guess that it was mine. I cannot help but wonder if he also could not feel the beauty that we all saw.


u n d e r g r o u n d The honest poem Rachel Ponce de Leon (dedicated to W.) Quiero vivir en un barco todo lleno de claveles Quiero vivir en un barco todo lleno de claveles. oh. the things i would do to you. i’ve tried to deny this, but fact remains— it wasn’t enough. your body flanked mine like two barn doors squeaking by one another, and at least i got the feel of your face scratching mine, voice subsiding to breath in my ear. such primary textures of selves blending to blur: tongue against breast cock against stomach seed webbing fingers, oh still i’d dumbed myself to a state of inner swirl, attention all scattered, turned from such truth, like turning to science to say: if desire itself blotted out, then it seems our bodies still touch. if for weeks i still was hungry, then for weeks i wished it all gone: wrapped in garlic braids, tossed backwards for the creek, and i swept out the corners of my bed with a toothbrush but now


Ponce de Leon pollen pours out of clematis and trees, and Eris calls laughing as i walk, and god damn Pan with his dancing and horns and shepherd boys, sounding the remnants of Syrinx from deep in some glade. i can feel and measure it daily, doubt hasn’t space to remain: my body is folding to open, bending to forces unseen that cry out from behind the veil of that day’s trials—must i miss the train each tuesday? how many papers today, on what boring decadent poetry must i waste life? while inside, somewhere so near the core, a turning vine subsides to the presence of carnations.


u n d e r g r o u n d Joel Osteen Remembers Your Dream Kelly Barraza to have such faith as that woman on the news, abled, & able to flood her corneas in drain cleaner & have a relief’s sigh as the world of bright cacophony dims its low/high beams

anyway, take Joel, who says:

God wasn’t having a bad day when he made you / no,––a bad year, actually, Joel.

you don’t soak cast-iron in soap, Joel, & tell unHappy souls to snap out of it, or broadcast Happy / throwing it up in jumbos— jumbo screens jumbo Jesus jumbo condoms these happy things in disarray as if all that delays your soul from t-boning / flapjacking / overcorrecting into Hell (w/ me)—is a smile, a shake of votive palms & thumbs, a promise to unPoor yourself Remember your dreams, says Joel-Jumbo.


Barraza I say, forget it—forget the dream / the things all sewn in the mattress safely as you toss/turn on a brick-bed sprinkled with pie-in-the-sky crumbs / put the dreams to the curb, for the City to haul off in service trucks tell ‘em, git!—and don’t come back here! change the locks on the doors & the color of your hair & eyes so it’s trouble to find you (because, I know, how these thrown things revolve & rewind, back to the start with a whrrrrr, tape-static / their down feather-dusted paws following back to your doorstep, remembering how carefully loved they were / Dreams, how they pray, unable to unremember when their darkening eyes first fell tenderly, suddenly, on your pillow

(as if anyone of you & me could possibly, for a blinking second, not remember the constant / the comfort / crying / curtailing of our wandering, waiting, dreamt things)


u n d e r g r o u n d Southern Cross Stephanie Brooks We southerners hold our superstitions next to our religion, supposing God has a say in our luck or fate forgetting how we are forged in the scorching sun with burns and flushed cheeks, sweat soaked hair, our bodies machines, sons of Icarus, eyes cast upward and dream.


The Adventures of Felicia: Supercop E.E. Sands Felicia checked the Korean hooker’s pulse. Nothing. Dead hookers did not normally bother Felicia, but this one was a particular problem. This one had died as soon she snorted a line of Felicia’s gram. There was no way that coke could kill anyone. Not Mendoza’s shit. Felicia had been working Eastaboga long enough to know that there was nothing deadly about the drugs there. There hardly were any drugs. Normally, Mendoza would cut his coke with baking soda or caffeine pills, but not anything poisonous. Or would he? Felicia decided to do something stupid. She dabbed her finger in the bag and placed the powder-coated tip on her tongue. Immediately, she knew. “Well I’ll be damned,” she said to the dead girl, whose nose blood had begun to form a halo around her head. “Mendoza’s getting smart. Reckon I should pay him more often. Good thing you tested it. And who says hookers are bad for your health?” she cackled at her own joke and slapped the hooker on the back. Felicia grabbed her holster and badge off the nightstand, hopped in her patrol car, and sped towards Mendoza’s neighborhood. If Mendoza’s house was any reflection of his ability as a drug dealer, then he was a bad one. And not in a good way. He shouldn’t have quit his day job. But he was reliable, which was more than Felicia could say for most dealers in northwest Alabama. He didn’t even mind that Felicia didn’t pay him most of the time, as long as she ensured the well-being of his business. He didn’t mind up until now, apparently. He wasn’t a smart person either, because he had left his front door unlocked in the most dangerous part of town. If he had locked the door, then he would have been prepared when Felicia barged in unannounced. So imagine his shock when Felicia awakened him by flinging him on the floor like a ragdoll and placing a combat boot on his neck. “I didn’t think you had it in you, Mendoza,” she said as she pulled her standard issue out of her holster. “To be honest, I’m disappointed in you.” “Tha fuck—tha fuck you talkin bout?!” he croaked. “Had what?”


u n d e r g r o u n d Felicia admired herself in the reflection of the barrel. “Oh, you know what you did,” she said, smiling. “Get OFF me, Felitha!” he pleaded. “PLEATHE!” She responded to his request by pressing down even harder on his throat. “Hey, I get it,” she replied, inspecting her gun. “I haven’t been the best customer. Yet you’ve been very generous to me. But this time too generous. So at this point we are at an impasse.” “An impathe?” he repeated, gasping for air. “Whath—tha hell that? Let me breathe, we can talk it out!” “You are in no position to negotiate, Mr. Mendotha,” she said, glaring at him. He wished that she never looked at him at all. “You know I got athma, Felitha, ju—” BANG!!! “Oh I’m sorry, did I break your concentration?” Felicia loved quoting Samuel L. Jackson. She loved being Samuel L. Jackson. “Take what you want! Juth don’t hurt me!” he begged for mercy. “Where’s your stash?” she asked so sweetly and casually it was as if she asked where the bathroom was. “Clothetgreen bag!” he wheezed as he tried to lift the suffocating weight off of his jugular. “Don’t hurt meeee!” “Oh, this won’t hurt a bit,” she reassured him. She pushed all of her weight (about 200 pounds) on his throat until she heard it crunch. As soon as his legs stopped flailing around, she lifted her boot off his neck and walked to the closet. Mendoza may not have been a good drug dealer, but at least he was an honest one. Inside that green bag were five bricks of the cleanest coke Felicia ever tasted. She sauntered back to the patrol car, bag in hand, and reported Mendoza back to the station. She found only one brick of cocaine. Felicia always made sure to give them a piece of the action. She snorted a fat rail off the dashboard, and headed back to the station for the day. When Felicia’s colleagues saw her walk into the station, they gave her a standing applause. Eastaboga was too small and too safe for anything else to be going on. She marched past all the pats on the back and the at-a-boys with her gaze fixed dead on Chief ’s office. She cracked the door open and slid in, slamming it shut behind her. Chief looked up from a magazine and smiled. “Well, if it isn’t the hero of the day. Of the month, at the rate things happen around here.” Felicia had only one question: “Where’s my damn raise?”


Tsunami Kelly Barraza

I wrote odes to ghosts with cold hands, & slippery desires. I scribbled & pinned them to the doors of my chest: Do Not Enter. Trespassers Will Be Shot On Sight! But you, wraith-lover. You can walk through my walls, flicker my furnaces, moan my corridors. You are to be on all sides of me. To breeze longing through my breasts with your cobwebbed embrace. Storm my body. & my germing thoughts, which float, shriveling, like fingers in bathwater, petals in hot morning. Calamity— loosed in the sea. I will swim the briny swarm—when your ectoplasm crashes on my littered shores—when you ruin my castles of sand with waves ragged as your rattling chains.


u n d e r g r o u n d & when you ruin me with your enduring linger, untraceable torrents: I will burn sage by each drowning window; I will slit the throat of a chicken; I will call countless priests of countless beliefs & I will exorcise fear of the wave from my brackish breath.


Taunting God Kalyn Hardman

There was a white, unmoving escalator leading up to a carved-up wooden block, held together by hinges. It held up a steeple. A big steeple. I sit on that escalator, and I am unmoving. People walk past taunting God and pressing their hands together, suffocating flies between their palms and refusing to relinquish the bodies to God. I was not immobile before. I had a purpose. I remember. I am beating the carved wood. Beat. Beat. Smack and slap. Beat and knock and tap, until it slumps backwards and to the right. And there appears Gabriel dressed in black, his heavenly whiteness only showing through a small, square hole in his throat. “Hey, Gabe. It’s Adam. I need to speak with Eve,” I say. I try to sound important, but I just sound like the men who taunt God and hold big beetles to their ears. The two inchworms above his eyes inch closer and he looks at me. “Sorry, Gabe,” I say. “I guess God forgot to tell you about this one. But my wife Eve–you remember Eve, right? Well, she’s inside and I really need to speak with her.” Well I hope she was in there because it’s cold as pavement out here. “Let me see if I can help you,” Gabrielle says as he pushes the carved wood toward me. Clink. I sit down and wait for Eve. Waiting. Waiting. Riding the escalator. Not moving. Moving up and down on the immobile escalator. Waiting and not moving. Where the hell is Eve? Shit. Sorry, God. I didn’t mean that.


u n d e r g r o u n d The carved wood slumps back again and Gabe peeks out. “Here you go, uh…Adam.” How rude! I know your name, Gabe. “God bless you,” he says and hands me a big folded square of warmth. Eve. I pull Eve on top of me and allow her to embrace me even though we just met. I mean, God did set us up after all. And she sure makes sleeping easier.


The Nurse Tequilla Gray How exquisite is his yellow, pallid skin. The way it shines dully in contrast with white cotton sheets. The scent of hot, rushing breath curling from his lips, sweet like blackened fruit and heavy over bleached mop water. He coughs once. Twice. A gurgle of wet splatters upon his cheek. I sing his rhythmic notes with soothing diatribes of weather, descendants, and past regrets. The darkened veins stand vividly in wordless writing upon his arms, his legs, his eyelids. I wonder, while combing brittle strands of hair, the clumps of broken branches clattering on tile in silence, can they see through the thin veil to the waiting River Styx? Can they decipher the meaning behind Charon’s need of one obol? The lines of language sewn across sweat covered bodies, quivering and musty, but beautiful as they stand in the doorway under the cruel gaze of Thanatos.


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home hearth, family, memory “I’m nostalgic for memories I’ve never had, I yearn to return to places I’ve never been. But I’ve felt them, I’ve seen them. They’re faded photographs in my soul and my mind.”



Teodora Mitroi

Mom and I would go shopping together I’d stand by the register Count our purchases Make sure they didn’t scan an extra item Check the prices And add everything up I’d watch my mom Grab her wallet And take out one of her many Illustrious cards She’d swiftly slice at the machine A pro PROCESSING… “Card didn’t go through ma’am Try again— Slower this time” My mom would repeat the ritual We know all too well “Card still didn’t go through” Uttered the cashier stiffly Mom would be flustered Embarrassed Reach and jumble through Her purse Her wallet To find a card that will allow her To buy some food for this week Some clothes for her family


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PROCESSING…(x4) Some swipes and sighs later The machine gave a healthy BEEP Accepted Acceptance “Have a good day!” We’ll try


At Recess Nisa Imani Floyd tried to under stand your White Thoughts couldn’t move in all the smallness. mud stuck to the Bottom of my shoes. must be White Words tied my hair up with a strand of White Guilt my white friends like me now. since I ain’t Black.


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Dandelion, Parker Bradford photography


Boats in Central Park, Parker Bradford LomoChrome purple film photography


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Senoia Water Tower, Parker Bradford redscale film photography


Just Pretend, Shannon Anderson copic marker, pen on paper


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Weily, Shae Edman photography


Chinese Hat Vendor, Michelle Aguilar photography


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Pipa Player, Michelle Aguilar photography


Burp, Darian Matthews hand drawn, digital color


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Kaleidoscope Fridge, Nadia Deljou photography


Slang, 2015, Nadia Deljou photography


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For My Brother, Minh Huynh colored pencil and water color marker


Braided Up, Charisma Dozier pen, ink, Photoshop


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Boats in Punta Arenas, Chile, Michelle Aguilar digital photography


Taylor, Shae Edman photography


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Cliffhanger, Maddalena Alvarez photography


Smile, You’re on Camera, Hannah White photography


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Summer Sale, Nadia Deljou photography


We Made It, DJ QuietStorm Music-typebeat


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Stephanie Brooks

I grew up in the Bible Belt, a row of churches where the liquor stores ended. I was a constant burning tan, still yearning for the sun and a taste of Georgia clay. I’d like to tell you of peace, of beautiful lush woods and steady flowing streams. Instead, I’ll tell you of choking heat, weighed with moisture that soaks and wets shirts into Velcro, trickling down your neck. I’ll remind you of the rural wasteland where shirts become rags, pregnant bellies hover above cutoff jeans, and thoughts move backward. Blood and bile are a Saturday night in dimly lit bars, where slanted


Brooks pool tables devour money and a constant Marlboro cloud fills the air. When I travel home I roll down windows, speakers crackle, steel guitars twang melodies, time moves slow as memories become inviolable Gods.


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A Common Space Elisha Kim

Fourteen stories of windows and theirs is the only one dark all the time with the exception of when the rails start running and when they momentarily give in to nature’s pause. When there is light, there is music. For Mr. Park, he listens to The Eagles because they were popular when he was in college back in Korea. He remembers some of the lyrics, but mostly, it’s the memorable lines in chorus and not much else. He speculates that this is the same reason why Julia listens to EDM. But it’s not. She listens because her friends like it. Their sounds don’t mingle often because one leaves as the other enters. Julia’s laughs aren’t heard by Mr. Park’s sighs. His groans don’t share the same time with Julia’s deep angry snores. This is their arrangement. Mr. Park works night shifts at a distribution center and operates a forklift. Saran-wrapped boxes sit patiently to be picked up by his lift and placed inside semis where they leave. Inside the packages are pounds and pounds of red and white meat. Sometimes when the plastic inside the boxes rip, the contents bleed onto the pavement. They create lines and dots that need cleaning up, and Mr. Park will retrace his path with a mop. It’s in these moments where Mr. Park hopes that one day, he could be cut up and separated from the bone and fibers. He could be neatly divided into red and whites and be put inside good plastic, the kind that doesn’t rip. Then maybe Thomas or Sebastian, who are steady with their hands, careful with their minds, could put him inside a box filled with ice. They would drive him to the airport, somehow make their way past customs, and put him on a plane


Kim going home. His family would eat the barbecue and wonder where their good fortune came from. Mr. Park doesn’t voice his wishes, though, and mops. He works quickly and quietly, letting his hope and complaints rest like leaves of fall on the bottom of his stomach. Soju is the wind that stirs and drains his poison. He does so in the only Korean restaurant in town with the only friend he’s got. They smoke and complain, and when one gets too drunk, one drives the other home. Julia answers the door. She’s about to leave for work. The two put Mr. Park on the bed and his friend goes into the restroom to vomit. Julia puts a plastic bag beside Mr. Park’s head. She turns off the lights. She locks the front door. Julia’s destination is one among the various high rise buildings across town accessible to her through a short commute by train. She meets someone she knows on the way there, and when they arrive, they walk in separately and greet each other as if it’s their first time. They talk about something new. During the day, they see each other only once, and Julia has to go, but not before extending an invitation for dinner. Mr. Park dreams in vomit. His girls are younger than Julia, and they chase him often when he drinks and his head is ringing. “Where’s my money?” they say in the voice of their mother. “Father, you’ve got to stop smoking and drinking so you can send us more money.” Mr. Park’s family photo sits left of the bed. Julia’s on the right. Mr. Park sees himself falling out of the family portrait. His friend had done their photo for a discount before he left for the States. In it, his wife’s eyes are a little red, and his daughters smile in the way he wants to remember. The oldest one went under the knife four years ago and so she smiles differently now. The second begs him on Skype for plastic surgery and doesn’t smile. He can see that her not smiling is melting him away. He was wearing a grey suit with a blue tie picked by his wife in the photo. He wore the suit on the plane, when he met Julia, and when he went to his job interview. He never wore it again. His daughter’s stare is dissolving the suit into grey patches. He grabs himself and tries to stick him back on, and for whatever reason, he cannot. So he falls onto the sheets and gets lost in his vomit. Julia manages to pull him out of the sickness. She shakes his back and puts a cup of water on the bedstand, knocking down his family’s photo. Mr. Park wakes up to the red kimchi jjigae from the


u n d e r g r o u n d night before spread onto the sheets. As Mr. Park goes to wake his friend from the bathroom, Julia manages to pick up the sheets by the corners and put them inside a plastic bag. This she gives to Mr. Park, and he carries it outside while drops of red paint the carpet. Mr. Park greets the guest quietly standing outside, paused before the door. “This is Janet,” Julia says. Mr. Park grunts and he and his friend pick up their wallet, keys, uniform and head for work. The night is already getting deep as they pull out of the apartment gate. The windows are down, and the two men smoke cigarettes. At home, Julia opens windows to let the stench out and Janet is looking at Mr. Park’s CD collection. Julia tries to explain their relationship. For others, Mr. Park can be her uncle; for Janet, it’s the truth; to Mr. Park’s wife, Julia is Jeff, and unbeknownst to all, to Mr. Park, his wife’s boyfriend is her neighbor, but the explanation gets tedious and boring. They light up, open beers, and get high. Janet dances in a gentlemen grey suit. Julia microwaves popcorn and orders pizza, enough for her, Janet, and Mr. Park. The streetlights glow, and the all of the fourteen lights flicker off. Mr. Park mops the floor, and their common space becomes a quiet place.


Papa Gray Tequilla Gray I listen as you tell your stories, the ones I can recite by heart, of how you made a birdhouse out of a butternut squash, how you snapped the heads of serpents with a flick from your wrist and how you fell for Granny on a wet day in Autumn. Your rasping laughter that starts deep, lower than your cloistered lungs and from the underside of your rounded, heaving belly shakes and vibrates the air. How your thickened fingers beat the mattress of her bed to the muted rhythm of a memory. You remind her of how much she hated you. Too much country, and not enough future. But on a cold October night you lit all the candles on the back porch and danced her around to the sound of falling rain and your own voice. “Is you is or is you ain’t my baby?”


u n d e r g r o u n d Your feet are cracked now, so you don’t dance. Your hands are gnarled like tree bark, yet you still comb your fingers through her hair as you sit by her bedside telling stories. But I bet, as you lean in towards her pale face your eyes taking in her life lines and struggling breaths, your kisses still feel the same, still smell the same to her. Kisses weighed by the scent of aged alcohol and piped tobacco.


From the Sky Kristina Scurry

When I was young, my papa always told me, “The birds weren’t the bees and the bees weren’t the trees.” I ain’t know what he meant till later, but the notion sure chuckled my gums. He would spat out the phrase every time I did something that brought aback his eyes; not just any ol’ good, it had to be extraordinary. Boy oh boy! One time, my papa took me fishin’ round about the Great Lakes. ‘Course back in the day, we used to call it the Sea of Mystery ‘cause we southern folk never knew what time it was. The time would slip away from us like a slippery Whitefish, but the crackles of laughter never seemed to end. The radiatin’ sun that scorched our dark-colored skin harmonized with our joy, and the pretty blue water that surrounded us made it like we was on our own little island. All it was, was Papa and me. He would go on and on talkin’ about some pretty darn farfetched stories; I ain’t never believed ‘em because he would always start laughin’. Oh my Lord, his booming laugh and bass voice felt like it shook the entire planet; he had the type of laugh that just made everyone around ‘em want to laugh, too. The joke could have hardly been funny, but by the way he loosened his jaws and the sound of his guffaw, folks couldn’t help but to giggle. Sometime in May, he gave me my first pail to put the caught fish in. Mind you, I wasn’t no baby, but that pail weighed more than my entire body. It was a bright, green, rusty pail, but it was my very own purdy pail. It was a tradition in my family. The man of the house would token his first born with a trinket; the trinket had to do with whatever job the family had, and we were proud fishermen. I watched as papa cast off his rod with his typical grin; he loved the job that most would consider a burden. Hours and hours of fishin’ would drive the average Negro insane. You had to have patience. You had to have the drive. You had to love it. You had to be my papa. An hour or so passed before he felt a slight tug; it was a


u n d e r g r o u n d false alarm, and we were both beginnin’ to get tired because we had already been out there for about six hours. All papa did, though, was start to blabber. After all, talkin’ is what he did best. Ain’t no spat papa couldn’t win. Back at home, they called him “Smooth J.” Jazz was our town’s signature music, and all the bubba’s played smooth like butter. A couple of years back, my papa had got into it with one of the head saxophone players, and he made ‘ol Tough Bone Francis change his mind about the Whigs. Like usual, papa’s story began in a forest with dancing bubbles and talking puh-kahns. Think that was weird? Papa’s stories were the best unwritten fiction novels out there; he could’ve been a hit. Maybe even won a fancy award. The bubbles couldn’t control their elegant movements, so they started to disperse in all directions. If the jumbo bubbles had a mouth, they would’ve been yellin’ and callin’ out to one another. Instead, they just kept dancin’; the bubbles flipped, turned, and swayed from side to side in pain. My brain don’t exactly remember how papa described it, but it was like the bubbles transcended to a higher place. Even though they were hurtin’, they kept pushin’ to go to the great big kingdom come in the sky. I remember ‘em sayin’ that kingdom come was the heaven that God created and that one day we would all reunite with our Father. Papa always joked about me joinin’ him and mama later on ‘cause they were much older; he would always say it ain’t goin’ be “goodbye” but a “see you later.” Suddenly, the talking puh-kahns started cryin’, but they were happy. At the time, I ain’t understand how they could be both happy and sad; I asked papa if he could explain, but he just smirked and kept swatting at his cheeks. When papa was about to go on with the story, a monster fish bit his hook and nearly toppled the boat over. “This is it, Mya,” he cried out. Splashes of water shot up like a geyser. Ain’t no fish ever caused such a scene. This was a big one, a bizarrely big one; we ain’t never come across such a critter like this one. The boat we were in was one of Papa’s most prized possessions. He’d had it way before I was even born, and he just kept fixin’ it up. There must’ve been something special about it; one time he called it Sky but laughed and shooed away the notion. Papa’s boat started to violently rock back and forth. Our


Scurry yellin’ got caught up in the mix, and I kept on fallin’ over more than usual. It all happened so fast; I barely recollect anything besides a small blue fin. Lights blinded my dilated pupils, and voices came at me from all directions. Everything started to blur together; the clouds and the sky created this amazin’ blue and white color. And for some reason, my body felt like the little life that I had left was drainin’ out of me. I couldn’t remember a thing at the time. My own name slipped my noggin for a few seconds, and when my heart hurt worse than my bones, I knew something wasn’t right. I thought I heard my papa’s voice, but it could’ve just been in my head. Maybe, I wanted to hear his voice because I couldn’t fight no more; there were too many obstacles stacked against me, and I ain’t have the choice to stay neither – or at least I thought I ain’t. Hopefully, papa caught that sucker! I wish I could’ve saw that thing’s disturbin’ face and heard papa say his infamous line one last time. No kidding, I had the best papa around. He was a Jack-o’-alltrades and master of life; I guess that’s why my mama married ‘em. They were the happiest couple, and I thought they had perfect lives. I’m thinkin’ I messed that up, though. I sure did love my family, and my mama and my papa loved me with everything they had. Whenever we all went for a walk, mama would sing Negro spirituals while papa would throw my lightweight up in the air like a bird. I thought I heard papa yell my name, but I think it was too late because the blue and white sky that I was talkin’ about earlier was now brighter than the sun. I cringed as it flashed over me, but like a wave of water, all of the aches that had been pressin’ on my body finally washed away. It was such a relief yet bittersweet. I just want papa and mama to know that I never stopped fightin’. I wish words could’ve been the cure. “The birds weren’t the bees and the bees weren’t the trees,” and all he ever wanted was for me to know that I could be whichever I wanted. No matter what, the soaring creatures and honey suckers would never come nowhere close to the wonderful trees. I ain’t get it…‘til now. Papa, mama, I guess y’all will be joinin’ me and God up here in kingdom come. See you later.


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Old Rocker Chelsey Cashwell Your cries reach me in the deepest of sleep—the static roar from the baby monitor yanks me from my dreams and I awake, at first, in a panic, but then my mind catches up to the present, and my instinct calms me as I peel back the covers. My action is robotic in spite of dried-shut eyes and legs that are stilts, and I do believe that no matter how incapacitated I was, how thick the fog, I would still find you, my child. The howling comes in waves down the hallway, clamorous and crashing toward me, then fading to a whimper— then—just a moment of silence, followed by a deep gasping breath, and then a shrill that enfolds me like the first riptide of the morning. I open the door, and your squalling ravages my ear canals, and I wonder how such a screech can come from such tiny a gut. But a mother does not waver when it comes to caring for her offspring. While my ears may be pulsating from the sound waves overflowing your crib, the rest of my body is engulfed with the undying need to care for you, to hold you and press my lips to the silk atop your head. My breasts throb at your call, a physical reaction of nature that keeps us in tune with each other, but I can never get to you soon enough. Behind the tears flooding your eyes and plunging down the Red Delicious apples of your cheeks, your eyes meet with mine, and then the bawling rises to a blistering maximum. When I pick you up, I can feel every muscle in your body straining to lay down the loudest protest you can muster, angry with me for not responding sooner. I place your chest to mine and whisper “ssshhh sh sh sh sshhh” in your ear and pat your bum. My fingertips curl into your back, and you fight back a little, inhaling violently and sobbing like you’re proving yourself, proving to me that you were waiting. The slightest chill of guilt whiffs over the tops of my shoulders and I nuzzle my nose to the warmth of your neck, your sob weakens to snotty, faint sniffles, the thumping of your heart slows, and you gain control of your breathing in three throaty breaths. You relax in my arms. This is it. This is all. The old rocker that my mom rocked me in whines as I settle into the seat, and I grit my teeth and squint my eyes as if jaws and eyelids can suppress noise. Old Rocker squeaks her complaints, but


Cashwell it’s just her old age. She creaks beneath us, but her chatter fizzles out once my rocking has a steady rhythm. I listen until I hear your breathing linger in your throat and you let out a light snore. All that fuss just because you woke up without me. Anyone else would have been irritated by your incessant need for attention, but your after-cry cooing plucks on my heartstrings that are inextricably tethered to you, and I would choose resting here with you in Old Rocker than a bed to myself any day. I kiss your head and lay you back down; you let out a sound that indicates your gratitude for my putting you to rest. I only wish I could lie down in your crib next to you and fall back to sleep to your sweet sounds of contentment.


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Hard Living Camille Jenkins More than anything the air inside the train was damp and thick. You could touch it with your fingers, the sticky mass that clung to you like static. I was tired, the default setting for any student switching their brains on and off like an app on an iPhone. I’m plagued with dull headaches as the endless days seem to come and go. My imagination and reality blurred together like the fuzzy images outside the train windows. Conversations that happened last week easily slipped into past memories and events that I planned for seemed to appear as fast as the next. I grew to anticipate the small breaks of leisure time I could spare, but I spent it examining and preparing for the next leap and bound. There it was again, the thick misty fog of southern summers, my chest fell tight and my breath was shallow and I prayed that I wouldn’t pass out on the train. Thoughts of you were never far behind after the noise of the chaotic cluster of people piled into the cabin. I replayed images of body parts interlocked and entangled in sheets while being illuminated by the morning dusk piercing through pale blinds. I can see the serene look on your face and how stress drew lines around your eyes and mouth. I would wiggle against your warm body, rest my head on your shoulder and gently breathe you in. I imagined you sweeping your arms gently around me and dissolving into me. But such thoughts were quickly drowned out when a stranger’s voice in the distance attracted my attention and I was pulled back into the melodrama of my hectic life. Reality set in once again as I rode the late afternoon train back home and without my colorful headphones as a distraction, I was forced to endure the sounds of the commuting public. I was greeted with awkward stares and strange glances by men dressed in yesterday’s fashion who smelled of cheap aftershave. They carried


Jenkins that desperate look in their eye when a seemly attractive woman boarded the train, undressing her within their minds. I usually avoid making eye contact because if you do, it becomes an unusual signaling between strangers that perhaps in that same moment you’re both on the same current of thought as the train that transports you both. It’s tempting to look outside the windows and gaze at the same landscape you’ve seen numerous times, to replay the same memories over again to distract from the impending impact of the future. But I’m constantly being pulled from my lusty dreamscape by the conversations of nearby passengers talking about their plights of lost love and hard living. The consequence of maturity is the constant thought that drives us all. Scraping coins from a dirty jar, the gray cloud of debt circling the skies and the hard work that hardly seems to work. I join the others on this plight, burning the midnight oil until the lantern of my soul runs on nothing but fumes, engulfing myself in my studies. As I look around at the people surrounding me, I wonder about the lives they must lead and the masks they wear. I closed my eyes and imagined the invisible bubble that separates us all. Time and space seemed like it wore us down over time like rivers chipping away at rocks. The train jerked and I was momentarily jolted from my silent reflection. The flood gates opened and I watched the crowds compress and expand as passengers boarded smiling awkwardly and hugging their bags close to their bodies. I thought I smelled your cologne mixing in with the misty hot air of the train. It reminded me of our trip to the beach last summer and how we used to chase each other up and down the shore line. My hair lightly whipping my face as I tried to outrun your grasp, you were always right behind me with a big smile as you tackled me down in the warm sand. We watched the sunset that night as we covered ourselves with an old red blanket. Things were different then though, responsibilities didn’t burden us and we fell in love under the spell of excitement and rebellion. We promised each other that we wouldn’t let life drive us apart and let the mundane activities overpower our relationship. We held together longer than they said we would and fought harder to maintain the hidden spark since that summer night. We endured like the tracks beneath my feet, the constant flow of energy that propelled me forward to my destination. The train jolted once more and I looked up to see the familiar bricks on the opposite wall and rose from my seat. The doors opened


u n d e r g r o u n d as the fresh cool air splashed my face. I walked off the train and took my phone out of my pocket to see if I had any missed calls. I heard you call my name from the end of the platform, wearing the same big smile on your face. I walked towards you and buried myself into your chest reminding myself that this was the only place I needed to be. We walked off the platform arm in arm discussing what we wanted for dinner as the train sped off into the dark tunnel. I looked back to see its lights fade in the distance, taking strangers to meet other strangers.


The College Diet – A Sestina Lizzie Clanton Before I could start, I had to wash the spatula I used for breakfast, since the two others were dirty, and the fourth had melted on the burner last week. The incident took a toll on my mental state so I’ve only used the microwave to cook until now. Of course I dropped my chicken on the floor, so now I’ll thaw another piece by scraping the frost off with the spatula and heating it in the microwave. The dog stole and ate the other piece in the package, so the chicken death toll is up to two. I begin to smell the smoke from the empty pan on the burner. I turn off the gas to the burner so as to not waste energy while I thaw the chicken, and now the empty pan won’t take an unnecessary toll on my gas bill. I spot a piece of dried food on the spatula, try to scrape it off with a knife from the other side of the counter, but I’m stopped by the ding of the microwave. The glass is so fogged that I can’t see into the microwave so it’s safe to assume that the chicken is burned. The edges are rubbery and dry so I’ll need to find another item to cook for dinner. But I have to clean this up, so now I’ll pick up the steaming hot rubbery chicken by using the spatula and carry it to the trash. I’ve hit three on the chicken death toll. I’d rather get to-go food at this point, but I have no money to cross the tollroad and get to the good restaurants, so it’s back to the microwave. I can’t even afford to buy a new spatula to replace the one that melted on the burner, let alone a toll-road, or for that matter, to-go food. So now, I’ll have to search the freezer for something or other.


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I remember that I bought a frozen burrito the other day, so I’ll resort to eating it despite the toll it will take on my health. Now that I know what to eat; I pop it in the microwave, remove the already greased pan from the burner, and put away the dried-food-crusted spatula. As I put away the spatula I hear the familiar ding of the microwave, To reduce the toll on the already overloaded dishwasher I eat the burrito on the pan from the burner, I probably would have liked the other meal better, but at least I’m full for now.


Appletree Christian Bowman We were two apples on the same tree you polished your red and grew with me. We met in Spring when we both knew of Eden’s genesis and still we grew. So there we hung at first, as friends and then we swayed along the wind. I called you Alice or Red Delicious my Summered heart of my life, deciduous. And I was your Bramley, your Goldrenette, a glowing green inside your chest. But Summer’s Day is Autumn’s Eve that breeze turned cold; you took your leave. We branched apart like broken limbs. you got your basket, and left my stem.


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I hung there alone my suspended September but finally dropped yet could not remember your texture, your taste your hue, your love. I thumped by the trunk and all I knew was we were two apples on the same tree you polished your red and then you fell from me.


Redefined Josh Coursey breath·taking (‘breth-,tā-kiŋ), adj. the way she looked that night, no makeup, trust in her eyes like This is who I am. Strawberry lips so Kiss me again. Don’t think… just do. Brown hair blown Something to run your fingers through. Cheeks rose re(a)d You have all of me. [see HER]


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discovery thrills, adventures, horizons “All people are artists and life is our medium.�


The Worst Sin Makeda Phillips The first time I had a room at my feet Was when I told them I loved me It had come out with no tremor in my lips And yet I had silenced the room in a matter of minutes The instructor had said, “Who do you love most in this world?” And as I took time to comprehend, my name soared to the top of the list And when the time came around to say, all generic names were amidst But when I stood up to say “myself” the women looked like I had grown a third eye Following the shock came an uproot of eyebrows And the slight elevation of heads in the snootiest manner It seemed to love myself was the worst sin A tornado of smart remarks followed in suit They said, “Makeda, you’re arrogant.” or “you’re full of it.” I said no you don’t understand How it feels to be a girl and taught from birth that the most beautiful women are thin. To be 8 and think that the day you hit puberty your body will become this magical hourglass figure as if the small girl with innocent eyes not yet plagued with society’s expectations will be any less beautiful. You don’t understand what it feels like to look in the mirror every fucking day and hate everything you see because you have been programmed to think that the flaws that mark your body determine your worth.


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Yes, you don’t understand how it feels To pinch every overlapping of fat on you with disdain. To want to be something that you’re not And you especially don’t understand how I progressively learned to love those parts. Over time I got to learn just how special I was how my stretch marks were simply branches that flew across the canvas of my body. How my skin was dark because the sun had loved me more so it decided to bless me with its eternal rays of warmth. My eyes were the prettiest browns, the ones like coffee that energize you to no end. My hair was as dark as the night sky so beautiful and mysterious and my personality a combination of everyone I was in my past lives I had decided my cheeks were large because I was simply meant to smile more and my heart was powerful because I was meant to fight with it. The unexplained dots and zits were just constellations in the cosmos that was my face after all aren’t we all made of star stuff. Carbon, iron, nitrogen I am a bottle of planets and galaxies that roam throughout me. The very fiber and being of life. I am a marvelous creation of god It’s funny how because I had changed the poem from one of love for another to love of myself it had gone to being a fantastic work of literature to an arrogant and conceited speech But I find it funny when we are asked what we love we can think of a thousand other things but ourselves


Phillips I find it funny how a survivor of self-hate can be labeled a fraud for simply loving herself My body has done so much to encase me in the blessing that is life, so how can anyone in this world not be happy about that How can anyone ignore all the wonderful things a body does for you just because society doesn’t find it appealing? My arrogance is less of a problem than your judgment. I love me I love me I love me From the toes on my feet to the invisible crown that graces my head I love me I love me I love me My soul once so frozen in fear is now reaping its storm Darling I will never set myself afire to keep you warm.


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Playing Dress-Up Chelsey Cashwell

The photograph of her I keep in my car is fuzzy on the edges and worn as a two-dollar bill, and I look at it when things are bad for me. I can recall the irregular curvature of every freckle on her nose despite how elegantly scattered they were, like rose petals down an aisle. The half circles under her eyes would turn upside down when she smiled. Her cheekbones had to lift to leave room for her mouth when it was stretched so wide. In this picture, she was laughing at something our daughter said about the “murder scene” on the windshield—we were driving across country, and the front of our car collected quite a few bug corpses. I was taking her picture in front of the Rocky Mountains when she broke her pose to laugh, eyes squinted and looking off-camera, body reluctantly forward facing. She was wearing her favorite wig—the midnight black one that was cut in a short bob with bangs that fell in a straight line across her forehead and on top of her fading eyebrows. When she started losing her hair, she declined all sympathy from herself and others. She turned what most people would see as a tragedy into an opportunity to play dress-up as an adult, and she committed to it with the zeal of a southern gal trying to make her way on Broadway. “I never thought cancer had any perks until I saw myself with red hair,” she said after purchasing her first wig, a striking red that made her look like a villain who was capable of designing operations of mass destruction. Each day, whether she was leaned over the toilet for most of it, or out and about like nothing was happening, she would wear a wig that matched her mood. Her favorite catch phrase when responding to comments about her newest accessory was, “A lady’s hair is her crown, and I like mine in every color and cut.” She never cared what her hair looked like before she lost it, but when she did, she found a way for it to give her power. That was just how she was—never bending to anyone’s expectations, never defeated, never weak. That’s what I think about when I look at this photograph, and it took me a while to figure out that that’s the real reason she wore the wigs—so we would remember her in her last days as the bubbly blonde, the bashful brunette, the fierce red head, or the sultry black


Cashwell beauty. She didn’t want people to remember her for the cancer, but rather what she did with it. So, I keep this photograph in my car and look at it while I’m in traffic or putting off clocking in at work. It takes me back to exactly a year ago, post-diagnosis, when we decided to go on a family road trip with the little bit of time she had left. “If we’re going to cry, then we’re going to do it together, and it’s going to be somewhere scenic,” she said, like a teacher giving instructions to her pupils. We loved the Rocky Mountains the most. She liked the thin air more than I did. She liked how it made her feel like she had to actively work for every breath, like whether or not she lived was up to her. She told me that when we were looking out over the Rockies, her face as still and stoic as the mountains themselves. It was already cold, but the words were ice to my bones, and that was the moment of acceptance for me, the moment I knew there was nothing I could do, not even anything she could do, to keep her alive. Even though this picture takes me back to one of the worst instances of my life, I still look at it every day and think about the frigid air that made breathing a life choice, and the mountains that wouldn’t budge no matter how strong the wind, and wouldn’t crumble no matter how heavy the snow.


u n d e r g r o u n d On a Scale of One to America Josh Coursey

I kissed my childhood goodbye in a parking lot and it tasted like strawberries. And it felt like America— leaning against that red car, me in my blue jeans, her in her white lace blouse, us in unison making fireworks with our mouths. My Independence Day was in September with lips for tinder, tenderly igniting those pyrotechnics— chemistry exploding in shakes and shivers. My mind played “The Star-Spangled Banner” to the tempo of our bodies’ tremors and I tried my hardest not to salute. Paint me patriotic but I swear the only thing missing was an eagle. “We the People” was written in the faint blush on her cheeks and I could’ve read that Preamble for hours, but you should go lit like a roman candle. So I went, knees knocking as she was knocking on my heart’s door. I spent the next hour refusing to lick her gloss off my lips because every time I closed my eyes I could still feel her kiss. And when I finally licked it tasted like strawberries. And it felt like freedom.


A Is For Alpha Nadia Deljou I remember watching her on the train so carefully that I could feel her every experience. every man that touched her every whisper of self-doubt every stroke of pain that violated her body. I could feel her represent every girl who has ever struggled with the consequences of Womanhood. Who bathe in sweet perfume to mask the stench of scars, abuse, depression, and rebellion buried deep beneath soft cold patches of skin that somehow still glow. She reminded me of the girlhood I never had— one that basks ferociously beneath Who we are Who we’ve become & Who we’ll never know We can be.


u n d e r g r o u n d Epiphany At 30,000 Feet Anonymous Here, here in this breathless moment, I see your soul through the tinted windows of your eyes, Conditioned to be a one-way mirror, One that lets no one see the way to your heart, but Lets you twist and writhe in agony Silently. Here, here above the clouds on my way Trying to find you once again, I know what I have never before Admitted to myself. Somehow, I’ve changed Into a man that knows not who he is, but knows positively That he is completely and wholly in love with no one But you. Here, here within the confines of my paper heart, Tattered, crying, and hanging from my ribs in a song of almost silence, The soft beat sounds a battle cry of hope, because I know I have but one chance to save myself, and that chance Is you. You are the smile upon my lips, The song that I sing when no one else is listening. You are the smell that stays after the rain has passed, The lingering light in the clouds when they won’t let go Of the sun.


Today I witnessed a beautiful thing Teodora Mitroi

I overlooked it at first, but my eyes found it again and I became glued. I am ashamed but proud to admit I watch people. I look at people and analyze their actions and facial gestures in hopes to understand people more. See if I can pinpoint what they are feeling right at that moment. It’s impossible of course, but it’s so very interesting trying to. So, it was about 10 p.m. on a humid, Georgia night. The surroundings involved little shops, lights wrapped around trees, and the incessant buzz the bugs provided as background noise. There were many benches across the sidewalk but only one was occupied. Seated were a man and a woman. Each bench was about 5-6 feet long, but they remained in the right corner of the metal bench, talking. The man had his hand swung comfortably over the backrest as he sat sideways facing the woman. The woman was facing him directly, with her hand alternating from resting on the backrest to touching her lip. The man was talking about something but the woman seemed absent. She would give a reassuring nod here and there, but it was obvious she was not paying attention to his words. Her eyes searched him through and through trying to find answers. Answers to the way she felt, the way he felt. A smile was glued to her face that never once departed. It was one that held many secrets and was intoxicated with thoughts of every sort. Often, the eyes of the woman would drift to his lips oh-so-slyly because the next second, they would dart to meet his eyes again. It seems like she was addicted to the sight of his lips since she would rapidly look away when she caught herself staring at them. She knew it and she felt guilty.


u n d e r g r o u n d Her eyes were burning right through him. Drunk on love? Lust? The moment was incredibly intimate regardless. So complex yet so simple in a beautiful, slow way. In a way that sneaks up on you in a day, week, or month and makes you realize just how wonderful life is from time to time.Â


Noise Lindsey Baker

The party is the same as they always are. Sarah Gleeson gets so drunk on champagne that she pukes on a house plant, which prompts Emily Tarren to burst into tears (not with grief for the plant, but more with the sinking knowledge that one cannot cover up a house party of this size to one’s parents). My best friend Mike is there for her, though. The bastard. Always knows when to jump in as a shoulder to cry on. Humans are loud. A sigh, a joke, a laugh. There are the grunters who vocalize standing up and sitting down and just about everything in between, the moaners, the fake-complimenteurs, the whiners. The worst, though, is probably the braggers. Braggers are so shamed at their lot in life, so afraid of negative thoughts like cancers growing in the brains of others. So they say they absolutely love their job at their father’s candle store, or their job shoveling shit, or the fact that they still live at home. I’m standing by the window, admiring the books on the Tarrens’ shelves. The usual dad and mom kind of stuff—Tom Clancy, V.C. Andrews, Wally Lamb. I wonder what Emily reads, if she does read anything besides Seventeen mag or those online quizzes to determine what kind of flirt you are. I imagine her reading erotica, maybe something like “Samantha Gets Stretched” or “Reluctant Rebecca.” I felt my trouser mouse squirm a little at that idea and clasp my hands in front of my zipper in what I hope is a natural pose. “So what’s your story?” A girl is talking to me. I’ve met this girl before at another one of Mike’s friends’ parties, but don’t remember her name and also don’t suppose she remembers me at all. “I’m Tennessee.” The music, synthesizer pop-hip-hop, is loud and prompts me into an awkward half-shout. “You’re from Tennessee?” She’s wearing this heavenly tight


u n d e r g r o u n d white sweater with black slacks and a pair of scuffed up loafers. Her hair is my favorite color on a girl, a nice tree-bark brown. “No, no, I’m from Michigan. Tennessee is my name.” Her nose scrunches up in a little arc de confusion and she giggles. “Tennessee. Like the author?” She swigs her drink and notices that I have none. “Be right back with a beer!” I watch her ass as she walks. She’s hot, in a kinky librarian way. It has been months since I’ve had sex. The last girl was named Julie and she had these crazy intricate braces that I could feel grinding into my teeth as we made out. I kept thinking, “I’m making out with the jaws of life.” When we finished I checked my teeth in the mirror for scuff marks. The girl, whose name I still can’t remember, returns with the signature red cup in her hand. I thank her and take a sip. “What’s your name?” She smiles. “Rebecca. Named after the novel.” Ah, Rebecca. That’s right. I think of my made up erotica title from earlier, “Reluctant Rebecca,” and feel more stirring underneath my hips. “Do you often dream of Manderly?” I say. “What?” She didn’t hear me. “Our parents must really like literature, huh?” I say instead. She leans over to grab a book off of the shelf I’ve been standing around all night, and her breast brushes lightly against my arm. She smells like beer and sweat. “No more than most people I guess. I mean even the fuckin’ Tarrens have a book shelf. I mean, what is this?” She’s holding a Dan Brown novel that I read years ago. “I don’t know,” I say. Getting into a literary discussion is the last thing I want to do with Rebecca right now. She snaps the book closed and returns it to the shelf. “Books are dead, anyways. Someday you and me and all of the people here, really, will die and no one will even pick up a damn book. It’ll all be tablets and phones and…and…floating text, or no text at all. Sounds. Just noise!” Mike brought me to this party because he knew I was feeling blue. “It’ll be a riot, man,” he said. He promised to get me laid. This talk of death and books really didn’t raise my spirits at all. She eyed me, eyes half closed under heavy lids. Drunk. “What are you thinking about?” “What do you mean?”


Baker “It’s a game. You have to tell me right this second, the absolute first thing that pops in your mind. Ready? Go.” “You’re stunning, I want to kiss you every morning and every night.” She pauses, drink halfway raised to her mouth. “Why, thank you.” Her fake southern accent makes her nose scrunch up again, and I feel a hot blush rise in my cheeks. “I was also thinking about this poem I’ve been writing, about—“ A voice interrupts us. “Rebecca, you slut, you gotta come help me with the stereo. It won’t connect to my phone anymore because your boy knocked it out of my hand!” Rebecca rolls her eyes. “Duty calls. See ya round, Tennessee.” I wonder if she means it. I hovered by the bookshelf for a couple more hours of the party and eventually got a blow job from this girl Bethany who was sloppy and eager, and although she was very pretty, I thought about Rebecca the whole time. I thought about her lips around me, then talking and laughing, whispering in my ear. The next morning I’m the first one up and I navigate around the sleeping bodies to the door and down to my car. I drive home in silence clutching the wheel so tightly my joints feel swollen and artificial.


u n d e r g r o u n d

Hurt Feelings, Shannon Anderson copic marker, pen on paper


Fleur, Parker Bradford digital photography with curve adjustment and Audacity “data bending�


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Does This Spear Make My Butt Look Big?, Katrina Judd stone lithograph print, white colored pencil on cream paper


Puddles in the City, Darian Matthews photography


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The World, Samarah Fenelus photo manipulation


The Mind’s Eye, Alayna Fabricius lithograph, oil ink, graphite


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Matter in the Mind (We Are Constellations), Uduak Ita ink


What Are THOSE!, Charisma Dozier photoshop


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Lopsided Bob (Cherry Edition), Uduak Ita mixed media


Stargazer (We Are Constellations), Uduak Ita ink


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Breckenridge Flower Heart, Parker Bradford photography


Sleeping in the Summer, Minh Huynh colored pencil and water color marker


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August Flowers, Kristin Rogers photography


Breathe, Rachel Bjorn pen, colored pencils, and oil pastel on paper


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I don’t find things, I come across them, Najwa Hossain photography


Confetti Twigs, Maya Glass acrylic on canvas


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Welcome to the Jungle, Bria Howard interior design


Who would you have me be, Najwa Hossain watercolor


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Wedding on a Beach at Sunset, Parker Bradford photography


Wreckless Abandon, Cobalt Composer Music


u n d e r g r o u n d

Plaster Saint, Ch. 2 Anastasia Jones Joseph still cried even as Ignatius barred the doors and windows. Ignatius would have to deal with the village sooner or later, and he thought of various lies he could tell as he prepared a bath for his son. “Joseph,” Ignatius finally spoke again before discarding the child’s ruined clothes. He had to be sure to clean up everything if he wanted any of his lies to be believable. “How much did you drink?” he asked. The boy sniffed and rubbed at his eyes. When he pulled his hands away, he let out a worn cry upon seeing the red smeared against them. Ignatius gathered his son’s hands into his own and tilted his chin up to meet his gaze. “These are our tears.” He stated in a calm voice, “Because we feed on blood, it becomes the liquid we excrete be it as sweat,” Ignatius brushed his finger against the curve of Joseph’s cheek, “or as tears.” Joseph visibly calmed down, but the effects of his first feed were still plaguing him. After a moment or so, Joseph mumbled and let his bloodied hands rest in the lukewarm water, “Thanks, Dad.” The older vampire paused and shut off the faucet once the clawed tub was filled. “You need to understand.” He met Joseph’s gaze. “We feed off human blood. It’s why we’re so fast, why we don’t age, and why we can see so much. It’s why we can no longer go out in sunlight or eat human food.” “It’s why we’re dead?” Joseph asked, his childish innocence gradually leaving his eyes. Ignatius instinctively gulped, and wanted to avoid hard truth. “Yes,” he answered, “it’s why we’re dead. Perhaps you’re too young to be changed. I thought…” He reached for the soap and a cloth as he thought out loud, “I thought that maybe it would be best if you were the same as me. I thought it would be easier to take care of you and to protect you.” Ignatius stopped his movement when he felt Joseph grip his arm. When Joseph didn’t say anything, Ignatius put his thoughts on hold and looked to Joseph expectantly. “Yes?”


Jones “…I don’t want t-to kill people…I don’t want to drink their blood,” the boy admitted. The remembrance of swallowing that little girl’s blood made his stomach churn. Ignatius eyed his son. On one hand, he could tell Joseph that he didn’t have a choice.... But on the other hand, he turned his son without fully explaining what would happen, and he had nearly killed someone already. Briefly, Ignatius sighed. The horror of realizing that murdering the innocents he had protected in the past was inevitable. Finally, he spoke, “Very well. You don’t have to kill anyone. You can get your food from the kitchen cabinets for now.” Joseph visibly relaxed. His dad understood. He still didn’t like the idea of killing, but if he didn’t have to hurt anyone, then that was okay. His eyes widened. “But—But I don’t want you to kill anyone either.” The older vampire’s mild frown remained on his face. That would make things far more difficult than what he had bargained for. In fact, it would be impossible. He opened his mouth to retort, but Joseph had interrupted him. “Promise.” “I—What?” “Promise that you won’t kill anyone,” he demanded. Joseph leaned forward, staring his dad down. “I—I don’t want you to kill anyone.” When his father didn’t promise, Joseph attempted logic, “I know…that you used to save people from scary things. You would make the scary things go away and—and people were nice to you, because you were nice to them.” He paused and gulped a bit. “Dad, if you hurt them, you’re one of the scary things…” As much as possible, he refused to accept that his father was truly the bloody monster he had seen earlier. As much as he didn’t want to admit it, Ignatius knew that Joseph was right. He never wanted to think about that conclusion. He nodded. His head never was so heavy in his life. “I promise to not kill anyone,” he stated. In time, Joseph would realize that avoiding murder was impossible. The smile that stretched on his son’s face warmed his heart. “But you have to come with me.” Ignatius watched as Joseph’s smile fell. “I promise not to kill, but we both still need to feed. We can try to survive on animal blood, or we could take small amounts of blood from many people. We’ll only drink as much as we need, and we won’t turn anyone. We’ll be sure that they’re unconscious, so they don’t have to witness it.” All in all, it was incredibly humane—at least


u n d e r g r o u n d in Ignatius’s eyes. “Does that sound like a good alternative to killing?” Joseph mulled through the suggestion. It wasn’t perfect, but his father promised not to kill anyone. If their victims were going to live, and if his father could avoid scaring them, then it would be okay. “Thanks, Dad,” he murmured, relaxing in the bath and scrubbing off the red. Guilt still throbbed in the recesses of Ignatius’s mind, but he managed to answer softer than he had anticipated, “You’re welcome, Joseph.” The two vampires spent the night talking over their limitations and their strengths. As each day without an incident passed, more worry dug its way into Ignatius’s chest. The doors and the windows remained intact. Everything remained quiet. Though he did have a constantly concerned mindset, Ignatius wanted to focus on guiding Joseph into his new life rather than the threat of hunters. He had Joseph feed from the jars in the kitchen for the past few days and in a week’s time, he intended to show his son how to properly hunt. Ignatius gently woke Joseph and dressed him properly for their journey. By the time they made it to the door, the skies were still alight with the sun’s imprints. Thankfully, the direct beams had receded. “Tonight we’re going to travel a few leagues to a new town,” Ignatius announced, giving Joseph’s small hand a squeeze. “When we reach our destination, we need to be quiet and careful.” The vampire had already taken a few precautions and dressed them both in dark fabric. It would be hard enough for humans to sense them as it was. With these clothes, it would be damn near impossible. Joseph looked up to his dad, frowning. “We’re going to move?” he asked, turning to give the mansion a pitiful glance. “But I like it here…. Why are we moving?” “We’re not moving,” Ignatius answered simply. “We’re running out of supplies in the kitchen, and we need to save those jars for emergencies. I’m going to show you how to hunt and, more importantly, how to control your thirst.” “Oh…” Joseph was quiet for a few moments as Ignatius began to lead him to the forest. Truth be told, he didn’t want to learn how to hunt. He wanted to continue using the jars; they made everything easier and there was no threat of death to anyone. “Um… Can we— can we just walk instead?” He smiled in an attempt to sway Ignatius’s


Jones plans. “I can learn how to do that stuff next week. We’re going to live forever, right?” If that was the truth, Joseph would stall forever; he would try to. It was refreshing to see that his son was not dwelling on the loss of his human life, but putting off learning how to hunt was a very unwise move. “No, Joseph,” Ignatius shot down Joseph’s idea within seconds. “I’m going to teach you how to hunt tonight.” The young vampire frowned and stared down at the leafy, forest floor as the two soundlessly walked around vegetation and over sticks. “It’d only be next week,” he mumbled. The last thing he wanted to do was disappoint his father, but harming other people felt worse than his father’s disappointment. With a sigh, Ignatius halted his walk before squatting beside Joseph. He rested his hands on the boy’s shoulders, forcing their eyes to meet. “I realize that learning how to hunt is scary, but it is important that you learn it. Even though we can live forever, fate may have other plans.” “Like what kind of plans?” Joseph asked. If he gave any thought to it, he could come up with something, but it was hard to envision anything overpowering his father. “Well…” Ignatius stood again, taking Joseph’s hand in his and walking towards the leagues-away town. “More or less, one of these days I may not be here to guide you, and you need to know how to fend for yourself.” It took a second for the words to register, but when they did, Joseph clamped onto Ignatius’s arm; he didn’t want to hear that either. “It won’t happen,” he stated, determined to defy the laws of nature. “Dad, you won’t let it happen, will you?” Ignatius scooped Joseph up in his arms and carried him. “Of course I won’t,” he whispered, mollifying his son. The young vampire clung to his father’s dark vest and rested his head against Ignatius’s shoulder. The rest of the walk was spent mostly in silence. Joseph would point out something pretty, and Ignatius would offer explanations, ultimately agreeing with Joseph that, yes, that little ladybird beetle was indeed a miracle of nature. When they had reached the town, Joseph pulled his face from Ignatius’s shoulder and stared in awe at the huge city. It was far bigger than the estranged village by the mansion, and it even had those new gas street lights. Joseph commented that they looked like fey dotted around the town, watching over the city folk. Ignatius agreed.


u n d e r g r o u n d Everyone was still out and about. It was a bustling city to say the least. The sudden immigration of so many people from farms were to thank for that. It was crowded, yes, and everyone seemed exhausted. There were few that exclaimed over their paychecks—most seemed in a different world. Joseph watched all of them curiously and took note that there were no children about. “Dad,” he asked while he kept his gaze on the flock of people from factories that roamed over the shiny, steelcolored streets, “where are all the children?” Ignatius hated the thought of it, but he explained it regardless, “they’ve all got jobs. They need to get up very early to be at work on time, so they won’t be fired. I imagine they’re all at home sleeping.” “Sleeping?” Joseph asked and then sent an incredulous look at his father, “it’s only seven!” Children going to sleep by seven? That was preposterous. He himself had never been to bed before nine. “Shouldn’t they be playing?” “Yes,” Ignatius instantly responded while his stare stroked the scenery for potential targets, “but this city is riddled with poverty. No one can afford to do anything but sleep, eat, and, most importantly, work. I realize it’s difficult to understand, Joseph, but your life is very different from everyone else’s.” He had made sure of that. “What if I got a job like the other kids?” Joseph asked, “Are jobs fun?” As if by instinct, Ignatius spat, “No.” His tone was stern, and he dismissed the minor anger in it. “Jobs are not for children.” He was aware of how dangerous it was, but he decided Joseph didn’t need to know about the hundreds of children that lost fingers, toes, limbs, and lives in the death traps known as factories. Dismissing the subject, Ignatius set Joseph down, “I need to teach you how to hunt. Firstly, we can hunt in the city just as well as we can in the forest. People are focused on themselves; therefore, they don’t often take notice of us.” Joseph nodded, comprehending. “And we’re not gonna kill them, right?” he asked. He would refuse to go on until his father reassured him of his promise. The older vampire answered in agreement, “Yes. We aren’t going to kill anyone.” It would be best to kill them, he knew, but it was important that Joseph knew his voice was heard. Otherwise, he would grow into a rebellious child. He viewed the crowds of people before


Jones taking his son’s hand. “We’re going to follow someone and then attack when they’re alone.” Ignatius picked a group of tired workers and followed them at a distance with Joseph by his side. “I don’t want to attack one of them,” the fledgling whispered. “It’s necessary for our survival.” “I know,” Joseph raised his voice and looked up to Ignatius, “I know… I don’t want to attack one of them. You said that they’re all poor, right? A-and they need their jobs.” Joseph pulled his father to a stop. “What… What if we attack one of them, and then they can’t make it to work on time? And they get fired? What happens then?” Ignatius looked between Joseph and the group in the distance. He squatted down—against his will—and met Joseph’s height. “If we attack one of them,” he reasoned, “then, yes, they may suffer, but besides the rich, they’re the only humans around.” At that, Joseph’s eyes widened in realization. “What about the rich?” he whispered. “If—If they’re rich, then even if we attack them they’ll be okay. Because they’re rich.” The older vampire kept his gaze locked with his son’s. What a foolish thought. Joseph’s intentions were good and his reasoning was true in theory, but attacking the aristocracy would draw unwanted attention to them. Despite common sense, Ignatius concluded that he was confident enough to drive any potential threats away. After all, the villagers were no trouble. The rich would probably attack just as the villagers had. Ignatius looked up at the clouded skies and at the wet, brick buildings. He could guess which street the aristocracy cultivated. He stood and took Joseph’s hand again. Robbing the rich would require breaking and entering. Though, Ignatius knew he needed to have a healthy sense of caution, but something about showing Joseph the true versatility of a vampire’s movements in action excited him. “Let’s go find the rich then,” he murmured. As the older vampire located a home, Joseph listened to the sounds of the city. Their footsteps were once masked by the workers’ conversation and chimes, but as the two entered the aristocratic streets their every step was accentuated with plips. Stray flecks of left over water leaped from Joseph’s shoe soles and clung to the fledgling’s trousers. The wind that swept up around them did nothing to deter Ignatius’s fluid and relaxed movement, and Joseph put forth effort to mimic his father’s grace.


u n d e r g r o u n d Once finding the perfect home, Ignatius remained a good distance from it. The shadows soaked the two, hiding them save for the pale sheens on their cheeks. Ignatius looked down to his son. “When I open the window, we’ll sneak in. It’s important that we stay absolutely quiet,” he whispered. Of course he knew his son could figure out that much; he was a smart lad. “No matter what happens, stay silent. Be fast. Move in the shadows. Try your very hardest to remove yourself from existence.” With a brief gulp, Joseph nodded. He could do that. It would be hard, but he could pretend that he didn’t exist. “Are you ready?” Ignatius asked, running his thumb against Joseph’s small hand. Joseph whispered, “Yes—I’m ready.” The older vampire’s lips pulled into a light smile, and he strolled down the street with his son by his side. Once they reached their destination, Ignatius released Joseph’s hand and ever so lightly gripped his son’s shoulder. He gazed down at Joseph with a confident smile. It was imperative to keep Joseph from worrying. Worrying caused nervousness. Nervousness caused mistakes. Mistakes would get them killed. Ignatius released his hold on Joseph’s shoulder, and his chin lifted, allowing him sight of the column of windows belonging to the targeted home. The vampire slid up the wall, seemingly bending gravity to his will before balancing himself on the window sill. Ignatius slipped a nail between the window’s cracks and lifted the metal latch. The wind offered its help to Ignatius as he eased the window open. The dark curtains flowed on the breeze’s back and parted to welcome the vampire into their home. He took one step down from the window sill and then another, concealing himself in the second story bedroom’s darkness. There was no left over rain. Instead of flickering flames, the moon took up its duty and glossed the room’s corners and furniture with its gossamer light. Once his father had disappeared through the window’s frame, Joseph realized he was to follow. He climbed up to and through the window with ease—though he lacked his father’s grace. Cautiously, he placed his shoe against the pale wood flooring and then the other. The curtains opted to seize the fledgling rather than welcome him as they did his father. Joseph snuck around the thick fabrics without much difficulty and chose to curl up in the darkest corner of the room.


Jones Neither vampire spoke to each other. Ignatius appeared at the human’s bedside and loomed over the sleeping innocent. He was a boy, the vampire noted. He looked to be about half of Ignatius’s age and just entering his body’s defining years. Joseph would never know those years. Shoving the thoughts away, Ignatius figured that their chosen victim would have a long life—or at least it wouldn’t end during Joseph’s lesson. The vampire dragged his gaze to view the dark corner his son hid in. His matte, soil-colored eyes rested on the fledgling. He tipped his head and allowed himself to eye the soon-to-be victim again. Joseph let out a breath he was unaware of holding back, and he assumed that his father wanted him by the human’s bed. Joseph uncurled his body and stepped over to the two—all the while keeping an eye on his steps. One creak from a rickety floorboard would end them. Once the boy was settled by his father, Ignatius rested a hand on Joseph’s back and gave him a small push. It wasn’t enough to force Joseph anywhere, but it was enough to tell him to drink. “Be silent,” the vampire’s voice hardly came to a whisper. A spider breathing into the ear of its prey would have been the same as his father’s utterances. A human would be afraid of it, Joseph concluded, but he wouldn’t be. Joseph stepped in front of his father, and he paled in realization. He would have to climb onto the bed in order to reach the victim’s neck. The fledgling looked up to his father and stood on his toes in an attempt to show that he needed an extra boost. The older vampire wordlessly held his son’s waist, and he easily lifted the boy up and held him over the intended victim. He kept his grip steady, ready to pull his son back whenever the situation called for it. Joseph adjusted to the new position. After seeing nothing, but his father for some time, Joseph took notice of how the human under him looked. The human boy breathed in and out in slow, shallow breaths, and his eyes flickered back and forth behind his smooth eyelids. While his father had perfect symmetry in his expression, this human was so…off. One eyebrow was lifted, and the other was strained. The mouth was agape, and his teeth were crooked and off-white. Freckles dusted his cheeks, and his dark, curly hair spread every which way. Even his father’s umber hair was artfully


u n d e r g r o u n d askew—nothing like the human’s locks. The fledgling paused. Now that he realized it…even though the human was so flawed, he seemed…right. His features were so uneven and careless, but the way his breaths flowed in and out of his lungs, the way his nose scrunched up when it itched, and the way he kicked his sheets down, wanting the night’s cool air were all so delightfully imperfect. It reminded Joseph of the ladybird beetle he had talked about earlier that night. “Joseph,” Ignatius breathed. His name broke his observations and forced him to focus on the task at hand. The neck was exposed and Joseph could see the blue vein pumping liquid life beneath the skin. Leaning down to the best of his ability, Joseph opened his mouth and brushed his grey fangs against the human’s neck. The human slept. Joseph’s eyes slipped closed, and he gently sunk his fangs into the skin, hoping for the best. Droplets of blood bubbled forth and slid down the human’s neck before the young vampire could catch them. However, he did manage to latch his mouth onto the new wound. He was already improving. After half a minute or so, Ignatius began to pull his son back. Reluctantly, Joseph released his hold on the human’s neck and looked to his father once he was set down. The older vampire’s eyes widened at the sight of the victim before viewing his son. After a brief pause, Ignatius brushed his thumb over Joseph’s cheeks and chin. “Goodness,” he mouthed, “You’ve got blood all over your face…” Joseph looked over to the victim and peered at what he’d done. Blood caked the boy’s neck, and the weight of it forced the fabrics to cling to the body. Despite the mess, Joseph had come out of the situation significantly cleaner than he had after his first feed. His first feed. Joseph’s eyes widened, and, in a panic, he pressed his upper body against the bed on his way to try and check the body’s status. The human groaned at the movement, but he still breathed. Joseph let out a sigh of relief. He was okay. The rich almost-child was okay. Before Joseph could watch any more, Ignatius pulled him from the bedside. “I’ll take care of this,” his words were an afterthought; Joseph mostly read his lips to determine the message. Ignatius guided Joseph


Jones to the window just as he heard shifting behind him. And then a scream. The vampire looked back to see the human boy sitting up in bed, clutching his neck and yelling for his family. Instantaneously, Ignatius gave Joseph a shove out the window. He watched as Joseph caught a hold of the window sill and carefully but quickly climbed down to the ground below. By the time Ignatius himself managed to right his footing on the window sill, the boy’s bedroom door slammed against the wall. He didn’t give the others a chance to see him, but he was sure the human boy knew his face. A surge of wind enveloped Ignatius as he leapt down from the window. In a few fluid movements, he scooped his son up into his arms and darted off into the night. Flickers of light from the gas street lamps caught the tails of his coat. For miles, he kept his fast pace— his half-run. Eventually, he slowed to a stop and looked back in the direction he ran from. He could guess that the family made a fuss over their child. He would have. “Dad,” Joseph—who had clung to his father’s vest throughout the duration of the sprint—finally relaxed just enough to peer up at Ignatius, “Are—Are we okay? Are they coming after us? I’m sorry, Dad…I didn’t mean to—I’m—” The boy started gasping in short breaths. Ignatius shook his head and cradled Joseph to his chest as he began walking towards their mansion. “No, Joseph, it’s okay. They can’t follow us.” He used a rare tone, one reserved for only Joseph and his late mother. “We are fine.” The older vampire hummed a lullaby in an attempt to calm his son. They arrived at the mansion just in time to see the black sky lighten to navy. Ignatius spent the night’s final hour washing the blood from Joseph’s face and reading him a bedtime story afterwards. Over the course of a few days, Ignatius had continued to teach Joseph how to hunt, though it was more dangerous now. Uneasiness hung in the air whenever they left the house, and Ignatius couldn’t figure out for the life of him why no one had confronted them yet. He almost wished that the amateurs that rich child’s family would hire would try to come kill him so the threat would be over with. It took little time, but it felt like ages. In the early hours of the morning, Ignatius woke to the sound of a muted crash in his home. He was momentarily relieved that the


u n d e r g r o u n d sound didn’t wake Joseph. The older vampire silently opened his coffin and climbed out of it before lying Joseph down in it. Joseph’s eyes peeked open, and he rubbed them as he asked, “Dad? What’s wrong—?” Ignatius knelt down by the coffin and gave his son a warm smile. “Nothing’s wrong,” he answered, “Go back to sleep.” He pressed a kiss to his son’s forehead, and he gently closed the coffin. Once the coffin was closed, the older vampire stood and walked out of the room with a brisk pace. The bedroom door clicked closed, and Ignatius watched the dark as he strolled to the top of the stairs. There was probably an animal in the house, a part of him hoped. The vampire looked to the front door, and his gaze narrowed. It had been pried open. The intruder could have at least closed the damn door. From then on, he applied all of his special perceptions and stepped down the stairs. Upon reaching the first floor, he heard attempts to remain silent come from one—wait, not one—two individuals. Young adults, Ignatius figured. He briefly wondered if they were the wealthy child’s older siblings. Ignatius would have gone through the house to search for them, but it was vital to keep the staircase in sight. Neither of the two would live to reach the second floor. There was shuffling. Surely, they knew that the vampire had left his coffin. They knew. A stomp followed by a brief grunt soaked him with a cold splash of water. The burning sensation was instantaneous; he cursed. It was holy water. He was soaked to the bone in holy water. The vampire’s senses were dulled, and his movements were sluggish. It had been a long time since he was last inebriated, and he didn’t appreciate the reminder. A stake flew towards his chest. He had barely enough time to duck out of the way, sending a swift kick towards his attacker. The second man charged towards him with a stake of his own, and though Ignatius was surprised by the man’s aesthetic similarity to the one he had just kicked aside, he was able to side step and engage in combat before sending the second man toppling onto the first one. They were hunters. Twin hunters. Ignatius unbuttoned his vest and tossed it aside. Hopefully he’d dry faster this way. “In my day, hunters greeted the creature


Jones they planned on laying waste to. Or they at least waited until day.” Ignatius’s time had only been under a year ago. How much about hunting could have changed in such a short time? “Fools,” he scoffed and stepped closer to them, “I almost feel bad for killing you.” “Don’t underestimate us,” one shouted, his accent born from across the pond. “Please,” Ignatius tilted his head to the side, wondering just how he’d kill two birds with one stone, “you’re children.” “All the more reason to not kill us,” the other spoke up as he stood and helped his twin up shortly after. They stood tall—taller than Ignatius, but that didn’t intimidate the older vampire in the least. They were cocky. They carried themselves with an air of brute force. Ignatius kept an eye on the one that seemed to move with more care; he would be the real threat. Ignatius watched them, and they began circling. “…Are you close to that rich child? The one I drank from a few nights back?” he asked. “Nah,” the one with cropped hair shook his head, but he kept his eyes peeled and watching the vampire, “we’re just people that don’t like monsters. We protect the innocent.” “Brilliant. I’d like to get back to bed. If you don’t mind, I’d like to lay waste to you both as soon as possible.” The vampire stepped towards the careful one, but before he could do any damage, the other threw another bucket of holy water. The vampire ducked to the side as did the careful hunter, and the water spread out across the floor. The careful hunter looked to his partner with an exasperated expression. “Isaac,” he huffed and hoisted himself up from his space on the floor. “What?” The louder one—Isaac—shrugged and reloaded his liquid ammunition for his next throw. Ignatius sent a chilling glare at the two. “You’re using holy water again?” “Not quite,” Isaac stated while adopting a serious expression. He smirked and then tilted his head. “What’s the matter? Is the big, bad vampire so afraid of a little water?” he mocked. Ignatius’s eyebrows knitted together in confusion. The hunter was mocking him? As if he hadn’t proved his juvenile behavior already. “Are you done?” The childish hunter kept on mocking, “Are you scared of


u n d e r g r o u n d getting a little sunburn from the sun, too?” The vampire hissed, clearly growing more irritated with the infantile behavior presented to him. He didn’t have time for this. As he prepared to attack Isaac, he felt a rush of water run over his body once more. He let out a frustrated growl and waited for the burn. He waited. And waited. But there was none. There were no burns. Ignatius sniffed his clothes. He recognized this scent. It was so evident in his mind. He remembered it from back when he was human. He looked to Isaac, confused, and when he saw the man pull a match from his coat, the substance’s range of uses dawned on him. It was alcohol. The vampire had the span of a second to see two matches alight with flame fall against his soaked frame. Letting out a scream, he stumbled backwards, sending the flames from his shoes to the alcohol-covered floor. As flames leapt at the ceiling, the two hunters escaped out the door. Ignatius felt around for the stairs and tried to climb them. The only thoughts on his mind were about his son’s safety and about the fire engulfing him. He struggled past the flames, but the surges of heat wracking his body forbade him to do much more than cry out in agony. His muscles refused to move on, and he felt the heat tearing through his skin. The bright fire in his peripheral vision went on ahead to greet Joseph before the bright light was replaced by the eternal dark.


My Guitar, My Cigarette Christian Bowman My Guitar, my music my addiction, my heart my lungs, my cigarette. I strum and you burn and hum like synesthesia in a setting sun, so I hold you like hands and inhale. Your rhythm crawls down my throat like a pungi calls the cobra, and I— Choking on your melodic smoke, coughing up cacophony— I blow a fume of tunes toward the listening air and the the sky sings a raspy ballad. My guitar, my chest is swamped in a thickened marsh: you are the will-o’-the wisp. Whisper your lullaby to me my guitar—testament to my rhythm—my cigarette— verse for my breath— Send flames down to my loins as you scorch the air with your harmonic flare; I long to breathe your ember, to feel scars on my chords, dripping tar—exhaling a song that I remember.


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Lament of Lilies Kayla Marie Stockton It takes two clean fingers to force up somebody’s bad decisions and one white pill, popped in secret, to face their derision. When preparing for a hit (or a white-knuckled caress) from an unpredictable fist— root your feet, breathe, and count 1, 2, 3. 3 years, 5 months, 29 days and still counting, is how long it takes to abandon wilting amongst their graves. I gathered a million flowers and one certainty; love is only beautiful in the stillness. Otherwise, it’s about hanging on through disquieting illness.


Ode to Homelessness Walter Henry Percy Maria y Isabella D’Arensbourg

Threadbare and barren. To bare all— The haunt’d’s trap: bear’s end. The fleet foot of the fast fox still flexes, Bloodied. Sustained by Other magicks, hexes; Fangs, bared “Pray or be prey” Claws rending Concrete utterances “Tear the world asunder!” Cry not, yet howl, for Humanity: humility it plunders. Its spoils, soiled fetid lacerations: the dehumanization of Myth the democratization of Terror


u n d e r g r o u n d The hawk still soars talons outstretched Fury in flight prehistoric futurism The Eternal Hunt: furious, painted Red following the scent Spent. Down this existential Trail of Tears tearing into Me Bloodletting Letting blood devour the sea. A two-spirited nomad, many armed, armed only with dialectics. [thesis, antithesis, synthesis] “Lick thine wounds!� (rinse, wash, repeat, repent) Baptism by poverty (engulfed, enraged, subsumed, consumed) By the utter Queerness of Other.


D’Arensbourg Cleansed in the lukewarm coagulations of History still emanating that Spectre, from the bloated corpse of Empire, sustained, yet not sustainable. By economic necromancy. Accursed manifestations of Manifest Destiny. The Savage, befuddled, bewitched By His White Identity.


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The Skull-Crusher Chelsey Cashwell

A Conundrum I was sentenced to a work camp for the burning of Saint Peter’s Catholic Church. “Life Support” was a program for adolescents who “stray from the path of righteousness” that could be rehabilitated through hard work and an environment ran by Christlike individuals. To be clearer, I lucked out. The prison sentence for arson is usually between fifteen to twenty years, but because my county offered this program, I dodged a major bullet. No juvy, no nothing. The only serious issue I had with this punishment is that my sentence was based on my health and behavior. I had to be cleared not only by the doctors, but also by weekly evaluations of my overall understanding and acknowledgment of my crime via the guidance counselors, who watched the not-delinquents from the time we rose from our bunks to the time we got back in them. There was also a thing called chapel, a meeting every Wednesday where everyone prays and then has to say something, anything about themselves. There was a code to be cracked, a lock to be picked by choosing the correct words and letting down what they thought was my guard just enough to seem vulnerable. I found no logical reason to doubt my ability to worm my way out, out of there, free, with a record wiped clean by the time I turned eighteen. Life Support sat on an impressive plot of land—a hundred something acres. Tires crawling over gravel felt like a suitable introduction to my sentence. The crinkling noise of compaction paired with the jostling vehicle felt, I remember, like changes coming on like a fever. The driveway seemed miles long as the car snaked through the unbridled space, reinforcing the gaping hollow in my stomach. The landscape stretches wide and far, a reminder of what I was losing. Alone in the backseat of the cab, I thought of my mom knocking on someone’s door to convince them that their life is not only meaningful and affects others, but can one day be worth a sum with a low monthly payment. Filthy Living Our jobs were to tend to the animals in the days leading up to their deaths. We fed them a sickening amount of food every few


Cashwell hours. Those cows, heifers, gained three pounds a day from a high protein diet of soy, hay, and other grains. They stayed with us for two hundred days, and by the end of it, they were morbidly obese, weighing in at twelve hundred pounds. Each day, I awaited the fall of at least one cow to tip over and drown in its own shit and vomit. They could barely hold themselves up at the end. But still, they stood on legs that resembled those of an antique dining-room table— skinny, weak, and always expected to snap at any given moment. All day they hovered troughs of dry, earthy food snorting and breathing so heavy that brown clouds were constantly swirling all around their heads. They inhaled anything around their faces. How do they keep eating? was a question of disgust that rang in my ears every day as I would watch in horror the beasts eat themselves to sleep. Hunger is the only feeling they could have if they felt anything, but they never stopped eating long enough to have an appetite. For cows, eating is no different than blinking and breathing. Eat, sleep, shit. The only thing a cow could ever be is dinner. Only You My mom, a fierce blonde motivated only by the baby blues of her son, moves stoop to stoop every day selling life insurance and collecting payments in some of the most impoverished neighborhoods in our city. She never gets home before dark, and when I was younger, sometimes she would feel so bad for being away all day that she would take me to the playground at the church near our house. She didn’t care that it was after the hours of sunlight and all the other children were at home in bed. She would park her Bronco facing the playground and leave her headlights on to light up the jungle gym, swings, and slide. When it was time to head back to our shack down the dirt path that dead-ended at Hawthorn Ave, she would flash her headlights to signal me back to the Bronco, and I would know that play time was over. Just Animals Behind barbed wire, their eyes didn’t shy away from ours. Some of the workers thought the cows were judging them and that somehow they knew that we were the ones who fattened them up for the plates of Americans everywhere. Upon noticing the eye contact between the animals and workers, one of the counselors would always pipe up and say


u n d e r g r o u n d something along the lines of, “You have no reason to feel guilty. All the things we eat are God’s gift to man. That’s why we pray before dinner. To thank him.” But shouldn’t we be thanking the heifer since she’s the one we’re slaughtering? I always had to keep most thoughts to myself to avoid them questioning my mental health, or morality, as if they were the same thing. I saw the cows looking back just like everyone else, but I knew that cows don’t wonder. Cows don’t ask why. They are directed down dark corridors without fear. Death is not an element of life taught to cows, and these specific cows would never give birth either. Even when the heifer faces the skull-crusher, the animal will look back, eyes full of nothing. Playing With Matches They asked me if I did it on purpose. I said “no.” They asked me how I did it and I said, “Just playing with matches.” They asked me if I knew there was a person in the church. I imagined lungs losing to the smoke—a chest rising and falling from wild heaves as the black ghost invaded every hole in his head and made its way through passages leading to lungs, those poor lungs. Suffocation would end it before the fire could greet the flesh, before the flesh melted into pew. Sitting Ducks “Here at Life Support, we are one of several crucial steps in the production of beef that will be distributed all over the states. We help feed the people, but like Jesus, we give without asking for anything in return. We sacrifice and must ask for forgiveness for the reasons we are all here.” Cutting meat from our diets was the only thing the workers complained about more than scooping manure. Some of them would’ve dove head first into a pile of the stuff for a ham sandwich. Shovel and shovel, we shoveled the shit into red wheelbarrows, and like a clock, the rotation never stopped, and every day we would return to tend to the animals, still waddling in the muck, staring straight back at us with vacant eyes, but expectant—waiting to feed. A Perfect Recipe I must admit to the guilty thrill of watching that church succumb to the flames of my own teenage debauchery. I gave life to


Cashwell such a site with the toss of a match onto the trail of gasoline I poured around all sides of the house of worship. Flames, creeping up a house of a god in a web spun from my small hands. Even the justice system was impressed with my utter disregard of a god. Why else would they send me to a Christian camp? Jameson is Weak My bunkmate obsessed over the slaughterhouse before he finally lost it. He said he snuck in once. Somehow he was able to slip in when they were closing down. For a whole night, Jameson was locked in a house of the slaughtered and dead. “It was freezing,” Jameson began, “Gotta keep the meat cold. And I thought the smell would be unbearable, but it just smells like raw meat. Lots of raw meat.” Sparkling eyes and sunken in, I could see his mind taking him back to the house. “Rows and rows of hanging meat. I could tell a lot of cows didn’t bleed out all the way because their meat was redder than the others. Hanging meat was all I saw, though. No guts or anything. I traced the steps of slaughter back to the beginning. It was really just a guessing game to fill in the spaces, but parts were pretty obvious. I found the dark closed-in hallway at the entrance that leads them to a door with an opening for the head. There was a long metal bolt on the other side of the door. It gives me chills thinking about it. I just had to see it for myself.” But Jameson didn’t see shit. All he saw was finished product. He didn’t see an animal’s face when the bolt is swung between blank eyes, crushing skull. Jameson didn’t hear the tearing of skin from hide or the splat of stomach on floor after the splitting of the belly. Poor cows. Poor, dumb, fat cows—moseying aimlessly around until pointed toward death. Cow Cow here, cow there. Me cow. Smells. Food smells. Find food. Food come from others. Others not us. Cow behind wire. Others give food. Others take waste. Cow eat. Cow lay more waste. Others feed cow and take more waste. Cow eat. Cow lay waste. Cow sleep. Others take cow for walk. Where cow? Cow eats. Cow waits turn. Cow eats until turn. Others take cow. Cow walks. Dark. Cow walks in dark. Cow lost.


u n d e r g r o u n d The House We were forbidden to go near the slaughterhouse, but my imagination took me there every evening when I retired to my bunk. Jameson was sent to isolation after getting caught sneaking in a second time, but I didn’t see him after that, which made me think about the house even more. That was when I was certain this type of punishment had no effect on me. I didn’t think about myself, or my mom. I didn’t write back to her. I missed her too much for comfort. So, I ignored it altogether. The smell of manure was constant. The smell from the house either came in wafts and disappeared, or maintained a stink for the entire day. Some days, the stink was worse than others. I could smell it in my bunk. I knew the other workers could smell it, but they didn’t want to acknowledge the house. They didn’t want to admit to being any part of the slaughter. We had everything to do with it, but we were not the undertakers. And All I Saw was Black I never understood what separated us from the cows. How could we prescribe meaning to our lives when the lives of our prey clearly have none? There are no ceremonies for the prey; no prayers for their souls, no sending off into the next life, no celebration of life lived. We move around from box to box carrying out the duties of our small lives. But what does any of this mean if it all dead-ends into a dark hallway leading to nothing? I don’t pity the cows—I envy them. They live their whole lives without regarding its end even though it has been their destiny from the beginning—a beating heart with no purpose but to keep pumping until they get their turn. They feel nothing at death, and they leave the world in silence. I Am Not a Vegetarian Cows are seemingly pensive animals. They watched us fill their troughs and shovel behind them, staring as if trying to read our thoughts. I kept count of the days I was there. The closer I got to the slaughter, the more I thought about the cows and where they were going. Hooves soon-to-be-snipped would squish through the shit toward the slaughterhouse pen. A hunk of an animal and all its bulges would move through the corridor. Keeping the animal calm prior to death is detrimental to the meat’s tenderness. Even after the throat is slit, the meat will retain more blood if a cow experiences any stress before death. Munching cud with the tongue that would soon


Cashwell dangle from an upside-down head, the animal is faced, innocent as a newborn, with the Skull-Crusher. Of course, the end is still far from near. The belly of the animal is gouged open, and the pink intestines encased in a clear membrane plop on the floor. After the animal has bled out, the velvety coat is stripped from pink meat and muscle. Then, the beheading. Again, no ritual, no ceremony for this moment that should be sacrificial. The head is clipped from the muscular neck as easily as a dying bud on a stem. The Playing Field For once in my life, I wanted forgiveness for the wrongs I had done. I needed to hold the head of the gentlest giant close to my face, to apologize. I needed to see the eyes, clear and black. I needed to feel, feel velvet soaked in blood, feel the weight of the belly I stuffed with grain for two hundred days. I had grown to love those senseless animals. Never in my life have I ever felt so guilty. I committed a crime worthy of cruel and unusual punishment. Those cows were there for the slaughter, gluttony being their only crime. So, I decided one night after the floodlights blinked to signal lights out, that I would even the score. The Guilt Over the course of my time in any place, I have always found ways to acquire things. Earning trust is as simple as saying “good morning” to the right person every day and maybe knowing when that person leaves his office to go to lunch. I was able to lead Father Cudi to the conclusion that I confided in him the same way I would the father I never had. We had conversations that sometimes lasted more than an hour long. During that time, on occasion, he would go to the restroom, and while he was using the can, I would search his drawers for anything that might prove to be useful. I only had to do this twice before discovering Father’s moonshine sitting in the same drawer as a pack of cigarettes and matches. I saved these items just in case I felt like stirring the pot, but I hadn’t planned on using them to burn down the slaughterhouse, no, not then at least. It was time that aided in my decision to destroy the house. Time with the cows, time with the ubiquitous stench. There was a change in me. Living in such close radius to the slaughtering of innocents was not a punishment. Punishment, for me, usually ruled out any possibility for guilt, but this time, I couldn’t shake the guilt. I had to make it right.


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The Slaughter After staying up all night a few nights in a row, I was able to learn that my residence counselor tried to keep watch, but did so poorly, which is probably how Jameson was able to sneak out of our bunk twice without being noticed until much later. I took advantage of this, but only to check out the area surrounding the slaughterhouse. I knew a pint of moonshine wasn’t enough for what I was trying to pull off. I had to get creative, so I searched for any wire around the house, and sure enough, there were a few running from the house to a generator right outside. Jackpot. That wasn’t all, though. I overheard one of the workers, one of the smarter ones who never would shut-up, talking about the dangers of constantly inhaling the fumes from manure. Methane. I remember hearing something about it and how it’s flammable. So, I just made sure there was plenty of the stuff around the area of ignition. From a Prison Cell I slipped away while everyone was at lunch in the mess hall. I learned a route a few weeks before that went around our building and led to the house that was occupied by no counselors during that time. I learned these things by observation, but mostly out of boredom. It didn’t take very long to memorize the clockwork of the place well enough to get away with stuff. I had patience, though. I waited until slaughter day when the house was full of employees and cows. In one, singular moment of divine equality, I watched as the house of horror wailed a song of perfect murder as it shot up in flames. I rigged the wires so that they would react with a little heat from the matches and fuel from the moonshine. Finally, my mischief meant something—it had purpose. I was convicted, at age fifteen, for the premeditated murder of several people, along with arson and animal cruelty charges on top of the charges for burning the church, since I didn’t complete the Life Support program. It was the perfect crime to go down for. It stood for something. For once, the Skull-Crushers, the undertakers faced death side-by-side, equal with the animals. No one is superior and no one deserves life or death. It is merely a hand that is dealt, and you either win or lose. I’ll never forget seeing people running out of the house, consumed by flame, flailing their arms and screaming for someone to help them, as if anyone could help them.


The Garden of Eden T. Joshua Ruby The Wanderer emerged from the forest and approached the dried riverbed. He stopped at the shallow ditch and gazed worriedly at the sickly stream crawling along the bottom. Wiping the sweat from his brow, he fell to a knee and waited for Nero to catch up. Far away, thunder crackled as black storm clouds tumbled toward the riverbed. The Wanderer grimaced and looked over his shoulder to the tree line. “C’mon boy.” Nero padded up to The Wanderer’s side, his tongue hanging from his mouth and his tail wagging behind him. The Wanderer kneeled down and ran his hand through the short hair on Nero’s back. “Tell me where she is, Nero,” he said, pulling a piece of tattered cloth from his shirt pocket. Nero tore away and barked back at the tree line. The Wanderer grabbed him by the collar. “Hey – right here boy – right here,” he said, shaking the cloth. Nero broke free and turned around again. “Nero, what is up with you?” “I think it’s me that’s got him all worked up,” said a voice from behind. The Wanderer immediately drew the pistol from his side and spun to face the voice. The intruder was a man in his late twenties, clad in dirty jeans and a worn button-up. His face was coated in soot and his long brown hair was greasy and tangled. He looked miserable. “I don’t mean no harm,” the intruder said, raising his hands. The Wanderer eyed him with suspicion. “Get lost,” he said, keeping his pistol level with the intruder’s head. “I heard you talking back there,” the intruder said, motioning to the forest with a nod. “You’re lookin’ for a girl, right? I saw a girl less than an hour ago.” The Wanderer’s face tightened. The intruder swallowed and lowered his arms a bit. “My name’s Reese – please don’t shoot me. I can show you which way she went if you want.” The Wanderer studied Reese for a moment longer before lowering his gun. Reese’s arms fell to his sides and he breathed a sigh


u n d e r g r o u n d of relief as The Wanderer returned his pistol to its holster. “Shoot, mister, I thought you might actually do it.” “Just show me where she went.” “Sure thing mister! Right this way…right this way,” Reese said moving along the bank of the stream. “She ran up this way…I followed her for a little bit.” The Wanderer let Reese stay a few steps ahead and never took his sight off of him. Nero rubbed against his side and whined softly. A flurry of ash began to descend upon them, the flakes catching on their eyelashes and in their hair like snow. “I wouldn’t drink this water…surface water ain’t too clean no more,” Reese said looking back at The Wanderer. Then he added embarrassedly, “But you probably know that. You made it this long anyway.” The Wanderer was silent. Reese paused for a respectful window of response time before he continued. “So you some kind of law?” Still, The Wanderer said nothing. “Hey mister?” “What?” “You some kind of law?” “Used to be.” Reese smiled satisfactorily. “I knew it. You got the walk. Plus the way you whipped out that gun was…well it reminded me of before the bombs.” Reese pointed down the stream to an old wooden bridge. The bridge was simple, nothing special. Planks of old dark wood stretched in an arc over the sickly, ashy stream. “So…well…I saw her cross this bridge up here…say, you know it’s dangerous to be out here alone. You must know this girl to be doing something like this.” Reese neglected to use the handrails as he crossed over the bridge, preferring to hold out his arms for balance instead of gripping the chipped and splintering handles. The Wanderer followed him onto the bridge with caution. Nero barked. “Reese?” The Wanderer said, pausing at the center of the bridge. “Yeah?” “Why are you alone?” “Oh…” Reese said as he looked around uncomfortably, “I’m not.” The Wanderer reached for his gun as the men came from the


Ruby woods on both sides of the bridge. They were armed with simple weapons – clubs, hammers, sticks – and were just as dirty and every bit as miserable looking as Reese. Nero snarled as one of the men tried to step onto the bridge. “Just give us the gun,” Reese said. The Wanderer shook his head. One of the men rushed onto the bridge and Nero leapt at him. The Wanderer fired. The men scattered. The Wanderer fired again. Reese’s knees gave out under him and he fell to the ground, crimson flowers bursting into bloom across his chest. The Wanderer let his hand fall to his side and he descended to the opposite bank. Reese reached up weakly at him as The Wanderer walked past. The Wanderer whistled over his shoulder to Nero, who was crouched over a man lying facedown on the bank. Nero looked up, red dripping from his chin and rushed to The Wanderer. Using his sleeve to wipe the blood from Nero’s mouth, The Wanderer slipped the tattered cloth out of his pocket once again. “Show me where she is, boy,” he said softly. Nero sniffed at the cloth, rubbed his nose gently around the bridge, picked up a trace and started off into the woods. Behind him The Wanderer momentarily looked up at the storm clouds. Then he too disappeared into the woods. *** Olivia and Roach trailed the rest of the group, treading wordlessly through the dense woods. Olivia’s hiking boots sank into the bed of dried leaves and ash like it was quicksand. She pushed through a cluster of prickly shrubs, her exposed forearms emerging with shallow gashes. The wind swept unchallenged through the naked trees, but barely ruffled her short, jagged brown hair. She pulled her wool blanket tighter around her, draped like a shawl. Thunder crackled in the distance. Olivia had crossed through these woods many times before, but it was different now. The dying trees cast long jagged shadows, their edges biting into the ground. Fewer animals roamed now, mostly smaller game, things that could scamper and crawl and climb – squirrel, rabbit, possum. Thunder boomed again. “Let’s stop here for a rest,” Roach called up to the group. The others assented and plopped themselves down in the leaves. There were seven members in total, including herself. Olivia still hadn’t learned all their names; she was bad with names. Jaxin, Maxwell and


u n d e r g r o u n d Axel were the three brothers. She remembered them collectively as the Jax-Max-Axe. Then there was Roach and the other two men were…she couldn’t remember. Something common, like John or Jack or something. She didn’t feel bad about not knowing their names. It wasn’t like they talked to her much – plus she hadn’t even been with them very long yet. In fact, now that she thought about it, it had only been three days since Jaxin had found her on the side of the highway with her foot caught in the jaws of a bear trap. Where you headed, boy? I don’t know. What’s your name, boy? Oli, she had lied. Let’s play pretend, she had thought. She didn’t know these men. It would be better if they didn’t know her. At that point, Roach had stepped forward. “Well, Oli…you look like you’re in a bit of a pinch,” he had said, kneeling down to her eye-level. “So tell you what: you give me that crucifix around your neck and we’ll get you out of that clamp on your foot. Sound good?” He had been talking about the necklace around her neck, a cross hanging from a simple golden chain. She had been hesitant, but Roach had held his hand up as if he was in court. “Honest,” he had said. Roach was wearing it now, the golden cross hanging over a white t-shirt exposed between the flaps of his unzipped leather jacket. Olivia studied him without staring. He was on the descending side of life’s bell-curve, well past his peak, but not quite feeble just yet. Grizzly stubble sprouted along his strong jaw line and his long white hair was swept away from the brow. His nose was crooked from the fights of his youth and his eyes were a sharp green. Even though the skin along his brow had started to crease and the flesh below his eyes had begun to sink, he looked like he might have been handsome once. Olivia imagined him sitting against the same tree in the leaves and ash, but younger with jet-black hair and piercing eyes in a black-andwhite photograph. Olivia wondered what she looked like now. She hadn’t seen herself in a mirror since before the bombs – how many months was that? Two? Three? “We should keep moving,” Jaxin said, eyeing the storm in the distance. He stood, hefting his hunting rifle to his shoulder. Olivia figured Jaxin was sort of the leader of the group. He was capable, but intense. One time Jack or John had left a backpack full of food at the previous night’s campsite. Jaxin had screamed and pounced on


Ruby Jack (or maybe it was John) and hit him again and again until Roach tore him off. No one ever told Jaxin what to do, but he was always telling other people what to do. Isn’t that what being in charge meant? Sometimes Roach made decisions, but that was usually only when it came to the roads. Roach was good at that sort of thing. The group pulled themselves to their feet and continued on through the forest same as before, Olivia and Roach in the back, everyone else up front. Olivia was all right with this formation, as Roach seemed less inclined to subjugate her to crude humor like the others did. He was not without his peculiarities though. She would catch him staring at her sometimes, sometimes when they were walking together, sometimes at night across the fire. There was no perverse intent or a desire to exploit in his eyes though, only a look of longing, as if he had lost something, misplaced something precious to him. He looked at her like her mother had, before the world was like this. With her boyish haircut and androgynous dress, Olivia was not the daughter her mother had dreamed of. Her mother already had three sons and to her Olivia had been the one and only shot at a daughter. But from an early age, Olivia had been something of a disappointment to her mother. She had fallen into the footsteps of her brothers and, consequently, fell short of her mother’s expectations. When she was younger, she would be outside with her brothers building forts in the woods instead of playing with the daughters of her mother’s book club friends. When she got older, she cut her hair and took up archery, something her mother quietly disapproved of. Her mother never actually said anything about her disappointment to Olivia, but she would surprise her with ribbons for her hair, new dresses for church, a pair of pink rain boots. They all went unused. Olivia would overhear her mother conveying her dismay to her father, who assured her it was just a phase. I just wanted a girl, her mother would say in despair. But Olivia didn’t want to be a boy. She didn’t want to not be a girl. She didn’t want to be anything but Olivia. Or Oli, for the time being. Thunder crackled overhead. Black storm clouds slopped frothily in the distance, rolling towards them. The black veil shuddered and released a burst of blue tendrils that snaked to the ground and left blue motes swirling in the wake. “Isn’t it beautiful?” Roach said suddenly.


u n d e r g r o u n d “Is what beautiful?” Olivia asked. “The storm. Ever seen one of them up this close before?” Olivia shook her head. “Storms weren’t like this before. Nuclear tempest is what it is. Hope to God it misses us,” Roach said. He was holding the crucifix tightly in one hand. “Are you Christian?” Olivia asked. Roach smiled. “I’m superstitious.” They decided to make camp for the night and the Jax-MaxAxe set about making a fire. Jack and John made dinner, which was something from a can, while Roach and Olivia sat on a log by the fire. They ate in silence. There was little to talk about besides the storm, but no one wanted to talk about that. As the others prepared their beds for the night, Olivia curled up in her sleeping bag next to the orange glow of the fire and thought how much she missed her bland little one-story home. Her brothers had all shared a room, but she had been given her own (her mother’s idea) to herself. It wasn’t much, but it was separation, solitude. She was alone now, a stranger in a group of strangers, but it wasn’t the same. She missed the escape to solitude; it was different being consumed by it. A twig snapped behind her. Olivia swiveled instinctively. It was Roach, coming out from the woods. He saw Olivia and sat down on the log next to her, his knees popping as he lowered himself. Olivia let herself sink deeper into her sleeping bag. She watched him distrustfully as he picked up something unseen. “I had a daughter once,” Roach said, prodding the fire with a stick. He looked up thoughtfully at the brewing storm. “She was beautiful.” Olivia sat up a bit. “What was her name?” “Eve.” “The first woman?” Olivia asked. Roach laughed, but it sounded sad. “Yes.” “Did you lose her before or after?” “Before.” “I’m sorry,” Olivia said. Roach bit the inside of his cheek. “Yeah,” he sighed, looking away. He shook his head and the firelight danced across his features. “What happened?” she asked, but immediately regretted. Roach’s mouth twitched and his eyes fell on some distant point within him. He let the stick fall from his hand into the fire and


Ruby then he began. “When Eve was born, I was aimless. I was hanging around a bad group of guys. I spent more time with them than my family. I thought I could separate the two: who I needed to be at home and who I was around the people I thought were my friends, but I couldn’t. I came home drunk every night. Some nights I didn’t make it home. Eventually my wife started locking me out, so I would lie down on the porch and tell myself I’d get my life together in the morning. I told myself that every night until my wife left me two years later. She took Eve with her and she never left an address or number or anything. I guess I could have hunted her down, but for what? To drive all the way to Washington, Oregon, Arizona or wherever she went just so she could tell me to my face I couldn’t see my daughter? To see another man, a better me, standing in the doorway behind her? No, no. A man can’t take that.” He fell silent, then added, “Not that it matters anymore,” he said, motioning to the dying forest. Roach sighed. “The point of this story, Oli, is that some things are worth giving up for what’s really wholesome – that if the little things aren’t adding up to the one big thing, then, eventually they take away from it.” The crackling of the fire filled in the silence as both of them looked on at the leaping flames. Some time passed before Roach spoke again. “You’d better get to sleep. We’ve got our work cut out for tomorrow.” He retired to his own tattered blue sleeping bag and left Olivia to wonder where Eve was now and what she was doing and if she was happy. Olivia closed her eyes and dreamed of a little girl trapped in the open, wandering aimlessly forever. They woke early next morning and started off towards the highway. Roach and Jaxin argued where to go after that. Roach said Florida, Jaxin said St. Louis. Olivia knew this was an excuse to get the group out west; she had heard Jaxin talking about going to California. The fallout won’t be as bad in Florida, Roach argued. St. Louis may have not even been bombed, Jaxin countered. In the end, Roach won and they began their way to the I-65, Jaxin grumbling the whole time. Olivia didn’t mind either way. She had never been to a beach, besides Lake Michigan, (some people said that didn’t count) and she just wanted to see waves – rolls and rolls of blue shades and white foam. Before the bombs she had a picture on her desk of her father as a child at the beach. In the photo, her father stood up to his knees in the ocean, a sly smile on his face and his childhood dog and best


u n d e r g r o u n d friend, Caesar, bounding in the waters behind him. “Do you think the beach will still be there?” she asked Roach. Today they were walking ahead of the rest of the group. “Why wouldn’t it be?” Olivia looked up at the ash swirling like snow and shrugged. “Because everything’s changed.” “The changes are just cosmetic,” Roach said. “There still is constancy in this world, Oli. Things change, yes, but things change to stay the same.” Roach shed his jacket and threw it over his shoulder. He rolled up his shirtsleeves to the elbow and for the first time Olivia saw his colored arms, marked with roses and skulls and fire. “As long as man walks the Earth, some things will never change.” “How do you know?” “That’s just the way – ” “Hold up there just a minute,” The Wanderer said, descending onto the road from the surrounding woods, pistol high and Nero just ahead of him. Olivia’s heart dipped like a drop on a roller coaster. Roach stopped easily without alarm. Jaxin and the others rushed forward, their hunting rifles raised. “Hand over the gun, pal” Jaxin said. The Wanderer dismissed him. “All I want is my daughter.” Everyone except Roach turned to Olivia with a new curiosity. “What are you willing to give for her?” Jaxin asked. The Wanderer’s eyes narrowed. Roach stepped between them, the crucifix around his neck catching the last light of the dulled sun as it disappeared behind the clouds. “Relax, Jaxin. No need to wrangle fellas. We can work this out,” he said waving his hand. “Where you headed?” Roach asked, turning to The Wanderer. “South,” The Wanderer said reluctantly, “To the gulf.” “We’re headed south too,” Roach said, bobbing his head. “He’s not coming with us,” Jaxin said to Roach. Then to The Wanderer: “You’re not coming with us.” “All I want is my daughter.” “Give us your gun and we’ll give you your daughter,” Jaxin said. “I don’t trust you.” Thunder crackled overhead, the storm nearly upon them. Nero barked furiously.


Ruby “He doesn’t mean it as a trade,” Roach said to The Wanderer. “He just –” “I know damn well what I mean,” Jaxin said. “Look if you don’t give us the gun we’ll kill you and take it anyway. Doesn’t mean a damn thing to me.” “We will give you your daughter back,” Roach said, turning to The Wanderer. “I don’t trust you.” Roach held up his hand. “Honest.” “I don’t have time for this,” Jaxin grumbled. “Choose now.” Roach looked at The Wanderer, his eyes swirling crystal balls to the past. “Please – just give him the gun.” Roach led the men south, parallel to the storm. The clouds were traveling diagonally. With any luck, it would pass behind them. Roach paused to catch his breath. He put his hands on his hips, his jacket sides pushed back, a silver revolver holstered at his side.


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I found a spoon E.E. Sands I found a spoon in a fork in the road, so I decided to walk backwards, because why choose one and ignore the other? So I walked and I walked. I walked up the river and down the bend, I walked through nights and days with no beginning, middle or end. As the years went by me, they formed an arc in front of my eyes. I walked past the crawling years as my feet grew slow and tired. Eventually I walked right past birth, and you know what happened? No darkness like I thought there would be, but only a single step between my last breath and my first. Then I saw death and a bright light ahead, so I kept walking through second childhood and over countless forks in the road. I walked over so many forks, my feet felt like tenderloins. I kept walking and I wound up where I had started again. I found a spoon in a fork in the road, so I decided to walk backwards, because why choose one and ignore the other?


Justus Now Shae Edman Temporal garment, back to soil, lies baking in the sun Life long enough to see the privileged skin of west and the origin of its creation, the dermal after effect of the war of want Skin, the largest organ of my existence, burned for peace is slipped the effervescent particles that lay on the feet of free-dumb pools of fluoride saliva leak into the ashes of thought stored in bodies, revere bodies Lionize the protagonist of consumption the heart of its beast, Chromium The River of remission nix commission bought at the price of your neighbor’s eye when will the opinion of eternity ratify? you are eternal too produced by our blood but asked not to speak the driver should be killed in es sleep but poison hand spring back again constrict innocence to a corner where its strength becomes incapable of picking up a pen I feel for you Silence is the death of aversion abraded but taped shut peace be written out of existence, evolution past justus now Mother, female capital, is making your clothes while you live in quarters I live the day to day


u n d e r g r o u n d her body rots I don’t need your product its not worth her production The chemicals used to dye the farmer husband grow unwelcomingly from my own cells patient mind, tumor begot never again to see the harvest


Call of the Wild Christian Bowman I’ve learned to speak like shallow rivers; to whisper with the flow Enough to nurse the world to sleep, I feed and watch it grow I’ve grown to see like hungry owls; to pierce the pitch black night. I’ll spot a prey from yards away, yet day is made for flight I’ve had to feel like filthy mud: the footprints, paws, and claws. Still the insects dwell in me and I can feel them crawl. I’m forced to smell the putrid stench of dirt pits filled with shit. The seasons change through sun and rain and flowers cover it. And yes I’ve heard the nature’s cry, its sound has no disguise, but ‘til that sun shine in my eyes, I’ve yet to learn to rise.


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Charity Charles C. Bailey I met a man today, Devoid of most of his teeth, And hope’s expired scent Billowing around him, He still found strength to smile And trudge among the living With exhausted feet. I envisioned a shorter reflection In the morsels of optimism That were his eyes: One of the Talented Tenth Was struggling against Destitution, Wilting potential And pyrrhic sacrifice In his irises. And yet, After all I’d seen there, In my finite wisdom Untapped talent, Solitude and pennilessness, I gave him a dollar.


Spitting Ammunition SC i have a bullet in my teeth and haven’t slept in weeks don’t know how to burn the past away but i know how to grow something more for better or worse god i grow when i think of you i never really do it’s only ever my “you” and when i wake up i think i might be growing and god i grow you may regret going along with a life you never really wanted and loving someone you never really could but i regret that someone told you a child was something you had when you had nothing better to do the day we celebrate people like you passed last night and i couldn’t remember that last time i spoke to you and knew you loved me i have a bullet in my teeth and i can’t burn the past away any better than i can forget it when i swallow my matchsticks i feel myself changing into something brighter and louder and oh god i grow


u n d e r g r o u n d Robin’s Egg Rachel Ponce de Leon Robby I rooted for you: Your karst terra face, the greasy beanie slung over curls hung like strips of dried meat over rampant eyebrows over those living bright pools (like the flesh of a blue mango). You did look like Nemo, grown after years lost wandering thru mushroom wilderness in Slumberland, left taller, quieter, against the odds. Robby I rooted for you, over and over until I did not know it was over. It felt too honest to look at you, as if we had ever touched. Everything in me, (the heartburn, the swallow of sex, the felled statue of an emperor crushed across my guts) churned in the air between us. I was already showing teeth when you did, drifting off on a raft with my number cut in strands of algae on the underside.


Then or Now Eric Mann In such a description, in such a pretty place, you’ve taken me back to summer nights—to childhood—to the porch light spotlight. To the humid orange glow, lighting a stage of plastic toys— of fast cars racing among little soldiers, and gruesome battles between green and tan. Between good and evil. And all the in-betweens which are never understood. Then or now.


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Text Messages to Myself E. E. Sands

I’m the kind of person that talks to himself more than others. My generation is so beautiful. We carry around mirrors so we can stare at ourselves all day. Why not just stare at each other? Everyone is more beautiful in a mirror. And staring is rude. There is nothing lonelier than a large crowd. As Uncle Ricardo used to say, problems are the salt of life. For him, problems were the salt around the margarita glass. I spend too much time reading stuff on my phone when I should be reading my environment instead. In a country where there are more houses than people, why must so many sleep on the streets? Happiness is…

Waffle House at 2 AM

Riding your bike downhill

Surviving a double shift

I write to make sense of the space between the words. Every thought and every action has brought me here. Every thought and every action has brought you here. When I write this, I am me, but when you read this, we become one together and separate from ourselves. All people are artists and life is our medium. I’m nostalgic for memories I’ve never had, I yearn to return to places I’ve never been. But I’ve felt them, I’ve seen them. They’re faded photographs in my soul and my mind. Everyone wants something. But no one can have everything they want. A wife dying before her husband is always sadder than a husband dying before his wife. A husband is the shooting star that is gone as soon as it arrives. A wife is the perennial sun around which everything revolves. Shooting stars are nice for wishes, but without the sun, everything dies. In my experience, voting is like sugar. It tastes good, but as soon as it dissolves in my mouth, I am no better off than I was before. Freedom from worry is a dare to dream, a dare to dream is to think positively, and to think positively is to make your dreams reality.