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The University of the Arts Pre-College Summer Institute 2017 Creative Writing Journal Writing is a many splendored vocation. A story, essay, script, comic, or poem is more than a collection of words expressing a thought or adventure — each is a tool for exhibiting structured meaning. Creative writing serves to draw connections between ideas, discussing what it means to be a human being in the world by showing the similarities of experience and emotion inherent in all people, bridging of the vast gulf of perceived differences. Contained within these pages are the efforts of our 2017 Pre-College Summer Institute Creative Writing students. Each bright, young student came with their own ideas regarding what writing is or should be. Rather than fixing or changing these notions, we worked hard to expand our horizons of language, structure, form, and genre, typically with surprising and delightful results. Many of these efforts follow here. Enjoy!

Creative Writing Coordinator Pre-College Summer Institute The University of The Arts




Director, Pre-College Programs BFA ‘04 The University of the Arts Photography MA ‘11 The University of the Arts Art Education SHANNON GINGELL

Assistant Director, Pre-College Programs WILLIAM DEBUONO

Program Assistant, Pre-College Programs







The Happy Project

The Man at the Mouth of the Cave

To the First





My Project, Your Project, The Project


Beauty or Insecurity


A Summer Love Despair







Peace With the Past

Cycle 1



This Poem Is Cool Because I Wrote It With Only The Letters In My Name White






The Things You’ve Missed



Mother’s Love

Short Skirts and Glasses

Decapitated Duck






Some Thoughts on Eyes


To Skeet or Not to Skeet: Shakespeare Meets Lil Jon



The Thing with the Guy and the Puppet that Uses Flashbacks



Characters: Narrator Man Woman Matchmaker Old Man


[SCENE ONE] The stage is dimly lit by a single large fluorescent light in the middle of the ceiling. Centerstage is a simple table with two chairs, where a Man and a Woman are sitting still, facing each other on opposite sides. There is a simple bed, a simple closet, a simple sink, and a simple toilet in the corners of the stage, but no visible door. There is a constant, unnervingly loud ticking from an invisible clock. A single bright spotlight is on the Narrator, who is front stage. Narrator (To the audience) I am your Narrator. As your Narrator, I do not have a name, and am quite irrelevant to this story. (He smiles widely, an expression that will stay on his face until further notice.) Welcome to The Happy Project. Man What the hell’s going on? I was… I was— can’t a man get his burger in peace? (Noticing the woman in front of him, he points a finger accusingly) Are YOU a part of this? 4

Woman (She shakes her head vigorously, unable to speak.) Man Well I’ll be damned. (He puts his head in his hands.) Narrator And that— Matchmaker (An invisible voice booms from the speakers. Tonelessly) HELLO. (Man and Woman jump from their seats.) Narrator — is the Matchmaker, the heart (or should I say voice? Haha.) of The Happy Project. Matchmaker welcome to the happy project, a federal operation newly devised for your happiness. (Cue cheesy sound effect, the sort of music you would hear at the end of a poorly made advertisement.) Woman The g-g-government? Man (Quickly recovering, he slams his hands on the table.) Federal operation my ass! D-DON’T FUCK WITH ME!

Matchmaker (In a slightly threatening tone) please sit down. this is for your happiness. (Woman immediately sits.) Man (He flinches, then drags the chair loudly to sit down, putting his head in his hands again.) ...What is this... Matchmaker the happy project is a federal operation newly devised for your happiness. Man


Man (Bursting into nervous laughter) What, so, like, the higher ups want us to fall in… fall in love? Is that what this is? You’ve got to be fucking kidding me with this bullshit, man— Matchmaker far from it. love is the greatest human condition. Woman (In horror.) I don’t even know him—! Man (Interrupting Woman in a louder voice) Look. I’ve got a girl waiting at home for me—

(Breaking the silence) I th-think he means (she clears her throat) um, I think he means, like, why—



( jumping up again) what— WHO— WHY SHOULD I BEL—

excellent question. we, the government, have discovered that happiness levels in our nation have reached a critical low. happiness positively correlates with work efficiency, population growth, worker satisfaction, and overall societal functioning. through further research we have determined the potential factor of its desired increase. Woman (Silence.) Um, so what— Matchmaker love.

she is awaiting marriage in a relationship far more compatible.


... (he stays silent, his expression hidden in his hands, giving a deep sigh.)

(A profound silence falls in the room. The two victims look at each other, paralyzed, as the realization sinks in.)


Matchmaker jake. Man (After a few moments of comprehension, he slides into his seat in a bemused expression.) I… no goddam way, no… ( he whimpers.) Matchmaker allow me to explain the rules of this project. you will live here. food and water will be provided on a daily basis. violence will result in 5

automatic failure. we will release you once we are satisfied with your progress. when released, you may not leave alone.

really. I suppose that’s the meaning of life, that secret to happiness you all think you know and dream of. Love is truly the greatest illus—

The lights abruptly change to an intense, saturated red so only the figures and vague movements of Man and Woman are shown. As the following monologue is delivered, actors of Man and Woman should freely move about the room in silent form and interaction. Spotlight on the Narrator.

(He stops himself, smile frozen unnaturally on his face. Man and Woman also freeze in place simultaneously with the Narrator.)


Narrator (To the audience, still smiling) I apologize if any of you felt uncomfortable or perhaps distressed by the Matchmaker’s— ah— questionable tone of voice. The Happy Project aims to effectively utilize stress-inducing factors to draw cortisol, a nausea-inducing hormone that allows vulnerability to romantic attraction. That’s not all. (Quickly) By isolating the two subjects, the chance of interaction is increased. Humans are social animals. We crave communication, regardless of the situation. Interaction leads to eye contact. At the first moment, the pupils dilate, causing stimulation of the autonomic nervous system’s sympathetic branch. Oxytocin. Conscience melts. Vasopressin. The desire to possess. Adrenaline. The blood boils. Norepinephrine. The heart pounds. Dopamine. The mind elates. The slightest touch becomes a taste for addiction, an obsession for more... ...And that’s love. (He chuckles.) That’s all there is to it, and this project, 6

Narrator (His smile is erased. He is scared. Quietly, to himself ) I’m getting ahead of myself. (Back to original volume and smile, in a forcefully high, singsong voice) and the two lived (All together!) HAAAAAAPPILY EVER AFTER! Cue cheesy music used in the beginning of the play. Man and Woman begin to dance passionately onstage, and the Narrator turns to face them, back to the audience, clapping joyfully to the beat. Abruptly the stage blacks out and the music stops, leaving only the clapping and the ticking of the clock, which are now evident to be perfectly synchronized. The clapping suddenly stops, leaving only the ticking, which continues to the next scene. [SCENE TWO] The lights turn back on, this time an intense yellow. The Narrator is missing. An Old Man is sitting on one chair; the other chair is empty. Old Man Where…? Oh never mind; I know where this is. Matchmaker welcome to the happy project. as there is no doubt you know of our procedures, we will refrain from introduction.

Old Man

Old Man

(Coldly) Yes, I’ve heard of your good deeds to our children. In fact, I think I’ve heard quite enough.

(Abruptly stops laughing) New?

(Silence.) What business do you have with an old man like me anyway? I thought I’d been pretty, ahh, happy, nowadays. Matchmaker

Old Man (Stunned, he sits in silence for a few moments, then bursts out in laughter.) AHAHAHAHA WHEEE AGHAHAHACK— cough cough— AHAHAHA AHHH (His frail body is trembling from the fit.) Matchmaker (Pleased that the man is joyful) we wish to give you every happiness and a new, young companion animal that we, through extensive research, are sure will increase your happiness.

a replacement to your past animal companion, that, due to its long period of use, has surely hindered your happiness and work efficiency. please, do not worry; the replacement is a younger identical, and the past companion has been euthan— put to sleep peacefully. Old Man (He whimpers, which escalates to another laughing fit, more intense than before.) Matchmaker (Confused, in a slightly menacing tone) why do you continue to laugh? would you like a replacement for your wife inst— Old Man


far from it. it has come to our attention that your work efficiency as a park maintenance worker has reached a critical low, which we believe is sourced from your levels of happiness. we understand that the compatibility and happiness of your marriage may have been compromised by the infertility of your wife. as she has recently passed, we wish to give you the happiness that you deserve, a valuable target of this project. the state of your well-being is of our utmost priority.


(Still laughing, with tears now) BECAUSE I’M JUST FUCKING JOYFUL, OKAY? I HAVE NO REGRETS BECAUSE I HAVE CHERISHED. EVERY. SADNESS. Here, let me tell you in on something funny: I was thinking, while cleaning, you know, doing my work inefficiently, when I thought— when I suddenly realized, “All I see are leaves! All I hear are strangers! I’ve done this long enough to know the voices come from the leaves, the way they brag about how wonderful their trip on that wind was, how if they knew they would be crunched under feet they would have never decided to take that wind in the first place! Sometimes I look up and see people on the benches and know the voices aren’t theirs: because they stop, and the people’s eyes glaze over me, 7

like marble, like—like machines, terrible machines, twisted lips whooshing in and out, unfolding winds the leaves will follow, the leaves that I, MAN-WHOWILL-NOT-CRUNCH-UNDER-FEET, WILL— Blackout. The lights quickly return, and the Old Man is lying on the floor, visibly dead. The clock is still ticking.

Matchmaker (The voice sighs in its first sign of emotion, like an oddly mechanical wheeze. To the audience) as you leave, please remember: welcome to the happy project. The voice clicks off; after a few moments, the ticking also stops. Fade out on the empty stage with the body of the Old Man. He is the last of his generation. END

To the First

after Frank Sherlock


Forget the quiet child & the shaking mother. Forget colonialism. Forget starvation. Forget starvation of justice. Forget the Ferry. Forget the witch who kept a puppet. Forget the puppet that destroyed your waters. Forget the Fever that hunts your daughters. Forget that they reduced you to two layers: spectacles & skin. Forget that they gave you yellow skin, buck teeth, a micropenis, and a mouth twisted shut. Forget the whore with the torch. Forget the red scare. Forget the witch hunts of the red scare. Forget the family you left in the North. Forget the history they have burned. Forget the doves you burned alive. Forget generations Forget everything you couldn’t touch Forget your name & 8

Become nationalist. Become isolationist. Become a lawyer. Become a doctor. Become the parent that tells their children to become a lawyer or a doctor. Or both. Become scared to order at Dunkin Donuts. Become scared to teach your own children. Become foreign to your own children. Become an apology. Become part of the bubble that keeps you secluded and safe Become the bubble

& over time


Remember 1945.

Remember the Red Devils. Remember the Miracle on the Han River.


Remember the lawyer who defended you.

Remember the sea of candles and the tides you made. Remember everything you came for. Remember the spirit that never left you. Remember to rest once in awhile. Remember Arirang. Remember your children, not just their salaries. Remember to have pride in yourself, not just your blood. Remember you are part of everything you are.




Knitting stitches Folding them over, under, and through. Tugging the string up and away Repeat. Repeat. Repeat till it is done Stitches tug through yarn, through thread, through skin Repeat the process, go again, and again Folding them over, under, and through It’s comforting to have repetition, sometimes I’m making a scarf I’m trying to relearn the skill Repeat the motion My fingers move without me knowing if I’m right or wrong Folding them over, under, and through I can’t get them done right The stitches are too loose You can’t repeat. Start over Yarn and blood spill over the needle Folding them over, under, and through. Tugging the string up and away Repeat. Repeat.



Will is four the first time his father strikes him. He is also four the first time he watches someone die. Unsurprisingly, these two events happen only several seconds apart.

Whether his father would have liked his way of doing so had never been something he’d ever cared to think about. That became clear the second he’d thought to go tromping around in the lot outside. It had just rained, then, and it was the perfect opportunity to go splashing through puddles and making mud pies. There had been no one to keep him from putting on his shoes and his rain jacket two sizes too big; his father was always gone during the day to try and make a quick buck wherever he could, and gone at night when he spent what little he had at whatever bar was closest to the park. None of the neighbors would have thought to tell him no. It wasn’t their place to do so, and none of them could have known the consequences.

That’s where Will’s memory got away from him. He’s tried to convince himself it’s his own mind trying to save him, repressing the moment down in the dark recesses of his psyche. Now, he understands that it’s because his father’s memories are that much stronger, and that Will, young and malleable, had absorbed it all as his own. He knows his father was angry about the mud, that he was drunk, that he’d been halfway ready to kill Will. He knows that his father had pulled him out of bed by the hair, had watched his writhing, struggling body, and found pleasure from his pathetic cries. His father had screamed and slurred, and he’d raised that hand to give Will exactly what he deserved because he ruined it all, fucking kid ruined everything-


The trailer park had been dreary. There was little to do besides count the number of bugs splattered against the windowshield and try to wave at his neighbors from across the way. Unlike their last stop, there were no other children at the park who’d answer his greetings or come out to play; the most interaction he’d gotten had been from a senile looking man who’d smiled with three teeth and had had a yappy little dog who cried and cried whenever he saw Will. But he’d been in spots like those before, and had known how to remedy his boredom just fine.

Before dusk, Will had finally dragged himself back into their trailer, his shoes trailing dirt along the steps and into the cabin. He’d shucked them off without much care and flopped down on his springy little cot, wet and dog tired.

And then Will’s father died. There’s a slight fuzziness, the remembrance of a dead weight falling on him, of being trapped beneath a cooling body. There’d been tears, and cries for help which were answered with police sirens and an officer who’d had kind eyes (and a family, two daughters and a baby on the way, who he was sure was gonna be a boy and who he was going to name Anthony) who reached out to touch him too. Understandably, after that, the rest of the authorities had panicked and tried to call for an ambulance. They called in a body on the scene, an officer down, and a kid.


Two paramedics tried to coax him out from beneath the trailer. One gripped his shirt. The other grabbed his arm. It took three bodies (and a kid) for the black vans to come.


The rest is unimportant. Will doesn’t care to try and recall any of it, knowing that anything he could piece together would be far from the truth. Memories are funny in that way, always made a mess by emotions and feelings at the time, or marred by the ones in the present. The mind is an unreliable narrator. Will guesses that’s why he stands on such shaky ground. “Shaky ground?” Dr. Carter echoes, one brow cocked. His pen taps lightly against the pad of paper on his thigh. “You think you’re unstable?” “You and I already know I am.” Will responds flatly. “You wouldn’t be here if I was.” “Seeing a psychiatrist doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re unstable, Will. Many people have them, regardless of stability. Mental or otherwise.” He snorts. “You’re acting like this is voluntary. You’re paid to see me, and I’m forced to see you. I’m not benefitting from these visits. You are.” “Therapy doesn’t work if you don’t want it to.” Dr. Carter says, unruffled. “Then I don’t want it to.” That gains a frown from Dr. Carter, and likely all others watching from behind the glass to his right. He sets his pen down, looks at Will, trying to reach his eyes. Will’s rather glad that they’d glazed over with time and use of his powers, 12

the cornea and pupil gone to leave a blank sheet of white behind. No one’s able to see where he’s looking if he’s not tilting his head with his gaze. No one can correct him, tell him it’s rude, tell him to look at them. “Why don’t you tell me about what happened with your last case?” Dr. Carter redirects the conversation a moment later. “I’ve been told you found it very upsetting.” Will tips his head back, staring up at the white panels on the ceiling, the florescent lights. He thinks of the sun and rushing water. He thinks of spring. “I didn’t finding upsetting. It was just... overwhelming.” “Overwhelming?” “Yes.” “How did you find it overwhelming?” Dr. Stephen Carter fakes sincerity, but his interest his genuine. He’s curious, fascinated with Will’s abilities. He doesn’t need to read his emotions to see that. It’s written all over his face, the way he clicks his pen again, prepared to start scribbling down Will’s answer, his observations of his ‘patient’. (Briefly, he wonders what it might look like if Carter were in those waters. What it might be like to hold him down there, to feel his heartbeat beneath his palm) “It took him longer to die. It’s always instant- they don’t know that they’re dying. They can’t feel it. It just happens. But he...” Will takes a breath. “He felt it. He understood. He was scared. He was in pain.”

Dr. Carter’s head tilts just slightly. There’s a single click from his pen. “Did you feel sympathy for him?” “I’m an empath, Stephen.” “Let me rephrase: did you feel guilt?” Will blinks, weighing the question in his mind. “Yes.” It’s the correct answer. Dr. Carter eases. “The human brain is wired to feel some amount of empathetic pain. It’s only natural that you feel it stronger than most.”

Adam Brown waits for him in his thoughts. He was young, and had looked even younger when he was scared. Granted, he’d had the right to be; government agents had come for him, accusing him of crimes he didn’t commit, and stuffed him in the back of a car. Adam hadn’t known then what it was for, but Will had the unfortunate experience in all of it. The Meta-Human Containment Program kept tabs on anyone who they thought had potential powers, tracking blood work and hospital records to try and filter through who had the right gene and who didn’t. Some were born into their powers, some gained them. Will for example: his own had blossomed through “extreme stress”. He was lucky to get taken in as a toy rather than be taken

A walking nuclear power plant. That was what Jack had called him. It wasn’t far off- his ability to absorb and release radiation was one that Will couldn’t help but admire. He’d almost melted through the cuffs by the time Will had gotten to that white-walled room. I don’t understand, he’d sobbed. I don’t understand. Please let me go. Will feels sick thinking about it. He’s not sure if it’s for the right reasons. Dr. Carter brushes something off of his suit as he stands. Will tries to catch a glimpse of what he has written down on the paper, but it’s turned and pressed against his side. “I think we’ll have you out of this slump soon, Will.” He says, offering a quick upturn of his lips that’s not quite a smile. “Then you’ll be good as new. I’ll see you next week?” It’s posed as a question, like Will has the choice of changing the date somehow. He nods anyway, watching Dr. Carter leave the room. Guards come in right after him, gloved and armored, not an inch of skin in sight. Will’s only just begun to wonder what they might look like.


Dr. Carter drones on about something to do with everyone being empaths in their own right, and Will thinks back to spring. The waves lap at his brow, the sound of rushing water drowning out the rest of the world. Will stares passively ahead, nodding at certain points, talking without thinking. He knows what Carter wants to hear and what will make the appointment go faster.

out as a threat. Adam Brown had been unfortunate enough to be considered a danger to national security. His power had been fluctuating as of late, and with the likelihood that he’d lose control, the M.C.P simply couldn’t risk it.

It’s routine from there. The guards bring him back down halls and through locked doors, pressing in the code for his quarters and allowing him to walk inside on his own. The room seems smaller when the door’s closed; it’s larger than an actual cell, at least, with painted blue walls and a nice, polished wood floor. 13

A twin sized bed is pressed the right wall, a TV mounted on the left, a few trinkets and tokens scattered around. Will looks over it all with neutrality. He feels no hate for the room, nor love of it. It’s just a room or, at the very least, a nicely dressed cell.


This has been his room for the past thirty odd years. It was thought he’d need some form of stability when he’d first brought been brought in; so much had already changed both around him and in him, and making him comfortable, while not a priority, had been the least that they could do. Sometimes, Will finds himself grateful. Other times, he doesn’t quite care. It’s one of the ‘other times’. He goes to sit at the edge of his bed, turning on the TV and flicking through the channels. He isn’t allowed access to the outside world if it isn’t planned and supervised, but he’s at least allowed to look at it. It’s a kindness that’s cruel; being able to see, but not touch. It’s a terrible metaphor for his predicament. The news shows nothing of importance or promise, but he puts it on as background noise anyways. The chatter of the anchors is better than listening to the howling of his own thoughts. He shucks of his (laceless) shoes and lays on the bed, staring up at the ceiling. His fingers fiddle with one another, making circles in the opposite palm, his thumbs pressing against the bone of either wrist. He’s been seeing Dr. Carter for a year now. Apparently, being wheeled around to pry information out of war criminals and meta-humans while also ‘humanely’ executing people for several years isn’t very good for ones mental health. 14

Joyce Wood, one of his main caretakers, had been adamant that he be allowed to talk to someone, and so Stephen Carter had been brought to the scene. The man doesn’t have much grace to him despite being an expert in his field; his questions never lead anywhere, and any analysis he’s gotten of Will is probably bullshit. But it makes Joyce happy to even see faked progress, and so he cooperates. There’s no choice in whether he wants to cooperate in M.C.P’s jobs. It’s required of him, it’s his duty, and Will would have been lying if he said he got absolutely nothing out of it. What sort of life would he have if he wasn’t in a facility? He couldn’t pass as a normal person, not with his eyes, and he can’t touch people without them dying. It’s better for him in here, where he can do something good with what he’s been given. Will clasps his hands together, fingers intertwined, and breaths. An hour passes before it’s time for his less professional check up to begin. Joyce is always there sometime after his appointments with Carter. He would have liked her to be his therapist rather than him, but she’s too involved to be considered a neutral party. “You okay?” Joyce asks the moment she’s in his room, the door closed behind her. She’s wearing long sleeves and pants, but he can see her hands, her neck and face exposed. “Tell me the truth.” He sits up, hands sliding beneath his thighs. “I told Carter-” “You told him what he wanted to hear.”

Will stares at the floor. Joyce seems to take this as some kind of defeat, sighing and pinching the bridge of her nose, looking at him like he’s some poor, kicked puppy. “Look. I know that you don’t like him. I don’t like him either. But neither of us have to like him for this to work. Just- pretend that he’s a wall. Talk at that wall. And if the wall actually says something important or helpful, then listen.” “You make it sound like it’s easy. He tries to...pry me open, see what’s inside me. He doesn’t want to understand me so he can help me. He wants to understand me so that he can go and say he worked Empath’s case. It’s for his reputation, for recognition.”

“Call myself what?” “Empath.” Will shrugs. “It’s what I am.” “That’s your ability. That doesn’t mean people should turn it into some codename for you.” She says. “And it demeans you. Makes you seem less....” Joyce’s face contorts, discomfort in her tone. “Human.” “Technically, I’m not.” “Human, meta-human, it doesn’t matter. You’re still a person.” His noncommittal grunt seems to worry her, bringing their conversation to a sudden halt. She looks at him, and he looks at the wall, feeling her concern and fear. It doesn’t crash into him like a tidal wave, just lapping at his toes.

It’s not a promise, not really, but it’s the best that she can give when it comes to dealing with the director of the program. Will lifts his head, offering a twitching smile. “I can deal with Carter. Besides, I doubt you’ll get anything through with him. It’s too much of a security risk, having two people who’ve worked closely with me.” “Russel cares about you- no, don’t make that face, he does. He pushes, but he brought in Carter to help. If he sees that he’s not, then he’ll find someone else.” “Who else is going to work with me?” Will counters, brows drawing together. “Being put in a room with someone who can kill with just a touch isn’t very appealing to most people.” It takes him a moment to realize that that is exactly their situation. He presses on, “I told you, I can deal with him. I’ll do what you told me to. Talk to the wall, ignore the bullshit it spews, and take what rare bricks of wisdom it might drop on me.”


“Everything anyone does is for recognition. And don’t tell me you’re going to actually start calling yourself that.”

It reaches his ankles as she inches closer, seeming to try and find the right words to say. “...I bought you new gloves,” Joyce says instead. “I couldn’t get them in with me today. Security’s tight right now, but Zeller is on shift tomorrow, so he’ll let it through.” Another pause. “I’ll try to talk to Russel again about Carter.”

Joyce smiles at him, genuine this time. She tucks a lock of brown hair behind her ear. Will shuffles around, hands twitching under his thighs. His slumped shouders tense as she moves, coming to sit beside him on the bed. It’s not the first time she’s come close, of course- she’s not afraid, even though she should be. Joyce wants to make a connection somehow, reaching 15

out every instance that she can. There’s a curiosity in her, an emotion that’s slinking along the surface, but Will can’t quite pick at what it is. It’s sincere, though, and something that he can cling to and leech off of as much as she will allow.


And he does. God, he does. His abilities are parasitic in nature. He’s parasitic in nature. Will is selfish, and is sure that someday (the day he untucks his hands because he’s too comfortable around her) he will regret not pushing her away. But for now, he will take from her in small incriments. What she is left with in the end- it’s not something he wants to think about. “You can talk to me. You know that, right?” She tilts her head, trying to meet his eyes. She’s learned how to read where his gaze is at, even if she can’t see it. “It can be about anything. It’s just between you and me.” And the security cameras, Will doesn’t say, biting hard on his tongue. Instead, he says, “I know.” “I can’t be your therapist, but I can still be your friend, Will.” Joyce reaches out, placing a hand on his covered knee and offering a gentle squeeze. He has the sudden, blinding urge to scream. Will doesn’t, though, because that’s not the right reaction to affection, and so he tries to smile. Joyce leaves, eventually. He sleeps, eventually. Morning comes. Eventually.

Zeller is on duty, as expected. He brings in Will’s tray of food, offers a warm “good morning”, and isn’t fazed when Will doesn’t respond. He strays from routine, 16

though, leaving a small box right on the dresser before making his way out. Inside lay a pair of gloves, leather and new, that he slides on. It doesn’t exactly stop his ability, but it covers it, at least. Stuffing his hands in his pocket isn’t the safest solution, and the gloves aren’t a permanent one either, but they’re better than nothing. Breakfast is the same as it’s always been. A hashbrown, some scrambled eggs, and two strips of bacon. What is brought in to drink can vary. Sometimes it’s orange juice, sometimes it’s water, and a few times it’s coffee. Will doesn’t know what causes the change, but he appreciates the small sprinkle of surprise in his morning. Faceless guards come fifteen minutes after he’s finished his meal, as they always do. They say nothing. They don’t touch him. They don’t have to. He already knows to follow, arms hanging at either side to let them know where his hands are. (They’re so focused on his hands, all the time; every inch of his skin is just as deadly, but it’s only the hands that they’ve confined in the past) The halls are white. Everything is white. Or mostly white, the floors and corners varying in different, lighter shades of gray. His jumpsuit fits with it, a pale blue that could meld into the walls if there was enough shine from the florescent lights. Will can’t help but wonder who decided on the color, and if they’d ever considered making it orange, just to fuck with him. The jumpsuit stands out completely in Russel’s director office. It’s dark, rich reds and blacks painting the walls and the few pieces of furniture around.

Russel wears dark suits and ties as well, has dark skin, dark hair, dark eyes. It makes Will feel like an alien or an intruder. He’s come to the conclusion that that is exactly what he is.

continues on as if he’s right as rain. He can’t afford to lose Will and his ‘services’, especially not when their branch of government is already being questioned for it’s usefulness.

The guards leave his side to stand by the door. They look stiff, but he can’t feel any real worry. He’s been in the facility without a single accident for nearly his whole life. It’s easy to think that, if he hasn’t lashed out by now, he won’t lash out at all.

“Good.” Russel says. He moves on from there, pulling a manilla folder out from his desk, presenting it on the table. With careful hands, Will opens it, laying them all out, one after the other. Three men and two women, all of them varying ages and races. Will glances over them all blankly as Russel goes on. “We’ve got a couple meta-humans on our radar right now. Most of them haven’t shown any signs of activity, but we’re keeping on eye out on them. The one to the right- Mat Small- is our main concern right now.”

“Will,” Russel says as a greeting, then gestures to the chair in front of his desk. “Take a seat.”

“How are you?” Russel folds his hands on top of the table, gaze set on Will. “Carter told me-“ “I know what he said.” Will interjects. “I know what I said. I just…said, I was unstable. Not constantly, only in that moment. I’m fine now.” Russel doesn’t seemed fazed by the interruption, but his brow does raise considerably at the reassurances. “Really?” Will nods. “Yes. Fine.” Russel stares at him a while longer. His eyes narrow slightly, seeming to take Will in, flicking over his wild, curled hair and pale skin, searching the white of his eyes. Whatever he sees, he approves, and sits back. That’s how it always goes. Even if Will is not-quite-good, Russel

There’s a note in Russel’s voice that Will recognizes, lilted and just slightly off. His expression betrays nothing; his emotions betray nothing. But Will knows. He always does. Russel only said most of them. “Where is he?” He asks, casually, flipping through the other files. He doesn’t bother looking up.


Will prefers to stand. He likes to pace around, if only so that his thoughts don’t have time to catch up with him. Staying seated and still feels trapping, almost. But Russel hadn’t posed it as a suggestion, and Will knows better than to pretend he had. He sits.

Russel doesn’t miss a beat. “We’re holding him.” There’s no need to ask any questions. His next move has already been explained- Will’s gone through this song and dance long enough to know that if Mat Small is being held, that the only way he will be leaving is in a body bag. So he just nods, reviews the rest of the profiles, and passes them back once he’s done. Russel gives him a look. Will stares back, expression blank.


Russel deems him ready, waving the guards back over, who bring him into the hallway. The sterile walls are blinding, in a way- he can’t imagine water here. Instead, he thinks of the shadows lurking in those few corners, the places that the light doesn’t quite reach. He doesn’t need the guards to lead him to the room. He doesn’t even need to thinkhis feet lead the way along, around three corner before he comes to a stop. One of the guards comes forward and presses in the code. The door opens.


Inside, strapped to a chair, is Mat Small. He is young, and scared. His eyes are brown. His hair is blonde. That’s all Will takes in. He doesn’t bother to try and familiarize himself with Mat any further. There’s no point. “Who are you?” Mat barks out the question. He’s struggling, and anger crashes into Will. It’s a biting thing, scratching, peeling back his flesh. Will moves forward despite it. “Who the hell are you?! Where- where am I? Come on, answer me!” Will doesn’t answer. Will doesn’t say anything at all. He just walks to the chair. He ignores the sparks that climb off of Mat’s skin, ignores the way he stomps and snarls, the way his fury snaps its jaws and tears into his stomach. It’s all passing emotion. He will look back on Mat Small, flip through his memories, and then place his life along the shelf of the many others he has stolen.


Will reaches out. Lightening races towards his fingertips. He touches Mat’s neck. He imagines he feels a heartbeat, if only for a second. Mat Small’s life is a bird, fluttering weakly, cradled in his hands. Will crushes it’s weak bones in a fist, strangling the song out of its chest. There is an unintentional, violent sensuality of it’s thrashing, of the way he pins and spreads it like a butterfly.

Mat Small dies angry. Adam Brown died scared. Will has died, again and again, welcoming fate with open arms. He doesn’t bother with the memories that slam into him, crowding in the small space he has made for these outsider thoughts. Two guards go in to take care of the mess that has been made, and two lead him back to his room. Will has often wondered if the things he thinks make him a monster. Now, he realizes that the beast that’s been crawling under his skin has a name, has a face. It shares the hallways, not his head. Will is a creature of his own making; a nameless, formless thing becoming, destroying, and becoming again.


I can’t believe you’ve done this. Head sunken below dirt eyes locked with the devil I trudge on, crop circles in my wake. I watched you drown. Even your favorite heels, the ones that made you bigger than I couldn’t bring you a breath. I couldn’t save you. You didn’t want to be.

Throat smoldering your favorite inferno seeped into veins. You stumbled through the dark, longing to fall. You didn’t know how to get back up. You found refuge in a tinted-glass cage. Nothing can touch you, everyone can see you, the walls slowly kill you. You love it.

Peace With the Past


I can’t believe you’ve done this.

Because sometimes the places you’d like to smooth over are the places where you have betrayed yourself and you should take a minute to really think about that. That’s why you write, isn’t it? Not everything, but a lot of it. Too much of the past is bad decisions, too much of the past is harm done to you, too much of the past is harm done by you. No matter what, it never leaves you. The cosmos write your story in pen. You can write it in pencil, twisting yourself into the man you wish you could have been. But why would you ever do that? Sure, you can slink away to your world for a moment or so, peering through the eyes of a perfect being. But perfection is unnatural. Perfection is disfigured. And no matter how much you whisk yourself away to your perfect little world, you’re still living by the pen and not the pencil. Why lie to yourself? Own your horrible decisions. Write a sonnet about the little things that you’ve done wrong. Write a memoir about all the people that fucked you over. Write an essay about all the people you’ve fucked over. Write a four to ten page non-fiction piece about that day that you’ll still remember on your deathbed. You’ve fucked up before, but everyone has. At least as a writer, you can have something akin to closure. At least as a writer, you can feel at peace with the past.


Cycle 1

1. Stay up until you have less energy to keep your eyes open than you have to keep them shut. Stay up until your phone dies and you know you can’t step foot downstairs this late without disappointing mother, father, and everyone else if they could know. Stay up until the drugs kick in so you won’t have to think about you-know-what and you-know-who. Stay up until the drugs go away so you won’t have to dream about you-know-what and you-know-who. Stay up until the panic attack is over because you don’t have a choice. Stay up until the sun comes up so no one has to see you. Stay up until you-know-who says you-know-what, even though you know they never will.


Then, 2. Wake up tired because you’re always tired, deal with it. Wake up alone because not even you wants to be with you. Wake up in fear because you didn’t let the drugs go away last night. Wake up early because you can’t sleep, and stay in bed late because you can’t wake. Wake up and let the drugs kick in again because you already know why and you don’t want to say it again. Wake up late because last night’s art is more important than this day’s you. Wake up and die, same as always. Then, Refer to Step 1. To Skeet or Not to Skeet: Shakespeare Meets Lil Jon

Motherfucker down under, ‘tis shortie. The damn insolence to all, god perchance stop life. The bare floor by you, scared to lose a thousand balls, scared wrong. Sweat on back, dread god. Sleep. Move. Sicklied crawl. The death stops. Thus, skeet undiscovered, ass after my sea, skeet under me. Of bitches, those then die to the flesh in me. Know your arms, motherfucker. Others back, we have windows. Grunt fast. Toes. Balls. Come. Low, the merit gets. To the sicklied, the security like the country, this dream to sleep; ladies by you, unworthy and bare. Take time, the oppressor’s owner, skeet bare. Pussy bare. Who? With others? Palm from balls, dance to the end.



I hear life I hear lies Life fears fire Real life is fear Real lies are fire Fire is I Life is a liar White

2. T  ide Stain Remover Pens are gifts from God. They can remove any colored stain from the whitest clothing you have. I can guarantee that it could make me disappear from my school with minimal scrubbing.


1. “White looks good on you,” my mom said to me. A dress I didn’t want to wear clung to my body. I believed her, and she took a picture. I thought my brown skin highlighted the white. But wasn’t the white supposed to highlight my skin?

3. Randy’s voice lures my eyes to the screen. Every Saturday the Say Yes To The Dress marathon on TLC binds me to the television. The black women spiraling in white dresses hypnotize me, and for 5 hours I want to get married. 4. F  or prom I wore a white and gold suit and I felt regal. Later in the night, when my expectations and I fell below the surface, I spilled chocolate ice cream on my white pants. I didn’t mind. 5. T  he Internet told me that wedding dresses are white because white means pure and the bride is pure because of God and stuff. 6. I may be brown on the outside but my insides were white. I spent everyday scrubbing the stains of the world out of my insides with my Tide pen before I realized that the white was a stain too. 7. I heard that you don’t feel alone when you walk to the blinding white light at the end of the tunnel. Or is the light not white at all, but yellow, and the absence of loneliness is only the feeling of Ra’s wrath igniting every inch of your body?


Short Skirts and Glasses

It all started with Beyoncé. I was ten, and visiting my aunt in Georgia over the summer. The unbearable heat of the sun kept me inside that day, so I passed time by watching music videos on their desktop PC. I remember absentmindedly clicking on a random Beyoncé video (because who didn’t like Beyoncé back then) and watching her intensely and sexually dance to “Sweet Dreams.”


Something about the video intrigued me, so I watched it over and over and over again. It was like I was stuck in a trance. But why? It must be the song, I thought as I watched her dance around in a body suit. It wasn’t the song. The first time I heard the word “gay” was when in sixth grade. I attended a very catholic school, where we were being converted into Catholicism faster than bacteria grows. There was a rumor going around the school about a friend of mine. “Did you hear that she was gay?” a random classmate told me. “Well, she was always a pretty happy person,” I responded. The word “gay” wasn’t in my vocabulary yet. “No, she likes girls.” The other person scurried away to tell the rest of the kids in the school yard. At first, I didn’t care that she liked girls. I didn’t start caring until I heard comments from other people. Like most middle schoolers, the children made up stories to tell so they could feel important. Stories like “She touched me in the bathroom” and “She massaged my leg” flooded the halls. I wanted to say 22

something, but the air wouldn’t leave my lungs. Luckily, there was one girl who called everyone on their shit. In the bathroom, while the lies were exchanged she told everyone to “shut the fuck up.” “Why are you all making a big deal about this,” she said. “So what if she likes girls, it doesn’t affect any of you so shut the fuck up.” I still admire her for that to this day. That day the girl and I were told to relay a message to another teacher during recess. We entered the building and started our trek up the flights of stairs. Her face hung with the loss of her friends and happiness. It resembled the cracked paint chipping off the walls. I asked her what happened between her and her best friend. She told me how she trusted her with an important aspect of herself, and her friend told her mom. “I’m not going to tell you what I told her,” she said, “Because it’s kind of embarrassing. But her mom came to me and talked to me about it even when I told her not to say anything.” All I could respond with was, “oh” and we continued up the stairs. I should have let her know that I was there for her. I should have defended her to everyone. I should have told her that I felt connected to her even though I didn’t know in what way. But twelve year old me didn’t have the words to say it, so I did all I knew how to do. I made her my friend. I was never a fan of Halloween, but the Halloween of my ninth grade year was the most memorable one in my life so far. I had school that day, and everyone was

The following summer, I went on a trip to Europe with the People to People program. Most of us were from the Philadelphia area, but there were a few that were from other places that would be joining our group. When we arrived in France, we met up with the others who flew in at the airport. There was a girl from Pittsburgh with short brown hair, glasses, and a short skirt (I see a trend). Her name was Hope. When I saw her my stomach flipped and my body got cold. I told a chaperone that I forgot something inside the airport, and ran away from the group to the nearest corner I could find. Waves were engulfing me in all directions, forcing all of the air out

of my lungs. I felt like I was drowning in the water, drowning in the feelings that I couldn’t understand. I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t breathe and my eyes were closed and I every time I opened them I saw Rachel and her legs and Hope and her glasses. I saw girls. Girls. Girls. The realization washed ashore in my mind. Do I like girls? When I returned back to school, I became closer with Rachel. I told two of my closest friends about it, but everyone else was left in the dark (Or should I say I was left in the dark inside of the closet). Overtime I grew into my feelings, but they were never said aloud. It was either, “I like girls and boys” or “I’m not straight.” It was like I was on a TV show where the word “bisexual” didn’t exist. The first time I said it out loud about myself was when I was sitting in the kitchen with my mom, discussing the diversity conference that was held by my school. I was in charge of creating and running the LGBTQ workshops, and one of them focused on navigating the process of questioning your sexuality and gender.


in their costumes. I was a firefighter. I had on black converses, black pants, and my dad’s work shirt. On my way to lunch, I saw my friend, Rachel, standing in the lunch line. We were friends since the first day of school. We liked the same books and TV shows, and we had every class together. She was one of those people that made puddles form on my palms. When I approached her, my brain couldn’t form words. She dressed up as a Hogwarts student, and she had on a short navy skirt, sweater, glasses, and a Ravenclaw scarf. I really liked her outfit. I mean, I really, really liked her outfit. By the end of the day, I memorized the way her glasses framed her face and the way her skirt made her legs look longer than usual. I didn’t understand at the time why I was so drawn to her outfit because I wasn’t even that interested in Harry Potter. I told myself that I liked her skirt not because of how she looked in it, but because I would want to wear the same skirt. The only problem was that I didn’t like to wear skirts, but that was the story I stuck with.

“Why did you choose that topic?” My mom asked me while chopping onions. “Because,” I answered, “People deserve a little guidance if they’re questioning their sexuality or gender. Weren’t you ever questioning at some point?” “No.” She paused. “Have you ever questioned your sexuality or gender?” “Yes.” I dreaded the question hanging in the air. 23

“So, are you not straight?”

I pulled myself together. “What?”

The question danced through the silence around me. Whether I should lie or tell the truth teetered in my mind. The question slowly crept around my neck and tightened until my lungs couldn’t fill themselves with air. I didn’t know what to do, and when my logic shuts down my emotions take the wheel. I didn’t want to lie anymore.

“Yeah. Ever since you were little, I knew something was up.” “What didn’t you tell me?”


“No. I’m bisexual.” I started crying, but I’ve never been able to breathe so deeply in my life. “Why are you crying?” she asked. I couldn’t stop. The sink inside of me was overflowing, and I couldn’t turn off the faucet. My mom grabbed me by the arms, and shook me hard. “Stop crying,” she commanded. I did all I could to choke down my sobs. “It’s okay,” she told me. “Tell me why you’re crying.” “I thought that you would look at me differently,” I sobbed. “Why would I look at you differently?” she said, pulling me into a hug. “I figured that there was something going on.”


She shrugged. I’m always the last person to know. “So, can I ask you a question?” Now she asks if she can ask me a question. “Go for it,” I say. My guts were already exposed on the table. “Do you have a girlfriend?” “No. I’m still a loser, Mom. That hasn’t changed.” My mom is the only family member that I told. I went to pride two years in a row, regularly and openly go to GSA, and constantly talk about LGBTQ issues, so there might be a small possibility that others know too. Now that I’ve accepted who I am, an enormous weight lifted off of me, and for the first time I can breathe. Sometimes when I think about how far I came, it feels like “a sweet dream or a beautiful nightmare. Either way, I don’t want to wake up.”

Decapitated Duck

“I’m so lost,” Susan muttered to herself as she walked past the bakery for the third time. Where was the exit? She knew she shouldn’t have come here. It looked overwhelming in the pictures. But no, her sister insisted that she visit Reading Terminal Market at least once while she was in the city. “You’ll love it,” her sister told her over the phone last night. “It’s a must see spot in Philly. Me and Brian go there all the time. And we know how much you love to eat.” Susan sat on the bed in her hotel room, fiddling with her bracelet. “Fine. I’ll go tomorrow. Can you at least come with me?”

“Do you need help?” Susan turned around towards the voice. A woman stood behind her with a concerned expression on her face. Her jean shorts and short-sleeved shirt didn’t scream “tourist,” so Susan assumed that she was a native. “This is, like, the fifth time I’ve seen you walk over here,” she said. “I thought you were lost.” The woman was beautiful, Susan thought. Too beautiful to be talking to her. The woman must have taken Susan’s fluster for fear. “I’m Kate,” the woman said, and stuck her hand out.


Karen sighed. “Susan, you know I would if I could, but Brian and I have to do a bunch of stuff for the wedding. We have to make sure the venue has everything, finalize the dinner orders, all that stuff. The wedding is two days away, two days! Can you believe that? It seems like yesterday when me and Brian met at…” Susan stopped listening. If she had a dime for every time her sister told her how in love she was she would be a millionaire. But like always, she did what her sister told her to do. Maybe, she thought, she might meet the love of her life at a random store, like how Karen met Brian in a Foot Locker.

Susan gave up on finding the exit. She sat on a stool and stared at the upside down, decapitated duck hanging in the window of the Chinese restaurant. She accepted her fate of remaining in this over stimulating food court for the rest of her life. She imagined someone chopping off her head and hanging her lifeless body upside down outside of their store.

“Susan.” Susan shook her hand. The bright lights from the doughnut shop seemed to become brighter around them. Susan felt like they were under a spotlight. “Are you looking for something in particular?” Kate asked. “No,” Susan said. “Just roaming.”





Some Thoughts on Eyes

Manic pixie in your Fishnets and War-paint On your eyelids You’re pretty but You’re not allowed to think so He seems to think so You’re powerful but You’re not allowed to think so He seems to know so So go back to the oracle and Stare at your reflection for A little bit longer and Cry until the mascara is gone ‘Fe’ is iron and ‘Male’ is man but He is the genius and You are the beauty queen He is the billionaire and You are the house-wife He is the playboy and You are the homewrecker but Still he knows needs you He has the power and You have the control but Is it worth the trade, iron man?

1. One for the eyes that showed me something beautiful: When I first noticed your eyes I thought to myself: Why obscure such beautiful colors with a black void so full of nothingness? It seemed like a waste. 2. Psychologists say that one’s pupils dilate when they look at something they like. I didn’t think someone like you would ever like someone like me so I ignored that. 3. His eyes were blue too but not nearly as comforting; not nearly as fascinating. His eyes were blue like the light that reflects off sheets of February ice in the early morning just before the sun. They were as cold as the blue that nips through you when you walk outside in your thin pajamas to see the snow. Your eyes are blue-green like the deepest parts of the ocean: unexplored and mysterious, with painted streaks of grey and spattered flecks of green and gold. We know more about the surface of mars than what lies behind your eyes. 4. I’ve always wanted blue eyes, but I guess brown suit me better.


5. I laughed when you said how your eyes swell like the anime girls when you see something you like. I’d never seen them dilate before my own eyes, so I didn’t think about it much. I try not to think about things that would get my hopes up for nothing.

6. When I looked at myself this morning my eyes were brown, brown, brown, iris.

14. If you hold eye contact with someone for seven unbroken seconds, you will fall in love. I always forgot to count out the seconds we stared at each other.

7. His eyes used to light up when I walked into the room. I let that excuse everything else he did.

15. I can’t remember the first time I drew eyes. It was probably sometime in middle school when I was still clinging onto that “fuck you, I’m unique” identity. I saw someone somewhere draw a hyper-realistic eye and thought, “I could do that.” So I did that, and since that first eye I’ve never stopped drawing eyes. They intrigue me.

8. “ You would have been so pretty if you only had eyes like mine.” My mother remarked.I looked at her, her eyes green and bright like the first flower shoots of spring.I looked at my father’s eyes, warm dark brown like mine, and didn’t feel bad. I’m already enough like her.

I went to the ophthalmologist anxiously hoping my eyes wouldn’t work right. I remember when I put my first pair of glasses on, and the world around me sharpened. Colors were brighter, lines replaced blurs, my own mother’s face was much more complex than I thought. It started to rain just as we were walking out of the doctor’s office. I never knew rain actually fell in droplets. I cried when I saw how the drops hit the pavement, then disappeared. My eyes were broken, and I had had no idea. Rain is really, really beautiful when you see it for the first time. 12. He told me I was beautiful, and I trusted his eyes.

18. All human beings originally had brown eyes, and the first person with blue was just the result of a genetic error. (I used to tell myself this, to feel better about my boring brown eyes) Usually, natural selection would have wiped that error away like the flick of brush onto canvas.


11. When I was in third grade I desperately wanted glasses because my best friend had them.

17. I think I’m attracted to artists because they see the world differently.

Our ancestors fucked up evolution when they thought the blue eyes, the error, were beautiful enough to be kept around for a while. I’m so glad they did. 19. T  hey say the eyes are the windows to the soul. Maybe that’s why I cover my windows with heavy curtains and shades, so that no one dares to look in farther than they have to. Your windows are plain, unadorned. I can see as far as my imagination dares. I want to go deeper, please let me.


21. In eighth grade I finally got contacts after begging my parents for them for years. I was so excited to show my friends how I looked without glasses, I thought I looked great. When I walked into school that day, I was met with looks of confusion and disgust. Some politely told me I looked okay, others downright told me I looked ugly without my thick glass frames to hide behind. I cried in my room when I got home.


To this day I still feel naked when I don’t wear my glasses. 22. One for the eyes I just met: You are beautiful, talented, and intriguing, but you would never let anyone know that. Why? 23. I picked up the new makeup palette at Sephora, gently swatching each shade onto my skin. The sales lady came over, leaned in close and said “wow, those shades would really bring out the green in your eyes!” I bought the palette and used it every day for a month. 24. I trusted his eyes when he took my hand and led me away, far, far away from everyone else. I trusted his eyes when he told me it would be okay, afterwards. I trusted his eyes when he told me he was sorry. I trusted his eyes when he told me he wasn’t. I trusted his eyes because I thought that no one could lie through their eyes.


now I’m not so sure.

25. One for the eyes that broke my heart: When I knew him he had the most beautiful eyes. One glance and you would instantly feel better about everything. One glance and you felt as if you had a best friend in your company. One glance could spiral into hours’ worth of meaningful conversation. I can’t remember the last time I saw his eyes, they were closed in the casket. 26. I always wanted to be water: ice, blue, silently powerful, and dark. But there are other ways to foster power. Maybe that’s why I paint my eyelids red, for if I can’t be water I can be fire. 27. T  hey say when someone looks up to the right, they are telling a lie. Maybe that’s why I looked over his shoulder when I told him I loved him. 28. I’ve always wanted blue eyes, but I know brown suit me better.


Though the water was not as unforgivingly cold as his colleague had described yesterday, the watermark on his trousers threatened to engulf his kneecap; proving the pool to be deceptive in its depth. “It’s tolerable.” He called back with a dry voice. The tone of his words alone announced a sense of insecurity.

“You never did earn your swimming badges, did you?” He mocked while looking at his own crisp reflexion in the water below. “It’s not that! It’s just that I’m wearing a white shirt and I don’t feel very comfortable with it going transparent. I can stay and watch the entrance, besides, this shouldn’t take long.” He would usually have rolled his eyes at the response but, they did not lift from the water. His pupils instead keenly scanned the sombre depths of the inlet pool for any hint of their desired artefact. “Watch the entrance for what? This beach is uninhabited; the most

“You know what I mean Isaac. Don’t be facetious. Can you see anything down there or are you going to need my flashlight?” The woman paced back from the cave entrance and came closer to where her colleague stood in the water. Deft fingers made light work of the thick straps holding the flashlight to the worn brown leather belt on her waist and she held the item expectantly in her open palm. Isaac removed himself from his daydream stare and turned around; his sudden movement created a sizable ripple in the water that had placidly settled around his calves. Reaching upwards to where the woman stood he took the flashlight from her fingertips and immediately recalled how heavy the object was. Lugging the silver behemoth around was one of Freya’s responsibilities as a navigator and the object packed far more of a punch than the miniature variants they carried in their backpacks. It was also to his knowledge entirely waterproof.


“Then I’ll take your word for it. I hope you don’t expect me to get in there with you.” The response from behind -though delivered from a distinctly more feminine tongue than his own- was as rhetorically assertive as he had expected from his partner and even without turning around he could tell it had been delivered with a playful smirk.

dangerous thing I’ve seen all day was that mildly aggressive lobster.”

The metallic hide of the flashlight was instantly freezing to the touch with the brief time in Freya’s palm having done nothing to warm it. Cupping his fingers around the shaft he fumbled for the switch and when he found it the water 29

around him lit up as if a chandelier hung above it from the cave roof. “Know what you’re looking for?” Freya quizzed, peering over his shoulder into the depths. “A sapphire possibly still attached to a golden backpiece. Should be distinctive enough.” For the first time this evening his voice contained a shiver. Not normally one to feel the cold, his stagnant standing was taking its toll.


“That’s right, don’t spend too long down there at once. Remember: we have about twenty minutes to do this, we can try again.” “Yeah yeah, got it, just be ready to get me if you see me in trouble ok?” “Only if I’m feeling generous.” Freya noted while walking back to the entrance. “That’s probably the best answer I’m going to get from you, isn’t it?” Said Isaac, hoping inwardly that his colleague was simply putting up a stern front. “Probably.” She muttered back, standing at the mouth of the small cave. Without a second look back Isaac threw himself forward. His stretched-out dive into the rounded lagoon was reminiscent of a dart and with the faintest of splashes, he had slipped beneath the surface. The illumination of the flashlight faded down until only the occasional flicker reached Freya’s eyes. Isaac opened his own eyes into a sub-aquatic world. There was a serene calmness to the water that was refreshing to him. The pleasantness however wasn’t to last; as he saw the rocky lines of the 30

cavern wall scroll past him like a credit sequence the depth’s pressure tightened its grip on his body. Halfway down, the first slip of air was stolen from his lips. An innocent stream of bubbles snaked past his widening eyes. Whatever oxygen he had was a prisoner in his lungs and even at this early stage of the dive a riot was brewing within him. It was not an unfamiliar feeling; he’d been diving as a hobby since he was young but the weight of the water alone was less bearable when coupled with the weight of expectation that came with professional work. His fingers began to loosen their grip on the flashlight as a strain encroached like a plague through the veins of his hand. There was a dull thump as his bare feet connected with the jagged floor of the basin. Craning his neck down, he began frantically searching for the gemstone. The world around him was bleak and black, he was now too deep for the reassurance of natural light with the flashlight his only key for unlocking any meaningful visibility. Another swivel of the neck pressed the thick water against his cheek forcing his mouth open a second time. The angered exclamation that formed in his mind manifested itself in the form of more bubbles. Isaac watched the pockets of air drift pass his face, a brief visual reminder that time was not his ally down here. He considered resurfacing again for a second attempt when his left foot slipped and slid over a rock that was uncharacteristically smooth against its surroundings. Looking down a blue glint bounced off this rock from his torchlight and his eyes widened as he realised that this stone held a value unlike the others.

His free hand dove to the floor allowing his fingers to scuttle over the area he had felt, each finger was a scavenger fighting for that first touch. His thumb was the finder as its nail scraped the cut surface and wrapped itself around, bringing the item close against his palm.

The lagoon around him was growing lighter, though Isaac wasn’t sure if it was the light of the cave entrance or a signal from heaven. A rush of adrenaline from his cut snapped an aura of sense back into him and a further flail allowed him to break the surface with his fingertips. Isaac’s gasp for air was like that of newborn, his wounded shout like a first cry from his drowned lips. His eyelids were tight shut, his ears so full of fluid that he barely heard the splash next to his own. His cramped body tensed as two tendrils wrapped around his waist and plucked him from the water, slumping him down onto the cavern rock bed. “I thought you were the experienced one.”

An audible smack preceded a searing pain which rippled across his cheek, the force of which snapped his brain back; jolting his eyes open where they hastily began to make a map of his surroundings. He could flutteringly see the rocky ceiling above and now there was a girl’s face in full view. There was an odd attractiveness about his savour, one that had been noticed before but never dwelled upon. Her tanned skin, dark nutty irises, many-a-time broken nose and defined jaw conveyed a sense of hardiness even when resting. He recalled once thinking her features somewhat horse-like but as she stood now with her matted sorrel hair clinging to her back the more admirable qualities were shining through. There were angelic qualities to her outfit too; the pure white of her shirt and the dark yellow strap of the headlamp. Evidently Freya had thrown aside any previous grievances on swimming, her sodden clothes were heavy, dripping and fiercely hugged her athletic frame allowing Isaac from this angle an excellent view of her b-


Feet kicked off the bed and his body rose. Thoughts criss-crossed his mind as an overriding desire to breathe took hold. His body felt weighted and he lacked the free hand needed for propulsion. With its usefulness expired, the flashlight was retired with the relaxation of his right arm and the appendage was put to better use dragging himself up in the water. His limbs were flailing in a lightless realm and the water seemed intent on trapping him, even the walls were fighting back; a knife-edge slate slit the skin of his forearm, the water around it growing warmer when mixed with his own blood. Sharper than the rock itself was the sting of the saltwater.

With water in his eyes Isaac found it hard to pinpoint Freya’s position. Instead he gasped hopingly at breaths while clutching at his arm. His breathing remained rapid and his mind continued to command his eyelids to shut. The warm air leaving his lungs was beginning to cool, minute droplets of water lined the floor by his cheek.

A second slap crossed his cheeks, this one more forceful and with the back of her hand causing the explorer to wince. “Ow! Wait, I’m ok! I’m ok!” He spluttered. “I know you are, that one was for looking!” She snapped back. 31

“Ok I’m sorry! I promise not to look!” Isaac shot his eyes back to the lagoon while his partner wrapped herself in a coat pulled from her rucksack. If there was one thing Freya did not expect out of the day it was having her oft-brazen colleague begging for mercy. It was simply a bonus though; their aim lay within the confines of his hand. Kneeling next to him, Freya unwrapped his clenched fist delicately like a Christmas present. The nearly flawless gem held within was to them worth more than any gift.


“We should leave. Waves are in soon.” Freya almost whispered, her own eyes unmoving from the sapphire. “Where we heading? Somewhere nice I think. We could buy ourselves quite the meal with this thing you know?” Isaac grinned upwards, his mind floating off-track to a plate of Scottish beef swimming in a red shallot sauce. The peripheral sight of Freya’s palm raising for a third strike dragged him out of his fantasy. The hand came down slower than expected and offered him a help up. Pulled to his feet Isaac shook his head, dislodging a torrent of droplets from his soaked hair. “Those can come in time, for now I’m more concerned with getting this home. You know what Jenson is like with his schedule.” The woman slung her rucksack over her shoulder but froze when she looked to the entrance. With the commotion of the rescue neither of them had noticed the black jeep pulling up outside on the beachfront. The incoming tide was already lapping at the thick tires of the off-roader but the man who 32

stepped out seemed uncaring, walking slowly as if the seas were his to command. “Hide it!” Freya called, it was the first-time Isaac had seen her visibly panicked this year, emotions like that were reserved exclusively for more extreme circumstances. “There won’t be any need for that. I know you two have it but I’m in no mood to take it off you just yet.” The man’s voice was guttural and commanded attention. Though his face was hidden by dusk the setting sun flashed off his silver hair. His figure was angled, that of a boxer though his crisp words were delivered from a mouth lined in a full set of teeth. “You sure about that Shane? I heard you have a bit of a collection coming along yourself.” Isaac shouted back recognising the mild aristocratic tone of the intruder “Perhaps I do. Perhaps that is also why I’m extending my hospitality out to you two this evening.” The explorers looked to each other. They understood the sort of game they had just been drafted into. “And if we help you with your collection, we keep the sapphire?” Freya questioned, frown lines now etched into her brow. “Oh, yes you can certainly keep that thing. What I have on my list is a few tiers up believe me. Don’t feel too honoured, you two are not the only ones who are going to help me.”


Adapted from A Proposal for a Longer Work (Preferring to the Dunes) The project of the mind’s yes’ and no’s The project of when we grow and our realities change The project in which our hearts question the intentions of humanity The project where you learn the best things about yourself The project when you find out your worst The project of coming to love who you are and everything around you The project of changing your perspective in the eyes of others

The project where you test the limits of your friendships The project where your sudden location somehow removes the communication from the strong


The project that you procrastinate until the last minute

But now broken relations The project where you learn from your mistakes That project Your life becomes one big 30% percent of your grade project The project that you sit back and write your name on because you did all of the work Because in your project you pick yourself up when you’re down And you discover… Well, you discover you The project that is assigned to you is the one when you take your first breath outside of that womb


Beauty or Insecurity

Momma My feet are flat The girls in my class are wearing their hair straight So why? Why’s mine in braids?


The doctor told me today that I’m overweight I repeated back to him that my arms were muscular And I couldn’t help my butt being too big But my face… Littered in eczema and scars Is not pretty These are not my lone thoughts But of others who self hate We are unable to boast or brag But we can loathe My unproportionate body came with insecurities outside of my control Here I am Complaining that my hands sweat And my thighs are spider webbed in stretch marks And my eyes My eyes believe upon seeing these parts of me That they are ugly And because of them it’ll be so hard for someone to love me But no one can love me until I love myself Because I’ve come to love those curves and the way they’re defined in those tight jeans The way that my natural hair comes alive under that shower beam That my hands sweat because I’m not perfect And I’m sure worth anyone’s time that is worth mine When my eyes Big and brown lie upon the reflection I’ve deemed not good enough Because I am good enough I’ve loved and cared for everyone so much That the journey to my own love has been so very rough In my mind I’ve defined the beauty of my essence The pain of my thought presence is now happiness shared wide Because I believe that my body My smile should be a first place won prize And my face no longer hidden away But my eyes are brighter 34

And they are full of pride

A Summer Love Despair


It’s okay You do not have to love me Even though your smile knocks the air that I breath right from my chest And makes my heart jump into oblivion Your eyes a bright brown puts warm coffee to shame Your charm produces red rouge into my cheeks And your voice wounds me as you call my name Every smile I gave Every hot chocolate I snuck you Every day you made me feel so Warm But you lucked out bro Because what I feel for you doesn’t seem like something you feel for me Empty promises of dates filled with ice cream A Snapchat streak full of black screens A game of flirtation that always seemed fake So I thought is it me? Why is that men cannot seem to fathom how to acknowledge me? I listen I speak I get rejected And I weep It is like the first time riding a bike without a training wheels when you prepare yourself to love When that person lets you go Things start to get unstable and you’re unable to stop yourself from--Falling off the bike and cradling your scars But picking yourself up because you know how beautiful you are You do not have to love me because you are a coward Afraid of a strong black women like myself who holds her heart on a string for attractive white boys like you You do not have to love me because my love is woven and centered around the hearts of my friends and my family You do not have to love me because I love myself and I know my worth So I apologize that your coffee eyes couldn’t see the signs I’m sorry that I wasted my time on someone who didn’t want to rule the world or defy gravity with me Because now I look in your eyes every other weekend and see Your tan expression filled with confusion as to why I won’t speak Your ears no longer deserve my honesty because mine have only heard your deceit You are not worth it I hope maybe one day some person will come along and wait as long as I did for you Because I am not waiting anymore



Runnemede, New Jersey, is a hole in the ground, full of people who care whether the grass in their front yard is an inch tall, as opposed to an inch and a half. Runnemede, New Jersey, is the kind of place that is full of schools teaching silence and stillness, instead of how to think, the kind of place where blacktops suffice as playgrounds and children learn what the word “exclusion” means.


Runnemede, New Jersey, only keeps you happy if you think a soccer field deserves more funding than a science class, even though there are three other soccer fields within a one-mile radius. Runnemede, New Jersey, is quiet, but not the nice kind of quiet, the peaceful kind that cute small towns in fiction novels have. It’s the tense kind, the one that sits between strangers stuck in an elevator together. That quiet. Runnemede, New Jersey, funnily enough, is in the middle of a swamp. Because, why not? Runnemede, New Jersey, despite being in the middle of a swamp, thinks it can be better than everyone else, because we put up little flags that say so. Runnemede doesn’t like you. Runnemede doesn’t like me. Runnemede, New Jersey, is a hole in the ground, full of people who think you should be just like them.



1. Leaves. Dead ones. We’re supposed to be picking them up, but we threw the rakes aside to play hours ago. 2. Dad yells at us. He’s watching out the window, now. 3. Leaves, red ones. I’m sitting on top of the monkey bars by the bridge, trying to weave them together. I think I can save them for Christmas. 4. They fall apart before Thanksgiving. 5. L  eaves, green ones. I’m on the swingset, trying to go high enough to touch them with my toes. The way they bend the sunlight is perfect to me. 6. L  eaves. Orange ones. They’re everywhere, everywhere. They don’t leave us alone, they get stuck in the glue, and we laugh together. 7. Leaves. Dead ones. They’re on my path, in my sneakers, they won’t go away. 8. They won’t go away.

10. Leaves. Torn ones. I’ve been walking through them by myself, lately, and my broken headphones ensure that I can hear every single one crushed beneath my feet. 11. I stand on the bridge for a very long time.


9. L  eaves. Crumbled ones. I used to jump in piles of them, before someone told me there might be snakes in there. I’ve seen them hide snakes on the bridge.

12. Leaves. Green ones. They go on forever, just out of my reach again. 13. The way they bend the sunlight was once so perfect to me. GLOBE

I have a globe with little bumps where all the mountains are. I want a globe with fuzz for all the forests, and glass for all the oceans, frosted ice caps that I can run a finger over and pretend that the planet is beneath my hand. I’d like to stop thinking about the size of the lamp in the corner, or the leak in the roof, imagining a country as miniscule and a city as microscopic. Tiny glaciers and tiny volcanoes, with tiny people making light of things that seem larger than life. Let’s make molehills out of every monstrosity, let’s squint to see our towns from above, and figure out how many thumbprints it would take to get to the other side of the ocean. Let’s make boats out of thumbtacks and airplanes out of erasers, and just forget that trains exist, because honestly, if we’re going for a perfect world, we might as well. Let’s pretend Mount Everest is a pebble and the Atlantic Ocean is a blue handprint. Let’s make more globes with little bumps where all the mountains are.



There’s a coffee stain on that red dress, but you were never a coffee drinker A dress can remember Worrying about bloodstains onstage while your classmate lit a candle and read a speech written for him, and you wondered why they picked a kid who was so bad at public speaking. A dress can remember How you didn’t realize your voice would shake until after you started singing, but you kept going, hoping maybe the piano would drown it out- you forgot to bow when you left.


A dress can remember Regretting going to homecoming the second you walked into the school, and how the best part was walking barefoot to the pizza place across the street, too many suit jackets on barstools and purses on countertops, in the middle of the night. And it remembers how two weeks later a car ran right through the front window of that same pizza place at 2am. A dress can remember Standing up in front of a hundred people in fancy clothes to read puns to them for ten minutes. A dress can remember How you had a graduation gown but no cap, because no one really wants to think about middle school more than they have to, and how you disobeyed the teacher’s directions about how music should sound. If a dress can remember where you’ve been, maybe, soon, it can tell you where you’re going.



SCENE I (Scene starts on a hot summer day in a neighborhood of rowhomes. Kids are running across streets buying water ice and ice cream. Hula hoops and jump ropes are flying through the air. The sounds of kids having fun should fill a lot of the background noise. Frida and Erinda are sitting on the steps in front of Frida’s house.) Frida Do a cartwheel. And a backflip.

Hide and seek! Frida Ughhhh, no Erinda, that gets old fast. Girl #1 Geez! Girl #2 Geez Louise! Girl #1 Copy cat.

Wh-what-(Frida proceeds to do a cartwheel on the sidewalk.)

Girl #2


Yeeeaaaahhhhh! You’re first. (GIRLS run off.)



Like, like me! (Frida does another cartwheel, moving further down the sidewalk.)

Drowsy chaperones!

Erinda Ummmm… (Frida does another cartwheel. Erinda runs-- not cartwheels-- to Frida.) Frida Wha-- you’re coming here? Why? Oh, come here. Cartwheel. (Frida does a cartwheel. Erinda stands there.) What do you wanna do?

Let’s play Drowsy Chaperones.




Girl #1

Frida We don’t have enough people. Erinda (Points in direction of girls.) They’re playing. Frida (Cartwheels, then stands upright) Their playhouse there is like super shitty. DON’T say that word. Erinda Okay. Spiderman! 39

Frida We don’t have rope. Girl #3 & #4 (In a sing-songy voice) Teresa and Robert, sittin’ in a tree! K-I-S-S-I-N-G! Frida (Cartwheeling back to the steps in front of her house. Erinda follows) I’m bored. Erinda It’s hot. Frida



Erinda (Dancing while thinking, unable to stay still) Uh… ummmm. Mmhmmm… ah! Frida That was good! Erinda

I want ice cream.

(Sticking up fingers to indicate this as well) 9!




Oh! Oh! Oh oh oh! (Frida runs off into her house. She returns holding a long piece of tarp in her hands. Her genius unfolds as she lays it out vertically across the sidewalk. She runs to her front yard. Unloops the hose. Turns it on, and unleashes it on the tarp) Slip and slide! Erinda Wha- what? Frida These are the rules. There’s one judge, one slider. A perfect slide is a 10. A bad slide is a 0 to 5. Medium score is 5 to 9. I’m going first. You judge. Erinda Okay! Frida (Frida stands at one end of the slippery tarp. She backs up a few steps to get a


running start. She takes a breath, runs to the slip and slide and jumps belly first onto it. She slides toward the end of it, before she hits cement. She gets up, the entire front of her body totally wet. She sticks her arms in the air, as a gymnast would in a dismount.) Score!

(Rolls her eyes) Okay. Your turn. (Erinda giddily runs to the start of the slide. She gets a running start and flops belly first. Her tiny body rockets past.) Erinda (Scraping her arms on the sidewalk) AHHHHHHHHH! Frida Erinda! (She runs to Erinda who is sitting at the end of the slide with bleeding elbows. Erinda’s nearing tears.) Go inside and clean it up. Put bandaids on it! (Erinda gets up and starts to walk) DON’T cry. It’s just scraped. (Erinda walks inside to get bandaids. Frida prepares for another round of slip and slide)

SCENE II (Erinda is sitting on the steps with ice on her elbows. Frida is standing by her slide eating a popsicle. A hazy summer afternoon has set in, and the slip and slide has become the block’s hottest, newest, coolest thing. Frida slides effortlessly across the slide on her back.) Girl #1 Can we try? Frida

Erinda Frida? Fr- Frida? Frida Quiet Erinda! I’m thinking about this, okay? Girl #1 (Pops bubble gum) Pick your poison! Erinda Frida?!

I think we’re gonna put it away soon sooo…


Girl #1

Girl #1

That’s like, so unfair! Girl #2 Frida It’s my slide. (Girl #2 starts to get upset) Girl #1 Oooh ooh! (Girl #1 puts her fingers in her mouth and whistles. As loud as she possibly can) JUMP ROOOOPPPPPE! (A stampede of kids is heard running to the location of Girl #1. They halt when they arrive. Girl #3 pushes through the crowd holding a jump rope in the air) Girl #3 He- here! (Places the jump rope in Girl #1’s outstretched hand) Girl #1 (Points to Frida with jump rope) JUMP ROPE BATTLE! 2 on 2. Winner gets the slide. (Frida contemplates)

Unless you’re like… chicken? (Group of kids pipe up this comment) Everyone Except Frida And Erinda OooooooooooooOOOOOOOO! Frida (In a “I don’t give a fuck” attitude) Yeah sure. Whatever. I don’t care. Let’s do it.


What about turns?

Hold on!

Everyone Except Frida And Erinda YEEEEEEAAAAAAHHHHH! Erinda (Standing on top of a car) Frida! Frida WHAT?! Erinda (Beat) I… can’t… jump rope. (She bows her head) EVERYONE EXCEPT Erinda WHAAAAAT?! (Everyone backs away from her slightly) 41

Erinda I-I… I never learned howta… I… (looks up at the sky. In the manner of delivering a Shakespearean monologue, she extends her arm out to the sky.) I never learned how to juuuuuUUUUUUmmmmmppppp ROOOOOOOPPPPPEEE! (To Frida) So, my dear cousin, ‘tis with a heavy heart that I bear such bad news. I, sadly, will not be jumping rope with you. (Beat) Girl #1 So… you lose!


Girl #2 & Girl #3 & Girl #4 (Chiming in) Yeah! Yeah yeah, yeah yeah yeah yeah! Yeah yeah! Erinda (Voice cracking) I’m sorry! I’m- I- I’m so sorry Frida! I’m so sorry!

Girl #2 & Girl #3

Loser! Hahaha, hahaha! Yeah yeah, loser loser loser! Erinda I’m so sorry Frida! I let you down!

Girl #1

Pack up the slip ‘n slide girls!

Girl #2 & #3

Loser loser loser!

Frida … It’s all good. (Silence) Let’s just do 1 on 1.


(The crowd of kids divide into two sides. Two jump ropes are thrown into the battlefield. Frida and Girl #1 face each other, Wild West showdown style.) Girl #1 Whoever goes longest wins? Frida Obviously. Girl #1 Fine. Let’s do this. (They both pick up jump ropes. The group of kids start creating a drumroll but clapping their hands on their laps) Everyone Except Frida And Girl #1 OLE, OLE OLE OLEEEE, OLE! OLE, OLE OLE OLEEEE! (The sounds of chanting and drumrolls fill up the neighborhood. The girls prepare for their first jump. Then, suddenly:) Parent #1 DIIIIIIIINNERRRRRR TIIIIIIME! (Beat of silence. Kids scatter) Everyone Frida And Erinda DINNER TIME! DINNER YEAH YEAH YEAH! (Frida and Erinda are left alone.) Erinda So… what now? Frida Yeah, we’ll clean all this up tomorrow. Let’s eat. (They walk off ) END OF PLAY

The Things You’ve Missed

This is what I wrote when I became bereft of you: This is where I wept when words couldn’t create solace: This is how I awakened without you: This is how the rain cut me that morning: This is where I was when I wasn’t there: This is what light it was when I made it: In these rays you left space: This is where I search for you: In these fragments I find home:




Did you forget the day I was born, I woke you from a haze of drugs and pain with my wails, Did you forget how those screams broke the sound barrier a thousand times over because it was love that did it. It was love that left you speechless when my jibberish babbled like a brook, my oos and boos and dita dita boom assumed powerful shapes for you, it was your love and mine that made me cry as if it would be months instead of hours till I’d see you again. Again did you forget this? This love that made you stay up late and hold me over your shoulder patting my back to burp, and when we were both older do you remember sleeping in my room for weeks on scratchy pillows and a army blanket just to keep me safe because the bi product of isolation and self deprecation caused a creation of the cremation of happiness. So me the hap hazard, started the family disaster, I mastered lying and not crying and prevent prying. So you stayed there next to me, remember? From October to December I remember because that Halloween we watched scream stead of trick or treating cuz leaving me alone demons would demonstrate depression if it reached succession—my obsession with suicidal sessions, razor impressions pressed on my skin. Do you remember how I skinned myself alive so I could survive school, your love let you play the fool, falling away from what I’d become. Have you started loving your dead daughter and forgetting your son? Have you started thinking I’m trying to run from you and your expectations, my energy has limitations some days my blanket has bound me to my bed, my dred drying out all my tears and I can only hear the buzzing and shouts around me. 44

Have you started to wait to see how long this charade will last as if this was a rash decision that the precision of two devision gender rendered dissatisfaction and my first reaction was to be me. This is the same me. This me has the same history, the same likes, the same relations. But my gender isn’t an all-inclusive invitation to make an invasion of invasive questions and suggestions. I’m open to discussion but please remember, if your love is still there, even if it scares you say my name Carmina

Then waiting Then 50% on exams Lots of red ‘Fs’ Then extermination


Then the same fake bitches with different names Bile dripping down two fingers The high school, an era Enter loneliness Then rough hands without consent Then the execution before the Jury Then pages and pages of poems Then the page with a dry brown stain Then the page where their blue berry days are given a name. Then the page on which they wait for another trans* kid. Then that page turns to an obituary of another trans* kid. Then the page drew red ink on flesh. Then the page begins with Dear mom Then page wrapped in a rope Then the page where the ambulance reaches white coated people The a nap Then the pills Then the page with curious coping methods Then the page on which therapy is ground Then the death of silence Then the tablet page they used to diagnose them. Then the page made of lies which never ends


Exit healing Then the page someone relapsed to forget their place Then the page on which there’s silence The page inked in red the end Then the letter Crying within Transformation, then shave Exit health. Then an ICU report Then tripping to ruins Then and only then they’re on death’s agenda


Then no hope without reason Then the construction of self-destruction


JAHFARI WILLIAMS PHILADELPHIA, PA WORKSHOP SCHOOL The Thing with the Guy and the Puppet that Uses Flashbacks

I swear it was watching me. I knew its eyes were following me as it was burning. I had to burn it, I had to get rid of it. It was following me, learning about me. But burning it didn’t work. It still followed me. It still shadowed my footsteps. It was missing one eye and after the burning, the eye that it had was turning into sludge. It wasn’t gone though; it could still watch me. I saw it the other day, sitting in a chair by the fireplace I threw it into. I remember when I first got it, it was a day like any other. The sunday before another week of school. I was putting away some papers I had just graded when I heard a knock at my door. When I opened my door I saw my grandfather on the other side, a strange puppet in his hands. “Here you go, son”

“T-Thanks.” When I took the puppet from him, the smile that snaked onto his face made me banish any ill thoughts of his gift, I didn’t want to make the old man sad. I should’ve known better. That bastard knew what he was doing, what he was giving to me. I laid it down in a chair by my dining table. It only took a few days for me to feel it following my every step, my every breath, my everything. I remember my wife, she loved me and was always by my side. I told her about it, I had to make sure I was holding onto my sanity. I decided that she was the best to go to. I was wrong, nobody was to be trusted.


I never knew why he gave it to me; my best guess is because I once said I wanted to be a puppeteer when I was a child. I don’t know why he took it so literally, I just wanted to be like the voice behind Elmo on Sesame Street.

“Babe, you gotta believe me” I pleaded

“I’m sorry but this sounds ridiculous”

“It’s following me, it’s eye, it can always see me!”

I remember staring into her face, tears trying to escape my eyes. Why wasn’t she believing me? Later that day I heard her talking to someone in the kitchen. Where I put the puppet. I stormed into the room, my wife, Claire, startled at my appearance. “Who’re you talking to?!” I demanded an answer

“Nobody!” She shouted back


I could see fear in her eyes, her beautiful green eyes. “Stop lying!” I shouted as I smacked her. She flew into the counter and turned to look back at me. “What’re you doing!?”

“Who are you talking to?!”


“Why are you lying to me!?”

I hit her again, my fist landing atop her skull and sending her head flying into the kitchen sink. Again, she rose. There was a long gash running across her forehead and blood was starting to fall down her face. “Babe, I don’t want to do this. Just stop talking to the puppet”


“You think I’m talking to that thing!? It’s not alive!”

She was still denying it, after all this. She reached for one of the drawers and fumbled with the utensils. I could see her pick up the handle of a knife. I ran to her and grabbed her arms. “What are you doing babe?” She didn’t answer, she just stared into my eyes. I knew she was talking to that damn puppet, they were conspiring against me. I took the knife from her and pushed her to the ground. “It doesn’t have to end like this Claire! Just apologize, we can be happy again” I waited for her to say she was sorry, to apologize for plotting with that thing. When I think of it now, I shouldn’t have given her that much time. I should’ve killed her as soon as I heard the two of them speaking. “Come on babe” I said as I reached out my hand toward her. She slapped it out of the way and it was with that that my patience had ran out. I took the knife and stood over her. She backed away from me, soon she ran out of room. Nowhere to run, nowhere to hide. “You made me do this!” I shouted as I plunged the knife into her stomach. She didn’t scream, or at least she couldn’t. Not over the blood she was coughing up. Not over the blood pouring out of her wound and onto my marble floor. She still struggled, a weak hand moved over to the knife. Tears ran down my face, spilling and mixing with the crimson below us.


“Why are you making me do this?!”

I picked up the knife and stabbed her again. And Again. And Again. I didn’t stop until her hand fell into the pool of blood her hair was swimming in. Her beautiful, brown hair. She would always fuss about it, if it was better to teach with her hair in a bun or in a ponytail. Whether she should dye it or not. I held her hair in my hand, why did she do this? I laid next to her and looked at her lifeless face. There was blood falling from her mouth, like she was a fountain. Color was draining from her, I could only see the makeup she put so much work into. So much work, for nothing.


This was the first of many who didn’t believe me. They all thought I was making it up for attention or that I was insane. After this I tried to get rid of it. I don’t quite remember very much about the burning. I just remember that I threw the thing into our fireplace. I swear I saw it burn, I swear I saw the flames envelope and consume it. But it still showed up later, this time in a different place. It was on the floor, examining my wife. I remember taking steps toward it, slow and cautious steps. It paced around Claire’s body, it’s small shoes splattering about in her blood. I was a few feet away from it when it’s head turned toward me, spinning like an owl’s, it’s now partly melted eye staring into me. I couldn’t take it. After everything I was just through, after the burning, it was still here. I ran at it and kicked as hard as I could. I swear it was there. I swear my foot connected with it. I felt nothing, I didn’t feel the satisfying crack of the puppet’s facade breaking against my foot. All I could feel was my leg sliding through the wind and bringing me with it. I fell and landed on the floor that was now almost coated in my wife’s blood. I remember the confusion, the anger. How had it escaped me? It was so close. I got up and looked around for it, it was nowhere to be seen. It wasn’t at the dining table, it wasn’t near the fireplace. I even checked out front, where we first met. I sat at the dining table and thought. How’d it get away from me? How could I still feel it’s eye’s creeping along the back of my neck? My thoughts were interrupted by my doorbell ringing.




MFA ‘17 Brooklyn College Playwriting

MA ‘10 Temple University English + Writing

BA ‘11 Kenyon College English

BA ‘94 Temple University English + Writing



BFA ‘95 The University of the Arts Illustration

 FA ‘08 The University of Iowa M Creative Writing






BA ‘04 University of Chicago English Language + Literature


TEACHING ASSISTANT MEEREE ORLANDINI  FA ‘17 The University of the Arts B Creative Writing


Summer Institute 2017 Creative Writing Journal  
Summer Institute 2017 Creative Writing Journal