Backroads 2016

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BACKROADS 2016


Backroads Literary Magazine

University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown Volume 44

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Editors Michael Gruber - Editor-in-Chief Kyler Smith - Poetry Editor Erin Cain - Prose Editor Victoria P. Kelly - Visual Art Editor Avery Malone - Treasurer

Staff Jeffery Adams Kristin Caro Rachel Logan Patrick Stahl Eliza Talvola

Faculty Advisor Professor Marissa Landrigan

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Letter From the Editor: Welcome to the 2016 edition of Backroads. Opening these pages will open new worlds streaming through the student body, hearts aching and swelling, minds expanded and unraveled, white knuckles, and hazel eyes. None of this would be possible without the contributions from a community of talented writers and artists or the hard work and dedication of our editors, Victoria P. Kelly, Kyler Smith, and Erin Cain, and their committees in finding such wonderful works to present to you. For that, I thank them deeply. Special thanks also go out to the Backroads membership and all of those who worked behind the scenes to keep this organization running. I would like to thank Avery Malone for his determined efforts in securing our budget for this and next year. I would also like to thank our advisor, Marissa Landrigan, whose positivity, professionalism, and expertise have been a beacon and an inspiration. Last but not least, I would like to thank you. Your interest in our magazine and the joy you get from reading it make my job both an honor and a pleasure. -Michael Gruber

“Poetry (like a grand personality) is a growth of many generations—many rare combinations. To have great poets, there must be great audiences, too.“ -Walt Whitman

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Poetry

Table of Contents

The Soldier and His Seamstress ..................................................................................................... 8 Patrick Stahl The Ephemeral Lifestyle .................................................................................................................... 9 Ashley Kay Bach November 19th 2009 .........................................................................................................................11 Josh Horner stringy bawdy good for you ............................................................................................................12 Kyler Smith Concave ...................................................................................................................................................14 Patrick Stahl Balloon .....................................................................................................................................................16 Jon-Jon Nguyen Take me to the lights... .......................................................................................................................17 Kyler Smith Yummy Sandifer ...................................................................................................................................19 R. Audu II Don’t worry. Something just got caught in my throat. ........................................................ 21 Michael Gruber Clarity Is Our Clarity ........................................................................................................................... 22 Patrick Stahl A Different Magic Hour .................................................................................................................... 23 Kyler Smith Khaki Kangaroo ................................................................................................................................... 24 Roberta L. Dostal Lighthouse ............................................................................................................................................. 25 Jon-Jon Nguyen Words of Wild ...................................................................................................................................... 26 Kyler Smith Transition ............................................................................................................................................... 27 Michael Gruber

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Art

Kylie Truscello ............................................................................................................. 28 Jon-Jon Nguyen ........................................................................................................ 29 Anthony Knisely ................................................. 30, 32, 35, 36, 38, 39, 40, cover Eliza Talvola ................................................................................................... 31, 33, 37 Rachel Logan .............................................................................................................. 34

Prose

Untitled ..................................................................................................................................... 41 Avery Malone Losing the Ring ...................................................................................................................... 46 Victoria Snyder He Called Me Pet .................................................................................................................. 50 Kyler Smith Spoons ...................................................................................................................................... 64 Jaclyn Reed Zombie Riding Shotgun, Imp in a Jar ........................................................................... 66 Nicholas Van Sickel Doing Nothing ....................................................................................................................... 70 Joshua Calandrella My Dearest Bystanders ....................................................................................................... 74 Jaclyn Reed Uncertainty 101 ..................................................................................................................... 80 Victoria Snyder Author Bios ............................................................................................................................. 82 Submission Guidelines ........................................................................................................ 84

About Us .................................................................................................................................. 85 Cover Image: “Brick by Brick” by Anthony Knisely

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The Soldier and His Seamstress She hammered into the fabric Of his marathon march resolve, Until his steel heart shredded and fell Into her hands On the weaver's loom.

She sewed him a shirt Out of his heart strings, The buttons fashioned From hard bits Of black shrapnel.

He’d set his rifle down In the mud and driving rain To enter into her house, Where she’d stitched His soul back up. No more, no more He swore, passion In each of his dull, Gray, satiated eyes. No more.

-Patrick Stahl

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The Ephemeral Lifestyle

Sis was driving me To Breezewood. Halfway between her And Father.

Just her, me, And my cousin Erika. I miss Erika. God, how I miss Erika.

The three of us were singing along To the songs on her iPod, The red car becoming our Mobile playroom.

It was living out The adolescence The three of us did not get To share together (stolen from us by adults Who were eternal children).

A joy akin To sis and I's ephermal lifestyle, The closest we’d ever be to calm and clean, that existed During the summers we spent with Dad in the once pristine, white house on Ash Street He once shared with our mother. The ephemeral lifestyle-A temporary way of living You wish could be Your whole life. We laughed. We sang. We talked about the Alternate reality Of me

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Being a Virginian, Graduating from Edison High, Going to a Virginian College, Growing up and festering together.

-Ashley Kay Bach

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November 19th 2009

A voicemail. A million thoughts raced through my clouded mind As I sped through the dark to you. The alcohol was wearing off, Yet I was drunk off anxiety and worry. I could not lose you…not yet. Two hours felt like two years until I reached you. With hope in my heart and tears in my eyes, I walked through the sliding doors. I have never been a fan of hospitals, but the empty waiting room offered a sense of serenity, that even my waring mind could not ignore. The calm was shattered however, by the words that haunt me still… “She didn’t make it.” Silence. Time stood still. The strongest women I have ever known did not make it? How could this be? I rushed in slow motion to your side.. Frantic.. Unbelieving… And as I pulled back the curtain revealing your lifeless body, my already fragile heart broke into a million pieces. My motivator, supporter… my best friend, was gone… forever. With your death that day gave way to mine. Leaving behind an open wound that will never heal. November 19th 2009 changed my life forever. And although I know you have found peace, I was not ready to say goodbye…. I love and miss you mom, say hi to dad for me. -Joshua Horner 11 | Page


stringy bawdy good for you a histrionic

beat of phonics systematically

circumnavigates

a system analytical

and systemizes the empaths of the

tired revolution revolutionaries call it action

call it statement

they scream till bloody threats

and bloody knuckles silence them but we are the wisest

of the bottom barrel dwellers

we are the clever foxes in deeper burrows in emptier fields where

they lost the map. we are

the fewer sadder smarter for it flag down the conflagration hollow out the holocausts of unspoken words

and unsettled easy streets Page | 12


strike up the down struck, and

cleave on to the neurons that fire better thoughts

than the one that starts with your hand on my neck. Mundane- Humaneis the way they spell Humanity

Benign- Just Fine-

no use getting upset

take a pill, take a shot,

bite the curb, taste the block. -Kyler Smith

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Concave

The monotony Of the early afternoon, Lunch consumed and time For pause, Mirrors the wane In the middle For man. The Middle Ages saw A loss of traction By the train Of human progress. Midlife has its crises Due to a lack Of adventure. Our middles are All too often Weak and flabby.

Yet in the middle lies Wonders in nature: The Mid-Ocean Ridges, Where lava flows, The geode’s breast, Where light dances On crystal colonies, And the shadowed hearts Of forests, Where ancients hulk.

Why does humanity lose Its luster in the middle? Does it exist as some Concave palindrome? Or is it simply That nature Has claimed it all for itself?

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From dust we are, And to dust we become, Yet in the middle We are man. Could it be That man Is worth less Than the dust On the bottoms Of our shoes?

-Patrick Stahl

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Balloon

When she held her balloon, I thought of my deepest, darkest fears, Floating in a multitude of colors.

Cool, calm colors-green, purple, blue. Fiery, sunshine hues of red, orange, and yellow. Black and white and other shades of gray. My eyes are haunted by vivid, bright colors, Levitating towards the dark sky that was once clear blue. Despite all these colors, there is nothing inside balloons. Just the helium within their latex surface, Lighter than air, but heavy burdened.

The first balloon I let go floated away into the deep space of unknown. Afterwards, I was haunted by a reoccurring nightmare. A boy had a balloon-string noose tied around his neck. He held onto a clutch of grass, crying in despair, Not ready to leave this Earth. But the grass wasn’t strong enough to keep him grounded. The balloon ascended into the dark blue, His body limped lifeless in the cold atmosphere. When she held her balloon, she flew with it towards the deep space. I grabbed her ankle as she was about to depart. I didn’t want to let go, I never wanted to, But I needed to let go of all fears uncertain. I had to let go.

-Jon-Jon Nguyen

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Take me to the lights...

...where therein there is a peacefulness

of joined brotherhood and reconciliation I have found you,

you may seek me,

hidden in the trestles where

roses and vilio-lillies paint the light. Snap and snare against the chrome hubcap

keep the beat in time to the voice of the fire and the wispy shades of moonlight hidden in the hair and fingers

of every painted fireside beauty of the crackling light. Take me to the versatile

and to the manic ever sprawling always falling

but never staying down.

Find me at the drive up Cineplex, where the shutters of the reels are backdrops for the feel

of fallen, ancient whispers

to this one stop light town. This world is electric eclectic

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twice as nice copacetic

if you're my dowsing rod lead me to the well

of your sweet, satiny waters.

Drown me in your electricity and intensity

of your wheat and sunlight feathered hair and majesty

made known by the

warbles of ocean light in your eyes.

-Kyler Smith

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Yummy Sandifer.

Power--- pills & potions on the very tip of his tongue, it's medicine to the masses, manipulation to some, Killers need guidance too--- as Satan speaks to the Son, if we feed the boy the fruits then what is he to become? If we pour the boy the juice then is he needing a Mum? Ask--- is he needing a rib to protect him from his lungs? Its pollution & confusion in the air of the slums, the boy is much better off not breathing in the junk.. He might be better off not eating, they'll overkill the undead just to feed him, I know the hunger in his mind, sends trouble down his spine & soon the muscles in his legs will decline... Can you hear him running? He did not choose this transportation as he accedes his situation, he reaches for a tool that's free of limitations.. Pure--- the taste of blood on the very tip of his tongue, to him it's God in the essence, the most Devilish to some, Killers are silent too--- face frozen & numb, if we feed the boy the loot then what is he to become? If we teach the boy to hustle, then why is he needing to hunt? Ask--- is he needing a gift to protect with his gun? It's not a picture or a witness to ever see what he's done, the boy is a phantom, a grand secret to some... His legacy is tainted, his paradise painted with anguish, that boy only knows pain, he can't imagine it changes, I know his stomach has always rumbled he's in need of a lick, I think we owe that boy a steak, maybe even some fish.. He knows there's more to this kitchen, soon he'll be raiding the fridge...his rob bery is out of passion, the passion to want to live..

Pleasure--- it's pink flesh on the very tip of his tongue, its shallow pools to many, the deepest oceans to some, Killers do triumph too--- like strippers collecting one$, if we feed the boy the truth then what is he to become? If we show the boy the rules, will he be needing to trust? Ask--- is he needing a bitch so that he can be given love? It's foolish & the muses are often pinched by the penny, if there's dollars in the water the seas bring plenty.. 19 | Page


He's at his most ravenous, thirstier than typical, where prayer can’t exist & sex is never spiritual.. I know he smiles at the thought of her, yet he shudders at her lips...he was raised without milk from a tit, He thinks to hate her, is to repay her, for everything that she did, His weapon is emptied quick & sprays all the love from his limbs. -R. Audu II

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Don’t worry. Something just got caught in my throat.

You are knives when I am thirsty, but I swallow you down because you are trying so hard not to let me die of thirst, as if you could cut out the part of me that makes me thirsty. At first, I was silent because I ran out of breath, but you decided that it was an interrogation. You just needed me to talk, but it’s hard to talk with serrated thoughts caught in my throat. Now, I’m afraid to take them out, because when I loved you, you were a song I thought I couldn’t sing. I’m still silent because the next time you say you’ll take your blades and leave I am afraid of saying, okay. The thing is, I’m not always thirsty, and when I love you you are a song I still have a hard time singing. I practice the best I can each day, but sometimes the blades dig in a little too deep and I choke. I know it’s your way of trying to help, but I need you to know that sometimes, when I’m thirsty, all I need is a cool glass of water.

-Michael Gruber

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Clarity Is Our Clarity As the church bell tolls, The darkness brings A silence That without it bores Into the metal Of what we know And what we knew But would never show.

We know not how to feel, Having seen completion. Dying is a somber plea For absolution That cannot be found Without emptiness. It drapes a blanket Over the brokenness, And at first, The world fades In dissolution.

No one knows when The blank space of death Will threaten The ink-splotched pages Of the tome Etched by each and every Pulse of the heart.

-Patrick Stahl

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A Different Magic Hour some day the magazine eyes on my earring mannequin will blink.

and stare at me, waiting for an answer to a question it did not ask.

one bright day the crowned lion on my tapestry will roar and throw down its spear.

and he will be indignant that I made him stay in his stance for so long.

a day will come when the wilted costume headdress on my stand will grow buckskin legs and crossed arms

and a chief will sit on top of my stand

and claim this of his new hundred holy land. and on this day the carved nativity from the finest of Israel

will chime its wooden bell

and the babe in the feeding trough

will coo and shake its fists at the setting of a native sun

as it leaves behind a world too strange to not look back on.

-Kyler Smith

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Khaki Kangaroo

Mom saved your tattered khaki hide, storing you in a cardboard box, along with other childhood toys I proudly call my own today, but don’t recall you as one. You were held tightly in my arms, or hurled from my wooden crib, but sometimes resting all alone. I would bet that I peed on you, and maybe some days even worse.

Aged cloth now forms your outlined frame, still dirty and worn from child wear, faded color stuffed with something, legs need mended to make you whole, your age numbers my golden years. I often speculate why you were not a fluffy teddy bear. Might it be I was different then, wanting to explore many things, so they gave me a kangaroo. Enclosed in glass but not a tomb, I have you displayed on a shelf among items I call treasures. I wish my mind could recreate, the love I must have had for you.

-Roberta L. Dostal

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Lighthouse

I know you’re scared The future frightens me, too But we’re only kids Playing around with a loaded gun Saintly christened “the ‘L’ word”

I offer you my childhood nightlight Not to ward away the monsters that go bump in the night But to shine a bright light against the regrets and doubts You keep buried underneath your bed I’m sad to say it sunk too deep, These submarine hearts of ours. I hope you a safe voyage down under To explore the benthic depths of sunken dreams.

I hope my nightlight serves as a beacon lighthouse To carry you asleep through the twilight void

Someday when your mind realigns Like a cosmic solstice scene with streaming stars across the starry sky

Crack open the windows of your soul beyond the nightlight glow To revisit a place where stars gaze upon a nostalgic hill peak Where the grass grew rapidly, with your head resting on my shoulder.

-Jon-Jon Nguyen

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Words of Wild

I like an occasional cigar on my lips I enjoy companies of older men They never really asked the opinion Of the lioness with Daniel in the den.

Maybe I like a tired eye Or a world-weary stare Maybe I enjoy a nightingale complex Of a weakened love in my care.

So I relish in the thought of my mind Of being barefoot on the oak and pine Surely I feel the limit of my soul When the road by my eye outruns my goal. So let the fragrant wine of the cigar Infuse my painted loved lips

Let the oak splinter, and the pine stain, and the patient fall in love with the Good Doctor

Let me sprint the road though I can’t see the end, and let my gaze be blurred by the terrible onslaught that is his thousand-yard stare, shocking me through and through

numbing my poor bare feet

I’ll reach him regardless; I’ll make certain this lioness claims her elder king.

-Kyler Smith

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Transition

This is a poem that changes one word at a time. Life is a poem that changes one word at a time.

Life is a poem that changes. One word, at this time, life, is a poem. That changes one love at this time:

life. Is a poem that changes one, love? Is this time?

Life is a poem that changes one. Love is beyond time.

Life writes a poem that changes one love, is beyond time.

Life writes a poem. Without changes, one love is beyond time.

Life writes a poem without changes. One love is beyond reach.

Life writes my poem. Without changes, one love is beyond reach.

Life writes my sentence without changes. One love is beyond reach.

Life writes my sentence without changes. Your love is beyond reach. Life writes my sentence without mercy. Your love is beyond reach.

-Michael Gruber

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Cruising Through Life - Kylie Truscello

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Sandhill Expression - Jon-Jon Nguyen

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America the Beautiful - Anthony Knisely

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Dewey Damsel - Eliza Talvola

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In Bloom - Anthony Knisely

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Mine - Eliza Talvola

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Fallen Away - Rachel Logan

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Scatter - Anthony Knisely

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Flow - Anthony Knisely

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Gesundheit - Eliza Talvola

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Winter Solstice - Anthony Knisely

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Summer Rain - Anthony Knisely

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Rockin’ Strings - Anthony Knisely

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Untitled

Sometime around five in the morning, Dr. Janacek woke up aboard his train. He stretched his arms, stiffly, as though he had to remember how to move them. He’d been on this train for eight hours. He pulled aside the thick cloth curtain covering the window. Dawn spilled out onto the horizon, out on the very edge, spreading through the darkness in a thick and hazy way, like cream through coffee. He wished then that he had coffee, but he knew that the black swill offered in the café car was not worth his trip over. The world outside was properly illuminated by the time the train pulled into Chicago’s Union Station. He disembarked the train and walked alongside it as it lay on its track in the station tunnels, sighing loudly and humming like a great, resting silver beast. He took a cab to the hotel, a nice place, the location of the conference. Janacek checked in and carried his suitcase in the elevator up to his room, giving the older woman in the elevator car who tried to engage him in small talk a perfunctory reply that made it clear he wasn’t interested in being bothered. The elderly woman stood closer to the edge of the elevator car, holding her purse closer to herself, lips tight. He arrived at his room, set down his suitcase on the floor, and took off his coat, relishing the chance to lie back on the soft bed. He allowed himself a deep sigh and the chance to close his eyes for a while. He drifted into sleep, semi-unintentionally, and when he woke, it was mid-afternoon. Dr. Janacek stood up and took a leisurely shower. He put on the badge he’d obtained when he registered for the conference that bore his name and affiliation, collected his papers, and checked his appearance in the mirror. He was an attractive man and he knew it, and he took great care in his appearance. He straightened his tie, saw no other issues in the mirror, and headed downstairs. The conference room during which he was slated to present his work was spacious and pretentious. The walls were mirrored to give the impression of even greater room, and crystal chandeliers hung low from the ceiling, casting dim light that caught in the gaudy beads and made them glitter. Marble statues of spheres and other large, round and simple shapes stood on small polished wood pedestals in the corners. Dr. Janacek wondered if the statues were mass-produced in some upscale hotel decor factory. Here’s the building where they make the carpets, and there’s the tile floor building. And here’s where they make the marble decorations, take your pick of geometric shape. Janacek was thze third speaker queued for this segment, which centered on cognition-perception research. He watched the young man before him, nervous and thickly-accented, stumble through the Q-and-A section to modest applause, and then heard his own name announced. He stood and strode to the podium, and opened with a warm smile and a small joke, a combination that succeeded in disarming most of the crowd. He launched into his presentation. Janacek was a practiced speaker, good at 41 | Page


keeping attention, good at pacing himself, never faltering as he smoothly transitioned from his background to methods to results and discussion. The crowd offered relatively few questions after his thorough presentation, and he sailed through them, handling the questions with graceful and unhesitant answers. He was particularly good at dealing with questions in a way that made the original asker seem incompetent or inattentive to his presentation. As applause filled the room, a young graduate student in the second row caught his eye with her enthusiastic smile: a thin face, glasses, long, straightened blonde hair. He made a point to lock gaze with her for a fraction of a movement before moving on as he scanned the crowd. Later, at the hotel bar, he noticed her again, sent her a small, friendly smile: an invitation to approach. She sauntered over, and he caught a glimpse of the way her black skirt moved around her slender legs as she walked. He bought her a drink as she climbed into the seat beside him. Twenty minutes later he was fucking her in his hotel room. The lights of the city buildings outside the window glittered knowingly and invitingly. The following day, Janacek looked through the book of abstracts for the conference and decided that none of the presentations interested him until the evening. He had rarely been to Chicago, maybe only once or twice before, and he enjoyed the idea of exploring the city. A remnant of a memory of some district of the city he had gone to before, with interesting shops and an urban hipster feel, piqued his interest, and armed with the Internet and a single remembered coffee shop name, he found the name and directions to get there. He donned scarf, coat, and gloves, and took the subway. An enticing smell directed him down the street to a coffee shop, and he emerged carrying a genuinely good, full brew in a carrier cup. A nearby bookstore caught his eye, and it seemed to him like a good place to go into to get out of the cold, a place where he could take his time wandering inside and slowly enjoy his coffee. Janacek ducked inside, shuffling off most of the ice and snow clinging to his shoes at the entrance. The bookstore smelled intriguing: it smelled old, but not distastefully so; it smelled too frequented, lived-in to be compared to a basement. He wandered forward, and saw the walls were lined entirely with shelves, and all of the shelves were completely full of books. Even more shelves stood on the ground, creating aisles. One of the young guys behind the checkout desk, with a short, dark beard and a beanie, gave Janacek a friendly nod as he walked passed. Janacek wandered through the science fiction and history sections, and was surprised to find a number of recent bestsellers nestled among much older books. It was, he supposed, a sign of a community of avid readers. Out of curiosity, he took the Page | 42


creaking stairs in the back of the shop. A train rumbled past outside as he climbed to the second floor, creating a low, muffled roar that shook the building. The second floor was emptier of patrons than the first. There, at a table in the back, by a round window, sat a young woman peering intently into a book. Shoulder-length dark hair spilled out over her shoulders and the lowered hood of her zipped coat. She seemed not to acknowledge him as he stood at a distance, and so he took the opportunity to try to make out the words on the cover of the black paperback in her hands: Principles of Occultism. “I know you’re judging me,” she said, without looking up. “And I just want you to know that, yes, I realize this is bullshit.” Janacek was slightly taken aback, but he hid this well and produced a casual and slightly amused, “So, why are you reading it, then?” “I’m writing a character based on someone I know, and I realized I actually don’t know much about what they believe,” she said. “So you’re a writer. Is that what you do for a living?” “Yes,” she said, for the first time looking up from her book long enough to stare him fully in the eyes. Her eyes were deep hazel. “Don’t think I didn’t catch the condescending tone, there.” “I wasn’t trying to—” “What do you do for a living?” “I’m a professor. At Duke University.” “Bullshit.” Janacek produced his conference badge from a pocket and handed it to her. “Ryan, huh,” she mumbled, handing it back. “What kind of a last name?” “Czech,” he said. “It’s like the famous composer.” “I don’t know him.” “Hm.” A rush of wind blasted the building, howling beyond the window. “So, you really are a writer? Are you from around here?” Janacek asked. He was hoping she would look at him again. He wanted another glimpse of her eyes. “Yes, and yes. Look, though, if you’re trying to pick me up, I’m not interested. I have a girlfriend.” “I’m not,” Janacek said, flustered, and slightly less able to hide it this time. The wind outside picked up to a roar. Janacek glanced at the window and saw only a steady stream of white. The woman noticed his gaze and followed it to the window. “Man,” she said. “Glad I had nowhere to really be right now.” Janacek sighed. 43 | Page


“I guess I didn’t, either.” “Might as well take a seat,” she said, gesturing to a chair across the short table from her. “I’m a little surprised you’re offering me a seat. You didn’t seem to care much for me,” he said. He’d said it in a joking tone, but surprised himself with his own frankness. The woman seemed to also realize it was not a joke. She shrugged. “I didn’t, to be honest. You strike me as the kind of man who’s pretty used to getting whatever he wants,” she said, dog-earing her page and setting Principles of Occultism down on the table. “What makes you say that?” Janacek said, leaning back a little, brows knitting slightly. “I don’t know, the way you move and speak. You’ve got the confidence of someone who’s not used to things going wrong for him. I bet all your students fawn over you.” “That’s pretty rude.” “You’re probably right. I’m also being honest with you. I feel like some people need that on occasion.” Janacek attempted to bury his annoyance, to stake his claim to superiority by simply ignoring her, but her words and attitude gnawed him like mice. “I don’t even know your name,” he said suddenly, as though her name was something that should have come up in the conversation ages ago. “Steph,” she said, extending a hand with a grin. Janacek shook it warily, unsure if she was mocking him with the gesture or not. “You’re a pretty unusual person, Steph,” he said. “I don’t think so. But, hey. Everyone sees things differently,” she replied. She folded her hands in front of her, elbows resting on the table. “The thing is, I want to like you. You seem like a smart guy.” “It’s true that they don’t just hand out Ph.D.s.” “But you just seem like a bit of a prick.” “Well. Thanks, I guess.” He glared. “I won’t say aloud what you seem like to me.” Steph narrowed her eyes at him, and then, unexpectedly, began to quietly laugh. “Okay, you’re right,” she said. “This is a weird conversation to have with a stranger.” “It is. I’d be lying if I said it was the strangest,” Janacek said. “Any stories come to mind?” “I once shared a plane ride with a man who claimed he was Jesus.” “Oh, man,” Steph giggled. “How did that go?” Page | 44


“I told him at least I figured I was safe in case the plane crashed. He told me not to count on it because he couldn’t swim.” They both laughed. In the lull that followed as their voices fell away, Janacek noticed that the wind had died down. Snowflakes fell in fat, calm flakes. “I should probably go back to the hotel,” Janacek said. Steph nodded. “Nice meeting you, Ryan.” “Same.” “And hey, listen, sorry if I offended you earlier. I just deal a lot with entitled men. Maybe don’t take it personally.” “Thanks. It’s alright. Good luck with writing about your friend.” Steph smiled sheepishly. “The character isn’t actually just based on a friend. She’s based on my girlfriend.” “I thought you said that stuff was bullshit,” Janacek said. “How can that possibly work out?” “I have other reasons to respect her,” Steph said. “I try to find things worth respecting in pretty much everyone.” “Even me?” Janacek grinned. “Even you.” Janacek returned down the squeaky stairs, noting that what remained in his coffee cup was now cold. As the second floor passed out of his view, he saw Steph quietly resume her book. Janacek was quiet and more withdrawn than usual on the trip back to the hotel. He nearly missed his subway stop. As he entered the hotel, enjoying the feeling of warmth returning his face and hands, and crossed toward the elevators, he saw a young woman approach him from behind. “Are you Dr. Janacek?” she asked, nervously. “I am,” he said, stopping and turning toward her. “I’ve read your work on color perception,” she said excitedly. “I cited you in one of my studies. I had a question about my own study, in fact…and I was wondering, could you give some advice?” The student was clearly very nervous. Janacek glanced back toward the elevators. Upstairs was a warm, private room where he could take off his coat and relax for a while. Janacek turned back to the nervous student. “Alright,” he said. “Let’s talk about this research project.”

-Avery Malone

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Losing the Ring

It was a silver ring about one inch long with leaves and black onyx entwined together. Virginia, the stall worker, told me that a Navajo woman made all the rings for Spirit Bear. I like to imagine that she was an honest sort who was not simply trying to make a sale. It was September of 2007 and I was fourteen years old, a freshman in high school. My mother was working the stall next to Virginia’s, for Princess House, a kind of ornamental crockery and woven metal and wicker home product business where the consultant came to your house. I would go with my mother, house to house, set up and take down each display. Today we went to the fair. Setting up the display was a quick process. Mom and I had set up down to a rehearsed science. I would set up the big pieces, the tables and the three tiered wicker stands and swirled metal shelves and she would arrange the smaller items, table clothes, glass plates and place settings that sat on their larger counterparts. Mom would add a fake lemon or tart here or there and I would untangle the seemingly endless mass of lights. It was frustrating because it had to be perfect and yet every weekend I found myself completing the same steps to set up and to tear down. While my mother was taking care of the final changes to her display, I talked to Virginia. She told me about her grown children and the feelings of having an empty nest. I told her about my siblings, about working with my mother, and about my father’s Cherokee heritage. Virginia pointed out her wares, and the sight of the leaves and black onyx set in silver captured my eyes. I am not sure exactly why. Maybe it was because of how the two elements, leaves and onyx, were so entangled with one another. Whatever the case, I knew I needed this ring. Pleading with my mother, I convinced her to buy this ring for me. She bought a matching ring, claiming our mother daughter relationship. .... “Mom has left.” They are the only words I remember from my phone conversation with my little sister. My body went into autopilot. I do not remember holding my cellphone, where I was, or what I was doing. I briefly thought about Emily. I thought that she was confused and torn up about how to act. Nothing in Emily’s sixteen years had equipped her for this event. I was twenty and should have known what to say or do. While four years does not seem like much of an age gap, it is an eternity when you are an older sibling. Older siblings are supposed to know the hows and whys of things. Older siblings are supposed to take care of their siblings when parents cannot or will not. As the older sister, I should have comforted Emily, but all I could think of was out, my, mother leaving. How could she? This question slammed into my mind and broke the dam. Questions poured out. Did my siblings and I mean so little that she could leave while Page | 46


we were not prepared? Where did she plan on going? Was she going with someone? All these questions overloaded my brain. Like someone struggling to reach the surface of the water, I needed that gulp of oxygen that would ease the burning in my lungs. I made some excuse to Emily, telling her I had to go and that she could call me if she needed to. It would be understandable if she doubted my sincerity because I doubted my sincerity. Later on, Emily would tell me, again, that she drove Mom and three suitcases to the end of the driveway where Mom got into the car with a woman and drove away. .... I had just finished practicing for the track meet that would end my freshmen track and field season. I was soaking my shin splints and pulled shoulder muscle in a tub of ice water in G, the athletic trainer’s office. I took my ring off and set it on the counter. I figured it was safe, but high school students really are vultures. Five minutes of soaking in the freezing forty-degree Fahrenheit ice tub and rubbing feeling back into my legs gave one of the scavengers time to take my ring. The leaves and black onyx that connected me to my mother was nowhere to be found. .... Tamar Ruth Waltz Snyder was nowhere to be found. She told everyone that she was going to South Carolina to stay with her mother and sister. We called her mother who said she did not know where she was. Either she was not there or they were lying. Before she left Emily said she saw Mom packing dishes, kitchen utensils, pictures, guns, clothes, computers, antiques, and jewelry. Not all of her jewelry left with her. Some of her pieces remained in the armoire, nestled in their black velvet pockets. My father, siblings, and I questioned the jewelry that was left behind. We thought it was odd because my mother was overly fond of collecting jewelry. Among the remaining was the Christmas gift that Ethan had given her from the Holocaust museum, the necklace Emily had made in art class, the black hills gold my father bought for her in Nevada, and the black onyx and leaf ring that was the match to mine. .... When I lost my ring I remember distinctly the panic I felt. I searched every inch of G’s athletic room, even though a part of me recognized that I would not find it. I searched every counter, every inch of the floor, and every cupboard and yet I could not find the ring. I can still recall how I felt sick to my stomach imagining what my mother would think and do when I told her I lost the ring that I pleaded for, not even two years after she bought it for me. My mother was very good at effectively chastising, but she was even better at being quiet. I remembered the time my older brother and I got caught fishing in the neighbor’s pond when we were ten and eleven, and I could tell that my mother wanted to tie 47 | Page


us to a chair for the rest of our lives. She did not have to say a word. When I arrived home I told my mother that I had lost the ring, that it was stolen. She did not say a word, but I still knew that she was disappointed. It was another thing that I was irresponsible about; I obviously did not care enough about the ring to make sure I kept an eye on it so that it was not stolen. .... Through the years, she got better at not saying anything. Eventually she reached the master level where not even her eyes gave away her thoughts. Perhaps my mother and I just became distant to one another and we no longer connected on the same plane. She made new friends on the internet and I made new friends on the campus of my new school. I understood that she needed time away from the craziness that is a house of rowdy kids and I understood that talking to an adult is different than talking to a child. What I did not understand was the difference between taking a weekend away from kids and locking them outside of a room. I did not understand the difference between the friends on the internet and the friends that lived just two miles away. I never understood why she’d decided that leaving her family was better than trying to have them understand what was going on. .... A month after Mom disappeared we found out that she moved to Hawaii. She left our family and we are still not sure why. She still refuses to tell us her mailing address. What we do know is that she moved in with one of her friends that she met on the internet. Mom did not tell us what she took or left behind. For the past two years my family has played the ‘what will I find missing today game.’ Some days it is that another measuring cup is gone and another day it is that we do not have a picture of our maternal great-grandfather. The things she did leave behind are in the spare closet, packed up and safe from Dad’s furious rampage to eradicate her presence from our lives. I had conversation after conversation with family members, friends, even pastors, all of the conversations about forgiving my mother. I told them and myself countless times that I did, I forgave her and I understood why she did what she did. That she had married and had children too young. That she did not get a chance to live her life and choose what she wanted to do. Then my pastor pointed out that forgiveness is an everyday battle. Some days I win and I forgive her while other days I wallow in the selfpitying knowledge that my mother left me and I hope she is miserable. I remember the days when my mother and I could bicker at one another one moment and then joke about life giving you lemons another as we set up a display at a fair. I remember when she bought me a ring and then I lost it. I remember when she stopped talking to me. I remember how my sister sounded as she gave the rehearsed version of how our mother left. I am not sure how things progressed and morphed into Page | 48


what they are. I am not sure of anything really. There are just the bare uncertainties. My ring is gone, like our connection, but my mother’s ring is in her jewelry armoire. I am not sure if any of my brothers, sisters, or even I will take anything out of the armoire to give to our grandchildren or children. I like to think that one day I will give the armoire and the ring back to her, that I will go visit her, or that I will be able to forgive her each day with ease, but maybe I will not.

-Victoria Snyder

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He Called Me Pet

Characters

Anatole Marino - Unseen, exists only as a voice. Petra - 19. Opera ballerina. Long black hair, waiflike, wears a stolen costume dress.

Time- Present.

Setting - backstage of an opera house during a performance. There is the muffled sound of an orchestra proceeding through an opera through the duration of the play.

Lights up to reveal the backstage of an opera house. (PETRA) enters, trying to remain unseen. She is running from something, head turned back, but trips over a prop and careens to the floor. She gasps in pain and holds her bare and bloody foot, looking around in a panic at what to do next.

ANATOLE (only a voice) Well that was one for the books. Who…what was that? Who’s there? I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have scared you. What, where are you?

PETRA

ANATOLE PETRA

ANATOLE I know it’s surprising at first, but I promise, people get used to it. When I really think about it, maybe I should just plan on scaring you; I don’t really see how I can make an introduction any way else. It’s like you’re right over my ear… Page | 50

PETRA


What are you running from, child?

ANATOLE

PETRA Nothing that should concern a disembodied voice.

ANATOLE I still deserve respect, don’t I? Even for a voice, you should consider yourself lucky I would be concerned for your safety. PETRA You’re not just a voice, I know when I’m being made a game of. The stagehands do jokes like this all the time. Damn it, where are you? Language, dear…? Petra.

ANATOLE PETRA

ANATOLE Beautiful name. What about your last name? I’ve never had a last name.

PETRA

ANATOLE How unfortunate. I’ve never had a body. Well, I guess at one point I did. It’s funny, you spend so long a certain way you almost forget completely at one point you were once another way. Forty years, and it still all seems so surreal.

PETRA Fine. I’ll play along. Do you have anything, besides a voice? Something that I can curse properly? They all call me Anatole.

ANATOLE

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(scoffs) Who are they?

PETRA

ANATOLE Everyone here. Besides Anatole, they call me a legend. (in a fake spooky voice) Of a stagehand crushed by a falling beam. If memory serves me, I landed only a little way off from right where you’re sitting. And I only speak to a certain few, such as yourself. How is your foot, dear pet? My name’s Petra. Of course it is. My foot’s fine. I’ve had worse.

PETRA

ANATOLE PETRA

ANATOLE I would suspect that from someone who goes around a dangerous set in nothing but her skin and a pretty dress. You should be more careful. After all, people have died back here. PETRA Oh, I’m so sure. Just like there’s more than plenty of places for someone to hide and throw their voice. You must think I’m just another dumb ballerina. I’m insulted by you, Anatole, I can feel you mocking me. ANATOLE Maybe you’re right, pet. Maybe I’ve been too assuming. But, don’t forget, I did ask about your foot. And I talked to you in the first place. Not many people are privileged to that. PETRA I feel privileged, believe me. And damn you, call me Petra. ANATOLE

No. Page | 52


(infuriated) Why not?

PETRA

ANATOLE Because I like you. You’re fiery. Women are more fun when they’re angry. In such a pretty dress, too… and familiar…I think one of us wants very much to be a pretty little ballerina, even if it’s just a dumb one. And it must be the one of us with arms and legs to twirl with. Shame, too. I loved dancing. This dress is mine.

PETRA

ANATOLE Pet, it’s the very dress used by the other dancers in the fourth act of tonight’s show. Those rosettes, that black lace, you even stole a matching garter, haven’t you? PETRA (looking around) I’ve had it. Show yourself. Enough playing with my mind. Stop this right now. ANATOLE Such a forceful nature for someone who has nowhere to go.

PETRA You’re just bored, aren’t you? Spirit or not, you just need something to keep you entertained. That has to be it, who has the time for this?

You’re still here. I’m wounded. You’ve said you have had worse.

ANATOLE PETRA ANATOLE

PETRA I’m not afraid of you, you should know. If I was afraid I would have ran, bloody foot or not. 53 | Page


Now I’m insulted. How so?

ANATOLE PETRA

ANATOLE A woman like you would never run in this situation. Fear, anger, excitement, curiosity, any emotion would keep her rooted in this spot. She would do exactly w.hat you’re doing now: staying, and trying to figure me out. After all, you are still on the run from something, aren’t you? What else but sheer gall would keep a woman on the run in one place? PETRA begins to show defeat, her anger spent on no answers. She holds her foot and looks down sadly. Blood is now spattered all over her dress.

PETRA I just…my foot hurts. And I don’t want to go. The finale of this piece is beautiful. I can hear it through the rafters. It’s always been one of my favorites. Child, why are you running? …They wouldn’t let me have a dress. The other dancers? Why not?

ANATOLE PETRA

ANATOLE

PETRA Because they’re all evil, hateful women. I don’t want anything to do with them. ANATOLE It could be said that petty disagreements shouldn’t get in the way of passions.

Page | 54


PETRA They shun and mock me because I came from the streets. They wouldn’t let me practice with them or dance in any of tonight’s numbers. So you steal dresses for revenge? This was the prima donna’s. You are a rebel, aren’t you?

ANATOLE PETRA ANATOLE

PETRA This music is so beautiful; I wish I could dance to it…why are you doing this?

What?

ANATOLE

PETRA (in his affect) Privileging me with your compassion. Do I really sound like that? Why are you talking to me? Because I like you. I don’t like you. You’re still talking to me.

ANATOLE PETRA

ANATOLE PETRA ANATOLE

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PETRA I am…I’ve already used the foot excuse, haven’t I? You have.

ANATOLE

PETRA laughs in spite of herself and her anger. She’s half intrigued and half exasperated. She throws up her bloodied hands in defeat.

Then I guess I just might be starting to. Starting to what?

PETRA

ANATOLE

PETRA Do you have a last name, Anatole? (playing along) Sorry, did you ever have a last name? Marino.

ANATOLE

PETRA Marino… I like that. Anatole Marino. If you were a girl, your name could have been Anna Maria. ANATOLE I think you’re just losing a little too much blood, pet.

PETRA Why are you so set on calling me that? I like Petra. It’s the only name I got. Pet seems so blunt and cretin-like. I don’t like to feel like a cretin. You’re very beautiful, Petra. Page | 56

ANATOLE


Taken aback, she blinks several times, losing her spite.

You’re also blushing.

ANATOLE

PETRA I am not. (hiding a smile) It’s not fair. You can see everything of me and I can’t see you at all. But you used my name… a minute ago you called me Pet. I thought you like seeing me mad? You’re not mad anymore. So…you don’t like me anymore?

ANATOLE PETRA

ANATOLE Even more so. And because you just said you hated pet. You really have lost a lot of blood, haven’t you? PETRA How has no one been back here yet? I wish someone could help me… If I could, I would help you. I want to see you…it’s so cruel.

ANATOLE PETRA

ANATOLE Were you really hurt by me calling you Pet?

PETRA It reminds me of the other dancers. They taunt me constantly about where I come from. It’s all I can do to stop from crying on the stage. I am sorry, Petra.

ANATOLE

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PETRA I actually like it when it comes from a caring, disembodied voice. If you really are one. Believe me, I am. And I do care.

ANATOLE

PETRA (after deliberating a moment) Against better judgment I believe you. That’s a heartbreaking thing. You’re still worried I’m lying to you?

ANATOLE

PETRA No…that’s just the trouble. If you are dead, truly, completely, that means that this voice is all there is of you. And look (grasps at the air feebly) I can’t even have that. For all I know you just might be in my head and nowhere else. ANATOLE A magnificently beautiful place to dwell, if I had to choose.

PETRA What are we supposed to do now? The moment I walk away, you might leave forever. I’m always here. Than… here is where I want to be.

ANATOLE PETRA

ANATOLE A minute ago you said you didn’t like me.

PETRA I’ve lost a lot of blood. I’m allowed to be a dumb ballerina.

ANATOLE I think you’re much more than that. I think you’re even more than all the other dancers put together. Page | 58


PETRA So, if I’m so much better than them, how is it that I always feel like the bottom of the barrel? Better than being under a beam.

ANATOLE

PETRA You seem too happy to be a lingering spirit, if you are one. Spirits stay around because of unfinished business…what is yours?

ANATOLE (gently) Petra, darling, might I remind you that you are in a stolen prima donna dress? And that most might expect that the woman dressed as the prima donna should be best placed on the stage, to meet everyone’s expectations? Even with a bloody foot, someone is bound to be looking for you. Or, at the least, the dress. PETRA (with a lazy wave) They have three backup dresses. I just wanted to send a message. Which is? Prima donnas are horrible. (laughing) Petra… You can call me Pet. Not if it hurts you.

ANATOLE PETRA ANATOLE PETRA ANATOLE

PETRA Something about you, it makes it okay, like a term of endearment. Like… 59 | Page


(with a kidding groan) A pet name? (laughing) Yes! My very own pet name. Then I’ll always call you it. Always?

ANATOLE PETRA ANATOLE PETRA

ANATOLE Whenever you find me, I’ll always be here.

PETRA That’s not a very reassuring thing. How am I supposed to find you? Only when I’m hurt? Only in this exact spot? Only… only in voice. (solemnly) You will only ever just be a voice. I’m just as sad as you are.

ANATOLE

PETRA I don’t like this. Nothing can be done…besides me dying.

ANATOLE Don’t even think about that, Petra. I won’t let you die on my account.

PETRA (through tears) How then? I don’t think in living I will find a greater companion than you and yours in death. Life has lost all shine to it knowing now I can’t be with you in it.

ANATOLE You’re being melodramatic. And that’s coming from the voice of a dead opera stagehand. You will not die for my sake.

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PETRA Look at all those beams above me, and at your side, Anatole. How easy they could fall again. ANATOLE Pet…I am dead.…please, I don’t want you to be as well. I will be with you! I am with you now!

PETRA

ANATOLE

PETRA Not the same…we could embrace, we could dance… you did say how much you missed dancing. Doesn’t it make you sad to know you can’t hold me?

My suffering hardly matters anymore. But mine does to you.

ANATOLE PETRA

ANATOLE …Yes. Yes it does. I did say I don’t talk to just anyone. You always had something special about you, Petra, something worth watching. You know me already?

PETRA

ANATOLE I’m always around. I see you with the other dancers. There is a humility in you, paired with grace and a delicate balance of light and dark. You should see how you dance, Petra. I’ve come to care a great deal for you. And you dying won’t help either of us. You have more promise than you’re aware of. I don’t think either of us should let you being alive or of lower status keep you from achieving something amazing.

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You really think that?

PETRA

ANATOLE Go bandage your foot, Pet. I’m here, I won’t leave. Go heal and return. I will always be here. Always. PETRA stands, wavering on one foot, beginning to cry. She wraps her arms about herself, leaning on the wall behind her.

PETRA But you can’t even hold me… (pause) Your last name, Anatole…may I have it? It’s yours.

ANATOLE

PETRA Even if I can’t have your arms around me or your body dancing with mine. ANATOLE You have my voice, whenever you need it.

PETRA I’ll take your name. And you will always be here…? Always.

ANATOLE

PETRA (whispering) Always, sweet, Anatole. Anatole Marino… am I your unfinished business?

ANATOLE Go dance, Pet, like the stolen prima donna you are. You can show them how you’re light-years beyond them. I believe in you so much. And I’ll always be here for you. The crescendo is approaching, Petra, why don’t you dance for me now? I will be here.

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PETRA, crying and stumbling on her wounded foot, slowly starts to dance. Her eyes are closed and her face upturned toward the rafters. She sways, gaining her strength as the music swells, till she opens her arms from her own embrace and twirls openly, laughing through her tears. The lights and the music go down, but she continues to dance. There is a soft humming heard above her head. She opens her eyes, smiles upward, and closes them again, wrapping her arms around her once more. The stage goes dark.

[END]

-Kyler Smith

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Spoons

I have no energy. I get up in the mornings, but I don’t want to. I dress myself, but even putting on jeans feels like too much effort. I read this thing the other day. It was an article about chronic illnesses, and one point brought up some theory about spoons. The theory was that everyone with a chronic illness carries around a certain number of spoons, and anytime they do something – like take a shower, eat, dress, talk to someone – they give a spoon away. And when all the spoons are gone, that’s the end of their day, that’s all the energy and effort they had. I feel that way, and every day it feels like I have less and less spoons. Some days it feels like I don’t have any. No one understands. They look at me like I’m insane when I tell them I’m too tired to watch a movie with them, or when I say that I’m too tired to eat dinner. And sometimes, I feel like people just take my spoons. Like they take them without caring, and I get really protective over the ones that are left because I might need them. I might have a lot of homework or a test or a conference or something that requires my effort. It scares me to think that there will be times that I have no spoons left, but I’ll have to do something anyway; that sometimes people will take all my spoons, and I’ll still have a whole day to get through. “Do you ever feel like you have a lot of spoons?” She stirred her tea while she spoke, and the legal pad, for once, sat beside her on the table rather than in her lap. Her tea spoon was small, like a baby’s, and light glistened off the silver, just for a moment, when it rounded the outer lip of the cup in a direct sunbeam coming through the window. The cold weather forced us to keep the window closed, and I could hear the illness building up in her throat when she talked. So, she told me to ramble today, to just get it all out and allow her to listen, as if that would take the uncomfortable formality away. “Sometimes. There are days I wake up and feel like the weight of the world is off my shoulders. I dress nicely and put on makeup; I talk to everyone I see. I can’t seem to stop talking those days. I guess I sort of throw my spoons away, exert outrageous amounts of energy on everything just because I have it.” “Does it make you feel good?” The tea soothed her voice the slightest bit, slowly burned the frog in her throat until his croaks were muffled. I hesitated, spun my ring around my finger for a moment, and then said, “Yes, until that night when I can barely undress myself or shower. I waste all my energy on everyone else and do nothing for myself.” She sipped her tea and watched me, waiting for me to go on. She didn’t want me here today. Her spoons were gone. “Do you think there’s a way to get spoons?” I asked. I looked at the window and, though it was closed, could hear the people and cars below moving through the city at Page | 64


a glacial pace in evening traffic. I wondered how many people down there were out of spoons, how many of them had taken spoons, how many of them were still giving spoons out. I wondered if there was someone on a street corner just giving spoons away, making people happy – keeping people alive another night. I wondered how it might feel to receive a spoon at the end of the day. Just one last spoon to use on dinner or a hot bubble bath or a date. “I mean,” I said again, feeling my eyebrows push down on my eyes, as though I didn’t even really know what I meant, “do you think that there’s a way to receive a spoon from someone? We give them away all the time, but do we actually give them to people, or is it more like just dropping them on the ground to be trampled? Because, if they were actually being given to people, I don’t know that I’d feel so bad about losing them.” When I looked back, she was smiling at me. It was an oddly warm smile, one people get when they drink tea and that relieving warmth hits their sore esophagus. But her teacup was set aside, and her eyes were happily fixed on me. “What?” “I just find it absolutely amazing,” she said, “that people who are so depressed and so down on themselves can be so selfless.” I watched her for an uncomfortably long time, and then I turned towards her little silver spoon resting on the teacup’s matching saucer. Her eyes followed me, but I didn’t dare to look back. I moved my focus to the window and wondered again about the person on the street corner handing out spoons. I wondered if they were their own spoons or just spares they had lying around. I wondered if they had any spoons of their own. And I wondered, more than anything, if they were like me, if they went home every night, spoonless and exhausted.

-Jaclyn Reed

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Zombie Riding Shotgun, Imp in a Jar

The pickup truck lurched across the Nevada interstate like some sort of majestic Saharan creature, if the Sahara was filled with readily available booze and the animals frequented the bourbon streams. Bullet holes riddled the right side of the pickup, concentrating towards the back of the vehicle near the corrugated plastic bed. Only one of the front headlights was working, the other had been bashed out with a sixteen-ounce bottle of beer when the driver and his two newfound friends made their escape. Three jagged slashes across the roof of the truck gouged out a sun roof of sorts, left from when a demon clawed its way up through an intersection, started spouting fire and lashing out at anything it saw. Stars could be seen through the gouges above. It wasn’t like Stanley was paying attention to them, his eyes were strained and staring ahead into the dust-covered night street. Stanley Malt didn’t expect the Rapture to happen earlier that day. Sure, he was a Christian, he supposed. He went to church when he could, said grace with his folks when he was a young kid, and the other related rituals one associates with a man of Christ. But the fact that he had went to a comedy show titled “Jesus Christ Happy Hour” and attended his friend’s midnight Rent-a-Priest wedding in a drywall church apparently knocked him down several rungs on qualifying for Heaven. The heavy consumption of pork skins and seafood was also included in his report card as “sinful acts against the Creator”. Stanley fumbled around in the darkness of the truck for the stapled papers. It was glowing like those e-readers that let off enough light for reading but not enough to wake up your significant other in a fit of “why the hell are you reading at three in the morning you dunce” harsh whispering. The packet of vellum documents outlined Stanley’s major life mistakes and apparent sins. Every time he wore a cotton-polyester blend pair of boxers, every time he went to the barbershop owned by that old man from Ukraine, every time he went to a seafood dive (they granted a half-point for bonus credit if he had vomited afterwards, a note remarking about the technicalities of sins and the credibility of oyster freshness), even the time he had scattered carrot and sweet pea seeds carelessly in his parents garden when he was ten, inadvertently mixing crops and dooming his immortal soul. “What’s your story, kiddo?” Stanley looked to his right. Margaret tapped a pack of cigarettes on her palm and plucked one with her thumb and index finger. She looked about thirty-five or so; Stanley couldn’t judge her age very well because she had been six feet under ever since the eighties. The morticians had embalmed her with impressive efficiency and precision. Stanley was reminded of his uncle Weston, whose hands orchestrated the dissection of innumerable cadavers at the University of California, Berkeley. Page | 66


Margaret fully turned her head to Stanley, her left eye socket empty. She had a small face, reminiscent of a hazelnut. Margaret’s remaining eye was a cold and sharp shade of grey. Her skin was taut over bone and her dark blonde hair was wire. “Come on, humor me. I’ve been out cold for thirty years and I’m dying for conversation, pardon the pun.” Stanley realized he was rubbernecking and directed his attention back to the road. Margaret opened the glovebox and produced a Zippo lighter from amidst her rolled-up 1981 issue of Playgirl. The little flame flickered and wavered in the front end of the car. It met Margaret’s cigarette like a couple kissing during an earthquake. The sound of glass shifting on fake leather squeaked in the front end of the truck. “The woman has a point, you know.” A little imp dressed in a pinstripe black suit and bowler hat sat back against the interior of his mason jar. Dull red skin, caricatured pointed ears and nose, little jagged teeth, diminutive but intimidating. Snot-yellow eyes looked at Stanley critically. He had a Boston accent, of all things, the sort you’d expect from a speakeasy owner. “You think death’s boring, huh? Try working in the first circle of Hell. All of the interesting people are in the inner circles: artists, comedians, philosophers, writers, musicians, physicists…All I had were damn janitors and a crazy guy who thought he was a clam. Made ‘glub glub’ sounds and opened and closed his arms like there was no tomorrow. Fucking bath salt junkie, that one.” The imp, Argento, flicked out a talon and started scraping stick figures into the side of the jar. Stanley glanced at the imp with mild disdain. “Fine. I was a patent attorney for four years, built up my savings, drove out to Vegas with my friends, got drunk, didn’t get into Heaven, and now I’m driving aimlessly across Nevada with an undead woman and a freaking demon.” “Imp, I’m an Imp!” Argento acidly corrected, banging a tiny fist on the glass. “A Demon is a different caste! And Demons don’t bother with small fry like you, they go for the big dogs! The contenders! The hotshots of the soul business!” “And who would they be?” Stanley noticed the sun starting to turn the far horizon a light tint of indigo more than what Argento was saying. Argento carefully scraped the rough shape of a mountain range into a fresh space of glass, along with a series of indistinct letters and street intersections. “Hollywood! Drug lords! Mafia! Tinseltown’s practically a goldmine!” Margaret flicked her cigarette butt out of the window and looked at Stanley with her one good eye: “What we’re trying to get across, Stanley, is this: it’s been four hours or so since Judgment Day or whatever people call it now. You got a resurrected hooker and ex-servant of Beelzebub as company for a road trip, might as well open up a tad. Better than stewing in your past you never got to live. Or probably failed to live, 67 | Page


you hardly open up easily.” Stanley’s knuckles approached white. “What the heck are you talking about? I like my life. I live happily and all that!” Argento folded his arms and cocked his head to the side. “Yeah, lying to an Imp isn’t effective, bub. I can read your mind like a paperback novel. Well, most of it. So, a paperback that’s been sitting in the rain for a day.” Stanley growled and checked the fuel gauge with forced interest. Argento continued, pulling out a tiny snuff box. “For example: remember the time your best friend came out of the closet? When you pulled out the good book and started quoting Leviticus and all that jazz?” “What about it? My dad was in the room, he would have flogged me with a rolling pin if I said ‘It’s okay, Aaron, God made you like this!’ I’m glad you’re still in that jar, I don’t trust you at all…” Stanley added under his breath. Argento snapped the snuff box shut in frustration before he had a chance to use it. “Alright, let me tell you a story: back when I was a human, there was this girl I had fallen for. Wonderful person through and through. I tried to work up the courage to take her to the Talkies. It wasn’t easy. When I finally resolved that I was going to ask her, a mugger shot me in the face while I was walking to the corner store to meet her.” “That’s so inspiring.” “I ain’t done. When I got to Hell, I was assigned to a torture division in the first circle. As I said before: boring, boring, boring! Melting eyes out of sockets grates on your mind after a few years. Then the girl popped into Hell one day, the one I had met back in Boston. I refused to lay a finger on her; ho boy, did my supervisor hate that. Then a bunch of alarms went off and I felt myself being launched upwards like a firework to Earth. And hours later, here I am.” “How in the world does that relate to me?” Stanley noticed a vandalized border sign pass by, covered in red something or other. He didn’t want to think about it. Margaret pinched the bridge of her nose. Argento was fuming. “Decrees and rules are only as good as the person making them. If the Almighty is so great, why is suffering required for a ‘happy life’? You’re better off making your own rules and seeing what needs to be improved, not blindly following orders.” Stanley couldn’t stop the shame and disappointment in himself from showing. Margaret lit another cigarette. “Kiddo, don’t be so hard on yourself. You got at least fifty years to learn how to exist without the promise of a reward.” Argento finally managed to get his snuff box to his nose. Storm clouds rumbled off in the distance, the color of bruises. Argento looked up and groaned. “Great. Stanley, hope you can stomach the sight of blood, we’re going to Page | 68


be driving through it soon.” Stanley’s head met the steering wheel with a thud. “No. I vomit at the sight of it.” Margaret’s finger pushed Stanley’s jaw towards the left window.

-Nicholas Van Sickel

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Doing Nothing

“Sitting quietly, doing nothing, Spring comes, and the grass grows, by itself.” – Matsuo Basho * I was content for one of the first times in my life. Lying in bed. Watching cartoons. I didn’t care that we were at the beach. It helped, though. Being around pleasant scenery and favorable weather always would make me feel 100 times better than how I would normally felt. It didn’t matter what we were watching. Adventure Time? Sure, I loved the show. I had a lot of catching up to do. But it didn’t matter. Nothing did. It was all extraneous. It was all arbitrary, really. It was us. It was all of us. We all went to sleep. We had a big day planned and, unfortunately, it was my last night. We had all gone to sleep. Well, except me. I didn’t want to. How could I? Sleep leads to morning and mornings always lead to goodbyes and I had had enough of goodbyes. But things move. People go. Permanence? Please, like that will ever happen. The only constant thing in my life is change. But it happened. Right? Of course it did. I remember you all the time. Sure, not as often as I used to, before I moved on. We moved on. We grew up and before we knew it we found new friends. We found ourselves in better places. Somehow, we became better people. But it happened. It all really did happen. And I’m fortunate that I didn’t get caught up in the moment and forget was happening while I was experiencing it. That’s just how I forget. * Everything is finally different. I finally moved out. I’m finally here. I go home all the time, but things back home have changed. When you are gone away for so long, from something so familiar, and you come back, you suddenly realize all these little things that you have become numb to. The smell of your house when you first walk in. You think of how all the new people that have ever come over must have smelled this. The way your dad talks to you. How genuine he sometimes can be. The way your grandmother feels when she hugs you. How you can feel almost every one of her fragile bones. Change. It comes in like a new season. Expected, yes, but still surprised when it comes. Everything becomes new again. You notice things you thought you had forgotten. You notice things that have moved or changed, were replaced or got thrown away. Then you leave and everything disappears again. The familiar is gone and you find yourself in a new place once again. But before long, this new place loses its sense of newness. Its mystery becomes familiar. Changes appear in front of your face and you don’t even take the time to notice them. Until you leave and go home. Back to the familiar? But it has changed as well. * Page | 70


It’s not warm like it used to be. It is awful cold, but at least the heater works in my car. Too bad my windows are covered in ice and the snow drift has buried my tires. I’m upset though, I don’t have a shovel to dig them out. Just my hands and my feet. I’m waiting in my car. Waiting, just to see if the defrosters will melt some more ice off the windshield before I go back out there to scrape. And dig. And try to back out of this parking space and not spin out of control. Thank god for four-wheel drive, but is it even worth it to go home? Is it worth driving in the snow with the ice and insane drivers? Is my family worth it? I watch the snow fall and think about how in elementary school the teachers would tell us how every snowflake, every single one, is unique and special. How different designs exist in each one. Somehow, this was supposed to translate into showing us how people are just as special and uniquely designed. I try again. I put the car in reverse and back out. Spinning some, I get over the hump of snow only to realize, that I have cut the wheel in the wrong direction. Someone else as unfortunate as I finally succeeded in removing their car from their parking space. They are stopped, though, blocking my way out. * “Let’s go to town,” I say. “It will be fun,” I say. We walk to a store and look at old records. I recognize the man that owns the place and say hello. I don’t buy anything this time, but every time I stop in I say I’ll be back. We walk to the tobacco store so she can buy cigarettes and we then make our way to the park. Trees and planted flowers in pots are all around. A few people sit on benches while others walk around. We sit down and talk and for once I’m relaxed. No deadlines to meet, not a schedule to keep - just music from two local musicians with a guitar case out for tips and the sun shine, which I thought would never come back. They say let’s go, but I want to say. The musicians are playing one of my favorite songs. I sit and bother them, singing along. An elderly woman approaches us and tells us how lovely today is and how grateful she is that the Lord has made the sunshine for all of us to enjoy. We talk to her and tell her that it really is a great day to be outside. We wish her off with pleasantries and she goes. I’m not taken back by these simple phrases. I’m taken back every time I recognize other people experiencing the world like I do. There is no need to look for excitement in nature, there is no need to cause drama or make a fuss. The world is simply there for your taking, just look for it and find it. It is really not that hard to see. Existence - living in the moment that you are in. Either you find yourself there in the park or you get up and leave and find another place to enjoy the sunshine. * Wake up. Yoga. Breakfast and coffee. Shower. Clean the kitchen. TV? A movie? Maybe 71 | Page


I’ll read that book I’ve been meaning to finish all summer. Listen to that lecture? Sleep. No, not again. Drive to the store or go out to eat? Alone, though? That’s not fun at all. Patterns form around my life and the seemingly unusual becomes normal. New routine is replaced with old habits. Even though I’m in a new place, even though I am a different person, all of my activities seem to be performed in a similar manner as they were at the old house, with the old me. I wake up and crawl out of bed with a dream in my head. It won’t get out so I keep replaying it until I’m convinced that it actually happened to me. Maybe today is the day that I’ll accomplish these tasks. Maybe today I’ll feel fulfilled. So I’ll sit and think about my life and the universe. Not for too long. Never for too long. Existential thoughts are dangerous, so I continue to sip my tea and eat my eggs. Maybe I’ll look up a new recipe and make it while watching whatever show I’ve been obsessed with. Play the guitar while I watch the birds play. Actually write down the songs that I have been playing. Think of existence and aging and death and decay while I fall asleep and dream about the life that I am always dreaming away. Sit and wait. I look around me. Even though I am alone, I have access to everyone alive, so much information, perhaps too much stimuli. This is too much power for a cloistered monk. Sit and wait while doing nothing. Can I even call myself such a thing? Some days I stay in. I don’t need to leave. Some days I venture out, actually seeing people that I have been meaning to see. But why? What is the use? Once I leave, they go home too. To their own little world, in their own little room. Do they go back to their own cycling thoughts? It seems like once we leave each other, we are stuck with nothing to do. I wait until she comes home. She asks what I did all day. I lived, it’s never too much to say. * “The leaves look nice, right?” I look up at the trees and take notice of the colors of the changing leaves. The red and yellow mixes well with the browning orange and the spots of green. There are too many leaves to count. I don’t know why I would ever want to count them, but just thinking of the abundant mass of them that cover the trees, outnumbering people, makes me feel small. They will fall, though, and cover the ground, while I’ll walk over them. I catch myself looking around like this most of the time when I walk home. I seem to do it all the time now. It keeps me distracted and comforted and honestly it puts off the edge. But, just like all things that have passed, nothing is as it used to be. “Sure,” she says, not really noticing the same trees that surround us. The world that we both see is the same, but we have to be seeing different worlds. Right? “I really Page | 72


do like the fall. Too bad that it’s going to get really shitty soon.” I catch up to her. “Is that all you have to say?” She looks down and follows me now. My head in the clouds. My eyes gazing above. How can anyone not be amazed? How could you not be overtaken by this wonder? How could you be transfixed by the colors or even by the motion of these small paintings as they fall to the ground? Works of art that we trample upon. Works of art so beautiful and unique, yet undermined and have their value ignored due to the sheer number of them that are displayed throughout the woods. Not rare, but still valuable. “I guess you are right,” I say, picking up a leaf that I find beautiful. “I’ll hang this one up in my room.” She looks at me, shaking her head while laughing. Am I naïve for thinking this way? She is right, though, the colors will fade and the grays and dull browns will move in as if their predecessors were never there. It will all be hazy, like a dream – continually fading away. But I’ll remember them, because I stopped and experienced them. Right? I’ll remember them as they were, no, as they are right now. Now as I see them. Now as I experience them. Now is the only time that I can touch these leaves. Now is the only time I can be.

-Joshua Calandrella

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My Dearest Bystanders

Today, I will tell you of people you may not want to know about, open your eyes to miseries you will not want to face. I will tell you the truth about life and pain and those you walk amongst. I’m sorry. I am so deeply sorry for the horrible world I am about to show you, but more so, I am sorry you do not already know. I am sorry that you have become a part of the problem. I was once like you, and perhaps I still am. I do my part now to atone for the wrongs I’ve done and the lives I haven’t saved, the pain I didn’t see. I write about it now – that is my penance, like the Seafarer telling of the Albatross.

I write about it often, perhaps more than is healthy for me. But my health has long since been meaningless, my sleep all but irrelevant. Many look at me after reading my pieces with a sort of gaze… A pitiful, confused gawk. Like the work, which I tell them is fiction, is just a bit too real to believe. Like the world I’ve shown them, the world I am about to show you, is too much to handle. And then the questions. “How do you know?” “Why?” “Is that really what it’s like?” “I had no idea…” Yeah, me either.

The truth is, I don’t know everything. I don’t know how deep the pit in their stomach goes when they haven’t eaten for two days. I don’t know what their muffled cries sound like trapped in their pillow at two in the morning. I don’t how dry their eyes get when all the tears are gone and when no more can be made. But I know, I know with a single glance, when someone has been through it. There’s a film over the iris that makes the color so dull. There’s an emptiness there, one that can only be created by the death of a soul, by the daily pain of someone who’s fought too many wars, of someone who’s seen too much blood on their hands. Most of what I write is taken, with permission, from those who felt it, who lived it, and who dreamed it up. I take their fantasies of committing suicide on a college campus, of hanging themselves in the bathroom from the shower head, of digging a blade so deeply into their wrists that they hit bone, of writing a small apology in dark red blood above their heads or beside their bodies for those who will find them as they grow stiff, too cold to move. I take these dreams and put them into delicate, horrifying words to give to you, my Dearest Bystanders, with the hope that the haze forever glued to their eyes will incite something beautiful. Page | 74


I write to atone, to educate, but I also write because I can no longer contain the pain inside me. Those voices nagging at my soul, constantly finding their way into my dreams, my thoughts. I cannot contain them, cannot make them be silent anymore. If not for them, then selfishly, to bring myself some peace, to know that their stories will not die with them or with me, that they will not be lost like so many others in the endless abyss of human suffering. I heard too many horrors to close my eyes and rest, and I have seen too many nightmares to view the world as innocently as I once did. I have stayed awake too many nights, fearing the ringing sound my phone might make, fearing the time I will sleep through it.

I still don’t know how they found me, or why they chose me. Perhaps I chose them. Perhaps I have one of those faces, a face that says: “I will not judge. I will not hurt.” Perhaps it was that I noticed, even before I knew what it was I was seeing. Perhaps I got good at, good at being quiet, good at listening, maybe even good at saying the right thing when there was no right thing. There will never be a right sentence, a perfect piece of advice, a perfect combination of calming yet encouraging words, of lies to make them feel better and truth to keep them fighting. There will never be a right thing to say, my Dearest Bystanders, but there will always be plenty of wrong things, plenty of things you never imagined you would have to leave out of your vocabulary, plenty of times you should censor even when you want to be free. Just get over it. You have no reason to be depressed. Go do something. It'll get better. Stop being so sad. It's annoying. Stop calling me! I'm sleeping. I don't know what to do. You need help. I can't help.

The humor lies, not in their words or even in their delivery, but in their timing. Everyone believes they are an expert on depression – because we all get sad sometimes. We all have days we don’t want to get out of bed or shower or do anything but watch TV, and the humor stands when we admit that depression is much more than those things. It is only when someone, with a bruised ego, realizes this that they suddenly stop talking about their expertise and walk away with the excuses lingering in their place. It’s an inconvenience. It’s too hard. It’s too much. I need sleep. It will never change. It’s annoying. 75 | Page


Yes. Yes, it is all those things.

But it is also someone’s life. And that life is at risk of being snuffed out every second of every day. I had a discussion about the blame of suicide once.

During my sophomore year of high school, I had an English teacher who to this day I respect above most. He had us watch The Dead Poet’s Society, which contained Robin Williams in all his humor, beautiful literary references, and difficult life lessons.

Spoiler Alert: A boy commits suicide.

At the end of the movie, my teacher had us vote on who was responsible for the death of a boy no older than ourselves. He tallied them diligently as we waited, silently, and he went through the results. The majority blamed the boy’s father who kept him from perusing his dreams. A smaller group blamed the boy’s ambitious teacher who taught the boy to reach for better things. And one, one lonely girl, blamed the boy.

My teacher gave us the right answer: the boy was to blame.

The boy got the pistol from his father’s office. The boy put the barrel to his temple. The boy pulled the trigger. No one else. I have never felt such a deep pit in my stomach as I felt that day. For hours, I tried to decipher the logic behind his argument. For days, I searched my mind and the world, and subtly in the minds of those who had contemplated such an end. But I could not find the answer, the reasoning. Spoiler Alert: I never have.

I went to my teacher that day, knowing he knew my argument, knowing he would never see things my way, but unable to contain the voices calling me to action, begging me to speak for those who couldn’t. We discussed our sides that day, and almost every day for two years after. Neither budging, either backing down. Until the day I came in to find another girl sitting at my usual desk. Until the day I made the mistake of continuing that debate with her in the room, unaware that she would practically leap across the desk at me to defend his stance, unprepared for the suddenly uncivil environment Page | 76


during a debate in which we had always respected each other.

I remember very little about that day. I remember the pit reopening in my stomach and the voices crying out in anguish. I remember trying not to think about the previous night, about my friend’s voice cracking as she told me she couldn’t put the razor down, about the two hours of sleep I barely got while we stayed on the line should she have woken up. I remember telling myself to be civil, to understand her ignorance. Perhaps it was lack of sleep. Perhaps it was because at that moment I was so much closer to the subject than she could have imagined. Perhaps it was because I felt so utterly hopeless that morning about everything, about the survival of someone I cared about, about my own ability to keep helping her, about the world in general. Perhaps it was many things, but whatever it was, it was enough to make me concede, to make me throw up my arms, smile a little, and give up. I remember staring at them through heavy eyelids, unable to stop the dumbfounded and humorless smile from growing on my lips. I remember contemplating how to end it, formulating something resonating as I would in one of my pieces, a cliff-hanger to keep them thinking even after I had left.

I remember saying, very calmly, with that slight smile, “When someone ends their life, they die with a last thought, like the last thought before going to sleep, and because of people like you, their last thought is ‘This is my fault, too.’” I remember walking away thinking of that boy’s face in the movie during the final moments before he pulled the trigger. The way he stared out the window with a haze over his soft blue irises. The way he smiled a little, like this would finally set him free. The way I’d seen that look before so many times.

Some are happy when they do it. Some close their eyes and smile. Some cry. Some yell. Some just close their eyes without expression, with no emotion left to feel. Some have a final thought. Some think an apology, others think they’re doing what’s best for those they love. Some die with anger in their hearts, with hate as their final feeling. And some die thinking that this is another act on a very long list of all the things they’ve ever done wrong.

Society can’t hear these apologies, these curses. Society can’t see that they don’t want to die, they just want the pain to end, the nightmares to end, the suffering to end. 77 | Page


Society can’t see it, can’t understand it. Society sees selfish people doing monstrous things to those who love them. Society sees worthless, weak creatures that aren’t worth the effort to save. We humanize what we like and dehumanize what we don’t. Because it’s easy to hate a stereotype. It’s easy to hate an inconvenience.

I can’t tell you the exact number of hours of sleep I’ve lost over the years. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve woken up terrified to find missed calls, terrified to see on the news that morning the discovery of a body or a note. I can’t possible tell you how many times I’ve gone through my day with half-closed eyes, too tired to function, taking tests I was too busy to study for, rushing to do homework because the phone calls were more important. But I can tell you that I regret none of those lost hours, of those terrifying mornings, of those exhausting days because I never lost anyone. Because no one died on my watch. Because, though they are not cured, though they may never be cured, they are here and not alone in their misery. Because for all the lives I saved by sacrificing a little sleep and an A in a class, mine was saved, too. It’s an odd exchange when it’s all said and done, when the phone no longer rings, when the emails stop. It often reminds me of a piece of flash fiction: it just ends. No explanations. No further development. Just silence. A blank page. My sacrifices were not in vain. Now and then, I get a glimpse into the lives of those who’ve stopped calling. Most are happy. Most have loved ones and lovers. Most are in remission, fighting every day alongside people who care, who know, who accept. Two are married. One is engaged. One is in the military and works full time on computers. One is playing music again. One followed his dreams to college, and another followed him and made him her dream. Now and then a word is dropped between us, never of those nights, never of horrors that came before the happiness.

And now and then, I think of them at night when I turn my phone to its highest volume.

Because should they or anyone else ever need me, I will answer. Because I have lost many hours of sleep waiting for phone calls that never came, soothing tears that couldn’t be cried, and helping those who needed someone when no one was around. Because we all need someone when we wake to a nightmare at three in the morning. Because a few hours of missed sleep can lead to proposal in Central Park, a published story, a solo at a prestigious concert. Page | 78


I will tell you, Dearest Bystanders, that rarely is there a thank you. But I will also tell you that there should never be one. I was a bystander, because what is a bystander if not someone who just sits by and watches, who listens, but never intervenes. The sad thing about their journey is that no one can go through it for them; all we can do is walk with them as they battle the demons and go through the ups and downs. All we can do is lie when warranted, tell the truth when needed, and shine the tiniest ray of light when darkness overwhelms. All we can do is try to help, try to say the right things when there are no right things to say. Yours Truly.

-Jaclyn J. Reed

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Uncertainty 101

Overview In this course, we will primarily focus on my uncertainty. I am selfish, so we will see how much material we can cover before discussing your uncertainty. We will talk about how two hours ago I sat on the floor in a room uncertain about how to write and tell this story. We will talk about how the first clear moment of uncertainty for me was when I had to decide whether to lie to my mother and say my sister took the lip-gloss or tell the truth, that I actually took it. This class is about how living life can be the biggest uncertainty and how every day we can never know what possible questions, problems, solutions, etc. we will face. The focus on this class will be my life and how, right now, it is the most uncertain that it has ever been in my entire life. Journal There are no required texts. We are not going to read any books, any essays, or any poems. Instead, we are going to write about our own lives and how it is ridiculous that journaling is a requirement. Then we will write about how that journal has become an anchor in our uncertain lives. In our journals we will explore our memories and analyze them until we see a meaning and a lesson we believe to almost be made up. We will also explore the possibility that we will never know what we want to do with our lives and how the thought of being finished with college is terrifying. Journal when you do not feel like journaling. Find a random object, put it in your journal, and write about it. Attendance The days when I feel like a zombie, when some strange insect is crawly under my skin, or when I stay in bed because I am uncertain about whether to go to class or not and by the time I decide the class is over; they still count. When I do not recall what happened during the whole day because it was a blur of so many things to do, they still count. I still lived that day. We will only physically meet on the first and last day of school. Mentally we will all explore the possibility of uncertainty.

Assignments As I mentioned before there will be a journal which keeping up with is not my priority. I will write papers, procrastinating because I am never sure what to write. I will miss deadlines because I am unsure when they actually are. When I do turn in a late paper I will think about the idea of giving the professor a lie just to see if they believe me, appendicitis sounds like a good excuse. I will miss relationship mile markers because I am uncertain about whether or not it is worth it to continue and blame it on being forgetful. Page | 80


Course Calendar August 25

April 25

My mother will leave and I will be uncertain about whether I should even go back to school. Alternatively, I will be uncertain about everything from my childhood, was it real or unreal. Did my mother lie to my siblings and I saying that she would love us and be there for us? My uncertainty stemming from the fact that she could not be bothered to tell us where she was going, to tell us her mailing address, or to tell us that she was leaving. It amazes me how uncertain I can be about a lot of things, but I could never be uncertain about the events on the day my uncle died and I could never be uncertain about the exact day that my mother drove and flew out of my life. Assignment: Journal telling me why you came to school and convince me that I should care to continue. Explain, in detail, your uncertainties. Remember to write what you cannot put into words. Months have gone by and months have disappeared. My uncertainty with my mother flowed into my schoolwork and thus I had the worst academic year of my life. My GPA plummeted, I am still working on bringing it back up. My relationships with both my family and my boyfriend were unstable because I was not sure who would be the next person to leave. Assignment: Take your journal and run your hands over every inch of it. Remember what you wrote, why you wrote it, and how you felt. Write down what your answers. If you cannot tell me, write that. Learn to live with your uncertainty.

-Victoria Snyder

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Author Bios R. Audu II is an aspiring 22 year old author from Toronto, Canada, and also a senior at UPJ. He has been writing for 10+ plus years at an amateur level. Stylistically, his writing is dark, witty and reflective. Though versatile and open to all styles, R. Audu II specializes in the genres of horror, science fiction, and fantasy.

Ashley Kay Bach is a native of Pennsyltucky. Like Sheetz, she was born in Altoona. She is a double major in Creative Writing and English literature as well as a double minor in French and psychology.

Joshua Calandrella is currently a sophomore at UPJ studying English Literature. He enjoys reading good books, writing, and playing guitar.

Roberta L. Dostal, an author and a teacher with 35 tears experience in the classroom, has for the past ten years been active in attending course work at the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown. Roberta is extremely thankful to the university for the opportunity to continue her education at age 80. Michael Gruber is a poet who aspires to become a professor so he can teach poetry.

Joshua Horner is a senior Sociology Major at UPJ. He is president of the Rugby team, member of Delta Chi and a nontraditional student. The tragedies he has experienced in his life have influenced his writing and ultimately shaped him into the person he is today.

Anthony Knisely is a junior Management Information Systems and Business Management dual major. In his spare time, Anthony enjoys photography and playing the trumpet. Anthony has been exploring professional photography since 2013. Rachel Logan is a computer engineer with a passion for the arts. She is a budding photographer who has worked on multiple sci-fi short stories. Her favorite topics are robotics and the future of human nature.

Avery Malone is a behavioral researcher who sometimes writes. He's fond of cats, is trying to pick up playing bass guitar again, and could eternally really use another hour or two of sleep. Page | 82


Jon-Jon Nguyen likes to read comics and write stories from time to time, but he also likes to cook sometimes. He is so-called, "One of a kind" or "That Asian Guy Everyone Sees Everyday Around Campus." He doesn't feel much anymore because he over did it too many times.

Jaclyn Reed is a junior, double majoring in Creative Writing and English Literature at UPJ. She lives in the darkness and tolerates the light; some may say she's a brightly wrapped present with glitter bows that, when opened, unleashes storm clouds, demons, ghosts, and dark humor. She writes mainly fiction, but enjoys the occasional nonfiction essay. Her favorite subjects are magical realism and mental illness, as she wishes to open people's eyes to the other side of humanity that is so often overlooked. Nicholas Van Sickel is a Computer Science major/Creative Writing minor attending UPJ. He has been writing fiction for eight years.

Kyler Smith is a junior at UPJ. Along with being the poetry editor at Backroads she is a member and conference coordinator for the Pitt Johnstown Chapter of Habitat for Humanity. She is majoring in Creative Writing with minors in English Literature and History.

Victoria Snyder is a fourth year student majoring in Secondary Education English and History. Patrick Stahl is a mando-playing Short-Fiction/Fiction/History writer, aspiring editor, and occasional Protestant supply preacher. He is a freshman Creative Writing major.

Eliza Talvola is a star salesman, beet farmer, bed and breakfast proprietor, and aspiring freelance bodyguard based in Monaca, PA

Kylie Truscello is a senior Communication and Professional Writing student. She is Vice President of the UPJ Tennis Club, Vice President of Lambda Pi Eta and a member of Sigma Tau Delta.

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Submission Guidelines We accept submissions of short stories, short plays, poetry, personal essays, creative nonfiction, literary journalism, photography, and drawn or painted visual art of any medium. We accept submissions from students currently enrolled at the University of Pittsburgh-Johnstown, as well as from faculty and alumni.

Please send submissions to backroads2@gmail.com, with your submission attached as a separate file. Multiple submissions are accepted, but must be included as separate files. The file name of your attached submission(s) should be the name of the work, but the document itself should not include your name (this is done to ensure unbiased reviews of all submissions). The subject line of your email should be "Backroads Submission." In the message of the email, state your name, the titles of all works attached to your email, and a brief (one to three sentences) third-person biography about yourself. Specific Guidelines:

Prose: Short prose includes short stories, personal essays, short creative nonfiction, literary journalism, and short plays, and should be included in a .doc file, .rtf file, or .docx file. We advise that you check your work for grammar and other kinds of errors before submission. We recommend a maximum length of five to six pages but will accept longer submissions. Poetry: Poetry should be included in a .doc file, .rtf file, or .docx file. Art: Visual art includes drawn or painted art (either digital or traditional) and photography. Visual art should be included in a .jpg, .bmp, or .png file. We recommend that drawn or painted art be captured using a scanner and that photography be of a decent resolution.

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About Us Backroads is the University of Pittsburgh-Johnstown's art and literature magazine. We publish the best of student-submitted short fiction, poetry, creative nonfiction, plays, and visual art. We also accept submissions from faculty and alumni.

Mission Statement: We strive to promote and share the love of literature and creative works across our campus and beyond. We want to provide a comfortable, fun, creative, and supportive space for students to experiment with new kinds of writing and art techniques. Overall, we strive to share the love of expressing oneself with any who will listen. Submissions are open until mid-January and the magazine is released every spring.

To be involved on campus, consider joining as a staff member or attending our open mic nights to share your favorite authors or poets or your own work, and enjoy the written word with fellow enthusiasts (and coffee).

For regular and up-to-date info, like us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/upjbackroads

And check out our site for more detailed information, to contact us, or visit the online archive: http://upjbackroads.weebly.com/

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