Variety Pack: Issue VIII

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Variety Pack Issue #8

FlashPeter Fiction Readers Sophie Fink, Bryanna Shaw

Cover Image, MAX Provided by © Theresa Kohlbeck Jakobsen. 2022

Visual Arts Editor – Dior J. Stephens

Non-Fiction Editor Skyler Jaye Rutkowski

Poetry Editor – Asela Lee Kemper


Editor-in-Chief/Reviews Editor J.B. Stone


Flash Fiction Editor – Ben Brindise

Poetry Readers Eli Hsieh, Lauren


Short Fiction Editor – Ian Brunner


We cannot and refuse to just let our voices stay unheard, doom-scrolling on social media, and hoping votes at the ballot box will just take care of themselves. If this year has taught us anything, is more needs to be done, and reaching out, supporting the intersection of marginalized communities in any way we can; these are the basic steps needed to fight the hell unfolding before us all. If you are filled with rage, and fear, and sorrow, please know that we are in solidarity with those feelings, so many of us feel the same. So before you even get to the contents page, please be sure to explore the two pages worth of various organizations/mutual aid networks/activists doing this invaluable work, especially the ones local to our homebase. It’s important now, more than ever that we’re getting those funds out there to those fighting against this tide of tyranny. From here on out our issues will be dedicated to kicking off every issue with an updated list of various spaces to donate to and show your solidarity with. We will also be updating our Variety4justice page this week on our website throughout the coming days with even more links of spaces to learn about and support!

Sincerely, Skyler, J.B., Asela,, Ian, Ben, Dior, Lauren, Eli, Sophie, & Bryanna


TW/CW: The following pieces may include mentions/scenes of death, suicide, depression, selfharm, eating disorders, parental abuse, neglect, graphic imagery (blood and vomit), experiences with hate, bigotry, alcoholism, suicide ideation, triangulation, manipulation, and emotional abuse.

A brand new year, and our Variety Pack family is capping off the summer of Pride and Juneteenth with an eclectic mix of voices to rival any mixtape. Our eighth issue is a summer playlist worth its weight in quality, not just quantity. As the world burns more and more, and we are trying to find some voices resembling powerful truths worth telling, we are truly honored to see such work make their way to our literary desk. As always we send our special thanks to our wonderful contributors, readers, submitters, and all of our fellow editors/team readers, trying to make sense of this crazy universe of ours.

As happy as we are to continue publishing such a great diversity of writers, we also want to take the time as well and issue our thoughts with our home base city here in Buffalo, still reeling from the racist, white-supremacist attacks here on the East side of Buffalo. We will never forget what happened on May 14th, and will not be sitting on our silences as this racist violence continues. We will also not stand idly by while our own oppressive government, especially our highest court, strips away at Miranda rights, immigration rights, abortion rights, privacy rights, voting rights, and is also set to strip communities of their environmental rights.

Movement for Black Lives

A go-to source google document constantly updated on ways we can all support those effected by the acts of Racist violence that occurred on May 14th , and as well addressing the support this area has been needing and will need further into the future. There are links to food drop-offs, pop-ups, donation portals, and much, much more.

Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective

Indigenous Women Rising is committed to honoring Native & Indigenous People’s inherent right to equitable and culturally safe health options through accessible health education, resources and advocacy. Right now Indigenous Women, Trans-folks, and Non-binary folks are among one of the most affected communities by the groundbreaking tragedy of Roe V Wade being overturned.

Tops Markets Community Resource Document

Black Love Resists in the Rust (BLRR)

A growing collective led by Black Women & Black GNC cyclists, promoting mutual aid, teaming up with programs such as seeding justice, and providing pop-ups/food drop-offs to help Black communities across Buffalo, NY. CGBT also actively run workshops, and programs on the decolonization efforts of mobility


New Voices for Reproductive Justice

National Network of Abortion Funds

Colored Girls Bike Too

D.O.P.E. (Dismantling Oppressive Patterns for Empowerment) Collective is an anti-oppressive project-based collaborative primarily led by creatives and theorists ages 18-35. They also have chapters in Toronto, Ontario, Canada; and Philadelphia, PA.

Our Mommie Village

Harriet’s Wildest Dreams

Through, NNAF provides a whole network of local abortion funds across the nation, with over 80 members, especially in the states that will need it most.


Building a social change movement dedicated to the health and well-being of Black women and girls through leadership development, Human Rights and Reproductive Justice. Right now the most vulnerable communities that will be effected will be Black and Indigenous communities, especially those in low-income communities, and organizations need our solidarity now more than ever.

A national network of organizations and individuals creating a broad political home for Black people to learn, organize, & take action.

Indigenous Women Rising


Harriet’s Wildest Dreams is a Black-led abolitionist community defense hub centering all Black lives at risk for state-sanctioned violence in the Greater Washington, D.C. area.

BLRR is a member-led, abolitionist organization of Black folk and POC that believe – through leadership development, a shared politic, and community organizing – we will build safe and flourishing communities that resist the ills of white supremacist, cis-heteropatriarchal, capitalism; including policing. [From the website]

An incredible organization dedicated to helping new mothers forged by CGBT’s own Shyana Broughton. The African Village concept is the model for the care one can receive at Our Mommie Village Support is built in with the mothers that are already a part of Our Mommie Village. There is also a CashApp available for those who wanna show their support for them at $ourmommievillage.

One of Buffalo’s most prominent community activists, constantly educating the communities across WNY on subjects on the wrongful systems of incarceration, police brutality, and other forms of state-sanctioned racist violence. Right now he is fighting hard with legendary activist, and former BPD officer Cariol Horne on her receiving the back pay and pension promised to her by the state of New York, and not yet received. Donate what you can to show solidarity and support to such an incredible community beacon like Cariol, petition and donate if you can for the Cariol’s Law as well being part of our police forces, for the sake of accountability and true social justice. Be sure to also keep yourselves updated on Myle’s social media handles available through the link.

A Black Feminist Future is a non-profit organization dedicated to building Black Feminist power.

Indigenous Mutual Aid

The Galactic Tribe


Myles Carter & Cariol Horne

A network of resources, donation hubs, informational articles for the purposes of creating support to Indigenous Communities across the U.S. & Canada. With the Supreme Court set to gut the EPA’s ability to take on the ravaging effects of climate change; with a presidential administration refusing to shut down Line 3, Line 5, Mountain Valley, DAPL; and selling hundreds of thousands of acres of public land out west, we need to stand by the communities will know that bear with the most devastating harm from all of this.

Along with The Wakanda Alliance, an organization dedicated to creating educational thought-spaces within black communities. In these spaces, we examine works of art inspired by the many cultures within African diaspora, thus spurring insightful conversations between our audiences about the impact we can create when one combines space-time, culture and imagination! The Galactic Tribe also provides workshops and right now is calling for donations of clothing and sneaker drop-offs.

Black Feminist Future

Black Boys Read Too

An organization devoted to break the cycle of illiteracy and encourage African American boys to foster a love for reading. They seek to address the large disparities in literacy achievement by getting books in children’s hands by any means necessary.

Laura Rockhold 126 Leah Mueller 76

Iberia Muñoz (Translation by Alexander Peréz 32 Nancy Machlis Rechtman 122 Tyler Gebauer) 62

Marisa Silva-Dunbar 37 Visual Art/Mixed Media


KJ Hannah Greenberg 60 Contributors 140

Josiah Ikpe 109

Bruce Gunther 78 Jake Villarreal 130 Ivan de Monbrison 36

Anthony Salandy 42 London Chastain 50


LeAnne Hunt 128

Theresa Kohlbeck Jakobsen (Cover Artist)

Philip Temples 31


Abbie Doll 136 Tabitha Lindstrom 6

Yuu Ikeda 108

D.W. Davis 51



Bri Eberhart 80

Flash Fiction Short Fiction

A Review of Marianne Worthington’s Ibrahim Babátúndé Ibrahim 132 The Girl Singer by Betsy Packard 43 Scott Martin 72

Edward Lee 138


The first time Ellis and Rowan met; Rowan knew that they would be friends forever. He remembers sitting in the airport parking lot, hands gripping the steering wheel to distract from his shaking hands. He remembers how he closed his eyes and pictured Ellis standing in front of him. Rowan can see how the curly brown hair settles so perfectly on his forehead with deep brown eyes to match, eyes that were so full of adoration for Rowan whenever they eachfacetimedother.

Wyatt had made the decision to move in with Rowan soon after his 18th birthday. He had lost his mother just a month previously and with no other family to turn to asked Rowan for help. The two moved in together just two months later, and Rowan was quick to pick up new jobs to help support the two. He typically found himself editing essays and manuscripts for students at Honeywell College, a small community college in Honeywell, Minnesota while Wyatt sold paintings to whoever would buy.

Rowan was in love, and sometimes he felt so overwhelmed with emotion that he just didn’t know what to do with himself.

Ellis and Rowan had met on an online forum for fantasy novels five years before they had first met in person. Wyatt was a moderator for the forum and often discussed the new dystopian that was topping the charts or how The Hunger Games was the best book to movie film, a topic that Rowan felt very strongly on. The three traded phone numbers and were inseparable since that moment.

I’D WAIT FOR YOU by Tabitha Lindstrom


The two were able to support themselves while working toward helping Ellis buy a plane ticket to visit for the first time, coming face to face with the British boy two years after they had moved in together.

On the first visit, Rowan had been waiting for the cue from Ellis that he was ready. He had never picked someone up from an airport before and Wyatt wasn’t able to come with him

“She tried to make sure I couldn’t visit. She stole my passport from me yesterday. The entire time I was packing she was trying to get me to change my mind. She was yelling at me, saying that as soon as I touched down and got to your house that you would kill me.. I tried to ignore her but she ended up taking my phone from me and reading through our conversations,” Ellis grumbled.

Unfortunately for Rowan, that meant he was alone with his racing thoughts and anxiety.

On the ride home, Ellis recounted his journey to Rowan, but the main topic of conversation was his mother.

“I cannot believe I am actually here! This is so.. Rowan, you are actually a real person! This is so amazing,” Ellis said.

Without warning, Ellis launched himself at Rowan, quickly wrapping his arms and legs around the taller boy. Luckily for Ellis, Rowan was athletic and was able to support his body weight. The two stood silent for a minute, quietly hugging each other.

“Rowan!” Ellis screamed and ran to the blonde.

His hands were sore from his grip on the steering wheel, so he convinced himself to pull out his phone instead. He had messages from Wyatt, mostly pictures of colorful paintings of birds and seasides, and just one message from Ellis that he had missed: ‘I’M HEREEE! :D’.

When Ellis finally broke away from the hug, he was crying.

Rowan drove to where Ellis was standing, a large suitcase to his left. He was bundled in a large black coat, his face tinged pink from the December weather. Rowan’s body felt weightless as he stepped out of the beat up blue Chevy, as if he was a toddler taking his first steps.

since he was in a meeting with other artists. He had tried to talk himself out of the meeting, but they said he needed to be there to keep working under their wing.


He responds with a ‘yea!’ before turning his car back on, the adrenaline now beginning to race through his veins. The words 'it's time’ ring through his mind on repeat, the silence of the car becoming too overbearing for him. Soon his best friend will be back into his arms, the person he has loved for six years will be here and everything will be perfect and nothing will ever have

“Pay attention to the road idiot, I don’t want to die before I get to see Wyatt.”

“I know! She is so overprotective, and I get it! I understand that your kid going to a new country to meet someone is scary. But, she thinks she can control me and my choices. Honestly, I think she is afraid that I will just love it here and stay. Can’t have her perfect baby boy falling in love with some 21 year old Minnesotan,” Ellis joked.


“Well, I don’t think that would be the worst thing, would it?”

Rowan, who had been trying to focus as much of his attention to driving as possible, swerved as he turned his head to look at Ellis.


“What? She should not be able to do that! You are 23, not a child.”

Now, just a year after their first time meeting, Rowan is once again sitting in the parking lot of the airport. This time, he is less anxious. He turns off the radio station that was playing a pop song Rowan had never heard of, and scrolls aimlessly through TikTok before his phone vibrates with the message he had been waiting for.

‘i’m ready to be picked up! same place as before?’

“No, my mom was nagging me all day again. Since I packed more than before she is convinced I am leaving and never returning. Since you didn’t kill me last time, she knows you don’t pose a physical harm to me. Just a.. Well, anyway. She didn’t let me sleep so I am

to change. He lets himself forget that Ellis has to leave eventually, because that is what

Rowan picks Ellis up, squeezing him tight before plopping him back down onto his feet.

“Did you sleep before your flight?”

“Hi Ro! I won’t jump this time, I promise.”

“C’mon, let’s get my luggage into the car! It is so cold outside; I want to get to your house. I thought it was cold in London at Heathrow but this is far worse!”

Ellis grins as Rowan walks toward him, and Rowan notices the dimples that he has begun to adore.“Where’s the fun in that?”

“This flight felt even longer than the last one! I couldn’t fall asleep, so I am running on barely any sleep right now. I suppose you two are worth it,” Ellis says.


Rowan does when he is happy. He lets himself forget all of the bad of the world, and just focus on the positives of his best friend being back in Minnesota with him.

Rowan pulls up to the same spot as a year previous. Ellis is standing there, swaying back and forth, which Rowan has learned is a way that Ellis helps manage his anxiety. He steps out of the car and feels the familiar weightless feeling.

Rowan smiles, picking up one of Ellis's heavy blue suitcases and shoving it into his trunk. Ellis helps load the rest and before long they are on their way to Rowan’s house.

Ellis laughs, and Rowan wonders how he survived an entire year without hearing the deep chested laugh in person.

She was very rude, but I am getting a thousand for this painting so.. I have to be kind to her. That’s enough for a whole month of rent!”

“He drank Wy’s paint water about a month ago and ever since he has been on timeout while we are working in here. Anyway, Wyatt go get changed into something warmer! We are going to get lunch then Ellis needs to get some rest.”

Wyatt nods, rushing to his room.

“I always forget what breed Bear is. My friend Jonathan asked and I completely blanked. I called him a marshmallow dog. What is it.. Samoyed?” Ellis asks.

Wyatt turns to face Ellis, opening his arms.

rolls his eyes and gestures for the two to walk into the living room. Rowan takes Ellis’s coat and hangs it for him while the other follows Wyatt to where Bear is prancing at a baby gate.“He

extremely exhausted. At least I get to see you and Wyatt! And Bear. How could I forget that fluffy littleBeforeguy.”long, the two were dragging Ellis’s suitcases into the front door of Rowan and Wyatt’s shared house.


hasn’t learned how to jump the gate yet, but it’s an easy way to make sure he doesn’t eat my art supplies while I am turned away,” Wyatt explains to Ellis.

Wyatt walks into the entryway that leads to the living room, covered in splatters of paint and charcoal.“Yeah.

“I’m back Wyatt! Are you done with your client?”

“Hi! I will hug you after you are no longer covered in paint. This coat is expensive,” Ellis remarks.Wyatt

Rowan sits up in his bed, patting the space where his head was just resting. Ellis sits down and drapes an arm over Rowan’s shoulder.

“Mhm.. He does that a lot, especially recently. The anniversary of his mom’s death is right around the corner. What do you want to do today?”

“Ro.. Wake up. I think we should do something fun today. Are you awake? I heard Wyatt crying, I think he needs a distraction,” Ellis says.

Ellis hits Wyatt on the shoulder before hugging him tight. Rowan watches the two, a warm feeling settling over his heart.


“Yeah, Samoyed. He’s turning two this year. My baby Bear is getting old.”

This is what being home feels like. Everything is perfect. The rest of the day passed by quickly. Rowan suggested they get lunch at a small cafe that Ellis had begged to see the last time he visited. They ate lunch then returned home. Ellis departed to the guest room where Wyatt had hung his paintings that needed to be sold along with small colorful clay statues and embroidery projects gone wrong.

“If anyone is getting old it’s Ellis, 24 years old! At death's door already,’Wyatt jokes as he walks back into the living room.

Rowan and Wyatt had purposefully invested in getting a house with three rooms, at the time they convinced themselves that it was for storage. In reality, Rowan knew that they agreed on it just in case Ellis ever decided to move in with them. Ellis would always have a place in their home.The next morning, Rowan awakes to Ellis shaking his arm.


“I think he will be angry with us if we wake him up this early. Let’s give him until noon. Do you want breakfast?” Rowan asks.

so smart El. I think it is snowy enough, we just have to find an area that would work. He probably has somewhere in mind.”

“What should we make? I bought ingredients for chocolate pancakes since I know that those are your favorite, and Wyatt’s,” Rowan says.

“Nah.. I’m still tired, but I woke up to him crying. We should give him his space; I can set an alarm for us and we can just sleep more.”

After a moment, the alarm is shut off by Ellis accompanied by a mumbled ‘ sorry’. Rowan stretches, still laying under the dark green duvet.

“El.. Wake up. Where is your phone? God it is so loud,” Rowan groans as he reaches out aimlessly to find Ellis’s phone.

Rowan leans back onto Ellis, closing his eyes.

“Mm, okay. Set one for.. 11:30. I’ll make us breakfast and then we can wake him up if he doesn't wake up by then. Deal?” Rowan mumbles, already slipping back into unconsciousness.

“Deal. Ro, can I talk to you about something?” Ellis asks, but when he looks at Rowan he can tell the other boy is already asleep again.

“I was thinking we let Wy decide. Or we choose something he would enjoy. Is it snowy enough for sledding? He mentioned over the phone a couple weeks ago that he was excited to go sledding.”“You’re

Rowan wakes up to an alarm blaring in his ear, the sound of an old fashioned car horn was, for whatever reason, Ellis’s alarm of choice.

Rowan turns to face Ellis, forcing both of them to sit up on the bed.

“Wy and I can help provide for you! I have a lot saved up from doing some coding jobs for Honeywell over their fall semester. All you have to do is trust me.”

“And I am willing to stick by you for as long as it takes. I have always been willing.”

“That is so sweet. I’d love that. I don’t want to leave you guys. I love being able to just be here and not have to worry about my parents. If I could afford to move here right now, I would. You two are so important to me.”

“You know I trust you, Rowan. I just.. I don’t know if there is even a chance that my mom will allow me to return home, pack, and come back without throwing a fit. Plus even if I try to move here I need a visa. There is so much that has to be put into this process, I can’t just move here,” Ellis sighs.

“Promise me you will try. Whatever you need, I can try to provide,” Rowan says, his tone no longer carrying his typical playful tone.

Rowan reaches out for Ellis’s hand, giving it a gentle squeeze.

“I promise. Whatever it takes,” Ellis responds, his voice carrying the same determination as Rowans.“Whatever it takes.”


After more discussion on the possibility of Ellis’s move, the two depart from Rowan’s room to the kitchen. Wyatt joins them shortly after, helping make breakfast for the trio. Bear sits nearby, occasionally begging for the bacon that Wyatt makes.

Soon after, the three leave the house to go sledding. It’s snowing, the weather is nearly below freezing, and they decide to walk to a nearby hill that Wyatt recalls is great for sledding.

From the bottom of the hill, Wyatt screams as his sled slides straight into a tall pine tree. Rowan doubles over in laughter while Ellis rushes to the bottom to check on Wyatt.

“Sure! Get us a bunch of blankets and pillows so we can warm up. If you want a change of clothes you can borrow something of mine. It might be a bit big on you but..”

Ellis, who has never gone sledding before, manages to convince Rowan to slide down the hill with him on his first slide down. The two settle into the bright orange circular sled and Rowan wraps his arms around Ellis, holding tight as they pick up momentum. Wyatt laughs when Ellis still somehow falls off of the sled.

Rowan feels his heart race when Ellis brushes his hand against the other’s. They look at each other, a shy smile spreading across Ellis’s flushed face.

Once they arrive home, Rowan offers to make the three hot chocolates. “I can light the fireplace! First time of the season, no better an occasion than today,” Wyatt says, rushing into the living room with Bear close behind.

Ellis nods and walks out of the kitchen, leaving Rowan alone.

Rowan opens the fridge, grabbing the gallon of milk and setting it onto the counter. His eyes drift to his hand, the same hand that Ellis tried to hold just a few hours before.

“God, I need to stop this.. It is going too far,” Rowan mumbles to himself as he pours enough milk for all three into a pot with hot chocolate mix.

The three walk home as the sun begins to set, hues of dark purple and pink fade into the soft blue. Wyatt, who is uninjured besides a small bruise forming on his arm, insists the three take a picture with the sunset in the background.

“Anything I can do?” Ellis asks Rowan.


Wyatt’s laughter returns as he looks between Rowan and Ellis.

look.. Uhm.. The fireplace makes you look very elegant!” Rowan attempts to compliment Ellis, tripping over his words.


“Lord have mercy. Row, go check the chocolate,” Wyatt says.

Not long later, Rowan returns to the living room with three mugs of hot chocolate precariously balanced on his hands. He takes his spot between Wyatt and Ellis, wrapping a green flannel blanket around himself as he takes a small sip of the warm drink. The three fall into a comfortable silence, content with watching the bright flames dance.

feels his own face warm as he realizes his heart beat has, once again, begun to speed up.“You

He hears voices from the living room, unable to figure out what Wyatt and Ellis are talking about. Wyatt is laughing about something. Rowan walks to the doorframe of the living room, curiosity taking over.

Ellis’s face is red, but Rowan can tell it isn’t the same flush that came from the cold. The fireplace, which is one of Rowan’s favorite parts of the house, was glowing and casting light onRowanEllis.

“What are you two laughing about?”

The silence is broken by a phone ringing and Rowan recognizes the ringtone designated for his mother playing.

Rowan wastes no time rushing back to the kitchen, shaking his hands to try relieving the strange feeling of anxiety that had risen in his chest.

“Oh, one moment. I have to go take this. I’ll be right back!” Ellis says, standing up from the huddle of blankets. He walks to the guest room.

Rowan rises from his spot on the floor.

“I’ll go check on him. You stay here, we don’t want another war of 2019”, Rowan jokes, referring to a fight caused by Ellis’s mother the previous year.

“Just because you two are younger than me and have a home doesn’t mean you are better than me! I am unable to leave because I cannot afford to live anywhere in my area. You two have a three bedroom home for what? Around a thousand dollars a month? Do you know how lucky you are for Rowanthat?”was the first to back off the jokes, realizing that they had gone too far. Rowan knew this was a touchy subject for Ellis, hours long calls where Ellis complained about rental prices where he would want to live drifting back into his memory.

“I wonder what that’s about..,” Wyatt whispers to Rowan.

The two stay quiet, hoping to pick up on any bits of conversation they could overhear. “Come back? Why right now? Well- no I just-... No, I understand that! But my trip arrangedwasfor a month and I haven’t even been here three full days yet. I… Yes, I understand that, but I had planned on having Christmas and New Year’s here with Rowan and Wyatt and I.. Okay, okay. I get it. I’ll be back by tomorrow night. Okay, yeah. Bye.”

Rowan and Wyatt had gone too far with their jokes, and Ellis snapped on them.

“El, I’m sorry,” Rowan said, placing a hand on Ellis’s shoulder.



The last time that Ellis had visited, the three had gotten into a surprisingly heated discussion about Ellis’s family. Wyatt had mentioned that Ellis should just leave his mother, and Rowan made a joke about how Ellis was old enough to move out.

“My mom called me… She said there is some important family matter happening and I have to head home. She is refusing to give me any context and I just…,” Ellis sighs.

“Rowan, it’s okay. We took it too far, but he will forgive us! It’ll all be okay!” Wyatt said, quick to reassure Rowan.

Rowan wraps an arm around Ellis, allowing the other to rest his head on Rowan’s shoulder.“I


Now Rowan stands hesitantly at the door of Ellis’s room. He watches as Ellis packs up the few items he had unpacked, occasionally wiping tears from his eyes.

“I know, I’m sorry I can’t help more.. Remember what we talked about, okay? Next time I see you, you will be staying here with me. As soon as you get home, apply for the visa. I will


don’t want to leave yet. It took so much time and money to save up and visit you this time. I don’t know the next time I will be able to visit and I hate living in Bognor. I just want to stay here with you and- and Wyatt, of course.”

Ellis stood up and walked to the guest room, slamming the door shut as he did so.

Ellis takes a deep breath and sits next to Rowan.

“Yeah? Well you should be! I work my ass off to try and make sure that someday I will be able to move here. Don’t act like you forgot everything I have told you two!”

“Hey El! Is everything alright? We heard some of your conversation. Did something happen?” Rowan asks, sitting on the bed.

Rowan Wyattsays.


Wyatt sighs, seemingly having no response to this. He walks to his own room, shutting the door behind him. Rowan does the same and, once alone in his own room, begins to cry. The next morning, Rowan wakes up to Ellis shaking him once again.

Rowan stands up and leaves the room, allowing Wyatt to close the door behind them.

save up as much money as possible for you. You always have a room here, you know that,”

“No need to apologize! If you end up needing something, you know where we are,”

walks into the bedroom and leans on the doorframe.

“It isn’t the right time. I was going to tonight but.. Now I just can’t bring myself to,” Rowan looks at Wyatt.

Ellis nods, and Rowan can see him close his eyes. After a few moments, Ellis takes another deep breath and looks at Rowan.

“I.. I just need to be alone while I pack and get ready. I’ll make sure I say goodbye to you two before I leave. I’m sorry.”

Rowan sits up in his bed, saying nothing as he looks at Ellis. “El, I need you to know something before you leave.”

Rowan smiles at Ellis, placing a hand on the side of his face.

“You aren’t going to tell him?” Wyatt asks.

“Ro, I’m leaving. I’m just going to take an Uber to the airport. My mother paid for it, as well as the plane ticket. I already said goodbye to Wyatt,” Ellis says.

“You could move here. This spare bedroom is for you, you are always welcomed here. Like Rowan said, apply for a visa. Even if it gets rejected, we can help pay for you to visit more often! You don’t always need to visit in December, ya know?” Wyatt remarks.

“I promise, El. I promise.”

“I.. Rowan, I might be gone for a long time. I don’t know the next time I will be able to visit you. Please understand that I can’t control what happens once I am home again this time. I can tell something is off with my mother. I don’t want to say she is lying about the family emergency but.. My younger brother told me that I was outed to my mother by one of my friends. I know we have talked about this, but I didn’t want to tell her until I moved here since I knew she wouldn’t let me visit because of you.”


Months have passed since Ellis’s departure from Minnesota and neither Rowan nor Wyatt had heard anything from the British boy.

At first, they assumed that he was busy with whatever family matters had taken place but as time went on they grew more anxious about what had happened to their friend. Typically,

Ellis sets down his bag he was carrying and sits next to Rowan. He leans his head onto Rowan’s shoulder and neither of them say anything for several minutes. They stay quiet, watching the sun rise outside Rowan’s window.

“Because of me? Why me?” Rowan asks, confusion laced in his words.

“Ro, I think we both know why.”

“I need you to make another promise to me. Promise me that, no matter what happens, you will always be here for me. I don’t care if the world falls apart, I just need to know that you will always be my home. I need to know that even.. Even if everything goes horribly wrong, I will always have you.”

Ellis was the one to break the silence.

Rowan places a gentle kiss to the side of Ellis’s head.

Wyatt opens the door and looks at Rowan, his serious face donned. “Read this.”


“Come in Wy!”

That is how things always worked for them.

Did Ellis die?

No, Ellis’s mother wasn’t that horrific. Surely she would have told them. If not her, then one of Ellis’s few friends in England. Rowan wonders which one is the one that outed Ellis. There is a soft knock at the door.

Wyatt hands Rowan his phone, allowing the other to read a text message he had received.

To make matters worse, neither one of the Americans could reach out to someone who could help with their questions. They know Ellis’s mother checks Joshuas’, his younger brother, messages at least once a week. They don’t want to risk his mother seeing the message and making things worse.

Rowan is sitting at his desk, tapping nervously on the dark wood while he attempts to read over an essay that he is editing for a client. Slowly, he feels a panic begin to settle in. It started as the tapping, slowly evolving to needing to physically move. Rowan paces around his room, his mind running with a thousand unanswered questions.

either Rowan or Wyatt would hear from Ellis at least once a day. Rowan would often spend his nights screen sharing TV shows and movies that he would watch with Ellis. Ellis would send Rowan a picture of a cat that reminded him of the other.

All they could do was wait.

Until now.


He takes out his own phone, checking to make sure he didn’t miss a message from Ellis before attempting to call him. There are four rings before it switches to voicemail.

‘hey this is ellis’s friend, he has been staying at my house recently but he is doing really badly right now. he wants to see you two but i dont really know how to help with that. can you guys come here or somehow get him to you? thx xxx’

“Rowan, we can’t go to him. He needs to come here. The longer he stays in England, the longer his family keeps their control over him. He needs people who actually care about him, and that’s us. I can buy him the plane ticket, but I need you to call him. I’m sure he will want to talk to you more than me. You’ve always been his favorite.”

“That’s so strange.. Wy, it seems like he is purposefully declining my calls. Can I borrow your phone to call him?”

“Well we have to go see him then! This is the most information we have gotten about Ellis in months! We need to go see him and make sure he is okay,” Rowan says, shoving the phone back into Wyatt’s hands.

He turns to grab a suitcase, but is stopped by Wyatt.

Rowan sighs and shakes his head in disagreement, but he knows Wyatt is right. They need to get Ellis to Minnesota, even if it is just for a month.

“Hey there! You’ve reached Ellis Allen’s voicemail. If yo-”

Rowan hangs up before he can hear more. He sits at his desk and tries again. This time it rings twice before going to voicemail. Rowan hangs up again.

And this was making every alarm in Rowan’s mind sound off.

It rings three times, just long enough for Rowan to think that Ellis won’t answer the call from Wyatt’s phone either. But, he hears a voice. Not the voicemail this time, but a real voice. Ellis answered the call.

‘No, it’s, um, it’s Rowan! I tried to call you on my phone and you didn’t answer. So, I tried Wyatt’s! I just wanted to make sure that you were okay and… Let you know that Wyatt and I are buying you a ticket to come here! And stay here. If that is okay. I think Wyatt may have already bought the ticket!”

Rowan has known Ellis for so long that he has learned many of Ellis’s quirks. There are certain ticks that Ellis does when he lies, when he is trying to seem happy, when he isn’t actually happy, that sort of thing.

Rowan tries to speak, but his mouth feels as if it is full of cotton balls. His throat is too dry and his voice comes out as a squeak.

Wyatt nods and hands his phone to Rowan. He unlocks it and navigates to contacts before clicking on Ellis’s number, which is listed under favorites.

Rowan knows this is a lie. Even so, he knows Ellis. The Ellis he knows would never reject a free plane ticket. His El would take any options to escape from England, even if it was for a short while.


“Wyatt?” Ellis questions.

“Wyatt? I presume you got my friend’s message.. Just ignore her, please. I am perfectly fine! Everything is fine… I have just been, uh, busy! I promise we can catch up soon, and I will explain all the things that have been going on,” Ellis says, clearly trying to make his voice sound more upbeat than he actually felt.

There is a tense silence as Rowan waits for a response.

no, to coming to Minnesota, to seeing them again. He said he was happy, but Rowan can’t help but not trust that. He knows Ellis’s voice so well, his typical sarcastic tones and funny antics. This Ellis was cold, sardonic, and exhausted. He realizes there is nothing more he can do but sit back and wait for Wyatt to try and convince Ellis.

“No, Rowan. I am happy here. I can’t leave. I don’t… I don’t want to talk to you anymore, please just give the phone back to Wyatt,” Ellis says, completely monotone as if he was reading off of a script that he was forced to rehearse a hundred times over.


Wyatt shoots him a confused look, unsure what to make of the dejected look that Rowan has written clearly on his face. He waits for an explanation, but slowly leaves the room when he gets nothing.Ellissaid

The room, perfectly situated between Rowan and Wyatt’s room, became a constant reminder of every ‘what if?’ question Rowan had asked himself in the last six years of their friendship.

What if they met and everything was perfect? What if they fell in love? What if they met and their friendship died? What if Ellis hated Rowan? What would have happened if Rowan had just told Ellis that he loved him?

Oh’ is Rowan’s only thought as he hands the phone back to Wyatt, who is still lingering to hear whatever bits of conversation he can pick up.

Yet, hours of waiting turned to weeks and Rowan began to wonder if he would ever hear from Ellis again. Plans for the future became futile, the spare bedroom meant for Ellis becoming a storage room full of old clothes that were meant to be donated, workout equipment that broke and was meant to be put at the curbside, and a large blue dog bed for Bear.

“Ro, you need to eat something. Literally anything, please,” Wyatt says, breaking Rowan out of the mind loop that he had been stuck in.

Wyatt gestures toward the plate of scrambled eggs and bacon that sits in front of Rowan, and he understands what Wyatt is asking. Once he begins to eat, Wyatt begins to speak.

“No, but seriously. I miss him every day. It is strange not hearing you two talking at the latest hours of the night. It’s weird not waking up to dozens of Tiktoks and memes from him. I hate that we can’t play games with him anymore. A huge part of our lives has gotten taken away. I guess.. I guess it just doesn’t feel real yet. That’s how it was with my mom too.”

admittedly, jealous of the ease that Wyatt seems to be coping with the possible loss of such an important friendship.

“Wy, how are you dealing with this so easily?” Rowan asks, ignoring Wyatt’s request. “What do you mean?”

“I lost my mom before I had even graduated high school. You know that, because we were friends and I moved in with you afterward. I lost my dad when I was 4. I lost my baby sister when I was 10. I’ve lived a life full of loss, I guess. Of course I miss El. He was the greatest friend I ever had, besides you.”

“Well, I don’t know.. You just seem so… unfazed?”

It has been just over six months since Ellis had left, and Rowan was finding it more difficult than ever to do basic tasks. He fell behind in work, too tired to be able to concentrate on long essays about art history and classic literature. He spent most days sitting in the living room with Wyatt, zoning out and watching as Wyatt painted beautiful seaside resorts, sunsets, and nature scenery.Rowanis,

Rowan smiles at Wyatt and playfully hits his arm.



Neither one of them says anything to the other, they allow the silence to fill the room and hang heavy between them. One full year without Ellis, nearly a full year with no contact. It doesn’t feel right to either of them.

A week later, Rowan is sitting in the kitchen when Wyatt walks in and sits next to him.

Rowan waits until Wyatt stands up and leaves before allowing himself to cry. He allows a sob to erupt from his throat, only muffled by a hand that Rowan presses against his face. Bear looks at him, seemingly desensitized to this and only bothered by the sudden sound. Rowan can’t force himself to hold back the tears any longer, and they fall faster than ever before.

For months now, Rowan has been sitting in that room day after day. Wyatt doesn’t ever mention it, and Rowan assumes it is because Wyatt knows it would make him feel worse about the way he is getting over his best friend.

So it only makes sense to both of them that, on the year anniversary, they are sitting together on the floor of that room. Wyatt is leaning back against the bed that still has Ellis’s favorite blue comforter on it, eyes closed and head tilted toward the ceiling. Rowan, just as he has for weeks now, is sitting right in the middle of the room.

Rowan nods, and he thinks he understands Wyatt better than ever before.

On the year anniversary of Ellis’s departure, Rowan finds himself sitting on the floor of the room that was meant to be Ellis’s. Tears begin to force their way out of Rowan’s eyes, the realization that he has lost Ellis forever beginning to really settle in. The question of “what if I lose my best friend?” was no longer a what if, it was a when. It was happening with every passing second that he sits in the middle of the discarded clothes, with every second he watches Bear spin in circles before lying down comfortably in his large blue bed.

Before he can properly process anything, his body is on autopilot. Dashing to the front door, he begins to cry happy tears, rather than the heartbroken ones he has grown accustomed to.

“I don’t know. I’m still sad. I think.. I think recently my biggest question is: would things have been different had I told him how I felt? I almost did, that night he left. But I got scared. He told me he got outed and… I just couldn’t. He made me promise I would never leave and I did.. I guess it just hurts that I’m not the one that left.”

“Hey! You never know, maybe things would have turned out this way no matter what, and who knows! Maybe someday he will come back. Do you still feel like that? I mean, do you still love him?” Wyatt questions.

Wyatt pats Rowan’s arm, shooting him a reassuring smile.

Rowan shrugs and looks at Wyatt. He sets his phone down on the table.

“I do. I don’t know why, but I still do,” Rowan sighs.


“How are you feeling?” Wyatt asks.

There is a knock at the front door and Wyatt stands up before Rowan can. He has a mischievous look on his face as he approaches the door.

Rowan hears the front door open, and excited voices speaking in hushed voices. Bear runs into the room and straight to the door, barking as he does so.

That’s when Rowan hears something that changes everything. A laugh, the same laugh he heard in person for the first time two years ago in the airport parking lot when Ellis gave him the tightest hug he had ever felt, no longer separated by the thousands of miles that were between them. The same laugh that reignited his heart every time he heard it.

“If you invited someone over to cheer me up, you could have just led the conversation with that,” Rowan jokes.

“First, I want to start by saying I am so sorry for disappearing. The last year has been the worst year of my life and I didn’t know how to tell you two that I needed help since I knew there wasn’t much you could do. So like I mentioned the day I left, I was outed to my mom. The ‘family emergency’ was that. She wanted me to come home, and she didn’t want me to talk to you two. Or, more specifically, she didn’t want me to talk to Rowan,” Ellis explains.

Rowan cannot tell if he is laughing or crying anymore, and all he knows is that Ellis is here, he is in his arms and alive and in Minnesota. All he knows is that Bear won’t stop howling and perching on his hind legs to paw at the air in front of them. All he knows is the way Wyatt’s arms complete the puzzle as they find their way around the duo.

Ellis glances at Rowan and smiles before turning away to continue helping Wyatt. “Is that everything?” Wyatt asks.

“Ro, let the man come in! Yes, I knew he was coming here. I’ve been in contact with him since just under a week ago. He promised to explain everything as soon as he got here.”


“How are you here? When did you.. Did Wyatt know? What happened? Why did you disappear?” Rowan’s questions are falling out of his mouth faster than Ellis or Wyatt can process them.

“Everything I could get. Okay, let’s go to the living room then.” The three walk into the living room. Wyatt sits on the couch with Rowan while Ellis pulls up a chair so he can face the two.

Wyatt picks up a few of Ellis’s many suitcases, dragging them into the kitchen. Ellis does the same. Rowan watches Ellis, unable to take his eyes off of him.

Tears that were full of so much love and joy when he lifts Ellis off of the ground and into his arms.


He pauses before continuing his story.

“I don’t plan on leaving again. There’s nothing my mother could do to get me to go back home anyway,” Ellis smiles and moves from the chair to be in between Rowan and Wyatt.

“You mean the world to us. If you leave again, I will cry.”

“Of course you can! I would feel horrible making you live elsewhere when we have a room for you here anyway,” Rowan says.

Rowan hugs Ellis, giving him a tight squeeze, before looking at him in the eyes.

“Even after everything I have made you go through?” Ellis asks.

“That is.. kind of the whole story. Josh stole the passport back for me, plus my money and old phone. I was able to sneak back home while my mother was gone and pack up as much of my stuff as possible. Ren gave me some extra money and now I’m here. The reason it took so long was because I didn’t want to get your hopes up about me coming back, and then I am unable to. I didn’t want to make anyone feel bad for what my mother had done either. It was a rough year emotionally, but hey! I’m here now.”

“I made a promise to you, El. I intend to keep that promise.”

The two smile at each other, the year of distance seemingly melting away.

“When I got home, she took my phone away. She took my passport, my money, and anything else that I could have used to leave. Luckily, my buddy Ren had an open bedroom and some extra money for me. She bought me a new phone, she let me stay with her, and she helped me start my visa process. I told myself that I couldn’t risk coming here again unless I could stay indefinitely. I already talked to Wyatt about this, and he said that he approves, but I need to make sure you approve too Ro. Can I move in?”

For the rest of the day, the three watch new movies they were unable to watch together and catch up. Bear drags his dog bed into the room and lays down in front of the unlit fireplace.

“The morning you left, I wanted to tell you something. Something I suspect you already know,” Rowan says.

Rowan laughs, resting his head against Ellis’s.

Rowan sits down on the bed, playing with a loose string on the end of his hoodie sleeve. Ellis sits up and keeps his gaze fixed on Rowan.

“El.. Wake up. I need to tell you something important.”


“I don’t think it could have changed much, honestly. I already had a feeling you did, or that might have been hopeful thinking. Either way, I’m glad we feel the same way.”

Ellis wakes up and looks at Rowan. He seems confused at first, but smiles when he realizes who is shaking him.

Ellis nods, taking in the information before responding.

“Mm.. What is that? I know a lot of things,” Rowan rolls his eyes and looks at Ellis.

“God.. I wish I told you that sooner,” Rowan says

“Hi Ro.. What do you need?”

“I really like you. I have for a long time but I never knew how to tell you. Now that I have gone a whole year without you, I don’t think I can go any longer without telling you that. You mean so much to me, El.”

The next morning, Rowan sneaks into Ellis’s room and shakes him.

“I did know that. So did my mom, and my friend who told my mom, and my little brother. Josh said he wants to be invited to our wedding.”

“Absolutely yes. At record speed too! It only took four years to finally tell you!” Ellis jokes,

The two giggle at their absurdity, holding each other close as they watch the sun rise.


“I am too. Does this mean we are finally dating?” Rowan asks, his smile widening.

Years later, after Ellis has fully settled into Minnesota, all Rowan knows is the peaceful crackling of the fireplace in the dead of winter as he reads. Ellis’s head is resting on his chest, napping after an eventful sledding journey. The sound of three mugs of hot chocolate being set onto their coffee table is now all too familiar. In his sleep, Ellis reaches to hold Rowan’s hand and his wedding ring shimmers from the light of the fireplace. Rowan smiles to himself, realizing that he is finally more content than ever before. He is home.


31 byWAVESPhilip Temples




Eve-Black MothersSeasonedScent-steepedHue-garnishedgardenswithcarebraidblack hair Bead BraidsGoodBrightcolorasgumballsenoughtoeatblackgrowing free BlackGarden-garlandedFaceShadow-brownforagrovegirlsquickskip rope Chant

by Alexander Pérez

Kiss ‘til the SwoopBlackRoller-skateendplay-roundBlackshadowsthefloor Blur past whoosh!


UNTITLED POEM by Ivan de Monbrison

The room is empty. Silence is hidden in a box. A mirror speaks to itself. Pieces of a man are scattered around the room as if he were a doll. At this hour, there is nobody in the street. It seems that in the neighboring apartment there are some lunatics talking to blind men in an incomprehensible language. Regret takes the spot of desire, who was sitting on a chair by the front door, and has started vomiting.


With Russian Translation

Комната пуста. Тишина спрятана в коробке. Зеркало говорит само с собой. Кусочки человека разбросаны по комнате, словно это кукла. В этот час на улице никого. Кажется, что в соседней квартире, есть безумцов которые разговаривают со слепыми на непонятном языке. Сожаление занимает место желания, садится на стул, поставленный рядом с входной дверью, и начинает рвать.

We had known each other so long, but this was the first time we unspooled our worries and secrets. He said he was drowning, and I was a light guiding him to the surface. “You will be in my life forever. You are a big deal. You’re the only woman my dog has ever acted that close with aside from my mom.” He used this script on every woman he wanted to fuck.


During the summer of wooing, 2018, he called late at night and told me jokes, waxed philosophical on the meaning of love. His answer copied from Moulin Rouge, “to love and be loved in return.” He had been floundering the last two months; fired from his job, he filled up his days with drinking Marble Double White, playing Call of Duty. I finally felt my life was coming together; I could be a stable influence.

TOO MUCH by Marisa Silva-Dunbar

I wrote little notes to myself in Google Docs, clichéd things he’d say: “You’re not like other women,” and “I’ll treat you like no other man has.” I typed hints about his fathomless appetite for women. How he posted pictures just two months ago of a woman, and they had seemingly disappeared off his Instagram. He now had a new girl he liked to get wasted with. She and I exchanged follows to size up the competition. She seemed emotionally immature—chasing after him on social media: making his dog her profile picture, commenting on every post, writing a poem about how he was the one. He posted a picture of a plane dropping a heart with the caption “If you’re not appalled, you have not been paying attention.” She commented “You’re dropping your heart to me over Nob Hill. I catch it!!!” He never replied.

When I asked about her, he shook his head: “She was a hook-up turned drinking buddy.” She became the shadow in the corner. Later that summer, on the night of the freak hailstorm that briefly turned our city into a winter wonderland, she blew up his phone at 3 a.m. six or seven


Eventually, I learned he orchestrated paranoia. He’d laugh about the time an ex sent him nudes, and while he meant to send them to his best friend, he accidentally sent it to his girlfriend. He’d brag about fucking two women with similar names and how he slipped up and said the

This became a pattern over the next few years. It was easier to be angry with her. I saw her as a Venus fly trap; he was in danger. “The last time she came over drunk, she took off all her clothes and started yelling that we need to have sex. I told her no. She became an enraged bitch. I kicked her out.” He called her two weeks later “to make amends” after he was sober for six days. It ended with her screaming down the phone at him, wailing about what a shit he was for not letting her live with him. “I didn’t fucking know you when you signed your lease. Deal with your own fucking money problems.”

He sighed, “No you’re not,” and hung up the phone. He was nonchalant and I wanted to believe: “She told me she was psycho over me. She’s not girlfriend material—a party girl and not that smart.” She kept calling.

I told him that still being in contact with her upset me—that it made me physically ill, he responded “It’s nothing, it’s over anyway. She’s constant drama.”

times in a row. He stayed so I could hear everything. She begged, “Let me come over. I’m your girl! I love you!”

Her name would light up his phone over the years (along with others). It would bring a sense of dread creeping up my neck. I wanted to feel sorry for her. Hadn’t he made it clear he wanted nothing to do with her? Now I look back and wonder what recycled sweet nothings he used to soothe her, to keep her coming back for more.

A year later, his words to her would swim back to me. I became the love sick puppy, the crazy woman in the attic. Scorned. Scorched. I told myself, “everything she says is a lie.”


My pride tethered me to him. I believed I could pull him from the abyss when his drinking was taking up his days and on the nights he told me he didn’t want to exist. His mother asked me to help. He wanted to say goodbye. I told myself, “I am stable. I am sturdy; I can handle this. I can be a good influence.” I was always trying to save him; early morning trips to the ER when he didn’t want to call an ambulance. He was in agony due to pancreatitis, still drinking beer or vodka before he left. If he was tired of living, he would call and I’d jump in my car and speed to his house.

The last time this happened was autumn of 2020. He called, asked what I was doing. “I’m picking up a burger with Carmen, at Holy Cow.” He started yelling at me. How dare I be ten

I became a tool to use against other women. “You intimidate the other women in my life,” he said it like a compliment. “They know you’re my ride or die.” I liked the idea of being “a priority,” though I was never shown. The word was enough. I would carefully remember their names, to keep track of how many he was seeing at the same time: Amber, Diana, Lauren, Leslie, Jackie, Kelly, Melissa, Valerie, Katryn, Angela1, Angela 2, Casey, and Jacy. I was his secret keeper.When he was fucking any woman who was “just a friend,” he became enraged when I questioned the different things he told us. We had been compatible because neither of us wanted kids, but then he would pursue women with children. I asked him what made him change his mind. He didn’t answer. We were on the freeway; he was drunk and speeding. I started crying asking him to slow down. We ended up back at his place. When he got out of the car, he turned to me, “I’m sorry you’re crying.”

other’s name. In each instance, he thought the woman overstepped when she started questioning him. He’d tell them they were crazy, scream in their face to “get the fuck out of my house.”

minutes away from his house and not let him know. “That is so fucked up,” he kept spitting down the phone. His tone changed, “I don’t want to be here anymore.”

I dropped Carmen off and raced to his place. When I got there he was sitting outside, drinking from a twelve pack and smoking a cigarette. He smirked, “What’s up buttercup?” I told him I was worried; what about what he had said ten minutes ago? He acted confused, then said, “I’m still mad you got dinner without me.”


He always loved to “play the hero,” for any woman willing to be a damsel, and some unwilling. One childhood friend confided she couldn’t stay at her house since her ex-husband broke in, stole her things. When he heard this, he repeatedly called every police station in the Tampa area, threatening to kill the ex if they didn’t handle things in the appropriate manner. The childhood friend called me the next day begging to get him to stop, since he wouldn’t listen to her.

Last year we were sitting outside on a January night, under his heat lamp. He told me his old drinking buddy called and asked him if she would make a good mother. I wish she could hear the glee in his voice as he shared his answer. “I told her ‘fuck no! You can barely take care of yourself. You’re a fucking mess. Stick to being a party girl.’ What a dumb cunt,” he took a drag of his cigarette then laughed. He called her a few weeks later and asked her to come over. She did. I walked away.

I worried he was successful in poisoning me against her for good. My therapist told me I had seen her at her worst—there was a chance she wasn’t like that at all. I reached out to her after I left. She shared the story of how a few months earlier, he raged in her face, skin mottled by the blood rushing; he shoved her out the door. She was barefoot in just her shorts and a cheap bra. “I’d have dreams he’d try to burn me and him down in that house.”

When I dream of him, I am trying to hide or run away; I turn quickly behind a corner holding my breath hoping he won’t see me. I am always looking for an escape. Here is my shame cut open like a mango cubed in neat pieces waiting to be consumed. I should’ve left sooner. This is what echoes as I try to sleep at night.




All glaring signs Too egregious to lament But I fall prey to delicate caress And feverish delusion.

You obstruct with tepid warmth. Like talking to winds that disturb And speak in broken hymns, Never remaining to listen.

For I am the unworthy Tarnished by cosmic dust, A warped shield, A decaying soul Enamored with cosmic possibility.

Your tenderness is derived In sestinas opaque And barbarous.



University of Kentucky Press, 2022. 104 Pages. $19.95 (Paperback), $29.95 (Hardcover)


Reviewed by Betsy Packard

Despite the old adage, in considering Marianne Worthington’s collection, The Girl Singer, I definitely can tell much about this book from its cover. The drawn image of a young woman with a guitar and her mouth open in song drew its inspiration from a photograph the poet’s mother took of Dolly Parton when Dolly was 14 years old and singing in the parking lot of an Esso gas station in Knoxville, Tennessee. Worthington spent her early years in Knoxville, but

…gap-toothed hayseed in his checkered jacket and short pants clowning

around with me as his sidekick and we’d laugh and laugh…


singer by those men who said we’re doing you a big favor, honey.

This young woman, relegated to “girl” status, bows to the requirements of “the bosses” who were weary of sorrowful songs, murder ballads. She is required to do comedy sketches with a—

in 1990, her family moved to southeastern Kentucky. Both locations are ripe with Appalachian heritage, a fruit Worthington doesn’t hesitate to sink her teeth into.

She was required to quit singing the songs close to her soul, a final blow, wiping out what little agency she might have imagined she had.

Reading the Patsy Cline poem stirs up earworms for me of Patsy singing “Crazy” or “I Fall to Pieces,” and I want to slow dance. The first line of this poem, “On Seeing a Letter Patsy Cline Wrote to the Nudie Taylor,” Worthington tells me, “Her handwriting always like a song,” illustrates how music infiltrated every part of Patsy Cline’s life, how music led to her demise when the plane carrying her to her next gig crashed. Worthington reminds me of my own

The Girl Singer, published by The University Press of Kentucky in November 2021, is presented in three parts: The first section unveils the trials of women entertainers in the patriarchal world of country singers. In the poem from which the collection takes its name, we hear from an anonymous female entertainer.

How hard it was to hold my body against defeat and come to be known as just a girl

The Dolly Parton poem carries the title of the song Dolly sang at the end of the movie version of The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. In popular culture, Whitney Houston comes to mind when someone mentions “I Will Always Love You,” but Dolly sang it first. To this day I prefer Dolly’sWorthingtonversion.relates the experience of attending the ribbon-cutting at the Fountain City Esso gas station with her mother. Mom snaps a photo of “a girl from Locust Ridge named Dolly. and Dolly, dressed in a homemade jumper, sings high and pure Don’t let me cross over love’s cheating line

…The tailor receives her letter as the wreckage smolders nose-first in the murky woods. How long will it take you? she asks the tailor. Forever we search for the spangle and sequin

43 mortality. .

How strange it must feel to read a note from a person who died before it was read. “Forever we follow calligraphed tones.”

Speaking of murder ballads, a cluster of four poems under the heading of “Recitatives on a Murder (Wilkes County, North Carolina, 1866)” are based upon an actual murder. This crime was also the basis for the 1960s hit song by The Kingston Trio, “Hang Down Your Head, Tom Dooley.” Perlene and Ann Foster murdered Laurie Foster, and Tom Dula confessed to protect the girls. Perlene and Ann were sisters. I don’t know how Laurie was related to them. Tom had been having his way with all three of them. He was hanged for Laurie’s murder. In the first poem, “Ann Foster Melton Speaks from her Deathbed” confessing that she and Perlene committed the

The third poem, “Perlene Foster Speaks from the Kitchen” sheds further light on the situation. Perlene’s speaks after Tom Dula has been executed and buried. Tom had been sexually intimate with all three girls, and all four of them had syphilis. Immediately after the crime, deputies heard Perlene brag about killing Laura, so Ann and Perlene were arrested and jailed. She testified for the prosecution that Tom had killed Laura.

44 murder. In the second, “Tom Dula Speaks from the Gallows,” and at the end of the poem Tom tells the crowd --

Men! I say, do you see this hand? I never even harmed a hair on poor sweet Laura Foster’s head!

The fourth and final poem in this cluster, “Laura Foster Speaks from the Grave,” Laura says she and Tom were preparing to elope using Laura’s father’s mare for the get-away. They laid in the grass, and suddenly, Tom takes off. Laura feels a blow on her head, and “the burn of blade inside my heart.” Worthington says in Tom’s soliloquy that he buried Laurie, and Laurie says her body wasn’t found for three months. Worthington masterfully relates the murder without undue Worthington’ssentiment.second section expresses her family experiences and emotions evoked by people and places. “Pentecost 1965” addresses the racism which kept and continues to keep Black people out of white churches in Appalachia. The Acts Man is a Black man who witnesses by riding his bicycle through town encased in plastic sheeting and “hand -scrawled signs” featuring “verses from the Acts of the Apostles.” The young girl who sees the Acts Man frequently surmises that the preacher at her church, “could call him a witness for Jesus.” She knows this is impossible because the Acts Man isn’t white. Worthington applies irony at the close of the poem when she says,

My own mother was a gifted and prolific seamstress, and I emulated her pursuit. My kids knew using my sewing shears on paper equaled a mortal sin. My mother and I both had the “rusting button can.” To this day, I cut the buttons off a garment that heads to the rag bag. “My Grandmother’s Sewing Notions” includes “thread, her seam ripper, hooks and eyes.”

I can relate to “The Only Way Out,” in which the child uses the ruckus of children at a family dinner to secret herself with the Boston Terrier under the Formica table to eavesdrop on the adults after the children leave. She waits for “crumbs of talk.” The harsh words of the adults are “juddering in my ears.”

Worthington’s grandmother’s sewing notions are my own.

And when the Day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place.

The cadence of her father’s use of a walker inspired “Slow Dance.” “We bend and lift his limbs so he can sit and watch ball games” reminds me of the bell curve of life. As infants, we depend upon others, then we gradually achieve independence, and then the reality of human frailty makes us dependent once more, and younger family members help the elder. Watching the neighbor boy with his pickup truck, Father poignantly says, “I used to adjust my timing,” giving us a beautifully executed double meaning. Dad can no longer repair vehicles, and Dad used to dictate the pace of his feet.


The third and final section of Worthington’s collection speaks to nature, to the environment, especially in Appalachia. In “Roll Call (A Dissimulation of Birds)”, the poet doesn’t simply list birds common to where she lives, she aptly labels them, describes their temperaments, not holding back on the deserving cowbird.

Cowbird: The Malefactor gimcrack work-shy thieving outlaw

vengeance teeming jagged raucous dark-eyed homewrecker on the draw

Let me have teeth of the rodent to bite through this world. I too could use those groundhog teeth. There is much in this present world I‘d love to bite through: red MAGA hats, pseudo Confederate flags, Supreme Court justices who perjured themselves in their Senate confirmation hearings. But I also enjoy seeing groundhogs, their distinctive waddle, the way their clawed paws hold food as they munch.


The poet is kind to the “Mourning Dove: The Saint,” saying they murmur “lamentations for us.” Doves frequent my own bird feeding area where I strew wildlife mix on the ground which the doves, ground feeders, appear to enjoy. I have long found their cooing to be a comforting sound. Ever since I read “Roll Call,” I think of “lamentations” whenever I hear them – which is frequently. Worthington says the blue jay is a “mercenary,” which makes sense birdwatchers,to and the mockingbird is a “ballad collector.” Last year, a mockingbird would perch on the apex of my neighbor’s roof and perform his collection of ballads. I’m disappointed that he's not back this Worthingtonyear.praises a common critter in “Oh, Groundhog!” While she acknowledges that he is a rodent, “ferocious of tooth,” hated by farmers and ancestors, she admires him, his waddle, his fur, the “wispy cups of velvet” which are his ears. He can eat voraciously. “He eats till his britches won’t button at all.” I might mention that Worthington does use italics for emphasis and in place of quotation marks in dialog. I’m not randomly tossing in italicized words. She completes her litany of praise for the groundhog with

Throughout the entire collection, Worthington references element of nature but especially birds. Not only does she have entire poems about birds, but birds flit in and out of the collection.

country music, family history, legend, and praise for the natural world, Worthington weaves feminist values in with Appalachian values. This is a tricky combination because these two entities are often at odds. She evokes emotions without being maudlin, without telling her reader what they should feel. The poet’s lyrical style, her occasional use of colloquialisms, her balance of serious subjects with light-heartedness create a collection which calls for multiple readings. Each time I dive in, I find something different, some new way in which Worthington speaks to me.


In “Mapmaker,” she mentions how jaybirds build their nests. In “The Girl Singer,” we hear how hard it was for her to “fetch [her] voice for chirpier songs,” and “Oh the cuckoo, she never hollers coo-coo.” In Barn Dance (Chorus), Worthington says, ”Don’t call us bluebird, songbird, nightingale.” For those of us who have spent any time in Appalachia, her references to birds ring true.Through

TW/CW: suicide, depression, self-harm, eating disorders, parental abuse, neglect, graphic imagery (blood and vomit)


but the hummingbird landed beside my body under the pine.

I’ve done it since I was seven; I learned it from my mother who ate nothing except dinner; she taught the mind as dangerous, the body as fragile. I will die cleansed of fat, living.

TWO WAYS TO DIE by London Chastain

cannot land or walk easily, or, like an eagle, teeter on telephone wire for its legs are weak, and so its wings are always beating,

I do this every day, I’ve a calling.

The scene required stillness from the living thing as blood ran from my cut wrists.


Hunger2. is a routined kind of suicide. The only meal the body allows is dinner, but in the bathroom after, fingers thedownthroat until dinner is in the toilet

by D.W. Davis

Something just underneath the window, down where the trickle of moonlight didn’t quite reach. Black on black. A slight shimmer. And the sound—a faint, almost hypnotic rustling. He couldn’t place it. Softer than leaves in autumn, more insistent than a hummingbird’s wings. Dry, too. It was so anathema to anything he associated with this house, he wondered if he was still dreaming. He wasn’t prone to lucid dreams, but Darla had told him about hers, how she could lay in bed almost fully awake, and yet the world didn’t seem quite right, she felt disassociated from it somehow. That was how he felt now.


And yet.

He awoke with a start, from dreams that bordered on memories that bordered on nightmares. The room was in almost total darkness; moonlight streamed in through the open window and stretched valiantly across the floor before dying halfway to the bed. His breath momentarily caught in his throat, eyes on the ceiling, as he struggled against the grip of sleep. And there it was again. What had awakened him. He came fully alert. What was it? Something. Something off. Something that had not happened every night since he had been in this house, since he had lost everything that had made this house worthwhile. Something he could not identify but could sense, on some primal level, an instinct triggered somewhere deep down.


against the night. He glanced at the alarm clock beside the bed. 1:37. He had to be at work in just under six hours. He thought, I’m gonna be dead in the morning. He thought, Guess it’ll be a video day, the kids will love that And he thought, What the hell is that?


It. What the hell are you thinking?

He spun around, not sure what to expect, but expecting something, except nothing greeted him. There was his bed, and the nightstand, and the dresser. Closet to the right of the window, sliding door pulled closed. Chair in the far corner, with his slacks for the next day folded over the back. A map of the world hanging askew on the wall above the bed; on the wall nearest him, to his right, a faded square where a picture had once hung. Beige, rumpled carpet between him and the furniture.Andnothing else.


You dreamed it, he told himself, and he almost laughed. He’d had a lot of moments over the past year and a half, most of them bad. He’d had dreams and bursts of panic. He’d frozen in the middle of one of his classes, and had been forced to stay home a week. He’d forgotten the

Scott pushed himself up. The bedframe rattled. The movement momentarily ceased. His breath caught. Whatever it was had reacted to him. It was as aware of him as he was of it.

He felt himself. Pinched himself. And still the movement under the window continued; still he heard the rustling. His eyes were open and they stayed open. He was awake.

He was thinking he was no longer alone in his bedroom. The thing started again. The shimmer disappeared as the thing—thing—disappeared beyond the reach of the moonlight. Scott threw off the sheet, his body caked in sweat from fear and the summer heat. Clad only in his boxers, he fell out of the opposite side of the bed as the rustling, now more a scuttling, grew steadily closer. Scott half-crawled, half-stumbled towards the open door, reached the wall. Hand shot out in the darkness, fumbling around until his fingers brushed over the light switch. Tried flipping it, realize he was pushing the wrong way. Reversed it, and the room was flooded with light.

Here he was, in his underwear and soaked through, halfway across the room from his bed. The entire floor lay exposed to the light, every inch of space, and he was the only living thing in the room. Stupid and silly, but no harm done.

No, that wasn’t quite right. His hand, still near the light switch, trembled. That wasn’t right at all. The light wasn’t everywhere, was it? There was still one area of impenetrable shadows.Under the bed.

The certainty from a moment ago evaporated. Reality folded in upon itself. You have to be dreaming, he told himself. You can’t be awake

But he felt awake. He felt more awake and alert than he had in months. Even though the darkness under the bed seemed to beckon him. He squinted against his own wishes, trying to see into the shadows. Was something moving under there? He couldn’t tell. He didn’t want to know. Yet he had to. There would be no rest tonight until he knew for certain that he had merely been dreaming—With a pop, the light went out.


names of friends and extended family. He’d been pulled over for speeding and hadn’t been aware of his speed. This dream, this waking hallucination, may have taken the cake for the most embarrassing, but at least he was alone. At least no one else had to find out about this.

He swallowed. That was a hell of a dream. He only remembered scraps, so similar to other dreams he’d had recently, but he couldn’t associate any of them with something crawling in the dark. But wasn’t that how dreams worked? Broken, fractured and frantic. Only fools and German shrinks tried to make sense of them. Neurons fired and misfired in random patterns; one could go insane trying to give it any discernible meaning.

the dark. That thing. Not fast, but steady, confident. Scott let out something halfway between a cough and a scream. He turned and, thinking nothing of pride or reason or sanity, fled the room, slamming the door behind him.

He reached a closed door, what had been Tony’s room, and he paused. Despite the improbability of the situation, his mind came to a full stop. His breath caught and he flashed back to a different time. Always did, but something about the middle of the night rendered him more susceptible to the nostalgia, to the pain, and for a moment he forgot what was going on, why he was in the hallway in the dark at a quarter-to-two in the morning, his heart racing, his skin greasy with sweat. He thought, Was Tony crying? And with this thought came a piercing pain in his abdomen that almost doubled him over.

He fumbled his way down the hall, his hand trailing along the wall. Decorative pictures— big cats; Darla had a thing for exotic beasts, lions and tigers most of all—shifted and clattered at his touch. Some fell to the floor. Should’ve put them away a long time ago, but then the walls would’ve been bare. He’d taken down the photographs; those he couldn’t bear. But the prints and paintings had stayed.

Now, of all times? He laughed once, a harsh and alien sound. It echoed in the silence of the room. He couldn’t believe it. And not just the sudden darkness; all of it. None of this could be real. He had to be Somethingdreaming.scuttledin


Scott leaned against the door. No. He knew better. He knew better. He opened his eyes. The hall was still dark. The house was still humid. He could still hear his pulse in his ears. But he knew Tony hadn’t cried. Tony hadn’t cried for some time.

From the other side of the door, a noise.

Scott grunted. He felt for the switch, flipped it up and down. Nothing. A blown breaker?


“Bastard,” he whispered, and he wanted to throw open the door and confront whatever waited within there—not Tony, it’s not Tony—but that part of his mind rooted in selfpreservation took over, and he pushed himself away from the room and stumbled to the end of the hall. Tried the switch there. Nothing, of course. He looked over his shoulder, stared into the darkness behind him. Movement? He thought there might’ve been.

He tried every light switch he passed. Not a blown breaker. Had to be a power outage, but there was no storm. The whole fuse box, then? An old house; it was possible. They’d never thathad trouble before. He wasn’t the handiest of men, but he and a few hired hands had done a good job of putting this fixer-upper back together again. Darla had been skeptical, but he knew she secretly liked the idea of living away from the hustle and bustle, an isolated house on the edge of the forest, the nearest neighbor a half-mile away. The perfect place to raise a child. Sure, it had taken work, but it had been worth it. They’d been happy here.

Scott half-fell down the stairs. There was a shotgun in the foyer closet. He’d bought it with a wink. Country living, he’d told Darla, who had stared at the thing like it was a misbegotten mutant of evolution. He’d only loaded and fired it a few times, and when Tony had come along, the gun had found a new home on the closet’s top shelf. How long since he’d cleaned it? Two years? Three? He had to trust it would still work, so he could kill…whatever it was upstairs. Whatever it was upstairs that was real and not at all in his head.

Scott reached the entryway to the kitchen. Open window on the far wall above the sink, but the moonlight filtering in was partially blocked. By what, he couldn’t tell, but the kitchen wasn’t as lit as he expected. He could still make out the knives by the stove, though. He stepped

A rustling sound. A scuttling? Yes. Perhaps yes. Muted, but maybe.

He groaned. No. Oh no. No, no, no, no, no.


Like raindrops. His ears sought to place it, and his mind flashed back to the bedroom, and he put two and two together and the calmness he felt evaporated. The sound wasn’t just here in the kitchen with him. It seemed to surround him. Which couldn’t be. It couldn’t possibly be.

Movement in the moonlight. There, on the floor, a few feet away. Scott gasped and turned, knife in front. A shimmery, slimy blackness just beyond sight. Rustling. Shifting. It sensed him. Turned towards him. He could almost feel its presence, whatever the hell it was, whatever the hell it wanted, and his hand shook as the thing slowly moved towards the light, then back out, anticipating his movement, maybe trying to outthink him, maybe preparing itself to attack.Scott froze. His mind flashed on various imagery from life, from movies, from nightmares. Elongated, segmented. He thought of centipedes, but in horror movies, adventure movies, those ancient, gigantic beasts. Two-, three-, four- feet long. Every inch of it rippling with movement. The thought buckled his mind. A part of his sanity gave way, and a part of his humanity went with it.

into the room, bare foot meeting linoleum. The knives were halfway across the room. Not as formidable as the shotgun, but he knew the knives didn’t require regular maintenance to function. The soles of his feet were sweaty; they slipped as he inched across the floor. He tried to control his breathing, tried to keep his balance. Steady. Steady. He reached the knife rack and fumbled until he found the biggest one there was. Pulled it out, couldn’t help but smile at the shing it made as he withdrew it. Felt formidable in his hand. Heavy. Weapon wielded; a sense of calm crept into the edges of his consciousness. He could handle this. Whatever the hell was going on, he was ready. Then he became aware of something else. Low, faint, distant but there. Taptaptaptap.

Some men, faced with tragedy, react. They become generous or violent. They love or they hate or they close up or they open up. They scream and cry and pray and cheer on others who deal with the frailties of humankind. They turn to their loved ones or they turn away. Scott did not. He did nothing. He cried, once, he remembered it well. That was all. He did not seek help from his family or the counselor that Darla recommended, whom she saw on her own because he just looked at her when she mentioned it. Scott did nothing, and this was what ultimately drove Darla from the house and from him. He did nothing. He could not even be certain he grieved. He had continued life more or less as it had been before, with infrequent interruptions when his brain spasmed and the world seemed to slip out of his grasp. In these moments, he found a certain numbing solace. One could not feel pain if one felt nothing at all. He did nothing now. He stared. On some level, his mind tried to jump to conclusions, reaching out in freefall, looking for anything to hold onto but finding nothing. This was not supposed to be. This was not how the world worked. The thing, whatever it was, could not be


Stage four non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Such a godawful goddamn phrase. The fatigue had come first, and fast. Then the loss of appetite. Some slight nausea. And Scott had insisted nothing be done. Had said they couldn’t afford the doctor bills and anyways he would come out of it. A cold. The flu. Allergies. Every excuse he could think of, and God help him, he believed it, he believed every single thought that entered his mind, and worst of all, the absolute worst sin imaginable, he had convinced Darla as well, had gotten her to go along with it, and by the time they’d realized there was something else, that there were worse things under the sun, that the unimaginable was possible and happening, it had been too late, and Tony’s body had not been strong enough to withstand the treatments, and the battle, once engaged, had not lasted long at all.

Into the foyer. The closet beckoned but he ignored it. Too dark to shoot anything. Bypassed it and slammed into the front door. Twisted the knob but it wouldn’t give, and he finally thought to thumb the lock and the knob turned but the door still wouldn’t budge, and he remembered the deadbolt, he locked both out of habit but wasn’t sure why since he typically left the windows open anyways, and he had the deadbolt thrown and was hauling the door open as he heard the things—both of them now—hit the tile of the foyer. He flew out into the night and slammed the door shut behind him.

56 there. Yet it was. It sensed him, too, he could feel it—it turned towards him, inched closer, in and out of the light, glossy and shiny and dark. Beautiful and repulsive. Undulating. Its hundreds of feet tickling the tile as it approached, speed growing steadier as it realized he wasn’t fleeing. He thought, Hungrily, and the word sent shivers down his legs, which at last got him moving. He couldn’t swing the knife at such a creature—it was too low. So he threw it as he spun away. The blade clanged off the tile, but the creature diverted, and then Scott was out of the kitchen and into the living room. From tile to carpet, his feet finding traction. He sensed, or heard—he couldn’t tell, over his ragged breath and racing pulse—something moving to his right in the dark. So dark—no light came in through the window, and he only had a second to think about that before he felt something brush his ankle. Dry and cold and ticklish. He pulled his foot away, almost stumbling, and jumped forward, colliding with the couch but rolling over it, landing on the floor and pushing himself up immediately. He heard the creature slam into the back of the couch, and he thanked God for Darla’s insistence that couches with open space underneath were breeding grounds for dust and germs and therefore harmful for their future children. He had never loved her more.

Scott ran across the porch and down the steps and onto the concrete walkway. He


screamed in frustration and victory, and he cried from a mixture of countless other emotions. He bent over, gasping and grasping, hot air being sucked into his lungs as bile fought to come up, his vision narrowed to slits. He fell to his hands and knees and slowly his lungs and heart slowed to a more reasonable pace, and his eyesight adapted to his condition and the night. The moon sat three-quarters fully in the sky. Scott glanced up at it, then slowly turned around to the house he’d been run out of. The house where he’d tried—and failed—to raise a family. His fear gave way to anger. It was his home. What creature, of God or nature or wherever the hell those things had come from, had the right to run him out of it? He cursed, staring up at his house, and as the words formed themselves on his lips, something stopped them.

This had once been his house, his family’s house, but now it belonged to them. A mewling sound escaped his lips as his sanity was crushed by the vision before him. He closed his eyes but he could still see it, see them, and even though he tried to push it away, everything came back with a painful clarity as he heard something tap insistently against the pavement next to him, then slowly, almost tenderly, begin to tickle his leg.

The house…it wasn’t his house. His house was white, or had been white; sun and time had done their trick, and he was now the owner of an off-white farmhouse, sans farm. This house was no such color. It was as dark as the cloudless sky above, and just as shimmery. And rippling. The walls were moving.

No. Not the walls. Something on the walls. Lots of somethings. On the walls, the windows, the roof. Scuttling. Shifting ceaselessly.


byCHICKENKJHannah Greenberg


by KJ Hannah Greenberg




Spanish Translation by Tyler Gebauer

We come to life, our slight shape still wet just bathed in the celestial ring of a pool of light. Enriqueta Ochoa

My body was young and it knew how to run away. At the first glimmer of dawn, while the other women were sleeping, my body slid through the bathroom window and my feet set off on a path through the rugged pastures of the sierra. I ran until I was dizzy, until my eyes started watering, until my heart swelled up like a frog’s chest. I kept my distance from snakes, coyotes and scorpions, but sometimes, I must confess, I stopped to look at the center of their pupils. I learned not to fear them. They taught me to run. And likewise they taught me to pause in my escape, and to take in the sun at every pause. I grew older and the river where I rested my feet started speaking to me. It entered through my bones as a transparent language and I was wholly water, cool reservoir, flow. I sat down on the edge of a rock and lifted my dress a little: I let the water caress me between my legs at the same time that it cured my wounds. How I longed to fill my lungs with that crystalline velvet. I would like to die in this blanket of foam, I would like to drown in its caresses, I would like to be water and never feel thirst. One day, sitting on the rock, I heard footsteps behind me. I closed my legs shut at the first crunching of leaves. They had



Where did my vital fluids go? Nothing of what I have is mine, except this. I turn on the shower and I step inside. It is like returning to a primordial cave. The cave in which the first fungus decided to reproduce, to honor life through death, where matter is crowned with decomposition. In this shower I am reborn and I remember. If they were to find me like this, so filled up with myself, they would not recognize me. And I too would struggle to understand: in moments like this, even I do not know who I am. I will try to be more precise. When the first drops touch my

Mother Outside it is daytime, but in this room it is night. I have not washed the sheets in weeks. The bed is too large for me. I hear footsteps. I wait. They are about to leave. I wait. They close the front door and suddenly my chest opens up, my lips fill with blood, and my eyes expand. I savor the first seconds of a solitude that does not belong to me. I enter into it like an intruder. I stand up, and my dead weight remains laid out on the bed. The one who stands up is another woman, not me. But that does not matter. I take off my clothes. I trace the outline of my body with my finger. Borderline presence. Broken bell. Hollow container. At what moment did I empty myself?

found me. That afternoon they lifted my body onto a bus headed to the city. My dress was still wet. I grew some more and I met a man. His touch was heavy, blind. I could never find the center of his pupil, since he touched me with his eyes closed shut. In my dreams I visit the river and I do not dare to touch it; I bend over to look at my reflection and I do not find it. Yet deep down I see a flickering light. An emerald pearl rests on the riverbed, the rays of sun that filter through the water dance upon it. I try to grab it, but I wake up.

head, the image of a woman who wandered in the desert for many years comes to me. I do not know who she is, or how I know her. But I know the look of her face, I can see how the bones jut out through her transparent skin. Her tongue has deep and long furrows, as if the desert was reflected onto the pink canvas of her mouth. The lines on her tongue are signs of thirst. I know this because I am thirsty. The droplets discover my body and I feel that, for at least a few seconds, I am giving this woman something to drink. Oh God, I hope that they never show up. But they will. They are on their way back. And then it will be my turn to feed a tiny mouth again and drain myself. What nook within me distills that white nectar, that cotton milk? Am I destined for that which drips, that which leaks? I close my eyes and I open my mouth. It’s not true that water has no flavor. I taste it and notice the flavor of a dark and gentle waterfall. It is like opening a barrel cactus and kissing the heart of it.

Daughter I don’t know when I discovered it, but I suppose it was plain to see since I was little. My mother was unable to sleep during the first weeks of my life. My crying, she says, kept up the neighbors, the dog, the birds in the yard. After numerous visits to the doctor, and to the temporary relief of my mother, any sort of disease was ruled out. She became truly concerned when my tears started to well up at the same time a smile appeared across my face. Two opposite signals, pleasure and pain, combined in one flesh. It was such a disconcerting sight that my mother stopped breastfeeding for some time. My grandma, however, held me and laughed with me. The whole thing struck her as humorous. She said that I was an aquatic creature and that my mother was as


well, even if she refused to admit it. She explained that the tears were not of pain or pleasure, but


rather both: pleasure from remembering my origins through the water, but pain from having been snatched away and placed on land. I believed my grandmother’s story until I was a teenager. At that age I decided she had invented the tale so that I wouldn’t be sad about the loneliness into which my mother had thrown me. (Nestled in my first memories is the sensation of reaching my hands up into empty space, the taste of undissolved clots of baby formula). My grandmother stood by the legend of my origins as an absolute fact till the day of her death. Neither you nor your mother are the daughter of any man. Always know that. They attributed it to senile dementia, and with that diagnosis she went to the grave.

The crying returned suddenly and violently in my adulthood. It was as if my eyes had reverted to my infancy, an inverse or disjointed age. I cried when waking, when eating, when laughing, when kissing. It was impossible to form relationships, but I could not stop crying. I felt enormous pleasure as the tears piled up in my eyes and when they traveled down my cheek, swift and warm. All I could do was cry, but I had no interest in stopping it, either. Crying was my most personal activity, both intimate and solitary. I didn’t need anyone else to bring myself to the place where the soul brushes up against the walls of the body as if about to escape. Then I remembered my grandmother’s words: Neither you nor your mother are the daughter of any man. Could it be that I was the descendent of a woman who had fallen in love with nature, with bodies of water instead of bodies of men? Could it be that a water gene lies within me, moist and unrecognizable by any medical device? Is it possible that I myself had fallen in love with water without knowing it? Could it be that water that exquisite conductor of sound and electricity— might hold the true memory of the pleasure life had given me? And could it be that all of this time my tears were a roadmap and my eyes a pulsing compass?


Grandma: What else remains for women like us? My mother left before I could understand her. I don’t know where her body rests, but I hope she feels the rain from time to time. I cry for you just as I cry for her. And the tears that well up in me are not tears of pain. No, that is an offering not worthy of either of you.

Letter to the Original Spring

Grandma: Sometimes I fear this loneliness, I fear the dry season. But then I plunge into the wholeness of myself and I listen. I know that you speak to me in the language of heartbeats. Placing this emerald pearl on my stomach is all I need to do for the tears to flow, and then I can find you. I forgot to mention: your amulet is safe with me. One day I sank so deep in the river that I thought I would die. All I remember is that a hand brought me back to the surface and forced the water from my lungs. When I awoke, the pearl was in the center of my palm. Its brilliance, like the rising sun, moved me so much that I couldn’t help but cry. There, stretched out on the shore of the river, I learned that I could speak with you, and I finally understood that there is no wasteland or desert that this body cannot soften with water.



Mi cuerpo era joven y sabía huir. Al primer destello del alba, mientras las otras mujeres dormían, deslizaba mi cuerpo por la ventana del baño y mis pies agarraban camino por los pastizales resquebrajados de la sierra. Corría hasta marearme, hasta que me lloraran los ojos, hasta que el corazón see me hiciera bulto, pecho de rana. Mantenía mi distancia con las serpientes, los coyotes y los alacranes, pero algunas veces, he de confesar, me detenía a verles el centro de la pupila. Aprendí a no temerlos. Ellos me enseñaron a correr. Y me enseñaron también a pausar la huida para echarme a tomar el sol en cada pausa. Crecí un poco y el río en el que descansaba los pies comenzó a hablarme. Entraba por mis huecos en un lenguaje transparente y toda yo era agua, presa húmeda, caudal. Me sentaba al filo de una roca y me levantaba un poco el vestido: dejaba que el agua me acariciara entre las piernas al mismo tiempo que cura-ba mis heridas. Qué ganas de llenarme los pulmones de ese terciopelo cristalino. Quisiera morir en esta sábana de espuma, quisiera ahogarme en sus caricias, quisiera yo misma ser agua y nunca tener sed. Un día, sentada en la roca, oí pasos a mis espaldas. Cerré las piernas al primer crujir de las hojas. Me habían encontrado. Esa misma tarde treparon mi cuerpo al camión con destino a la ciudad. Aún tenía el vestido mojado. Crecí otro poco y conocí a un hombre. Su tacto era pesado,

Enriqueta Ochoa

Llegamos a la vida, húmeda aún la mínima figura recién bañada en la celeste ojera de un estanque de luz.


Afuera es de día, pero en este cuarto es de noche. No he lavado las sábanas en semanas. La cama me queda grande. Escucho pasos. Espero. Están a punto de irse. Espero. Cierran la puerta principal y de inmediato mi pecho se abre, mis labios se llenan de sangre y mis ojos se ensanchan. Sabo-reo los primeros segundos de una soledad que no me pertenece. Entro en ella como intrusa. Me pongo de pie y en la cama queda recostado mi peso muerto. La que se para es otra mujer, no yo. Pero eso no importa. Comienzo a desnudarme. Con un dedo recorro la orilla de mi cuerpo. Presencia limítrofe. Campana rota. Cofre hueco. ¿En qué momento me vacié? ¿A dónde se fueron todos mis líquidos vitales? Nada de lo que tengo es mío excepto esto. Abro la regadera y doy el primer paso hacia adentro. Es como regresar a una cueva primigenia. La cueva en la que los primeros hongos decidieron reproducirse para honrar la vida a través de la muerte, donde la descomposición se coronó sobre la materia. En esta regadera renazco y recuerdo. Si me encontraran así, tan repleta de mí misma, me desconocerían. Y yo tendría que entenderlo, en momentos como éste ni siquiera yo misma sé quién soy. Intentaré ser más precisa. Cuando las primeras gotas tocan mi cabeza, llega a mí la imagen de una mujer que vagó por años y años en el desierto. No sé quién es ni por qué la conozco. Pero sé cómo es su rostro, veo cómo los huesos resaltan a través de su piel transparente. Su lengua tiene estrías largas y profundas, como si el desierto se hubiera reflejado en el lienzo rosado de su boca. Esas líneas en la lengua son la marca

66 ciego. Y nunca pude encontrar el centro de su pupila, me tocaba con los ojos cerrados. En mis sueños visito el río y no me atrevo a tocarlo, me inclino a ver mi reflejo y no lo encuentro. Muy al fondo, sin embargo, veo un destello. Una perla esmeralda descansa en la tierra, los rayos del sol que filtra el agua bailan sobre ella. Quiero tomarla, pero despierto.



67 de la sed. Lo sé porque yo la tengo. Las gotas me descubren el cuerpo y siento que, al menos por unos segundos, le doy de beber a esa mujer. Dios mío, que no lleguen nunca, por favor. Este momento es lo único que me queda. Pero volverán. Ya vienen. Y de nuevo será mi turno de alimentar una boca diminuta y drenarme. ¿Qué hueco de mis entrañas destila este néctar blanco, esta leche de algodón? ¿Estoy destinada a lo que escurre, a lo que escapa? Cierro los ojos y abro la boca. Mentira que el agua no tiene sabor. Yo la pruebo y reconozco el sabor de una cascada tierna y oculta. Es como abrir una biznaga y besarle el corazón.

No recuerdo cuándo lo descubrí, pero supongo que se veía venir desde que era pequeña. Durante mis primeras semanas de vida mi madre no pudo cerrar los ojos. Mi llanto, dice, tenía despiertos a los vecinos, al perro, a los pájaros del jardín. Después de numerosas visitas al doctor y para alivio temporal de mi madre, cualquier dolencia quedó descartada. La verdadera preocupación llegó cuando mis lágrimas comenzaron a brotar al mismo tiempo que una sonrisa aparecía en mi cara. Dos señales opuestas, placer y dolor, conjugadas en la misma carne. Era un espectáculo tan desconcertante que mi madre dejó de darme pecho por un tiempo. Mi abuela, en cambio, me sostenía y se reía conmigo. Todo el asunto le causaba gracia. Decía que yo era una criatura acuática y que mi madre también lo era, aunque se negara a aceptarlo. Me explicó que mis lágrimas no eran de dolor ni de placer, sino más bien ambos: placer por recordar mi origen a través del agua, pero dolor por haber sido arrancada y puesta en la tierra. Creí en la historia de mi abuela hasta la adolescencia. A esa edad decidí que había inventado ese cuento para que no me entristeciera la soledad a la que mi madre me había arrojado (en mis primeros recuerdos anida la sensación de alzar mis brazos hacia el vacío, el sabor de los coágulos sin disolver de la leche de

Entonces recordé las palabras de mi abuela: ni tú ni tu madre son hijas de ningún hombre ¿Sería posible que yo fuera descendiente de una mujer que se enamoró de la naturaleza, de los cuerpos de agua en vez de los cuerpos humanos? ¿Sería posible que dentro de mí latiera un gen de agua, un gen húmedo e irreconocible por cualquier artefacto médico? ¿Sería posible que yo misma estuviera enamorada del agua sin saberlo? ¿Sería posible que el agua, mensajera grandiosa de la electricidad y del sonido, pudiera guardar la memoria del verdadero placer que me dio la vida?

68 fórmula). Hasta el día de su muerte mi abuela defendió la leyenda de mi origen como una verdad absoluta. Ni tú ni tu madre son hijas de ningún hombre, sépanlo siempre. Le sentenciaron demencia senil y con ese juicio encima se fue a la tumba. En mi adultez el llanto regresó de manera súbita y violenta. Fue como si mis ojos retrocedieran a la infancia, una edad inversa, dislocada. Lloraba al despertar, al comer, al reír, al besar. Era imposible relacionarme, pero no podía parar de llorar. Sentía un goce gigantesco cuando las lágrimas se amontonaban en mis ojos y después viajaban por mi mejilla, calientes y presurosas. No podía dejar de llorar, pero tampoco me interesaba mucho pararlo. El llanto era mi actividad más personal, la más íntima y solitaria. No necesitaba a nadie más para llegar al lugar donde el alma roza las paredes del cuerpo como si estuviera a punto de fugarse.

Carta a la fuente primera

¿Y no sería posible que todo este tiempo mis lágrimas fueran un mapa de regreso y mis ojos una brújula pulsante?


Abuela: ¿qué más queda para las mujeres como nosotras? Mi madre se fue antes de que pudiera entenderla. No sé dónde yace su cuerpo, pero espero que reciba un poco de lluvia de vez en vez. Lloro por ti como también lloro por ella. Y no son lágrimas de dolor las que me brotan. No, esa no es una ofrenda digna de ustedes.

Abuela: a veces le temo a esta soledad, le temo a la sequía. Pero entonces me sumerjo dentro de mi propia espesura y escucho. Sé que me hablas en el lenguaje de los latidos. Todo lo que debo hacer es colocar esa perla esmeralda en mi vientre para que comiencen a correr las lágrimas y yo pueda encontrarte. Olvidé mencionarlo: tu amuleto está a salvo conmigo. Un día me sumergí tan profundo en el río que pensé que moriría. Lo único que recuerdo es que una mano me regresó a flote y expulsó el agua de mis pulmones. Cuando desperté, la perla estaba en el centro de mi pal ma.

As the crowd and I are busy taking each other’s measure, a white, long-haired Jack Russell Terrier trots up to sniff at my leg. He’s undoubtedly been drawn by the smell of my brood of former shelter hounds. I watch as he lifts his nose and leg simultaneously to shower my black Levis with his own welcome message.


“Whoa!” I say, yanking my foot out of the danger zone just in time. I grin and am rewarded with a few smiles from my new crew.

Behind me rises the empty stand of bleachers bordering the soccer field. Before me is a small army of twelve-year-old boys and their families. I’ve been in front of such groups before, but it’s been a while. Twenty years-awhile. A lifetime ago; more than a lifetime ago for some. These kids weren’t even born the last time I was a professional soccer coach. Heck, they could be the kids of the kids I coached back then.

A little girl with blonde pigtails tugs on her mother’s hand to ask a question. Her mom purses her lips and makes a shushing motion. Behind them, a dad is doing the same with his kid. And another mom with hers. I want to tell them not to bother silencing their kids; the ones who aren’t asking are thinking it all the same. Even in this liberal corner of Bellingham, Washington, blind acceptance only goes so far.


by Scott Martin

I stand with my weight balanced on both feet, arms at my sides. A posture of calm confidence. At least that’s what I’m going for.

Never, in all of my thirty-plus years of coaching youth, high school, and college teams, have I inherited a winning team. Yet I somehow always manage to build them into strong teams and even stronger players – all-conference, all-state, and all-Americans. The challenge is twenty years ago, I was still whole. Today, as the sun bakes the back of my neck, I’m hyper aware of the fact that as scrappy as these boys may be, I’m even scrappier. A man patched together with mechanical parts. Humpty Dumpty barely put back together again.

Thankfully the air is a cool sixty degrees so I don’t seem too out of place or too suspicious wearing my blue coaching jacket. Even with the long sleeves, I can feel everyone’s eyes on my hands. I have to resist the urge to pull them behind my back. It’s not shame that gives me the urge to hide – I got over that ten years ago – but it’s still not easy to let yourself be ogled. Especially not when you’re supposed to be in the position of a leader.

Two decades ago I was coaching collegiate-level players at a Division I school. This time, I’ve got the bottom of the barrel: A team of seventeen twelve-year-old boys still a couple years away from pimples and twice as many from growing their first whisker. Boys who have already been passed over by not only the top team in the club, but the second team as well. This is the scrap heap, the third tier. No one expects much from them, but this scraggly, mangy group is my Bad News Bears and I like what I see.

Turning back to Jack, I ask, “Do you prefer chess or checkers?”


I take advantage of this ice breaker to address the group of self-described B’hamers. I pick the first boy who stands out. He’s an odd one, but an oddity of the good kind. Sandy haired and shorter than almost every kid here, even the younger siblings. His arms disappear inside a pair of beat-up goalkeeper gloves. This is just a meeting, there’ll be no training session to follow and positions haven’t been assigned yet, but this kid has shown up wearing his gloves, nonetheless.

He glances at his mom for approval before turning back to me. This pint-sized goalkeeper with the balls to wear his position on his sleeve (literally) lifts his chin a little higher and says, I“Sure.”lookpointedly at his gloves then meet his eyes and nod.

I look to his father. “Is he a good student?”

“Matthew MacGregor?” I ask, recalling his name from tryouts. His eyes widen as he nods.

His pale brows furrow. “What do you mean?”

“Chess. Checkers doesn’t do it for me.”

“Yes?” Dad says, although it comes out as more of a question. I take it for a statement of fact, anyway, knowing I’ve got Jack’s number.

“Does he need to be reminded to do his chores? Make his bed? Does he help out without being Thisasked?”time there’s no hesitancy in Mr. Clement’s voice. “He’s a great kid.”

“Okay if I call you Mac?”

Standing beside Mac is a freckle-faced redhead with a side part so deep his bangs sweep across his forehead. The only thing brighter than his hair is his green Seattle Sounders jersey. I remember his cool head and self-confidence from tryouts. By a stroke of luck – or ignorance –the other coaches passed him up.

“Hair like that needs to be grown down to your shoulders,” I tell Jack.

“Cool,” he says before shooting a glance up to his folks for approval. When neither objects, his grin “,”Isay, “What type of position is in your heart, Jack Clement?”

“Central Midfielder,” I tell him, then add, “Here’s the deal: I’m rarely going to tell you what to do but be ready to answer questions. Got it?”

Silence from the crowd. I repeat my coaching mantra as I continue pacing across the crowd: “My mission is not to teach you, but to put you in a position to learn. Coaches today tend to build robots instead of developing soccer players. With me, you’ll learn to play mathematically. You will play as individuals within a team rather than a team that plays as individuals, and you’ll learn to turn off your brain and play from your heart.”

“Center back,” I tell him. “Trust me, that’s your natural spot.”

Liam’s mouth gapes slightly to reveal a nice set of braces. I’ve just given this soccer rat the Golden Ticket: freedom to explore. He nods.

I begin slowly strolling across the front of the group again, ready to set the hook. “In fact, boys, in training I’ll have more questions than instructions for all of you. My mission is not to teach you but to put you in a position to learn.”

I suppress a grin. “Chill, guys, I need to watch you play first.” It’s rare that three players can walk on the field wearing their positions as Mac, Jack, and Liam have.

“I go by feel,” I tell them.

Moving down the line, I pause on an African American kid, the only one on our team. He’s standing partially behind his mother. When our eyes meet, his quickly skitter away. He ducks farther behind his mom. I let him off and continue to the next kid in line.

I’ve come a long way since the early years when I viewed the prosthetic hands and feet as a disability. Now I consider times like this an opportunity to step forward on behalf of everyone who stands out in the crowd for a perceived negative condition.

This time the silence following my words is weighed by intrigue instead of confusion. I’ve got them now. Like kids waiting to be asked a sure-fire question by their favorite teacher, each of the remaining boys turns eagerly for my assessment of them.

I give a curly-haired blonde in a Brazilian National Team jersey a hard look. A well-worn soccer ball rests at his feet. I remember him well from tryouts, too. This kid can link the left to the right and the back to the front of any scrimmage format played. For two days I’d watched him scan the field at all times, rarely looking for where the ball was at his feet.

My throat tightens on the last word. It’s as good of a segue as any, I suppose. Time to approach the elephant, the gorilla, and the stinky dog fart in the room. Time to address my handicap.

Even though the prosthetic hands I wear look real at a casual glance, without wrists and being a person who talks with his hands, it does become a distraction, especially to twelve-year-old boys. I hate being reminded about my handicap, but always understand the curiosity.


Settling myself on the top of the picnic table in front of my team, I take a breath and say the words I’ll never get used to saying, “It’s time for my two-minute summary about my handicap.”


by Leah Mueller

When I pushed it with my shoe, powder oozed from the top: the zipped barrier had come loose.

Thirteen years passed until they saw fit to discard the package. Now it lay in purgatorial mud, twitching and oozing dust.

Under the overpass, a Ziploc bag beckoned from cracked earth: discarded receptacle, dusty and still in the stagnant air.

I picked up the bag, poured its contents into the San Pedro River, watched cremains drift away in the murky, sluggish current.

I held in my cupped hands a substance that was once a person’s body: a woman who ate, slept, made love, perhaps gave birth to a child who later threw her ashes from a car, right before Mother’s Day.

Grainy, light gray substance, ground into fine powder. At first, I thought cocaine, then bulk flour,




but a woman’s name and date had been scrawled into the plastic with a black Magic

had thrown cremated remains from the overpass and driven away, free from the burden of death.

I’ve scattered the remnants of my brothers, my sister, my mother, my first and second husbands, but I’ve never released a stranger’s ashes.


What impulse prompted such an act?

I’ll never know: still, I am glad I set the bones free, to drift downstream in search of a much better incarnation.

76 beneathlettingInstead,ofpackamidnight,drunkeninanWhywhyAlldancetakingDrivingnextbeforeThewithsunlightEmergegossipfromtryWalkingita“ThankstheThebyDOWNSIZEDBruceGunthervelvetsmile,weakhandshake:foryourservice,”linesorehearsedhastheemotionofwood.out,theothersnottolookuptheirdesks,lockedandloaded.intothefrozenofFebruary,winditssharpenedteeth.bosswatchesasyouleaveplacingacheckmarktoanentryinhisplanner.home,thecar’sheaterforeverasribbonsofsnowacrossthefreeway.thewhilethinking,didIacceptthathandshake?notthegrandexit,epitaph,orlaughinghisfacelikeaclownatorhyenajoiningitsforafeastprey?Iloosenmytie,outsomeairthenoose.


The river breathes, never still, encouraging recollection of last night’s dream.

AT THE RIVER by Bruce Gunther

Even ancient anxieties don’t disrupt this meditation of muddy water flowing toward the bay, like random thoughts across a screen.

Gulls drift above to provide a backdrop for hours of no place to be. Someone flings stones, which drop into the cool depths where walleye move in the silence of an empty cathedral.

The drawbridge yawns open, its two sections raise their arms to greet incoming freighters.

Still, I write for someone—someone who may or may not be out there.

out as we speak.


Still, I write.

Mostly everyone else in the world has seemed to disappear.

I vomit up the words. Ripping my heart out through my throat, gagging on euphemisms, choking on TheDanglingScreamingwhataboutisms.intothevoid.onacliff.sunistoohot,burning

Or try to. ***


The last time we saw anyone living was at a cafe in Vinita, Oklahoma. Over a thousand miles ago, and we’ve been camped out in Oatman, Arizona ever since. The only creatures left here are the burros.Our food supply is running low, so we’ll have to move on soon, but I kind of like it here.

Our electric car died, so we stole—no, borrowed—one that still runs on gas. The owner doesn’t need it. He’s probably dead, just like the others.

Whoever made me got it all wrong. Like they hit the randomize button in a video game. Stitched pieces of me together that make no sense. The wiring sends mixed signals.

Is this why I’m one of the few left standing?

We haven’t seen another person in thirteen days.

A western ghost town, once touristy, but now true to its name considering the lack of humans.

“Huh?” Jerking my head up to meet his eye, I drop the pencil I’m holding, the tip worn down to a I’mnub.running out of things to write with. I need to be conscious of the words I choose. There can’t be any errors. Not anymore. There’s no such thing as a first draft when the world is ending, and you’re running out of places to write your thoughts, and there’s hardly any ears left to listen. I’ll have to find more paper and pens at our next stop.

Maybe someday, someone will find my meaningless journals. They won’t understand any of it because even I don’t. And I’m living it.

It’s just John and me, but we’re heading west in hopes of finding more survivors. Since this all began, we’ve heard rumors that there are places in California still standing. Those who still have days-worth of sunlight left. But the further we travel Route 66, the less sure I am.

“We’re leaving tomorrow,” John repeats.

And that’s the only thing that’s keeping me going.


“Okay, that’s fine.” I yawn, closing the notebook and staring off at the landscape. The silhouette of a mountain is barely noticeable in the dusk sky. Its points jut toward a heaven that may or may not be real. These days, I think it might be the latter.

Days and nights don’t work like they used to anymore. In a sense, the sun still rises in the morning and sets in the evening, but it’s all wrong. The days are more like an orange sky on fire, turning redder by the day; dusk is a deep purplish-blue. And the nights are so black that the stars might be dying, too. But we still have the moon.

“We need to move tomorrow… Sam.” John kicks the heel of my beat-up Converse that’s admittedly too close to the fire. The smell of burning rubber taints the air.

“Did you write anymore?” John asks.

“No,” I say, almost breathless. I gaze around as the few stars blink out. “No words can quite capture“You’llthis.”figure it out.”


I smirk, lowering my sight to the burning embers, batting away unwanted tears. A knot forms in my throat, making it hard to swallow. John has always been so sure of everything. Of his place in the world, of me, of the fact that we’re not in the depths of despair.

I honestly don’t know how he keeps up his optimism. It’s exhausting.

But he’s cracking. I can spot it in his emerald eyes—the fear hidden there, the light almost fading like the day. Eyes that happen to reflect mine and all my worries. The frown lines form between his dark eyebrows more and more as he battles himself. His pessimism, or maybe just realism at this point, overpower any good he senses in the world.

Our last hope is California, where the sun still shines—or so they say.

Places like New York are already gone, captured by night. The sun doesn’t rise there anymore. We’re outrunning the persistent night sky, but I’m afraid we’re losing.

The first time I really noticed it was when our electric car died the night we left home. Everything is supposed to be better when electric, right? This was the future we were promised. Want for nothing—smartphones, smart cars. Hell, even smart fridges. For the love of God, why?

But as we left our home in Maine, we barely made it over town lines. It was like the vehicle knew we were escaping whatever was coming and just shut down. We tried pushing it to the nearest charging station, no luck. The car really was smarter than us. It got out before we even knew anything at all.

We never spoke about it.

John and I aren’t romantic. Like at all. But I honestly wouldn’t want to be living out the end of our days with anyone else. Since pre-school, we’ve been best friends, moved in together after high school, and have supported each other through it all.

We hadn’t seen our neighbor for weeks at this point, so we took his truck. We left a note that we’d return it someday when things are… better. But let’s be honest. Things will never get better.

I’m a writer (poet, but now documenting our days). We both work—wait, no, worked—at IHOP. And now, we’re here. It is what it is, I guess.

The closer we get to the end of the line, the closer I sense he’s about to lose it again. It tugs at my heart seeing him this afraid, this defeated.


Before we made the trek back to our neighbor’s place, though, John lost it. It was the first time I ever saw him truly lose it. He took a tire iron to the entire vehicle. Smashed all of the windows, the headlights, the brake lights. He didn’t utter a single word the whole time, just grunts and exhaled breaths.

He’s a musician (drummer).

I’m usually doom and gloom. I can’t handle him joining me at the pity party. So I’ll fake the sunshine for his sake.

When he got it out of his system, he dropped the weapon, his hands red and chapped, and screamed, “FUCK!” Then he started walking the winding road in the direction of home, and I followed two steps behind.

I catch him rolling his eyes from the side, but he doesn’t look at me. Still focused on the beyond. “No. Like, I mean right now. Can’t you feel it?”

my ponytail, flexing my fingers, unsure what to do to make him feel better. Shifting, so we’re shoulder to shoulder, we sit in silence for a while, watching the flames dance into the “Somethingsky.

“Yeah, no shit.”

Desert sand coats my exposed arms and face from the wind picking up. My hands are cracked and calloused, dry blood in the corners of my fingernails. The only noises are the fire crackling and the burros shuffling in the distance. I can smell smoke and the faint sweat coming from John, which you might think is gross but is oddly


doesn’t feel right,” John says, snapping me out of my stupor again. His eyes scan the darkened horizon.

My spine straightens as I attempt to take it all in and focus on as many senses as possible to detect any danger. Which says a lot considering the sun is dying. What other dangers are more pressing than that? Still, I try.

When did this all begin? I start mentally ticking off the months, but John interrupts me when I hit I“Yeah.four.Maybe.”tugattheendof

“Maybe we’ll find someone tomorrow,” I offer. He usually says this to me, but I never respond.He sweeps the hair out of his face. It’s getting long now, shaggy, brown hair curling at the ends. Neither one of us has had a proper haircut in months. More than months now, actually.

“I don’t feel anything.”

“I don’t know. It’s just a gut feeling. I think we should find some place to sleep indoors tonight.”Icrane

reassuring. It’s an actual comfort that I can smell him because I don’t know what I’d do if I ever stopped.Plus,

The remnants of beans—and gritty sand—that we ate an hour ago and the dirt that’s still stuck between my teeth linger in my mouth. It’s impossible to stay clean out in the desert with no facilities. We salvage our water and brush our teeth when we can, but it’s definitely not a twice-a-day occurrence anymore.

Back before everything changed.

my neck to look at the buildings in the distance. This place used to be a town for tourists, but all the buildings have been destroyed since then. By what? I’m not sure. Most don’t even have roofs, or entire walls are blown out. It’s a stretch considering it “indoors.” The buildings face each other with a slight stretch of desert between them to host the fake dueling show cowboys would perform every day between 1:30 and 3:30. Or at least that’s what the faded poster stapled to a pole said.

My surroundings haven’t changed either. There’s John, the fire, the mountain’s outline, and the moon. And don’t forget the stars that are holding on for dear life.

He grabs my hand, squeezing it tight. “I don’t like it.”


“Like what?”

I’m sure I don’t smell like roses either.

“I mean… we can try looking inside there? Or just crash in the truck?” I shrug, not understanding why tonight is different from any other.

For a moment, I question whether my heart is racing in excitement. Maybe there are more people? We’re not alone! Hurray!


There’s an unspoken rule these fearful days: if you find another human, you’re nice. Helpful. Normally happy for the interaction. You don’t stalk like a weirdo. We move the truck closer to the buildings, hiding it in a gap between two structures. It takes us four tries before finding a place worth attempting to sleep in. The ceiling seems like it’ll hold for another day, and three out of four walls isn’t bad. This place might’ve been a bar?

But, if that’s the case, why are they hiding and watching?

“We’re too exposed in the truck.”

He kicks sand over the smoldering remains as I roll up the sleeping bags. My heartbeat upticks with each passing moment, but I don’t even know what I’m afraid of. I’m not sensing anything John is. All I know is he’s logical. He doesn’t “trust his gut” or “follow hunches.” So if he is now, then something is definitely wrong.

I try to free my hand, but he only squeezes harder, my knuckles turning white. “Ow. You’re starting to freak me out.” A chill creeps up my spine, like bony fingers crawling their way up.“It feels like someone is watching us.” He chews on his lower lip as he studies the skyline.“Okay, I’m out.” I stand up, pulling him up with me. “Put out the fire. We’ll find somewhere to crash and then leave first thing tomorrow.”

There’s a broken mirror hanging behind an old wooden counter embedded with dust and grime, and the floor crunches beneath my shoes as we plow through shattered glass. I don’t let myself look in the mirror, afraid of what I’ll see. Haggard, dirty, all sense of identity lost. I haven’t seen my reflection in a while—worried I won’t recognize the person staring back. We assemble as many broken tables and chairs together in the far corner to create a den of sorts before laying our sleeping bags back down. It almost reminds me of the forts we used to make as children. But that was more blankets and pillows and less existential crisis. We don’t bother with a fire this time. Instead, we curl up beside one another, using each other’s bodies for warmth.Minutes pass as cicadas chirp in the distance. I focus on John’s breathing, trying not to panic. I rub a piece of nylon fabric between my thumb and forefinger, letting the motion ground me and bring me back to the present.

“Yeah?”“Johnny?”His voice is quiet, almost quivering.

“Why do you think we’re still here? Like…” I rotate, so I’m copying his position. “What’s wrong with us? How are we still alive when everyone else is gone? Are we wired weird?”I’ve always felt off, not one with the crowd. But this is something new. I never imagined I’d be one of the last few humans standing. It doesn’t make any sense.

“We’re going to make it through this, right?”


He doesn’t respond. Instead, a heavy breath escapes him as he flips onto his back, sticking an arm underneath his head and staring up at the cracked ceiling.


last night. The creepy feeling John had was just that: a creepy feeling. In the dimming light of day, we haven’t seen any new faces or spotted a vehicle. No footprints left behind in the sand—only ash lingering from our previous fire. We’re quiet as we make our way toward the city. My fingertips tingle the closer we get, forcing me to shake out my arms to rid the pins and needles. I’m not sure if it’s anxiety or excitement getting to me. Scared we’re all alone, cautiously optimistic that we’re not.


The closest city is an hour west. There, we’ll stock up on food by rummaging through abandoned homes and food markets. Fill the tank as much as possible and hope that it gets us the rest of the way to California. Gas is harder to come by nowadays; the supply might be running out as quickly as Nothingdaylight.happened

Now we’re both staring at the ceiling that might crush us.

We’re both scared. There’s no use in beating a dead horse by talking about it.

After a few terrible moments have passed and the tears have already bunched up behind my eyes, John whispers, “I don’t know, Samzy. I really don’t.” Then, after a long pause, he adds, “Just you and me till the end, all right?”

If he feels my body shaking, he doesn’t address it.

It’s a silly line we’ve been telling each other since middle school, but it’s my undoing right now. I bite my lip hard, unleashing the silent tears. I turn my back to him as he throws his arm over me, pulling me closer. His breath is warm against my cheek, and I beg the weeping to stop because I don’t want him to know how terrified I am.

If I live that long.

Out of everything on the shelves, all the paper is gone. I found one lone pen I stuck in my back pocket, but there’s nothing viable to write on. Not even napkins. In a desperate maneuver, I take some of the cardboard boxes that previously housed candy bars and start tearing them into pieces where I can continue my story once my notebook runs out of space.


John pulls over into a tiny gas station on the corner, only one pump left. It’s dry. We empty the place of any food left behind and journey to the next station. And the next. Until finally, we’re able to fill the tank up.

My stomach sinks the further we enter the middle of the city; there’s not a soul in sight. And the sharp tang of sewage seeping through the windows doesn’t help.

Once people started disappearing, all laws went out the window. You wanted something? Take it. Who’s going to stop you? There are no cops anymore. There are no courts. There are no laws to break.

windows are smashed out, doors hanging off hinges. Vehicles lay abandoned as if a storm rolled through town and tore everything apart, taking everyone with it.

As John pumps, I lean against the warm hood, the engine ticking as it cools down, and eat a Slim Jim. I’m surprised there’s any left. This was one of the first items to go back east once all the stores started to get robbed. There’s no order to anything anymore.

Skyscrapers breach the horizon, popping into view. Most buildings are still standing, unlike the town we just left behind. The closer we get, however, the destruction to them is apparent.The


The noncommittal grunt he gives slides right through my chest, wounding me. He’s closing the gas cap when I reach over and tap his arm.

See? Everything is going to be fine. John is going to be fine.

I chew on the beef stick, wiping my mouth on my dirty sleeve as I try to hold the vomit down.

We have to survive this. Whatever this is.

“Should we stay here for a while?” I ask John, distracting my own brain from spiraling and ignoring the bile burning the back of my throat.

“If we give it a few days, someone might come through.”

“It’ll work out, all right? Look.” I reach through the truck window, pulling out the notebook. “I even wrote more this morning.”

“Do you want to?” His eyebrows crease like he doesn’t know who I am by suggesting this.

I turn away from him before he can catch everything written on my face: the fear, the lies, the uncertainty of what tomorrow will bring.

Some days I hope that I’m in a coma. Or a simulation. Or whatever else that means this isn’t real life. That none of this is happening. That it’s all a bad dream.

I didn’t. It’s a lie.

John holds back a small smile before nodding. “Okay, yeah, that’s great, Sam.”

We park the truck, locking our goods inside even though there’s no one around to steal anything, but better safe than sorry. Then we wander the city. Kicking garbage out of our path, peeking in broken windows, mindful of the glass shards jutting out. We can’t risk an injury these days. There are no doctors to treat, and some wounds just won’t heal.

Instead, I tug on his arm, fake pouting. “Please? We might be dead soon. Don’t make me beg.”

I elbow him in the side and laugh. “Stop. That isn’t funny.”


“Not now We’re in the city!” He spreads his arms wide, spinning in a circle. “Look at all this protection around us.”

I stop dead in my tracks, glancing at the boarded-up stores around us, searching for any business signs. “We should get drunk tonight.”

John drops his arms, peering down his nose at me. “You want to get drunk?”

“Do you think whoever was back in that town followed us here?” I ask.

I chuckle, even though his sarcasm is sobering.

“You’re laughing.”

He offers me a dramatic eye roll before starting down the block again. “All right, all right, fine. We’ll find alcohol.”

“It’s weird, though, right? Why wouldn’t they say something?”

“Maybe I was wrong, and it wasn’t people. Maybe it was coyotes. Waiting for us to die so they could eat us.”


“Why not? There’s nothing else to do.”

John glances over his shoulder as if expecting people to be right behind us. “I don’t think so.” He shrugs. “I haven’t seen any cars.”

“I don’t know…” John’s hesitancy is probably for the best. Who knows what might happen? We should keep our wits about us.

“Yeah, because you’re a jerk. Coyotes aren’t going to eat us!”

The silence lingers, and that’s the scariest part. The stillness is so thick that it seems almost impossible that other people are here. I can’t even pick out hushed breathing or shifting feet. Just the cool feel of metal against my temple keeps me in place.


“We’re humans,” I continue. What? Why did I just say that? What else would we be?

It takes us another fifteen minutes before we find a liquor store, and the squat, crumbling building appears as if it was ripped from somewhere else and dropped between the towering skyscrapers.Iclimb

through the pane-less window and immediately step into a problem. The cock of a gun next to my ear freezes me. My hands shoot straight into the air as if I’m in a movie, but I don’t know what else to do.

John tells me to shut up. I do.

“We don’t need anything in here,” John addresses whoever is around us. “Just let us go, and we’ll leave right now.”

The gun clicks once more, but the pressure from my head is gone, and my knees almost buckle in relief. Keeping my hands up, I slowly turn my head toward the assailant, and he’s smiling at me. He’s probably at least in his forties, dressed head to toe in camouflage, and is chewing on a toothpick.

“Don’t shoot! Don’t shoot!” I try to rush out, but the words are slurred and raspy.

Clearly, we’re not freaking cats. “I mean, w-we’re just passing through. On our way to California to find others. Other survivors.”

He bobs his head in greeting. “Nice to know you’re human, at least.”

John hisses in a breath behind me, and my legs turn to jelly. I choke back a sob, is there a gun pointing at him too?

My cheeks flame and an arm shoots out, snaking around my waist and pulling me toward the wall. My heart skips a beat until my body recognizes the familiarity of his hands. John. At least no one can stand behind us, but there are five people in front staring at us now.


This is great.

Five other survivors. Ages ranging from 20-50, if I had to guess.

“We don’t want trouble either,” the man counters. “We thought you were the other ones.” “There’s more?” I croak out.

The man introduces them all, but my brain is on overdrive, and it’s impossible to keep up. He’s Greg, the woman is Shawna, but I can’t tell who’s David, Anthony, or Mitch.

I shake my head, not understanding. “But why? Aren’t we all kind of fucked here? What’s the point of harming each other?”

She shrugs, tossing her black braids over her shoulder, but doesn’t say any more. Instead, she turns to face the window, gun at the ready.

The three men stand in a line like cell phone signal bars, shortest to tallest. The shorter one is my height, so around 5’8” maybe, the tallest has to be well above six feet. The shortest one has a stocky build and a purple bandana tied around his head. The middle one has pockmarks all over his face and stands rod straight, unflinching when others move around him. He just stares at us, and I can’t tell if it’s strange or not. The tallest one is all limbs, but he has a soft smile and kind eyes. He reminds me of John.

“Don’t get too excited,” the lone woman standing the furthest away adds in. Her eyes are distant like she’s seen one too many things. “They’re out for blood.”

All “Wearmed.don’t want any trouble,” John says, his voice much calmer sounding than mine.

My heart does a freefall with his words, right down into my shoes. “... What?”

Greg frowns. “Told by who exactly? It’s a lie people make up to give them something to hope for. Of course, there’s always something better at the end of the road. But that’s all it is—a lie.”

“What is it? Talk to me,” Greg overpowers Shawna’s voice, who’s quietly repeating, “No, no,“It’sno.”time?”

“The sun is still shining, sure, but there’s no one else. It’s like here. Pockets of survivors, but more scavengers.”

Greg is already making his way back toward her, everyone else seemingly getting into position as John and I stand there, clueless.


“That’s not possible. We were told—”

I cut him a glance before looking at John helplessly. In his eyes, the same question is mirrored back at me: Now what?

Shawna startles as something attached to her belt beeps. She rips the device out of its holder, murmuring, “No, no, no. This isn’t possible.”

“There’s nothing in California,” Greg admonishes. Greg, presumably the leader of whatever this is, is a heavier man, but it somehow fits him. I can’t picture him small. I’ve known him for thirty seconds now, but his presence seems to fill the room. He has a long beard filled with gray, and he continues to suck on the toothpick, making my stomach a little queasy again.

“Just us, sweetheart,” David, Anthony, or Mitch says. The one with the pockmarks.

Greg asks.

“There has to be more people,” I plead through gritted teeth.


I don’t know what they’re talking about, but I find myself stepping closer, wood creaking beneath my feet as John holds my arm back. “It’s time for what exactly?”

“The storm,” Shawna whispers.


“Shouldn’t we run?” I try to ask him—as in: run in the other direction—but a deafening roar sounds from below the ground, shaking us and drowning out my voice. What remaining glass of the surrounding buildings shatters, falling from the sky.

Shawna squares her shoulders, lifting her chin to meet his eye. A flicker of doubt spasms across her face before her nostrils flare. “Five days sooner than expected.”

Greg yanks my arm, pulling me under cover of an overhang, and I pull John with me, our hands still wound together.

Garbage, road signs, anything that isn’t fully rooted whips down the lane at an impossible speed. Our backs are against the wall, but there’s nowhere for us to move. Nowhere to take cover. The wind is so strong my eyes water, my hair whips me in the face, stinging.

Five faces turn toward us, each one grimmer than the last.

The soldiers, or whatever they are, fall into line. The tallest one is behind us, urging us on. They all have their gadgets and guns and speak in code as they run back into the street. My eyes flash to John’s, and he grabs my hand but willingly follows.

“What the hell was that?” I scream at Greg, but he doesn’t answer. The Earth stops moving for a moment, but the buildings create a wind tunnel of sorts, and a massive—unnatural—gust of air comes barreling through, slamming the tall one with kind eyes against a deserted vehicle. He collapses onto the ground, and the others try to form a human chain and crawl out toward him.

I don’t know what’s happening. The weather has been questionable at best with the sun fading, but this is something new. Something terrible.


Whichever happens to come first.

He doesn’t say anything. His wide eyes dart around in either fear or wonder. Maybe both. “Holy shit,” I breathe.

And apparently five days early.

After what feels like an eternity, the howling dies down. I crack my eyes open, noticing they were able to drag the guy out of harm’s way, but he’s still lying on the ground. Either unconscious or dead. I’m not sure which.

A whimper crawls out of my mouth, but it dies in the current. Once again, I find myself shoulder to shoulder with John, but there’s no cheering him up this time. Instead, I’m almost positive we’re going to die. And in the meantime, I think I’m crushing his hand. I try to loosen my fingers, but they won’t budge. All I can do is twist my neck and rest my forehead against his shoulder.Isqueeze

my eyes shut, and wait for it to end—either us or the storm.

Greg is with his people now, and there’s still just John and me against the wall. Frozen. Both chests heave as we wait for the all-clear.

Seconds pass. And then minutes. Finally, I have the courage to say something. “What the fuck was that?” I ask John, my voice cracking on the way out. My eyes sting from the dirt kicked up by the storm. They’re too dry to even form tears.

“Still.” Suddenly, I’m defensive of this stranger lying on the ground. “It sucks. I don’t even know the guy, and I think it’s terrible.”

“That’s your adrenaline,” a voice says behind me. The guy who called me sweetheart. Ugh.

I take a step away from the wall, and it feels like my body has welded itself together. All of my joints hurt; everything is stiff. It takes more effort than it should to turn around and face John. “Are you all right?”

He shrugs, indifferent. “We’ve lost three people since I joined a few months ago. You don’t get attached anymore.”

I whip toward John, my mouth hanging open, ready to argue with him too, but his face says it all. He’s still staring at the guy, jaw twitching from how hard he clenches his teeth, and a

His wandering gaze meets mine before he swallows hard, his Adam’s apple bobbing. “Uhm, yeah, physically? I’m fine. Are you?”


“I “Youguess.”guess?” My hands shake at the thought of a human life meaning so little, but before I can say any more, John stops me. “Leave it.”

Nodding, I give myself a once over. “I think so? I think I tensed up too much there. It feels like I was hit by a truck.”

“Is your friend all right?” I ask, ignoring his statement. “I don’t think so.” His voice is so sure it’s off-putting. “Oh. Uh… I’m sorry.”

“Let’s go!” Greg bellows from the street corner, about thirty feet away. He and Shawna are propping the purple bandana—now turning a sickening brownish red—guy up between them. He has one leg bent, his foot lifted into the air, and his face is covered in dirt and mud. A stream of blood trickles down his temple. “We need to find shelter,” Greg calls out. We make our way toward him, the wind a soft breeze toying with my hair. I give one last glance at the person on the ground, unmoving. His soft smile disappeared. It’s not the first time I’ve seen a dead body, especially lately, but it’s the first time they were alive five minutes ago and now gone, right before my eyes.


At least I know all their names now. Too late for Anthony, but I promise myself that I won’t forget him. That I’ll write his name down. What if that’s us tomorrow? Are they going to just leave me in the street? Move on until the last one of us takes our dying breath?

Greg finds us an establishment to hide in for the night, but I don’t want to be here anymore. John’s been too quiet. I can’t unsee the dead man’s face, staring lifelessly up at the dying sun. Or stop thinking about how little Mitch seemed to care.

mix of anger and fear swirls in his eyes. John feels the same as I do, but it’s becoming clear that it might be us versus them. Or at least this guy.


Anthony is the one who died, and David is injured, and it’s bad. Like he might need to see a doctor, but none exist anymore kind of bad.

My mouth fills with the taste of ash, and my nails bite into my palms. Clearing my throat, I turn away from him and follow the others.

When the gagging ebbs away, I make my way back toward John, and no one says a word. Thankfully. *** The seconds turn to minutes, then to hours. The rest of the group is asleep by now, but John and I remain upright, our backs against the wall, my cheek resting once more on his shoulder. He has his legs bent, and there’s a soft pitter-patter from him drumming on his knees.


John and I are sitting in the corner of the room as the others take turns looking out the windows. We boarded up as many as possible with what limited supplies lay abandoned here. We’re in an old office. A glaring red logo, “Cybergen,” lingers behind on a wall, but the rest of the stuff is gone. A computer monitor here and there, a dead plant, a desk calendar—the date reading March when all this began nearly six months ago.

I leap up, just in time to get to an old trash can that lays untouched in the corner. I puke bile as tears stream down my face. I don’t even care that five others are in the room, watching me. It’s hard to care when facing such mortality.

I uncurl my fingers, rubbing my sweaty palms on my dirt-covered jeans before my hands clench together again. John’s face replaces Anthony’s in my mind, and I’m light-headed. We never talked about what would happen when one of us dies. I just assumed we’d die together somehow. Both dying in our sleep like in The Notebook or maybe drive over a cliff Thelma and Louise-style.Nota broken neck from being slammed against a car so furiously by a wind that shouldn’tTheexist.vomit is back, burning my throat.

My chin now sits on his shoulder instead, and I whisper softly against his neck so I don’t disturb anyone. “Do you remember that time you broke your wrist?”

I’m so tired, and my body aches, but I stay awake with him. For him. Because at this rate, he won’t sleep at all.


I can feel his smile rather than see it, but he coughs out a slight laugh. “When we were rollerblading in your basement on New Year’s Eve?”

“How old were we? Like twelve?”

“I was “Well!”crying!”Ileanmy head against the wall, tilting it to gaze at the company logo.

I watch his slender fingers move in a blur, the knowledge settling deep in my bones. He only fidgets when he’s nervous.

“Something like that.”

I chew on the inside of my lip, breathing in his familiar scent—dirt mixed with sweat but now with a dash of orange dish soap we found at one of the gas stations.

I chuckle too. “Yeah, we watched the ball drop in the emergency waiting room.”

He hums in agreement.

“Do you remember what I said to you that night in the basement? Before my parents found us?”“I’m pretty sure you told me to shut up?”

John drops his hands and stretches out his legs. “You told me not to be scared. You said you wouldn’t let anything bad happen to me.”

I snort, covering my face to muffle the laughter. “I didn’t know you were seriously hurt! I thought you were kidding.”

He’s fully asleep now, and the tension leaves my shoulders like a weight falling off. I stretch high above me before laying down on the hard floor next to him.


“No, I guess not. But the statement holds. We’re going to get through this.”

“I will Instead,soon.”Isitthere, watching over him as he falls asleep, studying the lines of his face. The scar on his lip from when he tried to play hockey but was terrible at it. The notch in his eyebrow from when he had it pierced our senior year. Even when he’s asleep, the frown lines are permanently etched in his forehead.

I don’t dare look away, afraid that he’s slipping through my fingers. The John I’ve known is crumbling to dust, being hardened by something out of his control. The use of my old nickname paired with the weight of his statement gives me a chill.

My lips twist as I hold out a hand, ready to smooth them out, but it stills. My breath catches in my throat as his breathing evens.

But this time, I blink. My eyelids flutter, forcing me to glance away. I’ve never been able to lie to his face, and some things will never change.

John doesn’t respond, but he jostles next to me, laying down on the slightly damp carpet that reeks of must. “You should rest,” he says to me as I stare out the sliver of window that appears between the hanging cardboard.

A sad smile tugs at my lips before it falls away. “I meant it then, and I mean it now.”

Twisting my neck to peek out the scrap of window one more time, I catch a glimpse of the moon before the exhaustion pulls me under.

God, please let me wake up. Please say this is all a dream.

His eyes lock onto mine. “I don’t have a broken wrist this time, Samzy.”

100 ***

“Why it moved up? Beats me. But my best guess is the game’s now changed. We’re no longer facing other humans who want to harm us. We’re no longer just facing the dying sun, which, admittedly, is a huge fucking problem.”

The rest of us don’t offer anything. There’s nothing to say. I want my notebook for a moment, but what would I write down?

The next morning, Greg motions for us to gather around. We all sit on the floor in a circle, like we’re about to play duck, duck, goose.

“But now we have to be conscious of the ground falling beneath our feet or a wind sweeping us “Great,”away.”David mumbles next to me. The bleeding has stopped, but he’s a ghoulish pale and covered in sweat.

Greg tsks, starting again. “The storm, or what we know of it, was a solar flare, mixed in with… mother nature? And mother nature has been a real bitch these days.”

“Let’s start with what we know. The storm was…” Words seem to fail him, his mouth opening and closing as he tries to explain. “Okay, so maybe that’s a bad place to start,” he smiles, but the joke falls flat. We all stare at him in silence.

“Solar flares wouldn’t normally produce actual weather. But they did wipe out everything we have. The gadgets are no longer operable, and I don’t know when they’ll be back or if they ever will.”“The wind? The earthquake? That’s new. Unexpected. I don’t know what it means. We’ve been monitoring the solar flare for a while now,” and as Shawna said, “it was supposed to happen five days from now.”

I slap my hands against my thighs, frustrated that he’s no help, so I continue arguing instead. “Plus, I’m not even qualified. I can’t shoot a gun!”

Our timeline for dying has just moved up?

Greg turns his attention toward John and me. We’re both sitting with our legs crossed, knees bumping. My elbows rest on my legs as my hands support my chin. Between the storm, the death, and vomiting, I’m positive I could sleep for days. My eyelids struggle to remain open.

“You two can split up Anthony’s weapons.’” He dumps practically an arsenal in front of us. There’s two pistols… or something—some sort of handgun. And eight different daggers and knives, all varying in length.

I sit straight up, inching away from them. “What? What the hell are we supposed to do with allMitch’sthis?”

“You don’t even know what you’re fighting! You didn’t kill John or me. And we haven’t tried to kill you! I’m sure there are more people like us than whatever monster you keep dreaming“Doof.”you want to bet your life on it?”

I push the heel of my hands into my eyes, rubbing until I see spots. “John? Please help me here.”His arms are crossed across his chest, but he hasn’t said a word. Just listening.


eyebrows crease like he doesn’t understand how I don’t know. “Uhm, protect yourself?”“From who? I’m not going to just shoot on sight like you people seem inclined to. If there’s another human out there, I’m not going to be the one responsible for killing them.”

“It’s you versus them at this point,” Greg says, his voice low.

The scared, the defensive, the shoot first and ask questions later-type. Always seeing the glass half empty and expecting the worst.

The sharp inhale of breath punctures my chest. This isn’t John. He would never agree to this sort of thinking. I knew I was losing him, losing his optimism, but not like this. Not this soon.

The look he gives me is so helpless my heart breaks.


Mitch smirks. “You have a heartbeat, sweetheart; that’s the only qualification you need these days. We can teach you how to shoot.”

I thought I wanted us to find other humans, but now, it seems like a bad idea. Things are better off when we’re alone.

“John, let’s go.”

I stand up, but he doesn’t follow. His head hangs as he pulls at a piece of string coming off the hem of his jeans.

I gawk at them, unable to comprehend how we’ve gotten here. Yesterday we were sleeping on the desert ground, alone. Now we’re here, with weapons in our midst. We need to get out of here. We need to go back to when things were less complicated— when it was just us.

“I’m sorry,” I say. “We’ll figure this all out, okay? Don’t become like them.” What I don’t say is, don’t become like me.

“Johnny,” I say again, my voice breaking.

“He’s right, Sam.”

I kneel next to him, tuning the rest of them out. “This isn’t you,” I whisper. “You create things. You don’t destroy them.”

“Does anyone have paper?” I ask the remaining group, confusion written all over their faces. Eyebrows scrunched, frown lines protruding, lips turned down.

My voice is quiet and shaky, “Just you and me till the end, right?” He can’t let go of that now, especially when the end is so imminent.

My fingers tingle with anticipation, eager to get back to the truck and the waiting notebook. The thoughts are already clogging my brain, spinning so quickly it’s hard to choke them back down. I repeat the lines over and over, fearful of forgetting.

John’s always, always seen the good in people… he can’t stop now. I won’t let him.

We’re still standing.

And I think I know what to write about now.

John toys with his lip as he focuses on the ground. After a few moments pass, he straightens up, lifting his chin to meet my gaze. His eyes are moist, but he bobs his head, relenting. “Till the end.”

I help him up off the ground, my heart swelling with gratitude that not everything has to change. The population has dwindled to almost extinction; the sun is disappearing; electronics are now wiped out.

But there’s us.


I don’t think they understand what they’ve just witnessed, but if I had to explain it to them, I’d tell them this: the words are back.

John returning to his former self gives me hope amid all of this. It might sound odd, but I think we can beat anything as long as there’s still hope.

Before we have any second thoughts, we’re running through the empty streets, the red sky turning into a deep maroon, eager to get back to the truck. To escape this city. To get the words out.I’m

Maybe it’s not all bad.

whispering lines to myself, too good not to lose. I’ve only found one pen and the cardboard in this city, so the pencil nub will have to hold on just a bit longer.

But that’s okay because I think I’ve found my ending.


A small smile forms as Greg talks to John, trying to convince him it’s a bad idea if we leave, but I don’t think it is. We’ll still head to California, see for ourselves what lies ahead.

Maybe instead of falling, we’re soaring.

Perhaps at the bottom of the cliff, there’s a giant net waiting to save us. Placed directly over a town waiting to begin. Start over. Humanity can still be saved.

Don’tPossibly.tell me if I’m wrong.

Maybe I should’ve been a painter so I could introduce more colors into the picture I’m painting. I’d add the golden hue of the previous sun reflecting off the waves. The depth of blue a butterfly’s wing can have. The lush green moss that’ll outlast us all. The beautiful range of skin colors from people all over the world. We may be the only people here right now, but I believe more of us are out there.

Hugging Shawna first, I then say goodbye to Greg, David, and even Mitch, who has already lost his heart and the compass that will direct him back to seeing the glass half full. Miraculously, the pen is still sticking out of my back pocket, having survived it all. Underneath the gaudy logo, I write, “RIP Anthony. ?-08/23/22.”


We’ll keep looking and continue driving toward the dying sun.

And when that light fades, we’ll look to the moon.


When the moon rises, I remember your kisses.

But when the sun comes back, I notice that your warmth is not on my lips.

by Yuu Ikeda

The silky affection soaks into my lips, and brings me the eternal phantom.


Every time the brightness wakes me up, I sink to the empty horizon, the same as the moon does.

At the beginning of a day, I wander like a ghost. At the end of a day, I close my eyes, feeling your kisses.


Udeh took Elakeche by the arm, held her gaze for what seemed like a moment, and said, ‘You have to believe me. I didn’t steal the money.’ Elakeche sighed. She held back her husband’s gaze. It was mid-evening already and the light had gone off moments ago. The living room had roared with darkness until, Gracie, her eldest daughter, lit the kerosene lamp and placed it on a wooden stool beside the cassette player. Outside, just in front of her yard, the neighbor’s children barked in the dark.

OLD YABA ROAD by Josiah Ikpe

you, Udeh,’ she said and collapsed on the worn-out cushion behind her. Her legs were aching badly from walking all through the streets of Balogun market earlier this morning, seeking the right wares and bargaining for a moderate price. The journey had left her exhausted when she arrived home later in the afternoon. She’d desired to stay indoors and rest, but the goods at the kiosk had to be sold out so that she could display the new sets she had bought. So she later found herself walking to her kiosk down the Old Yaba Road, arranging her goods on the shelves, and chatting with Mama Nonso about the indiscriminate hike of the prices of goods, and all the while praying for the night to come so she could close the kiosk and retire for the night.

It wasn’t that she didn’t believe him. In all honesty, she did. But it was the way it had happened and the way he had narrated it to her that shook the wall of her certainty in him. Now, she was faced with the burden of having to doubt him for an act she knew he didn’t have the guts to


She briefly nodded and then threw her face elsewhere. She sensed something just didn’t add up somewhere, but she couldn’t put her fingers on it yet. He certainly was withholding something, perhaps a piece of the puzzle that would make her fully understand how he could just be suspended from work without any concrete proof besides his allegedly stealing the money kept under his custody.

‘You believe me?’ Udeh asked, jarring the silence that had settled between them. His look was somewhat entreating, and Elakeche could tell that he desperately needed her reassurance of his innocence before he could fall back to being himself again.

jaw tightened. Lines of despair ran along his face. He thought to speak but the moment he began, he stopped abruptly. He began speaking again, but she could hardly make out what he was saying, his words barely audible. Catching his gaze, she gave him a sharp-piercing look and this made him project his voice a little higher than before.

The heat in the living room was rapidly closing in on them and this made Elakeche pick up a raffia hand fan lying on the floor right next to her feet, and she began fanning herself with it. She then gestured to one of her middle sons perched in a corner of the living room to draw and knot the curtains together so that air could come in. She just didn’t know what to say anymore. Words were

‘Yes,’ he said aloud. ‘But it isn’t as you think.’


Anger swelled inside of her. She shifted her eyes to the television remote sitting next to her, and for a slight second, she thought of flinging it at him. But she stilled herself, and collectedly hung her thoughts on someplace else. All her life, of the ones she’d spent while being married to him, she had never come close to this point where she gravely needed to squeeze the life out of him. A push, just one push was all it would require to get her there; an action that would forever alter the course of their lives.

‘It was only one bottle I took, just one bottle,’ he said and raised his index finger in the air, and swirled it to reemphasize his point. He then narrowed his eyes and glanced up to the ceiling, drops of sweat running down his forehead.

‘Tell me the truth. You were drunk while on duty, right?’ She asked, surprising both Udeh and Udeh’sherself.

The noises coming from the neighbour’s flat lingered in the air of the living room. Time drifted by slowly. Then, an offensive smell wafted through the air. Elakeche flared her nostrils and then came undone at her foolishness. It was right in her face all this time and yet she’d failed to see it. Somehow, it always came back to this - his habitual drinking.

Rising to her feet, she summoned her eldest daughter. ‘Gracie, kewe. Come.’ she said. ‘Go to the kitchen and bring your father’s food. When he’s done eating make sure you wash the dishes and shut the kitchen door properly. I’d be in my room.’

now such a prized possession for she to bargain with. Just how could she make sense of who he has turned into when his behaviour had become erratic by constant drinking? And what magic does she have to pull to make her husband see that this nature would bring him only destruction?

With concealed alarm, she watched as his hands trembled repeatedly. Not only did he go out drinking but also neglected his post. What else was she missing or was he not telling her? With him, as long as alcohol was a whiff away, nothing was exactly impossible.


‘I’ve heard you. Ohaale. It is okay. We hope the subsequent days make things clearer,’ she said, as that was all she could say to him at that moment. Her head was aching sequentially and her thoughts were becoming wide and wild. She sensed she’d go mad with rage if she sat there a minute longer, staring at his face with that yellowish colour his upper tooth had changed to.

‘It was under my watch. I left my post for only a minute. When I got back from the bar I couldn’t find the money. I searched everywhere. I asked my colleagues. No one saw or noticed anything. I reported the incident but I was later accused of stealing the money.’ Udeh said as his voice trailed off. A vein popped out in his neck and sadness clouded his features. His face seemed a little longer and more rectangular than usual.

She laid awake partly through the night. Sleep was miles away from her reach. The power still hadn’t been restored, and as she laid there, she could feel certain wetness come under her armpit, right where her wrapper was knotted. The silhouette from the kerosene lamp placed at the heart of

With that, she vanished through the dimly lit corridor and then into the warmth and cracks of her room. ***

She’d had been married to him for close to two decades now, and no day had gone by that he hadn’t made her peruse through the thoughts of ‘what if’. No, they hardly fought, except for some days he’d come home extremely high. Yes, he drank too much, way more than he ought to, but he


The years had sped past rapidly, and to say that she was satisfied at the turn her life had taken would be to overstate things. In some ways, she was, and in others, she wasn’t. The births of her children had brought her so much joy, so much that she couldn’t help but recollect how each of their births had gone.

Looking back on all of those now lightened her mood and made her less tense. It gave her room to breathe evenly, worries shrinking out of her system. And for that, she was grateful. More so, extremely grateful.

the corridor, just outside her room and that of the children’s room made her think, for a moment, that she was being watched by an eerie figure. Her eyes and mind were wide open and fully awake, as though they were both determining things, things that would make other things hazy and obscure if they were not determined at this moment.

Jude’s birth, her eldest son, had taken a toll on her to the extent that she almost gave up on life itself. Gracie’s birth came rather easy but left her legs so swollen that she couldn’t stand for too long days after. Emma’s birth came with a little complication due to his enormous size; making her spend more than twenty-four hours in the delivery room. Joshua’s birth was quite a rush. One second her water just broke and the next, she was holding tightly to a little being. And just like Jude’s, Matthew’s birth left her disoriented that she vowed not to have any after him. But his cuteness was enough compensation, one which later made her rethink. With experience serving as a major directory, Agnes’s birth was effortless.

She turned on her side and faced Udeh who was fast asleep, snoring rather loudly than usual. She kept her eyes on him, examining the marks dotted across his face and bare chest as though she was searching for something that ought not to be there, perhaps something that confirm her theory of why he’d suddenly become unrecognizable.

The power was restored eventually. The ceiling fan creaked and then sliced through the air. She sprang to her feet and raced to the kitchen to put on the refrigerator, but not until after she’d put off the kerosene lamp and tucked it into a safe corner. On her way back to the room, she branched to the children’s room, and on seeing how Joshua had single-handedly taken over the bed and turned his brothers to his pillows, she tapped him and then moved him to a corner of the bed. She fell onto the bed as soon as she entered her room. The bed squeaked, making Udeh stop snoring and turn on his side. She closed her eyes, but not long after she did, she heard the muezzin calling for prayers.


to seem complacent to the issue, she’d tried making her husband see reasons as to why these deaths weren’t just accidental happenings. But each time she did she was confronted by an even hardened heart. For it seemed as if a veil was shielding him from seeing where the edifice of reasoning sat. And each attempt she made in uplifting that veil tended to prove more difficult than the previous attempt.


was a man of honesty. Integrity was one of those things solidly lodged inside of him. One could call him several things, but to accuse him of theft and insist that he was one, was inconceivable.

She knew him quite well. She could tell when the food didn’t go well with his system just from looking at his face. She knew how he teased her about the firmness of her breasts even after multiple mouths had fed on them. She knew how he worked for his things, never engaging in dubious acts to procure them. And in all of these, and in that ingenious way he carried himself, she’d never sensed or seen in him that inordinate quest to plunder what belonged to others.

What disturbed her most and gave her days of sleeplessness, like tonight, was this drinking issue of his. His older brother, three years back, just a few weeks after she gave birth to Agnes, slumped and died unexpectedly. The same thing happened to his immediate cousin the previous year; who they said died in his sleep. No one gave a concrete reason as to what caused either death. But it wasn’t as though the answers weren’t obvious themselves; as both of them had prolonged drinking issues. And in some ways, it might have contributed to their untimely

‘Jude and Emma have gone to open the shop,’ Joshua said.

‘I don’t know. He didn’t say where he was going.’ Joshua said, and continued his work, from where he’d left off.

‘She’s gone to fetch water.’

‘Mummy, nolee. Good morning,’ Joshua and Matthew greeted, both stopping briefly to acknowledge her presence. They’d both been cleaning; Joshua was sweeping while Mathew was busy dusting the shelves and the cushion. She asked how their night had been and if they slept well. They both responded that they did.

‘And your father?’

The sun the next morning was fierce. She knew she had overslept just from seeing the sun-rays flashing into the room. It was Saturday, a busy day, as busy Saturdays go in a typical incomeearning Nigerian home, and her’s was no different. She rolled out of bed and sauntered toward the living room. As she drew closer, her last child, Agnes, bumped into her. She picked her up, cuddled her, and glanced upwards to where the wall clock was hung. Seeing that it was nine a.m. already, she hissed and scrunched up her face.

She soughed. She wondered where he’d gone so early and why nobody had bothered to wake her up. For some obscure reasons, partly because she’d woken up late, she sensed that today would be one of those days where she’d rant and rant and pick out issues where none exist.

‘And Gracie, where did she go?’

112 ***

‘Where is everyone?’ she asked afterward.

In view and front of her, was Gracie. The clothes she had on were all wet, completely soaked, and glued to her skin. Her eyes swam with tears and her brow was slanted upward, as though someone had pushed it up there.

‘Talk to me Gracie,’ she both pleaded and commanded, worries forming a knot across her forehead.

‘Didn’t you go fetch water? Ayhi bei? Where is the water? Why are you wet? And why are you Thecrying?’door was still left open, and the morning breeze darted into the living room, making the dirt that Joshua had swept and packed at a corner take off in all directions. Two flats away from theirs, Christie Essien Igbokwe’s Seun Rere filled the air and threatened to bring down the building, and within her, she cursed the occupants of the flat.

‘Come, Joshua, why didn’t anyone wake me up?’ she asked.


With the back of her hand, Gracie dried her tears and the mucus running down her nostrils. Gritting her teeth, she said, ‘It’s Mama Rufai. She called dad a thief. Afterward, she broke my bucket and poured water on me.’

A shiver ran through Elakeche’s spine as those words came within the reach of her hearing. Heat rose from her stomach to her chest. For it was as if someone had stripped her naked and then poured cold water on her. She rarely acted on impulse, but sometimes, situations warranted that one does. And on that, she pulled Gracie by the arm ordering both Joshua and Emma to stay

No response came from Joshua, but Emma made a discernible attempt to respond, but before he could, the door was pushed open from outside.

Elakeche’s eyes darted towards her. She stood up from the green sofa backing the corridor, dropped Agnes back on the chair, and took impatient steps towards Gracie. She held her by the arm - the corner of her eyes crinkling - and then began flinging several questions at her.

‘What did you say to my daughter?’ she asked almost impatiently, stilling the anger wanting to tear out of her body. The bony-looking woman hissed, rested both hands on her waist, and stepped out to her front yard. Elakeche followed her closely behind, and for a minute, she thought of pushing her to the wall opposite them and grating her wide lips against the wall, like okra, and watching it fall bit by bit to the ground.


She asked her the question again, in a similar manner. The woman hissed again and hit her palms together. She tightened her jaw and said, ‘Isn’t it true? Is your husband not a thief? And that thing behind you, is she not the daughter of a thief?’

Shefind.knew the woman’s husband’s story quite well; how he goes about sleeping with prostitutes here and there, and even bringing them to his matrimonial home. She knew so much that if she began spilling them out right now both of them surely would leave this place with a broken rib. She wasn’t going to trade words with her. Certainly not with a woman who, months ago, came to her house to plead with Udeh to help her in begging her husband not to send her packing.

She could remember that day vividly, of how Mama Rufai had rushed into their living room minutes after she got back from the kiosk, and of how she fell to her knees and shed heavy tears, her worn out wrapper almost coming loose from her tiny waist, revealing a slightly bulgy belly button. Her words were urgent and persistent and they rushed furiously from her mouth like a

indoors and look after their sister - and raced out of the house. She descended the stairs and was in front of Mama Rufai’s flat in seconds. She banged on the door furiously, and in minutes, a bony-looking woman with a breast sloped downward appeared.

Colour drained out of Elakeche’s face. Mama Rufai’s words dissolved into her, leaving splintered galls to flow through her veins. Her feathers rose like a hen, provoked, and she wondered briefly which was worst: to be the wife of a thief(an allegation she knew her husband was innocent of) or to be the wife of a man who sticks his thing into the nearest hole he could

‘Useless woman. Wife of a thief. Olee!’ Mama Rufai cursed her still, her eyes burning with rage.

‘I’d assume you aren’t referring to me’ Elakeche said and drew her lower lip between her teeth.

Now, if Udeh wasn’t a man of integrity or if he happened to be a man of loosed reputation would she have trusted him to help her plead with her husband?

faulty faucet.

Days had passed since the scuffle with Mama Rufai. She hasn’t run into her at all like she does every evening when returning home from the store. Business at the kiosk these past few days has also been slow, and she bled inward, not from what had happened days before, but from the bills

‘It is you that I’m talking to Jaree. Your husband, your children, all of you are thieves.’ Mama Rufai said, hitting her palms together more frantically than before. She sprinted towards where Elakeche stood and sized her up. She then said, ‘Yes, I said it. What will you do to me?’

Elakeche’s glared at her, and in front of her, she saw a woman desperately wanting to draw attention to herself. And she knew, without any ounce of doubt, that this was just one of the many confrontations she’d have to battle with for her husband’s honour. ***

In one swift motion, Elakeche smacked her on the face. The woman staggered backward as a result of the hit and remained there for a minute until she’d regained composure. She then started towards her again. And on getting to her, with one hand grabbing her by the waist and the other holding her leg, Elakeche propelled her through the air to the ground. Immediately, she sat astride her, grabbed a handful of sand, and then began forcing her mouth open to pour the soil into her mouth. She went on with this for minutes, unrelenting, insistent, until voices grew stronger and hands pulled her away from the woman.


She’d been to her children’s school the previous morning. Lately, they’ve been threatened with being sent out from class if they didn’t get the required textbooks. So she’d gone there solely to plead with them to give her more time to raise the money. Next Monday, unfailingly, she’d promised. The teacher who spoke to her was skeptical and wary of her words, as she’d also received the same promises from other parents earlier that morning. Do I have your words, madam? The teacher had asked and looked at her in a slow, unblinking manner. Yes, you have my words, she’d responded.

Now, as she sat on a plastic chair in her kiosk, she still couldn’t make sense of anything. Everything was happening so fast, faster than she could imagine, and sometimes she wondered if she was just an onlooker or a participant in the events occurring all around her. Up until now, she hasn’t had the time to talk with her husband about what was next as regards his suspension. Although he’d mentioned something about waiting it out when they’d spoken shortly before going to bed the previous night. She wasn’t certain about what prompted the talk; whether it was his advising her not to engage in street fights or his outright disapproval of Emma’s behaviour. He’d heard about the fight with Mama Rufai. She knew he was going to and so she’d made no previous attempts to cover it up. When the news emptied itself before him, his demeanour went blank. He chewed on his bottom lips for minutes, and she knew from the way his jaw tightened,

St. Finbarr’s College, where her sons attended, was one of the many schools in Yaba that still maintained that colonial tinge; she knew this just from seeing - as she left the school afterwardhow the lawns were carefully mowed and the large expanse of land which served as the football pitch, where the Principal Cup were held annually. It was both an all-boys and a catholic school, owned and managed by the church. But about twelve years ago, as she could recall, just at the time Emma had completed one, the Lagos state government took over the school as well as all mission schools in the state. It then became public and free through the government’s introduction of free education at all levels, and it was through this action that she was able to enroll her children in the school.

116 piling up, waiting to be paid.

that he found it unacceptable. Why would she go out and make a nuisance of herself all in the name of defending his honour? he’d asked. Surely, if he was guilty of what they said he did, in no time, the truth will reveal itself. He then cautioned her not to bring herself that low by engaging in unscrupulous fights even if the yoke was heavy on her neck. Those women could be petty, he’d said and concluded the conversation.


Elakeche fixed her gaze on her briefly before they glanced upward to the sky. It was early afternoon, but the sky had turned gray. A sudden gust of wind blew through her face as she stood up, making the tail-end of her headscarf flap, and she could tell from this that it would rain soon or that it was already raining somewhere close ***by.

‘So who are you going to vote for, my sister?’ Mama Nonso asked, walking up to where she sat and leaving her store unattended. ‘Abiola or that man from Kano? What’s his name again, yes, Bashir ElakecheTofa’hissed.

‘I’m not voting for anybody,’ she said and screwed up her face, as though the words had left her tongue sour.

Mama Nonso laughed, her eyes widening. ‘If we all look at the past then I’m sure no one will ever go out to vote again. Abiola is a good man.’ the woman said.

‘Ahh! Ahh! Why?’ the woman asked and paused briefly. ‘It’s Abiola I’m voting for o. I heard he’s even going to be at TBS to campaign this Friday. I think I’d be there.’ she said and glanced sideways towards the direction of her store.

‘I don’t have that time to go and vote for anybody. They’d promise this and promise that, but at the end of the day it’s something different they’d do when they get in. What did Shehu Shagari do when he got into power? Tell me?’ she asked and hissed louder than before.

Her mouth curved into a smile as she heard him say that. Her whole face lit up. That was it, she thought, that was it. She remained rather quiet, staring at him, trying to make sense of what he’d just told her. She knew better than to say anything to him at that moment or to ask him any questions as she knew he’d go on and give out more details to her.

It was Sunday, two weeks after Udeh’s suspension from work. He’d been out all day but had arrived home just at the time she and the children had gotten home from an evening service organized by the church where they all attended. His face seemed warmer and a bit lighter when she’d spotted him. And at that moment, she knew that something was up somewhere, that something was different from what she’d felt and seen in him those days after his suspension.

‘It turned out that they later found the money in the possession of some of my colleagues. According to what my boss told me, they planned on sharing the money amongst themselves after the issue had faded out. But luck wasn’t on their side. One of them was not satisfied with the sharing formula, and from there, a dispute arose. The issue escalated and my boss got to know

‘I’ve been called back to work,’ he said, breaking the news to her.

‘Jude, please bring the lantern,’ she called out, and just as she did, a figure appeared alongside a dimly lit lantern. The figure placed the lantern three feet away from where she and Udeh sat outside the porch of their flat and then vanished into the darkness behind them.

The sun had gone down hours ago. The gentle wind that came along with the nightfall had also died out. In place, was darkness characterized by the intermittent chirping of crickets.


Could a life built on some else misery ever last? Elakeche kneaded and rolled that question over and over again upon the peripherals of her mind. Other than the irregular words exchanged between her and Udeh, she knew that they were still communicating even as silence had long settled amidst them. With their bodies, they were. And with their minds both dwelling on similar things, they still were. She could hear his occasional sighing, and she could tell that it was one of doubt and relief joined together.

Now, the corner of her mouth turned up. She raised a brow and then glared at Udeh, who in turn, also kept his eyes on her. There was no point in holding on to the past or the pains of yesterday. Eventually, the wind has blown and the anus of the fowl has been exposed. So what was there to grieve over or to be low-spirited about?

about it. Papa Rufai happens to be one of those men.’


‘I’m not sure I will,’ Udeh said, still holding her gaze. ‘I was humiliated. I was called a thief. If it wasn’t for God I probably would have been arrested. You don’t know what you are saying at all.’ he said and threw his face elsewhere, slightly getting pissed.

‘And me, wasn’t I humiliated as well? Wasn’t I called the wife of a thief? Didn’t my fellow woman rained insults on me?’ she asked, lifting an eyebrow.

Udeh sighed. His face contorted. ‘I know,’ he said, resting his left hand on her thigh. ‘And I don’t by any chance devalue or count the discomfort you suffered less than what I went through, ‘No,but..’but, please,’ she said, cutting him off. ‘I know exactly how you feel and I won’t blame you if you choose to carry the resentment for a while. But for now, you must go back to work tomorrow. A child who wants to fly must first learn how to walk. Thing will be much better Theysomeday.’satand continued speaking long into the night. They would talk about the prospect of him changing for good and discarding that distasteful lifestyle of drinking too much and losing his senses along the way. He’d promise that he will, that he will change for her and the children. She’d oppose this and tell him that he should change for himself only. He’d nod and then say yes. She’d look at him and smile. She’d move closer to him and rest her head on his shoulders. They’d stay that way for minutes, and after the minutes had elapsed, she’d rise to her feet, pick up her stool, and then saunter into the house.

‘You will go to work tomorrow,’ she said and nodded briefly.

by Nancy Machlis Rechtman

Would you like to… But only if you feel like it.


sure there’s a secure place To Andbackpedalfindtheexit ramp Detouring away from what I wanted to say To a safer location In case what’s true Is too much And the response might be too hurtful For me to bear So I need to confirm there’s an emergency exit Before the tread marks appear across my open scars.


Do you think we should… But it’s OK if you don’t. I’d love for us to… But I understand if you don’t want to.

And I wouldn’t even think of taking a chance in the first place If I didn’t check that there were nearby offramps Where I could safely hop off the freeway And find I had made it Without even a scratch Or a dent But also aware That I’m so weary of always driving with cruise control on In the Wherelanelife will never change If I stay silent And time is running out.

There are times I long to say things That make it impossible to swallow Because their truths Put me at risk Of baring my true self And exposing my heart to more pain And I don’t know If there is any part of me left That can handle all of that hurt



MIRROR IMAGE by Nancy Machlis Rechtman

She stopped before the mirror in the hall Relentlessly examining her reflection And shuddered.

For most of her life She had tried not to buy into the mantra That perfection was happiness And the only currency That could increase your self-worth Because when she was younger The flaws didn’t define her And she knew that her slightly gap-toothed grin And the freckles sprinkled across her nose Made her appear more interesting Or at least, that’s what she had always been told And in spite of her imperfections

But as the years passed She Thatnoticedherflaws had become less endearing And more of a distraction.

And then one day she met a man Who said all the right things And made her feel Inbeautifulspiteof it all And she took a breath for the first time in a long while Letting her guard down And she finally looked away from the mirror. But soon she realized He was no longer looking at her That his eyes were going right past her And right through her

There had never been a shortage of men Who seduced her with words she needed to hear Like oxygen As they sipped their wine in candle-lit restaurants And Whenlatertheir bodies were wrapped around each other In the dark.

So she had become invisible Except to the mirror And no matter how much she strived for perfection She was vanishing from everyone’s radar.

At the women right behind her And she understood she had mistaken lust For Andloveshe walked out the door without turning back Attempting to find her equilibrium And convince herself That there had never been anything there after all Just a breeze blowing through the open screens on the back porch Banging the shutters a few times Before it disappeared.


But now that more time had passed She recognized that there weren’t as many men Whose eyes lit up when they saw her As there had once been. But because she continued to believe That she could still find love She began to pay more attention To the societal messages That engulfed her, screaming That in order to be desirable She had to be perfect In every aspect of her life Yet as the men around her grew older They had no such requirements Since they were looked upon as the wine that aged smoothly But women were considered to be the milk That spoiled over time.

She yearned for a man who could see beyond Her Whoimperfectionscouldlookinto her eyes And see her soul Which was still young and beautiful And she stared once more into the mirror Searching for answers Trying to see what other people saw when they looked at her And she let out a guttural cry


As her hand suddenly shot out And grabbed the frame around the mirror And slammed it onto the marble floor. She watched it shatter into a million glittering shards Forming a disorienting puzzle of who she was as she looked down And she ground her heel into as many pieces as she could Before she turned and walked away.


(I CRIED FOR YOU) IN THE RAIN by Laura Rockhold

it’s just before dusk the rain comes and goes leaving mottled pastels of sky on pavement the walking man and his lover or friend stroll by the muted glow of our lamppost Billie Holiday confesses through the turntable in much the same mood and tempo as the blue and white striped umbrella she’s twirling at her side giving away her lightness

for Billie Holiday

ONE STORY HIGH by Laura fromsweetflowersoneofwhosprayedglisteningandwithnotonarainwaterRockholdcollectsinsideworntireswinghungplumbanarmonanoldoaktreefarfromagardenwildingzinniaandcrispgreenbeanscarrottopsfountainedinsunwithice-coldhosewaterbyachildplaysintheshadealilachedgeonestoryhighbyoneshepicksitsandsipstheircoolairdelicatetubesofpalevioletand

white to the tip of her awakening tongue


FIBONACCI EXPLAINS WHY YOU ARE NOT HERE by LeAnne Cerebellum,Huntamuted bell tolling silence. Cerebral hemispheres, a blank map.

Little boy, cup of a skull half full drunk by a mother, heart and womb half empty. Anencephaly leaves an opening to empty sky.

Occipital lobe at the back of the head— children mirror what they see. We see everything in reverse. Eyes, yes, heartbeat yes, but empty crown above a little king’s eyes closed for a ghost mother.

Absence reigns supreme. Half a mother carries half a child half a term. But there was a heartbeat, a clock that stopped at birth. And there was a birth, and there was crying, loud, though not the child’s. A baby was weighed, cleaned, swaddled and cradled. First born and only son was given and taken with a half smile upon his half face for his mother half alive.


Brainstem to a half-grown rose deadheaded by chromosomes, a missed connection.

He said it was all in my head. The lights flickered behind my eyelids. His words swallowed my throat.

byGASLITLeAnne Hunt


He said his words in my head. My throat swallowed my eyelids. Behind the lights, it was all flickered.

He flickered behind my eyelids. The lights swallowed my throat. His words said it was all in my head.

My throat said his words swallowed in it. My head was all the lights he flickered behind my eyelids.

He swallowed my throat. The lights said it was all in my head. His words flickered behind my eyelids.

Behind the flickered lights, he swallowed my eyelids, said his throat was my words, my head, all in it.

He was the words said, throat swallowed, head flickered, eyelids, lights, it, in, all, my, my, my, His.

I kept the rudbeckias, the milkweed, The salvia with its myriad conical buds, Purple and perfect for proboscises

garden is for you And no one else. Keep what you like And kill what you don’t

I killed the nettle and thistles, The wild grasses that made my ankles itch, And even a tree, whose foliage blocked my

anthropocentric Eden

As the squirrels and deer watched. They never came back to my yard




He fell yesterday, a Sunday In the middle of the night I heard him collapse to the ground

The sweetgum tree down the block Was felled by the wind overnight I thought he’d live forever

Four years ago, a tornado raged Tore down fences and highway signs Leaving us disheveled and lost

He survived the snowstorm six years ago Which eroded old brick homes Broke flowerpots, scattered marigolds


I thought his scars were proof of strength That what could bend would not buckle But I’m still here and he is gone

The sweetgum stood, folding west Where he used to bend north His east side bears a scar

by Jake Villarreal


June 22, 1995

At first, the midday mandatory pause of the Angelus was a welcome escape. Since a senior from Primary 5 violated it and got punished for the rest of the term, it has become burdened with anxiety and fear.


Oh, how I dread being beaten. Here in school, the teachers find every excuse for it. The most annoying one is ‘vernacular’ – where speaking our local dialects is taboo and everyone has to pretend English is ordained by God. I have a special name for them. Nothing ingenious. They’re called teachers because they teach, right? I call them beaters because they beat, but only in my assembly bore me, and on days when they stretch longer than usual, it is torture.


I do not hate school. There are just some things about it that I wish away so bad. The noisemaker list is a constant tormentor, never mind that I am no noisemaker. A burly junior from Primary 3 always want my lunch. I’ve told no one about this. My class teacher caught me with storybooks in my desk during classes a number of times. She switched my seats from back to the front row, losing me an inestimable seatmate – a class crush. Now I’m stuck with a stammering talkative at my new desk.

DIARY ENTRY: VERNACULAR by Ibrahim Babátúndé Ibrahim

For the most part, I am jealous of the pupils who beat drums to the school and national anthems. Their enthusiasm, their vigour, their passion, all loom large in every bang of the thin hides on their sets, oftentimes much louder than the uncoordinated chorus of our numerous – some eager, some docile – voices.


I-if it pi-pi-pisses you off so-so-so much, you-yo-you sh-should try out a-an-and join them.

Dad and Mum do not like me watching TV. They prefer me reading. This should have been perfect. Much more than eating, visiting friends, receiving gifts, reading is one of the things I love most in the world. But I have to always hide my books away beneath my desk in school, and beneath my pillow until after lights out at home. My choice of books contains stories. In a different way from the charms-and-incantations-filled Yoruba tíátà on our small, black and white TV, they transport my young 10-year-old mind to places I can only explain by having the other person read them too.

Like many other things about me, my stammering, talkative seatmate cannot understand this. I am not jealous because I want to beat drums. I am jealous because the lucky bastards get to do what they love.

The books they want me reading, however, contain jargons – text, diagrams, pictures, all things that can have me stagnant in thoughts, rooted on one line for several minutes. I jot questions underneath the lines I want more clarity on, but I’ve learned to stop asking them after the

There could be food baskets of all kinds knocking on our door. There could be plenty of balloons, whistles, hand-crafted paper crowns and ribbons, maybe even knockouts and bangers. There could be meat, introducing itself in different forms and different tasty sensations. There could be readymade clothes or ones birthed from earlier trips to the tailor. There could be loud music, no go-and-read-your-books admonitions, no guilt for being young and free.

But the school term just ended, and the headmistress is smiling with my parents, again. It feels good that my report card says as usual that I came first in class. Maybe I love report cards more than I do storybooks. What I love more than holidays though, probably do not exist. The best of them are the ones that come with festivals – Eid Fitr, Easter, Eid Mubarak, Christmas.

How do they want me to read these things when even they sometimes struggle to explain what is in there?

Sometimes, out of the blues, all these could be cancelled for the long, tiring, homecoming journeys through countless towns, cities, villages, bushes, hills, plains, from Ado-Ekiti to Ilorin, at the end of which I get to see just how similar I am to the people at the destination, yet how different. The initial euphoria of traveling melts into the anxiety of meeting, and then into the joy


questions riled a beater or two.

I’ll write textbooks one day and be as explanatory as the storybooks I read. Perhaps I’ll just leave textbooks alone and write storybooks altogether.

However long the holiday, it always blows past in such a hurry, and before long I’m back at my desk, trying to focus on the novel hidden beneath it while I watch out for the teacher’s keen eyes, stave off side-talks from my stammering seatmate, and make pity faces at whoever is in charge of the noisemaker list. At the same time, my little mind has to worry about the scary junior who’s always trying to take my food, and fume at the drummers on the assembly ground for being so free to do what they love while I have to hide mine.

133 of belonging, and then into the confusion of culture shock, and then into the mental settling that sees a part of my heart break when it is finally time to pack up and leave it all behind.

Textbooks are definitely not the dream. Storybooks are, and why not? Perhaps the place to start is writing about all these, recreating the school on my own terms. If I like, I can write all the things I wish away out of the story. If I like, I can leave them in and make them even more monstrous. Whichever way, everything and everyone will be at a mercy of my pen. Vernacular will be cancelled, definitely, so I can speak my Yòrùbá proudly and without fear. That will be my win against this school, because that will be a school I’m sure to love.

School always wins in the end, and since there is no way to separate all these things from it, maybe I do hate it after all.

When had the gap started? When had she last truly seen herself? Mrs. Feeney didn’t feel half as old as she looked, but her body had snuck into its more-dead-than-alive phase, prepping itself for burial. She figured she might as well embrace the change—especially considering she was on her way out, like it or not. So, she went out and bought a lime green t-rex costume and started wearing it everywhere she went. That Dino suit was quite the sight around town; spotting Mrs. Feeney became an ongoing scavenger hunt, and all the residents kept lists detailing each sighting: bumbling pulling weeds in her flowerbeds, pacing the bleachers at her grandson’s baseball games, even sprawled in the pew for Sunday service. The costume soon became a permanent fixture. The local news station even did a human-interest piece on her one night.

THE REARVIEW by Abbie Doll

Now, Mrs. Feeney knew she’d become the butt of one gigantic joke but couldn’t be bothered. She’d entered the epoch of enjoyment. Sure, her daily rituals were complicated by this ridiculous getup, but aging was no picnic. Besides her darn lanky tail bumping into things and those next-to-useless tiny arms, Mrs. Feeney was content with the transition; her interior and exterior were aligned again. The t-rex even perfected her skincare routine—finally, something to hide all her wrinkles! A little unorthodox, sure, but who cares? Nowadays, dropped casseroles were hilarious, no longer concerning. Clumsiness was expected! Stomping around sure beat using a walker, and no matter what anyone said, she wasn’t a fucking fossil


Upon waking on her seventieth birthday, Mrs. Feeney looked in the mirror and gawked; a scaly dinosaur stared back—sunken bulbous eyes, worn leathery skin, sharp brittle teeth, stray hairs poking through moles like horns, and little pockets of liver spots freckled her face. When the family stopped by that night to celebrate her (either getting older or not dying), she asked her grandson what he saw in the mirror. His response was simple. I see me, Grandma.

135 yet.

WE GATHER by Edward Lee




by Edward Lee

Iberia Muñoz (she / her) is an author, poet, and essayist from Torreón, Mexico. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Modern English Letters and is currently working on several creative projects as part of the School of Writing at the National Autonomous University of Mexico. She was a participant in the Reunion of Mexican Women Poets in 2022, and her work was published in the anthology Novísimas. You can find her online at: @corazonanfibio

D.W. Davis (he/him) is a native of rural Illinois. His work has appeared in various online and print journals. You can find him at, or @dan_davis86 on Twitter.

Tabitha Lindstrom: Ever since she was a child, Tabitha Lindstrom has loved to write. Whether it be a fantastical world or a story about friendship, she has always found herself wanting to share her stories with those around her. You can find her at tabitha.lindstrom on Instagram!

Edward Lee is an artist and writer from Ireland. His paintings and photography have been exhibited widely, while his poetry, short stories, non-fiction have been published in magazines in Ireland, England and America, including The Stinging Fly, Skylight 47, Acumen and Smiths Knoll. He is currently working on two photography collections: 'Lying Down With The Dead' and 'There Is A Beauty In Broken Things'. He also makes musical noise under the names Ayahuasca Collective, Orson Carroll, Lego Figures Fighting, and Pale Blond Boy. His

Bri Eberhart’s (she/her) stories have also been published in the Scarlet Leaf Review, and Neuro Logical Magazine. She has a BA in Cultural Studies with a concentration in Creative Writing and Literature from SUNY Empire State, and was a proofreading intern for Cardigan Press. This upcoming fall, she will be starting her School Librarianship master’s program at the University at Buffalo. You can find her on Twitter @EberhartBri.

Tyler Gebauer (he/him) is submitting the English translation of the short story “Three Bodies and a Pearl” with the author’s permission. Tyler is a freelance literary translator who has worked for organizations and writers based out of Chicago, Mexico City, Madrid, Bolivia, and El Salvador. His literary translations have been published in Modern Literature and Packingtown Review (forthcoming). You can find him online at


Josiah Ikpe is a storyteller who is constantly evolving. He's a book lover, born and raised in Lagos, Nigeria. His works have appeared in Kalahari Review, Nnoko Stories, Lanke Review, Tealight Press, The Crater Library and Publishers, amongst others. He's presently a penultimate Law student at the University of Ibadan. You can find him on Twitter at @josiahikpe."


Abbie Doll is an eclectic mess of a person who loves exploring the beautiful intricacies of the written word. She resides in Columbus, OH and received her MFA from Lindenwood University; her work has been featured in Cathexis Northwest Press, The Rush, OPEN: Journal of Arts & Letters (O:JA&L), among others. Follow her @AbbieDollWrites.

Sylvia Schwartz studied literary fiction at The Writers Studio and One Story in New York. Her stories have been published in Bright Flash Literary Review; Ariel Chart International Literary Journal, the Potato Soup Journal; Savant-Garde; The Write Launch; Bold + Italic Magazine; Bull & Cross; Edify Fiction; The Airgonaut; The Vignette Review; and The Rain, Party, &

blog/website can be found at


Betsy Packard lives in Lexington, KY with her 2 dogs. She has an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Kentucky. She has had poetry, flash fiction, and creative nonfiction published. Twice she won her university's King Library Press Poetry Broadside Award. Her work has appeared in Atherton Review, Her Limestone Bones, Second Hand Literary Journal, Wax Poetry & Art, and LEO.

Theresa Kohlbeck Jakobsen (they/them) is a German creative, who after spending the pandemic on the remote Faroe Islands re-entered the colorful streets of Berlin city. The challenges of living in another country were a propulsion to their creativity. Theresa creates mixed media art and writes multilingual pieces that circle around the theme of human relationships in a digital age. Recently their works got published in Third Iris Zine, Polemical Zine, CERASUS and Moon Cola Zine. Right now Theresa is working for the student magazine STUDENTLIV and finishing their Masters in Nordic Literature at the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin. You can more of her work from her website:; Twitter: @pinkudreyma; Instagram: @pinkudreyma.welt; Facebook: pinkudreyma

Phillip Temples is a product of the Midwest but he currently lives in Watertown, Massachusetts. He likes to dabble in mobile photography. He's published several mysterythriller novels, a novella, and two anthologies in addition to over 180 short stories. You can learn more about Phil at

KJ Hannah Greenberg tilts at social ills and encourages personal evolutions via poetry, prose, and visual art. Her bold, textural, colorful images have appeared in various places, including, but not limited to: Bewildering Stories, Foliate Oak Literary Magazine, Kissing Dynamite, Les Femmes Folles, Mused, Right Hand Pointing, Stone Coast Review, The Academy of the Heart and Mind, The Front Porch Review, Tuck, and Yellow Mama. Additionally, her art is featured alongside of her poetry in One-Handed Pianist (Hekate Publishing, 2021).

Leah Mueller is the author of ten prose and poetry books. Her work appears in Rattle, Midway Journal, Citron Review, The Spectacle, Miracle Monocle, Outlook Springs, Atticus Review, Your Impossible Voice, etc. It has also been featured in trees, shop windows in Scotland, poetry subscription boxes, and literary dispensers throughout the world. Her flash piece, "Land of Eternal Thirst" will appear in the 2022 edition of Sonder Press' "Best Small Fictions" anthology. Visit her website at

London Chastain (she/they) is a poet and anthropologist at the University of Rochester. She is fascinated by the intersection of poetry and politics; how oppressed narratives are weaponized through the arts. They explore kink, being trans, healing from trauma, and suicidality in their poetry, and always with the intention of stating what her readers never had the words for.

LeAnne Hunt (she/her) grew up in the Midwest and now lives in Orange County, California. She is a regular at the Two Idiots Peddling Poetry reading at the Ugly Mug in Orange. She has poems published in Cultural Weekly, Spillway, Honey & Lime, and Lullaby of Teeth: An Anthology of Southern California Poets Her Twitter handle is @ennaelpb. She publishes a blog of writing prompts and apologies at

Alexander Pérez (he/him/his), gay and Latino, has stories and poems published in Trolley (NYS Writers Institute), Whisky Blot, Defenestration, Flash Fiction Magazine, (mac)ro(mic), and X-RAY. He received a James B. Duke Fellowship from Duke University to study Latinx and queer studies. He holds a BA in English from the University at Buffalo and MA in philosophy from the University at Albany. He currently works for the School of Education at the University at Albany. Website:; Instagram/Twitter: @perezpoet


Disaster Society. Her work has been chosen for several anthologies and been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. She lives in Hoboken, NJ, and is an assistant editor at Narrative Magazine. Twitter: @aivlys99.

Laura Rockhold a(she/her) is a poet and visual artist. She is working on her first collection of poetry, and a multidisciplinary art exhibition that explores the interconnectedness of environmental and social issues and healing. She lives in Minnesota and holds a B.S. in child psychology from the University of Minnesota. Her work appears, or is forthcoming in swifts & slows and Quail Bell Magazine.

Jake Villarreal (@JakeVWrites) is a queer, indigenous writer based in the Midwest. His work explores the dynamics between nature and humans, and the emotional potential of objects. He has been published in Abolition Journal, Horse Egg Literary Magazine, and elsewhere. When he is not writing, you can find him training for his next 5k, or playing with his twin cats, Cinnamon and Saffron.

Anthony Salandy is a Black Mixed-Race poet & writer who has spent most of his life in Kuwait jostling between the UK & America. Anthony's work has been published widely internationally. Anthony has 2 published chapbooks titled 'The Great Northern Journey' 2020 (Lazy Adventurer Publishing) & 'Vultures' 2021 (Roaring Junior Press) as well as a novel 'The Sands of Change' 2021 (Alien Buddha Press). Anthony's Chapbook 'Half Bred' is the Winner of the 2021 'The Poetry Question' Chapbook contest. Anthony is the EIC of Fahmidan Journal & Poetry Editor at Chestnut Review. Twitter/Instagram: @arsalandy


Bruce Gunther is a retired journalist and writer who lives in Michigan. He's a graduate of Central Michigan University. His poems have appeared in the Comstock Review, Arc Poetry, The Dunes Review, Modern Haiku, and others.

Nancy Machlis Rechtman has had poetry and short stories published in Paper Dragon, The Bluebird Word, Quail Bell, The Bluebird Word, Goat’s Milk, The Writing Disorder, Discretionary Love, and more. She wrote freelance Lifestyle stories for a local newspaper, and she was the copy editor for another paper She writes a blog called Inanities at

Yuu Ikeda (she/her) is a Japan based poet. She loves writing, drawing, and reading mystery novels. She writes poetry on her website: Her published poems can be found in Selcouth Station Press, New Note Poetry, Remington Review, and more. Her poetry collection, The Palette of Words has been published from Lighted Lake Press. Her Twitter and Instagram: @yuunnnn77

Ibrahim Babátúndé Ibrahim After he was forcibly sent to science-class in high-school, it took Ibrahim 20 years to find his way back to his passion, in 2019, when he left a successful ten-year career in media & entertainment to become a writer. He was a finalist at the Moon City Fiction Prize (2021), also making the longlist of Dzanc Diverse Voices Prize (2020). He was longlisted for the 2022 Commonwealth Short Story Prize, and was commended for the 2022 Laura Kinsella Fellowship. He won 2nd runner-up prize in #GogeAfrica20 Writing Contest (2020), and 4th runner-up prize in Ibua Journal’s Pack Light Series (2020). He has also been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, as well as the Best of the Net (thrice). Ibrahim's work explores the human experience from an African perspective. He’s @heemthewriter across social media.

Scott Martin, along with coaching soccer, and being an author, has returned to the classroom as a teacher in Central Wisconsin. Wanting to help the advancement of prosthetics and public awareness of amputee abilities rather than disabilities, he has participated in research projects for the University of Washington and Johns Hopkins University. He holds an advanced national

Ivan de Monbrison is a French poet and artist living in Paris born in 1969, and affected by various types of mental disorders. He has been published in the past in various venues.


coaching license and has spent 25 years coaching soccer at select youth, high school, and college levels. He’s worked with prominent national coaches both here and abroad

Marisa Silva-Dunbar's work has been published in ArLiJo, Chanterelle's Notebook, Pink Plastic House, Sledgehammer Lit, Analogies & Allegories Literary Magazine. She has work forthcoming in The Bitchin' Kitsch. Her second chapbook, "When Goddesses Wake," was released in December 2021 from Maverick Duck Press. Her first full-length collection, "Allison," was released in May from Querencia Press. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram @thesweetmaris.