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VORTEX 39 APRIL 2013

ONLINE EDITION 1


TABLE OF CONTENTS ART 05... Dead Wasp Girl, Grace Robert 08... The Darkest Depths, Sarah F. Wilson 13... Red Dusk, Taylor Lea Hicks 28... Afterparty, Taylor Lea Hicks 34... In the Valley, Sarah F. Wilson

FICTION 04... Things I Am Sure Of, Taylor Lea Hicks & Sarah F. Wilson 06... Caped Crusader, Zach D. Long 10... Dorian Ward, Holly Dickson 30... Don’t Look Back, Allison Brass 49... Grit Your Teeth, Christopher Grant*

POETRY 07... Battery, Sarah Verser 12... Ashley’s Poem, Sarah Verser

SCRIPTS 14... Everlasting Literature and Art With James Jameson, Matt Martens 32... Nightmares, Taylor Lea Hicks

*Vortex would like to apologize to Christopher Grant for problems with the formatting of his story in the Vortex 39 Print Edition. We have republished the correct version in this edition.

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STAFF LIST EDITOR-IN-CHIEF Sarah F. Wilson

ASSISTANT EDITOR Lisa Ference

Art Jessica Camp - Section Editor Meleah Bowles Calli Morrison Logan Whittington Fiction Emily Qualls - Spring 2013 Section Editor Lyren Grate - Fall 2012 Section Editor Candace Baker Chase Castleberry Nicole Godfrey Darby Riales

LAYOUT EDITOR Allison Vandenberg

ASSISTANT LAYOUT EDITOR Ashley Thomas

COPY EDITOR Savannah Moix

FACULTY ADVISOR Dr. Francie Bolter

COVER ART

“Afterparty” by Taylor Lea Hicks

Layout Team Callie France Elizabeth Furrey Taylor Lea Hicks Darby Riales Tre Sandlin

Media Mary Mulford - Section Editor Elizabeth Furrey Emily Walter Nonfiction Chase Night - Section Editor Hannah Bryant Kayelin Roberts Emily Walter

Poetry Colleen Ruth Hathaway - Section Editor Chelsea Callantine Christopher Hall Mary Mulford Taylor Neal Sarah Jane Rawlinson Scriptwriting Taylor Lea Hicks -Section Editor Elizabeth Furrey Tre Sandlin* Alissa Sexton

*Advertisting Committee Chairman

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THINGS I AM SURE OF Flash Fiction Taylor Lea Hicks & Sarah F. Wilson

I am a woman. The end.

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DEAD WASP GIRL

Grace Robert

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CAPED CRUSADER Hint Fiction Zach D. Long

Contrary to opinion, I do smile. When a thug’s “Ah damn” turns to “Oh crap,” his jammed gun clicking as my palmstrike meets face. Hehehehehehe. Oh crap...

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BATTERY Sarah Verser

I remember Walking through the street that night Phone clutched in hand Snow covered the ground. My limbs were numb Capillaries closing up My body couldn’t feel anything. My heart could feel everything Your twisted words I’m trying to wrap my head around My fingers too slow Too numb To even feel the screen. Ten percent battery staring back at me.

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THE DARKEST DEPTHS Sarah F. Wilson

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DORIAN WARD Holly Dickson

“What do you mean, he’s fading?” The middle-aged couple gazed at Dr. Harris, eyes narrowing skeptically, mouths slack in confusion. A medical secretary walked past the doorway of the doctor’s office; a fluorescent light in the hall was blinking and humming loudly; a tall, pale, teenage boy slouched in a chair next to the couple, picking at a scab on the back of his hand. The doctor cleared his throat. “Again – if I’m right about this – it’s a very rare condition that we don’t entirely understand . . . ” his voice faded off. “That’s why I wanted to be somewhat sure before I said anything, but-” “You mean he’s losing color – getting paler,” the man interrupted. “Yeah, I mean, we can see that for ourselves. We want to know why. Is it some kind of immune system disease, or does he need more vitamins or something?” The wife spoke up, “Lord knows he eats enough food. And I serve vegetables every meal – he eats them. He eats as much as any boy his age, and we feed him well. I try to make healthy food, and he eats his vegetables every meal or fruit sometimes. One or the other.” She scratched at her neck nervously. “I don’t think you understand quite what I mean. Dorian – he’s a healthy teenage boy: developing at a good rate, has a healthy appetite, seems to be emotionally stable, all things considered. There is so little information on it, but, right now, it seems that he does have a serious medical condition. You’ve noticed the lightening of his hair and eyes, how his skin has become very pale. It’s a type of genetic depigmentation that we think was somehow prompted – triggered – by the natural increase of hormone production during adolescence. Only two other cases have been documented, but, Dorian, if your body continues to change the way the other two did . . . and considering how much it has already changed . . . within a year, your skin, the tissue . . . there’s just no gentle way of putting it. You will become invisible.” His foster parents tried to talk Dorian into composing himself. They told him that Dr. Harris was wrong, insane. He tried to believe them. Even though he had been the only doctor so far who could give them any insight into the problem, they had left his office that day and didn’t go back. He must have been crazy, they told themselves. Still, after that afternoon, they approached the problem with renewed energy that bordered on hysteria; for a couple of weeks, they feverishly made appointments with other doctors. But, with every failed attempt to find a diagnosis and every new doctor who remained perplexed, a strange, uncomfortable feeling grew in them. In the upstairs bathroom of his foster parents’

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home, Dorian Ward would sometimes stand in front of the mirror after showering, looking in astonishment at himself. He would stand straight and throw his shoulders back; be the hero; flex his pectorals. He mouthed imaginary conversations to his reflection; flexed his biceps; got the imaginary girl. He admired his own new strength, and then viciously pulled his own paling hair in a desperate confusion of self-admiration and self-loathing. He leaned close to the mirror speckled with dried water droplets, examining the skin on his face and holding strands of his hair up to the light. He couldn’t trust his body anymore. Maybe he couldn’t trust himself at all. What the hell was wrong with him? Not many people at the large school knew him. He had started there in eighth grade when he’d moved to the new home two years ago, and he immediately melded into the landscape of faces. He didn’t shy away from talking to people who approached him, but he never sought out new friends or did anything conspicuous in unfamiliar situations. Some of the kids said he was weird, and most of the teachers thought he was shy, and, to some extent, they both were probably right. Mostly though, he actually enjoyed standing on the edges, watching the action from a distance. There was something about other people that fascinated him and yet made him feel separate from them at the same time. Watching from the outside wasn’t something that the others seemed to understand or relate to, and, for the most part, he remained detached. Since few people noticed him to begin with, even fewer noticed how his hair had changed from black to murky brown during one school year, to an ash blond the next year. No one remembered how chocolaty his once-dark eyes had been, only seeing the watery amber of what they were now. That year, as a sophomore, Dorian discovered first love in the form of Jean Frank. Bright Jean, vivacious Jean, Jean filling a classroom with her dominating temperament – she filled the corners of his mind with her long black hair and milky-coffee skin. Their algebra teacher chalked imaginary numbers onto the blackboard, and Jean whispered loudly behind her hand that Ms. Math obviously had some hangovers from her childhood – what kind of adult keeps numbers as imaginary friends? She was witty yet foolish, and her personality was flat, but Dorian was entranced, in love with the thought of loving someone; obsessed with the idea of having something else to obsess over, something other than his body. On a sunny day before Thanksgiving break, he found the courage to say something to her. “Hi, Jean. Um, you might not know me-” “Oh, I know you! You’re Dorian.” She smiled hugely at him.


“You know me? Oh . . . well,” he stopped. His memorized speech had vaporized. “I just – I wanted to say I think you’re beautiful.” “Oh,” she laughed, blushing prettily. “I think you’re beautiful, too. I mean – handsome. Whatever.” She actually thought he was handsome. “Yeah. I mean, thanks. So, anyway, I was wondering. Would you like to see a movie with me this Friday?” “Actually, I’d love to. To be totally honest, I’ve been wanting to go out with you for a while.” “Really? That’s awesome. I guess I should’ve asked sooner.” “For real!” Jean laughed again. She was always laughing. As they walked together down the sidewalk, she continued to laugh. He had never noticed before, but the sound was a little annoying. Her laughter took on a mournful note. Then, he looked back at Jean’s face in confusion. Her pretty smile was distorted into a chilling sob, and tears streaked down her face as she sharply turned to him. “What are we going to do?” she cried loudly, her harsh stare piercing his eyes. Dorian choked and stepped back. Her hair was white as paper, and her hazel eyes looked red while blue veins were visible in her claw-like, outstretched hands. “There’s nothing else we can do!” she sobbed, staggering a step toward him. He reached out to her as she fell, but then she was gone. She had disappeared. He woke in his bed at home. He was drenched in sweat and gripping handfuls of his sheets. The late-night dusk of his room felt stable and warm, but his heart pounded violently. The shifting murmur of living voices anchored him. It was his foster parents in their bedroom down the hall. For a few minutes, he listened as their conversation drifted in and out of his hearing. “Honey, we can’t just cop out of this.” The solid sound of the man’s voice was reassuring in the dark. The woman was crying softly. “But I just can’t take it anymore. I just don’t know what to do.” It’s probably another of her volunteer activities with the school. She always tries to do too much. Dorian rolled over and drifted out of consciousness, his hands closed tightly in fists against his chest.

“Look, just forget it. I don’t give a fuck about you either.” “Dorian, don’t-” “Would you stop talking to me? Just call Mary and get it over with. I don’t wanna stay here anymore.” He left the room, poorly maintaining a stiff posture of courage, and recoiled to the bathroom like a wounded animal. Grimacing into the mirror, he bent over almost double, holding his pain as if it were physical. He gripped the edges of the sink and stared into the familiar yet eerily-changed reflection of his face. The way he searched his face for changes was compulsory, following a routine he had developed: large nose to start; fuzzy white hairs beneath nose and around mouth; blanched lips; pale throat with prominent bluish veins; general whiteness of the face; white-blonde eyebrows; matching hair; to finish, eyes. The eyes were supposed to be windows to the steady soul, but his continued to change. They had faded to a watery pink, and Dorian regarded them like the eyes of a stranger. Sometimes life moves slowly when interactions happen at an unhurried pace. And then there are moments that act as catalysts in life’s reactions, hurrying it toward some blurry goal. As Dorian looked into his own strange eyes, deep and solemn tears began to form. But, through the tears, he saw what couldn’t be. His eyes seemed to melt for half a second and become a well of tears with nothing – nothing – behind them. His heart and breath both stopped, stung into stillness by the pain of surprise, and, in that moment, he knew the truth of what his foster parents would not admit to themselves, what he had felt the truth of but hadn’t been brave enough to accept – the truth of what Dr. Harris had told them. A single gunshot can start a war; one drifting spark can ignite a waiting, dry-boned forest. That moment brought Dorian’s world reeling to its knees and crushed even the confused view he had of himself as a Mysteriously Changing Boy. What was he now? He was nothing becoming nothing – nothing inside, no body, and no soul. That moment brought a grown-up world of realization to Dorian, presented a door, and asked him to step through it, to leave everything – to leave his childhood, this house that had been his home, Jean Frank, and everything – everything that had been who he was. And he knew he would go. He couldn’t love these things, a world that stayed forever the same as he and he alone changed. And he would go alone.

“But we want you to understand that it’s not your fault, Dorian – you didn’t do anything wrong.” It was a week after his nightmare. Dorian sat in the dining room with his foster parents. “It’s because I’m sick, isn’t it? There’s something wrong with me, and you don’t want to deal with it.” “We need to focus on our family right now, but we’re very concerned for you, too.” “How long did you practice that line?” “Dorian, it’s not a line! We want you to be in the best situation, and we feel that living here is not best for you right now.”

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ASHLEY'S POEM Sarah Verser

I’ve seen them. Those angry Pink, red, shiny scars. Everyone has them. Blatant warning signs I must be blind. Inside everyone is sliced to bits, At some point everyone wants to die. Can you hear it? The sound of hearts breaking Every time you make a silent slice; Muffled cringe; music to your ears. Wide eyes in amazement of what is real; What you’re made of. I’ve seen it. I’ve seen your nasty secret. And I swear to God I love it.

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RED DUSK Taylor Lea Hicks

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EVERLASTING LITERATURE AND ART WITH JAMES JAMESON Screenplay Matt Martens EXT. KMAN STUDIO - DAY A car pulls up in front of KMAN studios, a dilapidated, old radio studio. The letters on the front are faded, and the radio antennae are rusted and worn. Out from the car steps JAMES JAMESON, a well-put-together 30-year-old dressed in a fine corduroy jacket, nice pants, and a sweater. He carries a briefcase with him. From the passenger seat steps MARCUS, a heavier-set, slightly bearded man of roughly the same age. He has rosy cheeks, but his wardrobe is a bit less planned out than James’. He sports a nice polo and khakis. He carries a binder full of pages. The two head toward the front door of the studio. MARCUS: Oh, James. I wish you wouldn’t worry so much. JAMES: Will you please let it go? I’m not worrying! I’m simply trying to solidify a plan for the future, and, so far, I’ve yet to see any opportunities to latch onto. MARCUS: But there’s no use in blaming God for you getting fired. You act like he’s got a vendetta against you. JAMES: Well, if I’m to believe all the picketers, I’d say he does. I don’t see how you can pretend to be so cheerful. I don’t see you looking for new work. The two reach the front door and enter. INT. KMAN STUDIO LOBBY - DAY The inside of the studio is just as outdated as the inside. There is a small reception desk with a cramped recording studio behind it, separated only by a thin plate of glass. A woman, SANDI, sits at the front desk. SANDI: Morning, James. Morning, Marcus. You’re on in five minutes, so no rush. MARCUS: Thank you, Sandi. (To James) You say that like we’re totally out of this job. We’ve got time left. You act like we’ve been kicked to the street. JAMES: I don’t see how you can peg me as a pessimist. You act as though no one has ever started looking for jobs after they receive a two weeks notice. James and Marcus open the door to the studio. INT. KMAN STUDIO - DAY Another much older man, HANK, is in the studio, wrapping up a session. He is seated in front of a computer and numerous soundboards. Beside him is a narrow door, with the wall behind him cramping him up against the desk. His

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speech is slow and deliberate. HANK: Thank you all for tuning in to “Loony Luke’s Ragtime Rodeo.” Hank taps a button on a soundboard in front of him, and a brief sound clip of “The Three Stooges” plays. HANK (CONT’D): We’ll finish our time with Joseph Lamb’s zany hit, "Ethiopia Rag." Up next is “Everlasting Art and Literature with James Jameson.” Hank adjusts a few sliders and takes his headphones off. A very old sounding ragtime diddy quietly fills the room. Hank slowly rises from his seat, nods to Marcus and James, while keeping his eyes down, and exits the room. MARCUS: It’s got nothing to do with the job search. It’s your attitude about the whole ordeal. I just want you to appreciate all you’ve got here. You don’t have to live in so much . . . regret. Marcus begins to seat himself at one side of the room, in front of an electric piano and microphone. James watches him sit, and seats himself in the chair Hank was in. JAMES: I just . . . worked so hard to getJames is interrupted by Sandi over an in-studio intercom. SANDI: Be ready in one, guys. James pulls open his briefcase and pulls out a few odds and ends. A laptop, a few books, some scraps of paper with writings all over them, and a handful of CDs. Marcus sets his binder on the music stand, on top of the small electric piano, and begins flipping through pages until he finds the right piece. He lays his fingers on the keyboard and motions through the music. MARCUS: Are we going to have time for “Marcus’ Kid’s Corner” today? James shrugs. JAMES: We’ll see, Marcus. The ragtime song finishes on a big note, and James fades it out with a slider on the soundboard. Marcus begins playing a short, soothing piece. He is emphatic, closing his eyes as he plays. James watches him and rolls his eyes. Marcus finishes and leans forward to the microphone, eyeing it while he speaks. MARCUS: Good afternoon, Manhattan . . . Kansas, and welcome to “Everlasting Art and Literature with James Jameson.” JAMES: Greetings to all the listeners who haven’t already turned us off. Marcus throws James a quick stare. JAMES: If you haven’t heard, this is the first of a series of final shows for “Everlasting Literature.” For those who can still hear us over the resounding sound of applause, I’d like to say just how honored I am to have you checking in on us. Without much further ado, let us get this show moving in our typical fashion. James pulls up a large book and begins flipping through the pages. JAMES: As usual, it is our custom to help introduce our dear listeners with a new word each day, as presented by our own Mr. Webster. Today’s poem comes from our usual favorite poet, William Butler Yeats. Shall we entice our listeners with a reading, Marcus? Marcus nods, in a trance.

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MARCUS: Yes, we should. James stops at a page in his book and places his finger at the start of a line. JAMES: “When You are Old” by William Butler Yeats. “When you are old and grey and full of sleep,/ And nodding by the fire, take down this book,/ And slowly read, and dream of the soft look/ Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep . . .” James’ movements grow as he continues to read. His hands fly with every emphasized word. Marcus stares as James reads, never blinking for a moment. He slowly raises a smile. James begins to stand as the poem drags on. JAMES: “How many loved your moments of glad grace,/ And loved your beauty with love false or true,/ But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,/ And loved the sorrows of your changing face . . .” INT. KMAN STUDIO LOBBY - DAY Sandi looks over her shoulder into the the recording studio, rolls her eyes, and sighs. INT. KMAN STUDIO - DAY James is near shouting. He is lecturing to an invisible audience, ignoring the presence of the microphone before him. JAMES: “And bending down beside the glowing bars,/ Murmur” -Ah! James quickly takes a seat. JAMES: There we are. Murmur: our word of the day. Shall we consult Mr. Webster for the definition of our word of the day? James turns to the small door beside him. He rolls his chair out of the way to open the door wide enough to see down a dark staircase. At the bottom, in a shallow basement, is an older gentleman, MR. WEBSTER, huddled over in a rocked chair with an enormous dictionary in his lap. On one arm of the chair are a pair of candles, dimly lighting his face. He is shaken awake by the noise of the door opening and he looks up slowly to see James. JAMES: Mr. Webster, we have our word of the day for you. WEBSTER: Yes, yes. What is it? JAMES: The word is murmur, Mr. Webster. M-U-R-M-U-R. WEBSTER: Murmur? Mr. Webster slowly opens the front cover of the dictionary. He turns each page individually. JAMES: Yes. Murmur. WEBSTER: With an "M?" JAMES: Quite. WEBSTER: Oh. There is a long pause.

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JAMES: Have you found it yet? WEBSTER: What? JAMES: The word. Do you have the definition ready for us, Mr. Webster? WEBSTER: What was the word again? James lets out a harsh sigh. JAMES: I see this might take a while. It is murmur, Mr. Webster. We shall return to you soon enough. Mr. Webster continues turning pages as he dictates words as he sees them. WEBSTER: Abdicate . . . Abolish . . . Abstain . . . James shuts the door. JAMES: Perhaps we can continue on to our first guest, eh, Marcus? MARCUS: If he’s arrived . . . James presses a button on a speakerphone. JAMES: Sandi, has our Mr. Anton arrived yet? SANDI: (Through the speakerphone) Yes, Mr. Jameson. JAMES: Please send him in. James releases the button and looks up to his microphone. JAMES: Ladies and gentlemen, hailing from the Alaskan Peninsula, we’d like to present our poet, Mr. Enkidu Anton. A tall man, ENKIDU ANTON, wrapped in a large fur coat and hood enters the studio. His eyes shyly dart between Marcus and James as he stuffs past James’ desk and to the microphone standing on the other side of the room near Marcus. Anton sits on a stool near the mic, but just out of reach for him to speak into it. JAMES: Good afternoon, Mr. Anton. Anton stands slightly to reach the microphone. As he speaks into it, his voice reverberates out of a speaker in the room. ANTON: H-Hello. Anton seats himself again. JAMES: So, you come from the Alaskan Peninsula? ANTON: (Standing) Y-Yes. He seats himself. JAMES: Can you tell us a bit about this region? Perhaps how it inspires some of your poetry. ANTON: (Standing) It is riddled with savage bears and a blight of death and disrespect to humanity. He seats himself.

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Pause. James looks to Marcus, who shrugs his shoulders. JAMES: Ah, yes. So . . . these bears. Do they offer much inspiration for you? Anton remains seated, but his words are semi-lost due to his distance from the microphone. ANTON: Amongst many other things. JAMES: I’m sorry? Please, into the microphone. Anton stands. ANTON: If murdering my entire tribe and raping their corpses may count as inspiration, then I suppose yes, Mr. Jameson. Anton sits. Pause. James’ throat gulps. JAMES: Would you care to share a poem with us? ANTON: (Standing) Of course. This first on is entitled "The Bears." JAMES: Hmm. ANTON: “The bears. They come for me. Their crowded, controlling eyes eat away at my tent, as their salivating mouths eat away at my neighbor. My son. Young, and alive. The bears have taken him from me. My family and home is awash with the blood of those I know, with only the spit and excrement of the bears to trade for it. And my son. A ragged doll for their sexual musings. The bears. Next, they come for me.” A long pause. Marcus eyes the floor, unwilling to move. James nods in sympathy. JAMES: Absolutely beautiful. I did adore the symbol of the son throughout. ANTON: The what? JAMES: The idea of youth lost. Perhaps we’ve all been taken by bears, eh, Mr. Anton? Anton’s eyes squint and wander for a moment. ANTON: I suppose? JAMES: Tell me, when did you leave Alaska? ANTON: . . . before I came here. Anton sits and continues standing and sitting between each bit of dialogue. James stops for a moment. JAMES: And this poem was written . . . ANTON: On the trip here.

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JAMES: Oh, I see. So this looming presence of the bears is a metaphor and part of your reflection on these events from years ago. Perhaps much like many of us cling to our pasts and allow them to haunt us? ANTON: The bears ARE following me. I do not understand all of your questions of symbolism and metaphor. I am being followed. JAMES: Hmm. Would you like to recount the events this poem is based on as they actually happened? Allow us some insight into where you pull your ideas from in this particular piece. As Anton stands and speaks, his voice becomes more detached of emotion and his eyes glaze over in meditation. ANTON: Nights ago, my camp was ravaged by a sleuth of bears. They murdered all I knew. I hid as I watched them devour my wife and take my son into the shadows of the night. There, I watched as they used his body for mating practice, at times, two or three at a time. As I ran, they heard my rustling and came after me. The next morning, I was still running, and began heading here for your show, with the bears still close behind. JAMES: Would you like to . . . uh . . . read another poem? Without even seating himself, Anton opens a leatherbound journal and begins reciting. ANTON: “People.” “People are evil. People kill. People live in search of thrill. People are vain. People are morose. People selfish. People are gross. People are bears. People are done. People are many. Person is one . . .” Suddenly, the door beside James opens up, and Mr. Webster stumbles in, holding his giant dictionary open in one hand. WEBSTER: Murmur. A low, continuous soundAnton eyes Mr. Webster sharply, and James quickly stands. JAMES: M-M-Mr. Webster! WEBSTER: -as of a brook, the wind, or treesAnton clenches his fists tightly and begins to shake. JAMES: Mr. Webster! WEBSTER: -or of low, indistinct voices. A mumbled or private expression ofANTON: Who is Webster? Anton doesn’t take his eyes off of Mr. Webster. JAMES: Mr. Webster, please stop! WEBSTER: -discontent. Also called heart murmur, an abnormal soundAnton’s shaking becomes more violent. ANTON: Please tell old man Webster to silence. JAMES: This is unacceptable, Mr. Webster! You must stop at once! WEBSTER: -heard on listening to the heart, usually through a stethoscopeAnton’s face turns from sternness to his original shyness. He begins to cry. James looks back and forth between Mr. Webster and Anton. Marcus stands to try and console Anton.

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JAMES: Mr. Anton, please! WEBSTER: -produced by the blood passing through deformed cardiac valvesANTON: The microphone is too far from the stool! Anton collapses into the seat. JAMES: (To the microphone) Ladies and gentlemen, we’ll take a short commercial break. James pounds a few buttons quickly and pushes the microphone away from him. JAMES: Mr. Webster!! WEBSTER: -in some persons a simileJAMES: STOP! Mr. Webster stops. JAMES: You are never to interrupt a poem! Anton continues crying. ANTON: Just want to sit and read . . . JAMES: And, Mr. Anton, I’m deeply apologetic on Mr. Webster’s behalf. Anton’s face grows stern again. He stands to the microphone. ANTON: You white men are all the same. Anton storms out of the studio. JAMES: M-M-Mr. Anton! The door slams behind Anton as he exits through the main entrance of the building. James stares at the door, then at Mr. Webster whose eyes remain on the dictionary. JAMES: We only have two weeks left! This behavior can not be accepted! Are you trying to have me tarred and feathered?! WEBSTER: -similar sound heard when bloodMarcus comes around the desk. MARCUS: James. Please. Mr. Webster, back to your room. WEBSTER: Yes. That will be all. Mr. Webster closes the door to his basement behind him as he exits. Marcus comes closer to James. JAMES: This is exactly the kind of thing I was talking about. MARCUS: Sh sh sh. I know.

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Marcus grabs James’ hand, urging him to pause. MARCUS: Things happen, okay? The commercial will end soon. Can you get your head on your shoulders? James nods. MARCUS: Let’s not overthink these things. Let’s just continue doing what we came in here to do. JAMES: Which is? MARCUS: Present fine literature to this two-bit town. JAMES: But, why do we even try anymore? Marcus lifts a finger to James’ mouth. MARCUS: Uhn uhn uh. Back to the show. Marcus guides James to his seat, then walks back to his own. The sound of the commercial ends, and Marcus plays a quick interlude on the piano. JAMES: Thank you, Marcus. Sorry about that unexpected break, ladies and gentlemen. James looks to Marcus who returns his glance. JAMES: Moving right along, allow us to introduce our next guest. INT. KMAN STUDIO - LATER A BEAT POET in a turtle neck, dark Ray Bans, and beret, all in black, sits at the stool with a set of bongos in his lap. He slaps the bongos in a random pattern for a moment, then quickly leans in toward the microphone, which is now at adequate height. BEAT POET: Life. The beat poet slaps the bongos a few more times. BEAT POET: Is. A few more slaps. BEAT POET: Shit. He sets the bongos aside. James looks for a moment. JAMES: Yes. Uh . . . lovely. So . . . what would you say is your inspiration? BEAT POET: I allow my poems to speak for themselves. JAMES: Right. Well, would you care to share some others with us, then? BEAT POET: No more poems need to be read. JAMES: Is that your only one? BEAT POET: What more needs to be said? JAMES: Of course. James lowers his eyes in defeat.

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INT. KMAN STUDIO - LATER A WORLD MUSICIAN is now seated at the stool. She is covered in a loose shaw and other raggedly, gypsy-like clothing. She hacks and strums on a banjo, singing nearly intelligible words every now and again. As her song appears to draw to a close, she begins a poor excuse for a banjo solo. INT. KMAN STUDIO - LATER A MAN is seated at the stool, holding a small book very close to his face. Crammed between the book and his face is the microphone. He reads from the book, his mouth pressing hard into the microphone. MAN: "I work in the wing where children with leukemia are hospitalized," Bruce went on. "Leukemia is a disease that attacks blood cells and prevents them from fighting infections. So, I was thinking – why don’t we dedicate this race to the people at Hope Hospital?" James stares in confusion at the man and takes a drag on his cigarette. He shakes his head slightly, listening to the man drone on through his book. MAN: "I’ve lined up a few sponsors who will help us raise money. That way we can really help the little heroes who fight leukemia every day. We can do it, can’t we, Geronimo?" INT. KMAN STUDIO - LATER An ICE SCULPTOR is on the stool. ICE SCULPTOR: Yeah, this time of year is definitely a bit more quiet for ice sculptors. JAMES: You don’t just simply move to an area with colder temperatures and more of a demand of ice sculptures? ICE SCULPTOR: More demand? JAMES: Well, certainly there are better markets than Northeastern Kansas? ICE SCULPTOR: Oh . . . I don’t really know. JAMES: So, what do you do in the – what did you say – off-season? ICE SCULPTOR: I usually spend my time on the off ramp to Highway 177. JAMES: Sculpting? ICE SCULPTOR: No. Pause. JAMES: What, then? ICE SCULPTOR: I don’t think it’s much of your business. JAMES: Well, I can’t get you to talk about much else. I’m not sure what the point of this interview is. ICE SCULPTOR: Begging for money, if you must know. James lowers his head and rubs his forehead. INT. KMAN STUDIO - LATER A FILMMAKER stands at the microphone, his hands waving around as he speaks.

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FILMMAKER: I like to explore the more existential interpretations. I feel a lot can be learned about the story after the fact, y’know? JAMES: Doesn’t the story very obviously end with the first one, though? Do you honestly believe it necessitates a sequel? FILMMAKER: Absolutely. The Diary of Anne Frank can only truly be realized in seeing her story after the fact. JAMES: In her death? FILMMAKER: Yes! God! Have you never seen It’s a Wonderful Life? JAMES: Excuse me? FILMMAKER: His trials are an almost perfect mimicry to what we’re talking about! JAMES: I can’t see anyoneFILMMAKER: And you wonder why people shun your opinion! Have you ever heard of true art? James eyes widen at the filmmaker. INT. KMAN STUDIO - LATER A lanky CONTORTIONIST stands with one leg up on the stool. He’s got the microphone pulled close in his hand, facing away from James. CONTORTIONIST: I dunno, it’s early. I mean, I’ll try it. James holds his hand over his microphone. JAMES: (Whispering) Sir! CONTORTIONIST: See, normally you’d inform a contortionist beforehand when you want them to perform. The contortionist begins trying to bend over and push his head behind his leg. JAMES: (Whispering) Sir! It doesn’t matter! It’s radio. He continues to try to bend his body, barely able to put it into any strange positions. CONTORTIONIST: Ugh, my hamstrings suck. Jesus. JAMES: (Whispering) Just tell them you’re doing it! CONTORTIONIST: Agh. I think I pulled something. The contortionist haunches over, stepping away from the microphone. CONTORTIONIST: God damn. I should have known better than to come on this show. JAMES: Excuse me, sir? CONTORTIONIST: I should have known the “everclear literature” guy wouldn’t be prepared for a contortionist or any artist, for that matter. JAMES: A quick commercial break, ladies and gentlemen. James slams a button on his soundboard. JAMES: Sir. I wish you could even begin to fathom how much I wish this town understood art. I didn’t travel half the

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world to get berated by a man who attempts to put his foot behind his ear on my knowledge of culture. It’s this town that eats away at me. Slowly. And, I watch as it drains away my future. James stands slowly. JAMES: I see the path I gave myself through college getting run down by a steamroller. The hills and valleys I saw around the world are paved flat by the mediocrity of every citizen in this God-forsaken pitiful excuse for a city. James approaches the contortionist and grabs him by the neck. Marcus stands, as well. MARCUS: James . . . JAMES: If it were up to me, I’d take a blowtorch to every building here, just to ensure everyone suffered the same fate as me. MARCUS: James, we agreed we wouldn’t worry about all this right now. JAMES: Yes, you’re right, Marcus. I’m certainly not doing anything later. Since my future hardly exists, there is certainly a time for this discussion. But why wait? Apparently, we’re not doing much now, isn’t that right, SIR? The contortionist gags for breath. James drops him. CONTORTIONIST: What is wrong with you? James turns away and heads for the door. JAMES: Nothing. I’m just slowly awaiting death. James storms out of the building. The contortionist and Marcus are left looking between the door and each other. Sandi steps in. SANDI: Is it 3 o’clock already? MARCUS: No, we’re on air. I’ll take care of this. EXT. KMAN STUDIO - DAY James storms out the front door. He looks to the desolate road in front of the building. To his left, he sees a bus stop, with Enkidu Anton seated at it. He walks to the bus stop. JAMES: Has a bus not come by yet? It’s been at least an hour. ANTON: No, transportation has come and gone. JAMES: And, you didn’t get on? ANTON: And, where am I to go, Mr. Jameson? James goes silent. He takes a seat beside Anton. ANTON: Do you dream, Mr. Jameson? JAMES: Enkidu, I don’t know if I do much else besides dream. ANTON: I’ve heard in our dreams we see visions of past and present times. Anton stares out straight ahead. James watches him speak. ANTON: But, I believe we also dream of future times. You may ask how one sees future times. I’ve seen you in my dreams, Mr. Jameson. Your success does not end here.

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JAMES: I’m sorry? Anton stands. ANTON: Your show will not be cancelled. I’ve seen you standing amongst the gillyflowers and birch trees. Cast out along the precipice time itself. JAMES: I, uh . . . Anton grows louder. ANTON: A grasshopper lands on your shoulder and whispers the secrets to your success and steals your dreams from you. He grows into a mighty spirit and stabs the sword of your ancestors into your chest. James stands and begins to back away. JAMES: Okay, I guess I’ll be heading back in. ANTON: THE SPIRIT IS FLEETING! James stumbles away from Anton. INT. KMAN STUDIO LOBBY - DAY James enters the lobby and stalls at the door. The contortionist is packing his things up in the lobby and squeezes past James who becomes fixated on the studio. INT. KMAN STUDIO - DAY Marcus is inside standing at the main microphone with a children’s book in his hand. He is completely focused on reading, his eyes never leaving the book. MARCUS: “Purple Platypus, Purple Platypus . . . what do you say? I say, there’s a bluebird . . . lookin’ at meh.” James quietly enters, continuing to watch Marcus read. MARCUS: Bluebird, bluebird. What do you say? Marcus looks up and see James watching him. MARCUS: Oh. Sorry, kids. That will conclude “Marcus’ Kid’s Corner” for the day. Back to you, James. James seats himself. JAMES: Right. Well, I suppose now we’d like to open the lines up to all you listeners out there. Feel free to call in, and we can engage in some literary discussion. James taps a button and, immediately, the phone begins to ring. JAMES: Oh. A caller already. James hits a button on the phone, and the CALLER is heard over speakerphone. CALLER: Yeah, hi. I just wanted to ask. Do you guys fuck each other in the butts? James quickly hits the button. JAMES: Ha ha. Very funny caller. Thank you for your call. In any case, Marcus and my life, while interesting, is certainly not the content of any great novel.

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Marcus smiles. The phone rings again. JAMES: My, the show is quite popular today. James hits the button on the phone again. JAMES: Thank you, caller, you’re joining us on “Everlasting Art and Literature with James Jameson.” The voice on the phone is the deep, soothing, British accent of COLONEL ARCHIBALD RUTHFORD. COLONEL: Yes, hello poppet. I’m quite aware of who you are. JAMES: Well, that’s quite fantastic. What literary quandries have you found yourself in recently? COLONEL: Hush, you poofta. I’m not ’ere to talk about novels and the like. Darling, I’m a representative from a radio station in London. James looks to Marcus. JAMES: London. COLONEL: ’at’s right. London . . . Texas. We’ve ’eard a lot about your show and we’re dying to get a taste. JAMES: Oh . . . COLONEL: The catastrophe that your show bases itself around is a mind-boggling metamorphosis that we, here in London . . . Texas, are dying to get ahold of. Pause. JAMES: You are? COLONEL: What say you fly out ’ere next week, and we give you a show, eh? James looks at Marcus. Marcus’ eyes widen and a smile stretches across his face. COLONEL: Well, what do you say, boy-o? JAMES: I, uh, I say . . . we’ll see you in a week? COLONEL: Right-o. Chip cheerio, how’s your mum and the like. Glad ta have ya onboard. The Colonel hangs up. James continues to stare at Marcus, his mouth agape. He lowers a switch on the soundboard and the "ON AIR" lights in the room shut off. James stands and walks towards Marcus. MARCUS: Well?! JAMES: It’s not exactly what I was . . . expecting. MARCUS: But . . . JAMES: It’s a job. I mean . . . it’s not really what we were wanting. Is there much of a future in it? MARCUS: James. Who cares where the future is?

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James steps closer, gives Marcus a big hug, and kisses him on the cheek. JAMES: Let’s keep traveling the world. INT. LONDON STUDIO - DAY James and Marcus are both seated in a luxurious recording studio adorned with numerous large cowboy hats and mounted deer heads. An ANGRY MAN is heard over a speakerphone. ANGRY MAN: Y’all are an abomination! A heresy to God and His creation! Damnation on both uh y’all! Ya bunch uh fags! James taps his pen on his desk, unaffected by the angry man’s harsh words. He looks up and sees Marcus smiling. He smiles, too.

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AFTERPARTY Taylor Lea Hicks

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DON'T LOOK BACK Allison Brass

You look around the room you share with him, only now all your things, every worldly, little possession, are packed into two suitcases. You never did have much; most of it was his. He’s been using you since high school, using you as an emotional crutch. He loves you, he really does, and he’ll get better, he promises. But six years of being two people are grinding you down, making your bones heavy, your feelings atrophied. You look over at the old picture on his nightstand. It is of a happy, smiling family, the family he had before his daddy ran away and turned into a woman, and his mama drowned herself in the whiskey bottle. It wasn’t his fault; he didn’t stand a chance. He was only seven. You come from a stable, loving home with parents who worked hard to put you through private school, and your only crime was that, at sixteen, you thought he was handsome and deep. He had thoughts, he was strange, he didn’t go with the crowd, and you were looking for a way to stand out. So, you let him into your heart and between your legs and, soon enough, your identity was so wrapped up in his that you weren’t just Sophie anymore, you were SophienRobert. All one word, SophienRobert. You gaze at his sleeping form, noticing how peaceful he seems in rest, and you know you can’t really blame him even though you want to. Your friends in high school, they were the worst. They thought you were a cute couple, that you would make pretty little babies. You really thought he was “The One.” The two of you had cute little dates, if you could call running down to the river and parking behind that old concrete pillar underneath the bridge to have sex a date. Sixteen is such a stupid age. But then, give yourself just a little break. He was charming then with those dark eyes and quirky smirk. You needed attention, someone to acknowledge your existence, and, when he looked into your eyes, it felt like he was looking right into your soul. Before the drugs and booze, he was really a pretty good guy. He was one year behind you in school, so, when you graduated, you called it quits, thinking the separation would kill you. It would have been two years in July, and the two of you celebrated it anyway, pretending to still be together. You had begun to see his darker side by now, and maybe a tiny part of you really hoped that distance would make the heart grow colder. But, by the time you packed up and left for that prestigious college in the next state over, you were SophienRobert once again. You were SophienRobert for four sluggish years after that, years that crawled by like molasses in winter. You loved him when he got kicked out of college. You loved him when he did cocaine and meth. You loved him even when he hit you. You were his little emotional punching bag, and you should’ve said no when he asked you to quit school and move in

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with him, but you didn’t. You were just so in love, weren’t you? But now, with one foot out the door, it just looks so pathetic, the way you always pandered to him, made sure his needs were taken care of before your own, did all the chores, and cooked dinner, and kept a full time job as a maid, cleaning other peoples’ toilets while he laid up on the couch, high and twitching. All this in hopes that one day he’d put a ring on your finger and make it official, make it all worth the effort. Don’t you have any self-respect? You know, moving in was your fatal mistake. You see, you could take all the bullshit as long as you could curl up in your own room at the end of the day. But once your place and his place were the same place, you cracked. Depression was your mistress, Apathy your wife. You sank deep down into yourself, seeing your dead eyes growing grayer in old bathroom mirror. Lines began to form around your eyes and mouth, and with you only twenty-four. Now isn’t that a shame. You stopped caring, just tried to survive. Then, your Depression got so deep, it broke through to the other side. You punched through the solid ice of your mind, plunged into the arctic lucidity that was the water below. Last night, he hit you so hard your head cracked against the light blue tile wall in the bathroom, fireworks exploding against your eyelids. After the pain began to subside, icy clarity burst through you. You waited until he slept. While you waited, you formed a plan. He was always a heavy sleeper and he downed a bottle of booze before bed, so you didn’t worry about waking him up as you climbed up into the old attic and dragged down your ratty, dusty suitcases. You were always pretty neat and organized, so it didn’t take too long to pack up your clothes and makeup and all your writing notebooks and pens. He never thought you were a good writer, thought your poetry was trite, but the professors back at school thought you had potential. Maybe that’s where you’ll go, back to school. Maybe you can make up for lost time, really make something of yourself. You pack your little Honda Civic to the brim and heave a sigh of release. It feels so good to know you wouldn’t be back here, not ever. But, because old habits die hard, you walk up the concrete steps back into the house. You find yourself in the tiny yellow kitchen, the one room you loved in this house because it meant food and comfort. You find yourself putting the coffee on. You wonder for a moment what in the hell you’re doing, making breakfast for a man you hate, the one you’re about to leave. You shrug and figure it can’t hurt. He won’t be up for a while anyway. You fry him an egg and a couple pieces of bacon, then go to the back bedroom. You sit gently on the side of the bed, knowing your slight frame isn’t heavy enough to tilt the mattress and wake him. You stare at his face for a moment,


committing it to memory because you will kill him if you ever see him again. It wouldn’t even be your fault. Temporary insanity. You hold back a giggle as you imagine holding a gun to his temple or shoving a knife against his throat. It would feel so good to see the terror in his eyes, so good that you almost run back to the kitchen to grab a blade. Instead, you kiss him lightly on the cheek just like every other morning before work. You leave the room as he stirs, making it down the hall, past the bathroom, through the kitchen, and down the concrete steps to bounce into your car. You have such a light step now, free of guilt and sadness. You don’t leave a note because he doesn’t deserve an explanation. Also, as much as you would like to blame him for stealing your young years, it wasn’t his fault. You were stupid enough to fall for him, to fall for all those fairytales about love and happily ever after. Not anymore, you’re too smart for that now. You push your pink sunglasses over your eyes to hide the last remaining bruises, then put the car in reverse. As you back down the driveway, you imagine yourself running over your past. Bump bump. There it goes, guts oozing out all pink and shiny, buggy eyes popping, dead because you killed it. Your name is Sophie, just Sophie, and you are a recovering love addict. The yellow sun welcomes you to a bright, happy future. You angle out onto the street and put the Civic in drive. You don’t look back.

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NIGHTMARES Screenplay Taylor Lea Hicks FADE IN: EXT. THEATER - NIGHT Crowds of people line the sides of the red carpet as limos arrive, and security holds them back. The sign above the theater reads NIGHTS OF PASSION STARRING CARMEN DRAPER. A new limo pulls up to the carpet, and the door opens. CARMEN DRAPER gets out of the limo. She is dressed in a tight-fitting red dress and has long flowing dark hair. The crowd goes wild, and security has trouble holding them back. CROWD: MS. DRAPER! CARMEN! OVER HERE! I LOVE YOU! WILL YOU MARRY ME!? Carmen waves politely and smiles. She slowly makes her way down the red carpet to an onslaught of more shouts and screams until she reaches the door, where she turns one last time to wave to her adoring fans. EXT. PARK - DAY MAN #1 and WOMAN #1 lounge on a blanket, a picnic feast surrounding them. The sun is shining, and birds are chirping. They hold hands and smile at each other. WOMAN #1: It’s such a perfect day for a picnic. I can’t believe you made all this! MAN #1: I just wanted everything to be special. WOMAN #1: It’s absolutely wonderful. MAN #1: I’m glad. WOMAN #1: But shouldn’t we be going? We’ll miss the movie. MAN #1: Actually, there’s something else first. Man #1 reaches over into picnic basket and pulls out a small velvet box. WOMAN #1: Oh! MAN #1: I know we’ve only known each other for a short while, but I’ve known in my heart for some time now that you’re the one for me. Kneels in front of her and takes her hand, opening the velvet box to produce a shiny diamond ring. MAN #1: Please, will you do me the honor of becoming my wife? WOMAN #1: Yes, yes, I will! Woman #1 kisses Man #1 passionately as they fall into the grass, knocking the box into the air. They kiss as the ring glints in the sunlight beside their picnic basket. INT. MIDDLE - CLASS HOUSE - DAY

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LOTTERY WINNER is sitting on the couch in a wife beater and shorts, drinking a beer and watching TV. He is somewhat overweight, not very attractive, and slightly bald. The house is obviously middle-class, not too dirty but also not spotless. The news he is watching turns to the lottery numbers. He sits up, a little anxious, and pulls a lottery ticket out of his back pocket. The attractive ANNOUNCER starts the machine. ANNOUNCER: And the numbers are . . . The numbers begin appearing on the screen, and Lottery Winner gets more and more excited as they do. As the last number appears, he jumps up, knocks over his beer, and begins WHOOPING and HOLLERING in excitement. LOTTERY WINNER: I WON! I WON! DAMN IT, I WON THE LOTTERY! I’M GONNA BE RICH! HAHA! He continues jumping up and down in excitement, holding the ticket for dear life. Suddenly he stops jumping. LOTTERY WINNER (CONT’D): I have to go call Janice. He runs out of the room, presumably to get the phone. INT. AUDITORIUM - NIGHT The room is filled with round tables, beautifully made up. People sit at each table, dressed in their finest. ANNOUNCER#2 stands at a podium on stage, a spotlight shining down on him. He is wearing an expensive tuxedo. ANNOUNCER #2: And, that’s why this year’s Nobel Peace Prize is awarded to Dr. Lionel Green for his research in finding the cure to cancer. Please welcome Dr. Green! The crowd gives applause as LIONEL GREEN steps on stage into the light, wearing a white tuxedo. He smiles and waves at the crowd, his face shown on a giant screen. He reaches the podium and shakes Announcer #2’s hand. Announcer #2 exits the stage as Lionel motions for the applause to stop. LIONEL GREEN: Thank you, thank you. I am most honored bySomething SMASHES Lionel’s face on the screen behind his head, setting it ablaze. SCREAMS break out as Lionel ducks beside the podium. LIONEL GREEN: What’s going wrong? What’s happening? More flames erupt around the room. Panic spreads. MAN IN BLACK runs on stage, dressed from head-to-toe in black. MAN IN BLACK: Fraud! This man’s a fraud! LIONEL GREEN: No! I didn’t want this! Man In Black grabs Lionel by the collar. MAN IN BLACK: You’re a thief! Tell them the truth! LIONEL: No! This isn’t what I paid for! Man In Black pulls out a pistol and puts it to Lionel’s head. Flames lap at the stage. LIONEL: Shut it down! Unplug me! A GUNSHOT rings in the air. Man In Black lets Lionel’s dead boy fall to the ground as the screen goes black.

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IN THE VALLEY Sarah F. Wilson

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INT. VR POD CHAMBER Alarms are BLARING. A human-sized pod is hooked to tubes that are linked through the floor. The floor, walls, and ceiling are made of light purple tiles, the same color as the pod. A door slides upward into the ceiling, and three people rush in. They are dressed in blue jumpsuits with gold VR logos on the left breast. MAN #2 checks the screen on the pod. MAN #2: The pod has shut down! MAN #3: Open it! Quick! Man #2 presses a button on the screen and the pod opens. Inside is Lionel Green, older and much less clean-cut than before. He is dressed in a red jumpsuit identical to the ones the three men are wearing and is recently dead. MAN #4: That’s it, then. We’ve lost another one. MAN #2: I don’t know how Trenger’s gonna keep this under wraps much longer. Once word gets out we’re losing customers, that could be the end of VIRO. MAN #4: You think it’ll really get that bad? MAN #3: Look at this guy. I’d say things are that bad already. INT. VIRO HEADQUARTERS Alarms are still BLARING. Rows of computer screens and complex-looking controls line the walls of a vast circular room. Men and women in blue jumpsuits with gold VR logos attend to the controls and monitor the screens. MR. TRENGER, a man in a green jumpsuit and glasses, stands in the center. The VR logo is stamped around the room. Each computer screen shows a different scene, changing after a few seconds. SAUL, a blue jumpsuit man, is staring at a blank screen intently. SAUL: Mr. Trenger, I’ve found the infected reality. Mr. Trenger comes over to Saul. MR. TRENGER: What happened, Saul? SAUL: I’m not really sure . . . the screen just went blank. MR. TRENGER: Blank? SAUL: Yes, sir. But, just before it did, the entire reality went haywire. MR. TRENGER: Details, Saul! SAUL: Yes, sir! They broke in. It was the man in black again. He killed the customer. MR. TRENGER: Damn it. It’s those hackers again. SAUL: What do we do, sir? MR. TRENGER: Did you try to trace the signal? SAUL: There is no signal, sir. I can’t find the entry point. MR. TRENGER: So, they escaped again. That makes five customers so far.

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SAUL: At this rate, they’ll crash the whole system. MR. TRENGER: I’d better inform Mr. Oleander immediately. SAUL: The President? Is that really necessary, sir? MR. TRENGER: This could mean a serious security risk. Better nip these rebels in the bud before they actually become a threat. MR. TRENGER starts to walk away. SAUL calls after him. SAUL: Mr. Trenger! MR. TRENGER: What is it, Saul!? SAUL: What should I have them do with the body? MR. TRENGER: Dump it in the incinerator. Then, burn the pod. I want to make sure that link is broken. Permanently. MR. TRENGER exits. MONTAGE Shots of fields of crops, dying and thirsty. Forests of rotten trees. Abandoned cities with old buildings falling apart. Miles of barren wastelands. EXT. OUTSIDE REBEL HEADQUARTERS/ HOSPITAL - DAY ZANE, a man in black cargo pants and a tight black shirt, stands deep in thought. ELI, dressed similarly, exits the hospital. ELI: Zane, the link just broke. Zane and Eli rush back inside the hospital. INT. REBEL HEADQUARTERS Computers are set up haphazardly in the hospital lobby among cots and supplies. Men in various simple clothing and gear occupy the room, some on computers. Eli leads Zane over to VICTOR, dressed in black as well, who is typing away on a computer. ZANE: They must have destroyed the pod. They’re getting smarter. ELI: I think they’re catching on. ZANE: We’ll have to speed up the plan then. We’re beginning to attract too much attention. Victor, how many more do you think we need? VICTOR: Three, at least. The system’s weak, but it won’t crack yet. ZANE: We need to arrange simultaneous attacks then. ELI/ VICTOR: But, sir! ZANE: It’s the only way to break the system before alerting that damn Oleander.

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VICTOR: The system will crash, sir. We can bring it down. Once everyone wakes up and sees what’s become of this planet while they were dreaming of of other realities, our mission will be realized. ELI: I’ll coordinate the attacks. We’ll be spread somewhat thin, but we should be able to manage. ZANE: We can do this, men. We can save this planet. Our final battle is almost here. All the men in the room give a collective “HOORAH!” INT. WHITE HOUSE - DAY Mr. Trenger is led by SECRET SERVICE AGENT #1 through a series of hallways, past closed doors, as he alerts Secret Service. All the agents are dressed in high-tech suits and geared with headsets and laser guns. Mr. Trenger still wears his green VR jumpsuit. Mr. Trenger and Secret Service Agent #1 finally stop outside a large wooden door. SECRET SERVICE AGENT #1: Wait here, Mr. Trenger. Mr. Trenger nods. Secret Service Agent #1 knocks four times in quick succession on the door. He is answered by three quick knocks. He opens the door and quickly enters, closing it behind him. Mr. Trenger stands awkwardly, looking about the hallway, which is completely plain. He glances behind him and meets the eye of SECRET SERVICE AGENT #2, who eyes him suspiciously. Mr. Trenger quickly faces forward again. The door opens, and Secret Service Agent #1 reappears. SECRET SERVICE AGENT #1: He is prepared, Mr. Trenger. MR. TRENGER: Thank you. Mr. Trenger follows Secret Service Agent #1 through the door into the Oval Office. INT. OVAL OFFICE - DAY The walls, floor, and ceiling of the Oval Office look decorated much the same as they did in 2011, but, instead of the Resolute Desk, there is a VR pod. Instead of couches, there are two other VR pods. The pod in place of the desk is plugged in and functioning, attending by at least three blue VR jumpsuits at all times. Secret Service Agent #1 shows Mr. Trenger over to one of the empty VR pods where he is met by two more Secret Service and DARIUS, a blue jumpsuit man, who nods to him. MR. TRENGER: Hello, Darius. Been a while. DARIUS: A hundred and forty-two days, to be exact. It must be urgent if you’re here before the year’s report. The Secret Service Agents and Darius begin scanning him. MR. TRENGER: We might have a problem on our hands. I thought it best to alert the President before things got more serious. Darius nods in understanding as he finishes scanning Mr. Trenger’s levels, then leans in to whisper in his ear. DARIUS: (Whispering) It’s those hackers, isn’t it? MR. TRENGER nods, but doesn’t reply. SECRET SERVICE AGENT #3: He’s clean. Ready for plug-in. DARIUS: Right. Thank you, Agent.

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Secret Service Agent #3 nods and steps back as Darius begins lowering Mr. Trenger into the pod. DARIUS: (Whispering) Trenger, if those hackers are causing you this much worry, who’s to say they won’t come after the President? MR. TRENGER: (Whispering) I highly doubt they have the manpower or the intelligence for that. But, if they dare aim so high, I assure you they will never reach their goal. Darius nods in relief as he secures the pod. DARIUS: Pod is ready. Mr. Trenger, are you ready for insert? MR. TRENGER: Ready. DARIUS: Origin pod ready? JUMPSUIT MAN #1: Ready. DARIUS: Then, we are a go. Darius presses a button on the pod, and the screen begins to cover Mr. Trenger’s body, sealing him into the pod. Darius and the other blue jumpsuited men observe the two pods intently as one man watches a small portable computer screen. Mr. Trenger closes his eyes as his body enters the virtual world. INT. LUXURIOUS RESTAURANT - NIGHT Mr. Trenger stands at a hostess’ stand at a very fine restaurant, dressed in a tux. He addresses the HOSTESS. MR. TRENGER: Yes, I’m meeting Mr. Oleander? HOSTESS: Yes, Mr. Oleander is already at his table. I’ll take you to him. MR. TRENGER: Thank you. The Hostess leads him through the finely decorated tables, mostly empty, to a table by the floor-to-ceiling windows. MR. OLEANDER is sitting there, dressed in a white tuxedo. He is slightly beefy with slicked-back hair, large hands, and piercing blue eyes. MR. OLEANDER: Mr. Trenger, how good it is to see you. You are early, no? The Hostess pulls out a chair for Mr. Trenger, and he sits. MR. TRENGER: Yes, sir, I’d say a little over half a year. MR. OLEANDER: Yes, so I’m told. The WAITER appears, and Mr. Oleander orders a bottle of scotch before returning his attention to his dinner guest. MR. OLEANDER (CONT’D): Well, Trenger, out with it. It must be quite an emergency for you to visit me this soon. I know how you hate the pods. MR. TRENGER: It’s most certainly becoming one, sir. You see, the rebel movement has moved on to new territory. MR. OLEANDER: Those pesky rebels. I thought you said the movement had been all but squashed? MR. TRENGER: Yes, sir, the physical movement had, but that’s because they’ve moved on to a new front. The virtual front, sir. Mr. Oleander leans forward and rests his arms on the table, looking displeased.

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MR. OLEANDER: You mean they’re attacking VIRO? MR. TRENGER: Yes, sir. They’ve recruited hackers. Damn good ones, I’d say. They’ve managed to infect and shut down five pods so far. MR. OLEANDER: And the customers? MR. TRENGER: (Hesitates) All dead, sir. The Waiter returns, showing a bottle to Mr. Oleander, who merely glances at it and waves him off. The Waiter sets down the glasses and pours each customer a glass, then leaves the bottle on the table, bowing as he leaves. MR. OLEANDER: Five bodies is five too many, Trenger. Those are my customers they’re killing. Not to mention my citizens. MR. TRENGER: Yes, sir, we’re handling it. We’ve managed to break the links by burning the pods, and we’re just about able to trace the link. Once we can do that, we can catch them in one raid and be done with this entire resistance. He slams his fist on the table, knocks over his scotch glass. MR. OLEANDER: I thought we were done with this resistance already! Waiter promptly rushes over to clean it up; they wait until he has left before they continue talking. MR. OLEANDER (CONT’D): I want this taken care of, Trenger. No more dead pods. You find them before they kill one more of my customers . . . I mean, citizens, or I’ll find someone else to head VIRO. MR. TRENGER: Yes, sir. I understand. Mr. Trenger stands up and offers his hand. Mr. Oleander doesn’t take it. MR. TRENGER (CONT’D): You enjoy your dinner, sir. I’ll see you for the yearly report. MR. OLEANDER: (Snorts) We’ll see about that. Off you go, Trenger. Mr. Trenger exits the restaurant. INT. REBEL HEADQUARTERS/ ZANE’S OFFICE - NIGHT Zane is sitting in a dark room, typing on a computer on a desk. In his office is a small bunk, a tiny micro-fridge, and a small pile of clothes. Victor enters, carrying a tray of food. VICTOR: Zane, you skipped dinner. ZANE: I’m busy. VICTOR: C’mon, man. Every leader needs his grub. Sets tray on desk and pushes tray toward him. VICTOR (CONT’D): You can’t fight without your strength. Zane grabs a dingy-looking apple off the tray and shoves it in his mouth. ZANE: ’ap’y ’ow? VICTOR: (Chuckles) I’d be happier if you’d chew your food. Zane stops typing, takes the apple out of his mouth, chews, and swallows.

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ZANE: You sound like our mother. Victor sits on the cot. VICTOR: She did have that motherly tone. Wonder what she’d think of us right about now? ZANE: She’s probably turning over in her grave, seeing us breaking the law like this. VICTOR: What law? You think there’s any law in this land other than VIRO? It’s fucking head is our own damn president, for Christ’s sake! ZANE: But, you know Mom. Always played by the rules, allows followed the trends. VICTOR: Even if it got her killed. ZANE: At least she was happy. VICTOR: Even if it was a lie. ZANE: She was too eager to fit in. If only she’d listened when we’d told her it was too expensive . . . VICTOR: It was the “in” thing, Zane. She had to try it, even if it made her bankrupt. You know her. She never would’ve believed us if we told her then what would happen when they unplugged her. ZANE: I just can’t bear to think of her like that. When she jumped off that roofVICTOR: Then don’t. How’re the attack plans coming along? Stands up to peer over his shoulder. VICTOR (CONT’D): Think we’ll be able to pull this off? Zane begins typing on the computer again. ZANE: Right. Well, I’m having a bit of trouble picking the targets. Someone who is in the proper place in the system, but who won’t be under too much surveillance for them to catch on to too soon. VICTOR: Why are you so worried about surveillance? Maybe we want them to notice? ZANE: Victor, we don’t want this turned into a bloodbath. VICTOR: Zane, I’m done flying under the radar. Let’s make some fireworks! When we take out the system, why not take out some high priority clients with it? ZANE: And, who exactly do you propose? Victor turns the screen toward him and begins typing. VICTOR: Well, I’d say we should start with him. ZANE: (Whistles) Man, I think you have gone crazy. Victor laughs and claps Zane on the back of the shoulder. INT. VIRO HEADQUARTERS/ MR. TRENGER’S OFFICE - NIGHT Mr. Trenger paces in his office, a very high-tech room equipped with a large computer screen, keyboard, desk, and lounger. He presses a buzzer on the wall.

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MR. TRENGER: Please send in Saul. Mr. Trenger continues pacing until the buzzer goes off. He presses the button, and the door opens, allowing Saul, who is still wearing his blue VR jumpsuit, to enter. SAUL: You wanted to see me, sir? MR. TRENGER: I’ve been to see Mr. Oleander. SAUL: Yes, sir. And, what did he say? MR. TRENGER: We’ve got to bring these hackers down, Saul. I want you to go back through all the tapes of every reality they’ve ever hit until you find something useful. Put a team together if you have to. Your number one job is to find these rebels. SAUL: Yes, sir. I’m on it, sir. MR. TRENGER: Now get out. Saul exits quickly. Mr. Trenger goes to the keyboard, types, brings up the latest hacker scene from before, and begins studying it. INT. REBEL HEADQUARTERS - MORNING Zane, Victor, and Eli stand before a large crowd of mis-matched rebels in the lobby. Some women and children stand in the back of the crowd, the men at the front. ZANE: Alright, the plan is as follows. We will have three separate attacks on three different clients, all from locations secured away from the main headquarters. The teams will be led by Victor, Eli, and myself. Each team does not know the location or the target of the others, and only I know all the targeted clients. This should assure safety if any team should be located or should fail for all other teams and for those that remain here at headquarters. Any questions? There is some murmuring, but no one raises a hand. ZANE (CONT’D): Very good. Teams, head out! INT. VIRO HEADQUARTERS - MORNING Saul is working on a large screen computer, surrounded by a few other people in blue jumpsuits. They watch five scenes on the divided screen, all very similar to the Lionel Green scene from before. SAUL: Freeze! Freeze the screen, right there! The scenes are all frozen on the image of the Man In Black, and Saul paces, pondering the frozen scenes. SAUL: Right there! Do you see? TARA, a woman in a blue jumpsuit, comes over to him. TARA: What are we looking at, Saul? SAUL: Tara, it’s right there! The man! Do you all not see? TARA and all the people exchange confused glances. SAUL: That man! I know he’s covered, but it’s the same man! Get the facial identifying program online. A man in a blue jumpsuit goes over to another computer and begins typing frantically. One of the images is pulled out, and the technology begins searching.

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SAUL: You see, even with his face covered, we should be able to find some matches just from the silhouette. You’re looking for someone who’s not plugged in, probably never has been. This is our guy, ladies and gentlemen. Start looking! The team members go to their own respective computers. Saul stares at the Man In Black’s face, triumphant. INT. DESERTED LIBRARY - AFTERNOON Eli and a few men smash in the door to a deserted library, brandishing weapons. Once they see the coast is clear, they secure the door, and Eli rushes to a lone live computer. He begins typing frantically as another man, REX, comes over to him. REX: Eli, are we online? ELI: I’m not sure yet, Rex. They’ve strengthened their firewalls. REX: But, you can still get in, right? ELI: Right. Who’s our target? Rex brings out a folder, opens it, and whistles. REX: Leena Tyler, Mrs. Secretary of War, herself. Looks like we’re shooting the big guns now. ELI: Well, ain’t it about time? Presses a button and WHOOPS. ELI: We’re in! The men cheer. INT. VIRO HEADQUARTERS/ MR. TRENGER’S OFFICE - AFTERNOON Mr. Trenger is half asleep on his lounger. His buzzer goes off and he jumps, waking up. He crawls off the lounger and goes to answer the buzzer. MR. TRENGER: Yes? SAUL: It’s me, sir. There’s been a development. Mr. Trenger hits the button and buzzes him in. Saul enters through the door. MR. TRENGER: What is it, Saul? SAUL: We’ve found him, sir. The man in black. MR. TRENGER: Well? SAUL: His name is Zane Nash, brother: Victor Nash. Father died of a car accident when he was two. His mother was plugged in to the system, but she went bankrupt and was forcibly unplugged. She jumped from a building a week later. MR. TRENGER: So, a man with a grudge against VIRO. Any details on his whereabouts? SAUL: Says he used to work for one of our competitors, a company called DREAM TECH. He left shortly after his mother died. No permanent residence since around that time. MR. TRENGER: And his brother? SAUL: Same. No record since the mother’s death.

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MR. TRENGER: So, we’re no closer. SAUL: We’re running traces on all their old contacts, sir. It’s just a matter of time. MR. TRENGER: Well, it damn well better be! Don’t wake me until you have something substantial. Lays down wearily on lounger. MR. TRENGER (CONT’D): You can go now, Saul. Saul nods and exits, leaving the file on the desk. As soon as Saul is gone, Mr. Trenger gets up and picks up the file. MR. TRENGER: Well, well, well, Zane. It looks like you have been busy. He takes out the photo of a five-year-younger Zane and almost smiles. INT. DESERTED SCHOOL - AFTERNOON Victor and a few men reach a school, long abandoned. They roam the halls brandishing guns, but no resistance meets them. They reach the computer lab and break through the door. Victor runs to the one live computer, sitting down at the keyboard. The men secure the room as Victor is typing. He waves over another man and takes the file. VICTOR: Alright, men, we’re in! Time to see who our assigned target is. He flips open the file and grins. VICTOR (CONT’D): Well, gentlemen, it looks like we’re going after someone high and mighty indeed. Vice President Woodolph, I hope you’re having a mighty fine dream. ‘Cause we’re about to crash it. Victor throws aside the file and begins typing furiously as the men cheer loudly. INT. VIRO HEADQUARTERS - NIGHT Mr. Trenger walks down the hallway of VIRO Headquarters, a file in his hand. He enters the room where Saul and his team are hard at work. SAUL: Mr. Trenger? MR. TRENGER: I have your rebel right here, Saul. Zane and Victor Nash were last seen by their friend Celia Winters three months ago at her home just six blocks from a deserted hospital. Although it is unused, witnesses have reported heavy activity in the recent weeks. I’d say you’d find him there. SAUL: Uh, thank you, sir. MR. TRENGER: I believe you should get your men on it right away. SAUL: Yes, sir. Tara? TARA: Sir? SAUL: Take this information to security immediately. Tell them they have “go” from Mr. Trenger for a raid. TARA: Yes, sir. Mr. Trenger hands her the file; she exits. Saul waves the others away; they exit, as well. SAUL: Sir, may I ask a question? MR. TRENGER: Yes.

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SAUL: How did you come by this information when we could not? Celia Winters was not even on our contact list. MR. TRENGER: Let us just say that there is a reason I’m the head of VIRO, Saul, and you are not. Mr. Trenger exits. Saul remains where he is, looking pensive. INT. DESERTED CAFE - NIGHT Zane and a few men approach a cafe in an abandoned part of town. They break down the door and wait, but no alarms sound. Zane runs in, surrounded by men carrying weapons, and runs to a line of computers, sitting down at the live one. He begins typing. One of the men, COLIN, comes over to him. COLIN: What is our assigned target, sir? ZANE: (Smirks) A very interesting target indeed, Colin. COLIN: Sir? ZANE: Mr. President himself, Oleander. COLIN: Sir, are you sureZANE: We’re done flying under the radar, Colin. It’s about time we draw as much attention as possible. And eliminating Oleander is an excellent way to ensure our mission’s survival. COLIN: If you’re certain, sir. ZANE: I am. INT. REBEL HEADQUARTERS - NIGHT The women, children, and few remaining men sit in anxious silence as the door is broken down and men with guns and armored bodies run in. Panic ensues, screams are heard, and shots are fired. The scene is violent as more armored men pour in to onslaught the rebels. EXT. LIGHTHOUSE - MIDDAY LEENA TYLER, a middle-aged woman, is walking hand-in-hand with a small boy down a dock toward a beautiful lighthouse. The sun is shining, and both people are smiling. Man In Black runs out of the lighthouse and down the dock toward the two. MAN IN BLACK: Ms. Tyler! Leena Tyler looks up as the man brings up a gun. Her face freezes in fear just as he fires. INT. VIRO HEADQUARTERS/ MR. TRENGER’S OFFICE - NIGHT The buzzer rings in MR. TRENGER’s office. He presses the button without even asking who it is. Saul enters, looking agitated. SAUL: Sir, they’ve attacked again. MR. TRENGER: What? I thought you sent out that raid! SAUL: We did, sir, but neither Nash nor his brother were there. The attack happened just as the raid was being implemented. MR. TRENGER: (Very agitated) Damn it! Who was the target?

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SAUL: Uh . . . sir . . . MR. TRENGER: Who was it, Saul? SAUL: It was Secretary of War, Ms. Tyler. Mr. Trenger falls onto the lounger, mouth agape. MR. TRENGER: That’s it. My job is done. He’ll sack me for sure, if not execute me. I’m dead. SAUL: Sir . . . MR. TRENGER: Damn it, what is it, Saul!? SAUL: The link wasn’t broken. We believe they’re trying to attack again. Mr. Trenger jumps up and grabs Saul by the collar. MR. TRENGER: Well, good God, man, we have to stop them! Let’s go, let’s go! Mr. Trenger shoves Saul out of the door. He follows behind. INT. MANSION - MORNING MR. WOODOLPH, a man in his mid-thirties, is lounging by a pool, watching as two model-like women in bikinis swim. They laugh and wave at him to join them. He motions for them to wait as another woman begins to lather sunscreen onto his back. Man In Black suddenly leaps out of the pool, causing the women to scream and Mr. Woodolph to gape at him. Man In Black pulls out a gun. MAN IN BLACK: Sorry to disturb you, Mr. Woodolph. I won’t be staying much longer. Man In Black fires. INT. VIRO HEADQUARTERS - NIGHT Mr. Trenger and Saul stand gaping in the main circular computer room as two scenes play out before them on the screen. SAUL: That makes two, sir. MR. TRENGER: I can count, Saul. SAUL: Sorry, sir. But those weren’t just random clients. They wereMR. TRENGER: Targets. Yes, I know. Did you get anything out of the rebels from the raid? Saul motions to one of the blue jumpsuited men to bring him a file. SAUL: Yes, sir. One of the woman. She kept crying "Rex! Rex!" Rex is her husband. When asked where he was, she started crying, but we finally got her to say "Mission." They must have already planned these attacks, sir. We’ve got all the surviving rebels in interrogation. MR. TRENGER: Well, you’d better hope one of them talks real fast. Or we’ll all be out of a job. SAUL: Yes, sir. INT. RESTAURANT - NIGHT Mr. Oleander is sitting at the same table as before, having dinner with a young blonde ACTRESS. He talks, and she laughs and giggles a little too enthusiastically. He takes her hand, and she doesn’t shy away. Man In Black runs in from

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the kitchen, brandishing a gun. Mr. Oleander sees him, but doesn’t flinch. The Actress turns to see who he is looking at and screams, running away. The Man In Black stands poised, gun pointed. Mr. Oleander doesn’t move. MR. OLEANDER: I assume you know who I am. MAN IN BLACK: I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t. MR. OLEANDER: Then, I assume you realize I am not afraid. This isn’t the first time I’ve had a gun pointed in my face. MAN IN BLACK: But, it will be the last. MR. OLEANDER: You seem so sure of that. I know who you are. MAN IN BLACK: You seem so sure of that. MR. OLEANDER: You can take off the mask, Mr. Nash. Man In Black/ Zane hesitates, then takes off the mask. ZANE: How did you know? MR. OLEANDER: You really think you rebels are so clever? We’ve known who you are. You and your brother. ZANE: Leave him out of this! MR. OLEANDER: But, you didn’t. Did you, Zane? ZANE: This is between me and you now, Mr. Oleander. And, only one of us is coming out of here alive. MR. OLEANDER: Oh, of that I’m sure. ZANE raises the gun to shoot, but, as soon as he does, the entire world shifts. MR. OLEANDER is sitting in his chair laughing, but suddenly it begins to spiral, too. INT. HOUSE - DAY Zane realizes he is in his childhood home, and his mother is showing a young Zane how to tie his shoes. He ties them correctly and looks up to her for approval, but then it is not his mother but President Oleander. The world shifts. EXT. APARTMENT BUILDING - DAY Zane is standing outside the apartment building where his mother is standing on the edge of rooftop, poised to jump. He and his younger self call out to her simultaneously as he she falls. The world shifts. EXT. CAMPGROUND - NIGHT Fire is everywhere, and it is a few moments before it becomes clear that Zane is in the rebel hospital. Bodies are everywhere, rebel men and women and children. As he coughs and searches for a way out, he begins to recognize the bodies, first of Colin, Rex, then Eli, and Victor. Zane clutches Victor’s body, crying and coughing in smoke, as the world spins and shifts. INT. PRISON - DAY Zane looks around him in terror and realizes that he is no longer dressed in black, but in prison clothes, his gun gone. Mr. Oleander walks up to the door of his cell, dressed in the same tuxedo as before. MR. OLEANDER: You see, Mr. Nash, you are not the first rebel that has tried to eliminate me here. But, I will say, you are the first that has gotten this far. I created this universe. You really think it would let me die? ZANE: But . . . but how?

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MR. OLEANDER: (Chuckling) You think VIRO is just a company, but it is more than that. It is a living thing. You may plug-in to VIRO, my dear Zane, but you may never plug-out. President Oleander laughs maniacally. ZANE: But, see, that would mean I would have to be plugged in right now, wouldn’t it? What if I never plugged in? MR. OLEANDER: What are you talking about? ZANE: Oh, I see, you think this is the real Zane Nash, don’t you? No, I’m just a virus. And, this, this is your pod world, isn’t it? You brought me here to kill me yourself. Zane’s prison clothes change to his typical all black; the prison bars disappear. ZANE (CONT’D):Oh, and, if you’re thinking about trying to kick me out, it’s a little late. I’ve already infected your entire pod. MR. OLEANDER: But, you can’t do that! The VIRO mainframe is in my pod! ZANE: I know. Why do you think I let you bring me here? Zane brings up gun which is now back in his hand, points it at Mr. Oleander’s head, who goes to his knees. MR. OLEANDER: You can’t do this. The entire country will be brought down! Billions of people will die! ZANE: No, Mr. President. Billions of people will wake up. The gun goes off, and Mr. Oleander’s body crumples to the ground. END OF ACT ONE

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GRIT YOUR TEETH CHRISTOPHER GRANT

I know that I probably won’t make it out alive if I go through this door, but I have to. Someone’s got to save the world after all. I take a deep breath and burst into the room. He’s expecting me. He turns around in his expensive-looking swivel chair, his crimson-eyed albino ferret in his lap, and regards me with his one good eye – the one I didn’t take out in that knife fight we had on a moving train. I think back to our rich and complicated past in a montage fashion. He was my writing professor at college. He seemed alright at first. But, one fateful day, he gave me a “C” on my midterm, and then I found out that he was completely evil.  “I see you survived the shark pit,” he says, his voice low and rough like a baritone with gravel shoved down the horn. “I see you have basic reasoning skills,” I quip because I’m clever and suave like that. “Too bad you won’t survive this,” he says, ignoring my superior wit. With a snap of his sausage-like fingers, a horde of henchmen march out and surround me, guns raised. I put my hand on my pistol as I prepare my closing witty remark. That gun and I have been through a lot. I run my thumb over the name engraved in it: Emily. “Too bad I wasn’t planning to,” I say and draw my pistol with astounding speed. Like, ridiculously fast. Clint Eastwood would shed a manly tear of appreciation if he could see it. I can only fire one bullet before I’m drowned in a sea of gunfire by the henchmen, but one bullet is all I need. It flies through the air and, as if guided by the hand of Lady Luck herself, pierces Dr. Evilson’s remaining eye and passes through his brain. I did it. I saved the world. They’re going to build statues and name shit after me. No one is going to get an unfairly low grade on a midterm ever again. My death goes down as one of the greatest deaths in history. Ok, ok, I’ll admit it: That was a pretty cliché scenario. But, I don’t think I’d mind dying if it was like that. I mean, there was action! There were guns! There were one-liners! What else could a guy ask for?  But, here in the real world, that kind of thing is never gonna happen. And even if a stereotypical super-villain did exist, I’m pretty sure a scrawny guy that has only fired a gun, like once, wouldn’t be able to take his ass out. No, I’d be gunned down early on by some nameless schmo who’d be labeled “Henchman #17” in the credits. No glory. No statues. Just death. And that’s not how I want to go out. I need to think of something else, something that doesn’t involve me being some kind of gritty action hero. 

I’m walking down the street, going to a nearby convenience store because I’m out of milk. Unfortunately, I realized this shortage after I had already poured a bowl of Cheerios for breakfast earlier. I had to eat them dry. It just wasn’t the same . . . Anyway, I’m still walking and mourning the loss of a satisfying breakfast when something catches my eye. It’s a young woman walking into the street. Her black hair is shoulder-length with bangs that almost cover her eyes, which is a shame since her eyes are this wonderful green color that I swear I’ve never seen anywhere else. I’d tell her this, but I’m sure she’d say that I’m just being a stupid romantic, and that she likes it how it is, and that I’m the one who really needs a haircut. Then, something else catches my eye: an SUV. Somehow, my eyes seem to gain a zoom function, and I see the driver with startling clarity. He’s in his early 30’s and looks like a hardcore businessman. He has a cup of coffee in one hand, a bagel in the other, and a Bluetooth headset on his ear, all of which have more of his attention than the rolling metal behemoth he’s controlling. Then, I put two and two together: Emily is in danger. I sprint toward her with the speed and grace of a gazelle. My outstretched arms push her out of death’s way just in time. I can see an indignant look in her eyes as she realizes that she’s been pushed, a look that lets me know that I had better explain myself quickly or else suffer a severe tongue-lashing (though, I must say, she’d be truly and honestly grateful if she knew what I was really doing). But, before I can, I rocket to the side, limbs flailing like a ragdoll. I go on to become the top story in the local news broadcast, and everyone who was there remembers me as an inspiration and a paragon of selflessness. Alright, I could do that. I’d have to be in the right place at the right time, but, with a little bit of luck, it could happen. I’d still die a hero, and everyone would have plenty of nice things to say about me at my funeral. And, even though they’d be sad, they’d know that I died for the noblest of causes. But what about that businessman? He just committed vehicular manslaughter, and I’m sure that kind of shit can really fuck up a career. What would happen to his 401(k) or whatever people like that worry about? And, I can only imagine the guilt that comes with this sort of thing. Would he ever recover or would this accident hang over his head for the rest of his life? What would my friends and family say to him? Would they want revenge? My mom gets pretty vicious when she’s angry . . . Well, I don’t know any of that, but I do know that I don’t want my death to destroy someone else’s life. Maybe

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an easily forgettable death is best. A death with no heroes or villains – just me and an unfortunate accident. It’s winter. I hate winter. It’s just so damn cold. I’d stay inside for the entire thing if I could, but I’ve got obligations just like everyone else. I walk down the sidewalk smoking winter’s invisible cigarette until I get to a crosswalk. I’d be smoking a real one if Emily hadn’t asked me to quit. She didn’t “tell” me to, like my friend’s girlfriend did; she asked me to, and I really appreciated that. So, I did it. It was hard as hell, but I managed, and now I’m never going to smoke again.  Anyway, I’m at the crosswalk. I look left. I look right. All clear. I take a step onto the street. A patch of ice catches my foot and throws it into the air. I guess I should’ve looked down. I lose my balance and fall, my neck hitting the curb with a sickening crunch. I die instantly just like that, and some homeless guy probably takes my wallet or something. Well, that sucks. Sure, no one else got hurt, but what about me? That’s such an emasculating way to die; there’s no way I’d want that. Maybe I’m being selfish here, but I figure I’m allowed to be at least a little selfish when it comes to something this important. I want to die with some dignity. So, this doesn’t work either. Shit. There’s got to be something. There has to be. Maybe I should go in a completely different direction. I lie down on the hospital bed, my adoring family surrounding me. They tell me they love me as they hold my withered, shaking hand. We all know it’s going to happen any minute now. They talk about all the good times we had and how I was always such an inspiration and how they couldn’t ever imagine a better father/grandfather/ uncle/et cetera. Their warmth fills me up, and I begin to drift off, just like a hot air balloon. Farther into the sky I go and, eventually, I’m gone. I guess I’ll get to see Emily now, huh? That’s what everyone wants, right? To grow old and pass away surrounded by a loving family? Then, why doesn’t thinking about it make me feel good? I should be warm and fuzzy by now; that’s what the movies promised me, but I’m still just scared and confused. And, what makes me think I’ll even last that long? Emily didn’t and she was always the lucky one. Where does that leave me? Shit, did I really think all this would help?  Fuck. I just . . . I just don’t want to die like she did. I don’t want to leave people wondering what the hell happened. I don’t want to leave them thinking all of these dark thoughts that’ll just suck them under and never let them out. That “freak accident” shit is just too cruel. I just want a perfect death that leaves everyone satisfied. Is that too much to ask? Does one even exist? How the hell am I supposed to answer these questions? Fuck it. Just fuck it. Death doesn’t care what I want anyway; he’s already proven that. So, starting right this second, I’m immortal, and fuck anyone who says otherwise.

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COLOPHON Vortex was created on a Macintosh iMac, using InDesign CS5.5, Photoshop CS5.5, and Illustrator CS5.5. Theme fonts are DINk, Georgia, and Handwriting - Dakota. Design by Ashley Thomas.

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JUDGING Vortex has a specific process for editing submissions. All submissions of art, poetry, fiction, non-fiction, and media are considered for both online and print publication. The process of judging consists of all work being submitted online to the Vortex via email: vortexmagazine@ gmail.com. The Editor-in-Chief views each piece, ensuring all authors’ names are omitted, and then distributes submissions via email to the section editors who distribute them to their team of judges monthly. All judges give a vote of yes, no, or maybe. Work with a majority of yes votes and approval from the managing editors is published. Judges are required to vote against their own submissions to ensure fairness. Only students currently enrolled at UCA are eligible to submit work and they must provide their real name and UCA ID number to be considered for publication. The views and expressions portrayed in this book by individual artists do not reflect the views of the Vortex Magazine of Literature and Fine Art’s staff or the University of Central Arkansas. The Best of the Web stories are decided upon by judge and section editor votes. Nominees are the highest scoring in their genre (1 per literary genre, 2 – 3 for art). Nominees are then judged and voted on by the editing staff. On the rare occasion that a tie occurs, both nominated works will be published in the print edition. All judging is blind.

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Vortex 39 - April Online  

The University of Central Arkansas'sVortex Magazine of Literature and Fine Art is an undergraduate run publication, publishing students from...

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