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ASPIRATIONS CSN Student Literary Magazine

Issue One: Fall 2011


ASPIRATIONS CSN Student Literary Magazine

Issue One: Fall 2011


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Acknowledgements Contact Information: Yelena Kajevic Bailey-Kirby Instructor, Department of English College of Southern Nevada 6375 West Charleston Boulevard Sort Code: W 246K Las Vegas, NV 89146-1164

Student Staff: Jen Keli Bautista Philip Cunningham Kaitlin Jellison Dan Kanizar Jacqueline Kitchener Kristyn Knott Kris Martin Joshua Thomas Mirenda Kristine Sullivan Morgan Tribbitt

Front and Back Cover: Yobana Graciano

Disclaimer: We encourage freedom of speech and the integrity of artistic expression; however, the views expressed herein are not necessarily those of the staff, instructor, or CSN.

Copyright information: Authors and artists retain the copyrights of their original work. The contents of this literary and visual arts magazine may not be reproduced in any manner without the express written consent of the individual author or artist.

Issue One: Fall 2011


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TABLE OF CONTENTS

FORWARD Yelena Kajevic Bailey-Kirby

1 PROSE

Jen Keli Bautista: Call It Quits Philip Cunningham: Playing the Cards Right Kaitlin Jellison: Grave Circumstances Dan Kanizar: The Universe Incarnate Jacqueline Kitchener: A Lion’s Courage Kristyn Knott: The Freaks Kris Martin: Descension Joshua Thomas Mirenda: Amongst the Ruins Kristine Sullivan: Hold on Tonight Morgan Tribbitt: Locke

39 30 24 57 74 44 13 69 64 3

POETRY Jen Keli Bautista: Sea of Serenity Philip Cunningham: A Poem for my Grandpa Kaitlin Jellison: The Loop in Winter Dan Kanizar: Money Jacqueline Kitchener: Borders Kristyn Knott: The Orchid Kris Martin: Fear Joshua Thomas Mirenda: Inked Kristine Sullivan: Missing Something Morgan Tribbitt: The Unrequited Monologue

43 37 28 63 82 54 22 73 68 11

ART Pablo Ferreyra Eric Flores Yobana Graciano Jessica Jones Ehab Mogheeth Jordan Patton Sarah Pearson Jones

10, 63, 73 43 21, 23, 29, 35, 36, 42, 51, 62, 67, 73, 82 2, 73 23 11, 12, 22, 27, 36, 55, 56, 81 37, 38

ABOUT THE AUTHORS What I learned in ENG 205: Intro to Creative Writing

83-85

SUBMISSION GUIDELINES Criteria for Prose, Poetry, and Art Submissions

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FORWARD

It is my pleasure to introduce you to our first issue of Aspirations, the literary and visual arts magazine, dedicated to supporting CSN students who are authors and artists. I was pleased to reinforce my creative writing students’ talents by starting this publication when I brought forth the idea to them during the fall semester. We discussed their hopes and dreams, and each of them mentioned their ambitions as aspiring authors. As a result, they suggested that the magazine should be titled Aspirations. This first issue contains the prose and poetry of individuals who have an imagination and dedication to the written word. I am proud of each of them for their hard work during the fall semester. I hope you will enjoy reading their work as much as I was delighted in producing this magazine with them. Many of the students were beginners and had never written a poem or short story, and it was gratifying to see them grow and strengthen their skills throughout the semester. Also, having the opportunity to include the students’ beautiful artwork in these pages has made a difference in achieving a magazine standard that we originally envisioned. I want to thank each of our authors and artists for their contribution to the magazine, and I look forward to working with them on future publications of it. Finally, a special thank you goes out to Lee Barnes and John Ziebell for their encouragement of my endeavors as the Advisor of the Creative Writing Club and the student publication Silver Compass as well as my goal of spearheading this new publication Aspirations. Both magazines are available as hardcopies and will also be available online during the Spring 2012 Semester. If you are interested in submitting to our magazines or working on them, please contact me via e-mail.

Yelena Kajevic Bailey-Kirby Instructor, Department of English College of Southern Nevada E-mail: Yelena.Bailey-Kirby@csn.edu

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Jessica Jones

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Locke by Morgan Tribbitt Thomas Locke is sick. He is damaged. He is diseased. He is mentally ill. At least, that’s what the psychology book he is reading says, and Thomas isn’t exactly the kind to question logic. He has already gone through nearly twenty books, and every definition has said the same thing. Mentally Ill, Cured with Shock Therapy, Turn to God For Help, etc. Thomas glares at the word, and it glares right back. Thomas had originally looked up the word homosexual in a dictionary when he heard his older sister’s commie boyfriend toss the word around when she was on the phone with him. Not that he eavesdropped or anything. That would be silly. And rude. Then he had other motivations for looking up the word. Like the fact that he eavesdropped to hear the commie boyfriend’s smoke-laden laugh because it made his chest tighten and his face go red. For weeks, he had gone to the library and pulled the various psychology books off the shelf, but was too scared to actually look up what he wanted to look up. Every time he was about to, someone would walk by, and he would close the book before anyone—including himself—could see what he was researching. He finally got the courage earlier that day, when he was eavesdropping on his sister’s daily phone call. When her commie boyfriend, he never did catch his name, began quoting one of those questionable books he read, sounding incredibly intelligent yet dirty at the same time, he had actually forgotten to breathe. Thomas coughed during a rare moment of silence between the two, trying to regain his breath. This resulted in a confused, ”Hello?” from the boyfriend’s end, the shriek of “THOMAS TIBERIUS LOCKE!” from his sister, a frantic hanging up of the phone, a beeline for Thomas’ room, and the locking of his door before his sister had a chance to attack him with her perfume. Once he had fully regained his composure, Thomas grabbed his leather knapsack, his dirtied non-affiliated baseball cap, and opened his window. He looked around a bit, making sure his sister’s window wasn’t open and all, before he jumped the small gap that distanced his first floor room and the well-tended grass below. He snuck under his sister’s window, hearing her giggling at whatever her boyfriend had said, and then ran for the library as quickly as he could. Which is where he is now, standing in the stack marked Psychology between Medicine and Law, a large tome opened in his book, the last of many, the words Homosexual, Ill, and Therapy mocking him in large letters. It is only when a young woman begins to walk down the stack that he tears his eyes away, closes the book, and shoves it back in, seemingly untouched. The woman looks away from the titles on the shelves and smiles at Thomas, who forces a smile and a nod before hastily—as hastily as one can, anyway—leaving the library. The words are still echoing in his mind as he gets home, opening the front door as quietly as he can. He takes his cap off, placing it on the rack next to the door, and shrugs off the knapsack he was too chicken to use to carry books home in. The house is quiet aside from the light hissing of a record player, choking out the latest Beatles tune from the back of the house. As Thomas doesn’t have a record player and his parents abhor the Beatles, Thomas assumes it is coming from his sister’s room. Letting out a relieved sigh, he toes out of his shoes and rolls the sleeves of his favorite green sweater and the white button down under it up to his elbows, strolling towards the kitchen. He’s in the middle of opening a bottle of Coke when he hears a loud “thump” from his sister’s room. The bottle cap flies off in tandem, soda fizzing over the sides. Thomas lets out a soft curse as he puts the soda on the counter, shaking the drink from his hand and poking his head out into the sunlight hallway of the matchbox home. He realizes that he is risking life and limb by making his presence known to her, but he just heard a thump, and that concerns him.

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“Kimberly?” he calls out. He waits for a response, and only gets another thump. His eyebrow twitches and he starts for the door. “Kimberly!” He calls again, knocking on the door. Again, he is answered by a thump. He scratches his chin in irritation before sighing through his nose and moving into the bathroom. He moves past his orderly set up of toothpaste, toothbrush, razor, and a bar of soap to Kimberly’s messy counter, smelling of girl, and covered in pink. He digs through mounds of unnecessary hair products, collections of make-up, and cutouts from the latest Vogue magazine. “Aha!” he cries, holding up the bobby pins. Pulling one open with his teeth, he starts for the lock on her door, picking it open easily. When he hears another thump, he doesn’t hesitate. He runs back to the kitchen, grabs the broom next to the refrigerator, then turns the knob before kicking the door open, because it feels heroic. The sight that meets him never leaves his mind. Ever. Within five seconds, Thomas is closing the door, red-faced and muttering some awkward apology in response to his sister’s startled yell and her boyfriend’s cry of pain—pleasure?—as he is pushed off the other side of the bed in a frenzy of flailing limbs. ‘Flailing limbs, indeed,’ Thomas thinks, redness spreading to his ears. He still has the broom in one hand as he makes his way back into the kitchen, unable to form any words. He tries to speak out loud, to make sense of what he has just seen, but all that comes out is a small squeak that can only be properly translated as, “Uhbwah?” He drops the broom as he grabs his soda, chugging it down, the carbonation stinging his throat. He hears a door open and close and peeks into the hallway again to see Kimberly hastily dressed in a satin pink robe, dark hair tussled, head held high, but her face beet red. They stare at each other. With a small gesture, Thomas says, “There’s a man in your bed.” Kimberly nods. “Yes, I am quite aware.” “There,” Thomas repeats, voice progressively getting higher. “Is a man in your bed!” “Yes, there is,” Kimberly says, voice low. “And I would really appreciate it if you didn’t tell mom and dad.” Thomas makes a choked sound. “He’s in your bed!” he says again, voice practically a squeak. “Yes—“ “In your room!” Kimberly rolls her eyes. “Well, obviously—“ “And you two were—oh God!” Thomas says, redness slowly creeping down his neck. “You say for the world to hear,” Kimberly mutters, arms crossed under her chest. “As if it’s your business.” A small thump and a groan of pain distracts them both and Thomas goes right for the door, not entirely sure what he wants to say to this man. He tries to ignore the fact that he’s practically memorized this man’s voice as he tries to take on the role of defensive brother, but it’s a bit difficult when he opens the door. He’s prepared to say, “You wait right there! You defiled my sister! Now, you must pay!” but instead, his voice dies in his throat, and he stands, mouth open wide, finger ready to point and accuse. A small “Nng” sound escapes his suddenly dry throat. The half dressed man before him glances up as he’s buttoning his fly, shaggy brown hair falling into his eyes, freshly lit cigarette dangling from his mouth. He zips the zipper, grins around the cigarette, and waves. “Hi,” he says, and Thomas says, “Nng.” The man takes a drag off the smoke as he leans down to grab his shirt, haphazardly thrown to the side. When he looks up again, he laughs that same smoke-tinted laugh, only this time it’s aimed at Thomas. “You should take a picture,” he says. “It’ll last longer.” He grabs his boots from the floor and tugs them on without buckling them, then walks right up to Thomas.

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“Kid?” “Yes?” Oh, is Thomas thankful his voice works again. “You’re in my way,” the man whispers, eyes almost exactly level with Thomas’s. “Oh,” Thomas whispers back. He feels a tug at the back of his sweater as his sister pulls him out of the doorway. The man moves past him and passes the cigarette to Kimberly, who takes a long drag as the man pulls his dark shirt over his head. “Your brother’s a real treat, Kimi,” Thomas hears the man say to Kimberly as he takes the smoke back. He turns back to Thomas and nods. “Nice meetin’ ya, kid.” He plants a firm kiss on Kimberly’s lips before leaving the matchbox. When the motorcycle engine starts to run, Thomas wonders how he didn’t notice it walking in. “Nice job defending my honor, Tommy,” Kimberly snickers. “Shut. Up.” *** Thomas is on his way home from the river, his usual hotspot after school. Of course, his parents think he’s at football practice, but he doesn’t want to admit he didn’t even try out. He just never mentions it when there’s a game and makes it a point not to invite his friend Michael, who made the team, over for supper. He’d much rather look for arrowheads or seemingly rare stones or pretend he’s mining for gold than be tackled by a group of extremely well-built men, anyway. With a small cough, he forces himself not to think of that, and instead think of other, less tempting, things. He pulls his cap forward, completely shielding his eyes from the afternoon sunlight, and walks up the sidewalk that leads to his house. He thinks of anything other than well-built men. Anything other than the words staring up at him. Anything other than the jeers Michael and his buddies were directing towards that guy that they’d heard was queer. Anything other than the motorcycle fading into his hearing—into his vision. “Oh, no,” Thomas whispers to himself as the motorcycle grows louder. It pulls up next to him, and there is the man, helmet covering the top half of his head, grin covering the bottom. “Hi,” says the man. “Fancy meeting you here, little Locke.” Thomas’s grip on his knapsack tightens and he walks a bit faster. “I just figured we should meet properly, is all,” the man says, not deterred by the very slight change in speed. Somehow, he manages to balance himself as he holds his hand out. “I’m Devon Cartwright.” Thomas looks at the hand, then at Devon’s face, then at the sidewalk, and he lets out a small squawk when Devon grabs his hand in his, shaking it firmly. “What? Your parents never teach you manners? Rude,” Devon says, but he chuckles warmly. This does things to Thomas’s stomach, and so he very swiftly starts back up the sidewalk. “You’re Tommy, right?” “Thomas,” Thomas says, more out of habit than actual malice. He hates being called Tommy more than anything else. Tommy is the name of a child. But Thomas? Thomas gets you places in the world. “Well, then, Thomas, it’s nice to properly meet you,” Devon says. When Thomas doesn’t say anything, Devon grabs the cap off of his head. “Hey!” Thomas yells, glaring at Devon’s shit-eating grin. “I finally got a reaction out of you,” Devon says. He grins knowingly, and it makes Thomas uneasy, grip readjusting on his backpack’s strap. “Let’s see if I can get another one,” he says, taking a carton of cigarettes and a lighter from his coat pocket. He sticks the cigarette in his mouth, and is lighting it as he nonchalantly says, ”So was it my eyes or my ass that won you over?” Thomas’s eyes go wide, and he runs a hand through short, dark, sweat dampened hair. Devon shrugs and

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blows out smoke. “Because I know for a fact that my ass is pretty fantastic.” Thomas chokes on air and begs his cheeks to stop burning. “A-assuming I even looked at that.” “Which you did.” “Which I didn’t!” At this, Devon laughs again. “Yeah, okay. So when you were standing my way, you didn’t move because you were scared, then? Because you’re a coward? Not because you were distracted by other parts of me?” “I am not a coward! Now, give me my cap back!” Devon grins and hides the cap behind his back when Thomas dives for it. “You never learned the word please, either! What do they teach children nowadays?” Thomas pushes his hair off his forehead again, then heaves a frustrated sigh and walks past Devon. Thomas didn’t like that hat anyway. “Hey!” he hears Devon yell from behind him. The bike is turned off and abandoned, and Thomas nearly groans when he hears footsteps behind him. He pulls his arm away when Devon grabs his shoulder. “Look, buddy, I’m only trying to help.” “Help,” Thomas says, rolling his eyes. “Right. Yes. How exactly are you doing that?” Devon shrugs. “It’s not easy liking other guys in this world, is it?” “I don’t—“ “Look, you don’t need to tell anyone,” Devon said, hand on Thomas’s shoulder, smiling around the cigarette. “But you don’t need to worry.” Thomas swallows thickly. “I won’t tell anyone,” Devon shrugs, taking a final drag off his smoke and tossing it to the ground. As he’s blowing the smoke from his nostrils, Thomas looks around at the suburban homes and bites his lip. “So,” he starts, quietly. “If I am….y’know….you won’t…say anything.” “Scout’s honor,” Devon chuckles, saluting Thomas, who smiles half-heartedly in reply. “Not even Kimberly?” “Well, I think she knows.” “What?” “Just trust me, all right? Everything will be just fine,” Devon says as he tosses an arm over Thomas’s shoulder. “Mind if I walk you home? I promised your sister we’d head to the movies tonight anyway.” As Devon walks with Kimberly back to the bike, Thomas wonders exactly what he’s gotten himself into. More importantly, he wonders whether Devon will discover if it was his voice that won Thomas over. *** The next time Devon comes to the house, Thomas is surprised when he knocks on the door and asks for Thomas. Kimberly in equally surprised, though not as pleasantly. Devon winks at Thomas, who glances between the doorway and his sister before slinking out the front door. When Kimberly leans against the doorframe, arms crossed, shadowed eyes narrowed, Devon tells Thomas to wait by the bike. And so, because that rumbling tone told him to, he does. And so he waits, baseball cap firmly placed on his head. He watches as Kimberly offers Devon a few choice words and a pouting scowl, Devon replying with a small shrug and what Thomas can only assume is a matter of reassurance. An awkward silence later and Devon is giving Kimberly a peck on the cheek before striding back to the bike with a fabricated air of nonchalance. “So, ready to go?” Devon asks, tossing the helmet at Thomas, who fumbles with it and lets out a short, “Um.” Thomas shoots a look at Kimberly, who still has her arms crossed, but when she meets his glance, she rolls her eyes and slams the door. “Is she okay?” “Hm? Oh, yeah! Fine! I just,” Devon clears his throat. “We had plans, but y’know. I’ll make it up to her later.”

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He swings a leg over the bike and turns it on, nodding at Thomas. “Get on.” Thomas takes one more look at his house, then puts the helmet over his cap, and hesitantly swings a leg over the bike behind Devon, arms at his sides. “….You’re going to fall off,” Devon mutters. Thomas looks down at his arms, then up at Devon’s head, then back down and laughs nervously. “Right,” he replies, slowly raising his arms to wrap them around Devon’s waist. “Okay back there?” “Yep! I’m fine!” Thomas squeaks out, before clearing his throat. “I’m fine,” he repeats, voice slightly steadier. “Awesome,” Devon says, revving the bike and pulls out onto the street. “So, uh,” Thomas starts, arms tightening as the speed increased. “Where are we going, exactly?” “You’ll see when we get there,” Devon calls over the wind. “Oh,” Thomas replies, quietly. “That’s comforting.” It doesn’t take long to get to their destination, a small house on the outskirts of Albany, the front porch covered in vines, a van in the front yard. Thomas raises an eyebrow at the interesting porch swing, covered in multicolored handprints, but doesn’t question it any further. He doesn’t need to, when he sees the three inhabitants of the odd house opening the front door to greet Devon and himself. One is a man named Liam, who smells like “Mary Jane” as Devon calls it. “I’m a poet,” Liam says, smiling, pushing round glasses up his nose. His brown beard ages him drastically. “The herbs inspire me.” Liam lives with a woman named Hannah, who, Thomas embarrassedly notices, happens to have an intense dislike of shirts, letting her blonde hair flow over her chest instead. “You’re like a puppy,” she coos at him, grabbing his face between her thin hands. Her head barely reaches his shoulder, but that doesn’t stop her from standing on her toes to give him a wet kiss on the forehead. Devon snorts as he sits across from Liam at the kitchen table, taking in Thomas’s discomfort. Thomas moves away slowly, looking around the dimly lit home, taking in the odd, exotic knickknacks that adorn the rose colored walls. There is also a young man who lived with them. Adam. Thomas envies him, in a way. The man who lets his red hair go untamed, has a crooked smile, and tells Thomas about how he ran away from home at sixteen. “Come from down South, I do. The South the South. Georgia’s whar I come from. Ran away from thar in ’63. Ain’t never gone back,” He inhales deeply, hands settling on his stomach. “Was awful dumb to tell my Pa ‘bout what I done with some of them boys,” he laughs. “But it was the race shit, too. Pa was ‘gainst ever’thin I stood fer,” Adam says, pulling his red hair back into a small ponytail at the nape of his neck. “I think I told him ‘bout the boys ‘cause I wanted him to toss me out. Hated the bastard. Still do, in fact,” he says, thoughtfully. “Anyway, ended up livin’ in a dumpster, hitchhiked m’way up here, met Liam, let ‘im take me home.” “Like a pet?” Thomas interrupts. Adam grins. “I got food. I got a house,” he shrugs his bare shoulders, lounging back on the couch. “Not sure what else I need.” They sit in companionable silence, the light trill of Hannah’s singing the only sound that breaks the silence. A motorcycle helmet is tossed into his lap, and he looks up to see Devon. “Gotta get you home before your sister murders me,” Devon says. Thomas straps on the helmet, tosses his leg over the bike behind Devon, and as he grabs on to Devon, he looks back at the small house. The trio is waving their goodbyes at him, and as they do so, Thomas wonders. “What do I want?” Thomas is sitting in the cafeteria, reading one of the questionable pieces of literature Devon gave to him.

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It hasn’t gotten him any odd looks, yet, so that’s a good sign. He thought the pure fact that it was Russian would set someone off. He turns the page of his novel, the words almost blending together. A small clearing of throat distracts him, and he looks up. In front of him is Sarah, the girl that’s been staring at him in English since the beginning of the year. She twirls a blonde curl in her fingers and bites her lip. “Hello,” Thomas says, smiling. “Hi, Thomas,” Sarah says back, sitting down across from him. “Uhm…” She clears her throat again. “Thomas?” “Hm?” “You know how the Sadie Hawkin’s dance is coming up?” “Hm.” “And you know how…girls are supposed to ask boys?” Thomas heard her timid voice shaking. “Hm.” He glances back down at the book. “I was thinking…if you wanted to go…” “I’m sorry, Sarah, I wasn’t listening,” Thomas says, slightly ashamed. He looks up into Sarah’s face. She bites her lip harder before she speaks again. “Do you want to go to Sadie Hawkins with me, Thomas?” she asks him, the words coming out as a jumble. A million thoughts fly through Thomas’s head as he looks her dead in the eye. He dog-ears the page he’s on, closes the book, then clears him throat. “I…don’t know?” “Oh…I just thought…I-It might be nice if,” Sarah shakes her head, curls shaking with her. “Never mind.” Devon even said he could keep quiet about it. Thomas thinks for a moment, thinks of the kid—Max, his name is—that’s harassed. It would be safe, he thinks, to take Sarah. She’s a nice enough girl, and certainly won’t make him do anything. A slow dance or two and it would be right as rain. He grabs her wrist as she’s standing. When she bites her lip again, he smiles at her. “I don’t see why not.” *** Thomas waits patiently for Sarah to exit the bathroom. What is she doing in there? He pushes up the sleeve of his tuxedo, checks the time on his watch, and stifles a groan. Fifteen minutes. He rubs his face with a hand, sighing heavily. He hears the sounds of cheering from the gym and wonders what on Earth they’re cheering about. When the cheering from his right dies down, he hears more cheering from his left, but it holds a far different tone. As he looks down the locker-lined hallway, he sees the silhouettes of a group of men—boys? They walk under one of the lights lining the ceiling to reveal Michael and his football buddies following that kid—no, Max. His eyebrows furrow, and he spares a glance at the restroom, then takes his chance to sneak off, following the boys at a distance. They’re in the parking lot behind the school when he comes across them, their suit jackets tossed astray and Max backed against the wall, nose bloodied. There’s a lurch in Thomas’s stomach when the incoherent jeers form words. Each word is accompanied by a firm punch to Max’s stomach, to his face, until he’s on the ground, coughing. Heart racing, Thomas swallows a golf ball and starts to move away, unseen. “Hey, Tommy!” Thomas cringes, forces a smile on his face as he turns to face Michael’s blonde, bloated face. “Hey yourself,” he says. Michael motions towards the group, still ruthlessly pounding on Max. “You wanna have a go?” Michael asks, crossing his arms across his broad chest. Thomas looks over Michael’s shoulder at the others, then shakes his head. “I think I’m okay for right now,” he answers, heart still racing, trying to keep his voice level. Michael’s eyes flash. “Oh?” he asks. “He deserves it, y’know.” Thomas swallows again. “Oh.”

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“Don’t be a pussy, Tommy,” Michael says, grinning. He places a hand on Thomas’s shoulder, leading him to the group. Thomas wants to run. Wants to look away. Wants to get out of there. But the hand on his shoulder isn’t a friendly gesture; it’s a warning. He clenches his fist, closes his eyes, and punches. He doesn’t stop punching until the cheers are mere echoes in his mind. Afterward, the boys leave, but Thomas waits behind with Max. He bites his thumbnail, not wanting to look at the boy on the ground. Max wipes blood from his lip and sits up, leaning back against the wall, brown hair matted. Thomas clears his throat and glances at Max, who looks right back at him. “Look,” Thomas starts. “I’m sorry. I didn’t want to do it. I just had to, y’know?” Max shakes his head. “Don’t. You had a choice. You made it.” He spits out blood again. “Live with it.” Thomas looks at his fist, stained red, and his stomach swims unpleasantly. “Max,” he starts. “It’s…okay if you are.” Max glares at him, a twinge of fear hidden in his eyes. Thomas licks his lips, continues, “It might be best to hide it for now, but…I mean, you can talk to me.” Max lets out a cynical snort that twists Thomas’s insides. “If…you are, that is,” Thomas rubs his arm and clears his throat. “Because I am.” Max fixes him with a look, then shakes his head. “But I’m not,” he snarls. Thomas’ heart starts racing again, and he holds his clean hand to Max, who shoves it away. Thomas clenches his fist, shoves it into his pocket. “Right,” Thomas laughs nervously. “Right, I was joking. I’m not either.” Max stands shakily, pushes himself from the wall, glares at Thomas again, and walks off, hand held against his nose. Thomas walks back into the school to see Sarah by the door of the restroom, looking around nervously. When he walks up to her, she grins widely and squeals about how Janet got the cutest corsage as she drags him into the gym. *** “I think I did something bad.” “No shit.” “No, something really bad.” “Yeah, I know.” “How’d you find out?” “Your sister told me,” Devon scoffs and shakes his head. “I expected better of you.” Thomas sits up on the couch, fixes Devon with a firm look. “What’s that supposed to mean?” Devon shrugs as he lights his cigarette, then puts his lighter back in his coat pocket. “I just think that you knew better,” he says, anger filtering through his voice. “What was I supposed to do? They would have done the same to me!” Thomas replies, confused look on his face. He leans his elbows on his knees, his head falling into his hands, nails scratching his scalp as he takes a deep breath. “Bullshit,” Devon replies. “You could have done something. If you couldn’t have, you should have told someone.” “You assume that they’d care.” “Jesus Christ, kid,” Devon snarls. “You act like you’re the only son of a bitch who’s had to deal with this. You weren’t the one getting beaten to a pulp, were you? No. So you could have done something. Do you just shut off when I talk to you or something?”

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Thomas lets out a disbelieving laugh. “I don’t know what you expect me to do. If someone’s going to hurt me, I’m going to listen to them.” “And that’s where your fault lies,” Devon mutters. “You’re a coward.” Thomas sits down again, falling against the couch. He shrugs and opens his mouth, trying to form words. When no words came out, he deflates, running a hand through his hair again. He looks at Devon with a broken expression, then swallows before choking out, “I’m sorry.” Devon sighs heavily before he puts his hand on Thomas’s shoulder and tiredly says, “Just don’t let that shit happen again. Got it?” Thomas looks to the side, thoughts flying through his head. The words he read, the words he heard, the words from both sides. He shakes he head, shakes Devon’s hand off his shoulder, and puts his head in his hands, and whispers, “I’m so sorry.” *** “Sarah’s a nice girl,” Thomas’s mother says, getting the vacuum out of the hallway closet. Thomas nods from his place at the kitchen table, bottle of soda in his hand, thumbnail picking at the bright red label. “Her mother and I have lunch on Saturdays, did you know that?” she pushes blonde hair behind her ears and ties a handkerchief around her head, bluebirds printed in mid-flight. She plugs in the vacuum, then straightens up, and walks into the kitchen, looking at Thomas’s numb expression. “And it was really wonderful that you went along with her, Thomas,” she says, smile widening. “I thought that you two would end up together—I did and so did her mom, and your dad will be so happy! Oh!” she tosses her arms up and moves back to the vacuum. “She is such a nice girl, Thomas,” she turns on the vacuum, the loud humming barely registering in Thomas’s mind. He goes with Sarah, now, but his mind is still fixated on Devon. Devon, who left the country dodging the draft, left Kimberly, left Thomas. Thomas shakes his head, pushes a hand to his temple, tries to ease the headache forming behind his eyes. He takes a chug from the bottle, the carbonation stinging his throat, then looks down at the closed book next to his arm. He opened it to the dog eared page, looks at the words mocking him. Sick. Damaged. Diseased. Mentally Ill. He shuts the book again, takes another drink as he looks out the curtained window above the sink. It’s not worth the risk.

Pablo Ferreyra

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The Unrequited Monologue by Morgan Tribbitt The love I feel is good and pure, I swear Like a sweet song that’s calling me, telling Me to say something. I am not aware Or used to this feeling, odd and repelling.

Love reaches out to me, leading me in. I have to turn away from it, in fear. I want so much, to run, not to begin, But Love’s grip on me tightens, keeps me here.

Without the grip, I feel barren and cold. The thought of death is far more tempting, now. Death beckons, but will I do as I’m told? With my heart in my hands, I will allow.

I long for you, every day, minute, more; We can never be as we were before.

Jordan Patton

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Jordan Patton

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Descension by Kris Martin For a millennium, I had sat upon the ramparts watching the mortal realm from the firmament above. I watched as young men swore their lives to The Lord and died fighting to uphold the glory of his name; each death bore a wound deep into my bosom. Yet, despite the pain in my heart, I kept vigil as men fell in glorious battle, expecting eternal rest in the grace of our creator. As more men, women, and children fell, streams of sorrow began to run down my cheeks emanating a tintinnabular chorus as they fell unto my armor. My sorrow was not that of their demise, but that they would never know the loving embrace of Heaven. From the depths of my lament, I cried down, “Oh great horseman! For what dost thou torment their souls with desires of conquest! How hast man wronged thee?” I could no longer bear the sight of such martyrdom without fear that I might swoon. With great aversion, I gave forth a mighty flap of my wings, taking flight among the marble terraces. The Kingdom of Heaven was an alluring place of infinite beauty; however, it was vastly empty as well. I could no longer recall how many centuries had passed since Peter had last opened the great gates. While Heaven has always been a place of great serenity, filled with chants praising our lord, their songs felt hollow upon my soul as I flew above the inner walls. My wings carried me with ease across the ever calm realm of light as I came unto a choir of Cherubim. I hearkened to their words of grace but their songs, as hallow as they were, felt devoid of sanctity. How could we, the denizens of light, remain here ever so complacent as to ignore the Children of Heaven, those who praise our very transcendence and trust their souls unto us to guide them to salvation. For some time, I rested upon the vast stair leading from the pearly gates. I folded my wings amidst myself, masking my grieving face, as a soothing voice caressed my ears. “Sister Cassandra, why dost thou sulk upon the stair of our great lord?” Michael’s voice pierced my sorrow as my face reddened from chagrin. “Hail! Holiest of Archangels, our lord be praised that thou place such honor upon me as to be graced by thy presence,” I greeted with a bow. “I must confess that I fear for the salvation of the mortal realm.” “It is not thy place to question the work of The Lord my worrisome sister. All that was, all that is, and all that will be happens as our lord wills it so,” Michael answered as if he was trying to explain how water was wet. His response sparked a flame of defiance within my heart as I arose before the handsome Archangel, who shone with an aura of divinity as I retorted, “How can the great Michael, he who came down upon the hordes of Satan with the blazing dawn, believe that? It was thou, who struck down Belial upon the slopes of Purgatory to uphold the sanctity of our vows. Hast thou never wished to save man whether it be their life or soul?” Michael placed his hand upon my shoulder as he spoke, “Dearest Cassandra, with each passing day, I wish I could ferry the souls of man upon my back unto our kingdom. I pray to our father for the admittance to fight alongside the faithful in their every moment of plight. I would test my steel upon the pale rider himself if it would save the soul of an innocent child. Alas, it is beyond even me to defy the will of The Lord. We are his humble children, and as his children, we heed our Father’s will.” “Then why,” tears marred my face once again, “why must we tarry here when man hast pleaded for their salvation for centuries?” To my surprise, Michael had taken me unto his arms and whispered, “Poor, poor Cassandra, so young and innocent art thou,” his hand ran through my snowy hair, “with time, thy heart will learn to uphold the sorrow that the strictness our vows have wrought.” Without another word, Michael took wing and vanished into the rising dawn. I stood there before the great gates trying to comprehend what had just occurred; however, the only outcome I could come to was that I yearned for answers. With a gauntleted hand, I whisked away the damp rivulets descending my face and spun from the pearly gates, facing the path to the Divine Throne. “Holy. Holy. Is our lord, praise thee for our salvation, and bestow the honor to bask in thy divine glory upon thy humble children.” The chanting stopped, utterly, as I rose above the final step. Before me stood a great chair of

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white gold and surrounding the space above the throne poised seven figures. Each figure’s body was surrounded by the divine fires of heaven, which radiated from them like a great aura of light. Warmth caressed my face as I gazed upon the magnificent six-winged Seraphim. Remembering my place, I fell to one knee with my hand covering my heart and directed my gaze to the unmarred marble I stood upon. Time stood still until his voice roared like a great tremor, “For what, doth my child Cassandra kneel before me unbidden?” The Lord’s thundering voice shook me to my core. I struggled to put forth the words, “Holiest Father, I beseech thou for answers to quail the doubts that afflict my faith.” My gaze remained locked upon the floor I knelt. “Doubts upon thy faith will corrupt thy thoughts and lead thee astray from the great light of The Lord,” chimed the Seraphim in unison. Then, the thunderous voice came once again, “What doubts dost thou wish of me to place to rest child?” “Wisest of fathers, why dost thou refuse to welcome the Children of Heaven unto thy great kingdom? Why dost thou avert thy gaze from the faithful children who fight, and die, in the glory of thy holy name against the heathens in the east?” I responded as tears rose within my eyes. “The mortals no longer art worthy to ascend unto my holiest of sanctum’s child. The earthly fail to show faithfulness worthy to rise and bask upon my salvation,” The Lord said as if carrying out divine judgment. As The Lord’s words fell upon my ears, a spark of anger ignited within my bosom. “Why Father? Look down upon the mortal realm as the black rider salts their crops and still they praise thy name! Is their sacrifice not enough to win thy affection? Art thou so vain that they will never know thy salvation?” The words coursed out of me from the depths of my heart with such zeal that I quivered after I spoke. My accusation caused gasps to rise from the Seraphim as their wings closed around their bodies as if to protect themselves. “Thou dare accuse The Infallible of vanity Cassandra? Thou dare accuse thy creator, of sin?” The Lord’s voice, filled with such anger, shook the very floor I knelt upon. Before I could respond, a great blow struck me with such force that as my body hit the marble expanse it broke asunder, leaving nothingness below for me to fall unto. Excruciation racked my body as I plunged from the firmament. My wings refused to heed my commands of flight as I watched the mist-shrouded colossal spires of Purgatory come into view. Tears flew from my face as I witnessed, helplessly, the Kingdom of Heaven fading from my vision. From the corner of my eye, I could see spired cliffs rising up to greet me unto the earthly realm. The pain that was coursing through my body paled to that of the fresh throe that sheathed itself inside my breast. I gaped in terror as a lone spire, immersed in scarlet, emerged out of my body. An unseen force hindered my excruciating descent upon the widening pinnacle; the sound of metal scraping rock was deafened by my harrowing shrieks. I could feel muscle and bone alike rip, break, and tear unwillingly within my chest as the spire pulled my heart from my bosom. A shower of crimson cascaded upon my face and armor as my still-beating heart lay, impaled, above. My descent, which felt like an eternity, had finally halted. “Let this be thy prison Cassandra, pray this torment teaches thee to grovel at the feet of thy creator.” The Lord’s voice rang within my thoughts with such force that I had almost forgotten the pain encircling my being. As I lay impaled in my confinement, I watched helplessly as six ravens perched upon my body. The vile birds emitted a croaking cry as they feasted upon my heart suspended above me. Each bird took one piece and savored it over the course of a year, leaving crimson smears in their meal’s wake. For every year that passed by, another piece of my soul was stripped away. Upon the sixth year, nothing remained as the carrion birds, plump and fat, took flight into the coming twilight. From my captivity, the sounds of men, women, and children crying out in pain reached my ears. I searched for the source of these tormented screams only to see a lone rider in the distance. I looked upon the rider as it dragged haggard souls behind a pale horse in my direction. I watched as the eyeless rider stopped below me and raised a

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fleshless hand, as if beckoning me to come to him. “This soul is not for thee, tarry here no longer, Death!” An incorporeal voice shouted forth, “He hast plans for this fallen one still!” From behind his dark veil, Death gave forth a shrill laugh that chilled the stagnant blood within me. Rearing his horse, the horsemen turned and rode off with his host of souls who cried as they were pulled across the rocky earth. As the rider had left my sight, a loud buzzing noise drowned out my thoughts. A horde of flies circled around me, so vast that they blotted out the moon from my sight. Whirling around one another, the drove of insects began to take a solid form of a winged man before my eyes. I stared disbelievingly at the newly formed being with its flesh-wrought wings flapping against the evening breeze. Within the Wight’s hand was a bow made from what looked to be a large snake. A smile crossed its horned face as it watched me starring upon him, wondering what it was. Then it spoke in a man’s voice filled with amusement, “Such a pitiful sight thou art, to be of his children and banished from his realm upon this barbaric confine. A shame thou fell upon the mortal realm, not even the cold embrace of Death will comfort thou here.” His smile grew wider, “Dost thou yet hold faith and love for thy father?” With great effort, I replied, “Speak plainly great tempter! I will not listen to thy twisted words.” As I spoke, blood trickled from the corners of my mouth, falling from my face, defiling my once snowy hair. The man cackled at my retort and said, “I see thou hast much fight within thee yet! I, Beelzebub, ask of thee, dost thou wish freedom from thy exile, dost thou desire to wreak vengeance upon those who wronged thee?” The evening air grew still, and the moon’s light illuminated my bloodstained armor. Beelzebub’s words weighed heavily upon me. I contemplated his offer for some time as he waited for my reply. With a shake of my head, I chastised myself for daring to think about falling unto the wicked one’s lies. “Never! I will never fall unto thy web of temptation, nor will I become thy puppet. I will not be led astray from my faith!” I declared with adamant fury. “Art thou so broken that thou hast forsaken the earthly souls their salvation?” “How, how di-” “My master holds knowledge beyond thy wildest ken,” Beelzebub interjected, “Vow to kneel and serve before The Chained One in Gehenna, and he will grant thy admittance to bring the mortals salvation.” Beelzebub said this as his scaled hands ran through my hair and caressed my face. His touch felt vile upon my skin, but the tempter’s words wormed their way through my skull. Was it possible that I could save their souls if I swore my service to him? No, he must be trying to deceive me, so he can further ensnare me within his devilish scheme. But, if his words rang true, then I was a fool not to accept, and the mortals may never be saved. The impure hands upon my face clutched me even more tightly as Beelzebub pulled my head to stare upon him, eye to eye. “Well angel, what say thee,” his grip grew tighter yet, “dost thou wish to stay here and watch the earthly wither and fall before thee?” “I, I wi-” “What was that? I cannot hear thee, scream it angel!” A sinister smile crossed Beelzebub’s face. “I will serve him!” “His name! Who will thou serve fallen one?” “Satan! I will serve the Wicked One!” I shouted with tears of shame flowing from my eyes. A shrill laughter erupted from Beelzebub upon hearing my confession. He pulled a curled horn from his belt, the moonlight brightly upon the twisted mass of bones. Beelzebub gave forth a great heave and the horn rung through the mountains with a plangent roar. The ground below me rumbled fitfully until a great chasm opened revealing a red abyss below. Two hairy winged creatures rose from the pit before Beelzebub. “We heed the call, thy bidding Master?” A demon spoke in a guttural tone. “Relieve our guest,” Beelzebub motioned a filthy hand towards me, “from her plight and be gentle. The lord of

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the Pit would be most infuriated if she were delivered in anything but a single piece.” The two demons, who waited above me, looked to one another, and with a shrug, they took hold of my arms and pulled my body up, paying no mind to my grimaces of pain, across the impaling spire. My groans of agony forced smiles to cross the demons’ faces; they fed off of my torment until I was free of my prison. “Carry her with us. We must not keep him waiting.” Beelzebub ordered to his minions as he descended into the glowing chasm below. As I was carried down, I could feel the intense heat encircle my being. Beads of sweat began to fall from my face, cleansing some of the dried blood that painted my face. Upon passing the wound in the earth, the rising smoke forced painful coughs as I gasped for fresh air. The smoldering chasm was hardly wide enough for four of the winged demons to descend abreast. After some time, the fissure opened into a vast pit, I gaped in awe as I stared upon the dreadful inferno of Hell. “I bid thee welcome unto our grand dwelling angel.” Beelzebub raised his arms as he spoke as if we were in a place of lavishness and comfort. As we descended further, I could see the souls of the damned being tormented upon several endless tiers. To my right, an expansion held souls in eternal torment as winged assailants cleaved the damned with crooked blades. It was not the actions carried out by the demons that were so unusual, but it was how the damned made no effort to escape their aggressors. I watched on as men and women cried out when slain but only rose anew, waiting still for another assault. Each soul watched indifferently as their neighboring souls were cut down before them. The calm faces of the damned faded from view as our trek took us down further. “How can there be so many souls who refused to repent for their sins?” I asked the Lord of Flies. “They are the hapless wretches who sought redemption, my callow companion. These souls who suffer eternal damnation before thou are those who were so shamed by their sin that they sought forgiveness.” “Doth Satan have so many children of darkness to oppress so many souls?” My inquiry was met with Beelzebub’s shrill laughter. “These children thou speak of art those who reveled in their sin. Their place here is their reward.” As Beelzebub finished, another tier came into view. Upon this tier, I watched as men and women claw at each other as they fought over golden coins; however, the coins they coveted so dearly burned holes into their hands each time they were held. Despite their injuries, the damned still struggled to caress the treacherous metal. Demons perched above them laughed and cheered on the damned souls, goading them to fight amongst themselves even more. As my descent took me closer to this tier, the smell of charred flesh washed over me, creating a sick look upon my visage, which brought forth an amused grin from my guide. “They tell me one held a coin for nearly two days if thou can believe it.” Beelzebub spoke as plainly as if he were describing the weather in the realm above. The sights of damnation weighed heavily upon me, so heavily that my vision dimmed and my head slumped forward. Before I swooned, a single word rang in my ear, “Weakling.” I jerked awake as a hard blow struck me from below. I had been dropped unto the scorching ground of hell. After much effort, I managed to climb up onto my feet and found myself with a vast antechamber. Before me stood a colossal figure, its legs were covered with thick coarse hair, and its feet were cloven into hooves. Its muscular body held up a horned visage with eyes devoid of light. Rusted chains pulled its arms taut to the wall behind it. As its serpentine tail whipped the air restlessly, it spoke in what sounded more like a growl than actual words, “Is this the fallen one Beelzebub?” “Yes, darkest of shadows, she is the fallen one,” Beelzebub gave an overly gracious bow, “As thou hast demanded, I have served,” Beelzebub said this and kicked the back of my knee forcing me to kneel. “For what art thou kneeling before me angel? What is thy desire?” “I kneel before thee, the great lord Satan, to exact retribution upon my father and bring salvation unto the

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mortal realm,” I replied as my hand covered the gaping hole in my bosom. “Art thou prepared to serve my wishes, to serve wholly with utter devotion?” Satan said with a great jerk of his bonds that made the cavern around me shake. “Yes, m-my lord, I will swear my soul unto thee.” “Then hark my words fallen one, open the gates to thy former kingdom. Do this, and thou shalt be aided in thy grand retribution. Open the pearly gates. This I task thee.” “Thy will be done master, I shall not fail thee.” “Fail me,” Satan gestured with his tail to a severed head upon a pike, “and thy head will provide Belial with companionship.” Satan finished with a roar of laughter accompanied by Beelzebub’s own. Then, with a great roar, Satan called forth, “Leviathan! Thy master calls upon thee!” The cavernous surroundings shook viciously around me. Shortly thereafter, the wall to my right began to fall apart giving way to a titanic serpent. Little past the serpent’s head could be seen coming out of the stone wall but what could be seen was covered in crimson scales. The mouth of Leviathan was held shut by a large steel muzzle, the center of which revealed a small keyhole. Its eyes were that of fire, burning with an ancient hatred as it looked upon my wings. I had heard the legend behind this creature, the great Leviathan, whose mouth was sealed forever by Peter. This was the same creature who threatened to devour all the creatures of the mortal realm to satiate his vast hunger. I had never believed the stories to be true, but now I look upon the legend in the flesh. “Leviathan, thou art tasked with carrying my hordes unto the Kingdom of Heaven. But first,” Satan once more looked down upon me, “I must give thee my blessings.” After he spoke, Satan’s tail whipped around and struck himself in his side. Dark blood oozed slowly from his side and began to flow towards me. I felt the great taint as the blood puddled at my feet and to my horror; it began to creep up my armor. The blood continued to climb up onto my chest and then started to flood into the cavity in my body. When the first droplet entered my body, I could feel his knowledge flow unto me. I watched in the blink of an eye as millennia had passed from his view. I felt what was left of my compassion slip away into nothing; all that remained was hate and a thirst for vengeance. From the corner of my eye, I saw my feathery wings turn to ash; then the ash fell away leaving only a pair of bat-like wings in their wake. “Now, my champion, climb upon Leviathan and lead my hordes unto the heavens!” Satan shouted as Leviathan wormed out further. I flapped my newly formed wings and flew up upon the great serpent’s head next to Beelzebub. With a muffled roar, Leviathan surged forward up through hell. Beelzebub blew into his horn which sounded a great bellow into the hollow pit of Hell. “Come denizens of shadow and flame! Heaven stands upon the eve of destruction! We will stand where Belial failed our dark lord!” Beelzebub called out before sounding his horn again. Demons of all sizes took wing and perched upon the behemoth, all shouting was cries as they hammered upon Leviathan’s scales like drums. The journey back through Hell was long as the colossal beast weaved around the cavernous surroundings as it wormed its way skyward. Ahead of my host, rays of twilight revealed the mouth of Hell just below the slopes of Purgatory. With the exit in sight, Leviathan gained a second wind, and its pace became increasingly reckless. The beast carelessly slammed against the pit’s walls forcing me to take hold of one of its many horns to stay on the creature. I looked back only to see several demons fall and be crushed under the frenzied serpent. I heard Beelzebub laughing vigorously at the misfortunes of the others. “Faster Leviathan, Peter waits for thee before the gates of Heaven!” Beelzebub’s taunt summoned a great roar despite Leviathan’s muzzled mouth. I ducked down as Leviathan burst through the mouth of Hell, creating an eruption of dirt and rock in its wake. The sheer force of the impact almost sent me over the side of Leviathan. “Dost thou wish to slay us before our goal hast been reached Lord of Flies?” I shouted to him while holding one of Leviathan’s horns tightly.

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My rebuke brought about more laughter, “Art thou frightened little angel?” Beelzebub chuckled as he unstrapped a scabbard from his belt and threw it to me, “Take this, less thou wish to reap vengeance upon God with thy bare hands.” I snatched the sheathed blade before it could slide off of Leviathan’s red scales. The monstrous serpent had begun to ascend Purgatory as I strapped the blade around my waist. The slopes of Purgatory soon became too steep for the creature to ascend, at which point the beast coiled around the great mountain as if trying to squeeze the life from the rock. All that could be heard now was the sound of rock being grinded under the titanic snake as it slithered into the clouds. I stood upon the head of the red beast with my blade in hand prepared to bring war unto the heavens. The serpent halted as the clouds leveled out, and the Kingdom of Heaven was in sight. Before the pearly gates stood a single bearded man whose eyes widened with surprise at the sight of Leviathan. Several demons rushed forth towards him in a frenzy of bloodlust. The bearded man drew out a silver blade and pointed it toward the assailing fiends. Beams of light radiated from his sword, encasing them in a blinding light. After the light faded, nothing remained except a cloud of ash. I jumped down from Leviathan and strode up to the aged man. He raised his sword once more and unleashed the holy lights of Heaven upon me. The beams of light encircled me, but to his surprise, I continued forward unharmed as a smirk crossed my visage, “Heaven’s light cannot harm one of its own Peter.” He stared at my dark wings, and then gaped as he took a closer look at my face. I stopped before Peter, waiting, as his hand clenched a pair of golden keys. “Is this confusion I see upon the face of the great Peter?” my voice brought Peter out of his contemplation. “Cassandra? How is this possible, thou were imprisoned amongst the earthly by The Lord himself! And now, thou bring the legions of Hell to our very kingdom?” I placed a hand upon Peter’s shoulder as I whispered into his ear, “I bring justice unto a realm of hypocrites,” his eyes widened from my words, “hypocrites who condemn those who sin, but sin themselves.” With a swift thrust of my blade, scarlet droplets sprang from Peter’s back as crimson streams oozed from his body. I retrieved my blade, cleaning it upon Peter’s white robes, and pried the keys from his hand. “Allow me to cleanse thee of these keys that thou hast coveted for so long.” I turned back towards Leviathan who stared upon Peter with eyes of malevolence. As I stepped towards the serpent, a hand took hold of my armored boot, halting my advance. Looking down, I saw Peter clenching my ankle with surprising strength despite his grievous wound. With a frown, I brought my left foot down upon Peter’s wrist, loosening his hold on me. Following his painful moan, I shook my leg free of Peter’s grasp and continued towards Leviathan. I pulled forth a key and placed it within the muzzle of the great beast. “No Cassandra! Thou must never release the Hellmouth! If thou dost this, there will be no redemption for thee, ever!” Peter shouted with an outstretched hand. “Redemption is a lie,” I said this as I turned the golden key within the lock. The turning of gears could be heard momentarily before the muzzle fell to pieces revealing the fiery mouth of Leviathan. A great roar sounded, “Peter!” Leviathan shouted, as it reared its head back and with unholy speed slammed its open mouth upon Peter. “Yes! Let he, who sealed thy mouth, be thy first meal this millennium!” Beelzebub called forth. The great serpent raised its head revealing Peter, who struggled to hold open the great jaws of Leviathan. “Peter, oh Peter, how dost thou feel to stand within the maw of gluttony?” With another roar from Leviathan’s fiery maw, its mouth came down further around Peter. After a final harrowing cry from Peter, the Hellmouth snapped shut, spraying driblets of red upon my face. With a turn, I walked forward to the pearly gates with Peter’s key in hand. I thrust forth the key unto the lock, and with a simple turn, the gates to Heaven swung ajar. Before I took another step, the hordes of Hell had already rushed past me. I strode inside, watching as demons cut down my brothers and sisters. Despite what I saw, I felt

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nothing for them. While standing just inside the beautiful kingdom I cried out, “Look, look and see how the soldiers of Heaven leave their eternal posts empty. See how sloth leaves thy kingdom unguarded!” As I continued on, I watched wings being stripped from angels before they were slain. Everywhere I turned, I saw the limp bodies of angels gutted or torn asunder. So much blood covered the white marble; it almost felt like Heaven was bleeding. “This is thy judgment for feeding upon the faith of the earthly like gluttons! How long hast my siblings lusted upon their endless prayers? How long hast thou tempted them with delusions of salvation for carnal pleasure?” With each word I spoke, I could feel the anger rising within me. I gazed to my left, only to see a river of flame flood from Leviathan’s mouth. The dreaded smell of charred flesh crossed my nose, forcing me to place a hand upon my face to ignore the putrid scent. I started to ascend the stairs to the Divine Throne; however, a familiar voice halted my advance, “What hast thou done Cassandra?” The bloodied Michael stood behind me, “Look around thee, look how our holy sanctum burns!” “Holy? This place of hypocrisy holds as much evil as Hell itself!” “What hast happen to thee, Sister Cassandra,” sorrow streamed across his blood-smeared face, “what happened to the sweet, loving, and innocent Cassandra?” “The sister thou once knew is dead! Look upon my bosom,” I gestured to the blackened hole in my armor, “thy father ripped out my heart, and fed it to the ravens!” Before Michael could reply, an arrow struck him just below his shoulder. As he fell to one knee, a sinister voice called forth, “Is this truly the Archangel Michael, standing still as the battle rages about him? Belial was weak indeed if thou bested him!” Beelzebub turned his attention towards me and called, “Art thou resting, make haste! Do not keep our master wai-” Beelzebub was stopped short as Michael surged towards him in a cascade of bloody feathers. I watched as Beelzebub, with a smile upon his face, drew his serpentine bow and loosed a volley of arrows. Michael avoided each volley with grace as he closed the distance between him and his horned adversary. The two traded blows with each other; however, neither could gain the upper hand in their struggle. Then, Michael caught Beelzebub with a kick to his ribs, plunging him to the ground. Like a flash of light, Michael had Beelzebub skewered upon his blade. But to Michael’s dismay, Beelzebub smiled once again as his body dissolved into a swarm of flies. Michael struck out fruitlessly at the drove of insects. I watched in awe, as flies began to attack Michael’s eyes, blinding his vision. The remaining flies converged behind him to form a bodiless arm holding a crooked blade. After Beelzebub was done playing with his prey, the blade thrust into Michael’s back and emerged from his breast. I witnessed as Michaels life flowed out from his chest and unto the great steps. Beelzebub materialized before Michael, and with another slash of his blade, Michael was no more. The demon, with a smirk on his face, turned back to me and shouted, “I told thee not to keep our master waiting, now go!” I turned away as Beelzebub presented a black knife to claim his trophy from Michael. With a brisk pace, I climbed the stairs to the Divine Throne once again. Before I could reach the top, I was stopped by seven blazing lights, and upon the stairs, I could see the charred remains of countless demons. Each demon had died trying to cover their eyes. The once warm and caressing divine flames, that surrounded the Seraphim, felt like a blazing inferno. The seven figures declared in unison, “Thou shalt not reach our holy lord!” “Behold the mighty Seraphim, the great beings who answer to none but The Lord himself! Oh, how thou must look upon thy master with such envy. To forever surround The Lord’s throne, but to never know his power.” “Silence heretic, the Seraphim will not hearken to thy lies! Thy corruption upon our lord’s realm shalt be purged!” The divine inferno intensified around me, causing sweat to cover my body. I thrust my hand into the cavity of my armor, pulling forth a mass of darkness. From my hand, darkness flew out towards the Seraphim. The dark ooze

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enveloped their bodies and crippled their wings. As they fell from the sky, one by one, I uttered, “Just as The Lord bound thee to the heavens, I bind thee to the ground below.” I ascended the last steps leading to the Divine Throne, and stood before The Lord once again. I stood there, staring at the robed figure before me. His hair was white from great age, and his eyes shone with fury as he looked upon me. “Thou dare to defy thy creator once more,” an unseen blow struck me in the ribs, “Dost thou believe that thou can strike down thy father?” The crushing blow caused me to fall to my knees in pain. Despite the pain, I chuckled as I said, “Be wary father, thou show great sin in thy wrath casted upon me.” “Such insolence, even after I gave thee such mercy!” The Lord struck me across the face, and again in my side. The onslaught continued on until I gave forth a shrill cry of agony and torment. The Lord spoke with triumph in his voice, “Dost thou wish to carry on this pathetic struggle? Thou cannot stand before the almighty. Nothing can!” As God came closer to my beaten body, a tainted voice came forth, “My servant hast not come alone, fallible one.” Shortly after, the darkness within my chest poured out unto the marble floor. It was still at first, but then it leapt towards God. The swirling blackness encased the body of God, leaving only his head bare. “What is this, what hast thou done to me?” From the swirling darkness, a horned visage began to take form. “Hast thou forgotten me so soon? I had come to believe my imprisonment was thy greatest feat,” the voice of Satan uttered. “How can this be, I sealed thee within the depths of Hell,” God struggled against his dark bonds, “Curse thy name, Cassandra, how could thou bring the Wicked One unto Heaven!” The darkness enveloping God began to constrict around him. “So long have I waited to dethrone thee. It is a pity that I cannot deliver the torment thou placed upon me so long ago.” “Thou hast bested me Satan. The almighty will not be vanquished!” Then, with his thunderous outcry, God’s eyes began to shine with a brilliant light. The constricting darkness began to quiver wildly as rays of light started to shine through the black ooze. Roars of pain erupted from the shadowy head of Satan. “Now angel, I cannot hold him for long! Finish it!” As if possessed, I strode forward with my blade in hand. Satan’s hold upon God was diminishing rapidly as I approached. Standing behind them, my sword arm rose. When my blade began to descend upon God’s neck, he broke free of his bonds with a great surge of light. The rush of power pushed me away and scattered Satan’s oozelike body across the floor. God stood free before us, panting from the exertion of strength. Despite the pain, I grabbed my sword and rushed towards God before he could begin another onslaught. He turned to face me and raised his hand, then shouted, “Enough!” I grimaced as divine flames rushed from his hand like a raging flood. The flames blackened my armor, searing the flesh around my lower body. As I fell before him, I brought forth my blade and plunged it into his leg. God roared in pain as he fell to one knee. As he started to pull the blade from his thigh, the dark ooze had begun to swirl behind him. From the dark pool rose the shadowy form of Satan. Just as God pulled the blade free, Satan drove a cloven foot into his side, sending him to the floor. Satan knelt beside him and thrust his hand into the wound I had left in his leg. God reared in pain, bringing a smile across his assailant’s face. I slowly climbed to my feet and picked up my blood covered blade and stumbled towards God. A thunderous laughter roared from Satan as he jerked his hand about inside God’s wound. In a final act of resistance, God raised a hand up to Satan’s face, and from it came another spate of flame. The Divine fires consumed Satan’s once laughing visage, leaving the rest of his body to fall into a pile of ooze once more. Before God could send his wrath upon me again, I brought down my blade upon his neck.

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God’s head fell free and tumbled upon the floor. I could feel the damp warmth of his blood splashing across my face as the body fell lifelessly. Other than the pain emanating from my burned flesh, I felt nothing; I felt no remorse for my actions. My vengeance was complete, but I still felt as empty as my bosom. From the edge of my vision, I saw the disembodied black mass of Satan surge into the exposed throat of the former deity. The once limp body rose once more, and picked up its decapitated head. I gazed in horror as the head was reunited with its body. “Thou hast done well, god slayer.” “I have done as thou demanded,” I fell to my knees from exhaustion, “Now deliver salvation unto the earthly realm!” Pain erupted across my body; I turned to face my assailant, only to find Satan laughing before me. “Thou hast sworn thy soul to me, worm. I owe thee nothing. But, I will grant thee one last gift.” Another blow struck the back of my head, forcing my vision to fade to nothing. I could smell smoke and burning flesh as I awoke. Chains wrapped my body, holding me tightly against a wall. I was in Hell once again. Daylight shone from the opening that Leviathan had broken open before. I watched as thousands of souls looked upon me as they passed with crestfallen faces. Then, a hand took hold of my jaw, pulling my head to face the visage of Beelzebub. “I see thou art awake. Dost thou enjoy thy view of the damned? After all, thou art the god slayer who condemned them!” I gaped at what Beelzebub had said. These souls weren’t looking upon me with sorrow, they were damning my existence. Memories of Heaven, of the light, and of Michael filled my thoughts. The memories caused me to sob, only to be met with the hysterical laughter of Beelzebub. “What have I done?

Yobana Graciano

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Fear by Kris Martin Fear, it can hold the strongest of men within its embrace. Built like a labyrinth, it hides your dreams deep within. Fear, it will try to lead you astray into despair’s web. Once trapped, the skittering swarms of misery flood in. And hastily begin to wrap you with hopelessness. Fear, you must not let its cursed bindings take hold. Look deep within and take heart amidst the winding halls. Summon forth the radiance of hope; let it be your guide. With courage in your hands, break through the tangling walls.

Jordan Patton

Fear, let it tremble before the might of your ambitions.

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Yobana Graciano

Ehab Mogheeth

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Grave Circumstances by Kaitlin Jellison In small town Lewiston, South Carolina, everything was simple. Families sat out on their front porches in rocking chairs, sipping iced tea and moseying from house to house, gossiping about who married whom, or whose cousin had died in a tractor accident. Children played in the streets with sticks and marbles, and everyone was a proper, Southern citizen. In a town like that, you would think it would be impossible to get away with murder. The old house at the end of Main Street had been there for years. It was a large house with sweeping windows, and a dilapidated porch. A swing rocked back and forth on the stoop with the slightest breeze. The sloping roof seemed barely supported by the four pillars spaced across the front deck. White paint masked the outside walls, faded and chipping off the siding in large flakes like a molting insect. The overall effect was shabby and dull. But the lackluster appearance of the house was overshadowed by the flowers. Flowers of every kind swallowed the house in vibrant colors. Purple petunias studded with yellow daisies garnished the porch in pots of varying sizes and shapes. Overflowing baskets of blooms weighed down the eaves and roses of yellow, pink, and white climbed the walls, supported by wooden trellises. The blooming life made the old house look warm, inviting, and almost cheerful. Around the back of the house, an expansive garden grew. A high hedge surrounded the entire plot, encircling it with broad, dark green leaves of ivy. Gravel paths wove through the organized mass of tangled colors. Weak sunlight angled down through the hedge, bouncing off specks of mist that filled the air. The main path stretched back into foggy shadows. Warm dank air filled with the scent of fertilizer and dirt hung stagnant over the garden. Beyond the foremost array of blooms, just at the end of the main path where the gravel curved around guided by the wall of ivy, crimson blooms overwhelmed the back of the garden. The rosy plant reached up majestically. A sharp floral scent, like a dagger, hung heavily in the air. The long slender stems reached upward, growing to unprecedented heights, somehow supporting the weight of the massive red blooms that sat upon them. Flies hovered in droves over the dripping red petals and thin green leaves, lazily humming their song. This was the house and garden of the local florist. On a muggy September day, Charlotte Hayes stepped out of her house and closed the front door behind her. She walked across the wraparound porch and clutched the white cane railing with her daintily gloved hand as she descended the sagging front steps. She carefully stepped over the moss separating the flagstones of the front walk and started on her way into town. The townsfolk were used to seeing Charlotte glide through town each morning on her way to open the local floral shop. Her pink pumps clicked along the sidewalk, flashing under her full, flowing skirt. She nodded her head slightly in greeting to every face she passed. She tugged on the cuff of her white gloves whenever she came across anyone in the street, but the glint in her eyes and the plastered smile spread across her face distracted anybody from noticing. The ladies sitting outside the general store watched her strut past them each morning at a quarter to nine. After their gray heads bobbed in greeting, one turned to the two others and said, “My, that Charlotte is just so lovely. Don’t you think, Esther?” Gladys turned to her companion for approval. “Yes ma’am.” Esther nodded. “You know, I didn’t really warm to her at first… There seemed to be something funny about that girl. But then when I heard about her husband passing, well my heart just melted for her.” The third lady on the bench piped up in a high squeaky voice saying, “Such a shame! You know, she’s been so sad after her husband died. You can see it in her eyes.” Gladys agreed and said, “She really should get married again. She could have her pick of the lot you know! And such fine lads in this town. It really is a shame.” A cold smirk tugged at Charlotte’s cheek as the conversation lingered behind her. Finally reaching her shop, she unlocked the door and entered into her sanctuary of flora. She was met with a wall of stifling humidity.

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Breathing deeply she let the door close behind her, the bell dinging in welcome. She pulled off her gloves and settled into the routine of the day, drifting around the heavily perfumed shop, watering and pruning as needed. When she was through with the preparations of the day, she slowly turned to the back corner. Her eyes locked on the overflowing crimson plant lurking there. She walked over to the luscious red plant with its slender green leaves, covering the walls and pushing against the flowers attempting to grow beside it. Without blinking, she reached her hand out to touch her prized possession. With a hint of possessiveness, she caressed each soft petal with her fingers and drew her hand back, tinted pink. And then, from her apron, she pulled out a pair of pruning shears. Charlotte tilted her head back slightly. In a swift, practiced movement, she sliced the jagged end of the shears across the inside of her pale white wrist, opening a shallow wound on her delicate skin. She held her slightly trembling arm out over the plant and let her blood drip down, trickling through the rosy petals onto the dark soil. The dirt soaked up the fresh fluid like a sponge, lapping at it, thirsting for more. The petals of the red plant shivered, as if in thanks. Glassy-eyed, Charlotte backed away from her cherished plant. Hours later, the bell jingled over the door as a man walked into the shop. “Good afternoon sir, how can I help you today?” Charlotte looked him over. He was tall and well built. His dark hair was cut close, and his angular jaw was clean-shaven. His sparkling blue eyes cast around the shop before he replied, “Well miss, I’m looking for some flowers for my girlfriend. See, I want to ask her to marry me, but I want to do it right. You got anything that will assure a yes?” Charlotte swayed as he spoke. Pressure rose in her head. “Well,” she said. “If you want something real special, I might have something for you in my garden back home. You can come around tonight if you like.” She swallowed hard as the buzzing in her head grew. “That’d be swell miss! I’m real nervous about this and all. You really think you have something she’ll like?” “Oh I’m sure we’ll find you something.” Her head screamed. Without thinking, Charlotte put her hand to her temple and tried to rub away the pain. “Are you alright miss? You look a little bit pale,” The man asked as he took a step toward her. His head tilted in concern. Holding out her hand, she backed away from him and replied, “Oh I’ll be alright, just a little headache. Now my house is the big white one at the end of the main street.” She pointed. “You can’t miss it.” Charlotte reeled as she spoke. Her eyes went in and out of focus. The bell jingled again as he thanked her profusely and left the store. When he had gone, she clutched the front counter, and her eyes were drawn back to the red flowers in the corner. Just after suppertime, the man arrived at her house. The doorbell resounded through the halls, echoing off the walls and summoning Charlotte to the door. She reached out her hand and touched the knob. Dirt stood out under her fingernails and in the creases of her fingers and palms. Turning the knob, she offered him a smile and let him in. “Hello sir. I’m glad you could make it. Let me show you back to the garden.” “That’d be great, thank you.” Charlotte turned and led him straight through the house to the back where teems of flowers waited. The man stepped onto the gravel path, in awe of the vast array of blooms to choose from. “Wow miss, this is incredible!” Charlotte allowed herself to nod in thanks. The man gazed around at the flowers. Dank mist hung low to the ground and enveloped his feet with each step he took. Pinpricks of moisture swirled around him, stabbing him like a thousand tiny needles. Looking left and right, his eyes took in the sight of the various plants. He filled his lungs with the sweet air that rose from every petal.

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Seeing he was entranced, Charlotte spoke up, “How about I make you a cup of tea. It can be pretty overwhelming back here.” The man distractedly nodded his agreement, and Charlotte slipped back into the house. In the kitchen, she set to work, watching him from the window with narrowed eyes. Above the counter, rows of the red plant hung, drying. She retrieved a mug from a cupboard and set a kettle to boil on the stove. Carefully, she pulled down a shriveled bloom and began plucking the paled, wilted petals from the long, withered stem. Tenderly, she crushed the petals between her fingers until they were broken into small pieces. The kettle whistled on the stove. In the garden, the man still wandered. He was mesmerized by the sheer vastness of the garden. He lost himself among the flowers, his shoes crunching along the twisting paths. Each way he turned, there was something new to see. Slowly, he made his way toward the back of the garden. There, he found the red flower growing. He was transfixed by the large red blooms growing there. A sickeningly sweet aroma barraged his nostrils, making him woozy. Standing in awe of the flowers stretching along the ivy wall, he noticed freshly dug earth heaped in the pathway and a few large holes yawning around the edges of the flowerbed. Uprooted bushes lay in the dirt, waiting to be planted. Charlotte met him in the back of the garden. “Here’s your tea sir.” “Oh, thank you.” Turning, he took the cup from her and sipped the homemade tea. “I’ve never seen anything like this. Your garden is incredible. What is this flower back here?” Charlotte’s eyes bore into him. Before she could answer, the man began to twitch. His eyes rolled back into his head. The mug of tea flew from his fist and choking sounds issued from his gaping mouth. Clutching his throat, the man fell to the ground, dirt and pollen squishing underneath him as he convulsed in spasms. His mouth overflowed with foam as he reached out towards Charlotte with a claw-like hand. His rolling eyes locked on her as she stood, motionless, glaring, while the life seeped from his body. In less than a minute, he was still. Calmly, she dumped his body into a waiting pit. She worked steadily, covering his inert form with shovelfuls of dirt. When the man was no longer visible, she pushed her fingertips into the dirt, opening a small hole. She reached out and grabbed a flowering plant lying on the ground next to her, stuck the roots in the soil directly over the man’s heart, and filled in the empty pockets with the remaining dirt. The cruel red petals of the plant shivered in the wind. Charlotte stood and dusted off her hands. Eyes gleaming in the twilight, she calmly turned and walked back into the house. The man’s eyes opened. Immediately, panic rose in his throat. All around him was dark and wet. The taste of bile was on his tongue. He tried to move, but something pressed heavily from all sides. His eyes opened wider and searched for some sign of where he was. Quicker and quicker, his heart pounded in his ears, the only thing he could hear. He struggled against his unknown bonds, wriggling his shoulders, trying to break free. His chest tightened, and he realized he couldn’t breathe. Dirt clogged his nostrils and scratched his eyes. He opened his mouth to scream for help, but it was immediately filled with choking debris. Franticly, he pressed his body in all directions, not knowing which way was up. Something gave way, and he pressed against it with all of the strength he could muster. His muscles strained to rise. His hands scrabbled against the unknown substance surrounding him. He clawed at his prison with more and more fervor until finally, his hand reached the surface. Wildly, he grabbed for the air, pushed against the dirt until he felt the cold rush of the night breeze graze against his face. He gasped for breath, inhaling dirt and fertilizer. He coughed and spewed up a mixture of mud and stomach acid. Desperately, he tried to rise. Pale white roots clutched at him; hands of death calling him back to his grave. He weakly staggered to his feet, unsure of how he had come to be where he was. He looked wildly around him. His eyes caught sight of the red flowers, shuddering in the pale moonlight. He doubled over again, hacking and

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coughing up blood and dirt. The flowers laughed at him in the darkness. The moonlight glinted on something lying in the dirt nearby – A discarded mug. The memory rushed back then. He rose up and looked around him. Seeing a shovel, he grabbed it up and lurched toward the house. He opened the back door and let himself in. With determination, he walked down the hallway, searching for the woman who had buried him alive. At the end of the hall, her door stood slightly ajar. The door creaked as the man fell through into the room. The same sweet perfume he had smelled in the garden ferociously barraged his senses. With bloodshot eyes, he saw her asleep in her bed. The covers were pulled high up under her chin, and her shimmering golden hair fanned across her pillow. He raised the shovel high above his head and grunted. Just as he was about to the slam the shovel into her head, Charlotte woke and turned her eyes onto his face. Surprise fleetingly flickered in her eyes. Her steely gaze locked onto him, and she watched as the metal crashed into her skull. Her head lolled to the side and blood gushed slowly from the open wound, blossoming across her pillow. The man turned away and shakily dialed 911. He carried her body out to the garden and laid her in the grave she had dug herself. White roots rose from the ground and hugged her into the ground. A pearly white blanket of death wove itself around her, embraced her. The man watched as she was drawn into the place she had always belonged. The police found the man standing in the back of the garden, staring at the red flowers swaying in the silver light of the moon. When he turned and caught sight of them, he collapsed onto the ground and all went dark. The man awoke in a hospital room. Stark white walls surrounded him, comfortingly. He could hear the beeping of the machines droning all around him, seeming to echo. Daylight streamed in through the wide window. He rubbed his eyes and drew a ragged breath. Laboriously he rose and propped himself up. Suddenly, he spotted an unwelcome sight. Overflowing in its pot and grinning grotesquely at him from his bedside table was a red plant.

Jordan Patton

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The Loop in Winter by Kaitlin Jellison

I walk over the bridge,

With folded arms,

Crossing the creek that

Swaddled in layers of wool,

Disappears through the trees.

I start down the path

I pause to wonder where it goes.

That winds through the grounds. I pass the pond where the swans used to be I come here when I'm down

And lilies used to grow.

And feeling grey and low.

But now it is hidden beneath a layer of ice,

The feel of nature comforts me.

Thick enough to walk on.

I’m far from fear and foe. I travel on through the fields – Hand in hand,

Skirting puddles

I walk with my Father.

Laced with winter crystals,

Head bent against the cold,

Laying like shattered chandeliers.

I do not see, but know what is here. Stony walls guide my way. Everything is brushed by winter’s hand.

Reaching up through the mud,

Mint green hills have turned to white.

Barren trees scratch the steely sky,

The grass has faded, colorless.

And month old leaves crumble beneath each footfall.

The sky is calm and creamy. I pass couples holding hands The promise

And gazing into each other’s eyes.

Of next season’s daffodils

They don’t see the beauty that

Lies in lumps under a

God has placed around them.

fuzzy blanket of snow. Feeling His arms around me, Gravel crunches beneath my bundled feet.

I turn and start at the beginning once more.

Wooly beasts lumber away,

Arms folded, braced against the wind.

Baaing nervously.

I journey on anew.

I sidestep what they leave behind.

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Yobana Graciano

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Playing the Cards Right by Philip Cunningham “Stop sightseeing boy! The grotto’s this way!” “Okay girl. Give me a minute. This is a really nice park.” “Well, like I said in my poem: ‘I stroll around the park in neither light nor dark. The park of which I speak is a secret I will keep.’ We can look around even more after we’re done doing what we came here to do. Now come on!” Spade and, her newest second lover, Trey, are here, in the Saint’s Garden, to make love. This is Trey’s first excursion to a place which has many levels of meaning to Spade. While she may have grown up across the street from a more popular and well used park, after a bad day at school nine days upon turning nine, she ran. She ran until she just could not run any longer, fell down and cried. Minutes passed, before she realized that the grass softened her fall. She wandered, or took a stroll if you will, all with joy and wonder in her face as she discovered a new secret. Rolling around in the lush grass that New Savannah is known for, climbing the well-aged oak trees, chasing the bunnies and staring at the mother duck and her family of ducklings float down the shallow stream all until she had found the grotto – full of even more secrets. “Okay, this is it,” Spade says as she pulls her incense board out of her bag and sparks a Moroccan bazaarscented stick of incense to set the mood. The grotto is a cozy, cave-like space, fronted by a curtain in the shade of crimson hanging in between two shorter trees. Beyond the curtain, one could almost forget they are outside if they don’t look up at the low hanging ceiling of tree leaves and branches above. There’s a large rug on the ground, Oriental in design, several candle holders sitting all around to provide light when they are lit, an antique chair with a small nightstand propped next to it, and several tapestries hanging from the trees, all with a lingering scent akin to that of a hookah lounge, likely due to years of incense usage. “DAMN SPADE! You got yourself a little room going on in here!” exclaims Trey. “It is a room,” Spade tells him. “For years, I have come to this place. Sometimes to laugh. Sometimes to cry. Sometimes to write. And sometimes….to do what we came here to do. Now what are you waiting for? Make love to me.” Many moments of passion and pleasure pass as Trey gives his body to her. As they end their rendezvous, Spade smiles as she lies on the rug staring at the trees above. Her hazel eyes and caramel skin glow with satisfaction. Trey, on the other hand, isn’t so satisfied and sits up. His brown eyes gleam with confusion, slight worry even. “You are quite amazing,” Spade compliments. “Am I? Or are you talking about one of those other guys?” Trey angrily questions. “Excuse me? What are you talking about?” “Well, at first you were calling me by my name. Then you started calling me Bodie, then Cameron. The part that really hurt me was when you called me Howard” Spade then promptly sits up. The satisfaction in her face is flushed out with concern and embarrassment. She is especially embarrassed at how she subconsciously called her second lover by the name of her main lover. “This room holds so many memories for me Trey. You are the fourth man that I have made love to here. Please don’t feel like you’re less than them. Howard is my husband and the only one of them I’m still involved with. I have many sweet memories with Bodie and Cameron that I hold very close to my heart, but it’s over with them. You have to understand that.” Trey looks at her, still somewhat confused, but then says, “Okay baby, I understand.” He puts his clothes back on while Spade admires his thick but chiseled physique. He feels relieved at knowing he’s not the “other, other man” but still feels quite uneasy. He has already been having second thoughts about this from the get-go, feeling as if he was some sort of home wrecker in spite of the fact he had personally met Howard, who confided that he was okay

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with Spade developing a relationship with him alongside their marriage. “I guess I will just have to get used to all of this.” “Don’t worry, it will all be fine. I had a great time with you this afternoon baby. See you at dinner tonight,” Spade tells Trey before he leaves. “Can’t wait.” Trey responds. Spade gets up and puts her clothes on while looking around her favorite, secret place, reliving various memories. When out of the corner of her eye, she sees someone walking through the curtain. She turns around, her skin growing cold and eyes widening with shock and contempt as she realizes who it is. It is a tall, slender man with brown eyes, a Caesar-styled haircut, big lips and a skin tone similar to butterscotch. Bodie has returned to the grotto. “BODIE!!??” Spade yells. “In the flesh,” Bodie responds calmly. “Why did you come back here? Have you no shame?” “What a thing to ask me, you hypocrite. I can’t believe that even in marriage you are still playing the same game you played on me.” Spade, reeling with frustration and slight heartache, responds, “Look, I know you still have strong feelings for me as I do for you, but you have no right sticking your head in my marriage. If you still can’t forgive me after all these years, then fine, but at the very least let what happened between us stay between us and let it go.” Bodie turns away and holds his hand to his face as he musters up the strength to call her out. Regaining as much of his composure as he can, he turns back around and demands, “Why should I let that bullshit stay between us? You didn’t! I thought I was your one and only. I gave you everything, and I swore to never love another while I was loving you. Too bad you just had to share the world I gave you with that Cameron bastard! How could you, Spade? How could you?” Spade, relaxing her contempt and feeling more sympathetic after seeing that he was fighting back tears, warmly replies, “You’re right. I did hurt you, deeply, and I really have no right to resent you. There is something about myself I never realized before after we broke up which you have to understand though.” “What would that be?” Bodie questions, his voice returning to its previously calm demeanor as he wipes his tears away. “I am polyamorous.” “What the hell is that supposed to mean?” “Okay, let me explain. I truly did love you Bodie, do not misunderstand that. When I met Cameron, nothing changed with how I perceived you. I just could not fight the urge to be with him as well. After our break-up, I committed myself to Cameron full-time, but then came along Howard. The same thing happened, I could not fight the urge to love him as well, but instead of keeping it a secret, I arranged for them to meet one another and explained that I wanted to be with both of them. They were both understanding and perfectly fine with it. And while Cameron and I did break up shortly before me and Howard got married, it was for reasons which were neither related to the nature of our relationship or the fact that I chose to marry Howard over him. Just as my relationship with Howard was open, our marriage is open as well. Not only is he fully aware of what I am doing with Trey but……. he is also seeing another woman at the moment as well. I’m not sure if I could ever forgive myself for doing what I did to you, but I can’t just change this aspect of who I am either.” Bodie, first looking down at her with confusion, then looking up at her with a smirk, slyly states, “Well, if that’s the case then….” “I’ll pass Bodie,” Spade chuckles and begins to get her stuff together. While Bodie takes a sentimental look around the grotto, she asks him, “What were you doing in the park anyway?”

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Still looking around, he answers, “I know this place was your favorite ‘secret’ but when we were together, I fell in love with it as well. I kept that love for this place alive even though what we had is dead. There’s just something special about it.” “Well there’s nothing wrong with that. You haven’t told anyone else about it though, have you?” “You know girl, you may have really hurt me, but I still hold on to that promise of never hurting you, so I ain’t gonna tell a soul about this park.” They both look into each other’s eyes and smile simultaneously, as if their love for one another had been rekindled, in a platonic sense at least. While Spade is eager to leave, she instead sits in the chair, and Bodie reclines on the rug. They proceed to have a conversation, the kind old friends do. They reminisce, they reflect, they laugh, and they catch up with one another. After they remember another funny moment, Spade stops laughing to realize that something is still amiss. She then asks Bodie, “Why were you here so soon after Trey left? Were you following us?” Bodie stops laughing and develops a puppy-like guilt in his eyes. He says, “Look, I’m sorry about that, girl. I wasn’t here with the sole purpose of attacking you, but like I said, I’m just as big on keeping this place a secret as you are. I was laying in the field when I saw him walking down the path, and I was about to get up and ask him why he was here. But then I noticed he was walking away from the direction of the grotto, figured you were in there, and came inside instead. What can I say? He seemed like your type.” Spade and Bodie then both burst out laughing. It is as if their anger towards one another had almost completely evaporated in the moments that had passed during their conversation. “Okay, it’s getting late. I gotta get home, shower, and get ready. Me and Trey are going out to dinner tonight. I had a great time with you for the past hour, but before I go, I need to ask you two questions. First off, do you forgive me?” Spade says. “Yes. I do. I just can’t be mad at someone as beautiful as you for eternity,” Bodie answers. “Good. And here’s my second and final question: Do you understand and respect my open marriage?” Bodie looks at her indifferently. He breathes in, before exhaling deeply, and mustering up his response, “Look, all I’m gonna say is this: play your cards right.” “What?” “Play your cards right. Just because you now make sure to only get involved with someone else with your main lover’s consent does not make you, him or the other man immune to being hurt.” “I’m not entirely sure what you mean, but thank you for the advice.” “Believe me, you will understand. Hopefully, you’ll understand sooner than later.” Bodie gets up and walks out of the grotto, but not before adding, “Well, I gotta go and get ready to start cleaning the tables for my second job. Let’s hope we cross paths again someday. Have a beautiful night.” “You too,” Spade replies, but not before blowing a kiss at him. She then gathers the rest of her stuff and takes one more look at the grotto with sentiment before taking off. Sitting at the vanity in the bedroom of her townhome apartment, Spade primps up for her date with Trey. After putting on mascara, curling up her long brown hair and a quick splash of perfume, she stops and contemplatively looks at her reflection in the mirror. She ponders about what Bodie said to her. Play my cards right? What did he mean by that? She thinks to herself. Her contemplation is broken by Howard, proceeding to massage her shoulders with his firm but gentle grip. He stands behind her, a man of average height with a somewhat chubby build, peanut butter skin tone and relaxed brown eyes behind his glasses. “You look worried baby,” Howard says to Spade as he still massages her. “Oh, it’s nothing. So, are you excited to see Denise tonight?” Spade replies. “I guess. I hope everything goes well with you and Trey too.”

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“Thanks, baby.” Howards stops massaging her and is about to head down the stairs when Spade quickly turns around and asks him, “Hey, Howard?” “Yes?” “You are okay with all of this, right? This open marriage thing?” “Um, yeah? We did agree on it over a year before we got married, didn’t we?” “I know, I was just checking.” Howard looks at her with worry for a moment before saying, “Well, I hope it’s all good with you and Trey tonight. See you when I get home.” “Same to you.” After a few more minutes of thought about what Bodie had said to her, she takes one final look at herself in the mirror, puckers up and then smiles at her appearance. “He will not be disappointed tonight.” She says. Grabbing her purse and keys, she leaves the townhome and hops in her car to pick up Trey. It’s a beautiful night in downtown New Savannah. The street performers have come out in full force. The sounds of their saxophones, guitars and tambourines all meshed together in the air. And since this night is a Thursday night, Spade and Trey are enjoying the sights and sounds of this evening without having to worry about traffic. The vibe seems perfect, until they pull up to their restaurant for the evening, Pandora’s Box. As Spade and Trey get out of the car, she turns around only to see Howard and Denise entering the restaurant. Her jaw drops, and she freezes in her place. Is…..is this what Bodie meant when he told me to play my cards right? She thinks to herself. “Is everything alright with you over there, baby?” Trey inquires. “Ummmm, are you absolutely sure you want to eat here tonight? We could always just go to The Hut Club instead and come here next week you know,” Spade replies hesitantly. “If I recall correctly, you were the one who suggested we eat here in the first place. Besides you and me are dressed up way too nice to pig out on catfish and greens over at that place and you know it. Why are you trippin’ now?” Spade, snapping out of her guilt-ridden daze and taking a long, deep breath, responds, “Well, I know you’re a casual person with casual interests, so I was just making sure. Come on, this is a big restaurant, so we probably won’t even be seated anywhere near them anyway.” Trey looks at her with confusion and asks, “Won’t be seated anywhere near them? What are you talking about?” Spade, now feeling very awkward and embarrassed, quickly responds, “Oh! Absolutely nothing Trey! I don’t know where that came from!” She gives an awkward smirk and shrug to Trey, who looks away, still confused as they walk up to the host’s booth to be seated. Looking at their menus for a few minutes before making their selections, Trey asks, “Are you feeling better now?” Spade looks around to make sure that Howard and Denise aren’t within clear eyeshot. She breathes a sigh of relief to see that they aren’t. “Yeah Trey, I’m doing much better. I don’t know what came over me a few minutes ago.” “Good, I was beginning to think you had lost it.” They both laugh, and as Trey starts off a rant about why he isn’t seeing the appeal of tapas, Spade is distracted by a familiar looking person who has just been seated at the table behind them. She tries to listen to Trey as announces, “mango-encrusted calamari just sounds weird. And why would anyone eat…” but she can’t take her eyes off the familiar stranger. As he gets up to go to the bathroom, she notices his complexion, as dark as the night, and a small Mandingo-shaded afro. She is familiar with his muscularly-lean arms and torso and, most noticeably, his 6’4”

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figure. This was Cameron, the second lover of her past, sitting behind the second lover of her present. She cuts off Trey’s elongated rant about tapas with “Yeah, yeah, that’s all very nice! May I excuse myself to the bathroom?” Trey, once again confused with her, cynically answers, “Go ahead.” She intends to go to the bathroom just to get herself together, but this is ill-timed. As she walks into the bathroom, she hears a man say, “Spade? Is that you?” In her mind, she says, “Please don’t be Cameron. Please don’t be Cameron,” as she turns around, only to see the man who uttered those words is Cameron. Deciding to be cordial and make the best out of an already terribly awkward situation, she responds, “Yes, that would be me. And how have you been, Cameron?” “I’ve been great. I didn’t even think you would remember me. So how have things with you and your marriage been?” “Life has been great for me as well. As for my marriage, it has been….okay” she replies hesitantly. “Only okay? I can see your man behind you, and from the look on his face, it seems like y’all’s marriage has been going great.” Spade turns around and is dismayed to see that Howard is walking to the restroom. She yells, “IT WAS NICE SEEING YOU CAMERON BUT I GOTTA PEE REALLY BAD. BYE” and darts into the bathroom like a speed demon. Rushing to the nearest sink, she puts her hands down and catches her breath. Then, she screams, a scream so loud that four people hear, one inside the women’s restroom and three men standing just outside the bathroom door, all simultaneously saying, “Spade?” Eyes growing wide, skin getting cold, she freezes once again at the familiar voices she hears, until the one with the familiar female voice taps her on the shoulder. “Are you okay Spade?” Spade looks to her side to see Denise. A short, slightly chubby woman with dark skin and a short bob hairdo. She stands there with genuine concern showing out of her brown eyes as Spade confides, “No. What I’m doing here is wrong, and now it’s come back to bite me up the ass. Just because me and Howard agreed to an open marriage, does not mean I should rub the nature of my polyamory in his face. And then I had force you, my childhood best friend, to start dating him just to make me feel better. I swore to never hurt anyone I loved ever again, and I just did.” Denise holds on to Spade as her mascara and eyeliner combine with her tears and fall down her face. “It’s okay. It’s okay. You didn’t hurt me or him, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with you.” Denise says to soothe her. “Yes, there is!” Spade exclaims hysterically. “I cannot properly love anyone without hurting them.” “Yes, you can, and you have proven that to me. Both of us actually,” Howard says as he and Cameron walk into the bathroom to see if she is okay. Spade wipes off her tears, gets back up and practically smashes into Howard to give him a hug. “I’m so sorry. I will never do that to you again.” Howard holds her tightly, and while Cameron and Denise leave the restroom, he whispers in her ear, “Look baby, I understand what’s in your nature. If I had any issue with it, I would have never taken your hand in marriage. You don’t need me to date outside of our marriage to justify you doing so. I know who it is that I love. And that woman is you.” Awestruck and speechless at what he has said, the only thing that Spade can think of doing now is forcefully but passionately kissing him. “Thank you, baby, thank you for loving me for me, regardless of my flaws.” “Your love nature isn’t a flaw. It is just another part of what makes you the beautiful person that you are,” says another man walking into the bathroom in a culinary uniform. It is Bodie once again. Spade looks at him and then smiles. On the eve of that very day, in the place in which the wise-man works, she has realized the meaning of a

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piece of advice which will likely be the most important advice she will ever receive. “Thank you, Bodie. Thank you so much,” Spade says. “You are very welcome.” Spade glowing with a new outlook on her love life. As she holds Howard tightly by the hand, they leave the bathroom. She introduces Bodie and Denise, wishes the best to Cameron, and cordially but briefly breaks up with Trey, figuring out that being with another man just to be with another man really wasn’t necessary. Most may say it’s the night of one’s wedding, but for Spade, this night is the happiest night of her life. Several months pass before Spade returns to the Saint’s Garden, only this time with not only Howard but Bodie and Denise as well. They have a picnic next to the duckling stream, the couples enjoying their deep, platonic bond. As Howard cracks a joke to Bodie and Denise, Spade looks up at the sky contentedly and breathes in the fresh autumn air. As the clouds pass in front of the sun and the birds fly by, in her mind, she once again recites her favorite poem, in a slightly altered form: “We stroll around the park. In neither light nor dark, the park of which we speak is a secret we will keep.”

Yobana Graciano

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Jordan Patton

Yobana Graciano

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A Poem for Grandpa by Philip Cunningham In the picture frame, there’s a card that says rest in peace, but the picture is not sad at all.

Before he died, I was the sweetest kid because I saw how nice a person he was, and I was no different.

With a soft smile on his face, he walks my mother down the aisle at her wedding.

After his death, I can’t even explain how my attitude changed and my new rudeness increased tenfold.

He’s more youthful in this photo than any of my memories since it was taken months before I was born.

As if everything I learned about being a good person went to waste, but at least one thing didn’t go to waste.

He was always ill for the first nine years of my life after he had the brain aneurysm when I was still a baby.

He made me his heart. I can see it in his eyes. The spark his eyes had as his arms held me with a new lease on life.

I asked him once how old he was, and he claimed that he felt a hundred, but he was only sixty-four.

In the end, love is the one thing I learned from him which I will never let go, for I may as well be dead.

I miss him so much, yet if there’s an afterlife, he most certainly wouldn’t be smiling at me for how things change. Before he died, I did well in school, pushing me to excel, but after his death, came middle and high school. I barely made it through either one while he couldn’t even go to school after the sixth grade.

Sarah Pearson Jones

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Sarah Pearson Jones

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Call It Quits by Jen Keli Bautista It took my family the time span of one classic Disney princess movie to get to Grandma’s house. It took two minutes for Grandma to answer the door after we parked on the driveway next to her garden full of purple hyacinths, pink hydrangeas, and red petunias in front of her little tan house. It took two seconds for Grandma to grab my shoulder and straighten out my back before I even entered her house. “Emma, stand up straight. You don’t want to look like Quasimodo when you get old.” Her finger dug into the back of my right shoulder, and once she let go, I tried to keep myself from massaging the spot because I didn’t want anyone to know it hurt. My mom seemed to know what I was thinking though because she rubbed the place that Grandma gripped. We walked into her one story, one bedroom house and settled ourselves on the woolly, mud-colored sectional in the family room as we waited for the rice to finish cooking. The family room was full of framed pictures hanging on walls of thin mustard and oatmeal colored stripes. In the center was a family portrait of my grandparents with my mom when she was a baby. Surrounding it were pictures of my grandparents on a beach in the Philippines, a wedding picture of my parents, my family portrait from when I had turned five, and baby pictures of my brother, my mom, my cousins, aunts, uncles, and me. The opposite side of the small house held the dining room, which faced the window to the front yard. The smells of pancit and lumpia, which were already set on the dining table, filled the house, causing my stomach to growl. I tried to make the sound quieter by hugging one of the orange couch pillows over my stomach. “So Alana how is Liam? He lept again por the military, how long ago?” Grandma asked Mom as she pushed her purple glasses up her nose. Her Filipino accent made her f’s sound like p’s. “He’s doing well. He left about a month ago, and now he’s in . . .” I tuned out of the adults’ conversation after hearing that my dad was fine. This was the second time he had left for the military, and sometimes I cried when I thought about him not being there in the morning to make me animal shaped pancakes. I wondered if Grandma felt like this after Grandpa died, leaving her alone to raise my mom. I fiddled with my red dress with white polka dots. I took the matching bow out of my hair and started to play with that too, but it wasn’t much of a distraction. After putting the bow back on, I began to count the stripes on my grandma’s wall to keep from thinking about food, Dad’s absence, and Grandpa’s death. Last week, I counted twentyseven mustard stripes, but I didn’t get to finish counting because we were called to eat. One, two, three. I counted up to fifty-eight before I heard Grandma yell at Ryan, my brother. “Ryan! Go check to see ip the rice is cooked.” Not wanting to be left alone with the adults, I hopped up. “I’ll come with you!” “It only takes one person to look at rice,” said my grandma, but I was already in the beige kitchen before she finished her sentence. When I walked up to Ryan, I saw that he was angrily frowning at the rice from under his coconut looking bowl haircut. “I would let this rice burn if I didn’t have to eat it. We’ve been coming here every single Sunday for as long as I can remember, and she only ever talks to me to say hi, bye, yell at me, and when she wants me do things for her.” He mimicked her in a high-pitched voice and was on point with her accent, pronouncing v’s like b’s. “‘Ryan, rake the leabes. Ryan, pull the weeds. Ryan, cut the grass using scissors. Ryan, use this toothbrush to clean my brick walkway in the garden. Make sure to clean the grout too.’ I don’t even live here.” I sighed. I knew exactly how he felt. Grandma had made me wash the dishes and vacuum the house at least four times in the past couple months. I didn’t mind helping her out, but she was so screechy about it. I felt like a vulture with piercing eyes was shrieking at me to clean the house. “Ryan, is the rice pinished?” Grandma shouted from the family room.

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“Yes, Grandma.” He put the rice in a giant bowl that he took from the honey colored cabinets. Then he placed the bowl in the middle of the chestnut dining table next to the pancit and lumpia. Grandma already had the table set with plates and silverware, so we sat down to eat. Just then, my stomach growled loud enough for everyone to hear. I felt myself turn pink. My mom laughed and said, “Perfect timing.” After I got some rice and lumpia, my favorite food, I began to quietly sing “Be Our Guest” from Beauty and the Beast. “Don’t sing while you’re eating at the table. You’re going to marry an old man.” Grandma’s icy voice froze my song. “Sorry, Grandma,” I mumbled as I frowned down at my food. “Just don’t do it again. Anyways, how is school?” “School is good. I got a ninety on my last math test!” I beamed as I remembered my mom hanging my test on the refrigerator next to my brother’s perfect score for his history test. I had expected her to be proud of me. Instead, she didn’t even crack a smile. “Why not one hundred?” I was shocked that she wasn’t happy with my grade. I looked at Ryan, and his eyes were just as wide and surprised as mine were. I looked at my mom, not knowing how to answer. She was giving a pointed look at Grandma, but she didn’t see. Grandma ignored my silence and continued talking. “Use your book as a pillow. You’ll improve your memory and get smart.” To try and lighten the mood, my mom laughed. “That is so absurd. You’ve been telling me that since I was a little girl. I don’t know how many times I used a book as my pillow, but I still didn’t get very good grades.” “It may not have worked for you, but I graduated top of my class,” Grandma stated before taking another bite of pancit. Ryan rolled his eyes. “Okay, Mother. Books for pillows were certainly the reason for that,” my mom said, still smiling as she ate her rice and lumpia. “Yes, I assure you that it helped.” Grandma finally grinned a little. “Ouch! I bit my tongue.” I swallowed my food and scrunched my face until the pain went away. Ryan had food in his mouth as he pointed and laughed. “Emma! The look on your face!” “Someone is talking about you,” my mom joked after tucking a loose strand of chocolate brown hair behind her ear and swallowing another mouthful of food. “Ryan, don’t speak with your mouth full. It’s rude to point, and don’t laugh at your sister.” Grandma sent him daggers, which were somehow more terrifying from behind her purple glasses. He instantly shut up. “Sorry, Grandma,” he muttered as he used his fork to push his food around his plate. As I reached for the last piece of lumpia, I looked at Mom. Her brows were furrowed. Grandma slapped my hand away. “Don’t take the last piece of lumpia, or you’ll become an old maid.” I wanted to shrivel up in my seat. “Mother, stop pushing your superstitions on my children.” Mom’s smile completely disappeared. It was like someone made her usually cheerful face into one as hard as stone. Her serious tone surprised Ryan and me. We looked up at each other, and both of our mouths were perfect o’s. Mom and Grandma were staring each other down. Without looking away, Mom said, “Kids, you’re excused from dinner.” “But I’m not done eating!” said Ryan. “Go outside and play.” She broke eye contact with Grandma for a split second to glare at Ryan and me. “Yes, Mom.” I slowly started to gather my plates, but Ryan beat me to it. He took both our dishes, set them in the sink, grabbed my arm, and dragged me outside.

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“Hey! That hurts,” I whined as I pulled myself out of his grip. I fixed my dress after closing the front door and stepped out on the porch. “Mom just wanted to get rid of us. Her and Grandma were about to attack each other. Hang on. Don’t say anything.” He put an ear to the door. “I don’t think that’s gonna work,” I said, but he shushed me. He groaned. “I can’t hear!” I sat on the wooden porch swing in front of the window to the dining room table. It worked because I heard exactly what Mom and Grandma were saying. “Ryan, you can hear what they’re saying from here.” I patted the empty spot next to me, so he joined me. “I’m sorry, Mother, but you are out of line. Stop berating Emma and Ryan with your superstitions.” “What does berating mean?” I whispered to Ryan. “Shhh!” he hissed. “Stop demanding everything of them. Stop ignoring Ryan, and stop picking on Emma so much.” “They need discipline,” Grandma stated as if it were the most obvious thing in the world. “They’re good kids. I wish you could see that, and I wish you’d trust me to raise my own children.” Inside my head, I cheered on my mom. Grandma spoke quietly, so Ryan and I couldn’t hear what she said. “Oh really? Just last night, the kids were asking me if we could skip this week’s dinner just once because you’re ‘always bossing them around.’ I’ve tried my hardest to be patient with you over the past few years, but you seem to have it in for my kids. I love you, Mom, but I don’t like the way you treat them.” I couldn’t help but agree. It was tough being pushed around by my own grandmother. I didn’t really care if it came from anybody at school, but it hurt that the bullying came from a close relative. “Ay jusko. What do you expect me to do then? I want the best for them just as much as you do.” Her voice rose, so we could hear her again. I had trouble seeing how Grandma could feel this way since she didn’t really show it. She was too busy telling us what to do or lecturing us. “I want you to build a warm and loving relationship with them. I want them to look forward to visiting you every week. It kills me that they dread coming here. I dread coming here. And frankly, I’m about ready to call it quits.” I started to feel bad. I didn’t know that mom didn’t like coming either, so I didn’t realize that these dinners might end soon. I didn’t realize that that was even a possibility. “Susmaryosep! Call it quits? You would keep me prom my grandchildren?” On the one hand, I was kind of excited to be free from Grandma’s dinners. However, she was my grandma, and no one gets to pick family. “You are keeping yourself from your grandchildren. You are pushing them away.” “Ay nako. I’m sorry. That was never my intention.” “I’m not the one who deserves your apology.” I could just imagine my mom crossing her arms and glaring at Grandma when she said this. Then there was a short pause. Mom showed up at the door and said, “Come in. Your grandma has something to say to you.” She looked and sounded worn out. When Ryan and I walked inside, we saw that the dining table was free of food, plates, and silverware. I hadn’t been aware that they were cleaning the table while they were arguing. “Ryan, Emma, sit down,” said Grandma, with her eyes facing down to the ground. We silently sat on the sectional and waited for her to continue. She knelt down in front of us to get on our level. “I’m sorry. I never meant to be so harsh. I only acted that way because I want the best for you. I’ll try not to be that way anymore, but please forgive me if I slip back into that old routine. You have my full permission to tell me when I’m being mean, as long as

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you do so in a nice way. Just know that I love you both.” I sat there for a moment to absorb that she’d just said she loved us. Grandma had never told us that she loved us before. I think Ryan was caught off guard too because he didn’t say anything either. Instead of saying anything, I stood up and hugged my grandma. After letting go of the hug, Grandma said, “Now stand up straight.” Mom gave her a warning look from behind a painted smile. Grandma grinned sheepishly.

Yobana Graciano

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Sea of Serenity by Jen Keli Bautista The sun’s rays shine warm and Ocean mist sprays on my face. The sand is cool between my toes.

Cold water splashes around my feet As I dance where the waves Crash against the shore.

Seagulls sing and Children’s laughs harmonize With the soft sound of waves.

My worries are washed away With the receding sea As serenity takes over me.

The smell of salt Permeates the air Due to the ocean breeze.

Eric Flores

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The Freaks by Kristyn Knott His cage was cold and wet, slick from the steady stream of water dripping through from the top of the cavern. Down here, no matter the time, it was always dark. The only light he could see came from another part of the cave, where the men kept green-tinted lanterns so they could see their work. He lay face down in a quickly growing puddle. Every bone in his body ached as though it was broken, so much so that when the light started to waver and signal the men’s approach, he didn’t move. Instead, he lay still and waited. As the sound of footsteps grew closer, he shut his eyes and moved his lips silently, inwardly begging, not me, not me, not me. Three pairs of feet went by, and three pairs of feet stopped. He could see the light wavering strangely through tightly clenched eyelids, and after a deep breath, he opened his eyes again. They weren’t at his cage – they were at the one next-door. His breath puffed out in a sigh, even as one of the men undid the cage’s hatch, reached in, and produced a boy. The boy was like a stick, all flailing twiggy limbs and wild black hair, and had started to cry. One man could have managed his weight, but with all his twisting, it took two to hold the boy and another to hold the lantern. The eerie flickering glow slowly faded away, but the boy’s sobs were as noisy as if he were still in the next cage over. Whispers buzzed thinly, too quiet to hear them over the crying, but he didn’t need to hear. He knew what happened next. For only a second, the wailing turned into a full-blooded shriek, and then the boy’s crying cut out and was replaced by a splash. A moment of silence passed, and then a very loud, very clear crack echoed throughout the cave. Gathering up what strength he had, he lifted his head out of the puddle and leaned forward to peer into the cage on his left. In it, a young girl faced him. Her knees were drawn up and pressed against her cheekbones, and her brown eyes were sad and hollow. He tried to say something, maybe to comfort her, but he couldn’t hear himself speak. It didn’t matter. Before he was finished speaking, the cave exploded in a rush of screams. The girl put her hands over her ears and screwed her eyes shut, tears streaking through the dirt on her face. The screaming didn’t bother him so much, now, not anymore. But he didn’t like how it upset her. He tried to say something to her again, and again it didn’t work. She couldn’t hear it, and she couldn’t see his mouth moving. Suddenly, the door to his cage screeched open. He felt a strong hand grabbing at his hair, and for a heartbeat, he wasn’t sure what was going on. The girl screamed and darted forward, her hand poking through the bars and reaching for his. He thought there might be words behind her shrieks, but before he could figure it out, he’d been hauled out of the cage and halfway out the room. The other boy’s screams hadn’t finished bouncing around the walls, but he could see one of the men dragging him away. His eyes rolled back into his head and his skinny arms scraped across the floor. The tubes stood at the edge of the next cave, cold blue against the dark walls. Only one was empty. The other had a body inside it – a different body from the last time he was in here. This one was an old man, naked and skeletal, slowly bobbing up and down. A thin line of bone stretched out of the shoulder blades, scraping against the glass. He stared at it until they dumped him in his own tube. It was like being thrown into syrup, slowly gliding down until he hovered somewhere in the middle. He took deep, calm breaths, just like he’d learned after the first time, when he had panicked and nearly choked to death. Through the haze, he watched as one of the men went over to stand between the tubes. The man held his hand out over a bowl, and with a piercing crack, he split a tiny sphere in two. He had been inside the tubes before. But he would never get used to the pain-like daggers scrawling randomly along his body, and he would never get used to the sound of his own gargled screams. *** Number III’s eyes snapped open, his heart pounding. A blurry shape loomed over him, and it took a few blinks before

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the blurs solidified into a very large face only inches from his, illuminated by a nearby lamp. “Finally,” the face grunted, and it pulled back out of sight. “Get up. You’ve got a mission.” No. III dragged his hand across his eyes, listening as a pair of heavy boots clunked away. When he opened them again, the face and the man it belonged to were gone, the tent flap still shuddering. Taking a deep breath, he sat up and ran a hand through his short bristly hair. Next to him, Number XXVII was scratching his arm, scales flaking off and littering the ground. They and the other beastlings shared this tent, all twenty of them, but only a few lucky ones had the freedom of mobility. Most of them remained chained to the ground until they were needed, the iron braces ripping out feathers or scraping off skin where they chafed. One of the beastlings was crying and scratching at the chains desperately with claws over a foot long. She was new, just recently shipped in from the capital. Her thick scaly skin still shone, and her eyes were only just beginning to turn yellow. At sixteen and a half, No. XXVII was the oldest beastling on the battlefield – they didn’t usually last beyond eighteen. There were lizards, like XXVII and the new girl, with sticky pads on their hands and feet that helped them climb up walls; eagles covered in feathers, their arms shriveled up in a mockery of wings; and cats, deathly silent, faces and legs twisted into animalistic shapes. And then there was No. III, who didn’t fit into any of the categories. His skin was tan and rough, but decidedly human. He had brown hair instead of feathers or fur. His eyes were red, not yellow, and he didn’t have claws or talons. The closest he came to any of them was eagle, for what he hid on his back buried beneath the skin, but they were still too different. He didn’t know what he was. He didn’t know how long he was supposed to last. No. XXVII slapped his arm with his tail, leering at him and running a forked tongue along his teeth. His scales were dull and turning brown, and his claws had cracks in them that ran all the way up to his hand. “You were making a lot of noise in your sleep. Moaning and shit.” No. III glanced back at the other experiments, feeling their eyes on him. They weren’t supposed to be talking. Conversations between members of their unit were strictly discouraged, to the point that No. III had once seen a boy’s tongue cut out. No one needs a tongue to work, their commander had said as he heated his knife. “There ain’t nobody coming,” No. XXVII encouraged, keeping one eye turned toward the tent flap. The other eye whirled around a little madly, and his tongue flipped out as he spoke. No. III sighed. “I had that dream again. The one with the tubes, and the girl.” No. XXVII scoffed and rolled his eyes, an impressive feat when they were usually pointing in different directions. He felt his face go hot, and he glanced down at his hands so that he wouldn’t have to look at the lizard beastling anymore. They were the only truly human hands in the tent. In his dream, the girl had reached for him, her hands white underneath the grime… he shook his head. “I feel like I know that place, but I can’t remember what it is. Who she is.” “There’s lots of things I can’t remember,” No. XXVII said. He scratched himself on the back of the neck, patches of dead skin wafting down. “I don’t complain about them.” “Shut up. You asked.” “Forget about her, III. How do you know she’s real?” No. III’s fingers twitched – he wanted terribly to hit him, to punch him across the mouth and shut him up. But there was no fighting allowed, and what felt even worse, there was a significant chance he was right. Taking his silence for defeat, No. XXVII laughed. “And even if she was real, if she’s not here, she’s probably dead. A failure. We get a lot of those. Shit, we’re all failures, eventually. I’ll be one in a few months. Who knows when your expiration date is?” he finished, sounding a bit too cheerful. He slapped No. III’s back, still laughing, his claws digging very slightly into his shoulders. No. III gasped, twisted out from underneath him, and instinctively put a hand to the spot where it hurt the worst. “Whatever,” he snapped, getting to his feet. “Forget it. You asked.” He rubbed his back again, the pain dwindling away. There wasn’t any point in talking to XXVII – he never wanted to do anything other than argue, or twist your words around until you thought he was right. “Doesn’t mean I care,” XXVII said, his tongue poking out between pointed teeth.

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No. III took one last disdainful look at him before heading for the tent flap, bowing as he pushed it open. The sky outside was pitch black, and covered in low-hanging gas clouds that blotted out any possibility of stars. Amid the sea of tents stretching out in every direction, he could see lanterns bobbing up and down, marking the paths sentries took as they patrolled. The soldiers were probably asleep – there were no rowdy campfire sounds, or even sounds of whispers. Even though he could still smell vestigial fires burning on the distant battlefield, the fighting had likely stopped for the night. The commander’s tent was only a short walk away. He liked to keep the beastlings close, both for the sake of control, and because he liked to have them on hand, in case they were needed. They were only ever utilized on secret missions, private things that required a little less finesse and a little more brutalization. They were, the commander would joke, the army’s best kept secret. No one seemed to believe the beastlings existed until it was too late, frozen with shock and fear when the attack began, eyes widening only with disbelief as their throats were torn out. The tent stood tall in the center of a ring of smaller tents, lit up from the inside by a number of candles. On his way to the entrance, one of the guards scowled up at him, a hand stealing slowly to the sword hung from his hip. Suddenly self-aware, No. III’s own hand twitched toward his face, thinking of the bold, dark number tattooed on his cheekbone. After a moment, however, the guard’s hand dropped, and they stepped aside. He poked his head into the tent flap. The commander had his back to the entrance, studying a long piece of parchment laid out on the ground. Sidestepping inside, No. III cleared his throat and stood at attention, but the commander shook his head and beckoned him forward. Taking a few steps, he stood off to the side and behind, close enough to look at the parchment (a map), but out of arm’s reach. He could almost hear the commander’s mustache bristling as he stroked it – a telltale sign of anger. It would be worrying if the commander wasn’t angry almost all of the time. “This here,” the commander said without preamble, “is the enemy camp, and this is their commander’s tent.” He pointed to a spot halfway up the map, surrounded by crudely drawn tents, inkblots, and the occasional illegible scribble. “They should have all died a month ago, and yet the fight goes on. We must end this, one way or another, and that,” he continued, briefly looking over his shoulder, “is where you come in. Every night, you’re going to keep track of the commander. Guard his tent, take stock of his movements, and report everything back to us in the morning. You’ll be alone on this one – they’re much more likely to notice a crowd, and you’re the only freak who won’t eat him if the mood strikes you.” The commander snorted once, his best attempt at a laugh. No. III didn’t find it particularly funny, especially since it was true. “In a few days, once we’ve learned their next battle strategy, you’ll kill him. Then we’ll take the camp. Got it?” “Sir,” he said automatically. Almost thoughtfully, the commander picked up a pen and traced a thick circle around the tent on the map. “I’m sick of looking at these dumb bastards. We could be storming Atlarintis with the king and the rest of the army, and yet we’re stuck here, dealing with rebels. It’s time we moved on, and I will not tolerate mistakes. Understand?” “Sir.” “Good.” Grunting, he heaved to his feet, knees cracking, and strode over to a chest. He flipped it open, stared inside for a moment, and then withdrew a long, thick sword. No. III’s sword. He wasn’t allowed to have it when nothing was going on; it would be too easy for him to cause a stir, or get into fights. But it was his. His fingers itched for it, twitching slightly in a loosely clenched fist. The commander lobbed it at him underhand, a little hard, but he caught it easily and slipped it into the loop on his trousers. It felt right, hanging there, and his hand was naturally drawn to rest on the hilt. “I have one more thing for you,” the commander said slowly, his brows furrowed. Reaching down beneath his shirt, he pulled out a pouch

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tied round his neck with string. Slipping his fingers inside, he pulled out a crystalline sphere, glowing gently and lighting up his palm. It shone red and flickered like a flame. No. III gaped at him. “Sir?” he managed, unable to tear his eyes from the sphere. He’d never seen one before, but he knew what it was – it was magic, the powers of the earth kept trapped inside crystals that once grew in caves. Crystals were rare now, supposedly mined almost to extinction. The very idea that the commander would give one to him, a beastling… “This is in case someone spots you,” the commander snapped, holding out his hand. “If that happens, set their camp on fire. That might do some damage, at least, but this is only to be done if you fail. I will expect it back.” No. III tentatively came forward and plucked it from the commander’s fingers. It was oddly cold, and heavy. “Sir,” he said again, cradling it in both hands. After a moment’s thought, he slipped it into a pocket in his tunic, high up and close to his breast. It seemed to thrum gently, pulsating against his chest. He shivered. He would never have this kind of power again. “Number III!” No. III tore his eyes away from his pocket and looked back up. The commander, towering above him, pointed a meaty finger into his face and narrowed his eyes. “If you fail this mission, make no mistake – the consequences will be dire.” “Understood,” he replied, and as the finger withdrew, he respectfully inclined his head. The commander glared at him as he backed away slowly, keeping his body erect, and it wasn’t until he turned around to leave that he heard the man drop to the floor and go back to his map. *** Outside, No. III stood in the center of a tiny patch where no one had set up their tents. The grass was dry and dead, burned too many times to properly recover, and clinging stubbornly to everything it could reach. He plucked a bit of it off his pant leg and glanced up at the sky. The best way for him to avoid being seen would be to stay above the gas clouds, hiding in the darkness until he needed to land. It wasn’t the best plan – he wasn’t sure how thick the clouds were, or if he’d be able to breathe in them, but there was no other way he could be sure he was hidden. He took a deep breath, fingers lightly brushing his tunic. The crystal almost felt like it was pulsating, beating to match the rhythm of his heart. Even if something did go wrong, he had the magic in his pocket. Reassured, he patted the pocket before hunching his shoulders and closing his eyes. It was time, then. His back began to prickle uncomfortably, as if needles were being pressed into his shoulders. He tightened the muscles and closed his eyes, clenching his fists. The pricking changed into a searing stab, hot across his back and sending bile shooting up his throat. It was pushing him from the inside, tearing at the skin, trying to get out, rearranging his bones and screaming across his mind. Either he had to let it out, or it would kill him. He bit his lip hard enough to draw blood, dug his nails into his skin, pushed his shoulders together, and gave one last great shove. His skin ripped audibly; there was a rush of wind, a sense of relief, and a sudden but slight weight on his back. Inhaling as if he were drowning, he fell to his knees and gasped, kneeling amongst black feathers spattered in blood. He glanced over his shoulder, and there they were: two black wings stretching towards the sky, cramped and bedraggled feathers slowly smoothing themselves out. The pain disappeared almost immediately, and after a few test flaps, No. III got to his feet and stretched. The wings ached pleasurably – he hadn’t let them out in ages. He stretched them one last time, squatted, and then jumped as high as he could, his wings beating rhythmically as he rose. Flying was something instinctual, almost as if it had been bred into him. No one had taught him how – the first time he took off, he simply knew. It was an amazing feeling…something, perhaps, like being free. As he rose through the gas clouds, even though he was holding his breath so tight that his lungs burned, he couldn’t help a smile. Once he’d made it above the gas, the night sky was surprising. Stars he’d never seen shone in all directions,

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and the moon was barely a sliver to the west. No. III stared at it for a moment as he flew, his wings sending the gas shooting out to either side. Beneath him, the ground swam hazily, army campgrounds giving way to a dry and dusty battlefield. Huge cracks in the ground shot off steam occasionally, adding to the gas hanging below him. Even through the clouds, this place stank like death. He knew piles of bodies were strewn about the ground, left to decompose during the daytime heat, and the blood was so heavy in the air he could almost taste it. Soon enough, though, he was back over a field of tents, although these were much fewer and farther apart. His commander was in charge of over a thousand men, but there only seemed to be enough space for about five hundred here. It was better that way – less chance of being caught. It didn’t take him long to see the place his commander had circled on the map. It was the largest tent, propped up with quite a few poles, and somewhat off-center in a small semi-circle. Behind it, the plain stretched onward, completely empty – a landing place. Sucking in another deep breath, he tilted forward a bit, picked up speed, and soared down through the clouds. At the last minute, he tucked his wings behind him and landed, skidding a bit in the dead grass before he came to a stop – an almost perfect landing, and not likely to draw any attention. Silently, he congratulated himself, and then he turned to face the camp. There was a light on in the enemy commander’s tent. Putting one hand on his sword, No. III crept closer, breathing lightly and keeping his eyes moving steadily back and forth, just in case someone showed up. A thin blade of light appeared and disappeared again on the ground, coming from an unfinished flap seam toward his left. He crouched next to it, and slowly, slowly, he reached out a hand and drew it back just far enough to see inside. The light came from two lanterns, held up high by thin poles on opposite sides of the tent. There were rolls of parchment everywhere, hanging from places where they’d been tacked to the canvas, drooping off tables and covering the bedroll. Directly across from him, an old man bent over a desk, scribbling on another bit of parchment and muttering to himself. He had a slight hunch to his back, and a long grey beard was thrown over his shoulder, out of the way of whatever he was writing. In fact, when he looked harder, he could see that a feverish, half-illegible scribble covered each sheet of parchment. No. III leaned forward into the tent, only slightly, trying to peer closer at a scrap of parchment lying on the ground in front of him. He stretched too far. His sword hilt clunked noisily against the ground, and before he could stop himself, he gasped sharply. The frantic writing sound stopped, and the bend in the old man’s back immediately stiffened. He’d blown it. The old man knew someone was watching. Moving fast to make up for his moment of stupid inaction, No. III scrambled into the tent, leapt to his feet, and grabbed his sword with both hands, pointing it directly between the old man’s shoulder blades. “Don’t scream,” he demanded, his voice barely more than a whisper. “Make any noise and I’ll kill you.” Very slowly, the old man turned around and stared at him, hard. His face was hardly wrinkled, eyes a startling shade of blue behind wide eyeglasses, and the line of his mouth and the quirk in his brow were…confusing. Instead of panicking, which was what usually happened, the old man removed his eyeglasses and looked back at his desk. “I thought this might happen,” he murmured. No. III took a step closer, gripping his sword so tight that he thought it might break. If the old man shouted for help, he might draw the entire enemy camp. Then what? He couldn’t let himself be captured, but even if he did manage to get back to camp, it was likely his commander would kill him. Should he try to use the crystal? What could he do? Apparently unconcerned, the old man rubbed his eyeglasses on the edge of his tunic, held them up to the lamplight, and sighed as he put them on again. “Getting old is nothing but a punishment,” he murmured, turning back to No. III. He put his hands on his hips, looked him up and down, and then took a deep breath. “I thought they might send someone like you,” he said, “although perhaps I didn’t want to believe I’m quite that important. Still, it is rather exciting. Your existence…” He gestured vaguely with a hand, and his eyes flickered to a spot slightly behind

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him. No. III’s gaze quickly darted to the side, fearing someone might have snuck up on them, but he could only see the edge of a wing. His wings, folded against his back, but not yet hidden away. He’d forgotten about his wings. “Rumored,” continued the old man, “but never proven. Not until now. I suppose I should be more surprised…” No. III stared at him, trying to keep the sword steady, even though his hands were shaking. What would they do to him, if he was caught? Tear his wings out, feather by feather? Wouldn’t his commander do the same? The old man looked at him almost sadly for a moment, his bright eyes dimming as he glanced away. “The term most frequently used to describe you is ‘beastling,’” he said as he turned, “although you look much more human than I thought you would.” He moved much more confidently than No. III would have thought – a few light steps and he was at the front of the tent, tying the entrance shut. No. III glanced backwards at the slit he’d come through. “A favor,” the man said suddenly, bending down to tie the last knot. “A favor?” No. III repeated, lowering his sword only a fraction. Heaving to his feet with only a small grunt, the old man smiled and nodded. “Would you mind turning around? Call it a last request, if it makes you feel any better. I won’t try anything. Look.” He opened his tunic’s sleeves wide, wiggled his fingers, lifted up his beard, and bounced once on his heels. “No weapons.” Later, when he thought about it, No. III could never say exactly why he decided to turn around. He had every reason to believe that the old man was lying, that the moment he turned around there would be a knife in his back, or a pair of hands on his wings, yanking him easily to the ground. Despite every nerve in his body begging him not to, after a brief moment of hesitation, he lowered his sword. Very slowly, he turned on his heel, keeping his head tilted so that he could see the old man out of the corner of his eye. The old man didn’t pull out a knife, or even come closer. He simply leaned forward slightly, and took a deep breath. “Fantastic,” he whispered. “Beautiful shape, perfect feathers… You are quite an extraordinary boy.” “I’m not a boy,” No. III snapped, wheeling around again. The old man rolled his eyes and walked back toward his desk, grabbing a stool by the bedroll and knocking the parchment off with a flick. “You are a boy. Fifteen or sixteen, I think. Wings don’t change that. They can’t change that. That is, perhaps, the worst part. No matter what, you’re still a young boy.” Suddenly, his tone changed, and he put a hand to his beard, pulling on it slightly. “You are all so very young,” he murmured. With a heaving sigh, he sank down onto the stool, rubbing his forehead. No. III eyed him for a moment, waiting for a last-minute strike or surprise… and then he slid the sword back into its belt loop. “How do you know about us?” he asked, keeping one hand on the hilt, just in case. “I thought we were…” “Secret?” The old man shrugged. “You still are, I suppose. I just happen to have access to secrets. One of my men knows all sorts of interesting things about ‘beastlings,’ and he’s told me many of them. Perhaps, if you’re interested, I could share some of his secrets with you.” “…Why?” “They are secrets about you, after all. Things you might not know of yourself. I assume you don’t know or remember where you came from?” No. III could still see the weeping girl with the empty eyes, hear the echoing crack as something broke, feel the pain raking like knives across his skin… He shook his head. The old man nodded sympathetically. “I might be able to help you recall forgotten memories.” “No tricks?” No. III asked, folding his arms. Lifting up his eyeglasses to scratch the bridge of his nose, the old man chuckled. “None. Just information, freely offered. You can search the place. Search me, if you like. You won’t find anything. No daggers, no spears, no poisons, not even a pair of scissors. I’m a terrible commander – I’m too old, and I’ve never picked up a sword in my life. To tell you the truth,” he continued, scratching the back of his head, “I don’t

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know how we’ve kept up this fighting so long.” No. III allowed himself a half smile. “I thought you were just a scribe.” The old man barked out a short, depreciative laugh, shaking his head. “I’m utterly unsurprised. When is your commander expecting you back?” No. III jolted and bit the inside of his cheek, feeling as though a hand were twisting his insides. He’d forgotten why he came here. He’d forgotten that, eventually, he was supposed to kill this man. “I don’t know,” he murmured, looking down. He could just barely see into his pocket, where the crystal sat and glowed, waiting for him to need it. Suddenly, it felt heavy. “I don’t know when I should go back.” “Well, then,” the old man sighed, “I suppose we shall have to make this quick.” Perching his hands on his knees, he leaned forward and gestured with his head for No. III to take a seat. “Tell me where I should start.” No. III squatted on the floor, his sword dragging noisily in the dirt, and scratched the top of his head. His stomach was still clenched, and a voice deep inside him kept commanding him to run, but he took a deep breath, and said, “I have this dream. Sometimes.” He had explained the dream to No. XXVII at least three years ago, and had told no one else since – no one would have cared in the first place. Sometimes he couldn’t think of the words to properly describe what he’d seen, and at one time, he paused, chilled by the girl’s hand reaching desperately for his. But the old man sat quietly and nodded along, sometimes making humming noises as he listened. By the end of the dream, he had leaned back against the desk, and was frowning at the ground contemplatively. “Is there more?” he asked. “Do you remember anything else? Before, perhaps?” “No.” The old man shifted forward, putting his elbow on his knee, and dropped his head into a hand. He stayed like that for a moment, completely silent, before he sat up again and raked a few fingers through his beard. “My friend once worked in those caves, before he grew weary of it and fled. He carries quite a few secrets.” He chortled. “Your king surely would like him silenced.” “In the caves? So then, my dream – my dream was real?” No. III scrambled to his feet. “Was she real?” The old man sighed again and slowly shook his head. “I can’t account for the girl… there have been too many children to count. Many years ago, your king came up with a terrible idea. He sent out his armies to round up children, first taking them from orphanages, and then stealing them from their families. He had them dragged them underground, and from there… he had men create you.” “How?” The old man bent low to pick one of the parchment rolls up off the floor and adjusted his eyeglasses, beginning to read – but before he could finish the first word, he held up his hand and stood halfway off the stool. No. III’s hand went for his pocket, fingers halfway inside before he caught himself. At first, everything was deathly silent, the old man’s eyes boring into his... and then there were footsteps outside, and a rustling at the tent’s entrance. Someone was trying to get inside. “You have to go,” the old man whispered fiercely, jumping forward and grabbing his arm. No. III wrenched away, trying to protest, but the old man grabbed hold of his shoulders and gave him a shake. “Think, boy!” he snapped, shaking him again. “If anyone catches you here… Come back tomorrow, when your commander sends you. Now, go!” He pushed him this time, launching him towards the slit in the tent. No. III fell and landed hard on his back, but he quickly got on his hands and knees and crawled out of the hole. He started to get to his feet, his wings flexing outward for flight, but then a thought struck him. Whirling around, he stuck his head back through the slit. “What’s your name?” he demanded. To his surprise, the old man had changed immensely since he dived out of the tent. His back was bent, his formerly clear eyes were distant and clouded, and his beard was back over his shoulder. Pausing in a slow shuffle to open the tent flap, he glanced down and his gaze hardened. He snapped,

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“Thales,” and pointed outside. No. III nodded, yanked his head out again, and hurried to his feet. Taking a deep breath, he hurled himself into the sky and past the clouds, flying faster than he thought he ever had before. *** Though the commander’s eyes narrowed a tad as No. III fed him a mostly-bullshit story about his patrol, he took back the sword and the crystal without repercussion, and even returned them the next night. Sword on his hip and fire crystal in his pocket, No. III smiled almost gleefully as he made his way to the empty patch where he could take off. Tonight, he would learn everything he wanted to know. Edging between two closely set tents, he was almost to the spot when No. XXVII stepped in front of him, a strange half-smile contorting his face. No. III stopped quickly and took a step back. “XXVII?” he whispered, glancing around. “Where did you come from? Are you supposed to be out?” XXVII’s mouth twitched, his tongue uncurled out of his mouth, and one of his hands scratched endlessly at the flaky spots on his skin. “No. I’m not. But I didn’t get a chance to talk to you today. Thought we needed to catch up.” He cackled, still scratching, and then he leaned forward, almost whispering in No. III’s ear. “Your mission last night. What happened?” “What’s it to you?” No. III tried to step around him, but No. XXVII simply slid back in front, his grin still twitching up and down. Behind him, his heavy tail dragged through the dirt, back and forth, back and forth. “Did you kill him?” XXVII asked suddenly, tilting his head. He kept scratching, moving from place to place. “If you did it without me, I might have to be upset.” He chuckled, but even that wasn’t right – it was distorted, and punctured with the unmistakable sound of hissing. No. III’s heart gave a brief twinge – No. XXVII had to be dying. “Move,” he said quietly. XXVII leaned forward again, cackling, the sound gradually rising in pitch until soldiers were coming out of their tents to see what was going on. No. III felt his cheeks heat up. “Move,” he said again, taking a small step backward. “You killed him without me, didn’t you?” No. XXVII shouted, his claws digging into one of the raw patches of skin. Dark green blood oozed out, slowly dripping onto the dried, dead grass. It was too big a scene – they didn’t need the commander to hear about this. “No,” he said firmly, planting his feet. “I didn’t kill him. Get out of my way.” He gave XXVII the hardest shove he could, and the lizard stumbled drunkenly to the side. No. III stormed away, refusing to look backwards - but he didn’t have to look back to hear the strange, distorted laugh, and the scratch-scratch-scratch of his claw against scales. *** As soon as he reached Thales’s tent, No. III pushed his wings back inside his body and scrambled through the ripped canvas. Once again, Thales was standing at his desk, but this time he turned around right away. “I hoped you would come back,” Thales said, moving quickly to tie the tent entrance shut. “We have much to discuss tonight.” “Tell me how they do it,” No. III demanded, dropping down to sit and rubbing his mouth. “I have to know how they do it.” Thales shook his head and picked up his stool, moved again since the night before. “A moment, boy, a moment,” he sighed, taking off his eyeglasses and leaving them on the desk. “What has you so excited?” He dropped the stool in front of No. III and sat down slowly, his hands on his knees. No. III dug a hand into his hair, pressing his forehead into his wrist. “My…” He couldn’t say the word friend, that was a lie. They had never been friends. “One of us. He’s dying, I think, but I’ve never seen anyone like this. He’s… warped. Twisted. I don’t know what’s going on with him. I need to know how they create us.”

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“That is serious,” Thales murmured, touching a hand to his lips. He sat still for a moment, apparently in thought, and then he clasped his hands in his lap and leaned forward, as though they were whispering amongst a crowd. “It’s magic,” he said softly. “They use magic to… put beings together that don’t belong. Humans and animals. Originally, your king meant to create monsters that he could use as an advantage in war. He wanted true beasts, more animal than human, but with enough mind left that he could command them. It took him many, many years to get it right – magic is very fickle, and almost impossible to control.” “Magic like this?” Without thinking, No. III reached into his pocket and pulled out the fire crystal, still surprisingly cold in his fingers. Thales blinked twice, and then his brows furrowed, and his eyes became just as cold. “No, not like that. Hide that away, boy. Many men would kill just for a whisper of a magic stone’s location, and I’m sure they would do much worse if they knew that you had one. Keep it safe.” As No. III slipped it back into his pocket, suddenly almost afraid of what the commander had given him, Thales reached backwards and picked up a roll of parchment. “The powers of nature, of the very earth, forced into perverting what the gods so lovingly created. I don’t know how it works. All I know is that it works well. “There is a reason why the process needs children,” he continued, putting on his eyeglasses and scanning the parchment. “To properly combine human and animal into one creature, the king would use the strongest beast he could find, and a young boy or girl. The more powerful creature would give up its life so that the child could take on its traits and abilities. Most beastlings are created this way. But you, my boy,” Thales said, leaning even closer, “are incredibly special. Your wings don’t belong to any animal. They belong to another race.” No. III drew back, reaching up and touching a shoulder with two fingers. “Another race?” he repeated, gently tracing the bones beneath his skin. Thales took up another roll of parchment, passing the other one to No. III. It was covered in rough drawings of human anatomy, illegible scrawling, and sometimes, angry, jagged lines. “Hundreds of years ago, people were born like you – they were born with wings, able to produce and withdraw them at will. As a race, they were infinitely superior – impossibly strong, beautiful, and peaceful. As they mated and mingled with people like us, however, some of their finer qualities slipped away. Now, they are all extinct – except for you.” “But if there are none left,” No. III murmured, “then how... how am I like this?” Thales sighed, and dropped the parchment roll to the ground. “They needed a body,” he said, rubbing a temple. “I heard tell that they found one, hidden deep in a cave… but I never saw them create a being like you. They never even tried. Perhaps they need a special sort of candidate, as well as a body – and you do seem a very special young man.” No. III slowly got to his feet, his right hand stealing to withdraw his sword. Watching him, Thales blinked a few times, and then put a hand to his mouth. “Oh,” he said mildly. “I slipped, didn’t I?” No. III took a step backward, now pointing the sword straight at Thales’s heart. “You did those things?” he asked, his voice surprisingly low. He felt as though Thales had cut out his heart. The only person he could have called a friend, and he could have created any of the beastlings back in his tent. “How could you?” Thales stood swiftly and pointed a finger at him, his eyes suddenly dark. “Don’t you be angry at me, boy, I’m angry enough at myself.” He deflated quickly, turned away, and pulled on his beard. “I know now what a mistake it was, going along with what was asked of me… I thought it was for the good of the kingdom. Eventually I realized what we were doing was wrong, and I fled. The king has a price on my head, and I’d be better off hiding somewhere, but… I couldn’t live with my mistakes unless I spent the rest of my life trying to make up for them. So I gathered up a group of rebels, and became their commander. I never truly meant for it to grow this large…” Suddenly, Thales stopped speaking, his gaze darting back behind No. III. Still clutching his sword, No. III spun around. Behind him, standing in front of the slit in the tent, was XXVII. “I knew it,” he whispered, tongue getting in the way of his speech and making it garbled. “I knew you were a traitor. How much have you told him?”

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No. III felt Thales’s hand on his chest, attempting to firmly push him backward and behind. “He’s told me nothing that I didn’t already know,” he said in a surprisingly steely voice. “He’s betrayed no one.” “Stay out of it,” No. III warned, shoving his hand away. “Back off,” he added, leveling the sword at XXVII. “I don’t want to hurt you. How did you get here?” No. XXVII cackled and kept coming forward, his claws clicking against each other, and his eyes flickering wildly around the room. “You always thought you were better than us,” he babbled, his hand reaching out slowly, “just because your number is higher, just because you’re different. You’re not.” He laughed again, this time tremulous and high pitched. No. III lowered his sword slightly, a swift twist of guilt in his gut almost bringing tears to his eyes. “You’re dying,” he said softly. “XXVII, you’re dying.” “I’m not.” Before No. III could move, XXVII leapt forward and grabbed him roughly by the throat, lifting him off the ground and spitting into his face, “You’re not better than me!” No. III’s hand fell open, his sword clattering to the ground; he couldn’t lift his arms, couldn’t breathe, couldn’t feel anything except the pain in his throat. “Stop! Let him go!” No. III felt a hand with blunt nails scratching hard at his neck, scrabbling against the strong fingers keeping him over the ground. After what felt like a thousand years, just when he realized his vision was going dark, No. III hit the ground hard, knocking what wind he had left straight out of his lungs. Scrambling to his knees, he coughed and spluttered, gasping hard for breath and choking himself as he did. XXVII’s feet slowly swam into sight, his talons leaving grooves in the dirt and spreading around something wet, and red. Still struggling to draw breath, No. III lifted his eyes, and felt a warm liquid dripping onto his cheek. Thales was now held a foot off of the ground, his upper body slumped over, piercing blue eyes wide open and staring. The only thing holding him up were XXVII’s long claws, buried deep into the poor old man’s stomach. No. III didn’t realize he was screaming until he ran out of breath. He stood, grasping his sword as he rose, and shoved Thales’s body away and onto the ground. XXVII began to laugh, the sound grating and horrible, interrupted only when No. III pushed his sword through the lizard boy’s chest. The cackling turned into a bubble of blood, XXVII fell to his knees, and just before he collapsed, he looked up at his killer and smiled. No. III’s hands were shaking. He wasn’t sure if the blood that covered him belonged to the beastling or Thales, but just thinking about it turned his stomach and sent him down to the ground. He couldn’t return to his camp. How could he, when they’d kill him for what he did? How could he watch beastlings – just poor, twisted children – go mad this way, and die? How could he go back, when he knew he could be greater? Still trembling, No. III reached for the crystal in his pocket. The blood on his hands matched the magical glow, bathing his hands in a deep, ugly redness. He took a deep breath, shut his eyes against the horrifying illusion, and held it up to his lips. “Burn it all,” he whispered hoarsely, his throat still burning. As if in response, the crystal hummed and went hot, scorching his hands. He dropped it swiftly, jumping up to his feet, and with a sudden roar, the sphere burst open and flames sprang forth, licking the top of the tent and immediately catching the edge of Thales’s robes. The other soldiers would notice soon. Clutching his sword and squinting against the brightness, No. III went to the tent entrance and tore it open, leaving behind both Thales and XXVII’s bodies. He stood still for a moment, the smell of pure night air intermingling sickeningly with the smell of blood still wet on his hands, and the slowly increasing smell of smoke. His heart hammered in his chest, and his mind raced – he could go anywhere; he could do anything. It was exhilarating. It was terrifying. But there was only one way to start. Just as the first men emerged from their tents, he took a deep breath, bent his legs, and leapt up into the clouds.

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The Orchid by Kristyn Knott I can’t breathe The inside is stifling The glare of the computer screen Sickening The weight of this news Pushing down on my shoulders I push back my chair and stand And run to the back door My hands are shaking I yank the door open And gulp Breathing sweet, dried-out air In a panic The dogs dart out past me Yapping frantically And I slide the door shut A waterfall bubbles Rushing down and splashing Against the pool cover Threatening to swamp it Many things are dusty Unused in the advent of autumn To my right, my little tree blooms Sheltered By the overhanging balcony The flowers an orangey-red splash Against the dull, creamy stucco I touch one orchid gently Its petals half wrinkled Already half dead Only alive for half of a day I pluck it And twist it between my fingers I walk out from under the balcony Around the edge of the pool And up three steps to sit Beside the hot tub Twirling the orchid around And around Out here, it smells like nothing An emptiness Slightly different from the nothing inside

In that it is alive There is a faint hint of greenery And dirt But not strong enough to be distinctive Most of our plants Don’t have a scent Just bushes covered with The beginnings of berries Protected by thorns I press the flower up to my nose And breathe One of the dogs trots up Her tongue hanging out Too fat to frolic for a minute She sits by me I wipe my hand across my face Set it down And take a deep breath She licks the traces of tears So I smile And scratch her chin The waterfall’s stopped I look down at the orchid Still pressed in my fingers I’ve bruised it It would have died anyway Shrunken up and turned mute But the brown spots bother me So I close my hand against it I can see a light in the kitchen And my mother bustling Back and forth I’ll have to tell her what happened I don’t want to leave The sky fading slowly Into a pale, milky whiteness The quiet so perfect But the heat is almost gone My dogs are shivering And I must go in sometime

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Jordan Patton

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Jordan Patton

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The Universe Incarnate by Dan Kanizar Matter, matter is everything that we are and that we will be. It's the simplest form of being that makes us and the universe the complex entity that it is. On my planet there are some individuals that are granted the gift of matter manipulation. The ability to construct and collapse, to manipulate and magnify. Rare individuals such as me are considered near limitless. We can alter and render all states of any kind of matter. All the elements are at our disposal as long as they are available. Everyone is bound by the fundamental law that we cannot create. We may only influence. Through the progress that we've made in science, we have been able to find our universally bound limitations. There is one however that does not have limits, one that has the power to create and destroy. A gift to our planet from the macrocosm itself, the universe incarnate. I would soon get to meet this deity myself, and my life would be changed forever. All my life I've been told that I am a prodigy and that I'll be the one to take my nation to untold splendor. I was born into an era of war and was always told I would be the one to end it. Now I had my chance to live up to the expectation and prove my worth. In the grand chamber of my country, many of whose members had been my teachers in the matter alteration art called interchange had summoned me. I quickly stopped my daily training and headed for the chamber halls. Once I arrived, my mentor Cyrus greeted me saying, "I'm glad to see you made it here so quickly. We have something very important for you." "What is it?" I asked not truly interested since we hadn't got any missions worth our time with the recent ceasefire had been called. "We can't discuss it here. You'll have to wait until we get to the chamber room. There the Minister will address you," Cyrus answered. I stopped walking. My mind was now filled with suspense and wonder at what the Minister would have to say to me. The leader of my country had something to say to me personally. I now knew this wasn't going to be a boring mission. "Vayne?! What are you doing?" Cyrus asked, breaking me out of my thoughts. "Minister Sins doesn't like to be kept waiting!" "I'm sorry, just stuck in a day dream," I explained. We arrived and entered the chambers. The room was empty and dimly lit. Only the highest members of the whole chamber were present. Unfortunately, this included Dalila, who hated me. She always thought of me as the loose cannon that would do our country more harm than good. She didn’t like the way I handled my past missions. How I often I did things outside of my orders to complete them, and so far, I’ve had a hundred percent success rate. She also hated that me and her son Darwin were best friends. The room was quiet and cold. The minister was looking directly into my eyes. He has been the only person other than my mother who has made me feel inferior. Sins began my briefing, "Vayne we have summoned you here today for the most important mission. There is a slave girl in the Badlands mines. We need you to extract her without causing attention and disrupting the cease fire. Your diverse interchange skills are perfect for this mission. We are sending you in alone, but you will have support after you cross out of the Badlands border. You will follow Cyrus to your transport for further debriefing and will then be mission bound. This task needs to be done with stealth and haste. You will have no electronic equipment except one beacon set to our frequencies. To ensure no one can pick up a signal on you, it will only be active for ten seconds. Use this when you near the border, so you can have immediate transport. Any questions?" "No sir!" I replied. I did have a few questions, but I wouldn’t waste the minister’s time with them. Dismissing me, Minister Sins wished me luck and adjourned the meeting. Cyrus walked down from his seat and headed for the exit. I followed him out and asked, "Cyrus is this mission really that important?" "Yes it is," said a cold voice from behind me. It was Dalila, who added, "This girl will be a great asset to us. Be sure not to screw it up. Stick to the books on this one and just focus on the mission." After that, she just turned around and left, not even saying goodbye.

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I waited for her to be out of earshot to ask Cyrus, “What's her deal?" He began to explain. "She didn't want you on this mission. She suggested other interchangers – even her own son – and opposed you outright. But the Minister was convinced that you were right for the job and so am I." "Thanks master, it means a lot to know that you'll trust me with this." He gave me a half smile and handed me a folder. In it was a photograph of the girl and a map with her location. She was deep in the heart of the Badlands. It would take me a few days to get there since I was being dropped off at the border. I arrived to my aircraft transport. I told Cyrus goodbye, and we shook wrists. I started to board, but Cyrus called out to me. “Don’t forget this.” He tossed me my custom diamond coated field knife. I forgot that he was repairing it for me. I thanked him and boarded the aircraft. As I was flying, I kept going over my mission specs. She looked like a normal girl. Her age was close to mine and she looked healthy. From this picture I got a sense of her demeanor. It wasn’t one of a slave. I didn't understand why they wanted her so bad. Or why they were being secretive about it. Even though I was only fifteen, I understood the soldiers place and that mine wasn't to ask questions but to deliver results. We flew through rain, it was monsoon season and it always hit us hard, but it made a perfect cover. Once we landed near the border, I exited the air craft and began my journey into the Badlands. Getting in was easy. The Badlands security was low since the cease fire and they weren't even a real nation. They were run by the miners and had their own slave trade. Rogues, outlaws and refugees came here. Those who ran the mines were rich, so they could afford the best security – strictly for the mines. Other than that, it was a free for all here, a land void of laws. After a few days traveling under the cover as a drifter, I arrived at the mine. It was a diamond mine, distanced from the center copper and gold mines, but still under heavy watch. I gazed down upon it, a deep layered pit filled with twisted metals of industry, long lines of slave workers. Steam and smoke constantly rose into the air. It was always dark here, the pollution blocked out the sun. It stood as a conundrum to me. We had advanced so far in science and technology, yet slaves still existed. Despite this, my mission wasn't to change the hearts of the mining faction. It was to pick up a package. I slid down into the mines once night fell. I worked my way to the slums where they held the slave workers. I roamed the slums and easily spotted her. She stuck out. She didn't look like a slave. She looked clean and well kept. After she entered what I thought was her shack, I followed her inside. Inside the shack was my target, a young weeping girl and an injured old woman. If slaves lost their worth here, they were fed to the guard dogs. But that wasn't the fate of this old woman. Her wounds were healed before my very eyes. I placed my hand on her shoulder and asked what her name was. She turned around and looked at me. She had emerald green eyes and they pierced me. "My name is Erma and you are?" she asked. I stood there entranced by her eyes, looking like a fool before I snapped out of it. "My name is Vayne. Can I please speak with you somewhere private?" She nodded her head and led me to her shack. I was astonished by the way she healed that woman. It was different than interchange, yet it was similar. She spoke my language perfectly. Most of the slaves here either spoke a different language or didn't speak at all. After we entered her shack, I spoke to her quietly. Explaining that I was here to free her and take her to my country. She was shocked, not that she had the chance for freedom, but that a military force sent me, a boy, no older than her for this kind of mission. "Why would they send a child for this kind of mission?" She asked. “Because, believe it or not, I'm an elite soldier of the interchange ranks. We don't have time for anymore questions. I've got to get you outta here." She didn't want to leave since the people here needed her help. I assured her that my country would compensate for her service even if it meant freeing the slaves. With my reassurance, she reluctantly agreed to leave. I had to create a diversion for us to escape. She showed me a section of the slums that weren't inhabited. I rubbed my palms together to create friction to ignite a flame. With this, I set the poorly built structures ablaze. Guards and slaves

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came running to the scene attempting to put out the inferno. With this diversion, we found the closest thing to a blind spot on the gate and escaped through it. We traveled for a few hours, and the rain started pouring again. We’d been running most of the time. I asked her if she needed a break, I hadn't given a second thought that she might have been working in the mines all day, but she said she was fine. Once we entered a mountain range, we made camp. I knew my orders were not to converse with her, but everything about her didn't make sense. She wasn't in chains, she wasn't covered in dirt, and she could heal people better than I've ever seen. She knew I was asking myself questions, and that's when she spoke to me. "I am a slave, but I'm not a miner. They used me to heal people to keep them working longer." "Where did you learn to heal people and how did you know I was thinking about that?" She paused for a moment, and decided to give me an answer. "I've been able to feel and read thoughts since I can remember. The same with healing people, it seems to fit really. I was brought here as a young child. The family that looked after me fell in to a bad debt and had to give up everything including me to repay it. Those mines are all I really know." Besides the battles I've fought I had a cushy lifestyle. I didn't know how to react to a person with this kind of life. How could a soldier who was mostly greeted as hero, spoiled and celebrated in his nation relate to her? I couldn’t. I apologized for not being able to make a fire in this rain. A makeshift shelter was the best I could do. "That's alright," she said with a smile, "I saw you do it earlier and now I think I can do it." She held her hands close together and a flame arose. And it just floated there; she made it out of nothing. She didn’t have anything to make a spark or cause friction. This was the second time I saw her make something out of nothing. The gears began to turn in my head. I muttered, "The universe incarnate." "What's that?" she asked. "It's you," I replied. “All of the philosophers said we were in an age that you would return. Last time you were here, you gave the world the Grand Trivium which is what gives us the ability of interchange. No wonder they were so secretive about it. You are the universe itself incased in physical form. The last one didn't realize his identity until he was thirty or so." I suddenly felt so small. I was in the presence of the universe. It was beyond humbling. She laughed, "I don't know about all that! How could the universe be in one person?" "You created fire with nothing. The universe is our creator, and you are it. I now know why I had to rescue you in such a hurry. If Leviathan finds out who you are, he will kill you." Puzzled she asked, "Who is Leviathan?" I prepared for an explanation: "Leviathan is a terrible man who started a war with my nation Ondreas and the northern nation Normania. You are the one thing he fears and will do anything to end your life." With all this new information, we couldn't afford to take long breaks, and I insisted that we keep moving. Daylight shined on us as we reached a steep ledge. I started making us a path of rock to the other side when I heard a noise. It was a high pitched swirling sound. I immediately made Erma and I hit the ground. I told myself it couldn't be, but as I looked behind me, I couldn't ignore the painful truth. A man stood before us in a thick armor, long silver hair and yellow eyes. He was known as “The Grim Ingot”- a master of metals, one of Leviathan’s top assassins and almost a general in the ranks. He was out of my league. I grabbed Erma’s hand and made a path of rock to cross the ledge to the next section of the mountains. I looked back at him with visible electric current streaming from my right hand. Knowing he couldn’t make it across without getting attacked. He returned to the woods. I turned to Erma and explained if we hurried, we could make it to the border by sun down. We ran through the mountains and trees. She had no problem keeping up with me which furthered my belief in who I thought she was. The sky was cloudy, and the air was thick. Warm and humid, we were both soaked with sweat.

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We came upon a clearing. Finally some flat land, we were running through it when a figure appeared. It was Gideon of Normania. He said that he only wanted to talk. My nerves calmed down. Gideon didn't have the gift of interchange, but he was arguably the best swordsman around. Gideon started his questions. "Vayne do you know who that is standing next to you?” he asked, and I nodded my head. “If you hand that girl over there to your country, she will be used as a weapon. Not as the harbinger of providence as legend says. My king, Aricin will bring out her potential. He is part of the family line that dealt with the last incarnate." In disbelief, my aura became stern, and I locked eyes with him. "That's some nerve you have accusing my nation of that kind of corruption. Erma's staying with me! Once she’s safe she will decide her own future." I felt her grip tighten on my arm. It gave me a warm feeling. I hadn't ever been that emotional before, but Erma somehow brought it out of me. I felt something for this woman. I wasn't going to hand her over. Gideon let us pass; I turned to him and said, "If you really want to help, you can get The Grim Ingot off our trail." He didn't give me a response and I kept walking. When I turned around, he was gone, but I wasn't worried about him. He was an honorable person and wouldn’t stab me in the back. After that encounter, I felt invigorated, I cared for this person, and I felt she did for me as well. Only a few hours away from the border, I turned on my beacon. We continued towards the border and made good time. The sun hadn’t set yet, and we approached the borderline. I could see an aircraft. I looked at Erma with a big grin and said, "We made it." I saw Darwin standing outside. Then all of my good spirits were crushed when I saw who came out of the aircraft. It just had to be Dalila. I wondered why she would have come all the way out here just for a pickup. I sensed trouble. Dalila began to issue orders. "Okay, I want her on board now! Restrain her and we can get this all underway." "Wait a second!" I shouted. I put Erma behind me and continued to speak. "She doesn't need to be restrained. This is the universe incarnate we're talking about!" Dalila looked surprised that I had figured it out. She always underestimated me. Breaking out of her dumbfounded state, she snapped back. "How did you know that?" "I figured it out for myself," I answered. What Dalila said next, I didn’t want to believe. "That doesn't matter, we need to use her right now, so we can end this war. She's the ultimate weapon." At that moment, I commanded Darwin to come to my side. He hesitated, looking back and forth. I told him, "Darwin this is bigger than you and me. This is bigger than your mother and this is bigger than any command from a superior. If we don't make the right choices here, we could be in turmoil for centuries." Darwin came to my side and addressed his mother. "He's right Mother. It’s bigger than us and our war." Dalila screamed with anger threatening to take Erma by force. Just then, a racing spear came out from the forest. It hit and demolished our aircraft. Dalila yelled, "What the hell was that." "The Grim Ingot," I replied without visibly showing my fear. He retracted his metal spear and hurled another at us. Gideon arrived just on time and intercepted the object. I called out to him. "Gideon, you were right. Erma will go with you after we settle things here." "That’s good to hear,” Gideon responded with an unsettling calm. “Once I’ve finished Grimmy, I’ll take her." Grim’s face went from emotionless to furious. I could see anger seething from his teeth. It was a relief that Gideon was the one facing him. Grim despised disrespect. His ego fed off the fear others had of him. Gideon had no such fear. They engaged in a fierce combat of steel. At speeds so fast, you could only see the sparks of impact. My eyes couldn’t keep up with them. Grim could turn any metal on his person, including his armor into a versatile weapon. He could easily change the bonds in metal, making the properties weaker or stronger. Despite the onslaught of attacks, Gideon kept up fine, slowly closing the distance between them. I felt a cold chill; I looked behind me. Dalila was gathering ice from all the moisture in the air. She was staying true to her reputation as a metaphorical and literal

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ice queen. She began to speak. "If we don't get the incarnation, then no one does. I'll kill her myself before I see her go to another nation." I looked at Darwin, and he nodded at me. We knew we had to stop her. Dalila was surrounded by ice and had many floating projectiles. Darwin was an ice User as well, but she was fast. We didn't even have time to come up with a plan. I knew out of my arsenal of skills that lightning and fire would be the most useful. But I was so tired from the day’s travel that I couldn't conjure real lightning, and although I barely managed an electrical current, fire was my only effective weapon now while Darwin couldn’t keep up with her. And as a result, Dalila managed to imprison her own son in ice. Fire began to build around my fists, and running and dodging the multiple ice attacks made it difficult. Once the first waves of attacks were over, I had my chance, and Erma came to my side. She helped me produce a giant fireball, one bigger than I could ever make on my own. Dalila’s arrogance foolishly left her thinking her ice shield would withstand the collision. Her shield shattered, and she was knocked to the ground. With a vengeful rage, she forced us apart by unleashing a wave of razor sharp icicle attacks. Before we could recover, she got Gideon from behind, freezing his legs to the ground. Grim took advantage of the opportunity and rushed towards Erma skipping past Gideon even while he was defenseless. I had to stop him. He was using a linear attack; the only defense I had left was my body. His sword tore into my stomach. The pain was wretched but worth it. I held onto the sword with my right hand, making sure it wouldn't tear completely through and stab Erma. Grim was open to an attack now. He didn't bother to gather any of the metal he had discharged in his fight with Gideon. He was down to this last sword, and I wasn't letting it go. With my left hand, I pulled out my field knife. Grim attempted to jump back, but he was already in range. Driving my knife a good four inches into his side, he yelled in pain. I began to collapse looking over at Dalila. She had a look of satisfaction on her face, and she was preparing to charge. Later, I found myself lying on my back and looking at a cloud-dimmed sky. With thoughts of failure rushing into my mind, suddenly, something blocked out the sky. It looked like diamonds, but it was Erma hovering over me. After being in the diamond mines for so long, she was able to make a perfect thick wall of pure diamond. Tears were flowing down her beautiful face. I tried telling her not to cry, but I couldn’t speak. She slowly slid the sword out of me. She placed her hand on the gaping hole in my stomach, and I felt it closing. I couldn't believe it that she was healing me. Normally this would have been an impossible wound to come back from. She helped me up, and I felt my stomach for the wound. There was nothing there, not even a scar. She came over to hug me, and I embraced her with my eyes filling up with tears as well. I was lost in the moment. I didn’t understand this rush of emotion. I heard a quiet cracking noise. It was followed by a small prick feeling right under my chest. I was an idiot for leaving my knife stuck in the side of Grim. Being the master he was, he had no problem making my knife denser than the diamond shield. He had turned my knife into a centimeter thick pole with a razor sharp end. It pierced right through Erma's heart. The shield crumbled, and Grim was waiting for me. Dalila no longer kept Gideon at bay once she saw that her goal had been accomplished. Grim began to approach me. I had nothing left to fight him with. Gideon intercepted Grim like a flash of lightning. He slit Grim’s throat wide open. Gideon looked down upon him as he gargled on his own blood. Gideon told him, "I won't allow you the honor of last words.” He finished Grim with a blow to the heart. I couldn’t help Erma the way she helped me. I felt worthless. I was on my knees holding her; she tried to speak to me. I leaned my ear to her mouth, so I could hear her. She asked me if I wanted to become one with the universe. I nodded my head and let out a faint yes. She began to glow in a bright multispectral color. She grabbed my hand, and it started to do the same transformation slowly moving up my arm. Before it reached my shoulder, Gideon rushed to me and cut off my arm. Gideon pulled me away, but I didn't even

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notice the pain. I just wanted to be with Erma. Nothing else mattered. I heard her voice in my mind promising to return, and my arm faded away with her. Gideon stopped my bleeding and then apologized, saying, "I’m sorry about this, but the world can't afford to lose both of you." I was so overcome with sorrow that I couldn't find the rage I had towards Dalila. This was all on her. I knew one day I would kill her, but not today. Gideon helped me get on my feet. I looked back at Gideon. He had several small injuries and cuts. He was fatigued and still breathing heavy, and I stopped feeling sorry for myself. I realized he was laying his life on the line as well. And with these actions committed today, the cease fire would certainly have to be called off. But I had no idea what was going to happen next. Gideon turned his attention to Dalila. “If revenge didn’t already belong to Vayne, I would kill you right where you are standing. Release your son and signal for two aircraft.” Dalila wasn’t in a position to disobey, so she did as commanded. Two aircrafts eventually arrived. Dalila left in one, and the rest of us entered the other. We dropped Gideon off at an outpost on his border. We were homeward bound now, I knew a mess was waiting for me there, but I didn't care. What they would do to me when we landed didn't matter now. As soon as we arrived, Cyrus and Minister Sins were waiting for us on the landing pad, and I was being taken to the medic. They tried asking me questions, but I couldn’t respond. I saw their lips move, but my thoughts drowned out their words. Once we made it to the medic’s building, they put me under, and when I finally woke up, my arm was properly patched up. The doctor entered the room and told me that I would get a synthetic/mechanical arm – pending my trial. Cyrus also entered the room and informed me that I was due to be on trial today. I would have to explain my actions. He asked me if I wanted to postpone the trial, but I declined the offer. It didn’t matter when the trial was. Cyrus went ahead to the trial chamber. I followed a few minutes after and contemplated on the situation. I didn't care if they discharged me or even executed me for treason. I was already dead inside. I had given up on myself, and no longer cared about what my future might have. The chamber doors stood in front of me. I reached out to grab the handle, but a voice called out to me. I looked at its direction and a dark figure came my way and spoke to me. He said, "Prove yourself in trial today; you have to make a future for Erma that's worth coming back for." Finishing his message, he sank back into the shadows. How did this person know Erma was coming back? I hadn't told anyone what she had said to me. Nonetheless the stranger was right. I was going to hold my head high and overcome this trial of allegations. The heavy doors that bore my fate stood before me. I pushed them open and walked inside the chamber with strength and determination. I was ready to make a better future.

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Money by Dan Kanizar Money is why I'm standing in this line. It is the reason why I work this dreadful job. Money has me waiting every two weeks in the same place. It has the entire world on hold, anticipating its arrival. This deity known as currency keeps mankind moving, Making sure we stay the effective machines that we are.

Money is the oil fueling our wars that scorch the Earth. Money creates bottomless pits in our greedy hearts. It dooms us to a life of worthless material gain. We dig mere pebbles out from the dirt, deem them priceless And use them as the foundation of society. Money drains humanity to the brink of insanity.

Money will raise civilization to the ground, Leaving the shiny stones to sink into the planet once again. Money will not become a thing of a forgotten past. Money will not fade with us as our most self-corrupting creation. Instead, our disease will spread through the galaxy To whatever other civilization may lie beyond the horizon.

Money makes me sour to the stomach. It makes me wish we could see past our avarice. Money makes me want to see a change for the better. Money is no longer my reason for standing in this line. I leave the line and look at the check with a smile on my face. I can diagnose my plague, but I have no cure.

Pablo Ferreyra

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Hold On Tonight by Kristine Sullivan I used to fall asleep to hand me down porcelain dolls my grandma gave to me. It was the only thing that helped me sleep when my parents would fight. I remember listening to my parents yelling at each other down the hall about how stupid they were for having me. Their voices carried through the dusty prom pictures on the wall. There were only pictures of them, before I existed and took their youth away. Now I fall asleep to screaming patients refusing to take their medicine. I use to look down the dim hallway and watch them scream. Their mouths dripping of drool, and their gowns covered with their insides. This floor was for the most dangerous patients. The place is dingy white. The hallways have a foul aroma of vomit and chocolate cupcakes. The bulimics use the bathrooms on our floor, in exchange we ask for Prozac or some sleep aid. With the people on this floor, you have to exchange medication, that’s the only way to entitle your safety. I am a cutter, and I suffer from manic depressive disorder. I can’t slice open my flesh with razors anymore, so I scratch instead. That helps me deal with the darkness in my soul. I feel like I’m dead on the inside. There’s this fire burning inside me. The flames make it, so I can’t breathe. My lungs forget to fill up with air, and my rosy cheeks fade to a ghost white color. They tell me that I have anxiety attacks, but I don’t believe that’s true. I think it’s the devil building inside me. I can feel the flames of Hell burning my heart to ash. I was my parents’ bastard child. They had me when they were in high school. They pressed their sweaty, naked bodies against each other, and got me. This is the Devil punishing me for my parents’ selfish desires. My room is more like a small Motel 6 looking shack than a hospital ward. Beneath the fading sunflower wallpaper, there lays painful and cruel messages of deceased patients. They would write how they felt about themselves in black bold marker. One of the quotes on the wall says, “I deserved it.” I share the room with a girl named Lexi. Lexi suffers from multiple personality disorder, so I’m actually sharing this room with four other people. Lexi has patches of dark brown hair. One of her personalities pulls out her hair as a stress reliever. Lexi is my best friend out of all the personalities. “Smell these socks, they clean?” Lexi asked me. “Get those out of my face! What the Hell’s wrong with you?” “Where should I start?” she chuckled. I looked at her and gave her half a smile. “Funny.” I began looking around the room. The floor was covered with vampire novels and People magazine. “You think maybe you wanna clean your side of the room, Lexi?” “This isn’t all my shit. The vampire books are mine, but I don’t read People magazine.” “Fine pick up the vampire books and put them on the shelf. I’ll tell Marine to pick up the People magazines when she gets here.” She started collecting the vampire books off the layered ground. She put them on the tan shelf and walked back to her bed. She lay down on the baby pink quilt and looked up at the cracked ceiling. She began closing her ocean blue eyes. Five minutes later, she opened them, and looked up. She picked up a People magazine and began reading. I looked up at her. “Well, hello to you too Marine.” She looked up from the wrinkled magazine and smiled. “I’m so sorry. I didn’t even realize you were here.” “While you’re here, pick up the magazines on the floor.” She looked at me, rolled her eyes, and continued reading her wrinkled magazine.

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It was her way of not caring that made me so amused. I mean, if it was Lexi, Amber, or Jessica, I would have been on a rampage. But she was finally finished with her magazine. She looked up at me with her big, blue eyes and looked into mine. Her rosy lips formed into an evil smile. Then, she threw the magazine on the floor. “Marine, I swear if you don’t pick that up, I’m going to.” Before I could finish, she threw her pink pillow at me. I picked up the pillow and placed it on my blue, quilted blanket. “You’re not getting this back till you pick all this crap up!” “That’s ok, you can keep it. It will probably be Lexi or Amber sleeping here tonight anyway. That will be a personal win for me.” I looked at her and began to laugh. We continued this conversation over a box of stale chocolate chip cookies and under the table Prozac pills. Soon the light faded, and that meant that all the patients had to go to sleep. I quickly swallowed the rest of the dusty pills and lay on my hard surfaced bed. I looked around at the pitch black room. My palms began to sweat, and my throat began to close in. My eyes rolled in the back of my head, and I began choking on the bare air. I remember hearing voices all around me. They were loud. I could feel someone touching my cold, pale face. I started speaking. “He’s......coming.....to.....get.....me......I feel the Hell building inside me..........” I woke up the next morning to the smell of cigarettes and burning flesh. This time Amber was in the room. Amber likes to burn herself with cigarettes that she steals from other guests. She lights the ashy cigarettes and presses them on her flesh. She watches it remove the layers of flesh. She realized I was up and gave me a disgusted look. “So I heard that you had a panic attack last night. What a bunch of bull.” “It wasn’t a panic attack. It was..........him.” “Oh you mean Satan? Was Satan in that boyish body of yours? Was Satan trying to possess you?” “You don’t know anything Amber!” After I said that, she got up off the mattress. Her black lipstick collided with her emotions. She was disgusted that I talked back to her. She came up to me and grabbed me by my dirty blonde hair. “If I were to kill you, no one would even care. Not your mom. Not your dad. No one.” My brown eyes began to water. The tears fell down my face falling to my lips. The salt was an unpleasant taste in my mouth. All of a sudden, Amber looked knowingly at me. She ran up to me, and put her delicate arms around me. It was Marine now instead of Amber. I could tell that switch had happened by the way she cared and the way she hugged me. She looked at me, and wiped the tears off my face. It was like she knew what had just happened. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry,” she said to me. “It’s not your fault. It’s my parents’ fault.” Her eyebrows were raised, and she had a confused look on her face. “What do you mean by that?” “Amber said that if I were to die, no one would care. She’s right.” At that exact moment, Marine took my head and placed it on her neck. She gently stroked my dirty blonde hair. “I would care.” I looked up at her. I wanted that moment to last forever. She looked down at me and gave me a smile. It was a rather serious smile. She looked down at her burning skin and pressed it down to stop the pain. “Do you think God is punishing me as well? By making me hurt like this?” I looked at the burn marks on her freckled arm and began rubbing them gently. “You don’t deserve this Marine. You don’t deserve this at all.” She looked up at me. Her brown eyes full of confusion. “What makes you think you deserve this?” she asked me bluntly. “Because my parents didn’t want me. They still don’t.”

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Her eyes pierced into mine. I could see her wanting to say something, but she didn’t. She took my hand, and held it. It was like a little sign to let me know she cared. Her hand felt so right in mine. This was something I had never felt before. It was almost like magic. She took her hand away slowly, almost like it was intended, but necessary. She began reading another People magazine. She didn’t say anything after that, but I could tell by the tears in her eyes that something wasn’t right. “Marine, are you okay?” She looked up at me with her cheeks all red. Again, she said nothing. I walked over to her poorly made bed and took her magazine away. “Tell me Marine.” She just looked at me. Her eyes were full of unanswered questions. She wasn’t just looking at me; she was looking for me. Then her face moved towards mine. Her lips pressed gently against mine, almost like she was asking for permission. Her shamed face backed away slowly, but before she could, I grabbed her face. I looked into her big beautiful eyes and returned the unpredictable gesture. “I want to be with you too,” I said softly. We began making out, and that led to making love. I could feel my heart racing. I remember tasting the clotted blood on her cigarette burns. I also remember her whispering that she loved me. It was all too perfect, but I knew it wouldn’t last. After we explored each other, we cuddled in my blue quilted bed. I listened to her heartbeat. It was the most peaceful sound I had ever heard. “Was it everything you thought it was going to be?” she asked me. “I didn’t ever really think about it. I honestly wasn’t sure I would know what to do.” “You never saw The Titanic sex scene?” she laughed. “No, the closest thing to sex I’ve seen was a very awkward Barbie and Ken show and tell in kindergarten. My parents never had the birds and the bee’s conversation with me.” “Why don’t you get along with your parents?” she asked casually. “Because they never wanted me. I was just their bastard child. I was just their disappointment. I wanted them to be proud of me, but all I got in return was anger.” At that moment, Marine got up from the bed and went to her own. She pulled her pink covers over her and turned out the dim light. I got up and asked her what was wrong. “I don’t want to be another disappointment to you. I can’t always guarantee you that I’ll be here. I’m not real.” Her eyes began to water, and she turned away from me. My mended heart began breaking again. I thought about my parents and my existence. I threw off the covers and began screaming. “How could you do that to me? How could you use me like that? Is this a joke to you? Am I a joke to you?” She then got up. Her eyes were bloodshot, and her mascara was smeared all over her pale face. “No, it’s not a damn joke! I fucking love you, okay! I always have! The first time that I met you I melted! You looked like a goddess. Your hair was pulled up in a messy bun. You were wearing a Blink 182 faded shirt! I remember because I love you! Okay!” “Then why won’t you be with me? If you love me so damn much?” “I don’t exist! I’m trapped in this stupid body with these stupid people. There is no way you can have all of me, unless we both died.” “Would you die for me?” She looked at me with big eyes. They were condescending. “What about Lexi? What about the real person inside my body? What about her?” “She’s going to be in this damn institution forever! We would be doing her ass a favor!”

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At that moment, Marine got up and walked out of the room. Her chipped black nail polish gently brushed against the door. I stayed in the room and fell to the ground. I began to feel the fire burning inside me, but this time it didn’t stay. It was almost like the devil didn’t want to interfere with this conflict. Marine came back into the room. This time she had several bottles of pills. “Here take these pills and swallow them. If this is what you truly want, then take them.” “Do you want this?” I asked her. “No.” “Then why do it?” “Because if I can’t be with you, I don’t see the point in living.” I took the pills from her chapped hands and threw them on the floor. “I don’t want you to feel like you have to save us if this isn’t what you want. Don’t spare my feelings.” Marine looked at me hard. Her eyes seemed like they were trying to burn a hole in my already thin skin. She picked up the dusty vampire books off the floor and started ripping out the pages. She then went to the drawer and removed all the black clothing. She began ripping it to shreds, and she kept saying that it wasn’t hers. I grabbed her freckled burned arm and gently placed her head on my chest. Her eyes became waterfalls, and she just couldn’t take it anymore. I set her down on the bed and began wiping her eyes. I didn’t know what to say. I never knew she felt this powerless. “Please, don’t leave me,” she said softly. “I won’t leave you Marine. I love you.” We both looked at the bottles of pills on the floor. We took hold of each other’s hands as we picked them up. We split the pills evenly and sent them on a journey down our over worked throats. “Can you do me a favor Marine?” “Anything.” “Can you hold on tonight?” Embracing me tight, she nodded, and we shared one last kiss before the darkness enfolded us.

Yobana Graciano

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Missing Something by Kristine Sullivan An unexpected tornado came swarming by,

The man with sharp hands looked at the world’s colors,

Causing two very different worlds to collide.

Yet he felt that having a heart was clearly absurd.

Two men were seen face-to-face,

He pointed his scissors at the man made of tin,

Sharing one thing that had been misplaced.

Giving him an unappreciated grin.

The first man came walking down the road,

“I have a heart, but I cannot hold anyone.

His hands razor sharp, and his heart made of gold.

Do you know what it is to love a woman so old?

He looked around at the bricks of yellow,

The sculptures of her are all I have left.

Then all of a sudden he saw a tin fellow.

The world was deceived when they accused me of theft.

The man with the razor sharp hands was stunned.

”Both men looked at each other with unfriendly eyes.

For once, he wasn’t the only odd looking one.

“We are both missing something that the world denies.

The man of tin came up to his side,

We are jealous of each other’s abilities,

Asking the gentlemen if his rusted hands made him cry.

Not realizing that we struggle with stability.”

The man looked at his hands and looked very down,

Both men walk to the other side,

While the other pulled out a can of oil that he found.

A portal opens, and they say their goodbyes.

He explained that rusting happens all the time.

The man with sharp hands looks back to say,

“Do not be alarmed rusting is not a crime.”

"I hope you learn to love someday.”

The man with unique hands looked up.

The man of tin runs fast and hugs him,

He was amazed that the tin man was holding the cup.

knowing his friend’s sharp hands won’t attack.

“You have hands. That must be nice.”

The man with scissors tries not to cry.

“It’s not all simple. It comes with a price.”

His tears rust his hands, and he thinks he will die.

“I may have hands, but I’m missing a heart

But the tin man gets the oil can out quick,

This worlds full of color, but I don’t see it as art.

Proving he had a heart that will exist forever.

I want to love myself and everything that surrounds, But without a heart, I’m not allowed.”

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Amongst The Ruins by Joshua Thomas Mirenda Flowing crystal clear water gleamed around my calves’ as if to greet them with an embrace. The foot of the river carried a crunch of glass, barrowing into an overflowing pool below. The lipid water was swept along the edges of the smooth turtleback stones. A thick tree line covered the path leading the river. It had taken days from the last village to get here. I can still remember clearly the chatter among the natives. In my rough translation of the natives’ tongue, I could make out only half of the conversation of two men. “What is that man doing here? He doesn’t seem to fit.” The other man seemed to grunt as he spoke, but I was unable to hear exactly what he said. The first man, who was much younger and better spoken, jutted back, “He doesn’t seem to be one of them, seems too civilized.” Grunts again came from the older man. His face had seen better days, and his skin wore his life like a road map into the jungle. He noticed I was listening and promptly ended his discussion. In this moment, the sweet smell of roasted pork overcame the village. Drums rolled as if presenting a celebration. It reminded me of my grandmother’s home, my three brothers running inside like mad men. I had always been the most level-headed of the four of us. They spent their time outside, and I spent it beside my grandfather listening to his stories of the good old days. That man could tell a story that would send chills down my spine, or one that would make anyone laugh so hard that their stomach would hurt for a week. One summer I was able to spend time there alone. My brothers had all gone off to football camp. My Father tried to get me to go, but I refused. I could only toss a ball for fifteen minutes before getting bored. Why would I want to spend three weeks doing that? So, instead my Mother brought up the idea of me going down to my grandparent’s home. My Father didn’t seem to approve, but what Mom said went. She always had a way of changing his mind. The same piercing look she gave us when we got in trouble. The kind all Mothers have. It seemed to do the same thing to Dad, and he gave in. To my surprise, I was able to go. That summer, Grandpa began to tell a story he hadn’t mentioned before. He was twenty-five, fresh out of college, and headed down to South America with a group of older men who had quite some experience in the field. They were archeologists in search of the city of gold. They failed in that pursuit and lost their lives in the process, but deep in the rainforest, they had found a massive civilization. Somehow previously undiscovered, and to their surprise, it was still populated. His story became vaguer and vaguer until it simply didn’t come to his lips. I saw it on his face. The memories had become too much for him, and he shut down. He didn’t talk much after that. I ended up back at home three weeks later. I had nothing to tell my brothers as they drilled their stories into my head, but I learned what I was going to do with my life that summer. I would become an archeologist, and do what my grandfather had done. It was going to be nearly impossible to find it again, but I had to try. By the time I was able to even go into the field, I was twenty seven. Grandpa had been dead for nearly twelve years, and it had been nearly sixty years since he had even seen the civilization somewhere in the thick tree lines of South America to where I stand now, knee deep in a river. The thick tree line stood over me like a guard to the river, almost speaking volumes with nature’s sweet vocal cords of trickling rainfall. The trees were the protector of this beautiful river. I imagined I was the first man to venture into this riverbed. The bounty of fresh nature was both my delight and savior. The chilled water might have a hint of iron if tasted. Within seconds of this thought, I saw a man on the other side of the river. He looked strangely similar to the young man who I had seen days before in the village. He was walking at a rather brisk pace. His body language seemed to scream that he was unnerved by something, but he was still careful not to make a sound. His skin seemed to beam in the sun’s fresh luminescence, like he had been dunked into water for hours. Like my grandmother used to do when making caramel apples, when we were children. Adding a slight sting of

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countless injuries freshly supplied as if he had bought them in a farmer’s market. Slowly I waded across the river until I was waste deep. He glanced over. A look of horror passed his face in a brief instance. Our eyes met. He looked like he wanted to run for his life like a bird fleeing from a snapping dog hot in pursuit. A bead of sweat dropped into my eye, and I blinked if not for a second, and the man vanished, like he had never been there at all. That night I stayed beside the riverbed, wondering what the man had been doing out here. It didn’t make sense. Why would he venture all the way out here? Although he seemed like he had worked all of his life, it didn’t seem as if he had worked within the forests. Most natives learned to stay near their villages, fearing both local legends, and dangers that lurked in the shadows of the canopy. My small fire still crackled outside, warding off predators that may blend into the surrounding darkness. I closed my eyes, and drifting off to sleep, I was succumbing to dreams of my past. Sparks shot up into the sky as my Mother stood by my side. I was nineteen that Fourth of July. Looking up, but not at the fireworks, she was lost in thought. My Father and brothers had been in a car wreck the night before. I had been called home from college in the middle of the night, taking a red-eye flight. It was made even worse by the knowledge that Dad hadn’t survived the wreck, and my brothers were all in the hospital. The men and women on the flight seemed to just want to get back home, or back to work. I didn’t care to ask. I only wanted to see my brothers. When the plane landed, Mom met me in the middle of the airport. Tears sprang forth, a knot in her throat. My brother, Jonathan, had died on the operating table, and Luke’s condition was declining. My Mother and I were in the grips of losing our whole family. It gave me hope when they said we could see Kaden. When we went in, he was awake to our surprise. He seemed to only have a concussion and a broken leg. Rather light injuries compared to Jonathan and Dad. He would never walk like he did before. Any hope of him ever playing football again had faded, but he was alive. He told us the last thing he remembered was the car crashing -- roof first into the rocky ground and dust pushing up around them. “It’s great to see you kid,” he said in his rusty voice. “It’s great to see you too Kaden,” I responded back with tears in my eyes. He hadn’t heard about Dad and Jonathan yet. It was best to leave him in the dark about it until later, when he was able to get out of bed. “How’s college,” I asked to keep his mind away from Dad and Jonathan just yet. “Good Andrew,” he responded. “Met a girl. She might be just as smart as you!” He laughed a deep chested laugh. It was one of those laughs that reminded me of Grandpa’s stories. In a lot of ways, he reminded me of Grandpa with his humor and how he spoke. I always looked up to Kaden. “So about this girl, what’s she like?” From behind me, I heard a voice I was unfamiliar with “Why don’t you ask her yourself? The name is Evelyn.” That second, mom walked in crying. Luke had just died by her side. She saw the nurses attempting to revive him, but there was nothing they could have done. He laid there dead. She needed time to tell Kaden about their deaths. Me and Evelyn left the room and waited in the chilled, white walled lobby. It seemed unreal, like a nightmare I couldn’t escape. Evelyn sat there beside me. She hadn’t known my brothers, and she never would get to know the little tricks Jonny played or Luke’s dedication to helping anyone he could. She tried to talk to me by changing the subject from death. But I was in shock and couldn’t muster a word in response. I had lost my two little brothers, and my father lay dead on a cold metal slab in the morgue, all in the course of two days. A simple week of classes had turned into my worst nightmare. My father and two brothers were buried in a small local cemetery right beside Grandpa, Once our family’s eulogies were to be said; I disappeared among the grave markers. I couldn’t speak if I had to, and hearing Mom or Kaden speak would tear me apart again. The pain of their deaths was too much. I flew back to a more sheltered life, locking myself inside of my books. Dreaming of the day I could eventually visit South America, to where grandpa had once been, seeing this majestic city in the thick canopies. I jolted awake with that memory sharp in my mind. The trees that once protected the river seemed to turn away

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from me, almost ashamed. I packed up camp and waded my way across the river to the rocky shore on the other side. I followed the path I believed the man had followed. I walked nearly an hour down that path, seeing no signs of life. Upon reaching what I had thought was an overgrown tree, wrapped tightly in saturated moss, stood a corroded tower, once probably used as a watch tower, but what had they been watching for? The other tribes avoided the forest like the plague, fearful of animals within, but this civilization must have had no fear. Something had made them almost fearless, able to exist amongst the animals. I wondered why this would happen and something whispered into my ear in an almost hypnotic voice, “Me.” It sent chills down my spine, bringing to my attention a skull crushed beneath a pile of stones, its boney hand outreaching a book almost destroyed by the rain. It seemed as if he was trying to reach out into the cosmos and tell me to turn away. Most of the book had been unreadable. Within the middle of the book remained a few lines of script. Five days in The small village we came across was massacred. People lay dead amongst their open fire pits. Celebration drums lay untouched. Speared animals lay rotting on the arrows. Whatever had done this wasn’t human, and I’m almost sure it wasn’t an insidious animal. It seemed too organized. Almost methodically planned to the very T. The only word that could describe it was terror. It seemed only one man had survived the attack, but he didn’t seem emotionally or physically affected by it at all. He simply stood there giving me a particular deep growl that seemed almost unnatural. I didn’t press him, but I wish I had. I wondered what he was thinking, or if he had seen what it was that attacked the village. Eight days in We ran across a river today. Whatever had attacked the town had also attacked the river bed. People had ventured three days to get here. The heavy jugs they had carried for water smashed in the shore lines. Bodies lined the riverbed. It was stained red by their blood. Something doesn’t seem right about this, I want to escape this jungle, but I have a feeling I never will. I have read about heat affecting your mind, but never like this. Everyone saw it! Is this real? Am I dreaming? If I am, I just need to wake up! I JUST NEED TO WAKE UP! 10 days in Nathanial killed himself, jumped off the waterfall the other day. Said he needed to “Wake up!” He simply ran and jumped. We could hear the sounds of his bones crack as he hit the rocks below. I didn’t understand why until I read his book. The deaths we saw in that village and the riverbed messed with his mind. We continued onward after his death, and came across a tower. Above us there were carvings in the trees. Movement was everywhere, but what exists everywhere at once except God? I feel the evil of this place! It’s almost like a thick fog trying to suffocate us, and it’s getting closer. May God forgive us! I couldn’t believe the writing before me. What had happened here was real. The realization of the riverbeds’ stones had not been that of river rock, but skulls brushed with years of water. The smell of iron I had envisioned was that of blood and the voice that simply said “Me” could be what they had ran into. From behind me, I could hear the same grunting I had heard in town. This time accompanied by a laughter that seemed to echo into the forest as if it was some kind of wild animal. I turned to see a creature, much larger than me. It looked like a lizard. Sharp rough scales lined its body. Teeth pointed like a carnivores. Its eyes seemed like two hollow holes within a white rimed earth. It spoke again, this time lunging towards me.

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“Human! I ss’smell the blood of a man I once ss’spared. That was no mistake. For now, you come into my world, disssturbing me, and I may feed oncce again.” In fear, I responded carefully, “I came here to learn more about the civilization that stands here.” It interjected with a quip of a forked tongue, “Your perceptions’ss of MY world are falssse. That civilization fell to its kneesss begging! They lived amongst the animals’ss and they died like them! They were sssick, as you are with their ideasss of morality, and cc’civilization. I will take your life with joy, for I ss’sppared your Grandfather his’sss life, only to lead you here to die! I can ss’smell your fear, and its’ss intranc-cceing!” With its intentions spelled out so carefully, I bolted in the other direction, briefly being able to hear the creature hissing with pleasure. “Andrew runs like a coward, and dies’ss like a ss’sheep being ripped apart by hungry wolvess’ss.” The thick tree line covered the path that lay before me. Death nipped at my heels like an angry dog. I went left, running into an open area. The ground was lined with thick stone. Temples surrounded me, lit by fires that seemed to be kept going by a steady flow of unnatural lightning that hit the ground shaking the stones and creating a chain reaction of sparks and fire. It was an architectural wonder, even more so than that of the great pyramids. I could see the creatures outline jumping from tree to tree, hissing when the fire shot into the air like a volcanic eruption. “Andrew! Why don’t you stop hiding amongst the ruins’ss? You’ve always ran from your problem’sss. Face them like a man!” This simple sentence lit a fuse upon dynamite that had lain dormant for years. I hadn’t realized I had avoided my problems, locking myself first into stories as a kid, then into books and classes as a college student, and now deep in the jungle. I realized I had locked my emotions deep within myself and had to deal with my problems now. I had to break my emotional stonewall to survive and be more like my Grandfather. I had always admired how he dealt with problems. He had plunged face first into whatever gave him issues, and now on the point of life and death, I had to choose. I could die within this jungle never to be found, my Grandfather’s story washed away, or I could dive into my problem and confront this beast face-to-face, like a man. Within the center of the courtyard, I saw it, a simple spear. Running up the temple, I lit it out of sheer luck. It was infused with the same energy that struck the stones. I slowly and proudly faced my fate. The creature jumped down from the tree, gazing upon me like some sort of precious stone. “You have changed the tides’ss, broken the rules’ss, twisted fate, but…” I held up the rather impressive spear as to wield a sword, my life lying before me, a target lined in red and green scales. I threw the spear forth from my hand. Piercing the creature’s cold scaly body, he hissed in pain, and as its thick blood splattered onto the trees behind it, it caused them to fall from their majestic canopy as if its blood had been corrosive to life itself. I walked from that place, never to return. Only looking back just once to see an elaborate carving of the pyramids on a collapsing wall, sheltered by plants, I made sure the creature’s haunting shape wasn’t following me. I left behind the prospects of a civilization previously unfound. And a treasured wonder of the world left in the exact condition it had been in when I arrived. The shattered tower would soon fall upon the bones of a man unable to face his own problems, the suicide of an explorer who would rather escape a dream than see reality. A village full of people would remain afraid to face their fears of the forest with its river of bones, the smell of iron, and a creature that had hunted men and planned their demise. I had once built that wall to contain myself. It all remained underneath the canopies that I had once visited. It was the same forest where I had learned to embrace life and learn how to truly live. But this was just the beginning of my story that once was hidden, amongst the ruins.

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Inked by Joshua Thomas Mirenda Inked, is the name across my heart, Words intruding, diluting memories. Inked, and told who I was, Freedom gone from my sight. Inked, and given my last choice, Told to flee or to fight. Inked, is the unmarked grave. It didn’t matter anyway. Inked, and marked as lesser, Told that I had no use. Inked, forever scarred from their abuse, Inked as a survivor, knowing I wasn’t strong, Inked was my loss, forevermore.

Pablo Ferreyra

Jessica Jones

Yobana Graciano

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A Lion's Courage by Jacqueline Kitchener When I was a child, my mother was very ill. She'd always do her best and smile whenever my brother, Gabriel, or I were near her. My father avoided her for as long as I could remember. One night after our mother tucked us into bed, I had forgotten that I promised to show Gabriel a magic trick that I learned at school. I went downstairs to grab a rubber band. I always dreaded walking into the kitchen, seeing all of the empty vodka and whiskey bottles lying around. Even though I was a kid, I knew that whenever my father drank, he made my mom's life worse. My mother would always clean the house, but it never made a difference. My father's empty bottles always reappeared and articles of clothing were thrown across the floor. I knew my father did that to make my mom work harder and make her heart disease worse. I tried to ignore the mess, but it was sometimes impossible because it never went away. As I was walking back up to our bedroom, where Gabriel and I shared a room because we were very close and Gabriel didn't want to be separated from me just yet, I heard a loud thump coming from my parents' room. The noise kept me from moving, and I feared what the source of the sound was. A sense of dread came over me because I somehow knew that my suspicions for the source of that sound were correct. After taking a few deep breaths, I gathered up my courage to move forward. As I was getting closer to my parents' room, I heard screaming on the other side of the door. “Incompetent bitch!” I heard my father yell. I was rooted into place by some unknown force. I waited for a few seconds to see if the yelling would continue and I noticed that I was holding my breath. It seemed like several minutes until my body was able to stop shaking. Suddenly, the door swung open, and I saw my father standing right before me underneath the opened doorway. It seemed that his blue eyes pierced into my soul, seeing things that I never wanted him to find out. “What the hell are you doing here, boy?” he said, quietly. “I heard a thump and I was afraid that it might have been-” I was saying until a loud crack followed by a stinging sensation formed on my left cheek. I froze, shocked beyond my comprehension, until I realized that I gotten slapped. Subconsciously, my left hand touched the stinging area on my cheek, and even though I couldn't feel a wound on the surface, the pain throbbed and stung. “Get to bed. Now!” my father said. His eyes bored into mine like he was able to see every single one of my weaknesses. I noticed that Gabriel had already fallen asleep, and I quickly climbed back into my bed. My cheek was still stinging and uncontrollable tears of anger rolled down my face. That was the night that I vowed I would never let my father make me cry ever again. A few years later, on my fifteenth birthday, my mother told me as I was coming down the stairs and into the kitchen, “Alex, I want you to come home right after school. I have a surprise for you for your birthday today.” I was so happy, that I gave her a long hug, and then a kiss on her cheek, telling her I'd be back right after I got out of school. After the school day was over, I hurried straight home, and when I got there, an ambulance was right outside our house. I saw the paramedics wheel in a body that was covered with a white cloth on the stretcher. I knew what had happened. The disease caught up with her, and she lost the battle of survival. I was approaching the ambulance car until somebody grabbed my arm and whirled me around. “In the house. Now,” my father ordered me. My hands curled into fists. I really wanted to punch him, but I knew my mom wouldn't want me to do that. She'd tell me I was better than that. I controlled my emotions, and I was forced to go inside. As I walked in, I noticed that the trash can wasn't in its normal spot. It compelled me to walk over to it and look inside. I noticed a birthday cake was thrown in on top, and the words were, “Happy Birthday, Alex. Love, Mom”.

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I fought back tears that tried to desperately escape my eyes. I wouldn't allow it. I brought myself under control, and as I glanced back at the cake, I noticed a carefully wrapped package. I grabbed it out of the trash can, and I quickly went up to my room, so I wouldn't get caught with it. I tore the wrapping paper off, and it showed a rectangular box. I opened the box, and on the inside, it had purple velvet. There was a ring, and when I took it out, I noticed there was something engraved on it. The side of a lion's face was engraved on the ring. The ring that my mother left behind for me gave me renewed courage. I knew what I wanted to do with my future. I wouldn't allow anyone to stop me, especially my father. During my last few days of high school, I knew what I wanted to do with my life. I'd been thinking about this for a long time. I was scared at first because I knew I'd be defying my father. However, I had this feeling of determination that if I didn't do this, I'd regret it for the rest of my life. When I got home from the last day of school, I had a meeting with my father to discuss my “future” as his heir. I walked into his study, and I saw him sitting at his desk in the middle of the room. There were several bookshelves against the wall. The shelves were overflowing with books, and I thought some of the books would lose their balance and fall to the floor. Other than that, the room was pretty much empty. I knocked twice and then entered. To my father, that was the “proper” way to knock. How he came up with that rule was beyond me and I found it a bit irritating. Honestly, who in this day and age cares about a proper way of knocking on the door? He didn't look up when I entered. It always happened this way. He'd never make eye contact with me. In fact, I believe he despised me in his own way. He said he couldn't stand me one day because I looked just like “that woman”, adding that I had the same blond hair and jade-green eyes. Gabriel, thankfully, looked like our father, so he was mostly protected from his drunken rages. The thing that stood out the most, were Gabriel's icy-blue eyes, and that when you looked at them, it seemed like he could see into your soul. Talking about my mom like that, he angered me. He married her, so why did things turn out like this? I sat down in the chair across from him. It reminded me of an interrogation. If he didn't like what you said, he'd sometimes get violent. I tried to watch what I'd say. There were times that I'd said things which irritated him to the point where I'd have a black eye. Whenever that happened, it made things more awkward at school. I didn't fit in very well to begin with. I got teased because of my mother. I went to a private school where everyone knew everyone's family. We were all rich, and I hated it. Everyone seemed to be using their parents' power for their own personal gain without making an effort to obtain their own. Time seemed to come to a halt. I didn't know how long I sat across from him, waiting for him to say something. He probably did this to see if I would dare speak to him before being spoken to. I made that mistake once. One that I wouldn't like to repeat. “So,” he finally said, “you have finally completed high school. Starting next week, I will teach you about our family business that's been passed down from generation to generation in the West family.” I looked at my right hand. The ring engraved with the lion was around my middle finger. Whenever I needed courage, I'd look at it and recall my fifteenth birthday. That was three years ago. I took a deep breath and looked right at him. “I'm not going to take over the business,” I said to him. He paused for a brief moment, and for the first time in many years, he looked right into my eyes. “Excuse me?” he said. I wouldn't lose this battle. Not this time. I took a deep breath and said, “You heard me. I'm not going to take over the business.” He couldn't contain his anger. He grabbed me by my throat, hoisted me from the chair with him as he stood up, and dragged me through the house. His grip was tight, and I had a hard time breathing. I was glad that Gabriel wasn't there to witness this. I wouldn't know what to say.

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My father tossed me out of our front door, and I lost my balance when he let go of my shirt. I fell to the ground and the impact would definitely leave a bruise. “Don't come back, you piece of shit,” he said, and then he slammed the door and locked it. I was a little glad to be out of that house. All it did was hold terrible memories for me. A part of me wanted to stay to protect Gabriel from our abusive father. I got up and started walking without a destination in mind. Anywhere was better than here. I wasn't sure how long I walked for. It may have been days, a week, or two weeks. Time went by in a blur. I was homeless, cold, and I was lucky to get a decent meal. The food I ate was stale or moldy which caused me to become sick. I'd lose all of the food I ate that day, which wasn't a lot. I'd sleep inside a plastic tube at the park. That was my new home at night because children would occupy it during the day. I still wore my school uniform, but it was torn, dirty, and unrecognizable. My tie was gone because someone had stolen it. Why they wanted the tie was beyond me, but I didn't care too much to try to get it back. I wandered aimlessly, my mind clouded to the point where I had forgotten what I wanted to do with my life. It started to rain one day. It was pouring, really. I was soaked through, and I was freezing because I didn't have a jacket. I couldn't go back to the park because I was afraid of who might be there. I almost got stabbed once because some other guy took my sleeping spot, and he accused me that I was trying to steal his. So ever since, I've been too afraid of going back to that park. I wasn't sure how long it rained for, but it was about three days at most. My body became very lethargic, and it was hard for me to walk without becoming dizzy. I was walking past a small convenience store when I suddenly saw several colored dots in my vision, and before I knew it, I hit the ground. “Hey!” I heard someone yell. I wasn't sure who was yelling or what they were yelling at until I felt hands gently grab my arms. On reflex, I tensed up. I was losing consciousness and I felt vulnerable. “Don't worry, you're safe now,” said the voice. That doesn't make me feel safe at all, I thought in my head. I lost consciousness before I was actually able to say anything. When I awoke, I was in a bed and in a room I didn't recognize. I had to blink a few times before I was able to focus on the ceiling above. I noticed that there was a beeping sound, and I realized it was the sound of my heartbeats. There was an I.V. attached to my arm. Odd, this doesn't look like a hospital. Why do the curtains have pink lace? Ah, I can't even afford this. What should I do when they ask about that? I had to call a nurse to tell them that they should be discharged because I didn't have money to pay for this. I tried to get up, but my body felt paralyzed, and I was slightly able to move my right arm. “Hm?” I heard a voice say. I noticed a man, whose face barely had any wrinkle lines, sitting next to me. He was reading a book about plants. No, herbs maybe? He was nicely dressed, and he wore a white lab coat. Was he a doctor? That's weird. Doctor's don't normally sit with their patients, do they? “Ah, you're awake. Don't worry. Your body being weak is normal, especially with what you went through. My son found you on the sidewalk and brought you home. I'm a doctor, and my name is Liam. What's yours?” the man asked. He's a doctor. That's right. I remembered that's what I wanted to do. I wanted to save lives. “I'm Alex,” I said, which sounded like a rasp. “Well, Alex. Just sleep some more. You'll feel better when you wake up again,” Liam said. As if his voice compelled me, I closed my eyes and went to sleep. I wasn't sure how long I slept for. It felt like weeks but time was a blur to me. This time, I was able to move a lot

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more easily. I managed to sit up. Other than the I.V. and the machines beeping that I was still alive, the room seemed rather cozy. I noticed family photos above the fireplace in front of me. I recognized the doctor, Liam, and he was holding a boy around the age of nine. A woman was standing next to Liam. You could tell that when they shot this picture, they were laughing at something. I wondered if this was how a family was supposed to be. My body was a lot easier to control, and I didn't want to stay here any longer. I carefully took the I.V. out of my arm which made the machines go out of control. I knew I only had a few minutes to leave before someone came in. The first thing I noticed right away after I left the room was that this house was huge. My house was huge, too, but this was a new definition of the word huge. The hallway led to many different rooms and branched off into other hallways. I had no idea which way to go or what floor I was on. After getting lost many times and doing a lot of backtracking, I finally found the front door. I only made it to the front porch until a familiar voice stopped me. “Where are you going looking like that?” he asked. What he said threw me off guard, and I took a look at my clothes. Huh? This wasn't my uniform. Why was I wearing striped pajamas? I turned around and saw a young man with blond hair, and I got the feeling I saw him somewhere before. He wore a black and white striped shirt with blue jeans. “Ah, you're...” I trailed off. “The one who saved you. You should be more grateful, you know,” he said. I didn't say anything because I wasn't sure of what to say. He sighed and then scratched his head. He quickly came to me, grabbed my arm, and dragged me back into the house. His sudden action made me tense up, but even if he noticed, he ignored my reaction. His grip didn't hurt, but I knew if I tried to pull away, he wouldn't let go. “What are you doing?” I asked, confused. “Shut up,” he snapped. His comment shocked me into silence. I let him drag me through the house because I didn't know what else to do. We walked past several rooms, down multiple hallways, until we finally made it to the stairs. His hold on my arm didn't lessen, and it made me think that he didn't want me to leave. We finally stopped in front of a huge door. “Please bring him to me if you find him. Yes, thank you,” the voice of Liam beyond the door said. Find who? I wondered. The door opened, and I was dragged into the house. Liam looked at us, and some kind of emotion flashed in his eyes. But then it left. I wonder what that was? “Oh, Keenan. Good, you found him.” Liam said. “Yeah, and he almost got away looking like this, too,” Keenan said. Liam laughed at that. The mention of my clothes caught my attention. “Where's my uniform?” I asked. “Oh, we had to throw it away because it was so torn and dirty that it wasn't worth being washed,” Keenan said. “Keenan,” Liam warned. Keenan only shrugged. So that's what happened to it. It somehow made me feel better. That uniform would no longer tie me to the memories of my father and the life he wanted me to live. I was relieved to know that it was gone. “Speaking of that uniform... You went to that private high school, correct?” Liam asked. “That's right,” I said.

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“So then, why were you collapsed on the sidewalk? Not only that, you were malnourished, and you had cuts and scrapes,” he wondered. “Well, I... Was thrown out,” I said reluctantly. My news seemed to shock them both. “Thrown out of your home? Why?” Liam asked. I hesitated in telling them. I wasn't sure what kind of people Keenan and Liam were, but so far they were helping me. I looked at the ring my mother gave me for my birthday, and I gathered my courage. “Why must I be forced to do something,” I blurted out with anger aimed at my dad, “that I don't want to do? Besides, I hate my dad. I don't want to give him any satisfaction.” I then realized that something was bothering me. “What day is it?” I asked. The news caught them off guard, but Keenan answered my question. “It's August 9th,” he said. What? That couldn't be right. I was wandering around for two months? “It seems like the news is a shock to you,” Liam said. Well, it doesn't matter. I'm alive and I'm no longer in that mind clouded state. However, I had no home to go back to. That was the biggest problem. As if reading my mind, Liam asked, “Would you like to stay here for the time being?” His offer made me suspicious. Normally when I asked for something, I had to do something in return. “I only have a few conditions if you decide to stay here. One: you must go to college. Two: you must not get into any fights on the street. Three: be respectful to my family and you can stay here as long as you need. I already asked Keenan and my wife, and they've already agreed,” Liam said. That's it? That's all I had to do? It seemed too easy for me to believe it, but I didn't have much of a choice. “So? How about it?” Keenan asked. “Giving me a place to stay for just so little? Why?” I asked, suddenly wary. “Let's just say you remind me of someone who was important to me, but I never got the chance to help him. I can't make the same mistake twice,” Liam said. “I guess if it's fine with you, then I'll accept your offer,” I said. “Great! Any ideas on what you want to go to school for?” Liam asked. I could feel my determination come back. My dream that I've wanted to pursue for these past three years could finally come true. “Yes,” I said in a determined voice. “I want to become a doctor.” I closed my eyes. I'm sorry, Gabriel. Just wait a little while longer. Then I'll come get you. Four Years Later “Dr. West? Thank you so much for saving my daughter the other day,” said a grinning old man, who shook my hand firmly. Moments like these are the greatest rewards I can get from my job. “Don't mention it. She'll be up and running around in no time,” I told the father. “Thank you very much,” he said one last time, then walked away with renewed hope. I watched him leave. Some parents really do love their children. Some of the patients' families doubt my ability as a doctor because of my age, but once I show how capable I am, they gradually give me their trust. I managed to get my degree in medicine in only three years. I then completed the training course in becoming a doctor thanks to the help of Liam. I can't help that I'm amazing in this field of work.

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I'm still living with Liam Satari and his family. Keenan became my best friend over the years, and he's the person I go to whenever I have a problem and I seek advice. If I can't find Keenan, then I go to Liam. Ever since I told them the story of my family background, Sara Satari, Liam's wife and Keenan's mom, has constantly worried about me. Sara has taken care of me, made me lunch, and bandaged me up whenever I got hurt even though I had protested that I was too old for that. She wouldn't listen and did what she wanted to anyway. I was very grateful to the Satari family. Without them, I wouldn't have gotten to where I was today. “Excuse me, Doctor. Someone is specifically asking for you. He needs your help. Room 301,” a nurse said. “Thank you,” I said, while I grabbed the clipboard that she handed me. I walked into room 301. A teenager, around the age of sixteen was sitting in one of the chairs. His school uniform was the same one that I wore in my high school days. He had black hair and icy-blue eyes. “So, what seems to be the problem?” I asked. There was silence in the room for a few minutes. “So, you can't even recognize your own brother?” the teenager said. I quickly looked at him. No, it couldn't be, could it? “Gabriel?” I asked, bewildered. He smiled and said, “Well, at least you remember my name. When I saw your name in the phonebook, I thought it might be you. Now I know my suspicions are true.” “Gabriel, I-” I started to say. “Shut up! After you left things got worse! Father started drinking even more than ever,” Gabriel cried. I noticed that Gabriel was curling his hands into fists. Ah, I remember when I was like that. I felt so much anger back then. Afraid, helpless, and lost. I knew this was what Gabriel was going through right now. I knew it was my fault. My guilt that I've carried for years and tried to push back easily resurfaced. “Gabriel, listen. No amount of apology that I say will make things better. However, I am truly sorry for what happened to you. Ever since father threw me out, I've felt guilty about leaving you behind. I was the only person who was protecting you from his abuse at the time. I failed at being an older brother,” my voice cracked. What I said caught him off guard. “No, father said you left us. You left me because you couldn't stand us!” Gabriel shouted. Gabriel's words stung me deep. “What? No. I was thrown out like trash. I was homeless for two months. I almost died on a sidewalk in front of a convenience store. I was almost stabbed by another homeless man. If my friend Keenan didn't bring me to his home, I would have died,” I said. My words seemed to make Gabriel lose control. His tears fell one after one, and I couldn't understand a thing he was saying. “Ugh... Alex, you... You didn't abandon me after all?” he asked, sounding too afraid of what my answer might be. “Of course not. I never intended to,” I told him. Gabriel broke into sobs after that. I had no idea how to handle someone crying. Luckily I didn't have to worry about that for long because Gabriel ran headlong into me. His arms hugged my waist tightly, and it became hard for me to breathe. “I'm sorry I thought bad of you,” he said between sobs. What he said made all of my guilt evaporate. My fear of this day was finally over. I gently grabbed Gabriel and detached his arms from around my waist. I then noticed that his cheek was red, and he had a few scratch marks there too. “He hit you?” I asked softly. Gabriel hesitated for a moment and then he nodded.

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I cleaned up the cut on his face. I took some fingerprint samples from the wound, so I could take it to the forensics lab. I knew who did this, and it was time I put a stop to my father's abuse. I told Gabriel that I would go home with him today. He was worried because he was afraid of how our father might act when he saw me again. I told him that I'd bring Keenan, and he said that if Keenan came, he'd feel more at ease. So Keenan came with me after my shift, and I walked home for the first time in four years. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't afraid of how things might go. I walked up to my old front door. I told Keenan and Gabriel to stay behind me a few feet away. I wanted to talk to my father first. I rang the bell, and a servant opened the door. She was shocked to see me. “Get my father, please.” I told her. She hurried back inside, and a few moments later, my father came to the door. He was shaking with anger. He gave me that same look all of those years ago, as if he could see right into my soul. “What do you want?” he snarled. “I'm taking Gabriel with me,” I said. A loud crack followed by a stinging sensation formed on my left cheek. I was slapped just like that night all of those years ago. However, I didn't place my hand to where I got slapped. If I did that, I'd have the feeling that I'd lose. “Hey-” Keenan started to yell, but I motioned for him to not say anymore. “You've lost everything,” I told my father. “From the wife that you loathed to your heirs that you treated like trash, everything that should have been important. All you have left is your pathetic business that means more to you than a family. Why mom ever married you is beyond my comprehension. If you dare lay a hand on Gabriel again, or go after him, I swear I will send the forensic results to the police. I'm a better person than you will ever be, and frankly, you just aren't worth my time.” After I was done speaking, I turned around and walked away. I didn't look back. Over the past four years, I wondered why the police didn't search for me. The reason was that my father got rid of any evidence that I ever existed. How he managed that, I wasn't sure, but I had suspicions that he had very powerful friends. It took Liam a lot of effort to prove that I was born. If my father knew what the smart thing to do was, he'd never come into contact with Gabriel again. I walked with Keenan and Gabriel until we got to Liam's house. Gabriel stopped in front of it and looked at me. I knew that look. It was the same one I had when I still lived with our father. “What am I supposed to do now?” he asked me. I smiled and said, “Do whatever you think feels right.” “I don't know how...” he trailed off. I grabbed the ring that was on my middle finger and slid it off. I then took Gabriel's right hand and slipped it onto his middle finger. “This will help. Whenever I was lost or afraid, I'd look at this ring and remember that courage helped me get through the hardest points in my life,” I told him. “Does it work?” he asked. “Well, it did for me,” I said as Gabriel smiled. “If it worked for you, I'm sure it will work for me.” I looked at Keenan, and after looking into his eyes for a few seconds, I smiled at him and mouthed, “Thank you.” He smiled at me and mouthed back, “That's what best friends are for.” I knew that even during the hardest times of my life, the ring wasn't what really gave me courage. It was also my mother's memory and my determination to help save a life that kept me going. I realized that I couldn't save everybody that came to me at the hospital. That's when family and friends come in. They support you through your toughest times. Of course, the ring helped, too. The side of the lion's face that was engraved on the ring did represent something after all. Courage, wasn't it?

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Jordan Patton

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Borders by Jacqueline Kitchener We went to Borders together, Every Saturday night. We walked into the cafe, With the strong, sickly sweet aroma Of coffee overwhelming us. We'd sit at a table. Both of us ordered our own drink. Mine was a blended coffee, Of caramel and whipped cream, And hers was a sweetened, iced black tea. We'd sit together. We'd talk about various things. I'd ask her for advice. She'd tell me what happened at home, And then we'd talk about books. We’d get up and go look at books. Flipping through the pages, The earthy smell of fresh paper, And bold printed ink, Engulfed us in a feeling of protection. An hour before the store closed, We'd listen to a one man band. The squeaks of his guitar, And his quiet, yet powerful voice, Gave off a relaxing atmosphere. The bookstore’s shut down, And she’s moved to Reno. Although both maybe out of reach, my memories of those moments will remain my comfort place.

Yobana Graciano

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ABOUT THE AUTHORS

About me: I’m a Creative Writing major, and my future goal is to become a citizen of the world. My favorite author is J.K. Rowling. What I learned in ENG 205: Intro to Creative Writing with Prof. B-K: She’s a great teacher, funny, and knows how to make class enjoyable. Another student would gain the ability to really think creatively from the experience, and I found that I can finish writing a story because I’ve never been able to before this class due to writer’s block. Jen Keli Bautista

About me: I’m a Communications and Creative Writing major, and my future goal includes writing a book that gets published. I’m also a big fan of Langston Hughes and Sapphire. What I learned in ENG 205: Intro to Creative Writing with Prof. B-K: She’s a very patient and introspective teacher. I learned to use better description techniques, and how to make one feel as if they were in the setting of my story.

Philip Cunningham

About me: My major is Creative Writing, but in the future, I plan to be an opera singer, performing in the U.S. and Europe. My favorite author includes Ray Bradbury. What I learned in ENG 205: Intro to Creative Writing with Prof. B-K: She’s a no nonsense instructor with a lot of knowledge and experience. She helps her students in any way that she can, and she always encourages questions and open discussion. In the end, I improved in writing dialogue, and I also learned to critique effectively during the workshops. Kaitlin Jellison

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About me: I’m majoring in Creative Writing, and I would like to pursue a career in writing for animation with a vision of starting my own graphic arts studio/company. I’ve enjoyed the work of J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis the most. What I learned in ENG 205: Intro to Creative Writing with Prof. B-K: She outlines all of the necessary steps for good writing, and she also understands that everyone comes into the class with their own intentions and goals. As a result, I was forced to write out of my comfort zone, and I am a better writer because of it. Dan Kanizar

About me: I’m going to be a Creative Writing major, and my goal is to get a book published. I have many favorite authors, but I’m currently into John Flanagan and Mitch Albom. What I learned in ENG 205: Intro to Creative Writing with Prof. B-K: I learned to keep my dialogue from being forced, where to add details when it’s needed, and how to show rather than tell. I’d recommend this teacher because she will give you any help you need, and she gives you tips on how to improve.

Jacqueline Kitchener

About me: I major in Creative Writing, and I particularly enjoy reading fantasy novels. In the future, I’d like to obtain my Associates of Arts, publish a novel, and potentially start a career as an editor. What I learned in ENG 205: Intro to Creative Writing with Prof. B-K: I feel as though I truly grew, not just as a writer, but also in giving critiques, because the workshops taught me a lot about giving and accepting criticism. I also learned a lot about broadening my horizons because I used to be stuck in one kind of poetry.

Kristyn Knott

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About me: I’m currently a Creative Writing major at CSN, and my future goals are to get my degree and hopefully get some more work published. My favorite author is Robert Jordan. What I learned in ENG 205: Intro to Creative Writing with Prof. B-K: I learned how to properly write a fictional story and incorporate dialogue. I also came into this class with absolutely no knowledge of writing poetry, and after taking this class, I have a greater understanding, and I’m much more comfortable writing poetry in my spare time. I would gladly recommend Prof. Bailey-Kirby. Kris Martin

About me: I am currently undeclared, but my sights are set on becoming a secondary teacher. I have found many different poets inspiring, such as Robert Frost, John G. Whittier, and countless others. What I learned in ENG 205: Intro to Creative Writing with Prof. B-K: I found myself improving in dialogue, which I had never attempted until this class. I also found that ideas had begun to flow more steadily throughout the course. I’d recommend her to other students who wish to develop their skills in both fiction and poetry. Joshua T. Mirenda

About me: My major is Creative Writing, and I want to be a scary story writer someday like my favorite author Edgar Allan Poe. What I learned in ENG 205: Intro to Creative Writing with Prof. B-K: This class taught me the importance of details in a story. I recommend this professor because she gave us a lot of feedback on all our work. She wasn’t about finding errors but about helping improve my writing.

Kristine Sullivan

About me: I’m graduating with an AA in 2012, and moving to Seattle, WA or Austin, TX. My favorite authors are Libba Bray, J.K. Rowling, Ellen Hopkins, Douglas Adams, and Christopher Moore, and I plan on making a living through writing books. What I learned in ENG 205: Intro to Creative Writing with Prof. B-K: I’ve had a lot of trouble with setting in the past, but the class helped me when it came to writing about setting in fiction. I also discovered more types of poetry and allowed myself to just write it, even though it isn’t my forte. Overall, it’s a fun class that encourages you to write constantly. Morgan Tribbitt

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SUBMISSION GUIDELINES Aspirations is a literary and visual arts magazine at the College of Southern Nevada that is produced by Professor Yelena K. Bailey-Kirby with her students. Original and engaging prose, poetry, and art are accepted during the fall th and spring semesters with two deadlines: December 15th and May 15 . The magazine is published twice each academic year, and students from her courses are invited to send their best poetry or prose by e-mailing an attachment of their work to yelena.bailey-kirby@csn.edu. However, the artwork is accepted from any currently enrolled CSN student. The requirements for submitting your work include the following:

Prose Criteria: 

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Submissions must be formatted as follows: 12 point legible font (i.e. Calibri or Times New Roman), double spaced with 1-inch margins, and align left (do not use justified). In the upper left hand corner of the document leave your FULL NAME and beneath it the title of your piece in BOLD. As the above criteria states, please be sure to title your submission. “Untitled” will only be accepted as a title if it relates to the piece. You are limited to TWO submissions of prose and should send your Word documents in a Rich Text Format. Submissions should be no more than 30 pages with the above formatting implemented. Failure to adhere to this limit will result in the submission being discarded, and most importantly, your work needs to be proofread carefully before submission. Poetry Criteria:

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Submissions must be formatted as follows: 12 point legible font (i.e. Calibri or Times New Roman), double spaced with 1-inch margins, and align left (do not use justified). In the upper left hand corner of the document leave your FULL NAME and beneath it the title of your piece in BOLD. As the above guideline states, please be sure to title your submission. “Untitled” will only be accepted as a title if it relates to the piece. You are limited to SIX submissions of poetry and should send your Word documents in a Rich Text Format. Submissions should be no more than 90 lines (or three pages). Failure to adhere to this limit will result in the submission being discarded, and most importantly, your work needs to be proofread carefully before submission. Art Criteria:

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Submissions may include any type of style, subject, and medium as long as it can be sent as a photograph attachment: pencil, oil, acrylic, charcoal, mixed media, photography, and so forth are welcome in black/white or color. Provide your FULL NAME with each JPEG file submitted. As the above guideline states, please be sure to title your submission. “Untitled” was accepted in the past, but you should be providing a title for each piece if you want to be considered for the magazine. You are limited to FIFTEEN submissions of artwork and should send any example of your work as a JPEG file.

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ASPIRATIONS FALL 2011