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ASPIRATIONS CSN Student Literary and Visual Arts Magazine

Issue Two: Spring 2012


ASPIRATIONS CSN Student Literary and Visual Arts Magazine

Issue Two: Spring 2012


ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

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

Special Thanks: Lee Barnes Jacob Elison Levia Hayes Patrick Quinn Wendy Weiner John Ziebell

Front and Back Cover: Jordan Patton

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 Two: Spring 2012


TABLE OF CONTENTS Forward Yelena K. Bailey-Kirby

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Fiction Tabitha Agnir: The Bachelor Andrea Carter: Prisoner of Love Lauren Chaves: The Star Spangled Banner Amber Day: Just What I Needed Timothy Day: One Hell of a Party Kira Dennis: No Regrets Brittany Fehlig: The Cities Kaitlin Jellison: The Day Before the Last Noelle Johnson: Nobody’s Home Daniel Kanizar: Preservation of Obstruction Kristyn Knott: The Storyteller Jozet Lopez: Janice Felt Big Lauren Lourenco: Bread Kris Martin: The Rise of Skald Samantha Mayer: Red Times Jessica Morey: The Truth of It All Ulises Penaloza: Through the Eyes of a Child Kaelyn Rosenfeld: With Every Ending is a New Beginning

46 52 138 124 110 17 88 12 120 71 2 83 127 29 168 60 133 105

Art Kira Dennis Eric Flores Heloísa Flores Yobana Graciano Melissa Jeralds Jessica Jones Kenneth Lamug Joshua Mirenda Jordan Patton

87, 104 123, 167 44, 51, 109, 174 9, 26-28, 45, 59, 69-70, 122, 132, 166 108, 137 119 126, 132 45, 81-82 1, 10-11, 16, 58

Submission Guidelines Criteria for Prose, Poetry, Art Submissions

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FORWARD I am pleased to bring you our next issue of Aspirations, the literary and visual arts magazine, dedicated to supporting CSN students who are striving to be authors as well as artists. Once again, I wanted to highlight my students’ talents in these pages, and I hope that you will enjoy their short stories as much as I take pride in the progress that each of them made to improve their skills in the craft of fiction. I witnessed each student work hard, dream big, use their imagination, and make strides with each story submitted throughout the semester. They were exposed to various examples of different genres and styles by reading a variety of authors’ works as well as writing consistently with each of my weekly exercises and activities. With each writing activity and exercise, they produced and practiced how to apply what they were reading. Hence, they understood the value of raising the bar in their own work each time rather than comparing themselves to anyone else in the class. After all, as William Faulkner said, “Always dream and shoot higher than you know you can do. Do not bother just to be better than your contemporaries or predecessors. Try to be better than yourself.” By encouraging my students to get out of their comfort zone and to set new goals with each piece, they took their own journey, and as a result, they raised the standards of their writing with each short story that they submitted before the workshops. This edition contains each of the students’ best work from their final portfolio revisions during the spring semester in my ENG 221: Writing Fiction course. I was also fortunate to have the opportunity to include beautiful artwork from our CSN students in the Art Department. Therefore, if you are interested in submitting to the magazine or working on it, 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

Thank you and Enjoy! i


Jordan Patton

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Kristyn Knott

Major/Goals: I’m majoring in Creative Writing, and I’d like to obtain my Associates of Arts, publish a novel, and potentially start a career as an editor. Favorite Author/Genre: Fantasy novels Describe your experience in ENG 221 - Writing Fiction: Writing Fiction is a great class because it really helps force you to take time out of your schedule and write. Between the short stories and the exercises, I was pushed to be ready to sit down and write every week. Also, the workshops were fantastic, because not only was it a good lesson on giving and taking criticism, it sort of helps build rapport with other writers and gives you a place to bring your ideas. The more relaxed atmosphere of the groups and the chance to build friendships helped with that, though, and I feel like I’m coming out of this class more prepared to give and take critiques with more aplomb.

The Storyteller by Kristyn Knott Once upon a time, a very long time ago, there was a being called the Storyteller. He lived in a cave deep within the forest, far away from any village or town. His job was to write the universe: every day, just before the sun rose, he would sit down at his desk, open the Book, and continue the stories he’d started the previous day. He wrote about births and deaths, weddings and funerals, when the rains would come, how the crops would grow – anything and everything. For many years, despite his remote location, the people who lived outside the forest would come and visit him, bringing gifts or, more often, requests. He was known for his kindness, and he loved to take advice from the people he cared for. This relationship stretched throughout generations, and not only were the people happy, but the Storyteller was happy, too. He enjoyed getting up each day, and he treasured the smiles and gifts that showed him his people were happy. Then, one day, while the Storyteller was writing, he sat back and stared at the Book. For decades, two kingdoms had been menacing each other and threatening violence, and he had been carefully writing distractions into the kings’ lives so that fighting was the furthest thing from their minds. In his more recent preoccupation with the villagers who visited him, he had forgotten the kings, and they had borne sons that were now taking matters into their own hands. Two armies were camped on opposite ends of a field, trampling down one of the nearby town’s crops, and he hadn’t even noticed. For two days and two nights, he never moved from his desk, refusing anyone who tried to enter his cave as he searched for a resolution to the conflict. Finally, dragging his hands through his thick curly hair, he sighed and shook his head. With a trembling hand, he picked up his pen, turned to the most recent page, and printed one word: “War.”

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For a century, the Storyteller never rose from his desk. He never ate, drank, or slept – instead, he only wrote feverishly, only just able to keep up with the fury of battle. In the first few years, he still received visitors: wailing mothers and widows who begged him to tell them why he had done this, angry, young men who had lost arms and legs. He never spoke, but he did listen, and when they shuffled away cursing his name, only then did he let himself cry. Before long, the people stopped coming, and the path to his cave grew over with grass and trees. On the last day of the century, the Storyteller finally found a place in the Book to write: “Peace.” Taking a deep breath, he tried to set down his pen. To his disgust, he found that his hand had curled permanently around it, withered down to skin and bone. His free hand reached up to touch his beard. Where it had once been black and short, it was now long, scraggly, and white. In this last century, he had grown very old, and very sad. It took another day of thinking before he came to a decision. Turning to a new page, he wrote his name at the top of the Book, and scribbled a short paragraph. He told the story of how he had tried so hard to protect the people he loved, and in the end, he had still failed. He wrote about how tired he was, and how he hated himself for letting his Book go to such a dark place, and how what he truly wanted was someone to come and take his place. Before he had finished writing, he was aware of a presence over his shoulder, breathing soft and slowly. He hurriedly described his successor, making sure she had all the traits he admired in himself, and a few extras he wished he had been blessed with. As he penned in the last few words, the being behind him gasped, and there was a rush of warm air that swelled through the cave. The Storyteller turned on his stool, and for the first time in ages, he found he could smile. In the center of the cave, there stood a young woman, her hair black as midnight and her eyes gray as slate. She fiddled with the sleeve of her long flowing robes, and bit her lip as he extended his left hand. After a moment’s hesitation, she slid the pen out from between his fingers. “This is your job now,” he croaked, getting unsteadily to his feet. “I leave my title to you.” The new Storyteller bent low enough for the old man to place a kiss on her forehead, and followed him to the mouth of the cave. She watched as he hobbled away, weaving throughout the trees until he disappeared. With a heavy sigh, she went back to the desk and put her hand on the Book. Underneath the last Storyteller’s final paragraph, she wrote her name: Casilde. When Casilde looked back at what the man she considered her father had written, she saw many years of hurt and anguish, and her heart ached for the people. She knew, just as strongly as if he had told her himself, that he had loved them just as dearly as she did now. It had broken him and made him old, to treat them that way, but there had been no choice. The very thought of being forced to do that herself was terrifying – but her father had left her in an era of fledgling peace. Then and there, her fingers gently tracing the curled letters on the Book’s pages, she promised herself and the people that she would let no harm come to them.

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Casilde worked unceasingly at the task of rebuilding the outside world: putting families back together, creating new places for people to live, and coaxing the crops to grow the way they had before. At the end of that first year, she stood up, walked outside, and stretched. Peaceful kings had been put on the thrones, and everyone was in a proper, safe place. No one was ill, storms never came, and she had long since banished the dreadful creatures who had once haunted the deserts and seas. “I’ve done it,” she said to herself, watching as the sun slipped out of sight and night began to fall. “Everything is perfect.” Every day, she dedicated herself to maintaining that same perfection. She took the time to carefully outline every single person’s life, guiding them through the day as best she could to ensure that nothing would go wrong. Therefore, after a decade, it was a great surprise when she heard footsteps that weren’t her own echoing around the cave. Slamming the Book shut, Casilde leapt to her feet and spun around, knocking the stool over. At the mouth of the cave, clutching a rabbit by the ears in one hand and a bow in the other, there stood a man. He was tall, almost as tall as her, and in the darkness of the cave, his eyes burned a shining blue. The fox-pelt clothing he wore told her which village he came from, but she couldn’t have described any of them – she only knew them by their names. “Are you the Storyteller?” he asked, gazing breathlessly around her cave. Casilde flicked her gaze back and forth between the stranger and the Book. “My grandmother told me that when she was a girl, she heard stories about people who came to visit you. The stories said you lived in the forest, in a cave… I didn’t expect to find you, if I’m being honest. Most people don’t think you exist.” “No one has ever visited me,” Casilde said, picking up the Book and cradling it against her chest. “My father – the Storyteller before me. They used to visit him. People stopped coming. They were angry.” “Well, I’m angry now, and I decided to come. Do you eat rabbit?” The man came further inside, shaking the animal in her direction. She frowned and took a step backwards, away from him. “What cause could you have to be upset with me? I take care of you.” “You’re smothering us!” he said, laying the rabbit on the desk. “Nothing exciting ever happens. There’s never any sort of… of anticipation. I know what to expect, and when to expect it. It’s predictable. It’s boring.” “No wars, no hunger, no uncertainty – it’s what’s best for you.” The man snorted and picked up the stool, setting it upright again before he sat on it. He crossed his legs and looped his bow around his neck before he spoke again. “The last time somebody stubbed their toe was over fifty years ago. Believe me, we’ve been keeping track. It’s just…” He paused, running a hand through his dark red hair, and then spread his arms in a hopeless gesture. “Everything’s all the same. It would drive me crazy, but there’s no way you’d let even that happen, is there?” “Why would you want to be crazy?” Casilde asked, crossing her arms over the Book.

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“I want to do something big. I want to – to fight a dragon, or go on a quest. I want to be a hero. Do you remember when there were heroes?” Casilde tried to recall any page from the Book before her time that might have mentioned heroes, but she had mostly been concerned with the pages since the war began. She shook her head. “That was all my father’s work. Heroes, and monsters, and – and battles. He used to do that.” “Would it be hard for you?” he asked, leaning forward with his hands on his knees. “Just to write in one measly dragon, one accident, one – one stubbed toe?” Casilde turned away from him and opened the Book, running a finger down a blank page. She had spent so much of her time trying to make sure that no one would ever be hurt, she hadn’t stopped to consider their happiness. If this would make her people happy… “…What’s your name?” “Cavill.” “…I can try, Cavill.” As soon as Cavill departed, waving cheerfully and leaving behind the rabbit, Casilde sat back down on the stool and perched the Book on her lap. She wasn’t quite sure how to write an adventure – how long did she let a dragon rampage before sending someone out to kill it? How far could peril and excitement go before someone got hurt? What did dragons do, anyway? Turning the pages slowly, she stopped as soon as she saw Cavill’s name. His village was one of the smaller ones, only two hundred people living in huddled houses at the edge of a field. Not far away, past where they grew their crops, there was a little stretch of land that had blackened during the war, where nothing ever grew. Perhaps that would be a good spot to leave a dragon… Something inside her gnawed angrily at her heart, telling her very firmly that this was in no way a good idea, but the thought of Cavill’s happiness, the renewed acceptance of her people… Casilde made up her mind. Moving the rabbit gingerly off the desk and onto the floor, she set the Book back in its rightful spot and picked up the pen. She put it to paper just underneath the last paragraph, bit her lip, and quickly detailed a few sentences. She had only a vague idea of what dragons should look like – scales, and sharp teeth, and she was sure fire was involved somehow – but in the end, looking back over the paragraph with a critical eye, she thought it would do. As to rampaging, setting it loose on the village crops seemed enough. It meant destroying some of their food, which went against everything she had promised, but in the light of their happiness… and anyway, she wouldn’t let it last more than a day. Finally, at the bottom of the page, she penned in Cavill’s name. He would go after the dragon in two days time, taking with him his bow and arrows, and he would be happy. She almost wrote in the ending, a triumphant homecoming where women wept for joy and they held a feast in his honor, but before she could think of the words, something stopped her. Cavill came to find her because he was tired of being told what to do, of being coddled and kept safe. With a determined nod and a sickening pit in her stomach, Casilde snapped the Book shut.

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For the next four days, she found it increasingly difficult to pay attention to the Book and what she was writing. When her mind wandered, it found its way to Cavill, wherever he was, and the monster he had assuredly faced by now. Several times, she had to go back and cross out little mistakes, which she hoped – but wasn’t sure – wouldn’t have an effect on anyone. Every few hours, she would turn back to the page where she had last left Cavill, almost wishing something in the text would change so that she would know what had happened. Midway through the fifth day, the silence of the forest was broken by a wordless song, gradually growing louder and louder. Casilde paused, put her pen down, and turned just in time to see Cavill emerge from between the trees, carrying something in his arms and bellowing the tune triumphantly. Beside herself with relief, Casilde stretched out her arms and shouted a welcome. “I wanted to show you this!” he called, trudging up the hill with a huge smile on his face. “You did an amazing job with it. A proper dragon, that’s what my gran called it.” As he got closer, the thing in his arms slowly became clearer: he was carrying a severed head, one that must have belonged to the dragon. Its dark blue scales glimmered in patches of sunlight, and its fangs were nearly as long as Cavill’s hands. She shuddered to look at it, almost frightened that so horrid a creature had come from her words… and yet, in a way, she was painfully proud. Cavill entertained her with the story of how he had slain the dragon for over an hour, sharing in great detail all the times he had thought he was a goner, and showed her the scratches and bruises he’d obtained in the process. Despite her initial misgivings, she had never known such an exciting story, and even though now she knew Cavill had come home and already celebrated with his village, she still held her breath as he described the dragon’s death throes, and the way its wings had stretched to the sky and beat down hard enough that the ensuing wind knocked him over. Positively glowing, Cavill finished his story by plunking down on the stool and dropping the dragon head at his feet. “Everybody wanted me to thank you, you know.” “Why thank me?” “That’s the most excitement anybody’s had in ages,” he laughed, patting the top of the head almost affectionately. “They wanted me to ask for more.” “More dragons?” Casilde frowned. One might be manageable, but more than that… “Not necessarily more dragons,” he said. “Just more excitement. It felt good, handling myself in a situation like that. Everybody wants to know how that feels.” Promising she would think about it, Casilde bade Cavill farewell an hour before sunset, making sure he took the dragon head with him. Once he’d gone, she sat down in front of the Book. It took much less thought to make a decision than the last time – this time, she knew exactly what her people were asking for. As the weeks went by, she gradually worked more and more excitement into the pages. She wrote a handful of monsters, scattered here and there in places where she knew they would be taken care of, and she wrote about little disagreements between

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people that were made up in a day or two. She even let some sections of crop fields die, if she knew they could be spared. And to her eternal surprise, more people began to visit. They brought her gifts, small tokens of their appreciation, and begged her for favors. More and more people asked for their own dragons to face, or for little disagreements with their mother-inlaws, or even for bad things to happen to other people. She refused many, but some of them pleaded so cajolingly that she couldn’t help but add another dragon, or stave off the rain for a few days, or anything else they asked of her. But then, when it was over, she would get someone else who complained about it. One of her dragons had eaten a sheep from someone’s flock, or too much sunshine and not enough water had killed half of someone’s orchard. It came to a point when she spent more time arguing and listening to pleas than she did writing, which of course led to more complaints and concerns: because of her lack of attention, people were getting sick, livestock were dying, the crops were failing, and somehow, at some point, everything became her fault. Finally, in the middle of a sleepless night – the only time she did not receive visitors – she broke. In a flash of uncontrollable anger, she flipped open the Book, and wrote in thick, bold, jagged strokes diagonally across a new page. Outside, clouds quickly gathered and darkened, and by the time she put her pen down again, the skies opened up. It began to rain everywhere, a torrential downpour that pounded loudly and echoed around the cave. Getting back into her bed, Casilde curled up and listened to the rain fall, thinking it served everyone right. For days she lay in her bed, simply listening, and apathetically accepting the slow and steady drips that were beginning to leak through the cave. One afternoon, four days after it started to rain, she awoke suddenly to recognize a presence uncomfortably close to her bed. Rolling over, she frowned darkly at Cavill, who was dripping onto her blanket. His hair clung to his forehead, and he looked paler and more unhappy than she had ever seen him. With a snort, she rolled over again. “You’ve got to stop,” Cavill said, his voice thick, though whether from emotion or a cold, she couldn’t say, and she didn’t care. “Why should I?” “Everything’s flooded, the crops are all destroyed, homes are being swept away – people are getting hurt.” The thought pained her, more than she had thought it would, but she pushed the feeling down and refused to turn around. “I thought that’s what everyone wanted – some excitement?” “Not like this.” Flying upright, Casilde almost turned to strike Cavill in the face, but instead she slammed her hands on either side of her. “Why should I care about you?” she wailed, clenching the blankets in her fist. “None of you care about me. All you do is use me – someone asks me for one thing, and when I give it to them, someone else complains. One person wants peace, the other wants war. Nobody can agree on anything!” “This is what you do! You’re supposed to take care of us!”

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“If you think you can do it better, then go ahead! See if you think it’s easy! I go mad in here, alone, trying to please you people. Well, fine.” Rolling out of bed, Casilde got to her feet and put a finger in Cavill’s chest. The soaked furs squelched. “You’ve all got your freedom. I won’t write anymore. Go and do whatever you want. I’m done.” Sneering, Cavill took a step forward into her finger, pushing her arm back. “I’m sure we’ll manage,” he said, and with that, he spun around and stormed out of the cave. Casilde stood still for a moment, breathing heavily, and then with a cry of rage, she ran to the Book. In a single swift movement, she pulled it off the desk and threw it into the wall, relishing the way the dull thud reverberated. She had meant it. She was done. For over a month, she did not move from her stool, perched in the shadows as far back in the cave as she could go. Nothing could draw her out: not the thought of sunrises or sunsets, or how after a few days, the rain died away and the forest came alive again. Not even the book interested her, still on the floor where it had fallen. Day after day, she nursed her bitter feelings until they dwindled away, and left in their place a numbing sort of sadness. Then, one day, she heard a voice. “Casilde?” Blinking blearily against the shadows, Casilde tried to make sense of the figure in the mouth of her cave, but when he repeated her name, her heart leapt in her chest. She knew who it was. “What do you want?” she asked. She was trying to seem indifferent, but her voice sounded reedy in her ears, and she was already half ready to leap off the stool and run into the light. “We came to apologize. It was stupid to think we could do without you. Nothing’s gone right since you… stopped.” “We?” Suddenly, the single figure multiplied into many, more than she could count, crowding out the sunlight. Her knees shaking, she slowly got to her feet and moved to the center of the cave to stand by the Book. She recognized many of the faces, and at the front of them, Cavill was shuffling back and forth, his hands twisting in front of his chest. “We won’t use you anymore,” he said, his own voice seeming a little tremulous. “You were right about that, and we’re sorry. We’d just like you to come back. You always took care of us.” Casilde fought the smile for a moment, and then decided she didn’t need to. Her lips stretching into a grin, she bent down and picked up the book, dusting it off with a hand and cradling it against her stomach. “If you promise you won’t use me,” she said, stroking the spine, “I promise I won’t smother you. You can have adventures, and mistakes, and sometimes, things can go wrong. Not a lot of things,” she added, seeing some of the people in the crowd look uncomfortably at each other. “I just want to give you a chance to live.”

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“Is that a deal, then?” Cavill took another step forward and extended his hand, his smile brighter than everyone else’s put together. Without needing to think about it, Casilde put her hand in his and gave it a little shake. “It’s a deal.” For the rest of the day, Casilde sat at her desk and listened patiently to the advice and suggestions offered to her, so that she could put everything as right as possible. There were quite a few things that needed to be fixed after her absence, but to her delight, she found she didn’t mind any of it. Once she had spoken to everyone, the crowd trickled away, and she put the Book back in its spot on the desk. Skipping past everything she and her father had written before, she opened a whole new section of the book, picked up the pen, and put it to paper. As she wrote, she sometimes stopped to lift her head and ask Cavill a question, who sat by her side on the floor and never stopped smiling. They can still be found there, to this day, in a cave in a forest – the Storyteller and her closest friend, writing the world into existence.

Yobana Graciano

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Jordan Patton

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Jordan Patton

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Kaitlin Jellison

Major/Goals: I am an Opera major, and I’ll be attending the Jacobs School of Music at Indiana University to purse Classical Voice Performance in the fall. Favorite Author/Genre: Ray Bradbury Describe your experience in ENG 221 - Writing Fiction: I would recommend this class to other students because it is a fun and safe learning environment. It can be very hard to share your work, so having a safe place to share and critique helps a student to get comfortable discussing their writing in a workshop. This class is the best for getting constructive criticism and using it to hone your ability, and Prof. BaileyKirby not only helps her students understand the basic concepts, but also helps each individual student work on their own weak point(s). In fact, I overcame my weakness of writing stereotypical characters, and my voice became more distinct through my writing.

The Day Before the Last by Kaitlin Jellison I had known the last day was coming. In fact, I knew the next day was the last day. The next day would be the day my entire world would crumble around me. I had known for weeks, if not months. My mom had told me much too far in advance. I shouldn’t have been entrusted with that information, young as I was. I did keep it to myself, though, and that day, I watched him sit in ignorant bliss. The TV flickered as I walked down the hallway. The house was eerily quiet. It seemed muffled somehow. I walked past my father sitting on the overstuffed leather sofa in his old flannel pajamas, munching on mixed nuts from the jar held between his thighs. He sat there staring at the fleeting images on the screen, using the History Channel to drown out the sounds of his two daughters and his wife of sixteen years. The blue light from the TV shone on his bald head. He didn’t look over as I padded past. He didn’t notice me watching him. He didn’t see the pain in my eyes. He didn’t know what I knew. I knew that the next day was the end. He tossed another handful of cashews and almonds into his mouth. ***** To say my parents didn’t get along is an understatement. It started early. I remember even during our family game nights, they couldn’t get along. But most of the issues were over my head. One night, they were arguing about strategizing. At the time, I didn’t even know what the word meant. All I knew was that my mom was mad at my dad for making a strategy to win against his two little girls. “Mom, am I supposed to move here?” I scooted up closer to the round, wooden table in our dining room, my feet barely brushing the carpet. “No dummy, you can only move one space at a time! Or you can go into the secret passageway.” My sister was quite the charmer.

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“Nicole Amanda, stop calling your sister names, or you’ll be in your room for the rest of the night! Lizzie, you can either go here, or here.” She pointed out the proper spaces on the board. I moved my piece, satisfied that I had made a good move. My dad’s turn was next. He made a move and yelled, “Ah ha!” He looked at us with triumph spread across his face. My mom looked up and glared at him across the table. Shaking her head, she said, “What are you doing, Paul?” I was glad I wasn’t on the receiving end of her stare. “I’m winning the game. It’s called strategy.” “I know what strategy is. I’m just wondering why you find it so important to beat your children rather than helping your daughter understand the game.” My head bobbed back and forth, first looking at my mom, and then my dad. I shrunk a little in my chair, knowing what was coming. “What are you talking about? She’s doing fine.” He leaned back in his chair and gestured to me vaguely, a smirk still playing on his lips “Well, I hope you’re proud of yourself. You beat a ten-year-old and a seven-yearold. Well done, Paul. Well done.” She pushed back her chair with difficulty, and then stormed off to their bedroom, leaving my dad, my sister, and me to clean up the game. I still remember the silence in the room, even if I didn’t understand what it meant. I made funny faces at my father and my sister as we bent over the table, grabbing at stray game pieces, hoping to ease the palpable tension. I made a few witty comments – well, witty for a seven-year-old – and hoped for some reaction that would tell me everything was ok. “Shut up, Lizzie, you’re not helping.” I ducked my head to hide the tears welling up in my eyes. “That’s enough, Nicole. Go to bed girls. Family night is over, apparently.” With that, my dad stomped after my mom, but not before throwing the game back up onto the shelf in the entryway closet. That night, my mom didn’t come into my room to tuck me in and say prayers. I squeezed my eyes shut and tried to fall asleep without a goodnight kiss. ***** Years later, things had changed for the worse. We continued on with our daily routine, acting like the perfect Christian family with the perfect Christian life. I even attended a Christian school, which we couldn’t afford. But no one would have known that. My eighth grade research paper wasn’t going to write itself and the only research I knew how to do was a Google search. I sat down in front of the big wooden desk in our guest bedroom. I went online and typed what I was looking for into the search bar. The recent search history popped up in a list under the search bar. As I read the first few words on the list, my heart dropped into my stomach. Breasts, Boobs, Naked, Women My breath and pulse quickened as the words sunk in. I read the list again, clicked out of the list, and then clicked back into it, hoping that the words had somehow disappeared and been replaced by something nicer. But they were still there, no

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matter how much I prayed for them to disappear. Shaking, I went to tell my mom what I had found. Hours passed before my dad returned home from work that night. My mom confronted him the minute he walked through the door. He walked in with a heavy step and sagging shoulders. My mom obviously didn’t take note of this and jumped right in on him. I was standing behind her imposing figure when she asked him about the computer, feeling small and insignificant, knowing that I had gotten my father in trouble. Looking at me, he said, “I was just making sure the filter was working. I didn’t want anything to leak through the filter.” As I was getting ready for bed that night, I could hear them screaming at each other in their bedroom. “I can’t believe you’ve done this again! And you were caught by our daughter, for God’s sake! You know, I’ve tried to help you, but this is just crazy. I don’t know what to do anymore! Honestly, Paul, I don’t know what to do! It’s gotten out of hand! “But I didn’t! I swear…!” “No! You can’t tell me that when just the other day, I walk into the bathroom and you’re playing with yourself in the shower! So don’t lie to me anymore! I wish you’d just be honest with me!” I imagined him sighing in desperation as he tried to claw his way out of yet another mistake. Their shouts echoed down the hallway. You could hear everything in our house. The vaulted ceilings and open floor plan made sure of that. I crawled out of bed as quietly as I could and snuck the short distance down the hallway to my sister’s bedroom door. It squeaked softly as I slowly pushed it open. I squeezed through the smallest crack I could manage in the hopes that I wouldn’t draw the attention of my angry parents fighting at the other end of the hall. Safely inside my sister’s room, I tiptoed over to her bed and crawled under the covers next to her. The light from the streetlamp outside her window played over her face, illuminating her angular features and soft blonde hair, both traits I didn’t inherit. I look much more like my mom, with dark brown hair, and a round face with rosy cheeks. My sister stirred and, noticing me next to her, asked me what was wrong. I didn’t have to answer. Now awake, she could hear the shouts bouncing down the hallway. “It’s ok, Lizzie. It’ll be over soon. Just go to sleep.” She turned away from me to lay on her other side, and I snuggled into that safe haven of soft, faded sheets and heavy denim comforter. I fell asleep to the sound of her breathing in and out. ***** I think the final straw was when my mom found the letters. “Mom, can I use the phone? Mike said he would call, but...” Nicole stopped midsentence. When my mom’s head turned toward the door, her mascara was running down her face, and her nose was dripping. “Not now, Nicole.” That was all she had to say. My sister backed out of the room and closed the door behind her. She turned to me. I tried to blend into the wall.

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“Ugh! You’re always in the way!” Nicole slunk past me back to her room at the end of the hallway. I took a step toward my mom’s bedroom door. I knocked quietly, and when I didn’t receive a reply, I turned the brass handle and slowly and noiselessly opened the door. My mom was sitting at the end of her giant bed with her head in her hands and papers scattered around her. I moved toward her. “Mom?” I whispered. She turned to face me, sniffing. “What, Lizzie?” “Mom, what’s wrong? Is everything ok?” “No, everything is not ok...” She fell into another fit of sobbing. Her entire body was shaking with agony. I stood before her, not quite knowing what to do. I knew that this time was bad. Glancing at the papers scattered on the bed, I realized that they were letters. There must have been five or six of them. They were written in a small, meticulous hand. Each letter was written in all capital letters. It was my father’s handwriting. DEAR LAURA, I DON’T KNOW HOW TO SAY THIS, BUT I’M IN LOVE WITH YOU. I HAVE BEEN FOR SOME TIME NOW. YOUR BODY…

My eyes grew wide as I realized what I was reading. My father had written love letters to another woman. And this woman was not just any woman. The other woman was my mom’s best friend. The other woman was my dad’s best friend’s wife. In shock, I waited for some clue from my mother that everything was going to be fine. That everything was going to go back to normal. Instead, she looked up at me and told me what no child ever wants to hear. She pulled me into her arms, and I sunk into her embrace. She was soft and cozy, like she had always been in times of need. Only this time, I was the one comforting her. Our tears mingled as we wept together. ***** It all boiled down to that night - the night before the last. My dad stared at the History Channel, drowning out his blessed life with a monotonous voice recounting the events of World War II. As I walked past him with all the knowledge of the end floating around in my head, I could have exploded. I wanted to scream at him. I wanted to tell him he was an idiot for not seeing what was coming. I wanted to make him see what he was losing. But I let him sit there alone on the couch, watching the History Channel and eating fancy mixed nuts. I still to this day wonder what would have happened if I had spoken up. Maybe I could have made him see what he was throwing away. Maybe he would have apologized and tried to change his ways. Maybe he would have loved me enough to stay. I can’t help but wonder if it was my fault for not saying anything. Maybe if I had had the courage to yell and scream like he had done my whole life, I could have done something. But I didn’t. And the next day was the last day.

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Jordan Patton

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Kira Dennis

Major/Goals: I do not have a major currently, but my ultimate goal for the future is to be a comic artist and writer. Favorite Author/Genre: C.S. Lewis, Edgar Allen Poe, George R.Martin, and Jane Austen. Describe your experience in ENG 221 - Writing Fiction: I’ve been struggling a lot with my writing for several years, but this class has given me the technical as well as the creative boost that I need to try again. For instance, the short stories that we were required to read in many different genres, storylines, and styles inspired me not only to think outside the box in each genre that I wrote, but to challenge myself to try writing in new genres entirely. Also, I think that Professor BaileyKirby is a fun teacher to be around, and she challenged me to be a better writer because of the artistic freedom that she promoted.

No Regrets by Kira Dennis The candles were lit with blue flame. Io wondered if it was the incense clouding her vision that made the color strange – the whole cavern was saturated with it. Or were the candles really that color? “What isss your name?” Io looked up- the monster loomed over her. At any moment, he could strike and kill her, moving so fast she wouldn’t be able to see him. Still, if she looked only at his face, in the dim light, he looked almost human. He didn’t look like a naga. But then the light of the hundreds of candles placed along the walls would hit his eyes just right, and they would glow a pale green, and she would see the black slits instead of pupils, the forked tongue slipping out between his fangs, and the shaggy mane of long, blue-green feathers instead of hair, that covered his broad shoulders and toned chest. Then she would see the rest of him, the shimmering scales that covered what would have been his waist and legs, and that formed the massive snake body now coiled around her. She could see the muscles moving under the skin, and she couldn’t stop thinking about how, in just a few minutes, they would wrap around her, crushing her bones, squeezing the life slowly out of her. “What isss your name?” The question repeated itself, echoing off the walls, asking her for her name over and over. Io realized she should probably answer before the echoes died off, or she might not get another chance. Still, she was defiant. “Why should you want to know my name?” “I want to know. Tell me.” “…Io.” “I am Kavasht.” “I know who you are.” Truthfully, she did not. She did not know this beast, except from scary stories she was told as a child. But to admit that would be to admit weakness. And fear. Io was

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not afraid, not of the monster in front of her, and not of death. She had no regrets, none. Except… The monster grinned, circling her, his scaled, elongated body sliding across the floor with a low hiss. “Alasss, I do not know you,” he whispered. “Tell me, how old are you?” “Twenty-two springs.” “Where are you from?” Io turned with him, keeping her eyes locked with his. She wanted to see him when he took her life. Even if she wouldn’t be able to follow his movement, she would see it in his eyes, seconds before – the killer’s intent. “Where I am from no longer exists.” “Where were you from?” Io’s gaze faltered as she blinked, and the monster slipped out of her vision, circling behind her. Why should he care? It didn’t matter who she was or where she was from. She was a meal to him, nothing more. Nevertheless, she told him. “I… My kingdom was called Mahtal. It was an oasis on the other side of the Red Plains.” She felt Kavasht’s fingers slide through her tangled black hair, and she shivered. He felt very close. “How did it perish?” “It was destroyed by the Hophki, a large country to the north who has always lusted after our land and resources. They were far more powerful than us. My people are peaceful… We did not expect an attack…” Io kept her eyes trained on the ground as she said this, for fear that she would cry. She hadn’t cried at all when it happened, not a single tear. She’d promised her family and her pride that she wouldn’t. But now that death was at her doorstep, surely she could be forgiven for crying a little. A finger touched her jaw, lifting it up, and her eyes met Kavasht’s. They drilled into her and through her, even as his touch was gentle. “How is it that you sssurvived?” Io felt her teeth clench together. “’The last of the Mahtalians,’ they said, ‘and the princess. She’ll fetch a good price on the black market…’” Kavasht’s hand moved from her jaw to her forehead, his fingers running over her brow, down her cheek, across her chin, and down her neck, feeling the numerous scratches and bruises that marred her olive skin. “They’ve ruined their prize,” he said, his voice tainted with something sounding like pity. Io felt her stomach churn. “Don’t worry,” she heard Kavasht say, his hand moving down to her collarbone, fingering the collar of her sand-bleached robe. “You won’t feel anything. Jussst a little prick.” By the gods, is he… trying to comfort me?! Before he kills me?? Io looked away. “Please, just… get it over with. You’ve had your fun.” She was so sick of people messing with her. She wished she was already dead. Once she was back with her family… Everything would be okay. Except… “Aren’t you afraid?” “I’m not afraid to die.” “Then you have no final words? Requests? Criesss of terror?”

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Io’s head jerked back up. He was laughing at her! In a surge of bravery, she smacked Kavasht’s hand away. His hand lunged out again, closing over her throat and lifting her off the floor. “No final wordsss?” he growled. “Okay then. I told you that you wouldn’t feel anything. I’ll sssnap your neck.” He kneaded her throat in his hand like clay, and Io gasped, but no air entered her lungs. “Wait!” Io choked. “Wait! I have a-aagh… last request!” Kavasht narrowed his snake-like eyes at her. “What?” His grip loosened, and she collapsed. “I… I have a… last request,” Io panted, rubbing her neck. What am I saying?! She got a bitter sense of victory at the bewildered look on the monster’s face. “What’s the matter?” she challenged. “Have you never had one of your victims ask for something before they died?” “No,” said Kavasht flatly, his eyes glinting in the candlelight. He began to circle her again, the tip of his tail twitching irritably. “Actually, that’ssss never happened before. I usually just get ssscreams.” “There’s a first time for everything,” Io snapped, feeling more and more like she was losing her mind. She must be, to even consider… For a second, she thought Kavasht would kill her right there. But then he smiled, showing his fangs, his forked tongue sliding between his teeth. “You won’t go down easily if I don’t grant you your favor, huh?” Io swallowed hard. “I’ll kick and scream all the way down your throat.” “Very well then. What isss your favor?” “I have… one regret,” Io answered softly. “One thing that I didn’t do.” “And that is?” Kavasht pressed. “I… I didn’t fight back when the Hophki attacked us. I prayed to the gods to save us, but I didn’t fight. And the gods didn’t hear me. My people were massacred, and I did nothing to stop it.” Io lowered her head. If she did cry now, she wouldn’t let this monster see. “And then I was captured by human-traders, and I didn’t even try to escape from them either. I was waiting for them to kill me – no, I was hoping they would, so that I could be with my family again. And then your people killed the traders and brought me to you. ‘The choicest meat goes to the king of the nagas,’ they said, and again I wished that I would just die. I didn’t do anything to escape, not that I could have, but at least I could have tried...” “Are you going to ask me to let you escape now?” He sounded thoroughly amused. Io glared up at him, at this half human, half monster, as he stopped in front of her. He really wasn’t anything like a human, not at all. “I’m going to ask you to let me avenge my people.” There was a moment of silence, and then Kavasht threw his head back and laughed, the harsh sound echoing around the stone chamber until it surrounded Io on all sides.

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“The little princess has found her courage at last! And how exactly do you plan to ‘avenge’ your people?” he demanded, grinning his jagged-toothed grin from ear to ear. Io swallowed again. “I plan to use the strength of your naga warriors to drive the Hophki off of my land.” The smile faded from Kavasht’s face. “You what?” The tip of his tale jerked quickly back and forth. “I have no army,” said Io, forcing herself to meet the naga king’s eyes. “I have no weapons. I have no time. I’m not a warrior, I’m a princess, and a keeper of the temple, a temple that no longer stands. I have only…” She swallowed again and then lowered her head in a bow. “I have only your grace, my lord. And the last request that you have so mercifully bestowed upon me.” She kept her head bowed low and her eyes glued on the floor. For several seconds, there was no sound in the chamber, as if all the life inside had been sucked out by a vacuum. Then the hissing of Kavasht resumed. “You mussst be mad. You want me to lend you my warriorsss so that you can get revenge on other humans that have absolutely nothing to do with usss? Why should I care about your regretsss? It is your fault that you have not lived your life to the fullessst, not mine.” Io dared to look up. “Your people live in caves in the middle of the desert. How often does food come walking into your territory? The very least that you’ll get out of helping me is plenty of fresh meat. And you… like killing.” Kavasht smirked at her, as if despite himself. “I do. And I’m going to kill you, too. You understand that, I hope.” “Yes,” Io answered quickly. “Please. Kill me. I want to die.” And suddenly, a tear leaked from her eye, and she realized how true it was, and how she really wasn’t afraid. “I want to die. But not yet.” Kavasht seemed to consider her for a moment and grinned again. “You’re amusing, little one. I’ll grant you your last request.” It felt like it had been weeks since Io had seen sunlight. She remembered descending into the naga’s den, a gaping hole in a sand dune, flanked by two naga warriors. She’d never thought that she would come back out again, but here she was, alive and well, heading into battle. The naga’s nest was an immense tangle of tunnels and caverns that stretched for miles under the sand of the Red Plains. The tunnel they emerged from was much further to the east than the one that Io had entered, and much closer to the capital city of Mahtal. They would be there long before nightfall. Io adjusted her grip on Kavasht’s neck. It was humiliating for both of them, but he had insisted that she ride on his back on the way to the city. She was far too slow on foot to keep up with even the youngest naga warrior, and as the king, Kavasht was at the head of the group. He led an army of some three-hundred naga warriors, all without armor and weapons. They didn’t need them.

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“Falling off already?” Kavasht called back to her, as Io tightened her grip on him again. Io spit out a mouthful of his feathery hair. “I can walk on my own.” It felt like the hundredth time she had said that. “If you’d rather I eat you now…” “No – not yet. I have a mission, remember?” “You humans and your missionsss…” Io felt herself smile. He might be the one who would take her life, but at this point, that was no longer a bad thing. He’d agreed to help her, and for that, she was grateful. The nagas seemed to float over the dunes, moving faster than any human could run. As they traveled, the sand turned to packed earth and scrub, then to grass and a tree here and there, and finally to thick jungle wilderness. Io felt her heart begin to pound as they slid through the underbrush. She’d grown up around these trees. The capital city of Mahtal was mere miles from their location. “SSSo what are these Hophki people like?” Kavasht asked, breaking the tense silence and making Io’s breath catch. He was just bothering to ask for information on his enemy now that they were almost to the capital?! He must be really confident in his chances, she thought with awe. “Th-they’re a war-like people…” “You said that. But what do they look like? What are their weaknesssssses? “They don’t have any that I know of,” Io admitted. Her brothers had been the warriors, not her. “What do they look like?” Kavasht repeated impatiently. “They’re humanoid, but with pale skin and white antlers on their heads. They have bright red eyes, one pair on their face like a regular human, and then they have eyes on their antlers too, which makes it hard to attack them from any angle. Their antlers grow throughout their whole lives, and as they get bigger and sprout more prongs, more eyes grow on them as well. Their current king has twenty-seven pairs of eyes on his antlers, which means that he’s lived for a very, very long time…” Kavasht growled, and Io felt her heart skip a beat in terror. But then she realized he was… purring. “Interesssting. These Hophki sssound fun.” Io frowned. “They betrayed us! They used to be like us, in tune with the will of the gods and the spirits of the earth, and peaceful. But then their kings began to crave more power and turned their backs on the gods. Suddenly the earth was something to conquer, not something to live in peace with. I suppose my father thought that our long-standing alliance would protect us from the lust of the Hophki, but he was wrong. The king, his own friend, took off his head!” “Perhapsss these Hophki had the right idea.” Io felt her stomach twist hard. “How is that?” she demanded, her voice low and her words clipped.

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“You told me that you prayed to the gods when your people were attacked, but they did not hear you. Maybe they’re losssing their touch… Besidesss, to conquer and kill with your own hands is the only way any race of people sssurvives.” *** Eventually they came to the crest of a hill and the city came into view, a sprawling mass of twinkling lights in the depths of the green valley. Io swallowed as her eyes fell upon the demolished buildings and the smoldering mounds of corpses that lay on the outskirts of the city. Kavasht called a halt. They would rest at the top of the valley until night had fallen. Each naga chose a large tree and wound their bodies around the large trunks, climbing slowly up and into the branches. Io forced herself not to look down as Kavasht rose almost a hundred feet into the largest tree with her still clinging to his back. As he settled into the crook of the two strongest branches, his body wove itself in and out of the tree’s limbs, until it looked as if he was completely tangled in it. He let Io down, and she climbed into the next branch over, an especially large one that she could sit upon like a horse, without being afraid of slipping off either side. Kavasht closed his eyes, sitting back against the tree’s trunk. “Isn’t that uncomfortable?” she asked before she could stop herself, looking around at the tangled snake body hanging all around her. Kavasht merely laughed, opening his eyes again and looking sidelong at her. “It keepsss us from falling out of a tree while we sleep,” he explained. “A very long time ago, when more of the world was covered by water, that desert we live in was a foressst, and we lived in the trees instead of in cavesss. I sssuppose it’s still in our blood to live that way.” “Why didn’t you move on to more fertile land when it dried up?” Kavasht grinned, his pointed teeth glinting in the light filtering through the leaves above them. His eyes reflected many colors, like the pale rainbows in faces of faceted crystals. Io couldn’t help but stare. “If we had, we would have been the ones to kill all of your people, not the Hophki. You wouldn’t have even been born.” Io tore her eyes away from his. “Maybe that would have been for the best.” “Ridiculousss. Then there would be no one to ssseek revenge for them.” Io squinted at him. His eyes met hers again, his slit-pupils intense. “You are a brave human, and honorable, unlike so many of your kind. It is good that sssomeone like you was born into this world.” Io could think of nothing to say to that. She just pressed her lips together and busied herself with finding a comfortable position to rest in. *** In another couple of hours, the sun had set behind them. One by one, the torches in the city began to turn off, and the nagas started to descend on the city. They circled the outer wall, which looked more like a fishing net with all the holes that had been broken into it. The gates themselves, which had once been towering

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iron barriers, had been removed completely, most likely melted down into weapons. Two lone soldiers stood guard. “You’ll have to find your own weapon,” Kavasht told her quietly as he inched along the wall towards the two sentries. He set her down behind him, and she backed up into the shadow of the wall as Kavasht moved closer. Neither Hophki guard heard him coming, and before any of the three humans saw anything, Kavasht had fallen upon them both, sinking his fangs into their necks and injecting venom into their bloodstream. They fell dead a second later. Io dashed out from behind the wall, grabbing up the spear of the first guard. Kavasht was already gone down the street, and nagas passed her left and right, lunging into tents and any unharmed buildings and striking their sleeping prey dead with ease. Io followed, heading for the castle in the heart of the city. She would kill their king herself. As she ran through the streets of her broken city, stubbing her toes on bits of debris and tripping on the decaying corpses of her brethren, screams began to erupt around her from the Hophki people beginning to awaken. It sounded like the night her people were attacked, but in reverse. The city was already destroyed, her people already dead, and she was running towards her enemy, not away from him. She did not see Kavasht – he must have gone on far ahead. She hadn’t wanted to ask him for a second favor, but she hoped he would let her kill the king of the Hophki people. The castle gates, like those of the city itself, had been taken off their hinges. Soldiers, alerted by the screams of the citizens, were beginning to emerge from the castle. Io readied her spear, charging the first man she saw. He didn’t see her until the last moment, and the blade of her weapon slid cleanly through his gut. She flung him aside, blood splattering against her face, and ran at the next man. By that time, they’d seen her and started to surround her. Io swung her spear wildly back and forth, slicing at arms, legs, torsos, faces, necks, anything that came within three feet of her. They kept charging her, and she kept swinging. Suddenly, the hilt of a sword struck her in the back of the neck. She stumbled, whirling around, and the sword sliced across her cheek, missing her eye by inches. Io kicked her attacker’s feet out from under him and stabbed him through the back while he lay on the ground. Then she was surrounded. They had their swords pointed at her, and she had her lone spear, which had caught in the armor of her fallen opponent. She struggled to yank it out, but she was too late. The soldiers charged her. She closed her eyes, for one wild second wishing it was Kavasht about to take her life instead of these faceless enemy soldiers. Then she realized that she should have been killed by now. Io opened her eyes. The soldiers lay dead around her, venom staining their necks. “Go, human,” a soft voice said from behind her. Io whirled, her eyes meeting Kavasht’s. He was very close, looming over her. “Kill the enemy king.” “I will.” He nodded, his eyes glowing a pale green in the light of the lanterns, trained only on her. Then they flicked up, focusing on something behind her.

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Io turned. The king of the Hophki, a pale, muscled giant, stood at the other end of the courtyard. His fifty-four eyes blinked at her, shifting in sync, watching her every little move. He was dressed in his battle armor, the gold plates gleaming in the torchlight, his broadsword in hand. He saw her and smiled. “Princess. I thought you were dead.” “No, Do’Alik,” Io answered softly, hissing his name and brandishing her spear. “Not yet.” The king laughed. “You want me to fight a little girl?” “Yes, I do.” “Not even your good father could fight me, much less kill me.” “Then he will be most proud of me when I do.” She felt possessed of a wild courage. Somehow she would kill him. Of that, she was most certain, as certain as the ground beneath her feet and the stars above her head. As certain as Kavasht’s promise to her. Do’Alik eyed her, then shrugged. “Very well. If you are so eager to see him again, I shall grant your wish.” Io felt her lip curl in a humorless grin. “Someone has already promised me that, and I trust him far more than I will ever trust a monster like you.” She enjoyed the look of confusion that passed over Do’Alik’s face, but it was a short-lived pleasure. He controlled his expression, his dozens of red eyes narrowing as he began to circle her, almost lazily. He didn’t even have his sword ready. Io tightened her grip on her bloodied spear and charged him. He knocked away her attack easily, and she jumped back just in time to escape the almost sluggish swing of his sword. She’d seen this man fight. He was merely taunting her. They circled each other again, Io lunging again and again, being blocked, blocking, and jumping away again. She was growing tired, her moves becoming slower. She had to end this now. One more attack. She could do it. She charged, her spear pointed at his heart. For one second, she thought it would connect, but then his sword came up, whacking against the spear with such force that it flew out of her hands. The king twisted, grabbing her fallen weapon, and Io had to throw herself to the side to avoid his wild stab. She landed hard, bits of gravel digging into her palms. A shadow passed over her. She rolled, again missing the spear by inches as Do’Alik rammed the silver tip into the earth. Io tried to find her feet, but her limbs and robes were all tangled now. He was the large boot shadowing her movements, looming over her, ready to strike, and she was the powerless insect scuttling over the ground. For one horrid moment, Io lost all hope. The insect always lost in the end. Do’Alik stabbed at her again, and Io jerked out of the way just in time. The spear sank into the body of a fallen soldier, catching in the steel, flesh and bones of the armored torso as it had for Io. Io’s limbs moved on instinct – she scrabbled over the body and jumped to her feet at last as Do’Alik yanked the spear out. With one great heave, she picked up the fallen soldier’s round shield and hurled it with all her strength at Do’Alik’s head. It slammed into his antlers, the top prongs snapping off

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with a loud crunching sound. He screamed in pain, the spear flying out of his hands as blood ran into his many eyes from the broken-off ends. Io circled around him, dancing just out of reach of his wildly swinging sword, and grabbed for the spear. Her fingers brushed it, grasped it, tightened around it, and she lunged. Silver flashed in the corner of her eye. The tip of the spear slid through Do’Alik’s gut and out his back. Io coughed, blood dripping from her lips, and she looked down to see that she’d run herself through on the king’s sword. She smiled. “I did it…” Do’Alik’s eyes rolled back in his head, and he collapsed on the ground gasping. Io grasped the blade of the sword. She couldn’t feel it slicing into her palm. She couldn’t feel it inside her. She didn’t feel any pain. She just felt tired… She fell back, waiting for the jarring pain of the ground against her back. Maybe she was losing consciousness too fast, but she didn’t feel that either. Instead she felt warmth, and softness, and a loud hissing filled her ears. Hanging over her was a pair of snake-like eyes framed by black feathers. “I think… I’ll go down easy now,” Io whispered. Blood pooled in the back of her throat, choking her, and she coughed. “SSShut up,” he hissed, his eyes narrowing down on her. Something warm brushed over her lips – his fingers pressing her mouth closed. “Jussst be quiet now.” His face blurred in her vision, then sharpened, more clearly than she’d ever seen it, and then blurred again into a large black spot. “Wh-What… What’s this?” Io laughed weakly against his hand. It came out more like a choking sound. “Trying to… comfort me…?” “Trying to keep you from asssking me for any more last minute favorsss,” Kavasht snapped back, the tip of his tale twitching wildly. “But sssomehow I have the feeling you’ll come back as a ghossst and demand all sssorts of things from me…” “I… I could do that…” “Pleasssse don’t. You’ve caused me enough trouble in thisss life.” The corner of his mouth quirked. His fingers were gentle against her lips. Io smiled shakily. “Your people… can… have this land… It may not… look like much… now… But I think… it’s better… than… the desert.” Kavasht (or what she could see of him at that point) looked shocked. “Why are you doing thisss?” Io’s lips trembled, her smile faltering. Her eyes felt heavy. Any expression took too much energy. “You gave my life… some meaning… and you… promised to end it… sorry… I didn’t let you… keep your promise.” Kavasht leaned over her, his face inches from hers. The feathers of his hair tickled Io’s cheeks. “I alwaysss keep my promises, Io,” he said softly. “I told you that you wouldn’t feel a thing. Jussst a little prick.” He brought her up close, his fangs sinking into her neck. In another life, it could have been a kiss. Her body started to go numb, but she still felt warm, cradled in his arms. No regrets now. She had no regrets.

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Yobana Graciano

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Yobana Graciano

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Yobana Graciano

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Kris Martin

Major/Goals: I am double majoring in English and Creative Writing, and my goal is to finish college and hopefully be a successful author. Favorite Author/Genre: Robert Jordan Describe your experience in ENG 221 - Writing Fiction: I would recommend this course to any person who is interested in a career in writing or even if they are simply looking to get some new tips on writing. For instance, the boot camp exercises were by far the most helpful, so this course aided me greatly by teaching me how to do various techniques, such as a flashback or cliffhanger. Another excellent skill learned in this course is taking and giving constructive criticism. Hence, not only were the peers pleasant to be around, but the professor was kind and caring as well. (Note: I did the following story as a serial publication in four parts.)

The Rise of Skald (Parts 1-4) by Kris Martin Part 1 The kingdom of Volendyr could be found at the base of the frigid Arynkell mountain range. It was a land hidden by vast, enchanting forests that were trapped within an endless winter. Despite how beautiful the snowcapped woods appeared, they were also home to some of the most ferocious animals known to exist. It was not uncommon for the mutilated remains of a hunter to be discovered if they ventured alone in the wilderness. Whenever the sun sets, the howling wind became so cold that it would freeze a man to death without shelter. Regardless of how harsh the conditions in the north were, the battle-hardened people of Volendyr believed it only made them stronger. Within Volendyr’s stone walls, hunters could be heard trying to peddle furs to people who passed by, as the rest of their kill roasted in fire pits nearby. Whenever the chilly air blew by, it carried the sharp, but sweet aroma of pine combined with the satisfying smell of charred meat along the pathways. Men and women passed by the shouting merchants with little interest in their wares or goods as many set a brisk pace for the stadium. The stadium was surrounded by numerous houses with thatched roofs; however, many were severely damaged and ready to fall apart. The brisk smell of pine faded as people crowded closer towards the stadium. Outside the stadium gates, the crowd’s combined body heat emanated a foul, dank odor of sweat and filth as they waited to take their places in the stands. Within the humid bowels of the stadium, a long haired man prepared himself for his fight ahead as he strapped down a leather chest piece, and covered it with various furs. The man’s nose wrinkled as the putrid smell of decay rose from the chambers below where less fortunate challengers were tossed, and left to rot. Another man with

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short brown hair casually entered the dim room from behind holding a pair of axes, “Have you finished preparations Skald?” Skald stomped his foot into a leather boot as he turned, “Aye Sigmundyr, have you brought my fa-” Skald was interrupted as Sigmundyr tossed his weapons to him. Skald glared at his friend as he ran his hand across sides of the serrated fang-like blades. Satisfied with the sharpness of their edges, he slipped the twin axes into leather loops on his belt. “Are you sure you want to go through with this brother?” “Who would refuse being named Champion, or deny the blessing of the wolf spirits from the High Shaman?” “Be wary of such lavish gifts, that man is not as he seems. Now come, little Tyria is waiting to talk you out of this as well.” “A moment brother,” Skald said as he pulled forth a silver chain from under his armor. He took hold of the end of the necklace which held the shape of a sun rising above the horizon. Skald raised the pendant to his lips and kissed it, “Goddess, guide my blades.” Sigmundyr sighed as he watched his friend rub the ferrous taste from his lips, and held open the door for him. When Skald stepped onto the muddy floor of the dim hallway, a pair of small arms wrapped around his waist. He looked down to see his daughter Tyria, with her braided hair and ribbons, clinging on to him. “Don’t go Father, don’t fight. Let’s return home.” Skald reached down and patted her braided brown hair, “I have to fight little one. You will understand when you are older,” turning to this friend, “Please watch over her, friend.” “I will treat her as if she were my own.” “I don’t want to lose you like we lost Mother!” Tyria tightened her grip around his waist. She refused to let go of her father until Sigmundyr grabbed her from behind. “Come little Tyria, we must let your father go. We will wait for your return in my home brother,” he said as he hoisted Tyria, whose face was red and sobbing now, onto his shoulder. As he walked away with the little girl, he turned back to Skald, “Skald Twin Fangs, may the spirit of the wolf watch over you, Brynhald will not fall easily.” “You have my thanks. May your ancestors smile upon you brother Sigmundyr.” Skald turned and wiped a tear from his rugged face. After a few moments, he continued down the dank, torch lit hallway toward the arena entrance. A haggard guard stood hunched over by the reinforced wooden door, waiting for Skald, and with a nod, the battered arena door creaked open. Before Skald sat a thick wall of fog, and he was hesitant to enter. However, the guard behind him delivered an abrupt nudge with the end of his spear which forced Skald to stumble inside the arena. As Skald regained his balance, he caught a glimpse of the crowd above who murmured their aversion about the shrouded arena. The door he came out of slammed shut behind him, followed by a scrapping sound as it was barred from inside. He pulled his axes from his belt and poised them as he readied himself. Skald squinted as he attempted to see through the fog; however, it was too

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thick to see any further than five paces in front of him. Moments later, Skald heard another door slam shut from elsewhere in the arena. Skald noticed a rancid stench coming from somewhere in the area which nearly caused him to vomit. He heard a few spectators vomit over the ringside as they too noticed the smell. Other than the sounds of the sickened crowd, he could hear iron chains being slowly dragged across the rocky floor of the arena. Skald could only assume they belonged to his opponent Brynhald. The sound did not last long as it stopped moments later. Then a roar of a horn thundered out across the stadium. As the horn’s roar died above, Skald heard a whistling sound accompanied by the chinking of a chain. Instinctively, he raised his axes to defend himself. Not a second later, a hook attached to a chain wrapped itself around one axe. A tremendous force pulled the axe free of his grip, and sent it flying through the murk. A loud clang was heard as the axe smacked into the arena floor. A few men could be heard above shouting about missing the entertainment with the fog in the way. Skald crouched down in an attempt to avoid another ranged assault. Minutes passed in near silence until another bellow of a horn was sounded. A moment later, Skald heard chains being reeled back until a loud crash of iron slamming against the stone wall rang out. Soon after, several small feet were heard scampering about followed by a starved howl. His tense face drooped into a grimace as he realized what had been released into the arena. Skald could not keep track of how many bestial shadows had circled him, but he stayed crouched, prepared to counter an attack. From across the thick miasma, a great thump rang out followed immediately by a wailing yelp as he saw an animalistic shadow collide with the ground. With his attention turned, one of the stalking shadows leaped onto Skald, and sent him to the ground. Two large furry paws held his upper body to the ground as saliva dripping jowls desperately tried to reach Skald’s throat. He struggled to hold the rabid beast back with one arm as his free arm delivered his axe into the side of its head. The creature fell limp immediately, and Skald pushed it away from him. As more and more action could be heard from the stands, the crowd became increasingly aggressive. Several onlookers slammed their tankards into wooden seats in frustration since they could not see what was happening below. Skald returned to his feet and skulked around the arena as he followed the intensifying stench of his opponent. A smirk crossed his face when he saw a hulking silhouette, who had to be Brynhald over a dozen paces in front of him. He snuck up closer behind the behemoth as the putrid stench almost became unbearable. Skald was close enough that he saw that Brynhald’s flesh was sickeningly pale and even falling off in places. He heard another wolf leap out from the mist, but this time it went for Brynhald. To Skald’s disgust, the fetid brute disgorged a reeking mass of slime from its mouth striking the animal’s side. Brynhald’s expelled muck planted the large wolf to the arena floor rendering it helpless as it whined and struggled to move. Brynhald lumbered towards the creature and swung with an enormous, grotesque clubbed arm. The blow struck the beast and sent it sailing across the arena; however,

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there remained a gory mess of torn flesh, and broken bones where the animal had been affixed to the arena floor. Skald gasped after he saw what remained of the pitiful creature. Brynhald turned abruptly as it heard Skald gasp, and brought down its rotting, clubbed arm down upon Skald. As he cursed himself, Skald dived away only to be snatched up by its other arm with a chain wrapped tightly around it. Brynhald held the smaller man up, by his feet, to its face as if to examine his adversary. Skald gaped as he saw the abomination’s face. Brynhald’s face had partially fallen off, exposing bits of its skull, and one of its eyelids had been sewn shut. Skald snapped out of his disgusted awe and drove his axe deep into the creature’s forearm. Brynhald appeared to be unfazed and gave a casual glance to his stricken arm as clumps of flesh and fetid muscle fell from it. “Put me down abomination!” Skald roared as he spat into its rotting visage. Speechlessly, the rotting oaf turned its attention back to Skald as its maw opened, and spewed forth another torrent of pale slime. Skald squirmed to the right to avoid the brunt of what had been expelled. The ooze struck him in his left arm and parts of his side which pasted the two together. Two of the remaining wolves leaped into the fray and ripped pieces of flesh from Brynhald’s legs. The creature dropped Skald helplessly to the ground as it turned its focus towards the bestial annoyance. The crowd above continued to lose patience which led to a fight that broke out after one spectator knocked another man’s tankard over. The crowd turned their attention away from the obscured arena, and instead to the fight in the stands. The wind had also picked up around the stadium which stirred the fog inside the arena. Skald got back up on his feet while Brynhald was distracted. The two wolves bit and tore chunks of putrid skin from its legs which exposed the bones underneath. Skald took hold of his serrated axe, and sliced into the slime that bound his arm to his side. He watched his opponent unravel the chain attached to his arm and swung wildly as the wolves danced around it. Skald had nearly freed himself as he heard a thunderous crash. He looked up to see one of the wolves cleaved in half, falling into a mass crimson. Skald tugged hard once more and his arm ripped free from the slime that held it to his side. The fog within the arena was beginning to dissipate as the wind continued. The spectators began shouting and cheering as they could now see the arena below. Skald rushed for Brynhald who was crushing the last wolf in its massive hand. Skald leaped onto the creature’s midsection; however, his boots sunk into its rotting body, and trapped him partially inside the creature. Enraged, Skald started to hack away at Brynhald’s deformed face. The grotesque brute wrapped his fingers around Skald’s body and started to squeeze him. He felt his ribs start to shatter, one by one. Despite the excruciating pain, Skald kept up his onslaught on the creature. Each blow he landed tore even more puss ridden skin away from Brynhald’s neck. Skald summoned forth the remainder of his strength and delivered one last blow to the creature’s neck, “Die!” The serrated blade ripped into Brynhald’s flesh, and shattered its spine. Its head fell backwards and the weight of the skull ripped away whatever putrid skin that was

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still attached. The abomination’s grip loosened around Skald as it fell backwards. Skald gasped for air, causing him to cringe as his chest writhed with pain. He stepped out of the abomination, and looked up to the crowd who were chanting various war cries to him. Skald raised his axe to the sky as a sign of victory. As Skald tried to leave the arena, he was stopped by ten guards clad in steel armor and held spears ready at their sides. Skald dropped his axe and placed his hands to his side. Two guards stepped aside, and revealed an elderly man who gazed at Skald from under a wolf’s pelt. Skald fell to one knee, “High Shaman, it is an honor.” The High Shaman stepped forward with a gnarled staff in one hand, and a chalice in the other. The aged man presented the chalice to Skald, “This holds the essence of the wolf spirit. Drink Champion, and claim your reward.” Skald took the chalice and gazed into its sloshing black contents. “Yes High Shaman,” and without a second thought, he raised the cup to his lips and drank the strange fluid. Skald felt different as the liquid coursed through him; however, he did not know what exactly he felt. He shivered as the dark liquid coursed down his throat. His midsection started to burn slightly as it settled in his stomach. “We must prepare you for the blessing immediately. Come Champion.” “But I wish to see my daughter first, High Shaman.” “There is no time, and Tyria has been taken care of already.” Skald’s eyebrows narrowed, “How did you kno-” Sigmundyr’s warning rang within his head as his face grew ghastly pale. He dropped the chalice as panic coursed through his body. Skald shoved two guards aside as he ran past, groaning in pain from his injuries. “Catch him, we have no time,” the High Shaman ordered his personal guard. Skald ignored the orders barked at him as he weaved around the pathways. He ran down the final pathway to Sigmundyr’s home; however, a crowd of townspeople had formed nearby. Skald pushed onlookers aside as he winced in pain whenever his ribs bumped into another person. As he broke through the crowd, he tripped on something lying on the ground. As Skald turned to see what it was, his face drained of all color. Upon the pathway was Sigmundyr face down in a pool of scarlet. Part 2 Skald knelt down upon the cold, blood ridden pathway beside his fallen companion, Sigmundyr. The growing crowd gazed, with hands over their mouths at the grievous sight, as crimson rivulets seeped further into the cracks of the stone pathway. It was unlikely that anyone saw the attack, since most of the denizens were inside the arena when it happened. Sorrow welled within his eyes as he looked upon the savage gashes that lined his friend’s back and sides. Skald carefully brushed away Sigmundyr’s short brown hair to reveal an endless, but empty stare upon his scarlet covered face. Skald brought his trembling hand to his mouth. With the cold, ferrous taste on his lips, he kissed the bloodied tips of his fingers before closing the glazed eyes of his dear friend.

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“Find peace in the embrace of your ancestors, brother,” Skald spoke as he bid Sigmundyr farewell into the next life. He rose to his feet, ignoring the sharp pain in his side, and cursed himself for almost forgetting about little Tyria. The crowd did not seem to notice Skald as he reluctantly treaded away from the scene of gore and hurried up to Sigmundyr’s home. The heavy door to his home had been torn off its hinges, and now rested in upon the shattered remains of a wooden chair. Skald rushed into the home and looked around eagerly for some sign of his daughter and shouted, “Tyria where are you!” However, his face drooped as he looked around, and saw no sign of her. The front room of the home lay in shambles with signs of a struggle that had clearly ended outside. Dust hung heavily in the warm air of the home. No sound could be heard inside other than the occasional crackle of firewood as it burned in the fireplace. A table sat helplessly on its side with a man, clad in chainmail which was covered by a dark red tabard, slumped over it. Upon the tabard was the depiction of a wolf breaking free from chains that held it, the symbol that his kingdom adopted after it revolted against the Eramonian Empire. However, the blood-like color signified the High Shaman’s royal guard. Skald walked up to the corpse as his lip curled into a sneer, and noticed Sigmundyr’s bloodied halberd lying near him. He picked it up as he remembered he left his axes in the arena. His hand ran across a wolf’s fang that had been inserted into the polished shaft, and a stream of grief fell down his face. Skald took a closer look at the deceased man, and noticed a familiar putrid stench. What had once been his hands were now pale, claw-like appendages. With the end of the halberd, he pushed the man off the table, and onto his back. The man’s jaw fell open from the impact and revealed an angular jaw lined serrated fangs. Skald raised his hand as if to shield himself from the sight of the partially human creature that lay before him. He averted his gaze from the abhorrence, and continued his search elsewhere. Skald walked slowly down a hallway that led to the rear of the home, hoping that he would find a sign of Tyria. With the halberd gripped tightly in his hands, he kept his guard up in case the home was not entirely vacant of intruders. As he was halfway through the hallway, the silence in the home was broken by a quick scamper of feet followed by a door that burst open. Skald dashed down the remainder of the hallway with thunderous footfalls as hope filled his frantically beating heart. He burst through the door with almost feral speed, and caught a glimpse of a young girl in a short, brown, linen dress with braided hair as she ran down the dreary alley. “Wait, Tyria!” Skald sprinted down the alley as his feet splashed puddles of filth that flung waste into the air behind him. Tyria’s speed shocked him as he struggled to keep up with her pace. She turned and ran down another alley. As she disappeared from his sight, Skald cursed himself for not being able to run faster. However, moments later, a shriek was heard from a short distance away. The shrill sound forced him to exert himself even further to catch up to Tyria. As he turned the same corner she had, Skald caught the sight of Tyria as a man, draped by a blood red cloak, wrapped a dark green serpentine arm around her. Tyria,

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now looking back towards him, held out her hand to Skald. “Father! Help m-” Tyria was cut short the creature’s scaled arm coiled over her mouth. The thing stood as tall as a man; however, Skald could see that under the creature’s cloak was an elongated face. There was also an appendage moving between his legs under its cloak. The creature looked back, and saw Skald from under the hooded cloak. It gazed at him for a moment with its pale yellow eyes before it ran the other way down the alley. “Tyria!” Desperation mixed with a furious rage shot through his body as he sprinted after them. The wind blew his long, dark hair back as he ran, revealing his rugged face as streams of sweat flowed down it. Bystanders, standing just outside their homes, gasped in shock as the creature ran by with Tyria wrapped in its arm. Skald grew closer to the scaled man who had almost reached the end of the alley. He raised the halberd in his hands, ready to cleave the grotesque arm that held Tyria from his body. The bladed edge of the halberd gleamed in the sunlight as Skald swung the weapon downwards upon the abductor’s scaled arm. Tyria screamed as she saw the weapon coming down just inches away from her. The axe-like head of the weapon struck the creature’s arm, and the aberration emitted a high pitched hiss. Purple ooze spewed from the wound as the halberd dug deeper into its arm. Skald pulled the weapon back towards him, which caused the crescent blade to remove what was left of the arm. The scaly arm sailed to the alley floor, and landed with a wet thud. Despite its removal, the arm flopped about the foul puddles of the alleyway. Tyria, with widened eyes, scampered across the filthy alley, and hid behind her father. Skald’s eyes narrowed as he stood ready with his halberd raised while he awaited the counterattack. The agonized hiss of the creature turned into a deep, rumbling grunt. A dark purple miasma spewed from its arm socket as violet ooze gushed down its body. Skald tightened his grip around the halberd. Masked by the smog, Skald could only hear the sickening ripping of tendons, and tissue as it tore itself apart. When the miasma faded, a fresh, slithering appendage replaced the first that had been severed from the creature’s body. Tyria gasped at the sight, and clenched onto Skald’s thigh. The aberration’s yellow eyes narrowed beneath its cloak. Then, it lunged forward as it angled a tentacle-like arm towards Skald’s midsection like a spear. Skald grimaced when he realized that if he were to jump aside, he would leave Tyria vulnerable. He leveled the halberd to impede the abomination’s advance. Before the creature would have clashed with the pointed edge of the weapon, it feigned its charge. It ducked to the left, and slammed a serpentine arm into Skald’s side. The sheer force of the blow flung him across the alley into the wooden side of a nearby home, and sent his halberd sailing through the air. Skald writhed in pain as agony coursed through his side and back while he fell to his knees. Frantically, Tyria kicked and screamed as the cloaked aberration took possession of her once again with a satisfied hiss. The creature uttered forth a collection of incantations that were incomprehensible to Skald who struggled in vain to stand. As it spoke, thunder roared forth from the ground and arcs of blackened lightning erupted from the ground. Arcs of energy splashed against the stone alleyway, and left smoldering holes that billowed arid smoke in their wake. Skald’s lungs burned from the sulfurous fumes that filled the air.

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As the abomination finished the incantation, the bolts of violet lightning stabilized into an archway. The archway was filled by darkness that lurched back and forth between the arcing light that stood amidst the alleyway. The snake-like man gave Skald a final glance before he stepped forward through the mass of darkness with Tyria, who still clawed at his scaled arms. When it gave its first step, the swirling mass of darkness enveloped his leg and crawled up his body. Shortly after, the darkness had encompassed it and Tyria whole and pulled them both within. “No, wait! Leave her alone!” Skald wobbled as he stood, and leaped forward into the arch as it started to shrink back into nothingness. He collided with the swirling shadows. The dark mass crawled across his body as it consumed him. Skald shivered as the icy ooze covered his weightless body. He felt sick as if he were covered in filth as he was plunged further into the light forsaken oblivion. Skald felt as if years had flown by in the nothingness that surrounded him. When suddenly, he saw a dim light, which pierced through the darkness, appeared before him. Skald clawed his way towards the light. Despite how hard he tried, he would not move any faster than the sluggish pace that carried him. When Skald reached the light, his body fell downwards and smacked against a marble floor. He looked around and saw that he was now within a dimly lit room that bore a high ceiling held by several marble pillars. Around Skald stood eight men, mantled by raggedy black robes, each with their hoods pulled down to conceal their faces. Each man varied in height and size and leaned upon their gnarled staves. Two bore a braided beard that hung loosely from beneath their cowls and had long since turned white from age. Skald grimaced at the congregation of magi that surrounded him. In front of him stood the Serpentine man with a coiled arm still wrapped around Tyria who had stopped her struggle and now remained still. Beside him stood a ninth robed man; however, his robe was adorned with golden ornaments, each bearing the shape of a crescent shaped eye. Alongside the ornaments, a skull with small intricate red runes carved into it that rested upon a timeworn tome that hung from his belt. “Give me back my Tyria!” Skald rose to his feet and pulled a dagger from his belt. The creature that held Tyria tensed up as he readied himself for an attack. The magi next to him, however, raised his hand to the aberration, “There will be no need for violence. Reunite this man with his child, Sverris.” Sverris gave the man a sharp hiss and tossed Tyria, as if she were a mere toy, to her father. Skald dropped his dagger and dove forward to catch her before she collided with the hard marble floor. As he caught her in his arms, her eyes opened into a wide gaze. Her lips curled into a crooked smile. “Farewell Father.” She gave a final wave of her hand and faded into a cascade of violet ashes. With eyes wide open, Skald clawed at the ashes that piled on the floor before him, “Tyria! What have you done to her!?” “You need not worry about your whelp, you will see her soon enough.”

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Skald gritted his teeth followed by a growl, and lunged for the mage. His arms extended and poised to wrap around the man’s throat. However, Skald did not make it further than two paces before black tendrils encircled his body and face. The tendrils forced him back down to the marble floor. From around the room, dim violet lights glowed from the hands of the eight robed men that surrounded him. Skald’s bonds tightened further as he struggled against them until he could no longer move. Sverris uttered a mocking hiss towards Skald as he lay helplessly on the floor. Moments later, from across the room, two large doors burst open. A thunderous crash rolled across the room as the doors slammed against the stone wall. Several guards, with red tabards, poured into the chamber led by the High Shaman. “Where is he, Xandus!?” The robed magi standing in front of Skald turned to the shaman, who bore his wolf pelt that draped over his head and shoulders, as the armored procession filed into the room. “Why, he is right here, my dear shaman,” he gestured to Skald with a pale, boney hand. The High Shaman marched up to Xandus in a fit of rage, “You will address me with respect, necromancer. Less you wish me to inform the Conclave of your whereabouts, so they may purify you at the stake?” The mage’s lips curled downwards, “Necromancy is but one of my talents,” Xandus gave forth a gentle sigh out of annoyance, “High Shaman, and there will be no need to involve the Goddess loving Conclave with our affairs.” The High Shaman grinned from under his pelt as he gained the upper hand over the argument, “Then commence your ritual, and grant my champion,” his grin widened further, “your blessings.” “Of course, High Shaman.” Xandus forced a fake smile, and waved his staff before the other magi. In unison, the surrounding magi spoke an incantation. In the middle of the room, wild arcs of violet energy leaped from the floor to form another portal. A waft of putrid air preceded the two men who stepped out of the rift. The two men, each with flayed and rotten flesh, carried a silver altar and set it before Xandus. As both men kneeled before him, Skald’s eyes widened, and he gave muffled screams; however, it was not the sight of the two decayed men that shocked him. It was the sight of the motionless body upon the altar, Tyria. Part 3 Skald struggled against swirling shadows that bound him to the deathly cold floor. The more he resisted, the further the tendrils constricted around him. His eyes drooped as helplessness rushed over him like a flood as he watched Tyria’s unmoving body. Skald broke his longing gaze from his daughter and shifted his eyes slowly between Xandus and Sverris. His face tightened into a glower as his impuissance turned to rage. Hatred welled within Skald. He squirmed violently against his bonds and ignored the pain emanating from his shattered ribs. From behind the altar, Xandus

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turned to watch Skald struggle fruitlessly in front of him. His eyes narrowed from irritation, “Sverris, could you calm our guest?” Sverris shifted its gaze towards Skald from under its cowl. Its elongated face parted into a hideous grin that revealed a forked tongue. Slowly, it strode over towards Skald as the man struggled on the floor. Sverris’s cloak rustled behind it with each step it took. Sverris stopped beside Skald and drove a booted foot into his side. The force of the blow threw Skald across the dim room. Skald sailed a short distance before he was stopped short by a marble pillar. A thunderous crash sounded, followed by a satisfied hiss, as he struck the floor. Skald remained still upon the marble floor. The only sound that could be heard from him was a muffled moan. The High Shaman scurried towards Xandus and his two lifeless servants. His staff loudly striking the floor with each step, and his eyebrows narrowed beneath his wolf pelt. “Enough of this! Begin your ritual before that thing,” the shaman raised his staff at Sverris, “kills my champion.” The magi’s ornaments clinked together as he chuckled slightly, “We wouldn’t want his petty struggle to hinder my concentration, now would we?” “I have had enough of your excuses, Xandus!” A pale light emanated from the High Shaman’s eyes as he drove his staff into the floor. The floor shook violently as the cracks appeared to mar the pristine surface. The guards behind the shaman fell to their knees as the ground rumbled. Dust filled the air as a cascade of shards of rock and marble erupted from the fissures and flew towards Xandus. The mage’s face fell into a grimace as the hailstorm of rock came closer. Xandus gripped the skull that hung from his belt and held it before the incoming torrent. The runes upon its ivory surface flared with a deep violet hue. From the mouth of the skull, a deluge of marrow erupted to form a grotesque, flesh-like wall to protect him and the altar. Slivers of earth crashed into the barrier of bone marrow, as well as, flew beyond it. Shards struck the pillar above Skald and pelleted him with debris. A bearded mage behind Xandus reached for his throat; blood flowed across his fingers. The man tried to speak; however, only gargled words came forth before he fell to the floor. The surviving magi and Sverris turned towards the High Shaman. Winces appeared across the magi’s faces as their staves raised and spoke words of power. The guards standing behind the High shaman bared their swords. Just before the onslaught broke out, Xandus outstretched his arm, “Enough,” Xandus’s barrier collapsed into a pool of marrow and rock, “I will not risk more of my magi to your petty temper.” The mage took the tattered tome that hung from his belt and placed it atop the motionless Tyria. The guards lowered their swords after the High Shaman waved his staff to them. Xandus placed the runic skull on the altar and faced the two lifeless servants beside the altar, “Bring him.” The shambling servants approached Skald, lifted him, and dragged him to the altar. Xandus flipped through the ragged pages of the book. A grin crossed his face as he ran his hand fondly across the page. The surrounding magi closed a circle around Skald as they stepped forward. One of the hooded magi spoke, with his lips curled into a frown, “After we bind the wolf to his soul, will we be able to contain him with only eight of us, Master?”

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“The ritual will happen regardless of how many of us there are.” Xandus looked at the High Shaman, “Did he drink from the chalice?” “He consumed the essence as you requested.” “Good, that tonic should make his mind malleable enough to influence after the ritual. Sverris, bring us the pelt.” Sverris hissed, gave a bow to Xandus, and strode out of the room. Skald stood on his knees, barely conscious, before the altar as the two rotting servants kept him from falling. The High Shaman leaned closer, on his staff, with growing anticipation. “We require assistance from your guards, High Shaman, if they could just kneel inside the circle.” Xandus gestured to the inner circle with his hand. A guardsman looked back to the High Shaman with a lip that quivered with worry. The shaman nodded back to the man who then, with a loud gulp, stepped forward into the circle with the others. A smirk crossed the faces of the seven magi who stood behind the guards. The seven magi began to chant words of power. Their hands glowed with a pale green hue, and each mage placed a hand onto the back of a guard. Only a moment passed before each kneeling man emitted a shrill scream of agony. Skald watched the guard to his side as the skin around his face tightened like leather across a drum. Once their screams ended, only the sound of desiccated skin stretching around their bones could be heard. Men’s eyes rolled back into their skull and vanished soon after. The magi’s appearance also changed. Where their skin was once wrinkled and pale, turned radiant and hale. It took only a few moments before the guards were nothing more than pale skeletons wrapped in chainmail and red tabards. Skald jerked his gaze away from the mutilated remains and back to Tyria. Xandus laughed maniacally as he said, “We welcome your assistance, High Shaman.” The High Shaman casually shifted his pelt, “Merely fodder.” Sverris reentered the room carrying a black fur pelt in his arms. It came up behind Skald and carefully placed the pelt across Skald’s back. As the pelt rested on Skald, his skin started to burn as if the fur was melding to his body. Xandus placed a hand upon his tome as he spoke, “Legends speak of the wolf, Faenier, whose hunger and fury was unmatched by anything living,” the High Shaman rubbed his hands together with excitement. “Whose spirit refused to rest even after death claimed his body. It is to Faenier whom we offer this host, to sate his endless hunger!” The circle of magi began chanting the unintelligible words of power around Skald. The black pelt started to glow with an indigo hue and sunk beneath the swirling shadows that held him. The pelt wrapped itself around Skald’s body. Skald cried out in pain as his skin began to shed underneath the pelt. The black fur attached itself to his muscles as his skin piled around his feet. Xandus and Sverris joined the magi with the incantation. The fur now was a part of Skald’s body; however, the ritual continued on. His muscles grew; his broken ribs reattached themselves. Fur crawled up his neck as claws burst from his fingers. Skald’s agonizing screams slowly turned into a harrowing howl. Skald could no longer control his thoughts as he felt another presence enter his mind. Within his conscience, all he

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could hear was, “maim, kill,” and, “feed.” Despite the tendrils holding Skald still, his body thrashed back and forth wildly, tossing the unloving servants away from him. The High Shaman’s face was crossed by an immense grin as he watched Skald’s body change before his eyes. Xandus stopped chanting as the ritual neared its completion. From his adorned robes, he drew forth a dagger as Skald’s jaws grew longer and angular. “Before Faenier can fully take hold of this body,” Xandus removed the book from Tyria’s body, “the host must be severed from his ties to humanity.” The mage raised the dagger above his head. Skald struggled for dominance over his mind until he saw Xandus. The dagger slowly descended upon Tyria. A voice rang through his skull, “No!” Dark energy exploded around Skald as his arms broke free of the shadows that bound him. The force of the rupture forced back the magi, including Xandus and tipped the altar on its side. Tyria rolled unconsciously across the floor. The High Shaman took cover behind one of the room’s pillars. The whiteness within Skald’s eyes drained and was replaced by a torrent of burning fury. Several magi were too exhausted to stand after the incantation, and panic spread between them. Animalistic instincts took over Skald’s body as he rushed for one of the magi who was on the sundered floor. Skald’s mouth closed around the mage’s neck, and he cried out with fear. However, his terrified scream quickly turned to agony as Skald’s jaw crunched down on him, crushing his collar bone and windpipe. “Sverris, restrain him!” Xandus cried out as he regained his balance. Sverris rushed into the fray and coiled its serpentine arms around Skald. As it pulled him off of the mage, skin and muscle still remained in his mouth as the mage fell backward. Skald diverted his attention to the scaled creature; he swung his claws wildly at Sverris, who barely avoided his onslaught. Sverris countered its adversary with a flurry of swings with its scaled arms. Blows struck his face, his chest, and legs; however, nothing impeded Skald’s advance. Skald took hold over the aberration’s arm and, with a snarl, tore it from its body. Blood flooded wildly from the wound and onto the marble floor. Sverris hissed wildly from the pain. In a final surge towards Sverris, Skald drove one of his claws deep into the creature’s chest. Sverris desperately tried to keep Skald off of him, but could not. The snake-like man flailed wildly as Skald’s claw ripped through flesh and muscle with ease. Then it fell still as he pierced the creature’s heart. Skald licked the discolored blood from his claw, but was dissatisfied with the taste. He saw Xandus grab Tyria, and some of his humanity returned to him. He charged across the room at the mage with an outstretched claw ready to impale the man. Skald’s eyes closed with anticipation for the kill. His claw tore through clothing, and then sank into warm and damp crimson. A short moment passed before a shrill, agonizing cry pierced his ears. His eyes jerked open with terror, to witness Tyria’s harrowing cries and contorted visage as she cried out in agony. Part 4 Hindered by his coarse fur, crimson warmth lurched slowly across Skald’s

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arm. Tyria, with mouth and eyes opened wide, continued to cry out in agony. Her screams filled Skald’s ears and racked his slipping humanity. Paralyzed with terror, he listened to her shrill screams. A rivulet of scarlet flowed steadily down from a smirk that crossed Xandus’s face. The mage’s hand clasped onto Skald and impeded the progress of the bloodied claw that dug into his chest. His other hand clenched tightly around Tyria’s neck as her body radiated in a pale green light. Three of the robed magi rose as their strength returned to them as many of the others were too exhausted to rise again. They glanced over to see Xandus and Skald, and at once, they began chanting words of power. From under the sleeves of their robes, dark tendrils flew forth and wrapped tightly around Skald’s body. Then, the coiling shadows around Skald pulled him back towards the magi. Xandus let out a grunt as Skald’s claw emerged from his chest. The pale light around Tyria intensified along with her screams as the hole in Xandus’s breast began to close. Skald’s feet dug into the marble floor, leaving claw marks as he resisted the pull of the magi. A forth mage staggered up to Xandus, “Master, how grievous is your wound?” Tyria’s screams subsided as her body fell limp. Xandus carelessly tossed her aside near the fallen altar. “This is nothing,” Xandus turned his gaze to Tyria, “the beast’s whelp was generous enough to aid in my healing.” Skald gazed at Tyria, motionless and facedown against the floor. Fury and sorrow raged within Skald’s mind. The animalistic presence that fought for dominance within his mind fed off of his emotions. Its control over Skald as hatred rose within his heart until he could no longer contain himself. Skald grabbed onto one of the tendrils coiled around him and gave forth a mighty pull on it. One of the magi shrieked as he sailed through the air and towards Skald. The man was stopped short of the floor by Skald’s claw as it dove into the man’s stomach and emerged from his back. Droplets of blood struck the floor and slowly formed a small pool underneath Skald. Without a second glance at the man, Skald lowered his arm and the magi struck the floor as he helplessly tried to cover his gaping wound. Skald then turned and, on his arms and legs, surged across the room towards the other two magi. Xandus watched Skald’s onslaught from beneath his cowl with a small smirk that revealed his amusement. “Master, what will we do with him? The ritual was a fai-” “I am fully aware that the ritual failed, fool.” Xandus cast an annoyed glance to the mage that cowered beside him. His attention turned back to Skald as the bestial man slashed another mage leaving a mangled body fall to the floor. He looked across the rest of the room with a frown. “It seems our little shaman has run away.” Xandus let out a sigh. “This has gone on long enough.” He knelt down and recovered his tome. He saw that the beast was preoccupied as he maimed Xandus’s former apprentices. Xandus carelessly flipped through his tome as the mage next to him grimaced at Skald’s brutality. Xandus snapped his fingers, gaining the other mage’s attention. He shoved the tome into his hands and began chanting the decrepit words within it. Shadows sprang out from the corners of the room and encased Xandus. The shadows swirled around

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him wildly and pulsed as if the entire entity were a beating heart. The mass of shadows hissed and whirled madly around Xandus. Frightened cries emitted from the darkness as faces of men, women, and children emerged from the shadows and were then pulled back into the harrowing whirlwind. The energy from Xandus’s incantation caused the fur upon Skald’s back to rise. He turned his attention away from the gargling screams of his fatally wounded prey and focused on the maelstrom of shadows. He ignored his instincts that told him to run away and dashed towards the torrent of darkness. The mage that stood next to Xandus hastily began chanting an incantation directed at Skald. However, fear took hold over him as he gazed into Skald’s blood-red eyes and saw the blood that dripped from his maw. The man raised his arms in a futile attempt to defend himself as Skald leapt into the air to pounce on the helpless man. Skald crashed down upon the robed man as he ignored the bolts of violet energy crash inches away from his body. The robed mage screamed and squirmed as Skald’s fanged mouth closed in upon his throat. Skald’s fangs sank slowly into the man’s neck. Blood flowed in and around Skald’s mouth as he bit increasingly harder. Before he could end the man’s life, a skeletal hand emerged from the darkness and took hold of Skald by the scruff of his neck. The arm pulled him off of the mage and held up to the dark torrent. Skald emitted a deep growl as the violet lightning continued to crackle and strike around him. From beyond the swirling shadows, a bright violet light appeared and grew in size. Skald slashed at the arm that held him, and the skeletal arm broke away at the elbow. Skald fell to the ground as a column of dark energy erupted from the maelstrom just above him. The hissing shadows grew unstable and swelled considerably. Skald rose to his knees just as the darkness burst in all directions. The energy released threw Skald backwards across the room and into a wall. As the shadows dissipated, there stood a skeletal figure covered in blazing red runes and wrapped in tattered robes. Upon the skeleton’s belt rested a human head with ragged hair. The boney hand, that Skald had broken, stood up on its fingers and started walking back to his body. The hand crawled up the body and reattached itself to the broken arm. Skald crawled back onto his arms and legs and prepared himself to charge at the new form of Xandus. He slowly paced around the room and examined his skeletal adversary. “How does it feel to look upon the visage of death, beast?” Xandus slowly walked towards Skald and waited for a response; however, only received a growl in return. “It seems that Faenier has stripped away your ability to speak,” Xandus’s shoulders slumped slightly as if he were sighing. “A pity.” Skald growled once more and in his rage charged towards Xandus. The skeletal mage raised his hand, and the runes flared into a deep violet. From the palm of his hand, a surge of violet flames flooded forward. Skald leapt to the side; however, much of his leg was caught in the inferno. With an agonizing yelp, Skald struck the marble floor. He rose to his knees as the smoke dissipated from his seared leg. Skald was so consumed by his rage that he ignored the near crippling pain in his leg. Skald scampered away just as Xandus unleashed another torrent of flames. Once more,

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Skald leapt at Xandus. However, from his own shadow, arms rose and took hold of him and pulled him to the ground. With his outstretched claw, he pulled Xandus’s robe to the ground as Skald crashed into the floor. Beside Skald lay the cold motionless body of Tyria. Xandus stood above Skald with his hand raised to him. Skald gazed at Tyria’s motionless body, and then up at his adversary who was now disrobed. Within his ribcage rested a putrid, yet beating heart. Skald’s fury fed him strength, and he swept at the mage’s skeletal feet. However, he was stopped by the violet beams that shot from Xandus’s fingertips and pierced his furry back. “You have caused enough trouble for me, beast.” Xandus raised his other hand and a faint violet began to emanate from the palm of his hand. The pale light grew wider as Skald helplessly watched his demise stare back at him. From behind Xandus, a thunderous crash roared throughout the room. Immediately after, a marble pillar sailed through the air at Xandus. Disembodied arms rose from the shadows and took hold of the fractured pillar but could not stop it. The pillar struck Xandus’s back. The force of the impact shattered his body and rained pieces of bone across the room. The beams of energy that penetrated Skald’s part disappeared and left Skald panting heavily. The High Shaman walked out from behind another still-standing pillar. “You will not kill my champion Xandus. He will be my servant.” From across the room, fragments of bone collected and reformed Xandus’s body. “Ignorant shaman! That thing is beyond any form of reasoning or control.” Xandus’s body walked over to his head and placed it back upon his shoulders. “We could not break his soul and now it cannot be tamed.” Skald averted his eyes from the shaman and the mage. Shreds of his humanity returned to him slowly as he stared at Tyria. Droplets of sorrow welled within his eye and then disappeared into his fur. Sorrow quenched the fury in his heart as helplessness rushed over him. With his anger and rage subsiding, Skald began to regain control over his mind. The High Shaman struck his staff into the floor once more and fragments of rock and marble of various sizes flew toward Xandus. With a simple wave of his hand, a wall of shadow manifested before Xandus. The earthly onslaught struck the barrier; however, fell harmlessly away from it. “You are only trying to deny me what is mine!” “Foolish shaman, you’re blinded by your lust for power!” Xandus waved both of his boney arms forward. The barrier changed into a wall of shadowy daggers and lunged forward at the shaman. The High Shaman struck the floor once more and erected a large slab of rock to protect him. Along with the protective rock, marble spears rose from the ground around Xandus. Each spear plunged into Xandus’s ribcage. The skeleton’s body froze as his demise rested a hairsbreadth away. The High Shaman walked calmly over to Xandus. “Do you have any final words?” “Yes,” Xandus’s skull tilted down to the other man. “Die.” From the shadows of Xandus, The High Shaman, and his earthly spears erupted dozens of small shadowy bolts of energy. At the same time, the marble spears closed in and pierced Xandus’s putrid heart. The shaman’s face fell into a grimace as he formed a small shield of rock

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to protect his organs; however, bolts of darkness pierced his arms and legs. Blood gushed from the several holes across his limbs. The runes that covered Xandus’s body darkened. His skeletal body fell apart soon afterward. Skald watched as Xandus became nothing more than a pile of bones adorned with a decapitated head. With much exertion, he rose to his feet. Despite having control over his mind again, he found walking on two feet exceedingly difficult. He hobbled over towards the High Shaman who was now lying on his back panting. Skald knelt next to the man and gazed into his wide, frightened eyes. His thoughts turned back to Tyria and Sygmundyr. Rage welled within him once more; however, it did not consume him this time. Skald raised his claw, “No, plea-” His groveling turned into unintelligible gargling as his mouth turned into a pool of scarlet. Skald rose and walked over to young Tyria. Her skin was cold and her eyes wide open. Sorrow fell from Skald’s face and onto Tyria’s. He closed her eyes and mouthed the words, “I’m sorry.”

Heloísa Flores

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Joshua Mirenda

Yobana Graciano

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Major/Goals: I am a Nursing major, and my future plan is to publish short stories and poetry. Favorite Author/Genre: J.R.R. Tolkien Describe your experience in ENG 221 - Writing Fiction: I have gained more confidence from taking English 221: Writing Fiction with Professor Bailey-Kirby, so I would recommend this class to another student for several reasons. One is to help a person feel more secure about their work. Another is to help them improve their work, especially if they wish to become a better writer. Also, it will help a person get out of a brain stump that they might have during writing. For example, the two main activities in the class, writing exercises and workshops, helped strengthen my skills as a writer. Tabitha Agnir

The Bachelor by Tabitha Agnir My silk web bounced a few times as I opened one of my black eight eyes, pushing aside a bright green wet leaf with one of my eight brown marked legs. I was mostly pale this season, better to camouflage on the pale tree bark. The bright sun that portrayed hues of gold and red in the sky was banished by the cold silver moon. My feet scuttled with delight at the moon’s glow and quickly trailed off the center of my home. The scent of apple blossoms perfumed the damp air as I inhaled it in, tasting the pleasant taste of fruit and hurried to my bounty. I plucked out a dead black fly wrapped in my silver platter and scarfed it down. A dull and limp blue butterfly on a broken cocoon followed after. I shoved the last leg through my fangs, and wobbled into a shadowed crook of the green leaf in my home. There I pushed and weaved up the silk I created into a nice, tight ball with a silver bow. I smiled at my work before shoving it on my backside. After pacing a few times on the web, the substance affirmed to be glued. How acceptable; a gentleman suited with a bowtie, I thought. One of my eight eyes glanced down at the forest floor; I have seen a lovely round black female crawl into one of the many decaying logs there for the past few nights. I’m ready to meet her. My legs took a few steps back before leaping into the cool wind. The wind pushed me from the nest into the thick, heavy trunk of an old tree. I twitched my limbs and poked the rough edges of the white wood with each leg. All were functional and the suit was left undamaged. Carry on, then. The dark brown earth contrasted with the lively bright forest trees. Several specks of dust rose faintly in the cool nighttime breeze. I strolled towards a dark brown, old log decaying in the center of dried mud. The smell of apple blossoms were replaced with a heavier scent of a feminine musk; my heart rate quickened, a few legs twitched. Will she accept me? Despite the moisture and heat that approached my steps in the log, my mouth tasted dry, and my body felt cold but flushed.

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I can’t go like this. Confidence. I need confidence. I deeply inhaled, shifting my weight on six shoulders to stand up straight. Warm air filled up my lungs and heart, extracting my flush as it left. Much better. With softer eyes, I inhaled again and managed a toothy grin. After tapping the two front limbs a couple of times, I perked my head high. I strutted towards a nearly invisible, stringy silver home coated in feminine musk. I drank the enveloping scent of the web and slightly shivered; the smell grew stronger from a corner to which I cannot see. Invisible needles pricked my neck with invisible eyes. She is here. I used the front two legs to rub off dirt from my exoskeleton and coughed a few times. I must make a good performance. The web could make a useful instrument to my courtship. “Pleasure to meet you. I am gentleman Spider,” I gave a low bow. Purple eyes glowed in the shadowed corner of the web. A female that towers three times my height emerged and walked past the remains of insects, lunch and dinner in shredded silk. I closed my eyes, feeling her exhale on my small, diminutive stature. “And I am Widow,” she pleasantly said. I blinked a few times, slowly moving out of the bow. Before another second passed, the web flipped upside down. Widow lifted me up and tossed, turned, and flipped me about any-which way in her arms. My stomach cramped up and my eyes spun; I was thankful for the short pauses she gave me as her eyes scanned my body. They lingered on the silver tie I wore longer than the rest of my body. After a few minutes, she dropped me back on the web. Stomach juices ran up my throat, and I swallowed it back down. I rubbed my head to relieve the pressure that built from it and then located Widow between three hallucinations. “Your body seems capable. So go on, Gentleman Spider. How will you win me over?” So much for the formalities; she knew my purpose of visiting her. I blushed and bowed low once more. “I shall play you a song on your web.” “Ah, music and dinner. This may be interesting. The last few suitors danced. But music? How different! Oh, do go on,” she crawled towards me as her eyes gleamed. Encouraged, I nodded and entered the web. The first few strings reverberated rang soft but clear. My other limb trailed through the silver instrument and the back limbs plucked a gentle melody. I kept my eyes open, taking note of the strings and relayed information to my limbs on what to stroke next. However, one of my eyes fixated itself on her ample round abdomen; a faint, attractive birthmark of a red hourglass shined in the center. The insides of my mouth watered and my fangs parted as bits of drool dropped on the wood. I opened my jaws to sing, but another voice broke the enchantment. One of my limbs hit a sour string as Widow and I scowled and stared down the tunnel of the log. “Cricket, you have to stop living with us. My colony is sick of putting up with you. Can’t you gather your own food next time winter comes about?” “Now, now, Ant. You honestly don’t want me to move out. Your people learned to love me. Bunking with you every winter was the best idea I ever had,” the replier

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cheerfully chirped. “Excuse me Widow,” I apologized, and quickly scampered up the sides of the dark brown log. I puffed with my hair standing, growling softly and found the voices. A dark brown cricket hopped with a high head, moving strong and steady. The other was a small, red ant that pitter-pattered in steps; she couldn’t fit as a snack with how puny the tiny creature sized up to be. “Excuse me!” I cut in the middle of their chat, and they both turned to look at me. “Oh, good lord! A spider!” Cricket’s front arms and wings popped up in alarm. “If you mind, good sir-“ “Should we run off and scream?” the ant faintly asked, tugging at a Cricket limb. “I’m trying to-” “But of course.” I puffed up my fangs and stomped down on one foot. “Now, see here! I was in the middle of-“ One of my limbs shot up as I tried to talk reason to them; however, the two pests screamed and ran off. Their arms flailed, and I swear that an antenna fell off in their panic. My eyes twitched as I slowly reached up to my head, rubbing my now slightly deaf left ear. I stared after them with puffed up cheeks, before sighing. Their screams echoed through the tunnel. With a groan, I trotted back towards Widow in the web. The familiar twang of silk snapping over a body encased the frantic Ant and Cricket. My ear continued to ring and settle from their previous shouts. Cricket and Ant, as I approached, twitched in the silver spun binds. Their feet kicked at it, legs flailing about and their bodies rolling further into the web. To my luck, their movements tired them out from screaming. I smiled and sighed in relief. Widow stuck a black tongue out and stood above the two insects that weakly thrashed at her large presence. She picked them up and twirled them which way before shoving them on the side of the log. They backed into their cocoon away from her maw. When Widow turned her eyes on me, they whispered to each other, eyes rapidly searching the surrounding. “Oh ho ho, such a lovely surprise! That I not only have music to listen to, but a delightful snack after our session. Such a gentleman,” she grinned, pinching my cheeks with her two front curvy legs. I rubbed my cheek a few times and gave a weak smile. “Anything for you, lovely Madam Widow…” I wryly chuckled. My chuckle dropped as she turned and readied herself, her body bending low and welcoming. Enticing as my eyes soaked her in. A mischievous expression crossed her face with half-closed purple eyes. Instinctively, my body shivered. Perhaps the rumor of lucky insects, the cricket, was true after all. “Hoy, what the hell? Here? Now? At least kill us first! Absolutely disgusting. I rather blind myself than see you two have sex!” …Or I could be wrong about them being lucky. I glared at Cricket, whose face is scrunched up with one antenna lowered and the other high but snapped in half. “Nonsense, nonsense! I have a colony to return to,” Ant squealed and thrashed. “And she’ll eat you after you’re done having sex, you know! She’s a giant fat

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bumblebee!” “Lovely Widow, can we put silk in their mouth?” I whispered, nestling myself on her side. Widow pouted a bit. “I think their screams are adorable.” “Adorable? The Cricket just called you a Bumble-bee.” “Look, mister sex-a-lot. If she’ll eat you, she’ll eat me. If you leave, get me out of here.” Ant stared at Cricket with a grimace. “...and bring Ant with us.” “You know what I think?” I scampered past Widow as she lifted her body in surprise. I scurried towards the dead insects and found a decapitated cricket skull. I threw it at Cricket who widened his eyes and tried to curl up in his binds. I turned back at Widow and softened my expression. “I can’t believe those two. They think you’re going to eat me. What a laugh.” I shook my head and started to climb on her. However, Widow pouted and threw me off her back with a swift motion. Her lovely form faced to turn in my direction; she gave a rather narrow expression and a grimace. “Surely you know that I’m going to eat you afterwards. As a gentleman, you’re obliged to do my wishes.” “What?” “I told you!” “Oh, you were just going to go willy-nilly in here, in the act of a gentleman? And use me?” “No, no! I mean, I want to satisfy you, but I like staying alive.” “Satisfying me means feeding me.” Her eyes threw daggers at me, and her shoulders tensed up. Dear God, she was large. I shrank in my ground and stared. “I told you! I told you! I told you! And you’re messed up lady!” Widow kicked Cricket in the face with a black leg. “Cricket!” “I’m all right Ant,” he groaned, “just got a bruise in my face.” “Now, Widow. I apologize for this, but I am going to go,” I gave a small, uneasy grin and kept my front legs up in apology, and just in case she decided to leap. “What sort of gentleman are you!” the ant piped up. Widow, Cricket, and I all wheeled towards her. Ant twitched her antennas, and in her soft high pitched voice, yelled at me. “I might die, but as a gentleman, it is tradition to sacrifice oneself to a female, or to the queen! It’s to ensure survival of the colony. Coward to not sacrifice yourself! What madness!” “Ant. We’re about to die, dear. Instead of focusing on your colony, how bout focusing about us living, hmm? Have you considered that?” “Oh shut up, Cricket. You know it enrages me if someone breaks the rules of the colony.” “This isn’t a colony,” I sassed back. “Well, you self-proclaimed gentleman, at least the ant knows the true meaning of

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self-sacrifice and the requirements of love.” “Why can’t you just eat them? It’s not like you’re starving! You’re well rounded, plump even!” I pointed at Cricket and Ant exasperatedly. “Mutiny! I warned you about her! How dare you turn against me!” “A most terrible lover! Insulting me, calling me fat! Forbidding me to eat!” “I am no lover! We have not committed such acts!” “And I would have hated to have seen it.” Widow kicked Cricket. His silky prison dashed across the log, bounced from the ceiling, and into the web. “Cricket! Cricket, are you okay?” “I think my wings are broken!” “I dare say to you, gentleman Spider, that You. Are. No. Gentleman! ” Bits of poison flew from her fangs into my face as she screamed, stepping on defenseless Cricket. A popping noise squished out into the opening. “Get your foot out of my eye!” “As are you no fair lady!” “Dear God, this hurts!” “Cricket!” Widow puffed and all her fur stood up on ends, breaking the web with heavy steps. Her two large black limbs pried Cricket from her foot as she growled. “Get out!” she screeched, throwing Cricket. He screamed with a bleeding face and landed next to me, as I quickly scampered. I didn’t bother to look back; the next moment a blur of silver and a sharp cry told me that Ant was her next ammo. The small bug started to sob, but I crawled over her and hastily ran out from the silver spun web. My legs scurried and found myself at the exit. I stepped outside. Thunder rumbled with the steady beat of rain thumping against the thirsty ground. A frustrated screech from Widow’s fangs rang through the forest. The soft whimper of the ant and the frustrating protests of the cricket turned into shrieks, followed by a squeamish crunch. Then silence. The purple and crimson flow of warm blood ran outside towards the cold rain, beneath my feet. I shivered and started to run; my legs scampered, crawled, twisted and weaved towards the tree that I called home. Through the desert of rain and through the valley of grass, all eight of my limbs touched the white, pale tree. The familiar wood started to settle my pacing heart. I uneasily held on the trunk and picked my way up as the rain washed the bowtie off towards the forest floor. The heavy scent of apple blooms clung to the air and drowned my shaking limbs. “Home,” I sighed, picking my body up on the silver nest. Dear God, how I loved to be home. I retreated beneath the dark green leaf, into my safe little crook. After closing all eight of my eyes, I felt warmth returning to my skin. My heartbeat thumped a softer speed. What broads they are, I thought to myself, if they were all Widows. I settled further into my crook and started to drift off into sleep. If a Widow they all may be, then claim me a bachelor, alive and free.

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HeloĂ­sa Flores

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Andrea Carter

Major/Goals: I’m currently a Creative Writing major, and I’d like to write a book one day. Favorite Author/Genre: Too numerous to list here. Describe your experience in ENG 221 - Writing Fiction: I learned a lot about character development and setting, and I got more ideas on how to place tension in a story and was challenged to try new things. Also, I really enjoyed the motivation that I got from this class. It really inspired me to write at my very best. I feel my strongest story was “Unfaithful” because it was different from what I usually would do. Overall, I loved this class and the professor. I’d recommend it to anyone who enjoys writing. I almost wish I could take it again for the extra experience. I met a lot of kind people during it and gained quite a bit. I’d definitely do it again if I could.

Prisoner of Love by Andrea Carter Emily often wondered how the people around her could look so happy. Surely because they were visiting a loved one, she had guessed. But it did little to change their environment. This was no amusement park by any standards. The walls around her were chipped and faded, slowly shifting to a sickly yellow from the passage of time. The windows appeared unclean and murky, spotted with dust and water stains. She wondered if anyone ever took the time to clean them. If so, they probably took the same amount of effort as they did with the bathrooms in the facility. Nobody ever wanted to step inside of them. They smelled disgusting, and everything from the toilets to the sinks was coated with filthy water. The correctional officers did not clean, so Emily had assumed that they were not the ones responsible for any sanitation duties. Unfortunately, they were the ones who did the processing for visitation. She could only hope with each visit that her clothing would pass the inspection and her walk through the metal detector would not end with a startling beep. This particular morning had really been no different. After failing to pass the approved dress code three times prior for past visits, Emily chose to settle for the least impressive article of clothing she possessed. She could not get away with much, so a simple pair of black boots with a formless fitting dress had to do. It was a dingy thing, really. She wasn’t sure how she had ever obtained it, but it was the only thing in her wardrobe that would manage to gain her entry. She only wished the rich color of purple dyed within it had been stronger. From the look of it, it had been washed one too many times. Still, the dress had been homely enough to please the officers lined behind the long table at the front. They had found nothing suspicious or revealing about it, nor had they any trouble searching the insides of her translucent bag and shoes. The

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removal of all jewelry had come and gone, and soon enough, Emily was passing through the intimidating metal detector. Not a sound had been made. The worst part was over. Moving down the small hallway to reach a second desk for further approval, Emily awkwardly observed the officer seated behind it. Unlike the others at the front, this man was quite large and chubby. The standard green uniform looked far too small for his hefty form. What had really caught her attention was the shine of his bald head. She had not known such a thing could be so luminous. It was an addicting sight to behold. “Right hand, please.” The gruff voice of the bald officer startled her to full attention. It didn’t matter how many times she had been here. The cruelty and no nonsense attitudes of the staff at the prison always caused her stomach to twist. In truth, she no longer had any desire to be in such a place. The excitement had died down after the fourth year. The engagement ring on her finger was the only reason she continued to come. After all, it had been a promise she had made. Emily did not like to see herself as a liar, nor did she have the ability to crush a man’s heart when he was at his weakest. Reaching out to place her pink visitation slip down with her driver’s license, Emily flattened her palm down to the surface to wait for the usual stamp to mark her skin. It was always something ridiculous- a shining sun, a cheerful bug, or sometimes a simple paw print. Such images probably appealed to the children visiting, but she personally found it distasteful and insulting. Fortunately, she did not have to ponder about prison stamps for too long. The bus used to take her to the correct area of the facility had already come. With the relatively small gathering of visitors for the weekend, her waiting time was dramatically reduced. The early morning chill of wind and snow had discouraged many. Yet those who had come appeared eager and pleased- much unlike herself. “You may all board the bus outside. Watch your steps.” The same gruff voice of the bald officer reached her reddening ears once more. The winter cold slipping inside the room was making her miserable. The faster she made it to the bus, the better. Sliding her bare arms around herself in an attempt to remain warm, Emily stepped away from the desk to stagger to the opening doorway, stuffing her identification card and visiting slip back into her bag. Inwardly, she had cursed herself for not bringing a coat. It was rather unusual for her to forget such things, but surely she should have expected as much. Her mind had been losing focus ever since she had made the decision to visit. Once outside, Emily could feel the unkind pushes and pulls of the winter wind at her heels. The violent gusts threatened to rip her bag from her trembling fingers. She guiltily fantasized of the thought. If she did indeed lose the contents within her clear knapsack, her visit ultimately would be canceled. It was a shame she was not so cruel. Trudging through the ankle deep snow to reach the pale white bus, Emily clumsily clambered aboard to seek out a seat. Inside, she noticed a small handful of visitors

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patiently waiting for their ride to begin. An elderly couple, a young woman with a bouncy child, and a tall slender man all sat in their chosen seats, separated from one another as though each carried an incurable disease. Emily chose the very back. It was there she could continue to tend to her inner conflict and guilt. Thankfully, the ones coming along behind her had chosen to give her the proper peace of mind, and had settled elsewhere. The bus ride had been a blur of motion for her. The only thing she could remember was the majestic view of snowcapped mountains painting themselves into view from the barred windows of the vehicle. Before long, she found herself stepping off the bus to continue her trek through the gates towards the main visiting room. Once inside, she took her assigned seat and simply waited. The room was of massive size. Tiny tables and orange chairs filled the inner area, seated with early visitors and chattering inmates, proud to be in the company of their loving and devoted family. Along the walls were painted pictures of furry creatures and forest greenery. Her incarcerated fiancé had told her once before that the skilled inmates of the prison had been the ones responsible for such masterpieces. ‘Such wasted talent.’ She could easily relate. Emily had wasted four years of her life with senseless waiting. She could have done and experienced much more if she had only made the decision to break apart from the man she was visiting today. But he had made it so difficult by placing a ring on her finger. Initially, it had felt pleasing and added a desirable spice to her daily living. Despite having her man imprisoned behind bars, Emily had felt a sense of worth. Somebody loved her. Surely that had to have counted for something. But things no longer felt the same. The distance they had suffered for so long had managed to carve an empty hole into her heart. She felt lonely, unhappy, and trapped. Gazing out to the far windows at the end of the room, Emily watched the snow slowly drift to the ground, blanketing the grass and courtyard tables outside. In its splendor, it managed to bring out a welcoming sense of nostalgia from within her. She could easily recall a morning much like this one. It hadn’t been long ago. She had been discussing her troubles with her best friend in the neighborhood park. The snowfall had been just as heavy, and in a sense, magical. Merely watching it fall to the ground now on the picnic styled tables allowed her to be effortlessly whisked away to that hour of memorable conversation. It was one she could never forget. It had been early morning. The weather station had predicted icy winds and impressive estimates of continuous snowfall. Children dove into powdery white fields, throwing and dodging soaring snowballs. The center jungle gym was frosted with dangling icicles, some occasionally falling from the steady activity of youngsters racing through the multicolored complex. Emily wobbled along onto the frozen lake, her ice skates jerking unsteadily as she gripped onto the gloved clad hands of her timeless friend, Patrick. She was no professional skater. Her balance had always been terrible. But she had been willing to try for the sake of spending much needed time with someone she could trust. Puffing

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out breaths of frosted air, she hesitantly tugged away one hand to lift her earth toned snow cap from her blue eyes. How awkward she must have appeared to be. “Four years is a long time to wait for someone, Emmy.” Patrick’s larger frame kept her steady as he maneuvered backwards, continuing to guide her along past fellow skaters. His dark gaze occasionally lifted to focus on the cloudy sky. “I guess I was stupid to think I would feel the same after all this time, huh?” Shakily moving her free hand back to his own, she allowed him to continue leading her forward, her occasional staggering corrected by his smooth instruction of flawless movements. “Well, I wouldn’t say you were stupid. Naïve is more like it. You were twenty years old at the time, you know?” “But… I think I did love him. And I still don’t believe he committed that crime that they accused him of.” Patrick frowned, a deep expression of sympathy crossing his handsome features. “Emmy, I’m gonna be honest. You two have got quite an age gap. And remember what his charges are. Even if he didn’t do what they say he did, you realize that he’s branded for the rest of his life with that, right? The law isn’t exactly kind to men who take interests in girls younger than eighteen.” “But I’m not younger than eighteen. I’m twenty-four.” Tripping again, she reached up to awkwardly fiddle with her cap once more, readjusting it over her blonde hair. “And that other girl was apparently sixteen. He’s now thirty-seven. What do you think that looks like to the public… now that you’re in the picture with him? Engaged too, for that matter.” “But... it’s still possible that she was lying about him, right? I mean, people lie all the time about those things.” “And what would it matter if she was? You don’t want to be with him anymore. That’s the problem that you’re having, isn’t it? You don’t even wanna visit the guy.” Emily drowned out the sounds of the shouting children, both hands gripping onto Patrick’s as her legs lightly buckled beneath her. She could feel them begin to slow on the ice, dipping her head down into the warmth of her dark winter coat. She felt embarrassed of her feelings. She felt like a liar, and she didn’t know how to fix it. “But I promised him I would wait, Patrick. I felt so bad for him when he told me. He even cried. G-Guys don’t cry usually, do they?” Perhaps she was too gullible for her own good. Her dark haired friend released a long sigh, slowing them fully to a stop at the edge of the frozen lake. Looking into his eyes, Emily could detect a faint amount of pity and frustration; perhaps some longing as well. Still, she continued. “I could never forgive myself if I caused Jeff to fall apart in there by suddenly breaking up with him, but…” It pained her to speak his name. She feared if she spoke it loud enough, he would hear her confessions, and she couldn’t bear that. Searching Patrick’s eyes once more, she struggled to focus on his features, desperately attempting to push away the thoughts of her incarcerated fiancé and replace them with things far more comforting.

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Her friend looked so goofy with his snow cap on. His brown curls of hair escaped from all sides, messily falling over furrowed brows. Had she not been in such a mess, she could have possibly tried to be something more with the young man standing before her. She had not realized how handsome he was turning out to be. Emily had known him since middle school. He had always been the one she sought out for advice. How stupid she had been to fall for another. Feeling her shoulders begin to shake from an uprising of sudden tears, Emily dipped her head further down in shame. The chill of the wind shook her insides, applying pressure to her sensitive chest. She hated herself for making such a stupid decision. This was not the fairy tale she had imagined. There was no prince on a white horse at the end of this story, only parole and full out humiliation. “I don’t want to do this anymore, Patrick.” Her voice trembled as her body slumped further into his own, releasing her hands from his to reposition them snugly into his chest. The scent of Old Spice and leather immediately flooded her senses. She didn’t need any more words of advice; only silent comfort. It did not surprise her that Patrick gave her just that. He always had been the one to remain faithfully at her side through all of her ups and downs. Surely, he knew just how deep down she was this time. Feeling strong arms circle around her lanky frame, Emily was provided with a sense of security and content. She could no longer feel the icy wind brush against her cheeks, and for a short while, she did not even think of her fiancé. She simply enjoyed the pleasures of being held by another who sympathized with her discomfort and confusion. His warmth soothed her from the bitter cold, drowning out all thoughts of her distress. Undoubtedly, Patrick would not release her until she gave a silent nod of approval, but Emily was in no rush to do so. If it had been solely up to her, she would have chosen to remain in such a state of bliss for hours. But surely that had not been the case. If her memory served her well, she recalled tripping to her knees shortly through that friendly hug. Her clumsiness had its ways of ruining her most precious moments. Turning her eyes away from the frosty windows and back to the waiting room, Emily noted a few more visitors within. The old couple from the bus was merrily chatting away with a young man; most likely their son. Many others followed suit in their own private discussions. It seemed as though everyone around Emily had smiles on their faces. She awkwardly wondered if she was the only one who felt deep grief for being in such a place. Cautiously turning her attention back to the windows, her thoughts drifted to Patrick once more. Unlike her fiancé, he had ways of making her laugh when sadness crept upon her. He encouraged her to pursue new things, while Jeff only approved when it suited his needs best. For a man so helpless and contained, he still had strong enough audacity to try and control her. Unfortunately, she had a tendency to fall victim to his jealous outbursts and childish tantrums. ‘Patrick would never do those things, I bet.’ It was a harmless musing, but she knew it to be true. Her friend, if he ever had gotten the chance to become more, would have

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never worked so hard to make her miserable in life. He enjoyed humor and had priceless qualities about his personality. Her fiancé had none of those things. All he had now was the signature of a felon that would follow him for years to come. Emily no longer wanted to be any part of it. They would only drag each other down in the end, she was certain. That morning of clumsy ice skating with her friend had given her a painful insight one she tried to avoid thinking of in order to spare herself the pain of realization and panic. “Even if he didn’t do what they say he did, you realize that he’s branded for the rest of his life with that, right?” That was true. “He’s now thirty-seven. What do you think that looks like to the public… now that you’re in the picture with him? Engaged too, for that matter.” She’d been so foolish to try to bypass so many facts. Emily knew they had always been there, but like a child, she had pushed them in the deepest corners of her mind. She had been under the naïve impression that if she did not think of them, they would no longer hold much truth. She had only held onto what she saw before her. Jeff had been a handsome man, affected clearly with age, but so gentle in voice and touch at the beginning. He had taken her to dinner, made love with her, and shared what she had believed to be his most sacred dreams. His dark eyes and rugged sideburns had fascinated her. He had swept her up into adulthood so quickly; it had made her head spin. Emily had had so little time to think. Before she had known what was happening, her first love was behind bars and she was ensnared with a ring on her finger. She longed so much now to remove it. Peering down at the decorative silver band, Emily felt her eyes cloud with tears. It was supposed to be a beautiful sight to behold, but she wanted nothing more than to toss the piece of jewelry across the room. She wanted to forget it all and enjoy another ice skating session with Patrick. She wanted to laugh and smile much like the visitors and humbled inmates all around her. But she couldn’t do so with such a heavy promise attached to her. She couldn’t do so in a prison. Lifting her eyes to turn her attention to the sound of a closing door near the front, Emily watched in silence as a stout officer guided her solemn fiancé out and towards the visiting desk for confirmation. He had not yet noticed her. She preferred it that way. It gave her that much more time to ponder her chances of a brighter future. The moment he sat down, she had a feeling such dreams would be overshadowed by his own. But instead of dreading for such moments to come, Emily gazed back to the icebound windows, clutching her fingers tightly back to her small bag. The snow had fully blanketed the picnic tables outside, and the mountains in the distance were fading to a hazy white. By now, the neighborhood park was bound to be overpopulated with snow angels and snowmen. The children in town adored the winter season. It provided many different forms of activity, much like the months of a

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tropical summer. Still, she always preferred if over their countless unexpected heat waves and the risks of dehydration that always followed. Listening halfheartedly to the sounds of her fiancĂŠ approaching their small table, Emily kept her eyes trained on the soft falling snowflakes. Her unshed tears had dried up, replaced with a weak smile of longing. With all the troubles raining down on her, she had expected her thoughts to focus on how best to approach her incarcerated partner. Yet in spite of such conflicting matters, she could only find herself yearning for one thing as he neared. The sweet smell of Old Spice and Leather. Ice skating never sounded so good.

Jordan Patton

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Yobana Graciano

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Jessica Morey

Major/Goals: My major is undeclared, but my future plan is to leave Vegas eventually. Favorite Author/Genre: Young Adult Describe your experience in ENG 221 - Writing Fiction: I see a big difference between what I submitted at the start of the class, and what I have submitted at the end, so I would recommend this class to anyone who wants to take the steps in improving their writing. Also, Professor Bailey-Kirby is engaging, always prepared, and encouraging to the students. She was always willing to help those who came to her, and above all, she really understands what she is teaching and cares about it. I could feel that every time I was in her class, which meant a lot to me. She is a wonderful teacher, and I would recommend her class to anyone.

The Truth of it All by Jessica Morey Loreley snuggled against the rough pillow, sighing deeply. She wondered when it got so dark out, and who brought her inside from the meadow she’d fallen asleep in. Her bed didn’t feel the same, and the pillow was scratchier than usual. There was a sour taste in her mouth, and she licked her lips as she tried to place what it could be. Her eyes snapped open. Panic seized hold, causing her breaths to be short and jagged, as she took in the stone walls that caged her. Moonlight shined through the high window, bars cutting off any escape. Loreley jumped up, bracing herself against the wall and standing as high as her toes would allow. She could barely see over the edge of the stone, but she could make out the bright reds, yellows, and oranges colors of the Fernix Kingdom’s flags. “Fernix,” Loreley bit out. Of course, she realized a second later. Who else would have taken her, but Finton of Fernix? The bitter aftertaste of the somnolent drug told her she’d been kept asleep for awhile. Her father, King Leith of Cyonix, had related stories of their barbaric ways; how they would use the creatures of the land as slaves and dark enchantments to win their wars. The kidnapping and drugging was just another example of their inhumanness. But she was Princess Loreley, and she would not be the victim. Fight, her father had always told her. They’ll kill you, but don’t make it easy. She’d been trained to fight, to think on her feet, to handle any situation. She would treat this as a test from Arlyn, her physical trainer, and amaze him with her skills as she always did. The room cramped and offered no obvious way out. The bars on the window were too solid to break, and she wouldn’t be able to slip through the small gaps. On the opposite wall from the window was the door, her only option left. It was large and made of iron. She’d have to wait until the door opened to get free. She was sure the guard wouldn’t be undersized, but she was. She was light, too. Loreley was a fast

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runner. She could easily dodge the attacks of Arlyn and run circles around Nadia, her tutor. Her mother said she was like a fish swimming with the current – to quick to catch. That would be her way to freedom, Loreley decided. After inspecting the room, Loreley looked at herself. She was still wearing the light weight training tunic and pants she fell asleep in, and she didn’t seem to be injured in any way. She was thankful that they’d left her unharmed, given how cruel they could be. Rubbing her hands over her face and through her short, light brown hair, she berated herself for leaving the sight of her guards. She’d been warned against doing it multiple times and now knew they hadn’t been overreacting. So far away from the ocean and the Alcyone River, she felt the loss of power in her veins. Having been surrounded by water all her life, Loreley didn’t know how she would survive long without its strength, but she’d certainly try. She wasn’t sure how long she waited when a holler alerted Loreley to a change outside her door. There was another shout, the sound of metal clashing, and telltale grunts of fighting. Loreley braced her back against the wall under the window, readying herself to rush through the door in case it was opened. Her heart beat frantically in her chest, fear and anticipation scorching through her entire body. She pushed away the thought that she’d fail and be held captive forever. If she failed, she be tortured and used, and eventually killed, her body sent back to Cyonix to mock her family. The fight ended and a silence fell heavy over Loreley as she strained to hear through the thick metal door. Outside the window, she could hear the bellows of men and knew they were coming to the cells. If the door opened, she wouldn’t have long to find a way out and beat the soldiers. She had the brief thought that one of the persons fighting could have been sent by her father to rescue her, but Loreley knew her father was a slow working man. He calculated everything. It was too soon for him to send someone for her. There was a click, and then the squeal of the bolt sliding. As soon as the light from the hallway hit Loreley, she pushed from the wall and elbowed passed the guard. She was surprised by them; they were smaller then she expected, and they let out a gasp of surprise as she passed. She didn’t let it distract her from her goal. She could hear them following her already; their heavy footfalls ricocheted off the stone, getting louder. Loreley turned random corners, barely staying ahead of her chaser. She set out prayers to Halcyon, wishing for them to break a bone or catch one of the torches lighting the hallways and burn, leaving her alone. They didn’t, still gaining on her. Ahead, she could see stairs leading above ground and hoped they’d lead her away. The air hurt her throat when she inhaled and froze her lungs. Where are the soldiers, she thought, faltering as she realized they could be waiting for her. She felt the weight of her follower slamming into her back, the ground slipping away from her feet. Loreley threw out her hands to keep her face from crashing to the stone floor and pain pulsed through her body as they tumbled. Above the physical

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pain, Loreley felt the sting of failure and fear of the future. All of the training from Arlyn and Nadia couldn’t prepare her for what would happen next. “Holy Prometheus, you’re fast,” the person above her panted, as they lifted away from Loreley. “And you hit hard.” Loreley looked at the person in shock. “Salacia?” she whispered. She’d seen few images of the Princess of Fernix, but the narrow face, dark eyes, and long, straight nose were unmistakable. Her black hair was pulled back into a tight braid that hung like a rope to the middle of her back. Salacia was taller than Loreley, and in the black warrior uniform with the silver buckles across the chest and belt of weapons, she looked stronger. The fabric of the uniform was made from was resistant to the elements, but flexible enough to allow for free movement in battle. Loreley’s father had spent a large amount of time and the kingdom’s funds trying to find which spells they used to create it. Salacia held out her hand to help Loreley up. She stared at it as if it were one of the virulent creatures that lived deep within the forest that separated Cyonix and Fernix. Why is she helping me? Loreley thought, her eyes narrowing on the other’s face, trying to unearth the girl’s view. The calls of the soldiers echoed down the hall, and Loreley knew it was only minutes before they were discovered. “You can choose to stay,” Salacia said. The tone of her voice and arch of her brow dared Loreley to stay and face the soldiers. She didn’t understand Salacia’s motives, but knew it was her only option, so Loreley pulled herself from the ground. Salacia nodded once, not surprised by the rejection. “This way,” she said. She led Loreley down a hall that she’d passed by in her haste. They narrowly missed the guards walking by, but it seemed Salacia was just as familiar with the maze as they were. They came to another iron door, and Salacia opened it for Loreley and closed it, slamming the lock behind them. The heat of the room choked Loreley. Large machines filled the entire space, each with gears rotating continually and tongues of fire licking the air. Loreley recoiled when she saw the flames. Fire was the element of Fernix, in opposition to Cyonix’s water. Loreley felt trapped again, regretting her choice to follow the princess. “Jink,” Salacia called out as she headed across the room, moving between the machines and through the fire effortlessly. She stopped at a dial in the middle of the wall and started turning it. Loreley could hear gears grinding, clicking in place as Salacia worked. “Why are you doing this?” Loreley called out, shouting to be heard over the machines. Salacia ignored her. “Jink! I need that bag!” “I’m right here. Stop your yelling.” Loreley heard the voice respond from behind her. It resembled the crackle of fire, and when she turned to find it, her eyes popped. The creature stood to her knee. Its bright red skin stretched tautly over its skeleton. Its black beady eyes were magnified by big metal engineer’s goggles wrapped around its head and a tool belt hung from its bony waist. Jitters were creatures native to the

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region, but they were supposed to be extinct. Its eyes shifted to Loreley and smiled, revealing two rows of tiny sharp teeth. “So this is the captured princess. Kind of small.” Loreley frowned. “Who you calling small?” “And rude,” Jink snipped. He lifted his goggles off and glared at her. “If you had any hair to speak of, I’d pull it. It’s not right, a girl with no hair.” Loreley’s hand flew to her head, fingering her short locks. “You come near me, I’ll kick you.” Salacia groaned, “Stop it, the both of you! Jink, give Loreley the bag.” The two glared at each other, but Jink held out a large pack to her without a word. Loreley took the bag and made her way to the other girl just as Salacia turned the dial one last time. Components started moving part of the wall out, revealing moonlight. Outside, Loreley could see the Fire Blossoms at their full height and was surprised by how the flowers made the trees look as if they were on fire, though that was the reason for their name. The kingdom considered the blossoms to be scared, and anyone who destroyed the trees was to be put to death. Loreley had always thought that it was a silly law. They are just trees. Beautiful, but trees. “Princess,” Jink said, coming up to Salacia. “I know my opinion doesn’t matter, but I do think you’re making a mistake.” Salacia pulled the hefty bag over her shoulders. “Just don’t tell anyone. I’ll be back in the morning.” Jink nodded. “Princess.” Salacia patted the top of his head gently before nodded to Loreley, leading her through the opening. After they were out, the door shut, blending in with the stones. “We’re going through the Fire Forest, around to Alcyone River. I’ll leave you there, but if you follow it-“ “It’ll lead me home,” Loreley finished for Salacia. Her home was built on a cliff overlooking the kingdom. The river wrapped around the back of the castle, and led to a waterfall that flowed through the city, eventually leading to the ocean. “We have to hurry. The soldiers will find us if we stay here too long.” Loreley refused to move. “Why are you doing this?” Salacia’s dark eyes traveled their surroundings. Soldiers could still be heard in the background, but Loreley didn’t trust her and wouldn’t move until she had an answer. Salacia pressed her lips into a thin line, glaring at Loreley. “Look, this war is between our fathers. You and I shouldn’t be involved like this, but here we are. Can we move now? I don’t like standing here in the open.” She didn’t wait for Loreley to reply, but hiked the pack higher on her shoulders and turned into the forest. Loreley tried to think of an escape. She wasn’t ready to completely trust the other girl, but she knew she couldn’t travel the forest alone, especially at night with enemy soldiers looking for her. She nodded, and trailed behind the other princess, keeping a distance. The light from the Fernix Castle faded as they went deeper into the wood. Salacia slung the pack around, searching and withdrawing a small glass orb. She held it

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in her palm, blowing softly over it. Loreley watched as a flame slowly grew brighter, lighting their path. “How does the fire burn without air?” Loreley asked as they continued walking. Salacia chuckled quietly. “Trade secret,” she said as she winked at Loreley. Loreley smiled, and opened her mouth to reply, but was interrupted. Salacia gasped as an arrow whizzed by, just passed her right ear. Loreley cowered behind a tree as Salacia dropped the sphere, extinguishing the fire instantly. The sudden darkness terrified Loreley. “Sala, I can’t believe you!” There comment echoed around them. In the dark, Loreley couldn’t make out anything but dark shadows, and couldn’t tell which direction it was coming from. “I had to,” Salacia whispered. Her voice was scratchy, though Loreley could hear the amount of force she put into the statement. “Going against orders—” “The orders are wrong!” “That’s not your call.” A hard stillness fell on them. Loreley strained her ears to pick up any sound, but the forest was strangely void of noise. “Brim,” Salacia finally whispered. “Please. This is important to me.” Fire flared again, lighting the area. Loreley watched from her place as the man blew on the orb before handing it to Salacia. He was tall and lean, and he looked like every Fernix Soldier Loreley had ever seen, except for the burn scarring the left side of his face, pushing back his hairline. He looked over Loreley as she stepped away from the tree. His black eyes narrowed, not impressed by what he saw. “I’ll try to hold them back, just go.” “Thank you.” He shook his head, stomping into the darkness and disappearing. “Boyfriend?” Loreley offered when he was gone. Salacia’s piercing gaze cut to her. “No,” she said simply, and then softer, “but he will give us some time, and keep our secret.” She pulled the pack higher on her shoulders and started walking again. Loreley followed, more than anything, not wanting to be left in the dark. They traveled for some time, neither speaking as they listened intently for the sounds of another attacker. The quietness pressed in on Loreley, who always had something to say. If she wasn’t telling stories to her mom, she was bossing around her brother, teasing Nadia or smart mouthing Arlyn. Her father didn’t care for her stories, but he let her tell him about her day, so she’d try to make those as exciting as possible, though they hardly ever were. The life of a princess was never as fun as others made it out to be. Loreley swayed, tripping over a root. She felt sleep dragging her down. “Are we far enough away to make camp?” “We’re not stopping. I have to be home by morning’s light.”

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“Won’t that soldier help you out?” Loreley’s eyes drooped, and she leaned against a tree. She’d slept for so long, so why was she tired now? “No. Stop asking questions. Just walk.” Loreley didn’t move. Her head had found the perfect knob to rest in, and it was getting harder to open her eyes. Salacia stopped, looking at her in exasperation. With a sigh, she dropped the pack. “Fine. We’ll stop for a little while.” Loreley smiled and slid down to the base of the tree, curling against it. She could hear Salacia moving around on the other side of the tree, and felt a blanket fall over her. She wrapped it tighter around herself, burrowing into its softness. “Loreley, hold this. I don’t want to lose it.” Loreley blinked, shrinking away from the bright orb that was shoved in her face. She took the orb from Salacia as the girl laid out her own blanket. Loreley felt a stirring in the hand that held the orb as she watched the dancing flames. For all of its destructiveness, she thought, it’s pretty. She watched wearily as the flame grew bigger, warming her hand. It developed to a point where Loreley knew it should have burned her, but she felt fine. As the orb grew brighter, Loreley’s eyes widened, and she jumped when a spark flew off, landing on her blanket. She threw the blanket and sphere away, screaming. Salacia moved quickly, stretching out her hand in front of the fire and then slowly closing her fingers into a fist. The fire died, leaving them in darkness again. “What did you do?” Salacia’s voice cut through Loreley’s heavy breathing. “I-I-I was just looking at it.” Salacia didn’t say anything in reply. Loreley could hear her sharp breath and then the snap of a twig as she moved around. She felt another blanket settle over her, and Salacia curling closer. Loreley’s breathing slowed, but sleep evaded her. Her eyes adjusted to the shadows of the forest, and she could make out the lump of the burned blanket. The glass orb lay a few feet away, sparkling in the moonlight. By the time Loreley’s muscles started to hurt from sitting, Salacia stirred. It was still dark in the forest, but Loreley felt dawn approaching. “You’re not going to make it home by morning,” she commented as Salacia stretched. “There’s food in the pack,” Salacia said in reply, rolling the blanket. Loreley dragged the pack closer and dug through it, finding a small loaf of bread wrapped in cloth. She ate as Salacia burned what was left of the other blanket, until nothing but ash was left. “What happened last night?” Salacia’s eyes sparked, but she just shrugged. “You ready?” Loreley nodded, realizing she wasn’t going to the answers she wanted, and finished the last bite of bread. Salacia lifted the pack to her shoulders and started walking. “The river’s close. You’ll be home soon.”

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“You’re familiar with the forest, huh?” Salacia nodded. “It was part of my primary training. Wasn’t it part of yours?” “No. I’m hardly ever allowed to leave castle grounds. Besides, all I learned of your kingdom was the brutality of its inhabitants and King Finton.” “Charming.” Loreley felt her temper spike at her tone. “It’s not like you can defend him. You’re father did drug and kidnap me.” Salacia snapped around, her braid almost smacking Loreley. “My dad did nothing to you. My uncle was the one who took you from that meadow, and he only did it because your father captured and killed his sister, my mother.” “He did not!” Loreley howled. “He let her go. She died in this forest.” Salacia’s stare softened. “Your father’s lied to you. He never let her go.” The pity in Salacia’s eyes pierced Loreley, but she didn’t know why. Her father was a good king and a good man. “So what,” she said, “if, in the rage of war, he killed someone. Your armies have slaughtered us.” The humorless laugh angered Loreley even more. “My mother’s death is what started the war, not something that happened because of it. Don’t they tell you anything of truth? They tell you of all the damage we’ve caused, but don’t you think this war has hurt us too? ” Loreley couldn’t respond. It was true, they never told her much about the war, but they had always said it was because she was a girl. She didn’t know how it began, who was winning, or even why it was still going on, after fifteen years. It was a year older than her, a part of her kingdom’s history longer than she had been, but it was still a mystery. “Do I really seem as heartless and callous as your father makes us out to be?” Loreley stared at her, before shaking her head and trudging pass. “Let’s just go,” she whispered. “I can’t wait to get home.” “Right.” The silence stretched between them, but Loreley’s thoughts plagued her. Was her father really the kind of man who would take and murder a woman? For what? She’d been told the war had started because Fernix had wanted access to the waterways, but what they offered in return did not compare. They were angry, and in a way, drew first blood by sending an assembly of men to burn their ships and other water vessels. Was that really what happened? Or had Salacia been right? She seemed to believe it, and to know so much more about the subject. What would her father do if he knew she doubted him? The sound of the rushing river drew Loreley from her mind. Her body hummed as she grew closer to the water, as if welcoming the power back, and she felt lighter. Salacia stopped at the bank. “Home’s just a short walk away,” she said, nodding in the direction of Cyonix. “Thank you, Salacia, for saving me.” “You were never in any danger. My father was always going to return you.”

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Loreley blinked in confusion. “Then why go through all of this? Why risk it?” “Well,” Salacia shrugged, “He was planning on using you as leverage first.” Loreley didn’t believe Salacia for a second. She may have been nice, but it was still a war and she was the enemy. She had to believe in her father. While he may have made mistakes, he wouldn’t wage war against a harmless kingdom. “I guess this is goodbye then,” she said. Salacia nodded and started walking away. Loreley watched her for a moment before following the river home. The walk gave her time to think, but she wished it wouldn’t have. Loreley had come to the decision that she was going to learn more about Cyonix’s history, particularly about the war. The sun was high in the sky by the time the first guard spotted her and shouted her name. She could barely get a word in as the guards surrounded her and carried her to the castle’s large entrance, where her mother and brother were already waiting. Her mother was a beautiful woman, with dark chestnut hair and deep brown eyes. She was slim, but muscled. Despite being the queen, she liked to keep busy and was constantly moving. Both Loreley and her brother, Heron, had inherited their father’s blondish hair and hazel eyes. Heron was four years younger than her, but much more stern about matters. He worked hard in all of his studies and took the roll of future king seriously. He was nosy, though, and had the habit of listening in on others conversations. Loreley realized as she saw his round boyish face, scrunched up with worry, that she missed him. “Loreley!” Her mom shouted dragging her into a tight hug. Loreley wrapped her arms around her mom’s waist buried her face into the soft, pale blue dress she was wearing. When she let go, she turned to Heron, squeezing him tightly. “We need to talk,” he whispered, so they’re mom wouldn’t hear. “It’s important!” Loreley heard the urgency in his tone, but was distracted when her father appeared. She thought that he’d look different to her, but he was the same man with white hair and a crown. He was shorter than her mother, but broad in the shoulders and chest. “That’s my girl,” he cheered when he reached her. “Tell me, how’d you get away? How many did you kill?” “Leith!” Her mother admonished. Even Loreley was shocked by the question. “Oh, come on Edana, can’t you be proud of our little girl?” The smile on his face was wide, but dulled when a guard approached and whispered into his ear. He glared at Loreley. “You couldn’t make sure you weren’t being followed, girl?” “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Loreley shook her head, withdrawing from his angry stare. “It seems my men have captured an enemy spy, one that followed you back. And not just any spy, but the one and only princess.” He turned to the guard, a cruel smile on his lips. “Kill her. Throw her over the cliff.”

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Loreley grabbed her father’s arm, knowing that this was his chance to prove he was a good man and remove all of her doubts. “Wait. She helped me get out. You can’t kill her.” “What?” “She’s the one that freed me. I did nothing. You owe her my life!” King Leith stared at her for a moment before laughing heartily. “My dear girl, she was only using you to get to me. My order stands.” “Leith,” her mother firmly. “You promised me.” Her father and mother stared at each other, locked in a battle Loreley couldn’t understand. She felt Heron shift beside her, pulling her down to his level. “It’s important!” “Not now, Heron.” Loreley said, brushing him off. “It’s about Mom,” he persisted. “I promised I wouldn’t attack her,” King Leith spoke calmly. “She’s in my territory. I’m not breaking my word.” “No!” Her mother screamed, picking up her skirt and running from the room. King Leith followed, yelling orders to keep her away from the girl. “What’s going on?” Loreley turned to Heron, hoping he would have picked up on something she missed. “Mom’s the missing queen.” “What?” “She’s the Queen of Fernix.” “No, she’s our mom, the Queen of Cyonix.” As Loreley said this, memories started slamming into her. She remembered her mom breathe flame into the candles in her room, playing with fire when cooking. “But she was the Queen of Fernix, before father took her. He never killed her, but never let her go. I heard them arguing about it while you were gone.” He never let her go. The words Salacia spoke echoed in her mind. At the thought of the other princess, she realized that if her mom was the missing queen, she was also Salacia’s mother. It explained her mom’s reaction, Loreley thought. It explained what happened with the fire orb last night and how she was able to make the fire grow. Loreley grasped the reality of the situation, as unbelievable as it was, and started to run. She brushed pass the guards easily and swiftly made her way out of the castle to the edge of the cliff near the waterfall. Two guards had Salacia in their grip, hanging on tightly as she struggled. Her mother was standing between Salacia and the drop, and her father had his hands on her shoulders, shaking her forcefully. Over the roar of the fall, Loreley couldn’t hear what he was shouting, but she could see the water reacting violently to his temper. Loreley had never seen her father behave that way, and didn’t know what to do. She wasn’t strong enough to make him stop, but then no one could. All this time, her father had painted Fernix as merciless warriors, when the truth of it all was that he was the cold-blooded murder.

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“Daddy, stop!” she cried, but he ignored her. She could feel her emotions slipping, the confusion of what was going on and what she was suppose to do tearing her apart. Loreley snapped, though, when her mother slipped and fell over the side, barely catching herself on the edge. She felt the fear and the anger towards her father swell up and swallow her. It wasn’t until she saw the flood of water rushing down on her father that she understood what was happening. She felt him push back, but his attempt was weak compared to her anger. The water from the river kept pounding on him, and she knew it was over when his resistance stopped. The river washed the body over the waterfall. Loreley fell to the ground, drained. The guards had let Salacia go in the flood, and she stared at her from a distance. Her mom crawled over, through the sodden grass and hugged her, rocking her back and forth, muttering things she couldn’t understand. Loreley looked at Salacia who was watching her with apprehension. She thought of what her father had done to the girl’s family, and wondered if the same thing that made him so cruel was in her.

Yobana Graciano

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Yobana Graciano

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Dan Kanizar

Major/Goals: I am a Creative Writing major, and I would like to have a writing career. Favorite Author/Genre: C.S. Lewis and Akira Toriyama Describe your experience in ENG 221 - Writing Fiction: What I did well was pointed out and praised and what needed work was brought to my attention in a very constructive way. Much needed focus was given to what makes a scene flow, come to life and carry the story. This in my opinion is the strongest and greatest element taught in the class. Without enriched scenes, you have no story. I would suggest this course to a student because it covers everything. Anything that a fiction writer could want to learn or improve on can be found and achieved in this course, with helpful exercises, such as how to write a successful multi-character scene. (Note: I did a serial publication in four chapter installments below.)

Preservation by Obstruction by Daniel Kanizar Chapter 1: Breaching the Wall Growing up as a child, I always had a clear view of the great border wall. Across the channel with the sunken bridge stands a menacing four hundred foot wall. Black and grey, it holds its ground, keeping any wandering souls out and anyone seeking freedom in. Now, as an adult, that barrier still stands. Day to day I stare across the channel to the looming barricade. An electrified, spiked-plated obstruction, that stretches as far as the eye can see. I've always wanted to see the other side, but beyond the behemoth wall is a thick fog that steals all hope of a glimpse. Any aircraft that dares cross over never returns. Father always tells me stories about the forgotten country. The way others speak of it makes it seem more like a legend than an actual nation. It was a place known as the United States of America. He says it's been nearly a hundred and fifty years since anyone has had contact with the U.S. Apparently, it sheltered itself from the world and is the reason for the great collapse the world suffered soon after the wall went up. Father says the same rhyme every time when referring to the wall. The rhyme has been passed down since the wall's construction. Nowadays, I often find myself repeating it in my head… Beware the overshadow of the great black gate. For from its confines lurks the power to seal man's fate. Here, in Fort Erie, the wall is a part of everyone's life. We all see it, and we all must be wary of it. That is what past generations have taught us. No one ever has a clear explanation to validate the fear we have. I really don't have time to keep dwelling on this though. Father gets mad when I'm not one hundred percent focused on the boat. Fish aren’t in great supply across the channel, so we must work hard and be focused to make the day’s catch. Still this wall steals my attention every day, even now.

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“Hey Baron!” Dustin’s voice dissipates my thoughts and brings me back to reality. “Your dad is going to kill us if today’s haul is like yesterday’s.” Dustin, my best friend and my only other crew mate, is right. He's tall and skinny, but somehow twice as strong as me and twice the fisherman. Whereas fishing is a hobby and a lifestyle for Dustin, it's more like a chore for me. Nonetheless, Dustin is right. Father is down with the flu currently, but he’s still keeping track of everything we take from the water. “I know man. For a sick old man, he sure let me have it the other day.” “I bet. Well, let’s move closer to the gate cause we ain’t catching anything over here. Last week, I made a pretty good haul near that vegetation against the wall,” Dustin explains. That was odd since the wall is supposedly electric. Fish would fry if they got that close. Still, I know I can trust Dustin’s word. “Okay let’s head over there.” I steer the boat towards the wall, and it begins to putt to our new destination. This old rickety excuse for a boat has seen too many years, but Father refuses to get a new boat. He's so attached to it that he gave the boat a name, The Verona. The years have painted this boat with rust. The constant sputtering of the engine fills the area with the smell of leaky oil. From the sound of it, you'd think the engine would quit at any moment, but it's been this way since I can remember. Dustin is preparing for the recasting. Tying and securing knots, he jerks with the next testing of its strength. With sweat dripping from his brow, he wipes his forehead and gives me a thumbs up. He always recasts faster than I do. The wall is becoming more menacing as I draw us nearer. This is the closest I’ve ever been. Father always stays clear of the wall and would probably kill us if he found out we were this close. But it is a sight to behold. It condescendingly stands high above me, with its inverted spikes to keep any man from scaling it. "Isn't the wall emitting electricity?" I ask, still looking up. "I don't think so," Dustin replies without hesitation. "I think it's just an urban legend. I mean I've never seen anything electrified in the channel. Have you?” I shake my head. "Yeah, I mean no electrified birds or fish or anything. I've been this close to it before, and nothing has happened." It’s reassuring to hear Dustin say that. Now I can focus on fishing. We cast our gear and continue to fish. A cool breeze is picking up and time is passing idly by. Idle conversation keeps things moving. Small jokes here and there really help fight off boredom, but soon enough, we reach a moment of silence. A silence that will be broken soon enough. “Hey Baron,” Dustin calls out. “Help me pull up the net and see what we got.” With a simple nod, I walk over to help him lift the net. The net is heavy. I can’t remember the last time the net was a struggle to lift. “It seems heavier than normal.” With a smile on his face, Dustin happily says, “I know right? Told ya’ the fish were over here.” Quickly, we get the net on the boat and bind it properly. “Looks like we got a nice mix of trout and salmon. Let’s head back to shore.”

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“Father will be happy with this catch!” With everything ready to go, I position the boat to head home. The current has pushed us dangerously close to the wall. A sudden gust of wind gives the boat a final push. The motor hits the wall, causing sparks to fly and the oil to ignite. I can see a blue current shoot across the wall like a rigid shockwave. Dustin shouts, “Damn it Baron! What did you do? The back of the boat is on fire!” Dustin looks over the edge of the boat and prepares himself. “We need to get off now.” No later than a second, Dustin is already in the water. It looks cold, but I don’t really have a choice. There isn’t anything to use to put the fire out, and it’s spreading fast. I jump out. Nothing could have prepared me for how cold this water is. Diving into the bitter water, it feels like all my nerves are being stabbed. Upon opening my eyes, I see something unbelievable through the vegetation. I swim to the surface and do my best to ignore the frigid temperature. My black hair is blocking my vision. I move it out of the way as I prepare to tell Dustin what I've seen. “Dustin! There’s a hole in the wall. I’m going back down to check it out!” Before Dustin can tell me what a bad idea it is, I dive back down to inspect this hole. It looks like it leads to somewhere dry. It would be easier than swimming across the entire channel. I swim back up and take in a huge gasp of air. I look to Dustin and say, “There’s a hole down there. It looks like it will be a short swim.” “You’re nuts man! What if we touch the wall? You saw what it did to Verona,” Dustin reasons. “I think that’s only the surface of the wall. I’m going in. This water is too cold. You can swim all the way back if you want.” I look behind me and see that The Verona has sunk. I turn back around and a see a frustrated Dustin glaring at me. “Fine!” He says. “Show me the way.” Without a second thought, I dive back down. The hole is gaping, making the wall’s surface easily avoidable. After a few meters, the underwater path turns vertical and goes dark. I quickly breach the surface. It is pitch black. Dustin quickly follows up after me. “Can you see anything? I could barely see you under there. Black clothes in black water don't mix!” He says. “Sorry about that, we should feel around for something to grab unto.” After a few seconds of silently swishing through icy water, Dustin breaks the silence. “I found something. It feels like a metal bar. I think it’s a ladder.” Swimming blindly, I find Dustin and the ladder. “I’ll climb up first,” he says. There is a hint of contagious excitement in his voice. I grab the cold steel and begin to make my way up. When we reach the top, we find ourselves in what is apparently a hallway, but it’s still very dark. We walk with our arms outstretched in the darkness. Minutes in pitch black seem like an eternity. Dustin stops suddenly, causing me to run into him. “Why’d you stop?” I ask, annoyed.

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Ignoring my question, Dustin says, “There’s a wheel here. It feels like part of a door. I’m gonna see if I can open it.” With caution, Dustin turns the wheel to the left. The wheel is very creaky and must be hard to turn, since Dustin is grunting and breathing heavily. After a few turns, a loud pop echoes through the fortified chamber and the door creeps open. In silence we enter into a thick, misty fog. With limited visibility, we walk through the cloud of mist. The farther we go, the thinner it gets. As our eyes adjust to the dim light, they widen at the shocking sight before us. Chapter 2: The Barren City Upon clearing the mist, a barren land lay before us. The sky dimmed grey and ground laden with black. I can't tell if it's ash or some other kind of substance. Below my soggy feet is black earth. Before I bend down to touch it, I look to Dustin as he's observing the sky. Touching the ground this black substance sticks to my wet hand. It's more of a dust than an ash. Lost in the serenity of this wasteland, I've forgotten about the door. Before I can think to turn around, I hear a loud clank. “What was that,” Dustin asks. His long blonde hair, still soaked, keeps falling over his eyes. His skinny body is shivering as he tries to shake the cold. “I don’t know. It sounds like the door slammed shut!” I run back to the door, hoping I’m wrong. But I’m not. There stands the door, shut. Dustin follows up behind me. “Man there’s no wheel on this side! How the hell are we supposed to get back?” This isn’t the Dustin I know. He’s normally so cool, calm, and reserved. I haven’t seen this side of him before. It’s making me worry. I always follow him. If he can’t lead us out, then we’re stuck on the other side for good. We try desperately to open the door, but it’s useless. Dustin sinks to his knees and hangs his head. No amount of hitting and prying bears fruit. I don’t see any other choice, and I’ve come up with only one suggestion. “Maybe we should try to find some civilization?” Dustin jerks his head in my direction and gets back on his feet. He’s marching quickly in my direction, not stopping until I am face to face with him. His hand swipes his hair out of his eyes once again. I can see the grim look on his face. “Are you mad, Baron?! We’re talking about a place that sent the rest of the world spiraling down into disaster. And you think they’re going to help us? What’s wrong with you?” “I can’t think of anything else. If you have another idea, I’m all ears. Otherwise we should look for help,” I reply. Finally, Dustin backs away from my face, taking a deep breath and letting out a long sigh. His eyes look up and meet mine as he speaks. “Alright then, we’ll try to find someone to help us. Just don’t get your hopes up. At this point, I'd call us doomed.” I nod my head in acceptance. We leave the wall and walk through the mist. The further we walk from the wall, the thinner the mist becomes. We reach the end of a hillside and the fog finally clears. We behold an unholy sight.

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What must have once been houses and buildings lay there in a time-frozen wasteland. Not a soul can be seen or a sound heard. The decay of time has taken its toll on this place. Everything looks like it’ll crumble to dust if we were to touch it. Neither of us has words for what we see. The decrepit structures are laden with dirt. Dustin and I wordlessly walk towards the city. Every step echoes and resonates with the surroundings. Not a single sound to be heard, but our own first steps. No chirping of birds or mutterings of natives as they observe foreigners. There are no trees or leaves to reveal the hidden breeze. The air is stale and smells untouched. The absolute absence of life is an eerie like no other. Reaching the base of this forgotten city, we take note of a tower. It is built differently than the other buildings. It stands tall, taller than any other building present. Black and spike ridden, it looks related to the wall. This citadel might be able to give us answers. Although it appears just as lifeless, it has an allure at the very top. A dim blue light is fading off and on. As if the tower calls our names, we walk towards it. Dustin is observing all of his surroundings. He interrupts the tower’s trance on me. “Have you noticed how lifeless it is here?” He asked. “It’s eerie, huh? Not a single person in sight,” I reply. “It’s not just that. I mean, look, there are no trees, animals or bugs. There’s not even any grass growing.” Dustin is right. The ground is a stale black dust. There are no signs of any kind of life. “We might find some kind of answer in that tower,” he says. “I think you’re right. If we’re lucky, we might find something alive in there. Hell, at this point, I’d feel better if we’d found a corpse.” In agreement, we continue our walk towards the tower. Gloomy dust is kicked up as we cautiously approach the spiked infrastructure. We find ourselves in front of the tower. It is taller and more menacing up close. It’s foreign to us. Nothing looks like this back home. A large metal door stands before us. Dustin grabs the handle and gives it a tug. The door creeps open so loud you'd think it'd be heard for miles. We cautiously enter the tower since the door made it known that we are here. A few steps in and a blinding light shines, and the sound of motors and machinery activates rings in our ears. The gears can be heard mashing together. The clanking of metal echoes but becomes more stabilized. Our eyes adjust, and we can clearly see everything inside the tower. It is revealed that we are in a corridor. This tower’s technology is clearly superior to our own. At the end of the corridor is another door. I push it open and discover a flight of stairs. I look to Dustin, and he nods back at me. We climb the spiral staircase. “When do these stairs end?” Dustin huffs. “Not much further. I can see the top,” I assure. We arrive at the top and are faced with one more door. Again, I take the initiative and open this door. As I pull it open, it lets out a loud creak. We enter a circular room. Square screens suddenly become lit and lights from above erase the darkness. Out of nowhere, a scratchy, broken, electronic voice speaks to us. “Welcome to Buffalo tower ARC862. What is your inquiry?”

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Dustin and I look at each other. I’m sure my face looks as stupidly confused as his. Dustin begins to speak, “Umm… Where are we?” The voice responds, “Current location is United States of America, State of New York, city of Buffalo. Inside Tower ARC8-“ “Okay I get it!” Dustin pauses as he thinks of another question. I instantly ask the question that I’ve asked my entire life. “Why is there a great wall built around the entire American border?” “United Front Barrier is built to withstand M.E.S. from P.F.R. and prevent global extinction event.” America wasn’t trying to keep people out, but trying to lock something in. My next questions would reveal an answer to a mystery no other soul knows. I pause and consider the price of newfound knowledge. I will face the consequences I'm given. “What is M.E.S. and P.F.R.? What happened to the Americans?” Chapter 3: From Dust We Came to Dust We Become For a few seconds, the computer remains silent. Without warning, it emits a blue rotating picture onto the ground. The image is a large sphere defined by hexagons. I raise my hand to the image, expecting it to be warm. I wave my hand through it, but surprisingly, there is no temperature change. I can do nothing but stand and stare at this amazing technology. Dustin’s concerned look turns into a question. “What is this? It’s unlike anything I’ve seen before.” The computer's hollow voice answers, “This is the Pulse Flux Reactor. A single generator of energy designed to power the entire country. With the installment of ARC towers, energy can be transferred and absorbed through each tower. Five towers are enough to power the Manhattan area.” As the computer explains this, the image moves and forms new pictures. I can see many towers that look the same as the one we are in now. The computer brings up images of Manhattan. It was a vast city with huge structures. In the image, I see towers and buildings that look as if they can touch the sky. I can also clearly see the people walking on the streets, far below. Only remnants of such architecture exist in my country. “Scientists soon noted irregularities in the reactor’s core. The core was constructed to imitate the sun's potential for energy. An unprecedented event took place and the core became self-sustained. In order for the reactor to function properly, it has to release energy. This inevitable release of energy event was known as a Massive Energy Surge - a surge that could eliminate all life on the planet.” The image shifts again to the reactor. It lights up as bright as the sun. Then, an explosion of light emits from the reactor in a massive shockwave. The image now shows people, animals and plants all turning into a dust-like substance. As soon as the energy wave hits them, they are gone. The wave then hits the giant wall and is absorbed.

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“The American government was quickly informed of the M.E.S. situation and consulted with scientists behind the reactor's creation for solutions. The reactor could not be shut down, but the energy could be absorbed. Using the same technology of the towers, the United States Government had an immense wall built around the border. The M.E.S. was calculated to occur in seventeen years with the reactor being active three years already. The U.S. Government performed a massive deportation of all illegal residents. A false campaign was forged to convince the American people that the wall was for protection and better existence. The majority of the population was required to construct the wall. The wall was completed 5 years before the initial th M.E.S. On August 5 2254, the first M.E.S. occurred. Extinguishing 428,000,000 Americans along with human life forms as well as all other biological life forms were transformed in the surge. After the first M.E.S., it has reoccurred every twenty years.” With its explanation complete, the computer falls silent. What can I say? What should I say? Dustin looks as speechless as I feel. The bright blue rotating image fades out as our silence continues. I can't believe it. Since I can remember I've been told that America was to blame for the world’s trouble and degraded state. It is shocking to find out the complete opposite. The whole world has the story wrong. I should ask Dustin if he is okay. As I turn to face him, I see him standing there looking troubled. He then asks me, “Baron do you know what today is?” Without giving a carefree fisherman like me appropriate time to figure out what the actual date is, he answers for me. “It’s August 5th 2394!” His face begins to sweat profusely. In a cracked panicking voice, he asks the computer when the next M.E.S. is. “Second to last M.E.S. is set to occur in one hundred thirteen minutes.” “Wait!” Dustin shouted. “What do you mean by second to last M.E.S.” “Zero maintenance has been performed on the barrier and ARC towers since the first M.E.S. Only sixty eight percent of battery absorption capacity remains. Estimated battery capacity in 2414 will be forty seven percent. The barrier will not contain the surge, and global bio extinction will occur. Leakage and failed storage of energy will cause all systems to permanently shutdown. The 2414 M.E.S. will be the last recorded surge event.” “So in twenty years we’re all screwed!” Dustin screamed. “How do we shut it down? How do we stop the end of the world?” “P.F.R. cannot be shutdown.” Dustin is going mad. I can’t blame him. This is the end of all existence we are talking about. Something has to be done now, or we’ll get caught in the fast approaching M.E.S. Dustin begins to throw small furniture around the room. A chair flies into a screen and glass shatters as he repeatedly screams obscenities. I've never seen him so hot blooded before. I have to do something. Dustin has lost all composure. "Dustin," I yell over his own loud voice. He stops yelling and freezes. He’s still holding a chair over his head, which was most likely going to be thrown into another screen. "Wait, let me ask it something." I tilt my head towards the ceiling, and I ask the invisible voice my question. "Are there any exits in the barrier?"

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As if it was anticipating the question, it quickly responds, "Nearest exit is 5.4 miles southwest. Barrier section C-7, entrance 13. Entrance corridor can be reached on foot before M.E.S." "This is great since we actually have a chance. We can make it! Come on Dustin, let's go!" I say with joyous excitement. Dustin doesn't look excited though. There is not even a smirk on his face. He's standing there, down trodden, staring at the ground. "Come on man, we don't have a lot of time!" He lifts his head and our eyes lock. He opens his mouth to speak, "I'm not going anywhere." Chapter 4: Collected Fate "What do you mean you're not going anywhere? We have two hours! Five miles! We can make it!" "What's the point?" His voice speaks with such a lethargic tone. All hope has been sucked out of him, leaving his soul and will dry and desolate. "We're damned now or damned twenty years from now. Nothing matters anymore. We can't stop it, and telling people about it will either incite riot or make us look like nut jobs. There is no more life. No more purpose. I don't want to live counting down the days of my existence." Dustin's apathy could kill, but I cannot leave him here. I've grown up with him. He's my best friend, abandoning him here isn't an option. "I'm not leaving you behind. We can figure something out once we reach safety. Twenty years is a long time. We'll find a solution, I promise. Please Dustin, don't make me do this alone." I hope my plea will be enough. Time is running out. We have to leave now. Dustin ponders my request. "I don't know why you insist on holding to a doomed future, but I can't leave you to face this alone. Let's hurry and make it to that exit in the wall." Piercing the brief silence after Dustin finished, the metallic voice speaks out once more, "Mega Energy Surge will detonate in one hundred minutes. Estimated time reach Corridor C-7-13 is eighty minutes.� Striving to give Dustin hope, I attempt to persuade him, "Okay, Dustin, we can make it! Let's go for it! My father is going to kill us for sinking The Verona. He'll do even worse if we're not there to help him build a new boat." Letting out a small chuckle, Dustin finally smiles. "Yeah, your old man would hop the wall and wake us up from our graves. If anything is worse than death, it's that man’s lectures. Okay then, let's do it!� We race back down the spiral metal stairs. Clanking and clunking, we rush to the hallway. We reach the door and exit the tower. We both immediately notice something different. Beyond the tower and over the horizon, a deep orange-yellow glow can be seen over the horizon. "What is that, the sun?" I ask. "No that's to the southeast. It must be that surge. That's what ended this country, and it's going to be what kills everyone in twenty years," Dustin replies.

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"We don't have time to worry about that." I turn around, twisting my back away from the pending doom. Pointing my finger to my left, I announce, "If that's southeast then this is southwest. We should run to the wall and follow it down until we reach our exit." “Fine, we should hurry. I don’t think the wall will protect us, unless we are on the other side. So we have to take that time into account as well.” “Makes sense, if the wall could protect people from the inside, I’m sure some Americans would have survived.” We take a final look at the glowing light in the distance and run towards the wall. The wall isn’t too far from us, and we reach it quickly. The exit is five miles down. I’m not sure what it looks like, but I hope it stands out. All this black dust is getting kicked up as we run. It hurts to breathe it in, but I don’t have a choice. I place my hand over my mouth, but it can only filter so much. I can hear Dustin coughing and wheezing, too. “This dust feels like its cutting up my lungs. I don’t know if we’re going to make it, Baron." "We have to make it out. We can push through this." As strong as I am acting, I feel like I'm worse off than Dustin. I can barely breathe. We've been running for a while now; we have to be getting close. Not only is the dust invading my lungs, but it's blinding my sight. The black grains kick up from our furious and panicked running. My eyes burn fiercely, forcing me to produce tears that barely soothe the pain. Knives are in my chest, and fire blazes within my eyes. The lack of oxygen is making my muscles freeze up. I raise my forearm to cover my mouth as I attempt to cough out this disintegrated life. I find my arm splattered with blackened blood. My body feels lighter as air fails to fill my lungs. Not watching my footing, my foot slams into a protruding rock, forcing me to fall and slide against the dust-littered earth. I can hear Dustin's cries as he tries to get me to respond. Using every bit of my energy, I lift my head. I gaze upon the glowing horizon. Is this my fate? Am I to fall victim to this surge? I want to push forward. I want to tell the world of the danger it is in, but this seems to be a fool’s dream. Darkness blankets over my vision. This is not a shroud of dust, but the fading of my consciousness. What else can I do, but embrace the approaching death? Will this deathly glow be the last light I see? "Baron!" A small buzz can be heard, but I'm not awakened. "Baron!" I wake up to a burning pain. A strange figure is standing above me. Focus returns to my eyes. It's Dustin. His shirt is wrapped around his mouth. That’s when I notice some of his shirt is tied around my mouth too. I pull it down and take a deep, painful breath. Dustin’s muffled voice is speaking to me. "Baron you have to get up, we're running out of time. Pull the shirt back up. It keeps the dust out." As he is saying this, he pats down my shirt and that is when I notice the smoke. "What... what happened to me?" I force out a question.

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"After you tripped over that rock you passed out,” Dustin replies. “I tried waking you up, but nothing worked. So I carried you until we reached the exit." Dustin pointed his finger up, directing my eyes to a towering ladder. "I kicked your hand twice against the electrified section of the wall. The second shock woke you up, but caught your shirt on fire. We have to go now!" Doing my best to ignore the piercing pain shooting throughout my body, I rise to my feet with Dustin's aid. "Well won't the ladder electrify us then?” "No, it won't. This section of the wall surrounding the ladder is black. Everywhere else is a dark blue. The dark blue sections are electrified. I've already touched the ladder, and it didn't shock me. Let's go!" Dustin motions for me to go up the ladder first. This ladder must be at least two hundred feet high. It nearly reaches the middle of the wall. Climbing this wall is torture, but at least, we're getting away from the dust. I can't help, but grunt and heave as I force my way up the ladder. In what seems like forever, we finally reach the top. It's a small platform that leads to a door. The door has a familiar wheel on it, nearly identical to the door we encountered earlier when in the wall. Just as Dustin twists the wheel, the dim glow becomes a blinding beacon. It quickly becomes more massive and bright. "It's started!" Dustin can’t help but cry out. With that, he flings the door open and grabs my arm, pulling me and helping me keep pace with him as we run down the corridor. "How long do you think until the surge will reach us?" "How the hell should I know? I'm going to assume minutes. Maybe less than that. Who knows how fast it travels?" I was longing for a more hopeful answer, but I should have known better. The wall isn't dark like before. The light from the surge floods the corridor and reveals a staircase. We run down it as fast as we can, doing our best not to stumble. After several flights down, we reach another hallway with a door at the end. I'm ecstatic, "We're going to make it Dustin. We can do it!" Dustin grabs the wheel and turns it furiously. I arrive at the wide door as he opens it. Both of us look over the edge. A river waits for us at the bottom. "It looks like less than a ten meter drop. Ha! And we just dried off too! Let’s jump!" A sudden shove pushes me over the edge, and I fall into the river. Twice today, I have had to feel the icy sting of freezing water. I quickly swim to the surface, desperate for air. I take a huge breath in and then look up at Dustin. "I'm sorry Baron, but I've done everything I needed to do. I got you to safety, and now I can go. I understand you want to live and tell the world what's happening, but I don't want to be here for that chaos." Dustin has such a cold yet relieved look in his eyes. They're staring at me with the certainty of stone. I will not be able to convince him to jump. Light starts to emit from the doorway. "You heard what the computer said. We can't fight this. I'd rather die now and not live in fear for the next twenty years. Be at peace Baron." Just as Dustin finishes his sentence, the blinding light hits

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his body, forcing him off the ledge. He is now instantly glowing like the sun. In the blink of an eye, he bursts into black dust before his body breaks the water. "Dustin!" What is left of him is sprinkling onto me and the surrounding water. "Why couldn't you just have jumped with me? We could have done this together!" Swimming to the shore, my vision is blurred by tears. Reaching the shore, I pound my fists into the mud. "We could have made it! I needed you to stay with me!" The freezing water dripping from my hair to my hands reminds me that I'm freezing. The crippling cold is taking me back to my harsh reality. I rub my hand across my face and hold a few specs of fine, black dust. I close my hand and come to a full realization. If I don't do something, in twenty years everyone will suffer Dustin’s fate. What can this fisherman do in the face of extinction? I had no answer, but I was going to try my damnedest to find one or die trying.

Joshua Mirenda

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Joshua Mirenda

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Jozet Lopez

Major/Goals: I am working toward an AA in Creative Writing, and my future goal is to write something amazing that others will enjoy. Favorite Author/Genre: Too many to list here. Describe your experience in ENG 221 - Writing Fiction: I would recommend ENG 221 to anyone who is seriously thinking about writing as a career, because every exercise or assignment will help them to become a more accomplished and professional writer. It also helped me to think and write from many other points of view which didn’t even cross my mind before taking this course. Also, I learned to write more details, but in a way that isn’t like throwing up all over the reader. The details should have a purpose in the story. The details should ground the reader into a scene by painting a picture for the reader to feel like they are there with the main characters.

Janice Felt Big by Jozet Lopez The elevator door opens at the top floor. On the first day of her new job, finally after all the hard work, Janice is president of a major corporation. The hall way to her office is longer today then the first time when she interviewed for the position. The double doors that lead into her new office are grand indeed, but the space beyond is her new domain. On her walk toward her office, Janice overhears a few of her new employees talking, “They say it’s a woman who will be running the company,” the first voice says. “What can a woman know about running an automobile manufacturing plant?” The second voice replies. Janice passes through her elegant old wooden doors and is overcome with emotion. Her heart is pumping faster, her nose is beginning to flare, and her hands and voice are trembling slightly, “How dare they, just because I’m a woman.” Janice takes a deep, relaxing breath; she remembers the first time these emotions bubbled out of her. It was on the family’s annual trip to Mexico to her grandmother’s house where as they say the last straw was broken. It took seven years to raise a hand against the unfair treatment from her family, but fault can’t be solely placed on her family, for it is the way things are. Women stay home to raise the children, and men make the money to provide for the family. At the time, her grandmother’s house in Mexico had a rather large hole on the right side where trash was taken to be burned and then buried. The hole was not quite the size of a swimming pool, but would have been too large for a Jacuzzi, and about five feet deep. The bottom of the hole had sharp metal pieces sticking out of the ground and big pieces of wood lying around it. Next to the hole was a great gigantic tree with rope tied to one of the lower hanging branches and at the end of the rope was a loop. They pulled up in a little red truck with a camper attached to the bed. It was

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upholstered with red velvety material soft and fuzzy, but the odor was similar to that of clothes left in a washing machine that had being long forgotten. The camper had two small windows on each side that were not water tight, so whenever it rained, water would get in, but they allowed for some air to circulate around the enclosure of the truck bed. Another window between where the passengers are located and the driver allowed for communication. The tailgate of the truck was attached to a window flap that finished closing off the camper. They always traveled to her grandmother’s in these positions: dad driving, mom in the passenger’s seat, the kids in the back along with the luggage and all the necessities. It was a tight fit for a family of six. As if that was not enough people, someone had to come along to help her dad, so an additional family member would be asked to join them on the trip to drive. If the additional family member had an additional family of their own, they too came along on the trip. On the trip this year, her mother’s sister with one boy and two girls were to be their companions. Her aunt did not know how to drive, so an uncle was also recruited to help. The count is up to eleven people, one piece of luggage per person, pillows, blankets, and two coolers of food, drinks, and snacks. One adult always had to be in the camper with the children, a rule made on a trip when all the adults wanted some peace and decided to ride up front for a while. Big mistake! The kids ended up fighting over nothing of importance, but the bleeding and crying kids warranted a unscheduled stop, and the grown-ups did not like being stuck on the side of the road until all the injured parties were soothed. Then there was the rule that only applied to Janice, a seven-year-old girl who always got sick and threw up every time she got into a vehicle, unless it was by a window with plenty of fresh air to breathe that is. The right side of the truck bed had the blankets and pillows. The back portion had the coolers, and the luggage was strapped to the roof. The kids designated to a spot that remained theirs for the whole trip. Janice had a spot, so she went back into the house to get a plastic bag just in case she had to throw up with the hopes of never having to use it. It was the first time this aunt accompanied Janice’s family on the trip, and when her aunt’s son claimed her place, she was more than happy to give it to him. When Janice arrived back to the truck, her aunt placed her on the other side of the window where no fresh air would reach her. She tried to explain, “Tia, if I don’t get air, I throw up.” Her aunt’s reply was, “Nina, go where I put you.” “But Tia, I get car sick.” “Do what I say, you’re just a spoiled little brat who needs to respect her elders.” “But…” “He is a boy and is older, so he gets first pick, and isn’t that why you have the bag?” Like being an older boy was a good explanation to a seven-year-old as to why she had lost her designated spot. Thirty minutes later, the little red truck pulled into a gas station, so Janice could deposit the plastic bag of throw up in a trash can and then

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continue the trip by the window with the fresh air. Janice woke up late one night during the trip to her brother’s voice in the passenger’s seat and her mother in the back exhausted about to fall asleep. “Mommy, can I be next to ride up front with Daddy?” she asked her mother. “No, you are too young.” “But Marcos is only two years older and…” “No, you can’t stay awake that late or for that long; now go back to sleep.” Janice stayed up for another hour or two after her mother had fallen asleep just to prove she was up for the challenge. She looked through the small window into the drivers’ cab where her father and brother were involved in a deep conversation about soccer. She made a choice at that moment to stay awake during the nights and sleep in the daytime. The road at night was a lonely place; empty of human life, but human beings aren’t the only living things that make places interesting. The bushes that sprang up attempting to overrun the pavement with greenery, had been asleep for many weeks now, they had wilted and brown leaves were falling off the already slumbering branches. The wind coming in was colder than the smog of the exhaust filled air that day and so much easier on her car sickness. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. The wind was crisp and fresh, its fingers gently caressing her face, and the smell of the earth resting was calming to her senses. The aroma of horses, cows, and pigs were melting lightly together as they slept off the hard day’s work; dried up corn fields, haystacks, and the smell of dirt also mingled around her. The road was not deserted of animal life completely; the field mice, rabbits, and coyotes would dart across or hover along its side only to display their yellow eyes as the red truck passed on by. Before sleep could drag her eyelids closed one night, she asked, “Daddy, can I ride up front with you one day?” “Mija, you are too little for such a big job,” He replied. “What’s the job?” her eyes rounded wide with curiosity. She awaited his answer like only a child can, as if the secrets of the world were about to be revealed to her. The big job was to keep the driver company and to make sure he stayed awake during the long drive. As soon as they arrived at grandma‘s house, an uncle who was the same age as her brother of eleven and another cousin Juanito, five years old, came to greet them. Janice’s young uncle Pedro, called them over to the tree with the rope, and once all eight of the kids surrounded the hole, he put his right foot through the rope and jumped. With one hand on the rope and the other flying freely through the air, he challenged them to do the same, that’s if they weren’t too scared. He then handed the rope to the five-year-old cousin who immediately began to sail over the gap on the rope. Janice’s brother Marcos and older cousin got a chance to swing on the rope, and the thrill of the danger along with the feeling of accomplishment was written all over their faces. The two older girls were scared to try it and made the excuse that they did not want to get dirty, so now it was Janice’s turn to swing, but her young uncle said, “No, you’re too little.”

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“That’s not fair; Juanito is only five, and I am seven,” She protested. To which he replied, “But he is a boy.” That’s when it snapped, that final straw that everyone has within them. Janice’s heart began to beat harder, her nose began to flare, and her voice along with her hands began to shake. During the whole trip, she was too little, too young or the wrong sex, and she had had enough. Janice picked up a marbled size rock, and with her trembling voice proclaimed, “If you don’t give me, my turn, I will hit you with this rock.” He laughed, “You can’t throw that rock and actually think you could hit me. You’re a girl.” “So?” was her puzzled reply. “So you can’t throw.” Janice’s eyes squinted to better pinpoint her enemy. “I’ll do it.” He cackled, “I’ll be on the other side of the hole by then, and your weak little arm isn’t strong enough to reach me there.” Janice saw him about to jump across the gorge, taking her turn, that’s when she lost control; raising her arm, she launched the rock with all that bubbling emotion. The rock hit Pedro two inches above the left eye just as he was about to reach the other side of the pit, knocking him off the rope and to the ground. When the adults came running over to see what all the commotion was about, not a single one believed little Janice could throw just one rock and knock Pedro off. “How many rocks did she throw at him?” her aunt asked her son. “One,” He said, looking down at the now crying and bleeding Pedro and then began to laugh. “One,” She repeated as she smacked him on the topside of the head. “Don’t lie to me!” “Just one, mom.” He backed up rubbing the injured part of his head. They asked the rest of the children, only to get the same response, and that’s when they finally believed that Janice was more than a capable girl. Janice presented herself only after her father called to her. She admitted to the rock throwing in the only way a seven-year-old can, slow to begin, but quicker at getting all the information out of her mouth once started. “I did throw the rock, but Pedro...took my turn, and he said I was a girl, and that I was too weak, and that I couldn’t do it, but I showed him I could.” She smiled at the last admission. The whole time that her father was staring at her with an amazed look, he nodded to get her to continue. “And …and…am sorry, dad.” She got punished after her declaration with a surprisingly not too hard spanking. On the trip home, one late night her father woke Janice to keep him company. That night the lonely roads were accompanied not only by the smell of resting animals, the nightly critters who dared dart across the near empty roads, the starry night with its shooting stars, but Janice and her father. Janice learned not to believe or even listen to what other people kept trying to label her as because only she knew

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what she was capable of doing. The buzz of her intercom brought her back to her grand office, “Yes.” “Miss, the executives are all in the board room for that 9 o’clock meeting you requested.” “Thank you, let them know I’ll be there shortly.” She released the intercom button, I’m just looking for my rock.”

Kira Dennis

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Major/Goals: I am a Writing Fiction major, and my goal is to become a successful author because I plan on publishing a trilogy series one day. Favorite Author/Genre: Cassandra Clare Describe your experience in ENG 221 - Writing Fiction: Professor BaileyKirby is a very patient teacher and is always willing to work with her students by not only answering any question but by taking personal time out of her schedule to help her students succeed. Prior to this class, I had writer’s block for four years and didn’t have inspiration to complete my writing, but taking this course has taught me how to cope with writer’s block and how to keep motivated for writing my stories. (Note: The following excerpt includes only my Prologue and First Chapter from the four chapter installments that I worked on during the course.) Brittany Fehlig

The Cities by Brittany Fehlig Prologue Spacious skies loomed overhead Sapphiress. What was once a peaceful city had turned to dust and nothing more. Memories of a simple law and civil citizens were now lost in the flames of madness. People cried out in pain as their rivals from the city of Avarae attacked them, taking their lives and destroying their homes. Evil bled from one street to the next with not one sign of hope in the air to grasp on to. But suffering and death was only the beginning. There was more at work. Michael could sense it as he stood bearing witness to the historical tragedy. He lingered on top of a large hill glaciated with white ash and burned grass. Blood stained his clothes from fighting off the Radical warriors that molested the innocence of his once great virtuous city. Sadness glazed over his cyan eyes as he watched from a distance his home crumble down to a bitter pile of ruins. After staring long enough into the abyss of treachery, Michael finally looked away not being able to watch anymore. His right hand clutched around a ruby necklace and blue sapphire ring. The only two things he managed to take that were his mother’s before she died in his arms. “Leave me,” she said. Her voice was a shallow whisper. “I can’t just leave you. There must be some way I can get you to safety. Some way I can heal you.” He had held out his hand over her chest wound. A blue electrifying spark burst from his palm. “Michael, no. Save your energy.” Michael remembered the way she stared at him with such love in her eyes. He had never seen her look at him like that before. It was as if he was the last thing she always wanted to see before she died. “Don’t give up,” he had said. “You are all I have left.”

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But she had already gone. Her eyes half open and mouth parted as if she was about to say something, but death had taken that chance away from her. He had killed many Radicals after that. The blood that colored his clothes, a dark maroon, had told that story. There was nothing he could do to bring her back. It was not what she would have wanted. She had sacrificed for him, and now he had to sacrifice his rage by not charging down the hill from where he stood and slaughtering everyone in sight. He would do it for her. It was her last wish. So instead, he stood clutching her belongings in one hand and a razor sharp staff in the other, just waiting. Daring anyone to come upon the hill and threaten him. It was what he needed. It was the urge to kill that tugged at his broken heart. Michael fell to his knees, feeling helpless as he grabbed a handful of white ash from the ground and slowly let it slip through his fingers. He didn’t know who was behind the attack, but he knew that one day he would have revenge. After burying his mother on the other side of the hill and saying a prayer, he walked back to the top to take one last look at what became of Sapphiress. But as he neared the peak of the hill, he caught a glimpse of another boy standing where he stood just minutes ago. He looked to be the same age as him, around seventeen years old. He was a warrior like Michael. He could tell by his combat gear; a skin-tight black shirt, black pants, and boots. His midnight colored hair stuck out in all directions from fighting in the wind. A smear of blood covered the back of his neck and was most likely on his clothes, but at this point, Michael could care less. The boy wasn’t dressed as a Radical, that at least should be some sign that he was safe and didn’t have to spill any more blood tonight. “Hey you,” he called out to the boy. He gripped the razor spear in his hand, prepared to fight, just in case. The boy turned around with a half smile on his face. It almost looked pained as if he was forcing it. But who could simply smile at a time like this? “I knew I would find you up here,” he said. “Orion,” Michael let out a sigh of relief. He was so caught up in his own world of pain he had nearly forgotten what his best friend looked like. “I thought you were…Well, I assumed you were…“ “Dead?” He smirked and added with enthusiasm, “You underestimate me and my remarkable abilities.” Michael smiled at his friend. It was somewhat soothing to hear Orion being his sarcastic and over-enthusiastic self. “I’m just glad to see you are okay,” said Michael. “Are you hurt at all? Where is everyone? Where are Chasity and Tasen and Myka and the others?” Orion put a hand on Michael’s shoulder and told him to relax. He said they were safe and that was all he wanted to hear. “Where is Lena?” asked Orion in return. Michael put his head down and gripped the necklace and ring in his hand tighter. “Mom didn’t make it.” He barely choked out the words. Orion saw the grief in his expression and walked towards him, putting his hand on his shoulder.

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“She was a mother to all of us, Michael,” he stated. “The memory of her will never be forgotten.” Michael nodded as they now both looked over the city. Orion sheathed his sword back into his belt that hung around his waist. Michael pressed his thumb hard against the metal of his weapon. The long teeth of razors on both ends of the staff retracted into each other, and the staff itself minimized and shrunk in size until it was the size of a pencil. He put it behind his ear and crossed his arms over his chest. It was like they were both thinking the same thing. ‘Honor the fallen by putting down your weapons and a moment of silence’. And that is what they did. Michael did not leave his gaze from the black smoke coming from below. He stared at it as if the smoke was taunting him -- saying nasty things to him, mocking him of his tried effort to save his family, and laughing at him for failing. “Do you know how this started?” Orion quizzed Michael. Michael broke off his stare and glanced over at Orion who had been looking at him. “Yes,” he said after a long pause. “I captured a Radical warrior near my house and forced the bloody being to tell me before I ended his pathetic life.” “What did the Radical say?” “They spoke of a man named Marletti. I’ve never heard of him, but he apparently is very dangerous. He ordered the attack because he was looking for something. Something that supposedly belonged to Avarae that Sapphiress had supposedly stolen. The Radical continued on about some prophecy that this guy was going to fulfill. Some bullshit fantasy if you ask me,” Michael spat, “And a waste of time.” “I’ve heard of Marletti,” said Orion. “He’s a cold-hearted bastard. He runs the slums of Avarae and all the crooked souls that live there. It’s like his empire.” Michael looked at him questioningly. “Then what of this thing he’s after? What is he searching for? Does anyone know?” “I did some research on Marletti because I heard a rumor about him before the attack. I went straight to see what was in the Sapphiress Archives. I searched for hours trying to find something rational but nothing fit. I had almost given up when I came across something rather curious about the Gemmed. I cross referenced it with Marletti, and well, if I told you my theory, you would think I was crazy.” “Try me,” said Michael. “Ever heard of the Legend of the Gemmed Descendant?” Orion asked. “I heard some gossip about it when I was a kid, but not the story.” “‘A mortal will conceive a child who is not of their kind, but rather godly. The child being not of their world will bear a gift. It is said that this child could either take lives or save them. Depending on his will.’ Marletti has wanted to take control of Sapphiress for a long time now to get his hands on the Sacred City, but he’s never had the proper weapon.” “He’s not looking for something. He’s looking for someone,” said Michael. “This war…It’s a distraction.” Michael ran his fingers through his damp, sweaty brown hair. So many thoughts traveled through his head. So many questions, but only one he couldn’t help but blurt out. “Has he found this person?”

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Orion shook his head. “No, but I know someone who has.” Chapter One “A dream is a microscope through which we look at the hidden occurrences in our soul.” -Erich Fromm Darkness clouded his mind with an uneasy presence. Something wasn’t right, he could sense it. His mother sat across from him at the kitchen table, studying his focused view out the window. “What’s wrong, darling?” Lena asked as she drank the last bit of tea in her cup. He turned from his stare to look at her. “Nothing.” he boldly lied. He knew he saw something moving out in the meadow. Why he didn’t tell her, even he didn’t know. “It’s just a squirrel climbing a tree nearby. It fascinated me for some reason,“ he fabricated. “It’s nothing important.” “I may be old, Michael, but I’m not at the age where I can’t tell whether or not you are lying to me,“ she said as she got up from the table and walked towards the sink. She turned on the faucet and started scrubbing her tea cup. She looked over her shoulder at Michael who was watching the bubbles from the soap slowly slide off of the porcelain and down the drain. “I am your mother, you know,” she said, and with a confident smile, added, “I know you better than yourself.” So you think, he thought. Michael leaned back and put his feet up on the chair sitting across from him. He twiddled a small silver rod between his fingers before sticking it back behind his ear again. “Mom,” He called out to her over the loud rushing sound of the water. “What is it, darling?” Lena glanced over her shoulder for a quick second, meeting his eyes before turning away to scrub another dish. Michael opened his mouth about to speak but then immediately closed it before saying another word about what was troubling him. He was very close with his mother, he hardly kept anything from her, and he wanted so badly to tell her, but he just couldn’t fit it into a simple calmed sentence about his worriment he had for her. He knew exactly what she would say. It would be the same thing she always said: ‘Michael you are so gifted. Michael you are blessed. Michael you are so special to possess such abilities that you do.’ And then after saying that, he knew she would then go on about how ‘proud’ she was of him. She would go on to talk about many things about how great and successful he is just like she always did before getting to her moral point which was that nothing should ever worry him about her because she was a mother, ‘and being a mom is the most highest leveled combatant status there will ever be out in the worlds.’ So it was almost useless to mention to her the bad feeling he was getting in the pit of his stomach. He decided that maybe, just this once, he would let this bad feelings pass over. “What is it, Michael?” Lena asked again. Michael blinked several times back into reality before answering. “I just realized

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that I forgot to tell you that I have to leave for the Rebel Academy right now, so I won’t be home for dinner,” he said quickly. Lena dried her cup, threw the towel over her shoulder and walked over to Michael who now stood tall beside the kitchen chair. She looked up into his cyan eyes and saw his irises swirl in the counterclockwise direction. As they swirled, the irises changed to a darker hue, transforming the color into a dark blue. “Something’s bothering you, Michael. You know you can tell me anything.” Michael turned his gaze to look back out the window one last time. The scenery was beautiful. There were tall blades of grass that swallowed the solid ground whole. He remembered being a kid, hiding in the tall grass, sneaking up on his mother as she put out the sheets to dry on the clothes line and scaring her. She would scream in fright and then run after him, but she was never able to catch him. He had always been fast, stealthy, and slick when he wanted to be. It somehow seemed more of his nature than playing with toys and having an imagination. Times were simpler back then. Now he used his abilities as a profession, and if he messed up, he was dead. Although it’s never been likely for him to mess up on such things as killing with precision, it’s almost as if he was destined to do it all of his life. “I actually have to leave now,” he said rushing a hug and kiss in. It was only proper to use such a sly and realistic emotion to match his lie. “I’ll tell you later,” Michael reassured her. Lena looked at him solemnly and then started crying. Though the tears started out as gentle, the longer she cried the more uncontrollable it became. The tears continuously dropped down to the floors to the point where puddles were forming. It was like Michael was literally seeing a stream of salt water hit the floor with a splash. He stepped back feeling a sudden overwhelming emotion of sadness and loss. His heart fell to the bottom of his stomach as he watched his mother weep tears of woe. “Don’t cry,” he said softly. Hurt could be heard in his voice, but Lena kept crying, and as she did, the room seemed to get darker. The kitchen lights unsteadily shined before turning completely off. Sounds of thunder abruptly took over the noise in the room. Michael could no longer hear his mom crying but could see that she was. The loudness of the thunder rattled Michael’s ear drums it was so near. Lightning struck the drying dishes, causing the nice porcelain to burn to a crisp. Lena started screaming blood curdling screams. Michael could hear her screams over all of the noise it was so loud. Fright flashed over her face as she fell to the floor. She put her hand near her heart and started screaming again in agonizing pain. Michael could see that blood was seeping through her pastel colored dress and was trailing toward him on the polished wooden floors. He was in shock as he stared at his mother dying. The scene of the kitchen flickered to the study. Michael could see the mahogany desk where Lena was now laying on top of. Her eyes were shut, blood dripping off of her fingers and onto the once clean carpet. “Mom!” he cried, and as he ran over to her, the sight was too gruesome to even maintain. “Mom!“ he repeated once again as he put a hand to her neck to feel her

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pulse. When his fingers barely slid over to the vein, her eyes shot open and glared malevolently at him. Tears streaked the side of her cheeks, and she screamed at him. “It was you!” she yelled out. “You did this to me!” Michael staggered backwards, falling into the chair behind him. “I…I didn’t….didn’t mean to leave you,” he stammered. “Why, Michael?” she asked, tears and blood liquefied together down her dress. “Why would you hurt me like this?” “I didn’t,” said Michael in a panicky tone. “You did!” Lena screamed. “You took the blade and drove it through my heart like I meant nothing to you!” “No,” he said in an almost hushed whisper. Her voice traveled through his ears, never leaving sound. “You said you would be back,” Lena cried. “I waited for you and when I thought you were home, it was someone else. Someone else who did this!” Lena ripped the front of her dress open, and the nice flowered buttons fell on to the desk with clinking sounds. Michael could see the stab wound right by her heart. Blood surged from the wound and shreds of flesh hung from it. Michael turned his head, not bearing to see anymore. “Look at me, Michael!“ she cried. “Where were you?” “I can‘t.” “Michael, if you were here, this never would have happened,” She gargled out the words as blood started to pour out of her mouth. “You killed me.” Michael stood up from the chair and took Lena by the arms and shook her. “No!” he yelled back at her. Tears ran down his face. It was only moments ago he was just talking to her, having his last conversation with her. “Why, Michael? Why?” “I just...I just left you,” he said softly as he fell to his knees. “I left you when I knew I shouldn’t have.” Suddenly the thunder stopped rolling, and the lightning stopped striking. Everything then went black, and Michael’s ears started ringing. He sat straight up in his bed, and sweat drizzled off of his nose from his hair. He clutched the sheets close to him in comfort, realizing it was just a nightmare. His heart ached from the fresh memory of their last exchange of words. The burden and sense of guilt of knowing he should not have left her when he clearly felt something was wrong had been weighing on his shoulders. It was to the point where he felt like he couldn’t stand up anymore. Michael threw the sheets off of him as he got up from the bed and headed over to the closet where a mirror hung beside it. “God damn it!” he yelled as he punched the wall. His fist sunk into the plaster creating a hole. He stared into the mirror, at the image looking back at him. He saw that he wore nothing but a pair of black and grey striped boxers, which now looked stuck to his muscular thighs due to sweating. His thick brown hair was soaked and lay flat against his head, with the bangs covering part of his eyes. He ran his fingers back through his hair and readjusted his boxers, taking another look at himself. His eyes glowered green, and his pupils were slit like a cat‘s. This was normal for him,

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whenever he was in the dark. It made it easier for him to see. A knock sounded at the door causing Michael to jump in surprise and accidentally push the mirror off the wall and fall to the ground. He picked it up and hung it back on the wall. “One second,” he called out. Michael straightened the mirror and then saw that it was slightly cracked at the top causing him to have a double image of his head. Although they both were him, the head on the right seemed to look different. There was something more sinister the way he looked. His hair was a silver white, and his eyes were a midnight black as if there was no soul beyond them. He leaned in closer to the face that stared back at him and saw it was wearing a malicious smile. Michael reached out his hand to touch the mirrored image, and as he did, the smile dropped from the face instantaneously. “Kill them,” it said in a horridly deep voice. Michael jumped back and in a reflexive motion punched the mirror in front of him. Shards of glass scattered to the floor by his feet and the mirror itself crashed to the ground once more. The door swung open with a large bang as it hit the wall behind it. Orion stepped into the room with a dagger in his hand. “Are you alright?” he asked looking around the room and then at the hole in the wall and broken mirror. “Fine,” said Michael as he sat back down on the bed and cradled his head with his bloody hands. Orion threw his dagger across the room where its blade landed wedged between the wall fixtures. He walked around the glass that was on the floor and neared the window. He gently pulled back the curtains, revealing a large crescent moon. Sapphiress could be seen in the distance. “Whatever happened in here,” he said, looking back at Michael, “clean it up. Myka will get pissed if she ever sees this, and you know it.” “Myka is a lone predator that feeds off of the emotions of others. If anything she’ll feel sorry for me for about a week and then destroy something that means the world to me.” “Well we don’t have a week to find out if that happens,” said Orion. Michael looked up from his bloodied hands and raised an eyebrow. “Why not?” he asked. “Come with me,“ he said. “There’s something I have to show you.” “Whatever it is, can it wait?” said Michael. He could start feeling the pain in his wrist. “Nope. I need you up and dressed. We are all waiting on you.” “We?” he asked. Orion nodded. “Everyone is here.” Michael immediately got up and slipped on a pair of pants that were lying by the bed and followed Orion out into the hallway. He trailed behind him as he fixed up his hair the best he could and wiped down the sweat off of his chest with a rag he got from the bathroom. They neared around a corner leading to another long hallway. A lot of the Safe Houses owned in Sapphiress were known for their long confusing hallways. They were used to throw off intruders. Only the actual residents knew every

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inch of the Safe Houses. Michael would have been confused by all of the right and left turns they were taking if it had not been for Michael spending most of his childhood years in the Safe House they were in at the moment. But Orion knew it best seeing how he never had parents and was raised here by Safe House Guardians. “Why are we heading towards Inventory?” asked Michael a little confused. “We always go to the library for our meetings.” “I know,” said Orion, “But like I said, there’s something I have to show you.” Michael and Orion neared around yet another corner before coming to a dead end. At the end of the hall were two titanium doors with curved, bold symbols painted across it in bright gold. Orion raised his hand and pressed it to the door, along with Michael. The door jumped open slightly from unlocking, and they both pushed it open and walked in. The room was like a training room. On the racks, everything big from any type of blade and hand held weapon to small poisonous and sedative darts were arranged. Life-like dummies sat in the corner, and there were obstacle courses stretching out in the farther back of the enlarged room. Metal tables lined up against the whole perimeter of the room except for one. That one table sat in the middle of the room where Michael saw his father Tasen and sister Myka. They both were hunched over the table analyzing something. Orion walked up to the table to get their attention while Michael plucked a metal spear similar to his from the shelf in front of him and started twirling it behind his back and stabbing a nearby dummy dressed in Radical clothing. Tasen put a tool down on the table, and he and Myka walked over to Michael. Michael put the spear back on the shelf and greeted his father with a firm handshake. Tasen who looked to be in his forties was very built for his age. A shape he maintained in order to train the Rebel warriors. His brown hair had some grey by the sideburns and in his goatee. Though he was very masculine, he had the eyes of a woman – very easy and smooth to look at and such a beautiful shade of hazel. “Good to see you got some sleep,” he said to Michael. “Hardly,” he replied. “Well, there are no circles under your eyes like there usually are, so I just assumed.” The uneasiness between them grew as Michael did not respond but rather stared at his sister who was wearing her combat gear. She almost never wore her gear. “Hello,” he said to her at last. “Don’t you even start with me, Michael Alexander,” she said with attitude. She flipped her black hair to the side, and her lizard-like eyes glowered at him warningly before she walked out of the room. A loud clashing sound could be heard from the hallway and a little yelp of surprise. Moments later a blonde haired girl walked into the room, carrying half a tray of tea. Her white blouse was stained a light brown and looked a little wet. “What in the world got into her?” she asked. “Myka ran right into me, and I almost lost the tray.”

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“I apologize,” said Tasen looking at Michael curiously. “She just now found out her room had been destroyed.” Michael glared at Orion who then shrugged his shoulders, and then heaved a sigh. “So that’s what that was?” he asked. “She hasn’t seen me in a week since the attack, and she’s going crazy about her room? I didn’t even get a hello!” he exclaimed. “Well neither did I,” said the girl. Michael turned to her and put his hands on her shoulders and looked her in her brown eyes. “Hello, my dearest friend Chasity. I have missed you more than anyone here, guaranteed,” he said with an obvious tone of sarcasm. “Oh whatever,” Chasity put the tray down on the floor and threw her arms over Michael’s shoulders and embraced the warmth of his body and his beating heart. “You are like my brother,” she whispered in his ear. “I worry about you like I worry about my family. Next time let me know you are safe.” She then drew back her arms, picked up the tray from the ground, and walked over to the table and set it down. Chasity saw the look in Tasen’s eyes as he stared at Michael before she walked away. He needed to speak to him. She could tell. As Chasity was pouring herself some tea, she became blinded by a pair of hands coming from behind her. She set the kettle down and put her hands on her hips. “What?” “This is an experiment, and you are my subject,” said Orion nonchalantly. Chasity exhaled playfully and smiled. “I’ve been your ‘subject’ ever since I met you, Orion. Are you really still observing me? It‘s been ten years now. Don‘t you think I deserve a chance to have you be my subject?” She pulled his hands off of her eyes and turned around slowly to look at him. His green eyes were gentle when he looked at her, almost in a delicate way. His hair was spiked up in the front, and she noticed he changed out of his combat gear he had been wearing all day and into a plain white tshirt and jeans. “What?” asked Chasity. Orion circled around her and picked up a rose that was lying on the tea tray. “This, my dear, is for you,” he said holding the flower out for Chasity to take. “And if I do not accept this rose?” Chasity crossed her arms over her chest. Orion took a step back. “Well you don’t have to accept it,” he said nervously. “It’s just a rose. I just thought a girl like you needed something beautiful to hold.” “What’s that supposed to mean?” Orion’s cheeks flushed a light red as he set the rose back down on the tray. “It means that girls like roses, so you shouldn’t deny the rose. You should just accept it.” Chasity smiled and picked up the rose. “So true,“ she said smelling the rose’s sweet aroma. “Thank you. It is nice even though I am the one who picked it out of the garden.” Orion chuckled hesitantly and then walked away not bearing to be embarrassed by his foolishness anymore. He walked up to Tasen and patted him on the shoulder, signaling that it was time to get what had to be done over with. Tasen looked Michael in the eyes warningly one last time before he walked away from him. Michael followed

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him over to the table where he saw a staff of some sort. It looked very abstract to him and couldn’t figure out what it possibly was. “This,” said Tasen, pointing to the object, “is yours.” Michael half smiled and slowly replied, “Thanks.” “Confused on what it is, I see. Come closer.” Michael leaned in and studied the metal object before him. It was a pole-like item with a grip in the middle, nothing more to it. “What is it?” asked Michael. Tasen picked it up and handed it to Michael who in turn held it by the grip. “This is called a Sphyrn. This is a weapon your mother and I had specifically designed for you. I believe it is time you have it.” Michael twirled the silver staff in his hands before setting it down. Tasen saw Michael’s confused expression and decided to elaborate. “This weapon can do many things for you, Michael. It’s designed to work with you.” “What do you mean work with me?” he asked. Tasen leaned in closer and whispered, “It works with your abilities.” Michael took a step back and looked at the Sphyrn again. He took it in his hands once more and balanced it on the back of his wrist. “So you have to have abilities to work this thing?” “No,” Tasen replied. “We had this designed to only work for you. Take it by the grip and hold it to your chest. Tell me what you sense.” Michael did what he was told and took the Sphyrn by the grip. As soon as he did, it blazed a dark gold and the boring silver staff became filled with different shades of blue and cyan. Chasity and Orion came over to where Tasen and Michael stood and their jaws dropped by what they saw. “Michael,” said Chasity. “Your eyes” “What about them?” he asked. “They’re just like your weapon,” she replied. “They’re both the same colors! This is remarkable. How are you doing that?” “I don’t know,” he said in shock. Tasen smiled and came near Michael. “There’s more,” he said. “When you are under attack, the Sphyrn will not only be your weapon of offense and defense, but it will protect you from harm; thanks to the charm I had infused into it. Say you are under attack right now,” said Tasen. He signaled Orion to go grab the spear that Michael had earlier. Once when he had it in hand, he stealthily crept up behind Michael. Michael sensed someone behind him and gripped the Sphyrn in his hands. Orion aimed the spear for his spine and was about to attack when Michael threw his arms above and over his head, the Sphyrn hanging diagonally behind his back, blocking Orion from stabbing him. There was a loud clash of metal as Michael blocked him. Michael turned around and started slashing Orion’s spear from side to side. “Use your abilities, Michael,” said Tasen. “The Sphyrn needs your permission to attack.” Michael blinked his eyes, and when they reopened, the irises were a grayish-red. A color they usually changed into when he was in battle. As they changed, so did the color and shape of the Sphyrn. Almost in

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an instant, the Sphyrn immediately started growing in length, and the staff itself formed into large jagged razors on both ends of the staff and lined all the way down to nearly the center where Michael held onto the grip. Orion’s eyes widened and stepped back towards the door in defense. “The Sphyrn alters and morphs into the weapon necessary to defeat,” said Tasen. “In this case, it made an upgraded version of the Dialector that Orion is using.” Michael came at him twirling the Sphyrn in front of him. Gusts of air blew into Orion’s face as he neared closer, the blades whipping in front of him. Michael then threw the weapon in the air, punched Orion in the gut, and caught the Sphyrn in his left hand. Orion fell to the floor, and as he did, Michael pointed one of the ends of his new weapon directly at Orion’s throat. Tasen chuckled, “Well done, my son.” Michael’s eye color turned back to cyan, and as they did, the Sphyrn’s razors melted within itself and the lethal weapon became a stumpy silver staff again. Michael put the Sphyrn on the table and held out a hand for Orion, who in turn, took his offer on helping him up. Orion’s face was flushed a dark red as he glanced over at Chasity. He hadn’t known she was watching him. Although it was Michael’s time to shine, he had rather it be a one-on-one and not in front of the girl he had been dreaming of since they first met. Tasen patted Michael on the back. Orion pressed his thumb against the Dialector, and it minimized in size. He too put it on the table next to the newfound Sphyrn. “Nice one,” he said finally but in a hushed tone to Michael. Orion couldn’t stand the awkwardness that lingered in the air. Michael turned to look at him and grinned. “Next time, I’m sure you’ll put your whole heart into it,” he said. “I saw that you were rather in a different world.” Michael glanced over at Chasity who hadn’t been paying attention. “Then you could have let me win,” said Orion. “Ah, but where is the fun in that?” “So what do you think?” asked Tasen very pleased with his son’s capability to adapt so quickly to the weapon. “It will be very useful,” said Michael still unaware of the full potential of the Sphyrn. As things settled down, Tasen headed off to bed for a nap, Orion realized it was time for the talk he had longed to have with his friends. He had been waiting most of the night to get all of their undivided attention as they encircled around a glass table laughing in amusement at Michael telling his infamous jokes and enjoying each others’ company in the library. Myka had gotten over the fact that her body mirror was broken, and there was a large hole in her wall. Tasen had offered her a new and bigger room while he renovated it, and that was all she really wanted. So in a way, she had to thank Michael for whatever had happened in there. “It’s been forever,” said Myka, as she leaned back in her chair. “I agree,” said Chasity. “We haven’t done this in a long time.” Michael nodded, “Well that’s because we’ve all been busy with trying to get everything together after the attack.” He put his head down after saying what he did

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and then remembered the nightmare he had of his mother. ‘You killed me’ the words echoed in his head. Orion ruffled up Michael’s hair as he passed by him and sat down on the couch beside Chasity and Myka. He had what looked to be several old books and a few files filled with papers. He smacked the whole collection on the glass table in front of them and cleared his throat to get the group’s attention. Everyone looked at what Orion dumped on the table and then questioningly looked at him. “Ladies,” he said pointing to the papers and books, “I give you, Marletti.” Everyone stared at him a little dumbfounded. “Why are you bringing this to us?” asked Myka, her smile faded slowly. Orion looked at Michael who had been glaring at a picture of Marletti that had slipped out of one of the files. “Because,” he said answering Myka, looking her dead in the eyes “He is our problem.” “No, he’s not,” she argued. “He’s the Gemmed’s problem.” Chasity sat back in her chair, not willing to get involved. She knew exactly where Orion was going with this whole Marletti thing. He’s been obsessing over it ever since he found out he was behind the attack. “The Gemmed aren’t doing anything about it,” Orion protested. “It’s been exactly one week and one day, and still there hasn’t been word on what they were doing about it. They aren’t even in Sapphiress to protect the rest of us that survived. They’re in the Sacred City, waiting it all out. They are our leaders and protectors of all the Cities. Don‘t you think they should be here, protecting us?” Myka’s blood boiled with anger. She hated when Orion talked bad about the Gemmed. It was because of them that she was able to find a home with Tasen and Lena after her biological parents abandoned her at the Sacred City to begin with. How dare he talk bad about the very group of sanctified people that saved her life. “They are most likely coming up with some information on Marletti, so they can turn him in and prosecute him correctly without having any flaws in the system.” “You are so caught up in politics that it’s ridiculous!” yelled Orion. He was already fed up with her. “Don’t you a give a single damn about what they did to Lena?” he exclaimed. Orion looked over at Michael who now had the picture of Marletti in his hand. “Michael, I could use some back-up here.” Michael looked up from the picture and glanced at Myka, then Orion, and then leaned forward to see Chasity cleaning out from under her nails as she sunk into the depth of the couch. “Well,” he started, as he put the picture down on the table, “I’d like to know what you have in mind.” “Preposterous,” muttered Myka as she folded her arms across her chest. She sat back in her chair and waved a hand to Orion to continue. “Go ahead,” she said without any enthusiasm in her tone. “Thank you,” said Orion, glaring at her. He then turned to Chasity who was sitting beside him, waiting for her approval. She looked up after a period of silence and realization that no one was screaming at each other anymore. “I guess,” she said as her answer.

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All of them leaned in towards the table as Orion organized his mess of information. He placed pictures of Marletti across the top of the table and documents of information right under it. “This,” he said holding up one of the pictures, “Is Marletti.” He held up a picture of a man who looked to be the same age as Tasen. “He’s a bit out of shape to be running such a dangerous part of Avarae,” said Chasity who noticed Marletti’s plump belly. “He has goons that get the work done for him,” chimed in Michael. “Just like in the movies, you know?” “I pictured him more dangerous looking,” said Myka. “He looks like a working class citizen you see in Sapphiress.” “I noticed that as well when I first saw these pictures,” said Orion. “But that’s not what I found to be interesting about him.” Orion picked through a few documents before finally taking one in his hand and holding it up to everyone. “This, my dear friends, is his birth certificate,” he stated. “I got this from the Sapphiress Archives.” “Impossible,” said Michael, grabbing the document. Chasity nodded her head in agreement. “Michael’s right. You can’t get birth certificates like that in Sapphiress unless-” “Unless you are from Sapphiress,” said Michael a little shocked, finishing Chasity’s sentence. His eyes widened as he stared at the paper before him. Orion smirked and sat back in the couch. Michael passed the paper to Myka who read the paper out loud. “James Paveliss Marletti-Cogner was born in Hope Hospital on September twelfth in the…City of Sapphiress. How interesting,” she said as she looked at Michael. “How is that possible? He’s been known to live in Avarae all of his life.” Orion leaned forward and said, “I realize that. After discovering this, I researched a few more things, and there is something you won’t believe.” After reaching for a file, he opened up the manila folder and rummaged through the papers when he finally came across a newspaper clipping. “This is an article of an incident that happened in Sapphiress a good thirty-eight years ago.” He passed it to Chasity to read. “‘On April seventh, it seemed to be an ordinary day for the Cogner family. Marlene and Davison Cogner would go off to work while their four children James, Mason, Mellissa, and Davison Jr. went to school. But when both Marlene and Davison failed to show up to work that day, a few of the Rebel trainees stopped by the house to see if everything was okay. But what they discovered was a crime scene. Five out of the six family members were found slaughtered inside the home. The only witness and surviving member of the family was the oldest son, James, who claimed to have seen the attacker. The Gemmed came to the crime scene to pick up James and take him into their custody while the authorities tried to catch the intruder. ‘This is the first murder Sapphiress has ever had that includes more than two people. ‘Whoever did this bad deed has no heart for the family,’ said one of the Cogner’s neighbors. ‘I personally want to see them punished.’” Chasity stopped reading and looked up from the newspaper article she held in her hands. Everyone was leaned in with interest. “That’s all it says,” she said. “The rest of the article has been torn. I can’t read what else it says.”

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Michael contracted his back into the soft lounge chair and searched through another one of the manila folders. “There’s got to be more about this. Why hasn’t anyone heard of this? Something this big doesn’t just disappear over the years. Sapphiress has never been known for violence like that,” he said. Myka and Chasity nodded, “Yes, but this doesn’t seem like a big evidence, Orion,” said Myka. “I realized that. Don’t you guys think I came prepared? Here,” he said pulling out another newspaper article. “Read this.” He handed the article to Myka while Michael still shuffled through the rest of the papers. Myka snatched the piece of paper from Orion, reading the first few sentences in a very bland tone. But her tone changed, and her eyes widened. She fell silent as she read the rest of the paper quietly to herself. “What does it say?” asked Chasity. Myka looked up and then back at the paper, rereading the last part. “‘James Cogner, was found missing June eighteenth, not even three months after the infamous murder of his family. The Gemmed have no recollection of what happened the night before and have failed to keep up with the case from having no luck on catching the guilty person(s). Most have feared the worst for James, the only surviving member of the Cogner family. There were terrible threats coming from the City of Avarae saying that the Gemmed should be responsible for what they’ve done and have allowed to happen to the boy. They said they would ‘take things into their own hands’ if nothing improved on the case. So far, Rebel authorities are looking into the threat, but without clearance from the Avarae Government, Sapphiress cannot continue the investigation into the other City.’” “Something doesn’t sit right with me,” said Chasity. “Same here,” agreed Orion. Michael put the manila folder down and turned his attention to Orion. “I know what happened,” he said. Everyone shifted their positions in their chairs and looked at him intensely. “This is my accusation, and I could be wrong, but I know and you know something doesn’t add up in those two articles. At first, Marletti said he knew who did it, so he was taken into Gemmed custody. But then in the second article, it says that the Gemmed had no leads and have given up on the case. Does that only strike me as curious?” he asked, and leaning into the group, he added, “Look. I think Marletti killed his family. There, I said it.” “No one would kill their own family at such a young age, Michael. That’s absurd!” said Myka. “Maybe it’s not,” replied Michael. “I just read six death certificates that were all from the Gemmed Society. All six of these Gemmed members,” he said waving the documents in the air, “died while Marletti was in their custody. There was a cover-up that took place within the walls of the Sacred City. There is no denying that this is not just a coincidence.” Everyone looked at him with questioning eyes as if they were expecting him to have more to say. Orion spoke out first.

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“Actually my theory is similar to yours. We need to know more about what happened between Marletti and his family and why he is just now attacking Sapphiress after all of these years,” he said eyeing Michael. Michael nodded his head slightly. He could read the expression on Orion’s face. It was almost like he was saying it out loud, ‘The Gemmed Descendant’. “We’ll get to the bottom of it,” said Michael. “Well whatever it is,” said Myka, standing up to stretch, “I’m sure the Gemmed will figure it out.” “You are so dumb,” muttered Orion. “Excuse me?” she replied defensively. “Have you not been listening?” “Of course, I have,” said Myka. “Then you, my dear, are dumb to say what you just said,” replied Orion. “I’m not the one going off on a crazy tangent, thinking I can solve all the problems in the Inner Realm.” “Oh now here we go!” said Orion, his voice raised a notch. “Well, excuse me because I know for a fact that we can solve this and bring peace back to our Cities!” “We are just trainees!” yelled Myka. “We are graduated warriors, and we are a team!” Orion yelled back. Chasity sank back in the couch as well as Michael did in his chair. They both knew better than to get in the middle of Orion and Myka when they were arguing. Last time they tried, weapons became involved. “You and Michael may be, but I’m not, and Chasity isn’t even trained period! She‘s studying to be a doctor, for crying out loud! We can get killed!” screamed Myka. “Michael is the youngest graduated warrior and a legend everywhere. He’s the best there is out in the field! He’s had the most kills and even broken the record of most kills in the entire history of all Cities. I am second to that, and Myka, you have enough skill to know what to do in any situation.” “I don’t doubt you guys, but what you are doing is suicidal,” she stated. “What we are doing will save lives!” argued Orion. Myka bit her tongue to the point where she could taste blood in her mouth. So badly she wanted to fight back but knew it would be worthless. “Fine,” she said, gritting her teeth. “Then you go off and get killed without me. But when one of you gets hurt, don‘t expect me to mourn you and forgive your reckless behavior.” And with that last note, she stormed out of the library, overturning a nearby chair and knocking the papers off of the glass table. The doors slammed shut, and the sound echoed off of the cavernous walls. There was a moment of silence before Chasity finally got up slowly and looked earnestly at Michael and Orion. “I should probably go after her,” she said delicately. Orion threw his arms in the air as if to give up on everyone. Michael looked sincerely at Chasity and nodded his head giving her the go ahead and that he would handle Orion. She quietly moved past the two of them not daring to look Orion in the eyes as she left the room and closed the doors behind her.

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“Do you believe these girls?” he exclaimed in frustration. Michael stood up and stretched his legs and arms. He picked up the Sphyrn that rested beside the chair and cleared his mind from what just happened. Orion saw that the Sphyrn glowed a cyan color and grew, morphing in size and shape into what looked like a pointer that people use for presentations. Except on the end was a dagger like blade instead of a harmless point. Michael moved over to the map of the four cities that hung on the wall. He lifted the Sphyrn and pointed to Avarae. “This is where Marletti is, correct?” he asked Orion. Orion dragged his feet over to where Michael stood and nodded. “Look man, there’s so much information I didn’t get to tell you guys. There’s so much more at work, and I have enough evidence to start an investigation. In fact, the evidence is so overwhelming that I need a team to help me sort through it all,” he explained. “I thought you of all people would understand why I have to do this.” Michael studied Orion’s green eyes which almost looked as if they had welled up in tears. “Look,” he started “I know what happened that night on the battlefield during the attack. I know why you had to find me and not wait in the Safe House like the others.” Orion looked down at the ground in an almost ashamed way. “I don’t blame you for doing what you did out there,” he continued. “I just need to know that you are okay and will do this with me and focus directly on what needs to be done for the city and not for personal reasons.” “So you’re willing to do this with me?” he asked. “Yes,” replied Michael. “Marletti took many things from me that night just like he did to you. Something isn’t going right with the Gemmed, and what they are doing could endanger the whole Inner Realm. All four cities can perish without a trace left by what they are doing now. This is my home just like it is yours. We need to save what we can and get to the bottom of what’s going on here.” “That’s what I’ve been trying to say!” said Orion. Finally he was feeling relief from the tension he had felt during the argument. He thought no one understood what he was talking about. But how could he doubt Michael? They’ve known each other for far too long to know that he would have his back. “I know,” replied Michael. “And I also know exactly where we need to start with this investigation.” He moved over to the couch and sat down, fumbling through the mountains of papers that were now strewn across the table. “This,” he said picking up a document. “Who is this?” he asked. Orion walked over to where Michael sat and took the paper from his hand. He scanned it and then handed it back to him. “This is someone I was looking up way before Marletti. I must have accidentally put it in the files with the rest of Marletti’s information.” “Well, it says here this girl is wanted by all cities, except for Avarae. There is no picture of her and only a first name. Who is Serenity?” asked Michael. “There are legends about a girl named Serenity. She’s supposedly the highest skilled assassin out there. If anyone was to match her abilities to someone else, I’d say

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you two would be a pair to reckon with. Imagine the damage you both could do. But personally, I think you would out-skill her any day,” replied Orion. “Thanks,” Michael smirked, “But who is she an assassin for?” “Rumors say she doesn’t work for anyone. She just kills to kill.” “Well I’d like to talk to her,” said Michael, pointing to Serenity’s name. “We might need her help.” Orion circled around the table with his hand under his chin, thinking. After a few moments, he nodded his head and reached out his hand pointing to the document Michael held. “Knowing her, she’s probably already where the danger is.” “And where is that?” “Where the war is; our own backyard.” “So you are saying she could be here, in Sapphiress?” “It’s a great possibility.”

Kira Dennis

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Kaelyn Rosenfeld

Major/Goals: I am a Secondary Education major, and I plan to be an accomplished novelist. Favorite Author/Genre: Steig Larsson Describe your experience in ENG 221 - Writing Fiction: I have always found myself very scared to share my writing, but this class has shown me how to be more open. I learned that everyone will make mistakes, but the most important thing is to keep trying. Professor Bailey-Kirby helped me understand that you can’t be afraid of writing, but you need to write your ideas down because that will help you get to your best work. Also, I loved the in-class writing assignments where we were given a few requirements and told to create a story in a group. When I was forced to think on my toes, I was able to reach into a creative part of myself that I didn’t know existed. It gave me a chance to improve while having a lot of fun.

With Every Ending is a New Beginning by Kaelyn Rosenfeld As soon as I arrived, I could sense that something was out of place. I have everything arranged a certain way in my beautiful brick house. I closed my front door as quietly as I could and stepped through my hall way. I set me keys and my purse down by the entry table to the right of the front door. Through the white mirror hanging in my living room, I saw the light on in the kitchen, and I heard someone rummaging through my things. I picked up a decorative candle stick holder that I placed on that table in case I needed to grab a weapon in an emergency situation. I took my red patent leather heals off on the rug to make sure not to attract attention to myself. As I rounded the left corner to the kitchen entry way, I heard it. It was a sound that I could never mistake having heard it so many times, her voice. How did she get in? God damn me to hell for telling her where the spare is hidden. I walked over to the entry table, trying to steal a few more seconds to myself before the onslaught of questions started. I hung my black pea coat on the rack next to the table, picked up my purse and shoes, and placed my keys in the side pocket of my purse. I stole a glance at the mirror in the hall way, making sure I looked alright. I swept my long brown hair back and adjusted my makeup. My eyes seemed drained. Whenever I looked in the mirror, I would get lost in my own eyes because they were his eyes. The same deep green almond shaped eyes. I was always proud that I looked like him, and now it’s just a dreadful reminder that he is gone. I looked further and realized that I looked sleep deprived. I’m sure she would say something about the bags underneath my eyes. I took my chap stick out of my purse and coated my lips with it. I placed the cap back on, shoved it in my purse, took a deep breath, and walked towards my kitchen. “Hey honey! Sorry I didn’t call to tell you I was coming into town. I wanted to surprise you.” She stood at my cutting board, chopping lettuce, tomatoes, and cucumbers. I had to give it to her. She looked great. She still had a very slim figure.

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She was wearing a deep blue blouse tucked into a black pair of slacks. I didn’t have to ask to know that she was in designer clothing from head to toe. She took little measures to look younger like dyeing her hair and using Botox, but she never had surgery. Thinner than me, she was my sixty-six year old mother. She definitely didn’t look her age. I always envied how pretty she was with such little effort. She wiped her manicured hands on my apron that she must have dawned as soon as she got through the door. She took the apron off and slung it over one of my dining table chairs. She walked to me with her arms wide, awaiting a mother-daughter embrace. She leaned back and looked me over, “Melanie, you look like you haven’t been sleeping well. Oh, and you look like you haven’t been eating well. You know that if you want to get a good husband, you have to watch what you eat. You got your father’s figure.” There it was the first few digs of many to come. I don’t know how I am going to make it through this visit. “Hello mother. It’s so nice to see you too. What brought you into town?” Surely, she didn’t come here to see me. “You don’t sound very excited to see me. Is that the attitude I get after how long it’s been?” “I know exactly how long it’s been.” I walked out of the kitchen and down the hall to my bedroom. She hated the house I lived in. Never mind that I purchased it by myself and furnished it beautifully. The decorations were something that she would admire. But I received nothing to confirm my feelings of pride. I decorated each room according to the style of the house. Not exactly modern but most definitely not outdated. The living room and kitchen were decorated in white with silver accents and sweet touches of grey. They lacked light, so I wanted to bring some in without it being an overwhelming color like yellow. It went beautifully with the house and with me. I spent more on decorating than I did on the repairs, but it was worth every penny. She never gave me so much as a congratulations or a single compliment on how well it had turned out. The old owner wanted to tear it down to rebuild and keep the land for themselves. I couldn’t stomach this house being torn to the ground, so I bought it and fixed close to everything imaginable. Once I was done, I took care in decorating it. Making sure that every piece fit the room and the house. She didn’t care about how well it turned out. It didn’t matter that I was on the road to making partner in a major law firm in Chicago or that I graduated at the top of my class. None of it mattered. I flipped the light switch and began to change into a pair of my pajamas. As I was pulling my shirt over my head, I heard the clacking of her heals down my wood floor. “I know that we haven’t talked much since your father passed but that is no reason to treat me this way. I am still your mother, and I still deserve your respect. Can’t I visit my daughter?” “Cut the shit. What are you doing here? Seeing as how your car isn’t outside, I know you didn’t drive here. So what made you decide to fly across two states to ‘visit your daughter?’ It’s been three months since the funeral, and you haven’t returned

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one of my phone calls. I know you’re not here to spend some quality time with me, so what do you want?” The words were venom. For a second, I felt bad, but as soon as she opened her mouth, I retracted those feelings. “I have been having a very hard time with all of this too. You weren’t the only one who loved him.” After the utterance of that last sentence, it was all I could take. There would be no holding back now. “You’re right mom. He was your husband. He was with you every waking day for forty-eight years, and while he was in the hospital, you were nowhere to be found. I always knew that you didn’t care for him the same way he did you, but I still don’t know how you could do it. He wouldn’t have left you like that. He would have been by your side every minute of the way. You have no right to say what a hard time you’ve had. I was there the whole time. I was there down to the very last minute. I don’t care what excuse you have. When the doctor told us that he wouldn’t come back from the stroke and that we had to make the decision what to do, you slunk away. How could you do that to him? Just because he had a stroke doesn’t mean you can treat him as if he was already dead.” I was breathing heavily from the anger that was seeping through my pores. She looked at me with empty eyes. “I don’t have any excuses for what I did.” She sat down on my bed and let her face fall into her hands. I don’t ever remember her crying in front of me, but here she was breaking down about what I said. I placed my right hand on her shoulder to console her. I shouldn’t have said those things. “I know that I should have been there those last few days. It was wrong of me to leave him like that. It was the hardest week of my life. He was my best friend for so long and that night I knew that I would never hear his voice again or see his face smiling back at me. I know that you’re mad at me. You have every right to be. I just couldn’t see him that way. I couldn’t see him lay there like a vegetable. I couldn’t remember him that way. I am sorry I left you to deal with that alone. You were always so close to him. I didn’t know how to talk to you after he had the stroke. What could I say to console you, especially after my not being there? I came to tell you I am sorry and that I love you. I know that this will not be an easy road to forgiveness, but I am willing to do whatever it takes to make this all up to you.” I had been wrong. As much as I didn’t agree with her not being there while he was on life support, how could I be mad at her for not being able to handle it? I was wrong and I felt sorry for bringing this on her. I wrapped myself around her and let her cry into my shoulder. She was always so strong. I had assumed that she didn’t feel anything when he died. I pulled away from our embrace and wiped the tears that were streaming down her cheeks. “I’m sorry I was so mean to you mom. I shouldn’t have been. I have just been so angry with you. I didn’t understand but I do now. You miss him just as much as I do. You don’t have to plead for my forgiveness because there is nothing that needs to be forgiven. I want to have what you and Melanie have. We can get through this; we just have to do it together.” I gave her a side smile and led her into the kitchen. I let her

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get back to the dicing of the salad, and I started on the chicken that I had laid out that morning for defrosting. We worked in silence so that we could both let ourselves calm. It was what we needed. With the ending of my father’s life came a new beginning for my mother and me. As much as I miss him, I am thankful that she and I were going to develop a relationship that we never had. I grabbed two wine glasses from the cabinet and filled them up with a bottle of red wine I had opened a few nights before. I placed one in her hand, and we both clanged our glasses to one another. There was no need to say what we were toasting to. It was to the journey ahead. Neither of us knew where it would take us but what mattered was that we would be together on that journey.

Melissa Jeralds

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HeloĂ­sa Flores

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Timothy Day

Major/Goals: I’m a Creative Writing major, and my future plans include publishing a few novels. Author/Genre: I enjoy Stieg Larsson, Hans Christian Anderson, and many others. Describe your experience in ENG 221 - Writing Fiction: In my first short story, I didn’t give very many details on the characters and setting, but later in the semester, I improved my writing by giving vivid and visual details to the readers. Also, the professor had her Boot Camp Activity packet with exercises to force you to write each day, and one activity that helped me the most was listening to various kinds of music and jotting down ideas/details for setting, characters, etc. I learned that it’s important to “show, not tell,” so I would recommend this course to students who are trying to achieve a writing career one day and/or dream about becoming a better writer.

One Hell of a Party by Timothy Day It is past midnight on the first Saturday of June when two detectives walk into a massive crime scene in a club called Dark Lights. Detective Marcus takes a look around the bloody mess of people lying on the dance floor. He couldn’t identify how many people had died tonight, but he could guess that it would be around less than a hundred, including the two bouncers outside. He looks up to his partner Detective Jane who is quite an attractive lady with shoulder-length black hair, tied in a pony-tail, and has dark green eyes while she stares down at a body that is slightly cut in half. “How could this have happened?” she asks while still examining the body. “I can’t say, because I have never seen anything like this before.” “What do you think we should do since this crime scene will take a while for us to solve?” “Well, we got six witnesses who are being held down at our station. Maybe we will get some answers or evidence from them almost immediately instead of trying to find some clues to this massacre. Besides I can’t believe that this club doesn’t even have one security camera.” "I agree with you, but wouldn't we be able to get a clear shot from other security cameras that are probably outside or a few feet away from this club?" "Maybe, but I doubt that we would get the shot of who entered inside here after murdering two of the bouncers. We will get the evidence if the investigators find anything. Right now, let's go talk to the witnesses before they fall asleep." Ten minutes later, Detective Marcus and Jane enter the station while they run into Officer Burne, an average looking man who is in his late forties with partial graying from the top left of his dark brown hair. He always complains whenever it comes to communicating with the witnesses. "Hey Marc and Jane! Did ya' find anything at the club yet? Cause I can't stand talking to these damn party animals tonight, and I need some rest."

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"No, Burne. Jane and I couldn't find anything. It's too much of a bloody mess to find some evidence at the moment. You wouldn't want to be there if you have a weak stomach because it's like someone started a war tonight." "Well, that sounds like a gang situation." "That is possible." "Who are the witnesses that we are holding tonight Burne?" asks Detective Jane. "Well, we have...," he began while squinting at his wooden clipboard, "Donnie, Fred, April, Shane, Crystal, and Anna." "Is there anyone that was working at Dark Lights tonight?" she asks. "There is only one, named Shane who scratches up the records on the turntables. He is in the room, and the rest of them are in the hall trying to relax. Sounds like all of the employees either died or ran away." "Okay Burne, Jane and I will go talk to Shane. Take a break and give them some coffee and be sure to keep them awake." "Ugh! Alright Marcus," Burne rolls his eyes in complaint. "And be nice," said Marcus while Jane gives Officer Burne a signal that she is going to be watching him. They walk inside the interrogation room seeing Shane covering his face with his hands, as if he is trying to mold his face like clay or trying to stay awake. Detective Marcus takes a seat in front of him while Jane is standing at the left corner of the room crossing her arms against her chest. "Shane, are you alright? Do you need some coffee?" asks Marcus while Shane immediately looks up at him and then at Jane and replies that he is okay and doesn't want a cup of coffee. "I see that you still have your headphones resting on your neck. Would you like to take them off?" "N-no, I'll leave them on," said Shane while he still seems to be nervous or terrified from Marcus's view. He is wearing a dark purple t-shirt with a little bit of black lines around the edges. He is a kind of guy that looks like he would be brave while in good shape. He brushes back his black curly hair as it is hanging over his eyebrows, as if he is sweating. Marcus asks him again if he is sure that he’s alright. "Y-yes, I'm alright... I’ve just never seen or witnessed anything like this before." "We understand how you might be feeling right now. So don't worry because you are now safe. My name is Detective Marcus," reaches out to shake his hand, "and behind me is Detective Jane," he points with his thumb while she waves and says hello. "We need to hear what you have witnessed tonight Shane since you are the only employee left alive that was working at the club. Before we ask what you saw, was there anyone you know that wasn't working tonight?" "Yeah, it was Michelle and Robert who had the night off. Are any of the other employees alive?" "I don't know Shane. It is too much of a mess for us to discover at the moment. That's why we're here to get as much evidence as we can from you and the other witnesses tonight while the investigators are trying to find out what happened. Please,

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tell us what you saw," he says while she moves in closer standing against the concrete wall from his right to listen to Shane. "I started working at around nine thirty which was about four hours ago. I was enjoying my job as a DJ player like every other night for almost a year. Tonight I was mixing up songs of disco and techno music, blasting off the bass and the audience was having a wonderful time dancing. Some were getting high or drunk while having a good time. Having a good time was the only thing that matters as long as no one does anything wrong. Until then, something unexpected happened. It was hard for me to see what was happening while I was on the stage. The lights were flashing neon colors with the black light being left on. I heard a scream of terror coming from the entrance. Then I began to see bodies of people collapsing to the ground in seconds. I couldn't see what was causing them to fall to the floor; it was hard for me to see through all of the lights. I didn't know what to do, so I just ran away until I saw a body or two being thrown around in different directions like a lady who was thrown onto my stage. Blood was splattered everywhere and the lady I saw was dead in a second after being thrown. She was slashed and stabbed to death. I ran to the backstage and went out through the fire exit setting off the alarms and didn't bring anyone along with me. I just ran away being afraid; I was such a fucking coward, and I regret leaving a stranger behind!" "So, you didn't see who was causing this massacre? You just left through the back door after everything you saw?" asks Jane. "That's right. I didn't see who it was." "Do you think it was a group of killers that caused this to happen?" inquires Marcus who is leaning forward against the steel table. "I don't know... It might be a group, but I didn't see one member of the group when I was on the stage. Are you two thinking that I have something to do with this?" "No, Marcus and I are not pointing fingers or blaming you Shane. We just want to know what you have witnessed through those eyes of yours. Is that everything you saw and remember?" "Yeah‌ I think so." "Alright, you will need to wait in the hall with the others. You may not leave until we tell you that you can. Officer Burne will give you a seat and will give you something to drink if you get thirsty." "Burne!" hollers Marcus, and Burne opens the door when he hears his name, "Give Shane a seat and bring us the next witness." Burne does what he is told, and he brings in a witness named Fred who is wearing what appears to be a mascot costume of a red devil, but he is missing the head. Fred has a goatee and messy, short, black-dyed hair. "So Fred, isn't it a little early to be celebrating Halloween and isn't it too hot for you to wear that around this time of the year?" Marcus begins when he just can’t understand why someone would wear a mascot to a club. "Yes detective, I understand that it appears to be dumb to you, but believe me you wouldn't want me to take it off." "And why is that?"

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"Because I'm naked," he whispers with a smile of embarrassment. "Right... Keep it on if that makes you comfortable." "I agree, please keep it on," Jane says while her hand is on her forehead. "May I smoke in here?" "No Fred, you may not," Marcus tries to reply as calmly as he can, "Just tell us what you’ve witnessed tonight at Dark Lights. How did you lose the head that goes to your mascot?" "Well it started off when I was dancing with the crowd while I have the head of the devil on me. I couldn't see well from right to left, but I was having a good time. Until then, I had met two hot girls that came up to me and offered me a drink of vodka and beer; my night was beginning to be fantastic when they both wanted to get a room together with me; and I was blown away and excited to continue this night with a blonde and a redhead." "What are the names of these two girls you are just now mentioning?" Jane interrupts. "The blonde girl was Anna and the red... was April. In fact they are both in the hall right now." "We will talk to them so just continue where you are," Jane crosses her arms to her chest again. "Okay... Well, after the discussion about getting a room together, I began to hear people screaming. At first, I thought it was a joke, but when I took off the head, I saw something that was unexpected while the girls began screaming with horror. I couldn't move or say anything when I saw this creepy guy quickly slashing and killing people in seconds. Man, you two should’ve seen this guy. He was not normal looking at all, his arms were extremely long, and I couldn't guess the measurement, because he was moving so fast, cutting people in pieces. After seeing this creepy guy for a few seconds, the girls and I ran out through the entrance with another girl and the DJ player was already standing outside across the street. I didn't see anyone else get out except for a guy who was complaining about his motorcycle being stolen when help arrived minutes later. I didn't see who stole his bike, but I guess it was some stranger that wasn't in the club." "What happened to your head of the devil?" Marcus asks curiously as if he isn’t sure that Fred is telling the truth. "Oh, I dropped it on my way out... and I don't think I would want it back." "We'll keep it as evidence. Are you sure what you saw tonight is true? Because there is no way that a person can kill almost up to a hundred people in that club unless it was a bomb that went off which didn't happen." "It's true! I'm serious! If you don't believe me ask Anna and April. I know that they saw it too." "Alright, we will do that right now. Officer Burne!" Burne opens the door, "Take Fred back to his seat and bring us Anna and April."

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Anna and April enter the room and take their seats while Marcus slides the chair he was sitting on and sets it next to April so that Anna can sit down. Marcus is now standing with Jane on his right. Jane begins to speak, "So Anna and April, a man named Fred who is wearing a devil mascot told us that you three met. Is that true?" "Yes," they both reply. "So if that is true that you two met Fred tonight, then is it true that you both saw some creepy guy with 'extremely' long arms randomly attacking people at the club?" "Yes...," they both respond again. "Really? You girls saw a man killing almost everyone?" "It's true," answers Anna. "I know that it sounds ridiculous, but what Fred was telling you two is true," adds April. "Then please tell us your story, because we obviously don't believe what he told us," Jane says while she sets her hands on the table and Marcus puts his hands in his pockets. "I-I'm not good at telling a story on what I witnessed, but April can tell you because I did see what she and Fred saw tonight." "Okay Anna I'll tell them what we saw," April clears her throat and continues, "At Dark Lights, Anna, Fred, and I witnessed this guy from our own eyes. It was not a normal scene for us to see; of course, it wasn’t normal for everyone to see tonight. This guy... was not quite normal looking at all. It just seemed like he wasn’t even human... It was like seeing a human being that was transformed into some clay-like monster. He was moving really fast, and we did see his arms grow long, as if he had shaped them into swords while attacking these people in the crowd. Anna and I screamed, and we ran out with Fred when we didn't want to get cut or stabbed by this creep. When we got out, we went across the street and inside the cafe that was still open. The three of us felt a little safe in there until your officers and the fire department and ambulances came when Anna called for help." "Did you three see the DJ player, a girl, and a guy complaining about his motorcycle being stolen?" asks Jane. "Yes, we did, but the guy who was complaining happened in-between our escape and when help arrived." "Did one of you see who stole the bike and was he seen inside the club?" "Umm... We don't know. It just happened out of nowhere when we ran inside the cafe," April answers while Anna nods in agreement. "Everything you two witnessed is true from what Fred told us?" Anna and April said that Fred was telling the truth. "Was there anything else you both saw before you two were brought here?" "Well... We don't kn-," April begins but is interrupted by an argument in the hallway, which makes her and Anna jump. "What is it now?" Jane asks while looking at Marcus. "I think Burne is misbehaving," he answers while entering into the hall.

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"Dammit Burne!" she whispers and follows Marcus. They enter through the hall and see Officer Burne pushing the guy with a black leather motorcycle jacket against the wall, shouting, and swearing at each other, while a girl in a blue dress is standing in the corner. She tries to shield herself from the fight with arms raised. Shane gets up trying to break up the fight, but is pushed away by Burne while Fred moves closer to the girl in a blue dress. He shouts at them to stop. Marcus grabs Burne by the shirt and pushes him against the wall while Jane grabs the guy by the arm to keep him away from Burne. "What the fuck are you doing Burne? I told you to behave while Jane and I are talking to the witnesses," Marcus shouts. "That fucker started it!" Burne points his eyes at the guy Jane is holding. Marcus pounds his fist at the wall near Burne's head as if he is trying to prevent himself from getting in a physical fight. "Burne this is nonsense! What you’re talking about right now is not important. The investigation on this massacre is more important." "But this mothf-" "Go back to your desk Officer Burne, and we will discuss this later," Marcus interrupts while an officer named Jack, who is rookie in his twenties with a blonde buzz haircut, enters the hall. "Jack will keep an eye on these witnesses for you. Jane, take the guy inside and tell April and Anna to go back to their seats." Officer Burne scowls at Marcus and walks out of the hall. Anna and April head back to their seats with Fred while Shane and Officer Jack gets the girl in a blue dress to calm down. The guy in the motorcycle jacket takes his seat in the room while Marcus drags his seat back and begins to talk while Jane is standing near the closed door in case Burne goes out of control and she can lock him out in the hall. "Is your name Donnie?" "Yes, my name is Donnie," he wipes the bit of blood that is on the side of his lip with the right wrist of his jacket. "Were you inside the club called Dark Lights tonight?" "No, I wasn't. My motorcycle was parked near that club while I was at the bar next door." "Did you know that there was a massacre?" "I found out after I witnessed that my bike was stolen." "You saw who stole your bike?" asks Jane who is still near the door. "I don't know the guy's name, but I did see him drive it away while I tried to stop him." "Tell us how it happened and what he looks like," says Marcus. He takes a deep breath and sighs, "After I was having a drink with an old friend of mine, I saw this guy starting the engine of my motorcycle when my key wasn't in the ignition." He takes out his keys and tosses it on the table for them to see. "I don't know how he started the engine without using it‌ He was wearing a navy blue buttonup shirt, kind of a muscular looking guy, but not buff. I couldn't quite catch the color of his hair, but I guess it was either black or brown, and his hairstyle is about the same as

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mine," he points at his brown hair. "It’s called a 'fohawk' by most people now-a-days. Also, he was wearing either a black or dark color pair of jeans along with some grey sneakers with white shoe laces." "Is that all you saw?" Marcus asks while he writes down what Donnie saw. "Oh! And I saw some strange scars or wounds on the left side of his face, but then it vanished for a second. I don't know if I was imagining it, but I did see it till it was gone or looked like it was quickly healed... That's about all I saw what he looks like." "Okay, thank you Donnie. Go back to your seat with the others and don't leave until we tell you to." Donnie gets up, takes his keys, straightens his jacket and leaves the room while Jane opens the door for him and tells the girl in a blue dress to come in and sit down. The girl in a blue dress is Crystal who has long wavy brown hair but tied in a pony-tail. Her eyeliner is smeared down to her cheeks as it seems like she has been crying hours ago, and there’s a bit of glitter on the side of her cheeks. She takes her seat while Officer Jack gives Jane a box of tissues before closing the door and sets it on the table. Marcus begins to talk again while Jane stands to his right. "Crystal, are you okay? We apologize for what happened in the hall a few minutes ago." "It's okay and I'm... I'm okay. I just wish the event at the club never happened." "Can you tell us what happened or do you need a couple minutes to relax?" "No, no... I’ll tell you what I've witnessed." "Well you may begin when you feel like it." "At Dark Lights, I was having a party with my friends when they were celebrating my twenty-fifth birthday. My friends were Donna, Stacey, Kristen, Marlene, Marlene's boyfriend Brian, Steve, and Greg... We were drinking and dancing, having some fun, and we decided to have some cake later at my apartment until a guy from behind me began to talk to me. It surprised me at first, but I decided to get to know this stranger for a few minutes..." "What did he say or talk to you about?" asks Jane. "He started complimenting me on how I looked, and he asked for my name and I told him. Then he told me that his name was John, but I didn't believe him. He even told me that he was the owner of a record company called Maverick, but I also didn't believe him because I know the actual owner for that company, but I continued to listen and talk to him when it seemed like he was trying to get me in a hotel room tonight, which didn't happen. Then... he asked me about what I was doing at Dark Lights, and I told him that my friends were celebrating my birthday, throwing me a party. Then I heard him say his last words that I wished I didn't hear before he killed my friends and other people..." "What was the last thing he said?" Tears begin to crawl down her cheeks while Marcus slides the box of tissue closer to her, "He gave me a creepy smile and said 'One hell of a party.' Then I heard his bones cracking... as if he was transforming into a monster. His teeth were all sharp; his eyes were bloodshot red while his arms... his arms were bending like clay, shaping

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them into swords. Then he decapitated Greg, attacked Brian, and slashed Marlene and threw her on the stage which was hundreds of feet away... It was all too fast when he killed my friends. I got scared and ran out with Donna who didn't make it out of the club with me," she stops talking and begins to cry in agony while covering her face with a soggy tissue. Jane tries to calm her down while Officer Jack marches in and begins to speak to Marcus as Jane listens. "I'm sorry to interrupt, but there is something suspicious set on the floor of the entrance of this station." "What is it?" Marcus asks curiously. "Well... An officer whose name I don't know said that there's a head of a devil that seems to belong to one of the witnesses." "Is the officer who told you this still out there?" "Yeah, she's out there." "Okay, you stay in the hall with those witnesses. And Jane you stay with Crystal. I'm going to check out what's going on." Jack and Jane do what they are told, and Marcus gets up with his gun in his hand and walks out of the hall. He sees the officer who is a rookie in her twenties and is the same as Jack, except she looks athletic and has short red hair that reaches over her ears. "Hey Edna, were you telling Jack something that's suspicious?" "Yeah, there's a head of a mascot that probably belongs to one of the witnesses... It's covered in blood," she points. Marcus walks up to the head of the devil and moves it a little with his foot, but notices the bottom is pouring out blood. He bends down and sees outside of the glass doors is a body lying on the sidewalk, and then he finds a wallet and badge that belongs to Officer Burne lying behind the head. He feels like something isn't right when he looks up again and finds that there's a motorcycle crashed up in a parking lot away from the body. He picks up the head to see what's under it when he doesn't feel like seeing it in the first place, but he has to find out what it is that's bleeding underneath. When he moves the head, he finds out that it is Officer Burne's head that is underneath it. "Shit!" he whimpers in shock and drops the head that belongs to Fred and gets up on his feet to move away from Burne's head. "Edna, call for help... Edna?" he turns around and sees her dead, lying on the floor. "Oh shit!" he shouts in fear and notices that the guy that the witnesses were mentioning about is inside the station. He hears a scream of terror echo from the hall. No one else is working at the station at around almost two in the morning. He begins to run straight down the hall. He slows down in the hall with his gun in his hand and notices that he is too late. Blood is painted on the walls and flooding on the tile floor. Donnie is decapitated, Officer Jack lies cut in half, Shane's throat is cut open, Fred is stabbed and cut out from his chest and head up, then Anna and April are cut into pieces of three to four. He feels disgusted and at the same time guilty, because he thought they would be safe tonight. Then he hears a scream in the interrogation room and a voice that sounds like Crystal's saying, "Please don't hurt her!"

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Marcus kicks open the door aiming his gun at the guy shouting, "Let her go!" the guy stares at him showing a smile of his shark-like teeth while its left arm – shaped like a sword – is up against Jane's throat. Jane looks at Marcus with terror in her eyes. "Please let her go, and I'll set my gun on the floor if you will let her go." Jane nods her head a little to tell him to put down his gun. He puts it down on the floor, but at the same time, he hears its bones cracking, and during the same seconds of releasing his gun, he sees that the guy's legs grow, sending Jane up into the ceiling. Marcus again realizes that he is too late to save his partner when her throat is cut, and she drops from the ceiling. He is about to pick up his gun, but the murderer grabs it before he can. He is now close to Crystal when he quickly shrinks back to his normal size. His arms return to normal, and the guy is aiming the gun to the right side of Crystal's head while he holds her arms behind her back. Marcus doesn’t know what to do next, because the guy he is too quick, "Let her go... Take me instead," he feels like that is all he can say while he raises his hands up to surrender. "Sounds like it to me that I won detective," said the guy, and he shoots one bullet straight into Marcus's heart. Marcus falls to floor and gasps for air only to witness this guy who is not human speak to Crystal again. "Please stop! This isn't real! This isn't real!" she shouts and is now crying with fear. He lets her go and turns her around for eye contact. "Crystal..." he says while he drops the gun and sets his hands on her shoulders, "If you think this isn't real, then wouldn’t you be awake by now?" She doesn't respond but continues to cry, "Do you think that if I kill you now that you will wake up?" "I, I don't know... But I don't like what I'm seeing tonight!" "Well I was having a great time. You should be like me, I know you will like it, and it will be my gift for you, darling." Then he bites deep into her neck, quickly sucks up her blood, and turns her into him while he slowly transforms into Crystal. Marcus cannot believe what he is seeing in his last few breaths of air. After he finishes drinking her to death, he has become Crystal. He walks up to Marcus and stares down at him while using Crystal's voice, "Go to sleep detective," and then he stomps down on Marcus’s face repeatedly as if destroying a video camera that has recorded the evidence of the grizzly scene. The last flickers of life are extinguished forever in Marcus’s eyes, and now, transformed as Crystal, he walks out the door with a shrill laughter, never to be seen again.

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Jessica Jones

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Noelle Johnson

Major/Goals: I am Biology major, and I want to become a doctor one day. Favorite Author/Genre: Kahlil Gibran and Chuck Palahniuk Describe your experience in ENG 221 - Writing Fiction: This class helped me get over my fear of sharing my stories with people. As we got to know each other as students, we became friends throughout the semester. Also, I always looked forward to coming to class to see what new activity we would write about and to see what everyone would come up with. It helped to just get the creative juices flowing, and it allowed you to write constantly and freely. As a result, I learned many new techniques to make my stories stand out and be a lot more memorable.

Nobody’s Home by Noelle Johnson One night, I looked out the window, and I saw the neighbor digging a rather large hole in his front yard, out in the pouring rain. I wasn’t sure what the purpose of the hole was or why he found it necessary to be digging at 2:45 in the morning. When I came downstairs to get a glass of water, I had planned for it to be a quick trip to the kitchen and then back upstairs, but the mixture of loud thunder and bright strikes of lightning illuminated the window and caught my attention. I couldn’t help myself but to glance through the window and see the severity of the storm outside. Slowly, I tiptoed towards the window so as to not awaken my mother. Gently, I lifted the curtain, and upon first glance, I saw my neighbor across the street. Why would anyone be outside at this time of night in this storm? The lightning continued to strike and brighten the street, giving me a clearer view of my neighbor as he continued to dig. As the thunder continued to roll through, getting louder with each boom, I noticed my neighbor growing more nervous as he kept looking around himself to make sure that no one was watching him. With one last look, I saw him drop the shovel on top of the mound of dirt next to the hole and walk away. I could no longer see where he was as his well-trimmed hedges were too tall for me to see past. No less than a minute later, I saw him walking back into my line of vision, dragging some sort of giant sack. I watched him struggle as he slowly dragged the sack toward the hole. What in the hell was he doing? What was going on here? Then, I saw it - an arm flopped out of the sack. Oh my God! Did he really do what I think he did? I immediately felt sick to my stomach when I finally realized what he was doing. I couldn’t keep watching this. I was going to be sick. I let the curtain fall over the window again, and I slowly walked back up the stairs toward my room, awaiting what would happen the next day.

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The next morning, I awoke with fear – I was afraid, for the first time in my life, of where I lived. I never thought that I would witness an act so fatal, let alone from my neighbor. I couldn’t not try and investigate. I needed to sneak into his house and look for any evidence. I knew that I had to get a closer look to see who my neighbor really was. Changing out of my pajamas, into a pair of jeans with my NYU hoodie thrown on and my long blonde hair thrown into a pony tail, I quietly snuck out of the house and ran across the street. I noticed that his car was not in his driveway, which meant that he was currently not home. Making sure I couldn’t be seen, I tried to open the front door, and surprisingly, it was unlocked. I quietly tiptoed in and silently closed the door. I was immediately taken aback at the smell that surrounded me – the smell of rotting garbage, mixed with mildew and mold, with a side of burning hair. I had to cover my nose and mouth with my sleeve to try and block out as much of the wretched stench as possible. As I continued to walk around the front room, I saw something glimmer out of the corner of my eye. Slowly, I turned my head toward the window, and I saw beams of sunlight peaking through the blinds, shining down upon and reflecting against the metal of the shovel. As quietly as possible, I walked toward the shovel, passing over dirt tracks on the carpet. This was the shovel he was using last night. I saw him. This had to be it. Dirt and mud covered every inch of the shovel, but I also noticed something else. Kneeling down, I gently wiped away some of the dirt to see what else was on the head of the shovel. As I was wiping dirt off, I looked down at my hands and noticed that in addition to the dirt, there was something wet that had wiped off as well – red in color, thick in consistency. I felt my heart begin to pound inside of my chest as I frantically continued removing the dirt. With every wipe of the dirt, more of the red substance washed off with it. This…this was the weapon. He killed whoever it was with this very shovel and then buried them. My breathing became heavy, and my hands began to shake. I stood up and slowly backed away, turning toward the door to make my escape, but I was frozen where I stood. “Did you find something that interests you, Kayla?” He stood there, just a few feet in front of me, with a smirk on his face. “Mr. Brown…I-I t-thought…” “Thought what? That I wasn’t home? Oh, my dear Kayla. It seems you were very sadly mistaken, doesn’t it?” He walked toward me slowly, and you could hear the weight with each step he took. Mr. Brown was an older man – thick, dark hair, dark eyes, with a million-watt smile and built like a football player, not someone I ever pictured as a murderer. “I won’t tell anyone, Mr. Brown! I swear! Please! Just don’t hurt me! Please!” I felt the tears begin to fall down my face as I cried and tried to turn quickly to escape. With

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two quick, swift steps, he was behind me and wrapped his bulky arms around my waist. “Now, now. I can’t have you leaving in the emotional state you’re in. You have found out far too much for me to let you go unscathed.” “PLEASE! LET ME GO! I WON’T TELL ANYONE! JUST LET ME GO!” I struggled to wrestle my way out of his grip and run away, but he was too strong. “You’re not going anywhere, Kayla! Not until I’m done with you!” He removed one of his arms from around my waist and punched me in the side. Feeling the power behind his punch knocked the wind out of me, and my knees buckled beneath me as I fell to the floor. “You hear me, you little bitch?! You’re going to be the next to go in the ground!” I felt his foot kick into my ribs, multiple times over. No matter how hard I tried to get away, I could not move from the position I was in. Finally, I felt the kicking stop, and I heard his footsteps get softer as he walked away from me. “What do you say we end this right now?” As my eyes fluttered open, I saw the reflection of the sunlight on the shovel go away, and I heard the scrape of metal running against the wall. I went to scream out for help, but no sound came out. I saw his body tower over me, gripping the shovel with both hands. “This is a familiar sight to see. My wife was in this same position before I killed her for spreading those AWFUL ‘lies’ about my cheating on her. Goodbye, Kayla. Say hello to my wife for me.” I heard those last words and then everything went white.

Yobana Graciano

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Eric Flores

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Amber Day

Major/Goals: I am an English major, and my future plan is to be a film editor. Favorite Author/Genre: Nicholas Sparks Describe your experience in ENG 221 - Writing Fiction: Professor Bailey-Kirby always wants what is best for her students, and she is always there with positive feedback, even if you do not deserve any. The biggest thing that I learned or had the most help with was point of view. She really helps you stay focused on your point of view because I used to switch point of view often in a story, and she also helped me by asking me questions about my story, so I could get better ideas. Also, when she gives you her feedback, it is the most in-depth feedback you will receive from a professor, so you can improve in many ways.

Just What I Needed by Amber Day I woke up this morning with my head pounding. As I rolled over to look at the beautiful woman I was married to for fifty-seven years, my heart broke all over again realizing the last six months have not been a dream. I looked at the picture of my beloved wife taken at her funeral and realized how dead I was inside. “It’s like this every morning,” I mumbled words aloud for the first time in a month. As I got out of bed, I walked out of the room passing by our closet doors that were mirrored doors. She loved to sit in front of them to do her make-up. She had to be sitting down to make it perfect. As I looked over in the mirror for the first time in what felt like forever, I realized I was losing some weight, but I still had my same old chicken legs. She used to make fun of me daily for them. I realized that since the death of my Annabell, I had lost my beer gut. I knew that my blue eyes had turned to gray eyes. I needed to find something to make them sparkle again. I also noticed the small amount of hair that I had before Annabell’s death was gone. I was finally bald. As I looked around my room I saw the same purple that her bridesmaids dresses were. Annabell always had the best taste in color scheme. The carpet was a dark purple. Our bed had a flower scheme of purple. I knew I could not get away from this purple. I thought to myself that maybe it was time for a change. Everything in our room was famine. The dresser was a mirror with shelving that had all of our family portraits on there since the kids were in diapers. I just wished she was still here to help me with my life. I needed guidance, the girls kept calling me and assumed that I could answer their questions, but I just couldn’t do that. “I can’t do this!” I yelled. “Maybe today is the day.” I left the bedroom because it reminded me too much of her, but as I walked down the hallway, I saw all of our wedding pictures, “God, was she beautiful.” I took a deep breath and continued walking to my man cave. I swear I could feel you walking behind me as you always did in the morning, he thought to himself.

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I went to my man cave, and she always made me coffee. I sat on my Lay Z Boy chair and felt her presence in the room. As I stared out the window, I swear I could feel her hands touch the front of my chest, where she always would stroke me when she brought me my coffee. I closed my eyes to picture her next to me. Finally, enough was enough, I knew deep in my heart hiding was not the way. I got up and walked down the hall way where all the kid’s pictures, four girls and one boy, were hung. I opened the front door to notice her perfect lawn was no longer perfect. Annabell dedicated so much time to this lawn. I said aloud to myself, “We have lived here for forty years, and these crazy kids in the neighborhood think they can just play hide and seek and run through my lawn all day.” It’s time to pull myself together. I walked with the small limp I had acquired through my struggling knee surgeries, to the garage and started up the lawn mower. It had not been started in what felt like a lifetime. As I traced the pattern in my head that she used to do, I realized how much she did for this house and how much I took her for granted. I needed the lawn to be nice. I needed to deal with this in my own way. When the lawn is back to its beautiful self, it will give me some satisfaction, and I will feel like I am getting through losing the woman of my dreams, I thought to myself. As I started up the lawn mower, I realized I had a lot of obstacles. Annabell had loved her lawn decorations. My personal favorite was the statue of the angel with a butterfly landing on the head. The angel made me think of her, and the butterfly was a new beginning. I bought her the statue the day our youngest daughter moved out of our home. I was afraid Annabell would feel as if her nest was empty, but it was the beginning of a new life for us. One of the young kids around the neighborhood ran right through my freshly cut yard. It made a fire in my gut. I screamed as loud as I could, “Hey, what do you think you’re doin’?” I wanted to strangle him. I watched him continue to run down the block wondering what he was running from. He ran around the corner, and I tried to forget what I just saw. I have never enjoyed living in my cul de sac, but Annabell loved this neighborhood. I looked back at the freshly cut grass and picked up the hose. I figured freshly cut grass could use an extra drink. Another kid a couple years older than the previous one flew down the block as fast as I had ever seen him run. His name was James, and when his first foot touched the grass, my instinct was to soak him. I lifted the hose up and drenched him as he continued to run. James looked right at me, “Mr. Allen! You just slowed me down!” and continued to run. I chuckled to myself for the first time in months. “I found my new hobby.” The oldest kid of the neighborhood, who I had known since his birth, came strolling down the block now. He saw me and froze. I think for Jack it was like seeing a ghost. “Mr. Allen. How are ya?” I nodded my head, “I’ve been better, but I have been worse.”

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I saw Jack grin. I was impressed with how he kept his composure. His mother did a great job raising him. All the kids in the neighborhood admired him and looked up to him. He continued to stroll down the block, and for giggles, I hosed him. “Mr. Allen, what are we going to do with you?” He laughed because Annabell used to say that to me daily when I would go outside just to mess with the kids. Jack and I were buddies. I believe he looked at me as a father figure. Jack grew up without a father in his life and needed someone to teach him how to use a screw driver, hammer, and other tools. “It was nice to see you, Jack,” I laughed, turned off the hose, and went inside. I found just what I needed. I needed to have some fun. I sat down on the couch and looked around the house. Not five minutes went by and the doorbell rang. I took a deep breath to answer the door. I was certain it would be the girls. I had been ignoring their phone calls for the last couple of days. I answered the door, and there stood all the neighborhood kids including Jack. “Get ‘em,” they hollered. As they raised their hands I saw, water buckets, water balloons and water guns. I was in for it. As the water poured all over my body, I laughed hysterically because it was just what I needed.

Kenneth Lamug

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Lauren Lourenco

Major/Goals: I have no major right now, but I plan to earn a degree in animation from the Art Institute and work for Disney some day. Favorite Author/Genre: Robert Thompson Describe your experience in ENG 221 - Writing Fiction: ENG 221 exposed me to ways of writing and ways to critique writing that I didn’t even know existed. It opened my eyes to new ways to express the stories that form in my head, what a successful scene needs, and how to analyze a scene for its content to learn from it and how to fix your own scenes. After reading many different styles of writing and ways to apply the skills taught in the class, I feel confident enough to come out of my comfort zone, as Mrs. Bailey-Kirby had us do, so my characters are more developed, I have a resolved plot, and I can handle flashbacks, which all seemed like very abstract ideas before I was shown how to do these things.

Bread by Lauren Lourenco I vaguely remembered my father saying that people of a higher status were taller because God favored them more, so God must really favor this one. Pop said God wanted to differentiate our social statuses, make sure that we knew our place- the lower class, all skin and bones with curved backs and frowns that nearly reached the ground. The lower class had black bags under their eyes and teeth with yellow holes and shoes that rubbed against the skin so much that there were sores. I could still remember the bitter tone in his voice. The dreary, soot-like clouds of London blocked any light that might have lit the streets of the monochromatic, dirty marketplace. Many mountebanks called to me and the many passersby as the sharply pungent scent of the poisonous Thames and floral perfume pierced the dust-filled air. I hurried, turning from street to street, constantly having to toss back my heavy blonde hair, which was so full of dirt that the curls tended to clump together and hang forward a bit. I saw, in one of the window panes, a bright smile not necessarily aimed at me. It was Bancroft, cleaning the windows of his family's quaint little bakery. His bright blue eyes were shining like they always did, even when we worked in the factories. He really made some progress this year. They bought all new tables and chairs and were working on replacing the dishes next. They even added molding and tile floors. It looked beautiful, and the bright reds and yellows really stood out on the street. The fresh coat of paint was his idea. I glanced at my muddy reflection in the window and sighed, straightening my shawl and turning slightly. I'd polished my boots and wore my dress with the least amount of holes. I wanted them to attract respectable customers. For right now, this was what it would take to get there. I would have to ask for a job so that I could be

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respectable. I stepped inside, immediately overwhelmed with the sweet smells of sugar and butter. They had endless counts of Italian breads, pastries, scones, and even some of the finest desserts you've ever seen. My stomach rumbled, and I struggled to focus my attention on Bancroft. He greeted me by name, thank goodness, as his grandmother, Miss Mildred, hobbled over to his side. Her pretty, flowery dress was loose against her skeleton-like frame, covered in careless stains. She wiped her fingers, covered in some kind of icing, on the skirt. “What do you want?” she whined. “You seem as though your shop is doing very well,” I said, straightening my dress. “And I was wondering, if you would need an extra hand around…” But she interrupted me. “We will not lower ourselves so much as to hire thieves. We've got a good, respectable business now,” she said, pointing her rolling pin at me menacingly. “Grandmother, Haveril is a good worker. She wouldn't steal from us,” said Bancroft to my defense. She threw her hands in the air. “Don't argue with your grandmother; look at her!” “Forgive me for being forward, miss, but I'm not a thief! I think, well, I'm hoping, if I can get a job, then maybe I could earn enough money that-” “Fine, but find a job somewhere else, rat!” “I can help you!”I insisted. She threw her rolling pin at me, and I ran out the door with my arms covering my head. I slipped on the icy stairs and tumbled down them. My back hit the wiry bars, and my legs landed on the sharp ledge. Bancroft stared at me helplessly through the window before rushing to his Grandmother's side. I pushed myself off the ground and hurried away from the bakery. I rushed down the streets. My boots hit the ground so hard that water splashed over them, and quick footsteps behind me. I felt a large hand gently take my arm. “Please wait. Are you all right? You're trembling,” said Bancroft. I looked up at him, and he released me. He looked so much older than me, although I believe we were of the same age. The factories must have really taken their toll on him. “I apologize for my grandmother's harsh treatment. She was like us once.” “What does that mean?” “She was poor, and near homeless. She worked in the factories when she was young, just like us. You are homeless now, aren't you?” “No,” I frowned. “I am fortunate.” He scanned me over with doubt. “Then why are you so desperate for this job?” “I'd like to be able to take care of myself, to be presentable.” He smiled with his lips upturned and crooked to one side. “What is it?” “You two are more alike than you think,” he said gently.

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I pulled away, taken aback. “You must forgive her, though. She has worked nearly half her life to earn the money to own this building and the other half to fill it with the things a bakery needs. If someone were to take from us,” he said, looking at me pointedly, “We would have nothing.” I nodded slowly, and he took a deep breath. “I've seen how hard you work,” he said and handed me a small roll of bread with a sweet-smelling glaze. “Here, you must be hungry.” He hesitated as I pulled my shawl tighter around myself, blinking back tears. “You should try to keep working there,” he said, stepping backwards, before he turned around and left me to my thoughts. I imagined having rolls of bread in my hands every day. He was right. If I could keep this job, I could have bread in my hands every day. If she doesn't want me to work there, then that's too bad. I'll make her need my help. “I will!” I promised myself. I walked away from the High Street, the street with the grand and colorful townhouses and shops and white fences with freshly cut shrubs. Each street was poorer than the next as I drifted farther and farther away from busy High Street. Laurel Street was my street, and the sun set quickly. It was a particularly bitter night. I shared a small house full of holes with my godfather and his family. It was probably one of the nicest houses in the neighborhood, equipped with cots, lots of blankets, a stove, and even a fireplace. Everyone was already asleep when I walked in, and I could hear the children's teeth chattering. I climbed into bed, grabbing one of the thin blankets before placing it over me. The wind that blew through the open window, however, lifted my blanket and slipped inside my sleeves. I shivered, my teeth aching. I tucked the blanket underneath me and curled myself into a tight ball so as to lessen the pain of my roaring stomach. When it was cold like this, my father used to sing his favorite hymn to me. He had this odd kind of voice. Mother often compared it to that of a dove and said that his voice cooed. I fell asleep quickly. The next morning I was already there before Miss Mildred, on my hands and knees scrubbing the dirty bakery floor. Bancroft worked tensely behind the bakery counter, helping the early birds who came to pick up their weekly breads and pastries as he dreaded the emerging of his sleeping grandmother. The first day that I did this, his grandmother didn't notice me – purposefully, I think. The second day, she might have knocked me over once or twice, claiming that she was too busy helping customers to see me. I made sure never to look up and speak to any of her customers. I wouldn't want her to scorn me for making a bad impression. However, on the third day, I felt a little more hopeful when she ordered me to clean the windows, but on the fourth day, I was in charge of picking up the chairs and stacking them on the tables to mop the floor again before closing. “You aren't getting a single penny,” she reminded me constantly, “Not a one. I don't owe you a single thing.”

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On the fifth day, I noticed that many customers had stopped to talk to her. I may have heard the words “Mop Girl” once or twice. She looked flustered, and I could have sworn she glared at me. I quickly diverted my eyes to the floor, using my own cleaning brush, which left bristles on the floor that I'd have to sweep up later. The last customers exited the shop, so I finished my scrubbing and began to stack the chairs in the near dark. I came to the bakery the next day with one of my godmother's dresses on. She had insisted that I wear nicer clothing if I'd found myself a job. She said it was important that I kept it. She also helped me style my hair this morning so that it was nicely pulled back, twisted on the sides. I arrived to the bakery a quarter of an hour later than I usually do and regretted it immediately. It was great to poke fun at the idea that she was upset that I wasn't there, however. “You are late!” She shouted. The bakery was occupied by the usual business of a bright weekend morning, but there was a distinguished group of older couples. “How dare you be late today!” she whispered harshly. It was the first time I'd heard her voice lower than a scream. “I'm sorry, miss,” I said quickly. As she stomped closer, she didn't look her normal, snooty self. She behaved even snootier than usual around the distinguished group who watched her carefully, although the clothes that they wore were very much the same. She had a beautiful red hat covered with white roses and a pink, frilled dress made of silk. “Oh, your hat is lovely, Miss Mildred,” I said politely, and she eyed me strangely. “Where did you get that dress? Did you steal it?” she asked. “This is my godmother's dress,” I said smiling, and with my eyebrow twitching, I added, “She insisted that since I was earning my wages at this lovely establishment, I ought to look the part, Miss.” She spluttered with surprise as an older gentleman in a sleek tuxedo strode to her side. “This must be the lovely Haveril. I am Colonel Moore,” he said kindly. I curtsied, and she scoffed at me. I suppose she was telling the truth when she said that the bakery was attracting respectable business now. “I've come back from traveling all around the world for almost thirty years, and I've heard so many wonderful things about this bakery. I have not been disappointed!” “Thank you,” started Miss Mildred. “It is a pleasure to meet you, sir,” I said while noticing Bancroft smile out of the corner of my eye. “Your scones are the best I've ever had, even better than my mum's!” he said joyfully to Miss Mildred and then turned to me as a woman about his age came and took his arm. “You always keep the shop so neatly that I have never seen a single crumb on the floor.” “Thank you, sir.” “Who is this?” the woman asked him.

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“Why, this is the keeper, I think.” “Forgive me, I did not recognize you. I never could see your face,” she said. Miss Mildred nodded, as if she approved of that statement. “You have fine employees, here, Miss Mildred,” she added while I stifled a guttural laugh as Miss Mildred’s face turned bright red. This was my chance. “Yes,” said Miss Mildred uncertainly. The couple turned to me as the rest of the crowd began to slowly migrate as one toward our little group. I realized for the first time how much taller they all were than me. I vaguely remembered my father saying that people of a higher status were taller because God favored them more. The Lord wanted to make sure that we knew our place- the lower class, all skin and bones with curved backs and frowns that nearly reached the ground and shoes that rubbed their feet until they bled. They were all very tall, except Miss Mildred. “You have always been here when I have come, no matter what hour,” she said with concern. “Surely you must be paid a decent salary?” Miss Mildred took my shoulders with sharp fingernails, and the group began to mutter when Miss Mildred said nothing, a few shaking their heads. “I am fortunate to be able to learn from this thriving business. I want to help it succeed; I think this could help all of us.” I said earnestly to the group, though it was directed at Miss Mildred whom I heard swallow hard. “I always thought she took the girl out of pity,” said Colonel Moore, “but the poor girl is receiving nothing in return!” “She was here for almost three shifts just two nights ago,” said Bancroft, and I nodded gratefully. “Miss Mildred, this isn't how you treat your employees, is it?” asked Mrs. Moore, “Especially one that does not seem to have much wealth to begin with.” They all peered at her expectantly through their spectacles as she seemed to struggle. We both saw that look on their faces. As of this moment, Miss Mildred was not one of them. If Miss Mildred could not even pay her own employees, she was in no place to be accompanied by this class of people. “Of course,” Miss Mildred bit her lip, “she receives fair pay for fair work.” I received a sudden burst of courage. “I receive eight shillings a week,” I negotiated by starting higher rather than lower. “I believe it is a bit closer to seven,” muttered Miss Mildred while I barely nodded, and she released my shoulders. “Good for you, young lady,” said Colonel Moore with a smile, as the distinguished group sighed with relief as one, smiling and going back to own their business. “Have a good day then!” he said with a hearty laugh as he led a sulking Miss Mildred out the door. I smiled widely, picking up my broom with slightly trembling hands and got back to work.

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Kenneth Lamug

Yobana Graciano

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Ulises Penaloza

Major/Goals: I am undecided about my major. Favorite Author/Genre: Romance Describe your experience in ENG 221 - Writing Fiction: Everyone was always very kind and welcoming, and Professor Bailey-Kirby knows how to push you to better yourself as a writer. All the feedback that she provided was constructive to your writing skills. It’s like she praises you for what you do well, and not only points out your mistakes, but she also gives you ways to fix them. She gives you the challenge to improve the writer you are today without ever making you feel inferior. Instead, she meets you eye to eye and constantly reminds everyone that we all still have much to learn as writers. She is a very dedicated teacher that makes this class enjoyable and the great learning experience that it is.

Through the Eyes of a Child by Ulises Penaloza It was the end of the school day, and Ms. McCormick held us in line along the wall waiting for our parents. I was on my tippy toes, and my head snapped back and forth searching for Aunty Jazz. The shoes she always wore made her a lot taller than all the moms that came to pick up their kids. Her bright clothes made her stand out too. None of the other moms dressed like her either. Whenever she came, everyone always opened up a path that let her move easily through the crowd. So within seconds, I saw her smiling face, knowing she had seen me long before. With a beaming smile, I ran to Ms. McCormick, tugging at her hand with as much excitement as I felt. “You see your aunt, David?” “Yes, Ms. McCormick!” My finger pointed directly at my Aunty. With a quick high five, I was released to meet my aunt. She welcomed me with the warm hugs that only she knew how to give. “Stay out of trouble now.” I turned to reply but found her looking at my aunt with a face that looked as if she had eaten something sour. “We will say bye to your teacher now, sweety.” “Bye Ms. McCormick!!” My hand flailed in the air as we began to walk away. “See you tomorrow David.” Once again a path began to open up for us as we left the school. Some of the people looked toward us as if we had done something bad. But when I looked up at Aunty, she didn’t seem to notice. She met my eyes a few times, but there would always be a smile on her face. So like her, I didn’t pay attention to their glances. They were probably just jealous because she was really beautiful. All three of my aunties were so pretty! “Aunty Jazz?” “What is it, Honey?” “Do you like being tall?”

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“Why do you ask?” Some giggling escaped her as she focused her attention on me. “Well, you always wear those shoes, but I don’t think you’re short.” I tried to comfort her with gentle rubs on the back of her hand and a big smile. “Really? You don’t think I’m too short?” I shook my head as an immediate response. “Well, just in case, I will keep wearing them. More boys think I am pretty this way too!” “Is that why cars are always honking?” Her eyebrows moved together as if she was going to frown, but the smile stayed on her lips. “Yes that’s why they are always honking.” The railroad crossing was up ahead which meant that there was only one block to go before we would be home. We lived in the best side of town. All the buildings around our house were covered with lights. And inside they had machines that would give you money if you made the lights on it flash. The machines must give a lot of money too because there are always people playing the games they have. I always wanted to try and win money, but everyone always said I was too small to play those kinds of games. “Anyways, did anything exciting happen in school today?” I stayed quiet for a moment thinking where to begin. There was the constant click-clack from my aunt’s shoes stepping next to me. I couldn’t decide what was the most exciting part of the day was, and then I remembered the seeds we planted! “When we first went inside class, we got to see our seeds that we planted the other day and guess what?” “What?” “Small leaves began to grow out of the dirt, no wait, soil! And there were lots of...umm…ROOTS growing all over the bottom of the cup!” Her eyes grew wide and twinkled like marbles. “Let’s hurry so you can tell Beatrice and Sophia what happened to your seeds!” I bolted ahead of her. When I could see the house, I began to run even faster thanks to my lucky shoes. The few things that I had in my backpack were smacking around along with the steps that I took. “Sophie! Aunt Beatrice! I’m home!” I rushed through the door and found Sophie coming down the stairs. “What’s with all the noise, twerp?” “Sophie!” I flew towards her with open arms. But she only stood there like always. She did pat my head, gently running her fingers through my hair. “Just calm down already, and don’t smile so much. You already scared away enough people without both of your front teeth missing.” My only reaction was to pull away and stick my tongue out. “Come here, get a little closer, and stick your tongue out again!” Luckily, the door opened, letting Aunty Jazz in. Before it was too late, I ran and hid myself behind her. “Sophie, stop picking on David.” Again I stuck my tongue out at her, and she did the same. “Come on, let’s go say hi to Beatrice, so you can go up to your room and we can open up the store.”

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“Do I have to stay up there while the store is open? I promise that I will be good and won’t make a lot of noise!” My eyes grew big and pleading. It was my secret puppy dog eyes that could help me get anything! “No, you already know that when the store is open, you have to be upstairs.” “Wait! My teacher said that this Thursday was Career day, and all the kids can bring their parents, so they can tell everyone about their job! Do you think that you guys could come?” She walked for a moment as if she didn’t hear me. “Do you think-” She interrupted me, and I let a pout cover my face. “Beatrice, there you are, we’re back.” Aunt Beatrice was standing in the doorway wearing the same shoes as Aunty Jazz. Does she feel too short too? “Hello David,” She kneeled down, drawing me into her arms. The perfume she wore smelled really sweet, but it made my head hurt after a while. “What’s the matter, with a face like that, I’d say you had a bad day at school?” “No, but Aunty Jazz won’t answer my question.” When I turned to her, she had the same smile as before that made me think she was sad. “And what is your question?” “Ms. McCormick said that Thursday is Career day, and all the kids are going to bring their parents to class to tell everyone about their jobs, and I don’t want to be the only one who doesn’t take anyone, so can you guys come with me?” None of them said anything for what felt like a long time. Sophie only sighed. “David, I don’t think that is a good idea.” There was a stinging in my eyes as tears slowly began to fill them. “B-but…all the other kids…” I dropped my head so that they wouldn’t see me cry. “Why don’t you guys just go with me?” I was going to run away, but I heard the heavy footsteps coming our way, so instead I shot up and tried wiping away my tears. I saw the three of them surround me. Sophie put her hand on my shoulder and squeezed tightly. “What are you guys doing here?! The bar is about to open!” Our eyes met then. His eyes grew narrow, and his eyebrows furrowed. His mouth remained the same; the frown on his fish like lips was always the same. “What is this brat doing here crying like a little girl?” I grabbed onto Sophie’s leg as she pulled me closer. “I’m pretty sure you don’t give a damn about that!” “Sophie’s right, we’ll take care of things here and be out by the time you have the bar open. The other girls haven’t even got here yet.” It always scares me to hear Scary Jazz, even if it wasn’t meant for me. “Anything that happens in this house is my business! Now once again, why is this brat crying!?” “He wanted to know why we can’t go with him to school and tell everyone about our job.” I’d never seen Mr. Valentino smile, but now I knew that it was much worse than his normal frown. He looked like an angry dog, showing his teeth to scare an enemy away. His chuckling – a laugh best for the villain of a horror movie – only gave me goose bumps.

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“Listen here kid, ain’t nobody want to hear what these girls do for a living! They’re the type of scum most people want exterminated. Its best to leave these girls doing what they do best, FU-“ “That is enough Archie! I think David has had enough of your insight. David, it’s time for you to get to your room; come on, I’ll walk you there. Sophie you should finish getting ready. Let’s go David.” “I’ll go with you.” “Jezebelle! Go make sure things are ready in the bar! Don’t let that kid make you forget that you bitches still have work to do!” I ignored the pain that shot through my arm as I dug my nails into the palms of my hands, and I didn’t try to hide the angry tears that ran down my face. Then quickly I ran up the spiral staircase following Aunt Beatrice. The only distraction came from the same click-clack of her heels, constant, comforting, helping to calm the anger inside of me. After a few moments, the anger was gone, but the hate I felt towards him did not go away. So I diverted my attention to the hallway that I knew so well. There weren’t many rooms on this side of the house as there were on the other side of the house. The first one we passed led to Beatrice’s room. Further along, there was a window where you could look out at night to see all the pretty lights on the buildings. It is the only thing that gave this hallway a bit of light. The next room we passed belonged to Sophie. She had painted her door a bright red. Next was Aunty Jazz’s room, where I would constantly sneak away to whenever the darkness felt too scary. Finally, it was my room. Aunt Beatrice stopped in front of it. “Remember, you are not allowed to go downstairs after this. One of us will come and bring you some food later, okay?” I only had the strength to nod. There was a lump in my throat that wouldn’t let me talk. “Make sure you don’t spend all your time watching television either, work on your homework as well.” She reminded me of my forgotten backpack that I still wore. “Mhmm.” “David, don’t worry about what Archie said; he is just a sour apple. What he meant to say is that many people don’t understand why we choose the work that we do.” “But it’s not bad is it? You told me that you just help the people who come here have fun.” “We do, but lots of people don’t like the games that we play.” “What do you mean?” She gave me that same smile as Aunty Jazz. “David, a lot of people don’t understand why we choose this job.” Their job wasn’t bad, and even if it was, they took good care of me.” Honey, it’s like, you know those movies with that Jezebell? The ones where the boy always lives happily ever after with the girl?” “Yeah,” I didn’t understand why she would bring up those things now. “They’re like best friends. But sometimes, there are boys who don’t find a girl to live happily ever after with, or maybe they haven’t found her yet. So they come here, so we could be their best friends.”

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“Why? Why is that bad?” I squeezed onto her dress pleading for an answer “Lots of people think that girls shouldn’t have so many best friends, so they don’t like people like us.” I didn’t try to hide the frown on my face. “Do you understand now David?” “Just a little bit,” I tugged on my shirt while looking down at the ground. “Well, we’ll talk more about this tomorrow, okay?” “Okay,” With a quick kiss on my forehead, she click-clacked her way down the hall. Click-clack, click-clack, click-clack. “Wait! Aunt Beatrice!” “Yes” “You don’t have to wear those shoes all the time, I don’t think you’re short, and you are pretty enough without them!” “Thank you David!” The sweetness in her voice warmed my heart. Slowly I opened the door to my messy room. Other people probably felt jealous that they couldn’t find as many friends. So I shrugged away the bad things Archie said and looked around my room. I could play with the toys all over the floor, or watch T.V., but instead, deciding that the tears I cried had left me a bit tired, I crept under the blankets and fell fast asleep.

Melissa Jeralds

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Goals: My major is journalism, but I plan to be the ruler of the world as well as make documentaries. Favorite Author/Genre: The Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole Describe your experience in ENG 221 - Writing Fiction: I went into this class not knowing how to write fiction, and now, I can say that I wrote a comprehensive tragedy: “The Star Spangled Banner”. Thanks to my professor! Not once did I ever have a writing professor spend so much effort and time into helping me correct my writing. She does make you a better writer, and I learned to work on my grammar and I fixed my forced ending. (Note: This story was part of a four part serial publication.) Lauren Chaves

The Star Spangled Banner by Lauren Chaves Max tugged on one of his three shirts and cleaned his spotted glasses with the least dirty corner of his shirt. Then, he pulled up his jeans that sat next to his bed and pulled the belt tight against his skinny skeleton – all the while looking at his Kurt Cobain poster, and wondering if the rebellious fuck ever found his freedom. He thought American History teachers must be the most disillusioned children in the world because they were always chanting, “And on the field of Gettysburg they fought for the freedom of slaves.” Well, Max learned that freedom is an illusion. He only felt free for a few hours after fifteen beers and a blunt. Someone was always trying to control him, but one day it would end. With a shrug, he shook away his deep thoughts and looked around his messy room, thinking if he forgot anything. He looked at the desk and saw the crystal he had traded his weed for Natasha. The majesty of this crystal was found in its beauty. He would tell Natasha it came with special healing powers, and hopefully, she would eat up his lie. He carefully placed the crystal in his pocket, waddled through the dirty laundry on the floor in his room to find his hat. On the way to the door, he avoided his reflection in the mirror, taped on the wall; he only felt confident when he wore a hat. Max lived in a middle class Massachusetts two-story house with a basement. The basement was converted into a spare bedroom with no parents allowed. Then, Max walked upstairs to the kitchen. He saw his mother and father sitting at the breakfast table. His French mother politely asked, “Maxine, would you like a croissant?” Still holding strong to her French roots, they had only just moved to Massachusetts six years ago. His father’s head hung almost as if by a thread over a bowl of cereal, burping up last night’s whiskey and coke. He was very much Irish. His mother sat poised with the New York Times and a plate of fruit. The morning light painted her

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in a hue of heavenly gold, which is only reserved for those who can match that same beauty internally. Max looked straight into her blue eyes, “Merci Ma, but I’ll figure something out later.” “Okay Maxine, tell Jack I say hello.” “Yes, I love you.” All his father had to add to the conversation was the most egregious burp. He saw spews of oil and gases circulate in the air. Max didn’t think much of his father who was just a stand in fuck up. Max dubbed him, “Father Fate,” because he could throw a wrench at you or throw a wrench in your plans. He turned to the door where he left his skateboard and grabbed it. On the street, he threw his skateboard ahead of him and ran to meet it, a collision of force. He wanted to be far from the cul-de-sac of cracked driveways and rusted fences. Mr. Wallace was watering his grass into what would soon be a mud puddle. Wallace waved, but Max wasn’t feeling it, not after last night, so he flipped him the middle finger. His dick swelled with pride. Max wanted to return to college, staying at home for the summer seemed juvenile, and he hadn’t found his equal back at home as he had in college. Max missed late nights with Natasha, drunken brawls, pranks, and snowball fights; he was ready for the summer to be over. Everyone at home was still knocking the same Nike’s they had since high school because they would rather spend their money on a stamp of heroin. It was their choice, it’s not like he hadn’t done it, but at least, he was going to school. Although he was getting drunk, he was getting by with okay grades. He skated past a Dunkin Donuts towards Jack’s house. There was always something going on there, so why not participate. He saw the run down shotgun house surrounded by a metal fence that was leaning to the left. He wondered what Natasha was up to. *** The pinks and greens of neon lighting hid the grease and blood stains from last night’s fight. This was Las Vegas, so never trust the headlines because it is never as safe as they report it to be. Natasha was participating as she always did in the frivolity in her hometown, never enjoying pure freedom, because who could be truly free around people who cared too much about what they looked like or behaved. Natasha was a fan of act now and think about it later, but her friends in Las Vegas thought she was a tad insane. Many times, she thought if only Max was here, they would understand her. Perhaps, then she would convert them over to what true pleasure was. She sat on a prickly bench in the back of a bar watching her high school friends huddle around each other. She traversed and sunk her hands tight into her leather jacket, not wanting to touch any of these duplicitous people. A few more whiskey doubles, and she’d have the whole crowd beat. A boy-man with pubic stubble approached her at the bar, “Hey would you like to play a game with me?” She looked him up and down. His hands were empty. He didn’t have a can of spray paint, crow bar, nor a Nerf gun. The finishing touch was that the

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light behind his iris’s seemed dull; she already knew he had nothing to offer. “And what game would that be?” “Hide and seek.” She rolled her eyes and decided she had to let him down easy, “Well, see now I can already tell by your tight jeans and vest that you shop at Urban Outfitters, and you isn’t a crip, but really what I’m looking for tonight is to put a dildo up a crip’s corn hole, and honey, you ain’t it.” She felt so asexual recently, that all she had were bitter comebacks for any suitors at a bar. The boy-man still had his confidence and moved on to his next victim. She walked her drink back to the huddle where this new girl asked her if she’d like to go to Arizona. Her name was Randy from Washington. Randy tried to play the pseudo hippy card even though she used to be a former meth head. “Alright, anything to get out of this dump, so count me in. What are we doing?” Randy jostled her weight of scarves and jewelry around and yelled over the music, “To see Mimosa and to try this new drug out called DOC.” The music bumped louder and her short dirty dreads moved to the beat. *** Max felt the grips of the skateboard as he took it up off the ground and knocked on Jack’s door. Max was patted on the back and guided to a chair at the dining room table, where he saw lines of Ketamine cut out on a mirror. He took the straw and did what was expected. He drifted off into a warm psychedelic trip. Max didn’t even notice the new girl in the bunch. Her name was Lizzie, and she was currently engaged to Jack. Everyone sat watching as Max rolled his head around. Max came fifteen minutes later. He focused on Lizzie’s round Asian face, “Who are you?” Lizzie assertively said as if it had always been, “Jack’s fiancé.” Max passed the mirror and Ketamine to his friend Mike, sitting to his right. Max trying to cope with the sudden news, remembered his manners excitedly, and exclaimed while grabbing her hand, “Well, congratulations, Jack is a lucky man, and I can’t wait to get to know you. Where do you come from?” “Massachusetts first, but I just came back from living in China for four years.” She let her facade slip, and she scratched her arm. “Well Max, would you like a beer,” Lizzie asked, “I hear you’re leaving soon for school?” Lizzie looked bored and sick, she began to pick at the tablecloth, but she concealed her addiction like a pro. The key to hiding addiction is to dress conservative, and society will still think you’re a goddamn virgin. Max looked down at the dirty tablecloth with some hardened noodles that clung to it, “I still have a week left, but we can always celebrate something, Merry Christmas?” Mike was sitting next to him, and he went to Saint Michael’s college, too, but he wasn’t Natasha. He secretly wanted Max alone and drunk. Mike could not scare Max away; he was still a good friend. They were roommates once, but they fought too much. They fought over the stereo, drugs, booze, everything, but it could all boil down to the sexual tension Mike tried so hard to create. Max never returned the heat. It

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angered Max that Mike’s father would not allow Mike to come out of the closet. Out of courtesy for Mike’s homophobic father, who knew he was gay, he kept his posters of half naked girls taped on his bedroom walls. Max liked to think of Mike’s father as “A Hard boiled Mass-hole.” Mike chipped in, “You should meet my new guy.” Max’s older brother was gay; therefore, he knew what it was like for someone to explore his sexual options for the first time. It was always trouble. Mike continued, “He is thirty-five years old, and he buys me all the booze I want.” “Ugh older guys? You can do so much better. He is really just trying to take advantage of someone new to the game.” Mike looked semi-ashamed because it was new for him to even breach the subject of male partners. “He gets me booze though,” he whined. Max looked Jack in the eye, wondering if this news disturbed him as much as it did him, but apparently not. Jack grabbed Lizzie’s hand and announced, “Well, we are off to the methadone clinic. We will be back soon, beer and vodka in the fridge.” The door slammed behind them. It was the only noise they made. Max looked towards Mike, “I miss the old Jack” “You mean pre-heroin? When he was cheated on by his girlfriend of three years at Saint Mike’s? Considering my predicament Max, I’d say it’s better to not live a lie.” “He used to brush his hair and smile, Mike. You’re a hypocrite. You’ll go back in the closet once we go back to school. I still can’t believe his girlfriend gave him acid to tell him that she also gave him herpes.” Max walked to the fridge and opened it. Staring at the frosty Pabst Blue Ribbons made him miss Natasha even more. The neon lights were called upon again to hide the bloodstains as a fight broke out at the bar. Natasha’s new acquaintance said, “Hey punk, we are leaving tomorrow. Let’s leave this joint before the police come.” Natasha got in her car and followed Randy to her house a few streets from the bar. In the kitchen, she met Randy’s mother. Randy’s mother had pockmarks all over her face, and Natasha wondered if meth had been a family activity. Randy’s mother’s tits seemed to bulge everywhere. Randy was bulky, but Natasha had never seen a woman comfortable with stowing away her own tits in her armpits. Upon seeing Randy trying to shuffle off to her room, she said, “GIIIIIRRLL, I finally gots a job we can get your teef capped. You’s gunna be on my insurance.” Randy looked enthused, “Well, heck yes, Ma, I knew you could do it! This is my new friend Natasha.” “Awww Natasha, you call me Ma. You’s skinny; you’s needs food. How come you only like to wear the color black? What’s wrong with this one Randy?” Natasha became dizzy with the incoherent babble, and she started to wonder what she had gotten herself into. She had presumed that Randy had good drugs. This was why she was here, but this was not blissful ignorance. This was torture. “Well, thanks Ma, but no thanks.” “Where’s your lady’s room?” Natasha always found it the best way to avoid parents.

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“That be in Randy’s room, down the hall to the left.” As Natasha turned for the bathroom, she could hear an audible fart noise emanate from the sound of the compression of flesh sloshing in sweat coming from Ma’s armpit. She made it to a green bathroom where she saw makeup scattered over the counters and period stained underwear on the green linoleum floor. Not much better, but at least I don’t have to converse with that monster of a woman thought Natasha. She took the time to call her parents and leave a sugar coated voicemail, “Hey, I’m going to Arizona for a few days. I’ll be back in time for school, so don’t worry. I love you.” Natasha wished fat Randy could magically turn into Max, but that wasn’t the case. *** Max let himself into his house where his dad still sat at the kitchen table, but he replaced the cereal bowl with a bottle of whiskey and a wine chaser. “So Max, are you going to tell me where the fuck your laptop has been all summer? Don’t think I haven’t noticed that it’s missing. Did you fucking pawn it for drugs?” Max began to heave with anger. “No, I fucking told you at the beginning of the summer. Some kid stole it at school!” “How the fuck am I supposed to believe that someone would steal a laptop from a kid at one of the richest east coast schools in the country?” “Fine, don’t fucking believe me. I don’t give two fucks. I’m out of your life in a week, piss off.” Max shook with anger, caught his father’s beady eyes in the dark, and reached for his father’s golfing shoes by the front door. He clutched the shoe all the while not losing his father’s gaze and threw the golfing shoe toward the bay window. Shards of glass landed all over the sofa and carpet of the living room. Max dropped the shoe, and succinctly turned towards the basement. At least those golfing shoes have been used for something in the past ten years. In his basement, he opened his sock drawer for his bottle of Xanex and ate two to relax. Kurt Cobain was lifeless in the dark, but he probably would have agreed with Max. Max grabbed his phone and rang Natasha because her voice always put him at ease. “TASHA, I HATE FATHER FATE.” “Hey Max, what’s up?” “Father Fate is fucking up my happiness again. What are you doing?” “I’m currently sitting in a green bathroom, but what happened with your asshole dad?” “He noticed that my computer was missing.” “Fuck Max, we are fucking taking a baseball bat to that kid’s knees. I swear on Jimmy Hendrix’s grave! I still can’t believe he took your computer because you owed him forty dollars. Like hello, he is the richest fucking kid in the school. It’s like no one realizes that life isn’t a fucking videogame. It’s like let’s pretend I’m a drug cartel today and fuck with the poor kids.” “Yeah man, it sucks. I just don’t want my mom to find out, and that fucking asshole probably lost my laptop by now. He doesn’t even answer my calls anymore.”

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“Well Max, he is going to answer to me. Don’t you worry! You are getting a laptop.” “You always know that violence soothes me to sleep. Goodnight Tasha.” “Goodnight Max.” Max quickly drifted to sleep and wrestled in a nightmare. He was stuck in the maze from The Shining, trying to find Natasha, but he couldn’t The next morning with the sun and sand pouring in on them, Randy ended up packing her car up with three whole suitcases. Randy turned, saying, “Natasha, are you sure you don’t want to go home to grab some clothes?” “Not really, we are only going to be gone a few days. I’m not worried; you seem to have enough clothes to clothe an entire acting troupe.” Randy snorted a laugh, “I die. Your sarcasm is to dieeeee for.” Natasha asked one question, “So what’s DOC?” Randy’s answer had been so long winded and patronizing that she ended her answer two hours into the road trip, “Yeah, so that’s DOC, so you excited?” “I can handle it, I think.” If Max can handle his predicament, she can handle a little psychedelic. Max awoke to his mom prodding him, “So you broke the window in a hell-bent fury Maxine. You must not let your anger get a hold of you, or you will just turn out like your father, whom I think you despise. Although he is your father, I believe somehow maybe you love each other.” Max contorted his face, so his mom would not see the tears in his eyes because he believed that his mother deserved a perfect family. “Your right mother, I apologize for the window. I will have it fixed at once.” It was as if life had shoved a walnut down his throat. He felt terrible over upsetting his mother. He decided that he would cry in the shower, and perhaps the walnut would shrink in size. Later, at Jack’s, they decided to drive into Boston to see their friend Tony for the night. Jack had seen the anger on Max’s face when he slammed the door to his house that afternoon. “J Fucking P Morgan laid me off because they’re capitalist motherfuckers, and now I have to dip into my very limited school fund to pay to fix my parent’s living room window.” “Whoa man, calm down! Let’s have a guy’s night and go and see Tony and get drunk.” Jack had left his fiancé a stamp of heroin. Max watched her as she curled up on the couch and ignored them as they left for Tony’s. Tony always made everything better probably because the kid had foresight to ask for a trampoline for his rooftop for Christmas one year. He had lived in the same apartment building in Southie Boston his whole life. “Max, my man, you looking good for the lady’s tonight, and first things first, I got some incoming freshmen from Northeastern, don’t ask me how I talked them into coming to Southie, but you must meet’em.” “Thank God for dumb Midwesterners,” sighed Max.

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Tony handed Max a beer while seamlessly chatting him up and moving him next to a perky blonde named Stacie. “Hey, I’m Max.” “Stacie.” “Where are you from Stacie?” “Well, we all say YA’All ALLOTT, so take a guess Max.” “This one is truly tough Stacie. Wow, you’re just a natural quiz show giant,” sardonically sassed Max. “I’m actually studying to be a doctor.” “Okay, I’m gonna guess Texas.” “OH My God, you’re so cultured Max,” shrieked Stacie. “The freshmen boys are sooooo dumb.” Max wondered is Texas part of the West or the Midwest? Either way this girl was so dumb she just had to be easy. He would ask Natasha later. *** Dust hit the car from all sides. Natasha truly loved the desert for its lonesome quality, but Randy was ruining every atom of it. Randy was very controlling; therefore, she was both the driver and the navigator. Resulting in an eight-hour long drive in what should have been a quick four-hour long drive. Natasha had met the nemesis of her free-wheeling lifestyle, and it was Randy. “See if I just stick my GPS out the window, I know we will get a satellite connection, man.” At this point, Natasha and Randy were actually in Tempe. It was just a matter of finding her friend’s apartment. Suddenly, Randy dropped the GPS in the middle of the road, “Fuck, I’m stopping to get that. I don’t care if I die doing it.” “Well, I don’t want to die trapped in this junk car in the middle of a busy intersection because you’re a fucking fool,” yelled Natasha. They didn’t talk until they knocked on the door of her friend’s apartment because Natasha needed a beer. The vacation was revived because Randy’s friends seemed to be infinitely more relaxed than Randy. The DJ, Mimosa, was playing in an hour; therefore, Natasha had to drink and relax fast. The apartment was small with an obtrusive mural of some basketball team on the wall. My god at least put up a poster of your favorite band, she thought as she looked upon it in disgust. “So you don’t like the mural? It’s okay my fucking dad put it up and surprised me with it when I was moving in. Hi, I’m Alicia. I think it’s fair game if we all admit that we have daddy issues.” “My god, a sense of humor, I was this close to doing the most depraved things for laughter during that stressful drive.” “I would have endorsed it.” Randy came over with sour patch candies that had the DOC dripped on it. Natasha held out her hand and popped it in her mouth, chewed, and swallowed it with a beer. Alicia asked, “Would you like a line of coke,” while leading her to the bathroom. “I like how you already know that I was going to say yes. If I had said no, would you have made me do it against my will?” “Yes, I would have held you at gunpoint with a water gun.”

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“I like you Alicia because you’re a good hostess.” Alicia looked beautiful in the mirror’s reflection while cutting out the lines with a precision usually allocated to the military. She had dark uncombed hair; she could have been mistaken for an early Pat Benatar. Natasha looked at her reflection. She wore a slight smile when she sometimes found people who reminded her of Max, but still not the real deal. *** Max asked Tony in a whisper, “Yo, have you ever been interrupted by one of your neighbors when fucking on the trampoline on top of your roof top?” “Nah, it’s completely fuckable after one in the morning.” “Thanks, I believe Stacie has had enough watermelon vodka in her.” “Seriously, she is beyond retrieval, but it’s not like there was much there beforehand.” “Hey Tony, do you happen to have a rubber?” “I ran out last night and never made it to the drug store today, my bad Max.” Max headed out of the apartment towards the roof top access, and Stacie dutifully followed. Her breasts were worth the hour and half long conversation and what a rush to be fucking on a trampoline. He needed to please his flesh, and Stacie was it for the moment as he came all over her perfect breasts. Then, the worry set in, when he thought, I didn’t wear a fucking condom! Max looked at Stacie, who was still astonished that she had cum on her, “You’re clean, right?” “Well, that’s an absurd question; of course, I am.” “When was the last time you were checked for STD’s?” “Well, I don’t know Max. I don’t sleep around. You have to believe me.” Max worried and thought of his poor brother six years into his HIV treatment. He was smarter than this, fucking Midwesterners! *** The city of Tempe reminded Natasha of Randy a fake hippy town with something sinister to hide. Randy insisted on driving and parking because she didn’t want to spend the extra five bucks on a taxi. Randy chose to park outside Yellow Mellow Mushroom Pizza, “Hehe, we’re high, and that’s mushroom pizza.” “True, love the connection, but what if we get towed? I’m broke.” “It’s too late for them to tow.” “You are always right Randy.” Alicia and the others were waiting outside the club for them. Alicia’s eyes smiled and enveloped her into a kaleidoscope of colors. Natasha nudged Alicia, “By god, I love girls with green eyes.” “Well, then just stick with me, babe.” Natasha followed Alicia by the hand. Every light streamed by her in slow mo as they entered the club. Once inside, Natasha noticed the ceiling had magically grown ten stories. Shit I was Merry Prankstered by the evil Randy she realized. Her goal

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became to find the sphinx with the green eyes. Alicia was waiting patiently for her to notice her on the dance floor. Natasha’s apprehension had dissipated like beads of mercury shattering on the dance floor. Natasha and Alicia danced leaving traces with their fingertips. Alicia grabbed Natasha and brought her to the bar. There was a mirror behind the bar, and immediately as Natasha set her eyes on it, it shattered into a million pieces and moved into a new design as it felt like it. “Cool huh,” said Alicia. “Oh so I’m not alone on this drug escapade?” “No, but as always, it’s too strong, and she gives us no warning.” “We just like her drugs, not really her, but this time she took it too far.” “I came for the drugs and music. I really just met her last night.” Randy sat on a bar stool with her hood up a shadow stricken across her face. She was watching them come to the realization that we were her guinea pigs. Only she had the remote control for this demented show, and she reveled in her power. After the show, Natasha and Randy walked to where the car was parked, but it wasn’t there. Natasha thought it’s almost as if Randy had planned the worst night ever just to torment her. Natasha checked for a sign and found one immediately that said, “Tow Zone, Call 1-800-666-6666 for retrieval $150 fine for out of state vehicles.” “Financially fucking speaking Randy, I can’t even afford half of that, and I told you it was a tow zone.” Natasha saw a taxi zooming past them and shoved her dress over her head to flag it down “What the fuck are you trying to do? Get arrested for public nudity?” “No, I’m getting us out of this fucking dump now, so get in the fucking taxi.” Once in the taxi, “So Natasha, you have no funds to contribute to bailing the car out?” “No, I have to save for college in a week. You know a $42,000 loaned out education.” “Well, you’re helping me out with the fine, or you’re going to miss your first week of school.” Natasha turned and glared at Randy’s pug face, “Fuck you, I will figure something out, you cowardly fat ass.” The taxi driver chimed in, “Where would you gals like to go.” “I’d rather be in Somalia right now.” “The Q Building on Empire Street,” Randy screamed as she dialed the tow company. PART II “Max McKee your results are in, and the doctor will see you. Just go down the hallway, and his office is to the left.” Max’s head hung low as he shuffled through the fluorescently lit hallway and entered his doctor’s office. Max sat down in a cracked brown leather chair. He stared at his doctor in the face, “All right doc, what is it? Am I clean?”

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“Yes, you’re clean, Max, but do I need to remind you that you must use a condom, first of all you can’t even live with the guilt past a week, and you’re an anxious mess.” “Well, why the hell did you call me down here? Why didn’t...you just like tell me a better way I thought for sure I had something.” “To talk to you about your mental health, you have some qualities associated with anxiety.” “Duh, after having seen my brother contract HIV by some rich Bosnian, who writes him a 30,000 dollar check a month in exchange for shortening and ruining the quality of his life. Why wouldn’t I come in here every time I forget to wear a condom? Let’s not get caught up in that story, but are you going to prescribe me something?” “10 milligrams of Xanex as needed 60 of ‘em. Please take them wisely.” “Thanks Doc.” His parents were waiting in the car outside in the parking lot. His things for school were packed in the back. He had his parents drive him two hours from Massachusetts to Vermont where he said his goodbyes to them. “Au’ve Maxine, I will miss you, be good,” as his mother gave him kisses. His father gave him a handshake, “Goodbye.” Now all he had to worry about was how to pick Natasha up from the airport without a car. She didn’t have the money to take a taxicab. He would worry about tacking up his Kurt Cobain poster on his dorm walls later. *** Natasha waited for her parents to park the car. Her dad worked at the airport, so he was allowed to go to the gate with her. He worked with TSA, so not only did she hate him, but the rest of America did too. “You sure you have everything sweetie,” her mom pleaded. “Yup!” “Natasha, I really do wish you didn’t dress so manly. You look homeless.” “Thanks Mother.” A swarm of giddy tourist threatened to pull apart their small family. “Kay Natasha, let’s get this thing over. No liquids in your carry on? That would be mighty embarrassing in front of my superiors. His own daughter not knowing any better!” “Of course, everything is to code, el Diablo,” she whispered the last part. Little did he know, Natasha had what were called yellow school buses (2 milligram of Xanex bars) smuggled in her bra? They went to the ticket counter, and as Natasha showed her ID so did her dad, then her mother, “She’s mentally challenged as you can tell. She needs my assistance to the gate along with her father’s help.” Her mother had trouble letting go, and every time it was a new excuse. Natasha gave her best impersonation, “Mommy, me love you big times”. Her parents thought that she was still sixteen-years-old, but at least, they were naïve.

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At the gate, her mother silently wept, “I love you, call anytime, good luck at school, and study hard.” Her dad turned to her and gave her a quick hug, “Stay out of trouble.” She looked back as she started down the tunnel towards the plane. She felt such an emotional pull towards her mother as their eyes locked. She turned her head, and her hair was in her way. She couldn’t make out the shape of her father, but he had always been a blurry character in her life anyway. She was off for Vermont…for college…for the comfort of Max. *** On the plane, she popped the Xanex, and put in her headphones. Nirvana played as the stewardess went over safety precautions. As the plane departed from the gate, she received a text from Randy, “Bitch, you still owe me for that DOC.” Natasha rolled her eyes and thought how greedy drug dealers are, which Randy proved to be very greedy in Arizona. After Randy had dialed the tow company in the cab, Natasha grabbed the phone from her, “Where the fuck do you get off taking our car? The deal is that I will come over and fuck you for 250 dollars. Now the extra 150 dollars is because I’m pissed you towed my car.” “All right, we’re based in Phoenix.” “So you’re telling me I have to pay a cab to drive me that 45 minutes out of away from Tempe. That’s going to be 275 dollars for a fuck now. What’s the address?” “689 Desert Rd, Phoenix, Arizona” “We will be there in a little bit.” “Okay, taxi driver, we need to go to 689 Desert Rd, Phoenix, Arizona, and there’s a tip if you say nothing of what is happening and wait for us to finish.” “Gotcha girlie.” “Natasha are you serious? I am not participating!” “No coward, you are standing guard.” Natasha stopped walking when she saw a balding fat man at the front gate of the tow yard. This must be the john, the creeper, who has come to reap my pussy for the car. The tow man’s face filled with a toothy grin. Oh! He had been so lucky and led Natasha to his RV. Inside was a mattress without sheets. He unbuckled his belt and licked his lips at the same time. He revealed the smallest penis that hid under folds of fat. Natasha couldn’t believe that such an infantile penis existed on a grown man. His belly fat made more noise than the insertion of his penis into her pussy. The RV rocked for less than 5 minutes, and he tossed the used condom next to her boots and red skirt. Outside the RV, she tossed fifty bucks on the desert floor. Randy sat on the RV’s steps. “What’s this for?” “For standing guard, and we are good on any drugs you gave me.” “Well, I don’t know about that. We did smoke some DMT.” “Who’s the one that had the ball’s to get us out of this entire predicament? Me, not you! So shut up, asking for anything else would be ignorant and greedy. We are leaving so follow me coward.”

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The taxi cab driver was leaning coolly on the hood of the cab, “So that didn’t take too long girls?” “Nope just get us back to this bitch’s friend’s apartment. Don’t say a word to any police.” *** The plane jostled her out of the Arizona desert, just as the RV had rocked back and forth. “Ladies and Gentlemen, this is your captain speaking; it will take exactly six hours to get to Burlington, Vermont so just sit back and relax.” “Would you like a beverage sweetheart? We heard you are a very special passenger,” the flight attendant asked as if this was her first contact with a mentally handicapped person ever. Natasha thought that she must especially thank her mother for this extra-special lie she cooked up because now she was being treated like that guy in “I AM SAM”. “Ahhhhh RUFFF RUFFF RUFFF, pet me please. Me a puppy. I want whiskey.” “I’m sorry, we can’t serve you whiskey,” she smiled embarrassed. “Orange juice, no whiskey please. Stops trying to get me drunk, bad person, bad person.” “You asked for whiskey.” “I want treat.” “You tell your parents that they should have never let you fly alone, considering that you are mentally handicapped. This is just completely irresponsible, and I don’t get paid enough to deal with this.” Needless to say, Natasha didn’t receive her orange juice, but she was in a Xanex coma filled with Jimmy Hendrix and Led Zeppelin riffs, poetry for the head. At the luggage claim, she grabbed her viola, and two duffle bags. She dropped it all suddenly when she saw Max standing next to a ski mountain advertisement and ran. Max deserved theatrics and so did everyone else in the depressing fluorescent airport. An embrace that lasted minutes, hours, centuries, eons, shit it could have moved the continents back into Pangaea. “Tasha, I missed you so much! Let’s not do this away thing again. It was miserable.” “You can say that again, but let’s not dwell on it. Let’s get fucked up. Ohh and something funny, my mom tried to pass me off as mentally handicapped, so she could see me off at the gate.” “I love your mother.” “She is one of the most overlooked characters in the history of the world, and I wish she was everyone’s mother. As for our fathers, there resides a contemporary ring of hell in Dante’s Inferno for them.” “How was Arizona?” “Sore subject something best left buried in the desert.” They packed her duffels in the car. Slipped into the leather seats of an Audi, they simultaneously lit cigarettes. The Vermont air was cold, it was nine o’clock at night, and the dew already was drifting down from the heavy air.

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“Hey, Max whose car is this?” “Oh, I borrowed it from some freshmen. I told them we would buy them beer.” “My god, those fucks can never be self sufficient, can they?” “Nope, but I told them a thirty rack of beer was twenty-five dollars, and they coughed it up.” “It’s nice to pretend that we have an Audi for a little bit anyway, when we both can’t even afford one quarter inch of the door handle.” “Rich Kids!” “Let’s stop at the beverage warehouse and buy them the cheapest beer; meanwhile, let’s scour this golden chariot for change.” Max and Natasha combed the leather seats and floors. “Man, rich people must think change ain’t worth shit, but we just found six dollars in change. Let’s get a cheap bottle of wine and bottle of whiskey with this change and the change leftover from their cheap thirty rack.” They left the beverage store with their hands full, waddling beneath the weight, and smiling the whole time. *** Max gave the privileged freshmen their natural ice and walked to Natasha’s new dorm where she sat on a bare bed with just her speakers plugged in, sucking on a cig and drinking the wine from the bottle. He met Mike on the way. Mike walked briskly as toward some crystal picture future while chattering, “So, the older man didn’t really work out. He never gave me as many blow jobs as I deserved. It always seemed like his pleasure came first. He was a mistake, but no one here can know.” “I get it Mike. It’s a fucking Catholic College. There’s no latitude for strange behavior, not defined in the bible, so let’s go to Natasha’s.” “Yes please.” A knock at the door sent Natasha tip-toeing to her closet to surprise her company as she said, “Please do come in and make yourself at home, pee in the corner, ash on the floor, and puke in the garbage.” As they came in the room, she busted out of the closet and said, “I’m finally out of the closet, guess who I am?” “The nefarious Deans at this college.” “Mathew Broderick, he is totally flaming gay, but wanted babies and the follies of the American dream. Cheers!” Following Mike and Max, their friend Alex walked in. With shaggy blonde hair, he could be mistaken for a sixteen-year-old, but at twenty-two, he was a narcoleptic, which always made drinking with him interesting. Childhood was rekindled that night, as much as it could be rekindled. If you had asked each one of them that night the colors they had seen, they would have said red, blue and yellow. Max, Mike, Alex and Natasha chased each other out one of the many college fields. Running away from every dark shadow to meet a friendly face and dart away from it. They sat in the dewy grass, panting and passing the whiskey and a joint. Since neither of them had TV’s, they watched the fireflies dance around the marshes.

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Natasha held Max’s hand, and then she reached for Mike’s hand and clasped it tightly. Alex was curled into a fetal position, cuddling his beer and snoring. After the night’s frivolities, Natasha sat up in her bed that night and woke up Max; her phone said it was 4:00 in the morning. They slept together most nights, which confused many, but it was an asexual relationship. “Max wake up, Max! Max!” “What Natasha? I was just getting to sleep. I’m exhausted.” “Don’t you want your computer back?” “I don’t really care right now; I’m tired.” “Exactly the point, it’s the perfect time for a break in.” “Well, I will fall asleep in the midst of break in at this point.” “I have some adrenaline.” “What the hell Natasha?” “Yeah, my mom thinks everything bad can happen to me, so she gave me like two Epi Pens. That’s pure adrenaline. I stab you and you stab me, and we get to steal your laptop back from rich prick Dan Sheldon.” “Like blood brothers, wicked.” Natasha groped around in her suitcase, throwing clothes everywhere to find the Epi pens as Max put on Nirvana. She read the directions on the box, “Each EpiPen Auto-Injector contains a single dose of a medicine called epinephrine, which you inject into your outer thigh. DO NOT INJECT INTRAVENOUSLY. DO NOT INJECT INTO YOUR BUTTOCK, as this may not be effective for a severe allergic reaction. In case of accidental injection, please seek immediate medical treatment.” Then she read the risks, “Side effects may include an increase in heart rate, a stronger or irregular heartbeat, sweating, nausea and vomiting, difficulty breathing, paleness, dizziness, weakness or shakiness, headache, apprehension, nervousness, or anxiety. These side effects usually go away quickly, especially if you rest. If you have high blood pressure or an overactive thyroid, these side effects may be more severe or longer lasting. If you have heart disease, you could experience chest pain (angina). If you have diabetes, your blood sugar levels may increase after use. If you have Parkinson's disease, your symptoms may temporarily get worse.” “Okay Max everything checks out. I just stab you in the thigh.” “Alright, do it Tasha. I’m excited, not many can say they have done this.” She poised the pen over his thigh and slammed it in and a popping noise followed, as the medicine was ejected into his body. She withdrew the pen from his thigh, and an inch long needle followed. Shit this is some serious medical stuff, thought Natasha, Oh well I’m knee deep into now. “Man, I can like feel it already. My heart’s pounding. I’m not sleeping tonight. Look, a bruise is already forming. You fucking really stabbed me hard.” “Well, now it’s my turn. I never thought I’d say this, but will you please stab me Max?” Natasha lit a cigarette in order to forget her throbbing thigh. They had a mission to get back stolen property while Dan Sheldon, whose Uncle happened to be on the

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Board of Trustees for the school, was passed out drunk. Fucking asshole even sold the shittiest coke and weed, was caught plagiarizing twice, and has accumulated three DUI’s, but somehow has never been kicked out of college. Well, we know where you sleep Dan Sheldon, Natasha thought. It just so happened he lived in one of the plushest campus houses, go figure. *** Natasha and Max walked solemnly over to Dan’s house, passing a cig between them. There was no plan. They would figure it out when they got there. They peaked through Dan’s window and saw that the kid had a nice new Mac desktop computer. What could the Neanderthal really do with it besides watch porn on a bigger screen, thought Natasha. He had what looked like a freshmen girl cuddled next to him. “Max, what do we do? He has a desktop. It’s not like we can fucking take that monster of a computer, and I can’t see your laptop.” “Get on my shoulders, Natasha.” “Kay,” with a grunt she was on his shoulders and peering in, boxers on the floor, duffle bag, and Max’s laptop with lines cut out on it. “I spotted it, and guess what? He has his shitty coke cut out in lines all over it. Let me down. There’s no use in using the window since his bed is shoved up right next to it.” “I don’t feel like getting on his level and being a thief.” “Exactly what I was feeling once we got here; we are going to just simply knock until the fucker wakes up, bum rush him, and take the laptop.” “Okay, you sure Natasha, you got this, like I’m fine if it gets physical?” “Max, I’m too quick for this laborious idiot.” “Ooookay, let’s do this Tasha,” he said as he shuffled through the rich Vermont grass to the front stoop of Dan’s house. Max gave the door a loud knock. Natasha was getting antsy, “Wake up motherfucker! We have come to collect what’s ours, and what you obviously have too much of.” Max started to kick at the door. “Thud, thud, thud,” went Max’s black tennis shoes. Natasha yelled, “Wakeup you rich bitch,” as she pounded on the door with her fist but then stopped. She might need her fists for latter. Max continued kicking, “thud, thud, thud, thud, thud, and thud.” When he noticed, she had stopped, he ceased his kicking, and they each leaned an ear towards the beaten wooden door. They heard a rummaging sound and a girl’s squeal, “Is it the police?” Dan answered, “Shut the fuck up slut.” Max and Tasha could hear his body move throughout the house. His footsteps sounded like Max’s attempts to kick the door. Max began to realize that perhaps Dan had grown, and maybe both Natasha and he were too eager to correct the world. Natasha stood strong, and Max bulked up because they both realized whatever happened they were committed.

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Dan answered the door in his boxers with his flaccid dick swaying out of the peephole of his boxers. He was glaring like an animal in a corral. Natasha took a deep breath and made the first move and pushed him out of the way as she made her way into the house. She stood shocked in the living room. The kid had a flat screen and entertainment chairs. This beguiled her. Is this how the upper .005 percent live? If they can afford this for their kid, what else can they afford? “What the fuck are you two doing here? Get the fuck out of my house.” Natasha made her way to Dan’s room where the confused freshmen sat naked on the bed. She grabbed the laptop. Max was starring at the flat screen also. “Nah, I don’t think we’re ready to leave until you apologize for taking my laptop.” “I’m dumbfounded Natasha. Why anyone with this much wealth would want a five year old PC laptop?” Dan rubbed the sleep out of his eyes and realized the two intruders he fucked with last year were insulting him. He took his Rolex down from his wrist and fastened it to his knuckles. As he did this, the girl handed the laptop to the boy and was turning to leave. He hated her more because she always spoke her mind. Well now she would learn to shut her fucking mouth. He was going to teach her. He grabbed her arm and tightened his grip until he felt bone. He swung her around and punched her in the face with the Rolex covered knuckles. Natasha squirmed. She wasn’t expecting this. He had just looked so dumbfounded to her. Then her face exploded. She felt the metal design of the watch engrave into the side of her face. She right hooked him and tried to get her knee up his groin, but he had her somehow lifted already over his shoulder. The room began to spin from the flat screen to Max’s horrified face to the entertainment chair to the naked freshmen, and then he stopped to open the front door open and flung her into the porch. Natasha sat up, “Dan, one day you are going to kill your wife and children, and I will tell the world I told you so.” She hasn’t learned a damn thing has she, he thought. So he kicked her in the stomach. He licked his lips. That will teach her. “You’ll always be a bitch. Let this be a reminder of your place in life. Don’t step out of line again and insult me in my own house.” Who the fuck goes after a girl like that, thought Max. Going into this, he believed that he would end up with most of the licks. Dan Sheldon stood breathing heavily over Natasha’s limp body. Max had grabbed one of Dan’s three-hundred dollar custom-made bongs and cocked it back like a baseball bat. It connected with Dan’s skull with a snap, and Dan was in a puddle on the floor. He shoved his laptop tightly in the back of his pants. Max threw what was left of the bong towards the living room, forced Natasha up, and yelled, “Run.” The freshmen girl even after witnessing all of Dan’s aggressive violence knelt to the floor and asked, “Are you alright?” He pushed her hard against the wall and yelled, “I’m fucking fine.” “I’m sorry did I do something to annoy you? Do you want me to suck your dick?”

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PART III There is a nexus, in which one drops into when no one is holding onto them. Everyone is watching on as they toil on in this taught nexus. No arm or mechanical device can extend far enough to save them. The nexus dips in slightly, so climbing out is impossible. It just so happens to be made of a black slippery nylon fabric, no foot holds. Oh just great, you say. How is one to get out of such a predicament, and how did they get there? Was it the wheels of fortune that plopped this poor soul in such a treacherous place? No. Did the justice system place them there? No, but that would perhaps be less costly. Are you frustrated shall we get on with the story? Max and Natasha were running on wet slippery grass as fast as synthetic adrenaline could allow them. Little did they know, they had just stepped onto that black nylon fabric I mentioned in the above puzzle. Natasha slipped as she climbed up a grassy hill, and Max stopped to help her up. Just as they both stood up, they stood face-to-face with a Saint Michael’s security rent-a-cop. “What are you guys doing up this late, running around?” “Uhh..uhh we were taking a stroll,” said Max. Do we outrun them or not? Report the psycho Dan Sheldon as a woman beater? “Are you guy’s going to fess up? Hey, what’s that sticking out of your pants? Is that a laptop? Where’d you get that?” RUN Natasha started the foot race and immediately dipped into the woods she knew well. She heard the rent-a-cop crackle into his radio, “I need back up over in quadrant four. We got some runners. I think they might have something to do with that break in.” SHIT. SHIT. Even though I’m the one who looks like a bruised apple, Dan of course turned it around and said he was the fucking victim. Max followed closely behind her to the point that he even felt her blonde hair whipping his outreached hand. “Stop now and your punishment won’t be as severe.” If we go through the Gilcrease forest and around the pond, it connects to a parking lot with a street. To the left are houses. I’ll aim for someone’s backyard if this fucking rent-a-cock-bag doesn’t catch up. The rent-a-cop began to heave, “If you guys think that you’ll get away with this by running away, remember I saw your faces. I’m the one that has had no student escape me I..I..I..I take ‘em all down.” “Aren’t you a ghost hunter in your spare time? Notice how this isn’t difficult for me to speak and run? Also, ghost hunter, do you have any friends or have you been a dick all of your life?” “Max! Shut up!” With that, Max understood somehow telepathically that their journey would soon be coming to an end, and they needed to distance themselves from the rent-a-cop.

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God, I don’t know if you care about me, but please let my plan work out. I need a cigarette, thought Natasha. The pond was tranquil as they rounded it. Neither Max nor Natasha made a splash, but they heard the rent-a-cop as he accidentally stepped a foot in. Natasha signaled for Max to be quiet, and she made him duck behind a muddy bog. They waited to hear the rent-a-cop’s stomps and hoped he would go right past them. Natasha covered their tracks with mud and searched for Max’s eyes in the darkness and held his gaze until she heard the success of their plan achieved. Natasha saw the rent-a-cop continue into the darkness of the forest. I wonder if he even knows how to get out? Natasha and Max continued to crouch down below the trees until they came to the well-lit street, and they ran for the nearest backyard. They noticed under the fluorescent lighting how muddy they were. They looked like creatures from the black lagoon. Natasha had clumps of mud in her hair, and Max used to have a white t-shirt. They sought refuge on a hammock in someone’s backyard guarded by thick pine trees. Natasha brought out a cigarette and put it to her lips. She looked at the cigarette. It was covered in mud. “That wasn’t even a close one was it, Max?” “Nope!” “Nice plan, I had it figured once you told me to shut up. Reminds me of when we out ran them last year. Do you think Dan told them exactly who we were?” “Yup.” “Kay, just checking in. Should we plan a defense?” “I say we use my bruises and your laptop as a reference to the fact that it’s yours. Like papers and things of that sort.” “Do you think it will work?” “In the most positive of lights Max.” A porch light shot on, and Max and Natasha sprinted for the next backyard. *** Dawn broke and Natasha moved her sore body around. She lifted up her shirt and saw dark purple bruises all over her abdomen where Dan Sheldon had kicked her. She then twisted to see her back and saw that the whole night she had been bleeding. She must have scraped herself on the porch when Dan threw her. Max was snoring on his back. For all he knew, he was asleep in his bed, and not an outlaw in someone’s backyard. She nudged Max, “Time to get up and sneak back into our dorms. Perhaps take a shower.” “What? Oh ya, I forgot for a second where we were. Damn Natasha, your face is swollen.” “Yeah, one eye won’t open for me, but nothing a cold shower can’t fix. Let’s start our long walk. I still want to get him back. I want to kill him. I have never lost a fight Max. I don’t intend on losing the next one.”

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“Okay, you did as best you could until I found that bong to knock that rhino out, but champ, let’s start walking faster. People in their cars keep giving us weird looks like we’re the scum of the Earth.” “We do smell like it.” “Oh, no doubt.” *** Natasha was toweling her hair dry. As she removed the towel, she noticed that it had clumps of mud in it. I guess just standing in the shower awaiting my future punishment didn’t wash me of last night’s hellish nightmare, Natasha thought. Many people tout the fact that they have only eleven percent body fat, but for Natasha, only eleven percent of her body wasn’t bruised. “Oww,” her whole body shook as tried to stand up. She turned on Jane’s Addiction real loud and screamed the lyrics until she cried. Standing by her desk and laptop, she thought she would see if there was an e-mail from campus security or the Dean of Students. From: Subject: Date: To:

stu.mass@edu.com Theft, Expulsion Hearing September 2, 2010 natasha.dear@edu.com

We at Saint Michael’s College do not take breaking and entering and theft lightly. As you know, it is in our school conduct booklet. Any student accused of theft is to be immediately expelled; however, in order to do so, we need to bring you up against the board of trustees. There you will present your apologies, but they will vote to most likely expel you. With all of this being said, I want you in my office at 12:00 pm today. They may decide your future, but I am very upset and offended that such a grievous occurrence happened on my campus. In short, I’d like to look the culprits in their eyes. Stu Masshole Dean of Students Wow, I believed that I would at least be innocent until proven guilty, but I guess that’s what I get for trying to teach the rich a lesson, Natasha thought. She didn’t sit down instead she just grabbed onto the edge of the desk and squeezed If they don’t want the truth, then they can rest easy without me. One day they will know what a big mistake they made. One day I will win.

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She threw an empty beer bottle at her door, and it shattered. As Natasha was admiring the twinkling glass, Max shouted from outside her door, “Natasha what the fuck was that? Did you get that fucking e-mail?” “Come in only if you have shoes on.” “Jesus, I didn’t shatter beer bottles when I read it, but I’m pissed.” “It was only one.” “It’s not the end of the world.” “Actually it is. My parents are going to be so pissed. This is the only college that gave me a scholarship. We all know why. People from the east think Las Vegas is one big ghetto. Got to save all of us underprivileged kids, but then make sure we stay within our stereotype. Then, when we fuck up, they can just say well she was from Las Vegas. We are probably better off to get her out of our community. We tried to rehabilitate her, but we failed. The system failed her. When in actuality, no one realizes it’s the system that fucks you over from the very beginning. It was never built to rescue anyone.” “Agreed, we all know that Natasha. It’s whether or not someone chooses to see it. So can we take a step away from philosophy and move on to tactics?” “Yeah..ahh…I guess. I don’t know how well any of our scheming is going to work if Dan Sheldon’s uncle is on the motherfucking board of trustees.” “Well, we have the laptop to prove he originally stole it from me. The dumb asshole never deleted any of my previous work. Even my i-Tunes library is still titled, MaxisRAD” “Alright Sherlock, it would be nice if we had a receipt, but then you’d have to ask your parents. We both know that’s an endgame.” Natasha lit a cigarette and blew the smoke out her window. She still hadn’t had time to decorate her dorm room. Her bed still lacked all of her bedding. There wasn’t even a poster up. The white walls entombed Max and Natasha. “Well, it’s eleven a.m. and I just missed my first class of the semester.” “Yeah well, they are trying to make it, so we don’t ever go to a class again, so what’s the point Max? Is there a point to any of this? If this is how the rest of life works out, forever a proletariat, I don’t want this life for myself. I don’t care about material goods, but I do want to be respected and appreciated. I am a goddamn human, so are you and everybody else.” “Why are you being so Hiroshima on me? There is still something to be done. Please put on your fighting face for me just like you did last night when you expertly got us away from security.” “Look how much good that did us.” “Dan narked on us. A kid who sells coke narked because he knows he is untouchable. It is unbelievable. That’s gotta be in one of Biggie’s rap songs. Don’t nark if you’re selling coke.” “It’s time for that Dean to think he’s handing our asses to us, get your hat.” “If we go down, we go down together.” Natasha grabbed his hand.

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*** The nexus made of a nylon tarp began to sink further down. They sat on an itchy couch in the Dean’s assistant’s office awaiting their pretrial. Max had the laptop clutched over his chest. His knuckles were white, which matched the walls. To mask the white walls, the heavy set assistant put up motivational posters everywhere. One read, “If you are feeling alone and have suicidal thoughts, remember we are always here to talk to you.” Hilarious who the fuck would want to talk to these idiots about their innermost feelings, thought Natasha. “So you two are the thieves, right? You may find me unprofessional in talking about matters, which don’t concern me, but I wanted to assert my opinion. We here are better off without the likes of you two.” After the secretary stated her opinion, she rewarded herself with a sour cream-onion chip out of the gallon-sized bag. An even fatter humanoid walked out in a green sweater vest. It was easy to see that the bottom of the sweater had elastic, so it would reach around his stomach. “Max and Natasha, I will see you both now.” Max and Natasha sat facing a glorious mahogany desk. Littered with papers and pictures of his darling brats who have attended Saint Michael’s. More untouchables. thought Natasha. “So there’s no guessing game of why you are both here today. Dan Sheldon has been a victim of theft and has named you two as the culprits. I can see that you brought the laptop, so you can return it to its proper owner; however, that does not undo your deed nor the fact that you two broke in and attacked Dan. What brought you two to this point? We are only one day into the semester, and you two have already caused so much havoc. Is it money problems or was this how you two were raised?” “Well, sir, this is actually my laptop. Dan Sheldon originally stole it from me last year.” “Oh really?” “Yes, I have proof my i-Tunes is still titled as mine, and all of the documents written for classes are under my name.” “Well, yes Max, I would see how that would be, considering that Dan Sheldon is a nice guy. He says that he loaned this laptop to you last year. He really is a good example for other students to follow. You bit the hand that fed you. He says that once he found out you did drugs, he took the laptop away from you. Apparently, you held a grudge and last night attacked him and stole his property. It really was a heartbreaking story he told me that he still feels sorry for you. See people like Dan Sheldon are givers. He told me that he believes that every student in college deserves to have a laptop, and when he found out that you didn’t have one, he loaned his old one to you.” “This is all grossly false. My parents purchased this for me for graduating high school. I even got a free printer with it. Look at Natasha, she reaped the most wounds from last night.”

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“Well, we all know that Natasha has a reputation. How do I know she didn’t receive those bruises in Las Vegas?” Natasha began to grind her teeth. “Do you have anything to say Natasha? Dan listed you as a main aggressor who started the assault. I don’t think Dan would truly hit a girl.” “If you do not think that any man is capable of hitting, a woman then you yourself must have a dark past. How many times has your wife had to cover up the bruises you gave her?” Natasha lifted up her shirt to reveal where Dan had kicked her. “How dare you accuse me of any wrong doing! We are here to talk about your issues, young lady.” “How dare you not punish men like Dan! My parents are under the impression that I am here to receive an excellent education, but at the same time under your protection. Is there a double standard I am not aware of? I sit here bruised because of the malevolent hands of Dan Sheldon and you do nothing? Is there something in the Dean’s book of conduct that provides a Dean with a terms of termination if proven inept and judgmental?” “Natasha, it probably doesn’t help our case if you rip him apart.” “Max , don’t you get it! He may have thirty years on Dan Sheldon, and he is out of shape, but he is in fact Dan Sheldon.” She turned to the Dean and glared at him. “Now, how can it be breaking and entering if we knocked on the door?” “Well, you two waited till the early morning hours to knock on Dan’s door to pay a visit? Really believable…this is turning into a ‘he said - she said’ pointing fingers game, but in the end, Dan’s story is more believable.” “So there will be no inquest into the origins of this laptop. Max can retain the receipt, which will prove you all wrong.” “Yeah or at least ask Dan to procure a receipt since this laptop magically became his last year when he stole it from me.” “Okay, so Max if this theft occurred, why did you not alert security?” “In hindsight, I wish I had, but even then I thought you would prejudge me. Sir, it should go without saying Dan Sheldon has an uncle on the board of trustees. Trusting the school to be objective in this matter is truly difficult. I’m not even sure objectivity still exists.” “Natasha, do you have anything to add?” “Yes, why thank you Dean Masshole. I would like to thank you for teaching me that help doesn’t exist.” “Well, I think I have heard enough, and Natasha you seem to be very hostile. I wouldn’t recommend disrespecting the board of trustees tomorrow at three o’clock p.m. Considering that they are your last hope, but let’s face the facts, liars don’t make it far in life. You may both exit my office. I am through with both of you.

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PART IV After just moving to Massachusetts, Max had just learned that he would have to watch his brother die before his time due to AIDS. Leaving him with a thirst to enjoy every minute of his brother’s life because Max was scared every second could be his last. Knowing that death does not scare those who it’s coming to but to those who will be left behind, Max knew that the possibility of being kicked out of college was nothing in comparison to having to have to say goodbye to his brother. Every time life looked grim, he reminded himself that his story hadn’t even darkened yet. Walking out of the Dean’s office, he knew he wasn’t broken, but Natasha looked rabid. She kicked a drinking fountain on the way out. Students looking leery of an angry girl dressed in all black pulled away from Natasha as they were heading to the cafeteria. She started biting her nails. As she reached the door, she lit a cigarette inside the building. She perhaps thought that it was her last stand of defiance. He loved her ability to be broken, but then to rise from the dead just to shout, “I told you I could to do it.” She scratched her head and turned to Max. “Why didn’t you support me in there? I felt completely alone.” “You know that you’re not alone in this. I just felt that there was no need to fight. I say we ignore the problem, and we enjoy our time.” “Impending doom is hard to celebrate.” “There are worse things in the world.” “Oh yes, I forgot injustice in any form was just a fly caught in the soup.” The sunlight hit them and blinded their weary eyes. They watched as smiling students headed to class and high fived each other in the quad of the college. The oak trees were swaying in the breeze, and a lawn mower was humming as it made clean cuts in the acres of school greenery. Mike approached them, “So do you want to get lunch with me guys?” “Sorry Mike, I’ve lost my appetite. I’d rather not be anywhere near the Dean’s office.” “What’s happened, Natasha?” “Well, me and Max may get kicked out for taking his laptop back from Dan Sheldon because he is claiming that it was his all along.” “What! That’s fucked man. Is there anything I can do to help?” “I’m afraid not.” “Yup, Max has given up.” “Well, Natasha cheer up. I’ll come over and hangout with you guys after I eat something. My classes are killers. Hey, Natasha there is something I gotta tell you. There is a horrible rumor going around about you.” “When isn’t there?” “This one is bad. Someone really has it out against you. I think it all started with some freshmen girl, but she passed on along to other people – people who don’t like you.”

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Abruptly a student bumped into Natasha, “You think you can keep your legs closed. I don’t want to catch anything from a disease spreader.” “Fucking excuse me, what did you say, Rose?” “I heard you have Chlamydia from a very trustworthy source. Well, I guess you can’t take the Vegas out of a girl, am I right? I just don’t know why you can’t just stay with the rest of your people. We don’t need that kind of dirt at our school.” Max glanced at Natasha as she clenched her jaw and fist at the same time and thought, Oh no, not this girl. Please don’t hit her, Natasha. I know she has tried to ruin you since the time you came here, but rise above it please. Natasha’s shy beauty and deviance made many of the girls at Saint Michael’s jealous of the male notoriety it gained her. Rose’s companion goaded on, “Hehehe, you’re a fucking health code violation. I’m speaking to the school nurse about precautions. Perhaps they will quarantine you.” “Who the fuck told you such lies?” “Oh well, don’t try and hide. I don’t think anyone would make up something so horrible. It’s really irresponsible and mean to pass along STD’s.” Rose tossed her boring brown hair in a superior motion. “A freshmen in one of my elective courses told me. Allie Cook, she used to go to my all girls school back in Rhode Island. She is obviously trustworthy because she comes from a good family. Everyone knows, so there’s no need to tell your past sexual partners.” “I have never had an STD in my life, but thanks for reminding how vapid many of the girls are at this school.” Rose started to step off the stoop. “Well, I guess sluts only have men for friends. Have a good day.” Natasha screamed all the way from her diaphragm, “Fuck off and die Rose!” Max, looking for a way to protect his best friend from such malicious rumors, started in, “Hey, Rose remember when you fucked that guy in the bathroom of Unwinders? He just came out of the closet. Guess you did him a favor; he realized he hates pussy. Maybe yours is just really that life changing and scary.” She turned around and glowered at Max, “Well, I guess I am just going to have to report you to the Dean for hating gays and bullying. Won’t do you any good considering you are up for expulsion.” Yeah, I hate gays; what a riot, thought Max. Max watched as Natasha slowly took the steps down the stoop and headed towards the gas station. “Natasha, do you need me?” “Everybody leave me the fuck alone.” She walked with her head down. She thought she had stopped dealing with nasty people when she left high school, but it turns out the real world is one giant high school lunch room. Is this my breaking point I always prided myself on being rock solid. Is this when I can no longer function as me? Am I a shell? Is it because I didn’t warmly embrace their

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dry and boring culture? I didn’t drink their kool aid so now comes the burning of the witch. I have no strength left. I believed as a naïve freshman that Vermont would be my escape from Las Vegas. I can’t return there. I can’t even make my bed in Vermont. Where shall I live and breathe? Does anyone want me to breathe? Natasha thought. She wiped a tear from her eye and opened the door to the convenience store. She headed straight for the wine. The clerk looked at her suspiciously, “Can I see your ID?” “Yeah here.” “Oh wow, Las Vegas must be amazing.” She waved goodbye to the clerk without a response to his question. *** Natasha slowly climbed the steps to her dormitory while the bag of wine smacked her thighs. The bottles drove themselves into her deeply bruised body, but she couldn’t feel the pain. She was finally numb and speaking would shatter her self-made protective barrier from the outside world. The sunlight made her angry. Happiness made her envious and the sounds of laughter emanating from the dorm made her want to run to her room. As she walked up the stairs to her dorm, a gaggle of girls passed her and started to whisper. Probably talking about me, and that fucking rumor. I don’t fit in anywhere I should be dead. Why does the thought of death soothe me? I always knew I would die young, but by my own hand? I will just take Max’s Xanex prescription and combine it with my Ambien prescription. Guzzle the wine. Obla-Di-Obla-Da Life goes onnnn lalala ohhh life goes on… Natasha thought. She threw open her door to her dorm room and searched the room for Max’s bottle of Xanex he had left there the night before. It had seemed like it was a month ago when they had all been happily reunited. She twisted the cap off and stared at the thirty blue pills. Do I take these one by one? She uncorked the wine by using a pen to push the cork through. Took the bottle of Xanex and tossed all thirty pills to the back of her throat. She was amazed that she could swallow all thirty with just a swig of wine. She sat down at her laptop to write the letter everyone expects to read when one commits suicide. What should it say? Natasha thought, I’m sorry Max I love you. I probably would have married you. What should I say to my parents; they were so odd? She began typing furiously looking up only to take a long drink from the bottle of wine. Greetings: To those who have loved me since they have seen me, I love you more than you will ever know. To ever just off handedly love someone without judgment is a talent. Please continue this. The world needs it. I apparently needed to meet more people like you (MAX). I want to be who I am, but I am not allowed to be that way on this planet. Perhaps, in death, I will find solace. I will be able to be anyway I want. Perhaps, one day you will all learn that reputations are invisible handcuffs clapped on to you by society. I encourage you to always soil your reputation by having fun. Eventually the rest of the world

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will have to join your party. I wasn’t strong enough to wait it out. To those who made life difficult for me, FUCK YOU. I really wish the worst in life for you. I never had Chlamydia. It was a dirty lie spread by the freshmen that was present the night Max and I went to retrieve his laptop from Dan Sheldon. She apparently thinks it’s hilarious from a surveyor’s perspective to see me bleed. Well, it hurt, especially since I’ve been battling the whole she is a slut stigma since the first day I came here. Just because I am from Vegas doesn’t make me a slut. I actually know how to quilt. Do sluts from Vegas do that? I guess you wouldn’t know because you never asked. I thought I was going to a college instead of high school, but I guess not. Even the Deans at this college have yet to look past my tough exterior and birthplace. I’m actually a good conversationalist and will give you a run for your money while playing hearts. However, reputations are made through the judgments of others, not by what you or I do. So I guess you can say I was fucked from the very beginning. Dan Sheldon is a horrible person. I beg for someone to listen to this because I care very much for the health and safety of all women. Dan Sheldon is a very violent person. I have always fought to protect myself, but he fights out of malice. He fights to injure. When he was beating me, I saw fire in his eyes. I thought he might exterminate me with that fire. That’s enough for me to explain why I have come to this point. Here are some other reasons: Don’t fit in anywhere. Don’t fit in with family. There is no other choice. I will always be with you. Natasha With the last few clicks of the keyboard, Natasha looked up with relief. She took the bottle of Ambien, following the procedure from before and chased thirty more pills with wine. This isn’t quick enough. Must speed this along in case someone interrupts me. Suffocation! Plastic bag where is one. Oh where...Oh where can you be plastic bag, Natasha thought. She ripped one out of the trashcan she never got to use. She fastened it to her head and was incased in complete blackness. She took a scarf to tie it tighter around her head. She curled up on her bed looking like the modern day headless horseman. She waited till death would meet her inside a trash bag. *** Max hung out with Mike on the main campus eating lunch. He was hungry, and buffalo chicken wraps only come around every once in awhile. He looked out a window antsy to enjoy the rest of his day. Not having classes was like still being on summer vacation, and he would make Natasha see his way. “So what you got for the rest of the day Mike?”

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“Ancient Culture in five minutes, Economics after that, and then some easy art class.” “Hahaha ya, but you still have to take Economics and that blows. Guess what I’m going to do? I’m gonna skate and get drunk with Natasha.” “You bastard.” “Yup, peace brotha.” Max walked over to his and Natasha’s dorm. Went in his room and grabbed his skateboard. Best to leave Natasha alone for a little bit. I got my own head to clear anyway, Max thought. Max had streams of sweat pouring down his face when he heard someone yelling, “Stop all that skateboard racket. I’m trying to study.” Fucking squares. “Stop all that fucking studying racket. I’m trying to skate.” Max continued to skate in defiance. As thunderheads began to build in the distance, Max knew he only had a few more minutes to skate. If you don’t like the weather in Vermont, wait a few minutes and it will change. A cool wind began to pick up, and Max started to get drizzled on, but he wasn’t going to stop till it was pouring rain. Bigger drops of rain began to fall, and a clap of thunder shook the valley. Shit playtime is over, thought Max. Guess I should go cheer up Natasha. *** He went inside and started climbing the stairs to the girl’s floor, but he got this antsy feeling that everything wasn’t all right. He took the stairs by two’s, then by three’s. He just wanted to hug her; that’s all he wanted. He got to her room and jiggled the handle. It was locked. Max started pounding on the door. “Natasha! Are you there? Answer me! Natasha! Answer this door. Come on, you never lock it. I’m going to get someone to open the door just because I’m mad you won’t let me in. Open the door. Let me know you are all right.” He called her cell phone, and it rang from inside. No one inside the dorm room moved to turn the phone off or answer it. Max went to the RA’s room and knocked on her door. “Hey, can you unlock my friend’s door? I just want to make sure she is all right; she isn’t responding.” The RA’s face was in complete shock. Max could tell she didn’t know what to do. “Well then, I’m also calling security in case it’s an emergency.” “Really and what can they do?” “Oh, they will call 911.” “Ohh, that’s what they’re good for.” The RA opened the door, and he saw Natasha’s head wrapped in a garbage bag. The RA stood stupefied as if she needed orders from someone above her to respond appropriately. Max didn’t. He grabbed the plastic and ripped a hole in it large enough

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to free Natasha’s face. She was barely breathing. Her face looked sweaty and pale from the garbage bag. Max brushed her hair out of her face and dabbed away the perspiration with her baby blanket. No one knew, but she couldn’t sleep without her baby blanket. The RA was frantically calling 911. He would make sure the ambulance took the baby blanket with them. I love you Natasha. The baby blanket spilled to the floor as the paramedics lifted the gurney up. Max tucked it in under Natasha’s limp body. “Can you make sure she has this blanket? It means a lot to her.” The paramedics looked at him with blank faces and grunted in understanding. *** Natasha awoke in the hospital two days later. Sitting next to her was Dean Stu Masshole. This must be hell, Natasha thought, I apologize God. I know I shouldn’t have taken my life, but I don’t want to spend an eternity with him. Jesus Christ, is Dan Sheldon going to show up to laugh at me next? “Natasha, you will never escape us.” “What are you doing here? You are the last person I want to see.” “I’m here to make sure that when they discharge you that you arrange somewhere to go.” “Excuse me? So I’m not in some sick version of hell?” “No.” “What do you mean somewhere to go?” “Well, you are not allowed on Saint Michael’s College property ever again. You are considered a risk.” “A risk?” “Well, the board of trustees prefers to only have mentally stable students. This little theatric could ruin our reputation.” “Fuck you and anyone who acts like you.”

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Yobana Graciano

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Eric Flores

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Samantha Mayer

Major/Goals: Earth & Space Exploration is my major, and my future goal is to work for a company in the space industry or begin my own systems design or space tourism company. Favorite Author/Genre: I like to read in multiple genres. Describe your experience in ENG 221 - Writing Fiction: The way that the course is designed truly does help a student understand the elements of fiction writing and how to apply them. It also helped to have an instructor who was very thorough when grading our assignments. Prof. Bailey-Kirby really took the time to read through our stories and identify our strengths and weaknesses. From plot structure, to beats, to pulse, and everything in-between, I learned so much in this class, and I enjoyed the challenge and the structure of the course as well.

Red Times by Samantha Mayer A great roar flowed across the dusky horizon as the skies of Mars fell into shadow. Through the dust stood a circular habitat rising two stories from the sand. Four distinct “wings” branched out, clutching onto the terrain like spider legs. Obscured by the thickening cloud of ancient debris, green plants peaked peacefully through the connecting greenhouse’s opaque windows. Rovers stood valiantly, flanking either side of the foreign station. It’s sleek, man-made nature seemed incompatible with the rugged terrain of Mars. Inside, Vladimir “Sputnik” Korsakov looked up from his project and stared at his reddened reflection in the porthole. An auburn-haired, shaggy engineer gazed back at him from the granular Martian landscape. “These haboobs are starting to get really irritating,” he said, absorbing himself in his latest bit of tinkering. “Each one seems to bring another disaster.” Rurik “Rusty” Harkin snickered from behind his tablet. “Heh…ha-boob” With a toss of her fawn braid, Lt. Gretchen Mallard opposed him from across the stainless steel table. “What’s so funny?” she said, lifting an eyebrow, but never taking her glance off of her geological charts. Pausing his digital copy of “Flash Gordon”, the young astro-biologist locked his clouded gaze onto Gretchen’s petite frame. “Haven’t you ever thought about the way that sounds? HABOOB.” “Rusty, you’re a HABOOB,” Gretchen said mindlessly, continuing to work on her reports. Sputnik’s laugh rang throughout the cramped aluminum habitat, reverberating off the cabinets and electronic equipment. The circular design of the common room only amplified its effect. It contrasted eerily with the increasing winds. Rusty’s mouth opened – verbal ammunition at the tip of his tongue - when a great gust cut across the tin they called home.

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All around them, the walls of the habitat seemed to moan as the sharpened grains of sand created a symphony of barely audible clangs. Rusty closed his mouth, sinking into the synthetic fabric of his blue chair. His eyes grazed across the common room that was bathed in an electric-LED glow. He watched as Sputnik continued fidgeting around with some spare parts he had salvaged from the Chinese rover. His laugh was but a memory in his steel eyes. Gretchen’s hazel gaze never left her tablet, as she flicked her finger across the screen. Rusty watched her, visually holding onto her calm image as another great sigh came from the hollows of the encampment. Rusty tried to resume playback of his film, but even the campy nature of “Flash Gordon” couldn’t distract him from the constant howl. All human activity became absorbed in the mechanical, except for Rusty, who traced the outlines of his lone mission patch. A new set of dark black eyes belonging to Dr. Xiao Lee ducked through the arched doorway as he emerged from the southwest exit of the greenhouse and into the common room. His long black hair was haphazardly bound at the nape of his neck by a shredded piece of synthetic fabric. “ST-108 Crew…” Xiao said cautiously. Sputnik’s face turned sour. “Oh god, what’s wrong?” “Why do you assume something is wrong?” Rusty asked, his eyes wide. “Because this Chinaman doesn’t show up without trouble far behind.” “Sputnik, calm down.” “I haven’t had a drink in seven months, Gretchen. Unless you and your castaway can find a way to put me into an alcohol induced coma, I’m afraid I can’t help but dump on the undesirables.” “Nine months,” Rusty chirped. “Thanks for reminding me, Rusty. Thanks for reminding me that all I’ve had to drink is my own filtered piss and some Tang left over from the 90s for nine goddamned months.” “I didn’t mean to create trouble.” “Of course you didn’t, China-lee.” “I’ll just go.” “No, shee-ow...Charlie,” Gretchen said, trying to wrap her tongue around their guest’s simple, yet foreign, name as she stood from her chair. She walked over to Xiao Lee and reached her hand out, lightly tugging him forward. “Charlie. Do you mind if I just call you Charlie? Why don’t you and Rusty hang out for a bit? I mean, he isn’t much to talk to, but he can be good for a laugh.” “I’m sorry, but I haven’t come here to hold conversation…” Xiao’s words were strained as he straightened his posture, towering over everyone but Sputnik, who met him with a steely gaze. “That’s right. You don’t talk to us,” Sputnik said, knocking Rusty in his chair and out of his daze. “You just consume our resources and sit there looking pretty. I wish you Chinese people would have done like us Russians and sent a dog into space. Then, when your piss-poor excuse for a habitat was ripped apart by the last Martian

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sandstorm, we could have at least salvaged something besides this junk.” Sputnik threw the mechanical device he had been working on to the ground with a clang. “Plus, the dog would have been much better company.” “Sputnik. Come with me,” Gretchen said, appearing next to him. She grabbed the fuming Russian by the arm, showing considerable strength for her size. “Lt. Mallard,” Xiao said, stepping forward. “I’m terribly sorry, Charlie. I will make sure Mr. Korsakov is punished for his indecent display.” “But Lt. Mallard -” Before he could speak another word, Sputnik and Gretchen disappeared into the cramped-metal hallway leading to the men’s private quarters. Gretchen sighed, leaning against the wall and massaging her temple. Sputnik paced up and down the hallway as best he could, knocking Gretchen with each frequent passing. After a few more hits, Gretchen stepped out in front of him – caging him in-between the door and her small, but imposing, frame. “Sputnik, I know you’re upset we took Charlie in after the accident…. But give the guy a break. I mean, seriously. He lost his entire crew.” Sputnik’s grey eyes bore a hole past his commander to a place beyond the walls of the station. “I understand what happened. I get that his crew’s habitat wasn’t strong enough to withstand the constant battering of Martian dust particles – That it must be hard on him to be the only survivor of a doomed crew. But you need to understand this – I have a history with these people. They used my brother, and they have no problem using us to obtain their means. I told you the story of how they seduced him into working on their rockets, right? Did I forget to mention that, because he wasn’t one of them, they let safety procedures slip and allowed him and the rest of his mostly foreign teammates to be blown into oblivion?” “Yes,” Gretchen said, placing her hand on Sputnik’s large shoulder, “but that’s no excuse to act like a savage. We don’t have a choice but to work together. We are all alone out here. Each moment there is, literally, only a few inches between us and death,” she said tapping the metal walls. “We have to cooperate.” “Cooperate? We’ve been in a race with them, Gretchen. I know you Americans can’t understand a proper conflict, but when you are at war, even a political one, you don’t take in the enemy like he’s your friend. And you sure as hell don’t give him responsibility over something as critical as food supply. This whole thing could have been staged by the Chinese as a way to get Mr. Lee into our habitat, so he could steal our technology.” “You don’t know what you’re talking about,” Gretchen said, her tone dropping an octave. “You’re way off, Sputnik.” Sputnik stared at Gretchen, examining her. Her normally relaxed, proud frame was beginning to retreat into itself. “Is there something I should know?”

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Gretchen looked out of the round-porthole window. She traced the metal rivets with her perfectly polished index finger. In the distance loomed the faint red cliffs through the thick swirling sand. The horizon was closer than on Earth, due to the planet’s smaller size. The nearness of the line separating sky and earth made her shiver. Her face reflected back at her through the red haze. “Let’s just say we had something to do with the accident.” “What do you mean?” “You know what I mean.” Sputnik continued to watch Gretchen as her finger moved across the glass and traced the outlines of the graves obscured by the thickening storm. “Did we… did you sabotage them?” “Possibly. I mean, the Americans and the Europeans thought it would be the only way to force the Chinese into cooperation. I don’t know all the details. All I know is that it wasn’t supposed to end up this way - just a few malfunctions that would force us to work together, that’s all. It was only supposed to be a minor accident - just a small rip in their inflatable habitat. No one was supposed to die.” Sputnik stared blankly as his face turned from red to white. “So our agencies did this?” “Yes,” Gretchen responded forcefully. Her tone briefly held a deeper sense of melancholy – of regret. “But it’s more complicated than that. We can’t let it get to us. There is no room for remorse. It was an accident. We’re just going to have to deal with the situation as is. That means giving the Charlie kid a break and at least some semblance of a welcome home.” Sputnik walked from one side of the hallway to the next, taking short stops to close his eyes, wrinkle is deepened brow, and palm his forehead. “Why didn’t I know about this?” “Technically it isn’t in your pay-grade.” “Hey guys,” Rusty said poking his head in. “Not now, Rusty.” “Sorry to interrupt but Shee-ow…Charlie said that he needed to secure something.” Sputnik snapped his head to the display overhead. “Everything is normative!” he said, throwing his hands up in frustration. “Just tell him to hold tight, Rusty. I’m not seeing anything on the dashboard. Maybe he’s just a little spooked by the wind.” “I know! I told him that but… he’s gone out.” “What do you mean he’s gone out?” “I mean he’s…gone out! After you left, he ran in the direction of the airlock, and I haven’t seen him since.” “How the hell did he get out? We’re in the middle of a Martian sandstorm - and it takes two people to get into one of those hard suits!” “He said if it wasn’t taken care of now, it could prove disastrous… that he didn’t want us to go through the same thing he and his crew went through.”

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Sputnik rushed past his two fellow scientists, nearly knocking them over. “Where are you going?” Gretchen barked, trying to get a hold of Sputnik’s arm. She grabbed at the multiple mission patches on his shoulder, but they flew out of her grasp. Within an instant, he had dashed diagonally across the common room and disappeared behind the doorway leading to the airlock. “Well fuck me,” Gretchen said, peering out the window. The wind’s consistent pestering scattered billions of tiny particles, obscuring everything in sight. Picking up her tablet off of the table, she activated the voice command. She stared at Rusty, observing his twiddling thumbs, until a faded signal broke through. “Charlie?” There was no image on the screen. A voice cracked through the broken airwaves. “I am sorry to break regulations Lt. Mallard. But this is necessary.” “I know I have no jurisdiction over you, but you need to get back in here. This is suicide, what you’re doing. You know how fine the Martian dust is. In a storm like this, the suit won’t be able to hold up.” A second voice broke through the confusion. “He hasn’t left yet.” Gretchen’s ears perked up. “Sputnik, is that you?” “Who else has a Russian accent on this damn base, Lieutenant?” Gretchen sighed – at Sputnik’s sarcasm and the knowledge of their safety. Regaining her stance, she tossed her braid behind her. Rusty peeked over her shoulder, looking down at the data. “So you two are still in the base?” “Yes and we are doing just fine.” “So why did he say he needed to secure something?” Rusty stared intently at the static, making sure not to invade Lt. Mallard’s space. “What he wanted to secure was some booze.” “What?” Gretchen turned her eyes on Rusty who jumped with a start. “I know it’s against regulations to have alcohol on base, Lt. Mallard, but our situation is tense… I believe it will help to relieve some stress between us.” “But… what… where - how did you get it?” Sputnik burst through the door leading to the airlock. Xiao Lee wasn’t far behind him. Bearing his muscle, he carried two large crates into the common room and placed them gently on the table. “Part of our supplies you salvaged yesterday contained some...special rations.” Gretchen’s jaw dropped slightly, twisting into an unsecure smile. Rusty’s face lit up as he ran to the cabinets, grabbing all of the stainless-steel mugs and plastic cups he could get his hands on. Sputnik began to unload the contents of the specially engineered cargo bins as Xiao’s face teetered between a smile and a frown. The team sat down to enjoy what had been their first “real” drink in nine months. After plowing through an assortment of beer, rice wine, and a bottle of vodka, the crew sat lazily in their chairs as the wind finally began to lessen its menacing howl. Rusty slouched in his chair, passed out.

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“He’s a lightweight,” Sputnik said. “But in a couple of years and a few more missions, he’ll build up a tolerance. I’m surprised at you though Xiao Lee. You’ll have to excuse me, but normally your type can’t handle much alcohol.” “I see you can actually pronounce my name now,” Xiao said, flashing a lazy smile. “And as for a tolerance, well… you obviously have never been to a Chinese business meeting,” the two of them chuckled as he continued. “Although I must say my tolerance did build up substantially after my father died…” “No shit,” Sputnik said, staring down lovingly at his opaque mug. “You know… my brother was killed in an explosion. I already had a great tolerance for booze then, but let’s just say, my limit went from Mt. Everest to Olympus Mons.” The two of them laughed gingerly. “What was worse…” continued Xiao through budding tears, “was that he… Well you know that famous explosion in Dongfeng?” “Know it, my brother died in it!” Sputnik exclaimed nearly sprawling out across the table. “So did my father!” Xiao Lee said, his face straddled the fence between pain and pleasantry. “No shit!” Slapping Xiao’s back, Sputnik slunk back into his chair. “I thought only foreigners died in that explosion.” “No, no… There were Chinese too. I can assure you…” Sputnik stared out the window towards the direction of the graves and then at his commander. His brows furrowed as a sly scowl played across his face. “You know, I underestimated you, Xiao Lee. I can’t assure you that I’ll still be all brotherly loving when I’m sober, but I admit that I underestimated you,” he said glancing across the table at Gretchen, “and I guess I overestimated others.” Gretchen stared at him intently, meeting his eyes. They locked gazes for a few seconds, as Sputnik’s scowl melted into a half smile. She was sober enough to know that this couldn’t be a time for drunken confessions to continue. Before she could react, Sputnik apologized to Xiao Lee for his indecent behavior. Xiao Lee accepted his apology through broken sobs and the two shared a brotherly embrace. “I shouldn’t have caused you trouble,” Sputnik said, casting a final glance on his commander. “And I promise you, I won’t cause you anymore pain.” Gretchen released a large sigh and rose from her chair. Without a word, she crept into her quarters. “What’s her problem?” Xiao Lee asked. “I don’t know. She’s got a lot on her mind out here.” “Maybe she didn’t have enough to drink.” Sputnik cocked his head to the side and smiled, “Believe me, after this mission, there won’t be enough alcohol in the solar system to take the edge off that woman.”

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HeloĂ­sa Flores

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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 for her students. Original and engaging fiction, poetry, and art are accepted during the fall and spring semesters with two deadlines: December th th 15 and May 15 . The magazine is published twice each academic year, and students are invited to send their best poetry or fiction from their coursework with her by e-mailing an attachment of their work to yelena.bailey-kirby@csn.edu. The requirements for submitting your work include the following:

Fiction Criteria:  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, and you are limited to TWO submissions of fiction and should send the document in Rich Text Format.  Submissions should be no more than thirty 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:  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, and you are limited to SIX submissions of poetry and should send the document in Rich Text Format.  Submissions should be no more than ninety 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:  Submissions may include any type as long as it can be sent as a photograph: 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, and you are only limited to TWELVE submissions of artwork and should send your work as a JPEG attachment.

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College of Southern Nevada 6375 West Charleston Boulevard Las Vegas, NV 89146-1164 INSTRUCTOR: Professor Bailey-Kirby E-mail: yelena.bailey-kirby@csn.edu

WRITERS: Tabitha Agnir

Brittany Fehlig

Lauren Lourenco

Andrea Carter

Kaitlin Jellison

Kris Martin

Lauren Chaves

Noelle Johnson

Samantha Mayer

Amber Day

Dan Kanizar

Jessica Morey

Timothy Day

Kristyn Knott

Ulises Penaloza

Kira Dennis

Jozet Lopez

Kaelyn Rosenfeld

Kira Dennis

Yobana Graciano

Kenneth Lamug

Eric Flores

Melissa Jeralds

Joshua Mirenda

HeloĂ­sa Flores

Jessica Jones

Jordan Patton

ARTISTS:

ASPIRATIONS SPRING 2012 ISSUE  

Aspirations is a literary and visual arts magazine.

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