Category: Uncategorized

Poetry: GO – Samantha Hunter

GO 
Samantha Hunter

mama’s 1st + only/grey sprouted from her right temple @ age 19/had just said/i do/not 
consent to signing dotted line and declaring his/USA grade/vegetized brain incapable of 
rerooting/shiny new/husband flew capeless/kissed his red mustang’s sunroof/shattered/
nothing honorable in my/will be/father’s discharge from his safety belt/i/almost did not 
begin/when the semi driver dreamt of drunken sheep singing/go/@ a red light/EMTs
 
found my dad soaked to his stopped heart w/ railroad tracks branding the tissues of his
 
face/flayed open/him hodgepodged w/ shards reflecting/his mind floating in darkness
 
thick as the shroud of soot they found him in/3 weeks/comatose blue/violet smears still
 
wiggle from tip of his right eyebrow to chin/bouncing with laughter @ his 2 kids that never
 
knew him before he was stitched/outside in/tell me what aesthetic was not birthed of
 
collision/strangers ask what marks my dad’s face/a toddler’s drawing left out in the rain

Poetry: Giver of Taking – Samantha Hunter

Giver of Taking
Samantha Hunter

entrance hung with pink ribboning              a throat
the size of a child’s pinkie
promise of flight       broken
shells                your mother emptied  
from the nest a week ago
did my cat crush them on her way to
leading lines of ants              to swirl out of you
collect every crumb from toothpick thin ribs

my cat’s rippling slick shoulder blades
nuzzle my legs and nudge me towards
you        swarmed stillness
she has laid to rest
assured another morning will never hold your song

a wasp rests on your skull
                its waxy wings

                                                     a bow upon    her gift

Poetry: Resurface, Post-Anesthesia – Samantha Hunter

Resurface, Post-Anesthesia
Samantha Hunter

sidewalks must hold puddles of spit/
bile reeking words allover/shouts
crowd those silenced corners turned
into fresh holes/hold still/extraction of rights/read
the fine print exposure/i leapt
senseless from the operating room in tears

me/my mouth/bleeding bowl of tears/
overflowing spitty-substance
from the dick of the doctor who leapt
into politics/left me dizzy and needing to shout/
him tightening the straps/i read
clear blackness/induced end of my turn/

there was always a turn
at dinner/me spinning into tears/
slipping on safe spaces because daddy read
me wrong/too much beer led to spittle/
open hand/at me/mamma’s response was to shout/
she never cared enough to leap/

i was incapable of leaping/
too tiny of woman to turn
his mind fair/sister/we were wrong/don’t shout
for mamma/she’ll dissolve into tears
over decisions slick with “someone’s father’s” spit/
regurgitated from sir colonizer/i read

the news on the screen/we all read
agenda laced platforms that leap
from black suits drunk on trading spit/
numbness pumps into veins/it’s his turn
to piss his stream of hate/can i tear
him off of me/a mouth full of gauze can’t shout/

i woke/mumbling/fighting to shout/
mamma/he did not want to read
the image on my shirt/only wanted to tear
it off me/or her/reality leaping
from the screen/saw his or his/clean smile turned
free/good behavior allows another chance/to spit

violating human sidewalks does not offend the state

 

Poetry: I Realize I Have Never Asked My Mom What Her Favorite Color Is As – Sarah Jeter

I Realize I Have Never Asked My Mom What Her Favorite Color Is As
Sarah Jeter

 

I sit on a bus. The fabric of the seat is soft. Gray velvet with
streaked rainbows and a military buzz cut. I close my eyes to
think of color. The sky three inches above the tree line at 7
p.m. Mid-June it’s bluebird wings at dawn. 7-hour bus ride.
The flowers outside my window are purple, the mountains
through the sliding glass door of my grandmother’s home in
Rio Verde, Arizona. She likes peaches the color of grapefruits
she can’t eat because of her medicine. I have a sister who
likes yellow; it’s warm the way she hasn’t been since her best
friend Taylor died. Cheek bones like garnet. I go back farther
and I am four. I haven’t started kindergarten yet. My mom
asks my favorite color from our red-checkered couch.
Blue, I
answer. The fat on my legs sinks 4 centimeters into taupe
carpet.
What color is this? She points to the sunflowers she
planted by our window, touching the squares of the screen
like fingertips trace lace.
Lellow. I’m smart because she says
so.
And what’s my favorite color? I open my eyes and the
memory stops. I cannot answer. I do not know and I sweat
fermented peach drops from the space between my
eyebrows. When I was five my mom let me eat blueberries in
the bathtub. Some blueberries float and some sink but most
people don’t know that. They don’t swim with their fruit.
Mom washed my hair. Dr. Bronner’s lavender soap. Asked me
about dolphins. Red sparkle shoes. Glass bottles and fairy
dust. I sat silent in bathtubs like rainbow cesspools.  

Prose: The Tunnel – Anna Pittenger

The Tunnel
Anna Pittenger

 

We stand outside the entrance of the old railway tunnel, peering inside. The late afternoon light
illuminates only the first few feet of half-rusted track; beyond that, everything is dark.  

“Come on, Aidan,” my cousin whispers, her almond eyes sparkling with excitement. “Let’s
see what’s in there.”  

I hang back as she pulls out the flashlight, still staring intently at the dark tunnel, suddenly uncertain.  
My cousin is a year older, which makes her the leader of our expeditions. Still, as much as exploring
an abandoned railway tunnel had sounded like a cool idea when she mentioned it at home, now that
we’re here I’m suddenly feeling a lot less sure.  

“Tsuki,” I say, reaching out to tug the sleeve of her t-shirt, “let’s go back and play somewhere else. I
don’t like this place.”  

It’s not just that the tunnel is long enough and dark enough that almost anything could be hiding in
there, although that’s part of it. The whole place gives me a bad feeling in the pit of my stomach, as
if the very air of the tunnel is thick with danger. Tsuki ignores me, shaking my hand off her sleeve
and switching on the flashlight. The beam cuts a thin line through the darkness, but its light looks
weak and dim in comparison to the darkness in the tunnel.  

“Don’t be such a baby,” Tsuki says, stepping forward into the tunnel. She takes a few steps inside
then turns back to look at me, still standing at the entrance. “Are you coming,” she asks, tossing her
blond hair over her shoulder, “or are you just going to wait out there by yourself until I get back?”  

I wait a few more seconds, still trying to make up my mind. There’s something bad in that tunnel, I
can feel it, and my whole body rebels at the thought of going in there. Still, even worse than the
thought of being attacked by something awful in the tunnel is the thought of Tsuki being attacked by
something awful in the tunnel—something which, unlike me, she cannot even see—while I stand
outside, unable to do anything.  

I take a deep breath. “All right, I’m coming!”  I hurry forward to stand next to her, trying to ignore
the way the darkness closes in around me as I enter the tunnel. As soon as I’ve reached her side,
Tsuki starts walking again.  

“You know, this tunnel is around a hundred years old,” she says as we walk.  

The beam of the flashlight cuts a thin path through the darkness, illuminating the rusty tracks
overgrown with moss and weeds. From time to time, a drop of water falls from the ceiling of the
tunnel, hitting the rails with a tiny ‘ping’ or the ground with a small ‘plop,’ depending on where it
lands, making me jump.  

“It’s just water,” Tsuki says. Her voice echoes strangely as we go deeper into the tunnel. “Stop
being such a baby.”  

I swallow hard. “Sorry,” I whisper. Even though I’m scared, I know I have to do my best to be brave
so Tsuki won’t be sorry she let me come with her.  

“There used to be loads of railroads around here,” Tsuki tells me. “Small ones that ran from
Marshall to Hendersonville, and long ones that ran all the way across the state. This one ran from
Tennesse here, but it’s been closed down for a long time now.”  

I nod, impressed.  Tsuki knows a whole lot of things.  Even though she’s only a year older than I am,
she will be in third grade next month, when I start first grade.  She’s always sharing stuff with me
that she learned in school, or read on her own.  

The darkness deepens as we walk farther into the tunnel, the opening behind us shrinking into a
small circle of light, the other end still far away. The air seems to grow thicker as we go, and the
feeling of danger gets stronger.  I’m sure there must be a big monster in here somewhere, or several
smaller ones, but I don’t know where it is or which direction it might attack from. From the front?
From behind? From the side—right or left? Could it come from above?  

I jump as another drop of water falls from the ceiling and lands on my shoulder. Maybe the monster
might even come from below, rising up through the ground? I try to look around and keep an eye
out on all sides as we walk, but beyond Tsuki and the small stretch of rails illuminated by her
flashlight, I can see only darkness and the faint circles of light that mark the ends of the tunnel.
There could be a hundred monsters hiding in that darkness, and I wouldn’t be able to see them until
they were right on top of us.  

To keep from being afraid, I think about how I would draw this scene with my crayons. Black for the
darkness, grey or blue for the shadows closer to the flashlight, yellow for the flashlight beam itself,
and yellow for the circle of light at the end of the tunnel. Maybe I could mix yellow and green for
the end of the tunnel, since it’s not exactly the same color as the light from the flashlight. That’s the
biggest problem I’m always running into with my drawings: having to use the same crayon colors for
things that aren’t quite the same color in real life, because I only have eight colors of crayons (black,
brown, blue, purple, green, yellow, orange, and red). Like the way that Tsuki’s hair and the sun look
the same in my drawings, because I have to use the yellow crayon for both, even though they really
aren’t the same color at all. What I really want is one of the crayon boxes with 16 colors like they
have in the art classroom at school, with white, pink, and the in-between colors like red-orange,
yellow-orange, and yellow-green, or maybe even one of the huge boxes with 64 colors, like I saw in
an art store once, with all the colors imaginable. Then maybe I could draw things the way they
really look.  

Tsuki stops talking, and we walk together for a while in silence, the only sounds our footsteps on the
ground—with a faint echo from the walls of the tunnel—and the occasional drip of water. Then I
hear it, so faint that at first I almost mistake it for the voice of my own thoughts, but gradually
growing louder.
Hungry.  I’m hungry.  I shiver and clutch Tsuki’s hand, holding it tightly.  

“Baby,” she mutters, but she doesn’t pull her hand away.  

Hungry.  So hungry.  The voice seems to be growing louder as we move forward, but Tsuki doesn’t
seem to hear it. That means it’s definitely some kind of spirit or monster, what Granny would call a
youkai or ayakashi.  

We need to get out of here. “Tsuki,” I say, “I’m scared. Let’s go back.”  

“Quit being such a scaredy-cat, Aidan,” Tsuki says. “We’re already halfway through.”  

Another drop of water falls, landing on my shoulder, and I jump. The water drips seem to be coming
more frequently now. “I wonder if there’s a leak in the top of the tunnel?” Tsuki says. She tilts her
head up, then rubs her forehead as another drip lands there.  Maybe it’s started raining outside.”

Food. I can feel something moving somewhere in the darkness, the feeling of danger growing.  
It smells good.

I squeeze Tsuki’s hand more tightly.  

“Ouch,” she pulls her hand away. “Stop it.  That hurts.”  The beam of the flashlight shifts wildly as
she rubs her hand where I squeezed it, briefly illuminating random parts of the tunnel walls. Still I
can’t see what could be saying those words.  

A wet glob falls from above and lands on the ground in front of us.  

“Can I have the flashlight?”  I ask. Without waiting for an answer, I grab the flashlight from Tsuki and
shine the beam straight up at the ceiling.  

Hanging from the ceiling right above us is a large creature with a body like a lizard’s, green with
yellow spots. Although it is hanging upside down with all four feet clutching the ceiling, its head is
twisted around so it is looking at us right-side-up. It has a wide mouth filled with rows of big, sharp,
teeth. The mouth is open and spit is dripping out of it in great gobs and falling to the tunnel floor.  
Above the big mouth, the creature has bulging red eyes with pupils like dark slits. 
Dinnertime.

“Aaah!” I jump backwards, dropping the flashlight.  

The flashlight hits the floor of the tunnel, bounces once, rolls and hits a rail, and goes out. Without
the flashlight, the tunnel is completely dark except for the light from each end and, when I look up,
the glowing red eyes of the creature. How did I miss seeing those eyes before?  

“What are you doing?” Tsuki exclaims, her voice cutting through the sudden darkness. “Why did
you drop the flashlight?” I can hear her scrabbling around on the ground, trying to find it.  

“There’s a monster,” I say, my voice shaking.  

“A monster?” For the first time, Tsuki sounds less sure of herself. “Why didn’t you say anything
before?” Tsuki asks. “I thought you were supposed to be able to see things like that.”  

“I can’t see anything if it’s dark!” I say, then add quickly, “It’s a really big monster, and it’s hanging
from the ceiling of the tunnel right above us. Tsuki, we have to get out of here fast.”  

“How did you think we would get out of here without a flashlight?” I hear a small click, then Tsuki
makes a disgusted noise. “The batteries fell out.  Quick, help me find them.”  

I shake my head, then realize that Tsuki probably can’t see what I’m doing. “You do it.” I’m sure
that any moment the monster is going to drop down on our heads. “I’ll try to keep the monster off.”  

“Keep it off how?” Tsuki asks. “It’s not like you have a bottle of monster repellant you can spray at it.”

Tsuki’s words spark an idea in my head, and I realize that I actually do have something like monster
repellant. “I have the salt packets I picked up at the restaurant,” I say, already rummaging through
my pants’ pockets to try and find them.  Granny says that salt is good for purification, that bad things
can’t stand to touch it.  In my pocket, my fingers brush something dry and rustling, and I pull out the
paper-wrapped salt packets.  I don’t have much, just two packets that I managed to get before Auntie
noticed what I was doing and told me to stop taking things unless I was going to put them on my food.  

“All right,” Tsuki says. Her voice is still a bit shaky, but she has most of her usual confidence back.
“I’ve got the flashlight, even if I don’t have the batteries, so if that thing gets closer, tell me where it
is and I’ll give it a few whacks.”  

I’m surprised the monster hasn’t dropped down on us already.  Which should I eat first? Should I start
with the one who smells delicious, or should I save the best for last?  

I’m already tearing the top off one of the salt packets, trying to move carefully so I don’t spill any of the salt.  
As my eyes adjust to the darkness, the faint light from the end of the tunnel and the light from the monster’s
glowing eyes partially illuminate the monster’s body, but still not enough for me to clearly seewhat it’s
doing. My fingers fumble with the packet, and I hope I can get it open before the monster jumps.  

Impossible to decide. Why not both at once?  I feel the increase in tension as the monster bends its
legs to jump.  

As the monster leaps down, I squeeze my eyes shut and fling the salt upwards.  I feel a patter on my hair
as some of the salt rains back down, but the monster does not land on top of us, so I know that at least
some of the salt must have hit it.  A scream fills my head and I hear a loud thump which I imagine must
be the monster dropping to the ground behind us.  I open my eyes to see the monster rolling on the floor
of the tunnel, pawing at its tongue, its open mouth foaming with pink-tinged froth.  

“What’s going on?”  Tsuki asks.  

“The monster’s right behind us,” I say. “I got it in the mouth with the salt, but I don’t think I hurt it that
much.”  Once it gets over the surprise it’s probably going to be more angry than anything. “Do you have
the flashlight batteries?”  I ask Tsuki.  

“I have most of them,” she says, “but I can’t find the last one. Help me look.”  

I join Tsuki on the ground, feeling around in the dark for the flashlight battery.  My groping fingers
brush against something small and hard. My hand closes around the cylinder shape. “Here it is,”
I say, nudging Tsuki.  

She takes it, and I can hear a clicking sound as she fits it in the flashlight. “Great. That should be
all of them.”  More tiny clicks as she closes the battery cover, then a louder one which I think must
be the switch for the flashlight.  

I wait for the flashlight beam, but there is nothing. The tunnel stays dark. “Do you think the flashlight
broke when I dropped it?” My whole body is tense with fear. My legs ache to flee, but I know Tsuki is
right; there’s no way we can run in the dark.  We need the flashlight.  

Behind us, I hear the sounds of the monster getting back onto its feet. I turn quickly, opening the other
salt packet and flinging the salt towards the monster, but this time the salt only scatters across its scaly
skin. The monster scratches itself all over, trying to get the salt off, but I know that won’t last for long,
and I don’t have any more salt. I whimper softly, and for once Tsuki doesn’t tell me to be quiet. She’s too
busy focusing on the flashlight.  

“Oh, come on, you stupid thing,” Tsuki says. I can hear the batteries shifting back and forth as she
shakes the flashlight. “Work.”  

I stare at the monster, watching it as closely as I can in the darkness, where it is only a darker shadow
within the shadows of the tunnel, barely a yard behind us. It stops scratching and crouches down.
I can feel its killing intent growing stronger. In my head, its voice is saying
pain, kill.  

Tsuki keeps flicking the switch on the flashlight, faster and faster.  Clickclickclickclickclick. Click.
Suddenly the flashlight flickers into life and a beam of light cuts through the darkness, shining right
into the bulging red eyes of the monster.  

“Aaah!”  We all shriek at the same time, the monster rubbing at its eyes with its massive front feet.  

Tsuki grabs my hand. “Aidan, come on!”  We start running back up the tunnel as fast as we can.
The beam of the flashlight wobbles erratically as we run, illuminating various spots on the ground
ahead in no particular order.  

The sound of our quick breathing, our feet thumping against the floor of the tunnel, and the
pounding of my heart in my chest as we run drowns out the sound of the monster’s voice, but
I know it must be just behind us.  Shining the flashlight in its eyes might have confused it
for a moment, especially since its large eyes are made for seeing in the darkness, but I’m sure
that wouldn’t stop something this powerful for very long.  

Tsuki, with her longer legs, is a much faster runner than I am, and soon her grip on my hand feels
less comforting and more like I’m being dragged.  My arm feels like it’s being pulled out of its socket.
Still, I don’t dare let go for fear of being left behind. I don’t think I’ve ever run this fast before.
Not when I’ve run races with Tsuki, or when I’ve played tag with the other kids on the school
playground, and not even in P.E., when we did the hundred-yard dash.  At those times, I thought
I was running fast, but now I’m running even faster. I know that if I fall behind, even a little bit,
I’ll be eaten.  

Ahead of us, the tunnel opening is growing slowly larger, but I know the monster must be close
behind us.  My legs ache from running, I have a stitch in my side, and my lungs are burning as
I gasp for air.  

I feel the monster’s breath warm on the back of my neck. I thought I was running as fast as I
could, but I push my aching legs to go even faster, trying to get away.
 The darkness of the tunnel
starts fading from night-dark to twilight to evening, the block of light that marks the entrance
expanding, until we are only a few yards away.  

We’re almost at the entrance when I feel a sharp pain as something catches hold of my arm.

Food.  

I lose my grip on Tsuki’s hand as I am pulled backwards, and I get a clear view of the monster’s
large, sharp teeth as I am dragged towards its mouth, my arm caught tight in its clawed grasp.  

“Oh no you don’t!”  Tsuki shouts. She hits the monster with the flashlight, hard, right between
its red eyes. The monster drops me, surprised, and Tsuki grabs hold of my hand again and pulls
me forward, the two of us running hard until we burst out of the tunnel and into the sunlight at last.    

We keep running even after we leave the tunnel, sprinting down the grassy, tree-dotted, hill,
trying to get as far away as we can from the hungry monster behind us.  

“Aaah!”  I trip over a tree-root and fall to the ground, sprawling on grass. Tsuki drops my hand
just in time to avoid falling as well.  

“Come on Aidan,” she says, turning back impatiently, then stops. “I don’t think it followed us
out of the tunnel. Do you?”  

I stop trying to push myself up and listen. I can hear only the sound of Tsuki’s and my panting
and the ever-present hum of cicadas.  A bird chirps somewhere in the distance. Looking around,
I see only the grass-covered hillside spotted with trees and the overgrown tunnel entrance.
There is no sign of the monster.  I nod, still too busy catching my breath to speak. “Yeah.
 I think it’s gone.”  

“That was really scary,” Tsuki says after a moment.  

I nod.  “Yeah.”  

“You know,” Tsuki says, after another pause, “for a baby who sleeps with a nightlight,
you aren’t so bad when it really counts.”  

“Thanks.” Coming from Tsuki, that’s a pretty good compliment.  

We sit for a few moments in silence, resting on the grass and catching our breath. While
we were in the tunnel, it had been impossible to tell how much time was passing.  Now that
we are outside, I am surprised to see how late it has gotten.  

“Could you see the monster back there, in the tunnel?”  I ask Tsuki once I catch my breath a bit.  

She shakes her head. “Not well.”  

“But you hit it with the flashlight.”  I rub my arm where the monster’s claws caught it. I only
have a rip in the sleeve, and a small scratch, but I shiver when I think of how close the monster’s
mouth was, and how full of sharp teeth.  

Tsuki shrugs.  “I could see enough of it, when it landed behind us,” she says.  “Glowing red eyes and
gleaming sharp teeth.”  She shivers a little, then looks at me, her eyes shining with curiosity.  
“What did it look like to you?”  

“It looked sort of like a lizard,” I say slowly, trying to come up with the words to describe it.
I shake my head.  “I’ll draw it for you when we get back home.”  My hands itch for my crayons.
In my mind, I’m already thinking of what colors I’ll need to draw it.  Green, yellow, red, and black.  

 

Prose: Memento Mori – Anna Pittenger

Memento Mori
Anna Pittenger

The cold north wind blows through the street, and I wrap my cloak more tightly around myself. The sky is dark, great clouds covering the stars and moon, and the only light comes from the torches that burn outside nearly every house. The torches serve to ward off the vengeful ghosts of those who died unshriven and improperly buried, and to illumine the marks placed on the doorposts of afflicted houses. At the sound of the creaking of a cart I sink back into the shadows of an unlighted house, pulling the hood of my cloak over my head. I have no wish to be seen at this hour and in this part of town, let alone be recognized, lest word should spread. For I know all too well how the tongues of gossips might light a fire of imagined scandal that should serve to consume my family and destroy the good name which is all we have left.

As it draws closer I see that it is a plague cart, piled high with the grotesque and mottled bodies of the dead. I turn my face away from the spectacle, sketching the sign of the cross in the air between myself and it. My stomach twists inside me, and it is not due solely to the smell of the cart. I cannot help but think of my sister’s body lying on such a cart, being hauled by strangers out of the city to be burned in a pile with so many others. My heart is pounding so loudly that I wonder that no one hears it and comes to investigate the noise. I wait, stiff with fear, pressed against the wall until I feel that I should surely be glued to it with my own sweat. The cart passes on out of sight and hearing, but the sight of it has shaken me. I remained standing pressed against the wall for some moments still, breathing in and out and trying to muster my courage before continuing to stride quickly down the street. Already I am beginning to regret the rash hope that has brought me here, but I am not yet willing to turn back.

I move through the city like a ghost, or a robber, making as little noise as possible and staying in the shadows to avoid being seen. I have never before been to this part of town, the poor end, where the houses are little more than slanted shacks cobbled together from discarded material, leaning against each other like so many drunks, and looking as if they might fall down at the slightest provocation, and where beggars might sleep in doorways if their bodies were not piled high in the plague carts. There are fewer torches here to light the way, and I tread carefully, peering closely at the street markers when I can find them, or at the marks of trade over buildings otherwise indistinguishable from houses. Yet I have heard that the shop of the man I seek is at the very edge of town, near the tanner’s place, and the stench of the tannery guides me to the proper street. At length I reach my destination: a small dirty shop, nearly hidden in the shadows, but it bears no plague mark, and over the door is hung the symbol of an alchemist. Taking a deep breath, I knock once, twice, thrice, upon the door.

The door opens a crack and light shines through, illuminating the lined and suspicious face of a grey-bearded old man. “Who art thou?” he demands. “What dost thou want with me? If thou art a beggar, I have no use for thee.”

I can well believe he would have no use for beggars, being scarcely more than a beggar himself, but somehow this makes the insult even greater. “I am no beggar,” I say hotly, “but an honest customer.” Momentarily forgetting my resolve to remain anonymous, I shove my hood back so that it falls about my shoulders and my face is illuminated.

The alchemist’s eyes widen in recognition as he takes in my features, then narrow again with canniness. “Well, well, well,” he said with a sly smile, “I know thee, child of the house of Windham, though little did I think the day would come that should bring thee to my door.”

“How darest thou bespeak me thus informally?” I snap, my temper flaring at his use of “thou” and “thy” when he is so clearly of lower station. How dare he imply that we are of equal standing—I, the child of a noble and he, an alchemist! “Thou hast shown that knowest full well who I am.” Despite my intention to hide my identity tonight, being addressed in common terms by someone barely better than a beggar rankles me, especially after he has shown that he recognizes me. It is as if, with that one word, he has said that my family, my house, my name, has fallen so low and in such disgrace as to be of no more value or standing than that of an alchemist huddled on the far side of town, near the tannery. After my sister’s death, everything is changed. The servants have abandoned us, despite all of my father’s threats and entreaties, saying they would not stay in a plague house. Our good name is almost the only thing we have left, and my honor demands that I address this affront of having that name dragged through the dirt.

“All are equal before death,” the alchemist says, “and thou doth fear death, dost thou not? Which makes me thy better, I the one man who need not fear death.”

These words make my heart leap within my chest. “‘Tis true then,” I say, “that thou hast created the elixir of life?” My eagerness at this reminder of my objective overcomes my earlier pique at his rude address. I wait anxiously for his answer, for what if the rumors were only rumors and nothing more. It is true that I fear death, and living in such close quarters with it these past months, coming face-to- face with it with the death of my sister, has only made me fear it more. I am by no means resigned to such a fate, and I am willing to take great risk and go to great lengths to avoid it.

The alchemist nods, a jerky motion that continues for longer than it should, like a marionette bobbing beneath the hand of a lazy puppeteer. “Aye, aye, ’tis true that I have wrought what other men have only dreamed,” he says. He opens the door fully and does back inside the house, motioning for me to follow.

The stench that wafts outwards as he opens the door is overwhelming, and I pinch my nose as I walk inside, stooping a little so as not to hit my head against the lintel. The putrid smell of the tannery has permeated the entire street, but the smell coming from this place is something different and—if such a thing is possible—even worse. Entering the single room that serves as both house and shop, I see the source of the smell: a large pot over the fire in which boils something that looks and smells suspiciously like urine.

The alchemist laughs at my discomfort, a phlegmy cackling that sounds as if he is on the verge of breaking into a fit of coughing. “The smell of this place does not please thee, eh?” He says, shutting the door behind me. “Why dost thou not carry a pomander or a nosegay? ‘Tis said they keep the plague at bay, for is the sickness not carried by bad smells?” He cackles again at this, gesturing at the pot of urine as if it were proof of his immortality.

I shudder at his suggestion, remembering how we had filled my sister’s room with flowers in the hopes of saving her. The memory is so strong that, even over the stench of the present, my nostrils seem to be filled with the cloying scent of dying flowers from the wreaths, garlands, and bouquets that had filled her room, their smell barely masking the stench of sickness and, finally, death. “I have no wish just now for the smell of flowers or spices,” I say.

“Aye, aye,” mutters the alchemist, “These are strange and terrible times, are they not?” His eyes pass over me again, and his gaze seems to hold something of a mocking look. “Thou wert ever plain,” he says, “but thou art more thin and pale of late than was thy wont, and I can see by thy black clothes and the dark shadows beneath thine eyes that the plague has not spared even the house of Windham.”

I pass my hand over my eyes. “’Tis true,” I say at length. “My youngest sister lies dead of the plague, though truly did I strive my utmost to save her.” For a moment I dare not speak, for fear that the wavering of my voice should betray me and I should burst into tears at the thought of this so recent loss. “Yet ’tis not for my sister’s sake that I came here,” I say, “but for my own.” “I did not think it otherwise.” The old man said, and I rankle at the hint of scorn in his voice.

“Thou canst little imagine how much I have suffered and sacrificed for her sake,” I say, my hands clenching involuntarily at my sides as I speak. I think of the physician who I smuggled in to visit her in the middle of the night, so that—much as I desired his assistance—no one would see him attending her and spread stories of scandal that would damage not only her reputation but the good standing of our whole family. “Calling in that physician, watching him put his filthy hands all over her—” My voice breaks and my throat is suddenly choked with suppressed tears. At last I regain my composure, and am able once again to look the alchemist in the face.

“Thou art an alchemist,” I continue, “and ‘tis said that thou hast the secret of eternal life.” I pause, then continue, “I wish thou to share this secret with me.”

“Thou art impatient,” he says, “and well might thou be, but stay, such a thing does not come cheaply. Art thou prepared to pay the price?” He cackles and rubs his knobby hands together.

“Perchance this shall be sufficient?” I untie the strings of my money pouch from where it hangs at my belt and emptied its contents into his waiting palm. As soon as I have done so I regret it, and nearly do I snatch back the pile of silver from his gnarled palm, but I think of my terror at the passing of the plague cart, and of my sister’s body lying in the room full of flowers, and stay my hand.

The old man turns the coins over and over in his hand, counting them and holding them to the light. At last he pockets them and turns towards me again, eyes gleaming greedily. “Nearly, nearly,” he said, “but it is not enough. Thou knowest not what thou asks of me.”

“Verily,” I say, “have I given you the last of what I possess. I have naught else to offer thee.”

“Thou hast still thy cloak,” the alchemist said, “fur-lined and made of good English wool. I will have thy cloak.”

What? Would the man strip the very clothes off my back? I bite my lip to suppress my cry of anger, for the cloak is not only a fine one but a gift from my sister besides. Still, I think, ‘tis better to lose one’s cloak than one’s life, for the one can always be bought but one is lucky if one can save the other. “Verily, thou shalt have it,” I say, and so saying I unfastened my cloak and handed it to him.

“Aye, aye,” he nods, “and thy amulets too. Thou wilt have no more need of them.”

Reluctantly I remove them, pulling them from around my neck and waist, and where I had pinned one over my heart. I have quite the collection, for I have worn some since before the plague started and have been steadily adding more as time has passed and death and disease have continued to run rampant in the streets like signs of the end-times. I have not removed them, even to sleep, and their weight has been on me now for so long that, removing them at last, I feel almost naked and entirely unprotected.

“Let me see,” the alchemist mutters, pawing through the pile on the table. “What have we here? Aye, these will fetch a pretty penny. What’s this? Solid silver? Tsk, tsk. What wouldst thy father say if he knew thou wert spending his money thus, on trinkets?”

“They are no mere trinkets!” I start hotly. “These are a valuable source of protection—”

“Aye, aye,” the alchemist cuts in. “If thou thought them such fine protection, thou wouldst not have come to me.”

I swallow my protests and hang my head. “Thou speaks truly,” I say reluctantly. “Pray continue. I am most anxious to obtain the elixir quickly.”

“Aye, aye,” the alchemist nods. “Thou desires haste. I will fetch it shortly, but first, bethink you, ‘tis a potion of eternal life. Desires thou to see all they friends and family die before thee?”

“I am like to see that already,” I say impatiently, though my heart pangs at the prospect, “if I do not die first of plague myself.” My sister’s death is still vivid in my memory, and I would do much to avoid such a fate.

“‘Tis sooth,” the alchemist cackles. “Death and sorrow await all of us, save those who find the means to escape them. Think you though, to live forever on this earth, never growing older, never feeling thirst or hunger—”

“It sounds almost too good to be true,” I say.

“—never, perhaps, to find a way to heaven?” The alchemist continues. “To give up eternal life in true paradise for a prolonged existence on this miserable earth?”

I hesitate, but only for a moment. Fear makes my blood thrum in my veins, and I fear death now, death by the plague, far more than anything the future may bring, or fail to bring. Memories of my sister flood over me, and her suffering, and my spirit quails at the thought that I might suffer and die the same way. My very being shrinks from such a prospect. Even the fleeting thought that this old man, this alchemist, might be some demon in disguise, sent to tempt me, lacks the power to sway me from what I plan to do. For all my hesitation and half-hearted wavering, my cowardice serves as a form of determination, even a twisted sort of courage, as my one great fear, the fear of suffering and death, drowns out all other fears and doubts.

“After thou drinks it,” the alchemist says, “thou wilt not change or alter—not age, nay, nor alter in any way. Alas for thy vanity!” He cackles. “Thou shalt be forever preserved thus—wan and pale, with eyes dark-shadowed!”

“I care little what I look like,” I say, “so long as I do not die.” Vain, I may be, but before all else I am a coward, and my fear of death holds far more power than my desire to maintain a good appearance. After all, I can hardly maintain a good appearance when covered in pustules or lying as a corpse in a plague mound ready to be burned. Still, at the alchemist’s persistence, doubt begins to creep into my mind. “Wherefore dost thou try to dissuade me?” I ask. “Either thou is willing to sell me the potion, or thou is unwilling to do so, but ‘tis ludicrous to take my payment and then try to keep me from that which I have paid for. I have told thou, this is what I desire, and this exchange is surely profitable for thou as well.” I think bitterly of all I have given him: the money, the cloak, and the amulets. It is indeed a princely price to pay for the hope of escaping death.

The alchemist shakes his head. “If the elixir is effective, thou and I shalt be the only two immortals in this country, perhaps in all the world, for I have heard of no other who has come so close to success as I. I have no wish to be haunted forever by a person who has come to regret the choice they made, and blames me for it.”

“‘If it is effective’?” I repeat. “Thou hast not already drunk the potion thyself?” I ask him. “Thou is unsure of its results and efficacy?”

The alchemist shakes his head, the motion just as jerky as his nod, and into my mind flashes the mad notion that his whole body is controlled by wires and strings, and he is, after all, no more than a puppet. “I have made tests and experiments, aye, aye,” the alchemist says, rubbing his gnarled hands together, “on rats, and cats, and slowly have I perfected it, but not yet has it been drunk by any human, and certainly not by myself. Nay, nay,” he cackles. “Wherefore should I drink that which might prove ineffective or poisonous? Nay, thou shalt be the first, and after thou hast drunk it, I shall observe and take note, that I may know if I have at long last achieved that which I seek, or if there are changes still to make before I may drink and be assured of success myself.”

At that, I nearly demand back my money and possessions, but I do not. I have come too far, and risked too much, to go back now empty-handed. Besides, have I not already seen that there is no other way to avoid death by the plague? “I shalt not be dissuaded,” I tell him. “Make haste with the mixture! Enough of night has passed already.”

Turning, the alchemist catches up from a shelf in the corner a small vial which he hands to me. “There,” he says, “there is that which thou so desires.”

I hold the vial doubtfully to the light, for the liquid it contains looked suspiciously like water. I uncork the vial and sniff the liquid, but it has no smell, or at least none that I can discern over the general stench of the room. I tip back my head and poured the vial’s contents into my mouth. At first, the liquid seems horribly bitter and I nearly spit it out at once. The next moment, however, I am sure that I must have been mistaken, for the liquid is as tasteless as water. I swallow the potion and look over at the old man, who has pulled out a large tome and is now scribbling vigorously in it with a quill, writing in some series of strange symbols which I cannot read.

“If thy potion has truly down what thou dost claim,” I said, “then truly must I be grateful to thee, but how am I to know if this is so?”

Yet he ignores me, intend on his writing. “Interesting, interesting,” he mutters to himself. “Perchance the lack of solid corporeal form is a result of my attempts to reduce the needs of the body—food, drink, and sleep.”

Lack of corporeal form? At this ominous phrase I look down at my hands and find to my horror that I can see the floor through them, and on the floor the vial where it has fallen from my grasp. I dive after it, but my hands, rather than stopping at the vial, pass through it and into the stones beneath until I find myself buried up to my elbows in the floor. “What has thou done?” I cry, springing to my feet, my body passing as easily back out of the floor as it had gone into it. “Have I become a ghost?” Yet if my spirit has passed out of my body, then I can see now sign of my body anywhere in the small shack.

“It seems the mixture is still missing some vital ingredient to balance it,” the alchemist says, still intent on his writing. “Clay or ash, mayhap, to signify the body, or perhaps…” His voice fades off into low and unintelligible mutterings as his quill scratches busily across the parchment.

“Yes, but what of me?” I cry. I stamp my foot, but it merely passes through the floor without a sound, rendering the motion unsatisfactory and wholly ineffective. “Canst thou not alter the effects of this potion, so that it grants me all that thou hast promised, or, if not that, then at least provide me an antidote that I may return to my former state? Even that would be better than this.”

“Go, go,” the alchemist says, waving his left hand impatiently while his right hand continues its journey across the page. “Thou hast what thou asked for. Aye, aye, didst thou not insist thou wouldst have it, regardless of consequence? Thou shalt not die. Begone with thee.”

“No!” I cry, and flee sobbing, out of the house and through the dark and empty streets of the city. “No! This was never what I desired!” For some time, my distress is so great that I am not aware of my surroundings or where I travel, so caught up am I in thoughts of my own folly and its consequences. When at last I come back to my senses, I see that my legs, even acting without my conscious direction, like tired horses catching the scent of the stable, have carried me back home.

I find my mother sitting in the solar. The sun is just now rising, so it is early for her to be awake. Or perhaps, like me, she never slept. She is embroidering a pattern of leaves around the edges of a gown. Yet her mind is not on her work, for she will turn her gaze from the garment to stare out the window or at the wall, sighing, her hands going still in her lap, for a full minute or more, before she resumes her sewing. As I come closer, I see that her eyes are red-rimmed from crying. She does not notice me enter the room or approach her, my feet gliding silently without actually touching the floor.

When I am directly behind her, I speak. “Good morrow, mother.”

She starts at the sound of my voice, and I see relief rise in her eyes at the sight of me. In the dim light of the room, lit only by a single candle and the first red rays of the sun, I look almost solid. “There you are!” She cries. “You have no idea how worried I was when I came into your room this morning to stir up the fire and found your bed empty and you gone! Thanks be to God that no harm has come to you!” She exclaims, dropping her embroidery and moving to embrace me. She tries to throw her arms around me, but they pass straight through, my illusion of solidity shattered.

My mother screams and leaps backwards, overturning the stool on which she had been sitting. Her eyes are wide with horror as she crosses herself. “Shade,” she mutters, “phantom!”

“Mother, be calm, I pray you,” I say. “’Tis not as bad as you believe. I am not dead, even if my appearance is that of a ghost. Allow me to explain what has befallen me this night.”

She does not stay to hear my words, for even as I am speaking, she hurries past me, calling out to my father so that the whole house echoes with her words. “Wilhelm, our elder child also is dead! Just now, the ghost came to me!”

Not knowing what else to do, I follow her, staying some paces behind in an attempt to keep from further alarming her. I hope that eventually she will calm down enough to let me explain what has happened, but I am not given the opportunity.

My father holds my mother firmly but gently in his arms, whispering to her, trying to soothe her, to convince her that she has merely been dreaming or that the ghost she believed she saw was only a figment of her imagination. When my father looks up and sees me over my mother’s shoulder, his hands stiffen.

“Good morrow, father,” I say, stepping forward, arms outstretched in a gesture of peace. “I have news to share with you of some great import.”

My father’s face hardens, and he steps away from my mother, snatching up a torch from the wall and waving it at me. “Begone, spirit! A vaunt!” He cries, “Trouble us no more!”

“Mother, father,” I say pleadingly. I feel as though my heart is breaking. I had never thought that my own parents would fear me and cast me out. Yet my father strides toward me, waving the torch, while my mother cowers pale behind him, and—although I doubt that the torch would hurt me in this state—I flee from him, running from the house and out again into the street, where I huddle in the chill of the morning, watching the sun rise slowly over the shops and houses of the town.

I do not go far, because I have nowhere to go. I can think of no other place besides my home where I might be accepted, or even just find a place to stay. For some days, I remain in the house, staying in my room or in the old servants’ quarters for the most part, occasionally venturing out into the rest of the house to check on my mother and father and see what they are about. It galls me to live thus, like a thief in my own household, or like a shadow. I watch as my parents gather up all of my possessions—my clothes, even my mattress and blanket—into a pile and burn them in case I too died of the plague, although my father says it is far more likely I fell in the river and drowned. It is a cruel irony, I think, because I am not dead at all, and—if the alchemist’s words are to be believed—cannot die. The more time I spend in this state, the more I come to believe that he did speak the truth, for his other words prove true: I have no need for food and drink, or for sleep. I could test the veracity of the claim of immortality easily enough, by throwing myself into the river that runs through the town, or into the fire. Yet I am still too much a coward to make the attempt, holding back out of the fear that it would kill me after all, or that it would cause me pain even if I failed to die.

After a while, I bethink myself once again of the alchemist, who it seems is the only one who might be able to help me find a way out of my current predicament. If I am a ghost, I tell myself, then I shall act like one and haunt someone. I will go back to the alchemist’s hut and I will stay there and haunt him until he develops and consents to give me an antidote and a true elixir, one that will grant me eternal life while retaining my own form. I am sure that the alchemist must have developed an improved version of his elixir by now, given how confident in his abilities he was the night I visited him. Indeed, he already seemed on the cusp of such a discovery, between the elixir he gave me and the thought about it which he had so vigorously scribbled down in his book. Even if he has not yet developed a suitable elixir of life, I am determined to stay with him until he does, assisting in any way possible, so that the discovery may be made more quickly and I may be free from this phantom existence. I am lucky at least, I reflect, in that the man I sought out has proved to be no charlatan but a true alchemist, dedicated to his craft, so that I may have hope that whatever mistake he made in crafting the elixir I drank will be one which he is well able to find and rectify. I feel a pang at the thought of leaving my family, but not as much as I might have anticipated. Even when I am here with them, I am no use to them. In the daylight, I am invisible and inaudible to them, so they are unaware of my presence and I am unable to interact with them in any way, and in the evening, night-time, and early morning, the times of day when they are able to perceive me, my presence only frightens and disturbs them. Far better to leave, I think, and return when I have taken the improved elixir and can rejoin my family as myself, provided they survive the plague as well. They are traveling to the country to try and avoid it, but I think I will be able to find them, or if not I will stay here at the house and await their return. 

It is raining, and although one might think that, being without substance, I would not be bothered by the rain, in fact it makes it worse for the rain runs straight through me, making me feel wet and cold down to my very soul. Yet now that I have a plan, I am determined to follow it, and any delay would seem painful. My parents have decided to leave our house in the town and go to our manor in the country, in the hopes of escaping the plague, and are already in the process of packing up their things to leave. I have no wish to stay and see them go, without being in my proper body and able to accompany them. When I am myself again, I promise myself, I shall come back and find them, and I am sure that they will rejoice to see me alive and well, not dead as they had feared.

The journey to the alchemist’s hut passes more quickly this time, for I have no need of caution and skulking in shadows to avoid being seen. With the rain, there are few people on the street, and those who are out walk quickly with their heads down, thinking only of getting to their destinations as speedily as possible. I doubt that anyone would take notice of me even if I were not half-transparent and difficult to see in the fading daylight.

When I arrive at the alchemist’s hut, I find the windows dark and the door tightly closed. I am unable to knock, but this time I have no need of knocking. Instead, I pass straight through the door, shuddering at the horrible feeling of the wood entering inside my body, of what is left of my substance becoming temporarily one with that of the door, before I pass through into the hut.

At first, I am disoriented by the darkness of the room, for the fire is unlit and there are no candles lit. I wonder for a moment if the alchemist is gone, if he has fled the city like so many others. As my eyes adjust to the darkness I gradually make out the figure of the alchemist on the floor by my feet. He lies completely still, no movement of the mouth or chest to indicate that he is breathing, his eyes staring without seeing. His skin is covered in the scars and pustules that are the signs of a plague victim. I stumble backwards from the shock of the discovery, and only the sensation of falling partway into the door brings me back to my senses. So he was neither demon nor puppet, as I had half feared, I think, but only a man, as susceptible to the plague as anyone, for all his boasting.

His death seems recent, for no mark has yet been placed on the doorpost of his house, the stench of the tannery partially masking the smell of death. Still I know that it will not be long before someone notices the body and sends for the plague cart to come carry it off.

On the table, the book still lies open, pages covered in notes written in the alchemist’s wavering hand. Notes that are written not in any language which I know of, but instead in rows of strange symbols, no doubt a cipher of the alchemist’s creation, so that only he would be able to read the book and could thus keep safe his secrets.

“What was it you said to me, the night you gave me the elixir?” I ask, knowing even as I do so that I must be mad to speak to a corpse. “‘I am the one man who need not fear death.’ Was that not what you said?” Yet now here he lies, a pustule-covered corpse, ready to be taken away by the plague cart, and all his work to discover the secret of immortality is of no use either to him or to me. I feel hollow inside, as the last hope that I held crumbles into nothingness. It is true that I am not dead, but neither can I dwell any longer in the world of the living. Tears come unbidden to my eyes, run down my cheeks, but they are ghost tears, an illusion. Even my sorrow is another reminder that I am no longer real, no longer solid. “Tell me,” I whisper to the corpse of the alchemist, “in the moments before you died, were you afraid?”

Prose: Fireproof Box (Nothing Good Gets Away) – Lauren Pratt

Fireproof Box (Nothing Good Gets Away)
Lauren Pratt

One day, it happens. The things you love become the things you lost. Things you will never see again.

It’s two nights before. You rise from your drowsy dream, steady your sea legs, navigate the seas of the unconscious dream world, leer toward the kitchen. The kitchen has answers and light, always light. Your mother left the kitchen light on, so you leave the kitchen light on.

You forgot to fill the water filter again. Flip the top, place it under the faucet, turn the plastic knob and let it fill again.

You lean back against the dishwasher, hips aligning with the countertop’s round edge. Joan of Arc is staring back at you from the opposite wall. Or, perhaps she is looking above you and to the right a little bit, just over your shoulder: the permanent location of God in all depictions; the corner-dwelling yellow sun in a child’s painting of the world. She is an impressionistic misfit from the collection of your grandfather’s creations, and as such you’ve never much cared for her. After staring a while longer, you decide it’s actually the heinous early nineties hunter green mat and marbled plastic frame that you despise, and that Joan herself is exactly as she should be – all fire and passion and will power, rearing back on her blood red horse, her lily white hand thrusting a golden cross before her, confident of victory before the flames.

Flash forward to the evening of the day it happens. Try to recall it, your little kitchen – the vinyl countertop that is never quite clean, the black painted flecks hiding a multitude of crumbs, the labeled wine bottles lining the stovetop, the window ledge, the backsplash. An opaque green bottle with sepia colored portrait of an Australian inmate, a clear green bottle with a running red horse fourteen hands high, a gift from someone you loved, you think. In the cabinet above the ever-present light, your grandmother’s yellow Depression-era glass casserole dishes, brought to life and ended in fire.

And ah, the coffee mugs! Purveyors of solace and warmth, friends that are filled to be emptied once more! How like the Christ metaphor, vessel of sustenance. The black clay cup you found after hours searching through a Cuencano artist’s inventory in a dirt-floored hut in South America that housed five generations and several cats. A set of small ceramic cups used to hand whip cream for strawberries, “the road goes ever on and on” painted in gold script around the lip, one of a few His and Hers sets your hopeful parents gifted to you years ago. A royal blue teacup and saucer from the antique store on the main drag in Plymouth; two more teacups from the same store, all stamped red or green or black on the base, cups you and your friends drank Earl Grey from in college, pinkies up, wearing nothing particular to indicate you were actually the Bennett sisters, awaiting suitors on the second floor of the women’s only dormitory. The porcelain teapot trimmed in metallic gold with hand painted blue roses on its oft-warm belly. A muted blue and green modern tea set from an art gallery high in the mountains of Ecuador.

Gone from the windowsill, the sea glass and sand from your family’s cottage, the one jutting out proudly into the harsh north Atlantic, “Journey’s End”. Gone, the cross-stitch of downtown Lake Bluff, Illinois that your grandmother sewed, the original wood frame still drawing the fabric buildings taut. Gone, the bowls with bible verses crudely etched around the bases; the seashore themed plates with tiny imprints of ceramic turtles scuttling toward the sea, permanently bent on survival.

Gone, the white washed pottery from your home away from home in the Mississippi Delta. Gone, the family cookbook lovingly pieced together for you, containing recipes of all sorts from both sides of your family.

Gone, all the things you’ll never hold or drink from again; they have gone the way of all possessions: broken or melted or molded away. Keep their memory safe within the fireproof box of your mind to drink and sup from in future years. Nothing good gets away.

Prose: Brad – Edward Rojas

Brad
Edward Rojas

It started as a joke, kind of. You’re not the prettiest girl in school but you’re good enough to make it into the sexual fantasies of your friend Brad. Clever, charming, fucked up Brad. School sucks. Parents suck. Life sucks. And you’re about to as well for the first time and there it is dangling right in front of you. Stiff as a rod. You don’t really want to but you’ve crossed the line of no return. It doesn’t really matter either way. Seventeen years of straight As has led to this. Three shots of vodka and you’re not even that drunk. Electronic music from Kayla’s party is booming from upstairs and you’re in the basement with Brad. Sweaty, hairy, horny Brad. You look up at his pimpled face and decide why not. Oh well. Open up, here comes the plane.

Flash.

This is what you get.

It takes a second to realize what just happened.

Brad always said he wanted to change the world. He would say it in this sinister way that would rattle your angst. Your special angst leading you down the right path. Brad was always reading these weird psychology books about family dynamics. He was obsessed with the Oedipus complex. Oh Brad. What have you done. Brad’s illuminated smile is all you can see and you start screaming at him. You tell him to delete it. You tell him not to show anyone. You grab his phone to find that it’s already sent and he just laughs.

Brad wanted us to reexamine our social constructs. Embrace the taboo. Question the underpinnings of society. You never really had a crush on Brad but he was your only friend. He was kind of cute and it was fun to hate the world with someone. A real sweetheart. Brad helped plan a surprise birthday party to your favorite amusement park with your family. Your dad loved him. They liked to chat over facebook and eventually exchanged numbers. He liked your dad so much. Brad believed in changing the world one small step at a time.

Girls used to make fun of Brad for his acne in middle school. He was never popular but had a sharp edge. An edge that could open up your stomach and spill out your guts if you got too close. But you liked him. He talked to you like an intelligent human being. You always knew something might happen between the two of you and figured that wouldn’t be the worst thing that could happen. Brad was a little psychotic.
And you kind of liked it.

Sometimes it made you uncomfortable. He could snap from charming to neurotic in a second. Sometimes you’d cry. Life was a bitch and Brad understood. You’d say you just wanted to destroy everything and run away. Brad was a good listener. He wanted to be a psychologist. One time he said society prevents a father and daughter from having a healthy relationship because of the norms and standards we have adopted. He said the right relationship with her father is crucial to a young girl’s development. Brad wanted to make the world a better place.

Kayla’s party sucked. A bunch of horny teenagers grinding to generic electronic music and you and Brad sneak into the basement with a bottle of vodka. Last night Brad went to your house for dinner and discussed Freud and Jung with your dad while you got more pasta. In the basement you and Brad take some shots and he gets a little too close and says

“Wouldn’t it be funny if we kissed?”

It would.

So funny that one thing leads to another and you figure out what Welcome to the Jungle is about and the next thing you know you’re working on a thick sausage sandwich and your life is about to get ruined.

You ask him why he did it. Brad wanted the world to change. You’re crying and Brad thinks he did the right thing. You stare in horror at the screen. Remember the Oedipus complex? Think about that the other way around. Father and Daughter. Brad wanted to revolutionize psychology. At 10:47 P.M the photo was seen by your dad. Now you know why Brad always said he wanted a daughter.

Prose: A Cake for Helena – Anna Pittenger

A Cake for Helena
Anna Pittenger

This is it, I think as I sift flour into a bowl, the other cake ingredients and measuring spoons and cups arranged on the table around me, this Valentine’s Day will be the day that Helena finally realizes how much I like her. Helena, Marcus, and his girlfriend Abby are my three best friends at school. Actually, I’m really more friends with Marcus, and then friends with Abby and Helena through him. Even though I’ve had a crush on Helena for a long time, I’ve never had the courage to tell her how I feel. Also, Helena is in love with Marcus. Even though he’s already dating Abby, she still hasn’t given up hope, although she’s settled for being friends for now. Helena is a good friend, fun to be around, and I really like her, but she only thinks of me as a friend—someone she knows because I’m friends with Marcus—and even though we have some good times together, it seems like she pays more attention to Marcus than she does to me. I really want to do something to get her to pay more attention to me, to let her know my feelings for her. I’m too shy to just come up to her outright and ask her out, but I at least want her to know that I think of her as more than a friend. I’ve always been good at baking, and Helena likes sweets, so that’s why I’ve decided to put all of my feelings for her into a cake and give it to her for Valentine’s Day. I’m feeling excited about this. I’m always excited about baking, but this time I’m more excited than ever, because it will be something for Helena. Chocolate would be more traditional for Valentine’s Day, but for Helena I think something with strawberries and a lot of cream would be best. Not shortcake, though. Besides, it’s not the season for fresh strawberries. Instead, I’m using white cake as a base, and trying to add in some fruit flavors.

Once I finish sifting the flour, I measure out the baking powder and mix it in. Then I measure out the butter and sugar and cream them together with the hand mixer, beating in the eggs one at a time, adding vanilla, and mixing in the dry ingredients. For the topping, I don’t want to make a regular frosting; that would be too heavy and strongly sweet. I want something with a lighter body and a lightly sweet flavor to match the cake. (When you’re making a cake, you can’t just put any frosting on the cake. The cake and topping have to complement each other, with the icing bringing out the best in the cake, improving on it and embellishing it without outshining or overpowering it.) We have a jar of apricot preserves in the pantry, so I decide to make the cake two layers, with apricot preserves in between the layers, and on top of the cake a layer of apricot preserves topped with a layer of whipped cream. That still seems a bit too plain, though. Helena seems like the sort of person who would really like fruit-based sweets, so if this was summer I would probably top the cake with strawberries or sliced apricots, or maybe even make a fruit tart instead of a cake. Still, it’s early February so fruit like that isn’t in season, and trying to use dried or frozen fruit just wouldn’t be the same.

That means I’ll have to be a bit more creative. We have some orange sherbet in the freezer, so I scoop out enough to substitute for the milk in the cake. That should give the cake a faint fruity flavor without sacrificing any of its airy deliciousness, and the faint orange flavor of the cake should complement the apricot preserves nicely, rather than competing with them. Ah! But if the cake is flavored and there is a different flavor between the layers, is it really all right to have just plain whipped cream on top? Even if frozen fruit by itself would look bad as a decoration, if I let it thaw and then ran it through the blender to make juice, then I could probably use that juice to flavor the whipped cream. In the freezer, we have frozen strawberries and frozen peaches. I pause, momentarily torn between the two options. Peach would probably go better with orange and apricot, but strawberry would give the whipped cream a pink color that would be good for Valentine’s Day, and after all, strawberries and cream were what I first thought of when I considered making a cake for Helena. I wonder if we have any different kinds of jam.

I finish mixing the batter for the cake itself and pour it into two round cake pans. It would be better with a heart-shaped pan, since this is supposed to be for Valentine’s Day, but I don’t have anything like that. The oven dings, letting me know it’s heated to the proper temperature, and I put in the cake pans, setting the timer for 35 minutes. Right now, I need to see if there’s a different jam I could use between the cake layers. Looking through the refrigerator and pantry, I find a jar of grape jelly and a jar of lemon curd, but both of those are worse than the options I already had. A thought hits me. Of course! Why don’t I just try out the different flavor combinations? I take a spoonful of the orange sherbet, some apricot jelly, and a frozen peach slice and taste it. Then I do the same with a frozen strawberry. The frozen fruit makes my teeth ache with cold but I try to ignore the sensation and focus on the flavor. Mmm. Strawberry is actually really good. All right, frozen strawberries it is, then.

I pull out what I think will be enough to make juice and put the rest in the freezer. Then I put away all of the other things I’m done with, piling the dirty mixing bowl and measuring cups in the sink, and washing them with soap and hot water. I finish just as the oven timer starts going off. Quickly, I dry my hands, then check on the cake. Perfect. I pull the pans out of the oven and, while I’m waiting for the cake to cool, I make the topping for it, whipping heavy cream with a whisk until it starts to stiffen, then adding a bit of sugar, some vanilla extract, and the strawberry juice, and beating it some more.

As soon as the cake has cooled down enough, I put on the apricot jam and whipped cream. I put whipped cream all over the sides of the cake, with a thicker layer on top over the jam. When I’m finished, it looks pretty good. I want to cut a slice so I can see how it tastes all together, but I don’t want to ruin how the cake looks. Giving someone a cake with a piece cut out of it would be incredibly bad-mannered.

That night, I go to bed at a good time, but I’m so nervous I can’t fall asleep. I keep thinking of everything that could go wrong. What if the cake tastes bad? What if Helena hates it? What if she hates me because I have her a horrible-tasting cake? I’m such an idiot, I think. I should have done a double-batch and made two cakes—one for us and one for Helen. Even better, I should have tasted this cake and then made an improved version for Helena. Still, I don’t really have time to get up and bake and frost another cake now, even if I could somehow do so without waking anyone else up. I really ought to be asleep already, if I want to get the proper amount of rest. It would be bad if I was completely exhausted tomorrow. Finally I manage to stop tossing and turning and fall asleep, although worries still fill my dreams.

Normally, when my alarm goes off I hit the snooze button and go back to sleep for at least five minutes, but today I shoot up immediately, trembling with nervousness and excitement. I take a shower and get dressed. I always try to look my best, but today I take special care to dress nicely. I eat breakfast, brush my teeth—twice, just to be sure—and pack my bag for school.

Then comes the problem of the cake. How am I going to transport it? I can’t just put it in my bag, even inside a cake box, because it would be ruined if it got squashed or titled, so it would be better to carry it in my hands, but I have to carry my lunchbox as well. I guess I’ll just have to put my lunchbox in my bag. My bag is kind of small, but if I take out my math and English textbooks, there should be more than enough room for my lunchbox. I sit next to Marcus in those classes, so I can always ask him to share his textbook with me if we need to use it. There, now everything is set. I check the kitchen clock and breathe a sigh of relief. Even with everything, it looks like I got around in good time this morning. I still have a few minutes left before I have to leave for school, but I decide to go ahead and set out anyway. It would be bad to be late, and I’ll have to walk slowly to make sure I don’t upset the cake. I make it out the front door just fine, carefully balancing the cake box in one hand while I open the door and then close it again behind me. I’m glad that I live close enough that I can walk to school, because I can’t imagine trying to take the cake on a school-bus. When I step out onto the sidewalk, however, I almost immediately slip on a patch of ice.

“Ah!” My body teeters back and forth as, holding the cake, I am unable to use my arms to help balance. I let out a sigh of relief as I regain my balance. It must have warmed up just enough to rain last night, before the weather turned cold again and the water froze. The streets are salted pretty regularly, so they should be fine, but the sidewalks are still slick.

I take a deep breath and try to slow my frantically beating heart. It’s all right. It’s not that bad; I should be okay as long as I look out and make sure not to step in any more spots that look like they could be slick or wet. I start walking again, picking my way gingerly around the frozen puddles. It’s a good thing I started out a bit early today, so I have time to be really careful, I think. Normally, I end up hitting the snooze button a few times and have to dash in order to get to school on time.

I manage to make it a full block without incident. At the end of the street, however, I hit an invisible slick spot in the shadow where a tree hangs over the sidewalk, and the unexpected and sudden lack of friction causes me to lose my footing. I sit down, hard, on the cold ground.

“Oof.” Still, I’m lucky that I fell backwards instead of forwards. I check the cake to be sure the sudden jolt hasn’t messed up the frosting. The cake has shifted in the box, but it seems mostly undamaged. My behind hurts, but right now that’s not my biggest concern. I gently set the cake box on the ground, climb to my feet using the tree for support to avoid falling again while I find a non-slick spot to stand on, and then bend down to pick up the cake again. After that, I don’t take any chances. I move at practically a crawl, taking baby steps and testing the ground before moving forward. In this way I creep past two more blocks. I hit a few more slick patches on the way, but I only wobble without falling down.

I’m almost at the school when disaster strikes again. There’s one house on my route to school that I always shudder when I walk past, because the people who live there have a dog chained out in their yard. I’m not exactly sure what kind of dog it is—pit bull, Rottweiler, Great Dane, or what—because I don’t know much about dog breeds, but whatever it is, it’s big and scary, with sharp teeth, and it always growls and barks really loudly whenever I walk past. I don’t like big dogs, so I generally cross over to the other side of the street when I go past that house, but today I’ve been so focused on my feet, trying not to step on a slick spot, that I don’t even realize I’m close to the house until loud barking fills my ears and I look over to see the house beside me.

My heart-rate accelerates to what might be the average heart-rate for a rabbit, and sweat breaks out on my forehead despite the cold. Calm down, I tell myself. The dog is tied up. It can’t get out of the yard. There’s no way it can hurt me. Still, I find myself walking faster, my legs quickening in spite of myself, my body manifesting its desire to get away from the danger as quickly as possible. As I go, the barking grows louder, and I can’t help risking a glance sideways at the yard. When I do, what I see makes my heart leap in my chest: the dog is running forward at me across the yard, and it isn’t restrained at all. I break into a run, spurred by wild panic, not thinking at all about the slick ground or where I’m placing my feet.

I’ve barely gone five steps when I hit another patch of ice. I’m moving too quickly to stop or even try to catch my balance. One moment I’m running along the sidewalk, and the next my feet are sliding out from under me and I’m falling. I somehow manage to keep a hold on the cake box and hold it up, so that it does not go flying as I fall, and I do not fall on top of it, but that’s the most I can do.

I fall forwards this time, and without my hands to catch myself, my face smacks the icy sidewalk. Pain shoots through me as I hit the ground, then another wave of fear flows through my body as I hear the dog coming closer.

From the direction of the house, a voice calls out, “Roscoe, come here!”

I feel a whuff of warm air on my neck and then my hands as the dog sniffs first me and then the cakebox. My whole body is trembling, my eyes squinched shut as if not being able to see what’s happening will somehow protect me. A low growl sounds above me, like the rumble of a distant thunderstorm. My stomach turns over, and I feel my breakfast rising into the back of my throat.

“Here, Roscoe!” The voice calls again. “Come on, boy!”

There’s another whuff of air near my ear, then I hear the retreating jangle of dog-tags as the dog moves away, trotting back to its house and owner. A small sob escapes me, but whether it’s from relief or pain, even I couldn’t say.

Slowly, I open my eyes, and my vision is filled with the off-white color of the concrete barely an inch away. I lift my head slightly and see my elbows resting on the sidewalk, my forearms raised, holding aloft the cake-box which I am still holding firmly in both hands. I level myself up from my elbows onto my knees, and then onto my feet, not letting go of the cakebox. My elbows hurt, even through three layers of clothing; my knees, only protected by my pants, hurt more; my face hurts, although not as much as might be expected given that I just fell on it. I can’t be sure without feeling it or looking at it, but I don’t think I’ve broken my nose, because I think that would probably hurt a lot more than this. What hurts more is my chin and mouth, and when I look down, I see droplets of blood falling from my face to the ground. Maybe I busted my lip. I check the cake-box, and my stomach sinks with a feeling like going up in an elevator. The cake is thankfully still in one piece, but the sudden change in direction has made it slide inside the box again. More of the frosting is now on the inside of the box than on the sides of the cake, and the frosting on the top of the cake has shifted over to one side. It looks horrible. Still, maybe there’s some way I can fix it before I see Helena. I can’t give up now, at any rate, not when I’m this close to the school.

My body is still shaking, making it hard to hold the cake-box level, and tears blur my vision as I move forward, blood continuing to fall from my face and spatter the ground. I hold my head to one side to try and keep any blood from getting on the cakebox of my coat. It really does seem like a lot of blood, some logical part of my brain is noting as the rest of my body shuffles toward the school like a zombie on auto-pilot. Normally, when there’s a lot of blood it hurts more than this. My tongue moves through my mouth, checking things. My tongue seems okay. I’m not missing any teeth and none of my teeth seem to be loose or chipped. That’s good. My vision, although blurry with tears, seems otherwise fine, and there’s no pain in my eyes, which rules out an eye injury. There doesn’t seem to be any blood dripping into my eyes either, which means I haven’t cut my forehead or cracked my head open. It seems like the blood is mostly falling from the lower half of my face and, since a nose injury would hurt a lot more, that means it’s probably coming from my lip. That’s alright, my brain calmly assures my body. A lip injury isn’t that bad. It just bleeds a lot because the skin is a lot thinner there. All you do is put some ice and pressure on it and, if it’s in the skin area above or below the lip itself, use a band-aid. It occurs to me that I really ought to be putting pressure on it right now, but I need both hands to hold the cake box.

Somehow, without realizing it, I’ve already arrived at the school entrance. I go through the front door and head straight for the boy’s bathroom, the small rational part of my brain noting the absence of other people inside the school or in the hallway and presenting me with the conclusion that I must be late for home-room. (Normally, I use the staff bathroom because of what happened last semester, but the boys’ bathroom is closer and if everyone is in class that means there probably won’t be anyone there.) That means I’ll have to check in at the front office to avoid being marked absent, but I have other things to take care of first.

There’s no one else in the bathroom, which is good. I don’t want anyone else to see me right now. I set the cake-box down on the counter and take a look at myself in the mirror over the sink. I was right. It goes look like I cut my lip, and my chin is skinned as well. Rolling up my pants’-legs, I see that both my knees are scraped and bleeding, although not enough to stain through the cloth. I wash my face and knees off with soap and warm water, wincing at the sting, then dampen some paper towels with cold water and hold them to my lip while I dig out some Band-Aids from my bag. I always keep a few in the front pocket, mostly in case of papercuts and things like that. I find a few larger ones, which I put over the cuts on my knees—the right knee takes two to cover it, and the left knee takes three—and some smaller ones for my face. The place on my chin is fine now that I have a Band-Aid on it, but my lip is still bleeding, although more slowly. There’s a place between my lip and my nose where I have a small cut too, so I put a Band-Aid on that as well. I’ll probably have to stop by the nurse’s office or the cafeteria and ask for some ice before I go to class. Next I scan my clothes quickly for damage. Nothing seems torn or ripped, and there aren’t any blood-stains on my coat or pants, although there are some spots of dirt. I mop at them as well as I can with soap, water, and paper towels. It’s nice that there actually is soap in the bathroom for once. Too often, soap or towel dispenser, or both, are empty.

With my injuries at least temporarily taken care of, I turn my attention to the cake. As I had noted before, the cake itself is fine, but the frosting is completely messed up, with most of it on the inside of the container rather than on the cake. Still, there’s nothing wrong with the icing, so as long as I can get the frosting back on the cake it should be okay. I move back out into the hallway, looking for a good spot to make adjustments to the cake. I end up crouching in the corner where the hallway turns, with the cakebox on my lap. I have a plastic utensil set in my lunchbox, and now I dig out the knife and start scraping the topping off the inside of the cake box and spreading it back on the top and sides of the cake. I would have preferred to have a work surface, even something like the sink counter would have been better than my lap, but even thought people in there flushing toilets, the school bathroom just seems like a gross place to work with food. The hallway should be at least slightly more sanitary.

I’m almost done with re-frosting the cake when another student walks past in the hallway, holding the bathroom pass. He slows down as he passes me, giving me a look of puzzled surprise, and I suddenly become aware of how strange I must appear: a boy with Band-Aids on his face, crouched in the corner of the hallway with a cakebox balanced on his legs, holding a wet paper towel to his bleeding lip with one hand and using a plastic knife to spread icing on a cake with his other hand. I think about saying “Good morning,” but I’m afraid that moving my lips at all could make the cut worse, so I settle for giving a half-wave with the hand holding the knife.

He looks at me for another moment, then continues walking, shaking his head. “Weirdo,” he mutters as he passes me.

After he passes, I make the finishing touches to the cake and take a moment to sit back and look at it. I breathe a small sigh of relief. It looks…

“What’s up, man? Are you alright?” Marcus asks as I slip into the classroom and sink breathless into the seat next to him, putting the cakebox on my desk.

I nod and try to smile. I had planned to give the cake to Helena before school started, but now it’s too late and I’ll have to hand onto it until lunch time. Still, I have it and it is safe, so that’s the important thing. I’m so excited I can’t focus in class. Instead of paying attention to what the teacher’s saying, I keep imagining Helena’s face when I give her the cake: how her whole face will break into a huge smile and her eyes will sparkle. Just thinking about it makes me feel warm inside.

I try to take notes, but my mind keeps drifting off and instead I just doodle pictures of cakes all over my notebook. I try to draw Helena’s face too, but I’m not as good at drawing people so after a while I give up on it and go back to cakes. At our school, we have three periods before lunch, then one period after. For me, in the morning I have English and Math (both with Marcus), then PE, and after lunch I have social studies. Right before lunch is PE, and I start getting worried. The cakebox is too big to fit properly in my locker without tilting it, so I’ve been carrying it form class to class with me, getting nervous every time someone bumps me in the hallway while we’re changing classes, and setting it on top of my desk during class where I can keep an eye on it and no one will step on it. In PE, though, there’s no place to put anything except in a locker or just leaving it out in the locker room on top of one of the benches. There’s no way I can take either of those options, but what else can I do?

Near the end of math class I raise my hand and ask the teacher if I can go to the nurse’s office because I’m not feeling that good. The teacher writes me a pass to go to the nurse’s office and I go, taking my books and my cake with me. Since it’s a Friday, the nurse is only here half the day, in the afternoon, so she isn’t there yet, but the teacher is too busy to remember that right now. When I get to the nurse’s office, I just sit there and wait for her, which is fine with me, since I really don’t want to see the nurse, I just want to be somewhere I can keep an eye on my cake, and if any teacher gets mad at me for skipping class, I want a signed pass I can show them.

I go ahead and open the cake box to check on it. The icing has shifted, but only a little bit, so I quickly fix it using the plastic knife. I wish there was a refrigerator I could put the cake in so the frosting wouldn’t run. The cake doesn’t look the way it did when I made it in the kitchen at home, but at least it still looks mostly decent. I sit in the nurse’s office, swinging my legs back and forth. The period never seems this long when I’m in class, even when the teacher is being really boring and lecturing. I’m starting to get hungry, and since there’s nothing else to do I open up my lunchbox and pull out my sandwich. I suppose I should worry about not having enough at lunch time if I’m eating food now, but I don’t really care. I think I’ve got enough things packed that I can still have something I can eat at lunch even if I eat some of my food now. Besides, if I do get hungry later I can always get something from the vending machine.

I wait in the nurse’s office until the PE period is almost over. About 5 minutes before the bell rings, I leave the nurse’s office and head over to Helena’s classroom (she has English that period). I want to get there as soon as the lunch bell rings so I can make sure to see her and talk to her before anyone else. I check my reflection in the mirror of the staff bathroom before I leave, to make sure I look all right. My lip has stopped bleeding out from under the Band-Aid, and I consider taking the Band-Aids off, but I decide not to. I don’t want to risk re-opening the cuts.

“Oh, Avery!” Helena exclaims. She’s smiling, but then her eyes fall on my Band-Aids and she frowns. “Are you all right? What happened?”

I smile back, feeling momentarily irritated that this is what she’s focused on, when what I really want to talk about is much more important—that is, the cake—but just being near her makes me feel like my stomach is full of sunlight. “It’s nothing,” I say quickly, “I just slipped on some ice on the way in.” Helena is super health-conscious, so I should have known she would focus on this, and I feel annoyed at myself for not anticipating this. “Anyway,” I say, trying to shift her focus to my original intent, “I made something for you.” I push the cakebox towards her. “Here.”

She opens it, her eyes widening. “Oh, wow, Avery! You made this? It looks

delicious.”

All of the anxiety I’ve felt about the cake—the frosting not being even, the cake not being properly chilled—vanishes in that moment with her honest expression of admiration. Helena is always so open and honest about her emotions. That’s one of the things I like about her.

I nod, feeling my smile stretch wider. “It’s strawberry, orange, and apricot-flavored,” I feel her.

“We should find the others,” she says, looking around as if expecting Marcus and Abby to appear here, rather than waiting for us at our usual lunch table, “so we can share this with them.”

My heart sinks, but I’m not ready to give up, not yet, not after trying so hard. “I really made this for you,” I say, trying to be insistent without sounding too pushy. “I’d prefer if you ate it yourself.”

She frowns, her slight frown where her forehead wrinkles a bit just between the eyes and her lower lip sticks out but not quite enough to be pouty. Everything about her is pretty, so even her frown is cute, but I’d still much rather see her smile. “There’s no way I could eat a whole cake by myself,” she says. “Besides, sweets are better when you share them with others, don’t you think?” Then her frown deepens, and I can see the worry flicker into her eyes. “Or do you think Marcus won’t like it? I know he doesn’t eat a lot of sweets, but I thought that maybe, since it’s Valentine’s Day—“

The my smile feels stiff on my face. Even when I’m standing right in front of her, Marcus is the only one she thinks about. Still, it’s not like me to be jealous, or get upset over something like that. I’m the happy-go- lucky one, the one who’s always smiling, the irrepressibly cheerful one, the one who got “best smile” in 8 th grade despite my chipped front tooth. My stomach hurts, and it’s not because I ate my lunch too quickly. I think of all the time and effort I put into this case, how excited I got thinking about and waiting for this moment, for her to finally recognize me, and I feel like crying but I know I can’t. If I’m upset, I know it will make Helena sad too, or worried about me, and that wouldn’t be fair to her. Besides, Helena thinks I’m a good friend. She smiled at me and said the cake looked delicious. So I don’t cry.

I give Helena my best reassuring smile. “I’m sure he’ll love it,” I tell her. “After all, what’s better than sharing with friends?”

Prose: It Comes On Softly – Ellie Wright

It Comes On Softly
Ellie Wright

The woman told him, “later,” in a short, digital message on a brightly toned screen. She left her devices on, but closed. They blinked at her occasionally, asking questions she ignored. The rug felt soft under her hands at 3 o’ clock. The rug felt soft under her hands at 8 o’ clock. Outside, lights performed backflips, reminding her of something like living. The rug would still feel soft at midnight, but just in case she would remain to find out.

She ventured outside and met a man. They nodded heads and checked soft smiles. He waved. She waved. He entered the dark, while she crossed it. She walked, assured that he would be the same soft smile later at another so-happened meeting outside or in the hall.

The food dripped in grease. She used all three seasonings to douse the glob with flavor. She ate ravenously, so that it scratched the roof of her mouth. The taste felt rough and metallic against her tongue.

She opened the fridge afterward.

Flour looked like baby powder and both looked the same on the white rug. She ran her hands through it to
be certain.

The rug felt soft at ten o’clock.

The screens still blinked. The lights outside shone in circles, accompanied by rolls of grumbling.

Living seems to demand complaint, she thought of the sounds. Evidence people leave of themselves absently. Trash runs with the wind. Glass punches down against solidness somewhere in the dark.

She was here.

She wondered if only animal fur could be so soft. No one she knew raised them up. The bleeding and scraping of flesh to make the softness demands human audience. Blood bought something so clean.

Others cursed outside her door.

Things hit each other in cascading screeches. They do this often, she reminded herself.

They will not stop.

The hall cannot stop trafficking; they take everyone, an ultimatum, some kind of holy equalizer.

She filled her cup. Steam swirled to nothing in her hands. Vapor held her fingers in phantom greeting.

She told him, “not today,” after the device would not stop itching her peripheral vision.

She filled her cup. The outside keeps moving; the lights never stand too long in one place.

She washed her face. It itched. She ate a chocolate. It touched her hands smoothly, having melted in the package from a car ride last week or the week before. She could not recall exactly when. She left the rug and sat in the rocking chair.

She got up.

Back and forth. Back and forth.

She filled her cup. Something kept itching her neck, a sore or a scar or a rash. She could not remember which weekend she received it on, which firefly night or endless sky hike. Her hands slicked over in blood as she subconsciously scratched the scab over smoother, softer. The rug looks so stark, inviting against red. It feels so soft against the tick of a clock somewhere. The tick of a somewhere.

Her clock hands stood still. The battery sat beside the timepiece. Something ticked somewhere.

It will not stop.

Her ear itched. Her device told her bones were white. Insides were red. She opened her mouth before the mirror. Pink and white and dark down her throat. Just as she thought, glancing out the window into the night.

Back and forth, back and forth.

The mirror and the window and the device all looked back the same. Darkness edged their frames. Little lights itched her ears and neck and eyeball corners and back of head.

She filled her cup. The inside was empty, smooth and white. Red shoes wore her well. Red lipstick dressed her lips nicely. A peppermint slid down her throat. The rug felt so soft. The darkness feels so soft.

Back and forth, softly. Back and forth.

The cup spilled.

We found her against sheep skin, her face the softest smile and a nod. The red rug matched her lips and head, ode to a candy cane.

Or a sheep to slaughter.

In the pink of dawn, she left in a white car that grumbled to somewhere. She wasn’t sure where, but just in case, she followed it.

Prose: Receipts – Haley Searcy

Receipts
Haley Searcy

when the sales associate asks you, “do you need a receipt?” always take one because they print them anyways. if you leave without accepting, it will only use up another space in the trash can. a piece of crumbled paper layered on another until they overflow the plastic bag and end up on the floor. no one wants to clean that up. you could keep them in a journal and put them in different orders. organize them alphabetically or numerically or by date. you could also use them as a small canvas. draw sketches of the cashier on them. put them in an art gallery and name it series: grocery receipts. it’s modern art. draw each individual hair on their face. shade wrinkles in the clothing. curve the lips and lengthen the bridge of the nose. fill the ears with wax. scribble eyebrows and leave blank space. draw a background. only use triangles. the sketches can be highly detailed, or not. it’s all up to you.

“put them in an art gallery and name it series: grocery receipts. it’s modern art.”

when you have to spend money on food instead of journals, use the receipts as a place to store your thoughts. write about the avocados you bought at the supermarket, how you can’t stand the taste if they aren’t in guacamole, but your girlfriend thinks they’re heaven in fruit form. write about how the old man in the electronics store spent an hour with you trying to explain the differences in all the phones, and how you felt like you were the old man and not him. write about the coffee shop two streets away from your apartment, the protest in the library, the gum on the bottom of your shoes. write down the sentences you hear from eavesdropped conversations. make sure to put those in quotations. write about anything and everything.

when you are unsure of what to do with your hands, fold the receipts into different shapes. this activity will help to distract from any anxieties that may stir from interactions with others. it will keep you from scratching off your nail polish and peeling off the skin that surrounds your nails. when the nurse calls to say your father is in the hospital, put the phone on speaker and make a little frog that jumps when you press down on it. when your manager sits you down in her office to fire you, make paper cranes for the people you pass on the street on the two miles back to your apartment. when your girlfriend cheats on you with the dj from last week’s party, recreate a scene from your favorite animal planet documentary. preferably of a happy scene, something like a lioness and her cubs resting on a rock, but if you wish to make one of a cheetah chasing a gazelle, that is acceptable as well. never crumple up the paper, even if your creases are uneven and your folds overlap. it is important to accept the mistakes in order to move forward. 

Poetry: Squeaky Clean – Ellie Wright

Squeaky Clean
Ellie Wright 

it is raining in white beams
                                                                                 shadows at edge of
                                                                                                                        streetlights
                                                                                                                             80s music video > all neon prism & laser <
                                                                                                                                    songs so high > the burnouts r deaf <
                                                                                                                             stones sigh under off rhythm stethoscope
                                                                                                                                                                                            on cement
                                                                                                                                    sewage clang pipe dreams & iv dropdrip
u r beside me
i’s scarlet lip rimmed
mustard fog night, white beam mirrors, i’s
even had gold once
but rain don’t sell silver
                                               except in color
                                               the way we see
                                                                      believe

                                                                                       a miracle or a flood

wet things are newborn & Fresh Things
“r better for u” like carrots

but rain beams UFO
extraterrestrial > in touch <
to water tree roots, ur curly q roots
allofit

guiding ur feet
rain drop (e)motion
gumshoestuck sidewalk trails

                                                                                       potted              planted
                                                                                                        Be
                                                                                            Stuck In Between
                                                                                                shadow&solid

clairvoyance on the backend
of a cigarette filter, & Escapism
Lite poptaps in ur pawnshop gold i’s
eviction notice tucked b/w drizzly shadows just beyond

                                                                                                                   street lights

                                                                                                                                                                            falling to water
                                                                                                                                                                     
roots to
                                                                                                                                                                            acknowledge
                                                                                                                                                                          > obligation <

u go up again & wait for miracles
ur gutter city lullaby

                                                                                                a flood

Poetry: Watching Bugs – Morgan Maple

Watching bugs twitch in a ceiling light while waiting for the sun to break
Morgan Maple 

watching bugs twitch in a ceiling light while waiting for the sun to break
i want a ceiling fan.
mostly so the draft can sweep
all the chalky memories under my bed.

bugs in fluorescent lighting
crawl out of their day place
away into my bedroom shadows,
munching their pincers until i dream
on the cum stained down comforter.

the click/ of a closed door
seems to define me.
a single moment isn’t enough closure when
he is sitting on his bed in the back

room and i, wedged against the wall couldn’t
talk breathe about talked talked circles.
beds are peculiar that way, reminding
chilling defining of the person
who sleeps in their sheets.

i never got to see if that room
he shut us in had a ceiling fan.
if it did i know it was coated with dust flakes.

don’t speak up, that silent voice
lies on top of me crushing a
wrought iron frame into my back.

i hear his words echo off skull bone.
i feel like i forced you.
repeats/
               repeats/
                              repeats/
                                              repeats/
                                                              repeats / / /

i can’t sleep.
my bugs living in
laugh light above my bed
watch my sanity like guards chained to a loose
fence shaking      yanking              staring at the ceiling.

new moon nights are crowd pleasers.
my apartment parking lot steel pipe light
switches off      on          off           on          off
screams orange cuss in my open window.

i like being alone with my bugs
in this room on my unwashed down comforter.
there is no need for outside things

pine trees. movie theaters. locker room talk.
mushy drowning kisses. box hands digging in hips. crevices in flesh.
buying the wrong christmas present.

i’ll leave champagne vinegar out in mason jars
so together my bug friends
can toast
letting go of these
outside things the world raves about.

Poetry: G – Anonymous

G
Anonymous 

in the snow filtered carlight you brush fingers against an eyelash
“my little sister used to do this for hours”
your hair catches in the wood splints of a lean-to
the back of a red pickup truck drops open,
canines piled high in your mouth
i only cry when my hr reaches 120
brushing teeth looks like v tach on an ekg
i bet i could learn a lot from your telemetry
only here                                      if we had more time
for 6s                                             you could have me
your absence leaves bitemarks in the trees

Poetry: Ephemeral – Haley Searcy

Ephemeral   
Haley Searcy

wind chimes. porch swings. perennial flowers. blue skies.

we are just dust floating on the side of the highway. wisdom straight from athena’s memoir broadcasting through car stereos all across the nation.

            they don’t really care to hold a real conversation do they.