BY SEAN CUBILLAS
[It’s night time. Jenny enters the room. The lights are off. There’s a full-size bed in the center. Various stuffed toys are scattered across the floor. At one side, there’s a nightstand with a couple of notebooks, scattered color pencils, and a hair brush. At another, there’s a shelf adorned with thick books. Sitting at the side is a canvas smothered in paint. The walls are covered with a series of child-like painted pictures, most depicting a small girl in between two adults. Jenny looks across the floor and picks out a doll. She hugs it tight and remains silent for a while. A light phases over the room, and we hear a car pull up. A door is unlocked then slammed. She quickly retreats to the bed. We begin to hear fighting downstairs. Jenny just sits and listens. Shouting and anger erupt from her door.]
Calm down, Bill! You’re overreacting!
Overreacting?! What’s wrong with that girl, Heather? Didn’t you hear what the counselors said? They give her a simple test, and she gives those kinds of answers. Heather, she doesn’t need coddling. She needs discipline. I told you that something was wrong with her!
[Jenny hugs the doll tighter then hides under her blanket.]
She’s just a child, Bill! And she’s been through a lot! You think adjusting from her parents’ accident is going to be easy?
[The girl wraps the blanket around her tighter and peers blankly through a small opening.]
Adjusting? It’s been a year, Heather. We’re well past adjusting. She just doesn’t care! She doesn’t want to make friends! You know what she wants? To talk to herself apparently! It was hard enough when she was just “different” but when did that happen?
She was being picked on. The trauma from the accident and all these kids making fun of her are not healthy for anyone.
You know, when I was in military school, we didn’t call “getting picked on” a trauma. It was called Tuesday, and we were taught to get over it. Not paint pictures or play with dolls. We were taught “real discipline.”
[The lamp next to the girl turns on but flickers. When the light fully turns on, there are now more toys on the bed.]
[Trying to reason with him.] She thinks she’s talking to her parents again. It’s the anniversary you know. We haven’t exactly made things easier for her with the move and everything. She just wants it to feel like home, and taking away more of her things isn’t going to help.
She wants to be by herself, Heather! I’ve never seen a child so averted to talking with other children, with other people! The neighbors are starting to talk, you know?
[The light flickers again and a book appears before Jenny, half-opened. There’s a glass of milk at her side. The bed looks heavier, sunken.]
What do you mean? She hasn’t done anything severe. Why should we care?
[The light flickers again, and Jenny appears tucked in. The book appears partly more turned.]
You saw the tests, Heather. She’s not “different” anymore. She’s a problem. And it’s making us look bad. You’re right, Heather. Just taking things isn’t going to help.
[The light flickers again. Jenny reaches out.]
[Meekly.] Please, don’t go. He’s mad again!
[Footsteps can be heard coming up a staircase. Jenny’s hand grasps something tightly in the air. She begins to cry. Jenny tries to wrench something from the thin air but each pull becomes looser and looser. Now, she’s just scratching at the air.
Bill opens the door. He appears furious. Light from the hallway floods in the room. The toys, books, and paintings all disappear. The room now appears blank, empty. There should be subtle changes in the décor that make this room all the more unfamiliar. Jenny is in her bed, whispering under the blankets. Bill slams the door behind him, and the room goes dark. The lamp light tries to flicker again but goes out.]
NINE + 4
BY ASHLEY IKEMENOGO
It’s raining tonight.
A lot of water has been shed.
It’s running down my window…
and it reminds me...of the nights I spent shedding tears for you.
Tears that would run down my face…
hitting my cheeks…and roll off my chin…
the same chin you would touch; lift up, so you could kiss my lips.
The same lips that tasted the tears that rolled down my face at night for you.
If I collected the tears shed…that night
it’d be enough to fill a shot glass.
So instead of shedding tears I could drink to you,
I could make a toast to the nights we spent
and the time we shared…
I can only make shadows…never the real thing.
It wasn’t going to last.
it was never meant to be,
but for some reason...I collected thoughts…thinking something different could happen,
but we all know how this goes…
the girl loses…the man moves on,
never to look back. Because what’s the point?
It’s night time here,
4AM to be exact…which is considered a new day; and it still continues to rain.
If this was another night…prior to this one, I would still be crying...
hoping for a new day.
A day filled with sunshine…
but even though it’s a new day and it still continues to rain, I smile.
I’m no longer brought down by the sadness
and I won’t shed another tear for you…
It’s not your fault, it’s mine.
I chose to dance with you.
I took your hand...
but now I’m letting go.
It’s my choice.
I won’t shed another tear for you.
BY SARAH DUNAVANT
your hands were
cool on my neck, warm on my thighs, tantalizing on my hips – you always loved to tease me. i was putty in your palms and you knew it. i was the sweet young virgin eager to learn how to sin. eve tasted fruit for the very first time every single time you touched me, and she savored the way it felt on her tongue.
your hands were
enticing, dangerously irresistible, and impressively grown-up when you held cigarettes nonchalantly between fingers, or when you sped down i-35 at night with two fingers on the wheel and no seatbelt, or when you kissed me hard in a dorm room and took my virginity in a way that was loving and patient, but also left my neck and thighs covered in bruises left when you marked me as your territory – completely yours, only yours, blissfully yours.
but your hands were also
soft as whispers on my face, always, whenever you wiped away my tears and kissed the corners of my eyes, or when you massaged my temples because you knew i was stressed, or when you caressed my jaw, sweet as apples, and kissed me with a kind of emotional intensity which was so heart wrenchingly raw and intimate that i never dreamed it could exist before i met you, a kind of emotional intensity to which i quickly became addicted.
your hands seemed, at times,
calculating - frantic, almost, as you often struggled to find the words to express to me whatever unfamiliar or confusing emotions or anxieties or desires i dug out of you in my determination to know and love you fully and truly and without abandon – reckless in a way that you can only be when you have not been taught by heartbreak how to be cautious. still, somehow, you always found exactly the right things to say. thanks to some unknown combination of your natural charisma and careful strategy, you had no trouble making me fall ridiculously in love with you in no time at all.
your hands, barely darkened by summer, looked
tan only when compared to my freckled but perpetually paper-white skin as we walked on wet sand and through ankle-deep salt-water waves along the coast of texas in the middle of may - eight months after we met. you drank most of my virgin piña colada, and we kissed carelessly as we played like children in the (perhaps forebodingly) dirty and rough waters of the gulf of mexico. eyes stinging with salt water, i naively promised you every part of me forever. i liked the way those promises tasted, like something to hold onto as i clumsily tried my best to stay upright, refusing to admit defeat despite my quick-increasing fatigue and the relentlessness of the crashing waves, which would never grow tired.
your knuckles were
bloody and bruised and unsettlingly swollen after you punched a brick wall during our first fight (which was my fault, i know). that was the first glimpse i got of the real weight of the danger that hung between us and that had originally intrigued and excited and seduced me. that was the first time you scared me and the first time you made me feel helpless. that was the first time eve’s apple tasted bitter.
but your hands still mostly felt
familiar and comforting, like home, when you rubbed my back or played with my hair. and – it was so cute – you always insisted on driving one-handed so you could hold my hand on the center console, and you always tapped your thumb on my hand in time with whatever music was playing without even realizing you were doing it. i liked being a part of your meaningless little habits, i liked that we seemed to find a place to call home in each other’s beds. so i loved you despite all the times you scared me, because your hands were soft and sweetly comfortable much more often than they were harsh.
i watched as your hands
tense, visibly, tendons bulging slightly, as you processed the honesty with which i answered your question. the truth was not what you wanted to hear, and i immediately regretted the words. i don’t know why you brought it up when we were drunk and lost and trying to navigate the suffocatingly crowded streets of the austin pride parade. it felt to me like the wrong time and the wrong place to be discussing such heavy things as our feelings, but i guess you just needed to know. (your question, by the way, was “do you still want to be together?” and my response was, “i’m not sure.”)
just as i’d never let myself expect, your hands were
strong – much stronger than me – as you pushed me much harder than necessary. the air was thick as i moved through it and hot as i landed a few feet away with the metal sidewalk handrail dug roughly into my hip.
your hands were absolutely fucking
malicious, and vengeful, and turned primal by rage as, for that brief moment, you lost control of your impulses and forced me to repent and repay you with bruises for the pride which i had stolen from you accidentally. your loss of control was brief, but i was still forced to face how truly defenseless i was as your emotions overpowered your rational mind in precisely the way i had convinced myself they never would. you couldn’t hurt me. i was different, this was real love.
i learned to live with the fear and doubts and the sometimes troubling way i seemed to want you less, but need you more. i lived with it all and even brushed off my best friend’s claims that we were codependent, all because i was so faithfully positive that you loved me too much and too truly to ever lay a hand on me. i thought i was special. i thought i could change you. i didn’t know any better.
for the rest of the night, you kept your hands
carefully restrained. you were so pathetically desperate to grab and cling to some part of me or some remnant of the love that was now ruined, and had perhaps always been that way. every time you caught my eye you wordlessly pleaded with me with an amount of humility that could not have possibly been genuine, but probably was. i wasn’t sure what you were begging for, really. you very carefully avoided any contact with me because you knew i would be startled by your touch, no matter how soft it was. and so in the end it was this one sad truth – this mutual but unspoken awareness that whatever trust or delusion had been holding us together had been so completely destroyed that we would never be able to fix it – that was ultimately to blame for breaking both of our hearts.
i noticed your hands were
callused rough when you begged me to kiss you or lay with you and you told me we could fix this, the same way you claimed we fixed all the other problems that we never really solved, but simply learned to ignore or live with.
your fingernails were
over-bitten and bleeding at the edges when you reached out to take the paper bag i was giving you. it was a target bag and it was full of all the t-shirts and sweaters you ever let me borrow, and all the underwear and miscellaneous socks that had been left or lost in my room, over the course of the almost-year during which our lives were so intimately intertwined, and during which we both truly believed, foolish as we were, all of the accidentally empty promises i made to you about eternity. i know now, but didn’t know then, that all my proclamations sprung far too easily from my lips - no weight behind words that should be almost unbearably heavy with meaning.
no. the poems i wrote for you, in the beginning at least, were mostly just the vacantly romantic delusions of a young and stupid girl who had not yet experienced a true love or a true loss, and did not understand, because the world had not yet taught her, how carefully some words – fragile and fatal words, such as “promise,” and “forever,” and “unconditionally,” must be handled.
i was too young to order a non-virgin piña colada at the beach, so of course i was too young to be talking about eternity, and of course i was too young to know how to save myself from being suffocated (so excruciatingly slowly and softly that i noticed my own difficulty breathing only after my face had turned blue) by the relentlessly tight grip of a lover fully convinced that simply refusing to loosen your grasp on the necks of the people you loved or feared losing, would keep them from leaving.
you were too aware of your hands that day
and you very diligently kept them
tense and rigid and cold, like the rest of your body. you were trying to seem aloof, but since i had once been determined to know and love you fully, i knew you well enough to see that you were mostly physically forcing yourself to hold back all the words that we both knew were meaningless now. there was no combination of charisma and strategy that would restore my ability to ever look at you again with no hint of distrust in my gaze. finally, i had learned of heartbreak. i wasn’t your sweet virgin anymore, and the forbidden fruit had become mundane and bland-tasting, as i’d been buying apples off the serpent for most every meal lately.
it was all over, and it ended rather quietly, with your right hand
careful not to linger on the doorknob as you walked out of my apartment for the last time.
DRAGON EGG: CHAPTER 1
BY MADISON COTTON
“So Mr. Jake, you’re saying that with the right ingredients one can actually grow a dragon on their own?” My friend leaned forward in anticipation.
“Technically Charlie, yes. Of course there’s much more that goes into that. The base of Mauna loa where all of the previous dragons were found happens to be extremely rich in nutrients from the last eruption in 1984. One would have to duplicate the chemical composition of the dirt exactly, which is almost impossible.”
Mr. Jake, the geology professor, tried to explain carefully why it was impossible to grow your own dragon, but I watched Charlie’s eyes and saw that a certain spark had been lit, meaning there was nothing I, nor the professor, nor anyone could do to stop what he was thinking.
The first dragon egg was found twenty-two years ago in 1995 at the base of the Mauna loa volcano in Hawaii. Dragons do not hatch but instead materialize in the crust of certain geodes every eleven years and only in places where the nutrients in the Earth are sufficient. Charlie and I had learned this at the beginning of the semester in Professor Jake’s class titled Dragon Tales: The Science Behind the Beast. Ever since then, the two of us had spent almost every day trying to learn all we could about dragons and eventually became partners in our quest to master the topic. Charlie was in it for the science. Part of me was too, but as a prospective English major, the thought of finding something I’d spent so long studying and writing about was what really kept me interested.
We cut across the quad in front of the lecture hall where my scooter was parked. Some geology majors had collected soil for their final projects and were spreading their findings all over the sidewalk. I had my fingers wrapped tightly around Charlie’s bicep in order to keep him from tripping over the mounds of dirt in our path while he read an article on his phone. He was so engrossed in what he was reading that he didn’t notice when the hair tie he used to pull back his dreads fell out and into a pile of dirt. I decided not to bother him about it.
Charlie was tall and skinny with square, black-rimmed glasses and a one-track mind set only on science. I’d been friends with him since we were little and always appreciated the way he did his own thing. In high school, the basketball coaches tried to recruit him solely based on the fact that he was tall and black. Not to say that being an athlete and a scientist are mutually exclusive because trust me, Charlie could do both, but he remained the guy who had the latest news on some scientific breakthrough or was completely immersed in some experiment just to spite those who tried to label him. I loved it and I always made fun of him for it.
“Why aren’t you taking part in this lovely dirt party?” I asked.
“I’m not a senior. This is their final project, something to do with the analysis of different types of soil from all over the world.”
“I know Charlie, I’m messing with you. What are you reading?”
“Oh, there’s this really great article on the chemical composition of the dirt around Mauna loa. If I can find the exact numbers, I may be able to replicate it and grow my own dragon. I’m thinking the right amount of compost and fresh produce should cut the production time in half. Maybe even by seventy-five percent.”
I watched the twinkle in his eye fire up as his gears started turning.
“Uh-uh. Absolutely not. That sounds dangerous and out of your control.”
I stated my position firmly in hopes that he would catch on.
“Why do you always say that?” He seemed genuinely befuddled by why I was so upset about this. “Think about it! All we need is the right amount of enriched soil, and-”
“A shit-ton of patience.” I finished his sentence for him. We’d been over this multiple times already.
“Stop whatever you’re thinking about. Charlie, I’ve known you since we were babies and I can see when your little brain gears start spinning. Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should. Have you ever read Frankenstein?” I asked as I yanked his arm so he’d stop and look at me.
“Yes, Calliope, I’ve read Frankenstein-”
“Good! Then you know why you can’t make your own dragon. You always do this! Every other week there’s some stupid shit that I have to handle because you just don’t know when to stop and deal with the decisions you make. Last year it was that senior prank you played on your history teacher for giving you a C. Isn’t he still cleaning shaving cream out of his car?”
“That was a good prank, and you didn’t even help me cream his car so I don’t know why you’re complaining-”
“Who’s house did you come to when you were running away? Hm?”
Charlie was about to say something when another student with a dirt bucket dumped his findings at our feet. Charlie used this moment to waylay the unsuspecting student and start grilling him on the chemical composition of dirt. I was frustrated but I smiled at my friend’s determination. I just prayed he wasn’t completely set on creating a dragon because lord knows there was nothing I could do to stop him.
The creation of the first dragon is credited to a woman named Jessie Steves, a geology major studying at the Mauna loa for her senior thesis. In 1960, while taking pictures of the volcano for her archives, her camera tripod caught on the chain of her necklace and snapped it, causing her to lose one small diamond at the base of the mountain. As the story goes, the gem fell between some cracks where Jessie couldn’t reach and there it stayed until the volcano erupted in 1984. The change in the soil caused by the eruption sparked the growth of the egg which was found eleven years later by a different photographer. The process was completely natural, more or less. And ever since then, every eleven years a new batch of hatchlings has appeared in the Earth in the same location. What Charlie was talking about was intentionally growing a dragon, something I’m sure scientists had been trying to do ever since the first one was found. But to be fair, if anyone could do it, I truly believed it was Charlie. He believed it too.
“All I need is the right mixture of soil and patience. I could do it, Cal.” Charlie said to me when I finally pulled him away from that poor student. Charlie’s voice got louder with every point he made.
“I know you can do it, Charlie, but you’re playing with something much bigger than a senior thesis. You’re talking about creating life. You need to focus on book research and leave that to the people with a more crooked moral compass who aren't as caring as you are.”
“No. Why? Why would I limit myself to bookwork when I could do it hands-on? I’m doing it, I’m going to grow a dragon and you’re going to help me.” He said firmly. I sighed, because I knew that was as far as I could go. The only thing arguing with Charlie would get me was a headache.
“You know what? That’s actually really cool and it sounds like something you’re going to try despite my protests so I’m going to go work on my English paper and if you make any breakthroughs, call me, alright?”
Either Charlie had a problem understanding when I was trying to be sarcastic or he deliberately ignored me and took everything I said seriously. I believe it was the latter not only because he agreed to call with regular updates, but he did so with the smuggest attitude I’d ever had the displeasure of dealing with. But that was just like Charlie, chasing some unrealistic dream. On the way back to my dorm I wondered if it meant I was a bad friend for hoping he’d fail.
“Are you going out tonight?” I asked Andrea, my roommate as she changed from shorts and a t-shirt into a simple dress and wedges.
“Yeah, some friends and I are going to eat out and then head to a party. You wanna come?” She twisted her hair into a bun on top of her head. I stared at the blank word document and could feel my computer's judgment radiating from the screen for not having started my final English essay.
“No, I have to do this English essay.”
“Gross, I hate English., It’s so boring.” She said. Andrea’s statement reminded me of the conversation I had earlier with Charlie. It’d been about two hours and he still hadn’t called. I guess that was a good sign.
“Speaking of untrue statements, have you heard that rumor that someone successfully grew a dragon egg in their backyard?” I semi-joked with her.
“Yeah I did, my class is trying to plan a trip to the zoo where the dragons are kept,” she bragged. I gasped and sat straight up at my desk.
“Oh my god. I have to go there. Wait, aren’t you into mechanical engineering? Why the hell would you care about some dragons?” I asked, pretty pissed that she could potentially be visiting dragons and I couldn’t.
“We convinced our instructor that we would build models of robot dragons and it would help to see them in person.” I racked my brain for an excuse I could feed some professor to take a trip to see the dragons but came up with none besides “it would help me write my essay” and then I’d have to admit that I hadn’t started when I told my professor that I had and that would lead me down a path I didn’t want to traverse.
“Well, have fun tonight. Be safe.” I said as she was leaving.
I tried to write something, anything that would suffice for a final paper, but my mind was too full of dragons and dirt and Charlie to do anything, so I closed my laptop and climbed into bed. I set my phone under my pillow so I would wake up as soon as Charlie called, but I prayed to god that he didn’t.
PERRY AND DAVID: PART 1
BY MARIAH OLIVAREZ
There was no better feeling than flying on British Airways first class. Perry enjoyed the smell of recycled oxygen, and the ability to completely disconnect from the world at seven miles in the air. Of course there was this new invention called “Wi-Fi” of which she loved almost everywhere but when she was aboard a hundred passenger plane. Once her heels hit the ground work shoved and pulled her in every direction. She thrived to fly -- for only a moments peace.
As she boarded the plane, she was greeted by the beautiful flight attendants, and Perry immediately felt her shoulders relax. Monica, the thin red-headed stewardess, showed Perry to the front of the first class section. There were two equally large blue seats, with enough space between them to ignore the human lucky enough to sit by you. Perry made her way to the window seat, the one she waited exactly 24 hours before her flight to reserve, and set her leather work tote down.
First class settled in, and it was the time she dreaded most -- when business class huffed at those who sat where they wished to, and when economy class looked embarrassed. As if every person in first class was that important. Then her personal favorite, those first time international flyers who scouted for celebrities. Sorry I too wish Adele were sitting here, Perry thought.
She often avoided eye contact with men in nice suits, and groomed hair. The ones that carried briefcases that matched their shoes and belt. The ones that always seemed to be on the phone. One particular man with white hair, grey eyes, and a smile that probably cost upwards of three grand even winked at Perry, to which she mouthed “no,” elongating the vowel for emphasis.
Her eyes fell upon a young petite girl with a large black backpack and wide brown eyes. Definitely a soon - to - be tourist. The girls eyes scanned the room with anticipation, and Perry saw her form a pout of disappointment. Then the she was gone. Hidden with the rest of the people behind the heavy blue curtains, pulled closed not only to economically separate classes but physically separate them as well.
The seat next to Perry was still cold, and her mind wondered of the possibilities regarding an empty seat. Who was the missing passenger? Would they make it? But nonetheless, she pulled her earbuds from her work tote and plugged them into the seat jack for her personal television. Everyone finally began to unwind as they waited for the gate to close.
“Don’t shut it!” she suddenly heard, followed by the thumps of feet against the hollow gate trail. A tall man in a black leather jacket, dark blue jeans, and aviator sunglasses drooping from his loose blue t-shirt crashed into the flight attendant by the entry gate. His breathing was heavy, and the moment his chest brushed the stewardess he brashly moved past her. “Thank you,” he murmured, clearly out of breath.
He patted his pants looking for something, but with clear frustration he could not find it. His memory crashed upon him then as his eyes lit up and he reached into his jacket, pulling out a white crumpled paper. Lauren, as her name tag read, had closed the planes gate and walked over to the tall devilishly disheveled man.
“Can I help you find your seat sir?” she smiled and reached for his garbage ticket. Perry chewed the inside of her cheek, observing the flight attendants every move. Please, please, not next to me, she thought. The man reeked of irresponsibility and she loathed him already.
To her dismay, Lauren motioned towards the empty seat by Perry, and said , “Here you are.”
The man nodded once, acknowledging that he probably should have been able to find the seat on his own, given he attended third grade. His eyes flashed towards Perry, who stared at him from under her eyelids, to which he quickly fell uncomfortable and blinked away. She watched as he rubbed his hands on his dark denim pants nervously, before sitting down in the seat. His legs stretched out awkwardly in front of him. Perry had feet of room in front of her, and he made their cubicles looks so goddamn small.
The man lacked personal items, creating an ambiguity Perry hated. He sat fiddling with his bare hands, nervously crossing one leg over the other, while the flight attendants prepared for their ceremonial performance. The plane made its way to the main track, and the video showing you all the ways to stay alive should a catastrophic event occur, played simultaneously as Lauren and Monica showed everyone how it was truly done.
The man looked over at Perry, or at least she thought he was, until she figured out his focus was not on her, but on the window behind her. She followed his gaze, and watched as the trees surrounding the airport became a blur of black and burnt orange. The plane was picking up speed and this was her favorite moment to watch. Her body gravitated centimeters back into the plush of her seat, and the plane began its ascent into the sky. They were now so high in the air that land turned into squares, and Perry wished to see the curvatures that shaped the pastures and roads of England. After all, that’s where home was.
Ding. The fasten seatbelt sign turned off, and the flight attendants began their journey to the kitchen area. Perry turned just enough to catch sight of the man release his steel grip on the handles of his seat, unclench his jaw, and open his tightly shut eyes. He looked side to side without moving his head, checking to make sure his surroundings were still intact.
“Can I get you a drink sir?” Monica asked with an iPad in her hands, oblivious to his former state.
“Whiskey,” he answered smoothly, hiding any indication he was ever frightened. Then when the flight attendant looked at him waiting for an addition to the alcohol, he simply turned his head to face Perry. It was her turn now.
“I’ll have some red wine,” she answered without a moment's caution, and the flight attendant moved on.
Perry pulled at the ends of her silk blouse, and reached inside her tote for the black cashmere cardigan she traveled with religiously. It had to be washed over a hundred times by now. As she pulled the last sleeve from under the countless books, notepads, and tablets she travelled with, a voice spoke up next to her.
“Hey,” he called in a steady tone, asking for her attention. Perry looked around her personal area with anxiety building in her stomach. She avoided his eye contact, that was clearly visible from her peripherals until he called again.
“Hey!” this time reaching over to tap the side of her chair. Perry’s hair whipped around to her back, and she answered, “Yes?”
The first thing she noticed were his dull eyes. Although green, they showed no vibrancy. Maybe once upon a time they looked like leaves in the spring, but staring at her right now were orbs the color of dead seaweed. He had a salt and pepper five o’clock shadow, a rather large nose, and tan skin.
As if neither taken by her beauty, or her hesitancy to acknowledge him, he pointed towards the open window, “Do you mind closing that? Not sure if you noticed but flying is not my forte.” He exaggerated the last syllable, and shifted his weight towards Perry.
“I won’t bother explaining why because I don’t particularly think you’re interested. But you were looking outside that window so intently that I’m sure you’d be damned if someone ever asked you to close it. As I am now.”
Perry pursed her lips, and nonchalantly sat forward, bringing her hands together on the top of her right knee. “You’re observant,” her British accent flowed through her lips, and went unfazed by the middle aged man.
“Aren’t all humans? That’s how we learn, how we use cognitive processes to evolve.”
“Most people aren’t that observant.”
“Well most people don’t sit next to a peculiar woman in first class, excuse my intrigue.”
“Most people don’t talk as much as you either.”
“Well,” he boyishly smiled, “I have no argument against that.”
Perry’s chest puffed up, believing she’d won whatever game was just played.
“Now will you shut the window?” he asked her again.
“Because I am in this seat. I do not get to control whether the window is open, as I am by the hall,” he pointed with both hands towards the wide blue carpeted passageway. “If I were in your spot though, I would have closed the window by now, but as the hallway sitter I don’t have reign over that part of land,” he motioned a circle over the area where the window was placed. “So I, a humble peasant, am asking you, the queen of the window, to please shut it or I will be freaking out the entire flight. To which I will then become an annoyance not only to you, but to every member on this plane.”
“You’ve already become quite the annoyance to me,” Perry mused at his frustration, “and that’s not the why I asked.”
“Well it’s the why you get.”
Both adults stared at each other then, neither wanting to break their glance and lose the next battle. The man stared at Perry, and she felt pressure under his watch. Was he counting each freckle? Was he looking at her dark roots? But the man simply couldn’t stray from her blue eyes. They were cold. There was no ocean, no stars, there was the eye of a hurricane.
“Here you go sir,” a woman said behind him, and placed in front of him was a chilled glass of whiskey.
“Ma’am,” the stewardess reached over to hand her the same type of glass, but filled with a deep red liquid.
“Thank you,” Perry whispered, and just before the man could turn to continue their banter, Perry reached over and slammed the window shut, never taking a second to look over at him. She proceeded to take a sip of her wine, grabbed her headphones and shoved them in her ears. The man rested back easy in his seat.
An hour flew by and Perry watched the first half of Me Before You. She kept her curiosity to herself and never looked over to view what he had chosen to watch. It wasn’t until Lauren came up to them with the moving cart filled with hot dinners that Perry took her headphones off.
She was offered a funky meat substance, or a type of pasta she could not reiterate -- so she chose the pasta with some bread, and a side salad. All three accompanied her second glass of wine nicely, and Perry resumed her movie in peace. She checked her phone out of habit, and relaxed when there was no alert banners. The joy of airplane mode.
Her film finished, leaving her exhausted from crying. Her dinner made her sleepy, and Lauren came back to pick up their plates. Perry had wiped her eyes in an attempt to clear her face, but the plane lights dimmed substantially, hiding all evidence that she had ever shed a tear in the first place. It was Perry’s second favorite part of flying, her two hour, unbothered, slightly uncomfortable, and very chilly nap. She extended her seat to the flattest it could go and shut her eyes to the sound of the airplane's engine.
About an hour later, Perry woke to the sudden shake of the plane and people’s gasp of breath as they clenched onto their seats. Without thinking her fingers grasped the blanket on top of her, and she tried to calm herself as the plane shook once more. Turbulence was a death taunting bitch, and she’d never met anyone in the world who thought it anything other than a nuisance.
She closed her eyes, and repeated that it’d be over soon -- but the bing of the seat belt sign rang on, and she searched for it among the layers of cloth keeping her warm. Her fingers shook as they tried to clasp together the seatbelt, and just as it clicked the pilot came on the intercom, warning them to stay seated until the sign for seat belts came off. The plane suddenly tilted too far left to Perry’s liking, and the g-force shot up her stomach threatening to upchuck her dinner.
“Jesus,” someone murmured through clenched teeth next to her.
She looked over to find the man with his eyes shut painfully, sitting tensely upright, gripping his hands on the railway of his seat, and tilting his chin up at the sky. With every shake Perry watched as he stuck out his jaw and breathed deeply, pinching his eyelids in even more. Perry got more nervous looking at the man, than she did with the turbulence.
A form of instinct kicked in, and before she could stop herself she found the tips of her fingers gliding over his right hand. His eyes stayed shut, but Perry felt him raise his palm just enough for her to slide her thumb under, and he gripped it like a child. She ran her fore finger over his knuckles in hopes to get him to calm, but with every movement she felt him squeeze her thumb forcefully.
The turbulence calmed after what felt like hours in the span of minutes, and the seat belt sign finally turned off. Perry watched as the man’s demeanor visibly relaxed to their normal position, and she slipped her hand away from his, retracting to the confines of her seat.
Silence filled the air, and people went back to their rest, the lights once again dimmed, and Perry placed her left hand on her lap, frozen. It occurred to her moments after that his hands had been much larger than her own, and she refrained from looking over to try and infer exactly how much larger.
“Thank you,” he said then. So quiet it practically faded in with the mechanics of the plane.
“You’re welcome,” Perry replied in an equal tone. Before she could reach for her headphones once more, he spoke up.
“Well given you practically held my hand, I think I should know a little bit more about you,” he leaned forward on his knees and tilted his head to the side, granting him a better look at Perry.
“Beg your pardon? You practically needed me to hold your hand, so I think I should know more about you,” she quipped as the headphone slipped from her hands and back into her work tote.
He stared at her then, deciding whether or not to give in to petite woman, “Fine. Ask away lady.”
“What is it you do that lands you in first class, without a single travel bag, and a beat up ticket that looked practically worthless to any scanner able to let you aboard?” Perry interrogated him, and her right leg crossed over her left, as she leaned towards him.
“Well don’t hold back,” he chuckled and she caught a small part of his teeth, “I write. Sometimes it’s good, more times it’s bad, but it’s what I do.”
Perry nodded her head. Making sense of his wardrobe. Making sense of his ramblings. “Published?” she continued her questions.
“Well I guess.”
“You guess?” Perry scoffed and then smiled at his shoulders moving back and forth as if weighing his options.
“I write horrors, that are sometimes paranormal or science fiction, so I guess.”
“Horrors? And you’re afraid of bloody turbulence?” Perry laughed.
“Alright lady, everybody is afraid of bloody turbulence,” he put his hands up mimicking her accent. She could not stop giggling until he asked, “What is it that you do in order to afford a first class seat, nice clothes, and a posh accent?”
“I certainly do not have a posh accent,” she quickly defended herself, “you know nothing about accents. Some writer you are …”
“Hey, easy there,” he laughed, “I didn’t mean to rile you up.”
Perry glared at him with pinched eyebrows, “I manage a company.”
“Zing! I knew you were a woman of corporate substance,” he clapped his hands together in amusement and she rose her eyebrow at him, “I think it’s the suede heels.”
“A lot of women own suede heels,” Perry growled looking down at her expensive shoes, and then she embarrassingly covered them with the cheap blanket provided.
“But do they also wear trousers and a silk blouse aboard an airplane? With their stuffed Celine bag, and hundred dollar earbuds?”
“You’ve hardly looked at me this whole trip, how do you know what I own?”
“I’m a writer. I observe, I infer, I create.”
“Well you can bugger off now.”
“Never liked that saying.”
“Oh fuck off,” she rolled her eyes, and began turning back to her original position. When he reached out and touched her hand, she stopped.
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” he put his hands up as if surrendering, “I won’t say another word about your clothes, now tell me about the company you run,” his eyes bored into hers and she exhaled, “please?”
Perry made herself comfortable, and wrapped the blanket around her shoulders, “It’s a skincare business. We sell basic makeup, masks, cleansers, and serums for your face.”
He nodded in appreciation, and his eyes asked her to continue.
“Women focus too much on how they can hide their skin, rather than enhance, accept, and appreciate it. So I wanted to create a brand that did exactly that. It’s very natural, light, and simple.”
Perry fidgeted with her fingers under his gaze, a man never let her speak that long about her business.
“What’s it called?” he asked, his voice deep and low.
“Domestic Elements,” she smiled.
As his lips opened to ask her more she cut him off, “Why are you traveling to England?”
He closed his mouth then, and bit lightly on his bottom lip before answering, “My publicist set up signings for me at Daunt Books and the London Review Bookshop. Seems you English people dig my writing, and I had to show some thanks.”
“How kind of you,” she sneered sarcastically.
“Not often I cross the pond,” he replied.
“Requires flying,” she picked at him.
“Ouch,” he faked pain and clutched his chest with both hands, “deliberate cruelty is frowned upon you know.”
“So is arrogance,” Perry smirked and he watched the small laugh lines form on the corners of her mouth. Her blond hair fell at her shoulders and the man loved looking at her, with glowing skin -- surely from one of her own products, and not an ounce of makeup. Which was mostly untrue.
“Why were you in America?”
“My daughter goes to university in Chicago,” Perry answered without hesitation, “and I had a meeting with some people who want to bring Domestic Elements to the states so I made a trip of it.”
His eyes flashed down to her left hand, and found it was bare. Perry quickly disliked the scrutiny, and pulled the blanket around herself tighter. She looked away momentarily, and the man didn’t ask the question that wanted so badly to be freed from his lips.
“DePaul or -”
“University of Chicago,” she answered with a tight smile.
“Beautiful campus,” he acknowledged and she nodded. Then they slowly drifted back to their seats. Strangers once more, only with google information now in their memory.
The plane ride continued for the next hour in silence from the both of them. Perry attempted to close her eyes to once again find the peace she so badly craved. It never came, and she found herself thinking about all the ways this had been the worst plane trip she’d ever endured.
As the plane came to its decent at Heathrow, she let her head fall back against the seat, and the plane’s wheels touched base with the smooth gravel. Oddly everyone on the plane clapped, except for first class -- and she wondered momentarily if more eventful things had happened behind the heavy curtains.
Once they were allowed to exit the plane, the man walked aimlessly and at a ridiculously slow pace as he struggled to find baggage claim. It came to the point where Perry purposefully walked in front of him, at a leisurely pace so he could follow her. Without words she led them gracefully, through hallways, escalators, and trains, until their eventual separation at the UK border. He had stayed a few feet behind her the entire time, and to passersby he definitely looked like a stalker. With one last look in his direction, she motioned her chin towards the line that was easily double the size of the line for UK citizens.
He made no motion to thank her, and traveled to the maze of ropes. He felt empty, and Perry didn’t let herself stay too long to see if he made his way correctly. She sent a silent prayer that somewhere in those jeans he had his passport. Thankfully, this was the one personal item he had shoved in his back pocket.
It took her a speedy fifteen minutes to get through the border, and she found herself once again hoping the man found his way to baggage claim without her guidance. It shouldn’t have mattered to her. They had all but spoken a couple of sentences to each other, and he hadn’t been the first one to listen to her spiel about her job.
Perry gripped her tote close to her chest once she reached where the plane’s luggage would be. Her lips were bruised from nervous biting as she waited for the large alarm to ring, letting everyone know their bags were en route. She tried not to look around too curiously when people started forming a mob around the luggage carousel.
For the first time since getting on the plane, she remembered that she was no longer in the air and that it was time to get back to life. As her finger lingered over the airplane mode switch of her cellphone someone spoke up behind her, “Fancy meeting you here.”
Startled, Perry turned and the man was peering over her shoulder with a cheeky grin. She fought the urge to slap him for scaring the crap out of her, and instead said, “Glad you found your way around.”
When he looked down at her, Perry suddenly felt very small in her three inch heels. He had been tall, but had he really been this tall? Then again Perry was 5’3 on a good day. He had to at least be six foot. The blare of the alarm made them both jump, and people crowded even closer as bags began to come out of the tunnels.
“Which one is yours?” he asked her with his hands stuffed in his pockets.
“It's a light pink glossy one, hard shell, you can't miss it,” she rolled her eyes, and he chuckled.
“Didn't peg you for a pink glossy luggage owner.”
“It's for work,” Perry said as a blush crept up from her neck to her cheeks.
They stood then, side by side, staring at the slow moving conveyor belt. Their arms merely inches apart, and both keeping to themselves.
“You should stop by my signings,” he said softly, his head still looking straight ahead. Perry felt the room get hot, and she nodded nervously. “I actually never said my name-”
“MUMMY!” a child screeched from behind them. Perry knew that voice, she felt the cord in her heart pulling her backwards, and she turned to find a little boy running into her arms. With no thoughts, she swung the boy up and onto her side, kissing the top of his head immediately. The man watched as Perry showed the first genuine smile he had seen all day, and he felt undeserving to witness it.
“It's past midnight, where's daddy?” she asked, her voice half joking and half serious. The boy pointed at a man with wild eyes in a crowd of people finding their way to the arrivals exits. His face was full of sudden relief as he caught sight of Perry, and the child who had run away from him in search of his mother.
“David,” she chided the man as he grew closer, “it’s way past Teddy’s bedtime!” Although Perry wished to be mad at him, her smile gave her away. “And in pajamas no less!” she laughed looking down at the boys minecraft sleepwear. As soon as he was in close proximity, David grabbed her face with two hands, and kissed his wife who had been gone all but four days. Perry looked up at her husband standing at 6’2, with wavy brown hair, and matching chocolate eyes.
“He wasn't going to sleep knowing you’d be home later tonight,” David ruffled the littles boys head, “and he would not stop from coming into our bedroom while you were gone, so we may have a little monster keeping us company tonight.”
Perry narrowed her eyes at her son, “Theodore we do not take advantage of daddy when mummy’s gone.”
“But daddy doesn't know how to get rid of the scary dreams like you,” Teddy whined, “and Daddy doesn't like to sleep alone.”
Perry and David laughed at this. “Well that's true,” she kissed the top of Teddys head once more.
It dawned on her that she had forgotten her luggage, and as she turned with Teddy on her hip the man from the plane approached her family. In his right hand was her luggage, and just as it was about to hit her leg he stopped it by her side.
“Have a goodnight,” the man smiled half heartedly and walked passed them, not one glance in David’s direction. Perry watched as he carried a medium sized tan duffel bag, and wandered to the exit doors. Could he feel her gaze burning into his back? Was it enough to make him turn around once more? Just so she could ingrain his face in her memory. Perry stared far too long, in hopes he’d make any movement to retrace his steps. But he slipped through the automatic doors with no intentions of giving in.
“Who was that?” David asked with a confused expression, his glare following Perry’s.
Perry stayed silent for a moment and then answered.
“Just a man I sat next to on the plane.”
WEEDS ARE FLOWERS, TOO
BY REBECCA HARVILLE
The woman was at her kitchen sink drying her dishes when she saw some movement out of the corner of her eye. Her neighbor was at their garden, yanking out weeds so hard that the woman thought their shoulder would dislocate any minute.
Somehow, the woman’s mind started drifting.
She was in what could’ve been the first grade, and this boy in her class came up to her with this bouquet of weeds in his hands. The bouquet was a nice thought but was truly ugly; now, the boy wasn’t even the nicest or brightest of the boys in her class. That made the girl pissed. “How dare he give her this ugly set of flowers!” she remembered thinking, so she started just screaming at him. She was calling him all these terrible things she didn’t know she knew what they were. The boy was just standing there with his big doe eyes, taking everything she was dishing out. His face was holding these unshed tears in, and he quivered as he said, “Weeds are flowers, too.”
Then, she went forward in time. She must’ve been going into some grade in middle school. She was outside of her grandparent’s house helping her grandmother with her garden and picking out some of the ripest tomatoes. The summer heat made her shirt cling to her back also giving her multiple sweat stains. As she was plucking the tomatoes, she was aware of the loud buzzing of the lawnmower somewhere near her. Then, the sound was getting too loud. When she looked up, she saw that the mower was in front of her, but some ways away so that it wouldn’t hurt her grandmother or her. She could see the shreds of the grass flying out of it. It started to move over to where a patch of weeds was. It just shredded cute little dandelions and the ones that have those tiny white petals—it was something she liked to call ,“baby daisies”. She frowned when she saw that happen, and to this day she remembers thinking, “Weeds are flowers, too.”
The next thing she knew; she was at the first high school State Companionship Band Competition. They had won first place. She was still going through everybody and hugging them. She felt like her body would go into shock at any given time, but it didn’t. She was still working her way through people when the band director decided it was time to head back the way they came. Her bandmates were packing up and loading up the cargo which was their instruments and the colorguard team’s flags. It was then that she came across a little dandelion. She plucked it, planning on blowing on it and making a wish like when she would see one during band practice, but she saw someone and thought it would be better if she gave that person the wish. After she makes that decision, she gives them the weed and tells them to make a wish and says, “You know, weeds are flowers, too.”
After that, years have passed, and it’s now her wedding day. While all of her bridesmaids are getting ready, she is just staring at the bouquet. She just feels something is off with it. It’s just a lovely bouquet of yellow tulips and white orchids, but something still felt off. After everybody’s ready and they’re walking to the church to walk down the aisle, she spots a patch of those baby daisies, and she starts picking them and adding them to her bouquet. She still hasn’t forgotten the shocked looks on her bridesmaids’ faces, and they’d asked her why she was doing this. She’d responded with a shy smile, “Weeds are flowers, too.”
She’s was pulled back from memories by the pit-pattering of little feet. A mop of hair passes the kitchen corner. Smiling, she squats down to be on a similar level with that little mop of hair. Her smile fades when she sees the tearful expression on her boy’s face. She coos as she brushes the tear stains off his face, asking him what’s wrong. He says looking down, “Well, I was pickin’ you these flowers, but the miss next door told me that they’re not flowers.”
The woman looked down, and there were weeds clutched in his hands. She was smiling as she looked down at the weeds and told him, “Sweetheart, these are called weeds, but you know what, weeds are flowers, too.”
THE OLD MAN AND THE FOREST
BY SEAN CUBILLAS
The old man stood in the middle of a forest. Aged and rotting himself, he fit in with the forestry. You couldn’t tell if you were looking at a person or one of the trees.
A cold, lonesome wind disturbed the peace. He opened his eyes and tried to become acquainted with his settings. He was surrounded by the peculiar forms of shadows. Their silhouettes reached out to him; the place was still and isolating. For a place so dark, it felt so accustomed that the old man wasn’t sure if this was solitude or loneliness. Looking through the woods, the only figures he saw were the familiar backs of people that had left and ignored him. In this forest, nothing grows but stays.
He was about to lie down and rest, when he felt something hit the ground before him. It was hard to tell in the darkness, but there was a clack on the ground. Something did fall.
Staring blankly to the foreground, he noticed some bushes rustling. Popping from the leaves was a young boy, covered in scratches and dirt and looking more confused than the old man. This was an even greater disturbance than the cold wind. The boy looked to the old man and his confusion softened. He slowly paced towards the lone figure, trying to separate him from the dark.
To the old man, all the boy could force was a “hello”. The elder kneeled before him and took a good look at the boy. There was something strange yet accustomed about staring back at another person. After receiving clarity of the situation the old man quietly asked, “Are you lost? Do you need help?” The boy could only nod and stretched out his hand.
The old man securely grasped the boy’s palm and looked to the forestry before him. He wasn’t sure if even he could walk through the darkness, but the old man inched forward anyways and began walking. Breaking through the forceful twigs and branches, he walked through long, forgotten memories.
He walked through all the people’s distant stares and gazes. He walked through all the whispers that had said something was wrong about him. He walked through the same halls his family had left him in, that his friends had stopped visiting, that only welcomed the world’s lost souls.
He looked at the boy’s face. There were dried streaks leading from his eyes. The boy refused to look up or back. It was the face of someone trying to leave something behind. The old man knew the face well. He knew how hard it was to look at someone and only see silhouettes. It’s a strange feeling that everyone faces every now and then, but he feels every day. Not many could understand it, but he lived it. Out of anything, he knew how lonely and scared the boy had become.
Up ahead stood the boy’s father, looking despaired trying to find his son. He became lit with relief as the old man returned the boy.
“Thank you so much, sir.”
The father kneeled and looked at the boy.
“Son, it’s going to be okay. This just happens every now and then, but she’s going to get better. It’s for the best.”
The old man had seen people come and leave this place but didn’t know whether or not to believe this man. What he did know was the father’s familiar tone. It was unassured and condescending. It was the same lonesome air that made this place feel cold and heavy.
The old man decided to say something to the boy, his first words in years:
“Thank you, boy, for stopping by my room. This place can sometimes be a bit of a dark forest.”
He looked back and saw only silhouettes. He had no idea why he could only see the boy’s face. Even the father blended in with the forest.
He held the boy’s hand.
“It’s things like this that can help anyone walk out of here.”
BY OLIVER DAVIS
“It was a quiet end. The road to cataclysm began with roars and ended in whimpers as the world slowly fell asleep. It was as if a mother had an abandoned her child, taking as she went, her warm embrace and protection and leaving her progeny cold and lonely. Who could blame her though, humanity is quite the problem child.”
“Wow, Pop, you’re quite the dramatist.”
“I try, son. Did I ever tell you I won best UIL all-star cast in 2025 for the Austin High Red Dragon Players.”
“A thousand times, Pop.”
“Did ever tell you about how I met your mom? At the Homecoming dance?”
“A thousand times, Pop.”
“Yeah? We’ll I’ll be sure to tell you a thousand more, it’s too god-forsaken quiet out here. All this goddam snow, it suffocates the music of the world. Ahh, you should’ve seen this planet before the Titans went active, it was beautiful. Birds, rustling trees, and TALKING, back then you would see thousands of people a day, talking about their lives, jobs, dumb stuff, activity, motion, company, happiness, it’s really funny how much you miss it. Out here you see a couple people every decade and all with them same story, “Just trying to get by.” It’s really depressing.”
“Mmmmmhmmm, were you this loquacious with Mom too?
“Even more so, Tommy.”
“Jesus, it’s a wonder I was ever made.”
“Keep up that talk and you’ll be unmade pretty swift too, faster than a pack of ferals.”
“Heh, I don’t know man, those dogs are pretty fast.”
“You want to find out?”
“Nah, think I’ll sit that preposition out. Thanks though.”
“Heh, you’re snot-nosed. Have I ever told you that?”
“A thousand times, Pop.”
“Heh, well regardless, if you enjoy it, thanks for hearing me out Tommy. You don’t know how much it means in this solitude.”
“Ha, yup, my happy burden, Pop.”
“Wait….did you see that?”
“What is it, Dad?”
“Get down son……do you see him?”
“No I don’t. What are you pointing at?”
“Dinner for the first time this week, and it’s a rare catch too. A Dire Boar, probably came down from the South, the whole place is so irradiated, it’s a hotspot for mutants like them.”
“Pop, I still can’t see him.”
“Here use my rifle scope. A little to the left.”
“I see him! Dang! He’s a big bubba!”
“Keep your voice down son, yes he is, and one that nobody should handle in its range of vision, they’re wily and persistent, they’ll hunt you down, however at this distance, it should be a clean shot...”
“Wait…you want me to shoot it?”
“Why yes! It’s about time I thought you how to fend for yourself, I won’t be around forever, Tommy.”
“Pop, shut up. You know I’m no good at shooting.”
“You’re no good, because you never want to take the shot! The goddam apocalypse should’ve phased that sentiment out of you.”
“I told you dad, I don’t like killing things.”
“In this world, everybody’s killed somebody in one way or another.”
“Well, I haven’t and I don’t want to.”
“Well, we’re going to get that out of you now. It’s for your own good! Take the shot, it’s a goddam animal. If you don’t shoot it you won’t eat tonight!”
“Dad, look! There’s two of them! They’re sharing food, they look so happy.”
“I don’t care, kill them.”
“Weren’t you the one who said company is the best there is? Can’t we just let this one go?
“Give me the gun…”
“Give me the gun.”
“And that’s how you do it. You were always like your mother, too kind-hearted for your own good.”
“Why are you looking at me like that?”
“Maybe I should go.”
“Go where? ”
“Son, what are you talking about?”
“I just want to go. You can’t seem let go.”
“Let go of what?”
“Mother, and the way she died, and-“
“Stop, don’t talk any more.”
“That fateful day.”
“Son, I’m warning you.”
“When we went hunting and found that drowned airplane.”
“TOMMY, if you utter another word-”
“WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO? HIT ME? HOW CAN YOU, I’M NOT EVEN REAL AND YOU KNOW IT!”
“NO, this is for YOUR own good.”
“TOMMY!! How can you say that?! You are real, you’re more to me than anything in the world, I….love you son.”
“POP,….stop, the crashed plane fell off the cliff, I got trapped inside the cockpit and you watched me drown. You couldn’t get over the guilt of losing mom, and then when I passed that was the last straw, you couldn’t take it!”
“This is beyond crazy dad, even for a hardy goof like you.”
“You can’t keep this up, Dad, you have to let me go.”
“If you keep dwelling on me like this you’re going to end up hurting yourself and probably with wounds that won’t heal. I don’t want this, we both know that, and moreover mom wouldn’t wa-“
“I KNOW!! OKAY!? I KNOW I SHOULDN’T! But look around here son! There’s NOTHING left, no people, no laughter, no hope, nothing but snow, wind, and silence. You don’t know what it’s like…those times that you aren’t there, to be by yourself, alone in the entire world for days on in! I…I need you…I need SOMETHING, otherwise I feel as if I’m already dead…so please, I know you’re mad at me, so am I. I know you probably want to go too…I don’t blame you, the dead deserve their rest…but do you think you could stick around? Just…just for a little bit longer?”
“Don’t go…DON’T GO, DON’T GO I-“
“JEEZ! OKAY! Alright fine, but if you talk about Austin High theatre one more time, I’m out, alright?”
“That’s…that’s fair…besides… it’s about time I told you about my COLLEGE theatre years ooooh boy, talk about a saucy time!”
“Oh my fucking go-“
“BABES! As far as the eye could see!”
“I was practically SWIMMIN in WIMMIN! Let me tell you allll about it.”
“*sigh* heh alright, tell me alllll about it.”
A single pair of tracks marked the pair’s journey home, chattering all the way, they were a spark of humanity among the great white silence
VICTIM OF AFFECTION
BY OLIVER DAVIS
He knew who the murderer was. All the evidence pointed in her direction; it was unmistakably, irrefutably, and resolutely her. However that was not the question at hand that the solemn detective pondered. He sat in the café, draped in a plaid button down shirt, dark blue vest, and khaki pants, sipping a warm cup of Costa Rican coffee. No…the question…the question was not who, that had been solved, but rather “Where?” and more importantly “How?” How had the killer escaped the police’s attention in the first place? How had she covered her tracks up until now? And where is she now? The detective put down his piping beverage and slumped slightly in his chair. He had missed something. He HAD to have missed something. The detective released a small sigh and then furrowed his brows in concentration. He needed to review the facts, start all over, and analyze the incident from the beginning.
The case report cited a body found dead and brutally dismembered in apartment 24 of the Lazy Days Inn Motel. The time of discovery was 5 pm, but analysis of the body concluded that he had most likely been killed around 14 hours ago, 3 am the same day. Evidence gathered revealed that the victim had been killed with a knife. His name was Walder Hugo, 29 years old, he had been out driving the previous night, he spent the entire day out with his friends, but left the group before it got too late. Along the way he picked up a woman, the killer. DNA analysis shows that her name was Lilith Fortnight. Tall, lanky, red head, with a smile that can kill. This rose has some pretty serious thorns; she has an extensive case records consisting of multiple assault charges, twenty previous cases of murder, illegal arms smuggling, and a number of other law incursions. And, most distressing of all, she has never been caught. She is the leader of a 50 year old Irish mobster gang, the latest generation and the last of her family line as well. 50 years ago, they began dealing in all kinds of illegal activity. Over time, they built a criminal empire here in the little city of Bliregard and now, it spans beyond national borders to who knows where. Her ancestors had always taken a hands-off approach to their wet-work, preferring to let their hit-men and thugs do all the nitty-gritty. In contrast, Lilith likes to take things into her own hands; whenever someone strikes out against her family, she puts them down, personally. She’s hot-headed and very proud of her lineage and because of that, we know that she never kills without a reason. The boy Walder, has a past of his own. Born in an impoverished, abusive household, he ran away at the age of 13 and has been building his own band of misfits on the streets ever since. Turns out, he and his gang wanted to go big, so they overtook the local drug-dealing establishment, which happened to be a large supplier of Lilith’s empire. When Lilith got wind of it, she posed as a prostitute at a bar he was well known to go to. The moment they got in the apartment, she pulled the knife from her boot and carved out his throat.
Or so the evidence says. Funny thing about this case though, is that Lilith herself wasn’t identified as the killer until a number of other suspects had been pursued first; in fact it wasn’t until forensics released the murder weapon, that they realized out it was her. A process which strangely took an abnormally long time. Another funny thing: all cases involving Lilith have always been a little weird…As he thought, the brows of the detective furrowed, as if his brain was trying to excavate the recesses of his mind in its relentless pursuit of the truth. All the cases involving Lilith had been sketchy. Every time he had arrived there, the genetic material was inconclusive. It wasn’t until later that the forensics finally came to a conclusion and their testing came back positive as Lilith. The forensics team had tirelessly gone back and forth testing over and over again, all the hair, nails, and fingerprints they came across but they always came back negative. However, suddenly one day it came back positive, just like that. It was very odd, how the data seemed to constantly contradict itself all of a sudden.
The detective took another long sip of his coffee. The heat of the drink and the soft steam it puffed stimulated his mind, and helped him think. His friend Marty always liked to visit the forensics team. He joked with them often, always wanted to help alleviate their stress from their long hours. He even stayed after hours investigating crime scenes and helping the forensics team with their research. Especially, whenever Lilith was involved. Marty did always enjoy a challenge… In fact he was always worked up whenever Lilith was involved, come to think of it. He questioned all the witnesses personally, stayed especially late at the station, and even put forth some of his own earnings to help out with the search, kind of comical that he puts so much in and the search only seems to get worse. An idea flashed across the detective’s mind and he shot straight up; it couldn’t be, could it?
The detective entered the station with bestial determination. He walked up the stairs, leading to Marty’s floor, each step resounding with resolute menace. When he reached his desk, his friend turned in his chair and smiled at him. “Hey man! Good to se-“ The detective slammed his fist onto his desk and spoke in with a controlled ferocity, Marty leapt at the sound. “Why?” the detective whispered. Marty replied in a shaken tone “What are you talking about?” “You’ve been covering up the evidence from all of Lilith’s crime scenes” Marty’s struck disposition quickly dissipated. “You’ve been bribing the forensics team for as long as you possibly could. Enough for her to get a good week start on the police. You’ve been helping her get away. Why?” His friend, Marty relaxed slightly in his seat “You’re accusing me of helping a gangster and a killer?” “Yes.” “You better have some good evidence for this that isn’t a gut instinct.” Marty smirked. “You’d be surprised where your gut can take you.” The detective looked Marty straight in the eye. I’ve been smelling a rat, and I should probably find out where I’m picking up that odor. The smell led me to your bank records; twenty thousand, pulled out, every case. Two thousand, split five ways, one per forensics team member, deposited all in the same day as your withdrawal.” Marty’s expression drooped slightly, the detective continued “Turns out your buddies aren’t as tightlipped as you are, push a couple buttons and they’re squeaking like mice.” Marty’s eyes went towards the ground. “You’re helping Lilith. I just want to know…why?” At the question, Marty’s face became very solemn, a far cry from his usual jovial self. The detective continued: “Why have you been doing this? We’ve been trying to catch her for years. She’s killed dozens. WHY?” Marty’s reply was slow and pained… like a snake was slipping out of his mouth and its scales were scratching his lips on the way out.
“Haven’t you ever been in love?"
LIKE MOST PURE THINGS
BY DANI GALLUCCI
Leo felt his isolation like a chill. Although he thought he’d eventually become numb to it, there were days when the cold grew too much to bear. He buried himself in his art, drawing until his wrist ached. He drew the city around him, the sky above him, the distance, beckoning him. He lost himself in those beautiful spaces. But much like the child himself, these spaces were lonely; painfully lonely.
He began to draw himself a companion. A great beast of a dog – almost resembling a polar bear with its girth and snowy coat, with blue eyes to match his own. The more he drew the creature, the more its personality took shape – he was a gentle giant, a quiet, constant friend. There was a kind understanding in the beast’s eyes that Leo longed to see in others.
After doodling through class one day, a teacher picked up his sketchbook. Upon returning it, she had a slight glean in her eyes. She asked what the dog’s name was.
“His name is Beast,” Leo said without thought, laughing at how ill-fitting a name it was.
Beast grew as Leo grew. Somewhere in the transition between elementary and middle school, Beast became more than the gentle playmate that occupied his thoughts and sketchbooks. As social circles took on a more solid form, and Leo magically transformed from a quiet boy into an outsider, Beast became the barrier protecting him from the scorn of his peers. When their scorn took the form of hurtful words and the occasional action, Beast became his furious guardian. He drew the dog larger, with bolder eyes and a purposeful stance. The next time his sketchbook was taken from him, it was by force, and met with ridicule. His reputation grew as the kid with the imaginary friend. His self-esteem shrank by the day.
A particularly dark night, he sat hunched over his desk, the pages of his sketchbook catching the burning tears as they slid down his cheeks. He wished more than anything for his Beast to come off the page. When he awoke the next morning to a warm wet tongue lapping at his hand, he rejoiced without a second thought.
Beast in reality was an exact replica of the friend he’d drawn to life so long ago. Upon his appearance, the two fell into a rhythm unmatched by any human friendship. Any bewilderment Leo felt on his old friend’s new form was squashed by the joy he felt. Beast accompanied him everywhere, as quiet but powerful as he was on the page. His white fur was thick and soft, and his eyes gleamed with intelligence. He would walk Leo to school in the morning and dutifully return home, only to return later to escort Leo back. He growled at the kids who gawked at him, barked to scare away the birds that plucked at his unattended sketchbooks. He posed obediently when Leo wanted to draw him.
The kids at school harassed him still, but Leo never felt as alone. Not when he was daily accompanied by his long-time best friend. But as is too-often the case with things that are pure, there was a desire to see it destroyed. The scorn of his peers peaked at Leo’s unwavering happiness. They longed to take it from him.
That idea was altogether too easy to accomplish. Leo was a consistent boy, and it was not challenging for them to learn his schedule. Every evening, he would walk by the pond with his Beast. They followed him, confronted him. A group of eight kids encircled the two of them, chanting and shouting abuse, knowing Leo’s panic at loud noises – which translated to Beast as well. Despite his furious looks, Beast was not a violent dog; after his intimidating growl failed him, he was driven back, whimpering. Leo was held down, and forced to watch as the rest of the kids drove his best friend into the pond, forming a barricade around him. Beast paddled furiously in circles for well over an hour before his strong legs began to give out. And then Leo had to watch as his best friend sank below the surface and did not rise back up again.
Weeks passed with Leo visiting that pond, weeping bitterly. He knew, of course, that the magic that had given his companion life once would not happen a second time. Good things rarely do. That did not stop him from wishing, however.
The second time Beast took form surprised him more than the first. Leo went to visit his friend’s gravesite a final time, intending a farewell, and was brought up short by the statue that stood ten feet from the water’s edge. It was a perfect replica of his friend, painted like an amusement park carousel horse. He stood boldly, blue eyes wide and shining. His mouth was fully agape, and as Leo neared it, he saw that there was a hole where his throat would be. On the collar around his neck there was a quarter on a string.
He plucked it, and after some thought, tossed it into his now-static Beast’s maw. He wished he could have a friend once again.
The next day in school, he was bombarded by those who had killed his dog. Many cried as they offered sincere apologies, regret obvious in their eyes as they promised to be better. They became his new barrier after that – including him in their conversations even when he chose to maintain his silence. They accepted his peculiarities wholeheartedly, and slowly drew him from his shell. In time, he grew to love them as well – he saw the complexities in their faces, learned their histories and the histories that shaped their personalities. Time passed, and they grew together.
Whatever happened, he knew he owed much of his growth to his first friend. He visited Beast’s statue now and again, a quarter in his pocket, wishing for strength, for hope, for inspiration. When high school transpired and the future loomed over Leo like a predator, he went and cried into his friend’s shoulder, as always. He wished to maintain the joys of his childhood while moving into adulthood.
Leo got a job as a successful graphic novelist. His first title, Beast, was a best seller. He made many solid friendships with other prominent artists, learning and growing with them. He gained wealth – so much so that he was confused about what to do with it. People began to whisper flattery into his ear, and eventually, he began to listen.
His fortunes began leaving him in larger and larger bursts. He began to confuse those who sought his influence with his friends. Eventually, they drained him of all his value, as well as his emotion. Time took its toll. Influence left Leo, desperation took its place. His next work featured his old friend, but with bloodied teeth and fury. The shock value it brought was short lived, and for many, in fact killed off any affection to the protagonist, Leo’s old friend.
Having dirtied what had been an innocent, safe entity, Leo was left without that, too. Those things he had earned with his wholeheartedness were gone. He returned to his home town, broke, alone, and bitter. The familiar sights did little to ease him. Before leaving to search opportunity elsewhere, however, he knew there was somewhere he still had to go.
Beast’s statue was just as it had been on the first day it had appeared. Unchanged by time, weather, and even his master’s betrayal, he stood proudly, bold eyes staring into the sky. The reminder of the past awakened a violent anger. He stared into his first friend’s eyes and saw himself as a child. As is too often the case with something so pure, there was a desire to see it destroyed. Leo suddenly remembered all the quarters he’d tossed into his friend’s mouth all those years.
Full of resentment, Leo advanced on the statue, plunging his hand down Beast’s throat, aiming to scoop up all the change in his belly. Before his fingers touched a single coin, Beast’s mouth snapped closed, separating Leo’s forearm from his elbow.
A scream erupted from his lips and he fell to the ground. The paint covering the statue peeled away in one motion, leaving an ashen shell. Leo sobbed as he watched, clutching onto the bloodied stump of his arm.
It was his drawing arm.