Creative Writing Awards 2018

2018 Creative Writing Award Winners

Lois C. Bruner Creative Nonfiction Award

Cordell Larner Award in Fiction

  • 1st place – Cheyenne Rideaux – “Blue Aster
  • 2nd place – Maria Chiaradonna – ?
  • 3rd place – Marissa Purdum – “Flipped
  • Other – Austin Middleton – “To Love Is To Bury

Cordell Larner Award in Poetry


View these submissions in Elements 2018 (pdf)

(on the web):

Austin Middleton

“The Brutal Indifference of Life”

November 21rst, 2009

It was just like any average day for me in eighth grade, the final bell had rung and I was waiting outside the main doors by the flagpole with my younger brother Dalton. It was a small junior high school in the middle of the smallest county in Illinois, so as we waited for our step father Rick the only thing to look at was a cornfield and busses pulling away loaded down with students yelling excitedly. We never had to wait long because we only lived a mile from the junior high on a small farm. We technically could have walked but it was never much time before Rick would pull up in his big black Chevy truck just like today. My brother and I load into the truck and Rick pulls out of the school parking lot and heads for home. His truck reeked of cigarettes and miller light, but that was far from unusual.

“Austin I talked to your mom and it looks like the weather is going to be good enough for your grandfather to come get you,” Rick tells me as he moves his sunglasses up onto his hat, revealing the lighter skin around his eyes where they had been. It made his farmers tan much harder to ignore, “Do you need to pack still?

“Awesome! I already packed my suit case last night just in case!” I had been worried all day at school watching the clouds roll overhead. I knew if the bad weather held up then he surely wouldn’t be able to come and get me. My grandfather had been a pilot for many years and often my mom and dad found it easier for me to fly for an hour and a half between them instead of driving me between them, but the weather was always a factor we had to consider when he flew to get me. We stopped at our farm house for all of five minutes for me to grab my stuff and to drop Dalton off. My younger brother is very awkward looking; he is very tall and his arms and legs are lanky and almost look disproportioned to his torso. He wasn’t coming to my dad’s with me because he is a half sibling on my mom’s side, I remember only giving Dalton a halfhearted good bye as he was always on my nerves and I was only going to be gone for a week so who cared?

Rick and I left our house on our way to Lacon which was not too far away. I had taken off from the Lacon airport countless times over the last few years so it had become the normal meeting place. Although unfortunately, by the time we arrived only thirty minutes or so later the weather had taken a toll for the worse. Rick was on the phone with mom and apparently my grandfather had radioed in saying he was going to have to land in Kewanee and pick me up there; it was as close as he could get with the storm coming in. The possibility of bad weather had been making me nervous all day, and now that the storm was making him reroute to a different airport I felt downright uneasy.

We arrived at the airport in Kewanee around five o’clock and my grandparents had just arrived, and as I sat in the small airport terminal I watched them get out of H’s 1972 single engine Cessna and approach the building. Harold Middleton, better known by most people and myself simply as H, was a great man. He was pushing it into his nineties and although he moved slowly with a shuffle in his step and a hunch in his back he still came into work at our family’s lumber company several times a week. H always wore slacks and suspenders over an old VFW jacket, for as long as I could remember he had kind of an old fashioned smooth wave haircut that was thinner and thinner every time I saw him; very fifties era when you looked at him. He had served in the second world war and worked hard his entire life to support those who relied on him, and on top of that he was one of the kindest people I have ever known in my life. He was one of the only men I had ever met who I aspired to be like when I grew up. My Grandma Peggy was just as sweet and wonderful, H’s fourth wife I believe and she was very plump and round with a short crop of blonde hair on her head that was so obviously dyed to anyone who saw it. They were wonderful grandparents and I always loved when I got to be around them.

They greeted me and they spoke with Rick for a few minutes before I said goodbye and we left through the back door of the terminal into the airfield. There were a couple of light posts I had noticed as I loaded my suitcase into the luggage compartment. By far though the greatest amount of light came from the ones that were rotating on top of the more tower like poles, the ones to warn any incoming planes. Like a lighthouse sitting on the cliff face so ships can find the shore in the dark or storms. This was actually my first time flying at night, and that fact for some reason made me more nervous than I already was. I just shoved all that out of my head and tried to convince myself it was just nerves, flying had always made me nervous and that’s all this was. Nothing more.

We all loaded into the plane which was only a four seater, it wasn’t spacious but it wasn’t uncomfortable either. I just watched as H went through his preflight check flipping switches and confirming his takeoff on the radio. I just wanted this flight to be over as soon as possible so I grabbed my iPod from my pocket and put my ear buds in. I figured I could probably drown out the roar of the engine and maybe take a nap so the flight flies by. As I turned on the music and closed my eyes I leaned my head back and folded my arms back trying to get comfortable, and just then I could feel the plane taking off from the ground and I felt that twinge in my stomach. The one you get at the top of a rollercoaster right before the drop, the feeling of near weightlessness. I had not gotten through the first song I was listening to when it happened, and I will never forget what I saw in a million years. I felt something very odd. It was like I was being dragged to my right and it was strong, it was only seconds before I realized what I felt was gravity and I opened my eyes and looked out the window. I couldn’t process what I was seeing until I thought about it hours later, but what I saw right outside the right window of the plane was the ground.

Midflight the plane had for some reason tilted to the right and for a moment we had been flying with our wings perpendicular to the ground, and with the lights from the wings beaming down I could see the rows of corn flying by one after another as I got closer and closer and then there was an impact. My eyes were closed but I don’t remember losing consciousness. I was thrown around the inside of the plane like a ragdoll due to the lack of a seatbelt and when I opened my eyes again what I saw was horrible. The whole right side of the plane was gone, torn open and I could see the night sky and a cornfield. We had landed a mile and a half south of the airport in the middle of a cornfield. H’s seat was broken and though he was still strapped in, his seat was leaning back and pinning me down into mine which had undoubtedly kept me from being thrown from the plane.

“Is everyone alright?” I whimpered quietly as I pulled myself out from under my grandfather and out of the wreckage of the plane, the disorientation was so intense I couldn’t even begin to understand what had just happened.

“I’m fine,” H told me as I grabbed his arm and helped him climb from the plane. Peggy was still buckled into the passenger seat, but she was leaning out the torn open side and it looked as if she was stretched and stuck half underneath the wreckage. “Peggy are you okay?” I could hear H ask and all he got in response was a very weak no. Even in the midst of the tragedy H kept his cool, and I think that was what kept me from losing it myself. I had just checked my cell phone to see if I could get a signal and make a call, but the second I opened the phone the battery died.

“Oh God damn it, of course!” I yelled and threw my phone in the dirt. I noticed I could still see the rotating airfield lights and knew we couldn’t be that far from the airport. I looked by and saw H trying to clear debris and help Peggy. “I’m gonna run back to the airport and get help, Okay?” I tell H trying to keep it together and stay calm. He replied but was solely focused on helping Peggy, like this crash was totally normal and he had just been waiting this whole time for things to go south.

I took off through that corn doing nearly a full sprint down the rows wearing only one shoe. Cornfields absolutely terrified me ever since I was a little kid, but in that moment it never even registered to me where I was at. I probably made it through a mile of dark cornfield before I fell to my knees out of breath. I buried my face in my hands and started to sob. Waves of adrenaline were slamming into me. I still couldn’t even begin to process what had just happened to me. I sat there for several minutes just repeating to myself, “I’m alive.” It didn’t seem real. None of it. I couldn’t move, I couldn’t do a single thing. I sat and tried to steady my breathing, to get my body and mind under control. I watched the rotating airfield light go back and forth counting it slowly, one rotation after another. Before long though I started calming down ever so slightly and felt like I needed to puke, but when I leaned over to let it out I did nothing but heave. Then I noticed the blood on my hands in the thin veil of light, my forehead was definitely bleeding. I sat a few minutes longer, feeling the wet dirt beneath my wet socked foot, the broken corn stalks underneath my shoe on the other foot, and for the first time in my entire life I was thankful that I was alive, I could actually appreciate what I had. I stood up on shaky legs and readied myself, after three deep breaths I ran for all I was worth, as fast as I could and when I finally broke free from the edge of the cornfield I was directly across the road from the main doors of the airport.

I run up to the small brick building and I burst through the doors as quickly as I could as saw the attendant in her office where we had left her. She looked up at me from her desk through the office window and I sincerely thought this old lady was going to have a heart attack. She stood up from her desk with her mouth gaping open and walked out of her office. I just stood in the entryway trying to form the words and I simply mumbled as I collapsed into a nearby chair,

“Plane crash…” It was all I could utter as I tried to catch my breath. the woman on duty looked even more shocked than she had before.

“Oh my god, oh my god,” She started repeating as she went into her office for the phone, “I don’t even know who to call!”

“Uhh 911 maybe? Jesus any emergency services will do!” I couldn’t say anything else, I just buried my head in my hands and tried to hold myself together. The police response time was surprisingly good because the first officer showed up in what seemed like less than a minute, and I summoned what strength I had to meet him outside the front door. The police officer got out of his car and took one look at me,

“You were in the crash? Are you alright?” he seemed genuinely concerned.

“I – I’m fine,” I stammer quietly, “But my grandparents… their still at the plane.”

“What about the pilot?” He asks me as after speaking into his radio.

“My grandfather is the pilot,” I say quietly. Behind him two ambulances and more squad cars pull up, “We took off going east I think, I came from that direction.” I point across the road from where I ran out of the corn and the officer informed me that I was pointing south, “Okay man. I don’t know which direction it was then; I just know I came from that way.” He asked me a few more questions and then they loaded me onto a stretcher and put me in an ambulance, before they closed the ambulance doors the officer informed me they had found my grandfather on a road nearby flagging down the sheriff. We left for the hospital and with all the adrenaline starting to wear off, I found it hard to fight the tears welling up in my eyes and I remember the EMT patting me on the shoulder, telling me that it was over now and I was alright. It was far from over though.

We arrived at the hospital and they wheeled my grandfather in a few minutes after me. The first thing I noticed was that we ended up in trauma room A, the same room my sister ended up in after her car accident. It wasn’t long before my mother was on the phone with me and her speech was an unintelligible mix of screaming and crying. I couldn’t even get a word in, and she scared me so badly I almost didn’t take the phone when my dad called. He was much calmer and told me how much he loved me and how lucky I was.

When the doctor came in to tell H and I that Peggy was dead, I already knew. It seemed obvious at that point but what stuck with me was what the doctor said after my grandfather started breaking down, telling him that Peggy had been alive. He looked really apologetic and said the words,

“I truly am sorry Mr. Middleton. If we had gotten to her a couple of minutes sooner… I’m sorry. I promise we did everything we could.”

If we had gotten to her a couple of minutes sooner. Those words rang in my head like someone was shouting them through a megaphone. A couple of minutes. To say I felt guilty was an understatement. I sat in that cornfield for what must have been ten minutes at least, trying to calm myself down and it could’ve been the difference? I was overwhelmed with guilt, completely distraught. On top of it all I was unscathed, I got to go home and pretend nothing happened.

I didn’t go to Peggy’s funeral. At her visitation I was welcomed by everyone as a hero. They all said I was incredibly brave for what I did, and I felt like I couldn’t even look H in the eye. I sat in a chair and stared at my feet for most of it. At one point a woman came to sit next to me who was apparently longtime friends with grandpa H, and she leaned in and whispered to me asking if I was alright to which I mumbled I was. I didn’t look at her though.

“You know sometimes in life God has to harden our hearts. It’s not our place to know why, but we need to believe there is a purpose to it. We take that pain and turn it in to something useful. Please don’t let it drag you down,” she leaned in and hugged me, and got up to leave. I didn’t have the heart to tell her that any faith I previously held had taken a serious beating. I just wanted to throw up.

December, 2009

I was back at school, everything was basically the same. The day I came back everyone would just stare at me and whisper. I think I probably told the story at least forty times that day to students and teachers, even the school social worker. She thought I needed to talk about what happened but I didn’t, I needed to move on. Eventually things got back to normal, relatively speaking. That was what I needed since I was still struggling with what had happened to me, still trying to process such strong emotions and now an extreme anxiety on top of it.

One day only weeks after my accident I was sitting in class at school. We were in science and we were doing a lab, so everyone was at a lab station. Our teacher left the room for a few moments and I hear someone whisper my name. when I looked up I instantly noticed a few of my classmates a few stations down smiling at me. I just look at them and wait and one of them puts his hand in the air lying flat, and he then begins shaking his hand violently, doing loops and eventually crashing it into the lab table which the other boy followed by mimicking an explosion with his hands and mouth. The class thought it was absolutely hysterical, but I just sat there and looked at them. Then I looked down and I could feel my chest tighten and my breathing pick up, I could feel an anxiety attack coming on so I get up and excuse myself. I walk out and end up in the library just down the hall, only trying to catch my breath and not breakdown in school. I was just getting ready to go back when my teacher found me and she asked if I was doing okay. I told her I was fine and she told me not to worry and that I was very lucky, that there were angels watching over me. I looked up at her trying to hide any emotion, and as monotone as I could I said,

“There are no angels. There is no god. Nothing we do matters. We are all gonna die. What’s the point?”

From that point I slowly slipped into a pit. A cynical pit of loneliness, despair, and confusion.

September, 2016

I stood back as everyone made their way out of the cemetery and to their cars. I stood there reading the tomb stone and rereading it. It was sudden, but he died peacefully. Of course it was too soon for us, me especially. We had unfinished business; I had never gotten to talk to him about what we went through. We just never spoke of it. I wanted to but it just never seemed appropriate or always like the timing was bad. I wish I had, especially then standing over his grave. If I had been brave enough to bring it up maybe things would have been different. Maybe I would have processed my grief in a healthier way. I rolled one of the shells from his twenty-one guns in my fingers and thought about what I wanted to say.

These shells were supposed to be a symbol of bravery, honor, duty and for some reason rolling it in my fingers, besides making me feel close to him, gave me a sense of confidence. It took me a long time to realize what exactly had traumatized me so badly. I was a fourteen-year-old kid who had been relatively sheltered, and overnight my innocence had been snatched from me. Then I had to worry about things I shouldn’t have had to worry about. I was kept up at night with anxiety about things like what the meaning of life is, why we are here and if it mattered. I was burdened with my realization of the fragility of life and the razor thin line we live on a daily basis. But mostly I was afraid from that moment on that I would live a life without purpose, and that I would die a young, fruitless death at any moment. H helped me through this being the man he is, being as strong as he was, even the few times I could see the pain in his eyes he pushed it away and wore the brave face he had worn his entire life, and he got on with his life, back to his business, his family, his purpose.

“I’m going to miss you. I hope wherever you are, you have a brand new pair of wings and clear skies. I’m sorry… for a lot. I wish I had done things differently. I’m sorry I let it drag me down for so long. I just hope you knew before you left that I rose above that darkness. I found my purpose, finally. I couldn’t have done it without you either.”

____________________________

Jason Cummins

“Shame in His Eyes”

I take the keys out of my father’s hand. He gripes them tighter, stumbling and falling towards me. He is sweating profusely and flushed bright red. The smell of whiskey from his body, and the smoke from that murky bar is empowering. I get those keys and lead him into the front seat of the truck. I am sixteen and have thankfully just gotten my driver’s license, though I have been driving him home drunk from bars for much longer than that. In a small town, the cops tend to look the other way. They know about our family. Our family stays in the shadows of the town, but people whisper. My father’s head hangs down, willing himself not to vomit. I pray he doesn’t get sick in my truck. It is a cold December, the week after Christmas. There is still snow on the ground as it had been a white Christmas. The twinkly lights displayed in windows in our small town seem to be teasing me as I deal with the disgusting smells in my truck. We get home, and mom is still at work. Step by step, I have to shoulder a portion of his 200 pound weight to get him into bed. As he lays down, I see the look of shame in his eyes. He will remember the shame in the morning, but it isn’t enough to make him change.

I know early on that all families were not like ours. I would go to friends’ houses for dinner after sports practices. Other dads would read the newspaper at the kitchen table. Other dads could hold down jobs and not sleep all day. In my town, sports were everything. I was accepted into the popular crowd because I was a good athlete. That was the only reason I was welcome, but I never really belonged. I was in outsider to the good families. I was an outsider in my own home, as I was powerless to stop my dad’s actions. I always felt alone, and always, always ashamed.

It is late autumn, and my senior year football team had made the play-offs. There was so much energy in the air that Friday. I walk through the halls feeling unstoppable, wearing my varsity jacket and having my girlfriend by my side. I was invincible. The locker room smells of sweat as the boys pad up. Nelly music thumps through that room, creating a soundtrack for our 2001. The cheerleaders and marching band fill the night with their school spirit. We claim a victory that night, making play after play, under the bright lights. It was the best night of my life, until I see my dad in the stands. Again, I am different than every other player that has just won tonight. I was scared of my own father, always walking on eggshells. I never knew if he would be my quiet dad that was kind, or the drunken dad that couldn’t walk straight. He goes to congratulate me, and I again saw the look of shame in his eyes. I knew he was sober from his shaking hands. I also knew he would drive to the bar as soon as he left the high school. Eighteen years were gone. I had been a kid and needed my dad to help my navigate this messy world, but in that instant- I realized how alone my childhood had been. Standing there in what should have been the happiest moment of my life, I only felt full of loneliness and regret. There were no more chances for him to be the dad that I had needed. I was a man now, and I swore to myself that I would never need him for anything ever again. I would never let him have the power over me to make me feel alone.

Alcohol was ingrained in every childhood memory that I have. Every holiday, my family would sit around our downstairs bar and pour drink after drink. A glass was never left empty. My father was in his element, playing the boisterous bartender when he was still sober enough. A couple of hours in, he would be the one that couldn’t stop. He would be the one that passed out drunk on the sofa when relatives or friends were over. Every camping trip involved much of the same. My dad started his dad with orange juice and vodka, around noon switched to beer, and in the late afternoon, moved on to Jack Daniels. I remember the times that an ambulance was needed to take him to the hospital. I remember the smoky bars that called the police to show up after he was cut off from buying any more drinks. I remember the times he lost his driver’s license. I hated the disappointment of our childhood.

It is 2018. I am a father myself. I play catch with my kids in the backyard. We go legitimate camping that has nothing to do with what we drink. My boys will never have to know the pain of alcoholism. I refuse to drink, scared that with one drink, I could turn into him. I never want them to feel like an outsider in their own family. I never want them to worry if I will be able to stay sober long enough for their wedding. I never want to hold my grandchildren with shaking hands from withdrawing. I don’t hate my dad anymore. Holding onto a lifetime of hate is exhausting. Life is too short to hang on to that. I feel sorry for him. His life has had decades of disappointment, shame, and heartache.

I walk into my childhood home, and down the hall to visit my dad. Nothing has changed in that house. The same pictures hang on the walls. The same dreary curtains cover the windows. My dad is laying in a hospital bed that has been brought in for him. His skin and eyes are yellow from jaundice. His stomach is swollen from an enlarged liver. He is dying, and this is the end stages of cirrhosis and liver failure. He looks much older than his 65 years. He spends most of his days sleeping. My mom is getting counseling from the hospice workers, and she seems more at peace than she ever has. She smiles and laughs again. My dad has been sober for almost a year. He is kind now and asks questions about my life. We watch baseball together. It feels like we have met for the first time. The irony that it is too late is not lost on me. This is alcoholism, and it is ugly. It is the smell of dying in the air. It is planning a funeral when your parent is still living, with your dad requesting a Jack Daniels flag on his casket because he sees it as a fitting tribute to his life. Alcoholism is regret. It is a disease and choice all at the same time. It is the look of shame in his eyes, that neither of us can seem to erase.

____________________________

Kendrick Keller

“A Poisonous Idea”

The office had a yellow tinge to its overhead light, even though the whole school was supposedly operating on fluorescent lighting, the environment and whatnot. On the left side of the Junior High office was a shelf full of colorful nick nacks, a degree from some Texas University framed with dust covered glass, and a picture of some high school football team presumably from a time before the invention of sliced bread. The two uncomfortable black chairs in front of the center desk sat two fourteen year old boys. The first boy, with his mud brown hair, thin frame, and Puerto Rican looks (he’s not) tapped his feet and scratched his elbow red. The second boy had light brown skin, short, fuzzy, sky black hair, and green store bought hoodie that clinged to his body like a cage to a bird. The first boy out of nervous anger spoke and answered the question.

“Why are you looking at me, he started it. He stabbed me first!”

I am not the first boy.

“Hold on, you made me do it. It was coercion. He stabbed ME first!” I, the second boy, said. This reignited the argument that started on the way out of art class and continued the whole way to the Vice Principal’s office.

The first boy, Joseph flailed his arms in anger. “Well if you hadn’t messed with my project.”

“Messed with? I moved it and you freaked out and went straight for the pens,” I said while quickly flashing my fangs because I found the whole thing hilarious.

“Boys! You have both never been to my office before. Right?”

The deep, soft voice came from the large blonde man sitting behind the desk. Mr. Hendrickson was the Vice Principal of La Vernia Junior High. He wore the standard white button up and khakis getup used by school reps and waiters around the country. Hendrickson had a warm presence, always had a smile on his face even when delivering disheartening news. From our few interactions at the time he always showed that he walked around with his authority on his hip, not his face, kind of like a reverend or a traffic officer.

“Yes.” Joseph and I responded in unison.

“And the two of you are friends. Right? I’ve seen you eating together and you had to sit next to each other for this to even happen.”

“Yes.” We said simultaneously once more.

“Ok then, act like it. There’s no reason for the two of you to behave like animals. You’re friends, so don’t attack each other. As long as this is the end of this, you boys can go,” Hendrickson shifts his weight and leans back in his chair. “Is this the end?”

“Yes, sir.” We said for a final time.

Joseph and I stood up to take our leave through Mr. Hendrickson’s thick wooden office doors to return to class. Hendrickson followed behind us and reached out his long sleeved hands to the both of us before we took our leave. Shaking the man’s hands felt relaxing yet oddly empowering, like walking up to a 400 pound unchained lion and him letting you pat his mane, if only for an instant. Teachers to me weren’t symbols of a learning establishment that respected and engendered good will towards its students, even the bright ones. Teachers demanded and belittled, they abuse power to teach you a lesson you already know. Being near Mr. Hendrickson however, all I felt was respect.

The Ouroboros, originating in the ancient Egyptian text, The Enigmatic Book of the Netherworld, is an ancient symbol that depicts a serpent eating its own tail. The Ouroboros connects head to tail with its jaw sprawled wide to allow its scale covered tail to cram itself elegantly into the creature’s own throat.

 

On an all but normal Wednesday in March 2011, Ms. Hendrickson, the elderly mother of Glen Hendrickson, rushed to La Vernia Texas after a distressing phone call with her son. In Glen’s home which he shared with his school teacher wife and two young boys, Ms. Hendrickson found her son on his bedroom floor with a gunshot wound in his head. Mr. Hendrickson killed himself at his home in the local Rosewood subdivision; a quaint cul-de-sac like subdivision filled with wide roomed townhouses attached to small fenced in backyards. My longtime friend Brett lived in Rosewood; it took me far too long to make the connection between the house I visited to play Grand Theft Auto and shoot airsoft guns and the suicide of my friendly administrator.

We first heard of the death of our beloved VP at the place we flock to for fun and guidance every Wednesday after school. I along with several dozen of my classmates walked through the dark pews of our dimly lit Baptist Church after school. We looked up to the front of the auditorium-like room; overlooking our seats was a wooden stage, built with nothing but God’s love, hard community labor, and a measly few thousand dollars worth of tithes. The stained glass windows painted with colorful depictions from the bible towered over us teenagers. The lights that poured through illuminated our soft faces with brilliant reds, bright yellows, sun spotted oranges, and a tacky looking green that must be made of leftover Heineken bottles.

The service opened with the news of Hendrickson’s death, barely half a day old, not even a black and white headline yet. When the preacher spoke on the suicide, the room evacuated all light; we might as well have been in the chill Nevada desert under a sheet of night. It’s as if we were left without a star in the sky, the southern church was barely lit and the only sound was sobbing. The dams flooded before my preacher even stopped for a breath: sobbing from puberty stricken kids erupted from the pews. Students came forward to speak, to pray, to be cradled by an adult, any adult, just so someone else could do the work of keeping their bodies upright while their spirits lie at the steps of God’s house. My friends and I didn’t know Mr. Hendrickson well, but we still bore witness to the dreary scene around us. I was at a loss for actions. I sat, trembling within my booth, gripping the wood and biting my nails while mourning surrounded me in real time. The tense lack of understanding and anxiety with nowhere left to escape to, fell from my eyelids and dampened my green hoodie, a venom that needed extracted. After a single moment of pouring my saltwater from my face to my jacket sleeves, I found myself with nothing to do but sit and watch.

Hendrickson died because of corruption, greed, and the mistake of being a person who cared. The higher ups at La Vernia Independent School District had stolen money from the district, lied to parents and students, and covered up for a Drama teacher that used hard drugs before class. In the aftermath, we found out that Hendrickson knew all of this and was powerless to stop any of it. The morning of Wednesday March 30th, Hendrickson left school and visited my Drama teacher in jail, before driving to his Rosewood home one last time. The school learned nothing from the loss of Hendrickson, corruption stalked us, viper like, creeping in the background throughout our next four years in the town. After that week, there was no long term reaction from the school or the town because of Hendrickson’s passing. He wasn’t made a martyr, he died without a cause, teaching his students without the need for a lecture that a single bullet can’t fix everyone’s problems, but it can fix yours.

The symbol of the Ouroboros represents both beginning and end as a closed loop that swallows itself, this representation of life and the passage of time is not however as symmetrical as it would suggest. The Ouroboros’ interpretation of beginning and end is that they are one in the same, or at first sight, it paints it this way. However, anyone with eyes can identify the beginning and ending points of the serpent, the slender eyes, protruding from the enlarged head, the beginning.The bloated and pronounced beginning takes over and devours a tail that thins as it reaches out to its tip, tickling the far end of the serpent’s throat, the end.

 

I lived in La Vernia throughout almost the entirety of my primary schooling. This meant that the only time I met anyone new was when I left or they came. Because of the lack of intellectual and ideological diversity, the town can only be described as incestuary. Change wasn’t prevalent in the community, the most modern thing about the town was the new Whataburger (“Just like you like it”). Seeing the same faces everyday for the first sixteen years of your life means that everyone supposedly matters, no matter how well you know them, how close you are, or if you’ve ever spoken a word to each other. Lives are treated like a roll call, every day you go down the list to check if all the ducks are in a row.

I had seen Bryan a few times a year since I was in elementary school. He knew my name and I knew his. All other information we had about each other must have been secondhand. I could tell based on his friend group, his large truck, and his boots that he was very southern and somewhat stoic; in a much more passive way, people liked Bryan, his presence was never treated as a nuisance. Bryan most likely knew about me what most kids at my high school knew, I took advanced classes, skateboarded the town with my sometimes lovable shithead group of friends, and I was part of the approximately six and a half black kids in the school; everyone also knew I was the half. Our tertiary relationship could only get us that far. I had personally spoken to Bryan, probably less than ten times in my life. The majority of my interactions with him took place sophomore year of high school. I would see Bryan slither past in the open pathway between the brick buildings that houses the departments of the school. I passed him by maybe once a month, he’d nod his head and whisper my name “Kendrick.” And I’d hiss back, “Bryan.” We wouldn’t stand there too long, I was taller than I was in junior high, my glasses were traded for contacts so you could easily see my brown eyes with their full black center. As if we were five year old barely capable of looking through a book to find Waldo, point to his face and call out his name to prove to our parents and counselors that we didn’t have a learning disability.

On a winter day sophomore year I didn’t nod to Bryan. No one did. That morning we were informed that Bryan hung himself at his home the previous night while his parents were out. We were given no reason or explanation, we were just expected to hear the news and hand out “thoughts and prayers” in return. I didn’t cry when Bryan died, I didn’t stop with my day or leave the school and neither did most. However to say it wasn’t felt in every moment without a distraction that week would be a lie and an injustice. Whenever I would exit the classroom that week every spot and surface was grey. I would walk the same path I took every week. I would like clockwork leave my class at the bell and get precisely five minutes to traverse my campus that was covered in a pathetic combination of concrete and muddy grass. I never saw Bryan’s round face or still eyes on my way to class again. There was now this tiny point of empty space with a gigantic weight. Bryan’s absence was a supermassive black hole that sucked in all light with no hope of escape. My sadness over the loss of Bryan was much more selfish than it could have possibly been for the rest of the student body. I wasn’t feeling the pain of his family, or the sympathy of every parent with a son his age. I was constantly in shock by the blunt quickness that someone who had always been there had willingly departed with.

Everyone has had the experience of looking into a mirror and seeing a pore that sticks out in just the wrong way. This pore doesn’t quite fit in and in that moment you become bothered. Whether because for curiosity or perfection, you prod at it. You scratch or stab or slice at it to get it to leave, to fall out. And what does the it do in response? The only thing it can, it bleeds. That’s how I dealt with Bryan’s death for the remaining week. I’m prone to obsession of thought. And the lowering of the population of my town was one I couldn’t shake if I blasted a Disturbed album and banged my head on a solid chunk of wood for fifty four minutes straight. Because of this anxiety and how little felt I knew Bryan, I didn’t even consider going to his funeral.

The Principal announced over the scratchy outmoded loudspeaker one morning in the latter half of the week that anyone who wants to go to Bryan’s funeral on friday doesn’t have to go to school. Lucky for me I had a Doctor’s appointment. Our town was small enough and safe enough that it was usual for a kid to walk the town by themselves regardless of the time of day. I walked from my house through La Vernia towards my little Doctor’s office on the hill that overlooked a large lot of grass that stretched out in front of a wealthy neighborhood. When I reached the top of the hill, I could looked down and saw the very funeral that I wished to keep my distance from. Dozens of people stood hand in hand, some with heads bowed and others with small fires the size of Coke cans in their palms. The sight made my spine tinge and my mind race a few MPH faster than usual. What could they possibly be asking of God, is this to ease the agony of the family, to make Bryan’s loved ones feel better? Or is it for themselves? There’s no criminal to catch, no tragedy to clean up after, there’s not even a single person that we know to blame. Bryan must have been suffering, they type of suffering that time and laughter don’t erase. If we can’t fix the problem, why beg for it to go away? Why he needed to die for anyone to think about him after they nod in his direction? Bryan was a kind hearted sheep who was sacrificed in the middle of the week so we could collectively give a damn. A god didn’t pluck Bryan’s soul from him and leave his lifeless corpse to fall to the the ground. At the end Bryan finally had control. Bryan scarfed down his own tail.

____________________________

Cheyenne Rideaux

“Blue Aster”

We all knew little Sami Wallows was not Ava’s son. Although he shared her blond hair and green eyes, there was no likeness past that. With either Wallows. No. Ava would never have admitted to us that she was infertile. We all knew though. Rosie Stevens had known first; pointing out the suspicious vacation the two had booked only weeks after the pregnancy announcement.

We all knew Mrs. Cruz had lost her job in town. We had begun to notice the way she hoarded her newspapers, cutting the coupons as if her life depended on it. Occasionally, her son, Anthony Jr., would come to one of our homes to spend time with one of the children. On more than one of these play dates, he was happy to ‘volunteer’ to stay for dinner.

We all knew of the affair between Joseph C. Darin, the science teacher at Sterling High School, and Elizabeth Moore, the English teacher at the same school. This was brought to light quite recently when Annabelle Moore walked into her mother’s classroom to retrieve her lunch money. Suffice it to say, the affair came to an abrupt and silent end.

That is the key term to our community and its perfection. Silent. We know the secrets and imperfections in the neighborhood, but it is expected, out of courtesy, to never admit or complain about your problems. That should be none of our business. Never voluntarily. We agree to ignore the gossip; unless behind closed doors. That was our unspoken agreement. Until Verna-Mae Tissano.

It was nearly eleven at night when we awoke to the sound of a moving truck pulling into the Darin’s driveway. The couple had moved out a few days prior, but it was no surprise that a family would be moving in so soon. Blue Aster was a highly sought after community. We stood outside on our stairs, watching as the moving truck pulled in, followed closely behind by a beat up, grey, 2007 sedan. Rosie was standing at the house across the street, staring at the atrocity.

We watched curiously as someone exited from the car; a large hoodie pulled up so we could not see any features beneath the streetlamps. The person was followed by two small children exiting the back seats. It was far too dark to see them clearly. We let out sighs, knowing we would see nothing more until morning.

As soon as day broke, we set to work on our welcoming gifts. It had been a while since someone new moved into our neighborhood, but we still knew exactly what we were each responsible to bring. We met at the Steven’s kitchen to put together the basket. Rosie’s muffins sat on the counter cooling, while she worked on the little “Welcome to Blue Aster” ribbon that would be tied around the basket. We watched as her expert hands moved the thread around to create an intricate ribbon around the weaved basket. It was one of the many hand-weaved baskets that Rosie’s daughter, Mary, took immense pride in making.

The rest of us placed whatever items were meant for the basket onto the table. There were hand lotions from town; from one of the expensive stores that marked the price onto the item itself to ensure that the receiver would know just how much was spent on it, home-made jams, expensive cigars shipped from overseas, and a book; the newest best-seller romance. Rosie was the one leading the welcoming committee. The rest of us carried our own glass Tupperware full of casseroles.

“Okay girls, let’s give this new family a nice welcome,” Rosie said, smiling. It was the perfect mix of heart-warming and threatening, showing anyone who looked at her that she was clearly the head of the community. We walked with purpose towards the Madres yellow house, smiles on our faces that, after several years, felt natural.

Rosie’s light rasping on the door was the only sound that we could hear as we stood on the front porch. The house was eerily silent. There were no footsteps, no TV, no radio, no children giggling. The ugly sedan remained parked in the same spot it had pulled into last night. Perhaps this family had another car we didn’t see? We were about to turn away and walk back to our respective homes, when the door suddenly swung open.

“Can I help you?” A little boy asked. He stood in the doorway, a hand on the doorknob still, his other hand clutching a toy car. He was most likely around six years old, maybe younger, with curly black hair, olive skin, brown eyes, and a frail frame. He stared up at us with boredom.

“Hello there, is your mother home?” Rosie asked in the same voice she used when talking to one of her pomeranians. We wouldn’t have been surprised if the boy had rolled his eyes. However, he merely turned around and called into his house.

“Mama, people at the door!” He announced as he walked away and into the living room. We were shocked that he simply left the door open, let alone answered it without a parent present. There were a few more seconds of silence before a woman emerged from the kitchen.

“Why, hello there. Sorry to have kept y’all waiting,” she said with a heavy southern accent. Unlike the child, this woman had fair skin, freckles sprinkled across her nose, her shoulders, and the back of her hands. Her red hair hung straight and flat down to her shoulders, and her frame was a tad bit stocky. The only thing that she shared with the boy was the brown eyes; dark enough to be mistaken for black. She smiled at us, revealing an upper row of shockingly crooked teeth. “I was in the kitchen working on breakfast for the boys, feel free to come in and make yourselves at home. I won’t be but a few minutes.”

Like the boy, the woman simply walked away from the wide-open door – and our confused expressions. She sauntered back into the kitchen and made no sound at all. We remained on the porch, looking at one another as we waited for someone to make the first move. To no one’s surprise, Rosie was the first to step into the house. It looked almost exactly the same as the Darin family left it, save for the boxes that lined the entryway and spilled into the living and dining room.

We entered the living room, standing close the walls and bay window. The only furniture in the room was a single coffee table and a grey couch that looked as though it had been picked up at a garage sale or on the side of the road. Rosie stared at it with a skeptical eye, but turned to Elizabeth, nudging her head in a silent “You should sit, it would be the polite thing to do.”

Elizabeth timidly sat in the middle of the couch, so far off the edge that it took most of her strength to keep from falling. The boy who had answered the door was seated on the other side of the coffee table on the hardwood floor. There was another boy with him, an identical twin, who moved his own toy car around on the floor; racing the first boy’s. It was shocking, yet pleasing, how silent the two played in front of us.

“Breakfast time! Come and get it before it gets cold!” The sound of their mother’s hollering jolted us, making Rosie tense and Ava nearly drop her glass tray of tuna casserole. The boys scrambled up to their feet, racing each other towards the kitchen, shoving into one another on the way. The woman walked in the opposite direction, separating them nonchalantly as she came into the living room. “So, what can I do for ya, ladies? Is this the welcome committee or something?” The way she pronounced ‘something’ came out more like ‘some-than’.

“Yes, we are,” Rosie said matter-of-factly. “We came to welcome you and your family to the neighborhood. Is your husband home by any chance? We would love to welcome him as well and to let him know when he could meet with our husbands.”

“Ain’t got no husband,” The woman said plainly. We weren’t sure if she was going to say more or not, but when she continued to stare at us with her big eyes, we figured that was all she had to say about it.

“Oh! Well… you know we don’t have any issues with lesbians.” Elizabeth informed her quickly. We glanced down at Elizabeth, shocked by her accusation. After all, there were many reasons as to why someone could be without a husband. Death. Military. Divorce.

“That’s good to know. I don’t have any issues with lesbians either. But if you’re trying to reassure me, there’s no need for that. I’m not a lesbian. I just don’t have a husband.”

“Did you adopt those two boys, by any chance?” Ava asked in a timid voice. Rosie gave her a sideways glance, knowingly, but remaining silent about her opinion.

The woman smiled at that, but shook her head. “Nope, they’re mine. Had them six years ago, and have loved and raised them since.” The room fell silent after that. We waited for some sort of explanation. Grilling her on the whereabouts of the father was quickly becoming awkward.

“Well! I think this is all lovely. We would love to stay and chat more, but it is clear you have plenty of work to do with unpacking. I would be happy to send over my husband to help if you would like, but he may be busy with Mr. Kim.” Rosie said quickly as she handed the woman the welcome basket. We all stood, placing our own gifts onto the coffee table. The woman remained smiling, not seeming to mind the quick exit, and nodded her head.

“By the way, we will be having a bar-b-que at my house, a sort of belated farewell to the previous owners of this house. You are welcome to stop by if you would like. We would love to learn more about you and your family.” Elizabeth chimed in at the last moment. Rosie glanced at her, but remained silent.

We quickly made our exit, smiling at her as we left. We were halfway down the stairs when the woman opened the door. “The name’s Verna-Mae by the way!” She called down to us in her heavy accent. We turned back, smiled, and waved to her.

The sun was beating down on our backs as we stood on Rosie’s back porch. Our sun hats managed to protect our skin from the sun, but did absolutely nothing for the warm breeze that was beginning to pick up. Ava Wallows had to hold the hem of her blue summer dress down to keep the breeze from blowing it up. Verna-Mae was the only one who had shown up in a pair of high-waisted denim shorts and a blue tank top. Liliane and Joseph C. Darin had come for the day, wanting to apologize for their sudden departure from the community, so the rest of us felt it would only be appropriate to dress our best.

“It was awfully sudden of you. None of us even knew you were leaving until we saw the moving truck.” Rosie Stevens stated in a ‘concerned’ tone. We raised our eyebrows and leaned closer in our own feigned shocked expression. Liliane nodded her head, glancing over at her husband at the grill. The men, our husbands, stood on the grass, crowding around the grill, attempting to keep the wind from blowing the food away. Or they didn’t want us to over hear anything they had to say. They each held a can of beer in their hands as they chatted. None of them drank for a few moments; sensing our eyes on them.

“Yes, Joseph found a job in Bonney Lake, Washington. There is a beautiful gated community, Trilogy at Tehaleh. Plus, I have extended family there who I wish to be closer to.” We nodded our heads in understanding as Liliane explained. We took sips from our lemonade and blotted napkins against our lips in silence. Verna-Mae’s eyes flicked over each of us, almost as if she were trying to determine if we were robots. “I’ll desperately miss this community. I see all you girls as my sisters,” Liliane continued after a moment. Her eyes flicked to Elizabeth Moore.

We could feel the tension as the women stared at each other. Elizabeth chose to stand directly across from the host, despite our better judgement. Elizabeth placed a strand of her chestnut brown hair behind her ear, a small frown winkling the corners of her mouth. “I’m happy Joseph found a better paying job. I hope you’ll be happy in Washington. However,” she started to say as she shuddered slightly, “the name of your town, Bonney Lake, just sounds dreadful.”

We tensed as Elizabeth finished speaking. Our eyes were glued to Liliane, silently noting the way the corners of her eyes did not crinkle as she forced a smile onto her face. It was the kind of smile that was clearly fake. The way her hands tightened at her side; not into balls and not fully straight, just tightened. It was something that not many would have noticed. In a small community, it was easy to begin to notice just about everything about someone else.

“It is a silly name for a town, isn’t it? We wish we didn’t need to move, but it is for the best. The high school had some… issues, that I don’t believe Joseph, or our future child, needs to be around.” Once again, no one was surprised at the mention of the unborn child. The looks of surprise still appeared on our faces, mixed with delight. Liliane had told Rosie about the pregnancy a week after the affair came to light; only a month ago. Rosie felt it would be best for everyone to know, save for Elizabeth. We didn’t believe it was for any vindictive reason, however, the reaction of poor Elizabeth was entertaining to us all. Elizabeth was the only one who had a truly genuine reaction. The superior fire in her eyes dimmed, stolen by Liliane as she placed a hand on her flat stomach.

“I can’t help but feel like there is something between these two. What happened?” Verna-Mae asked, leaning towards Ava to whisper the question. Not surprisingly, her whisper was easily heard over the silence that had fallen over the group. Ava looked towards Rosie, unsure how to answer the question.

“The food’s ready! Are you girls going to continue to stand there and gab, or join us?” Joseph C. called to us, saving Ava from the needing to make the decision. We looked up towards him, but we said nothing. We walked carefully towards the men, making sure our Mary Janes did not sink in the dewy spring grass. “What were you ladies talking about anyways?”

“I told them the good news about the pregnancy,” Liliane informed her husband. She stood beside him, placing her arm around his waist. We couldn’t help but notice the way he hesitated to put his arm around her. His eyes shifted subtly to look at Elizabeth standing beside her own husband. Rosie was the first to break the silence, taking the moment to congratulate the soon-to-be father. We nodded in agreement, offering our own congratulations and advice from personal experiences. The Moore couple were the only ones to remain silent.

“Oh! Did something happen here?” Verna-Mae suddenly broke the silent. Her finger pointed from Elizabeth to Joseph. We were genuinely shocked this time. The audacity of such a question. Liliane tensed, staring at the new woman. If looks could kill.

“I have no idea what you are talking about. As stated, we are leaving for a better job opportunity,” Liliane said through clenched teeth. “Besides, I’m not too sure who you are to be saying anything in the first place.”

“My apologies, my name is Verna-Mae Tissano. I’m the one who moved into your house.” She held her hand out towards them, waiting with a patient smile plastered on her face. We couldn’t tell if it was a fake one or not. Joseph was the first to reach towards her hand; only to be stopped by his wife.

“Pleasure,” she said coldly as she held Joseph’s arm, lowering it back to his side. Verna-Mae slowly lowered hers as well, keeping the smile tugging at the corner of her lips.

“Well, now that we’re all acquainted, I believe the men prepared us some delicious food.” Rosie’s eyes remained on Verna-Mae as she spoke. Her attempt at dissolving the tension did nothing. If there was one thing Rosie hated, it was a community event being ruined.

A month. A month was all it took for Verna-Mae Tissano to change Blue Aster’s perfection.

We were nearing the very end of summer when. It was the end of the summer Blue Aster block party. The streets were lined with different activities, mainly for the children, ranging from bounce houses, pony rides, face painting, and small arts-and-crafts tables. The doors to everyone’s homes were wide open, letting the smell of our cooking out into the streets.

As custom, each family was put in charge of a different course for our party meal. We would start at the Wallow’s house for the hors d’oeuvre portion of the night. As we expected, the start to the evening was nothing special. We filed into the Wallow’s home, the layout and color identical to the rest of ours. Her furniture focused on a very blue and glass aesthetic, matching Ava’s personality. We stood in the dining room, picking at the pastry-wrapped asparagus, sweet fig crostini, and tomatoes with lemon dill dip. We talked amongst ourselves about our children, who remained outside snacking on the finger foods that we had prepared separately for them, and our husbands’ promotions.

“I’m sorry, hope I’m not too late. I was figuring out how to make sure my food didn’t burn or nothing while we did this house hopping thing (thang).” Verna-Mae apologized loudly as she came into Ava’s house. Everyone turned their attention to her, confused and surprised at the sudden, loud, burst of energy. We had almost forgotten that the Tissano family even moved into Blue Aster.

The family had been silent for several weeks following their welcome ‘party’. The twin boys mostly kept to themselves, playing in the backyard a total of seven times in the past month. Verna-Mae remained in doors most of the time. We had assumed it was simply to unpack all her boxes. The only times we knew of that she or the boys left the house were the few times when we heard the rackety sedan making its way out of Blue Aster or the weekends, then returning during odd hours of the night.

The men stared at Verna-Mae with surprised, confused, and impressed expressions on their faces. We, the women, glanced back, scrutinizing. She wore a short, bright red dress that hung off her shoulders, showed off her cleavage, and stopped just above the knee. Her heels added at least four inches on her, making her once stocky body appear almost as normal as the rest of us who worked out.

“Don’t worry about it, we’re happy you could join us. We were about to head to the Cruz’s house for the soup course,” Rosie informed her in a threateningly sweet voice. Her smile was strained, losing it’s ‘natural’ feel as she looped her arm in the new woman’s. Verna-Mae smiled at her genuinely, showing off her crooked teeth. She flipped her thin hair over her shoulder and looked back at the rest of us, her eyes falling on Andrew Moore. Elizabeth’s back straightened, her eyes narrowing at the other woman as Rosie led her and the rest of the group to the next house.

The tension during the soup course managed to dissipate slightly. We sat down for Elaine Cruz’s famous albondigas soup, smiling at one another and returning to our small talk. The soup was followed with the fish course at the Kim household, without any issues. However, it was the salad at the Moore house that signaled the shift of the night.

“I thought I would try to bring the freshness of summer out through this strawberry balsamic salad with French 75, a little cocktail I found in a ‘Spice Up Your Night’ book,” Elizabeth told us as we sat at her large table. The salads looked classic, nothing too special with them, but classy. Ava was the first to take a sip from her drink, and her face told us enough. Her lips puckered and her eyes widened slightly from the sharp vodka taste and tartness of the lemon juice. However, she did her best to put a smile back on her face.

“Oh come on, it can’t be that bad, can it?” Verna-Mae suddenly asked as she grabbed her own drink and took a long sip. Her eyes widened as well, but she smiled widely. “Now this is what I’m talking about! I ain’t never had a cocktail at a fancy dinner this good!” Rosie’s eyes narrowed at her, then at Elizabeth; blaming her for this fiasco. The rest of us remained silent.

Rosie grabbed her own glass, her eyes never leaving Verna-Mae. She gulped down the drink faster than any of us had ever seen her drink before. She refilled her glass right away, and downed the second one just as fast. Verna-Mae locked eyes with her, and seemed to take pleasure in what she interpreted as a challenge. She drank her glass quickly. She was onto her third within minutes, as Elizabeth was the only other woman to join the little drinking contest.

“Well, I moved here from Louisiana because I wanted to give my kids a new life. There were a lot of things I did down in the south that I’m not too proud of. I wanted to start new for my boys.” The men stared at Verna-Mae, nodding their heads vigorously as she told her story. “They haven’t had the best life so far, so I thought a place like this could do them some good. Maybe fine myself a man or men to help them learn things like fixin stuff and grillin.”

“What happened to their father?” Rosie asked, her head cocked to the side, staring the other woman down.

Verna-Mae didn’t even waver as she stared back at her with a smile slowly spreading on her face. “I don’t know. It was one of those situations where you just don’t really know who the father is.”

We were shocked silent for a moment, not wanting to continue to probe, but Rosie was clearly not backing off.

“What do you mean? Don’t worry, we’re a loving community, you can tell us.”

“Ain’t much to tell. I was in my third year of college, thought I would have some fun. I was the kind of girl who liked to have a good time and never thought it would catch up to me. After a good night at a party with a few friends, I realized maybe I had a bit too much fun. Never bothered to try and track down the possible fathers, so I did what I had to and now I’m here.” She started to lean closer, leaning over the table towards Rosie in a snake-like manner. “Did that story satisfy your need for fresh gossip?”

Rosie was taken aback by the comment, but said nothing. Instead, the men were the ones who spoke up to break the tension. “What kind of fun did you like to have?” Andrew Moore asked as he leaned closer to Verna-Mae. Elizabeth reached over, slapping her husband’s arm with disbelief written on her reddening face. Her eyes struggled to focus on him through the alcohol. “Oh, come on! You can have a full-on affair under my roof, but I can’t ask a simple damn question!”

We all fell silent, unable to think of anything to say. There were tears threatening to fall down her face as she sat, mouth hanging open, and stared at her husband. He started to turn towards Verna-Mae again; ignoring his wife completely.

“Listen, I don’t want anything to do with this martial thing. I never meant to start anything, but I worked damn hard on the main course of the dinner, and y’all are still welcome to come,” Verna-Mae said, holding her hands up in a defensive gesture.

“Looks like you already started something,” Rosie said under her breath, her words slurring ever so slightly. She stood first, slamming her glass on the table in annoyance.

The rest of us stood then, our chairs scraping against the Persian rug beneath us, and we awkwardly, but silently, made our way out of the house. Andrew stood to leave as well, but Elizabeth grabbed his arm, still seated and staring down at the discarded salads. Rosie closed the Moore’s door behind her, stumbling only slightly as she walked down the stairs. Verna-Mae led the group to her house. The only sound around us was the high-pitched laughter of our children.

“Welcome to my home! I hope y’all don’t hold none of this against me. I was trying to tell my story,” Verna-Mae said. The home was extremely different from the house the Darin’s left. The once egg-shell white walls were now a vomit green, the furniture was random; from the old grey couch to the scratched-up red book shelf. There were children toys lining the entry way, shoes that had clearly been thrown into the corner and ignored, and jackets draping the couch and stair railing.

We took our seats at the table and our nostrils were bombarded with the scent of spice and meat. “Please, don’t worry about it Ms. Tissano. Those two have been having problems for years,” Dick Stevens reassured her with a gentle smile. Rosie’s eyes narrowed at her husband, as if daring him to say anymore. He quickly dropped his head, like a shamed puppy, and sat rigid in his chair.

Verna-Mae ignored the awkward moment that had just transpired, and took her seat. “So, under your dome covers are your meals. I thought I would try to make it pretty fancy with those.” She noted, a proud smile on her face. We lifted the domes and stared at the food before us. We weren’t sure if it was the colors or the smell, but we could tell this would be the last straw for Rosie. “In front of you is some of my famous Louisianan rum vinegar-glazed ribs, collard greens, and crackling.”

“Crackling,” Rosie repeated the word as though it was a foreign language. That was it. That was all it took. “You made crackling and ribs? I gave you the honor or making the main course, something I thought anyone with a brain could figure out, and you make fucking crackling and ribs?”

To our surprise, Verna-Mae managed to keep her expression calm, another small smirk tugging at the corner of her lips. “Now, I didn’t do nothing wrong to any of you, so I don’t see why you think you can come into my home and speak to me like this. Y’all said you wanted a dinner, and a meal that represented us as individuals, so that’s what I gave you.”

“Look around you! We do what we can to be harmonious! We follow the fucking rules!” Rosie screamed at her. We sat in silence, knowing she was right. “Either get with the program, or get out of my community.”

Verna-Mae slowly brought herself to her feet, letting her chair scrape loudly against the hardwood floor. “It’s funny you think you’re something special. Me and my boys have done absolutely nothing wrong here. My boys have kept to themselves, remained quiet, and I’ve tried to stay in and make my house look presentable for your damn fru-fru asses. All I’ve wanted was to make a new start in a nice community. But in the month that I’ve spent here, all I’ve heard is you all talking gossip about one another behind each other’s backs. Who gives a damn if Mrs. Cruz is unemployed, or Mrs. Wallow’s kid ain’t hers?”

Ava and Elaine’s eyes widened. Their shame was obvious. “You have no right to say anything! You’re… you’re just a damn slut!” Ava exploded. She stood up quickly and stormed out of the house with her husband, slamming the door behind her hard.

“You know what, yea, I’m a whore. I had my moment in college and I ain’t ashamed of it. If I didn’t do what I did back then, I wouldn’t have the boys who I love more than anything. I won’t ever be ashamed of that. And I ain’t going nowhere. So, you best be leaving my house.”

The warm air outside the house chilled us. I watched as the women left with their husbands, walking in every direction towards their own homes. Door after door slammed shut, the sounds of muffled discussions trickling out into the streets; quickly masked by the laughter of the blissfully ignorant children.

I entered my house, my husband walking into the living room to turn on the evening news. He sunk into his chair, like on any other night. I walked into the dining room and stared at the plates. The lemon-berry savarin that I had slaved over for hours looked fake. The slices all looked like some plastic toy you would buy your daughter for her tea set. I reached down and grabbed what would have been my slice and stared at it, unsure if it would even taste like anything.

____________________________

Marissa Purdum

“Flipped”

BEEP, BEEP, BEEP. I turn over to see my alarm clock going off. It’s 4:30 AM, and here I am awake hours before my dad gets up. I lay in bed for a few moments, letting my eyes adjust to the darkness before I get up and trudge to the bathroom. I groggily flip on the light and head toward the small sink. I splash my face with cold water to try to wake up, then I stare at my reflection in the mirror. My long brown hair is awry this morning, tangles left and right. I grab my bristled brush, and work out all the tangles. Then I notice my green eyes are carrying heavy, dark bags underneath them. I grab my concealer and start to make my bags magically disappear, then I add my usual fountain, black eyeliner, and mascara. Even though my face has remained relatively the same this past year, the sameness is just a mask hiding what I am really feeling.

I can’t remember the last time I had a good night’s sleep. I look at my bed, longing to return to its sweet embrace, but I knew if I did, I wouldn’t fall asleep. I would just lay there feeling empty until it was time to get ready for school. Instead, I go to my wooden dresser, pick out one of my pairs of dark blue skinny jeans, a gray NASA t-shirt, my black bra, and a pair of black socks to go with it. As I change out of my t-shirt and shorts pajama combination and into the clothes I just picked out, I look around my room. Most of my walls are white and bear. They don’t have anything on them anymore. At least not for a year now. I remember when these walls used to be almost covered from ceiling to floor with the photos I’ve taken of my family, my boyfriend, and anything else I loved. But I’ve given up my photography. It just doesn’t feel right anymore.

Waking up this early has become a ritual of mine for the past eleven months. I do the same thing every morning, wake up, do my makeup, get dressed, then I sneak past my dad’s room, steal his car keys, and I leave. I remember the first few times I did it, I was so afraid that my dad was going to wake up and stop me. However, after the first month, those fears melted. I’m pretty sure he knew that I left by the third time I snuck out, but he didn’t say anything. It’s been a rough year for the both of us. Instead, he ignores the fact that I steal his car for about an hour every morning just to drive to IHOP to eat some pancakes. Why do I do this? Let’s just say about a year ago in December, my life was flipped upside down.

James and I were at the local mall here in North Muskegon, right along the coast of Lake Michigan. I needed to get some of my pictures developed, but I didn’t just want to go to the mall for five minutes and then leave. So James and I decided that we wanted to add some bright purple highlights in our hair, and then afterwards we would go to the camera store. We made an appointment at Live or Dye, the best hair dye specialist in a fifty-mile radius. As we were waiting for our stylist to finish up the customer before us, we sat down and I started looking around the salon. The walls were all black with various Black Sabbath posters, lit with purple UV lights. However, at the stations where the stylists worked, the lights were a bright white and they almost blinded me. The stylist cleaning up one of the stations had green spiked hair, black lips, thick, black eyeliner, and a lip ring sticking out on the left side of her face. Then I averted my attention to James. His pale skin reflected all the hours we put into playing Call of Duty over the summer instead of hanging out on the beach like every other normal high schooler. His brown curly hair was just dangling low enough past his ear for me realize that he really needed a haircut, and his brown eyes were focused on whatever was on his phone screen. As usual, he was wearing his favorite band’s t-shirt, Guns n’ Roses, some jeans that had way too many holes in them, and a pair of old sneakers that matched his jeans.

James looked up, “Ready for this, PJ?” he asked.

“Ha! Are you?” I replied.

James smiled and held my hand, “As long as I’m with you, I’ll be ready for anything.”

I smiled and gripped his hand tighter. James had always been that cheesy, it was just who he was, which is why I loved him.

The stylist interrupted and said, “Penelope?”

I shifted my attention from James to the stylist, “Yeah, that’s me.”

She nodded to the chair and said, “Sit down.”

I looked at James. He smiled and said, “Go get ‘em.”

I sighed and started moving toward the chair. My heart was pounding. I don’t know why I was so nervous. This was something that I have always wanted to do. I guess the reality of it all was enough to get my heart pumping. Seems almost silly now that I was so nervous, especially after what happened last December.

When I was halfway to the chair, my phone rang. It was my dad. I turned to the stylist and said, “Sorry, it’s my dad. I have to get this.” She rolled her eyes at me, but continued to prep the station. “Hello?” I answered.

At first there was a long silence, then my dad’s voice cracked, “PJ?” He paused.

After a few more moments of quiet I asked, “Yeah, dad? What is it?”

He took a long pause before he spoke again. “It’s your mom…”

“Are you going to sit down or not?” the stylist asked in a snarky tone.

“Dad, can you hold that thought for a second?” I asked, then I turned to the stylist. “I’m sorry, it’ll just be a minute more.” I then turned my attention back to my phone, “Okay, dad. What about mom?”

There was a slight pause before he spoke again, “PJ, she’s in the hospital.”

“Wait why? Was there an accident or something?” I hurriedly asked.

“No, no. She…” he paused again.

I began to wonder why my dad couldn’t just spit out whatever he had to say to me. “Dad, just tell me. Did she accidentally twist her ankle again?”

Then my dad said, “No she didn’t, PJ… She had a stroke.”

At that moment in time, everything stopped. His words echoed in my head like a song playing on repeat. My heart pounded like it was about to jump right out of my chest, and I clenched my jaw to hold back on all my emotions. “Alright,” I said, “I’ll be right there.” I felt my chest begin to tighten and before I knew it, I found myself walking straight out of the salon, car keys in hand. James hurriedly followed me.

“PJ! What’s up? What’s happening?”

Tears formed in my eyes, but I couldn’t get a word out. My mind was only focused on getting to the hospital. I rushed past everyone, bumping into anyone who got in my way. Once out of the mall, with James following close behind, I unlocked my car, got in, put on my seatbelt, and started it before he had even gotten in.

James said, “PJ, talk to me. What happened?” but I ignored him. I pulled out of the parking spot and the next thing I remember was passing cars on the four-lane highway. I watched the speedometer go up, sixty, seventy, eighty. I was speeding so fast past the other cars that they were only a blur to me. James spoke again, “PJ, you need to slow down. Tell me what’s wrong.” I couldn’t do either of those. I was focused on my mission and nothing could get in my way.

“PJ, please.” His ‘please’ snapped me back into reality. I looked over to him and time seemed to slow down. James gave me very concerned look. He knew something bad had happened, but he was so confused as what could make me act this way. I could see in his eyes that his mind was racing a mile a minute, trying to decode and defuse the ticking bomb that was inside of me… but he would never figure it out.

“Watch out!” James screamed at me. I looked towards the road and I saw a massive buck. Before I knew it, I had swerved to avoid it, but I turned too fast. The road was so slick from the snow slush that it caused my car to roll sideways. I had no control, I was entirely helpless. I know it sounds cliché but flip after flip, my life flashed before my eyes.

Crunch. It’s my first day of kindergarten. My mom had dropped me off at McKinley elementary. Other kids were filing into the school, but my mom made me stay back. She hugged and kissed me so many times that I was almost too embarrassed to go to school. She could not stand to leave her baby girl there. She was proud of her little girl, but at the same time she couldn’t bear the thought of me growing up.

“Alright, you got your lunch, crayons, pencils… Hmmm…” she paused, “What is Mr. Blonk doing in here?” my mom smiled as she pulled out my favorite teddy bear out of my bag. I started to giggle. My mom’s smile broadened, and she started to tickle me. “You silly girl,” she laughed. The first warning bell rang. “Well,” my mom’s face saddened, “It’s time for you to go, baby.” She gently shoved me inside. When I looked back, my mom was wiping tears from her eyes. “I love you!” she yelled as the door closed behind me.

Crunch. When I was in second grade, my goldfish, Blushie, had just died. I remembered when I had got him a few days earlier after a small circus came through town. I had won him after my dad threw a ball and it made it into his small fish bowl. He meant everything to me. So I went up to my dad and showed him the dead fish in the bowl. He promptly directed me upstairs to the bathroom. I was crying over the toilet as my dad flushed Blushie down.

My dad patted me on the head and said, “PJ… It’s just a fish.”

My mom, a much more gentle soul, gave my dad a dirty look, then turned to me and said, “It’s okay, hun. I know you loved Blushie, but think of it this way. He lived a good life, and his death will not be forgotten.” She paused, “Do you want to go get some ice cream?” I nodded, and she took my hand.

Crunch. It’s Christmas morning. I woke up and made my way to my parent’s room like I usually did for Christmas. I quietly climbed into their bed and started jumping.

“WAKE UP! WAKE UP!” I yelled.

“Urrrghhhh, okay, okay, we’re awake,” grumbled my dad.

As soon as my dad said that, I rushed downstairs and sat beside the tree. I picked up my first present then waited for my parents to make their way down, which at the time felt like forever. The second their faces were in the living room, I tore open my present. It was my first camera. It was not any old camera though. It was my mom’s old polaroid camera that she had while she was in college. One day when I was younger, she would show me all these photos of her adventures. Her ice skating, her climbing a mountain, even just her and my dad enjoying the day out in a park. After that, I used to go around the living room pretending that I was taking pictures of everything.

I smiled, got up, and hugged both my mom and my dad. “Thank you, thank you, thank you!”

My mom smiled at me and said, “You’re welcome, sweetheart. I love you.”

“I love you too, Mom… and Dad” I replied. Then I turned the camera around and snapped a photo of the three of us. That photo was the first to make it up on my bedroom wall.

Crunch. It was the middle of my seventh-grade year when James moved here from Wyoming. His hair was short back then, not even long enough to form curls. He walked into Mrs. Fraphorn’s class like he owned the joint, then he sat next to me.

He flashed me a smile, looked at me with those brownie colored eyes, and asked “So, what is there to do around town?”

I smiled and hushed him, “Mrs. Fraphorn doesn’t like people to talk when she’s talking.”

“That old bird?” he gestured to the teacher, “She doesn’t scare me. What is she going to do? Give me detention on my first day?”

“Mr. Kelch,” Mrs. Fraphorn said sternly, “I know it’s your first day here, but if you speak out of turn, I will give you detention. Consider this your first and final warning.” Then she turned back to the board.

“Geez,” James said. “She’s a bit of a grouch, right?” I smiled at him, but remained silent. “Cmon, this is more like a prison than a class if that’s the rule!” he said.

Mrs. Fraphorn raised her voice, “Mr. Kelch, I warned you. I’ll see you after school today for detention.”

James dropped his jaw and I giggled at him. He remained silent for the rest of the year.

Crunch. Freshman year of high school sucked, but luckily I was friends with James. Even then, he always seemed to make things better. One day, the popular girls walked up to my locker and started to make fun of my all black outfit.

“Hey, PJ,” one of the girls taunted. “Are you going to a funeral, or did you find those clothes in the trash?” The other girls in the group laughed.

“Just leave me alone, what did I ever do to you?” I replied.

“You know… Just your mere existence bothers me,” she said as she took a notebook out of my locker.

“Hey! Give that back!” I demanded.

“What this?” she dangled the notebook in front of me. “Why? It’s not important, just like you,” she laughed. Then she tore up my notebook and threw it on the ground. The other girls followed her lead. They took everything out of my locker and scattered it across the hallway.

At that moment, James rounded the corner. “Hey!” he shouted then rushed towards the scene.

The girls looked at him, laughed then continued kicking my stuff around.

“Hey, back off,” he said threateningly as he got closer. “Go apply more clown makeup or something.”

The leader gave him a dirty look. “Whatever…” the girl replied. “C’mon girls, let’s get out of this loser hallway,” she said as her and her posse left.

I started to pick up my stuff when James asked, “Hey, PJ. Are you okay?”

“Yeah, I’m fine.” I replied. James helped me pick up my stuff and put it back in my locker.

“You know what, PJ?” he smiled his handsome smile. “You are so much better than those girls. You’re freakin awesome.”

I looked James in the eyes. He was looking at me differently, like he was examining the most beautiful photo he has ever seen. I smiled back and blushed. He became my first crush that day.

Crunch. It was the day James finally met my family. We had been dating for two months when my mom invited him over to our house for dinner. He treated my parents like any true gentleman caller would by trying to impress them with kindness and humor.

“So, James,” my mom said. “PJ told us you were originally from Wyoming. Do you miss it there?” Then she took a bite of the chicken parmesan she had prepared.

James smiled, looked at me, and squeezed my hand, “You know, when I first moved here, I thought I’d miss Wyoming a lot. It hasn’t been as bad as I thought it would be though.”

“Well that’s good!” said my mom. There was a short awkward silence before James spoke up again.

“I mean, the thing I miss most is the ol’ ride around town, guns a blazin’ and riding off into the sunset, but I’m glad to retire. It’s so much more peaceful here.” James joked. I stifled a snicker.

“Ah yes, I remember the good ol’ cowboy days as well!” my dad added. “Me and my stallion, Rex, trampled over the neighbor’s cat one time… That vermin never saw it comin’.” We all busted out laughing at my dad’s remark. I thought nothing could be more perfect.

Crunch. Last Sunday, we were all at IHOP for breakfast to celebrate my seventeenth birthday. My mom, my dad, James, and I were sitting at our favorite booth in the corner of the restaurant. I was eating my favorite, pancakes. I sat next to my mom and James and we were lightheartedly discussing some of my ‘cherished’ childhood memories. Then my mom’s voice changed.

“James,” my mom said seriously, “I need to tell you something about PJ.”

I shook my head. I knew what this voice meant. It meant my mom was going to embarrass me again. “Mommmm no, not on my birthday!”

“Yes, Mrs. Wallace?” James smirked.

“Well… When PJ was three years old, we asked her what she wanted for dinner.” My mom and my dad exchanged grins.

“Mom. I beg of you, no.” I beamed.

My dad butted in, “At that age, all she wanted was soup. I still have no idea why she wanted soup all the time, but that’s what she wanted.”

“Hey, I was fascinated that a food could come purely in liquid form, okay!” I replied.

“Anyways,” my mom turned to James. “We asked her what she wanted and out of her mouth came the word ‘poop’. Her father and I were so concerned until we realized that she wanted soup. She didn’t grow out of that until she was five, so for two years we had to explain to people that when she said ‘poop’ she really meant ‘soup.’” We all started laughing, and my face turned red from embarrassment. I was so happy, despite being embarrassed. I looked around the table and realized how much I love all of these people. I wished that moment could last forever. Crunch.

The car had stopped rolling. We were both upside down dangling from our seats. Feeling dazed and my ears ringing, I looked around the car. Blood was splattered all over the car like paint. I wondered if it was mine. Then I over at James, he was bloody and unconscious. “Oh god.” I uttered. I watched the blood drip from his mouth onto the ceiling of my car. I tried to reach out to him, “James?” He didn’t move. I have never been the religious type, but in that moment, I prayed. I prayed in hopes that James will be fine, that everything will be fine. I needed things to be okay.

Next thing I knew, my eyes fluttered open to see my dad sitting in the chair next to my hospital bed with his head in his hands. His brown hair was disheveled, his stubble was growing in, and it looked like he hadn’t slept in days. I tried to move my hand towards him, but I felt so weak that I barely wiggled a finger. My dad looked up from my small movement, and grabbed my hand. “Thank God,” he muttered. When he looked at me, I could see that his eyes were red and puffy. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him like this before. It seems as if he had aged five years since the last time I saw him.

“Dad?” I croaked.

I tried to sit up, but my dad gently held me down. “PJ, just relax. I’m going to get the doctor.” He got up, and started heading towards the door. Once he got to the doorway, he paused looked back just to make sure I was still alive, and then continued on his way.

Once he was gone, I took a better look at the hospital room. Unlike most hospital rooms, this room was surprisingly warm. The walls were white, with pictures of random medical charts scattered like a collage across them. To my left was the dark green, upholstered chair my dad was just sitting in. To my right were a few machines, like the ones you see in movies.

Then my dad returned with the doctor who was carrying a clipboard.

“Hello Penelope, my name is Dr. Lancer. How are you feeling?” he asked.

“Fine,” I said softly.

“Good, good. You aren’t feeling any pain or nausea?” he asked. I shook my head no. “Great,” he scribbled down something on his clipboard. “Do you remember what happened?”

I nodded and uttered, “I was in an accident.”

Dr. Lancer nodded, “Can you tell me what happened?”

I looked at my dad, he nodded encouragingly. “I was speeding to get here,” I paused to give my voice a break. “Then a buck appeared out of nowhere and we swerved and…” Then I remembered my mom and James. “Is Mom okay? What about James?” I asked.

Both the doctor and my dad exchanged solemn glances. Dr. Lancer turned to me and said, “How about you get some more rest, I’ll come back to check on you later.”

Once the doctor left the room, I looked at my dad. His gray eyes were avoiding my gaze. “Dad?” I asked.

He looked at the charts as he said, “The doctor told me you had no broken bones or internal bleeding, but he did tell me your brain was swelling so they needed to put you into a medically induced coma until the swelling went down.” He sighed, “They kept you under for a couple of days as they ran their tests. The doctors kept me updated, but every time I tried to ask questions I became more and more confused. I just wanted to know if you, my baby girl, were going to survive and no one was giving me any straight answers. They would say things like ‘Oh we can’t be certain yet’, ‘It’s too soon to tell’, or ‘It looks promising, but I don’t want to get your hopes up.’” He paused. My dad turned to look at me. His eyes were full of tears as he said, “I was just so afraid I was going to lose you too.”

My dad looked away. I laid there, not quite sure if he was saying what I thought he was saying. “Dad?” I paused, “Are they…” He moved towards the chair and sat down. I could tell he was struggling to tell me something. Then he grabbed my hand, and nodded. At first my mind rejected the idea that they were both dead. Eventually, it slowly began to sink in, but I still felt the need to ask.

“How?” I asked.

My dad swallowed his emotions before he responded, “They tried everything they could to save her, but the stroke… It was massive. There wasn’t much they could have done.” He cleared his throat before he continued, “And James… He never made it out of your car. He was already gone by the time they got there.”

My lip started to quiver, and then the tears started to roll. My dad looked at me with sorrowful eyes and hugged me. I could feel him tremble, which only made me cry harder. I couldn’t stop myself, all I knew was that two of the people I loved died today and one of them was because of me. I was so focused on being here for my mom, like she always was there for me, that I disregarded everything else. Everything had changed. I was no longer the seventeen-year-old, excited for some dumb purple highlights to be put into my hair. I had become broken and unfixable, just like my car.

And that’s why I started this ritual. I lost both my mom and James in the that fateful day in December. So every morning before school, I wake up, steal my dad’s car, and go to the last place where I was with them both together, IHOP.

I walk into the restaurant and wait to be seated. As I am waiting, I look around. Nobody else is here today, just me and the staff. On their tan walls, pictures of different breakfast foods decorate the restaurant. Then I look at the corner booth. The brown faux leather seats are worn down and are starting to fall apart.

The usual waitress, Stacy, approaches me and says, “Follow me, hun. I’ll take you to your booth.” She leads me from the entry way and to the corner booth on the far side of the restaurant. “Would you like some coffee today?” she asks.

“Oh yes please,” I respond as I remove my coat and sink into the booth.

Stacy leaves for a short while and then returns with the coffee, “Here you go, hun. I’ll be back in a little bit.” Then she leaves again and heads towards the kitchen.

As I sit in the corner booth with my coffee in hand, I think about everything that has happened this past year and how it all seems… I don’t know… It just feels different today. When I woke up this morning, everything seemed the same. Well, I guess it is the same. I mean, I’m doing the same thing I did yesterday morning, and the morning before that, but something feels different.

Stacy approaches my table again and interrupts my thoughts, “Hiya, sugar. What do you want today? The usual?” she asks.

More than anything, I wanted everything to be ‘usual’ again. I wanted my mom and James back. I wanted life to be like it was before, but nothing ever will be the same. I know that now. So I guess now I want to just make them proud of me, wherever they may be. I want to show them what I can do with my life.

“Hun, you alright?” she asks.

“You know what, Stacy?” I smile meekly, “I think I’m just going to go home, I’m not too hungry today.” I get up, leave her a small tip for the coffee, and I leave. As I pull out of the parking lot, I look into my rearview mirror. I can see the corner booth, both my mom and James are sitting there, smiling and laughing. I take a mental picture of the scene. Then they both slowly melt away until the booth is empty again. I smile and wipe away a stray tear. I miss them both so much, but it is time to keep moving forward and stop blaming myself for their deaths.

As I pull onto the same highway where the accident happened, I look over to my passenger seat. I can still imagine James sitting next to me smiling and cracking one of his jokes. I place my hand on his seat then turn my attention back to the road. Up ahead I see something moving, so I slow my car to a stop. In front of me is a huge buck. It stares at me and I stare back. After a couple of moments have passed, I honk my horn to attempt to scare off the buck. It still doesn’t move. Eventually, he walks slowly back into the woods where he came from, disappearing from sight. As I continue down the highway back home, I think about that buck. Was it the very same one from a year earlier?

When I finally make it back home, I immediately head upstairs to my room. I get on my hands and knees and look under my bed. They are all still here, all my pictures and my camera. I pick out a few pictures that had James or my mom in them and hang them back up on my wall. I smile in attempt to try to hold back my tears. Then I kiss the picture of my mom, James, and I sitting in the booth twice. One kiss for my mom, who will never be replaced, and one kiss for James, who will forever have my heart.

“I love you, Mom and James. I’ll move on and live my life. It’ll hurt like hell, but I know you both will still be there for me,” I say as I lean my forehead on the picture. “I’ll miss you.” Then I kiss them both goodbye.

____________________________

Austin Middleton

“To love is to Bury”

On a very cloudy day in the middle of London, a young man is returning home from his work as a solicitor at a law firm in Piccadilly, London.

“Ello! Mr. MacCulloch? ‘Ello?” a little newspaper boy says to the young man.

“Hello there little Charles,” Mr. MacCulloch says to the young boy, his full name is actually Griffin MacCulloch. He gives the boy five pence and takes a paper.

“Ave you been to the ‘arbor yet today? Ere’s a storm coming in,” the young boy says to Griffin.

“I agree. I should make sure Alice has battened down the windows,” he tells the boy, smiling.

“Good day, Mr. MacCulloch!” Charles says as Griffin walks away, leaving the small child to peddle his papers. His home isn’t much further away, and although it isn’t much it was enough for him and Alice. A nice modest home, a loving wife, children soon, maybe. Griffin couldn’t have asked for a better life. Coming up upon his steps at residence No. 347 Piccadilly London, he opens his front door.

“Alice?” he calls.

“In the Pallor Griffin Dear,” she calls to him. He enters the room and sees her sitting in an armchair reading a book.

“What are you reading?” he says, trying to see the title of the gold covered book from where he’s standing.

“It’s called Dracula. It’s brand new,” she says beaming. Alice loves to read, although she prefers tales of fantasy which Griffin had to admit were much more enjoyable to read than his legal books. She looks so lovely; Her long brown hair, perfectly groomed. She has fair skin, and the most gorgeous white dress on. He just sits in his favorite armchair, sits and admires her as she reads. They’ve been engaged for about six months, but in love nearly fifteen years. They met when they were very young.

“I am going for a quick jaunt in the park, I have been sitting at a desk all day and my legs could use a good stretch,” he tells her, “Maybe I’ll get caught in the rain.” he winks at her and she smiles.

“Don’t be gone too long so we can eat supper, I’ve asked Olivia to prepare your favorite,” she tells him trying to sound stern, but failing. He smiles at her. He loves her so much. He leaves the house and on the way to the park it starts raining. He doesn’t mind though, he always loves a good walk in the rain. London is such a beautiful city. When he gets to Hyde Park, he finds it as alive as always. The birds are singing despite the rain. He continues on for a while, and eventually the rain stops but the sky doesn’t clear any. When he catches a glimpse through the trees, he can’t help but thinking it looks very ominous.

He thinks about turning around, before it gets too dark. Then he notices something very, very odd. There are no noises anymore. No birds chirping, no crickets, not even an occasional dog bark; its deathly silent in the middle of the woods. Then bushes about twenty meters away start moving violently.

“Who’s out there?” Griffin calls out. Then it jumps out of the bushes and clears a ten-meter gap. It’s a huge, hideous beast. The word monster simply does not do it justice. It stands to its full height, which is easily two, two and a half meters tall. It stands on bent hind legs, covered from head to toe in fur. It has an elongated snout and ears, with claws that Griffin thought almost begged to rip his throat out. Griffin was paralyzed with complete and utter terror.

The monster decides to pounce, easily covering the next ten meters. It slams into him, knocking him down. It holds him down and sinks its teeth into his neck, gnawing chunks out. Then a burning sensation flares to life underneath his skin. Griffin screams out in pain. A scream of pure, heart wrenching agony.

Out of nowhere the beast is gone; he can see the night sky through the trees. He is only slightly aware of a struggle happening a few meters away. Griffin turns his head, ever so slightly and even that movement sends tremendous amounts of pain through his body. He sees, through blurry vision, a second even meaner looking monster fighting the first one. The new monster was actually slightly smaller than the first Griffin noticed. After a few seconds of exchanging blows the new monster smashes its giant fist over the head of the first one and the savage goes limp.

The new arrival walks up to him on its awkward, bent legs. Griffin is too weak to even attempt to move. The mean looking beast slowly transforms, somewhat painfully by the looks of it, into a young man. If Griffin could move his face into an expression, it would have been one of horror. The monster… the man… speaks to him,

“Listen carefully, you are dying; and very quickly from the look of it. The bite from that werewolf will kill you,” he pauses, “I might be able to save you…” he stops short as Griffin starts shaking violently and foaming from the mouth. The man’s face starts transforming, and he sinks his teeth into Griffin’s neck where the first werewolf bit him. The burning sensation is amplified times a thousand. It’s almost as if a bomb has gone off in his artery. He lets out another scream of pain. The man stops biting him and looks griffin over, checks the wound. All the while the first insane werewolf gets up and is slowly crawling towards the pair; but griffin is too stunned to utter a single syllable. Then monster attacks the one trying to supposedly save Griffin.

The “good” werewolf throws the insane one off. Griffin notices his movements are more controlled, more agile. He slams his fist into the snout of the insane werewolf. The insane one returns his blow with his deadly claws, slashing flesh. In a gruesome fight of clawing, biting, gnawing and punching the insane werewolf wins as he slams his fist over the head of his assailant; an eye for an eye. The monster is grievously wounded though and falls to the ground unconscious, leaving two bodies slumped on the ground and Griffin paralyzed. He struggles to gain control but he can’t. It’s like a tiny war going on inside him. He notices the insane monster stirring. So he tries harder. He can feel his toes. He wiggles them happily, and then his fingers. He can start to at least flex his muscles. Then Griffin roles himself over, slowly dragging himself on his weak arms. He manages to crawl about ten yards away before risking a look back, and when he does the scene is exactly the same. The insane werewolf’s face is visible from his position and it looks terrifying. Griffin is about to start off again when its eyes snap open. It jumps up with unnatural speed and lunges at him. This is it he thinks, this is the end. In that very moment before the beast is upon him, his head clears, the pain fades, and he has complete control.

With unbelievable speed he rolls over onto his back and grabs the beast by the throat as it lands on him. He starts to squeeze, and large claws start to extend from his fingertips. The monster barks out in pain. Griffin tosses it to the side like a rag doll, and gets up to run away. He runs faster than he has ever run before, faster than any human could ever even dream of running. It seems like it’s only seconds later when he’s out of the park and back on a city street. Griffin is in a daze. He heads towards the nearest place that’s open, a pub. It’s somewhat crowded so no one notices as he dashes straight for the wc as he gets in. He checks himself in the mirror. Apart from ruffed up hair and a bloody shirt, he looked fine. No wound, no scars. It looks like he just got back from playing a game of rugby in the park, not fighting for his life against a mad werewolf. Then a horrifying realization strikes him. The monster was a werewolf, half man, half wolf. It should be able to track him to his home… to Alice’s home… he takes off in a full sprint. As fast as he can he bolts down the streets of London. When he reaches their home he doesn’t even open the door, he just runs into it and breaks it down. Alice was right where he left her, reading in the parlor, and she jumps about a foot into the air.

“Griffin? What on earth have you done?” she squeals, assessing the damage. “And what have you been doing? You’re dirty and sweaty. And what in God’s name is wrong with your ears?” he stops and runs over to the mirror above the parlors fireplace. His claws protruding about an inch or so out of his fingertips weren’t the only thing different about him. His ears have a very definite point to them and his top and bottom canines were very fang like. He also has rough patches of hair growing on his jaw line. He looks very similar to the man when he had saved him, except his mouth wasn’t very snout like. Thank God! He thought.

“Alice, my love, we must leave at once,” He tells her, urgency in his voice. She senses this quickly.

“Griffin dear, what is the matter? Has something happened?” she asks worriedly.

“Yes!” he screams at her, “We need to leave now! Or we will die!” her face was one of horrified shock and she could do nothing but stammer. As Griffin pleads with her, he hears a slight tapping sound, so slight and quiet its almost nonexistent. He looks past Alice as she’s trying to form words and out the window, a large grand window made of crown glass; through the window he sees the large, insane werewolf. It’s drooling, and almost… smiling at him. Griffin instantly grabs Alice and throws her to the ground as the monster breaks through the giant window. The beast slams into griffin, along with several shards of glass.

It attempts to slash Griffin with its huge claws, but he bats them away and throws the beast off of him with ease. The monster scrambles towards Alice.

“Run Alice, Run!” Griffin yells at her just before grabbing the beast by the hind legs and swinging it hard into the fireplace. Alice is half sitting up. She seems almost frozen, completely rooted to the spot. The beast takes advantage of Griffin being distracted by Alice and picks him up then throws him into the nearest wall. Griffin hits the wall hard; not only the wall but the monster tosses him into a very sturdy lamp sconce. When he hits, the lamp breaks off and the bit the lamp was perched on imbeds itself deep into Griffin’s back. He can almost feel it about to poke out between his ribs. The sconce holds his weight and Griffin is left weak, and suspended on the wall all the while losing a lot of blood.

The monster goes and stands over the stunned Alice.

“Run…” Griffin breathes. The werewolf smiles his satanic smile at Griffin, and he notices the beast readying its claws. Killing them both is simply pleasure. “Please…” he says towards the werewolf. The beast looks thoughtfully at him for a moment. Then it smiles again and throws its head back and howls loudly bringing its claws in an upwards slash across Alice’s torso, killing her instantly. In a stunned silence, Griffin doesn’t have the strength to cry out Alice’s name.

The werewolf leaves Alice’s body alone and walks over to Griffin. Hanging from the wall like this he almost matches the beast’s height. Griffin only glares at the beast. It sneers at him. It snatches him up by the throat and lifts Griffin off the sconce. He thinks about just letting the monster finish him but could not bring himself to roll over so easily. He knew if he did that Alice would be furious at him, no matter where she is now. Using all of his strength Griffin uses both feet to kick the werewolf in the chest, breaking himself free and managing to slice his neck on its claws. The beast howls and charges at Griffin, who jumps over the beast and kicks it in the head with ease. This only makes the monster angrier. It uses its claws to slash and slice at griffin every which way but it can’t land a single hit and Griffin finds it surprisingly easy to slide out the beasts’ path each time. He slices at its back, deeply, as it misses again. That was it, the werewolf is done playing and in the blink of an eye it whips around and smashes its fist into Griffins jaw. He doubles back falling over broken furniture, hits the floor completely stunned and figures his jaw is shattered.

The werewolf stands over griffin, sneering again. Griffin digs deep and finds his strength. He finds his anger, and stands up on wobbly legs. The beast slashes at him and Griffin catches his wrist mid swing. The beast puts more effort in the swing and in one flick of his hand Griffin snaps the monster’s wrist. It howls in pain and Griffin digs his claws into the monsters throat and squeezes around it esophagus, in one movement Griffin jumps high into the air flipping over the monster and taking its throat with him, ripping it clean out. The monster crumples to the ground with blood gushing out from its neck. He drops the monster’s esophagus.

“That was… impressive,” Griffin hears from the hallway. He whips around and he sees the man; the werewolf from the park who “saved” him. He looks surprisingly normal, wearing a suit of all things. Griffin figured him dead.

“What in the ‘ell do you want?” Griffin demands.

“I am here for you,” the man replies.

“Why should I go anywhere with you!” Griffin yells at the man.

“The Yard will be here soon, if they find you here at the scene of a grisly murder… they will never stop hunting you,” the man says.

“I need to say goodbye to her,” Griffin tells him, kneeling next to Alice.

“There isn’t time, you will have another chance to say goodbye, I promise! But we must leave now!” Griffin looks at him hesitantly, not trusting the man, but knowing he is probably the only one who can answer all his questions.

“What do we do?”

“Just follow me.”

Griffin is standing on the roof of the home across the street from his. He found it surprisingly easy to climb up the side of the house. He is changing into clean clothes which he thankfully had time to grab, while the man is watching the commotion the police are making right across the street.

“What is your name?” Griffin asks the man.

“Ranlyn… Ranlyn Dunsford,” he tells griffin, turning his head back to him.

“How old are you?” griffin asks, assuming he is in his early twenties.

“I was born 543 A.D.” Ranlyn tells him, and Griffin scowls.

“I’m sorry, how old are you?” Griffin asks again, thinking he heard wrong.

“I am thirteen hundred and fifty four years of age,” Ranlyn tells Griffin, completely serious.

“That’s impossible; do you think me an imbecile?” Griffin asks.

“If I were a human, then yes, it would not be possible. But neither you nor I are human, we are werewolves. We are immortal,” Ranlyn tells Griffin.

“Immortal? As in… we never die?” Griffin asks.

“Oh no… we die. But we have the potential to live forever. Although everyone is bound to slip up and make mistakes. Some life threatening,” Ranlyn tells him turning his head back to the police across the street.

“Do we do anything else?” Griffin asks, “Besides turning into giant beasties?”

“We have many powers and abilities, and I will teach you to use each one of them. More importantly I will teach you to control them,” Ranlyn tells him.

“Why? Why bother? You have no reason to,” Griffin says.

“As a matter of fact I do. The bond between an Alpha and their cub is incredibly strong. You do not feel it yet, but you will,” Ranlyn tells him.

“An Alpha?”

“I will explain everything soon enough, Griffin,” Ranlyn says looking intently at the scene across the street. “They are bringing out her body.” Griffin gets up and walks over to the edge of the roof, and looks at the scene. Sure enough they have a body on a stretcher covered in a blanket. They load it into the back of the ambulance and take off. “We must leave now.”

“You can go,” Griffin tells him, “I am not leaving her.”

He begins to wait, and the longer he stands there, the more these thoughts try and force their way into his head. They threaten to drive him insane. Alice is gone, she is dead. All that’s left in her absence is a gaping hole filled with anxiety, terror, and uncertainty.

“Have you been awake all night?” Ranlyn asks. Griffin’s heart skips a beat and he jumps about a mile into the air, he hadn’t even been aware any time had passed at all. Like he had just entered a trance for several hours.

“All night, I will not leave her until the funeral,” Griffin tells him, with a look of annoyance as he shoves all of those thoughts into the back of his mind.

“Very well,” Ranlyn says, and then settles down on the roof cross legged. They sit the like that for some time. Neither move, their eyes never leave the building.

Then around three o’clock, a black carriage pulls up to the door, and they carry a casket out, and place it in the back.

“That must be her,” Ranlyn says to Griffin.

“Okay… Are we going to follow them?” Griffin asks, looking back at Ranlyn.

“Yes, lets go,” Ranlyn tells him.

The two start off and follow the funeral procession to the nearest cemetery. When they get there, they scramble up into a tree near the funeral, a spot they won’t be seen accidentally. He just sits in the tree and watches the funeral.

“I suppose we had best be off,” Griffin tells Ranlyn after a while.

“Yes, I think that would be best,” Ranlyn agrees. Just then, Griffin spies Alice’s mother and father arguing with the priest about opening the casket. He can make out the conversation exceptionally well from this distance. They open the casket and begin to cry, Griffin can’t see Alice from this angle but he can smell her now.

“Wait…” Griffin says sharply.

“Yes, what is it?” Ranlyn says, almost falling out of the tree.

“She smells tainted. What is wrong with her?” Griffin looks at him. Ranlyn closes his eyes and breathes in slowly.

“Hmm… Interesting,” He says quietly.

“What? What is interesting?” Griffin asks nervously.

“It is just her body beginning to decay,” Ranlyn tells Griffin, “Now, we are going to jump into the bushes below and make for the edge of the cemetery. Follow me closely and be quick about it.”

“Now wait just a moment I have come across dead animals before and they smelled nothing like that, now tell me what it is or I will go nowhere with you,” Griffin tells him, not believing he is being entirely truthful. Ranlyn lets out a low, almost inaudible growl, towards griffin.

“If you follow me, I will explain it once we are safely concealed.” Griffin eyes him suspiciously but nods in agreement. The pair drops into the bushes just below and makes for the edge of the cemetery. Once they reach the cover of a nearby wood Griffin grabs Ranlyn by the arm,

“Now, what was that smell?” Griffin asks him.

“That… was the smell of the vampire,” Ranlyn replies, tugging his arm from Griffin’s embrace.

“You mean to tell me she was bitten by a vampire?”

“Yes, if I had to assume, there is probably a vampire working in the morgue,” Ranlyn says, leaning up against a tree.

“So what does this mean?” Griffin asks, falling to his knees.

“It is possible she is not dead.”

“But that monster… it slashed her throat. How could she possibly…?” Griffin asks.

“One can have the smallest spark of life left in their body, but if it is there, the bite of the vampire or werewolf is strong enough to bring them back.” Ranlyn explains.

“That is incredible!” Griffin says, a smile crossing his face.

“You mustn’t get too excited yet, Griffin,” Ranlyn tells him. His smile disappears.

“What do you mean?”

“Yes, but she is vampire. You cannot be with her anymore, our laws forbid it. The laws of both our races forbid it,” Ranlyn tells him.

“Your laws forbid me from being with my wife?” Griffin scoffs, “To hell with your laws then, I do not need them and I do not need you. Now shove off!” he yells with a growl and pushes Ranlyn away. Ranlyn stumbles backwards awkwardly trying to catch himself, although he manages to steady himself and comes up behind Griffin, putting him into a headlock.

“You have been infected with Lycanthropy for less than twenty-four hours and you already want to be a lone wolf?” Ranlyn growls. Griffin manages to pull his head out from the headlock and looks at Ranlyn.

“For the last time old man, shove off!” Griffin yells again his anger growing, and he shoves Ranlyn into a tree directly behind him which causes it to violently shake. Ranlyn closes his eyes and stands still, breathing heavily. Griffin turns around and looks back at the crowd, remaining silent. Ranlyn narrows his eyes at him, then slowly walks away. Griffin stands there like a statue, watching as the funeral proceeds and eventually ends.

As the sun starts to set he moves closer to the grave site waiting, and sure enough just past three in the morning the vampire shows up. Griffin watches as he slowly makes his way to the grave, just a general shadow of a man. The vampire, who was carrying a shovel, starts to work re-digging the grave and he manages to do so with incredible haste. Once the grave is dug, the vampire pulls the casket up and opens it. He seems to study Alice for a moment or so, then he lifts her out and gently places her on the ground. He returns the casket to the grave then fills it back in. After he is done he picks up Alice in his arms and stands up straight. In the blink of an eye he shoots up into the sky and is gone. Griffin looks to the sky in awe,

“It can fly?!” Griffin exclaims, “How in the ‘ell am I going to find Alice now?” He asks himself. He jumps from the tree, starting to set off, the smell of that vampire still fresh in his nostrils. Then he gets an idea, Griffin breathes in deeply and the smell grows. He can pick up the general direction they went and starts off for it. He can feel this immense power fill his muscles, making him strong. He leaps from a running point and flies through the air, landing on a nearby roof. He continues to run from rooftop to rooftop quickly evading chimneys and hoping large gaps from home to home or scaling the wall when the roof abruptly rises due to an adjoining home with a higher roof; like many in London.

Griffin follows the vampire to a small inn on the edge of London. There he wait all night and day; solid and unmoving, like a statue. Shortly after the sun fell again he watched the vampire leave the inn without Alice. Curious, Griffin decides to tail him. The vampire strolls along the street quickly and quietly, blending with the shadows. He only walks a few blocks away from the inn where he enters a pub. Griffin quickly makes his way to the back of the pub and settles himself on the roof of the building across the alleyway from the pub. After a few minutes the vampire actually emerges from the backdoor and Griffin quietly drops to the ground, covered by darkness. The vampire instantly notices something is wrong and scans the alleyway.

“Hey you,” Griffin calls, emerging from the dark. The vampire looks at him confused for a moment and holds his stare, sizing him up Griffin figures.

“Good evening,” the vampire nods, giving Griffin a smile full of fang. He smiles back at him, showing the vampire fangs of his own. Griffin was quickly building with rage and could only think of attacking the vampire.

“It is a nice night,” He agrees, stepping closer, “The moon is nice and big.”

“Is there anything I can assist you with?” the vampire asks. Griffin loses control and grabs the vampire by the collar of his coat and slams him into the wall of the pub as hard as he could, and he holds him there so he can say what he needs to say. Then the vampire grabs hold of both Griffin’s wrist and attempts to pry his hands off, but Griffin only gets angrier and puts even more strength into his push forcing the vampire off the wall and onto his knee. The vampire is strong though, and manages to pry Griffin’s hands away from his coat for a moment. Griffin pushes back and grabs hold again, picking the vampire up and slamming him against the wall even harder still.

“I know what you did to my Alice,” Griffin speaks to him, calmly as he can.

“Griffin… MacCulloch? I thought you died,” He tells Griffin.

“Did you tell Alice I was dead too?!” Griffin starts yelling, his voice turning growl like, then he pulls the vampire away from the wall, suspending him a foot in the air. The vampire grabs Griffin by the wrist with both hands and tries to pry free of his grip. The Vampire looks completely shocked, but the he isn’t scared yet. That’s what Griffin wanted. He wanted vampire to be afraid, to feel complete and utter terror. To know that Griffin definitely meant business. He could feel the vampire’s neck breaking in his hand.

“You were never going to tell her the truth?! You did not want her to know?!” he screams at the vampire, baring his fangs.

“I… did not know… you… were… alive,” it’s becoming harder for the vampire to speak.

“Listen, and listen well. I am going back to that crumby little inn and I am taking Alice away from you before you can hurt her further,” Griffin seethes at the vampire.

“Griffin!” a very familiar voice yells, and Griffin turns his head ever so slightly to see Ranlyn jump from a nearby roof and sprint over. Griffin can feel how mad he is, but he is also very worried and for some unfathomable reason that made Griffin worried. Ranlyn grabs Griffins wrist and pulls on it hard, attempting to aid the vampire. Griffin let the vampire down but didn’t loosen his grip, then he easily swats Ranlyn to the side with his free hand. He was in control, and he could feel his new power flowing through him.

“Listen to me carefully, you spawn of Satan,” Griffin says, pulling the vampire in closer, “If I ever find out that you hurt my Alice, I will hunt you down to the ends of the earth, and I will kill you. Leave her alone forever. Do you understand me?” At those words the vampire quickly and effectively broke Griffin’s wrists and swept his legs out from underneath him. He bent over and put his nails to Griffins throat, who howls out in pain.

“You have just threatened a vampire noble,” he tells Griffin, who has no idea what that means, “I have half a mind to execute you, but considering you are obviously new to our world, I will spare you.” The vampire extends his hand to griffin, who takes it reluctantly while glaring at the vampire. “How is your wrist?”

“It hurts. But healed,” Griffin mumbles.

“I am very sorry about my pup’s behavior, Count?” Ranlyn asks.

“Howard, I am Count Howard. You are?” Count Howard asks.

“Count Howard? Pollux Howard? My name is Ranlyn Dunsford. My apologies again, Count Howard, I promise I will keep him under control,” Ranlyn tells him, bowing ever so slightly; Griffin glares at both of them. Pollux Howard turns towards Griffin and says to him very sharply,

“Listen to me now and listen well boy. Alice is my new progeny and she is going to walk this world by my side and learn the ways of the vampire. Any rights you think you have over her are gone. Dead. Our two races are not to intermingle, and that is law as solid and unbreakable as stone, I assume your master would have mentioned that. I want you both out of London by daybreak,” Count Howard tells them, staring them down.

“Maybe I should kill you now,” Griffin tells him, “I am sure I could.”

“You are strong for one so young, but not strong enough I fear,” he tells Griffin, “If you two value your lives, you will leave this city immediately.”

“Yes, we will be off right away,” Ranlyn says, “Come Griffin.” Ranlyn walks away, but Griffin stays where he is, eyes glued to Howard. “Griffin! I have said come!” Ranlyn yells and Griffin reluctantly follows him.

____________________________

Claire Dodson

“Match Head Toxicity”

My head hurts. It is still spinning from recent blindsiding events
in actuality I saw coming from
several smiles away,
several snaggletoothed smiles away.
head like a match head
easily stricken
quickly set to flame
but just as quickly extinguished.
I was planning ahead
safety net cradling insecurities
bracing for the Venus flytrap love curse
waiting for its jaws to wrap me in virginal mercy once more.

____________________________

Claire Dodson

I study Latin because I like dead things
A yeasty, pearlescent, wet scent blows by me,
But not before it runs up my nose,
Offers me a seat on the train to an uncovered past.
Alive she is
My hope is ongoing for a past that slept like a dozed dog under the rosebush:
Belly-up & defenseless.
But the blue recently started creeping in at repeated observances
“Here we go again”.
I know that if I take the road–
When I take the trip–
It will be a shallow death first
Followed by a blissful afterdeath
I didn’t know could exist.
The most recent issue is unwillingness to assume
I replay my own end relentlessly
And I make it beautiful, a masterpiece
All white and satin and exactly how I dreamed,
The sweet breathtaking release.
Waterfall or racecar inferno,
driving me to do anything.
Cremation sounds brilliant.
But I am porcelain.

____________________________

Claire Dodson

Constant state of abstaining
I look with eyes at a frenzy
it has burned, fallen—the phoenix, deeply rooted.
before it happens it will come along very often
the listless blossoming might create bad shape,
but you’re still in luck:
be blunt or suck the puck.
this secret expression of darkness,
that tragedy haunting, taunting to hurt, pardon me!
the theft of my thoughts, utter burglary,
is preferable to mediocrity.
before it happens it will scrawl the second half
it’s basically a massive distraction—chocolate, coffee
but it be such a nice suffering.

____________________________

Marissa Purdum

“A Love Story: Fog”

Like a cresting wave, fog rolls in.
He rolls through the empty small-town streets
and gently onto the dewy morning grass
before anyone awakes.
Gradually at first, but then
all at once, the entire town is shrouded.
As the sun rises,
the light gray hue conceals
the dawn’s pink and orange gleam.
Like a white, matte, masquerade mask
he hides the sun and sky from our sights.
Although seemingly eerie,
the fog is like a bride’s veil.
He hides the face, then when the time comes
the veil lifts to reveal the Earth’s countenance.
However, the veil lifts only for his one love;
the warmth of the sun’s embrace.
Then he ascends to join her.
He disappears slowly at first,
then as suddenly as he came…
He’s gone.

____________________________

Marcus Sweeten

“Hand in Hand”

Run in innocence,
Hurry down past the grass
Where the lilacs bloom near
Quartered water fields,
There’s an escape here,
A place no one near can find
And no one can hear your sighs,
Or see the discontent in your gaze,
Or notice our urge to just runaway
And to disavow everything,
There is a path underneath the trees
Where we can pick all the daisies we can find,
I look at you and wonder what is on that restless mind,
Everything here is displayed and made by Mother Nature
Just for you,
You and I.
We can find here
Nothing quite so menacing,
Until our last goodbye.

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