A Remedy for Last Night
As your eyes break through the wall of sleep, every mental faculty slowly turns on like lights in a factory. You stretch your arms and legs outward in an attempt to regain limberness. You sit up on the park bench, and that’s when you feel the effects of last night come to a head. You feel a sensation in your stomach that flows up through your body, and you quickly move to a public fountain. You lean over and retch until a warm liquid spews forth from your mouth. The opaque rainwater inside the basin is now dyed bright green. You slump over and rest yourself against the stone edges of the water feature. The front of your head is pounding; it’s as if someone punched you with a roll of quarters to do more damage. Any motion in your arms and legs is greeted with an ache. In a panic, you pat down your pants, and you feel your wallet in a rear pocket, providing some sense of relief. You use the park fountain as a support to stand up. The whole world seems like it’s spinning, and this causes you to stumble a couple of times, and you have the premonition that you’re going to vomit again. Once on your feet, you walk towards downtown in search of a bed to crash onto and sleep off this hangover.
Down the pavement—only a few cars pass by, one every few minutes. The rules of the road are forfeit as drivers disregard red lights and stop signs, blasting music like small beatboxes that come and go into the night. Squirrels take cover in garden bushes with acorns in their mouths. They peek their heads out before boldly venturing out into the asphalt pathway in search of a place to store their rewards. Teenagers take their bikes and link up with each other at the intersection before moving to a more secluded place to smoke. They take notice of you as you pass from the other side of the street. They taunt and jeer you, taking particular interest in your haggard appearance, yet you pay no mind to them as your tired eyes are planted toward the cracked sidewalk.
Tall metal street lamps that dot the sides of the main drag are slowly replaced with gaslights. Old mansion homes with mansard roofs, that had been converted into discount apartments, vanish from your peripheral vision. Brick buildings connected with each other, featuring elaborate roof decorations, exterior facades, and names of companies long out of business, take their place—downtown is near. Shop windows are dark but their neon signs are still glowing. A fellow sot, a kindred spirit, is slumped over outside a dive bar. His head hangs low and his hand still clings to a glass bottle that’s now empty.
When you get to a roundabout is when you are submerged in another wave of sickness. You feel like a balloon deflated of air, your head is a SEPTA train going off the rails. You collapse onto a street lamp and hold on for dear life. You breathe heavily and gag, you feel your stomach shift like a dormant volcano coming alive, yet your throat is parched. You notice another water feature at the center of the roundabout, more elaborate than the one in the park. You look at the basin and find water inside. You look around you to make sure no one is watching. You then let out a deep sigh before plunging your hands in the reservoir to shovel as much water as you can into your mouth. You brace yourself against the edge of the fountain, prepared to throw up. You wait for a few minutes, yet nothing happens. You take a deep breath and get up slowly and you continue on.
You see a hotel upon the horizon and you couldn’t be happier. It’s large, with a parking lot mostly filled. The grass out in front of the main entrance is neatly cut; the bushes trimmed expertly so as not a single branch is out of place. A large pine tree stands out from the rest of the foliage, which gently wafts in the cold breeze. The front of the hotel looks ornate and stately, with burgundy colored walls, white columns and a gilded sign among the rest of the brick building, which reads “Gateway Hotel.”
You enter the main lobby. There’s a checkered black-and-white tile floor with a chandelier hanging above. The interior facade was painted a pure white color that matched the sign out front. Above the fireplace is a large painting that depicts a group of people with torches in their hands entering a cave.
The woman at the front desk is warm and receptive. She gives you a room key, and you make a mad dash up the stairs towards the room. Upon entering, you dive on top of the bed, not even bothering to undress and get under the covers. The muscles in your body relax, sheep count you as you fall into sleep’s embrace.
The echo of dripping fluid from inside the cavern was enough to manifest an old folk tale among the local villagers; the drip that never dries, the one that haunts the dreams of those that enter. As always, the tale changes depending on who you ask, but they all have the same lesson:
“Never venture in there with a grieving heart. It will tear it out of you,”
It’s probably just some inside joke the guys at the inn got going, thinks Daniel Tourneau as he soothes the agitated hair on his arms, paying no mind to the coal staining his skin. Besides, no one’s come close for years.
One of Daniel’s ancestors was a witch, burned at the stake in the late 18th century, but many of her lessons were recovered and passed down until his Grandmother had no daughters. Daniel’s grandmother did tell him, however, of an ancient creature inside this cave,
“It’s capable of a great many things, baby. But, you must do what it says,”
Some sort of Djinn, I suppose. No point in being afraid, he affirms as he passes the drip and is swallowed by the grotto. It doesn’t matter; this is my only option. I must bring my baby back.
A mass of crawling critters disperse up the walls and into the crevices of the ancient tunnel. Colonies of fluttering bats screech forcing Daniel to shield his ears with his hands.
Fuck off, little pests, he thought, and the cloud, as commanded, retreats further into the cave.
If only I was by the fire with some mead, he thought, lutes strumming, Shoshana’s soprano; boys ruin their lives over lasses like that.
He gathers himself, and as he inches forward he slowly reaches the end. The tunnel turned from an endless burrow to a large recess composed of colossal trees, leaves of cherry, green, and amber sprouting outward. Rocks, logs, and bushes were arranged in a way that appeared artificial.
Wow...Looks like Grandmother’s old farm.
“It’s capable of a great many things,” Daniel’s grandmother’s voice rings,
Yes, my boy will be brought back to me.
“But, you must do what it says,”
I will, but I’ll not be pushed around.
“Never venture in there with a grieving heart, baby. It will tear it out of you.”
No, she couldn’t have said it, too. No. It doesn’t matter. I’m not grieving; I’m angry. They could’ve saved him; they could’ve-
“Speak,” a guttural voice orders.
Daniel’s eyes whirl around the room.
“Above,” it groans again calmly.
His claws dug into the oak branch, tail wrapped in a spiral. Bright, ruby eyes scrutinize the shivering miner.
Those eyes are unmistakable. I wish she’d told me it’s a vampire.
“What is your name?” Daniel finds the words those eyes stole.
“What is the name your grandmother gave me?” It spoke, slowly.
It’s eloquent. Kind, too. Must be ancient.
“She never told me,” Daniel reveals.
“A name, then, I’ll not have one,” the creature resolves.
But, for the love of the All-Knowing, speak faster!
“I’ll be quick. I need you to revive my son. He died in a mine-.”
“You think I’m unaware as to the circumstances of your child’s cessation?
“No, I’m sorry, I-”
“For what reason do you believe I to be the one who can revive lost kin?”
“I was told you perform miracles,” Daniel responds impatiently.
“Humans, you act too hastily; you embellish tales of great power and underestimate the significance of miracles,”
What is he talking about? Blood and coal heating up in his veins, Daniel responds, “Look, just tell me what I need to do,”
“You’ve two ears and yet, you do not listen,”
“Miracles are subjective, are they not? What if I told you the collapse of the mine on your son, consequently never collapsing on others again, could be viewed as a miracle by your fellow miners who don’t want their sons crushed?
“Please, just help me!” Daniel pleads on his knees.
“Enough,” the vampire raises its right claw. “You will complete five tasks,”
“I’ll do as you command!” Daniel’s voice was cold and confident.
“First,” The ancient creature ordered the death of any person Daniel chooses.
“Yes, sir!” Daniel stands and exits the grounds.
Daniel knows exactly who he would kill; they just stood there. They have a second chance to save him, he thinks.
A few days later, Daniel returns, a large burlap sack hangs over his shoulder.
Once more, the creature ordered the death of any person Daniel might choose, and again Daniel returned with a large sack.
Daniel does this two more times and awaits the final task.
“Please, sir! One more? I can kill! Just one more,” Daniel was eager, no longer angry, “then he will be brought back, right?”
“Quiet. Your impatience is vexatious.”
“Yes, but, the last task, sir-”
A building silence engulfs the area. The drip returns, paralyzing Daniel’s brain.
Ah! The dripping! But it’s so far-
“Your last task… yes,” it speaks as the drip gets louder until it turns to a thud.
The cloud of bats return and squeal louder, bringing Daniel to his knees.
Why won’t it stop? All-Knowing, give me strength! Please!
The squeals turn to screams and cries; screams of men and children.
Son? No, please! Come back to me!
In an instant, the creature unfolded a hidden pair of wings, sprang from the branch, causing it to snap off, and took flight. He sank its claws into the chest of the frozen Daniel, tearing into him with accuracy and control. At once, the vampire swallows the still-pulsing heart in one gulp, and Daniel’s lifeless corpse erupts into an explosion of flesh and bone.
The viscera congeals into a short, human-like figure with Daniel’s dark hair and sharp nose. His chin was round like Daniel’s, as well. Its eyes open; they shine amber, much like the monster in front of him.
The creature, still embraced in fat and cartilage, breathes heavily,
“Mayuiq lu veylak ruye?” (are you ready to serve me?)
“San, ruy freluiq,” (Yes, my lord.)
Gleaming panels of windows covered its faces, edge to edge, story above story, until they became unseen by the sky above. Its shadow a clock, blanketing the nearby buildings in a repetitive darkness as the hours ticked by. Giant red crosses covered each side of the octagonal tower, a universal sign allowing for the passers-by to recognize it in an instant. It had capacity for millions, tens of millions even, if needed. Yet within those walls, countless winding hallways resembled a labyrinth to those unfamiliar. It held thousands of employees and their families within its endless hallways. This building was the epicenter for research and anything medical really.
The main reason this hospital became so famous was as a result of those with powers who took up residence inside. There were doctors who could heal injuries with a touch, nurses who emitted anesthetics through their sweat, even researchers able to analyze someone and assess almost any disease or disorder wrong with them. They were the spearhead of this foundation, allowing for mortality rates of known and unknown illnesses to almost bottom out. God, I could only wish to be one of them.
My body produces an abnormal amount of blood, and if left untreated the veins in my body could burst. As a result I’m not exactly a free spirit in this world. I’m tethered to this hospital, and have been since I was young, even before my parents gave up on me. Luckily for me, the staff was nice enough to give me a room, and in exchange I do odd jobs around the place, like helping with janitorial or secretarial work. That also pays for my treatments.
To begin my day, as always, I grabbed my phone and checked today's schedule to see what I was on. I was already late so I didn’t have much time to waste.
“BOO,” someone yelled from right behind me, scaring me, and causing me to almost fall over, dropping my phone in the process. “What’re you assigned to today, Walter?” Max, my best friend, asked.
I picked up my phone, which had slid a good five feet away, and checked. “Cafeteria duty, man; it's my least favorite job. At least I can grab some food, so I skipped breakfast. How about yourself?” I replied.
He looked at me with a smirk. “I got the same, so at least we aren’t stuck there alone. I hope they’re serving pancakes. Walking there together, of course?”
He didn’t really need to ask by this point, it was a given. So we immediately fell in sync and started walking towards the cafeteria, which was almost on the other side of the building, a good five-minute walk. The two of us talked about whatever came to mind as we walked briskly down the winding hallways. I hated being late but sometimes it just happened. This time though I had started to slow our pace a bit. I started to feel slightly dizzy, but then chalked it up to missing breakfast, so instead I tried to speed back up to reach the cafeteria quicker.
We could almost smell the blueberry muffins when Max stopped me to ask if I was feeling alright, saying I was looking rather pale. I suddenly realized I had started to tremble, and took a seat. We had taken a back residential hallway to hopefully see another one of our friends on the way, so the alley was empty besides us. I looked up at Max. I could feel the fear on my face and he already knew what was happening.
I was supposed to still have two days until I needed to go to the doctors again. My blood levels hadn’t gone out of control this early in a long time. The symptoms had a bad habit of not showing up until the last second, so it was my fault for not taking it more seriously. While my hands were shaking, I saw the veins in my hands start to bulge a little. Max frantically ran to the nearby emergency phone, calling for help, though it was already too late. The doctors could never make it to this remote area in the time I had left. Suddenly the main feeling I had was pain. My eyes became blurry and dark. I heard Max call for me to hang on, but I could hardly keep myself upright. I could feel the veins in my eyes burst as I started to taste iron on my tongue.
I couldn’t control my own balance, causing me to double over and fall onto the floor. I heard the phone drop and hazily heard running footsteps as my hearing wavered. I could feel only the blood in my body, circulating, trying to escape into any free space. My body started convulsing, then turned cold as I prepared for death, begging with life itself to give me a second chance. I imagined ripping the blood out of my skin, showering the ground around me and making me free of this current hell. Was it my imagination?
My senses began orienting themselves again, footsteps pounding, bouncing off the walls and echoing through the tunnel. My eyesight faded in, as I saw an outline of Max, holding me while covered in red liquid, crying. I nodded my head, and tried to reach for him, but my arms felt empty, as if they were nothing but a shell. My heart began to beat faster, and I feared it meant a second wave.
The nurses heaved me into a gurney, Max ran to my side and helped, turning me just enough to see the entire area coated in red. My other arm began to regain strength, and I tried to reach towards Max, on my left, wanting to clear the blood that was my own fault. Everyone hesitated as I moved my arm and the red vanished from his face, dispersing onto the wall behind him. I could hear the amazement in the voices of everyone around me. As my consciousness faded, I only remembered the relief, the pain fleeing my body, while my mind fled into the dark.
* * *
The body in front of me was as still as a corpse, and it looked like one as well. With the skin a rough red-maroon color, it looked partially emptied and weighed roughly a tenth of its original weight; but it was alive. There was still life inside this body and no one was about ready to let it flee.
The doctors and nurses rushed around with medical equipment, attempting to get a needle in an empty vein in order to begin the process. It couldn’t have been more than sheer willpower that he was alive, given that all presence of blood in his body was now gone. I had not left his side since the incident, and I had no plan to, I needed him, and I promised him I wouldn’t leave as I saw him collapse on the floor.
The only thing I could do was pray. Although I was an atheist, I looked to any higher power out there and was searching, dealing, trying to force any one of them to give my friend the life he once had. With my hand in his, tears streamed down my face and washed the red little by little from my face. The metallic smell of blood was still alive in the air around me, with me being covered in it.
We were the duo, and I wasn’t letting him go on me yet. His heart was still pumping and that was enough for now, yet I began to feel tired. My body grew fatigued as his began to pump, as if I was forcing life into him from myself. I watched with closing eyes as his began to open, fluttering about with his body slowly growing to its original form. I felt like shouting, screaming and crying tears of joy, but I was too tired to do so. I had never let go of his hand, I noticed, and soon it was the only thing I could feel, his warmth.
As his body pumped faster and faster, I realized what this could be. The exact blessing I was hoping for, the same thing my beloved friend had received, a power. My hand fell off of his, although it was enough. He was alive. He must have not been able to die while I held his hand, as when my hand was removed, he passed out again. But again, it was enough, his body had blood and his heartbeat evened.
The Owl Beholds
By candlelight, the reader nestled under his nook. Looking out from the great windows showed patters of rainfall. He could vaguely mark the castle spires on the other side. Only risen mountains almost glowing in their forbidden power. His books were not so well arranged as they had fallen over from leaning towers and onto the hard floor.
This poem that he had been flipping through almost unconsciously began to read aloud to him, ‘Bewareth of eyes, for the winged omen cometh.’ He read that aloud to himself instead of the page doing it for him. He wondered what it could’ve meant. Poems always were so romantic that way, ‘Beholdeth Thanatos dost thou risen from glaring crescent.’ the reader had taken to attention of the moon above, a scythe without a staff or a wielder of such being.
The reader had witnessed shadows falling along the clouds. In moments being dissuaded to the possibility of witches taking flight on broomsticks. Images tooled their manufactured fantasies as the reader read on in silence. His old leather-bound book creaked upon opening where each word that laid itself a hand had done so cordially. Woven words of quills no longer weaving the gentle of the frail document in fine literature.
But how humorous to think he’d describe a poem to the speck yet never truly write one for his own benefit. In achievements, his wishes were to at last write one great epic poem. One of blessed tragedy, romance, and war. Though peace had ruled the countryside for years. What would drive him to such a wretched prayer?
The taste for evil, the fine aged wine of cries and famine. A great plague to come and blanket the kingdom or hiertho the house of this such Duke. The Duke of Pleasence. His throne embroidered in silver and his village in adorance. Consequently, his fiendish plot of terror has made it into his dreams. “O!” He cried, “If I could only picture such beauty.” black magic did not show the answers outright, he wanted blissful chaos, ‘The owl,’ the poem read to him, ‘Is the angel of death thine indebted to his audience.’
A flap came from the outside. The window had shown the round eyes of the omen himself. The Devil, who observed hooting in pleasure, mocking the humans. He had heard stories of a large owl who lived by the forest. Chasing carriages to the entrance of his kingdom. One in this fair region of Pleasence appeared in the stir of the villagers' slumber. Raving madly of a terrible coming.
Little moth caught blaze by his candlelight and he looked at the owl, ‘Bewareth of eyes, for the winged omen cometh.’ Suddenly, pleas came from outside. Fiery arrows had impacted the spires and the owl slowly spread its wings. One of his guards bursted in, “My Duke!”
“Yes, what is it?”
“The neighboring kingdom has waged war! Stormed the castle and destroyed your silver throne.”
“Perfect.” He said dipping his quill.
“What is that sir?”
“Fight, with honor. Blood and sweat. Thy Thanatos miracle has arrived.” He began to write. Every drop of ink was blood on the battlefield and each curve was a new tactic. Owls are very wise creatures, he thought.
Tomorrow’s a New Day
A young elf boy sits in his barren room. The mid-afternoon sun filters through the single window, illuminating the motes within its beam. Under the soft dustlight, the boy prepares his lunch: a small chunk of a stale baguette, a stolen apple, and a half empty jar of orange marmalade. He sinks his fingers into the dry bread and rips it into pieces that he then dips into the marmalade. The sticky sweetness of the citrus coats his tongue, and he smiles to himself.
“This is a good lunch,” he says aloud. The room is empty, but the walls do have ears, and they listen to the boy when no one else does (which these days is hard to come by seeing that the house is more often uninhabited than not). Once he finishes his bread and marmalade, he looks to his apple, the crowning jewel of his meal. He hasn’t had an apple in so long. Its red skin gleams in the filtered sunlight as it rests on the hardwood floor. He would have bought the apple, but he gave his mom the coins he garnered during his last stint on the streets. He never sees any of that money back.
“Your asshole brother and father aren’t home,” his mother always says, “They fucking abandoned us, Oak! I can’t afford to keep this house afloat, Oak, let alone provide for the both of us.” She always says this as she lounges in her armchair in the living room, a half empty glass of something in her hand. “I need at least one person to help me out around here. It’s not like I can do this on my own.”
He grins at his apple and picks it up, polishing it against his shirt and sticks it into his mouth, his teeth sinking into the skin and letting the juice glide onto his tongue. He closes his eyes for a moment and
savors the taste of a fresh apple, a fresh anything. He can’t remember the last time he had a piece of fresh fruit. This is a treat, one that tastes sweet, a little sour, and a hint of bitterness (though that is more than likely the guilt of taking a piece of fruit that isn’t his own and not letting another little elf boy who has it worse than him take it for himself and taste the sweetness and sourness of the fresh apple on his tongue like he is doing right now, because what makes him think he is more entitled to this fruit than another person). He pulls the apple out of his mouth and chews the bite he has, looking intently at the crater left by his teeth and his mouth, about to begin contemplating the fact that he is eating a fruit that could have belonged to anyone when a sound disturbs his train of thought.
It is a loud noise, though he is used to loud noises in this house during the day. But then there is another, and another, a barrage of noises and bangs and crashes. The boy opens his door and rushes over to the stairs. The door to his house is wide open, dirty boot prints leading the way to where the noise is coming from. He scampers down the stairs, nearly silent, though he takes two steps at a time. When he gets into the main rooms of the house, he sees one of his mom’s friends throwing plates and cups around the kitchen. The young elf runs into the room, slicing his feet on the shattered glass and porcelain as his mom’s friend holds up a glass, amber-colored bottle, and it looks like it’s full. His mom is on the ground, her eyes blackened, her nose bleeding.
The words flying from both of the adults’ mouths blur together in a mess of unintelligible sound.
Tired of talking, the glass bottle begins to swing downwards, and the young elf boy, the son, the protector, the child, jumps in front of his mom, hugging her tightly, as the amber colored glass crashes into the back of his head. His vision goes white, and when he blinks, he is laying on the kitchen floor, alone, covered in something sticky. It smells weird. It smells like bad bread mixed
with the smell of wet copper, and the young elf moves his hands to the back of his head. It gets even more wet back there, and when he looks at his hand, it is covered in blood, probably his own. The boy stands up, and even though his vision spins and his knees nearly give out, he drags himself up the stairs into the bathroom, and starts running a warm bath. Gently, he peels off his clothes and slides into the bathwater, letting the water turn red as he cleans himself. Don’t worry, Oak, the Oak inside his head says, Things are going to get better! Momma will be able to afford the house soon, so you will be able to make things better soon, too! Tomorrow is a new day, so get clean and things will get better.
If he keeps saying it… maybe someday it will become true.
The young elf boy stands on a small milk crate on the side of a busy street in the seaside town. As usual, the boy sneaks his hands into the pockets of passersby, taking anything he can. Small amounts of silver and copper, trinkets that may or may not be of some importance to the owner (not that the boy knows nor particularly cares about the importance of objects taken from the pockets of strangers on the street). These trinkets are taken from their own universes and slid into new ones, ones within the sleeves of the boy, haphazardly sewn pockets in the gaudy, baggy, second-hand, oversized sleeves of the tunic found deep within his father’s closet. The tunic hasn’t seen the light of day in some time, buried deep under the uniforms and the weapons and the badges of honor.
As his new-to-him trinkets are hidden, people come to his box and wish to play the card game he has been advertising. He smiles and nods, quickly obliging them. He sits down and folds three cards and shows the people the card they are tasked with finding as he shuffles. He strikes up as deep of a
conversation a nine-year old can, and begins to shuffle. The conversation and his near expert movements, seemingly second nature to the boy, distracts the targets of his con. This first round is fairly easy, the boy realizes, and it is meant to be in order to draw the people in more. As he splays his hands out, gesturing for the small crowd around him to pick a card. Unsurprisingly, they pick the correct card. The small child-con artist matches the small bet wagered and the person is pleased with their profit. Others around the boy pitch money in, finding the game easy now. Round after round, the people lose more and more money, and the charlatan’s pouches grow heavier with gold and silver and copper (and maybe even some small amounts of platinum, the boy finds out later to his own personal delight).
After about an hour of his shenanigans, the crowd breaks up and several guards surround the boy, hoisting him up by his shoulders and setting him on his feet. They sweep away his milk crate and his folded cards, taking the deck and inspecting each card. The boy insists it is a fair deck, that he was just playing a little game. The people around the boy argue, saying he is a con artist, to take him back to his parents, that he is a menace. The guards inspect the deck, and just like the boy said, the cards were fair (though that doesn't necessarily mean the game was). They hand him the deck of cards back and let him off with a warning.
The boy nods, taking the cards and running back to his home. The coins (no doubt to be excitedly handed over to his mother) and trinkets (that he will selfishly keep to himself) in his pant-pockets and hidden-up-sleeve pockets jingle on the way to the very clearly run-down townhome. There are no lights on, and the windows are closed. As the small boy climbs the stairs, the years of aging and abuse have gotten to the wood, which is rotting and decaying under the weight of the world.
On the door of the home, there is a piece of parchment tacked on. It is a little too far up for him to read, so he jumps up and rips the paper off the nail. As he reads his heart drops. “This is a notice to the House of Greenbriar,” the note says, “It is with a deep sadness that we inform you that one Madoc Greenbriar has been killed in battle—“ and that is all the note can tell the young boy as he drops the suddenly very heavy notice to the ground, it’s feather-like movement deceiving, since the weight of the not so friendly letter feels like solid iron in his grasp. He doesn’t even have to try the door to know it is locked. If his mother were home, she would have heard the guards knocking, would have heard the nail being hammered into the door, would have come running down the stairs and wept for the loss of her husband, would have been waiting for Oak when he came home to gently tell him the news and hold him while he cried…. but now Oak sits on his crumbling porch, waiting, and weeping for his mother to come home, because climbing the walls and through the window to get into his bedroom seems like a bad idea right now (though on any other occasion, it would be his only, and best, option).
Don’t worry, Oak, the Oak inside his head says, just like he always does, Things are going to get better! Momma is going to come home, and all of this will feel like a bad dream. She will hold you while you cry and tell you it’s gonna be okay. Tomorrow is a new day, so get clean and things will get better.
“I’m starting to not believe you.”
The Flapper entered the makeup room, hearing the crackle and grain wearing away her world to ancient days. “Romantic egotists!” She swore and rapped her hand on her makeup desk. It intervened with the film grain in her view so she steadied herself in repose. Adjusting her hair and wiping away eyeliner rivers from the eyes she noticed a glean. A starry gleam in the looking glass that smiled at her.
The circular glass shined with flickering bulbs and a skull lay on the floor indicating she was killing her head. “Not now!” she snarled. The skull whimpered and rolled away.
She was alone with that figure in the mirror. A neon star intensified its hum and shattered. Her glittering dresses illuminated the ever dimming room. “How can I help you, ma’am?” The Flapper asked, “I said, how can I help you?”
“Well what about yourself?”
“Don’t start that with me!” The Ghost sat in a chair behind her looking up at her posters of films the Flapper has starred in, “So this is how you ended up?”
“I wanted to be known. I had a voice to be heard.”
“Sure you did, honey.”
“What do you think then?”
“Your reputation; how wrong you were.”
“My reputation is flawless.”
“It’s ill-fated. Look what you did to them,” The Ghost turned a photo around and the Flapper gasped in horror. “The old days were different. Now you live in silence and remain in a lost generation.”
“He meant everything…”
“And yet, here you have a ghost telling you about your haunted past,” The Ghost played with the makeup, knocking lipsticks all grayscale colored and faded, eyelashes flapped their wings like flies and swarmed even the award she was given, “Did you have to kill all your darlings?”
“You make it sound so dreadful.”
“But that is dear. It’s all dreadful, filled with changing reels, cigarette burns, and splices. Splices to change your face so every eye can visually lust over. To make a statement, you have to use your mouth, not your eyes.”
“Why did I have to be pretty?”
“Why did you become a strip of film. Waiting to burn? It was never about you being pretty. It was about how you reacted to it. And those heels, honey, says you’ve walked the walk with pride. Don’t drown in your own image. Turn those lights off. Imagine who you really are.”
The Ghost disappeared and the Flapper was left alone. She thought of turning the lights off and moved towards them to do so. But, the lights broke for her. The music stopped. She took a deep breath and imagined who she was. She thought long and in-depth about where her voice lied at face value. When she turned she screamed in reproach. The Ghost was right behind her, but it wasn't the Ghost that horrified her, “Now do you see what image does? They peel off your face.”
“I’m sorry!” She shouted, “I’m sorry.”
… Cut…. FADE OUT…
Rules to Follow When at Sea
When I set out off the shore of North Carolina on my father’s Allied Princess 36, he taught me the rules of the sea. Together we packed our ship for the voyage.
“Those are ridiculous,” I laughed, tucking the final case of fishing supplies onto the boat. My fathers an experienced sailor, but he has to be messing with me. He shrugged, “You’ll see.”
That night we left the harbor under the cloudy moonlight. I lay tucked into my bunk, my father asleep across from me. The waves thrash against the porthole as inexplicable tones drum against the hull beneath me. My face flushes and I push myself out of bed.
Rule 25: Sometimes curious things knock on the hull. They usually go away.
Tomatoes in the Basement
Dear Diary, 4/19/2008
Good news! Today my family went to the store and got plants and seeds for our garden! We bought tomatoes, green beans and lettuce. Mom also bought flowers. I don’t know what kind but they’re pink and purple. We cleared out old leaves from the garden and started to plant the new vegetables. Dad’s friend came over and he brought over some plants. They were in buckets and Dad brought them inside. I asked what kind of vegetables grow inside and his friend said tomatoes. I asked Dad later why his tomatoes went in the basement, and he said that they’re special tomatoes and need their own space.
Dear Diary, 4/21/2008
Today Mom bought me a flower kit from the dollar store! It is a ladybug flower pot and I get to paint it and everything. I’ll just have to get some dirt from the garden to plant my seeds once it is finished.
I cleaned up my paint and mom made me grilled cheese while the paint dries. She says I’ll ruin it if I put the seeds in too soon. When we planted seeds at school they took a long time to grow, but that’s because we only put them near the window. Mom says I can put my flower pot in the kitchen window, but I think it’ll take too long for it to grow there. Dad grows his tomatoes in the basement, so
maybe I can put it there! He has big lights for his plants and the air feels sticky, like after it rains in the summer. I’m sure my flower will be happier down there anyway, it would be lonely up here all by itself.
Dear Diary, 4/22/2008
Dad helped me plant my seeds. I didn’t want mom to do it because dad planted all the tomatoes in a special way. When it was all done, he unlocked the basement door and we went downstairs to his tomato garden. All the tomatoes were still planted in the buckets, but there weren’t any tomatoes yet. The plants were tall with pointed leaves that fanned out, and covered up some small buds. I asked him when the tomatoes would grow and he said soon. He put my ladybug flower pot at the end of the table and told me he’d make sure to water it.
Dear Diary, 4/24/2008
Today when I came home from school the house smelled funny. It was really gross. I told mom it smelled like a skunk and she said that must be what it is. Dad sprayed air freshener and it got better. We live near the woods, so I think skunks smell a lot around here.
Dear Diary, 4/25/2008
Today some of Dad's friends came over! They went into the basement so I think he was showing them my flower pot. We still don’t have any tomatoes growing down there yet, even though some started to grow in our outside garden. I asked dad what made his tomatoes special but he didn’t answer. I asked my mom too and she told me not to talk about the tomatoes in the basement. I know when the tomatoes grow they’ll be yummy because of all the hard work Dad is doing.
Dear Diary, 4/27/2008
Over the weekend my friend came over and I asked if I could bring them downstairs to show them my flower, but Dad said no. He said only family can go down there. I was upset, why could his friends go down but not mine?
Anyway, it has been one whole week since we planted my flower. Dad said I could go downstairs now to see my flower. It started to sprout! It isn’t as big as Dad’s plants, but it will catch up. Dad’s plants have ugly flowers on them. They’re green and look pointy. I asked him when they would turn into tomatoes and he said he didn’t know.
Dear Diary, 4/28/2008
Today after school I helped Mom outside in the garden. Our tomatoes out here look great! She told me which ones to pick and I carefully took them off the vine. After we picked all of them, I helped Mom pull weeds out of her flower garden. She says that will make them grow better. I hope my flower pot doesn’t have any weeds!
I don’t think Dad’s tomatoes are gonna grow, but he had different friends come over and they went into the basement. He let me go downstairs to check for weeds, but I didn’t see any. Some of his tomato plants were cut down. He had them hanging up from a clothesline. I asked why, and he said they needed to dry out. I still didn’t see any of Dad’s tomatoes, just the ugly spiky flowers.
Dear Diary, 5/2/2008
I’m so upset! Today at school I asked my friend if he wanted to come over this weekend and he said he wasn’t allowed to come over anymore. When I asked why he said that his mom thinks my parents do too much weed. I’m confused because we just took care of the weeds! He said I’m allowed to go over to his house, so I think we’ll play over there.
Dear Diary, 5/6/2008
I heard Dad tell Mom that some of his friends bought some of his plants. Sometimes Mom and Dad argue about the plants. Dad says that selling them will help pay for the house, but Mom seems nervous. Mom said I shouldn’t be allowed in the basement anymore. I don’t get it, they’re just tomatoes.
Dear Diary, 5/30/2008
Today Mom and Dad put the ugly flowers into jars. I asked if those were the tomatoes and they said they’re for grown ups only. I’m sad I won’t be able to try Dad’s tomatoes, but I think he did it wrong anyway.
Dad moved my flower pot to the kitchen window. I don’t mind because my flower looks better up here now that it’s all grown up. Mom says we can move it to the garden tomorrow.
Dear (old) Diary, 9/13/2015
Long time no write. Currently, I am grounded because I didn’t get my room clean before my first day of sophomore year. I found this journal shoved into the abyss under my bed, and I’m happy I decided to flip through for nostalgia’s sake. I don’t know what happened to the lady bug flower pot, but my mom’s garden is overrun with daisies and has been since we planted my flower outside. Dad still grows tomatoes, but he doesn’t sell them anymore. Him and his friends still enjoy them… recreationally. Everyone knows about the tomatoes in the basement now. So little me, the secret doesn’t rest on your shoulders anymore.
Besides… It’ll be legal in a few years anyway.
A clothesline sways in the breeze while the squeak of a weathervane echoes across a distant field. Country.
The stark white home sits amid a green stretch of open road. Emerald shutters gaze heartily at the graveyard across the way. Standing there watching, held up against a gravestone, my foot finds a rock. I roll it beneath my boot while the wind picks up slightly around me. The breeze seems to sigh like the exhale of your first cigarette. You’ve smoked before, right? Of course you have. Everyone tries it once or twice or three times. But how many times do you try something before you are just “doing it.” Oh, is that what you’re doing now? Smoking? Lying? Running? Hiding? Dying? How many times before a try becomes a do? Before a stranger becomes a friend? Before a friend becomes an enemy? Before a search finds the truth?
Digression. Where were we? Oh, right.
It sits in a clearing that appears as though the home has held the space long before the structure took root in its sturdy soil. A clearing made by leather soled feet, hardened hands, blood, death and wickedness. Each gravestone across the way somehow seemed to anchor the home into the earth even further. The pull between the two was undeniable, in the same way it was not able to be properly explained. Only felt. Death permeated the ground while the house stood solidly, alive but mysteriously unwell, both surveying the other in a locked embrace.
The architecture of the home became more defined with time as a profound crookedness infiltrated its bones. Leering in the foreground of a peaceful Monet was this spectacle of a forgotten living space, untouched, taunting, curious, and waiting.
Notions about the house were abundant among all who lived close by. A general consensus would agree on one thing - most of the people who stepped inside did not come back out. Not dead, not alive.
Just - gone.
I say most people because the ones who do return are dismissed as insane. They return to society with a head full of mashed up ideas of what went on inside. It was as though they had their brain scrambled. Ice pick lobotomy. Botched. Their ramblings were unrealistic, but nobody could convince them otherwise. Yet the chorus of their accounts only made sense in the way they made no sense at all. There had to be something to it. How many times do you hear a different crazy story about the same place before the clamor is believed?
I am one of the curious believers. I am obliged to fall down the rabbit hole. Maybe to find what I am searching for or maybe to find nothing at all. Just to find something. To do something. This small town is boring anyway. Fuck it.
My mind shifts back and forth behind nicotine stained fingertips, smoke circling my face from a freshly lit Marb red. Cowboy killers. Deep inhale. Exhale. Stare straight ahead. How many times before a try becomes a do? I ash the stogie with my left hand, the other in my pocket, my mind secured in a battle of wits with the decrepit doorway.
I spit and wipe my lipstick stained lip. Cherry red. I nod to the gravestone next to me. Elmer Childs. What a mother fucker. Chopped his wife to bits. What was her name? Sharon? No - that was her sister. Down a few rows. Sara… Cynthia, was it? No. Her grave was in a different yard across town. Cindy! Cindy - that poor goddamn woman. Her heart was found plunged beneath the floorboards of their living room. This living room.
In this home. This house. The one I was carelessly flirting with; certain in my thinking that I could take the heat. How many times do we think before we believe?
My Doc Martens leave remarkable impressions in the mossy ground as I shift on my perch, crossing my legs. The stones accompany the hardened feeling that sits heavy in my stomach. Sunshine gleans brightly through the branches of the trees as though it’s offering me a pat on the back. “I got you” the beams whisper. I’ve heard that before. How many times before a promise becomes a lie?
Suddenly mobile, my feet begin to follow the stone path created for the casual visitation of aimless wanderers or family members who visit for little more than meaningless devotion to somebody they never knew. Maybe someday they will. I suppose that all depends on the path they took among the living, or possibly the path upon which they left.
Anyway, back to the bullshit. I flick my butted cigarette into the road. I’ll pick it up on my way back out.
Pebbles crunch into the sizzling pavement beneath my thick soled soles. My voyage across the road may have well been a trip to Middle Earth. It lasted as long as it took Frodo to throw that fucking ring into the pit. Sam was the real hero anyway; potatoes and all.
I arrive at the door in seventeen seconds; real time. Middle Earth would have to wait, I’ve got other shit to do. A score to settle. With who? Maybe me, maybe you. I try the door. Stuck. My eyes shut. I make a feeble attempt to calm my heart that had temporarily taken residence in my throat. Don’t puke. Don’t. Don’t. Do not. Cindy - lend me a steady heart would you? Damn it. What a rush to be on a high horse ignoring all the unheeded warnings. I’d better saddle up before this ticking time bomb blows up in my face. I grasped the jammed door handle again. Stick stuck. I huff. Eyes roll. How many times before a try becomes a do?
I strangle the handle with my left hand, my grandmother’s ring digging into the pads of my hands. I use what my sacred Italian heritage gave me, thrusting my hip into my current adversary. The door pops open with a sound likened to a silenced 9mm blowing someone’s face across a white bed sheet. I’m in.
Sharp notes of mint, mold, and ammonia permeate my nostrils instantly. The oddest scent of them all is an overwhelming floral scent which reeked of fresh cut lilacs and honeysuckle. Dust glittered suspended on silver sun beams slicing the stagnant air. They resembled the same security lasers that would cut you to shred in any corny action film. One wrong move. One wrong move and you are dead. How many times before a try becomes the last time?
The interior of the home is oddly comforting. Peculiar familiarity provided an eerie comfort offering memories as echoes in the distance. Colors vibrant; turquoise, deep orange, mustard yellows, soothing beiges and lovely creams. The flooring is hardwood; most likely the original. My eyes continue to scan the room. End tables, beautiful lamps sitting awaiting an illuminating hand, couches covered in blankets that once fought the cold but were now alone. Wait -
There. A door. A small door. Pushed back against the wall as though it had once protruded but then sunk back into its proper space as time sucked it in. I’ve always had a thing for tiny doors. What were they really for? The storage spaces or corridors are always a variety of sizes meant for all sorts of different things. Items. Occupants. What the fuck did people keep in there?
I approach the door, kneeling beside it, immediately reaching my arm out for the cool, brass handle. Smooth. Silken. Molten. Melting. Pulling me in, sinking deeper and, I twist. It opens effortlessly. Odd. A queer jerk in the knob unhooks the barrier between me and whatever was calling me to the other side. How many times have I tried? How many times have I gone down this road? Come here? Gone? How many times would I be the key to this forsaken door? Was I ever before?
I surrender to the quicksand which envelops me into darkness; choking on the scent of lilacs, honeysuckle, lilies, and marigolds. Too sweet, too silent, too suffocating. Too euphoric at first and then - the tearing. The flash fried broil on high searing pain of my flesh as it’s ripped, torn, slothing off my pulsing network of woven fuschia muscle mass strung together by tendons, ligaments and pure fucking spite. My screams are muffled by the black hole that consumes me, liquifying what allows one to animate their pile of bones hidden beneath a suit of soft, weak, useless matter. My organs pop one by one, finally ending with my heart torn from my chest; absorbed by void. Eat up, Cindy.
Somehow - a consciousness remains, and this is usually where my memory grows foggy to the point where nothing is explainable. None of it makes sense. This time is different. This time. The entity leaves. My entity. I’m leaving. Slips up and out of the vacuum, through the cracks of the front door. Rides upon the same breeze that caressed the leaves, straight into town. No direction, low visibility. Attempting to find some place to rest and then -
And now? I’m awake. In a bedroom. Not mine, but presumably supposed to be “mine.” A woman calls. Mom? What the fuck. I look in the mirror attached to my dresser across the room. Blonde? Blonde hair?
I stand up. Who the fuck - I’m a dude? For fucks sake. I did it this time. The woman calls again. “Hold the fuck on!” I shout. Where am I?
I have to get back to that house.
I have to try again.
How many times before a try becomes a do?
And where the fuck are my cigarettes?
See the slithering tail slink past the bouncer into the joint. The snake charmer, was from a far and distant time holding a hookah parlor to blast his pungi to tame all creatures. The yellow eyes darted to seduce.
He raises his head and blows into a flute that creates swirls in the mind. The snake charmer would then shake off stage, not caring what he would bring home that night. Males? Females? Humans? Snakes aren’t really snakes, he thought, sliding up to the bar. “It’s the snake charmer…” The whispers said.
“Yes-s-s-s-s?” They’d fall over under his spellbound voice and that mysterious look in his eye. The forked tongue licked away at the Alta Onda when a voice screamed at the doorway.
“I just want a drink!” The man cried. Pushing through the bouncer with a fragile personality, he began to cry. A girl adjusted her hair and looked down at the snake charmer. His eyes were on the man. “I don’t care if it isn’t clean. They can clean it off while I sit here!” A server tossed a menu at the disgruntled disgrace.
“That’s a lawyer. He’s a nuisance, likes to hear himself a lot.”
“I think I can handle him,” The snake charmer said, finishing his wine. Like a girl in a concert sprinted around the bar saying he was going to make a demonstration of his power. The snake charmer left his seat and slithered upon the lawyer.
“Well, what do you want?!”
“I don’t talk to snakes.”
“Funny.” The snake charmer coiled himself on the barstool. “Real funny.”
“Why’s that?” The lawyer said, sipping his pint glass fresh with spit and soap.
“I thought you like to hear yourself talk?”
“Isn’t that a derogatory term for you?”
“Got you to listen, didn’t it?” The lawyer put his glass down, clearing his backed-up throat.
“Suppose it does.”
“Suppose you listen to yourself?”
“I’ve got someone meeting me here you sharp-tongued son of a--”
“Of a what? A scorpion? I sting but I don’t kill do I?” The lawyer laughed.
“My dates here you better beat it.” The snake charmer rounded his neck to the entrance.
“That’s your date?” Poofed up in makeup that makes her even older with her attempt at looking younger. Her tight, forced skin plastered on her near bygone face. “You really did it up for yourself.”
“Hey fella, what’s that mean!”
“It means snakes like you force a smile and fake skin into your lives. Don’t you even consider to molt your skin to see the layers of yourself?” The snake charmer uncoiled and brought out his pungi with his wide mouth. He played a tune out loud. Then the lawyer and plastic doll woman stood up straight. They swung like snakes as the charmer led them out to a cab. After sending them off, he packed his pungi.
“Where are you going?”
“To play. Music is louder when you don’t hear hiss-s-s-s-sing.”
There it went again, thought the radio host as they slid over to the old-time dial Studebaker that whistled in the interference.
“Winter…” said the radio. Then it went off again.
“Well.” She clicked on the air. “Next folks, I’d like to bring you to another record from 1952, which is a classic desert jam that was number eleven on the hits.” She flipped it off, then sighed. Then the whir turned its way onto the radio again.
“Winter…” it said. She ignored it, playing the record soundly as she looked out the empty window where one Joshua Tree greeted her. It hadn’t been a normal few weeks, the radio host thought as she listened to the white noise that crackled through the thin openings to the speaker.
“Winter… Lieutenant.” That was different, she thought, looking in closer to examine it. “Winter… Lieutenant… Donovan.” This was a military frequency. Was it a code? She looked at it and turned it around. She was expecting to find no batteries at all as the ghost stories always had told her. But they were in there. She had a compulsion to remove them but it was curiosity that had won. She set it by her recording stand and unmuted herself.
“That was Kiss Of Fire by Georgia Gibbs. The next one is another 1952 classic that goes right down to number two.” She put the needle down and let it play. Then she got up to get a cup of coffee.
“Everything good Mack?” Her assistant outside asked.
“Yes, everything’s fine. I just need a bit of joe.” She walked on and rubbed the depressions between her nose and poured a hot cup when she heard the noise again. She looked up to the intercom as a dust bunny acquisition rattled as if it was tangible from its incommunicable state.
“Winter...Repeat...Winter…” She tried to get closer however, she was due back into the recording room. She sipped her coffee and went at almost a running pace, spilling some on her leg.
“Ain’t that great,” she hissed as the coffee got her open toes. She went back in and put her headphones on. “Sorry about that folks, here’s a message from our sponsors and we’ll get right back to the music we love.” She clicked a button, watching the radio. Waiting for it to go off again. Her assistant came in looking at her and then the radio.
“I’ve been watching you have an eye contest with that thing. Need it removed?”
“It’s strange. This keeps going off and delivering off messages. Probably picked it up from some nearby military base. I hear all these scrambled pickups every now and then.”
“You know the usual, copy, roger, fly-over. Only, it’s been saying one thing recently in increments.”
“And what’s that?”
“Winter…” the radio frequency squealed and ringing began to hurt their ears. “Winter…” Then it was silent again. Their ears were still ringing.
“I don’t know.”
“I think we should get rid of this.” She began walking over.
“No. I want to hear it.” Her assistant stopped.
“Well let’s not have any curiosity kill us, shall we?”
“We have a long night. Nothing ever happens out here and all we do is play.”
“Understandable, but you should keep in mind where this could head. Suppose they pick up this frequency reaching us out here?”
“Is there even a military base out here?” She becked, “We’re back on in twenty seconds.” The assistant left the room and put her headphones on.
“Winter…” the radio said.
“We’re back on in five… four…”
“The next was number four in 1954 called Sh-Boom by The Crew Cuts. Hope y’all enjoy,” she smiled through her voice. The needle wheeled around the black engravement grooves that banged out the song. She watched the radio intently and a roll of dust came on by the window and the Joshua Tree disappeared. This was pure envelopment now.
“What do you think the code might be, Mack?”
“Haven’t heard all too much, only sudden words keep in mind.” She had thought it was a ghost when the voice came in one night over one of the openings of her show. Before her assistant showed, she had come to set up the place. When she heard the noises come through.
“Copy…Donovan…” This was where it started. The next came in not thirty-six hours later. With another transmission. “Black...Dust…Olympic...Descent…” Then the week before channeled a chilling message. “Contamination...In...Well…”
“Winter…” She rolled her chair over to the desk and folded her arms, leaning into the teal object.
Her plastic plants rustled a bit and she kept trying to study what it all meant. “This is having me stumped.” She repeated the words she had written down on her yellow pad by the switch.
“Have any ideas?” her assistant weighed in.
“We’re back. This was number thirteen of 1956.”
“Winter…” She clicked off the switch. Her face was pale, the assistant looked at her.
“No. They didn’t catch it. I shut it off immediately didn't I?” The assistant shook her head. Suddenly, she began to cry and the radio fizzled.
“Radio…” it said. The radio host stepped back, her chair falling over.
“I almost lost my mind,” No. 13 hits said to her. The radio host’s mouth had backed against a wall.
“Radio...station...solitaire…” Solitaire Oldies was the name of the place. They found out. What was she to explain? She’d been extradited. Thrown into some confinement.” She turned off the radio and rushed out to the assistant's room. She was in an unresponsive state in her tears. “They...Know…” Suddenly the Buchanan Brothers came on the air and began to play a song for the doomed girls.
“You’d better pray to the Lord when you see those flying saucers, It may be coming of the judgment day.” The assistant cried heavily, but the radio host walked on and opened the glass double door slightly. She saw lights flickering in the darkness. She went back in and picked her notepad up, the assistant had stopped her hysterics and stared at the floor.
“Winter…” the radio said. “Nuclear...Winter…” And the desert went bright.
The Greater Enemy
It was always dark, hot and humid in the jungle. The thick trees, vines and humongous leaves made it that way. The only lights were from the glow illuminating from the treehouse mansions. There were hundreds of treehouse mansions throughout the jungle, one to three stories high. The caves in the jungle stood cool at all times, and that’s where the food was stored. The jungle was built up by Beeyii, but home to many.
Beeyii was a big, black and powerful gorilla with hands the size of baseball mitts. He was 800 pounds of muscle and had a silver patch running down his back. His family was hunted by humans when he was really young. He was forced to provide for himself. The jungle made him humble but aggressive, intelligent but sometimes careless. He discovered how to maximize food and minimize hunting. He also had a vision that allowed him to show his people how to build the advanced shelter they now reside in. Beeyii thought he had everything he needed until he had another vision, one of a gold throne encrusted with black diamonds.
Beeyii called a meeting with his council members to discuss a few things. His mansion was the only three-story mansion in the jungle. He had rooms full of food, weapons and whatever else he needed. The room he was in now had a jungle-wood table with eight seats made of leaves surrounding it.
“Okay brothers, I asked all of you here today for a few things. Baku, how is the new shelter coming along?” Beeyii asked.
“Almost finished, my lord.”
“Good . . . Ôbak, how are our resources?”
“All resources are replenished, my lord.”
“Good . . . Good.” Beeyii looked at his seven council members before he continued. “I had another vision, Suttin came to see me. . . He said we will have food and shelter forever but if we want to grow stronger, I must acquire a gold throne encrusted with one million black diamonds. Do any of you know where we can find one?”
“My lord, the flatlands are incredibly rich with black diamonds, but the trenches are the only region with gold mines. I’m sure King Bingree and King Tsukon will come to agreements,” Baku replied.
The air was impossibly dry in the flatlands. The sun always stood beaming down fiercely. There was barely ever a breeze and most of the animals were dehydrated. The dens were the last place with food and water. The dens were also the only place on the flatlands that produced the black diamond.
The flatlands were run by Bingree. He was a 450-pound fearless lion, a very brave warrior and a great leader. Bingree made sure his army was the deadliest. Their job was to protect the black diamonds but food was getting scarce in the flatlands. Even the greatest hunters can’t eat if there isn’t anything to hunt.
Bingree called a meeting with his council members. His den sat under one of the biggest trees on the plain, with black diamonds engraved in the floor and every piece of furniture. The only other person allowed in the den was Amus, Bingree’s best friend.
“The flatlands are running out of food and we have to protect our people. The trenches have a lot of prey but we will have to ask Tsukon first. If he denies us, we will have to go to war,” Bingree told Amus.
“My lord, what about the jungle and our agreement with Beeyii?”
“Ah yes, Beeyii, we can go to the jungle and make an agreement.”
It was a day journey from the flatlands to the jungle. Beeyii’s people followed Bingree and Amus through the trees as they made their way to the main mansion. Beeyii was waiting at the entrance to welcome them.
“Bingree, to what do I owe this visit? I was just talking about you with my council,” Beeyii said as the three of them entered the room with the jungle-wood table.
“Good, I hope. I come to ask a favor. I was hoping you can help me.”
“Brother, I believe we can help each other.”
“Food in the flatlands is scarce, and there’s nothing to hunt.”
“I can promise you a lifetime of food. . . if you can bring me a gold throne encrusted with one million black diamonds.”
Bingree knew what he had to do. He told Beeyii to give him a week.
From the outside looking in, the trenches were the bottom of the bottom. The sky was always gray and the air always thick, but it was home to Tsukon.
Tsukon was a slim greyhound, but every part of his body was muscle. He had outer and inner strength, and was always ready to fight to the death. Tsukon had been here before. He was familiar with his sixth sense. He and his people fasted every day so food could last. Everyone resided in gold huts. They hunted whatever tried to creep through in the night.
Tsukon’s hut was the closest to the gold mine. He had a pool made of gold, and that’s where he and the only person he trusted lounged all day. Truth is, he loved his people, but he predicted that if they learned a new way of survival, they would be proud of the new way of life.
“It’s time to evolve, Ku. When Bingree arrives to present his conditions, I’m going to make mine as well,” Tsukon told Ku as they feasted on the kill of the night.
“I agree, my lord, we must be prepared for the greater enemy.”
Bingree headed toward the trenches, which was a half a day journey. Amus told him he should go alone. Tsunkon was not an ally yet, and traveling through the trenches in a pack can be mistaken as an invasion.
The air in the trenches was thick and muggy. Vultures began to hover over Bingree as soon as he entered the region. The only thing appealing about the trenches was the gold mines.
Tsukon and Ku were resting in the main hut when Bingree arrived.
“Before you speak your conditions, I’m sorry to tell you the throne will not leave the trenches unless Beeyii comes with you,” Tsukon said.
Bingree said nothing. He turned around and made his way back to the jungle. The distance was two days between the jungle and the trenches.
“Ah! Back sooner than a week,” Beeyii said in excitement.
“I have one million black diamonds and Tsukon agreed to give you the gold throne. . . but you have to come with me to retrieve it,” Bingree replied.
Beeyii grew angry and impatient. He agreed to go with Bingree. He had his mind made up; if Tsukon did not give him the throne, he was going to take it and declare war on the trenches. What he did not know was that Tsukon had a vision that this would happen.
Two days later Bingree and Beeyii arrived in the trenches to meet with Tsukon. As always, Tsukon and Ku were in the main hut.
“I was expecting you two. You are seeking agreements,” Tsukon said as Bingree and Beeyii walked in.
“I need the throne, Tsukon!” Beeyii demanded.
“I see you with the throne, but not with that energy. Take a second and listen to me. There is a greater enemy out there and the only way to defeat them is to stick together. I will agree with your terms if the both of you send some of your people to the trenches. Bingree, I need twenty of your greatest warriors to come and train my people as well as some trade of gold for the black diamonds. In return I will send twenty of my people to teach your people wisdom. Beeyii, I will need twenty of your people to come and show my people the way of advanced shelter and unlimited food resources. While I can predict the future, only you have the blueprint to achieve it. In return for the throne, I will send my people to teach your people wisdom. I suggest you take this time to learn from each other as well.”
“Tsukon, I agree. But who is this greater enemy you speak of?” Beeyii asked.
“Mankind. They will come and try to tame us and make us pets and put us in zoos. They will take over our land and resources,” Tsukon answered.
Beeyii and Bingree took heed to Tsukon’s words and within months, the three regions prospered. Beeyii got his gold throne encrusted with one million black diamonds. He was now building the blueprints for gold-plated treehouse mansions. He built schools in every region so Tsukon’s wisdom could be shared. He built every region a fort so Bingree’s strategies of war could be taught. Members of each region were taught horticulture and engineering hands-on from Beeyii’s people.
Bingree was able to provide the flatlands with unlimited food, and the region is now filled with gold-plated dens encrusted with black diamonds.
Tsukon and Ku were in the main hut as they watched the plan fall into place. The trenches and the three regions are now resourceful places, and the people ready to defend their new way of life.
Mankind is coming, but now all the inhabitants of the jungle are united and ready for the impending invasion.
Sinclair was a sow. Yes, a real fat and juicy one too. He walked on two legs as he wandered the abattoir, checking things down with his apron faded in blood. Quite a nice butchery, many thought as they entered the sliding doors of the welcoming establishment.
Sinclair nodded happily, his snout huffed the air and oinked. He moved around back where he tallied up the numbers, all the hooks and slaughtered waiting to be ground up into the award-winning meat he and his wife made a name for themselves for.
The tallies were all on the clipboard. He made way for the front, the curly tail spinning in excitement. “Height of the season,” his wife said, noticing his excitement.
“Tell me about it! The numbers are great, we're selling out every day!” He squealed with happiness, “The smokehouse especially is doing wonders for our sales.” He smiled at his far lighter pink wife, who stood so plump in her dress. Really ripened at her age, Sinclair thought.
“Oh, you’ll make me blush the way you look at me like that.”
“Aw, darlin’, our business is coming together.” He embraced her as the human approached. “Can I help you?” Sinclair turned his hooves onto the counter, a man in spectacles looked down at his own clipboard.
“Yes, I’m part of the county health inspector’s office?” The sow and his wife looked at each other and back to the inspector.
“What brings you to our part of the world?”
“A routine inspection,” he said. Strange, Sinclair thought, they had only come last week to investigate.
“I’ll allow it. But your people were already down here at some point.”
“Yes,” Sinclair firmly concluded. The inspector checked his papers and flipped through.
“Unfortunately, the last one wasn’t for three or so months ago.” The department was definitely trying to crack down on the butchery! Sinclair’s thoughts raced. He worried that blurting his positive comment attracted unwanted attention from the surrounding world.
A sow’s life is always so short. “Right this way…” he grumbled. His wife watched as she straightened up her wig, while the two entered the back way.
“I’d like to see the stations first?” the little inspector said. Sinclair took him into the kitchen and he scanned around. He nodded, making noises of either approval or vice versa.
“Something not up to standard?” Sinclair asked, hands on his hips.
“Hm? No, no, everything seems to be orderly. Too orderly.” The inspector’s words were haunting to the poor sow as he wrote down silently on his own board.
“Your people from the department have been giving me no end to the harassment. We get one inspection per year,” holding up one of his cloven hands. “And we've got three in the past ninety days! That doesn’t include you either.”
“I’m only following procedure.” The snort was all snobbish to Sinclair, he couldn’t handle the department. They were always suspicious about pigs owning an establishment. What’s wrong with sows working hard? They deliver and the customers are always satisfied!
Sinclair shook his head as the inspector went out to look at the stock. He waited with his wife while the inspector looked around. He continued to check off and that irritated Sinclair to no end. The inspector came back not a few moments later. “Seems it’s all up to code. Now I’ll have to see the slaughterhouse and the storage.”
“Sure.” Sinclair smiled and opened the door for him. He looked back at his wife, “Everything will be fine, I promise.” The door had a long hallway and lights–practically tied by string–lit down the way to plastic flaps dangling.
They blew with phantasmagorical swaying in the pitch freezing room. Sinclair pulled back the flaps and the inspector looked around. Nodding and jotting and grunting, with little reaction. “Pristine condition…Now… this is more off the record question from myself.”
“I know where this is going.”
“Why would a sow want to own a butchery? All of us at the department are so dumbfounded by the move.”
“So a sow can’t work to what he feels like?”
“Oh no, I wasn’t saying that.”
“Come on, don’t give me that, I know exactly what you’re conning. All you humans thinking your apex predator. I have a boar heritage and you know what we used to do to your people!”
“What did they do?” He asked hesitantly.
“We ate them, that’s what!” The inspector backed away. “I’m getting sick and tired of you reality checkers thinking your moves are so powerful. That you're worthy of more money because you do less hard work that does less good.” The inspector backed into a corner.
“Sir,” The inspector started.
“You’re wearing my hospitality to a minimum.”
“Do you serve… pork?”
“You want to know what we serve?” The inspector shook his head in agreement. Sinclair smiled and pulled a chain over to catch a frozen hunk of meat. The meat was a cadaver. Before the inspector could react a split went down his forehead.
Blood poured into an upside-down ‘V’ towards his eyes staring up at his sightless murderer. His arms reached out in a long too late beg that sent him toppling face-first to the concrete floor. Sinclair’s wife came around.
“Are you alright, dear?”
“Fine, hon. He seems a little too bony for my taste.”
“He’ll do good for a stew.”
“Could churn him into a meat base.”
“You know, that’s a good idea. I haven’t done a base in a long time.” She pulled the inspector up who was now in a sightless shock being pulled to a slab. She closed the door and Sinclair smiled, going upstairs to greet a demanding customer.
A few weeks had passed with the base being a near holiday success. Sinclair was doing his most recent tally and reading over the forms when a woman had walked in. She stepped forward in a mess. “Help you, ma’am?” Sinclair asked sympathetically. “Something the matter.”
“I’ve been… I’ve been looking for my husband. He’s a health inspector. Weeks have passed and he hasn't phoned. I'm afraid something awful has happened."
“I’m sorry darlin’, what brings you here?”
“I called the department to see where his run of inspections was and they said it was directly to here.”
“Oh yes! I remember your husband! Came by for our annual, ah let’s see here.” Sinclair took out a pair of glasses and looked closely at an empty piece of paper “Said we checked out.”
“The department had said that multiple inspectors have only come here once and never come back to the office.”
“Well, we do run a respectable business here.”
“They say they never return home to their families!” She cried.
“The department had been after us because we’re a couple of sows trying to make it into this world. Your husband was nothing but kind and happy to have met us, but recently,” He started. “I don’t know about the neighboring restaurant has been getting rumors lately.”
“Rumors! What rumors!” She reproached.
“I’d suggest the authorities have a look into it, but until then. Here, have some of the last of our meat base. Been our specialty. On the house.” She took the can and looked at it.
“There’s not much I can do madam, I'm a business owner.
“No, it’s fine you’ve been all too kind, and I think I’ll make a stew out of this.” She said, clearing her tears.
“Works really well with it.” Sinclair shined his teeth and she left. The wife came out from the kitchen wiping her hooves with a rag.
“Who was that?”
“Some woman looking for her meathead husband.”
“Really? Well, that’s unfortunate. Hope they find him.”
“Oh, she already has.”
“Is that so?”
“He’s in her hand.” Sinclair laughed as he drew in his wife for a long kiss. “I moved our storage into the restaurant over, in case they come back.”
“Your business means everything doesn’t it.” She smiled.
“You mean our business, honey. Our business.”
“How could I be so insensitive!”
“Don’t worry love, you weren’t.” He kissed her again, “Now them pigs at the department I’d say otherwise.”
An Unexpected Guest
The wind howled, straining against the ancient panes, reminding her of her solitude. Her tongue ached from licking all the envelopes, letters detailing her misadventures.
A thunderous boom shook the cottage and the generator failed. Lighting a candle she looked up, He was standing before her, reaching a pallid hand forward. Her focus remained on his voiceless lips even as she shrank back. Another gust and the storm broke through soaking her carefully curated letters. Another blast and lightning struck, setting the hovel ablaze. She laughed maniacally as she reached for his hand, letting it all consume her.
Mother Knows Best
“WHAT THE HIBISCUS IS HAPPENING?!” she rages.
Her face turns red like a blood moon. Eyes piercing the scene in front of her. The men hurry to and fro around her without even a glance at where she is standing near one of the few trees left. Her mind whirls in ferocity to rival a tornado. The men are unaware of the storm brewing. She looks around at the mutilation of the environment. The air is so boggy that the people are wearing gas masks. The water has surged so considerably that the coastal cities are underwater. The earth is cracked in so many places that it looks like a shattered skull. There are no flowers nor plants in sight for they perished in their seeds. The trees are set ablaze by the sun’s burning rays.
“HOW DARE THEY! HOW FOXGLOVING DARE THEY DO THIS TO MY BEAUTIFUL FLOWERS! THE BALANCE IS ALL OUT OF WHACK! THOSE BEGONIAS HAVE POISONED THE AIR! NOW THE EARTH IS SO BALMY AND DESICCATED THAT NO ANIMALS ARE LEFT! YOU NEPETAS HAVE CONCOCTED YOUR OWN DESTRUCTION!” she rants.
Storms start to swirl off the East Coast. Volcanoes begin to flare up in Hawaii. The earth convulses in berserk waves. Flames sweep across the dry land of the West. As her wrath builds up into a fiery rage, a massive wave of destructive energy washes over the whole of the world. She collapses onto her bed. She grumbles, “They will self-destruct themselves if they keep this up. Whatever. Let them self-destruct.”
Mama, This Is So Hard.
Trudging through endless forests, I rub my freezing nose. Why'd we have to come so far for a simple drill? I don't think anyone knew where we were, our commanders said nothing of it, but I think that was the point of the drill. Just follow orders.
A shot. I jumped out of my skin as a bullet teased my flesh. We dissipated behind trees and tanks. Bang, pow, boom! I think the other man with me called me a coward, or maybe he was making that sharp ringing noise? He advanced, I followed him. Whatever we were fighting, they were gone by the time we took their trenches.
I turned the corner and ran into the enemy. We were both too shocked to do anything, just stared at each other. This wasn't a drill anymore. A bang and a sharp pain. I was on the ground, watching him run away as my brothers stepped over me.
I died for a cause I would never know.
Neatly Out of Sight
At twenty-two, she realizes she still hides her tampon up her sleeve when she walks to the bathroom at work, the way she always did in high school after the first time some teenaged-troglodyte, drunk on testosterone, taunted she’s just PMSing—a chorus of lackluster punchlines where her biology was always just so laughable, a sense of shame that didn’t belong to her, don’t be seen nor heard, be quiet, be small—to bleed is to be unclean just as to be woman is to be crazy—as she walks down the hall she tells herself the red-headed boy behind the desk won’t notice the little bulge nestled against her wrist, of course he won’t, probably won’t, don’t draw attention to it—she shrinks smaller than her frame allows and a different sort of shame creeps through: she calls herself, "feminist," and then still chooses to tuck her womanhood neatly out of sight so as not to make anyone uncomfortable—she wonders why her anatomy makes her uncomfortable—she wonders why her anatomy makes other people uncomfortable—
but she doesn't remove the tampon from her sleeve.
Choices for Change
Why do people get in trouble and end up in prison? It doesn’t just happen. The answer is different for each person. The life we live is a mess. The choices we make aren’t working out well. There are many reasons why this happens and there are many emotional reasons for personal discomfort or pain. Maybe you look to start a fight. Sometimes you cut yourself when you are feeling bad. Maybe you eat a lot when you feel down, or don’t eat enough. Maybe you feel the urge to do something crazy and dangerous. When someone is having a problem like these in life, they often do things that hurt themselves or others. In certain cases, they end up getting arrested. On some level, they know things aren’t “right.” This sense of “out of control” may actually be how they feel much of the time.
Have you ever felt this way?
When we feel this way, we may also feel helpless to make change. It’s hard to make changes or think about making changes if you don’t know what to do to get your life under control.
Think for a moment about your life. If someone offered you help making change would you take the help? How important is it for you to make some changes? How confident are you that you could make changes if you wanted to for change?
The loved ones in your life want this to be your last time in the prison. If you want to avoid having this sort of experience, there is hope!
We all make choices about our lives and futures. One choice is to stay the same as you are now. This means you are pretty much satisfied with yourself and the way your life is working out. When you finally get out of prison, you’ll be pretty much the same. It’s your choice. But your chances of getting caught and ending up locked up again are pretty good. After all, if you go back to the same choices, the result will be the same.
Another choice is to make some changes. A lot of people want to see this happen. This means doing positive things, rather than things that break the law and hurt people. Friends and family want you to live a good life that you can be proud of living.
The thing about change is that it is incredibly hard to do on your own. Most people want to change some things about their lives. Yet doing the same thing again usually leads to the same results. There are plenty of resources to make positive changes: counselors, tutors, peer leaders, family, or even teachers. You can learn new ways to handle your problems. That is what treatment programs do! You’ll get the tools needed to change, and you will actually like the “new” you. If you give these programs and yourself a fair chance, you can start a whole new life. A good life- treatment really works!! Ultimately, you should not have to worry about these kinds of programs again.
Prison is always a place to make changes. Never be afraid to ask for help. There may be someone who has gone through what you are going through. It’s not how you come into prison, but how you leave that defines you!
Change starts with YOU!
Dispatches from the Archive: Part 1, the Flying Spider
The archive is a wondrous place. Within its walls and within its voluminous boxes and folders, one finds the lives of people long gone intertwined as they were with their biases specific to their particular time, place, and culture. Historians who enter an archive typically follow trails of clues from one record to the next, hoping to reconstruct the myriad complexities of human existence and to answer some question or series of questions. Sometimes those clues give us a better understanding about who people were: their fears, hopes, desires, problems, political persuasions, and achievements. Those clues might answer how and why an event happened the way that it did. Sometimes trails run cold, and we as researchers are kept in a state of unknowing. Other times, we are surprised and find something completely unexpected. This is the beauty and excitement of the archive.
It was a muggy and warm afternoon in College Park, Maryland in the summer of 2018. I was midway through a week-long research trip for my Ph.D. dissertation about the experiences of wounded and sick veterans of World War I. College Park was the obvious choice for my research. The US National Archive holds the nation’s most important documents, and is divided among a number of regional buildings throughout the United States. The two main research locations are in Washington, D.C. and College Park, with a shuttle that connects the two. I always envied the students at the University of Maryland, who are but a stone’s throw away from more information than they could utilize in ten lifetimes – the campus is just down the road from the College Park location.
College Park, Maryland is by no means the only place to research World War I. The archive in Washington, D.C., for example, has the records of the United States Veterans’ Bureau, the precursor to the Veterans’ Administration. The records span from its inception in 1921 until the present, but the collection is divided up into hundreds of boxes, hundreds of thousands – if not millions – of paper records. No amount of preparation could prepare a researcher to pinpoint a relevant box within the labyrinth of file numbers. One section of the Veterans’ Bureau records, for example, might be as vague as “minutes from conferences, 1921-1922” and contain 60 boxes with no identifiers telling you any more information about what might exist within. So in some cases it could be a crap shoot. On top of that, one cannot simply request boxes without the express help and approval of one of very few research associates on staff. The result could be a precious research day with nothing to show for it.
The National Archive at College Park is different. It is relatively updated and bright. It is easy to get to in an accessible location, and not nestled in the middle of a national capitol. My first time researching there was in the summer of 2017. My research on blinded World War I veterans had begun shortly after I visited the Maryland Historical Society and viewed the former hospital where the US Army treated those veterans, which was called General Hospital No. 7 – the location is now the Humanities Building at Loyola University. After a cursory inquiry, a researcher at College Park wrote me a letter stating that there were at least a dozen boxes relevant to my research. Such boxes included institutional records such as patient numbers and lists of names of the people who worked there; disciplinary records related to soldiers and patients who got in trouble for drinking alcohol, fighting at a local bar, gambling in their ward, or staying out past curfew, as well as letters to officials in charge of the hospital from family members or other civilians. These records formed the beginning of my dissertation.
When I went back to the National Archive that second time in 2018, I had broadened my research slightly beyond blind veterans to look at other sensory wounds in a transnational perspective. They tell you in graduate school that your research needs to be specific, yet should also contribute something original and important to what we know about a much broader topic. There were very few blind veterans in World War I compared to other wounds such as amputees or psychologically traumatized soldiers, so I had the specific part down. I returned to the archive to research and make connections between blind veterans’ experiences and the experiences of the broader patient population of wounded veterans. Were blind veterans unique in their experiences after the war? If so, how? Why did they have their own hospitals? How did they fit within the broader culture of healing after World War I in Europe and the United States?
The funny thing about the archive is that it sometimes raises more questions than answers. Sometimes those questions have nothing to do with what you were interested in to begin with. This happened to me when I was viewing the records of the US Army Surgeon General. The Surgeon General’s Office – much like its counterparts in Europe – had to treat any number of wounds or illnesses during the war. Some were common illnesses or medical conditions such as arthritis, while others may seem alien to us in the 21st century such as typhoid, leprosy, or bubonic plague (?!). I couldn’t help but fear upon opening the folder titled “bubonic plague” that I was about to unknowingly unleash mass death in the greater Washington, D.C. area because somehow by opening the folder the bacteria would reign free from confinement. That didn’t happen, of course. But I was still in for a scare when, upon opening another folder that originated at a hospital in Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia, a potentially 100-year-old dried, flattened spider jumped out at me. It did not really jump out at me, but flew out from the rush of wind after I opened the folder, as if it was a leaf blowing in the rush of a fall breeze. I tried to play it cool in the silent research room, where close to a hundred people were too busy with their headphones on to react to my odd and out-of-place actions. The other researchers, rightfully so, were too ensconced in a different time and place by way of their documents, letters, and photographs to really bother with my 100-year-old flying spider.
After I got over the initial shock, I could not help but wonder the origins of that spider. Was it placed there intentionally, because of someone’s twisted desire to someday scare a future researcher such as myself? Did it crawl in between the pages as the hospital was about to close its doors for good? Had it crawled into the hospital administrative office from the outside on a hot summer Georgia day? What was going on in the world on the day that spider died? My mind created more questions than the spider was able to answer. Surely that spider would not have had any conception of the political differences that drove the world to war in 1914, and that also led so many men and women into hospitals like the one in which the spider had crawled around in a hundred years ago. Though, who knows if it was even that old? Maybe it simply crawled into that box and died a week before I got there…
Reaching for the Clouds
“When once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return.” - Leonardo DaVinci
When I was a young child, between the ages of four and five, my Grandpa would take me to the local airfield to go plane-spotting. He would park his old Rover 400 sedan on the west side of the airfield, next to the main runway, and we would watch the planes land and take-off from behind the safety fence. We would get so close to the runway that I felt as if I could reach out and touch the small single propeller engine aircraft as they glided down and kissed the tarmac. Occasionally, a larger, jet powered aircraft would line up for take-off. I could feel the immense
heat from the engines almost singed my nose hairs as it barreled down the runway. I never would have thought that our afternoon past-time would develop into a passion for aviation that would lead to me obtaining my pilot license almost sixteen years later.
Throughout my early teenage years and into adulthood, I invested a lot of time into
learning how to fly planes in flight simulators such as Microsoft Flight Simulator and X-Plane 11. Both of these programs taught how to fly large aircraft from the comfort of my own desk. I would spend weekend afternoons scouring through Airbus and Boeing start-up checklists, learning the function of each cockpit button and switch. Eventually I could complete full flights across the United States, exactly how real airline pilots would fly. Although the simulators were incredibly realistic and fun, I still dreamed of one day being able to fly a real plane. A close friend of mine, who had already obtained his pilot license, encouraged me that all I needed to do to become a pilot was to “just go and do it.” I took his advice and called a local flight school, who scheduled me for the following week for an introductory flight. I couldn’t contain my excitement. For the first time in my life, I was about to fly a real plane, something I had dreamed of since childhood.
The flight school was a small office in the back corner of a tiny airport terminal in Groton, Connecticut. The terminal had long since been vacated and all that was left was an Avis rental car desk and the flight school I was attending. I sat in the small, quiet waiting room, anxiously awaiting my instructor to enter. A few minutes after arriving, my instructor walked around the corner and introduced himself to me.
“Hey Brad, my name is Blake, are you ready to go fly?” he excitedly asked.
I was initially nervous but his excitement and energy caused me to jump out of my seat and say “Hell yeah! Let's do this!”
He led me onto the apron where our plane was parked. The plane in question was a Piper Cherokee 140, a small, single engine propeller aircraft, just like the ones I used to reach out and try to touch as a child. My instructor walked us around the plane, and showed me how to conduct the preflight inspection for this particular aircraft. Once we were done, I climbed up onto the right wing, opened the cockpit door, and slid my body into the plane. I had initially sat in the right-hand seat which is designated for the co-pilot. My instructor looked at me and laughed, and then proceeded to point at the pilot seat on the left. “You’re in my seat, slide on over” he said. I was surprised. I had never even flown a real plane before and he was telling me that I was sitting in the pilot seat.
Once we were both buckled into our seats, we completed the steps on the starting checklist. I remember feeling great satisfaction as I flicked the switches to the correct positions for start-up. I turned the magneto switch to the “both” position and held it in place, and the plane swiftly sputtered to life. My instructor obtained taxi clearance from the Tower Controller and off we went. The taxi distance to the active runway was short, only a few minutes in total but it felt like an eternity. I was excited, nervous, and confident all at the same time as lined the plane up on the hold-short line and applied the brakes.
The plane was now lined up and ready to go. Blake handed me a piece of paper with a sentence written hastily on it. He told me to hold down the red button on the yoke and say what he had written clearly, and concisely. “Groton Tower, Cherokee 55302, holding short of runway two-three. Ready for take-off.” I felt a bead of sweat roll down my forehead as I awaited a response from the tower.
“Cherokee 55302, clear for take off runway 23, winds calm.”
I looked over at Blake, and he asked me if I was ready.
I nodded yes.
I grabbed the throttle with my right hand, gripped the yoke with my left hand and maneuvered the plane onto the centerline of the runway. I looked ahead and saw a three mile stretch of black tarmac in front of me followed by the calm, blue waters of the Long Island Sound. I slowly pushed the throttle forward, then all the way down and the plane began to shake and move forward. At first it felt as if we were barely moving but I quickly saw the speed increase. I could feel the power and strength of the engine pulling me down the runway. Once the plane reached sixty knots, I slowly pulled back on the yoke and the plane separated from the ground. I looked out the window to see the green grass on the sides of the runway getting further and further away from me as we began to climb.
Before I knew it, I was flying over open water, leaving the airfield behind me. Blake looked over at me and smiled. “Well, that was your first ever take off. How do you feel?”
I looked back over at him, yelling over the sound of the engine, “Like I’ve just tasted the most powerful drug known to man!”
I flew the plane around in the airport traffic pattern for a short while until Blake told me it was time to come down. As it was my first time, he took control of the aircraft and got the plane where it needed to be for landing. He maneuvered the plane downwind, onto base, and then onto final for landing. I grabbed the yoke with one hand and the throttle with the other and followed his lead as we began to slowly drift down to the runway. I took one last glance out of the left window and briefly saw a man and a child behind the fence of the airport. I smiled to myself, because I realized I had once been that child pointing up at the planes in amazement. Seconds
after, I flared the nose of the plane and felt the back wheels squeal as they touched down onto the runway. I pushed the yoke forward slowly as the front wheels also touched the ground. Blake taxied us back onto the ramp as I went through the post-flight checklist making sure the plane was reset back to its original settings. After we had parked and the propeller stopped spinning we exited the plane. I stood on the right wing and looked up into the sky where I had just been, instantly longing to go back there. At that moment I connected with the words of Leonardo
DaVinci and forever walked with my eyes pointed toward the sky.
In the following weeks and months, I took regular lessons with Blake. I learned more and more about the science of flight and the intricacies of aviation which made my passion for flying that much stronger. Every time I sat down in the cockpit I still felt the same sense of excitement as I did when I was a child gripping the airfield fence. Every time I went flying I longed for the next time I could be up in the sky again. Within a month of my first flight with
Blake, I received my endorsement to fly solo for the first time. Each time I flew I became more and more comfortable with the plane, and once I learned to trust the plane's instruments and my own judgments, I was unstoppable. In order to receive my Private Pilot License (PPL), I had to fly a minimum of forty hours and most of those hours were solo flights. On clear sunny afternoons I would get out of work and drive to the airfield so I could fly. There is nothing more therapeutic than being alone with your thoughts cruising thirty-five hundred feet in the air. Once I had enough flight hours logged, I was able to take my written test, and in January 2021 I passed my flight evaluation with the Federal Aviation Administration.
Have You Seen My Slippers?
“Harry, have you seen my slippers?”
“Damn it, Harry, have you seen my slippers?” I yell louder.
“I’ve looked by the dresser, and in the bathroom and under the bed and they aren’t in here.”
“What do you need slippers for Janet? You’re dead, remember?”
I blink. Once, twice, three times. Dark wooden bed posts turn to plastic rails. Plaid sheets turn to thin white cotton. The beeping slows and then stops. I remember this scene. The funeral scene comes next. I was hoping I would find the damn slippers this time. Maybe I could have changed the script.
Scarlett and Violet
Scarlett and Violet,
You put a whole new meaning to this thing called life. Now I know what I have to do, that I need to keep growing into a better person and mom for you. I owe you both everything and I plan to give that to you. My favorite thing is hearing you both laugh, seeing you both smile. People say they are ‘living their best life’, I can truly say that I am living my best life right now. Watching you both grow (too fast), teaching you and also learning from you, is the best feeling. It's up to me to get to the point I want to be at in life, mentally, financially, and physically. Both of you girls made me realize where I want to be. That is healthy, happy, in a good career, and making good money to be able to provide for you both. I will do my best to raise you, be there for you, and to listen to you. Every single day, I will strive to be the best and do the best for you both. I love you both so much.
The Big One
The sun reflects on the water, shining into my eyes. I feel the gritty sand beneath my feet, the surfboard smooth in my hand. The cool spray of the ocean gets into my mouth with a bite of salt. Waves crash on the shore, sounding like thunder. Gulls caw in the distance. The water is the same color as the sky, a vibrant blue. I briefly catch a whiff of dead fish. The waves are huge. I’ve never surfed anything this big before, but I swallow my nerves and go in. The water pushes me around like a childhood bully, but I’m in control as I ride the wave. A rainbow of fish stare blankly at me as I go up and down on the wave. Dolphins splash nearby. A rush of adrenaline courses through me. This is why I came out here. The excitement and the feeling of tempting fate. When I’m finished, I step back on the beach. Sand sticks to me like glue. The sun is warm, drying me off. I sit on the beach, watching the waves crash once more.
When I woke, I saw it. Its beady red eyes, its snarled teeth. It was starving and I was its next meal. As it charged for me, I huddled into the fetal position. A green light flashed, the monster was gone. I glanced at my right. There was a man, about thirty, his hair graying at the top.
“Where am I?” I asked.
“You’re in Area 161. You will be escorted to the safe room immediately.”
“What is th—”
“No further questions. Dismissed.”
Before I could finish, I was shoved by a woman. I could not see much of her. All I saw was her straight, perfect white hair.
There were about thirty of us, all crammed into a sweaty locker room. The walls were pinstriped green, the same green as those holograms. I looked around. Everyone had white hair. Not a natural white, it was almost sub-human.
The woman came back and locked the doors.
“My name is Jada. It is my duty to make sure all of you assets follow the rules of this
All of us were divided into groups of three and led to a room.
A boy around my age was shivering in the corner. I knew it was rude to stare, but I could not keep my eyes off him. Those warm and frightened eyes. I grabbed a blanket off one of the bunk beds.
“What’s your name?” I asked.
“H-how long are we going to be here?”
“I don't know, but I’ll make sure I find out.”
I raised the curtains of our block cell, trying to see anything of the outside world.
Nothing. I sat on the floor next to him, he looked up.
“I'm going to get us out of here,” I said.
“Yeah, how?” a girl said. She was built with strong arms and legs, looked like she could beat anyone up in this prison if she wanted to. I would have to stay on her good side.
We sat around for a while, not speaking. Xander looked as though he was about to puke.
It seemed like hours passed before Jada walked by.
“You are needed in the dining hall.”
“Can’t we wait a while? He’s not doing too well,” I pleaded.
“I was ordered to escort you to the dining hall.”
That made me wonder, who does give the orders around here? I started walking. We were taken to a concrete room with folding tables and chairs. It smelled rank. I got in line and grabbed my food. It looked like a block of tofu, it tasted just like it too.
I was about to sit down when I saw that girl from the cell. She was sitting by herself, staring at her sad excuse for a meal. I pushed her tray aside and started eating.
“What do you want?”
“Do you have a name?” I asked.
“Wouldn’t you like to know.”
“Ashley,” she mustered, gulping down some tofu.
"Do you remember how we got to this place?"
Before she could answer, we were sent back to our cells. I searched around, not much to see, a triple bunk bed and a bathroom in the corner, covered by a curtain. It was just an ordinary cell.
“You should probably just give up.” Ashley looked at me with her arms crossed.
“Nobody remembers how we got here. It’s a lost cause.”
I looked down, she had a large “x” shaped scar on her arm. I thought maybe she cut herself by accident. But I’m not getting close enough to find out.
As soon as Xander went to bed, I checked his arm. The same scar overwhelmed it.
It was night when they took him. “Don’t take me, please don’t—" Ashley looked down at the floor, her eyes filled with tears. This was the first time I had seen her cry. I climbed down to her bed.
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
“Nothing. Go back to bed.”
I stared at her, her voice started to break.
“Where did they take him?”
“To the Testing room.”
I leapt from my seat. “We have to go,” I said. “We can save him!“
“We can't, don’t you get it? We’re in a prison with crappy food and nowhere to go!”
“We have to try. We can't just wait here until something awful happens to anymore of us.”
I tried picking the lock, my palms were sticky with sweat. It opened. It was easy, almost too easy. We ran down the spiral staircase. When we got there, I heard him scream, I almost could not bear to watch. He was pinned down. Jada was injecting him with some kind of fluid.
I tried to sneak in closer when someone stopped me. He grabbed me by the arm. Ashley watched as Jada injected me with a different syringe.
I got up and reached for a door, it was locked. I got up and looked around. It was a holding cell. No windows, one door, not even a bathroom. I rushed over to Xander. I felt his heart beating. He was still alive. I tore off his jacket and held him up.
“Where am I?” he asked.
“I’m not sure, just hang in there.”
I noticed a sink in the corner. I ran my hands under the water and put it up to his lips.
“Drink,” I said.
He drank until it was gone. I started to feel dizzy.
As soon as I was about to drift off, I felt a warm hand touch my shoulder. I looked up, it was Ashley.
“I’m going to get you out of here,” she whispered.
Before I could say anything, she carried me up the flight of stairs and we hid in the locker room. Ashley peeked around the corner.
“What are they doing in there?” I asked.
“Don’t know, but we should be able to sneak out in a few—”
Her face froze as I saw a hand reach for her.
“Get off me!”
She kicked and screamed. I tried to pull her back, but I was too weak. She was gone.
I hid against the wall.
“I hope I’m not bothering you, Jada, but we have an important matter on our hands,” the voice said. We had thirty humans in this facility and now we are down to less than a dozen.”
My heart dropped. Is this what they have been doing? Using us as test subjects for some cruel experiment?
Jada was right near me. She searched around the room until the voice beckoned her.
“This will be all for now. Good work, Miss Jada.”
The door closed behind them. I was all alone. All alone in this dark and dreary room full of questions and very few answers. I opened the peephole of the door. It was a huge hulking mass of a creature. It sniffed around, pounced, and… I looked away.
I could not sleep. I kept thinking about Xander and how that cruel doctor used him for nothing more than a meal. What if I had helped sooner? That thought made a home in my brain.
Would Xander have still been alive? I wondered.
When I awoke, I was leaning on the door frame. My neck ached from the rigid position.
There was a knock on the door. It was Jada.
“The doctor would like to see you now,” she said.
How could she be this calm after such a tragedy? I guess she must be numb to the whole experience. How many people had to be killed before they got their answers? What were those answers? I got up and made my way to the doctor’s control panel. It was filled with all sorts of
raised buttons, arranged in a rainbow pattern.
“I’m sure you’re aware of what happened last night,” he said.
Like I was not sure, like I did not see an innocent boy be ripped from the world in tiny pieces.
“Oh, where are my manners, I’m Dr. Peters," he chuckled.
But I was not laughing. He stuck out his bony hand. I did not move my eyes off of it.
“Not one for greetings, are we? Very well then, Jada will escort you back to your cell.”
“Keep this one under wraps,” I heard him whisper.
The cell was quiet that night. I couldn’t help but think about the doctor’s motives. Why would he want to use all these people? What would he do after all of us died? I heard a knock on the cell door. It was Jada and Ashley. I could not see much of Jada as she was covered in silhouette. Ashley hobbled over to her bedside. We did not say anything, just exchanged quick glances.
In the middle of the night, I heard her tossing and turning. I got up, climbed down the ladder and went into our makeshift bathroom. I drew water from the tap and filtered it with a piece of cloth. The water was old and grimy, but still drinkable. I handed it over to her.
“What happened last night?” I pestered.
"Those damn holograms! If it weren’t for Xander getting in the way of that thing, I would've been a goner.”
She seemed agitated. I looked down at her leg. It was bloody and bruised.
I grabbed a blanket off the top bunk, seeing it reminded me of Xander. I did not have the time to grieve, I had to stay focused. I assessed the wound. She was hesitant, but eventually relented. I wrapped the flimsy tourniquet around her leg. It was not pretty, but it would have to do.
“Why did you do that?” she asked.
“Because I had to,” I responded.
I laid her down on the bare mattress. I hung my legs over her bedside. “How do you do it, Eva? How do you constantly search for answers even though you never like the outcome?” I took a pause before I answered.
“Because… Because not knowing is just as bad as never finding out.”
She took a sharp inhale. Her hands were on her leg. I could see the pain it was causing her.
“I guess I like how I never fall short of anything to discover.”
She smiled. “Come on, I want to show you something.”
We came to a staircase. One I hadn't seen before.
“I heard someone up there last night.”
“What did you hear, exactly?”
“Don't know, it was like a beeping sound.” I got to the first landing.
I continued. When I got to the top, I pressed my ear to the door. I heard the Dr.'s muffled voice. Suddenly, he came out from behind it. I stood still, breathing heavily.
“What's she doing down here?” he yelled as he slicked back his partially gray hair.
“Jada, would you please escort this young woman back to her cell?”
Jada nodded her head. As she walked down the stairs, I noticed a small green box on the back of her neck. It looked like it was inside of her.
I slipped through the door. It was dark except for one florescent light in the center of the room. I sat down in the chair. There were pictures of a young man and woman planted on a wooden desk. I felt around. Nothing looked promising. Until I flicked on a switch. A small door rotated and opened up a small compartment. It was some sort of device. It had an antenna sticking out like an old television and had the same array of rainbow buttons as the Dr.’s control panel.
Jada. I ducked behind the desk. She was rooting around for something, Something important. It was not until she grabbed for the switch when I realized she was looking for the controller. I clicked one of the buttons. Her eyes flashed. She fainted into my arms.
“Jada,” I said. “You’re okay.”
She squinted at me.
“What did that button do?”
“I-I don't know. I just remember him implanting me with something… A chip.”
That is what I must have turned off. All those buttons on the remote. All of it was to control her.
“Do you remember anything else?”
I sat her on the desk. She rubbed her temples.
I held out my hand. A little smile dashed across her face. She took it.
After our talk, I snuck back to my cell. It was quieter than usual. Jada came down after grabbing her keys. Ashley was laying on the bed. I could tell she was alive but her breathing was erratic. Jada had snatched two tea bags from her office. I filled the cups and sat down. The steaming hot liquid was too intoxicating to ignore.
“Why did the doctor microchip you?”
“I'm not really sure. I was in this facility a long time ago. I was the only survivor… All those kids, they didn’t deserve the fate they faced.”
Her eyes grew heavy. It was obvious that she was a warm and comforting person, at least without the microchip.
She continued, “I remember going up to the top level of the facility. We climbed a bunch of stairs. The Dr. said, ‘This one is of use.’ Then he must've microchipped me. I don't remember anything after that.” She started to cry.
“I'm sorry I'm not much help.” She grabbed her white cardigan. “I have to go,” she said.
“Tell me when you remember anything else,” I told her with a smile.
Ashley started talking in her sleep. I heard her murmuring the name Margaret. It must have been her mother's name. I sat with her for a while. She seemed peaceful.
In the morning, I saw her laying on the bottom bunk. Her skin was cold, her body stiff. She had suffered long enough with her injuries. But that did not help me from crying. I dropped my bag on the floor and headed for the bathroom.
I splashed cold water on my face, trying to regain my sanity. Was I going mad in this place? All I knew was I could not stay here for much longer.
I opened up the cell door and headed for the stairs. The office was empty. The controller was still in my pocket, so I switched it on. The buttons glowed an array of glossy colors. I whizzed past the elevator, skidding to a stop. Jada's mouth was tied with a piece of duct tape, her microchip turned off. They ascended. I ran up another flight of stairs. When I made it to the top, I saw the Dr. holding a syringe.
I hesitated. Should I really be doing this? My brain said no but my heart said yes. I pushed my way through the glass doors and saw her eyes flashing colors. I sprinted over to her side but I was too late. Her body went limp.
“Why the hell did you do that!” I stared him down.
“Eva, always asking questions..."
I lunged for him. He was more agile than I thought. He made his way up to the top of the mechanical tower, clutching Jada's cold hands while he ascended.
Why would he do this? Does he not know how many people he has hurt? Families he has destroyed? I sprung up and raced to the tower and clung to the platform. When we finally made it up to the top he came up to my face, and stroked my cheek.
“Eva, You should be happy I picked you. Not just anyone would have been able to hold up as you did.”
“Shut up! You don't know how I feel!”
“You’re scared. But I can help. I can give you all of what I've worked for and even more.”
We passed the elevator shaft. He took me to the edge of the facility.
“This is what I've worked for. What you will eventually inherit.” I could not believe it. We were in the middle of nowhere.
“This facility… It was just so you could answer all your questions, wasn't it?” I glanced softly at him.
“You see, Eva, I have no sons or daughters. This is my way of bringing peace to my insatiable mind. Always asking questions, never knowing the answers. With this, I can live to share my work forever and never have to stop searching.”
I grasped his hand. It felt warm.
“But there is a way.” I said.
“Not every question needs an answer…but that doesn’t mean you should stop searching.” He backed away. “I have to go now,” he said, slipping a note into my hand. He stepped into the elevator, the doors closed and he descended. I uncurled the note. It read: “Never stop searching.” I grasped it tightly between my palms. A flash of green light erupted in the distance. I stepped into the elevator. I would have to come back for him one day.
The Dancer’s Two Deaths
Inspired by the painting “Waiting” by Edgar Degas
Eleina, A ballerina, is sitting on a bench at a small train station. It’s raining and a woman dressed in all black, Dabria, shakes the water off her umbrella and sits down next to her.
Good day. (somber)
(panicking) Hello? What time is it? I don’t remember coming here.
Relax, darling. Just give it a few minutes and you’ll remember. Go on, stand up. Pirouette, you know what to do.
(Pirouettes and realizes) I shattered my ankle. And they said there was no cure. They said I would never dance again.
I felt dead. I actually felt like I had died. (a beat) So what is this? A dream? Why can I dance?
Just enjoy the moment. What does it matter if it is real or fake?
(dances) So why do I still feel dead?
(sighs) Why did you come to the train station?
I have no idea. I can’t remember. I don’t even know what train I’m supposed to board.
You didn’t come here to travel.
What else is there to do in a train station?
My darling, you took one last Grande Jeté onto the tracks.
So I’m dead. Like I wanted.
(smiles) And now I can dance.
It’s a shame.
(continues to dance) How is this a shame? It’s a miracle!
But you were young. And you were determined.
None of that matters if I could barely walk.
(now angry, she stands) You don’t get it. Sit! (Eleina sits at once and Dabria points her umbrella at her) You chose the path of a train instead of the path of falling in love, discovering your passion for baking, other performances that you could have been a part of.
What are you talking about?
Your future! Don’t you see? You abandoned it. Everything you could have had is gone.
Everything I had was taken from me. I didn’t abandon it.
No that’s not true. Ballet was taken from you. Your future was not. Not until you stole it from yourself. And besides, no matter how healthy, you couldn’t dance forever. You know that.
Yeah. I guess so.
I am death. And I saw the future you could have had. Love, happiness, passion. And if you had used your determination, you could have recovered. With future treatments, you could have danced again. But you acted with haste.
Okay, so can’t I just undo it?
No. You cannot undo death.
What do you mean? There has to be a way!
(sits down next to Eleina, putting her arm on her back) There is no way.
But I made a mistake. Why can’t I take it back?
Because the choice you made was final.
Like a Mother
School lunches were not the only thing that my mother had difficulties with. The fact is that she struggled a lot most of her life. Some of which I was a part of, but most were a lifetime I knew little about until I was older. As you are growing up, it is hard to grasp the fact that your mother was an actual human being with a whole life before you came along. You see her as this being in your family that teaches you and loves you. She takes care of you. As you get older and, as most teenagers do, you know everything so you start to notice all of her flaws. You won’t see all that she has done, all that she has sacrificed, or even the woman she became until you mature and have children of your own. You see things in a very different light.
When my mother, Sarah, was young, she and her two sisters lived in this little house with their mother and for some time, her younger sister's father. That was not long-lived, but shows the fact that they saw a somewhat revolving door of men in their childhood. Other than that, she had an average, normal childhood in the ‘60s-‘70s. She wore her brown hair long with a braid on each side tied together in the back to keep it out of her face. She loved her bell-bottoms and flowers on everything. As a high schooler, Sarah was captain of the cheerleading squad and a huge fan of Pink Floyd and the Beatles. She was living the life until she started hanging with the wrong crowd. We all know what that's like. We have all been there. In those moments where you are trying to find yourself and you think your life is missing something, you branch out and try new things. This did not turn out well for my mother.
Sarah met John and her whole world changed. He was a handsome man with dark hair and inviting eyes. They were fast in love and life. They married after dating for a short amount of time. Everyone thought they were crazy but no one can stop a fool's heart, right? They were the typical American couple in love. They were determined to prove everyone wrong. John was in the Navy but they immediately wanted to start a family. Within two years, they had my sister and me. I remember traveling around a lot, but sadly, not a lot of details as I was so young. I later learned that John was physically abusive and would hurt my mother secretly while my sister and I were in the other room. He would go out to sea and leave us with little to no money for food, bills, or clothing. My mother worked many jobs just to keep us fed. John would come home on leave just long enough to leave his mark on her and then drift away again like the nightmare we forgot we had.
Eventually, there was relief. There was this quiet. I remember the quiet. I remember feeling a void but my mother was more content. She would take time in the morning getting herself ready for work. She was more put together. More determined in a way I had not seen her and was honestly too young at the time to even notice. Sarah had finally left John. She took us kids. She saved us from being his next punching bag. Only now do I fully understand the strength and courage that took.
As we got older, we saw more men come in and out of our home. One even gave us a little brother. He was the furthest thing from an understanding role model. When Sarah met Wayne, she changed in ways she didn’t realize at the time that she would spend a lifetime trying to recover from. Wayne had ways to make Sarah feel no pain. He taught her the proper way to crush those pills and watch them liquify on that rusty silver spoon into the most glorious pain reliever that any man, or depressed, lonely, and mentally unstable woman could ever imagine. He taught her how to hide the injection sites so people wouldn’t see. This was so her employers or her children would not ask questions. They would get high together and leave for days. My sister became our caregiver at ten. She would feed my brother and I. We were made to do our homework and clean the house. In our eyes, mom was sick. She needed our help. She needed us to take care of her and ourselves. But that was not our job. It wasn’t until she was arrested for what the police said was the last straw that she was forced to make a difficult decision. She was remanded to rehab and either needed to find us a new home or we would be put into the system and separated in foster care. At the time, we were grateful that my aunt and uncle took all three of us in. They moved us into their big farmhouse, forced to give off the illusion that we were now a family.
In the four years we lived on the farm, I can only imagine what my mother was going through. I was old enough by then to know that she was a drug addict and was in rehab trying to get sober so she could come rescue us from the hell she had zero idea she had put us through. I prayed every single day that today would be the day that she showed up. I waited and waited. I remember missing her and wondering what she would be like when she returned. Would she be different? Would she still be my mom? Would she like the same things as before? These questions plus a thousand more shoved my anxiety into overdrive but I was not going to stop wishing that my mom was coming home. Soon, all my prayers had been answered. It was time for her to come take us home. Obviously this was not as easy as it is said but she did get there. Still to this day I remember how warm her arms felt around me as she pulled me in close. She smelled like lavender soap and cigarettes and I couldn’t breathe her in enough. It was time to go home.
Sarah faced a new challenge as a sober mother. We were now teenagers and strangers really. She didn't know us and we really did not know her anymore, so it was a pretty long process of recreating love and trust in each other. We had to devote a lot of heart space getting to know each other all over again. I was happy every moment I was with her. My sister was very angry and my brother was too little to know how to feel. As I look back now, I can see how sometimes just to get herself out of bed was a challenge and here we are going to school criticizing her lack of skills in making us the perfect lunch. She did the best she could every day and we all grew up to be healthy parents with struggles of our own. At least we can count on the strength of our mother who gave us all she had, all the time.
Sentenced to English 101 in 2022
Being a college English instructor means that some semesters are predictable, while others take me places I could not have anticipated. After all, English 101 is English 101, right?
Spring semester 2022 began with a COVID delay, as positive cases surged throughout the community. In-person classes were replaced with weekly newsletters and handouts to facilitate the earliest directives; three weeks went by before we could meet as a class.
Almost a month into the semester, we were able to get into a groove with homework paragraphs to practice paragraphing, metacognition exercises, homework expectations, and essay development. Students became more comfortable asking questions and monitoring their grade progress. I heard standard 101 inquiries like: “Do I have to write the WHOLE thing for my shitty first draft?” “What’s a Dental Draft?” “We have to attach HOW MANY drafts with our final essay?!” “Does the Works Cited page count for pages?” Over the years, I’ve come to anticipate these questions and concerns.
So what makes this English 101 class so unique?
In addition to the COVID delay, this class could utilize no technology directly. You read that correctly. No spell check. No Google searches. No Blackboard posts. No typed essays. Everything these students handed in for work, including a research paper, was written out the old fashioned way- by hand. All four class essays were handwritten to accommodate a specific word count, with three drafts attached to the final essay.
Another universal English 101 question, “Will there be extra credit?” resounded from this class like no other. There is usually considerable interest, but only a small handful of students actually follow through to submit the work, and I expected no different this semester. Imagine my surprise when receiving extra credit work from all 20 students, again handwritten! One student even asked if they could submit their essay a week early.
For lack of volunteers, I’ve gotten used to having to select students to read out loud in English 101. This semester there are so many volunteers that students are disappointed when they aren’t picked and hugely disappointed when I read. Sadly, I’m used to students tuning out when I read. I’ve resigned myself to the fact that my reading out loud seems to trigger a nap-time reflex established in grade school, no matter how interesting I try to make the process.
This semester we are reading Ray Bradbury’s short story, “There Will Come Soft Rains.” Within the story is an actual poem with the same title, written by Sara Teasdale in 1918. The students were disappointed when I told them that I would read this one. Being one of my favorite poems, I read slowly and precisely:
There will come soft rains and the smell of the ground,
And swallows circling with their shimmering sound;
And frogs in the pools singing at night,
And wild plum trees in tremulous white,
Robins will wear their feathery fire
Whistling their whims on a low fence-wire;
And not one will know of the war, not one
Will care at last when it is done.
Not one would mind, neither bird nor tree
If mankind perished utterly;
And Spring herself, when she woke at dawn,
Would scarcely know that we were gone.
I finished reading and looked up to 20 faces at full attention. A hand went up. For the first time since I’ve taught 101, I heard, “Will you read that again?”
The longer I teach, the more the years and students blur together into a hazy memory of routine and predictability. That is, until this semester. Not one student in twenty is on a cell phone. Class attendance is almost 100%. Virtually every assignment is handwritten and submitted on time, and the students have connected with the material in ways completely unexpected. I modified English 101 when classrooms transitioned to Zoom during Covid, I’ve adapted class to accommodate students with online texts only, and I’ve donned a mask in front of a live class when schools opened back up with social distancing. In a recent conversation, I’ve joked that I can teach English 101 in a cave in the jungle with my eyes closed. Talk about predictable!
What’s so different about this semester from all others? I go through a metal detector before being escorted to my classroom at a medium security prison.
Now I urge you to re-read what I’ve written, including the poem. Who said English 101 is predictable?
Content Warning: This story features a victim of rape
“Are you okay?”
She looks up at me, cowering like a kicked dog. Her eye is surrounded by purple and cuts decorate her face. There are scratches on her neck, matching the rips in her clothes. I had heard her screams and watched the bastard leave. I wish I could have done something.
“I heard what happened. He did this to you, didn’t he?”
She hung her head in shame.
“It’s alright. I’m here to help.”
She shakes her head, too ashamed.
“You need help.”
Tears start to fall out of her eyes like a dripping faucet.
“Should I call someone?”
She doesn’t answer.
“I’m going to call an ambulance. You need medical attention.”
I walk over to her and offer her my hand. She takes it and I help her up. She’s a little shaky and practically falls on me. I wrap an arm around her to support her. I called 911 and waited for the ambulance to arrive.
“Do you want me to come with you?”
Content Warning: Character death and PTSD
He’s 17 again. Easter Monday, 1916. Kieran’s standing in front of the GPO with a group of his best friends: Eoin, Aine, Niamh, Reagan and Sean. At 11:50 this morning, their fellow rebels rushed the GPO and took over the building, hence why they were here now.
“I can’t believe it! Today is the day!” Eoin said, “It’s finally the day that we rise up against tyrannical British rule!”
“Yeah, considering we weren’t sure if it was going to happen.” Kieran said.
“Don’t be such a party pooper,” Aine said.
“I’m glad that they postponed it for another 24 hours,” Niamh said.
“I wouldn’t have liked it if it happened on Sunday,” Reagan said, “It would have been wrong.”
“Why?” Sean asked.
“It’s the Lord’s day, and the celebration of his resurrection. It would have just felt wrong!”
“Well, didn’t he lead the Jewish slaves out of Egypt?”
“So he would support us throwing off the tyrannical yoke from the English.”
“We aren’t slaves, Sean!”
“I would beg to differ.”
“How would you know anything about the Bible? You don’t go to church!”
“Guys!” Kieran said. “He’s about to speak!”
Reagan and Fallon stopped squabbling. It was around 12:45. One of the leaders had come out. He read the Proclamation. Kieran looked around at his friends. They were now independent from England: all of them. All Irish men and women were. He let out a cheer with them.
It was time. Kieran was given his orders. He and his friends were split between Dublin Castle and Stephen’s Green. Kieran went to Stephen’s Green with Sean and Aine. They ran over and started to build barricades and dig trenches.
“Where did everyone go?” Aine asked.
“They must have cleared the civilians out,” Kieran said, “After all, they are innocent in this, so there’s no point in them facing this violence.”
“Why should we protect the cowards?” Sean asked.
“Because they are still our countrymen, Sean.”
“Aren’t we fighting for them?” Aine asked.
“I can’t believe that we are actually doing this!” Kieran said.
“I agree,” Aine said, “Who knew that we would be a part of something so important!”
“They have to listen to us now, right?” Sean said, “I mean, how could they not?”
There was a fire inside of Kieran, and he could see it in his friends. They were excited, having never done something like this before.
This happiness wouldn’t last for long. The British took over across the way. At 4 in the morning the next day, they started firing. He was asleep with his friends, but was startled awake by the loud gunshots.
“Aine, Sean!” Kieran said. It was too dark for him to see much.
“Kieran! Are you okay?” Aine’s voice said.
“I think so.”
“It’s a good thing you’re awake! They’re telling us to move!”
Kieran tried to move, but he felt dead weight on his side. He looked over, and to his horror, he saw Sean. His friend was lying still, his eyes rolled back in his head, as if he had been blown backwards. Blood poured out of a hole in his head. Kieran was in shock.
“We have to move now!” Aine said, nudging him.
“But, Sean…” Kieran protested.
“Leave Sean! He’s already gone! We have to move!”
Unwillingly, Kieran moved. He ran with Aine to the Royal College of Surgeons, where they barricaded themselves inside with other rebels. Kieran thought about Sean and gagged. He couldn’t help it. It made him feel sick.
“Are you okay?” Aine asked. Her voice sounded pained.
“Yeah, why?” Kieran asked.
“Just making sure.”
By the end of the week, their group surrendered. He would later hear stories from around the city.
For now, he was walking through the city with those of the St. Stephen’s Green group who had surrendered. Aine had gotten injured during the week by the English fire, so she was leaning on him a little. What he saw was mass destruction. The GPO, which had been where they started this whole thing, was on fire. He watched the tricolor flag fall into it. People were carrying white flags, possibly delivering surrender notes. Kieran watched as one of the British soldiers escorting them aimed his gun at one of them and fired. The woman fell to the ground, blood coloring her white flag. There was another gunshot, which hit the soldier in the arm. He fired back. There wasn’t another gunshot after that.
They were forced to watch the 16 leaders of the Rising be executed by gunfire. All were tried under court martial, and all were convicted. To Kieran’s knowledge, none of them ever got funerals.
Aine got sent to a hospital, but Kieran was immediately sent to a prison: it was cold and dark there. Kieran was scared, not knowing where he was (He later learned that he was in Wales). He had never been in prison before.
“Kieran?” a familiar voice said.
“Eoin? Is that you?” Kieran said.
“Yeah! You survived?”
“Unfortunately. I would rather be dead than this.”
“A little shaken, huh? I understand.”
“What happened to Reagan and Niamh?”
“Well, Reagan was spared. Call it a faith thing if you want, she sure did. Niamh wasn’t so lucky. What about Aine and Sean?”
“Aine’s being treated. Sean…”
Kieran’s voice was caught.
“I understand.” Eoin said.
That was when the nightmares began. He could hear the gunshots as if they were happening right outside. Sean’s lifeless body. Aine getting hit. That innocent woman. The leaders of the Rising. He could see them all in front of him getting gunned down one by one. The GPO was ablaze.
He woke up. There was Aine, alive.
It was a few years later. He was now 23.
“Having nightmares again?” she asked.
She combed her fingers through his hair.
“Sweetie, that was six years ago.”
“Don’t you dream about it?”
“Sometimes. But then I remember that it’s over now. We’re free. Our sacrifice wasn’t for nothing.”
She kissed him.
“C’mon. Go back to sleep.”
Off to the Races
Reggie Novak and Ashton Harrison had met in Kindergarten on the playground of their elementary school.
“What’cha doin?” Reggie asked as Ashton galloped by him.
“Racin’. I’m the fastest jockey in the whole wide world!” Ashton said.
“That’s cool. Can I race ya?”
Reggie had won. That’s how it always had been when they were in school. He always seemed to be winning. Ashton didn’t hold a grudge, though. He was proud of his friend. Reggie was more the brains and Ashton was more the brawn. Together they were quite the team.
Several years later they found themselves at the racetrack.
“Ash?” Reggie asked.
“Reggie?” Ashton said.
“It’s good to see you!”
Reggie went for a hug, but Ashton went for a handshake.
“Oh, sorry Ash.” Reggie said, shaking his hand.
“It's a bit too warm for that,” Ashton said.
Ashton seemed colder than Reggie remembered him being.
“I was sorry to hear about your Dad,” Ashton said.
“Yours as well,” Reggie said.
“It’s like we are here in their place.”
“In more ways than one. I know you took over your Dad’s oil company, just like how I took over my Dad’s power company.”
“Family businesses. Gotta love ‘em.”
There was a pause.
“It’s strange to be back here,” Reggie said.
“My Dad was betting on the horses til the end,” Ashton said, “it didn't matter if it was hot as hell or sticky as molasses outside, there was Dad at the races. He sure knew how to pick the winner.”
“That’s about all he knew how to do. He treated you and your Mom like shit.”
Ashton shot him a cold look.
“Don’t speak poorly about my father,” he said, eyes cold.
“You used to do the same thing,” Reggie said, “I thought you hated him.”
“Well, I’ve now had a change of thought.”
Reggie was starting to get concerned. Ashton wasn’t acting like he remembered him being.
“I’m surprised you took over from your Dad,” Ashton said, “I thought you didn’t like his company and wanted to do something else with your life.”
“I saw how things were and wanted to change them,” Reggie said, “I promised Dad when he died that I would make the company better.”
“Okay, how are you going to do that?”
“Well, I’ve decided to run for mayor.”
“So, we’re starting to switch over to more renewable sources of energy to be more environmentally-conscious. We would like more customers to make the switch. If I was mayor, I might be able to get more people to, with a policy. Do you know what’s been happening?”
“With the environment?”
“Surely, you know.”
“I do, but is it going to be more profitable?”
“All you can think about is money?”
“You’re the one trying to manipulate customers.”
“You misunderstand me. I want people to switch to our company because it’s better for the environment.”
“What’s wrong with the way things are? Like using oil, for example?”
“ Burning it is contributing carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. It’s throwing the carbon cycle out of whack, causing weather to change and the ice caps to melt. Is that really worth the money?”
“Do you want me to be put out of business?”
That was the last straw for Reggie.
“I can’t believe you, Ashton!” he yelled, “You sound like your father! All you care about is the money. That’s what I hated about your father. It was all about the money. The money and the horses. He didn’t care about anything else. It seems that you are just the same. I don’t know what happened to my friend, but I sure as hell know that you aren’t him.”
Reggie’s distressed yelling had started to attract attention, so Ashton tried to diffuse the situation.
“Reggie, you’re blowing this whole thing out of proportion,” he said.
Reggie looked at him in disbelief.
“Am I, Ashton? Am I?” he said, “This is more important than money. Face it, you’re not going to have any customers on a dead planet.”
And with that, Reggie left. Ashton was embarrassed. He couldn’t watch the race now. So he left.
Ashton felt like punching a wall. He and Reggie had never fought like that before. In fact, it was hard for him to remember a time when they had:
“Beat you!” Reggie said.
“Not fair! You’ve won like three times already!” Ashton said.
“Wanna try again?”
And Ashton had won, but did Reggie let him win? He would never know. Reggie had always cared. He didn’t seem to care anymore. Reggie was used to winning, that or letting Ashton win. This was one race where Ashton had to win by himself, or his whole life would go down the drain. So, Ashton decided to run for mayor.
Do Not Disturb
It was a brisk night in the middle of September. A few of my friends came over for our first get-together for our senior year of high school. We were joking around and taking turns playing Call of Duty Black Ops II, you know, normal teenager stuff. It was around midnight when we started winding down and were trying to decide what movie we wanted to watch. Usually, we would watch a horror-comedy movie like Tucker and Dale vs. Evil or Zombeavers just for something to have going in the background. We decided to watch Killer Klowns from Outer Space. After the first 10 minutes, Chad started talking about their old science teacher Mr. Miles who supposedly killed himself last spring. We all agreed that the police were hiding something, things just didn’t add up. He was the best chemistry teacher that school had, he was the most liked teacher, always making a difference in students' and faculty's lives. According to his family, he and his wife got along so well and his daughter was such a daddy's girl. What really didn’t make sense was where they found his body, why would he be over an hour away from home in a basement of an abandoned facility?
We all agreed that we would go to the place where they found his body in the morning. Well, everyone except for Charles, that is. From the second we started talking about the suicide, Charles was acting strange. He seemed quiet, not having much input, but it wasn't just that. He seemed distant, like his mind was somewhere else completely. He had a strange worried look on his face that would twitch into a grin randomly.
I shook his shoulder and said, “Snap out of it man, are you okay?”
He shook his head a little and his face seemed pale; it was hard to tell with the only light in the room being from the TV. We asked him if he would take a trip to the abandoned facility with us in the morning. He looked at me with a cold, uncomfortable look in his eyes.
After what seemed like a full minute he responded, “My father told me to never step foot near that place after what happened there. He has told me stories about the McClellan’s Curse.”
After saying that, he got up quickly and grabbed his bag. I called him and asked him where he was going.
He responded by saying, “I'm going home, and if you ever want to go home again, I suggest you don't go to that place tomorrow. Bad things happen there, Shaz.”
He turns around and hurries up the stairs. The door slammed behind him and a few seconds later we heard tires peel out of the driveway. Moments later, the room goes dark. The credits start rolling down the screen. The room was silent other than the quiet theme music coming from the TV. I looked over at the others and we said nothing. We all just felt kind of creeped out. Charles had never acted like that before; he never backs out of anything, especially if it's a chance to investigate. With minimal conversation, we turned the TV off and set our alarms for the upcoming day.
Ring Ring Ring! We shot up, excited for the day ahead of us. We kept the same clothes on from the day before and got into the car. The sun wasn't even up over the horizon yet, right on time. We drove over the hills and around the twisty roads until we saw the street sign, “Academy street”. The road looked like any other road, houses with families inside. We saw parents getting ready for work through the windows with the occasional dog barking at us as we drove by. We pulled over into a car park about halfway down the street and got out of the car.
“Where is the back entrance to this place again?” Asked Chad.
“It should be right down the street to the right,” I replied.
As we walked toward the back entrance, the world around us seemed to get quieter. The houses looked less kept-up at this end of the street and there didn't seem to be anyone living in some of them. Finally, there it is: the two stone pillars on both sides of the access road. The pavement was breaking apart and trees and plants were pushing their way through. There was barely a walkway, this road hasn't been used in over 20 years. As we approached the top of the hill, we looked around the bend, and there it was the abandoned facility. The sun was just coming over the hills. It looked beautiful yet neglected. There was a thin morning mist covering the ground and the sunrise reflected off of the dew on the fallen leaves. Everything was dead still, no birds singing, no squirrels running through the woods.
We climbed the hill to the building that overlooked the facility, the very building where they found Mr. Miles.
Christina grabbed my arm with a worried look in her eyes, “I don't think I want to go in there anymore,” she said.
“You'll be fine. We need to climb the fire escape to get in through the roof. Pull down the ladder and I'll go first,” said Shaz.
We climbed up to the roof, we could see everything! The sun was peeking over the valley, we felt the warm tingle on our skin. We made our way inside to find an old, wooden staircase. As we made our way down, it got colder. We felt dampness on our skin and it smelt almost sour. At the bottom of the stairs, there was yellow police tape on the ground. Someone else must have been here since the police had left. We walk through the doorway to find satanic symbols on the walls and a giant pentagram on the floor in the middle of the room. The corners of the room still had carpet; they seemed to be stained with blood. The smell of the room seemed almost suffocating. It smelt unnatural, the metallic scent of blood stung our noses. We put on our masks and walked in. Now we know what happened, well, have a good idea anyway. By the looks of this room, there was a bloodbath. The authorities tried to scrub away the horror but things like this just don't go away. The energy alone was enough to make the hairs on my arm stand up. Bri and Christina were both hanging on to Chad and I. At the opposite side of the room, there was a steel door, it was open just a crack. I walked over and gave it a pull. It creaked and slowly opened, revealing a tunnel.
“These must be the tunnels that run underneath the facility. Let's take a look,” said Chad.
The tunnels were small and narrow, I had to bend down to walk through them, and I'm not a very big guy. We went to a part where the tunnel branched into three parts. We stayed straight and found ourselves in what seemed like a large janitorial closet. We walked around another corner and there was a large hall with doors lining both sides.
“Looks like we found our way into the main hospital building,” I said.
As we walked down the hall we peered into the rooms. Some were for storage, some just had been completely trashed and others must have been offices. There were still patient records in the filing cabinets. At the end of the hall, we found one locked door off to the right. Bri took out her lock picking kit and started working at the door.
“Why is this the only door on this floor that is locked?” asked Christina.
Just as she finished her sentence, the door clicked and slowly opened. As we pointed our flashlights in the room we noticed what room it was. This was the mortuary. As we walked in, we smelt the same smell as we smelt in the first building; but this was way worse. I wanted to turn around and run but my body wouldn't respond, I just kept walking forward. I looked to the right side of the room and I just stopped. I couldn't breathe. There on the table was a body. It had no arms, no legs, and the head was turned toward me. I wanted to scream but I couldn't make a sound. This lifeless body was staring at me, exempt, its eyes were gone. I blinked hoping my mind was just playing terrible tricks on me. It was still there. The metal table was covered in blood, and it was… still dripping. I took a step closer and realized it was Charles. I started sobbing, I turned towards the girls. They were still looking at the other side of the room. I ran toward them and pushed them into the hall. I slammed the door, rested my head on the wall in the hallway, and threw up. My head throbbed and my nose and throat burned. They tried asking me what happened but I couldn't even respond. I took out my phone and dialed 911. Over the speaker, all I could hear was the busy line. I looked down and I had no signal.
I had a message from Charles that came in 30 minutes ago. It read, “You need to get out right now. I came to prank you guys thinking the stories weren't real and I know there is someone here with me. I can just feel their presence. GET OUT OF HERE!” This is the end. I knew it.
I looked at the girls and asked, “Where the fuck is Chad?”
Bri pointed behind me and about 20 feet down the hall were Chad's glasses and his camera. We walked down not knowing what to do. I picked up the camera and opened the last recording. It started off as a black screen and then Chad's face appeared.
“I thought I saw something in this one room back there and when I came out, everyone was gone. I'm going to go out the way I came and meet them back at the car. I feel like someone is in the dark with me, I'm going to keep this rolling until…”
WHACK! The camera dropped to the ground and then we heard a thud. There was a faint chuckle in the background and Chad's glasses fell into the frame on the ground in front of the camera. A second later a large figure walked in front of the camera down the hall towards the tunnels. As it walked we noticed something. It had something over its shoulder. The figure started to disappear into the darkness when a flash of light flung around the hall and we heard the girls over the recording. We must have been exiting the mortuary. For a split second, we made out the figure on the recording. It was a large man by the looks of it. He had Chad over his left shoulder and a meat cleaver in his other hand.
“We need to get out of here right now,” I said. At this point, Bri and Christina's eyes were bloodshot and filled with tears.
I looked at them as calmly as possible and said, “Follow me.”
We ran up a flight of stairs to get to the main level. I see light, finally. Now we are in the main entrance area, the front doors are right in front of us. I push into the doors and hear a chain rattle on the outside, it's no use. We hear steps coming from the stairs we just climbed. Bri waves to go down the hall to the left. There has to be windows or a door or something down there. As we sprint down the hall we see surgical rooms and equipment on both sides. There are still no doors leading outside, we must have run deeper into the facility. We turn a corner and stop, it’s pitch dark again. Bri flicks the switch on her flashlight but nothing happens. She hits it against her hand and still no light. Now my flashlight is the only one that works since Christina dropped hers running up the set of stairs. I see another intersection with a set of doors.
“Lord please be the way out,” I whisper to myself.
We jog to them and make our way up a half flight of stairs. We turn the corner to just see a room full of vents and maintenance supplies. We hit another dead end. I just start to laugh. I lean up against the wall and laugh hysterically.
“What is so funny?” snaps Christina.
“We're going to die, and there's nothing we can do. We are trapped in this place with something that enjoys the hunt. It would take a miracle to-”
I almost finished when we heard a scream. Bri must have gotten lost without her light. I swore she was right behind us. We could hear her crying. We could still save her. I finally remembered the knife on my hip. I took it out and held it tight in my sweaty fist. We lightly jogged toward the sound of her cry being as quiet as possible. We came up to the door that she was behind and I got ready to drive my blade deep in this thing's chest if he was in there with her. I ran in to find Bri in a straight jacket in a wheelchair in the middle of the room. She was surrounded by medical trays and surgical lights that were in a very dim setting. Christina ran up to her to try and unstrap her. Bri was sobbing and that's when we noticed the puddle of blood around her. I examined her quickly to see where the blood was coming from. That's when I saw it: it was coming from her stomach. I lifted up her arms to try to unstrap her and she cringed and started sobbing even harder. Before I realized how severe the cut was, blood started spraying all over me and her insides started slipping out onto her lap. I jumped back, looking down at her.
“Run,” she whispered and went limp.
Christina took my arm and pulled me out of the room.
“There's nothing we can do other than get out of here and get help,” she said.
We saw another set of stairs going down to the basement a couple of doors down. This is our last chance to get out of here. The only thing that kept me moving was thinking there might be an emergency exit at the bottom.
When we got to the bottom of the stairs, we saw it: a half-open door leading to the daylight, less than 50 meters away. We heard heavy footsteps from the opposite direction of the door; this was our chance. I took Christina's shoulders and looked her in the eyes.
“I'm going to go after him while you run to the door. Once you get out of that door, do not stop running. Tell Siri to call 911 and start screaming when you see houses.”
She looks at me with tears in her eyes.
“I need you to promise me you will keep running and won't look back,” I said.
“I…I… I can't leave you. We can both make it,” She stutters.
“I need to know that you're safe, Chris. I care about you too much for you to end up like the others. Now, go!” I said while pushing her toward the direction of the door. She ran.
“Come out and face me like a man, you psycho!” I yelled.
A loud, deep, menacing laugh echoed from where the footsteps had come from. I yelled and charged down the hallway with the knife in hand. I tripped on something and fell on my chest, knocking the wind out of me. I looked up to see a man staring down at me with a smile on his face. He reached for me and I dodged his grab. I swung and sunk my knife deep into his thigh. He yelled in pain and anger. I pulled the knife down through his leg as hard as I could. He fell back holding his leg, but it was no use. By the size of that cut, he would bleed out within minutes. I sprung up and started kicking him as hard as I could in the ribs and in the side of the head.
“This is for Mr. Miles, and Chad, and Charles, and Bri!” I yelled as I continued kicking.
He was breathing but not moving, then he looked up at me, smiled, and closed his eyes.
I leaned my back up against the wall and closed my eyes for a few seconds, exhausted from putting an end to this. I opened my eyes and saw that the door was still half-open. I started running toward it, calling out for Christina, just praying that she made it out and got to safety. I got to the door and was about to step out when I saw Christina's body on the ground right outside the door. I fell to my knees. She was laid on her back with her hands by her side. Her head sat on her chest. A smile cut across her cheeks, her eyelids were removed and a cleaver protruded from her skull. I crawled over to her on my hands and knees. I could barely see with the tears in my eyes but it was a good thing to not see your friend clearly like this. I heard a branch crunch behind me and before I could turn my head I felt a hard blow to the side of my head. Everything went dark.
I start to open my eyes. Everything is blurry and my head is pounding. I feel something around my chest and under my arms holding me up. I came into focus to see the large man with black clothing and a black mask standing next to the tree I was hanging from. “You came into my home! You killed my brother! Now you will suffer” he said” I looked next to him and saw two ropes tied off to the tree. Then I realized the second rope was around my neck. He wiggled his fingers and slashed the cleaver into one of the ropes. The rope from under my arms gave way and I felt the pressure around my neck. He started laughing as I struggled to try to grab the rope and pull myself up. I struggled for a few more seconds and the world faded to black.