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The Cage*

-Personal Alternate Ending Spin on the ending of SAW (2004)-

The door slammed shut as Adam watched in shock as the man who had been on the floor for hours, presumably dead, just arose and left him alone in the bathroom. Adam yanked on the chain, still tightly attached to the pipes behind him. Lawrence Gordon, the man who had been locked in there previously with him, had crawled out, promising Adam to get help, but he never came back. Adam was cold, and bleeding from his gunshot wound in his shoulder. Adam swore to himself he would get revenge on the man that locked him in here. No matter what it took, Adam was determined to get out of this room and find him. He was set on making him pay for what he did. But at the same time, Adam had become frustrated, knowing he had ruined his chances of getting the keys to free himself from the chains trapping his legs from movement. Again, he yanked on the chain, harder this time, hoping it would free him, but again, nothing. He yelled for help with all of his remaining strength, but still no luck. 

Adam sat back down, reminiscing of the events that had led him to this moment. He looked back down at his hands, the blood of the man he killed, Zepp, still soaking his cold hands. He had been in this room for what had seemed like days at this point, but unbeknownst to him, it really had only been maybe a couple hours in actuality. He couldn’t see the clock in the room anymore, so how could he have known? It had grown to a point where Adam began to lose hope as more and more time had passed, and he began to think that maybe he would die in this bathroom, this prison as he had so began to call it. It wasn’t long after Adam began to talk to the darkness, each time hoping he would get a response from someone, from anyone, but nothing answered. Of course, he kept his hopes up each time, not losing sight of escaping. He had managed to tear some of his pant leg material off to wrap his bullet wound and stop the bleeding slightly. It wasn’t perfect, but it worked for the most part. 

At one point he even tried to recover the hacksaw that he had broken during the “game” as it was so proclaimed by the voice on the tape recorder. “Why was this fair for what I had done?” he thought to himself. “All I did was take pictures of people I was told to. Yes I got paid for it, but how does that equal this punishment huh??” He yelled into the darkness, once again awaiting a response but again, nothing. Then he had a realization. It was one problem that he was stuck here, but it was another to think of how he was supposed to eat or drink now too. He couldn’t die, not here, not before he could get revenge. He hadn’t actually thought of that until now. What exactly he was going to do about this, he was unsure. He slowly gathered himself to his feet, inching his way back to the bathtub he woke up in from the start. He flicked the knob to see if there was water emitting from the faucet, but nothing. Although he did still have the water that was in there to begin with, the one he almost drowned in anyways. Sure, it wasn’t ideal, and probably unclean, but it was something and he was desperate. 

He dipped his head into the tub, and began to drink the water. He only drank a little bit of the water, hoping to ration this water substance for as long as possible. Now the question became, what was he going to eat? His thoughts didn’t last too long though, as he was starting to doze off a little, drained from the events he had been through to this point. He fell asleep sitting against the bathtub and was sleeping maybe a couple hours before being startled awake by something crawling on his leg. He jolted awake, slamming the back of his head against the tiled floor, somehow realizing he was no longer against the tub, but laying on the filth and blood covered floor. How did he end up on the floor? He didn’t think long, because he realized he still never dealt with the thing on his leg. He sat up, as a rat was gnawing on his torn pant leg, scratching its way to eat his flesh off his leg. He grabbed it almost unhesitantly, realizing a food source may have just come to him, “a blessing in hell” he thought.

Although he wasn’t entirely sure if he WANTED to eat a rat, he realized it was either this or starving. Obviously he wasn’t gonna take the latter option. It wasn’t what was going to help his revenge plan. He knew this well and he also knew he was running out of time. Time was ticking and if he didn’t eat soon he was gonna die sooner rather than later. So without any more hesitation, he snapped the neck on the mouse and bit down hard into the neck of the rat, savoring each bite. He didn’t rush this meal, because god only knew when he would get his next. Minutes passed as he continued to eat the rat, slowly tasting each and every bite, ensuring he would be satiated. As he finished his fuzzy meal, a rumbling came from outside the door, followed by a creaking sound. The door slowly slid open and there stood a hooded figure. “Lawrence?” Adam started, “is that you?” The lights flickered on, revealing the hooded figure was wearing a pig mask. A deep voice spoke from within the robe, “You survived. Interesting.” Adam spoke, “Who are you? What do you want from me?” The voice laughed abruptly, “I want nothing from you. Not anymore. Your game is over. You lost. Which means this hopeless survival of yours, has meant…” Adam gasped, cowering in the corner, “Nothing.” The hooded figure approached him, slowly but somehow fast. “Game Over, Adam.. for good.” The hooded figure swung an arm up, coming down with a hidden blade, slicing Adam’s neck, killing him instantly. What had seemed like a game at first, his surviving battle in an eternal cage, had truly meant nothing…

-Onyx Bussing

The Cage

The Beautiful Blue

I long for the sea. I’ve never fully understood why. As far as I can remember I've had an intimate relationship with water. Learnt to swim before I was walking. There's just this unmatched feeling water gives you. A cold hug, fully surrounding you. Completely enveloping everything you are. Something about the sapphire blues and glass aquamarines. The glistening living blanket wrapped around the world. Yet, simultaneously, the sea is my greatest fear. Open water destroys all rational thought in my mind. The salt assailing my nose, grinding into me. The constant continuous sound of the water that never quite repeats. It all renders me helpless, treading above the inky black as the waves lap gently on my shoulders. I don’t have to look, I know the abyss beneath me. I can feel it, breathing down my neck, grasping at my feet. Wrapping its frigid tendrils up and over my shoulders as it lulls me into its depths. It feels all of me, knows all the wretched places to wrap its coldness around. It longs for me, for everything I keep hidden from the world, all my secrets and truths.

 

I long to visit the sea. It longs for me to stay.

-CJ VanGuilder

The Beautiful Blue

The Liquor Store

 

As Terri slipped out of bed and into her work pants, she knew that today would be the same as yesterday — as the day before that was and the day after today would be. She peered out of the window and saw the frost on the pane paired with specks of snow falling from the sky. All of her layers were haphazardly put in place as she stumbled out of the front door. Terri’s loft was overpriced and undersized, but it was hers for the moment. Into the hallway and down the stairs, she made a sharp left, promptly met by the bitter temperature of Upstate New York in January. Her gloves were on and a drawstring backpack was strapped over her shoulders. The lock was frozen solid (again). As she held it in between her hands to defrost, she thought back to her time in Florida. Specifically, Terri thought of the warmth the sun brings. 

She looked up to the sky, in the city that would never be her home. The sun barely showed through thick puffy clouds. The lock warmed enough to pop in the code, releasing her mechanical horse. Once peddling, her body began to warm ever so slightly. After a few blocks and some heavy breathing, she arrived at the one place that brought her joy these days. The liquor store. The light from inside glowed warmly through the window, and her mind was filled with fond memories. A loud sound rang as Terri passed through the doorway. The girl who worked there pushed aside the black curtains, which hung from gift ribbon weaved through the metal grid of drop ceiling. The curtains were the owner’s attempt to separate the front of the store from the back. 

“Hey there! How’re you doing today? Lookin’ for the usual?”

As the girl walked behind the counter, she reached for the sleeve of cinnamon whiskey shooters that Terri had been fantasizing about. The staff of the liquor store anticipated Terri’s arrival and would keep some up front for easy access. The two exchanged a few words before Terri was on her way to stand by the dumpster — she downed two of the little bottles before setting on her way. As Terri remained balanced on her bicycle, a man who seemed quite unbalanced passed her by. Turning her head to look behind her, Terri saw the man follow the path she had just taken. She turned her head back forward and continued to the horse farm.

Dave put a quivering hand through his greasy hair, shoved his hands deep into his tattered jacket pockets. He lowered his head. He fought past the snowflakes and into the wind. Slowly, he approached the plaza that held the liquor store. The parking lot had recently been plowed. Dave looked up: The neon sign reflected down on Dave and cast a red glow on his pale face. The warm glow oozing through the window beckoned him. The liquor store promised love and clarity for Dave. Once again, the alarm above the door sounded. Dave stood near the fish bowls that were filled with 50ml bottles. He shifted uncomfortably from one foot to the other. The girl stood up from the kneeling position she was in on the concrete floor, patting at the dust on her knees as she approached.

As they exchanged pleasantries and she got closer to the fish bowls she said, “How many we doin’ today?” 

“Mm, hm, ah well, hell with it! Let’s do five of ‘em”, he managed to sputter out as if the number he purchased daily never changed. After all of his time as a private investigator, he had tried to become anonymous. Yet here this girl stood, knowing exactly what he wanted before he had the chance to say it. Dave loved apple-flavored whiskey and the girl knew this. At some point, he had divulged a tale from his youth to the girl behind the counter. You see, he had run track way back in high school and all the kids nicknamed him Apples because every day before he’d run? You guessed it! He’d eat an apple. Dave hadn’t thought of that story in so long that it brought a burn to his chest (similar to the burn of apple-flavored whiskey). The words had involuntarily fallen from his lips. He put the shooters into his pockets, lifted his hood, and lowered his head to stare at the dust that had collected on the floor.

“I’ll see ya next time!” She rang out. 

With another sound of the door alarm, Dave was gone and into the snow, leaving the figurative and imaginative warmth behind him. This time, instead of going off to stock the shelves, the girl chose to sit in the too-tall black computer chair behind the counter. At her back was a large window and she could feel the freezing temperature ooze in. She turned on the small electric heater and rubbed her hands together in front of it for a few moments. She opened her book and waited for the next customer to breeze through. She became so consumed in the world that the author had created, that she left the drab, cold, and impersonal reality that surrounded her.

The alarm on the door rang out. A crying woman walked in, leaving the girl startled. She composed herself in time to catch what would have been a fall. The girl behind the counter and Tara had a similar experience of smelling each other before physically seeing one another. One was pleasant and brought memories of Tara’s childhood. The other brought a wrinkle to the nose and sadness to the mind. Tara was preoccupied with her phone. She had the butt of a cigarette hanging from her lips and a few tears running down her unwashed cheeks — creating clean, white streaks of skin. The phone rang out a familiar sound and the dark-skinned man the girl recognized as Tara’s boyfriend appeared on the screen. They were fighting. She told him she wanted her stuff and he, better fucking get it to her. She reached for a few of the 99¢ shooters and approached the counter, unsteady. With lowered eyes, she mumbled to herself incoherently. 

“Was that going to be all today?” the girl asked. 

Her voice sounded more nasal than usual as if refraining from drawing breath through the nose. For the first time since she had entered the store, Tara looked up, searching to make eye contact. From time to time, the girl’s light blue eyes looked deeply into Tara’s. The depth always induced a nonconsensual exchange of information. Tara could feel empathy pouring down onto the counter, spilling onto the floor. A puddle of empathy soaked Tara’s feet. She shifted uncomfortably.

“You smoke?” she asked, desperate.

“Not anymore.”

A sad expression mixed with the ring of the door, and Tara was off into the cold. She shivered and looked around. Her eyes opened and shut, like a newborn kitten experiencing vision for the first time. Only the girl is left inside the store, accompanied by the residual sadness (and smell) of Tara. Addicts in this area shared the same scent: a smell that is as impossible to describe as it is to rid the room of.

The store is located in front of a trailer park and surrounded by three low-end motels. The state often filled these hotels with those who had no other place to go. The unhoused population in this area was ever-increasing, and various shelters created a safe zone for many surrounding counties. The amount of questionable folk who would come through the door was ample and they usually smelled the same. Was the owner too enamored with the warmth the liquor store imitated to see her potential clientele? 

The plaza that held the liquor store wasn’t low-end in and of itself. It held a luxurious-looking hair salon, a dentist's office, and an eye doctor’s office. Next to the plaza, there was a laundromat. The laundromat also brought a variety of folks — including the kind that stop in for a few shooters while their wash is in the machine. Down the street, one is met with extravagance and class, but these things can not be found at the liquor store’s location.

The girl went back to reading her book. As time and pages passed, the end of her shift arrived. At quarter to, she stood to peer through the window and saw Jon’s Chevy Impala waiting. Based on the knowledge the girl held about Jon, he seemed to be a nice man. He sat with the door of his car open just enough so that one leg poked out. She could see the cigar smoke as it billowed up into the cold air. 

The girl stood on tip-toes, reached over the shelves of the good stuff kept behind the counter, and pointed her key fob out of the window. Two beeps echoed in the parking lot and the engine of her car came to life. Jon puffed his cigar a few more times. Only after the cigar was butted out, Jon rose with audible grunts and groans. He hobbled across the parking lot as thoughts of his upcoming knee surgery rattled around his head. As the sign on the door became legible and his hand was about to grab the handle, dread spread across his body. The alarm above the door sounded and Jon passed through. 

“Hey there, how we doin’?” the girl said without looking up from her page. 

“Like two ships in the night, you and I.” 

A smile softened the hard edges of Jon’s wrinkles. The girl gathered her things and just as Jon said: Like two ships in the night, they passed each other. 


 

Shift change. 

 

With the last sound of the alarm for the girl, she was in the parking lot. She began her drive home — leaving behind the cold box of concrete that contained her all day. When she looked in her rearview mirror, at the sign in the window, it seemed as if it might be glowing brighter now. The flag was covered in a thin layer of almost frozen fluid. The flag continued to flap in the wind despite this, an endless beckoning dance for those who desired warmth. The store had a different aura in the dark. 

Jon cleared the counter to make room for his snacks. He grabbed the remote and aimed it toward the TV. He put his favorite show on, grabbed a snack, and began to relax. The door alarm rang a little while later and a couple walked through. They were holding hands, with the woman leaning against the man. The woman was young, probably too young, and the man who accompanied her was whitewashed in both hair and skin. Her hair was long, dark red, and tangled at the ends. The man looked better kept. His hair was slicked back, a clean-cut shave on his face, and a suit that looked like it cost more than what it would take to spruce up the liquor store. They walked up to the champagne rack and began to search for the perfect drink to celebrate their union. “We’ve got some chilled in the back too.” 

The couple looked around lazily, they meandered to the back of the store where the chilled champagne was. The woman giggled the entire way. As the door opened, a light clattering of bottles could be heard by the trained ear, giving the clerk at the front an idea of what the customer was doing. The couple spent far too long trying to find the right champagne, ultimately, leaving the cooler door ajar as they walked away. 

Their path back from the cooler took a fraction of the time they had spent walking to it. Once Jon had cashed them out, they were on their way back to the hotel. Jon relaxed back into the chair and unpaused his show. A few episodes had passed and Jon’s eyes began to droop. The liquor store had a way of wrapping around you, creating a sense of comfort that shouldn’t be there. 

As Jon snored, the store became darker, almost as if a cloud had made its way into the door to cover the bright, fluorescent ceiling lights. 

A snore escaped Jon’s half-closed mouth as the alarm above the door rang out. Startled, confused, and frustrated that he had fallen asleep (again), Jon blinked his eyes several times. The smell hit Jon’s nostrils before his eyes could focus. Jon knew this smell. His stomach dropped as he assessed the sudden changes to his environment.

“Gimme all of the money in the drawer.” 

“Excuse me?” 

Jon had a hard time hearing and the stranger had mumbled.

“I SAID… GIMME ALL THE CASH YOU GOT!”

The stranger was angry and jittery. He was moving from one foot to the other, quickly, like he needed to use the restroom. The stranger implied he had a weapon. He held his hand in his pocket, the shape of danger could be seen through his pocket. He pointed it toward Jon. 

Jon slowly stood to turn the key in the drawer. He did his best to move quickly, his age and fear aggravated the quiver in his hand. He managed to get the money out and press the button under the counter in one shaking, yet swift, movement. As he slid the money across the counter, he stared the man dead in the eye. 

Jon made note of every characteristic of his face: the tone of his skin, the color of his eyes, how tall he was and he even estimated an age from the creases in the stranger’s face. Despite this careful observation, Jon could feel the thoughts slip from his brain as adrenalin replaced it. As quickly as the man robbed the store, he was out the door and headed to his next target. 

Jon rushed to lock the door. 

He was impatient while he waited for the police to arrive. An eternity seemed to pass before he could see flashing blue lights coming his way. It was a good thing that Jon’s shift ended ten minutes ago, while he spoke with the officers because there was no way he could have gone back to work that night. He walked back into the store, making sure to lock the door behind him.

He stood in front of the counter, took a deep breath, and assessed the shop. Some things needed tidying, but after what he’d just been through, he chose to turn the lights down, set the alarm, and leave the confines of the building for the night. Jon shivered as he walked to his car, looking nervously from side to side.

 

The liquor store no longer seemed to be glowing for him.

-Tiffany Gates

The Liquor Store

Kai Meets Nova

 

He scrounged the money out of his wallet and handed it to the driver. He thanked him as he got out of the backseat and walked onto the pathway into the park. He watched as families danced around the bushes, children fell into the freshly trimmed grass while chasing their siblings and friends with sticks and bubble wands. Couples sat on blankets as they shared a picnic and read novels side by side together in the fresh sunlight. They would kiss each other on the cheek and smile. Kai smiled to himself and went to find an empty picnic table to place himself at.

He looked around the park. It looks so different now compared to so many millennia ago. There was no more forest, now just clean paths of trees that perfectly frame the stone brick path that leads to the monumental fountain that tourists sit down and take photos on. We used to get our water from there, he thought to himself.

He pulled out his drawing pad and his pencil, beginning to sketch what he wished was still placed here. It wasn’t much. A vast field of beautiful greenery, trees, shrubs, bushes and vines as far as the eye could see, where all the neighborhood resided, as well as plenty of vendors around the village. A beautiful watering hole that would glimmer like the ocean on a bright day, where Kai would help his mother go collect water for their family and friends who weren’t able to do it. And the wide field of flowers just beyond the bushes, where Kai, much like everyone else back then, was born from the petals of the lily flowers. A tear slipped from his eye as he wiped it off his cheek quickly before it dropped onto the page of his sketch pad. Oh how he missed the soft velvety petals of the flower holding and cradling him as he waited to be picked by his guardians. He knew though, that he wouldn’t be the person he would have transitioned into today if things were back the way they were.

Suddenly, he heard the sound of a whispery female voice. “The stars tell me you are troubled, pixie.” 

He looked up and blushed in embarrassment. “O-oh uhh, h-hi. W-wait, huh-?” he stuttered.

“The stars tell me what you are, and you mustn't be afraid. They have told me that you seek companionship, and I am here to fulfill their wishes.”

“W-who’s they?”

“The stars! They see and feel all that we feel.” The woman sat down. “What are you called?”

“M-my name is Kai,” he fumbled with his pencil as he set it down on the picnic table.

“Ahh yes, a wondrous name. I am called Nova. I am pleased to accompany you.”

Kai curled his lips into a bashful smile. “Thank you,” he reached into his back, taking out some plastic baggies. “D-do you wanna snack?”

Nova smiled delicately back, taking a baggie from Kai. “I’d be delighted.”

-Isabel Willis

Kai Meets Nova

             Exit 11

There she stands, a sigh rolling off her shoulders & down her back to glide to the floor by her heels, mop in hand with barely enough water on it to consider the ground below clean. The sway back & forth of the noodle like bristles & the cracked wooden handle show her tired soul, for they slide around the building with ease. They also dilly-dally as if the old, bright version of her wanted to arrive again but the frustration hid her away. 

 

Her name was Suzeanne & her hair was a cross between sun-kissed blonde & a cloudy sky gray. Her socks were mix matched & had a hole in the left ankle. She wore a friendship bracelet that said mandy on it, the colors were only dark except for the singular yellow one, & she kept her hair up in a green scrunchie & did both of these things everyday. She had one brown eye, one blue, had smile wrinkles on her face & a dimple on her right cheek; she had sad eyes & a scar on her left arm and a longer one on her right arm from wrist to middle lower arm. 

 

Her voice was honey, sweet and bitter all in one beautiful wholesome listen, she remembers regulars orders down to the substitutions and she's a good guess when it comes to newbies. 

 

She seemed smaller every day, more than physical size; she seemed to shrink lower until she was reduced to nothing. Suzeanne Richards became “Hey Suze, order for table 5,” and no more was she special. 

-Kamani DeAngelo

Exit 11

Distortion

 

I am an audio engineer. 

 

Audio engineers record, manipulate, and reproduce sounds onto physically reproducible media using a wide variety of electronic tools. I like my job.

 

My favorite tool is an effect called ‘distortion’, sometimes called ‘overdrive’. It is the first thing a learning guitarist begins to manipulate, as pushing the volume or gain circuit naturally distorts the sound of the guitar. There’s something harmonious and pleasing in the chaotic mess of the over-amplified signal. The rigidity and snappy woodiness of the electric guitar instantly becomes wild. Amorphous. A howling frenzy of hot circuity. 

 

Humans are attracted to this disharmony. It naturally sounds “good” to our ears. In subtle amounts, distortion can increase the natural harmonics of almost any recorded sound from drums to vocals. Distortion is one of the staples of modern popular music. 




 

I know what that sound really is. 

 

There’s something hidden in the clipped edges of the signal, mangled in the frenzy.

I’ve done the math. It is there where nothing should be. I know why we all yearn for that blistering warmth.

 

The distortion on every recorded sound of every record ever made. Buddy Holly. Nirvana. The Beatles. Beyonce. It’s on everything. We can’t stop listening to it. It's even applied to the microphone on your cell phone.



 

It’s the sound we make after we are dead.



 

Anyway, I think I’m going to keep this secret for a little while longer. I’m working on Taylor’s new album. It’s pretty great. I think I’m going to put some distortion on her voice. I think a lot of people are going to like it very, very much.

-Peter Shapiro 

Distortion

Pain at Dusk

I drag myself along the dirt, the burning pain in my leg and abdomen not allowing me to walk. It
burns inside me like a branding iron, as the blood gushes out from underneath my skin like a
bursted pipe. The muscles on my thigh throb and my bones feel as if they’re cracking like twigs
on the path of the village, as every citizen runs from the monsters that have intruded on us.
Three of the monsters stand above me, covered in crimson blood, dripping from their weapons.
Their eyes glow like rubies under the clear moonlight as they look at me. I look up with pleading
eyes, begging them for death. Please, I say, let me join them, let me join my family. The
monsters exchange a few words in a language unbeknownst to me, and suddenly- fire. Fire
feels like it burns through my veins, first starting at my neck and spreading wildly. It feels as if
there’s thousands of bugs crawling under my skin and biting simultaneously. I reach to my neck
to feel fresh blood leaking from it, as well as a perfectly placed mark, but before I can even think
of what it might be, the pain is too much for my body to handle. I look at my hand, watching it
split in two as my eyes roll back and I fade into the darkness.

-Isabel Willis

Pain at Dusk

Goliath*

“Would you hurry?” Margo whisper-screamed through her crooked teeth. The attic was
dusty. I tripped over the plastic lamb used in our Christmas pageant, which resulted in Margo
whipping around so quickly that her skirt flared in the dull, humid air.
“Oh My GOSH,” she hissed, her eyes tense. She was my Goliath and I was nothing but
defenseless. This was somewhat of a routine for us, every week. I didn’t like it, but I had to do it.
Otherwise I would’ve had to admit I knew nothing about anything, really. She told me no boys
would ever like me if I was inexperienced. I asked where she heard that. She pinched me harder
than normal and said it didn’t count if we were both girls.
We made our way through a maze of stacked antique nursery toys and books, as well as
different candelabras and podiums no longer of use, until we found the dreaded spot. We sat
down as she looked at me like I was edible. I didn’t like Margo back here. She was always nice
in Sunday school and whatnot, but this didn’t really make sense. Did she like me?
She always made sure to be extra mean on the way out of our spot. I think it was to make
up for whatever kindness her lips gave mine. At least, I thought kisses should be kind, like my
mother and fathers, but Margo’s were forceful, and wet. I sometimes wondered if she kissed me
only because no boy would. But she made it clear if I ever told anyone this happens she would
say things about me being a homosexual. The church and my parents would have a cow. I didn’t
know why it was so bad to be that, but everyone here says it is, so I guess it is. Do you ever feel
full of shame? I do.
Margo was putting herself on my lips and neck and face and all over as I sat with my eyes
open, glued to the face of my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ who hung on a tattered poster. His
hand had fingers held up in two, Margos replicated. I had let out a rippling cry and she pinched

my thigh between her boney knuckles until it began to look blueish. The ocean filled my eyeballs
and the spots on my face my grandma called ‘pennies from heaven’ were glistening from the
tears. The storm wouldn’t end. Margo rolled her eyes at my noises, hushed me up, and wiped my
lips from hers with the back of her hand.
“Hey, Grace, you know.. you are so pathetic.” She scowled at me as she turned for the
door and the words rang with confidence like she was used to them. They rattled through the
walls as if she was waiting to use this line on someone as they had on her. Margo said she wasn’t
committing sin, but was I?
‘Dear Lord, why is this happening to me?’ My prayers echoed through the walls of the
attic. I looked up again at the poster, and he began to speak to me.
This happened a while ago and I don’t see Margo anymore, if you were wondering. My
parents decided after our Pastor got caught hurting her during a Easter bruncheon we should go
to a new place of worship. I don’t really blame her for the things she was taught that she did to
me, I just wish I wasn’t the one in that dusty old attic every week for a whole year. I didn’t think
this would affect me for the rest of my life, but everytime I see dust numbness folds over me and
the phantom feeling of my pinched thigh rides beside me.

-Jordan Conine

Goliath

On The Line

 

Air bubbles in the deep fryer pop, sending scalding hot drops of oil onto your neck and arms. The sound of the ticket machine clicking and beeping haunts you even once you’ve left this horrific place. Orders begin falling over the side of the counter like a glossy paper waterfall. What could possibly be next? 4 burgers, all different temperatures (one with no lettuce, tomato, or onion), 5 orders of fries, 1 order of sweet potato fries, 3 orders of bone-in wings (all tossed in different sauces, no bleu cheese for the ones tossed in garlic parm sauce), 1 house salad, and finally, a fucking charcuterie board. The evil combination of smells become trapped in the fibers of your clothing permanently, just as your memories of this place are forever incised upon your brain. You can feel your heartbeat grow faster and faster as you throw down your spatula in a fit of anger, walking out the back door to see the other cook passed out drunk against an empty keg of a nine percent craft beer. Still angry, you return to your post and keep cooking. A waitress enters the kitchen asking if you can make her a sandwich and having reached your breaking point, you scream and curse at her until she leaves, and you feel no remorse. A bartender enters and tells you the same mediocre joke for the fourth time but you tune it out, preferring to focus on scooping New England clam chowder into a bowl and sending it out to its table. Once the orders have all subsided and closing time draws closer, you clean your knives and start toward the back door. You pull out a fresh pack of Marlboro reds (100’s not 72’s) and put one to your mouth. You light it quickly and begin to pull. Exhaling the toxins from your mouth, you sit there in that back alley alone and sore, ready to go home. Your cigarette has almost burned down to your fingers and you wonder: Is this what being 15 is really like? 

-Brandon Lemery

On The Line

Seasons of Resilience

 

Every autumn, the leaves fall softly and willingly, in a varying array of burnt colors. Red, orange, yellow, and brown hues scatter across the terrain in a beautiful ornate pattern, resembling an abstract masterpiece. The trees stand bare, prepared for winter's embrace, ready to relinquish their vibrant foliage and endure the harsh conditions of the season. However, the trees are more similar to us than we realize. One season, we are fruitful; the next, we are bare. But spring, yes, spring is unparalleled, serving as a crucial reminder that after a season of loss and despair, we, like the flowers blooming in May after the April showers, or the barren trees amidst the desolate winter, can flourish anew. Adorned with fresh, vibrant leaves or blossoming buds, we emerge revitalized. Spring embodies resilience, both within nature and within us.

-Corrina Whelan

Seasons of Resilience

Food is My Language of Love

 

The Bible tells a story of a great and mighty people, people who thought they were the strongest force in existence, and who thought they could build a tower into heaven, to breach into God’s throne. They began to build the tower, piercing the clouds, piercing the sky, piercing the heavens, until God came down with mighty wrath and unspeakable anger, and made their tower crumble to the ground. As punishment, he stole their gift of language, having every one of them speak a different tongue. The people began to fight, as they could no longer understand one another, their speech taken, but he had forgotten to take one. A language not of words and sound, but of warmth and love. My language. Food.

I am, and always have been, a pudgy Italian kid. My deepest and strongest memories are at the dinner table in my old house, eating pasta and meat sauce. My mother was a single mother, and I was a particularly clumsy child, so she would force me to sit and do my homework on the center island in our little orange kitchen with sticky walls while she cooked. After she was done, I would follow her, and bring the food to the table so we could eat. Sometimes there would be men, one boyfriend of hers or another, sometimes there would be her friends, but food was a constant. I ate until I couldn’t eat anymore, and my mother and I would talk for the first time that day, and life would be good. As I grew older, things changed. She stopped cooking, I stopped sitting in the kitchen, men were replaced with my stepfather, but the food was the same – rich, hearty pasta with meat, sometimes a salad, but not one that I would ever eat. It was a ritual, embedded into my very soul. 

I was ten at the time of one of my favorite food memories – one sewn into my soul, and at the peak of my refusal to be independent. I refused to do anything for myself. I didn’t fold my own laundry, I didn’t take out the garbage, I didn’t even make myself food, even if I wanted a snack. It was a wonderful time, since my mom was always such a good cook.

Her sauce was legendary. San Marzano tomatoes, garlic, onion, basil, oregano, a little parsley, bay leaf, water. Simple, effective, and delicious. Her meatballs were similarly mythical. Ground beef, garlic, basil, oregano, Italian breadcrumbs, a ton of parmesan, all wrapped around pieces of mozzarella. My mother would brown them in a pot with a little olive oil, turning them on all sides, leaving little brown splotches of burnt fat in the bottom of the pot, and then she would add the sauce ingredients, scraping the brown stains of meaty goodness into the sauce itself (cooking until thickened, finishing the meatballs in the sauce, and letting all the fat and juice that sweats out of them mix into the sauce). Her secret to pasta was always to add a little oil with the salt and water, just for a little more flavor. She made garlic bread – melted butter, garlic, and basil, spread on italian hard bread, put in an oven at 375 until golden brown on the edges – another thing I loved.

It was around the middle of October, this time of year actually, when my mother first met Paul, her eventual domestic partner, and my de facto stepfather. They met online via Zoosk, and went on a few dates out at restaurants before she invited him to our house for dinner. Paul arrived at around 5’o’clock, and spent some time getting to know a young me while my mother cooked. She had decided to make spaghetti, meatballs, and sauce, my favorite dish at the time. She was particularly nervous that night, and when dinner was finally served, it was apparent. Everything that could have possibly gone wrong did. The pasta was undercooked, starchy and sticking to our teeth. The meatballs had way too much oregano, to the extent that oregano was all we could taste, and were still pink in the middle. The garlic bread was burnt to hell and back, completely black on the bottom, and it tasted like charcoal. The sauce… was worst of all. I’m not exactly sure what was wrong with it, but even with all the words in the English language, I could not describe just how nasty this sauce was. Sickly pools of fat sat atop thick bubbles that seemed to burp as they popped. It was like a scene out of Little Rascals, a malformed concoction as far from edible as it could be.

It was truly rancid, but for my mother’s sake, Paul ate a few bites, pushing past the bubbling nausea in the pit of his stomach. My mother was nervous, and asked a few times if it was good. He smiled, weakly, and said it was great. I, on the other hand, was not having it:

“This is gross. I’m gonna go make myself a sandwich.” 

For the first time in 10 years of being alive, I brought my own plate into the kitchen, cleaned it off, and made a cream cheese and jelly sandwich. I still look back on that night from time to time, and try to figure out what had gone wrong with the sauce to make it so gross. Maybe it had been undercooked? Maybe the tomatoes were rotten? Part of my curiosity is just for the sake of knowing what happened, to scratch an unreachable itch to understand as much as I can, but part of it is to prevent that from ever happening to my sauce. I still use her recipe when I can. If I’m in a rush, I’ll swap roasted San Marzano tomatoes for a jar of store bought sauce, and a can of crushed, but the recipe stays steadfast, a ritual I perform to try and connect to my Sicilian roots, and my mother.

My family are wine farmers in Sicily. We still own a vineyard (Alessandro di Camporeale) in my home country, a plot of land that squat, greasy people with my blood have labored over for as far back as records go. My grandmother and her sisters grew up there, learning to cook from their nona, who learned from her nona, who learned from some other nona. Sicilian cooking, and Italian cooking in general, is more ritual than recipe, feeling out how much of something to toss into a pot, and hoping what comes out is good. In her 20’s, my grandmother left the home country for Ellis Island, settling in Brooklyn with her then cousin, and future husband. She had 4 children, three girls, my mother included, and a boy. Each of them grew up on Sicilian cooking – chicken gizzards, fish, fried eggplant, pasta. Recipes for peasant food stitched into the very fabric of my mother’s existence, and then into mine, the same thread being sewn from soul to soul throughout the years.

 It was a little more than a year ago that I lost my mother. It was sudden, and fast, and it left a gaping hole within me. When your only parent dies, life changes very rapidly, and you quickly realize there are a great many things you will never get to do again. One of the things that hit me the hardest was food. I would never get to eat my mother’s cooking again. I would never get to make Cuccidati with her again, sat there dutifully making cuts into cookie dough and fig jam. I would never get to make Pignolata with her again, and suffer trying to bite through diamond-hard honey. It was an odd feeling, and one that still echoes in me, as it seems like everyday I recognize there’s some other seemingly insignificant thing I did with my mother, that is suddenly deeply nostalgic. 

Since moving into my own house, I’ve become the dedicated chef. As first my fiance cooked under-spiced white people food – another culture’s DNA, passed from her Nana to her mother, and to her, but something so foreign and profane, it felt like eating poison – I spent many months languishing, wishing to taste my mother’s cooking again, to taste the little slice of my Sicilian heritage that had been passed down through generations of women in Palermo, until one day it hit me. There is no one to help me. There is no one who can give me that. I was at the base, surrounded by the rubble of the Tower of Babble, staring up through bricks and dust at God, begging for some kind of redemption. But it would not come through divine intervention, and it would not come without action. So I began cooking, relentlessly. Cooking anything and everything I craved. Bolognese, meatballs, vodka sauce, Arancini, stuffed peppers, artichokes, Cuccidati. I was lucky to have a gift for it, and I was motivated by my sudden success, and my desire to eat. I had built, from the bricks and dust, a bridge, not a spear, to that lost culture, and to my mother. And I began to understand my own language. A language not of words and sound, but of warmth and love. A language of sweating over a stove top, relentlessly stirring milk, and praying it didn’t curdle and ruin your newly made bolognese for your fiance’s birthday. A language of spending hours combing through a store, planning the perfect pairings of soft and hard cheese, cutting it, and sausage, and bread, just for the whole cheeseboard to be gone in a few minutes. A language of accidentally making your steak tacos way too spicy, and laughing about it with your fiance through gulps of milk: a language of love. My language of love. 

I can’t speak to my mother anymore. There aren’t words that can be passed between the living and the dead, but we still talk. I speak to her in that language, the same way I speak to my fiance and her family when I cook for them. I speak to them by loving them, and by cooking food that made me feel loved when my mom made it, food that I loved as I made it, and hoping they too feel the love I have for them in every bite. 

-Jared Kobre Alessandro

Food is My language of love

Siren

 

Her eyes glistened in the sunlight, keeping me mesmerized. Her sunken dimples, defining her cheekbones make her the most beautiful sight. My stomach churns as I admire her from afar. The brilliance behind her honey brown eyes is infatuating, her soul hidden behind the gold streaks shooting through her iris, her lips as red as cherries, her hair that wisps with the wind. What is this? This feeling.. I can't control it. She is perfect, I have to have her, I have to hold her as I caress her soft skin, sharing our souls through touch. I just want our souls to intertwine.. just once. She wears a lavender sundress every Sunday, not too loose, not too tight. Is this for me? Does she notice me? I notice her, in the midst of babies crying, women arguing, blasting music, the drunk old man bellowing his sob story, in a brown jacket that engulfed his body. She moves with bliss throughout the train without a care behind her peaceful eyes. I scan her, watching her step with her left foot first and not her right, strange. She reminds me of flowers, a rose, so many layers waiting to get peeled away, so precious, so sweet, thrilling my soul. Be careful of thorns they say, yet I am not afraid, I have gloves. 

I can never get close enough to her yet when she walks by I'm consumed by the smell of sage and jasmine, overwhelmed by the bizarre feelings in my stomach. What is this? I want to say hello, but my mouth feels full of tacks, my tongue swollen to the top of my mouth, my hands unsteady, my face boiling. She looks at me with her beautiful brown eyes, with one look she gave me peace. I have fallen into her trance, she's got me. I feel goosebumps up my neck when she gives me a soft gaze and smile. Her luscious spiraled hair bouncing with her hips as she walks, I must follow her. Her legs are almost as long as mine but not long enough, I catch up to her swiftly. I have met exquisite ladies before but no one is like her. As i go to speak i am stopped by a dog caught off leash jumping up and down to get my attention, his owner yelled in the distance “KIRBY” “WHERE ARE YOUUUU”

I yell back “HE IS OVER HERE!.” I look up from petting Kirby, she's gone, no trace in sight, the streets as empty as the feeling in my chest. I had to put on a brave face for the family rushing to their dog's aid, all I can think of is her. How am I supposed to find her in this big city? It's late, she shouldn't be alone, she couldn't have gone far, I can catch up to her. As the family ambushed me with appreciation, all I wanted was her. No agony will ever match mine at this moment, I was so close.

I walked aimlessly for hours that day, searching for the beautiful woman on the train, her lavender sunday dress, her honey brown eyes, her spiraled hair, were nowhere to be found. It's been a month since i have seen her, yet she stays on my mind. What is she? How does she have this much control over me? This can't be real, SHE is UNREAL. I can't sleep without seeing her in my dreams, she speaks to me. She surrounds me with water every night, she keeps me afloat, she sings to me, her honey brown eyes always have me in a hypnotic state, her touch as soft as plush, i want to sleep forever. I wake up in the middle of the night to grab a glass of water, rubbing my cloudy eyes, my eyes are so heavy and the water is so warm on my hands. I hear her, I hear her song, she's singing to me, goosebumps piece together all over my body, her song makes my mind tingle. I fight to open my eyes, they’re glued shut, I try to speak, nothing comes out. I feel her, her soft touch on my body, her warm presence behind me, this feels so real. 

Water is rising to my waist, am I awake? This can't be real, SHE is UNREAL. I feel my body tense as the water gradually makes its way to my rib cage. All i can think about is her, she is imprinted on my brain, her caramel toned skin meshes so well with  her lavender dress. The water is starting to feel like ice, chilling my bones and pulling my skin tight as ever. It rises, rises and rises. My eyes, heavy as rocks, still glued shut. The thought of her gets me through the agony. She is my peace, she will get me through, WHAT IS SHE?! Her song echoing, I hear her, her elegant voice grows closer and closer, I grow immobilized. With the water up to my collar bone, my eyes start to lighten up, I smell sage and jasmine, she's here. My eyes feel clear, I open them to darkness, I rub them in a panic and try again. All I can see is the rhythmic blue water surrounding me. Goosebumps align on my neck, the rest of my body feels numb. I feel her touch, she is here, I need to see her. A figure sways towards me, it's her, the woman in purple, she's moving with intent  as she gains closer to me. Can she see me through all of this ice and water? She sings louder and louder as she gains closer, grabbing my face, I can barely feel her. My body is paralyzed only my mind feels alive, she looks into the depth of my forest green eyes. She gives me a soft gaze and smile, as my mind starts to fade away, I hear her gentle voice say “I see you.”

-Tiarah Swann

Siren

Blooming Rosie

I bounce up and down, trying to trail away from the dance floor as my new-found friends try to keep me around and beg me not to leave, but it’s a Friday night and my glass is empty, we can’t have that. I stumble over to the bar, tripping over my own feet but not because I’m drunk. I’d like to think that from working at a club myself, I can handle my liquor. I stumble for two reasons, I’m dance-escaping from my friends on the floor and I’m very clumsy, and I accidentally ran into a woman on my way to the bar. I feel a cold liquid go down the opening of my dress and into my bra- shit, she spilled her drink on me. I look up at her.

Holy shit… I think to myself.

Before me stands a beautiful woman, a couple inches taller than me, I can’t tell if it’s because of the red leather heels she’s wearing or if it’s just her naturally long and elegant legs. Her rich black hair curls and shrivels around her ears and shoulders, not being much longer than that, and her makeup reflects that of her hair as well. A dark yet glittery smokey-eye enshrouds her emerald eyes as she stares at me as I stare at her. Her short black dress just barely hits her mid thigh as the lacey hem rides up as she carefully tries to wipe my chest of the drink she just spilled.

“Oh for fuck sake, I’m such a clutz,” she says as she frantically wipes me with a napkin.

I’m silent for a minute before I finally find my voice again. “Oh! I-it’s okay,” I start, “o-old dress anyway. It’s prolly had way worse dumped on it before.” OH GOD! What am I saying?!?

The woman laughs. “I’ll buy you a new one, sweetie. This is too cute on you to go to waste.” 

“I’ll buy you a new one too!” I shout, “Drink, I mean, not dress.” I wave over the bartender. “Excuse me miss, I’ll take a margarita and she will have-” I look back at the woman.

“Rum and coke, please!” She calls. The bartender nods in response and gets working on the drinks. “Thanks, sweetie.”

I blush. “Oh, uhh, no problem. The least I could do for not paying attention and having your drink accidentally spill into my bra.”

“I don’t think I’ve seen you here before. What’s your name?” She asks.

“My name is Rosanna, but uhh, everybody calls me Rosie!” I smile brightly.

“What a beautiful name,” she grins, “my name is Valerie.”

Valerie… She even sounds beautiful. Her voice sounds like a hot knife through butter feels. It wraps me around in a blanket and holds me tight, keeping me warm on a cold February night. I wonder what it’s like to be wrapped in those arms.

The bartender whistles, our drinks are ready. I grab them both and hand Valerie her rum and coke. Her fingers graze mine and even just that feels like velvet. I look at her hand slip away and already feel the craving for them to graze my body.

“First time here?” Valerie brings me from my trance.

“Oh! Uhh, yeah. I like it here though! The vibe is loud and upbeat here, and I like that sort of thing. I work at a club on the other side of town.”

“Oh yeah? Which one? Maybe I’ve been to it.”

“O-oh uhm,” shit, please don’t judge me, Valerie, “Among Clouds? It’s uhm, a gentleman’s club.” I trace the rim of my glass with my finger.

“Oh, I love that place. They treat their girls so nice there,” she smiles brightly.

“Oh! They really do. I’m actually in training to be a dancer there. I serve drinks mostly, but I fill in if one of the girls is sick.”

“How sweet of you.” She downs her drink and my eyes widen. She licks her lips as she sets the glass back down onto the bar, looking me deep in the eyes. I’m lost in them. “Wanna dance?”

My heart is pounding a mile a minute as I take a sip of my own drink for liquid courage. “Yes!”

She grabs my hand, leading me back to the dance floor as we sway and jump to the music. She makes jokes throughout the night, making me laugh so much I completely forget that there’s booze still in my bra. I don’t care. The night continues as songs change, and the energy shifts between me and Valerie. At one point she turns my body around so my back is against her chest, her hands softly hold my hips as we dance together and my hands instinctively go up into her black curls. I look over my shoulder at her with doe eyes, and she looks deep into mine once again with her own.

What a beautiful night…

-Isabel Willis

Blooming Rosie

A Baptism by Blood and Gold-Fire

 

“Blessed be to Narn on this day of his – fourth quartz of Tidefall, year seven of the Rift Era.” Amidst the clatter of arrivals, the pitter of rain, and the gossiping whispers of the noble stock, the frail call of a bishop echoed in the chamber, putting the pattering to calm. Saint Sanius, priest-governor of Landia, emerged from behind him, robed in fine robes of white satin – inlaid with gilded flames, bordered by bloody Narnite red.

Stepping to the podium, Sanius emitted a guttural sigh, before proclaiming in a voice that seemed to strain him: “Welcome, councillors, to another meeting of the Landian council. As you have doubtlessly gleaned, we have been cordially invited to the Guildhall of the Landian Crafting Guild, where tonight’s meeting will partake. But, before thine mind is not but dread, partake in the bounty of the Guildhall’s cookery, courtesy of Guildmaster Ferrik.”

Xander rolled his eyes at the mock-generosity of his most hated governor. He who would scorn his people and leave them to rot; who would cower, begging to the god which plagued him. Beneath his council regalia, Xander’s hand tensed upon the grip of his dagger, his anger hidden but for the pressure in his palm. If not for reason and the will to live, he would charge the priest-governor with it, and then all would be just. But no, there was a reason for this torture he suffered, this council meeting. He was not here to end Sanius; he was here for the one who would. 

The Guildhall porters came, dressed in short dresses with collars deep beyond sin, ogled by the eyes of fattened nobles, destined only to grow evermore; they gorged on platters stacked high with decadence, buttered and gravy-soaked to a point of gross inedibility. Xander was disgusted, reserved to declining the girls as they came, watching them laden with fare beyond reckoning, struggling at the simple process of serving their slop and retreating from the battlefield of heckling to their kitchen.

As the feasting came to close, Xander beheld the Guildhall in its entirety, searching the faces of his peers for the bounty thief who would usurp his purpose; for Yostaan, Derin of the Hidden, who would dare to rob him of this moment, who would claim to have a greater hate of the church governor than he, who would betray his trust and take his game. No, Xander would have his bounty, and the drinks would flow for many a long evening.

Each table of Kazrin nobles was besieged by the watching stare of Xander, who one by one, scanned the hall for a Kazri of darkened flesh, a Derin. Yet, in all his efforts, Yostaan was nowhere to be seen; each table of chanting, half-drunk, stuffed-to-bursting Kazrin bore no Derin, let alone one so distinct, hair four great braids that hung like mallets from his head.

“Should have known,” Xander sighed, “the Derin would never be allowed within the Guildhall, let alone within the councilship of Landia.” 

Xander’s eyes wandered to the edge of the chamber, littered with tables of artisan’s goods on display for sale, dotted with sparse groups of the nobility, Aelfen wine in hand. Still, Yostaan eluded him, existing only as a nagging figment in his mind. As he stood, there was a chorus of chewing mouths and slapping teeth, and hecklers like sopranos, singing their song of slander to Xander. Amongst the layers of chittering, he could make out some choice words coming from the table nearest to him: “The most un-noble-like councillor, he is, hopelessly unfit to own such a property as Smith’s Estate, and doubly so unfit he is to own such as an Aelfen child, to which he owns, I hear, as one would a dog.”

Such remarks endured until Xander returned to his own table in defeat, his anger coming out of him in whisps as if the steam of a Kazrin boiler. Now, his eyes treated with Sanius exclusively, eagerly watching with bated breath for those gaudy white robes to turn blood red – for Yostaan’s gunshot to silence the clamour, and the gossip, and the gawking. 

Xander’s anger grew, as a pot comes to a boil, his facade buckling to the roiling waters, reason failing against impulsive thought. A sickly-wide smile came to Xander’s face as he rose once more from his seat, a fire in his eyes where there was once the twinkle of humanity. Flintlock trained upon the hated governor, all that spite coalesced in his shaking trigger finger, Xander took the shot. Every muscle in his body tensed; he released a guttural scream which put the nobles to silence. The gunshot echoed in the blank canvas of noise – a straight, black line charred in its center, a red pool at the base. 

Sanius fell from his chair; screams and bells and the chaos of murder took the guildhall. Like an animal blinded, spurred only by instinct and fear of death, Xander ran, stumbling and clambering upon the flowing crowd. Unnoticed in the chaos, he turned to an alleyway, before a foot emerged from the darkness to bring him to the cobble.

 

Xander awoke in complete blackness, bound at the wrists and ankles, and gagged tightly with fraying twine. In the shadows, he could make out a silhouette: four great braids, a short, wide frame, and soulless purple eyes. Yostaan.

“I thought we had an agreement,” he barked, the violet light in his eyes sharpening to daggers. Xander could see in his hand a weapon, obscured in the shadows but for a thin purple sheen. Xander squirmed like a trapped animal, fear and anger in his eyes – a fire, golden and great. 

“I know who you are, flame-born; I know your purpose,” Yostaan was calmer now, as he pulled his blade from the shadows. It was Derin-forged – golden-runed and of a dark, red stone. He sliced along Xander’s arm, cutting deep enough to cause great pain, but little more. 

The fire which had died to embers in Xander’s eyes and deep in the pit of his stomach rose again, blazing great and wild. For a moment, self-perception ceased. Around him was naught but a raging golden fire, as far as he could see. The pain was unlike anything he’d ever imagined – like his skin was melting, bones broken and reduced, mind put to the pyre.

Xander returned as if through a dream, to a wake of blood and gold-flame. He was untouched, but Yostaan was charred to cinders, no more than a blackened pebble on the cobbled road. As if coming out of a daydream, the chaos of the surrounding streets met Xander’s ears like a wave – screams, the call of guards, the ringing of bells, and the constant echoes of the spreading news: governor Sanius is dead. Clambering to his feet, Xander stepped over what was left of Yostaan – blackened bones buried in soot, with a sickly smell of burnt flesh – and with a wince at the cut on his arm, ran.

-Noah Walters

A Baptism by Blood and Gold Fire

My Friend Macey

As I opened my eyes to the warm sunshine peeking through my blinds, the air was filling my lungs with fresh air. Today was going to be a good day, God woke me for a reason. I slipped into my Cookie Monster slippers Macey gave me for Christmas last year. I can’t help but worry about her when I see these. She struggles with day-to-day life, I always hope to provide her an escape, but she can’t even escape herself. I rushed to my phone urgently but with faith  that she made it through the night without these demons attacking her. Sheer disappointment filled my body to see a text from Macey: “It happened again; I might be a little late today, you can go ahead without me.” 

I wish she knew how much I cared for her. I rub my eyes to prepare my words. I remind her that she’s not alone. “Girl come on, you know I hate walking by myself, i'll wait for you. I got up late today anyways.” Macey is the type of girl who doesn't like to dwell too much so I try to brush her “obstacles” off as much as I can. I begin to get ready when I realize she doesn’t respond for a while; I begin to worry sitting at my phone covered in sweat from my hands. 

My mother's voice echoes through the hall, “Sweetie! Mango’s here.” She’s been called Macey Mango since we were little, Macey hates it. I rush down the stairs to see her, the melancholy energy radiates off of her. I grab my bag, squeeze my mom and head out behind Macey. 

Leaves crunch below our feet, emphasizing our silence. I try not to be upset with her for not answering, and it’s hard to stay mad anyways, I can’t help but understand her struggles. “It’s really nice out today,” Macey utters, trying to mend her actions. 

I smile at her and say, “Yeah, I don’t really want to go to school, seems boring.” 

I see her body start to inflate. “I got a good grade on the last test. Well, I mean, if you count C- as good.” Her tone changes, she’s got this! All she needs is that extra support. 

I grab her with all my might and scream, “YEAAAAH, MY BEST FRIEND’S A GENIUS!” We twist and turn, forgetting we are uncoordinated, and tumble to the ground. Our bellies sore from laughter, we tussle with each other to get up and continue our walk. 

As we try to catch our breath, my phone vibrates my thigh, my mom’s calling. Macey lets out a sigh but reassures me with a smile. I talk with my mom for what felt like three minutes, but to Macey that’s three hours. I hang up the phone and go to tell her about dinner reservations, and see her body back to its comfort zone, deflated. It’s almost as if it creeps up on her and she doesn’t have control. She’s much stronger than she thinks. One day she will be able to beat this. 

We arrive to class; Macey hasn’t said a word. She walks into the class with her head held high as if she isn’t battling herself in the midst. She rushes to her seat, counting her steps to avoid eye contact with anyone in the room. Her steps slow as she gets closer to her desk, it’s winning again. I follow behind her and nudge her, “Are you okay?” Her face is stone cold as if she can’t hear me. The teacher begins discussing a test we have next class. I glance over at Macey and it is obvious she isn’t there. Another class goes by, her eyes glued open, her paper blank and her hands soaking. Tomorrow is a new day; I can only hope that she will discover her true power lies within. 

-Tiarah Swann

My Friend Macey
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