I woke up to find Otis staring at me.  “Are you ready for your ‘check in’ today?” Otis’ simplistically announced reminder rendered me a little startled, for I had forgotten the events of the day. “Perhaps you will be granted your surgery today,” he pointed out. “Then you’ll be better once again.” 

I was supposed to go to the hospital to have a, what they labeled for the more timid kids, “check in.” On these monthly dates, my school schedule remained unchanged, per usual. The minor difference of where I would go after school was the only change that took place.

“It’s hardly frightening,” I said.

“Shall I go down for breakfast, or are we not hungry this morning?” Otis asked.

“I don’t think I wish to eat this morning, but of course you have the bowl,” I said while pointing towards the golden bowl, which was originally room decor but was now filled with chocolate Easter bunnies that Otis had brought with him and eaten when he did not share a meal with me. He now rummaged through the bowl, looking for the one that first drew his attention. I finished dressing for school while he did this, putting on a pair of light wash jeans. I added a belt I received from my mother yesterday, which was new and just unwrapped from its packaging. Once I slid the belt through the last loop, put on my usual black high top sneakers with penguin socks, brushed my hair, and grabbed my also penguin-themed backpack and lunchbox, I helped Otis get ready for school. I grabbed his black backpack and metallic lunchbox. Today I packed him a chocolate chip and oatmeal raisin cookie so he wouldn’t squirm under the irresistible want of cookies when they were just laying on the kitchen counter. I could hear them rattling in their foil wrappers, stuck inside the metallic prison. While they rattled, I let the box fall into his backpack, empty except for a chocolate bunny he had grabbed just now, his mustard yellow backup beanie and a folded piece of paper that appeared to be garbage, although this one was folded into a perfect square.

Otis and I left the large brick house and admired the reflective dew placed on the petal of each flower in our front yard. Our gravel path from the house to the sidewalk was wet, and disagreeable weeds were bursting through exposed patches. Gravel was dispersed across our grassy yard, usually of a vibrant green color in the sunlight. Otis didn’t arrive with shoes, and standard pairs don’t come in ovalular shapes. Therefore, Otis now suffered the painful task of trudging barefoot down the path in question. My father was in the car already, prepared for his daily task of driving Otis and me to school. We approached the silver Toyota and could already hear the music my father practically professed love to. While he played his favorite songs, I announced that Otis and I were, as my father liked to say, “buckled up and ready to go,” and we drove off to school.

School days tended to be normal, though the first school day I shared with Otis was of an opposite atmosphere. My teachers and peers had been notified of my penguin friend, or what they referred to as my “situation.” That day I was stared at by all. Even by the group of seven year olds that claimed they didn’t care about any matter except for those relating to them personally. My teacher’s attitudes shifted drastically and were overbearing and tentative, the qualities a worrying mother holds. I sat in the back of the class due to the shyness that emerged whenever I had to sit in the front row of a classroom. The teacher that morning had created a scene while dragging a heavy desk and letting it rest beside mine. This seat had been established as Otis’ seat. Periods of learning were seemingly normal, but the interactions between the beginnings of classes were displeasing. During recess I received countless invitations to partake in lunch and activities with kids who had the word pity clearly written on their eyes and face. I refused the forced offers with a stern, “No thank you.”

 I sat with Otis at a green table adjacent to the sandbox, which I soon hoped to introduce to the penguin. Once I flaunted the magical sandbox to Otis, we quietly gazed at the individual grains of sand, and watched them fall from shovel to bucket. The 40 minutes of time permitted for recess ceased eventually and academics resumed. My father and mother accompanied Otis and me on the car ride home that day. During the meager five minutes we spent waiting for them, he and I sat on an artificial patch of overly green grass, under a weak and small tree, and we stayed silent, but in an enjoyable way.

Today my father insisted on playing his music throughout the ten minute journey to school. The roads had small chunks of ice placed on curves and street corners, and most of them were half dirt and sewer water. The view was unpleasant, but the car was warm, filled with music, and smelled of cinnamon and hot chocolate. Otis and I sat in the back of the car on the grey cushion that was home to stains of brown, green, and purple. Now I felt free to talk to either Otis or my father whenever the opportunity pleased me, however I was rarely in a talkative frenzy. On the ride to school today nothing varied in my usual manner, so I thought about the “check in” and possible surgery. I could picture my calendar, existent for only a month, with very few dates marked and holidays yet to be acknowledged. I knew, though, that I had marked this date as the day of surgery, and I trusted the permanence of the black sharpie I used would rub off on my chances of surgery today. My head then manifested certain ideas, such as images of sharp metal tools poking at my brain, like how a curious child would use a stick to poke a dead squirrel. While thoughts of such things were present in my mind, the car had pulled up next to the new strip of sidewalk separating school and vehicles. I felt no rush as I slung my bag onto my back and helped Otis do the same. “Thanks dad,” I blurted out after I had already swung the heavy car door open and, with Otis, stepped onto the ice cold pavement. 

We walked confidently, or maybe it should be described as a walk that didn’t show any signs of fear, for confidently was far too strong and adjective to apply with such ease. I watched the parking lot of the Jones School, which we had now managed to reach, stab Otis’ unarmored feet. I also perceived that his face was still pleased and his current disposition unchanged. I then brought my gaze to the American flag on our school’s rusting pole, thrusted around by a strong and sudden wind. There was no urgent need to describe the school day today, for as I mentioned previously, even on a day involving hospital matters, school remained quite bland and redundant. Even the presentation I looked forward to had been postponed 24 hours. Until Wednesday I would have to wait to give the gift of my eloquent speech, and surely my audience would have to wait for me. For every normally scheduled class, Otis and I took our seats, as each student must do. During recess, Otis and I enjoyed the presence of each other in the sandbox. Previously, Otis had thanked me for the cookies that had been rattling in his lunch box all day, and he finished them both shortly and without creating any crumbs. We had lessons about our universe and solar system during the period assigned to science. I knew that I would never wish to traverse the vast Milky Way but instead wished the teacher knew that not all students have a vocation to be an astronomer or astronaut. Most periods consisted of this same pattern: a lesson taught and aspects of said lesson thought of as useless or uninformed. My criticisms may seem harsh, and they truly are compared to the fact I originally endured each lesson with a fake smile plastered on my face. But to argue in favor of myself, humans evolve, and therefore I have acted knowing that it was a mere repercussion of that piece of information. 

After I saw the silver Toyota emerge from the street corner, I felt apprehensive. Otis placed his wing on my clammy and sweating disaster of a hand while I gazed at the vehicle that could possibly be driving me to my death. If I failed to mention before, the surgery had a high fatality rate and therefore a low percentage of survival. During the time they announced all statistics to my already rotting brain, I hadn’t had the option to save them for later use. While I fretted, a playful pair of siblings were horsing around on their way to their car, their mother joking with her two strong and healthy offsprings. Superstition has no home in my heart, but maybe this meant I was to leave the hospital, surgery accomplished, ready to horse around with Otis (I had no siblings to do so). I was sure that I was just irrational, for I had never seemed so close to insanity than I was then. The Toyota slowly glided into the spot right in front of me, and stopped driving. Otis glanced at my entire body and turned his head down to look straight at my face. I took a step closer to his body, emitting warmth and kindness from its large figure. I wrapped my arms around him as far as they could reach, my fingers never meeting each other, and Otis and I molded into one. I leaned on the supporting figure while he employed his strength to push me towards the open car door. I slid into the backseat with cold feet, in the figurative way while it was also true in literal terms. I let Otis plop, which was the best word to describe the bounce he applied to each move, into the seat beside me. “Hi,” I said, addressing my parents and their phony, drawn on, smiles.

Pediatric wing hospital rooms don’t change. Yes, the peculiarly placed cartoons differ in rooms, but the idea of a stereotypical pink image plastered on one wall and some form of action movie hero or machine on the opposite wall remained the same throughout. It would be strange for any child to announce that they have a fondness for room 310 yet not room 306, due to the fact that each room was an unexciting replica of the other. I sat now in room 316, staring at a much too large image of Batman in the middle of realizing this action was wasteful and frankly dissatisfying. I turned away from the agitating sight, knowing very well I didn’t want to turn the other way just to see another particularly galling image displayed of a perky cartoon princess, who apparently had a dress code that stated they must wear a pink gown on all occasions. You could already see a dilemma had arisen and was now inducing inactivity, therefore I let every part of my anatomy fall into the slightly comfortable hospital bed. I had become accustomed to the features present in each hospital room, so I rolled over, after only being bored for a modest time of five seconds, and seized a long black remote control. I then turned to Otis, sitting in the region of chairs designated for family members of the sick patient, and asked him, “SpongeBob?”

“Whatever you feel suits this situation,” replied a happy, and faintly smiling, Otis. I communicated my wants to the television, hung up next to cobwebs on the corner of the right wall, and it flickered from black to an underwater reality where sponges may speak if they wish. 

I watched SpongeBob for the timelapse of an hour, not including the intrusions and disturbances, which caused me to pause on several occasions. These occurrences were commonly periods of five or 45 delaying minutes, and consisted of obtrusions by my parents or doctors coming in or my departures for various medical tests. Otis, however, always remained seated in the room while I was about and speaking to the adults that currently dictated my life. I attended to his needs while doctors tended to mine. Dr. Roberts would come in and demand my presence, and for me to cease my current activity. I was prepared to do so, but then I would hear Otis utter words such as, “If you leave the show playing while you leave, I will be much obliged.” I would then repeat his words to Dr. Roberts, and he would either agree to the simple request, or on other occasions he might claim he didn’t wish for any energy to be wasted by the continually running television. These moments of argument, obtrusions, and departures plainly summed up every aspect of a “check in.” The only part to ever be frightened of was if your doctor affirmed that the tests showed no progression, meaning that your sickness had worsened. In my experience that day and in the past “check ins,”  the situation in question had never been mine. 

It had been a three hour “check in” that day, most likely due to the fact that I might be rushed into surgery the second I was noticed again, and therefore the tests done on me needed to be extensive and certain about my capability to have the surgery. The night sky was darkening rapidly, and the sun was falling like a large and fiery stress ball from its high point in the sky. The hospital room was almost completely engulfed by darkness, and I was only partially sure that the surgeons had enough light to operate during this dark hour. The sound effects of SpongeBob were likely quite audible to the patients of the rooms near mine, yet I refused to turn down the volume of my distraction. I had pestered my mother about five minutes earlier to fetch some chocolate items and drinks from the vending machine down the eerie looking hall. She would squarely refuse each time I begged.

“Please mom, I’m sure it won’t harshly influence my health!” I had pleaded. My father, a less overbearing parental figure, announced that he would bring me a singular chocolate bar for me to feast on. I didn’t bother to request one for Otis because I knew he always had  a chocolate bunny, or even one in bar form, at hand. My mother accompanied my father on the short journey even though it required only one being, but still I had been left in the dark room with Otis. The flickering TV was the only light shining on our complexions, for none of us took the liberty to turn on one of the lamps on the Ikea nightstand. I had not seen Otis rest yet, but he stood beside me for quite some time, proving his steadfast loyalty. He still stood, unwavering. 

My father and mother returned with a pea sized chocolate almond, a large disappointment compared to my hopes of a king-sized Hershey bar. I scowled at their failure to meet my needs until I noticed three other people making an entrance. One was Dr. Roberts, and it wasn’t a very shocking sight for he came and went as he pleased, but he was accompanied by two other young and quite timid looking doctors. I could now understand that my parents had been bombarded on their way to the vending machine by these doctors, and I could see that they knew further into my future than I did. They had a faltering smile on their tired out faces, and I recoiled from the disgust of the fake happiness they put on display just for my benefit. Otis had backed away into a chair without me noticing his movement, and he sat there now, staring at the scene that unfolded in front of him. 

“Am I having the surgery today?” I asked while quivering, just so I could get the thought out of my head and into the room. I was somewhat annoyed that these grown adults chose not to disclose this information yet, allowing it to be much more awkward for the child in the room.

“You are, Bella, but don’t freak out kiddo,” Dr. Roberts said while attempting to be humorous. He clearly did not know my prior hatred of the degrading word “kiddo,” but I let him continue. 

“We don’t think you’re going to die Bella, I mean we can’t promise life of course,” he continued while I thought, So he’s basically assuring my death. I suppose I was just indignant that he mentioned that he couldn’t promise life to an eight year old girl. Of course she was going to interpret that she was going to die. I hardly listened to what he half told me and half told my parents about the way the surgery would work, and the confusing and unpronounceable medical terms. I now stared back at Otis, noting earlier that he had still been staring at me. He got up, unnoticed by the adults of course, and handed me a chocolate bunny, similar to the time I had first been in his presence. I was in no mood to eat, so I rested the bunny on my nightstand, ready to eat and enjoy it with Otis, post-surgery. For now I let the muffled noises of speaking be mere background noises, and I stared at the TV that was still, now quietly, playing season one episode three of SpongeBob.

Shortly after the time spent talking over the surgery, I was to prepare for the event itself. If I am to speak candidly, I had still not quite accepted the fact that I would soon be the dead squirrel poked by a stick, but I supposed at least the poker knew what they were doing. The two young doctors did not seem like highly competent surgeons. They were both much too clumsy, and shuffled reluctantly to my side. They began a painful and maddening process so I could go into surgery shortly. I felt like the turkey on Thanksgiving day, being prepped and touched by others. I was handled and medicated, and grabbed and poked, and I was stared at by my blood relations, and by my penguin friend. A rather embarrassing thing for them to do in this scenario. My mother and father stared and yelled lines of what they thought of as encouragement. If you compared them and Otis, Otis would seem quiet and bad tempered. However he was quite the opposite. My parents constantly repeated things such as, “It’s ok honey!” and, “You got this, it will be alright,” but Otis knew to sympathize, not encourage, and to do so whenever I flinched or quivered. He would then say cooly, “I understand it’s frightening.” I wished for him to embrace me once again, but he hadn’t the chance for I was now being lifted, similar to the first scene in the Lion King movie, by the three doctors in the room. I strained my neck to glance back at the TV which no one had turned off. I didn’t wish to lose my spot in the show. While I did so, Dr. Roberts practically let me fall onto a new and uncomfortably hard cot. My parents dared not to hold back their tears, and they looked as if they were already mourning my death. Otis stood unharmed by any trauma, and he just stared with sympathy as they rolled me away from him. 

“Bye,” I whispered to Otis, hoping to make it out of the surgery to see him once again. I then turned to the humans who created me. Our loving family, I could tell, would likely not be complete without me to look after. “I love you both very much,” I cooed, calming my parents down instead of the opposite. I had now officially been rolled out of my hospital room, and I felt dizzy while I stared down at the moving nauseating green tiles of a long hall. I tried to look back, to see Otis, to hear the ending credits of SpongeBob, to see how dark the room had gotten, to eat the chocolate almond, to hug a penguin. I was slipping away from the friend that cared about me the most, and I nearly screamed. The doctors pacing in front of me burst open a set of double doors, the same dramatic way they did it in TV shows. My parents were pushed back, not allowed to go any further into the sterilized room where my mind would be opened up to the world. I hoped my thoughts of contempt against the doctors stealing me from Otis would not escape in my weak moment and reach their ears. I eagerly wished to see if Otis was there, right next to my parents, wishing me luck. I was quite indignant at that moment and wanted to yell at the doctors, but instead I was instructed to count back from ten, “nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three…” I trailed off. That is all I remember.

I was extremely warm. My mind immediately asked the question if I was being eaten up by a raging fire or being burned by a dying out candle. To find the answer I had to see what was happening to my body. That’s why I opened my eyes. Contrary to my predictions, I was under three layers of heavy blankets, and I felt like the bottom layer of a piece of lasagna. I wasn’t sure what to do with my limbs, and I felt uncoordinated as I tried to move and failed in the process. My legs had been immobilized from the pressure of these blankets, and my tongue had never been so dry, and my eyes never so heavy. I tried to open my eyes, to rest them on the world, without using my fingers to prevent my eyelids from falling and hiding my sight. I gazed around as long as my exhaustion would permit. I let myself feel numb and morose for yet another moment, until my slow-moving mind undertook the reality of the situation. I was briefly paralized by the shock surging through my now profusely sweating body. I was alive, and from what I could tell, I was also healthy. I had the inclination to burst from my restraining sheets, but It was doubtless that there was certain medical equipment attached to my body. I imagined I had survived my brain being removed and then placed again in my head. To be frank, I knew that was most likely not the case. However, I could still claim I had survived a surgery, counting on the fact I wasn’t dreaming of life in this current moment. My face now swelled with pride. I was beaming, a fact I knew without needing a mirror. I soon thought of not myself but my loved ones. I could let myself relax now that I could keep the promise I made of eating that final chocolate bunny with Otis. I gave myself the courage to finally cease the resting of my limbs and to move around. I suppose I had been quiet while I pondered my mortality, for I now noticed my mother and father sitting in a chair, simply staring at their brown shoes. The awkward moment refused to pass, therefore leaving me to start a conversation. “Hi,” I croaked with my raspy voice. 

As basic and cheesy as it sounds, my parents looked as if they had seen a ghost in their presence instead of their once sickly child. My mother had a thing for the dramatics, and her reaction proved this statement far better than I could. She choked on tears as they rapidly streamed down her face, and she contorted her face during this period of carrying out and what I thought of as a celebration. My father simply swallowed, in a very exaggerated way, and tapped his foot repeatedly on the tiles beneath him. Shortly after I spoke, my parents both tightened their arms around my fragile and weak waist. I flinched for a moment before I enjoyed their loving embrace of affection. I too hugged them with the best of my ability, for my hands were too small and their bodies too large. We sat for moments of tranquility, until my mother felt the need to explain the fact that I was still alive. 

“The surgery went great!” she boasted, “You’ve gone from a pale ghoul to my lovely daughter.” Yes, that was a truly kind sentiment for my mother to speak, however no tears rose to my tired eyes just yet. After the strong feelings of reunitement subsided, I longed to meet Otis once again. I hadn’t been able to scan the room for the presence of the perpetually quiet penguin. I did so now, and returned with frustrating results. Otis did not appear to be in the white hospital room currently, an odd occurrence for the clingy penguin. 

“Do you happen to know Otis’ location?” I asked my euphoric mother. She bit her lip as if it wasn’t obvious for me to take that as a sign of worry. “Mom,” I said flatly and quite frustratingly. I thrashed around my bedding for some time until I was able to free my puny arms. I panted like a dog in hot weather after my draining struggle. Next I looked on the fragile nightstand for the Easter bunny chocolate I had left behind, part of my promise to Otis. I threw my head from side to side,with my eyes now wide open but still glazed over. I looked at each parent as they avoided my gaze. “Is this the same room I had before?” I quickly spat. They took quite a while to submit a valid response, but my mother answered with the short word, “Yes.”  

“Did they throw away the chocolate by chance?” I asked with the hope I could still indulge in eating. My father chose to chime in this time, with another one syllable, depleting word.

“No,” He murmured. 

I meditated for minutes trying to figure out how the chocolate did not sit before me and where Otis might be. During this exasperating period, Dr. Roberts chose to make his entrance. Poorly timed, but crucial. He entered with a lively attitude and did a strange and horribly executed dance on his way towards my bed. 

“There’s my number one patient!” he squealed like a schoolgirl. “How are you feeling today Bella? I’m sure your parents announced that we removed all tumors and you should be strong and healthy in no time.”

“I’m feeling fine Dr. Roberts,” I replied, contradicting his happy demeanour with my sullen one. “Yes, I have been notified about my current state of being.”

He then proceeded to flip through what I have identified as my chart, ask a few more questions, and speak to my emotional parents. They, like most times, left the room during this conversation. They all soon re-entered, coming back to my side clearly not as high-spirited as they were a mere one minute ago. 

“What?” I said in an angry tone, but with a slight quiver in my voice. 

“We were just wondering if Otis has interacted with you this morning,” Dr. Roberts said, addressing me, yet looking at my parents. He most likely intended the question to be smooth and calm. This dear doctor failed in that case. He scratched his head and couldn’t keep his sight in one direction for more than a moment. 

“I haven’t seen him yet,” I answered quite indignantly towards my nervous doctor. Dr. Roberts apparently felt no need to respond to my snappy remark, and he tripped towards the wide-open door. My parents took whatever signal he had made, and sat next to me. I wished they hadn’t. For the bed was too small for a group of three. 

“Bella, we’re really sorry…” my mother began but could not complete. She had unplugged whatever was keeping the dam together, and the tears appeared once again. 

“Honey,” my dad cooed, taking over for my saddening mother. I felt the redness in my cheeks, and from my current state of feeling I could tell they were the same shade as a ripe tomato. My nose soon became a peach-like color, and rain from my fading blue eyes watered the peach and tomatoes. “We don’t think Otis is here, anymore.” my dad finally finished. I watched as my statuesque father let rain onto his face as well. It was surely a rainy day for the Court family. I was no idiot, and I could easily put two and two together. I would not protest Otis’ disappearance. I would not argue with my father and mother, for I had no case. Calm, collected, accepting. These words did not describe my presence. The drizzling rain turned into a flood, and the dam was crushed into pieces. I forced my hand to reach the nightstand. My uncut nails yelled while they were pushed into the chipping paint, and they tried to grasp the form of an abandoned bunny. My beady eyes saw no presence of a black backpack and metallic lunchbox, no beanie left in the hallway, and no penguin asking for SpongeBob. My parents backed away, and now they really saw a ghost in me. I screamed for my neighbors to hear, for them to feel my pain. I thrashed around, pulling my hair, until the loudspeaker announced my room number. Blackness. 

I was Bella Court. Today I turned nine, and my mother bought me red wallpaper.

The Woman in the Moon

Some dare to love the night. They wax poetic on the velvet warmth of the air wrapping around them, write odes to the nightingale and to the bright stars that twinkle and provide only a smudge of light

—a lit candle in a yawning abyss—

—a campfire that casts as many shadows as light—

—a crystal sewn into a wedding gown’s silk for color—

Light. But swallowed up by darkness.

Of course, you wouldn’t find those kinds of people around here. And of course, I am not one of those people. I wish I were back in bed right now, but instead, I am stumbling through the woods at midnight. 

I squeeze the stone The Goodmother gave me at dinner.

—well dinner is a bit of a stretch isn’t it—

—but The Goodmother knows best—

Normally, I’d take dinner with the other acolytes in the Hall’s dining room; this last week, I have been cloistered in a room of my own, carrying out traditional penance and Purgatory, preparing for tomorrow. 

I found the stone tucked underneath the pannikin of gray mush on my dinner tray. On it is a painted map of the Hall of Golden Fire and its surrounding woods. I could smell the ground charcoal, still fresh, in the ink tracing my path to the lake in a nearby forest clearing, and could easily detect The Goodmother’s strong, forceful handwriting, present in all my textbooks, in the strokes of the one character painted on the stone: you must seek

My thin cotton dress snags on a spearlike tree branch. I huff and jerk away from the offending branch, wincing as the fabric rips free: The Goodmother may be censuring this voyage, but she will not approve of sloppiness. 

Serves her right, though. Only the heroines in fairy stories ever actually trip over their dresses, get stuck on a low-hanging vine, and such. I am hardly the type of person who would make a good adventuress, and yet here I am, in the middle of the night, stumbling my way through a dense forest in hopes I’ll find the place to practice my magic. 

My toe, encased in a rather feeble cloth slipper, stubs on a thick root, and I bite my lip to swallow my yelp of pain. Most definitely not a good adventuress.

—what am I thinking I’ll be mauled to death by a bear—

It’s been a long time since I actually read a fairy tale, or any kind of storybook for that matter. What I can remember is the memory of what The Goodmother told me in my first lesson as a fresh acolyte in the Hall: people like us are not heroines. We were not born golden-haired and apple-cheeked with flowers and silver spoons in our mouths. No, The Goddess chose us to act on the sidelines as witches. 

Maybe as the evil witch who decorates apples with poison. Hopefully as a good witch, who provides an invisibility cloak with which to spy on the twelve princesses who revel ceaselessly through the night. Perhaps both. 

A pretty picture, a pretty story. I smooth a curl of black hair out of my eye. I remember sitting at the feet of The Goodmother, one fist clenched on a cloth bundle of clothes that I suppose my parents gave me before abandoning me on the Hall steps. 

The Goodmother’s eyes twinkled kindly at me as she asked, “Do you understand why you are here, dear?” I nodded, jiggling my chin as fast as I could, to show her just how much I understood. I wanted to be that romantic, shadowy figure hovering around the edges of a story, the most talented kind of weaver who could smooth out the rumples of life. If being a witch only required determination, I would have been inducted that very day.

A breath of wind curls around me, its fingers stabbing my shoulder blades and massaging them into a shiver. I again wish for my bed, and my soft blankets, far more comfortable than a mantle of night air. But I am out of time.

When I was younger, I watched The Goodmother and the other mistresses command air with a deft twitch of the fingers, fling fire onto faraway candles with a bronzed flash of their eyes, and coax water to envelop them in skirts of blue sheets by casually waving a hand. It’s been ten years, and I cannot do the same. 

Maybe this is Anli’s gentle nudge to quash my hope and find some other job outside of the Hall before I am expelled. Expulsion would make me a pariah. I can sew beautifully, and I know all the secret recipes for the vividest dyes, but expulsion would steal any future I have. 

No one would want me. 

But try as I might, I cannot summon my power. Tomorrow is the capstone of my Purgatory. My eighteenth birthday, my Ceremony. I’m not sure what it requires, but it is my final chance to prove I have some calling in magic and some—any!—ability. So here I am, practicing at midnight. 

I shove my shoulder through the final barrier of stubborn brush and burst into the clearing, Lake Anli lying ahead of me. I suppose it’s foolish to name a lake after the sun Goddess when water is the domain of her brother, Azyan. But after all the trouble I’ve taken to sneak out and practice my spells for the Ceremony, I’m counting on any luck I can find, even if it’s simply finding a lake named after the One who is supposed to fuel my magic. 

Any scrap of luck.

—this is pathetic Su-enna, you’re more rational than this—

—you could run away, already halfway—

The lake looks astonishingly peaceful; I expected more pesky possums to be frolicking around. The moon looms large and heavy in the sky.

—shards waiting to break—

—a giant pearl weighting the center of a necklace—

—a pregnant belly, cradled and treasured for the potential inside—

—a compass? a wheel of time—

—a spinning wheel creaking above and below the water—

The moonlight sings strong and bright over the entire clearing. I wade knee-deep into the water. My nightgown flows out in tendrils, like the hair of a mermaid, and sends ripples across the lake, fractures the moon’s image into vaguely circular waves and enjambed parts.


I wade purposefully, if such a thing is possible when water pushes against me and whispers to slow down, toward the moon floating restlessly on the surface. Just a few hours siphoning its energy should be enough—morphing a toad or two into doves, healing the pinkish scar on my knee. All very easy, beginner’s magic that I probably should have performed years ago. I know the technique, at least. 

Strengthen my core. Dip my head forward in reverence. Gather power by thrusting my hand into the image of the sun . . . well, the moon will have to do. It is a disrespect to Anli, but

—one celestial object is so like another—

—no time to worry, I’ll pray forgiveness later—

Surely The Goodmother would not have aided me if she did not allow me this indiscretion. My fingers tremble, an inch away from the surface of the lake. I take the plunge before my thoughts can hunt me down.

And the yellow moon, so invariably round, disappears, dissolves through the cracks and calluses of my fingers. 

—yellow stardust—

—is this magic?—

My palm fills with golden powder. 

—did I just scoop it out of the water?—

The moon glows, alight with fire, above me. 

—a paper lantern, finally lit—

The scar on my knee seals itself. Was it ever there?

—this is magic—

The air seems to quiver around me, to glow with the light of midday. And the glow snakes in, coils around my insides.

—magic is a drink of silken water after wandering for years in the desert—

—a tree that has burst from an acorn—

—a blinding light after days of slumber—

—it is me, I am magic—

It is terrible. Who am I? 


I gasp and cry the tears I stored inside when I 

—summoned no spark of power at any end-of-year examination—

—was shooed away from the seamstresses’ hall with flicks of their glowing fingers—

—couldn’t succeed—

Well, I am no longer a failure. The Goodmother will be proud when she sees my performance tomorrow.

—or will she?—

A crack echoes, jerking me out of my stupor. It’s the unmistakable noise of a person stepping on a twig, which means someone is here, not fifty paces away from me.

Me, as in I, I who am breaking a law and a handful of Hall rules by cavorting in the darkness—the ultimate disrespect to Anli.

The warmth that was inside me just a few blinks ago fades into a whisper, waiting but out of reach. I can’t possibly expect to escape—it’s nearly as bright as day. We have learned about the perpetually full moon, but never had the chance to see it. No moonlight filters through the gaps between the walls’ bricks. 

—no sunlight either—

—heavens above I have to hide—

I have nowhere to hide. As I turn in the water, running critical eyes over my surroundings, a figure marches out of the trees, gently coaxing a fussy horse. Its back is turned to better administer to the horse, giving me a few precious seconds to send up a prayer to Azyan and dive underwater before I’m seen.

Bubbles rush around me and fill my nose. I paddle backwards with frenzied, weak flaps of my hands toward the other side of the lake. My feet scrabble the ground for footholds, but the mud is soft and cloudy and doesn’t provide much to push off of. 

It’s a small lake, barely larger than a pond. Something thick and solid bumps against my back—I’ve reached the opposite shore. I plant a hand behind me and turn to face the earth, digging my toes into the slightly-less-soft mud here and shooting up to the surface with a bounce of my knees. Air sticks to my face, and I suck it in with eager pulls. That’s when I look across the lake and see the figure brought friends.  

The gods are well and truly laughing at me: after all my careful rule-following and toeing the line, my one night of adventure teeters on implosion. I will be expelled. I will be thrown into prison for an amazingly long time for my crimes. I will have no future. No future, and no life. What starts as a yawn, a gap in my chest, races into my throat as a sob.

—but there’s no one to cry for—

—no one to see and no one to care—

—not a person worth caring for—

I am mourning my own death, and realizing I have not had a life. 

A voice cuts across the clearing; I squint, and guess that it belongs to the first person, with the horse. “Did you all get the plan?” It’s a husky voice, with a slight magnetic pull. The timbre of charisma—I’ve heard it in The Goodmother’s voice. 

And it’s a man’s voice. It must be. At least, I think so, I wouldn’t know. If The Goodmother were here, she would sniff and say, “and a good thing, too.” No boys allowed in the Hall of Golden Fire, because none have ability anyway.

Some of the other figures must be men, too. I hear more than one deep voice in their collective response. The first figure—the leader? I wonder—steps back and brandishes a club in the air. “We ride tonight, Shadows! We fight the powers that be!” 

A raucous cheer explodes out of his followers. I compress my shoulders and flatten my palms against the bank of the lake, making myself smaller around their noise, which will surely have them caught and thrown in cells before long. The Goodmother will know, and she will come find them. 

These rebels, or whatever they are, are not my problem. They are so wrapped up in their own sacrilegious mutterings they might not notice me.

—little old me—

This same time tomorrow, I may well find myself in the same woods with nothing but the clothes on my back, never mind any kind of future. But for now, at least, I have a home to go back to. 

I hoist myself out of the water so that I’m sitting with my feet in the water and begin charting a route home in my head. The moon has almost set: when I called my power it was directly overhead, shining clearly onto the lake, but now it is sunken and pale as it sinks in the west. If I’m careful, I might be able to circle the clearing all the way to their side before going back through the woods to the Hall. 

Mindful of the moon shining on the left side of the lake, I creep into the trees on my right, holding my breath to make less noise

—any scrap of luck—

and dart from tree to tree, pressing myself into each trunk and inhaling the moss and rough bark for a full ten counts while I peer at the group, checking that it remains oblivious to my presence.

I’m only a few paces from the trail The Goodmother indicated to me when two hands clamp onto my left and right shoulder. My reflexes kick in—hand-to-hand combat was one of the few classes at the academy that I could do just fine in, without adding a magical component. From the angles of the hand on each shoulder, I figure that I have two attackers. I place my arms diagonally across my chest, pinky to shoulder and other thumb to hip, and whip them around in the way I was taught. One arm coils back to my hip, my elbow jutting behind me. The person on my right lets go of me with a quick huff of pain. I don’t have time to dwell on my victory, once  I break free of these people, I’ll have to rush back to the hall if I can hope to attend my Ceremony in time. I swing my left arm down and strike my fist against a tender pressure point on the side of my other attacker’s leg. But he or she does not let go. Instead, I’m pulled back into the clearing and forced to face a dozen moonlit, weathered faces, wearing a range of emotions, from shock to anxiety to sour hostility. 

I exhale shakily. “Let me go. We can forget this ever happened.” 

The Shadows’ leader steps forward. “You know of our existence now, maybe even our plans. You’re coming with us.”

I raise my hands and pray for strength, for a miracle, for some kind of shield. None comes. I stare at my stupid, powerless, pointless hands, clench them

—it is not too much to ask, to be loved—

and I think of the moon,

—glowing bright and soft and hot—

—hot, hot, hot, I feel it—

feel the moon. And my hands flame. The light illuminates the Shadow leader’s green eyes, etches his fearful expression with shadows. He stares. “You’re one of the witches.”

I nod impatiently and creep toward the trees. 

He bars his teeth. “Then we’ll return you to the Hall, poor lost lamb.” 

As if I would ever give help to rebels. But the sky is turning rosy, meaning I need to be back in bed right now. I send up another prayer of forgiveness to Anli,

—lots of praying tonight—

and lift myself onto a horse, imagining all of The Goodmother’s disapproving expressions. 

But when the Shadows dump me on the front steps, no surprise or disappointment flits across her face. The Goodmother is as old as she is wise, with snowy white hair hanging down her back and her fingers warped by arthritis from years at the loom. Her face is a map of wrinkles: here is a dimple, showing only in true smiles, and there is where her jaw clenches when she is angry. Lines revealed when she worries, fumes, or laughs. As I stagger up to the door, she doesn’t blink—merely says, “Ah, Su-enna. We shall ready you for the Ceremony.” 

I bathe with hot water, a luxury required to purify me to the Sun’s exacting standards. Then I dress in pure white and stick buttercups in my hair, bursts of sunlight in my dark tresses. Two sisters ride with me to the River Azure, which cleaves our country in half, and force me to the very center. 

I’m trembling now. The Ceremony is a mystery, as unknown to me as men’s voices. I do not know if I will be flayed alive or asked to display my power. I lift my chin and wait for The Goodmother to explain. I see the image of my trembling fingers in the water, and I clench them out of sight, into fists. 

“To please Anli and be accepted as a sister in the Hall of Golden Fire, you must prove your worth.” The Goodmother’s voice is high and clear and keen. “The water will wash away any sins you carry. To balance water is his sister, fire, and She will test you.” 

—wait what—

She cups her hands over her mouth and hurls a bloom of fire at me. 

—too late to close my eyes—

—death by a bear would have been mercy—

I am not burned. The fire spreads over me, sliding butter in a pan. My hair is burning away in a thousand pinpricks, the buttercups wilting. But my face feels no warmer than a blush. My fists flame. I welcome the fire, but what now?

—banish the orange beast—

—do something—

—the moon—

My closed lids flash soothing yellow. The fire dies. I feel my scalp prickle in relief.

Then I feel The Goodmother’s slap. “Foolish girl! Irreverent girl!”

—well what should I have done—

“What did I do, Goodmother?” I lower my eyes. 

“You should have waited,” she snaps, “for the fire’s color. Black for evil magic. White for Anli’s approval. But for you . . .


My heart clenches. “But I am magic!”

“Such audacity!” she squawks. “Magic is divine. You may receive the gift, that is all. And your magic . . .” She straightens. “Impure. You worship the moon, not the sun. Ultimate betrayal! You are dark. You—” her withered lungs wheeze. She points across the river, away from the Hall. “are not wanted here.” 

“Where can I go, Goodmother,” I plead, “If I’m unwanted?” 

She shrugs. “Join the rebels? They’re so desperate for any leverage, they’ll harvest you and your power happily.” She climbs out of the river with a splash. 

—the slap of rejection—

I sink onto my knees and stay there. My face wavers in the water. When the tears come, it’s so easy to turn them loose, after years of suppressing emotion. They drip down my face and into River Azure’s steady current, a cycle returning to the water, where the salty drops instantly melt into a home. 

—o to be gathered up as efficiently, lovingly—

It’s so easy to stay there, swaying in the river, curled over to keep my heart inside my chest. It’s so easy to accept this fate. I’ve always felt 


Eventually, my hair dries; so does my face, sticky but warm. When my stomach rumbles, I finally climb out and walk, finding some berry bushes. 

The sun is setting when I hear the clop of hooves along the bank. I peer out from behind the bush I’d picked to sleep under and see a band of people dressed in black, led by a familiar green-eyed man. 

The Shadows. 

—I’m desperate and cold and aimless—

“Wait!” I implore with an outstretched hand, stumbling forward. “I can help you!” 

The leader halts, signaling the others to do the same with a jerk of his head. “Explain.” 

I’m in too deep now.

—jumped off this cliff a while ago—

“Whatever you’re trying to do . . . ” I pause. “My magic can help. I can summon rain, wind, fire—make plants grow, anything.” 

—nothing left to lose—

“You want to overthrow the government? I can burn it all down,” I rasp. 

The leader frowns. He turns to a fair woman just behind him and whispers hurriedly. She nods eagerly, casting hungry eyes over me. Finally: 

“We can use you. My name is Kai, and that’s Rafiya.” A nod toward the blond woman. “Welcome to the Shadows.” Rafiya helps me onto her horse, settles behind me, and whips us into a gallop. 

We ride north, hugging the river, for most of the night. I don’t know where I am going, and I don’t care. The grim black sky and stinging wind blind me

—and my judgment—

but I keep up with the group. I’m wanted here, maybe for all the wrong reasons, and it is enough. They promise me a roof and a bed, companions to chase away my loneliness, so I’ll do anything they ask. 

—morality has stolen too much of my life for me to heed it now—

When the sun rises, it does so over a ramshackle village and, not too far off, a large, tall building of white stone, boasting turrets capped with gold. Clueless about any geography outside of the Hall, I raise my eyebrows at Rafiya. 

“It’s the Governor’s palace.” She leans closer and whispers, “You’ll kill her. We have a few things to teach you first, but if you do this for us, we will officially accept you as a Shadow.” I’m dazed but weary, so I nod. 

The Shadows have been scouting the palace of the current Governor, Nette Flysalle, for weeks. Their planted agent lets me into the kitchen through the palace’s back door, along with the local baker when he makes his daily bread delivery. He whispers hurried instructions to me as he stirs onion soup—how many lefts and rights I must make to reach Nette’s receiving room, where she will be alone and ready to receive petitioners. He slips me a maid’s uniform, which I pull over yesterday’s white robes. 

I’m counting my left turns as I scurry down the plush carpeted corridors when someone pokes me in the shoulder. Whirling around, I see Rafiya in a costume similar to mine. She presses a finger to her lips and taps her dagger at her hip, mouthing just in case as she follows me. I contemplate whether the dagger is for Nette or for me as I race around the last turn and ease open the waiting red door

—why is the goodmother here?—

“Where is the Governor?” I scan the room frantically, noting possible escapes: there are no windows. There is a skylight, but the ceiling’s too high to reach. 

The Goodmother laughs. “There is no Governor. We at the Hall are blessed by Anli Herself. Heaven would not want any other ruler of this country.” She steps toward me, poised and calculating. “I’m only telling you all this because you’ll soon have no one to tell except your fellow inmates in Hell.” 

I press a shoulder against the doorframe and gesture with my hidden hand to Rafiya. I hope I correctly make the shape she taught me a few hours ago: a warning to hang back, and get help. “You’re sure I’m going to Hell?” I toss out, listening for Rafiya’s footsteps to fade away. 

“I have sensed something off about you since your childhood. As you grew, that manifested as a nocturnal sleep cycle, a fascination with the library’s moon myths. An irreverence for Anli, and for my authority. Oh yes, you tried to hide it! But I knew you failed your magic classes because you had the wrong kind of magic.” 

Maybe before I would have cared. Now her words are rote, targeting the approval-seeking person that has slipped farther and farther away from my consciousness. I walk toward her and snarl, “If I can’t kill you, maybe they will.”

With beautiful timing, Rafiya, Kai, and the other Shadows appear in the doorway, knives gleaming in different parts of their clothing. “Finish it now!” I hear someone crow.

The old woman changes tactics. “You know you want to belong. Come home. Only I understand you. These rebels only want to use you—I sent you to them so you could realize this. Kill these rebels to show your loyalty, and we can overlook your taint.” 

She has set up this whole situation—my encounter with the rebels in the woods, my flee to them after the Ceremony, my presence here to kill a nonexistent Governor. 

—the most skilled weaver—

—engineering us all into place—

I turn to the rebels. Kai says impatiently, “It’s not true. You’d rather be with us than this manipulator. We don’t believe in rejection. Now kill her.” But his eyes are wide, and Rafiya’s knuckles are white. They fear me. 

I step back, so I can see both sides at once. My heart squeezes and prompts me to imagine, just once, what life as a Hall inductee would be like. I’d finally be able to join in on games like flip the coin, where one had to do so only by controlling the air around the coin. I could live and die cushioned inside that community. 

—they would never accept me—

—even with the Goodmother’s sanction, all of them will always distrust my power—

What about life with the rebels? With one killing blow, I’d win their approval. They have already welcomed me. I could put my fighting skills to good use, help them end the Hall’s iron-fisted reign over the land. We might go hungry, but always together. I may not grow old, living in such danger, but I would live fully. A hardscrabble life softened by company. 

—if I were powerless they would eat me for breakfast—

—they don’t even know my name—

If I kill the Goodmother, I choose the Shadows. If I kill the Shadows, I choose the Goodmother. The thought spins in my head.

—simple math—

“I choose the good and righteous side. For all that I’ve railed on morality, it still lives inside of me,” I say, as much to myself as to my audience. “I’ll kill nobody.” 

—the shadows aren’t heroes, nor is the goodmother—

—my life is not black and white—

—my life is not a fairytale—

—my life is Mine.—

I stop speaking, but my thoughts are pounding-loud, reverberating in my head. 

I choose my side. I don’t care if I’m alone. My conscience can keep me company. And I choose not to be lonely, but happy.

“I choose myself.”

The skylight glass shatters, revealing the pale dawn sky. The moon and the sun twinkle in tandem, in this intermediary between night and day. The forever-full moon calls to me once more.

I let myself answer.

I dissolve out of my worldly body and reach the moon.

And that’s why the moon has phases. 

Oh, did I skip ahead again?

And that’s why people see a man in the moon. It’s actually me. The moon seems a cold place, but it’s quite warm up here. Perhaps a bit pale and empty, but it’s not so lonely. 

I am not unwanted either—rather, quite in demand. The witches distrusted my power, while the rebels lusted for it. Either way, they urged me to hoard it and hide it. But the ordinary people, the ones who seek a pinch of magic in small miracles—

I help them. My magic melts off the moon in small bits and pieces. Every time my territory melts away completely, their faith in the power of the moon—

—light in the darkness—

Restores it. Mortals are a thankful lot, even for the little help I can give them: in puzzle pieces with corners broken off, in small drops of magic swirling down different drains, in wrinkles ironed out. In broken shards reformed into souls.

And these souls may grow old and grey, but they will always understand the Moon. And me, Su-enna. I will be here for them. I will still be here for the grandchildren and the great-grandchildren, who have heard the stories. 

Now I watch. I wait. I feel. 

—I give myself away.—


Editor’s Note: Content warning for subject matter related to eating disorders

Script: This script is meant to be read in podcast format


Statement of Ichika Payne, regarding her time as an employee of Kenley Design Company.

Original statement given 10th of January, 2006. Audio recording done in 2020 by Katherine Adamos, head archivist of the Lampert Institute, London. Statement begins.


My eating disorder developed as most do. I don’t really want to dwell on that, because I do not feel like explaining my life story to someone who is not my therapist, as that’s not what I’m here to talk about. But I will say that from a young age, I’ve experienced… real hunger. The deep, deep ache in your stomach when it’s truly empty, and it feels like a black hole inside you. It’s almost like a high, a weird feeling of purity.

I work as a designer. It’s ironic, as the fashion industry is known for being problematic in terms of body image. I’ve always loved fashion though, dressing up, going shopping. But it was never so much about how I felt in the clothes. It was more like… how I felt when people noticed me in them. My parents always told me that I was a sucker for praise, but I don’t think they knew just how right they were. As a child, I was constantly craving attention. Not in an obnoxious or over the top way… just, doing what I could to make people notice me. For example, being the prettiest, being the smartest. Things like that.

I suppose I do have a weird sort of fear surrounding… bodies. Meat, in general. My mother received liposuction when I was six. I had asked her where what they took out would go, and she told me she didn’t know. Even now, I can remember my six-year-old self picturing that bloody fat and flesh, still warm from my mother’s body, swirling down a hospital drain, smeared on white tile.

I apologize for the tangent. In the summer of 2005, I was fresh out of college, and looking for somewhere to start my career, preferably a smaller company, as I wanted to work where there was a good chance of my clothes being made and put on sale. I lived in Bristol at the time, and it wasn’t too hard to find a recent startup brand. Kenley, they were called.

I had submitted some of my winter designs online, and went in for an interview only a week later. According to their website, I was looking for a woman named Patricia. No last name or anything. Just Patricia.

She was a strikingly tall Turkish woman, gaunt, and had the bluest eyes I’d ever seen. The same opaque sky blue a colored pencil might be. She was so thin, so angular. Her bones looked like they could cut. She must have been in her mid-forties, but it was… hard to tell. Upon meeting her, I automatically felt a sense of respect for her. She exuded the confidence of a leader, even though she was only the supervisor of the fifteen people who worked in the studio.

The interview went well enough, I suppose. The building I would be working in was a nondescript two story brick building somewhere downtown. She asked me a few questions about previous work I’d done, what my goals were, that sort of thing, all the while twirling her thick, bleach white hair around a long, thin finger. Looking back on that moment, I feel as if I should’ve known something was wrong when I observed how… sharp her nails looked. Long and pointed, as an acrylic nail would be. But those nails weren’t fake.

I got the job fairly easily. I take pride in my work, and I’d like to say that I got in based on skill alone. But… now I’m not so sure.

The environment there was fairly quiet, only the sounds of graphite moving against paper and the whir of a slightly dented space heater in the corner. The floors were a grey tile, and always sparkling clean. The smell of bleach was quite pervasive.

I didn’t talk to my colleagues very often, aside from idle chat at break times. Any conversations we had were… stilted, as well. Like it was difficult for them to remember the right words to say. Like they hadn’t used their voices in a while. I ignored this well enough. I had barely any friends outside of work, so I took what interactions I could.

Lunch was an interesting matter. The first day I got there, I expected my colleagues to leave their desks and head for the break room at noon, the scheduled time for lunch. However, no one moved. They just all kept their heads bent over their desks and… continued working. I never saw a single person there eat.

At first, I thought I was just among hard workers. It was almost a relief, to be honest. I didn’t have to go through the trouble of excusing why I wasn’t eating lunch, or carrying around an empty lunch bag for the appearance. No one would bat an eye if the only thing I consumed was tea with metamucil stirred in, they were so focused on their work.

But, as time progressed, I started to feel a bit… suspicious? Of my colleagues. They were diverse enough, mostly Malay women, a white lady with red hair whose name I could never remember, and a few men. Whenever I chatted with them, they clearly didn’t keep up with any of the news or popular culture. And of course I can relate to that, I’m not the most updated person but. At least I vaguely knew what was going on in the world. At least it seemed like I checked my phone once in a while.

And the way they were so focused on their work. Constantly at their desks, sketching and sketching and sketching. (pause) I never once saw any of their designs, as they never got published or created. I’m not sure if what they were designing was clothes at all.

Patricia was much different from them. Comparing her to my colleagues was like… comparing a child’s picture book to a novel. She always wore sleek black pantsuits, white coils down to her shoulders, and those nails. Always painted a bright neon pink, and sharp enough to cut. I was more than a little enamored with her, in the way a student might crush on her professor.

She was everything I wanted to be. Often, during the lunch breaks, I would go to her office, she would pull out two Diet Cokes from her mini fridge, and we would talk. About nothing in particular. Fashion, I suppose. I can’t really remember. Her presence was a bit blinding, and I always felt oddly nervous, or giddy, going to talk to her. I suppose maybe that’s what muddied my memory. I’m usually very collected, but I couldn’t help but just… want her praise. I wanted her to like me. She was… ethereal.

We never discussed… eating issues or the like. But there is one thing I distinctly recall her saying to me. I hesitate to call it a memory. It felt almost unreal, like an echo of a conversation.

That day Patricia had seemed more… aggressive. Her usual elegant demeanor replaced by something more (pause) ravenous, though I could see her quite obviously trying to suppress herself. During our usual time together she seemed almost… impatient with me, as if she were talking to a child.

For me, one of the worst feelings in the world is being unwanted, especially from this woman, this role model of mine. I made up some excuse and stood to leave, saying I needed to finish one of my winter designs.

As I reached the door, I felt one of her hands close around my wrist. She had been all the way across the room, and it startled me at how fast she’d closed the gap between us. Her sharp nails were digging into my skin, and for how thin she was, her grip was strong, unnaturally strong. I don’t doubt she could have crushed my hand.

Fear pulsed through me.

There is not enough meat on your bones.”

Now, people have said that to me plenty of times. A casual joke or a knowing look from a professor. 

But she growled it at me. The black hole where my stomach used to be sobbed in hunger, and all I could do was stare into her shallow, sky blue eyes.

She released her nails, and I ran.

When I left her office, every single one of my coworkers had their eyes trained on me. At the time I thought it was just because I’d made some sort of commotion. 

Looking back, I’m fairly certain I was the only one in that room breathing.

I knew I had made a mistake. I left work five hours early, and all my papers and supplies were still on my desk. The deadline for submitting a line of dresses I designed was next week, and I desperately needed to work on them. 

My heart pounded with anxiety and panic, and I paced around my practically empty apartment, feeling cold with horror and a bit of embarrassment. I decided I would go in once the work day ended, grab my things and go. Then, come into work the next day, pretend nothing happened, and keep living my life.

So, at 8 pm, I took the bus back downtown, plugged in the code to unlock the front door, the smell of bleach and floor cleaner not quite as potent as it usually was, and carefully walked up the stairs to the second floor. I’d never been in the building this late in the evening, and the pools of darkness where the setting sun didn’t reach gave me terrible unease.

It felt oddly warm in the building. I was wearing my fall clothes, and sweat was slowly dampening my turtleneck. I was too scared to turn on any lights, and I didn’t know if anyone was still in, so I walked with light footsteps. I noticed a sticky substance on the floor, causing my boots to create an ugly suction sound. I kept walking, the steps getting stickier the more stairs I climbed, and the usual clean smell fading.

I will try my best to describe what I saw when I pushed my way through the door.

My colleagues were there. Still sitting at their desks. Not scribbling on paper, but just… sitting there, eyes wide open, facing forward.

However, there was a yellow-ish oily substance slowly dripping from their legs. As if the bottoms of their feet were removed, and they were left to drain. The murky white completely flooded the white tile of the room, and it smelled awful. It smelled of fat and of rot and infection.

And Patricia. I could see her standing casually at my desk, leaning on it, nothing covering her upper body, and covered in large stripes of red. Heat was radiating from the spot she stood in, and I could see the steam hovering around her. 

She extended one arm, bicep facing up, and used one of those bright, pink nails to slowly saw through her flesh, the same way one might carve a piece of meat. She peeled it off with a sickening rip, and flung it to the tile.

I watched as that same substance seeped from her, trickled down her forearm and legs, her trousers soaked to her thin, boney calves.

I vomited.

And funnily enough, my first thought was that I ruined a pair of £70 corduroy pants.

Sixteen pairs of eyes turned to leer at me, but none of them were human. Not anymore.

I made a brief moment of eye contact with what used to be Patricia. Her smile revealed a set of sharp canines dripping with what I can only assume was blood. 

I saw her mouth form a word, a question.


I tripped while sprinting out of the building, even though there was no one chasing me.

I never went back to work. I simply… packed up and left the city. I’m currently staying with my parents in Leeds, and have started receiving clinical help for my disorder. I’m not sure if I’ll ever receive any answers for what happened at Kenley, and I’ve decided that’s for the best. I just… needed to tell someone. Do what you will with this information. Thank you for your time.


(sigh) Statement ends. As this Patricia was not described to have any last name, I can assume that Ms. Payne encountered the entity formerly known as Patricia Yilmaz. We believe it is now working for either the Corruption or Viscera. There are no details concerning the address or location of Kenley Design Studio, other than sparse descriptions of downtown Bristol. When research was done online for the company, a website did pop up, but had been deactivated two months ago. Figures. When I sent in Tom to do a bit of reconnaissance, he found a multitude of two story brick buildings, none of which had any signage to distinguish between them. 

When we contacted Ms. Payne, she refused to disclose the location of the studio, and had no new information for us, other than the fact that, about a month ago, a bill with no forwarding address was sent to her new home in Munich, charging her 87.56 pounds, the exact price of 44 cans of diet coke.

Recording ends.

End audio

Drifting Apart

The only place where I felt truly safe was at the beach. If it was raining, it didn’t matter. There’s a blizzard, you say? Then we would still go to the beach. I know it’s odd, but my grandma and I, ever since I was a child, had always gone there when we needed to talk, I mean really talk. But today was different, I knew that after I told Grandma what I had done, she wouldn’t love me the same.

“Grandma, can I ask you something?” I asked, trembling.

She looked worried, as she should have been. “A-anything, Jessica. What’s the matter?”

“Well, there isn’t any easy way to say this, but I might have done something to betray Sam’s trust.”

Samantha was my best friend, we’d known each other since nursery school and we had never gotten in a fight, ever. After my parents got divorced, I started spending a lot of my time with my grandma. She really understood me, in a way that no one else did. 

She really had to think about this. “Samantha, your friend from nursery school?”

“Yes, she asked me to keep a secret and I told the teacher. She doesn’t know, though.”

“What — what was the… nevermind. Well, you have to tell her at some point. If you tell her what you did, at least she will know. If you don’t tell her and she finds out one way or another, it won’t go down well, trust me.” 

She was suspicious, I understood why, but I wasn’t going to tell her the secret, it wasn’t any of her business.

“But I’ve known her all my life,” I said, sighing. I knew she was right, but I still didn’t want to face the truth. I held on to my hat, the wind was aggressive this afternoon. It was as if the wind were trying to tell me something. Sam was my best friend. If she found out that I had lied to her, I might not have a best friend anymore.

“It’ll be ok, I promise. If you ever want to talk about anything, I’m here, sweetheart.”

“I know.” 

That night, I couldn’t sleep, although my eyes were heavy and I was all snug in my bed. What if Sam hates me, what if she never wants to talk to me again? No. I have to tell her, just like Grandma said, she will find out one way or another. All the secret was was that she had copied off someone’s paper during our geometry quiz. That’s no big deal… right? My mind was racing, I couldn’t stop shaking. I heard my heart beating, I thought there was a chance that it would jump out of my chest. The palms of my hands were sweating, I tried to wipe the sweat off on my pants but the sweat somehow just kept crawling back to my fingertips. 

Maybe about one hour later, I somehow drifted off to sleep. 

Buzz, buzz. My alarm went off. Ugh, time for school. My eighth grade teacher, Ms. Summer, was so sweet and cared for everyone and I say this truthfully, the only reason I told Ms. Summer Sam’s secret was because I knew Sam was beyond capable of doing the test all by herself. Without cheating.

Mom dropped me off at school that morning and when I arrived, I saw her. She was looking so happy, which only made me feel worse. How could I tell her what I’ve done. It will ruin her day. 

“Heeeey, Sam,” I said awkwardly, as if I had never talked to her before in my life.

“Hi! What’s up, you seem a bit… tense.”

“Hehe, do I?” What was that, Jessica, “Do I?” Ugh.

She looked confused. “Um, yeah, you do. I know you pretty darn well, what’s up?”
“The sky?” Jessica, are you serious right now? Just come clean, you’ll feel better.

“Fine then, don’t tell me.” She huffed off in a hurry.

Well, I might have just missed my only chance to tell her what happened, no big deal… no big deal.

We got to our first period class, and of course, our assigned seats were right next to each other, great, just what I needed. 

“Good morning, class!” Ms. Summer said, almost singing the words.

“Good morning, Ms. Summer,” the class chanted back to her.

I nudged Sam. “Can we talk after class?”

She didn’t answer. Her eyes didn’t even move off of the chalkboard.

“Sam?” Ms. Summer asked as she came closer to our table. “Can I see you for a minute? Privately,” she said, looking directly at me, almost through me.

My heartbeat quickened instantaneously, I started to pant. I couldn’t see clearly, my head was pounding. What was she telling Sam? Was she going to tell her what I had done? Was she going to hate me?

Only a couple of seconds later, the door opened, and I was suddenly very confused. Sam was smiling like she had just won the lottery. What had Ms. Summer said? I wanted to ask her but that would be impolite. I looked over at Ms. Summer, and she smiled and gave me a wink. I was almost frustrated now, I didn’t know what had happened in the hallway, I probably still had to tell Sam that I told her secret. This was a complete disaster. 

After school ended, I walked over to my best friend and I gave her a look saying, “We need to talk.” She nodded her head silently, and we sat down at a bench near the school’s entrance. 

“I need to tell you something and I don’t want you to get mad, can you promise me?” I pleaded.

She giggled.  “Well, when you put it that way, I can’t promise anything!”

I sighed. “Fine. I-I-I don’t like what you’re wearing today.”

You could imagine what happened next, she was confused, I was confused, and then we both went home wondering what had just happened!

When I got home, I plopped myself on the couch, propped my elbows on the edge of my legs, and my hands covered my face. The tears burned my eyes, I couldn’t tell if it was sad or angry tears. Maybe it was a bit of both.

I was currently living with my mom in this small apartment in Ohio, so there wasn’t really any way I could hide from her.

“Honey, what’s wrong? I know a sad face when I see one.” She looked at me and gave me a sad smile.

I wiped my tears off my face with the back of my sleeve. “It’s a long story.”

“Well it’s only 4:00. I’ve got time.”

“I want to talk to Grandma.”

She looked disappointed. “Oh, ok, I can drive you to the beach if you want.”

I texted Grandma, and I’m not kidding, within 15 seconds, she responded! I met her at the beach, it was windy again but I didn’t mind.

“Hey, sweetheart. What’s bugging you?” She gave me an empathetic smile.

I stared blankly at the ocean, the waves crashing against the golden sand. 

I told her how Ms. Summer took Sam out into the hallway and she came back to the classroom smiling. And I told her that I hadn’t told Sam yet. And that I didn’t know why I had so much trouble telling her.

She looked disappointed, but not at me, at what I had done. “Maybe if you tell me what the secret was, I can understand the situation better.”

I knew I was going to have to tell her at some point, I just didn’t want to. I thought that was a perfectly good reason not to tell her, I just didn’t want to. But I knew that wasn’t really an option so I took a deep breath, “She cheated during a geometry quiz. I told the teacher because I knew she was very capable of doing the test without looking at someone’s paper.” In my head, it just sounded like a jumble of words, but I could tell that Grandma understood. The truth was I actually felt a lot better saying it out loud. Maybe it wasn’t too late to tell Sam what had really happened.

“Oh.” She looked like she had been expecting something worse. “That isn’t so bad, is it?”

“No, but if I tell her the truth, I’m afraid she isn’t going to want to be my friend anymore.” I blinked at least a dozen times in a row to stop the tears from escaping.

She looked perplexed. “Are you sure this is about being afraid of not having a friend? I think that maybe you’re afraid that you’re not going to have as tight a bond as you have had your entire life.”

Those were true words of wisdom that I had never actually thought about before until now. Maybe she was right. Maybe we would still be friends, but would it be the same?

“I don’t know.”

“And you have the right not to know. But we will figure it out, Jess. I know we will. Your mom said that she’ll be here in a bit. Do you want me to stay here with you until she gets here?”

“No, it’s ok. You can go. I’ll see you later.”

“Ok, good luck.” She walked towards the parking lot near the beach and she was soon out of sight.

I gave a shy smile to myself. I have a secret. Sam copied off my geometry quiz. I could have stopped her, but I didn’t. I’m the one to blame. I told the teacher because I wanted to get back at her. I wanted to get back at her because she had been avoiding me for the longest time. I know I should have talked to her but our relationship doesn’t really work like that. I wanted to tell her the whole story but she would have wanted to hurt me. I mean if I was her and she had done that to me and then she told me everything she had done all at once, I wouldn’t know what to say. Or feel. I was also worried about how Ms. Summer had taken Sam out into the hallway, I didn’t know what she was saying. I thought she was revealing my secret. I shouldn’t have told her. I shouldn’t have told anyone. I was angry and I wanted revenge. I didn’t think about what I was doing until after I did it. I am going to tell Sam about this.

That night, I tried extra hard to let my mind relax. For the longest time, I’d had trouble falling asleep. It isn’t the slightest bit fun because being tired and not being able to sleep are one of the most frustrating things ever. 

When I woke up the next morning, I realized that Grandma was the only person I actually trusted. It was quite a sad thought so I didn’t spend much time thinking about it or else I would have started bawling. I ate my breakfast cereal so slowly it became soggy and mushy, disgusting! My mom drove me to school as always because her job was never in the morning as an interior designer. 

“Have a great day, sweetie!” She blew me an air kiss from the car window and I, unenthusiastically, pretended to catch it.

I felt like a nobody, knowing that the only person I had to talk to was my grandma. That’s pretty pathetic, if you ask me! I had a huge unsolved problem, no friends except for Sam. The only problem with being friends with her at the moment was that we were on no speaking terms. I wouldn’t exactly call that a friend… 

When it was math class, I decided I needed to have a talk with Ms. Summer, I mean, she was a big factor in my anxiety right now.

I sat down next to Sam and I gave her the biggest smile I could possibly give without looking like I was up to something.

“Good morning, class,” Ms. Summer said, partially sitting on her desk.

This time, I didn’t say good morning back, because it wasn’t a good morning at all.

Ms. Summer, quiet as a mouse, crept up to our table, again! Are you kidding me, this seriously can’t be happening.

“Ms. Davis.” 

My head perked up, she had never said my last name before.

“Yes, Ms. Summer.”

“Can I see you in the hallway please?” She didn’t look mad, she just didn’t look like her usual bright and cheerful self.

I nodded.

“What is up with you, Jessica? You’ve been acting very strange lately. First, you tell me that Sam cheated and then you don’t say good morning. I don’t want to even start to talk about the grades you’ve been receiving from my class. Could you explain to me why all of this happened, just out of nowhere?”

“Um, sure. You know, Sam and I have been friends forever and lately she’s been avoiding me so I wanted to get back at her, she cheated on my test.” I sighed, I couldn’t take it back now, “I could have told her not to but I didn’t. I told you because I wanted to get her in trouble. I know it seems really bad but I had good intentions.”

She covered her mouth with her hand. “Those don’t seem like good intentions, Jessica.”

“I know. I knew she could do the test without cheating so I told on her.”

“Then which one is it? You let her cheat on purpose or you told me because you knew she could do the test without cheating?”

“Take a guess.”

She looked really disappointed in me. I’ve never seen a teacher look this way before.

“Let’s go back into the classroom, shall we?”

“One more thing, Ms. Summer.” She turned around intrigued by my words, “I know it’s none of my business but what exactly did you tell Sam yesterday that made her so happy?”

She giggled. “You’re right, it isn’t any of your business at all. But I will tell you that I won’t tell your little secret, you have something special, kiddo. Don’t let this one time get the best of you. Everyone has a downfall at some point, you’re lucky that you have a friend as good as Sam.”

“But then why does she keep ignoring me?”

She looked like she knew something that I didn’t. “Try talking to her again, see what happens. If it doesn’t go as planned, I’m here. Okay?”
I looked down at my feet. “Okay. I’m sorry for everything.”

She didn’t say anything after that, I was kind of hoping that she would have told me what had happened in the hallway, but I still had hope that Sam and I would continue our friendship.

That afternoon, while I was working on my math homework, a lightbulb went off in my mind. I suddenly had a brilliant thought and I didn’t know why I had never thought about it before. It was so simple, yet it made so much sense. I could still be friends with Sam, but friends drift apart and then new people come into our lives. Maybe someone new would come into my life. I’m not saying I wanted to get rid of Sam, I’m just saying, maybe I could make some new friends. I felt so smart, but not because I was doing math homework, because I was actually making sense to myself. 

“Hi, Sam, I know we haven’t been speaking much but — no, that doesn’t sound right.” I kept trying to write my little “I’m sorry” speech, but I couldn’t get it to sound right. 

“Hi, Sam, I have something big to tell you. No, that’s a little obvious.” I sighed, I’m never going to be able to do this. But I have to. Just stick to the plan and you’ll be fine.

When I got to school, I was confident, but when I saw Sam, my confidence level went down a few notches. You’ve got this, you can do it.

“Hi, Sam, can we please talk?”

She shrugged.

I took that as a yes. “First of all I want to say I’m sorry. I’ve been a really bad friend lately and I need to tell you the whole story. This time you can get mad, you probably will get mad. I completely understand if you do.” Get to the point, Jessica. “First of all, when you copied off my math test, I didn’t tell you not to and I told Ms. Summer about it. I did it without thinking, I wanted to get you in trouble. Only because you had been avoiding me and I was mad at you.” 

And then I told her about how I was so nervous when Ms. Summer took her out into the hallway. After I finished speaking, she looked shocked. 

She gulped. “Why didn’t you tell me any of this sooner? I would have explained myself.”

“Well, I hope it’s not too late. Can you explain yourself now?” 

“First of all, there was a flood in my house and we had to move out this week, of course, all of our stuff was damaged so we didn’t really have anything to move in with. That is what Ms. Summer was talking to me about, she was offering my family some new clothes and bed sheets and stuff like that.”

How had I not known about this? “I’m so, so sorry. I had no idea. I would have done the same, I still can.”

“My parents said I shouldn’t tell any of my friends about it because they didn’t want you to be worried. I think you’re worried now, so I think that was a good call. I’ve been avoiding you because I wanted to tell you about it so badly but I couldn’t. I’m sorry.”

“You shouldn’t be the one apologizing. You actually had a good reason for doing what you did. I didn’t. I want to still be friends with you of course but… maybe we could take a break from each other for a little while?”

“That sounds good.”

“And one last thing, we need to promise each other that if we make new friends, we won’t be too jealous,” I said even though I didn’t think I would be making new friends very soon. But it was nice to know that Sam was there if I needed someone. I didn’t only have Grandma now, I had Samantha as well.

I wanted to go to the beach one last time this week, but I couldn’t go by myself.

“Grandma, can I ask you something?” I asked, grinning.

She smiled. “Anything, Jessica. What’s the matter?”

Here I was, sitting calmly on the warm sand next to my favorite person in the entire world, at the only place where I felt truly safe. I was having one of many heart-to-hearts with my grandma, she really understood me, in a way that no one else did. My rosey cheeks were warm to the touch and my eyes were a hazel brown with a hint of blue from the waves that I was watching in the distance. I have known Samantha since nursery school, I thought quietly to myself, but that won’t stop me from making new friends. I stared into my grandma’s beautiful eyes, wanting every single inch of me to be exactly like her when I grew up. 

Why Do We Dream?

We dream because we all have some sort of imagination. Usually, dreams aren’t exactly what we want to dream about. People say we can control what we dream, but actually, we can’t. Dreams come unexpectedly and randomly. Sometimes we don’t have a dream at all. I have an imagination but that doesn’t necessarily mean I have a dream every single night. Some nights I do, but forget about them, other nights I have but remember them.

When we don’t have a dream, we are usually in the dark until we wake up. This can cause people to oversleep. It’s happened to me many times within time, you will wake up. Don’t worry too much about not being able to get out.

Sometimes our real-life expertise comes through to us in our dreams meaning some of these dreams are connected to our real-life (mostly thoughts buried in our head). Others are just uncommon and unexpected but most of the time, you dream about things you keep buried in your head. You can inflate your dreams by knowing you control what you do in this world. You may not be able to control your dreams but you can control what you do. You can also do abnormal things in the dream world that can’t be done in the actual world.

People stumble in the dream world a lot because it’s not what’s expected for certain people. Some people may think the dream world is like the real world but it’s not, even if they have dreams that could actually happen in real life. You can also confuse your real life with your dream if you dreamt about something that could’ve happened in the near future.

Many people in dreams give themselves the opportunity to look for love and decide to take their dreams to the next level: making out with someone in their dreams. It can get real horny and I’d like to warn people in advance but it wouldn’t be fun to wake up with a wet bed, just sayin’.

You can be a candidate for whatever you want in the dream world since it’s not like the normal world. It won’t affect your work routine in the real world. Dreams don’t make people tired unless they’re a nightmare and terror drains their energy. People usually feel fresh in the mornings after their dream and usually happy because something they’ve always wanted happened in their dream.

In conclusion, I’d just like to say to not be scared of what you dream of. Flow with it if it’s a good dream and take the opportunity to enjoy it. If it’s a bad dream, try to stay calm for if you wake yourself up, you’ll know it’s fake. However, real-life nightmares can occur and can scare you for a while. Good luck dreamers, don’t let your imagination run away with you!

The End

Keys on the Keyboard


Sometimes I am lucky,

Everything going my way

Other times my soul feels like

It’s being sucked away

Butterflies in the sky

Then stormy weather, don’t know why

World is changing, all around

As fallen soldiers hit the ground

Making things all tangled up,

Like drinking poison from a cup

God please help me, hear me pray

Or save me once, just once today

Make some bodies come to life,

Save an innocent person’s life

Life is precious, not to waste

But some devils just need one taste,

Of blood so sweet,

So please let’s find a place to meet

If you save my life, I’ll be kind,

So save my superstitious mind

A Poem I’ll Write Someday.

Some time,




A poem I’ll write someday.

A magical,


Miraculous thing.

A poem I’ll write someday.

Maybe ‘bout some guy’s


A poem I’ll write someday.

Not now,


Never in the decade.

A poem I’ll write someday.


I am from waves crashing against the shoreline,

Clouds floating with the breeze.

You drink me, use me every day,

I’m used to water your leaves. 

I flow down mountains low and high,

Fill zig-zagging streams.

Some laugh, some cry, some smile with pride,

For I’m their hero, their savior.

To some, all I am is tainted waste,

Not good to use or drink.

Their sad faces stare at me,

Reflected on my surface.

I can only do so much,

Try to help but fail.

I save some lives but not enough,

When people die, we have to be tough.

Slowly I flow through the canyons,

Threatening, any second to dry.

Birds drink me with their beaks,

I give them the energy to fly.

Many thrive around me,

I’m the center of them all.

What will become without me?

Will humans still be here at all?

Blackbird Pie

Fields of people,

Each one a flower.

Looking for a chance,

To escape.

From this green field,

Looks good to you,

But a jail for all within.

Leaves and seeds,

Blow past from the east.

Birds come in,

From the west.

For years the flowers

Come and go.

Life and death,

Just part of the flow.

No one escapes from the

Grassy field.

Guarded day and night,

By soaring birds.

Shadows in the dusk,

Always back at dawn.

In uniforms,

A blackbird’s best,

Letting no one through.

These black shadows,

Flying high,

Mockery to all below.

Blackbirds let

No one through.

Even when,

The sun’s

Baking hot,

Like the fires in their eyes,

When they’re ripped from

Their kith and kin,

Not knowing when

They’ll see them again.

To perfect the


Made for generations.

To make



This is the

Blackbird pie.

Luca’s Timer

Luca rubbed the timer imprinted on his wrist. It was currently April 7th. 


It was stuck at 312 hours. 312 hours. In 312 hours, it was his birthday. So what was this timer, you may ask? Well, this timer was not for his birthday, that’s for sure. This timer actually had nothing to do with Luca at all. This timer was for his soulmate. Kai White. But don’t tell him about the timer. He can’t know about that yet.

Luca was completely aware that Kai was his soulmate. The only problem was that Luca didn’t love Kai. Luca loved someone else. But that can’t be, you might be thinking. Soulmates are soulmates forever, through thick and thin, and life and death! That’s what you were told, at least. Luca Davis is in love with another person. Will King stole his heart. Or, he thought so.

Will was his favorite person to be around. Not so much anymore though, but I’ll get into that later. They spent many long, beautiful nights together under the stars and shared many important moments. Luca used to not care about Kai in the slightest. Or before, if he did, he showed no sign and put it in the back of his head to where the thoughts he had about Kai could get lost forever in the hormonal world of his mind.


Kai was suffering from one-sided love. He knew Luca would never love him back, and he gave up trying. 


You might question the fact that the timers on each other’s wrists were so different. The reason for that is quite simple. But I’ll leave you to figure that one out. Because the reason is vital to the ending of the story, and I can guarantee it will not be a good one. These boys are very different, but oh so similar in so many ways. Kai just loves to stare at Luca during class, when the teacher is distracted, he can get into the foreign jungle of tangled daydreams about him and his soulmate. 

This whole soulmate thing is a sick and twisted ideal. Especially when your soulmate loves someone else. Kai’s heart aches whenever Luca shows affection towards Will. He feels like a piece is missing. But he tries to not let it affect Luca’s relationship. Because if Luca’s happy, he’s happy. 



Luca noticed the time on the timer was suddenly different. This is not the first time this happened, as Luca has had this timer on his arm since he was little. It was always counting down, and he could do nothing but wait until time’s up. It seemed an hour had passed since he last checked. It was the only mysterious thing about his explosive personality. He took it upon himself to google it.

What happens in 311 hours? 

The answers he got were no help at all. They were things like, ‘Dial 311 for NYC tax service!’ or, ‘The state of New York, 311’. Besides his birthday, he really couldn’t think of anything at all. Luca called Will in hopes of the redhead being in some help to this mystery. Alas, that was not the case.

“What happens in 311 hours, babe?”

“I don’t know, what happens in 311 hours?”

“Do you think this is a joke?”

“Is it?”

“No, I’m dead serious. What happens in 311 hours?”

“Oh. I don’t know. I can look it up for you.”

“I tried that already.”

“Why is 311 so important?”

“It just is. Nevermind.”

“Alright. I love you, Luc.”

“I love you too.” Saying that felt weird to Luca. It felt forced, like he no longer meant it but he had been doing it for so long that he couldn’t stop. Like a drug almost, except without the feel-good part. Luca hung up the phone and sighed. He loved his boyfriend, yes, but recently he seemed to have… fallen out of love? 

Is that the right mix of words?


Kai noticed sometimes that Luca likes to tuck a strand of hair behind his ears. Kai wonders how that is even possible, considering Luca’s hair was short. Kai knows that even though Luca will probably end up getting a soulmate reassignment, he’ll probably never find another soulmate. Or maybe he will, but the chances of that are really slim. Especially since he lost the love of his life so young, he is 16 years old. But just seeing that Will can put a smile on Luca’s face makes his heart drop to his feet. It’s been picking away at him slowly. It’s unclear how much more of it he can take. He doesn’t worry though, he knows everyone will have a happily ever after. But that’s not how life works. Everything can change. His whole life could turn upside down, and he’ll never be the same Kai and he knows it. But fate chose not to do that to him yet. So he’ll just have to wait everything out and see what happens.

To be continued…


As I looked out the window, the 6 train was getting close to my stop, 77th street, with the usual EEEEE OOOOO sound. Getting off the train always made my heart race because I thought of it as the “critical moment.” In order to be ready to go to the main world, I looked at myself in the mosaic-built number: 77, and smoothened my hair down. Next, I gently tucked in my shirt, so that the coffee stain was not visible, and again flattened my messy, morning hair. “Decent,” I whispered under my breath, and walked up the subway stairs onto the sidewalk. Walking on 77th street always feels like paradise. As I look into the stores’ windows, I see shiny coats, bright-colored lipsticks, pants with big fancy logos, and many other flashy, Upper East Side items. I always dreamed of having a fancy wardrobe, I would be a whole different person, I would feel different, but as I walked closer and looked inside the window my jaw dropped. 

“$203.99 for a pair of shoes?” my inner voice exclaimed.

Looking at my watch, I realized that it is already 8:15, school started in 5 minutes and I had 6 more blocks to walk! I rushed up East End Avenue and ran as fast as I could possibly run, not letting anything around me make me stop. In the corner of my eye, I saw a big black van, it did a sharp turn my way. Looking up, I saw a red street light, my vision started to blur and blood started rushing to my brain, I suddenly lost control of my body and didn’t know where I was. “Probably will be marked late,” I thought.

I woke up to a loud beeping noise, it hurt my ears, so I tried getting up, but I couldn’t, because I couldn’t feel a single part of my left rib cage. I looked around.

“Where am I?” I called out. 

Managing to turn my head, I saw my mother and father sitting on a bench next to me. I had never seen them like this before. Mom’s face was swollen up and her eyes were red, like they were when grandma had died. Dad was holding mom’s hand, and as manly as he was, I also saw a worried look on his face.

“There’s been an accident, Kiki. Are you feeling alright?” said my dad in a soft and gentle voice.

“Thank God you woke up!” exclaimed mom, crossing her hands over her chest.

Suddenly, I started remembering: the black van, the red light, the shoes, East End Avenue. It was as if the puzzle pieces were somehow coming together to create a picture, a memory. I  laid back down onto the pillows. The pain in my side started to grow again. Through the glass door, I saw a man in blue scrubs and a white doctor’s jacket. He seemed very busy and sleepy, but once he opened the door into my room, he put a bright smile on his face.

“Kiara, how are you feeling?” inquired the doctor.

“Fine,” I answered as energetically as I could.

“You did great in the rib cage repair surgery this morning! The nurse will check on you again tonight, but it looks like you can be discharged soon!”

Surgery!? Ribcage repair!? I suddenly felt trapped. 

Get me out of here! I yelled inside my head, knowing that if I actually yelled, I would probably be brought to the psych wing of Lenox Hill instead of being discharged. Again, I started to feel weak, and giving up on my thoughts and worries, I closed my eyes. 

It was a normal morning, I was sitting in the kitchen biting into my morning toast (slightly hot with melty butter). 

“Time to get going, Kiki!” said my mother, sitting down at the kitchen table, putting down my jacket and my backpack on the chair next to me.

“I’m not 6 anymore, but thanks, Mom,” I responded, picking up my bag and jacket. 

Like always, I walked on the dirty, gum-covered sidewalk of 34th street and entered the smelly, underground world in which I traveled every day to get to school. There I sat, thinking about nothing at all because, well, it was the morning and I am NOT a morning person. When I arrived at 77th Street,  I quickly looked into the numbers, checking out how I looked today. I was my usual morning self, my curly hair poofing out of my head, my eyes still sleepy. I quickly fixed that up and began trotting to the place I was intending to go.

I opened the heavy, early 20th century doors of my school, entering the massive building embellished by a green sign, Chapin.

“Hi, Kiki,” said my friend Lili, greeting me in the lobby.

“Hey,”  I responded, stepping closer to Lili and walking up the stairs to the 5th floor with her. As usual, it was torture, because we weren’t allowed to take the elevator, and it was even worse in the morning, I was never up for this physical challenge. As we entered the 5th floor I saw the usual group of girls talking by their lockers, in other words, my friends. We smiled at each other, because even though it was morning, we were always glad to see each other.

“Where did you get that shirt? It’s super cute,” asked my friend, Sammy.

“Well, sorry, I don’t reveal my secrets,” replied Lili, making all of us laugh.

I lifted my head from the laughter and was ready to go to class. I looked around to say bye to my friends, and to my surprise, saw Sammy making a weird face. She was looking somewhere near me and seeming as if she just ate the grossest thing in the world.

“Ewww, Kiki, what is that on your shirt!” she exclaimed, pointing down to my waist.

Shoot! I completely forgot about my stain! What was I thinking?!

“Ewww,” agreed Lilly.

The other girls joined in and laughed, pointing at me as if I were a circus animal.

I wished that I disappeared. How was I not paying attention in the subway?! 

Suddenly, my vision started to blur and I saw the black van, the red light…

I woke up breathing hard and sweating. I still heard their “ewws” echoing in my head.

“Is everything alright, honey?” asked my mom gently, leaning towards my hospital bed and touching my hand as she would always do when there is something going on. 

I was not in the mood for talking, but I was glad that there was someone to comfort me after the nightmare. The thoughts of it still couldn’t come out of my head though. I couldn’t bear that feeling of shock, of being scared of nothing, when there were actual things to worry about. The pain in my side was like sticking a knife in my body every time I took a breath. I tried to take shorter breaths, but that only made it hurt more. 

As the doctor planned before, the nurse came in and checked on me.

“How is everything going?” asked the nurse politely, leaning over my hospital bed.

“She has been in a lot of pain,” replied my father, worrisomely.

The nurse gently touched the area around my left lung. I grunted from the pain. It was as if there were a million guns in there, shooting me.

“Don’t worry, everything will be fine, I will just quickly get Dr. Firn, who was on your case from the very beginning,” the kind nurse assured us.

Dr. Firn came into my room and examined me yet another time. After a while of feeling different spots, and asking me where it hurt, it seemed as if something was on his mind.

“Kiara, unfortunately, I have to tell you that there was a complication from the surgery. Since you had a severe rib injury, now you have developed pulmonary contusion,” said the doctor, informing my parents and me. He seemed very nervous and unhappy to break us the news. The clipboard he was holding was shaking the slightest bit and he began to bite his lip. I always thought being a doctor was hard. How hard is it to tell your patient that something is terribly wrong with them, that they are going to die?

I cried out, but that caused me a lot of pain. “There is no way this is happening to me,” I thought, “this is all a dream.”  But unfortunately, this was nothing like a dream, it was reality, I had a pulmonary contusion. What on Earth even is that? Beside me, Mom was on the verge of crying. I knew she didn’t want me to see her weak, to see her in pain too, but she couldn’t help but let some tears out.

“I know this is very hard to hear,” said Dr. Firn compassionately. “Since Kiara’s condition is basically a bruise in her left lung, right now, all we will do is wait for it to heal, and in the worst-case scenario, use a ventilator if she is short of breath,” he informed us.

“About when will it heal, doctor?” inquired my dad in a slightly shaky voice.

“It depends on how the process will go, but your daughter will probably recover in 5-7 days,” he replied, handing me a bright red lollipop. I know the doctor was trying to make me feel better, but, I’m sorry, that was the least I needed right then, especially with this lung thing I had. 

I felt like an animal in this hospital, all I did was sleep, grunt, listen, and eat nothing but strawberry flavored Jell-O. My parents always wanted me to be a good student, to be wise academically, and in life, right then I felt like I was doing the opposite. I felt useless! I understand now why everyone was feeling so bad for me, maybe I should have even felt bad for myself.

At the hospital, time seemed to pass very fast. My theory is that if all you do is eat Jell-O, take painkillers, and sleep, time is nonexistent: no worries, just lying down in a stupid hospital bed. 

5 days later, a different nurse came in. This time she was not so smiley and gentle, but after examining my lung, she concluded that I could be discharged. Even though I still had some pains in my side from time to time, I still wanted to end my long visit at this zoo. I could finally go back to normal! Go back to the place I was raised in, the place I belong!

Riding home from Lenox Hill gave me extreme deja vu. It seemed as if I had already been on that specific train, and sat in that specific seat. I was creeped out by how visually it reminded me of somewhere I’ve definitely been, and the spooky part was that I didn’t know if I actually had been there.

When I entered my apartment, I could already smell the scent of spices and carpets. Even though it usually didn’t occur to me as the best smell in the whole world, right now it was what made me happy.

“Kiara, since we know there has been a lot going on, your father and I have bought you a surprise,” said my mom, taking my hand and bringing me into the living room. What could it be? I thought to myself. I was intrigued, but knowing that my parents usually get me lame stuff like books and pencil cases, I didn’t keep my hopes too high.

On the couch in the living room, lay a box. It was neatly packed and lined with a fancy red rope.

“Thanks, Mom and Dad! You really didn’t have to do that,” I thanked them before opening the box. They smiled, and I was glad that I made them happy. I gently untied the rope and opened the box. My breath stopped. Inside lay something I didn’t expect at all, the reason for my injuries. I couldn’t stand on my feet anymore, and collapsed onto the couch. “The shoes,” I whispered.

Corry’s Dreams

Dream #1

Test Subject: Corry J. Bolns 

Age: 13

“Wake up.” A lady leans over and kisses a boy’s forehead. Her eyes have no pupil or iris but seem to be able to see. The boy sits up and hits his head on a sheet of glass. Through the glass, he can see a woman and what seems to be her dog walking over the glass. Her dog begins to scratch at the glass and its owner pulls it away. The boy rolls off of his bed and begins to fall. He lands on a chair where a plate of eggs and waffles are waiting for him. He eats them and falls backwards off of the chair. He then lands in a swing in a playground. Someone pushes him from behind and he flies upwards towards a ceiling, he hits his head. 

End of Dream #1

Corry Bolns was 13 years old when this experiment started. He was taken into this facility against his will and was put into what seemed to be a coma. He was not completely conscious but was somehow able to dream. He was asleep for 3 years. He had exactly 13,140 dreams. We recorded all of them. I will not include all of the dreams in this short pamphlet. I would like to state that I do not think that they should be using these children as their test subjects. I, however, do not have the authority to change, tweek, or stop these experiments. This facility is run by the government and is in an undisclosed location. 

Dream #879

Test subject: Corry J. Bolns 

Age: 13

“Mrs. Banaldi, I forgot my homework at home.” The boy says while fidgeting with his fingers. “That’s the 3rd time this week, Bolns!” The teacher throws an apple at the boy’s forehead. It hits him in the nose, making an apple-shaped indent in the center of his face. The boy falls backwards, splatting against the ground. His body begins to sizzle and bubble, the teacher runs away into the school building. But all of the students have turned into the boy. They say hi in unison. The teacher falls backwards. She wakes up in a bed where she is surrounded by apples.    

End of Dream #879

Corry is hooked up to a device, whenever he has a dream it shows on a monitor. His body still needs water and food. So there is a tube attached to his stomach. He also has a tube attached to his bladder. Some type of pill is fed to him to keep him asleep. Whenever a dream ends, the monitor goes blank. 

Dream #4198

Test subject: Corry J. Bolns 

Age: 14

“Please! Please, Mom, please!” A boy is being pulled away from his mother, and is being shoved into a car. His mother is screaming and struggling but her husband is holding her back. She punches him in the nose and he lets go. She runs toward the car just as it starts to leave. She grabs on to the door. It drags her along. Her knees bleed and finally she lets go. The car drives off and the mother sits in the street bawling as her child bangs on the window of the car.

End of Dream #4198

This was the saddest dream that Corry has had. It is a dream of how he wished his mother had reacted. Instead, when they came to take Corry away, she and her husband stood in the doorway waving goodbye. I don’t understand how anyone could watch their child being taken away and not try to do something about it. I think his parents were very horrible people. This was a recurring dream. He had it over 100 more times. Sometimes his father and mother went after him, but he never got out. 

Dream #8354

Test subject: Corry J. Bolns.

Age: 15

“I’m going to puke,” A boy leans over a toilet. He starts to vomit and then passes out. The boy literally pukes up his guts. His stomach is floating in the liquid along with his intestines. His stomach pops, splattering blood and stomach acids all over the bathroom. The boy is still unconscious but has creatures crawling out of his eyes, mouth, ears, and nose. He begins to tremble. And then POP! 

End of Dream #8354

A lot of Corry’s dreams are gross and bubbly. I think it’s because Corry has seen some pretty traumatizing things in his life. When he was 8 years old, his big sister spilled boiling hot oil on herself. She got terrible burn scars, lost eyesight in one of her eyes, and she had to get a face transplant. She died two years later when she got into a horrible car crash. Corry and his family went to visit her in the hospital, she passed away a day later.

Dream #12063

Test subject: Corry J. Bolns 

Age: 16

“Get up!!” A lady shakes a boy.

His eyes slowly open.

“What’s happening?” he says groggily.

“There’s a fire!” she yells. His room is slowly getting warmer. He runs to the door but the doorknob is too hot to touch. He tries to kick the door open, but he passes out from inhaling too much smoke. His fingertips begin to melt and his body makes a puddle on the floor. 

End of Dream #12063

At first glance, Corry’s dreams don’t seem to have much meaning behind them. I never understood what we were trying to figure out. What the point of this experiment was, I still don’t understand to this day. Sometimes I think the point of these experiments is to torture these children. But for what? What did they do? Most of them have horrible parents or one horrible parent. So are they getting punished for being born into horrible families?

Dream #13140

Test subject: Corry J. Bolns

Age: 16

A boy opens his eyes. He begins to sit up but he is pushed back down by a man in a suit. He looks confused. He tries again. But is pushed down once more. He starts to struggle. But the man grips his wrist. More men in suits show up. The boy tries to go back to sleep. 

End of Last Dream

Before experiment

Interviewer: “What is your name?”

Corry: “Where am I?”

Interviewer: “What is your name?”

Corry: “Where am I?” 

Interviewer: “Name!?”

Corry: “Uh, Corry.”

Interviewer: “Full name?”

Corry: “Corry Jack Bolns.”

Interviewer: “How old are you?”

Corry: “13.”

Interviewer: “What is your date of birth?”

Corry: “Please, where am I?”

Interviewer: “Date of birth?”

Corry stands up, but a guard grabs him.

Corry: “Don’t touch me!!”

Interviewer: “Don’t be stubborn kid, what is your birthday?!”

Corry: “February, 12, 1977.”

Interviewer: “Please fill out this form.”

After experiment 

Interviewer: “What is your name?”

Corry said nothing, he simply sat staring at the interviewer.

Interviewer: “Kid,” he waved his hand in front of Corry’s face.

Interviewer: “Alright, your name is Corry Jack Bolns, can you say that?”

Corry still stays silent.

Interviewer: “You are 16 years old. You were born on February, 12 1977 in upstate New York. Your parents are Jeana and William Bolns. Ring any bells?”

Corry: “Mama?”

Interviewer: “Yes.”

Corry: “Where is Mama?”

Interviewer: “She is at your home with your father.”

Corry seemed scared at the mention of his father.

Interviewer: “Do you remember any dreams?”

Corry: “Mama!!” Corry begins to sob. I don’t understand why he misses his mother so much, she seems like a horrible person, but she must have done something right. 

Interviewer: “That’s all we need.”

Me: “Where are you taking him?!”

Interviewer: “Home.”

When Corry arrives at his old home all he does is stare for the first 15 minutes. He then goes up to the bright red door and rings the doorbell. His mother opens the door and shuts it the moment she sees her son. His father opens the door only to shut it once again. Shouts can be heard from behind the front door.

“I thought he was dead!”

“Why would you think that?!”

“You made it sound like he was dead! I cried for two years straight!”

“Don’t exaggerate Jeana! We are not taking him back.”

“Why wouldn’t we Bill? He is our son!”

“NO! I am in charge here!”

“Says who?!?!”


“You never loved me or our children!”

“You think I married you because I loved you?!?!”

Jeana Bolns slaps her husband in the face. She then goes upstairs, fills her suitcase with all of her stuff, and walks out of the door. She grabs her son by the arm. She buckles him into their car and drives off.  I am not sure exactly what happened to Corry after that. I have a hard time believing he lived a good life. His mother’s parents were rich and they supported them. I did visit them at their home a year later. Corry’s mother smoked the whole time and she kept telling me that they were trying to erase all of the bad memories. So I wasn’t allowed to talk about the facility. I didn’t learn anything. I was on my way out when Corry’s mother stopped me.

“Why would you let them do this to my son!?!?”

I left without saying a word. I guess I do feel guilty. But this is not about me, this is about Corry, Corry J. Bolns, Corry J. Bolns’ dreams.


He stares at the painting, in a state of awe. I’m confused. What’s so magical about a painting? He’s saying something about how labor intensive it must have been to make a painting like this. How wonderful it would be to live in the painting. 

“It’s just a bunch of dots,” I say pointedly. “There’s nothing wonderful about it.” He just smiles, amused. 

“You have to look at it like it’s a window. Like it’s giving you a clear view of another person’s world.” He waits for my response, but it doesn’t come. I tap my foot against the concrete floor. The rest of the gallery is just as boring, and we’re here for at least an hour longer while Mom finishes up her shift. It couldn’t hurt to try. 

“Well…” I begin. “I… guess the white, yellow, gray, and blue make the sky look… sort of real.” 

“Yeah,” he says. I expect him to start yammering on about the feelings looking at the clouds give him, instead he looks at me again. “What else?” 

My ears feel hot, I can hear my heart beating in them. I look down at my scuffed up sneakers. I try to avoid eye contact by rubbing them against the ground. 

“I — ” I swallow my pride. What good is lying now? “Hadn’t thought of anything else… ” 

He doesn’t get mad. I can feel him smiling at me. A beam of light shining down on me just as the light shines down on these three people in the painting. 

“That’s okay.” 

I look up. 

“Really?” I smile back at him, confused. 

“I’d prefer to continue our discussion, but if you’re really stumped… ” I cross my arms.

“You’re really trying to take me on a guilt trip?” 

He smiles. A wide grin that succeeds in making me laugh. Dirty looks from all around the gallery find their way to me. I mumble an apology to the angry museum visitors.

A minute later, he asks me, “Did you think of something else eye-popping about the painting?” 

“Eyes popping?” I ask, excited. “Like in that video where they cut the lady’s eye open? But it’s ACTUALLY a SHEEP’S EYE?” 

He laughs. “That’s not what I meant!” He messes with my short hair, like I’m a dog. 

“I meant what comes to your eye first?”

“Oh,” I laugh. “I guess, those three people in the light.” 


“Yeah,” I respond. “They look like the only people in the world.” 

“I get that,” he trails off. 

A scratching sound takes him back to the real world. A crow is dancing on top of the skylight. The skylight is right above us. Looking up at the light, shining through the dim gallery, I finally understand what my brother meant by the word “window.” 

Maria Merian: The Butterfly Woman

“Art and nature shall always be wrestling until they eventually conquer one another so that the victory is the same stroke and line: that which is conquered, conquers at the same time.” – Maria Merian

“Where do the silk moths come from?” and “Where do the caterpillars go after they are in their pupae?” were questions that people had to ask themselves in the seventeenth century, because the answers to these hadn’t been discovered, yet. One woman answered those questions just by using her artwork, at a time when nobody thought women could do so.  Her name was Maria Merian, and she not only changed science, but she changed the way I want to be in the world.

Maria Merian was born in seventeenth century Germany and was fascinated with two things, bugs and art. Her father was a printer and publisher and her stepfather was an artist, so he helped her build her skills. Later on in her life, she made several books that changed the way people looked at science, such as Metamorphosis Insectorum Surinamensium. She figured out these concepts at an early age. Imagine a young girl figuring out how the life cycle of a caterpillar works when nobody else knew about this! Of course, there were some theories, but they were very wrong. Some didn’t even include the butterflies or moths!

When you are very young, you learn about the life cycle of a caterpillar. Maria helped us figure that out. In many of  her paintings, she shows how the cycle begins with the eggs and it ends with a moth or a butterfly. According to the Atlantic, she would say things in her journal like, the pupae looks like a “date pit.” You would think that she would make these discoveries in her later life, but no! As a child, she figured them out. Maria kept the caterpillars she collected for her stepfather’s art. She kept the silkworm in a box and watched them grow and drew every little thing that she saw during the process. She did this all at a time when women couldn’t use certain papers, paints, or other important materials and on top of that, she could have been seen as a witch. Maria also left a marriage at a time when women weren’t to do that. But these stereotypes didn’t stop her.

In the seventeenth century, women weren’t allowed to leave a marriage. She rebelled against what was “proper.” I think that is amazing. She also came up with a good paint that women could actually use! I think it is unbelievable that women couldn’t use something as simple as a piece of paper, or glob of paint! Now we live in a world where anyone can do anything, but we still have a lot of work to do because some groups of people aren’t as equal as others. Back to Maria. First she gave some big questions some big answers, only as a child, and then she started to become more and more of a great female role model. That is incredible! 

That is very encouraging. It makes me feel like I can do anything even though I am not an adult! She must have had a lot of patience, for she waited and waited for these caterpillars to grow into beautiful little butterflies. Since there would be no photography until almost 200 years after, she couldn’t just take pictures of the bugs. Just imagine sitting and waiting for something to happen, and then having to draw an intricate drawing of it very quickly. She had to sit and draw every little detail! It makes me stop and think about how much we take our technology for granted.

I am very thankful for what she did. Even though not many people know much about her, she made a big difference in our world. I would like to be like her. Her life story inspires me to want to use my creativity to change the world. I hope to use my work to speak up about equal rights for everyone, because, like I said before, even if the Declaration of Independence says that all men are created equal, some people are treated unfairly! Even in a time where there is advanced technology and brave activists, I feel like I can make a difference. Like Maria, I might not be recognized for the change that I am determined to make, but if I can do something, I will know that I have done good. 

I think that people should learn more about her because she is a great role model. If she can inspire one person, I think she could inspire the world!  Imagine living in a world where people use their talents and differences to make the world a better place. That would be great. We need more people like her! We can accomplish this by not letting stereotypes get into our heads and by always having our creative minds with us. We can also conduct our own projects and draw, write, or make music about them. Maria Merian inspires me to want to make a change and I hope others feel the same way!


  • Sidman, Joyce. The Girl Who Drew Butterflies: How Maria Merian’s Art Changed Science. Boston, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2018.
  • Wulf, Andrea. “The Woman Who Made Science Beautiful.” The Atlantic, 2 Aug. 2016. The Atlantic, Accessed 23 July 2020.
  • Campetella, Florencia. “The Butterfly Woman.” Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecolog. Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology, Accessed 23 July 2020.