The Passenger

A soft pinging plays as the stewardess who’s probably been working in this airport for far too long asks, for the third time, for a passenger to give up their seat on the overbooked plane. The terminal is cold and stiff, unlike the hot and stuffy air awaiting me in 600 miles and 4 hours. I look out the large windows facing the tarmac. The sun is shrouded in bright white clouds and a murky snow coats the grass. In the distance, an outline of my big gray city is barely visible. A line of older people begins to form in front of the desk of arguing flight attendants. I sit and stare at the bustling terminal until the same stewardess grips the intercom again and for the fourth time pleads, “Ladies and gentleman… This flight has been overbooked. If no one chooses to give up their place, the flight cannot leave. Southwest is willing to give away a 500 dollar voucher to another flight, if no one takes this we will randomly select one passenger.” 

She puts the microphone down and I see her begin to lecture a much younger, and likely more patient, flight attendant. The terminal falls to low chatter and the piercing screaming of three toddlers. Every person in the terminal knows someone would have to be crazy to willingly give up their spot on the only flight to Key West 12 hours before Christmas Eve. I whip out my phone and check the time, 12:22. The flight was supposed to board 30 minutes ago and now it seems that I’ll never get to escape this stiff bench and give my ears the relief of silence 10,000 ft in the sky. 

My eyes adjust to a rapidly darkening room as the layers of clouds thicken just outside the glass. I can understand why someone would want to leave Minneapolis in December. I don’t blame the passengers or the flight attendant for being so stubborn. Still, the tension in the room is tangible and all I want is for someone to just give in and let the rest of us leave. After not even a minute, for the fifth time in 30 minutes, a chiming plays again.

Instead of the gruff voice of a weathered old woman, a warm, eager voice of a man begins to play with the intonation of a grade-school PSA.

“Hello ladies and gentleman, this is Captain Pearson speaking for flight 2869. I hope you are all having a wonderful Christmas Eve with us at Southwest airlines.” 

He leaves a bit of space after an idiotic chuckle for a laugh but the room rings silent.

“Anyway… I am obliged to alert you all that a severe winter storm is approaching, and with this delay, there is the possibility of cancellation. I encourage anyone to please give up their seat so we can all go about our trip without further disruption.”

I can feel the collective stomach of the room drop. Instead of the sunny beaches and glorious sunsets of Key West, one of us will be stuck in the luxurious Minneapolis airport during a blizzard. 

How cliche, I think to myself with a grin, what Hallmark plot is this?

The minute that follows is one of the most tense moments of my life, second only to the time at work when I made an ill-timed joke about one of my colleagues’ late mother. In my defense, I didn’t realize she was a late mother at that time.

I took a week off work for this trip; I really could not miss this flight. The decision was pretty spontaneous. I was sick of the same routine over and over and I remembered how my parents would take my brother and me to Key West every winter vacation when I was young. Maybe the change of scenery or the déjà vu from my childhood would help me… 

The fluorescent lighting above seems to get stronger and stronger by the second, and the processed air seems to become more oppressive by the instant. The older people preemptively standing in a line like silver generals on a hill look around as if telling us that we were selfish for refusing to give up our seats that we paid for. I begin to think about why I’m really taking this trip.

Help me what?

Suddenly, the intercom screeches back on and Captain Perfect’s voice begins to replay like a scratched record. At this point, it probably would make sense for someone to just give up already instead of a random selection. Someone like me, I conclude. I mean, I’ll leave it up to another 5’11’’ guy on an irrationally expensive trip for no reason with a bit more honor than me. 

“Okay… since no one wants to give up their seat, uh, we will commence a random selection,” the captain states. I should interject, but I don’t. The odds I get selected are low anyways, and honestly some of these entitled rich people on their vacations should be humbled a bit. But then I kind of feel like this is some sort of Hunger Games drawing. A part of me is sure my name will be the one read out. 

“Marissa Waltzon, would you please check in at the desk to receive your flight voucher,” the captain states.

I quietly grunt a, “Yesss!” with a celebratory fist. As if I would actually be chosen at random. I guess this isn’t really a Hallmark film after all. 

I look around as the room releases a sigh of relief and the stewardess begins to check people onto the flight. I don’t really feel bad for this Marissa. She’s probably some Karen who’s been harassing the airport employees like most of the women here. 

“Sucks to suck.” I mindlessly let out with a grin as I gather my bags to board the plane. 

I then notice the woman next to me, a very young woman actually, and she seems equally offended and heartbroken. She gazes up at me like a wounded street cat. She’s an attractive woman unlike the others in the terminal. She seems to actually take care of herself. 

Her mouth hangs open as if debating whether she wants to say something or not. She definitely is one of those types. I prepare myself to back off and apologize to avoid any confrontation when she looks me up and down and scoffs before turning around to walk over to the desk. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t incredibly offended by that gesture, but I guess that’s women for you. I definitely need to go up and apologize. I’m above that. I speed over to the desk with my backpack in hand.

Right before approaching her I realize, Wait, what do I even say? Oh, sorry for having the maturity of a twelve year old boy. I hope you have a lovely Christmas Eve in an airport… There is no reason for me to even have to apologize. This is stupid.

Before I can turn around to retreat, Marrissa begins to talk to the flight attendant and I can’t help but overhear.

“Are there no other flights to Key West tonight?” she pleads.

The flight attendant shakes her head before tapping her iPad screen with ridiculously long, grotesque pink nails. 

“Ma’am, all flights for the next week are fully booked,” she nonchalantly says, not even bothering to glance up from her screen.

“How about Tampa? Tallahassee? Miami? Orlando?” she says, exasperated. Each time, the flight attendant shakes her head. “Well, is there anything you can do? Please, my mother is on her last legs and she has no one,” she begs. The flight attendant looks up at her, flaunting her wrinkled pale face and obvious wig that’s a bit sideways. 

Annoyed, she says, “Ma’am, it is Christmas week. All direct flights to Florida are booked, you should know that. The best I can do is fly you out to Missoula and get you on a flight to Miami from there in about 36 hours.” She looks down and starts typing before concluding with, “Unfortunately, the voucher can’t fully cover that and you’ll need to pay about 400 additional dollars.”

“Where the hell is Missoula? My mom doesn’t have two days, and I don’t have 400 dollars. This is ridiculous, aren’t you supposed to help me?” Marissa cries.

“Montana,” she replies, not even batting an eye. Marissa’s jaw drops and she stares at the stewardess in shock. “You can always drive,” she replies as if it were some sick joke.

Oh great, now I feel like a double asshole. This has to be some movie plot somewhere. Okay… I need to step up and help this poor woman. She’ll appreciate me so much. 

Nobly, I step up, struggling to find the words.

“Hello ma’am, uhm I’m sorry about your predicament and uhm, uhh,” I stutter.

She turns to look at me like she’s about to kill me before immediately turning back to the attendant.

“Wait no, uhmm, uh, do you wanna trade spots?” I manage to get out. Wow, this is pathetic.

“Huh?” she blurts out.

“I mean if you want to take my place… I can use the voucher,” I try to say as calmly as possible.

Before she can reply, the attendant working the line states that this is the last call to board over the intercom.

Panicked, she looks at me and gives me a nod of approval, and I try to flash a smile but it seems to fall a bit flat.

She whispers a brief, “Thank you,” before hurrying to the line and walking through the tunnel to the plane. I’m shocked. 

She’s walking through my tunnel to my plane to sit in my seat. Is that really all I get? She didn’t even ask my name or insist otherwise. Did I really give my vacation plans to a woman who didn’t even ask my name? Aren’t I owed at least that? That’s it, last time I’m being noble…  Totally unfulfilling… I really didn’t get any credit at all. Zero?!

I snap back to reality when I begin to think about my hotel reservations and my car rental. Oh my God, what have I done? I realize.

I talk to the flight attendant and she redirects me to another desk. After maybe an hour of frustrating back and forth with a much kinder employee, she issues me that ticket to Missoula and Miami for an additional 150 dollars. I go to my stiff bench to hunker down for the rest of the day as it begins to snow. The plane lifts off and here I am, still waiting to board, like I always am. As I sit and wait, I think about Marissa and her mom and the flight of ungrateful passengers and rude attendants, all waiting to get to the next place and do the next thing, moving from one boarding terminal to another while I’ll be sitting on this uncomfortable-ass bench. 

I guess that’s how the world works sometimes… 


Dull Blue Dresses

One Sunday morning, my mind felt like a cloud of haze and dust. I had only gotten four hours of sleep the night before, and I felt myself strapped to the covers, unable to rise out of bed. However, I was supposed to attend a dance party later that day at a dance hall, between 11:00 AM and 12:00 PM; my best friend, Renee, had sent an invite via Facebook Messenger to which I could RSVP, and told me that the cost of purchasing tickets was expensive. However, she didn’t send me a link to where I could purchase tickets. Therefore, I didn’t buy them to get into the dance. I also didn’t have an outfit picked out; should I wear a dress or a skirt? If I was going to wear a dress, should it be flowy and long or a pencil skirt dress? Oh well, I decided not to worry about that issue until an hour before I had to leave.

After thirty minutes of resting in bed and gazing up at the ceiling, I finally lifted myself up, slipped into my slippers, and walked out into the cold air of my kitchen, where a box of pancake mix enticed me and awaited for my mouth to devour it. I propped open the lid, turned on the stove to medium heat, put a seared pan on top, and gathered sugar, milk, eggs, etc. in order to make the batter. Once I finished whipping up all of the ingredients in one deep bowl, I poured the batter onto the butter-seared pan; the dripping of the batter was like a slow waterfall, dropping onto the pan and making a sizzling sound that was piercing throughout the kitchen. The sizzling sound kept ringing and ringing out until I used up all of the batter and made seven pancakes; I was ready to devour those moist cakes! However, you can’t have pancakes without the sticky and sweet goodness of maple syrup and the creaminess of butter! As I was pouring maple syrup onto the mountain of pancakes, my mouth started salivating and drooling, just like a dog. The last ingredient that I had to put on those pancakes was butter; I pulled out a stick of butter from my bare-to-the-bones fridge, cut it in half, and smeared it across the surface of the top pancake in the mountain that I had made. Now, the pancakes were ready to be devoured! I took one bite and was immediately in heaven; the sweetness of the maple syrup and the creaminess of the butter combined with the moistness of the pancakes was the perfect breakfast food for today.

I don’t really like to eat with other people because I don’t want to see them staring at me while I eat my own meals. I would rather just eat alone in the quiet space of my kitchen, mindlessly chewing and humming along to myself.

Ugh, why did I eat so many freaking pancakes? What was my reasoning behind this decision? Was I truly ravenous, or was I eating in order to bury deeply rooted negative emotions? I came to understand that I wasn’t starving after all; instead, the pancakes were filling an emotional void.

I checked my watch and realized that it was time to pick out a dress for the dance that I was going to in exactly thirty minutes. I looked through my closet, and I found three dull blue dresses, all of which were long and flowy; I felt insecure about drawing attention from strangers by wearing a shiny dress even though I desperately wanted to, so the dullness of the dresses exposed me less.

Did I really want to try on each of the blue dresses, though? The immediate thought of trying them on filled me with dread and agony. What if I didn’t like the person I saw in the mirror reflected back at me? I was afraid of confronting my own body in the mirror.

When I finally mustered up the courage to try on all three of the dull blue dresses, I realized that I didn’t like how they looked on me because of my figure. The dresses made me look like an overweight pig. To be honest, I didn’t want to go to the dance because I felt self-conscious about having random strangers stare at me; even though I was wearing a dull blue dress, people would still have noticed that I was there and would have judged how I looked in that dress. I especially didn’t want to see anyone I knew because then I would have felt more exposed and vulnerable. At the same time, I wanted to feel good in my own body and to be able to look like a goddess in a glittery dress that highlights my figure, and to have people compliment me on my looks, but I felt too insecure to show myself off.

I asked myself this question: Should I arrive late, or should I arrive on time? If I arrived late, I wouldn’t have to spend as much time at the dreadful dance. However, if one of my friends saw me, she would most likely accuse me of being late, and then I would have to deal with that internal guilt for the rest of the time. If I didn’t go to the dance, Renee would text me, asking me where I was. Ugh, I really, really just wanted to block the world out. Maybe I could just disappear from reality under my covers, in the exact same position as when I woke up.

Even though I wanted to hide under my covers, I realized that it was not healthy to isolate yourself. The real question was: Should I call Renee to tell her that I’m not going to the dance party? If I called her, she might or might not be angry at me for calling at the last minute. After a few moments, I mustered up the courage to make that phone call.

“Hey Renee, how’s it going? I’m calling you because I really, really, really don’t want to go to this dance party you’ve invited me to,” I said with my heart beating in my chest, feeling nervous about how Renee was going to respond.

“Why don’t you want to go?” Renee asked with a concerned tone.

“I’m just feeling extremely insecure about having people stare at me and judge me based off of my appearance. I know that this is a last minute call, but I sincerely hope you aren’t pissed off at me,” I replied with sweat beads forming on my forehead and my internal body heating up like an oven preheating.

“Of course I’m not mad at you. I understand that sometimes, crowds can be fear-inducing for many people. Just know that I’m here for you whenever you need someone to talk to.”

Upon hearing those magical words, I exhaled loudly, sighing with relief; the weight of the world had just been lifted off my shoulders.

“After the party ends, I would like to spend time with you. Do you want to get together with me?” I asked, with anticipation in my voice and hoping that she would accept my offer.

“Umm, I would love nothing more than to spend time with you, Annie! Do you want to go have lunch with me?” Renee asked.

“Let’s go get coffee instead. I’m still stuffed from breakfast this morning,” I said.

“Ah, okay. Let’s meet up at 12:30 PM! So excited to spend one-on-one time with you!” Renee excitedly replied.

I was excited to spend one-on-one time with her too.


A Love Letter to Myself

As my being develops and evolves in the world, so does my sense of self. The different layers that shape my identity each tell a different story, and looking back at my past experiences, I am not ashamed of who I have become despite the ever so present obstacles that face me and the countless other people that look like me.

My parents gave me the name Eliwa, having a strong significance in their native Gabonese language: Pongwe. This name signifying two elements, firstly the kingdom of God and secondly, lake. It is not a name that I cherished or valued at first. I thought best to keep my name Mirya-Anne, best to say I was Austrian if people asked me where I was from. I did not want to be reminded that I was black, that my roots were neither from Europe nor from the U.S but the motherland itself. Soon enough, I was correcting people as nicely as I could on how to say it or spell it. My anger towards this was masked by politeness.

At a young age, European ideals invaded my mind, and therefore unconsciously, my anti-blackness began to show. At night, I would dream for lighter skin and straighter hair. It seemed I was too dark for everything, that the hue of my skin was still not deemed acceptable in the 21st century. My ten-year-old self could not comprehend this, and I asked myself continuously if there was truly something wrong with me. Looking back at my younger self, a feeling of sadness floods my whole being, simply knowing the unhappiness that I felt towards being black. This is not something that I particularly mentioned to my parents or even my older siblings. It stayed hidden. This obsession with eurocentric beauty standards never surfaced or became apparent either. There was nothing I could really do or say to change it. This name, this history, this culture was ingrained in me permanently.


I remember being a small child in my predominantly white school, having been asked why my skin looked the way it was. Children shouted at my skin in the playground, deeming it ugly. I could not answer. My skin was seen as an anomaly for along time. Because somehow I was just so different from everyone else. I remember being the only black girl in my nursery room calling for my mom, hoping she wasn’t too far away. I think it was the feeling of being such an outsider that my younger self could not cope with. I didn’t speak. I didn’t play. My siblings who attended the same school tried to comfort me, but I was hopeless. Nothing could soothe me.


The first time I saw a black person die on my TV screen, I was 11 going on 12. His name was Trayvon Martin, and he was the same age I was right now, seventeen years old, ready to enter an unknown future, not knowing the tragic ending that would follow. Trayvon had a bright future. He was passionate about aviation and was loved deeply by his family and friends. My mother and I turned on CNN everyday waiting for the verdict that would determine everything. The day the verdict was released, I turned on the TV and saw in big bold letters, Not guilty. My head spun, and I thought to myself, This isn’t normal. He should be in jail. He killed an unarmed young man. I started to fear for my older brother and father. I thought to myself what if something happened to them eventually. Morbid thoughts entered my head once again, and it was a difficult task to try to block them out once more. The future seemed bleak for Black America. Trayvon wasn’t the only one. Hundreds of names followed: Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Sandra Bland etc. My naivety led me to believe that black women weren’t facing the same problems as black men, police men and women wouldn’t hunt us down, except they did. Sandra Bland wasn’t the first nor will she be the last.


Somewhere in my early teens, I had an awakening which I can largely accredit to social media and the manner in which they uplifted people like me as well as my older brother, the intellectual 22-year-old at the time who pushed me to read more about my history. Not only that, but after having visited the continent of Africa more frequently, I found a new appreciation for the country and its culture and most importantly the people. My parents made it known that we should always be proud of our black skin and our native country. The hole in me that I could not fill seemed to be filling by itself. My real roots were in Gabon (Ga-bon): the small country of one million people located on the western coast of Central Africa. Having attended the SDLC conference or the student diversity leadership conference, in December of 2015 I had been overcome with emotion. I had discovered my inner voice as well as a deeper connection to my community. I felt strongly about racism, and I felt strongly about white privilege as well as acknowledging my own privileges, such as my parents being able to afford my private school tuition. This was something I was thankful and grateful for.


Due to my passion for social change and social activism, I decided to pursue a career in law. This self-rejuvenation that had occurred had changed me for the better. Although I believe the process of the decolonization of these beliefs does not happen immediately, I felt this pride and peace in my own skin that I had never felt before. These recent events as well as my past experiences have sparked something in me, that I have never felt before, a want and a desire to involve myself, as a public servant. I have been described as someone with a heart of gold and an insurmountable amount of patience. I only hope I can put these qualities to good use.


Recently, I was sitting in the train on my way to school, when a young man approached me wanting to sit next to me. At first, I was apprehensive and felt uneasy. He asked if he could sit next to me and as soon as he sat down, he started talking to me about everything and anything, mostly about Africa and black people. He asked me where I was from, and I told him Gabon. He told me that he thought Africa was wonderful and I was lucky to be from there.

He then proceeded to compliment my skin color. He even delivered an interesting fact on the resistance of darker skin hues in today’s environment. I listened patiently to his words. This man that I had first judged as probably homeless. I soon started to regret my words.

He told me his name was Unique. I smiled. He said he was from Harlem, and as he left, I shook his hand, and he told me I was very beautiful. Hearing someone who had the same features call me beautiful, was unequivocally reassuring. Vanity was not something I necessarily prescribed myself with, but compliments about the physical appearance have a way of uplifting certain people, especially the downtrodden ones. As I sat back down to continue my journey, I thought how odd that this happened to me on this particular day. A man by the name of Unique had enormously contributed to my new state of mind. He represented for me this sort of guardian angel that you meet only once in a lifetime, having no relevant information on them except their name and destination. As he left to descend on Harlem, a smile crept upon my face once more reminding myself that I was enough.


Too Many Mistakes Made

“Hey,” I said on the phone. “Can I come over today?”

“You really should not. I’m sick as hell. I think I’m coming down with the flu, and I don’t want to infect you,” said my boyfriend on the other line of the phone as he quickly hung up.


That was completely weird. He usually wouldn’t hang up the phone like that but whatever. I took my wallet and my car keys. I drove to Walmart and bought some over-the-counter medicine for the flu. I drove to Ryan’s house. His house front door would always be open, I was used to just walking in as if it was my own house.


I looked for Ryan all over the first floor. I couldn’t find him. I went upstairs to his room. He was probably in bed since he was sick. I entered, and I couldn’t believe what I saw. Yes, he was cheating. I just couldn’t believe he was screwing my cousin. I just laughed at the whole situation. They separated and looked at me in a way you could tell they were really scared for their lives. I did not go crazy or anything.


I just pulled my thumb up and said, “So much for being sick.”


I left the house and got into my car. Instantly as I got in the car, I slammed my face into the steering wheel and screamed out. I drove off to Kiara’s house. I found myself in the basement my best friend had made into her room. I threw myself into her bed.


“Oh no, trouble in paradise. What happened between you and Ryan?” asked Kiara. You could tell in her voice she was so over me and Ryan’s bullshit. She sounded so sarcastic and annoyed.

“Nothing too serious, I just found him having sex with Lilly,” I answered sarcastically.

“Oh shit,” exclaimed Kiara in surprise. “But I thought she was your cousin.”

“Well, you thought right! Hell yeah she is my cousin, but she didn’t think of that before getting into bed with my now ex-boyfriend,” I said very angrily.


I kept quiet after. The silence in the room was so intense you could hear a needle falling to the floor but, I liked it that way. I don’t know how to feel or if I should feel anything at all. Am I crazy for not feeling hurt? I just feel empty inside. I should be mad and crying. It is the normal thing to feel in a moment like this one, but I don’t feel anything at all.


“Listen. It’s okay. Your cousin didn’t take much from you,” said Kiara as she was trying to seem calm, but her body language snitched on her. Anybody could tell she was worried, as her hands started to fidget, and she looked frightened.

“I’m good, don’t worry,” I said so calm that it was concerning due to what happened.


I just wondered why would he do that to me. If he wanted out, he could have said so. It’s like Lilly had half of me, and she was not even half of me. I mean, she totally is the opposite of my personality. She knew he was my boyfriend. She fucking knew, but she couldn’t keep her legs closed. Even your own family betrays you. I tried to keep calm and not cry, but I couldn’t. I ended up crying. I tried to be strong. I just couldn’t. In this moment, I felt so exposed. I usually wouldn’t cry in front of anybody. I didn’t want to be looked as weak, but goddammit I deserved this cry. Kiara looked at me, frozen. She didn’t know what to do. She won’t be the type of person that would be good to comfort you, but she will always be there, even if it meant only her presence.


“Calm down,” I said. “I’ll get over this. He is not the only guy in the world.”


I spent the rest of the day with Kiara. After just getting cheated on, I could still crack jokes with my best friend. I didn’t want to be alone, but I would have to leave at any moment. As I got home, I went right away to sleep, just to avoid thinking.


The next day I went to school. I wasn’t really excited to show up to school and see Ryan’s face. I made my way through the school, and to be honest, I was trying to avoid Ryan. I found Kiara, and I felt relieved.


“Can you make it less obvious that you are trying to avoid somebody?” asked Kiara as she laughed at me.

“Good morning to you too, asshole,” I said to my best friend.


Our other friends came, and we just stood there talking, waiting for first period to start. I plugged my headphones in, since I really didn’t feel like talking anymore. I was really concentrated into listening to The Chainsmokers until I felt Kiara poking me to death with her elbow.


“Oh my god! What do you want?” I asked Kiara as I angrily took my headphones off. “You know better, when I have my headphones on that means nobody talk to me.”


Kiara just pointed with her forehead. I looked at the direction she pointed, just to see Ryan’s stupid self walking towards us. I just looked away and laughed. Yeah, now everything is a joke. Ignoring his presence completely, I just plugged my headphones back in. Until I felt somebody’s arm around me.


“Excuse me,” I said, turning around to see Ryan’s face.

“Hello, baby cakes,” he said as he soundfully kissed my cheek.

“Now you got some nerve!” I yelled, catching a lot of people’s attention. “How can you just come here, kiss me on the cheek, and call me baby cakes when yesterday you were between my cousin’s legs? And get the hell away from me before I smack you.”

“You don’t have to act up, you overreacting,” he said while removing his arms off me.

“Boy, you were having sex with my cousin, and you got the nerve to say I’m overreacting. You must be out of your goddamn mind!” After I said this, Ryan just left, which I appreciate very much.

“So much for avoiding,” said Kiara while she laughed, and I laughed with her even though I was so mad steam could come out of my ears.


Months went by, and I just made myself busy, focused on my school work and going out with Kiara to the volleyball court, and I also found myself talking to Ryan’s friend. I know, you don’t have to go on and on about how bad of an idea this is. Kiara is making sure of it.


“I’m just saying if you are stupid enough to continue with that decision, go ahead, but you are being stupid,” said Kiara for the 400th time in one hour.

“It’s not like I’m marrying the guy, I’m just having a little fun. You need to loosen up a little bit,” I said to Kiara.

“Okay, you are not marrying him, but still you are leading him on, and he is Ryan’s friend. That is just plain stupid, and just because you got cheated on, doesn’t mean you get to play with somebody else.”

“I’m playing him or leading him on,” I lied.

“Are you planning on having something serious with him?” asked Kiara while giving me a death stare.

“Chill chica, if looks could kill, and I don’t want nothing serious with him, are you crazy?” I laughed.

“Then you are so leading him on!” Kiara yelled at me. “You know how it feels to be played. Don’t do that to the guy. He is really nice, unlike Ryan. He doesn’t deserve it,” said Kiara while grabbing my phone and blocking Ryan’s friend’s number.

“You didn’t have to block Anthony! At least you could let me give the guy an explanation of why I’m not talking to him,” I complained.

“Any talking you want to do, you could do it in front of me, so I know you’re going to end this and not lead him on anymore, and by the way, Ryan is calling.” She passed my phone, but I looked at it ring until the call ended. “Why didn’t you answer?”

“Do I look like I want to talk to the bastard that cheated on me with my cousin? I don’t want to hear his lame excuses. There are a lot of girls willing to forgive, but I’m not one of them,” I said angrily.

“You see, that is one decision I support,” said Kiara.


We left the volleyball court since it was about to close. As soon as I got home, I unblocked Anthony and texted him.

Me: Hey there

Anthony: Hey, you finally out?

Me: Yeah, the court was about to close, so we had to go home

Anthony: Can I come over?

Me: Don’t

Anthony: Why

Me: I’m going to take a shower and then I’m heading off to sleep

Anthony: But it’s early, don’t go to sleep

Me: It’s 11 o’clock, get it together Anthony LOL, go to sleep

Anthony: Fine, TTYL.


After taking a shower, I can assure that I didn’t go to sleep. I ordered some pizza and watched Grey’s Anatomy. I got so lost watching the TV show, every time I said I would go to sleep, I ended up watching one more episode. It happened like 20 times, but when I was finally going to sleep, my alarm went off. I stayed up all night watching Grey’s Anatomy, and I had a geometry test today!

I rushed out of my house, regretting the decision I made last night. I should have gone to sleep!


I was already in a bad mood since I didn’t get to sleep, now add a geometry test to that. My stress level was as high as it would have ever been. During the test I couldn’t concentrate, every sound irritated me, and the teacher’s voice irritated me more than the usual. I couldn’t remember any formulas, so I failed this test. I know I failed because I fell asleep halfway through the test. My teacher woke me up by slamming his hand on my desk, which didn’t contribute to my humor. I got out of the classroom to find Kiara, I couldn’t find her anywhere, so I decided to text her


Me: Where are you?

Me: ?

Me: Answer

Kiara: I’m by the library

Me: I’m on my way there

Kiara: K.


I made my way through the school, and to be completely honest with you guys, I am so in love with the structure of the school. I loved the detailed spiral columns we had, and I loved the detailed white flowers in the corners of the ceiling and the beige walls! The place seems so magnificent to be a school. It gives you the vibe of an old museum. I admired the details in the building as I made my way through school to the library. As I got to the library, I could see Kiara hanging outside of the library.


“Can you come over here?” I yelled at Kiara. I really didn’t feel like walking anymore. My feet were killing me, my back hurt like it never did before, and the classroom tables were not the comfiest place to sleep on.

“You look like total crap,” said Kiara as soon as she got to me. “Why didn’t you sleep last night?”

“How did you know?” I asked.

“I’ve known you for a long time, don’t you think I know almost every aspect of you? Now answer, why didn’t you sleep last night?” asked Kiara again.

“I stayed up watching Grey’s Anatomy,” I answered shamefully.

“Quick question, have you gotten over what happened with Ryan? You haven’t talked about it ever since it happened,” Kiara looked at me with intrigue.


I really couldn’t give an answer. I wasn’t over it. In fact, I was still hurting on the inside. Trying to distracting myself didn’t work. My mind would always make its way back to that damn day. I tried to forgive him. Maybe he did it because of something I lacked, but it wasn’t a good enough reason. I tried to forgive Lilly. She is my cousin, but in my eyes she is just a whore.


“I don’t know how I got over everything so easily,” I answered to Kiara, even though I wasn’t really over everything that had happened. I couldn’t see myself confessing. I was still hurt.


I quickly walked the streets in Manhattan, rushing to get home. I was excited. My mother finally came home from vacation. Well, it wasn’t a vacation. It was for three days, but they were the longest three days of my life!

As soon as I walked in, I could hear the merengue blasting in the speakers, and I could smell the Sancocho my mother was making in the kitchen. I missed my mother so much! It’s hard not having her around.

“Bendicion, Mom,” I said as I walked in the kitchen. Asking for your parents’ blessing was something Dominicans do.

“Dios te bendiga mija,” answered my mother while hugging me. “Listen, get ready. Food is almost ready, and your uncles and cousins are coming over to eat.”

When my mother said that, I just stood frozen. I was so frozen that I could actually take Princess Elsa’s part in the movie Frozen. What does she mean? My cousins are coming over? She must be kidding me! She better be! If that’s the case, it means Lilly will be here, and I don’t have the means to deal with her. I mean isn’t it ironic that she is named Lilly, when Lilly means purity, and she was screwing my boyfriend. So pure! As my mind comes back to earth, I could hear my mom calling my name like crazy.


“Amelia, muchacha, I’m talking to you,” said my mother very angrily. “Ese noviesito of yours is really having you acting stupid.”

“Actually, me and him are not dating anymore mom,” I said, and as soon as I said that, my mother hugged me. “I found him cheating on me.”


I saved the detail that he cheated on me with my cousin, I didn’t to bring any drama to the family, but if I knew that summer night was going to end up with Lilly getting with Ryan, I would never have invited her to our camping trip.




I decided to bring my cousin to a camping trip that my friends and I planned. I mean, she was going to be in my school next year. This would be a great opportunity for her to meet people and make friends. But she was more of a loner. She stayed by herself. As we began to light some wood on fire, my boyfriend came, late as always. He came up to me and kissed me, but I rushed him to introduce him to my cousin.


“So this is my cousin,” I said while I grabbed her by the arm. She looked kind of weird, but she was a shy person, so I didn’t pay much attention.

“What’s your name?” Ryan asked her, but she just kept quiet and stood frozen.

“Her name is Lilly. Excuse her, she tends to be really shy,” I said as Ryan and I walked away from her.


Present time…


I kept reliving the memory in my head. I stayed in my room. My mom didn’t bother me on going downstairs. I know she felt like I was going to break at any moment. But I wasn’t. I can’t deny that the betrayal from both parties made me feel downhearted, but I wasn’t going to let them break me.


I spent most of the evening hiding in my room. I knew Lilly was downstairs since I heard her voice. She really got some nerve coming here. If I was in her position, I would never show up to the girl’s house whose boyfriend I screwed.


Lilly’s POV…


I was really nervous, facing Amelia? After what I’ve done? That’s signing my own death certificate. I am hundred percent sure she is going to beat my ass. My mother insisted on me coming over since Amelia’s mom called with the chisme that Ryan cheated on her. She thought I could make her feel better. Apparently Amelia saved to herself that I was the girl she found Ryan with. Amelia didn’t come out of her room. Mother insisted on me going to her room, but I was ashamed.


“Go hang out with Amelia. You could really make her feel better,” said my mother.

“Quit insisting. If she hasn’t come out, that means she wants to be alone,” I quickly lied. I know I am the last person she wants to see right now.

“I’m not going to repeat myself, Lilly,” said my mother as she grabbed my arm and dragged me to my cousin’s room. She knocked the door.

My cousin said, “Come in!”

Mother doesn’t know that she is inventing a new kind of stupid right now.

“Mija, I told Lilly to come cheer you up, you know since what happened,” said my mother as she quickly pushed me into my cousin’s room. She just led me to my own death!

Amelia just looked at me like, “Really bitch?”

I am actually scared. My mother just left me alone with my murderer. I looked everywhere. I looked to the corner where a little trash can is, looked at the pink walls where she used to have some pictures of her and Ryan. She took them off. The last time I was here, before getting caught by Amelia, she had them. I looked at the ceiling. I looked at everything but her. I didn’t have the nerve to look at her or say anything.

“Why did you do it?” asked Amelia in her voice. You could hear a little bit of disappointment, but she was trying to seem calm. I didn’t have an answer, at least not a valid one.




My cousin insisted on bringing me here. I didn’t want to come, but if I didn’t, I would have to stay all by myself, so I decided to come along. I was pretty bored. The place was nice. The tall trees and the smell of the soil were fantastic, and the campfire was beautiful. We could see everybody around it sharing some s’mores. The only thing that sucked was the mosquitoes.


That’s when I saw him. The first thing I noticed about him was his eyes. Oh look at those eyes… The deep brown of his eyes made me feel completely helpless. His black, long hair pulled into a ponytail, his light skin, oh god! Every detail about him was so perfect. I tried to catch him just giving me a glance, but I saw him walking towards my cousin, and when he kissed her, my heart crushed. It exploded. My cousin approached me. He followed her. She told him I was her cousin. He asked my name, but his presence made me forget it. Why out of all the boys, I had to like the one that my cousin is dating? I can assure you I won’t be happy.


Present time…


“So, why did you do it? Why out of all the boys it had to be Ryan?” she asked.

“I am so sorry for any distress I’ve caused,” I apologized.

“Do you think you feeling sorry is going to fix anything? The damage is already done! It is hard to listen to you apologizing with a straight face,” she almost yelled at me, but I knew she didn’t want to draw any attention to what is happening in this room. If she was to beat me up, I would accept that ass whooping. I deserved it. She walked towards me. I really thought I was through, but she just walked out. I don’t know why, but I followed her to the living room.

“Why are you following me?” she yelled at me. “I don’t want you near me, don’t you get that?

“Okay, what is going on?” asked my aunt. “Don’t be yelling at your cousin like that, she haven’t done anything to you!”

“She haven’t done anything to me?” she questioned her as she turned around to look at her mother. “You don’t know anything. You don’t know that Lilly is the girl that I found Ryan with. I didn’t want to say anything because I didn’t want to be the one that brought drama into the family, but there you go. Please let it be know that my cousin is a putita.”


It suddenly hit me. How could I have done this? She is my cousin, and I love her more than anything. How could I let my emotions get the best of me? I should have stood by. I am truly sorry for causing any distress in her relationship. I wish we could have been more discreet, but I am not sorry for wanting him like I did. My mother rushed me out of Amelia’s house. I looked at her. In her face you could see how embarrassed she was. She couldn’t even look at me in the eyes. As soon as I got home, I locked myself in my room and closed my curtains. I laid in my bed.


I wasn’t really happy in my own relationship. I really wasn’t. I wouldn’t let my own boyfriend see the pictures on my phone, but I did let her boyfriend see them. It’s not like I’m saying that what we had was special, since it really wasn’t, but it was something rare. I truly regret every problem I’ve caused in his relationship. I wish we could have been more discreet. I’m not sorry for wanting him like I did. At the end of the day, I had to call him, text him, or end the night kissing his lips. Even with Amelia right beside me, he looked at me in a way that revealed every single detail between us. He will always be there for me, even if it meant risking his own relationship. Every moment we shared I felt this fake happiness, because after all, he only loved his girlfriend. He would go on about how he didn’t want to lose her and how we should end this for the better. His heart was completely hers, but looking pathetic, I asked him to stay. When she left him, it killed him. He made mistakes, and I was one of them. Even when he had his arms around me while we lay in the couch, I could tell Amelia was the only thing in his mind. None of this really matters anymore. I’m going to move one, as suprinsly as that sounds. I will move on but not completely, as I will always carry a picture of us in my phone.


Eat: Reality or Hallucination?


There is a very fine line between reality and imagination, or in this case hallucination, but sometimes that line is so thin that you don’t know on which side you stand. It’s so hard to know and harder to find out. Are we losing our minds? Am I? Are you? I really think so.


Silently, she walked through the hallway. Her destination? The kitchen. Melody had studied hours to no end for the exam on psychology at the end of the week, and at the moment, she was hungry. So hungry that she could go to the savanna, hunt down a rhino, cook them, and finally eat them. She was so hungry that she started hallucinating back in her bedroom about a friendly dragon whose name was Phillp, helping her study about the different parts of the human brain. Yep, her occipital lobe was really active today, going hand in hand with her over caffeinated, powered imagination. What a lovely combination, hear the sarcasm. At least she hadn’t gone all Bertha Rochester. That was a plus. And now her brain was joking and comparing her with an insane fictional character from Jane Eyre. Maybe she should be happy that it wasn’t comparing her with Bellatrix Lestrange.


Melody stopped at the end of that thought, huffing humorlessly at herself.


“Yep, I’m gone crazy.” The lack of food was making her think weird. She continued down the hallway towards the kitchen. Hopefully her mother had gone to the grocery while she was in self-induced confinement, and yes, while some might think of still living with your parents as lame, Melody couldn’t bring herself to care about those people’s opinion. She didn’t have to cook for herself anymore, thank God. Last time she gave herself food poisoning, and the time before that, she had managed to somehow burn water of all things. She also didn’t have to worry about nosy and annoying roommates or not having hot water in the morning, so it was a win-win in her opinion.


Weirdly, the hallway looked darker than it had looked yesterday or four hours ago. In fact, the light that came through the big windows at her left looked almost gray-like. Maybe it was cloudy outside? But no, when Melody chanced a small glance out the closest window, the day was sunny, too sunny for her liking but sunny nonetheless. So why did it looked so dark in her house? Even now that she knew it wasn’t going to rain anytime soon, there was not a single change in how the hallway looked. The few pictures of herself and her parents looked out of place in there, even though those same pictures were there all her life. The light and the atmosphere made them look sad, longing.


“Spooky,” Melody muttered under her breath, but kept walking. Maybe it was the fact that she hadn’t eaten anything yet? Yeah, it had to be that. She was seeing things again, no doubt.


The living room looked the same to her, but she noted that it had the same atmosphere of the hallway. It looked dark and gray, out of place, it had a different feel, and again she brushed it off as her lack of actual food. The kitchen was the same dark atmosphere and somewhat-gray light, but by this point she had stopped giving it any thought, so she walked straight to the fridge to see if there was anything that did not need cooking because she wasn’t in the mood of possibly dying by her own disastrous cooking, and she wasn’t about to starve to death, thank you very much.


“Let’s see what we have here,” she mussed to herself. “Tomatoes, lettuce, green pepper, cheese, bread… Wait, where is the ham? If there is cheese, there must be ham somewhere in here, right?… Aja!” Melody cried triumphantly when she saw the ham at the back of the fridge. A sandwich was in order.


Taking all the ingredients to the counter, Melody readied herself for the arduous battle of preparing edible food. Bread, lettuce, green pepper, tomato, cheese, ham, cheese again, tomato, green pepper and bread, Melody kept repeating over and over again on her mind. Maybe if she followed this mantra, she would actually made something she could eat, not that it mattered as she was so hungry that she could afford a go to the hospital to get her stomach pumped if needed. Looking down at her creation, Melody shrugged at its appearance. It was messy, but all the ingredients were alright. She checked.


“Well, at least it’s not alive or moving like last time.” Softly, she poked at the sandwich with a knife just to make sure it wasn’t alive. Shrugging again, she hurled the knife to the sink. “It must be fine, then.” Taking the sandwich, she reclined against the counter, a sigh of relief escaping her mouth. Finally, her stomach would stop eating itself after this.


Salivating, figuratively of course, she was about to happily bit into her lunch, when a weird noise came from the front door. It didn’t sound like anything she had heard before. The floor was creaking horribly, like it was under immense pressure or weight, but nothing else could be heard. Actually, everything was eerily silent, no birds chirping outside, no kids laughing or screaming after each other like before, no dogs barking, not the soft sound of the curtains moving with the wind, just silence. Nothing. Zero. Nada. Not even the sound of silence. This was unnatural silence. There was nothing in or outside the house doing a single sound. It was frightening, and while Melody was not panicking… yet, she found this lack of anything weird. She set the sandwich down in the counter at her back and silently walked to the kitchen door, which she had closed behind her, and yes, while most kitchens didn’t have wood doors separating them from the rest of the house, her mother had insisted on setting one the moment they moved to this house. Something about aesthetic and how a disastrous kitchen wasn’t good for an image, or something like that. Melody had tuned her mother out that time. She was turning the knob when the creepy, creaking sound made itself known again.


“Great,” Melody groaned sarcastically. “The weird, creepy, and absolutely not terrifying at all sound is back.” One look at the living room let her know that the gray-like atmosphere she had noted before had changed to a full on get-the-the-hell-outta-that-house-like-RIGHT-NOW atmosphere. If Melody wasn’t freaked before, she was for sure now. Chills ran up her spine, goosebumps up her arms, and cold sweat was going down her back and forehead. Yeah, freaked for sure. The creaking sounded once again, still coming from the front door. It was practically calling out at her.


“Mom?” Melody called against the better judgement she had obtained via seeing horror movies. It was a fact that you never called out to a creepy sound. It always got you killed in the movies, but Melody told herself this was reality, not a horror movie, and she kept telling her mind that when she called again. “Mom, is that you? I didn’t hear your car.” There was no answer, save for that horrible creaking of the floor. It was seriously getting on her nerves. “Seriously, if that’s you, Emily Parker, I swear to God!” She expected that by saying her mother’s name she would stop trying to scare her, but again there was no response, or at least not a human articulated response. This time instead of creaking, it was heavy breathing, something like an animal would do if they had run after their prey. “This is getting better and better.” Melody breathed out, and taking all her courage, finished walking to the front door. The creepy living room at her back did nothing to soothe her fraying nerves.


The sounds came from outside the door. Cautiously, Melody leaned her ear against the door, held her breath, and listened. Just listened and listened. The sounds had stopped, but that didn’t mean the fear finally creeping on her mind had. It was moving tenfold now with the sudden stillness and silence of the environment. She almost wished that the sounds were back. Almost, because the very second she was about to think that wish, someone, better yet, something, slammed against the door pushing her back a few steps. She admired, surprised. There was a small fracture in the same place on the door she had leaned her ear, and it was no small fracture. If she concentrated enough, she could see the green grass outside and the empty gray street. Whatever had been out there was gone.


A door on the other side of the house slammed shut. Yes, indeed whatever had been out there wasn’t out anymore. It was inside the house with her.


“Melody, Melody, Melody…” she heard coming from the hallway of her room, but the voice wasn’t from a monster. It was from someone she knew very well, someone that could not have been the one calling her name. It was impossible, that voice was her own.


“The hell is going on?” Melody, the real Melody, and not a humanless voice wandering in the back of her house, muttered while staring at the hallway directing to her bedroom. “This… This is not real, right?” she questioned herself. Her breathing was getting faster and so was her heartbeat. She was panicking, and she didn’t like that. She never panicked. Her friends called her The Ice Princess because she was always cool headed, and this voice resonating towards her must have had a logical explanation, but this could not be real. “The psychosis must have settled in… yeah, that’s it,” Melody said to herself. “Yeah, lack of sleep and too much coffee initiated a psychotic episode.” While trying to control her breathing, Melody forced herself to remember what psychosis meant.


Psychosis is a severe mental disorder in which thoughts and emotions are so impaired that contact is lost with external reality, and this is just a psychotic episode induced by sleep deprivation and too much caffeine in my system. Damn, Stephanie told me to have more sleep. Should have listened to her!! Melody forced this thought over and over on her mind, and the fact that she had saw the vision of Philip, the friendly dragon, not too long ago in her bedroom helped this mantra settle, but still something compelled her to follow her own voice through the hallway. Maybe it was her need to cement that this wasn’t real, maybe it was her own curiosity, or maybe it was something else, but now it didn’t matter because she was walking through the hallway, and she knew something was more than wrong. Everything felt out of place. The shadows were stronger than they were before, and it felt like they were trying to reach her and swallow her in eternal darkness. It gave her the chills.


“No way…” It came out loud, but Melody intended for it to only be on her mind.


Her body stopped abruptly. She knew she didn’t stop it. It stopped on its own, like it had a mind. She was in the middle of the hallway, looking directly in front of her to her bedroom with the door closed. She had let the door open when she had gone on the search for food that had turned to this situation, perfect for a horror movie. Could this mean that the door that had slammed close was her bedroom? It surely had a reason for happening.


“It… It was the wind. It had to have been the wind, that was it,” she said with a little voice that no one would have been able to hear, but apparently someone did, because a loud and evil laugh came from her left, and it sounded like her own laugh, just colder and darker.


Are you sure, Melody?” the same dark laugh followed, and Melody’s body turned towards it without her consent. She was pretty sure she didn’t want to see what was beside her, but the moment her brown eyes settled on it, she couldn’t look away. It was a mirror, a big ass mirror her mother had bought somewhere at some moment of her 22 years long life. However, the mirror wasn’t that interesting. What was being reflected kept her looking that way.


The reflection was hers, but it wasn’t at the same time. That thing wasn’t Melody Parker. That was Madness personified. Her long brown hair was cut short in the reflection and messy, like she had just woke up. The skin was paler as if she hadn’t gone outside in a long time. Instead of the purple sleeveless undershirt the real Melody was wearing, the reflection wore a long sleeve black shirt. There was a black choker around its neck, something the real Melody didn’t have. But the biggest difference between the real and the reflection were their eyes. The mirror Melody had bright, golden eyes. They looked as if they were glowing, and the pupils were pinpoint sized. There was something in those eyes that sent chills and a growing panic to Melody when she recognized it as a maniac glint. That thing was gone for sure.


“What are you?” she asked to her reflection, and a psychopathic smile was given to her for bothering with the question.


“Not what, who,” it said, still giving Melody that smile. “And to answer you question, I am you, dear Melody.” There was palpable satisfaction when the reflection said those words, as if it had been waiting for this moment all its life.


“That’s not possible, there is not…” she trailed off, taking a good look at the mirror. “It’s… just not possible.” It sounded insecure even to her own ears, let alone for that thing, but with a courage she didn’t know she possessed, Melody said, “This,” pointing around with her hand and then signaling to the reflection. “It’s not real.  I’m just having a psychotic episode and nothing more. All this will disappear in a moment or two and… ” The reflections laugh interrupted her, and now that she listened closely, that was not a normal laugh. Those were crackles, horrible, psychotic, and creepy crackles. Melody shuddered at the sound.


“How can you be so sure, Melody? For all you know, all this could be real, just like I am you, and just like we both know we are crazy.”


“Don’t talk like we are the same, we aren’t, and you don’t exist.” Melody took a hesitant breath. Unconsciously, she started muttering to herself, “I’m not crazy, I’m not, this is my imagination, and I’m not crazy. I know that I’m not, and that is the truth because I know and I’m not… ”


“Why do you lie to yourself like that? To ourselves?” Melody looked directly to those glowing gold eyes. “The truth is that you don’t know anymore. You are not sure what is real and what is not. WE ARE CRAZY, Melody, and you know it!!!”


“SHUT UP!!!” Melody screamed with a rage not her own. It felt like it was from someone else and Melody, the real Melody, because that reflection wasn’t real. It wasn’t, right? All this was just a psychotic episode, and it wasn’t real. And going back to the situation at hand, the real Melody raised her fist and punched the mirror in the same place that Madness’ face was with all her strength, breaking the mirror and cutting her knuckles badly.


Melody felt the pain go all the way up to her shoulder, and she had to grit her teeth to stop herself from screaming. This wasn’t real, so why did it hurt like hell?


The crackles were back and louder this time. She looked at the broken and bloodied mirror, Madness was still there, this time smiling wider than before, its eyes with a savage glint.


“That’s it, Melody! Punch the mirror again, the same mirror where you are seeing your talking reflection, and you say you are not crazy!!! Girl! You are INSANE!!!”


“This… ” Melody tried to control her breath. Was she hyperventilating? “This isn’t real, it’s not real, it’s not… ” She jumped back when something slammed against her bedroom door from the inside. She could hear creaking and heavy breathing from behind that. She swallowed nervously.


“Come on, Melody, why don’t you go and check your room? This is not real after all, or are you scared?” Madness asked from the mirror. “Are you scared because you know this is real?!” the reflection asked with maniacal crackling. And in that moment, Melody’s bedroom door opened, crashing hard against the wall, and a dark shadow rushed to Melody. It slammed against her body, throwing her to the floor, but surprisingly that thing went through her, like it was an illusion.


“What do you say now, Melody?! Real or not?! Maybe you need more convincing?” Madness commented, a screeching sound came at its words. Without bothering to look up, Melody ran out the hallway, not knowing what was following her and not wanting to find out. She ran to the kitchen, the only place that could be locked. Reality or not be damned, she was terrified and running on instinct. But still, she managed to catch Madness’ last words to her before fleeing.


“Run, Melody, RUN!!” Insane crackle following those words, a door being slammed, shut the reflection up.


Melody’s eyes were locked on the door, so she didn’t see her forgotten sandwich, the reason why she was suffering this hell now, stand up, smile horrendously at her back and reach for the knife in the sink, everything without making a sound. Melody only turned when the sandwich crackled up just like Madness did in the hallway. She turned at a speed that would make Flash proud, but it was already too late, the sandwich or Madness, whichever, had the knife and it was looking at her like if she were its food, its prey and intended to get her, not matter what.


Remember, you tried to eat me first, so you get what’s coming to you…” Her lunch crouched low, like a preying lion, still smiling, still with the knife, still with those hungry, black eyes that for a moment she thought were beans. And from where had that come from? The beans I mean? And why was she thinking about that in this moment from all things? Please, let’s go back to sandwich trying to kill her. “… When I eat you instead!!!” The sandwich jumped at her, somehow getting her, grabbing her hair, making her fall to the ground and biting her shoulder. Melody finally, finally, blacked out.


Melody woke up in the kitchen floor startled, looking around her terrified, but there wasn’t any killing sandwich attacking her, nothing psychotic or weird. Had she fainted and dreamed all that? Yeah, that had been a dream, a nightmare. Nothing more, not real. Just her imagination. Standing up, Melody gave up preparing lunch. She wasn’t hungry anymore, so she walked back to her bedroom. She didn’t look at the mirror. She was scared about what she could see there. It didn’t matter if it was her imagination. She would never see herself in a mirror ever again. Her bedroom door was closed, but she didn’t mind. She just wanted to sleep. She opened the caoba door and entered her room, just to stop suddenly at what she saw.


“Hello there, sweet Melody,” Madness said as it looked up from reading a book from Melody’s bookshelf, while lying on Melody’s bed, like they had always been there since the bening. Completely and absolutely real.


Remember to never push the line between reality or imagination. There is no turning back. Now… I am asking you. Where do you stand in this line? You can call me Madness. I am within the shadows of your mind, waiting for your answer.



Three days later, she found herself on the riverbank. Thin breaths huddled in her chest and emerged at unpredictable intervals. Perhaps she was saving heat. The early March grass, pale and sickly, was bent a final few degrees beneath her feet. The water would have been a perfect pale blue, but it was dirtied by too many sticks and garbage and polluted snowmelt. A breath of wind, as small as her own exhalations came by, and it threatened to freeze the water in the river and on her face with all the force of a puppy playing at ferociousness. She stayed still as the smallest fraction of a smile bloomed inside her and withered a moment later, and she listened to the empty air ringing in her ears.

Vera, in her own quiet way, had always been as proud as a cat. She never claimed superiority, never went around with a stiffly straightened back, but like a cat, she always licked her wounds in secret and never let anyone know she was injured.

The winter descended on Vera late, and as she thought about it on the riverbank, she was as grateful as she could be, given everything. The first snow had been in November, but it hadn’t reached in and hushed up her soul for a good month. Even so, it had been too long. Each day she looked for some new tool or trick. Each time she seemed to be out of ideas, she summoned up enough cunning for just one more.

Still, none of them had worked (and the last one had worked least of all), and now, with the crocuses still in bloom, all she had was her own breath and a scrap of hope. The second, when she looked for it, was absent as often as it was there. Vera still held onto it like a child’s blanket, because what else was there? Sometimes she was almost glad of its absence, the breathless wanting that broke through the hush a little bit. She was always glad of its presence. Mostly the cycle, the soar and the crash, had tired her out. Still she was a little glad, because what else was there?

It was with this little bit of hope and little bit of gladness that Vera waited on the riverbank and worried a little. What if the late arrival meant a late departure? What if there was no departure at all, and the turning inside her was separate from the seasons? (This last one was too likely for comfort, and Vera tried to think of the rivers’ currents instead, the empty twisting things.)


Three days ago, the sky had been an over-bright, perfectly clear blue, as if trying and failing to make up for the below-zero temperature. Vera had gone outside, at the urging of her mother, and not just to the river a bit behind her house. She had got in the car, for the first time since the break began, and bit back a grimace at the fumes. She always imagined them creeping through her lungs and turning her insides charcoal gray, but the reality was that they were mostly just gross. Someone who avoided the car like her would probably be fine.

The seat of the car looked the same way it smelled: dirty, old, and slightly wrong. It was the sort of smell that infused the places where terrible things happened. She was being overdramatic, she knew that. She could ignore the smell. It faded into the background if she waited long enough and looked at the trees, looking empty without their leaves. Or at the road, watching the dashes blur into an unbroken line of white paint and seeing the barriers on the side of the road crash into each other noiselessly. Her gaze shifted in continual disappointment. The sun was out, the sky was doing its best to pretend it was summer, but everything was sallow, like the light was slacking off.

The trees looked like dust plumes now. Vera’s mother hadn’t said anything yet. Vera had barely noticed her get in the car and start driving. Something hard weighed in her chest.

“How long have you been driving?”

“Uh, five minutes or so.” Her mom looked a little surprised, and Vera wondered why, until she remembered that she had barely spoken in the last few days. “We’ll be there soon.”

Which meant anywhere from five minutes to an hour. Although, she had been to this store before. She really should have been able to remember. “Okay. Thanks.”

The white line kept bleeding into itself. Everything that could be seen on the side of the road hurried away from the direction Vera was heading. What were they, so desperate to get away and so good at it too? For a moment the car was stationary, she and her mom sitting passively in it, doing nothing but twitching and breathing. The earth roared past, and the air hissed along the car. Then, her perspective flipped right back, and it was once more the car racing down the highway while the trees fumbled a little in the wind. Vera sat still, breathless, disturbed. Was it any different? She still did nothing; only the car moved her. Could she even move? Vera willed herself to pick up her arm. It didn’t move, but that was to be expected. She hadn’t wanted it enough.

Some thick tangle of emotion engulfed her. She looked through the gaps, doing her best to ignore it and waiting for time and oxygen to take it away, even as it was about to stop her throat from beneath. “Mom?” she said.


“The play you went to last week, what was that about?” Might as well distract herself.

“Oh, I don’t really remember. Adultery or something?” Vera’s mom didn’t look at her. Of course she couldn’t, she was driving, but she had drilled into Vera the importance of looking people in the face.

“What do you mean, adultery?”

“Like, people cheating on each other.”

“No, I know what adultery means. I mean what else happened in the play? Lots of plays are about adultery.”

“Exactly.” A corner of her mom’s mouth flicked upward, just for a second. “Can’t keep them apart.”

“Hm.” Vera didn’t see the point in seeing a play you couldn’t remember, but she decided to shut up about it. “Was it good?”

Her mom shrugged. “It was like the rest of them.”

A sense of déjà vu struck her; she could have sworn she’d had this conversation. Only it wasn’t déjà vu at all: she had said these things before, or close enough to them, and her mom had just gone on seeing the same plays. Her stomach turned, and the smell of exhaust that she had ignored till now flooded it. “Then why did you see them?” she demanded. Her voice had an edge of anger in it that made her mother flinch.

“Don’t talk to me like that.”

Vera sulked and didn’t stop until her mom pulled into the parking lot, where the endless concrete was too overwhelming to really do anything but look at it. Something compressed her chest; she could hardly breathe. The buildings were not concrete, but they were the same color, or else a bleached beige totally devoid of personality. All the local colors had been drained out and stuffed into a handful of logos. Minus the sky. The sky was the same oversaturated blue, and at that moment Vera couldn’t imagine it ever changing. She would simply have to live out her life stalked by that sky, leeching all the color out of the landscape.

It was with — not gladness, but something close enough to it that Vera slipped out from under the sky and entered the store, following her mother blindly. The place was lightly crowded. That should have been easy enough to get around, but no one here could move at all, and Vera found herself bumping into person after person. Scowling, she retreated into a corner. Her mom could do the shopping herself.

The corner she found herself in was not a corner, exactly. That is to say, it was not a place where two walls met. It was a place where they collided as if thrown together by some frustrated god of retail, with any adherence to the laws of physics or aesthetics entirely accidental. The cement was rough enough to almost hurt when she leaned against it, and the caulk was filled with dirt. Had anyone, she wondered, ever taken care of this place? Or was it one of those permanently untended patches of civilization, built to keep out the wind and nothing more?

Something flickering by her nose surprised her, and when she traced the light back to its source, she found she was eye to eye with a dragonfly. It dragged itself up the caulk over bits of dirt that must have seemed to it as large as boulders, staring at her with glittering compound eyes; she scarcely breathed for fear of disturbing it. It drank in the empty light with its whole body and converted it, casual as anything, into iridescence: this must have been what made the alchemists think that they could transmute lead into gold.


The sound of her mom’s voice made the dragonfly take off. Vera tracked the blue and green glimmers for the moment it was still in sight, then reluctantly turned around. “Coming!” she shouted, then winced at the sound of her own voice. The store was the same as it had been a few minutes ago. The lights flattened the linoleum floor into a featureless expanse, and everywhere, bright packages and conversation blurred into a meaningless haze. The place smelled overwhelming, but it was an unplaceable scent, the smell of hundreds of processed foodstuffs. She thought of the dragonfly, how for a moment the sight of it had carved into her the desire to simply watch it. Forever, if she could get that.

But this was the real world. It was shallow and chaotic, and she couldn’t sit and want. Can’t sit and want. It was a message she would do well to gouge into a wall somewhere, but of course, nothing was that permanent or that simple. She would have to remember it. Perhaps she should leave a note for her future self, telling her not to empty herself out, to let the tides of the supermarket and the car trips wash over her and fill her. For the time being.




A woman with a stroller, the baby

Kicking its feet and the aging leaves

Crunched under wheels.


The sweater I stole from you,

The word you said when asked for a word

Associated with love.


Her lips when I found you.





The sky at dusk from the cliffside,

Where we watched the sun glide away and the

Stars sneak into existence for the night.

Where we laughed so much about things I don’t

Remember now, but

I do remember the way my stomach hurt

Because I couldn’t stop feeling happy.


The blanket wrapped around my shoulders

To ward against the chill that may come from outside

Or may just be something inside of me

That’s died or lost.

I’m not sure which.


The color of flowers that push their way

Out of frozen ground in the spring,

When the things that died decide to

See how it feels to be alive again.


The Infernal Names

HER EYES ARE SO GREEN THEY BURN! like the curling pages of a magazine, chemical coating dyeing the flames. The Emerald City ablaze, the serpent’s tongue, the forest floor of the Garden of Eden where Adam and Eve sin and sweat. And when you look at me with them, ooh girl, but I feel it all the way to my toes.

Bast twirls hair around her finger, nails cut short and painted red. The hair is not her own, but she knows it as though it is. Knows the exact weight, the thickness — the curls and the straight bits. Cassandra’s hair. Her person almost completely captured by the bounce of it, by the way it falls around her shoulders and down the nape of her neck. Cassandra’s eyes flutter slowly open and Bast falls into them, standing at the top of a well and feeling no fear as her body plunges into the cool water. It would sizzle as she fell in, the water would, sharply contrasting with her temperature.

Sharks leaving trails of scarlet blood in clear, blue seawater.

That’s how it is, with the two of them lying in Cassandra’s cotton sheets. Bast’s little body burning flame intertwined with her clear blue.

They both lie awake, pressed against each other, feeling the way their bodies move as their chests rise and fall almost synchronized. Not speaking, listening intently to the creak of the springs under them as they shift in search of sleep.

When Cassandra wakes up, the bed is empty. She lies still for a moment in the buttery sun, blinking, hearing the sound of a mourning dove on the fire escape. Lost in thought? Deep in a trance maybe? Lots to think about maybe.

Bast’s hair flows long, black, silky. She is wearing only this when she appears in the doorway holding two mugs of coffee, the cat slithering between her legs. “Morning, babe.” Mornings are always these short, simple moments, almost routine, almost repetitive.

The girls sit together on the bed. Cassandra burns her tongue on the coffee.

“Too hot!”

Bast smiles and responds, “Can’t help it.”

They don’t have anything to do that morning, anywhere to go, so they lay in the bed and talk and drink their coffee and burn each other with the hot liquid and with their mouths. The silky light of morning is seeping through the breezy curtains and Cassandra is feeling calm, eyes shut and breathing soft. She feels Bast brush the hair back from her forehead with a warm hand, and Bast kisses her, dark and heavy, flicking her forked tongue between Cassandra’s lips. This burns her more than the coffee, this feeling, and shivers of pleasure run through her, so hot she’s cold. Their hands leave UV prints on each others’ bodies, the dragging of skin on skin, the deep inhales, and sighs it’s so good with Bast and Cassandra it’s so, so good. The hair is getting tangled and knotted now. The eyes are rolling into the back of their heads, turning completely inwards behind closed eyelids, so they can see their brains.

And then Cassandra pulls away, out of breath, not wanting anymore.

“What.” Bast slows her breathing, holds Cassandra’s face in her hands.

“Nothing. I dunno.”

Cassandra can feel how Bast is staring at her, searching for a sign in her face to reveal what she won’t. She pulls away.

Bast swings her feet over the edge of the bed not facing her anymore. “This keeps happening. Like, just lately, but like this keeps on happening, Cass.”

She is silent. Bast snorts a little in frustration like the little pig and gets up, paces around the room, around the island of the bed where Cassandra sits. Her hair is swinging as she walks, her tits too, and everything about her movement is mad. She leaves trails of hot smoke in the bedroom, and Cassandra’s sight is warped like through the steam from a radiator. As she paces back and forth, circling the bed, her face loses its red and returns to normal. She calms and slows her motions. And then she stops and turns to Cassandra and says, “It’s okay. I’m not mad or anything, just horny,” laughing like smoothing over wet cement, blowing it off like the steam over a cup. “It’s fine.”

Cassandra goes to the side of the bed where Bast stands, she lifts herself up and hugs her.

Bast kisses her gently and leaves the room to get dressed. Cassandra touches a hand to her scorched lips, the heat of Bast lingering like anger that hasn’t died out.



First, I guess you will want to know whose voice this is. Who is in such a prime, primal position, overseeing the temple and its inhabitants tonight. Perhaps on a balcony or an archway, or sitting over the altar in a special, private box. Or you could be theological and tell me I sit on a cloud spinning stringy tales and playing with one malleable piece of clay. Well. Hoo boy. I guess let’s attribute my knowledge and intellect to the stories passed down to me from all my ancestors and their ancestors. On this night, the door opens a crack which then opens up further and a beam of yellow light is cast across the floor. What does yellow feel like? You choose. Chiclets, sunshine, urine, buttery, lemony sour, whatever you want. Kassandra is yellow as she peeks into the temple, and she is very beautiful. Gold swathed over her, her bare feet stepping over the door frame and then resting on the cool marble. I have done this entrance before, gone from the dirty heat outside to the cool, smooth, white interior of the temple. It could really take your breath away. Arching, vaulted ceilings, everything white, smooth, and hard like teeth or something you could break your teeth on. Columns in all four corners, draped with heavy looking snakes that appear to slither, though frozen in marble. Kassandra walks through the room, passing the sculpture of the temple’s deity. She is walking slowly, examining the walls and statues and tables covered with fruits and crystals and paper offerings that have been dipped in honey. She glides to the front of the temple now, one solemnly bare foot in front of the other. Now, Kassandra stands at the altar. She turns to face ghost worshippers and closes her eyes and her hair flows back from her face as if by a gust of ghost wind. Then she lies down, stretches her body out onto the marble floor, and soon she is asleep.

The corners of the room melt away, sharp angles into butter, and the snakes are slithering low on their bellies surrounding the Sleeping Girl. They multiply, and she is in the center of the ring of snakes, flashes of bright green and their white fangs just like the marble. One draws in close to her face, and my breath catches, fearful for her smooth, dark skin. Its mouth opens, and I can almost see it happen, see the jaw clamp around her cheek and the scarlet blood start to spill. But it doesn’t. The snake whispers in her ear, eyes yellow and unblinking like Kassandra, and the girl’s body shifts in sleep to confirm the secret’s reception. The other snakes move in closer, and even I can hear the hushed tones of their whispers that fill her ears and her dreams and resound in the white temple.

It doesn’t surprise me that I wasn’t the one chosen to be their confidant, Kassandra was always right for these things. Sure, I wonder sometimes what the snakes said to her that night in the temple in the astral plane. But I saw her wake with such madness in her eyes, deep-rooted but rising, that I’d almost rather not know.



Fraying wicker, cat whiskers, thick, savory milk, sweet scent perfume. Beautiful woman, hot, smooth skin, cold shadows. Long, thick lashes, food-filled belly, big belly laugh, soft, sultry smile. Rock salt melting on the tongue. Scorching alcohol down the throat. Creamy, red blood in the veins, heavy with sodium and iron.

“THIS IS THE WAY WE DANCE!!!” SHE cries out to me in a slur of reds and golds and shimmering, shaking fabric.

I laugh and shout over the music, “I KNOW!!” Her mouth is as big as her face, and she is a vision in swaying arms and hips and swinging, long hair. The boys are following her movements, listening for the sounds of her bells and of her kneecaps clicking together. I am too, of course, but I have been trying all night not to let on. Her face is flushed and sweaty when she finally sits down on the silk, cushioned chair next to me. Her eyes are outlined in thick kohl, her lips a fierce red, and skin so creamy, dark, smooth like something so delicious!

“Don’t you want to dance?” She leans in to yell this into my ear.

I shake my head. “I can’t. I’m no good at dancing.”

She pouts and pours glasses of lemon water for us. “I bet you’re fine. Plus, no one will mind even if you aren’t.”

I know she’s right, but truthfully I am far too nervous to dance like she does, knowing what will come later on in the night. I am grateful for the darkness in this sweet-smelling den, where the air is too thick for Bastet to see how my hands shake. I don’t know how she does it, puts on not only a brave face but a beautiful one. Her teeth glint in the colorful lights as she laughs with the boys.

Small talk.

Not the way she talks to me.

They hang onto her every word like needy kittens and the way she entertains their attentions angers me, so I down the rest of my drink and pull her away from them. Hell, maybe it’ll take my mind off things. We dance for hours. Our bodies are practically melding into one, practically melting into a puddle of liquid butter on the dance floor. And I do stop thinking about it, at least for a little while.

After sweating our souls into the thick air, dancing for hours, Bastet drags me to a secluded room. We collapse into pillows and plush carpet and lie there still for a little while. Then she turns to me, “I think it’s time.” I know she’s right. We’ve been waiting for this moment and any more waiting will be too long. I reach a shaky hand to my boot and pull out a long, sleek blade. She clasps my face in her hands.

“This is right. I promise.” The weight of her breath in my nose and of the knife in my palm is enough to hold me here forever.

“We’re doing this for us, we’re doing this for the Gods, and the Goddesses! Baby, we’re doing this for us.”

I know she’s right.

“Fuck these fucking mortals!” She throws in for good measure, as if I needed more convincing.

Fuck these fucking mortals.

I nod into her glassy eyes where I can see myself reflected upside down and we stand, each concealing our blades within the folds of our skirts. Bastet’s hand is outstretched, almost grasping the doorknob. Right before she touches it the door is swung open. A lovesick, little kitty boy is on the other side, clutching glasses of blood-colored beer. His face is pained and pale, as though he is straining to say something. I take the drinks from his clammy hands, and before he can say a word, we shut the door again. Me and Bastet hold our glasses out to each other, and with a shudder, we swallow the blistering alcohol in one go.

Oh, give us strength.

The last thing I remember doing is heading for the door and witnessing Bastet fall one second before I do. The last thing I remember seeing is the humans crowding into the cramped room, watching us fizzle out with weary relief.

In my sleep I saw HER, balancing the sun on her head.

In my sleep I saw HER, burning in the pits of Hell.


BAST and CASSANDRA sit on a couch in Bast’s living room. There is tension in the air.






(she doesn’t look up)




I feel like we should talk…



Not now.



What’s wrong with you. You’ve been so weird lately.



Please just stop.






Just fucking stop!



(Bast’s face is starting to turn red)

No. This isn’t fair.



Fuck off, Bast.



Fuck you.



(under her breath)

Jesus Christ.



I can’t tell anymore if you love me.


There is a long pause here. Cassandra is thinking while Bast watches her desperately.



Me neither.



(Bast jumps up, furious)

What the fuck??? You don’t know fucking either??!



I don’t.



Well can you figure it out?!



I don’t know.






I know.



When did this happen?



Not sure.



Why couldn’t you have told me before now.



I wasn’t really sure until now.


Long pause.


This hurts.



I didn’t want to hurt you.



Well, you did.



You have to believe I didn’t fucking want to.



You. Did.



So what now?



Just leave.



Bast, please, can we talk?



Oh now you want to fucking talk.



I’m so sorry.



Please go.


Lights shut off as door slams shut, Bast is left alone in darkness.


It’s almost like she’s in a bunker or closet or cell or something else small and dark and damp. Black, thick air that you could gather up in muslin and squeeze water from. Her little body reverberating with such fire and power in the corner of the room, right where the wall meets the floor.


The Contents:

  • Bast
  • Her bones
  • Her blood
  • A flame that is predicted to grow any minute now

Weather forecast calls for forest fire maybe that’s just what this storm needs.

Storm not wet or gray or foggy

Not marbled, warbled sounds or smells

But a flashing hot vortex, a vertical tunnel.

Arms wrap around her knees, crushing her bones and doing it for the sake of the walls that are gradually scraping across the floor, coming closer by the second. The ember that started in her chest has leapt from her mouth, through the Pearly Gates of her rows of teeth, the kindling of her rage feeds it until Bast is surrounded by leaping flames. The little room she’s in is completely ablaze and reflecting in her eyes, so she is unable to realize the situation.

And then, after blinking maybe twenty-something times, her head clears and Bast jumps to her feet. “Oh fuck my fucking house is on fire.” Her fury is still there you best believe, but now there’s fear of burns and scars and suffocation and also amusement at herself for not noticing the impending disaster until now, isn’t that just like her. She wraps her t-shirt around her mouth and nose and slams the door of the room open, running down the hallway with so many doors, each somehow open, each somehow filled with licking flames. Her shirt is singed from where her hot breath caught in it, her hands that guide her down the hallway leave blazing trails on the walls, and her hair is gathered antigravity like in a comic book falling straight up, and maybe it seems like the source of the heat and horrible smoke isn’t the fire at all, but it’s her?

She bursts out onto the toxic waste, green backyard that’s almost waxy in comparison to the sidewalk out front and backed up against the fence she turns and watches her house. Looking down at herself, Bast notices that her palms are like a mirror reflecting the exact image of the flames like they’re right there in her bloodstream which of course they are. She stands like this, in the acidic pool of grass, watching the fire eat away at her house and the inside of her body.


Then the flame coming out of the bathroom window is a hand

The flame coming out of the kitchen is a curved rib cage

The flame in the bedroom is a neck and a head

And the legs are poking out the front door

And Bast is face to face with the face in the living room

pressed up against the window and Bast feels magnetic hot force like no other and runs up to the window. The flames are still leaping and now licking and caressing her, running their tongue across Bast’s body. She feels their hands on her waist and then slipping as gracefully and smoothly as only a natural force can under her cotton shirt, into the waistband of her jeans, all over everywhere until she’s burning so hot that she’s cold. Her heart is beating so fast and so hard in her chest, so hard that it could fly from her body on powdery wings and she could become A dark magicked demon or a beam of light, those sharks or that seawater, a slick, marble temple or a damp, dark room she could be any or none MULTIPLICITY of woman. She and the flames intertwined in cosmic spillover between dimensions

Between planets and surfaces

The cratered holy rock of the moon,

projected so it’s right up against your face pressing on your nose and eyelashes.

From here you can see her kneeling in the space between the stars, one strong calf at a right angle with her elbow resting on it and the other lying flat on the astral plane.

You can see the way she holds her arms so rigid, extra support for the way that she balances the sun on her head.

The two of them burning on the sun’s surface or in the pits of Hell with your favorite cast of characters those so shunned and evil, dipped in the rivers that run red, anointed in amnesia.


The Golden Disk

I remember the day they discovered the time capsule.

They first described it as a white, bowl-shaped contraption containing a golden disk. We didn’t know what it was and where it came from. Scientists studied the disk and eventually determined how to operate it. And then the sounds started playing: unfamiliar rhythms and tunes. We couldn’t identify what the sounds were or what they were trying to tell us. Then we decoded images revealing a species that could have resembled us — but with smaller eyes and heads and bigger mouths and ears.

I think the images of the species were what really frightened us. For so long, we had thought we were the only advanced civilization out there.

I was only a baby when the time capsule was discovered, but I remember the day like it was yesterday. I had grown up watching the revolution unfold among us. Soon it felt like everybody was picking a side. Either, you were on the side that chose to ignore the golden disk, or you were on the side that wished to do something about it.



My mother’s voice runs through my head, interrupting my thoughts.

Please come down and eat.

I put down my touchpad and stroll into the kitchen.

Good morning. My mom smiles at me, communicating her thoughts telepathically. A plate of food sits on the table, and I gratefully oblige.

My father walks into the room. Hello Cosma. Journaling again, I see.

I finish eating, and Jamaya approaches, handing me my bag. Jamaya is our robot; every household on Merona has one. She cleans our home, cooks our food and does our laundry.

Jamaya hands me my vitapills. The history books tell us that in ancient times, sickness and disease used to be a main cause of quietus. Now, these two little pills I take each day protect me from every virus and illness on the planet.

I swallow my pills and leave for class.

At school, I meet up with my friends Palia and Rasha. The recent violence and riots on the streets have led many parents to keep their children home from school.

Cosma, did you listen to the news this morning? Rasha glances at me worriedly.

What is it? I reply.

There was an uprising on the other side of Merona. President Loyola warned that the revolution has reached an unprecedented peak.

I catch sight of a boy sitting under a tree. His name is Arkin, and there has been a rumor going around that he is one of the regressives. The regressives still practice religion. President Loyola outlawed religion decades ago. He said it held us back from innovation. I’ve never conversed with Arkin, but I’ve heard the rumors.

Rasha nudges me.

Isn’t he strange? What is he still doing here? He should be at home lighting candles and worshipping statues.

Rasha smirks, and I smile.

After school, my friends and I gather in Palia’s den and start working on our history reports.

There is something satisfying about enjoying the company of my classmates, and I feel grateful that my parents haven’t removed me from school.

After a while, Palia speaks.

I have something to show you.

Her tone sounds serious, and Rasha and I glance at her with concern.

Palia pulls up her touchpad and reads something. Her pupils turn red, and I know that she is using the neuroplayer to generate energy.

I look around for whatever information she has produced. But, I don’t see anything. Then, I hear it: a slowly rising crescendo of sound. I stare at Palia in surprise.

The sound gets louder, and then it recedes. I don’t know how to explain it, but I can feel something tugging at my heart. The sound is satisfying, and it somehow makes me feel happy.

What is it? Rasha asks. I know she can feel it too.

It’s from the golden disk.

I turn to Palia in shock.

My dad’s friend obtained a copy of it. We’re not the only ones who have heard it. Many in the arts world have heard it too.

What is it? I question.

It’s called music.

Music. The word seems strange and unfamiliar. Yet, there’s a part of me that longs to hear more.

The sound changes. It is no longer lilting; now, it is fast and turbulent.

Isn’t it incredible?

Palia, you could be in serious trouble if anybody finds out about this, Rasha says. Palia’s expression changes suddenly.

I know.

We listen to the music until it is time to head home.

Be careful, I tell Palia as I leave.

Two houses away from home, I notice the federal guards. There are dozens of them patrolling residential streets, their dark outfits discernable in the light sky. My pulse quickens as I wonder what they are doing here. One of them approaches me.

What are you doing out?

I’m on my way home.

President Loyola has issued a curfew because of the uprisings. Nobody is allowed out after 49:00.

I scan my brain for the time, only then realizing how late it is.

As I hurry home, the street lamps seem brighter than usual.

The next day in class, everyone is discussing the curfew. I notice that there are even less students here today; we are down to eleven. In history class, the teacher shows the daily announcements. President Loyola stands in front of a podium.

Citizens of Merona, I am urging you to be safe. We are arresting more and more rebels each day. The announcements cut to an image of protesters in front of the Grand Palace. Rasha rolls her eyes, bored. President Loyola reappears.

It has come to my attention that there has been a breach in security. Classified information regarding the golden disk has been stolen and leaked. The golden disk has been deemed a hoax, instituted by rebels to cause turmoil. President Loyola sighs dramatically. The only way we will get past this is if we trust each other. The announcements end, and the class erupts into fearful conversation.

A classmate named Domini scoffs, How could the rebels have planted something like this?

Others agree. How can they dismiss the golden disk like that?

It is no secret that most of my classmates have parents employed in the arts, and we recognize the fallacies in President Loyola’s statements.

I glance out the window and notice federal guards outside the school gates. I feel safe voicing my beliefs within the walls of the classroom, but outside many of us worry about saying the wrong thing for fear of putting ourselves in danger.

For many years, President Loyola was a savior. He created jobs and maintained peace among the different groups in our planet. But, the time capsule changed everything.

I spy Arkin in the corner of the classroom scrolling through his touchpad, and I can’t help wondering what he thinks of all this.

Class, please calm down. Let us continue with today’s lesson. Even our teacher looks troubled. As she begins the lesson, I wonder how many students will be at school tomorrow.

Upon arriving home, I find my father hurriedly shoving clothes and belongings into a bag. My mother sits next to him.

Father, what is going on?

Cosma, I hoped that you would be at your friend’s house.

I stare at my father, concerned by the serious expression on his face. I know that his highly secretive job in the Department of Space Research has involved contact with the golden disk.

I have to leave. I may be gone for a long time. It’s for the best. Your mother will take care of you.

Why? What has happened? I am confused. Is this about the golden disk?

My father’s face turns pale.

I’ve heard it, I tell him.

Cosma, you cannot tell anyone about that. He sighs. I made a mistake. The government plans to destroy the golden disk. I made a copy of it, and now they are after me. It’s not safe for me here anymore. I have to go into hiding. Please don’t worry about me.

I stand there, not knowing what to say. My father finishes packing and before I know it, he is gone.

The door shuts firmly behind him, and I look at my mother and Jamaya. Our family is a lot smaller without my father.

My mother tries to comfort me.

Time passes, and our classroom dwindles down to six. Domini doesn’t come back.

One day, I am alone working on my touchpad when I receive an anonymous message instructing me to go to the flypod racks. The message is mysterious, and I am intrigued.

I stand by the racks, and an instant later, Arkin approaches me.

Hello. Can I talk to you? He scans the empty school grounds anxiously. I can’t help feeling a little apprehensive. I am surprised he still attends school.

I know where your father is. I can take you to see him. You can trust me. We must travel by flypod.

I am bewildered and don’t understand what connection Arkin could have with my father. But, the earnest expression on Arkin’s face reassures me.

Arkin unlocks his flypod; it is orange with blue stripes. He hands me a helmet. A moment later, we are in the air heading south. Arkin is a safe pilot, and I get the feeling that he takes this specific route often.

The traffic is light, but I notice that there are more government patrol flypods than usual.

Arkin checks his right mirror, and I notice his expression change suddenly.

What’s wrong?

I think we’re being followed, Arkin responds.

I look over my shoulder, and there is a white government flypod trailing us.

Please pull over. The patrol agent signals from his flypod.

Hang on, Arkin warns me.

Before I realize what is happening, the flypod dips abruptly and starts to rapidly descend.

What are you doing? Pull over! I scream. Arkin ignores me, and the flypod plummets even lower. We are flying too low for safety. I can see into the windows of buildings. Arkin, you’re going to get us killed! My heart is beating fast, and my fingers grip the seatbelt tightly.

The government flypod doesn’t drop to follow us.

Soon, we are flying above an uninhabited part of Merona. Below us, I can see dense forests and grassy hills.

Arkin, where are we going? I cannot see any other flypods in the sky.

We’re almost there, I promise.

We land in a grassy field at the bottom of a hill.

Arkin fastens his flypod to a tree and covers it with foliage until it is no longer visible. I glance at the sky; it will be dark soon.

Our feet crunch heavily in the grass as we climb the hill.

We both look up at the sky as it explodes into a fiery red and orange. The sunset looks even more beautiful at an elevation. We stand still, awed by the sight.

Arkin, can you tell me what is going on?

I am not prepared for what Arkin tells me. My father has been hiding out here with other dissidents, building an apparatus to send a signal back to the civilization that sent us the golden disk.

Above us, the darkening sky is already sparkling with emerging stars. The crescent moons are tinged with a saffron haze.

Do you think they are doing the right thing? I ask.

I do not believe that we are alone. The spirit that lives in you and me is the same spirit that lights the sky. The civilization that sent us the golden disk reached out to us for a reason, and we must respond. We are all dust of the same creation.

I ponder Arkin’s words. I had never thought about my life that way. I realize that Arkin comes from a traditional way of life that now seems quaint and old-fashioned to most of us on Merona. But, his words are strangely reassuring and somehow bring meaning to what is going on.

Arkin tilts his head skyward and closes his eyes. His face is calm and serene, and a stillness hangs over him.

Is he praying? I wonder. I have no experience with prayer and stand silently.

Then unexpectedly, a memory of the sounds from the golden disk fills my mind, a plaintive music stirring in me an intense longing for something indefinable.

Arkin opens his eyes and takes my hand.


We arrive, and I am astonished by what I see.

The apparatus is positioned on the hilltop, obscured by a canopy of trees.

A small group is gathered. I don’t know how to describe the object; it is magnificent and resembles a giant metal dish.

Welcome, Cosma.

I know without looking that it is my father.

His arms envelop me, and I rest my head on his shoulder. I didn’t know if I would see my father again, and I instantly feel safe and happy.

I am sorry that I left, but I hope you understand.

And I do. I know it will take time to catch up with my father, but I respect him for his dedication to what I now know is right and necessary.

Somebody presses a button, and an antenna unravels from the apparatus.

It is decided that the signal will carry cryptic words from the golden disk itself, an acknowledgement to the other civilization that their message was received.

I know that we are doing the right thing for Merona.

Even before the revolution, there had always been something missing in our lives. We have accomplished so much, but something has been lost over time. I hope that one day we will find it again.

In the face of the revolution, I am stronger than ever, and I feel a profound respect for the unknown that for so long I had been taught to disregard. I admire Arkin for keeping his faith, and I feel I have been changed in some way.

I smile, content to watch the cosmos from afar.


On the other side of the universe, Dr. Peterson yawned sleepily and sat up in his chair. He had accidently fallen asleep monitoring the radio dish. The scientist rubbed his eyes and peered groggily at the screen.

It was only the slightest difference: the parabolic pattern fluctuated unsteadily, and the waves stretched wider.

After decades of working in astronomy, Dr. Peterson knew the unvarying pattern of the radio waves by heart. And, he knew exactly what anomaly he was looking for.

His hands shaking, Dr. Peterson rushed to input the data. He waited for the analysis from the machine. The screen came alive with the words.

Per aspera ad astra.

Dr. Peterson stood frozen in place for a long time. It seemed almost incomprehensible. Then, he thought of the Voyager Spacecraft launched back in 1977 carrying the Golden Record.

“My god,” he whispered, his voice hoarse. “They’ve responded.”


All the World Poetry Collection


Lovestruck Fan

His hair is flawless; his eyes are perfect,

His music: my very inspiration,

His dreamy face is another aspect,

Singing to me in each situation,

But lighting up a smile on the faces,

Of countless devoted, adoring fan,

Does not equal knowing his embraces,

Alas, for him, I would fly to Japan,

Because it pains my heart to love and yearn,

So unattainable; yet I persist,

For someone who will not love in return,

Or know me, nor that I even exist,

For his blood type does lie in the B+ zone,

But — oh dear, I cannot recall my own.


A Single Red Rose

I am a rose,

Curled up within,

Hidden among leaves,

Frightened of the light;

For the light means

Growing up

And I am scared.

Of growing older

And abandoning

All that I know.

But I realize that

Eventually I will have to

Unfurl my petals,

And venture into the unknown,

Even if that means

Accepting a simple, glass vase.


All the World

I am from Menlo Park, California.

Inside my house live many countries.

I am from cups of steaming Darjeeling tea.

I am from tangy, chocolaty Jaffa cakes.

I am from boxes and boxes of Cadbury fingers and eggs.

I am from a piping hot tray of Shepherd’s pie.

I am from colorful, vibrant Indian saris on every occasion.

I am from the scent of masala, turmeric, and cardamom.

I am from having a loving, supportive family.

From my father telling me to “work hard.”

And my mother telling me to “share the love.”

I am from bright candles on the Festival of Lights.

I am from tying bracelets on my brother’s wrist for Raakhi.

I am from blazing bonfires, Bhangra dances, and peanut shells.

I am from gold mines in Tanzania.

I am from rainy and chilly London.

I am from the mountains of the Himalayas.

I am from soldiers and warriors.

I am from poets, lawyers, and businessmen.

I am from the Sikh religion.

I am from my long, flowing hair.

I am from migrations all over the world.

I am the evening sky bursting with every color.

I am all the world,

Churned and blended into one.



A dark-haired Girl with pale, lifeless eyes, no older than seventeen, but with a countenance hardened beyond her years arrived here around six months ago with no expectations and no purpose. Fate had steered her path in a single direction: one blackened by tragedy; soiled by betrayal; eased only by cynicism and shabby expectations.

“Here” was a massive room; yet, for all its spaciousness, no furnishings filled the void of white walls and stark, faintly marbled floors. The sole breach in the room’s sterility was a striking set of doors, centered to the front wall. Though the room was clearly designed with a sharp, contemporary eye, the doors had an incongruous, traditional style — an elaborate ornamentation of unfurling metal skillfully placed over the seeded, glass windows and an outer arch composed of four, curved panes that added grandeur while directing soft light throughout the room. Copper knobs plated with metal motifs adorned each door, their intricacy undoubtedly attracting the eagle-eyed attention of both architectural connoisseurs and everyday onlookers. Within the room, the elaborate doors were most distinct for the aura they radiated — one of welcome and warmth; the feeling of sunshine on a harsh winter’s day.

A hazy image of an impressive manor materialized in the Girl’s mind. She had once stayed there. With smooth, stucco walls, a tiled roof the color of sunset-lit desert sand, and rich, wooden features highlighted by warm, ambient lighting, the mansion held an immense appeal. Its interior, though a motley of different styles, was just as stunning. Three occupants had shared this manor with her: a dutiful father, a nurturing mother, and a sweet son. The Girl paused her mulling briefly, realizing that it had become a household of two.

It was the mother who had picked the Girl up. She found the Girl abandoned in a musty, cramped storage area filled with various, unwanted things — old mannequins, costumes, bizarre-looking kitchen contraptions. The Girl vividly remembered the man who had shoved her there — she had coined him the nickname “Pattern Man” because he always paired revolting articles of clothing. Once, he wore a hideous flamingo tie, a gray and white checked shirt, a houndstooth double-breasted blazer, and matching houndstooth pants. He was eccentric, yet quick to judge others by appearance: a complete hypocrite. After one look, he had deemed the Girl “weird” and hid her in the storage box. Not that the Girl cared; rather, she was glad to be shielded from his hideous outfits, and amused by his arbitrary judgement of her. Many people were usually startled by the Girl — they felt her jarring gaze penetrated their souls. The mother was a rare exception; upon seeing the Girl, she clapped her hands with delight and immediately brought the Girl to the manor.

The mother was a young, beautiful woman with clear, blue eyes and silky, auburn hair; however, creases had begun lining the corners of her mouth — she was overspending her smiles for her family’s sake. The father loved his wife, the mother, for far more than her looks, but the Girl quickly learned that the mother was his second priority at best.

Their son, still young, was only six years, but quite clever. Upon first sight of the Girl, he was startled, and said, “she’s like an ‘Elf on the Shelf,’ but not happy… always watching, and not necessarily in a good way.” The mother chastised her son, and told him that the Girl must have a story — one that explained her demeanor.

The Girl had grown slightly fond of the mother; she thought that the mother understood her and was ready to listen to her story. However, the Girl lacked the myopia to believe such innocent happiness would persist in her future and the household’s.

Within a few years of the Girl’s arrival, the mother, possessed by some potent force, bolted away from the household, taking an impressive sum of money and her beloved’s inky black Mercedes. She had shamelessly discarded her family to quench an avarice for freedom, and splendor within that freedom.

After the mother left, the father had furiously expunged the manor of everything she cherished, including the Girl. He disposed of it all on the manor lawn.

The Girl had nowhere to go after she was cast out. Occasionally, she would glimpse snapshots of the fragmented household’s affairs: the cruel way in which the father blamed the son for the mother’s madness, the broken way in which the son developed during his most critical years, the destructive way in which abandonment had slashed unhealed scars on both the father and the son. It was an unfortunate, but expected, reaction.

The Girl languished for longer than she could remember, sitting on the browning manor lawn. Each day, despite varying weather conditions, was no different to her — except one gloomy afternoon when violent rustling from the unkempt palms caught the Girl’s ears. It continued until suddenly, out leapt a scraggly man. The man was wearing a grimy newsboy cap and various layers of sack-like clothing, their colors indistinguishable due to filth. He scampered to the pile of discarded things near the Girl and ruffled through, pocketing several fistfuls of jewelry.

“Well, yer an interesting thing, aren’t ye?” the man gleefully grinned to himself after finally noticing the Girl. He grabbed her and darted away from the household. The Girl tried to quell her rising curiosity about the scraggly man and what he wanted with her. He had beady, black eyes, a mousy, chin-length tangle of hair, and large ears. Perhaps he would be a good listener. The Girl’s optimism quickly extinguished as she realized reality could never possess a person trustworthy enough to listen to her tale. Each person she had met had been spoiled by vices; even this man was a criminal, for he had both trespassed the property and stolen items of considerable value from its grounds.

The scraggly man ran for days, resting periodically, until he reached a bustling market mishmash of colorful pop up tents and weathered stalls. The Girl felt a repulsive surge in her throat from the commotion of hawking vendors and the unabashed haggling of crowds. Unperturbed, the man wove through the swarm and halted at his desired stall.

“It’s been long, my friend!” The stallkeeper greeted the scraggly man with a tilt of his black-banded fedora.

“I foun’ some goodies that might interes’ you!” responded the scraggly man, eager to lay out the ransacked items. As he unknotted a fist-sized bundle from which gem-laden jewelry spilled, the Girl glanced at the stallkeeper, expecting to witness a detestable, cunning downplay of his enthusiasm. Instead, she traced the stallkeeper’s line of sight directly to herself.

“I’ll take the lot for five thousand dollars,” the stallkeeper hurriedly proposed.

“Tha’ won’ do. I got ‘sepnces, you know? Throw in an extra fif’een hun’red and you got yourself a deal.”

“Fine,” The stallkeeper was uncharacteristically anxious to settle a price; he employed none of the typical merchant beguilement. He shoved a mass of twine-bound bills at the scraggly man, who, after swiftly squirreling it away under his newsboy cap, disappeared into the mob. Turning towards the Girl, the stallkeeper began surveying her with raking eyes, hoping his boss would consider her a valuable find. His boss was a museum patron who naturally took an affinity to pretty and peculiar things. She’s really got a piercing look about her, the stallkeeper thought. She’d, at the very least, interest my Boss.

The stallkeeper took long strides to his car, and placed the Girl and his briefcase in the backseat. Here I go, yet again, thought the Girl. How tiresome! Fate has cursed me to ceaselessly be circulating, searching for a worthy person to listen to my tale; searching to no avail.

A gentle creaking echoed around the massive room, bringing the Girl back from her memories to the present. Light splayed across the marble floors as the imposing, wooden doors began opening. In all the time the Girl had spent in this room, never had the doors opened. Her curiosity was aroused. A man holding a large key ring emerged first from the doors, followed by a steady stream of people.

Aline was excited for today. Her grand-papa was taking her to a wonderful place — the new museum. Visiting museums, especially art museums, was Aline’s favorite activity. She eagerly got dressed for the day’s outing, testing different outfits before settling on a flowy, white dress and sandals. Grabbing her blue, leather knapsack, she rushed to the apartment’s front door, anticipating the arrival of her grandfather. Disappointed by a bare hallway, she called out to her mother, “When is grand-papa coming? I can’t bear to wait any longer!”

“Any minute now, dear,” her mother patiently replied.

Aline flopped on her bed and sighed, her mind teeming with thoughts. The newscast mentioned the museum’s first exhibit a lot. Perhaps it’s an enormous sculpture? Or a fresco? That would be impressive!

Though the front door knocker was nearly inaudible from Aline’s room, she caught its tapping and ran to greet her grandfather, a slight old man. He embraced her in a firm, loving hug. After kissing her mother goodbye, Aline cheerily clasped her grand-papa’s arm and set off to the museum: a mere fifteen minute walk, but to her, an eon had lapsed before they finally arrived. She skipped up the wide steps, ready to enter the museum.

“Grand-papa, look at those magnificent doors! And those doorknobs! How interesting they are, with all those beautiful patterns in the metal… come on, hurry, Grand-papa!”

The old man chuckled at his granddaughter’s enthusiasm and shuffled up the marble steps to meet her. Together, they entered the museum and into a massive, bleak room.

“How strange. The sign announces that this room holds the first exhibit, but there isn’t anything to be seen! Oh! What’s over there?” Aline bounded to the left wall of the large room, her grandfather struggling to match her pace. On the extensive wall hung a lone painting, no larger than the L’Innocence print that hung near Aline’s bedroom. The plaque beneath read: Exhibit 1- Cecilia.

“Aline, I’ll be waiting for you at the next exhibit. There seems to be some fantastic sculptures there,” her grandfather called.

Aline hardly heard him; she was too intently focused on the piece before her.

“So, I suppose you’re Cecilia.” Aline gestured to the painting. “Cecilia, you look a little disdained and sad. I wonder what happened to you… ”

The Girl recovered from the surprise of the doors opening. By now, several hundreds of people had stared expectantly at her — all of whom seemed either disappointed or puzzled. Now, before her was a dainty girl. She wore an airy, white dress that complimented her soft features.

The Girl had a premonition that this child — Aline, was it? — was one who could listen to her story; she seemed unsullied and attentive. For the first time in ages, the Girl spoke.

Aline’s eyes widened. She heard a voice in her mind, faint at first, but now distinct. Was it — could it be — “Cecilia?” Aline asked out loud, astonished.

“Indeed, child. That is my given name. Now, be silent and listen closely — I have a story to tell you. I am now a painting; however, I once was alive — I grew up with a family and partook in typical activities as you do now. My parents were wealthy bourgeoisie and the subject of jealousy among my father’s siblings.

It was a stormy night. I was of nine years and was having trouble sleeping — thunder scared me. My mama went downstairs to our kitchen to heat honey-milk for me, while my papa read me tales from story books beside my bed. He chose to read Little Red Cap — cruelly befitting — until I fell asleep to the soothing sound. A few hours later, agonized sob-screams awoke me. I cradled my pink, velveteen teddy in my arms, clutching it for comfort as my small frame trembled with fear. The shrieks continued, interspersed with unintelligible words; some I could make out as protests — “NO… STOP!”

The voice was unmistakably that of my mother’s. With my heart pounding, teddy clutched to my chest, I padded over to my parent’s room — peering through the door, which was slightly ajar, I witnessed the most gruesome sight. I was petrified with fear.

In the bedroom glinted a blood-spattered dagger, wielded by my father’s own brother — my uncle. My eye followed the dripping dagger down to the ground, where my papa had been sliced at the throat. Near him — kneeling in his blood — and wracked by sobs was my mama. She was trying to reason with my uncle.

My uncle opened up my papa’s dresser, knowing that he kept a gun there — a gun my papa would never use on family. He slunk over to my mother. Steadily looking into her eyes, he raised the gun to her forehead. My mama had discerned I was near; her last words were addressed to me: “Cecilia, forgive this. Do not hold a grudge against others.” Her advice failed to register.

I ran away from the door, ran away from the house, ran leaving everything I loved, until I reached town. Dawn was just breaking. I sat on the front steps of a dreary looking bakery and wrapped my arms around my legs, trying to keep warm. But the cold still stung me. And so did the tears.

Fortunately, I was able to fall asleep for several hours, awaking to a jangle of keys and the words of “Who do we have here?” from a plump, middle-aged woman. I couldn’t trust her — couldn’t trust anyone, but of no other option, I followed her in. She asked about my parents. I said nothing, only shook my head. She patted my back, went next door, and came back after some time.

“My neighbor has agreed to take you in. He is a phenomenal artist and a man who I trust very much. Follow me next door.” I followed her to the neighbor’s loft-home. It was a single, large room flooded with papers and art supplies and paintings in various stages. There were scant furnishings — not much more than a bed, a work table, and a sofa.

The artist himself was a queer-looking man; he had narrowed eyes and a thin, black moustache. I stayed with him for three years, and over those years I grew increasingly suspicious of him. Something about his paintings seemed odd; as if the subjects were trapped… one that particularly disturbed me was of a frog. It had bulging eyes and four limbs spread so far apart it looked like it was undergoing an invisible quartering.

New paintings always appeared in the mornings; I never saw the artist painting in my presence. One night, after feigning sleep, I attempted to watch the artist. He had prepared his paints, his canvas — this one was about a poster size — but wasn’t painting anything. He suddenly turned on his heel and beckoned for me to come. He knew I had been watching. I walked slowly, terrified.

“Cecilia, it’s your turn to be painted.” He motioned to a stool. “Even though you never trusted me, I know you experienced betrayal. And I know that will forever influence you in shunning any person you deem flawed. Cecilia my dear, you may not understand this now, but every person has their imperfections. I cannot allow you to walk in a world for which you are not ready.” He repositioned me against the canvas. I became a rag-doll from fear, limp to his intent.

“Now, now, I’m not going to hurt you. Sit up straight, dear.” With a wicked grin, he began murmuring some nonsensical chants.

I awoke from a hazy stupor. Was it a nightmare? I tried to leave the artist’s eerie house by running to the front door. I couldn’t move. I tried again, in vain. Nearby, the artist sadistically watched.

“Now Cecilia dearie, I’m sure you’ve realized you cannot move. You may wonder why: O-ho-ho — it’s because you have become my newest masterpiece! You have been turned from a human to a painting! You cannot speak, except by telepathy. You will age and grow in the frame of my masterpiece. I’m doing you a favor; you can now observe the unscrupulousness of humankind without experiencing its hostility,” he chortled.

So, Aline, that is my story. For the past several years, I aged in the frame of this two-dimensional painting and was passed among people — a mother, a vagrant, a stallkeeper, and countless others: and not one of them was virtuous. They all had vices; they were unfit listeners — how could they understand the magnitude of human evils? How could they understand the betrayal I experienced? But, finally, I met you.

You may go now, child. Your innocence was my outlet for my emotion; now that I have exposed your mind to human treachery and worldly horrors, there is little you can do for me.”

Cecilia’s voice faded from Aline’s mind. Aline looked up at her, a newfound melancholy dimming her once-bright face. Pressing her eyes closed, Aline slowly breathed in and exhaled. With renewed fortitude, she met Cecilia’s despondent gaze and vowed never to become like her. Aline would choose to see the light in others; to forgive the darkness they might hold. After all, people are multifaceted: they have their strengths and their shortcomings, but in the end, it all constitutes their dimensionality: making them real and human — in a way a painting could never be.


Why The United States Constitution Established a Just Government

As the 1790s neared in the newly formed United States, it became evident that the Articles of Confederation — the very document that established an independent nation — had to be rewritten. From new ideas emerging from the Enlightenment reverberating throughout Europe, to perceived inequitable treatment leading to chaotic outbursts of unchecked outrage and fury such as Shay’s and Whiskey Rebellions, the young nation was ready for change. Thus, the document that would dictate the lives of future generations for the next two hundred and fifty years was crafted: the United States Constitution. The document embarked on and succeeded in the seemingly insurmountable task of cultivating a potent government whose potency is not so strong as to reminisce about the monarch the colonies just escaped. It took a weak confederacy of states plagued with instability and chaos to construct a centralized government while simultaneously incorporating a system of checks and balances. It established a Bill of Rights to relinquish any fears of mimicking the very government that quashed independence and limited freedom. While the document had some downfalls that juxtaposed the very ideals and fundamentals that the “supreme law of the land” was founded upon, such as failing to protect citizens in times of war, upholding the act of slavery for another eighty-five some odd years, and limiting the rights of women, it left room to amend these shortcomings and evolve to what society and human nature would eventually become with advancements in philosophies and technologies. The United State’s Constitution is inherently just because of its ability to acknowledge its faults and grievances and change accordingly; this adaptability comes from the Elastic Clause, an organized legislative representation selected by the people of the United States, and the presence of the Bill of Rights.

The true justice of the United States’ Constitution came from its ability to adapt itself toward changing philosophies. Article V of the original document states that the document could be “amended” if “two thirds of both houses deem[ed] it necessary.” Thus, the ability of the government to adapt not only technologically, but also ideologically, with passing time was granted. While changing ideologies are often theorized as having to happen gradually over a long span of time, there have been instances where the Constitution was able to make necessary changes more rapidly. This capacity of the government to adapt to changing values both rapidly and gradually is a pertinent characteristic of its justice. For example, the Eighteenth Amendment was swiftly passed in 1920 as a result of the prohibition movement, immediately prohibiting the consumption of alcohol. While in theory, restricting alcohol consumption would encourage men to spend more time with their families and lower crime rate, it ended up having the opposite effect, bringing alcohol underground and leading officers to take bribes. Because the detriments of Prohibition proved to outweigh the benefits, leaders were able to use the Elastic Clause in the Constitution to pass the Twenty-first Amendment, repealing Prohibition and allowing the law to revert back to a more suitable philosophy. Gradual changes in ideals have also been able to be met using the Elastic Clause of the Constitution. The slowly evolving issues of slavery and women’s rights were important considerations neglected in the original documents of the United States Constitution. However, the amendment process has proven its capability to modify: the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments served as examples of this fact, abolishing slavery and granting more rights to African Americans. Later, the Nineteenth Amendment gave women the right to vote. While these changes certainly did not make up for the hardship inflicted, and it would be another hundred years until segregation would end, the justness of the Constitution provided the structure to enable the changes to take place when society was ready.

While the Elastic Clause of the United States Constitution played a critical role in determining whether or not the government was in fact able to remain just, other factors such as the implementation of the legislative branch of government also perpetuated its justness. The ability of citizens to elect representatives in this particular branch of government contributes immensely to the justness of the United States government as a whole. Although Alexander Hamilton argued that the legislation was not just, insisting “a large [sum] of people is not necessary for thorough representation”, no matter how large the group of representatives was, it was the inequity among different groups of people at the time that inhibited true democracy. Even if the Anti-Federalists claimed everyone should have thorough representation, any individual who was not white or male during this time period had no voice and nobody advocated for the possibility of them getting one.  Even if this was the cultural reality at the time, the Constitution had everything it needed to correct these grievances, and eventually would do so when society was ready.

The legislative branch was not the only point of contention between the Federalists and the Anti-Federalists. One of the most crucial aspects to ensure a just government that perhaps even settled the Federalist/Anti-Federalist debate was the adoption of the Bill of Rights. The Anti-Federalists refused to sign the Constitution without said rights. This was due in part to the fact that the Bill of Rights guaranteed essential liberties what would be known as the first ten amendments of the document that was aimed to prevent the cultivation of a monarchy. These rights directly juxtaposed the experiences prevalent in the British monarch, citing the rights against “quartering” soldiers and the right to “search and seizure” which necessitates a warrant before searching private property without probable cause. The Bill of Rights would become essential in ensuring limited power to the executive branch of government, and because of this structure, it would remain just.

While there are several flaws that could be ascertained through close examination of the United States Constitution, it is imperative that one takes into account the time period and circumstances under which it was written. Critics of the United States Constitution point to specific times in the country’s history where the government failed to uphold constitutional rights, especially in times of conflict or war. While the Bill of Rights guaranteed American citizens the “freedom of speech, religion, and press,” historians who question the justice of the United States Constitution note that these rights have been specifically challenged throughout the nation’s history.  In 1798, John Adams passed The Sedition Act, limiting freedom of speech and press, as the United States prepared for the Quasi War with France. In recent years, suppression and discrimination have violated freedom of religion, brought on by fears of national security. However, while this prejudicial repression should not have been condoned, it has proved to be the only possible way to avert higher casualties and more violence. For example, had President Abraham Lincoln been more sensitive toward constitutional liberties and not suspended habeas corpus, the Civil War could have ended with more fatalities, as well as the demise of the Union. This would have come with issues such as slavery taking even longer to dissolve, for different values would have been imposed separately rather than being blended. The notion of slavery not being abolished is inarguably far worse than a short suspension of civil liberties.

Despite its shortcomings, the United States Constitution succeeded in taking an unstable, loose confederation of states and creating a centralized government, not so strong as to limit liberty, while simultaneously balancing state and federal control. Although at the time of its ratification, major contradictions to justice were prominent — and civil liberties were not always upheld during times of conflict — the Constitution’s ability to change itself, even today, enables the United States’ government to remain just. Only time will tell whether or not American leaders and their people will continue to use the elasticity of the Constitution to ultimately serve and protect all people.


And if She Sins

They were sitting in her kitchen, at the small, round table set Jillian had just bought at the thrift store that afternoon. The white paint chipped to show undercurrents of rusting metal and dirt, but Jillian didn’t mind, she enjoyed playing with bumps and bruises. Camilla’s fingers interlaced around the mug of coffee she wouldn’t drink as she peered outside the window that faced the brick exterior of a shorter, renovated building. Her cheeks were hollow, and her collarbones poked through her shirt, but she glowed with a newfound contentment that refreshed her features nonetheless. She knew what she had done, and that she was okay. Really, she was just fine. She had always been one to easily persuade herself of opinions she wished to hold. Her feelings were minute anyway to her clumsy, toppling, but overwhelmingly present thoughts, so she never had qualms about planting morals through twisted logic. As Camilla stared at the monotonous brick outside the narrow window, she saw a small, green plant writhing out of the rooftop, skinny but completely visible. The corners of her lips dragged unwillingly towards the ceiling into a grand smile as she tapped her overgrown fingernails into the mug rhythmically.

“Would you quit it?” Jillian spat.

She was picking the skin off her nails at an alarming rate. Spots of blood marked the napkin by her elbow, resting on the unfortunate table. Jillian was raised in a less graceful manner than Camilla. Her slight wrists seemed harsh and rigid as she carried herself with a certain natural tightness that engrossed her whole demeanor. It was as if she was in an eternal flinch. She was always prepared to duck and bend her body to avoid damage. She had attempted to correct this manner with her nonchalant tone, that danced with any inappropriate remark, and a nasty habit of smoking cigarettes that she made absolutely certain dangled from her lips so loosely, it almost always fell out. Her clothes hung loosely off her slender body, but despite her insistence on casualty, she only shopped at lavish retailers where a white cotton T-shirt would cost upwards of $60. She did this not to boast of her wealth — she had virtually nothing — but to be among delicacy and worth to perhaps elevate her own. Unlike Camilla, who was raised in a family who sent out Christmas cards each year, she was a victim of passionate emotions and had a secret affinity for the melodramatic.

When they had been assigned roommates at their liberal arts school out in California as freshmen, merely because they both were from big east coast cities, they fought about nearly all issues roommates could possibly endure. Yet, their rants were punctuated with similar passive-aggressive jabs until they realized they were truly perfectly matched. They had been inseparable since, until two months prior to the second semester term on a Saturday night, when they had maimed a girl.

Camilla began to pick through a magazine with minimal interest. Jillian let out an exaggerated sigh.

“Yes?” Camilla asked blankly, her eyes fixed on an article on the importance of completely renewing your wardrobe every six months.

“I don’t know,” Jillian said, slouching back into the chair, with something very clearly on her mind.

Knowing of Jillian’s desire to be probed, Camilla touched her finger to her tongue to flip the page once again. “Alright,” she resigned.

“Well, you can’t just sit here and pretend to be unaffected or whatever, okay? I’m not gonna take it,” Jillian stared pointedly at Camilla, who was onto the most daring runway fashions of the year. “You’re being childish, frankly, and I don’t see a reason for us not to talk about it like adults, or whatever we are.”

At this, Camilla snapped the magazine shut and set it on the table. A few golden locks that had fallen out of her ponytail made their way gingerly into her eyelashes, and she tucked them back behind her ear.

“Adults?” she repeated. “Barely. You can’t go around dragging people by their necks and be mad when they’ve learned how to handle it –” she pushed the strands that had untucked back again, “so you can enjoy your ‘intense sense of justice’ and ‘heated emotions’ and whatnot, and pretend to care about that bitch because I sure as hell won’t.”

Jillian was slightly taken aback. Though profanities took up a large slot in her vocabulary, Camilla had rarely let curse words rush so coarsely out from her mouth. Her mother had made the act of cleaning her mouth out with a bar of soap commonplace in their household. It startled Jillian even more that it was being used against the girl least deserving of all.

“That bitch?” she asked, alarmed.

“Well, what do you want me to call her? She always seemed fake. I know I’m practically forced to now, but I just don’t like her. Never did.”

“Bullshit. You like her more than you like me even,” Jillian remarked matter-of-factly, a tone Camilla found detestable. “You’re lying to yourself.”

Jillian now had three years to learn that Camilla was more malleable than clay. If circumstances changed, she almost always changed along with it and had no problem doing so. It was in sharp contrast to her high level of intellect or, maybe, perfect correlation. She knew better than to get caught up in one stance, even if it meant having an identity.

Camilla rolled her eyes in frustration, “Listen, I’m not lying to myself. I didn’t like her. I don’t like her. I don’t have to because I didn’t do anything wrong. You didn’t either.”

She picked up the flimsy magazine again and, this time, pretended to marvel at the advertisements. Jillian, on the other hand, could’ve had a flame lit under her chair, for she was practically jumping out. She gripped onto the arm rests with both hands and shifted her weight forwards, looking at Camilla with such unkempt fury that when Camilla darted her eyes to catch a glimpse, her eyebrows knitted together in momentary surprise before she composed herself again a second later.

“You’re just sitting here in your stupid puddle of arrogance and pretend like you’re not at fault at all!” Jillian exclaimed. She shook her head, “I can’t believe you. You’re acting like your mom, you know that? You’re fucking unbelievable.”

With that, Camilla’s neck snapped up in attention. Her mother, a safe distance away in a cemetery in Chicago, was her biggest and, practically, only fear. She had tortured Camilla with judgemental side-glances and responses of no more than two sentences throughout her entire childhood. She had one time infamously poked Camilla’s small arm, when she was but ten years old, and told her shrewdly that she was thinner at her age.

Jillian quickly backed up. Her own mother smoked two packs of cigarettes a day and spent her nights on an old, tattered couch watching movies of rich, gorgeous women who she pretended to be. She would return from her job, sitting in the toll booth on the highway, watching cars and people zoom in and out of existence, and smearing her lips with red lipstick she had bought in 1987. She’d apply mascara and a dash of perfume, put on her fanciest dress with her pearls, and plop down on the couch to watch glamour through a 25” screen. On nights when Jillian couldn’t sleep — which was nearly all of them — she would often imagine walking through the doors of her single-floor home to find that her mother had taken her near-absence one level deeper and had truly fled. She’d seen her mother’s wardrobe brimming with all she had accumulated in her life, save for the dress, the pearls, and her makeup bag. The image of her mother on a flight to Hollywood in her silly dress with an eternal smile plastered on her face provided Jillian with a rush of comfort or perhaps relief — she couldn’t quite place it. But of course, each time Jillian called, her mother had picked up the telephone she kept right at the foot of the couch and coughed out a rasp, “Who’s this?”

“Look, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean that. I didn’t even want to go that Saturday night in the first place. All I’m saying is that you can’t say we didn’t do anything. She didn’t just trip or whatever.”

Jillian pulled a cigarette from out of the backpack lounging under her chair. She clasped it between her lips tightly at first, then remembered her adjustments and loosened her grip. She cupped her bony hand over the lighter out of habit and drew in the smoke.

“I don’t know, maybe. We were there, and I was screaming at her kind of loudly, I guess. I didn’t mean to, I was just caught up in it and all. And then she was… it just kind of happened,” Camilla’s elegant stance got lost just as her words did, and she seemed to almost concave into herself.

It was as if someone had hit her square in the stomach, and her spine drew the letter c to avoid it. For a moment, she remembered Emma’s body mangled in the bike rack. The spot her head had hit was blue and purple, and blood rained down her skin, marring her beauty with terror and gore that somehow enhanced her features at the same time. Her body was so small, and the blood seemed to swallow her whole. Camilla’s hands shook, and they grasped either arm above the elbows, and her fingernails dug into her soft, pale skin.

She regained composure after only seconds. “Hey, would you quit it? I’m not ready to die of lung cancer,” she waved her hand in front of her face to emphasize her point.

“That’s just what they say to scare you. Stop being a baby,” Jillian pinched it out and flicked the cigarette to the ground anyways.

She had witnessed Camilla’s small break but wasn’t prepared to internalize it. Camilla’s icy blue eyes that had melted slightly in the momentary rush of anxiety, cooled once more.

“Do you think Emma will tell them we were there?”

“Shit doesn’t just happen to you. We weren’t ‘there.’ We made it happen. Maybe we deserve to be told on,” Jillian said, and resumed to pick at the skin on her fingernails.

A new spot of blood was added to the napkin. Camilla narrowed her eyes and peered back at Jillian.

“Don’t say that. Seriously, no we don’t. Don’t be so dramatic.”

“Cami, we pushed her. Hard, okay? Her head slammed into that bike rack! We need to… to…” she was frantic now, “… to acknowledge that or something! Do something!”

In her exasperation, she had moved the table two inches away from her, towards Camilla. Camilla pushed it back harshly. “God, I can’t take your flimsy morals and opinions anymore, okay?! I was the one who was closer with her. You said it yourself. You barely even liked her! You don’t want to be responsible for this the rest of your life,” she exclaimed in anger.

She had a strong sense that Jillian’s cries were insincere.

“Cause she was acting so fake all year! I said it, okay? But that doesn’t mean we can go knocking her head into bike racks and just running, accident or not!” Jillian added, “You’re such a child that you can’t seem to understand that.”

“Maybe I choose not to. Maybe you’re the child.”

They stared at each other. They knew every silent quirk and whim about each other, but the shadow of an injured girl loomed between them and erased them all to the point of incoherence. Camilla didn’t care for repair. She was fine being on her own and had made a gaggle of friends more similar to her. She thought them all quite impetuous, with vacuous laughs that always came after a very unfunny quip. But no matter, she liked them well enough, and Jillian resided permanently in the gray area, a position Camilla refused to even flirt with.

Jillian had always been drawn to logic but failed to ever utilize it. She had never had someone like Camilla, an almost perpetual ground that stood firm. She loved it. She wanted to absorb it in a way, eat it, and have a permanent stream of Camilla’s concrete conscience within her. But, after all, she was too stringent, and Jillian was fond of breaking the rules. She almost always felt it was necessary.

They stared at each other. They knew they needed each other.

“You’re right. We can’t visit her. It’s too risky. She’ll remember it was us,” Jillian said.

Emma was a nice girl, both Jillian’s and Camilla’s least favorite adjective. She had golden hair that fell near to the middle of her back in waves. She was a talented dancer and always seemed to move her body lyrically. Her mother had been a ballerina but stopped when she had Emma’s older brother. Her family was very close-knit, and Emma spent some nights on the phone with her mother, telling her about the essay on sixteenth-century European art she had to complete by Friday, or about the boy who kissed her but didn’t answer her calls the next day. Emma’s mother would listen, and probably even nod in understanding, at the other end of the line.

The three of them became close friends last Spring semester. Emma was in Jillian’s French class, and the two of them had went for drinks one night where they met Camilla. The conversation never left trivial matters, but Camilla and Jillian didn’t need it to. Jillian liked Emma but couldn’t help but see the obvious air of privilege that wrapped around her daintily. She was happy and had people there in case she wasn’t. To Jillian’s dismay, she wasn’t even dumb or simple; she spoke from a place of intelligence, having read a wide variety of books that ranged from Dostoevsky to Kafka to Kerouac. Albeit a kindness that was often too urgent it seemed disingenuous, she was a ruthless cynic when circumstances provided its necessity. Sometimes, manipulative remarks fell so crassly from her mouth, one would be momentarily stunned, or even blinked twice, as if to clear their vision and make sure their senses were working correctly. She had an athletic build, and her reddish-blonde hair softened her pretty features to the point where she appeared as nothing but harmless. Camilla liked that Emma didn’t get too attached to anything. She even admired her for it. Yet, she would often say how Emma seemed a bit self-centered, making comments to Jillian like, “I mean, you told her, but she probably didn’t care to listen,” or, “she always assumes they’re talking to her.” But the three of them were friends that shrieked in excitement when they learned they would room together the following year.

On a Saturday night, the three of them went to a party at a senior’s apartment. Emma was on the phone with her mother at their dorm before when Jillian widened her eyes at her to indicate that they had to hurry to make it on time. When she turned to the door again, she rolled her eyes in frustration, muttering “bitch” for only Camilla to hear. Camilla laughed and the two headed out the door, Emma falling in a few steps later.

They danced and drank rum mixed with anonymous soda when they arrived a few minutes later. This was convenient for Camilla and Jillian when the paramedics smelled the alcohol on Emma’s breath a few hours later and blamed everything on “a drunken stumble.”

After they had left the apartment, three hours and four shots each later, they laughed as they stumbled down the street. Jillian had to pause every three minutes to yank her flimsy, velvet jacket back over her shoulders, so Camilla and Emma would mindlessly skip further ahead, heads tilted back in the laughter one could only experience with a damaged liver after a night of little to no control. Their entire bodies shook with this roaring happiness that seemed to engulf them completely. It was astonishing that their legs still managed to keep them upright without collapse.

When Jillian caught up to them, the invincible vitality had shattered. Camilla was screaming about her mother.

“Hey! Whadduyou mean?” Camilla’s words slurred out of her mouth. “Don’t say that! She’s a bitch, and guess what? Y’know what?” She raised her eyebrows and pursed her lips, truly wishing her to guess, “So are you!”

“What’s going on?” Jillian asked, pulling up her jacket once again.

She really shouldn’t have wasted her paycheck on it. The velvet wasn’t even real.

“Don’t look at me. I just asked her why she never spoke to her mom or something like that,” Emma said defensively.

There was a frantic tone to her voice that her words came out as if they were one. She had never seen Camilla in such disorder, and it frightened her. She was a people-pleaser on top of everything else, and she was very unaccustomed to this kind of eruption, especially from such a reliable source of reason.

“Not everyone is so fucking cute all the time! Grow up!” Camilla was nearly incoherent at this point.

She had stepped closer to Emma and even took the liberty of sticking up her polished finger, poking her square in the chest. Emma pushed her back slightly, merely to get her away for a moment. She was stifled by Camilla’s overwhelming anger and looked at her face, her eyes wild and confused. But to Jillian, who hadn’t been too fond of their growing relationship, it seemed Emma was becoming aggressive.

“What the fuck, Em?” Jillian shouted.

She pushed her back, a bit harder than the initial shove, but nothing harrowing. Jillian was surprised with herself. She had never been violent. She was, in fact, adamantly opposed to the act as she had seen what it had done to her mother. But, to her discomfort, it gave her an odd sense of stability and power that she realized she’d perhaps been craving. Emma gasped at this strike, and her shock registered plainly on her face as her mouth formed a wide O-shape, and her usually delicate eyes sharpened. She stumbled back a bit, and Camilla, whose unwarranted rage had been accumulating beside them, threw her tired arms into Emma’s chest with just a bit too much might, increasing her stumble into a spiral as she cursed.

Jillian screamed for a moment in horror and utter surprise. Emma had fallen three feet back as her body, already loose in a drunken stupor, gave in to the blow. Her head slammed into the unforgiving metal bike rack that an elderly professor had built out of consideration to the underclassmen who weren’t allowed cars on campus.

Perhaps it wouldn’t have been so bad if her right eye hadn’t hit the large winding screw poking out.

She slumped down, her body in a very unnatural position, and lay completely still.

Jillian stood there, too afraid to move, her figure rigid as it was truly meant to be. She then whipped her head towards Camilla, whose arms were still out in mid-shove, but her elbows bent slightly, as if broken or interrupted.

Jillian grabbed Camilla by her slender wrist and took her as she ran as far as she possibly could.

“Definitely too risky,” Camilla agreed, leaning back in the white chair. She faltered for a moment. “You don’t feel guilty?” she questioned cautiously.

Jillian fluttered her lips and swallowed the large, wretched rock that had been making itself increasingly present in her throat, “I mean I did, but whatever. She pushed you first anyways, remember?”

“Yeah, I mean, I guess she kinda did,” Camilla nodded, and picked up the magazine once more, the look of contentment resurfacing through her features.

“And she always acted like she was above us, did you notice that?” Jillian reached over and grabbed up the bloody napkin.

She stood up, bent down to pick up the cigarette she had flicked away earlier, and tossed them in the garbage can.

“Exactly, and her family always treated her like a goddamn princess. It definitely got to her head,” Camilla rifled through the glossy pages, stopping at an article on dyeing your hair without exposing the roots.

“I’m gonna go take a shower,” Jillian said, her arms swinging lazily as she walked towards the hall.

She wrapped her white towel tightly around her torso.

“Okay,” Camilla said, “I’ll be here.”

As Jillian left to wash herself of whatever she possibly could, Camilla looked back through the narrow window and let her eyes fall once again on the escapist green plant. She felt an unparalleled warmth flood over her, and a smile tugged at her lips once again as she read on.


Apocalypses, Real and Imagined

In 1977, Robert Black walked up a steep driveway and into his one-level house in rural Virginia, expecting to see his mother in the kitchen. Instead, he saw an overturned pair of electric beaters, still dripping with cake mix, sitting on the counter. He called for his mom and received no reply. Suddenly, he understood what had happened. His mother had been taken up to heaven, along with the other good Christians. He was left on Earth with the sinners. He was warned about this during weekly church sermons, and somehow, he had failed to understand. This was it. Here he was, stuck in this 70’s kitchen with its stucco ceiling, for the rest of eternity. Everything he was told about had come to pass.


In 2017, I found myself struggling to find a way to debate with two boys in my first period class one day. They had asked, rhetorically, why they couldn’t make jokes about black people if the comedian, Chris Rock, could and made money doing it. I was struggling to condense my thoughts on this matter, but when I caught up with one of the boys later, I found the words.

“Hey,” I said, “I just don’t think it’s a good idea to joke around with an experience you haven’t lived.”

“Okay, I get you,” he replied, which surprised me.

Even if he remembered everything else I said as a bundle of shrill hysterics, he and I could agree on the idea that sometimes, you needed to stay in your lane when cracking jokes.

I attend school in Washington D.C. but live in northern Virginia, so my dad and I have the mutual enjoyment (and, sometimes, frustration) of daily car rides with each other during the week.

My dad, Robert, was born in the “sticks of Virginia” in 1969 to a family of fundamentalist baptists. In other words, until he was sixteen, he believed the world might end at any instant, and he was not allowed to listen to rock n’ roll or read comic books. Aside from this, he also grew up a young Republican, for whom gay marriage would have been out of the question, and gender roles were as tight as his laces. In his last years of senior high and first years of college, his horizons expanded through his professors as he drifted away from his small town’s attitude. He met my mom, switched Christian denominations, registered as a Democrat, and had three children, me being the oldest. He now works in Washington D.C. with a progressive Christian social justice organization that collaborates with churches like his old one to solve social problems he only really understood halfway through his life.

Forty years ago, my dad might have been joking with those guys in class. Because both Northern Virginia (where I live) and D.C. are generally politically progressive areas, I was surprised when I met some more conservative students in my classes and felt the need to talk to them. After all, I knew my friends had enough trouble avoiding archaic slurs in public school, so I thought I had a duty to confront people in my school who might have toxic views.  

More often than not, the car rides I share with my dad are filled with me expressing frustration about the teenagers I know are ignorant of how their actions or words affect others.

In the fall of this past year, I recall jumping into our silver Volvo, throwing my bags in the back seat, and catching my breath after running to the car.

“How was your day?” came my dad’s obligatory parental line.

I sighed deeply, wondering whether or not I should tell-all.

“We had student government speeches,” I replied. “I have never hated my classmates more.”

My dad raised an eyebrow.

“Bad Adam,” is all I needed to say.

Bad Adam was how my dad and I referred to a boy I was continually frustrated with. My rapport with Bad Adam probably began in my freshman year French class when he referred to feminists as whales. Bad Adam was extremely capitalist-minded and a diehard patriot, which I saw was clouding his ability to reason. Last year, Bad Adam ran for Student Government Representative.

“He gave a speech?” my dad asked.

“Oh my gosh,” I began. “His speech literally started off with, ‘We need to take back our grade!’ What does that mean? The whole thing was filled with rhetoric taken from a Trump rally. He yelled ‘Make our class great again!’ at the end, and all his friends applauded.”

The intensity of feeling made me sit forward and, at this point, my nose was practically touching the dashboard.

“So… he wasn’t taking the speech seriously?” my dad said.

“Definitely not. And I hate that all those guys cheered for him afterward. They don’t understand that I have friends in our grade whose families might be hurt by this administration. It was embarrassing. I looked at my shoes the whole time.”

“Those guys… I was probably exactly like them, my dad said after I finished my interpretation of the day’s events.

From where my dad started, he has done a full 180 in terms of his concept of himself in the universe. He is no longer striving for a grace he can achieve, a promise of salvation that is dangling above his head. He no longer sees everyone around him as a soul to be rescued, a possible convert. To this day, he’s seen his mother threaten strangers with hell: janitors at school events or men who worked on our neighbors’ houses. My dad’s done with that life. He also used to carry with him a glorified, incomplete version of America and its role in the world. Jesus and the United States were both divine forces that had, and could, save more unfortunate souls. My dad’s eyes have since opened to see painstaking flaws and cracks in his previously simple world.

I asked my dad when he started to wake up to another view of the world. He said it was his freshman year of college at a small school in Richmond, Virginia, when he was introduced to ways of seeing the world that were unlike anything he grew up with.

“Professors introduced me to the scientific method, which alternately challenged or destroyed my understanding of Adam and Eve as real people,” he said. “Same with Anthropology and Political Science professors, who shifted my understanding of American exceptionalism. Same with my Sociology professors, and my understanding of feminism was placed in a different light. Christianity was taken apart and placed in the context of other religions’ regional dominance. I was forced to choose between a life-giving truth that would allow me to truly breathe for the first time as an adult, and retaining my comforting, but rigorous, fundamentalist Christian worldview. On the one hand, you have comfort and lies. On the other hand, you have truth and freedom, but the destruction of all you’ve known. Which hand do you choose?”

Many of the peers, whose beliefs I confront (or just hear secondhand through my friends’ outraged texts or word of mouth) appear to have, as their basic values, some concepts that my dad once trusted in. I know many people I have interacted with, conservatives especially, shared the same beliefs as their parents and have been raised on certain teachings, rhetoric, or media. This was certainly my dad’s experience growing up. His parents imprinted on him their morally strict religious and social beliefs. Still, imagining my dad as a teenager, making enraging comments that deeply misunderstand feminism or American history, is somewhat hard to imagine. If my dad concocts a future spouse or significant other for one of us kids in a passing joke, he is careful to not assume anything about the gender of who we may love. He has a nuanced understanding of poverty, which is a requirement of his job. He even calls himself a feminist, a far cry from his original fear of the term as a “dirty word.”

Sometimes, I can’t help speaking up if I hear an intolerant joke or a questionable statistic. The reason I care about influencing my more closed-minded peers is because I’ve heard my dad talk about his metamorphosis.

I think listening to my dad is telling about his upbringing. The people he still knows through social media, who have never left his town and have retained their decades-old viewpoints, have given me a greater sense of empathy for my peers whom I disagree with. Oftentimes, they seem to feel almost under-attack by my fellow liberals who slap labels on them like “racist,” “sexist,” or “transphobic,” rather than taking the time to get to the bottom of a rude remark or provide evidence.

Being calm in the face of an inflammatory statement can be the greatest weapon against ignorance. As my dad did in the 1970’s and 80’s, my peers have reasons, however buried they may be, for saying what they say. I suspect that all it takes to make someone reconsider their viewpoint is a single example or distilled idea.

While it is discouraging to think about it, I know that not everyone who is young and closed-minded now will be different as an adult. Common knowledge says that of all people, teenagers should be open to new ideas. So, if a person doesn’t become more accepting throughout their time in high school, will they ever change? I have had to acknowledge that people my age might be scared by the concept that their remarks hurt people, and will just react to some confrontations by being defensive and standing their ground. All I can do sometimes is make sense of why certain words are harmful, and provide some common sense in the middle of emotional arguments between my friends and the more right-leaning students in our school. The adult world itself, with real consequences for the intolerant, will shape many of my peers like it shaped my dad. And now, of course, my dad helps people to become more tolerant within their religious frames and language. There is a cyclical element to equality and love. Accepting people influence their peers who, in turn, become more accepting and have loving children and friends, who teach tolerance to their peers, and the cycle continues.

Believing in the equality of every person and giving humanity some compassion, understanding, and sensitivity has made my dad a happier and more pleasant person. As he describes it, it allowed him to “breathe.” Even if the reality of divorce or climate change makes the world more complicated and might taint a person’s faith in their religion or country, it also allows them space to see and empathize with others.
Concepts like agenderness and fat-positivity exist because the people behind them are trying to explain the complexities of their lives. While it might seem unnecessary and almost silly to my conservative peers now, my dad’s inclusivity, or his admirable understanding of our country’s failings, help us, his children, in unforeseen ways. After all, how we are raised determines a great deal of what we believe.

Every day, there is probably some degree of teasing going on in our house. Often, the brunt of the mocking falls on the youngest sibling, Owen, who is ten. We make fun of him for not liking potatoes, or spelling “faucet” the wrong way. Sometimes, we joke about him being married one day and still having his idiosyncrasies, which will have to be endured by his future partner.

“What is your future wife — or husband… spouse — going to think of that?” my dad laughs.

He knows including multiple pronouns is important for our concept of who we can be.

“Wife, Dad. I know,” Owen might say.

But one day, he’ll appreciate having been shown that another kind of love is beautiful and normal, especially when not all of his society thinks that way.

My siblings and I don’t fear being different or the devil or science or rock music. We don’t ignore uncomfortable realities, and we welcome being held accountable for accidental biases. We want to learn, and we’re not afraid if it means the end of some small part of our world. After all, my dad’s world ended some thirty years ago and, since then, a new one has started.

My dad was taught to fear nearly everything as a child, so he makes sure we fear nothing. I want to show others how to breathe and how to learn, so their children can be fearless.


Star Stealers

Long, long ago, the beings of planet G-23 did not know the art of war. But the future, with its winged ships and armored spacesuits, dragged them out of their peaceful stasis.

Ava Maria saw the first encounter from the port window of her room, her twelve-year-old human fingers against the reinforced glass. A small dagger rested on the sill, an ancient artifact from Earth that she had never needed to use. From her window, she glimpsed the beings’ high cheekbones and pointed ears. Their skin seemed to shimmer like a mirage.

Humanity called the beings of G-23 the Fae, a word self-explanatory and easy on the tongue. The word, Fae, promised the sort of benevolence and wisdom, immortality and grace, that sharp-eared beings had been depicted with in myth.

But this was not so.

None of this was so.


You are not the Fae for which you have been named. This is an appearance crafted from human myth, an illusion of skewed sunlight designed to put the humans at ease. For you knew they were coming.

This is the reason you were sent.

The memory is still clear in your mind. Your queen gathered together both sides of your planet Grandrane: the half always stricken with night and the half drowned in vicious sun.

On one side of the hall stood your sisters of midnight. Their hair — twisted, laced, and braided up into intricate loops — grew as long as nature allowed. Their skin was as pale as the low-hanging moon, and as riddled and pockmarked with scars. Their pupils were as dark as black holes, wide and all-consuming.

You observed them from beside your kin of sunlight. You were markedly different from those who lived in the sun’s shadow. Every kin of yours had hair cut short or buzzed to a fine fuzz. Your skin was marked as well, though with the sun’s freckles and burns. Your eyes had the same golden glow as your favored and closest star.

Before you, your queen raised a hand.

The children of night summoned their scimitars, blades curved like the arcs of the shooting stars that sacrificed themselves to make these weapons. Beyond the halls of this palace, this coliseum, the night sky grew a bit darker for its loss.

You latched onto your own solar flare, twining the flame and light between your fingers until a broadsword solidified in your palm. Its gleam was blinding. Above you, the sun exhaled part of its strength.

Your queen brought down her hand, and both sides charged as one.

Your numbers were evenly matched, a soldier of sun to every messiah of midnight. Where blade met blade, sparks smoldered in the air. It was impossible to tell whether they were specks of moon or sun.

The sparring was short. It was not designed to be to the death. This was how each warrior found her partner on the planet of Grandrane. In the clearing dust and smoke, there were laced hands and matching grins.

Your own partner gave you a feral smile, one with nocturnal fangs, and a hand to pull you off the ground. You spat out a wad of the shimmering gold blood and took it.

Now with a crowd of mixed dark and light, your queen finally addressed the heart of the matter: The Congregation of Many Stars had called upon your race to stop the inexorable invasion of the human conquerors. Humans, who had already decimated their own planet, sought to colonize elsewhere. Somehow, this uncivilized race, one that has only managed long-distance space travel in the last century, had wiped out every other effort to halt their progress. Their innovation and intelligence may have been lacking, but their weaponry was all-destroying. You were the Congregation’s last resort.

At this, your queen seemed to find amusement. It was no secret that Grandrane was feared. Across the universe, you were called the Star Stealers. The Many Stars thought you took too much for savage purposes — coveting other planets’ stars for your own games of war — but they would rather have you as allies than enemies. And, your queen smirked, the Congregation of Many Stars didn’t seem to have complaints now that they had called upon you to fight for them.

So begins your war.

You leave Grandrane for G-23, as the humans have named it, purposefully placing yourself in the mankind’s path as they catalogue the universe in such binary things as letters and numbers. You don the guise of their fabled Fae, refracting sunlight for perfect human features and sharp ears, and masquerade as a familiar face in a vast and unknowable space. For long days and long nights, you live in your structured pairs like mortal twins, one sister’s eyes always open, always watching, always waiting. G-23, with its unpredictable and infernal rotations of light and dark, does not work as Grandrane does. It is during your night’s retreat that the first human vessel is spotted.

By the time humans make first landfall in their bubbled helmets, the sun has wiled its way back to the zenith. Midnight’s children have already sunken into their counterparts’ shadows, making your numbers appear half of their true value.

You play nice for the first two days, ignorance feigned and eyes wide and innocently blinking. You nod to their questions, show them your homes made of twisted roots and hollow trees. You blink prettily and preach of living in harmony with nature and the universe.

At night, you and the humans sleep. At night, your dark sisters sneak onto their ships, glean what they can of weaponry and tactics, and report back.

“Enough of this,” they hiss on the third night. “They are a weak race. Have you not seen the way they shield their eyes from the sun? How their skin burns beneath it? What they wear is not armor. It is life support for their feeble organs. We trained for eons before they walked, much less flew. Let us not waste any more time.”

“Then let us be done with it,” you whisper back.

You are glad the humans have not shown themselves to be creatures of honor and mercy. If they had, perhaps you would have abided by an honest duel. But as it stands, they have destroyed more planets than you have stars, so you feel no guilt at slitting sleeping throats.

Their blood does not glow as yours does.

Of course, the sheen of your light-made weapons and their gurgled cries wake the others, but you have advantages: doubled numbers, surprise, and your enemies’ ignorance. The hilt of your broadsword rests heavy in your hand, the heft of it most clearly felt when you slice through their brittle metal. The arc of its swing leaves a trail behind it, a burning afterimage. They meet your swords and scimitars with guns and bombs, but the heat of your stolen fire burns away their lead. It is not a fair fight, but you knew this when you agreed to the war. Humans do not specialize in close quarter battles, not when they are in their thin spacesuits and subject to their own shrapnel and radiation. This you knew and planned for, like so much else.

Once the fighting begins to die down, it is clear who the victors are. Covered in blood and space dust, you are as savage as your foes.

You personally deal the final blow, ripping a gash into the side of their beached spacecraft. Metal melts, drips, and cools. Pressurized air seeps away. You look back at the fallen, every empty-souled human heaped on the ground.

And then… pain.

Something sharp stabs you in the back. The horrible cold of steel sliding through you brings with it a pain you know heralds death.

You turn, sword dissipating as your energy slips away, and see a young girl clutching a dagger, golden with your blood. She is dying, already gasping away her last breaths, but she is smiling something wicked at you. You recognize that smile. You are her only revenge.

You smile back.


Ava Maria has always been a creature of vengeance. There is something sick and satisfying about finally taking it — the feeling of resistance against her dagger and having sticky, blood-stained fingers. There is something depraved about it that calls to her.

The strange part isn’t the death creeping through her lungs. This she saw coming. The strange part is the Fae’s smile at her. It is a smile of pride. It is a smile that says Ava Maria is the only redeeming thing this Fae has seen of humans. It is a smile that says Ava Maria belongs in the Fae’s afterlife with other women and warriors, not in a human’s heaven. It is smile that says you are like us. Your thirst calls for blood like a Star Stealer. You desire retribution and bloodshed.

In her revenge, Ava Maria understands.

Ava Maria and the Star Stealer meet death together.




I watch the little spots of color

Dance around the night air

Like lightning bugs,

Twirling into the night sky

And disappearing from sight.


Sitting there, beside the stone circle,

I feel as if a heavy blanket

Is draped over my shoulders,

Warding the encroaching cold

From sinking beneath my skin.


I lean back, hair splayed over grass,

Listening to the snaps and crackles,

Watching the almost lightning bugs

Race upwards,

Mimicking the specks of stars,

And trying to be them.


All Kinds of Kinds

When you are young, you will be ashamed of your culture. You will hate eating rice everyday even though you love Amu’s cooking. You will hate that she makes you wear a salwar kameez to school every Halloween so you can be a princess. But you love mehndi and raise your right hand, palm outward, so the orange paisleys are visible to your teachers and classmates. You call the brown smelly paste mehndi, not henna. Your brownness is showing. It’s the only part of your culture you don’t reject.

When you’re a little older, you will scrub your skin raw and apply the Fair & Lovely your mother gave you to lighten your skin. You will resent her for making you resent your melanin. Your dad tells you that you will always look like an immigrant and you will never be an American in a white person’s eyes. This is a truth you will never let go.

Around this time you’ll start to read books by brown people about brown people because you think that if you can’t be American, you might as well embrace your heritage. You will be outraged by the inaccuracy, thinking brown people don’t have “white people problems.” You don’t think brown people can make mistakes, not because you think they’re flawless, but because mistakes are not allowed. You’ll be skeptical of brown characters on TV shows— their brownness erased by giving them names like John, and their otherness amplified by making them terrorists named Ali.   

Your older cousin will recommend Corona by Bushra Rehman during your freshman year in high school. You have read multiple books by brown people about brown people that made you feel as though the authors didn’t really know what it meant to be brown. Still, you continue to read these books because they inspire the writer in you. Your cousin will tell you that Bushra Rehman is a Pakistani-American who grew up in a Pakistani Muslim community in Queens— she was just like you. Because, for the first time, you think you might actually see yourself in a South Asian character, you have ridiculous expectations for the book. You need Razia, the protagonist, to be just like you. But, of course, she won’t be. She leaves her family. She hitchhikes along the East Coast. She dates. She drinks alcohol. She smokes. What kind of Muslim is she? What kind of Pakistani is she? How could she be so selfish? What about her parents? You ignore the fact that you sound like the judgmental aunties you despise so much, but your brownness is showing.

In your junior year, your English class will read Into the Wild by Jon Krakaur. There’s something about the way Christopher McCandless drops everything and heads to Alaska that will intrigue you. You will try to ignore the fact that McCandless is a white man. You know that post-9/11 America will not work in favor of a wanderlust brown hijabi. Maybe it’s the fact that Chris seems invincible that’s appealing to you. Or that so many people treat him like their son and take care of him. Maybe you want to have that kind of faith in people. That they’ll help you instead of fear you or jump at the chance to hurt you. “Remember, Ma. You’re Muslim and they hate us,” your dad tells you this every day when he drops you off at the train station.

Maybe it’s the people at home who drive you away, the way Chris was unhappy with his ordinary life with his family. Without the fear of auntie gossip and the judgment of your parents, you could find the person you want to be. You will wish you could do something reckless and unpredictable because you don’t want to lead a conventional life.

You’re starting to write more this year. Your characters remind you of the ones you used to hate. Flawed, human, more similar to you than you’d like to admit. There isn’t a set of  guidelines to be a brown person, you tell yourself to justify the choices your characters make. You have some life changing epiphanies and realize that you didn’t hate those characters from the books you used to read. You envied them. You wanted to screw up as easily as they did. You craved that kind of freedom, to be someone and to do things unexpected of the little brown girl you are. You will become restless. You’re tired of your commute and vain conversations you overhear in the locker room. You’re tired of your parents guilting you into staying in New York for college. You’re tired of your family telling you that you can only be a doctor and talking about your future in terms of salaries. You don’t want the things your parents want. Your mom tells you that you might as well give up on your education if you want to be a teacher, as if educating doesn’t require education.

During the short story unit, your English teacher gives the class Pioneer Spirit by Bushra Rehman and, as always, you’re skeptical. You remember how you felt while reading Corona. Reading Razia’s story again, two years later, with the knowledge that you used to envy her vagabond nature, you find that you can’t help but admire her. She’s not your typical brown girl from a conservative family. She tries to be anything but typical. For that, you wanted to be her, to have her courage (or selfishness), to be able to harden your heart and, for once, do something of your own will.  

You know that you will never be able to harden your heart completely. You come from a family who loves you too much and respects you too little. The difference between you and Razia is that her parents kicked her out and yours would do everything to keep you at the same address in Jamaica, New York for the rest of your life.

You want to have a voice that defines itself like the characters in the books you read and the characters you create. You wish you could be selfish. You wish you weren’t afraid of losing your family by accidentally doing something for yourself.

But sometimes you let yourself think about the things you do have. You think about the tight-knit brown Muslim community in Queens that becomes Little Bangladesh the night before Eid with mehndi tables set up on every block. You go down to Hillside with your sister to eat mishtis and get intricate designs painted on your hands with the brown smelly paste, which is no longer the only part of your culture you don’t reject. Your brownness is showing. Every inch of Hillside Avenue is packed that night, the way your masjid is all throughout Ramadan, with people speaking a language that is home. Your brownness is showing. You know the next day will be ten times as busy. The field at the local high school will be filled with hundreds of Muslims praying together. You will wonder how you haven’t met some of these people, but then you will remember that this neighborhood is only home to a fraction of your identity the fraction that your parents fostered.

You will be tired of having the same fights over and over again. You know you will be the first to back down and you will give your family what they want. You start to wonder what’s more important— your sanity or your reputation. Were all these arguments worth it or should you just put on a white coat and breathe in the fumes from the MTA buses? You know your parents want what’s best for you. That is, after all, the reason they came to this country. But you can’t seem to make their version of “the best” your own. You are terrified of being miserable, but your parents laugh when you tell them. Because according to them, brown girls don’t get to be happy. Brown girls don’t get to make themselves.

So the stories you read and the characters you envy remain fiction, at least for now.

Impossible Reality


Impossible Reality

The breeze lifts my hair to the sky,

to the sun,

to the curve of my right ear.

He takes a large stride,

pauses when my face contorts,

tilts his head,

and steps back.

I can hear his mind’s voice

melting into my ear,




My heart beats a mile a minute,

my thoughts blurred by

the brushstrokes of his hurt voice.

I reach out my hand to his,

but he pulls back.

His eyes glisten.

He starts to turn.

I feel half of me drift away

like a soul that leaves its body

in a horror movie.

Every stride he takes

makes me wonder

how I long for him

and still feel nothing.

How does a man love his child

but never hug her?

How does a cat feel content

but never purr?

How does a dog play fetch

but never wag her tail?

How do I let him walk away

and still not kiss him?

His feet step forward:

one on the white lines,

one on my chest.

The last of my hope shatters

as he curves around the bend

and disappears into the blinding sun.

A Moment In Thoughts

I hear them crying outside my room.

They think the walls are soundproof.

They’re not.

There are just a few seconds before I have no presence.

It’s like a blank before I faint.

This blank is forever.

I’m going blind.

I’m going deaf.

I can’t smell.

I can’t taste.

I can’t feel.

I won’t think.

I won’t love.

I won’t remember.

I won’t hope.

I will leave everyone behind.

They will keep remnants of me.

My will.

My grave.

My tombstone.

The bracelet I gave my daughter when she graduated.

The suit I gave my brother when he got married.

I will have nothing of them.

I will leave it all behind.


I am…


The Master

Eep… I fell again…

Right foot forward.

Left foot forward…

And… I fall again…

Daddy, stop!

Stop laughing!

Sissy walks to me.

I am annoyed.

How does she walk?

How do humans do this?

I take another step and fall.

Mommy runs and picks me up.

I swing my legs.

I whine.

She puts me back down.

I try to run like her.

Oof… And I’m down again.

No fair!

Sissy can walk.

Mommy can run.

Daddy can run.

I just fall.

Sissy takes my doll.

She walks to her room.

I growl and scream.

That’s it.

I’m getting my doll.

I walk.

Right foot forward.

Left foot forward.

Right foot.

Left foot.



I see sissy.

I take the doll.

She claps.

She hugs me.

Daddy and Mommy clap.

I smile. I did it!

I walked!

I didn’t fall!

I am the master.


Back of the Class

I can’t see the writing on the board

or what my teacher is holding up

or the gestures she is making.


I can’t hear the videos on the screen

or when the quiet student asks a question

or what my teacher says.


I turn off my phone before class.

I take notes the best I can.

I never eat in the room.


I try my best to pass.

I do nothing wrong.

I love to learn.


People think I sit in the back to use my phone,

that I sneak out the back door to cut class,

that I pass notes to my neighbors under the table.


They don’t know that I sit in the back to hide my face,

that I sneak out the back door so I don’t panic,

that I hold a stress ball under the table.


They don’t know my name.


They Think I’m a Typical Jock

The stick hits the ball.

My hand shoots the ball.

The bat strikes the ball.

Anything with moving a ball:

You name it,

I’ve done it.

You name it,

I’ve also hated it.

But it’s better that I hit a ball

than that I get hit.

When you never do anything

at school,

before school,

or after school,

people ask questions.

No one questions a jock.

So I hit, shoot and strike balls.

If anyone asks,

my bruises are sports injuries.

I wish they were from sports.

I must have been an awful baby,

because my family hates me.

My mom starves me for a week

if I don’t do the laundry,

and my dad throws me against the wall

if I don’t make dinner for the five of us.

My older sister stops talking to me for a year

if I don’t get her a dress for her birthday,

and my older brother rapes me at night

if I don’t tutor him one day.

So I hit, shoot and strike balls.

Anything is better than being at home.


If My Mind Went on Strike

The pen is in my hand.

The story is in my mind.

There’s no such thing as not thinking.

I’m always thinking.

Always getting new ideas,

always mentally writing my next poem.

Always storing new quotes,

always planning a new plot line.

I don’t know what I would be thinking

if I wasn’t constantly creating.

Maybe I would be pondering

what sandwich tastes the best,

or what my favorite color is,

or what shirt I want for my birthday.

Would my mind be blank?

Void of thoughts,

of stories,

of ideas?

Would I then be able

to carry a conversation

with the teenager next door?

Or would I just lose myself?

Would I suffer eternal depression

if my mind went on strike?

If being creative makes me different,

I don’t want to be the same.


Food Memories


Strawberry frosted donuts with rainbow sprinkles on top, eaten before going to the train store. Watching toy trains rush by on wooden tracks, licking the frosting from my fingers.


Long nights at the dining room table, suffering through the Passover Seder.

Each course drawn out and extended with prayer.

I only eat matzah with butter, several sheets of it, until my stomach aches.


Searching for the perfect hamburger, combination of juicy and charred.

Find my Holy Grail, a medium-well cheeseburger and fries, with a chocolate milkshake.

Order at Ted’s Bulletin, a restaurant nestled in Capitol Hill, secretly hiding fried fatty goodness.


Everything about the food in Paris.

The cheese, sharp and best paired with crunchy crackers.

Dark chocolate, melting into my mouth.

Buttery bread that unpeeled in layers, light and flaky.


Jewish food, passed down for generations.

My mom, like the matriarchs of old, spending hours preparing.

Noodle Kugel, steaming hot and topped with cinnamon. Served in slabs, thick and fattening. Recipes created before saturated fat and calories, when it was okay to add a stick of butter to a meal.


Buying popcorn and Snow Caps at Blockbuster’s, while searching for a DVD.

Looking at rows of Pez dispensers with cartoon characters’ heads on top.

Searching for which Push candy or Baby Bottle Pop I want, always deciding on the pinkest one, strawberry.


Stew Leonard’s in Danbury Connecticut.

Camp field trips ending with a stop at this gigantic grocery store with a buffet.

Piling carts with candy and chips, what I lacked at camp.

Getting steaming hot buffet food and hoping I have enough money to pay for my four pounds of mac and cheese.


Browsing the aisles of Hinata, the sushi shop my parents went to when I was little.

Looking for “boy and girl” cookies, chocolate pops with children faces on them.

Chewing several Pocky sticks at a time, the biscuit ends sticking out of my mouth.


New Year’s Eve 2005, ordering a fizzy pink Shirley Temple with my Chinese food.

Bubbles bouncing in my throat, popping like balloons.

Swearing to stay up until midnight, but falling asleep in the restaurant, my plate untouched.




Today Is A Good Day, But Tomorrow Is Unknown,

The Past Already Happened. That’s Why I Left It Alone.

When People Make Mistakes, It’s Hard To Recover,

You Can’t Love One Who Doesn’t Love Another.

Love Don’t Cost A Thing. Love Is Everything

It’s A Motivation, Like Red Bull That Gives You Wings.


When I was a young boy, I never had a childhood like all the others,

Bad in school, coming home and getting beat by my mother.

It was times like those that made me worse,

Living on the streets, holding guns, and making bullets burst.

But Imma get back to reality and finish off this piece that I’m working on,

carrying on with life like words from a number one song.


A Lost Teen (Chapter 9)

“Listen, baby girl, I am sorry for doing that to my sister, and I told her I am sorry. I was on heavy drugs, but now I am a clean person. I have been sober for twenty-three years. I am hard on you because I don’t want you to end up like me. You are my baby girl, and your brother is my baby boy. I love you guys like yawl my kids, so when I hear my niece is pregnant, it fucking hurts.”

“Alright, Uncle Robert, I get it. Are you done? I would love to go to my room to go to sleep.”

“Yeah, you can go to sleep. I love you, London.”

“I love you too, Uncle Robert.”

London goes upstairs and goes to her room. She finds a note from Auntie, saying: Baby girl I love you and I know what’s going on yes I am disappointed, but shit happens, and I am going to be there for you your whole pregnancy.

“Thank you Auntie, at least I know somebody from my family is going to be there,” she says aloud to herself. Then, she heads to bed.

When she wakes up, her aunt is right in front of her. It’s like London can feel her aunt breathe on her.

“What the fuck, Auntie? What is you doing in my room? Get out. Let me sleep in peace,” London jumps up and says with anger in her voice.

“You’ve been sleeping all day, so I came in here to check up on you, and plus, your boyfriend keeps calling and getting on my last nerve.”

“Well, you get on my nerves. I’m trying to rest, and I can’t because my aunt is being annoying, so I might as well just get up and go to my boyfriend’s house,” London says, annoyed.

“Hey London, Uncle Robert wants you, and it sounds like something wrong. Come on,” Samad says, worried.

“What do you want, Uncle?” said London.

“Something bad happened today with your dad.”

Samad yells, “What the fuck happened?”

“He died this morning at 2:30AM.”

Samad throws the kitchen chair at his uncle and says, “You fucking lying. You just want to ruin my life because your life is ruined,” with tears flowing down his face. His sister and his aunt comfort him in the kitchen, while his Uncle is in shock that his nephew just threw a chair in his face.

“S-S-S-Samad, I’m not trying to ruin your life. What’s in it for me? I really love you guys,” Robert says with a strict, stern face.

He jumps when London says, “I’m out of here,” with hand motions.

“Where are you going little girl?” Auntie shouts with frustration. “This house is out of control. Everyone come and sit down in the living room now.”

They all come to the living room with their attitudes, but they listen as their aunt and sisters speak. They would never disrespect her. It’s like she has taken their mother’s spot. Her orders in the house are that London and her boyfriend have to be back in the house by 9 PM every day, and that Samad has to come in the house by 8 PM today. And everyone must respect their uncle and themselves.

London has some disagreements. Samad agrees, but has some comments.

Auntie says, “I am not going to be stressed out. I have kids of my own, so if you don’t want to follow my rules and be tough, then you can get the fuck out.”

“You not my mom, and you don’t pay the rent, so I don´t have to do shit you say,” says London rolling her neck and pointing her finger at her aunt.

¨You so right, you can even be wrong. I am not your mother, and I don’t pay the rent, but you will respect me,” Auntie says and smacks her niece in the face. ¨So you can pack your shit up and leave if you don’t agree. Do you understand me, Ms. Renee Johnson?”

¨Yes, I do, Tisha Monae Johnson,” London says with tears coming down her face. She goes to her brother and says sadly, ¨You are going to let her do this to me? She slapped me and talked to me disrespectfully… But I have do respect for my aunt.”



Yesterday, a pit of fire opened up below my family’s tent. In a moment, our entire life was swallowed up in a burst of flame. I rushed over to my former home, now a smoldering Hell pit. We didn’t have much inside — only clothing and a few daggers to ward off the imps at night. Still, my eyes filled with tears as I stared at the pit. When Mama came back from battle, she muttered curses under her breath and kicked at the dust.

Papa was still under the care of the healers, after the last battle fought in one of Hell’s countless plains. After I helped clean up, I flew to the makeshift hospital to see him. The camp zoomed past, an array of tents and shacks, and in the distance, officers’ barracks. Guards posted at the wall waved at me, and I recognized one.

“Flauros!” I hovered next to him. “How’s the shift?”

Flauros smiled, turning his gaze from the distance. “Well, I’ve seen dirt and a few tumbleweeds. No devils in sight,” he sighed.

“Aren’t they mad though, after the last fight?” I asked, looking out into the desert of Hell. The sky was a bloody smear across the red landscape. No demons marched over the horizon, brandishing swords. There was only the barren wasteland and the burning sun.

“The devils are still regrouping after the beating we gave them.”

I shivered, remembering the last battle. They had attacked at night, swarming over the walls. Devils wearing stinking furs and rusty armor, set fire to tents and soldiers. I hid in the officers’ barracks with the other children. With every burst of flame, another scream rang through the night. We huddled in the corner, silent. I wished that my sister, Laylah, was next to me, saying that it would be alright. But she and my older brothers were gone, stationed in a distant outpost.

By the time we emerged from the barracks at dawn, the cries of the wounded had died down. How many of us became orphans that night?

“Sorry about your dad,” Flauros said, when I looked down.

“It’s okay, he’ll be fine. Just a few scratches,” I said, not mentioning Papa’s delirious rambling and his rotting leg. At least he’s alive.


I lifted up the tent flap and ventured inside. The stench of blood and rot filled the air, and I tried not to gag. Injured soldiers groaned and cried out. I tried not to look at them, and stared at the ground. Healers tried to close bite wounds and repair charred skin, but it was no use. We all knew that the good healers — ones who mend shattered bones and grow new skin — were only for high-ranking angels. Papa lay on a stained blanket, healers bustling around him.

“Hey, Abaddon, how are you?” he said, propping himself up. His eyes glazed over. He stared in my direction, not really seeing. Papa’s feathers were ruffled and bent. I smoothed them down carefully.

“Fine, Dad. A Hell pit opened up under the tent,” I said, tucking the blankets around him.

“Hells! Again?”

“Is your leg alright?”

“Yeah, healing up nicely. I’ll be back in the fights before the week is up.” He grimaced. Thick bandages covered his leg, soaked through with dark blood.

A healer pulled me aside. She was from another rank, her robes a light, smooth blue. Her white wings glowed in the dim hospital tent. She smiled at me. I hated her, like I did angels of all other ranks. She didn’t care about us.

“Child, is your mother in the outpost?” she asked, her voice soft and lilting.

I crossed my arms. “She’s around.”

She sighed. “She has to come here now.”


“Your father is very sick. His leg needs to be removed before infection spreads.”


I hate the outpost. Red dust coats every surface — clothes, weapon, skin. It seeps into the water, until each drink tastes like copper. The bread is hard enough to crack teeth and tastes like it was tossed into the dirt.

Each day, soldiers battle devils. By nighttime, some return missing eyes, legs, wings. Devils lurk in the shadows, carrying clubs, swords, and spears. Beyond the outpost are untold horrors: lands crawling with monsters. I’ve heard stories that beyond the desert, there are more demons than ever seen near the outpost. Kings and warlords rule over the lands, each more terrifying than the last.

Life was hard, and devil attacks grew more frequent as time went on. When Mama and Papa were first stationed out here, no demons dared to approach. Now, it was getting worse.

My parents told me stories about Heaven at night, when the shadows descended on the camp, and the only light was from the campfire.

“Everything is beautiful, green everywhere,” my father said, as if in a daze.

“Are there trees? They have leaves and bark, right?” I asked. I imagined lying under a tree, resting in the shade. There was no rest in Hell. Only relentless heat, pounding down onto skin. “Why aren’t we in Heaven?” I asked.

Mama laughed bitterly, breaking the silence she held all night. “They don’t want us up there. We’re not pure enough,” she sneered.


“Why encourage her silly dreams? Abaddon won’t escape this wretched pit, and neither will we.”

“Pa, have you ever been there?” I asked him.

“Once,” he said quietly. “The sky was such a nice color, a bright blue…”


Today was the battle. I kissed Mama on the cheek, where a jagged scar crossed her face. She was dressed in her armor, dented and dusty.

“Stay safe,” she whispered, as I hugged her. Dark circles ringed her eyes, and I remembered last night. It was dawn when Mama returned to our new tent, wiping the tears from her eyes.

Papa is alright, I repeated to myself. He is fine.

Mama turned her back and joined her company. I watched her from Flauros’ guard post as she disappeared into the desert. I sighed and turned away.

I hated this. Why did Mama and Papa and Laylah have to fight battles for the other angels? Soon, I would too. Mama said that soon, I would be drafted, when I came of age. She said they’d come to you, giant shining messengers with a thousand eyes. It’s scary at first, but then you can leave, leave the outpost where all soldier’s children live, leave the dreaded frontier, and maybe even see Heaven.

“Cheer up, Abby. Your Ma will be back soon,” Flauros said.

“I hope.”

Suddenly, more angels appeared a few feet away. I’d never seen anything like them before. Their golden armor gleamed in the sun, and wisps of flame floated from their wings. They carried fiery swords that radiated heat. They were beautiful. One turned and stared right at me.

“Those are Paragons. Don’t look at them,” Flauros said harshly.

“Why not?” I asked, glaring at him.

“Listen, don’t tell your ma I said this…”

“I’m not a child. I can handle it.” I looked for the Paragons again, but they were already gone.

“Well, Paragons are a… different type of angel. I don’t know too much, but before coming to this outpost, I saw some of them. In a devil village,” he said.


“They set the village on fire. I don’t want to talk about it anymore,” he said and turned away.


“Is there anything else you can do?” I asked the healer, who was wrapping a fresh bandage around Papa’s leg. She shook her head, and looked away from me. I sighed and got up. Being in the tent was stifling, and each minute grew more stuffy. I patted Papa’s feathers and went outside for some air.

I plopped into the sand just as two angels hovered by. I looked up curiously. It was Captain Jael and the healer with blue robes, clutching an armful of yellowed scrolls.

“There has to be some way to help them,” she pleaded.

“Charmeine, this plant of yours is in the middle of devil territory. I’m not risking my troops for Graceleaf,” he said. Graceleaf? I’ve never heard of it before.

“It’s only fair that their wounds are healed too —”

He pushed past her roughly and flew away. Her shoulders drooped, and she finally noticed me.

“What’s Graceleaf?” I asked, standing up quickly.

“Did you hear everything?” Charmeine said, gripping the scrolls tightly.

I nodded. “Will it heal my dad’s leg?”

“Well, it’s just a story —”

“I can get it for you,” I said.

“Dear, you’re too young!” she said, frowning.

“I’m almost of age.”

“No, you need to stay here with your parents. Besides, the Captain forbids it.” She turned away and flew back into the hospital.


It wasn’t too hard to take her scrolls. She propped them on a mat with other medical supplies. She was busy mixing a salve and didn’t look up when I grabbed them. I hurried out of the tent and went to a secluded, shaded spot under the wall. I plopped down onto the sand, and unrolled the scrolls.

Strange, old Angelic runes were printed on the yellowed sheet, and I struggled to read them. Skimming the page, I eventually found Graceleaf listed.

Graceleaf – heals flesh wounds, blue leaves and thick stem, found in the Southern Barren Caves.

In another scroll was a detailed map.


My dagger was in its sheath, tied around my waist. My pack had a waterskin and some food in it. I hoped that this wouldn’t take long. I couldn’t stop thinking of all the horrors awaiting me — barbarian demons, fire pits and more. But I had to do this for Papa. What else could I do?

I pushed away a stone, revealing a hole in the wall, something I noticed long ago but never went through. It was tiny, but I fit. I squeezed through on my hands and knees, the rock scraping against my wings. I emerged outside, the sand already blowing hard. In front of me, Hell stretched out. I scanned the horizon for demons, but there were none that I could see.

It was disturbing being on the other side of the wall, like devils could attack at any moment. Hell seemed even bigger, its deserts stretching out in the far distance. I started flying. Every few minutes I saw a dented shield, chunk of armor, or broken sword. I had never been near the plains where angels and demons had fought for millennia; I’d only heard scattered stories from Mama and Papa.

Eventually, as the day became hotter, I needed to rest. I headed over to the shaded lip of a rock. I plopped down and drank slowly from my waterskin. Water washed over my parched throat, and I felt better.


The sun rose higher as the day went on. I traveled through vast plains and dried up river beds. Sweat dripped down my face, and I wiped it away quickly. My tunic clung to my skin, soaked through. I stopped at a stream and drank greedily from it, filling my bottle until it overflowed.

There were more strange sights as I traveled through Hell. Tiny red imps watched me from behind a rock, scattering when I turned around. In one plain was a black monolith, with strange markings on it. I looked closer at the squiggles and shapes. In its center was a drawing of a horned demon, bat wings stretched outwards in mid-flight. I turned away from the monument reluctantly, running my fingers over its smooth surface.

In another valley was a boiling pit of fire. Shadows waved from beneath the lava, and a strange whispering sound filled the air. So beautiful…

I moved on, past the lake of fire and onto the next ridge. As I crossed the crest of a hill, a valley opened beneath me. I gasped, bile rising in my throat. It was an abandoned battlefield. The dirt was stained with gore. Bodies rotted in the sun, their guts exposed by scavengers. Feathers, stuck to the rocks with clots of blood, were stained red. Angel and demon flags, tattered and worn, flapped in the breeze. The stench was horrific, a thousand times worse than the hospital tent. I vomited, and it splattered on a charred rock.

I threw up until there was nothing left in my stomach, trembling the entire time. Finally, I stood up shakily, tears running down my cheeks. It had been going so well, I had pretended this was just a trip. Now, all I could think about was Mama, facedown in the dirt, in a plain just like this one, never coming back. What if she was here, in this battlefield?

I stood there for a moment, not looking away from the ground. If I saw the battlefield one more time, I might never leave. Slowly, I flew forward, wiping the tears from my face. No matter how scared I became, I would remember why I was doing this, for Papa.

I went away from the battlefield, forever burned into my mind, and I approached a cave. It was dark inside, and I paused for a moment.

I took a few steps, the sand growing cool against my sandals. Another step and I was enveloped in darkness. But in the distance, something glowed on the cave walls. I flew forward and sighed with relief. A plant glowed, tethered to the walls. I could now see my surroundings and looked around. The cave was vast and chilly. Several different entrances were scattered around the cavern.

I flew through the tunnel. Water droplets dripped onto my head and my hands grazed moss on the walls. I heard the sound of trickling water against stone in the distance. Finally, I emerged into a natural cavern. The stream ran through, carrying clear water. An array of plants grew along the stream’s banks, glowing in the darkness.

The Graceleaf had vibrant blue leaves, I remembered. I flew over to the herb. It sprouted through the cool cavern mud, glowing a light blue. I pulled one plant out, its roots pale and dangling. I took all the sprigs I could find, and placed them in my bag carefully. I smiled and thought of Papa. His ugly gashes would close up and he wouldn’t have to lose his leg! The extra Graceleaf could help the others injured.

Time to go It’s getting dark, I thought. I hurried through the cave and back outside. It was already late afternoon, and the sun would set soon. I didn’t think of the monument, or the lake, or even the battlefield. Just the hospital and Papa.

As I entered a plain, there was the sound of flapping wings, and I hid behind a rock. Voices in the Abyssal language, rang out. I peered out carefully. There were two demons herding a crowd of scaly brown creatures. One was a young girl, the other, an older man, both with crimson skin.  I slowly got up and backed away until my foot slipped, and I fell onto the ground. The demons turned around and looked at me.  

I froze as they came closer and said something in Abyssal. The girl flew closer to me and reached out her hand. I took it reluctantly, and she helped me up.

“Are you really an angel?” she said, in accented Angelic. I nodded slowly, and she beamed, her black bat wings flapping. “Wow!” She reached out and touched my feathers. The other demon — her father I guess — looked at me distrustfully. He put an arm around the girl and pulled her back.

“Where is the outpost?” I asked. The girl cocked her head. She whispered into her father’s ear, then turned back to me.

“Over that hill,” she said and pointed at a spot to the left.

Before I flew away, she asked, “Is the sky blue in Heaven?”

I looked at her hopeful face and remembered what Papa said. “Yes,” I said and flew away. Behind me, the girl waved until I disappeared behind a dune.


The sun was almost completely gone by the time I saw the gates. The guard at post saw me in the distance and flew towards me. It was Flauros. “Abby, what happened? The camp was looking for you,” he said furiously. Then he hugged me.

“I’m fine, but I need to see Papa now,” I said, my face turning red, and I wriggled out of his grasp.

I flew past him and through the camp, people calling out my name. I ignored them and headed directly to the hospital. I rushed into the tent, and flew toward Papa. He was sleeping on a blanket, his feverish, red face relaxed. Charmeine was redressing his wounds and looked up when I entered.

“Where were you? You didn’t — ” I pulled a sprig of Graceleaf from my bag. She gasped and said, ”You went by yourself?”

I asked, “Can you heal Papa now?” Charmeine’s face went white, but she nodded. She took the sprig and began to mix the poultice.

“Where is she?” I heard from outside the tent, and Mama rushed in. She hugged me tightly, her face wet with tears. “I thought you were dead,” she said furiously. Her armor was still coated in dust from the day’s battle, and a bandage was wrapped around her arm.

“I’m fine, but Papa needs to be healed,” I said and looked over at Charmeine. She finished mixing the herb in a bowl, now a gooey blue substance. Carefully, she dipped her fingers into the mixture and applied it to Papa’s wounds. We watched as the rotten gashes in his leg closed, formed into angry red scars, which faded to pink, then white, then finally disappeared.


Flauros and I sat at the guard post. By noon, it was already a scorching day, and I wiped sweat from my face.

The past few days had been hectic. I was glad I wasn’t punished much for leaving the outpost, besides helping Charmeine with the Graceleaf garden. After Mama had a talk with him, Captain Jael suddenly retracted his threats to expel me from the outpost. Officials from Zion, Heaven’s capital city, visited, too. Wearing shiny armor and flowing robes unsuited to the desert, they gawked at the Graceleaf and how it healed every soldier in the outpost.

Earlier today, one of the Paragons approached me. Her armor hissing with smoke, she removed her golden helmet to reveal cold, yellow eyes. “Abaddon Brightsword?” she asked as I stood up from the Graceleaf I was watering. I looked at her, my eyes widening. Waves of heat rolled off of her, hotter than the desert air. “You’re an excellent candidate to become a Paragon. Don’t waste it by talking to devils.”

With that, she flew away, leaving a trail of smoke in her wake. How did she know that I talked to the demon girl and her father?

“How’s the garden going?” Flauros said, interrupting my thoughts.

“Hard to keep it watered, but we have volunteers,” I said, swinging my legs.

“What about your Pa?”

“He’s feeling much better. Should be ready to fight soon,” I said glumly. In a few days, Papa would be gone again. Hopefully, the Graceleaf would save him and the other soldiers sent to fight in this pointless war. Maybe Laylah would be safe too.

“Why so sad, Abby? You saved us,” Flauros said, wrinkling his brow.

“I’m not sad. Just thinking,” I said, looking at Hell’s horizon. The sky was such a nice color…




The cherub appeared at dawn. I stood, trembling in my new sandals. Mama and I had stayed up through the night to prepare, packing my bag and finding a clean tunic. She had even tried to mat down my curly hair with water, which hadn’t worked. Mama and Papa both fluttered behind me, their faces nervous.

It touched down. A thousand golden eyes blinked from the canvas of its crisp white wings.

“Abaddon Brightsword,” it stated. I clutched my bag tightly and flew forward. “You are chosen for duty in Purgatory.”

Mama gasped. Wasn’t that where Laylah was stationed? We’d stopped hearing from her a few months ago, when the devil attacks had grown more fierce.

I turned around and eyes filling with tears, hugged my parents. “Stay safe,” I told them.

“Goodbye, sweetheart,” Papa said.

“We love you.” Mama wiped away tears and pulled away. She rifled through a pocket and pulled out her dagger, in its worn leather sheath. She pressed it into my hands.

“Mama… ”

“You will be a fine soldier,” she said, and Papa nodded.

I turned my back on them and put the dagger in my belt.

“I’m ready,” I said to the cherub. A white, soft wing unfolded and wrapped around my body. The cherub took off, and I watched my parents’ forms grow small until they disappeared entirely.


The Beautiful Observer

I am an observer. I am not a participator. Chuck O’Malley is the participator. I think that was the root of the collision.

“That’s right, sir!” a well-fed smile informed me. “Just straight-up coffee and lattés.”

“So you don’t serve frappuccinos? Of any kind?”

“No, sir.” The cashier leaned into me, her eyes twinkling as if she could be telling me the location of some secret treasure. “But I can get the latté iced for you, if you want.”

I rolled my eyes and moodily produced my wallet. It was embarrassingly tattered. Needed to be replaced. I made a mental note. “Fine. How much is that?”

“The what?”

“The bow in your hair,” I snapped sarcastically. The corners of the cashier’s mouth suddenly flipped quite the opposite direction, and her sausage-like fingers shot up and fumbled with the frighteningly pink ribbon they found there. I sighed. “No, the iced latté.”

The smile was back. “Three twenty-five, sir.”

I had moved to Milton two days ago. It was named after the author, of course. I couldn’t have approved of the decision more, for to me, the town was truly a Paradise Lost. Four years of university education for a cramped apartment in a spot I had only been able to find on one map (and that was in the visitors’ center).

Oh, yes, I’d found a way to pay off my student loans. The blog paid for those. But living in New York? Aye, there’s the rub. So, I had moved to Milton. I had settled in my apartment, and I had bought a latté.

I trudged away from the counter and found a comfortable spot near the window, far from humanity. I opened my laptop and allowed the blue glow of the screen to wash over my face. I scanned the words that greeted me there.

Anonymously Collins

That was me— or rather, my blog. I had christened it as such, hoping there would be enough Collins’ at university to disguise my identity as Henry Collins, the guy who never scored a touchdown but scored a million followers and ten sponsors instead.

I began to type.

“Hiya.” It was a curious figure who interrupted the flawless, rhythmic tapping of my fingertips against the keys. I had been in perfect flow, relaying the recent stupidity of my cashier and artistically declaring my opinion on the declining employee standards of 21st century America. “Chuck O’Malley, at your service.” A large, expectant hand was suspended right in front of my nose, blocking my view of the words I was typing. It was hairy— very hairy; a wart-speckled lump of rough, weathered skin, smelling of mustard and smoke. There was no avoiding it. I met his gaze.


I almost felt sorry for him. The contrast between our two expressions could not have been more apparent. His smile was almost as big as his hand. I knew mine was nonexistent. His face reminded me of a bulldog’s, wrinkled and dimpled and splotched in almost every area possible, likely out of the pure exertion of maintaining such enthusiasm for existence. I expected mine looked more like a Chihuahua’s.

“Henry. Good name. New around here, aren’t you?”

I silently prayed a disinterested grunt would suffice to move him away.

It didn’t.

“You know,” he announced, pulling up a chair and plopping himself down across from me, “I once saved the life of a man named Henry.”

With all the subtlety I could muster, I attempted to catch the eye of a sympathetic employee. The cashier was thoroughly engrossed in picking a new song for the shop’s playlist. I made a mental note to report this once I was comfortably separated from the situation.

“Yup. See, I was walking down a bridge one night—  dark and horrid old place to begin with, only one working lamp on the thing, and even that was flickering.”

I sipped my latté. It tasted like smoke and mustard.

“Well, I see a blur I knew wasn’t usually there. Now, I’ll be the first to tell you I have the eyesight of a blind possum, but I says to myself, ‘That blur sure as hell looks just like the shape of a man!’ So I walk a little further. And, by God, it was a man. He was standing on the rail of the bridge, shakin’ and quiverin’, like one of them vibrating toys the ladies use. You’re a smart looking man, so you know that can only mean one thing.” He was still smiling, displaying each yellow tooth with ardent pride. This struck me as odd, considering the gravity of the account.

“So I start walking over to him. But Henry, I swear to you, the minute I put my foot down, the bastard jumps! Now I’m not the type to give up an’ call it quits just like that, no sir. I run down the side of that bridge, ripping my shirt and belt off and probably lookin’ like a chased chicken, and I plunge right into that icy cold water. You ever sat on a glacier, Henry?”

I shook my head.

“Well, lemme tell you, my ass was half frozen sitting on them glaciers in Alaska, but it was full frozen that night.”

Chuck continued to expound upon his adventure with an intriguing combination of verbal dramatics and charades. He showed me the stroke he used to reach the drowning citizen, held up my arm to visually express the depth of the water, and even roped an unassuming chair into the business by trapping it under his bulging arm to represent the position of the man as he was dragged to shore.

I did not know whether to be profoundly impressed or excusably repelled. It was a fascinating spectacle, this man, with his mid-air freestyle and unapologetic clichés. His eyes were almost glass-like; the faded kind you find by the sea. They sparkled under the haze of his age as the story intensified, a mixture of youth and decay I had scarcely seen in any other human being.

As the narrative came to a close, I found myself not quite as relieved as I had previously anticipated, but, rather, invigorated— launched into a new direction. Our conversation dwindled, I made my excuses with as much tact as possible, and we said our goodbyes.


The curiosity was that, after receiving a large amount of success in school, my blog had recently begun to decline due to internet trolls. These unidentified critics had taken upon themselves the duty of reminding me in the comments of every post that not everyone was interested in complaint articles— that the rest of the world wanted good news; a hero to root for, a champion. I had not found many of these in my experience, nor was I a fiction writer, therefore I had thoroughly disregarded these comments… and the sponsor notes… and the rapidly declining number of followers. But Chuck was a champion— a real-life, down-to-earth hero. His story could be the post I needed— perhaps the one that would get me back to New York.

I saved my draft and returned to the charming cashier. She had taken to blowing bubbles nearly as large as her face with her pink gum, loudly smacking it between attempts.

“Do you know that guy?” I whispered, producing a blue notebook and a ballpoint pen from my pocket. Carefully hiding it under the counter, I scribbled out a brief overview of Chuck’s story while awaiting her response (she had been mid-bubble).

“Of course I know him.” She finally chomped. “That’s Chuck. He comes here all day, every day.”

“Does he?” I mused, hardly interested in his daily schedule. “And do you know anything about this rescue he performed? The suicide incident? You did see him perform it for me, didn’t you?”

“Oh, I saw him. He does carry on.”

I chuckled.

“I see you’re a cynic, too. But really, you don’t believe him?”

“Do you?”

Her round, pale hand was pointing to another customer who had been sitting alone in the opposite corner of the shop. I say “had been” because he was quite the opposite of alone just now. Chuck was positioned directly across from him, standing on a chair, yelling down at some unseen damsel supposedly trapped in a cavern below. He then proceeded to jump off the chair, retrieve a stray cup lying on the ground, lasso the top of the chair with a mimed rope and hoist himself up onto it again. Then, with a flourish, he plunked the plastic cup back down on the table and triumphantly declared, “And that’s how I rescued her!” The man in the opposite corner sighed and warily returned to his reading.

“Are you saying he tells these stories to everyone who walks in?” I gawked. Being a man of the world, I considered myself the least likely person to underestimate the extent of human flaw, but this was a phenomenon I could never have anticipated.

The cashier nodded mournfully. “Different story every time. Always some sort of rescue, like he’s the town hero. I expect he’ll be wanting us to make him mayor before long.”

“Well, it’s certainly bad from a business standpoint,” I grunted, stuffing my notebook and pen back into my pocket in a decidedly deflated manner. “He has to be deterring customers. I know I won’t be coming back. Why don’t you kick him out?”

“Boss’ rules. I keep tryin’ to tell her, but she always says we can’t turn out Chuck. Sometimes I wonder if she’s taken a fancy to him.”

“Not likely,” I muttered, wrinkling my nose at having just caught a stray whiff of smoke and mustard.

I published my cashier post that night. The usual comments, naturally ensued. I was steadfastly determined not to return to Miss B’s Coffee House, mainly to press the point that inaction would inevitably deter customers, but somehow the idea of Chuck would not escape my mind. He was useless as an article subject (the one thing worse than the absence of a hero is a fake hero), yet nevertheless the mere fact of his existence and the questions that he raised relentlessly taunted my brain. Why did he spend every day of his life at a coffee shop from dawn to dusk? Was there any truth to his unfathomable tales? And, most irritating of all, what was his motive?

It was either these questions or the incessant banging of my upstairs neighbors that kept me awake and sweating in my bed that night.


About five o’clock the next evening, I found myself returned to precisely the same table in Miss B’s Coffee House. Apparently, in a battle between a stubborn boycott and the ties of curiosity, curiosity will, inevitably prevail.

I regretted it the moment I sat down.

“Henry!” He announced my presence with a boisterous cry and a charismatic embrace. “You still carrying that computer around? What are you, some kind of spy?”

“Almost.” I smiled feebly. “I’m a blogger.” The twinkle in his eye had suddenly been snuffed out and replaced by a look of stunned confusion. “I write articles and post them online.” Still no signs of comprehension. “On the computer.”

In a flash of revelation, the glint was restored. I secretly welcomed its return. “Well, why didn’t you say so?” he mirthfully snorted. “Now, Henry, I’ve got just the story for your next little computer article. See, a few years ago I found a nice looking young lady, probably no more than sixteen years old, caught up in a nail right in the middle of a railroad track…”

A miniature woman— no more than five feet, and furnished with a pristine, black bun deliberately knotted atop her dainty head— had emerged from the back of the store and was speaking to the young cashier in a firm, adamant voice.

“Miss B?” I called out, hardly knowing why. I rose from my seat and left Chuck to carry the teenager-on-a-train-track story to his next victim. She did not acknowledge my presence until just before retreating into the back room.


I knew it had been her. Something about that fastidious bun had screamed the name to me. “Henry Collins.” I offered my hand and most trustworthy smile. She shook the hand, but seemed skeptical of the rest. “I just had a few questions about Chuck.” I lowered my voice (even though there was no question of him hearing, as his own voice was loud enough to engulf every conversation in the room, regardless of volume). “I thought you might be the woman to tell me. First, why does he stay here all day, and—”

“Mr. O’Malley does as he pleases, and we’re happy to host him, Mr. Collins. I hope you enjoy the rest of your day.”

The response was so cryptic, so rehearsed, that it automatically made me stiff. I forced myself into a somewhat casual stance and repositioned my credible expression.

“I don’t think you understand. I’m a blogger. I write articles on the computer.”

“I know what a blogger is.”

“Then you know what kind of business a story like this could attract,” I continued, refusing to be flustered by this miniature woman and her laconic replies. “Obviously, I can’t make you any promises, but if you could assure me even one of his stories is true, this could be ‘Miss B’s Coffee House, Home of the Famous Chuck O’Malley’ before long.”

“There’s nothing that needs be famous about Mr. O’Malley or my coffee shop,” she replied, coolly as ever.

In my excitement, I had come so close to her face I could see the silver hairs mingled within that unshakable, stubborn bun. I sighed. “Alright, I understand. But would you at least tell me why you just let him hang around like this? I’m sure you’re aware of the implications for your customers.”

“The way I see it, there are some things you just don’t mess with.”

I opened my mouth to object, but was cut off by the pigtailed cashier: “You should ask him about Winifred.” Miss B fired an icy glare in her direction. It was the most expression I had seen on her face until now. That’s how I knew it was something worthwhile.


“Watch this,” the cashier giggled. “This”, seemed to delight her almost as much as the prospect of an iced latté the day before. I observed dutifully. “Hey, Chuck,” she yelled. “Tell Mr. Henry about Winifred.”

The glint in his eye was snuffed out entirely. He returned the chair he had been holding to its place upon the floor— slowly, as if it were a small child who may fall if set loose too quickly. The milky haze about his eyes seemed thicker, and for a moment you could hardly see the blue lying hidden inside. He sat down.

“They make the beautiful obscene,” he whispered.

It was the strangest sentence to hear hissing through Chuck’s lips. Admittedly, just minutes before, I would not have supposed he knew how to say it. He turned to face the window at the same time, meditatively inspecting the fog and the damp that clung to the glass, and I knew he was not speaking to the cashier, or the boss, or me. He was saying it to himself. We were invisible.

The customer sitting opposite him seemed relieved. He huffed and picked up a newspaper. The cashier was, obviously, irrepressibly contented with herself.

Miss B, on the other hand, wore a reverence on her withered face that made it almost melt, like a chilled stick of butter laid out in the sun. “People don’t talk like that unless they seen a little piece of hell, Mr. Collins,” she murmured. “Things like that… well, it ain’t my place touch them.”


They make the beautiful obscene.

The words haunted me for the next twenty-four hours. I could not write, could not breathe, could not think without seeing them— visualizing them in my mind’s eye, typed out over and over, rendering new meaning at each repetition, and pacing. Pacing for uncounted hours. Something within me wanted to own them, to feel them, to devour them in the same way one desires a lover. They were the keys to the mind— no, the soul— of Chuck O’Malley. But they were like smoke. They could not be held. And why I cared, I may never be able to tell.

I wanted to type them the way I’d envisioned. I wanted to see them on my blog and methodically tie some profound truth to each solitary syllable. But the more I tried to uncover their secrets, the deeper they hid, the more obscure and unfathomable they became and the more they teased and agitated my intelligence.

My upstairs neighbors were battering my ceiling with admirable vigor that day. At times I heard raised voices, or perhaps only one voice— a shriek, or a small dog. It was a comical coincidence, the jabs of the outside world mingled with the interminable frustration of the mind. It sent my brow into an insufferable headache.

Nevertheless, I realized (admittedly a bit late) that I was not entirely alone in my perusal of Chuck’s words. Winifred could explain them to me. Her story would, in itself, unlock their meaning and, I suspected, spur the revival of Anonymously Collins. Therefore, Chuck was, essentially, my newest hit post in human form. My only obstacle would be something the cashier had said just before my departure. Chuck refused to say anything else at the mention of Winifred’s name. I quickly plotted to surmount this with a few tricks left over from journalism school and thought nothing more of it.


I reentered Miss B’s coffee shop that afternoon with quite a scheme concocted and a title for the post already in mind. The Beautiful Obscene, it was christened, and I paraded it within my own fantasies as adoringly as a mother parades her newly baptized infant. However, the moment I walked through the metal door, resounding the ever-cheerful bell so artfully attached to it, I was welcomed in a decidedly hostile manner by the foreboding Miss B. Her lips were pursed almost as tight as her bun.

“He ain’t here, Mr. Collins.”

“Who?” I chuckled as if I didn’t know.

“Mr. O’Malley.”

“Ah, no matter.”

I forced myself to peruse the faded menu etched in chalk just above her head. There was shamefully little material there to occupy the silence growing steadily denser between us. The words tumbled suddenly out of my mouth, pushed by anxiety.

“This is unusual for him, right? I was told he came all day, every day.”

“Usually does, but once in awhile, he don’t show. He’ll be back tomorrow.”

It was worded as an encouragement, but by her expression I could tell she would rather I not return tomorrow, or frankly, any day after that. I made my exit after stiffly ordering the cheapest drink available.  


It was as if God himself had decided to hammer every square foot of my ceiling. The pounding and throbbing of my neighbors’ floor had begun to sync with the agonizing pulse of my aching head.

By some sick twist of fate, Chuck O’Malley had not repelled me. I had repelled him. More importantly, I had repelled his story.

I could hear what the woman was shrieking now (no, it was not a small dog): “Get out! Get out, you pervert! I hate you!” Over and over.

I did not have the motivation to call the police. They would sort it all out or file for divorce, eventually. I was mentally exhausted and the safe patter of hot shower water felt warm and tranquilizing to my skin. Her shrieks were muffled, now, by the white roar of the water. I let them be.

But they persisted as I stumbled onto the tile floor— a clean, dripping mess. Having no capacity for further disturbance that evening, I shoved my dirty clothing back on in the moody excess of martyrdom and trudged out of the apartment, into the icy night air. I thought of Chuck’s analogy, the one about sitting on a glacier, and I would have probably chuckled a bit to myself if not for the annoyance rising steadily within me. I plotted the most effective way to inform my neighbors of their insupportable behavior and its effects on my head.

I entered the main building (mine was the only apartment facing outside) and turned to the door I knew to be placed directly above my living room— apartment 201. The commotion had ceased, if only for a moment. Instead, a man’s voice came muffled through the wooden door. I’d never noticed a man’s voice there before. It was soft and gravelly and broken, yet there was something strikingly familiar in its tone I could not place.

“Come on, sweetcakes,” it said. “I just wanted to spend a day with you.”

I snorted to myself at this vain attempt to save an obviously hopeless relationship. Then, raising my hand, I beat at the rusted door knocker.

The door swung open so suddenly, that with a blink, I had missed it. Chuck O’Malley was standing in front of me, his eyes sagging with weariness and that haze like the Milky Way so thick that not even a star could penetrate it. All emotion was stripped from his face, leaving only a man— an elderly, splotched, smelling man, uncombed, half-dressed, and tired. My calculated words vanished instantaneously from my mouth.

Chuck opened the door just far enough to fit himself through the space. That was when I saw her.

It was the kind of sight that can strangle a man without touching his body.

She was shriveled, hunched and as ragged as the pale, sickly, ripped wallpaper surrounding her. Her wild, gray hair was matted and twisted into every entanglement imaginable. I thought I saw a piece of it dangling out of her left hand. She was barefoot. Her feet and hands resembled cobwebs of mangled bones and protruding, blue veins. Her yellow nightdress looked as though a young woman may have worn it in the fifties, but now, it was a thing too used for this world. Her face was so deflated that her cheeks resembled nothing but shadowed caverns and her eyes were so wild and wide, that they were more white than brown.

But the rich, chestnut brown they held was beautiful— beautiful like warm brownies on a snowy afternoon; truly, stunningly beautiful.

“Stay here, Winnie. Henry’s a friend of mine. We’re gonna have a little talk. I’ll be back before you know it.”


My chest couldn’t decide whether to swell or collapse.

“I hope you never come back,” Winifred hissed as Chuck stepped out. She spat on the floor, wringing her hands and glowering at me with a bloody, white lip.

The door closed.

Chuck stared into me with wide, pleading eyes.

“She was the prettiest girl in high school,” he choked.

I nodded as if I knew.

We stood in the hall for half an hour. Chuck spoke with murmured words, avoiding my gaze and shuffling in circles. He shifted between telling me and himself, sometimes drifting so close that at times I could count the white hairs on his thick, wrinkled arm and then drifting so far that I strained to hear him. As he talked, I noticed a plain, golden band reflecting the little light in the room off of one of his fingers. I had never noticed it there before.

Chuck’s wife had been raped two months after their wedding. She was walking home from her work, he was at his. It was a tragedy he never could have prevented. Even so, “I didn’t save her,” were the words he whispered twice after telling me.

She didn’t tell him for three years. She hid the trauma within herself and allowed her mind to grow weaker and weaker under its weight. Then, in Chuck’s words, she snapped. Perhaps her brain had been damaged somehow by her attacker. Perhaps it was simply too much to take in. Whatever it was, it made her hate Chuck. Some days she had threatened to throw herself out of windows or onto a knife if he did not agree to leave the house. His parents advised him to leave her to the institutions. He wouldn’t. Instead, he had moved to Milton. He had settled in an apartment, and he had gone to Miss B’s.


I sat in my apartment at the wake of the day. The comfort of the place seemed subdued by the blue shadows and restless quiet that gripped the air. There was a chill making the hairs on my arms stand erect, like stiff and resolute soldiers, but I did not have the energy— no, the interest— to warm them. My hair was restlessly tussled. My eyes bagged so that I looked more like Chuck than ever. I had not looked in a mirror for the last twelve hours, but I had been staring at my face reflected in the computer screen for the last two.

I had to write. There are some things that cannot be processed but through tapping of keys. But how to summarize it? Could, or rather, should, it be summarized at all? The world had made Chuck’s wife a monster, but it did not end there. Witnessing her descent had brought out a kind of obscenity in Chuck, too. It had caused him to deny his reality.

I could not write about Chuck. No, his story seemed untouchable to me now— it was too tender, too raw, too real for the page. I would write about the concept— the one he couldn’t stop repeating, the one responsible for distorting his life forever. I gently tapped out the title I had tenderly composed such a little, yet such a long, time ago.

The Beautiful Obscene

One golden beam reached its silent arm to brush the tip of my computer screen. It brought warmth to my arms as I stretched them out to type. I played with the keys, and then I began to write.


“There is none.
You are stuck in a trash compactor.” – Star Wars
Hope is a test
A test you have not studied for
A test you cannot study for
A test you will fail
… at least that is what some will say
But Hope is not what people tell You
Hope is what YOU make!
You make hope for Yourself
You can make Hope for Others
You can be Hope
Hope is free and Hope is great
I love Hope
I Hope you find it too
I will always love Hope



Some people have courage

I do not always think I had it

But now I know I did


Everyone has courage,

Courage to do what makes them happy


Courage is a choice

A choice is always on the table

If you want to do something great, you should

Because courage is a beautiful thing


It is free… and yes

Courage is not easy

But if you really want something


You will find it!


Search for it

It is there

It has always been there




birds singing


the birds sang your song best when I first fell into you

When you first tickled my palm

On those warm july mornings


the serum of their melody

like cough syrup

dwindling down the cavity of my chasm

–– oh!

what a hymn!

the climax of something

of everything

of the in between

of the organ as the keys quake my small steeple

Slicing away at the foundation

I thank god

For his divine intervention that brought your song to me

as I scratch at your hand

trying to get used to the elevation


the birds sighed your stolen song most begrudgingly right after you left

To kiss another’s cheek

On those icy December mornings

like Satan himself

whispering velvet into my ear about how you’re not here

licking mocks of your blessings on my wrist

–– ah!

it’s blasphemy

the kiss of sweet sacrilege

molten saliva dripping down my jaw

all around me is black

except for your old tee shirt ––

as my stars

–– but you’re lightyears away with a galaxy named after a different sun


the birds still sing your beaten-up song

When she broke your heart

And you flew back to me

But I grew tired of hearing it

The grass grew slowly here

The grass grew slowly here, popping out of the ground already browned from the heat of the sun. There were fields of dry land everywhere you looked, lining every dirt road you could rumble over in your pickup truck, framing every run down house for miles, and crawling over the endless abandoned farm land. But the one place you could bank on never seeing a stray sprout of anything but perfection was the high school football field. It had taken them years to build the stadium, agonizing over each row of the stainless steel bleachers and each speck of turf that took its place on the floor. It was ironic really, considering the fact that the pure purpose of the field was to be abused by aggressive teenage boys. That was the dream though, to be one of those bodies filling the sweat covered and dirt stained nylon uniforms. And the children of the static town were never allowed to forget it.


From a young age, the dream was planted in their minds after being packed into the bed of the family pick up truck, full of blankets and barbeque for the tailgate, as they winded down the dirt roads towards the stadium. And upon arrival they would scramble out, knocking over endless condiments in the process, as their dirt coated bare feet padded over the dried grass. There were over a hundred of them, it seemed as all the little boys formed their own premature game of football to pass the time before the real fun started. You could see it in their eyes; the aching hunger to follow in the footsteps of their older brothers, cousins, fathers, and even grandfather’s. With each pass that flew from the spindly fingers of the chosen pseudo quarterback for that day, the children fell into step with the rest of the town. Building themselves around something that was for sure to never fall, or so they thought. As the adults gathered around the growing peewee game, their faces contorted into eyebrow raises while they shared knowing glances, whispering and pointing. Already, these boys had no chance. No chance to escape the future that had been laid out for them, the one in which they were forced to carry on the legacy of the otherwise good-for-nothing town.


And slowly, the large crowd dwindled down to a couple of stragglers and empty beer cans strewn around the pick up trucks that were parked scattering the field. That was when the roar of the crowd began, and really it wasn’t even a crowd; it was the town, the entire *** town. All the stores and restaurants boarded up reading, “gone to game,” in red block letters, just as if you squinted hard enough you could see a dust bunny make its way down the main boulevard.


It wasn’t much of a town to begin with, but on Friday nights, there was no town besides the football field. The only witness to the blinding lights and the enormous roars of the crowd was the darkening sky that twinkled above the town that some would call blessed.


Trapped Part 1

Why do i feel this way?

Why am i trapped in a box?

Why do i feel like i can’t breathe?!

Why do i feel like  i can’t get  out of this box?

Why can’t i speak?

But when i try to speak nobody can hear me.

I’m trapped in this box where nobody can hear me.

Is it because i push people away and didn’t listen to what they have to say?

Or maybe i’m out the box but why do i feel so trapped on the inside?

Maybe i’m still in the box.

But i feel like i can’t speak and tell them how i feel.

Does that still mean i’m in the box trapped?

I feel like i’m in a small space where i can’t move.

Am i just trapped in this box forever?

Because on the inside i’m melting.

The Neighborhood Cadaver

When she was twelve, I was fifteen.

She wore a bunny suit. No one talked about it.

Before she was a bunny, though, she was the neighborhood cadaver.

Being of mixed race, and having developmental problems, not very many people knew what to do with Indigo when she was presented to them. Schooling was not something her father found necessary. In the evenings, he would leave for work, and leave her lying in whatever room in the house she’d fallen asleep in, and he wouldn’t return for days at a time. If Indigo wasn’t an independent child, she had no choice but to be.

In the afternoons, after all the other kids returned home from school and dropped their bags off in the mudrooms of their homes, they’d flood the streets and start playing random games they’d created out of boredom and a lack of resources. Indigo would emerge from her sleepy little two-bedroom home on the corner and wander down the road, attempting to find a group of children that would allow her to join them.

She’d always end up at the feet of Finn, the neighborhood ginger, who would say something along the lines of, “You could play the dead girl,” and Indigo, who was just happy to be acknowledged, would nod and wait for Finn to point her to whatever spot it was that she was supposed to go play dead.

She’d spread herself out over whatever portion of the pavement or square of the sidewalk she was instructed to, and the little sisters of the boys out in the street would creep their way up to her corpse and trace her in different colored chalk, attempting to create their own juvenile form of a crime scene. While they did so, they’d ask her questions about her hair, and why she never went to school, and where her daddy was, and why her mommy didn’t exist anymore.

Indigo would just lie there, and after much pestering, would whisper, “Dead girls don’t talk.”

Around this same time, I was sixteen, and the oldest one on the street. My job was to sit on the front porch with R.C. and Drexel, two other older kids, and smoke and play cards and mediate any dispute that arose from their morbid little games. Cops and Murderers, or Who Killed The Gimp, or whatever it was that served as Indigo’s cause of death, and in between to scrawny boys running up to me asking who was out and who was in, I would watch Indigo lie there in the street, being the prettiest dead girl I’d ever seen.

They’d play until their mothers would come to the front doors of their houses and shout for their children to come in for supper. Then, group by group, they’d detach themselves from their morbid little game and go on home covered in dirt and scratches, sweat and youth, until there was only Indigo, and there was only me.

When everyone ran home and left Indigo underneath the heat of a light post, I’d come on over and shake her awake, and she’d thank me before running up the front path of her house and waving at me from the other side of the front door.

When I returned home from the war, she was nineteen and she thought she was dying, and I was twenty-two, and thought I already had.


The Wordwielder

The man we call Wordwielder lives in a curious little cottage, far enough outside of town to eat a whole apple before you arrive. It’s a bit taller than the oaken forest that surrounds it, made up of rickety stories that taper smaller and smaller, up to a tiny little belfry. It’s a bit like a witch’s hat. When I first saw it, I was afraid it would fall over, with the way its different floors cantilever outwards in so many directions.

I know better now, though. I can walk across the little grove, along the cobbled path, up to the stone steps. If I knock three times, not two, or four, but three times — bap bap bap on the door — then the Wordwielder will let me in. Inside, there’s a grand foyer, with a ceiling way above my head with chandelier stalactites. It seems bigger than it should be.

Once when I asked the Worldwielder about this he smiled, gave me a pat on the head, and hinted, “non-Euclidean,” before climbing the great big staircase to the places above. And oh, there are so very many places above. A bathroom like the Romans used to use, with caldarium and tepidarium and frigidarium and all. A labyrinthine library, so tall it echoes. A steamy greenhouse, lush with plantlife. An ornate dining room, with a great big table always laden with every food I could ever dream of and so many I can’t. A dormitory of guest rooms, separated by strange paper doors painted with beautiful scenes. And at the very top, a spiral staircase that leads back outside, to the peak of a minarette higher in the air than a mountaintop.

Sometimes, the Wordwielder sends me on errands. He tells me I should go into the woods and find just the right rock, one I like the best, and take it back to him. He’s never satisfied with the first one I bring though, or the second one, either. Only the third or the fourth will he accept. When he does, though, he lifts it up to his lips, and whispers, “Auriferous” to it like a lullaby. When he hands it back to me after that, it’s much heavier, and shiny, and dull yellow. He tells me to take it to the village’s market, and gives me a list of things to trade it for.

The merchants recognize me – the butcher, the cobbler, the tailor, the farmer and the blacksmith. One of them takes the heavy yellow rock and looks and my list, and talks to the others, and they all give me whatever the Wordwielder asked for. No matter if it’s the meat of the fattest cow, the most ornate silken raiments, the most masterfully forged steel, the best-tanned leather shoes, or the oldest wine. They hand it over with a smile, no questions or haggling. If there’s too much for me to carry, they even lend me a wagon and a horse.

I asked my grandmother why they do that. Whenever I come with her to the market, all the merchants will bargain for hours over the price of something as simple as a loaf of bread, let alone their finest wares. Her answer was cryptid, simply stating that: “With the debt that everyone owes to that man… they’re amazed that he pays them at all. If they gave him their whole stock, a hundred times over… they might just barely be even.”


One day, something strange happened. I left the cottage to run the Wordwielder’s errands, and when I came outside, I found a great formation of knights standing on the lawn, taking up the whole clearing around the house, and filling far into the forest as well. The leader, a fat man with a crown, sat upon a horse, barked at me to fetch my “master.” I started to go back inside, and ran right into the Wordwielder; I stuttered to him about what was happening, panicked, but he only smiled and patted my head in silent consolation, before gently positioning me behind him. The kingly man mounted on the steed addressed him, commanding the Wordwielder to come with them, and be indentured as a warrior in their army. The Wordwielder clearly showed the man three fingers, extended into the air, then curled down one of them, and sung, “Begone.” And so, the knights went away, for the rest of that day.

The next day, however, they were back, and I thought I saw more of them. This time Wordwielder told me to stay inside. No matter – I climbed on up to the greenhouse, and looked down at the scene from above, through its tinted panes. The leader of the army seemed more adamant today, his face growing red as he shouted, but I could not hear what he said. Whatever the conversation was, the Wordwielder showed him the same three fingers, and this time bent down two. Then, he spoke, and I heard through the walls and the air:  “Nosferatu.” With that word an infectious terror gripped the hearts of the many knights, and they scattered and fled away from the cottage.

On the third day, the legion was already there in the early morning, before even I arrived. I could see monstrous catapults and bastillas at the back of the columns, and I was afraid for the Wordwielder. I snuck around the army, taking a long route to approach the cottage from behind. I arrived in time to overhear the bellow of the angry King; “-if you do not help us now, that Nordic bastard will defeat us. And once he does, you’ll be next!” The Wordwielder only raised three fingers to him, and clenched them all down into a fist. “Thermopylae” rang out from his mouth, and a great shade was laid across the whole army. I looked to the sky, to see what was casting it, and saw a swarm of arrows dropping from the clouds, like a rainstorm. They struck the knights, the stallions, and the trees alike – nothing was safe from them. When the last missile had fallen, the Wordwielder’s clearing was a graveyard, and the ground was sewn with broken shafts and blood.

The day after that, it was all back to normal. The corpses, the arrows, all the blood – it was gone, as though it had never been. The Wordwielder acted as though nothing ever happened. Perhaps he thought I didn’t know about the massacre. But I never pressed him about it, never brought it up. I understood better why nobody ever questioned him, from then on.

Time passed. Weeks, fortnights, years. I grew taller, and less naive. I was able to put the incident from that day behind me, to forgive the Wordwielder for what he’d done. I think I pieced together what was he was. A dragon. A dragon who’d gathered together a treasure horde, and who guarded it ruthlessly against anyone who might try to take it from him or him from it. The village, and all the people in it, was his horde. I didn’t like that, at first. I thought his greed was selfish… but, I came to realize that in many ways, it was selfless, too. In the end, I decided I did not mind the dragon who had claimed my village as his own.

That is, until the day another dragon came to visit.

I was in the market, as typical, ordering the typical list of atypical items. It was then that a snivelling young man made an appearance, a mop of snow-fair hair upon his head, and a battle axe across his back. He sought me out in short order, cuffing me about the neck, much the surprise and fright of the other townsfolk. I supplied them with a calming gesture, to let them know everything was alright, but the cutthroat hissed something that sent a chill down my spine.


I felt myself wholeheartedly compelled by the crude command, for I understood at once what he wanted. With a parting wave to my neighbors, I advanced out of the marketplace, beyond the edge of the village, and out into the forest. The Norseman followed, having produced a dagger that he held just between my shoulder blades. We reached the Wordwielder’s cottage faster than I ever remember reaching it before. He was already there, waiting outside it, leaning oh so lightly on an ebony walking cane.

When my captor caught sight of him, I felt an awful excitement grow inside of him, and he threw me to the ground and rushed forwards, towards the Wordwielder. The Norseman roared, “Burn!”, and the Wordwielder burst into a pyre of fire. I screamed in horror, and the Norseman cackled in triumph. My mentor’s corpse collapsed onto the ground, a smoldering husk. It crackled and popped and smoked for long heartbeats… and then, his voice rang out, from the sky and the forest and everywhere else, all at once: “Muninn.” And the world remembered him as he was moments ago, and he stood before us, unharmed and alive, looking displeased.

The Norseman stopped short, eyes wide as saucers – then he recovered, and shoved his hand forwards, and grunted, “Firebolt!” And undoubtedly, a gush of red heat spewed forwards in a wave at the Wordwielder. My mentor shook his head as though to deride his adversary and muttered “Babylon” under his breath, and an unseen wall swallowed the the flames before they reached him. The Norseman squealed in frustration, reaching back to draw his axe. “Sharp”, he threatened to its head, and then charged at the Wordwielder with his weapon poised to strike.

My mentor gave the handle of his cane a twist, and slid free from its shaft a thin, sleek sword, barely more than an overlong pen knife. He lifted it near to his lips and breathed upon its blade, “vorpal”, before drifting his feet into a simple fencing stance. The Norseman took a heavy-handed swing, but the Wordwielder parried it with a simple flick of his wrist, knocking away the axe and leaving a deep nick on its edge. It jarred the Norseman, and left him open for the canesword’s tip to carve a gash in his chest. He grit his teeth and hacked at the Wordwielder again, but a meager lateral block stopped that, and another counter-attack sent him wheeling backwards.

The Norseman shook his head and steeled himself, readying for another charge, but the Wordwielder’s utterance of “coup de grâce” blew him off his feet and landed him on his rear a yard behind, his weapon out of his grip. He groaned as he got back to his feet, then out of the corner of his eye, he saw an opportunity. He saw me. “Captive” was spat from the Norseman’s mouth, and I found myself ensnared by invisible bindings, as he rushed towards me. The Wordwielder realized what was happening a moment too late – he was already putting me in a headlock. I could almost feel him, sneering right behind my ear, flicking his dagger out and pressing its edge against my throat.

Stalemate,” he mocked at my mentor. And just then, I saw something claw across the Wordwielder’s features, something I had never seen before, and which to this day I hope no never see again. Contempt. Pure, utter, hatred, without reserve or regret. That raw fury, it flooded his throat and sank its fangs into his tongue and domineered him to seethe out: “Ibis!

The Norseman’s body began to convulse, and he hit the ground like a sack of potatoes, releasing me. I turned around to see his limbs beginning to be torn off his body at their joints, and rope marks appeared upon his wrists and ankles, as though he were being drawn and quartered. I looked quickly from his writhing form to the Wordwielder, who was scowling at him with scorn. Then, I heard a loud, fibrous ripping sound, and squeezed my eyes shut.

“Stop!” I begged, starting to hear a chopping sound coming from the Norseman’s body. The Wordwielder seemed fixated upon this punishment, almost entranced by it. I grit my teeth and tried to ignore it for as long as I could, the sounds of mortification, of gruesome torture, but eventually, I could no longer stand it. I ran at my mentor, and smacked him across the face. He was caught off guard, teetering to the side, before bracing off his cane and standing straight again. When he looked back at me, his expression was changed completely: a countenance filled with surprise, and partial confusion.

A world away, the Norseman, released from his torment, was gasping, lying on the ground. Despite being half-dead, he managed to choke out, “rejuvenate” to himself, and his shattered body began to mend itself. Before I could confront the Wordwielder about his actions, my mentor was pushing me out of the way to chase after his quarry, for the Norseman had gotten back to his feet, and was beginning to retreat into the woods. When he looked over his shoulder to see the Wordwielder coming towards him, he winced out “winged”, and a bead of blood ran from one of his nostrils, and fluffy wings bloomed from his back, beating the air desperately to get him up, up, and away from this tenacious, powerful foe.

Nevermore”, the Wordwielder decreed, and nightingale wings hugged his back, before unfurling to a mighty span, and bolstering him off the ground with one devastating flap. He shot past the Norseman, opening his wings to glide in place for just a moment, then reigning them in again to dive downwards and joust him with his canesword. The strike diced through one of the Norseman’s own wings, leaving him spinning out of control. The Wordwielder air-braked with a half-flap, improbably graceful, and swivelled in the air to again face his victim. With another burst of feathers, he cut past the Norseman again, and after that the canesword’s bloodridge was wetted, and the Norseman dropped straight downwards, hitting the ground with a thud.

After that day, I did not speak to the Wordwielder very often. I did not speak to anyone very often. I left the village, on a course to the North. I wanted to find the place that snivelling Norseman came from. To deliver condolences or to get answers or to enact vengeance, I didn’t yet know. And I never decided, either–for on the first night of my journey I slipped while skinning some game, and sliced my palm.

God dammit!” I swore. And He did. My knife became briny, crystals spiking out from it at random angles as a cracking sound ripped through the air. I dropped the tool when one grazed my cut, feeling salt on a wound. It broke into glassy shards on the ground.

I didn’t know what to do, but I was scared – terrified – so I clamped both hands over my mouth, and I ran. I ran through trees, across creeks, over stone walls and between hills. I didn’t let myself stop until I’d reached the clearing of the Wordwielder’s cottage. And when I finally got to there my legs were lead and my chest aflame, and I faded to darkness just as my the shadow of my mentor dropped over me.

From then on, I learned. I learned so much that I believe some of what was already there was pushed out of my head, because I forget about what the Wordwielder had done for a time. He taught me the speech of fingers, known only to the deaf and the dumb. He trained me never to talk with my mouth, not ever, not even to curse or to cry out a warning. He made me read – oh, how he made me read – book after book after book. Dictionaries, encyclopedias, poetry young and old, play scripts and novels, biographies and histories. I came to know a hundredfold more about the world than my grandmother had ever informed me.

Criminally Unjust: A Tale of Two Justice Systems

Sometime past three o’clock, on a warm July afternoon, Eric Garner stood in front of a Staten Island beauty supply store allegedly selling what are commonly referred to as “loosies” – untaxed cigarettes usually sold for between ten cents and a quarter.  Hulking, black, with a broad chest, the 43-year-old grandfather was often described by friends as the “neighborhood peacemaker”; an amiable giant endowed with a generous, congenial attitude.  With his back arched against the store’s window, he is swiftly circled by a band of NYPD officers. At first the interaction remains unremarkable; one officer, as the video reveals, can be seen indifferently chewing gum as Garner explains the predicament to the small congregation of cops. Ardently waving his arms, a frustrated Garner tells the officers, “every time you see me, you want to mess with me. I’m tired of it. Everyone standing here will tell you I didn’t do nothing.” To be clear, this story of dogged police harassment is one shared by many black men. Garner himself was arrested 31 times since 1980 – with only two charges yielding convictions. If his past history was any indicator, he indeed likely “didn’t do nothing.”

Yet, the exchange takes a hasty, tragic turn; what begins as a relatively peaceful discourse devolves into an Orwellian display of brutality. As Garner continues to complain, officers from both sides of the ring suddenly grab his shoulders, attempting to arrest him — notably without evidence of the so-called “loosies” they were originally seeking. He flinches in surprise, attempting to evade the officers’ forceful grasp. Yet rather than de-escalating the conflict – or giving the visibly shaken Garner a chance to regain composure – Officer Daniel Pantaleo’s muscular arms lock his neck in a chokehold.  Pantaleo constricts him with the authoritarian zeal of Judge Dredd, despite his desperate pleas for air. “I can’t breathe…I can’t breathe,” Garner begs, his consciousness slipping as the officer ceases to relent. For another 23 tortuous seconds, even after Garner falls to the ground, the officer continues to clench his neck, squeezing the life out of a man who two minutes prior was quietly idling in front of a store. When the officer finally subdues his boa-like constraint, the severity of Garner’s condition becomes evident: he lays lifeless on the sidewalk, prolonged oxygen deprivation having caused a massive heart attack.

The events of the now infamous video have evolved to become a symbol of police brutality; a rallying cry for those disaffected with our justice system.  Garner’s last words: “I can’t breathe,” have been adopted as the mantra of recent demonstrations. More importantly, unlike the shooting death of Michael Brown, whose case was enshrouded in a fog of conflicting witnesses and forensic reports, Garner’s death serves as an irrefutable, visceral testament to the violent excesses of law enforcement. Although the Grand Jury investigating Pantaleo’s conduct ultimately acquitted him of wrongdoing, much to the chagrin of civil rights activists, most who watched the video agree, at best, his behavior was an incompetent display of force. For others, the chokehold was a malicious tool of murder, driven by a more sinister undercurrent of racism. Even conservative commentator, Charles Krauthammer — not particularly known for his civil rights bona fides — noted that the grand jury’s decision was “totally incomprehensible.”

For most, Garner’s death has become a lesson in police brutality. Or the need to weed out bad cops. As   New York Police Commissioner, Bill Bratton, said in response to widespread demonstrations, we must remove officers who are “poisoning the well.” Body cameras, demilitarization, and increased regulations are all similar conclusions that have arisen from recent demonstrations and events. But largely absent from the outcry of protesters and public officials, has been the broader context; “the big picture.”  In a frenzy to vilify police officers, we have forgotten that they are not the enemy. Rather, we must acknowledge that bad systems make bad officers.

While it is quite possible that Pantaleo’s chokehold was the product of some sort of primordial sense of racism, it is equally, if not more likely, that his lethal use of force was the result of greater broken systems and broken policies.  We must treat Garner’s death not as the disease, but as a symptom of a broader justice system which increasingly equates poverty with crime.

One must understand that as our nation’s economic inequalities grow, so do the inequalities in our justice system: increasingly, race and class are determinants, not just of one’s income, but of one’s judicial treatment. On the surface America maintains the hallmarks of a healthy democracy: the right to vote, the right to a jury, and the right to an attorney. But underneath this glimmering sheen of equitable justice lies a dark labyrinth of policies and bureaucracies which ensure that we live in a nation of two justice systems: one for the rich and one for the poor.

To understand the magnitude of our increasingly fractured justice system, one does not need to prod particularly hard into the nuances of police behavior and government policy. In fact, many of the most egregious disparities between the treatment of the wealthy and poor are codified directly into our laws; a self-evident reality of our own legal existence.

On one end of the spectrum are crimes linked to poverty. These offenses such as drug possession, jumping turnstiles, loitering, and petty theft are non-violent misdemeanors primarily committed by those in poverty.  Often, these are crimes perpetrated out of necessity and generally have minor, if not negative impact on society.

Take drug possession – by far the most common source of non-violent crime.  In many disadvantaged neighborhoods, the selling and purchasing of drugs is a casual source of employment, where economic and educational opportunity otherwise remains low. Since many low-income households have little access to treatment programs and family support, rates of addiction also remain much higher. Therefore, it would seem that impoverished communities do not have a problem with crime, but rather with social and economic dysfunction. Yet in our near-dystopian penal code, drugs, as well as other non-violent crimes, are not viewed as a multidimensional symptom of entrenched poverty, but rather a scourge of society which must be “cracked down.” Confirming this, the United States Sentencing Commission released a report stating that “in 2012, the average federal prison sentence for a drug offender was almost 6 years.” Perhaps more disturbingly, there are over 2.8 million individuals convicted of non-violent crimes currently incarcerated, heavily skewed towards the poor and minorities.

Yet the draconian gavel of our justice system is not limited to drugs, either. For most poor offenders — whether it is three days or thirty years — their prison careers begin with the most minor offenses conceivable. Imagine being jailed for loitering? For stealing a two dollar can of beer? Or how about swearing in public? Recall Eric Garner: the infraction provoking his death was ultimately the selling of untaxed cigarettes to support himself financially. We must ask ourselves, in a fair and just society, should six children be left fatherless for what amounts to a minor, victimless offense? Can we tolerate a society in which the punishment is no longer reflective of the crime?

For many impoverished communities, the harsh penalties and enforcement of non-violent crime is only the beginning.  When an individual is convicted of a minor poverty-related crime, they are more likely to commit more severe crimes and less likely to find employment after imprisonment. In the violent, gang-ridden albatross that is our prison system, a minor drug offender may quickly become a hardened criminal. In other words, by aggressively prosecuting non-violent crimes, our justice system is effectively sanctioning a sort of vicious prison-poverty feedback loop: poverty leads to minor offenses which leads to imprisonment which in turn leads to greater level of poverty. In Daedelus, sociologists Bruce Western of Harvard and Becky Pettit of the University of Washington concluded that “once a person becomes incarcerated, the experience limits their earning power and their ability to climb out of poverty even decades after their release.” But the mass incarceration of poor, non-violent offenders also irreparably damages future generations.  Recent surveys indicate that “children of prisoners are more likely to live in poverty, to end up on welfare, and to suffer the sorts of serious emotional problems that tend to make holding down jobs more difficult.” In its zealous, authoritarian pursuit of minor crimes, our own justice system is keeping millions of destitute Americans in a state of perpetual suffering, destroying communities and bolstering social dysfunction; the criminalization of poverty.

On the other side of the equation, in the realm of the wealthy, the justice system fails to penalize crime, instead immunizing success and wealth.

At some level, we all implicitly understand that the wealthy will inexorably fare better in a court of law; with a vigorous legal defense team and other resources, one would assume that cases are naturally easier to win. Yet the inequities in our justice system are far more entrenched than merely the quality of legal counsel. As money increasingly dictates politics, the wealthy have built a layered bureaucracy and legal structure designed to insulate their harmful, yet massively profitable, financial practices from the rule of law.

The legal biases inoculating the wealthy are apparent in all stages of the criminal justice system; in arrest rates, convictions, and sentencing, the rich face a system entirely different than their poorer counterparts.  One now infamous Philadelphia study conducted in 2008, revealed that “of 3,475 juvenile delinquents…police referred lower class boys to juvenile court much more often than upper class boys, even for equally serious offenses with similar prior arrest records.”

With sentencing, the Dickensian inequities are equally alarming. Take, for example, the three crimes of robbery, larceny, and burglary; all three, in varying degrees of severity, involve illegally siphoning property from one person to another. Next, take fraud, embezzlement, and income tax evasion; again, all “white-collar” variations of theft. But despite their inherent similarities, one convicted of the former three offenses will, on average, receive twice the sentence of one convicted of the latter three offenses.

The most egregious example of our justice system, however, is in its handling of large corporations. Although it has become cliché, not a single executive of any Wall Street firm, has served or is serving time in connection with the 2008 financial meltdown. Many politicians, commentators, and President Obama himself have justified this by suggesting the offenses of corrupt corporations are merely ethical violations – minor missteps undeserving of prosecution.

But these so-called ethical and “minor missteps” are neither legal nor minor.  The crimes committed by large firms and their employees include concealment of financial transactions aiding terrorists, as was the case with HSBC, the blinding of criminal assets, deliberate tax evasion, large-scale fraud, and sub-prime mortgages, rivaling only the Great Depression in financial damage.  In the wake of the 2008 financial collapse, over 40% of the world’s wealth was lost, crippling the global economy and the American middle class.

Yet not a single prosecution.  A contingent of wanton, avarice-eyed executives single-handedly implode our economy and collectively receive a smaller punishment than a poor man stealing a can of beer.  If the purpose of our justice system is to “seek just punishment for those guilty of unlawful behavior; and to ensure fair and impartial administration of justice for all Americans,” as Attorney General Eric Holder himself wrote, then not only has it failed us, it has embarrassed the sanctity of justice itself.

The American psyche has long revered the justice system, at least symbolically, as a bastion of morality; an impartial arbiter of innocence and guilt. It was the justice system, after all, which desegregated our schools, ended interracial marriage laws, and protected freedom of speech. However, the harsh criminalization of poverty and the inoculation of the wealthy force us to reconsider this unwavering reverence. As impoverished teenagers serve draconian sentences for rolling a marijuana joint, wealthy bankers revel in a binge of unaccountability, demonstrating that the ideals of justice are often a facade for a system dictated by class. Tragically, our justice system has devolved into a virtual caste system where punishment no longer reflects the severity of the crime.

These dangerous trends can no longer be ignored. As the deplorable death of Eric Garner indicates, the stratification of our justice system is a national crisis for which blood is being shed. Garner’s daughter said in response to her father’s death, “justice, to me, is basically doing what’s right.”  With millions of Americans still protesting, and the inequities of our justice system increasingly evident, we must too ask ourselves: “Do we have the will to do what’s right?”

Romeo’s Nirvana

“It is the sun’s tale,” he whispered, “and I know it by heart.

How your pink-shaded cheek fit tender in the palm of my hand

Eyes–locked magnets to the mirror of my pupils

I always declined in faith: I was not ready.”


It must have been that he saw turquoise tides in her curly hair

Rippling in laughing coils

Or a half moon in her numb lips

Wrists striped in braceleted madness–that was when he turned away.


Fear is his ghost

It binges and gluts on a sane head

With words that are upchucks of senseless ragamuffins:

Their meanings need no coaxing


His hands do not feather her in cupidity

Only ‘till her breast is a turf, blanket flecks of snow,

Humming, humming.


She brings him a stack of cotton pillows

As this is when they string their love in sleep

When the ceiling is expanding, the color of radon,


They heard the machinery of the thunderstorm

Lightning in the shape of angel heads

An aureate clock glitters in the sky: a number line of beads


Now they enter into an enamored utopia

Sync into mania

He will not kiss her with a crystal lens: it must blur


For dreams too, are heartless;  they envelop our eyes

As well as a beguiled spirit

The stars mock the couple. Or perhaps they chase them.


But he wakes, she wakes, they wake,

Startled and spinning, as an eyelash dispersed in air

She cannot cry for him, as he built bricks between them


They are immured by a howl

Soundly, it clings

To her throat, his mind for something to drag down.

Breath quavers then stops.

Are the two fated or young innamorati?

Is it for which her hands perform his script?


His peridot tears glisten, as the lime spring leaves.

They penetrate her heart. Slow, amorous cravings

That yield, that yield, that yield.


My Life As A Senior

It was 8 a.m. and it was time to get out of bed and start my first day as a senior at Valley High. I walked into the kitchen, grabbed my lunch from the table and walked to my blue convertible. I started the engine and drove down Pine Lane to pick up my one and only friend Laney. It took us 15 minutes to get to school and we parked outside. It was senior orientation and the principal gave us the welcome back to school speech and we got our new schedules. My first class was AP Calc BC with Ms. Tang.

I went to my locker, the same one I had for the past three years, to unpack my bag and grab my binder for class. As always, I was late to class and ended up sitting next to Jack, the most gross guy in school. I looked around and happened to see Janice on her phone, as always checking her Instagram likes, while Josh was taking a nap. Ms. Tang walked over and screamed in her Chinese accent, “Wake up! You’re not at home. You’re at school and at school you learn.”

Ms. Tang was characterized as the most hated teacher in school, not because of the class she teaches, but because when she talks no one can understand her. I used to love math before Ms. Tang joined Valley, but now I hate it, and it’s has become my worst subject. When Ms. Tang taught us, she would take three days to cover a topic. One was to learn the concepts then next day without practice while the last day was quiz day. However, Ms. Tang was never confident at what she was teaching as she barely answered all the questions that the class asked her. The bell finally rang, and first period was finally over. Now just 4 more to go. I ran out of the room as fast as I could, and walked up to Laney by her locker which was right next to mine and complained, “That was the longest period of my life! Seniors year sucks. I can’t wait to get out of this hellhole.”

“Janie, it’s okay. You’ll get through it. What is your next class? I have AP Lit,” Laney said in an optimistic tone.

“British Lit,” I said.

I hated Shakespeare. Who is supposed to understand what on earth he is trying to say? The bell rang and we both were late for second period. Ms. Moore, my English teacher, was British of course. At least with her accent I could understand her, but wished I didn’t. The first play that was assigned to read was Othello. I was ecstatic when she said Othello because I had read the book over the summer, when I took a summer English class to get more credits for my transcript. So I decided then that I wasn’t going to do anything for this class, and instead stress over the fact I might not get into college.

Three years of high school has already passed for me and I can’t change that. My average has been the same each year, and an average of an 81 is not going to get me into a really good college. I was so worried that instead of going to lunch with Laney, I decided to visit my college counselor, Mr. Paxton. He was the funniest counselor I had met in the school. I knew from the moment I met him that he was different. He had long brown hair down to his shoulders and he always had a stash of junk food in his left drawer. I knocked on his door and said, “Hey Mr. P, what’s up?”

Mr. P said in an Australian accent, “Ow-yar-goin mate?”

“I’m worried about my grades and that it’s not going to get me into a good college. I’ve always been a slacker and that’s not gonna change. My parents think that the only college I’ll get into is Pine Valley Community College, which is like the worst school ever!!”

He said, “No drama, mate. It will work out fine. If you work hard this year for the first semester and show you’re trying to make an effort and raise your grades a little, you’ll be fine. Now nick off, you’re bothering me. I was eating my fifth twinkie before you walked in. Go eat lunch!”

I went to have a quick chat with Laney before I went to AP Chemistry. In my head, I thought, this is the easiest class ever. Science has always been my strong suit. I loved learning about the elements of the periodic table and I wanted to learn more about Organic Chemistry. I can definitely pull my grade up for this class. Mr. Kuplar was the most serious teacher in school. He loved chemistry and loved teaching it for the past three decades. Our lab that day was to learn more about reactive metals such as sodium and potassium. Once our lab was completed, we had to write a lab report concluding our data and findings.

As I started thinking about our lab, I started to daydream about the cutest guy in school who happened to be in my chemistry class. His name was Niall and he was the quarterback of the football team. His sea blue eyes mesmerized every girl in school. He has a big sense of humor and always has a jock that makes the class burst into laughter. Not only do people love his cute face and sense of humor he also loves to sing, dance, and play the guitar. Even all the guys gave him the nickname “The Triple Threat.” I imagined him asking me to senior prom, but while day dreaming I hadn’t realized that I had put some potassium powder in water. All of a sudden I heard bubbling noises. I woke up and saw that the potassium mixed with water. The mixture created potassium hydroxide which can lead to an explosion. Just as it was about to explode, I yelled to the class, “Everybody get down!!!” and a small explosion occurred.

Mr. Kuplar was in the back of the room, saw the explosion and fell to the ground. We all gathered around him, and I shook him to wake him up thinking he fainted from what he saw, but he wasn’t waking up.

Someone shouted across the room, “Janey, you gave him a heart attack. You killed him.”

All of a sudden, we heard the fire alarm go off . The smoke in the room got worse. I turned around to realize that the reaction never stopped, and I finally pulled the fire alarm button and everyone went in panic mode.

“Run!” Niall said as he ran out of the room.

We all were gathered around outside in the school’s football field. Mr. Jenkins, the school’s principal came running to the school field franticly looking to see if everyone was okay.

He walked straight up to our class and said in a loud angry tone, “Can someone explain to me what happened to Mr. Kuplar and what caused the fire?”

I didn’t dare to speak, but I knew that if i didn’t, I probably would be in more trouble than I was already in. So I decided to suck it up and confess. I walked up and said, “This is all my fault, sir!!!”

“How so?” he said.

“Well, we were doing a lab assignment and I was not paying attention and caused a chemical explosion,” I said.

“You think this was a mini fire!!! Everyone evacuated the building. You caused a disruption in every class. Tomorrow come to my office and we’ll talk about the consequences. As for everyone else, school is over for the day. See you tomorrow.”

I walked to the school parking lot to head home and Laney found me and asked me what had happened. As I drove her home, I explained the whole story to her. Laney exited the car and said, “Don’t worry. Everything will be okay.”

As I drove down the road, I thought to myself, what are the consequences that I might receive and what will happen to me? I didn’t want to face my punishment or the reality.

When I got home the maid said, “Your parents are out for the night at a benefit and won’t be home til late.”

“Okay, ask the cook to make me Chinese food tonight.”

I went up to my room to check social media about posts of what had happened today. Everyone in the class told everyone what had happened on Facebook. I started to get frustrated about the situation as people started to make up stories. One crazy story was that I started the explosion on purpose because I hated school and everyone in it. That story spread around and everyone was commenting about how crazy I was and how stupid of an idea it was.

I couldn’t face my classmates tomorrow. I didn’t want to be the laughing stock of the whole school. Words travel fast in Valley High and once they hear gossip it never ends. I was tired to doing nothing for the past few years. I wanted to be more independent and outgoing and the only mind that I thought would help me get there was to go somewhere else. Some where no one knew me. I always had a hidden interest in going to Morocco to learn Arabic, as well as to learn more about their culture and gain a whole different on perspective in life.

I decided then and there to leave to Morocco. I wanted to get away, far away as possible. Not only was it across the world but my friends and family would never think that I would decide to go to there. I walked up to my parents room and opened my mother’s drawer and took 5,000 dollars, which was all of the money left in the drawer and purchased a one way ticket to Rabat, Morocco in a different name. I walked into my room looking for my luggage and started packing all the things I could fit in my luggage.

As I was walking down the stairs I got a call from Laney. In a rush to leave I hit ignore.


Dev was relaxing in his bed at home watching his favorite movie, The Dukes Of Hazzard, for the umpteenth time when he heard his phone ring. The words he was about to hear would never leave him, for that moment was the first time that he experienced true worry. Fear, grief, heartbreak, surprise, and anger all rolled up into one gigantic ball that seemed to fall on his heart and remain there for a long time. He paused the movie and answered his phone, immediately sensing the anxiety on the other end of the phone.

“Dev, it’s Mrs. Kimthro. Valeria is in the hospital. We found her passed out on the floor in the bathroom. She’s very unstable. Valeria has been suffering from extreme bulimia, ever since…there are things she didn’t want you to know, but she needs you here now, regardless. We almost lost her. You should hurry.”

Those were the first words to throw his life upside down. He didn’t even have time to fully process what Valeria’s mother had said before he was already pulling on his shoes. His beloved girlfriend was in danger, and he needed to be there for her. A million questions were zooming through his brain, threatening to overflow. He raced downstairs, grabbed his coat hanging on a chair, snatched up his car keys, and was about to race out the door when he heard his mother call out to him.

“Dev, honey, where are you going? It’s late. You have school tomorrow,” his mom questioned.

“Mom, I don’t have time to explain, but Val is in the hospital and I need to be there,” Dev yelled as he slammed the door shut behind him.

Dev drove the 25 minutes to the hospital in a sweat, parked his car sloppily, and ran inside the huge, ominous brick building displaying faded welcome signs for visitors. On the inside, the hospital was completely different. What the outside lacked in beauty, the inside made up for in cheeriness and warmth. Potted plants, freshly cleaned floors, a faint smell of pie, and deep red and brown colors made the place feel strangely joyful. To the left of the entrance, was a tiny waiting room filled with melancholy patients and their loved ones. An elderly man sat alone, quietly wiping away tears dripping down his face. An obviously stressed middle-aged woman sat with a young girl — presumably her daughter, based on their similar facial features — who was vomiting into a plastic tub. The mother tenderly stroked her daughter’s hair as the girl’s body shook from weariness. Dev ran up to the sleek, wooden intake desk, then stopped for a minute to catch his breath.

“How can I help you today?” asked a friendly man behind the reception desk.

“Hi, I’m here to see Valeria Kimthro,” gasped an out of breath Dev.

“Ok. And who are you?” chirped the man.

“I’m her boyfriend,” Dev responded.

“I’m afraid that I can’t let you back there alone unless you’re a family member, or with one.”

Starting to panic, Dev pulled out his cell phone to call Mrs. Kimthro when suddenly he felt a shaky hand on his shoulder.

“Hey, Dev. Glad you’re here,” said Mr. Kimthro as he embraced Dev. Then, turning to the receptionist, he said, “I’m Bo Kimthro, Valerie Kimthro’s father. This is Dev Rull, he’s with me.”

“Great, you can both head on back,” declared the man as he pushed a tiny button. Suddenly, two giant doors swung open, and Bo led Dev through them. The pair of men walked through the shiny, sterile hall together in silence. Dev couldn’t get to his girlfriend fast enough, yet at the same time wasn’t ready to face her in pain. Eventually, Bo came to a stop and opened a simple door the color of eggshell that held behind it a complex web of suffering. As he entered the room, Dev’s heart rate sped up, and his eyes immediately fell on the face of Valerie. A face that always lit up at his stupid jokes, and kissed him with love as powerful as a mountain. Valerie, had dreamt day and night of her future career as Vermont’s number one author. Her wild dream was to find an old, abandoned cabin in an isolated part of the woods that she would fix up herself and while away the years. She would go on lengthy, daily hikes where she would listen to the croaks of the frogs, foxes eerily screeching, and the rustle of the wind twirling through the sharp pine branches. Valerie: the most selfless, loving young woman ever to set foot on this Earth. Or, that’s how she’d been up until about a month ago; lately, she didn’t talk about her Vermont dream. She’d become reclusive, depressed, and quiet recently.

Now, he was looking at the ghost of that gorgeous girl. Her skin was terrifyingly pale, and her body looked fragile as a baby bird’s. Her electric blue eyes had lost their million-dollar twinkle. He’d been noticing a decline in her health, but now it seemed shockingly present. Dev went to Valerie’s bedside and leaned over her frail body.

“Hey, Val,” Dev croaked out.

“Hey,” Valerie whispered as a gust of a smile breezed across her face. Mr. and Mrs. Kimthro silently left the room, leaving the two teenagers alone. Dev gently pushed Valerie’s legs over and sat down on the tiny hospital bed. There was a loud squeak as his body eased onto the cot. As Dev sat next to her with an anxious look on his face, Valerie closed her eyes, wishing things could go back to normal, before the accident. What had she done? Had a group of deities sat down for lunch one day, and as a group decided to ruin Valeria Kimthro’s life? Had they laughed maniacally, and then talked about the newest episode of The Walking Dead? Valerie believed in the core of her being that she was stupid, ugly, fat, annoying and worthless. That’s what she told herself every time she forced herself to vomit. Her days revolved around sliding her fingers down her throat, feeling her muscles tense, and then the sensation of the vomit fighting upwards through her body to see the world at last. After a particularly large retch, maybe she’d be pretty again when she looked in the mirror. Possibly, the fat would’ve also slid off her body and into the toilet. However, when she gazed at her body, all she saw was a disgusting human who didn’t deserve anything. She could almost see him standing behind her; feel his calloused hands running up and down her body. A month ago, a tall, hairy, fat, bald and angry man had pulled her into his car – a huge white van – and kept her there for the majority of the day. She had screamed, cried, and fought all she could, but he beat the fight response out of her while screaming incredibly hurtful words into her ears such as “Ugly, stupid bitch” and “You’ll never be good enough.” Afterwards, he made her do things, sexual things, that she had never even heard of. For eight hours on a Friday, he explored every sexual option her body had to offer. “Work, Bitch, work. You don’t belong in this world. Go back to hell. You stupid bitch. You ugly bitch.” He repeated that line every time she started to sob again. She believed him.

Realizing she’d fallen into another one of her dream states of intense thought, Valerie opened her eyes to find tears sliding down Dev’s face. She slid her hand across the sheets and grasped his smooth hand. Startled by her sudden activity, he quickly wiped away his tears and leaned down towards her face. While gripping her hand, he leaned down and planted a peck onto her silky cheek. She closed her eyes, but the face of her rapist appeared, screaming at her. She blinked, and looked into the sweet, cocoa-brown eyes of Dev. People were constantly saying, “Oh, it’s only young love,” about their relationship, but Val knew that they were wrong. She knew that she and Dev’s love for each other was as strong as the gargantuan waves covered in salty foam that come crashing down on the Atlantic Ocean during a summer storm. Too weak to speak anymore, she closed her eyes and drifted off, knowing that she was now safe with Dev there by her side. He was here in this hospital for her and only her. As she fell asleep, she let that thought drill deep into her head, never to be uprooted by any abusive man ever again.

Noticing Valeria’s even breath and closed eyes, Dev leaned down and attempted to doze off next to her, but it felt like his thoughts were hosting a rave inside his head. Even after thousands of years of evolution, discovery and exploration, humans are still struggling with basic emotions. There will never be any clear path for misery, so all we can do is to keep loving those who are hurt.


Now I Realize, Monster Inside, Not Soulmates

Now I realize

The road I’d driven on

The one I put on for

Was marvelous, it’s origin is

The genesis of my abiguisness

Is known throughout society

where I was raised through the good and bad of poverty

The hood made me tuff

So the jail walls is a bluff

The person I convey is a bluff too

Inside of the man,

stuck in the can

rust on his shoulders

crust in his eyes

it’s just a kid who met his demise



Monster Inside

It wasn’t fair that everyone had new shoes

And true religions

I was stuck with baggy jeans and hand me downs

Seem like noone seen me frown

My Pops wasn’t around

Moms was in the streets

Grandmom didn’t know what to think

12-years-old, trying to find manhood

Face 2 Face, with something I knew nothing about

I was destined to fail

White folks misunderstood what they thought

was depression for oppression

Through me in the cage by the time I was free

A monster was formed inside of me

Pissed off at the world, his rage had only grew

When I was free, so was the monster inside of me

I hadn’t known the rules of society

So, it wasn’t long before

The monster and me were tamed again

He needed someone to blame

Because the burden was too heavy for himself

The man in the monster wants freedom

But the monster won’t leave him

There is a war raging between them

I hope the man beats him.


Not Soulmates

I’ve been told

What they say, hides

behind our eyes

is our soul

I’ve known since looking

into your eyes,

yours belongs with mine,

For a while it was great,

unbenownest to our fate

We were in love

but not soul mates




He carries the illusion of being prepared in the form of neatly compiled notebooks and folders. His bloated backpack is a precautionary tale to himself. Extra pockets to hold his insecurities and other insignificant items. A book on philosophy and mathematics weighs down an already heavy load, acting as verification of his intelligence.

He carries urgent reminders that are easily forgotten. Notes to self that are underlined and circled and highlighted. During class he sits upright, brainstorming a highbrow comment to share while small-talking his peers with a pretense of confidence. He methodically wipes his thin brimmed glasses with microfiber eyeglass cleaner in his spare time. But these mundane activities can only distract him for so long.

Fiddling his fingers, he aches for a squeeze. He has self-diagnosed himself as being prone to boredom as well as having a bad case of ADHD. A disposable and newly acquired therapist has prescribed a stress ball for his “illness”. Hesitant of drawing unwanted attention to himself by squeezing the ball in the midst of class, he opts for subtly pressing his palms together under the desk. He holds eye contact with the teacher and his classmates as a sign of respect and attentiveness, but all he hears is the soft hollow noises created by his moist palms coming together. In between classes, he sits on the toilet elated and relieved to squeeze in private.

He starts off with soft squeezes affectionately looking at his red ball. Then it intensifies. His stubby nails deepen inside of the ball and his squeezing rate quickens. “Yes, yes, yes,” he thinks. The bell will ring soon, but for now, he is squeezing. He counts down from ten. Ten last squeezes and then he’ll go. In these moments of privacy, he is most content. When around others he is most alone.

The heaviest weight is the one felt perpetually. An inexplicable sense of inadequacy. He files his nails and cleans his glasses and makes sure his fly is zipped, but he feels a mess. At night when he can’t focus on the silence, he feels parts of himself itch unexplainably. He tears away at his skin wishing the sensation would subside, only to wake up to a wounded body.


Lonely Brooklyn Nights

Starts up going great,

Then it ends it bein late.

Sittin on the bench thinkin’ about how ima survive this world,

Almost 10 o’ clock,

Still bored and the moon shinin like a pearl.

Light one up and still bored.

But, it’ll take things off my mind.

Remember them days when I was young and I was chillin,

Now things gettin hectic and people killin,

Somebody that was younger and wishin,

That life would get 100 times better and go kill it

And I’m

i’m sorry your tongue started bleeding

when i told you my name, given my hands

tell the same story and my back has the

same stains as a girl whose essence you once

stapled to your ceiling so if there

was an earthquake, she would be above you


i’m sorry your knuckles started bleeding

when i showed you my teeth, given my waist

carries the same secrets and my eyelids itch

during the same times of day as a girl

whose shadow is folded into a square

and placed in a drawer on top of

a folder titled “my month with picasso”


i’m sorry your ribs started bleeding

when i looked at your words, given my collarbones

have the same unwashed bowls and my achilles

heels have the same arrow wounds as a girl

whose dreams rest next to your shampoo in

the bath-tub


and i’m sorry, okay? i’m sorry your bloody

because i walked over and counted your freckles

the same way a girl who wallpapers your insides did

i promise you i’m sorry your eyelashes are bleeding

because i swam every ocean in the same way

a girl who always wore goggles did – lastly, i’m sorry your fingernails

are bleeding because you tried to fall in love with the same

girl whose heart you forgot is glued to your heart and she

i mean i – keeps stabbing you slowly

What Doesn’t Kill U Can Only Make U Stronger


They say what don’t kill you will make you stronger. I’m still here, so what does that mean? The hood has a way of engulfing everything in its path and spitting it back up. They say there aren’t many places for young black men like me. 75% are sitting in the pin. 20% laying in a coffin. 4% are lucky to get a job at a chicken spot. But there’s that 1% that makes something of themselves. That 1% does whatever it takes.


Chapter 1

I’m James B. Smith. I have long black hair. The shortey love a dude with longer hair than most of their friends. I was born in Harlem but lived in Bronx all my life. I was named after my father. I guess the scars of him raping her and beating her half to death wasn’t enough for my mother. It’s bad enough that every time she looks at me, all she can see is him. Ever since he went in for life bid, all she does is lay in her bed and stick needles in her arm.


It seems if you don’t get pulled in by the diamond bags, you get pulled in by the scumbags that call themselves Bloods. My older brother was too strong for the dimes, but he needed money so he joined the Bloods and started doing crime. He used to always say, “I’m doing this so you never go to sleep hungry.” But he got so deep in the game, it ended up being that he was the only one hungry. The game ain’t nothing to play with. You got to be hungry for it or it will throw you in with the wolves.


But I’ve always known closed mouths don’t get fed. You have to give a little to get a little. Living in the hood, I would see them dudes on the corner on the way to school every day singing the same old song and dance and when I got back from school they still in the same place I left them.  These dudes feel that they were put in this cage called hood and there was no way out . They feel that is all life has to given. My father was a bitch, my mother was a jokey, there no place for me but on this streets. If I don’t go and get mines who will?


Chapter 2

If I’m not playing chess on the computer, I’m hanging with my friends. There is Charles who thinks he could be Lebron James. But he couldn’t make a jump shot if his life depended on it. Then there is B.J., Charles’ little brother who thought he was the Mac Daddy with that big hole in his ADIDAS.


Then there was my home girl Brittany, but we call her Flicks. She had a way of putting the most beautiful thing and the worst thing in a frame together.



Chapter 3

I first started playing chess when I was 7-years-old. There was something about being able to think ahead and learning to predict what comes next. But chess is only a hobby. It will not take you any where. Then it hit me. I know what I had to earn.
There was something my mother used to say: God works in mysterious ways. That’s before the needle became more important than God. And at the very moment, I turn on the TV and there it was….my way out of the hood.


Chapter 4

A chess tournament for $10,000 and a chance to go to Stuyvesant High School. But you must have a rank of 200 or more and I had no rank. I wasn’t raised like one of them little white prick rich kids or I didn’t have a grandfather who thought that chess would bring them closer or the parents who want their kid to be everything they wasn’t. Instead, I am a young black male from the Bronx whose never thought that he would have the opportunity to sit among other 8th graders and do the one thing I love without being judged. But I was determined to fight hard.



Chapter 5

I spent days in the library looking at French master, British master, anything I could get my hands on.  I had never stepped a foot in a library before.  I always had a library card, but I never thought I would use it. The librarian could tell that I had never been in the library before. It was a small lady, probably hispanic, with long grey hair.

I approached the desk and said, “Do you have any books about chess?”

She looked up and said, “Yes. Aisle 3.”

I started reading.

She approached me and asked “What are you so interested in?”


One day on my way leaving the library I ran into Flicks. At first, I didn’t want anyone to know but I thought it would be nice to have someone to cry on when I lose. Or someone to hug if I win and get this money.


Plus my mother will be too wasted to leave her bed. Charles and BJ would be too hood for the white folks. They scare one white girl with those lame punch lines “If you go black you can’t go back.”


Then there was Flicks. She is smart. She can hide her slang, and I’m dying to be her new star in one of her new portfolios.


The day after I told Flicks about my tournament, she invited me to play chess with some of her friends. I decided to take Flicks up for her invitation. I was surprised that it wasn’t a bunch of nerds, kids with big framed glasses, and braces. In no time, I felt fine. It felt like chess was normal. There was nothing to be ashamed of.



I started to go to small tournaments in junior high school.


The first time I walked into one of these tournaments, I had never seen a gym with both rims still attached. The floor was so clean,you could eat on it without your sandwich turning black and bathroom had no graffiti at all. I now realize that I was a long way from the hood .


I was scared shitless. Every time I moved, a piece my heart dropped. The game only lasted 30 minutes, but it seemed like forever. She never looked up. She was zoned to the board. Her face was like a stone-faced killer. Each time she called “check” she would make this face like “What, you don’t want none of this?”


I failed many tests and lost my basketball games, but losing to her made me feel so bad. It took a lot from me. I lost so much confidence. It didn’t matter that I won all the rest of my games that day. I felt like I didn’t want to play chess ever again.


Chapter 6


If I had just beat the 9 year old I would have came in first place. I also learned there was a lesson to be learned from my experience. My first lesson was: never underestimate your opponent.


The next tournament I went to, I found some friends that I used to play chess with in school. I was 4-0. I had one game left. I ended up playing one of my old friends, Anthony. While we played, we chopped it up about old times. Losing my focus, I ended up turning a game I should have won into a draw. My second lesson: no one is your friend during the game. Only opponents.


When you do something, you develop skills at what you are doing. I learned that king may the most important piece on the board. But what is a man without his woman beside him, holding him down? So with that said, you can now understand why all the power goes to the queen on the board. The best way to break a man down, go for his heart. Nothing hurts a man more than taking his woman. That’s why most people crumble when I take their queen. Even if it means the best way to do it is queen for queen. For me, these girls aren’t loyal. Which brings me to my last lesson: it’s not over til it’s over.


Chapter 7


They say money makes the world go round. So my world is about to become square. Tournament after tournament. It was becoming harder and harder to find money to get there and back, and each tournament used to cost $5 but now it was $10. And the the final tournament costed $200 to enter. But that wasn’t the biggest problem I had.


Chapter 8


See as much as I talk down about my mother, I lover her and us as kids never realized that becoming a parent doesn’t come with a book on how to deal with your kids, “Parenting 101.” There is one rule that I never understood. Why is it that there are some things a woman can’t teach a man?


I guess that what I’m trying to say is through it all, all I got is her and all she got is me.


I guess I’m writing this ‘cause there are people in my life I say “They’re old, so they going to die. Or they’re sick, so I need to say my goodbyes and farewells, but not my mother!!”


Chapter 9


Losing my mother never crossed my mind. It hurt watching her in the ER due to an overdose. Watching her there and knowing that there was nothing I could do, that can eat a person up. From the inside.


I sat there thinking about all the things I wanted to tell her, about all the things I was sorry for or if I didn’t say I love you enough. I felt so weak, I fell to my knees, and begged God not to take her from me. I stayed on my knees and kept begging all night long. The next morning I was on my way to school from the hospital, I was just leaving her room when I heard a soft voice that said, “James baby, is that you? Come and sit with Momma.” I was so happy. I guess this was the start of a new life.


Chapter 10


A week after my mom overdosed, I was helping washing clothes. I went to put her socks in her clothes drawer and I found two needles and a crack spoon that was still warm. Three weeks after I felt that things were getting better.


I remember leaving for school. When I left, she was sleeping. I got off school late, so I decided to get my mother some flowers. When I got home, she was still sleeping, so I put the flowers in some water. Then I went to tuck her in, and there was the needle still sitting in her arm.


Chapter 11


Seeing that hurt me. That I cared about her life more than she did. I guess that she was willing to give up and leave me all alone. If she wanted to waste her life with them drugs, then I’m going to keep on living, with or without her. But I was left with a lot of questions that were left unanswered, so I needed to go to the only person who understands my mother more than I do.


Chapter 13


All I could think about on this long drive to my father in Sing Sing is how a man could do what my father did and still live to think about it every day and not want to die. My mother loved him, and would have done anything for him. I guess my mother named me after him because I reminded her of all the good things about my father that she loved.



Chapter 14


When he approached to the glass, I sat down I didn’t expect him to look so calm and at peace and educated. He looked nothing like the young thug who liked to hurt women like I expected. He looked at me and said, “Are you taking care of her?” And then sent me an envelope with $200 and said, “Keep playing chess,” and walked away. But I still had so many questions that were unanswered and how the hell did he know that I was playing chess?


Chapter 15

After waiting, the day was here. It was game time. Flicks looked at me and said, “No matter what happens, you are still the only man I’ve ever wanted.” She then gave me a big kiss, and walked away. I’m not going to lie, my legs felt like noodles and I was sweating bullets but it was like zero degrees in the room. I always thought that Brittany was cute, but I never felt like she would give me the time of day. “No”, I said, “I gotta get my head in the game. It’s game time.”


Chapter 16

My first opponent was a little white girl with green eyes, and she looked like she was more scared than me. I was beginning to be able to see her fear and it gave me confidence. With each piece I moved, I saw her lose her confidence. I beat her and moved to the second round.


My next opponent was a young Mexican boy. He could only speak Spanish, and all he could say was, “My name is Jesus.” Looking at him, he looked dumb. It looked like he couldn’t even read the label on the board or figure out which piece was black and white. I forgot the first rule I learned while working to get here (don’t underestimate your opponents). But I guess I understood when he said, “Jaque mate.” I lost, but now I understood if I won it, any chance at winning this tournament I had to use. Everything I learned in my struggles to get where I am now. Plus, I worked too hard to get this far and I was not going to give up now.


My third opponent looked more focused on his music than on playing this game. By me seeing him not focused, I decided to also not focus. Keep looking in the stands for Flicks. Finally when I decided to get my head in the game, it was over. I had lost.


Chapter 17

My next opponent was Linda, the Chinese girl I had played in my first tournament, but now I knew her name and her game, and I was going to bring my A-game and something new up my sleeve. Do you remember the librarian I met while searching in the library? It just so happens that she was two-time chess champion. She showed me something which is called the “French Opening.” It goes like this: pawn to E4, knight to F3, pawn to D4, knight to C3, bishop to E3, and last but not least bishop to D3. I sat through all this whole game I had this glow of confidence and if it couldn’t get any better, my mother was clean for six months now and there cheering me on at the tournament. But I still didn’t see Flicks.


Chapter 18

This was the last step, but I was nowhere ready for what came next. I was walking toward my board, and I looked and there was Flicks. Flicks was my final opponent. I didn’t even know she played chess. This was the longest and hardest game of my life. I had to sort my emotions from my thoughts or it would’ve been tragedy in this game. But if I was willing to lose, it would be for her. I wouldn’t have any regrets or any second thoughts about it. I know that the rules are that I must look at her as my opponent, but she’s not my opponent, she’s my friend. I really didn’t care that I lost the tournament because I had something better. I had friends and family that love me. And that’s something school can’t teach you or money can’t buy you.


Chapter 19

While I was playing chess, my mom was at work, trying to get me a future. My mom had applied me for a spot in Stuyvesant and little did I know, one of the judges was the director of Stuyvesant. He was amazed by my intelligence and gave me an opportunity at Stuyvesant.


Chapter 20

I won two out of five games, and walked away with a strong head and an understanding of life. My mom has been clean for a year and six months. Brittany and I have been dating for a year now. The last time I heard about Charles and DJ, they were involved in a gunfight with some group of kids that call themselves Young Stunners. DJ was killed and Charles is doing twelve years in prison for drugs. My father and I write each other all the time. I’ve been in Stuyvesant for at least a year now. I attain all A’s, and I work at a chicken spot part time to pay for my stay at Stuyvesant. As for Flick, she’s that one percent that I was talking about. She is working part-time for a newspaper and the best photographer that Stuyvesant ever had. That’s why they say what don’t kill you makes you stronger. But I’m still here. What does that mean?



A Tale of Imagination

My innermost weakness is the song that motivates and guides

the wisdom of the painting dreamer.
The official opportunities

of an endless crimson sky.


As the artist erases the red sky from the white canvas into warmth,

he sees

blazing hot flames from a red dragon at the mountain’s peak

protecting its land.
Dreams are memory’s capture upon pictures.

Imagination is Key.

My innermost weakness is the superfluous cascade water falling in such glorious victory, over

The Daring hope of a wizard taking control of that Crimson attraction.

The sparks of the beauty allurement  stealing sight of such flames.

The painting posters pinned on the walls give way to

the rapids thoughts of wondering.


Thoughts Falling from the canvas once stained on the mountain as graffiti.
In the caves and out of caverns
up in the wind and Down in the shadows.

side by side and
back to back.
Dreams to fantasies and
Fantasies to Reality

Imagination is Key.


My innermost weaknesses are the hopes of lilac flowers in the pool of Crystalline

in the middle of night,

in the middle morning,

in the middle of day,

in the middle of life.
Life is our command

Dreams are our Demand.

Imagination is a Key
Maybe your keys?
Maybe my keys?

Imagination – unlocks doors
be ever so careful what door you open,

be ever so careful in what doors are locked,

be ever so careful in what doors won’t open,
and be ever so careful in what doors you lock.


Imagination is the key

maybe yours

maybe mine

Use it wisely

Use it mindfully.

A Walk to A Future

“I saw it immediately

the starkness

the desperation,

the pain” (Corinne Rupp)


Written on the faces on every man, woman and child

The countless sorrow

The countless self-infliction

“Stress,” some would call it
“Frustration,” others would say

So from a distance I notice this and start to walk

I want to make a Change, I want to be Change

I want to do something, GREATER than myself

So from that distance I started— I started to walk


Walking down the street I see friendly faces go out and play
Walking down the street I see all but one afraid. So I say Hi
and walk on my way. I one of the many few that made their day
with just a hi and smile their way.


Lightheartedness is the enchantment that paradise so playfully rejoice

that conquers despair of dissatisfaction.
What I’m trying to say is simple, we can all be nice and amazing if we all understand the concept of this expression happiness


Happiness comes from Hope

Hope Comes a From a Change
A Change that Connects all the Puzzle Pieces in Place

The Pieces make one

that one makes you,

makes me

makes us


What is Hope?
But Hope

Hope is also Us
Hope is also The FUTURE
Hope lends its wings to a new Beginning
A Beginning so Powerful
thats it alternative the existence of happiness

and positivity is contagious


I’m one person
I’m Just Bryan
I’m Just Me

You are Just You

But Together we’re light


Be A Light, A light that shine amount the rest

Become A Light that destroys desperation, pain, and Darkness all TOGETHER

Become That Light

That Light

Those Lights!


That All look up to.


A Light that conquers the rest

Letting the Puzzle Pieces Really connect into Place
Letting it Fall into the shines of a Better Tomorrow.

Make A Better Tomorrow!


A Tomorrow You’ll be Proud of

A Proud Hopeful Future


This is what makes me different

makes me feel different

than all the others

than all the others Bryans,

than all the Others Spirits.
For I am one, and one all the same

Forthcoming Aspiration of Anticipation


IS What I look for.


The walk is unfolding the inevitable fated corner of optimism

that describe the ambition of those who are rewarded

of the world you and I live in.

Light Brights All, Don’t let it bind you, let it guild you

the one you know best
the one that makes the REST


Like I say before

I’m JUST one Person

I walk Hope — I Feel Hope


I’m just Bryan


Bryan Martinez


I Fight The Power
and Happiness is my Hopeful spirit
what is yours?




and we asked you for help

and you laughed at the candor

and we dropped dead like flies.


bloody t-shirts falling from

clothing lines as clothing pins

litter the floor of the morgue


and parents pick out caskets

ten sizes too small, for dead

babies and children of the


night, the ones who had been hanging

from street lights and shooting stars,

who asked for help in the form


of loud music, slow dancing,

painting in dark colors, tying

red balloons to doorknobs,


and leaving home without layers.

these children, they’re wearing t-shirts

in late december and you’re


wondering why they’re shivering.

in the mean time, you turn your cheek

and lift the zipper of your fur coats.