The Permanence of Plastic

It is unlikely that anybody would like to live in a world in which there are no birds chirping and no fish swimming. We do not stop to notice the lizards, trees, and snails that are around us every day, but once we lose them, it will be glaringly obvious. This bleak picture is not one from a dystopian novel; it is our very realistic future. A world devoid of all life besides humans is quite alarmingly exactly where human civilization is headed. The risk of extinction for most animal species only increases with time, because of our careless ways. While oceans make up 71% of Earth’s surface, they are in critical condition (Oceanic Institute). Plagued by an unconcealed yet ignored monster — trash, our oceans are declining in purity. Already there are enormous islands of garbage in the middle of our oceans, and we are not far from a total trash takeover destroying all ocean life. With a yearly rate of eight million tons being dumped into oceans, plastic pollution is no doubt an enemy to marine life (National Geographic).

Though garbage exists in some form in nearly every stretch of sea, there are five major locations on Earth where trash gathers and gets trapped in a cycle that prevents it from moving elsewhere. These locations, called ocean gyres, are also described as “trash vortexes” because they trap marine debris and never allow it to flow out to shore. Ocean gyres form because of the Coriolis Effect, which causes systems of circulating currents in the ocean. Trash is sucked into these currents. Any litter on beaches or trash flushed down toilets is very likely to end up in a trash vortex because these vortexes suck in all debris, especially miniscule materials. These large, dense “black holes” of trash are extremely harmful to every species of marine life.

Much of the garbage in these trash vortexes is plastic litter. Ever since plastic has come into existence, there have been people who improperly dispose of it. Since its invention in 1907, plastic has changed our lives and has become an integral part of our daily use because of its durability and cost effectiveness. However, it is also true that while we continue to enjoy the power and benefits of plastic, we have not carried out the responsibility that comes with this power, namely, proper disposal of this non-biodegradable material. Lack of awareness of the harmful impacts of improper plastic disposal and careless human nature are two key factors that plague our oceans, which are now clouded with plastic that has been collecting in them for over a century. Usually, the debris is simply tossed out onto the ground rather than being placed in a garbage bin or recycling bin. This human disregard for the environment causes a ripple effect in which the plastic floats out into the ocean and stays there forever. Because plastic is not biodegradable, it simply breaks into smaller pieces as its exposure to sunlight increases, meaning it will never truly disappear from the ocean. Plastic fragments can become as small as sesame seeds, at which point they become microplastics. Microplastics are not just the result of littered plastic; they can also get into the ocean in other ways, such as being washed out of synthetic clothing. Marcus Eriksen, a co-founder of the 5 Gyres Institute, an organization dedicated to reducing plastic pollution, describes marine microplastics as a “plastic smog throughout the world’s oceans” (Marine Plastic Bulletin).

Another enemy to marine life is the microbead. Beauty companies emit sizable amounts of microplastics into the ocean through exfoliating scrubs. The miniscule beads in these scrubs are made of plastic, and when washed down the drain, they have the same effect on ocean life that disintegrating microplastics have. Many animals mistake microbeads for fish eggs and choke when they try to swallow them. Like microbeads, other plastic items bear close resemblance to prey for many ocean creatures. For example, after balloons get torn apart, they look very similar to jellyfish. Similarly, plastic bags can resemble kelp. Both balloons and plastic bags often strangle animals or cause them to choke. Another reason many animals eat plastic is because it smells like food. This most commonly affects seabirds, which eat krill. Krill consume algae, which, as they decompose, emit a sulfuric odor known as dimethyl sulfide (National Geographic). This smell allows seabirds to find krill. Lots of algae collect on floating plastic, so when seabirds catch a whiff of the sulfuric odor, they feed on that plastic, thinking it is krill. For this reason, over 90% of seabirds have plastic fragments in their stomachs (Plastic Oceans).

There are numerous species that are affected by plastic pollution in the ocean and the associated statistics are alarming. In fact, about one hundred thousand marine animals and one million seabirds are found dead from plastic or plastic entanglement each year! (Ocean Crusaders). Additionally, there are two hundred areas on Earth, called dead zones, that are so polluted that life can no longer exist there. Not all of these areas are underwater, however. Dead zones exist on land, and pristine environments are slowly becoming polluted as well. During my recent visit to Yellowstone National Park, one of the most pure and untouched places in the world, I witnessed a coyote at a distance attempting to eat a plastic water bottle. It seemed as though the coyote was trying to get to the water that remained in the bottle, but once it managed to get the lid off and all the water spilled out, it kept chewing on the bottle, perhaps thinking it was something edible. This went on for about twenty minutes as the onlookers were gazing at the scene with concern, wondering what the animal would do. From the relentless pursuit of the animal, it was clear that it could have choked to death had it not finally dropped the bottle in fear when a woman gingerly walked her way towards the animal to scare it away for its own safety. This incident represents just one example of how harmful human carelessness can be to other living creatures that are going about their ways of life in pristine wilderness. It also indicates that plastic pollution is everywhere, even plaguing the most untainted places on the planet.

Plastic in oceans has unexpected results, including those that display themselves on land. Increased plastic in oceans results in decreased ecosystem stability. The effects of plastic material in the ocean are also seen on land, as an unstable underwater ecosystem will have effects on food chains in oceans as well as on land. There are also more discernable effects, such as the fact that the sheer amount of plastic in oceans is extremely threatening to marine life. According to the World Economic Forum and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, by the year 2050, there will be more plastic mass in the world’s oceans than that of fish. This will be a turning point, because it is likely that the rate of environmental destruction will accelerate greatly after the fact. There will be a decline in biodiversity so animals that help humans progress in various ways will start to die out. For example, sea lions, seals, and narwhals all help scientists track climate change. Plastic in the ocean is a considerable threat to these species, so their numbers would dwindle greatly. With the loss of these creatures and others, it would become extremely difficult to track climate change, making it more prevalent in every region of the world. Atmospheric carbon dioxide levels would increase, which would harm the earth in numerous ways such as by causing longer droughts and wildfires.


As more and more plastic is dumped into the ocean, our lives on land will become more polluted as well, because plastic pollution hurts humans as well as marine life. Plastic litter floating in ocean water absorbs toxic pollutants such as polychlorinated biphenyl and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon, which have both been proven to cause cancer. Plastic in oceans will also alter the food chain, and the impacts of this can be drastic to humans. The food chain is arranged in “ripples,” meaning those that are immediately affected do not suffer as much as the later affected species, which are humans in this case. For example, if one species of amphibians goes extinct because of excess plastic pollution in their habitat, their predators, largemouth bass, will be affected. Humans, who feed on the bass, will be impacted even more negatively. This is just one possible food chain. Many food chains come together to make a food web, and the harmful effects to humans are vastly amplified at this point.

The fact that there will be more plastic mass in the world’s oceans than fish mass is dangerous in a more transparent way — the plastic could kill almost all of the fish. Although it is true that there are far more marine species than fish living in our oceans, fish do make up a large amount of ocean life. Additionally, rather than comforting ourselves with the fact that fish are not the only living beings in the ocean, we humans would be in a much better position collectively if we try to initiate efforts to reduce plastic in the ocean. This mission is extremely challenging, however, because much of the plastics in the ocean cannot be effectively removed since the materials have broken into microplastics and escape the grasp of nets. This is why many efforts to remove plastic from oceans do not make a significant difference.

Although efforts to remove plastic are not remarkably effective, the dilemma of plastic in the oceans can be combatted. The best way to do so is to prevent plastic from entering oceans, sewage systems, rivers, lakes, etc. The most effective ways to prevent plastic from ending up in oceans involve people making minor changes, such as recycling or terminating their use of single-use plastics. Avoiding microbead products is effective, as microbead concentration in oceans is increasing rapidly. This can be done by exfoliating with a towel if necessary or by using natural exfoliants such as baking soda or oatmeal. Not purchasing bottled water is another fantastic way to decrease a person’s own plastic consumption and eventually contribute less to overall emission. An unknown contributor to plastic in the oceans is anything that is wrapped individually. Buying in bulk means far less plastic that could end up in the water, and this is also cheaper. Finally, supporting plastic bans and organizations addressing plastic pollution can help greatly. In my hometown, one very effective change has been made to try to lower our town’s plastic output. Grocery stores now charge customers at the checkout line for plastic bags that they request to hold their items in. This has had a great impact, as many people now bring their own reusable bags, such as tote bags, when shopping. Community effort, such as spreading the word about potential detrimental impact, is an essential part of ending plastic pollution in our oceans. Efforts to reduce one’s personal plastic output into the oceans are not particularly difficult, yet they are almost never done. People need to become aware of the fact that every single individual’s actions are meaningful. Placing more recycling bins around neighborhoods and encouraging and educating people about recycling can make a massive difference.

Plastic in the ocean is an issue that will begin to affect us in even more negative ways unless we actively work against it now by reducing our own plastic outputs. Once in the ocean, plastic makes a permanent home for itself there. Humans owe it to flora and fauna to help restore Earth’s balance, which our plastic pollution has distorted. Additionally, all species, including humans, are affected by the broad range of negative impacts caused by plastic pollution in oceans. With the earth’s current population at 7.6 billion and a projected growth of 29% by 2050, at which point it will reach 9.8 billion, the amount of plastic consumption and output into the oceans will only increase exponentially if we humans do not recognize and fight this issue (United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs). Let us take action to make a significant difference that can preserve our planet’s splendor and beauty. Let us join together to make efforts to stop dumping plastic into our oceans. As David Attenborough, naturalist and broadcaster says, “There is no away — because plastic is so permanent and so indestructible. When you cast it into the ocean, it doesn’t go away” (Plastic Oceans). We are at a point where the oceans are in a critical condition; they can be saved or lost forever. The carelessness of our ways will come back to haunt us when our ocean life is lost, but our garbage remains.


The Colors of the World


Hair so willowy, light, and attenuated

Like freshly spun buoyant thread constructed from fragile gossamer strands

As golden as the phosphorescent, glimmering sun

Eyes effulgently piercing almost as if they were lightning

Colored cerulean like a flowing ocean that’s deep enough to swim in

An effortlessly beautiful, captivating dream that keeps you afloat on a cloudless sky in midwinter

Skin as white as the velvety snow atop faintly visible mountains that kiss the sun on the horizon

It’s unmistakably yet naturally different from me


A scarlet waterfall descends in a charming tumble of tight, wiry, crimson and carmine ringlets

Fluctuating bouncy coils are luxurious, vibrant, and mesmerizing

Catching the glow of the early morning light, it gleams like a conflagrant blaze

Unable to be extinguished

Tenderly and gently eyes peer out,

Alluring yet mysterious

Dancing about, gracefully and swiftly flashing with passion and euphoria

As chartreuse as the flourishing grass

The green you would expect to find in the snow when it’s winter and spring is nearing

Pale skin, chalky and washed out, dotted with vivacious freckles like the stars in the night’s sky

It’s unmistakably yet naturally different from me


An avalanche of auburn, mahogany, and cinnamon topples down

Creating a surreal illusion of leaves blowing in the light autumn breeze

And when the wind does blow, it tousles it into long flowing waves of tawny russet

As bright and uncommon as an old, rusted, copper penny

Eyes carried a storm inside them,

Cloudy, murky, smoky silver

Lit by the flames of both anger and love

The color of a polished piece of metal with refined, glossy swirls of ebony and cobalt

Skin was like a piquant creamy biscuit

It carried flecks of tan covered by luminous gold

It’s unmistakably yet naturally different from me


I look out and black blocks my vision

Cascading over my shoulders in a smooth, silky drop

As dark as the polished charcoal keys on my grand piano

Melted chestnut adorns my vast almond shaped eyes,

Soft and warm like the chocolate chips on a fresh oven baked cookie

Like hot chocolate, on a cold, rainy day, which engulfs you in safety and assurance

A shade of ginger skin peeks out from the curtain of onyx

And a flurry of strands rush backwards as I tuck it behind my ear

My skin is an ashen bronze, the color of a new teddy bear that reminds you of sweet memories

This time, it is finally me


Gazing about, I see society like an indisputable and auroral rainbow

So diverse, vivid, colorful, chromatic and unique

Ravishing combinations meet my wonder seeking eyes

In a whirlwind of different hues


This divergent world is a gift

Wrapped in radiating wrapping paper

Inside is an entrancing spell of love and difference

This is what I see everyday

Because this is our contemporary and coeval world

Where everyone is beautiful

No matter their colors



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.


World Sweeps Coal into Dustbin of History

It’s a humid day, reminiscent of so many others in Bangladesh, as Aarashi hops on the truck that will take him to the coal mine where he has toiled in obscurity most of his adult life. He enters the claustrophobic tunnel, like he has nearly every morning for twenty-six years, and is instantly swallowed by darkness. The mindless, repetitive motions of coal mining begin anew.

The earth doesn’t give up its treasure easily. Wresting the coal from its grasp is grueling, backbreaking work, but it feeds Aarashi’s wife and three sons, boys probably destined (some might say “doomed”) to one day follow their father into the mine. Aside from agriculture, Barapukuria Coal Mining Co. is the only source of employment within miles. The company has an economic stranglehold on the neighboring village where most workers live, but it’s a relationship both sides value as indispensable to their survival.

This day, though, news that threatens the symbiotic union circulates through the shaft. Aarashi hears his name echo through the damp bowels of the earth, and recognizes the voice as that of Nayaab, a co-worker, who bears unwelcome tidings: the government of Bangladesh is scaling back its use of coal in favor of renewable energy. Every miner in the labyrinth of tunnels feels personally threatened by the announcement, which parades under the banner of “progress.”

Although renewable energy has obvious advantages and is used to various extents around the world, coal miners — especially in poor countries like Bangladesh — are often left unemployed by the new competition. The plight of Aarashi, Nayaab, and their co-workers is but one example of the economic hardship that befalls miners when they are displaced by “green” technology, which topples old pillars of support and sometimes leaves human suffering in its wake.

Yet renewable energy seeks to avert an even greater tragedy that looms in the form of global warming. Carbon dioxide levels and global temperatures rose at their highest rates in recorded history over the last century, triggering frequent weather extremes and the extinction of certain species. Currently, fossil fuels represent the world’s main source of electricity, accounting for sixty-seven percent of total power generation.

Coal, however, is an environmental scourge. Its fumes pollute the atmosphere when burned to generate electricity, a process blamed for thirteen thousand deaths in the U.S. alone each year. An increase in renewable forms of energy will result in cleaner electrical production, reducing the demand for fossil fuels like coal. These new energy sources, which release less harmful emissions into the atmosphere, will slow down global warming and stem the increase of air-related diseases like cancer and other lung ailments.

The introduction of cleaner energy might leave Aarashi and Nayaab unemployed, but it could prevent their early deaths. Lung disease, often contracted by working long hours in the dusty underground, is an occupational hazard faced by miners worldwide. At first blush, this new technology might seem like a curse to miners, but it could prove providential to their health and welfare.

Renewables not only help the environment, in the long-term they benefit the economy and the impoverished people they initially displace. Hundreds of thousands of jobs are created to research, build, and operate renewable energy sources, putting many of the newly unemployed back to work with additional training. The new “green” jobs have the potential to lift employees out of poverty, turn them into contributing members of society, and put an end to the bleak generational cycle of sons following their fathers into the mines. College, once deemed financially off-limits to the children of miners, suddenly beckons as a possibility.

In addition, renewable energy holds the promise of supplying electricity to every home on the planet. Fully fifteen percent of the global population now lacks access to electricity. Fossil fuel prices are rising, and the cost is prohibitive for many families. People are dying of starvation because they are unable to preserve their food without electricity. Renewable energy offers new hope to this vast underclass, including Aarashi and Nayaab.

In the final analysis, we are all citizens of this world, its borders now blurred by technology and mutual threats. As such, we share an obligation to provide for our common welfare, to educate our children, and to protect the environment. Duty demands that we answer the clarion call of renewable energy, both for ourselves and succeeding generations.

Yet the United States, under President Donald Trump, is perhaps the biggest obstacle to reversing the effects of climate change. When the leaders of one hundred countries gather in Paris on Dec. 12 to intensify the fight against global warming, Trump will be conspicuous by his absence. The American president has rejected the Paris Agreement, negotiated in the French capital in 2015 to drastically curtail carbon emissions. Even war-torn Syria has pledged to join the accord.

Trump, however, has retreated to the isolationist policies of “America first,” leaving the world looking to France’s newly-elected president, Emmanuel Macron, as the de facto leader on climate change. Trump has embraced right-wing orthodoxies on the environment, and has already taken steps to revive America’s flagging coal industry, with the support of Republicans in Congress, especially those who represent Appalachia.

The U.S, president, less than a year into his first term, has indicated he intends to reverse his predecessor’s climate change policies, increase fracking for oil and gas, and lift current restrictions on coal mining. If Aarashi and Nayaab are bent on continuing their hazardous work, and find themselves unemployed under the more progressive policies of Bangladesh, they might find jobs in this country. U.S. coal mining and production actually ticked up this year.

But most analysts agree that the coal mining industry cannot ward off market forces, led by cheap natural gas, that have been building for years. Paradoxically, the Trump administration is revving up oil and gas exploration on federal lands, an intervention that has roiled conservationists and accelerated the decline of gas prices.

There are 643 million acres of federal land in the U.S., an area more than six times the size of California. Critics say this latest exploitation of natural resources threatens an iconic part of the country — and the western states’ identity. Even now, the Interior Department is drawing up plans to reduce wilderness and historic areas currently protected as national monuments, creating more opportunities for profit.

Trump has also vowed to remove roadblocks to energy projects like the Keystone XL pipeline, and promised to lift restrictions on coal mining and drilling for oil and natural gas. The president has already signed legislation that quashes the Office of Surface Mining’s Stream Protection Rule, a regulation that protected waterways from coal mining waste, enacted during the waning days of the Barack Obama administration.

“Neither a wise nor a brave man lies down on the tracks of history to wait for the train of the future to run over him,” asserted Dwight D. Eisenhower, former U.S. president and the leader of Allied Forces during World War II.

Of all the problems confronting this world, climate change is the most global. The task of converting to renewable energy should be a common effort, since bequeathing a habitable planet to our children hangs in the balance. Yet in the U.S., the coal industry exudes confidence for the first time in years as the nation abdicates its leadership role in the pursuit of profit.


A Sky Full of Mediocrity

Far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the western spiral arm of the Galaxy lies a small unregarded yellow sun.

Orbiting this at a distance of roughly ninety-two million miles is an utterly insignificant little blue green planet whose ape-descended life forms are so amazingly primitive that they still think digital watches are a pretty neat idea. — Douglas Adams; The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy


They had originally started out as simple, single-celled protozoa, just like everybody else. All was well for a short while until, one day, one of the protozoa thought it would be pretty neat to turn cannibalistic and eat all the other protozoa. And so came the very first case of obesity in the history of mankind. Overtime, more of these obese protozoa developed, and as they continued to eat each other, they turned more and more into the shape of what was eventually deemed as “man”. Man came to create governments to help maintain stability in the chaotic realms of his world. He claimed that the duty of the government was to represent the general populace and to listen to whatever this populace had to offer.

Yet, for some reason, these duties were never reciprocated back from the populace itself, as they had chosen to ignore the incessant government warnings that, some day, the planet could actually reach its breaking point. They ignored government threats warning that if they drilled to the core of the Earth, they would most certainly find liquids along the way, but it most certainly would not be oil.  They had chosen to ignore the warning signs that Earth was deteriorating. All until it was too late to turn back.

By the time the people finally lifted their heads up from the computers and the unbelievably expensive power bill, it was far too late to turn back.

“Maybe we could just move somewhere else,” someone suggested. “I hear that we haven’t completely destroyed all of space yet.” (He was quite wrong, for that matter. But not that anybody knew.)

Since nobody else had the insight to come up with an alternative, it was decided that everyone would emigrate elsewhere in space. They wrote an appeal to their government, asking for permission to use some of the stored petroleum that the government had been keeping, just in case anything like this should come up. We want to go to another planet,” they wrote, “and find another place where we can charge our phones and get good cellular service.” They sent their letter off with high hopes.

The government took its time, as it always did, to answer. After three long months, a small note, printed on a sheet of fine plastic wrap (as trees, and subsequently paper, had long disappeared), arrived. The response was quite succinct:

No, but nice try.

Everybody was extremely taken back, as they had all the necessary equipment for the one-way flight and all they needed was government approval and some fuel. All they needed was a yes, or, at least, no response, so that they could just assume that the government was busy and didn’t have the time to deal with their trivial matter. Yet, clearly, the government had not thought of their plan as a trifle, and even had taken the time to write them a response, despite it being so terse and blunt.  It was quite clear that the government would take extreme measures to ensure that everyone would stay where they were.

Another letter was quickly written back, only this time slightly more assertive: “We seek your approval on letting us travel, as our phones are running out of battery and some of us really have to update our social media statuses. Quite honestly, we would just like to be anywhere but here.” They left the reasoning part out, added something that sounded slightly more professional, and sent it in, hoping that this time the government would be a little more lenient.


When one of the government staffers received the new letter, one of the first things he had to do was to quickly finish his sandwich so that he would have enough plastic wrap to write a response. The second thing he did was figure out how to formulate an answer that could concisely explain that nobody was not allowed to leave Earth, yet at the same time be convincing and satisfying enough so that he wouldn’t get another plea to leave and have to choke down another sandwich.

Hold on a second, he thought. Why can’t they leave?

If they leave, he thought, I’ll never get another one of these letters! No letter means no work!

The staffer was enthralled by the idea; he lumbered to the safe full of fuel and grabbed a canister to ship away. “Please do not feel the urge to write a thank you note,” he scratched on the bottle. “Your departure will be equally appreciated.”


Back home, everybody was elated to see a small package arrive. They hastily filled their rocket tank with fuel, and made some general calculations for how they were going to travel to their final destination (“Just point the rocket up. It doesn’t really matter where we land.”). Finally, the chance to devastate yet another planet had finally arrived!

The average amount of time required for a rocket to reach space is approximately eight minutes, but after fifteen minutes, it seemed that our heroes were nowhere close to space. They were starting to worry a little bit, but since there seemed to be nothing wrong with the machines or the control room, everybody just assumed that maybe they were going slower than usually recommended.

It is said that time goes by slower in space, as the planets’ orbiting around the sun and the galaxy result in approximately a one second loss per Earth week. The Earthlings most certainly felt this time loss, perhaps a little more than they were supposed to. It had already been half an hour, and there was still no sight of human-sized, parasitic-looking creatures, or extraterrestrial air crafts that shot out spectacular laser beams. The sky, or whatever it was that was surrounding them, was most certainly getting darker, but it wasn’t the kind of dark like when you forgot to turn on your night light at night. The air around them seemed to be much denser than before, and the color of the clouds around them was like the color of your phone screen the second after you shut it off, at that moment of transition from dying to dead. It was a very uncomfortable sight: just looking around made everybody cringe a little.

The eerie journey only worsened from there. It had been more than an hour since take off, and nobody was quite sure whether they were still trying to break through the atmosphere or if they were just in a very disappointing-looking part of space. The engine was starting to sputter sporadically, and people were beginning to wonder if there was something wrong with the shuttle, or even the fuel itself.

The hours of mental pandemonium turned into days. People began licking the oil off the plastic wrap letter from the government staffer, and chewing on their leather seats. By the end of the week, our advanced group of obese protozoa had been completely wiped out.


Meanwhile, back on the desolate wasteland, the government staffer who was obliviously eating another sandwich decided that it was time that he summon up some courage and ask someone about what was really up there, beyond Earth, when suddenly he saw a bright, shining object fall out of the sky. A sub? A gyro? Ooh- a calzone? No, that was too good to be true, but his inevitable sense of curiosity still drove him outside. He really hoped that there wasn’t rye bread: he had already had that for four days in a row, and it was starting to taste bland.

Fortunately, there wasn’t any rye bread. Unfortunately, there wasn’t any food either. Whatever it was, it was extremely worn out: the sides were dented so much that what appeared to be letters was completely illegible. The entire mechanism itself was crushed; just like the way the staffer himself crushed soda cans.  

The staffer was deeply immersed in the idea of getting a can of soda later when he suddenly heard a deep, bellowing voice. “What’s a damn spaceship doing out here?” It was the staffer’s boss.

A spaceship? The staffer mused, how would a spaceship get here? Wouldn’t it need fuel in order to…. Oh. Shoot.

(But he didn’t say shoot. He said something much worse.)

“Well, it most certainly can’t be our ship,” the staffer’s boss huffed. “We haven’t allowed anybody to leave the planet since, well, a long time!”

The staffer turned around to face the burly man that was his superior. Now was his chance to know the truth. “Why not, sir?” he asked nonchalantly.  

The staffer soon learned why not. After admitting his mistake, the staffer’s enraged boss sent him up on a spacecraft with another canister of petroleum. Six days later, another bright object came plummeting out of the sky. When it crashed, the shock created almost tangible waves, as the buildings nearby shook a little. This nearly scared the living daylights out of the new staffer who had been hired to replace the old one. He had clutched his sandwich in fear and buried it deep in his chest.


Years later, the mystery of the two unidentified objects that fell from the sky was resolved. Researchers had literally poured their blood, sweat, and tears into finding the answer to the phenomenon, but when the question was finally answered, nobody celebrated. The answer sent a simple but haunting message to the few earthlings that remained: nobody could ever leave the planet.

Apparently all the unattended trash particles and whatnot had come together and formed almost this sort of behemothic wall of plastic wrap and unpaid electric bills, which then, having no place to escape, began to cloak Earth’s upper atmosphere. Since nobody ever bothered to do anything about it, the wall had expanded exponentially in size over the years, until it was so thick that nothing could get in or out (since people had been relying on technology for the past few decades to live, sunlight and skin cancer hadn’t been much of a problem for a while). Therefore, the scientists reasoned, the two objects that fell out of the sky must have taken off from Earth, and when it crashed into the wall, the two aircrafts, having nowhere else to go, must have fallen back down to Earth, leading all of the passengers to their presumable deaths. Whatever actually happened to the bodies of the passengers still remains a mystery; the scientists had to go on their lunch break.


The room was cold. They liked it that way. They used to talk about living in a snowglobe.

“Maybe you should talk to him, Mike.” Sarah’s back was pressed against the thin plaster wall, her knees curled into her chest, her cherry hair tangled beyond hope, her eyes sunken like stones. “Maybe you should hear his side of the story.”

Mike scoffed. His position, perched on the windowsill like an owl, cast his body in faint darkness, until Sarah could only see a black silhouette where pale skin and hazel eyes used to be. He faced the outdoors, nose pressed against the foggy glass, breathing onto the chilled surface and watching little clouds of his dirty exhalations form.

“I’d rather jump out this window,” he muttered, peering at the bustling city street below. There were yellow umbrellas down there. Yellow like the sun, like caution signs, like dead skin. Like her dead skin. “And become a flat little pancake.” He almost laughed, thinking about how the ants below would shriek and crowd around him, wanting to know why he’d done it. Tyson, he would’ve said. Ask him.

“Then go ahead.” Sarah’s voice was biting, venomous. Her eyes widened as soon as the words escaped her lips. She was always the pacifist, but just look at what the world was doing to her.

Mike turned around and she could now see his face. His eyes were sunken, too, and he grimaced. “Harsh, Sarah.”

She looked down at her bare feet, at the way her mangled toes curled on top of one another, making her cracked nails the least of her problems. She usually wore socks, but today, being raw felt comfortable.

“It’s not a bad idea,” she whispered, clenching and unclenching her toes. “It might do some good.”

Mike rolled his neck, then turned back to the window and the lifeless people below. “What, killing myself?” There goes an ambulance, he thought. Someone else is dying. But an ambulance isn’t a hospital, and paramedics can’t do shit. It’s all too slow. They’re probably already dead.

“No!” Sarah was too loud; her ears rung. “Talking to him. He deserves to hear what you have to say.”

Mike scowled. “That son of a bitch deserves nothing.”

The people below were frantic now. The cars were still; the ambulance couldn’t get through. Too slow, too slow, too slow. Mike imagined the line going flat, the steady beep that told him she was gone, piercing through their shrieks like a child’s scream. Then a punch was thrown, and Tyson was knocked to the ground, and Mike’s knuckles were bloody, and she was still gone. All because he was too slow.

But this ambulance didn’t have his sister in it. This was someone else’s doom.

“You can’t ignore him forever.” Sarah pulled her arms around her, goosebumps suddenly prickling her skin. “He didn’t know Jo was gonna take too much. None of us did.”

Mike whipped around now, gripping the edge of the windowsill like a lifeline. Sarah tried to shrink against the wall. Smaller, she thought. She wanted to be smaller.

“He fucking well knew she was going to take too much,” Mike hissed, his heart thumping. “And when she did, he did nothing.” His eyes were red, ablaze like candle flames and fresh blood. Sarah turned away.

“Did you ever think maybe it wasn’t just his fault?” Sarah asked, stroking the wall against her back. The plaster was scratched and flaking. A delicate pastry, like the ones Mike used to buy her when they pretended they lived in a snowglobe. “That maybe we all had something to do with it?”

“Are you saying I killed my sister?” Mike turned back to the window. He pressed his nose against the glass and breathed out, one drawn-out sigh escaping his lips. “That’s pretty fucking screwed up, Sarah.”

“I don’t know. I was just thinking. Maybe we were all just blind.”

“Blind?” Mike watched as the people below bustled through the streets, yellow umbrellas twirling and feet moving faster than cars. The ambulance had turned its siren off. Mike knew what that meant. He looked at the cracked watch on his right wrist. Time of death: 12:01.

“Yeah. Like, we all just kind of ignored her,” Sarah’s words were fast, fast and quiet, like quick breaths in the absence of oxygen. “We knew something was wrong, but you and I just lived in our fucking snowglobe, while Tyson kept her pain going. Until it was too late.”

“And then we were too slow,” Mike whispered. The cars started to move again, and the ambulance with the dead girl disappeared around a corner, heading to the hospital. Next comes the calls, Mike thought. Then the fighting. Then the funeral and the blame and the numbness that falls over a widowed family like a noose. That’s when you know your snowglobe is shattered. That’s when the water starts leaking out, and you suffocate, and there’s nothing you can do but watch and wait and try to breathe.

Mike suddenly turned around, eyes wide. “Why is it so cold?”

Sarah shrugged. “We used to like it this way.”

Save Me For I Am Amazing

Dear Great One, a.k.a. the one who brought me into existence… using a wonderful ballpoint pen,

I regret to “inform” you that I fear I am to die soon, but as the writer of my tale, my dear, you knew that already. I implore you to reconsider my upcoming demise. After all, you gave me a family to love and cherish, despite my obvious abandonment issues. I know that I have been fortunate the last two years of my life, what with overcoming my obvious abandonment issues and finding people who love me and will continue to love me as much as I love them. Ahhhh, I remember the days when the unrequited love I felt was a daily occurrence. Thanks to you it ‘twas not to be. And I know I should not be pestering you with my problem, DEATH, but really DEATH.

We both are aware of your disorganized persona, but we also are both led to believe you need to be organized because you are afraid of the messy world. Due to our, shall we say, looming abandonment issues. One last thing before I list all the reasons why you shouldn’t kill me, because I fear you won’t be convinced and then I will DIE without my last question having been answered. I will die with my last question just a whisper in the night. My last question is… did you give me abandonment issues because of yours? Because that would be a truly horrible fate for me just because of your trifles in life. Without further ado,

My list:

  1. I am a good listener.
  2. I am sarcastic. Amusingly so.
  3. I am not rude to anyone but you.
  4. I have abandonment issues, so take pity on a kind soul.
  5. I have shown others what little love there is in my heart.
  6. I am observant.
  7. I am the first character you ever loved to write about and created a happily ever after for.


The Person You Love To Hate


Post Scriptum: your readers love me more than you so they will abandon you and add to your abandonment issues.


Dear Declan (pronounced the clan),

I noticed that you didn’t include your actual name in your letter. I regret to “inform” you, even though you already knew this, I detest your ambiguity. I can see you laughing right now because we both know you are just a figment of my imagination, yet I am talking to you. That doesn’t make me crazy… right? Okay, now I am officially insane. You go off your meds for one day. And now you are shaking your head and laughing. STOP! You are displaying an utter disregard for my feelings on the subject of my craziness. Now, I see you shaking your head amusedly at my mumblings.

You got me sidetracked. The point of me taking time out of my busy day of book signings, meet and greets, and meetings about a movie deal — might I add, to show you the time I don’t have for you — was to address your inquiries as to your death. So, I am going to kill you off. I guess I am sorry to see you go, but think of all the buzz. Buzz like the swarm of bees that are going to kill you. Buzz sparked by the inevitable distress of my — sorry — your fans. The fangirls will write alternate endings,  freak out, and blog or whatever else their kind does. My — sorry again — your fans will not abandon me due to your death because that would mean abandoning you. You are me after all, but only a small part. That is how I know that you are currently going on and on about how I make you feel insecure about your worth. Also, your list was bothersome because you didn’t list any reasons. Author to author your argument was weak and not very put together. I assume that your sub par writing stems from writing in an idyllic world where your writing is not critiqued and scrutinized down to the use of a comma in the 52nd sentence of your 5th book. Also, you are a man, that probably helps matters.

I might as well answer your last question. I am so glad I get to say that because I was never going to get a break from your nagging. I did not give you abandonment issues because of my own, so stop being so dramatic. Woman up!

In conclusion, watch out for the buzzing in your ears.



The Woman Warning You About the Bees


My dear, one last thing before you can’t hear me anymore: don’t EVER address me as my dear, it is condescending.

First Hunt

My foot falls are marked by the crackle of twigs and papery leaves,

Around me, I know they’re watching, waiting; they’re somewhere.

Pulling my spindly frame up the ladder, I see the woods differently.

As I rise from the floor to the canopy, the grey rocks and leaves and knotted brush slowly give

way into the open, elegant lines of tree trunks.

The leaves shimmer, shivering in the cold crisp air.

Hanging my pack, I listen, trying to distinguish the rhythmic sound of footsteps from the rattling of trees. Somewhere, something is listening as intently as I do.


As the sun slowly fades above the trees, the wind dies, revealing a forest full of hidden life, disguised by the trees and stones.


Something is there.


The rhythmic crinkling of footsteps moves around my tree, invisible, taunting me.

Suddenly the rhythm, more discernible against the falling of leaves, gets nearer.

The sky dims.

The footsteps stop abruptly, listening for something I can’t hear, looking for something I can’t see.

A moan.

A scream.

The terrible exclamations of coyotes bounces off the old stone walls, echoing in woods, bloodchilling.

The nightmarish noise makes me grip the gun tighter.

The biting November wind sweeps in to accompany the joyous screams of wild dogs.

My fingers are numb, my gloves penetrated by the air.

My toes, in the warmest socks, are snapped at by the hungry cold.


As the sky mellows into a dark blue, the light disappears.

Shadows become more defined.

My hopes dim with the light.

The something, just beyond sight, eludes my vision and taunts the gun.

One final clamour of coyotes announces the arrival of the night.


I climb down the ladder carrying the sun with me, plunging the forest into darkness,

a shadow only penetrated by the eerie white light of my lamp.

Zeroed Out

Behind me was chaos. I knew people were fretting and spinning and shrieking, but I stayed with my forehead pressed against the ice-cold window of the space station. I forced myself to watch the eerie white expand over the Earth as if the swirls encircling the planet thought they could conceal the rest of the universe from the obliterated sadness that was now left. I had assumed if we broke out into a nuclear war it would be more climactic –not that the government would just mandate reruns of the 1951 “Duck and Cover” and turn Bert the Turtle into bumper stickers and collectible figurines. Even as an astronomer, part of me had always expected comical red and orange flash explosions.

Caden slid next to me and pasted himself against the window as well. “People are zeroing out, Cressida.” He said it in his deep, quiet rumble, voicing my name with constancy that made me tingle.

I knew what he meant. People couldn’t bear the thought of being the abandoned remains of our world. Of sipping coffee on a spacecraft for years with nowhere to return to. They would move towards the hatch doors without their suits and leave the station, not caring to find out how much longer they could keep going. We were supposed to be strong and know that death was imminent, but many couldn’t bear it when it was slow and foreseen. They had reached their lowest point.


Caden looked at me with soft, glimmering eyes that wanted to shield me from any pain. He tucked a honey strand of hair that had escaped my braid behind my ear, letting his freezing fingers linger a moment on the nape of my neck. I could tell he had been working outside the craft. His breath was tangy, his hair smelled bitterly of diesel and thawed metal.  His dark skin glistened with sweat and his eyes were teary like mine.

“Most of Unit Nine,” he answered finally. He bit his lip as he did when he held his breath and turned his head left; scant hairs on top trailed a millisecond behind, standing straight, having been kissed by static electricity.

“What about Bec?”

“She’s fine.” He responded instantly, reflexively. Bec was my magnet. I couldn’t be without her. Him either.

I looked again at our miserable planet and was roughly grateful that they had made no effort to prepare us. I regarded the churning ashes and comatose atmosphere. It seemed inadequately serene. I was waiting for Earth to begin quivering and combusting and chortling and unleashing itself in a gleeful rage of lava and Hell. I was half-heartedly expecting an unveiling of Satan. Something entirely irrational and absurd that would just somehow make the collapse clear anyway.

Caden stepped closer to me. “I know it won’t help to hear this right now but—”

“I need to go keep people calm and check the supplies. I know.”

“I was going to say I love you, Cressida, but that’s true as well,” Caden whispered.

“I love you, too,” I said, squeezing his wrist lightly, looking at him with warmth. I couldn’t bear to wonder what would become of us now. The little girl inside me had been expecting a picturesque wedding. A white one, maybe, with Calla Lilies and Tulips and a triple-tier cake like they used to have hundreds of years ago. I looked down at my engagement ring, which was a laser-pointer ring used for giving presentations in the Space Lounge. Caden had proposed spontaneously. I knew he surprised himself just as much as he surprised me.

I swiveled around now, breathing in quickly, somehow feeling selfish as I did so, as if the oxygen supply was not unbounded, as if breathing took longer than it should. I headed to the storage room, hoping Bec would go there as well.

I felt awkward, like I had heavy weights in my hands but there was no mass inside of me, no tasks of obligation remaining. Like I was Phillippe Petit, 718 years in the future, walking from one Twin Tower to the other but realizing that the towers had crumbled below my feet as I walked. Yet I was still walking; walking across the sky with no tightrope. I felt guilty, as if I should throw myself into a gutter but that didn’t make sense at all. My body shivered, almost as if every part of me had realized that I was still standing. I could blink. I could lick my lips. I could feel sweat between my toes.

I heard the cacophony of footsteps and clicking heels and the whir of machines and fans. I took a sharp left, walking down the alabaster hallway. Empty offices, doors strewn open, and piles of devices being organized by apparatuses that could understand no difference in situation. I kept my feet moving, faster and faster, realizing that my life had been spent doing things of little importance.

I’d been here less than a year and the view from the gigantic windows to my right had always stolen my attention. But this time as I walked alongside the incredible sized sheets of insulated glass, I forced myself to look away – to not be deluded by my fried home planet. Even so, I pictured my little brother and parents rupturing into trillions of particles, whirling across crooked countries and sloshing seas. Lifted by the same wind currents that carried my favorite ice cream store sign and the tree at the end of our block that I always hated as a child. It would almost be easier to picture 37 billion dead bodies than picture none at all and just dust.

I punched in the nine-digit code for the storage room and stepped through the doors, which slid open instantaneously like it recognized the desperation and scarcity of time. The room was three stories high with outlandish tile work and drawer complexes. The white was overpowering. Flickers of green materialized from perfect retina circles on the faces of each capsule that was fully stocked and red emanated from each that was running low.

“Cressida.” I knew the voice was Bec’s before I even saw her. Voice recognition is so weird.

We ran at each other, sailing into each other’s arms.

She was a war veteran and I was her family and it was like she had been gone for five years. And I needed her to feel like I can breathe again.

We spoke at the same time. “—Are you okay? —” “—Yes—” “—Wait—“ “—Not really—” And it wasn’t weird because that’s how we were.

She pulled me after her as she slid over to the main monitor in the center of the room. It stood six feet tall, three millimeters thin, virtually invisible when not turned on.

“Ready?” I asked, though the question was mainly posed towards myself.

Bec turned the monitor on slowly, hesitating as if she were a kid playing with a light switch, trying to balance it between on and off.

I winced.

The power went on in seconds, showing the standing status of food supply. Three dimensional graphs and models were projected within an instant. The two of us raked through information until we got to the heart.

“Seven years, six months, twenty-three days.” My voice surprised myself.



Bec studied me. I saw her lip quiver as she attempted speech. “Cressida. You should go somewhere. Take them to Neptune. Do something that hasn’t been done. There won’t be anyone to remember it, but at least it’ll be the last thing you remember.” She took a step toward me. Her voice resonated in the room, delicate and exposed.

“Neptune would take under five years.” It was my favorite planet.

“Do it, Cress. You and Caden could easily convince the team.” Caden could do it, I knew. He had a way with words.

“What about you?” My words tumbled out of my mouth and she hugged me and it felt like we were at a funeral with crystallized tears in our eyes that wouldn’t run.

“I’m jumping.” Her words were muffled by my hair but they hit with full tilt anyway.

A second slithered by slowly like a slug creeping across asphalt. We stood in a silence that was uneasy and unfamiliar. I saw us rocking back and forth on blue hover seats twenty years ago with sparkling eyes, laughing with vanilla blossom smiles like we never wanted to die.

“You’ve decided?” It felt like a bruised answer, something incomplete and lacking affection.

“I have,” she said. “I have, and it’s not because I don’t love you and you’re not enough. But you have to let me, because I can’t sit here with twiddling thumbs and fake smiles for seven years. I have to pay tribute.”

“People have paid tribute, Rebecca. Several people from your unit have already,” I said, letting desperation peek through my words.

“They did it because they were incapable of living like this. Please understand, I’m not zeroing out. I’m not weak, but I’m not strong like you are. I can’t live a finite life built on whim. I’m doing it because I can’t be bound by an obligation that doesn’t exist anymore, and I need to show myself that I’m human and I sympathize and I feel their loss and that we all do and I just have to do it. I have to be with them. You can keep going. You have a way of thinking that has astounded me since we were children and your life keeps plowing on and on and I need you to keep going and do what you’ve always wanted to do. Please understand.”

I did understand. Of course I did.

She took me, frozen, into her arms and told me she was leaving and that she loved me and told me to stay here, not to watch and not to say anything. She left me, arms pendent, facing the towering monitor in the center of the room, seeing the green and red flashes of the supply capsules in my peripheral.  I heard her heels clicking and the door hissing as it closed behind her. I felt time pulsing inside me and I didn’t know how long it was, but there was a ‘ting.’

I lifted my eyes to the monitor where the remaining time was displayed, wincing as I saw twenty-three days morph into forty-four. So that’s how much a life was worth. Twenty-one days.

I twisted down the alabaster hallways, passing the empty offices, stopping, this time, to look through the colossal glass windows into the black, watching the beauty of the trillions of dancing stars, somehow aching for the warmth of sunlight.

Star Bright

Star Bright by Anna McNulty

            My room is shrinking. My walls are covered in old photos glued to the paint. The photos are fading and wrinkling, and I have no new family photos to replace them. It’s going to be two years on Friday, two years since life released my mom into the heavens. She fought and began her own quiet war, but the medications failed on her and us. All of us.  But, family therapy has helped. I tell my therapist, this lovely lady named Patrice, everything. I’m made of laughter and tears, joy and pain, but pain doesn’t have to be part of me forever. I can set it free.

            My mom told me when she was sick that I needed to move on and Dad and Franki had to, as well.

            Before she slipped away, she said, “I’ll always love you guys, and I wish I could be here and watch you all grow, but life is ready to take me away too soon. I’ll always be watching down on you. James, you were my first real love and you always will be. Franki and Stella, I’ll be there for your graduations, your weddings, your baby showers, wherever life leads you. I’ll always be there, waiting and watching.” Then she kissed us all on the forehead and her hands went cold. Her bed of tubes and wires fell asleep forever.

            I walk on Column Avenue, the main street in Beaver Creek. After therapy, I take the shuttle home and run inside past my red door, covered in snow, and into our navy blue house that sits on a hill.

            “Hey, Stell, how was it?”

            “The usual, fine. Kinda borin’,” I say in a hurry, grabbing my gloves. “I’m going to the woods.”

            “Why? It’s freezing, and anyways, the Reynolds are coming over tonight.”

            “You know, I always go to my fort in the woods. Just call me back when Jesse comes over.”

            I walk into the forest like I do whenever I need time to think.

The trees calm me and help lighten my day. The crisp whispers between the leaves, the calming laugh of the wind, and the echoes of the trees help me relax. I’ve only taken three people here, my sister, Dad and my best friend Mia. I only take people who understand me, and who I trust. I started building my little fort in the woods the day after my mom passed away, right before her funeral. I needed a place by myself where I could go and escape my haunting reality. My fort now has a mattress, tree lights, a little couch and a mini fridge. It’s in a tent, and I put it right where my mom used to take me at nights to watch the stars shine.  Once in a blue moon, we’d see stars fly across the banner of twilight.

            I lie on my mattress, and for once, I try to think about people other than my mom or Jesse, but I can’t. Jesse, my best guy friend and a good family friend, was the first person I called when my mom was diagnosed and the first one I told that my mom passed away. He’s not complicated like my friend Mia, he just gets me. I stop daydreaming and grab my jacket, the Colorado snow is caving into my tent.

            Someone knocks on the fort outside,

            “I’m coming, Dad!” I say as I zip open the door.

            I look outside. “Franki!” I scream as my older sister jumps in and hugs me. I hold her close as I start to cry with joy.

            “I didn’t think you would come back from college ’til March!” I burst out as my body shakes.

            “I’ve got so much to tell you. Does Dad know you are home yet?”

            “Of course, I wanted to surprise you!” She says as she kicks the snow in my face.

            “Ohhh, Stell, the Reynolds are coming over tonight. That means Jesse, too!”

            “Shut up, Franki, you promised you wouldn’t tell anyone or make jokes, seriously. I haven’t even told Mia.”

            “I know, I know, I would never,” Franki says laughing at me.

            We open the door and Dad comes and hugs us both.

            “It’s been so lonely without you, Frank. We’ve missed you.”

            “Franki, please stay. I need you here for the rest of 8th grade.”

            “I can’t, Stella, I would love to, though.”

            The kitchen smells of chili and cocoa as the fireplace sparks, and jazz music plays through the speakers of our loft-like house.

            “The Reynolds are here,” I say as I wave at Jesse and his younger sister through the window.

            Franki winks at me, and I start to kick her, and Jesse runs in and starts hitting Franki. We and the Reynolds are like family, which in some ways is good, but it scares me in others.

            At the end of dinner, Jesse, Franki, and I walk outside and talk. We sit there ’til 11 o’clock, and then Franki leaves to go upstairs.

           “I know this is an important and hard week for you, Stella, but I want you to know I’m here for you, if you need anything.”

            “Thanks,” I say, holding back my tears.

            “Jesse,” I say choking up, “You were the first person I called when my mom died. I trust you with everything.”

            “I thought you called Mia first,” he said looking at me through his hazel eyes.

            “No,” I said my throat dry, “you.”

            “Don’t be scared to cry in front of me,” he says.

            ‘I’m an ugly crier,” I say, and we both laugh.

            My laugh becomes tears, and he gently puts my head on his shoulder as I cry. My sadness is only a dream with Jesse, as he holds my head and keeps me strong. We sit there on the steps of my house, as we watch the stars.

            “Look, a shooting star–Make a wish!” he says and points to a star that is flying through the night.

            “You’re crazy,” I say as I giggle and wipe my tears away on my sweater. I silently make a wish.


            Friday comes as I feared. I hoped it would never come, I hoped I could pause life or maybe fast forward past this day. But I can’t run away from reality, I have to face it. I don’t go to school today, and Franki is staying home ’til Sunday. I lug my body to her room and hurl myself onto her floral bed.

            “Two years,” I say under my breath.

             She looks up at me and then grabs me close.

             “Mom would have loved to see the little woman you’ve become. She was so strong and did everything to put others before herself, just like you, Stell.”

            We lie together on her bed in silence as Dad walks in. He lies down with us as we stare at the walls as a family. Yes, we are an injured family, full of confusion and pain, who love each other more than words. “We love you, Mommy,” I say.

            “Mom didn’t want us to suffer because of her. She told us not to stick to her, but for us to live on and move on with her in our hearts,” Dad says, trying to lift our spirits and convince himself.

            “You’re right, Dad, let’s make some breakfast.” Franki says.

            We make Mom’s famous pancakes as a family and light candles as snow whispers outside our windows. The day moves on slowly, as we mourn but try to move on from our solemnity. I go to my fort with Franki, and we sit and look through photos from when we were little. We share our favorite stories as we cuddle in blankets and pillows. Finally, we walk back home and sit with our dad. In the afternoon, the doorbell rings and Jesse stands there in his big jacket with flowers.

            ‘Hey, Mr. Milam,” Jesse says as he leans in and hugs my dad. “I’m so sorry.”

            “It’s so kind of you to stop by,” Dad says.

            “I brought you guys some flowers, and my family sends their wishes. Can I see Stella and Franki?”

            “Yeah, they’re upstairs,” Dad says.

            Jesse walks upstairs and comes into my room.

            ‘Hey,” he says and leans in and hugs me. “How are you doing?” he says.

            “I’m fine,” I say as I pull my long curly brown hair up.

            Franki comes in and hugs Jesse, and we share our favorite memories of our mom with Jesse. He sits there and listens like a good friend and doesn’t interrupt. When we break down in tears, he waits and calms us. Franki eventually leaves to call her best friend, and I think I should probably call Mia, but I wait.

            “You know, I’ve never taken you to my hiding place. Where I go to escape. I’ve only taken Mia, Franki and Dad, but I want you to come. I started building my fort the day after Mom passed away.”

            “I’d love to go, Stellie,”

            My eyes widen and almost smile; He’d never called me a nickname before. We walk through the snow and I tell him about my fort.

            “It’s the most important place to me, and I only take the people I trust.”

            “I’m honored,” he laughs as we walk on.

            When we enter the fort, Jesse freezes.

            “This is amazing, Stella. It’s magical.”

            “The first memory I had with my mom is right here, it’s where we would go to talk and watch the stars.”

            “Stella…” Jesse says struggling for words. “This is hard to say, but I’m going to try, so please listen. I’ll always be here for you to talk to, and I always want to be. You mean beyond the world to me and I want you to know that. You’ll always be my best friend.”

            I look at him startled.

            He grabs my hand, and it starts to snow.

            I hold on to his hand, as he protects me, and I place my head on his shoulder. The trees guard us. He gently stops walking and pulls me into him and kisses me. My body heats up, and I hold onto him closely.

            “Is that okay?” he says, “I’ve always wanted to do that.”

            “I’ve always wanted you to,” I say and laugh.

            Out of the corner of my eye, I see a star fly by.  Finally, I’m set free as my mom lets me slip away.

How To Kiss Death

I don’t believe in

History class for the same reason

I don’t believe in



maybe, just

maybe if I don’t believe

in it,

it will go away.

maybe, just

maybe if I don’t think about


it will





History class,

that is.

ghosts will always linger

somewhere. everyone

knows that.


it’s not that I don’t



it’s just that I don’t…

fine,  I don’t like History class

there. I said it. quote me.

it’s not the teacher or the homework.

(I mean, I get As and B+s)

I study! I have fun!


but how do you

believe in something that

you don’t know it positively happened?

yes, evidenceblahblahblah,

but I wasn’t there!

(fine, I’m a narcissist.)


and we don’t know it happened!

like we don’t

KNOW that ghosts

really exist!


History and ghosts.

two things that go well together:

put in some

Genocide, one cup of

Evil, a teaspoon of

Heroism, a pinch of

War with some sugar on top,

Sugar that tastes like blood.


Because that



History is.

Genocide and Evil (a bit of heroism) and War and Sugary Blood.

and, like Halloween,

Death and ghosts come out

of the shadows

in the night.

but mostly death and

I wish there was a book

in the library, called:

How to Kiss Death


and I wish this because most people don’t

understand why they die.

it’s because they won’t accept Death,

because they don’t want to become just another

spot on the map of History


page one:


there’s no going back,

but once you go back you’re on Death’s list.

suddenly, swiftly, Death will attack.

and then, big and bolded, chapter one: How to Kiss


you should wait in the shadows

until Death comes, pitying you,

and you cry from your sore mouth

and bleeding lips and broken heart,

Death will cease your fears and your worries and

Death will Kiss you and all of your dreams will come true and

Death will help you and hurt you and make you better than you ever were and

Death will kill you but it will be worth it and

Death will Kiss you with its salty lips until

Death sucks all of the pain out of you,

Death stops the crying and reverses the clock and

Death will help you-

and then I closed

the book







because, well, Death?!

No one wants to think about Death!


(oh, but, like, sorry if you’re maybe thinking about death right now…?)


and if I don’t think about it,

maybe, maybe it will go away,

Death might sneak back to the dusty corner

it came from, and it might go back from where it came from,

Death might retreat from History and History might not

be full of ghosts and ghosts

might Kiss Death back–


but I don’t think about those things,

it’s bad to think about– or is it?


is it bad to plan your future,

to remember your past, to acknowledge

the dead who

Kissed Death back


yes, it is bad,



maybe, just

maybe if I don’t believe

in it,

it will go away.

maybe, just

maybe if I don’t think about


it will






it is good to delve in,

for another bite,

another lesson,

another Kiss.

I open the book;

Chapter two:


Don’t Resist.

Up In The Air

I have trouble getting my dresser drawers open these days. I have trouble opening the doors in my house, putting my clothes on, picking things up, basically doing anything that requires getting a grip on something; physically and/or emotionally. It’s probably because I’ve just been so sad. The saddest I’ve been in a while. So sad that I can’t complete everyday tasks. It’s like my emotions have just stopped varying and I’m only feeling one way all the time, and I know that’s not human. I could try to fix it, but the problem is I can’t remember why I feel like this in the first place.

Did I ever know why? Was there ever a reason? The past few days have been a blur and I can’t seem to stay in sync with my surroundings anymore. What’s wrong with me?

This morning I waste a good ten seconds of my time to get my drawer open, twenty-two seconds put on my clothes and get ready to go to school. I’m too upset to talk to anyone, even my parents, but that’s okay because they’ve been ignoring me too. It’s like they don’t even notice me, but that’s also okay, because I can tell they’re sad about something too. Last month a close friend of my parents’ moved away. My dad got over it quickly, but Mom was really sad about it. When my mom is sad, she isolates herself from reality. I’m almost positive she was beginning to get over it, but who knows? She could have shifted back into the depression at any point without my knowledge. Why on earth could that be? Does she not know why either? Are we experiencing the same thing? This thought hasn’t crossed my mind before so I go up to my mom, who is sitting glumly at the dining room table, reading the paper.

“Mom,” I say, taking my chances. I know she won’t respond but I’m a little more eager to get some answers from her this time, so I press on.

“Mom,” I plead, but as expected, she looks up from the paper, sighs, briefly buries her head in her hands and continues reading the whatever depressing news is in today.

I get the door open after four tries, (a new record,) and go to the bus stop. God, I’m such a mess.

I wait for the bus along with all the other talkative students in my school, but none of them are talking to me. Not even Lucy and Ben. They don’t even see me. They aren’t even talking to each other, they’re just sitting next to each other with their faces sad and their fingers intertwined. When I think I’m too close to them, I back away, because we had a fight last week and I bet they’re still mad at me. I still am a little annoyed with them, but my boyfriend and girlfriend best friends are looking sadder than I’ve ever seen them, and it breaks my heart regardless. Suddenly, Lucy takes out her phone and unlocks it, revealing the picture that we took at Georgiana’s sweet sixteen. She glances at it and then buries her face into Ben’s shoulder. Ben kisses her on the forehead and rubs her back. I never thought they would be that sorry. Just to play hard to get, I leave the premises. The bus approaches and I go up the stairs behind a few other kids.

I watch as they insert their MetroCards, retrieve them and find a seat. As I am about to do the same, the girl behind me shoves me to the side and away from the paying area. I can tell she didn’t see me, but she didn’t react at all. I soon realize that this girl is Ariel Winters, who has hated me since sixth grade. However, I still think it’s weird that she didn’t glare at me afterwards. No one saw it happen, so I sneak my way towards the rest of the seats, because who doesn’t want a free bus ride? The peculiar thing is the bus driver doesn’t notice either, which makes me feel uneasy, but even so, I sit down on the cold, blue bus seat.

I get to school and head to my first class, an acting class for all the seniors rehearsing an audition for Juilliard in the drama department. I’ve been working on my monologues for weeks and the auditions are next weekend. According to Ms. Tristan, I couldn’t be more prepared, and she said last week that she’s going to try to focus on everybody else since they need more help than I do. Even so, Ms. Tristan always makes sure everybody has their turn by the end of the class period.

I walk in and sit down. I’m the first one there, even before Ms. Tristan. Ms. Tristan always comes after everyone is here. A group of my classmates come in talking, and among them is Damien, my crush since middle school. I know he doesn’t like me back, because I got one of our mutual friends to subtly ask him in seventh grade, so that’s been taken care of. I never stopped liking him, though. He never really talks to me, but we exchange our pleases and thank yous when holding the door or undergoing other everyday exchanges. We don’t have any kind of relationship at all, which saddens me every time I think about it.

Everyone is finally in the room, but nobody sits down until Ms. Tristan comes in with her iPad and red horn-rimmed glasses perched on the tip of her upturned nose.

“Settle down, settle down,” she says with her uppity, theatery tone of voice. “I suppose you’ve all memorized your pieces and are ready to perform them in tip top shape, yes?”

The class lets out a disgruntled mix of yeahs and ehs. Damien sits down next to me in one of the chairs that is organized in the semi-circle. I smile to myself since his chair is unusually close to mine.

“Marcus, remind me when your audition is?” Ms. Tristan asks.

“The eleventh,” Marcus replied. “Nine thirty.”

A thought strikes me. That’s when my audition is. January eleventh at nine thirty. The first one of the day. He can’t have my same time. That’s impossible. I must have read the date wrong. I’ll have to check the website.

“Alright, Clarissa. Give us your first one.”

Clarissa stands up, goes to the middle of the circular choir room and performs her monologue. Eventually everyone does their pieces but Ms. Tristan never calls on me. She told me last week that she wouldn’t work as hard with me, but she would still ask me to perform during class. The period ends and I sadly leave the choir room without having done my monologues. I wind up walking out next to Damien. I go to open the door for him. As far as I know, the door knob is in my hand and I am smiling my politest smile, but I don’t realize that the door is still closed until Damien brushes past me to open it. I sigh and go through the door after him.

I don’t understand how my sadness interrupts my daily actions this much. It’s quite annoying, but being annoyed saddens me even more. It isn’t even that I’m capable of feeling another way. When I try to be in another mood, it’s like I stop in my tracks and turn back around.

By second period, I decide I’m too out of it to trudge through a day of school. I can usually push through a Monday, but there’s something about today that is just too exhausting. My sadness is almost so tiring that I can barely stay alive. After math, I go straight home. It’s not like I get good grades anyway. I can see there’s no point in me being here.

I get home and I see my parents are asleep. I decide to lock myself in my room and practice my monologues. I finish the first one, but then I remember what Marcus said about his audition date.

I run to my computer and pull up the Juilliard website. I go to the page where they list all the names and dates of the applicants in chronological order. I skim the list three or four times and I don’t see my name. I feel the anxiety and fear rising up inside of me, mixed with my sadness. I don’t feel this way only because my name has miraculously disappeared from the application list, but because now I remember what happened two days go. I remember why everything has been so off since that fateful day, and why I’ve been so sad and invisible. Two days ago was the car crash. I hear the doorbell ring, but I stay where I am. Why should I answer the door if I’m just a ghost?



An Address to Remember

While the big kids were hunting, gathering food, and making shelters, I sat all alone alone on the deserted beach. Huge waves were crashing down, just like the tears on my smooth face. I was not at home. I was nowhere near home. Did anyone know where we were? The hope of rescue seemed… not possible now, since there was a lurking beast that was probably destined to eat all of the boys, including me, Percival Wemys Madison. The Vicarage, Harcourt St. Anthonys, Hants, telephone, telephone, tele-. I always forgot the telephone number. But what good use was it anyhow, stranded with no connection to home sweet home? All I remembered of home was the address. Not even how my house looked, where it was, or who my parents were. Nothing.

I sat, scrunched up so that my face was squeezed next to my knees. My shorts were in bits and pieces, barely covering my privates. My shirt, filled with rips and holes, did not keep me warm from harsh cold winds that were blowing. I lied down, eyes trying to shut, mind trying to remember what home was like. I heard a noise. It was not one of the big boys, whose names did not stick like my address, but a monster. The beast?! I thought to myself. An uneasy feeling went through me, my stomach ached and rumbled. Was this the end? Was the beast going to eat me alive? I pondered these questions and tried to think of happier thoughts.

Although very afraid, I picked up my head from the ground, looked up to see a creature lurking from the water. Whatever it was, it was something like the beast everybody had been chattering about. I didn’t know what to do. Was I to run away and let the boys know? What if the beast followed me and found the rest of the boys? I ran, but my little legs only took me so far. I kept going, not wanting to be taken away by this horrid figure. The fat boy, the one that they all hated, was the first boy I saw. I had to tell him. He seemed knowledgeable, and if I didn’t tell someone, this beast was going to haunt my dreams that would be soon become nightmares.

Although extremely fat, this boy, whatever his name was, was nice enough to listen to what I had to say and didn’t treat me like I was some little boy who couldn’t do anything or didn’t know anything. I could do stuff, I knew stuff! Fatty, as I now remembered, was stunned to hear what I said. He was in shock, but he believed me and didn’t laugh at what I saw.

I looked around after Fatty had left me and saw that he and the chief conversed for a while, and suddenly I saw the conch. I don’t know why, but the conch in this moment reminded me of home… Some noise I would hear every hour… What was it? Everything was unclear except for my address; Percival Wemys Madison. The Vicarage, Harcourt St. Anthonys, Hants, telephone, telephone, tele-. This was a sign that a meeting was going to be soon, and I didn’t know how this was going to go. I hoped to tell all the boys about how I saw the beast coming out of the water, but I would probably get humiliated by them. This is because I’m just some younger kid who is afraid of a huge beast that they are all probably afraid of inside but are too wimpy to show it on the outside. They are big, tall, some were fat and others were skinny but they towered over me. Maybe they were the real beast. Was it a boy just lurking out of the ocean? I thought for a quick second. I shrugged my shoulders and waited for the night meeting to begin.

The sound of the conch, loud, was beginning to become unpleasant after hearing it so many times. This was the first meeting I was somewhat nervous about and was the first one during the nighttime. If Fatty told them about what I saw they’d probably all laugh at me in great disbelief. I knew it even now before it happened. But I saw something–I know I did! And what else is huge and comes out of the water from nowhere? All the big boys gathered along and sat where they wanted to, and I sat with some other younger kids, barely being seen with the thick grass that was very tall, blocking some of our vision.

After Ralph tried to discuss many things, they finally brought up the beast. Fatty signalled that I was the boy who said something and there was already a little laughing from the boys. Younger boys around me furiously pushed me and I stood knee-deep in the central grass, trying to look at my hidden feet.

Ralph asked me, “What’s your name?”

I didn’t want to answer. Then Fatty asked me the same question, “What’s your name?”

Again, I didn’t answer. Because of the silence, the big boys around me broke into a chant saying “What’s your name? What’s your name?” I was very intimidated. Why did everybody care about my name? I bet they did not know any of the other small kids name. They didn’t seem to care about us… But finally, I said it.

“Percival Wemys Madison. The Vicarage, Harcourt St. Anthonys, Hants, telephone, telephone, tele-” After saying this, the thought of home made me weep. Tears ran down my face faster than they had ever, and my face puckered. Even when one of the boys shouted shut up, I would not shut up! My tears kept flowing and my crying continued caused by the thought of home. Much laughter came from the boys during this. Next, they kept asking me about where I saw the beast, so I told them: from the water. This also caused an uproar and by the end of this all, I had given up. I sat back down on my log, my place in society, and tears did not flow anymore. I smiled to myself, hoping that I could one day be back at that address. Reciting the few words of my address yet again, I forgot the large island I was on filled with frightening barbaric boys. My address made my tears of fear and sadness into tears of joy; my address was the one thing that made me think we would be rescued from this place one day. Luckily this address was one that I would never forget, so that hope always stayed in me, until the very last moment I spent on that island.

The Girl With The Map Face

The girl with the map face has lived on my block since I moved here twelve years ago. She lives in a small two story house with a small one story tree in the front yard. I’ve never seen anyone else in her house. She must live alone. I wish I lived alone. But my house is always filled with things that won’t go away. There’s a cherry blossom tree in the bath and there’s a brownstone in my living room. My kitchen is filled with giraffes and a bird’s nest grew at the foot of my bed. Sometimes new things pop up and sometimes the old ones grow. Some were there when I moved in but they were smaller then. About the size of saplings.


Today I’m out of orange juice so I head to the store. Walking down my block I see the girl with the map face. As she walks she laughs. Head back, shoulders heaving she laughs wholeheartedly. I wish I could see what she was laughing at, but maybe I did and just didn’t find it funny. She could’ve been laughing at the sound of someone stirring their tea in the café. Or at the laundry making rounds in the laundromat on the corner. Or at a fly that buzzed past her. She’s funny that way.

She turns with me as I make a left into the parking lot of the supermarket. We walk along past the parked cars and the lost shoes and the shopping carts. People turn to look at her as they walk by, wondering if they’ve seen her correctly. When they do she smiles and waves. I’ve never been as confident as that. I’ve never been anything like her. She walks into the store, opening her arms wide as the automatic doors swoosh open. Once she’s in she shuts her arms together as the doors swoosh close. She laughs and turns on her heel, disappearing inside. I follow shaking my head, almost in embarrassment, at the people staring in shock or disgust. They’ve never understood the girl with the map face the way she understands herself. They’ve never understood themselves the way she understands them.


* * * * * *


My name is Johnny Garage and I love people-watching. I’m good at it too, I notice the smallest details. On the subway my favorite thing is seeing people’s pupils race as they follow the signs on platforms as they rush past them. My second favorite thing is making up stories about people in my head. New York City is a good place for people-watching. There are stories walking down the street, in the park, in the library. My notebook is almost full with them, their lives and thoughts and what they’re eating for lunch spread out across my wrinkled pages. I have several sections devoted to the girl with the map face. Each page suggesting a different disaster for her to overcome. Volcanic eruptions, or robberies, or murder mysteries, or lost in the desert, or something.


Today’s subway ride home has a sobbing baby at one end of the car and a man playing loud music at the other. It starts to get to me and so I decide to lose myself in the girl with the map face’s miraculous escape from an underwater cave. I am writing intently until we reach my stop. It’s late and the darkness outside shocks my eyes as they go from the flickering fluorescent lights to the pitch black outside.

I pass by the laundromat and the café and am walking by the playground, empty of kids now. A shadowy figure is laying on the bench. I can tell it’s her by the dreamy way she looks up at the stars. I stand outside the wrought iron gate and watch her. Her hands are up, pointing at the sky, tracing constellations. She lifts her head suddenly and smiles up at me. Lit up by the streetlamps and the moonlight, she sits up and beckons to me. I stay there, watching, waiting. She turns away with her back to me. I cautiously take a few steps in, then a few more until I’m there, sitting on the bench next to her. She doesn’t look at me or say anything. We sit there in silence. The girl with the map face and I are sitting in silence.

We stay there for a while, watching the sky, watching each other. Then she turns to me. “You should come over sometime.” She hops up and walks away. I sit in the dark a while longer.


A map has attached itself to the wall in my stairwell. That’s the way it is with the things in my house. They spring up out of nowhere and nothing I can do will tear them down. I wonder if the map could have anything to do with tonight. I don’t know how it knew. How my house knew.

The goldfish bowl in my cupboard has grown to the size of an oven. My cereal boxes are pressed up against it, fighting for the bit of room left on the shelf. I pull them out, make myself some cereal, and eat. Some of my best thinking is done over cereal.


I don’t know how I know, but I can tell that today is the day she wants me to come over. The map in the hall grew a few inches and when I walk out to get the paper it winks at me the same way she beckoned last night. I sit at the kitchen table. What if she isn’t home? What if she doesn’t actually want me there? I can’t think about it too hard so I get dressed. I stand in the doorway of my house looking out at the sidewalk. There’s a sharp red line folding down over the stairs and curving sharply left, sketching out the way to her house. It propels me to walk, to go down the stairs and follow it. Her house is finally there, looming with a kind of forgetfulness. I open the gate. I’ve never even thought about opening her gate. I’m the kind of person that watches. And now here I am, opening her gate. The walkway up to her door is the same as any other but it feels different. I stand on her porch and hesitate. But the red line urges me forward and I ring the buzzer. A bell sounds throughout the house and then I can see her coming towards me, opening the door. She’s standing in front of me. She is barefoot, her toenails painted an orchid shade of pink. She grins at me. “I’m glad you came.” I follow her inside.

The girl with the map face leads me through her house. I don’t look at any of it as it goes by. I look at the back of her neck, forming delicate creases as she turns her head around to smile at me. I look at her arms dragging along the walls, her fingers tracing the picture frames. I look at her heels and the way they pound the floor making a thud that spreads like a spiderweb through the house. We reach the back door and walk out into the backyard. It’s small and grassy and in the center is a blanket, food laid out on top of it. She turns to face me. “I thought a picnic would be nice.”

We eat ham sandwiches and chocolate chip cookies. “I’m sorry, I’m not the best cook,” She says. I shake my head. “Oh, I don’t mind.” She lays back on the blanket and I do the same. “I’ve seen you before, you know. Before you came to the playground.” She turns her face to me. I could watch it for hours. “I know,” I say. I didn’t know. Her face flickers and for a second I can see the laughter from a few days ago.

“What do you write in your notebook?”


“Am I in any of them?”

I contemplate a lie. “Yes.”

She sits up. “Why?”

I’m confused. “Why what?”

“Why am I in them.”

I have to think about this for a while.

“Because I like thinking about you.”

This makes her grin. She falls back onto the blanket. Her face is shining as she smiles and laughs, making the map dance.

“You like thinking about me,” She repeats. I don’t say anything.

“Let’s take a walk tomorrow,” She pronounces.

“A walk?”

“Yeah. A walk.”

I think about it. Then I say the only thing I can think of.



* * * * * *


Tuesday was a drizzly day. The sky all grey and the clouds all grey and at sunset the clouds outlined in red. I stood on the corner, in front of the park where I saw her before. I checked my watch. Each girl I saw, each swinging hips, each long legs, each red lips, I thought it was her. But none, no face was her. And then she was coming down the street and her hair was streaming behind her as she ran and her cheeks were flushed behind the map and she was wearing a blue dress that I liked a lot. When she stopped in front of me I looked at her and I watched her pant and catch her breath. “How are you?” Never had I thought harder about a question. “I’m here,” I smiled. She grinned. “You are.”


We walked on down a long avenue. I hadn’t been to that part of the neighborhood before. At least not to my memory. I may have been there before but just didn’t see it. I think that when I’m with the girl with the map face I open my eyes wider.


We stopped in front of a church. Not a big one. Not one that belonged. Not one of the normal city ones, the ones made of brick or red and brown stone. Not one of the stacked monsters as present as air that practically shamed you into going. And it wasn’t one of the little ones. Not one of the falling down ones where Sunday School takes place in the basement. It was a country church, the kind you see in a Quaker town in Massachusetts or along the coast of Maine. Pale blue wood and a steeple with a cross on top, and white double doors left open. “Let’s go in,” said the girl with the map face. We traipsed up the steps and into the musty church.


The pews stretched far into the back, with a scattering of people draped along them. The church was dark and the wood floors creaked as we walked along to the front. The first few seats were all empty, the church-goers preferring the anonymity of the back pews. The girl with the map face sat down at the front in the very first row. I sat beside her. I’ve always liked churches. I like the way the air reverberates with a hum and how the electric fans spin lazily above you. I like the people who go in churches on Tuesday afternoons, the ones with repentance or pinchy high heel shoes. And I liked sitting among them, with a unanimous decision to leave the silence unwrinkled. I looked over at the girl with the map face. Her eyes were closed and her back was slumped and if I hadn’t known any better, I would’ve thought she was asleep. But I knew that behind her eyelids her pupils dilated and constricted and darted about as if she could still see it all.


We stayed in the church for a few minutes and then, startling me, the girl with the map face stood up and walked out. I stayed on the bench for a second and then ran to catch up. She was standing on the steps waiting for me. “Where to now?” She asked. The map crinkled as she smiled brilliantly at me. I shrugged. I liked that she left me speechless sometimes. “Are you hungry?” She asked.



We walked down the street and as we turned at the corner she slipped her hand into mine.


After that Tuesday in October, I didn’t see her much. I looked for her when I passed the playground or at the orange juice in the supermarket. The other day I went by the church we had gone into. But for some reason our paths never crossed. Then one Saturday in November I was in my room when the phone rang. The telephone receiver was cold in my hand and the voice on the other end garbled. “Hello?”

“Johnny. It’s me.”

I knew who it was.

“Do you want to go to the museum tomorrow?”


She laughed.

“Come on, Johnny!”

I thought about it for awhile. Or rather, I told myself I thought about it for awhile. I already knew what I was going to say.

“Alright. Let’s go to the museum.”

“Okay. Come to my house first.”

She hung up first.


The museum. We were going to the museum tomorrow. I liked the fact that she had called me first. I liked the fact that before calling she must’ve been thinking about me.


The museum was seven blocks and a long subway ride away. I met her at her house and then we walked to the train station. It was a pretty day, pink and blue and white sky and you could still see the moon a bit. The train was filled to the brim with people and they spilled out the second the doors burst open. We shuffled on and filled it back up with our haunted thoughts and plaid scarves and frozen breath. I leaned with my back against the pole and measured her with my eyes. She smiled silently at me and then slipped an earbud into my hand. We listened to songs I didn’t know. I tried to remember every word. I wanted to sing them to her.


We bought two tickets to an exhibit on the fourth floor, one I had never heard of. The art itself was unimportant to me. I just liked being with her. We talked about each piece and it didn’t matter that we were the only people talking. It didn’t matter that we were getting glared at from all directions. She made things stop mattering.


The girl with the map face seemed to always know the intent of the artist and exactly what the piece meant. Well perhaps she made it all up, but she said it with such conviction that I couldn’t help but think it was the only possible explanation.


After the exhibit we explored the gift shop. She slipped a postcard into her coat pocket. I pulled a pin up into my sleeve. We carried our stolen prizes outside, exchanging them on the street.


The day had changed from the pastel sky to a royal blue as we walked in the cold back to our lonesome block. “Come in,” she said as we stood outside her gate. We walked up the steps and she unlocked the door. In her room, a small one smelling of lavender, I sat on her bed while she rummaged beneath it for something. She pulled out a box and set it down beside me.

“These are pictures.”

“Of what?”

“Of everything. But mostly barbed wire. Barbed wire is one of my favorite things to photograph.”

She lifted off the lid and inside were hundreds of polaroids in mismatched stacks. I reached a hand in and pulled out a few. Barbed wire set against a blue sky, against a sunset, a dog in an alleyway, a lost shoe in a parking lot. A picture of herself, of a pale pink house, of a fire hydrant, of her friends. I pulled out stack after stack and looked at them all. She pointed out her favorites or told me what she was wearing the day she took it or something like that. And then I came across a picture of me. It was taken through the laundromat window on a day I didn’t remember.

“When did you take this?”

She thought. “I don’t remember exactly.”

I laughed a little bit thinking about my notebooks and about the endless stories I had written about her. Maybe I’d show them to her someday.

I felt strange when I was with her. I felt a gingerbread warmth that made your eyes sparkle and your cheeks blush, the bewilderment of Times Square and the rushing crowds like the tides, and a certain iciness and a fog over my eyes.


I reached home and sat on my bed staring off into the wall. A string of Christmas lights had appeared there.


* * * * * *


Over the next few weeks we went places. We went to the movies, to the beach, to libraries, we went to a casino. And then it was Christmas. And the thrift stores and Salvation Armies were filled to the brim with moth eaten red and green sweaters. And there were people in red bibs on corners, shying away from the cold and ringing their bells to keep their blood flowing. And then there was snow. There were snowmen in the streets and masses of children in the parks and I was in my pajamas staring out the window when I saw her. She was standing across the street in a long grey coat, and her cheeks were pink and her nose was pink, and her dark hair had a sprinkling of crystalline flakes glistening over it, and the map was blushing with chapped lips and melted snow. She didn’t look up at me, sitting alone by the window, drinking coffee and staring intently. Look up, look up, look up, I thought to myself. And then she did. And she laughed and smiled and waved up at me. I waved back and found myself thinking I had never seen someone look that good in New York City in the wintertime. She raised a Polaroid camera and I saw the flash go off. And then she skipped away, holding her developing photo to her chest. I smiled to myself and then went to watch TV.


“It’s funny how many songs there are about Santa Fe,” the girl with the map face said to me.

“How many are there?” I asked her.

“I don’t know… I can think of at least six just off the top of my head.”

“Well, why is that funny?”

“I don’t know. I’ve just never thought of Santa Fe as being important. You know, I could understand New York, or Texas, or California, and you know there are a lot about those. But why Santa Fe?”

I shrugged. “I don’t know. Maybe people just like how irrelevant it is.”

“Well I’ve never been there. And I’ve never even thought about going there either.”

We were standing outside of a travel agency. The snow was falling heavily and everyone on the streets rushed past us. But we stood, in our overcoats and knit hats, outside of a travel agency. She turned to me.

“I want to see the Rockefeller tree.” She said with a smoky look in her eye.

“Let’s go see the tree.”

We took the F up to Rockefeller Center. As we walked we sang Christmas carols. She didn’t have a good voice but no one really cared. I didn’t have a good voice either. We shoved through the crowds and made our way up as close to the tree as you could get. She stood with her neck bent all the way back and stared with wonder. I looked at her and then at the tree, hoping to see whatever it was she thought so amazing. But all I saw was tree.

“It’s beautiful,” She murmured.

I shook my head. “I just see a tree.”

“But it’s more than that. Look closer.”

I did.

“See there, that’s the park where we met. And there, that’s the little church we went to. And there’s the museum. And there’s my backyard, the picnic we had. Don’t you see?”

I looked harder, and harder still.

And I didn’t see it.

Then she looked to me, “You see it don’t you?”

I looked to her. And that’s where I saw it. I saw it in her face. I saw wet pavements and Polaroids and sunsets and barbed wire. And it was breathtaking. I felt as though I was looking past her skin and past her skull, as if looking beyond the sky and seeing outer space.

“I see it,” I told her.

She nodded. “I see it too.”


We walked lazily home, swinging our arms. We stopped in a bar and got drunk and then swung our arms even more.


I walked her up to the porch of her house and kissed her sloppily on the cheek. That was Christmas Eve. And that was the last time I saw her. Some friends called me up Christmas morning and we went out to New Jersey and spent the day walking around and making fun of everything. I didn’t think about the girl with the map face until the next day, the day after Christmas, the loneliest day of the year for someone like me. I wanted to see her, but I didn’t call. And then a week later, on New Years day, I got a call from her. I wasn’t home for it, but after I got home from my friend’s party, I heard the message.


“Hey, Johnny. I… uh… It’s me. I need to tell you something.”

It was the first time the girl with the map face didn’t sound sure of herself.

“I’m leaving. I’m not leaving you, I’m just leaving… this. This place. I’m sorry, Johnny.”

She sounded so

“And It’s not as if I’ve been planning this for a while. I just decided. Last night. I’m so sorry, Johnny.”

Small. So unlike herself.

“I know you’re thinking about what you could’ve done to make me stay.”

I thought of what I could’ve done to make her stay.

“But I promise you, nothing. It was so absolutely not your fault, not anyone’s fault.”

I knew it was my fault. I knew I should’ve done something.

“Please Johnny, don’t be sad. Please just forget.”

Or she should’ve told me so that I could do something.

“I love you so much Johnny. I just woke up this morning and…”

She loved me. And yet she left me.

“I knew I needed to go to Santa Fe and I…”

She was in Santa Fe.

“I know why they write all the songs about it.”

“It’s because of the view. Because you can look around you and see everything, your whole life, spread out against the sand like a map.”

Like a map.

Like her.


* * * * * *


It’s been years since that day in rotten December. But I still write about her. I still stop outside of churches and travel agencies and listen for Santa Fe songs.

The map still hangs in the hallway. It’s grown a little bit since she left, it’s about the size of a doorway.


All in all she was classic rock radio stations and artificial cherry flavoring. She was leaves shaped like elephant ears and she was marathon runners and checkered floor tiles. She was black ankle boots and American Bandstand. I remember the days of the girl with the map face with a burnt orange kind of fondness.


I never saw her again. But once every year I receive a blank Santa Fe postcard and a pressed flower in the mail. There is no return address, no note. Yet even an idiot would know who it was from.



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

Oasis for Lost Souls

The lightning strike happened once every century. A fork of white heat would streak across a black canvas, like a spotlight, a searchlight, a beacon whistling a quiet plea of notice. Then came the purple glow, and legend had it that the glow was a direct calling from God himself, imprinting instructions into their wandering minds. Last was a cascading flurry of red dashes, crimson cuts, eyelashes blinking, clouding the purple eye, staring down at the Called.


Then it was gone, and darkness enveloped the world once again.


Diana was twenty-two. Black hair. Big eyes. An artist from the Big Apple, yet somehow she found herself in Vegas, two hundred dollars and an extra pair of shoes in her drawstring bag. New Year’s Eve coming up, too. She brought friends along with her– some no-names from the art scene in Brooklyn– to get roaring drunk and spend their last quarters on the slot machine. They didn’t have enough to pay rent anyway.


Diana couldn’t explain why she’d chosen Las Vegas when her friends asked her where they should go. It felt as if a magnet was stapled to the back of her head. Every step she took to the east, to the coastline of the city, or to the Portuguese bakery next to her favorite park, she felt a sharp tug pulling her west. There was an odd pressure against her neck when she went to bed, and her head would twist to the side, never quite resting on the pillow right. She was distracted, too. A recent NYU graduate, she knew she’d be stumbling around blindly for a while. But this was something else.


The first few days in Vegas were uneventful, if gambling and drinking and puking weren’t considered events. Diana couldn’t relish the moment. With shaking hands she threw down a pair of sevens, lost fifty dollars, and with shaking eyes she watched her friends tilt their heads back, necks arched, cackle as if the money were nothing. Diana thought maybe if that magnet wasn’t in the back of her head, she could tilt her neck in the right way and laugh along with them. Yet her heart was still misguided, and with twenty five dollars to her name, she spoke up. “You chose this place, Diana,” they scolded when she suggested slowing down, saving something so that they could afford that last night in the hotel. “Don’t be such a fucking killjoy.”


On New Year’s Eve, Diana tried to drink champagne, but the bubbles wouldn’t slide down her throat without scratching the skin inside. Her friends were drunk, and they danced to the beat of a dubstep song in the back arena of the hotel. Diana felt the bass of the music in her spine, tried to move loosely like her friends, but she was a robot among ballet dancers. Too little alcohol, she told herself. Drink.


But it wasn’t working, and Diana could feel tears threatening to cascade down her cheeks. Chest tight, she pushed her way through the crowd into open air. She found her feet planted on the back porch of the hotel, facing the western sky. The sun trickled beneath jagged cliff edges, and Diana forced herself to breathe. Be normal just for once, Diana. Breathe.


Except that magnet was still in the back of her head, twisting her thoughts as if her mind were trapped in a tornado. She focused on the sunset, focused on the melting hues and the perfect stillness, the rocks a mile out that looked like shark teeth. She told herself, over and over, to be normal. Just for once.


And then Diana felt her feet move. Not back to the hotel, to her intoxicated friends and full glass of champagne and pulsing strobe lights. Her feet pulled her off of the porch, onto the dusty rubble of Nevada’s vast deserts. One after the other, toe to heel, she moved to the jagged teeth and the hot, melting sun.


Diana couldn’t speak as her legs jerked up and down, pulling her to the west. She knew she should be terrified, should be sobbing and clawing her way back to the hotel. But an odd sense of calm wafted over her, and she decided that if this was what being possessed felt like, she didn’t mind it in the least.


The sun was sinking below the shark teeth, casting the desert in a warm orange hue. Diana was transfixed, eyes peeled open and head held high. The glow of the sun was like an oven, sizzling Diana’s skin as a bead of sweat dripped from her hairline. But she didn’t mind; the tranquility was stronger than any drug she’d ever used in Brooklyn. It was a natural high, and she felt like she was soaring.


Soon Diana was standing below the teeth. It hadn’t taken quite as long as she’d expected. She reached a hand out and felt the cool rock in front of her. The sun had completely disappeared now, casting the world in a dark navy tinge. Diana watched as her hand moved back and forth, felt the little bumps and ridges and nooks of the rock. She glanced behind her. The hotel was a little blip of light on the horizon.


A light to the left made Diana stop. She whipped around, and a door was etched into the rock, a pasty glow emanating from inside. Every instinct, every hint of sanity and reason and rationality told her to turn around and run. She’d probably been drugged, or was on an acid trip and didn’t even know it. Fuck it. She had to run.


Except Diana felt the magnet pull her forward, into the light of the door. All at once, the light overwhelmed her senses, and all she could see was white, all she could feel was the escalating beat of her heart, all she could hear were her quick intakes of breath. If she was dying, she didn’t mind. The fear had evaporated with the burst of light at the door.


“Welcome to the Oasis for Lost Souls, Diana. I hope you enjoy your stay.”


The voice was inside her head. Calm. Soothing. Like a thick pool of honey trickling down her throat from that cold metal spoon. Her mother used to make her eat honey when her throat hurt, back in the suburbs of New York. Then Diana left, went on her big adventure. Big Apple, Big dreams, Big debts. Big, vacant holes that she just couldn’t fill. Big, whopping tears, then finally, dry eyes in the desert. And now the soothing voice that enveloped her like a warm blanket. It knew her already, she could tell. It was an old friend welcoming her home, like she’d never been home before.


The light began to wilt, slowly trickling to form a cool grey. Diana squinted, blinking her long lashes. Shapes danced around her, midnight blacks and pearly whites. Voices, not The Voice, but voices all the same. A bustle of energy. More squinting, lashes flicking. A clear image clicked into place.


It was a diner. Tall red and white-striped pillars lined the entrance, tapering into the blurred horizon. To Diana’s left were rows of booths, two seats with room for two facing each other, a violet marble table perched between them. To her right was an endless clear counter, lined with pink cakes and crumbly muffins and sweet tarts. Glittering red stools sat side-by-side. There was no ceiling, she realized, tilting her neck as far back as it could go. White light like a crystalline sky encased the diner, folding around the contents in every direction, even the floor.


And the people. Seated at the booths, idly stirring mugs of coffee, chatting away. Swiveling on the stools. Walking up and down the main path, grins plastered on their gleaming faces. Some were waitresses and waiters, dressed in pinstripes. The others were a melting pot. Diana had never seen such diversity, not even in New York – headdresses, Chanel bags, suits, robes. Diana laughed, cupped a hand to her mouth. Standing in the doorway, she was an outsider. But she already had an odd premonition that this place was hers.


“See that empty seat? It’s all yours.” The Voice. In her head again.


Two minutes later, she was seated, swiveling back and forth. Her mind was reeling. Drugs? Too real to be a hallucination. Had she died? Maybe. Was she terrified? Not sure.


“It’s a lot to take in, isn’t it?” A waitress was suddenly standing in front of her, leaning on the countertop. Diana realized it had been the waitress’ voice floating through her head. The waitress turned away before Diana could speak. But soon she was back, with a steaming mug of green tea, no sugar. Just how Diana liked it. “Soon you won’t be stuck in the initial shock. You need time is all.”


Diana nodded. So many questions. Yet she could feel time trickling away. That slippery beast, time. Never enough. “Where am I? I know it’s an… Oasis. But really. Am I dead?”


The waitress laughed. “Nonsense, sweetheart. Just in between. You’ll be back in a little while.” The waitress pursed her ruby red lips, her blue eyes bright. She leaned down to Diana’s eye level, then pointed behind Diana’s head. “See that clock over there?” Diana swiveled her stool, gazing at the white sky, searching for what the waitress was talking about. Then she saw the black frame, about five feet in diameter , and the intricately carved hands. On ten. It was only ten o’clock?


The waitress, now whispering in Diana’s ear, sensed her confusion. “Time runs differently here. That clock controls it all. At twelve, we’ll disappear.”


Diana’s heart thumped. It should have been ominous, yet the waitress spoke nonchalantly, her voice laced with a thick twang like melted sugar and gooey cotton candy. If she wasn’t concerned, Diana shouldn’t be, either.


“How is this happening?” Such a simple question, and Diana pleaded for a clear answer. Intriguing as it was, she needed concrete. The white sky wasn’t enough to plant her feet on.


“Well, that’s the million dollar question,” the waitress began. Diana nodded her head, eyes wide, begging the waitress to go on. “See, you’re here because you’re, shall we say, finding your way. And we’re here because of the lightning strike,” the waitress paused when she saw Diana’s unblinking eyes and slack jaw. Lightning strike. Sounded like a bad movie. “It happens once every century,” the waitress continued, idly twirling a strand of chestnut hair. “And there we are. Here I am.”


“Where do you go? You know, at twelve,” Diana struggled to string the puzzle pieces together. Champagne. Shark teeth. Light. Diner. Waitress. Clock. Lightning strike. The progression was too fast, too disjointed. It didn’t fit.


The waitress giggled, and grabbed Diana’s cup of tea that Diana hadn’t realized she’d emptied. In a second it was steaming in front of her. “Too many questions, sweetheart.” The waitress straightened her apron on her uniform and turned to the woman on Diana’s left, pouring her a glass of lemonade.


Diana swiveled her stool to face the rest of the diner. Hundreds of people. Hundreds of stories. She was overwhelmed, yet unbelievably content. It was that magnet whispering emotions into her head, she was sure.


“I’ve got it!” Diana felt a tap on her shoulder and turned her stool to the right. She was bombarded by a pair of icy blue eyes boring into her own, a finger pointed at her chest. “I bet you’re a Diana. It’s the nose.”


“Excuse me?” Diana’s heart thumped and her spine tickled with nervous anticipation for the first time since she had entered the diner. She hadn’t uttered her name aloud, not yet. Maybe the rest could hear that voice in her head, too. Maybe–


“Sorry to freak ya out,” the man with the icy blue eyes leaned back on his stool and took a sip of coffee. “The name’s Barns. From Missouri. Been here,” he gazed at the clock on the wall, “five hours. Lovin’ it.”


Diana nodded. He seemed friendly enough. If he was in the diner, and if the waitress wasn’t lying, then he was lost too. Instant connection.


“So tell me, Miss Diana– oh yeah, it’s the nose because all them Diana’s got it; that English princess, the Roman goddess, and that actress on the TV sometimes. I always try to guess folks’ names. It’s a talent of mine — what brings you to the Oasis?” Barns peered closely at her, and it felt as though he was looking directly into her soul, unspooling her genes and thoughts with each syllable.


She hadn’t really thought of why she was there, actually. It just felt right. That magnet.


“I don’t exactly know,” she confessed. “I’m just here, I guess.”


Barns leaned back in his chair and cackled. “I guess? I guess? Well, Miss Diana, therein lies your problem! You’ve got to be sure! No more second-guessing. Put in all you’ve got, or go home crying, that’s my motto,” Barns jabbed a thumb at his chest, clearly proud of his advice. “I been living that way since ‘79. Sure of everything I do, and certainly certain of that.”


“Then why are you here?” Diana let the words slip out before considering their weight. But Barns laughed again; not a cackle, but a slow, remorseful laugh.


“Even the most sure of sures have some issues, Miss Diana. Had a daughter. Not anymore. She looked a bit like you,” Barns’ icy blue eyes stared into Diana’s once more. Diana didn’t shirk away. His eyes were pure. Empty pools, ghosts of lost loves still haunting the gentle waves. It was sad, but Barns didn’t seem to mind. “Anyways, I’m lost.” Barns stared at the clock. “Dammit. It’s already eleven. Time flies, that’s another sure thing.”


Diana gulped a sip of tea. Only one hour left. The magnet was pleased; she didn’t want to leave.


Barns leaned his elbow on the counter and propped his head on his hand, the way a father would when listening to his daughter’s worries. “Tell me. Tell me something you’re sure of.”


“I don’t believe in heaven.” Diana was startled. But it was true. “And I don’t know if I believe in this place. I want to, but I must be on a trip,” she lowered her voice, “You know, drugs. I came from Vegas.”


Barns cackled again. “A trip! How endearing!” He stopped laughing and was once again serious, if not for the slight smirk on his lips. “Got another tidbit for ya. Don’t question too much. Some questions are good, but some will drive ya just plain mad. Don’t focus too much on those. Focus on the now-time, Miss Diana.”


Diana found herself laughing. The now-time. She loved the way Barns spoke – a mix of southern slang and old-English. And he was right, too. The magnet brought her somewhere that was so isolated, it had no time and place, aside from the clock on the wall. It was the most extreme of now-times, and Diana was happier than she’d been in years. Maybe it was the magnet. But the harmonious tranquility felt deeper than that.


“Another cup of tea, sweetheart?” The waitress was back. Diana nodded and in a second her green tea was steaming again. Diana stared at the thick green liquid, entranced by the coils of hot mist that made her eyes warm and wet. Wet with tears, maybe.


The waitress noticed her melancholy and bent down to her level, whispering in her ear with those ruby-red lips. “I’ll let you in on another secret, Diana.” She leaned back and grinned, flashing pearly white teeth. “You’re this much closer,” she held her pointer finger and thumb an inch apart. “To finding your way. And I know that doesn’t seem like much, but I’ve met thousands of you Called. And believe me, once you leave, you’ll be heading in the right path.”


Diana wanted to ask her how she knew that. How she understood Diana’s predicament– lost with too little and too much at the same time. She wanted to ask about the Called. Wanted to know what to do once she left, if she’d really be going the right way. Or the wrong way. But she glanced at Barns next to her, his icy eyes still staring at her own, and she understood. It was the now-time that she had to worry about. Being sure in the now-time.


And Diana was sure that the waitress was right. Something inside had changed in Diana– like a switch flicked the other way. It was just an inkling, just a premonition of hope, a twinge of security. But Diana knew that the Oasis had given her that insight she needed. The Oasis had given her the wisdom, the secrets of a bigger world, one that wasn’t impossibly intimidating, one that wasn’t a labyrinth with no exit. She had been given the push she needed to find her path.


A loud gong shattered Diana’s heavy repose and she jumped, spinning her stool to face the clock. The thick black hand was approaching twelve, and moving swiftly.


“Time to abandon ship,” the waitress laughed and pursed her lips as she grabbed Diana’s tea and the woman to her left’s lemonade. “I really do hope you enjoyed your stay, Diana,” she said. Her eyes were sincere as she leaned down and kissed Diana’s cheek, leaving an almost nonexistent lipstick stain. She turned and made her way down the aisle, gathering more steamy mugs and tall glasses.


“Remember, Miss Diana, remember what to focus on.” Barns reached out a hand and Diana shook it, attempting to memorize all the ice and sparkle and mischief in his eyes. It was happening too fast. She was leaving too soon.


The gong sounded again. This time the black hand was almost on twelve. Diana whipped her head around the diner, spinning her stool in a full circle. She wanted to memorize it all. She didn’t want to go back to Vegas, didn’t want to face her friends and money and full glass of champagne. But she had to remember the now-time. The present. The certainty in the moment.


Suddenly Diana’s world erupted in a flash of white light, just as when she had entered the Oasis. She felt her heart pounding, felt the blood in her veins and the tea warming her throat like her own personal sun. The gong rang. Once, twice, and then, silence.


Diana realized her eyes were closed. She opened them hesitantly, all too aware of the darkness around her and cool air on her skin. Her head felt lighter somehow, and she thought she might faint.


She was standing at the edge of the back porch of the hotel. Her toes were dangling over the wood, almost touching the dry desert floor. She stared at the jagged shark teeth in the distance. They were so far away — maybe a mile — and she thought she may have gone crazy. But it was too real to be drugs, too true to be imagined. The waitress was real. Barns was real.


A strike of light illuminated the sky for a split second before the darkness fell and the stars returned. It was a fork of lightning, with an aftershock of purple and red. The waitress had mentioned that. The lightning strike, marking the appearance of the Oasis. Marking its exit, too.


“Diana!” Diana turned to see her friends in the doorway, stumbling over each others’ feet and holding sloshing glasses of champagne. “There you are! Come on, let’s party!” The others shrieked in response and quickly fled the doorway, raising their glasses to the beat of a heavy bass and pulsing lights. Diana watched them go, not sorry to see them leave.


She turned back to the jagged shark teeth. Their silhouette against the black sky was almost invisible now, and Diana squinted to make out the sharp lines. The door was somewhere in there. Maybe it was gone now, but it had been there. She knew it had been there.


Diana faced the party. Her head still felt light, and again she wondered if she might faint. But it wasn’t dizziness that caused her to feel like a feather in the wind. Something was missing.


With a deep breath and a wave of sudden serenity, Diana realized it was the magnet that was gone. No longer pulling her to the west, no longer pointing her in a mysterious direction.


But she didn’t need it anymore.