Song Of The Isthmus

    

 

The ship docked on the sandy shores.

Waves lapping at its barnacled belly

the anchor digging deep into the earth.

Hundreds swarmed the grounds,

scouring for fresh water.

They readily gulped it down.

With quenched sighs,

the cheerful banter crescendoed from a buzz to a roar.

For gold awaited them in California,

if they could survive the bouts of scurvy that ravaged the crew,

if they could make it ‘round the horn.

A miner drifted astray.

He stumbled upon an old man,

a cloaked figure,

a shadow,

a deserted soul.

His bony finger pointed deep into the lush abyss.

Raspily whispered “do not undertake the long trip,

cross the isthmus and catch the following ship.”

Gripping his sluice box ever so tightly,

his knuckles whitened at the sight of the darkening jungle,

until he reminded himself of the wealth that awaited him.

He pushed forward.

Feet sinking into the murky bottom as he held in his gasps,

for willowy whispers transfigured from hums to

restless voices warning him to turn back.

Starting from beneath, they rose up until they enveloped his entire body.

He killed the warnings with one swift motion to his ears.

Thoughts of California’s luxuries raced through his panicked mind.

He pushed forward.

Vines silently coiled around his leg.

Reaching to brush them off, they snaked up his arm as

hundreds more slithered down the trees.

Thorny bodies pierced his flesh,

with agonizing screams, the miner was dragged to the ground.

Layer after layer they entwined him.

And it was now that they started to squeeze.

The pain in his chest grew with the lengthening gap between each ragged breath.

A fire was lit.

Starting in his lungs,

it ravaged his chest cavity and the flames attacked his throat.

His face was painted with terror for standing above him was a motionless figure.

Crouching down, the familiar raspy voice hissed

Was the gold worth it?

The old man’s mouth curled into a sneer as he lifted his tattered hood.

The vines had taken over, hijacked his mind, he was one of them.

Now the miner saw through his watery lenses:

corpses, those around him who had let avarice steal their last breath.

Consumed by his guilt,

straining for a single gasp,

the flames slithered up into his skull…

And turned to ice.

 

grey

      

I.

the type of tiredness that settles behind your eyes and doesn’t leave.

the type of quiet that twists your gut and unsettles your mind.

the type of moments that make you wish for an alternate reality.

 

it’s not dark out, yet.

the sun hasn’t fallen asleep.

the sunset is colorless.

 

your world is monochrome,

your life colored by shades of grey,

blurring, blurring, indistinguishable.

 

your emotions faded and wrung out to dry,

worn through by the people who came before,

hand me downs that don’t quite fit right,

and the person in the mirror is not yourself.

 

perpetual dusk, perpetual dawn,

unreached potential and unused opportunities,

the feeling when the curtain is lifted

and the magic wasn’t real all along.

 

the sidewalk is endless.

the buildings are identical.

your eyes never near the horizon.

the pedestrians are like ghosts,

whispering in languages long since forgotten.

 

you are tired.

you’re just so, so tired,

and the darkness wins.

 

sometimes the colors come back.

sometimes the grey fades to black.

 

II.

the darkness whispers.

quiet, steady tones,

to the rhythm of your heartbeat.

 

your mind is blank and racing.

 

the nothingness gets stronger, more overpowering,

drowning out your thoughts

and ideas

and hopes

and dreams

into

nothing

nothing nothing

nothing nothing nothing

 

the void so loud you might as well be screaming

but your face is blank and your eyes are blank,

easily masked and easily masqueraded,

false emotions replicated through sounds and words,

everything exactly as empty as you.

 

you’re gone.

 

not a blank canvas, not a new start,

not the pure, pale white of literary symbolism,

swallowed by the type of endless grey that numbs your soul and your feet and your words.

 

so fill it-

fill it with books and music and art and work and friends

and anything you can get your hands on

because everything fades.

 

blank, empty, fading.

 

III.

the crowd is muffled and the colours are muted.

you can’t quite recall how many people are outside, or how you found your way home.

you can’t quite recall whether this is your home, your bed, your life.

maybe that’s the point.

 

maybe every now and then you have to hit mute on life and listen to the white noise,

the background static otherwise drowned out by your everyday living,

 

it’s almost peaceful, this lack of emotion.

you could stay there forever.

forever- forever’s a long time, you tell yourself,

but it doesn’t seem worth it to get up,

much less to go outside.

 

so you compromise and sit.

and you wait.

 

time ticks by

as you wish for the colors to come back.

 

IV.

i watch the colors swirl down the drain.

the neons and the pastels and the brights,

the shades that made the streets lively and the city interesting,

gone.

 

all that is left is shades of grey

and the constant beat of rain.

taptaptaptaptap

in time with my racing heart.

 

there is a simplicity to be found

in a world devoid of colour,

where all that’s left if shapes and silhouettes and essence.

a shadow of another world, maybe,

but there is beauty to be found in this reflection.

 

i see myself staring plainly back at me.

i see the potential in each colorless house,

i see what could be and what once was.

 

i am one with the rain,

i blend in with the shades of grey.

 

beautiful. simple. honest.

 

The Golden Disk

I remember the day they discovered the time capsule.

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

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

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

 

Cosma!

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

Please come down and eat.

I put down my touchpad and stroll into the kitchen.

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

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

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

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

I swallow my pills and leave for class.

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

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

What is it? I reply.

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

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

Rasha nudges me.

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

Rasha smirks, and I smile.

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

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

After a while, Palia speaks.

I have something to show you.

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

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

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

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

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

It’s from the golden disk.

I turn to Palia in shock.

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

What is it? I question.

It’s called music.

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

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

Isn’t it incredible?

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

I know.

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

Be careful, I tell Palia as I leave.

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

What are you doing out?

I’m on my way home.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Father, what is going on?

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

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

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

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

My father’s face turns pale.

I’ve heard it, I tell him.

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

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

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

My mother tries to comfort me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s wrong?

I think we’re being followed, Arkin responds.

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

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

Hang on, Arkin warns me.

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

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

The government flypod doesn’t drop to follow us.

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

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

We’re almost there, I promise.

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

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

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

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

Arkin, can you tell me what is going on?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Arkin opens his eyes and takes my hand.

Come.

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

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

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

Welcome, Cosma.

I know without looking that it is my father.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I smile, content to watch the cosmos from afar.

***

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

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

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

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

Per aspera ad astra.

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

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

 

Heart Flames

The cold, dry air blew through the forest. The trees swayed from side to side, occasionally dropping twigs or leaves on the hastily built campsite. The concoction of the sounds from the day quietly dissolved into the thin, night air. The only noise in the whole forest was the sound of the fire crackling and the wrinkling of the piece of paper I clutched tightly in my hand. The sparks from the flame were almost as bright as the stars in the night sky.

I quickly scanned the paper, stopping over certain phrases. I traced the picture on the paper with my finger as I looked at the fire. The girl was only seven or eight and had innocent, sky blue eyes. Her blonde hair was tied back in two, thin braids. She was clutching her left elbow, obviously not feeling comfortable, but her gentle, half-moon smile was the most enticing feature on her fair-skinned, gentle face. I examined the words written over her head, and my eyebrows went up. The paper read: Wanted: Brynn Cooper. For theft and embezzlement.

Jason walked over and sat down next to me on the log. He took one look at the picture and burst out into laughter.

Spinning around, I gave him a nasty look. “What do you think is funny about any of this?”

Jason ran his hand through his cherry red hair and smiled. “At least no one is going to recognize you.”

I couldn’t help but smirk. “They should’ve used an older picture,” I giggled. “Nobody is going to believe a little kid did all that.”

“Of course they won’t, you’re almost fourteen,” Jason got up, “and you had better hair when you were seven.”

“Hey!” I smacked his arm playfully. “At least it’s better than your Wanted picture.”

He rolled his forest green eyes. “Welcome to the club.” He threw on a red sweatshirt with stains and holes. He turned around towards the shelter we built out of sticks and mud. “Hey Brynn, are you comin’?”

I glanced back at him. “Nah, I’m gonna stay out here.”

Shrugging, he climbed back into the entrance

I faced the fire, watching the flame fall and rise. The thick, smoky scent and sudden, red flares were comforting in the dry, cold forest. Looking at the paper, I felt a sudden pang of sadness. Control your emotions Brynn, I chided myself, don’t go wishing things that will never happen.

Sighing, I tossed the wrinkled, half torn paper into the flame and got up to leave just as something caught my eye. In the flame, I saw a faint image. I took a little step closer and immediately stepped back. It was a face. A very familiar face. The same face I would see if I looked in a mirror or a puddle. Nervously, I padded closer. Yes, it was definitely that face, but she was different. Her blonde hair was neatly combed back instead of flying all over her face. Her blue eyes weren’t glazed from exhaustion, they shone bright and carefree. Her clothes were clean clothes, not dirty and speckled with dust.

Who are you, I silently demanded. She didn’t respond, but she started laughing. I felt my face grow warm. Don’t mock me, I glared at the face in the fire. She laughed, and I saw another familiar face emerge.

Her eyes were sky blue, but in contrast, her curly, dark hair was as brown as fudge. Her light body was wrapped in a sleek, dark red dress that complemented her figure. Even seven years later, I could reach deep into my memory and remember her laugh.

“Momma?” I gasped. I inched forward so close that I could touch her face. I never saw her so happy. All those years that I had stayed in that miserable house, she was always crying or yelling, one or the other. Smirking, she hugged my reflection close to her chest.

I felt my eyes dampen. I was faintly aware of a tear silently streaming down my face, but I didn’t wipe it away.

Control your emotions. Control the flames of desire.

Control the flames inside of you.

The two figures turned as the flames shivered. I saw a masculine face emerge, with a carefully trimmed mustache and an almost bald head. He had chocolate brown eyes and his eyebrows were raised almost as high as mine were. I didn’t know what to think. Horrifying images of that drunken man swinging a chair at the lights, smearing mud all over the house, keeping me tucked in a closet for hours. My father had changed.

They looked so happy, they laughed and hugged each other. In reality, that never would have happened. Kissing Momma on the cheek, Dad hugged me tight. I felt tears pouring out of my eyes as I lifted my finger to touch. It was so dangerous but so close. I shouldn’t be wanting things that would lead to disappointment. A life full of disappointment.

How do you control the flames inside of you? How do you control something that you want so much?

Slowly, carefully, I brought my finger up to the flames. The fire licked my fingers playfully, as if inviting me in.

Stop. Stop. Stop. Control the flames. Don’t do it.

I wanted it so bad. I can’t control my emotions. I can’t control the flames. I can’t stop wishing for a life that was gone.

Inching forward, carefully…

SPLASH! Water drops sprayed onto my eyelids. Blinking, I watched the steam rise into the air. Feeling a cold hand jerk me backwards, I spun around. “Jason! What are you doing?”

“Saving your life. Thank me later.”

“What’s wrong with you?”

“No. What’s wrong with you?” Jason looked at me quizzically. “You were gonna stick your whole head in there.”

“Oh. Thanks.”

“What were you doing?”

Shuffling my feet, I looked down. “Okay, this is gonna be weird. But I saw my whole family — honestly! I did! Don’t give me that look,” I glared. “But they were all so happy and — ”

“And?”

“I wanted to join them. They were all so caring and kind — Jason! What’s the matter?”

Cold eyes stared down at me. Jason crossed his arms, and his mouth was drawn into a snarl. “Never say that you want something,” he growled, “that is impossible to get.”

Jason’s gaze hardened. “Silly expectations and worthless aspirations leads to disappointment,” he murmured softly. “You and I know that better than anyone. You have to control your emotions. Control your emotions. Control the flames of your heart’s desires.”

Control the flames of your heart’s desires.

 

Darling

The doorbell jingled as a woman and her daughter entered the cafe. They did not look at all alike.

The daughter was short and chubby and seemed to waddle instead of walk; the mother was tall and lanky, each angle from chin to elbow sharpened to a point. The woman wore a close-lipped, businesslike smile as she strode up to the counter. A pair of metal-framed glasses balanced precariously on her sharp cheekbones, the lenses immaculately clear. The girl followed behind, close enough to tread on her mother’s heels.

“How can I help you this morning, miss?”

“One black coffee please,” the woman replied curtly, without a single glance at the menu. She had already pulled out her wallet when she noticed that the girl had pressed her face up against the glass case of pastries, mesmerized by the colors. The woman’s pale cheeks flushed suddenly and furiously, as if she had been slapped, “…and a pastry,” she added. She smiled somewhat embarrassingly, thin lips peeling back to reveal sharp teeth.

“Sure thing, miss. Which would you like?”

“You heard her, darling. Which one would you like?” The woman bent down to be at the same height as her daughter. “Do you want,” she squinted through her glasses at the menu, “a slice of cake, or a cookie? Or perhaps a brownie?” “Darling?”

The girl turned her head and stared up at her mother with big, blank eyes, then turned back to the glass case. The woman noted with a little shudder that the girl had already left several hazy, smudged handprints on the glass. With a sigh, the woman straightened herself and gave the cashier a terse smile. “A piece of cake, please.”

“That’ll be $4.89, miss.”

The woman exchanged glossy credit card for a paper bag and cup, warily eyeing the spots of grease already forming on the brown paper. She took a step back from the counter, carrying the bag, when she nearly tripped over her daughter, who had been silently standing close behind her. As the mother regained her balance, her daughter only stared at her silently with big eyes. The thin eyebrows of the mother suddenly twitched as something flashed across her eyes, quick as lightning. She pressed the bag firmly into the girl’s hands. “Darling, please, stand a bit further from me. You always get in my way.”

 

Elsu

Elsu woke up, like every morning. Hungry. Living in the winter pit houses during the harshest winter that he had ever experienced. The pit actually proved to be quite warm. He had dug the fifteen-foot pits with his tribe right before the storm hit. He got up and tried to find some food still left from before the storm hit. He found some small birds but nothing much. Unfortunately, the hunters could not find many animals while hunting this winter, so it was a challenging life.

He remembered running through the forest. Shooting his bow at everything that stood in his way. He was so carefree. He never thought that this day would come in his lifetime.

The only food source that they currently had was some soup and bread made from the acorn meal that was stored underground after the last winter. But with the tribe growing bigger, and the food supplies getting shorter, it was no longer a reliable food source. They needed to find food. And fast.

Elsu’s name translates to “flying falcon.” When he was a kid, Elsu was said to be very adventurous. He watched with wonder, as the hunters walked into the forest to hunt deer, black bears, elk, and fowl. The hunters were strong, fast men. Capable of shooting a running elk blindfolded. Just by hearing its footsteps! They used bows and knives to kill the animals. And ran so fast, they were a blur.

While Elsu’s mom was making clothes for the tribe, she remembered Elsu coming up to her and asking if he could hunt with the hunters. Not wanting to disappoint him, his mom gave him a little bow, and some of her friends dressed up as animals and had Elsu shoot them with an arrow that had a stub.

His mom remembered Elsu’s face that day. Filled with excitement, that made her smile.

But now that smile was gone. Replaced with a steely gaze as she fought to keep up with the tribe’s demands for clothing during this winter.

But like a brave falcon, Elsu was determined to save his tribe from this harsh winter.

Like every morning, Elsu woke up and went hunting with the hunters of the tribe. He managed to find a couple of small fowl. But he knew that they wouldn’t satisfy the tribe. He needed to do something about this winter problem. And fast. Elsu recalled an ancient tale about a dragon at the top of the Serra Peak.

This dragon was once a murderous beast. Destroying everything in its path. Until one day, one of the elders, Elsu’s great grandfather, successfully tamed the dragon. He said he would let the dragon be free. On two conditions. The dragon would not destroy their land anymore. The dragon would also warm the earth with its breath, allowing the Miwok tribe to live through the winter. But the dragon had not warmed the earth at all this year. The flowers were withered. The trees’ branches were breaking. Something must be wrong.

Elsu would go and find this great beast. And see why it was not warming the earth like it did every year.

As they were heading back to their tribe, Elsu distracted the hunters by throwing a rock into a nearby pond. Assuming it might have been salmon, the hunters ran to the pond. Hoping to be able to get it before it swam away. Elsu then ran in the opposite direction. He ran through the trees. Hearing his tribe yell for him.

“Elsu! Where are you?” they shouted. “Come back!”

His best friend yelled for him, “Elsu! We need you! Don’t go!”

But Elsu continued to run. The tears started pouring from his eyes. He could not stop. He was on a mission. A mission to save his tribe.

Elsu climbed up the mountain. The once plentiful deer and elk. Gone. All the crops that the Miwok had once thought was a reliable food source. Gone. It had been two days of no food and very little water. If he didn’t find this dragon soon. He, and his tribe, would perish.

But then. He saw it. An opening in a seemingly endless number of trees. Elsu ran for the opening.

At last. He had found the dragon.

A blue-and-green-scaled dragon. As big as a Redwood tree. And probably stronger than one, too.

It seemed… wounded. As if something had attacked it the night prior. It could barely muster a tiny ember. Its life force was faded.

The dragon looked at Elsu. As if to say, “No. Don’t come nearer. It’s too late for me.”

But Elsu wouldn’t listen. He ran towards the dragon. As he was tending to the dragon’s wounds, he heard a low growl come from behind him. He turned around. And his eyes widened.

Standing in front of him. Was a giant black bear. When the elder tamed the dragon, to ensure that he did not harm anyone else unless necessary, he took out the hate in the dragon. And turned it into the form of a black bear. The bear was not as big as the dragon. But Elsu could see why the dragon had lost against it.

Its claws were as sharp as arrowheads. Its fur smooth.

The animals weren’t there because the dragon was suffering. They weren’t there because the bear had eaten all of them!

The bear stood up on his hind legs. And roared. Elsu was about to become this bear’s next snack.

Elsu rolled to the side as the bear swiped at him. Its magnificent claws barely missing Elsu’s chest. Elsu took his makeshift spear and drove it into the bear’s stomach. The bear howled in pain. But didn’t really seem all that fazed. It was going to take more to kill that bear.

The bear turned around and kicked Elsu in the stomach. Knocking the wind out of him and sending him flying into a nearby tree. Elsu’s entire body ached from the impact. But he had to keep fighting.

The bear built up a charge and then attacked. Charging straight for Elsu, but Elsu jumped on the bear’s snout and jumped over the creature.

The bear turned around, confused on Elsu’s current position. So confused, in fact, that the bear ran straight into a tree. It let out a bigger howl than it had before. Elsu had struck a second hit.

The bear turned around. To find Elsu, standing there. Minor scratches and some cuts. But mostly unharmed. The bear let out a deep growl. And charged at Elsu again.

Elsu didn’t dodge in time.

The bear slammed into Elsu’s chest. Knocking the wind out of him and sending him spiralling towards the ground.

Elsu hit the ground with a thud. Unable to put up a fight.

The bear seized his opportunity. And struck at Elsu.

Inches from Elsu’s face, the bear collapsed.

Elsu looked up. And instead of seeing a giant claw. He saw a blue- and green-scaled head. The dragon had come to his aid. Elsu looked up at the creature. It was still bleeding but had just enough strength to let out a giant, red-hot flame.

Elsu tended to the dragon. And in a couple of days, the dragon was back to its old self. One day, the dragon bent over. Allowing Elsu to climb on its back. He knew he had to return to his tribe.

Like his name always suggested, Elsu flew back, like a falcon. The wind in his hair. He felt free. He felt some warmth when before, there was no warmth at all. He was greeted by familiar faces. And instead of seeing anger. He saw pride. Elsu had saved the tribe.

The season continued on as normal. But Elsu felt a little more proud of himself. When all seemed lost, he had saved his tribe.

He wondered if anyone after his tribe was gone would be able to tell this tale…

 

Green Grass

         

47

The elk stood together. The forest around them was covered in a thick blanket of snow. One doe stood away from the rest of the herd. Her coat was wet from the snow collecting on her back. The breath of the elk gave the area the illusion of smoke rising. The crack of a branch sent all ears facing the old oak that had given up one of its limbs. Its branch lay. The oldest doe turned her head and walked out towards the river.

The rest of the herd followed the eldest does, then their fawns, then the young bulls. Most of the elk were starved, only the fawns of the matriarchs had full stomachs. The elk trudged through the three foot snow banks. The elk were two miles from the river. At the river, the snow was not as deep, and the herd could easily get to the grass that laid in waiting. For thirty minutes, the elk moved in the powder snow, moving their heads at the smallest sound of a bird singing or a chipmunk running up the tree.

When the herd had finally reached the river, they rushed to the bank, drinking. The cold  wind blew across the water, creating ripples that splashed the thirsty, till they could no more. Most of the elk had slipped away, into the dense brush surrounding the river bank. Three of the herd members stood, watching over the thicket that the group laid in. It was late November, and many packs of wolves were prowling the area to feed pregnant females.

The sun had set on the cold land, and the elk huddled together in the snow. As the snow storm got stronger, and the night got darker, the sound of the forest, breaking, scared the animals. In the morning, the forest was quiet. Nothing moved. The elk herd made their way back to the area where they had bedded down the night before. The elk sniffed around the area for anything interesting. The scent of death hung in the air. The group looked to see one of their own, dead, lying on the ground. Frozen in place. The blank eyes stared towards the river. A young fawn, only about five months old. The herd, unable to understand what had happened, moved on. All moved on, except the elks’ mother who  hung back. She would later die too, most likely from wolves.  

 

44

The cold wind kept blowing, and the elk were forced to move to a warmer area. The town of Bozeman seemed the only place. As the herd moved on, the wind and snow picked up. They  walked toward the town, but stopped at the edge of a cul-de-sac. The people, who lived there, went out of their warm houses to view the beautiful creatures. As the sun set on the town, the lights of the shops came on, and people started to move about. The elk, scared from the movement, moved farther out of town. The herd stopped, at the edge of a golf course, and settled in for the night.

The herd woke, with a start, as gunshots fired. They turned and ran as a man, in a golf cart, came at them, holding a rifle. He yelled at them, and they pounded the ground, sprinting to the town. They ran, oblivious to the the highway in front of them. The sound of metal on fur stopped the animals dead in their tracks. They looked at the road to see a young bull, lying on the side of the road. They continued to move to the plains.  

 

43

The snow kept coming, and the winter was long and hard. Death was always an enemy, hanging there, waiting for the weak or the sick to come to its gates. As the white turned to green, the mood of the forest and plains grew happier. The Spring and Summer was the best time for the elk. Babies were being born, and the air was sweet with the singing of birds. As the months moved on by, the herd grew with every passing day.

 

52

As the sun set on the beautiful day, the elk settled in for the night. They sat under the brush and saw the light fade away. The old cow stood alone in the green grass.

 

Summer Break

  

When your chains are on for long enough

They start to become part of your body.

When you shed the chains,

It is like losing a part of you,

And you are free.

 

But the knowledge that one day

The chains will return

Seizes your liberty.


The pseudo-carte blanche

Put in place by a totalitarian regime

Takes control of its subjects

In the most vicious of ways.

 

With no second option to turn to,

We, the victims, turn to our moments of indulgence

To liberate us from the constraints that bind us

To an entity that has no mercy,

Gives no purpose,

And only takes.

 

The only thing we have to lose is our shackles.

Especially Not You

Alaina Wynn remembered the last time she was really, actually happy. It was because of a vague and distant memory, of an eight-year-old girl and an eight-year-old boy.

It was Alaina and Bear, and it always had been. Forever, Alaina and Bear, Bear and Alaina. They spent every summer at Bear’s house in Essex, NY, a tiny town in the Adirondack Mountains, and at the end of the season they would go their separate ways— Alaina to Manhattan, and Bear to his home in Pennsylvania.

There was a field, and it was a field was full of wildflowers, yellow and purple and white clouds on a sky of tall grass. Bear’s family never tended this field, and the children liked it that way. They would lie there for hours, but that night, in Alaina’s memory, there was a storm, and Alaina loved storms. So she took Bear by the hand and led him into the field, and they lay there, holding hands. The rain started, and the thunder, and even the lightning, but they didn’t move a muscle, counting the seconds between the thunder and lightning. When their parents found them in the morning, frantic and scared, the wildflowers had all wilted. It might have been the heaviness of the rain, or maybe lightning had struck, but they never grew back.

Neither Alaina or Bear remembered the first three summers, nor did anyone expect them to. Their moms, Georgia and Sasha, met while pregnant with the both of them. They both had strange urges to bet money— and how many pregnant women can you spot at a casino? So they became friends, bonding over their mutual love of cats and 80’s pop. They both gave birth June 25th, in the same hospital. They knew at that moment that their children would be best friends for life. They were big believers in miracles. Alaina turned out not to be.

The families spent every summer after that in Bear’s parents’ country house in the Adirondack mountains. The children were summer friends, never managing to keep in touch over the year. There was a magic that only existed in the woods behind the house, and the field in front of the woods. They would stay up late whispering every night, telling stories about their school years. Bear talked more, Alaina listening in silence. He told her about his friend Thomas, and how they always ate lunch together by themselves because no one would sit with them. Alaina was always a mystery to Bear. He knew her best in the world, and somehow didn’t know her at all.

This went up until the twelfth summer, when Sasha — Alaina’s mom — decided it would be better to have the two sleep in separate rooms. Georgia — Bear’s mom — was completely against it, but Sasha always won, so Alaina left the little room with the blue walls and the two twin beds and moved down the hall to the guest bedroom, with the yellow walls and the one queen bed. Bear missed waking up and seeing the black curls on the pillow next to him.

For the next four summers, everything changed. Braces went on and came off, awkward stages came and went. Bear and Alaina drifted far, far apart. When they were thirteen, Alaina went to summer camp for the entire summer. It seemed to Bear that she didn’t care anymore, that their summers didn’t matter to her. So summer fourteen he decided to bring along his one and only friend, Alex. He wished that Alaina would come, that she could see that he wasn’t alone without her.

And she did come. Her eyes were black all around, a mess of charcoal eyeliner, a black chaotic blur. It contrasted with the deep green of her eyes, making them brighter and yet masking them. He saw her ripped shirt and tiny shorts, her army jacket and combat boots. It was a change he didn’t expect from such a happy person. It made her look dark and sad. He wanted to hug her and tell her all his secrets. He wanted her to tell him everything, too. But she didn’t talk to him. She didn’t even look at him.

“ALAINA!” he wanted to scream, “IT’S ME, BEAR!” But he didn’t. He ignored her right back, as hard as it was. Anyway, he had Alex. Alaina spent all her time in her room. Sometimes he saw her curled up with a book. He often took walks alone in the woods, revisiting the trees he climbed with Alaina, or the rock clusters they had explored.

One time he came back and saw Alaina and Alex sitting in the living room, laughing. She didn’t even have her book. Bear didn’t think anything of it— in fact he was glad that his two best friends were bonding. But for some reason, when he came in, the laughing stopped. So, seeing he wasn’t wanted, he left. Twenty minutes later, his mom called for dinner, so he went to find Alex and Alaina. They weren’t in the living room, so he checked the field.

“ALAINA!”, he called. “ALEX! he heard shuffling in the tall grass about 20 feet in front of him. He ran to it, hoping to see his friends. And he did. He saw Alex, with lipstick on his mouth and face, and he saw the shadow of a girl he once knew running into the woods. He ran as fast as he could after her, flashing Alex the most scornful look he could muster up as he went. He ran purposefully, knowing exactly where to go. He ran down the path until there was no path. He ran until he reached a large rock, covered in moss and fungus. He stopped all of a sudden, knowing she was there but still somehow surprised to see her.

“Do you ever think about this rock?” she asked.

“Alaina—”

“Do you? I mean, we spent our childhood on this rock. We don’t even know its name! We never even asked.”

“You’re insane,” he told her.

“No, I’m not. Just curious. Like, come here,” she grabbed his arm and pulled him down next to her. They lay on the rock, face to face. Bear felt her breath brushing against him.

“You see this mushroom? To someone, this mushroom is a tree. And this is their grass, and we’re killing it. Did you ever think about that? We’re so oblivious to everything around us, that we don’t even realize that we’re destroying an entire ecosystem.”

“Alaina, stop,” Bear insisted, sitting up.

“I didn’t mean to,” she said, still talking to the space next to her.

“Don’t give me that. You knew what this would do to me. You know how I feel. Why? Why would you do this to me?”

“You don’t love me, Bear.”

“I do, Alaina. You really think he loves you and I don’t?”

“He doesn’t love me. I don’t love him. I kissed him, that’s it. You don’t need love to kiss someone.” Her head was down, but she didn’t seem ashamed.

“You really think that’s the point here?”

“No, Bear, that’s not the point here. But you don’t know what love is. I love you because you are summer, and innocent and kind. But you can’t love me. No one can love me.”

“I do love you, Alaina. Why don’t you believe me?” he pushed.

“What do you know about me? You know me here, and here I am not me. You don’t know me at all,” she said, sitting up suddenly.

“You’re my best friend. I know everything about you!”

She laughed. “Wait, you’re serious? What do you know, tell me, if we haven’t had a straight conversation since I moved out of the room. No one knows me, especially not you.”

He paused, realizing how true this was. She was a mystery to him, and yet he knew that he loved her like he had never loved anyone before. She stood up and walked away, her bare feet skipping gracefully and purposefully over twigs and rocks, leaving him to murder the tiny mushroom people alone.

Feast on Words

When it comes to reading, I’m quite a pig; every word is licked up clean

Each taste has an exquisite flavor–bitter, sweet, and in between

I consume the sentences through the mouths of my eyes

I will snack on words of any shape and size

And let my brain digest them

 

Every paragraph makes an elaborate feast

The tastes and textures-a hundred at least!

The symbols always taste the best

And take the longest to digest

The dialogue is just divine

Quotations and tags are always so fine

Similes are some great stuff

I can never get enough

Metaphors are like chamomile tea

Subtle but strong enough for me

 

And any other writing technique

Tastes new and special and very unique

Books, stories, fables, and tales, see–

Reading will never fail me

 

Cartography

No. 1

Awakening, I saw:

The first thing I ever loved was a pigeon through my window, when I was fourteen and hated Juliet because she was my age and had killed herself

And where did that leave me?

Believing that gods were only in love because they wanted to take our curved ribs- if I was made from Adam’s rib, I was cracked

Maybe our womanly ribs were too soft to hold up our bodies, maybe we were bags of jelly scrambling for a foothold, our armour becoming our structure because it doesn’t work;

Our ribs never really protect our hearts.

It turned to watch me, curled by the window, waiting in the darkness like a shark.

One eye fixed on me, red like acrylic paint half dried, glossy yet faded, uneven

And that was the first time I was in love- I loved girls and I wanted boys, like the man who died amongst the bleached bone white sands, unable to chose between love and life, and so I starved

And so I loved

And I like to think it loved me back- but then again it was a very dusty window.

And I was a very romantic little girl.

 

No. 2

My mother:

She was all sharp edges, but delicate as paper, addicted to fire, determined to go down blazing up like a Japanese lantern

A woman who could walk in triangles and never leave the centre.

When she tucked me into my clean comforters, she whispered that there was no such thing as silence, and I held my breath and listened as my heart fluttered against my ribs:

After all our cages protect us and our traditions ground us. I was lost.

 

No. 3

I dreamed:

Once I went to a feast in Jesus’s castle and there was a table piled with food like presents and it smelled beautiful and warm and all emraldy- though I never smelled an emerald; it was what emeralds should smell of- but I didn’t recognise any of it so I sat and starved.

Jesus came up to me- yes, He does wear those sandals- and said it was ok to want to be a man and a woman all at once and gave me grapes nestled next to the canned beers in his fridge.

We talked for a long time about why castles are inconvenient, and He patted my hair and said that this was it and He told me it’s ok to be scared:

“I cried on the cross.”

He really was wonderful. He showed me the tattoo He had gotten because He was mad at His father- a tiny cross hidden by His ear. And He showed me His scars and they were small and unexciting, and I dreamt I showed Him mine although my wrists were at least five years too young.

I told Him I loved Him and He told me sternly I was too young to know what love was, and to tell Him in five years when I had decided whether or not to believe in Him.

I looked for Him but didn’t find him again.

 

No. 4

My room:

A dark place that never failed to surprise me

As if I had been walking in the dark for ages and had only just realised the sea had been crashing down on me on all sides

Monks and zebras floated on clouds in the walls, appearing in the paint sponged thick and chipping.

In the shadows, under the beds, there were always green hairy armed monsters waiting to grab me until I realised that my monsters were much more concrete and much more subtle

Frankenstein told me people are mirror faced and believe in what they reflect, and that love makes you crazy.

Dracula told me flesh and blood didn’t have enough bones

In the dark I cried

My salty sea blood throbbing in my eyes as I dreamed dreams that tormented me in an unfathomable way

Always, I fell

Sometimes I jumped.

Or I fluttered past ladders that spun in the dark

 

No. 5

Upstate, at the cottage:

I danced on the beautiful dock that sliced through the lake- submerged like someone had said

hey, hey, hey

I don’t have enough stone to raise my dock out of the water but fuck it

I can walk out to the middle just the same

So fuck it

I’ll build it anyways.

And he did.

 

No. 6

My mapping is done:

Remember when we were young?

They like to say remember when

but no, no I don’t

I forget because I was young and it is not for the young to remember,

I am not a hard-drive, I am pink icing and blue jelly

That bounces around because it can

Because it hasn’t hardened into bone, because it is buoyant and has no anchor to remind it where the ground is

Because I still have more to know than I have to remember

This is my protest; let me rust.

Animal Wedding

The young doe looked spectacular in her snowy dress, its train gliding elegantly across the carpeted floor.  Her chestnut coat was scrubbed to a shine, and she hardly made a sound as she was walked down the aisle in her white booties.

All of the guests had been dressed in only the finest attire and were gossiping madly about the new couple:

Black top hats had been fitted onto the prickly heads of the three porcupines, and the two portly walruses were adorned with monocle and cane.

The lioness exhibited a scarlet gown that had been living in a closet all year, waiting for just this kind of occasion, and the penguins wore seersucker button-downs.

The egret was delighted to show off his navy blue herringbone suit, even though it made him quite hungry; the caimans grinned devilishly in houndstooth.

The tyrannosaurus watched the whole procession from afar, downcast because he was not invited (at the capuchin’s bat mitzvah, he had eaten all of the mini quiches).

No one acknowledged that sad, skeletal monstrosity:

The red river hogs were too busy fighting over a pair of Prada heels.

Four bighorn sheep were butting their way to the front row of fold-up chairs in plaid slacks.

One fun-loving grizzly in a neon blazer made her way through the noisy crowd, asking the partygoers for their phone numbers.

The gibbon boasted a polka-dotted bow tie; his velvety arms stretched outwards to hold a Bible.  He was to be the officiator of this holy matrimony.

And it was impossible to ignore the blue whale who hovered cheerfully over them all in a slim-fitting, yellow blouse.

The human stood beaming at the end of the aisle in his blue coveralls, proud of his work.  Everything was in place, and his bride looked as gorgeous as ever.  He loved the way her furry ears poked out from under the shimmering veil, the way her lifeless eyes reflected his own.

But of course! He had forgotten: she needed to be standing.

Bob – for that was the human’s name – rearranged his fiancé’s corpse so that she stood upright on her two hind legs.  He gave her a kiss on the cheek and then fussed with her body some more.  After making sure she was stable, he hurried over towards the entrance doors to close them; this was to be a relatively private affair.

Bob hummed “Here Comes the Bride” to drown out the clamor of his pounding heart.  His low voice bounced off of the emptied glass enclosures and echoed throughout the museum.

He returned to his betrothed and took his place with her under the altar.  He awaited the gibbon’s blessings, frowned when he did not receive them, and then pried the holy book from the animal’s cold hands to read from it himself.

The groom cleared his throat nervously and wiped the sweat off of his forehead.  “Dearly beloved.”

He stopped and took a deep breath.

“Dearly beloved: we are gathered here today to celebrate–”  A surge of nausea swept over him.  He closed the Bible.

Moonlight poured through the large windows and illuminated the faces of the invitees.

The human, standing before a sea of statues, decided to speak his mind.

“We are gathered here today to celebrate our kinship.  We are gathered to celebrate our kinship,” he repeated for emphasis, “because, in today’s world, each human is an island; because my mother cares for me no more than my co-workers do; because people ignore each other on the subway.  Love is but a game of cards we play to distract ourselves from the unrelenting ennui of our daily lives.  Win some, lose some – It’s all the same.

“Everything is so horribly fickle, but we eat it all up so willingly.  This great city is populated by a mass of walking and talking museums.  Each dinner, each movie, each fuck is awarded its own habitat.”

Bob beat his fist on his breast.  He was stronger now.

“And they are be well-maintained habitats at that.”

He inhaled deeply.

“My friends, we are gathered here today to witness a real marriage of two very real individuals.”

Bob turned to his intended and produced a silver ring he had purchased at a stoop sale for two dollars and fifty cents.  On it, Claudia was inscribed.

The groom’s words were smooth and rehearsed.  “This ring is a token of my love.  I marry you with this ring, with all that I have and all that I am.”

He took her hoof gently with his free hand and tried slipping the band onto it, but to no avail.

Bob glared determinately at the ring, then at the doe, and then back at the ring in sincere contemplation.  He did this for quite a while before he fell to the floor with a pained sigh.

But wait!  Maybe…

The human pounded the dainty piece of jewelry against his bride’s foot.  Hard.  Then her ankle.  Then her thigh.  Her neck.  The side of her face.

No.  It had all made sense in his head.  His darling’s fur was disheveled, and bruises decorated her figure.

Bob’s knuckles stung; so did his quiet tears.  He flung the wedlock’s consummation across the dark hall.  It tottered aggressively, but only for a moment, before becoming inanimate once more.

 

 

A Prayer for Elizabeth

 

Scene 1

(Scene opens. JULIAN is sitting at a desk in his empty bedroom there is a stack of books and a pair of headphones on the floor)

 

JULIAN

Dear Elizabeth. I had a crap day at school today. Some moron bumped into me after I got my lunch and my tuna salad spilled all over my shirt. The Grateful Dead one with the stripes. I was gonna throw it out anyway because the skulls scared Amy. Amy’s a grown ass woman and she can’t handle a skull? But like whatever, I’ll get a new one. I’ll get twelve new ones. I’ll buy every single fucking skull shirt just to piss off Amy.

 

(JULIAN kicks his headphones on the ground)

 

(The stage goes dark, the light goes up to CLAIRE in an empty room kneeling with her hands clasped looking up)

 

CLAIRE

Dear God. I am asking for your forgiveness. I missed church this morning.

 

(CLAIRE looks down sorrowfully, then looks back up)

 

CLAIRE

But in my defense it was for an entirely worthy cause! You see, last night there was a boy, a very troubled boy, my neighbor actually, he was in an unhealthy state of… intoxication and he needed to find his way home. When I had returned home after bringing him back safely, It was very late and I forgot to set my alarm and by the time I had awoken from my post-rescue slumber my family had already left for church.

(CLAIRE takes a deep breath)

I realize that my actions were unjustifiable, but all I can ask for now is forgiveness. God bless that boy’s poor soul. And his family’s too. God bless Mother, Father and Gregory. In the name of the Father, Son and the Holy Ghost. Amen.

 

Scene 2

(the scene opens with JULIAN, AMY and CARSON sitting around a table)

 

AMY

Julian, elbows off the table.

 

(Julian looks up, and then back down while his elbows remain on the table)

 

AMY

Julian, did you hear me?

 

JULIAN

Yes Amy, I heard you.

 

CARSON

Then why are your elbows on the damn table?

 

(AMY rests her hand on CARSON’s shoulder to calm him. JULIAN removes his elbows from the table)

 

CARSON

You weren’t at church today.

 

(JULIAN shrugs)

 

JULIAN

I overslept.

 

AMY

It’s never too late to reach out to God.

 

JULIAN

Bullshit.

 

AMY

Julian! Carson, how can you sit by and allow this behavior?

 

CARSON

Julian, go to your room.

 

JULIAN

Gladly.

 

(JULIAN stands and pushes his chair out of way)

 

AMY

Make your bed and tidy up the living room, will you? We’re having dinner guests.

 

(JULIAN exits)

 

AMY (calling after JULIAN)

The living room is that way!

 

(AMY points stage left, then rolls her eyes. AMY stands and pushes in her chair)

 

CARSON

Dinner guests?

 

AMY
Robert, Janette and their children. Carson sweetie we already went over this!

 

PAUSE

 

AMY

I’ll be in the kitchen doing the dishes. Talk to your child, please?

 

(CARSON and AMY exit in different directions)

 

Scene 3

 

(JULIAN is sitting at a desk holding a journal)

 

JULIAN

Dear Elizabeth, It’s March 27th. Exactly two and a half years since you died. 21,914 hours.

(Pause)

I haven’t slept in days. Last night, I was lying in bed, and I shut my eyes, and I cried. I cried because I miss you. I cried because I need you and because I’m hurting. I cried because (BEAT) sometimes I think you wanted us to get hurt. I cried because you didn’t love us-me, you didn’t love me enough to stay. I cried because I don’t know what to do. I don’t know what to do, Elizabeth.

 

(The stage does dark, the light raises on CLAIRE on the ground with her hands clasped)

 

CLAIRE

Dear God, it’s March 27th. Exactly 11 days since I got my braces off. 264 hours. I was the last one in the 9th grade to have their braces off, but I have interpreted that as a sign. You were testing my patience, and I remained faithful, even in my darkest hour when I almost bit Dr. Kalswell. Thank you for blessing me with beautiful teeth, if only the same would happen with Gregory. God bless his youthful soul. God bless mother, and father and the great state of Ohio!

 

Scene 4

(The scene opens with a dimly lit room with a long table stage right. CARSON is sitting at the head of table. ROBERT, JULIAN and GREGORY are sitting on the left side of the table, JANETTE, CLAIRE and AMY are sitting on the left side. They are eating.)

 

ROBERT

Amy, this very well might be the best roast beef in all of Columbus.

 

JANETTE

You’re gonna have to fight me for that title!

 

(Laughter)

 

AMY

Thank you Robert. It’s always a pleasure to have you and your family over. Isn’t it Carson?

 

CARSON

Um, yes yes. Lovely company. Robert, have you finalized that deal with the Roger’s?

 

ROBERT

I’m trying. But with a bit more urgency this time. After we lost the big sale in Cleveland-

 

JANETTE

Business is not for the table.

 

(JANETTE adjusts the napkin on her lap)

 

JANETTE

Julian, look at how you’ve matured! Is that facial hair, I see?

 

(JULIAN looks down. CARSON, ROBERT, JANETTE and AMY laugh)

 

AMY

You would see him more if he left his room and went to church. You know, Julian, you would have liked last week’s sermon.

 

ROBERT

Ladies, can’t you see you’re embarrassing the poor boy?

 

JANETTE

I remember when you were just a little boy and you used to have that grand swing set in your yard! Can you believe it’s been four years since we moved?

 

ROBERT

Four wonderful years!

 

CARSON

Has it really been so long?

 

ROBERT

Well we reconnected after Elizabeth-

 

JANETTE

Robert!

 

CARSON (softly)

No, no it’s alright.

 

AMY

Julian, how about you show Gregory and Claire your bedroom? (to ROBERT) he has lots of fun posters.

 

(JULIAN looks at CARSON, sighs and then stands, pushes in his chair and begins to exit)

 

JULIAN (to GREGORY and CLAIRE)

You coming?

 

(GREGORY, CLAIRE and JULIAN exit)

 

ROBERT

Carson I didn’t mean to-

 

CARSON

No, no it’s alright. She was always a big hit with dinner guests. I don’t know if you remember but five years ago, we hosted a new years party. She bought a karaoke machine and the two of us belted out Elton John the whole night long.

 

(AMY stands and removes two plates from the table. JANETTE stands)

 

JANETTE

Amy let me give you a hand with those dishes.

 

AMY

Oh, thank you.

 

JANETTE

Now, you just have to tell me where you got those shoes! I haven’t seen pumps like those since my college years!

 

(AMY and JANETTE continue their conversation silently while walking stage left. The light shifts to CARSON and ROBERT)

 

ROBERT

I like her.

 

CARSON

Pardon?

 

ROBERT

Amy, the girl, I like her. She’s a keeper.

 

CARSON

Yeah, shes great. Plus she makes a mean roast beef!

 

ROBERT

She’s also easy on the eyes

 

(ROBERT and CARSON laugh)

 

ROBERT

So, you haven’t made it official?

 

CARSON

What?

 

ROBERT

You know, I don’t see a ring

 

CARSON

Oh, well we haven’t really thought too much about-

 

ROBERT

Don’t get me wrong, it’s just that you two have been living together for almost a year now. Right?

 

CARSON

Yeah, it’s just that…I guess I don’t think we’re ready.

 

ROBERT

It’s the sex, isn’t it?

 

CARSON

What? No. – I mean

 

ROBERT

You can be honest, I won’t judge. God won’t judge.

 

CARSON

What’s this God bullshit coming out of your mouth? You haven’t gone to church since the stone age. (PAUSE) And the fact of the matter is, I’m just not ready for that kind of commitment. I mean (PAUSE) marriage? It just feels too soon.

 

ROBERT

Elizabeth has been gone for what; 3 years?

 

CARSON

Two and a half. Exactly two and half, this day.

 

ROBERT

Do you hear yourself Carson? You’re stuck in the past. Now I know this is not my place, but hear me out when I say that the girl won’t stick around much longer if she knows theres not gonna be any commitment.

 

CARSON

I didn’t say there wasn’t gonna be commitment, I just said not yet.

 

ROBERT

You’re just scared.

 

CARSON

Don’t tell me how I feel. I’m not scared, I’m just not …ready, alright?

 

ROBERT

Fine, fine. I’m just saying, a single man of your age, it’s difficult to find a decent woman

 

CARSON

You did pretty well yourself with Janette.

 

ROBERT

Oh shes wonderful, until she blows all my money on stretching out her forehead and making her mouth bigger.

 

(They laugh)

 

ROBERT

But seriously, if she wants get herself a job and spend her own money on those colorful powder sets, be my guest! But my money? Hell, I have a family to provide for!

 

CARSON

Women, (sigh) truly a species of their own.

 

Scene 5

 

(ROBERT is sitting on the bed. CLAIRE is sitting on the ground holding a poster. JULIAN is lying on the ground with his headphones in, listening to music)

 

CLAIRE (to JULIAN)

You call these fun posters?

 

(CLAIRE holds up a Led Zeppelin poster. JULIAN removes his headphones)

 

JULIAN

It’s vintage

 

CLAIRE

It’s ugly

 

JULIAN

You just don’t know good music

 

CLAIRE

I know plenty of good music

 

JULIAN

You’re young and seemingly uncultured.

 

CLAIRE

You have no right to speak to me that way!

 

(CLAIRE folds her arms)

 

JULIAN

Listen little girl, if your gonna throw a fit I’ll gladly show you the door

 

CLAIRE

Your parents would not be pleased to hear of your lack of hospitality.

 

JULIAN

(mockingly) ‘My parents’ don’t give a shit as to how ‘hospitable’ I am.

 

CLAIRE

With language like that it’s no wonder I don’t see you at church.

 

JULIAN

You’re one of those Jesus freaks?

 

CLAIRE

Jesus freaks? You can’t call me that just because I don’t waste my life with alcohol like you.

 

(JULIAN sits up, and looks to GREGORY)

 

JULIAN (to CLAIRE)

Keep it down, will ya?

 

CLAIRE (to GREGORY)

Gregory, will you help mother with the dishes?

 

GREGORY

But I don’t want to

 

CLAIRE

Gregory, dishes. now.

 

GREGORY

But I-

 

CLAIRE

Gregory when you go to hell because you wouldn’t help the woman who gave you the gift of life-

 

GREGORY

Fine. But I’m telling mother that you yelled at me

 

(GREGORY exits before CLAIRE gets a chance to respond)

 

CLAIRE

He can be so annoying sometimes. Like people need to learn not to talk back to-

 

JULIAN

You’re not going to tell anyone.

 

CLAIRE

What?

 

JULIAN

Tell anyone about our run-in last night and I swear to God I will find you and-

 

CLAIRE

And what? I don’t even think you remember what happened last night because you were too busy regurgitating everything ever on to my new blouse. Just saying. Plus, you should be thanking me for practically saving your life.

 

JULIAN

Saving my life?

 

(JULIAN laughs)

 

CLAIRE

It’s not a joking matter! You could have had alcohol poisoning and died! And no one could have been there to save your dying soul.

 

JULIAN

What do you know about alcohol poisoning? Better yet- what do you know about soul? What are you, eleven?

 

CLAIRE

I’m a petite fifteen! And I refused to be treated unjustly due to my appearance.

 

JULIAN

Listen, kid. You stay out of my business and I’ll stay out of yours-

 

JANETTE (from off stage)

Claire, come down sweetie. It’s time to go.

 

CLAIRE

Well this has been pleasant

 

(CLAIRE exits)

 

JULIAN (calling after CLAIRE)

Wait, kid! Um, Claire! We never made our agreement.

 

Getting Ready

Characters:

TRUMAN – A senior in high school who is in the middle of a pre-college crisis. He is struggling to find a true sense of independence.

DIANE – A sophomore in high school who witnesses Truman’s crisis unfold and lets him take up as much space as he needs to. She is a caring sister who is surprisingly wiser and more mature than her brother.

(We see TRUMAN fixing his hair in the bathroom. DIANE enters and bangs on the bathroom door with her umbrella.)

DIANE

Hey, Truman. Are you in there?

TRUMAN

No.

DIANE

Come on, it’s raining like crazy outside.

TRUMAN

Sorry.

DIANE

Are you still getting ready?

TRUMAN

Don’t come in.

DIANE

Mom and Dad say we have to go now.

TRUMAN

I’m not ready.

DIANE

Your hair looks fine.

TRUMAN

Let me fix it.

DIANE

Shouldn’t I be the one who takes an hour to get ready?

TRUMAN

I don’t know. Should you?

DIANE

Look, I’m coming in there and–

TRUMAN

You better not. I’m taking a shit in here.

DIANE

You just said you were fixing your hair.

TRUMAN

I can multitask.

DIANE

I don’t buy it. I’m going in.

(DIANE enters the bathroom.)

DIANE

Just as I thought. Bravo.

TRUMAN

You’re so annoying. Get out.

DIANE

No, you’re the annoying one. I’m hungry. I want pizza. Your hair looks fine.

TRUMAN

Just let me fix it.

DIANE

What’s the special occasion?

TRUMAN

None of your business, Diane. Go back outside.

DIANE

No! Tell me now or else I’m calling Mom and Dad and they’ll ask you about your personal issues instead.

TRUMAN

Fine. Emily is going to be at the pizza place celebrating Charlie’s birthday.

DIANE

And if you come in there with fantastic hair, she’ll take one look at you– her fifth grade boyfriend– and dump Charlie right then and there, on his birthday and everything. Because she can’t hide her love for you any longer.

TRUMAN

Very funny.

DIANE

Seriously, Truman. You need to get real here.

TRUMAN

I can’t get real here.

DIANE

Why do you still think about Emily?

TRUMAN

Because we’re perfect for each other.

DIANE

Don’t give me any bullshit.

TRUMAN

Well, it’s true. She lives right across the street and her dad and our dad have played golf together for years.

DIANE

And you want Dad’s approval, so if you date Emily then you think you’ll get it.

TRUMAN

Maybe.

DIANE

(pointing her umbrella at him and tapping his shoulder with it) I knew it.

TRUMAN

(pushing the umbrella away from his shoulder) He was proud of me in fifth grade, when I was so good at baseball and wore that Penn sweatshirt every day.

DIANE

But now he’s not.

TRUMAN

And it sucks, but I don’t want to go to Penn. I shouldn’t have to go. Brown is a great school, too.

DIANE

I agree. Why should it matter?

TRUMAN

It shouldn’t, but it does to Dad. Apparently, if I went to Brown, then I wouldn’t be “keeping up his legacy.”

DIANE

So you think if you do some of the things you did in fifth grade then you’ll win him over again? Even though Dad’s been dead set on you going to the same school he went to since you could walk, you think that if you get a new girlfriend that he likes, all his disappointment in you will be magically washed away.

TRUMAN

Pretty pathetic when you put it like that, isn’t it?

DIANE

Yeah, so will you quit this Emily bullshit? Just go to Penn if you’re really that desperate for Dad to be proud of you again.

TRUMAN

But I should stick to my principles, right?

DIANE

Right.

TRUMAN

Even if Dad hates me for it?

DIANE

Oh my God, Truman. It’s time to build a bridge and get over yourself, my friend. Make a choice.

TRUMAN

I don’t know. I don’t have a lot of time before I have to either accept Penn or Brown.

DIANE

Honestly, if that’s your biggest problem in life then you’re doing just fine.

TRUMAN

Well, I’d like to see how you handle this in a couple of years.

DIANE

Trust me. I will never have to handle this.

TRUMAN

Seriously–

DIANE

Just make a decision. Follow your heart. I want pizza. Can’t you think about this later?

TRUMAN

(sarcastic) Wow, impressive. I have it all figured out now. You should be a shrink.

DIANE

Actually, I did psychoanalyze you quite well, especially given that it only took me a minute to catch on to what your crisis is this time.

TRUMAN

What’s “this time” supposed to mean?

DIANE

Nothing. You just take up a lot of space sometimes. But that’s okay. We love you for it.

TRUMAN

What?

DIANE

Anyway, you know it’s not Emily anymore.

TRUMAN

Wait. Can you repeat what you just said before? About me taking up a lot of space?

DIANE

I didn’t mean it like that.

TRUMAN

It’s fine. I’m not asking because I’m mad at you for saying it. I just want to know what you meant.

DIANE

Okay. I mean that you’re debating between Penn and Brown because Daddy wants you to go to Penn but you’re leaning toward Brown. Some people are worried about getting into any college at all– like me– so you should be happy about getting into two Ivy League schools.

TRUMAN

You’re going to get into college.

DIANE

Well maybe I’m not. Dad never told me that he wanted me to go to Penn because he knows that I would never be able to get in.

TRUMAN

That’s not true. I think it’s just different with daughters, that’s all.

DIANE

No, that’s not it. I’m not smart.

TRUMAN

That’s not true. You’re smarter than me right now because you’re able to help me solve my problems when I can’t even figure it out.

DIANE

But I don’t get good grades. I’m not really good at much, to be honest. So that’s why he doesn’t put pressure on me like he does with you.

TRUMAN

Believe me, you don’t want Dad putting pressure on you.

DIANE

Not saying that I do, but I would trade with you in a second. Your problem isn’t as big as you think it is.

TRUMAN

True.

DIANE

All you have to do is get some independence. And that’s easy for an eighteen-year-old guy to do.

TRUMAN

I guess so.

DIANE

So just try to do the right thing. And I know we both know what that is.

TRUMAN

What is it?

DIANE

You’re not a fifth grader who’s going to be satisfied as long as Dad is proud of him. You’re a senior in high school now and you’re going to be great out there. It’s your life so you’ve gotta take control.

TRUMAN

Thanks. I know you’re right.

DIANE

Me too.

TRUMAN

I’m going to Brown. But hey, forget about me. You wanted pizza, right?

DIANE

You don’t even know.

TRUMAN

Yeah, let’s focus on you now.

(TRUMAN and DIANE exit.)

Forced Poem

How do you write a poem?

I have absolutely no idea what I’m doing

Do I just keep hitting the return key after every sentence?

Is a line break between two stanzas like a paragraph?

So anyway,

Poems are really ridiculous.

I don’t see it as writing

Even though it technically is

Because

Doing

Things

Like

This

Is somehow allowed

And I can,

for some reason,

write

LIKE THIS

    and        make thewordsdowhateverIwant         them to do

AND I Can Make Every Word Start With A Capital Letter

or a lowercase letter

and I can start every

“Sentence” with some odd word

that would usually give me a headache

Due to lack of proper grammar

Which most poems have

I can shape it

With patterns

an

d

Have letters in different p l a c e s

I! Can! Also; place pointless…punctuation?

Even if it doesn’t

re

ally

fit

 

“I know that writing is about creativity”

And let me tell you

Poetry is creativity

‘But’

In my opinion

It’s creative in a bad way’

The only way that creativity can be bad

and I feel as if

it takes

more

to

Write a story,

Whether it be a short one;

Like a short story,

Or a long one;

Such as a novel,

{{Because every word needs to make sense}}

And stories are more powerful and touching and motivating

Or not motivating!

And stories can impact someone’s life –

Especially when the reader finds a connection with one or more of the characters

Especially if the author also

finds a connection

With one or more their characters

But poems:

Are just moments,

That the reader,

In my opinion

Can’t take away from

Or learn from

And I have proof:

I have never been motivated

Or touched!

Or changed!

By a poem

 

And I’m sorry if you’re insulted by this!

But,

according to poets

Poetry is about expressing yourself…

And I’m doing just that

I’m expressing how I feel

 

I’ve been told that my writing is poetic –

(But I don’t agree)

Because I hate that word

Because it can mean so many

things

 

[Technically]

I could say that this is poetic

{and}

I could say that the most

Heartfelt and amazing simile or metaphor

Is also poetic

And both

Are completely different things

 

Sure

I could type up one or two

Really good “poetic” lines

And ?it could be considered a poem

The lines don’t! even have to relate

As I’ve noticed in times before when reading other poems

And hearing other poems

And it would be an amazing poem

If that’s even possible

But why would I do that

If I could use those lines in a story?

Where the lines are taken to heart

Where the reader carries those lines with them

Where they associate that line with a character

And where it means something more than just a        really good line

Tired From Tomorrow

Today feels like Yesterday. Tomorrow

I presume will imitate Today.

Today never was going to be promising.

So was Yesterday.

Tomorrow doesn’t look bright.

 

The sun was on time.

Today was not ready. Nor was I,

I envied Yesterday, who would find the

deepest of slumber for all of tomorrow.

Today and I mourned for Yesterday

And Tomorrow patiently waited for the sun.

Hidden Worlds

All my life I have loved being outdoors.  I loved the rain and the winds.  I loved the dew in the morning with little rainbows glittering all around.  And even though it scared me, I loved the feeling of risk being out in the wilderness.  Something feels complete about me when I’m running wild.  I thought it was perfect out in the woods, and that nature was not affected by the big bad world.  I childishly thought nothing could disrupt or harm nature.

I have always loved the mountains.  Their long graceful shapes climbing upwards to the sky.  The wilderness of trees that stretches across them like a long flowing cloak.  Their gray rocky peaks that just touch the clouds.  They are just so massive and old, they have seen so many years pass.  I feel like they watch over me when I’m out in the wilderness.  When I look up at the mountains, there always seems to be something more to them, something hidden in those shadowy woods.  Something magic.

One day I was hiking up the notoriously muddy Mt. Animus with my family.  It was a stormy day, and dark mist rose above my head and spiraled through the treetops.  The deep purple of the sky turned everything to shadows and made the bright greens of the forest a dark, droopy grey.  The air hung heavy on my shoulders as I hiked upwards.  I was a little bit behind my sunny-blond brother who was racing up ahead.  Whenever I scrambled over a slippery blue moss-covered rock, I could see his golden head bobbing in front of me like a lantern in the night.  My parents were a little bit behind me, the heavy fog slowing them down.

I had been taking photographs with my little red plastic camera.  Last night’s constant drizzle had woken up the world.  Fiery orange mushrooms sprung up from the sponge-like ground, and sky blue lichen was bouncing out at me from all sides of the trail like a whimsical pop-up book.  The small bright flash of my camera brought out the colors in the ground, but most of these little wonders were hidden under drooping ferns.  I had to search along the sides of the dirt trail for sparks of brightness in the spongy mud.

Over the course of the hike the fog started to thicken and swirl like homemade whipped cream.  It became increasingly difficult to move and beads of sweat started clinging to the tip of my nose.  My camera fogged up, and my smile turned into a grumble as my wildlife pictures became increasingly blurry.  I wondered how far it was to the summit.

Water droplets started sliding down my glasses bursting into disorienting rainbows whenever I took a photograph.  I took my glasses off to wipe the layer of steam that had accumulated on them, when out of the corner off my eye I saw one of my favorite plants.  “Indian Pipes” are peculiar creamy white plants shaped like clay pipes.  Everyone thinks they are some kind of mushroom, but they are normal plants without the sparkle of green.  They have no chlorophyll inside of them to photosynthesize and create sugars.  Instead they soak up nutrients from the earth.  I love them because they are different from the plants we see every day.

I walked over to a little patch of Indian Pipes just to the left of the trail.  They had sprouted in a perfect circle, which didn’t seem natural to me.  Still, it would make for a good picture.  As I crouched down next to them, I slipped on some wet moss and my precious camera went flying.

“You okay Colly?” came my little brother’s voice from up ahead.

Grumbling I got to my feet.

“Yeah, I’m fine,” I said grumpily, “But I can’t find my camera.  Could I have some help?  I can’t see a thing with this mist!”

And with that my little lantern came bobbing into view.  But even his wide sapphire eyes couldn’t find my camera.  We searched until Mom and Dad came into view, when I stopped.

“It’s no use!” I cried despairingly, “It’s gone!”

I threw my hands down, accidentally brushing against one of the odd little Indian Pipes and the world faded to black…


When I woke up the world was a blaze of light and the air was clean and dry.  I didn’t open my eyes, but the brightness cast an orange glow through my eyelids.  I felt warmth wash over me and good smells overwhelmed all other senses.  Could that possibly be cookies baking?

I was about to crack open my eyes and ask if I could have a cookie or two, when common sense got in the way.  Wait a moment, I thought, I’d been in the woods.  And this was definitely not Mt. Animus.  A wave of terror crashed over me like ice-cold water.  Where was I?  Had I been abducted?  Kidnapped?  Where was my family?  After terror came panic.  What on earth was going to happen to me?

Then came wonderful clarity.  This situation couldn’t be too awful if cookies were involved.  I cracked open one eye, then another.  I was in a round room with walls the color of fresh cream.  The smell was wafting through a spherical doorway in front of me that strangely started a couple feet above the ground, and the light was coming from straight behind me.

        Suddenly a loud chatter burst out behind my head and the light started vibrating and bouncing around the walls.  I jumped with a start and turned to face something I had never seen before.  The creature standing, no floating, in front of me was a glowing, vibrating humanoid.  The creature was floating inside a little bubble of brightness.  After I got over the shock of the beautiful bubble, I stared in awe at the bizarre creature inside.  It had a small rotund body with wonderful wide eyes, just like my brothers, but neon green.  Small feet stuck out beneath it, although I didn’t know what it could possibly use them for since it seemed to be able to fly.  Similarly sized arms poked out from it’s sides.  It had huge half-moon ears, like a koala, and what appeared to be whiskers sitting atop a little wet heart-shaped nose.  Immediately I knew it could do me no harm, although I couldn’t understand a thing it was saying.

        “Excuse me,” I said clearly and politely, “But I can’t make out what you’re saying.  Do you speak English perhaps?  Or Latin?  I think I can make out a couple sentences in Latin.”

        It cocked it’s head at me, which sent its whole body cartwheeling sideways.  Then it started to speak in a very squeaky, high voice.

        “Apologies for my confusion young miss, I was speaking Lenape.  The last visitor we had spoke Lenape, and a kind fellow was he.  You, on the other hand, appear to speak English.  Good language, English.  But I can’t keep all those pronouns straight.”

        It spoke very quickly and when it was finished I stood in awe.  This little glowing orb spoke English!  It blinked twice then continued, “My name is Phyll spelled P-H-Y-L-L.  My good name is short for Chlorophyll.”  He gave a little bow, which sent him rolling forwards in a summersault.

“Nice to meet you,” I responded, in a shaky voice, “I’m Colly.  Spelled C-O-L-L-Y.  Short for Oecologia.”

“My that’s a pretty name,” he said cheerfully, “Colly reminds me of cauliflower.  Cauliflower is food.  Food reminds me of sugar.  Sugar is sweet.”  And he went on making strange comments like this for quite a while.

“How did I get here?” I interrupted all of the sudden.

“Ahh…” said Phyll calming down, twitching his whiskers and giving me a sideways look, “I knew one as young and curious as you would eventually ask.  Before I tell you, where do you think you are?”

I glared at him, infuriated, “How am I supposed to know?!  I was in the woods with my family near this lovely little bunch of Indian Pipes trying to find my camera when I blacked out and woke up here!  And now I’m having a conversation with a glowing ping pong ball!  Not to mention that it can fly!”

“Hold your horses missy, I didn’t mean for you to get all heated up.  I just find it interesting what visitors think.  I’ll tell you eventually.”

I decided that the best way out of this was to cooperate, “Okay.” I said calmly.

“Did you notice anything odd about those so called ‘Indian Pipes?’” he asked with a twinkle in one of his rather round eyes.

“Well, they were in a circle…”

“Those plants are magical.  Magical portals, yes they are.  And that by touching them you were transported here.”

“Where is here exactly?” I asked.  I doubted very much that the plants had been magical.

“We are presently inside one of the ‘Indian Pipes.’”

It took me a couple seconds to process what Phyll had said.  Then a million questions popped into my mind.

“That’s impossible!” I shouted a little too loudly, “We couldn’t fit inside!”

But as I looked around, I knew it was true.  The white walls of the room were fibrous and looked as though they were made out of plants, and Phyll did look a bit like the microscopic bacteria we studied under a microscope at school.  Did that mean I had been shrunk?  At this point I believed anything was possible.

Phyll smiled seeing my eyes widen as I began to accept the magic that I had just encountered, “Welcome to Vegrandis, a world within a world.”


        Soon Phyll had explained that Vegrandis was one of many minuscule magical worlds inside plants.  These worlds were inhabited by the Parvi, Phyll explained.  Phyll was apparently the head of national affairs in the city of Vegrandis, and often interacted with other nations of Parvi.  Then, after a rather lengthy explanation of the wonderful democracy they had over in Minimus (also known as a clump of mountain sorrel) and a monologue about how awful the old dictator of Vegrandis was (which nearly sent me to sleep, which is saying a lot since I was listening to another species speak), we set about with the “grand tour.”

        We stepped onto a balcony overlooking a huge room filled with other Parvi.  Steam rose from little miniature clay ovens that lined the walls and the air danced with the scent of homemade cookies and pies.  I could smell sugar and butter all over the room.  Sweetness danced in circles around my head.  It was a miniature heaven on earth.

The little Parvi were doing what seemed to be an intricate dance, but turned out to be baking.  Each one had a tray of dough, which they watched over until they slid it into one of the ovens.  All the creatures shared a resemblance to Phyll, although they varied in shades of cream.  All of the Parvi glowed and bobbed, just like Phyll.  Each had their own task of carrying trays heaping with baked goods or stirring bowls of batter.

“Since our mother plant cannot photosynthesize,” explained Phyll, “We bake for her to keep her healthy.  She needs the extra sugars since she supports all of us Parvi.”

        Then Phyll bobbed down a flight of sugar-covered stairs and began to point out different steps in the process of baking.  He also introduced me to all of the friendly Parvi in the room.  They all had smiles on their faces and butter smeared onto their bubbles.  Just seeing their joy made me happy too.  Several cookies later, we arrived at a large door.  I was in a rather jovial mood with sugar and frosting stuck to my cheeks and a smile on my face.  But as soon as Phyll saw that door, his wonderful smiled faded and soon mine did too.

        “There’s something I have to show you, young miss,” he said solemnly, “And I don’t think you’re going to like it.”

        He knocked three times and the door swung open.  We entered a dimly lit room with a few other Parvi inside, all with equally concerned faces.  The source of their concern was soon apparent.  A transparent syrupy liquid had seeped through the wall and formed a lake, and everything the liquid touched shrivelled up and turned brown.  I rushed to the lake that was killing this wonderful world and looked at the damage at my feet.

        “Who would do something this awful?” I cried, tears springing from my eyes at the sight of the wreckage.

        Phyll cleared its throat, “Um, I’m sorry to tell you young miss, but you did this.”

        “What?” No, that wasn’t possible.  I couldn’t have done something this bad.

        “Your people.  Humans.  You have a system that makes you pollute without knowing it.  You don’t mean to, but you can destroy entire worlds by accidentally spilling something or letting something blow away in the breeze.  Don’t worry, we’ll be able to patch this leak up in a couple of weeks, but you need to know that you humans did this.  You love nature young miss, but you destroy it with your love.  There is a whole lot of pollution out there killing your world and ours alike.  It’s up to you to stop pollution from destroying everything we love.  I wish I didn’t have to say this, but I can’t do a thing.  Us Parvi aren’t polluting the world.  Your cars and factories are the ones hurting us all.  So please.  Help us.  All of us.”

And he gave me a deep and sorrowful look, and I knew that helping the world was what I was supposed to do.  All of the worlds.  Because, who else will?  The birds can’t save the sky and the fish can’t save the sea and even the Parvi can’t help.  But we wonderful, terrible human beings can save the world we love so much.  Because right now, we are the bad guys.  But we can also be the heros.  And heros need to make a stand.


To get back to the “big world” Phyll took me into the same circular room I woke up in.

“It will be the same moment when you get back to your family,” he said, “Time moves slower in the big world.  Your parents won’t realize you were gone.”

Then, to my alarm, his shining bubble disappeared with a pop and Phyll toddled over to me on his little round feet.  He attempted to give me a hug, but since the hug was around my knees I lifted my new friend up and gave him a real “big hug.”

“Thank you for showing me your world.” I whispered in a koala bear ear.

“Oh you’re welcome missy.” Phyll whispered back and slipped a little something into my hand, “Do make sure to come back.”

After I promised to come back (which meant hiking Mt. Animus a whole lot), Phyll instructed me to crouch in the same position I was in when I entered Vegrandis.  Then he opened a small cupboard, pressed a button inside and my consciousness started to fade.

“Goodbye!” I heard Phyll shout.

I was about to respond, when the world faded to black again…


When I arrived back on Mt. Animus in the same position as before, with my family all around me, I almost laughed.  Could that have been real?  I looked down at the object in my hand.  It was my camera!  It had gone through the portal!  No wonder I couldn’t find it.  I flipped the camera over.  Scrawled in what appeared to be the glowing essence of a Parvi bubble were the words:

Cauliflower girl-

I’ve enchanted this camera so when you take a picture, it transports you to Vegrandis.  Come as often as you wish!  And remember, you can save the worlds.  All of them.

        -Phyll

        Smiling, I slipped the camera into my pocket.  No more trips up the soggy Mt. Animus,  I thought.

        Out loud I said, “I guess I’ll have to save up for a new camera.  It’s really too bad.”


        Now I know about the harm that can be done to the natural world.  Now I know that the mountains aren’t only a safe haven, they are a place that needs to be saved.  Now I can go out into the world with a goal to help save our wonderful natural world and all the crazy-amazing creatures that live in it.  Because the world isn’t gonna save itself.  That’s what heroes are for.

Latin Names

Animus means mind or imagination

Oecologia means ecology

Vegrandis means tiny

Parvi is the plural of “parvus” which means small

Minimus means very small

Clench

He carries the illusion of being prepared in the form of neatly compiled notebooks and folders. His bloated backpack is a precautionary tale to himself. Extra pockets to hold his insecurities and other insignificant items. A book on philosophy and mathematics weighs down an already heavy load, acting as verification of his intelligence.

He carries urgent reminders that are easily forgotten. Notes to self that are underlined and circled and highlighted. During class he sits upright, brainstorming a highbrow comment to share while small-talking his peers with a pretense of confidence. He methodically wipes his thin brimmed glasses with microfiber eyeglass cleaner in his spare time. But these mundane activities can only distract him for so long.

Fiddling his fingers, he aches for a squeeze. He has self-diagnosed himself as being prone to boredom as well as having a bad case of ADHD. A disposable and newly acquired therapist has prescribed a stress ball for his “illness”. Hesitant of drawing unwanted attention to himself by squeezing the ball in the midst of class, he opts for subtly pressing his palms together under the desk. He holds eye contact with the teacher and his classmates as a sign of respect and attentiveness, but all he hears is the soft hollow noises created by his moist palms coming together. In between classes, he sits on the toilet elated and relieved to squeeze in private.

He starts off with soft squeezes affectionately looking at his red ball. Then it intensifies. His stubby nails deepen inside of the ball and his squeezing rate quickens. “Yes, yes, yes,” he thinks. The bell will ring soon, but for now, he is squeezing. He counts down from ten. Ten last squeezes and then he’ll go. In these moments of privacy, he is most content. When around others he is most alone.

The heaviest weight is the one felt perpetually. An inexplicable sense of inadequacy. He files his nails and cleans his glasses and makes sure his fly is zipped, but he feels a mess. At night when he can’t focus on the silence, he feels parts of himself itch unexplainably. He tears away at his skin wishing the sensation would subside, only to wake up to a wounded body.

 

Being Nice

The sun beats down my spine, sweat drips through my hair, and my feet burn with impatience. Camilla walks slightly behind me, my body slanted towards her as I walk down the path. We’re silent; she’s annoyed that I made her leave the lake, and I’m fuming inside because everyone got to the Slip ‘N Slide a half hour ago and it was my turn to stay behind with her. Each time I get impatient, she smiles at me, knowing it’s working. We achieve our victories together: she shows her resolve by taking as long as possible; I bite my tongue and teach myself to be patient.

Camilla has Down syndrome. I don’t know when she was diagnosed, I don’t know how her parents have dealt with it, I don’t know what her day-to-day life consists of. This is what I do know: for the next week, I’m one of Camilla’s camp counselors. At Frost Valley, we have a village called MAC: “mainstreaming at camp,” which is designed for young adults with developmental disabilities to “mainstream” and hang out with other kids who don’t have disabilities. The goal of the program is to introduce all campers to people who are different than them, and to provide kids with a great camp experience who might not otherwise have one. I know that I’ve wanted to work in MAC since I was thirteen, and that I love just hanging out with these smart and funny kids. I know that Camilla’s favorite movie is Frozen, that she loves music about sex and drugs, and that she’s my age. I know that her favorite game is one in which she molds my body into some twisted mess, and then makes me dance my way out of it.

After an hour, we get to the Slip N’ Slide, greeted by a gaggle of twelve year old girls, yelling for Camilla. Camilla: the girl who smiles whenever you do, the girl who doesn’t put on her shoes, the girl who wears tutus. They run up and hug her, tell her how cute she is. She’s four years older than them. I stand beside her as they shower her with misguided love. Even as they baby her, they mean well. I know this. I fight the urge to pry them from her, to say, “You’re teaching her that it’s socially acceptable to hug every person you see! You aren’t helping her!” Not bullying isn’t enough —  being nice isn’t enough. I realize last year, as a camper, I was as misguided as they were. They aren’t helping.

Loving someone when they’re cute and fun is easy. These girls love Camilla as she hugs them, as she passively sits while they braid her hair, as she smiles while they talk at her. They tie her shoes for her because they think she has a physical disability, too. They don’t want to say no to her.

When the girls leave, she gestures at me to put on her shoes for her. I tell her no, and we sit for twenty minutes while she contemplates her options. She cries, she begs. “You can do it yourself, Camilla.” She tells me I’m mean, she screams. “You can do it yourself, Camilla.” A fly buzzes lazily in my ear. A blade of grass bends beneath a soft breeze. The importance of time fades in and out.

“Do you want to tie your shoes in one minute or two?”

Silence.

“Do you want to tie your shoes in one minute or two?”

“Two.”

I set the time timer for two minutes, the red band helping her to visualize how much time she has left. When the red is entirely gone to leave only white, I look at her again. We’re both silent as she puts on her own shoes easily. We keep walking; I ask her about the books she’s reading, who her favorite superhero is, which Avenger she thinks would win in a fight. We sing her favorite song, “Jenny from the Block”, and stop to look at a beetle on the side of the path. Her shoes are on and everything is forgiven; she holds my hand and nuzzles my arm. Every day there are moments when we must both be hard on each other, but as soon they’re over, we go back. I keep her life structured, I make her do things herself, but I am still a fun counselor, I am still a friend. She knows I love her. It doesn’t matter if she feels the same way, although I know she does. I love her.

That night, at the camp dance, we walk in together. My friends wave as we pass, holding hands with their cute seven-year-old, non-MAC campers. They all stand together, joking and laughing under the lackluster disco ball somebody has put up on the ceiling. I stop for a minute to say hi while Camilla goes over to some other kids. My friends tell funny stories of campers wetting the bed and cutting each other’s hair. I soak in stories of camp that match my own from when I was a camper. It all feels so familiar — I know each story before they even leave my friends’ mouths. I laugh along and tell them how I had to play catch with Rachel for five hours one day after lunch, how Camilla tried to grind with another camper to a Justin Bieber song.

“It must be so hard.”

I don’t take in what my friends are saying. I’m doing a lot, but I can balance it now. I used to miss my friends, my “normal camp experience”, craving the cushion of familiarity. But I can do it: I know how to meet my campers’ needs, and how to respond to their anxieties. I can wholeheartedly sacrifice my time, my own interests to make them comfortable and happy. I am an active force in their lives; I love them when it’s easy and when it’s hard. I now know that just being passively nice is never enough.

I step out of my comfort zone and into the disco lighting, weaving my way through the crowded dining hall until I find my girls. Camilla, Rachel, Emma, Justina, Isabella… they invite me in, making space for me in the circle. After one song, a few counselors and I bring some of our campers into the room off to the side of the dining hall; the music is too loud and is causing some of them to have panic attacks. My friends dance. I deep squeeze Rachel’s hands to ground her. I hear someone laugh from the other room. I press down on Camilla’s shoulders in a soothing rhythm so she has something else to focus on. A dance contest starts. I hand a sensory tool to Emma to play with while we sit. We’re all together in half-silence, drawing in some coloring books and joking around. The music drifts through the bottom of the door and whispers all around us. I come to let some things go. I leave my watch in my backpack, I let the music play without me, I color the same picture for hours. My impatience is not gone, but coaching myself to forget it has become worth it. My friends are somewhere in the next room, but I’m right in the center of where I want to be.

Fire at The Don Cesar

“A fire has been reported in the building. Please exit down the stairs. Un fuego se ha reportado en el edificio. Por favor salga por la escalera.”

My mom has turned on the light and is standing above me.

“Put your shoes on and let’s go.”

“She doesn’t have time to put shoes on!” shouts my dad, who’s already standing by the door to our hotel room.

“Dad, let me put my flipflops on!” I yell.

“Mommy what’s going on?” asks my sister Gracie.

“We need to go!” My dad is getting upset. Or he’s just psyched there’s a fire.

“Relax, we’re coming!” says my mom.

It’s spring break, and we’re in St. Pete Beach, Florida. My family and I are staying at the Don Ce Sar hotel, where my dad went with his dad and brother as a kid. The Don is everything I hoped it would be. It’s pink, for one thing, with two pools, a spa, and a restaurant where we’ve eaten every night except for the night we went to a spring training baseball game but we had to leave early because my sister and mom fell asleep.

As we step out into the hallway, families and elderly couples are heading for the stairs. We’re on the sixth floor. Tough for the old people, but perhaps even tougher for me considering I don’t have my contact lenses in and everything is frustratingly blurry. If I die tonight I can blame it on shitty genetics and the fact my glasses make me look like Sarah Palin, which is why I had to leave them at home.

On the way down the stairs, I bump into an old lady and may have knocked her over, but there’s no time to look back. For a split second, I think about going back to help her but I realize that this is a life or death situation. A fire is really no place for arthritis or back pain. This is not a drill! Lives will be lost. Bodies will be burned. Vacations will be ruined because of this fire, this fire that is probably hot on my heels as I flee down the crowded staircase to safety, my parents and sister right behind me.

I feel the heat on my skin, and my hair is definitely being singed by the flames. I’m running so fast and everything is blurry, but I hastily glance back to look the fire in the eye. Well, actually I don’t see any fire but that doesn’t mean it’s not around here somewhere.

We dash through the lobby, and go outside where there are already clumps of tired and frightened vacationers. We stop by the fountain right outside the hotel. I squint, and in the distance I can make out a tacky neon sign that says “Come See Our Naked Mermaids!” Oh, Florida. Keeping in Klassy.

Because I am a teenager in the 21st century, I grabbed my phone as we headed out the door and check the time. It’s 6:02 am.

It’s starts to rain, and we move under the main awning. I look up and instead of finding comfort in the hot pink Spanish-style building, I am horrified to see fire leaping out of all the windows. But those flames are dark gray. Turns out, those are shadows from the air conditioners. I avert my attention to the bell tower in the front of the hotel. My little sister whispers to me, “Lily, doesn’t the bell tower look like the one from that scary movie Mommy made us see?”

Shit, it’s Vertigo. Now I have to think about Vertigo while I’m also thinking about how I left all my clothes and belongings in our room. (I should really start bringing a pre-packed mini suitcase with me that has all my most precious clothes and belongings in it so I can grab it quickly if I’m ever in this life-threatening and goddamn terrifying situation ever again. If I survive this, that is). I take a deep breath and wait for a body to be spewed out of the bell tower, plunging to its death, riding a wave of fire.

“That movie haunted me!” my sister says. Her eyes are wide with renewed fear.

I glance around me. There are families huddled together, some with dogs. I did not know this hotel allowed dogs. How impractical. This is a fire, and small dogs could be easily swallowed up in flames and no one would notice. Actually, some people would notice but by then it would be too late.

Yesterday afternoon at the pool I saw a totally gorgeous Titanic-era Leonardo DiCaprio lookalike. I was entranced. At last I would get my very own spring vacation romance that Seventeen magazine never shuts up about! Then we’d date and all my friends would be jealous of me! He waved to me, and I enthusiastically waved back. I was wearing a cute new bikini I bought online for $38. Yes! Seventeen would be so proud. I tried to wave back, but I couldn’t tell if he saw me or not so I made a plan to get a fruit smoothie at the same time as him today.

I catch sight of him now standing with his family. He’s wearing purple terrycloth pajama bottoms and a Taylor Swift t-shirt. What never happened between us is now over.

An old man is wearing skull-and-crossbones PJs. His wife (or his mistress, how should I know) is wearing one of the fluffy bathrobes from the hotel bathrooms. A lot of people are wearing the hotel bathrobe. Dear god, am I glad we don’t have to see what they’re wearing underneath. I wish I had thought to bring a sweatshirt with me. It’s chilly outside. I see a group of girls my age taking selfies and posting them on Instagram. They’re posting photos on Instagram during a fire? I have some questions about that. One, they’re taking a selfie with bedhead? Two, how are they getting WiFi?

I check my phone. It is 6:10. I’m starting to get ridiculously bored. My parents are talking about work, relaxed now that it’s looking more and more like the fire was not a Gone With the Wind-level situation. My sister has fallen asleep standing up. Her eyes are closed, and she’s humming the Harry Potter theme song. She’s asleep.

God, this is dull. People are chatting, the sun is rising. The sunrise is beautiful in an annoying way. Annoying because I no longer want to be in Florida. I want to be back home in New York City, where nothing dangerous ever happens. This is such a pain, they better be giving us all complimentary chocolate chip muffins at breakfast.

It is now 6:12. Progress. There’s no sign that we can go up anytime soon, and the hotel managers are looking harried as they run in and out of the hotel, checking to count the bodies and see how many lives have been lost. Suddenly the hotel guy standing by the door yells, “All clear, folks!”

I survived! We move towards the door.

“Are you sure it’s safe to go inside?” My dad asks him.

“Um, I think so.”

“Would you mind double checking?”

Oh, please, Dad. Everything’s fine. This is not a real thing, it might even have been a drill. I’m exhausted and I want to go back to bed. We’re allowed to take the elevators now that there’s not a fire, and everyone’s waiting for them. I hear one woman say to her young children, “Daddy’s going to take you two back to bed. Mommy’s going to the gym to burn off that cheesecake because she won’t be able to fall back to sleep.”

The sun has almost fully risen behind the sign for naked mermaids. The air is cool and even though I’m tired I feel very peaceful. I put out that fire with my mind. I know I did.

Now I’m delirious and the hotel guy comes back. It’s safe to go up.

 

The next morning at breakfast, no one mentions anything, but some respect has definitely been lost amongst the guests after seeing each other in horrifying pajamas. We’ll probably never see each other again, but we’ll all have the same near-death vacation story to tell. Maybe Taylor Swift t-shirt will write about it for his college application essay. I start thinking about the fire, and next thing I know I’m contemplating human existence and what my purpose is on this planet and whether I’ll live my life any differently now. I hope I’ve been changed by this fire, but I don’t feel anything yet. Maybe it takes a few days. Later, my mom and I head to the spa to get facials and I look up and see the Vertigo bell tower. When I close my eyes, I can still see the fire.

 

The Preparations

ONE

The day the world ends is August 8. Our leader told us so. They stood on the balcony overlooking our town and called us to attention.

“We will all pass on the 8th of August, at 3:30. Our scientists have discovered that Earth will die from overheating, and our reinforcements will melt. The beams holding up our community will collapse, and we will drown.”

It’s kind of sad, I think, to have to accept death, but they say it is the only thing to do. We must go voluntarily. The celebrations will make up for it. My brother is only little, so he cried during the announcement. He hasn’t been taught yet that showing negative emotions in public is considered dangerous.

My friend taps me on the shoulder as our community applauds. She grins, her eyes shining.

“I can’t wait for the celebrations! We’ll get to wear colored clothing, and eat foods we’re not allowed to, and get to act like the people in the shiny books from school!”

“You mean the magazines? Harriet, those people didn’t eat. It would be unhealthy to look like them.” We break away from the crowd once the announcement ends, and head towards the South Tunnel.

Harriet shrugs, grabbing her shoes. “They look so…different. I like the ones that wear their hair down all the time. I wish we could do that.”

We pull on our shoes and walk down the South Tunnel, gazing up at the freshly painted mural. It shows our history, and how we corrected our flaws to become one of the last civilizations left.

After the scientists figured out that global warming would end the world, the builders elevated our communities. Some countries decided to build boats and submarines to live in forever, but they drowned. As far as anyone knows, America’s people are the only ones that survived the flooding. The communities are sparse, and there isn’t much contact with them.

“Johanna?” She’s not looking at me, just gazing at the paintings like I am. “Where did the others go?” She’s onto the last painting, where the ice caps are melting and people are drowning. “I mean, the other communities. Where are they?”

I pull her towards the other wall, where an old map of the world is hanging. Black lines are drawn across it to replace the faded borders.

“See the shape up top that looks like a dog? That used to be called Maine. Some people live in a community there.”

She nods and points to a small shape named Massachusetts. “And that’s us!”

As soon as she presses the shape, a small chime sounds throughout the South Tunnel. A nasally voice from the speakers states, “Community members are prohibited from touching the map. Number 107, should this be filed in your report as an accident which will not be repeated?

Harriet sighs and looks down at her feet. “Yes, the incident will not happen again.”

Thank you. We are pleased to hear that Number 107 will follow the rules.” There is a screech of mic feedback, and then the voice is gone.

Harriet is shaking, her eyes wide. “That was the third time I’ve been warned for correction this month. I’m going to have to be corrected if I slip up a fourth time.” I frown, thinking of the few times I’ve been warned of correction all my life. I know how important neatness and promptness are in our community. I hope Harriet won’t be corrected. They never are quite the same after.

“Come on! I don’t want to be late,” I whisper. We run to the exit and pull the huge door open.

 

TWO

 

The south end of our community is where all our homes are. We take off our shoes and sprint down the path towards a raised platform. I press the button for my home and a tunnel lights up. I start down the walkway after waving to Harriet.

I open the door to my home, looking for my little brother and my mom. “Owen?” I step into the living room and take off my jacket. There is no answer.

“Mom?”

My mom pokes her head out from the study door. “In here!”

I smile and hang up my jacket, then join them in the next room.

The study is tiny, just like our home, and it’s very plain. My mother is reading to Owen from one of the sites on the computer. I smile and take a place at my desk, digging out the flash drive from my pocket and fitting it into the slot in the desk.

The computer starts up, and it asks me one of the questions from my lesson today.

What is the procedure for apocalypse-related incidents?”

I grin, feeling proud. I know this one by heart.

“Walk to the raised platform in the south end of the community and press the 9 button twice. Then lie down and rest,” I repeat carefully. We’re supposed to sleep peacefully so that we won’t try to run when we die.

Very good. Proceed to internet use. Please use responsibly.”

My favorite site pops up on the screen, and I scroll down quickly. It’s a story site, with tales for kids that are written by government-approved writers. I was in the middle of a story about a girl that followed all the rules of her community and grew up to be a painter of the murals in the North Tunnel. I sigh, reading about the girl’s fantastic adventures.

“What are you thinking about?”

I turn to face my mom. It’s standard procedure to ask what another person is thinking, but I like to think people are just being polite.

“I’m thinking about being a government-approved writer when I grow up. I could create stories for people to read!”

My mom chuckles and closes her computer temporarily. “Johanna, you know that the genre of writing has to be chosen by the leader of the community. You can’t ask for realistic fiction writing in your job description.”

“I know, I know.” I scroll down farther to read another story about our community leader. “But what if I got a realistic fiction assignment from the government, and then…”

My brother starts crying when the computer talks about the Earth flooding. I pick him up and bring him into the living room after closing my computer.

“Johanna? Owen?”

“Dad!” I rush over to him. He grins at me after hanging up his jacket next to mine.

“Did you hear when the world is going to end? Did you?” I’m jumping up and down, barely being able to control myself.

“Yes, I did. August 8th, right?” He waves to my mom, who is now in the living room.

“Yeah! There’s going to be a huge celebration, and in only a few days!” I check the calendar in the kitchen: only one week until the three days of celebration.

“One week left! One week left!” I sing. My mom and dad chuckle, and Owen starts giggling. My mom walks into the dining room, shaking her head at our silly reactions. We all follow her, with my little brother in my dad’s arms.

I take my place at the dinner table and straighten my clothing. My parents do the same, and Owen reaches for his bib. With great difficulty, I manage to tie it around his neck.

“Can I press the button?” I look up at my dad timidly.

“Of course.”

I grin and reach for the circle in the middle of the table, hitting it with the tips of my fingers. The side of our house opens up, and our dining table moves down a treadmill.

The tables of each family move to the platform, with each table taking up a corner of the octagon shape. My dad stands up, and we all follow as the community leader emerges from the tunnel.

“Thank you, families of the community. As you all know, our scientists have found the answer to the question that has been on our minds for so long. The end of the world will be on August 8th.” A great cheer rises up from the families.

The community leader chuckles once the applause dies down. “This means that the three days of celebration are in just a week. I advise you to get some rest, spend time with your family, and be happy!  We only have a few more days to thank the Earth for what it has given us.”

I dig into my dinner and watch the laughing families around us. If this is a plain, basic, community with only the essentials, then I can’t wait for the luxury of the celebration.

 

THREE

 

-one week later-

 

“Harriet!”

“Johanna!”

“Oh my goodness!”

We run out of our houses and meet at the entrance to the tunnel, our faces red.

“This is going to be the best celebration ever!” I cry. My parents trail behind me in their special occasion outfits, and my brother toddles over to us. He learned how to walk the day after the announcement, and he’s been the main source of excitement in our community.

“Let’s go!”

We pull on our shoes and race down the tunnel, stopping at the huge metal door. My dad pushes it open, and the community gasps at the sight.

A huge train takes up the meeting place, and most of the government leaders sit inside. We slowly walk towards it and stop when a door slides open. The community leader steps outside and addresses us.

“Good morning, everyone,” she says. “I know you are frightened, but there is really no need to be.” We all relax instantly.

“This train is going to take us to another part of the world, where there are celebrations all the time. But you must know why we do not allow this. We will show a documentary on the train ride there, about how constant celebration is not at all what it seems.” She walks back into the train after motioning for us to come inside.

Harriet, always the bold one, runs onto the train and finds seats for the two of us. I scoop Owen up and step inside. The rest of the community filters in and sits down. As soon as everyone is seated, screens come down from the ceiling and stop in front of us. I don’t really want to watch the movie. I’d rather see the train start moving, but there are no windows. I guess they don’t want us to see the other, primitive villages that got flooded.

The movie starts playing, and I reluctantly turn my attention to the screen. Owen is already drooling like a faucet onto my shoulder, so I sit him between Harriet and me.

Long, long ago, there was a beautiful place called Earth,” the documentary announces. “People were happy, and they rejoiced when their crops grew and were ready to harvest. They did this every year, and it was called Thanksgiving.” There are scanned pictures and paintings on the screen, with many people eating with their community. I smiled. It seemed like a fun time of the year.

There was another holiday, which was modeled after the birth of their community leader. The people gave items to others wrapped in colorful paper, and they took trees inside their homes and decorated them.” Harriet and I stifled a giggle. In our lessons, we had learned that trees were ancient things that only grew outside. Why put a tree inside your house?

There were many other holidays like this, where people would eat rich food and receive material items. They started to think that objects were the only important things in life, and that a green slip of paper could be worth wars. The green paper was called money, and the people got greedy and fat.” The screen changed to a crude drawing of many people, with inflated bodies and little heads. Their eyes were cold and black, and they held wads of green paper in their chubby fists. Owen woke up and started crying at the sight of the inflated people.

Luckily, the community leader’s grandfather knew this had to change. He asked some of his friends to help him, and they got people back to their normal size. He was the greatest hero the world had ever seen.

Of course, some people didn’t want to change back. They liked being fat and evil and ugly.” The narrator spits out each insult onto our faces, scaring the little children and disgusting the adults.

The fat people attacked our community leader’s grandfather, and he fought back courageously. He saved us all from turning out like the inflated people.” I gasped and held Owen close to me. I couldn’t imagine being like the people in the drawings.

So we built our communities, and saved ourselves from the global warming that the fat people had caused. They tried to build boats to stay alive during the flooding, but they drowned.” Harriet turned and whispered in my ear. “How could they have caused the global warming?”

I frown, just noticing that they never said that. “I guess it was the making of the material items that they loved,” I whisper back.

The documentary ends with a click, and the doors slide open again. The community leader smiles and gestures outside. “Welcome,” she says. As we rush out the doors, she calls after us.

“Remember the documentary- we took this away for a reason.”

 

FOUR

 

The crowd of people are too noisy to stand in, so I drift away from them. The trees bend over the walkway and block the magnificent sunset.

“Hey.”

I jump, turning around and glaring at Harriet.

“Don’t do that! It freaked me out.”

Harriet grins. “Sorry. It was funny.”

I roll my eyes and keep walking towards the building in the distance. I’m pretty sure it’s our temporary dwelling spot for the next two nights.

She runs up to me and matches my stride.

“So…”

I look at her. “So, what?”

“So, are you going to the library, or…?”

I stop and peer into the darkness. “That’s a library?” We only had seen them in our lessons, but they sounded really fun. I’m sure they had lots of stories on the computers there.

“Yeah. So do you wanna go?”

“Uh, sure…”

Harriet grabs my arm and starts running, dragging me behind her. We run to the library and pull the door open.

The library is small, with wooden shelves and one dusty computer in the back. I slowly sit down on one of the armchairs.

Suddenly I notice dozens of artifacts on the shelves. I pick the nearest one up to examine it.

It’s small and cloth-bound, with little golden words carved into the outside. The words are too faded to read, so I open it instead. There are pages and pages of paper, with words on them written in ink.

“What is this?” I whisper, flipping through the story. This doesn’t exactly seem…government-approved.

“It’s a book.”

I closed the book, feeling trapped. That was definitely not Harriet’s voice.

That was a boy’s voice.

I slowly turn around. “Hi.” Darn it, I got caught!

“Harriet,” I whisper.

She walks over to us, already deep into another book. She looks up and almost drops the book she was holding.

“Uh- we thought we were allowed to be here! But we’re not! We’ll go now!” Harriet grabs my hand and pulls me towards the door.

“We can’t leave with the books!”

“She’s right, you can’t.” The boy holds his hand out, and Harriet drops her book into his hand without another word. I hand the boy my book too.

He looks at the first page. “You really want to read this?”

“It was the first book I picked up,” I say awkwardly. I kind of want it back now.

He puts the books down and gives me another book from the shelves. I can read the writing on the glossy cover. Something about a photography issue?

“Hey, that looks like the magazines we have in our community!” Harriet whispers, looking over my shoulder at the cover.

The boy looks at us curiously. “Are you two from the community in Massachusetts?”

Harriet and I look at each other. “It used to be called that.”

He nods. “I’m Hugh.”

“Johanna.”

“I’m Harriet, and we need to go. Bye!” We run out of the library with the magazine.

She turn to me and clutch it tight. “Where am I going to put this? If anyone finds out we took this, we’ll get in huge trouble!”

I think for a minute, then walk into the building. Almost everyone’s outside, so no one sees us.

Once I get to my room, I place the magazine between the sheets and the mattress. I pull Harriet into the hallway and talk to her quickly.

“You can’t tell anyone about this, okay? No one. If they find out, we could both be corrected, and our lives would be ruined! We need to go to bed soon, so I’ll stay in my room. You go to your room and pretend like nothing happened.”

Harriet runs back to her room and closes the door carefully. I close the door to my room quickly. I’m too nervous to sleep, so I’ll just read the magazine.

I take it out from under the sheets and burrow under the covers. Flipping the pages, I gasp at the colors and people they have managed to capture. There are crowds of people with many different skin and hair colors. I think back to the boy in the library, named Hugh. He looked…different from us, now that I think about it. I wonder how many people are still alive with the bright blue eyes that he had. I flip through more of the pages and stop at one that looks like him. There is a baby with tan skin and bright blue eyes. I read the caption at the bottom:

Only around 10 people have this combination of skin color and eye color in the world.”

This is too old to be true anymore, so the number of people that look like him must be even smaller now. I put the magazine back under the sheet and try to go to sleep, turning off the light and staring up at the ceiling.

Hugh must be different from other people in the world. I remember when I used to be proud of my thin blond hair and dark brown eyes, grateful to blend in with so many other people in our community. I used to pity Harriet for standing out with her bright red hair.

I want to be different, too.

I decide to run up to the library next morning and ask Hugh for paper and a pen. Maybe, if I can’t look different, I could write a story of my own and be different.

 

FIVE

 

-August 8th, 3:17 pm-

 

The community leader’s voice rings out from the speakers for the last time.

Please follow the apocalypse-related incident procedure. This is not a drill.

I snap my head up from my desk, finishing the last bits of my story. The paper is soft from two day’s worth of writing and crossing out many words. Hugh taught me how to copy the letters on my computer and write them on the page. I spent the whole two days in the library with him, just writing letters over and over and over again.

I stuff the paper into my pocket, reading through the story in my head.

“Once upon a time, there was a girl named Jo.”

My brother starts crying, so I lift him up and whisper the story to him.

“She lived in a community where the people thought they had everything.”

He stops crying and listens, tears still rolling down his cheeks.

“But they didn’t. They were missing out on so many good things.”

I run through the tunnel and put on my shoes.

“Like colors, and inspiration, and stories of their own.”

I have to set Owen down to lace them up, and he starts whimpering again.

“So she stole something from someone.”

He hugs my leg tightly. I carry him onto the platform.

“It was the right thing to do.”

No one else is there, but I still whisper. There could be cameras watching us.

“She tore up the book and scattered the pages all over.”

I can see one of the pictures from the magazine that I hid around the community.

“She wanted the people to find the photos and remember the past.”

I press the 9 button twice.

“Maybe someday they will understand.”

Owen and I lie down and try to sleep.

“Until then…

She will wait.”

More people come and lie down with us. I whisper the words over and over again until we both fall asleep. I hope other communities know what they’re missing, and how they can fix it. I close my eyes and wait, just thinking about nothing.

 

I hear Owen crying, far away from me. I reach out to him, but feel nothing. Someone’s head is pressing into my stomach.

I open my eyes and look down. It’s dark, but I can make out a few shapes. Owen is whimpering into my shirt, and we’re still on the platform. Everyone’s still sleeping, waiting to die. I wonder what the community leader’s doing. Is she sleeping too?

Wait a minute.

I sit up and pull Owen close to me again. I check my watch.

4:25 pm.

What?

I reach out to Harriet and tap her on the shoulder.

“Harriet, wake up.”

She doesn’t move. I lay Owen down and shake her until she wakes up.

“Johanna? What’s going on?”

I pull Owen into my lap again.

“Harriet, it’s 4:25. The apocalypse didn’t happen.”

“What?”

I look around quickly and whisper in Harriet’s ear.

They were wrong.”

 

Missing Mae

Bill woke up one morning and noticed he hadn’t quite realized how loudly his knees creaked before. He hadn’t noticed just how cold the hardwood floors got in the winter, hadn’t seen all the dirt on the windows. Had there even been any dirt, before Mae died? The stairs had been a challenge for a while, now. He kept meaning to buy a new cane after the other one broke a few days ago, but he never could bring himself to leave the house.

Soon, he knew, the food his son had bought when he’d been there two weeks ago would run out. Jack had bought him what felt like a year’s supply of food; Mae left the house constantly, so she only used to buy a few days’ worth of food at a time. And she was a wonderful cook, too. That’s what he’d first noticed about her when they started dating.

When he finally got down the stairs, Bill looked around at the living room. When had it gotten so dim-looking? Like an old folks’ home, he thought, that’s how it looks. And Bill always swore to himself he’d never let himself get stuck in an old folks’ home. He sat down on the couch, slowly. The dent in the cushion from years of sitting felt like an old friend. Bill always personified things. The therapist he’d once had had said it could be a sign of something serious. Bill didn’t know about that, much. Mae had said she loved his personifications, when he told her what Dr. Baxter had said.

He felt bad for the cushion that Mae used to sit in. He could relate to it. They both missed Mae. But at least Mae’s old cushion still had Bill’s cushion as a partner. Bill was on his own.

The phone rang, and Bill realized he should have listened to his neighbor and put a phone nearer to the couch. It was so hard just to stand up lately. And he’d only just sat down.

He groaned, feeling a pain in his back that he was starting to think maybe he should call a doctor about. “I’m coming,” he said to nobody in particular; maybe to the phone. “Hello?” he said, once he finally reached the other side of the room.

“Dad,” came the voice. “How you doing? How do you feel? Gone outside?” It was Jack.

“Yeah, I’m fine, kiddo,” said Bill. “Gone on walks, been to the…park.” It was all a lie, of course. But Bill had never been good at asking his son for help. And his son had never been good at knowing when Bill was lying.

“Great, great. Well, just checking in, making sure you’re doing okay. If you need anything, let me know, alright? I’m just a few miles away.”

“I’m sure I’ll be just fine, thanks. Tell Melissa I say hello.”

“Will do. Bye, Dad,” Jack said, and hung up. Back on the sofa, Bill turned on the television. He’d never watched it much when Mae was around. Now he could barely remember what he did when Mae was around. But it sure as hell didn’t have anything to do with a television.

He clicked the on button and the screen lit up, a man he didn’t like the look of yelling at him to “BUY USED CARS TODAY!” and holding a big blue flag. Bill changed the channel and another man he didn’t recognize, but assumed was famous, was being extensively talked about by a group of young men and women. All the people, all at once, unrecognizable, upset him. He didn’t know these people, didn’t know what they talked about, couldn’t even hear their voices clearly. And they made him feel so alone. He shut off the television in a hurry, ready to escape them all.

But what next? He really did need more food, really did need a cane. And he wouldn’t accomplish much by staying seated on the lonely couch forever. Bill barely knew where a person would go to get what he needed. Target, he’d heard Mae talk about. Target. She’d said there was one on every corner, it felt like. His stomach jolted when he thought about leaving the house, being in a room full of strangers. And he would need help, wouldn’t he? Wouldn’t he need help navigating what he assumed to be a big store? That meant talking to someone new.

Maybe I could have Jack do this, he thought. But worse than the thought of a room full of strangers was the thought of needing his son desperately. Needing anyone desperately. Bill had only let him buy the food because Jack hadn’t asked. Just showed up with it all.

The old man put his head in his hands. He’d known this would have to happen, sometime. Finding his way in the world without Mae, though…always seemed like it could never happen. And he never thought it’d happen this early, if ever.

His stomach growled angrily up at him. I can’t do this anymore, he thought.

And he felt like a coward. He felt angry.

The walls were suddenly the ugliest yellow he’d ever seen; the color of rotten mustard and dirty teeth. The carpet was too thick. He hated how he could see the little spills of coffee, or maybe tea. He hated how the kitchen table had to have a thin plastic-y tablecloth because he couldn’t trust himself with a normal, cloth one anymore.

And Bill hated himself. He felt nauseous, disgusted with himself and his old age and his horrible house. It was never a horrible house back when Mae lived in it, even though he assumed it must’ve looked just the same. But it couldn’t have looked just the same; Mae changed it.

At least the nausea meant he lost his appetite. With a grim smile, he thought that if only he could stay disgusted with himself, he would never have to eat again.

He pushed himself up from the couch, aching as he did so. He immediately regretted his decision; he realized he didn’t have a plan for what to do after he stood. But there stood Bill, head rushing from standing up with what didn’t used to qualify as speed. They had a guest room on the first floor of the house, so Bill decided to go to sleep. Maybe it was about time to move into that room permanently. His hunger was back.

He hadn’t wanted to touch the canned foods that Mae had left in the cellar. He didn’t want to disrupt anything Mae had made with her own hands. He would figure it out when he woke up.

The bed was softer than the one upstairs. This was a relief; it gave him an excuse to switch bedrooms. Not that there was anyone he would have to give an excuse to. But he almost felt like he had to give Mae an excuse for why he left the bedroom they’d shared for so many years in exchange for one that Mae had barely touched.

Bill’s eyes shut, his stomach crying out one more time. Eventually he would have to disrupt the cans of food.

He awoke when a shout came from the street. He turned his head and saw a little girl running past his window, chasing a little boy. The trees aren’t happy with the children’s noise, Bill thought. Neither am I. He wished he could let the trees know he understood, let them know they weren’t alone in their feelings.

He laid there for a moment, surprised to find himself in the guest room. “What the hell?” he muttered.

And then he got hit with remembrance, at the same time feeling a pang of hunger.

He decided he wouldn’t let himself starve; besides, Mae made that food for a reason. Why let all her hard work go to waste?

Slowly, he went downstairs, eventually reaching the door. It was heavier than he remembered, but it had been years since he’d tried to open it. It creaked loudly, and the smell of dust came through the doorway. The light flickered on once he managed to make the stiff switch budge upward. And there were shelves and shelves of jars and cans.

The jars were full of what looked like pickles, olives, blue and red and purple jams.

There were cans of peaches, raspberries, pineapples, and pears. Mae had also kept paper towels on the lower shelves, though Bill wasn’t sure how well he could bend to reach those. He was so relieved to see how well Mae had prepared for a storm. But it saddened him, knowing that she would never know how helpful she’d been. And his pride in her only made him miss her more.

With a sigh, Bill pulled down a can of peaches and a jar of pickles. He hoped he made the right decision. He didn’t want to upset the other foods. “Goodbye,” he said, as he flicked off the light to the cellar and made his way upstairs. He would be back for dinner.

The stairs groaned sadly as he stepped on each one, the wooden planks unused to his heavy feet.

When he reached the kitchen, Bill found the can opener and a bowl. He dumped the peaches in, only realizing afterward that he didn’t even like peaches much. But then again, he didn’t like anything, much, anymore.

He sat in the chair and ate the peaches quickly. He barely even tasted them, but smiled as he thought of Mae’s careful hands slicing the peaches what must have been years ago.

The window watched him, feeling his loneliness. The old man felt bad and, with a great deal of effort, shut the blinds. He didn’t want to cause any sadness to anyone else.

When the peaches were done, he didn’t want the pickles. He left them on the table, figuring he could use them for dinner. He rinsed out the bowl and placed it on a towel to dry.

He had a headache; he could feel it coming on. He walked to the bathroom and forgot what he went there for the moment he saw his reflection. He looked like the dogs with sad eyes and droopy ears. Bloodhounds. He used to have a bloodhound named Georgia. He missed Georgia, now, too. When had his eyes gotten so bagged and wrinkled? When had his hair become so thin? He used to be a handsome man, he knew. In high school he’d had many girlfriends, but hadn’t liked any of them much. He’d never been in love till his sophomore year of college, when he met Mae.

He nearly walked away without the aspirin, but the dull throbbing in his head reminded him once more.

He opened the bottle but couldn’t pick which pills to take. He felt that if he offended one it would surely not work the way he wanted it to. “I’ll dump the bottle and take the first two,” he said. He felt that this satisfactorily explained the situation to the pills.

Bill poured two pills into his hand. “Sorry,” he said into the rest of the bottle, and shut it. Swallowing the medicine, he hoped he’d made the right decision. He didn’t want to hurt anyone.

He was suddenly tired again. It was four o’clock. He walked into the guest room and laid down again, on the other side of the bed this time. He decided to spend an equal amount of time on each side of the bed, so that both sides felt useful. He would do his best to make the bed feel as if Mae was in it, too.

He couldn’t fall asleep as quickly, this time. He just sat in the bed, thinking that maybe he should read. Or maybe he should try the television one more time. He might as well get used to it. Maybe he would learn to like it, even.

After what felt like hours, Bill decided to leave the room and read. The bed was unhappy that he hadn’t slept, he knew. It felt like it hadn’t done its job. It probably wished he was Mae. He couldn’t blame it. He would wish the same.

When he reached the bookshelf he realized he hadn’t read since before Jack visited. It’s been too long since I’ve used my brain, Bill thought. He shut his eyes, randomly choosing a book from the shelf.

Reading felt good. It felt like he was himself again. He didn’t know why he hadn’t done it in so long. Time felt faster when he read. Until he remembered that he was alone in the room. Then he could barely read the words, so he shut the book and stared out the window. The worst thing about missing someone, he thought, is that the only thing that could ever make you feel better is being with them. He couldn’t escape. He said, “how could you do this to me?” And the pattern on the rug swirled and he swore he could see Mae’s face for a moment. She was disappointed, he knew. He wasn’t living well enough without her. And she had always taken such good care of him.

The phone rang, distracting him momentarily. He picked up. “Dad!” said Jack.

“Hey there,” Bill replied. “How are you, son?”

“I’m fine. You know I’m calling to ask you the same thing.”
“I’m doing alright. Read a book, ate some peaches, took a nap. Took a walk. Went to the grocery store. Learning to like the television, even. I’m doing great.” Bill was lying through his teeth, praying the bit about the TV wasn’t too far-fetched for his son.

It wasn’t. “That’s really great, Dad. So good to hear. Do you need anything? Mel and I are on our way to the mall now, anyway, and it’s not that far from your house.”

“I’m really fine. Don’t worry about a thing.”

“Alright, if you’re sure. Bye, Dad.”

“See you.” And he hung up with a click.

Bill had never been a religious man. He wasn’t disdainful of religion; he just hadn’t felt that he could use it in his own life. But lately he’d been praying.

When Mae started looking worse and worse, he prayed that she would live.

After she died, he prayed that he would be able to live without her.

And now he prayed for this again, but with a little less hope.

He also prayed that his son would never realize the poor shape his lonely father was in.

He was embarrassed. The walls were seeing him in a way he’d hoped they never would. He felt that Mae could see him through the walls. He wished he could be somewhere empty, somewhere where there were no walls or cushions or pills to be saddened by his inability to live without Mae.

The floor wished it could help him, the empty can of peaches he had thrown out earlier thought it deserved something more than just being tossed in the garbage. It deserved a monument. The burned-out lightbulb on the ceiling was upset that Bill had been ignoring it for so long. The whole world pitied Bill. And he hated being pitied.

He felt trapped, but didn’t want to go outside. He couldn’t bear the thought of opening himself up to more people’s sympathetic eyes. The sadness of his own house was bad enough.

So there he was, standing by the phone, praying as best as he knew how. He hoped it would be enough.

“I know I don’t pray a lot,” he said out loud. “I hope you don’t hold that against me. I just…things aren’t going so well.” He cringed when he heard himself say this. “I’m fine,” he decided, unable to leave his previous words just hanging in the air.

 

t-shirts

 

and we asked you for help

and you laughed at the candor

and we dropped dead like flies.

 

bloody t-shirts falling from

clothing lines as clothing pins

litter the floor of the morgue

 

and parents pick out caskets

ten sizes too small, for dead

babies and children of the

 

night, the ones who had been hanging

from street lights and shooting stars,

who asked for help in the form

 

of loud music, slow dancing,

painting in dark colors, tying

red balloons to doorknobs,

 

and leaving home without layers.

these children, they’re wearing t-shirts

in late december and you’re

 

wondering why they’re shivering.

in the mean time, you turn your cheek

and lift the zipper of your fur coats.