FICTION

Uprooted

Molly Boyle

The boy woke up on the side of a darkly paved road in the grey morning light. He stared up through the canopy of tree branches lightly obscuring the cloudy sky. Although he appeared to be no more than ten, he was alone on the side of the road; hidden slightly among the tall grass and weeds. He wore a stained yellow shirt and a grubby pair of brown pants, which matched his mop of curly hair. His bare feet rested on a little suitcase - blue like a robin’s egg - which had a small lock and a smooth handle. 

A car whizzed by on the road and the boy sat up, bringing his feet close so that he could inspect their soles. Finding everything to be in order, he got to standing and brushed off his clothes. Birds began to chirp as they woke up in the trees around him, heralding the approaching day. The boy lifted the suitcase to his side. Looking down the road in either direction there was no discernible difference in scenery, so the boy turned left and began to walk down the empty road. His feet padded along softly on the pavement as he followed the fragmented yellow lines; the small suitcase swung back and forth in his hand. The boy whistled to the birds as he walked, occasionally they would answer him in a mocking tone, flying from branch to branch overhead where they could see the sun peek through the trees and clouds masking the horizon. 

The trees thinned after a while and the forest gradually dissolved into rows of houses and small shops, all neatly spaced with clear windows that reflected the clouds and the boy’s face as he walked by. As the traffic picked up on the road, sidewalks popped up on the edge, the boy stepped up onto the curb and continued toward the center of the town. 

A rumbling sound from the boy’s stomach caused him to finally come to a stop at a crossroads. There was a cozy diner with wide windows across the street, shades drawn tight, still closed this early in the day. The boy crossed the street and squinted at the squiggly lines on the sign above the wide front doors before shrugging and walking around to the back of the building. Waiting for a few cars to drive by, the boy ducked into the alleyway behind the diner. 

In the narrow brick alleyway there were two metallic green dumpsters, lined up against the back wall of the diner with some cardboard boxes and crates stacked around them in a jumbled heap. The boy set the suitcase on the ground and retrieved a small brass key from a string around his neck. He opened the case with a small click. The striped lining of the case interior was empty except for a pair of safety scissors. The boy stepped up the stack of boxes and climbed into the first dumpster. 

 

The old woman stirred her coffee and set the spoon down on the yellowed kitchen counter. The clock ticked in the hallway beyond the kitchen door of the small house where she lived alone. Around the sink in the middle of the counter was a collection of framed photographs, of a small girl and her family standing around an oak tree with a swing hanging over a gnarled bough, a young woman with a college diploma in hand and her mother at her side, a young couple on their wedding day, and lastly a little boy with a tricycle and fuzzy red hair. The old woman straightened the frames delicately and glanced outside the lace-framed windows to the yard outside and the shallow trench where a tree once grew.

 

After a short time, the boy was no longer hungry and the suitcase was full of expired packets of soup crackers. The boy rubbed at a new cut on his finger and closed the suitcase with a click. A door opened into the alleyway from the back of the diner, the boy hefted the case and pulled it out of the alleyway silently. 

In the street, the sky had grown brighter, the clouds dissipated slightly in the morning breeze. People began to leave their homes, driving to work in an assortment of vehicles, or walking through town in loosely zipped raincoats, just in case the clouds returned. The boy wandered aimlessly around town, passing people who ignored him for the most part, busy with their own lives, occasionally someone would send a confused glance his way. All morning the boy walked and watched the people go about their business. Passing rows of plain sided houses with families inside, businesses with owners that peered over at him like bees guarding a hive as he passed their shops. He spotted a family out on a walk: a mother and two children, one in a stroller, the other holding her hand. They all had neatly combed hair and clean clothes. The little girl holding her mothers hand glanced across the street at the boy and pointed, her mother pulled her along. The boy watched them go for a moment before following them. After a short walk behind the family, the little girl broke away from her mother’s hold and ran off between a gap in the houses. The boy looked after her and saw a playground, nestled in the middle of the neighborhood. The little girl ran over to the collection of equipment, joining some other children at a tall metal slide. Her mother took the stroller to a bench at the far side of the playground and shushed the baby fussing inside. 

The boy realized that he had been standing in the grass for a few minutes, completely still to watch the children play. He jumped a little bit and lifted his feet cautiously. He quickly walked over to a wooden bench parallel to the mother’s at the other end of the playground. He set the case on the bench and sat next to it, suspending his feet in the air before him. 

The boy sat and watched the children play from the safety of the bench. They moved from the tall slide to a spinning merry-go-round, they took turns pushing one another around, laughing and spinning in joyful circles. The boy watched them play with a small ache in his chest. The mother looked up from the baby, which was now sleeping peacefully in the stroller beside her, and called to the little girl, who went running over to her from the group of children. The boy kept watching the children on the playground until he noticed the little girl walking directly towards him with an attitude of purpose. She stopped a few feet away and looked at his feet, still stuck straight out and covered with dirt. She then looked up at him with pale blue eyes, “Do you want to play?” She pointed to the other children at the merry-go-round. The boy shifted nervously on the bench then nodded at her. She smiled at him and gestured for him to follow her before skipping back to the playground. The boy slid off the bench and ran after her, leaving the suitcase behind. 

The children stopped the merry-go-round as he approached them and he stepped carefully onto the corrugated metal platform. A few more children climbed on and he copied their movements, taking hold of a metal bar stretching across the center. Someone shouted “Go!” and they started to push. The merry-go-round spun into motion and the boy gripped tightly onto the bar. At first the sudden motion alarmed him, but the wind blowing through his hair was exciting and the world whipped around him as if he were flying. The girl smiled at him from the other side of the platform and he smiled back. This was the most fun he had ever had. 

 

The tin mailbox outside the old woman’s house was rusted and leaning. Although she checked it every day, there was rarely a letter. She opened it to find that it was a day like most: empty. The children at the playground down the street were making a joyful racket; the old woman smiled lightly and shuffled back up the narrow walkway to her door. The door swung open and shut behind her with a soft thud. The clock ticked in the otherwise silent house. The old woman looked down the hallway for a moment with the sound of the children’s laughter and a distant memory in mind before returning to her kitchen. 

 

The boy remained in his spot on the merry-go-round for the rest of the day, the children came and went from the park, but there were always a few willing to push him. The clouds parted entirely and the sun shone on his face and after hours of playing, the sun began to set. The last few children were called home by their parents, the boy was left alone on the playground, coasting to a stop. He still had a wide smile, finally letting go of the bar. He moved to get off of the platform and find some place to sleep. His feet stuck. The boy lost his joyful attitude and pulled at his foot, it wouldn’t budge. Rotating it slightly to the side, he could see that underneath, growing out of the soles of his feet were dozens of pale roots. They had grown into the holes punched in the metal platform of the merry-go-round, rendering him completely and entirely trapped sitting where he was. The boy looked frantically over to the bench where the suitcase sat untouched. The safety scissors locked inside with the crackers. 

The boy fell back on the cold metal surface and tears welled up in his eyes. He was hungry, tired, and scared of staying in the open playground all night. The sun sank below the houses and the light leached from the sky, leaving the playground shrouded in darkness. The birds quieted and the lights in the windows of the houses popped on and off. The boy sat and stared up at the stars, unveiled by the parted clouds. The night crawled by him slowly; he thought about all that he had seen and done and took deep breaths of cool night air. He wondered where the little girl and the mother and baby had gone to, and why the little girl had asked him to play, and why he didn’t have a mother to watch him, or a little sibling to comfort, or even just a home to go back to. 

A porch light popped on in front of a house a short way down the street. The door of the house opened and closed with a small click which echoed down the empty street, the boy watched as someone walked out of the house. In the light from the porch, he could see that they were small and had a purple coat. The small person walked towards the playground. The boy kept silent and watched until they were just a few feet from where he stood. Squinting at their face in the dark, he realized it was the girl who had asked him to play. “Are you okay?” she asked quietly. He shook his head and pointed at his feet. The girl leaned over the edge of the merry-go-round and he tilted the soles of his feet as much as he could so that she could peek at the roots sprouting from them. “What are you going to do?” The boy took the key from his neck and handed it to her before pointing to the suitcase. The girl nodded and tiptoed away from him through the dark playground. After a moment, the boy heard the familiar click and the rustling of packaged crackers. The girl came back into sight with the safety scissors in hand. 

The boy pulled his feet as far from the metal surface as he could and the girl held the scissors steady. The blades snipped through a single root. The boy flinched. The girl looked up at him to make sure he was alright. The boy nodded. She put the scissors to his foot once more and flinched along with him when the roots were cut. 

After a few long minutes, the boy’s feet were free and tears had welled up in his eyes. The girl went to get his suitcase for him while he sat on the edge of the merry-go-round, his feet dangling off the edge. The girl put the scissors back into the case and locked it with a click, lifting it from the bench and returning to sit next to the boy. 

The merry-go-round drifted slowly while they sat and the boy wiped away his tears, the girl draped the key on a string back around his neck and set a comforting hand on his grubby shoulder. She frowned as she thought for a moment and looked at the boy’s feet, “I know where you’re supposed to go.” The boy stopped rubbing his eyes and looked up at her; she slid off the edge of the merry-go-round and held out her hand to him. He took it hesitantly and she picked up his case, pulling him away from the playground. They walked together down the dark and quiet street, the sound of the girl’s footsteps echoed before them like ripples in a pond. She gripped the boy’s hand tightly. 

When they arrived at their destination, the girl came to a halt and let go of the boy’s hand. They stood before a small house with a winding walkway and a lopsided mailbox, a crater in the yard differentiated it from the neighboring homes. The girl pointed to the very spot, “There.” The boy shifted his feet nervously on the rough pavement and picked up his suitcase; he stepped onto the grass and to the edge of the hole. The sky was becoming streaked with gray once again as the night faded away. The girl was next to him then and took the case gently from his hand. The boy stepped into the shallow trench and felt a wave of calmness sweep over him, an unexplainable sense of belonging and comfort. He moved to turn and say goodbye to the girl, but felt his feet become stuck in the soft earth, then all was still.

 

The old woman woke up wrapped in patchwork quilts in her own bed with the sun shining through the thin curtain covering the window. She couldn’t tell at first what was off, then she realized that the clock in the hall had stopped ticking. She slowly sat up and swung her legs out of bed into the slippers she had left on the floor the night before. She shuffled out of her small bedroom into the hallway and carefully removed the dusty clock from its place on the wall. She carried it into the kitchen and set the clock on the old countertop. Searching through drawers for a screwdriver, something out of the window in the front yard caught her eye, a small sapling now grew where a large oak tree was once cut down. A small brass key swung from a branch where it hung on a string. Cars whizzed past on the road. The old woman smiled.

The Pool

Katie Wagner

I hesitate at the entrance of the boys’ locker room. James sweeps his blonde hair back with his right hand and his chapped lips curve into a smile. His tall frame leans against the door and his elbow rests on the door handle. Just when I think he’s going to press down and open the door, he turns his head towards me. 

“You know when you offered to go along today, I figured that meant swimming in the pool. Not watching from the balcony." James says. 

I do want to swim. He even knows that. 

But I shake my head. It’s safer to stay above the balcony with his sister Suzanna. Talking to her isn’t a skill I likely forgot how to do. 

James presses his elbow down and the door swings open. He shrugs and mutters something along the lines of “your loss”. He steps into a white room and is gone within seconds. I freeze in response to the brightness of the room even as it disappears behind a blocky grey door. I continue to hesitate before it. My hand goes to hover over the handle as a sigh sounds somewhere in the hallway. 

It comes from Suzanna. I spot blue sneakers pivoting against the tile floor. Every few steps squeak despite the low pressure exerted against the floor. A few seconds later, the blue sneakers vanish from my peripherals. She must’ve ascended the staircase already. I turn and start walking. The squeaks are louder when I reach the end of the hall. I’ve never been good at walking lightly. When I reach the top of the stairway, my breath comes out hot, heavy, and shallow. I stumble forward a little and have to swing my arms out to steady myself. The floor is wet. My brown lanky legs ache when I manage to catch up to her. 

Suzanna waits outside the wooden double doors with large slots in the middle serving as windows. It’s easy to see inside. Suzanna pushes a pair of red heart shaped sunglasses past the bridge of her nose. Dark roots bleed through at the top of her head before giving way to bleached blonde curls. Suzanna gestures towards the doorway to the pool balcony with her right hand. 

“Figured you’d join me. Honestly, can you even swim?” 

I try laughing it off, but it comes out wrong. It’s too high pitched. My voice in general pushes against the threshold of too feminine for a guy my age. 

 “I don’t know,” I say quietly. 

Suzanna's gaze drifts downward for a second before looking back up. After a second, she remembers to open the door. Her left hand stays close to her brown satchel as I follow behind her. The doors shut with a soft sound behind me. Suzanna prances forward towards a metal bleacher close to the railing. From up here, you can see faint outlines of the pool below. There’s eight lanes and James is swimming in one of the farther ones. You can’t make out his face or anything. We’re just the only ones here. I let my legs collapse on the bleacher while Suzanna stands for another moment. Her eyes dart back and forth throughout the room. 

I take off my dark jacket and toss it to my side. Suzanna keeps her aggressively pink cable-knit sweater on. I don’t know how she isn’t sweating buckets with her sleeves rolled down past her wrist. She even tucks her fingers into the fabric. I lean forward to watch James swim and Suzanna takes a seat. She untucks her fingers and lifts the flap of her satchel to take out a yellow moleskine notebook. Suzanna clicks the cap of her blue ballpoint pen and starts scribbling in rapid succession against the pages. I hear a muffled alarm blare below and I tear my attention away from Suzanna. 

I can see the faint outline of James’s body cut through the water on his way to the other side of the pool. A blue plastic cap catches a reflection of the lights shining overhead before he dives back under the surface. An endless fluctuation of orange numbers flash on a screen above the lanes. I know it’s only a few feet below but it feels like a world away. 

I hear the notebook snap together. I look towards her hunched over her brown satchel with her hand rummaging inside.  Suzanna pulls out a piece of bubblegum from the frontmost section. Her fingers unwrap the plastic and toss the grey paper back into her bag. Suzanna slips a thin pink rectangle into her mouth. She doesn’t hesitate in offering me a similar piece. I shake my head in refusal. She shrugs her shoulders, places the piece back into the satchel, and starts chewing the piece in her mouth. She starts to blow it into a bubble expanding past her lips. After a few moments, she chooses to pop it. The pink bubble loudly smacks against her lips. 

I ask her, “Are we just watching him and chewing gum this whole time? We’re going to be here for hours.  Is this really what we used to do?” 

The alarm blares louder this time. 

“We didn’t used to do anything. And yeah, I usually chew gum during James’s swim practice. Gives me something to do. But you don’t seem interested.” 

Suzanna springs to her feet. She tilts her head towards the balcony doors. 

“Yeah, ok. I’m kind of bored too. You can barely even see James from here.” 

Suzanna leads a few paces past the balcony door. I spring to my feet and follow her. Suzanna tucks her notebook back into the satchel but the pen slips out. It clatters against the floor but the sound is blocked by the slamming of the balcony door and the hum of air conditioning. Suzanna keeps walking. I pause and pick up the pen. The walls are white with the one variation of the blue stripe that horizontally runs through the middle of the left wall. Suzanna stops walking in favor of leaning against the wall. I slip the pen into my right short pocket. Suzanna huffs. The fabric of her blue jeans creases when she bends her right leg and presses her blue converse against the wall. I lean my head against the wall when I find a place beside her. A shiver runs down my spine. My elbows press against the blue stripe. 

Suzanna turns her head towards me and starts talking.

“Do you think anyone’s out there looking for you? Surely someone must be.”  

I stare at the ceiling, “It’s not like I would know.” 

“So you can’t even remember names or faces or anything?”

I close my eyes and try to focus on the cool wall, but the temperature changes. It feels warmer. I lean forward and try to focus on something else. “Not a thing.”

I hear a faint mutter of “interesting” fall from her lips. She pulls out her notebook. I remove the pen from my pants pocket and hold it against my right kneecap. My green shorts taper off just above. Suzanna opens to a page and attempts to write down a thought. Her fingers press against the paper before she realizes. Her eyes look beyond the notebook. She sees the impressions of light in the tile but no pen. 

“Looking for this?” I ask, holding out the pen towards her. 

When she takes it, I sneak a glance at the notebook. My stomach drops when I see what the page contains. The hum of the air conditioner gets louder. 

There’s small diagrams labeled as I imagine a scientist would. Diagrams are neatly titled from Figure 1-8 directly below the depiction. Yet, the longer I look at them, the less scientific they seem. My eyes land on Figure 3. It’s a sketch of a fourteen year old boy. Lanky arms and legs. Scribbled in blue outlines to dictate darker skin. Waves of hair swept to the side. There’s no mistaking who it is. Me. My eyes don’t leave the notebook: “I'm not some monkey, Suzanna.” 

“Yeah, no kidding. They remember things.” 

Heat flares against my neck. I stagger forward. 

“People get amnesia all the time. It’s normal. If it wasn’t normal, there wouldn’t be a name for it.”  

I hit the air with my hand and try to make sense of what she’s saying. 

“There’s names for odd conditions too. And besides I’m just trying to jog your memory. The sooner you remember, the sooner my life-”

“The sooner, what?”  

There’s another flare of heat within me. 

“Once you go, my life goes back to normal.. The house is crowded. I miss my friends. And James said-”

I don’t ask for further explanation. 

Instead, I dash down towards the pool. My shoulders clench together tightly. Flares of heat are accompanied by boulders in my stomach. My legs ache from running. My arms push the locker room door open and I dash to the other side. I don’t bother looking around. I open the next door. My breath comes out in huffs. The heat intensifies and the anger does too.  The smell of chlorine shoots into my nostrils as I look for James. He’s mid-lap but starting to glide towards my direction of the pool. 

I walk towards his lane. Upon getting there, I crouch down and let my body lean forward. My arms fall against my legs. When he approaches the end of the lane, I stick my hand into the water. The water’s colder than the wall outside, but I barely feel it over the anger. I notice how the water discolors my hand as James jerks back. His head slices through the water and he looks up. He blinks and takes off his blue goggles. Water separates in droplets on his face and he rubs his eyes before staring. 

“You’re not supposed to do that, Bob.” 

With my hand still in the water, a door slams in the distance. My head follows James’s in looking towards the noise. It’s Suzanna. She races towards us. Her face is flushed pale. The sunglasses rest in her hair. I spot the similarities in the blue of her eyes and the swimming pool. 

James laughs, bitterly, “You brought the notebook. Of course you did. And I thought I could leave you alone this time.” 

My attention darts between the two of them. I focus on James and pull my hand out of the water. I place my hand on my thigh and droplets of water run down the length of my leg. I start to stumble forward again. Before I use my other arm for balance, Suzanna grabs my elbow and pulls towards her. I manage to stay upright. 

“So you knew about the notebook,” I say. 

“James, you don’t have to tell-”, Suzanna interrupts. 

I adjust my stance and remove Suzanna’s hand from my elbow. 

“So you’re both in on this? Are you trying to get rid of me or what is it?” 

James’s jaw drops. “No. No. I was trying to avoid that. Suzanna was supposed to make you feel welcome. But clearly that got lost in translation.”

James pulls himself out of the pool using his arms and the edge. He swings his body upward so that he’s able to sit on the edge, facing the other side of the pool. Water gathers in a puddle beneath him. James lets go of the edge of the pool and let his hands fall freely back into the water. 

“Throw the notebook away, Suzanna,”  James orders. 

Suzanna hesitates. James looks behind him and stares her down. She looks away. He repeats himself. “Throw the notebook away.” 

Suzanna nods. She turns away and walks towards a garbage can close to the door of the locker room. Her hands grip the yellow notebook and slide it into the can. Her fingers let go of it and it clatters against the black plastic. She frowns. Suzanna walks back towards us and James doesn’t look at her. He doesn’t look at me either. 

“So, that happened. Either of you care to explain what any of this is about?” I ask.

 

Suzanna looks to James, but he stares blankly ahead. 

When he speaks, his voice shakes and falters. It’s quiet and easily overpowered by the hum of machinery in the pool. I have to focus to understand his words. 

“Mom put me in charge of watching over you when they brought you home. You were disoriented, had bandages. You were in rough shape, dude. It took us days to get you to speak to us. But none of that justifies being treated like a science experiment. . You weren’t supposed to find out about that. I didn’t even know about the journal until a few days ago.” 

“But I did find out,” I say with a steady voice. 

Suzanna clears her throat. “I knew I shouldn’t have done it but I didn’t care.  I just wanted to understand what was wrong with you. I thought I could figure it out and solve it. Solve the problem with you and life would go back to normal.” 

“You could’ve been nicer if you wanted to understand,” I scoff. “Usually yields better results than keeping an insulting notebook. And it’s not my fault your life isn’t normal. I don’t even know what your normal is.” 

“Right. Sorry, Bobby.” She adds a moment later, “I know it’s not your fault. I just-the more I go on, the more it feels like we'll never have normal again. But that’s not the point. The point is I’m sorry.” 

James slides his plastic cap off his head. “Now, was that really so hard?” 

His voice returns to the strong steady quality of before. I sigh in relief. The smell of chlorine hanging in the air dilutes. I take a deep breath. 

“No,” Suzanna answers. “Truce?” 

“Truce,” I say back. “As long as Suzanna doesn’t-” 

“Truce,” James reaffirms and turns towards us. 

I withdraw my complaint. 

Slow waves of warmth undulate in my stomach replacing the heat flares from before. The warmth spreads throughout my body. It even brushes lightly against my cheeks. I find myself smiling.  

James smiles and Suzanna half smiles. 

“I think we can do a little better than truce,” James decides. 

“Don’t push it, dude,” Suzanna replies. 

I shrug. “Yeah, don’t push it.” 

The three of us laugh and look at each other. Everything is okay.

Hidden in Stone

Alexis Dohrwardt

A dusty and abandoned corridor rested beneath the earth; cracked and decaying ancient stone towers held up the barely-scratched roof: incomprehensible writing decorated the cracked-old-blood-stained walls, looking more like faded scratches than the writing of a once youthful civilization - a once prospering civilization.

Symmetrical cells stood across from each other in the corridor: too many to count. The iron bars singed from an attack of flames that had long since died. Maybe water killed it . . . or something else, a human perhaps? No one will ever be able to tell that story. But, in all honesty, who would want to learn about what happened to those iron-singed bars?

That is not the only story decorating this lifeless-relic-corridor of the past.

Petrified and mummy-like corpses laid on the floor or others leaned against the walls; some held long-decayed wounds or simply laid on the ground where they had fallen, never to get back up. The corpses were caked in dust and blood that were memories of a long forgotten battle that took place so long ago.

The ancient corridor held no sound, held no light: held no life.

A layer of dust fell from the crooks and crannies in each etch of the battle-scarred walls, filling each cell with the ash-like snow; In each cell laid a singular statue, none of them broken: all of them blood-stained; each statue detailed, with neutral-expressions, and hands folded behind their backs, giving the impressions of soldiers . . . of importance.

In a particular cell at the end of the corridor, far away from the mummified-corpses: a tall, lone statue stood inside. This one was different from the others; the only one with an abnormality: It didn’t have a right arm, and wasn’t covered in blood.

A scream broke the once-never-ending silence: pained and horror-stricken; the scream of a victim to a horrendous act.

Crack.

Something responded.

The statue with the missing arm now gained a new addition to its abnormalities: a crack over its right eye, and more cracks starting to decorate the statue; looking something akin to an egg starting to hatch.

The statue was breaking.

Thunk.

The egg was hatching.

A piece of stone fell away from the statue . . . and instead of more stone . . . the right eye opened, revealing a reddish-orange iris and a black pupil with a single dark-red dot in the center.

The eye looked around; taking in the state of decay that surrounded it. It blinked once. Something swirled behind those bright eyes, something that contrasted the light, something that screamed power: the kind of power which could make any being - immortal or mortal - fear for their own soul and hope that it wouldn’t crumble inside their body along with their still-beating heart.

Thunk. Thunk. Thunk.

More pieces of stone fell away, gathering at the feet of the statue, which slowly started to reveal a woman that had the same details as the statue, except they have color: the other reddish-orange eye, pure-white hair with dust scattered across it like grey stars, deathly-pale skin, untouched black armor, and a neutral expression to match.

The neutral expression formed into a scowl.

A deep, guttural growl crawled its way up her throat, her eyes landing on the mummified corpses that adorned the corridor outside her cell. She tilted her head slowly, the particles of dust falling from her hair, and she examined the corpse closest to her cell; her eyes flicking at each detail she could find: A hole in the chest, the mouth twisted in a scream, and the most important detail . . . no armor, only tattered cloth clung to the skin - if you could even call it that anymore.
 

Her mouth twisted into a wicked grin, exposing sharp pearly-white teeth, two large fangs prominent on her upper jaw, poking her pinkish-white lips. A small stream of blood appeared in the corner of her mouth, contrasting greatly with her pale lips and skin. It ran down and away from her mouth; like prey trying to escape a predator. A singular drop fell off her chin, hitting the ground with a quiet ‘pat’.

The female’s pupils flashed a bright red.

Something woke up that was never meant to wake up. 

Something dangerous is coming. 

Something . . . has gone horribly wrong.

“Let the games begin.” A deadly-whisper of a voice spoke.

 

Crack.

 

Crack. Crack.

 

Thunk.

 

The statues agreed.

Isle of the Cats

Asher Knapmiller

I had slipped on my hood over my pointy multicolored ears and hid my satchel underneath. It was finally time.

Ever since the big ones of the island had stopped coming to help us we’ve been struggling. Nobody had known why they stopped but some became to believe the big ones had left because of our sins and we needed to pray and follow strict rules for them to come back. It’s been almost 20 years and nothing has come, not a single sign of them coming back, yet everyone is blinded by a hope already 6 feet underground and buried, they’re not coming back.

I heard the pitter patters of small raindrops hitting on our tin roof as I blow out the candlelight in my room, the only remaining light from the midnight moon peering through my open window. I had grabbed what I could and a few of my homemade smoke bombs in case I was found again. 

I slipped out the window, shutting it gently and climbing up to the roof of my small shack peering over the roofs of other houses made from whatever we could scavenge for. The hood of my cape protected my head from getting wet from the pouring rain. 

I jumped and felt myself soar to the next roof, the patter of my paws landing camouflaged by the noise of the rain. I leaped from house to house, heading towards the area I had hidden on my way in. I could see a glimpse of the weeping trees bent over, covering my escape, and began to run to it but then I heard an unusual patter not caused by rain and heard two booming voices. I turned around and saw two grey cats with their fur shaved short. Someone must have seen me during their nightly stroll and called the guards on me. 

The one on the left that seemed more than overweight yelled, "Stop there and show yourself!" I sighed and walked over to the light so they could see me.

“You know I don’t have time for this again,” I said, annoyed that I’d have to use my homemade get-away. The one I recognized as Cody then spoke.

“Camellia, again? Come on. Let’s get you to the priestess. She’s not going to be happy, you know. This is your 9th life.”

“I’m sorry,” I said walking over to them, but as I raised my hands I grabbed my smoke bomb, and before they could react smoke was already puffing out everywhere as I ran.

“But I got something to do!” I ran away from the weeping willows and towards the thick forest my mother told me to stay away from as I kid because as she said, “Even someone like the Priestess can get lost in there.” I ducked behind some bushes and crawled quickly to the tree I would hide in to skip church. I was the only one that knew these woods, and the only one that would ever go in them. After what felt like hours of hiding up high, I got sick of the cold rain and decided to head deeper in to find a cave to rest in. 

I guess today was my lucky break because I fell into a hole hidden by a thick burly bush. Maybe I wasn’t so lucky in that part but I found somewhere to sleep and hide out until I run out of food and need to go back in.

I rest on the ground to think of a plan. I need to ration my food for as long as I can, so soon enough they’ll think I’m not coming back. Then, at night, I’ll sneak back in and grab whatever I can including bedding and light, and maybe let Vix know I’m okay.

A Maritime Massacre

Joseph D’Acquisto

The sun lingered for a little while as it fell below the sea’s horizon. Darkness began to fall over the English channel, with little in sight besides ships mooring in the port. Suddenly, the quietness of nighttime was broken by Spanish cannons. With balls of iron grazing the countryside, it became clear that the Spanish were waging a siege on the English seas. 

Southern England, 1588. Hiding in a small Cornish village, the heroic Sir Francis Drake—the Queen’s very own pyrate—and his men observed the passing ships. His complex hilted sword lying at his waist, he used his polished brass sextant to carefully watch the coast, taking into account the need to avoid giving off any glare. His deep blue eyes were fixed on his omniscient spying, eyes which had been trained for his service to the Queen since he was but little.

Suddenly, a very peculiar schooner came into the vision of Sir Drake’s steady eye. Passing by, it became clear that it was no simple English, French or Dutch merchant as it pretended to be.

Hiding behind an innocent flag, the merchant vessel revealed its true purpose upon opening fire on a nearby fort’s wall. The smell of black powder and the shouts of Spaniards filled the once clear summer air. His men would need to retreat to safety. Without much urgency, and under the cover of brush, they began packing up their encampment.

Explosions interrupted the peace in the area. The shrieks of Sir Drake’s men added to the violent commotion eminent in the attack. His men were dropping faster than mast rigging during a storm. Veering around, their feet flew off the damp grass, trying to escape the fiery blasts. Going faster than a caravel to the West African coast, Drake and few others were able to make it out alive. They hid behind what little defense the land had to offer. Catching their breath, they trod carefully far into the open country—to safety.

On horseback, Sir Drake rode through the evening to Plymouth. He was rather upset and disturbed by the death of so many men he was in charge of. Weeping in remorse, he rode on, knowing they needed to be avenged. Shortly after leaving Cornwall, he reached the city gates. He navigated the narrow, cobbled streets on foot, making his way to the commander of the local naval fort. Using newly advanced optics the fort had to offer, Drake peered into the hardly lit waters to find the battle taking place, the incognito Spanish ship still afloat and fighting with all its might. Examining the men both on board and on land, the beauty of battle shone through, like an orchestra playing in perfect harmony. 

Drake and the commander negotiated what should be done about the situation. Quickly, but not without thinking, a plan was put in place. Drake and some volunteers helped load a large and heavy contraption onto a wagon. They secured said contrivance into the bed of the wagon and drove with haste into the night.

Back at the scene of the battle, they pulled the wagon up to a flat and relatively secluded spot in the nature. They took off a large white canvas to unveil a mortar, a long-range artillery cannon just recently invented. Making precise calculations, they rotated the mortar in the correct direction and exact angle, hoping that this last hope will work. The operators got ready for its firing, praying and hoping. The match stick made contact with the flashpan, its thunder echoing across the moorland.

Watching with his trusty sextant, a relieved Sir Drake watched the last of the Spaniards slip into the freezing channel. Out of incredible stakes, the mortar shot hit the enemy ship, plunging right through its thin decks. Letting out cries of victory, the English rejoiced over their close-called survival.

Connecting elegant loops of rope, Sir Drake finished tying the two wooden boards together. He had been forever changed by what happened—witnessing the death of so many in his company, failing them, and having been so close to defeat. So close to death. A tear fell from his trembling face to the loose ground, as he pierced the pointed end of the cross into the dirt. He and other survivors stood in silence to honor those who had fallen that night. Grave markers lined the seaside view. Waves sloshed upon the beach, like the restless souls of men crawling onto the sand from their watery graves. Although the Englishmen knew that the men they had fought aside would never be recognized proper, they also knew that the struggle was far from over, and war was imminent.

In the morning, the sand of the beaches was stained a crimson red. Some of the Spaniards’ bodies had washed up on shore over the course of the night. On a rock formation in the west of the English channel, some militant defenders decided to take said corpses, and hang some and spike others on pikes or stakes, to scare off any passing ships with ill intentions. The sight was not pleasant, but accomplished its due cause. Large birds of death surveyed the foul-smelling area, making gentle sweeps above; the eyesore served as an almost medieval method of intimidation. Vlad Tepes himself would be proud.