FICTION

A Modern Prophet

Archie Wagner

I avoided the sight of Jacob; I left my bedroom door open just a crack, enough for food to be slid in between; I waited for him to leave the house before I dared venture into a common area; I didn’t come out when I heard my parents talking. I hadn’t covered my hair in days because of this. I wore loose short undergarments; I stayed under the covers most of the days with the exception of when I ate. I didn’t sleep. Eventually, Jacob stopped by the crack of my door. 

“Mary,” he urged, “you can’t stay in your room forever.” 

A sliver of light illuminated my present state. When I caught a glimpse of him-and he, me-I scurried away from visibility. I crawled to the side of my bed, the one where my rattiest scarf lay. I secured it around my head, center enough that it covered my scalp, but high enough that some curls peeked out from underneath. By now, it was a comfort thing more than a practical one. 

“Mary, if you hide, I’m just gonna co-” 

“I was just grabbing my scarf.” 

I rose to my feet. My fingers wrapped around the doorknob and pulled it open. More light flooded into my room. Jacob tilted his head slightly.

 

I took a step outside my room. Jacob awkwardly shuffled to the side. His chest puffed and his thick black eyebrows rose as well. Hints of dark circles rested under his eyes, and it occurred to me to ask where Judah was. 

But without my lips even moving, my question was answered. Our mother entered the hallway, cradling the baby between her right arm and her chest. Judah giggled softly as Mom rocked a little bit. Her eyes were dark pools but her curls were darker. She wore a red scarf of stiffer fabric. 

Mom joined me and Jacob in the hallway. Judah’s tiny hands stretched out as he registered Jacob’s presence. I’m not sure how-I’ve never been good at reading Judah-but maybe Jacob has a strong smell. Babies pick up on their parents’ smell, right? 

Mom lightly pulls Judah away from her chest. Judah gives a small cry before it occurs to him that he’s being handed over to Daddy. Judah smiles wide as Jacob takes him. He pulls him close to his chest similar to how Mom was. 

I glance between the two of them, their attention wrapped up in the baby, before walking down the hallway and turning into the kitchen. 

It wasn’t until I stood before the window-a brief reflection of me staring-that I realized that I hadn’t changed into acceptable clothes. My-yellowed from extensive wear-white tank top was covered in toothpaste stains and strings poked out of the seams of my shorts. At one point, Mom would’ve insisted on replacing them, but now I refused. 

Mom’s head was too loud when she shopped. Too quick. And shopping by myself meant confusing snippets every two steps. 

Even before I started avoiding Jacob, I avoided leaving the house. 

But thankfully, the rest of my family didn’t. I stepped further into the kitchen, my hand lazily gliding along the edge of the countertop. I smiled and stopped when I noticed the circular plate on the counter. I flare my nostrils, detecting the familiar scent of baklava. The pieces that had already been cut. A knife sat to the side. 

I stepped closer. My hand already reached for the knife. It was too early to take a full piece but I could easily just slice a small chunk off. Yes, baklava could get messy, and yes, I should’ve grabbed a plate-but in that moment, that didn’t matter. 

My balance suffered a little bit and I found myself falling against the countertop a little. I managed to catch myself before my face fell into the baklava but not fast enough for my fall to slip under the radar of Mom and Jacob. 

 

My fingertips were coated in sticky honey. My head was quiet. Images of mouths moving flashed in my brain. The teeth under the lips were varying shades of yellow. Yellow teeth, then dark gums, and then finally faces. 

 

The images faded for a second when I registered the baklava under me. As the baklava filled my vision, I registered Mom and Jacob’s footsteps. 

 

“Mary!” Jacob called out. 

 

He still carried Judah close to his chest, and as his yell rang out, he clutched the baby tighter. He was at my side within moments. He glanced quickly at Mom. She nodded and walked away from the kitchen’s entrance, choosing instead to retreat to her own quarters. Judging by her expression, she left to pray. 

 

More images flashed through my brain. 

 

Young faces. My best guess was six or seven. Their skin tones were consistently medium to dark brown and the girls’ hair was often styled in braids that tucked the hair back away from their faces. 

Who are these people? I thought, while my focus on actual reality slipped. 

Low quality mats with strings coming out. The children sat on them, and many used their hands to pick at them. The vision jerked again. 

Jacob looked down at his son and slowly pushed him towards me. I shook my head. The last thing I needed was to get inside the head of a baby. 

Jacob pulled the baby back. 

“Are you okay?” he asked, his tone hushed suddenly. 

I nodded. Or I think I nodded. 

Sound flooded my ears at such a pitch it made my ears ring. I winced a little. 

“Great, now I have a voice in my head. This day just keeps getting better and better-” 

Then, it occurred to me. 

“Wait, you can hear me?” I asked the voice, already bracing for the response. 

“Okay, achievement unlocked: become so bored with children that you can make up a voice in your head with its own personality.” 

Wincing again, I shook my head. 

“Mary, you need to refocus-” Jacob’s words floated in the air, somewhere. 

The vision shifted again. It moved from the children on the carpets to the chalkboard on the other side of the room. The vision shook a little-the woman must’ve been walking towards it-as the chalkboard got clearer and took up more space. 

The vision jerked downwards. Pieces of chalk laid on a piece of metal jutting out from the wall. A brown skinned hand reached for a pink one. 

The woman didn’t speak again. I didn’t either. 

Eventually, after I watched the woman’s hand collect chalk dust, the vision stopped. The baklava filled up my senses once more. Jacob’s voice found its footing again, no longer lingering in the space around my ears. 

“Were you in my head again? Is that what hap-” 

“No. It wasn’t you.”

“Did Mom find a way to connect to-” 

“No, it wasn’t her. It wasn’t even anyone in the family.” 

“Has that happened before?” Jacob asked. 

We both knew the answer to that, but my answer still surprised him somehow.

“No, but I need it to happen again. There must be something about that girl.” 

Jacob grumbled and gestured back towards the food under my head. 

“At least have some baklava before making impulsive decisions based on some pretty girl you caught a glimpse of in your brain.”

Shadow

Tyler Grosenick

Carl and his family were out near Point Nemo, and as H. P. Lovecraft
fans, they fantasized about the lost city of R’lyeh being on the ocean
floor. Jacek, a friend of Carl’s, was preparing martinis for everyone
while the kids were swimming in the ocean. peered over the side of the
yacht and saw that the kids were gone, and in their place was a thick,
pink streak. Was it coral rising from the ocean somehow? Then why was
it writhing under the water?

Suddenly, a burst of water erupted from the ocean and sent the yacht
gliding across the water. A giant coral-pink tentacle burst from the
water and towered into the sky. It was easily 8 stories high. A long
shadow fell across the yacht as more tentacles burst free from the
ocean. There were 6 in total. The tentacles grabbed the yacht and
pulled it towards the rest of the source’s body.

It was a giant, pink creature. Its head was blank except for 4 eyes,
its mouths covered its body, its hands were webbed and clawed, its
feet were too covered by darkness to see anything, and the 6 tentacles
were attached to the creature’s back. The ship slowly went towards one
of the infinitely biting mouths. Then everything went black with a
loud crunch.​

Ditto

Edgar Allan Crow (anonymous submission)

“Shhh… shh,” My quivering hand stroked her wrinkled skin, back and forth, back and forth.

Casey’s eyes are shut, shaking her head, trying to process and believe that nothing is truly wrong, everything is truly right, everything is okay. Her head isn’t tense anymore, almost floating on her 30-year-old pillow from our trip to Greece. Her agitations never get too aggressive or stressful, but the dementia is getting worse, I hate to admit. If I could trade places with her, I would, no doubt. But she would never let me. She wants me to live my life as much as possible, travel, laugh, eat good food, sail, live. But none of that feels the same without her. I reach over the bed for our scrapbook, open it, starting from the end, and begin the same routine we go through every time she has her lows.

 

. . .

 

Casey first showed signs of delusions before moving back to our Nantucket beach house. We had traveled like nomads ever since we got married, so “settling” was never our top priority. At the time, we lived in Maui, Hawaii. We loved it. Both of us had retired-- me passing on the boat shop to our son, her finishing up her last book-- so we had a lot of time on our hands. After living in Greece for a few years, we decided Hawaii would be a good idea. The first months of the tropical sun and warm sand soothed us so much, every day was a honeymoon. Tate and Casey, living life to the fullest, as we always were.  As much as possible, anyway, since we were in our 60’s. One early Monday morning, after going out for breakfast, Casey and I opened the door to our condo, ready to take our daily nap. 

“I can’t wait to take a snooze,” Casey said, turning the knob.

I smiled, “Me too, sweetie.”

“I wonder when Tate’s getting back because I don't think I can wait any longer,” She blurted out, gently laying herself onto our bed. 

I laughed, even though the joke wasn’t very funny and her humor isn’t so in tune when she’s tired. She was not laughing. She was staring at me with confusion, wondering why I was smiling. 

“Hey, close the door on your way out, Tate’s getting here soon.”

I snickered again, wondering why she was dragging this joke on for so long. I took a seat on the edge of the bed. 

“Very funny, Casey.”

“I’m not kidding, I dont want a stranger in here when my husband arrives, so please, leave,” she raised her voice while saying that, quite serious. She had sat herself up on the bed by now, pointing her arms towards the door. 

“Casey? What do you mean?”

“What do you mean what do I mean? You heard me. When Tate gets here, I want you out.”

She was scaring me. Was she being serious? If she was, was I supposed to go along with it? Was I supposed to tell her that I was right there with her? I was right there next to her, ready to nap with her, lay next to her. Me, Tate. Not a stranger. 

I laid my hand on her knee gently, “Sweetie--” 

She weakly slapped my hand, “What are you doing? I have a devoted husband who would not like that you are touching me right now.”

My eyes grew wide with fear. This is what I had been afraid of, but so soon? I knew dementia was in the family, but I guess I thought it would never reach her. She just turned 60. I felt young. I thought she felt young. What does this mean for us? I eventually walked over to the living room sofa, laid down, and let myself shed a confusion-tear. I wanted to yell at her, let her know, “IT’S ME! I’M TATE!” Thoughts coated my mind with worry, my heart numb. I felt incredibly selfish, wanting my one and only love to stay healthy and active for as long as our ridiculous days last. I wanted to scream, how could she forget me? How could she? 

 

After this day, everything changed. Our routine changed, our habits changed, our love changed. She didn’t hold my hand anymore or hug me. From that day on, Casey always stayed distant, never wanting to sleep in the same bed with me. She didn’t see me as familiar. I was just her caretaker.

After a few months of doctor visits and lonely days, I called up Sam, our son. I told him we were struggling, I told him everything. He said he saw it coming, which didn’t help. Sam said he had been meaning to move out of the house we gave him in Nantucket, so he wanted us to move back home. I agreed. So we did. 

 

. . .

 

The picture I’m admiring is Casey in a wheelchair smiling up at the sky in front of the Kahului Airport with a blue suitcase we got on our trip to New York. We were ready to move back to Nantucket and finally settle down. Her smile looks the same as it did when I first met her in Jancy’s Market. 

We were 17. She was captivating. I remember thinking, “Her freckles. They’re all over her arms and neck and legs. Long, long legs. She must be tall, huh? What, 5’10”? She might be taller than me. And her eyes are humongous. I could swim in them.” I remember walking up to her and having the most awkward conversation as I tried to help her with the spilling of the coffee she caused. I remember the instance being the opposite of romantic, the opposite of love at first sight. I was intrigued, though. I wanted to know everything about her, her quirks, her likes, and dislikes. I wanted to know why her hair was so silky and which conditioner she used. Why, on that day, she wore a bikini under her clothes, even when it was way too cold out. Why she carried a book with her everywhere, and why it was a different book every time. Did she read that quickly, or would she just get bored of the book that easily? The questions swimming in my head stayed drowning until I built up the courage to ask her if she’d hang out with me.

 

I flip the book to our first picture together.

 

. . .

 

The photo was taken on a film camera, me and Casey sitting off to the side of the picture on a cut tree trunk. I was smiling like a clown because I had finally scored a “date” with her, even though she wouldn’t let me call it that. I was holding a beer, and so was she, except I never saw her take a drink out of it. That was another question that consumed me. She was holding my wrist up in the air with her other hand because I tried to hold it. All of my friends were off to the other side, laughing their asses off about some prank they planned to pull on the principal. 

Casey had got there about an hour later than everyone else since she was “busy”. I didn’t believe a thing she said because I had basically got her routine down from seeing her all over town in the same places every. Single. Day.

 Every day she wasn’t at school, Casey would go sit under a tree to hide from the sun. She’d sit there, criss-cross applesauce, book in one hand and coffee in the other. Sometimes she’d switch from book to phone, or to a computer. Sometimes she’d look up from her current choice of entertainment and just look off into the distance, like a movie character. It sounds lame, but trust me, it was the most beautiful thing possible. I felt so bad for the people who would never be able to see what I did. Her huge eyes would just dart across the courtyard or coffee shop or Marty’s, her favorite seafood place. Wherever she was, she’d look inspired. Casey would do the eye thing, pause, then look back down. Then do it again and again. I always wondered why. 

Until I really got to know her, was when I found out. After our first “date”, I asked her out on another one. She called me a moron because of the way I asked her, which I don’t even remember how. Nevertheless, she agreed to another date. She chose the location this time--Marty’s, of course. That’s when Casey told me about her interests and goals. She told me she’s been writing books ever since she was nine, which was when her dad’s drinking got worse. That explains the lonely beer on our first date. She told me she’s never really stopped writing. In order to write all the time--new plots and characters--, she needed inspiration. And fuel. 

“The fuel,” she said, “comes from within. But also from coffee. So that’s mainly why I drink so much coffee. But the inspiration, like many other writers, comes from the outside. The red birds and oak trees, the couple who can’t stand a second without each other. The couple who just wishes they could always be away from each other. The father and daughter who go to the same restaurant every Sunday. The same daughter who hides her bruises with a long sleeve every Saturday. The lady at the bus stop whose passion is to convince everyone that she is Jesus. And that’s the easy shit. Sometimes you gotta find passion in someplace like Utah. What is there in Utah? Nothing. So you gotta find inspiration in cement walls and the soles of your shoes. And that’s how I wrote ‘blue’.” 

Casey then handed me a folded piece of paper that I opened up slowly. She didn't let me look at it long before taking it back, but from what I saw, it was pure written perfection. Even her handwriting was something that would take me 100 years to develop. It was poetry, something I’ve never cared much for. But her poetry, I most definitely cared much for. After she snatched the paper out of my hands I realized the reason she would look up into the distance. It was for inspiration. She even did it right there, at Marty’s, for several minutes. That moment, on our second date, was the day I realized I wanted to “get to know” Casey for the rest of my life. 

With no hesitation, I reached across the table, cupping her face with my hands. I kissed her. I kissed her with all I had. I had no control over myself and I only had one thing to do. 

“Ugh!” She pushed me out of the way almost a second after I kissed her. Her eyes got worried and guilty immediately. “Tate, I-”

The air was so thick, like that water old people have to drink. I thought she liked me. Why would she tell me so much information if she didn’t like me? I thought she didn’t have friends! If she didn’t have friends, wouldn’t it be kind of a big deal for her to show me a different side of her? Wouldn’t it mean she’s interested? God, I’m an idiot. 

“Uh- I’m sorry,” I rubbed both of my hands on my jeans, wiping the sweat off. 

“I didn’t know you felt like that, dude.”

“How would I not, Casey? You’re literally perfect,” I mustered out quickly. 

Her face kind of turned strange after that comment I made, she almost looked like a Snapchat filter, distorting in ways I didn’t know a face could turn into. Did I scare her with the word “perfect”? 

Turns out I did. 

After the excruciating ten seconds of watching Casey face-buffer, she put her hair behind both ears and just got up and left. She kind of ran, shoving the Marty’s door into the wind, not looking back. 

 

. . .

 

I flip the page as a smirk plasters my face. I was so devastated. I didn’t eat for a full day, and at the time, that was a LONG time. My hand’s still on Casey’s face, rubbing my thumb back in forth. This routine we fell into started after a few times of consistent agitations. It really seemed to work so we stuck with it. Stuck with the “shh”-ing, and the thumb-rubbing, and the tea & fish. Fish from Marty’s, it’s only fair. The necessary component of caring for Casey after her agitations is going through the scrapbook, page after page, but at random. That way every time I land on a picture, I get to explain to her the context behind each one without it being predictable. 

It works well, so I’m honored to be able to do this. I want to do it forever. Casey always mentions that I should just put her in a home so I can go travel like we used to, but I have never even considered doing something like that. Casey is everything and more to me, so leaving her for my own pleasure would have no meaning. I will ALWAYS be stronger than Casey, FOR Casey. 

 

. . .


 

Two years into dating, Casey sold her first book. It was a hit. Her income tripled and her dream of traveling finally became reality. We lived in Greece, Brazil, New York, and Hawaii. My dream of building a boat did also became a reality. 

For months, we worked on my sailboat. Yes, we. Casey didn’t know the first thing about boats and had no interest in building one, but after I bought her a Marty’s gold card, she deemed it’d be the nice thing to do.

 After the fiasco on our second date, Casey and I didn’t talk for months. Not until I got the gold card. A Marty’s gold card was the talk of the town. A ceremony was held by Marty himself, and he’d announce the winner of the Marty's raffle, the reward being a gold card. The gold card meant free Marty’s for life. After finding out about this --which coincidentally, was the day after Casey ran out on me-- I made it my mission to get that damn card. I bought out the entire rest of the tickets available, waited until they got more, and bought those too. There must have been about 400 of those, five bucks apiece. I used up all the money I saved up that summer for my boat. At the time, I found it to be quite reasonable, although now it’s the second most ridiculous thing I’ve ever done. The first is letting Casey leave on our second date.

My fingers shook like a bitch while knocking on her door. I waited seven beats to knock again. Then another seven. Then another seven. Where is she? I decided to give up and maybe come again. I turned around disappointed, damn near falling while going down her footsteps.

While picking the gold card back up, someone said, “Wrong house?”

“Is this 119 West Brook Ave?,” I said to the lady eyeing me up and down.

“No, that is,” She said, pointing across the street.

I raised my eyebrows in shock. Shit! 

“Oh, yeah, duh, sorry-”

Casey was across the street, staring at me through her sunglasses. My guess is that she was just leaving because her keys were in her hand, but I quickly ran to her, holding her wrist before she tried to leave me again.

“Casey, wait!” She turned her back against the car with the most bored look on her face. 

“How did you find-”

“Listen, I’m sorry I freaked you out so much that one day, but I want you to know that was totally not my intention. It was the heat of the moment and you had just said something extremely hot that made you even more extremely hot than how extremely hot you were before and I’m sorry. You’re so captivating so I dont think it was fair of you to run away from me after I kissed you because it could’ve just been an I’m-inspired-by-you-and-wish-I-could-be-you friendly kiss, not an I-wanna-date-you-and-scare-you-away kiss, so you can’t just assume those things because it really hurts a person.”

Luckily, she was laughing, leaving the depressed face behind. I needed to express myself and tell her what I was even there for already. 

“Anyhow, after you left I made it my plan to get you back, or else I’d regret it forever. So I thought, what would be better than to get you free food from the place you love the most but can’t eat at anymore because I ruined it for you? MARTY’S!” I handed her the gold card. Her eyes basically exploded onto the cement right then and there.

I was scared she was still mad so I became quite slick, “Now I know now that I maybe should’ve chosen a different restaurant but there was only one place, that being Marty’s, and I know you really liked Marty’s before a couple of months ago so I just hope that this is okay and that you maybe go out with me again.”

She hugged me. A pretty friendly hug, at that, but it was a hug. 


 

. . .

 

We look at each other after I explain to her the picture of us with copious amounts of seafood on our table at Marty’s. Her eyes look the same as they did all those years ago, I just miss the feelings behind them. I’m a stranger to her, she doesn’t love me. She doesn’t feel the way I do for her towards me. All she sees is a caretaker, and I’ll have to live with that. 

She suddenly lifted her frail hand up to caress my cheek. A few days earlier, she pushed me off the bed and I scratched it, leaving a mark. She's asked me multiple times what happened and I just tell her that I fell, but she doesn’t believe me. 

“I’m ready to go to sleep now, sweetie.”

Casey never calls me “sweetie”. I nod and tuck her in, kissing her forehead before walking out. I usually sleep in the spare after her agitations because she likes her space. I don’t want to disturb her more than she already is, but this time, she grabs my arm before I leave. She tugs on my arm, pulling me in for a kiss. I don’t remember the last time this happened, is she okay? After pulling away I check if she’s got a fever or something, holding my hand to her cheek. 

She rolls her eyes, “I’m not sick or havin’ delusions, Tate. Can’t I just be nice?”

That eases me to lay back down in the bed with her.

“You want me here tonight?” I ask, gesturing toward our bed. 

“Hell yeah, I do.”

I smile, tucking both of us back in before turning off the light. I like these moments with each other. The calm air, the owls outside, the perfect temperature. If I had one last moment to exist, it would be this one. 

A few silent moments pass in the dark with my arm over her and her head on my chest. 

“For forever and on, Tate,” she whispers, her voice a bit hoarse. 

“Ditto, Casey.”

We made up that phrase after Casey’s visit with her dad. We were 24, and it was a really rough time for both of us. So, we made up that phrase to keep us goin’. Through the shitty times and the not-so-shitty times. 


 

We fell asleep in that position. In the morning, I get up and make her favorite breakfast, chicken and waffles. After setting them on the bedside table, I stroke her face with my hand, I can’t help but smile. She’s about to be so excited about this food. 

“Wake up, Case,” I say softly, sitting beside her.

She usually wakes up by now. Maybe she’s super tired from last night.

“Casey, honey,” I say, shaking her a bit. Why is she not waking up? She won’t move. I wait a moment before shaking her again. 

“Casey!”

Silence. No more calm air, no more owls, and no perfect temperature. It’s hot, it’s scorching. God, it’s hot in here! 

I cup her face with my hands, standing over her. God, how tired is she? A tear swims down my cheek as I wipe it away, quick. I shake her again, now harder. Nothing. 

 I sit back down in defeat and wonder if she knew. If she knew it was her last day, and if that was why she was being so sweet. Then again, how does a person know when it’s their last day? Casey would’ve told me, I think. She would’ve let me know. I kiss wasn’t enough to give my dumbass a hint. I wish she would’ve told me.

My head buried in her neck, I’m shaking my head, back and forth. 

She would’ve told me.

Self-Centered Demons

Evan Hartline

“Tell the men I'm coming, tell them to count the days.”

 

This was the general. He was a bit narcissistic, but he was good at his job. “They will revel in my return,” he muttered. He was currently on a job with a foreign group of soldiers; he was meant to train them. All he seemed to train them how to do was to appreciate how amazing he, General Fars, was. I suppose they learned to fight and defend their kingdom, but that's not important.

“Give me ten!” He yelled at a nearby soldier. The soldier immediately dropped everything, bowed, and brought forth ten faithful soldiers. Fars smiled to himself. They would be allowed to be sacrificed in his name. Fars was a legend. He was so kindhearted, he even allowed the other soldiers one wish before they were killed. Fars! The unfoolable, the wise, the noble! “You know what, I’m starving! Bring all of my soldiers, not just ten, and I will feast upon your souls!” 

 

“What is your wish?” Fars asked, regarding the first soldier.

 

“Just one last look at your beautiful face,” he responded with awe.

The next one stepped up. “I would like to leave to tell everyone of your excellence!” This was a problem, because the effect that General Fars had on his soldiers faded with distance. But you see, Fars was not so unfoolable, wise, or noble. He didn’t even see the issue with this.

The army marched in a week later, all carrying longbows to counter the effect of his greatness. They came with catapults, trebuchets, and even some ballistae. This was because this one soldier may have exaggerated, just a bit…

“There is a giant in the forest! He enchants all with his beautiful voice, but then kills his followers for their souls! He looks like a huge bear, but with a massive tail of a snake! Over 100 feet tall! Come and help me defeat him, it will be glorious!”

 

…You get the idea.

Anyway, General Fars quickly countered the fast approaching force with an extremely advanced and refined tactic.

The branches whipped by, leaving bloodied marks on his perfect face. After his dignified exit, he climbed onto an overhang, and watched the battle below him. His new soldiers he “recruited” a few days ago were no longer his, but they were confused and attacked the enemy force anyway. The battle ended with the people of the nearby town victorious. But General Fars was smarter than they thought, and swooped in and finished them all.

 

It’s only a shame that he couldn’t keep any of them. Foolish mortals.

cry wolf place

Archie Wagner

“When do I get to go back to the farm?” 

I lean against the white countertop, staring at Mom in the kitchen. Her head keeps darting back and forth as her hands busily prepare her coffee. There’s the quiet hum of both the sets of snakes on our heads. Hers are slightly louder due to all the movement.  After a sharp turn, I can see a head peeking out of the orange scarf. The scales of her snakes are a silverish tint. They remind me of a nickel or dime; mine remind me of a sand dune. She drops the coffee mix into the filter cup, sending excess brown mixture into the air. Her silver snakes, dangling just above her forehead, hiss at the mixture. It spreads towards them, and the heads recede into the safety of the scarf. With soft pats to her head, Mom tries to assure them that it wasn’t on purpose. It’s a motion that’s all too familiar: both of us are still getting used to the snakes, so these accidents happen more than they should. The snakes attached to my scalp slither towards my forehead as well, wanting to get a better look at what’s going on. However, movement stills when they realize they won’t get it; so, they retreat to their previous position instead.

Once she hits the button needed for the coffee--the largest option possible--Mom turns to me. She blinks, rubs her eyes, and then just stares back. 

“Can this wait until after I’ve had my coffee?” 

 

I shift my posture. All I’ve done is wait. I pull out the black stool and sit down. But okay, Mom. Both of us turn our attention to the coffee machine. We listen to its whirring. After a few seconds, hot liquid starts piping out. Mom keeps rubbing her eyes, and I don’t know how late she stayed up. I wanted to watch tv with her but she sent me off to bed at nine. 

 

I heard angry voices for another two solid hours, but I don’t know whether they came from the tv, her, or what my older sister Darcy dubbed my cry wolf place. Initially an unfiltered comment from her, cry wolf place is how I refer to the visions in my head. Darcy had muttered it--her eyelids drooping, Mountain Dew on her breath, her face illuminated by a tablet, in an attempt to get me to stop bothering her. With a term for my mind, I had left the room. So, good for her, I guess. The term is even accurate to some extent. Sometimes the voices are true. What they say did actually happen, just not to me. But the other times, the voices aren’t true. Those times Darcy only glares. One time, she muttered the words, “You really should be a better liar by now”. 

I don’t know what age good lying comes-I’m 11 now-but it doesn’t appear to be anytime soon. Maybe when I turn thirteen I’ll be good at lying. Maybe. 

 

After Mom takes a sip of the coffee, she resumes the conversation. 

 

“Mirabella, there is no farm.” 

 

The snakes on the top of my head hiss. I clench my knuckles. Maybe she just needs more coffee, one of the voices said to me. I agree with it. Mom probably just needs more coffee. So I wait for her to take another sip. She does. 

 

“Yeah, there is. My cow-Daisy-I haven’t seen her in forever. What if they’re feeding her the wrong feed? I need-I need to make sure she’s okay!” 

 

Mom shakes her head. Her eyes dart down. She doesn’t look at me. She won’t look at me. Another sip of coffee. A brown lip-shaped stain starts to form on the rim of the mug. 

“Daisy is a stuffed animal, and we got rid of her years ago. Darcy said-she gave the impression-that this had stopped. That you didn’t think about the farm anymore.” 

 

Did Mom and Darcy even speak enough for Darcy to give Mom that impression? I shake my head. Then I shake it again. No, no. The farm is real. I shoot up to my feet,  my ankles brush against the legs of the stool. The stool wobbles for a second. I step to the side and move closer to the counter. 

 

“No, Daisy was my cow. An actual cow. You showed me how to milk her.” 

 

Mom placed the coffee cup on the counter. She left her side of the kitchen and turned the corner in order to get over to my side. All the way, she kept shaking her head and muttering something about Darcy. When she gets over to me, she places her hands on my shoulder. I feel her hands pressing down. 

 

“Can you feel that?” she asks. 

 

Yes, of course, I feel that. I nod. 

 

She moves her hands upwards towards my snakes. They let out a hiss of warning. Mom’s hands stop. 

 

“You hear the hiss?” 

 

I’m not stupid. Of course, I can hear the snakes on the top of my head. Again, I nod. 

“Right now, do you hear anything else?” 

 

Her hands are on my cheeks. I blink. At the back of mind, sound begins to stir. Lighting shifts. I feel my body begin to drift. 

 

Mom squeezes, trying to anchor me back to the present moment. 

 

“Whatever you’re thinking about right now isn’t real,” she reminds me. 

I shake my head. Step back. I pull my head out of her grasp. Her cool hands uncurl easily. They hang in mid air and I stop looking at them. I turn around. 

I dash towards the living room. My balance is shaky, my center of gravity drops. Once stable legs remind me more of jelly. I look at the  array of red cushions on the floor. Safe place, safe place, my mind sings. I try my best to focus. There’s indents in the material, proof of Mom’s tv watching last night. I let out a breath and collapse onto one of the corner pieces. 

 

“No, it’s real.” 

 

Images continue to form in my mind. I let my muscles relax. I will stop fighting it. The volume of Mom’s voice in my ears dwindles. 

 

“Daisy isn’t real. The farm isn’t real. I never took you there. It doesn’t-” 

 

“I wasn’t thinking about the farm, Mom,” I managed. 

 

I’m still listening to her somewhat as my eyelids start drooping. Her voice gets quieter and quieter. It gets replaced with unfamiliar pop music. 

 

“Then, what were you possibly-,” she starts, barely louder than a cricket. 

I close my eyes. Let it take full hold. I can’t hear Mom at all. 

Like every time it happens, the first thing I do is touch my head. When my fingers brush against matted curls, I know I’m having a vision. Then, I look around me. Of course I know I’m still on the cushion-but in the vision I am on a bed, looking at a woman doing makeup in a boudoir. When I pay attention to the glass, I recognize it as a younger version of my mom. She holds a brush to her face. She makes upward strokes against her cheeks. They shimmer golden. She’s already applied gold eyeshadow and a strong wing to make her eyes pop. She’s maybe sixteen or seventeen. She’s clear in her intent to relax the rest of her face as she applies the blush. After a minute of this, she stops. Looks right at me. 

 

“My mom never let me leave the house like that. You need-I’ll get to you once I finish.” 

 

“You really don’t need to,” I say quietly. 

 

I swing my legs a little against the edge of the bed. The younger version of my mom goes back to applying blush. 

 

“I do, I do. I wouldn’t be a good friend if I didn’t,” she says, briefly looking back over her shoulder even though there’s no need to. She could just look in the mirror but she doesn’t. 

 

“You’re not my friend, though.” 

 

“Of course I am. I’m your best friend.” 

 

The young woman smiles wider than I’ve seen previously; She smiles wider than I’ve ever seen the real version of my mom smile. Her teeth practically shine white. There’s a small piercing on her tongue, and I don’t want to think about whether that hurts. The words best friend echo when she puts the brush to my face. I try to make my face still. I struggle. The woman doesn’t mention it. Instead, she keeps working. The woman progressively gets closer and closer to my face until I can’t see her anymore. Eventually I can’t feel her.  

The bed gives way to the cushions. There’s an ache in my legs. 

When I open my eyes, there’s only the current version of my mother. When I touch my head, there’s only snakes. 

 

“So you are still doing that. Why did your sister say you weren’t?” 

 

I blink. What is Mom even talking about? I turn onto my side and look up at her. 

 

“What?” 

“Right, you’re always spacey when you come out of that. Mirabella, you-you were somewhere else. And Darcy, your sister, had said that you hadn’t done that since I left.” 

 

“Darcy must’ve lied. She’s good at it.” 

 

“I know,” Mom said quiet. Then she raised her voice so that I didn’t have to guess at the words: “You said something about someone not being your friend. What was that about?” 

 

I fidgeted with my fingers. If I tell you, you probably won’t believe me. No one does. 

 

“Please, I need to know if I'm going to stay here. You’re going to need to trust me.” 

 

She must be joking. She’s barely been back for a few days, and she expects me to explain this. Yet, I still look at her, staring into her brown eyes. I use my elbow to prop myself up instead of relying on the width of the cushion. 

 

“What do you mean stay here? I didn’t think you were allowed to go back to-well, you never really told me where you went. But I-I can’t be alone here. I’m just a kid.” 

 

“You wouldn’t be alone. You could get help, and if you don’t want it from me, we can find someone else.” 

 

I gulp. Help. I’m someone who needs help. Wow, Darcy was never that blunt. 

Mom kneels in front of me. Her hands slid up to my cheeks again. I suppose it’s supposed to be a gesture of affection, but it doesn’t feel like it. But then again, I haven’t seen Mom since I was seven. I’m not quite sure I remember what motherly affection even feels like. 

 

“You can tell me anything,” she says next. 

 

And then it comes out of me. The words, some tears. 

 

Mom shakes her head. A laugh spills out of her mouth. 

 

“You gotta be making that up. There’s no way-that-you can’t possibly have seen that.” 

 

“Why not? I know what I saw.” 

 

“I had that conversation with your Auntie Tala right before sophomore homecoming.” 

Her hands are still on my cheeks. I’m still crying-I think. I’m not really sure. Mom’s hands are cold. I shiver a little. 

 

“Oh,” I say. 

 

Mom furrows her eyebrows. “Did Darcy have a way of telling what was real and what wasn’t with you? In regards to what you see?” 

 

I shake my head. That would require Darcy caring. But I don’t say that. That’s mean, and Darcy isn’t even here to hear it. Besides, Mom doesn’t need to know the specifics of the past few years-not yet. Maybe not ever. 

 

I stare at her. Would Mom possibly have a way to tell? 

 

“Well then, we will have to figure that out.” 

 

I smile. “Really?” 

 

Mom lets go of my cheeks and pulls me in for a hug. She’s still cold even as I press my head against her chest. 

 

Part of my brain wonders what it would feel like to do this with Daisy, even if Mom says she isn’t real. The dreams about Daisy-having a big strong cow to protect me- provided warmth when nothing else did, so I can’t let her go. I can’t. There’s no guarantee that Mom’s going to be back for longer than a week, and even then, her body is cold. 

The Rumble of the Truck

Caelum Broderick

The street was barren, silent, dead. The only sounds were my shallow uneven footsteps, the quickening of my breath, and the low rumble of the truck. It wouldn’t have been anything suspicious on its own, just a rented moving truck making its way down the street. It was suspicious though, because I was alone. A skinny 14 year old. On a walk. Alone. I didn’t notice it at first, I was just taking in the dewy fall air and watching house after house move behind me. The strange part was, the truck didn’t seem to move with the houses. No matter how much I walked, it was always the same distance behind me. My head was starting to spin. Why didn’t it disappear, drive by, leave me far behind? I was slowly losing control of my breaths.

My knife. Where was my knife? Where did I put it? I always bring it. Where was it? Why did I leave it? What was wrong with me? No. Stay calm. How could I stay calm? It seemed to him that leaving me alone wasn’t an option. My steps started to become confused, erratic. My heartbeat was lodged in my ears, my throat closed up, my eyes brimmed with freezing panicked tears. Stay. Calm. My gaze darted everywhere, looking for what? I still don’t know.

I took a sudden turn down a new street, testing what was actually happening. For a moment relief took the tension out of my chest as the truck passed the street, that is before I heard the tires screech to a halt. After a few moments, I was back in the same place I was before. My calm facade shattered, leaving me a sobbing, terrified, mess. Yet I kept making my way forward. Out of fear. Fear for my life, my body, my whole being. What would he do if I stopped? What would happen? Would anyone hear my cries for help, would those be my last words? The thoughts sent me into further panic, and a faster pace. Home. I had to get home. How long could I keep this up? Home was a half hour away. The streets seemed to lengthen the more I thought of the distance.

I had to make a decision. A driveway. Just a  block’s distance away I saw a beautiful driveway. I just had to take it step by step. Step. By. Step. The truck was.. Louder? I kept my gaze forward. Step by step. Step. Step. Louder. It was louder. It was... No! It was closer! Step by step. Step. Step. Step by step.. Screw it. I ran. I ran as fast as I could possibly go, my feet pounding the sidewalk under me. A dull ache started moving from my soles up my legs, but I couldn’t care. The disgusting taste of blood filled my mouth, as my anxious habit ruined the inside of my cheek. I gasped for air as my panic made its way to my lungs, and simply breathing was a feat. I wanted to curl up, cry, stop putting myself through this pain and just let it happen. The driveway was closer, but so was the noise. The loud, disgusting, horrifyingly deathly noise, just here to mock me for not being fast enough. The rumble turned to a growl, to a groan, to a roar. My energy was draining, my lungs were aching, every step was agonizing. I could feel myself moving forward, but nothing seemed to be getting any closer. I was tiring but the machine wouldn’t, it would groan on until my legs gave out. Despite the cold temperature, sweat pooled at the back of my neck. I was disgusting, my clothes covered in sweat, tears, and blood. The sidewalk would never end, I was giving up, it would never end it would never- 

I collapsed onto the driveway, getting just enough strength back to scramble all the way to the house. At last, the truck was gone.

Gone, but I wasn’t safe. I couldn't be safe. It was there, collapsed on someone else's steps, blood running down my chin, that I realized I’d never be safe again. I’d never have the childlike innocence of feeling fully okay. I’d never see a man without wondering “was it you?” I’d never be safe again. My cheeks were soaked, my eyes were swollen, my entire body was trembling. I was broken.

The trek back home was the longest I'd ever taken.

Woodworker's Lament

Dane Metzger

I’m gonna tell a lie. I made a desk. There, I said it. 

The 25th annual Putnam County Woodworking awards are no laughing matter. I understood that clearly. However, I entered thinking I had plenty of time--six months--to make art. 

The desk category drew me in… I’ve always been fond of worktops and tabletops. I wasn’t much of a wood maker. However, no one I knew participated in the competition, so I wouldn’t be mocked or ridiculed by more experienced artisans for trying to dethrone their reign of the contest.

Six months became five, five became four… eventually months became days. Reminder emails started rolling into my inbox, dread started to fill my brain. It was too late to back out now, the $500 entry and supply fee was already paid. I couldn’t get out.

And finally, it was the day before. 

Something deep within me knew it was wrong; I knew that it would be disappointing to the other artisans when they found out, but I had no choice. 

That morning I went to IKEA. I was ashamed walking into the first Swedish showroom. The children’s playrooms reminded me of the former state of purity I left behind. Cheating on something that meant so much to so many was anguishing… oh the pain. I bought the nicest-looking wood desk I could find. It was sturdy, it could function as a desk. Swedish minimalism oddly helped me in this situation. 

The day arrived. A buddy helped me move the desk to the judge’s room. Finally, they called me in, instructed me to leave the desk there, and off I went, like a wounded puppy. 

The night of the Putnam County Woodworking Competition Awards arrived. The dread was ineffable. I could not overcome it – I ended up going in the most inconspicuous lumberjack clothing I could muster. A fair amount of people were in the hall and I could not help to notice that most of them were rugged older men in their fifties and sixties. 

First, the rocking chair category, then the Spoon Carving, Knife, Shelf, Dresser, Vanity, and tasteful woodburning artist category came. Everyone politely clapped firmly, as if no tears could come from the unexpected nature. The most surprising part about the night was a five-year-old who won the wood-burning category with a nice piece, a squid burned onto a log. 

The moment arrived. Runner up for the desk category was announced, not me. A bead of stressful sweat drooped down my face. 2nd place, and finally my IKEA Jormborg desk was called. I won. 

There was only dead silence… followed by a sniffle, a whimper, and finally, a whole orchestra of middle-aged artisans began bellowing out their sorrow. They knew not that a lazy man who bought an IKEA desk at the last minute won. Oh god, the crying, it was unbearable… finally, I left in shame. I didn’t even claim the medal. This night was unforgettable.