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Tributaries: Current Issue: Fall 2023

Online creative writing journal publishing DSC student creative output - from poetry and stories, comics, illustrations, drawings, photographs, paintings, songs and videos

TOC for Written Work

Table of Contents


​Poetry


"Ode to Brian" by Ragavati Kandiah

"Unarmed." by Autumn Puckett

"Brushes (Three Haikus)" by Stephen Langston

"2020s Livin" by Ethan Owens and Melana Davis

"I am" by Alyssa Favela

"Anxiety: The Invisible Battle" by Emily Bradshaw

"Epochal" by Cedric Howard Lewis

"I am My Father's Daughter" by Alyssa Miller

"Swords" by Stephen Langston

"Goodbye, Forever" by Emily Bradshaw

"Canine Teeth" by Lily Price

"goodnight, mom." by Haley Silvey

"Game On" by Ragavati Kandiah


Fiction


"The Judge" by Reagan Brady - 1st place - Spooky Story Contest

"Lament" by Nora Miranda - 2nd place - Spooky Story Contest

"The Hotel in Armadillo" by Kristin Richardson - 3rd place - Spooky Story Contest

"Tiny Flickering Fires" by Samuel Mansi

"A Fibbing Tale of Heart and Soul" by Denise M. Shahan

"The Locket" by Emily Bradshaw

"Thin Skin" by Hannah Denton


Non-Fiction


"Lost in Translation: The Unseen Walls of Harbin Clinic" by Debany Rosillo-Olmedo

"My Dad's Laugh" by Gregory Ogles


Song


"I Love You" by Christiana


​Visuals


"DSC at Dawn" by Casey Scott

"Chase" by Dakota Hudson

"Butterfly Wings" by Riley Yates

"TransfornHer" by Nancy Espinoza

"La Niñez" by Ivana Hernandez

"Porto, Portugal" by Nataly Moreno

"Horns" by Kaytlin McNeil

"Bridge in the Forest" by Sierra Johnson

"Scrambled" by Genesis Doe

"Light in Forest Fade" by Davis Crump

"King of the Jungle" by Jennifer Castro Cardero

"Flowers" by Sierra Johnson

"Bossu" by Nancy Espinoza

"Dinosaur Meteor" by Dakota Hudson

"Bo Burnam" by Helena Goad

"Stitch the Harvest" by Gracie Schreckenbach

"A Midnight Prance" by Joshua Cruz

"Confined" by Nora Miranda

"Stoic" by Helena Goad

"Heart" by Kaytlin McNeil

"Peeling Bark" by Sierra Johnson

"Watercolor House" by Helena Goad

"Peace in the Body" by Courtney Parker

Poetry

"Ode to Brian

by Ragavata Kandiah


 

I found my grief today

laid on the floor

the disarray of moving

sifting and sorting

revealing little tokens

memories caught in the benign

I've kept my grief tucked in papers

in boxes I don't want opened

in cards and letters I value more than anything

but that I don't want to see

my grief is covered in dust

it's crumpled

and some of the things

I clung to seem as lost to me now

as you are,

like so many more now

and more to come as the years

press on if I am ~lucky~

I've lived so much since you left

and I want to say that I think of you

every single day

but the truth is, I try not to

the truth is you thought me so strong

hell... I just read it in your letter

and I promised I would be

but when it comes to losing you

I am as weak as ever

the years I've pushed through

without you

are surreal

your voice is fading from my memory

I want to feel

your presence

to see you smile

but it seems my "gift" is mostly

wrapped up, most easily opened for strangers

a floodgate sometimes

I am lucky to maybe catch a glimpse

and that IS something

but it's so fleeting

and I just thought you should know

I dusted off my grief today

and I sat with it a while

and I tucked it back on a shelf

for another time and place

 

"Unarmed."

by Autumn Puckett

 

I am not red!

Frighten by night skies;

Softly spoken lullabies,

I’d rather be dead

I am not red.

I said my goodbyes;

Took them all by surprise!

Demons have been fed, I am red.

She, so softly spoken.

Just abruptly paid her token:

Quiet still, Smoking gun,

Everyone sitting, silently stunned,

Yearning for steady, his trembling hands,

Twirling ‘round her crimson wedding band!

"Brushes (Three Haikus)"

by Stephen Langston

 

Sinking in the blue

My shimmering sequin sea

Stains the whole world black

 

 

Bittersweet reprise

I left you at Summer's end

Just as I was once

 

 

I make my ashtrays

With your dirty paintbrushes

I'll never return

"2020s Livin"

by Ethan Owens and Melana Davis

 

It’s time to spill the tea.

The 2020’s atrocities.

These years have not been fire.

No cap our situation is real dire.

The world is whack, lowkey.

Since the start Covid’s had us shook.

Still I won’t read no book.

At least now I’m getting’ paid.

But the opps till be throwin’ shade.

Over my shoulder, I’ve got to look.

On the Brightside, I stay pimpin’.

Won’t catch me lackin’, I’m not simpin'.

Golden Corral isn’t a corral.

I’m still on Fortnite getting’ victory Royals.

"I am" 

by Alyssa Favela

 

I am from delusion.

From two teenagers who thought they loved each other.

 I am from mistakes. From one night that was careless.

 I am from strength. From a mother who, even though didn’t plan for me, never gave up.

I am from expectations. From wanting to be better than my parents 

I am from toughness. Learning how to calm my brother from the shouts and cries in the other room.

I am from overcoming. From my dad being taken away from Dalton for 11 months and not coming back the same.

I am from tears. From the hurtful words that my dad has spoken and the experiences that I will never forget.

I am from adapting. From moving from house to house and making do with whatever we had.

 I am from tug-o-war. From my two sides of the family on different shoulders, each whispering to me to pick a side and forget the other.

I am from late-night trips. From when my mom decided she just couldn’t scream anymore and disappeared into the night, taking me and my brother with her.

I am growing up too early. From filling out paperwork and ensuring my brother had a ride everywhere.

I am from never giving up. From my mother, who worked three jobs to make sure we were fed and clothed.

I am from anger. From the resentment of my own father for how he used to treat us, and only changing when he was taken away.

 I am from jealousy. From wanting a family that could still be together and to still have my youth, wanting to play with my dolls and color on a page.

 I am from multiple emotions and memories. Each of them is engraved into my skin.

Oh, the stories that are written on me, what they could tell.

-I am a living story

"Anxiety: The Invisible Battle" 

by Emily Bradshaw

 

 

My smile hides the war inside my mind.

I seem as peaceful as a grazing deer,

But inside, I am paralyzed with fear.

I’m terrified of being maligned.

I lack allies while fatal bullets fly.

How long can I uphold my front defense?

Anxiety fights sanity’s pretense.

My invading, degrading thoughts won’t die.

Drugs are like Band-Aids over bullet wounds.

Nature’s my escape from insanity,

Distracting me from bullets’ whizzing rounds.

A white flag raises sensibility.

My friends join my ranks on the battleground;

United, we achieve serenity.

"Epochal" 

by Cedric Howard Lewis

 

 

A melody in one ear,

While salt fills into the other.

At the age of 18,

I was so sure of who I would be.

Achey feet trudge on slabs of uphill concrete.

Seeing the sun, before the sun ever gets a chance to see me.

Trudging onward,

“She don’t stop, she don’t stop, she don’t stop…,”

The melody fills my ear.

Day in and day out, inspiring the same tears.

These words hold me hostage, and whisk me away to a place where I am free.

What binds me so?

Constricting and contorting,

Is a dagger in the back with a rope attached,

Dragging me back to you.

Your words are in my head,

and everything you ever said,

but all I will hear is him.

Rebuking your words, that remain unsaid.

Instead, I remember him, our goodbye.

The songs to which we cried,

He released me from his arms,

with hope that i would one day fly.

You can’t fly before you’ve walked,

so that’s where i would start.

These feet that have never known pain,

Until now.

“She wondered who would take her home this time.”

The melody is profound.

The words are quite renowned.

The melody is compelling.

The melody is telling.

It tells of stories that have already came, and those yet to come.

In them, all I can still remember is you.

And trust, I’m still walking,

but when it comes to you

i always change direction.

The not so invisible string, that pulls me back to you, and forgetting the insurrection.

Some Spectators look and gawk.

Some marvel at my lot.

They called me a saint, for what you put me through.

It was either that, or live as your martyr.

Some called themselves a friend.

I needed them time and time again.

In the end, they were nowhere to be seen when I needed them the most.

To smile while I frowned, and I were less taut.

I should be grateful to be in your kingdom.

I should be grateful that you keep a peasant like me around.

You have me there to relish, and gaze upon your spoils.

Spoils, the food that you keep from me.

I told you I was hungry, and barren were my soils.

You let me watch you eat.

You loved to watch me starve.

You referred to it as “what little I gave to you.”

I refer to it as “every thing I had,” that was in my grasp and in my thrawl.

Everything, This is what I gave to you.

“She knew that this time, wouldn’t be the last time…..”

The melody plays over and over again.

It plays through and through,

sign after sign after sign….

At the age of 18, I was so sure of who I’d be.

I never even contemplated the shell of a life force

you left me to see.

The sweat on my brow,

The flour cemented on my hands,

The apron that never fit quite right,

The rubber shoes I couldn’t stand,

The unbearable overweighing pressure baring down on me from “the man.”

The crappy corporate job that I now demand,

The pinning for you, even after everything you put me through !

The transformation into the very person I begged you not to turn me into,

with all of the tears that streamed from my face, that with no amount of time will ever dry.

These tears will always leave a trace,

Even after all these years that have gone by.

He released me from his arms, because it was my time to fly.

You can’t fly before you walk.

He knows how much I tried.

Sometimes, I’d walk and trip along the road sides.

Still, with the melody in my ear,

The salt in the other had finally disappeared.

Now, the melody is all I hear

saying:

“She don’t stop, she don’t stop, she don’t stop…..”

Words as if a cloth,

That had wiped away every single tear.

The words that still echo after all these years.

It’s those words running in my mind,

that didn’t stop.

Even after all this time,

“She don’t stop, she don’t stop, she don’t stop, she don’t stop, she don’t stop, she don’t stop,”

And Neither did I….

 

"I am my Father's Daughter" 

by Alyssa Miller

 

 

I am my father’s daughter.

We don’t share much,

But we share brown eyes.

Mine, once light, has darkened over the years.

 

We also share an anger that runs deep,

And sharp tongue that aims to injure.

So when I look in the mirror,

I am reminded of what we share when I see my Father’s eyes staring back at me.

 

Now, I try to shed the anger that weighs me down,

And I think my eyes start to look softer.

I try to soften my words,

Yet my tongue feels like a knife.

 

Still, I am my father’s daughter.

My brown eyes never soften, and his eyes always stare back at me,

And my tongue still aims to injure.

The reflection I see never really changes,

And through our unlit eyes, I can never escape that angry little girl.

"Swords"

by Stephen Langston

 

Awakening to a sunken star

Crumbling black and white earth

A thousand eyes darting to and fro

Keeping my distance

Turning pages amidst conflagration

Eating my words

And bearing the swords

You stuck in my back.

 

Speaking Gently

The Flower Called Nowhere

Who Has the Last Laugh Now

 

Listening to a song on repeat

Picking it apart in my head

Tearing feelings to pieces

Seeing souls in vibrations

Stuffy air surrounded by sheens of light

Synapses rapid-firing

Ever nostalgic

 

For a lover

And a friend

And a perspective

Above all else, an artist

And a manipulator

And an abuser

And a situation

 

Walk Away

Puppet

Don't Think It Over

 

Like masks tumbling off faces

Shattered pieces strewn across concrete

Like trying Kintsugi on atoms

Like grabbing at stardust in the wind

Like making peace with an illusion

That’s perpetually battering my mind

And at long last

Just letting go

 

I see through you

Your poor intentions

And your false inventions

Your sad, selfish shit

Now there’s nothing left

Nothing but hindsight and photographs

 

Love is Just a Memory

Passing Out Pieces

Behind The Moon Shadow

 

Ships on the water

And foam at our feet

Your smile effervescent

Collecting shells iridescent

As we walked down the shore

You and me

By the sea

Just like a dream

 

The universe is change

Life is opinion

No death

No goodbyes

Only transformation

 

Surf's up.

"Goodbye, Forever"

by Emily Bradshaw

 

 

I hug her goodbye forever,

pressing against her as close as flesh allows.

I rest my weary head against her heaving chest,

trembling from sorrow.

 

My heart rips,

Mangled and torn from inconceivable anguish.

The white coats within the white walls surround me.

A pointed, fatal needle invades from behind.

 

Tears stream down her panicked, exhausted face,

flooding her soft brown eyes.

Is this goodbye, or see you later?

A strangled cry escapes her quivering lips.

Anxiety looms over us

like an incoming tenebrous storm cloud.

 

She hugs me tightly,

As if I’ll slip away like a balloon on a windy summer day.

She’s shaking.

She can’t breathe:

A gut-wrenching four-legged goodbye.

 

She can’t breathe.

She’s shaking.

As if I’ll slip away like a balloon on a windy summer day,

 

She hugs me tightly.

Like an incoming tenebrous storm cloud,

Anxiety looms over us.

A strangled cry escapes her quivering lips.

Is this goodbye, or see you later?

Flooding her soft brown eyes,

Tears stream down her panicked, exhausted face.

 

A pointed, fatal needle invades from behind.

The white coats within the white walls surround me.

Mangled and torn from inconceivable anguish,

My heart rips.

 

Trembling from sorrow,

I rest my weary head against her heaving chest.

Pressing against her as close as flesh allows,

I hug her goodbye, forever.

"goodnight, mom."

by Haley Silvey

 

I lay quietly wrapped away,

In that blue blanket I have always had

from that one person that knew me.

 

She sang,

Tones of somber, orange and red

Like the garden growing at the edge of the creek

 

Her face hid softly at the side of my bed,

Reaching outward,

Somewhere.

 

The reflection we cast off of one another,

Grew silently distant.

 

I stayed in this place in secret

 

Hiding from her that I looked

into death's heart.

 

The heaviness of her gone,

Was too much for my small body to hold

 

I could not know what it meant

 

But I knew that she would leave me,

In this place.

 

Not today.

Maybe not,

today

 

"Game On"

by Ragavata Kandiah

 

a disheveled & slightly twisted

Jenga game- am I

just one well-intentioned

if ill-placed

"How are you?"

from falling to pieces

in front of you on the floor

Easy.

Steady.

Breathe deep.

Ask.

Pull.

I wobble.

"I'm okay."

I smile

feigning politely

you nod-

relieved

Fiction

"The Judge"

by Reagan Brady

 

Acting as a judge for the damned did have its perks.

The pay was good—the healthcare, eh, not so much, but what’s a soul to do? If someone wandered into a church and was spritzed with holy water like a misbehaving cat, well, there wouldn’t be much left worth saving, anyway.

But there were some things that even the Underworld’s staunchest universities couldn’t prepare you for. (And yeah, colleges were no cheaper in the realm of the dead than they were on Earth.)

Namely, the thing standing before me. Not so much a thing as it was a person—a living, breathing (I think) human child. I would rather be a grunt once more, shoveling Cerebus’ shit, than deal with whatever was in front of me.

And I had just taken my lunch break.

“Hello?” The child asked. She lingered in the doorway awkwardly, and I mused to myself, not unlike an untethered spirit. But she was definitely alive. She had the stink of mortality on her. A smell that I worried would infect all of the things in my office; the ancient books lined up with their leather spines facing outward, the red velvet armchair that sat in the corner, collecting a fine layer of dust (I never did like to receive visitors), or the sandwich, that had paused its descent into my mouth as I gawked at the child.

I set down my sandwich, careful to conceal the fluff oozing outside the back. Souls didn’t need to eat, per se; it was a personal choice, and most enjoyed participating in the gastronomical arts. “What are you doing here?” I asked, staring pointedly; the sight of my horns and long, reptilian tail should have been enough to make the small one flinch.

It didn’t.

The girl stared at me, moon-eyed. “I got lost.”

An overly simplistic summary of the situation. It wasn’t every day a living creature got stuck in limbo—aside from cats, who had an uncanny ability to slip between the mortal and immortal realms.

As I was trying to think of who was best to pawn the young girl off on so that I could enjoy the rest of my fluffernutter in peace, she approached with surprising quietness. “Can I touch your horns?”

I yelped (in a way that was dignified and befitting of my station). “Personal space, child!” I leapt from my chair, edging away to the corner of the room. My tail lashed. “Good gods, has no one taught you the most basic of manners?”

“My mother.”

“And where is she now?”

I needed to find the woman and give her spawn back. Perhaps I would earn a tidy compensation. Though mortal money had no place here, there were other delicacies, things only the human realm could offer.

Deadpan, she said, “I followed her here.”

I swallowed. I had to make it awkward. Though, the awkwardness seemed only to affect me, as the young girl had no idea of the implications of what she had just said. She instead ran her small, grubby, mortal hands all over the spines of my books.

My books!

And yet, I made no move to smite her down—as I had my previous assistant, who had encroached too readily on my personal space.

Most peculiar.

I cleared my throat. The girl glanced at me, strands of her blonde hair curtaining around her face. The only way I could imagine she had made it here would be if she were half-dead herself.

But then—why was she here if she were a soul needing judgment? Why was she not in the waiting room, with all the others whose fates I procrastinated on my lunch break?

“You can’t stay here,” I said.

She frowned. “But why? I like it here.”

“You don’t understand.” I pinched the bridge of my nose. I hadn’t wanted to get graphic with such a small child, but apparently, it was necessary. “There are monsters here who will eat you. Human flesh is something of a delicacy for the more animalistic souls here.”

She didn’t even wince. “That’s okay. You’ll protect me.”

The assuredness with which she spoke nearly knocked the breath (hah!) from my lungs. Of course, I didn’t need to breathe. But the feeling was the same.

“Didn’t your mother ever teach you not to talk to strangers?”

“Yes. I didn’t talk to anyone the whole way here, you know. Aside from some kitties.”

“Then why?” I asked, not really expecting a comprehensible answer.

And she smiled. Smiled! Once more, I felt myself growing unsteady. It seemed as though this young girl possessed a power most dangerous.

“You’re glowing,” she said. “Bright white and yellow! And I can feel your warmth. I just knew… that you’d help me. You will, won’t you?”

Glowing.

I glanced down at myself. My skin was a purple-blue color and my nails were blackened and sharpened to a point, like claws. Even the tip of my tail was barbed. I had fangs for teeth. There was little glowing about me; despite my position as a judge for the damned, I was just as monstrous as all the other souls.

I reached for a brown cloak that hung on my clothes rack. I tossed it to her, and the weight of the fabric made her stumble. “Come, then. Put that on. We’re going to find your mother.”

   

I took the young girl to, what I would imagine, is the most scarring part of my job. It was something of a dungeon. The cobblestones were overgrown with moss and mold. The long, winding corridors stunk with humidity.

I always tried to avoid coming down here if I could help it.

We passed rows of cells.

“Tell me if you see your mother,” I said. She nodded. However, her body language did not match the gusto she seemed to be trying so hard to present. She held my hand and sucked on the thumb of her other one. Her hand was warm, and she clung to me tightly as if worried I would slip away.

The souls groaned as we passed. Some threw themselves against the bars, rattling them. The torchlight cast her shadow on the ground, betraying her as being Other, a living, breathing creature amidst hundreds who had just lost that privilege.

Hands reached through the bars, with pasty skin stretched so thin it was a miracle it didn’t break over their bones. The voice hissed, “Human… here, here. I won’t hurt you.”

The light caught on their razor-sharp teeth.

The girl pressed close to me. Deciding that was enough, I scooped her in my arms and growled at the soul behind bars.

“Judge! Judge. I didn’t… see you there.”

“I don’t need a trial to determine your fate,” I spat. Then, beneath my breath, I murmured an incantation. With a shriek and a blast of fiery heat, the soul disappeared.

The remaining souls quieted after that.

But their compliance changed little. We walked for hours more, my long strides moving us swiftly, traversing past thousands of souls.

“You still haven’t seen anyone you recognize?” I asked after a time.

The girl shook her head. “No,” she said. And though I couldn’t see her, the tears were clear from the wobble in her voice. “My mama…”

Oh, no.

“Hey, hey.” I rocked her in my arms. “It’s okay. Look, here; you can touch my horns.”

I tried not to flinch at the unaccustomed touch as she raised her hand and rubbed my horns with a gentleness surprising from one so young. She giggled. “Pretty.”

And then, she murmured against me, “I’m… sleepy…”

“Wait!” I said, but it was too late. She cuddled against the crook of my neck, the warmth of her breaths beading moisture on my skin. Gross! She was going to drool; she was going to—

Her grubby hand grabbed at my shirt. She sucked her little thumb.

I sighed. Once more, I felt she was a force to be reckoned with, however tiny she may be. Hardly thinking about it, I stroked her hair. I felt her smile.

Being a judge for the undead did have its perks. After all, it led her to me.

"Lament"

by Nora Miranda

 

In the warm glow of a flickering candle, Mavis sat relaxed over her grand piano, humming

along as her fingers danced delicately across the keys. The room was consumed by the wondrous

tune, broken only by the sweet voice of Mavis. For years, Mavis had been blessed by a melody she

heard in a dream. It was beautiful and all-consuming, a composition that begged to be released into

the world. Night after night, she played, her eyes glazed with an otherworldly focus as she released

an ethereal whisper of a song.

Mavis was a struggling composer, a woman consumed by the pursuit of perfection and, therefore, never satisfied with her work.

She was not done yet.

So, she keeps humming.

Wrong note.

That didn’t quite sound right.

Yes!

It sounds splendid…

Mellow and romantic even.

Wrong! Wrong! Wrong!

The grueling sound of ripping paper follows the horrid screech that escaped Mavis. Pure

rage flooded her mind, yet she collapsed immediately after, clenching the shredded sheets of music.

Her eyes, once vibrant, were now hollow and sunken. Her body, once full of life, grew frail

and feeble. But still, the ghostly melody drove her forward, pushing her beyond the brink of sanity.

“Deep breath. I’ll try again.”

And she hums.

As Mavis’s trembling hands ached to strike the right chords, she felt a presence in the room.

A cold breeze swept through, chilling her to the bone. The atmosphere grew heavy, laden with a

malevolent energy that made her heart race.

"No. No. No. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong!" her voice blurted, its tone dripping with sinister dissatisfaction. “Again! Try again!” it hissed.

Mavis’s fingers faltered on the keys. Its own thoughts seemed to be growing more violent.

“I need a break,” she muttered, stretching its fingers as it pulled its hands away from the

piano that took over the last four hours of its evening.

Yet the thoughts did not falter. The words, though her own, were like venom. "But your masterpiece is not yet complete. You must finish what you started."

As the days passed, Mavis’s health deteriorated further. She became a mere shell, a vessel.

Her once beautiful music transformed into a cacophony of madness, a distorted version of the

original melody. The room was shrouded in an eerie silence, broken only by the haunting notes that

echoed through the empty space. For years, Mavis had been tormented by a melody she heard in a

dream, and it would soon come to life.

One night, as Mavis collapsed in exhaustion, the music continued to play. The cool breeze

that lingered since the other night grew into a violent snowstorm. The atmosphere grew

unbearably heavy, laden with malevolent energy that made her heart race and her vision swirl.

For a moment, Mavis had gone limp.

With a triumphant howl, it reveled in its newfound freedom. It played the piano with an

unholy fervor, its fingers moving effortlessly across the keys. The room trembled with each note,

and the very walls seemed to bleed.

The once-brilliant musician was now a mere puppet, her body a vessel for the ghost’s

insatiable hunger for musical prowess. As the music reached a crescendo, its laughter echoed

through the room, mingling with Mavis’s final, desperate cries.

“You said you’d leave me alone!”

“We have yet to finish it. Oh, it is to be grand and beloved by all. You would never

experience such fame and glory without me! We will be the best musicians on all planes of

existence!”

In the darkness, the grand piano played on, its keys stained with blood and madness. The

haunting melody that had driven Mavis to her demise now served as a chilling reminder of the price

one pays for meddling with the supernatural.

A young boy, still groggy from his nap, fills his bowl with cereal and sits next to his mom.

Then, he begins to hum a tune.

His mother notices.

“Oh, that’s lovely. Where’d you hear that?”

“The movie in my head!”

“Your dream? You’ve got such a creative mind, sweetheart.”

“I wanna be a musician! The best one!”

“Well, I’m sure you can be.”

We can be.

He continues humming.

"The Hotel Armadillo"

by Kristin Richardson

 

My car was found on August 18th, 1974, without my body near it.  My story was in the news for a week, asking for search and rescue teams to find a Connecticut man who had gone missing in the desert of Arizona.  My family begged anyone for answers, saying it was unlike me to disappear without a trace or to leave without a note of my whereabouts.  Apparently, they didn’t see the signs for the nearby hotel, nor did they see my face in the windows, watching as police and FBI cars came and went for fourteen straight days after the news hit.  They didn’t think to come and ask me what happened.

Late June in 1974, I decided I needed a change of scenery, so I packed my Firebird and headed west towards a setting sun.  After a day and a half on the road, I realized I needed a break, but the road was bare and the next town was another twenty-eight miles.  Until I saw it, the hotel that would change my life.

The Hotel Armadillo stood like a mirage in the setting sun, my long-awaited water after days on the road.  I drove along the cobblestone pathway and pulled up to the front steps where the Victorian-style building loomed over me, filled with candlelight and music.  The lobby wasn’t any less extravagant, with spiraling staircases and plush velvet couches.  Even the front desk man seemed out of time, with his handlebar mustache and gelled hair, his waistcoat neat and trim and archaic as he looked in the books

“Ah!” he exclaimed when he saw me “Good evening sir! Checking in?”

“Yes sir, one room please,” I told him.  There was a chill traveling down my spine as I stood there in front of this gentleman

“Of course.  A name, please?”

“Calahan.  Arthur Calahan,” I tell him as I remove my billfold from my jacket.

“Perfect, Mister Calahan.  The room is free of charge for tonight due to a cancelation; do not worry about payment.  Up the stairs and to the left, number 1310.  Enjoy your stay.”

I took the key from him and felt a sense of foreboding.  But I chalked it up to my exhaustion, so I took my bag and headed up to my room.  The empty hotel would be nice if it wasn’t for this nagging feeling in my stomach that something wasn’t right, but…I couldn’t seem to find it in myself to leave.

The next morning, I pulled myself from the bed and made my way to the dining hall for breakfast.  Maids walked through the halls, but when I turned to ask them a question, they were no longer there.  Maybe I’m more tired than I thought. 

On my way to the dining hall, I passed by the check-in desk from last night.  A woman with the most beautiful red hair now stood at the check-in desk instead of the gentleman.  She was the prettiest thing I ever saw.  Red hair to her hips, her face covered in freckles, and her big brown eyes were framed with the longest eyelashes.  But when she looked up at me, that bad feeling returned to my stomach, so I quickly walked to the dining hall, lighting a cigarette to look busy.

The Tiffany glass windows of the dining hall cast stained glass ghosts over the oak floors.  I wished I could stay and admire it longer, but my hunger outweighed any desire to look around.  The food spread made this adventure worth it.  Meats of all kinds, cheeses, and wines.  The aroma of spices filled my nose, but the most prominent was cinnamon.  With my plate filled, I sat down to eat but soon felt . . . bad.  My stomach churned horribly and my head pounded, but I couldn’t stop eating.  I didn’t even remember passing out face down in my food.

When I woke up, I was in my bed again, and the gorgeous redhead from downstairs was in my doorway with a candelabra.  She looked at me for a moment, and I could see a trail of what I really hoped wasn’t blood on her chin before she left the room.  When I tried to follow her, I didn’t see her in the hall… just the candelabra floating in midair.  My mind raced as I ran down the hall and saw the redhead standing in the archway of the lobby, wiping the red trail from her lips.

“Welcome to Armadillo, Arthur.” She sounded like she was right next to me, but she was several hundred feet away. “I hope you enjoy your stay.”

“What did you do?” I growled at her.

“What I had to.  You entered my hotel, so I did as I saw fit.”

“Am I dead?”

She didn’t answer me.  Her beauty twisted before me, and I saw her as the woman she was.  This hotel wasn’t what it seemed yesterday when I checked in.

“What . . . did you do?” I ask again, but in the blink of an eye she’s gone.

As days go on, I begin to lose my mind.  This hotel seems to be toying with my mind as I wander the halls, looking for an escape from the madness.  Every time I try to leave, I reappear inside my room, never at the front door, but in my room.  The redhead, Rebecca, who I’ve learned is the master of the building, seems to keep watch over me.  She seems to gain pleasure from watching my struggle to accept that I am now part of this hotel

What makes this worse is I begin to hear and see things that are not there.  Sounds of the ocean and the smell of the salt air, when Arizona is a landlocked state.  Grand music comese from the ballroom where hundreds of fancy guests dance until the sun came up, then disappear like dust.  If I am not dead, I am definitely delusional.

Days turn to weeks turn to months.  It doesn’t get easier.  I try to find some vice to help the aching in my soul, but alcohol doesn’t help because I can’t get drunk, and cigarettes don’t feel the same in lungs that don’t breathe.  That’s when I start to notice the police cars driving by.  Then the FBI.  They couldn’t see the hotel looming over them like I did all those months ago;, they didn’t feel the pull the hotel had on me, calling me to enter and stay forever.

All they saw was my old Pontiac Firebird sitting on the side of Interstate 40 with the hood popped open.  My last cigarette lay half-burned on the pavement with my suitcase in the backseat and my coat in the passenger seat.  Arthur Calahan is dead to all those who cared, yet I still look out the stained glass windows of this damned hotel and watched as hundreds of people passed by without a second glance towards the missing man peering out at them.

"Tiny Flickering Fires"

by Samuel Mansi

 

I can remember the time I made my first fire. I was in Pre-school when it happened, but I never realized the splendor of those embers at the time. I sometimes look back on them and wonder what could have been; it’s kind of water under the bridge now, though. Those embers were just a brief flash when compared to the slow burns I’d soon desperately struggle to make.

2009 was the year I finally understood the beauty of fire; the warmth of its embers, the cool orange glow of the light, the feeling that I’m not alone; Kindergarten helped me reach this revelation. Come recess time, I would mostly play by myself, making vain attempts at emulating those flames with a cold flashlight. Thankfully, I eventually built up the courage to create real sparks and try to make them catch; some of the sparks did, and one of the fires we made still burns, but I sometimes wonder how long it will continue. I want it to continue.

Before anyone says anything, no, I’m not a pyromaniac. Don’t you know that everyone makes fires? Some of us just struggle more than others, like me. My family and I found out one day that something in me made it harder for my sparks to catch: something in my brain, apparently.

I couldn’t tell the difference. I kind of cared, but not enough. All I knew was that it was hard to make a fire.

I tried to make some in elementary school, and I kind of did. …I think. Some of the fires were ones I somehow managed to reignite, others were small and puttered out after a day, but some managed to burn me! Yeah, elementary school was kind of tough… I eventually found out some of the fires I had made were starting to, somehow, go out!
“This is fine,” I would tell myself. “They’ll come back; they’ll have to come back. They’re going to come back. It’s too bright for them to just walk away!”

They didn’t come back…

Fast forward to middle school, and I managed to make a few more flames, but I felt cold. The fires that were “burning” were few, and by burning, I mean smoking, compared to the ones that puttered out. I remember a flame that shined brighter than some, but that, too, died out. All around me were the copious flames of other people, none of them close enough to provide any warmth. I felt sick. Their smoke was suffocating me. I tried so hard to make more flames, but the more I tried, the more the rain would pour, the stronger the wind would blow, and the cooler the temperature dropped. I was lucky just to get burned.

“What is wrong with me?” I started to wonder. All around me were magnificent, majestic, mesmerizing infernos! Had I done something wrong? I didn’t use to care if we preferred different kindling. Was it because I cared more about the method? It was hard for me to make a fire with match sticks, so I preferred using a magnifying glass; it let me see what others wouldn’t, like those tiny little grasshoppers I loved to watch jump, punch, and kick.  Of course, I didn’t mind using other methods, like ferro rods, for example, and I wouldn’t mind trying new ones; I often found, though, that most people only used matchsticks.

I stopped caring. If I can’t be myself, then I don’t need them. I don’t need these small, insignificant fires that brighten my day, these fires that have caused nothing but joy and pain, these fires I have dreamed of since I was a little boy.

And then came high school.

I found a pile of kindling near a dying tree, and we made a fire unlike any I had seen before! I finally felt at peace; I found what I was searching for! I belonged! I had found my group! Sure, it hurt not to use my Amazing, Mighty magnifying glass. I didn’t mind that this dark flame was sometimes cold to the touch. I didn’t mind one bit. Not one painful bit.

Oh… my clothes were on fire. That black flame was… confusing. By all means, it looked like a fire, but it never made any light. Unlike the flames I’d made before, this one continually brought me pain, and, yet, I wanted more. Somehow, even to this day, I feel as though it will change back to a beautiful orange if I just stoke the embers one more time. I eventually left that cursed ember, but I can still feel its toxic pull. Maybe I’ll go back one day, just for old times’ sake.

Eventually, I managed to find a real fire, though, one that I wasn’t even looking for. Even now, I’d like to say it still burns a blinding, bright blue, even though we’ve graduated.

It’s strange. It’s not black, but it feels better, warmer, more genuine. Huh. That’s odd… They talk to me first, they text me first, and they add fuel first. I probably shouldn’t become attached; for this too shall pass. Nah. This one will definitely stay alight.

With college, I thought I’d find other people who used magnifying glasses. It was one of the few things that I looked forward to. Turns out, magnifying glasses are rare, but I think I’ve made a few more fires, although, only time will tell if those remain lit.

On second thought, maybe I am a pyromaniac. Einstein’s right; I’m insane!

I think I’m ok being insane. The fire’s just too bright to ignore. I’d do everything again in a heartbeat. Granted, maybe not exactly in the same way. I don’t care how many tiny little fires I make. Their warmth keeps me going; these connections keep me going. I will keep going. Even if my body turns to ash, even if these embers fail to shield me from the cold, I will keep making these tiny little fires.

I mean, surely some of these will stay lit!

…right?

"A Fibbing Tale of Heart and Soul"

by Denise Shahan

 

Hands cupped beside her mouth, a loud whinny across the pasture toward the barn brought their heads up and perked their ears as they looked her way. One more whinny, but not as profound as the first, and they were running half a mile to the fence line where she waited. Any onlooker would find it difficult to decide who was more excited to see the other as they united at the fence, vying for attention: three beautiful horses and a cute little, blonde, pony-tailed, five-year-old girl.

 

They stood in forbidden territory, here in the shade of the big oak tree that sheltered all four from the blasting heat of the summer sun. The little girl had wanted her own horse for as long as she could remember; however, that was one request her parents had flatly refused forever. This was the closest and next best thing, time with the horses boarded in the pasture adjoining her backyard; but it required diligent hiding and fibbing to pull these meetings off. 

 

“Y’all are such good horses to come see me when I call out for you,” the child cooed to the horses, “but we have to stay quiet so Mama won’t hear us.”  The horses reached their muzzles across the barbed wire for the child to pet them as they nickered their understanding. “I brought you something special today,” the child told them as she lifted a freshly picked green apple to each one while the others waited their turn. She didn’t like lying to her mother about the horses. It gave her a gooey feeling in her tummy every time she did. 

 

While the animals devoured their treats, the little girl bent down and reached underneath the fence to touch their hooves. She marveled at what she understood to be the horses’ toenails, much larger than her own, and touched the iron horseshoe on each front hoof as she continued to talk with the horses, her friends.

 

Her eyes danced with glee each time one of the gentle beasts cocked a hoof to rest that leg for a moment. The child fancied the horse was striking a pose. After touching each of the six forefeet, being careful not to slight one friend over another, she stood up and looked into each horse’s eyes as closely as she could. Why, my goodness, she could see almost all the way to their souls through their big ole brown eyes.

 

She couldn’t understand why her older brothers chided her by saying horses were just big, dumb animals with no souls. Of course they had souls! Look into those eyes – they knew everything she said to them. “Here, Pretty Girl, bend your head down to me.” 

 

The child was too short to reach these vast animals' faces, ears, jowls, and necks. So, she took every opportunity she could find when they were grabbing a quick bite of grass underneath the fence or chasing a fly off their leg to stroke the smooth coats of each one. She knew they especially liked her to rub them because they would practically freeze in that position until she had sufficiently stroked all of those areas.

 

Often, the animals would nip each other as if to say, “Hey, attention time is up for you. It’s my turn now.” When that happened, the horses never fought for attention; however, one might turn to the side and edge up against the fence lengthwise, pressing its belly against the barbed wire. The little girl delighted in that maneuver because she could then pat their bellies and hindquarters. The little girl sought to finger-brush their bangs, mane, or tail, depending on how they positioned themselves at the fence. For her, to touch them meant being one with them, her best friends. Then, just as the palomino mare bolted, feeling feisty… 

 

“NESAAAAAA, NESA!” The child’s mother had flung open the screened back door and yelled out her nickname. She could tell by Mama’s tone that she had better act fast. 

 

“Here I am, Mama, in the orchard,” the little girl mustered up the sweetest voice she could through her fear of being caught. But was it a lie she just told? After all, she had to walk through the orchard and back again to visit the beloved horses. Maybe it was merely a stretch of the truth. 

 

“You aren’t near those horses again, are you, Nesa?” 

 

“No, ma’am, I’m checking on the apples and strawberries to see if they’re ripe yet.” Ouch! Out came another one. Thank goodness the grapevines had shielded the horses from her Mama’s view. The little girl skipped into the yard and waved sweetly to her mother. “The strawberries are almost ready, Mama.” 

 

“Good. Remember to stay away from those horses, Baby Doll. They could grab you by that ponytail, jerk you across the fence, and stomp you to death. Stay away from them, you hear me?” 

 

“Yes, Mama,” the little girl called out as she watched her mother retreat through the screen door back into the kitchen, and she heard the screen door squeak and slap shut with a loud rap. Running quickly behind the grapevines to the fence, the child saw the horses waiting, standing at attention as if they understood what had just happened. “Whew, that was a close one. She almost caught us!” the child giggled, “She thinks y’all would hurt me. How silly. I’ll have to listen more closely for that squeaky screen door to open from now on. Come here for one more quick muzzle rub before I go, my sweet, sweet horses.” 

 

The dishonesty and guilt weighed heavily on the little girl while she meandered across the lawn toward the back porch. Her thoughts were racing to justify her actions and fibbing. She thought of trade-offs for reparation: she could come in early and volunteer to set the table for supper. Mama would like that a lot! It was just so unfair, though, to be forbidden to visit and love on those animals who were so precious to her.

 

How they perked when she whinnied and came running across the pasture with their manes and tails flying, racing to see her, was magical. How could her parents deny her this pleasure of companionship, this love? Especially since they refused to consider getting her a horse, with a flimsy explanation of why – we have no place to keep a horse. What was this boarding pasture considered, right in their own backyard? The child’s young mind rationalized her wrongdoing until she convinced herself it wasn’t wrong; it was just another instance of her mother being wrong in forbidding her interactions with the horses. That’s it.

 

However, as the little girl flapped open the squeaking screen door and walked into the kitchen, she decided to cover. “Hey, Mama, do you want me to set the table for supper?” 

 

Lying became easier for the child as the summer wore on. Her interactions with her three friends became bolder. She sometimes lifted their lips while holding their muzzles to view their grass-stained teeth, stunned at their enormity. The little girl begged her mother to buy her some whole carrots at the grocery store because she loved them. Of course, the horses loved them more. The fibs were easy as summer progressed, and the child had little, if any, guilt remaining that she hadn’t justified. 

 

On one particularly hot and steamy afternoon, the little girl and the three horses were lolling under the shade tree, she on one side of the fence, the horses on the other. She reached into a paper bag and drew out a handful of sugar. The child knew to keep her open hand flat to feed the horses treats so they couldn’t accidentally bite her hand. As she reached through the barbed wire fence to give one of the horses the first palmful of sugar, the little girl stepped closer to the fence at the same time the horse did. Her flip-flops were no protection when the horse’s hoof came down on her foot.

 

Almost as quickly as the hoof pressed down on her foot, the horse lifted it off, looking at the child as she fell to the ground and backward, contorted in a searing wave of agony before the sound came out. 

 

The child’s scream was guttural and continued for what seemed an eternity. She knew she was in real trouble even as the scream burst out. Wild-eyed, she looked at the horse. The other two had raced away, spooked by the little girl’s scream.

 

But, the palomino who had accidentally inflicted the injury stood guard over the child to ensure her safety. “It’s OK; I know you didn’t mean to,” the child sobbed and choked out her words to the horse, “but I have to get away from you before Mama comes running out. Now, GET OUT!” The bewildered horse knew that whatever the child spoke to her was serious. She stood still, looked down at the child one last time, then turned and walked away. 

 

“NESA! Where are you?” 

 

The little girl reached for a huge limb lying on the ground and called out, “I’m here, Mama, near the orchard.” She had to think fast; her mother would be there quickly. 

 

As her mother approached the child, she scooped her up to see where she was hurt. “Honey, what happened?” 

 

Through sobs and tears, the little girl’s mind was set. “That big limb fell out of the tree and hit my foot.” 

 

Needless to say, they were in the doctor’s office as fast as possible. The child sat on the exam table, still sobbing, while the doctor checked the X-ray on the lightbox. “There are no fractures. That limb must have struck the foot just right. I will wrap the foot and ankle in an Ace wrap to stabilize it while the bruising improves. After about five to seven days, it should be fine. Let me know otherwise.” 

 

The little girl’s father came into her room once they were home. Since the little girl wasn’t asleep, he asked if they could talk. Something was pulling at her heart, and her tummy felt gooey again. “Sure, but Daddy, I need to tell you something. You have to promise not to say anything to Mama, though. Promise?” The child fought tears once again as her lip began trembling. 

 

“Sweetheart, you don’t have to tell me. Your mother showed me the limb, but that’s not what hit your foot. Is it?” Tears had stopped, and she looked for any sign of anger on her father’s face as she shook her head no. “We didn’t want to get you a horse, Punkin’, because horses are a lot of daily work. I know you think you could care for a horse, but you’re a little too young to do some things a horse needs. Did you ever feel bad about fibbing to your mother?” 

 

New tears sprang up suddenly as the little girl fell into her father’s arms and sobbed her response. “But, Daddy, I didn’t really want to fib, just like I didn’t want to give up visiting with those three horses. It was special, Daddy. Besides, you and Mama said I could not have my own horse every time I asked.”

 

“Those horses are important to you, I know. I also know you could get hurt while you’re so little, just like today, Punkin’. Let’s make a compromise, O.K.? That means we’ll meet in the middle of this horse thing. Your mother and I know someone your age should avoid the responsibilities of horse ownership. But, how about if I promise you that we’ll occasionally go to Mr. Brown’s farm to let you ride his pony? Also, there’s a rodeo coming up soon. We could find someone who wouldn’t mind allowing you to ride one of their horses on a lead. How’s that?” 

 

“Daddy, do you mean you would do that for me after I’ve been such a bad girl? I would love to ride horses whenever I could. I’m so sorry I lied and hid about my three horse friends, Daddy. I wish I could take it back. Can I still have those three as friends, too?” the little girl was remorseful about lying and deceiving her parents. 

 

“That’s something else I wanted to talk with you about. I spoke with the man who owns the pasture next to us today. It seems those three horses he boarded have been sold by their owners. They were picked up today to go to their new home.” Hearing her father’s words left her in shock and disbelief. The fact that she would never see her friends again was hard to think about.  

 

In fact, a few days later, the child ran to the fence – partly out of habit and partly through wishful thinking. It was a long way to where the barn stood on the other side of the field; nevertheless, the child stood very still and kept looking at the barn, hoping to catch a glimpse of the familiar sight of her three friends. She would forever remember the times they had together, even though the last picture in her mind was of the palomino looking hurt when she had yelled at her to get out.  

 

There, by herself under that big oak tree’s shade, the child still had the picture in her mind of the majestic palomino mare; the horse’s big, brown eyes showed concern for the little girl as she writhed on the ground in pain that day. Her friend didn’t want to leave her, and the child knew the horse had stepped on her foot accidentally. She replayed yelling at the beautiful animal to get out so she wouldn’t be standing there when Mama arrived. That would have blown the child’s cover. 

 

As the little girl stood by the fence, alone, trying to will her friends to appear magically, all the memories of taking them special treats, combing their hair, patting their faces, and the other special times she shared with the three horses replayed in her mind. However, it would take a while to get the look on the palomino’s face when she yelled at her out of her mind; after all, it was the only way to get her friend to leave. 

 

As the child turned away to go back into the house, she smiled. She knew. Those memories weren’t just special times for her but for her three friends, too. The little girl’s smile suddenly grew more radiant as she thought, “And they say horses don’t have souls.” 

 

"The Locket"

by Emily Bradshaw

 

Dear Hailey,

I know that by the time you're reading this, I'm no longer able to read it to you. I'm writing this on April 6th, 2021; the doctors say I have less than six months. That's all my life seems to be now: numbers and countdowns. I'm doing my best to escape the charts and bad news and spend my time surrounded by everyone I love, especially you.

There's nothing I can write in a letter that you don't already know, except one thing. I'm already missing our girls' nights, shopping trips, late-night gossip sessions, and the best, comforting hugs. Words can't express my love for you, and I know you'll become a wonderful young woman. I'm deeply sorry that I won't be able to witness it on Earth, but I don't doubt that I won't be watching you all from above, filled with love.

Although nothing tangible can compensate for loss, I always planned to give you my locket. It is one of my most prized possessions, and I want nothing more than for you to have it. It was given to me by my mother, and it has gone through a long line of women in our family. Yes, it is real gold and valuable jewelry, but it is meant to be worn. Please cherish and enjoy it and know that I am always near.

Love,

Mom

I read the tear-stained letter once again, clutching it tight with trembling hands. My vision blurred with grief, and I wiped my hazel, tired eyes with my right hand. With a deep breath, I looked up, away from my mother's letter, and my eyes met my white dresser. Mom's gold, heart-shaped locket hung on my tree-shaped jewelry organizer, displayed in the same place for the past two years when I first read her letter. Without removing my gaze, my hands folded the letter and placed it back inside its pink envelope, faded from time and dust. Today is the day. 

I stood from my pink, ruffled bed, eyes locked on my goal. Slowly, I approached my white dresser, decorated with my favorite books and jewelry. My pale, shaky hands reached for the dangling jewelry. Stalling, I met my gaze in my round makeup mirror. Even now, I criticized the girl staring before me. I was shocked by the dark circles enveloping her hazel eyes and her limp, tired, chest-length honey-brown hair weighing her down. Her five-foot-two-inch stature didn’t leave her any room for slimming effects, causing unpleasant rolls and extra fat to be visibly displayed in any clothing piece that betrayed her, which, to her, was everyone in her closet. 

Unable to meet the horrific gaze any longer, I focused on the gold locket that hung in my room for two years. My mother wore it every day, but, unlike me, she didn't need accent pieces to distract others from her appearance. A part of me wondered how I could be biologically hers; her beautiful curly blonde hair, ocean blue eyes, and sun-kissed, clear skin caused me to be familiar with jealousy. I was weary of wearing the necklace; it would never look as good on me as it did her. The concept seemed too similar to literally wearing my grief around my neck. But it was my mother's wish, and I was not going to break our bond across the grave.

I held the heirloom in my hand, feeling its rough but polished details on the chain. Avoiding meeting the girl's gaze in the mirror, I clasped the locket around my neck. I forced myself to exhale, but I closed my eyes and sat on my bed, feeling heavy but accomplished. The relief pulled me into another state of grief, and yet again, I tried to sleep it off instead of facing my emotions.

After my restless sleep, beams of sunlight shone through my white lace curtains; it was a nice change from the recent dark, storming days. With a groan, I rose from my bed and began meandering around my pink and white-themed room. I opened my closet door to pick an outfit for the day. Nothing ever looked appealing. Frustrated, I spun around toward my dresser, hoping a pair of jeans would inspire my outfit. I caught the girl's gaze in my mirror again, but I felt myself jump out of my skin. The one staring back was not the usual tired, unappealing girl; she was beautiful. 

Wearily, I walked closer to the stained mirror, touching my face in disbelief. Subtle changes, possibly ones no one could pinpoint, transformed my appearance. My usual dark under eyes seemed bright and awake, and my typical ghost-white complexion looked like I just returned from a Florida vacation. In disbelief, I leaned closer to the mirror, rubbing it clean with my grey sweatshirt sleeve. My eyes seemed to have a slightly greener hue today, and even my hair seemed more voluminous and a tad lighter. Wondering if it was my eyes deceiving me and not my mirror, I rubbed them with the backs of my hands. I blinked rapidly when I looked back at the mirror, meeting the same beautiful girl's gaze. Suddenly, I noticed the light weight hanging around my neck, and I glanced down to see my mother's gold locket. My trembling, tan hands held the pendant in disbelief. 

"Is this why she wanted me to wear it?" I mumbled to myself while my thumb grazed the engraved floral design on the pendant. 

I glanced at the girl in the mirror once more, shocked at my discovery and feeling slightly insane due to my theory, before racing to my closet. Wanting to test the necklace, I reached for an outfit I have been too insecure to wear since its purchase: a short, bodycon, blue, ribbed dress. There was no room for imperfection in this dress. 

I slipped it on, and for the first time in years, I could not wait to see myself in the mirror. I watched in awe at my reflection. I was suddenly subtly smoothed out around the edges. Am I taller? I shook my head in awe at the beautiful girl standing before me; a wave of confidence washed over me. 

In the corner of my eye, I spotted a crumpled-up flyer in my grey waste bin. In a rush of excitement, I picked it up and straightened it out. It was for a school beauty pageant; I was given it at school yesterday and threw it away without a second thought. A smile crept up my usual saddened features, and I couldn’t help but notice how white my teeth looked now. If you had asked me a few days ago if I would enter a beauty pageant, I would have gotten on a soap box about sexism, shallowness, and patriarchy. And, while I would like to believe that speech would derive solely from the feminist part of my brain, I secretly used that excuse to shield my insecurities. There's no way I could allow myself to be ranked by my beauty or lack thereof, but now that I reflected the girl of my dreams, the other competitive part of my brain desired victory. 

I spent the following week trying on dresses at every boutique in a thirty-mile radius. Unlike my typical problem, I loved how I looked in almost every dress. Instead of being unable to find a dress I felt pretty in, I struggled to pick which dress enhanced my body the best without taking away from the dress' beauty itself. I finally decided on a cerulean blue, sparkly, floor-length gown with a slit going up my left leg. It was perfect. It hugged me in the places I felt most proud of, and I could not believe a form-fitting dress looked this amazing on me. 

I spun in my dress, wearing new three-inch stiletto silver heels. I would never have bought new heels or a dress that wasn't from a consignment store, but my new look deserved nothing but the best! I felt like a princess. It was like this dress was custom-made for me. The pageant was two days away, and I felt the itch of a win crawling under my flawless skin. I practiced my walk and poses, but my new confidence made everything easier. Suddenly, walking in heels was a breeze, and my mind no longer swarmed with the degrading thoughts that threw me off balance and caused me to hide in my shell. I knew I looked stunning in any pose I could strike.

I bought a grey floor-length mirror for my room. For the first time in my life, I smiled every time I saw my reflection. I found myself holding my gaze longer than before, admiring my beauty. I had never bought so many clothes; I couldn’t help but show myself off any chance I got. I deserved it, after all; I spent so many years hating my reflection. What was the harm in enjoying my new confidence? After all, it was a gift from my mother.

I had never received so many compliments in my life. My girlfriends noticed some of the changes, but nothing seemed unnatural. My hair looked like it had baby blonde highlights added to it, providing some dimension. My hair fell perfectly into place in any style; I finally mastered the messy bun! My skin cleared, allowing me to wear less makeup and enhance my natural beauty. My friends thought I dropped a couple of pounds, which I had, but I went on and on about a new fad diet I never tried, encouraging them all to give it a go! I recommended the most expensive skincare routine, knowing none of them could afford it so they wouldn't waste their money. No harm, no foul. Right? 

I carried myself with a new head on my shoulders. My mind was at peace, finally satisfied with my appearance. Even my nose looked straighter and had a subtle, cute button on the tip. My mom's gold locket hadn't left my neck since its first clasp, and I couldn't be more thankful for the heirloom. I swear, I looked more like my mom each day. No wonder she wore this necklace daily. 

I was so excited about my new look that the concept of money and all my future savings left my mind as fast as my insecurities. I bought anything I wanted: clothes, earrings, sunglasses, hair accessories, shoes, etc. When I stumbled across the most beautiful designer necklace online, part of me wished I could take off the gold locket. But, if taking it off meant reverting my appearance, I would gladly sacrifice my necklace accessory options for the locket. 

I spent hours practicing my walk the night before the pageant, but not because I was nervous; it was an excellent excuse to look at myself in the full-length mirror. I slept soundly that night; between my grief and anxiety quieting, nothing kept me awake anymore. 

Birds chirped outside my window as the sun rose. It was like I was a Disney princess. I slipped out of my bed in my silk pink pajamas and into my fuzzy pink slippers: both new editions to my wardrobe. My sleek black and gold alarm clock read seven in the morning. The pageant was in four hours.

I combed my fingers through my hair; bedhead was in my past. I applied my new makeup collection to my perfectly even skin tone and symmetrical features. I knew I didn’t have to apply as much as the other contestants, and my pores seemed nonexistent. My makeup looked flawless. I decided to leave my hair down to let its natural beauty shine. I frowned when I noticed my new waves were not symmetrical. I curled them to make them uniform and added hair spray. 

"There is no way I am letting my hair ruin this for me," I mumbled, frustrated as I shook the curls out. 

I slipped on my perfect gown and walked toward my mirror, ready to admire myself in all my glory, all put together for my big day. I smoothed my dress with steady, sun-kissed hands. I got a manicure the day before. My nails were a gorgeous silver to match my shoes. I splurged and paid for the acrylic services: something I had never done before. I usually painted my own at home, but I deserved to be pampered. My dress looked tailor-made, and I could not take my eyes off myself. Never in my life had I looked so breathtaking. I was going to obliterate all the other girls. 

I spun, feeling like royalty, and watched my dress sparkle from the natural light flooding my room. Wait. I realized with sudden dismay that the pageant would be under fluorescent lights. How could anyone's natural beauty shine under the filter of fake lights? I needed something else to elevate my appearance. I reached for my necklace that constantly hung around my neck. 

"Why couldn't your necklace be designer? It does nothing for my dress," I grumbled, stuck with the piece of jewelry if I had any chance at a win. 

I reached for my most expensive pair of earrings, yet another purchase I made this week to compensate for the cheap jewelry around my neck. 

I stared at myself in my mirror one last time before leaving for the pageant. With a shocking realization, I noticed that my eyes looked tired again, not my under eyes, but my actual eyes. I shuddered, disappointed that I did not look as awake as I felt before stepping out the door, clutching the locket, willing it to work harder today. I did not have any room for imperfections.

I stepped into the high school auditorium with my head held high. I looked around while the smell of bleach and Victoria's Secret perfume suffocated me. No one else here looked as beautiful as I did. My perfect smile was plastered on my face. Even if I wasn’t confident, the appearance of it made other girls envious. 

It was like a scene from a movie. Girls frantically did last-minute touch-ups and swarmed around in chaos as I sat patiently and perfectly in one of the cheap folding chairs. One girl caught my eye in the chaos. A brilliant pink, flowy dress flattered her form as she sat in a corner, reciting from handwritten note cards. 

"I've looked up to pageantry since I was a young girl. I didn't come from much, but I admired the women that walked across the stage. I was told that my dream would never be my reality, that I wasn't pretty enough to do pageants because I didn't fit the mold. Nor did I have the money to make myself fit the mold. However, I quickly learned that the beauty in pageantry is not what you see on stage but what lies behind the curtain. Therefore, my life goal is to encourage every little girl to break the mold, define their own beauty, and get out of their comfort zone! Because, at the end of the day, it doesn't matter what clothes you wear or how you style your hair. What matters is who you are as a person: your character."

My heart sank. I looked across at one of the mirrors taunting me. The girl staring at me looked perfect. She was everything I aspired to be. But, I didn't recognize her. I didn't have perfectly light, voluminous hair. My complexion wasn't even or clear. My body didn't look like this, and my skin wasn’t bronzed. My eyes traveled to the designer dress and accessories I purchased. I wasn’t the girl who frivolously spent her money without caring about saving for her future. The girl in the mirror disgusted me. How did I let her get so vain? I became so carried away with my external beauty and my supposed faults that I let my internal beauty rot. 

I glanced down at my necklace, unable to meet the strange girl’s forest-green eyes in the mirror. I shifted the gold pendant back and forth. It suddenly felt like a noose and less like freedom. I closed my eyes. I'd rather be the girl I had known to criticize than the girl this necklace made me. I spent my whole life desiring to be the epitome of society's beauty standard, but the pressure of upholding that standard was far worse than the unrealistic desire to achieve it. With shaking hands and a deep breath, I unclasped the gold locket, letting it fall into my palm. 

"One-minute warning, ladies," the director commanded into the room of anxious, beautiful young women. 

The glowing bright red exit sign was just a few feet to my right, tempting me. But, what kind of person would I be if I bailed just because I knew I wouldn't win? I didn't want to be that person. I'd rather lose.

With a deep breath, I lined up with the girls, knowing I wouldn't place. But, I was okay with that. 

"Good luck," I wished the girl in the pink dress, flashing my imperfect smile. 

I walked. I posed. I danced. I interviewed. I knew I wasn't the girl I used to be; I was much better. My confidence staggered a bit until I realized the strong community derived from pageants. I thought I was entering a world of fierce competition, but I found girls uplighting one another instead. Even though I felt uncomfortable without my necklace, this pageant was a safe space behind the scenes. The room behind the stage flooded with compliments and words of encouragement. Girls fixed each other's dresses, makeup, and hair and straightened their jewelry. I quickly realized that everyone wanted each other to feel their best: to feel pretty. 

I didn't place, but that's okay. I won something far more valuable than a judge's opinion. I won the opinion of my natural self.

I looked up at myself in the mirror, and my mind flooded with humble encouragement and happiness. My eyes were tired, but it was because I was a hard worker. My complexion was beautiful; I may not spend hours in the sun or money on self-tanner, but I was glowing from the inside out. My hazel eyes were not dull but beautiful. My hair was not limp but long, reflecting all the work I put into its care. My nose was not misshapen but unique, reflecting my heritage. My body was not an image to ridicule; it gave me life and worked hard daily. 

            I hung my mother's necklace on my jewelry tree while my heart throbbed. I wished my mother could have loved her natural beauty. How depressing and difficult it must have been to maintain her image and keep her heart flawless. The pressure was immense, and I preferred being without it. 

I thumbed a framed family picture that sat on my desk. It was taken at the beach. Our family of three stood on the cool sand while the waves broke behind us. My mother and father stood tall on either side of me, each with a hand on my shoulder. My father looked happy, with his grey hair tousled from the wind. My mother posed with her other hand on her hip, trying to hide her nonexistent stomach in her gorgeous purple bikini, popping her hip out. I stood slightly in front of them. I used to hate this picture. I thought I looked awkward in my pink polka-dot one-piece swimsuit. My hands stayed at my side, and I smiled a toothless smile. I was only six. Now, I recognized the child-like innocence and longed for those days when I did not worry about trivial things such as my physical appearance. I wish I knew how much I resembled her natural genes. My mother's locket hung beautifully around her neck, and I looked up, locking eyes with the same one on my dresser. 

I opened it for the first time and found a picture of my mother on the right and my grandmother, wearing the locket, on her left. I gently snapped the locket shut, hanging it back on the jewelry organizer. It would stay there forever, even if it was against my mother's wish. The heirloom would end with me. I would not subject my child to its consequences. Nor would I wear it again. My child would not compare herself to the filtered version of her mother. 

The locket hung in my room, reflecting the golden light pouring in from the sunset. Beautiful, but it lacked what truly matters: heart and soul. 

"Thin Skin"

by Hannah Denton

 

The air was thick and cool every time I breathed in. I was bundled up and cozy like a bunch of puppies in a tight squeeze. I had on a purple t-shirt, a white long sleeve, a fluffy purple jacket, a white scarf, and a white beanie. The brittle, brown leaves fell from the trees gracefully. When I took a step forward, a crunch could be heard under my feet. Regret began to sink in when I realized; getting my haircut into a pixie was not ideal for Autumn. 

It was around eight-thirty at night when my friends and I pulled up to these blustering woods. There was Molly, Carlisle, River, Elmer, Jack, and I, Alice Levine. It was Elmer’s idea to come here; However, I strongly encouraged it too. It took a lot of convincing, considering the bad backstory these trees have ingrained in their roots. Many people have died here or have just been frightened out. There is surveillance footage that sits right outside of this trail; it has captured many terrorized people sprinting out as well as capturing fewer people than it had from the start. 

The expressions on everyone's faces but Elmer’s and I had me wondering if this was a bad idea. Their faces embodied the word petrified. “Come on everybody, lighten up! This is going to be a beautiful night along these scenic trails. When you become afraid, just look up at the calming sky. The stars will comfort you,” I told them with a naïve tone. They bit their tongue as I began leading them into the unknown forest. 

Our flashlights lit up the whole trail; except now, we have become a huge target for anything to come and grab us. We're especially a huge target for tiny box elder bugs.  However, my friends would never allow for a no light situation. A breeze wished passed us and sent a chill down my back. My nose was red and the snot that hung around my nostrils felt like icicles. 

The birds chirped and hummed in the tree line up above us. Along the crumbly dirt ground, are little mushroom sprouts which bottom half looks like an air conditioner vent. The path ahead has rocks that coat the ground like snow; one wrong step and your ankle will be rolled. Elmer is in the front of this line that we formed, then its Carlisle, River, Molly, Jack and I. Elmer and I took the ends so we could protect the ones in the middle. Jack would beg to differ, but he is shaking, and it's not from the cold. 

We came up to a point in the trail where there were just open fields. Wheat, dried grass, and mud made up the smell of the atmosphere. Looking into a few trees and bushes Elmer halted, “Hold on guys, I think…I think I see something over there.”

“Please, you better be joking right now Elmer,” River stated with her heart probably skipping beats. But he must have not been joking; the scent of something deceased creeped around us. 

“I want to go back home,” River winced with tears forming in the corners of her eyes. 

“What’s that smell!?” Jack covered his nose with a disgusted grimace. 

“Okay guys let's just go settle down somewhere and make a campfire. That will be fun! Right, River? Makin’ yummy s'mores by the campfire!” I told them comfortingly. 

“I guess,” River spoke, looking sadly at me. 

We found a cozy little spot just off the trail to set up our campfire. It crackled and popped with an alluring orange glow. The mood had been lightened with stories of our stupid past that we would never tell anyone but each other. Carlisle finished the last bite of his s’more when I noticed chocolate all over his face. I laughed in my head and realized this is so wonderful. I love being here with my friends and wish I had made more time for it before. My head began to feel fuzzy as I looked around at the circle that we had formed. I counted,
“One, two, three, four, five, six.” Looking at each member, the reflection of the fire burned in their eyes as they laughed with their teeth showing. They didn't seem to notice. 

“What's wrong Alice?” Molly asked with a confused face. Panic surrounded my words, 

“How are there six people? My car only holds five. We only took one car!” Everyone became silent. We stared at each other with accusing scowls. Who is not real? It doesn't make sense; were all childhood friends, right? Jack stands up while pointing his finger, 

“It has to be Elmer or you! Ya’ll forced us to come here! Elmer was especially persistent.”

“Hold on now,” I say, “why on earth would I tell you about this situation if I had some ulterior motive! We can't just jump to conclusions!

“What do you have to say Elmer,” Jack turns to him viciously. 

“This is ridiculous. Y'all are being stupid. You have known me since I was seven. You and Carlisle. This is just some dumb prank; I’m leaving,” Elmer says as he packs up his belongings. He swiped the graham cracker package from Molly’s hands. The birds stopped chirping and the owls stopped hooting. The forest became silent other than the hissing of the flames. 

“Elmer wait” I pleaded, “we don't need to split up-” however, by then it was too late. Jack grabbed his arm, 

“It’s him, he is running away in fear. I won't let you hurt anybody!” Jack pulled a knife out of his pocket and stabbed Elmer in his stomach. 

“What the hell did you do!” I cried. River was in shock with her hands covering her mouth. Carlisle ran over to Elmers side to try and stop the blood. Molly was gone. Everyone was silent. The wind blew through the trees, rustling the leaves. 

“Hey guys. Come here,” the voice of what sounded like Molly whispered in the darkness. 

“We need to go right now!” I demanded to everybody, “Carlisle and Jack, grab Elmer.”        They threw each of Elmer's arms on each of their shoulders and hoisted him up as we ran. 

We stumbled over a few roots that had grown on to the path, but we kept pushing forward, trying to get Elmer to safety. Suddenly, a loud bellow came from behind me. I turned around to see Elmer at the feet of this vile creature. Its long, sharp claws were clinging onto the flesh of his leg. Its skin was pasty white and tight against its bones. You could see each divot between its rib cage. Death was permeating through the air.

Old rotten flesh dripped from its withered lips while it peeled Elmers popliteal artery out of his knee like string cheese. Elmer looked in our direction, his eyes squinting in pain and filled with tears. He then looked at his mangled leg and snot was pouring from his nose as he coughed and foamed at the mouth. He begged for the pain to stop and within a few seconds later; all five keen claws went through Elmer’s head. His face forever stuck in a look of desperation. Hyperventilating with nausea strangling my stomach, I ran and ran until I reached the car. Carlisle, River, and Jack followed behind me. We reached the car and I stumbled for the keys. However, we made it just in time. While driving off and looking in the rearview mirror, it was on all fours with its head crooked slightly. Its hollow black eyes stared at me menacingly as the dirt and rocks grumbled underneath the tires.  

Non-Fiction

"Lost in Translation: The Unseen Walls of Harbin Clinic"

by Debany Rosillo-Olmedo

 

As I drove down Berry Rd in Rome, GA, Harbin Clinic caught my attention at first sight with its seemingly inviting setting. It was an oasis for those seeking immediate care with everyday health concerns like colds. Although hidden behind their peaceful-looking appearance, I discovered a flaw that lay within.

The first time I entered the clinic, I viewed it as a place where anyone can feel safe, from the arrangement of chairs, soft songs in the background, and off-white walls. However, during my second visit, I entered the building from an outsider's perspective (a non-English speaker). I immediately realized that the same artifacts made me uncomfortable. The white walls, first seeming neutral, radiate a feeling of sterility. The seating and music were no longer a symbol of peace but brought a feeling of unease.

The difference between my primary experience and my previous one is significant since it brought to my attention how the clinic is not an oasis for all. It led me to think about how the English language still dominates many areas- in this case, the clinic.  

Upon my first visit, what struck me was the aura of tranquility radiating the clinic. The clinic had paid vast attention to detail with various artifacts. The first one is the soft melodies in the background. The melodies were like your classical piano music, used for studying or relaxation; think Beethoven and Mozart. The off-white walls, while commonly seeming clinical, brought out the warmth within the waiting area. It gave it a feeling that made me feel at home and looked the same as everyone else.

The clinic is committed to patients feeling at ease in their setting and knowing where to go, as shown by the multiple directional signs, labeled department sections, and informational boards. As I entered the clinic, the receptionist area was right in front of me. It was curved, with the outward part extending to the waiting room. The administrative work in the clinic was almost palpable since, beyond the melodies of music, there were sounds of mouse clicks, printer hums, and pens scratching on paper.  

It was obvious that work was being done for the patients. The work being done was done by the clinic staff, who seemed to thoroughly enjoy every second of their jobs, as shown by the huge smiles and laughs they carried. Another aspect that made me feel at ease at the clinic was the seat arrangement. The way the seats were arranged beside each other made me feel like the healing began just as someone sat down and before they entered the examination room. The clinic's personal touch was also shown everywhere, from the fall-themed decorations to the picture frame near the receptionist area.  

These aspects bring even more to the idea that the clinic gave a peaceful essence. The patients kept looking towards the picture frame while writing their intake forms. This led me to believe the picture frame, depicted with a serene river in front of a landscape of trees like the ones seen when driving by the interstate, was like a focal point of tranquility to these patients. The clinic ensured that every crevice of their waiting room allowed their patients to feel at home.  

Analyzing my first visit, I quickly realized that I had no point and, therefore, I needed to figure out what to look for next. It was not until the discussion that we had in literature that my vision widened. It came to me that I am looking not to describe the aspects themselves but to look even deeper; this is when I recalled how I saw no language inclusivity. So, I decided to revisit Harbin Clinic, yet this time, I experienced it from a different perspective: the perspective of an outsider (a person who is unfamiliar with English). The change was both immediate and even unsettling. The walls, which I previously described as inviting, now evoke a sense of isolation and sterility, like they were closing in on me. The music, instead of soothing, made me go through a feeling of alienation. 

"No soy como los demas aqui" (I am not like the others here), I thought. What irritated me most was the intake forms. There was no translation, and the words were all in English. The people around me felt at ease, but I did not feel like I belonged here. According to "Implications of Language Barriers of Healthcare: A Systematic View," "Language barriers contribute to reducing both patient and medical provider satisfaction, as well as communication between medical providers and patients" (Al Shamsi et al.). The discomfort felt when visiting a clinic is increased when patients cannot successfully communicate with their providers; it can lead to internal stress, causing them to feel out of place within their community like I felt coming in as an outsider.  

Walking into the clinic, I repeated the same aspect and headed straight to the oval-shaped receptionist's desk; walking there felt like you get when you must walk by a group of people who do not like you. I stood there and heard words coming out of the receptionist when they handed me a paper to fill out, yet it was all incomprehensible; therefore, I sat down. I sat beside a woman and her daughter, who quickly filled out their intake forms. It led me to see that the paper the women gave me was for me to fill out, so I looked down at it and around the room.  

The seats, which once seemed to unite everyone, now seem like they united everyone but me. I was an outsider in a place, whereas an insider, I felt at ease. These intake forms now became the critical point of what made me feel unsettled with the others. Presented only in English, these documents, which once blended into the background, now reminisce the divide between English speakers and non-English speakers- especially in spaces dedicated to healing and wellbeing.  

The comparison of the two visits allowed me to see the view of the dominance of the English language and its unintentional implication on access. It became clear that language was spotlighted even in a space designed to offer inclusivity. As an article published by the team Better Help states, "By addressing the inequalities facing disadvantaged groups today, we can work toward creating system-wide changes that may last for generations" (Foster and Better Help Editorial Team). In this instance, the disadvantaged group refers to the non-English speakers in our generation.

Although America has many ethnicities, we only focus on one language. As the Better Help team insinuates, if language inclusivity is addressed, we could work towards having a more promising healthcare field in the future. Beyond just these factors, psychological well-being is affected significantly. The psychological part was shown in my second visit when I felt distressed.

Navigating the facility brought up my anxiety only with the solemn aspect of language. I am not just implicating the absence of translation, if not the human right to access quality healthcare without feeling isolated.  

Harbin Clinic strives for their patients to feel at ease in their environment and exceeds to an extent. My experiences in the clinic show what goes unnoticed- the domination of the English language, even in places of healing. As healthcare keeps getting bigger, there is a big need for a change in their accessibility to people. To be truly accessible, they must go past the factors of physicality and consider linguistic factors. For clinics like Harbin and other healthcare facilities, the path to true inclusivity is still yet to be in our world.  

Works Cited 

Al Shamsi, Hilal, et al. “Implications of Language Barriers for Healthcare: A Systematic Review.” Oman Medical Journal, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 30 Apr. 2020, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7201401/.  

 

“Social Exclusion Impact on Mental Health.” Edited by Karen Foster and BetterHelp Team BetterHelp Editorial Team, BetterHelp, 5 Sept. 2023,  www.betterhelp.com/advice/inclusive-mental-health/social-exclusion-impact-on-mental-health/.  

"My Dad's Laugh"

by Gregory Ogles

 

My dad has a loud, obnoxious laugh that I was ashamed of for a long time. Growing up in the theater, I was always embarrassed when my dad would watch me perform. I wasn't worried about doing badly or messing up, but I was worried that my dad would laugh and everybody in the audience would hear it. The show's end was the worst part because he had to cheer the loudest during bows, letting everybody around him know whose dad he was. This embarrassment would follow me until I graduated high school. 

 

I got into theater during my first year of high school. I was already playing football at the time, and it came to where I had to choose which I liked more because of conflicting schedules. My dad had always wanted a robust and athletic son, and I wanted to sing and charm ladies. I talked to my dad about how I felt one day, and he told me that he would support me no matter what as long as I was happy and gave my all to what I chose. I chose to perform in the school's spring musical.  

 

I remember when my dad's laughter was the worst. My high school produced the musical version of Grease, which is set in the late 50's and is an overemphasized version of teenage life back then. I played the role of Kenickie Murdoch, who is supposed to be a hardened greaser sporting aviators and leather jackets with the "T-Bird" logo on the back and a cigarette hanging out of his mouth.

 

Every time I would deliver a line, my dad would react, whether it was an "Ooooo" or an "Ahhhh" or a roaring, echoing laugh. Sometimes, it would pull me out of the scene, and I would just be my embarrassed self, not a cold greaser, and everyone could tell. I felt utterly humiliated, but I didn't want to hurt my dad's feelings because he just wanted to support his boy, so I never told him. 

 

One day, in the summer after high school, I went to a production of A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder with my friend Dylan. A Gentleman's Guide is a comedic musical story set in London in 1907. It revolves around Monty Navarro, a penniless clerk who discovers that he is 9th in line to inherit the earldom of Highhurst, which the wealthy D'Ysquith banking family controls.

 

Monty decides to eliminate the other seven heirs standing in his way, all played by one incredible actor. The musical explores how far Monty is willing to go to make it to the top. We were in this huge theater, watching a musical I had never seen before, and it was a very talented and professional group of performers. One of the performers said a funny line, but I was the only one who laughed. It was a loud, obnoxious laugh, just like the one I had heard from the audience growing up.

 

However, something felt different, like there was a new part of me I was just now discovering. I wasn't embarrassed because I realized I shouldn't be ashamed of enjoying something. Without even trying, my dad taught me an important life lesson that I hadn't learned until that moment. It isn't embarrassing to laugh the loudest in the room or to cheer the loudest for the people you love. The lesson I want to leave with my kids is never to be afraid to laugh the loudest in a room because happiness and laughter are nothing to be ashamed of. 

Song

"I Love You"

by Christiana

 

 

Verse 1 

It was you and me from the beginning.

Thought it would always be this way… 

Fast forward a few years later.

Still around but as just friends,

I guess it was all just pretend.

Where did all those I love you’s go?

And why do you act like it never was said? 

 

Chorus

You used to say “I love you,” and everyone stopped to listen.

I knew that you meant every word you said.

You used to say “I miss you,” and my whole world fell in place.

Because your arms were my home.

Now I have no where to go.

Yeah it may not seem like a big change,

oh but if you only knew.

He used to say “I love you.” 

 

Verse 2

My heart still skips a beat.

Thinking about all of our memories,

you and me.

Used to feel like the only girl in the world.

Now I just feel so incomplete.

Without my missing puzzle piece.

Now I’m not trying to go back in time.

Just don’t tell me that I’m losing my mind. 

 

Chorus

You used to say “I love you,” and everyone stopped to listen.

I knew that you meant every word you said. Y

ou used to say “I miss you,” and my whole world fell in place.

Because your arms were my home.

Now I have no where to go.

Yeah it may not seem like a big change,

oh but if you only knew.

He used to say 

 

Bridge 

You’re the one that matters to me.

 I’d be yours forever truly.

Now I’m on the outside looking in.

Someone tell me what to do with all these promises 

 

Chorus 2

You used to say “I love you,” and everyone stopped to listen.

I knew that you meant every word you said.

And BABY “I miss you,” and my whole world is out of place.

Because your arms were my home.

Now I have no where to go.

Yeah it may not seem like a big change,

oh but if you only knew.

He used to say I love you 

Visuals

"DSC at Dawn" by Casey Scott

 

 

 

"Chase" by Dakota Hudson

 

 

 

"Butterfly wings" by Riley Yates

 

 

 

 

"TransformHer" by Nancy Espinoza 

 

 

 

"La Niñez" by Ivana Hernandez

 

 

 

 

Porto, Portugal" by Nataly Moreno

 

 

 

"Horns" by Kaytlin McNeil

 

 

 

 

"Bridge in the Forest" by Sierra Johnson

 

 

 

 

"Scrambled" by Genesis Doe 

 

 

 

"Light in Forest Fade" by Davis Crump

 

 

 

"King of the Jungle" by Jennifer Castro Cardero

 

 

 

"Flowers" by Sierra Johnson

 

 

 

"Bossu" by Nancy Espinoza

 

 

 

"Dinosaur Meteor" by Dakota Hudson

 

 

 

"Bo Burnam" by Helena Goad

 

 

 

"Stitch the Harvest" by Gracie Schreckenbach

 

 

 

"A Midnight Prance" by Joshua Cruz

 

 

 

"Confined" by Nora Miranda 

 

 

"Stoic" by Helena Goad

 

 

 

"Heart" by Kaytlin McNeil

 

 

 

"Peeling Bark" by Sierra Johnson

 

 

 

"Watercolor House" by Helena Goad

 

 

 

"Peace in the Body" by Courtney Parker