"Pair Poems" by Mary Castillo
"Set Out" by Dusty Jones
"Through the Eyes of Phillis" by Cynthia Castro
"What Makes the Garden Grow?" by Cash Robinson (Fall 2018 Scary Story Contest Winner)
"Cynophobia" by Autumn Hamilton (Fall 2018 Scary Story Contest Runner-Up)
"Rodentia Farms" by Will Martin (Fall 2018 Scary Story Contest Runner-Up)
"Happy Birthday" by Madi Perry
"Immortals" by Noah Van Fleet
"Ambush" by Jim Hensley
"My Literacy Journey" by Cynthia Rosa
"Multicultural Education" by Frances Santiago
"Perceiving Education in America" by Zachell Sierra
Pale faced demons.
Once pale faced wonder.
They come like buffalo herds,
Carried by the waters.
They came with summons.
They wanted us to cower.
They wanted us to change.
They came with power.
Our lands were taken.
Our homes were destroyed
With fire and sticks that sounds like thunder.
So much power.
Our men were murdered.
Our women were taken.
Our people infected by sickness of the pale faced demons.
Red flowed through our waters.
Pale faced demons.
Once pale faced wonder.
They came like buffalo herds,
Making red flow through our waters.
This land of beauty,
New and wild!
Ready to be explored and conquered.
The waters fresh and bright!
These savages have no Godly sight!
Copper skin showing in the light.
They dance and sing wild songs,
And worship these idle Gods.
We must stand ready against these savages.
They must understand !
They need morals and laws!
We must be their light and bring them to God.
We must settle their land,
Give them new Godly names!
We must take them in and scorn their ways.
Through force if needed to mend their ways.
This new land now ours to hold.
No longer unsafe and wild.
These water no longer clear,
But stained with red with sacrifice. I’m
A tyrannical force
Forcing the hand
Abandoning what they know
To find a new homeland
A place to be free
A place, their home
No oppression to bind
Only hope for the road
“Through the eyes of Phillis”
Imagine living in a world where only one thing matters,
Where the one thing that matters is out of your control
Where a single trait defines you,
And it defines not only who you are but what you are.
It makes first impressions for you
It dictates the kind of life that you will live.
Before you ever took your first breath,
Before you even had the chance to make sense of it,
It has taken over your entire world.
This characteristic blinds all.
Your intellect and charm is of no importance
You are of little value to the world
When others look at you all they see is color,
All they see is this dark pigmentation that embraces your body.
Of color is what you are.
And that is all you will ever be.
"What Makes the Garden Grow?"
I reckon the only place my Pa spent more time than at his job at the county morgue was in his garden. He grew it all in that patch out back. Tomatoes, turnips, peas, squash, three kinds of beans, plus all kinds of berries and herbs. I suspect he could have fed the whole town just out of his little garden himself. He grew so much that people would stop by our house every Sunday just to get themselves a basket of our homegrown produce. We always had more than enough for ourselves and I'd like to think I took pride in the fact that my family ate food grown by my dad all while I was growing up. I remember asking him, "What makes the garden grow, Pa?" And he'd always say, "If I tell you, son, the garden won’t grow no more."
Pa never liked anyone but him to work in that garden, though. In fact, sometimes he didn’t even want us outside when he was working in it. He'd be out in the vegetable patch at such awful times of night or early in the morning before anyone of us were even thinking about being awake. I always wanted to help him. To tell you the truth, I felt a little sorry for him tending that whole garden just by himself. He never complained about it, though. He’d usually wake up real early to head on over to the morgue to get his work done so he could come home and garden (at least, that’s what I figured). Sometimes, he would come home real late in his truck with the bed covered. He said it was to keep all the fertilizer he had bought from blowing all over the place. He would head straight to the garden without even coming inside first. If any of us was outside, he’d say “Get on inside now while I garden.” and we’d head inside to let him work. My Ma, brothers, sisters, and sometimes even our dogs (before they must have ran off somewhere) would all have to drop anything to give him some space out there. I never really questioned it much, considering I, too, like to be alone when I’m working on something.
Some people felt my Pa’s garden was magic for our little community. It seemed like as long as everyone was eating from Pa’s garden, everything else got better. For starters, we hardly
never had any homeless folks. In fact, not even just folks, but no stray dogs or cats neither. I reckon it was even making people live longer on account of the fact that our cemetery was hardly ever used. It seemed like Pa was keeping people in their best health with just his green thumb.
I often joked with Pa asking him how stayed in business if his garden was keeping all the folks from dying, but I guess that’s just the kinda guy he was.
I’m recollecting all this to tell you that, earlier today, my Pa went to be with Ma and the Lord. I moved away some time ago, just like my siblings, but of course after hearing about his illness I had to get home. It’s rather sad to say, but I was the only one with him when he finally passed (my siblings all couldn’t make it home). I think he found some comfort with me there, though. Up until then, I hadn’t seen the place in what must’ve been ten years, but it was just about exactly as I remembered it. All except for the garden out back, which I retired to so I could collect my thoughts once I felt my Pa had breathed his last. The garden had just about withered completely away. It’s mighty hard for an old guy to get out and break his back like a garden requires, so I don’t really blame him for letting it go. Any how, seeing that little plot so run-down and shriveled made my heart hurt a little bit. I knew that, if he were able, Pa’d want his garden to live on in his memory. I never knew much about gardening, on account of me not being allowed to help him out, but I knew one thing: bad dirt has got to be replaced, so I got Pa’s old shovel from the shed and went to work digging that garden up.
It was easy to dig at first. The top soil was so stripped of anything good it just kinda blew away. I kept on digging past the little bit of soil on top and suddenly hit a layer of rich, black dirt. Now this, I said, is good gardening dirt. I figured I could dig some of it out to help get the topsoil started back, so I kept on shoveling that black dirt out as best as I could. It wasn’t long, however, until I dug up something a little out of the ordinary. I dug up what looked like a little dog’s skull. Whose dog I can’t rightly say (it wasn’t wearing a collar) but it was of canine descent, that much
I was certain of. It didn’t stop there, however. I kept on digging and the animal skulls just kept coming up. A dog one here, two cat skulls there, even something that looked like a possum of all things came up out of that dirt.
I kept on digging when I struck something which I thought at first must’ve been part of the spine of one of these animals that were buried here. However, after picking it up to inspect it, it started to look more and more to me like a human fingerbone. That’s odd, I thought, what is this finger doing here in my Pa’s garden? I kept on shoveling a little further and found the hand which this finger belonged to. Then the arm, then the shoulder bones. I reckon most people would have called the cops at this point. I can’t exactly say why but I had a morbid curiosity to just keep digging. It wasn’t long until I found the person to whom these stray bones belonged. I had figured before that holding a human skull would be a lot different than it really was. It was just sorta there, plucked from the dirt like a turnip. Now, just one would have been enough to make me tell you all this. But there weren’t just one. I kept on digging that hole (it must’ve been more than ten feet wide and four feet deep at this point) and these skeletons kept popping up left and right. I must’ve found dozens of people down there by the end of it. I knew in the back of my mind the whole time I was digging what this meant about Pa and his garden. I understand now why he didn’t think he could share the secret to his garden when I was growing up. I’m sure handling it better than I imagine he thought I would. I looked back at the house, where my Pa’s earthly form was laying still inside. Then, it all made sense to me. Pa might be gone, but he can still make the garden grow.
Grandma had cynophobia. She cringed away from the friendliest of dogs, even if they were the size of a house shoe and approached with a tail that was consumed by excited wagging. Grandpa always told me she was scared because a large mutt tackled her to the ground when she was a toddler, but Grandma would huff in response and recount the “real” reason she was horrified of canines of all breeds. She would lean back in her rocking chair, light her pipe, and cut her pale brown eyes towards the nearby forest as she prepared to speak. It was always the same story, the same routine, down to the day she died.
Grandma was walking home from her job at a nearby mill. She had just turned seventeen and was working long hours in order to earn enough money to buy a decent wedding dress. She was exhausted from her ten hour shift, and a three mile walk home awaited her. The sun was sinking below Grassy Mountain, and it wasn’t safe for a young girl to be on a dirt road at night. So Grandma picked up her weary pace, and had reached the edge of a dilapidated graveyard when the sun’s feeble light glimmered across the treetops and, with a final flicker, vanished.
“An’ that’s when I see’d the dawg.” Grandma’s words would always be accompanied by a hazy film over her eyes, as if she had been transported back to that fateful night in 1942 and was reliving it all again. She’d clear her throat, and the tale would continue.
Grandma said the dog appeared out of nowhere, standing tall and shapeless in the shadow of a crooked elm tree, as if it was suddenly whelped from the union of fog and darkness that played beneath its branches. She would say it was just like an angry, roiling storm cloud placed atop of the long, sharp legs of a dog. It put the night to shame, she would claim, because its
blackness seemed to seep into the atmosphere surrounding it. A pair of glowing red eyes stared her down as she attempted to pass the gates of the cemetery, and Grandma swore that she didn’t even glance in its direction.
“That’s the best way to deal with those things. Don’t pay ‘em no mind an’ they’ll go on.” She’d confide, sometimes refilling her pipe with bitter tobacco, “‘Cept that dawg. That just made ‘em mad.”
She heard the frantic padding of pointed paws on the earth and knew she was being chased without having to look back. It chased her to the door of her house, snapping at her heels as she kicked up clods of dirt in its face, low growls ripping from its shadowy neck and past a muzzle packed with crooked teeth. Grandma promised that it didn’t even breathe, but simply chased her in a mocking pursuit, as if her mortality was an amusing toy that it would rip to shred with jagged teeth once it had grown weary of it. Grandma swore that the hellhound outlined her destiny with each footfall as it clattered across the creaking pine wood of her front porch, and in its frustrated howls she heard her own death knell. She knew it would tear at her ankles as it chased her to her grave. It prowled the front porch until daybreak, and then disappeared with the sunrise in a haze of black mist.
` Grandma told this story to myself, and when Jenny was old enough to understand, she heard it, too. I feared that Grandma would instill her fear of dogs into my daughter, but on the eve of her fifth birthday, she toddled up to my wife and unabashedly asked for a “puppy doggie”.
We picked up Carter at a local animal shelter. He was far from a puppy, but he certainly wasn’t graying around the muzzle either. He was a mixture of chocolate Labrador and something furry, gangly, and smelly. His tail was in a constant state of motion, his eyes were a clear brown,
and he loved Jenny as much as any dog had ever loved a child. When he was welcomed into our home, it was under the assumption that he would remain outdoors a majority of the time.
Carter lived outside for less than two hours. My daughter’s begging combined with my wife’s hints ushered Carter into the house before he could finish exploring the spacious backyard, and he spent the first night of his new life curled at the end of Jenny’s bed.
The pair became inseparable. Jenny would spend most of her day in the yard, all electronic devices abandoned in the living room, her pudgy fingers buried in Carter’s curled fur as the pair examined anthills and dug in flowerbeds. Jenny taught Carter how to fetch and roll over, and Carter taught Jenny how to roll in mud puddles and open the sliding glass door to the patio without touching the handle. The best friends patrolled the border of the nearby woodlands, Carter’s nose held fast to the dirt as he led the way to paw prints and the feces left by the inhabitants of the forest. Jenny would follow close behind, taking pictures of interesting plants and animals and dragging Carter away from all the carcasses he attempted to roll on.
The days stretched into weeks, which melted into months, and cascaded into years. Jenny was eleven, and Carter was fast approaching twelve. The tip of his brown ears were beginning to gray, and his tail wagged less often and slower. Carter remained a loyal friend, however. He’d pull himself from his bed every day before Jenny returned home just to greet her at the door, and he still forced his old bones to work long enough to chase Jenny across the yard. He napped often. Walks didn’t appeal to him anymore, and his toys laid abandoned in the corner of Jenny’s room. He was old, but he was certainly not beaten. He proved that to us on the one year anniversary of Grandma’s death.
Grandma always said that the dog never truly left her. She swore that something like that, something that otherworldly, dark, and filled with hatred didn’t just leave. It clung to its host like the sticky fog it was born from, as looming and omnipresent as the darkness that had sired it. It tormented her for fifty-two years, forcing her into the safety of artificial lighting before sundown, and when she died, it had nowhere to go. So exactly one year after Grandma was found dead from an assumed cardiac arrest, the dog found us. And our dog, our sweet Carter, found it.
I wasn’t at home when it happened. I was out picking up a pizza for my wife and daughter, but I have no reason to doubt their story. Jenny and my wife were on the couch enjoying a horror movie. Carter laid beside them, his bushy head cradled in Jenny’s lap. Carter began wagging his tail and whining and Jenny, recognizing that he needed to make a trip outside, left the couch and led him to the sliding glass door.
It was just past sunset, but the outdoors were already cloaked in darkness. Jenny couldn’t see far beyond the glass door, and the patio light hadn’t worked in a few years. She readied a flashlight and prepared to slide the door aside, but Carter began barking frantically. Jenny was immediately suspicious. Carter never barked. The dog whimpered and howled until Jenny removed her hand from the glass. Carter wagged his tail anxiously, his brown eyes locked on the darkness behind the door.
A pair of pointed paws clacked onto the glass. Jenny, in the grips of fascinated horror, counted seven gnarled toes on each foot. Carter rioted, tossing his head back and baying at the figure, his eyes rolling in his head. Jenny was shocked and called out for her mother. My wife entered the room just as the glass door began sliding along its track.
Jenny and my wife could barely make out the fogged, smeared figure of a dog raised on its hind legs. It was darker than the night, with eyes that glowed like hot embers choked in the cloying embrace of ash. It pushed the glass with the conviction of a man and my wife and child, horror-stricken and paralyzed, could do little more than stare and shiver. Carter, however, clawed and whined at the encroaching crack of the door. His hackles were raised and the growls rumbled from his throat as if they were exorcised. Foam dribbled from his mouth as he chomped at the metal latch of the door, as if attempting to help the abomination on the other side open the thin pane of glass that protected his family from harm. The dog on the other side was silent, the only indication of its presence being the seven-digited paws that pressed against the glass and the slow, whispering slide of the patio door.
Carter wriggled his way through the gap of the door he had helped to widen, his booming bark possessing the night. The paws stopped their slow crawl across the glass and snapped away. Carter swept past the glass and sunk his teeth into the approximate location of the misted dog’s nape. A hard, keening screech split the night as the creature rounded on the Labrador mix, its red eyes flashing. Carter refused to release the beast, his growls mingling with the fervent yowling of the intruder as a substance as thick and dark as tar poured from beneath his muzzle. The cloudy mass twisted out of Carter’s grasp. The figure seemed to latch over Carter’s rump and consume him in dark, spiraling tendrils that burrowed beneath his brunette fur. Rivulets of blood slithered down the elderly mutt’s legs and pattered onto the deck, blood and tar congealing in dark pools on the slatted wood beneath. Carter yipped in fear and sped across the yard, disappearing amongst the fog that cradled the trunks of the forest, the creature of shadows still clinging to his flanks and climbing further along his flesh.
Jenny slammed the glass door back into place and collapsed to the floor. My wife dialed emergency services and then myself, but by the time either of us reached the house Carter and the creature were long gone. The police halfheartedly scanned the woods, but all they found was the bloody evidence of a skirmish and deep, ragged claw marks in the dirt. The incident was chocked up to a coyote attack.
Jenny refuses to believe that Carter is gone. She walks the edge of the woods constantly, a camera primed in her palm, ready to snap a picture at even the smallest of provocation. Sometimes, when she doesn’t believe anyone is listening, I hear her call out for her lost dog, her voice always heavy with hopelessness and choked with sobs. Carter never returns.
Jenny sometimes shows me her pictures, when she is feeling particularly lonely. It is always of the same things: fat birds perched on branches, little flowers cuddled close to the earth, squirrels with their mouths stuffed with food. Beautiful pictures, but nothing extraordinary.
She and I both refuse to acknowledge the glowing eyes that peek from the shadowy undergrowth of bushes, and the dark, misty tendrils that seem to move ever-closer with each shot.
Friday, Nov. 22, 1974
“One might argue this winter will be the coldest we`ve had here at Rodentia Farms in twenty five years,” the old man stated. A gentle beam of morning sunlight shone through the bedroom window on the man`s snowcapped head, an image mirrored in the farm`s delicate landscape.
The beginning days of the season had indeed proved to be harsh but little could phase Mr. White recently. He found when coping with some great tragedy the only cure for sorrow was a positive attitude. “The crops are doing surprising well battling the cold. I have high hopes for the coming harvest.” Again the old man hoped for a response where he knew there was none. The worn feather pillow regarded Mr. White with as much notice as a cornstalk gives to the blowing wind. How an inanimate object could hold such power over a person without having a conscience, amazed Mr. White. This pillow had once been home to late Mrs. White’s head. Sometimes it was hard to only think about their joyful moments, when despite all attempts of being positive, the all too familiar feeling of loneliness corrupted his memories.
The widower was awoken from his deep thought when the sacred pillow caught the first of his tears. Looking around to regather himself, the snowcapped man noticed Mrs. Honey standing in the doorway. She paid little attention to his crying and proceeded pruning her ginger hair. Mr. White slowly got to his feet and approached Mrs. Honey. In one labored motion he swept her off her feet and held her protectively in his arms. “You look a fine lady this morning,” Mr. White said playfully. When his children moved away to start their own lives away from the farm, they didn’t take Mrs. Honey with them. In need of companionship, Mr. White gladly agreed to care for the cat. At times he realized how happy he was to have her. He could see himself in her, aging and left behind.
The old man rarely stayed in their bed anymore. His body had begun deteriorating and the strenuous walk up his narrow stairway to the master bedroom wasn’t worth the pain it caused him. He now seldom left the living room where he slept in the recliner by the fireplace. Each day seemed to flow into the next, and the only thing that kept him from losing track of the calendar was his weekly newspaper that arrived every Monday morning at eleven o’clock like clockwork.
This morning was special. Exactly one year ago today, Mrs. White moved on to her eternal home, and in precisely two weeks it would be their anniversary. It scared him to think of the possibility he could forget his own anniversary as a result of his perpetual loneliness.
Monday, Nov. 25
As per usual, the weekly newspaper arrived at eleven o’clock sharp and Mr. White sat in his recliner in the living room. Mrs. Honey toyed with a ball of yarn in front of the fireplace as the old man read aloud. “Hank Aaron passes Babe Ruth`s record.” Apparently it was a good year in the world of baseball. The old man didn’t keep up with modern times. He preferred a more old-fashioned lifestyle and didn’t own a television. “Tornado super outbreak! Twisters wreaked havoc!” Despite the sudden burst in the old man’s soothing voice, Mrs. Honey continued to play with her ball completely uninterested in what her owner had to say.
Skimming through the usual political nonsense one article caught the widower`s eye.
Laboratory Animal Ethics Revisited After Controversial Experiment
Th. 21, 1974
This Thursday Mar-tech Labs conducted a horrifying experiment on captive lab rats in order to study agnostic behavior in rats. This gruesome experiment tested levels of aggression after severe starvation. Twelve lab rats were locked in a glass box and left without food. After day one hierarchies began appearing. In every trial of the experiment a singular rat assumed the rule of alpha. After day three, aggression between lab rats escalated until the alpha rat attacked and killed the weakest of the pack. The alpha consumed the corpse, and soon after the other rats followed suit. Following their leader`s example, they started a feeding frenzy on one another. The alpha was the only survivor after the massacre. Chief scientist, Byron Jacobo made the conclusion, “Species of Rattus are prone to cannibalism when faced with starvation.” Several animal rights groups have prosecuted Mar-tech for unethical treatment of animals.
Growing up on a farm, Mr. White was familiar with the filth of rats. Unfortunately they had always been a problem for the old man. Rats are exceptional at hiding. Their nests could be in the
floorboards beneath your feet without you being the wiser. The old man had a specific hatred for rats. They spread dysentery. Mrs. White had mysteriously contracted dysentery a few weeks before her death. By the time the old man had been able to help his wife out of bed and drive her to a doctor, it was already too late. She died overnight in the hospital.
Mrs. Honey startled him by slinking behind his legs. She lowered herself down to be in complete cover and swayed her tail slightly. The old man searched for what the cat could’ve possibly seen. It was just the two of them alone by the fireplace. In a streak of orange lightning, Mrs. Honey darted after her prey. She ran out of sight and disappeared into the music room. A jarring dissonance was played as Mrs. Honey leaped onto the antique grand piano. Soon after, the snowcapped man heard a loud purr of accomplishment and he knew that Mrs. Honey had caught her prey. As if a reindeer, Mrs. Honey pranced back into the living room with astounding hubris to show her master what she had caught. In her mouth lay a bloody, bloated rat.
Monday Evening, Nov. 25
With calculated placement, Mr. White laid down his last trap. The square of cheese balanced precariously on the pressure plate. With this, the entire ground floor of the venerable farmhouse was equipped with rat traps.
After marveling at his work, the old man gently laid back in his recliner to settle for the night. He kept his eye on the only trap in sight. It waited silently in the far corner of the room opposite the fireplace.
A thin layer of dust covered every surface in the home. In his solitude, the dust provided a small sense of security to Mr. White. Inside the dust lay a secret message: what books were read in the library, which cupboard yielded food for supper, and what unseen routes the rats of Rodentia farms traveled.
Mrs. Honey laid curled at his feet in front of the fire. The air was brisk this evening and Mr. White bundled himself in his sleeping gown for warmth. Despite the cold, the room was quite peaceful. Through heavy eyes the old man watched as glowing light danced across the walls. In the complete stillness, the soft flicker of flames and the occasional creak of the decrepit house was all that could be heard. Mr. White, on the brink of sweet dreams, was rudely interrupted
by a loud snap. The old man turned his head slightly to listen. After a few additional seconds of silence, the origin of the noise dawned on the snowcapped man. Curiosity got the better of him, and Mr. White crept into the neighboring room where the noise was made, careful not to make any sound liable to alert his impending prey.
With a candle in hand, Mr. White investigated. When he reached the doorway of the study, the small flame revealed a distinct trail of rat footprints. Upon reaching his destination, the old man was faced with a riddle. The triggered device contained neither mouse nor cheese. It was possible a rat could steal the cheese square from the trap quickly enough to escape but it was highly unlikely. Mr. White pondered how a rat could accomplish this feat when a most disturbing clue was unveiled. No footprints lay around the trap.
Suddenly a loud hiss erupted from the living room. “Mrs. Honey has got my rat!” Mr. White thought to himself thankfully. Eager to end this escapade, the old man hurried towards the living room and was frozen in place when a shrill, terrible hiss responded to Mrs. Honey. This time the old man could feel his heart pounding in his chest making it impossible to stay calm. With a candle as his only protection, Mr. White called out into the darkness, “Leave us be! Get out of here, get!” Nothing. Only the sound of the dying fire. Cautiously Mr. White stepped into the doorway of the living room. All was as it should be. The firelight exhibited no signs of struggle, no signs of the mysterious creature anywhere. Then from the top of the china cabinet the old man noticed in horror two great reflective eyes staring straight through him. The candle threatened to blow out as he trembled in terror. The eyes did not move. They stayed fixed on the old man. In a silent pounce, the monster revealed itself. Out of the night appeared Mrs. Honey.
Monday, Dec. 2
Still shaken from the silly events of last week, Mr. White continued to lay traps each night in hopes of resolving his rat problem. Each night the rats continued to elude him. Every morning of the past week, the old man made the same disappointing discovery. The traps were triggered, but neither rat nor cheese could be found. The vermin had proven to be truly deviant foes.
It was midday and Mr. White sat in the piano room expecting the weekly newspaper. Large windows made the small dirt road leading to
the farm visible. A barely audible scratching noise emerged from the instrument. Carefully lifting the lid, the old man saw a rat scuttling beneath the plethora of strings. Excrement covered the gut work of the piano. Disgusted by his discovery, he quickly retrieved paper towels from the bathroom and called Mrs. Honey. Irritation was quickly replaced by excitement when the cat noticed her treat. Mrs. Honey wasted no time and swiftly subdued her prey. In one monstrous gulp, the rat was gone.
After thoroughly cleaning the insides of the piano, Mr. White formulated a new plan for dealing with his infestation. He entered the kitchen and began sealing his cupboards. The kitchen held the only food source in the house. If he could protect the food, perhaps he could starve his pests. “This ought to be just what we need to solve our rat problem.” The old man tapped the newly installed locks. “This way there`s no chance of any rodents weaseling their way into our food.” Mrs. Honey did not seem particularly happy about the new food policy. Most likely because it meant there would be no more free snacks roaming around the home.
The old man chuckled to himself and his gaze landed on the floor behind Mrs. Honey. His amusement died away when he recognized a shape drawn out in the dust left on the floor. Large footprints illustrated a short trip from the pantry to the doorway leading to the basement. Rogue thoughts filled the old man`s mind. The footprints had to be his, yet he didn’t recall walking in that direction. Cautiously he glided to the basement door and opened it. Only the first few descending steps were visible. Hushed he stood in the doorway. There was no light. No sound. No signs of life whatsoever. Only a putrid smell escaped from the dark vacuum. The cellar had been used for meat curing long ago. Possibly this was the origin of the terrible scent. The old man shut the door and sighed deeply. He was embarrassed. The footsteps were his own. His elderly mind had only forgotten about making them.
Friday, Dec. 6
Today was Mr. White`s anniversary. He had prepared a special dinner for himself to celebrate the occasion. It was important to him that he not forget what their life had been. It was tradition that on the night of their anniversary Mr. White would cook a meal for them to share. It broke his heart, but last year was the first time he`d broken tradition. The pain of her loss was still too fresh. Now the
widower was determined on bringing the tradition back to honor his late wife.
The hour was late and the winter sun had already set. Mrs. Honey delighted in her fancy feast. It had been several days since a rat had been seen. The old man`s plan to seal the cabinets had been a success.
Mr. White blankly stared at the paper he held before him. He wanted to start a new tradition. In the cover of his oil lamp Mr. White read aloud his marriage vows. It wasn’t easy for him to complete, but he persisted to the end. As he decorated the silence of the house with his speech, he could feel another presence with him. He knew in his heart it must be his wife`s angel looking down on him in consolation. Don`t worry about me dear. I’m in a better place now. Soon we`ll be together again. Don’t fret. She always knew exactly what to say, the old man thought.
He studied the room in order to calm his aching heart but a peculiar feeling lingered. He felt exposed, vulnerable in the darkness. The same unknown presence hung over the old man. Its divine benevolence became something much more perverted. By some mysterious force, Mr. White felt compelled to look behind him. Slowly turning his head, he set his eyes on the dimly lit door to the basement.
Eager to escape the malevolent presence, the old man began up the stairs to the one place in his house where he could always feel safe. He wanted to be as close to his wife as possible on their anniversary night.
Upon entering the bedroom the snowcapped man heard a noise. A large thump on the opposite side of the bed. The oil lamp didn’t produce enough light to illuminate the entire room but his side of the bed was visible. Exhausted and ready for a new day, Mr. White pulled the covers back and settled into the bed. Still on edge, he reluctantly blew out the lamp. He was quick to wrap himself in the sheets. They seemed to be some little protection from whatever ghost his mind had conjured. Before finally saying goodbye to the day, Mr. White reached over to hold his wife`s pillow. Warm to the touch, the widower fell asleep to dream of his beloved wife.
He was then awakened from his sleeping state. A piercing cry sounded from downstairs. Startled by the noise, the old man struck a match and went to investigate. It was unlike anything he had heard in all his numerous years. A desperate, painful wail. The screeching continued until the snowcapped man reached the middle of the
staircase. With blood pumping in his ears he reached the bottom and took in an unpleasant sight. Bits of flesh adorned with ginger hair dotted a gruesome trial of blood that led from the living room into the kitchen. Horrified, Mr. White rushed to the rescue of Mrs. Honey. The blood trail led to the basement. The door stood wide open. The same putrid scent invaded his senses. Once again the old man stared into the void when suddenly a face appeared.
The monster had Mrs. Honey`s blood dripping from the sides of its mouth. Oily hair matted on its scalp and dilapidated rags hung from its body. Empty black eyes stared straight at the old man. It was a human face. Human in the lowest sense of the word. Like a rat. The woman was very thin. Her carnal nature had driven out any humanity that was once there.
In the midst of his terror, Mr. White realized why he`d seen no rats since he locked the cupboards. He recalled the newspaper article about rats and it became clear to him what was about to happen.
The oil lamp shattered on the kitchen floor. Mr. White was completely in darkness. He felt as if he was drowning. Drowning in a river of pitch. Unable to move, the old man remained staring into the unseen face. The sound of his own beating heart overwhelmed his senses. A faint creak resounded from the staircase as the squatter took a step towards the old man. He was powerless. Blinded by night, he could not defend himself. The woman took another step. It was as if she could see him clearly. She could see him, but she remained masked from the old man. Another step. A warm gust blew across the old man`s face. It reeked of rotting meat. Too afraid to move, Mr. White let the squatter breathe on him. He could hear her sniffing him, taking in his scent. At that moment he knew he was already dead, soon to become nourishment for this demon.
Exploding from the darkness, the woman grasped the old man and dug her untrimmed fingernails into his fragile skin. Accepting his brutal fate, the widower gave little resistance as the squatter dragged his bony body down the stairs and into the abyss. As they descended, the old man took comfort in the thought that he too would soon be in a better place.
Mila toys with her pen at her work desk, watching the seconds tick by. Her planner lies in front of her, with one date of the whole month circled in bright red. Julian’s birthday. Her eyes shift between the clock and the planner as she waits for quitting time. Once the hour turns, Mila clocks out in a flash, gathers her belongings, and races out of the building.
Her son is turning four today. She drove straight to the nearest Party City and began to pull together some last-minute decorations. Spiderman everything: plates, napkins, cups, and games. After checkout, she piles into the car and heads for the grocery store to pick up the cake.
Once home, she hurriedly begins to decorate. She sets the cake out with plates and napkins stacked beside to perfection. After she finishes, she changes into a Spiderman t-shirt and jeans and sits at the dining table with a plastic cup full of soda. She waits.
After a few minutes, Blake, her husband, arrives home. He hangs his keys and his coat. He turns to face her, and a forced smile forms.
“Are you going to wear your Spiderman shirt, too, honey?” Mila asks, getting up to give him a hug.
“Sure, sweetheart.” A tired sigh. “We can match.” He rubs her arms and holds her tight before heading upstairs to change. He comes back down in his t-shirt and fixes himself a drink.
“When is everyone going to get here?”
“I told everyone 3. About thirty minutes after Julian gets dropped off by the bus.”
“Right. Who all did you invite?”
Mila poured herself more soda. “Of course our parents, your brother, my sister. You know, just family. You know our poor baby doesn’t have many friends at school.”
“I know, honey.” He looks down at his cup and then at his watch. 2:55. Outside, the heaves and sighs of the school bus pull in front of the house. Mila puts down her cup and runs upstairs. “I gotta hide his presents!” she yells as she climbs.
Not five minutes later, the doorbell rings. Blake opens the door to reveal Mila’s sister, Anne. “Good afternoon, Anne.” Blake smiles.
Anne flips the hair away from her face. “Hey, Blake! Where’s Mila?”
“Oh, she went upstairs to hide Julian’s presents.”
Anne nodded. She stepped in and hung her purse and keys. Idle conversation continues featuring new hobbies, the latest television shows, or how many cups a coffee one drinks in a day until the bell rings three more times and the rest of the family pours in. Mila comes downstairs and hugs everyone with a smile of pure joy on her face.
Once the greetings have settled, Mila claps her hands for everyone’s attention. “Thank you all for coming to celebrate our Julian’s fourth birthday! I know he’s so excited to eat some cake, so let’s dig in!”
A chunky number four is stuck into the cake, strategically so as not to puncture the icing Spiderman with Julian’s name across the chest. The song is sung, the candle blown out, and everyone collects a plate.
An hour ticks by as the family chats with one another. Presents are sent upstairs with the others. Laughs are shared until tears appear, and smiles are traded like candy.
It doesn’t take long for everyone to shuffle out, one-by-one. Mila hugs everyone as they go and Blake shakes their hands. They wave as they walk out the front door. By five o’clock, everyone is gone.
Once the door is shut behind the last member to leave, Mila busies herself with cleaning the kitchen. Blake stacks all the paper plates and packages the remaining cake for later.
In an hour, the house appears that there were no signs of a party.
Mila changes into her pajamas and sits in Julian’s room, looking at all his new presents. Blake appears in the doorway.
“Hey, honey. Would you like to come downstairs? Maybe watch a movie? I’m sure Julian won’t mind.”
Mila sits in the floor, eyeing the new action figures of Julian’s favorite superheros. “What do you want to watch?”
“Why not watch Spiderman?”
Mila let out a quiet laugh. “Okay. Spiderman.” She lifts herself off the floor, and leans into Blake. After moments of silence, her body begins to tremble with sobs. Blake rubs her back and rests his chin on the top of her head. She balls her fists in his t-shirt as the sobs become wet gasps. He holds her tighter until she can’t manage any more tears.
“Let’s watch that movie, okay?” Blake pulls back, lifting her chin up and wiping Mila’s tears.
“Okay. Let me get my fuzzy socks.”
Mila shuffles into their bedroom, wiping her nose on her sleeve. Blake turns and looks back into Julian’s room. Four years’ worth of presents sit in neat stacks and piles around the room. Each of them have been opened and played with by Mila. The room still smells freshly of paint; the walls are newly blue, with posters of all sorts of heroes dotted here and there. The sun trickles in through the blinds in rays, illuminating the dust hanging in the air. A lump forms in Blake’s throat; he turns off the light and shuts the door, where it will stay shut for another year. He swallows the sob with a cough and joins his wife in the living room, who already has Spiderman ready to play. He smiles at her and sits down on the couch, snuggling up to her and pulling her close.
“I think he liked his presents this year, Mila.”
Mila nods. “I think so, too.”
Mila presses play, and the two of them curl into one another, holding onto each other as if one of them would suddenly float away like a lost balloon.
Noah Van Fleet
I stand alone, surveying the somber majesty of a dead planet. The wind cries a dirge for ears that will never hear it again; no ears, save mine. It is, perhaps, this world’s last song. One song, just one, but a song all the same. I cannot decide if this is sad or not. All the world’s a stage. One more singer, one more witness. I won’t applaud. The song is not over, yet.
Everything is red—with rust or dust I cannot tell. Faces of stone and glass and light stare vacantly, eternally, into nothing. They do not see me. They do not hear the music. They were not made to remember. No; they were made, it seems, so that I could remember. So that someone could prove they once existed. They made, therefore they were.
If only I could read their words. Words, like the wind, like these faces, are the key to a kind of immortality. Their words are everywhere. On the signs. On the towers of glass and concrete. Ink and paper. Light and paint. Words. Words, everywhere. If only I could read them. I would know their loves, their dreams, their musings, their gods, their battles—everything. The empty faces would talk to me. I could see them smile; see them laugh, cry, scream, anything, anything but the deadness.
Alive and dead at the same time. A legacy of skeletons and wordless song. It is almost comical, but I do not laugh. You cannot laugh at a funeral. That is what this city is. A memoriam. A viewing. An open casket. I am the only one who showed up. What was it like when these metal carts rushed across the streets? When these concrete hives were abuzz with warm bodies? When living eyes looked up to a sky that wasn’t choked with grime and fire? I can almost imagine it. The emptiness seems to fill everything in. Strange, that nullity could do such a thing.
Such tall buildings. So steady. So defiant. How long has it been since last the dust in their halls were disturbed by treading feet? Ten years? A hundred? A thousand? It is difficult to say. It was all built to last. They built everything to last. Everything, except themselves. Were they so concerned with their legacies—to carve their names into the edifice of infinity—that they failed to realize they would die anyway? That their names were now all forgotten and unreadable? Why fight such a futile thing as death and obsolescence with stone and light and ink and paint? They have been outlived by the works of their hands and hearts. All their diligent acts of creation could not preserve them, could not save them.
The morning of March 27, 2010 started out like many other mornings while on patrol in eastern Afghanistan. I was awakened by a large boot tapping me in the side along with a quiet “Jim, you’re up” to avoid waking the rest of the men in the truck. As I slowly came out of my sleeping bag, the cold Afghan night hit my face like a spring swim and slowly covered the rest of my body in a miserable blanket. I stumbled around and found my helmet with night vision attached and quietly replaced my friend in the turret. As I put on the helmet, the cold hard pads inside pressed against my head like small smooth rocks. As I turned on the night vision, my entire world turned green and black.
As I gazed out into the cold, black morning, I thought to myself “What is the rest of the world was doing right now?”. Under the night vision in the distance, I could see tracers flying into the air like the ones that were seen during the invasion of Iraq. The fighting, most likely between Afghan National Army and the Taliban, reminded me that we were still in a war zone. As the morning pressed on, the cold turned from a mild annoyance to a menace. To pass the time and to stay awake, I sipped on a short orange can of Rip-its, the official drink of forward U.S. combat troops. The rush of caffeine and sugar warmed me slightly and I continued to scan my section of the field ahead of us for movement.
The expanse of desert stretched as far as the eye could see to the south and was bordered to the north by rugged high desert mountains. We had set up a Rest Over Night in what appeared to be an abandoned Afghan National Army post we came upon. The Hesco barriers were still in place along with a single small mud structure that we nicknamed “The Alamo”. Looking around, there were obvious signs that a fight had taken place there in the past. Bullet holes and debris wrapped around the façade. We had patrolled the mountains to the north of us for several days and realized that very few Americans had ever set foot into the area. This makeshift firebase had become our home away from home, making several patrol missions and resupply’s from it. As the sun crested from the semi-flat desert, the warmth slowly began to take hold.
With the rising of the sun came a small whimper from a hole at the bottom of one of the Hesco barriers in front of me. Inside, I could see a small mound of fur moving very slowly. Then, much like a bear crawls out of a cave from hibernation, three small puppies wandered out. I wondered how they had even made it to the firebase. I had not seen a single adult dog in the area and realized that we must have scared off the mother as we drove in to make camp. Looking back, the puppies served as an avatar to the Afghan people; with our presence there, the best they could do was survive.
As the sun rose slightly higher, I could smell the smoke of a fire being created by our Afghan counterparts. The smell of smoke from a campfire had become a staple of the environment. Everywhere we went, the Afghan’s with us would make a fire. While not tactically sound, it provided them with a sense of comfort, and it reminded the guys on the team of times back home. The men of ODA 3321 slowly arose and began the day’s activities. Checking communications, taking an early morning pee, and for some, starting the day’s use of tobacco was mandatory.
As the team leaders met with the Afghan commander, they learned that local Anti-Afghan Forces had blocked the roadways leading back into the mountains. Realizing that the path was blocked, the commanders began to look at aerial maps of the area, many of which were still written in Russian, to determine the best course. After a short discussion, it was decided that the patrol would take a small, single lane roadway out of the mountains and come upon a main Afghan roadway to return to our actual firebase. After reviewing the plan with the rest of the team and answering any questions that we might have, we all returned to our Ground Mobility Vehicles and conducted a check to check to make sure everything was ready to go.
The ground mobility vehicle (GMV) used by American Special Operations Units, are modified Humvees with an armored open back. The benefit to this set up is that it can transport more men and place more weapons on the vehicle. The GMV I was in had a Mark 44 Minigun as the main weapon and a M249 Squad Automatic Machine mounted to the side of the turret. On the back was mounted a M240B machine gun along with a handheld six-shot grenade launcher. Inside the vehicle was an array of computers and communications gear that allowed us to speak to other vehicles in the convoy, but also to our main base in FOB Salerno which was in Khowt Province.
My position on the truck was as the turret gunner and I loved every minute of it. That morning I checked the ammo both for the main gun and the secondary machine gun, dusted off the exterior of the weapons and oiled the interior mechanics to ensure that they would work properly if we had a firefight. After checking off on the weapon systems, I was able to take a small break and let my mind just wonder.
I looked down at the dirty uniforms everyone was wearing and realized that we had gone a long time without taking an actual shower. The mixture of sweat and baby wipes had created a slime that covered my skin. The fine Afghan dirt and sweat-slime had permeated our woodland camouflage and created a muddled sea of greens and browns, their once predominant borders now erased. Under our tan body armor was a permanent, dark sweat stain that during the cold night made it hard to sleep. Most of our faces were covered by beards that trapped the fine dirt and had tan lines from the ballistic sunglasses that everyone wore while on patrol. Even though we were nasty, no one paid it any attention.
After a quick radio check, the convoy began to move. As we slowly moved through the rough desert terrain, a cloud of dust slowly picked up from the Afghan trucks ahead of us. Most movements were conducted with the Afghans taking the lead and the U.S. Forces sandwiched between. The multi-vehicle convoy continued through roads that were more suitable for donkeys and carts than armored war machines. The suspension of the trucks creaked and moaned under the heavy weight of the truck and ammunition. As we continued through the valleys, I would occasionally see red and yellow wild flowers poking through the brown desert. It was a stark contrast to the perpetual brown filter that I had come to know. One by one, the vehicles pushed further into the mountains which we had come to term, “Indian Country.”. Little did we know about the battle that lay before us.
As the convoy pushed into a small valley, an Afghan teenager with a shovel and wheel barrow was standing on the side of the road in a sharp curve. The teenager, fighting age by Afghan standards, was just staring as we went by and as I gazed into the wheel barrow, not a single mound of dirt could be seen. Knowing that the nearest village was well beyond walking distance and we had not passed any vehicles, a sudden nervousness fell upon me. Unable to identify the teenagers as a combatant, we pressed on.
The valley had become a single-lane road that dropped off into a ravine 150 feet deep on the left side of us. The roadway was an unimproved dirt road that was just barely wide enough to allow a GMV to pass. The crest of the valley was dotted with small patches of high desert trees and large boulders. The bright blue sky did not have a single cloud and the sun was high enough to light the valley perfectly. At 8:25, as we crested a small hill, I heard a loud explosion followed by two smaller explosions. The idea of what had happened started to pour into my head and then a third explosion. I knew we were under attack.
Realizing that we were being shot at, I flipped the bright red safety switch on the minigun up and flipped the switch that provided power to the weapon. I then saw what appeared to be an improvised fighting position near the ridgeline and pressed the fire button on the spade grip. A burst of lead came out of the weapon and the signature moan of the high fire rate bounced off the valley walls. I again fired a burst, followed by another. After the third burst, the weapon seized and quit firing. I flipped the safety switch on the weapon and looked for any obvious faults. After being unable to see any and due to the increased enemy fire coming at the vehicle, I transitioned to the secondary machine gun mounted on the turret.
Because it was an auxiliary weapon, only a small amount of ammunition was easily accessible. As more and more machine gun fire impacted both on the truck and inside the turret, I began firing as quickly as I could at targets. After firing the ammunition that was readily available, I turned to the rear of the truck to ask if they could hand me more ammo. At this point, the convoy was completely surrounded in a complex, 360-degree, ambush and everyone was fighting for their lives. The rear gunner was engaging the targets that he could find, and a rear passenger was engaging with the handheld grenade launcher. Realizing that they were unable to hand me ammunition, I transitioned to my M4A1 service carbine. While normally used for dismounted patrols, I was lucky enough to have an M203 grenade launcher attached to it. As I drew the weapon from its storage area, I began to locate different fighting positions around us. I flipped the switch from safe to semi-automatic and began pulling the trigger, a round leaving the firearm with every pull.
During the fighting, I located a fixed fighting position and inserted a high explosive round into the grenade launcher. I pulled the trigger and watched the round go low. I inserted another one and fired, striking just to the right of it. The third and fourth explosive rounds hit, and the fighting position was silenced. I then transitioned to a second fighting position and fired the remaining three explosive rounds at it. After expending all my grenades, I returned to firing my service rifle. After firing only 60 rounds, the rifle exploded in a white flash in my face. Realizing that the rifle had suffered a catastrophic failure, I asked the driver if I could use his and began firing at targets again. After a short time, there was a slight lull in the fighting. The rear passenger of my truck was able to hand me more ammunition for the auxiliary machine gun and I transitioned back to it for the remainder of the fight.
As we continued to push forward through the kill zone, rocket propelled grenades and machine gun fire erupted from all sides. During the fight, five rocket propelled grenades impacted approximately ten meters from our vehicle. During the fight, I can remember hopping that the impacts would strike the soft dirt and feel like a push compared to striking a nearby rock and feeling like a punch in the head. As the machine gun fire and RPG’s increased, the haze of dust and burnt gunpowder made the air acrid and hard to breath. As we pushed further and further, the volume of fire intensified.
As we rounded a corner, we found that a friendly Afghan vehicle had been abandoned and the occupants huddled underneath. Realizing that the convoy was forced to halt, the truck commander, who I will call “Jay” left the relative safety of the armored truck and ran to the immobile vehicle. One by one, the truck commander led the frightened and wounded Afghans back to our truck. He then told the driver of our vehicle to push it off the road and down into the cliff. As the driver accelerated and struck the Afghan truck, it pushed further down the road. Realizing that the wheels were turned, making it unable to be push into the ravine, Jay again left the vehicle and held the steering wheel as bullets impacted all around him. With him holding the steering wheel straight, the driver of our vehicle was able to push the vehicle off the roadway and clear a path for the rest of the convoy to push through. After watching the pickup truck careen off the side of the road and come to a crashing stop at the bottom of the ravine, I began to reengage targets on the ridgelines around me.
As we pushed further into the kill zone, the machine gun fire and rocket impacts increased further. Jay, still outside of the vehicle, began moving on foot to rally our Afghan counterparts. As he moved from position to position using nothing but speed and his individual body armor as cover, the enemy began to train their fire on him. I realized that if the fire continued to be focused on him, he would not survive much longer. I began to scan the ridges to determine where the fighters that were shooting at Jay were located. I fired burst after burst from my machine gun at the entrenched enemy, hoping that it would give Jay enough time to move to his next position.
After Jay was able to rally our Afghan troops, he returned to the truck to communicate with the rest of the convoy. A strange silence fell on the valley. As I looked along the ridgeline to see if there was anyone around, I began to hear a loud “pop.” Again, another single pop. Another. Another. I could not tell what these pops were until my turret armor made a loud ping and I realized that I was being shot at by a lone gunman firing single shots, just at me. In the movies, passing bullets have a “whizz” sound, a sound that I had come to know from the many war movies I had watched as a child and adolescent. It was only after this incident that I learned that when bullets come very close to you, you can hear the sonic boom from the air around the bullet. I was able to locate the enemy fighters position in a small patch of trees approximately 200 meters away. I calmly moved the machine gun onto his position, lined up the sights onto his outline, and fired a burst into him. I did not feel any recoil from the machine gun, but I saw his outline drop, unnaturally fast. That was the only fighter I saw during the entire battle.
After 19 minutes of unrelenting fire, our savior arrived from the air in the form of an OH-58 Kiowa Scout Helicopter. The sound of the approaching aircraft signaled to the enemy that the tide of the battle was turning in our favor. As the helicopter approached, the enemy fighters disappeared as quickly as they had arrived. Soon, more air support arrived in our area, this time a pair of AH-64 Apache Attack Helicopters, much more suited to fighting a large ground force. As they circled the area, they were unable to locate any fighters fleeing from the ridges. Our team commander radioed our headquarters and advised them of our ammo count. Most of the trucks in the convoy had fired almost all their ammunition and we were unable to continue without a resupply. As the attack helicopters circled us like guardian angels, we were finally able to relax. Everyone in the truck checked to see if they had been injured and after ensuring no severe injuries, Jay radioed to the team commander and told him that our truck was good on casualties, but we were out of ammo. As the team medic began working on the wounded Afghans, the hard task of locating the dead began.
We found after a quick investigation that the large initial explosion had been a trip wire initiated I.E.D. The explosion, most likely a form of homemade explosive or H.M.E., had destroyed the lead reconnaissance vehicle and instantly killed the three Afghans inside. The pieces of the truck were so small, there were almost unrecognizable. The only pieces that still looked like a vehicle were two tires that had been sheered from their axles, looking like rubber donuts, and the engine block. Our Afghan force searched and were able to locate the remains of the three heroes and placed them in a body bag. We then created a casualty collection point, placed the dead and wounded Afghans together, and waited for the medevac helicopter that was on its way.
As we sat scanning the ridgelines for lone fighters, the loud roar of a CH-47 Transport helicopter echoed through the valley. Our ground support had arrived. While scanning the hills, I began to see Afghans and Americans dressed in the same woodland camouflage walking with tan body armor. The Afghan commando force had been sent to help augment our small force. Not only the fact that they brought resupplies and fresh fighters, but the sight of fellow Americans in “Indian Country” was also a great relief. As they patrolled the ridge and found abandoned fighting position after fighting position, a strange report came across the radio. They could not find a single enemy body. These fighters that most citizens in America would describe as unsophisticated and cowardly, had been able to effectively conduct a textbook ambush AND removed their dead and wounded from the battle. We were fighting an enemy that was well trained and battle hardened. After this day, they would have my respect as warriors. As I thought about this, the familiar sound of a UH-60 Blackhawk Helicopter jarred me from my thoughts.
Due to the rugged terrain of the valley, the medevac was unable to land to collect the wounded. Hovering above the casualty collection point approximately 30 meters, a medic in a regular army camo uniform and flight helmet descended from a thin line. After placing his feet on the ground, he detached and began to hook up the wounded Afghans to be hoisted up to the helicopter. As they were lifted skyward, they began to spin due to the tension of the line. The look on their faces had both worry and excitement. After the wounded were loaded onto the aircraft, the remains of the three heroes were loaded and flew off into the bright blue sky.
The American forces that had arrived along with the Afghan Commandos met with the team commander and we began the long and deliberate search of the roadway. The working dogs were able to slowly and methodically check the multiple miles out of the valley so that we could rendezvous with a regular army route clearance team to be escorted to the nearest base. As the afternoon sun faded into night, the coldness of the Afghan spring returned. As the crippled convoy slowly lumbered toward the exit of the valley, the adrenaline high of the battle wore off and the exhaustion set in. The convoy was finally able to make it out of the valley and set up a camp for the night. The Americans that had come to our aid, along with the Afghan Commando’s, told our team leader that they would cover the watch for the night so that the entire team could sleep. As I was looking around in my turret for a soft item to sleep on, my entire world lit up under the green hue of my night vision monocular. In a scene straight from Close Encounters of the Third Kind, a five-meter circle around my truck lit up like daylight under the NOD’s. I then realized that we no longer just had attack helicopters as support, but also an AC-130 Spectre Gunship and the light I was seeing was from its enormous laser designator. I fell asleep like a child knowing that the AC-130 was providing overwatch.
"My Literacy Journey"
Ever since I started school, accompanied by my parents' high expectations, I was determined to focus and to put a lot of effort in excelling with high grades. This was only possible with great awareness and knowledge of the English language, which includes reading and writing capabilities. I understand the importance of both skills, but despite trying and practicing, I have never managed to build a stable connection with writing. I feel there is a mental barrier that made writing unenjoyable for me. I started learning English about four years ago, after having moved from Cuba to the United States of America. I have faced many difficulties with the English language as opposed to my native language, Spanish, due to less ability to communicate. I’m still overcoming literacy obstacles and facing language barriers each day, yet over time, those have challenged me become more literate.
Around four years ago, when I was 15 years old, my life changed drastically when I moved to the United States, where everything was new to me, including the people, the culture, and the language. Even though in Cuba all one hears is people speak Spanish, I always had an interest towards English class at school. I went as far as asking my parents to sign me up for an English course outside of school. Since I was strongly prone to learning and progressing noticeably, my teachers were so convinced and stunned by my improvement, that they even took me to several contests. While learning English, I have also learned to differentiate between it and Spanish, especially variances in tonality, tempo and also the frequency of utilization of slang terminology.
High school was a difficult path for me, but also filled with meaningful moments, such as making new friends and opening doors to college. The first time I put a foot into Hialeah High School was a scary experience, but I was able to communicate a bit with native English Speakers. Because I came from a different country, the first thing the counselor asked me was about my English level. They had me take a test for it, which ended up in me having second level ESOL “English for Speakers of Other Languages” classes. Therefore, at first it was difficult for me to understand the lessons, but due to my English teacher Santana and the assignments, quizzes, and homework he gave the class, I soon discovered that my writing skills had improved. I found joy in reading romantic and adventurous webtoons, which improved my grammar, and I also enjoyed watching Netflix series and YouTube videos which in conjunction with subtitles enhanced my reading and speaking capabilities.
As previously mentioned, I never found a strong bond to writing in particular, and I have also not yet discovered why. However, I have observed that the main reason is that usually I do not find myself very motivated, but rather stressed while doing it. Therefore, I mostly struggle figuring out what to write and gathering the words out of my head and ultimately being satisfied with it. While reading a book or a story of my liking, I often wish I could gather words the same way authors do, but instead, I encounter myself with a blank head. Nevertheless, this is nothing new to me and I have learned to better deal with it. Even though this problem still haunts me and probably will in the future, especially since I have started going to college, I have learned to reduce my stress levels and wish to continue improving myself in this aspect.
We are living in a nation full of diversity. Every school in America contains a large number of multicultural students in their facilities. In fact, more than half of these students come from different countries around the world to get a better quality education. These students have different nationalities, cultural backgrounds, and languages. Most public schools in the United States are prepared to welcome these students. It is important to know how to work well with these students to make them feel at home and to help them develop in their educational career. With this essay and the image I created, I want to inform my audience about the struggles that these students, along with their families, have to go through. In order to accomplish this, I used the three appeals: ethos, logos and pathos. The purpose of this visual image is to appeal the emotions of my audience.
The United States is the place where people from countries such as Mexico, Puerto Rico, Guatemala, and other foreign nations come for an opportunity to have a better life. Parents come from these foreign countries in search of a better future for themselves and their children. The image I created presents children from other countries coming to the U.S. to get an education. The books in the image represent the obstacles these children have to go through in order to be successful academically. In addition to the image, some of the children are located above others, which represents how learning abilities differ from each student. The image also represents how it takes different timing for each student to achieve their goal.
Next, the United States public schools have done an amazing job to satisfy the needs of these students. The public schools in the United States work with different types of programs that were created to help these students coming from other countries. The reduced or free lunch program gives children from low-income families free or reduced breakfast and lunch meals. Students who come from other countries benefit from this program because many of them come from a low- or no-income family. Also, programs such as ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) have a huge impact in the student’s education. Students who come from a different country and only know one language, which in most cases is Spanish, have the challenge to learn English. Learning a new language is something that can differ from easy to hard depending on the person.
Finally, accomplishing goals in life is a feeling that is indescribable, and as many multicultural students can relate, after hard-work and stressful situations, then comes peace and happiness. Life for these students comes to a stage where they are satisfied with what they have accomplished. The United States is the first option for children of foreign countries to come to and accomplish “The American Dream.”
To conclude, educators in the United States are becoming largely aware that students from other countries come here to have a better education. Parents risk their lives in order for their children to have an opportunity that they did not have. These students work hard every day to make their parents proud. These students dream of becoming successful and create a career to support themselves. Thanks to the education in the United States, these students are able to graduate high school, and most of the time, they graduate from college to start the life for which they work so hard.
"Perceiving Education in America"
One thing that my parents have always told me is to continue my education. My parents always said and still say, “It’s a gift to have. Appreciate it and take advantage of it.” My parents were never given the opportunities that children nowadays have to further their education. Students are put into schools when they are as little as four years old. From that time, children are taught many skills that will “help them in the future.” While there are some things that do help in the future, some students choose to not pursue higher education after high school because they do not see the purpose of it. Those who do not move on to college usually go into the work force to work a full-time job, rather than spend thousands of dollars on courses that they believe will not benefit them in any way. What most students do not take the time to think about is that being in the education system impacts their daily lives throughout the twelve or more years that students attend school. The education system molds a student into the person that he is by shaping his culture, values, and beliefs.
Moving onward, one factor that may contribute to the impact education has on a student is the kind of environment that the student grows up in. Society has made it seem as if without education, it is hard to succeed, and it goes to show with statistics that are provided by credible sources. For example, in “By the Numbers: Dropping Out of High School,” Jason Breslow states, “The average dropout can expect to earn an annual income of $20,241, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. That’s a full $10,386 less than the typical high school graduate, and $36,424 less than someone with a bachelor’s degree” (1). Due to statistics like these, high school students are encouraged to finish high school leading to the increase of graduation rates every year. Many parents in today’s society want their kids to get the best education that they can and believe they should go to college after graduating high school, therefore putting pressure on the child. Due to this pressure, many move on to college to fulfill those expectations that others have. According to Nicole Rivera in “Developing Belief Systems About Education,” studies show that “[w]hen asked about why they chose to go to college, many students stated that ‘everyone at their high school’ went to college, and that doing so was an expected behavior. The institutional culture of their schools set up that belief, which, in turn, guided their behavior” (1). This belief system is what keeps many students in the education system beyond high school.
Additionally, there are many college students, like me, who keep up with school work and have a part-time job. As time goes by, more things in the world are revolving around money. Education is one of those things. Some students are lucky enough to receive full scholarships or have parents who pay for them to go to college; many others have to work in order to pay for college themselves. In my case, I am working a part-time job and creating a balance between my job and college to complete my assignments as well as provide for my basic necessities such as paying my phone bill, paying insurance for my car, and paying for gas. In this image, my audience is an academic audience, especially students that are still in school to show them that they can relate to my situation. My audience is also parents/caregivers of children who should be aware of my message. There is a picture of a laptop, a computer, and a few work packets that I complete as part of my job. When looking closely, the computer shows a picture of Coahulla Creek’s graduating class. I chose to show previous graduates in the image because I am a dual-enrollment student who strives to graduate from Coahulla’s class of 2019, as well as complete my first year of college all at once. On the laptop, there is Dalton State’s Georgia VIEW page that shows my four classes, while also showing the homework that I am working on. This image represents the way that I perceive education in America because it shows how students nowadays have to work hard in both their school and jobs. This image also represents pathos because it connects with the audience, as many can relate to my situation. When seeing this image, it will create a vision for those who have yet to graduate and will bring back memories for parents/caregivers because they will think of what their child accomplished when graduating from school. This image also portrays ethos because it is coming from a credible source. I have always been a hard worker in both my previous jobs and my school life. Now, I am striving to achieve one of life’s greatest accomplishments – graduating high school.
Furthermore, both culture and education play a significant role in a student’s moral and ethical values by teaching him right from wrong. The education system focuses on shaping individuals by conditioning behavior. In doing so, there are certain bad aspects that need to be addressed. Students give up their agency to the school system. This is seen from the day students start school; they are told to walk in a straight line and always raise their hands to speak. After graduating high school, for example, students are so accustomed to asking for permission to use the bathroom that they will do it unintentionally without recognizing that they no longer need to ask to leave. Also, often times the school system supports the way that students value popularity, leading others to believe that popularity will lead to success. What most students do not realize is that success comes with hard work.
Conclusively, education is the process of acquiring knowledge and skills that people are expected to have in society. While going to school, students unwillingly give up their power to education due to the way the school influences who they are. After going through many years of education, students begin to realize that money is a big factor in life when it comes to paying bills and for some, paying for college. Choosing to continue to pursue higher education is influenced by what is taught in the school system as well as expectations from parents, friends, and many others. As stated by Rivera, most students only move on to college because it is expected behavior. This shows that expectations impact the way that a student views education. The picture included in this essay is a big example that provides an accurate depiction of how students like me create a balance between their school life and job. Overall, the education system in America impacts one’s culture, values, and belief systems.
Breslow, Jason M. “By the Numbers: Dropping Out of High School.” PBS, Public Broadcasting
Service, 2012. Web.
Rivera, Nicole. “Developing Belief Systems About Education.” Psychology Today, Sussex
Publishers, LLC. 2 Aug 2012. Web. www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/psyched/201208/developing-belief-systems-about-education-it-takes-village.