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Tributaries: Fall 2022

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

Visual Arts

"A Look" by Nadia Garcia

"Sleeping Beauty" by Jennifer Lopez

"Streets of Puebla" by Catherine Romo

"Sunbathe" by Savannah Price

"Rose" by Nadia Garcia

"Scowl" by Jennifer Lopez

"The Reflection of the Past on the Present in Scotland" by Denise Shahan

"Trees and Water" by Brianna Jaquez

"Dark Haired Lady" by Jennifer Lopez

"DSC Tree" by Crystal Beatenbo

"Donald Duck Painting" by Brianna Jaquez

"Florida" by Savannah Price

TOC for Written Work

Table of Contents


​Poetry


"Autumn Days" by Stephen Langston

"Crooked Vision" by Ragavati Kandiah

"When Melancholy was Given a Better Name" by Brooke Jones

"Red" by Morgan Garrett

"Coffee Shops" by Tucker Trivette

"Sunflower" by Ryan Jones

"On June 24, 2022" by Morgan Garrett

"You in my Dream" by Stephen Langston

"Failures of My Youth" by Tucker Trivette

"On Holiday: Will Return When Life Resumes" by Brooke Jones

"Mother" by Ragavati Kandiah

 

 


Fiction


 

"The Doll Maker" by Jack Crumbley - 1st place winner of the Spooktacular Spooky Story Contest

"Siren's Kiss" by Reagan Brady - 2nd place winner of the Spooktacular Spooky Story Contest

 

 

"Extraterrestrials and the Adventures of David Attenborough" by Brittany Waldrip

"Freedom's Failed Fantasy" by Savannah Price

"The Butterfly's Effect" by Reagan Brady

"The Final Trials" by Sarah Haney

 

 

Poetry

"Autumn Days" by Stephen Langston


 

Autumn days

They creep

Towards a changing scene

 

Don't go

 

It may seem

It's better

To lay and dream

 

I know

 

You forget

How heavy

The weight can be

 

It's true

 

You forget

How easy

It is to breathe

 

You do

 

"Crooked Vision"

by Ragavati Kandiah

 

I love this crooked little house

On this crooked little hill

With crooked little apple trees sprinkled here and there

A crooked path, of crooked slate

Crooked vision in my eye

Of things to come;

Of gardens great

Of cider barrels by and by

"When Melancholy was Given a Better Name"

by Brooke Jones

 

If it were true,  

Then my earth would shake 

And my sky would fall away. 

The universe would become—Granulated. 

My peripheral would slink away  

Like the heydays of a life long spent.  

 

The clouds, grass, dirt, trees, oceans and mountains and streams—They’d all turn to sand and fall away through the cracks in my upturned hands. 

 

A forgotten fruit, never to be of use, grown saggy in the dog-days, 

Hung itself on the low tied branch  

And slunk to the floor. 

Slobbering, rotten, infested with 

Blackened seeds: A Feast  

For the Beetles and the Cockroaches and the Ant colonies.  

Dripping in shapeless form, 

It sags into muck and falls away  

To the eternal nothingness of being devoured. 

 

The sun would die in the day. 

Mind: sentenced to waste land  

But me, never fully hollowed man, 

Only numbed. 

Screeching at the sky, 

Veins bursting, 

Mangled lungs. 

 

But, if it were true, 

If it were True,  

Then I’d be blessed with the reason  

For the ailing plot of pain which  

Exists in me regardless. 

Suddenly, I’d be permitted to name it  

Make some final sense of why it’s there. 

It’d be given a name like: 

 

C—er. 

“I’m sorry, Miss, but your — has c—er. 

And there’s nothing we can do.  

A year at most. Then your —‘s life is through. 

—Oh! Quick!— 

Give her some space, 

Give her some room,  

Breathe, just breathe,  

You’re okay, Miss, it will all be—”  

 

Then, just like that,  

Full-bodied disillusionment. 

Diseased seed now fully known; 

Inside the flesh exists its home. 

Now I know the reason of all reasons  

The underlying truth of all truths  

The deepest secret nobody knows—until they do. 

Here is the meaning,  

HERE LIES THE ROOT. 

Here is the feeling inside me, 

The omnipresent, unquenchable need, 

Here is the unspoken sadness, 

Here is the seed 

That has long lurked in wait  

Of its name day. 

"Red"

by Morgan Garrett

 

That color

Sounds like a slap in the face of women

 

That color

Smells like the smoking gun that has more rights than me 

 

That color

Feels like mansplaining to a girl what menstruation should be like 

 

That color

Tastes like metal from the oppressor

And yet,

Red is the color that dictates

My body, my choice

 

You say that color represents a crown of thorns

But what you really mean is it represents the bloodied chains you used before

 

No more.

Your tricks only work on the weak minded

I see your true intentions

And there’s nothing Christ-like about them

You forget— I am woman.

"Coffee Shops" 

by Tucker Trivette

 


[Verse 1]

It’s New Year’s Eve

And the coffee shop is full

I walk in

 She’s there too

A crowd of conversation

About coffee and tea

But there is no one around

Just her and me

 

[Chorus]

We fell in love with coffee in the city

Just a small-town boy

And a girl defining beauty

We’re lost in conversation way too deep to stop

I think I fell in love

Thank God for coffee shops

 

[Verse 2]

Two years ago

We gave love our first chance

But as quickly as we fell

It fell out of our hands

Yeah, I’m not who I once was

Sure, I’ve grown

But I still fight doubts within me

Leaving me alone

 

[Chorus]

We fell in love with coffee in the city

Just a small-town boy

And a girl defining beauty

We’re lost in conversation way too deep to stop

I know that I’m in love

Thank God for Coffee Shops

 

[Bridge]

All my scars led me straight to her

I found them ugly

Now she’s the cure

Every time I fell, she prayed from behind

Every time I’ve searched, she’s been the one to f

"On June 24, 2022"

by Morgan Garrett


Interesting

How this country celebrates its freedom

Yet guns have more rights than children

Because why would leaders protect anything not a fetus

 

How this nation prides itself on religious freedom

But shames me for not following the man in the sky

Because how dare I shun a religion that celebrates a woman losing her choice to give birth

to the “son of God"

 

How I should stay home and nurse babies

But be expected to provide for them by the hands of corporate mercy

Because aren’t I a mother

 

How these “free” people see a problem with vaccinations

But accept how women need to be maintained

Because look at what happened to Adam and Eve

 

How a man escapes persecution for rape, child molestation, domestic violence

While his victim lives with the trauma

Because his reputation now suffers

 

How a woman cannot choose without suffering the consequences

Yet she cannot receive the support her children need in order for them to survive

Because in this Land of the Free it is her promiscuity that did this to her

 

It is interesting how this country celebrates this day

But I’ve never felt so robbed of my independence

 

Until now

"Sunflower"

by Ryan Jones

 

Sunflower, oh sunflower, light unto the earth. Petals like golden rays of sunlight,

when light is gone, thou holds it, shares it with the world. Even if you were to wilt, your

seeds of hope would feed me for decades to come, hungry and laden tho I am.

 

Sunflower, oh sunflower, thou art a golden light in a sea of empty roses. Roses

whose stalks wither away and whose beauty fades with time. But not thou, for your

beauty is deep within. Deep within, deep enough to protect from the pains of the earth,

but yet, not locked away, not held back. You are the light, placed high for all to see. You

are the city upon the hill which causes the peoples to marvel.

 

Back to your seeds for a moment. They are carried abroad by great winds,

eventually landing, planting, growing. They take root in the hearts of others, brightening

their hearts, their lives.

 

The moment I first looked upon your beauty, I was struck. Many search for their

whole lives in search of roses, but here I was, in the presence of a sunflower that could

put all the roses in the world, nay, a hundred worlds, to shame.

 

Thou hast cast me out, left me to die in the depths of utter darkness. I hold no

grudge against thee, nor could I if I choose to. Having been cast out, however, I go in

search of another flower, whose beauty is like your own. I fear there are no such

flowers, and if there are, they are hidden under mountains of red, empty roses.

 

Although my body departs, a piece of my heart remains with you forever, my

sunflower.

"You in my Dream"

by Stephen Langston

 

 

By the shore

Shimmering sequin sea

Light shines a vibrant world

In your eyes

 

You're free

 

Just one peek

Through your disguise

Makes the ocean so much more deep

And I realize

 

Show me

 

You

In a sliver of time

Your view

Sings a song in my mind

 

It's where you stand

And there

I am

"Failures of My Youth" 

by Tucker Trivette

 

[Verse 1]

I guess I’m back to my routine day

Because your younger sister won’t look my way

Truth is we were friends before you and I

Now all she sees is this failure of a guy.

 

[Verse 2]

Did you listen when she said be safe

Because she’s seen girls like you come my way

She tried to save you from the truth

That I’m a product of the failures of my youth.

 

[Chorus]

We laughed; We cried; You talked; I lied

Fought the emotions that I held inside

I’m a chain reaction of painful truth

And I’m a product of the failures of my youth

 

[Verse 3]

I find it funny how we used to hold hands

Now I can’t imagine beginning that again

Your mother still texts me to this day

I hate that she must see me this way.

 

[Chorus]

We laughed; We cried; You Talked; I lied

Fought the emotions that I held inside

I’m a chain reaction of painful truth

And I’m a product of the failures of my youth.

 

[Bridge]

I know you tried to fix all you can

But these kinds of issues are not fixed by man

I need my God to strengthen my hand

To walk away while I still can.

 

[Chorus]

We laughed; We cried; You talked; I lied

Fought the emotions that I held inside

I’m a chain reaction of painful truth

And I’m a product of the failures of my youth.

 

[Tag]

Yeah, I’m a product of the failures of my youth.

"On Holiday: Will Return When Life Resumes"

by Brooke Jones

 

The aching in my thighs

The dark circles under the eyes

Present to the audience:

We’ve been up to no good,

Been having ourselves a queer, old-fashioned time. 

 

I wonder, do they perceive it in my sighs? 

That I’ve just returned 

From a holiday from life. 

If only they knew 

How little I have to retreat from, in the daily scheme.

 

They’d pitchfork my home, in hopes of blowing off steam. 

Not everyone can do it,

A cerebral holiday. 

But oh, darling, I can— 

I force the dopamine to play. 

 

Rattle by rattle

On and on the time flows. 

No matter the hour, 

The mood always glows. 

 

Then it ends.

Back to the algorithm,

A new week begins. 

Today’s Monday, more futile than the last—

An aberration of Sunday’s Mass. 

 

I hope a god forgives 

For all we’ve done wrong. 

I wonder, would he blame us?

For not staying strong?

 

Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?

Christ understands. 

It takes more than faith, hope, and love

To make a man. 

There’s something underneath:

 

A patterned disease.

Irregular clusters 

Of holes in the soul. 

Puss-white and spleen-green,

Oozing pockets of muddled doubt.

 

We want to escape,

But we can’t get out. 

Mice in the maze

Shadows in the cave 

 

Our very own Apocalypse,

The unveiling we’ve waited for:

I hope it is satisfactory.

 

“May the judgement not be too heavy upon us.”

"Mother"

by Ragavati Kandiah

 

She grows ever wild

Patches of tangled vines

Petrified bones coursing through

A molten heartbeat

Waters raging and calm

Run through her, over her, and within

Rainbows seep from her breast

The beetles and spiders tickle her neck; snakes slumber inside

The rain satiating her

A light sting on her back

The sky calling her name

Lightning striking soft petals

Dancing thunder rolls across her shoulders

Fires scorching her clean

You drink from her crown

You are sustained by her

Your every moment; reliant.

But do you ever take a moment

To bury yourself in her sands

To remember the source of all you are or all that have stood before you?

Fiction

"The Doll Maker"

by Jack Crumbley

 

I approached the shop one afternoon. I had heard about it from a woman in a cafe and seen the signs for it on the road. It was quite a trek to get up to it, however, I had to go deep in the woods, follow a winding dirt path, and cross an overflowed creek by hopping from rock to rock. I nearly slipped and fell into the water, but thankfully I saved my clothes from being soaked.

The cabin was not exactly what I was expecting. The sign hanging out front was faded to the point I could hardly read what it said. The windows were foggy; the edges were covered in mold and moss. The boards creaked and bent as I stepped on the porch leading to the door. Unsure if I was in the right place or if the shop was even still open, I cautiously knocked.

There was no response.

I took a deep breath, walked to the window and attempted to peer in, trying not to bring my face towards the family of spiders who had made their home nearby. I could faintly see there was a fire going in the fireplace, so I knocked again.

Still no response.

I was certain the shop must be open, or at least there was someone inside. I took a step back, looked up, and could see a shadow in the upstairs window, so I knocked a third time

That’s when I heard a low rasp of a voice creep out of the house.

“Come in…”

The door clicked and creaked open, the rusty hinges singing until the door stopped moving. I walked inside and saw the fireplace was lit, a small pot full of some vegetables was bubbling over it, and a rocking chair sat nearby. On the other side of the room were trinkets on a table.

There was a wooden mask, intricately carved and painted to look like a laughing demon. There was a small metal box, it weighed at least 50 pounds despite being half the size of a coffee mug. There were jars of all different sizes, filled with different things. One had a single croaking frog inside, another was filled with some bubbling purple liquid, and another had many buzzing bees surrounding a single dandelion. In the corner of the room there was a pile of various rusted hunting traps. There were many odd trinkets, all different, none with a price tag. There was one in particular, however, that caught my eye. A small ragdoll, with green button eyes, yellow colored yarn hair, thread stitched over the mouth, and wearing what looked to be a handmade blue dress. It sat in a small birdcage with a large padlock keeping the door shut.

As I looked over the doll, the room grew colder, and I heard some heavy stomping steps descending the stairs. I turned to see what I assumed was the owner of the odd little shop. He was tall, his eyes level with mine, although he hunched far over. I wasn’t sure how tall he’d be if he were to stand up straight. His eyes were yellow, with bright blue irises which matched his pale skin. His small upturned nose and dark sunken eyes made his head look almost like a skull. He smiled wide, his mouth full of long, thin, crooked teeth, a purple tongue brushed past them as he licked his lips. He had long spider-like fingers which were occupied both holding and stroking a large dark-haired rabbit.

“Greetings,” he rasped, “does anything take your fancy?”

I just stared at him, unsure of what to say.

“Oh yes, the doll.” He said, stomping his way over, staring at it through the bars of the cage. “It has quite an allure doesn’t it?” He looked back towards me, glancing me up and down, continuously petting his rabbit.

“How much for it?” I said suddenly after a few seconds of suffocating silence, “You see, my mom’s birthday is coming up and I . . . .”

“I only take trade.” He interrupted, “I’ve no interest in money.” He set his rabbit down, and it hopped its way over to the frog in a jar. It sniffed the glass as the frog let out a croak.

“I don’t have anything to trade.” I admitted.

“I can see that…” He stroked his chin as he stomped over to the fireplace and started stirring his vegetables. “I have an idea. We could make a deal. You gather me something to eat from the woods that surround us.” He stomped back over to the table, reaching into the corner of hunting traps and pulling out a bow and a single arrow. “If it is to my liking, we will consider it your payment for the doll, but if it is not to my liking, you will have to pay in full whatever the doll is worth. Does that sound reasonable?”

I thought about it for a second, it doesn’t look too expensive, and either way I get the doll. I nodded my head and took the bow from him. He smiled wide again, flashing me his crooked teeth as I headed out the door.

I only had one arrow, meaning whatever I was bringing to this strange old man, I only had one shot to get it. I thought about shooting a small bird resting on a branch above some pears, but it’d be much too hard to hit. I saw a rabbit hopping around and considered shooting it too, but it scurried into some berry bushes and I lost it. I eventually spotted a deer down the hill from me. As quietly as I could, I crouched down in between some mushrooms and rocks and carefully aimed my bow. I took a deep breath and let it fly. With one arrow, I brought the buck down. I let out a sigh of relief and went to claim my prize. I smiled the whole way back, even while dragging the heavy bounty. I knocked on the door, like before the old man greeted me and the door creaked open.

“I did it!” I exclaimed, trying to catch my breath as he stomped his way over.

He stared at the bleeding carcass of the deer in front of his door, his inquisitive face turning into the biggest smile I had seen from him yet. He slowly turned his head towards me and started chuckling softly. He spoke in a low graveled voice. “You poor, poor thing…” His laughter grew louder.

“W-What do you mean? I got your food.” I stared at him in confusion, chuckling with him.

“I despise meat, I would never eat it.” his smile somehow grew even wider, pushing past his ears as he stretched his hand towards me. My heart pounded as his laughter turned to a cackle which echoed within the inside of my skull. The fire under the pot flared and turned a bright green as the door slammed shut.

“B-But the bow, you handed me a bow to hunt with.” I pleaded.

“I never expected you to use it.” He placed his ice cold hand on the side of my face. His eyes grew wide as if they were going to pop out of his skull. The smell of electricity filled the air as a sensation shot across my whole body like a thousand needles were piercing my skin all at once. I then collapsed to the ground and everything went dark.

I woke up some time later, my vision slowly unblurring. I glanced around the room, my arms felt swollen and stiff. I tried to open my mouth but was unable to. I attempted to stand up to get my bearings, but my legs felt numb as well. I couldn’t move them an inch. The ground beneath me felt hard and cold; that’s when I noticed the bars. I recognized the table full of trinkets, the mask, the cube, all of the jars, however they seemed to be at a giant scale now. My heart pounded in my ears as I hesitantly looked down. Where my hands had been now nothing but rags stuffed with cotton, thread had been sewn over my mouth, and I was locked in a small metal birdcage, unable to move.

"Siren's Kiss"

by Reagan Brady

 

It was a good day to drown.

 

The clouds had clustered overhead, black and gray bruises, or perhaps obsessive lovers, blocking out the sky until there was them, only them. And the wind, oh! Any who say the sea breeze is sweet has not tasted its wrath, not during a storm; it is both savage and sad, ripping your flesh asunder.

 

Marjorie stood atop a rocky cliff. The waves frothed far below, ravenous; seafoam broke over the jagged rocks like teeth. Carnivorous, the ocean snarled.

 

“I don’t understand,” Marjorie croaked. Amphibious.

 

Her eyes were damp with tears, and her heart broke in a way only your first love could do. You know the pain. But Marjorie—sweet girl Marjorie, with oat-colored hair and her cheeks, supple in their youth, dappled with freckles like sunlight—she was in love with a man.

 

And with a roar, the sky cracked open. In that instance, he was unlike she’d ever seen him; he was not kind and gentle, as he was when they baked together, only a month previous. Then, she had sucked the strawberry jam off her fingers. It was thick and red and sweet, not unlike the sort that ran down her thighs and the tongue of he who had consoled her: “don’t cry, don’t cry.”

 

His face now was cold and hard. There was none of that gentleness now. Veiled by the rain as he was, he was almost inhuman. A wraith, a nightmare in the flesh. A harbinger of death. He seemed, to Marjorie, a shadow of his former self; hair had grown from his forearms until he was nearly sheathed in it, and the crescent of his smile was sharp as knives.

 

For Marjorie was too young to know—the worst wolves are hairiest on the inside.

 

The rain fell harder now, turning the world around the young girl gray as famine, as unkind as starvation.

 

What a silly girl, Marjorie! Who had mistaken beast’s temporary infatuation for love. Evil can never be tamed; even leashed, it will bite and growl until its teeth boil and rot. And even then, it will chew with its gummy mouth.

 

Hark! The only way to combat evil is with a stake through the heart, or the bewitching flame of the pyre… or matching it.

 

Which Marjorie, sweet and gentle Marjorie, could never amount to. If only she knew that the tiger will never lay with the lamb.

 

Marjorie’s bleat caught in her throat.

 

She hurtled through the air, the wind whispering, whistling. Within it, she heard the harrowing cries of girls long dead. They spoke her name like a eulogy, calling, cajoling…

 

Do you know what it feels like to drown?

 

The water collapsed overhead; the ocean had opened its monstrous maw and swallowed the girl whole. And the water had teeth. It was cold, biting, and dug into the softness of her flesh with a hiss. It was not a gentle mistress.

 

As soon as she’d plunged beneath the surface, she was surrounded by eternal night. There were no stars down here. There were no fireflies, no balmy summer breeze—nothing but emptiness—and worse, terrifying fullness.

 

Unseen fingers dragged her deeper, ever deeper. The more she struggled, the stronger their hold, pulling her further below the waves. The darkness pressed around her at all sides, a lecherous thing.

 

Marjorie’s chest threatened to burst. Asphyxiation, broken-heartedness; she could still feel where his fingers had clamped around her neck. She flailed and cried. Of course, nothing came out. The ocean had no time or need for tears. It had been made of them. Born of them.

 

Her eyes stung. She would drink in the nothingness, for it was all she had left.

 

But I am Marjorie. And this is not where my story ends.

 

A creature, equal parts beautiful as it was horrifying, appeared before me. Tendrils of hair, like seaweed, billowed from her scalp. She stared with black eyes, unblinking. I could only see her through the curtain of darkness due to the glow of her scales, crested along her face and body, the milky blueness of her skin in sharp contrast to the midnight surrounding her.

 

I was deep now, too deep; the sea had swallowed me. I sat in the pit of its stomach, my chest bursting, aching. No light of the surface reached this forsaken place.

 

The creature tilted her head. Her mouth opened, her tongue clicked; teeth like needlepoints clustered in her mouth, spilling from her black gums.

 

And yet, the sight of her monstrous maw did not frighten me the way it should have. There was little but a calm acceptance that had settled in my mind, similar to the sight of a season’s first snow. Or the stillness that accompanied standing beneath a waterfall.

 

I was going to die. She saw it in my eyes, in the blueness of my face. Even now, the edges of my vision blurred, and darkened; the light of her scales was not enough to chase away my encroaching death.

 

Sharp nails dug into my arm. I felt myself be tugged with a fierce ravenousness that did not heed the tearing of my skin. The last I saw of her were teeth, sharp and hungry.

 

***

 

I died that day.

 

It was both the beginning and the end of everything.

 

The cave in which I awoke was damp, water dripping like saliva; the stalagmites were the teeth of a hungry dog, a rabid creature. But it was solid ground.

 

I pressed my hand to my chest. There was no longer a heartbeat there; there was nothing but still, dead silence. I took a breath. The air was heavy with moisture. And outside the lip of the cavern lurked a pool of water. And within it, a monstrous sight.

 

Her upper body protruded from the surface. Long, dark hair was slick against her blued skin, and her eyes studied me with reptilian stillness. Not even the water rippled. For she was not an intrusion, no—she was received into the element as though she was a part of it.

 

“Did you… do this to me?” My voice was not my own. It creaked like the floorboards of an old house; dust had settled there, and my throat held cobwebs.

 

She slithered out of the water. She grabbed my face with both of her webbed hands, looming over me as she stood, somewhat upright, like a snake on its haunches, propped upward with her thick tail. Her touch was cold but not unwelcome. She cried in a language I did not yet understand.

 

But it was one of loneliness. It was a pain that spanned centuries. It echoed in the cavern, one haunted by ghosts I did not know. Because a mermaid cannot cry. Instead, the sadness festers within them, releasing only in their melancholy song.

 

I placed my hand over hers. She led me to the water, smiling; her mouth was no longer a thicket of fangs, but one of friendliness. I realized now that she was smiling at me, even back then. Reassuring me.

 

As I eased into the shallow pool—a portal of sorts—her fingers interlocked with mine.

 

Shed your previous life, she seemed to urge. Become a part of mine.

 

And I did.

 

Leaning into her arms, the coldness of her body was in sharp contrast to my flush. I shivered as her claw tips raked my skin, black and stained as though with blood—and yet, due to some inextricable feeling I cannot convey, I trusted them completely. And each stroke of her claws ripped off skin after successive skin, revealing beneath a nascent patina of shining scales.

 

They were iridescent, beautiful. My skin had been but a mollusk, an ugly, hard thing, and now my body was sheathed in pearly splendor. Beneath the soft glow of the cavern moss, luminous and magical, and her expectant gaze, I was more whole than I had ever been on land.

 

The skin I shed, she gathered it; she held it out to me, expectant. As if on instinct—or, perhaps, our souls had become linked with a supernatural closeness I had yet to understand, I knew what she wanted from me. I participated in a sort of cannibalism, the eating of self. I was, in that instance, a watery Ouroboros.

 

Her lips touched mine, warmer than I could’ve imagined; I responded in kind, with more passion than I knew I could hold.

 

And away we swam.

"Extraterrestrials and the Adventures of David Attenborough"

by Brittany Waldrip

 

           Eleanor and Lee were quite different from that of their extraterrestrial peers. They lived within an abandoned asteroid behind the Milky Way Inn, lacked status and got their food from the dumpster. Lee was a lover of comics and knew how much they were worth if sold to the right people. Every night he would sit beside Eleanor and read them over and over until the both of them were laughing so hard and entranced within their tales of science fiction that the pain of hunger subsided enough for them to drift to sleep. Their favorite stories were those that centered around earth, the natural wonders, and human existence. E.T. Meets Paul was their all-time favorite comic because it spoke of two extraterrestrials who went to earth and upon discovering one another they set out on an adventure where every night they smoke, drank, and took pleasure in fighting wolves in Canada. In other sections of the book, E.T. And Paul even went on an exclusive, all expenses paid vacation to Florida where they visited Space Beach. Ironically the two did not like the area and said it was overrated because who would think that there was sand in space?

            A few weeks passed, Lee began feeling a little worse and needed to see a doctor but found they had no more comics to sell except E.T. Meets Paul. With tears in his eyes, he sent Eleanor to sell the comic book.

Eleanor pleaded for him not to sell it, “Come on Lee, we can find other ways to get money. What if we robbed one of the tenants?”

“No”, said Lee with anger in his voice. “We are not those kinds of people. We make an honest living even if it means that we steal half eaten bags of Cheeto puffs and extremely flat cans of Dr. Pepper from the dumpster.”

            Eleanor could not bare to sell the comic and so she devised a plan to have the doctor see Lee before paying him. The news was shocking and somewhat unbelievable.

“It will be alright”, Lee said looking to Eleanor.

“No, it won’t Lee! You don’t understand. I cannot keep going without you”. There were tears streaming down Eleanor’s face and she began heaving gulps of air as though she was a little girl again.

“You knew I would not live forever, so why are crying so?”

Filled with anger and sadness, she looked over at lee. “You are not leaving naturally… you are dying of cancer. You are being taken from me and there is nothing I can do!”

“Anger will not make the time I have left better. Let us sell the comic book, pay the doctor, and enjoy the few weeks we have left together”. Lee coughed a little as to not allow Eleanor see him chocking on the emotions hidden within his throat.

            ………….

            Later that night Eleanor begrudgingly went to sell the beloved comic book but before she could get to the buyers’ house, she spotted a book store by the name Darwin’s Earth Dweller’s. She was both confused and intrigued by the name but saw that they sold comic books.

Eleanor ran across the street and before opening the door saw a sign on that read,

Extraterrestrial’s not welcome. Earthling lovers only!

Member’s get in free on Oxygen Tuesday’s.

We Buy all things Human!

After reading the sign a few times over and pondered on why there was a weird white man with a flowery shirt and hat made of wood splinters, she reluctantly entered the store. Upon entering, she was taken back with wonder and excitement. They had a model of the Grand Canyon, sitting in the middle of the sales floor. The walls were covered in scenes of popular video games like Halo, Mortal Kombat, and Modern Warfare. In the windows they had scenes from E.T. Meets Paul, where they reconstructed the best scene of all where the two stood on Space Beach, holding strawberry margaritas in one hand and a cigarette in the other. It was every Sci-Fi nerds dream to enter an establishment that had so many things about earth. For most of her and Lee’s life they were made fun of and told that humans were not real. Here though, people believed!

            After looking around for a few minutes Eleanor went to leave but was stopped by a man. He was an odd creature, with tentacles on each side of his slender belly and a Blink-182 shirt. His webbed feet were protected by sandals that had Patagonia written across them with tiny silhouettes of small hairy animals with humps on their backs.

“Can I help you?”, asked Eleanor. Hesitant that she as a customer should be saying that to someone who actually worked there.

The man looked down at Eleanor with an uneasy smile. “Yes, you actually can help me. I noticed that you have a copy of E.T Meets Paul that is in mint condition! Would you be interested in partaking in a little trade with me?

Eleanor looked at the man with surprise and said, “No, I am actually going to sell it to someone right now”.

“Well, I am sure that you will get a pretty penny for it too”, said the owner. “But what if I could offer you a trade that you could not resist?”

Eleanor felt curious but her face remained skeptical. “What kind of trade would you be willing to offer?”

Before the words left her mouth, the owner disappeared behind the counter, the sounds of his slippery feet squeaking in his sliders.

“Here we go, screamed the owner.” I was worried that I had misplaced it somewhere! Throwing it on the counter, she observed an awkward invention.

“What is it”, she asked shockingly.

“It is a DVD collection silly!”

“What would I do with it though? I am needing money in order to pay the doctor so that my friend Lee can get the treatment he needs. You see he has cancer and only has a few weeks to live.

The owner looked concerned and said to Eleanor, “then why even pay to see the doctor if his fate is pre-destined? Instead, you can enjoy this DVD series on Earth’s natural wonders!”

Not yet convinced Eleanor shook her head swiftly.

Worried that he would not seal the deal the owner bent over the counter and whispered into Eleanor’s ear. “I did not want to say this out loud but this DVD series is not simply an earthly form of entertainment… it is magic!”

Eleanor gasped with curiosity. “How do you know for sure? What makes you think they are magic?”

The owner then proceeded to tell her that upon placing the DVD’s one a time in a DVD player he was transported to another world. A world among humans, nature, and all other things earth like.

Feeling torn and a lingering feeling of deceit, Eleanor thought on it for a while, staring back and forth at the comic book and then to the DVD series. Then like the bolt of lightning found on the cover of the earthly form of entertainment, she thought of how her and Lee could explore all the places they wanted to see! What an experience it would be for them and then his last few weeks in space could be spent on earth via teleportation.

“You got yourself a deal, said Eleanor” She threw the comic book on the counter and ran out the DVDs in hand. It had been a long time since she ran this fast, the solar wind blowing through her hair and Pismis 24 shining brightly above her. Nothing could dampen her mood in that moment and being as happy as she was to offer Lee an experience of a lifetime, she could not help but think of herself.

“Oh, he will love this so much!”, she said to herself.

“He will be so overjoyed at my decision that he will perhaps cry or jump for joy!”

……….

            Lee did not jump for joy and instead burst into tears. Screaming to the top of his lungs, Lee asked, “What have you done Eleanor! How will we pay for my doctor’s visits? Why would you let such a slum trick you into trading such an expensive comic book for a dinky disc of metal that we have no way of playing!”.

            Eleanor had forgot to ask the owner if they could borrow his DVD player but then again it would not have mattered. Turns out they also needed a t.v., remote, and antenna which needed satellites to help with getting good reception.

            Lee did not speak to Eleanor for the rest of the night and she laid awake crying profusely. Her tears were continuous and heavy for one who lives in a world with no gravity. Eleanor looked through the DVD’s and read the introductions that you find on the back of their case. After a while she fell fast asleep with the tear-stained cases surrounding her. But a galactical storm began to brew in the special abyss above them

………..

“Wake up! Wake Up! Lee was shaking Eleanor profusely.

“What is it? What is wrong, she asked groggily.

“There was a horrible storm last night and it left behind some kind of electric machines”! She had never seen Lee so terrified, not even when he was informed of the diagnosis just a few days ago.

“What do you think we should do about this”, she asked, not knowing what to think of the bulky pieces of metal and plastic covering the neighboring streets and alleys.

“We need to help pick up all of this and give it back to government”.

“Why, what for? Are they dangerous?” … Eleanor was frightened and confused all at the same time.

“No, they are not dangerous but the government is worried that everyone will think it is a sign of human life! They are urging the city to return every single electronic so that hysteria will not grow”.

            With that, they both began to clean up the area around their makeshift home in the alley. When returning the junk back to the capitol, Eleanor recognized the sign, Darwin’s Earth Dwellers along with the owner standing in front, on the sidewalk. She was instantly filled with embarrassment, not because he tricked her but because she allowed herself to believe him so easily. Eventually they both locked eyes and the owner motioned for Eleanor to come over. With a frown on her face, she swiftly shook her head no, but the owner kept motioning her still. Ensuring that he matched her aggression with swift motions of his arm and hand. Finally, she caved in and went over to him.

            Eleanor spoke with fire in her words, “What do you want, earthling wanna be?”

One could see he was a bit appealed by the surprise look in his eyes but it was dampened by the devious smile that followed.

“Come on now, you cannot be angry with me!”

“And why not? You tricked me. You are a trickster. A hateful man who made me think that a set of DVDs were worth more than my mint condition version E.T. Meets Paul.”

The owner put quickly put his hands up and said, “Oooo correction, I never told you the DVDs were worth more… you came up with that idea on your own little girl.”

Eleanor felt the anger rise and begin to heat her face. Or was it the tears that began falling down both of her cheeks? With a clenched jaw she said, “What…Do…You… WANT!”

“No need for so much resentment… I remembered that last night you did not have a DVD player. Right?”

“That is right and you knew that too, and you also know that we are not allowed to have them!”

“Yeah, yeah, whatever. So, I kept a DVD player back from last night’s storm and thought you would like to do another trade?”

“Another trade!? You must think I am quite gullible you piece of- “what is going on here Eleanor? We need to finish bringing these things to the capitol.”

“Oh nothing, just speaking to a friend.”

Lee looked disapprovingly at the man and said, “I have never met him before though.”

Eleanor quickly covered her tracks, “oh you would not have. He is kind of new and we don’t really talk to each other much.”

“Oh, well make sure to wrap up the conversation. Some of us have to help clean up.”

________________

As Lee began walking away from them the owner looked back to Eleanor.

“So, what do you say? Just one more trade and call it even.”

Flabbergasted she replied, “what could I possibly give you? The comic book was our last form of revenue and I have nothing left to offer.”

“I understand that and so I have done some thinking” … a devious smile, more cunning than the first appeared. “Your friend there is dying, correct?”

“Yes, he is dying.”

“Well, how about I give you the DVD player so you both can enjoy the series… BUT once he dies, I get his heart.”

Eleanor stood there with her mouth open, not believing what she had just heard. Why would he ask for a heart? How could she even take Lee’s heart out once he died? It was impossible. It was ridiculous. More than anything, it was crazy!

“I don’t have all day now.”

Eleanor looked at him with shock, “I could not give you his heart for a DVD player. What do you take me for? A capitalist?”

 

“No, but just think about this. He will not need his heart once he is dead… and also, is it not worth it to give him the facade of what life is like outside of space? To let him dream of a world that possibly exists on earth. You yourself knows it is true.”

“Fine! I will make this final trade with you but you better not trick me ever again. And I do not want to ever see you again after our trade it final.”

“You got yourself a deal my friend!”

“I am not your friend!”

“Whatever, I was just trying to be nice”

……….

            Later that evening after Eleanor had helped Lee take the final pieces of electric metal to government she headed back towards the store. Right before she got there, she heard a “pst” sound from an alley way. She was fearful of who or what was lurking in the dark until she saw the eight tentacled bodice of the owner walk into the neon lighting of the street.

“Here you go. One DVD player as promised.”

“How did you get it so quickly?”

“Ah I know some people… they really know how to help a person out!”

Without asking further questions in fear of incrimination herself just by knowing him, Eleanor headed home. As she left, the owner belted out a reminder of what she was to give him in return.

“Don’t forget to bring the bum bump when they da dies”.

How indiscreet could he be? Or did people on this side of town just not care?

……….

“Hey Lee, guess what I have!” Eleanor, out of breath at this point was rushing towards him with their prize in hand.

“What do you have there?” Lee asked.

“It is a DVD player so we can watch the series! You will love this so much and I thought we could hook it up to the TV set in one of the rooms in the hotel.”

“And how do you suppose we do that? We would get in trouble if someone found us. The owners are already generous enough to let us live in their alley way. I don’t want us to mess up a good thing. This is fine living you know!”

“I know but here me out, room twenty-one is always open because it has that nasty draft. We could hide out there during the night to watch our shows and in the day, we sneak out through the fire escape.”

Parts of the plan seemed too easy to be true while the others gave Lee a tingly of excitement. What fun it would be to spend their last few days watching a three-part series on earth! Though it was made believe, Lee and Eleanor longed to visit earth and see all the landmarks that E.T. And Paul had during their stay.

“What the heck, let’s do it.”

Filled with the happiness of the moment, Eleanor jumped for joy and said, “Yes! It is going to be so much fun and you won’t regret it!”

……….

The first night, the two of them snuck up to room twenty-one and watched a series on earth’s oceans and coasts. On earth humans were surrounded by such unique and weird creatures like whales, sharks, and jellyfish.

“You know Lee, if humans really exist then there is no way that they do not believe in us! Because look at all these creatures they see every day on their own planet. How exciting?”

“Right? How funny would that be to go to earth and all you see are signs that say “proof of extraterrestrial life” or “Beware, alien abduction”?

They both laughed hysterically about the possibilities of humans being scared of them. “We are normal but they are weird”, said Eleanor with a big smile on her face and one cocked eyebrow.

“Right? They are so weird” agreed Lee.

[Narration by David Attenborough] … “At the end of our journey we come to one of the most peculiar and exciting beaches in North America’s southeast region. “Space Beach” screamed lee and Eleanor. “With its beautiful white sands and history for being home to Kennedy Space Center”

Eleanor and Lee’s eyes were as wide as saucers, closely watching the TV screen start out close and then rise into sky, showing a bigger view of the beach and its neighboring building.

           

            Daylight came quickly and with the rise of the sun, the two friends climbed back down the fire escape. “We got to visit Space Beach! Just like E.T. And Paul Eleanor… last night was the best night of my life. Thank you!” Because of Lee’s smile, Eleanor felt a bit of justification within her mistake but in the back of her mind she remembered that she her final trade was something she could never come back from. And with only two weeks remaining, he was not doing as well as the doctors first thought.

……….

            The next week Lee was feeling extremely sickly but Eleanor urged him to watch the next episode with her. Coughing horrendously, he said “No, you go ahead without me. Just let me know where they go this time.” “Have you lost your mind? I am not going without you Lee. I will help you up the fire escape okay! So come one and let’s go…”

The both of them finally made it up to room twenty-one and that night’s episode was incredible. “Wolves, Lee, look they are wolves… how exciting is it that for two nights in a row we are getting to explore the same places that E.T. And Paul did?”

            You see the comic duo was more than a tale of science fiction, it was a dream come true for Lee and Eleanor. They were simple city folk who dreamt of a life away from the cramped living you found in outer space. They were pioneers at heart even if their birth certificates had the city of New Pollux written on it.

[David Attenborough’s Voice] … “Here in the forests of Canada, a pair of sibling wolves try to survive their first winter without Mother. Thus far, the two-year pups have struggled to find food in this barren land of ice and snow… but wait what is that in the distance? A vole mouses! Native to Northern Canada this unique rodent can be found throughout the country’s grasslands and low arctic tundra. With a broad snout and slender brownish-yellow body, this rodent must keep itself hidden within the sticks and bushes for safety.”

“Wow! That is so neat. They are a lot like us, don’t you think?” Lee looked over at Eleanor who was entranced with the sights and sounds of earth’s different seasons.

“Yes, you are right. We do share commonalities with the Vole rodents. But do you think that rodents would ever want to live in an alley way? It is pretty disgusting.”

            Together the two of them quietly laughed but it was due to their sense of humor rather than the irony that filled Eleanor’s words. Daylight came once again and heading down the fire escape with her help, Lee looked to the sky as it got brighter and brighter.

            “Thank you”

            “For what? Grunted Eleanor”

            “For giving me happiness and enjoyment in my last days”

            “Don’t say that, you could live longer than expected.”

            “Let’s not look a gift-horse in the mouth Eleanor. We both know it is coming and I wanted to let you know while I was still sane that I was grateful towards you and that I love you dearly.”

Tears welled up in Eleanor’s eyes but she was determined to make the best of what little time they had left.

 

 

……….

“Okay Lee, are you ready for our final episode?”

Lee nodded slowly and gave a thumbs up to show his excitement.

“I sure am, he said slowly. Let’s do this thing!”

            Lee had deteriorated since there last episode but he was still alive, which Eleanor was grateful for. Tonight’s episode was based on the lifestyle of humans who were known as Americans…

“What a funny name”, Lee said while he sat up against the end of the hotel bed. “Do you think that these humans will be as weird as their names are?

“I am not really sure but wait until you hear this intro!”

Taking a deeper look into humanities effects on our planet, David Attenborough explores the lifestyle of Americans. Drinking, smoking, and bars seem to dot the landscape of one city in the country’s Western Hemisphere; they call it Las Vegas! In this city of gambling, sex, and drugs we will explore a popular bar by the name Area 51 where here, anyone who is a human is weird and anyone who is not is cool.

“Isn’t that the coolest thing you ever heard of Lee!”

“Ha-aha, yes, it is! I imagine they must gawk over humans as much as we do, you think?”

Eleanor vigorously shook her head yes, and proceeded to hit play on the final DVD.

[David Attenborough] “Here in America, there seems to be a divide on whether or not the health of our planet is in danger. By day you can see people rally in part of California, Minnesota, and New York. These particular states lead the country in being the greenest states but what about areas that do not?

            This brings us to a bar in Las Vegas, Nevada popularly known as Area 51. Here tourists and locals alike live it up in the neon lights.

[In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida by Iron Butterfly plays in the background]

On any given night you can see plastic bottles in the alley ways and trash carelessly discarded into the streets in front of the establishment. Enjoying life to its fullest is not necessarily a bad thing, even in the United Kingdom we enjoy a good lager with our sausage rolls and Victoria sponges. But at what cost does this have to livelihood of the wildlife surrounding the outskirts of the city?

“Wow! That was such an interesting episode. I sure do wish that the humans would do better to save their planet. Maybe if we visited them sometime and took both humans and animals back here to study… we could understand them better.”

Eleanor’s enthusiasm was shared by Lee but he was quickly fading. The doctor’s had overestimated Lee’s life expectancy and now he was slowly dying next to Eleanor.

“You cannot go just yet. What if we could get more DVD’s? Would you live longer if we had more adventures to go on?”

Lee laughed, “Oh Eleanor, you were always the kind to bargain and this time I could not bargain with you even if I wanted to.”

Eleanor began crying and she hugged Lee so tightly that perhaps no one or nothing could take him from her grasp.

“Promise me that one day you will go to earth and see its beaches, Canada’s tundra, or maybe even this Area 51 place… I think they would enjoy if we stayed there a while during our visit.”

Through her burning tears, she looked at Lee. “Of course! We can go together maybe…”

“Oh Ellie… don’t be silly…”

With that he was gone forever. The pain, the heartache, and he did not even last till the morning sun. Though it was bad timing Eleanor remembered the trade agreement she had made with the store owner. A DVD player for Lee’s heart.

“That knifing little vole will not have his heart. I CANNOT allow it!”

            Eleanor sat there for a total of thirty minutes devising a plan to make her and Lee’s dreams come true. She struggled to get Lee’s body across town and hidden in an alley dumpster next to a Enterspace- Rent a Spaceship for safe keeping. “Do not worry, I will be back for you Lee!” She kissed his forehead and rushed over to the local Aldi-Damocloid to fetch some beef hearts.

“I need the largest beef heart you have and asap!”

The butcher looked at her oddly but carried out her request.

“Oh, and make sure it is bloody too. My company likes it more on the juicy side”

At this point the butcher was disgusted and simply threw a raw and unclean beef heart on the counter. “That will be five dollars and seventy-five cents after tax.” Eleanor was worried because she could not afford to pay the gentleman.

“Would you be interested in a trade?” She asked hesitantly.

“Ma’am, we are capitalists in this here establishment. What fool do you take me for?” The butcher took back the beef heart and being the bargainer, she was Eleanor offered him a trade he could not resist.

“What if I told you I could get you a fresh squid?”

At this the butcher turned back around with eyes wide. “You mean to say you have an actual squid!”

“I certainly do! It had tentacles on its sides and slippery webbed feet too.”

“Wow, I have never seen one with actual feet before! When can you bring it to me?

“I can bring you the squid in say an hour at most. I promise to deliver it straight to you.”

The butcher thought about it and said, “make sure you meet me in the back alley, behind the store. You see, there are no camera’s there and then we can make our trade. Deal?”

Eleanor with a devious smile on her face said, “Deal!”.

            Only having an hour left, she made her way over to the unopened store where she had made her first trade. There she broke in from the back and slowly made her way to the owner’s office. Sitting there on his desk lay her and Lee’s E.T. Meets Paul comic book. She quickly grabbed it and made her way outside, through the back alleyways, and finally to the Enterspace-Rent a Spaceship where she rented a top of the line Cadillac Escaladeship with an extended cap and chrome trim.

……….

“Where did you get such a nice spaceship? I thought you were poor or something.”

“Oh, a friend lent it to me for this occasion.”

“What for though?”

Eleanor thought quickly and said, “well you see, I wanted to thank you for being so generous and helping me give Lee the best three weeks of his life. So, I am taking you somewhere that sells beef hearts! This butcher said it was actually the lining of the heart chamber but that it paired well with an actual heart. If you are not inter- “

“NO! I am actually, they are so expensive you know and, on my salary, a man cannot afford much with inflation being as crazy as it is.”

Eleanor gave the owner the beef strips and told him not to open the bag yet because the coroner said it would spoil if he did so before refrigeration. And to her surprise, the owner believed it. The two made their way to the Aldi-Damocloid. “Why are we not going through the front door?” Asked the owner.

“Well funny story is the butcher is on his break and if management sees him working off the clock, then they will work him like a dog. I would not want that for him since he was so generous to give you free beef hearts. Don’t you agree?”

“You are right about that” said the owner and they made their way to the stores back door.

Eleanor knocked on the door and the butcher came out with a knife and bag in hand.

“What is going on! You set me up, you little bit-...” By the time he could finish his vulgar sentence, the butcher slit his belly open and shoved him in the bag.

“Thank you for helping me get some nice squid! And at such a low price too…”

“Oh, don’t mention it”, laughed Eleanor.

“Here take back your beef hearts. I think that I have lost my appetite and also, where I am going, they offer alcohol, sausage rolls, full bags of Cheeto puffs, and crisp Dr. Pepper’s. For dessert, I think Lee and I will have some Victoria sponge too.”

Eleanor walked away and got into her new Cadillac Escaladeship. She leaned in the back and drug Lee’s perfectly preserved body to the front passenger and buckled him in…    

            As the sun rose on Lee’s final night in space, Ellie drove down the Helix Nebula towards earth. With Lee beside her and their comic book safety in the glove compartment, they set out to see the world. Not separately but together… just as she hoped they would.

“Maybe we can pick ourselves up some strawberry margaritas with sugar on the rim Lee. I know how you love your sugar! Then we could perhaps pick up ol’ David Attenborough, that guy seems to really know his way a-round.” Hahaha “you get it Lee, a-round, as in earth is round and he knows his way around.” She took his silence as an agreement, and they disappeared into the horizon.

________________

"Freedom's Failed Fantasy"

by Savannah Price

 

The cold wind ripped into her skin as she continued along the dirt path. Her hair, which had once been securely tied back, blew freely around her reddening face and whipped against her skin as readily as the wind. Where she was headed, she could not admit, even to herself, but she was determined to put distance between herself and all that was behind her. All that threatened to pull her into an existence worse than nonexistence. Was it like this for everyone?

Their big eyes filled her mind, begging her to stay.

Tears resumed the trail they often followed on her cheeks as the projection of their hurt expressions overtook her. Her foot caught on a stump she hadn’t noticed through the blur of the salty water in her eyes, and she was thankful for the pain that surged through her palm and found itself in the bruises that scattered along her arm and ribs as she caught herself on the solid ground. She deserved this, for leaving them behind.

Deep breaths.

In and out.

Would they ever forgive her?

The earthy smell of the dirt was soothing as she collected herself, still on the ground, unwilling or unable to lift herself. The wind pressed her unruly hair into the tears that smeared her face, blocking her vision almost completely now. Her ragged, forced breath echoed off the hard ground and met her ears. She could see only so far in the scattered moonlight that found its way through the trees. Around her, the murmur of crickets and the cry of tree fogs fought with the ringing in her ears, the whipping of the wind around her, and the harsh catches of her sobs.

They’re okay.

He won’t hurt them.

In and out.

She could hear their sweet voices in her head now, telling her it would be okay. It should be her telling them, she knew, but she had never been what they needed. What they deserved. She couldn’t blame it all on him. All the hurt he had caused had only occurred because of her inability to leave sooner. Before she had forced more innocent beings into his grasp. But she had failed at this too. Only leaving when the pain, the guilt, the confinement had become too much for her selfish being to handle.

Was she selfish?

Surely, they would think so.

She knew he did.

Pushing herself off the ground finally, she regained her urgency to get further away. Her steps were as wobbly and uneven as her breath, both taking any opportunity they could to propel her forward faster. The gurgle of a nearby stream told her she was getting closer to her final destination. She was almost to freedom. Her steps increasing in vivacity, her feet met the icy stream with insistence. She didn’t notice the biting water seeping into her boots as she kept her eyes ahead, trained on the tree line, searching for the flash of light, the sound of her escape.

I thought it ran at 11.

It has to.

What will I do if-

The sound of a train’s whistle cut through the night air, silencing the crickets and frogs for only a moment. She sighed in relief, the cold air filling her lungs with necessity. She squinted, looking for a sign of the train’s proximity. Although she couldn’t see the light of the train, another whistle ripped through the air, telling her it was going much faster than she anticipated.

How would she make it in time?

Stumbling towards the noise, she forced herself faster and faster. The light attached to the front of the train now flashed through the woods. Her breath ragged, her hair flying in the wind. She wouldn’t make it in time. She was sprinting now, sweat beaded on her forehead despite the freezing temperature of the night air. Tears fought against her eyes. Sobs fought her thrashing breath. Suddenly, she saw the edge of the woods ahead, where the trees suddenly stopped, and the steel tracks shimmered like silver in the moonlight. She surged forward faster, conscious of the loud metal screeching of the train on its tracks, bounding down its path, closer and closer to her.

If only she had been so certain of her purpose.

If only she had been given a path to follow.

She didn’t have time for reflecting now.

The train ripped through the clearing ahead of her. She was still twenty feet away, stretching her freezing legs as far as they could go, no longer able to feel her toes. The train stretched on, holding at least fifty cargo cars. She was going to make it in time! As she stepped out of the tree line, she hesitated only a moment before scanning the flying cars for an opportunity. The train was going too fast. She was never going to be able to make it on. Her sobs quickened as her escape plan faded in front of her eyes. Only thirty cars left, she had to act now.

Just pick one!

Just jump and hold on tight!

Twenty.

She held her hair back with her cracking, immobile hands, her chest heaving with the effort of life. She took a step forward just as the train’s speed sent another wave of the frigid air against her chapped cheeks.

Fifteen.

It was going too fast. She was accepting failure now, the adrenaline that had urged her out of the door, through the woods, and to the spot she stood now was wearing off.

Ten.

Their eyes flashed in her vision again. Their pleading eyes. If only she could have brought them with her. If only she could have saved them too. The image of their hurt, the hurt she had caused, propelled her forward. She took a deep breath, looking at the final five cars in front of her. Setting her gaze on the third car, which had a large metal handle running vertically up it, she fixed her stance.

This is it.

This is freedom.

She jumped.

Her hands fumbled against the cold metal bar, unwilling to grasp the metal, unable to a good hold as the cold held them hostage. Her feet did not catch on the metal step that ran under the train car as she had planned, sending her icy body falling to the solid ground.

She had failed freedom. Her mind was scattered, her ears were ringing. She was sobbing but she could not feel the tears. She only felt emptiness.

“Mommy!” She tried to look around, but she wasn’t able. Her child cried out again, worry and fear lacing her voice. “Mommy, please!”

Suddenly, she woke up, and she was not in the woods where she had attempted her escape, but in the exact place she had been fleeing from. One of her desperate children stood at the side of her bed, her hand latched to her mother’s, begging her to wake from whatever nightmare had sent her into such a fit.

“Baby, baby, what happened?” Her voice was hardly a croak, her throat was dry and brittle. She knew what had happened. It was what always happened when her daughter woke her up with the same terrified warning in her voice.

You’re being too loud.

You’ll wake him up.

“You were screaming again, mommy. Are you okay?” Those big eyes, that silent, scared voice pleaded with her. She forced a smile, as she looked around the room, spotting her husband passed out on the floor nearby, the odor of alcohol emitting in an almost perceivable cloud with every breath that escaped him. She shivered at seeing him again so soon but forced strength to the surface, the strength she knew her daughter needed to see.

“I’m sorry, I had a bad dream,” she offered quietly, pulling her daughter towards her and planting a gentle kiss on her forehead. “Go on to bed, don’t worry about me.”

She knew her daughter wasn’t convinced, but she tiptoed around the drunken silhouette of her father, slipped out of the door, and went off to bed. She looked at the bumpy, broken shape of her husband on the floor and promptly closed her eyes again.

She let her mind take her away into the woods, stumbling along the path to freedom.

"The Butterfly's Effect"

by Reagan Brady

 

The cityscape was alight with the sparkle of civilian life; skyscrapers towered against the blackness of night, defiant in the way they shone greater than the moonlight. Sprawled out before her, it was a symphony of artificial stars. A thousand cars with their angry, red eyes scuttle on the streets, weaving through the buildings like veins, stories below. From this high up, they appear to be nothing more than bugs within New Arden’s ecosystem.

Lunestra’s green wings enveloped her small frame, protecting her from the harsh winds. Her soft brown mask obscured the majority of her face and allowed for some shielding of her eyes during flight.

And tonight, all she wanted to do was fly away.

Her body buzzed with adrenaline, the air crackling with the promise of something. Had this really been the best course of action? If someone saw her associating with such a villain—her nemesis, no less—what would the repercussions be? She was supposed to be a pillar of hope for the city; she…

“Hey, Green.”

With a yelp, Lunestra jerked backward.

“Woah, now.” He reached out to steady her. She flinched away from his touch; if this bothered him, he didn’t show it. His wings were sleeker than hers, sharper, too, a vibrant orange-and-black to her more subdued green-and-brown.

 “Don’t get tangled up in your own head like that. What if I was a big, bad villain? I’d take advantage of that moment of weakness,” the man smiled. It was anything but comforting, however; silhouetted by the moonlight as he was, he was sharp and cold. His hood shadowed most of his face and dark hair, but his eyes, so light a gray they were nearly white, were still striking.

“You are. A villain, I mean.” She crossed her arms over her chest, doing her best at intimidation to forgive her embarrassing blunder.

The smile slipped from his face, replaced with a look of cool, calculating indifference; there was the Machiavellist she knew he was.

“And yet you called me here.”

“Only because we, uh, have to talk about something. Clear the air.”

“Oh yeah?” He cocked his head to the side, gaze vulpine in its sharpness. His hood slipped off, just a little, revealing the streaks of burnt orange that ran through his black hair. Those same strands she’d run through her fingers—and not in a way she should, not with him. “I’m listening.”

“You know what I’m talking about.”

He’s not going to make me say it, is he? Actually… that’s exactly the kind of thing he’d do, that bastard. What was I thinking?

“Mmm. I’m not quite sure, actually.” He tapped his chin, velvety black gloves, which she knew to be so soft, obscuring his hands. “I’m a very busy boy, you know. I think you’ll have to remind me.”

Gods, she cursed. How does he manage to look so good, all the time?

The time she’d spent flying around tonight—Lunestra knew her auburn hair was a tangled mess, despite her best efforts to clean up before this meet-up.

Because heroes met their nemeses after hours all the time, right?

But she wouldn’t give him the satisfaction of seeing her flustered—not any more than he’d already seen, anyway. If asked, she’d blame the flush in her cheeks on the cold.

“You really are. Busy, I mean; do you know how long it took me to clean up your mess from this morning tonight?”

“If only you’d meet me in the daytime,” he sighed. “You could solve my… issues then, and we could spend the night doing something else.”

Lunestra coughed. Probably louder than she needed to.

She could turn the tables on him, couldn’t she?

“Well. We both know why I can’t do that; you’re just ~too strong~ in the daytime.” She took a step forward, trailing her fingers down his neck. His breath hitched at the touch… but he didn’t pull away. “Just as I’m so much stronger than you at night, right now.”

“Are you suggesting what I think you are?” His hand, faster than she’d expected, snatched her wrist. She gasped at the touch. It was so… warm.

“I don’t know what you mean,” she said, jerking her arm back. After all, who knew what he’d do to her? He was immoral. He hurt people. She couldn’t go around touching him like that. She needed to remember that.

“It’s about to be dawn.”

She looked. True enough to his word, the Sun was slowly inching its way upward, not yet enough to begin dispelling much of the darkness, but it was enough.

“We could fight right now, you know. It’s about as balanced as it’s gonna get. Unless… are you scared, Green? Afraid to lose to me again?”

“No! Never. If you want to fight, that’s fine. Prepare yourself, Monark!”

“C’mon. We’re at least on a first-name basis by now, right… Amora?”

She was called many things. Amora during her day-to-day, Lunestra as a superhero, Green by Monark—an uninspired nickname, really. But him?

“I don’t… know your name,” Lunestra suddenly realized, and felt so naked. He knew hers, he knew so much about her, but he was still an enigma in her mind, a shadowed question mark.

“Right. How about I’ll tell you if you win?” He already had two daggers in hand, each glinting dangerously beneath the fast-fading moonlight.

“And if you win?” She cautioned, studying the small blades. They’d nicked her more times than she could count. Lately, it felt as though he’d been pulling his punches, but it was hard to know for sure. Even so, she felt her magic swell in her chest, along with a strange mixture of excitement and anticipation.

“I’ll take you out on a date.”

“Th-That’s gotta be against the rules!”

“That’s the thing with you heroes,” his voice purred from behind her. “Always so caught up on the rules.”

He slashed at her, but it went straight through—an illusion. He barked a laugh. “You’ve always been so tricky.”

“Hey, that’s my line!” She materialized behind him. One. Two. Three. Before her first illusion was even dispelled, he was surrounded.

He shook his head, smiling. “As much as I like you, Green, I don’t think I can handle more than one of you.”

Like? Not hate?

Monark got low to the ground, dodging Lunestra’s moth beam before she’d even had a chance to unscramble her brains. The bright green light fizzled into nothing.

With each moment, the Sun crept higher.

Using his incredible dexterity (really, Lunestra could hardly touch her toes), he leapt up and threw down a smoke bomb. It flooded the rooftop with surprising speed, and Lunestra, choking, beat her wings to disperse it. Her eyes stung. It was almost as if the smoke was alive, wrapping its tendrils around her legs and neck.

A shadow tackled her to the ground. He was quick, lithe, agile, all the makings of an expert assassin. Even through the smoke, she recognized his signature smirk as he lorded over her, having pinned the moth hero against the concrete.

“Any last words?” He said, smiling crookedly. He didn’t mean it. Lunestra knew he didn’t; even so, it made her heart skip.

“Actually, yeah.”

“Is this where you profess your undying love for me?”

“Fat chance, Romeo. Look behind you.”

His grip on her wrists tightened. “I’m not falling for that.”

“You’re gonna wish you had,” Lunestra whispered from behind him.

The illusion he’d been hovering above faded with the smoke. And with it came the sensation of cold metal flush against his neck. Lunestra smiled against the crook of his shoulder.

“You can solidify your illusions now?” Monark cast a sidelong glance at the woman behind him, his expression deadpan, if not a little impressed.

“I’ve had lots of goons to practice on.”

“You’re welcome for that, by the way.”

“Oh, shouldn’t your cockiness have faded by now?” Lunestra tightened her grip on the knife. The very one Monark had nearly killed her with—and then gifted to her—on their first interaction. “I’ve won.”

“Not quite.”

With fluidity befitting a cat more than a butterfly, Monark slipped from Lunestra’s grasp—the knife clattered to the ground, Monark’s own now pressed against her throat. Her real throat, this time.

“H-How did you do that?”

“You’re not remembering my lessons well enough, it seems.” He tutted at her. “Clearly, we have to have a refresher. Not quite enough pressure right… here.”

Lunestra’s breath caught. The metal pricked the fleshiest part of her neck. If she exhaled, she worried she’d impale herself right onto his blade. With just a slight movement, he could end their rivalry, her career.

Her life.

“Too loose a hold and your prey can escape. As I demonstrated for you beautifully. Once again, you’re welcome. Truly, my charity knows no bounds.”

He removed the knife from her throat and spun her around, his hand in hers. “Now, what do you want for breakfast? Coffee?”

Lunestra’s heartbeat sounded in her head. He had… just now…

“Breakfast?” She squeaked. Her breathing still hadn’t returned to its natural rhythm.

“I won. Now, I’m going to take you out. But not with a knife.” He grinned. Lunestra chuckled, albeit weakly. It was more of a wheeze. “To breakfast instead. Any preferences?”

“No. I…”

“Great!” He slipped his daggers into his boots and removed his hooded cloak, revealing a perfectly normal outfit beneath. “I can take you to my favorite spot. But first…”

Had he been planning this all along?

Monark—her nemesis, her enemy, the one she’d struggled against for so long—draped his cloak over her shoulders. It smelled like him. Like spices and evergreens. It sent a strange tingle down Lunestra’s spine, and the weight of it was surprisingly comforting.

“Your outfit is far too obvious. Now, shall we go? I’m starving.”

Wordlessly, Lunestra nodded. And yet, despite—or perhaps because of—the tickle of excitement in her chest, she couldn’t help but wonder.

How long could they keep up with this ruse?

"The Final Trials"

by Sarah Haney

 

I look at the clock again. Seconds ticking by in a five-year sentence, four if I can prove I've put in the work to become a better person. All day long, I'm incarcerated to these rooms. I find myself daydreaming of the things I will do when I get out. It is funny. One of the best pieces of freedom will be the privilege of not having to go the bathroom on a schedule.

What did I do to earn a sentence in here? Not everything I did was bad. I made some good contributions to society… all right, I was mostly selfish, and I definitely broke the law, but they were stupid laws anyways. I feel they're more guidelines, really.

               One of the guards speaks in the background. I'm daydreaming and can't recall anything that's been said for the last fifteen minutes. Next thing I know, we're being shuffled to the next location and being confined to the next table in the next set of white, cold walls. The prisoner beside me looks over, "I'm not sure I can do this anymore."

I look back at her. Partnering through the challenges of our time here has fostered our friendship. "We have to. They are going to evaluate us in two days. We're so close to getting out." I say.

The trials are coming up. It feels like we've been prepping for them for weeks. Honestly, it feels like we've been working towards this the whole time we've been here. We've lost sleep, but it's not like we get much of it anyways. Circles have formed under her eyes. I'm sure I'm seeing a reflection of exactly what she sees when she looks at me. Who knows, she may be too stressed, her mind too preoccupied to notice.

She nods and looks back down at the table with a dead gaze. She's on track to be released in six months. She has the chance to get out before me. I'm happy for her but selfishly nervous. Who's going to help keep me sane when she's not here? I look around at all of the other prisoners in the room.

There aren't many, maybe 20. Most of them have been here as long as I have, hell, maybe longer. It's the new ones you have to worry about. You can always pick them out, too. They are still a little scared and act lost. The apprehension in their eyes is at least still bright with something, I guess, not lifeless like the rest of us. They haven't learned to pull their weight yet when we're all made to work together, and they don't speak when they're spoken to, which puts too much pressure on the rest of us.

None of that really matters, though. They're still one of us, and we're protective of them. We all have an unspoken rule to help them if we can.

               Eat. Sleep. Bathroom breaks. Brisk ten-minute walk. Confinement. Repeat.

Two more days pass. It's the day of the trials. We've stayed up all night talking to each other through our cells. Running through every possible scenario, trying to help each other both pass to get out of here. We're both scared. What if they throw something at us we don't know? What are we going to do? I'm not sure I can make it if they condemn me to another six months here and repeat this ordeal all over again. I know she won't. She's been too close to the idea of freedom for a while now.

We're shuffled into the room. Our fists are gripped tight, white knuckles visible, and grimaces plain on our faces. The tension in the room is palpable. Everyone else is giving off the same energy as us.

The next guard smiles at us. Of course, he is smiling. He knows what's coming. What is it? Is this going to be an easy feat? Or is it too hard? Am I going to fail this set of trials and get my release date pushed back? I'm having a mini panic attack as he nods at us and makes his way toward the exit. I think the nod and smile were meant to be supportive, but I'm too nervous to appreciate the gesture. We only have an hour. We glance at each other and take off.

I'm by myself now, focused. I've arrived at the first obstacle. It's a crossroads… Which path? Which path? Damn it! All four look so similar. I've narrowed it down to two. I'm just guessing now. I hope this is right. I'll go this route. I really hope this is right. I'm not going to have time to double back.

Up ahead is a series of riddles. This is a joke, right? Are these created just to trip me up? On and on, more riddles. I'm getting close to the end now. I can see it. The riddles are not so bad. We prepped for this, and my confidence is growing as I near the last challenge.

The last challenge is a puzzle. It's meant to test me on knowledge I remember, but I have to actually understand it and utilize what I know to win. I'm so close. The exit is just to my left, and I am absolutely blanking, frozen in fear.

As I am racking my brain, running through all of the information I can recall, I notice my friend has made it out. She's made it through. I see her quietly finish and step beyond sight.

I calm myself and take a deep breath… I have it! Breakthrough! I'm remembering. I quickly finish the last hurdle, and just like that, all of the doom fades.

I start to notice sunlight streaming through the window. It feels kind of cozy in here now, familiar and friendly. I head towards the exit, and he is smiling at me with his hand out. I smile back and let out a deep breath, and with it goes all the nervous tension I was bottling up. That wasn't so bad.

I hand the professor my completed final exam. "How did you do?" He asks warmly.

"Actually, I think I did pretty well. That first multiple-choice threw me for a loop, though. That review you provided helped out a lot on the true or false. I called Jenny the night before, and we ran through everything again." I respond.

"No problem. I'm glad it helped. See you next semester." He says as he quietly steps out of the way of the door. He's a nice guy. This is my second course with him as an instructor.

I wave goodbye and provide another smile, "Thanks! You too."

Jenny is waiting for me outside, and we walk to our cars together. "How do you think you did?" she asks.

"Solid B, I think. You?" I say back.

She nods her head. "Same. Maybe even an A. I feel like we stressed for nothing." We both laugh at how melodramatic we get during finals. We reach my car first. She huffs out a small breath and patronizingly laughs, "You're parked in the blue lines. You're going to get a ticket again."

I smile sheepishly and shrug my shoulders, "There is never any parking, and I'm always running late. It's not like I'm breaking the law. I feel they're more guidelines, really."