“Midnight in the Bronx” by Joshua Browning

This is a monologue to be played by one woman, age 25 or so. The setting is simple.

So the other day, we're on the way home from the theatre. It's around midnight... and I'm sure right now you're thinking -- hold on here Georgie. You mean to tell me that it's midnight in the bronx and your walking home with your dyke girlfriend, and you didn't expect to get mugged. Well no, and thanks for your compassion. So anyway, we're a few blocks from our apartment and these five guys, they start following us. And Jody thinks it would be funny as hell to yell out -- You know, sometimes I wonder why I'm a lesbo, but then I look at guys like that, and it all comes back to me. -- Not real smart.

You know, after you spend enough time in the hospital, you really get desperate for entertainment. I haven't even been in to see Jody... I beg the doctors, but since I'm not "family," at least immediate, I have to wait. So... over the span of the last four days, I have read every back issue of Reader's Digest -- twice. Memorized both the English and Spanish versions of the health poster on the wall -- Your prostate and you. Eres prostate y tu. -- And I've composed an entire Italian opera. Well, at least I've been productive, huh?

I also spend my time, going over what happened in that ally that night. "Breathe, breathe, breathe, breathe." I remember screaming at Jody, as she lay there. Bruised, beaten, bleeding. "In and out. In and out. Come on Jody, don't stop fighting on me now."

Now, I hear the sirens like I'm right there with her on the street. Only they are coming from her room, not the ally. But to me it makes no difference. I am still back there in that ally. Frozen. "You mother fucking dykes. You mother fucking bitches. You better run you mother fuckers."

Five minutes later the doctors exit the room... false alarm. Thank God.

Yeah, I'm a dyke. And you want to know how it feels? Well, let me put it this way... There's a lot of hate out there. So much that sometimes, it closes in on you. And you feel like you're choking. And you're struggling for air. And you just can't get a breath.

“Child Welfare” by Dwight Geddes

They came for me and Moet on a rainy Tuesday in October. I remember it because I was supposed to stay home a week from school. Momma had taken me to see this doctor at the clinic on Junction Boulevard 'cause I wasn't feeling well. He told momma that I had a stripped throat or something like that, so I got to stay home the whole week. That was good, but I had to take medicine and it didn't taste too good.

So, y'know, I was home when they came for Moet and me. Her name is really Keisha, Moet is her middle name, but she wanted everyone to call her Moet because she said it sounded sexy. I don't know how she knows what sexy was or wasn't, but momma busted her butt when she heard her say that. I call her Moet just so she would shut up already.

Anyway, like I was saying, we were watching a talk show, sitting on the floor in the living room. I was lying on my belly, my face propped up by my hands, squinting at the people on television. The topic of the day was "Reuniting With That One Night Stand." Moet was curled up near me, her feet tucked under her body, playing with one of her braids. Momma was in the kitchen cooking oxtails and rice and peas. She worked evenings, so she would be getting ready to leave soon, when Aunt Claire came to stay with us. We were watching the television and didn't even hear the knock on the door until Momma yelled from the kitchen for us to see who was there. We ran over to the door and peeked out from the curtains at the same time. We were trying not to be seen in case it was one of them Jehovah's Witness people. It wasn't them. It was a policeman and a lady standing there. The policeman was staring straight at us. My heart was beating really fast and I yelled to momma that there was a policeman at the door. Me and Moet sat back on the sofa and peeked at the two people standing outside in the drizzle as momma bustled towards the door, wiping her hands on her skirt as she walked.

When momma opened the door, the lady spoke.

"Good afternoon, ma'am, are you Isabel Penney?"

Momma was looking at her and then at the policeman and back again.

"Yes I am. How can I help you?"

Momma had that voice on, that voice that Daddy used to call her cultured voice. Where it sounds like, real proper, but she's usually really pissed off. "My name is Sandra O'Connor, Ms. Penney. I'm with the Bureau for Child Welfare. This is Officer Briggs. Can we come in?"

Somehow, even as I strained to hear the conversation, I knew she really was gonna come in anyway. I mean, she was here with a police officer, momma was supposed to let them in, right?

So I guess that really wasn't a question.

"Ah, yes, sure. Come in."

They came in from outside, and I stared at them as they wiped their feet on the mat and stood in the middle of our living room. Moet was sitting right in front of me, and I pushed her slightly so I could see what was going on. It used to piss me off that she always got in front of me in everything, but before Daddy went away he told her that I was her little sister and she was supposed to take care of me and also momma. So I guess that means she went first in most everything. Anyway the lady was talking to momma.

"Ms. Penney we are here to speak with you about your daughter Keisha." She turned to us and smiled," Which one of you pretty little girls is Keisha?" Keisha's hand shot up as if she had won first prize in a contest. I stuck out my lip and frowned.

Why does it always have to be Keisha? The lady turned back to momma. "We got a report from the school that Keisha had some bruises on her back and arms on Friday. Do you know what happened to her Ms. Penney?"

The lady was staring at momma as she spoke, but momma was not even looking at her. She was staring down the police officer. She finally turned and looked at the lady. She still didn't say a word. The lady was starting to look a little upset, and momma just kept on staring at her.

The policeman finally said something.

"Ms. Penney, could you answer the question? Do you have anything to say?" He spoke so softly I almost couldn't hear him. I leaned on Moet's back to hear better. Moet was quiet as she picked a hole in the sofa. The hole was where Daddy had accidentally burnt the sofa when he was drinking and smoking one night with Uncle Tony. Momma had yelled at him when she came in from her job at the hospital and saw them sleeping there with cigarettes and they had a huge argument. I was gonna tell her to stop but then momma spoke.

"What exactly do you want to hear?"

Her voice was very quiet, and I started to feel afraid. I don't know why but I felt really bad. I looked at Moet but she kept staring at the hole and kept picking at it with one hand as she sucked her thumb with the other. That's two no-no's, right in front of Momma. But momma didn't see her, momma was still staring at the woman. She spoke to momma again.

"Ms. Penny, there is no need to get agitated over this. We are just checking to see if everything is okay, that's all. This is the second report we have had in the last three months."

Momma shook her head.

"You bring a policeman into my house just to check up? No, Ms. O'Connor what exactly do you want from me?"

The police officer spoke again, raising his hands as if to calm Momma down. She gave him a quick angry look and I jumped back. Everyone turned and looked at me. I looked at the carpet and started to feel my ears burning.

"Ms. Penny, we have to do this, so please let's not make it any more difficult than necessary."

He sounded very smart, like he talked like those people you see on the news. I don't watch the news but momma watches it every evening at six before she left. The police officer spoke again.

"Did you put those bruises on Keisha, Ms. Penny?

Momma looked very angry now. Moet was still staring at the hole in the sofa and I glanced at her and back at momma. I wanted to pee now but I was afraid to get up and walk past everyone. I was starting to fidget on the soft next to Moet but no one noticed me.

"Yes, I disciplined her! Is that what you want to hear? I spanked my daughter."

"Ms. Penny...,"

This was the Ms. O'Connor lady. She now looked real angry. Why would she be angry with momma?

"Ms. Penny, where is the children's father?"

Momma looked at her angrily and looked at the officer. He had his arms folded and looked upset too. The lady sighed and glanced at the police officer. He spoke up again.

"Ms. Penny, does he live here? He wasn't here the last time we came. Is he in jail? Is anyone else living here?"

"Is he... how dare you? How dare you come into my house, question me about my child, my husband, disrespect me in such a manner?"

Momma took a step toward the lady and I got really nervous. Momma looked like she was going to fight the lady. My heart was beating really fast and I looked at Moet again. She was now staring at the scene happening before her. I saw for the first time that Moet was shaking.

The policeman was talking to momma again. He had stepped between her and the other lady.

"...them with us, Ms. Penny, at least until the case is more thoroughly investigated and it goes to court."

Momma was silent but still looked very mad. I was confused. What are they talking about? What do they want? Momma looked at me and Moet.

"Get dressed, girls. Go ahead."

We got up and walked silently to our room. Moet had her head down and she looked like she had started to cry. I looked up at momma as I went by, but she seemed to be staring into space. Her eyes looked like she was going to start crying also. My chest felt funny and as I followed my sister up the stairs everything seemed to be moving in slow motion. They were still talking as we got to the top of the stairs but I don't know if momma heard even one word. She was still staring off somewhere.

When we got to our room I turned to Keisha.

"What's going on, Keisha? Why're you cryin'? What's going to happen?"

Keisha sat on the bed sobbing and sniffling. She didn't answer. I felt like crying too cause I felt something bad was gonna to happen. I sat beside my sister on the bed and we both cried softly until momma yelled up the stairs for us to hurry up.

Everything started happening real fast after that. When we got to the bottom of the stairs the lady held our hands and took us outside to her car. I noticed it had stopped raining as we walked to her little brown car that was at the curb. There wasn't anyone outside, but I know that nosy Ms. Franklin next door was probably peeking out at us and calling all the neighbors "spreading our business" as momma always said. Momma never liked Ms. Franklin too much, and she cursed her out after Daddy left. I think Ms. Franklin was spreading stories about what happened to him. Momma put her in her place. Anyway I was looking for her as we was walking to the little car but I didn't see her.

Momma was not around as we were walking out, but as we got into the car I saw her standing in the doorway, looking at us. Her hands were together in front of her with a coat over them and that policeman, Officer Briggs, was holding on to her arm. I couldn't tell from that far away, but I think she was crying. I had never seen momma cry before, and as we drove away, I kept looking at her, watching as Officer Briggs took her to his car. She was looking at me too, and I felt tears running down my face again.

Ms. O'Connor drove us to Queens General Hospital. On the way there, she kept asking a lot of questions. I didn't feel like talking to her and I guess Keisha felt the same cause she was quiet the whole way there. When we got to the hospital Ms. O'Connor took us up in the elevator to the third floor. She left us in a room with one of those long doctor's tables and two chairs. Me and Keisha sat down quietly and waited. Ms. O'Connor came back after a few minutes with a white lady. This lady was much shorter and fatter than Ms. O'Connor, with red hair, a round face and these big round glasses on. She was wearing a green uniform, and Ms. O'Connor introduced her as Dr. Debbie Ross.

She smiled at us and rubbed our heads as she said, "Hi, girls." Keisha smiled at her but I didn't like her. I don't like people patting or rubbing my head. I didn't like nobody putting their hands in my hair at all.

"Are you Keisha?" asked Dr. Ross, pointing at me. I shook my head and pointed at my sister.

"Okay. Keisha, Ms. O'Connor told me that you were hurt the other day. Can I see where you were hurt?"

Keisha slowly pulled up her sleeves to show the doctor where momma had spanked her, using her free hand to wipe her nose. It was cold in the room, and I'm thinking to myself, it's October and they got air conditioning on. "My back too," said Keisha quietly.

The doctor looked at the bruises touched her on some of them and asked Keisha to turn around so she could see her back. Keisha had started to have her monthly thing recently, and momma had bought her a box of maxi pads and a training bra. Everyday I would see her in our room doing some stupid exercise to make her breasts bigger. She was wearing her training bra now, and she moved it up so the doctor could see the mark on her back. I sat there quietly as they examined Keisha. The doctor asked if she could take some pictures of her. Keisha shrugged her shoulders and glanced at me. I turned away and pretended to watch the wall. The doctor took a little camera out of her pocket and I turned back to see and rolled my eyes. The doctor had the camera raised to take some pictures and stopped as she looked at me.

"Why did you do that?" she asked me.

"Why you asking her for? You already got the camera, you know you gonna take her picture whether she say yes or no."

The doctor looked surprised. Ms O'Connor looked at me with one of them faces like I had slapped her or something. Ms. O'Connor was the one that answered.

"Well, ahh... yes we do have to take these pictures, but it's not... right... to just take pictures of someone. It's not right." She looked at the doctor and spoke again. "Your mommy and daddy told you the difference between right and wrong, didn't they?"

She was looking at me as she spoke, and all of a sudden everyone was staring at me. I just looked away. She turned to Keisha, who had pulled down her shirt. "Why did your mommy beat you, Keisha?"

Keisha was quiet for a few seconds and I knew she was looking at me. I wasn't gonna look at her cause I know she be making shit up all the time, and as far as I know this was all her fault.

"She spanked me cause she heard I was kissing Bryan Phillips."

Ms. O'Connor nodded. I kept quiet and just pretended to not be listening.

"Did she ever beat you before?"

Keisha nodded, and looked at me again. I still ignored her.

"Yes ma'am."

"Did she use her hands? Or did she hit you with a belt?"

"She hit me with a belt this last time, but she hit me with her hands plenty of times too."

The doctor was still looking at me, but I was just ignoring all of them. Ms. O'Connor continued.

"Listen, Keisha, what your mommy did to you was not right, and we are going to have to keep you away from her for a while. You and your sister." She looked at me. I turned away.

"We will put you with some other kids, you will have a nice new family. It's only going to be for a little while, and I'll make sure everything goes all right, okay?"

I was listening to Ms. O'Connor and I couldn't say a word. I felt really bad. First daddy and now momma? What's going on? I looked at Keisha, who was now showing off her bruises like it was something special as the doctor took pictures. For the first time in my life I really began to hate my sister.

We didn't see momma after that, and after that day me and Keisha fought all the time. We got put in this home with this family, the Bennetts. Ms. Bennett was a fat, old lady who was always shouting at the kids. I saw Mr. Bennett twice. Some other kid said he worked at Transit and was always working double shifts. Besides me and Keisha, there were five other kids there. Keisha liked it, cause they let her do all the stuff momma wouldn't let her do and in two weeks she was talking to this boy Jamir, who was the oldest boy there and the one that beat up on everyone. I hated the family. I hated the house. I wanted to go back to my momma and I told them that every day.

It was two weeks later that momma came to see us at school. I just got out of homeroom when momma came to the door of my class. She was wearing daddy's favorite coat and it was big on her. She looked like she had lost weight. I ran to her and hugged her as she picked me up and squeezed me.

"How are you, my angel?" she asked.

"I wanna go home momma. Why can't I go home?"

My homeroom teacher saw me with momma, and I saw her walking fast to the principal's office as we walked down the hall to Keisha's class. I was talking to momma and paying no one no mind. I was never so happy to see her. When we got to Keisha's class, she wasn't there, so we walked down to the first floor. All the other kids were leaving class, most were heading home, some were hanging outside.

"So how's your sister doing, baby?"

"She's okay. She's talking to some boy. I guess she likes him, but I don't like that place momma. I want to come back home. When can I come back home?"

Momma was looking at me and I could tell she was really unhappy. She didn't even answer me for a long time.

"Well, baby, I am trying to see what I can do. You know, I have to go to court and ask the judge if you can come back home with me." She held my hand really tight as she spoke, and her face looked really tired. "I don't know if they'll allow me to take you home, but... They tried to say I was really bad to you and your sister, baby. It might be a while, but don't worry, honey, momma is gonna take care of everything, okay?"

Just then a police car pulled up and I saw two policemen get out. As we stood there talking they were walking towards us. I recognized one of them as the officer that was at our house. Officer Briggs. Momma saw them too, and she held me tighter and hugged me. Over her shoulder I saw Keisha coming from inside the school building with Jamir. She stopped when she saw us. Momma didn't see her, and for a second I thought Keisha was going to run away.

"Listen, baby, I just want you to know that I love you. I would never do anything to hurt you or your sister, you know that, right?"

"Yes momma."

"Just promise me you will remember everything I taught you and be a good, smart girl, okay baby?"

"Yes, momma."

"Okay baby, I have to go. You go inside and get your sister, okay. Kiss her for me, okay honey? I have to go now. Don't stay out here, baby. Go on inside."

"No, momma! Don't leave me. Please, can't you stay a little longer?"

The policemen stopped right near us and Officer Briggs spoke up.

"Ms. Penney, I hate to do this, but you know you should not be here."

Momma let me go, and I ran up the stairs towards where Keisha was still standing. She was kind of hiding behind one of the columns, and Jamir was giving me a mean look as I walked up.

"Momma wants to talk to you!" I said to her as I got to the top.

Keisha just looked at me, and Jamir pushed me out of the way.

"Yo, Moet! They gonna arrest your moms!" he said.

I turned around, and as I did I saw Officer Briggs reach out to grab her arm.

We were all there watching, and then momma pulled out daddy's gun from the pocket of her coat.

Officer Briggs backed up as she pointed the gun at him and the other officer.

All of a sudden I heard some kids screaming and people started running. Momma just stood there with her back to us, as me, Keisha and Jamir stood on the steps staring.

"Get away from me, Officer Briggs. You, you and that lady are the reason for all of this! All I'm doing is trying to raise my daughters right and you come into my house, arrest me in front of my kids, and take them away from me. Ruin my life!"

"Ms. Penney, calm down. Please, put down the gun before somebody gets hurt..."

"Don't tell me to put down the gun! You took away my kids! You ruined my life! How could you do this to me! I'm not a criminal. My daughter is fourteen years old and mixing with the wrong crowd. If I don't set her straight now, when am I supposed to do it? When she's a crack addict? When she's dead? No, Officer. What you all did was wrong. Wrong!"

"Ms. Penney this isn't the way to go about this. Put down the gun, please. Let's talk about it. Your can still get your kids back. If you put down the gun we can talk to the judge for you, it's not too late..."

"NO! It IS too late! You took away my reasons for living! I can't get them back! What kind of crazy world is this! I'm a christian, I go to church, they told me abortion is wrong, when I'm eighteen years old and pregnant! Marriage, that's the thing to do. That is the right thing to do, drop out of school, sacrifice to raise your kids right... I try to raise my kids properly, and you arrest ME! If I don't punish my children, people like you arrest them and put them in jail! Or if you don't put them in jail they're going out there on the streets with no sort of control! What kind of crazy, sick world is this..."

Momma turned slightly and even though she couldn't see us I could see her. I saw her face, tears streaming down, eyes all red as she kept the gun pointed at the police officers.

"I love my girls. And I'm not a bad mother."

She turned back to face the two officers, and sighed. As we all looked she put the gun to the side of her head and pulled the trigger.

I had never seen anyone killed before. I mean, I see it all the time on television, movies and stuff but never in front of me. I saw my mother fall sideways, heard the loud boom, heard the splat of blood hitting the pavement right before her body did and right before I closed my eyes and blacked it out I heard the loud scream from Keisha as she watched momma die...........

“The Lobster Holocaust” by Mike Wong

When I was younger, the creek was the place to be. It was a fascinating world full of countless wonderments for an adventurous rascal to discover. When I think back to my happy, outdoor, childhood memories, when I was quite a different sort of boy, the creek always had something to do with it, whether I was in the creek at the time, or if I used the creek as a faster route of travel. The creek didn't save its marvels for me alone, however. Besides my friends, who also spent too much time in the off-limit area, there was evidence of other children, as occasionally new trails would appear, or fresh cut names in trees. Also, the creek seemed to be a favorite spot of the homeless, as once and a while I would run into a camp of some sort, luckily with the tenant not currently in, though I can't for the life of me ponder out why anyone would choose the creek. Getting through the day in the creek is simple. Living through the night, with the various creepy crawlers, well, that is a different matter all together. Sometimes the creek would change. Usually, creek fences would be repaired by the City of Rohnert Park, as many a lazy soul felt that a hole is a lot less trouble than vaulting over a chain link fence. Fires were popular, and I came across lots of burnt fields, since about everything in the creek was dry. One aspect of the creek that never changed was the cray fish, or the lobsters, as the kids and I called them. They were usually in crimson abundance, which was always a delight. If boredom took hold, I could always turn to the lobsters, for they never ceased to astonish me.

I am sure that the main reason I took to the creek was the absence of parental control. Sure, I also went to be with my friends, who were always there, and of course because there was always something to do in there, but the freedom of youth was the ultimate privilege. In the creek, you could say or do whatever came to mind, as long as it didn't require money. I abused that freedom, and participated in events that were quite disreputable, yet it was all in the spirit of youngling adventure.

The most interesting thing, in retrospect, that I ever partook in, was the routing of the lobsters, the besting of the cray fish. These crustaceans never seemed to take any hostile interest in us, the habitat-spoilers, unless they were manhandled or invaded in some form. Still, their pinch was tight, so I had heard, and for that the unworldly children as evil incarnate looked them upon. I myself was always careful around the beasts, picking them up gently and with my hand adeptly placed on their spine, so the claws never found purchase. So I really didn't view them as dangerous, though I too saw them as hellspawn, for how could so many others be wrong, especially friends. It was a very impressionable period of age, that, with the dares and so forth, and peer-pressure getting its sudden jump in popularity. It wasn't peer pressure that made me think that the lobster holocaust, which didn't have a name then, was a great idea. I don't remember what made we want to do such a destructive thing, but it isn't really important, if you realize I was about 10 years old. In the most likelihood of events, I was bored, and it was something entertaining to do. So I did it.

There were six of us on this excursion, and it was sometime in the summer. It isn't important who the people were, since little boys tend to be the same, and we were all little boys. Realizing that such an undertaking would require the proper tools; we each came up with a bucket, pretty deep but lightweight, from our respective homes. Mine was an orange Halloween basket, shaped like a pumpkin. We all met at one boy's house, waiting for him to finish his lunch. It was one of those interesting scenes I so vividly remember. Us boys on the porch, for his mother distrusted letting such rabble destroy her lovely furniture, the boy wanting to leave, desperately, arguing his case by saying he wasn't hungry, and the like. Finally, he was allowed out, with a stern and motherly look. I loved those days, where you could just go to someone's house and ask if they could go out and play, rather than the days of the new where appointments are necessary. After chastising the boy for making us wait, we set off for the fence.

Every boy knows how to climb a fence, at that age, and it was not a difficult task to swiftly get over into the dirty, unsupervised creek, even with barb wire threatening to snatch a piece of loose clothing. Once over, the search began. We walked along the muddy floor, careless of where we stepped; we searched for the lobsters as the SS searched for the Jewish in World War II. Every one we found would go into the bucket. Every now and then there would be a puddle that was too deep to hop, and we would have to go around it, up onto the yellow weeded bank. For the most part, though, the summer heat had evaporated most of the regular stream, giving the whole area a withered quality. Eventually, as it began to get cold, we had so many cray fish that it would be a hazard to add more to the buckets, as one might spill out and exact its just revenge. So, now we had to decide what to do with the 60+ lobsters. One of us had a whimsical brainstorm, and I don't think it was I, for I would have remembered such a malicious thought. We boys would go to an exit off the creek, which led to a busy street.

I didn't know what rush hour was, then, but I knew that at this point, with it beginning to get dark, the cars would be everywhere. With over-exhilaration at what we were going to do, due to unused adrenaline, we crouched at the sides of the street waiting for a good opportunity. Finding one, all six of us ran into the temporarily empty street and deposited the buckets of lobsters. Bless me, but this moment was going to be one of the most satisfying moments of my life.

It was these next few minutes that I most remember today. With elation on par with my first fireworks display, I jumped up and down. Then, the first car came, not knowing what it was about to do. With a sickening crunch, lobsters began to die. They bleed yellow, and I remember thinking that was odd. As the cars kept coming, the street became more and more yellow, and not one car stopped. I could see the blood on the tires as the vehicles sped away, for they had an almost fluorescent quality. There were scrambling lobsters, trying in vain to get to water and mud, and just ending up confused and dead. There were some lobsters that had only parts of their bodies run over, and they still tried to move away, they didn't give up. What struck me as odd was that not one of the pseudo-lobsters was able to escape; though if one did we would probably have put it back for another round. When the carnage was over, we went home, for it was dark. I didn't tell me mom what I had done, for I would definitely have been punished.

Something odd: I felt no remorse for my sins, for taking life, for being a murderer. It was just another day, a fun day, and a great day. I slept well, I am sure. Also, I feel fine about it now, writing about it. What this says about me as a person, I'd rather not discuss, so I will leave it at this: I was involved with the lobster holocaust, and I am glad to have known something so terribly bitter, yet so terribly sweet.

“Love Afar” by Terri A. Hateley

Imagine a loveless life and a lost lonely feeling deep inside your very being. You have just lost a loved one and another isn't far behind. You are looking for a distraction, a reason to carry on, something to make your life interesting again. You want to die yourself, most of the time.

You turn on the computer and log onto the Internet, just to say hello to a few chatters you have struck up a friendship with. The chatting room you log into is WBS (Web Broadcasting System) Forty Something. In this room you post a photo of yourself or your alter ego beside your name and you send a big "G'Day mates" in the message box and off you go down the scroll bar to see who is going to answer. They all do! There are one hundred and forty five chatters on line tonight. And guess what? You answer them all. It might take all night but you get through them. While exchanging all the pleasantries and beginning to loosen up (someone has made you laugh), out of the blue, a pleasant looking man is on your screen addressing you in a fashion that takes your breath away. And the whole world is reading his enthusiastic words, but you don't care, out of one hundred and forty five chatters, this man is talking to you. You decide, maybe this man is just the medicine you need and your heart begins to thump and a smile crosses your quivering lips. He is overwhelmed by you and your photo as you are he, but you don't tell him that. Once the introductions have taken place, the who's, where's and what's are taken care of, he tells you he would very much like to get to know you better and asks to go to a private room with you. You agree, and so glad you did. You have so much in common with him and after an hour of chatting you are "finishing each others sentences." You can't believe this is happening. At last! Your soul mate!

Before you know it, five hours have slipped by. There is thirteen hours difference between you, his day, your night. You don't want to leave to go to bed but you must. So you arrange to meet again on line when you wake in the morning. Bed!..... Why go there? You know you can't sleep, visions of him and the things he has said flashing through your mind all night. How can this be happening? You are an adult and you have just interacted on a machine! How does he feel about this, is he thinking about you too? You toss and turn all night, then at last, its time to get yourself out of bed and go on-line. "Oh God! Will he be there?" Did you dream it all? Where did this strange over length phone number come from then? Logging on is slow, you begin to panic, thinking, will he wait for you? Did he sleep, is he still asleep? (He is out of work, but is studying computer technology.) Finally the modem has gone through its hissing and groaning and you are ON........... Yes, there he is waiting, your heart skips a beat and flutters like it's going to fly out of your chest. He tells you he has been awake thirty six hours, chatting. Okay, he has other girlfriends. What did you expect? So you play it cool and he is still so energetic with his words and you try with all your might but your heart still flutters. god, woman you have only just met this man, how can you be jealous? Are you falling in love?

The time is getting on and you have to leave for your daily outside (REAL TIME) life but again you don't want to leave. You make him promise he will sleep while you are away. He agrees and off you go. But, do you get on with what is required of you? Very hard to do when it's him that is the only thing on your mind..... This is how it flows for the next three weeks.

Yay, home time, gotta get on line, gotta get on line your mind chants. Oh, will he be there? Yes, he is there eagerly waiting for you, he has missed you too. You exchange phone numbers again. So after the normal six to seven hour chat, you ring him while you are preparing for bed. The sound of his voice is mellow and smooth sounding. "Thump, thump," goes your heart again. Then the clangor! He says, "I love you!" and your knees buckle, the words, the wonderful angelic voice on the other end of the line is too much for your ears, you almost faint...... He hears the sound that has caught in your throat and asks if you are okay. "Yes," you tell him and hang up. You don't know what to say, he has taken you off guard and you feel as silly as a love sick teenager. How could he do this to you, he has only known you for three weeks. But you know you feel the same and you are not going to tell him, not yet anyway, you don't want to seem to easy.

Then there is the ache in your chest when one morning you are set to go on line and the computer is broken!........ You panic, you want to cry, you ring him but his phone is busy, of course, he is on line waiting for you. You ring a girl friend in Sydney and beg her to send an e-mail to him on your behalf..... Then you ring a mutual friend in Melbourne and request she do the same, just In case the first party's e-mail fails and again the same procedure to a friend in Perth. Of course they are happy to oblige as they have cyber-loves too. Then with a heavy heart you head off to do your daily routine. But as usual your mind is on him. What is he doing, who is he chatting with, is she pretty, do they do the cyber-sex thing? And wonder why he hasn't done it with you. Is there something wrong with you? Why hasn't he? (Not that you want it, you are just curious.) Has he got the e-mails yet?

You decide it is time to tell him you love him too. So you write him a poem.


You walk the meadows of my unconsciousness
weaving threads in dreams
You, a tantalizing stranger
from another time zone
another shore
I can only reflect
with bated breath
in time elapsed
What excitement, sensation,
stimulus next
Your face dominant
minute by minute
Your energy, your will
tugging me
Repress aspirations,
A chance I don't stand
The undertow stronger than I
You win
Declare I do
my love today.

The computer is repaired, you are over the moon and you send off your poem then begin reading the twenty seven e-mails he has sent you. Is this man crazy for you or what? He is very impressed on how you "found a way" to contact him and how god is on our side. You are sad though because the hour you have logged on, he is sleeping and you are anxious for him to know that you love him. When next you meet online after intense anxiety you are flattered at his being flattered on the way you have chosen to inform him of your love and he is very much in love with your sensitivity and of course the title of the poem is related to his "handle" online. He won't be out done, and he writes a poem for you. You are besoddened with tears because no one has ever written a poem especially for you. He calls you his Mentor. This inspires you to collaborate a poem and he then writes you a song, "The Sun Is Setting In Your Eyes," and he posts it to you via snail mail... On receival of this tape, the sound of his singing voice sends you into a trance beyond belief. Then those words again, "I love you, Terri." You cry and vow to yourself and god that you will be with this man one day.

The ultimate then happens. He invites you to the USA to be with him and the "m" word is mentioned in passing. You are lost for words once again. You have to think about it, you tell him, but deep down inside, this is a dream come true. He wants you, he loves you, he needs you, he wants to marry you. But! This is an enormous decision. You must move to another country on the other side of the planet. You have commitments that will not be fulfilled until the end of the year, only four months to wait. You have kids, you love your kids. Your kids are adults, they are capable of looking after themselves. It is your turn at happiness, your turn to live and love again. It has been a long time since you have ventured beyond the walls that you built around you to protect you from men who get pleasure by manipulating you, degrading you, emotionally and physically. Yes, you know all these things, but you have a one track mind, you trust and love this man and you want to grow old with him. He makes you laugh again, he up lifts you and encourages you, he helped you through the death of your last surviving parent, he believes in you and loves you for your intellect.

You discuss and plan with this man of your dreams and he informs you that he will pay half of your ticket and pay for all the extras that go along with your travel over to the States. He gives you his credit card number to pay for the ticket. Wow, does he trust you and love you to do this? What is stopping you? The decision is final, you are going to him. You arrange with your real time life other options and apply for your visa, but you opt for a visa waiver, which gives you three months in the country, then you leave. You both decide this is the way to go because you will work on the visa side of things when you get there. If only you knew that things were not done that way. A visa waiver is no option, when your three months are up, they are up! You do not interfere with this form of non-visa.

Everything goes to plan, you are chatting every chance you have and the phone is running hot. It is far cheaper for him to ring you at 28? per minute compared to your 99? per minute. You have a garage sale and sell everything, because, you tell yourself and everyone you know, you are not coming back. And you honestly believe this, because you have never felt this passion for another human being in all your life, that you can remember anyway. The passion that burns in you rages night and day, you can't eat, sleep, or concentrate. Your mind is filled unconditionally of him, you are so in love. Your arms ache to hold him and have him hold you and protect you. The countdown begins, you are like a cat on a hot tin roof. Three days to eternal happiness. You board the plane on the tenth and arrive on the eleventh but it is the twelfth in Australia. You feel nostalgic. But then, THERE HE IS!

He isn't as tall as you expected, his smile is wonderful, and that voice! You melt in his arms and he holds you firm so you do not buckle, his kisses are soft and tender just as you imagined (two out of three ain't bad). You are melting. His accent is driving you wild, you can live with this, it is so smooth and not an annoyance. Of course he loves your accent so much that he is too busy listening to how you speak and not what you are saying! This unsettles you a little because you do not like having to repeat yourself. Then it's home to his "trailer." You knew about this but it is so small, where are you going to put your things? Why didn't he make room for you? He had plenty of time after all. Oh yeah, that's right, he did get a job so that would explain it.

Two weeks later, the honeymoon is over, the perfect bliss has a hole in it. He yells, screams, and swears at you. You smoke too much, you drink too much coffee, you are on the 'puter for too many hours. You yell back, you are new to the country, don't know a soul, have no transport, you are homesick what is expected of you? You know a few people on the computer who are living in the same county, so you ring one and arrange accommodation. As you leave you see a tear in his eye. You are torn up inside when that night he rings you and begs for a date, of course you accept because you are in love still. You stay the night and he promises to be patient with you until you are accustomed to your new surroundings. It goes well for a few more weeks and he blows up again, because you don't feel like going out on his day off to visit with more strangers, you tell him you would rather spend the day with him alone, but he won't see reason and tells you that if the shoe was on the other foot and he was in Australia, would I not want him to meet my friends? You tell him it's done differently in Oz. "We have a BBQ and invite all we know to it so everyone gets to meet a special friend." But he is hard to get through to and he goes on and on. So you move out again only to return five days later because you only have two more weeks left in his country and you want to give it another shot. All is well until three days before you leave and he is at it again and he tells you it won't work because of the coffee and cigarettes. You are emotional but you remain silent, after all you will be out of it soon and home with the people who accept you for all your faults. You will not make love with him one final time. This hurts him and you are happy.

Home to begin again, life to repair. He helps you a little financially and the e-mails are less frequent and the chats non-existent, but he says he still loves you. What is his game? Is he still wanting to control you, is his ego hurt?

LOVE AFAR? Never again........... I only talk to a computer.................

“Choking on Blood” by Brian McCaskill


"You sorry little punk. Get out of here before I call your parents," the bald old man screeched. "Stay outta my yard you hooligan. Damn little punk, I'll teach you to egg my house."

Cole slid down the opposite side of the fence and stumbled a few paces through Miss Higgen's flower garden. Sprinting across the yard and hurtling another fence, he began to laugh. Youth had its advantages, namely energy, and Cole took full advantage of his. Finally, he collapsed in his front yard, flopping onto the grass like a rag doll. God I love life, he thought.

Cole was only fifteen but he was more intelligent then most adults. He was a computer wizard, a capable athlete, and a creative artist. He had been the perfect child, until he had decided to act like a kid. Intelligence and creativity were wielded well in him, planning of the havoc he oh so dearly loved, to cause around town. Not only had he egged Mr. Franks house, he had put a battery powered heater on the doorknob to burn the old man's hand.


He heard the scream carry over the hot Saturday afternoon. Laughing softly he rolled over and pushed himself off the ground. Lazily he strode inside his two story house, and went to the computer where he sat until late that night.

Cole had been chatting in his favorite chat room, Judice's Tree, under his favorite call name Scratch.

Chapter 1 - The Find

<Raven> "Hey Scratch, I found this really cool old paper in my neighbor's basement the other day."

<Scratch> "Really? What's in it?"

<Raven> "Well... I'm not really sure, it isn't written in English. I can't tell what language it is :(."

<Scratch> "Scan me a copy and I will take a look at it."

<Raven> "Ok, talk tomorrow same time same place."

Exit chat room.

Omega hithh orios
oinio katk kaut
jiomn ajfkla kjii nini
Nfklaj Jkafj kimk
kimt iono prat issis
lumas untro part

Chapter 2 - The Decryption

After long hours of hard labor working on deciphering the garbled message on the sheet, Cole was about to scream. No method of search nor manner of decoding that he knew could shed even the slightest spark of light on the content of the scanned page. Tapping on a few keys he printed off a copy of the page, determined to find the secret hidden within these unfamiliar words.

It was two o'clock when Cole strode out of his house and started jogging toward town. He wanted to get to the Smithsonian so he could talk with his friend, Professor Ray Poxel, before he had to start work at three thirty. Cole arrived with an hour to spare and found Ray cleaning off his desk and getting ready to go home.

Ray was a tall man, about six foot three, with sandy blond hair that had a tendency of falling in this eyes. He wore a green sweater that was about two shades darker than his eyes. Khaki's and Nike sneakers rounded out his wardrobe. Ray looked up as Cole came into his office and said, "Afternoon, Cole, what's on your mind?"

Cole replied with a smirk, "I was wondering if you could help me with something. A friend of mine, who lives in Scotland, sent me a copy of an old paper he found in the basement of a castle that is being rebuilt near his home. I was wondering if you could help me find out what it says."

Ray took the paper and glanced over it quickly. Raising his eyebrows slightly he said, "It looks similar to something we decoded a couple of years ago. It is thought to be a druidic text, the ones we read before were poems about the Earth's beauty that contained information on the healing properties of local plants. I'll run this through the computer and see what it says."

Chapter 3 - Reading

Cole worked as a file clerk during the summer at the Smithsonian for a little extra spending cash. He knew the museum better after a month than many people who worked there full time, and he could run a faster more accurate search for materials than any other part time worker there. This gave Cole a unique insight into the innermost conflict between the departments, mostly of which was the battle for funds. The genealogy department of which Ray was a part was being squeezed to death by the financial comity, and Ray had been fighting tooth and nail to collect every penny of extra money he could to keep his department afloat.

Ray had most recently allied himself with and independent study group that was looking for evidence in extraordinary tendencies in any family trees. With little success, the group was in danger of being dissolved. That would put his job in serious danger. The Smithsonian wanted productive workers with sound ideas, not an imaginative one that found little results.

The stress was building and Ray wasn't taking it to well.

Ray was hunched over his laptop when Cole strode into the room and found his normal seat in front of Ray's desk. It was several minuets before Ray even realized someone was in the room, and almost jumped when he saw a figure sitting only a few feet away.

"How long have you been sitting there, you little hooligan?" Ray chided.

"Just a few moments, have you decoded the message yet?" Cole said in a rush, knowing it would annoy Ray.

Ray glared back and said:

"Whoever reads the word of blood
will ever remain
the prisoner of evil
the darkness follows this page
you are next
may the mother save you."

Cole was astonished, to say the least, "I thought you said these were nice poems. Let me see the print-off." He reached out his arm to take the paper offered to him. Reading it once more he said, "Man, won't Raven think this is weird."

"Probably so," Ray said laughing, "maybe you should warn him."

"Right," Cole replied with a grin, and left the museum for the evening.

Chapter 4 - Guest

Cole burst through the front door of his home and headed straight for the office computer. He was stopped half way there by his mother's shrill voice.

"Cole, honey, we have a visitor."

I don't care about another of your blue-haired pals, I don't want to meet anybody. Why can't....... Cole's thoughts were cut short by the young man standing in the middle of the living room. He was about six-two with sandy brown hair. He wore glasses, and gave the impression of a knowledgeable person. But what stunned Cole most was the other boy's T-shirt, it said in bold red RAVEN, and under that was an icon that was very familiar to him.

"It's nice to meat you at last Cole, I have been looking forward to this for a long time. Did you translate the message yet?"

Cole stammered stupidly, "Raven, the message, how did you find me... and when did you get here. Weren't you in Scotland, like, yesterday?"

"Yea I was, wanna go to your room?" That was a command, even if it was phrased as a question.

Cole turned and walked slowly to his room, his mind was spinning with all that was going on. They reached Cole's room, and literally tripped inside over all of the junk on the floor. Raven took the initiative.

"The druids are an interesting people. You see they take on the personas of minor aspects of life and nature, such as justice, life, or even wind....." Raven was cut off by Cole's sharp voice.

"Or evil."

Raven's eyes turned red, "So you did decode the letter. I'm sorry." Raven's hand slashed out like lightning and grasped Cole's neck. Cole fought back with all of his strength, but to no avail. Finally he was able to stammer.

"I'm not....... knows."

"What was that my friend? You really should work on enunciation."

"I'm not the only one who knows."

This seemed to rattle Raven, because he lightened his grip slightly. Cole could almost see the wheels spinning in Raven's head as his eyes flashed from one imaginary point to another along the floor. Then he turned his full attention, and fury, back on Cole. Cole's face was suddenly pressed against the soft earth outside his window, which was in pieces around him.

Raven's voice was an animal hiss when it came to him. "Who? Tell me now!!"

Chapter 5 - Help

Ray was walking to his car when he was blind-sided by a sledgehammer blow to the back. Nearly coughing up blood, he rolled to see his attacker. Before him stood a tall man in a black shirt that said RAVEN in bold red, with... Cole thrown over his shoulder like a leather bag.

"You Ray?" the man asked in a quiet but very forceful voice. The man tossed Cole down beside Ray, and said, "Are you the only two that know?"

"Yes" came a muffled reply from Cole's broken and bleeding face.

The man merely nodded and stomped on Cole's chest. The man then picked Ray up and threw him into the side of a van, dislocating his hip. Only later, through tears of pain, would Ray remember seeing Cole slip a piece of paper out of the man's back pocket.

The man suddenly stopped, dropped to his knees and passed out.

One month later...

Ray sat back in his comfy chair in his new office, Scottish Artifacts. He had not only saved his job, but was promoted for a find in the basement of a castle in Scotland of about three dozen druidic documents, outlining everything from history to theology of early Scotland. He had never been happier in his life.

Cole sauntered in and took a seat.

"How may I help you today Cole?" Ray asked his friend half-heartedly.

Cole only smiled back and held out a paper with odd writing on it.

“Breakdown for the Broken” by M. Marlett

While walking up the dim driveway, I avoid all cracks and abnormalities in its cold pavement, and the spicy stink of kim chi grows stronger and stronger. Butterflies fill my stomach and perspiration engulfs my palms, so I take a deep breath, count to ten, step up the cracked stairwell and try to contain the joy and nervousness flowing through my beating veins. The crisp air shows steam off my breath as I let out a steamy sigh and knock on the front door. Immediately, footsteps scramble in the distance until they reach the other side of the threshold.

"Who there?"

"It's Peter."

"Who Peta?"

"Loh's old friend, Peter Lamus. Remember?


"Ooh, Peta! I remember!" The racket of dead bolts and chains coming undone slightly distorts her voice.

The door swings open followed with a twelve-year old vengeance of kim chi and a silhouette of an old woman standing in its way. The dark figure steps into the light, revealing white frizzy hair and a glass eye in the left socket. As she approaches me, the cottage cheese and spider veins in her pasty thighs slosh back and forth in a slow meditative wave, making the butterflies in my stomach nauseous.

"How you?" She said, in her thick Korean accent.

"I'm feeling better, thank you."

"Come in, come in. You hungry?"

"No thanks, I already ate." I said, stepping over the threshold into the foray.

"Loh in her room. You go down hall, you know where it is."

"Yeah, I know. Nice talking to..."

The old woman turns away and disappears into the darkness, leaving me alone, taking off my boots. I set each on the floor, side by side, left to right, and decide to start down the black hallway, where scattered memories hang sadly on the off-white walls like old photographs. One particular photo with an orange 4:02:97 burnt into the lower left corner catches my eye; a couple in love, we sat in front of the world's swimming pool as the bronze and crimson star fell into darkness. A photo taken minutes after Loh had jumped over our table, and pumped the ice I was choking on out of my throat, saving me from suffocation.

"Knock Knock."

"Who is it?" Her sweet voice, smooth as cream brings an uncontrollable grin across my face.

"Who do you think it is?"

"I don't know. Someone told me that my crazy boyfriend just got out and was coming to get me tonight." The old knob squeaks and her door flings open.

"Peter!" The beautiful scent of French vanilla shocks my system and fills my body as Loh squeals and falls into my arms. "Get in here!" She pulls me into her candle lit lair of bliss and slams the door.

Eyes fixed on the dimples guarding her luscious, blood red lips, I approach her petite body for a kiss. The sweetness of Loh's mouth envelopes me in a state of euphoria, rendering me helpless. Lit up in the dancing candlelight, we pull back and I gaze into her dark, almond shaped eyes, surrounded by pale complexion and purple bangs.

"Give me a minute or two, or three." She said.


Loh slowly turns away, leading me into darkness through her velvet curtain. I become lost in a world of passion, like that unforgettable night four years ago at the Terreza Jamay, a decrepit, two-story punk rock club in the middle of Los Angeles. I stood at the edge of the crowd with bodies pressed together, limbs intertwined and banging against one another in a mangled mass of flesh when I was suddenly jolted in the head. An angel appeared in my arms and I immediately knew my life was going to change forever. With long, jet-black hair, tied back into two braided tails, and a ruby red smile that could melt butter, she looked up at me with trusting eyes. The windows to our souls met, I became capsized within her presence, causing the rancid sting of cigarettes, body odor and my claustrophobia to dissipate into nothingness.

"Are you okay? I landed on your head pretty hard." Her voice had put shivers up and down my spine.

"I'm fine." I said, setting her down gently.

"My name is Loh. Thanks for not dropping me."

"Your welcome. My name is Peter."

"Well, I'm gonna go back in there. See you."

"Wait. Can we talk later?"

"Do you have a pen?"


"I'll just give you my phone number."

"Are you sure?"


Her hand fluidly ran across the slip of paper leaving behind a trail of red numbers and a name.

Handing me the piece of paper her index finger smoothly caressed the top of my hand, causing all of the air to abandon my lungs, leaving me breathless.

"Okay, well, I guess I'll call you sometime."

"Yeah. Do that." She flashed me a warm smile and vanished into the mass of bodies.

Loh's long black dress clings to her body, emphasizing firm breasts, stomach, and hips, only to be covered up by a heavy, char-coal shaded trench coat. As she reaches for her black, vinyl handbag, her lips slowly approach my ear and whisper, "Let's go." Our fingers intertwined like two mating serpents, we walk through the house, out the back door and into the frigid night. Dark clouds in the distance move closer to the moon, eventually blocking out its romantic illumination.

"The seasons seem to get colder and colder, don't they?"

"Yes, they do," I replied, avoiding cracks in the walkway.

"I see being institutionalized for three years still hasn't cured you 100%."

"I still have a few problems that need to be worked out, but nothing too serious."

"How serious is too serious, Peter?" The change of tone in her voice puts negative chills up and down my spine, reviving the butterflies in my stomach.

"I'm on medication now."

"What, Prozac? Zanax?" She said cynically.

"Actually, yeah."

"Still thinking out loud?"

"No. Only schizo's do that. I'm not like that anymore. I mean, I still have a problem with germs and chemicals and I can't step on any cracks, and..."

"Are you going to be beating the piss out of anyone anytime soon?"

The nature of the question catches me off guard. "I, I don't think so."

A dead silence comes over us, and I turn to look at her. "I would never physically harm you purposely, if that's what you're thinking. I would never have harmed you before committing myself and I still won't. You have to believe me."

"I believe you." She plainly replied.

We approach our bench sitting by its lonesome in fragments of shattered moonlight. I walk up to touch it and run my fingers along the chips in its black paint from the night Loh and I stole it. We had been wandering aimlessly through the neighborhood at three a.m. on a hot summer morning and found it sitting in a condemned Burger King parking lot two blocks away from her house and knew we had to take it. Loh and I had lifted it up and walked stealthily down the street. Suddenly a pink low rider rolled up next to us and its passengers pelted us with eggs, causing us to drop the bench, chipping it's glossy, black finish.

Now, we sit down on the bench. It lets out a tired, broken squeal that echoes through the ferns, wild flowers and boulders surrounding us in her backyard forest. Crickets and nightingales accompany us with their dismal songs while we vegetate on our stolen bench. Loh's lack of speaking and energy puzzles me.

"Is everything okay?" I asked kindly.

"Yes, of course." She looks down at her hands, now clasped together in her lap.

"Okay. Just making sure." I put my arm around her and attempt to enjoy the twilight, knowing that something had to be wrong, but obviously she didn't want to talk about it.



"We need to talk."

Immediately knowing what is going to happen and be said within the next couple of hours, my heart explodes with adrenaline.

"What's going on?" I ask her, removing my arm from her shoulder.

Loh pauses for a moment, looks down, unzips the top of her handbag, reaches in and pulls out an object the size and shape of a softball. The glow from the glossy sphere illumines her face, making her more remarkably beautiful than I had ever seen.

"This is for you, Peter." She drops the heavy, crystal, sphere in my hands. A softball sized globe attached to a small, black altar. It sits in my palms, while one man inside sits alone, face buried in hands, sitting on a bench just like ours, surrounded by loose, gray snow.

"What the hell is this?"

"That's my break up present for you."

My heart and soul melt away into oblivion. This is what I knew was going to happen and be said, I just needed to hear it from her.


"You know why. You were in a mental hospital for three years. How was I supposed to know if you were coming back 100% or not? I don't want to take that risk."

"But I told you before, I would never intentionally hurt you. Not before and not now."

"You hurt me when you almost killed Jason."

The mention of that name ignites fire in my eyes and raises the hair on my body, while the smell of wild flowers and vanilla is taken over by the dank stench of carbon monoxide.

"How the hell could you do this to me?"

"I was alone for three years, and when you got out, if you ever got out, how was I supposed to know you'd be back to normal? After Jason got out of the hospital, he called me and apologized for what had happened. I needed someone, Peter, and he was the only person I knew that could fulfill what I wanted."

"Why didn't you tell me while I was still in there? I could have at least stayed in for a few more years."

"Well, I'm telling you now, it's over."

"But..." My voice is interrupted by the obnoxious rumbling of an old Volkswagen's broken muffler as it pulls up into Loh's driveway. With the engine still running, a car door slams and foot steps travel along the serpentine walkway, presenting the silhouette of a husky individual in the distance.

"Who the fuck is that?"

"That's Jason, my fucking ride. Now leave."

Fluids racing through my veins at unknown speeds, I lose all muscle control, frozen on the bench from anger and shock. Thoughts race through my mind, what do I do? WHAT DO I DO? WHAT THE FUCK DO I DO?

"You're not going anywhere? Fine, I'll leave, but you better be gone when we get back." She grabs her handbag and disappears with the shaded character into the darkness. The sound of two Volkswagen doors slam shut, and I set the globe down on the bench as the roar of the car fades into the darkness.

"My doctor said to wait and think about my actions before committing them. He'd always say, 'Sleep it off, sleep it off, sleep it off, I guarantee you'll feel better in the morning and you won't want to hurt anyone anymore.' That's what I'll do, I'll just sleep." I pause, thinking to myself, "Shit, I'm thinking out loud again." Silence surrounds me and tears begin to well up in my eyes as I realize the events that took place tonight. Bury my hands in my face and become one with the bench, sobbing together, all alone, in each other's despair. I sadly reach into my right jacket pocket, pull out a translucent orange pill container labeled; AMBIEN. DO NOT INGEST MORE THAN TWO TABLETS MORE THAN TWICE A WEEK. DO NOT OPERATE MACHINERY OR DRIVE AFTER INGESTING. I drop two too many of the Tylenol sized pills into my palm and swallow all three of them. The rough tablets sluggishly move down my body into my stomach and in minutes they'll hit my bloodstream, taking over my consciousness.

"How ya doing kid?" A familiar voice and smell remarks in the distance.

Startled, I quickly wipe the tears from my face and look in the direction of the voice. "I've seen better days, Lou."

"I noticed. Want to talk about it?" He asks, walking towards me. His cherried pipe lights up his unwrinkled, sixty five year old complexion and blonde stubble.

"No, not really. Besides didn't she already come to you about it?"

"What do you think? She's my daughter, of course she did."

"Well, I don't really want to get into it right now."

"Do you need anything?"

"Can I have a ride home?"

"Sure you can, Peter."

"Thanks, Lou."

"Your welcome. Do you want to go now?"

"Yeah. I think so."

I pick the globe up off the bench and Lou stands up to his feet while I follow. Still puffing away on his pipe, he turns to me, "You were always my favorite of all of Loh's boyfriends. If you ever need anything, let me know. You'll always be my friend." His warm, fatherly voice comforts my racing fluids as we reach his car.

"Thanks, Lou. I'll remember that."

I open the door to his old, cream colored Chevy pick-up, get in and fall asleep.

The golden sun breaks over the hill tops, illuminating the city, breaking through my curtains, and onto my eyelids. It's heat and glare brings consciousness back and I sit up. "How the hell did I get in here? How long have I been out?" I ask myself. Looking around my old one room studio, white walls remind me of the hospital, plain and indifferent. With crusty eyes and frizzy hair, I look at the clock and it reads April 5, 2003. 11:13 AM. I notice a slip of paper sitting in front of my door. I get out of bed and pick it up. "You passed out in the car so I used your keys and put you in bed. Take care, Lou. 4/3/99 11:23 PM."

"God damn, I slept for two days. What the hell is in that."

A sudden vision of freedom overcomes me and I am able to see clearly. The slip of paper glides through my fingers and floats to the frostbitten hardwood floor. "I now know what needs to happen to put closure on all of this. This and everything else in my world. Time to go, shit, I'm talking to no one again, shit. I really need to control that." Noticing myself thinking aloud disturbs me, so I grab the crystal globe, put it in my black nap sack and leave my studio, pursuing my vision of freedom.

Brightness like hellfire, I shade my eyes with my hands and approach the garage. Dead leaves and dirt fill the path while crisp roses sit still in the dead soil off to the sides of the cobblestone driveway. Under the wooden canopy my car sits, covered with a blue sheet and a thick layer of black silt. I reach around to my back pocket, pull out a clean handkerchief, cover my hand and rip the dust ridden sheet off of my car. A black gremlin materializes through the thick dust cloud as I open the car door. Welcomed with cold stale air, I fall into the seat of the vehicle, shove my keys in the ignition and turn the key.

Split seconds turn to seconds, seconds turn to minutes and minutes turn to an hour as street signs and playing children fly past my eye.

I sit tensely in my car as I slowly creep down Washington Ave. Broken houses sit in rows, some with cars on the front lawn and some with garbage strewn across the landscape. Shattered glass and oil stains paint the street a dark rainbow in the sun as I finally reach the house I'm looking for. The white stucco comes off in flakes, while black wooden blinds hang by duct tape off the face of the one story house. Dead roses and prickly bushes guard the front yard, behind the waist high, iron ore fence, holding up a wooden sign with "23 Washington Ave." burnt into it.

"This is the place." I mumble, trying to control the habit of speaking my thoughts out loud.

I grab my nap sack, get out of the car and leave the keys in the ignition with the car still running.

Fluids flowing steadily and cool, I casually walk up to the black, iron ore fence, and jump over it. I land on my feet with the soft dirt pathway under them and continue to move towards the front door. Dust kicks up with every step I take through the narrow path led by dead vegetation.

"Knock Knock." I bang on the filthy and torn screen door.

The door opens, his image distorted and shaded by the glare off of the screen. "What the fuck do you want?" A nervous voice calls behind the shade.

"I want to make things right, Jason."

"Make what right? What the hell are you talking about? Aren't you supposed to be locked up?" He fumbles with the knob and the screen door drifts open. Under thick eye brows and greasy, brown hair, the expression on the husky twenty-two year old's face shows nothing but fear and anticipation of the worst.

"I got out yesterday. But I'm not here to talk about that, Jason."

"What do you want?"

"I'm here to make my world right. I know you took Loh away from me and I'm just here to let go." I reach into the nap sack with my right hand. His eyes light up with horror as I pull out the crystal sphere Loh had given me.

"See this?"

He lets out a sigh of relief, flooding my nostrils with peanuts and beer. "Yeah, what is it?"

"Loh gave this to me last night. When she dumped me."

"Uh huh. What are you going to do? Kick my ass because she'd rather be with me?"

"Well, no. But the way I see it is that this globe is from you. I'd just like to give it back."

Fear leaves his face and a slight grin follows.

"That's all?"

"Yes, that's all." I raise the heavy object to my chest and take a deep breath. Lungs filled with oxygen, I close my eyes and my heart combusts with adrenaline. All consequences, good and bad flash before me as I choose my fate. Stepping forward, I open my eyes, raise the spherical bludgeon and introduce it to Jason's forehead. A cherry hue explodes into the atmosphere, spraying onto everything within a ten foot radius. Brown eyes roll back into his skull as splinters of it float lightly to the hardwood floors now submerged in blood. Ankles lose balance, knees buckle, back slumps over and he falls to the floor in his pool of urine and blood. The globe sits imbedded in Jason's skull over his empty stare into death.

I serenely turn around, let the screen door glide shut and walk away to my car. Glowing plasma trails follow me walking down the dirt path. I pull out my handkerchief and wipe the crimson juice off of my fingers while a slight breeze picks up and brings on a refreshing moment. "Freedom at last." I say out loud with a petty chuckle.

I get in the running car, close the door and drive back to the institution.

“The Confession” by Damien Ashton

Detective Chambers walked into the smoky interrogation room behind his partner. The small hanging lamp was the only light in the room. It dimly lit the shadowed features of the skinny young man in the chair opposite them at the cold metal table. His lip bled slightly from the struggle he had put up getting him here. As they pulled out the chairs opposite the man he didn’t so much as flinch at the noise of the metal legs clanging the floor.


“Is this gonna take long? You’re making me late for work. I already told you guys everything I knew. I don’t know anything about that girl,” the skinny young man said flatly.


“If you don’t mind, Mr. Ramsey, we’ll be asking the questions. And, between you and me, I’d say being late for work should be the least of your worries right now. I’m Detective Chambers and this is my partner Detective Gonzales.” Gonzales said nothing, he only stared at Ramsey with obvious disgust on his face.


Ramsey regarded him with a similar look and said, “Well, now that we all know each other, could we get on with this?” Chambers smiled and placed a thick file on the table in front of him. He opened it and pulled out a smaller folder marked photos.


“I want you to take a look at few photos while we go over the transcript of your previous questioning.”


Ramsey leaned forward and said, “Fine. Whatever. Can I get a smoke there, sport? That bitch at the desk took everything I had in my pockets.”


Gonzales frowned, but slid the cigarettes and matches across the table. Chambers was busy laying out the crime scene photos on the table. Ramsey lit the cigarette and pushed the pack back across the table. He drew in deeply and exhaled smoke in the detective’s direction.


“Now, in your statement from May 23rd you said that you went to the movies by yourself at the time of the murder. Correct?” Chambers asked.


“Yeah, I saw that new alien movie. So what?” Ramsey answered cockily.


“So, we have two witnesses that put you at Ms. Valdez’s residence at that same time. You have a reason for that?” Chambers asked.


Ramsey flicked an ash onto the table and leaned forward into the lamplight. “Yeah, I’d say that they’re apparently fucking mistaken. I showed the cops my ticket stub. What more can I say?” He leaned heavily back in the chair and took another deep drag from the cigarette. The brightening red cherry lit his face eerily.


Gonzales jumped forward suddenly from his chair. “When you were interrogated two weeks ago with the other suspects, you all had samples of blood taken. We did so for a specific reason. You see, the only bit of evidence we foundat the scene was an eyelash found on the victim’s bed. The deceased and her boyfriend were cleared yesterday when we got the DNA test results. In fact, the other two suspects were cleared too. Everyone excluded, except for you, mother fucker!” Gonzales yelled, leaning over the table. Spittle escaped his lips and spattered the photos in his excitement. Chamber’s noticed that Ramsey’s expression never faltered, he just looked up at Gonzales blankly.


Gonzales pushed the table hard against Ramsey’s chest, making him drop his cigarette and stumble back in his chair. Chambers caught the tape recorder before it fell to the floor, then grabbed his partner’s shoulder.


“Calm down, Isidro! We’ve got him. Why don’t you go get us some coffee? I have a feeling this is going to take a while.”


Gonzales looked down at Ramsey, who was smirking up at him. He reached across the table and grabbed Ramsey’s shirt, pulling him forward. With his free hand he held the pictures of the dead girl up to Ramsey’s face and yelled, “Look at that fucking picture! You did this! You! You’re DNA matched! Game over, mother fucker!”


Chambers jumped up, pulled Gonzales off,and pushed him towards the door. “God damn it! I said that’s enough! Go get some coffee and calm the fuck down!”


Gonzales snorted and backed up to the door, straightening his tie. He was still staring wild-eyed at Ramsey.


“Sure. Sorry, Andy. It’s just the shit he did to that girl.”


“I know, I know. But we got him now. He can’t hurt anybody else. Look, just take a walk and cool off,” Chambers said and paused to look at Ramsey, then continued, “I can take it from here.” Gonzales shook his head and stepped out of the room. Chambers closed the door behind him and turned back to Ramsey.


“Before we go further, I need to read you your rights,” Chambers said as he took his seat again at the table. Ramsey didn’t respond verbally or physically, he just sat slumped and still in the darkness with his head down. Chambers cleared his throat to raise his voice for the benefit of the audio recording.


“Bradley Ramsey, you are being placed under arrest for the murder of Jessica Lynn Valdez. You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be held against you in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney; if you can’t afford an attorney,the court will appoint one for you. Do you understand these rights as I’ve explained them to you today?” Chambers stated. Ramsey sat silently. “Mr. Ramsey, do you understand your rights?”


Finally, the skinny man lifted his head and said, “Yes, I do.”


“Good. Now, I’d like to ask you a few questions. You don’t have to answer them without an attorney present. If you’d like to call him, I can have a phone provided for you.”


Ramsey leaned forward in the chair and said, “That won’t be necessary. Could I have another cigarette?”


“Sure,” Chambers answered and pushed the pack across the table to him. “So, you don’t mind answering any questions?”


Ramsey lit the cigarette, drew deeply, and shook the match out. As he exhaled, he answered, “No, I’m kind of anxious to get it all off my chest.”


Chambers raised his eyebrows. “Are you saying you want to confess?”


“Among other things, but yes. I mean, as your angry friend said; game over, right?” Ramsey asked nonchalantly.


“Right. So, why don’t you go ahead and state your full name, age, and occupation, before you start.” Ramsey shook his head as leaned forward to ash his cigarette and said, “Sure.”


“My name is Bradley Alexander Ramsey. I’m twenty-six years old. And I’m a mailman for the United States Postal Service. I guess it’s best to start at the beginning. Ever since I can remember I’ve liked to kill. I’m not sick or anything, I just have a compulsion. I’ve struggled with it all my life. It started with animals when I was a kid. My dog had puppies and I took them out behind our shed in the back yard and twisted their little heads off one by one. I remember being annoyed by their screams, it only made me want to kill them faster. I can’t explain it. I guess I wanted to see what their insides looked like. I wanted them to stop being. So, I killed them. I buried them in the field behind our house. I told my parents they ran away, but I know they didn’t believe me. But the funny thing is, they didn’t say anything. I think they were a little scared of me. I was really bright for my age.”


Chambers sat staring at him and said, “Mr. Ramsey…”


Ramsey cut him off saying, “Call me Brad.”


“Fine. Brad, this is all very interesting, but can we get to Jessica Valdez?” Ramsey leaned forward into the lamplight again. Chambers leaned back a little, not liking the emptiness in his eyes.


“If you please, Detective Chambers, I’m going somewhere with this. I don’t think that you know exactly who you’re dealing with. I want to bring you up to speed before we get to the girl whose face I smashed. We’ll get to her eventually.” Ramsey answered politely. He leaned back in the chair bringing his face back into the darkness and continued nursing his cigarette.


Chambers interest was officially peaked. “Sorry, please go on,” he said cheerfully. Inwardly he was dreading where this was going.


“Thank you. After the puppies, I developed a taste for it. On my way home from school I’d look for cats, grasshoppers, dogs, lizards; anything I could find that would bleed. Anything alive really; anything that could die. And the ways I’d do them. I got bored with just ripping their heads off pretty quick. It ended them too fast. I wanted it to last longer. So, I got some tools out of the shed and got creative with it. After the first dozen or so I stopped despising the screams and started to embrace them. I’d get a dog or cat and hold their heads down and smash their teeth out with a hammer. I liked doing this best to dogs. With cats I’d have the most fun though, you know, they’re so skitzy and temperamental. I’d use a screwdriver to stab and yank their eyes out. Once they were blinded I’d tie a couple of fishing hooks and lures in separate wire strands to the main line on my fishing pole. I’d put a few in their tongues and random bits of skin on their bodies. Then I’d get a lighter and burn their genitals as I held them down. When I let them up and their blind asses took off running, I’d cut the slack on my fishing reel until they reached the stopping point. When the hooks dug in them good and deep against their forward momentum, I’d give the pole a hard yank and start reeling them in. I did it slow and methodically, you know, to fuck with their heads by letting them think that they had a chance to get away. Man, how they’d struggle.”


Ramsey had to stop for a second to collect himself. He was giggling incessantly at the memories he was drawing up. After a disturbing moment he continued.


“Sorry about that, I just got caught up in the memory. Anyway, when I finally reeled them all the way in and they were all exhausted by this incredibly painful battle for their lives, I’d bound them up with duct tape. They fought uselessly with their tired little arms. Then I’d shoot them slowly in different parts of their body with my Red Rider BB gun. I would deliberately do this slow to prolong their pain for as long as possible. I think the one that took the longest to die was a big neighborhood tomcat named Simon. I remember it took at least 4 1/2 hours one Saturday or Sunday morning, I can’t remember which. Tough little bastard though, I’ll give him that. But there were lots of animals, too many to count. I didn’t kill my first person until I was 8.”


“Did you say kill your first person?” Chambers asked leaning forward on the table.


“Yes, the first of many. He was my cousin. His name was Franklin Ramsey. I hated that fat little fuck. I was very proud of myself after that one. Would you like to hear about it?” he asked excitedly.


“Yes, I’m listening. You said his name was Franklin Ramsey. Where was this? Were you charged with the murder?” Chambers asked as he wrote the boy’s name on the tablet in front of him.


“No, I made it look like an accident of course. Oh, and you don’t have to write anything down. I’m not ashamed of anything I’ve done. I’ll confess to them all freely. Well, the ones whose names I remember,” Ramsey said happily. Chambers looked at the skinny man in front of him puzzled. He hadn’t expected this. What the hell had he stumbled onto? Who the fuck was this guy?


“I think it was 1982. I’d gone to stay with my aunt during the summer and she’d taken Franklin and myself to go see E.T. I wasn’t too crazy about it, but Franklin’s tubby little ass had his heart set on it. So we went and saw it and came home. Franklin went to play up the street while I stayed at the house and played in the back yard.”


Chambers sat looking at him, genuinely intrigued. Ramsey’s features were still hidden in the dark. He could only hear his unnervingly calm voice and look at the smoke billow into the light as he exhaled. The sudden silence was starting to make Chambers uncomfortable. He couldn’t see Ramsey’s features, but he was sure that he was watching him, studying him.


“So, what happened? Why didn’t you go off with Franklin?” Chambers asked finally. His own voice sounded shaky to his ears. He coughed a little bit to steady himself and clear his throat. He couldn’t let Ramsey know he was getting to him.


Ramsey exhaled and tapped the cigarette ashes into the ashtray. Chambers saw the lamplight glitter tiny white pinpoints in Ramsey’s eyes as he looked at the bright red cherry on the cigarette.


“I told you. I hated the little fucker. If my parents didn’t force me to go, I wouldn’t even had been there. And besides he had a rabbit named Floppers in the backyard that I wanted to get more acquainted with. Anyways, while my aunt was watching her soap operas, I was in the back yard getting old Floppers out of his cage. I took him through the back gate and into the alley. They had a lot of neighbors living around them. Across the alley and two houses up was a backyard with a big ass pitbull in it. I’m not sure what his name was, but he was a mean fucker, I remember that,” Ramsey said. He paused to chuckle again. Chambers looked at him curiously.


“I’m sorry. I haven’t thought about this in a while. It still tickles me after all these years. Anyway, where was I?” he asked snuffing out the butt of the cigarette.


“You’d just taken the rabbit into the alley,” Chambers said dryly. His voice was steadier now, even if his nerves weren’t. Something about this guy was just rubbing him the wrong way.


“Oh yeah, right. Well it was twitching like crazy. The rabbit, I mean. They say that animals can sense emotions in humans. If it could tell what I had in mind for it, then I certainly could understand why it was flailing around like it was. It really went nuts when I got it to the fence.


“The pitbull was going crazy on the other side. It clamped its jaws down through the interlocking chain link fence. It could smell the rabbit and its fear, or maybe it wanted me? I’d like to think it wanted the rabbit. I kind of had the feeling that the dog and myself were kindred spirits.” Ramsey stopped to see what Chambers’ reaction was at that point. He only looked on with a look of deep curiosity on his face. Pleased with that, Ramsey continued.


“The barking sent the rabbit into shock or something. One of its hind legs caught me on the forearm. It had sharp little claws that tore into my skin. I was furious. So I grabbed the leg and snapped it in my hand. It squeaked loudly. Did you know that a rabbit could scream, Detective?” Ramsey asked venomously. Chambers shook his head no and flipped his hand at him, meaning for him to continue.


“Well they do. Believe me. Everything screams in some way or another. So, just about the time it screamed I heard someone gasp behind me. When I turned around I saw Franklin standing at the open gate of his back yard looking at me. He screamed Floppers name and ran towards me. When he was about five feet away I threw Floppers over the fence in with the pit bull. The dog had it in its jaws as soon as it hit the ground. Franklin looked in disbelief as the dog shook its big, scarred head back and forth with the rabbit in its mouth. I heard a pop and knew that either the rabbit’s neck or back were broken. Either way it wasn’t going anywhere.”


Ramsey stopped and grabbed the pack of cigarettes off the table. He placed one in this mouth and lit it. He didn’t bother to ask permission this time.


“Franklin started screaming. ‘Floppers! Floppers!’ Shit like that. He climbed up a little on the fence. He was wailing at the bloody mess the dog had turned his fluffy, white rabbit into. Then I just pushed him from behind. I had to run a little from across the alley and throw my shoulder upward to knock him over the fence. His shoe clocked me in the head when he tumbled into the yard. I fell backward and smacked the back of my head hard on the pavement, but it was worth it. As I fell back I saw his legs go upright and point at the sky. He landed flat on his back and knocked the wind out of himself. The dog was on him like that. It grabbed him around the bicep on his arm and started slinging him around like a rag doll. He stopped screaming though. I remember that because I was so disappointed. I wanted to hear him squeal.”


Ramsey stopped talking and tapped the ashes into the ashtray. Chambers sat looking at him. He was so enthralled with the story that he didn’t notice his mouth hung slightly open. Ramsey smiled at him and continued.


“From inside the house I heard someone yell at the dog to shut up. The dog let Franklin go and reluctantly went to the back door with its tail between its legs. I think the guy must have beat it or fought it or something. Its face and body were all scarred up. Anyway Franklin gets to his feet and staggers to the fence to climb over into the alley. When the dog hears the fence shaking it charges back towards him. Franklin was halfway over the fence when he turned and saw it running towards him. I got to my feet and stood in front of where he clung to the fence. He looked at me and I saw the terror on his face. I saw the blood flowing from his arm and the dog closing on him. The whole scene was delicious. He reached a hand towards me to help pull him over. I looked him right in the eye and punched him in the nose. He yelped and fell backward hard to the ground. That time the dog went for the throat. I remember how the blood just appeared suddenly. There was so much of it. At first I thought the dog was puking blood or something. Then it went to his face and I saw the hole in Franklin’s throat. His body was jerking like crazy when it tore at his cheek, but I think he was dead. It was great. A few minutes later he was dead and I sat watching the dog lick at Franklin’s mangled throat. It ate a little of his face and then rested its head on his carcass proudly. But that was the first time I killed a person. Well, the dog did the actual killing, but I think I was at least an accomplice, right? I certainly didn’t try and save the fat little bastard.”


“No, I’d say you had more than a little to do with his death,” Chambers assured him. Inwardly he thought this was crazy. It was like the guy wanted assurance that he was a murderer. And the way he spoke so proudly of it, like he was boasting, it made Chambers nauseous.


“So what happened then? How’d you get out of it?”


Ramsey leaned back in the chair. “I just turned on the water works. I mean I was eight, for god’s sakes. Me being involved was the furthest thing from their minds. Except for my mom and dad. Somehow they knew I had something to do with it. They didn’t have any proof, but they knew.”


“Don’t you even feel bad about this? How do you think your aunt’s going to react when she finds out you killed her son?” Chambers asked angrily. He was getting fed up with the maddening glee in Ramsey’s voice as he described what he’d done.


Ramsey leaned forward into the light and smiled at Chambers. “I don’t think she’ll have too much to say about it, Detective. I killed her when I was sixteen. I broke into her house and bashed her fucking brains out with a tire iron. I’m sure wherever she is she knows exactly what I am.” As he finished he leaned back into the darkness. Letting the cherry of the cigarette again make his features glow that dim red.


Chambers leaned forward with his elbows on the table. He was more than a little taken aback. He rubbed his eyes with his thumb and forefinger then asked, “You killed your aunt, too? What did she do to make you kill her?”


Ramsey shifted slightly in the chair. He was pleased to be in such control of the conversation. He took another long drag from the cigarette before he responded to Chambers’ question.


“Aunt Patricia? I guess she really didn’t do anything to set me off if that’s what you’re asking. I was just in a spot and needed some quick cash. She was supposed to be at work, but her fat ass was there, sitting in the living room watching her stories. I went in through the garage so she didn’t hear me come in. I saw her big head from behind as she watched the TV. I don’t know what it was but I just wanted to destroy her. Do you know what I mean?”


“No, I don’t. But go on. What happened next?” Chambers asked feeling a little queasy.


“Like I said, I went to the garage and got a tire iron from my late Uncle Jim’s workbench. Then I crept up behind her and bashed her fucking brains in. She was useless, ya’ know? One of those fucks who serve no purpose? Well, anyway she was one of those people. So after that, I went upstairs, took her jewelry and anything else I could pawn, and then I went about my merry way. She really didn’t see it coming so it wasn’t that big of a deal. I think they ended up pinning it on some Mexican that had been breaking into houses around that time, so he’s probably locked up for life as we speak. So really I killed two people that day. Kind of a two for one, huh?” Ramsey asked happily.


Chambers leaned back in his chair and put a hand to his sweaty forehead. He wasn’t sure what to say or think at that point. He’d never dealt with anyone like this before. Finally he said, “You’re a sick man, Mr. Ramsey.”


Ramsey leaned forward into the light and said, “Am I?” He then smiled, snuffed out the cigarette, and retreated back to the darkness he seemed so comfortable in.


Chambers closed the folder in front of him and asked, “Just how many people have you killed?”


At first, Ramsey giggled from across the table instead of answering. He was happy with the detective’s fear. He could almost taste it. Chambers tried to maintain his gruff exterior, but Ramsey knew fear when he saw it.


“Man, that’s a good question. Are we talking like ballpark figures here, or what?” Ramsey asked honestly.


“If a ballpark figure is the best you can do right now, then that’s fine, Mr. Ramsey. So please answer the question.”


“Ok. I can do that. But for the last time, please call me Brad. Mr. Ramsey sounds so formal. I’m sharing personal information with you so the least you could do is give the courtesy of addressing me by my first name. Cool?”


Chambers scooted the chair forward, obviously irritated. “Fine. Brad, how many people, ballpark, have you murdered over the years?”


“See isn’t that better? Now we’re all chummy again,” Ramsey said.


Chambers shook his head quickly in response. He just wanted this confession to be over with. Something about this guy didn’t feel right. Ramsey was really starting to give him the willies and he found himself wishing that he hadn’t sent Isidro out of the room.


“Well, I’d say one hundred at least, maybe two. It’s hard to keep track, but I know it was quite a few. After I watched Franlkin die I kind of got a hunger for it. Even more than I did killing animals. People are so much more entertaining. Animals don’t beg.” Ramsey stopped and thought about what he said for a moment then continued, “Well, I guess in all fairness they probably beg in their own way, but I’ll be damned if I can understand them. It’s like killing a foreigner or something, you know? I mean it’s fun and all, but I like to hear people grovel in English. It’s just a lot more fun that way.”


Chambers looked into the dark where he gauged Ramsey’s eyes would be and said, “You’re not just sick, you’re a monster.”


Ramsey let out a deep hearty laugh at that. Confusion swept over Chambers’ face. He couldn’t understand how someone could be so evil. And then his laugh. It didn’t sound like any laugh he’d ever heard before. His mind grappled for a word to describe it and all he could come up with was “wrong.”


Ramsey leaned suddenly into the light again. For a split second, Chambers thought his eyes flashed a bright red and flinched back involuntarily. Ramsey smiled crazily at him from across the table.


“I need another smoke before I go on,” Ramsey said matter of factly and reached for the pack of cigarettes and matches. Chambers didn’t answer, he just watched Ramsey’s fluent movements as he lit a smoke and eased back into the darkness. The cherry did it’s eerie lighting on his features again as he settled into the chair.


Chambers coughed a little to clear his throat and try to reassert himself. After a deep breath he placed his hands as calmly as he could on the table and locked the fingers together so Ramsey wouldn’t see his hands shaking. Somewhat satisfied he asked, “Fine. But I’m investigating the death of Jessica Valdez. Can we start with what happened the night of May 23rd and work our way back from there?”


Ramsey shifted in his chair again and said, “Ok, sure. Whatever rocks your boat, Detective.”


Chambers shot him a cross look, but said nothing. He needed to get this part on tape. He looked at the spinning wheels through the recorder’s window to make sure the tape was still rolling. It was.


“Do you need to change the tape?” Ramsey asked. “Cause I can wait. I’m not in any hurry.”


“No, the tape’s fine. I’ll let you know when this side runs out.”


“Fine. Then let’s get to it, shall we?” Ramsey said politely. Chambers nodded his head and motioned with his hand for him to continue.


“In April, a friend of mine down at the post office got married, so I volunteered to cover his route for him while he was away. That’s when I saw her. She didn’t have a mailbox, she had one of those little front door slots, so I went to the door to drop off her mail and I hear this moaning coming from around the side of the house. Now, I’m naturally a curious person so I went to investigate. Her bedroom window was open and she had these lacey white curtains blowing outward. When I got closer to it, the moaning had grown louder and I heard a buzzing sound like a mosquito. When I got close enough to look in the window, I saw this beautiful Mexican girl with long dark hair, lying buck-naked and spread eagle on her bed. She was rubbing her clit with one hand and fucking herself with a viborator with the other. She was getting after it too. I sat quietly and watched her until she’d finished. I watched the wetness from inside her glistening in the afternoon light. When she climaxed she pulled her soaked hand from her crotch and sucked the juices from her fingers. I can still see her pouting lips sucking them greedily. And the way her cheeks sunk in as she tasted herself. Umm-mmm. Anyway, then she pulled the viborator out and put it to her clit to finish the job. When she finally came her body tensed and arched up from the bed. She was fucking gorgeous.”


Ramsey stopped talking and took another drag from the cigarette. Chambers saw that he was looking towards the ceiling and assumed that he was reminiscing about the scene he’d just described. It made him feel sick to his stomach.


“Look, Mr. Ramsey… or Brad, or whatever. This girl is dead and she’s dead because you killed her. I don’t know what kind of fucked up fantasy world you’re living in, but let’s skip your delusions and get to the night you killed her,” Chambers said. His voice was beginning to rise.


Ramsey exhaled, sending a puff of smoke into Chambers’ face from the darkness. Chambers arms tensed and he thought about taking a swing at the monster in front of him. As he went to move, Ramsey began speaking again causing the urge to subside.


“I know what you’re thinking, Detective. I’m sure your reports showed no evidence of the girl being sexually assaulted, so you’re probably wondering why I didn’t rape her. Especially after the scene I just described. Am I right?”


Chambers looked across the table into the darkness and asked, “So why didn’t you?”


Ramsey sat forward into the light and said, “Because I didn’t want to. I’m a monster, Detective, but not the kind you think I am. Sure, she was a beautiful girl, but I’m not into the whole rape thing. I went back to kill her because she was so happy. The bliss and ecstasy I saw on her face made me want her. Not sexually though, I wanted her joy to go away. She was so carefree and wild. I just wanted to obliterate her pretty face. I wanted her soul.”


As he finished his sentence the tape stopped. Chambers jumped a little at the noise then cursed himself silently for doing so. Ramsey didn’t move at all, he just sat watching Chambers as he flipped the tape over. He then took the opportunity to light up another cigarette and ease back into the darkness he seemed so fond of.


With the tape rolling again, Chambers was more than ready to move on. In all honesty, he wanted this to be over with, to be out of this little room and away from Ramsey. Far away.


“So, is that why you kill people Brad? Do you think that when you kill them, their souls become yours?”


Ramsey mulled this over for a moment before answering. “It’s a bit more complicated than that, but in a word, yes, I kill people for their souls.”


Chambers smiled a little and tapped his fingers on the table. His smile turned into a chuckle while Ramsey sat watching him letting the cigarette burn in his hand.


“Did that amuse you, Detective?” Ramsey asked.


“Well, Mr. Ramsey. It did. I was starting to think that you were this smooth, cold-blooded, remorseless killer, but you’re just another psycho nut job that got lucky for a long time. But I’ve got news for you. Your luck’s run out, and when people die, even people you kill, they go to heaven or hell. End of story.” Chambers said. He was starting to feel more in control of the situation.


“I never said that people didn’t go to heaven or hell. They do. Just not the ones that I kill.” Ramsey said.


“Whatever you say, Mr. Ramsey. Can we get back to the night of May 23rd? I’ve still got more scumbags to deal with, and frankly, I’m sick of looking at you. So let’s just cut the bullshit and get this wrapped up.”


Ramsey chuckled again and took another drag from his cigarette. As he exhaled he asked, “So, now I’m a scumbag. And here I was thinking I was a monster. Let me ask you a question, Detective. Is your soul clean? Do you sleep good at night knowing that you’re fucking your partner’s wife? While your own wife lies unsatisfied and unloved beside you?”


Chambers looked at the blackness across from him, shocked. The tape recorder and the murders were now forgotten, and the slight fear he’d been feeling during the confession had now turned to full on panic. He felt sweat seeping from every pore of his body. Finally, in a weak voice, he managed to ask, “H-H-How do you know that?”


A plume of smoke appeared from the darkness across from him as Ramsey exhaled. Chambers was petrified. He sat shaking in his chair looking at the dark where Ramsey’s face would be. Ramsey only sat watching him.


“I know everything about you, Detective. I know your fears and all of your secret sins. I know your soul. I know it because it’s mine.” Ramsey finally answered, although to Chambers his voice sounded different.


What the fuck do mean!?” Chambers screamed. He’d never heard such terror in his own voice. He felt like he was going crazy.


Ramsey flipped the cigarette at him and it bounced off his chest and landed in his lap. It burned Chambers’ skin but he didn’t notice. He couldn’t take his eyes off of Ramsey.


Ramsey leaned forward into the light, revealing his true self. Dark blue veins criss-crossed his pale face and his eyes had no pupils. His gums were lined with long, sharp, cone-shaped teeth. As he breathed, the smell of a hundred dead bodies filled the room.


Chambers let out a high-pitched scream and fell backward in the chair sending him careening to the floor. The Ramsey-thing flipped the metal table over into the darkness where it clanged against the wall. Chambers scooted himself back against the cold wall behind him, screaming as the thing stared at him with its evil eyes.


Ramsey spoke again but Chambers didn’t exactly hear the words, he felt them. His heart was racing with mind-numbing terror and his mind was far from comprehending anything. All he knew was fear.


“When you and your partner came to arrest me this afternoon I killed you. Both of you. I slit your fat fucking throat. Go ahead and feel your neck. A bit gooey isn’t it?” the thing said.


Chambers felt his throat and pulled it away quickly from the gore he found there. His heart was racing so fast it felt like it might explode. In fact, he wished that it would. As the thing moved closer he cried out, “What do you want!? Why are you doing this to me?


“You know what I want Andy,” the thing said. “I want to tear you apart over and over again for the rest of eternity. I want to hear your screams whenever I want them. But do you know what I want most of all, Andy? I want us all to be friends.”


The dark room suddenly grew insanely bright as Chambers looked at the horror around him. Hundreds of people were being tortured for as far as he could see, all of them dead yet somehow alive. Their pain was so thick he could feel it. Chambers began screaming like he never had before and all of the flailing atrocities around him joined in with him.


The Ramsey-thing smiled at the sound and said, “Delicious.”

“Andrew” by Tia Markovich

Andrew knew that he was dying. None of the other soldiers had any illusions either. He was facing death, it was staring him straight in the face, and he almost welcomed it. Blood trickled down his neck to his shoulder like raindrops slowly flowing down the side of a window. The bullet had hit his chest with the fury of one hundred men beating the breath out of him all at once. He struggled to push himself up against a rock while the blood seeped from his body.

As he leaned against the hard cold surface, he looked down at the wound that he knew would end his life. It looked unreal, like some kind of a hallucination, for he didn't seem to feel the pain he thought he would after he examined it. He took a deep breath and felt his lungs giving out inside of him. He coughed an unbearably painful cough and watched with distress how the blood seemed to pour all around him.

Andrew looked around at the nightmarish scene that surrounded him. There were boys and men, boys and men that were his friends, his confidants, his buddies dying all around him. Some had been shot and lay motionless on the ground. Some were still dying, twisting and turning around on the dirty ground begging for mercy from a god that didn't seem to care. Andrew closed his eyes, for he couldn't bear to look at the horrors that surrounded him.

In his mind he played the tape over and over again. His father's words played again and again like a skipping record.

"Real men become soldiers, and soldiers die. If you go to war son, there is a chance you may not come back, but at least you will have served your country. Like me, and like your grandfather."

He then laughed to himself while he thought of his response to his father's words.

"But dad, I don't want to be a soldier. I want to go to medical school. I want to help people, not kill them. Soldiers kill, I don't want anyone's blood on my hands. I want to marry Sophia, to have kids and be a doctor."

And yet here he was, bleeding to death of a bullet wound in the chest despite his protests to his father's wishes. How foolish he felt, how ignorant. War was one big nightmare, a nightmare he had sacrificed everything to be a part of. There was no way out of it now; he was trapped in his own hell.

He struggled with all his being to reach into his back pocket. The pain in his chest had now spread to his arms and legs. His neck felt as if someone had their hands gripped firmly around it, for he had to struggle with each breath. He felt around in his pocket until he found the small metal object he sought so desperately. A silver locket. Once so shiny and beautiful, now tarnished, scratched and marked with his blood and perhaps the blood of others.

His shaking hands opened the locket. He peered inside to see the beautiful face before him. Sophia was the most beautiful woman he had ever met. So fair, so lovely. Her beautiful golden hair and bright green eyes. She truly was breathtaking. His heart sunk as he realized this photo would be the last time he would ever see this beauty again. He would be leaving her a widow. A 19 year old widow. A 19 year old pregnant widow.

He fought with every ounce of strength he could muster to fight the tears, but they rolled down his cheeks like a faucet. The salty tears washed some of the blood and dirt from his cheeks, and he wiped them away with his gritty hand. The tears trickled over his hands onto the picture, and seemed to erase it from his sight. His vision was becoming blurry. The loud noises and screams around him were beginning to fade.

He slowly started to close his eyes. Those beautiful crystal blue eyes. Sophia had noticed those eyes before anything else about him. There he had sat at the local diner eating his breakfast, reading a medical journal when she approached him. He was stunned that a young female of her beauty would ever approach someone like him. After all, he was just the local bookworm with his head buried in a medical journal.

"Hello darling." She said to him with an air of confidence he had never observed before in a female. "I'll tell you what, you buy me a cup of coffee and I'll let you take me to the movies tonight. That is, if I can stare at those beautiful blue eyes all night."

What a girl! He fell in love with her instantly. She was everything he had ever dreamed of. How he wished he could've been there when she found out she was pregnant, how he wished he could be with her when their child was born. Instead, he was here in this never-ending hell. He had left his new bride for the Army two days after they were married.

The pain was becoming too much to bear now. His eyelids closed, almost sealed like a dungeon door. Visions danced through his head. He lay there fighting to breathe. Waiting patiently to die. Imagining the child he would never see.

Sophia took deep breaths, but the pain was unbearable. She so wanted this child, but didn't know if she could handle another contraction. She had had a dreadful pregnancy. The stress of Andrew being gone, as well as not having received a letter, a note, not a word from him in weeks.

At night she had terrible visions of him dying on a battlefield somewhere so far away. In the morning she would wake and cry and cry. She would pray to God that Andrew would make it back home alive, that he would see his child, hold her again.

Her mother wiped a cool washcloth over her forehead. She took deep breaths like the doctor ordered, and hoped that this pain would soon end. It was ripping her apart. Her mother's reassuring words and the doctor's coaching were all fading into the background. Suddenly her heart struck with panic. It hit her like a bullet in the gut. She felt as if she would nearly faint, and she could feel her mother pushing her back against the pillow so that she wouldn't fall forward.

He was dead. She was sure of it. Andrew was dead. She had never felt anything like this before, and she knew she was right. Like a sign from above, her darling Andrew was trying to tell her he was dead.

The contractions continued, and the doctor's voice was no longer reassuring, but loud and commanding. He was telling her to push and to concentrate. Her mind was a fog. She could hear the doctor and her mother speaking to her but she couldn't answer. Her lips wouldn't move. She couldn't breathe.

She felt as if a bullet had pierced her in the chest. She could feel warm fluid tringling down her chest and down her knees. She was dying. This was it. A horrible sadness swam over her.

"I love you Sophia, I love you so much! I am sorry I left you. I love you and our child with all my heart." She kept repeating this over and over. She was becoming delirious, and the doctors wheeled her into another room.

Her whole body went numb. The room became so dark. So very dark. Her ears became deaf. She could no longer hear her mother or the doctor's words. They had all left her. She tried to reach out, but there was nothing but empty space around her. She felt a sharp object in her arm, and lost her fight to stay conscious. She drifted into a dark cold place.

As Sophia opened her eyes, the blurry room began to come into focus. She looked around and saw her doctor in front of her and heard her mother's voice in the background. There was warm sunlight coming through a window and touching her cheeks. She tried to speak, but the doctor gently put his finger over her lips and began to talk.

"Don't try to talk too much Sophia, you have been through a lot."

"Is it over?" She asked in a weak voice.

"Yes." The doctor said. "And you have a wonderful new gift to show for it all."

"A gift?" She asked confused.

Her mother then walked closer to her bed with a bundle in her arms. She leaned toward Sophia and turned the bundle so that Sophia could see it. It was a beautiful little baby. A boy. Sophia's heart felt a warmth she had never before felt and reached her arms out to touch the little angel.

As she cradled him in her arms, she cried with tears of tremendous joy. He was the most perfect specimen she had ever seen or could've ever imagined. The baby felt warm against her, and seemed to like being there for he snuggled closer to her.

Sophia's mother sat beside her daughter and new grandbaby on the hospital bed with both happiness and concern in her eyes. Her dear daughter had shouted and wailed things that made no sense in the delivery room and she was worried about her. It was almost as if she had become another person.

"You gave us quite a scare dear." She said. "You were doing fine one minute and then you started shouting all kinds of things that made no sense. Then you finally passed out."

"What was I shouting?" Asked Sophia.

"You kept saying, "'Sophia I love you, I am sorry I left you.'" "It must have been the pain and the blood loss. You were in quite a state and very upset. According to the doctor that is quite normal during difficult deliveries."

"No mother," Sophia began, "Andrew is dead. It wasn't nonsense at all. He is dead I am sure of it. He died of a bullet wound. I could feel it the moment it hit him in his chest. I could feel his... his pain."

Sophia's mother sat up abruptly from the bed now with horror and concern in her eyes.

"Sophia please do not say things like that. You have been under a great deal of stress since Andrew left, but my dear I am sure he is fine. We have not heard anything different. He will be home soon. This war will be over and he will be home soon to meet his new son. Any pain you were feeling was from the birth."

Sophia couldn't muster the energy to disagree with her mother, but she knew that in her heart she was right. She sat up in the bed slowly, and began to feel her strength coming back a little. She turned her new darling baby boy towards her so she could examine his little face. There they were, big beautiful crystal blue eyes. Andrew's eyes. Eyes so big and blue that they resembled the sky on the clearest day.

As she smiled at this little darling, she looked deeply into his eyes and felt Andrew's presence. Felt his soul staring back at her. She sighed. She knew deep in her heart that Andrew was gone now, but that his soul now lived inside of this new perfect little being. The bright eyes told her so. This helped to ease her pain. This made her feel at peace with the world.

She smiled and cuddled the young one close to her.

"Andrew." She said proudly. "Mother, Doctor I'd like you to meet Andrew. He is the bravest, most loving person I have ever met and will ever know."

Her mother and the doctor looked at each other with puzzled expressions on their faces, but just assumed that Sophia was still a little delirious and dealing with the trauma of her delivery. They smiled back at her as she held her new son. Rocking him back and forth and calling him Andrew over and over.

“In Vain Pursuit” by Elisha Porat

A. On the coast at Atlit


I saw him first standing over the sea. On a trip to the shore I made before the holidays, I arrived at the coast near Atlit. From a distance, even before I drew near the cove, I noticed the form of a man perched on a rock over-looking the water. His pose seemed a bit awkward, and I chuckled for a moment at the fisherman apparently frozen in the singular motion of casting a high arcing line. But he did not move. His arms remained stretched towards the sea and no tense line was visible amidst the waves.


I parked the car on a strip of rough ground away from the soft, sinking sand and walked to the ledge. I needed to find a nice, quiet cove for our company of friends. A number of families joined us each year for the holidays to pitch tents on the beach between Caeseria and Atlit. Now I had a clear view of the man. He was very thin, which made him look tall, and had brown skin. The tight black pants he wore came down to his ankles. Though I could not see his eyes facing the sea, I sensed even from behind that they were fine and dark.


He heard my steps and slowly turned around. With a smile on his swarthy face, he gave me a friendly greeting. “Don’t mind me,” I said. “I’m just looking for a nice, little cove where my friends and I can spend the holidays.”


“Welcome,” he answered, “to you and your friends. The Bay of Atlit is a great place to pass the end-of-summer holidays.”


“Yes,” I agreed. “We camp every year on this stretch of coast down to Caeseria. We try to find a quiet, out-of-the-way cove the hordes of other vacationers haven’t yet discovered.”


“Here on the coast of Atlit, and nearby, too, you can hear wonderful singing of all kinds in the quiet hours,” he said. He looked back to the sea and continued, “Do you hear it? Even now, you can hear the exquisite sounds of the psalms.” He suddenly shifted on his ledge and his body began to dance as if of itself while he kept time with a tune so faint I could not make out the words. “Do you hear,” he asked over his shoulder, “do you hear? The whole coast is singing, all the bay and all the sea are singing with us.”


If he stays here on the rock, I thought to myself, the amusement he provides the children will make them turn up their noses at swimming. If we’re really lucky, he’ll surely show us some of his glories. I could already imagine the children laughing in scorn, hurling handfuls of sand at him, taunting him cruelly.


“I thought you were a fisherman,” I said aloud. “From a distance, it looked like you were casting a line into the water.”


“Me’ir,” he said. “My name is Me’ir.”


“Nice to meet you. If you’re still here on the beach during the holidays, we’ll invite you to our vacation tent.”


“My pleasure,” Me’ir replied. “I can see that you’re good people. Yes, there still are some good souls in this country.” He turned to me and gave me a great, guileless smile. “There are many good people with me here. They never cease entreating me, `Come to us, lift up your voice with ours in song. Come sing with us.’ I ache to be with them. I stretch out on the rock, spread my arms like wings to them and tremble before them from head to toe. Perhaps a small miracle will occur, and I’ll fly off to the bay and the deep blue waters in the shadow of the fortress walls.”


“We also have children in our group,” I told him, “and they aren’t very patient. I hope they won’t pester you. It’s hard to control children these days.”


“Don’t worry,” said Me’ir. “By the way, where are you good people from? From the kibbutz? Are you abandoning the fruit and chickens to grab a few days at the beach? Well, I know how to get along with kids, you have nothing to worry about. In children, too, the good must be brought out.”


“What about the noise of our cars and the commotion from our camp – won’t they prevent you from hearing the sounds that come to you from the sea?”


“What can you do?” he said. “The shore does not belong to me, the sea is not mine alone, the Bay of Atlit is not my sole possession.” He spread his thin wing-like arms above his body as if to embrace the sea, as though he wanted to soar above the gentle murmur of the bay. “You’re no problem, you’ll rest a few days here and then go home. But the army does maneuvers here day and night. The sound of shooting pierces the air, and I cannot hear the sweet strains of song. The soldiers leave the beach black and filthy. Weeks pass before I can sit again on my little rock and listen to my siren calls.”


His description made me laugh. “You mean they’re frightened by machine gun fire and exploding shells?” “Don’t laugh,” said Me’ir, “and don’t think I’m ignorant of the military. I served in the navy.” I suddenly remembered an accident that had nearly ended in tragedy a year earlier in one of the hidden coves.


I was dozing in my tent, deep in a sweet afternoon nap, when the children burst inside in a panic and woke me up. “Come quickly,” they shouted breathlessly. “Hurry, two people are drowning down in the cove! They don’t know how to swim. Quick, they’re already going under!”


Still damp with the sweat of sleep, I rushed from the tent and followed the children down the limestone steps. From the top, I caught sight of a young woman deep in the inlet slowly being swept out to sea. A young man, writhing on the opposite shore, shouted to her frantically. I sent the others to fetch a rope and some inner tubes, then dived into the water. There was some undertow, nothing serious. I swam to the girl with quick, powerful strokes, grasped her below the arms and slowly propelled her back to shore. Around us, whirlpools swirled and the sea hissed, but the woman’s response to my motions made the rescue easier.


When we reached the beach, I delivered her into the young man’s arms. Danger lurks even in this hidden cove, I told him through the gasps wracking my body. One must be on guard everywhere against the evil power of the sea, which penetrates every crack.


I spurned his thanks and herded the children up the stairs. “She’s still in a mild state of shock,” I told them. “She needs rest. Let’s go back to the tent.” I went up after them, dripping on the stone-hewn steps… I cast another glance at the cove from high up. It sparkled in the light like a jewel. The wind spun eddies chasing one another across the surface until they vanished among the limestone fissures. I checked my watch. It was already late, and I had not performed my task. What was I doing, standing and chatting with Me’ir about swimming mishaps? I had to locate a cove, find a short, easy route on which the cars would not sink into the sand and attend to still other necessary details. “Well, Me’ir,” I said, “so long and be well. I have to run now.”


“Yes, yes,” Me’ir assented. “Run, run. Don’t get sidetracked. I must be going, too, for the voices of the sea are calling me again.” He twirled on one foot and gyrated about the rock as though powered by a wind-up spring. All of a sudden, he spread his arms and his ankles flashed white below the straining black pants. He seemed to me to be going through a pre-flight routine. But a moment more and he would fly off to disappear from sight in the brilliant azure waters of the Bay of Atlit.




B. At the town square, in Ein-Hod


The second time I saw Me’ir was at the little town square in the artist’s village of Ein Hod. I happened to be there with some friends, including guests from abroad. We strolled among the stone walls, cut through the thick foliage of the fig trees and peeped into the galleries. The artists, sitting in the shade of their walled gardens, sold their works and chatted with the visitors. A bit weary, we sat down at some small wooden tables on the veranda of a cafe fronting the square. Huge bulldozers and tractors rumbled nearby on the construction site of the new museum.


While our friends lounged at their tables, and the foreign guests studied their surroundings, I left to wander in the vicinity of the cafe. I chanced on the wall to a room, very close by but sheltered from view, plastered with an old notice. Out of curiosity, I stopped to read it. In its torn and ruined state, the poster inspired me to reconstruct it: An old exhibit, which had closed years before, dedicated to the memory of the late artist Me’ir. His woodworks, and other pieces impossible to identify on the weather beaten notice, would be displayed at the exhibit. Anyone desiring to visit after hours was invited to contact a well-known artist, one of the founders of the colony, for a private viewing. Other unimportant details followed.


I was about to turn back to my friends and the din of the clanking tractors on the construction site when, at the bottom of the notice, on a shred of ripped paper, I saw photographs of statuary by the late Me’ir. The face of the man standing over the sea on the coast of Atlit suddenly came back to mind. The same dark eyes, the same arms spreading like wings at his sides, the same thin, taught limbs. It was as if I had returned to see his hands clapping high above his head, the movement that had misled me into thinking that he was a pleasure angler casting a line over his head into the sea below. The memory of that magic hour at the shore brought back to me our odd conversation and the questions he asked, the delightful tune he hummed and his dance steps on the stage made by the rock.


With an unsettled feeling, I told myself this was a new, fascinating angle that had to be pursued. I returned to my friends and roused them from their seats for a visit to the artist whose name was printed on the old poster. By good fortune, I told them, we could watch a family of artists at work in her home while our foreign guests might even find something they’d like to buy.


We skirted the excavations on the museum site and turned down a quiet lane to the village office, where the staff provided directions to the studio in which she gave lessons to young art students. They even offered to phone her so she would stay at home to await us. It wasn’t every day that a group of shoppers like us came around, and she simply could not miss us.


The artist was, indeed, waiting at the gate to the yard, and very pleased to see us. While the others scattered among the paintings and metal works mounted in every corner of the yard and the house and even along the gravel paths in the little garden, I told her I would be grateful for any answers she could provide to some questions I had. “Please, go right ahead,” she said, never imagining that I wanted to inquire about the late Me’ir. We went out to the yard and sat by a table inlaid with beautiful mosaics of her own creation. I asked her to tell me about the young sculptor Me’ir who, so far as I could glean from the remnants of the old notice pasted to the council hall, had passed away some years ago. She was surprised. Was I a reporter or an art critic for one of the papers? Perhaps an author at work on a biography? She was even more startled by my reply that I was neither the one nor the other. My only interest in Me’ir was to know who he was and what had befallen him, for we had met in such strange circumstances on his rock on the coast of Atlit. Something deep inside told me that that meeting was only our first; someday, we would meet again.


Me’ir’s life had not been full. On the contrary, it had been broken, cut short before his time; yet, for all that, if a skilled writer could be found, a full biography would be worth the time he devoted to it. A distinguished reporter, or a reputable art critic who could try to write about his life and works, would find him a worthy subject. Meanwhile, I could not better spend my time than by proceeding to the council hall and entering the memorial room or, more accurately, what remained of that room after the terrible break-in. Once there, she would tell me, slowly and patiently, the whole story of that remarkable man.


I was thankful for her cordial answers to my questions but felt obliged to consult my companions. Our time was short and we still wanted to take in the famous workshops on the edge of the village. We had also promised our guests from abroad a stop at the picturesque Druse market in Daliyat-el-Carmel and an opportunity to observe the Druse carpet weavers. It was her suggestion in that case that we get together on a day when I was free. She insisted only that I tell her I was coming because she was also very busy, with artist workshops and classes in Haifa, Tel Aviv and neighboring kibbutz settlements. I agreed to find a time when we could talk about him at our leisure, said I would call and wrote down some names and telephone numbers she supplied.


Before parting, she remembered that were was something else I could see if I searched the newspaper archives of the time. She was thinking in particular of a literary journal that had been defunct for years. Yes, many years had already passed since then. She wondered again how I had come upon Me’ir’s name and what had provoked me to learn the story of his life and work. I could not explain to her that Me’ir simply intrigued me. Nor did I know why. When the memory of our encounter on the coast had pricked me again, I felt as if his absent image had posed me a riddle. I knew somewhere within me that the solution was important, both to me and my life. I had to find it.


As we said goodbye, she remarked with a sigh that he would now be one of the great sculptors in the country had he lived. He had more talent than his soul could contain. Perhaps that was the cause of what had happened. Surely I knew the gist of it: the treacherous cove, a sudden whirlpool, an inescapable current. But she would enlarge on all this when we met. I mustn’t forget to call ahead. And there were some documents, just a handful, no need to photocopy them as most were handwritten and didn’t fill even a page of note paper. Copying by hand would do fine. Meanwhile, she would dig through the office at the old council hall to see if she could turn up additional evidence. Then we ended the conversation and she led me back to my friends.




C. In the memorial room of the old council hall


The artist was waiting for me at the village office. She immediately handed me an envelope of photographs and newspaper clippings. “That’s what I found,” she said, “and I’m sure there’s more. You just need to poke around, but I’m not as strong as I used to be.” I followed her to the memorial room inside the old council hall. The museum construction site hummed with workmen and machinery. “We’re finally going to do justice here and show respect to art,” she said, “so we won’t forget those who have fallen.”


The council hall stood empty, and even the walls seemed destined for removal. “Everything is in a state of flux at the moment,” said the artist. “When the museum is finished, we’ll have new township facilities, too. It’s a joke to call this a council hall. No one has met here for years. There is no council anymore, nor any memory of the early days of the village.”


The narrow memorial room contained an old desk, chairs and some dusty albums. “Years ago,” she said, “we used to hold exhibitions of local artists here. People would come from all over the country. This room served as an incubation chamber for the village’s artistic life. But it’s been years since anyone has looked after the building. You can see how it’s been left completely neglected.”


We sat down at the desk. While she leafed through an album, I drew the copied pages from the envelope she had given me. The literary journal that had printed these articles had ceased publication years before and the artist who had written a glowing review of Me’ir’s early works had died long ago. Me’ir’s poems, printed in capitals lettered by hand, were written in a highly detached style. Strange poems, about the mysterious devotion of a lost lover or an elusive God, and antiquated verses of longing such as no one writes today. There were also some portraits he had drawn and photographs of his wood carvings. In the margin of the column appeared a photo of Me’ir himself in a dark dancing outfit, sweeping his wing-arms sideways just as I had observed on the coast at Atlit.


The second column of the page dedicated to his memory featured three poems by a young poet who since had made a name by her weirdness. In those long-gone times, however, she was still a novice, a beginner under the spell cast by the giants of that generation in their glory, still like a student preparing for an impressive solo recital. Her poems were utterly charming, enjoyable even now after the passage of 25 years, in the nature of silent hymns to one who had not prevailed though he had possessed everything necessary to succeed. But there was another privilege he had not conceded, the right to decide whether or not to go on, and he had decided. He made a cruel, malignant decision that left all those close to him mute with grief. The young poet refused to accept that he was no more and called on him in her lines to come back, to reveal himself in the deep sands of oblivion in which he had sunk, to return dancing his fluttering steps as wooden figurines and finely wrought etchings cascaded from his bosom.


At the bottom of the page was a dry chronology of his brief life – when he was born, into what family, what happened when his father died while he was still a young child. Next came an abbreviated list of the educational institutions he had attended until drafted into the navy, then the bare minimum concerning secret missions during his years aboard a ship in the coast guard, his art studies and the period of his apprenticeship that later would bear such ripe fruit.


The artist, watching me as I examined the page, commented that she could see how excited I was by the articles. “You can take the papers home with you. Here is another folder, but it isn’t cheery.” She flipped open a sheaf of reports and transcribed affidavits relating the sad story of the pillage of the memorial room in which Me’ir’s works had been destroyed. According to the recorded testimony of the village guards, the break-in occurred in the wee hours one rainy winter night. No light was seen, and the guards, drinking to keep warm as they sat around a heater, suspected nothing. What alerted them was the unexpected bleating of goats coming from the old council hall.


On arriving at the scene, they were shocked to discover what had been done to the hall, where the goats were trampling everything underfoot. Their description of the floor littered with droppings and straw was genuinely literary. I took out the notebook I had brought and copied it word for word. Had the goats devoured his etchings? If not, where were they? Had the starving animals gobbled down his wood carvings and the brooding portrayals of the crucifixion? If not, where was everything hidden? Aside from fragments of his heavy stone pieces, no trace of his lost creations was found. Was it possible that the artist’s village harbored a secret admirer of his work who, in crazed fanaticism, had wreaked such terrible havoc on the exhibit housed in the memorial room?


She read my mind and assured me that the Haifa police had not detected anything of the sort during their investigation. Here were the reports and copies of the letters the detective squad had delivered to the village council. A most unfortunate series of events, an unintentional entry by a local shepherd. They even raised the absurd possibility that the flock of goats alone had desecrated everything; untended by a shepherd, the goats had broken through the rotten doors that winter night and innocently laid waste to the holdings as they frolicked in the building. The realization that they were imprisoned within the walls had set the goats bleating in abject panic. That was when the village guards, responding to the noise, had discovered what remained of the exhibition in honor of Me’ir of blessed memory.


The document fascinated me. I liked the brusque, official language, the written accounts of the officers and shepherds who had been questioned as witnesses, all filtered through the nimble fingers of the police stenographer. We the undersigned hereby attest that no incriminating evidence was found, the suspects were released and no arrests were made – so the police put it. I copied this into my notebook and thought to myself that I might return to it someday.


The artist told me that not everything had been lost, not all the legacy had been consumed by the flock. It was lucky that he lavished gifts on his friends. From the time he was discharged from the navy to his final trip to Paris, it had been his custom to liquidate each artistic phase by giving away his works. He would tell his friends each time that the real period of inspiration was just beginning and everything he had done until them was as nothing. And the dances? I asked. Did anything remain of those unique improvisations? “There are photographs, of course,” she said, “but nothing to be found here.”


I collected everything in my briefcase. She was sorry that she could not give me any more. It was too bad that none of the young reporters or art critics had taken an interest in Me’ir’s character. What an important service some talented writer could perform by making the effort to produce a short biography of him. “I would offer him every possible assistance. So few people still remember him.” Even of his relatives, it seemed that but a few were still alive. She looked at me with imploring eyes. I evaded her gaze and stood up to follow her out of what had been the memorial room of the old council hall. Again we were assailed by the earnest activity on the museum construction site. She returned the keys to the village office and quietly voiced her hope that the new museum would find a small room for Me’ir.


After we parted, I walked to the town square and then slowly made my way along a road that wound through an adjacent copse. In the distance, I saw the Bay of Atlit gleaming with blue light. The dark wall of the fortress cast a deep shadow over the water. On the scattered limestone boulders could be seen the forms of week-end fishermen arching their lines high overhead. For just a moment, they were frozen in place like carved images of the crucifixion.




D. The fish table on the esplanade, Tiberias


The last time I saw Me’ir was from my seat at the fish table in a restaurant on the water’s edge. How did I come to a restaurant on the esplanade in Tiberias? I went there to get to the bottom of some other ancient affair. I had arranged a meeting in the new center with an old friend who had taken part in the incident many years earlier. He readily agreed to my suggestion and even invited me to his house located on the slope of the mountain, but everything after that went wrong.


He didn’t show up or even send word and the meeting never took place. I searched for him in the new business center, at his house and even in the grocery store near his home. I sought help from neighbors and went looking for his wife. I glanced at my watch again to make sure I had not mistaken the date of our meeting, then stood nonplussed before his house. A young woman passing by asked me who I was looking for. When I told her the name of my old acquaintance, she curtly answered, “Stay away from him. No good can come from business with him. All kinds of rumors are going around about him and what he’s done. Don’t fall into some trap he’s setting for you.” What exactly did she mean? Had he been hauled away for investigation by the Tiberias police? Was he suspected of criminal activity? He had been such a decent, honest fellow in years past.


So I went down to the city esplanade along the Sea of Galilee. Never mind the meeting that didn’t work out. Forget the old story whose full details I would not be able to extract as I had anticipated from my long-time friend. To hell with questions that would forever remain unresolved. What counted was a glorious winter day in Tiberias for me to enjoy, an intoxicating, sun-drenched day resplendent with light, a day whose warmth drugged the body and infused every bright sight with a dreamy glow.


Along the way, I stopped at the table of a restaurant facing the new dock from which tourist boats set sail for the eastern shore of the sea. From my seat, I gazed in wonder at the bustle emanating from the pier. Boats arrived and departed. Groups of sightseers came ashore and went aboard. The Galilee glittered behind them in the wintry sun. Sea gulls cruised the waterfront and families loaded chests, fueled motors and rolled nets to put their boats in order for a night of fishing.


I was reminded of the Sea of Galilee as I saw it after the grim days of the Yom Kippur War. The management of the Tiberias hot baths had invited our weary battalion to wash away some of the cares of war. We arrived good and filthy, but a dip in the warm waters restored to us a taste of other times. The bath attendants pampered us. They saw to our every need and draped our bodies with old towels when we stepped from the pools into the cold outside. We gave ourselves to the sun that heals every wound. Seated on the shore, at the foot of broad eucalyptus trees opposite the baths, we contemplated the mountains on the eastern rim where smoke rose from the high ridges of the Golan. Every outpost could be seen, every road and every settlement on the Heights. Casting dry twigs into the water, we pondered the terrible war just ended and what would come in its wake.


A strange vision suddenly took hold of me. I imagined that I saw a tall, thin man with a dark face. His arms are spreading from his sides and black dancer’s pants stretch to his ankles. He dashes and glides over the water, not in a straight line but in a zig-zag course, making a sort of twisting leap through the expanse of illuminated water. Now he is running towards the east before veering off and heading to the far southern shore. Now he is turning sharply, spinning around towards me, his face angled to the side under a veil of shade. I felt a moment of mild dizziness and had to turn my head towards my comrades wrapped in towels in their seats under the trees. “Do you see a man out there, fluttering over the water?” No, they answered, they did not, and they were sick of my lingering shell shock that took a new form each time. Again they tossed dry twigs into the water lapping the shore and quietly resumed their conversation, always the same questions: Whose fault was the war? Who had to pay for it? How would our stricken country change, and for whom were we giving our lives?


It all passed in an instant. The strange delusion vanished. Across the mirror of water, only drab ducks paddled and king fishers screeched. A speed boat buzzed in the distance. Still tingling with memories, I watched from my seat at the fish table as one of the sightseeing boats took on some buoyant tourists. Did I recognize the man greeting them at the gangway? Didn’t I once know that face a long time ago? Wasn’t that Me’ir, skipper of a navy patrol boat? I had lived through a number of tense, frightful nights ages ago under his command. Can a man be seen in two worlds at one time? Could Me’ir appear simultaneously in two eras? After his discharge from the navy, had Me’ir from the boat become Me’ir the artist who came to Ein Hod? That was what his friends wrote after he was taken. Where had I seen those tributes? In my copies of the literary journal given me by the artist who preserved his memory? Or had I read them in the commemoration album issued by the navy? I no longer quite remember, but the similarity of their faces so stunned me that I rose from my seat at the fish table and approached the gangway. The sunny expression on his face dazzled me. The same eyes, the same dark skin, the same cryptic smile, the same delicate, fragile wrists. Me’ir? Was it really Me’ir? “Excuse me,” I trembled before him, my breath suddenly short. “Excuse me, is your name Me’ir?”


The man turned from the tourists with a smile and looked me over. “No, what’s this about Me’ir? Might be a Me’ir on the next boat. She’ll dock in just a few minutes. Ask over there.” I looked him in the eyes. Wasn’t there a Me’ir here who had served in the navy? I asked. “I don’t know him,” answered the man. “You’re all mixed up. No such person here, and I don’t have the time to help you look.”


What had suddenly come over me? I got a grip on myself and slowly settled into my seat beside the restaurant table. How could I bother people because of an old demon who took possession of me years before? Even to me, his origin was by means clear. For what had I gone to Tiberias and Ein Hod and the Bay of Atlit? What was this Me’ir, who relentlessly hounded my dreams, as though I, and I alone, owed him and others a debt to redeem his memory from oblivion? If I met a strange young man who crossed his arms over the back of a bench on the town square in Ein Hod, what of it? Did it follow that he was in fact a herald whose revelation of good tidings only I was bound to proclaim? And if, sometime in the dawn of my youth, I bumped into an eccentric chief petty officer on a little patrol boat off the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee, directly below the guns of the Syrian coastal batteries, was I obliged to pursue glimmers of his image all my life?


Indeed, life is but a series of such peculiar encounters, especially in the beginning, in our enchanted childhood. For example, take that nameless tractor operator clearing rocks from Givat Ram in Jerusalem. When I stood before him with a friend, dressed in uniform with the unit patch shining on my shoulder, he stopped the giant tractor, jumped down, flung a chunk of stone at my feet and said, “Out for a hike, eh? Decided to escape from the northern border, eh? Had enough of those pitch black ambushes, eh? No more strength for crawling exhausted through jungles of reeds, eh?”


Before we could collect our thoughts, before we could get a fix on what he was saying to us, even before we could see his face shielded by a broad cloth hat over a layer of sticky dust, he hopped back onto the giant tractor and pulled the levers. The tractor growled and dug its great blade into the heap of rocks.


Did he know more about us than we ourselves did? Did he see himself as a secret partner in our fate? Why have I not sought after him? His name, too, is not important to me, nor the history of his family or its fortunes in Israel. For many years, I have nursed within me an idle curiosity as to the identity of that man and the reason for his remarks. Still, unlike the matter of Me’ir and his brief life, I left him alone as he did me.


I sat at the fish table, I ate and drank, and then I desired to quit the city. What would I do with this man who pursued me everywhere? On my way to the Tiberias bus station, I remembered that the artist had spoken sparingly of his death and I had not asked further, as though we were of one mind from the start to say nothing of that sorry chapter. Besides, anyone who had merely heard of the incident knew exactly what it involved. But it is impossible in thinking of him to regard that final act as the definitive event of his life.


For some reason, Me’ir’s artistic side had not drawn me. Instead, other facets of him, opening doors in a host of directions, had riveted me, though they would not make a biography even were I to write about them. And if I sat down and wove a tale from events that would shed light on his life, and my life, and the hidden paths that we must take, why would I seize on his sad story? The esplanade in Tiberias and the new ship dock are full of groups of merry tourists, each of whom has a story more entertaining, and less mournful, than Me’ir’s.


It is only the bronzed face of the man at the gangway guiding passengers on board the excursion boat that leaves me without peace. Did he really say his name wasn’t Me’ir?








“In Vain Pursuit” translated by Alan Sacks

“One Day” by Jason Kerkezi

Inez woke in the morning quite stiff out of bed. He went into the bathroom and stared himself down angrily in the mirror.

"Lookit here, pillow swine, killjoy..."

BAM! BAM! Two shots to the head. Cassius Clay would sputter poetry.

"I've had... just... about..." Deep breath.


Ha. Ha ha. Like I could hate you.

"Ah, but one moment!" Tsk. Then he felt as bad as if his apple-scented grandmother had just lied to his face about loving him. His mind spoke: You could just never be sure about anything, could you?

Cut to daily preparation. Shower is the cold urine of weeping priests. Hair gel sticks in his palm, remindinggoo of shame. He dressed himself neatly. Corpse-in-waiting, pal.

Orange peel sunrise lazily glazes over eternal, truth-seeking eyes.

Down in the street, Inez was a clown. Bubble gum in change trays, excessive jaywalking, gorilla acts in barber shop windows. It passed the time in between asking questions.

Now, here was Inez, back plus a foot up against a telephone pole. Marlboro squint. Looking all pompauthority in his determined patience. Here comes one. Naw, a pushover. Inner look of disgust took Inez. Two more. One is a liar. The other will do.

"Ah-hem! Excuse me, miss!" Inez raises up like a rooster and the liar backs down. The blonde, round-facedbaby is all smiles under the sun.

"Miss, if you'd help me to complete this survey it'd be much appreciated. I assure you, it'll only be a minuteof your time, believe me." The paper rustled in the wind as he held it out to her.

She gave a pert, twitchy smile in receiving the paper and read it over.

"I'm sorry. sir, but I've never tried any of Seargeant Azzarelli's Meat products......"

"Doesn't matter. All you need to do is say that you have."

"But that would be wrong."

"Hush. You're such a prude."

Her mustached companion sneered quizzically. "HUH?"

"Excuse me?" Sunshine daisy shakes her locks.

Inez's foot stammered against the sidewalk.

"Look, are you going to help me out with this, or what?"

She traded glances with her man and then sighed.

"Oh all right! Look here, I am completely satisfied with the Professor Piggy's Polska Kiebla, the Baja Bratwurst, and Rashad's Rib Roast. I am checking the box that reads, 'I find each of the above mentioned products to be up utmost quality and preparation, and with each flavorful bite I am transported to the highest level of carnivore enjoyment.' Here, take this!" she hands him back the survey. "Freak!"

An hour later, Inez had completed three surveys. His lucky number was a three or any multiple thereof. On the sun-baked pavement he sat, preparing a form d'assistance for his superior.

He wrote, "Those immediate subjects interviewed were on the whole resounding in their knowledge of all things of and pertaining to the Betrando Azzarelli Conglomerate of Nominal Prodecures and Networks, aka code name BACON PAN, and as recorder I, Inez attest to the validity of their statements."

Morning heat rising off the road deluded his thoughts. Tieless business suit buttoned half-down, cheap shoes and too tired too keep writing as always and ever. Why must he always ask for it in such exact specifications? Repetition begets boredom, as in the case of Inez's career selection. With a huff, Inez drew himself up. By now the Miami morning had brought a moist drizzle of sweat to his brow, and he vigorously fanned himself with his papers. He decided it was time to call his overseas agent, Rocco Midoci. First he got some mineral water at a streetside vendor. Then it was to the phones.

"Hello, this is Bernice, AT&T operator. How may I assist you?"

"Yes be a good girl and and get me 4311637692, extension 9"

"Have a great day, mister."


Click. "YES?"

"Rocco, this is Inez. Everything well?"

"Oh, yes, since we last spoke. How are you enjoying the summer?"

"Like a massage parlor in Little China, or its Floridan equivalent."


"Forget it."

"Look Inez, something is going on. It's huge. Big Bird has spoken."

"No, what did he say?"

"To go ahead with the scheduled drop-off and forget all this talk about a union strike."

"No, really?"

"Would I lie?"

Hmmm. Silence.

Rocco's froggy gurgle: "How's that wife of yours?"

"If you saw her you wouldn't ask."

"That bad, huh?"

"That good. She's dead."


"Freak accident. Electronic nursing nipple. She was testing it."

"Oh my god......"

"I know, I know.."



"You don't even have kids!"


"Look Inez, we'll talk later. Do lunch." Click.

A couple hours had passed and Inez still had plenty to do. He walked down two blocks to the Minosa Springs Nursing Home to make the drop-off. Outside of the building was a wet, green lawn complete with lunatics milling around it. Inez thought it strange that there was nothing separating them from the outside world. He walked up to one, a drooling gelatinous mass scratching into the sidewalk with a nail. He leaned forward and kissed him on the head.

"Child be saved!"

"Gaaaaa!!OhhhhhhhhAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHH!" The old walrus rolls up into a ball as the rest turn into pajama-clad frantic ants. A conspicuous arm comes to rest on Inez's shoulder.

"You're causing a commotion, Inez. Disturbing our guests."

"I'm soooo sorry. I forgot you're the man from UCLA. Or was it U.N.C.L.E?"

"Forget you, let's get some lunch."

If it was one thing Inez hated in one form or another, it was fish. He was once sued and lost everything he owned because he was caught trying to contaminate a freshwater reserve. Fraternity prank, you understand. That is why it was so hard for him to bring himself to go into Scurvy's Kitchen that Tuesday afternoon. Inside, Inez and his contact, Reggie X, were paraded around the sand-pail and pelican mecca and plopped under a huge, cut out beach ball. The server was a dainty molasses gal, droopy brown hair, droopy brown eyes. She was dressed as a strawberry-striped prison convict and smelled somewhat stale.

"Would you like to hear our specials today?"

"Mmmffgg!" Inez gagged himself with his shirt sleeve.

Reggie X, old beatnik wearing Old Spice and the black shades he wore to confession to hide his tears of laughter. "Sole fried catfish, miss if you please."

"Anything for the Mrs.?" she asked curtly.

"Gaaaaa...... water, miss. Hurry!" Inez began to bear the liver spots of a speckled trout. She went away.

Reggie X clasped his hands together and rubbed. "Ah Inez! What have you got for me?"

Inez had been caught off guard by a shadowy woman sitting alone on the other side of the restaurant. She was calmly returning Inez's stare from under the brim of a wide black hat. She shifted the position of her legs, deliberately caressing one thigh with the stem of her wine glass. Inez bit his fingernails in giddy anticipation. The water arrived and he threw it in his face. Reggie X turned around to look at her.

"Oh no, Inez! Don't you know who that is?"


"Why. that's the arch-nemesis of Azzarelli, Inc., Madame Rotisso! She's known for leaving the competition in the can! Do you remember Pinky's Hots?"

"You mean that guy with the funky hors d'ourves?"

"Last we heard, he was selling his shriveled members to Eskimos in Siberia!"

"Well, that's just too bad, Reggie X. Wanna know why?"

Reggie X moaned and put a hand to his forehead.

"Yep, you guessed it," Inez smiled. "I'm in love."

“Mashed Potatoes and Gravy Waterfalls” by Stephanie W.

Editor's Note: Stephanie wrote this essay for a psychology class. The assignment was to describe schizophrenia. Stephanie decided to write it from a first person perspective. She does not mean to offend anyone, and apologizes if anyone takes offense at the humorous tone one personality takes.

mashed potatoes are my friends. sees here, this is smilie. and this one here is geoorgeeee. for fun we like to frolic in fields of lima beans. people say i'm a weirdo, but they don't understand the gravy waterfalls.

i remember my first ear of corn. it was all dark and shiny. mommy said it was indian corn, but all i know is it was love. we met in arizona, the fields there are huge and swimmy. it was buy one get one free!

what's that geoorgeeee? NO! i don't wanna! NO, that liking is not a th-somethin-or-others. they make me hurt inside my pumpkin. No, No, No! Ahhhhhhhhhhh!

I'm not a schizophrenic. I swear I don't know what you're talking about. Dr. Green said that at least 90% of Manic-depressive patients recover. I said I'm not schizophrenic. He chuckled and showed me out.

don't even think about munchin' smilie! he's my friends. have i told you i l-o-o-o-o-v-v-v-e-e you? Mumph! Yuck, you gots butter on my chin. don't TOUCH him, he's mine! MINE, MINE, MINE!

derlusions, heh heh heh, thas funny. heh heh heh. this man say i be fre-e-e-a-k-y-e-e. sigh, heh heh heh. I'm a schizoid, ya knowd that. i like dat word. he he he. i's eccentric to others, too, also, waz that. OUCH! he he he, that waz funny. do it again. i luv thoose sprinkling blue lights.

Somehow I was at the doctor's again. I try to tell them I'm not insane. Still he insists that I'm in denial. He says that I'm a hebephrenic schizophrenic, or very disorganized. He just doesn't see my normality.

did ya knew the win waz blue? ep! it is. it blue with pinkie dotties. pinkie dotties, i love pinkie dotties. i sees pinkie dotties under my skin. FANTASIES. i love FANTASIES. i think i sing my fantasy song.

La La La Fantasy oh fantasy La La La oh my tiny fantasy La La La OH-I-LOVE-YOU-FANTASY! AHHHHHHHHH!

that waz good. should... can we sing... no? YOU did not like my SONG! i scoop you up and eat you smilie! Chomp Chomp Chomp! MMMMMM. that was a tasty friends.

I don't have hallucinations. Dr. Green said it was a part of my condition. What ever that is supposed to mean. He said I was seen singing! I don't sing. He said it was part of psychosis- not knowing fantasy from reality.

i miss smilie, geoorgeee. wha ever happen' to him? no, you get out the front door! why... how would I do that? he runned away thas it. thas all. he runned.

mommy was a potato. she was lumpy and queer. heh heh heh, queer. i get gigglies when i's thinks on her. she was a sweet tater, a sweet tater, a bubuolimum. he he he. i don't know.


Dr. Green said I have to take some medicine, thioxanthens?, that blocks the action of dopamine. It tastes awful. I try and try to make them understand but he will not listen.

la la la la neolololologisms. make up wordies. buzelparp. he he. dobledump. twizzlefink stink. wert. polkas love to tupoa. oh well, don't we all.

AHHHHHH it moved! i seen it. I's seen it! i's swear the couch ate my corn. the flower blooms at kaufmans underwear sale. fishy, fishy, come to mishy. that rhymes. he he he.

I try to tell them I'm not a nutcase, but they just don't understand the gravy waterfalls. Some of my best friends are mashed potatoes.

“Family” by Krysta Ellison

"They'll come tonight," my mother says, sitting and rocking in the old wooden chair. Rotting floorboards creak under her bare, leathery feat in a rhythmic crooning. "They'll come tonight," she repeats and laughs softly to herself. My brother and I say nothing: There is nothing to say. The noon sun brings unbearable heat but we are safe, sheltered under the porch roof. Empty flowerpots hang from a ceiling mottled with peeling, yellowed paint. My brother says he can remember the flowers - bright purple petals mixed with reds and yellows. I do not believe we ever had flowers.

A door slams shut inside the house. Curses drift through the open, desolate rooms. My brother and I say nothing: There is nothing to say. Heavy stomps approach, the echo flat in the stilled air but growing louder. Out father staggers through the doorway and sees us crouched behind her. The smell of stale beer drifts toward us as he orders my by brother and me inside. We rise and enter the house, leaving our mother rocking and muttering. My brother looks at me, his liquid brown eyes dark in shadow. "Will they come?" he breathes, a whisper so low that I, his twin, can barely hear. I do not answer: There is no need. He knows my thoughts as I know his.

Inside the house we move restlessly, sharing a feeling of being caged. I remember days when we never entered the house until after nightfall. Days we spent in the forest with our mother, days before the first fire. My father points to shattered glass and tells us to clean it up. The pieces are easily recognized as parts of empty bottles. We stand and watch him take the last of the money and leave for town. He spends his time drinking in taverns and cursing our mother for our lives. My mother says that he started when that first fire claimed the life of my young sister. She says he loved us before that. My brother and I say nothing: There is nothing to say. We walk back to the porch, uncaring of the glass crunching under our feet. We stand outside, facing her in the rocking chair and wait. After a moment, she looks at us. "Tonight." Her hand motions us closer and we slide gracefully to sit on either side, and together we watch the sky darken.

The crowd begins to gather beyond the hill before the sky is fully dark. Light from a dying sunset leaves the clouds a glowing blue against the night. The trees are black silhouettes. My brother searches the searches the crowd for our father. We know he is in it, holding a torch. They have come with torched two other times, and each time he has been one of them. The people move nearer and my brother and I stand to greet them. My mother is laughing to herself and the rocking pace of her chair increases. My brother looks at me, asking me to speak so he won't have to. For the past year, we have spoken to no one except each other, not even our mother. The villagers have forgotten we can talk.

"Why have you come?" I ask, as my mother has asked the previous times. The villagers hiss in surprise and the crowd surges forward a step. Their leader raises his torch and I turn away. The light hurts my eyes and I shift backward into shadows. My brother reaches out to reassure me, but I can feel him trembling.

The leader smiles at us, his eyes a cold blue fire. As a priest, he does not need the torch he carries. His words are fire and flame to the villagers. He starts to speak, reminding them of their purpose, their courage, their right. My mother is accused of being a witch, and us, her children, demons. Our father escapes persecution. The fact that we, brother and sister, are twins is given as proof of our mother's evil. My brother and I say nothing: There is nothing to say. We have heard this many times before. Our mother stops rocking as he finishes his speech. The first torch sweeps through the air to land behind us in the doorway. We tense and look to our mother, but she resumes her rocking. More torches are thrown as we wait, landing near the foot of the chair. She stops and stares at the hungry flames and notices, as if for the first time, the intense heat. Her head slowly raises to our faces. "It is time," she rasps, and coughs from the growing smoke. Carefully gathering the folds of her faded gingham dress, she stands and walks into the house.

The crowd subsides for a moment in silence. My brother leaps off the porch and darts away. My actions mirror his and we run swiftly in opposite directions. The villagers have no chance at catching us. We meet again in the forest we have known all our lives and watch the house burn to ashes. My brother and I say nothing: There is nothing to say.

Food disappeared daily from the village in the weeks that followed. People who tacked up signs to ward away evil spirits found their possessions destroyed, and many took to leaving offerings of food outside. During that summer, we were never seen and rumor had us transformed into the nearest crow, rabbit, and even tree. In truth, the villagers were so scared to come out at night that my brother and I strolled openly through the houses. Both of us knew our freedom couldn't last, but we reveled in it even more for it's brief sweetness. We spent the days sleeping and playing tag in the forest. At night we would enter the village to steal food. Our mother had forbidden us to kill any wild creature and the habit was deeply engrained in us. Days blurred into weeks and soon, the weather grew colder and we knew we had to leave. One last visit to the town, and we headed south towards our future.

“This Perfect World” by William Thompson

Helen walked down the dark, polished mahogany stairs, listening closely to the ominous sounds coming from the first floor of the house, her arms held in tight to her body to ward off the morning chill. Well, no, Helen wasn't actually walking down the stairs. She was only thinking about walking down the stairs. Helen thought about many things from the comfort of her queen sized, over-blanketed bed. And thinking about walking down the stairs was infinitely easier than actually dragging herself out of bed and sliding away from the warmth and security of her upstairs bedroom; the room with a view that stayed hidden behind permanently closed curtains.

The only light came from the blinking TV set that babbled away to itself from within its plush rosewood cabinet. Helen could have reached for the remote control and turned it off, but what would have been the point? The TV would still be on somewhere, even if she couldn't see it or hear it.That's just the way the TV is, always sticking its slimy boot in the door, grasping for attention like a spoiled five-year-old looking for a snack.

After a short period of vaguely conscious listening and staring into the darkened corners of the room, Helen got up and made her morning toilet; a quick pee and a stare in the mirror. A trembling hand passed through greasy hair and gave a quick tug at the corners of her eyes. Not so pretty anymore, not so young as she once felt herself to be. She stuck her tongue under the running tap and quenched her morning cottonmouth. Then back she went into the rumpled security of her mounded bed. Helen pulled the thick blankets and comforter up around her chin, but they did little good. Sleep was gone for the day. She didn't need to look at the bedside clock-blinking an unending sonata of 12:00am to know as much. Whether she'd last slept fourteen hours or fourteen minutes made little or no difference. She knew that she ought to get up, do something, anything. But her will to move was as limp and tired as her bony legs and flaccid arms.

There it went again. She snatched at the remote in a sharp, ferret-like manner, fumbling for a bit over the controls before finding the buttons that would turn off the sound. She was certain that she had heard something, that time. It was THAT sound again. Yes, there it went again. A quick, brittle sound, like something light dropping and breaking into a million pieces, or maybe just the tinkle of silverware on glass. And was that laughter she could hear, deep and masculine in its immediacy, coming from somewhere downstairs? It couldn't be. Helen had been alone in the house for months, and she checked the locks on the doors and windows regularly. At least that was how she remembered things to be.

Helen had barely seen a soul since the housekeeper, Mrs. Stone, had left in a sudden huff one day last September-on the day Helen had locked her bedroom door and forbade her to do any cleaning at all on the entire second floor of the house. Told her to keep her phony Mexican ass downstairs where it belonged.

Carmelita Stone had known for a good while that Helen was beginning to act like a crazy woman. But it never really registered with her that she might lose her job as a result. Carmelita just figured that all rich Marin county women acted this way. It was all the money and the idleness that made them act like leaves blown about by the wind. So when Helen handed Carmelita an extra $300 at the end of the day and told her not to come back anymore, she was hurt. And confused. But out she went. There's no arguing with a rich woman. Anybody who has ever been around one knows as much. Helen locked the door behind Carmelita and didn't even stay to watch her march down the long driveway.

Helen wasn't crazy, she knew that much to be true. She just wanted to be left alone for a while. No big deal. She missed the sounds of her family rattling around the large house and she wanted to miss them all by herself. Not such a large request. She hadn't asked to be left alone in this whale of a house, but now that she was here, now that this was all she had left to call her own, she had to at least make an attempt to make it all feel like her one true world.

It was, or at one time had been, a crushingly beautiful house. From the outside it mostly still was. Two stories, fourteen rooms and an attic, painted the color of a Rocky Mountain spring runoff and built half onto a sloping meadow-sized yard and half into a thick forest, plush on the east fall of Mt Tam. It was atypical of the other houses in the upper class suburb of Ross, singled out mostly for the crinkling edges of neglect starting to show on the outskirts of the yard. Of the plants dead in their terra cotta hangers and the carpeting of leaves and rotting newspapers that had long since taken possession of the massive front porch.

The house was circled by a once meticulously weeded gravel drive that wound its way up from the quiet street, through the woods and arrived with a lazy half swing around the left side of the house before looping up to a sudden stop directly opposite the front door. No car prowled through the wood or parked in the sumptuous drive. Helen's house was most assuredly alone, unseen from the street except as a shadow in the trees. Its nearest, and only visual neighbors, a flat, one-story California ranchero style house that lay down the slope, just beyond the meadow. Helen had seen the inhabitants of the bland little white house only once, a long time ago. She had watched them taking an evening walk, coming out from between the willow trees that some previous owner had planted to mark boundary lines, stepping gingerly onto the edge of the long, long lawn that spilled down the hill like a slow motion wave. Helen had watched them stare in awe at the house they would never own, wondering what kind of supremely lucky people could live in such a place. Helen, had appeared to them, and to herself, as a ghost. Drifting alone aimlessly across the blanched redwood deck that easily had room enough for a hundred-drink held in hand like she was born with it. She didn't wave or say a word to them. That was a wall that couldn't be crossed, don't you know. Her eyes only crossing with theirs for the briefest of moments before she moved back inside her supremely perfect world.

Now, there, that was definitely something. Helen flinched involuntarily at what was beyond a doubt, the sound of a chair scraping across a wood floor. She sat bolt upright in bed, frozen in anxiety over what to do. Was she being robbed? If that was the case, it seemed from the sounds coming from downstairs, that all the robbers wanted was a place to cook breakfast.

Cautiously, slowly and with the exacting precision of a hunter stalking a deer, Helen slipped out from between the covers and edged her way to the bedroom door. Barely breathing, cracking the door an inch at a time, she bent it open just enough to slip her body through the open space. She moved down the dark hallway making less noise than her cat would have on a similar trip. She still could remember that damn cat. Well, it wasn't so much that the cat itself was memorable, but for the way her husband treated it; stuffing it full of food until it blew up like a balloon. A cat of such immense proportions that its stomach made a highly comical scraping sound as it waddled its way across the expensive wood and marble floors. So fat indeed, that its pelt, stretched taut over grizzled flesh hurt to the touch, making her lash out like the animal she was when anyone tried to show her the tiniest bit of affection by means of stroking her back or rubbing her belly. Andy, Helen's husband, had tied a tiny gold bell around her neck thinking it was the sophisticated thing to do. What a schmuck he could be sometimes. Helen remembered Andy laughing at the poor cat as she lumbered down the same hallway, tinkling and wheezing from the effort to move. Helen wondered why Andy had bothered to take the cat with him when he moved out. It wasn't the only thing that didn't make any sense. But it was pretty odd-even for Andy.

Helen and Andy had only been living in this better homes and gardens showplace for less than five weeks when Andy had packed his bags and emptied the house. Helen had come home one afternoon from her part-time job at the re-cycled toy store and found an empty, quietly hostile house. Andy had left Helen a terse note, remarkable only for its temerity, by way of good-bye. Helen remembered pulling the carefully folded white sheet off the mantel, standing all alone in the middle of the oversized living room, feeling for all the world as if she had been cast in a black a white film noir from the forties. Andy's note said that he was moving in with someone named, Betty (Betty?) and that his lawyer would be contacting her shortly. Helen found out who Betty was easily enough. There just aren't all that many people named Betty for it to remain a mystery too long. The dirty bastard. Wasn't it he who had gone on and on about how much they needed to buy this monstrosity of a home? Of how this would be the perfect place to raise their children? What a load of happy horseshit. Andy had only wanted to get the house bought (mostly with Helen's inheritence) and into both of their names before he shacked-up with his twenty-two-year-old office assistant and lost his community property rights. Helen's lawyer would make short work of that plan.

Helen hadn't heard from Andy himself in months. He was holed up with that bimbo in a rented condo, not two blocks away. He had taken their two daughters with him so he could attempt to play a childish game of emotional handball to try to get himself onto the uphill side in the coming fight over the house. Helen, if she had read her mail, would have seen the salvos that arrived once or twice a week from Andy's lawyer. Helen had, as her first and last logical act, made a phone call to the family attorney-the Honorable Lawrence Bronstein, a fat, liverish, pit bull of a lawyer whose firm had represented her father and his father before him. She called Mr. Bronstein, sent a sizeable check to cover any and all possibilities and locked her doors against the world.

Helen wondered where Andy and the kids were at this exact second. And why they never called her to tell her why they were gone. It would have made her cry if she wasn't so angry, sad if she wasn't so sick and rotted inside. But no, Andy didn't call. The house got colder and colder with each gray, slumping day. And Helen got darker and stranger, alone in her crabbed-in room. The solid arc of her continually blathering TV set , her only remaining conduit to the outside world.

Helen moved down the stairs. Slowly, one step at a time. Trying her best not to make a sound as she listened to the steady ring of chatter and general kitchen noises coming from down the stairs. She started and almost fell as she heard the phone ring. Telephones were evil implements of destruction, bringing only lawyers and contractors and bad news. Helen could still hear the voices from the kitchen, chatting blithely away, ignoring the steady warble of the phone. "Why doesn't somebody pick up the phone, can't they hear the damned thing," she thought as she stepped of the staircase onto the first floor landing and made her way with infinite stealth down the paneled wall of the hallway. The phone kept ringing and the voices just raised louder, as if consciously attempting to drown it out-a competition of distractions heating up like a summer morning in the desert. Helen wanted to answer the phone herself, wanted to do anything to shut the damn thing up, and thought briefly about hurrying back upstairs to the bedroom extension. But no, that wouldn't work, she answered herself automatically. The phone would surely stop ringing before she could make it halfway up the stairs. The only other phones were the kitchen wall extension and the green lacquer antique phone Andy had kept like a treasured pet in his study. In any event, Helen would have to cross through the kitchen to get to the study, so it was really as if there was only one phone available to her. This was beginning to feel like a sophisticated torture. Probably was some kind of elaborate plot by that sonovabitch Andy. This movie was rapidly shifting from an early forties Merle Oberon picture to something from the mid-fifties starring Vincent Price. The kind of movie where an evil husband plots to make his wife go nutzo so he can inherit the mansion.

Well, Helen was having none of that. She decided, probably rashly, to just barge right on in to the kitchen, startle the hell out of whoever was making all the racket and answer the damn phone herself. She'd never been the heroine type, but she was marked with a certain obstinate recklessness that had gotten her into and out of trouble all her life. Her abilities at fearlessness were a deep pocket she drew upon from instinct, never taking the time to think about what she was doing or where she was headed. A bull in a china closet. That's what her father used to call her. But Helen liked thinking of herself as a bull. It made her feel powerful, even if that bull was out of control most of the time.

So without thinking too much about what she was getting into Helen pushed through the split oak swinging doors and into the kitchen. Like a switch being pulled, the phone sat silent, brooding in its cradle, pretending that it had never made a sound. And the voices she had heard as clear as the first day of Spring were also engaged in a conspiracy of silence. There was no one in the kitchen. Not a chair or a pot or a wooden spoon was out of place. Helen hadn't really used the kitchen in a while and a thin cover of dust had begun to assert itself over the counter tops and corner breakfast nook. Helen felt the cold sweat a lunatic must feel in the single, brief moment of clarity when he realizes that his pants are down around his ankles and the entire world is staring and laughing at him.

"Alright, you can come out now. Good joke." Helen spoke aloud to her missing audience. Nothing stirred. Helen went back out through the swinging doors and ran through the rest of the downstairs, expecting to find a room full of people around every corner. Silence and dust. That was all she could raise. When she entered the last room on the ground floor, her husband's study, she stopped. Why was the gun case, so horridly displayed on the south wall, open? Helen had never had a key-never even wanted to touch those stupid shotguns and rifles and pistols. She had never understood what it was that made Andy feel the need to go out a couple of times a year and shoot little birds and deer. It must be a sickness she supposed. A sickness only barely tolerated by Helen as long as it was kept a considerable distance from her line of sight.

She moved along the far wall, as far as possible from the open case over to the wet bar where she poured herself a full tumbler of whisky and took a long, thick drink. She'd never until this moment truly understood what people meant when they dramatically said that they really needed a drink. Thought it nothing but posturing. But oh God, this tasted good. Two more swallows and she filled the glass again. She drank her whisky in the folds of her own silence for a while, not really conscious of the time or of the flow. It was all becoming easier. She didn't hear any more voices or telephones any longer. At least she had that bit of sanity to hang onto.

After her third glass, she became bored with Andy's study and moved out onto the porch with its wide redwood deck, reminiscent of the deck of some huge ocean liner. It was a beautiful morning. How long had it been since she had sat outside and breathed in the fresh air and listened to the singing of the birds? Too long, much too long she thought as she sipped away, eyes glowing as bright as the amber liquid she sloshed playfully around the edges of her glass.

Another whisky glinting in the fresh light. Ah, yes another drink held high in honor of the sun coming up in the East. Wasn't that a grand thing to see-an accomplishment worthy of note and embellishment? Helen thought so, and happily drained the glass. Another toast sprang to her lips. "To you, Andy, you god-damned sorry son of a bitch. I hope you fall off a cliff." Helen half fell out of her chair laughing at her rapier wit. Then the deck caught her eye again. She hated this deck. It reminded her, with its wide open spaces, of all the friends she didn't have anymore. The deck screamed silent obscenities at her, taunted her with lurid descriptions of all the parties she would never again throw; successes she would never know. She staggered a few steps and plopped herself own in one of a row of Adirondack chairs and took another huge drink of whisky. Her smile lit up again, as she stretched her legs out in front of her, flexing and basking in the sun like a young animal. She admired her legs-always her best feature her mother had told her time and again. At least they were one thing hadn't gone all to hell, she thought. Helen looked around at the limits of her perfect world, as happy as a pup with the good, smooth whisky glass in one hand and her husband's .357 magnum waving like a Chinese fan in the other.

Gary and Joanie, kneeling in the dirt of their garden and digging at the weeds, rooting them out like the miscreants they were, didn't really have the time to pay much attention to what did or didn't go on at their neighbor's house. Their morning was too full of the harmony of buzzing insects and the deep textured aroma of pungent , loamy soil and sweat that cemented them together to their place in the natural world. Joanie and Gary had a lot more important things to think about than how easy life must be for the people across the meadow in the big white house. Those kind of people most likely had a division of Japanese gardeners to pull any weeds that might trespass upon their perfect garden so they might spend their Sunday morning brunching on their yacht. Only once in a great while would Joanie's eyes touch upon the house up on the edge of the woods. She didn't need such a place to make her happy. But even so, she could sometimes feel that typically American twinge of envy for the people who somehow manage to have it all.

Joanie pulled up for a moment, stretching her back and picking a sticker out of her palm. A channel of sweat dripped into her eyes and she unconsciously wiped it away as she looked across the yard and smiled at Gary, who was stooped over in a desperate wrestle with a rotten four by four, that was until this moment, half buried in the corner of the yard nearest the fence. Since the day they had bought this tiny house, they had spent nearly every non-working hour laboring in the garden or re-modeling the interior. It seemed like ages since they had done something as simple as go out to a movie or a nice quiet dinner in a restaurant. But that was all right. At least they did nothing together.

Joanie glanced again at the house across the meadow and sighed once more for what she probably would never have. Sighed and then smiled as she bent back to work and dug into the stubborn line of weeds congregating at the base of the grapevine. Gary, giving full concentration to his half submerged, rotted wood, never even looked up from his labor.

“The South Side Adventure” by Colin Patrick Garvey

I will not bother with the boring details of quantum physics or try to explain the transferring of molecules and matter across time and space. I will not bother with the mathematical equations or the various theorems associated with it. Besides, I don't know anything about that stuff at all. I am a writer and I have gone on a most amazing adventure, both physically and mentally, that I must tell you about.

The year is 2004 and I am 27 years old and I cannot think of a damn thing to write about anymore. I have published two novels already that have done fairly well but now I am having what one would call a severe "writer's block." I don't know how to start stories or end stories anymore. My plots fold like a wet taco and my character development is in the gutter. I have slowly but surely turned dull and predictable. It's almost as if I am trying too hard to be clever and ingenious and I am forgetting the basics. I have lost perspective of what is interesting to me and the intense focus I usually have on my writing has become distorted.

I have always been interested in history and elements of the past and how they might relate to the future. However, I feel like I cannot grasp this complete perspective of the past that I need to make my writing seem real. People can read and see things on television and computers about the past, such as the JFK assassination or Neil Armstrong landing on the moon, or even Woodstock. But the truth of the matter is is that it would make these things more real, more tangible, and more concrete if you were there to actually witness it. Now I thought this never would have been possible until I ran into an old roommate of mine from college. I guess you could call it fate.

Doctor William Webster Crowley ("Webby") graduated from college a year before I did and went on to medical school at North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He had graduated at the top of his class and then moved onto his residency at an overcrowded, dirty hospital in a seedy part of Baltimore. He could have worked at a "nice" hospital in the suburbs of Baltimore but he chose to help the people that needed the most help, at least in his mind. Webby was always trying to save the world and he thought Our Lady of Peace Hospital was the best place to start. As I gathered from him, some days when he walked into the hospital, he thought he had walked straight into Hell itself. He didn't complain but it was slowly tearing him up on the inside. He had become disillusioned with medicine and its often stringent policies concerning insurance.

Just two years ago the American Medical Association and its members voted to only treat those patients who had a health insurance policy. In the meantime, at Our Lady, patients were shuffled in and out of his hospital without thorough examinations, diagnoses were often inaccurate, and Webby noticed that the other doctors and nurses didn't share half the determination he did. Medicine was too expensive for most of his patients and thus, his work seemed worthless, like he truly wasn't doing what he always believed a doctor should do--help your fellow man no matter what the circumstances. And so, seeing no more good he could do in the work he was in, he quit the hospital and began an unusual project.

We bumped into each other in our great nation's capital--Washington, D.C. He told me he was in town for a three-day convention that included some of the great physicists and scientists of our time talking about quantum physics and the like. Next to medicine, Webby's next favorite interest was physics and he had earned an undergraduate degree in the subject at college. I told him I was in town to visit an uncle and that my writing career was moving rapidly up "shit creek."

We sat in the heart of the Georgetown district at a beautifully decorated restaurant that had various paintings and tapestries covering the walls. The lunch hour had ended several hours ago so the restaurant was practically empty, which afforded us plenty of privacy and I thank God for that. For if anyone had heard what we had been talking about, we probably both would have been committed.

"I think I have created something huge here, Jones," murmured Webby. "Jones" being a nickname of mine from college. Webby was over six feet tall and still retained his infamous beer gut from college. Sometimes you could never really tell when he was joking and when he was serious. This time, I knew for sure he wasn't joking.

"What are you talking about?"

"I might have created something that could forever change mankind," answered Webby.

I almost choked on a bite of sirloin as I began to laugh uncontrollably. My smile began to fade as I looked into Webby's big fish eyes as he gave me a stern and disapproving look. "Cure for cancer? AIDS?" I asked half-jokingly.

"Maybe sometime very soon," Webby responded.

"Webby, what are trying to tell me?"

A sly grin began to emerge at the corners of his mouth as he asked, "How about going for a drive in the country?"

Why the hell not? I thought to myself. Webby had peaked my curiosity. I learned we were headed toward the Virginia countryside, several hours away from D.C. Webby, who was from Maryland, had an aunt that used to own a farm in the country. She died about two years ago and the farm was abandoned. Webby was currently working on his "project" in the old, faded barn that was far enough away from the country roads so as not to attract any attention.

On the way out to the farm, still contemplating what the hell I was doing, Webby began to explain to me what his secret project was about. He had been working on the aforementioned physics and equations of possible "leaping," or traveling through time. So far, he sent seventeen mice, six cats, and one dog through his proposed "time machine" and he had retrieved everyone he sent. Each animal had a tiny chip the size of a fingernail inserted under its skin. This chip served as a beacon or a homing device in order to locate the animal after it had "jumped" into this other time. The animal couldn't be seen in this other time for reasons I really couldn't comprehend. Mind you, at about this time, I'm pretty much thinking Webby is blowing smoke up my ass and that this is just some sort of cruel joke. I voiced my doubt: "What the fuck are you talking about Webby? Do you really expect me to believe all this scientific mumbo-jumbo?"

Webby's silence irritated me and then he said, "Just be patient Jones."

We arrived at the farm an hour later and drove up the dirt road until we reached the barn about a half-mile down. Webby parked in a little niche in the forest and parked next to a car that was already covered by a large canopy. We got out and Webby covered his car as well with the canopy. I gave Webby a questioning look but he just ignored me. We walked toward the decrepit old barn, which appeared to be completely dark and deserted. But as Webby opened up the door, I was hit with a sight I shall never forget.

The interior of the barn was ultramodern and completely doused in light and I noticed the windows were painted black to prevent anyone from seeing any sort of illumination coming from the barn. The "time machine" was about thirty-five feet in height and about sixty feet long. Two columns that tilted toward each other supported the central structure on either side. The central structure was a horizontal, transparent tube that ran between the two columns and was about twenty feet off the ground. The whole structure contained thousands of wires and cables going this way and that and millions of blinking lights. I couldn't decide if it looked like a roller coaster or an entrance to a casino. Either way, the massive presence of the structure took the breath out of my lungs and made my legs feel rubbery.

I noticed a small, heavyset man at the far end of the barn checking off things on a clipboard. He had steel-rimmed glasses and a thick, gray beard that covered a round, jolly face that made me think of Santa Claus. Webby led me over to him as I continued to stare up at the giant structure, completely and utterly amazed.

"Doctor Wilhelm Pendergast, this is a friend of mine from college, Jacob Patrick."

"Very pleased to meet you Doctor Pendergast," I said.

"Zis is my pleasure, sir," he responded in a thick accent as he enthusiastically and almost savagely shook my hand.

Webby began to lead me around the structure and point out certain gadgets and such. He was so damn energetic that I didn't want to spoil it by telling him that I didn't know what the hell he was talking about. "Is it finalized, Webby? I mean, if it works, why don't you present it to the public or the government?"

He grimaced at that. "Well, the truth of the matter is, my investors want to wait until we have used a human subject in the project and... "

"Your investors?"

"A group of old guys my dad introduced me to are supporting all my research and this structure you see here. Them, you and me, and Dr. Pendergast are the only ones who know about this project."

"Well, why don't you or Dr. Pendergast try going through?"

"I'm afraid I have to be at the controls of the project while the subject goes through and Dr. Pendergast is to put it mildly, too big-boned to go through."

"You're a little chunky yourself there Webby."

"Yeah, well I haven't had much time to be lifting. Anyway, we've been looking around for a subject but haven't found one yet."

The idea passed through my head rapidly and I almost disregarded it. But then I thought about it and realized that this could be the chance I had been waiting for. I had to face it, I didn't see a cure in sight for my writer's block, I just broke up with my girlfriend of five years, I went out and drank like a fish and smoked two packs a cigarettes a day and I sure as hell wasn't getting any younger. Besides being the most insane idea I have ever thought about and being a little taken aback at the structure, I said "Webby, how about giving me a crack at that son-of-a-bitch?"

He looked at me like I was the next messiah and said, "You're kidding, I hope. There is no way I could let you do it Jake."

"Then why did you show me this thing Webby?"

"Cause I thought you might want to see it. Listen, Jake, you don't know what you're getting yourself into. I just can't let you do it. It's much too dangerous."

"Webby, I've made up my mind. I need something like this, it could change my writing forever, and it could change me forever. You even know this is what you've been waiting for. Just let me get my shit together and I'll be ready to do it in a couple of days."

It took a little more convincing but Webby eventually did give in. I told Webby I wanted to go into the past, not the future. No problem, he said. Obviously, I agreed not to tell anyone, until the project was publicly announced by Webby. I suspected that Webby's investors would hold out for the highest bidder if the machine worked, not that Webby was aware of this. Webby's a little naíve and he was more interested in the welfare of mankind and he probably didn't even suspect that his project was just another part of business, his investors more interested in the amount of green they could receive.

I began to mull over Webby's intentions during the few days I had to get my affairs in order. I talked to my mom and she said Webby had called and found out I was in D.C. That confirmed for me that Webby hadn't "bumped" into me on accident in Washington and hadn't showed me his project to show-off. He suspected that I would volunteer because of all of the crazy shit I used to do in college. Like when a couple of friends of mine rolled the dean's car down a hill and into the river that snaked through the campus. Oh, and the dean was in the car at the time. Then there was the time we invited some strippers to an alumni dinner at the student union. Needless to say, contributions dramatically increased from the male alumni the following year.

Several days after my first visit to the barn, I returned. The number of people at the barn seriously increased. I counted seven older men, all dressed in black suits curiously looking at the structure that they paid for. Dr. Pendergast busied himself around the structure, making last-second adjustments. Webby was busy preparing me for my adventure. The chip was inserted under my skin on the back of my hand and Webby had fit me into this ridiculous silver jumpsuit that made me look like a refugee from the cast of Lost in Space. Webby said the suit was a good conductor or something to that effect. I said he was an asshole for setting me up the way he did. He didn't expect that and he looked like a kid who got caught with his hand in the cookie jar.

"I'm sorry Jones, I just couldn't ask you."

"Yeah you could of," I responded. I looked at him and saw the shame in his face and decided that was punishment enough.

"Hey Dick, just get me back safely and we'll call it square, all right?"

"You got it, Jake."

As I slowly climbed up the ladder to the pod that was located in the horizontal tube, I remembered the phone conversation I had with my mom a couple days before. I told her and some of my friends that I was going out-of-town for a little while and if that wasn't an understatement, I don't know what one is. I also remembered how I was hardly able to choke back the tears and how bad I felt for not being able to tell her what I was doing. I chuckled as I remembered her saying: "Don't forget your toothbrush" and "Make sure you have a couple of pairs of clean underwear." Right Mom, I won't forget.

Nothing could go through with me so I couldn't bring a notebook or pen or anything like that. Somehow I knew that where I was going, I would remember everything I saw. Webby started the countdown and I felt like I was going to lose my lunch at any second. He counted down to one and said, "Brace yourself!"

"What!?" But it was drowned out in this strange whooooooooooshing sound that hit me square in the back and took all the air out of me. I saw Dr. Pendergast, Webby and all the older men looking on and then, they faded away. I surged forward, or maybe it was backwards, but then suddenly a white light surrounded me and then I felt like I was cruising somewhere, anywhere. Now it may seem strange to you that I didn't go back in the past to a very significant time in history... such as the Roaring Twenties, or the civil rights era of the 1960s, or even the hippie era of the 1970s. I went back to a place that I was familiar with because of various stories that had circulated throughout my family as long as I can remember. I went back to an era of hot rods and Wurlitzers and The Temptations. When coca-cola was a dime, cigarettes were sixty-five cents, and it was cool to be a Notre Dame football fan. This was a time when people didn't carry around guns and knives and men used their fists to fight. This was the era of the South side of Chicago in the summer of 1963, and this was where my "pops" grew up.

My Dad's name is Ken and he was seventeen years old going into college in the fall. He always told me the stories about him and his crazy Irish friends growing up on the South side of Chicago. I always wanted to be able to hang out with him and his friends when he told me their adventures, if just for a night. More importantly, maybe my pops could help me in some way boost my declining writing career. It was time to get my wish granted. I arrived safely on some basketball courts across the way from my pop's grammar school, Christ the King. In those days, kids knew one another and identified each other through their parish, in most of the cases what grammar school they went to. St. Barnabas was Christ the King's rival, but there were several others around that area--Holy Redeemer, St. Cajetan's, Queen of Martyrs, St. John Fisher, and St. Thomas More. I was a little disoriented from my trip, so I went over to a bench to rest for a minute. I sat on the bench and thought for a second what Webby told me. He told me that I would have no craving for a drink or a smoke or even have to go to the john. I decided to forget resting and try and go find my pops because I didn't know how much time I had here. I told Webby to give me a few days, but he didn't know if that was going to be possible.

I first tried his old house to see if he was there but to no avail. I remembered him always pointing out the house where he grew-up when we would visit his mom, my grandmother, in the South side before she died. I did receive a shock when I ran into my grandparents. My grandma was tall and broad-shouldered with a stern look and her hair worn tightly in a bun, a sharp contrast from the 90-year-old woman I had known when I was a kid--short, thin, weak from a hip replacement, and always a kind look on her face like the world was amusing to her. The biggest shock though, was my grandpa. He died a year before I was born and I sometimes cursed at God for not letting me ever know him or even meet him. My pops always said that my grandpa would have gone to every baseball and basketball game that I ever played, and I believe he would have.

I know a lot of kids grow-up without their grandparents, but this was different. He loved sports just like I did and even had a chance to play for the Chicago White Sox, but was unable to because of an injury. He died too young and I'll always regret that I never had the chance to meet him. He was a tall, quiet, unassuming man with black glasses and buzz cut gray hair that looked like he was born to be a grandpa. I looked at him in astonishment, he seemed like such an imposing figure and yet I was as tall as he was. My heart skipped a beat and I felt a little stinging sensation in my eyes and I took that as my cue to leave.

As I went outside the house, I thought that maybe this trip wasn't such a good idea after all. Then I reminded myself that I was in history, I was part of something that happened 40 years ago and I was watching it with my very own eyes. This was momentous and I had to savor it, I had to enjoy every minute of it. I remembered my pops once telling me about a hot dog joint that they used to hang out on 79th Street called Jansen's and decided to check it out. Sure enough, as I entered the place, I saw a rowdy bunch of guys surrounding this slightly plump fellow who I recognized as one of my Dad's friends--Ken Gutridge. They were putting money down on whether Kenny could eat five dogs in two minutes. You know what? He did it, with ease.

Then I spotted my pops and I think I almost fainted. He had hair that looked like a big wave on top of his head. He wasn't wearing the glasses that I am so accustomed to, he was about thirty pounds thinner, and actually quite a handsome guy. I recognized some of his other friends from previous meetings and some I remembered after I heard their name. There was Kenny Brucks, who would later go into the priesthood; Burt Collins; Larry Smith, who would play offensive tackle for the Michigan Wolverines in the coming fall; John Darrow; Tom Carney; E.J. Flynn; and the bruising fullback on the high school team who they called the "Italian Stallion," Tony Salbano. Most of these guys went to Brother Rice High School but they hung out with guys from all over--Mount Carmel, St. Rita, Leo High School, and Mendel High School.

Seeing my pops and all his friends in their youth made me feel so good. No wrinkles were apparent and no thinning hair on any of them. They looked fresh and vibrant. They were carefree, with no worries concerning the future or a career or a family. Maybe that was what I had lost in my writing. I became nervous about what to write and how to write it while I forgot one of the most basic elements: just writing, no matter what came to mind. Carefree, effortless writing with no boundaries and no responsibilities to anybody but myself. Writing strictly for me.

The boys broke up at this point to go get some grub at home and get ready for the night's activities. The primary entertainment on the South side came from the many bars and pubs that littered the streets and most of the time, circumstances depending, they would get into the occasional barroom brawl. Before we went out that night, I watched as my pops got ready. He slicked back the hair, did a little shaving, threw the after shave on that smelled like bad whiskey, and put his jeans on that were rolled-up just right at the bottom. One of his three older brothers, Terry, came in to the room and said: "So Kenny, Mom was saying you're thinking about being a lawyer."

"Yeah, I don't know, Kev seems to like it," my pops responded. Kev being another older brother.

"I just want to know, since you're going away to school in the fall, what makes you think you can be a good lawyer?"

"I don't know if I'll be good, but what can I say? I'll do my best. I'll always do my best and I'll tell my kids the same thing. That's all I can ask of them, you know? Whether they turn out to be good or bad, I'll always support what they want to do, just like mom and dad do for us."

"Yeah," Terry said.

I was amazed at what my pops just said. He never personally told us to do our best nor did he ever tell us he was proud of any of his children, but he just said what I always knew, he did support what I did and he was proud of me. He told my grandparents that he was going out and that he didn't know when he would be home and so we were off. In addition to the guys I mentioned before, there were five other guys that came out with us including these twins that were just massive and I figured that they brought them along for a little advantage in case they ran into trouble. The first stop on the agenda was this small place called the Little Feller. I am not being facetious when I say "small" either, because it was a midget bar with midget stools, midget glasses, and even midget pool tables. No joke at all, it was incredible. Most of the guys sat at the bar and I felt like we were invading a dollhouse or something. We towered over everything, but no one seemed to mind. Anyway, this place was just kind of a starter for the night. I almost busted a gut listening to my pops and his friends. It's amazing how little the adolescent male mind changes through the years. You know, it was the usual talk girls, drinking, and sports. I soon began to curse Webby for telling me that I would have no need for a cigarette or a drink. I was dying. I wanted to get myself a cigarette and grab myself a nice midget glass and join in the conversation. I knew that wouldn't be possible so I just enjoyed what was happening around me.

Our next stop was Handley's House of Happiness, an Irish pub that the boys referred to as a stop n' sock. The clientele were mostly these huge Irish construction workers and the chances of you coming out of that place without any broken knuckles or black eyes was slim to none. As we entered, I felt all the faces look in our direction and I may have been invisible, but Jesus Christ, I think one of them was staring right at me. I looked around and saw holes in the wall that were either created by a huge band of termites or flying fists. My guess was the latter. The boys were getting a little sauced up and I had a feeling they hadn't come here to do a little dancing. We got a few tables and the boys kept on drinking and laughing and having a grand old time. For a brief moment I had a chance to look at my pops and try and figure out what he was thinking. He had his whole life in front of him and no looks of worry appeared on his face. There was a beautiful wife waiting for him somewhere at college and they would have four children. I wanted to just reach out and tell him that he is going to do all right for himself, that he's going to make it, but I knew I couldn't. He looked so young and innocent. Until I saw what happened next.

One of his buddies, John Darrow, who was notorious for instigating fights, was talking with someone at the bar when he decided to throw a shot in this guy's face. That's when all hell broke loose. My pops and his buddies were up in a second and they jumped in the melee. Chairs were flying, bodies were being tossed around like rag dolls, and bottles were being smashed across faces. No cops in sight and it was a full-fledged BAR ROOM BRAWL! I watched as my pops and his friends gave out as much as they took. I even started ducking and weaving through the mayhem. It was insane. At one point, my Dad and his friend Larry Smith, were shoulder-to-shoulder on the ground with this huge Irishman with red locks towering over them, chair raised above his head, getting ready to lower the boom. I wanted to cry out, to do something to help him, but he didn't need me. One of the twins they brought out with them leveled this guy like I have never seen a guy get hit before. And for the time being they were all right. And I realized my pops didn't need me here, he would be just fine and do all right without me. It was him who had provided me with something invaluable.

Suddenly, I felt a rush of air and I knew Webby was bringing me home. I had asked for a few days but I did get my one night, and now I was going home. Not that he could hear me or anything, but I yelled at the top of my lungs before I disappeared from that time, "Take care of yourself Pops! I'll be seeing you soon."

I arrived back safely in Webby's lab, exhausted but in one piece, and I am thankful for that. Dr. Pendergast and the "elders" started to grill me on what happened and what it was like and how did I feel. I couldn't even breathe and felt like I was going to pass out. Webby told them to back off and carried me over to a bed at the back of the barn and told me that I could answer all of their questions later. He understood I had been through a tremendous ordeal and that I just couldn't put into words what I had experienced, at least not at the moment.

"Was it magnificent Jones?" he asked.

"More than you can ever imagine Webby," I responded. He nodded at this and turned to go. "Hey Dick... thanks, man."

He gave a little nod to this and left me alone.

As I drifted off to sleep, I felt like I had a breath of fresh air blown into me and I felt rejuvenated. I felt like I could write again. I had seen a part of history and I had witnessed it with my own eyes. You may be asking yourself why I didn't choose some major historical event to witness. What about World War II? What about the Cuban Missile Crisis? What about the Grateful Dead concert when they played at the pyramids of Egypt? Because I didn't need to see any of that. I needed to get back to the basics, to my roots. My pops was the inspiration for my writing and I forgot what he always told me: Don't ever lose perspective on what you want to write. Don't write for someone else. Don't be complicated, be simple because a great writer is one who can write well without trying to be clever or tricky. Maybe I'll write about my pops and his friends someday, or maybe I already have by writing this story. Maybe I'll write about something better. In fact, I have to go, I have so many different things to write about.

“A Blonde, a Body, and (Milton)” by Jon Gibson

Claire sat cross-legged on the stool in the corner of Jimmy Dean's theme bar. She was bored, had been for hours. The ice in her Screwdriver had liquefied so she avoided drinking it. The man at the table next to her kept making hollow threats if she did not go back to his apartment and commit to him for a night.

But she ignored all this, stirring her watered drink with a palm-tree-plastic toothpick as she watched the man at the black-marble bar in the black suit (nice) and the turquoise dress shirt that jumped out at the rim, overlapping the collar of the jacket.

The suit fit him, as did the drink next to him bleeding water through the glass walls it was in. Everything surrounding him seemed to complement his skin-tone-tan and beach-sand-hair, short and gelled.

"Why does he have to be so bad?" she thought, her eyes still content with his image under a yellow party light, shining less than last night.

As a waitress walks to her she losses focus, "Did you want me to get you another?"

"What?" (The "what" came out with an extended "w" and a strong "t"). Claire was confused for the moment.

"Do you want another drink?"

"No. No thank you," she was thirsty but she didn't care anymore. As the waitress turns with the watered-down Screwdriver on her tray Claire reaches out to her. "Bu-bu-but you--," pointing at the waitress in an almost threatening manner.

"Are you drunk?"

"No. I just wanted to ask you something but you were walking away. I seem drunk don't I?" Now she was upright and serious, her hands on the small, round table in front of her. Leaning over to the waitress she asked, "Is that man over there, that man in the black suit, with the black shoes, the black Rolex sun-dial watch and the black briefcase who I think it is?"

The waitress checks for cars (both ways) and glances at her watch. "You know Miss, I'm sorry but the bar is closed," smiling but her kindness seemed to be passing Claire.

Claire checks her Rolex and corrects the waitress, "It's only eleven. The bar closes at three."

"I told you the bar is closed. Mitch!" signaling to the bartender.

"I just want to talk to him. I have a pass," Claire says diving into her purse and pulling out the New York Journal Press Pass.

"Absolutely not. You must leav--," the bartender arrives. "Mitch, this lady, this re-por-ter won't leave."

"Is there a problem?" He says, gripping a broken bottle behind his back, not hinting at it but Claire saw him pick it up.

"I - No. Sorry. I'll leave."

With winged-grace she slides off the stool, turns around, disappointed but determined, puts on her feather collared coat, buttons it and walks towards the door framed by pink neons.

As she walks away the man in the black suit, the black shoes, with the black Rolex sun-dial watch and the black briefcase swivels around in his stool and raises his hand, "Wait. Luc, bring her over here. I've been waiting for her."

The bartender, Luc, looks confused but follows the man's orders. He shows Claire to a stool next to his and she sits down. Luc asks her what her pleasure is and she answers, "the same as him," pointing to the black suit man.

"So you are a reporter?" he asks, already knowing the answer.


"So you help people with problems?"

"Mostly, but sometimes I cause them. It's not an easy job," she says softly while digging in her purse for a miniature spiral notepad. "You, for example, have been coming to this bar for about three weeks or maybe more, but that's all I know about. Do you know why?"

"Should I ask or are you just going to tell me?"

Claire smiles, continuing, "I've been sitting on the stool in the far corner for three weeks from nine-to-three every night, watching you drink a martini 'till dawn and look in your briefcase, your glowing briefcase, every few hours to pull out gold coins to pay for your drinks, waiting for my chance for this interview."

"Who said this was an interview?"

"You did," she says with a broad smile. "You did when you called me over to sit next to you."

"You know, I must admit I don't usually like reporters. Most of them are men, ugly men that don't even dress professionally nor look it. The only good, profound persons in the business of news seem to be women. More specifically a woman like you."

Claire listens to his compliments, (pathetic) and nice, as she sips her glass of alcohol.

"You're pretty, smart, intelligent, audacious. I would be willing to gamble that the man that you report to, your boss, has tried to sleep with you on numerous occasions. But your face, your face is innocent and pure. You wouldn't do something like that. Not giving in to people like that is winning to you. You have a certain radiance to you. You almost seem to glow. You remind me of an angel I once knew."


"Oh, when I was young I used to read and write a lot. Angels. Demons. Heaven. Hell. I liked the topic of the afterlife. The end of all pain and the beginning of suffering or glee. You could say I am an expert."

"What's in this drink, anyway?" she says curiously while writing vigorously.


She looks at him in confusion.

"The nectar of the Gods. It's expensive. I import it from Columbia."

"What is your name anyway?"

"Oh, I've got many names. Just call me John."

"Well John, you're very good with women. If I am not mistaken, you are trying to seduce me."

He looks into her for a moment, then smiling he says, "You're right. Your smile, your grace, your body, your world. I want to be in it. I want it. It's almost like fate is knocking on my door."

"Oh, it's not fate."

"I think it is. You know, I've been watching you for the past three weeks. I could see you the whole time through the security mirror. Every time you crossed your legs, every time you took a sip of your numerous Screwdrivers and every time you would put on fresh, cherry-red lipstick by looking at your reflection on the little, pink pocket-mirror. You have been the main focus of my attention for the past three weeks, which almost seem like a eternity. The first night you walked into Jimmy Dean's you were wearing a red cocktail dress and had your hair in curls. Your blonde hair shimmered like tinsel on a Christmas tree. Your shoes were a light red like a died egg on Easter Sunday. And your skin, your skin had a certain gentle glow, a gentle radiance like a smile on a good day. If skin could smile it would be yours. You personified everything I've ever dreamed about, everything I've ever desired and wanted the moment you stepped through that door. You are my God."

As Claire listened she scribed. She was writing a story, not a new story, more important. But as she wrote her pen slipped and fell to the cold floor carpeted by marble tile like a diner from the 50's. John noticed the pen drop and went down to retrieve it, still talking, rambling. While he was picking it up, for the few seconds it took him to find it stuck under the edge of the bar, Claire was preparing. She grabbed a vile filled with green liquid, poison, quickly shook it a few times, opened it and poured it all into John's Ambrosia.

When John lifted his head and handed Claire her pen it was as nothing was different. She was smiling and he was too, green with mean envy, his seductive smile in waiting for her. But this is were the interview ends.

"Sorry, but I have to leave," she says sincerely.

"Well, at least let us finish our Ambrosia."

"Sure," agreeing. So she lifted her glass and he did the same so they both drank. Neither of them lay the glass on the table until the Ambrosia was gone. Claire finished first and John last. Although he really never did finish his imported liquor. Before he even had the chance to remove the glass from between his lips he had perished like a bird. He seemingly lost his wings of desire and fell to the black and white tile of Jimmy Dean's tavern. The impact caused the glass to slide out of his mouth and shatter on the ground. A little stream a blood even seemed to form, flowing from his forehead and across through the middle of the dining area.

And as all this happened, Claire was packing her belongings into her purse, preparing her leave. She even watched as the waitress and the bartender rushed to his aid, petting his head and talking to him as if he was a dog.

Claire smiled.

She smiled as she lit the six matches that were left in the book she had, as they seemingly fell in motion as slow as the turtle and as the fire joined with the alcohol on the floor. It was visually pleasing like Kafka and Gilliam. The three bodies burned like they were demons, howling and screeching almost as if they were enjoying it.

Claire smiled as she walked out of Jimmy Dean's and flew away amidst the flame, smoke, and ash.

“Cammie” by Marianne J.

As Cammie's mother shook her head at her daughter for coming home so late, she sighed. Ever since Cammie's father had died when she was 13, she just wasn't the same. Cammie was coming home later and later, and her grades have never been the same for years now. Cammie just wasn't the bright, intelligent girl she had always been.

"She is growing up, Amy," Cammie's mother said to herself. "She is 16 now. Maybe it's just a stage..."

"Cammie," Amy said to her daughter, "why didn't you come home for dinner? I was hoping you would, my boss was here tonight. I knew he would have been delighted to meet you."

"I didn't feel like it, okay?" Cammie said coarsely to her mother. "Why are you always treating me like a little kid? I can take care of my self."

Amy thought back about when Cammie was 13. She was such a sweet girl. She had friends, a boyfriend, and she was a good student. She rarely disobeyed what her mother and teachers told her not to do.

Now she has "F's" and is frequently suspended or getting calls home from worried teachers. She was smoking crack. Amy learned that last year when she went through Cammie's room... God knows how many other drugs she may be smoking by now. Amy was sure that she wasn't a virgin, another thing she found in her room, not like that mattered much. She couldn't stop her, even if she wanted to. She was putting on a lot of weight lately too? maybe because of the drugs.

"Here, have some soup. I'll heat it up for you," Amy offered her daughter.

"I don't want anything," Cammie said with a sneer.

"Umm... How was your day today?" Amy asked, trying to brighten her daughters mood up before she got into a serious discussion about a phone call she got earlier.

"Why do you want to know? Will you just butt out of my life?" Cammie started out of the kitchen and was about to go upstairs.

"I got a call from your teacher, Mrs. Saldenez. She says that she has the suspicion your doing drugs," Amy brought up the subject. She knew she had to bring that up with her daughter.

"Mrs. Saldenez is a bitch, Mom. She makes stuff up," and with that Cammie went to her room and cranked her music up full blast.

An hour later Cammie's new boyfriend pulled up on his motorcycle. He came to the door and asked for Cammie. He wasn't one of the guys Amy would want Cammie to be seeing, but that couldn't be helped either.

"Cammie, your boyfriend is here," Amy shouted up the stairs. Eventually, Cammie came down.

"Hey, Cammie." He glanced back at Amy and looked back at Cammie.

"Hey, Roberto." Cammie said and then gave her mother a look and told her to leave.

About 2 minutes later Cammie came into the living room where Amy was reading her book. "I'm going out with Roberto," Cammie said and started to leave.

Amy was sick of Cammie walking all over her. "No, you're not. It's 9:30. You're staying home and doing your homework. You have enough to keep you busy. Now go to your room and get cracking. I don't want any phone calls to be made, and you can't go anywhere 'till you make up all of your work. If you even think of sneaking out, I will send you to a convent."

Cammie stormed off to the front door and then closed it. She ran up stairs and slammed her door shut.

Amy started to wonder if she had been to harsh on her. She remembered when she was a 16 year old. She wasn't quite as bad, but she was still rebellious. "No," Amy thought, "I did the right thing." It was still hard for the widow to take care of a rebellious teenager.

Amy went up stairs and decided to go to sleep. She needed a rest anyway. Around 3:45 in the morning, she got a phone call, waking her up.

"Ugh... Hello?" Amy moaned.

"Ms. Tonies?" a voice said on the other line.

"Yes, this is her," Amy said, trying to wake herself up. "What in the world could be important at this hour?" she thought.

"Ma'am, your daughter Cartherian is dead," the voice said.

That immediately woke Amy up. "What are you talking about??? Who is this!?!" Amy was shouting at this point.

"This is the city deputy. We got a call a half-hour ago from Mrs. Saldenez, we believe she's your daughter's teacher," the deputy said.

"Yes, she is," Amy said.

"She was woken up this morning by someone crashing into the street light in front of her house," the deputy stated.

"H-h-how did she crash into the street light if she's at home?" Amy said.

"She wasn't. She was with Roberto Martinez. They were on a motorcycle with out any head protection. We did a blood test on the two. Cartherian had traces of LSD, crack, angel dust, and several other drugs in her blood. To make it worse, her alcohol level was above the limits for driving. Ma'am, I don't think you'll want to hear this..." the deputy said trying to keep a calm voice.

"Hear what!?! My daughter is dead! What could be worst than my daughter being dead?!?" Amy screamed.

"Your daughter was 6 months pregnant, we think. The baby looks as if it was killed in her womb. Possibly from the drugs or from lack of care," the deputy choked a bit.

Amy started to cry right there. "I lost my daughter... Oh, god, what did I do to deserve this?" she thought.

"Ms. Tonies?" the deputy asked.

"Y-y-y-y-es..." Amy choked a little while talking. Her blonde hair fell in to her face and into her tears.

"We will need you to come down here to fill out some paper work," the deputy said in the kindest voice he could.

"Wait... Did Cammie go through any suffering?" Amy asked. She hoped that at least her daughter died with out pain.

"She died about ten minutes after she was found. She was too out of it to feel anything," the deputy said almost silently.

"I'll be down there in about 5 minutes," Amy said then hung up. Still not believing that Cammie was really gone, she went to her room. Her window was open, and she had left a note on her bed. Amy picked it up and read it.


I went out with Roberto.? I'm not coming back.? Ever since dad died, you've been a controlling bitch.
I hope you die, and leave me the hell alone! Doesn't matter now, I'm not coming back, and I hope I never see you again.


That broke Amy. She just screamed and grabbed her favorite china doll. She then threw it on the floor. Crying still, she fell to the floor. The darkness of her child's room seemed to overcome her. Not more then six hours ago, Cammie was alive.

"And the last thing I did was ground her..." she said out loud for no one to hear.

Amy then got up. She wiped away her tears and went down to the kitchen. She got her steak knife and slit her wrist. She had nothing left to live for anyway. Her husband was dead, her child was dead, her grandchild was dead before it even came into the world. What was left?

As she sunk to the floor and saw the world grow darker and darker, she remembered Cammie when she was a sweet 13 year old.................

“Finding Normal” by Brook Oliver

I now have my mission in life. I will drive cross country and go to every town library from here to Alaska. I will get a library card and I will check out the maximum amount of books possible. I will then leave to prey upon my next "Huckleberry Finn" and "Tale of Two Cities". I will never return the books. I will just go from town to town smiling at each mousey headed librarian as they take, not knowing, their last look at their books... and my sanity slipping away. Dan Rather will tell every household in America how nuts I am and he will be right. Dr. Smith will smile his smug little "I told you so" grin, and then I know I will be crazy.. Completely insane.

I am normal. There is no one more normal than me. I know not to wear white after labor day and I can tell you exactly what fork to use with your salad. My mother did not take any drugs while she was carrying me and I came out a healthy 10 fingered 10 toed baby girl. I am normal. My hair has never been a color of the rainbow and I never killed anyone.... until Richard. BUT WAIT, I have an explanation. In fact I have a billion. I know you will not believe a word I say and that's ok, I am not telling you this for you, I am telling it for me.

First off, this white towel robe thing I am wearing, believe me, its state ordered. They thing we might choke ourselves on button's or slash our wrists on zippers. I do not know how, but rumor is it's been done. If you think this is bad you should see the rooms. Ok I am off the subject. Damn I do that all the time. It's all part of being crazy ya know.

So... well... me and Rich, we were, I dunno.., normal. I mean I didn't dawn on me until I got to the Hilt' hotel here that me and Rich were any different than anyone else. Well... there was the drugs, and the booze.. And the sex.. And the bruises.. The bruises, now those were the worst. But me and Rich, man, we had some good times. Disneyland, camping I remember one time we went to this place where all the animals just walked around right in front of you and you got to sit in your car and watch. Well we got out of the car and started to pet this huge giraffe... just me and him... .... see this is one reason I am still here and they say I am crazy. I loved Rich, I loved my father. He was the only one that loved me unconditionally. He made me feel special in ways that I could never explain. I had power over him. He made me feel like there was no one else that could make him feel the way I did. I was a daddy's girl.....

The problem was that I found out that I was not the only daddy's girl.

There I go again- off topic. OK So all right, you want to know about the night it happened. Want me to talk about it.. Tell you all about it. Well I don't remember a lot of it.. No... I am lying. I remember everything, that's why I am a nutzo. I know you are thinking "nutzo", how harsh. But come on you have to keep a sense of humor. "Yes I am phcillitated in a mental institution for the duration of an unknown length of time for being unstable." How fucking retarded does that sound? I am a nut, plain and simple.

That night I walked into Lynn's room. Lynn, my little sis. Beautiful girl. Man, she was a spoiled little brat. We were only 2 years apart, most people thought we were twins, but we were very different. I thought the main thing that made us different was she was a mommy's girl. She was a real sissy. I on the other hand could careless about my mother and she had the same feelings for me. I think I understand more now why she hated me, I mean I believed her husband was in love with me.

Well... Lynn, Lynn got anything she ever wanted.. But that night... she had what I wanted, what I needed, what was MINE!

I peaked through the door and I saw Rich and her. I was so angry when I saw that. I mean he was mine. I ran back down the hallway to the closet where he hid his gun. He was on top of her when I shot him. Blood everywhere. I remember feeling so bad that Ma was going to have to clean that mess up. Lynn was screaming and Rich was stretched out on the bed like a blood soaked crucifix. He was mine, she saw that now, mine and mine alone. She could never have him again.

All I could do was laugh. There is some fancy name for my reaction, but hell if I know what it is. I am crazy remember. All I should know is how many pink elephants are walking on the ceiling eating banana's. I laughed because it felt good. For the first time in my thirteen years of life I made my own self feel good. I laughed so hard I peed my pants. Man that police officer was mad when I had to sit my pissy ass in the back of his squad car. It was great.

There was no trial, I am a minor after all. I hear now that some lawyer wants to get me out of here because they just stuck me here for some "unspecified amount of time." So after the police took me away from the only home and way of life I had known........

You know, I don't want to talk about this anymore.

NO WAIT... I do. I have something to say. Today.. Today is my 16th birthday. I should be at the DMV getting my drivers license. Rich, Ma and Lynn and me, we should be eating cake and I should be opening gifts. A month from now is what would be my first high school dance. I would want to take Rich (my father), but that would not be "normal". I would take some stuffy football player who would maul me in the back of his car afterwards, that would be normal. I should be flunking algebra tests and throwing slumber parties. Playing softball and getting grounded for talking on the phone to late..... I know what normal is!! Is it not possible for a person to make one brief mistake without paying for the rest of their life? Rich made my mistake for me! I am the one paying for him. I was a CHILD, do you have any idea what that means?.... I know I never did.

This is not an excuse, I am sorry for what I did. Lord knows the endless hours I have spent crying ....wondering.... and praying. I cant take it back. I don't want to take it back. Its a lot like those library books... everyone gets to use them, abuse them, and return them.

Don't you understand? That moment returned me. I am normal now!!

There are times when I feel crazy and this place.. This place has done that to me. I see what goes on and you always want to know if I want to get out into "The Real World" and that statement in it self should tell you something. You call "out there" the real world... this is not reality and I know it. I know what it going on. This shit you feed us to try and pass off as food, see I know it is SHIT. I will go on, dribbling slowly from one side of my mouth, talking to curtains and finding all kinds of objects to stick up my nose. You say I have to let my years of abuse out before you will let me out, so I will. I think I just did.

“The Revenant” by Elena Ellison

The Phantom floated in the corner of my room, laughing madly, pointing a misty hand at the canopy of my bed. It swirled and spun, spreading misty tendrils that hid my room in shadows and ghosted through the deep blue silk hangings, down through the white carpet and into the stone floor. The tendrils shied away from the mirror and snaked into the closet wrapping around my clothes. It wrapped around me cold and chill, promising retribution, revenge.

The Phantom wailed and whined, blowing freezing wind everywhere, permeating my room, my skin, choking the life out of me. It followed me everywhere, never shutting up, distracting me, destroying me.

No one else sees the wraith, not my family, not my friends, not the wizards, witches, or warlocks. No one sees it but me. No one feels it but me. And no one ever hears it but me. It frightens me but I can't tell anyone or they'll say I'm mad. They all look at me funny anyway.

The Phantom whirled faster and faster. The mist tightened around my neck, choking me. I recoiled into a corner, pulling as far away from the Shade as I could, whimpering all the while.

"M'lady Karyn?" a voice called. The Phantom whirled even faster, closer and closer to me. It's maniacal laughter filled my ears. "M'lady Karyn, are you in there?" I stared in terror as the Specter came still closer. The door creaked opened.

"Princess, learn to answer your elders," a woman said querulously. "Your lady Mother bids that you attend her at once. Lady Karyn, are you listening to me?"

She stood in front of me, the Phantom hovering over her head. It's mist did not touch her, even though It looked upon her in hatred. I looked at her, trying to focus on her head and not the wild wraith. Mother's maid Helene stood there, tapping her foot impatiently.

"Mother wants me?"

"Yes, M'lady, immediately. You aren't even dressed properly, Lady Karyn. Whatever is wrong with you?" I remained silent, my eyes drifting up to my unwelcome companion. Helene swung around and went to the closet. "Sapphire, I think," she muttered, pulling out a long satin gown, "and a white undertunic. Come here, my Lady."

I approached her slowly, staying close to the wall, staying as far from the Phantom as I could. "Hurry up, M'lady. Your mother is waiting." Impatiently, Helene stalked over to me jerked the simple bliaut that I was wearing off, and just as swiftly slipped on the tunic and gown. "Button yourself up, please."

Helene rushed across the room and grabbed the matching blue slippers, my hairbrush, and a white hair ribbon. She thrust the slippers at me, and after I stepped into them, she turned me around so that I faced the wall, and the gibbering, screaming Revenant.

She began to briskly brush my hair. I whimpered as the Phantom reached for my throat.

"Don't whine, M'lady, I hardly pulled your hair," Helene snapped. She was not being gentle, but I scarcely noticed. She tied my hair back in a tail with the ribbon. "You'll do," she sniffed, "barely."

Helene dragged me from the wall and across the room. The Phantom cried out gleefully and darted after us.

The halls were crowded, but all the people parted like the Shalil Sea and dropped into deep bows and curtsies. The court wizard, Zarnin, approached and the Phantom hissed balefully, it's hands flexing hungrily.

"Princess," Zarnin said, "you are looking well." I did not answer. Instead, I watched the phantom warily. It's mist was floating wildly everywhere as It seethed in anger.

"All give way before Prince Kyvron," a voice bellowed. Helene jerked me out of the way of my brother's guards and straight into the wraith's transparent body. My breath choked off and I began to fall. Zarnin caught me and made it look as if I'd just been curtsying to my younger brother, the Crown Prince. I still could not breathe, and Zarnin's spell infuriated the Spirit.

"Helene," Kyvron's petulant, spoiled voice rang out, "why are you not with my Lady Mother, the Queen, your mistress?"

"Her Majesty has sent for your Lady Sister, the Princess Karyn."

"He snorted. "Walk on, guards." The Phantom glared and cried out in frustration as my brother walked off, ignoring me. It howled for reparation ending in a wordless shriek. The scent of madness and of rotting flesh roiled from It's incorporeal body.

Again, Helene pulled me across to my Mother's apartments. Now Zarnin accompanied us. I do not know why, nor do I really care.

Cold hands trail over my shoulders. "You will pay. You'll all pay," the voice hisses as it always does. What does It want us to pay for? Why does it haunt me? It never says. It is mad as some in the palace are beginning to say I am.

We left Zarnin outside the door. Helene jerked me into Mother's apartments and sank to the floor, pulling me with her.

"Helene, what took so long?" Mother whined, sounding very much like Kyvron. "You left ages ago and I need my fan and they've been bringing me the wrong ones. And they are simply incapable of bringing proper food and drink, and they don't serve it properly. Have them whipped, immediately. Have yourself whipped too, for not training them properly. Where have you been?"

"My apologies, my Queen. I have been getting your daughter, the Princess Karyn. She was not in a fit state to approach Your Majesty's most august presence. I had to make her presentable. Would your majesty care for me to fetch the correct fan and suitable food and drink before the whipping?"

"Yes, do that. And I want the whipping done in here."

"Of course, Your Majesty."

"You may go." Helene rose from the floor and scurried to do mother's bidding. "Karyn, approach." I rose, pulling from the Phantom and approached Mother's throne. She languidly held out one pale hand for me to kiss. Carefully avoiding Mother's voluminous skirts, I sank back into the curtsy and kissed her hand.

The Phantom howled in anger and thrashed, reaching for her. A murderous wave of emotion poured from It. I trembled and it swung on me, reaching out, a deadly cold pouring over me. The Wraith stopped as if it recognized something. It began to laugh insanely. "It's not time yet," the Phantom bowed mockingly to Mother and glared upon her in hatred. Then for no reason at all that I could see, and to my shock, my tormentor smiled knowingly and vanished.

"Why were you not dressed and ready to attend upon me, you worthless chit?!" Mother said icily, angrily, and in the tone that has always led to my being punished, ever since Kyvron was born ten years ago, when I was seven.

"I did not know that you wanted me so early, Your Majesty," I said hesitantly.

"Early. Did I hear you say early, you ungrateful creature? I gave you life. You should wait upon me at all times. You should bring my food and drink, you should taste it to see that I do not get poisoned. But, no, you are an ungrateful thing who abuses her position as Princess of the land." I could see that Mother had had too much to drink last night, she was in mild form. Her ravings are usually much worse, more evil. "Helene!"

"My Queen."

"Karyn is to be punished immediately."

"Yes, My Queen." Helene left the room again and Mother continued to rave. I prepared myself for another vicious beating. Anger and despair flowed through my veins, suffocating me. Never had they accepted me for who I was. They were furious that I was not a boy, that I was never feminine enough, never beautiful enough for them to feel I was worth anything. They swore I would never catch a good husband. Then Kyvron was born. I became excess, worse than the worthless thing Mother and Father had always sworn I was. Before Kyvron was born, they had kept the frequent punishments they gave me light, so that I would be able to catch a good husband. After Kyvron's birth, it didn't matter anymore.

Zarnin knocked on the door and at Mother's command he entered and bowed. "You Majesty. His Royal Majesty the King has asked me to give his regards to you and to inform you that the King of Atralan has offered the hand of his daughter to Crown Prince Kyvron." Mother smiled.

"How very suitable," she breathed. "Please stay, Zarnin," Mother said as he was about to bow his way out. "Karyn needs to be punished, and I'd like you to augment her whipping with your pain spell."

"Of course, My Queen." Zarnin smiled viciously and finally revealed without a doubt that he is a practitioner of the Black Arts that are given no name. The whipping man entered, carrying a leather whip with metal studs in it.

"Strip, Karyn," Mother ordered. I did as she said. I could do it myself or have it done for me and have the punishment made worse.

Afterwards, I went back to my room, blood making my clothes stick to my back, my skin hanging in shreds under it. The pain was beyond describing. I knew the Phantom was wrong. It was past time. I shut the bed chamber door behind me.

Despair washed over me. Things were only going to get worse. Life had been horrible from the start. There had been nothing wonderful in it as there had been for the servants. I had never felt any joy in it as I had seen other people do. I could not take it anymore. I looked around my room and smiled when I saw the bed hangings. I walked over to the small writing desk on the wall across from the bed. I picked up the pen and wrote one sentence.

I can't take this anymore, and I'm not going to.

I unhooked the bed hangings and strung them from the chandelier suspended on the arched ceiling of my room. I hanged myself.

A new maid named Marlene found me. I am sorry about that, for she has never gotten over it.

I watch myself as I was. Terrified of what I was to become, what I am now, a Phantom, a Revenant. I watch myself through the time portal, a mirror of what I was when I was a mortal. Now I must plan my revenge. I will have vengeance against my family and those who helped them. No one is ever going to be hurt as I was in this castle again. Therefore, I warn you. Beware of me. Beware the Revenant of Castle Karynanalan.

“The Ones Who Remember” by Eric Putnam

As soon as the old man sat down beside me, I knew it meant trouble. Usually I would sit alone on my bench, for hours on end (days on end!) and no one would dare even approach me; I already longed for that loneliness. Other loners, like me, were sitting on the scattered benches in Central Park, with me. Of course none of the others had any old men sitting beside them.

The Blue Coat Guard paced around looking at the different benches. His eternal clown smile etched on his face (it was a trademark of all Guards to have permanent smiles cut into their faces). He glanced at each of the benches, containing their sole citizens, making sure no trouble aroused spontaneously. This old man was trouble, in its purest form, and quickly attracted the attention of the guard. He never stared directly at us, in any accusing manner - for that would be a degree of Slander, punishable by death. The old man knew that he was being eavesdropped upon.

"Nice day, isn't it?" the old man spoke at last. "The sun is shining and everything."

"Yes, very nice, one of the nicest days I've seen in a long time. Very nice," I replied, loud enough to let the guard hear me so he might diminish any thoughts of Inappropriate Conversation.

"I've seen much nicer days, to tell you the truth," the old man continued, my eyes widening in the horror of what he was saying, "Oh yes, about fifty years ago, when I was just a boy..."

I whispered harshly, "Quiet, old man! Leave me alone! Your lies aren't welcome here."

The guard suddenly started walking away, apparently not hearing the old man's last statement. I could tell why; Two cars were revving their engines, on opposite ends of the street next to the park. They were, predictably enough, about to play "chicken." The Blue Coat Guard could, of course, do nothing to stop it.

There were no laws against attempting murder, as long as you are put to reasonable harm when attempting it, or at the very least, had probable cause. If anyone was killed, the charge would be First Degree Murder. The sentence, death on the spot. The cars continued to rev their engines.

The old man kept going, "You know, boy, the sky wasn't always yellow, and the clouds ruddy brown... The sky once was a beautiful tinge of sapphire blue, and the clouds wonderful shades of white. And the ground used to be covered in grass - an emerald carpet! It was wonderful... quite wonderful."

A certain brand of fury rose in my throat. Doing my best to keep my voice down, my teeth clenched I half-warned him, "Shut up old man! Enough of your lies... Any more and..."

"Wonderful! That is all I can say to describe it! Yes, yes and the sun - you couldn't look at it, it was so bright! Bright enough to blind you - yet soft enough to look beautiful out of the corner of your eye," the old man raved.

I could kill him right now. The law permits me - and may require me to kill him. I warned him this time; a full fledged threat, "Quiet you old geezer! I'll kill you!"

The cars were off. Smoke quickly leaped into the air as the tires spun, creating a black haze around the two cars. A station wagon, and a pickup truck; Both probably more than forty years old.

"Yes, boy I remember a time when you could talk to someone without worrying about being either killed or reported, and then killed... You could talk to whoever, whenever.

"You know what else, you used to be able to buy food in stores with your own money! I bet you haven't eaten in over three days! Don't be ashamed of it, neither have I. I have a thousand dollar bill in my pocket, and can't buy lunch to save my life. For a thousand dollars, you could probably have bought the food store!"

The old man was chuckling like a lunatic. He was a lunatic. Any man who would dare sit down beside a stranger and break the worst law possible - Discussing the Evil Age, and lie about it, as well... The mind of the demented was a strange one.

I sat, silent in non-thought and anger, fist clenched at my sides.

"Kids didn't always kill each other with cars! They used to play hopscotch, and color with crayons, maybe stay home and watch TV!"

Suddenly the thought that he was right invaded my closed mind. Trying to resist the urge to think about it, my temples throbbed. The pressure built in my mind, it was so difficult not to think about it... Thinking led to talking, talking to death. And then, as if a valve had been turned, releasing all of the pressure and rage in my mind, I cried. Not a sole tear streaming down my cheek, but a full fledged head in hands weeping. I cried like a baby.

The sheer thought that life used to be so much better than it is now... the sole thought that everyone avoided with their life. As a child I was told never to believe the lies of the old. As I got older I was told to kill the old who told the lies. And now... for some reason, contrary to all reason, I believed that things weren't always this dismal.

"Yes boy, cry, cry away. The tears cleanse the soul," the old man went on, now appearing evil, to continue my psychological maiming, "I'm afraid I am right. There used to be birds - they would fly... they would fly so high that they looked like little m's... until they would fly past the sun that you would have to look away..."

The cars collided, in an intense impact that forced my head from my hands. In slow motion, the truck drove over the hood of the car, and came to a complete halt, resting with its bumper through the windshield, and its right tire where the driver's head should be. Two people dead, the driver and passenger of the car, probably more in the back seat. Two more people flew through the air, out of the windshield, as if from some perverted rocket launcher. They both flew almost side by side, for almost twenty meters, when the passenger lost the "race" and tumbled into the ground, like a crude doll tossed carelessly by the hand of a child. The driver continued the flight, he appeared to be about fourteen years old, and wore a "baseball cap" as all young people did. In a terrible crunch of humanity, he hit the ground and became a shapeless, lifeless tumbling ball of scarlet.

"Terrible, isn't it? Although you'll probably stop yourself from thinking about it too much, and just pretend that that's the way it has to be. Population control concept from a government who truly loves us. Loves us enough to kill for us, even though we are the ones dying.

"No one is immune to the laws, you know. I'm sure you have had 'impure' thoughts about life. Don't answer that because you would be guilty of 'Admission of Inappropriate Thinking,' punishable by what else - death!" The disgusting light tone he put on "death" suddenly made me ill. More ill, possibly than the crash I had just witnessed.

The Blue Coat guard rapidly approached the crime scene, with his side arm drawn.

"Yes, Blue Coat. Punish the survivor. Guilty until proven innocent. You know he deserves it. For 'First Degree Murder,'" the old man stated, staring at the scene. The passenger of the truck had survived, and now would be punished for the deaths of everyone else. I continued my weeping, although now more quietly. The old man raved, not loud enough for the Blue Coat Guard to hear, but loud enough to make his point. "Kill him, Blue Coat, kill him. We, the decent public, need a scapegoat. They can't be responsible for their own deaths, that would be suicide! That's crazy, and might encourage others to think about it! Yes, Blue Coat, that man, that one right there - he did it! He killed everyone! Punish him!"

The voice of the Blue Coat guard was loud enough for everyone in the park to hear, "You are under arrest, for the First Degree murder of three people! By the power invested in me by the World Empire, I sentence you to death!"

The half dead passenger lay moaning audibly, as he raised his head just a little off the ground, and lifted his arm to protect himself. Just as his head lifted, it was dropped to the earth again, by the silent venomous bullet fired from the Blue Coat's gun.

The old man went on. "Yes, Blue Coat, you are the arrestor, the prosecutor, the judge, and executioner. Smile away, with your disgusting mutant grimace grin. Justice is once again served. How could it not be? You served it!"

His constant sarcasm made me sick. I stopped crying and sat slowly upright, my face still and emotionless, with the moisture of the tears leaving stinging streaks on my face. Fury once again rose in my throat.

"Why have you stopped crying? Do the deaths cheer you up...?" The old man said, more softly.

I suddenly felt cold, and as quickly as my mind had opened, I closed it. Shut and sealed like a rock. The sky was never blue, the clouds never white, birds never flew...

"Would you like me to tell you more stories? The rain... when it rained, it used to be clean and fresh, and you could drink it... open your mouth and drink it! It was wonderful!" the old man said, with a gentle smile looking as if it would crack his skin any moment.

"Shut up! It was never 'wonderful,' the sky was never beautiful... You are a liar!" I stood up, and any thoughts of sadness were replaced by rage, "You are sick and evil! Shut up shut up shut up!"

The guard's attention was quickly grabbed, and he ran towards the old man and I, his weapon still drawn. In no time, he was there standing before us with his plastered on smile, perpetually grinning at us. He never smiled, guards never smiled, their faces were just engineered that way.

"Is there a problem, sir?"

"Yes! This old man, he is preaching to me, about the Evil Age!"

"Is this true, old man?"

"No! It was not an evil age! It was a superior age! Listen to me people! It was far superior!"

"Kill him! Quickly! His lies hurt my ears!"

"You are under arrest for Discussing the Evil Age..."

"The sky, the birds, the sun, the clouds... They were all beautiful!"

"KILL HIM! Quickly!"

"By the power inv-"

"You could pick flowers from the ground... and smell them! They smelled just like million dollar perfume... except free! Wonderful!"

"DO IT!"

"By the power invested in me by the-"

"You could roll in the grass, and it would feel like a million tiny fingers tickling you! Oh! It was so wonderful!"

"-World Empire, I sentence you to-"


"Chocolate, it was delicious! Wonderful, even!"




Silence. Cold, deafening, wonderful, silence. And then, the old man was dead.

I sat back down, this was my bench, and no one could sit on it but me. The smell of burnt rubber filled my nose. It made me ill.

“Marco Polo” by Amanda J. Lee






"POLO!" Where is she? Just at the same moment I felt the water ripple as she swam. I reached out and grabbed her foot.

"You're it!" I yelled.

"No fair," she whined. Chelsea may be my best friend, but she is a champion whiner. We had been playing Marco Polo everyday that it was nice enough to hang out at our neighborhood pool. School was out and it was time for me to get out of my childish stage and gain some independence. I guess getting a great tan may nothave been the best way to go about it, but I felt a certain freedom I had never felt before when I wasn't spending my days in the house. Playing this game,eating picnic lunches, and sleeping over at each other's houses became our lifestyles. Of course we have always been a big part of each other's lives, growing up together and all. We had been in the same kindergarten class, and since the day I met her in the sandbox, we have been inseparable. I suddenly came out of my reminiscing world by Chelsea's patient tapping on my shoulder.

"Your turn." She disappeared under the surface of the water. I was about to follow her, when I saw my mom walk up the pathway. I glanced at my watch. I was late for dinner.

"Katherine May Voight, I told you to be home half an hour ago! What's your excuse this time?" She tapped her foot. You would think only moms in the movies do that, but no, my mom does everything unbelievable.

"Well, Mom, you see, I was, um, what I mean to say is, well we were just about to, you know......"

"We were just about to call you," Chelsea cut in, "to see if Kate could have dinner at my house, my dad already said it was okay, she can even spend the night if she wants to." I nodded nervously and cast a glance at Chelsea, she was calm and cool, as usual.

"Well, all right, but I want you home early in the morning, let's say ten o'clock, no later." She looked at her watch. It's kinda funny, but my mom looks her best when she's under stress.

"Yes, Mom."

"Are you going to come home to get your things?" I looked at Chelsea, she mouthed the word "no".

"Probably not, I'll borrow from Chelsea," I said. I mean, it was what I usually did anyway.

"Well then, goodbye, honey. Get some sleep tonight okay?" We both smiled, and once she was out of earshot, began to laugh at the lie we had just gotten away with. Her smile slowly dissipated.

"What's wrong?" I asked, my smile leaving as well.

"What about my dad?" Chelsea's parents were divorced and the only time she got to see her mom was when she made a trip to Paris where her mother lived. It was hard to believe, but Chelsea was born in Paris. When she was five her dad and she moved here to the quiet town of Highland, Illinois. Don't get me wrong, I like it here, but, Paris, how could you not want to live there. I mean, even if someone you don't love is there. I had questioned mom on this many times, all she said was "you can't keep following the footsteps of a broken heart." I think what she was trying to say was that her dad wanted to start over. I guess that also meant that he can't start over in Paris.

"We'll just have to suck up, a lot." Chelsea rubbed her arms, it was getting kind of cold. I realized that we were the only ones left at our neighborhood pool. I also saw that the sky was turning a weird shade of gray.

"We better go home, we don't want to be caught in the rain." Chelsea is awfully motherly for someone who grew up without a mother.

"Wait a minute, couldn't we just talk to Diane?" I said, beginning to brainstorm. Diane was Chelsea's stepmother. Her father got married to her three years ago when Chelsea and I were ten. We got to be in the wedding as flower girls. Twins in perfect white dresses. Each of us still had those dresses and loved to
dress up in them from time to time. Diane was really nice, and would agree to practically anything.

"Yeah, now let's go," I could tell she was getting worried. It had already started raining and I thought I could hear thunder rumbling in the distance. We gathered our things and set off towards home.

As we walked in the door of the small atrium ranch styled house, I could smell garlic and the strong perfume that Diane always wore. Chelsea's house was comfortable. I always felt at home when I got to go there. I think that Chelsea felt the same way in my house.

"Hi hon. Hi Kate," said Mrs. Tupper without looking up from a large cookbook.

"What are we having?" Chelsea asked giving a glance to the cookbook.

"I was just about to ask you the same thing," she said turning around to give us a smile.



"Can Kate spend the night?"

"I guess so, is it all right with Kate's mom?" We nodded and trotted off to her room. Once we got there, I glanced outside to see that it was already pouring. Lightening shot across the sky. We both counted while we waited for the thunder. CRACK. It was close. We were waiting for another lightening bolt when we heard
the phone ring, making both of us jump. Chelsea reached to her phone.

"Hello? Oh, hi mom! Yeah, oh right... that's cool... really? Yeah I miss that too..." I looked around Chelsea's richly decorated room. Her mom was in the money as they say and the entire room was decked out in leopard skin stuff from some expensive designer in France. Chelsea was the only person I knew that could pronounce his name. I listened impatiently to Chelsea's end of the conversation. The only thing that kept me interested was the more Chelsea talked,the more excited she got. She hung up the phone quickly and jumped off the bed.

"Oh my gosh, Kate, guess what!"


"My mom is flying me out to Paris, and she said I can bring you with me!"


"In three weeks!"

"No way!"

"Yes! Can you believe it?" I couldn't. We were jumping up and down making a lot of noise, when we heard Diane call to us to say that dinner was ready. We ran downstairs and ate quickly and barely even swallowed before we were back up in Chelsea's room planning the aspects of the trip. The night was spent talking away about everything that Chelsea knew about Paris. As we drifted off, we talked sleepily about things.

"Chelsea, you are my best friend. You know that right?"

"Yeah Kate, I don't think you and I will ever not be close."

"Chelsea, what's Paris like?"

"Kate, we've talked about it all night."

"That's not what I mean, what does it feel like to be there?"

"Well, it smells great, like pie."


"Yeah, apple cinnamon pie crust."

"I like pie," I said, almost asleep.

"So do I." And we were asleep, dreaming about Paris, and pie.

"No, absolutely not! I'm not sending you to Paris, a foreign country, to live with a woman for two weeks when we don't even know her. Are you crazy?"

"Dear, you mustn't be too harsh on her. Honey, imagine how homesick you'll get, and how much we'll miss you. Besides, flying by yourself? I had to drag you on the plane the last time you flew."

"Mom, I was six, you seem to forget that we never leave this little town. We are boxed in here for our lives and we take it. I want to leave, I want to experience life outside Highland."

"Don't talk back to your mother."

"As I was saying, I would be overcome with worry. Maybe the fact that you haven't been out of Highland means something. You know how much this will cost us."

"Her mom is paying for the plane ticket."

"I'm talking about phone calls, food, souvenirs, sight-seeing... the list, it's just endless honey. I don't think that you are ready for this kind of a thing."

"So, in other words, this is not the summer when I can finally grow up and gain some independence from this small town life. Well, that's just fine." I ran upstairs. I had been home for an hour, the entire time spent arguing with my parents about the trip to Paris. I threw myself on my bed, and cried for a little while.Then I picked up the phone and told Chelsea the bad news. We talked, but I decided I didn't feel like making conversation and told her my mom needed thephone. I lay back on the bed. I fell asleep, again dreaming about Paris, but this time, a lot less hopeful.

Chelsea and I were at the mall. I was completely broke, but Chelsea hadn't bought anything yet. It was like this every time we went to the mall. I always spent my money the minute I walked in the mall and she spent all of her time looking at the same pair of shorts and analyzing actually purchasing them. She finally decided to buy a pair of khaki shorts and a blue fitted cardigan. The price of the stuff was outrageous, but Chelsea's family was rich, she didn't have to worry about it. Her mom had wired her the money along with some for me, which my mom forced me to give back. We were on our way out of the mall when this womancame up to us that was from the new travel agency. She handed each the us a plane shaped magnet with the phone number of the agency on it. As she began to walk away the basket of magnets she was holding got knocked out of her reach and all the magnets went crashing to the floor. My first thought was to help the ladypick up the magnets, but suddenly this weird feeling came over me. I kept seeing the magnets fall again and again. Chelsea gave me a strange look.

"Hello? What's wrong with you? Come on, help me!" She gathered up another handful of magnets and handed them to the lady. She pulled my arm.

"Come on! Earth to Kate. Earth to Kate." She waved her hand in front of my face. I was still seeing the airplanes. Finally I jerked myself back to reality.

"Did you say something?"

"Yeah, I said you are too weird for words. What is with this spacing out thing? Come on, are you feeling okay?" She pulled my arm again, but I wouldn't budge.

"I'm sorry. It's just that this weird vibe hit me when that lady dropped the planes."

"Are you going to pass out or something?"

"No, really, I'm fine." I gave the lady with the planes one last glance and allowed Chelsea to pull me from the mall. I knew it was an omen of some sort, but I didn't want to worry Chelsea, so I kept my mouth shut.

It was storming outside. We had been getting a lot of rain lately, unusual for this time of year, but I was happy for any kind of change around me. There was nothing to do. Chelsea was shopping for clothes with an additional amount of money that her dad had given her for the trip. I hadn't been speaking to my parents. If they want to deprive me a trip to Paris, then I was going to deprive them of speaking to me. I knew it sounded childish, but I couldn't believe they were making me pass up a chance like this. I was thinking about this when that my little brother walked in through the doorway.

"What are you doing?"

"No, the question is, 'what are you doing' in my room?"

"I came to see if you wanted to see me beat my video game."

"No, get out of my room, and shut the door behind you!" He scrambled off to his room, leaving the door deliberately opened. I turned over so that I wasn't facing it, but soon the rhythmic beeps of his video game started up and I slammed the door shut. I was seriously depressed, what was I going to do while she was gone? Chelsea was leaving tomorrow. It was going to be a long two weeks. Just then there was a knock at my door.

"Who is it?"

"Dear, please open up the door. This moping around isn't good for you. Please talk to us about it."

"Mom just leave me alone. I don't want to talk about it."

"Are you going to have dinner tonight?"


"We already ate, an hour ago, and I am starting to put the leftovers in Tupperware." Tupperware, that's what they called Chelsea. Her last name was Tupper. It was one of those things the boys called you which you pretended to hate, but secretly loved. Of course, I was her best friend and I knew she loved it.

"I'll be down later," then I quickly added, "Maybe."

"Suit yourself." I could tell my mom was starting to get ticked. I didn't care. I'm sure she could tell that I was ticked about not going to Paris, and she didn't care about that either." My reason for being mad was a little more practical anyway. Suddenly I wasn't finding my mother's stress so cute. I finally decided that I couldn't be in my room forever and my stomach had started growling an hour ago. I walked downstairs to find my dinner,spaghetti and meatballs, fresh rolls, and a small salad. I ate every bite of it, having skipped breakfast and picked through lunch. As I ate I thought about my promise to Chelsea to see her off tomorrow. Maybe there was a way I could get out of it. No way, I scolded myself, Chelsea would be devastated. I promised her, soI'm going. I looked at the clock, it was only eight-thirty. I went upstairs and pulled out the book I was reading. I curled up on my big arm chair and read until almost eleven o'clock. I fell asleep exhaustedly on my arm chair.

When I woke up I realized that I had to be at Chelsea's house in fifteen minutes. I pulled on jeans and an old sweatshirt, brushed my hair, and looked in the mirror. I didn't look too bad so I decided to go to the airport like this. I ran downstairs and after calling a goodbye/be home soon, I ran out the door.

I got to Chelsea's house just as her dad closed the trunk to the car. Chelsea walked out. She was wearing a beret and striped black and white shirt over black drawstring pants. She looked very French.

"Bonjour, mon amie!" she cried as she ran to give me a hug.

"Hi," I answered trying to sound cheerful. I didn't do a very good job.

"Don't worry, my mom is coming back here with me, and then she can meet your parents, and then you can go with me next year!" I brightened up, even though deep inside I knew something would go wrong by this time next year, I mean, with my luck, I would never get to leave this town.

"Let's go now, that way you can get all those bags checked and still have time to say your good-byes." We both looked up at Diane who was suddenly standing behind us.

"Okay," we answered at the same time. We both got into the car. The nearest airport was in St. Louis, which was an hour drive. The whole ride was silent and solemn. We all seemed to be deep in thought. I studied Chelsea's family. Diane was chatting with Mr. Tupper. She had this soft smile on her face that neverleft, in fact she smiled when there was nothing to smile about. It was as if she had happy memories in her mind that if she would run out of things to smile about she could think to. As for Mr. Tupper, he had this set expression that showed no feeling. He had a low monotone voice that he used at all times. They were a nice family, better than mine. I knew that was a bad thought, but sometimes, I wished that I was a Tupper. Chelsea's sister. It would be great. We came to the airport and quickly found a parking spot. We awkwardly got out of the car, but once we checked the bags and had stepped into the noisy airport, we all seemed to regain the ability to talk to each other.

"Which gate, Dad?"


"That's right there!" We abruptly walked into the seating area for that gate. Chelsea opened up her knapsack. She pulled out a package and handed it to me. I looked at the label, it said 'baked apple pie'. I laughed.

"This is to remind me of Paris! How thoughtful, thank you!" I sniffed it.

"Mmm, cinnamon!" We both giggled loudly until we realized that the gift wasn't that funny. I fiddled with the hem of my sweatshirt.

"I'm really going to miss you," she said and I smiled at her. I could tell she was getting ready to cry.

"Hey, you're going to be fine, really, and so will I. I just don't know why we didn't get this upset last year."

"I think it's because you weren't going, or at least you didn't have the chance." I nodded.

"Flight 935 to Paris is now boarding at gate forty-two! Flight 935 to Paris is now boarding at gate forty-two."

"That's me," Chelsea said, her voice choking. She hugged Diane and her dad, and saved me for last. I hung back and watched her dad give her last minute instructions. I started to cry when she hugged me. We drew back and wiped or eyes. She picked up her carry-on bag and turned to leave. She was just about to gointo the gate when she turned. She looked directly at me.

"Marco." A tear rolled down my cheek, but I smiled.

"Polo." She smiled, turned, and gave a final wave. We watched the plane as it took off. Then we all made our way to the exit of the airport. The ride was again silent. As I climbed out of the car I gave a final wave as Chelsea did.

"Goodbye Kate. I'll have Chelsea call you, and then you can come to pick her up from the airport with us, okay?" I nodded.

"Bye Diane, bye Mr. Tupper." I walked in to find a note from my parents saying they had gone out shopping. I decided to watch TV while I waited for them to return. I was in the middle of a commercial when a news flash came up. I switched it to a cable channel so that the news crews couldn't bother me. Before I knew it I had fallen asleep.

When I woke up, I was on my bed and my mother was sitting at the end of it. She looked very troubled, but when she saw me awake she tried to cover it up with a smile.

"What? What's wrong?" I asked rubbing the sleep from my eyes. I checked the clock, it was almost four. Her eyes had a tinge of sorrow in them.

"It's been all over the news, and we weren't sure, but then the call from Diane, I just don't know how to say it..."

"Mom, what?" I sat up. Her eyes were filled with sympathetic tears.

"Chelsea... her plane... something went wrong with the engine, they crashed. She, she's... dead." Somewhere deep inside my brain, I heard my mother's words, but the only thing that I could hear clearly was the ear shattering sirens going off in my head. I covered my ears, but they just wailed louder as if to say, "she's dead, she's dead, she's dead." I saw the magnets from the mall crash over and over and over again. I couldn't cry. All I could do was sit there and wait for me to wake up, to wake up from this awful nightmare that I have been calling life. If Chelsea wasn'talive, I wasn't, what would I do without her? I was bored when she went shopping for one day and devastated when she went out of town for two weeks.Now I would never see her again. Her mom, her dad, Diane, and I, we would never see her again. I could see Diane's perpetual smile shrink from her face, and her dad's set expression turn into tears of fury. They all knew she wouldn't grow up and get married, go to college, or do anything. It waslike someone was throwing a huge party and she wasn't invited. That was when it hit me, the sorrow that had been coating my heart and brain for the past few minutes. I began to sob. My mother stroked my hair like she always did when I was upset. But I couldn't feel it, it was as if, for the moment, I was dead too.

It was a beautiful funeral. I didn't actually know, I just remember people coming up, who I remember from another time, to tell me what a beautiful funeral it was. Luckily, it was a closed casket, if I would've had to sit through a funeral watching people look at my dead friend's lifeless remains, I don't know what I'd do. After the funeral Diane held a little reception at her house. I got to meet Chelsea's mom, but it didn't matter. I wasn't going to Paris the following year anyway. Something did go wrong: Chelsea died. It pained me to see so many people laughing, not crying, in the room. I stood up and walked out of the room. But, even in the kitchen, there were people laughing. So I ran out of the house. I didn't know where I was going, but in spite of it all, I found myself back at the pool. I sat at the edge, staring at the still, crystal blue water. Diane walked up behind me.

"You know, it's okay to remember the good things about her life. She would have wanted it that way." She wrapped her arms around me. It felt good to cry. I knew that when I got home, I would have to apologize to my parents. I was still alive because they had kept me from going on that trip. This small town life had for once, saved me.

"Do you have a journal or a diary or something?" I shook my head. "Maybe it would help to write everything down." I shook my head again.

"I don't think so, no one wants to hear how terrible life can be."

"A ship in its bay is safe, but that's not what ships are built for," she quoted. I smiled and nodded. I knew it would help me not to follow the footsteps of a broken heart, and to help me remember the good times that we had together. She walked away, and I went back to staring at the water. I thought about all the fun things that Chelsea and I did together and how I could document it all. A feeling of peace filled me. I could feel, for the moment, that Chelsea was there with me, beside me.

I saw that life is one big game of Marco Polo and instead of finding what you want or expect to find, you find yourself. I didn't find the independence I was searching for that summer, and maybe its a good thing I didn't. I found something better. Me.

"Marco," I called softly into the water. I stood up, and walked away.