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Digital Bonus Content

 

2022 DIGITAL BONUS CONTENT

The following submissions were also accepted by our editorial jury. We didn't have the space to put them all into the print journal, so here they are online for your enjoyment. 

Scotty's Travel Guide to Life

Link to video
                                    —© 2022 by Verity Maeve Langan

Obdura

What will I do with this poison?
she asks herself from the weeds
where    they    keep    her

Swallow it;
blades of chigger-grass chafing against razor-burned shins,
the bulge-eyed ghost mantises hold her hopes in their hollowed jowls—
her purpose in swollen mandibles

Kingdom Phyllum Genus Species
Swimming through pools of nepotism,
she chokes before sinking into the deep

They morph—
become a pack of winged black-backed jackals
snatching her meat in their talons

She will offer herself at their next feeding—
she will regenerate

and they’re off—
flying
                                                                      —© 2022 by Roshelle Amundson

The Man in the Woods


“Hello, stranger. It’s been a while since someone’s come across my little camp. I believe I’ve got a little meat here, feel free to take some. Don’t mind the colour; animals ‘round these parts don’t eat what you normally see animals of their kin eat. It tastes alright and at the en’ of th’ day, really all that matters.

“What brings you around these parts? These type’a woods ain’t what you’d typically want te go adventuring around, ya know. Lemme tell ye a little story, if ya got the time.”

“Seems like a yes to me. First, hello. My name isn’t important. All that matters is my experience. I’ve been in this neck of the woods for several decades now, and while it ain’t the quietest area it’s a nice little place to be. If you take a gander over yonder”—a gaunt, wrinkled finger points into the inky darkness—“you’ll see the creek that runs through here. My cabin is, ah—” The man takes a moment to collect his thoughts, “around…three meters from the creek? So when ya rise from sleep, ye hear the gentle stir of the water outside.

“Anywho…you can tell how deserted this area is, of course. Look around ya a little, why don'tcha!”

The man emits a hollow laugh, the sound reverberating unnaturally loudly. The small dirt patch around you glows with an orange-red light, a half-circle of poorly shaven logs facing what is presumably the man’s cabin. The shadows cast from the two bodies stretch forebodingly into the void as the fire flickers.

The area surrounding the camp is apocalyptic; the only suggestion of life is the silhouettes of trees against the lowering moon in the distance. Nary an organic sound heard around, beyond the haggard breath of the man. It’s a desert, or more accurately, a dead forest.

“Now, obviously, the dirty man you’ve met in the woods ain’t the strongest citation. I get that. Maybe it’s a wolf or some dang-nab rabbits. Varmints. But I tell ye, I hear the darndest things in the early mornin’. It ain’t normal.

“Let me set the stage for ye again. Bright n’ early, as always. I get up n’ eat my morning steak. I think to myself a bit, until I hear what seems like steps in unison right outside of my home. Like a marchin’ band. I’ve known better than to look out at day, so I can’t give ye a visual better than that.

“But let me tell ya, the ground was shaking. Violent. Like an earthquake, even though we ain’t got those around here. Like a monsoon, it was gone just minutes later.

“Now, you may think this is absurd. Insane, even. Ramblings of a man gone mad in his little hut in the big forest. Perhaps you’re right. But let me tell ya, it’s real. It’s real as I am.”

Another hoarse, dry laugh bellows from the man, cacophonous in the hollow camp area.

“It’s like an army of deer, traipsing through the soot and decay. An uncanny consistency between ‘em varmints for sure, something wrong about em, but wildlife no less.



“Ah, right. There’s good reason for me being out here in the pitch o’ night. I may be crazier than the average man but my head’s still rightly on my shoulders.

“You see, when you spend as much time as I have ‘round these parts, you get to know some things. Some things you don’t get in modern city life. And I don’t mean the simple living of a farmer or hunter. I mean the strangeness, the queerness of the land. Surely you’ve noted the, ah…off, tone of the meat ya got there in yer hands. That’s because of the plants around here.

You’ve taken some of the environment in by now, look at the shapes of the plants. Like the one over here”—he points to the north, which is still shrouded by shadow. “That’s what I call a creeping conifer. There’s certain varieties of creepvine, ye know, the ones that creep up trees, slowly stealing their food. Brutal things. Well, the creeping conifer does that, wrapping its needly limbs round anything that grows. There’s good reason everything round here is either dead or gone, stranger, and it’s those dag nab trees. The amount of times I’ve had to cull em off my cabin, I’ll tell ye, more than fingers on my hand.

“That’s not even the start of it, though, kind stranger. The animals round these parts, during the day, they’re…mesmerizing in the same way as the drink is. A dangerous temptation. Beautiful, gorgeous, even. But it ain’t right for a man to see.

“That’s why the night’s the time for me to rise and explore. Still ‘nuff light to see, not
enough to be…tempted. Plus, having a fire in the house is a poor idea.”

After a small chuckle, he takes a minute to pause, scuffing his unbelievably dirty boot against the cut log. A couple coughs, and he continues his story.

“Anything you gotta say, stranger? I ain’t seen no one be so awfully quiet, though it does make for a nice storytelling experience.”

A beat.

“Hmph. I s’pose you’re in for some more talk then? It’s a nice little time, I hafta admit. Been a long while”

A beat.

“I’ll take that as an agreement. Hmm…”

The man is lost in thought for a bit, staring past into the night. After a couple more moments, his eyes light up.

“Now, not to scare ya, stranger, but I’ve told you very little of what lies in these woods. Not only are the flora and fauna around these woods a bit off in their own special ways, but the land has a way of changing yet. It’s certainly changed me, though you’ve likely not noticed. It ain’t like the radio activity or whatever you’ve got these days, the mutations and whatnot—though mutation ain’t the wrong word. It’s…surreal. I don’t know if I’m the type’a storyteller to tell ye what exactly goes on round here, but I can sure as hell try.”

He pauses, taking a moment to recollect his thoughts.

“I’ll be candid with you, stranger. I came here oh so many years ago to escape something. Something I ain’t gonna tell ya. But certainly enough reason to move into this neck of the woods by my lonesome—I ain’t here for fun.

“Alas, here I am. Was, rather. Here I was, however, many years back. And I didn’t have the slightest inkling of what these woods had in store for me, obviously. The look on your face throughout my tale hasn’t been one of calm expectancy, let me tell you. But, ah, I came over here with the clothes on my back, a simple red ax, and gumption. I’ve only lost one of those things in the past years,” he interrupts with a soft chuckle, “but anyhow, I immediately set off to build a nice little shack for myself. Two days in, and what I can best describe as the most curious mix of a stink and turtle, soft-looking shell with an incredibly beautiful tapestry…”

His eyes go blank as he stares out into space. His eyes return as he shakes something off.

“Apologies. In my naivety, I looked at that wretched painting of a creature. It was enthralling, like the best-looking girl you’ve ever seen.

“That was a good lesson to learn, though. Next thing I know I’m on the ground and it’s the deep black of pitch, and I felt like death itself. Let me tell you, I ain’t never built anything faster than I did that night. Like a blaze in a droughted forest, I worked nonstop. Panic set in, and it didn’t leave my house for such a long time. But I persevere. I always do.”

A glint of madness strikes his face, the years of solitude catching up to the man in an instance.

“Not even God Almighty knows what I’d suffer that night. But I found that varmint,
 skinned it and ate it. As delicious as it looked, isn’t it, stranger?”

A ravenous laugh erupts from the man’s throat, echoing aggressively off of the dead
walls of the area. The man is lost in a laughing fit for a solid 10 minutes, coughing more and more as the time passes.

“...bah…well met, stranger. I’ve…cough…not had this much fun in a while. While it’s queer you’re mute, I ain’t much to complain. Perhaps you’ve gotten something from my stories, hm?”

The man stands up slowly, dirty skin and ragged clothes displayed in the dying light of the fire. Wounds and scars coat his skin, almost like a mess of splattered paint on a canvas.

With a nod of his head and a surprisingly gentle laugh, he walks over to where his cabin seems to be, disappearing into the darkness.

The fire dies out a few short minutes later; all the while you’re unfazed. Your hunger returns, and you go off to find some grass. The land around these parts lacks life, energy, and it simply won’t make do for you.

You rise from the patch of dirt you’ve been sitting on for the past hour or so, legs a bit unused to your weight. You shake it off, and finally, you yourself walk into the inky black void, having enjoyed the company of the only man in the woods.

                                                                      —© 2022 by Gabriel Guevara


Untitled Art: Helgesen

 


                                           —© 2022 by Marissa Helgesen

3-0-4

Mother runs
Baby runs
Tryin’ to keep up
On four hooves that shake
On four legs that yet wobble
Over green hills with clover
Moist with the rain
A chilled breeze blows
It waves the pickers and thistles
That grow in big patches
Around rocks gray and jagged
Grown over with moss
Warm with summer sun
Mother hides baby
‘til light fades
But see I have followed
The swamp grass cannot hide them
But over yonder the grass is short
The trees lean like death
Their bark stripped to silver tones
Standing low in the valley
They cannot hide what was hidden by hills
I have come too close to not now see
The pale branches piled
But see not them as branches but bones
See they are white
Rain and flies have cleaned them
Animals have rearranged them
A skull sits facing north
To ponds full of life, where one should’ve seen from an old fishing spot to help
A mother lay dead
A baby lay dead
Exiting this world for the next
While others still run and hide, full of life
The plight of a farmer
Tears never caught
Pain never seen
Like what hides beneath the swamp grass
A named tag that sits beside the mother’s skull
3 – 0 – 4
There is no name for the body of the calf
There is no excuse for bones nor tears.

                                    —© 2022 by Grace Kraniak-Desotell

Remedy and Requiem

In a trailer in the woods, the woman is an herbalist.

The trailer sat in a clearing in the woods—not quite the middle, but far enough from any trail as to be inconvenient—and a little round woman lived inside. Most days, and some nights, people from the city came to see her, and she helped them.

She helped students with their studies. She helped children with night terrors and parents with sleeplessness. She helped the elderly with their aches and pains and fading memories, and she helped the sick with their symptoms. In each case, she would listen to her visitors as they explained their ailment, and then she would bustle up the steps into her ancient mobile home, its risers swaying with her footfalls. Inside, she would gather some of this and a pinch of that while a lanky brown hare looked on from his perch near the stovetop. When she was done, she would pat the hare between his ears, wrap the mixture gently in brown paper, secure it with a length of twine, and deliver it to the visitor who waited outside.

People paid what they could. Sometimes their payments were things: a childhood toy, a photograph creased with folding, a single earring. Sometimes they brought gifts: a loaf of warm bread or a basket of fruit. Others paid in memories—a first kiss, a lover’s quarrel, an especially spectacular sunset. Very rarely did they pay in money; she had
little need of it. But they always paid.


When the girl first came, it was for a poultice for her burns and bruises. The woman had been foraging in the woods, and returned to find the girl sitting in her garden, petting the hare, whose eyes were closed in ecstacy.

The girl, no more than 9 or 10, shyly showed the woman her black eye, the small burns on her forearms, the bruises that ranged across her shoulders. The woman touched each wound gently, feeling their edges with her fingertips. Though her touch was soft, the girl flinched, and the woman’s jaw set as she saw the bruises ranged across the girl’s skin in the shape of a hand. She left the girl with the hare, out in the sunshine, and set to her work. As she assembled a poultice, she watched the two playing tentatively in the grass, and the girl’s shadowed face eased in the golden afternoon light.

In exchange for the balm, the girl offered a handful of red flowers she had picked on her way to the trailer. The woman accepted them, and told the girl to return if she needed anything else.

Return the girl did. Every few weeks she visited, often bearing new bruises, though sometimes not. She paid for her poultices by weeding the garden, painting the trailer, stringing laundry to dry—and, eventually, helping the woman gather her ingredients in the woods.

“Lady fern is in your balm,” the woman told her as they gathered the delicate fronds. “With yarrow and aloe, It helps speed healing.”

As months wore on, the girl assisted in the trailer, too. She learned to use burdock for winter colds, borage for asthma, tumeric for arthritis, snowdrop for memory, yellow lady’s slipper for anxiety. She tended the garden, erecting a small fence around the foxgloves to protect the hare from wayward nibbling, and nurturing marigolds to keep insects away. She made her own poultices for her bruises.


When a taxi driver came to visit with complaints of insomnia, the woman asked the girl—nearly a young woman herself now—what they should use. The girl turned to the rack of ingredients, nestled on the trailer wall alongside myriad trinkets and payments past, and studied the jars thoughtfully.

“Chamomile, for worry,” she began, removing a glass of dried white petals from the shelf. “Lavender, for peace.” She paused a moment, perusing the rows of jars and bowls. “And poppy, for dreamless sleep.”

The woman nodded approvingly, lifting the bowl of red flowers and seed pods. “Poppies were how you paid for your first poultice.”

The girl smiled. A rare thing, the woman thought, as they set about their work.

“Not too much,” the woman warned, “or he’ll never wake up.”

The taxi driver paid with a bomber jacket forgotten in his back seat. The girl accepted it solemnly.


The next time the girl came to the clearing, she was bleeding. She stumbled from the treeline and collapsed, unconscious, on the grass. The hare thumped an alarm, and the woman rushed to kneel beside her. Her face was bruised, her lip split, her hair tangled. Her bomber jacket was torn, and one arm was dislocated. Under her fingernails were crescents of drying blood not her own.

When the girl awoke, she was on the woman’s bed, her wounds cleaned and covered, her arm wrapped tightly in a sling. The woman was at work, steadily but ferociously grinding ingredients together in her mortar. On the girl’s chest rested the hare, avidly watching her face.

As the sat up slowly, the hare sliding to her lap, the woman came to sit beside her, a small, brown paper package in her hand. She breathed for a moment before she spoke, but when she looked up, her eyes were hard fire.

“This is not for you,” she said, placing the package gently in the girl’s hand. “It is for him.”

The girl weighed the package in her palm. “What is it?”

The woman ignored her question. “Make sure you steep it long enough, and that he drinks all of it, even the dregs. And when it’s over, you come back here. Understand? Bring whatever you need with you, and do not speak to anyone on the way.”

The girl’s brow furrowed at these instructions. Nevertheless, after a moment, she nodded. “But—what’s in it?” she asked again.

The woman smiled mirthlessly, the edges of her teeth showing like fangs. “Poppy. For sleep.”
                                                         —© 2022 by Avalon A. Manly

Untitled Art: Mensen

Wolf by Mindy Mensen

                                               —© 2022 by Mindy Mensen

The Bargain

Here lies a man who had lived a life surrounded by death; a man who could never seem to find refuge from the plague we are all victim to and await, however reluctantly we choose; a man who made his attempt to cheat the Reaper and reach the finish line, only to be racing toward the light. Here lies a man who’s final wish was never granted, and his dream shall be buried beside him.
            He had not recognized what a gift he had. He had never considered the people he had loved and cherished, nor the miracles that happen everyday, whether or not we are there to see them ourselves. Unfortunately, the simple act of being—to be in the presence of, and the living proof of a miracle—was something he could not be satisfied with.
 
***
 
            Charles had lived a long, eventful life that most would consider to be quite the fulfilling one. He had a happy childhood, survived the war, met the love of his life, created a loving family, and enjoyed himself a relaxing retirement in a small, rural village. Now a frail, old man covered with white hairs, he sits on his bed surrounded by his loved ones who fear the worst to come; even the grandchildren came to see him before they never again could. Especially Toby, the boy who loved him the most and saw him as a second father or sorts, he would be sobbing by his arm the most. They all knew that sooner or later, Charles would join his wife in the afterlife. He could not care.
            It’s not that he didn’t love his wife—he cherished every waking second he'd spent with her—rather, he somehow didn’t feel as though he did much in his life. Yes, he came back from the war and raised a happy family. So what? He never saw himself as an adventurer exploring for unknown lands the sea hides; never as a scientist making revolutionary discoveries and further developing our understanding of the world; never as the painter revealing the beautifully flawed, true nature of humanity on a canvas; never as the bold, powerful politician to lead a people to a new golden age. Never did he see himself as anything more than plain, contemptuous, unfulfilled.
            These thoughts plagued him as the day turned into night and the family left him in his room alone, expecting he would not wake the next morning. He couldn’t sleep if he wanted to, for he feared that it would be all too easy to slip into that eternal slumber if he did. He tossed and he turned, crying in desperation to stay on this mortal coil, cursing Death and his wicked ways until his throat was hoarse. Finally, at the midnight bell, Death would meet him.
            As the parting clouds let the light of the moon shine through the window, a flow of fog passed through the tiny slit between the sill and the glass. A figure began to emerge from the fog and rise into a tall, dark-cloaked presence; he would call himself Death. He cast no shadow that could be seen and held with him a long scythe possessing a reflective blade. Charles looked deep into his reflection in that blade, frozen not just at the sight of this stranger entering his domain but also that he knew he had come for him.
            “Come with me,” Death claimed in his crackling, authoritative voice, “and take nothing with you.” Charles responded by stepping back against the wall. Death would slowly approach him, unalarmed by any object ahead of his path. Charles would run around the room trying to evade the black-cloaked figure, and even throw random objects of his to try and incapacitate him—seemingly in denial of what towered before him. At last, he cried on his aging knees for mercy, to not have his soul be taken from him, that he would do anything to stay alive. Death paused.
            Seeing him not moving anymore, Charles jolted from the floor as quickly as he could to escape him. Faster than he could’ve imagined, however, he froze as soon as he noticed the blade of Death’s scythe hover by his throat, holding him in place. Death quietly approached him.
            “If what you say is true,” he said, “then hear my words and hear them well.”  Charles turned toward Death and paid him close attention. “If you wish to live another year, then you must take the life of another. You hold no freedom to select who may be your victim of choice; only I shall decide. You may do this once a year, every year, only if you can meet my demands. If you prove unsuccessful, then you must come with me.”
           At first, Charles was alarmed by the sound of it, to take another life. But, had to do the same thing in the war just to survive; it was nothing new to him, so what difference would it make now? He agreed to his terms.
           “Very well. By tomorrow night, you must kill Alexei, the Sheriff of the village. Do it, or be mine.” With that, he vanished.
            As silently as his family were sleeping in their rooms, Charles crept out of his home and headed for the village, hoping to find Alexei out on patrol. He had taken with him a knife from the table beside the bread and concealed it under his coat. After about an hour of searching, he located Alexei alone under a dim street lamp and cried “Help! Help! A man has run off with my money!” Charles ran into the alleyway the supposed thief was and the Sheriff quickly followed, only to be greeted with the end of a blade piercing his windpipe. He collapsed to the ground and was stabbed many more times by Charles until he could only suffocate on his own blood. The Sheriff’s body was found the following morning.
            While Charles and his family were glad that he was alive that morning and many more to come, the village was devastated to find their beloved Sheriff murdered in such a devastating manner. None were more broken than his daughter, Amelia, whose cries of agony could be heard round the world and heard most clearly by Toby, who had come to fall in love with her. Toby swore to find whoever killed her father and see fit they see justice, at which she embraced him in search of comfort and understanding. The two would never leave each other’s side after that.

***

            Ten years have come and ten more lives have been taken by Charles, still unaffected by the acts he has committed to preserve himself. Despite his intentions and efforts to continue with his life, he hadn’t done much of anything to really do anything else. He had lived his life as he did before, still believing he could do so much more without accomplishing what he set his mind to do. He had committed such heinous acts to achieve what was effectively stagnation.
            He could also not keep from physically aging, as his bargain with Death was only to keep him alive by the year, not by health. His body was still aging—some passers by may even say decomposing—and he was only becoming weaker as the years went by, yet he would still manage to fulfill his deeds. His worsening conditions did not bother him in the slightest; all he cared for was that he was still alive and nothing could stop him.
            The family was ever so happy to see their grandfather still living with them, though they were oblivious to the murders he’s committed. None were as happy, however, as Toby, who had his grandfather and Amelia still with him after those ten long years. The two had become infatuated with one another, with everyone anticipating the day they would get married and start a family of their own. Even Charles had taken a liking to Amelia and encouraged her to demand Toby propose to her. Though they were happy as can be, Amelia would never lighten her grief over her father’s passing, and now Toby had become the Sheriff in order to find the killer, who by now had become quite the boogeyman in the village.
            The ten murders, taking place every year on the same night with the same moon, would be infused with a mythical aura. The murders would become part of the village folklore, with people leaving presents and food outside of their front door hoping that the killer would take them and leave them be. Some within the village have even speculated that this was no man but a demon with a heart as cold as ice and hard as iron. Even the children began to sing rhymes about the infamous “Man of the Moonlight.”
 
You better act good, you better act nice
Or you will surely pay the price
Give him candy, give him a bowl
Or the Man of the Moonlight will take your soul
 
You better work fair, you better work hard
Or you will fill the hole in the yard
Give him no trouble, give him no strife
Or the Man of the Moonlight will take your life
 
            When the next meeting with Death came for him to inform Charles on his next murder, Charles had become accustomed to his arrival and even quite humorous at his presence. Death could not care, he had no reason to.
            “If you wish to live another year,” Death stated, “then you must—”
            “Enough of your chatter!” Charles barked. “I have heard your same monologue for the past decade. Just tell me who I must kill and you can leave me alone.”
            “Very well. By tomorrow night, you must kill Amelia.”
            Charles immediately halted himself and grew concerned.
            “I’m sorry,” he squeaked.” but I’m afraid I don’t understand what you mean. There are quite a few poor wenches named Amelia roaming the streets at night. You can’t be so vague with me.”
           “The woman named Amelia—lover of Toby and mother of their child yet to be born.”
           Charles became pale. He hadn’t the slightest knowledge of their relationship to that degree, let alone that she would soon bear a child.
           “If you’re concerned about the child, neither of them know they’ve yet to be parents.”
            “Death, I can’t do this.”
            “So you wish to come with me?”
            “No! No, it’s not that. I can’t even imagine bringing myself to such a vicious state; I couldn’t bear to even hold a knife in front of her.”
            “Why not? She’s no different from her father, nor any other souls you’ve delivered to me. Besides, but you can rest assured that the child inside her will never be granted the gift of life, only to have it ripped away. This task shouldn’t be too much to ask of you. Do it, or be mine.” With that, he vanished.
            Charles could only stand in stillness and silence, trying to comprehend all that had just occurred in such a short time. The weight of his actions began to press down on him, pushing him to the ground as he collapsed and began to cry. With every desperate, painful gasp of air he attempted in his state, he could feel every puncture of the blade through his body like he did with his victims lying alone in the street. After an hour or so drowning himself in his tears, he rose to wipe his eyes, as he could barely see. When he could look ahead of himself, all he could see was the blood on his hands that would spill, gather, or fly onto himself as he would commit the acts. The sight shivered him to his bones, and he rushed to the nearby river to clean himself.
            He limped and staggered as fast as he could, tripping and falling into the riverbend. He rubbed and rubbed and rubbed as hard as he could but no blood began to part his hands. Eventually, his rubbing gave way to clawing his own hands; perhaps he thought he could scrape the blood away. Nothing worked, and all he could see was the blood of others.
            Defeated, he let his hands sink and drift as far as they could into the water. He began to look at himself in the moonlit waters and saw what he truly became. Whenever he saw himself in the mirror, all he could see was the man that had bargained with Death and still came out alive. Now, he had seen the horrific, decomposing monster he had become. His skin was a muddy gray, so thin in parts blotches of pink muscle could be seen through the skin; his eyes had turned a sickly yellow with his iris nearly matching his pupil; only wrinkles encompassed his forehead, bags, and jaw; and his ears held the last remnants of hair left on his whole head apart from his busy, unkempt eyebrows.
            He did not scream or shout, not even gasp at the sight of this ghastly ghoul, but saw what he expected of such a cruel beast. He had fully realized the price he had paid for his actions and had seen what he became… and he accepted it. The plague of death still haunted him in his nights despite being free of its symptoms, and he rationalized to himself that at least he’s still alive, still breathing, still—in some way—human.
            “Are you hurt?” a gentle voice asked. Charles panicked at the sudden sound of somebody behind him and turned to see only Amelia with an oil lamp. “I heard something running outside, and I came to check. Are you hurt?”
            “I’m fine,” he replied, “thank you.” He hesitated on what to say next. “I only came here to wash my hands. They were very filthy.”
            “Well, we have some rags in the house you can wipe your hands with.” She began to kneel down to him. “Besides, it’s dangerous to be outside. Don’t you know tonight is when the Man of the Moonlight is to be coming?”
            “I’m not afraid of him. Why would he bother with an old man like me?”
            “Well, you never know in dangerous times such as these. I’m often afraid for others like you and Toby, especially… after…”
            “Your father?” She struggled trying to get the words out of her mouth until she began to cry a single tear running down her cheek. Charles began to comfort her, cradling her in his arms like a child. “I know; he was a good man. Everybody loved him. Perhaps we should pray, asking him for protection from such dangers in the night.” She agreed. The two closed their eyes and clasp their hands together in silence.
            Charles opened one eye and leered at her, totally still and unassuming. He was disgusted by the thought, the mere idea, that he should go through with it just so he could say he made it for another year. He knew it was wrong, but he was still afraid of death and what he would leave behind. He knew that he would still have things to do, he knew he did, and that he only could do so if he did this one thing. As much as it pained him to do it, he felt like he needed to.
            He began to rub her back to comfort her, saying, “How I hate to see such young girls so afraid of the world.” She was still and unbothered. He slowly inched his way up to the back of her head—still unbothered. Suddenly, he grabbed her hair and forced her face-first into the water. A sudden jolt of adrenaline sent her arms and legs flailing to either grab hold of the ground or to make Charles let go, but nothing seemed to work. She struggled and struggled as much as she could, with the sound of the running water muffling her screams. Her uncontrollable bursts of panic would settle into unrest, into meekness, until finally stillness. After an agonizing amount of time, there was not a breath of air left in her body to keep her fighting. Amelia was dead.
            With his eyes closed the whole time, Charles had opened them up to see a limp woman he once knew lying cold on the ground. He gave her a brief apology and walked back into the house to try and sleep, leaving her alone with the oil lamp. Charles would not be able to sleep for the next few nights, no matter how many he had to spare.
 
            The next morning, Toby was the first to see his dearly beloved unresponsive and woke the rest of the family with his cries of anguish. The whole village once again was sent into despair, to see such a lovely young girl brutalized in such a manner. After her burial, it was only Toby and Charles left standing in the cold rain, with Charles holding his hand over Toby’s shoulder as he stood there silent in melancholy. Charles eventually had to return home while Toby stayed by her grave; he would be found dead holding Amelia’s grave.
            Charles, now residing peacefully in his home, was left with nothing but a family in despair and his own thoughts to take up his mind. He never said a word to anyone, barely even moved. Nobody knew what he was thinking, if he was even thinking. All they could notice were his cold, lifeless eyes staring vacantly somewhere into the far distance, possibly looking for something that was never there.
            Some say Charles had died sometime ago, but that he was still alive on this mortal plane. He would stay alive until one night when the moon would shine through his window for one more time.
                                                                         —© 2022 by Jake Puestow

Storge

Friends are important, but siblings are better,
Siblings are there to help you weather.
They’re the first friends you have and the last to leave,
The bond siblings share, you wouldn’t believe.
They move apart and leave each other,
But never can one forget their brother.
They’re your best friend, even when you don’t show it,
You love them and you hope they know it.
You may fight once or twice… a week,
But they’re the first one your partners meet.
Siblings have a bond no two others will have.
If you’ve got a sibling, life isn’t so bad.

                                    —© 2022 by Sofia Terranova
 

Everlasting

Every so often I wonder
about the meaning of love,
and the feelings I would receive.
And, in doing so I believe in the colors
I would experience while I’m in love.
 
Preferably lilac, green, brown, and black.
It certainly is odd to add color to
a meaning, but isn’t it odder
to live through life so colorless?
 
The mere thought of love sends tingles
through my spines, sending me
splashes of color. But, alas all of us
will have to experience the
improper mixture of colors.
 
Though I may have experienced the parts
of unrequited love filled with yellow.
The contempt I've held, and these insufferable
fleeting moments of my youth,
don’t make me feel umber at all.
 
It felt satisfying for my love
to be seen in my daydreams.
It felt freeing like the feeling of
ivory, and has healed tremendously.
So when I rest my dear, remember
the catastrophe is gone.
 
Just remember the lilacs of love,
The wondrous greens,
The browns of earth, and
The blackest of skies.
 
The colors will drain one day,
but our love will be everlasting.

                                    —© 2022 by Ongnia Thao
 

The Dwindling Flame,
It Still Remains

My true sentiments must be unveiled,
my heart can conceal this heartache no longer.
Wherever your whereabouts may be,
The thought of not seeing you makes my love stronger.
Like a mourning dove, you have flown away,
I anticipated that you would be with me to stay.
Instead, you went astray.
Darkness now envelopes me to this day.
I was uncertain to whether I would see you again,
My mouth uttered no word, but in my soul you were my friend.
I read your brief prologue, which struck my heart ill,
And I felt my aura connect to yours, take if you will.
I yearned to see you in class again,
My heart was waiting for you this semester.
But the chair next to me remains motionless and absent,
That empty chair commemorates nostalgic days of yester.
But the dwindling flame still remains!
Your silhouette still haunts my dreams, encompassing me in a warm embrace,
Your visage seeps through my mind unseen, only to dissipate once I wake.
You and I have similar hobbies—similar goals and dreams,
Similar styles and similar likes, but I suppose it wasn’t meant to be.
Life is a mere pattern without you, an illusion as it seems,
Oh how I wish to see you one more time, so thrilled would be me.
The dwindling flame, it flickers but still remains

                                                   —© 2022 by Conner Tuthill
 

before life, before death

I am not gone, sweetheart.
I am right where you left me,

underneath the television stand
where all the cords tangle together.

I am on the dull, wooden windowsill,
besides the dead ladybugs that crunch

when you pick them up with paper towel.
I am sewn into the frayed orange rug,

where the cat loves to bask in the sun.
I am with the dust on top of the microwave;

you run your fingers through it by accident
because you always forget to clean that spot.

I am in the moments just before you fall
asleep, when reality is maybe not so real

and falling always seems so far.
Tell me, when did you last feel lonely?

                                    —© 2022 by August Wiegman