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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. 

A Dog Named Gunner

Pets always have a special place in our hearts, and if every pet owner could change one thing about them, I’m willing to bet giving them a longer life span would be high up on the answer list. Almost three years ago now, I lost my English Springer Spaniel, Gunner. He was a dwarf Springer, so he was much shorter than normal, with a light brown head and two chocolate spots on his back disrupting the white covering the rest of his body. Looking back, there’s one memory that stands out. It often reminds me of seeing him carefree, and it captures the essence of who he was.

Every summer, my family goes up to Northern Wisconsin to visit my grandparents, as they retired up there. It’s at least a five-hour drive, so it gets long, but it’s worth it. Seeing the abundance of pine and birch trees, smelling the flowers in bloom, and listening to the wind chimes sway in the breeze makes it feel like a whole different place. My grandparents live on a lake, so they have a wooden pier attached to shore that stretches out into the water. Standing on the end of it, you can see the rippled reflections of tall trees encompassing the area and eagles flying overhead in the glassy surface. All it takes, however, is one little dog to disrupt the peace.

Gunner always loved the water ever since he was a puppy, so naturally when we went to visit my grandparents, he was drawn to the lake. The little dog would jump off the shore, which was layered with large red and grey rocks, into the water and swim into the weeds that seemed to grab any legs nearby. While he enjoyed swimming, he was a retrieving dog at heart, so he always was looking for me to grab his favorite orange floating toy and throw it for him. Gunner would come out of the water in a flash when he saw I had the toy, little tail wagging a mile a minute, water droplets flying around. I had him sit and stay at the shore end of the pier because otherwise he would follow so close and try to grab the orange toy out of my grasp. Once I reached the opposite end, I would swing my arm in a giant circle and release the toy so it flew out into the water, landing with a small splash. I had to make sure to stand off to the side because it was a hazard to be near the designated running lane, which was basically the middle of the pier. Once I was ready, all I had to do was say "okay," and Gunner shot up and ran like a bat out of hell.

As he was running as fast as his little legs could take him, he had to leap over the garden hose carelessly placed across the middle of the pier and around Hunter, my other Springer, who unknowingly would wander into the running lane. As Gunner reached the end, he pushed off with his back legs and flew through the air. His legs would be thrown out so he looked like Superman, eyes wide with excitement, and ears flapping in the wind. Many times his ears would be so high up from their normal floppy position that my family would call him the "bat dog." His hang time was impressive, and he always ended up a couple feet out from the dock. When he did land in the water, he would land with a large splash, water flying in all directions. If anyone was sitting in our pontoon boat next to the pier, they were in the "splash zone," and most times, it lived up to its nickname. Sometimes, Gunner would disappear under the water, but he would pop up quickly, his legs kicking in the water so he could reach that orange toy. He had such power in his legs that they would make water come up behind him, and if you happened to be in the water and close enough to him as he passed, scratches were possible. When he got to the toy, he would grab it in his mouth easily, sometimes getting water with it that would cause him to snort through his nose. Either way, he continued to doggy paddle his way back to the shore and as soon as he made it, I swear, sometimes he would look for someone just so he could get real close and shake off all the water that accumulated on his fur. The next thing he would do was grab the orange toy and find me, dropping it at my bare feet, effectively getting them wet. He then would look up at me with his wide brown eyes begging for another turn. It was the famous puppy dog look at its finest.

Sometimes if he was already down the pier when I picked up the toy, I would throw it again with all my might from the shore end and let him go without sitting because when he was ready, nothing was going to make him wait. Gunner would jump and jump all afternoon into the water and never tire. When it was time to stop, he wouldn’t agree with that and carried that orange toy through the yard and across the road. He’d even carry it into the garage and kennel where the dogs stayed. It truly seemed like Gunner wouldn’t drop that toy for anything, and I swear his selective hearing turned on every time I called him to come. The only way he would let me take it was if I had a treat in my hand because he would trade for food.

Gunner would jump off the dock every summer as long as he was able. The last summer we were up by the lake with him, his legs were getting tired more easily, and he couldn’t jump up on the shore as well as he used to. It was disheartening to see he was struggling to continue doing what he loved. While he was still able to retrieve, it was no longer off the end of the pier. We had a path made through the rocks on shore so he could walk in and out of the water instead. He still carried that same orange toy with him no matter what, though.

When I picture him, I can always see his ears flapping in the wind and him being happy jumping off that pier, swimming to get to his favorite orange toy. When we had to put him down, everyone in my family told memories of him jumping off the pier because it was one thing we all got to see him do, and it was the cutest, funniest, craziest thing all at once. These memories all became more meaningful to me because after he passed, my uncle had said, “Gunner’s jumping off the pier in the sky now.” Since it was an activity he and I did every summer, the thought of Gunner being happy and doing something that he loved in another place was enough to make me smile through the sadness.

As the summers continue to come and go, there are other dogs that take part in my retrieving game. However, I know one thing for sure as I stand at the end to throw the same orange toy: this all started with a dog named Gunner.

© 2021 by Elizabeth Asmus

An Attempt to Escape a Date with Death

Wesley Briggs tossed off the covers of his and his wife’s shared bed and swung his legs around so his bare feet touched the cool wood floors of the bedroom, completely oblivious to the fact that it would be the last time he did. The morning was normal, mundane almost, and chewing his buttered toast seemed to be the only thing keeping his body awake. The thought of Must not have gotten enough sleep bounced around as the crunching sounds allowed his brain to be awake enough so the life wouldn’t completely drain from his body.

Gina seemed the exact opposite of Wesley today: her movements were quick and jittery, she kept looking around as if watching for someone, and her hands were trembling when she poured the milk into her cereal.

He noticed also, though, that she was scrunching her eyebrows and pursing her cherry red lips in the way that he knew meant not to probe her with questions, or to even talk to her. She’s never been a morning person. The last bite of toast is taken. As he stood up, the crumbs fell to the floor off of his gray button-up shirt and pleated pants onto the dusty rug under the antique, hand-me-down table; it was his grandmother's. They had always meant to replace it with something that was their own, just another thing we haven’ gotten to. Wesley sighed as he took another glance at his frowning wife, and the corners of his mouth fell to mirror hers. If she knew, she would wonder why I seek out other women. All she would have to do is take a glance in the mirror. A soft chuckle left his lips as his put his coat and shoes on.

The ride to work was almost as dull as breakfast. A yawn graced his face while the exaggerated tones of the radio-show hosts drowned out the honking of the surrounding cars. An uneasy feeling washed over Wesley; he wasn’t sure why. His heart rate picked up, and, as the traffic came to a stop, he turned the dial on the radio so he could drown out his own anxious thoughts. Suddenly, his mind was occupied by a vision of his burgundy Buick flipping off of the bridge that he would soon be encountering on his commute. When he came back from his blacked-out state, his car had not budged from the stand-still traffic. His breathing had sped up to an alarming rate, and black spots clouded his vison. What the hell was that?

Soon those black spots turned into a full-bodied apparition standing over the hood of Wesley’s Buick. A vascular hand rested on the car, the hooded figure glancing up. For the first time, Wesley truly knew what it was like to see the face of Death. With seemingly one swift movement, the figure was sitting in the cushy beige leather interior of the passenger seat. It was silent for a second, mostly because Wesley couldn’t figure out how to process what was happening. Either this is a dream or Gina drugged my coffee this morning. He shrugged off the thought, and tried to focus on the being next to him.

He had decided they were a very large being as they looked scrunched in their seat. The hood of the black jacket they were wearing covered half of their face, and their long sleeves almost hid their hands and bony fingers. Wesley tried to speak as he felt like the silence had lasted at least 20 minutes, but when he looked at the clock, the time hadn’t changed since before he blacked out. The figure turned to him before he could utter a sound and spoke first.

“Ah, Wesley, I thought I could find you here. Traffic is really a bore this morning. Don’t you think?” Their all-black eyes showed no emotion with the sentence, but Wesley could sense they were patiently waiting for a response. He studied their face, discolored and tight to their skull, sullen cheeks and almost blue-looking lips. He was too scared to speak.

“I should probably introduce myself. I’m Death; pleased to meet you, even though I’m sure you’re not feeling the same.” The same veiny hand from the hood of the car reached out and picked up Wesley’s trembling hand to shake it. Wesley was still not speaking. He had always been terrified of death, never understood how some people could just accept it.

“Come on, Wes, I know this is jarring, but I’ve got other clients to get to today.” Death snapped their fingers a few times in front of Wesley’s nose.

“What is going on?” was the only thing that came out of Wesley’s mouth. It was the only thing he could think to say.

“Well, I hate to break it to you, bud, but your clock is up today.” The blunt statement seemed to hit the ground like a rock.

"I-I’m dying today?" Wesley blinked a few times, a tear rolling down his cheek, still trying to figure out if there was any way that this wasn’t real.

"Yeah, most likely."

"Most likely?” A surprised tone crept its way out of his throat. "What is that supposed to mean?" Wesley wanted to get out of the car and run away, but it was like a hold was on him; he felt glued to his seat. He gulped.

“What it means is that today, you’re going to be presented with multiple encounters with me ... well, not me physically but in the form of the visions that you saw when I arrived. That was a very clear one; you saw exactly what was going to happen, so it’s going to be easy for you to avoid the crash when it happens. Not all of the visions will be like that. Some will be clear, and some will be so vague you might just see a part of the place where the event will happen or a specific object that will be with you in that moment. If you can avoid all of your near-death experiences until midnight, you can live, and I’ll see you some other time down the road. Got it?”

“This doesn’t make any sense,” Wesley huffed as he began to grow impatient with this being and concept that he did not understand.

“You just don’t want to accept your fate. Now, you can either do this, or I can take you with me right now. I like to let the client decide.”

“I don’t want to die today.”

“Then I guess you have a long day ahead of you.” Death glanced at Wesley with their harsh eyes. “See you later.”

With a sly smirk and a wave, Death was gone as quickly as they had come, and Wesley was brought back to reality with the sound of the car behind him honking. Alarmed, he gassed the car slightly; he couldn’t get what just happened to him straight in his head. If this was real, then every second of today would be filled the threat of death. He needed a second to stop and think about all of this. He needed to get off at the next exit so he could breathe again without being suffocated by the traffic surrounding him.

The bridge that was present in his earlier vision of death was slowly approaching him. After that, he knew there would be an exit off the highway. He merged into the lane farthest from the edge of the bridge, just to be safe. In the far-right lane, he could see a fender bender had happened, right where he was supposed to go off. Did that happen instead of my accident? Wesley knew he couldn’t bother himself with those thoughts right now; it would send him into an existential spiral.

Once safely in a parking lot near the highway, Wesley parked and let out a scream of frustration so loud that the woman in a car six spots over was startled by it. He politely waved at her and screamed mentally instead. He sat in the parking lot for two hours, not caring that his boss was calling, and his coworkers were texting him. He went over everything that had happened to him that morning, deciding that if he wanted to survive this day, he had to be on his toes and ready for anything. He felt ready, too. Wesley wanted to beat Death today; he knew he could.

His cell phone rang again in his pocket. Gina’s name flashed onto the screen. She never calls in the middle of the day. He answered. She was frantic on the phone, telling him that he needed to get home as soon as he could. She said there had been a death in her family. While the couple wasn’t perfect, Wesley was close with her father and knew any death would be affecting the both of them hard. Maybe Death got this day wrong. Maybe it’s not me that’s meant to die. It was a stupid theory, but it gave him some confidence as he pulled out of the parking lot. He decided to drive through the city though instead of the highway, just to be safe.

He was about halfway into his drive when he began to feel another blackout happening. This time, he was able to pull over to the side of the road in front of an apartment building. His vision only showed him a quick glimpse of a couch falling from high above before he was knocked into reality by a cyclist hitting the right-side mirror of the Buick. Instead of stopping, the cyclist turned around and flipped Wesley off. Asshole. He stepped out of his car and went to pick the mirror up off the ground. He then realized that he had indeed parked in a bike lane.

To see if there was any other damage done, Wesley stepped back on to the curb but lost his footing and fell backwards onto the pavement of the sidewalk. He groaned and looked to his left where there were movers looking and pointing at him. And in a moment of realization, he looked up and saw a couch dangling there above him, teetering because no one was paying attention to it; instead they were paying attention to him.

It was as if it was a triggered event: as soon as he had seen the couch tip, a rope on the pulley device holding it up snapped, and the couch came directly at Wesley. He was horrified and just managed to roll out of the way of the plummeting object, which landed with such force that it felt as if his body bounced off the ground. The panicked movers ran over to see if Wesley was okay, and luckily, he was.

Once he had recovered from the fear that struck him in that moment, Wesley wanted to get back to the safety of his house even more. He had also wanted a peaceful rest of the way home, but that was not the plan Death had in store. In the next twenty minutes, he avoided a car explosion after the Buick had begun to smoke, electrocution from a falling wire and pole, and a fall down a large hill. Now on foot, he was about a mile and a half from home when he was forced to stop walking by another blackout. He saw himself running down the street he lived on, but he couldn’t see what he was running from. All he knew is that he was going fast, and he looked scared out of his mind.

He came out of the blackout and took in his surroundings; nothing seemed directly threatening, so he began to walk cautiously again. He was so exhausted, he didn’t know how he was going to sprint away from danger, but he knew he had to. The call of a woman came from behind him. He couldn’t make out exactly what she was saying, but it sounded like a name. He rapidly turned around to see a large, growling dog with a leash flying behind it and a muzzle hanging from its neck that it had clearly broken out of. Oh yeah, this makes sense. Wesley took off. He was going faster than he ever even knew he could run, and he knew he could outrun this dog.

Half a mile left, and the two of them were still running as fast as they had been when they started. Wesley wasn’t sure what this dog’s problem was or why it had to chase him, of all people, but he knew he’d never get an answer if he couldn't make it inside his house. Three blocks to go. God this is agonizing. I can’t feel my feet. One block to go. I’ve never been so happy to see my house. Just as he was about to turn into his driveway and escape this never-ending marathon, everything stopped. Another blackout. I’m already in the middle of one of these things, aren’t I? There was nothing to see but the color red.

When he came back from his vision, Wesley noticed the dog had slowed its pace a little, giving him just enough time to make it inside his front door. He slammed it closed and slid down it trying to catch his breath. Gina ran down the stairs to see him there. She asked if he was okay, and he couldn’t catch his breath enough to answer. She helped him up and brought him to the kitchen where she gave him some water. When he was breathing normally again, Gina asked Wesley what happened; he told her to drop it. He asked her who had passed away that morning; she told him that she had misunderstood her father on the phone. That it wasn’t someone in her family but rather someone with the same name that he had gone to college with.

Wesley was a little suspicious of his wife’s explanation, but nonetheless, he was glad to be in the safety of his home. She asked him to come outside on the back patio with her to help her move some heavy bags of dirt from her garden, and he obliged. He was, however, beginning to become anxious because his vision hadn’t come to fruition yet. He followed her closely, keeping a close eye for anything red that might pop up around him. A bird maybe, a red car driving through the fence, hot air balloon crash, meteor? He didn’t know.

The couple made it to the bags of dirt that needed to be moved. Wesley bent down, remembering to lift with his knees and not his back. Gina seemed unusually quiet to him. Usually, she was a chatterbox, always going on about nothing that mattered. He stood with the first two bags in his arms and spun around. He was instantly met with a burning sensation in his abdomen. What the hell is that? He dropped the bags at his feet and looked down to see the black handle of a kitchen knife. He knew it was their sharpest one. Something dark in him told him to pull the knife out; he listened. Did she really just stab me? As he collapsed to the ground in agony, he looked up at Gina’s face. What is she going to do now? She had confidence in her eyes and a smirk dancing across her lips, which were painted a bright brilliant red. His memory flashed back to this morning when he noticed the same detail this morning; he had always thought they were her best feature.

His panic took over him, and his eyes darted around to see if there was an escape as he was hunched over, bleeding on the grass. If I’m going to make it, I need to get out of here. Maybe if I talk to her, she’ll get distracted. 

“Why?” he coughed as blood pooled around where he knelt in the grass. “Gina, I loved you.”

She scoffed and got close to his face. One manicured hand cupped his face, and her nails dug into his cheek. Wrong move.

“How can you ever say you loved me? I know about all the other women, Wesley.”

He tried to speak, but words wouldn’t leave his mouth, and out of the corner of his eye he saw Death appear behind a large tree. They’re waiting. I’m not making it out of this. 

“You are a horrible person. You lied and cheated and made me feel like I was less than you. You’re going to rot in this backyard.” Gina pushed him back, so he was laying down, blood still coming from his body. She stepped on his abdomen, and he let out a final groan and a shallow breath.

He was unconscious. The pain was too much, and soon, he had bled out in the backyard of his own home. The place he thought he would be safe. Gina laid out a tarp and rolled Wesley’s body into it. Then she pulled the rolled-up tarp behind the same tree where Death had shown themselves, pushed it into a four-foot-deep grave that she must have spent the morning digging. As she began to cover his body wrapped in the bright blue plastic, Wesley felt his spirit being collected piece by piece by Death. Soon he was an apparition himself, standing over Gina while she buried what was once him.

Death slung an arm around his shoulder and gave him an understanding nod. Wesley returned the gesture. He was suddenly feeling content, and as Death led him away from the scene to god knows where, he didn’t mind. He did hope Gina got what she deserved after this. He didn’t know how she planned to get away with it, but he decided it wasn’t for him to figure out. The only thing he had to do for now was figure out how to be dead.

© 2021 by Evelynn Ehrlich

Never Sideways

I await you still
lamb to slaughter
river to ocean

beyond us there is
nothing and
beyond us
everything moves

inevitable change

he awaits you still
behind the mountains
a rapture untouched

tomorrow, the sun
a berry
delicate skin

meant to be ripped with teeth

© 2021 by August Wiegman

Sunset Over Sturgeon Bay

© 2021 by Mara Allen

It's Okay

Time was fleeting and certainly not on my side. Three years is a long time without seeing family when I left as young as age seventeen to join the military. I had just arrived in Kentucky after a long flight from San Diego, California. It was crucial that I hurry and make up for three years in maybe three hours or less. The pavement was a blur under my feet. I would not have run this fast if each second were not so important. An especially important person is awaiting my visit. I was the last person in the family to make it. My grandfather could not choose to wait longer than his cancer-eaten body would allow.

I remembered my grandfather as standing six-foot, two inches high. He was the hardest-working man I was ever blessed to know. He usually smelled of oil and long hours of hard work. My grandfather was strong both physically and mentally. He would never waste a moment of life or a chance to improve the lives of those around him. I always had admired his selflessness. On the other hand, he was especially stubborn when it came to putting himself first. There was not a selfish bone in his body, whether his body begged him to be selfish or not.

I snapped back to reality to notice the lighting was very dim and kept flickering as if it would go out completely at any second. The floor was lonely and cold. The only noise was the beeping of the machines in the patients’ rooms. The smell of latex and chemicals filled the air. My heartbeat began to take over the emptiness of my surroundings. I finally saw my family at the end of the hallway. From across the hall, I could tell they were very sleep deprived. My mother’s eyes were dark from lack of sleep and heavy with tears. Their faces were dull and sad. I knew the situation was even worse than expected just by looking at my family.

My family almost hesitated to let me into the room to see my grandfather. They knew I was not prepared to see what was on the other side of the door. My family spoke very few words to me. My mind was too numb to process anything other than what I could possibly see in the following moments. Upon walking into the last room on the left in the hallway, I saw a stranger that was supposed to be my grandfather. It was not him anymore. His saggy skin draped over his bones with next to no muscle left. He was a shriveled version of himself. He sounded like he had cotton balls in the back of his throat as he took every ounce of “try” he had in him to push a few words out to me. These words I did process. “I’m glad you could make it.” He said this as if I'd barely made it to his last few moments with us. He could barely talk at this point. I heard the pain in his voice. I could tell the cancer was eating up every bit of him that was left, and quickly, too. I did not know it was possible for me to feel such pain and be numb at the same time. I felt guilty for being absent the past few years and not having the chance to see him until he was no longer himself.

After taking a wet sponge to wet his desert of a mouth, I heard him push out a few more words while casting his tired eyes upon me. “It’s okay. It’s okay. It’s okay.” The phrase that shattered my heart entirely. All he could say was, “it’s okay.” As he was slipping slowly and painfully out of this world, all he was worried about is his family and how we felt. My grandmother and I were the last two to be with him. My grandmother threw her body over top of him sobbing, “If I could just have one more day with you.” In my eyes were pools of tears I fought so hard to hold back for the sake of my grandmother. I knew right then that half of her was dying with him. Moments later, the nurse walked in to confirm his fate. The room became silent until my grandmother’s feeble body shook as she sobbed over him repeating, “No. No. No.” I heard my family in the background fall apart. Matter of fact, I felt everything around me falling apart. To think if I had arrived just minutes after I had, then I would not have gotten to say, “I love you.” I am so thankful for those few words I got to exchange with him. I got to have some sort of closure.

Prayers were said by a close family friend. We looked at him one last time before he was covered with earth. Although he was no longer in pain, I could not help but to wish so badly that he had not been so stubborn. If he had just been selfish for once in his life and had gone to the doctor when he was not feeling well, then maybe he could have beaten cancer before cancer beat him. This very heart-numbing memory taught me an important life lesson. I learned not to take the people in my life for granted. I picture my grandmother falling over him and begging for just one more day with him. This loss reminded me that one never knows if another day or even another hour will be given to those we care about. Instead of feeling sorry for everyone, I made a promise to celebrate life with those still with me and to cherish every moment I had with those who are not. I know my grandfather is still watching over us and for that I know, “It’s okay. It’s okay. It’s okay.”

© 2021 by Virginia Williams

My Music Box

Sitting on the hood of his car, the waves in our view crash with force,
then decrescendo back into the sea.  The radio spews out song after
song, I’m not paying attention to those though, all the music I need
is right next to me.                                                     He glances over
and flashes a toothy                                                   smile, a smile
that performs many                                                   rhapsodies. And
when I look at him                                                      in the afterglow
of the soft orange                                                       creamsicle sunset
slipping into dusk,                                                      oh god I just want
to be his favorite                                                         song. But a duet
is challenging for                                                        him, once alone
with someone he                                                        starts to show his
out of tune ways.                                                        It’s hard to cross
his barriers, he                                                            tries not to show
all of the flat notes                                                     that hit the ground
with heft if he lets                                                      them out. He’s the
type of person that is so                                             charming that you have to
pay attention to him and his                                      antics. Often surrounded by a
chorus of other people, he is                                      truly. The lead singer, standing
out among his counter parts                                      with ease. The waves crescendo
toward us again, his hand                                           just barely touching mine on
the cold metal of the car,                                           spoke with a tone that was
synonymous to the fl-                                                 oating notes of a ballad.
A melody that is so                                                     mesmerizing, every
lyric made per-                                                           fect sense, even
when it                                                                        actually didn’t.
I’m his guilty pleasure, a tune no one else can know he listens to. And he is my music box, playing a glorious lullaby that I want the world to hear.
© 2021 by Evelynn Ehrlich


Much to Magnus’ dismay, you don’t get to keep your job when you miss over your half your shifts in a month. Today had started just like most others since the loss of his brother last year. He woke up, fed his dog, and dolefully got ready for work; Today he actually made it out the door and started his walk down Apollonia Avenue for his weekly meeting with the boss. Today, however, turned out to be the last weekly meeting he would have.

"Maybe this is my chance for a fresh start," he thought. He was pondering his recent life changes and weighing his options, as he grabbed his dog, King, from home and headed to Allman Park on the outskirts of town. He had always found that some time in nature was the best way to clear the mind. The springtime buds gave him inspiration to start anew. As he and King made their way from one end of the park to the other, he couldn’t help but be distracted by all the people and families taking advantage of the first warm weather day of the year. Everyone seemed to be so happy, yet here he was the dark shadow of despair, darkening the mood all around him.

"I could always move; maybe I’d have better luck if finally left this town." The thought bounced around his mind. He looked down at King and asked him, “What do you think about leaving this place?” in the trademark voice that people use when talking to dogs and babies.

Magnus had been a resident of Hillshire, Ohio since his birth. Everyone he had known had either moved away or died, and he was left to go through the motions of life alone, in a town with no place for him. He had few friends, none of them close, no parents or girlfriend, and, as of this morning, no job. Hillshire had no hold on him anymore. Maybe now was the perfect time for him to go. He and King turned around to make their way back through the park and towards home. There he would start to look for apartments in new cities. Maybe somewhere far away.

Magnus’ thoughts of Los Angeles and New Orleans were interrupted when he noticed a stunningly beautiful woman sitting, reading, on a park bench across the way. Hillshire is not that big; he wondered how had he not seen her before. She wore a flowery top and some plain blue-jeans cuffed at the bottom to reveal a pair of deep green combat boots. So simple and casual, yet so beautiful. With the inspiration of new beginnings and nothing left to lose, Magnus began to make his way over the grassy field towards the woman, watching her read as he went. She was so focused on whatever book she had, she didn’t even react when a rogue frisbee from a nearby group of kids went soaring just over her head.

His eyes were drawn away from the woman when a loose dog came running up to greet King. He looked down to greet the pooch, then glanced around for an owner. An older gentleman was running towards him, leash in hand, shouting apologies on behalf of his dog and calling it back to him. The dog quickly obeyed and ran off to its owner, leaving Magnus to start towards the bench again, only to find that the woman was gone. He scanned the people of the park trying to find her, but she was nowhere. He had asked around to a couple of people if they had seen her, giving her description.

“Have you seen a woman around here? Wavy brown hair, in a floral top and jeans? What about you? Have you seen her? She’s carrying a book and had a little brown purse with her.” He questioned the park residents closest to him, but all of his inquiries were met in the negative.

“Of course! Because why would anything go right today, huh King?” he asked, exasperation thick in his voice. He sighed towards his dog and patted his head, realizing how sad it was that his dog was his one and only companion. He and King started back toward the lonely apartment where he intended to begin his search for a new place to live.

After a few hours worth of deliberation, Magnus had landed on Portland, Oregon as his future city of residence. It was far away and intriguing and seemed a perfect place to remake himself. As he looked at plane fares and open apartments excitedly, he developed an opposite impulse compelling him not to go. He didn’t know why, but there was some small part of him uninterested in the idea of leaving. He brushed past it quickly, the bigger part of him knowing that it was time to leave. After his dinner of chicken and wild rice, which is what King had as well, Magnus turned the TV on low and the pair laid down to sleep.

In the town square, Magnus was sitting outside Shakes Coffee shop, sipping on a warm chai latte, when he spotted his mystery woman across the way. She was standing beside the water fountain watching the spouts of water shooting up and cascading back down to the pool. Magnus found he was as entranced by her, as she was by the water. He sat back and studied the woman, reveling in her charms from afar. He was soon struck with all amounts of surprise when the woman began undressing.

"What is she doing?" he thought, quickly scanning the square to take note of others’ reactions, but no one seemed to notice her. ‘Why aren’t they surprised?’ He recommenced watching her, bewildered by her confidence. She quickly, but not clumsily, removed piece by piece of clothing until she was standing completely nude in the middle of the town square, then stepped into the fountain.

She began to dance.

Magnus laughed to himself. She was so idyllic. He wanted nothing more than to join in her jollity but did not dare approach. Just as he had determined to admire from afar, the woman looked up, locking eyes with him and smiled, gesturing him to come over. He sauntered over to the fountain, and she again gestured, now for him to come into the water. He glanced once more at the others to see if anyone was looking. Still, no one had taken notice of the peculiar events unfolding at the fountain. He took a deep breath, steadying his nerves, and went to undo the top button of his shirt. Confused, he looked down to see his clothes had disappeared. Stepping not so gracefully over the edge of the fountain, he found his way into the water and by the woman’s side.

“What’s your name?” He tried to speak to her, but she did not respond. She just resumed dancing, swaying and smiling as the water fell down upon her from above. What else was he to do but join in the debauchery? As the two basked in the beauty of this moment, the woman took Magnus by the hand and pulled him close to her. Her skin was so cold, her touch sent a shiver down his spine. They began to slow dance, swaying gaily in an embrace so tender it was as if they had known each other forever. They continued on this way for quite some time; it was the most content Magnus had felt in ages.

He soon sprang awake, both confused and fascinated. He recognized it had just been a dream, but it felt more real than some memories. He knew he had to find the girl, find out who she was. Not knowing where to start, he planned to go back to the park. He rushed through breakfast, he and King’s eggs barely fully cooked. He knew the odds of seeing her were slim, but it’s the only place he knew she liked. It was, in fact, the only thing he knew about her at all. Magnus packed water and snacks for himself and King, as well as a tennis ball to occupy their time, and headed back to Allman Park. They walked so quickly it was almost a jog and at last made it to the park. He scanned the faces of the park-goers once over, looking for the woman and hoping against all odds she would be there. Alas, she was not, so he set down his things near to the bench where he last saw her and started to play fetch with King.

A few hours had passed, and there was no sign of her. He pulled out the snacks he had brought; they would have to suffice for a lunch. As he sat there eating alongside his dog, it dawned on him how ridiculous he was acting. He’d been completely turned upside down over a glance at a woman and a dream that meant nothing. It was just a dream after all. When the snacks were all gone and King was tuckered out, they headed once more for home, Magnus feeling quite ridiculous and internally embarrassed. He thought he saw her across the street on the walk home. He tried to get a closer look between the passing cars, but he must have imagined it; once the cars had cleared, he could see there was just a man waiting at the bus stop. That night after dinner, chicken and wild rice again, he laid down to a thankfully dreamless sleep.

When morning dawned, Magnus was peacefully awakened by sunlight finding its way through a crack in the curtains, and immediately found himself longing to find his mystery woman. It was as if his brain could not be rid of her. Like he was being compelled to find her. Like his soul, if he even believed in souls, was yearning to find its other half. Why could he not stop thinking of her? With no others plans for the day, he resolved to attempt finding her one more time. The park had been a dead end, and not knowing where else to look, he decided on going to Shakes, as that’s where he saw her in the dream. He walked into town and found a seat at Shakes near the window. He brought a book, intending to spend the day there, waiting for her to magically arrive. He knew it was a long shot, but how else was he going to find her? He acknowledged how strange he was acting, but he also knew he needed to find her.

Hours passed; sorrow set in. He had nearly finished his book and had consumed more coffee than anyone should ever drink in a day, when reality finally reared its head and he knew this was a pointless task.

"Am I crazy?" He thought. "It was just a dream; she’s probably long gone by now. I should be too. What am I still doing here? I’m not going to sit around for some girl I’ve never met, who may or may not even still be in town!" He still had that inner desire to find her, but he knew in reality it was time for him to move on. He was going to go home and buy that plane ticket to Portland. He put some cash in the tip jar and headed for the door.

He had his head down as he walked out the door, trying to fit his book back into his satchel, when he ran right into someone, and the contents of his bag scattered across the ground. Crouching down to gather his items, he threw out a spiritless apology to the person he had bumped. He could see out of the corner of his eye that they had reached down to pick up his book, which had landed the farthest away. He collected everything but the book and turned around to get it back from them, when he froze, realizing who it was.

“It’s you.”

The woman he’d dreamt of was finally standing right in front of him. She looked behind herself as if to see who the man was talking to, but there was no one else there. She looked back at the man with a confused yet curious look on her face.

“I know this sounds crazy, but I had a dream of you, and it felt like we knew each other, so I’ve been trying to find you, to meet you, but I can never seem to catch up to you. I think I’m supposed to know you.” As he said this, she was reaching out her hand to give back the book. When she handed it back, she took gentle hold of his outstretched hand in hers. With a rush of cold and a familiar shiver down his spine, he watched as the girl disappeared right before his eyes. His thoughts of Portland dissolved with her, for he knew his search was not over.

© 2021 by Sofia Terranova


o, pardon—
since a crooked figure may attest in little place a million;
and let us, ciphers to this great accompt,
on your imaginary forces work I am eleven years old again. Picture-show darkness fogs the backyard of my old house. Smoky billows hover for black miles over my father’s cinder-block garage. The garage door with its flaking white paint vibrates silently in its cavity, glows independently of the garage. The infinitesimal white flecks in the shingles on the garage and on the house roof leap out beneath the coal cloud like stars on brushed felt.

Wind shrills distantly, a banshee smashing a low-pressure system against the smell of cakey, packed earth beneath my swing set. The isolated, finite yard is all that there is. Everything in existence begins here, ends here, and rises in a column quivering and threatening to collapse. The universe extends to the rattling chain link fence protecting us and no further.
I peer through the motionless swing chains while the sky over the side fence fills prettily, like a frigate mainsail, and swells toward me. The top of the storm front I cannot see, but the bottom is tied off on the fence top. Every six inches or so, I see a bow-knotted line securing the swirling black billows to the chain link.

To my right, the corner has loosened and flaps powerfully with cracking canvas reports muffled by the dark. Inches in front of my nose and miles away, brilliant red bolts flash terribly through the fabric, tearing it with beautiful crimson lightning. A translucent sepia funnel blinks on: a skyscraper-high, crosshatched, nylon sock spinning at a velocity so immense that it looks like the tornado is not actually turning at all; it seems to loom forward on dolly tracks. An ear-splitting diesel horn blasts and echoes. The tornado leans ponderously and metal wheels clack now entertain conjecture of a time when creeping murmur and the poring dark fills the wide vessel of the universe I am fifteen again. Somehow my father has driven our old van onto a steep, narrow mule trail. I am inside with Todd and Jason and my mother and my Uncle Will, but I am also outside the blue and white van. I see it from a floating distance, as though I am guiding a crane shot up a precipitous, rusty canyon wall.

Inside, Uncle Will sits sideways in the front passenger seat and tells fishing stories. He has caught bass every place in Arkansas and Louisiana from which they can be taken; the back of his dark camouflage-green pickup in Little Rock is packed with tackle boxes, poles, lines, nets, and boat equipment. A twenty-pound catfish finned him on his last trip out and he lets Jason see the scar. When my brother puts his face close to Uncle Will’s cut left hand, my uncle lunges forward playfully. Jason laughs as he yanks his head back.

Outside, the cliff face rises out of the trail’s left side, sheer and forbidding, and hangs at least two hundred feet over all of us. Outlined in jet, starless night, the cliff stands alone. At any second, I expect the Mothership from Close Encounters of the Third Kind to make its stealthy, kaleidoscopic way out from behind the orange rock face like a tremendous, floating oil refinery. The path ahead has been staked out with hand-sawn wooden pegs, all with pinkish-red cloths tied to them to mark the outer trail edge. No guard rail has been built here. I cannot see the bottom of whatever canyon this is. The edges of everything—the cliff, the van, the pink flags on their six-inch stakes, all of us—are ultra-sharp, precisely etched. If I approach closely enough to anything here, I can see tiny, pinprick pixels. This night has been programmed, dot by dot.

A maelstrom slams into existence over the trail’s right side, then to our left. The trail itself no longer exists; the van slowly sinks into a concentric whirlpool of watery pixels like a basso chorus riding an inexorable glissando to its lowest registers. The water surrounds us; the walls and roof of the van become glass, like the Robinsons’ Chariot on Lost in Space, and the sides of the waterspout swirl soundlessly hundreds of feet above us and below us. We descend through liquid pen-and-ink circles, down through a cerulean-grey Spirograph elevator shaft.

My father can’t steer us out; my mother rocks Todd against her hip—he is half in and half out of the front passenger bench, kneeling with his face pressed into the vinyl. Jason and Uncle Will have tumbled into the floor. I clamber out on to the van’s transparent roof, moving through a hatch which the van has never had until now, leaving everyone else inside, but no one reacts. I hover over the waterspout and watch the van spin down the shaft like Jimmy Stewart plunging down a Disney tunnel in Vertigo o, do but think you stand upon the rivage, and behold a city on th’ inconstant billows dancing We sail on the prow of a gunship sheared away from the rest of its vessel; the interstate exit ramp, filled with bicycle traffic, makes its way upriver at a barely perceptible speed. It floats toward the city, a curled grey tongue poking up from the inert current.

I walk up the shoulder in slow, overstretched strides. With every step, either I grow or the roadway shrinks—I can’t tell which. Regardless, by the time I reach the peak of the ramp, the asphalt has remade itself into loose gravel. I tower over the slope, my legs in rough denim like acid-washed minarets planted in the middle of the street. The only thing taller than I am is the dome of the Capitol Holdings building. If I wanted to, I could stretch my hand there and peel its stone lattice away like strips of pie crust.

Louisville drowses to my left, a placid postcard. In the wan, static wisps frozen over Fifth Street, between the black slab of the National City Bank monolith on the east side, and Humana’s roseate granite cash register on the west, I see the gauzy vestige of a cancellation mark bleeding through from the other side of the sky.

I put my left foot in and I am the Colossus reborn, straddling the glacial Ohio with one foot on my aborted exit ramp and the other atop the Presbyterian headquarters’ parking garage. I put my left foot out and walk back down, losing my giant stature. I reach the area below the road and briefly search for the voices I heard coming from there. My high school reunion is in full swing beneath the pavement, and someone has put up filmy, short, robin’s-egg curtains that flap wildly into the underpass. I walk through the party, listening as every person I pass disappears. I don’t have to look back to know—I can hear their voices dropping away, one after the next. By the time the interstate makes dock, no one else is with me.

The track of an elevated train runs through where Interstate Sixty-Four used to be; the rails extend to a vanishing point miles ahead. Though I don’t see the train, in the distance, the thick card stock sky muffles a locomotive whistle. The cottony hoot resolves itself into a sparse voice—my great-aunt Anita, who died fourteen years ago.

Nini?” I don’t speak her name so much as I hope it. Then I try to hold absolutely still to hear what she says, even though I’m not sure now I heard anything at all.

“... all right ... all of it ... Will ... all right ...” It susurrates, tickling over the water, slipping between the skyscrapers, and back into a thousand parts divide one man and make imaginary puissance the vasty fields lie in ruin. My weary army shambles through goose-shafts sprouted like cattails from the mud. The tears on my cheeks, I cannot feel. They trickle from my eyes and channel through the grime that coats my face. They wet the blood-covered flesh of my neck; their rivulets, a diluted pink, stain the white silk beneath my chain.

Bearers of stretcher and flag, squires whom we educated in the art of war, our children: they are tumbled as a hastily stacked cord of wood, heaped without care, bound hand and foot. My cousin Richard approaches beside me. He removes his casque to look upon the dead boys as he takes off his tortoise-shell eyeglasses and rubs a fleshy arm across his high forehead.

“‘Tis expressly against the law of arms; ‘tis as arrant a piece of knavery, mark you now, as can be offered. ‘Tis certain theres not a boy left alive.”

I was not angry since I came until this instant. Well cut the throats of those we have, and not a man of them that we shall take shall taste our mercy.” I remove my left gauntlet. I bend on one knee to touch the nearest child’s cool, smooth face. From one to the next, all their faces, all my faces, stare at me, smiling the smile from my third-grade school photograph. Their eyes crinkle at the corners as mine still do. Youthful, brown, unmussed hair has been carefully parted and combed.

One of them has lost his eyeglasses, the plastic amber ones I wore until I turned twelve. They have fallen into the wet clay next to a dead woman. I bend to pick them up. But as I rise away, her body stirs. Joan braces herself off the mud and stands up. Dirty, caked fringes of blonde curl spike out beneath her helm. Her booted feet squelch in the mire. She takes two shaky, long-limbed steps toward me—

I come to thee for charitable license, that we may wander oer this bloody field to book our dead, and then to bury them.”

—my own blood whispers and sings, whispers and sings at my temples—

The mercy that was quick in us but late, by your own counsel is suppressed and killed.”

—and we are close enough now for me to kiss her; passionately, desperately, I want to. Somewhere in her appraising blue eyes, she also desires it. She rubs her palms across my shoulders, and murmurs to me—

It is a beast of Perseus: he is pure air and fire; and the dull elements of earth and water never appear in him, but only in patient stillness while his rider mounts him.”

—and I sway and nearly succumb.

Somewhere, deeper and more essential, though, I sense her responsibility. None of the identical boys bears a mark, but I know, beyond logic or external evidence—she has killed them all. Before she can speak or move, my blade flashes beneath her chin. We are close enough now for me to draw her blood; passionately, desperately, I want to. My own blood whispers and sings, whispers and sings at my temples to spill it from her slender throat, to cleanse this muddy field.

Touching our person, seek we no revenge,” I breathe into her ear, “but we our kingdoms safety must so tender, whose ruin you have sought, that to her laws we do deliver you.”

Joan clutches her stomach with both hands, collapses to her knees, and rolls down, dead, fetal, as my sword finds its mark, then withdraws.

Do we all holy rites: Let there be sung Non nobis and Te Deum,’ the dead with charity enclosed in clay.” Now, their heat undiminished by their course since they flow so freely, I feel my tears thus with imagined wing our swift scene flies, in motion of no less celerity than that of thought the vortex is coming. I feel it between my shoulder blades; the knowledge of its advance runs tingling hands down my back, like a dresser twitching a newly fitted jacket into place.

I watch the sky. The clouds scudding over the house clump in floes the color of phosphorescent spring leaves. The aluminum siding on every home in the subdivision sits awash in yellow-green light; the pavement resembles a glowing river. Any second now, a cyclone is going to swoop in and flatten this town. I can’t stop it, and I can’t leave. Standing on the first floor of the house, I’m like a motorist approaching a blazing crash, powerless to prevent it but unable to turn away from it. A terrible security, the immunity of not feeling responsible, comes with that knowledge, and along with it, something distant—not quite sympathy, but not total detachment, either. Inertial empathy?

The air crackles with confined brutality. A woman stands to my left in verdant shadow, her breath falling in rhythmic puffs on my neck and ear. I lean on the weak emerald of the windowsill. Then the twister forms: the wind howls like a locomotive barreling down the street, thunders against my face and chest, slaps me back from the window. The woman hasn’t moved. The juggernaut, kilometers tall, gyres and gimbals at the end of the avenue, shifts massively from side to side, deciding what it wants to do next. The tornado bellows and advances towards us both, inching down the street, half on the pavement, half on the sidewalk.

I don’t know what to do—it’s almost too large to comprehend. The cyclone passes one house and another and another, and the air pressure inside them explodes glass into the street. I don’t know what this is, but it’s not just a tornado. For one thing, it has my eyes, and is using them to find me. It lumbers dangerously, covering and cracking one sidewalk block after the other, a confident gunslinger searching for a hapless, well-meaning lawman to draw on him. I must face my enemy—I’m responsible for what it does, after all—but I can’t make my legs obey me to go outside. High noon. Grace Kelly breathes dreamily down my collar, lays slim hands on my shoulders, squeezes gently.

My fingers grip the rough, paint-flaked wood of the sill when I stare through the open window, concentrating on the tornado. The homes at the front of the street are demolished already but I can protect the ones still standing, because I know, with my whole body, that this storm can only be as large as I let it be. Warm arms slip around my waist, thrilling me—I inhale sharply, deeply with her caress, fill myself with her strength, and then I focus intensely.

The funnel wavers; blusters ahead a yard; wavers; stops, screaming in frenzied dissonance, a dozen dozen sirens trapped in a closed alley. It hurls itself ahead again, shearing itself out of my grasp; the force of that ripping away concusses in my skull like field artillery, drives me painfully back from the window to clutch at my temples. I come back shakily when she pulls me back. I have to refocus. I can’t stop it as it is—I need another tactic.

A streetlamp tumbles into the swirling roar; it barrels up into the clouds, a sodium-orange eye spinning out of sight. One more intersection, and my—our?—house will go next. I close my eyes to consolidate my energies but everything is still visible. My forehead and jaw strain with my next attack: the vortex halts again, uncertain, and I can see the top of it now. Beads of sweat pearl down my cheeks and neck; my teeth clench. The air pressure equalizes, popping my ears, surprising me and nearly making me lose my grip on the cyclone—it tries to flare itself to its previous height, but I contain it. My toes curl inside my shoes and I feel the windowsill splintering in my hands; bits of old wood prick and stab at my fingertips and palms. The tornado still spins, but it diminishes as it comes closer to our front porch. Oh God, my stomach hurts.

Only a little more; her arms tighten around me and her lips feather the nape of my neck. By the time it reaches the edge of our fence, the cyclone is smaller than the fire hydrant on the front walk. I can’t even hear it now. We watch it scoot down the sidewalk like a puppy, kicking up tiny puffs of dust as it vanishes the country cocks do crow,

the clocks do toll;

and the third hour of drowsy morning is named

The first thing Will Burton felt as he woke was an abrupt sinking in his stomach; a spasm in his left leg; his body jolted from head to foot like he had plunged from some unknown height onto the bed. His eyes popped open and he lay there, rigid, letting his body absorb the fact that he was awake, not falling from the ceiling. His lamp was still on. He’d fallen asleep reading again. When he finally got his breath, he rolled his head over to his right: good. Celina was still sleeping.

Will eased out of the bed to close the window. His dog-eared Henry V flopped to the carpet with a thud and a rustle of cheap paper. He bent over to retrieve it and put it back next to the lamp. The wind had picked up. The blinds rattled and would begin slapping against the screen if he left the window open. Of course, the aluminum frame squealed as he lowered it shut (during the day, it didn’t make a sound), but Cel hadn’t moved. Will sighed at her: he’d probably have to shut off her clock in the morning because she slept so soundly. He clicked off the reading light and laid down, tucking his arms back under the blankets: oh, well, he reasoned. Some people could

© 2021 by John Thornberry


Everywhere she went, it seemed, the girl in the mirror followed.

The girl had first appeared two weeks after the incident, and she had gotten Aryana’s attention by pounding her fist on the mirror hanging on the back of Aryana’s door. Aryana had quickly covered the mirror, along with nearly every other one in the house, unable to stand the sadness that was buried in the young woman’s eyes and the way her lips quivered. It had not taken much longer after that for Aryana to find the girl in every reflective surface, ranging from her silverware (she had switched to plastic for this reason) to the door of the microwave (ramen could just as easily be made on the stove). No one questioned the many blankets, towels, and sheets covering the reflective surfaces, largely because that would require Aryana to have guests over from time to time, and she rarely did anymore.

She had not intended to cut people out of her life. Before, when things had been easier, she had worked hard to maintain her relationships with co-workers and classmates, never turning down an invite out to grab coffee or study. But the incident had changed everything, uprooted every stable bit of Aryana’s life and set it alight while she watched. She often thought it was almost fitting that now she was haunted by a strange reflection, as though it was the cherry on top of every other shitty thing she had to endure.

Her friends had tried to be comforting despite not knowing the full extent of her problems, but as days dragged on to weeks and then months with little progress, they had abandoned her. There had been tears at some points, fights at others, pleading for something, anything, that they could use to help her.

“We keep reaching out to you, but you won’t talk to us. It’s almost like you don’t want to move past this.”

Jaden hadn’t been intending to hurt her, but her words had cut deeper than anyone’s. Of course she wanted to move past this. The issue was, she wasn’t sure what this was. Depression? Melancholy? Existential dread? This was so much more than an incident. This was a spiraling mess that held no name, a gaping hole that went on and on with no end in sight. She had tried finding the ending, something to pull her out of this and back to reality, but after a while, she had given up, allowing herself to live in the void of what if’s and why me’s.

She never voiced this, not even at therapy. Therapy had been her mother’s idea, an attempt she made to reach her daughter. Her mother had even paid for each session, as anxious to see results as her friends. There was always a painful edge in her smiles, as though she was at constant war between the ideas of letting her grown daughter be and pressing her to talk. But Aryana knew her mother, despite her reassurances, did not really want to know about the incident; she just wanted her daughter back.

Aryana wanted her back, too. She just did not know how to reach her.

The alarm chimed on her phone, and as if on cue, her tea kettle began whistling. She quickly shut off the stove and added the hot water to her cup, the tea bag already set in place. Aryana added a few spoonfuls of sugar and gave the dark liquid a stir before bringing it to her lips, grimacing as the hot drink assaulted her tastebuds. She had never cared for the stuff, but her mother had given it to her the week prior, and it had been her insistence that lead Aryana to give the herbal tea a chance.

Life seemed to be full of instances like that. Everyone had a solution they were eager to offer up. She had tried them all: running, meditation, knitting, yoga. Nothing worked, and when one failed, there was a guarantee someone lurked around the corner with another bit of advice. So many were so eager to fix her problem that they neglected to see that fixing it was not what she wanted. She was not broken, she had told herself this again and again, but as more people pushed on their solutions, she was finding it hard to believe.

She reached up to toy with her hair and sighed when her fingers found air. A haircut had been the last recommendation she had been given, and she had stepped it up a notch, shortening her hair to a pixie-cut and shaving the side. The blue dye had been added two days later.

“That’s quite a change,” her therapist had remarked that morning during their session. “What brought this on?”

Aryana had shrugged. “Just wanted a change of pace.”

Aryana took another sip of tea before declaring it a lost cause and dumping it down the sink. She had tried it, and this would at least appease her mother a little. She eyed the box of unused tea bags still sitting on her counter, and she was tempted to throw the thing in the trash and be done with it. Instead, she shoved it back against the wall, allowing it to join the clutter of the other various foods and drinks she had been meaning to put away.

Tomorrow I’ll clean, she thought to herself as she flipped the switch on her way out, plunging the small kitchen into darkness.

She hoped that this time she would stay true to her word. She wanted to. That had to be better than nothing, right?

Aryana took her stairs two at a time, eager to take her shower and crawl into bed for the evening. Sleep was hard to come by most days, and she had started turning in earlier than normal. Her nights were filled at times with tossing and turning, and sometimes calling it a night early in the evening helped her find some semblance of a full night of sleep.

The hot water felt good on her skin, and she took her time scrubbing down her body, letting the room steam up. It was not until the hot water had cooled considerably and she could no longer stand the chill that she emerged and began toweling off. She tried to work quickly, drying her wet hair in her towel with one hand as she brushed her teeth with her other, hoping to finish before the fog on the mirror dissolved and the girl appeared. She could see the girl’s frame moving behind the fog, her shape little more than a muted blob. As Aryana returned her toothbrush to its holder, a hand appeared, palm pressed flat against the glass, followed by a face.

The girl in the mirror looked the same as she always did. Curly brown hair framed the sides of her oval face, a healthy amount of weight present. The reflection smiled timidly as she twirled the end of one of her locks, as if to ask remember how you used to do this?, eyes shining. Her shoulders were loose, expression easy, face warm and full of light. Aryana was supposed to look like that, she wanted to look like that, but she had not been able to find a way back to that shine since the incident. And she hated the girl in the mirror, hated her for existing and refusing to let her be, hating her for refusing to change when Aryana had been working hard to look like anyone else, to be anyone else.

“Why can’t you just leave me alone?” Aryana whispered.

The girl blinked slowly, tilting her head to the side as she studied Aryana, her hungry eyes searching for something.

Aryana sighed and flipped the light switch off, and the girl disappeared in the darkness, but Aryana knew she was still there, still searching, still waiting for...what? A miracle? A moment of recognition? A smile? Did she not know when to give up? Could she not sense that she would never find what she was searching for, that Aryana had tried looking for weeks in therapy and even she could not seem to find an answer, anything that made her think aha, there you are! like she wanted?

Aryana did not realize she was crying until she rolled over in her bed and was met with a damp pillowcase. She wished it could be easy like her mother claimed, that she could come to terms with the incident, maybe not forgive, but certainly move past. She missed her friends, nights out on the town, social connections. She missed it at all so bad it ached, and yet there always seemed to be a rope tied around her waist, yanking her back just when she felt ready to step forward as if to say not yet. There was always something hindering her, and she struggled to put into terms just how it felt, almost like she was stuck in a moment of time while the world continued to evolve and move around her.

A soft tinkle of glass on wood filled the room, but Aryana did not stir from her curled position, not even as the blanket on her bed rose and fell as the girl from the mirror crawled into the sheets. A pair of arms, thin and feeble, snaked their way around Aryana, and the girl pressed her face into Aryana’s back.

“Will it ever get better?” The question seemed to fill the room, and in response, the pair of arms tightened, not out of malice, but comfort.

“Soon,” came a hushed reply, muffled only by Aryana’s shirt. “We will be okay. I will not leave you.”

A ghost of a smile crossed Aryana’s lips, and somewhere behind her, her reflection answered.
© 2021 by Brooke Poarch

Murder on Planet X

It is the present day, but in a galaxy far, far away . . . not Tatooine or Alderaan, but the infamous "Planet X," where a colony of aliens lives a life far beyond the knowledge of humankind. Their stature appears very human-like in nature but "stretched out" in comparison to the human body. They have a full head of hair, glasses cover their eyes, and they even wear what appear to be human-like clothes. Most members of this species, known as Xers, also have a severe allergy to water. The symptoms of a reaction vary, but oftentimes it involves swelling of the face and hands. It causes death in 98% of cases. They live in a fully developed society that is self-sustaining and well off; however, they are ruled by a rigorous and authoritative leader who gives no mercy to those who go against him.

This is where the intergalactic jail on Planet X comes in. Any criminal who goes against the colony leader is immediately placed in this reinforced, heavily protected facility. It is built with a form of specially designed materials not comparable to even the strongest of metals on Earth, guarded by aliens holding weapons merely a figment of the humans' imagination. There aren't just aliens in this prison though: Humans who have committed heinous crimes on Earth also inhabit the walls of the jail, sent here as an experiment to see how humans interacted with and reacted to the many different species of alien inmates. The prisoners were chosen because they would be in a controlled environment. No matter which species they belong to, those who enter the facility rarely ever come out, and if they do, they never retell their story.

The prison's authoritative warden is ready to place someone in solitary confinement for something as minor as tying your shoe the wrong way. You can only imagine what the serial-killer division of this intergalactic jail looks like...

And that is where your story begins . . .

Click here to continue reading Murder on Planet X, an interactive digital mystery.

© 2021 by the students of Professor Tracy Fernandez Rysavy's ENG 312: Writing Genre Fiction class: Serenity Block • Daniel Chang • Chris Chin • Lydia Downey • Rachel Doyal • Evelynn Ehrlich • Zach Goblisch • Tony Kubetz • Haven Ludwig • Katherine Lund • Sofia Terrranova • Gage Wilson • Tria Xiong • JouLee Yang

Meet the Team

With years of experience as an editor-in-chief for The Green American, a magazine focused on environmental and social justice issues, Professor Tracy Fernandez Rysavy is our advisor for the Northern Lights Journal. You can also get in touch with our current editorial staff.

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