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Issue 14 of ProseWorks

Hello readers,

 

Issue 14 of ProseWorks is a unique and eclectic palette of work submitted by talented Stevenson students.  I’ve had the pleasure of redesigning the blog, setting up a Facebook page, and editing the submissions for the magazine.  My main goal was to give ProseWorks a new face, and find a way to make it run smoother.  I wanted to work for ProseWorks since I heard about it during my first year at Stevenson.  Being able to bring my blogging knowledge and social media management to the ProseWorks name has been hard work but rewarding all the same.

Unfortunately, this will be the last issue of ProseWorks as its own contained entity.  Here at Stevenson, ProseWorks and Spectrum Magazine are merging into a new online and print journal.  Having both literary teams working together to create something new is very exciting, and I wish them the best of luck.  I think this particular batch of works is a great way to wrap up ProseWorks blog and transition to a new beginning.  Please enjoy the tales written by talented people.  Leave a comment, and like our Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Proseworks/598552576902198

Thanks for reading and remember to keep things creative!

 

-Ali Huenger

Editor/PR agent for ProseWorks Spring ’14

 Elgin Belafonte was the greatest hula-hooper of all time. He would hula hoop with hoops made of ice, fire, razor blades, and even live platypuses. His feats were legendary. No one had ever seen such things. His skills earned him much wealth and success. He was the most famous man in the entire universe.

That was long ago. Now, Elgin Belafonte is a drifter. He has no home, nobody loves him, and he steals food to stay alive. People do not like him. He is nothing now, meaningless to every person on earth. He has no idea why this has happened to him.

It all went down twenty years ago when Elgin awoke in a dumpster. Having no idea how he had gotten there he quickly climbed out of the crusty filth ridden bed and went to find his manager. He made sure to cover his face so his fans would not see him in this dirty shame. He did not recognize where he was. He had never been to this place. He had been almost everywhere through touring on his fuzzy bunny bus. Elgin’s fuzzy bunny bus was a bus made up entirely of bunny skulls. The bus was not by any means fuzzy, “fuzzy bunny bus” just has such a nice ring to it.

He had to ask someone where he was. He had to deal with the embarrassment and shame and have someone help him out. There was a man approaching, and this was his chance. “Hello sir, yes it is me the great Elgin Belafonte, I am in need of your service.” The mans face was disgusted

“Who the hell is Elgin Belafonte? Get out of my face you filthy bum!”

Elgin was absolutely astonished; his face had been on nearly every magazine all around the world. How had this man not have heard of the great Elgin Belafonte, Hooper of Platypuses?

I don’t know if I like this story. Shall I continue? I don’t know if I like Elgin as a character. I don’t know where to go from here. These thoughts consume me. Elgin hulahoops platypuses. I thought this was great stuff a week ago, now I am not so sure. Well let’s not give up so quickly, I’ll try and continues the story. “Try and continues this story” added an extra “s” there. Where was I? Ah yes! Elgin Belafonte.

So Elgin was rather perplexed with his situation. The man was very rude to him. Everyone was always very kind to Elgin. He was treated like a plump donut amongst a tribe of donut worshiping nomads. The way his hoop traveled around his waist so smoothly and god damn beautifully caused squirrels to dance wildly and consider giving up nuts cold turkey. People would catch themselves drooling a puddle that was a couple of inches deep onto the floor while watching him.

The man had walked halfway down the block by now. Elgin had to learn more about this man who had treated him like a roach ridden pile of dry leaves amongst pyromaniac exterminators. The man hadn’t even heard of Elgin.

Elgin ran after the man. Thanks to his ultra-strong hips, it was only a matter of seconds before Elgin reached the man. He was moving so fast already he decided it was best to just tackle the man to the ground. Elgin tackled the man and had him pinned down to the ground. “Who the hell are you? You rude man! Tell me your secrets! Tell me your god damn dreams! I don’t need to know them, but I want to!”

The man stared into Elgin’s eyebrows and licked his lips. His mouth then opened wide. Extremely wide. Unhinged like a snake. Deep in the back of his throat, there was something moving. It began to come out in into the world.

Elgin was hypnotized by the strangeness of the event at hand. Coming from the back of the man’s throat was none other than a baby velociraptor. The little creature hopped out of the man’s throat. The odd thing was that the velociraptor was wearing an afro wig and disco platform shoes.

This was Elgin’s first time seeing a velociraptor, and definitely his first time seeing a disco velociraptor. The baby disco velociraptor started to dance as the squirrels did. The creature gyrated his body and danced as if Parliament was on a loop inside of his tiny brain. Elgin was comforted by the familiarity of small animals dancing for him.

It was then that the baby disco velociraptor looked Elgin in the eyes and winked. Elgin was unsure of the meaning of this. The baby disco velociraptor then ate Elgin. That’s right, in one chomp the baby disco velociraptor managed to eat Elgin whole. It was surely a feat of science.

The velociraptor ‘s name was Lil Stevie, and he was the top dancing baby disco velociraptor in the whole galaxy. He had been awarded many Uncle Jesse trophies. The Uncle Jesse was a prestigious award given every year to the baby disco velociraptor who had the most moxie. To baby disco velociraptors having moxie is everything. Lil Stevie had more moxie than anyone, even Elgin Belafonte. That’s how Lil Stevie ate him.

Lil Stevie had successfully managed to become “the man.” Lil Stevie had never been so happy in his entire life. He just ate the best snack he had ever had in his life. Lil Stevie had been training his entire life to assassinate the one and only Elgin Belafonte.

From the day Lil Stevie exited his mother’s birth canal, he had been brainwashed with thoughts of murdering Elgin Belafonte. The baby disco velociraptor community was centered on the destruction of Elgin Belafonte. The baby velociraptors all love hula hooping. They greatly enjoy watching the magical circle rotate, rhythmically, evolving around the hips.

It was a well-known fact that even though the baby disco velociraptor had a great love for hula hooping, they had no aptitude for actually hula hooping themselves. They were incredibly upset about this. The baby disco velociraptors would try their absolute hardest to hula hoop. They would go out and purchase hula hoops with their veloci dollars. They would walk home from the hula hoop store, shaking with excitement. They would go into their dens and prepare for the most magical hula hoop experience ever.

Once they were in the safety of their own homes, the baby disco velociraptors took their newly purchased hula hoops, all covered in the special premium deluxe neon wrapping paper. They would dig their claws into the paper vigorously. Excited for their chance to feel the magic dance around their hips.

Before they were ready to hoop. They had to prepare. They started by flossing the pieces of flesh from their teeth. Then, they would wag their tails for a good twenty-six minutes. Then, they would eat a banana for potassium. Potassium was very important to them. It got the veloci-juices going.

 

They tried to hula hoop. But, sadly they could not. Their hips were not apt for the constant rubbing of the hula hoops. Their scales scraped against the hula hoops creating an intense friction rivaling that of a rhinoceros scrotum rubbing against sandpaper. The baby disco velociraptor’s failure at their beloved hula hoop made them very angry. Elgin Belafonte was the greatest hula hooper in the entire universe. This made the baby disco velociraptor’s extremely jealous and angry. They all decided that, Elgin Belafonte must die.

They saw the great Elgin Belafonte as a great man, but also as a great threat to their society. Elgin represented a false hope for the baby disco velociraptors. They would watch the hula hoop majestically spiral its way around Elgin’s hips and they would feel inspired. They figured they could be just like him. Of course, this was not true. When they would discover that they lacked the talents of the great Elgin Belafonte, they would become incredibly depressed. They would weep for days. Baby disco velociraptor tears were salty. The baby disco velociraptors would cry and cry their intensely salty tears into big puddles. They would commit suicide by drowning them selves in their salty tear puddles.

These suicides were becoming a very serious problem in the baby disco velociraptor community. The problem had to be fixed. At first they offered classes for the many depressed baby disco velociraptor souls. They would let them know it was okay that they were not able to hula hoop like the great Elgin Belafonte. They would let them know that they could still lead meaningful lives. They would let them know that they were important even though their hips were useless.

They did not find these classes to be successful. Once leaving these classes the baby disco velociraptors would be even more depressed about their useless hips. They would cry even deeper salty tear puddles and drown themselves. That is when it was decided that Elgin Belafonte had to go away, forever, by dying.

It became the number one priority of the baby disco velociraptor community to kill Elgin Belafonte. They trained an entire generation of baby disco velociraptors in the art of murder. They taught them what they would need to know to successfully kill the great Elgin Belafonte.

Lil Stevie went to the institute of homicide. He was trained with a specialty in eating grown men alive. He took an independent study course his junior year. The course specialized in unhinging his jaw. At first Lil Stevie figured this course would be great because it would allow him swallow Elgin Belafonte whole much easier.

Lil Stevie’s instructor, Mr. Daddy-O, was somewhat infatuated with Lil Stevie. He would love to see his little reptilian body gyrate while he danced. Naturally, Mr. Daddy-O, teaching a class on unhinging jaws, tried to get Lil Stevie to fellate him. This shocked Lil Stevie. He did not know what to do.

Of course Lil Stevie was very attracted to Mr. Daddy-O. He was a very suave baby velociraptor. He had a very friendly, inviting smile. Lil Stevie sometimes would find himself fantasizing about unhinging his jaw to take in the erect phallus of Mr. Daddy-O. His fantasy was coming true.

This is not meant to be a story of baby disco velociraptor erotica. It really isn’t. I am simply trying to show how passionate the baby disco velociraptor truly are. So let me skip over these events some.

Lil Stevie had mastered unhinging his jaw. The ways that he came to master it, can be left unsaid. But you can guess, if you’d like to. He could easily swallow any man whole. He was ready to assassinate the greatest hula hooper of all time.

So Lil Stevie had just done it. He had done what he was trained to do. Swallowing the great Elgin Belafonte was his life mission. He had done it. Lil Stevie was dancing around in his triumph when something happened.

Out of nowhere a portal was created in the air in front of Lil Stevie. The portal was a spiral of light flickering, flashing, floating over Lil Stevie. The portal birthed out a transgender rock and roll hot dog cactus monster.

This transgender rock and roll hotdog cactus monster was from the future. You could tell because it was still illegal for cactus and hotdog to mate. The transgender rock and roll hotdog cactus monster spoke. “Yo Lil Stevie, you must release Elgin Belafonte from your tummy.”

“Uh uh, I worked so hard to swallow him, it was my life purpose.”

“You must understand Lil Stevie, this is the way it has to be done. We can make his life more miserable then ever. I created this world as a world where he is nobody. Hula hooping does not even exist here, you must spread your buttocks and release Elgin, and I will use my magic to bring him to life and erase his memory. Then he will live out the rest of his days in a world with no hoops, a world where he is nothing.”

Lil Stevie did not understand how the transgender rock and roll cactus hot dog monster could have thought of this plan. It must have had a great hatred for Elgin. Why? How had this hatred spawned such an ingenious plan to ruin Elgin’s life? Lil Stevie had to know. “Why are you doing this? Why do you hate Elgin Belafonte?”

“Well, Lil Stevie, if you must know, when my mother turned ten years old, she met Elgin. He came to her birthday party. He got her a gift. That gift was a Butcheek Kutcheek Doll. My mother was so excited, she always wanted one. The doll consumed my mother. She became obsessed with it. It ruined her mind. It was just too much fun. So, Elgin Belafonte ruined my mother’s mind with his damned gift, so he must pay.”

Lil Stevie was taken back. He never could have imagined Elgin Belafonte doing something so terrible, so heinous, so god damn evil. These Butcheek Kutcheek Dolls were known to wreck the lives of young 10 year old cactus girls. Lil Stevie knew what he had to do.

Lil Stevie took a deep breath and pushed. He pushed harder than he ever had before. He used every ounce of energy he had to relinquish Elgin Belafonte from his bowels.

Slowly but surely the great Elgin Belafonte exited from Lil Stevie’s back door orifice. Elgin Belafonte was covered in the goo that coated the insides of baby disco velociraptors. The goo was a metallic magenta color. It sparkled all over Elgin’s dead body.

The transgender rock and roll cactus hot dog monster began to chant. Magic was about to go down. This was a very rare occurrence to witness real transgender rock and roll cactus hot dog monster magic. The chanting grew louder and louder. “Spoon buffoon spoon buffoon spoon buffoon” filled the air.

The transgender rock and roll cactus hot dog monster began to shake violently. Holes began sprouting all over its body. Out of them came a yellowish green opaque molten light. The light coming from the holes created patterns in the sky. The patterns were complex, busy, and hectic, but uniform. They swirled about the sky creating a spiral vortex that shot down into the chest of Elgin.

“We must go from here Lil Stevie, take my hand and we will live a great life together, full of happiness”

Lil Stevie knew this was the only way. He had to start a new life. He was excited about it too. He wanted to live a life of joy, not of assassination. Without hesitation Lil Stevie grabbed his hand and they vanished through the portal.

Elgin awoke. He looked around in confusion. What happened to the man who did not know who he was? Why was he in this situation? He had to find out, he had to know, he had to get out of here.

 

Nat Abel: Cupcakeria

Most people know me around town as That Guy-you know That Guy, the one who always gets into some wacky situation. The locals are particularly fond of recanting the story of when Grant Fields and I stuck our tongues out to touch the lamppost on Main Street and my tongue stuck to it and froze. It took half of the fire station and two county cops to get it loose, not to mention my tongue looked like a sweet potato for the rest of the winter. So it came to no one’s surprise when I rear-ended a Cadillac on my way home from school.

The stereo roared Def Leopard as the shiny black doors attached to the luxury-model Cadillac I had impaled opened. An old man got out on the driver’s side, and it took me three double-takes to confirm that he, indeed, had an unreasonably large chef’s hat on his head. What I assumed was a teenage pizza boy got out of the passenger’s side, looking ready for battle. I would have laughed if I wasn’t sitting behind the car responsible, but I felt guilty.

The teenage mutant pizza kid came up to my car and did one of those roll-down-your-window gestures with his hand. Didn’t he know this was the 21st century? No car has roll down windows anymore. I jammed my thumb against the driver window down button on my console and pulled it back in a wince of pain. By the time I had rolled the window down, Pizza Face was inches away from me.

“Can’t ya see where ya going, ya idiot, or does ya Justin Timberlake hair glare prevent ya from driving like a sane person?”

I looked (stupidly, I imagine) up at Pizza Face and took in his quick influx of what I can only call a mildly impressive attempt at Italian pronunciation and sneezed in Pizza Face’s face.

“Ya germy scruff, ya tryna contaminate me or something?” he roared and released my door frame.

I took the opportunity to slip out of my Volvo and shut the door behind me. The tail end of my shirt got stuck in the door jamb, effectively pinning me between the closed car and the coughing Pizza boy.

“Sorry, allergies” I apologized to him when he recovered, “Why do you have Anchovy particles on you?”

“Anchovy part-? What the hell ya talking about, ya superstitious scientist sucka? I outta knock ya lights out,” he replied angrily.

I sensed that he was someone who could anger at just about anything, and hoped that he had forgotten why he so obtrusively cratered his way over here and into my personal space. The old chef, whatever he was, was making his way toward our confrontation as quickly as it takes to memorize the dictionary. I could see a glacier move in the distance.

“Young man, I believe you rear-ended my Cadillac,” he announced as he finally approached.

Pizza face looked (if possible) angrier by the arrival of Chef, and I gathered that they were related by the intense and somewhat savage gleam in their eyes. They were both ambitious, I can tell you that much. That was my oh-so-here-we-go introduction to Ray and Papa. Papa was a restaurant tycoon, owning everything from a Pizzeria he had founded fifty years ago to his newest investment, a small town project he was down here in Vallejo to convert the old block to what he called a Cupcakeria. Ray, his nephew, had entered the family business and was now the big boss of the Pizzeria himself, but Papa had wanted him to finalize some details on the Cupcakeria.

That first conversation was confusing, and I think back on it and wonder if it actually happened. Papa introduced himself and Ray and told me why they were here in Vallejo. I stared dumbly at Papa and wanted to know if his hat was puffy or scratchy. I almost asked to try it on, but Ray probably would have knocked my nose into tomorrow or something like that. Papa didn’t skirt around, he got right down to business.

“I have assessed the damages at about $10,000 even,” Papa told me matter-of-factly as if I had asked him how much money his shoes had cost.

I took out my wallet and expected a small bird to fly out of it like they did in the toons, but I dropped it on the ground instead. A couple of quarters rolled out of the change pouch and fell down the gutter with a ching! Papa looked from the battered wallet to me and nodded. Ray stood by stupidly, his gangling shoulders shrugged.

“The only solution will be for you to run the Cupcakeria and pay off your debts,” Papa told me.

I grimaced first. Then, I considered his proposal that I couldn’t refuse. Papa took out a silver key and put it in my hand. Then he left me instructions of where to go tomorrow morning, bright and early. I wondered again if this was a dream or a nightmare, then Ray had moved right in front of me.

“I’m calling ma sister to come in and work with ya, so she will know if ya tryna screw us over,” he threatened. Then he punched me in the eye. They walked back to their Cadillac and drove away, leaving me pinned in the car door and clutching my eye.

The next morning, I left the Volvo at home and walked to the Cupcakeria on foot. Half of my decision to walk was that I’d probably wake up on the stroll over and realize that I wasn’t the shiny new owner of a brand new restaurant. The other half just couldn’t start the car this morning and realized that carbon monoxide poisoning was becoming more than an idle threat. So yeah, clean air and bright nice light on my stroll to the Cupcakeria.

No one was parked in the brand new parking lot, not even my Volvo that wouldn’t start. No one was standing on the brand new sidewalk that my thrift store Air Jordan’s occupied. No one had even opened the brand new doors which had a shiny bright lock on them. I walked next to the brand new parking lot, across the brand new sidewalk, and opened the brand new door. It opened like it was brand new, everywhere, big SIGNS that yelled BRAND NEW!!!

It opened on a small room with two full walls, one wall with a door, and a wall with a door for EMPLOYEES ONLY and a window that would serve as a portal between worlds. Taped to the window was a note:

To the owner of this impressive establishment,

Congratulations on owning your own Cupcakeria. You get paid weekly, beginning at $100 that goes directly to Papa. You are not only the owner; you’re also the cashier, the food preparer, the chef, the packager, and the distributer. Just be sure you aren’t the consumer, ha-ha! My niece Willow will stop by to check on your progress and evaluate your work. You’ll have to live up to our standards or YA FIRED (as Ray would say, he says hello).

Peace and blessings and Good Luck Kid,

Papa

PS: The pump don’t work ‘cause the vandals took the handles

I taped the note next to the toaster dedicated to making the cupcakes for inspiration. It brought me little. As for the pumps, they were indeed broken.

I didn’t really understand the note, but I pulled up a chair and sat looking at it for three hours. I didn’t hear Willow come into the Cupcakeria, because the vandals had also apparently taken the doorbell. She crept up behind me. She grunted from the doorway, a low hum-hum like a train, and I spun around and fell out of the chair. She laughed, and I rubbed the back of my neck.

She confirmed my identity and then stood back as I got up. I noticed that she had brought a big box of things with her. She had left this box on a metal table against the wall. She taught me about the EMPLOYEE ONLY room. It had four walls. The wall with the window in it was referred to as order station. The other three walls were dubbed Batter, Bake, and Build. Willow sat against the toaster oven on the wall called Bake and watched me look around the room.

The room was so powerful. Even though you could see outside the window into the order station, they couldn’t see in here. It was like a McDonald’s drive-thru window separated the order station nation from planet EO. Willow and I were aliens.

Willow started with the room. She explained how important the room was to us, the workers, and that we had a civic duty to help the public by serving these cupcakes and in return we would be taken care of. She had so much passion when talking about the Cupcakeria. She really believed in us from the beginning. She was the mother of the establishment; she only wanted the best for it from the start.

We went to Batter and Willow brought the box over from Build. Inside, she pulled out a cupcake tin for two, a plastic holder with four holes for four different cupcake wrappings, and the four different cupcake wrappings themselves. There was a machine on this side of the room where the different types of batter would wait for me to pour its goop into the wrappings. Willow would mix the batter.

At Bake, Willow showed me the toaster oven. It could fit four pans, eight cupcakes at once. I absorbed all this information factually. It became as important as Scripture. Bake was also time for another recreational activity, Willow’s personal addition that had nothing to do with cupcakes.

“I smoke a little weed while the cupcakes bake,” she explained, “The customers can’t see you, so it’s perfectly fine. They can’t smell it, because the cupcakes, man, they like smell real good and it masks the weed, so yeah you’ll be fine. You smoke weed before, Kid?”

I nodded yes and said, “No”

“I love that,” she said and ruffled my hair, “Say you’re pretty cute, good thing Valentine’s coming up next. I had to work New Year’s all alone. Ray would’ve helped me, but he was real busy and stuff.”

I nodded again. Willow sat in her chair and lit up a joint from her purse. She crossed her legs at the thigh and oh wow I mean what I can say. She passed me the joint and I smoked with her. I leaned against the stupid toaster oven and it burnt me because Willow had turned it on earlier.

She pointed out Build to me and explained it was where I added frosting, sauces, Oreos, chocolate chips, cherries, and the other toppings. She told me we needed more, they were out of stock right now, but soon we would have more for the holidays. We would then give the cupcakes to the customers in order stations and come back for more. That was all there was to it. Willow pointed all this out with the veteran knowledge of a seasoned pro, the joint hanging loosely between her index and middle fingers.

Only five people came in. When the last customer came up to order station, Willow explained that he was the closer. The last person for the evening was the most likely to pay extra tips if impressed. That was important, because I got to keep the tips. We laughed over trivial things that day. She told me a funny story about Ray falling into the deep fryer once and burning his arm pretty severely. I laughed too loud at that one.

“Why you laughing? You should be practicing,” she told me seriously, smoking her third joint of the shift.

“Practicing what?” the weed had made me feel more educated, ladies and gentlemen of the jury I am not high on the job, butterflies.

She had said something and I hadn’t listened. The damn butterflies strike again.

“Repeat. I want a do-over,” I said to her, which caused her to snort and subsequently cough.

“I said that you have to perform too. I can always use a partner for my 80s jam. If you’re on my shift, you’re welcome to hang with me, baby,” she replied.

Willow really loved the 1980s. She knew almost every hit and wonder from the boogey-woogie years and passionately performed renditions of these tunes at any opportunity. She even had Madonna cone bras. I liked that act in particular.

I told her I didn’t know anything about music, having never really listened to anything except the pop hits of the days, what does the fox say anyway? I couldn’t think straight. I tripped and fell over in Batter and pulled the remnants of the vanilla batter onto my head. It got my work uniform dirty.

“Jesus, clean up. I’ll be surprised if you can go through one shift without causing some trouble,” but she was laughing as she said this, “If you hurry, I’ll show you what I do after work.”

I got rid of that batter by eating it, which led to a violent trip to the bathroom, crude but oh so rude. Willow waited for me, by dancing around the order station to Living on a Prayer. I brushed up a bit and walked out and she led me out the back door to an alleyway. I thought for sure that Ray was out here ready to knife me, but Willow took my hand and led me down the alley to a sideshow tent in a shady corner.

Inside the tent, there was a carnival of sorts hidden inside the ruins of a building in the financial district. It had been part of a series in a run of underground casinos broken up by the rebuilding era of the 70s. The hidden carnival was run by the locals of the town, and had no place or purpose in any other location. I couldn’t imagine the area without it.

Willow showed me the different attractions: a baseball sideshow where you had to strike out your opponent, a roulette wheel, a game that made you follow coins under cups while the operator switched the cups around on full turbo. Other attractions included finding hidden things around the tent, a game similar to Skee-ball, a game similar to Plinko, and a shooting range. It was unbelievable.

We spent the better part of the early evening after our shift wasting our tip money on the carnival games. In some cases, we won money back. We went to the furniture store across the road and bought retro posters for the Cupcakeria. It was fun to the max, super-de-doper, can’t stop, won’t stop, right round. We were so irresponsible, driving to madness by the drugs and the lights of the carnivals and the change, those coins rattling around like pirate treasure.

I eventually found my way home after looking for my Volvo for twenty minutes and tripping into a pothole. I smelled disgusting, but had no one at home to comment on that fact. After showering, I lost my buzz and decided to go bed. By the morning, I found that most of yesterday’s events were hazy to say the least.

The Cupcakeria was as popular as ever. All five customers came back the next day, around the same times they had come in yesterday. Willow came in during the second wave, causing me to almost spill a tray with two chocolate batter filled wrappings. I popped them into the toaster oven and sat in her chair as she lit up the joint. She gave me a hit and showed me a date in her calendar. It was Valentine’s Day, and it was tomorrow.

“We need a miracle,” she began as I coughed out a huge spurt of toxins, “Holidays are a nightmare for a newbie like you. They’ll eat you up and spit you out. We’ll need new decorations. Maybe we can really turn a profit it we play it up. Hearts, roses, candy, that type of thing, we’ll buy a ton of them with the tips from the next couple of days.”

She went off into a corner of EO to talk to herself. I sat in Bake, baking up by myself with the joint she had left. When the toaster oven had called me over, I considered helping her out. If I really tried to learn the craft, if I could perhaps gain some sort of affinity for the Cupcakeria, we could really have something.

Willow looked unconcerned. I got through the wave and completed another. The closer of the night had the look of a food critic. I pointed this out to Willow through the window into order station.

“That’s Jojo. He’s from France. He stops by on occasion to try out Papa’s restaurants,” Willow told me from Bake.

Then she went out to talk to him. It was surprising to see her without the joint, and even more surprising to see her interacting with them so personally when she wasn’t performing. She still hadn’t made me perform yet. She told me I had to wait until I wasn’t a newbie, because she had an image to uphold.

After work, we stopped by the carnival in the alley and played a couple games. I picked up a good bit of tips and earned a little more on the roulette wheel. Willow and I decided to invest in heart shape sprinkles imprinted with little ‘X’ and ‘O’ designs as well as some strawberry sauce for a topping. Pleased with our purchases, she decided to light a celebratory joint before we locked up and went home.

It never occurred to me that I was getting sucked into a pattern. I never bothered to ask Willow about days off, mostly because I never had had many friends, and Willow was a real pal. This morning, she had come in earlier than me and decorated the room with obnoxious posters, most likely won in furious attempts at the carnival. I was impressed with her work, the whole room was mad groovy.

Willow sat in EO, wearing a Go-Go’s outfit and trying to roller skate. I checked her out as I walked in and shut the door behind me. I hadn’t thought of getting her anything, but seeing her today had made me go outside and pick a flower from the still brand new front lawn. I gave her the flower and she had taken it quietly and quickly. Then I moved forward and she stumbled on top of me as I knocked her off her roller skates and fell backward.

“You trying to get fresh?” she flicked my ear as she pushed herself up.

“So what?” I shot back.

She gave me a quick kiss for that and skated out the door. She told me over her shoulder that it would be a busy day. She wasn’t kidding. At least two more people ordered custom cupcakes, keeping me bouncing between the walls like a lunatic in an insane asylum. After the second batch, Willow came into EO and lit a joint. It tasted different from the normal stuff.

“I got this from the Love Doctor, baby. Don’t worry,” she assured me as her face turned polka dot spaceship beep bye gone.

I stumbled around, whoops was that the chocolate sauce I just knocked over? I tripped and half fell out of the drive-thru window between EO and order station. The customers looked at me. I knew them then, they knew me-old Olga, the foreigner who so loved cherries looked concerned and menacing.

I pulled myself back into EO and tried to bake while baked. The first attempt had too much batter; the second was the wrong kind. I fell asleep against the toaster oven. I woke up to the hysterical dinging of the toaster oven timers and gave the cupcakes to the customers without taking them to Build. Then I started cleaning up, assuming the last person was the closer, and not remembering that Willow said more people would come in on Valentine’s Day.

Suddenly, Willow was bursting through the door, looking redder than a baboon’s booty. She pulled me by the ears, and told me I’d done it now. That was it, I ruined it. Those customers had stormed off, appalled at my idea of some tasteless joke. I tried to explain that it was just the butterflies, the lights, everything was so bright Broadway here I come, I’m coming home Mama, the homecoming queen, and suddenly I thought of Papa and I got so scared that Ray would spit in my eye that I focused on Willow.

“Jesus, I’m sorry, Willow. Let me make it up to you,” I offered, actually focusing on her.

“No way. You’re done in here for the day. Try your best at entertaining if you’re any good. Good luck though, that’s the toughest crowd I’ve seen in a long time. There’s a ton out there too,” she said, pulling me close to her.

“Fine, anything,” I scoffed. I really didn’t want to sing, but I figured that hey what did I have to lose? Whatever this could be kind of fun, I guess.

“Get out there,” she pushed me out of EO into the order station, and I slipped right into Edna and knocked her cupcake to the ground. Edna dropped the other one onto my head and ordered two more from Willow. There were six people in the room; all expecting Willow to come out and no doubt rouse them with another great rendition of Belinda Carlisle’s Heaven is A Place on Earth. I picked a song that sounded cool on the juke and danced my heart out.

I was really into the song, and I could see Willow eyeing me from the kitchen, giving me that look. Like the hearts were reflecting out man, they were trailing me to her. I moved toward her in that heart tunnel, tunnel of love, the two of us, man I was stoned. People laughed as I zombie crawled toward her and almost tripped-almost!

I set my sights on you/(And no one else will do)
And I/I got to have my way now, baby
All I know is that to me/You’d look like you’re having fun
Open up your loving arms/Watch out here I come

You spin me right-round, baby, right-round/Like a record baby, right-round round round
You spin me right-round, baby, right-round/Like a record baby, right-round round round

The people in order station seemed to really resonate. Suddenly, they were smiling; laughing, having a jolly fine time like Santa had come or more appropriately Cupid had struck them down with his pimp hand strong. I was in High Holiday spirits, doing one of those circle breakdancing run things on the ground, and the people were laughing. I twirled and they clapped. Willow came out to dance and people laughed so hard at both of us having it out of the floor that they ceased caring about their eatables. Eventually, they left.

We saved Valentine’s Day. We made some tips, all thanks to you!” Willow said like the heroine of my teenage toon fantasies. After my shift, Willow kissed me again and we went to the carnival. She gave me a promotion to Rookie and I won her heart.

We ran the Cupcakeria all the way through Valentine’s until St. Patrick’s Day. We pre-gamed St. Patty’s so hard that we had done away with the Valentine’s stuff two week before and decked out with our greens out. It was a blast, getting wasted in Bake while we baked and seeing all those happy people eating our cupcakes. I had even taken to performing duets with Willow while waiting. We were happy people, Willow and me.

The day before St. Patrick’s Day was the day everything changed. I expected Willow to go out and get green decorations, so when I found the light of the Cupcakeria on up ahead, I ran quick and tripped on the pavement. I thought someone was robbing us, and such a feeling of paranoia and manliness stole over me, causing me to pump and force the door open.

The sight was a vaguely familiar one. Order station looked a little more official in the twenty-one days it had been in active commission. I knew EO better than I knew myself at this point. I knew order station well enough to tell that something was out of place. Then I saw the single sheet of paper sticking on the order window.

I ripped the sheet down and read:

To That Guy,

Congratulations on doing a phenomenal job with my Cupcakeria. Profits are through the roof! Willow says you’re an absolute pleasure to work with (she says hello by the way and something about getting “greens” ha-ha!) so congratulations and victory to you. We are just about even in our debts, wouldn’t you say? No? Oh, well it turns out that I need someone like you to manage my Wingeria in Vegas. You see, son, the Wingeria is basically like the Cupcakeria, it just needs a touch from a marketing genius, such as yourself. Have fun in the sand dunes!

Your last paycheck will be mailed to you,

Papa

PS: Ray says hello!

I ripped the letter in two. I couldn’t believe it. I had dedicated a lot to the Cupcakeria, more than I had ever intended to, and I realized that without this, I felt scared. I mean, how was I going to tell Willow?

She already knew, of course. I found this out when she walked in, knocking me headfirst into Build. I knocked down the bag of green shakers, mint shavings, and lucky coin toppings she had purchased.

I’m going to Vegas!” I yelled in her face when she asked what was wrong.

Yeah, congratulations on the Wingeria,” she said amused.

Are you coming with me?” I asked.

She hadn’t known that I would ask that of her. She was more interested now. This had been an unforeseen addition to something she, herself couldn’t name.

No, baby. If I had made other choices in life, perhaps. But I can’t live my life as a Winga-waitress,” she kissed me and lit the joint.

I finished out my day and earned my third pay check. It was for $150, more than I expected. Willow drove me to the airport, handed me an envelope with further instructions, and kissed me when my plane flew into the gate. I looked at her with eyes that burned words and we danced to sweet 80s melodies in our heads. She did up my coat and told me to call, baby.

You’re a dynamite kind of guy, you know,” she told me as we danced to Take My Breath Away, “I’ll always remember that about you. That Guy was a real smooth criminal. That Guy was dynamo.”

I waved and called back to her, “I’ve had the time of my life, and I owe it all to you.”

Sarah Tasker: Running

Running.

Faster than the moon. Faster than the dark. Faster than the night itself.

As fast as I possibly can.

For as long as I can.

Until my feet are bleeding. And even then. Even faster.

I hear them behind me, chasing me, the easy prey. They snort air through their moistened nostrils as spittle leaks through their blade-like teeth onto hungry black lips.

The moon hangs high in the sky, a pendant against the black, star-freckled throat of whatever entity it was that gave these beasts their mutable flesh. The moon. It is ripe as late-spring fruit.

The wolves are close behind, hot on my trail. Their paws beat heavily against the earth, but I am faster still, my feet pounding against fallen twigs, dampened leaves and vicious burrs, propelling me ever forward.

I will run to the end of the earth if that’s what it takes.

The moon dips behind the clouds, and I hear the canine race dull into feeble human footfalls. In this form, they are weak, and have worn themselves past their breaking points. Beastly growls turn into fretful human calls as they try to trace me in their inferior form.

I press on, trying to outrun the night.

 

At the edge of the forest, the hunter waits. The dog is curled up on the seat next to him, the rifle rocking gently in his lap as he taps his foot to the rhythm of the song playing on the radio. Clouds chase stars across the banner of the sky, an empty threat of much-unneeded precipitation. It has already rained far too much this year; any more, and the crops may drown.

White noise interrupts his favorite part of the song; he takes a long drag on his cigarette, waiting for the frequency to clear.

Wolves are powerful. Not powerful enough to interfere with the airwaves though.

He waits.

The next song ends as he takes a final puff on the cigarette. He steps out of the truck—the slam of the rusty door enough to wake the sleeping dog—and throws the filter onto the gravel, grinding the embers out beneath the heel of his boot. He breathes in deeply the damp air of the night, detecting the scents of rot, and dog, and evil.

In the distance, a wolf howls.

The dog is on its feet in an instant, barking madly out the window as the moon peers shyly out from behind the clouds. The image of a pair of bright-eyed children flashes into the hunter’s mind, sharp and piercing and painful. In his head their grins are stained blood-red with the juices from stolen berries. The memory fades as the moon dives out of sight again.

The howl dies on the wind.

Alright now, Percy, alright,” the hunter says as he gets back in the car, adjusting the rifle so he can reach the gearshift. He pats the dog’s back; the dog sits but continues to glare suspiciously out the window.

We’ll find ’em, boy,” the hunter says soothingly to the animal as he guns the truck’s engine.

Tonight,” he whispers as he stares through the night, pulling onto an off-road-vehicles-only path that leads through the woods, “they will meet their maker.”

 

Their cries crackle and congeal into one low moan as they rip back into their snarling and violent form. I haven’t stopped running; I’ve hardly slowed down but my body is burning through the adrenaline quickly. The freezing air scratches the back of my throat, then burns as it hits my lungs.

Trial by fire.

I pause for a moment, gasping desperately for air as the energy leaves my body. I try to take a step forward, and stumble, my joints aching and muscles screaming for relief. I’m finished. I can’t go on.

I’ve outrun life itself.

There is a moan, desolate and defeated. Have they gone off my scent? Did the brief change into their human form throw them off my trail? Unlikely.

I hazard a glance over my shoulder; the forest is dark, no shimmering reflections of eyes of unseen bodies. The forest would tell me I’m safe.

The forest is a liar.

A howl, feral and threatening drowns out the moan. I can see it clearly in my mind: the snout raised in the air, waiting for just a trace. And then a shift in the tree branches as the wind lifts off, sweeping over the wet nose, laced with barely a ribbon of the scent he’s searching for. But it’s enough.

Another howl, loud and victorious, pushing all the other thoughts from my mind until there is just the cacophony of the wolves as they set off into the moon-soaked night.

The howl cuts off, and I bolt into the trees, the pain fleeing, replaced by sheer terror.

 

He can smell her, a lovely accent to the aromas of rabbit, deer, moisture and decay.

He is not the alpha, nor the beta, but the third-in-command, the one the alpha puts in charge of hunts like these. He is not as strong as the alpha, nor as cunning as the beta, but a fair combination of both, making him a competent leader of the weaker, smaller-minded members of the pack.

The alpha respects the elders and spiritual leaders, and commands over the beta. The beta (unbeknownst to the alpha) has the final say among the elders’ and spiritual leaders’ decision, and rules over him, the third-in-command. He rules over the rest of the pack.

The elders were the ones who sensed her as she blossomed into her full power. The alpha was the one who decided to find her. The beta commanded him, the third-in-command, to capture her. He now pursues her.

He can taste her sweat as it leaks into the wind, spiced with fear. He can taste the witch blood that flows through her veins and seeps into the atmosphere. He can taste her flesh and her bone, and he will tear the life from her.

 

The truck coughs and sputters to a halt at the end of the dirt trail. The dog doesn’t bother waiting for his master, and leaps out the window, pressing his nose to the ground as he scurries into the unmapped wood. The hunter grasps his rifle, slipping a box of ammunition into his jean pocket.

In his mind: the young girl runs towards him, arms outstretched, eyes wide with fear. Behind her, the boy stumbles and falls. Candice always was the stronger of the two. But even she cannot reach her father before the wolves overtake her.

The hunter steps out of the truck. Dirt and rocks crunch beneath the soles of his boots until he reaches the first tree, and the earth gives, softened by the autumn rains. This will make it hard for his prey to find purchase as they run. Perhaps this will slow them down.

He hopes it will.

 

Sweat slithers out of every pore of mine, making my clothes adhere to my skin. Wet salt runs down my face, stinging my eyes and drying out my lips.

Trial by water.

I haven’t heard any barks or howls for a while, so I slow and listen. Crickets. Bats. But nothing to suggest wild dogs. I gasp a couple of times, realizing how out of breath I am, and then I hear it—a soft gurgling as water rushes past stones, a sound that cries out safety.

Dogs lose the scent of an animal if that animal passes through water.

I gallop forward, leaping over fallen logs and half-hidden holes, following the sound of the river.

A break in the trees, and I plunge into the icy flow. Knee-deep, and I’m in pain. Waist-deep, and shudders wrack my body. Throat-deep, and I’m fighting with everything I have left just to reach the opposite bank.

My feet brush over stones, and I find purchase against the riverbed, steeling myself against the strong current for the last thirty feet towards the shore. The water gets shallower, and I begin to realize just how cold the night really is.

Thigh-deep, and a symphony of howls penetrates the night.

 

He’s lost her.

He’s lost her, but he’s not finished yet.

He’s gone off her scent, but his sense of smell is not the only instrument he has at his disposal. He, the third-in-command, the hunter, the follower, the cunning trickster…he has many tricks up his sleeve yet.

 

Tufts of fur litter the leaf-covered soil. They were here when they changed, when for a moment the moon betrayed her children. He almost believes she will help him conquer these demons.

But mothers do not abandon their pups so easily.

Good job, Percy,” the hunter says, and throws his boy a biscuit. The dog gnashes it down, barks, then takes off into the trees.

We’re almost done,” the hunter says, sniffing the fur in his hands before rubbing his fingers together to let the wind scatter the blood-soaked pelt.

A growl off in the woods towards the place where the dog disappears makes the hunter lift his head.

Percy?” the hunter calls out, cocking his rifle.

The bushes rustle, but it could be the wind. The hunter squints his eyes, trying to see through the shadows. His eyes aren’t what they used to be, but he can still make out the shape of a figure moving stealthily towards him.

Percy,” he says lowly, taking a tighter hold on the gun.

The dog backs out of the trees into the moonlit glen, growling at the shadows.

Here boy.”

As the dog continues to back up, another figure takes form. At first all the hunter can see is the white foam hanging in midair as the shape moves through the shadows. Then the snout reaches the light, the torn flesh, filmy eyes, hunched shoulders and blistered paws as the emaciated wolf stalks forward.

Out of the way boy,” the hunter whispers as he takes aim.

The wolf’s eyes flick away from the slowly retreating form of the dog and to the barrel of the rifle. Recognition crosses the beast’s face, and the hunter has just enough time to inhale before the wolf rips past the dog, jaws snapping for the hunter’s throat.

The report of the rifle shatters the night.

 

Safety lies ahead.

Their fire illuminates the trees, turning the thick trunks and twisted branches into skeletal silhouettes. Teenagers, possibly hippies, maybe a family on a nice autumn camp out, I don’t care because they have fire and they are safe.

Wolves do not attack when humans are in packs of their own. Wolves are cowards.

I race towards the light, faster than ever, flying now that salvation is finally at hand.

As I come upon them I can hear the low, guttural moans of some tribal chant. A cult? I slow, second-guessing my decision to recklessly invade the fireside.

As I approach, evening out my footing and breathing so I inhale or exhale every other step, the voices became clearer yet still I cannot make out the words they say. They chant in an ancient tongue, older than the trees or the soil. I creep slowly up to the precipice that slopes down into the clearing where the fire is.

I cannot see much and what might have been illuminated by the light of the fire is obscured by a curtain of dying leaves. This has got to be the only place in the forest with any foliage still on the tree branches.

I inch slowly forward to peer around the edge of the leafy curtain, but am thrown forcefully to the ground before I can make out the shapes of the figures dancing around the fire.

Something pins me to the moist earth, preventing me from standing. The figure growls softly, warningly. My hand shoots to grasp the arm holding fast to my shoulder.

I freeze when instead of slick human flesh I feel coarse fur beneath my palm.

I look up into the bloodshot eyes of one of the beasts I had been running from, and I have to fight back the urge to break down in a storm of laughter.

After all…the best safety does lie in fear.

 

He can smell them in the distance. Far off, yes, but even the woods cannot mask their distinctive doglike odor with the choking stench of rot.

The hunter withdraws his knife from the dying beast’s ribs while his dog continues to growl softly as the animal twitches its last seconds of life away. This was an outcast. A loner. A rogue, exiled to live without a pack until he wasted into nothingness. The nothingness was near when the monster attacked, clinging desperately to life though he hadn’t had much left to live for anyway. The hunter had done the wolf a favor putting him out of his misery before the beast could wreak anymore havoc on the world.

With a final jerk of its head and one last beseeching whimper, the dim light in the animal’s bloodshot eyes flickered out. One down. How many more hundreds to go.

 

These wolves are strong.

Generally wolves are, able to take down and devour prey much larger than themselves, especially when they work in groups. But when such brute animal strength is coupled with heightened human intelligence, a beast more deadly than any other is created.

It only takes the one wolf to drag me to the fire I had been so desperate to reach not moments ago, but now would give anything to be as far away from as possible. His jaws clamp onto my shoulder, avoiding any major blood vessels but latching onto bone, forcing me to go limp as he pulls me into the light.

The figures are shadows, silhouettes writhing against the hellish backdrop of the fire centered in the glen. Atop a makeshift platform of stone and rotting wood stand three figures shrouded in the curtain of smoke rising from the flames. The wolves that sent the hunting party out to catch me. The alpha, his she-wolf, and the beta.

The one who dragged me here forces me to the ground before his masters, prostrating me unwillingly in their presence. I glare up at the beasts who tonight will take my life.

 

He has done it.

Success is his as the witch bows before his masters, submitting herself, her blood, to their command. A willing sacrifice. Her end need not be in vain.

The third-in-command raises his head, throwing his jaw open to praise their victory when he hears it, the sharp, offending peal of saliva rushing through teeth in insult. Lowering his eyes he sees the white splotch of spit tarnishing the ground between the witch and his alpha’s feet—a dying girl’s last attempt to prove that she will not submit willingly.

He is on the witch in an instant. He was going to be merciful, to hand her to his masters who would have seen to it that her end would serve some higher purpose, but for this transgression, she will pay.

He grabs her by the hair, tossing her on her back before zeroing in on the beckoningly pulsing artery in her neck. Teeth bared, he lunges.

He is knocked sideways by a stronger blow, forced onto his back as his attacker swipes at his snout. The beta. The beta paws and pounces, beating the other beast into a useless mound of fur and blood. He has done wrong in his masters’ eyes, and for this, he is paying.

 

The hunter watches the spectacle from the shroud of trees, keeping his hand on the dog’s back to keep the animal from rushing out in a rage. Although he is bewildered by the fluid motions of the beta as he wreaks justice, his eyes are trained intently on the back of the girl he saw the offender drag into the monsters’ den,

Please, he begs silently, please turn around.

 

In an instant the fight is over, and the beast who twice attacked me lies dying not an arm’s breadth away. The fight was beguiling, the blood seeming to dance out of the wounds. Shiny pools form in the mud, and although the fire is higher than ever, the dark patches reflect only the dim, pale light of the moon.

As the beast twitches in its final seconds, the moon dips behind the clouds once more, and the dancing shadows shift into their true form. The three positioned on the platform are cloaked in black robes that hide their forms from their subjects,

My eyes meander to the one who tried to do away with me. He is a handsome man, a scruff around his chin, auburn hair turned disturbingly red in the firelight. He is younger than forty, but older than thirty by several years. His eyes seek mine, beseeching before the light inside vanishes as the moon appears for the final show. My eyes find those of the beast who rescued me from the man’s rage, cold and knife-like in the flickering light sending a series of shudders down my spine,

Trial by fear.

 

The alpha eyes the witch ambivalently as she locks eyes with his beta. The third-in-command was a disappointment, a mistake easily rectified by the more than competent beta.

The rest of the wolves fall silent at the death within the clearing. Why is it that one of their own lies cold while the witch whose sacrifice they so depend on lives yet?

Gently,children, the alpha thinks, willing the pack to calm. All in good time.

Another change is coming, the clouds racing past the moon faster than ever now. Warning jolts of the Change flicker through their blood, flashes of humanity before the moon is obscured completely.

The alpha pulls his black robe over himself, his she-wolf following suit as the beta backs onto the platform, never breaking eye contact with the young witch as he dons his own robe.

The clouds swallow the moon, and the Change overtakes them. They ripple into their human forms, each one naked in the cold firelight save for the leaders. Every inch of the alpha, his she-wolf, and the beta is swathed in shadowy cloaks, not even the barest sliver of face visible to their subjects.

The alpha looks over to the witch, her face masked not in horror or disgust, but rather in defiant apathy as if to say: Let’s just get this over with.

As you wish, the alpha thinks and steps off the platform, ignoring the gasps of protest from those behind him.

As he approaches the witch, he hears a rustle from within the trees on the opposite side of the clearing. He looks up to scan the forest, eyes narrowing at an oddly illuminated patch of forest. When the witch looks up to follow his gaze, he realizes what it is.

 

Despite every instinct that tells him to shrug back into the cover of the bare-branched trees, the hunter leans forward as the witch turns. For a moment he believes he sees those same eyes on the witch, but when he blinks they disappear, replaced by wary green irises. And it is in that moment that he realizes he’s been caught.

Time to go, Perce,” the hunter says, gripping his rifle tighter than ever as he steps out of the trees into the clearing.

Their expressions do not change as he marches past them, unashamed of their nakedness before him. When he is fifteen feet away from the witch and the alpha, he takes aim.

You killed my family,” he growls. The alpha looks at the rifle, amused and disdainful.

And you don’t kill humans.”

I don’t think you exactly qualify.”

The corner of the alpha’s lip quirks upwards in a sly grin. “Wait for the moon. And see how you fare when we’re more evenly matched.”

The alpha turns away from the hunter to focus on the witch again. He is still for a moment, and then one of his hands dives into the shadows of his robes. The hunter cocks his rifle, and in the following instant a unanimous cry of rage sounds throughout the clearing as the leader of the monsters falls.

I dare you,” the hunter whispers, gun still at-the-ready.

A glimmer of moonlight washes through the branches as the clouds recede. Around the hunter the naked bodies crumple into fur-clad beasts. There is enough time though for the new alpha to step forward, throw back his hood and smile at the hunter. But it is the she-wolf that catches the hunter’s eye as she disrobes to Change. Large brown eyes set into a cold stare after years of subjugation to the horde of monsters as their queen. Chelsea.

Thank you,” the new alpha says through sharpened canine teeth, drawing the hunter’s attention away, “for making this far easier than I’d ever hoped.”

With a howl the new alpha collapses into a wolf, shaking off the restrictive robe, still grinning as he prowls toward the hunter.

There are many words that have been used to describe my mother. Most of them seemingly negative. People have called her cold, strange, cool, and as someone who genuinely has no filter. As I have gone through my life I have learned that all these words are completely accurate. My mother certainly has times where she is as cold as a witch’s tit in a steel bra (her words, not mine). But she also has a heart warmer than anyone I’ve ever known. She is absolutely strange, often garnering more puzzled looks than any other response; yet she is so deeply grounded in reality. “Cool” is a term used by many friends to describe her, mostly when she cusses at them or drinks them under the table. And lastly, my mother has never and will never have a filter on anything she says. I hope one day to have that courage as well. I hope one day to be half the person my mother is.

My mother is the daughter of two Irish born immigrants and is one of twelve children. They grew up on a farm in Owings Mills, Maryland; this was no doubt the only place large enough to fit such a gaggle of children. I believe my mother’s order in her family is what makes her so unique. There was Peter, Patrick, Gina, Kirsten, Hank, Tommy, Matt, Tara, Becky, Adrian, Shelly, and Lisa. Tara is my mother. She was the oldest of the last girls and younger than most of her siblings. Textbook “middle-child”. Through most of my childhood, she regaled me with stories of her youth. She would tell me how Matt found a snake in his underwear drawer and screamed like a girl. She told me about running track in high school and the first (and only) time she got high. She told me about their St. Bernard’s, Thor and Gretel. I was so envious of how she grew up. She had little to no neighbors, an infinite freedom, and little stress. She cared for animals and her sisters. Ate family meals at a table that resembled what you might find in a king’s banquet hall. She was given true autonomy for someone her age and it is what makes her so unique today.

As mothers go, Tara is a prime example of baptism by fire. She often reminded me when I was young that “I didn’t want you, but you turned out okay I guess.” Now it’s important to keep in mind that this is one of the highest compliments she could give me. The Irish nature in her takes feelings and emotion and shoves them into the depths of her being and throws away the key. I find myself to be very similar to her in that regard. The idea that emotions or a bleeding heart make you weak has been ingrained in Irish genes for hundreds of years and I am the most current form. The only time emotion is acceptable is at the most elated or grievous of times, and even then don’t let anyone see you. My mother truly didn’t want to have kids when she was a young woman, no doubt after seeing what her mother had to go through. Despite her trepidation at the thought of being a mother, she has excelled beyond words.

I never wanted for anything as a child; I always had a roof over my head and food on the table. In fact, I practically ate Tara out of house and home. She took me to the doctor to see if something was wrong with me. “He cries and eats every two hours!” “Well”, the doc said, “he’s hungry, feed him.” She took his advice and fed me until I was a miniature version of a Goodyear blimp. People would ask her why she had put rubber bands on my wrists. “He’s just a fat-ass” she would tell them. I can’t say it offended me because I truly didn’t care, I just wanted to eat. I would fall asleep and Tara would grab me by the legs and sling me over her shoulder like a sack of potatoes to take me to bed. She blames her back problems on this activity, but I can hardly be placed at fault. As I grew up and began to move around, she would let me try to walk off the extreme weight I had put on. By the time I was two I had broken two plastic swing sets and couldn’t stop myself when I had momentum. Tara tells me that “this was the most entertaining you have ever been, I would laugh at you and you would laugh at you”. It’s upsetting to me that I can’t remember those moments shared with her in true bliss. Such is the catch 22 of childhood though. The times when you are most stress free and have the most fun, you will never remember. I suppose I am lucky that my mother can share with me the stories of my youth. I did eventually lose the weight as I got taller and took on a shape other than a globe. My mother did tell me she was grateful when I began speaking though.

Once I had mastered the basics of the English language and could absorb what I was experiencing, my understanding of my mother grew by leaps and bounds. I learned that she had an alcohol tolerance reserved for Irish dock workers and that she cursed like a sailor’s parrot. This didn’t bother me at all, and still doesn’t. It’s part of who she is and there is a certain beauty and finesse about it. Whoever claimed cursing is the crutch of the illiterate had not met Tara. There is an eloquence with which she describes how the politicians are ruining the country and how anyone who drinks bush mills is going to hell is truly breathtaking. In fact, I was in 3rd grade when I uttered a particularly nasty four-letter word that caused everyone to gasp and stare at me. “What the Fuck is everyone looking at?” was my response. Needless to say, I was dragged into the principal’s office and scolded for what I said. I was completely confused as to how I had done anything wrong. This was how my mother talked, why couldn’t I? The administration called my mother to pick me up. Her exact words were, “There’s no Fucking way in hell I’m driving all the way out there to get the little shit.” The administration, equipped with sudden clarity, sent me back to class immediately. Not all my mother’s lessons though involved simple colorful language. She is a woman wise beyond her years. Her wisdom was always there, but I first noticed it when I began dating.

My senior year of high school I had my first girlfriend. Naturally I was crazy in love and convinced I had found my soul mate. My mother brought me down to earth by reminding me, “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.” Luckily I never forgot that and have acted accordingly within my personal life. Though when I first told my mother that I had a girlfriend, her response was more than a bit surprising. “Do her thighs touch?” I found myself actually having to think if they did or not. “Uhh…well…yeah” was all I could muster, not knowing what the right answer was. “Good, never trust a girl whose thighs don’t touch.” To say I was confused would be a colossal understatement. I saw no correlation between trust and thighs so I brushed it off as an episode of delusion by Tara. That girl and I dated for about two years very happily. When she dumped me, I glanced down and noticed that her thighs no longer touched. I couldn’t help myself. I began laughing uncontrollably. The poetic way in which this prophesy came to pass was too much. All I could hear was my mother’s voice telling me over and over “Don’t trust a girl whose thighs don’t touch.” So here I am on this poor girl’s front porch as she’s crying and trying to break up with me, and I am howling like a hyena over something she doesn’t understand. We’re not currently on good terms. Surprise. When I went home to tell my mother what had happened, I had come down out of my laughing fit and was genuinely sad. Someone I had spent the better part of two years in my adolescence with hated my guts. My mother’s response to my being dumped was a nonchalant, “Bitches and ho’s, whatcha gonna do?” Although colloquial in nature, my mother’s wisdom always seemed eloquent to me. She never lied to me; she never tried to say things respectfully. She just told me what I needed to hear, when I needed to hear it, unambiguously. It’s a gift that many children today will never get to experience.

In an age of participation trophies and helmets for everything but sleeping, my mother has never compromised nor coddled. She was there to tell me I played like garbage or didn’t deserve a trophy, she was there to break me down then take me for ice cream and build me back up. I don’t mean to paint my mother as a cold hearted witch, but it is a part of her. I never grew up expecting lots of hugs and “I love you’s”. (Cue: “Aw poor baby”) It was certainly not a sad childhood I lived. My mother and I shared many laughs and smiles. We always made do with what we had and didn’t take shit from anyone.

When I was in the 8th grade, I rode the bus with a particularly large child who insisted on picking on me both physically and verbally. Little did he realize the volcano that brewed beneath the surface. When the Irish get angry, they suppress it; and when the anger reaches a boiling point, people get hurt. My boiling point was when he made a very crude sexual comment about my mother that involved more than one illegal act. Before he could react I pounced on this massive child and unleashing all my anger with each blow. I could feel such a profound rage that my entire body shook with energy. I wanted to destroy his face. I wanted him to taste blood. I wanted to breathe fire. Five stitches above his eye, four teeth knocked out, three lacerations on his face, two black eyes, and a partridge in a pear tree. Of course I was called into the principal’s office again. The other students looked at me like I was some psycho that could snap at any moment, like I belonged in a straight jacket. An understandable notion I suppose, seeing as I was speckled with his blood. My mother came into the office and took a long look at me before speaking. She calmly but firmly asked me, “What did he do?” I told her what had happened and what the boy had said about her. She sighed and said, “Better you do it than me, I would’ve killed the fucking brat.” The other boy’s mother stood up quickly as if to say she wanted to fight right there. Tara’s infinite calm wavered for just a bit and she gave the frostiest stare I’ve ever seen. Without speaking she said, “I’m fucking serious and you don’t want to know where my son got it from.” Everyone in the office took a step back, including the boy’s mother. She reached out and took my hand and we walked out without another word. She pulled me aside the car and looked me right in the eyes. Her words are forever seared into my brain. “If you don’t have something worth fighting for, you’re already dead.” She wrapped me up in a rare hug and we went for ice cream.

My mother is no saint. She is cold. She is strange. To some, she is the coolest mom ever, and to many, she lacks an all important filter. That being said though, I have never once doubted her absolute and unwavering love for her family. She is the caregiver and ass-kicker in our family and she does an amazing job. Everything about her has shaped me into the man I am today. I have been called cold. I have been called strange. To some, I am the coolest friend ever, and to many, I need a better filter on what I say. But knowing that one day I may be half the person my mother is makes me feel like I’m on the right track. And if anyone disagrees, well, fuck ‘em.

 

After being picked up from my friend’s house, I got in the car and I noticed my father’s hesitant and unsteady vocals; what he told me was certainly the most dreadful and unexpected news I could have ever thought.

Roughly nine o’clock, almost pitch black, in the car on the way home, Dad’s short, emotionless tone did not appear to be a good sign. He abruptly said to me, “So…the cops came to the front porch this morning with divorce papers…Just thought I’d tell you rather than you hearing it from someone else.”

Although I was not standing next to my father when he was informed of this news, when he told me, I was hit just as hard by the pain. I was aware of my parents’ inability to be civil with one another; however, what I hadn’t realized until this moment was the true severity of the situation. While in the car, I wondered inside my head, “Why did the heat just arise?” and “Why did my heart just sink several feet lower than normal?” I could almost feel the vomit traveling north up my esophagus. Immediately after discovering this news, I tried to put up a front, but enough tears arose from my eyes for my whole family.

Eventually, I asked Dad more follow-up questions such as, “What’s going to happen to the house?” and “Where will Teddy go?” Although those questions were not the most important, I found that it was the only method to fill the awkward, speechless moment.
“We’ll figure it out.” Even though that was the only sentence he seemed to be able to form, I could tell by the way he looked at me and how tightly he held my hand that he truthfully meant what he said. By recognizing my goal to only look out the window, my Dad could also feel and see the endless amount of horror in my eyes. Gazing to the outside world made it seem like I was looking for an answer.

Who knew a ten minute drive could turn into an hour long car ride, by only one simple sentence? The ride was not actually an hour long, but because it was so quiet that I could hear the wheels rolling across the ground, it felt that long. As soon as I noticed my uncontrollable breathing, I inhaled as much as I could, and for a second, I thought maybe I could pinch myself and wake up from this ceaseless nightmare. So I tried. Unfortunately, I did not succeed. Dad said nothing else the whole way home. I could tell that he was more terrified than me from his direct and motionless gaze at each part of the road that approached him. Finally, he pulled the car into the driveway; which really felt like a gift from Heaven. I stared into the garage, and when he stopped, I opened the door and entered the last place I knew my family could ever be together. I left my father sitting inside his car in the pitch black; once again, alone.
What my family went through two years ago was the most awful and unanticipated circumstance. As a result of that, my father constantly attempts to camouflage his mournfulness through the use of humor; however, the strengths that he has acquired from this experience have, moreover, have influenced me.

Despite the humorous tone that he uses when he says to me, “I’m gonna go home and weep,” I have noticed the true sincerity of the sadness in his voice. He expresses fear as he notes the destruction to his life: but, he also tries to overcome the fear of no longer having his family with him each day. In addition to that, I have noticed his choice of words change from, ‘Mom,’ to, “your Mother.’ This simple modification has shown not only me, but also him, the level of agony he goes through each second of the day. Although when my father throws in to a casual conversation that he will “go home to an empty house”, by the way he looks at me, I have noticed the unbearable ‘alone’ feeling that has become inescapable. He experiences frustration every time he remembers that he can’t go home and see his two boys and little girl everyday like he used to. Instead, he attempts to combine his family life with his business life and act almost as if each of our gatherings is just another one of his ‘business meetings.’ He presents these emotions through a depressed, quiet, and less enthusiastic tone, specifically to reach out to all three of his kids, despite the amount of rage he has experienced from, now, living life alone.

My father’s distraught feelings have appeared most to me when my two brothers and I received a letter in the mail for an invitation to go over his house for a Thanksgiving Dinner. This instantly made me recognize the severity of our separation; but, at the same time, I have become impressed by the way he has maintained his altered life without the constant appearance of his children and wife. Additionally, he has realized that, at some point, he must put up a front when in the presence of his children. I have recognized the encouragement he knows that he should have when he tries to fulfill his kids’ needs. He’s always told us that he’ll “get [us] anything at all that [we] need, no matter what”, even though, in reality, everyone knows that money is the last interference that he could handle. My father will also often say, “I’ve worked all night, and went to another business meeting this morning, so I haven’t gotten a chance to sleep.” Then he will ask if I am working; and if I am, despite the scare amount of sleep he gets on a regular basis, he will go through a massively inconvenient trip, just to see me, even if it’s just for a few minutes. I can see through his slight bit of seriousness, and instantly recognize by the tone in his voice that his life’s goal is to never become distant from his kids. They’re his life. This battle has helped both my father and I to attempt avoiding how it’s destroyed us all; and, hopefully in time, obtain even more strength than we had before.

Accepting the brutality of the condition is exactly what has helped guide me the most. When he notifies me that we should have ‘weekly meets’ in order to ‘solve one problem at a time’, I also recognize that that’s his way of doing everything he can to help me and himself to an almost unreachable goal. After this, I’ve understood how delicate we all actually are, and that it is surprisingly a good thing because it’s one of the characteristics that help us the most. It builds us up even stronger and makes us able to fix more problems. The knowledge that I have gained from what will ever be the most awful situation my father has experienced has prepared me to face my own problems and to continue to strive for the objectives that will shape my future.

The fresh smell of apple pie drifted through the house, rousing Daisy from her sleep. Waking up to the smell of freshly baked desserts was always a welcome way to pull her from lucid dreams. In the past, many different smells had filled the morning air of their little home. Cookies and bread, although usually it came down to a different type of pie. Her mother specialized in pies ranging from apple to chocolate pecan. But that was all in the past, her mother rarely baked pie anymore. In fact, the rarity of her baking had been reduced to a predictable pattern that quickly told Daisy what she would be doing today. She sighed, wishing that she could have the pie to herself, but she knew that could not be the case.

Daisy pushed back her covers, and put her feet down on the cool oak floor while stretching. The room was still dark. She got up and shuffled to the window to pull back the curtains and let the early morning light drift in. She rubbed her eyes and propped the window so the cool breeze could stir up the stiff air in her room. She put on her slippers and gave one last stretch before opening her door and heading downstairs. The smell of apple pie was even stronger as she progressed down the steps.
She entered the kitchen to find exactly what she had expected. Her snow boots were out along with her white riding hood. On the kitchen table sat a basket of food. Approached the table, she peeked underneath the blanket that covered the food. Nestled inside the hand-woven basket were breads, cheeses, and various fruits. It was the most food she had seen in her house in a long time.
Her mother turned around and smiled. “You’re finally up.”
“I’m going to grandma’s house.” It wasn’t really a question. She already knew the answer.
Her mother wiped her flour caked hands across her apron. Daisy had actually wondered if she’d ever see her mother in it again. It had been hanging on the back of the pantry door collecting dust for nearly a month. “Yes, and taking her some food. You know how she is during the winter time. I feel terrible I haven’t been able to get something out to her sooner, but…”She didn’t complete her sentence but Daisy could guess.
She knew that her grandmother rarely left her bed during the winter. In her old age she had weakened to a point in which she could barely pull herself out of bed. She was only surviving because Daisy’s mother was supporting her by delivering food to her. To be honest, Daisy didn’t feel like delivering anything. Daisy kind of wanted to crawl back into her bed to escape the current biting cold that penetrated their small cabin.
Her mother bustled around the kitchen, placing more things into the basket and began to pack a separate bag for Daisy on the road. It was several miles to grandmother’s house and her mother had always been a little overly cautious. Food for a few days, some healing herbs and ointments, rope, a tarp, a traveling cooking set. Daisy tilted her head. She had a feeling the pack would be too heavy, but she didn’t comment. She knew how stressed her mother was and didn’t need to worry her further. Instead she took one of the pieces of extra pie and chewed it. She ignored the sticky pie filling oozing onto her hands. It actually felt good. Her mother tied up the bag and looked at Daisy sternly.
Daisy looked for a place to wipe off her sticky fingers, but found no place but her own cloak. She always said it looked like a giant hand cloth, but the cloak was too precious to her to ruin in such a way. She however settled with wiping them on the wooden table in front of her when he mother was not looking. She was occupied with one of the drawers in a shelf that she was unlocking with a silver key she always kept around her neck.
Daisy had asked hundreds of times what the key was for, but her mother said it was not important. In a vain attempt she tried to see around her mother so she could peek in the drawer, but her mother had her body stationed in the perfect position to block her view from all angles. Daisy could move to get a better angle, but that would have been too obvious.
She sat back up quickly when her mother turned back around. In her hands was a wooden box. The surface gleamed with a multitude of different shades brown combined showcasing the individual grains of wood. She wondered vaguely if it was enchanted wood. She had always been fascinated by magic, even though she knew she wasn’t allowed to be. It was closed by a single silver latch on the front. Her mother flicked the latch upwards and the box creaked open. Daisy wasn’t sure what she had expected, but a dagger had not ranked on her list of possibilities. It was a small dagger to be sure, but sharp judging by the jagged teeth.
“Take it,” her mother said offering the box.
Daisy stared at the glittering dagger in confusion. Never before had she been given a weapon like this for her travels. She looked up at her mother as if about to ask a question.
“Two children were nearly eaten by a witch in the woods a few months ago. I’d feel safer if you had this. I would accompany you to your grandmother’s house myself, but I’m afraid I must stay here. Your father is coming back home today and I must get everything ready. I packed enough clothes for you to sleep over. I don’t want you on the road when it gets dark. Also stay to the main roads. No shortcuts.” She wagged her finger as if already scolding her for already doing something wrong.
Most of this did not process in Daisy’s head as she picked up the dagger and examined it with awe. The world they lived in was dangerous. Everyone knew that. Most children did learn how to at least carry a dagger with them. Most of Daisy’s friends did. For the longest time Daisy’s mother refused to give her one. She never really understood it, and could not even begin to fathom why her mother would give it to her now.
She looked up into her mother’s eyes and noticed that she was not looking at her. Her mother’s eyes seemed to go all about the room, but never focused on Daisy. The girl concluded that she had to be looking for something. Daisy placed the dagger in her the basket for lack of a better place to put it. She put the hood on her head and placed the back on her shoulders. It was every bit as heavy as she thought it would be. The basket wasn’t much better.
“Are you sure I shouldn’t leave some of this food here. What will you and dad eat?”
A half smile crossed her mother’s lips. There was something broken about it. It was an expression she had never seen on her mother’s face. It was dark and distant, but it was so fleeting Daisy questioned if she had actually seen it at all. A real smile was back on her face as she leaned over to kiss Daisy on the forehead. “Don’t worry about us. We’ll be fine.” She opened the door for Daisy, her smile full of its usual light as she lightly placed her hand on Daisy’s back and guided her out. “Remember to not stray from the main path.”
“Okay,” she said before venturing off of her porch and onto the path that would take her to grandmother’s house.
The snow had settled from the night before. It was the untouched kind of snow that blanketed the earth with no imperfections. There didn’t even appear to be any markings from passing animals. It was a wondrous sight. Magical even if she were to describe it. A sickness fell over her as she began to mourn the perfection she was about to ruin with her booted feet. She stood on the porch for several moments taking in the sight before stepping forward into the ankle high snow. There was no wind thankfully. Without wind, her hood stayed in place and provided some protection for her ears which were always the first thing to get cold.
Daisy wasn’t usually one to disobey her mother, but something about her mother’s brief broken smile had shaken her resolve when it came to listening to the woman. She tried to push off the thought as she reasoned out her disobedience with what she considered to be logic. The straight path to her grandmother’s house was so much longer, and she wanted out of the cold as quickly as possible. She knew the perfect shortcut. It was a perfectly logical reason to disobey.
Making sure to keep on the path until she was out of sight of her cabins, she looked back briefly before ducking into a line of trees.
As she entered the woods, she discovered another logical positive to not following directions. The snow under the trees proved to be slightly thinner. This made her progression far less tiring and eased her nerves about ruining the majestic quality of the snow as this air was obviously already corrupted by animals and fallen twigs and acorns. Looking up, she took in the fresh air and glanced up at the now blue sky. The sun was out, but she doubted it would heat up enough for the snow to melt anytime soon. Distracted by a passing cloud that momentarily blocked the sun, she did not see the man step into her path. She walked right into him. Even though she hadn’t been walking all that fast, the impact hurt as if she had walked into a tree. She fell back, nearly hitting the ground and spilling all of her mother’s baked goods. She would have spilled everything out of her basket if the man had not caught her by the wrist and pulled her back to her feet before she had fully fallen.
“Thank you sir,” she gave the man a quick smile. She quickly realized her folly and closed her mouth before any more greetings could escape her mouth. Her mother told her to never talk to strangers. While she had questioned her mother’s advice about the path, this did not seem to be the best thing to question her mother on.
The man looked nice enough. He looked to be about her father’s age, with a slightly scruffier beard and dark blue eyes. Judging by his simple attire she suspected he was simply a traveling merchant, but she did not see him carrying anything to sell. He just had a walking cane with a carved wolf head as a handle.
“Happy to help,” he said in a surprisingly rich and warm voice. It was the kind of voice one could drift off to sleep to. Her father had a similar quality to his voice, although not quite so cultured. There was an accent that she could not readily place. Still, he reminded her of her father. It was probably these similarities that kept her at ease. Even if she sensed no danger from the man, she still felt she should honor her mother and get out of the situation as quickly as possible. She’d just have to be polite about it.
She smiled at him. It was the friendliest smile she could make without seeming too fake. “Well thanks, but I really must go.” She started to walk around him, but the slightest of movement from him caused her to be once again blocked.
“That’s a marvelous smell coming from your basket. You are taking some pie to someone?”
Daisy stopped for a moment. With the basket covered, she could not a smell a thing from of its contents. The only thing she could smell was pine trees. She looked down at the basket and back up at the man. “Yes, I’m bringing my grandma some food. I really must run along now. If I’m late I’ll get in trouble.” It wasn’t a lie. Her grandmother was probably expecting her, and if she didn’t show up in a timely manner, she was likely to get scolded by her mother when she found out. With that, she stepped around him and quickly made her way along the unmarked path that she knew existed. She looked back once and waved at the man.
“Thank you again,” she called back.
“And have a good day,” he said with a smile. It was a kind smile, but something about his eyes seemed different. It was another shift in emotion that she had no time to read before it was gone. Slightly unnerved, she turned her attention back to her path and continued. She picked up her pace until she was modestly running. She told herself that logically it was just to make up time for her brief stop. She would keep up this jog until she reached her destination. No more distractions.
Her grandmother’s house was far even by shortcut. She arrived at the small cabin several hours later. She had run most of the way, forgetting even why she had taken up such a quick pace. She came up to the front door and knocked on it three times in a row. It wasn’t the most complicated sign ever, but it was what they had agreed upon as the knock Daisy would use. Grandma did not like opening the door, so she liked to know who was at the door by the knock. There was the sound of rustling on the other side and the door. Daisy stood there for a few moments knowing that it would take her grandmother a long time to get to the door. The door finally opened to reveal her grandmother in her usual pink nightgown and a thick white shawl wrapped around her.
“Come in dear,” she said placing her hand on Daisy’s back and lightly ushering her inside the house.
Daisy lowered her hood and looked around the room. It smelled funny. That was the first thing Daisy noticed. She could not place the smell, but it was rancid like spoiled meat. She sniffed the air to get a better read as to where the smell was coming from. She put the basket on the table. “I brought you some food grandma.” She looked back to see her grandmother putting away her shawl in the closet. She usually just kept it on in the bed as an extra blanket.
“Mother sends her best,” Daisy continued.
She only received a quick nod from her grandmother as she moved about the room closing the curtains. What little bit of light lit the room quickly vanished. Maybe she wanted to use candles.
“Are you hungry?” Daisy asked.
“Starved,” her grandmother said.
Daisy’s eyes narrowed as she observed her grandmother. Her voice sounded deeper than usual. “What a deep voice you have grandma. Are you sick?” She froze when her mother walked up behind her Before she could move, her grandmother pulled her into and embrace, her head lowering so her nose pressed into Daisy’s neck.
“You smell so good.” He voice was gravely and slowly becoming even deeper than before.
“Grandma?”
Claw like fingernails trailed down her shoulders as her grandmother continued to nuzzle into her neck. It took Daisy a few minutes before the chill in her veins had finally receded enough for her to move. She struggled out of her grandmother’s grip and stumbled away from her.
A scream caught in her throat as she took in the image of what she believed was her grandmother. The old woman was standing with her head cocked to the side, her mouth hung open as if her jaw had detached and was now cracking back and forth between a regular jawline and the grotesque extended one. Her whole body twisted and snapped as her bones appeared to be breaking and reforming all at once. Her neck snapped at an odd angle that did not seem humanly possible. Her usually brown eyes enlarged and became a shocking blue. Her wrinkled small features began sharpen and become more masculine as hair grew from her face. Her body was enlarging, ripping her clothes as a man’s body took its place.
She couldn’t even form any words as she quickly recognized the man crouched down like a dog in front of her. It was the man from the woods. He stood up and smoothed back his hair. “Hurts every time, but so efficient.” His cultured way of speaking hadn’t lost its power, but now if it lulled her into sleep she was sure it would be into a nightmare.
Daisy inched towards the table where she had placed the basket. “Where is my grandmother?”
The man tilted his head to the side as it made a loud snapping noise. He smiled. “In my stomach. I ate her a few nights ago. She was a bit bony and barely had any meat on her, but these are lean times for everyone.” His eyes seemed to light up with mirth as he examined Daisy with a calculating expression. “I much prefer the meat of younglings. So much more flavor. So much meaty fat. I would stay and talk, but my mother always said to not play with my food. Night will be here soon and the full moon out. But honestly I like having my food dead before I change, so I’ll deal with it now.” He jumped forwards with speed Daisy did not think possible. She tried to jump out of the way, but he caught her by the throat and slammed her down onto a table. The basket was thrown from the table and her one chance of grabbing the knife was lost.
Tears flowed down her face as she beat her fists against his chest. “Why are you doing this to me,” she cried.
He placed a hand around her throat on the side of her face. “Ask your mother. Well, I suppose you can’t since you’ll be dead. Well, let’s just say I paid for my meal tonight.” He shrugged. “Oops. Oh, by the way, I hope you don’t mind if I just snap your neck. I detest it when my food is already bleeding and riddled with holes. I have a cousin that loves to stab his dinner to death, but I think it takes away from the flavor. I swear I can taste the metal from the blade.”
She screamed and struggled harder but it was useless.
“Shhh, it will be quick.” He placed both hands on either side of her face.
The door burst open and in an instant the man had jumped off her to confront who had entered. A young man maybe a few years older than Daisy stood at the door with a cold detached look on his face.
The man that had attacked Daisy growled, falling onto all fours. He leaped forward to meet the intruder. The boy quickly moved forward as the wolf man opened his jaw to reveal a row of sharpened teeth. The boy caught him in mid air by the throat, using the momentum of his jump to slam him into the ground with enough force to shake the whole cabin and splinter the floor. The wolf man struggled, but the boy’s grin seemed too strong.
“This is not fair, I bought her fair and square. You promised me! You…”His words were cut off as the boy pulled out a dagger and shoved into the wolf man’s chest. The last sound he made was a gurgling sort of growl that died with one final twist of the boy’s dagger.
With a quick yank, he pulled the dagger from the dead man’s chest, sending a spray of blood splattered the floor and reached Daisy, speckling the front of her cloak with crimson specks.
The boy absently cleaned the edge of his dagger with a cloth he pulled from his pocket. He didn’t even glance up at the cowering Daisy that hadn’t moved from her location. The room seemed so dark and unfamiliar to her. The room seemed to want to consume her into darkness.
Light entered the room as a woman walked in. She was the most beautiful woman Daisy had ever seen. Her dark black hair lay stacked in an intricate layering. She wore a silk golden dress that seemed to glimmer like the very snow outside. That wasn’t what made her beautiful. He face was smooth and unblemished, her eyes a brilliant bright blue. Her features were perfectly symmetrical and it was impossible to say her age due to a youthful, but wise appearance.
A concerned expression crossed the woman’s face as she entered. She glided across the floor, her feet invisible underneath her dress. She bent over and reached out to touch Daisy’s cheek. Daisy felt the urge to recoil, but she didn’t. A warm feeling spread across her face, and the pain from the attack vanished.
“Oh my sweet, I’m so sorry this happened to you,” her voice came out like music. It was entrancing to the point Daisy could focus on nothing else but the woman’s words.
“Do you know who I am?”
“Yes, you’re the queen. My mom says you’re bad. She says it your fault my dad had to go away. It’s also your fault that we have no money.” she said.
The woman looked sad for a moment. “Oh sweetie, I’m not bad. But I can understand her dislike for me. It’s hard to run such a vast land and have no help. It’s hard to make them all happy. But if I had some help, maybe I could make everyone happy.”
Daisy sniffed. “But my mom says….”
She was cut off as the boy approached and handed the queen a rolled of piece of paper. “I found this on him,” he said sternly.
The Queen took and opened it. She made a slight gasping noise, and tried roll it back up quickly. Daisy managed to catch a glimpse and saw her mother’s signature at the bottom.
“What’s that,” Daisy asked.
“Oh, it’s nothing,” the queen said.
“I want to know. If it has my mother’s name on it, then I should get to know.”
The queen sighed. “Okay,” she unrolled the paper again. “This is a contract offering to pay your mother for her first born child. Big Bads like that man there often make contracts like this with poor families. Too lazy to hunt so they buy their food. Your mother’s signature indicates that she sold you. I’m so sorry.” The parchment caught on fire in the queen’s hands. “It’s despicable, selling your own child.”
Daisy felt numb. How could her mother betray her like that? It made no sense. She tried to put together in her head, but none of it made sense.
The queen looked back at the slain body. “An invention by my father. They are nasty creatures. They plague my land and bring my people such suffering. It’s one of the things I need help with.” She looked thoughtful for a moment. “Will you help me?”
Still a little shaken Daisy only managed to squeak out her response. “How can I help you?”
The queen put her hand on Daisy’s cloak. “I can give you power. I can give you power beyond your imagination. My huntsmen can train you to fight. With these two tools you can make sure nobody suffers your fate, or your grandmother’s fate. You can help me by purging the land of these monsters.”
Daisy sat there for a moment in a daze. She looked down at the man that had attacked her. She thought about her grandmother’s kind face warping to that of a monster’s face. “Okay,” she said.
“Good, I’m so glad that you agreed.”
With her hand still on Daisy’s cloak, the queen’s expression took on a new layer of focus. The small specks of blood on Daisy’s cloak expanded eating away the pure white that was once there. Soon the entire hood had turned a deep red like a rose, like the blood that still seeped from the man’s body and soaked into the floor.

Gripkin’s Lesson

by
Maria Hooe

novel

One day as Gripkin and the princess sat under a tree during one of their sessions, the princess looked at the sky and saw it was clearer than she had ever seen it. “Oh, it must be nice being a bird, especially on a day like this! I would fly all day if I could.”
     “Well, you can’t,” Gripkin said. “You were not born with wings so it is foolish to even think otherwise.”
     “It isn’t foolish if it makes me happy. In fact, dreaming about anything, anything at all, whether it is possible or not, is only foolish if it brings sadness. And I never bother dreaming about things that make me sad.”

Gripkin smirked and attempted to lure the princess back into her lesson. The princess then studied, but only for a short period before she became distracted again.
     “Gripkin,” the princess said, “how do you have the patience to learn so much? Seems pointless when there are others who can learn for you. You should perhaps find a companion; someone who can teach you things you’ll never learn in a book.”
     “Why would I want to learn anything that cannot be taught in a book? I enjoy this study. It gives my mind something to focus on.”
     “But I doubt you need a book to tell you what you should focus on.”
     “You’re right, princess.” Gripkin said. “But it helps me to focus on something good.”
     “Good?” The princess gave Gripkin a peculiar look. “As opposed to something bad?”
     “Yes.” Gripkin said, turning back to her books.
     “What bad things would you focus on? You don’t seem so bad to me.”
     “That’s because I have these books.”
     “And what if your books were to disappear?” The princess asked. “What if your house burned down and all the books with it?”
     Gripkin looked at the princess suspiciously and took a moment to answer. “I would think I would have to buy more.”
     “But say you had been robbed and had no more money.”
     “Then I suppose I would have to borrow yours, if you would let me.”
     The princess then laughed, truly laughed, until she saw Gripkin looked displeased. Wiping a tear from one of her deep blue eyes, the princess explained, “If that day should ever come, Gripkin, I promise you can have all of my books!” She laughed again. “Every last one.”

And strangely enough, within two weeks of this conversation, Gripkin’s home was mistaken for a thief’s and burned down. She was left with nothing–not even a single bit of dust–but decided not to worry, for the princess had made her a promise.
She arrived on the doorstep of the castle and awaited the princess. When the princess arrived, Gripkin did not hesitate to tell her what was on her mind.
     “Princess, my home has been destroyed along with all of my books. You made a promise to me that should this ever happen you would give me all of yours.”
     “I did, didn’t I?” The princess said, and Gripkin could see a change take over the girl’s face. She smiled mischievously as the governess waited. “Well, Grip,” the princess began, “I would love to give you all of my books, however; I think this is my chance to teach you something.”
     “What do you mean?” Gripkin asked, not at all pleased.
     “I think this is my opportunity to teach you something you will never learn in a book. You must find a man to love more than anything in the world. He must teach you to see the world in a new way, and all the beautiful things in it. If you can find him, and you still wish to have my entire collection of rubbish books, I shall make sure you have it.”
     “But, princess–” Gripkin protested, however; the princess knew what she was about to say and interrupted her.
     “I promised you all of my books, yes, but I never promised I would give them to you immediately. Calm down and stop worrying. I will promise to help you and now,” The princess smiled “you will become my student. Come with me.”
Gripkin was shocked; this was not the way she foresaw this morning’s series of events. But as ordered, she followed the princess and entered the library where the door closed and left them alone together.

“Why are we in the library if I am not receiving my books today?” Gripkin asked, and then watching the princess flit her hand as if nothing were to bother her, she said “I thought it might be encouraging. Now first things first, lift your shoulders. You must not hunch. Men want women, not chimps.” Then, her eyes looking away, the princess thought about what she said and considered correcting herself. But then as before she waved the thought away as Gripkin watched her long blonde hair move with her every motion. She was right; men want women–not chimps.
Gripkin did as she was asked, though as self-consciously as she possibly could. But the princess, having patience fit for royalty, began to sound frustrated and said, more sternly “Confidence, Grip! Find it!”
Gripkin attempted to seem more confident when the princess said more softly “Now, smile.”
When she smiled, she thought it felt peculiar. She had smiled so little in her life that she was not accustomed to her face in such a position. “See,” the princess said, smiling. “You’re a natural. It’s a shame you haven’t smiled much before, it really transforms your face. Now,” the princess said, quickly moving on. “You have no more clothes then? Because of the fire?”
     “Yes, I’m afraid so.” Gripkin said, secretly hoping this was her ticket out of this. But of course, her mentor was a princess, so it was unlikely.
The princess laughed and said “No, don’t be! Saves me having to burn them myself. Raguitta!” She yelled and the door immediately opened. “Send someone to take her measurements.” When the door closed again, the princess, clearly delighted, said “Oh, you will look much better in new clothes. Now,” The princesses’ finger went to her lips as she thought. “Most men only need a pretty woman. Your manners are good enough; just keep your shoulders back!” She scolded as she noticed Gripkin’s shoulders had hunched once more. Caught off guard and slightly frightened, Gripkin straightened her posture and made an effort to remain composed.
“I suppose we’ve done enough for today.” The princess said and watched as the tailor entered the room. “We will continue tomorrow at this same time. Don’t be late, unless you’ve already found a man by then.” She smiled, though it was not returned, and ordered the seamstress to meet with her afterwards. Then she exited and Gripkin was measured.
As Gripkin walked to one of the castle’s spare bedrooms designated for her, she considered leaving, after all, books could not be so important. But deep down Gripkin knew that if she did, her life would only be more difficult. Surely the princess would send someone to find her for in all her years as a governess, Gripkin knew the princess was quite perseverant when she wanted to be, unfortunately it was never towards math or science.

The next day Gripkin returned to the library and was surprised to see the princess was already there. “Hello!” She called excitedly. Gripkin noticed they were not the only two in the room. There were in fact many other women, each holding at least three finely sewn dresses. “Hello, princess.” Gripkin said, bowing.
     “Your new wardrobe is complete. I have had many people working on it since you left yesterday. I picked the materials myself. What do you think?” The princess couldn’t help her excitement and took Gripkin’s hand, pulling her to one of the seamstresses.
     Gripkin looked at them. “They look wonderful, thank you.” She spoke flatly. Though truly appreciative of the gesture, Gripkin still only viewed them as mere dresses.
     “Oh Grip, they’re beautiful. Here, touch them! Don’t they feel…rich?” The princess laughed. “Now pick one, any one you like, and get dressed. I want to see. From now on, this will be the new you, whether you’re dancing with your man or reading one of those lousy books! Oh, this is so exciting! Felicity, fetch me some tea.” Then Gripkin tried on a new red satin gown while the princess waited for her tea.
This particular lesson focused on wooing a man. And as the princess gladly demonstrated her expertise by strutting around her delicate frame, Gripkin on the other hand felt extreme discomfort. But she continued with the lesson, for an unknown reason, and returned each day. When the princess finally felt she was ready, Gripkin was released in an attempt to find someone to love.

She applied all she had learned and while many men where immediately attracted to her, Gripkin found them either self-absorbed in maintaining the perfect image (which included a perfect wife) or simply lacking the brain required to hold a stimulating conversation. Days passed, soon weeks, and soon the green-eyed brunette began to lose hope. There was no one she loved and perhaps it was even sadder that she felt no one loved her. The princess, however, was stubborn and still refused to give Gripkin her books until she found someone to love, and eventually, Gripkin gave up her search. She secretly forfeited the books and on a day when the rain constantly poured and the streets were nothing but mud, Gripkin went for a walk. Her dress was ruined, so much was clear, but so long as her tears blended in with the rain dripping down her face, she did not mind.

But as she walked something unexpected happened. There was a man inside a horse-drawn carriage who looked upon her, rags and all, and despite her appearance, did something quite rare: he asked her if she was alright.
Gripkin at first was not sure he had been speaking to her and so she kept walking. But when she found it peculiar that the carriage did not pass her, she turned and saw the most handsome man starring at her with thick brown hair the color of chocolate and warm brown eyes. And as she looked at him, she spotted the beginnings of a smile starting to form on his face.
     “Hello, lady.” He smiled. “Are you alright? You seem lost.”
     “Hello.” It was all she could say.
     “Here,” said the handsome man, without another thought “Let me give you a ride. I promise you’ll be safe.”
Before she knew what was happening, she found herself oddly listening to this man. When she was finally sitting, reason came back to her and she made a movement to leave, after all, why on earth had she joined a stranger?
     “Wait,” he said. “Let me give you a ride.” And as he looked at her so sweetly, reason once again left her, until they began to converse and she found him to be quite an enjoyable fellow. In fact, he was more than she had ever expected. But as she looked at herself upon arriving back at the castle, she was reminded he could not be as smitten with her. After all, she had failed to inflict any of the princess’s techniques on this man, and worse, she hardly looked presentable.

But little did she know this did not matter, for the man she had stumbled on had been a rare sort. He had been clever and he knew that there was more to Gripkin than her appearance. As a wise man, he could see it from first glance, by simply looking into her eyes. There was so much he desired to explore and so for the next fortnight he continued to visit Gripkin. They became great friends but still Gripkin could not believe he loved her and so one day she asked him something that had been on her mind.
     “Why do you visit me so often if you do not love me?”
     “Because I do love you.” She turned her face away only to find it trapped in his palm. He turned her face so that her eyes could look into his and said “And I will visit every day until you believe me.”

And so he did. But during his visits he brought more than mere company. Anyone can bring company. No, for Gripkin, he brought all he had. He learned so that he could answer her questions, he accompanied her wherever she wished so that she could explore, and when the day finally came when she believed he loved her, she realized he had done more than that. In fact, he had done just as the princess had promised. This man, who Gripkin loved more than any word can describe, had given her perspective. He had taught her to love the world and all the things in it. And as the two of them sat in the garden one day, Gripkin found she was doing just as the princess had done that one afternoon that seemed so long ago. She found she could not read any of her new books and instead she looked elsewhere. For Gripkin now realized that while you can learn almost anything from the book, it means more to discover it yourself by exploring the things around you. In that, you live life.
But in all her exploring there was one question Gripkin could not find the answer to. She could have simply asked, yes, but a part of her was not sure it would be appropriate. For she wondered, who was it that had taught the princess love all that time ago that made her look at the birds and wish to fly away?

by
Sharelle Langaigne

fish

As I hobbled through the doors on my crutches, the bright florescent lights immediately make me want to squint, but aren’t bright enough to make me actually do so. Instead, I just have a dull pounding sensation behind my eyes. To make matters worse, there is a really irritating ringing in my ears from the constant beeping of different machines coming from all directions, all trying to alert the nurses of something. And that smell. So nauseating. Just the smell of sickness, latex gloves, new gowns, antibiotics and the scent of flowers and balloons all mixing together and invading my nostrils making me want to vomit.

***

It’s called a Slipped Capitol Femoral Epiphysis, but we can call it a “skiffie” for short. Yours is very severe because of your misdiagnosis. It is usually just separation of the ball of the hip joint from the femur at the growth plate of the bone. In your case, there is also a tearing of the head of the joint. What we will do is operate on the hip, stabilize the joint, and secure the head of the joint with a screw or two. From there on, I was occupied staring at this fat old white man with a scruffy grey beard who referred to me as a body part and not a 10 year old human being. Who in the world did he think he was? What he was saying was, until then, do NOT put any weight on your right side at all. If you bear weight the entire cap will tear off and your growth plate will be permanently damaged, leaving your right leg at its current length, never to grow again. If this happens, you will never walk again. I said nothing, not because I was scared, but because I was not listening at all. He had lost me after he called me a hip.

***

My mother called my grandmother in Canada every day. I never really paid attention to what they spoke about, but for some reason on this day I heard every word of their conversation. She is so strong, and has overcome so much in the past 8 ½ years. What 18 year old can say they have undergone surgery 16 times in their short life? She walks around with a smile on her face but I still sometimes feel guilty for all of this. Her childhood was kind of stolen from her through this all. But they told my baby that she couldn’t and she made it known that she would! Every single time, she looked that trial in the face and said you better watch it. As I listen, I think about what she is saying, and it isn’t true, this is in no way my mother’s fault, but I don’t say anything. This only makes me realize how much I am loved.

***

It’s daddy’s turn to come with me into the operating room. I watched as my father went with the surgeon to get scrubbed up. The nurse gave him a gown, hat, shoe covers and face mask to wear. Once he was ready, he walked with me as they wheeled his daughter, unable to walk due to a severe bone infection, into the operating room. I was no stranger to this place. I had been here many times, but it made me just as nervous each time. The bright lights, the scary machines and equipment, the freezing cold air, all added to my fears. What if this was the time where my body couldn’t take anymore? What if I didn’t wake up this time? I hummed and squeezed my dad’s hand to hold back the tears as they lifted me from my soft bed to the cold hard operation table. I knew he hated seeing me have to go through all of this, but the selfish part of me still asked him to come in anyway. In came my anesthesiologist. He was kind. He asked me if I was ready. I replied the same way I always did, ready as I will ever be. He then secured the face mask over my nose and mouth and told me to breathe deeply. At first I didn’t, but I couldn’t hold my breath for long. The gas was cold and kind of sweet in a nauseating way. My stomach started to feel queasy even though it was empty, but I felt as though I could vomit anyway. I felt less and less in control of my own body. Then I felt a prick in my hand while the anesthesiologist told me jokes that I laughed at to hysterically. My dad told me he loved me and that he’d see me in a few. He knew it would be many grueling hours while they tried to scrape the infected tissue out of my body but he reassured me every time. I felt my veins begin to get cold. The nurse told me to count back from ten and before I knew it they would be done. 10…9…8….

***

The 100 gallon tank was set in the wall. The little blue, green and pink pebbles that rested on the bottom of the tank were covered in a layer of green slime. One lonely ugly fish swam around in a kind of a circular manner. Over to one side then back to the other, bubbles rising from the orange body every now and then. I tapped on the glass, the fish slowed to stop, but only for a second. He had a weird round look to its eyes. I wasn’t sure if it was natural or some kind of weird problem. How sad he must be. That poor little ugly fish, it had no friends, lived in a tank, with nothing to do but the same boring routine for hours on end, and maybe even a disability. As I sat in my wheelchair in front of the tank in the hallway of the children’s ward, I couldn’t tell if I was actually sad for the fish, or if I was sad because that fish was me? How different was my life? Here I was stuck in this dumb wheelchair, can’t walk or dance or run or anything fun, I had no friends, and I too was doing the same boring routine every day. How pathetic.

***

I lay on the couch, covered by three comforters and a blanket, still shivering. My mother got the thermometer from the bathroom cabinet. She put it under my tongue. It beeped and it read 103.2. I had never had a fever like this before. My dad grabbed my coat, shoes and wheelchair. He took me to the car and rushed me to the emergency room. After running many tests, the doctor came back to let me know that I had a blood infection. I contracted it through the semi permanent IV line that I had that was being used to give my antibiotics to fight off my bone infection. I would need to be admitted to the intensive care unit at least for the night. Now my body was fighting not only fighting a massive bone infection, but a blood infection too. It was basically fighting its entire being.

***

Today I graduate high school. As I finish curling my hair I sit down on the edge of my toilet, paying no mind to my crisp white summer dress I am wearing that is now caressing the porcelain seat. I was too caught in thought to be worried about my new dress. I actually did it! Look how far I’ve come. In a few hours, I will have officially graduated high school. Later that evening my mom hand me a card; Congratulation on your Graduation! My entire family gathered at my house to celebrate one of the biggest milestones in my life thus far. Not only did I graduate on time with the rest of my class, but I walked across the stage on my two feet like everyone else. Something that seemed so impossible a few years prior.

***

As I stood on the deck of the pool to welcome in my new class of students I was beyond excited, teaching was what I was meant to do, and I was finally able to do it, and boy I did it well.
What happened to you weg? Why it have a hole?

Well I had surgery.

What that?

The doctors had to cut it open

Oh no! why?

Well I had something called an infection. It means that little germs got inside of me and started to make my bones sick.

….OooH…it hurt?

No not anymore, it just looks like it hurts.

I was used to this now, it happened with every batch of new students I had.

***

I packed the multitude of teddy bears, blankets and balloons that had been brought to me during my extensive stay. I wheeled myself down to the nurses’ station to deliver a card to the people who had become my family over the course of the last three months. It was a both exciting and sad moment because I had been waiting for this day! But I was also going into a really scary place, the unknown, who knew what tomorrow would bring for me. But my mother always told me to look to the future with positivity. This too shall pass she always said and it always did. So instead of worrying, today is a good day; it is the day I am being moved from the hospital to a rehab hospital. The past 3 months have been tough, but I’ve made it this far.

Restaurant Murmuring

by
Bremer Acosta

cafe

“That’s not what I’m saying,” Jason said. “What I’m saying is that if you could choose any super power, any one, the coolest one would be invisibility. Because you could sneak anywhere and hide anywhere and do whatever you wanted. And no one would ever, I mean ever, catch you, if you’re quick and smart enough. But you have to be quick and you have to be smart.”
“The only thing you’d do with invisibility is spy on girls in the shower,” said Cindy.
“He already does that on Facebook,” said Tim.
“Hey, asshole, let’s keep what I might do and what I could do separate. What I’m saying is that, if, and that’s a very big if, anyone had the power to do what they wanted with any super power, they’d be best off with invisibility. I’m telling you.”
Cindy shifted in her seat. Tim put his arm around her waist underneath the table. “What about infinite strength? Wouldn’t you want to crush an ugly crook’s skull with your bare hands or lift a train off the tracks?” said Tim.
“Aw, come on,” said Jason. “What kind of morals would you have then?”
“What do you mean by morals,” said Tim. “I’d have a lot of fun with infinite strength, like doing lifting competitions for money, but I’d do good stuff too, like rescuing a few puppies from caves and shit like that. I’d be like Superman except less vulnerable to Krypton.”
“Kryptonite,” said Cindy. “Krypton was Superman’s planet.”
“Yeah – that’s what I meant. Kryptonite,” said Tim, scratching his face.
“Superman knows nothing about what it means to help people,” said Jason.
“Is that why you think he doesn’t have any morals – because he doesn’t help people?” said Tim, raising his eyebrow in scorn.
“Do you really think he’s sacrificing anything by saving people falling from buildings? No. He fucking grew up strong and lifted tractors when he was a kid, while the other toddlers just pissed their Huggies and ran away on the playground.”
“Were you one of those toddlers?” said Cindy.
“Hold on, Jason. Just because he’s from a distant planet in outer space,” he wiggled his fingers, “Doesn’t mean he doesn’t care about us humans. He was raised by them, after all.”
Jason sighed. “He has no idea what it’s like to be like a human – to really be one of us ordinary bored and tired people. Even his alter ego, Clark Kent, is a weakling who’s shy with girls. It’s easy enough to care when you know you’re not in any real danger. But it takes guts to fight when you’re scared. Batman is scared. He’s human. But, no, Superman is arrogant. After all, his name is fucking Superman, which is one big ego trip.”
“Wait. Hold on a minute. What do you mean, ego trip?” said Tim.
“Ego trip. Think about it. He calls himself Superman. Super-fucking-Man. He not only calls himself a man, and he is most definitely is not one. He’s actually some weird alien loner from a destroyed planet. But more than that, he thinks he’s better than us people,” said Jason. “He’s an asshole.”
“Yeah, well… Of course he is better than people. He’s strong.”
“Yeah, but is that the only standard that one person is better than another. This superman, who’s not even a man, goes around town with his arrogant title, until he gets a little moody and has to hide in his fortress of solitude. He must be narcissistic. He saves a few kittens from a tree and all of a sudden he wants parades so he can fly around in his specially made tights, thinking he’s king shit, doing good deeds. Then when he gets into real trouble, he takes a fucking vacation in outer space until he can get the upper hand again,” said Jason. “He’s like a hack celeb hiding from the paparazzi until he can score some free publicity with a shitty B-movie.”
Tim shook his head. “You’re getting waaaay ahead of yourself. It’s smart to hide till you think up a good strategy to beat your enemy. There’s no point in running head first to your own death. And he might call himself Superman but he’s not a stupid man. You’re not giving him any credit. And, back to your own super power. Let’s not forget that. You think you’re morally better because of your invisibility. Your invisibility cloak is a super power too! Or have you forgotten that? You’re sacrificing less than the average guy does when you fight crime. You even said it yourself that invisibility was the best thing to have. So, by your unrealistic standards, you’d have less to lose like the superman you hate so much.”
“Swoosh,” said Cindy.
Jason shooed her away with his hand.
“Oh, but you’re forgetting one important detail, Timmy boy. I didn’t always have the invisibility. I’m still vulnerable to bullets, unlike the man of steel, and I have to sneak around like a god- damn ninja. Some mob boss could easily sprinkle powder and track my footsteps, get heat seeking devises or whatever he wants. I got to not only be brave but I have to be smart. Unlike Superman, I have to deal with different dangers instead of the oh-so-rare Kryptonite. Plus, he wears tights. If I were a superhero, I wouldn’t prance around in red and blue tights. I bet he chafes.”
“This is a stupid conversation,” said Cindy. “You guys are stupid.”
Tim nudged Cindy in the ribs and then said: “Ok. Forget about Superman for one second. You talked about the Bat. He doesn’t have any real super powers, but he does have the skill. Would you choose skill and smarts over invisibility? He hides out in a cave, has technology up his ass, and shows off his cash at all the high-roller parties. I’d trade that life for your invisibility,” said Tim. Cindy rolled her eyes and then stabbed a stack of waffles with her fork.
“Batman’s got issues,” said Jason. “His parents died when he was a kid, and he hangs around like a father figure to a circus orphan. Plus he’s compensating for his own dad’s death with a dinosaur butler. And he wears tights.”
“What’s it with you and tights?” said Cindy.
Tim tapped the table to get Jason’s attention and then said, “He might have a few mental problems but who doesn’t? He might compensate, but he can ride around on speed bikes and swoop down catching crooks. The Bat has a pretty awesome thing going on, if you ask me.”
“I have no sympathy for either of you.”

The hostess held the front door open so a customer in a dark suit could enter. He was tall with white whiskers, holding a worn hat in his hands. A waitress with a tan apron waddled over to the man and seated him with his brother, who finished his last sip of lukewarm coffee. He folded his newspaper and shook his hand.
“I’m sorry I’m so late,” Ralph said, red-faced and numbed from the air outside. “Do you mind if I order a cup. I’ve been working all day on a new contract with the Marshall people. You know how it is.”
“I ordered for you. I hope you don’t mind. It’s been a while. How are the wife and kids?”
Ralph said, after brushing his jacket off, “Well… my youngest of the two is having trouble.”
“What kind of trouble? It’s nothing serious I hope,” said Dave.
“Well. Michael’s been having a lot of issues lately.”
“What kid doesn’t have issues these days?”
“That’s what I thought….”
“What kind of issues are we talking about here, if you don’t mind me asking?”
A chubby waitress walked up to the two men, “Need anythan’ hon?”
“A slice of pumpkin pie. Thanks.”

She filled their two cups with boiling coffee, black and steaming, before walking to check on the other tables. The three students behind the men laughed loudly in the diner like rusty trumpets in a broken orchestra. The restaurant had a steady murmur of conversation, a smell of crispy bacon and fried ham. The hostess opened the glass door again. This time she seated a new table of three, one with an oxygen mask on his face. They thanked her and hunkered down into their seats like skeletons dangling their bones in a dance. The waitress walked up to the new table, expecting them to leave her a bad tip as the old generally do, and introduced herself by writing her name on a napkin. They called her “dear” and thanked her and asked questions about the specials. She pretended to be interested in what they had to say and laughed politely at their comments and then walked away to grab three menus.
“That was a really nice service,” said Martha.
“I don’t know how nice a service can be,” said Al.
“Jill looked nice, at least. They really made her look like she used to.”
“She was ugly before she died.”
“Oh, quiet, you. You’re just upset you lost your watch.”
“That watch was in my family for three generations. My great grandfather wore that watch in the war. Won it in a hand of poker. My father’s father gave it to my father who gave it to me it when I turned twelve, back in ’08. Said it was a family heirloom. Best of its kind,” said Al. “Now it’s gone.”
“I,” breathed the wrinkled man into the oxygen mask, “think,” he said.
“Rest yourself, Edgar. You’ve had a long day.”
“I… I…I… ” said Edgar, slumped over in his wheelchair like a roll of wet toilet paper.
“If the man wants to say something, let him say it,” said Al.

The waitress with three moles on her chin walked up to the booth behind the three top. She placed a brown pie on the table, filled with whipped cream and a cherry. Dave and Ralph looked at each other and talked quietly as their coffee cooled. The waitress grabbed a steel container and filled their cups up before walking into the kitchen.
“Listen Ralph,” said Dave. “Has your boy told her yet?”
“No, but I’m afraid he will. He hasn’t spoken to me since he saw.”
“All men slip up,” said Dave. “You are still a man… I suggest you come clean with Jesse. You can’t lie to her forever.”
“How the hell am I supposed to do that? I made a mistake, but I still love her. I don’t want to hurt her anymore than necessary.”
“Did you want to hurt her when you…” Dave leaned closer and then stopped.
Ralph looked away for a moment into the reflective glass and then sipped his coffee.
Dave sat there and waited.
“To tell you the truth, Dave, it wasn’t the first time I slept with her, even in our house, even in my wife’s own bed. Little Mike saw me touching her in the garage, if you want to put it gently. I don’t know how much he saw, but he couldn’t even look at me anymore. I yelled at him, I told him to fucking leave or I’d belt him. I wasn’t thinking. I asked him later what was the matter to see what he would say, but he kept coloring in his damn book. He wouldn’t even look at me. I really screwed this whole thing up. I have nobody to talk to anymore… You’ve got to help me. I need somebody to help me.”
“How am I supposed to help you?” said Dave, feeling anger rising from his stomach to his throat. He didn’t even want to be here, but Ralph was his younger brother and he had to stay. There was no way he could go back to work, not after this news. But his monthly reports were due later that day. His boss wouldn’t be as understanding. He felt guilty for even thinking about his work when his kid brother had screwed up again. But this was the kind of thing Ralph did often.
Dave struggled to find words for a moment. Then he said:
“Listen, Ralph. Maybe he didn’t really know what he saw.”
“Oh, he knew. Mike might be young, but he’s not that young.”
“Then you have to tell her,” said Dave. “It’s the only way.”
“How can I blow fifteen years of marriage?”
“It was her sister, for Christ-sakes!” said Dave, feeling a splash of fury inside his chest. The three students looked over at the table and began to whisper. The waitress eyed the two men, but went back to placing a check on the table.

In the booth behind Ralph and Dave, Martha leaned over to Edgar’s face, her large bosoms flapping in her polka-dotted undershirt. “Would you like me to feed you, dear?” Edgar curled his mouth and looked away from her as he breathed through the tank.
“Leave the old man alone,” said Al. “Can’t you see he’s still upset over Jill’s wake.”
“I was only trying to help,” said Martha, looking down.
“You’ve helped enough.”
“Humph! You have no manners,” said Martha.
“You wouldn’t know manners if they bit you on the behind.”
“I’ve had about enough of you. You’ve been rotten this whole trip.”
“Maybe it’s because I’m with such pleasurable company.”
“You think you’re so smart, don’t you. You really don’t know how much I slave after you even if I told you. You don’t give me any thanks. Clean this, clean that, like an old grizzly bear by the T.V. set. At least Edgar knows how to treat a lady.”
“Edgar doesn’t even know what planet he’s on half the time.”
“I-I,” said Edgar.
“Keep it up mister. I swear I’ll leave you like your first wife.”
“Don’t mention her name to me, Martha. You know how I hate that name.”
“Irene. Irene. Irene.”
“Will you shut it?”
“You started it.”
“Children,” said Edgar.
“What,” said Al.
“You’re…. Being…”
“I get it,” said Al.
“I don’t,” said Martha.
“Hey, Martha. Why don’t you sit over here by the light, where the seat is much warmer?”
“Why are you being so nice all of a sudden?”
Al and Edgar exchanged glances.
“Umm. Well. Can’t I do something nice for my lady without a whole damn investigation?”
“I guess not.”
“Come here.”
Al pulled Martha closer to him, feeling her warm wrinkled hand cupped inside of his. The waitress passed their table and walked over to another booth, where the three students were talking excitedly about nothing. She balanced three of their plates on her arm and strolled into the kitchen, while whistling Beethoven’s Sonata off-key.

“I’m so tired of the lame way kids use slang nowadays,” said Jason.
“You mad,” said Cindy.
“Exactly,” said Jason, pressing his finger hard to the table. “Back in the 1920s, American slang had style, it had class. You could walk up to some dame with a trench coat on, light her cigarette, and tell the other kids to beat it, before you asked her off to ‘make out hill.’ Now all you hear these days are fucking kids talking about ‘noobs’ and ‘YOLO’ and ‘epic fails.’ If your life revolves around a silly acronym on a T-shirt, then you need to get another life.”
Tim cleared his throat and then said, “You have a point, but you shouldn’t romanticize the older generations. For example, mothers used to buy and smoke ‘healthier’ cigarettes when they were pregnant because the doctors said so. How ignorant were we then?”
“We’re still plenty ignorant,” said Cindy. “Exhibit A.”
She pointed to Jason. He smiled mockingly at her.
“We’re so ignorant we think we’re not. Wait. Does that make any sense?” said Tim.
“No,” said Cindy.
“Are you saying that we think we are smart and wise but we aren’t,” said Jason.
“Yeah.”
“I agree in a sense. Except with my case for invisibility.”
“Let’s not start that again,” said Cindy.
“Agreed,” said Tim. “I guess what I’m saying is that every generation thinks they have all the answers but those answers prove to be lacking or just plain wrong, in a lot of cases. People used to think the earth was flat, for Christ Sakes.”
“That’s true, but without working toward something with what we have or at least think we have, we’re working toward nothing.”
“That depends on what you’re working toward,” said Tim.
“I’m working on a new plate of waffles,” said Cindy. “Waitress, over here,” she gestured.
“How do we know we’re working toward anything good,” said Jason.
“We might never know, but we could, at least, suspect that what we’re doing might have good results, if we see its close effects.”
“What do you mean, close effects?”
“Well,” said Tim. “Einstein didn’t know there would eventually be GPS devices when he was working on his theory of General Relativity. He was working on it for entirely different reasons.”
Jason frowned for a moment. “He also didn’t know that E = MC^2 would lead to the atomic bomb.”
“I didn’t know Freaks and Geeks would be cancelled,” said Cindy.
“I didn’t know that you didn’t know that,” said Jason.
“Now you know.”
“Ok – so back to the close effects I’m talking about. We can’t be absolutely sure in knowing everything or even some of everything, but sometimes, we can make reasonable guesses based on how little we really know, if that ‘little’ is something we actually know, or at least, what we use to find out more.”
“Huh,” said Cindy.
“Wait. I got it. But sometimes those guesses are horribly wrong,” said Jason. “Sometimes we fuck up and BAD.”
“What would happen if I put syrup on this stack of waffles? Would I eventually end up in a ditch somewhere, asking myself how life could be so bad if I only used butter?” said Cindy.
Jason smirked. Tim nudged her in the ribs but she pushed him back. Tim backed off and then said to Jason, “That reminds me of what we once learned in philosophy, back in undergrad, about time paradoxes.”
“What about them?” said Jason, feeling his sideburns.
“Well. From what I remember, if you went back in time and killed your grandfather, would you end up killing yourself, or would you even be there in the first place, because you already killed your grandfather and wouldn’t exist because you weren’t born, or would you kill your grandfather in another timeline and then exist in an alternate one?”
“Um,” said Cindy. “I’ll go ask Doc Brown.”
“How can you, if you are you, kill your grandfather if you don’t exist because you killed your grandfather?” said Jason.
“Exactly,” said Tim. “Paradox.”
“Maybe the answer comes from a different idea of what time is. What model are we using?”
“I don’t know,” said Tim. “I was thinking about linear time from classical physics – entropy accelerating in a closed system, if the universe is a closed system. But maybe it isn’t. I don’t know.”
“Maybe if I hit you in the head with a hammer, the answer will come to you,” said Cindy.
“She’s so violent, so, so, violent. Timmy boy. You need to get her to stop watching those Tom & Jerry Re-Runs.”
“Itchy & Scratchy,” said Cindy. “And don’t you forget it.”
The waitress walked up to these three, somewhat flustered in the face. She let out an exasperated sigh and said, “We’re closing in 15 minutes. Would you like your check?” Cindy, Jason, and Tim looked at each other. Tim stood up and said, “I’m going to the bathroom.” As soon as he left, Jason said, “That guy said he would love to pay for us. Just put the bill on his side of the table.” Cindy sniggered. “Let’s get out of here before he comes back.” Jason said, “Tim isn’t known for controlling his temper.” Cindy said, “I’ll handle the big klutz. It’ll be funny.”
The two men in dark suits sat inside their booth and talked for what seemed like hours, days, months, years, decades, ticking slower and slower, until freezing in one instant. Dave unrolled cash from a silver clip and tossed a folded bill on the table.
“We’ve been here a while, Ralph, going over the same thing for no reason than to just talk. We’re not getting anywhere with this. You already know how I feel. You can choose to listen or you can hide the truth. I’m going back to the office. If you feel you want to change your mind, stop on by. If not, then I don’t know what else I can tell you.”
“I will,” said Ralph. “But I’m still unsure.”
“Let’s think about this some more tomorrow. How about you come to my office anyway?”
“That sounds fine.”

Ralph slumped over and rubbed his face with his hands, the bags under his eyes transparently showing the blood underneath the skin. Dave stood up and walked out of the restaurant doors. He did not look back. The lights in the kitchen switched off. Bussers and dishwashers whipped each other with wet towels in the back room. One of the waitresses was telling the cook that she had a lousy night. She was on the schedule for another double tomorrow. Maybe she could take off and bring her son to the carnival if she called Amanda to work in her place. The cook didn’t like her but nodded anyway. The kitchen staff scrubbed the floor and wrapped the food and unbuttoned their uniforms and clocked out. The red and white tables smelled of cleaning fluid. Shadows fell across the restaurant in still silence, until a few hours later, when it all would start again.

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