January 2020 • Volume I, Issue I HIGHWAY 61, Revised Creative Writing by the students of Minnesota State College Southeast Red Wing & Winona, Minnesota

Highway 61, Revised Volume I, Issue I. Published January 2020 Highway 61, Revised is published once per year under the auspices of Minnesota State College Southeast’s Creative Writing program. The essays, poems, and stories in the publication represent work by students enrolled in the certificate the previous academic year. For more information about the publication or the online Creative Writing Certificate, please contact Pete Beurskens, Faculty Editor, at pbeurskens@southeastmn.edu, or Mike Larson, Creative Writing Instructor, at mlarson@southeastmn.edu. Faculty Editors: Pete Beurskens, Daniel Bernstrom, Mike Larson Design: Dakota Street Design, Red Wing, Minnesota Cover: Highway 61 at Wacouta, by Katryn Conlin Minnesota State College Southeast is a two-year technical and community college that prepares students for a lifetime of learning by providing education for employment, skill enhancement, retraining, and transfer, to meet the needs of students and the community. The Winona campus opened in 1949, merging with the Red Wing campus in 1992 and updating its name to Minnesota State College Southeast in 2016 with the change of mission to offer both technical training and the associate of arts degree. Minnesota State College Southeast is a member of Minnesota State. Minnesota State College Southeast 1250 Homer Road, Winona MN 55987 www.southeastmn.edu

Highway 61, Revised Table of Contents Still Life with Avocados by Katryn Conlin ................................................. 5 No One Laments a Terrible Roommate by Kathleen VanCor ........................... 6 Persephone’s Canvas by Emily Possehl ...................................................... 7 Kore by Elliot Engberg ......................................................................... 7 Story: The Sandbox Hot Tub and Nadiya’s Dumb Brother by Kate Thompson .... 8 Bus Stop by Elliot Engberg ................................................................... 13 Melting Snow by Sam Beurskens ............................................................ 14 I Stepped on My Guitar by Katryn Conlin ................................................ 15 Grievance by Emily Possehl .................................................................. 16 Story: Max by Katryn Conlin ................................................................ 17 Cut You Off by Kate Thompson .............................................................22 Essay: The Sky is Not Blue by Nick Shannon .............................................23 New Eve by Sam Beurskens ...................................................................28 On Ice By Robert Bidon ......................................................................29 Essay: Wheeling Wausau by Sam Beurskens .............................................. 30 Slough by Emily Possehl ......................................................................35 Krampusnacht by Kathleen VanCor ........................................................36 Essay: My Life, Approximately by Peter Smith ..........................................37 Mississippi River: A Ballad By Maria Jimenez .......................................... 44 Firewood by Emily Possehl .................................................................. 44 Story: An Old Friend by Danielle Nation .................................................45 Fallen Dust by Emily Possehl ................................................................. 51 Memoir: Summer, 1976 by Katryn Conlin................................................52 Short Lived by Ashley Schroeder .............................................................55 Story: The Beheld by Emily Possehl ........................................................57 Ballad of a Killer Cat by Kathleen VanCor ................................................63 Gryllidae Trill by Danielle Nation ......................................................... 64 Down by the River, Let Us Walk by Katryn Conlin ......................................65 The Unbearable Cuteness of Leo by Katryn Conlin .....................................66 Essay: Tossing Out Tradition by Emily Possehl ..........................................67 “Oh No, It’s Another Nature Poem.” by Danielle Nation ..............................72 April Storm by Elliot Engberg ...............................................................73 Essay: Hippity Hoppity Rabbit Haters and Their Ways by Mayr Boros ............74 Heart of Thistles by Kathleen VanCor ......................................................77 The Purple Hyacinth by Ashley Schroeder ................................................79 “And they say God only gives us as much as we can handle.”by Tyler Janssen ......96 Ghosts by Emily Possehl ......................................................................97 Index by Author ...........................................................................98 Illustrations & Typography ..............................................................99 Page 3

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Still Life with Avocados by Katryn Conlin Preface Beginning with a blank page and a vacant mind, Closing my eyes, writing from the wrists out, Fingertips tapping the first odd thing, one sharp image appears: An avocado. Poem Six in the fruit bowl on the kitchen island. Six green ovoids, knobbly to the touch, just giving way when pressed. Ready and ripe, having arrived In the fullness of time. (Too soon: brilliant and green but tough and tasteless. Too late: mushy and rank, unworthy of eating.) Slice one down to the stone inside, Twist to expose the emerald interior, Whack the pit with a knife, Give it a turn and pop it loose. Scrape with a spoon, mash with a fork, Juice of a lime, sprinkle of salt, Eat with a chip. Don’t hesitate. Five to go, Eat them all before it’s too late. What have we learned? Seize the avocados! Life is short, the grave is long. The trash can awaits An overripe fruit. Page 5

No One Laments a Terrible Roommate by Kathleen VanCor I’d hate to see a glimpse of him, he who the cats take note. I hear his knocking, wailings too. Dishes flung onto the floor. He’s making such a mess of things, His talent throughout his life. I have his stuff all packed away, For his relatives to retrieve. Those who did not truly know him Are all welcome to their grief. But I, for one. will not bother To hold vigil for such a bore. A slob, a cad, a thief and dolt Are the kindest words I can form. I cannot tell a lie. It’s all so true, He was just as I have said. He pawned my sax, he stole my girl, From my wallet took all my cash. I hope he will be leaving soon. I’m so tired of his ways. I cleaned the blood he left behind, And now the rent is due. I’d hate to get a glimpse of him, But I think he’ll still avoid. He’ll stay on and I’ll go mad, He still owes me 50 bucks. Page 6

Persephone’s Canvas by Emily Possehl The breeze was flavored with chickadee song As spiders knitted with thin harvest threads The toads peeked out of their mud cottages A daffodil raised her buttery head Kore by Elliot Engberg a blessing of crimson, blood drops, upon the soft, snow-laden pathways down, the pomegranate scarlet, poppy bright, that held the maiden in the arms of night Page 7

Story: The Sandbox Hot Tub and Nadiya’s Dumb Brother by Kate Thompson My parents, the two little babies in my mom’s tummy, and I moved into our house about three years before our new neighbors moved in next door. By the time those two little babies popped out and were about two and a half years old, I was already best friends with Nadiya. Nadiya had bangs and glasses and a pool in her backyard, and she was way cooler than the teenage boys who lived in her house before. They always used to ruin my sandcastles and they liked to pick on me because I was only seven. But Nadiya was eight, and she didn’t pick on me because we were best friends. The summer of 2009 was the peak of our friendship. We spent every waking moment together; we were absolutely attached at the hip. We kept a tally on the chalkboard wall in my playhouse of how many days we went together without one of us going on vacation or going shopping because one of our parents said we had to or something else stupid that kept us apart. Our grand record still stands at 38 days. That’s 38 days in a row of water balloon fights, selling lemonade to anyone who would stop, swimming in her pool, and chasing each other around my playset. Nadiya had two brothers, one of them, Chase, was only six, which meant he was too little to play with us and we didn’t want him hanging around, and the other, Steven, 13. Steven was a troublemaker, as all budding young teenagers are, and he would come out sometimes just to get Nadiya and I riled up. On this particular August day, Nadiya and I were running out of fun ideas to fill our day with. We’d already colored sidewalk pictures on the cement, done each other’s makeup with my $10 makeup kit from Claire’s, and made root beer floats with a little too much ice cream and not nearly enough root beer. Steven seemed to have a sixth sense about when his sister and I were at our most vulnerable time, when exactly he could get us in trouble. As Nadiya and I went back and forth asking, “I dunno, what do you want to do?” Steven made his way over and plopped down on the swing next to me. Nadiya and I immediately stopped our bantering and looked at him expectantly. Nadiya spoke first. It was her dumb brother after all. “What do you want, Steven?” “Just seeing what you’re up to.” “Nothing,” came our unison reply. We knew Steven’s games by this Page 8

point. He had already gotten us yelled at big time twice this summer; many more if you counted all the little scoldings we earned from performing his shenanigans. “Ok, well, I’ll leave you alone then. I did have a really good idea… oh well. Maybe next time.” He got up from the swings and began to walk ever so slowly away from us, knowing very well that his comment had gotten our attention. Nadiya gave me one of her famous side-eye looks and I shrugged back at her. She was older than me, she got to call the shots. Plus, it was her dumb brother after all. “What idea?” Nadiya said. Steven galloped back to our spot on the swings with the biggest grin on his face. Nadiya and I listened to his plan patiently and got to work the second he had everything laid out for us. His plan was perfect. We were giddy with excitement. My best friend and I scooped the sand out of the sandbox by hand. It was so much easier than wasting our time with the stupid toy shovels. Steven watched us, telling us we had to dig deeper or that the bottom was too lopsided or that we were throwing too much sand towards him. Now, my sandbox wasn’t one of those dinky plastic toy ones that were in the shape of a turtle. No, my sandbox was big, and it was plopped right into the ground underneath my playhouse. This meant that if we dug for long enough China would appear right under our feet. Steven egged on our childish delusions and had us clearing out dirt for nearly an hour. Finally, after our fingernails were dark with crud and our heads were itchy with sand and our faces were smudged with mud, he stopped us. “Now comes the fun part.” The smirk on his face said it all. Nadiya and I scrambled out of our surprisingly shallow hole and ran to the hose. We had it pulled halfway across the yard before Steven yelled us to a halt. “That water is going to be cold. It’s going to be a hot tub, right? We need hot water, idiots.” The eye roll was implied in his voice. “Why don’t you do it then?” Nadiya yelled right back at him. I didn’t dare get angry at him. It was her dumb brother after all. Steven frowned at her and then pointed back over in the direction of their house. “Just go get a bucket from dad’s shed and fill it up inside. Use the bathtub or something. It’s not that hard.” I followed Nadiya willingly and after a few minutes of scrounging around, we found a decent sized bucket. Her parents weren’t home,;they must have taken little Chase somewhere, leaving the house completely Page 9

empty and Steven in charge. It took a while to fill up the bucket because every time it got close to being full it would get too heavy and one of us would drop it right back down into the tub and all the water would go swooshing down the drain. We finally decided it would be fine only half full so we lugged it outside, through her yard, across the road, and over to my playset. “What took you so long?” Steven was sitting on the top of the monkey bars trying his best to look cool. I responded while Nadiya dumped the water into our hole. “We kept dropping the bucket so we had to refill it. But don’t worry, it only splashed a little on the floor. It’s okay, we—” “It just soaked right up,” Nadiya interrupted me. She was really good at doing that. “What?” Steven peered down from his perch above us. My best friend pointed at the now damp sand at the bottom of our hole. “The water didn’t stay in there. It just soaked right up.” Steven groaned. “This is going to take forever with you idiots doing the job. Go get the hose!” I looked up at him confused. “But you said we couldn’t—” “I know what I said but I take it back. It’s going to be a cold hot tub I guess.” Steven interrupted me this time. I should have expected that one; he was Nadiya’s dumb brother after all. “That Thronton family and their bad manners,” my mom would say. So, back over to the hose we went. After it was stretched across the grass and into the sandbox, Steven turned the faucet on. Of course, the one thing he got to do was the most exciting part of the whole endeavor. The stream of water was quickly soaked up in the ground. Nadiya and I looked at each other in defeat. I let the hose go and watched it slop into the muddy mess at the bottom of our little hole. “Steven,” I called, “it’s not working!” His only response was to turn the faucet up, even more. After a few minutes of watching the water gush into the ground, something began to happen. It was very slow going, but the water was rising. It wasn’t getting all soaked up anymore! Maybe Nadiya’s dumb brother wasn’t so dumb after all. “Come look! Steven! It’s filling up!” Nadiya and I screamed over each other. Steven took his sweet time coming over to our mini party by the sandbox. After examining the hole, wiggling the hose a little with his foot, and nodding silently to himself, he spoke. “Go put on your swimsuits. What Page 10

are you waiting for, idiots?” We were gone in a flash. I raced into my room and pulled my swimsuit on in record time. “What are you so dirty for? You’re tracking mud all over my house,” my mom yelled after me as I slammed the door shut. Somehow, Nadiya beat me back to our makeshift hot tub, and one sloppy cannonball later, she was out of the sandbox screaming about how cold the water was. I couldn’t take her word for it, so I stuck my toe in the now half full hole. She was right; absolutely freezing. “Steven, it’s not even a hot tub!” Steven hadn’t moved from his spot on the swings. “Well, duh, what did you expect? You couldn’t carry the bucket full of hot water over. Now it just has to be a cold tub.” “Cold tub? This is more like a freezing tub!” “Do you want to have fun or not?” He was quick to respond. At that, Nadiya and I gave each other a look and jumped into our homemade “cold tub,” making sure to splash Steven at least a little bit. Our skinny little bodies didn’t get used to the cool water very quickly, but the sticky, hot humidity that day made up for whatever body heat we lost. The hole was big enough that we both could sit comfortably, with even enough room for Steven to fit if he wanted to. He, however, did not. He sat on the swings just grinning down at us and telling us we should dig the hole deeper so we could fill it with even more water. Looking back at it now, this was obviously his master plan. If he wasn’t in the so-called pool, he wouldn’t get in trouble. His idea was simple: watch us slave away at the stupid hot tub and then witness us get in trouble for it. He really was an evil genius. And of course, his plan worked. Just minutes after we had finally adjusted to the cold water, my mother came outside to see what we were up to. What she found was two dirty girls splashing in a pool of muck and Steven laughing down at us. Then the yelling started. “What are you doing?” My mom marched over to us and dragged us out of the muddy sandbox. “Why did you think this was a good idea? Huh? What do you think you are doing?” Nadiya and I stayed silent as she continued her speech. Steven seemed to be enjoying it from his spot on the swings. It was his grand plan after all. He had to try really hard to keep from giggling as my mom scolded us. His snickering quickly stopped when she turned on him. “This was your idea, wasn’t it?” “Well, no, I just—” Page 11

Nadiya jumped in, “Yes it was. It was all his idea and he didn’t even help us make the hot tub which was really dumb.” “Hot tub?” “It was supposed to be a hot tub, but we couldn’t get enough hot water in there,” I said quietly. I knew talking back to my mom was a big no-no. Nadiya and Steven did not know that, though, and they began arguing with my mother about how much water was actually wasted and how much sand we had really scooped into the yard and whose idea it truly was and so on. We were all grounded for a week. Nadiya and I had no choice but to end our streak of days spent together that summer. Steven apparently talked his way out of it because I saw him going out with his friends after two days. I think he could get away with anything, even murder. He was Nadiya’s dumb brother, after all. R Page 12

Bus Stop by Elliot Engberg We sit in wait for those we know the drips and drops of rainy water splash for whence the clouds begin way up above it never fails to set a chill within . on wheels of rubber long since inflated always behind the schedule defined so we remain on the cold bench outside waiting ever watching for it to show . now it finally comes around in sight we stand and step in front sift through pockets rain dampening our shoulders coins clinking we board the bus and sit again waiting Page 13

Melting Snow by Sam Beurskens Mounds of white, light-burned To torrents of spring thaw Stones washed far afield. Heavily wrapped Divine body—entombed, sealed Black—no escape—hush. Snow-lands twinkle, gleam Till spring slow-purges the ground Mud-ugly splotches. Spring’s rain pounds harshly Like angry, vicious war drums: Beating snow to muck. Page 14

I Stepped on My Guitar by Katryn Conlin I stepped on my guitar. I felt the wood splinter under my heel It made a terrible sound Its final chord I broke my bow. Carbon fiber, even harder than Pernambuco I set it across the arms of a chair Someone sat down And my fiddle fell prey to my absent mind. I left it outside all winter Frozen and thawed Seams split and the soundpost Floated away About my bass: I was packing the car. In the dark, it got left on the ground Behind the wheels You can imagine what happened When I backed up And now, I have a sore throat. I haven’t spoken for days I cannot sing a single note Nor have I a word to say I will be silent And listen to the music in my head Page 15

Grievance by Emily Possehl There is something about a frozen pond That makes me want it pressed against my head Against the nerves, the cells, the thoughts, ablaze To still them all, instant silence breaking The constant mess of heated missile fire There is something about a burning flame That makes me want it pressed against my heart Against the veins, the blood, the black chambers To make it twist and writhe to get away The soft muscle boiling, platelets shrieking Each frantic beat sends out a wisp of smoke But my plight is that the two are reversed: Head is filled with lit matches and paper Heart rests beside a broken window pane Page 16

Story: Max by Katryn Conlin At the end of third grade, we moved to Crowne Point. My dad’s company had transferred him to a new job. “Transferred” was a word every kid dreaded. Being uprooted, just when you had finally made friends. At first my little sister Lilly and I put up a fuss, but eventually we realized we had no say over the situation. We cried when we said goodbye to our friends, but when you’re that age, you learn to accept whatever the grown-ups decide. The houses in the neighborhood were all brand new. Ranch-style homes with walk out-basements alternated with two-story colonials. Young trees dotted the yards; scattered lots were vacant. Concrete driveways led from the curved street into two-car garages. Kids rode their bikes up and down the street. Not far away, farmers still planted fields of corn and an untamed forest beckoned. I clearly remember the day we moved in, because that was the first time I saw Max. He was walking home from the school bus stop. We were standing by a huge yellow and green Mayflower truck, watching the movers bring furniture in the front door and carry empty boxes out. Max was headed for the house right next door to ours. I tugged on my dad’s arm to get his attention. “Can I go talk to that kid?” My dad gave permission, so I cut the boy off before he got to his door. I figured he was about my age, maybe younger. He was on the small side, with light blonde hair fringed over gray eyes. His clothes weren’t the cleanest, and his sneakers were well-worn and dirty. “I’m Anabelle,” I said. “What’s your name?” He held his books to his chest protectively. “I’m Max.” “What grade are you in?” “Third,” he replied. “I’m in third grade too! I’ll be in fourth grade with you starting next year,” I said. “Can you come over? We’re going to make a fort.” By this time, there were boxes big enough for me to stand up in strewn across our lawn. His eyes gleamed and I could tell he was tempted, but he put me off, saying, “Maybe I will.” He turned away and almost ran into his house, not even noticing how disappointed I was. He didn’t come over that day, or the next. It was a while before we became friends. Page 17

I didn’t understand at the time why Max was so stand-offish. He acted like he was too good for me. But he was just very shy. He was like a fox, or a deer. If you hold still, you might catch a glimpse. One move, and it vanishes into the wild. So that was Max. He was my first friend in Crowne Point, and for most of fourth grade he was my best friend. R Almost every day that summer, Max and I played in the scrubby forest a few blocks from our street. It was hardly a magical place. The woods were under assault as bulldozers cleared out the subdivision lot-by-lot and new houses went up. “Progress,” they called it, and we hated it. But the forest was ours to occupy while it lasted. Making forts was Max’s favorite pastime. Sticks, scraps of stolen lumber, and pieces of leftover metal became our windows and walls. We made tables and chairs from fallen logs and pretended the mossy ground was our carpet. We’d pack up some snacks and books and play all afternoon. Sometimes we’d light some twigs with a candle and get a campfire going. We’d cook a hot dog on a stick, or roast corn we harvested ourselves. We always buried the fire carefully to make sure we put it out. The woods were a refuge of our own, our own little world separate from everyone else. Max didn’t tell me much about his home life, but even at that young age, I could tell he was embarrassed about his family. In the summer, people left their windows open to let in the night air. Sometimes I could hear Mr. Hallman, Max’s dad, yelling at his mom; sometimes it was even worse. What was happening over there? Why couldn’t anybody make him stop? He was a big man, and he’d come home tired and angry after work, simmering with rage. I steered clear of Mr. Hallman. Sometimes I could hear crying, too, and the next day I could see that Max’s arms were bruised. But I knew better than to ask him about it. We had an unspoken agreement to keep each other’s secrets. So maybe our life in the forest was a place of peace for Max. I would like to think so; I would like to think that what happened wasn’t my fault. But deep inside, I will always blame myself. If I had, if I had only, I should have … I hear those words over and over in my head. R Page 18

In fourth grade, Max and I walked to and from the bus stop together, books in our arms. Lilly tagged along behind us, a first grader. After school, she stayed home, but I changed out of my dress and into pants so I could play outside. School shoes off, sneakers on. I was a tomboy and proud of it. I kept up with Max, running through the cornfields and slapping the stalks, climbing trees to the top, racing our bikes up and down the hills. Almost a year had passed by since I moved to the neighborhood. Max was a welcome visitor in my home, but I had never gone over to his house to play in that whole time. One day after school it was drizzling out and he invited me in. Nobody else was there. Downstairs in the basement, we built a tent, draping sheets artfully over the laundry line. It was gloomy inside, but cozy. We collected boxes and baskets from around the basement to furnish our new abode. Max fetched a lamp to light the space, but we couldn’t plug it in. The cord wouldn’t reach. Maybe it was my idea. I don’t remember saying we could light candles instead, but maybe I did. Or maybe Max decided to go upstairs into the dining room and get them. Soon our tent was aglow. We turned off all the lights to savor the soft light. “Let’s get a snack,” Max suggested. Upstairs, we took a box of Cheerios down from the cabinet and ate them right from the box, but then we heard the garage door opening. Max panicked. I could see the terror in his eyes. “We have to go, NOW!” he cried. That was when I suddenly realized we should not have been in Max’s house at all. We shoved the cereal back in the cabinet and raced down the stairs, quietly sneaking out the back door. From there we ran along the back of his house, cutting across the yard and ducking in the side door to my garage. Max trembled with fear. We hid in the garage until he calmed down. Eventually we went into my house. “Hi, Mom – I’m home!” I sang out. “Is it OK if we have Max over?” My mother and Lilly were in the kitchen, the smell of fresh cookies in the air. The kitchen was warm and bright. Max and I pulled up chairs and helped, eating as many cookies as we baked, laughing, drinking milk. The rest of the afternoon, we watched cartoons with Lilly on the black and white TV in the family room. Max left before dinnertime and I thought no more about him. It was sometime after dinner, but sometime before bed, that we heard sirens. Alarmed, we rushed out into the street. Next door at the Hallmans’ house: blue and red flashing lights, smoke, flames. Max’s mother, sobbing. His Page 19

older brothers standing by her, arms crossed, curious but strangely indifferent. And his father, furious. “God damn it, where the hell is Max?” he thundered, storming toward the smoky house past the firefighters. I could see them arguing with him and trying to hold him back, but Max’s father disappeared into the front door. Water poured into the house, smoke and flame billowed out through the windows. Within minutes Max’s father stumbled out, alone. I thought Mr. Hallman was a horrible person. I knew how mean he was to Max, and he seemed huge and cruel to me. But then I saw him sitting in the back of the ambulance, shaking, with his face in his hands. I could tell that he was breaking into pieces. His rage had turned into grief. Max never did come out of the house, and the firefighters didn’t find him that night. As the sun came up, they searched through the ruined house for a small, burned body. A coroner’s van was parked out front. When they couldn’t find any sign of him, I suddenly knew where to look. R That morning, I didn’t go to school. I cut through the woods to the fort Max and I had built. There I found him, cold, wet, silent. “Come on Max, I’ll take you home,” I said, knowing that he didn’t have a home any more. “Your parents have been worried all night about you.” He stared blankly into the woods. “I don’t want to go.” “But, Max, we have to. They think you’re — ” and of course, I stopped in the middle of the sentence. “They think I’m dead. I wish I was dead. I would rather be dead than go back there.” I knew why Max said this, and I knew that was why he wouldn’t meet my eyes. “But Max, they really love you. They don’t care about the house. They’ll be so happy when you come home, I promise you.” That was a promise I should never have made. As I led him back into his yard, Max’s mother broke down crying and pulled him close, but his father turned on me. “You knew where he was all along, didn’t you? Didn’t want to tell on him? You two are always running around together, making trouble.” He loomed toward me and I stumbled backwards. I thought he was going to hit me, right there in front of everybody, but he held back his fist. The Page 20

grief I thought I had seen in the night had burned away into anger. After exchanging some rough words with the remaining firefighters, Mr. Hallman brutally rushed Max and his mother into their car, dragging Max by his thin arm and pushing him into the back seat. As they drove away, Max turned back toward me, his eyes stony, glaring, accusing. Max didn’t come back to our school that year. I guess the Hallmans stayed in a hotel for a while and then moved somewhere else. Their house was destroyed, and they must have decided there was nothing worth coming back for — least of all the little girl who lived next door and was Max’s best friend. I confessed everything to my mother — the basement, the tent, the candles, even the part about how frightened I was of Mr. Hallman. My mother offered words of solace. “Anabelle, nobody knows exactly why the fire started. It might have been an electrical problem. I don’t think we should tell anyone else about it. It’ll just make more trouble for Max.” She was right, but it didn’t stop me from blaming myself. When you’re a child, you’re at the mercy of the elements and your elders. You have no control over whether you’ll be born into a cruel household like Max’s, or a kind one like mine; whether you’ll put down roots in one neighborhood, or move from town to town; whether you’ll make a friend for life, or lose a friend in less than a day — never a chance to say goodbye or ask forgiveness. I thought I saw Max in a grocery store over in Lincoln just a couple of years ago. He was taking items out of his cart and putting them on the black conveyor belt for the clerk. A yellow box of cereal, bananas, milk, cookies. “Max!” I called out to him. He looked up, and he turned toward me, but he looked right through me. “Max, wait! Don’t you remember me? It’s Anabelle.” I imagined a flicker of recognition, but he picked up his paper bag of groceries and strode past, leaving me staring through the glass doors into the parking lot. R Page 21

Cut You Off by Kate Thompson I should cut you off but I’m afraid I cannot hold the knife steady Page 22

Essay: The Sky is Not Blue by Nick Shannon The aroma of coffee roast and freshly baked goods overpowers your olfactory senses as you enter The Blue Cat, your favorite coffee shop in town. You order the usual, a blueberry scone along with a steaming hot cup of coffee. Decaf, of course. You find your usual seat in the far corner on a camel brown leather recliner, and wait for your friend to arrive. You are supposed to meet up to work on a graphic design project due at the end of the week. While you are waiting for your friend’s arrival, an elderly woman sits down across from you in the seat you were saving for your friend. This agitates you, and you are about to reprimand her when something catches your eye. You notice her necklace, which is adorned with a matrix of brilliant red rubies. The jewels shimmer with wanton brilliance as they solicit the morning light coming from the window behind you. You comment on the adornment aloud without thinking, and the old lady smiles, thanking you. “This necklace is an old family heirloom, passed down from my grandmother to my mother, and now to me. I only wish I could appreciate its beauty for myself.” “What do you mean?” you inquire, wondering if perhaps the luster of the ornament has long since worn off on her. “You see, I have a rare congenital disease which has made me blind Page 23

from birth. I have never experienced the crimson red of this necklace, the pastel blue hues of the sky, the luscious greens of the trees and grass in the summertime.” You notice the signs of her condition as the two of you are talking. She has a probing cane resting against her left thigh, and her irises are a cloudy, muted blue. She is looking at you, but her gaze seems to be far away, almost as if it is directed through you to some other realm. You are speechless. As a graphic design major, it is difficult to come to terms with the fact that this woman has and never will experience the beauty of color. Color is something so integral to your life; something that you have simply taken for granted. You try to explain what the color red is like, but falter as you realize it is simply impossible. How would you describe the color red? Would you describe it using an analogy, saying that it is a “warm” color, or that it has a wavelength of 625-740 nm on the visible portion of the electromagnetic spectrum? Even with a frame of reference, it is impossible to convey the experience of the color red. Color is not the only property humans experience that is indescribable. Suppose the old woman had rheumatoid arthritis in her wrists. How would she describe the sensation of pain to you? Again, the only way she could relay her experience is through analogies. She could use an arbitrary scale to try and rate the level of pain. She could try to describe the location of the pain, or the duration, or the causation, but she would be unable to put into words the sensation itself. Sensations, emotions, and thoughts of experience are called qualia. There are many definitions for qualia, and it is important to understand the components that make up the idea in order to have a more complete understanding of the concept. As mentioned before, they are all ineffable. They are non-physical, private experiences that occur within the confines of human consciousness. Due to this non-physical property, this also means qualia are different from the physical processes that cause them to occur. Qualia are complete experiences that cannot be deconstructed into smaller pieces, similar to the way in which subatomic quark particles cannot be dissociated any further. But perhaps the most abstract property of qualia is that they are experienced directly. Descartes’ proposition, “I think, therefore I am,” perfectly exemplifies this. One does not need to be told they are experiencing qualia, or what it is—they just are. The proof is in the pudding! How then are we able to prove the existence of something as abstract as qualia without using the cop-out answer of “it is because it is?” One interesting argument for the existence of qualia is a thought experiment Page 24

developed by philosopher John Locke called the Inverted Spectrum argument. Suppose there was something a little stronger than creamer mixed in with your coffee. You black out and wake up on the café floor, only to find that the once mahogany colored tiling is now a startling sapphire blue. The wooden sign above the entryway proudly displaying the coffee shop’s namesake, a blue cat, now depicts a cat the color of sunset orange. The light from the sunrise streaming in through the windows is now an eerie azure color. Your friend has just arrived, and she helps you to your feet. Her skin is the color of a pitaya. “Are you okay,” she asks, “what happened?!” “I don’t know,” you answer dubiously. “I blacked out, and now I’m seeing things! Your skin is magenta, the camel-brown recliner I was sitting in a moment ago is green, and the sky outside is yellow!” “The sky outside is yellow?” she echoes sarcastically. “I think it’s a little early for this. Quit messing around, we have a project to work on.” “I’m serious!” you cry out adamantly. “The sky really is yellow.” Your friend looks at you, somewhat bewildered, and realizes that you are serious. She takes a deep breath. “The sky is blue. It always has been, and always will be.” Locke’s argument claims that because we can find the Inverted Spectrum plausible, meaning we can picture a scenario in our mind’s eye where the colors on earth have been inverted without contradictions, then we must admit that qualia exist and are indeed non-physical properties. Of course, our reality as we know it is shaped by both physicalism and consciousness. One idea that supports this dualistic perspective is the idea of zombies. No, not the pop culture interpretation of the undead inspired by George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, but a philosophical zombie. A philosophical zombie is a concept stating that it is possible for a “zombie” to express all the outward physical and emotional behaviors of a human, but to lack the phenomenological experiences we define as qualia. Descartes believed that all non-human living creatures are automata, and that their every behavior could be explained by physical mechanisms such as evolutionary traits. But the human consciousness was not so simple. He compared the mind of the human to the mind of the machine. With the now antiquated technology of his day, he concluded that there was something beyond the physical realm required to analyze the human consciousness. Our technology is considerably more advanced today than in the time of Descartes, and with considerable advances in artificial intelligence, it is conceivable that one day we will be able to create a real-life philosophical zombie. Page 25

While the Inverted Spectrum Theory and the Zombie Argument are widely accepted, not everyone finds the idea of qualia quaffable. Daniel Dennett, perhaps qualia’s biggest critic, provides an argument against these spontaneous perceptions in his book Consciousness Explained (1991). In his book, Dennett provides an argument against qualia by claiming that its definition breaks down with a more practical application. Dennett pits the idea of qualia against real-world neurosurgery and clinical psychology. He contends that in the context of real-world application, qualia has no use in the situations above, and the potentially useful questions that it presents are unanswerable because of its own fundamental properties. Let’s go back to the second scenario. You wake up on the café floor, and just like before, all of the colors have been inverted. You know immediately that something is wrong. You hypothesize that some mystery ingredient in your warm beverage must have caused your optic nerves to go haywire and invert your qualia. However, you soon realize that your qualia is not the only thing that could have changed. Perhaps it is not the colors that have been inverted, but your connection to memories of past qualia that have been altered. Both of these options have the same result, and you have absolutely no way of knowing which has occurred. What was in that coffee anyway? The only thing you’re sure of now is that from now on you’ll stick to water. The main fault Dennett finds with qualia is that it relies too heavily on memory. The only way to notice a change in qualia is to point out an incongruence with our past memories of qualia. However, what we remember are only construed memories of qualia, and not the qualia themselves. Dennett confirms through this thought experiment that we cannot prove the existence of qualia simply through introspection. Our memory is inconsistent and subjective to say the least, and as such it cannot be used as concrete evidence to prove or disprove qualia. Without going into too much detail, memory is subject to alterations by a number of influences. Drugs, physical and mental trauma, mental disorders, and stress, along with a slew of other factors can influence our surprisingly fragile minds. Memory is also quite subjective. Everyone’s memories possess some degree of subjectivity, because each individual has their own level of perceived memory ability—independent from objective standards or performance. Subjective memory is defined as the reflection of one’s perceptions about his or her personal memory functioning. That word, “perception,” should set off a few red flags. That’s right, our memory itself is a collection of perceptions, or qualia! We cannot define qualia Page 26

using qualia, in the same way we wouldn’t use the word we are defining in its definition. The true definition of qualia remains elusive because we continue to use a physical definition for a non-physical phenomenon. There are several plausible arguments for its existence, but when we attempt to blend qualia with a neurobiological perspective, it fails miserably. Yet as impossible as it is to prove qualia’s existence, it remains equally futile to disprove it. I must confide that my research has only made a splash in a subject that is as deep as the Mariana Trench. The answers to my questions have only led to more questions. I feel as though there is so much more yet to be discussed that one could devote their life to unearthing the mysteries of qualia and never fully explain the phenomenon. Next time you are sitting outside enjoying your coffee, look up at the sky and ask, “Is the sky really blue today?” R References https://www.d.umn.edu/~dcole/inverted_spectrum.htm https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/quale https://philosophyterms.com/qualia/ https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/phenomenology/ https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/zombies/ https://link.springer.com/referenceworkentry/10.1007%2F978-981-287-082-7_356 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Qualia Page 27

New Eve by Sam Beurskens New Eve of Earth’s empty ether Rose grown among groves of hemlock High, bright as a star Purely conceived Ivory heart Queen of bliss Mother of snow-tender sorrow Walks after the wooden cross Her heart impaled by seven swords. Under the tree of redemption worried Christ’s mother waits For her Son to conquer Earth’s hemlock. Page 28

On Ice By Robert Bidon There’s crackling from the stove aglow, the other sounds come from below, beneath my feet from deep and wide What will this lake to me bestow? When smoothly now the float it slides into the deep, I stop its glide. Aha! This is a worthy foe. We take each other on a ride. Hand over fist, I pull and tow this monster from his home below I have him near his ice ceiling but then he turns, intent to go. Now he’s mad and really wheeling! As in prayer, I now am kneeling. Then a snap and I go reeling. Alas — he’s free and not revealing. Page 29

Essay: Wheeling Wausau by Sam Beurskens I, having the screwy nature of humanity, fell into the primordial desire and fault of fantasizing about Wausau, Wisconsin’s potential social utopia. I imagined the quaintness of the homes, the little hobbit-like children playing in the front yards adjacent to quiet streets. I fancied those streets at night lit by lampposts akin to Narnia’s. In my mind’s eye I beheld husbands and wives holding hands, strolling in unbreakable romantic friendship down the streets, while the birds of spring chirped joyfully at the sight. I imagined my apartment building neighbors, my brothers and sisters in dwelling, would be hospitable, gracious, and clean-cut, perhaps leaning out of windows chatting each other up—a Norman Rockwellian scene, I admit. I thought after I would get to know them briefly, they would greet me in the hall and ask me how I was doing as they were passing, in exchanges friendly and courteous such as one gives to another, acknowledging each other’s existence. In other words, I came to Wausau with a surging hope of finding another Bedford Falls with all of its beautiful ordinariness, friendliness, and smallness. But as it turned out, I was completely wrong, for the very reason that nothing that humans dream of really comes about in perfect form. Still one has to accept the circumstances and make the best of that experience—gaining wisdom for later. To illustrate my epiphany of reality clearly, I will tell you of three experiences I had which awakened me from this mirage of dreamy thoughts as if I were sleeping, and tipped me off the edge of the bed, suddenly jolting me to the hopelessness (not to overstate things) of everyday reality that I had unfortunately discovered. On a bright sunny day with the snow from the other night melting from the heavenly morning temperature and brilliant blue skies, I decided, with the A-Team theme song and a large playlist in my ears, to suit up with all my wheelchair gear to go on a stroll. Getting out of my apartment was a bit of a hassle as usual. I cut a wound in my apartment wall for the hundredth time since the entrance is too small for my chair. Still, I managed to shimmy my way out and began to wheel along the uneven and crumbling sidewalks of Wausau’s busiest and obviously most annoying street towards the downtown, which was peaceful and respectable. As I was traveling, I had to overcome the sidewalk crossing, and I’m Page 30

never sure if I will get over that huge concrete island-like thing which one has to climb while waiting for the crosswalk to change to green. Yet, I successfully did, despite its steep incline, and continued to speed down the street. The snow drifts were rapidly melting, forming little shimmering puddles that trickled down into the dirty street gutters. I joyfully splashed through the little lakes on purpose, inspired by the excitement of the changing seasons, a spirited mood that renders one grateful, not minding a bit of wetness since the previously absent sunlight is finally here. Returning from the downtown bike trail, which took me on a pleasant tour of Wausau’s parks and rivers, I continued to wheel. Nearing my apartment building but not yet ready to end my expedition, I chose to wheel laps around the neighborhood where I go to mass. After I had rolled about five laps around beautiful St. Mary’s Oratory and was launching into my sixth lap, I was halted by a voice that came from behind me. The voice was kind of a lazy, slurring one. I greeted the speaker with a smile before grasping his visage. He had a face that was puffy, painted and pierced. He had tattoos—as far as I could see— from head to toe, kind of blotting out his face and neck, exhibiting skulls and crossbones, and barbed wire and other such disquieting things. His face was highly pierced. He had earrings in his nose, lip, eyebrow and I suppose his tongue too, the source of the slur. I politely greeted him by saying “Hi,” and he asked me if I knew the way to the Dollar Store in Rothschild, a few miles away. I responded I didn’t since I was a newcomer in Wausau and didn’t know any locations except the Wausau Shopko, and the Kwik Trip which was very close to me and the Oratory. With a bit of surprise in his stained face, he announced with no shame that he was new in town too, having just gotten out of his six-week jail stay because he had been stalking his girlfriend. Then he proceeded to tell me that he thought it was bizarre that they punished him for it (“It ain’t no crime just trailin’ someone around, is it?”) and frankly he could not understand the problem. I just raised my eyebrows and told him—mumbling to mask my incredulity—that I didn’t know either, but after that, I said to him that I had to get going. He agreed with me that it was a silly idea for them to put him in jail. He said “thanks” and his bloated bulk disappeared into the blinding and vibrant sunshine as I wheeled home for lunch. Not a week later I had another interesting encounter with a citizen from Wausau. The encounter was with what they used to call an old bag lady. She seemed quite mad. Like the last time, I had been wheeling laps around St. Mary’s Oratory Page 31

on a bright and sunshiny day, admiring the beautiful neo-Gothic architecture. Completing my last lap, I spied the elderly African-American lady sitting on a bench mumbling. Because I don’t like to wheel by anybody since they might make a comment about my wheelchair or ask me “What d’ya know?” (I never know what to say to that), I stayed out of sight as far as I could and pretended not to notice she was there—by looking up at the sky or at the church or out at the traffic or down at the sidewalk. As soon as I got past her, I took a half lap and snuck up behind her through the Oratory’s garden path that let me get near to her while lingering behind a large flowering bush. Loneliness will lead one to do such things, plus, admittedly, my writerly tendencies goaded me to see what she looked like and hear what she was saying. Sadly, she was pretty rough looking. She was elderly, overweight, dressed in dirty old pink sweatpants, a light blue sweatshirt and—even though it was rather warm—she was wearing a wrinkled and ratty straw hat. But the really interesting thing about her was that she was having a conversation with herself about her Thanksgiving plans, though in reality it was the middle of April. Apparently she was having a large gathering with her friends, cousins, and other family members (such as King Henry VIII, Napoleon, Voltaire, King Louis XVI, Justin Bieber, her uncle Frank, her aunt Martha) and they would be exchanging many delicious dishes of turkey, ham, Jell-O salad, and pecan stuffing—but also presents of microwaves, pencil sharpeners, books, hats, gloves, and cheese graters. While she was doing this, it seemed that she was acting out the exchanging of the foods and presents with her hands as if she were actually in the middle of the event or that she was trying to sort them out in her brain. In this whole discussion about the Thanksgiving preparations, she seemed quite serious and very content, as if she really had to figure out these details because the event was coming up fast, although it was, again, the middle of April. I wheeled home somewhat less exuberantly than I had wheeled out into Wausau earlier in the day. The scene had been comical in its way, but I was haunted a bit by it as well. Her loneliness compounded and echoed my own. Concerning my fantasy of a Bedford-Falls-like quietness and friendliness, I, unfortunately, found out fast that Wausau was not the friendly and safe town of my imaginings (no singing Bert the cop or smiling Ernie the taxi man, no hee-hawing Sam Wainwright, no sweet Mary Hatch perched on the drugstore soda fountain counter, and certainly no comically angelic Clarence Odbody etc.). Some sources had told me that Page 32

parts of Wausau—including the part I happened to pick to dwell in—had a dangerous past and present to them, and not even a month into my stay, I found out from various people that there were drug busts right across the street from me, in another apartment house which I had considered renting. Apparently, the police recently had drug-sniffing dogs search the entire apartment, leading to the arrest of a half-dozen ne’er-do-wells. Also, the cops, whose headquarters were just two blocks down, had busted a couple right in front of my apartment for drugs. I witnessed the man and woman being handcuffed, sprawled against the police car, kept pinned there by a broad-backed cop, while a drug-sniffing dog, an enormous German shepherd, searched their car. Further, there were two warring gangs of teenagers in town. One faction had stabbed one of their foes and left the poor shmuck for dead; there was a bank robbery in the downtown, ending in a shoot-out in a park. One of my acquaintances advised me not to leave my wheelchair outside the Catholic Church because it would probably be stolen (what kind of low-life steals a wheel chair, for goodness sake?), nor should I wheel down certain streets at night, as I might present an attractive target to muggers. Finally, I should have a baseball bat in my apartment just in case of a home invasion or other late-night visitation. Ah, home sweet home! The same friend that warned me about wandering alone on the streets and having a weapon inside my apartment told me that his friend, a little tipsy, had left a local bar at night from the rear entrance into an alley. Two large guys jumped him from behind and beat him up so badly that he Page 33

spent two months in the hospital and almost lost his life. Ironically I came to believe that the safest and most peaceful place in Wausau was its ancient, sprawling cemetery, where I would periodically take walks (or more properly, wheels). In my darker moods, I preferred the residents of this fine cemetery to many of Wausau’s inhabitants because the corpses respect your privacy, they don’t yell, they are not rude, they don’t stink, they don’t ride their bikes fast at you only to swerve that the last moment, and they certainly don’t get in your way. In fact, it’s you that might bump into or otherwise disturb these citizens’ peace, and I’m very careful not to, since their hard edges might hurt you, but that would be your fault, not theirs, and they don’t do it out of clumsiness and recklessness. You are the clumsy one. They respect your space 100%, which can’t be said for a lot of people. What did I ultimately learn from my sojourn in Wausau, Wisconsin? What my naiveté and romanticism had prevented me from understanding pre-Wausau: That there are two Bedford Falls—the one full of ringing bells and laughing children and snowflakes drifting gently down, and the other of Mr. Potter weaving his webs and icy rivers beckoning jumpers and Mr. Gower slobbering drunk in a bar. There is utopia, and there is reality. After all, as G. K. Chesterton noted, “Certain new theologians dispute original sin, which is the only part of Christian theology which can really be proved.” R Page 34

Slough by Emily Possehl I could not tell you exactly when The swamp became my home There was not a morning where I Awoke to find my bed was rotting wood The floor shifted to salamanders and fog No marsh wren perched on my nightstand To say, “You’ve arrived.” It came in slow, drudging stages Thick, slimy moments that pulled me down Into the mire, the moss curled around My bones, weaving up in spongy spirals Tadpoles swam in my veins Beavers built a dam in my throat My eyes turned to mud I could not tell you exactly when The swamp began to dry up When the dragonflies curled in on themselves Their fluorescent skeletons going dull And quietly crumbled into dust But no escape is ever so complete My clothes still smell of muskrats and algae Toads press footprints across my thoughts The lone blue heron nesting in my heart Whispers, “Come back soon.” Page 35

Krampusnacht by Kathleen VanCor Heavy black hooves through December’s snow crunch. Horns, shaggy fur, bells, birch whip and basket, Stops for a moment to ponder a hunch. Into the wicker pointedly asks it. “You knew of my coming, it’s been foretold. Yet you perfected your malice, indeed. You thought I was folktale from days of old, Notionless, folly set, you paid no heed?” Standing in his favorite poem by Frost, Smiles, gives his harness bells a soft shake. “You children never understand the cost.” Promises to keep and bad kids to take!” He comes on Krampusnacht, when cold winds blow. It’s been foretold, don’t say you didn’t know. Page 36

Essay: My Life, Approximately by Peter Smith I. It is strange how much of one’s life is spent asleep, insensate to experience. Much of my life, when I should have been separated from my mind and its numerous anxieties, has been spent in a landscape of dreams. In a state between waking and sleeping, or perhaps in a different state altogether, I am subjected to a series of images that I take to be real, despite their absurdity. Some would have it (the Freuds and Jungs of the world) that these images are the visages of hidden desire, pregnant with significance. Many others would say that these images are simply random, the result of a glitch in the brain, and are therefore incoherent and meaningless. But most, I think, regard dreams as a mystery, the object of superstition and shared incredulity. The only significance dreams have for me are their frequency. Two, three, four times a night I dream, and when I awake I’m left sporadic recollections of them, their substance already dissipating into incoherent, bizarre thickets of thought. Some say dreams are a hallmark of creativity, but that hasn’t been proven yet, and it’s just as well. I wish the infernal things would leave me alone. One of my earliest memories is of a werewolf chasing me through an abandoned house (a mansion, no doubt), each room’s decor popping up as I enter, like a pop-up book. The terror I’m sure I felt at the time has distilled to a healthy curiosity. Why the pop-up style images? Why a werewolf? Are they endemic to old mansions? (My subsequent survey of horror movies featuring werewolves would suggest otherwise.) I’ve had many oddly rendered dreams. Once I dreamed I was a fish, and my companion fish were drawn in the typical children’s book fashion: thin black outlines, the colors solid and pure. This made the dream rather fun, until one of my fellow fish (my best friend, by his own testimony) and his older brother were reduced to tangled swirls of maroon by a shark. Scenes out of books I had read weaseled their way into my dreams, too: the beginning of the bloody contest in The Hunger Games, the reveal of several monsters from Goosebumps, the appearance of the shape-shifting clown of It. As I grew older, my dreams lost their cartoonish tinge and became more erratic, vaguer, and more violent. I remember one dream that marked this transition, and I doubt I’ll ever forget it. My father and I had Page 37

been watching a movie in the basement. I can’t remember what we were watching, but I know it didn’t contribute to the vile content of the dream. I was lying on a blow-up mattress a foot or two from the couch where my father rested. It wasn’t quite full with air, so I sank into it almost down to the floor. My father was already asleep and snoring fitfully. That, combined with the persistent murmur of the film, made it difficult to fall asleep. After an hour or so I finally drifted off, and when I did I found myself standing outside of a school. It was much larger than any school I’d ever seen, but when I wandered inside I recognized the linoleum floors and white protruding brick of the middle school I had once attended. Then I noticed that I was there with several people, some of whom I knew. I glanced with disinterest at the foreign faces before focusing on those I recognized. They were friends of mine, but their features had been altered in subtle ways. Some were paler than they were in reality, others had different hairstyles or different eye color. We were playing a game of hide and seek, and the person who was to be the seeker (he was one of the unknowns) was dressed in a strange costume. It was composed of disparate scraps of fabric, clumsily sewn together, moth-eaten and gray-brown with putrescence. The seeker donned the costume and the rest of us scattered. I climbed a flight of steps, perhaps two, or even three, and ducked into the nearest classroom. I knelt beneath a desk for what felt like several minutes. I grew bored and restless, and I decided to peek out the door. I opened the door a few inches and peered out. Everything was dark, the only visible thing the linoleum below me. I opened the door a little more, and out of nowhere came the seeker, who yelled, “You’re caught!” and pointed at me with a large pair of scissors he had filched Page 38

from another classroom. He removed his mask, beaming, and suddenly I felt I knew his face, though I didn’t know how. Then a larger figure emerged from the gloom behind him. It seemed almost to emerge from the seeker, overwhelming him, swallowing him. The figure was wearing the same costume as the seeker was, only it was green with spatterings of red and pink. I then realized the figure wasn’t wearing a costume of fabric, but of flesh sewn together with twine, rotting and leaking blood and human oil, pocks revealing pinkish-white tissue. The figure brandished a huge pair of garden shears. It raised them, separated the blades, and decapitated the seeker. There was no blood, and his head fell away like that of a wooden doll. The figure raised the shears again, this time moving toward me, and I raised my hand to protect my face. It clamped the blades over my fingers and cut them all off, save my thumb. I could actually feel neurons firing in my brain. I felt the momentary search for a pathway that would elicit the correct degree of pain, but none could be found, so I awoke as my fingers fell and dissolved away. Blue light from the television scorched my eyes. I was shaking all over. Sweat had soaked through the hem of my blanket. By now the dream had begun to fade, confusion beginning to subsume my fright. I was unsure of what to do. I thought about waking my father, but I was afraid he would be angry if I bothered him, though there was a good chance his anger would collapse into concern when he saw that I was genuinely afraid. In the end, I dragged the mattress over to the foot of the couch and tried to fall back asleep, allowing the action of the still-playing movie to shove the lingering unpleasant thoughts out of my head. I still shudder when I think of that dream, of that flesh-adorned figure. What was so jarring about it was that it came from nowhere. I’d never seen a film like it, nor had I read a book or played a video game that remotely resembled it. Something malign and odious slithered forth from innocence, plucked the apple from the tree, and shoved it down my throat. II. Dreams are not exclusively nocturnal. Not satisfied with disturbing our hours of rest, they also creep into our waking hours as well, and cripple our relationship to the present. Dreams had while awake are referred to as “daydreams,” though it isn’t just time of day that differentiates them from what we simply refer to as “dreams.” Perhaps saying we are awake while daydreaming is misleading (and possibly just wrong), but I think it Page 39

is fair to say we are more lucid while daydreaming. We have much more control over the outcomes of our daydreams, and often daydreams are categorized as fantasies, self-imposed hallucinations that model our desires. (Too much is made of the content of daydreams, and more attention should be paid to their origins; it is not what we daydream of, but how and why these daydreams arise, that is truly important.) When daydreams are factored in, I am forced to admit that most of my life is spent dreaming, of either ecstatic incoherences or an ideal future, thus removing me almost completely from reality. I didn’t realize how much I daydreamed until recently. My daydreams gained my attention as I was trying to forge a friendship with someone I had known for a long time. As the foundations of the friendship were laid, a series of typical excursions to cafes and shops, I found myself thinking about the friendship more and more. I envisioned the rudiments of the friendship being erected into a grand, ornate edifice, decorated with mutual interests and excitements, echoing with profound and probing conversation. Like all great architecture, I dreamed that the friendship would be eternal, or as enduring as four human hands could make it, outlasting the caprices of the world and asymmetries of experience, dying only when we ourselves met our end. This seems outrageous to me now, and I knew all along, in some subconscious sepulcher, that it was outrageous, ridiculous, silly. But that didn’t prevent me from dreaming, however pathetic or desperate or naive it may have been. My dreams were filled with closeness, and she (or the embodiment of an idea that I imagined her to be) listened to my thoughts and wasn’t turned away by them. And, even more miraculous than that, she understood them, however slipshod or inarticulate. Her thoughts, her secret wonderings, remained vague, even vaguer than the dreams themselves. It comforts me a little that I didn’t want her to be a specific type of person, and I never wanted her to like the same things I do. I didn’t expect her to have read Dostoevsky or Nietzsche. What I expected was much more unrealistic: I expected to be understood. It seems to me now that I want so badly to be understood that I conflate being understood with being loved. Much of the time, I feel like an alien amongst my peers, and therefore I have a tendency to act like one. I want to belong to someone rather than something. Or, stated less strongly, I want to belong with someone, I want to feel known and valued in the mind and presence of another human being. But none of us belong, not really. We’re all runaways, trying to escape our prison of gray matter and bone. When I was a child, my daydreams usually involved a person who I admired standing next to me, listening to what I had to say, looking me Page 40

in the eye (which I hadn’t the nerve to do to others). “We need your help,” they would say, or, “What do you think of this?” I dreamed of having long palavers with them, and I would reveal to them what I thought of the books I had been reading, and I would tell them of the dark, secret, wonderful things I found in these books, things I couldn’t share in polite company. I would let slip my doubts and my fears. They knew better than anyone how afraid I was of elevators, how empty I found the idea of God to be, how alone I felt. Not even they could tell me why. Instead of blank stares, or shrugs, or awkward transitions to other topics, they responded with what they thought, they gave me advice, told me things I hadn’t thought of before. Most of these phantoms came from books, though they were seldom characters. It was the authors of those books I wanted to talk to. (How could I have talked about books with Seymour Glass? or Benny Profane? or Hans Castorp? Their own books, to boot. Never happen.) To this day, those apparitions remain good friends. Like all other friends they fade gradually away only to reappear years later, they incite quarrels with me and each other, they make questionable decisions and believe questionable things. But they always remain within reach, their essence preserved between slabs of wood pulp on a shelf. Real friends, if they should slip through your grasp, will inevitably become unknowable, and the person who you trusted and confided in will disappear and become another scrap of memory in the cerebral landfill, another pointless venture. The first thing realized by the daydreamer is how tedious the business of living is. That is why he invents people to keep him company. I have tried very hard, and in all the wrong ways, to leave this ethereal camaraderie behind and join the institutions of the joyfully alive. After numerous instances of miscommunication and unanswered complaints, my aforementioned friend and I had a conversation over the phone. We shared many of our thoughts and desires, and we found that they were incongruous, and perhaps even antithetical, to each other. She has never been allowed to care about much in her life, for its transience often swept things away, forcing her to start anew. Starting over so many times rendered her incapable, or unwilling, to cultivate anything that would be too hard to replace. Everything in her life is interchangeable. Or so it seemed to me. She thought being friends was a bad idea. I kept the conversation going for three hours, trying to make it work, trying to convince her that some things are worth doing wholeheartedly. She met my prolixity with a terse refusal. I hung up angry and exhausted and disappointed, but mostly I felt that things were not and never could be different. Page 41

She was right, of course. III. Even now, as I write this, I am dreaming. I am dreaming of how I could crystallize how it feels to be me into a story, write an autobiography in the form of a novel, a la Vonnegut’s Slapstick. Thinking about an autobiography (or a memoir, or whatever) in this way is much easier for a person who can’t help but dream. Dreamers are used to dredging up characters and scenarios from the subconscious. I’m not really sure how to turn raw memory, my memory, into something meaningful. I’ve never been much interested in my own experiences, and perhaps that’s because I’m used to dreaming. The dreaming process allows me to use memory without having to confront it directly. Tinkering with the attitudes and actions of characters is really tinkering with my past, examining it in a different, more palatable form. This is my weakness. (Or the other possibility: my experiences are genuinely boring.) As usual, I feel as if I haven’t gotten any of this right. I feel as if I obscure instead of illuminate myself. Let me dream for a moment. I write about a child walking home from school. This child could be me, or a past version of me, but he’ll have a different name and act differently than me. The child is thinking about something he overheard at school, a small, sweet-sounding tidbit of language that he repeats in his head over and over again. It is winter, and a light snow begins to fall. When he reaches his home he finds that the front door is locked. Confused, he stands and ponders the stubborn door. The door is never locked on weekdays. He drops his backpack in the snow, so absorbed in thought he doesn’t know he’s done it. He walks around the house and finds the back door locked too, at which point the child begins to panic. He pounds on the door, the panic so sudden and virulent that all of his energy is spent being somewhat surprised at it. Every part of his body seems to be vibrating, his hands especially. They’re quivering so badly that he thinks they’ll detach themselves and flutter away. He realizes he should be crying, yet he is not. At this point he retreats into his thoughts again. We find out that he was involved in the earlier incident, the one with the sweet bit of language, and that he was sent home early for his bad behavior. The story ends where it began. Or this: a man arrives in a foreign country, one that could be real or fictitious. He prepared for the trip for a long time, and paid special Page 42

attention to learning the language of this country. Or perhaps he’s returned to his home country after being away for many years, and is confident that he’ll be able to fit right in again, as if he’d never left. Either way, the visit/return doesn’t go very well. He loses his luggage, and no one can tell him where to find it. The security people give him weird looks and eventually toss him out of the airport still luggageless. He can’t believe what’s happened, and he searches for his hotel in a daze. When he finally finds it, the doorman hops off his stool and won’t let him in. To his surprise, he can’t understand most of what the doorman is saying. Even more confused, and slightly dizzy, the man walks away from the hotel with the doorman still yelling at him. The narration of the story is getting progressively more fragmentary and difficult to understand. The man walks for a long time. People give him a wide berth and sneer at him as he walks by. Without realizing he’s done so, the man begins remembering what the city used to be like. He examines the memories carefully, one by one, like a paleontologist examining a freshly unearthed skull. Suddenly everything comes back to him in one intense deluge of recollection. So strong are these newfound memories that he can actually smell the greasy aromas of old restaurants, noxious clouds of ancient cigarette smoke, can actually hear the smallness of the older city, the reduced din of voices and traffic, hustle and bustle pleasantly absent. Then he stops. He has no idea how long he’s been walking, or how far he’s gone. He looks up and sees a street sign. It reads, “Anselm Blvd.” He recognizes the name of the street, though he doesn’t know how. The same greasy aromas that assailed his memory are wafting up from somewhere down the street, the smell carried on eddies of an unfelt breeze. He turns and walks down the street, humming an old and familiar tune. These are only two. They are my life, approximately. R Page 43

Mississippi River: A Ballad By Maria Jimenez Just one push and you are gone with the flow it goes the water drags your body on and it doesn’t even know and once you find yourself inside it’s hard to try and get out you can’t go back, enjoy the ride it’s clear you won’t be found Firewood by Emily Possehl A lift, a toss A breath of cold An earthen smell Thin clouds unfold Frozen fingers Woodchips in eyes Sunlight fading My tired heart sighs Soft chimney smoke Lazy and slow Little red coals Scoff at the snow Page 44

Story: An Old Friend by Danielle Nation Winds of a peculiar nature whisper through the rigid branches of pines and oaks surrounding the farm this strange morning. The rooster stuck in his routine does not sing his proud morning song. Ma is exhausted, sweat beaded at her brow. Sparrows, blue jays, robins, cardinals, and a single, brightly colored pair of love birds crowd the window sill, silent and watchful. Sets of small eyes peer into the room through cracks in the wall near the door. Pa leans over the blood-stained mattress, his heart too frightened to beat. The midwife gently wipes away the afterbirth with a warm rag and shakes her head in sympathy. With the umbilical cord cut, the motionless babe is passed to Ma. Ma burrows her face into the loose fabric, breathing in the scent of her silent infant, wet hot tears rolling down her swollen face. A cool draft moves through the small room causing the temperature to drop. Pa’s face falls at the sight of his son. He quickly retreats into the shadows of the room, steeling himself away, attempting to keep the shock to his system to a minimum. The midwife, at a loss for words, sits at the end of the bed, praying. But, it is the wind who answers. “Wake up, little one,” the shifting breeze murmurs. The bed sheets ripple in response, and goosebumps prickle the flesh. The little hairs on the back of Ma’s neck stand straight up, causing her to pull the bundle closer to her chest, as if to protect him from the unusual chill in the air. And, the wind sings once again, “Wake up, wake up,” words only meant for one. Small ears are listening. The birds at the window begin to flap their wings in a frenzy. “Wake up, wake up, wake uuuuup,” it draws out, as it curls around his little frame, twirling little sunburst locks. A small heartbeat begins to quicken. Tree branches begin to moan, rattle, and shake. “Waaaake uuuup!” Lungs expanding, a first breath. “Let the world know you’re here, little one. Wake up, wake up, wake up!” A whimper escapes the baby’s lips. Mice scrape, scratch, and squeak, scurrying through the walls. From the rooster’s beak, a new melody, as if to shout “He is here, he is here!” “James?!” Ma exclaims. And, a bright smile illuminates the shadows. R Page 45

Twenty-six years later. Hearts painted on the side walk leading up to the storefront peak through the shifting piles of leaves. The bamboo chimes hanging just outside the door glink loudly, excited at the prospect of a new work day. Women of all ages, shapes, and sizes arrive early for their appointments, dressed in their Sunday best, cheeks rosy and wind whipped. The small bell above the door is working overtime today, ringing nearly every half hour signaling Alice’s success. The city is small, sitting on the edge of Dallas County, but it would seem every girl within fifty miles saw the editorial article posted in the circular. Some walked, some rode horses in, and others even had their fathers drive them to town. It was safe to assume the prospect of marriage was always on a young girl’s mind, and no one saw fault in having a little help in that department. When Alice’s husband joined the war effort, her brain child, a matchmaking service pairing single, local women with “honorable” G.I.s fighting over in Germany, took off. Laugher, smiles, pink puffed lips. Ding. The wild flowers she picked from the side of the road this morning filling the front room with flowery scents of daisies and tiger lilies, making Clifford’s nose itch. Ding. Ding. Three women sit patiently on the old davenport. Waiting for love, waiting for someone to listen to their woes. Too bad mail service takes so darn long to deliver, going to be waiting for a long time, Clifford huffs. Sitting in the doorway to his office, or the pantry he is convinced his sister uses to hide him, he watches the dark-haired girl with the bright orange dress. It makes her look like she’s on fire, he notes. A letter in hand, she can barely contain her excitement. Alice gives her a congratulations with a big toothy grin, signaling the ending to her very first appointment. You could swear she was about to make a run for it, too. He imagines smoke forming at the back of her heels and smiles. Feeling congested, “Hoouugheekhehhmm tchew,” he spits phlegm into an old cup, and positions it back in between his thighs. He looks up, forgetting himself, and sees the girl is staring at him. They are all staring. No, not at him, at his chair he realizes and scowls. The girl’s eyes meet his immediately, making a silent apology. “I don’t need your sympathy!” He shouts at her, at them, jerking at the wheels roughly, backing his way into the office. Crack! He runs into the doorway, and it only makes him angrier as they jump as if frightened. Alice panics, asking for the young women’s forgiveness, giving them the same sob story, she always gives. A mining accident, the damn mining Page 46

accident, it’s always the damn mining accident! It becomes too much sometimes, and today was one of those days. Clifford couldn’t stand the looks they gave him; the room no longer filled with the scent of flowers but the stinking reek of pity. Once the door closes, the world is shut away, and he doesn’t have to hide his disfigurement for anyone. With barely enough room to squeeze by, he turns on his old radio to drown out the surrounding noises. His coffee is hours cold, and the haphazardly stacked profiles and letters yell at him, reminding him that he has work to do, but he ignores it. He focuses his attention on the present, listening to scores of a local team he cares nothing about. Minutes pass and Dick Donalee’s rugged voice charges the room, stirring his thoughts in a new direction, away from the prying eyes of lonely women with too much time on their hands. The glow emanating from the tubes in the back of the old wooden case is emphasized by the lack of light in the cramped space. “Just take me away,” Clifford sighs towards the radio, imagining himself sitting in the stands, pretending to enjoy the game, knowing fully well there was only one reason he would ever attend. Getting lost in the moment, as Dick transitions to local news, the station switches and is overpowered by coverage of the war. A light breeze carries itself across the room, slipping in through the small open window, shifting the curtain. “...Four brave Ameri-shhhh-ldiers were injured in-shhhh-ounter attack by German forces.” The shuffle of papers flutters through grime covered speaker. “Naturally, a delay...shhhhhhh” A hand cuts through the air and smacks the side of the old Philco riddled with constant abuse and quick fixes. Turning the makeshift nob in a last-ditch effort, a cork crumbling from use, the blue light fades, inviting eager shadows to fill the void. “Figures,” Clifford mumbles to himself, as he smooths his fiery locks back with his rough hands. He gives one last look in the radio’s direction, hoping Dick’s voice would grace his ears, but has no such luck. Grumbling, he attempts to realign his chair, but corrects too quickly. The linen cloth pinching underneath the wheel, exposes the small stack of books holding up the left side of the desk where nearly a third of the leg is missing. Elliot. Stein. Hemingway. They mock him, and he can’t stand it. He winces, pulling the fabric quickly across their exposed spines as if hiding them would make him forget a time when books were more than stabilizers. But, the cloth doesn’t drape nicely the way it should. Still holding Page 47

onto the anger from the earlier interaction with the women, he pulls harder than necessary. The contents on the desk begin to spill, sliding forward in a slow decent, as if in a strange dare. Time is frozen, a standoff, as he stares the stacks down, teetering. In the back of his mind, he imagines they shout, “I accept!” and that’s when it happens. Once they fall, they don’t stop. A waterfall of paper. A cascade. They practically fly, carried by an invisible force. “Errrg!” slips from his lips as he tries to fix the situation, but things go awry, and it’s a paper avalanche. Looking at the mountain of burnables on the floor, he kicks them under the desk. He points his finger towards the offending mass, “I’ll deal with you later, buddy,” a slow smile forming on his lips. “I’m talking to paper,” he sniffs, as he lifts his head towards his clean desk. All but one letter remained. And, it was torn and open. “Well, shit.” Reaching for the offending document, Clifford flips it over, careful not to cause any more damage than necessary. The face, usually containing information such as an address for the recipient, the sender, and the profile matching number, was completely blank. “Unusual...” he creaks. But, there was clearly something inside. And, he was curious. The few remaining fibers slip away from each other as he pulls out an introduction note card. The penmanship is beautiful, he notes. Painstakingly perfect calligraphy, written small, as if to cram everything that needed to be said in such a small frame. The way the L’s, G’s, and Y’s swoop, confidence. Greasy fingerprints mar the edges, but do not take away from its artistry. Clifford imagines he can smell chipped beef rations emanating from the fatty smudges. Waving the card in front of his face, cigarette smoke too. Dear 0934233, If dear cupid is right with all her infinite wisdom, and successful in her endeavors, we are a match for the ages, my dear little bird. Please bless me with the knowledge of a name, if you are courageous enough to write a proud man with a world of love to give. I will not burden you with mystery, I will be forthcoming straight away. I am balding. Yours truly, SGT. Alfred Rufus Rafferty “Hmmmpph!” Was this supposed to be a joke? Clifford scowls towards the door, a small smile crawling it’s way to his eyes, but no further. Alice’s silhouette, ear pressed to the door, fills his mind’s eye. He reaches for the stylograph, grabbing a single sheet of stationary with the other hand, and begins to write. Dear Alfred... I fear if I write, I will be blinded by love, if not by the shine of your glossy, exposed forehead. Page 48

Shoe polish applied daily will ensure that it is true. Clifford snickers. Something reminiscent of his old self poking through the scar tissue. Excited in Iowa, Clarice Red Sealing up the envelope, he kisses the outside, facetiously, for good measure. And, without a second thought, plops it into the empty, outgoing mail, forgetting about it soon after. R Ding. Clifford looks expectantly towards the front door. A woman fills the space, face bitten, a single wispy breath marks the air, leaving as quickly as it had appeared, before the outside world is once again shut away. Golden light peeking through the glass falls just across the front of the shop, warming the room. Piano keys echo the mood, as Clifford hums along to the crooning of Al Bowlly spilling from his small office. “Hello Mary” he pushes out, quick to hide his disappointment. “Why hello, Clifford. Staying toasty in here?” She acknowledges, slipping one glove off her nimble fingers at a time. Pulling on his lap blanket quickly, as if to reassure her, he meets her eyes with a nervous smile. “Sure am.” She stares just a second too long, he notices, as she shakes her jacket off her shoulders. Turning back towards his book, he quickly ends the conversation in favor of the written word instead. R Fresh snow blankets the trees, shrubs, and buildings, covering everything in a sparkly, clean white. A large pile of snowpack covers the old desk, dumped on the curb until it could be taken away. Alice shovels the sidewalks. Through the fresh slush and sand, pink and red peak through. Business is slow. Clifford sits near the large window, watching life crawl by. Icicles hanging from the gutters above, filled with a frozen pulpy mess, refract the light like diamonds, creating beautiful patterns on the hard wood floor. With a stained handkerchief in one hand and a handful of letters clutched to his chest with the other, he waits patiently. His eyes follow the movement outside, the mail slot creaks, and a bundle hits the welcome mat on the floor with a thud. A slow smile crawls across his gaunt face. R Page 49

Pink, orange, and yellow tulips open, a bumbling bee boops into the petals, greeting each one with a humming hello. Ding. Vases of flowers crowd shelves, the smell masking the bite of cleaning supplies in the air. Alice pushes Clifford’s chair to his favorite spot near the window, and adjusts the small quilt in his lap, tucking the edges under his bird legs. Constance smiles gently towards him, and her appointment begins. She laughs and rejoices quietly, the news of an impending marriage bringing a smile to Alice’s worn face. Pretending to sleep, a low rattle echoes roughly through his chest as he breathes, his fingers clenching the neatly tied cluster of letters a little more tightly. R BOOM. Lightning flashes echo across the shop, creating ghastly shadows and strange ghouls. BOOM. BOOM. Static cracks from the old radio, the room smelling faintly of melting plastic, the result of it being left on just a little too long this time. Unmarked letters, strewn across the floor, are damp. Rain shatters the loud silence between each rumbling chorus, the curtain ripped from its place. The makeshift cot in the back office is heaped with blankets but the mountain of fabric does not move. The wind, an old friend, wreaks havoc, reclaiming the sleeping world for her own. R Ding. Ding. Laugher fills the shop, as women gossip about new found love, marriage prospects, and their beaus’ quirks and quibbles. Ding. Through the noise, small screeches breach the wall. Alice, with a knowing smile, asks to be excused, and grabs a cup of bird seed from the small bucket on her way out. the state of the container. The pair of brightly colored birds flap and flutter their wings in a frenzy! Pulling the top away, scaring a few feathers loose, she laughs. “Calm down you two.” But they flutter. And they flap. Screeching in unison, crying, “He’s here, he’s here!” R “It’s barely even empty!” She exclaims, seeing Page 50

Fallen Dust by Emily Possehl A lone, worn mitten of leather A dusty wooden plane A sudden cold to the weather A truck plowing one lane A barbwire fence in tangled weeds A green jacket hung up The way an orange sunset bleeds A warm white coffee cup A basement full of childhood fears Fog that leaves pavement wet No new memories in ten years And still, I can’t forget Page 51

Memoir: Summer, 1976 by Katryn Conlin The heat was rising on a bright summer morning in Circle, Montana. I was filling up the tank at a gas station when a gawky young man emerged from the building and addressed me with a profoundly bizarre question: “You gals wouldn’t happen to be nuns, would you?” There were three girls on this road trip. We were clad in tank tops and tee shirts over ratty cut-off shorts. Over by a light pole, my oldest sister Dennie was smoking a Kool Menthol Lite. Molly was sauntering back and forth, stretching her long legs, her shiny long blonde hair catching the breeze. I was nineteen years old, the year was 1976, and not a one of us was wearing a bra. We did not look like nuns in the slightest. The trip was Dennie’s idea. “How about we take off a week at the end of the summer and go out to Glacier and do some backpacking?” Having lived in Colorado, she considered herself quite the expert on the great outdoors. Molly, an art teacher, had been laid off from her job teaching art in St. Paul in June. All summer long, she had been job hunting without any luck. She was thoroughly sick of it, so she was more than willing to hit the road. The night before, Molly had driven up to Bismarck from St. Paul. We packed up my dad’s yellow Maverick with its sticky brown vinyl seats and set the alarm clocks for five a.m. At the crack of dawn, we headed out on I-94. Westward ho! But our momentum ground to a screeching halt when I was pulled over by a Montana state trooper shortly after we crossed the border from North Dakota. Page 52

“Good morning, officer, how can I help you?” I asked sweetly as I rolled down the window, heart sinking because my driver’s license had expired on my 18th birthday and I had never gotten around to renewing it. Mercifully, he didn’t request the usual paperwork. Instead he asked if we were the daughters of a certain Marion Conlin of Bismarck, North Dakota. Why, yes, we were. He authorized us make an illegal U-turn on the interstate and high-tail it back to Wibeaux, Montana, so we could call my mother for an emergency message. We tracked down my mother from a pay phone. The emergency? My unemployed sister Molly had finally landed a job interview in Minneapolis. She called the headmaster of a private middle school to discuss the possibility of becoming their next art teacher. An hour passed as a lengthy phone interview was conducted. He thought she sounded promising, but had other candidates to interview. If, at the end of the day, he was still interested in meeting her, he offered to fly her back from Montana. They agreed she’d call back in the evening. Finally back in the car, we got back on the road toward Glacier. That brought us to the gas station in Circle and the bizarre, unforgettable inquiry: “You gals wouldn’t happen to be nuns, would you?” I was stunned by the gas station attendant’s question. No, we are not nuns. We know some nuns. And one of us is a Catholic (that’s me, bralessness, cut-offs, and cigarette smoking not withstanding). Well, we are from North Dakota but that’s about all we have in common with these missing nuns. Apparently, he had overheard on the police scanner that there was an alert to be on the lookout for three nuns from North Dakota, so he was checking out anything female in a vehicle with North Dakota plates. Definitely not us. We continued westward bound on Highway 2, stopping to stretch in Wolf Point and eat lunch in Glasgow. More hours of driving. There was Malta, and Havre, and a stop at a quaint little shop at a gas station in Chester. By now the afternoon was melting into evening, and we had yet to lay eyes upon a mountain. Evidently, the Great Northern Plains were an endlessly undulating expanse we would never succeed in crossing. To keep our minds occupied through the hours of tedium, we invented a game: searching for the errant nuns of North Dakota. Perhaps we will be the ones to deliver the message that they are sought by law enforcement. We will ask if they know my godmother, Sister Hugo, who teaches English at the Catholic high school in Bismarck. After all, how many nuns in North Dakota can there be? Surely, they are all acquainted. In vain, we searched every car we passed for a sign of them. At every stop Page 53

we scanned the parking lot for North Dakota plates. But alas, not a nun was to be found. At length, we pulled into a parking lot in Shelby, Montana, only a hundred miles short of Glacier National Park. The sun was sinking beneath the still-flat horizon as Molly called the headmaster back in Minneapolis. They were on the phone for a long time. Dennie and I sat on a guard rail, smoking cigarettes and observing the youth of Shelby driving their cars back and forth, back and forth, parading the length of the main drag. We don’t know why they do this, but it is what kids do in these parts. They do it in Bismarck, too. It was full-on dark when Molly got off the phone. The headmaster decided he wanted her to fly to Minneapolis for an interview the next morning. The nearest airport was another hour due south, and not on our route: Great Falls. Happily, Dennie knew some people who lived there and would put us up for the night. We agreed to call them from a hotel parking lot in Great Falls off of I-15. Now bound southward, I was behind the wheel and the road shock was getting to me. I was hallucinating that there were pink alligators and bales of straw in the roadway. We had long since given up on finding the nuns, if they ever existed at all. That last hour of driving was an eternity as the dark highway wavered, expanding and contracting before my exhausted eyes. Finally, we pulled into the parking lot in Great Falls. Dennie went into the hotel to find a pay phone and call her friends. By the time she returned to the car, I was laughing uncontrollably, shaking, tears streaming down my face. “You know those nuns? The nuns we have been looking for all day? We ARE the nuns!” I told Dennie and Molly. They stared at me in confusion until I explained that the three sisters from North Dakota, sought by Montana law enforcement, were to be found inside our own car. “We may not be nuns…but we are sisters.” R Page 54

Short Lived by Ashley Schroeder As lights dim on this dreary town And silence fills the air I feel a chill go up my spine And goosebumps ’neath my hair Tendrils of mist swirl round my feet And crickets stop their songs I find no friends before my sight No help to come along My heartbeat’s racing faster now Eyes prick upon my back I turn my head and see him there Eyes hungry with attack My pace picks up, mind starts to race My breaths begin to shake I think this all must be a dream I dearly wish to wake I knock on doors, but late at night None hear what I do say I wish for God to help me now Tears spilling as I pray I round a bend, legs pounding down The ground beneath my feet I chance a look behind again He’s gone — I feel relief But my comfort is quite short-lived And with that so my life For when I turn there’s his black eyes And ’tween my ribs his knife Page 55

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Story: The Beheld by Emily Possehl It looked like your average cave. There was a light dusting of moss around the outer edge that gradually faded into nothingness as it traveled farther in. Small tufts of dusky grass grew along the ledges and among the narrow cracks above it, and a single birch tree was attempting to take root in the sandy soil to one side, though it didn’t appear to be having much luck. Rynn placed a hand against the opening, peering in. She glanced at her watch and then shrugged, stepping inside. Maybe this would be the highlight of a dull day. R September 12th, Thursday. Very little to report. School is a drag. I don’t know why I thought college would be any different than high school, but I was drastically wrong. Same people, different faces. Same cynical judgment, different voices behind it. First song that came on the radio today was ‘High School Never Ends.’ The irony, I swear. It’d be poetic if it wasn’t so depressing. Rynn closed her journal, sliding it absently to one side of her desk. She sighed, staring at the pile of textbooks before her and debating where to begin. Checking the time, she pushed her chair back and stood up. A walk would do her some good, and it wasn’t that late yet. Just as she was about to leave, her phone went off, vibrating on her nightstand. She turned around with a hint of frustration, picking it up and glancing at the name. Aspen. She waited a few more seconds, then answered. “Hey, Aspen. What’s up?” “Hey! I was just wondering, what topic did you pick for your paper? I’m at a complete loss for ideas…” “Well it’s not like you can copy mine, but… I’m writing about the debate on genetic engineering.” Silence. “What?” Rynn asked, already knowing the answer. “I don’t know. Isn’t that just a little… controversial?” “I thought that was the point.” Page 57

“Well yes, but that’s just a really touchy subject at the moment. Maybe you should go with something milder?” “I’ll take that into consideration,” Rynn forced out slowly, hoping she’d managed not to sound incredibly irritated. “Good luck with yours.” She was aware that this was a bit of a rude ending, and if nothing else, very abrupt, but daylight was fading and she wasn’t interested in discussing it further. “Oh, yeah, thanks. I’ll… see you tomorrow, then.” “See you tomorrow, Aspen. If you need anything else, feel free to call me again,” she added, not without some degree of reservation. She had, however, caught the dejected note in her friend’s voice and didn’t truly want to upset her. “Okay, thank you! Goodbye.” “Bye.” Setting her phone back down, she headed again for the door, then turned and opened her closet, remembering that the temperature had taken a sudden dip that day. Her hand paused halfway to a gray sweatshirt as her friend Myra’s voice wandered through her head, unbidden. “You’re really going to wear that in public…?” She groaned inwardly, reaching for the maroon one instead. There was no plausible reason that she could see for her friend’s preference of one over the other, but she always seemed to have very cryptic opinions about what was suitable and what was not. Rynn was not sure whether to assume she had an algorithm for such things, or whether she was just randomly picky. Either way, since the beginning of their newly-budding friendship, she’d been highly insistent on a change in Rynn’s wardrobe. “You may not pay attention, but the world surely does. Little details make a big difference.” What sort of difference, she’d not been able to elaborate upon. But anything gray was a terrible crime in September, July, and April. Maroon was okay. Off-handedly flipping on the porch light as she left, Rynn took three steps before she halted and doubled back. She switched the light off again, successfully avoiding the lecture her mother would have given her for leaving it on. “There, jeez...” she thought doggedly, finally making it to the sidewalk. “Nothing for anyone to fuss over now, at least until I get back.” She took the road to her left, following an alley until she reached the dead end where woods began with a flourish, huge looming oaks and maples stuck stubbornly into the ground, refusing to yield to the growing town. There was a faintly-used walking path that wove in among them, Page 58

an attempt by the city to draw people into nature, hoping they would not demand its eradication. This was the last patch of wilderness for miles, and with the sound of traffic still able to penetrate even its most remote parts, it was hard to call it a real wilderness at all. Still, it was Rynn’s sanctuary. She plodded up the path, vision going hazy as she let her feet carry her over familiar upheavals and around shrubs trying to expand their territory like persistent little soldiers. The air was cool and heavy, and it did not clear her mind so much as subdue it. There was no need to think about anything, and although she never left the woods feeling refreshed, it was at least a break from the constant exhaustion of her thoughts. Rynn Larke came from a long line of underachievers. This may have seemed a harsh statement to anyone she could have told it to (which was why she never did, only accepted it as silent fact). However, the internal assertion had made her determined to be different. The outlier in a sea of gruesomely median data. Why, she was not exactly sure. There was no familial pressure to do this. At least, there hadn’t been, until she — for some absurd and regrettable reason — had stated her plans to them. Now they were all watching, and though she reprimanded herself for thinking such things, it felt very much like they were watching specifically for failure. It had gotten to the point where she could swear that everyone was: teachers, classmates, strangers on the street. Waiting. “She has to trip at some point,” they seemed to say. “Just observe, the fall is coming.” A sudden breeze drew her back to reality, and she found that she’d somehow managed to drift off the path. It was, in fact, completely lost somewhere in the brush behind her. This was not a matter of concern, however, as she could always follow the downward slope of the hill to find her way back. Bearing this in mind, she saw no reason not to continue onward. Rounding a corner, she came to a secluded clearing, at the end of which sat a cave. Rynn tilted her head to one side, puzzled. She supposed there was a possibility that she could somehow have missed this in her countless days of exploration when she was younger, but it was unlikely. She’d done a thorough job of combing these woods in the stifling boredom of youth, and this was a less-than-subtle landmark to have completely avoided. Curious, she stepped closer. The stone beneath her hand held a deep, endless chill, as though it had been storing it up for centuries. The air inside was deathly still, and though its smell was distinct, she could come up with absolutely no word to describe it. There seemed to be a void within its dark expanse; a Page 59

great creature perpetually holding its breath. She checked the time, then without a second thought, proceeded inside. Her ears were filled with the silence, and she could see at first very little, then nothing, feeling her way with fingertips lightly tracing the wall. Had she possessed any hint of her sister’s claustrophobia, this venture would have come to an abrupt halt long ago. As it was, she continued on without the slightest hint of reservation. It was likely, she reasoned, that it did not go on for much longer, and she wished to know just how extensive it was. Perhaps she could bring Aspen here with flashlights someday. Directly after this thought followed another. “What in the heck are you even doing? This could be, you know, slightly dangerous.” She shook her head, ushering Aspen’s nervous voice quickly out of her mind. Pressing on, she felt light condensation on the walls, the stone growing gradually more smooth as she went. She very suddenly became aware of small lights twinkling ahead of her. They were all along the sides of the cave, so dense, in fact, that she could nearly discern the structure of the stone they sat upon. Or rather, reflected off of? This must be the case, she thought. There had to be a hole in the ceiling up ahead and the stones were catching moonlight from it. This seemed a logical answer, and although logic usually reassured her immediately, she still felt a gentle touch of unease even after reaching this conclusion. It was not enough to make her go back, though, as she determined that it would now be easier to just climb out of the hole that she must be approaching. “Certainly a hole in the roof,” she told herself firmly, ignoring the heavy thrum of her pulse. She could not be sure what brought it to her attention, but all at once she was acutely aware of the lights flickering rather systematically. Like a million tiny eyes, they danced in and out of her vision, and with an intense, frigid beat of her heart, she noticed they were doing so in pairs. Almost in the same instant that she noticed this, the whispers began. They tingled against her skin, entangling themselves with the darkness. Subtle at first, she tried to pass them off as a small gust of wind, somehow having found its way through a crack in the wall. This theory, unfortunately, was quickly dismissed, as individual voices began breaking away from the general murmur. “What are you doing here?” “What an odd choice you’ve made.” “Are you doubting yourself now?” “Very wise.” Each had a slightly different sound to it, and yet all were somehow Page 60

painfully familiar; the vocal equivalent of seeing someone whose face you recognize but the name escapes you. “I am hardcore losing it,” Rynn thought, unmoving, as though her lack of reaction might make them go away or cease to exist altogether. “Good, good. No farther. Back the way you came.” “Very quickly. You’re wasting time. Always wasting time.” A monstrous debate was roaring in her head now. “Maybe they’re right. After all, what harm could possibly come from listening to them at this point? It’ll take longer to get out if I go back, but at least I’m guaranteed to get out at all. Unless going back is a trap....” She shook her head to clear it. This was all just an illusion. It had to be. Too long down in this cave. There was a hole in the ceiling, and it was close. The entrance was all the way back, unreasonably far. She could feel a definite draft from above, curling around her and pulling her onward. “Clearly the better option,” she reassured herself. But the voices persisted. “You’re taking far too long,” one warned, its tone going sinister and demeaning. “You aren’t listening to us.” “You’re darn right I’m not,” Rynn blurted out, surprised at her own audacity. The voices hushed for a moment and she took the opportunity to begin forward again, stumbling in her hurry to escape before they started up once more. Alas, she could not have been that lucky. They soon resumed their warnings, starting low and swiftly building, rolling and growing until they were deafening. And yet, somehow, she could still make out singular sentences every now and then, echoing the thoughts that were pressing in at the corners of her mind. “Fool!” “You’ll find no escape that way!” “Why do you continue on?” “Listen!” She braced herself against the cacophony, focusing on her own movements. The ground was treacherously uneven, and she was blatantly blundering now, not daring to touch the walls to steady herself. Her thoughts raged on. “Go back Rynn, you idiot. What makes you think that you’re smarter than they are? If anyone knows whether there’s a way out down here, it’s obviously them.” “Questioning your decision?” “Possibly clever after all.” Rynn clenched her jaw. “That’s exactly what someone would say that wanted me to go back and get killed because of it. They’re playing tricks with you, Rynn. Keep your head. Trust your instincts. You’re not wrong.” She increased her pace, trying to drown them out in the sound of her own breathing, but they were soon far too loud, mocking. Page 61

“One more that wouldn’t do as it was told.” “One more forever lost.” “There’s still time to change your mind.” And then, just as the voices peaked in volume, maddening in their relentless shrieking, she saw it. Small, but wide enough to crawl through, was a hole. A pale column of light poured down onto the soft earthen floor, and though faint, she was quite certain it was the most reassuring sight she’d seen in the entirety of her life. “Don’t go through there!” “That will be the end of you!” Rynn jumped, grabbing the edges of the hole. As crisp, liberating night air sliced through her senses, she gave one final glance over her shoulder. “Shut the hell up.” What did a bunch of strange eyes know, anyway? R Page 62

Ballad of a Killer Cat by Kathleen VanCor Past deep twilight slumber dreams Here comes the pitter-pat. Silky, furred, liquid slinkiness My dear obnoxious cat. Through darkened halls, past papered walls and down the steps of wood. She uses all her hunting skills for things far less than good. Ears cocked right, and then to left No squeak is missed on this night She peers into the lightless rooms Eyes wide for scurried flight. Her prey is gray, with black beady eyes whiskered maw is filled with cheese The wooden trap is left unsprung Like the elusive, hard pressed sneeze. Great phantom of hell, with jaws unhinged— My cat attacks its prey And with a crunch and vicious shake Thus ends the mouse’s day. So proud and noble this sweetest beast who sashays up wooden stairs and makes her way to pillows soft to rest from all cat cares. Deep in twilight slumber dreams I’m rousted full of dread Oh telltale yacking and grievous heaving Of my cat puking on my bed. My pillow wet, and lo... befouled My cat’s composure belies The gruesome, bile-matted gift she brought and its cold, dead beady eyes. Page 63

Gryllidae Trill by Danielle Nation Gryllidae trill, soft blades kiss my sole. Kentucky blue soused, early morning sweat. The crown just above, brilliant yet strange. Restless wanderer reflecting nearby. I reach for her, but she is much too far. And, you are closer. But, why is she so? “Do you not wish to be loved?” I scream. A curious bird takes flight, shattering. Like crystals, echo your luminescence. Closing my eyes, my heartbeat fills my ears. “Just you,” I whisper, Windsor on my breath. My stillness, taken as an agreement, the crickets begin again with their croon. Blinking, song striking a chord, I tear. Are they in love as well, as I am in? Stars drawn, dying, brightly between planets. Will anyone mourn them when they burn out? Drifting, lids heavy, pulled in by darkness. Hours later, awoken by blinding light. The birds, chirping, sound like sirens. I wince. Head pounding, clothes soaked with morning dew. “What the hell happened? And, where is my shoe!?” Page 64

Down by the River, Let Us Walk by Katryn Conlin Down by the river, let us walk Hand in hand, or not; Watching the water pass us by Each one lost in thought. Over the water, silhouettes Soar against the sky Swooping above the river’s edge Hunting, ruthless eye. Under the water, fishes flash Gasping gills and mouth. Up on the surface, gather ducks Massing to fly south. Not one of these takes note of our Human feelings’ cost. Into the water, ashes cast — All that we have lost. Down by the river, let us walk Side by side, or not; Watching the water pass us by Each one lost in thought. Page 65

The Unbearable Cuteness of Leo by Katryn Conlin This claim I do not lightly make: He is Without a doubt, the cutest dog alive. A darling pup, my Leo is indeed — His quizzical face, intelligent eyes, endearing to behold. But wait, there’s more: His elegant snout, his little pink nose, and slightly mismatched ears add to his charm. Adorned with golden fleece and feathered legs, A coat of luscious fur, coppery back that shades to tawny belly. Tossed across His shoulders like a cape, a dashing mane, The ruff that is the reason for his name. And did I not mention his hairy toes, His tail thrust up like a fluttering flag, To decorate his derrière, a pair of fluffy pantaloons upon his rear. The perfect size; stands midway to my knee Yet not so small he yaps at everything, The way those Yorkshire terriers down the street Abuse us when we take our nightly walk. Perhaps you think I’m shallow and obsessed With matters of appearance. Let me add: Not only is he cute, but he is sweet; A cuddler, curled up like a little cat He nestles snoozing, warm upon my lap. Postlude So I stand by my claim: Without a doubt, The cutest dog alive. Should you need proof, I have a hundred pictures on my phone. Page 66

Essay: Tossing Out Tradition by Emily Possehl “Tradition is a guide and not a jailer.” —W. Somerset Maugham Well, that would be the ideal scenario, wouldn’t it? Unfortunately, a more accurate statement might have been, “Tradition should be a guide, but is often promoted to a jailer.” There are times when tradition is beautiful, no doubt; in art, in dance, in culture. It can be sacred, pure, enchantingly rustic. Sometimes it is subtle, no more visible than a gossamer thread weaving together past and present, as it did when it tied together endless summer days long gone with those I sweated through at twelve years old, bent over under the heat of the sun and the weight of each hay bale I pulled from the chute of my dad’s New Holland as it thunked and swayed and coughed dust behind his Ford 8N tractor. It didn’t feel like a jailer then, as it usually doesn’t, but that’s because a jailer’s presence is only obvious when one finds oneself in jail. Rather than compile a list of the endless instances where the cell doors have closed, I’d like to take an in-depth look at just one particular case, in the hopes that it will paint a vivid enough picture all on its own. It’s not the sort of thing that would land most people behind bars; it’s out in Page 67

a realm that can easily avoid being traveled for the duration of one’s life, but it’s a narrative that I think will still suffice in its ability to illustrate the point at hand. While reptile keeping might not be the first thing that springs to mind when someone says “tradition,” it is an area of practice that is very much rooted in the dirt of the word. Perhaps it is because reptiles are so different from us — not like the warm-blooded pets, such as cats and dogs, that very few people would doubt their ability to keep alive and well — that when the first reptile keepers finally landed on a method that managed to keep the delicate little creatures alive for a few years, they kept it. To this day, the “if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it” mentality heavily dominates. Unfortunately, this is at the expense of those small lives entrusted to our care. I will not say that it affects their happiness, as this tends to be a poisonous concept that does more harm than good. Placing human attributes onto animals rarely ends well for the animals in question, especially reptiles. “My lizard seems lonely, so I’m thinking of getting him a friend,” is a painfully common sentiment that, while it may have come from only the best of intentions, often leads to the death or serious injury of both the initial pet, and its new-found “friend.” In this case, the tradition of keeping solitary animals on their own is a good one. However, though their ability to feel happiness (in a way that humans understand it) may be incredibly debatable, I do not find that to be a good enough reason for keeping reptiles with only the bare minimum requirements for survival. Certainly, a turtle can be tossed into a box with some food and, because she is a hardy individual, she may survive for quite a few years. But these are lives that have, through no choice of their own, been placed into the care of humans who, being the species of empathy and intelligence, would be doing the least of their duty in providing these animals with an existence as fulfilling as possible, since we insist on commanding ownership of them. I will not argue against that practice, as the crested gecko was brought back from presumed extinction through the pet trade and many others have benefited in similar ways, and, as long as the proper care is being provided, the animals certainly don’t mind living out their days predator-free with food always just a few steps away. To return to the point at hand, it is simply a matter of willingness to improve. There is an evolution that takes place, gradually, in the care of most pets. Dogs, for example, have been blessed with a trend in gentle training methods that no longer undermine their immense intelligence or desire to please their owners. Of course, there will always be those who refuse to change their ways, as the tradition they cling to has never failed to show results. This is a common argument in the reptile world, especially Page 68

among those who have been keeping and specializing in a certain species for a great many years, or even decades in some cases. Not only might they be inclined to hold fast to their ways, but others will happily use it as an excuse to go the cheap, simple, basic route they advocate for. It’s proven, after all. And the animals are still alive, aren’t they? For the sake of simplicity in providing examples, I’ll focus on just one species in the ever-growing catalog of what is available to the public. The most well-known in the herptile trade is almost indisputably the leopard gecko. Carried in every pet store, cheap enough to buy with an allowance, and sporting that endearing cheek-to-cheek smile, they are the old “goto” first reptile. As such, they have suffered immensely, both from the easy availability of incorrect information about their care and from the refusal to accept updated methods of keeping as they are discovered. Although ignorance is rather difficult to forgive with answers a brief internet search away, stubbornness is perhaps more concerning. Most new owners are at least willing to listen when help is provided – though there are certainly more than enough frustrating exceptions, and help usually isn’t sought until after the animal starts looking worse for wear – but even those who have managed to keep their pet alive for a mere handful of months tend to suddenly deem themselves worthy of donning the title “reptile expert,” and become cemented in their methods. The most interesting (oh, how gently put) phenomenon that these experts engage in is that of declaring, with unshakable conviction, a statement that is treated as such an untouchable truth that it needs no explanation or reasoning, and that, with its sheer resounding brilliance, ostensibly deflects all arguments against it. A common example: Someone in an online reptile group posts a picture of their leopard gecko lounging in her terrarium. She is well-fed, healthy, and content enough with life, it appears. Her owner has gone through great trouble to replicate her natural habitat as much as possible, incorporating a soil and sand mixture for her to fulfill her instinct to dig burrows, putting live plants throughout the enclosure, and providing a light on a timer, both to help the plants thrive and to provide a proper day and night cycle for the gecko. Having witnessed this more than enough times from a distance, I brace myself for the oncoming storm. The comment section explodes, and while there will always be those oddball complaints springing up here and there that I’ve never seen before, inevitably, there will also be the returning accusations of those horrible, unforgivable crimes. “Get rid of the light. That will make her go blind.” This is a crowd Page 69

favorite. How an animal native to Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan, and India managed to survive all this time without ever stumbling out of its den and blinking up into the sun remains to be explained. Of course, it is commonly believed that leopard geckos are nocturnal, so the old wives’ tale makes a bit more sense, but it has since been observed that they are in fact crepuscular; most active at dawn and dusk. Though this knowledge has been spread around quite quickly, again, it is all too often met with that impenetrable deafness. “No loose substrate!” is another common one (usually with a few more exclamation marks, for credibility). The acceptable method here, is to use either paper towels, newspaper, shelf-liner, or some other material that is all one large piece to cover the floor of the terrarium, but nothing that they could get into their mouths. Why? Because leopard geckos are stumbling, jolting, awkward, unfailingly clumsy little boneheads. And anyone who tells you otherwise is lying. When they dive for their food, they pour the entirety of their tiny souls into it, but not before they’ve stared at that wiggling food item that they have undoubtedly been presented with at least five times (because it managed to get out of reach four times) from every single angle, wagging their chubby tails like a dog having spotted his owner returning home, tilting their heads back and forth in a motion that implies they’re trying for a good neck cracking rather than a meal. Finally, they go for it, and nine times out of ten, they miss, plunging teeth-first into the dirt. And there, the presumed problem lies. Mouth wide open, eyes shut, careening into whatever is in front of them – but always slightly to the left or right of the actual food – they will certainly get a bite of whatever is on the floor of their terrarium unless it is one solid sheet of material. This brings us to the dreaded word: Impaction. That nice mix of soil and sand is bound to lose a few grains to the stomach of the overzealous reptile, and the experts will be quick to tell you how that stuff isn’t going to come back out again. It will build up, each time your spotted little clutz misses her food, until eventually nothing can get through. After that, death is imminent. Scary stuff, but is it true? Unless a large chunk of brain cells was lost in the capture and taming of these guys, it’s safe to say that their wild counterparts are probably just about as dumb. Although cats and dogs changed quite a bit through domestication, reptiles are never truly domesticated, and therefore more strongly resemble their ancestors, save for the bright colors we’ve selectively bred into them. So, the great grandma of your sweet lazy gecko was definitely out there missing bugs and chomping dirt. However, since the Page 70

species is still thriving in great numbers in the wild, clearly this isn’t a death sentence. Why? Because they were designed to be able to survive those blunders. Provided with an ideal environment (correct humidity, heat gradients, and the resulting lowered levels of stress from being able to thermoregulate) they can easily manage to get rid of any unwanted fragments from their digestive systems. That isn’t to say that impaction is a total myth. It does happen, and animals frequently end up at the vet clinic for it. However, this isn’t always caused by loose substrate. Food items, especially those with hard exoskeletons, can also cause this issue. Taking this into consideration, it becomes obvious that slapping down the Sunday paper, however much mental enrichment this may provide, will not solve the problem. The only true fix to the issue is making sure that tiny digestive tract is working as well as possible, and since great grandma gecko is doing just fine out in Pakistan, it seems reasonable to assume that the healthiest stomachs come from those conditions. If the husbandry is correct, the animal will manage whatever gets thrown at it (or whatever it throws itself at). Mimicking nature as closely as possible is the best way to ensure that a leopard gecko will function as it was designed to. It sounds like common sense, but that stiff-backed tradition always seems to be looming, ready to block the way for those radicals trying to build a mini desert in their terrariums. Hopefully, since this is a relatively new concept, the time will come when naturalistic reptile keeping has enough years under its belt to stand up against that brick wall of certainty, and although it may not be enough to change those steadfast minds, perhaps it will at least have a chance at swaying newcomers looking for advice. Tradition has its merits. There are countless lessons to be learned and relearned from it, and I am a long way from advocating for its banishment. Rather, I would simply like to put forth a warning: Do not let it be blinding. Do not let the unwritten laws of the past keep you from eagerly sifting through the newly transcribed discoveries as quickly as they come into print. Always be on the hunt for knowledge. It may not all be correct, but at least allow yourself the open-mindedness to determine that. R Page 71

“Oh No, It’s Another Nature Poem.” by Danielle Nation Warm honey drips, chasing shadows away. Helios’ chariot, later each day. Humble tamarack, soft needles where, stark branches once, a hoarfrost erstwhile fared. Wisps of fiery feathers dance in the canopy, cheeping, chuting, a churring melody. Remnants of arctic headwinds, last farewell. Marsh violets breach soil, our Mother swells. Tempest, dark and basso he echoes through, “Arise!” He rumbles, “Alas, spring is due.” Page 72

April Storm by Elliot Engberg The rain starts to fall, a drop at a time, Then, constant soft tappings on a glass pane. A flash, bright light, through the sky up it climbs. The roar of thunder drowns out the rain. I listen to the steady rhythm go, Often intrusions of shuddering sounds of distant rumbles moving broad and slow, shaking in their weight even stable grounds. Indoors is ever safe and warm and dry. My soft old dog snuggles down by my side, as I look through the window at the sky — tumultuous waves of cloud, deep, grey, and wide. After an hour or so a sky pale blue! Beams of light poke through the silvery gloom. The torrent halts — sunlight and starry dew. Beyond the land, I see a rainbow bloom. Page 73

Essay: Hippity Hoppity Rabbit Haters and Their Ways by Mayr Boros I love rabbits. I live in a city where rabbits run freely. Since I moved to St. Paul, I have found that not everyone likes them as much as I do. Some people (in fact, some of my neighbors) spend an inordinate amount of energy on the hatred of the darling little critters. And of course, they freely share their disdain of one of the most beloved creatures I have ever encountered. One evening last summer, I took a walk in our condo’s community garden. The lovely, mild mannered lady in the condo directly below me was outside and offered to give me a tour of her small but healthy garden. Her garden was pristine — not a weed in sight. She proudly pointed out the lilies from Peru, the five varieties of heirloom tomato plants, the half-eaten kale stems and the still-blossoming peas. Her sudden outburst of “Those damn rabbits! They chewed off my peas,” took me aback. I mean, the sunset that evening was one of the prettiest I’d seen all summer. The rabbits were nowhere in sight. Did she think that they would hear and then alert the other rabbits in the 'hood? “Hey guys, my ears are back on this one. That condo lady hates us. Better hop to it and sound the alarm. Geez, all that human hatred kind of gets me out of the flow of a good chew, no matter how good those peas look.” But like a good neighbor, I said, “Gee, that’s too bad.” What I really wanted to say was, “Ever thought about planting something rabbits don’t like?” Or, “There’s this thing called a fence.” My French horticulturist neighbor from across the street also surprised me one day with his disdain of the cuddly trespassers. He is an avid gardener with a humble knowledgeable soul and much to share. (He also has an accent that I could listen to all day.) He and his wife raise orchids and bonsai trees inside, safe from the rabbits. But his yard is not rabbit proof. “I haaaatee deze rabbeetz,” he told me one day. “I want to smash their heads and keel them.” So much for my French accent infatuation. According to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, “Rabbits cause damage by consuming desirable plants or portions of these plants and gnawing the bark during the winter months.” A “Minnesota law allows landowners or occupants to take rabbits that are causing damage. In such instances, rabbits can be taken without a license and in any manner except by poison or artificial lights in the closed season.” So, Page 74

trap, shoo or shoot away those pesky varmits all ye avid rabbit haters. Or perhaps have them for dinner. Growing up, we were poor. So poor that there was a time when we ate whatever Dad shot. My mom had a knack for fixing squirrel that could rival any southern fried chicken. Her wild rabbit was also fab. Of course, I was unable to eat the white rabbit or Herman (my pet rooster) for dinner. Thank goodness cat was never on the menu, though we always had a lot of them roaming around to keep the mice and rat population down in the rat barn on top of the hill. I really cannot blame people for disliking a wild creature that eats their produce. It takes a lot of work, time, and patience to grow a garden. City gardeners have less space for the sprawling garden of their dreams. And a row of missing peas, etc. one morning might be upsetting. I used to get mad at the deer (or maybe it was really the rabbits) who had tulip salad from my garden every spring when I lived in Coon Rapids. Once after a beautiful bloom, I waited until morning to pick a lovely bouquet for my kitchen table. I was a bit miffed, when all I saw were row upon row of upright tulip stems. Rabbits are beneficial to our ecosystem. Seeds from plants eaten by rabbits often sprout and take root, helping to foster some of our native plants. Rabbit scat is high in garden-growing nutrients. Rabbits can even be mood-altering if you take a mindful approach to looking at Page 75

them. Notice the button nose, the sweet white tail, the soft cuddly fur. Ohmmmmm. There are things to do to protect your produce and young trees from the avid wild chewers. I think that young trees are worth protecting. For a few dollars one can purchase a tree wrap and skip all the angst in the spring of, “Did my matching lilac trees make it through the winter?” As for the garden produce, why not toss in a few marigold seeds? (Marigolds are a natural rabbit deterrent.) It could help save your crop as well as keep you from expending the angst and hatred on unsuspecting neighbors. Why, after all, spend a moment of hatred on an innocent rabbit when our world shows us almost daily tragedy caused by humans? So, then, why the hatred of the rabbits, you city slickers? Think of the contribution rabbits have made to literature. What would we do without the sweet tales of Flopsy, Mopsy, Peter Cottontail, Benjamin Bunny, the Velveteen Rabbit, the White Rabbit, Winnie-the-Pooh’s rabbit, and of course the Energizer Bunny. Story rabbits even keep up with the times. Think of Robo-Rabbit. Why not gather and tell sweet stories about rabbits? Their folklore; their place in the food chain; the joy that they bring to so many. And if you still don’t like them, at least stop spewing the hate. As for me, Here Comes Peter Cottontail and I have a sunset to catch. R Page 76

Heart of Thistles by Kathleen VanCor I’ve never walked these steps before, and never will again. Steps of slate and mortar packed, made shiny from the rain. More steps yet, but these of wood, roughhewn and coarsely grained. The hoodies croak their sentiments, the morbid bird’s refrain. I’ll never see her eyes again, so bright and deeply blue. Nor will she laugh, sing a song or buckle our wee bairn’s shoe. Her fickle heart won’t beat again and prove to be untrue. She lies down in the churchyard now, where all the thistles grew. I’ll never know such a love again, with passions fully loosed. Was so the day when we were wed and the riding of the broose. But her sultry lies and my monstrous heart could never call a truce. She’s quiet now and I’m resigned to wear the hangman’s noose. Page 77

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The Purple Hyacinth by Ashley Schroeder Carlos It had been a long day. I couldn’t believe that I had let Brutus talk me into helping him with his rooftop garden for the whole afternoon! I really needed a drink, but once Brutus heard where I was going, he decided to tag along too. I love the guy, but sometimes I need a break from the constant pop culture fun facts and gardening tips. I started trying to let him down gently, but one look at his face and I couldn’t say no. I don’t understand how a guy who looks so intimidating can have the most pitiful and heart wrenching puppy dog eyes in the world. So, there we were sitting at the bar, Brutus sipping on his kitty cocktail (which I still found hilarious that that was his first choice of drink whenever we went out) and me on my beer. A whole day of gardening had been way too relaxing, and I needed something exciting to get my blood pressure up. I live for the thrill of fighting! I had specifically chosen this bar because I could always get a rise out of someone here. That’s probably why Brutus insisted on coming along. He really didn’t enjoy the fact that I was in a fist fight just about every other day. He hated it when I got hurt, so he was always trying to tag along to keep me from aggravating other people. When I did start a fight, though, he would always make me see Margaret afterwards to make sure I was ok. Ugh, Margaret! That witch is going to be the death of me! Margaret, or Maggie as Brutus calls her, is a 70-something year old woman that lives two floors down in Brutus' nice apartment building. She was a nurse in the army a long time ago, so I guess that makes her qualified to fix me up, but that didn’t mean I was happy about seeing her. That old crone was always bugging me about being “stupid” and “reckless” and “always getting Brutus into dangerous situations.” Puh-lease! As bad as it sounds, no one wanted to come anywhere near my best friend if they could help it. Even though he was a klutz and a big softy, you wouldn’t be able to tell that by looking at him. The man was as big as a linebacker, and the big black beard he was always sporting tended to make him look even tougher. I was just about to slip away to go annoy some nasty looking man with a scar on his face, when I noticed something weird. Three guys at one of the high tables kept glancing over at Brutus. That wasn’t the weird part. A lot of people tend to stare at Brutus with nervous looks on their faces Page 79

(which, to be honest, bugs me to no end! People are always judging him before they even know him). What was weird was that they seemed to be talking about him. Every time they would look over, I could see them whispering something to each other. I thought maybe I should go over there and tell them to bug off, but then I got curious. I kind of wanted to hear what they were saying before I popped each one of them in the mouth. I scooted off my seat, and started to make my way behind them so I could listen in. I’m not even sure Brutus saw that I left. The man had told me that his mother used to say that a piano could fall on his head and he probably wouldn’t notice. I had to agree with his mom on that one. Brutus seemed to be in his own little world most of the time, daydreaming about The King of the Rings or whatever those books were called. Thankfully the bar was crowded that night. I was able to get relatively close to the men without them noticing me. As I got closer, I noticed a lot more about them. The men were sort of an odd group. The two smaller ones looked similar, most likely brothers or maybe even twins. They couldn’t have been more than 21. Both had rumpled and dirty clothes on that looked like they hadn’t taken them off for a few days. They had greasy, sandy-colored hair, long noses, and wiry frames. The third man was the complete opposite. He was middle-aged, heavyset, balding, and had a pudgy face that looked a little like Pixie, Brutus' Saint Bernard. His eyes were such a dark brown that they almost looked black. Instead of wearing ratty clothes like the two brothers, he was wearing a nice suit that bulged around his big frame. They were whispering quietly, so I had to lean in close to hear what they were saying. “Are you sure that it’s him?” asked one of the brothers. “I mean… I think so,” said the other sibling uncertainly. “I know he fits the description pretty well: dark skin, black hair, thick beard, huge. It’s our first job, though, so I don’t want to mess this up.” That’s when the bigger guy spoke up, “You two needa calm down! I ain’t gonna be helpin’ ya. I chose you two fo’ dis job so you betta not screw ’er up. Otherwise it’s gon be you two sleepin’ wit da fishes instead of him.” Those words sent a shiver down my spine. I suddenly felt guilty for picking the worst bar in town. Maybe Margaret wasn’t so far off when she said I get Brutus into dangerous situations. The older man started talking again. “Imma take off. I don’ care how you do it, jus’ get ’er done quick. Wait ’til he’s away from the crowd ’er sometin’ and take ’im out.” The big bald man left the two brothers on their own, still looking at Page 80

each other nervously. It was at this moment that Brutus decided to get up to use the bathroom. “O-ok, you follow him in there and… and hit him over the head,” one of the brothers started to say with a nervous stutter. “Hit-hit him hard and… and make it look like he slipped and hit his head on the sink or… or s-something, I don’t know. I’ll… I’ll stay here so it doesn’t look so… so suspicious with both of us following him.” Him talking about how they were going to murder my best friend finally got me to move my ass. I had to get Brutus out of there! I quickly ran to the bathroom before the second brother could get out of his seat. When I went through the door, I saw that Brutus was just finishing washing his hands. “Time to go!” I yelled quickly. Brutus looked confused, but he didn’t argue. He started walking forward, and water dripped off his hands. Before I could remind him to be careful with the water on the floor (it wouldn’t be the first time he’d fallen like that) one of the brothers came barging in recklessly. Before I could even react, Brutus had slipped on the water. I watched as he toppled over right onto the would-be assassin! I couldn’t believe what I just saw. The man wasn’t just knocked over, he was knocked unconscious! I was so relieved that I almost pumped my fist in the air and started cheering. That was until I saw Brutus start to apologize and try to wake the guy up. I grabbed his arm and pulled him out of there without an explanation. I wasn’t going to stay at the bar and wait for our luck to run out. R “You should have let me help him, Carlos. He was hurt. We could have at least called an ambulance or something.” Brutus had been rambling on and on like this since we left the bar. I could tell he felt guilty thinking that he had hurt this man he thought was just coming in to take a piss. The big guy even seemed close to tears! “For the last time, B,” I said not caring that he could hear how annoyed I was getting at his constant pleads to go back, “the guy will be fine! Besides, that’s not the kind of person you want to be helping. Trust me.” “What do you mean?” Brutus asked innocently. “I mean that the guy back there was about to bash your brains in!” I said finally. Brutus looked at me with so much confusion that I thought I must have grown a second head or something. Page 81

“Oh, come on!” I started again. “Don’t look so clueless. It’s not exactly the best part of town, and you know there’s tons of gangs around here. These guys must have thought you were someone else and put a hit out on you. At least that’s what it sounded like when I heard them talking.” “You shouldn’t eavesdrop on people. It’s very rude,” stated Brutus quietly. “Yeah well, I’d say that trying to kill people is even more rude, wouldn’t you?” I said sarcastically. I couldn’t believe that was what was bothering him right now. “You probably heard them wrong.” I don’t know how I kept myself from facepalming when he said that. “No, I’m pretty sure I heard them right. I tend to listen pretty closely when I hear people contemplating murder. Anyways, we should be getting to the police station. We need to tell them what happened.” “No.” Brutus said this so confidently I almost didn’t recognize his voice. “What the hell do you mean no?!” I yelled back at him. “That guy back there was about to scramble your brain like it was a couple of eggs! You need protection!” “You don’t know what he was going to do, and even if he was going to do that, you don’t have any proof,” Brutus said quietly once again. “I don’t want to bother the police if this was just one big misunderstanding.” I was pinching the bridge of my nose in frustration. I looked up at Brutus and he was giving me the puppy dog eyes. Those damn puppy dog eyes! “Fine!” I said with enough annoyance to make sure he knew I wasn’t happy. “But what if it’s not a misunderstanding, huh? What are you going to do if there actually are two psychos out there ready to send you six feet under?” Brutus seemed to think about that for a bit before answering. “I guess I should just go see Maggie. She’ll know what to do.” Of freaking course, he had to say that! Margaret was going to be pissed when she heard about what happened. I was going to have so many marks on my face from the shoes she was going to throw at me that people would think someone just did the Cupid Shuffle on my head. As much as I didn’t like it, though, I was coming with. There was no way I was going to leave my best friend’s side now. Page 82

Maggie “WHAT THE HELL WERE YOU THINKING, MORON!?” I screamed as I threw an old, white nurse shoe at the little man. My aim must be getting off because it sailed right over his head. “Hey! Don’t blame this on me you old — Agh!” He was cut off as a gray snow boot hit him square in the jaw. Nope. Still got it. “Actually, I will blame this on you, you little sea urchin!” I yelled slightly quieter since I could see Brutus was starting to look nervous. “Bringing him to the riskiest bar in town? Yeah, nothing could go wrong there. What were you planning on doing next? Petting a rattlesnake? Running through broken glass?” “You’re totally right!” he yelled right back at me. “I should’ve known that there would be assassins there looking for someone who looked like Brutus! Next time we’ll go to Chuck E. Cheese’s to hang out. We’ll even wear disguises just in case!” I was seething. He dared use that indignant, sarcastic tone with me? He was practically a child, only in his late ’20s. His generation wouldn’t know respect if it smacked him upside the head! I blame parents these days. They let their children get away with anything, and then they grow up thinking that kind of behavior is perfectly fine. I was about to yell back at him, but Brutus finally spoke up. “Can you guys please not fight? I don’t want to wake up the neighbors.” My anger subsided a bit. Brutus was such an innocent boy that it was very difficult to stay cross when he was around. Brutus was like a son to me, since I had no children of my own, and I did what I could to act as a parent since his own had died. I didn’t want him to be upset, but I still needed to question the idiot who put my child in such a perilous situation. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath before I talked again. “You said there were two men. The first was knocked out, but did you make sure that the second did not follow you after you left?” The little imp gaped stupidly at me, his mouth opening and closing like a fish. “I-I mean… well I don’t thin—” “You are going to be the death of us all!” I was yelling once again at the fool. “How do you know that they did not follow you to this very apartment?” He couldn’t even look me in the eye. He knew I was right. The only reason I didn’t throw him out right then and there was because I didn’t Page 83

want to upset Brutus any further. He already seemed close to tears. “We… we don’t know if Carlos heard them right.” The tremor was very evident in Brutus' voice and he seemed close to breaking down and sobbing. “It was probably a mis-misunderstanding. Can I just go home now? I work at the animal shelter tomorrow morning, and I-I just want to go to bed.” My heart ached for the oblivious boy when I heard him plead like that. There was no way I was going to let him be home by himself now. He was going to have to stay here tonight, but I needed to find some way to convince him. “Of course, Brutus, but first could you make me a kettle of chamomile tea?” I asked innocently. Brutus nodded and went to the kitchen to make it. He would be too polite to say no if I offered him a cup, and after he drank it, I knew he would be too tired to walk back up to his apartment. Chamomile put Brutus to sleep faster than a child with warm milk. Just as I was about to turn back to the little hellion and give him a strong talking to about his hazardous decisions, I heard something at the door. The younger man must have heard it as well because he started to move towards the apartment’s only entrance. As we got closer, I could see the handle moving, almost as if someone was trying to pick the lock. Then I heard soft murmuring on the other side. I leaned my ear up against the wooden door to hear what they were saying. “You sure this is the right apartment? Seems like too nice a place for the guy we’re looking for,” said one of the men. “Hey, looks aren’t everything, you never know what dirty secrets he’s hiding in there,” said the second man. “And yes, I’m sure! While your sorry ass was knocked out, I followed the guy. Before I came back and got you, I saw him and some little dude walk right in here.” “Well, I’m not having much luck with this lock. Do you have any other ideas?” “How about we just break the door down?” That would be the last thing they ever did if they broke down my door. The nerve of some people! Like I said before, this younger generation had no respect! I was about ready to open the door up right at that moment just so I could give them a firm talking to, but then I realized I didn’t know how armed or trained these men were. They sounded inexperienced, but that didn’t mean they weren’t capable. “We’ll lose the element of surprise. You sure you want to go up against him like that?” “Hey, it’s basically two on one. We can take him. That other guy Page 84

doesn’t look like he’ll be much trouble, so he doesn’t count.” I heard the Latino man next to me scoff as if he were offended, but I’m not sure why. It’s not as if the men outside were wrong about that. I had fixed him up many times after he had stupidly picked a fight with someone, and there was one thing I knew for sure about him: he couldn’t take a punch. “I’m still not sure about this, Dami. I don’t want to make Uncle Tony mad, but this is a little extreme, don’t you think?” “I know what you mean, Gray, but it’s not like we’ve got much of a choice in the matter. He’s the only family we’ve got, and who knows what he’ll do if we don’t pull this off. Anyways, on the count of three we’ll kick, alright?” I heard the men start their countdown, but by then I had backed away. I grabbed the closest weapon I could find (which happened to be the second nurse shoe) and poised myself ready to attack. As the door came flying open and the men rushed in, I threw the heavy, clog-like shoe with deadly precision. It smacked right into the forehead of the first man and he pathetically fell to the ground. I’m not sure what Carlos was doing (he was probably too stunned to move seeing as how we were in a REAL fight for our lives), but I decided to focus on the other man rather than him. The second man ran slightly ahead of the first, but he must have been a little preoccupied trying not to get hit with projectile shoes because he didn’t seem to notice Brutus come running into the area with a full kettle of hot tea. “Maggie? What’s going o—?” Brutus was cut off when he ran straight into the second man, the hot tea spilling all over him. “AHHH!” the other man started to yell as he tried to get the scalding tea off his face and chest. “Oh no! I’m so sorry! Are you ok?” Brutus asked the man with concern on his face. He threw the now empty kettle to the ground, where it hit the first man, who was just starting to get up, right on top of the head. This would-be assassin once again fell miserably to the ground. Brutus looked around with horror as he saw these two men in pain because of him. I knew he hated to see people hurting like this. He probably wanted to do something to help, but I wasn’t taking the chance. We needed to leave and find some place safe. I grabbed Brutus' arm and pulled him passed the two men and out of the apartment. R Page 85

I knew we needed to get off the streets, but these men knew where we lived now. Our apartments weren’t going to cut it, and I definitely wasn’t going to let Carlos take us to his place. He lived in such a bad part of town that we would probably end up dead faster if we went there than if we stood on the streets screaming “KILL US NOW” at the top of our lungs. So, seeing as it was almost midnight, and most decent places were closed, I knew there was only one place we could go: Denny’s. We sat down at a corner both and a waitress came over and took our order. I got my normal poached eggs and toast, the imp got a plate full of bacon and potatoes, and Brutus got a stack of chocolate chip pancakes with whipped cream on top. I didn’t know how long we would be able to stay here without drawing attention to ourselves. We would maybe get an hour or two before the staff started to wonder why we were still sitting here. I was in the middle of figuring out where we could go next when Brutus interrupted my thoughts. “Oh fiddlesticks! I forgot to tell the waitress that I wanted a chocolate milk.” If I wasn’t so distraught by our current situation I would’ve chuckled at his creative cursing. I did already want to look around, though, to make sure I knew where all the exits were, so I offered to find the waitress for him. As I walked around, I noticed there was one main entrance in the front and an emergency exit back by the bathrooms. Both were visible from our booth so I would be able to keep an eye out for the two men. Satisfied with this information I finally went to find the waitress. I looked around but saw that she was already bringing the food to our table. I’m not sure what made me turn around, but I had the strongest urge to look at the kitchen window. That was when I saw some familiar greasy hair. The assassins were in the kitchen! I was an idiot. I completely forgot that most restaurants had an exit in the kitchen. The fools must not have been as incompetent as I thought. Somehow, they had followed us here from the apartment without me noticing. I was watching them trying to figure out what they were doing. The restaurant was empty except for us. The staff in the kitchen were looking at them funny, but they didn’t bother the men (I assumed they were being paid off to look the other way). The brothers were just standing in the kitchen window whispering to each other and looking at some sort of bottle in their hands. Why weren’t they making some sort of move? Why were they just sitting there staring? “Oh shit,” I mumbled as the realization hit me like a ton of bricks. Page 86

They had already made their move. The bottle they had in their hands... they must have poisoned the food! “STOP!” I yelled as I ran back. Brutus froze with his first bite just inches from his mouth. He looked up at me with confusion in his eyes as I reached the table. “What’s wrong? Did you want a bite?” Brutus asked innocently. “They’re here. We need to leave,” I said sternly as I slapped the fork from his hand and threw Carlos’ plate to the ground. I glanced back to see if the men were still watching in the window, but my blood ran cold. They were gone. We were too exposed in this restaurant, so I once again grabbed Brutus by the arm and pulled him to the exit. R The street was surprisingly busy for this time of night. I was grateful for the cover the people were providing, but it also made it harder to stay together. Brutus tended to daydream and wander about, so I tried to keep a close eye on him so I wouldn’t lose him in the crowd. My senses were on such high alert that I noticed something strange in one of the alleys we passed. Nervous voices that were becoming all too familiar to me were coming from two dark shapes standing next to the wall. I didn’t want Brutus to come anywhere near here, but I needed to get closer to hear what they were saying. I glanced at Carlos walking alongside of him. The buffoon may be incompetent and reckless, but I was sure he could watch him for just a little while. I wouldn’t be but a minute or two. As I snuck down the alley, making sure to stick to the shadows, I noticed that there was a third voice talking to the two brothers. “I tol’ ya ta get dis crap over with quick ’n easy!” he was yelling at the men. “Instead you chase dis guy all ovah da town and lose ’im!” It was obvious that this was the man that had been behind the hit on Brutus. I don’t know how I kept my cool. I was ready to throw every shoe from my closet at this guy! “W-w-we’re sorry Uncle Tony,” said one of the brothers quietly, “We’re… we’re trying but—” “But what!?” the other man interjected, “What ’scuse you gon’ give me, uh? Yous both obviously not takin’ dis job serious ’nough. Dis could be a one-man job. ’N fact, it is gon’ be a one-man job now.” Before I could think about what the man was saying I heard a slight “POP” noise. It didn’t take long for me to figure out what it was, because Page 87

the noise that came after it was unmistakable. It was a broken-hearted scream. “DAMIAN! DAMI NO!” yelled the only brother left standing. I was frozen in place as I heard the man crying for his brother. I was suddenly glad I couldn’t see much in the dark lighting. I don’t think I could’ve stomached it if I saw the pain on the living brother’s face or the blood on the chest of the other. In my time in the army and as a nurse I had seen people die, but this was different. This was cold-blooded, pointless, and sick. The evil man standing in the alley had just shot his own nephew! Whatever hate I had for these boys was suddenly gone. “Ged up,” said the uncle emotionlessly to the boy who had fallen to his knees. “You got dis job on ya own now. Yous two wasn’t workin’ good as a team. Now finish da guy already, ’fore I decide ta pop you too.” With that the large man shoved the gun into the smaller man’s hand and walked away. I couldn’t be there anymore. I still heard the slight sobs coming from the brother, and I couldn’t handle the sound. No matter how much I wanted to comfort the boy, he was still trying to kill Brutus, and now he had a gun to use. I slipped out of the alleyway not noticing the tears running down my face. I must have been more mindless than I thought because I ran into Carlos. I looked around to see Brutus, but I had just noticed he wasn’t there. “W-where is Brutus?” I asked with a shaky voice. “What are you talking about? I thought he was with you!” responded Carlos. Whatever heat I had left in my body suddenly left as a shiver went down my spine. My boy was gone, and he was in more danger than ever. Brutus I felt bad that I left Maggie and Carlos. I knew that they were just trying to help, but I had a shift in the morning. Plus, I had promised Mr. Richards, Mrs. Wayne, and Ms. West from my apartment building that I would walk their dogs beforehand. Besides, I really doubted there was actually anything wrong. I loved my friends, but they could be protective which caused them to overreact sometimes. When I realized that Maggie was nowhere in sight and Carlos was distracted from arguing with some man, I decided I might as well head home. Page 88

When I finally got back to my apartment, I couldn’t wait to get to bed. That was until I saw my animals all waiting for me. I couldn’t help it. I had to give them all hugs and read them a story before bed. Carlos said that since they were animals, they wouldn’t understand what I was saying, but I knew they looked forward to it just as much as I did. “Hello, my Precious!” I cooed to my little gray cat. I had to say his name like Sméagol from Lord of the Rings otherwise he wouldn’t respond. I picked him up to cuddle and looked down at my dogs. Pom-Pom (my Pomeranian) could get a little over excited at times, especially if I had been gone for a while, but Pixie (my Saint Bernard) was always calm. They both came up to me, tails wagging, as I held Precious, each hoping my attention would be directed to them next. I gave in quickly and soon we were all squished on the couch finishing the last chapter of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. When the story was over and I had finally settled myself into bed, I thought of the crazy events that happened that day. I was glad that I got to hang out with both Maggie and Carlos, but I was disappointed that I never got to eat my pancakes. Then my thoughts strayed to the men I had accidentally hurt in Maggie’s apartment earlier. I felt awful about it. My friends seemed convinced that they were trying to hurt me, but I didn’t believe that. I know that people thought I was oblivious, and yeah, maybe I did lose myself in my thoughts sometimes, but that didn’t mean I wasn’t observant when I wanted to be. When I looked at those guys, they didn’t look mean like the guys Carlos was always picking on. They looked sad and scared and young. I really wished I could’ve just talked to them and found out what was wrong. Oh well, maybe I’d see them again someday. I hoped so. I still needed to properly apologize for hurting them. My last thoughts before I drifted off to sleep were what I would say to them if I ever saw them again. R It was a beautiful morning! I had picked up all the dogs from their owners at 5:30 and took them on a walk through the park. The sunrise was so colorful, and the birds’ voices were so pretty. It seemed like one of those days where nothing could possibly go wrong. There weren’t a lot of people at the park. During the day this place was packed, but early in the morning there only seemed to be the stray jogger. People didn’t know what they were missing. Mornings are the best time to be outside. Everything is always so peaceful before the light hits the Page 89

sky, and everyone you meet who’s up before the sun is always so friendly. I said good morning to the few people I walked by, and they always said hi back. At one point I did notice that someone was walking behind me. I was about to turn around to say hello to them, but when I did turn there was no one there. Huh, strange. By the time I had returned to the apartments it was 7 o’clock. I brought the dogs back to their owners, and then I returned to my own apartment to get ready for work. I had to be leaving by 7:30 if I wanted to get to the shelter by 8 o’clock. It didn’t take me long to switch into my work clothes, so I had a little time to spare. I decided I would go up to my garden to pick a purple hyacinth flower for Jessica, my coworker. I knew it was her favorite flower, and I thought that maybe it would help put a smile on her face today. After I got the flower, I walked down to the ground floor and out the door. The streets seemed very quiet, especially compared to last night. I was just walking by an alley between two rundown buildings not far from my apartment when I felt someone grab me from behind! They grabbed my shoulder, threw me up against the wall of the alleyway, and pointed a gun at my chest. I had to admit that I was quite scared, at least that was until I saw the face of the man attacking me. I saw dirty-blonde hair that was greasy and disheveled. The clothes of the man also looked this way, almost as if he’d been wearing them for a few days. The corners of his mouth were downturned in a scowl, and his lips were slightly parted so you could see that he was clenching his teeth. What really got my attention, though, were the eyes. They were probably supposed to be a very bright green, but now they were dulled with pain and grief. The lids of his eyes were puffy and red, as if he’d been crying. When his eyes met my own, I could see so many emotions running through them. Fear, loss, confusion, terror, guilt… I saw all of these in just mere seconds. All I wanted to do was pull him into a hug. I might have if not for the gun pointed at me. “Are you ok?” I asked the poor kid. His gun started to shake as he responded with a hoarse voice, “W-why would you care? I’ve got a gun pointed at your chest, I’d be a little more worried about yourself right now.” “Yeah, but you seem really upset,” I told him. It was then that I recognized him. He was one of the men from Maggie’s apartment. I looked around the alleyway, but I couldn’t seem to find his brother. “Where’s your brother? I would really like to apologize to both of you for what happened yesterday.” Page 90

His hand with the gun started to shake even harder after I said that. I saw tears well up in his eyes that started to slip down his face. I knew something terrible must have happened. “Are you kidding me?” he asked as the tears continued to spill out. “Why the hell do you care? He’s gone! He’s gone because I couldn’t take you out sooner. I can’t make that mistake again.” My heart broke when I heard this. So, Maggie and Carlos were right that these guys were trying to kill me, but that didn’t make them bad people. That didn’t mean they deserved to die because of me. Having family taken away from you was a pain I could understand. I felt the pain from the accident that took my parents every day. It’s what inspired me to try to make other people happy, so they wouldn’t feel that pain like I did. “I am truly and deeply sorry about your brother,” I said with tears coming to my own eyes as well, “Is there anything I could do to help you?” “Help me? I just told you that I was going to kill you and you want to help me? Fine. Help me by staying still so I can shoot you.” “Why do you want to kill me?” I asked the kid. I know he said he needed to kill me, but I didn’t want to die that day. I needed to talk him down before he did something that could scar him forever. “I don’t want to. I have to! You wouldn’t understand. My uncle killed my brother, and he’s going to kill me too if I don’t finish this!” “You don’t have to do anything,” I told him. “Yes, I do! He’s my uncle! He’s the only family I have left now! He wants me to do this! It’s my first job before I can officially become a member,” he yelled back at me. I wasn’t sure what he meant by member. I was guessing Carlos’s theory about a gang was probably right, but I didn’t care at the moment. His voice was becoming hysterical and I desperately wanted to calm him down. “What’s your name?” I asked, trying to get him to trust me. He seemed a little taken aback by my response, but he reluctantly answered. “Grayson.” “Hi Grayson, I’m Brutus. I know you think you need to do what your uncle says, but you really don’t. From what little you’ve said about him I can tell he’s not your family.” “AND WHAT WOULD YOU KNOW ABOUT FAMILY, HUH? Especially mine!” he yelled back at me with a snarl. “I know family isn’t set in stone. It’s a privilege to be a part of someone’s family, not a right. It doesn’t start with who you’re related to, and it doesn’t end with those who aren’t a part of your ancestry. Your family Page 91

shouldn’t care about what you do for them. They should only care that you’re there. You get to decide who gets the title of family. No one else.” I know I was supposed to be talking about Grayson when I said this, but all I could think about was my odd little family. There were the relatives that showed up only when they heard about the money I’d gotten from my parents’ accident. They weren’t my family. There were the high school coaches and teachers who always seemed disappointed that I wasn’t smarter or stronger. They weren’t my family. My family was a short, angry man who couldn’t go three days without starting a fist fight. My family was a 73-year-old woman who made me tea and threw shoes at people she didn’t like. My family was two dogs and a cat who would spend the weekends on the couch with me having movie marathons. That was my family. I realized, though, Grayson didn’t have that. From what I could tell the one person he had considered family was now gone. Grayson’s whole body started to tremble as the choked sobs made their way out of his mouth. His shaking hands dropped the gun and started pulling at his short hair. “Oh God. Oh God!” Grayson started to wheeze in between his pants for breath. I saw this as my opportunity. I took one step forward and pulled him into a strong hug. Surprisingly, he started to hug me back. I’m not sure how long I held him there, allowing him to cry into my shirt, but in that time, I had decided something. This kid, who probably wasn’t even 20, thought he didn’t have anyone anymore, but that wasn’t true. He needed people. He needed a family, and I was willing to let him be a part of mine. I looked at the purple hyacinth that was still in my hand. I couldn’t believe that I hadn’t dropped it during the whole ordeal. I thought of how fitting it was that I had decided to pick this flower. The purple hyacinth was supposed to represent sorrow for a wrong committed, and if anyone needed this flower now it was Grayson. I waited until he started to pull away before I let go, and once we were no longer clinging to each other I handed him the flower. He seemed reluctant at first, but he eventually reached out his hand and took it from me. He sat there staring at the little purple petals for a long time before he said anything, and even when he did speak up his eyes never left the flower. “My uncle’s going to kill me,” he said with no emotion. “No,” I responded back to the kid, “He’s not. I won’t let him. We’ll go to the police and get protection for you, okay?” Grayson just nodded, eyes still on the flower. It didn’t look like he was Page 92

going to move so I put my arm around his shoulder and led him out of the alleyway towards the police station. It didn’t take long before we ran into Maggie and Carlos. They were just coming back from the police station where they had been all night, trying to explain the situation. I told them what had happened, and though Carlos seemed wary of Grayson, Maggie walked right up to him. His eyes were still staring intently at the flower, and he hadn’t even glanced at the two newcomers. When Maggie reached him, she reached up and cupped his cheek with her hand. His eyes finally left the purple blossom in his hands and met her face. “You’ll be okay. You’re not alone,” Maggie said quietly to the boy. His eyes started to well up again, and the tears fell silently down his face. He nodded to her as if understanding that Maggie, Carlos, and I — these people that he had just met, that he had tried to kill only hours ago — were going to stay by his side and protect him as if he were one of their own. I smiled. We walked toward the police station now, determined to make sure that Grayson would be safe. It didn’t matter what he had done. It didn’t matter who his relatives were. What mattered was that we had decided that he was a part of our family now, and that meant we would be there for him. That’s just what families did. grayson I couldn’t take my eyes off the flower. It was just so bright and colorful. I hated that it had the audacity to look so beautiful after everything that had happened. Yet, no matter how much I hated it, I still kept my eyes on the flower. I vaguely remembered the story of the hyacinth flower. It was some Greek myth that I had learned about in high school (which seemed so long ago now, when in reality it hadn’t even been a year since we dropped out). The story starts with two Greek gods fighting over some guy. I don’t know why. You’d think gods were supposed to have higher standards than normal humans. Anyways, one day one of the gods got jealous that the man was spending more time with the other admirer and in a rage, he killed him. The other god was heartbroken at the sight of the dead man, and when he saw a beautiful flower blooming next to the body, he decided to name it after him. I hated that story. The teachers always tried to make it sound like the vengeful god just loved the man so much that he couldn’t stand to see him with someone else. That the one who killed the man loved him just as much as the one who named the flower after him. As if that made what he Page 93

did right! If he really loved the man, he never would have done anything to hurt him. That story was what truly stopped me from going through with my uncle’s plans. Sure, Brutus' words had made me hesitate. Him hugging me as I sat there crying my eyes out like a little baby also helped, but it was when he gave me the flower that I truly decided that I couldn’t do what Uncle Tony wanted me to. If Uncle Tony truly loved us, he wouldn’t have killed Damian. If he truly loved us, he wouldn’t have sent us on this stupid job just so we could be a part of his little gang. If he truly loved us, he wouldn’t have pressured us into dropping out of school to join his gang in the first place. No. He didn’t love us, and I sure as hell didn’t love him. I glanced up from the flower briefly to look at the people now walking beside me. The people that I had tried to kill not too long ago. I didn’t know all their names. The other two besides Brutus might’ve introduced themselves, or maybe they hadn’t. I hardly heard a word of what they were saying. Everything just sounded dull and muffled now. The lady with the long gray hair had a hand on my arm, slowly rubbing it up and down in a comforting way. Brutus still had his arm around my shoulder, urging me to keep walking and directing me towards the police station. I wasn’t sure what the little Latino guy was doing. He seemed so on edge that it honestly looked like he was ready to fight anything that moved. At one point he actually did take a swing at a leaf that flew by. He looked back at us, his face slightly red with embarrassment, and then returned to staring down anyone that walked by us. I looked back at the purple hyacinth as a sentence of Brutus' resounded in my head. Family... they should only care that you’re there. I wanted Damian here. I wanted my brother to be there for me as I stood up to Uncle Tony. I wanted him here to laugh with me over the fact that we had been chasing the wrong guy all night, because at this point, I was absolutely positive that Brutus could not be the awful man we had been told to kill. I wanted him to be here with me like he had been my whole life, but I knew that wasn’t going to happen. Instead of him, there was this odd group of people: an overly sensitive linebacker, a shoe-throwing grandma, and a tiny ball of rage. Everything about what they were doing told me that they cared that I was there. From the woman’s gentle comforting, to Brutus' guiding arm, to the oddly comical death glares the short man was giving everyone. I didn’t understand why they were doing this. I didn’t understand why they were comforting me and protecting me and helping me. I just didn’t get it. But even though I had just met these people, I cared that they were there Page 94

too. I knew that right now they didn’t even come close to the family I had lost, but I still wanted them to stay with me. I knew I didn’t deserve it, but I just... I didn’t want to be alone. I wanted what the old lady had said earlier to be true. I didn’t want these people to leave me. As we rounded the corner, the police station coming into sight, my heart started pounding. The guilt from what I had tried to do last night and what had happened to my brother was eating away at me. I just needed to keep looking at the flower. I felt like it would be okay if I could just keep my eyes on the flower. Brutus must have sensed how nervous I was getting because he gave my shoulder a gentle squeeze with his huge hand. I’m not sure why that helped, but it did. My heart still beat heavy, but it slowed a little. I decided to look up from the flower again, just for a little bit. We had just reached the stairs of the precinct. I could tell the little guy wasn’t the biggest fan of police officers. I’m pretty sure he actually growled at one that we passed on the steps. That was until the lady on my arm used her free hand to whack him upside the head. I almost laughed at that. Almost. “Ready?” Brutus asked as we reached the door at the top of the steps. I looked up at his kind eyes and felt reassured. As long as these three were with me, I would be okay. Somehow, I knew that was true. I nodded twice before returning my eyes to the flower in my hand. Slowly we walked through the doors, my new friends never leaving my side, and my eyes never leaving that beautiful purple hyacinth. R Page 95

“And they say God only gives us as much as we can handle.” by Tyler Janssen He couldn’t stop thinking about the despair, So painfully overbearing and raw — Never had he known anything so unfair. That morning, he was shocked by the healthcare He calmed himself with a cigarette draw... He couldn’t stop thinking about the despair Later, he realized that the despair was fair. He tried to pivot his attention, but it stuck in his craw, Never had he been so aware of that. Ravyn said he was obsessing about how to get there, his end; Said it was time to start thinking about Wichita — But he could not stop focusing on the despair. He chose to do something spare, But the despair was like a toxic jaw. Never had he known anything so able to overbear! He plummeted down, like a failed prayer, His mind transformed into a maw, He couldn’t stop thinking about the despair! Never had he known anything so unfair! Page 96

Ghosts by Emily Possehl “Do you believe in irony?” I thought Watching our friendship stumble toward its end “That it’s the red fog in which we’ve been caught?” ’Twas the graveyard where I first called you friend There was something about sharing the fear That led us there on many a lost night Making us each to the other more dear As we relied on trust instead of sight But fear cannot be used to mend a heart Nor could it bury a torturous day Like rotten gray bones crumbling apart The love in your eyes began to decay And so it ended as life does with death; No proper goodbye, just one tired breath Page 97

Index by Author Sam Beurskens: Melting Snow ............................................................................. 14 New Eve ..................................................................................28 Wheeling Wausau ........................................................................ 30 Robert Bidon: On Ice ......................................................................29 Mayr Boros: Hippity Hoppity Rabbit Haters and Their Ways .................................74 Katryn Conlin: Still Life with Avocados .................................................................... 5 I Stepped on My Guitar ................................................................... 15 Max ...................................................................................... 17 Summer, 1976 ...........................................................................52 Down by the River, Let Us Walk ............................................................65 The Unbearable Cuteness of Leo ...........................................................66 Elliot Engberg: Kore ............................................................................................................. 7 Bus Stop ................................................................................. 13 April Storm ...............................................................................73 Tyler Janssen: “And they say God only gives us as much as we can handle.” ....................96 Maria Jimenez: Mississippi River: A Ballad ................................................ 44 Danielle Nation: An Old Friend ............................................................................45 Gryllidae Trill ............................................................................ 64 “Oh No, It’s Another Nature Poem.” .......................................................72 Emily Possehl: Persephone’s Canvas ....................................................................... 7 Grievance ................................................................................ 16 Firewood ............................................................................... 44 Slough ....................................................................................35 Fallen Dust ............................................................................... 51 The Beheld ...............................................................................57 Tossing Out Tradition .....................................................................67 Ghosts ...................................................................................97 Ashley Schroeder: Short Lived ...............................................................................55 The Purple Hyacinth .....................................................................79 Nick Shannon: The Sky is Not Blue .........................................................23 Peter Smith: My Life, Approximately ........................................................37 Kate Thompson: The Sandbox Hot Tub and Nadiya’s Dumb Brother .......................................... 8 Cut You Off ..............................................................................22 Kathleen VanCor: No One Laments a Terrible Roommate ...................................................... 6 Krampusnacht ............................................................................36 Ballad of a Killer Cat .....................................................................63 Heart of Thistles ..........................................................................77 Page 98

Illustrations 7. Spider. Stephen C. Dickson, Wikimedia. Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license. 23. Blue Sky. Tim Hill, Pixaby.com. Manipulated in PhotoShop. 33. Wheelchair. Nana Studio. Adobe Stock. 36. Frost on the Window. Liz West, Flickr. Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic. 38. Dreamer. Hans Braxmeier, Pixabay.com. Manipulated in PhotoShop. 52. Circle, Montana. TownMapsUSA.com. Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 United States License. 56. Maquoketa Caves State Park, Iowa. Glen Gardner, Wikimedia. Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license. 67. Leopard gecko. Matt Reinbold, Wikimedia. Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license. 75. Rabbit. Pixabay.com 78. Hyacinths. Illustration based on photo from Pixabay.com. About the Type This book is typeset in Mrs Eaves, designed by Zuzana Licko and licensed through Adobe Creative Cloud. Page 99

HIGHWAY 61, Revised Volume I, Issue I. Published January 2020 RED WING • WINONA • ONLINE WWW.SOUTHEASTMN.EDU

1 Publizr


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