Joey Schuman

SUMMER PEPPERS

I was chopping the peppers when Elvis pulled me back to San Antonio. In my ears swam his warm honey voice, then the music of children playing, splashing. Sunlight made love to the pool water, blurring everything in glittering yellow tones. In this golden light, rules didn’t matter. Little boys ran, jumped, flew, carried by the breeze, and I watched with elation and jealousy from under my umbrella. Their wet feet slapped harmoniously against the same concrete that scratched my butt through my swim trunks.

Elvis sang, you should’ve heard those knocked-out jailbirds sing, and Mom hummed along at my back. She lounged, magazine in hand. Her sunglasses were bigger than the world, and shinier, too. Her hat was bigger still, with a brim on which stray birds might make a home for the summer. This image of her was like something out of a movie. She pulled her eyes from the gossip pages to attend to me, and she smiled with her mouth closed tight. “Why don’t you go play with the other boys?” she asked (begged), and suddenly my feet became very interesting and I had to look at them. Elvis implored us to rock, everybody let’s rock, and Mom sighed. I was watching the other boys move, dance, and rock, when I saw him.

He had a body like the statues you’d find in an art museum, godly and beautiful. He glowed. I can see him now, blond and tan and dimpled, with long legs descending out of his lifeguard trunks. I couldn’t watch the other boys anymore, because light cascaded from this man and into my chest and I was enamored. When he smiled, the sky exploded, taking me with it. I was reverent. Elvis sang, you’re the cutest jailbird I ever did see, and the boys rocked, but I didn’t notice. The lifeguard was ephemeral and flickering as a flame. A king in his tall white throne, unaware of my unwavering gaze. I was still, devout.

Then a sound from the shade behind me, a tut of resounding disapproval, yanked me. I turned, and Mom sighed, and there was a moment of the worst kind of understanding. I could see her eyes through her sunglasses and oh, she knows, she knows. The birds in her big hat chirped, oh, they know, they know.  The other boys had stopped rocking and they stared with wide eyes, they know. The beautiful man, up on his heavenly precipice, bore down on me with disgust. He knows. I pulled myself deep into the shade of the umbrella, away from the golden light that stripped away my shell, and laid bare the twisted little fluttering thing underneath. They know. They know. They know. Elvis sang, sad sack was sitting on a block of stone, way over in the corner weeping all alone. A slip of the fingers, and then a slice, sharp inhale. I was bleeding. I’d long finished chopping the peppers.

Isabella Briggs

Her

The last owner said, “Keep her.” 

“Her.” Not “it.” I didn’t give the word much thought at the time. But now, standing in the house with nothing but my boxes and furnishings, it hits me. They didn’t leave anything. If a piece of furniture wasn’t nailed down, it was gone. From where I stand near the door I can see a few appliances in the kitchen, but the cavernous entryway is eerily quiet and completely empty. So why didn’t they want the painting? And why did they call it a ‘her?’

Yes, the painting is of a girl, sort of. An almost girl. A doll, really, but it has so much detail it could be real. I find myself staring at her—I shake my head. At it. I find myself staring at it: Blonde curls, blue-grey eyes, a light daffodil yellow dress decorated with bows and lace, a string of pearls around her neck. The ornate golden frame and murky dark background accentuate the warm colors and her features. She’s exquisite. Truly a sight to behold. I can’t stop myself from reaching a finger to brush against her porcelain—no, her painted skin. But the paint feels like porcelain beneath my fingertips. It is—smooth. So smooth. Like she is real, or as real as a doll can be. 

My fingers drift to the satin dress, the feathery lace, it’s all real. Why did I ever think it wasn’t? Gemma is real and always has been. Gemma. The name rolls off my tongue as if I am referring to a friend. A family member. Someone I have known all my life. 

There’s a twinkle in her silvery blue eyes. 

~~~ 

One week later I drop the old set of keys into a younger woman’s hand. I have successfully removed all my things from the house. She catches me on my way out the mansion’s looming front door for the final time. 

“Um, excuse me, miss? Don’t you want the painting?” She asks kindly, her eyes drifting in Gemma’s direction before looking back at me. I simply shake my head. 

“Keep her.” 


 

Paul O’Connor

Mother and Son

The items race forth, and work eagerly begins. Before they even reach the grasp of the bagger, one must mentally categorize the items, thinking about weight, size, fragility, perishability. Then, one must lift and scan the items until the bell of affirmation rings through. Next, one must peer through the bag’s opening, examining for rips or tears. And finally, the bagging. The bagging is distinct, complex, and purely personal, but the goal is uniform: efficiency, organization, and accessibility. Bradley and I differ by method, however, we’ve maximized our speed and efficiency, not suffering the tragedy of a ripped bag since our first year on the job. On top of that, we color code. It’s a large and difficult task, however, the challenge expands the artistic quality of the work. For twenty years, we’ve loved our jobs at the supermarket. In fact, our married life began here. Bradley proposed during our lunchtime break, the ring buried in a crinkly blue grocery bag. We’re a fantastic team.

 

We have a twenty-year-old son named Derek. He’s in college. We’ve both agreed he’s a bit of a disappointment. A practical thinker, cunning, ambitious. I truly can’t understand him. From an early age I would sit him in the living room, leave to gather plastic bags and soup cans, spices, fruits, and perhaps a bottle of wine, and show him the process. But he eternally despised it, protesting, complaining, insulting. He wanted to read, play sports, make friends, and through the years, an endless stream of teachers raved about his accomplishments: honor roll, football captain, class president. I only pretended to care. He’s not an artist, and I wish he were different.

 

Business school! How awful! That’s where our money must go?

 

Mr. Cripson, the long-time store manager, died yesterday. He was eighty-six years old, and died an immensely decent, pleasant man. The funeral was soft, dark, and musical. And the store’s absolute disorientation was completed by a teenage bagger quitting, citing a need for college. I thought of Derek and sent him a letter, telling him of the job opening. Our correspondence has been fleeting over the years, and I haven’t received an answer.

 

Today I entered the store and saw Derek, waving and smiling near the counter. I beamed, imagining he accepted the bagging position. I moved closer and read the shirt label. Manager. My heart began to droop. “Good,” I said. I took my station and began work, but everything was terribly wrong. My focus lagged, the bell was harsh, the items pointless, the color missing spice and life. Ms. Timmons, a usual customer, stretched her arm and lifted a teeming bag: the plastic tore, erupting in a tragic, endless crash. She cursed, and the eyes of my son gleamed from the office. I reddened, gasped, and collapsed among the splattered wine and bruised tomatoes.

 

 

Mac Jensen

 

Blue (excerpt)

 

I woke up to the sound of waves crashing against the side of the building. Nothing new in particular, I’ve just always been a light sleeper. Still groggy from waking up, I glanced around my room. Living in the ruins of an old hotel, everything looked relatively pristine by today’s standards. I looked to the left to see the bedframe I had repurposed. The old mattress now leaned on the wall, while in its place lay a large piece of plywood, forming a makeshift table of sorts. On the makeshift table lay a dismantled boat motor. Little scratches in the plywood, small splatters of paint and oil, indentations everywhere on the table all clearly indicated it had been worked on recently. On the wall directly in front of the beds, an old television sat atop a large wooden console. The television had been broken down for parts and the screen hung precariously off the console, only attached by a few wires and a screw.

I rolled over to face the balcony. Two seagulls sat perched atop the railing. Their presence reminded me of the times before life was like, well… this. I finally got myself out of bed, walked over to the balcony and looked out onto the deep blue that lay ahead of me. What used to be the bustling streets of the city was now completely submerged. What remained above the deep, grueling expanse of the new ocean waters were the taller buildings of the now-abandoned city. Most had forgotten the city’s old name, and most people that pass through here refer to it as Atlantis. A cruel joke, I suppose.

 

Epilogue of Romeo and Juliet

Teigan Caldwell

Mercutio: *Gasps Awake* What the- Where am I? For some reason I find this place just slightly out of the ordinary. Why is everything so . . . gray? Am I dead? Who is responsible for this! Someone get me out of here! When I find whoever put me here I’ll- What’s this? A piece of paper?

‘Welcome To Purgatory . . .’ Huh. I guess that would explain it. Also, the fact that I appear to be translucent. Oh well. This is only a minor inconvenience on my quest for glory! But seriously this is getting boring. Why aren’t I going anywhere? Oh wait, there’s some print on the back, here. ‘Please Wait For All Remaining Parties Before Continuing.’ What is that supposed to mean?

Tybalt: *Gasps Awake*

Mercutio: Wait, Tybalt? You’re dead too? Ha! Karma!

Tybalt: Mercutio? I thought I killed you! Though I wouldn’t mind doing it again.

Mercutio: Well, for once in your life, you’re not wrong. I am dead, as it turns out. Thanks a lot, by the way, Fighty McStabberson, you pigheaded plague.

Tybalt: Prepare to fall again, this place isn’t big enough for-

Mercutio: Purgatory. It’s Purgatory.

Tybalt: JUST LET ME FINISH MY-

Mercutio: Also, you don’t appear to have your sword. And how did you die so quickly after I did? Or is time just screwed up here? Why is your face all red like that? You’re hiding something, I- No . . . Romeo killed you, didn’t he! Ha! MIGHTY MANURE, you’re pathetic! I used to place bets against the boy whenever you were around, no offense to him, of course. But now- Oh, don’t even bite that thumb, man. I’m gonna start pitying you soon.

Tybalt: Just shut up, will you! I will have you know that Villain Romeo is probably dying right now with the wounds I’ve inflicted.

Mercutio: First of all, Romeo is anything but a villain. Second, has anyone ever told you that you’re a terrible liar?

Tybalt: I’m going to tear open your chest with my teeth and then cut your throat with your own spine.

Mercutio: That was an unsettlingly detailed description.

Tybalt: WHERE IS MY SWORD?

Mercutio: Probably down in Verona.

Tybalt: What are you holding? Let me see!

Mercutio: Would it really be that hard to say ‘please?’

Tybalt: I WILL FIND A WAY TO DESTROY YOU AGAIN IF YOU KEEP THIS UP. ‘ . . . Purgatory . . . All Parties . . .’ This is preposterous!

Mercutio: How about a game of Rock Paper Scissors?

Tybalt: No.

Mercutio: Tic Tac Toe?

Tybalt: NO.

Mercutio: How about-

Tybalt: HOW ABOUT YOU BE QUIET.

Mercutio: Yes, ma’am.

Tybalt: What did you say?

Mercutio: Nothing . . . Oh no wait I said ‘yes MA’AM.’

Tybalt: WHY I OUGHTA-

 

*************************************************************************************

 

Paris: *Gasps Awake*

Tybalt: Oh, thank sanity, I was about to lose my mind alone with this guy.

Mercutio: Hey, I didn’t use all of my twenty questions yet, you can’t just stop playing!

Tybalt: I WAS NEVER PLAYING IN THE FIRST PLACE.

Paris: What is this place?

Tybalt: Purgatory, apparently.

Mercutio: You died, man. It’s okay, we’ve all been there.

Paris: I’m dead? H-How did I- ROMEO.

Mercutio: What about him?

Paris: Romeo killed me! That villain Romeo! I was spreading flowers in front of my dearest love’s tomb when he began to force it open. I stepped forward, planning to turn him into the Prince, when he drew his sword and killed me.

Tybalt: See? Villain! He agrees with me!

Paris: Were you two arguing?

Mercutio: I suppose one could put it that way, yes.

Tybalt: He killed me as well; I sense some form of foul play.

Mercutio: Oh, GIVE IT A REST, will you?

Paris: . . .

Tybalt: Do YOU by any chance know how to kill someone who is already dead?

Paris: Um . . . no? Should I be concerned?

Tybalt: Not you, no.

Mercutio: He was talking to me.

Paris: And you aren’t worried?

Mercutio: Eh. Not especially.

Paris: Who are all of you, anyways?

Mercutio: Well, I’m Mercutio . . .

Paris: Hmm . . . I-

Mercutio: And the huffy barbarian over there is Tybalt.

Tybalt: I can introduce MYSELF, you know!

Paris: Wait, Tybalt? Your name sounds familiar.

Tybalt: How so?

Paris: Are you . . . Juliet’s kinsman?

Mercutio: I think so.

Tybalt: I CAN ANSWER MY OWN QUESTIONS. Ahem. How do you know of her?

Paris: She was the loved one I was speaking of. I was going to marry her the very day when I found out that she had died; I am terribly sorry for your loss

Tybalt: Juliet is dead? How unfortunate.

Paris: You don’t seem nearly as upset as I expected you to be. . .

Mercutio: He has no soul. The fact that he can continue to the afterlife at all is straining my suspension of disbelief.

Tybalt: We were never especially close. Now then, ignoring those matters, I’m glad to hear that you practically joined the family. You should consider yourself an honorary Capulet.

Paris: Well, thank you. My name is Paris, by the way.

Mercutio: Wait, Paris? Oh, and Juliet!- Are you by any chance related to the Prince?

Paris: How did you know that?

Mercutio: I believe that we may share some of the same blood. Interesting.

Paris: Indeed.

Tybalt: You haven’t even met him before; how close can you be!

Mercutio: What you just said is, like, the DEFINITION of irony.

Tybalt: Ignore him. Don’t forget that Mercutio was also the friend of the man that murdered you, and that he still remains on his side despite this.

Paris: Very true, thank you.

Tybalt: Yes; remember that. So, you were betrothed to Juliet? She seems a little young for marriage, if you ask me.

Paris: Ah, but she was at the peak of beauty. 

Mercutio: Creepy freak says what?

Paris: What?

Mercutio: I’m sorry, continue.

Paris: Well, I guess she moved on without us. What’s taking so long anyways

Tybalt: We have to wait for some more people to turn into corpses and join us, apparently.

Paris: Hmm. Disappointing. We could try to look for a way out of this place while we wait.

Tybalt: Better than just standing here.

Mercutio: Good idea. I’ll come with you.

Tybalt: GO AWAY.

Paris: Perhaps he should come.

Tybalt: WHAT?

Paris: I mean . . . what if we all need to be together before we can get out of here? If we get separated, we could get lost here forever! . . . Right?

Tybalt: . . . You’d better not soften up before this whole mess is over with.

Mercutio: That’s what she said.

Paris: Ha, ha! *Cough* I mean, I speak strictly behalf on our own wellbeing, of course.

Tybalt: . . . If you’re sure about that. Mercutio, you may walk with us.

Mercutio: As kind as your gesture is, I’d already invited myself.

Tybalt: Paris, this was your doing, not mine. Come on. Both of you.

Rain

Annie Cullinane

She was sitting at the edge of the pier when dark clouds spread over the sky like in in water. Her blue haven with its chirping birds and bright sun was halfway gone when she had noticed, the birds fluttering to their nests, a gaping hole of black over half the sky, swallowing the world. She closed her eyes. The sharp tang of a coming storm stung the air. Her eyes settled on a school of fish darting away to places she couldn’t see, safe places. 

She brought herself to her feet, laying her fishing rod on the dampened steps. Her eyes were drawn to the gravel parking lot, finding it empty. The other fishermen must have fled as she had been staring at the last wisps of forest, watching boats sail by with wings of canvas and masts as tall as mountains. 

The sky crackled, a stream of light, striking a patch of nearby forest. The noise had filled her ears sent a shock of its own through her skull, making her grip on her tackle box go white-knuckled.

She felt frozen, the sky somehow so many shades of grey and black, shards of blue showing between the clouds, shards of hope being crushed underfoot by the storm. She paused, her shoulders drawn, her muscles taut with stress. She looked back at the forest where the lightning has stricken, her horror and panic plain on her face. 

It was on fire.

 Her eyes went wide, smoke filling her senses, clouding her head, making everything go grey as the sky. She hacked and coughed, her limbs becoming sluggish. She weakly put her sleeve to her mouth, trying to block out the smoke. The world swam, the smoky air fluid around her. 

The smoke almost seemed to curl around her arms, forcing her to her knees, stealing the air from her lungs. The wood of the pier dug into her skin, but the terror of the fire was far greater, snuffing out her insignificant pain. She felt heat push against her, until her very blood mixed with sweat, until her lungs burned in the fire.

The grey sky above mixed with ash, blending, making her above her below, her left turning into her right. She was losing consciousness, the edges of her vision tinged with red. 

Sheets of rain thundered down like wingbeats. Falling from the now-gone sky, lifting the river, smothering the fire. 

 

Bennet Robs a Train

By Liberty Diaz

The stars are already out over the desert as Bennett and I light a campfire with a simple fire-starting charm from my pocket. I reach into my bag and pull out two apples, tossing one to him. He nods gratefully and takes a bite. 

“Have I ever told you about Mull’s Bridge?” he asks, wiping some juice from his chin. I think about it and shake my head. “You’ve probably heard it, just not from me. Every paper covered it, from all the way out here to over in Adams.” 

“That was you?” I’m shocked. To be fair, I should have put two and two together earlier. It’s exactly the kind of reckless and stupid thing he’d do with his power. 

He laughs. “What, you didn’t think I could make off with that much money? Come on, Colin. I don’t just busy myself with commercial coaches. Sometimes, I have a bit more flair.” He waves his hands dramatically.

“I’m sure there are things the paper left out,” I say, leaning back on a rock, ready to hear another one of Bennett’s adventures. He finishes his apple and pitches the core down the hill. 

“I was robbing a train— alone, mind you— down south, where they have all those mountains and mesas and rock spires. It was a Lewis Whitehall Express.” He pauses for a moment to allow me to be impressed. “It was taking all those rich folk through empty country to some cushy resort on the lake. Couldn’t have been more perfect. My contact didn’t send me a ticket—should have been a red flag from the start. Problem was, I didn’t have a hundred dollars cash for one.” 

“Did you lie or threaten your way to one?”

“No interruptions, please.” He shoots me an exaggerated glare, then resumes. “Luckily, the station clerk was some gullible kid. Finally got a chance to test my ‘dying forbidden lover that I need to see immediately’ story. Poor romantic gave me one for fifteen and swore that he wouldn’t tell my fictional darling’s fictional family I’d come that way. I was finally on the train.” 

“Once we were well out of town, I held up the two passenger cars, collected what I came for before the conductor could notice. Not much in the way resistance or security. That’s certainly changed since then.” He laughs mischievously. “So, I jumped off onto the plateau. The train sped away, but before I could inspect the loot, I saw something coming towards me.” He stops to toss another twig onto the fire. “Blue-coated lawmen. Whole lot of ‘em, too. My contact set me up. I panicked and started running along the tracks and found myself on Mull’s Bridge. There were even more lawmen coming over the other side. I was trapped.” 

I remember this next part from the newspaper, but I’m excited to hear it from Bennett. I take a drink from my canteen. “Go on.”

“I was standing on this bridge, law closing in on me, holding one of the biggest hauls of my entire life. There was no way to go off either side of the bridge, I’d be shot, certainly, but I had a great idea.”

“A stupid idea.” 

“An amazing idea.” He rolls his eyes. “I waited for the law to come right up to me, because, if I ended up dead, I wanted to do it as memorably as possible. The sheriff rode up on a big white horse and started his ‘surrender or we’ll shoot’ spiel. Everyone had rifles aimed steady. ‘Hello, sir,’ I shouted, ‘if you could just lower your weapons, then maybe we could negotiate, like the civil men we are.’ That old fool just spat his tobacco juice, squinted, and drew his revolver. ‘Last chance, scum.” 

“He didn’t really say that,” I can’t help but cut in. 

Bennett cocks his head. “Were you there?” I laugh and wave for him to continue.

“I took my hands off my guns, put them behind my head and started backing up towards the edge of the bridge.” Bennett closes his eyes, relishing the memory.

“Is this where you drop your little dime novel one liner?” 

“It was the best I could think of at the moment. Put yourself in my situation.” He sounds mock offended.

I scoff. “Stop defending your lack of humor and keep going.”

“I was standing at the edge of the bridge, at least thirty people with guns pointed at me. I flung my hat into the air with as much flair as I could muster, and yelled, ‘Say a prayer for me, boys!’”

“And?” 

“And then I leaped down into Mull’s Gorge with bag of bill folds and diamond wedding rings.”

I picture the canyon, a massive gash between two mesas. Seven stories deep, and Bennett’s first instinct was to jump down into it. Most of the time, I’m not sure if he’s a reckless genius, or just a lucky fool. “How’d you survive the fall? “I prompt. 

He smiles confidently at the memory. “About halfway down I shifted, you know, into smoke. Never done it so fast since. Probably because I was a few seconds away from dying at the bottom of a canyon. Either way, I turned back once I was safe at the bottom. Grabbed the bag of goodies and got as far away as possible. Guess they thought I was dead.” Bennett shrugs, but there’s a touch of playful pride in his eyes. “Lost that hat. It was a nice one, too.”

I shake my head. “Sometimes I wonder if being around you is good for my own self-preservation.” 

“Probably not. But I do make good company.”

“I’d rather hear your stories than be a part of them, that’s certain.” 

He sighs, staring up at the stars. “I know you aren’t interested in working with me, you know, robbing, but if you ever wanted to…” He trails off. “I could use a partner that won’t stab me in the back.” 

 

The Steamboat

By Caroline Jones

“Rivers! Over here!” Cohen yelled from somewhere in the jumble of people and cargo that was strewn over the docks. It was just barely audible over the din of shouting and banging and waves crashing. Keiran spun around, squinting as the sun hit his eyes. He put up a hand to shield them as best he could.

“Yeah?”

“Over here! We need your help with the boiler room.”

Keiran let out a puff of breath and started weaving through the stacks of crates. Cohen waved him over, his bald head slick with sweat from the sun. Keiran folded his arms across his chest. “What about it? Plans for the boiler room were finished months ago. They were supposed to be, at any rate,” he said. Cohen shook his head. His eyes darted across Keiran’s face. Keiran’s expression faded into concern, a frown creasing his forehead. “What’s wrong with the boiler room?”

“We don’t know. Maybe nothing. But Piper was going over the calculations last night and she found an error in equations. We’ve gone over it a couple hundred times at least and we keep getting the same thing she did.”

Keiran cursed under his breath and motioned for Cohen to follow him to the warehouse that had been the planning center for the organization of the steamboat project for the past five years. It was a large, crumbling building with broken-in windows and ivy climbing up the walls.

They would have rented a better building, but it was a minute’s walk from the docks and they barely knew how to scrounge up enough money to pay for the cost of making the ship as well as surviving day-to-day. A better building was low on their list of needs.

Keiran flung open the door and bolted to the old wooden board on legs of concrete and broken crates that they used as a desk and meeting table. Four of the designers sat around it, all yelling at once. He couldn’t make out any of what they were trying to say.

He stormed to the edge of the table and slid the blueprints and calculations towards him. A pencil rolled off the table. He caught it before it hit the floor.

He could feel Cohen behind him.

“Where’s the error?”

Cohen pointed to a certain area. Keiran scanned the figures, juggling numbers and operations in his head. The pencil twirled over and under his fingers.

Multiply it out, distribute the four.

The pencil danced faster, weaving from finger to finger.

Add the two, carry the one.

He could feel the air in the room tense, like someone had pulled it taut. They were watching him.

Divide by negative six—

The pencil clattered to the ground and rolled under the table.

The room was perfectly still. Keiran stopped. Rolled back. Add the two, carry the one, divide by…

He looked up, dread knotting itself around his throat like a noose. The air seemed too tangible to breathe in. He glanced from face to face. Each one had the same resigned terror that screwed their jaws shut too tight. He swallowed.

“How bad is it?” he whispered. Piper’s eyes flitted away from his gaze.

“We don’t know, but based on what we’ve calculated…it could be really bad.” She wet her lips and looked up. “Fatally bad.”

Keiran barely restrained from screaming a curse into the air. He forced himself to take a measured breath. In. Out.

“When were they going to do the first test run? We need to get everyone away from the ship.”

“That’s not for another week,” Harper said. Keiran stared at him.

“We changed the date, remember? We were ahead of schedule. The test is today. Soon.”

The words hung in the air for a split second. Almost in unison, they all began running towards the door.

Cohen was the first to reach it. He flung it open and sprinted towards the docks. Keiran followed, almost tripping over his heels.

“Get back from the steamboat! Clear the docks!”

The words rang in the air. The people bustling around the docks paused. All six of the designers were screaming at once.

“Get back! Clear the docks! Don’t start the ship!”

The crowd began to stir, glancing at the perfectly intact steamboat in confusion as they shuffled away from it. Keiran’s heart pounded.

“Harper, Piper, get everyone off the docks!” he screamed. They nodded and broke away, still shouting at the crowd. He turned to Cohen. “Co—”

There was a blast of light. He realized his feet weren’t touching the ground, but he felt a hot, numb force against his chest launching him backwards. The air was still, eerily silent. And then he hit the stone. And it was deafening, the…the sound. Nothing but a steel-sharp roar that he could feel in his chest.

And then the pain, burning through his face, blazing down his arms and legs. Ricocheting through his back. He couldn’t move, but his insides were writhing. He didn’t know who was screaming. If he was screaming. If that was just the ringing in his ears. He just knew that he hadn’t expected death to be so painful. If this was death. Death would have a feather touch compared to this torture.

That was his last thought before he blacked out.

Handmade Art by Caroline Jones

The Room in the Attic

Charlotte Knauth

 

She kept ticket stubs and pieces of pottery in a jar under her nightstand, fake forget-me-not flowers in an old chipped glass on top. Bars of soap sat in each drawer so all her shirts smelled of honeysuckle, her socks (she never folded them so it was nearly impossible to find a matching pair) like pumpkin pie, and her jeans like fresh cut lilac. Her furniture was deep brown and decorated with things she couldn’t bear to part with. It was all a part of an old matching set from the sixties, clean cut in a nostalgic way.

Her ceiling took in the curvatures and edges of the roof, as she resided in the attic her parents never used. It had remained empty for quite some time, nothing but a small cardboard box of old blurred photographs and neat brown clay squirrels that she center of the room.

A small window with an old metal frame stared at a walnut tree, tall and looming, outside the house. Its branches brushed against the siding when it rained and she could hear it in her sleep, like a giant running its hands against the walls. Seven small pot plants lined the ledge beneath the window frame, four dead, three alive, and an old Windex bottle filled with water sat on the laminate floor.

A record player rested in the corner of the room, the case a fading pale aqua blue. Brand new records ran across a low shelf extending along the length of the wall. Most of them had never been opened.

There was a bookshelf cut into the wall across from her bed, shelving carved out so novels and poems were nestled inside the foundation of the house, sitting vertically, horizontally, diagonally, and even scattered across the floor, until there was no more empty space to be seen.

The room always smelled like rain, sounded like rain, and left petrichor soaked air on her tongue. The ceiling, a deep fading grayish blue, was doused in hundreds of glow in the dark stars, placed meticulously to accurately map winter’s view of a constellation filled sky.

A mountain of blankets hid her bean bag like a cloak of invisibility. It sat in the corner between her book-filled wall and the closed closet doors that look eerily similar to those from Poltergeist.

But now there are only boxes. Now there’s just her, kicking her feet out from under the blankets in the middle of the night, one last time.

Tomorrow there will be her, taking trips back and forth between the moving van her father rented with boxes stacked up in her hands to fit under her chin. Then there will be empty space in her room in the attic, the attic nobody wanted but her, because it always smelled like rain.

Carance

Isa Romero

The sweet scent of strawberries and oranges envelops me like a warm hug. A light ache forms in my head as my body is lifted off the hard-concrete floor. I feel whimsical and almost childlike but am frightened by the magnified sound of a door slamming shut. I jump slightly and the arms keeping me airborne tighten their grip. I tremble and whimper until I am finally released from the devil’s clutch.

My body is gently situated onto something that feels like a bed and I try to calm myself down a little. I focus my attention on the pressure of someone’s hand resting gently on my shoulder and slowly but surely, my breathing and the rate of my heart slow down to a steady, constant beat. Minutes pass and somehow, I have managed to curl myself into a small ball. The hand removes itself from my shoulder and the individual has a seat next to my still sensitive body. The door to the room opens with a creak and closes with a loud bang. Each step taken by the person entering the room is magnified tenfold. I whimper and cover my ears with my hands, and the loud, clomping footsteps turn into quiet, distant tip-toes.

The headache worsens, and it is evident that without some sort of medicine things are only going to continue to decline from here. Cold hands remove my hands from my head and hold them steady by my side. My mind flashes back to a time when someone held me in such a way. It felt like torture then, and it feels like torture now. I wriggle and lash out at the person holding me down to try and free myself but to no avail. The hands never release, and I tire quickly. Cautiously, I give in and the grip on my wrists loosen slightly. I feel as if I can finally breathe again.

A needle is stuck into the skin of my neck, and the liquid inside injected into my body. It’s discomforting but helps to relieve my headache and delirious state. Finally, my wrists are released, and my vision clears.

In front of me sit two people. One is Kathleen Turner, my best friend, and royal nurse. Her ginger hair is swept up neatly into a white cap. Only her side swiped bangs that rest beautifully along the edge of her face, framing it perfectly, escape. Green eyes the shade that of which is best represented by emeralds focus on her bag of medical tools. The light-blue, sleeveless shift dress that fits her body quite well flows around her gracefully. Her legs are bent into a mermaid pose when she sits on the bed and her petite, white, one-inch heels are gingerly taken off so as not to ruin the comforter. One of her hands checks my pulse through my wrist, while the other scribbles down her observations on a clipboard in a doctor’s messy handwriting.

Next to her is the Crown Prince of Carance, Thomas Brande. His blond hair falls lightly in his face and makes him look as elegant as he sounds. Blue eyes the color of the Caribbean Sea watch me with concern. Like most days, he wears a white, button-down dress shirt and black khaki pants. A navy-blue blazer rests on an armchair near the center of the room with a pair of black dress shoes sitting underneath. He lowers his hands warily into his lap, afraid that I will faint or start to fight again.

I am disoriented, but a quick scan of my surroundings gives me a better idea of my location. A large closet is open wide and filled to the brim with all types of clothing and shoes. The hand-carved, wooden dresser matches the state of the closet with clothes about to spill out of its drawers and sits right next to it. Next to the bed is a nightstand with only a lamp, small flashlight, and The Lost Years by T.A. Barron resting neatly on top. The center of the room has two chairs with ornate backings and red velvet cushions for seats. They surround a small coffee table that has a potted Anemone flower, two glass cups, and a pitcher of water on top.

Prince Thomas and Kathleen stay quiet and let me come to my own conclusions.

Having been in his room only once, I do not recognize it immediately. The door is always locked for reasons unbeknownst to everyone except its owner and the best friend. The only way to be allowed in is if someone with a key unlocks the door and opens it for you. Of course, you could always enter the unconventional way; through the windows.

Stories about the prince escaping his punishment of chamber confinement by climbing out the windows had spread rapidly throughout the kingdom over the past years, but it has yet to be proven true. Now, when confined to his room, the prince has guards standing outside both the windows and door to watch him constantly. No escape for the young and reckless prince.

Personally, I have never thought of breaking into his bedroom. Only the shallowest of women ever do; my own sister and mother included. They all find the prince to be extremely handsome and have unrealistic dreams of marrying him and becoming queen. However, I have never seen him as anything more than my boss and a prat. Pampered the entirety of his existence and never having to work for anything a day in his life. Everything comes free to him and he has no right to complain about how much his life sucks when he has everyone else doing all the work for him.

I feel exhausted and about to burst into tears. Nothing like this has ever happened during work hours. Only afterward when I am about to fall asleep. And even then, Kathleen is there to aid me before it gets this bad.

When I try to sit up and explain myself to the prince, he pushes me back down as gently as you would place a glass statue. I cannot even imagine what he must think of me now. This sickly girl that is weak and fragile. Unable to do anything without breaking into tears or fainting. How on Earth did she get a job as a maid in my castle?

“I-I,” I stutter. How do you explain something to someone who probably won’t even understand a single word you say?

“It’s all right, Lilah,” says Kathleen. “I already explained everything to His Royal Highness. You need not say anything. In fact, I would rather you get some sleep instead of speaking. Okay?”

I nod. “Can you help me to my room, Kathleen? My legs are too weak to walk without some sort of assistance.” I reach my arm out to have Kathleen help me up. She places it delicately on my stomach and a confused look washes over my face.

“If it is all right with you, Ms. Darling,” the prince starts. “Tonight, you will be resting in my bed. Ms. Turner has already approved of the situation and I will have Elliot cancel all my plans for this evening so that I may stay with you. Now, is there anything that I can get you?”

“Wha—? I, uh, I would prefer to sleep in my room. All my stuff is there, and… And where would you sleep, my Lord?”

“I will be sleeping on the floor. But, I can see how flustered you are about this and I assure you everything is well in order. You need not worry about a thing. Just let me know if there is anything you need, and I would be more than happy to retrieve it for you.”

“Thank you, my Lord. But I do not require anything except rest,” I say. I mutter a barely audible ‘apparently’ while glaring at Kathleen. A flush creeps up her neck and I see right through her striking façade. This is about more than getting rest after an episode. She is trying to make me see the good in the prince. One thing I will not allow is myself to be taken advantage of while in my ill state.