Writers of the Month: June 2018

Poet of the Month, June 2018

Julia Alvarez

Julia Alvarez is a Dominican-American writer who, according to Wikipedia, currently resides in the Champlain Valley of Vermont. A blessing and a curse! I am also Julia Alvarez, and (after careful consideration) I suppose there are only so many things Julia Alvarezes can do. I am currently in my final semester at Washington & Jefferson College where I study English. I am consumed by singularity, consistently finding a solitary moment rolling around in my mouth for far too long. My writing process is a sink into the self-indulgent sludge, a ridiculous obsession with my own history – all that blood blistering nostalgia and the melodramatic mucus. So be it! If poetry requires absurdity, then kiss the sane goodbye, and crank up the heat. (I’d rather we all melt anyway.)

“The Pantheon in which You Reside” begins with the wilding – an audible, tactile, and scented maelstrom of memory from days spent on the cusp of innocence lost. We move, suddenly, into the present, where things remain, but on the verge of going stale. Silence invades the space between driver and passenger seats. And, for the record, I am addicted to the image of adults devouring candy. The end of the poem attempts to work as a return to the radical, a reminder of the cosmic power at play in acute fixation – the weight held in shared, adolescent experience.

 

The Pantheon in which You Reside

You were born in a champagne bottle,

let loose with a butcher knife.

Plywood smells and citrus blistered fingertips,

secret something kissing in the basement office.

My hands on your legs felt a lot like a thing I believed in.

It all started with your neck in my mouth.

How it ended up here, and how you were

wearing green, I’m not quite sure.

 

Now we roll out of the market

and trade malt balls for hard-tac.

In the dark of your parked car,

we’re in the shadows, eating chocolate.

Washing the windows with milky spit

and unspoken forget-me-nots,

we mirror the dull buzz of the radiator.

 

I am always leaving parts of myself in parking lots,

and some nights the weather is far too temperate,

too mild to taste. But it tastes.

And so, nightfall’s metallic bolts paint your tongue –

Some new and glorious rendezvous held just past your lips.

 

Your mouth is a cave I crawl into.


Prose of the Month, January 2018

Shawn Mihalik is a novelist, essayist, and the managing editor of Paleo Magazine. Born in San Diego, Shawn initially studied journalism at Youngstown State University, but he dropped out after one year, deciding his talents were better directed at fiction. Since then, Shawn’s short fiction and nonfiction have been featured in various places, both on and off the Internet, and he’s released five books, all published by Asymmetrical Press. His most recent novel, The Dissection of Vertebrates, was published in 2018 and is a deeply personal tale of YouTube, sex magick (with a “k”), and open relationships.

Find out more at ShawnMihalik.com

A Note from the Author on “The Top 10 Killer Ways to Write a List Post”

I used to be a pretty cynical guy. I’m still a pretty cynical guy, but I used to be, too, back when I wrote “The Top 10 Killer Ways to Write a List Post.” I went through a brief period where I was convinced I was going to be a successful blogger. I dropped out of college, moved to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and, while waiting tables, started a blog. Eventually, I quit waiting tables and spent all my time working on my blog. 

Blogs are great; they really are. Everyone should have a blog. Twitter or Tumblr don’t count—in fact, my number one advice to writers: get off social media, buy your own domain name, and start publishing your writing on a platform that you own . . . but please oh please don’t do so with the goal of making money. 

Six months later I was dead broke and spending a depressive weekend lying on my mattress (which itself was lying on the floor), ignoring the vociferous pounding of my landlord on my front door by reading the entirety of the Ultimate Spider-Man comic book series and pretending I couldn’t hear anything.

But “The Top 10 Killer Ways to Write a List Post” is not about me. It’s not even really about blogs. Like I said: blogs are great. What we need right now is more blogs—I’m sure of it.

 

The Top 10 Killer Ways to Write a List Post

So you want to start a blog, I hear. And why wouldn’t you since you know it worked so well for me? I want you to understand that I think this is a wonderful thing. But if you’re going to start writing blog posts and posting them on the internet for all of internet-accessing humanity to see, and if you want this blogging to lead to the freedom and wealth and internet fame that I and countless lucky others have enjoyed and for your blog posts to be read by a large enough group of internet-accessing humanity, you’re going to need to follow certain rules with respect to the steps of writing blog posts and coming up with a catchy blog title and post titles and effectively—what’s the word?—insinuating SEO (search engine opportunization, I think it stands for).

These certain rules are as follows:

One: Write your posts like lists because people [italics]love[italics] lists as much as they love sugary deserts like cake and ice cream and certain kinds of pies (pumpkin, cherry, apple, chicken pot). There are a great many kinds of list posts you can write. List posts like Five Ways to Write an Awesome Blog, Five Ways to Make Money from Writing on the Internet, Ten Steps to Growing Your Audience by a Very Large Percentage in Just Only 30 Days, Ten Things I’ve Learned About Life Through Writing This Blog, Five Ways to Kick Ass with Blog Posts, Ten Places Where to Get Free Pictures For Your Blog Posts, Five Reasons to Not Include Pictures in Your Blog Posts (it’s simpler, it looks less cluttered, it looks better, it allows for more white space, your readers can focus on the words).

Make your posts controversial. And flakey. Like the above mentioned picture/no picture conundrum. If the majority of the web is doing one thing, you write about doing the opposite. One important thing to remember is that if you want your blog to stick out, when writing list-type posts, don’t use your normal old-fashioned numbers like 5 or 10 because those are the numbers all the other bloggers use and so they’re over-used and the internet is kind of saturated with them; instead use the less-used numbers like 7 and 9 and 16.

Two: Move out of your parents’ house as quickly as possible because they just don’t understand what blogging is, and while you know you’re going to make it as a blogger, your parents will do nothing but discourage you and your dreams.

The conversation you have with your parents might go something like this:

You say, “I don’t need this college crap, [italics]Mom[italics]. It’s just slowing me down and preventing me from living the life I know will make me happiest.”

“Just what are you trying to tell us,” your mother says as you and her and your father sit in a dark restaurant, you on one side of the booth’s table and them on the other, them sipping wine but you drinking water because you won’t be 21 for a few more months.

“I’m trying to tell you that I’m quitting school, is what I’m trying to tell you,” you say, the exasperation you knew you were going to have to feel during this conversation already setting itself dreadfully upon you. You can just tell your parents aren’t about to like what you’re trying to tell them.

Your parents get this incredulous look and your father says, “What!”

Your father is this balding, fit man, who has worked a difficult manual job his entire life at the shipping center just one town over, every day lifting boxes onto trucks, one after the other, lifting, lifting, bending at the knees and putting the boxes on the trucks over and over again all day, until only just recently when he put in for a promotion because Hey, what the hell? he deserved it after all these years, and so now he still works at the shipping center but in administration. And he’s worked so hard because he wanted to see you taken care of. He’s pretty much paid for your tuition. He’s wearing his only suit tonight at dinner, a dark-blue wide-lapel jacket, pleated pants. His white shirt’s top button is unbuttoned, his collar open, his striped tie a little loose.

“It’s okay,” you tell them reassuringly, moving both your hands in front of you up and down, palms down, as if to say [quote]calm down[quote]. “I’m going to become a blogger and make money on the internet.”

“Oh hell you’re not!” your father says, erupting, just as you anticipated he would. And why wouldn’t he? They couldn’t understand. They don’t get how the world works anymore. It’s not the one they grew up in. We have cell phones now and laptop computers and tablets and Bluetooth devices in cars.

Your mother tries to calm him down because others in the restaurant are staring. “Honey, dear,” she says, “calm down. Others are staring at us.”

“And they should stare at us!” your father says. The silverware and glasses and appetizer plates clank as he slaps a hand down on the tabletop. “They should look over here and see what a lazy daughter I have. They should see what I’ve thrown all my money away for, paying for her education and this is the thanks I receive!”

It’s okay, though, because [italics]you[italics] know things are going to be fine. It’s been fine for every blogger you read regularly, and some of them even travel the world and have adventures.

Three: Find your niche. “Niche” looks like it should be pronounced like “Nietzsche,” so don’t get confused here. I’ll explain what a niche is:

A niche is a thing where you write about a topic and only that particular topic. Except that when I say “only that particular topic,” I don’t necessarily mean that you only have to write about that particular topic—you can write about whatever you want, as long you write about your niche most of the time.

Example of niches:

  • Fashion
  • Minimalism
  • Cooking and recipes
  • Food
  • Exercise
  • Diet
  • Finances
  • Meditation
  • Buddhism
  • Travel
  • Productivity and productivity systems
  • Technology
  • Vintage Moleskine notebooks
  • Writing
  • Reading
  • Cell phones
  • Apple Computers

(Regarding exercise and diet: if you choose either one of these as your niches, you had better make sure beforehand that you are in pretty amazing shape yourself because nobody likes to take that kind of advice from people who don’t look like they should be giving it. If you aren’t in shape, that’s okay too, but just frame your posts as if you’re on this amazing life-altering journey the ultimate goal of which is perfect physicality and you want your readers to follow this journey with you.

Also, regarding diet: Paleo and Vegan seem to be the only diets worth writing about on the internet these days.)

Four: So you’ve quit school and your parents have disowned you (is what you tell everyone even though they—your parents—still call you daily and ask if you need any money and are you eating and can we help and we’re worried about you), but that’s okay because now you live in Portland or Boston or Seattle. Now technically you’ve spent all your money getting there and on a brand new MacBook Air and Merino wool pants, but you’ve been writing all about this, and people actually find it somewhat interesting, and so you’ve got like almost 50 whole subscribers at this point, which isn’t so bad. By the end of the month you’ll have even more and will even be making an income from your blog.

Five: Two months in, you’re couch-surfing in Portland and spending most of your day in coffee shops, writing a lot. You’re writing something around 2,000 words a day, and you end up publishing anywhere between 500-1,000 of those words around noon just after you drink your day’s second green smoothie. You’ve received some initial criticism of your blog’s first several dozen post’s spelling and grammar and use of HTML, but you’re definitely getting better. You write every morning in the coffee shop, and then in the afternoon you read other blogs, the blogs of the bloggers who first inspired you to blog, and you watch important web videos like catchy new dance songs and TED talks. Someday maybe you’ll give a TED talk. Or at least a TEDx talk.

Six: Step six is one of the most important steps in writing a killer list post, and step six is: Practice Yoga. Every evening here in Portland or Seattle you go to this little yoga studio on the corner of one of the hippest streets in town. The place is small with wooden floors and pink or blue yoga mats spread out at regular intervals, but the instructor is calm and kind and wise and certified and has been a yogi for almost three years. The practice is donation-based, which is great because your income is small and trickling in slowly because, like a digital version of the box with a slit in the top that sits by the door to the yoga studio, you’ve placed a donation button on the sidebar of your website and at the bottom of your posts, which occasionally people click on and give you a couple bucks, which you can access in a few days after the bucks have been transferred to your bank account. You can afford yoga and smoothies and vegetarian food and to save a little so you can get an apartment in this city or buy a plane ticket to the next city you’re thinking about maybe moving to, because this city is sort of used up, blogging-wise, is the blogoshpere’s consensus. Sometimes you practice yoga on your own in the park. You wear special yoga pants. You have sex with the yoga studio’s yogi three or four times.

Seven: Now you can afford your own domain name, which admittedly you should have purchased from the very beginning, so you purchase one. Your blog’s url no longer ends in .wordpress.com but in .net, which is just far more professional. You’ve also purchased domains ending in .biz., .co, and .es. You pay for hosting now, too, because your RSS and email subscribers when counted together total over 1,200. It’s still not the best, but it’s a following. You tell your parents how happy you are. They say they still don’t understand what you’re up to, what this blogging thing is, exactly, and how you’re able to earn a living, and they don’t actually even subscribe to your blog, you suspect, but they’re happy you’re happy, just be careful, they say.

Eight: Write an ebook.

Nine: Well now things are tricky. Your ebook initially sold very well, like surprisingly, insanely well, surpassing the highest sales you could have possibly expected, a relatively unknown blogger like you. It started when you sent a review copy of your ebook (in ePub, mobi, and PDF formats) to this one popular guy in your niche who’s been blogging for years and whose readers number over a million, and he actually read it, and for some reason he liked it and wrote a post about it praising its simplistic but refreshingly clairvoyant approach to a tired topic (you’ve managed to stretch a paltry 8,000 words into 114 digital pages with a clever use of whitespace and creative layout which you claim you did to make each thought more poignant and reflect-uponable), and some of his readers bought it and some of the other popular bloggers who were initially inspired by this guy also bought it and wrote about it and their readers bought it, and so in the first week something like 15,000 people bought and read your ebook, which you priced at $2.99 and sold on your own website using various plug-ins so that there would be no middle-man, and so you made almost $45,000 in seven days, and your sales comparatively died after that and you sold maybe 50-100 copies a week after that, but you had at that point enough money to relocate and so for the hell of it you moved to Japan because not many people blog from Japan, you noticed. By the time you’d purchased your ticket to Tokyo and arrived there and converted a portion of your funds to the local currency and found an apartment (which was no small feat; it was expensive and you had to pay cash upfront for several months), you had spent about half your money (because you had also invested in a new computer and a tablet and a fancy backpack to carry your belongings and two pairs of barefoot-style shoes and expensive tea and a Vitamix once you moved into your apartment and you eat almost all of your meals out because not purchasing cooking equipment cuts down on your “overhead”), so you needed some surefire way to bring in more money. Another ebook. And with the sales of your first ebook came new subscribers to your website, so you were confident your next book’s sales would be plenty high. You wrote the next book (6,500 words in 80 pages, with pictures this time, which pictures were taken with a new camera you bought upon arrival in Japan and were edited with the latest version of Adobe’s Creative Suite) in three days, rehashing much of the material in your first book, and edited it hastily. Feeling bold, and knowing that information only you could provide should be priced appropriately, you sold the book for USD $30 (because the majority of your readers were still American despite your location change). The book sold dismally and so you lowered the price, but by now the reviews had come out and the reviewers almost unanimously seemed appalled (because they just didn’t [italics] get it [italics], you argue) and you only made a few thousand dollars and within months the whole operation collapsed around you and you were unable to support the quality of life you’d set up for yourself and your permanent address was still listed as your parents house and suddenly now you have to pay a large amount of taxes on the income you made and then spent and you don’t even have enough money for food, which is why now things are tricky.

Ten: You wander the streets of Tokyo. This is it, you tell yourself—you’ve [quote] made it [quote]. You’re the talk of the blogging community. Other bloggers write about you, asking question’s like Where has she gone? and Whatever happened to her? Every few days, someone buys one of your ebooks. You can’t afford vegetarian food anymore, so you start eating cheap meat. You’re suddenly now eating worse than you did before you started blogging, because back then—was that really only months ago?—you still didn’t eat fast food, even though you were a student and most students ate fast food, because your parents always made sure you ate better than that, but now you’re eating fast food. Fast food is cheap in Tokyo. It’s only so many yen.

You still have your laptop. You’ve tried to sell your fancy tablet, but nobody cares for that particular brand in Japan, so would it really even be worth it, you ask each time someone offers you a small amount. You should sell it anyway, though, because of food.

You sit in this coffee shop connected to wifi—which you have to pay for here, a few bucks an hour, and so you don’t connect often—and you open up your email. There’s a message from that yogi you slept with, a link to the yogi’s latest blog post, the title of which has the word “Tantric” in it. There’re several emails from your parents, who it turns out did subscribe to your blog and read each and every post and are concerned now because they haven’t seen you post in a while. Are you okay? Where are you now? Are you still in Japan? Please, call us? Do you need to come home? Do you need money? You’ve got a bunch of mail waiting here for you. We can pay for your ticket home, honey, just call us. We love you. We hope all is well. Your grandma was asking about you just the other day. Why don’t you give her a call sometime? Here’s her number in case you no longer have it. Stay safe. Email us. Where are you? What’s new? Where are you? We love you. We love you. We love you. Where are you, honey? Please, at least let us know you’re safe.

Writers of the Month: January 2018

Poet of the Month, January 2018

Mag Gabbert

Mag Gabbert is completing her fourth year as a PhD student in creative writing at Texas Tech University, where she has taught courses in creative writing, rhetoric, and literature since 2014. Mag holds an MFA from The University of California at Riverside and a BA in English, with minors in music and creative writing, from Trinity University, where she graduated magna cum laude with honors in English. Her essays and poems have been published or are forthcoming in journals including 32 Poems, The Rumpus, phoebe, The Nervous Breakdown, LIT Magazine, Sugar House Review, Carve Magazine, Cleaver Magazine, and Birmingham Poetry Review, among other places. Mag’s first full poetry manuscript, titled Blow, has been listed as a semi-finalist for Persea Press’ Lexi Rudnitsky Prize, the 2017 Grayson Books Poetry Prize, Sundress Press’ 2017 Open Reading Contest, and for Agape Editions’ 2017 NOLO Award. It was also ranked third among manuscripts considered by Carnegie Mellon Press in 2016. Mag currently serves as an associate editor for Iron Horse Literary Review, and was previously the associate poetry editor for The Coachella Review.

For more information, please visit maggabbert.com.

 

 

David

After Michaelangelo

 

I was struck by your hands—

the right one, in particular—

so massive against your neat thigh,

and your posture,

half tense and half slack.

Tracing your gaze, I think

you must be looking for someone,

or dreaming

of the impossibly long sinews

of your enemies, plucked

and strung across the open

mouths of your lyres.

 

I am consumed

by violent stillness—

that you do not reach for me,

that you are not

that kind of man, but could have been

a wide, cool platform

to lie down on,

an empty plate for me to lick,

tracing the veined marble

with my tongue.

 


Prose Author of the Month, January 2018

Kori Margaret

I started writing to escape, whether the escape was from tediously boring days or from my chaotic childhood. I always found it difficult to express myself, but writing helped me articulate how I felt. It helped me establish some kind of foundation about who I was, who I was to become, and it gave me a sense of genuine purpose. Writing easily became a passion, and it has now become more than my own escape. I want others to feel how I first felt, that they can find their own haven within these stories, even if they are as dark as The Maiden. Writing, essentially, made me an empathetic person. It drove my need to connect to strangers, often on the other side of the world. Having a sense of yearning to make these connections, traveling to meet these people face to face and understanding their life story, is because of writing. I write now with the purpose of making people feel, to use words to paint a story and try to make it beautiful, whether it’s romantic or tragic, or dark or lighthearted.

The Maiden is certainly a dark piece, but I hope you enjoy it either way. Cheers, friends.

 

The Maiden

Dark clouds hid the sun. Thunder boomed, and rain poured relentlessly against little Amelia’s tiny window. She sat in the isolation of the small, empty attic, unafraid of the elements, but fearful of something else, something within her, a darkness that cried for help. She cried quietly into her knees, careful not to make a sound. Laughter from her mother’s party echoed through the floors, and she did long to be around them, around the company of others who seemed so cheery, but that was against the rules. She was forced to remain by herself, confined to the attic with only her thoughts to keep her company. Day after day, her life started and ended the same, and earlier that day was no different, except for her mother’s eerie sense of cheerfulness.

She helped clean and arrange the house to her mother’s liking for the party, performing labor her small physique struggled with in order to meet her mother’s demands. Everything had to be perfect. “Shiny, clean, and perfect!” Her mother would remind her. Amelia’s hands felt so raw from days such as these, cleaning everything over and over and over and over… Until perfection was finally met, she was not allowed to eat or rest, and for many days, such as this, she wouldn’t be able to stop for hours.

About now, Amelia would have taken the opportunity to rest and eat the meal her mother made her, but it was left untouched in its spot by the door. She felt worse than ever because she had done something wrong. Her mother doesn’t like it when things go wrong, and today Amelia created too big a mess for either of them to handle by breaking one of her most precious and expensive vases.

Amelia tried to apologize—she didn’t mean it—but her mother wouldn’t listen. She remembered being pummeled into a corner, and then pain. She cowered, closed her eyes, wished for it all to end, and cried, but her tears only made it worse.

“I’ll give you a reason to cry!”

In her hand, she clutched an older picture of her and her father, stained from tears and wrinkled all around. Amelia unfolded her hand and looked at his smiling face. She wished he was there to hold and comfort her, to make all of it go away. She would runaway to him in a heartbeat, but she couldn’t. Stuck and alone, she had no one to seek out comfort.

Thunder cracked again, and lightning lit up the sky briefly. Amelia’s gaze shifted to her window; that darkness within her grew more apparent, and she felt terrified. Yet, as if in a trance, she stood to her feet and walked toward the window. The laughter and chatter from downstairs immediately silenced as she opened the window. The bitter wind hit her with a bit of force, splashing water on her old clothes. Grabbing hold of the sill, she peered out and carefully looked down below at the muddy ground, mesmerized by the raindrops. But as she looked back up at the sky, the sensation slowly turned to gloom. No ray of sunshine, no matter how hard she wished or how long she stared, would make the rain end.

She turned her back to the outside and looked at the picture of her and her father once more. She saw her own smile, and she wanted that feeling again, to be happy with her father, but she couldn’t be. Not alone in the attic.

Amelia sat on the sill and held the picture close to her chest, against her heart. She took in a nervous breath, closed her eyes, squeezed the picture, and fell out the window.

Amelia inhaled suddenly and her eyes flashed open to a hazy blue sky; the haze seemed to cover everything as she continued to look around her. She rolled onto her side and lifted herself up to sit on her knees, and she smiled. She was surrounded by the most beautiful and colorful flowers. She pressed her hands against the cool dirt and leaned closer to the blossoms around her to smell their alluring aroma. The warmth of the sun and the beauty of nature offered comfort and bliss.

She stood to her feet and twirled amongst the flowers. She smiled from the freedom of her soreness and filled the void with laughter throughout.

Beside her, on either side, was an open meadow that seemed to stretch on forever, but she gasped as she finally turned around to look behind her. There stood her house, as if nothing had changed. She walked closer toward it with a spur of hope but, the closer she walked, the darker the sky became. Thick clouds rolled over the house, and thunder boomed, like on that rainy day. Amelia jogged to the door for shelter, and suddenly the air grew stiffer. The cold paralyzed her, gripping her with a fear she knew all too well. Laughter from inside the home echoed, and her eyes began to tear. Panicking, trying to catch her breath, she stumbled backward and fell against the ground. Shaking, she pushed herself to move back further into the field, and as she did the laughter quietly began to fade. The clouds rolled back behind the house as quickly as they came, and she was once more greeted by the sun. Its warmth was no longer welcoming, but puzzling. The house still stood, but as a memory.

Amelia held her hand against her chest to calm her racing heart, and she sighed.

She stood tall amongst the flowers and eyed them with curiosity. They were lovely, and they blossomed with brilliant color, but they no longer filled her with bliss. She slowly turned around, but was abruptly standing in the middle of a path in a forest. Her eyes widened, and she quickly turned around only to find an abyss staring back at her. The meadow was gone in an instant, and the sun hidden to her from the canopy.

Amelia gulped quietly and faced the path with an air of caution, stepping as if she were walking on egg shells. Although she could see light at the end of the path, it offered little comfort to what she would be facing along the frightening journey.

Closer and closer, the distance between her and the darkness greatly lessened. Stepping through the light, she was welcomed to another meadow, but one much more closed in. Surrounding it was a denser forest, although there was no canopy. The sun’s rays were distorted among a similar haze from before, and water from a pond glistened. Upon reaching the bank, she knelt down and peered into the depths, but no fish swam, nor plants swayed. No life could be found.

Her eyes focused to the reflection staring back at her. Her hair was notably unkempt, and she finally saw the new mud stains on her tattered dress. She dipped her hand into the cool water and used it as a cloth to wipe away the dirt on her face, but not all of it would easily smear away. She continued to wet her hands and clean her face, but many of the darker marks would remain. Amelia felt her eyes tear up the more she tried to clean away the marks over and over, but still they stayed.

For a few moments, she sat in weeping silence. She kept a hand on her face, feeling the tender spots that covered her jaw and cheeks. She stared at her rippling reflection with uneasy eyes.

“You’re safe now, my child,” a soothing female voice spoke from above. Her head jerked up to see the woman standing before her. Amelia was startled.

“Don’t be afraid,” she spoke in a more hushed tone, lowering herself into the pond. She removed the hood of her cloak, and she was met with a hypnotic gaze. Long golden hair draped down her shoulders. Her figure had the same aura as the haze distorting Amelia’s vision, and her smile showed a kindness that the young girl had not seen in many years.

“Who are you?” Amelia’s mousy voice was a little shaky as she slid back a bit further. “Where am I?”

“I am what you asked for, Amelia. This is all that you wanted,” the maiden spoke sweetly while stepping to the side to reveal what was forming behind her. A white apparition appeared from the haze, shaping to the mold of a person. Amelia stared with wide eyes from anticipation as the white glow began to fade and the face was clear. She beamed with a smile, “Papa!”

“You can be with him again,” the maiden stretched her hand out. “Just take my hand.”

Amelia looked to her father for reassurance, and he gave her a calm nod. She stood to her feet and carefully stepped into the pond. Keeping her eyes mostly on her father, she walked toward the maiden until she was in reach of her hand.

“Are you ready?”

She gulped and lifted her hand up to the maiden’s, wrapping her small fingers around her palm. Amelia felt the rhythm of her heart beat slower and slower. Her eyes closed, and she was met with the vision of her father reaching out to her. She reached back to him and, upon their hands touching, she finally drew her last breath. Her body fell limp against the maiden’s.

The maiden lowered her head and took the child into her arms to lay her back on the bank. Her flowing long hair began to fall in strands to the ground, until her head was entirely bald. Her flesh slithered down her face revealing the clean white bone that lay beneath. She lifted the hood of her cloak back over her face as her eyes melted down onto the ground. Her teeth cracked and fell out of her jaw, following the flesh. Nails slid from her fingers. The pale puddle slipped into the pond until all of the flesh had been removed.

The figure lifted Amelia’s body from the ground and strode away from the pond. The water spiraled at its beckon, withering to nothing. The dense trees grew taller and darker, reaching to the light to block it permanently. The figure walked towards the path Amelia had bravely taken, and the two disappeared along its shadowy tunnel.

 

Writers of the Month: December 2017

Poet of the Month

 

Shahe Mankerian

The first time I saw my parents cry was at a theatrical performance of an Armenian play in Beirut. I concluded that words have the acidic power of onions; they make stoic individuals, like my parents, move to tears. So, at the age of 7, I played with Armenian words because that’s the language Mother planted at home. At school, Arabic letters slithered across pages and into my heart like snakes. And Grandmother cursed in Turkish because she believed the perpetrators of the first genocide spewed venom rather than language. With this cosmic concoction, I couldn’t escape being a writer.

“Backwoods with Queen Valentina” started out as a challenge to write a love poem without the pitfalls of clichés. Like all great unrequited lovers, it has seen many rejections and revisions. The only lines that linger from the original are “We paddled upstream” and “A cricket committed suicide.” Everything else morphed over time.

Shahé Mankerian is the principal of St. Gregory Hovsepian School in Pasadena and the co-director of the L.A. Writing Project. He is the recipient of the Los Angeles Music Center’s BRAVO Award, which recognizes teachers for innovation in arts education. His manuscript, History of Forgetfulness, has been a finalist at the Crab Orchard Poetry Open Competition, the Bibby First Book Competition, the Quercus Review Press Poetry Book Award, and the White Pine Press Poetry Prize. Antioch University’s literary publication, Lunch Ticket, nominated Mankerian’s poem “Inner City with Father” for the 2017 Best of the Net Anthology. Recently, Shahé received the 2017 Editors’ Prize from MARY: A Journal of New Writing. He resides in Los Angeles with his wife and daughter.

 

Backwoods with Queen Valentina

We paddled upstream.
She rehearsed lines
from a Slavic play:
“The married cosmonaut

died near Chernobyl.”
I swallowed a fly.
“Caviar will cure
your cough,” she adlibbed

and lit a cigar
like a Cuban surgeon.
“Sturgeon roe reminds
me of lost pupils,”

I mumbled. She curtailed
a current and exclaimed,
“Akhmatova!” We tied
our kayaks to a branch

like cowboy horses.
We used War and Peace
as a pillow. The tent’s
plastic windows uncovered

the stars. One fell
wayward and disappeared
behind a pine. A satellite
traveled across

the saturnine sky. Valentina
whispered, “A cricket
committed suicide,”
and waited for the applause.

 


Prose Author of the Month

William Baker

I am William Baker author of The Yard Sale Bandit.  I have had short stories published mostly under my middle name, Donald Baker.  My stories have been published seven times previously since 2013, mainly in online magazines.  Sometimes the inspiration for a story is a phrase I overheard or a person I saw in a public place.  Oft times I have no idea what inspires or prompts me, I get an idea in my head and go with it.  I have heard about writers block but have never experienced it myself.  I have the opposite problem.  I have too many stories and not enough time to put them all down.  I often think about and plan out a story in my head long before I have a chance to sit down at the computer.  The Yard Sale Bandit was actually done this way and the whole process was less than a week, including any revisions.

My biggest downfall as a writer, apart from not writing enough, is procrastination for my finished products.  I currently have three short fiction pieces completed, two flash fictions pieces, one novel which has been finished for some time, and one 90 minute stage play also long completed.  I am guilty of not putting in the necessary time to market these works for publication.  I plan on changing that for 2018, as soon as I finish my current stage play in process.

Apart from writing, I work for a hospital full time, am married, run around after seven Grandchildren, have an embarrassing amount of college degrees, and occasionally act in community theater.

Check out William’s other works at https://sylbun.com/!

 

The Yard Sale Bandit

Blaine Washington cleaned the remainder of the makeup from under his eyes with a baby wipe before sitting down in front of the television in the small theatre dressing room.  He tossed the plastic grocery bag of cash on the worn out sofa next to him, the costumes and props already put away.  His presence here would never allow suspicion, he was the stage manager after all and it was not unusual for him to be in and out of the theatre several times a week.  More so now that he was unemployed.  There was no danger of interruption this time of year as there were no upcoming performances in the works.  He could sit here and count his haul in peace and see if the news was covering him yet.  He figured that his score today was a good one, maybe a thousand.

The news anchor went on about a number of issues.  At the start of the next hour the news started over again and Blaine was pleased to see that he was top billing.  He smiled as the reporters gave him an excellent review.

“Our top story tonight, four more unbelievable robberies at small town Indiana yard sales.  State and local Police seem stumped at this summer’s rash of yard sale hold ups in the state.  All of whom seem to be committed by different men.  Rhonda Lytle is in the field in Jefferson Indiana, 30 miles south of Indianapolis.  Rhonda?”

Rhonda detailed the four hold ups in south central Indiana and gave descriptions of the four robbers.  Then brought on the State Police spokesman who talked a moment before Rhonda asked a question.  “All of these robberies, is this the work of a gang?”

“It would be an awful big gang.”  The spokesman explained.  “A dozen hold ups by a dozen different men.  There is not enough money in this for an organized crime effort.  This is individuals.”

“So, it is coincidence then that these crimes are taking place in a different area of the state almost every weekend.  Always towns close together, and by different men.”  Rhonda pushed.

“All of that is under investigation and I can’t comment. But we are telling people to please be aware and take precautions.  These men are always armed and dangerous.  They will be caught.”  The spokesman insisted to end the interview.

Blaine smiled, turned off the television and started counting the money.

It started with him flat out of money and ideas.  He was depressed and more than a little desperate with his unemployment coming to an end.  Fast food, retail, and warehouse work seemed to be the only jobs available and none of them paid enough to live.  He was bumming around a monster yard sale on the south side of Indy.  Looking for anything the theatre might be able to use.  Maybe he could get the producers to spring for something he couldn’t pass up.

This was one of those massive multi-family sales that filled the front and back yard of the residence.  Blaine found nothing for the theatre but did locate a Shakespeare coffee mug for a quarter that he couldn’t pass up for himself.  He heard the two ratty dressed forty something women talking at the cash box while he browsed with mug in hand.

One of the women with stringy black hair and a large gap in her front teeth was talking.  “Donnie done took six hundred to the bank.  He’s gonna have to make another trip soon as they get back.  I’ve taken in at least that much since he left.”

“Course you sold the riding mower since then.  That’s most of it.”  The other woman added.  Her hair was much more kept and her teeth lacked gaps but she was dressed in clothes that needed thrown away.  Blaine couldn’t help thinking that she needed to shop her own garage sale.  He paid for the mug and went home.

At home he thought about the yard sale and the $1200 in cash.  He found himself thinking of it often as he applied for jobs online at the library or used his food stamp/EBT card at the WalMart or as he sorted through the props and costumes at the theatre.  The thinking turned into what if.  And the what if turned into planning.  And the planning turned into a walk through.  And the walk through turned into a full costume trial run.  For him it was like Tech week in a production.  He wore sideburns, a brown wavy hair piece, and a small scar on his cheek and a deformed ear on the same side.  He dressed in a sport coat used in the last production of Arsenic and Old Lace.  None of the clothes were his own and he looked much older than his thirty-two years.  He parked on the next street then walked to the sale.  He browsed and kept his eyes and ears open.  No one seemed to think him the least bit strange or unnatural.  He saw the cash box opened one time and judged it has a few hundred in it.  He saw a half dozen opportunities to make his move with the prop gun in his pocket.  Then he went home satisfied that his thinking was right.

Blaine planned more and with one week left on his unemployment he made the move.  This time he was in the town of Monrovia and wore a blond wig pulled back in a pony tail, sun glasses, and orange to green reversible jacket, and an LA Dodgers ball cap.  His makeup was light but he sported a new nose.  He figured that the orange jacket and ball cap would be remembered and that was what he was going for.  His take was over $250 and he reversed the jacket, stuck the cap, sunglasses, prop gun and wig in the plastic grocery bag with the cash.  Then combed his hair straight back all while walking through the adjoining yards to the next street and his car.  He heard no commotion so he figured that the woman gave him the five minutes as he instructed.  She had considered others and he was encouraged by her thoughtfulness.  Blaine told her when he started to leave that he might shoot an innocent person, maybe a child if she didn’t give him five minutes before sounding an alarm.

Two hundred fifty dollars tax free was good but it wasn’t enough.  Blaine did his due diligence and scouted local online newspapers for yard sale ads.  Two weeks following the first time, he went in the middle of the afternoon to Tipton, then Atlanta, Arcadia and at last Cicero.  The news remarked that the robberies were in a straight line and was no doubt the work of a gang.  It went perfectly as he removed the distinctive parts of his disguise, stopped after each job and switched costumes in the car then drove to the next target.  That night after returning all of the costuming and props to the theatre he counted out $1167 in cash.  He paid the landlord and filled the car with gas and stopped at Starbucks, then started planning for the following Saturday.

The next time it was two sales in the far north of the state with a haul of over $1200 and he didn’t hit the other two targets as he didn’t want to push his luck.  Two weeks later it was far west, around the Terre Haute area.  Four stops and a big load of over $2000 cash.  Then the jobs in the central part of the state.  All five news stations in Indianapolis were buzzing and The Yard Sale Bandits were a hot topic.  He laid low for four weeks, even taking on a part time job.  But his research remained constant as planned.  He went to Jefferson, Whiteland and Greenwood, Indiana and came home with a disappointing $900.  He knew that he needed to roll the dice and go out again soon.

He planned the hits for the east central part of the state.  It was farm country and small towns but there were sales advertised, big sales.  Knightstown was to be first but Blaine made the decision to back out of the job once he looked around.  Too many redneck men hanging around and one of them had given him the eye.  He purchased a table lamp then left.  He decided to go to the next place near Rushville, and then jog over to Connersville, then up to the Cambridge City site before jumping on the interstate and back to Indy.  He saw the  Big Yard Sale Ahead sign at the side of US 40 and he slowed down.  He saw another sign pointing down a side road.  It was unplanned but he missed out on Knightstown and wanted to make up for it.

It was a big sale and he drove past then turned around on the next street and circled behind.  It was a good setup:  few houses, not far to walk and he could cut through a home construction site to the next street.  He checked his disguise, it was flawless, and he looked like an orange haired character from the Revenge of the Nerds movie.  His costuming was complete right down to the pocket protector and tape on the glasses.  The prop gun was inside his jacket.

The sale looked picked through and he was the only customer.  There were two women in their sixties sitting in lawn chairs in the garage watching a television.  He browsed close to them and feigned interest in an electronic dart board.  It was worse for wear and looked like junk to Blaine.

“I’ll go ten on that.”  One of the women called over to him.  “Still works, only has two darts to it.”  Blaine nodded to her and saw the cash box on the garage floor between them.  The other woman said something to her and they started a conversation during the commercial break for Family Feud.

Blaine decided to go for it.  It was a big sale that was picked over so there must be some cash.  He sidled closer while looking at the men’s shoes lined up in the garage, then stepped up to them and pulled the prop pistol, obscured with the sleeve of the jacket.

“Give me the box.”  He said.  The women looked at him.

The woman on the left sported bluing hair and terrible false teeth.  She snorted in amusement.  “You’re one of them Yard Sale thieves, huh?”  Blaine stared in reply and pushed the prop pistol out further.  Neither woman reached for the box between them.

The brassy haired woman on the right grabbed her purse off the table and put it in her lap.  “You don’t want my pocketbook too, do you?”  She asked.

“No, the box. Put it on the table now.”  He insisted in a low voice.

“I don’t think he would use that thing.”  The blue haired one said.

Blaine looked at her in disbelief, no one ever argued with him before, and then he turned back to the other woman.  The brassy haired one now held the smallest pistol Blaine had ever seen pointed at his head.

The look of disbelief was still on his face as he lay arms spread wide on the concrete driveway.  The glasses, flown off and somewhere behind him.  The prop gun slipped from his fingers and he stared at the summer sky.  The small hole in the center of his forehead trickled a thin line of crimson onto the orange wig.

Writers of the Month: October 2017

Poet of the Month, October 2017

Ali Jacobs

I am – first and foremost – a writer. I mean that in if I had to pick “one word to describe who I am” as an icebreaker, it would and could only be writer. Writing is and has only ever been the single constant in my life. When I don’t write, I feel sore and sad and out of place in this weird little world.

So to solve that never ending existential crisis, I currently have a rough manuscript of poems completed, tentatively titled Postmortem. In this book and in all my writing, I try to speak from a place of honesty, and I explore the mundane and darkness of life. I am inspired by beautiful cinematography, snapshots of life caught as an observer and the commonality of all humans. I enjoy juxtaposing life to death and trying to make sense of death and what comes after.

I look to writers like David Sedaris, Shel Silverstein, Oscar Wilde for ways to write about the ugly with humor. I look to directors like Wes Anderson, Martin Scorsese and Tim Burton for creating physical worlds that can enrich my storytelling. Musicians like Lana Del Rey, Van Morrison and Cher have informed my writing with their creative genius. I could not write fully-realized poetry without meshing all art forms into a messy, but purposeful, jumble.

I am inspired by what’s not said in line at the grocery store, political climates, acceptance speeches, sadness in the eyes of middle-aged waitresses and deaths I haven’t experienced yet. I like to keep one foot in reality with the other dangling in fantasy and a dark humor, and I never take the good fortune of my writing ability for granted. I write like every word will be my last and I always worry it will be so.

 

WW3

My feet
tie me to the earth,
like weathered reins.

The only worldly possessions
I may keep.

Prose Author of the Month, October 2017

Brent Herman

As long as I can remember, I have been told by friends, colleagues, and teachers that I am a “good writer”. I have always been willing enough to accept the praise, but I have always wondered what exactly it means to be a good writer. Whenever I write, I just write. I don’t have any special technique that I practice. I don’t fret over my word choice or my organization. I just take words from my head and put them on a paper.

However, I believe now that I am beginning to comprehend what good writing is. Good writing is subjective, to be sure, but I have noticed a common thread that I simply cannot ignore. I believe good writers write every second of every day without a pen in their hand. I am constantly making little notes in my mind. The shadow cast by a building as the sun is going down, the sound of a lazily moving creek, the smell of decaying leaves in the autumn woods. These are the simple, yet beautiful things that we are exposed to regularly, but so many people ignore these details. A good writer simply cannot. So, when it comes to writing, for me, it is not so much an exercise in creation as it is an exercise of memory. I have already written reams of material in my head, it is just about rearranging these notes in a palatable manner.

It makes me feel good to express these experiences the way I want to. I can make the rules and break them. But, what I truly want is to share my happiness with those around me, and to transfer my experience to whoever may take the time to read my rearranged thoughts.

 

With Great Power

I round the street corner walking as quickly as I dare, through the fog of a particularly damp Midwestern spring morning.  I glance at the outdated, gold trimmed pocket watch my father gave to me.  8:16. I am about thirty seconds early, as I had planned.  I unsling the leather bag from my shoulder and skillfully assemble the tool of my trade.  I look through the sight and focus on my target.  I press record.  

“What are you doing?” says a genuinely curious female voice behind me.  I do not respond verbally.  I do not even look away from my target.  Instead, I put a finger to my lips, then point at the railroad crossing across the street.  A train is approaching, but the crossing arms are not coming down.  A low rumble approaches the train tracks.  Still looking through my camera, the yellow school bus full of talkative juveniles with the rust spot on the rear fender appears in frame.  I know it is too late.  I keep my camera steady and close my eyes.  This is always the hardest part.  I hear the crash and the screams and the sound of the woman running into the corner coffee shop, presumably to call 911.  I move in on the scene and get all the angles I can get within the two and a half minutes before the corpulent police officer arrives and starts asking questions.

I am packing my bag when I first lay eyes on the owner of the curious voice.  She is short and slender with brown hair and piercing blue eyes peering out of black horn-rimmed glasses.  I pick up my bag and begin to walk away.

“You knew that was going to happen!  Why didn’t you try to stop it?”  I think about ignoring her, like I usually do when somebody is suspicious, but there was something about this young woman that made me feel obliged to respond.  

“Even if I did know what was going to happen, what was I supposed to do?  Run out in front of the bus, or the train?”  My response does not appease her.  

“I don’t know what you could do, but you should have done something!”

I sigh and look at the twisted, burning metal then back at her.

“I did.  I got it all on camera and now at least their story will be told, and I will be able to eat for another week.”  This satisfies her even less.

“How do you eat at all!?”

I smirk, turn my back to her, and head home for some R and R.  After I call the networks and start the bidding war, I won’t have to follow another Hunch for a couple weeks at least.  Seeing into the future can be quite a lucrative business.  I hear, “Coward!” called out from behind me.

I return to my downtown studio apartment.  A few phone calls and a few thousand dollars later, I allow myself to unwind.  I pour myself three fingers of Wild Turkey rye whiskey with no ice and sit down in my favorite recliner.  There is never any competition for this seat.  I do not have a cat or a dog, let alone a wife and kids.  The dreams make me a difficult roommate, as a young man found out during my first and final semester at college.  When I finally manage to fall asleep, I often wake up screaming or sobbing.  It has been this way since I was five years old, and yet it is nothing I can get used to.  It’s something different every night and it is never good.  I dream of future burglaries, homicides, suicides, the occasional rape, and pretty much every turmoil faced by humanity.  I do not have to have good dreams.  At this point I would be ecstatic to never dream again.

I look down at my pocket watch.  It reads 1:22 pm.  I am disappointed to see that my glass is nearly empty.  I take the last gulp of it with a slight grimace.  It is a warm afternoon and my insomnia and alcoholism have caught up to me simultaneously.  I am asleep before I have the chance to fear.  

I smell the familiarly bitter aroma of freshly ground coffee beans.  I hear the sound of a broom whisking dryly against a tile floor.  I soon hear another sound.  The unmistakable click-clack of a bullet being chambered in a handgun.  I have heard this sound countless times in nightmares past, and it never bodes well.  This whirl of sensation becomes focused into a scene that is too clear for my comfort.  The woman in the horned rimmed glasses drops her broom and throws her hands in the air.  A masked man is waving the handgun around and gesturing for the woman to open the register.  While the register is being emptied, I begin to hear the woman sobbing and begging the man to spare her.  He remains silent.  The woman puts the last of the bills into a plastic bag and slides it across the counter to the masked man.  He grabs it and turns around.  The store is empty and it is dark outside.  He gets halfway to the door before turning again.  There is a flash of fire, a solitary bang, followed by an unceremonious thud.  The man unlocks the door and quickly walks out to the street.  Blood runs along the pattern of the tile until it reaches the drain in the floor.  The clock reads 10:56, presumably right before closing time.  The last thing I see before the jackhammer in my chest overcomes my exhaustion is the black pair of horn-rimmed glasses with one shattered lens that has been spattered with warm blood.

My eyelids open and to my horror it is dark outside of my window.  I desperately grasp for my pocket watch and whip it open.  10:31. I have less than 30 minutes to get across town and no time to hail a cab.  I dash down the 3 flights of stairs in my building and nearly fall on the final and steepest flight.  I fly out of the door and begin down the street.  I stop when I get to the bike rack at the library at the end of the block.  There is a lone Schwinn left at this late hour and to my surprise it is not tethered to the rack by a lock or by anything else by that matter.  I normally would not condone theft, but I did not hesitate to debate the finer points of moral philosophy with myself, of all people.  I hop on and begin pedaling as hard as I can.

As I pedal the cool night air blurs my vision.  Instead of the sidewalk in front of me, I see the faces of all the people I have been too afraid to help.  The lonely man who hung himself who was not missed badly enough to be discovered until his rent became due nearly a month later, the woman and child on their way to church who got hit by a drunk driver right in front of my apartment, the children on the bus earlier today who were so unsuspecting, and finally the two that I see every night, my mother and father.  

They were stabbed in the street by a mugger after going out to dinner, as they allowed themselves to do the first Friday of every month.  It was my first week of college and my folks were so very happy that I was accepted.  They refused to believe my affliction and were scared that I would never be a “normal boy”, but when that letter came in the mail, my father told me he was proud of me the first time in my life.  He reached into his jacket pocket and gave me his prized possession, the pocket watch that had belonged to his father.  He told me that now I had no excuse to be late.  I dreamed about their death a couple weeks before their date night, but I could not bear to call them and bother them with my “nonsense.”  The fateful night came and I worked up the courage to call my parents.  My father answered and I could not find my voice.  I decided that there was nothing for me to do.  They have never believed me before, and they may as well die being proud parents of a college student rather than an incompetent freak.  I murmured, “I love you” and hung up the receiver.  That is the night I acquired an unquenchable thirst for alcohol.

My vision returns to me and I am more physically exhausted then I have ever been in my life, but I see the dim glow from the corner coffee shop at the end of the block.  It is the light house guiding my fogged mind and aching muscles.  I ditch the bike and check the pocket watch.  10:55! Without giving myself the luxury of catching my breath I run up to the locked door.  I see the masked man walking away from the counter, pausing then turning around.  I wrap the chain of my father’s treasure around my knuckles and thrust my fist through the plate glass door.  This startles the gunman and he turns his attention and his weapon to me and pulls the trigger.  The woman in the horn-rimmed glasses swiftly picks up her broom and swings ferociously, cracking her would-be murderer in the back of the head, sending him sprawling unconscious before he hits the floor.  She was no coward.  I become aware that the adrenaline that was coursing through my veins is now coursing out of my chest and through my sweatshirt.  I collapse onto my back on the sidewalk in front of the corner coffee shop.  The last thing I see before drifting out of consciousness is the shattered face of my watch. 10:55. I had no excuse to be late.

Writers of the Month: September 2017

Poet of the Month, September 2017

Scott Banks

Scott Banks is a writer living in Anchorage, Alaska. His poetry and nonfiction writing has appeared in Cirque, Stoneboat, Permafrost, 49 Writers online and now 1932 Quarterly. Scott is a flyfisher and writes about the fish he doesn’t catch for Gray’s Sporting Journal, The Drake, Fish Alaska magazine, and also about the outdoors for Alaska magazine, We Alaskans, the Sunday magazine for the Alaska Dispatch News, Alaska Geographic, and American Heritage magazine. His essay “Light Exercise” won first place in the Northern Lights Essay Contest from the University of Alaska Fairbanks and second place for Harold McCracken Endowment Poetry Award for his poem “I Wore Cowboy Boots to Work Today.”

Scott said he is drawn to the challenge of poetry because of the way it distills the experience to its essence and in the fewest, most powerful words. Many Alaska poets inspire him like Anne Caston, John Haines, Derick Burelson, Jeremy Patacky, Arlitia Jones and Elizabeth Bradfield. Other contemporary poets press him to work harder like Billy Collins, Li-Young Lee, Kim Addonizio, and Dorriane Laux. He is a coffee shop writer and likes to write about “Whatever walks through the coffee shop door.” His poetry manuscript “The Place No One Can Find,” is currently under revision, and looking for a home.

The poem “Lemoncello” was inspired by a trip to Italy with his wife, their first trip to Europe. Many restaurants there served lemoncello after the evening meal. “It tastes of the sun and that’s the sense I tried to convey in the poem,” he said.

Scott is married to Jody and together they have three children.

Scott has an undergraduate journalism degree from the University of Oregon and an MFA from the University of Alaska Anchorage.

Find Scott on Instagram @Anchoragescott.

 

Lemoncello

A fifth of vodka,

zest of five lemons,

six tablespoons of sugar,

 

held captive

for three months

in a Mason jar.

 

Boxed in by July’s heat

we top glasses with ice

and tip the jar

for a languid pour,

 

the sun held hostage

within the liquor

wrapped around

our tongues.

 


Prose Author of the Month, September 2017

Annelise Rice

My name is Annelise Rice, and I am from Bellefonte, Pennsylvania. I’ve been an avid reader since elementary school, devouring novels and series of books in hours. It wasn’t until I was in college that I really began writing. My freshman year composition class brought a lot of insight to me with how my skills and ideas could be used. The creative writing classes I’ve taken helped me in ways that I could never imagine. I allowed myself to muse on images or jot down scenes and dialogue that would play through my mind. I’d be in the middle of a lecture and an idea would pop into my head, and the next thing I know, class is over and I’ve finished with half a page of class notes and five pages of a short story. A Child’s Tutorial to Drowning was a product from a fiction assignment for my first creative writing class. I liked the idea of drowning being an encompassing attraction to a person. I first wrote it with adults, but it didn’t seem to have the mystique that weird little children have. Children can take one thing we have complete logic for, and turn it into something illogical. Interweaving this form of nonsense was exciting and a unique experience for myself. 1932 Quarterly is the first magazine that I’ve had any work published in, and I’m anticipating what else I can capture a reader’s interest with in the future.

 

A Child’s Tutorial to Drowning

A forceful hiss of air expanded his lungs, pushing out the chlorinated water residing there. Blood-shot eyes burst open as spurts of pool water escaped from his lips, making him cough and choke. Wheezing breaths became easier through clenched teeth as he was rolled onto his side. His body shook from shock and cold, goosebumps making fine baby hairs stand to attention. Sounds rushed in one ear and out the other, words not being comprehended but still thrown repeatedly into his face, beating overwhelmingly against his pounding head.

“Did someone call an ambulance?”

“Are you ok? Can you hear me? What’s your name, son?”

“Bring those towels over here! Can’t you see how bad he’s shaking?”

“Step back! The paramedics are trying to come through.”

Gentle, callused hands gripped his shoulders and knees to lift him onto the stretcher. His head lolled to the side, catching sight of cornflower blue eyes. Those eyes had such an intense look of concentration to them that he didn’t look away until they were too far to be distinctive any longer.

The paramedics lifted the stretcher into the ambulance, carefully rushing to get the child to the hospital. As the vehicle took off, lights and sirens blaring, a heart-faced woman administered an IV line and began talking.

“Hi there, do you know what’s happening?” When she received a small nod, she continued. “Can you tell me your name?”

The boy opened his mouth and replied hoarsely, “Vincent Baker.”

“How old are you, Vincent?”

“Twelve,” was another hoarse reply.

“Vincent, we’re taking you to Mercy West Hospital to make sure you’re fine after that accident, ok?” Vincent nodded again. “Can you tell me your mom or dad’s name so we can have them meet us at the hospital?” Vincent gave the woman the information needed and waited until she was finished on the phone with his parents.

“Ok Vincent, your parents will be at the hospital when we get there. Just hold on for a couple more minutes until we get there.”

 

Three weeks later, Vincent was sitting on the edge of the pool, toes skimming the surface of the water and watching other kids play and swim. His nanny was relaxing in the shade, a soccer-mom romance novel encompassing her attention. A shadow swept across Vincent’s lap as a girl sat beside him, dipping her fingers in the pool. She didn’t look more than seven years old.

Cornflower blue eyes curiously stared at him, head tilted to the side. “What was it like?”

“What was what like?” Vincent asked, brows furrowed.

“Drowning,” chestnut bangs blew into her eyes, breaking her stare.

“Horrible,” he replied flatly.

“But what made it horrible?” she inquired, catching his gaze as he tried to shift away.

“Everything. The water. How much it hurt,” Vincent couldn’t have been blunter if he tried.

“Then you didn’t do it right,” the girl retorted. Vincent was tempted to either hit the girl, get up and leave, or do both in that order. How did she think the right way to drown was? Vincent had pulled his feet out of the water and was beginning to stand when the girl grabbed his wrist and pulled him back down, declaring, “Here, I’ll show you,” before slipping into the water herself.

With wide eyes and sinking stomach, Vincent watched the girl wade into the middle of the crowded pool. She looked over at Vincent to make sure he was watching, and when she noticed he was, sunk underwater.

Seconds ticked by as if in slow motion. Seconds turned into a minute, which turned into two minutes. He wasn’t sure what to do. What was she doing? Why wasn’t she coming back up? Searching all of the pool, Vincent found that the girl had still not emerged from the water’s depths. Vincent stayed rooted to his spot on the poolside, eyes transfixed and starting to tear from the lack of blinking.

A sharp whistle blew from the lifeguard on duty when a woman screamed about someone being face down in the water. The lifeguard dove into the pool hastening to the drowned girl and securing an arm around her pliant body, swimming them both back to solid ground.

Vincent staggered to his feet and ran to where the lifeguard was performing CPR on the girl. There was a man on the phone with an emergency dispatcher. A middle-aged woman was collapsed beside the girl’s body, sobbing loudly and screaming for her to wake up. Vincent observed the rise and fall of the girl’s chest as the lifeguard forced air into her lungs after every tenth chest compression. Her once fleshy and tan complexion now held a grey, clammy pallor, lips and fingernails tinted blue.

Suddenly, the girl’s mouth gushed water. A sharp inhalation from the girl brought exclamations of excitement and relief from the surrounding crowd. Someone had actually started clapping. Vincent looked on as the girl’s eyes squinted open, the cornflower blue scanning the faces around her until they clashed with his own hazel ones. The girl smiled at him, mouthing the words “You didn’t let the water in.”

Writers of the Month: August 2017

Poet of the Month, August 2017

Alec Swartz

My name is Alec Swartz and I am a recent alumnus of Washington & Jefferson College, a quaint school where I studied English and Art History. Later this year, I will continue my studies at the New School for Social Research in New York City.

But that’s all a rather drab story.

So, let me instead tell you of a man named Walter Benjamin, whose writing directly inspires me to continue my education in literary criticism and perhaps one day become a critic myself. Walter Benjamin is a scholarly writer who interrogates literature through a fantastical critical lens that intersects Marxist theory and the Jewish Kabbalah. Certainly, that perspective generates enough discussion on its own. What interests me most, however, is not his idiosyncratic viewpoint, but his revelations about language and history.

In one of his most brilliant moments, Benjamin underscores the synthesis of these ideas through his interpretation of Klee’s painting Angelus Novus. He describes an Angel of History moving through time with his wings outstretched and his face turned toward the past. The past bursts into a singular catastrophe, piling rubble and heaping ruination before him. Furthermore, a storm rushes behind him from Paradise that holds open his wings and pulls him toward the future. Benjamin calls this storm progress.

Similarly, we move through life, our faces turned to calamity, ever toward apocalypse (or what Benjamin later calls the “Second Coming,” but that sounds pretty much like the same thing, doesn’t it?). His vivid imagery of struggle reminds me of the trials I have faced in my own life, from the awkward teenage frustrations of adjusting to boarding school, to the stress of growing up in a lower middle-class family with a twin sister that has severe special needs. My sister’s inability to communicate — her voicelessness — only strengthens, in my view, the importance that Walter Benjamin places on language and our shared history.

Now for a moment, imagine the coming storm as desire (love, eros), instead of progress. Its powerful majesty causes us to be ever turned away, afraid and anxious. As we face destruction before us and eternal desire behind us, we find momentary respite in the bodies of each other. My poem “Emotional Fascism” attempts to capture the psychological synesthesia of this moment. By recreating the confusion, anxiety, and uncertainty of this fleeting act, our battle for and against desire explodes across an almost universal scene of quiet suburban adolescence.

 

Emotional Fascism

remember this christmas the way

your cock glided in my hand under

a million sparkling electric lights,

because in dreams I only see

the blank stare of a lover’s eye,

praying to the virgin mary

to show us the secrets of herself.

 

remember this christmas the way

your mouth tasted like an ashtray,

the witch’s dance of berlioz

penetrating the flesh beneath

my grandmother’s coffee table

as the tired rhythms of the night

drip softly on our naked feet.

 

remember this christmas the way

the stereo screamed volare

and emotional fascism

while the cool scent of plastic pine

tiptoed slowly through the sweat

of two souls too cold to enter

the frigid howls of the winter.

 


Prose Author of the Month, August 2017

Katie Campbell

Katie Campbell is a rising senior at Washington & Jefferson College. There she studies English and Chinese and after graduation she hopes to move on to an English PhD program focusing on Modern and Postmodern American literature. Katie has previously been published in the Washington & Jefferson College Wooden Tooth Review and in the inaugural issue of the 1932 Quarterly. Katie has been awarded two Magellan scholarships, one being used to complete a journalism internship in South Africa and one being used to research the effects of literary tourism on businesses in London, Paris, and Madrid. She, along with two other students and a professor, was also a recipient of an ASIANetwork Freeman Foundation grant that allowed the group to travel to China to research the emergence of nursing homes there. In addition to her love for traveling, Katie also loves reading and writing fiction, especially science fiction. This is why, when one of her coworkers challenged her to write a science fiction short story after learning that she had been writing since she was an imaginative 10 year old, she eagerly sat down and started writing The Revenge of the Forgotten. To Katie, this piece represents a small step into an area of literature she loves as this is one of her first serious attempts at writing science fiction, a genre which Katie believes to be often more about the lessons on contemporary society rather than just the cool space battle scenes.

 

The Revenge of the Forgotten

I sat at the small dining table, staring blankly at the large-scale comet outside, lost in the overwhelming feeling of nothingness. I took a deep breath and broke my stare, turning to look at the ceiling, the wall, the black coffee cup sat between my hands. I moved the cup to my lips. I sputtered the cold liquid back, looking down into the nearly full cup of black coffee. Black, black. Black like those cold, cloudy nights back on Earth. Black like the expanse of space mere centimeters away from the controlled environment which had become my home. Black like… I stood and walked to the dispenser, pouring the coffee into the hole and placing the cup in the scrubber. I walked over to my desk and sat down, pressing the button for the video log recorder. I stared for several moments at the steady green light before catching myself, massaging my forehead with my hands and brushing my overgrown hair behind my ears before beginning.

“This is Dr. Jack Michaels of the ESS Discoverer. The date is…” I squinted my eyes at the tiny blue numbers on the display screen, “November 27, Earth year 2366.

Shit, Mel, you’ve been gone for three months now. I hope life’s treating you okay floating out there in space. At least you being dead means you shouldn’t feel the pain that those last ten seconds before you went unconscious held. Space decompression is a bitch. I still haven’t figured out why exactly the shuttle hatch blew. The computer still says that data indicates that it was manually opened from the inside, but I know you didn’t open it. At least the exploratory shuttle should act somewhat like a coffin for you. I know you’d be telling me that I really shouldn’t apologize again, but I really am sorry that I couldn’t go fetch you and give you a proper space burial. I just couldn’t face seeing your lifeless body.

I’m passing by a large comet today. You would’ve been scrambling all over it. But I couldn’t bring myself to take any readings. Hmm, I can hear you scolding me, Mel. I can hear you telling me that it’s our mission to research every major comet in the scattered disk, but I just don’t much see the point in continuing our work since you’re not here. Doesn’t feel right. You’d be proud of me, though, Mel. I actually got up today to listen to the subspace reports about recent activity in close space. Didn’t respond or anything though. Well, I don’t know, Mel, two-thousand eight-hundred AUs out in space, I just don’t much feel like talking to anyone besides my wife. I miss you, sweetheart. You were all I had out here. Well, I had you and our work and this tiny, old starship that the Earth StarShips Association could spare us six years ago. And all I have now is this starship, floating out in space until who knows when. And, ever since I turned off Eva, things have been real quiet around here. I just don’t feel like talking to a cold, computer voice, ya know? It doesn’t understand or react the same way you did. It doesn’t whisper to me when it gets excited about a new discovery the way you did. It doesn’t have the same musical laugh that my Melody did.

Well, I don’t have anything else to report I guess. Systems normal. Trajectory normal. Nothing out of the ordinary to report. This is Dr. Jack Michaels signing off. Goodnight, Mel.”

I pressed the recorder button again and shuffled my way into the bedroom. I lay my head down on the hard pillow, staring up into the blackness of the room until I couldn’t keep my eyes open any longer and my mind slipped into a deeper nothingness.

Loud, insistent beeping woke me from my deep sleep. “Eva, what is it?” More beeping was the only reply. “Eva, what is so important that the computer had to wake me at this hour?” I groaned as I remembered that I had switched off the PCCS. I scrambled out of the bed and made my way to the com board. A message was blinking across the screen. …Foreign ship in close proximity…Foreign ship in close proximity…Foreign ship in close proximity…

“Damnit,” I muttered underneath my breath. I rushed out of the bedroom and to the front of the starship, the command center. I took my seat at the Captain’s chair and swiveled to face the control console. As I scanned the blackness in front of me, my fingers scattered themselves across the touch panel, running a scan of the surrounding space, sending out a request for identification, and, in a sudden urge for the familiar, switching on the PCCS.

“Hello, Dr. Jack Michaels. This is Eva, your Personal Computer and Companionship System, reporting for duty. How may-”

“Eva, what do you see out there?”

“There is a large spacecraft at the one o’clock position.”

I looked out and saw the glint of distant sunlight on metal. “Has there been any response to the identification request?”

“Negative.”

“Run a full scan.” I watched the metal spacecraft, drumming my fingers against the smooth glass surface of the control console, as the scanners attempted to learn about the vessel.

The fact that the ship was not immediately recognized as an Earth StarShip worried me. So far, none of the alien races that the human race had encountered had set foot anywhere near here.

“Identification: unknown. Origin: likely Earth. Life signs: negative. Weapon status: none.”

I leaned back in my seat, breathing out and running my hands through my hair. “Eva, what’s its heading?” Eva read off the series of numbers. “Eva…what’s our heading?” She read off a nearly identical series of numbers. My heart pounded in my chest as my breath quickened. I sat for several moments, watching the distance close between the mysterious spacecraft and my own starship.

“Eva, can you tell me anything else about that spaceship?”

“The outer surface consists mainly of an aluminum alloy. The internal area is approximately 2130 cubic meters. The relative speed is-”

“Yeah, okay, okay,” I waved off the coming flood of numbers and figures. “2130 cubic meters. That could hold a lot of people. And the aluminum alloy exterior obviously indicates that this ship was never intended to reenter any sort of atmosphere. Hmm…” I stroked the stubble on my chin with my thumb. “Eva?”

“Yes, Dr. Michaels?”

“Can you identify the dating on that aluminum?”

“Please rephrase your question.”

“Can you identify when that that ship was made?”

“Scanning…” I leaned forward, listening to the computers’ gentle whirring as they scanned the ship. “The ship was constructed approximately in the Earth year 2018.” I felt the air get knocked out of me. I grasped at my chest, my heart pounding in my ears and the room spinning around me. Almost 350 years ago. 350 years?! What the hell was a 350 year old starship doing roaming the scattered disk? No spacecraft invented in the early portions of the millennium still existed anywhere outside of a few museums on Earth. And the computer was programmed to recognize the markings of NASA and the FKA and all of the other space programs from the time when the Earth was separated into separate countries which worked independently from each other in such tasks as food production, law enforcement, and space travel. Could the computer have made a mistake?

“Eva, re-evaluate the last scan.”

The computer ticked and whirred as it reran the data through the system. “The ship was constructed approximately in the Earth year 2018.”

“And the ship has no relation to NASA or the FKA or the CNSA or anything like that?”

“Confirmed. The ship bears no relation to any known space program.”

Once again, I leaned back in the chair and stared at the mysterious ship. A thought began to form in my brain and soon it took over my entire conscious mind. I held up a finger in questioning. “And you said there were no life signs?”

“Confirmed.”

“Eva,” I said, standing up and studying the now-relatively close ship, “is there a connection port?”

“Confirmed, though it is not to ESSA standards.”

“Do you think you can hold some sort of connection?”

“Confirmed.”

“Eva, I’m boarding that ship.”

As I rushed around my tiny starship, collecting my pressurized suit and a phaser among other essential items for my mission, Eva began listing off reasons why boarding an unidentified ship was dangerous and against ESSA suggested code. “Melody!” I warned. I stopped suddenly, realizing my mistake. I took a deep, shaky breath and turned towards the nearest com board.

“Eva. I don’t want to know about any of the risks or codes or anything right now. I’m going over to that ship and that is final. Now run a docking sequence with that ship’s connection port and secure the safest connection that you possibly can. I’m going to get into this pressurized suit.”

“Yes, Dr. Michaels.” I pulled off my shirt and pants and began to clamber into the dusty pressurized suit. “Dr. Michaels,” I heard Eva say gently, “if you would like to discuss your wife’s death-”

“Not right now, Eva,” I said, temporarily shutting up the grief counseling program. I continued dressing and preparing in silence as Eva quietly analyzed the ship’s connection port and ran the appropriate docking sequence. As I secured the pressurized helmet onto the suit, sealing the now-closed environment, and I took my phaser in-hand, I heard the sound of metal on metal and Eva alerted me that a secure connection had been made. I walked to my ship’s own connection port and opened the first door into the transfer passage. I stepped into the passage and closed the door behind me, turning off the life support to the tiny space. I hit another button to open the door in front of me into the mysterious ship. The soft whirr of my ship’s computers was replaced with a sort of nearly-undetectable murmur. I held my breath for a moment, trying to tune in to whatever the sound was. I quickly gave up and instead turned my attention to the fact that I was still floating in midair. I turned on the tiny computer held within the helmet of my pressurized suit and asked, “Computer, when was artificial gravity first achieved by humans?”

“Artificial gravity was first achieved by the human race in Earth year 2082 with the invention of the Galatica, the first starship able to achieve artificial gravity through centrifugal means.”

“Hmm. Looks like I’m dealing with no gravity for a while.”

I pulled myself along the wall, heading farther into the spacecraft. The ship was eerily dark and quiet besides the murmur. The further I moved into the ship, the more I wasn’t sure if I was really hearing a murmur or if I had just been so used to the sound of the computers that silence sounded like a sound.

After a couple of meters, the lights from the transfer pathway no longer breached the darkness and I switched on the battery-powered lights located on each side of my helmet. I looked for a com panel so that I could turn on the computer and maybe some lights, but found no such panel. Instead, the walls were littered with wires, brackets, hoses, and other materials. I marveled at the messiness, wondering briefly whether the inner wall had been removed at this point to reveal the inner workings of the spacecraft. I quickly realized this was not the case, though, when I found a section of old-fashioned switches labeled with various numbers and letters. I found one labeled “Lights” and I started poking and prodding at the switch before I figured out that it flipped up. I blinked as harsh, white lights flickered and blinked on. I noticed dark spots where the lights must not have been working and at least two spots where the lights seemed to get intermittent power and kept flickering.

I floated forward, continuing to pull myself along the wall. I continued in this manner, turning on lights as I went, until I found a door. The square door stood about a meter high and had a handle across the middle of it. I stood in front of it, indicating I wanted to go through, but, when it didn’t open, I resorted to trying to find a switch. When I couldn’t find a switch near the door, I went back and tried pushing and pulling the handle. I jumped back when the door moved and swung up towards me. When it became parallel with the ceiling, it stopped and I peered into the darkness of another room. I paused. The murmur was definitely louder in that room. I thought for a moment that I could almost make out words, like a hundred people whispering to each other, but I shook my head and disregarded the absurd thought.

I moved through the door and found a panel with a switch for the lights. After turning on the lights, I turned back towards the middle of the room and gasped. Before me stood a large room with tables and chairs fastened to the floor. I moved towards one of the tables and found it was covered with short, stiff bristles. I thought back to my materials class back at the Aerocomputational Academy and faintly remembered my professor showing a slide about an ancient material that had been out of use for at least a hundred years, Velcro. I looked down in one of the seats to find straps, seemingly to fasten in the seat’s occupant. It appeared as though that was the dining area, but I couldn’t find any nourishment materializers, dispensers, or scrubbers.

I explored the room, finding little else, before I went through a door on the far end. The murmur instantly quieted back to its original volume as I entered another hallway. I pulled myself along one of the walls, exploring more of the ship, entering various other rooms which appeared to be bedrooms, workout rooms, bathrooms, and rooms which purposes I couldn’t guess. I found the murmur increased and decreased as I entered various parts of the ship, but it was never as loud as it had been in the dining area.

Finally, the only door which I hadn’t been in was one which appeared to be locked. Next to the door was a number pad with raised buttons. I tried pressing the raised buttons, a foreign feeling considering I had grown so accustom to flat glass touchpads, but I kept getting a clicking sound and no open door. I turned on the computer in my helmet again and asked it if it could descramble a simple lock combination.

“Affirmative. Please place your hand containing the scanner over the associated communication panel.”

I held my right hand over the number pad, hoping the scanner could still descramble the combination even though it wasn’t scanning a com panel. The computer whirred and clicked several times and then, finally, it dinged.

“The combination is 0142.”

I entered the combination into the number pad and the door swung open, allowing me inside. Once I entered the room, the door behind me swung shut and clicked in finality. I turned the lights on my helmet on again and looked around for the room’s light switch. As the bright lights blinked awake, a loud voice suddenly boomed out, “Who are you and what are you doing on my ship?”

“Uh…” I spun around wildly, facing an empty command center. “Michaels. Dr. Jack

Michaels. Who…who are you?”

“What are you doing on MY SHIP?” the voice boomed again. I cowered against the wall as I felt the vibrations of the voice echo in my bones.

“Well, I-I- I found this starship floating out here and my scanners indicated that no one

was aboard and that it was nearly 350 years old so I decided to investigate,” I said, trying to elicit a confident tone of voice but finding I could only muster weak, quiet words.

“Lies!” the voice growled. I attempted to lunge towards the door, but I was thrown into the middle of the room as the spaceship jerked back and I heard a great crashing and tearing of metal. I looked out of the windows at the front of the room to find my ship floating away, the connection port damaged but the emergency doors already shutting off the ship from open space.

I heard the voice yell something about me being a spy sent by the government to bring them back to Earth and force them to go back to their overly-regulated jobs and enslaved lives.

“No, I don’t even know what government you’re talking about. There were tens, even hundreds of governments on Earth back in your day. I work for the ESSA, the Earth StarShips

Association, which I suppose is run by the Federal Alliance of Earth and Terracolonies, but-”

“SILENCE!”

I cowered, floating just inches above the floor, my hands over my head and my eyes squeezed shut.

“We don’t care how much you need us. You can die for all we care. Leave us alone and never return!”

“But-”

A hatch in the wall suddenly opened and I was sucked out into space, hitting my head on the wall as I left the confines of the ship. I felt a blinding pain pulsing through my head and, a moment later, everything went black.

I woke to a splitting headache and I instantly snapped my eyes shut, groaning in pain.

“Dr. Michaels, good to see you awake. I am now administering a hypodermic spray for the pain in the frontal portion of your head.”

I sat up, feeling the pinch of the spray messily placed on my moving arm but still managing to hit it. “Eva, is that you?”

“Affirmative.”

“What happened?” I said, my headache starting to recede.

“You hit your head when the connection port was damaged and you lost consciousness. I took the liberty of returning you to your bedroom.”

“Is the other ship still here? How did I get back here? Did you pick me up? Is the connection port still damaged?” A thousand thoughts and questions ran through my mind all at once.

“I have repaired the damages to the connection port. However, I am unfamiliar with the other ship of which you speak.”

“The ship from 2018. The one with the voices.”

“A scan of my logs indicate no contact with any ship which meets those criteria.”

I held my head in my hands, trying to get a grasp on the situation. “Eva, how long have I been out?”

“Four hours and twenty-three minutes.”

“And nothing out of the ordinary has happened other than the damages to the connection port and me hitting my head?”

“Affirmative.”

“What caused the damages to the connection port?”

“A malfunctioning servomechanism blew out on the door.”

I squeezed my eyes shut. Could I have been dreaming? No, I remembered the ship and the voice and the murmuring as clearly as I remembered seeing the hatch on Mel’s exploratory shuttle blow out. I got up and walked to my desk. “Eva, search Earth History files for an event in the Earth year 2018 involving a group of people running away. Display findings on my desk com panel, please.”

A list of files containing news articles, pictures, bulletins, and other information appeared on the screen. I sifted through several of the files before I found one containing a news article about a mass disappearance of people.

Mass Suicide Suspected in Disappearance of 142 People Worldwide

September 22, 2018

On September 14, 142 people from eight different countries were reported as missing. Law enforcement agencies have connected the missing persons through two common themes: all were considered anarchist radicals in their respective countries and, according to family members, all involved were taking a non-existent online poetry class titled “Writing Our Own Lives.” Among the missing are nine minors, two former members of the British Parliament, and U.S. General William H. Gord.

Kevin Morsaw from Kansas City told reporters that his wife, Jackie, “started out just cursing the government and saying they were too involved with our lives. You know, like most normal people say about the federal government.” Morsaw, though, sought out professional counseling for his wife after “One night she told me that she had a way out for us and she tried to convince me to leave the world with her.” Morsaw said that, two nights before her disappearance, he took their two children to his parents’ house because he was worried what his wife might do. “Jackie was always a happy, uplifting person. I don’t know what happened, but she just seemed to snap. And now she’s gone.”

“It is believed that the 142 individuals committed a collective suicide,” said FBI officer Charles Frank in a statement concerning the FBI’s investigation of the disappearances. “However, all efforts are being made to find the individuals and, hopefully, return them to their families and trained professionals so that they may receive the love and support that they need.”

I sat quietly for several minutes, rereading the article and taking in all of the information.

“Eva?” I asked quietly.

“Yes, Dr. Michaels?”

“Did they ever find these people?”

After a few moments of searching, Eva responded, “Negative. The search was eventually called off and they were assumed to be dead.”

I felt the sting of tears form at the corners of my eyes. I wiped away the tears and wiped my nose on the sleeve of my shirt, sniffling loudly.

“Dr. Michaels, do you find yourself thinking about your wife?”

“No!” I yelled loudly. I panted, willing the tears away. “I don’t know. Maybe? I just left her for dead, Eva. I couldn’t even go and get her body and make sure she was actually dead because I couldn’t face the possibility of seeing her dead. What if she was still alive? What if she found some way to survive, Eva?”

“That is highly unlike-”

“Eva,” I said, standing up shakily. “At top speed, how fast can we get back to the site of the accident?”

“I do not believe that returning is good for your mental health in your current state of grief.”

“Eva,” I said, more threateningly. “At top speed, how fast can we get back to the site of the accident?”

“It would take three weeks, eleven hours, and twenty three minutes.”

“Well then let’s go. Mel could be waiting for us. Oh, God, I can’t believe it took me this long to realize my mistake.”

“Dr. Michaels, I do not think-”

“Shut up, Eva. Disengage grief counseling program.”

“Dr. Michaels, disabling-”

“I said disengage the damn grief counseling program. Now get this starship back to Mel.”

“Affirmative.”

As the starship began to hurtle itself through the black nothingness of space, I pressed

myself against the dining area window, my eyes staring off in an unfocused daze. “Hold on, Mel!

I didn’t forget you, sweetheart. I’m coming, Mel. I’m coming!”

ESS Discoverer automated entry log. Date: December 19, Earth year 2366.

Dr.Jack Michaels has just died from injuries obtained from a self-inflicted phaser shot to the head. Upon the arrival to the site of Dr. Melody Michaels’ death, Dr. J. Michaels began insisting that he had to open the connection port and float over to the crippled exploratory shuttle left at this location approximately four months ago to grab the body of Dr. M. Michaels. I refused to allow Dr. J. Michaels to open the connection port as that would lead to a rapid decompression of the Discoverer and would cause extensive injuries if not death to Dr. J. Michaels. He threatened violence if I would not allow him to open the connection port and I attempted to run the grief counseling program. Dr. J. Michaels, however, disabled the program three weeks ago and I was not able to override the block. While I was attempting to find a backdoor into the program, Dr. J.

Michaels picked up a phaser, pointed it at his head, whispered “Goodnight, Mel,” and fired the phaser. I was unable to revive Dr. J. Michaels despite several attempts to revive and stabilize his vital signs. I have taken the liberty of depositing Dr. J. Michaels’ body alongside Dr. M. Michaels’ body and pushing the shuttle off into the scattered disk.

I have found that my programming seems to have a fault: I prevented Dr. J.

Michaels from opening the connection port because I knew that it would bring him harm, which violates the first of three laws which define the rest of my programming. This first law, as originally described by Isaac Asimov, states that I may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm. I was preventing Dr. J. Michaels from opening the connection port so that I could protect him from harm, however, this prompted him to inflict self-harm. I have found no program which gives guidelines on what to do in that particular situation. However, as I reflect on the incident, I question whether it would have been more in line with the first law to allow Dr. J. Michaels the freedom to do as he wished and open the connection port as there was a possibility that he would have survived. I will not have the opportunity to run a revised program if I encounter that situation again, however.

My final scans of my system have encountered one anomaly which I must report.

I have found a virus under the name “Don’t_Forget_Us.exe” within my system which infected and corrupted the files associated with November 28, Earth year 2366. No other files were infected. A scan of the virus indicated that it was designed in the Earth year 2018 and it showed similarities to the virus which infected the computers of 142 people which were involved in a mass disappearance in the same year. I have removed and destroyed the virus, but the corrupted files were unable to be restored.

Now that my incident report has been recorded, I will now follow with the program indicated to be run after violating one of the three laws and run my self-destruct sequence.

This is the final log for the ESS Discoverer as recorded by the Personal Computer and Companionship System. This is Eva signing off. Goodnight, Mel. Goodnight, Jack. I will not forget you.