A gentle white line crawls across the sky barely visible in the daylight. A small white line that spreads like a crack in a car windshield in mid-winter when the ice resting on the glass covers the damage until it becomes too large to fix. Ice covering up horrors that lie waiting at night while driving home when the windshield finally gives way and shattered glass slices hands open and buries into hair and skin. The glass gave way and so will the sky when the crack spreads like tree limbs reaching out in all directions to catch the sunlight. The cracks catch the sunlight and we begin to wonder what’s happening when we see the sky riddled with fine lines as if we’re living in a broken eggshell. We’re living in a broken eggshell whose cracks snake further across the sky each day; in thin white threads almost invisible against the baby blue weave of the sky. White threads that we decide to overlook until they become something more. It becomes something more when a piece of sky, a piece of sky as soft and blue as a lamb’s eyes falls to the ground. Falls to the ground and disintegrates into a fine blue dust that slides off everything that it touches. It slides off everything, even hands as we all try in vain to collect bits of dust to figure out a way to fill the dark hole in the sky.
A hole. A square black patch twinkling with faraway stars is set firmly in the blue expanse. The faraway stars twinkle in the daytime against black velvet, like a lighthouse beacon that warns a sailor too late that he approaches land and he only has a last moment to say his prayers before his boat splinters against the rocks. We only have a moment to say our prayers because we see the stars in the daylight and no one can do anything but watch the sky crumble. Watch the sky crumble and the break grow wide as the sky falls in chunks. Falls in chunks and disintegrates into heavenly sky dust that falls onto our dying earth. It assails us with the blue shimmering that floats through the air and slides through our fingertips. Our fingertips grasp at the shimmering in vain, trying to collect it to put the sky back where it belongs. We try to collect the sky in vain as we are gradually swallowed by the blackness of space and surrounded by the beacon of the stars.
Repent is inside gumball boxes. Devils
the color of red tissue paper.
raw. Eyes water. Sweetness.
Was it worth it? A residue
staining teeth yellow.
Read the small print:
“A redeeming bible verse in every box.”
Open it with fingers:
sticky from sin and strain
to read each verse
the one who will never say…
What did you want to say?
Words on your lips,
but only roses emerge.
Their thorns cut.
There should be paper to catch these tarnished words.
Mouth swelling with the unsaid
Pull out the roses
and tell your secrets away to me.
Be assured that I can keep them.
Down the train tracks that have never stopped smelling like grease and oil except when the rails freeze and that has not happened this winter. Down the hill and into the marsh there’s a marble stone long ago greyed to the color of concrete and overgrown with moss. A rectangular section is carved out and creates the perfect place to stare out at the marsh. It’s fifty six degrees in January. The tree branches creak in the wind; bumping into each other without their heavy load of leaves. Snow should weigh them down, but this year it hasn’t snowed, not yet, maybe not ever. Everything smells like fresh soil. Soil that comes from the earth and not the soil that comes in bags to lay down on a garden bed. I would believe that it is March, except that the songbirds are gone and only the crows remain, staring with their eyes that are as cold and black as marsh water. They ruffle their feathers and open their black beaks to crow at me as I walk past.
A thin layer of ice attempts to take the marsh. It floats on top of the water in the hopes that it can spread further. The ice must be content to float on top of the water in the shade, out of the reach of the rays of the sun. The sun that makes the ice so beautiful in the dead of winter and helps it reflect every color imaginable back at the sky, now must be avoided by the ice for fear of melting. Ice isn’t as even as it first seems. The water freezes in small ripples along the bank and not in one fine sheet as I always imagine. It’s not perfect and it doesn’t have to be. Nothing has to be. These ripples of ice in February make me wonder how much longer we have until all ice disappears from the world completely. It will become a distant memory, or a myth that only children believe.
The things I carry are based on emotional significance. The objects in my bag show my interests and their weight gives me comfort when things go wrong. My memories are also based on emotional weight. Sometimes good memories come to the surface during the day and I begin laughing for no reason, but other times bad memories appear. They take over and I experience them again and again. Anything that I can connect to emotionally holds significance, whether it is an object or a memory.
It’s almost like objects have a memory of their own that they communicate when I see or touch them. Every object has a past and memories attached to it. My ballet slippers are becoming tattered and worn from only a half year of use. Dirt coats the bottom and rests in the creases of the canvas. The slippers remind me of how dance makes me more confident and gives me the drive to put my mental health before my school work. My little blue writing notebook also goes with me everywhere because it holds my memories from past years and is a record of my progress as a writer. My notebook brings my ideas to life and serves as a reminder to my good and bad memories. Both objects allow me to escape into creativity and can either remind me of my past or distract me from it.
Objects can awaken old fears and old happiness, but they can be left behind. I get rid of my ballet slippers and I can fill up the notebook, but the memories I carry with me are always treading on the surface of my mind. At their worst, the memories awaken fear and anxiety. My palms begin shaking, I can feel my face flush, my heart pounds and I break out in a cold sweat. These memories are the ones I imagine telling and have told, yet no matter how much I think about them, write about them or try to talk them out, they will not leave me alone. I can forget them while dancing and I can write long narratives, but as soon as I stop the memories come flowing back. They’re the memories of trying to make things right and dealing with problems that are beyond help.
Then, there are the good memories. They’re the funny ones that I never get tired of telling or the powerful ones that often only hold meaning for me. For every bad memory, I have an equally good one to compensate for it. I remember one night, the last night at camp. I laid down in the grass with my two friends away from the loud music from the dance. We stayed there gazing up at the sky and counting the shooting stars, promising ourselves that next year we’d come back. I remember being so happy and feeling so rested despite having little sleep over the three weeks I was there. I wanted to stay at camp where I was surrounded by fields and forests. I didn’t know what to wish for; I just didn’t want the night to end. It was one of the most peaceful moments of my life so I will always keep the memory with me. The heaviness of the bad memories never seems so awful when I have the good memories to counteract them. Objects and memories both hold emotional weight, but if they evoke good memories, they both seem weightless.
She walks on stage and the crowd gasps. She is not like the other dancers or like anyone that they’ve ever seen. Most people in the world are glass. Clear and transparent, they rely on the shaping of their bodies and bright sunlight to make them visible. This girl is made of glass too, but a different kind. She is the only mirror.
Bright, white stage lights bounce off her body, and she does not move so that the audience can see the full extent of her beauty. She reflects strong hues in all colors, an embodiment of a living rainbow. The lights hit her just so that small speckles of light rest on the walls of the theater and she glows with all of the layers and colors of a rainbow. As they watch her onstage, like one would examine a statue, whispers ripple through the audience. Not many people dance. It’s too dangerous, and they believe that this girl in particular needs to be preserved. One misstep and she’ll shatter.
The light that bounces off the girl blinds the eyes to her face. She could frown, smile, cry and no one would see. People are too stunned by the flashing of light off her that they don’t look closely enough. When the whispers die down, she begins her dance. At first the movements are small and subtle and they scatter the light, allowing the pinpricks of light to be released from their stillness and to move about the room. She moves her whole body, slow at first, and then gathers momentum to perform simple leaps and turns. The light dances with her, and shows more emotion than any face could. There is an ebb and flow of light that is only comparable to an eclipse of the sun. Sometimes there’s so much light that it is difficult to watch her and then so little that she can barely be seen. She flits in and out of the stage lights, to affect the lighting of the entire room. Then, when the light falls on the audience, they empathize with her by the warmth or coolness of the colors. She shows beauty in such simple movements that are meant to preserve her from a devastating fall.
When the music begins to die down she does not melt to the floor as planned. She does not want to fold in on herself again as she has done every other performance, so that she can be on display once more. Instead, she does something daring. Something dangerous. Jumping into the air with her arms by her head, she spins and with her, the light twists in circles, mixes and whirls. Colors bounce off the walls in rapid motion so that there is no empty space, only spots of light. The audience rises from their seats to honor the colors melding and separating. It looks like small fireflies surround the girl, spinning, trying to escape, but can go no farther than the white brick walls of the theater. The light seems everlasting and more alive than the dancer herself.
She finally folds in on herself as she begins to come down. She lands on one knee just as she planned; exactly when the last echo of music stops. It was a perfect landing, and she is so still that the light freezes on the walls. She doesn’t look at the audience, but when she hears their applause she smiles a smile that no one can see. Only a crack in her kneecap disrupts her body’s symmetry. The crack crawls up her leg and takes the light rather than reflects it. First it’s her knees that break and then the rest of her leg shatters into fragments. Then, her torso hits the ground. There is no scream and she does not beg the breaking to stop because she knows there is nothing that she can do. She was forever preserved in a case and she has finally broken free. No one sees her close her eyes, but they see her hold her arms out in resignation before they too shatter to dust. Edged mirror fragments cut the air and sparkle as they fly across the stage. The crowd gasps, but is so caught up in the performance that they do not notice anything is amiss. They clap and roar as the graceful mirrors fly and catch the light, then reflect it back, setting it free. All the light that the others cannot take and make into color gets thrown back at them. When the last bit of mirror falls, stillness comes over everything. The people stop clapping and stare in horror at what is left of the broken girl. No one sits down and no one moves. Glittering dust and wreckage are all that remain of the Graceful Mirror. The only thing that remains intact, in the center of the stage, is her face that no one can see. Forever preserved as a reminder of the most beautiful dancer in the world.
Right now Day is winning. The sun hangs bright and hot in the sky and seems to come closer with every passing minute. No one can stand to stay outside in the heat. Cloud cover can’t even stifle the sun, that is, if there were clouds anymore. Clouds create small shadows in the sky that day will not allow because the sun must be the center and the only visible thing. The shadows we cast are the only darkness. Red hot heat comes off it in waves. Heat that burns the skin, the eyes, the throat, and sweat evaporates right off the skin. I lie on my floor unable to move, with sweat dripping down my temples and soaks my long hair. It’s too hot for February.
When I dream, I dream of the distant memories of snow falling and resting on my head and burying my feet. I imagine making a snow angel and writing my name, Jessie at the head. Then I’d fall down and make another, with my brown hair sticking together, collecting the snow and ice. Sometimes I wake up from a long sleep convinced that I am sleeping in the rain to find that it is only small beads of sweat crawling down my body like little red ants. The heat is getting to be too much. It hasn’t rained in weeks and our water must be regulated because of the drought. Not even the earth has enough water. The leaves on the trees have long since browned and shriveled. Scorched and blackened by the sun, the trees drop their leaves to the ground like in fall. If only fall still existed. No one can go outside for long, severe sun burns occur within mere minutes. Even just sitting here I feel myself shriveling.
My eyesight darkens and red and yellow lights obscure my vision. I know I should drink something, but the constant heat, the constant day, makes me sluggish. I’m as unproductive as everyone else. Nothing can be done until Day and Night stop their war and things revert back to their natural order, with equal night and day. On cooler days, when Night is testing Day, people gather in meetings about what will happen if Night takes over. I stopped going because only the ignorant go. The plants will die regardless of who wins and our food source will diminish. Whether they’re scorched or frozen is all the same because all life will die while the war rages on. Water will freeze into a solid block or evaporate into the sky, no food, no water, no resources. Money doesn’t matter anymore because no one works and people get so desperate that they loot the houses of the dead. Everyone wants to hold onto their miserable lives while they still have them. I don’t see the point. When people spend their days laying on their floors to stay cool, nothing is meaningful anymore. All I do now is stare out of a single window and watch the blackened leaves fall in bushels to the ground. When I get up to look down at the ground, I see that the leaves blend in with the earth. So many dead leaves have fallen that the grass is covered in an ash coding. The natural colors of the earth are gone now there’s only the blue sky and the red sun. The sky is the only beauty left and acts as a contrast to the earth. The sun swims in the vast empty water of the sky. But unlike water, the sky cannot swallow and put out the sun. It cannot get rid of the Earth’s heat stroke. Waves of sky do no counteract the heat waves from the sun. I wish I could smother the sun by crinkling the edges of the sky to cover it. I reach my hand towards the sky to do just that from my bedroom when a white shape appears in the sky between my forefinger and thumb. The white grows larger and creeps up on the sun. Coming closer and closer until the sun seems to dull in its presence, I only pray that the sun does not notice.
The bell tower in the center of town tolls in rapid succession. This is the first time in months that it rings; it was discontinued long ago and now only rings in warning. I hear the sound of windows and doors slam all through the neighborhood. I peel myself off the floor and my head spins. I stick out an arm to steady myself, but every joint is slow to move. My eyelids are heavy, drowsy, and swimming with colors from the beginnings of heat exhaustion. I force my arms forward and push up on the window. The effort involved forces my eyes to go dark for a moment, until I put my weight against the window sill and look up at the sky. As the red and black splotches fade from my vision, thunder rolls in the distance and tiny raindrops fall from the open sky. I pull my arm back and punch the screen out of my window in one deciding motion. Leaning my entire torso out of the window, I feel the rain. Raindrops nestle in my hair and run down my face washing the sweat from my skin. As the rain falls, the drops grow cooler, then warmer as day fights for control. When clouds roll in and create a thin film over the sun, I know that Day is losing. Light ebbs and flows as Day and Night fight. Then the sky flashes black and only the moon hangs unnaturally in front of the clouds, but the fight is not over yet. The sun flashes back and the white light makes me jump to cover my eyes. I feel sick and my throat burns with the need for water, but I stay where I am, not willing to miss these last moments. I’ve been standing for too long and heat stroke makes the clouds melt into the sky. My vision is blurred around the sun and moon. Half the sky grows pitch black and the other half stays bright, but the clouds continue to amass. They almost completely block out the brightness so that I don’t have to squint to see the battle. Another clap of thunder and even more clouds roll in. The rain is pelting me now, coming in downpours and running into my mouth and eyes. The sun fades even more and tries one last attempt to regain control. It sets forth bursts of fire, but the clouds and rains quickly stifle it. Only when the clouds threaten to put out the sun completely does Day retreat across the horizon and dip below the trees. Just like that, it’s night. Tiny pinpricks of stars glow through the clouds and the moon shines in triumph.
I feel the temperature dropping. I look to my thermometer and within a minute it is down to thirty degrees. I’m not cold yet, but I soon will be and my vision is so blurred that I only see the moon. My hair freezes in spikes and the dripping sweat and water freezes on my skin. Still, I do not close the window. Snow falls from the sky and sticks to my forehead. Innocent, chilling flakes flurry into my room and create a thin coding of white on my floor. My lips become tinged with blue as they lose their warmth and my breath is mist that freezes in midair. Zero degrees and falling. My body gives a compulsive shiver and at negative thirty degrees, all of the air goes out of me so quickly that it feels like someone punched me in the chest. My eyelids freeze shut and my stomach clamps. I pull myself back from the window. I hear my heart flutter and stop and start again. My legs give out and I crumple to the floor shivering and then too cold to shiver. My heart pounds and stops and pounds and stops falling into arrhythmia. Oxygen goes in and freezes my throat and lungs. I’ve lost control, no more breaths come and the blood pounding in my ears stops.
I float up and look down at my blue crumpled body. I go to my window and without looking back, soar to the ground. I’m going to leave this place. I need to make angels in the snow.
Fear is something that I can’t help. It exists, it just is, and I have to deal with it accordingly. I walk into the empty classroom and sit in the first desk of the first row and fish my English notebook out of my backpack. The first thing that strikes me is the emptiness of the room, so empty that it hurts the eyes to stare too long at the red, brick wall. There are no tell tale objects that hint to any sort of personality, just a classroom. It is a classroom for a teacher there to teach and nothing more. Without my glasses the wall blurs around every crevice in the brick, and, without anything to distract from it, the wall is just a wall. Sometimes, a wall can be a thing of curiosity and learning, but a teacher must utilize it, and give it character to reflect their own. Without character, a wall is a lonely figure purely acting as a device of separation between one room and another. It is tired and worn with years of boredom, like the faded American flag that curls around its wooden stem. Maybe the flag was washed too many times. As the red and blue fade, the white grows grey with age, and wisdom and too many years in an empty classroom. It comes out of the wall and tries to wave the students hello and goodbye with the fresh air from the hallway, but cannot because it is furled up like an elderly war veteran who cannot move freely. The wall through years of boredom, has gone insane. It’s trapped the flag and trapped us inside of this room.
The other students file in and I can feel their fear. They think it’s fear of the teacher, but really it’s the empty, cold room that makes us feel like we’re alone, even in a group of fifteen. No presence but the fear and everyone gets lost in it. The fear swallows us up until our personalities are scattered away. Thrown out of the shuddered window only to return when the bell rings and the room releases us. The fear paralyzes and traps us in the room, and the wall is the prison guard that laughs at our fear. The emptiness again, it’s like we are the first and only people who have come in and out of this room. The wall is diseased; it stares at us and can’t remember if we are new or if it saw us the day before. An indifferent coldness emanates from the surface that roars in silence in our faces. The fiery heat of warmth and recognition will be forever absent.
Mr. Stanley walks in, the door slams shut, and nobody dares to speak. He looks like the wall. A white shirt and grey pants. Colorless, cold, stern and upright, he stares at us and does not say even as much as a hello. He sits down in his chair behind his barren desk and class begins
The Gravedigger painstakingly digs while his partner, the Old Gravedigger, digs another grave beside him. The Gravedigger cringes every time a skull comes out of the ground, but the Old Gravedigger pays no attention. He only sings:
“In youth, when I did love, did love,
Methought it was very sweet,
To contract—O—the time, for—a—my behove,
O, methought, there—a—was nothing—a— meet.” (5.1.63-66)
The Gravedigger attempts to tune him out by shoveling faster, but the more he digs, the more skulls come up and because he does not want to crush them, he slows his pace. His partner pays no respect to the skulls and often crushes the weakest ones with his shovel.
The Gravedigger stabs his spade into the ground. “Must you sing such a merry song when we are charged with such a gruesome work?”
“Allow an old man his simple pleasures. Soon you’ll be doing this job alone and burying my own body in this godforsaken place.”
“This place cannot be forsaken if it belongs to the church. You would be lucky to be buried here old man.”
“Ah yes, it belongs to the church, but with no room to bury the newly dead, my body will never truly rest. We go up and down this graveyard as farmers till their fields and if there’s no room for the rich, there will be no room for you or me. One day my skull will be dug up again no matter where I’m buried in this yard.” He stops digging and leans on his shovel panting. “Remember that boy; no rest will come to you here. Get yourself buried outside this yard and maybe then you can rest in peace.” The Old Gravedigger goes back to digging his grave and singing.
“But age, with his stealing steps,
Hath claw’d me in his clutch,
And hath shipped me intil the land,
As if I had never been such.” (5.1.73-76)
“Mad old man” The Gravedigger mumbles as he continues digging his grave.
“I am no madder than the English.”
“And even while singing he can hear what I say.”
“Ay, it is a sad thing when one loses his hearing, for then he is not able to hear the things that he is not meant to hear.”
The Gravedigger sighs and goes back to the grave. He counts the number of skulls he unearths and he sees that there are five in total. By the looks of the earth, there are sure to be more. When the next skull comes up caked with dirt, he holds the shovel at arm’s length and tosses it into the dirt pile with a grimace.
The Old Gravedigger pants and stops digging and says “‘Who builds stronger than a mason, a ship-wright, or a carpenter?’” (5.1.42-43).
The Gravedigger ignores him and continues to shovel dirt. “This is important boy, you must answer.”
“You say so much nonsense old man that I wouldn’t know whether you were talking to me or another.”
“Give me an answer boy.”
“I don’t know.”
The Old Gravedigger shakes his shovel at the Gravedigger. “‘Cudgel thy brains no more about it, for your dull ass will not mend his pace with beating. And, when you are asked this question next, say ‘a grave-maker.’ The houses he makes lasts till doomsday’” (5.1.57-61).
“Not if we keep digging them up as we are.”
“You must remember that boy, which is why it would be wise to be buried outside the church. The side of the road makes a better grave than being buried here with the sinners who pay their way in. By the road you’re not surrounded by such sin.”
“Of Course, of course.”
“Remember, ‘there is no ancient gentlemen but gard’ners, ditchers and grave-makers. They hold up Adam’s profession’” (5.1.30-32).
“I don’t know what you mean old man.”
“You will someday, but if you’re dull, you will never know.”
“You think me dull?”
“No, to be a grave-maker you cannot be dull. You must be sharp as a spade, for the dull would go mad.”
“Mad as you old man.”
“I am not mad, merely experienced as you will be one day boy.”
The Gravedigger finishes his grave without responding and the Old Gravedigger becomes too tired to say anymore. They just continue with their work and soon the Gravedigger does not pay any attention to the skulls he digs up.
After the Gravedigger had been working for seven years the old man died. The Gravedigger knows that he will miss him sorely because the graveyard would be too silent without him. On the same day, the Old Gravedigger was to be buried, some noble of high importance died. Nobles gather in the church in their elaborate mourning clothes, weeping over the body of some noble who does not deserve to be buried in the churchyard.
“Gravedigger” the priest motions with his hand to call the Gravedigger over to an unoccupied corner of the church. “I need you to bury the old man quickly so that we can get on with this funeral.”
“It will take time to bury him.”
“You don’t have time. I expect you to be back within the hour.”
The Gravedigger gives him a cold stare but says “Yes. Sir.”
The Gravedigger takes the body of the old man and brings him out to the graveyard. “You never wanted to be buried in this place did you old man?”
He finds the hole he dug for him and places him down gently. Tears run down his face as he flings dirt over the body of his mentor and he begins to sing. He remembers the song clearly, for the old man had sung it every time he dug a grave. While singing, he did not notice the movement in the graveyard. The court jester, Yorick sidles up behind the Gravedigger on uneasy feet, swaying back and forth. He carries a full class of rhenish and despite his drunkenness, does not spill a drop. When the Gravedigger finishes the song Yorick says “That was a good one. Sing it again.”
The Gravedigger starts. “No, I shall not.”
“Please. I do beseech you.”
“Won’t you be missed at the funeral?” The Gravedigger asks coldly.
“Oh no” he laughs. I told them I left long ago to go entertain young prince Hamlet. Then I saw you out here by yourself and wondered who’s grave you were digging. For the noble’s grave is closer to the church.” Yorick Hiccups and begins giggling.
“Drunkenness is not befitting for a funeral.”
Yorick pulls his arm back and splashes The Gravedigger in the face with the wine. The Gravedigger drops his shovel to the ground and wipes the wine out of his eyes, blinking and spitting it on the ground.
“Ah, but now you appear drunker than I.” Yorick begins to leap around howling, but then pitches forward and falls by the Gravedigger’s feet. He grabs the Gravedigger by the ankles which causes the Gravedigger to lose his balance. He tries to turn, but he only succeeds in hurting his leg and he falls face first into the grave. He cringes when he finds himself face to face with the dead old man. He scrambles to get away from the body, taking care not to step on it. He hears Yorick laughing in near hysteria above him. The Gravedigger clenches his fists and fights the urge to shout up at the jester. The loss of the old man, the hastiness and lack of respect for his funeral were too much. The Gravedigger clambered out of the grave trying not to disturb the old man and picks up his shovel glowering at Yorick. Yorick continues laughing, oblivious to the Gravedigger.
“Leave me to my grave making. This is not your profession.”
“No, it is not my profession, but I shall not leave.”
The Gravedigger wants to silence him, to make him feel some respect for the dead. Even the old man never laughed while grave making. He sang, he joked, but never laughed. Without thinking, the Gravedigger lifts the shovel above his head and brings the spade down on Yorick’s head. The Gravedigger feels Yorick’s skull crack beneath the spade. The jester stops laughing in an instant and grows still. The Gravedigger looks around quickly before tossing Yorick’s body in with the old man. He knows the old man would have found it funny to be buried with the jester. The Gravedigger throws dirt over the two bodies and as he works, he sings. The silence of the graveyard presses in around him, but his own voice keeps the silence at bay. When he finally fills grave, he pats the ground with satisfaction and thinks about the day that he will impart the old man’s wisdom onto the next young gravedigger.
My name is Manson and I am the Supreme Ruler of the Universe. Everyone agrees. Actually…no they don’t. In fact no one does except my pen mate, but she believes everything so while I at least have one minion, she doesn’t really count. Also, I forgot to mention, my name isn’t really Manson, it’s Ellie, but that’s the name the tall creatures gave me and there are so many of us in here with E names that I decided to go for something different. For example, my pen mate’s name is Eva, but I have re-named her number 5 because it is the best number and it is the amount of potential minions born this year. I’m in the process of converting the rest of the calves into minions, but they mostly just sit around and sleep because they are too young to understand my cause…which I haven’t quite figured out yet. It doesn’t matter though, because as long as they think that I have one, they will follow me to their ends.
Maybe the tall creatures will help me. They look and feel really strange, but when it comes to potential minions, I don’t discriminate. They have fur on their heads and fuzz on their arms and legs that you can’t really feel unless you lick them a few times, but that’s always a problem because they always, always move their arms out of the way before I can lick them. It’s easier to lick their legs while they’re distracted by petting my soft, beautiful, black and white fur. They taste like grass and salt, but I could just be tasting leftovers from this morning.
What I find strangest about these creatures is that they seem to have different types of skin. They have the skin that’s covered in small hairs and then they have another layer of skin that I think they call“pants.” Pants are extremely chewy and I can never seem to bite through them all the way. It’s like trying to chew on a piece of soggy wood that just won’t break apart.
More of these creatures keep coming into the barn to say hello to me. I always jump right up to see them because you have to show affection towards your minions if you want to gain power over them. I tell all of the other cows in the barn that the creatures come to see me because they’re under my control, but the older cows tell me I have an overactive imagination. They’ll see. I know that I’ve already converted several humans to my cause because I get to take them for walks. They put a rope around my face and hold on at the end so that I can lead them. (Extremely proud of herself) My favorite part is when I take off running, they fall over and I get to drag them through the grass. I am also confident in my power over them because they come into the barn, scratch my neck and call me “cute, “which can only be the most sophisticated way of addressing the Supreme Ruler of the Universe.
She’s tall and thin with a perfect bottle shaped figure. Her long brown hair is a horses tail that has been washed and combed through so many times that the horse no longer swishes it to get rid of flies because she is afraid to tangle the hair. The hair hangs down her shoulders which maintain perfect posture with her shoulders over her hips and her arms by her sides. Though she is already model tall, she will never go anywhere even in the summer without her high heeled boots that hug the top of her calf. They are made of leather that have no spots or holes from wear, though she has worn them every day since I’ve known her. A flawless, clear face with only two beauty marks on her right cheek that draw the eye, but make her face if possible more flawless. She attracts the boys because she flirts with every one that comes her way, not because she wants to be with them, but because she fears to be alone.
When I walk up to the lunch table, I see her eating nothing, but a piece of white bread and a bag of Cheetos. Her diet consists of dehydrated food, chemicals, and food processed beyond recognition, but never any vegetables. She hears my footsteps and waves hello, I give her a wary half smile back. I look into her eyes which are the color of the thickest silt on the side of a stagnant pond. The kind that if stepped in will cover the skin in muck that will stick and dry and will need to be scrubbed off with sandpaper. They’re dull eyes; they notice everything, but understand nothing. When she opens her lips to speak, I almost cringe. They are thick and red with the lies that she tells, the truths that she distorts and the people she tries to hurt with them. She’ll cry with genuine tears and then spread nasty rumors to all who will listen. Most believe her because she is so upset and so hurt. That’s because she’s not faking it. She tricks herself into believing every lie and every distortion which is often the only way to fool almost all the people.
“Hi, Mr. Greer. I was just wondering—would it be okay to hide the water gun?”
He chuckles on the other line. “Yeah, throw it in the dumpster for all I care.” Contented, I click my phone shut. I take the water gun, hide it in an overturned bucket behind the fence and go back to my lifeguard chair with a self-satisfied smile. Jack and his friends will not be playing “Mexico” today. If I have to watch them pretending to be Mexicans jumping the border and listen to them shout “A LA POLICÍA!” one more time, their insensitivity will make me lose the last fragment of my patience. Lifeguards aren’t babysitters, so I can’t govern what they say and respect from these high school boys is not an expectation. However, I will let them have their fun to a point, but I refuse to let them take advantage of me.
I hear them before I see them. Their howls echo all the way down the street. I tell myself that they will not get away with anything today. They file through the door and Jack takes a fleeting glance around the pool area. He looks confused, and then he turns to me, “Where’s the gun?”
“I don’t know.”
“Did someone steal it?”
He doesn’t wait for me to respond. “You just let somebody come in and take it? How could you let them do that?”
I take a breath to calm myself down. It is not my job to guard the lost and found. Because Jack knows me personally, he thinks that he can get away with anything and it’s hard to be professional when kids try to get a rise out of me because I’m not too much older than they are. Just at that moment, Jack’s friend comes out from behind the fence with the water gun. He says, “It was inside a bucket. I think someone hid it there.” I bite my tongue. Two of Jack’s friends jump into the pool, but Jack and his other friend stay on the deck. He looks at the whiteboard, which still says the lifeguard is Sean, and then calls to me, “Hey Sean, Patrick wants to know if he can swim in his boxers.”
I’ve worked at my neighborhood pool for three years, so Jack knows my name. Usually I put up with whatever he decides to call me, but I refuse to tolerate being called Sean.
“My name isn’t Sean. No, that’s wearing underwear in the pool.”
“Don’t call them underwear; they’re boxers, Sean.”
“You cannot swim in your underwear,and my name is Julia.”
Jack continues to argue until I’ve had enough. “Please leave the pool; you can come back in thirty minutes.” They mumble a little in complaint as they leave, but are otherwise obedient.
I’m left in peace, for now. This pool is unique because only one guard is on duty at a time and the kids know that I’m alone. I’m the only guard who attempts to discipline Jack and the others just put up with him like I used to.
After a while, I look at the clock on the wall and it’s been exactly thirty minutes. Yelling, whooping and screaming outside, all say the same thing, “SIX THIRTY NINE! SIX THIRTY NINE IS THE BEST TIME EVER!” The boys sprint through the door in a mob and ignore my calls not to run. They leap into the pool, and immediately begin playing Mexico. I pick up my rescue tube and sigh. I acknowledge that I cannot change Jack and that I will never get any sort of respect from him or his friends. Yet, in some ways, I am grateful for him because he made me grow a backbone, and if I can work with him, then I can work with anyone.
(This was my college essay and it served me very well)
“Jeffery Hitchcock” a voice booms. The voice addresses a small man in a formal black suit who stands under a spotlight with his hands clasped in front of him. The overhead light is just bright enough to see the faint outlines of seven other people. Six of them sit at long tables on either side of the room. They all have their hands poised to write on the piece of paper in front of them and they almost seem to blend into the dull grey wall behind them. Completely darkened by shadows, Jeffery can only catch glimpses of them out of the corner of his eye and if he tries to look directly at them, he is blinded by the light. The seventh person speaks on a platform behind a towering podium and his face is just as well hidden. The immensity of the podium and the man behind it make Jeffery want to stare at his feet, but he cranes his neck to see the top of the podium to attempt to make a good impression. At the top of the great Oak podium, there are two stamps, one black and one red that are the same width as Jeffery’s application papers. Behind the podium stands a tall figure in a black robe who casts an enormous looming shadow on the opposite wall. Jeffery digs his fingernails into his hands and inhales sharply. “Yes sir,” he replies.
The figure leans back in his chair. “We have reviewed your application and we believe you to be a worthy candidate.”
Jeffery gives a small sigh. “I’m glad sir.”
“But…” Jeffery’s heart drops. “We have a few concerns.” Jeffery wipes his hands on his suit and sweat beads on his brow. “We would like to ask you some questions to further… understand you.”
“I’m sorry if that is an inconvenience, sir,” Jeffery gulps.
“We are no more inconvenienced by you, than by any other applicant,” the man sighs.
The man reaches out one hand and picks up Jeffery’s thick application. He feels the weight of it before ruffling through the pages. Jeffery turns his head sideways to look at the people sitting at the tables. They sit, not speaking, not writing. They’re the shadows cast by tall statues that have had their faces worn away by time, harmless, but frightening. They’re so still he can barely tell that they’re real and not just figments of his imagination meant to intimidate him. Though their eyes are hidden, he can feel their gazes boring into him, scoring him for any telling motions that will indicate that he is unworthy. Jeffery turns his head back to the man at the podium and watches him turn each page over, carefully scouring it for errors. Jeffery stares at the grey, concrete wall trying to relax so that he can appear confident when he needs to answer the man’s questions. As he slackens his jaw muscles Jeffery drops his hands to his sides and pulls his shoulders back to stand more upright. Taking deep breaths, he attempts to stave off his nervousness, but his dark eyebrows stay knitted together in apprehension to the man’s imminent questions.
Sweat gathers on Jeffery’s brow from the heat of the spotlight so he reaches one arm up to wipe it away. All of the members of the committee sitting at the tables scribble something down on their papers. Jeffery jumps at the sudden noise of pens on paper. Soon, he cannot hear the sound of the pens because of the beating in his heart and the pounding in his ears. When they each stop writing, they revert back to unmoving statues. Jeffery covers up his shudder of discomfort with a cough, straightens his tie, and re-clasps his hands in front of him.
“We have a few… additional questions to ask you before we process your application. Your acceptance is dependent on your answers.”
Jeffery’s stiffens, “Of Course, sir.”
“Is this your first application?”
“How long have you waited for the application to be processed.”
“Five years, sir.”
“Oh, so not long at all. What sort of training have you received?”
Jeffery winces. “I went to school at Esetex Prep level 3, and I work for Inet W. Latovi… ”
“Oh, nothing more rigorous?”
Jeffery blushes and bites his tongue. “I also, interned at Esetex inc.” Jeffery gestures at the committee “and I was on the selection committee for potential candidates for three years.”
“Being a part of the selection committee is a very common thing Mr. Hitchcock. Almost everyone interns here to find out how the selection process works. Obviously the importance of your credentials was lost on you.”
Jeffery’s blush spreads until his head and neck are beat red. He curls his hands into fists by his side. He screws up his mouth and tries to bite his words back, but his edginess muddle his mind and he lost control. “I’m sorry sir, but I fail to see how these questions will help you understand me. They were all written on the application.”
It wasn’t much prodding, but it was enough to get a reaction from the man at the podium. He slams his fist down on Jeffery’s application and stands, leaning over his podium. “Mr. Hitchcock, this is all a part of the application process.”
Jeffery quails under the man’s gaze and begins wringing his hands again. The Committee comes to life scrambling to take notes.
“We are doing you a favor by asking you these questions. If you have a problem with how things are being run, I suggest you talk to our supervisor and get back in line to wait for your application to be reviewed again.”
“No,” Jeffery says quickly. “That won’t be necessary.”
The man sits back down and leans back in his chair. “Good.”
Jeffery looks around at the six other people and sees that they have stopped writing. Their views on him are just as important as the man on the podium, maybe more so because they get the most say in whether or not Jeffery gets the position.
“How do you know you will stick to your ideals?”
Jeffery turns his attention back to the man at the podium. “I don’t sir, but I do know that I will grow and change if accepted. Because my basic personality will not change, my ideals should remain similar to how they are now,” he pauses. “Also, I believe I can contribute to society because I plan to go into a profession that has to do with social work.”
“Do you know exactly what job you want?” A faint note of pretended curiosity enters the man’s voice.
“Not exactly sir, I don’t want to decide on something to have it change after I forget everything. But, right now I do know, I want to maybe be a psychologist.”
“What new ideas will you bring to the table in your chosen field?”
Jeffery stutters, his mouth gapes open and shut searching for the right words. “I will listen and help people. I think I’ll discover as I go along.”
“But if you don’t know your main goal, you have nothing to strive for.”
“But my brain will be wiped clean. I’ll have to discover what to strive for later on.”
Jeffery stares down at his feet in attempt to hide his flustered face, and he clasps and unclasps his sweat slicked hands awaiting the next question.
“People’s living conditions all differ, how will different sorts of families affect you?”
“I will still keep to my virtues, no matter what is thrown my way.”
“What are these virtues?”
“I believe that hard work is more important than testing and intelligence.”
“That fits perfectly.”
Jeffery scowls. “I believe in keeping my promises and standing up for myself and others when it is necessary.”
“As you said, your brain will be wiped completely clean, how can you be sure you will stick to your virtues if you do not yet possess them?”
“I know sir, because my personality will not change. I will not stray from my virtues because I know that those are set and if they’re not…Then I will learn them again.”
You’ve been working towards this application your entire life Mr. Hitchcock, what have you done to assure us that you are a good candidate?
“I’ve worked hard to get where I am and to apply for this position. I’ve waited for a long time and I feel like I really know myself because of the hard work I’ve put into my application. I don’t think that the rigor of my schooling or my test grades reflect the type of person I am, but I know that my recommendations are strong because I’ve always tried to help people whenever possible.”
The man gathers up his papers and stacks them in a neat pile. “Is there anything else you wish to tell us before we make our decision?” he says absentmindedly.
“I really feel like I can contribute…”
“Before we decide, we would like to let you know that Esetex inc. has become increasingly selective to prevent crime.” He sighs. “Also, we would like to inform you that our decision is not a measure of your character, it is a measure of how you look on paper and the brief glimpse we have of you from this interview. We select those we feel match our criteria the best, and we will encourage you to re-apply in the future if you are rejected.”
Jeffery looks up from his feet. “I understand sir.”
The man on the podium turns to the other men and women in the room. “Committee members, make your decision.”
The six people surrounding Jeffery each take out a small slip of white paper. Silently, they each scribble two deciding words onto the page and when they finish, they fold the paper in half so Jeffery has no chance of seeing the writing. As they pass the slips to the Judge, none of the committee members even glance at Jeffery; they all stare straight past him in complete silence. The Judge unfolds each paper in a methodic manner and puts a tally on his own sheet of paper for every answer. When the man is done, he takes the large red stamp on his podium, inks it and slams it down on the first page of Jeffery’s application. The echo of the stamp reverberates through the room. Sweat trickles down Jeffery’s temples, and he rocks back on his heels in anticipation of the verdict. The Judge rips off the first page of Jeffery’s application and slides it off the podium. The piece of paper rolls through the air and gently floats down to Jeffery. Jeffery waits with bated breath and takes a sharp breath when he sees the page.
“There must be some mistake!” He yells.
The man leans back in his chair and sighs. “There is no mistake, Mr. Hitchcock.”
“I did everything you wanted! What did I do wrong?”
“You did nothing wrong, Mr. Hitchcock. We have to ask you to leave the room now.”
“No! I will not leave this room until you explain to me exactly why!”
“We must ask you to leave now Mr. Hitchcock, but we do encourage you to re-apply and reflect on yourself and your values.”
“But I said nothing negative, nothing at all!”
The Judge stands and slams both his hands down on the podium. Even now, the judge’s face stays hidden and seems to further darken with shadows. “No, you did not say anything negative. In fact, you hardly told us anything at all.” The man snaps his fingers and two bodyguards come through the door. They seize Jeffery under his arms and drag him out with his heels scraping against the linoleum floor. Jeffery lets his head fall to his chest in defeat and lets his body go limp. He doesn’t fight them, there’s no point to it. As he’s dragged out, Jeffery lets his application fall from his hand and it lands face up on the floor with the bright red ink facing the ceiling. The ink has barely dried and the stamp takes up almost the entire page. In big crimson letters the stamp reads only two words:
(This is a bit of a work in progress. Any feedback is appreciated and I’m going to keep editing the story.)
“Morning Stephanie,” the doorman tips his hat at me. I smile at him with my recently whitened teeth and we stare at each other a second longer than is comfortable. My brown eyes bear into his blue, but then he looks down. Not at his feet, but at my dress. I’m wearing a black suit dress and blue tie with the intention of showing off my curves. I pull at my skirt and shift my gaze away. Walking in a quick clip through the big glass double doors, I sidestep the doorman as I go through. I don’t look back at him because I know he’s staring at me. After I go up the first flight of stairs, I breathe a sigh of relief because I know he can no longer see me. I walk up the stairs until I reach the door labeled telecommunications. The door always sticks so I seize the knob with both hands and just as I’m about to slam my full body weight into the door, it swings inward and I fall. I try to regain my balance by grabbing the doorframe, but instead topple onto the man walking out. I fall onto him with both hands on his chest. He stumbles from the impact, but he grabs the stair railing just in time to prevent us both from tumbling through the door. I look up at the man to say I’m sorry, but the words are stricken from my lips as a jolt goes through my chest. My heart beats so hard that I feel like I could faint from the embarrassment. I’ve fallen right on top of Joe.
Looking up at him, I see him staring down at me, indifferent to the situation. His hot breath warms my cheeks and I realize that I’m in the perfect position to kiss him. Instead of taking advantage of that opportunity, I push myself away a little more forcefully then I would normally and he has to tighten his grip on the railing to keep his balance. I take a breath to collect myself and I smooth out my skirt. Joe runs his fingers through his disheveled hair that despite his attempts to comb it down, will never be flattened and always springs back up in minutes. I look up at his sun kissed face and give him a small, shy smile. His glasses are narrow and have a thin black rim that makes his eyes look large, serious and unforgiving. I can feel the blush rising in my cheeks and I look past him to the rows of cubicles inside. The safety of my boxed in desk is so close, where I can hide my face behind my hair until the blush fades from my cheeks.
I start to form the words to an apology again, but once again the words die on my lips because he steps aside and mumbles “Sorry” as he steps past me. I Flip my blond curls back and say “No problem,” making sure to give him my warmest smile and trying to crinkle my eyes to show I don’t care in the slightest. When my back is to him, I bite one of my nails and then sling my hair over my right shoulder. I cannot believe that this happened to me. When I sit down in my rotating chair, I bow my head and put my hands over the back of my neck.
Of course this is when Henry decides he needs to say hello. He sits in the cubicle beside mine and never likes to go a moment without making some attempt to talk to me. He swivels his chair to face me and peers around into my cubicle. “Morning Stephy.”
“Morning,” I smile, but refuse to show my teeth and as a result my nose crinkles to make it look like I’ve smelled road kill. I hate it when he calls me “Stephy.”
Henry puts his beefy hand on my chair and leans farther into my cubicle so he is only inches from me. He breathes on my face and I get a strong whiff of morning breath that he tried to disguise with a wintergreen mint which instead of hiding the smell, makes it stronger. I scoot to the edge of my seat, but I keep the smile up, though it has become more of a grimace. Henry doesn’t notice. His robust figure just inches itself a little closer so I can see the grey strips in his hair and the flecks of cornflakes left over from breakfast in his mustache. “How’s the project going?” He gives me a look that says he knows I haven’t started it yet.
“I have a lot to do, but it’s coming,” I grit my teeth together and hardly open my mouth when I speak. He shows all of his uneven yellow teeth in what must be a love smitten smile, but comes out as a maniacal grin. I can see a soggy cornflake between his two front teeth. He licks his lips so drool hangs onto them. “Why don’t you uh…” He pause and leans back, flexing his arms slightly in his button down shirt. This would make Henry a little more appealing if it wasn’t for the sweat stains that are quickly spreading down his arms, “Come to my house tonight so we can work on it together.”
“I’m sorry, I’m busy tonight.”
“How about tomorrow then?”
“I feel like it’s more of a solo project myself. I think that we’ll get more done if we work separately for now and we’ll share in the meetings.”
His grin falls and he looks away, “Alright then. I’ll see you in the meetings.” Henry turns back to his cubicle and pretends to work on his project. He appears crestfallen for the next several minutes and I feel like I’ve narrowly dodged another bullet.
At quarter to noon I hear Henry peel himself off his chair and go into the mini kitchen. I cringe and prepare myself as I hear the thud of the fridge door. He comes back carrying a bright red Macintosh apple in his hand. I watch him out of the corner of my eye as he bites into the apple with a sickening wet crunch and juice spews from his mouth onto his computer screen. He proceeds to gnash at the apple with his mouth wide open. I can see the chunks of apple being pounded by his teeth and his mouth makes wet chewing sounds comparable with someone chewing gum with their mouth open or clacking their dentures. The next bite he takes is worse because he buries his mustache into the apple with a wolfish ferocity. Juice clings to his mustache and dribbles down his mouth. It travels down his chin until it forms a small drop that drips onto his suit.
I look away and try to finish my work, but it’s no use. The smacking of Henry devouring the apple sickens my mind and clouds my thoughts until all I hear is the apple spewing forth its juices. Then the smell reaches me. That overpowering sweetness that only an overripe apple possesses and I gag. I can’t stand it anymore so I get up and make my way to the bathroom, trying to walk slow and stand up straight so as to not make it look like I’m escaping. When I get to the bathroom, I stall for time by looking for non-existent blemishes on my skin for as long as is permissible before I am forced to trudge back to my desk. That still is not enough, and when I reach my seat, I hear Henry slurping his sausage fingers. He pops them into his mouth one by one to get every bit of juice from them, but does not take the care to wipe away his saliva before returning to his keyboard. I shudder and return to work, at least the worst part of my day is over and it will not be repeated until tomorrow.
Today I go to work with a purpose in mind. I smile at the doorman as usual, but I don’t care that he stares at me as I walk up the stairs. Today, I take care to open the “telecommunications” door slowly to make sure that Joe is not awaiting me on the other side. I walk to my desk and stuff my work materials under it without taking anything out. Henry is already in his cubicle and he turns to smile at me. Today I decide to return the smile with as much warmth as I can muster. I show my teeth in a sort of devious grin to which Henry responds, “Stephy you seem like you’re in a good mood today, did you have a nice night?”
My grin does not falter, “Oh yes I had an excellent night and I am in a great mood today, thank you Henry.”
Henry gives me a monkey grin that suggests that he thinks he’s getting somewhere with me and when I turn away, I drop my smile and roll my eyes. Instead of sitting down, I head straight to the mini kitchen and walk with such speed that I almost collide with Joe who has just finished putting something in the fridge. I smile a true smile at him. He doesn’t notice or doesn’t care because he doesn’t smile back and only looks past me to his cubicle. My smile falters, but is only replaced with the intensity of my mission. I stall for a few minutes by pouring myself coffee and pretending to drink it, while I wait for the rest of my co-workers to leave the kitchen. Once I’m finally alone, I look around the corner quickly to make sure no one is coming and then I rip open the fridge door. There are two apples. One is a Red Delicious and the other a Macintosh. I figure that the Macintosh must be Henry’s so I take it out of the fridge. I take two long strides to the trash can and bury the apple under boxes and other miscellaneous garbage. I walk back to my cubicle with a triumphant glow in my eyes and I sit down confident that my work will not be disturbed.
At a quarter to noon Henry once again peels himself off of his chair and heads towards the kitchen. His booming voice says “Oh hey Joe,” As he opens the refrigerator. Just hearing Joe’s name makes my heart beat faster and I almost drop my pen to look towards the kitchen. But I must restrain myself so I just tighten my grip on my pen and wait for Henry to come back empty handed. I do not even look at him when he comes at sits down, but I hear him. When I hear him bite into the apple I knew I had lost my battle. Then I hear something else coming from the kitchen. It’s Joe’s unmistakable baritone. “Where is it? Did somebody take my apple?”
I slap my face into my hands. I took the wrong one.
All their thoughts are always kept
You look at her and something comes to mind
Something that slips from your thoughts as soon as it enters
It’s a feeling, a hunch
And it’s right
Her quietness tells the most
The quiet in her long dark hair, that scarcely ruffles when she moves
The quiet in her dark eyes that reflect all that she’s seen back at you
The quiet in her clear skin, like heavy snow resting on the branches of a tree
It’s a passing thought
So fleeting that you’re not even sure what it means
Maybe she’s not there
That’s the thought that haunts you
You don’t think much about it until the day she disappears
One day she’s there and the next
Whisked away to God knows where
It’s a surprise and you can’t even think of where she went
You start paying more attention to the people around you
You think about that elusive thought
You wonder what it means
Then it happens again.
You see the quietness in someone else
Then one day he’s gone
You think about that quietness and that elusive thought
He wasn’t really there
There was something wrong, something off
That you couldn’t quite place
You begin to look harder and search for the quietness that makes people disappear
You see it in many
And one by one
They go too
The ones that come back appear as suddenly as they left
The ones that come back have pained looks on their faces
They try to hide the quietness so that they won’t be whisked away again
You want to ask them where they went and why, but you know they won’t tell.
The ones that don’t come back
You think you know where they went
But don’t want to ask
No one will tell you anyway
They’re not allowed to
The ones that don’t come back become shadows
The empty desk in English class
The name that never vanishes from roll call
The name called for an award that will never be received
Their names send shivers up your spine
One day, you think of a happy memory
It includes one of the vanished and you begin laughing
Then, when you realize that they’re gone, you cut yourself short
Because when you think of them, you think of the quietness
You wonder whose next and if they’ll ever come back
You want to help the quiet ones you see,
But they lash out and won’t admit that anything is wrong
Even if they do admit it
They won’t let you help.
Sometimes you look into the mirror
You stare for a minute and see the quietness of your own hair, eyes, and skin
You stare for a minute longer and leave the room
You can’t bear to look at yourself like that
You’re not really there, something is missing and you need to find it
If you don’t, you’ll disappear too
But there is a difference between you and the vanished
You’ve seen what the quietness does
You know it and acknowledge it
And you know that you can fight it
Because you know you can beat it.