Abby Vakulskas, Spring 2017
The cotton sheets bunched up around my feet, heavy and stifling. Even though mom had hefted the bedroom window up as high as it would go, the night air was still thick with July heat, and a feeble breeze muttered through the curtains. I was sitting in my bed, knees drawn up to my chest, my arms encircling my shins. It was too hot to sleep; my Cherokee Braves t-shirt threatened to strangle me. Karen snored softly from the bed across the room, and I listened with envy.
From my perch I stared at my dresser. In the faint glow from the streetlight outside, I could see the shape of the ring my brother found earlier today. Joe had gone swimming with the rest of the guys in the neighborhood, and I’d been all ready to go too, with my swimsuit on and everything. But when I burst through the screen door to join them, Joe scowled.
“You can’t come, Kate. This outing is only for men,” he announced. His friends snickered, and I felt the blood rising in my cheeks.
“It’s a free country and a public pool!” I glowered. “I got all my chores done, and you can’t stop me.”
“We’ll see how you feel about that when I take your water wings away!” Joe snapped, then lowered his eyes as the others snorted, knowing he’d just used his kill shot. The painful truth was that, even at eleven years old, I still had trouble swimming without the stupid water wings. Tears of betrayal sprung to my eyes, and I threw my towel at him with as much strength as my scrawny arms could muster.
“Sorry,” he mumbled as I ran back into the house.
I spent the better part of the afternoon hiding in my closet and sulking, and when I got bored of sulking I found Tom Sawyer and a flashlight. I read all the way up to the part where Tom and Huck watch Injun Joe murder a guy in a graveyard. After that it got too scary in the closet, so I crawled out and wandered downstairs to watch The Beverly Hillbillies with Karen. Around four o’clock, I heard Joe saunter back into the house. I retreated to my room to avoid him, but pretty soon he knocked on the door frame.
“Hey, slobberface,” he said, holding something in his closed fist.
“Go away,” I replied, pretending to be vastly interested in the stitching on my quilt.
“Okay! But you’ll never know what I was going to give you.”
“Aw, get over here, what is it,” I grumbled, flopping back on the bed. He sat next to me.
“Well you know, we all went to the pool today,” he spoke low and conspiratorially.
“Yeah, yeah, what’s new.”
“Shush! Listen. After we got tired of that, we were walking around, looking for stuff to do, and the insane asylum’s so close, you know?”
I sat up; this got me interested. The Mental Health Institute was a favorite horror of all of us kids. Rumors saturated the town, and dozens of stories were often whispered only at the giddiest, latest parts of every sleepover. Suzy Pickins talked of terrible screams coming from the building, and Sam Buell swore he saw an old woman once, dressed completely in white, catch a squirrel and bite it like it was a piece of fried chicken. But the most magnificent report came from Anna-Mae Gustafson, whose aunt and uncle lived near the Institute. She said one night, they woke up to find a man sitting on the end of their bed, staring at them! They had to call and get someone to come pick up the escapee. Anna-Mae was frequently invited to sleepovers.
“Sam dared me and Jiggs to run all the way to the back of the asylum, where they keep the really crazy people and put bars on the windows,” Joe continued.
“What’d you do?” I gasped.
Joe puffed out his chest.
“I did it, of course!” Like it was obvious. “I ran even faster than Jiggs. I got there first and slowed down, and it wasn’t really scary at all…it was kind of pretty, even, with all the trees and grass to calm down the loonies, and it was real quiet, you know? Then Jiggs caught up, and he had the bright idea to look in one of the windows. He wanted me to heft him up onto my shoulders, so I did, and he grabbed ahold of the bars. ‘D’you see anything?’ I asked him, and he said no, it was just a real sad looking room with bare walls. Suddenly I hear a thump on the glass, and Jiggs hollers, and drops straight off my shoulders onto the grass. I looked up and Scout’s Honor, Kate, there was a hand pressed against the window. Boy, it was the whitest hand I ever saw, whiter than these bedsheets! We didn’t wait to see what would happen next; we were out of there like jackrabbits.”
I fell back onto the bed after absorbing all this secondhand excitement.
“Holy cow, Joe,” I murmured, my voice mixed with admiration, fear, and envy. “That’s some story.” It took me a few more moments of processing to remember that he was supposed to be giving me something. I sat up again.
“So what do you got?”
He looked at his closed fist.
“Before Jiggs caught up, I noticed this on the ground.” He opened his fingers to reveal a gold ring, set with jet-black onyx and a diamond chip.
“Gosh,” I whispered. Then I realized the implications. “Joe, that could’ve belonged to a looney! It could be cursed somehow!” Joe nodded gravely.
“I know. Here’s where you come in,” he said solemnly. “I have a proposition for you.”
“What?” I was suspicious.
“If you suck it up and wear this ring for a whole week, you’ll prove you aren’t such a baby, and you can come with me and the guys whenever you want.”
“Whenever I want?”
Joe nodded again, and I couldn’t see any hint of dishonesty in his eyes.
“What if it is cursed, and it makes me like one of them?” I pressed.
“Then I won’t let them take you alone — I’ll wear it and go looney too,” Joe declared, lifting his chin valiantly.
“Hmm. Okay then, I guess it’s a deal,” I consented, offering my hand for a shake.
Now that I’m thinking about it, it was probably all these events that were keeping me up, along with the summer heat. My week would start tomorrow, and until then the black onyx stared at me like an eye through the darkness. I suddenly shivered, thinking about Injun Joe and murder and curses and loonies at the end of the bed. Disregarding the temperature, I dived under the sheets to hide from that black eye, huddling there until I drifted off to sleep.
The next morning, when I stood, trembling, in front of my dresser, no earthquakes accosted me as I slipped the ring on my small finger. I walked to the park with Karen and Joe, jumping every time a car honked or a squirrel ran by. Joe took advantage of this, frequently wailing, “What’s that?!” and doubling over in laughter at my reaction. But it was all in my head — the week passed uneventfully, and after a while I forgot I was even wearing the thing. Soon, I sought out Joe to reap my reward.
“Well, well, well, look who wore the ring for a whole week!” I crowed. “It was nothing. In fact, I think I’ll keep wearing it.”
Then Joe smiled maliciously, and my heart sank; I wasn’t out of the woods yet.
“I guess you’re pretty brave after all,” he began. “And I’m a man of my word — you can come with me and the boys whenever you want now. In fact, we’re going on an adventure tonight, and I’d like you to come with us.”
My eyes narrowed. “What kind of adventure?”
“Old Man Hedgewick says the insane asylum graveyard is haunted, and we feel it’s our duty as citizens to go investigate.”
I must have blanched white as paper, because Joe smirked and continued, “Someone as brave as you should be thrilled at the prospect of such an adventure!”
With every shred of common sense clamoring to refuse, I stood up straight and set my jaw.
“Of course,” I replied. “You bozos will need my help, no doubt.”
At one AM, Joe and I tiptoed out of the house, clad in sweatshirts and armed with heavy flashlights. We glided through the night, silent as thieves, but almost screamed when we collided with Sam Buell on the sidewalk.
“Jeepers, fellas!” he whispered harshly. “Don’t do that!”
“Hush, Sam, let’s go,” Joe said.
All too soon, we stood before the threatening iron gates of the Mental Health Institute.
“How do we get in?” I whispered.
“Don’t you know anything, Kate?” Joe whispered back. “If we walk far enough south, the big gates turn into a chain-link fence we can climb over.”
Following his direction, we found the spot and scaled the fence like ninjas — slightly clumsy ninjas — and we were in. I was struck by how silent it was, save for the wind in the trees; there were no birds or animal noises. A decent amount of moonlight lit the grounds and the darkened building.
“Don’t turn on the flashlights yet. Anyone could see them from here. The graveyard is this way — follow me,” Joe instructed. As we ran, the quietness gave way to the sound of water. A wooden bridge spanned a small river, leading through another thin wrought-iron gate to the cemetery beyond. The grass appeared to be a sea of black, with tiny white headstones glowing in the moonlight like morbid sailboats. Standing at the edge of the bridge, I was suddenly cold with fear. My stomach did cartwheels.
“Joe, I don’t know about this.”
He hesitated, and though his words were confident, I could hear he felt it too: “Don’t be silly, there’s nothing to be scared of. Come on.”
The bridge made a hollow thumping sound as we crossed it. Soon we were drifting through the cemetery like ghosts ourselves with the flashlights, and the fear began to wear off a little bit. I observed something strange.
“Joe!” I called. “Why don’t any of these gravestones have names on them?” I shone the light on the small marker closest to my feet. “This one just has a number — 183.”
Sam answered me, and his voice sounded detached.
“Sometimes they don’t know who the loonies are; mostly their families just drop ‘em off ‘cause they don’t want ‘em.” In the dark, I could see him shrug. “Even if they do know, no one comes and visits ‘em when they die, or pays for a nice plaque. So they just got a bunch of numbered rocks in storage to save time and money.”
Joe peered at Sam in the dark. “How d’you know that, Sam? Hey…didn’t you have a brother in there or someone?”
Sam’s face contorted angrily, and his eyes darted back and forth between us.
“No! Ain’t no loonies in my family! My cousin works here in the summer, is all.”
He spat at the ground and swung his flashlight away from us. I stared at the sad 183 and wondered who was lying under my feet. As scared as I was of the people in the asylum, something about it struck me as wrong.
All of a sudden, a noise interrupted our quiet investigation. The three of us froze, hurriedly switching off our flashlights.
“What was that?” hissed Sam.
“It sounded like someone coming over the bridge,” Joe murmured. My spine turned to ice. As we squinted towards the entrance of the cemetery, a cloud passed over the moon, plunging everything into total blackness.
“RUN!” Joe bellowed. I screamed, throwing my arms in front of me blindly, sending the flashlight flying, my feet pounding the grass. My foot caught on a headstone, and I flew through the air, hit the ground hard, and was sent spiraling with my momentum. I could feel myself crashing down a slope, scraped by a million branches, before finally plummeting into the river.
My system went into shock. Everything was black, and the sound of my thrashing was deafening; my legs kicked helplessly in the deep water, and my arms flailed, but I couldn’t keep myself afloat. I tasted brine and mud and listened to the abrupt silence as my ears were filled and I went under.
Then, I felt arms around my chest, felt a pull, and I was out, I was being dragged; my lungs were on fire and bright spots flared at the edges of my vision. I choked and vomited water onto the grass where I was laid. Coming to my senses, I whirled around to find my savior. The moonlight had returned, and sitting at a safe distance from me was a middle-aged woman. She sat cross-legged on the ground, clothed in a thin white robe with the letters MHI stitched neatly on the breast. Her eyes were sunken and her skin was horribly white and papery, but she was watching me with an expression of profound concern. I couldn’t move a muscle. After what seemed like years, I offered a raspy, “Thank you.” She blinked, and said nothing.
I cleared my throat.
“Thank you for saving me.”
She blinked again. I felt the urge to do something to return the gesture. Feverishly, I pulled the ring off my finger and approached her. I held it out, but she just stared. Startling myself, I gently took ahold of her hand and placed the ring on her finger.
“It’s yours now,” I said softly. She gazed at her hand, and I saw tears slip out of the corners of her eyes. I became very chilly then, and realized how wet I and scared I was.
“Well — goodnight,” I stammered.
I hurried through the darkness to find Joe and Sam, and to return to the world of independence and comfort that existed outside those wrought-iron gates.
Megan Knowles, Spring 2017
I remember the field where they found Elise's body. Six-foot high grass and wild daisies filled the vast open lot in the sleepy suburb west of Chicago. Local kids would bike through flattened paths of grass or cut through it to get to the nearby subdivision. It was the same field where neighbors would recall Elise walking her family's sheepdog, Gus, every summer morning and it was the same nearby subdivision where Elise lived in a tidy split-level with her family before she was murdered at the age of 16.
Elise's death was before every teen had a cell phone attached to their hip equipped with GPS, before the big box stores and 4-lane roads had taken over the slowly growing suburb and no one could safely travel on foot or by bike. When Elise didn't come home that evening, there were no text messages to check where she was. For her parents, it was normal for her to take solitary walks through the field or neighborhood, especially on warm evenings. But when the sun went down that night and Elise hand't returned, something was wrong. Her mom anxiously watched out their living room window, her brother and his friends rode their bikes all over town shouting her name while her father frantically phoned the police.
The local paper reported that two grade school boys had stumbled upon her lifeless frame while digging through the brush the morning after she disappeared, mere hours after her parents reported her missing. She was hastily buried under soft dirt amongst the tall grass in a corner of the field, a bouquet of freshly picked daisies clenched between her cold, white hands, neatly folded across her chest as if she rested peacefully in a coffin. The town was equally disturbed at two children finding the body of a deal high school girl as at the meticulously arranged flowers. But nothing was talked about more in the town's lengthy gossip than the murder itself—a gruesome combination of stab wounds and strangulation.
During the days following her death, the question and chatter of the town became far less sympathetic toward Elise and consisted of disingenuous declarations that something had to change, that the police weren't doing their job. How could something like this happen here? What can we do to make this town safer for our children?
But somehow they knew that this must be an isolated incident. They were convinced that there must have been some passionate motivation to killing this young girl. Police questioned Elise's father, brother, and teachers—all the potential predators in her short life. Her family was outraged. It was impossible for her hard-working father or Ivy League bound brother to commit such a heinous act. Her parents desperately told police about Elise's necklace, a silver-chained piece of jewelry with a blue topaz daisy charm that she wore every day. It wasn't found on her body and they were sure she had been wearing it the day she disappeared. Distraught with grief, they knew her necklace was somewhere. That he had her necklace. That he was hiding it, a sick sort of keepsake. And so detectives combed the newly awakened suburb for clues, traveling from house to house with questions, armed with Elise's most recent school photo, the daisy charm necklace visible under her soft smile.
I remember that it was during the last week before summer break in June when the police came to our school to conduct interviews with Elise's classmates, to search the lockers for the necklace with the daisy charm. I remember seeing the police dogs throughout the solemn hallways and Elise's friends crying and holding hands in the cafeteria. I had moved to the Chicago suburb from Cincinnati a few months before, one of many moves my family would make throughout my scattered, inconsistent childhood. I remember feeling so detached from the town and its people, especially since I hadn't managed to make any friends yet.
But most of all, I remember the short interaction I had with Elise one afternoon in our school's music room, one of few we would have in the short time we went to high school together. I joined the school band to play the trombone and practiced after school in the small rooms of our music department, a welcome refuge where I felt like I was actually a part of the school. One afternoon, I remember hearing the distant sounds of the grand piano in the music hall around the corner. I was curious to know the player behind the piece.
A petite girl with smooth auburn hair sat at the piano's bench, her long pale fingers dancing across the keys, her bright blue eyes fiercely fixated on the sheet of music in front of her. I watched her from the corner of the room, completely absorbed in her playing. She was beautiful. I moved to set down my textbook on the nearby table and clumsily dropped it, making much more noise that I would've expected and leaving me red in the face.
The piano keys clanged to a sudden top. Elise looked up with a start, her intense concentration broken, her pale cheeks coloring red.
"Oh, I'm so sorry. I didn't mean to disturb you. I heard you playing and I—your playing is lovely," I stammered, avoiding her wide blue eyes.
"Oh, it's really okay," she started, her voice flustered and rushed. She jumped from the piano bench, shuffling her sheets of music, impossibly shy and embarrassed that someone had heard her practicing an unfinished piece, full of mistakes. I felt guilty for intruding on her and I hurried to make some semblance of conversation.
"That's Back's Aria da Capo, isn't it? I think I know it... well, I recognize the melody at least." Elise nodded with the slightest hint of a smile, impressed that someone knew one of her favorite pieces.
"I try to practice it after school, but there never seems to be enough time, and it's... just so beautiful. I want to get it right," she said.
"Well, do you have a piano at home?" I asked, afraid she would leave and eager to continue this moment, one of the only meaningful interactions I'd had at school so far.
Her shell was easier to break that I thought. Suddenly, she started telling me about how she would be inheriting an antique piano from an elderly neighbor, a former pianist who suffered from arthritis, but loved to hear what she called the "unmatched passion" of Elise's playing. We walked out of the music room together, discussing classical composers and the upcoming orchestra concert. In a moment that came far too soon, Elise said she had to go. Her mother was taking her dress shopping for the end of year dance. I sent her away with an awkward wave and watched her head toward the field near the school.
Elise went to the dance with Paul, a rowdy and popular tennis player a year ahead of her. Thinking about the blushing perfectionist talking about the intricacies of Bach, I couldn't imagine her getting along with a boy who spent most of his time goofing off with his friends or throwing paper balls at girls in class. The night of the dance, I remember seeing Paul drink from a flask he shared with friends outside the gymnasium.
I remember sitting on the gym's bleaches, the designated seats for wallflowers and losers, watching Elise in her peach-colored dress, the silver-chained daisy necklace sparkling across her neck. She slow-danced with Paul to "Try Me," and old James Brown love song, and I watched from the sidelines, always from the sidelines, with insatiable envy and self-pity. After another ballad, Paul snuck off with his buddies to sneak sips from their flask again. Elise found her friends near the table and of stale snack mix and plastic cups of soda, her body language suggesting that this was not how she imagined her night with Paul would turn out. She chatted frantically to the two girls, her arms gesturing towards the door and then folded defiantly across her chest in an almost childlike frustration. The girls returned her gestures with a few sympathetic nods and open-mouthed eye rolls. Still, she waited for him. Her blue eyes kept darting toward the closed gymnasium door and back to the floor of much happier couples enjoying their evening, her disappointment visible with each glance.
When Paul finally came back, drunk, he stumbled over to Elise, attempting to playfully grab her around the waist. I remember seeing Elise and Paul begin to argue. As Elise tried to get Paul to look into her eyes and steadied him by his broad shoulder, Paul shoved Elise's far smaller from away from him, Elise's angry tears sent her carefully applied mascara streaming onto her cheeks. She hurried past the couples across the dance floor and made a quick exit out of the gymnasium. She was humiliated, wondering how she could've bene so naïve to believe that tonight would be different, that Paul liked her too much to sacrifice their night together just to get buzzed for the hundredth time with his buddies. When the drama was finished, a few people pretended they hadn't seen anything and a few more whispered on the sidelines.
Still attached to the bleachers, I realized that it was close to the end of the dance as I heard the love ballads begin to fade and I watched more and more laughing groups of friends and shyly smiling couples filing out of the gymnasium. I followed them, slipping on my pathetically thin windbreaker before heading into the far colder night air. I scanned the throngs of students for her auburn hair and peach-colored dress. I wanted to tell Elise what a jerk I thought Paul was, how she didn't deserve to have her spring dance ruined by a brainless wannabe jock. But she was gone.
The Monday after the dance, I remember seeing Elise and Paul kiss outside the Biology classroom. I put my textbooks slowly away in my locker as he spoke to her in a hushed whisper, his eyebrows contrived to express concern and humility. She hugged her textbooks and blushed as she met his eyes. She looked happy. I couldn't believe how she would forgive him so easily after he made her cry, after his violent outburst, one that could happen again. But people aren't always who you expect them to be.
When Elise's body was found, students who saw him shove her at the dance and knew about his inclination for goofing off and partying all suspected Paul. But there wasn't enough evidence to convict him. Not from prints of the body, not from searching his house, not from interviewing him and his friends. According to the police, he wasn't guilty of anything but being a teenager with a temper and a knack for getting in trouble.
I remember how I never had the courage to ask her to the spring dance, how I should've just asked her that day outside the music room. I remember how it could've been different if I had asked her, how she wouldn't have had to cry that might, the last time she'd ever get to experience a dance. But I know there's no use in regretting the past.
Now, I return to my old suburb, a foreign town I haven't seen since the end of my high school days. It's much louder and more developed than how I remembered it. I hear the rush of cars driving on nearby highways. A sprawling Walmart replaces the field of daisies and tall grass across from the school. It was foolish to expect nothing to have changed, especially as I look at the reflection in the rearview mirror of the blundering young trombonist, now 20 years older. The engine of my old Chevy sedan clanks over the light trills of Bach's Aria da Capo, serenading from my cassette player as I stall in the Walmart's parking lot, unabashedly and perhaps even unknowingly constructed on Elise's grave. It was far too easy to forget the past.
I shut off the engine and exit the car, walking away from the store and the crowd, heading toward the back of the lamp lit parking lot. The dozens of evening shoppers pass me by without a second thought, never a second thought at someone like me. They don't seem to know or care about the significance of this very lot, to know about the grisly crime that took place here only two decades earlier. I reach the corner of the parking lot, crickets busily chirping in the surrounding grass. With a heavy sigh, at long last, I pause to set down a bouquet of white daisies in one of the many empty asphalt spaces, and I finger the silver-chained necklace with the blue topaz daisy charm sparkling in the lamp's reflection, my keepsake of Elsie.
Emma Spring, Spring 2017
To know Rome is to not know it at all. It's a feeling. Rome isn't just a place to get to know, like a new friend or lover. It's an overwhelming awareness of your senses; the smells that fill the narrow, cobblestone streets and to see the most magnificent sights when you might least expect it. To "know" Rome would be to not know it at all. Rome doesn't greet you with a warm hello and a firm handshake. It's a brief "ciao" or a simple kiss on each cheek. Rome doesn't want you to know it, it wants you to experience it. If you think you "know" Rome, you're simply wrong. The Pop, the great and mighty emperors, the families that never left—none of them know Rome.
They feel it.
The history, the omniscient presence of God, the secrets deep beneath the surface. To feel Rome is to feel it body, mind, and spirit. It is to love it like the passionate romantics in the middle of the street. And to hate it like the people you pass by shouting in Italian so fast the can barely take a breath. To know Rome is to never be able to fully understand it. It's the feeling of being lost, but never alone.
Kari Hinterlong, Spring 2017
The clock read 10:30 pm, it's green light casting an eerie glow in the darkness of the kitchen. Anna turned on the floor lamp, it's warm yellow light bathing the room in a benevolent ambience. Anna smiled. And light shall shine forth in the darkness. She loved these small things. To her, running on a light was not simply turning on a light. It meant more than that. Everything could have a deeper meaning if you choose to give it one. And that was exactly what she did. Perhaps that was why following a routine was so important to her. She thought of it not as a collection of trivial actions, but as a ritual that must be performed with reverence. She took care with every action she took, did not mindlessly go through the motions like she could have, but instead focused all her attention on performing each task. She measured a cup of filtered water, slowly poured it in the teapot and set it on the stove to boil. She opened a packet of chamomile tea and tenderly placed the tea bag into her favorite mug, the one her sister had made for her in a pottery class. It was light blue and it had hand-painted daisies drawn near the handle.
Her sister was always taking classes for fun. First it was baking classes. For a whole month Anna had received a dozen cupcakes every week. Then it was knitting. That time she had given Anna a matching scarf and hat and gloves. This time her sister was on a pottery binge. Some people thought Anne's sister was silly, jumping from hobby to hobby like that, but Anna admired it. If her sister got bored with something (and she often did), she just waved goodbye and moved on to the next thing. Anna was the recipient of all her sister's abandoned hobbies, a collector of faded interests. They were orphans and she took them in, gave them a loving home. She treasures these little knick-knacks more than anything else she owned because they represented unfulfilled potential, and to her at least, that was a sacred thing.
If Anna picked up a hobby, she could not put it down. She felt compelled to stick with something, even if she did not enjoy it. She slogged through books that she did not enjoy and finished every page. Even if the book was not a page-turner, she vowed to be one. She turned the pages steadily and proudly finished each book she picked up.
The teapot started to hiss, quietly at first, then much louder. It startled her, because she did not often get so lost in her thoughts. Steam rushed out of the spot. She ran toward the strove and removed the boiling pot from the heat. She poured the tea into the mug. She stirred in a sizable portion of honey and took the mug to her room and set it on her nightstand. She sipped the tea as she read Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, waiting for the words to blur and for her head to be weighed down by the insistent drowsiness that usually overtook her, but it did not. Not tonight. Her head felt clear. Her limbs felt weightless.
And that was the problem. Her body did not feel tired tonight. She had gone on her usual walk that day, to the lake and back just around the time the sun was setting. Same number of steps even, but her legs did not feel tired as they usually did. In fact, she felt energized, ready to run a mile or perhaps swim some laps. There was no way she would be able to fall asleep like this. She decided to do some exercise. That might wear her out enough so that she could fall asleep.
Anna was in the middle of her jumping jack when the smoke detector in the apartment building went off. She froze, both arms straight in the air as if she had been caught at the scene of a crime. She came back to her senses while the shrill screech of the alarm continued. Perhaps she needed to be jolted out of her daydreams. She was daydreaming quite a bit these days. Maybe this is a way to alert me to come back to the present moment, she thought.
She put on her slippers and shuffled to the door then peeked her head out to see if anyone was heading downstairs toe evacuate or if it was another false alarm. She had barely opened the door when she smelled it. Smoke. The fumes were unmistakable. She choked and in her panic began to hyperventilate.
She woke up in a hospital bed. To her surprise, her mother was sitting in a chair next to her.
"Anna," she breathed. Her voice was scratchy, her eyes rimmed with red.
"I'm okay Mom. I don't even remember how I got here. It's like a miracle isn't it," she beamed.
Her mother was grasping a bouquet of flowers so tightly that the rose thorns dug into her palms and little drops of blood trailed down her hand. "Flower-arranging. That was the class your sister was coming from," she whispered, barely audible.
"She was on her way over to give these to you, but..." She stifled a sob.
"She managed to get you down the stairs, but the doctors said she breathed in a lot of smoke. Too much." Her mother took a gasp of air and choked out, "She's gone, Anna."
Anna stared at the bouquet. At the unfulfilled potential.
Theresa Murphy, Spring 2017
Dreams turned to Dust.
In the old days, the train came twice daily; once at noon and once at half past five. Those had been the days, of course, before the desert had encroached upon the town, back when it was still a vibrant and bustling final stop on the railway. She had moved there in her youth, her parents eager to own land and make a dream for themselves in the open expanse of the West. Back then, the train deposited a hoard of new settlers each time it stopped at the station. It never took anyone back.
But that began to change when the riverbeds started drying up. She was just old enough to remember when the first of the trains departed, taking disillusioned settlers back East. The second wave came with the failure of the first of the wells, right around the time when she was to be married. It took her suitor with it, dragging him along the road he had traveled in his infancy, back towards the East. The third wave came with the heat, forcing more and more of the frail women and children to return to what their lives had been before the adventure and promise of the West had called out to them.
That was when the clock stopped working. One day it became stuck, ever displaying the time as 4:15. But that didn't matter. The train no longer came twice a day. For the first few years, it came once, chugging in at the 5 o'clock hour. Then, slowly, it dwindled to every two or three days, so that people wishing to exit would be forced to look out for days on end. Then, it lost even that frequency, coming sporadically, stopping in every month or so when an official from the East came to check on conditions.
These days, the train pulled into the station perhaps twice a year. It never deposited anyone, and only rarely did it pick anyone up. There were not many left to pick up. A few years ago, a neighbor boy and his dog had gone to the station every day to wait for the train. One day, as they made their way there, they heard the scream of the engine. The boy and his dog had run as fast as they could, trying to make it to the station before the train left. He hadn't been quick enough. From that day on, he and his dog slept in the train station each night. In the end, they had to wait another seven months before the train returned. By then, the dog was dead and the boy was on the verge of madness.
But he had gotten out. Not everyone had. Whole families had died of thirst here, waiting for the train. Now, the woman was the only one left. When the last of her neighbors had packed up some years back, she had been tempted to join them. But Mama refused to leave this place, this small town in the West that had promised her the fulfillment of all of her dreams. So the woman had stayed, unable to leave Mama all alone in this god-forsaken place. There had still been a well then, so she and Mama had a means to survive.
But Mama had been old, and she was dead now. With her death, the last of the water went. The town was well and truly uninhabitable. And so she packed up her meager things, all of them fitting into one suitcase, and went to wait at the station.
It was eerie, living alone in this place that seemed frozen in history. Only the clock showed the true ravages of time, its run down face and static arms belying the truth. Otherwise, through effectively abandoned for a score of years, the place seemed untouched by the heat and drought that ravaged the town. But for the lack of people, it appeared exactly as it had been so many years ago, when she and her parents had first arrived. Though it was quiet not, quieter than a train station had any right to be.
That was how she knew today was the day. The eerie silence that had seeped into her should was interrupted by a far-off hum, almost silence, but for the fact that everything else around her was silent as the grave. It was an hour or more before the train came into view, and twenty minutes longer before it pulled into the station, screaming and puffing and ruining the unnatural silence of the place.
She stood, her old bones creaking as she sauntered forward. Her suitcase was gripped tightly in one hand. The conductor met her on the platform, grabbing her case from her and indicating the place where she should board. He also handed her some water, indicating that he believed the rumors about this place; that everything was dead.
And now it was. She was the last inhabitant, and now she was going. It would be a ghost town, sinking back into the nature from which it had once rose. It would be the last time the train traveled this railway. The last time a foreigner came. The last time a native left. The last drop of water had evaporated and with it went life. She was the last one to leave and with her the town let out its dying breath. As the train began to pull out of the station for the last time, she pressed her nose against the window and watched her home fade away into the distance.
She would return now, to the East, to the life she had known as a small girl. When she stepped off the train, she would be surrounded by life. The bustling of a train station, the sounds of voices, the scream of the train's whistles. The sound of rain and flowing rivers. The sounds of what this town had been when she had first arrived and would never be again. And she would live, carrying the memory of this place, of the West and the promise it had held, with her always. It would not be the same. All the traffic, all the people, all the vivacity of the city would be hard to get used to after the brown barrenness that she had grown accustomed to. She would survive it, of course, as she had been unable to survive the West. After all, there was water in the east.
But as the last glimpse of the station slipped from her, she felt a loneliness that she had not felt in all of her months of solitude. And she knew that she had left a part of herself behind, to decay in that town. The town, now a ghost of what it had been, had promised so much. It had been the embodiment of her dream, promised to all those who had headed West, before the heat and the drought had forced them back East. In that time, in the earliest days, the dream had been attainable. Looking out at the crowds in the station as she had first stepped off the train, she could feel it permeating the air. Hope. Hope that the West could offer something better than the East. Freedom. Opportunity. Fulfillment. All these and more had been promised to her as a child when she first glimpsed the town. Now, gaining speed, she pulled father and farther away, aware that this train would be the last train heading West. The town was dead now. And the dream had died with it.
Saul Lopez, Spring 2017
El lenguaje no conoce frontera,
Yet we want people to pay
for our mistakes.
Para recitar un soneto de amor
bajo una noche estrellada,
One mustn't show a valid form of ID.
I have faced no charge for this
unholy matrimonio de dos lenguas
ya bastardas, llenas de sangre, guerra,
revolución, y un poco de deceit.
Yace el pensamiento impuro
que I have to decide which
one to pick and which one to
Pero es tan corta la vida,
y tan larga la ignorancia
que me rehuso a soltar
my two sets of alphabets,
one with an extra tetra or two.
Porque no es lo mismo leer un
soneto de Shakespeare en español
y mucho menos un soneto de Neruda
Mientras se pueda, both languages
must learn to respect their differences
y aprender uno del otro.
Because the day will come
where nonagon de los dos
will be used.
For once we die,
la muerte nos muestra
el lenguaje de la vida.
Alexis Worden, Spring 2017
Tingles and prickles reverberate through lower limbs as Daddy
drives to work. Calls from the office describing his collapse
creates chaos. Mother scrambles to reassemble herself despite
terror threatening to bore through her tender temperament.
Doctors deny dreams of Daddy dancing.
Brother's first birthday balloon
tethered meekly to the foot of Daddy's bed.
Brother plopped in between toes cripples with atrophy.
Mother softly sniffles into a well-wisher's handkerchief as nurses
shuffle round and round and round with every tick of the clock.
Oxygen orchestrated within tubes controls the
trachea while metronome precise morphine muddles the mind.
Quiet conversations create a chorus to compliment the machines.
Doctors detect flinching and wincing while Daddy
dreams of dancing.
Megan Smith, Spring 2017
of one's own navel
as an assistance
a humorous thought
to a high school boy,
retained by a man's
he's an innie. why?
how had he been cut
from his mother's womb
so it indented
his surface center?
who was it that chose
ring designs for his
how was it they knew
how many waves he'd
need in order to
sail, carpe diem,
the waves of his face?
and who wrote the word
so that it giggled
like Pillsbury dough?
a belly button.
Gina Richards, Spring 2017
My dad told me,
You can't have adventures without good shoes.
And so on the first day of college,
I traded in my old pair for--
My adventure boots and I,
We've seen and conquered
small pieces of the world together.
Slivers of mountains, plains, and oceans,
Won and forfeited within the past four years.
We've danced along car park rooftops,
Tracing the edge with our toes
and skirting away when
the wind was tempted to blow us over,
Watching trains go by in perfect silence.
We've dipped our souls into the Danube,
Laughing and splashing Jordan who,
Drinking liters of beer in the sunshine
thought only of scaling the graffiti mountains.
We spun recklessly down grassy hills,
Breathless scary delight when we read the sign,
The cliffs are subject to random mudslides,
We clambered desperately down Wisconsin Avenue,
4am, hopelessly drunk,
Fearlessly claiming our newfound world,
Shouting to the lights that we were ready.
We fell in love with Cedarburg,
And the golden leaves and bonfire smoke.
Stood still around our halo,
And followed as a friendly shadow.
We cried a lot,
On planes, in cars, at the ends of long nights,
At the stop and start of adventures,
Because the unknown is never broken in.
But most importantly,
We learned what it means to live.
How to make a planet a universe,
How to find treasure in a home.
Adventure doesn't begin with a map,
But with a great windows, ready to break.
Free and wil, begging:
Lace up your boots.
Hannah Kirby, Spring 2017
Mom says the television isn't working.
Dad says he'll fix it.
Mom says too bad you can't fix endometriosis.
Dad says we'll keep trying.
We tried the surgery and it didn't work.
We'll try something different.
Mom fixes dinner.
Dad fixes the television.
There was an 85-percent chance we would get pregnant this year--
And we were the 15-percent.
We just have to keep trying.
We've been trying for 11 years.
Mom asks do you want to stop?
Dad asks do you want to stop?
We could think about adopting again.
We could save up for another treatment.
Do you want to take a break?
Do you want to take a break?
Mom clears off the table.
Dad washes it off.