Short Story Intro, Anonymous

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It wasn’t odd honestly that the entire day had just felt vaguely…..off. It had happened before, yet I still hadn’t gotten used to it. I suppose it wasn’t something you were meant to get used to.

The only way I could describe this was that it felt as though reality had been altered in the most minor of ways. It was the kind of feeling you felt when you think you’ve forgotten something small but not totally insignificant and really can’t remember what or maybe the feeling of walking into a department store or grocery store at 3am. It was just the feeling of a slightly altered and off putting reality.

But, when I came home to a dog roaming in my front yard, it surely didn’t help that feeling.

I knew people in the neighborhood had dogs, in fact I knew just about all the dogs in the neighborhood. But, I also knew that none of those people let their dogs loose. Not even to mention that the dog, that was now sniffing at the base of the tree in my front yard, wasn’t a dog I recognized from the neighborhood.

It looked like it may have just escaped from a gate that was by chance left open by a small child or maybe slipped out the front door during a large family event. It looked like a pretty mixed Border Collie from my door. It had shaggy black fur mostly, but a splotch of white on its chest stood out rather boldly. It looked groomed and it looked like a family’s dog, not just some stray.

The stray dogs I had seen in the city when I was down there always looked extremely frail and thin, most of which had matted fur if it had any in the first place. But the dog, who had taken significant interest to my tree, had no bones jutting out in odd places that I could tell through it’s fur that mostly just looked tousled and maybe like it had been through a few bushes containing burrs. I personally found to be strange — it’s fur was rather long and oddly smoothed out for a dog that was just a stray.

I pulled into my drive trying not to scare this mysterious dog that had showed up at my house. After hitting the edge of the drive and driving down it the short distance, looking back at the dog, it suddenly looked at my car with lightning speed.

I stopped my car and quickly killed the engine, turning my lights off after turning the key. I assumed my tires probably hit a particularly crunchy leaf that caught it’s attention. I slowly opened my car door and locked the car twice from the inside before fully standing up. The dog seemed to go back to whatever it had found at the base of my tree as I quietly shut my car door and continued up the walkway to my front door.

After entering the house with my head still over my shoulder watching the dog, the quietness of my house returned and settled quickly after the storm door closed. The realization of just how lonely and quiet life was after I started living on my own was soul shattering. The entire house was dead quiet to the point that ringing would fill my hearing just to having something there other than just dead silence a lot of times. Others, I would just play music for background noise.

After getting a job in high school at a pet resort for, ironically enough, dogs, I ended up sticking with it and moving about two miles from my childhood home where my mum had lived. I inherited her house, that was really her parents’ house she inherited, but got rid of it as quick as I could because of how empty it felt. My mum constantly said how it wasn’t her house anyhow, it was her parents and would always be theirs. So, I suppose I picked up my urge to get rid of the house from her early on.

I had thought moving might help. I always liked interior design and hated cleaning. So thinking that I would have to actually clean all the old stuff out of the house before I got to do the fun bits sounded like a lot of work. Not to mention how the thought of getting an absolutely clean slate to work off of sounded like an oasis in the middle of the Sahara.

But, somehow after I moved, that oasis slowly faded away and became just another dead area in the middle of a desert.

I had planned to get a dog to help with it, something that would just make it feel like a home, not just a house. But, I planned a lot of things that never happened. I guess like all kids, I had my own dreams that were wildly unrealistic. Looking back though, I realized mine weren’t honestly unreachable. But, I still needed food, water, and also electricity, so I just kinda let the idea of extras and things that weren’t 100% fully necessary fade away just like the oasis in my make believe desert.

I looked back out into the yard before closing my actual door. The dog was still there, slowly coming back to where it began sniffing at the base of the tree.

I sighed. I always seemed to have more compassion for animals than people. They were innocent and didn’t know better. Even when I was a kid, I seemed to care more about animals. My mum told me as a kid, I got angry at someone for saying a specific breed of dog was dangerous and that specific breed should be fully banned. Apparently I turned around told the person that, “Maybe we should start banning bad people who force dogs to be like them.” My mum never ceased to quote it either in a mocking tone like a small child’s.

A collar looked like it was leaving a small indentation in the dog’s neck. It didn’t look too tight, but it also was still there, so it probably wasn’t too loose.

I decided to keep my front door open so I could keep an eye on the dog, but I went ahead and locked my storm door just in case someone got the wrong idea.

After considering it for a moment, I remembered that after a friend had gone on vacation and left their dog with me, I still had about half of a bag full of kibble I thought I’d never use.

I quickly walked into the kitchen and opened the pantry and squatted down. I could see the food in the back of the very bottom shelf. I plunged my hand into the back and grabbed the bag at the top where I had rolled it down and taped it to preserve it.

After a bit of struggle and a lot of things falling out of the bottom of the cabinet, I got it free and stood up. My knees protested from straightening for a moment but quickly complied.

A random bowl that I had quickly became the dog’s — it within the day would probably have used it more than me honestly.

The dog didn’t seem to be there anymore when I went back to the door. I looked at the tree and then both ways down the street, leaning from one side of the door to the other, pressing my cheek to the cool glass. I blew a slightly forceful breath of air out my nose after realizing I took too long.

The racoons and possums had already knocked over my garbage bin twice that month, and setting a bowl of food out seemed more like a personal invitation engraved with gold that would be RSVPed and accepted nearly immediately. As much as I really did want to find out more about the dog, this was probably not the right time.

My shoulders sagged. It was a cute dog. A dog that, in my head, seemed to fit perfectly into everything I do in my daily life snuggly.

Slowly, without realizing it, the feeling of an altered reality faded.

★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★

After returning from work the following week, a familiar guest seemed to show up more with the coming days. It nearly seemed like this dog managed to figure out about what time I came home so it could get food from me.

After the first few days, I ended up going out and buying a full bag of dog food. I felt like I was planning for something that wasn’t even going to happen, a fully packed suitcase for a trip never planned. But, I lived spontaneously, my “plans” seemed to rarely have warning in advance.

After a while, I had started sitting on the stairs with the food a little ways away from me. After a while, it came up to me and let me pet it. I took that opportunity to look at the collar around it’s neck.

It had a phone number, which I had called and left a message. But, after two days, a response was not something I had. A name was also listed, Moonchalk, which at first I thought to be odd since she was black, but eventually it seemed fitting and it didn’t seem like any other name could fit her. An ID tag with what I assumed, was a chip number hopefully containing a bit more info, was also dangling from her collar.

★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★

The next day, I ended up grabbing one of my leashes from work. I had also gone to the liberty of looking up vets that checked chips. I didn’t want to take her to the pound in fear they might quarantine her basically, but I wanted and needed to know if she had a family worried sick about her back home.

I almost hoped that she didn’t have one at this point. I was about 100% sure she did though after taking a look at her collar a bit more. The tag with only a number was definitely an ID number; there was no way it could be anything else. She seemed relatively happy around me and didn’t seem to be coming less often. But, I know that if I lost a dog as well trained and loving as her, I’d be devastated.

When I got home, she was there, waiting for food. This time though, I didn’t sit on the stairs with the food close to me. I instead opened my front door and propped my screen door open with the food sitting just inside the door. I went ahead and put a bowl of water down also since I could take an educated guess and say she probably didn’t have a good source of water.

This worked almost too well.

She walked in like she owned the place and immediately stuck her head in what was now her bowl. I had set the food far enough away from the door so I could close the door behind her and basically trap her in my house.

“Was this what dognapping was? Did I just steal someone’s dog and am now holding it hostage?” was somehow all that could come to my head for a moment.

I put those thoughts aside though because I was feeding her and giving her a roof over her little fuzzy head, which was apparently more than her actual owners were doing, if they even existed.

After Moonchalk was done eating, she drank some water, then got up and began wandering around the house, sniffing at absolutely everything she could get her nose close enough to to sniff.

While she sniffed around, keeping a close eye on her, I went ahead and rang the vet I found to see if they had any space available. Somehow, my luck was on a really nice roll since they had had an open space in about an hour and to just come on in.

I sat on the sofa watching Moonchalk sniff at my entire house. I laughed after she sniffed at a jar of large glass stones that I think were meant for a fish tank, and tipped it over onto the carpeting, scaring her enough to back away from it completely.

She trotted over to me, ears back and tail down a bit lower than normal. She sat in front of me looking like a small child who just got caught getting a cookie from the cookie jar without permission.

I smiled and scratched her behind her ears, telling her it was okay. Her ears went back up and her tail loosened when I reassured her I wasn’t mad at her for knocking a cheap vase with even cheaper rocks in it.

I leaned back in the sofa and patted the space next to me on the sofa. She hesitated for a moment, looking at me carefully as though asking for permission before I patted the space again, said her name, and told her to get up here. She looked at me skeptically before she put her front paws up on the front of the sofa and then again while she slowly took one back paw at a time and placed them on the edge of the sofa.

Once she was finally up on the sofa, I praised her and scratched behind her ears, laughing at how careful she seemed to be. Like a very anxious person in a store with a few too many expensive and fragile things waiting to be broken.

I rubbed her head playfully as she tried to get me back by swinging her head back and forth, jaw agape, playful growls coming from her chest. I slapped my hands down onto the sofa on either side of her and she immediately jumped into my lap, licking my face, and her entire butt moving to wag her tail.

I put my arms around her neck and then squeezed her tight. I rested my chin on her shoulder blades, my jaw surely digging into her from smiling.

I felt a soft weight on my own shoulder and back after a second and my heart sped up a bit. It took me a moment to realize that it was Moonchalk and she was doing the exact same thing to me that I was doing to her to return the love I was giving her.

★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★★

I drove down the road with the windows open about 6 inches, enough for Moonchalk, who was riding shotgun, to stick her nose out but not enough to let her jump out. I opened the back door to let her jump in when we left, but Moonchalk seemed to have much different intentions and wouldn’t get in. Instead she sat outside the front passenger door with her head tilted and ear forward. I gave in immediately.

It turned out that it really didn’t take long to scan a chip. She did have one and I was also told that the second tag was an ID number too it.

Fortunately, there was an address attached to the chip that was rather close to my house that I planned on stopped by on the way home.

It didn’t really hit me that this would probably be the end of Moonchalk’s and my adventure until we were halfway there with me singing to some song on the radio and Moonchalk with her nose stuck out the cracked window.

It really hit me that when I got to this address, it would be the end of all this. I had come to find that in the last year, Moonchalk was probably just about the closest thing I had to a best friend. And hell, she was a dog who happened to show up at my doorstep one day and I decided to feed because I just really like dogs.

As we got closer to this address, my heart sunk more and more. I considered just not taking her back and just keeping her, but I knew that there was a family missing her, probably sitting in their living room watching TV with an empty spot on the floor where she probably lied.

I turned onto the street with the address name and drove down until I saw the house with the bold number across the mailbox and next to the doorway.

I pulled up across from the house on the street and squinted, checking the address again and looking back and forth from my phone to the house. At first I thought I got turned around somewhere or maybe I copied the address wrong from the vet, but after double and triple checking everything, nothing was adding up. I know I wrote the correct address, I put it into Google Maps when I acquired it, bookmarked it, and checked the screen with the chips information at least 3 times.

A small house with white panelling on the sides and light blue shutters on either side of the windows stood there. A large tree, about the size of mine, also stood in the front yard. I noticed a fence that enclosed the backyard also thats gate was open.

But none of this was the most prominent or concerning as the large “FOR SALE” sign smack in the middle of the yard.

The feeling of an altered reality suddenly hit me all over again. After things had been going so well, I expected it, and yet I still felt the feeling of the askew universe.

My eyebrows furrowed. Moonchalk was next to me chopping at the bit to get out. Surely this was right, she clearly recognized this place, there was no doubt about that.

I grabbed the leash loop and opened by driver door. After I got out, Moonchalk hopped across my center consol, over the emergency brake and gear shift, and out of the car. I closed the door as she dragged me to the front door of this mysterious house. When she got to the door, she stopped, pawed at the door, and then sat there.

I realized the doorbell button and hit that also, but from the looks of it, the door wasn’t going to open anytime soon.

I started walking away from the door with Moonchalk’s leash in my hand. She protested by trying to tug me back, but I knew there was no point in staying here. I dragged Moonchalk with me to the window where I looked in hoping to see at least some form of life. I pressed my face against the glass, hands cupped around my temples, one  of which was holding Moonchalk’s leash, for what seemed like 10 minutes. Finally, I removed my face from the window and dropped my hands to my sides. There was no point in standing there, looking into a desolate house hoping that suddenly furniture, a family, and life would show up. Just as opening your fridge every 5 minutes hoping there will be something good to eat doesn’t work, neither did staring into an empty home.

Moonchalk had put her front paws up against the side of the house, just below the window. As she looked in, her expression became more and more disheartened. I could tell that she hadn’t expected to see her home completely empty and void of all life. I swear that I could see the gears turning in her head, putting all of the pieces together, and coming to the conclusion that was put in front of her.

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February the 25th, Samar Slaughter

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On February the 25th of 2017 God took one of the most important men in my life away from me. I remember that day so well and I’m pretty sure I will continue for as long as I live. I had woken up that morning in a very good mood actually — I planned on working and soon after attending a friend’s surprise party. I got out of bed, took myself a shower, did my usual morning facials and ate breakfast. I usually have my boyfriend take me to work but today I had my mom take me since it was so early in the morning. I got to the salon and waited for my client to arrive, which in the end was very pointless because she cancelled almost an hour to me being at the salon. So I decided to take a nap before my next client arrived just because I was so tired from working the day before. And so I took my nap.

I had woken up from my nap and by that time my client was on her way. She was getting a full set of eyelash extensions, which would take around an hour and forty-five minutes. So time went by… I finished her lashes. They looked gorgeous! She loved them, and gave me my money for the service I had done for her. It was getting later around 4:45 and I was hungry so I decided to walk down the street to get some shrimp fried from my favorite place, Mizu. I ordered the food which took about fifteen minutes for them to make, and waited the fifteen minutes at the salon. Keep in mind I was by myself so I had to keep myself occupied: I decided to play music until it was time for me to walk down to get my food. A little over 20 or 25 minutes passed and I hurried to get my food and made my way back to the salon. Little did I know what was about to happen would change my life forever.   

I got back to the salon between five to ten minutes after getting my food because I had run into an old friend — running my mouth of course. I unlocked the doors, put away my keys with my purse and began to set up my food to eat. I noticed that hadn’t put a fork in my bag so I was searching throughout the salon for a fork. In the midst of looking for said fork I heard my phone begin to ring. I didn’t rush to answer but at the same time I didn’t hesitate either. I made my way to it and it was my little sister Samyah. I answered the phone and said “Hello?” “Samarrrr!” My sister said. I could tell she was hysterical, and I couldn’t make out a word she said besides my name. I begin to panic and I told her to slow down and speak clear enough that I could hear her. “Samar, I’m at Auntie Keyonna’s house and daddy was here with me and MirMir, and he took a nap and and and he was sleep but I saw he wasn’t breathing and now his fingers are turning purple and blue and he’s cold and I don’t know what to do!” I literally did not know what to say. This was a phone call I never in a million thought I would be getting so soon! I couldn’t believe my ears or what I was hearing! It couldn’t be true! Not MY DAD!

I immediately burst into tears. “Samyah has anyone called the ambulance? Are you alone? How did this happen? What’s going on!” I screamed. “They’re here now and they’re taking him away!” she cries. “Ok I’m on my way to get you RIGHT NOW! We are going to the hospital!” I said. She replied with a simple, “Alright, see you soon.” I called my mom, but she didn’t answer. I could tell her phone line was busy so I called Oscar.

Hot tears were streaming down my face as I begin to wheeze — I could feel a panic attack coming on anytime now. My hands were shaking uncontrollably. Then he answered the phone: “Oscar please come and get me now! We can’t go to the birthday dinner anymore!” He asked what’s wrong because I’m sure he could hear the distress in my voice. I explained everything that just happened — the phone call with my sister and everything. “I’m on my way right now!” he said. I called my best friend JeAnna since she was suppose to be riding to the dinner with us along with her boyfriend Harry. I explained the same thing to her all over again and she asked us to still come and get her and Harry, and so we did. I hung up, packed my things and locked the door to the salon just as Oscar was pulling up.

He got out of the car, opened the door and hugged me. I looked up from the hug and he wiped the tears from my face. I could see the icky black goo on his fingers that used to be my mascara once upon time, that had been diluted by my tears. We hurried and got in the car, rushing our way through traffic to pick up our friends. As we were in the car I could now stop myself from crying. Oscar assured me that everything was going to be okay, and he reached out his hand for me to hold. He asked if I would like to pray, which I sure as hell did. And so we prayed, which calmed me down just a tad. We finally arrived and my best friend and I called to let them know we were here. They came out, got in the car and both of them hugged me, also assuring me that everything would be fine. I sat in the car making our way to my aunt’s house after mom finally called back telling me to meet her there instead of the hospital, with one hand over my eyes and forehead and the other hand holding Oscar’s.

We finally made it to my aunt’s house and no one was there but my mom and my siblings. I ran out of Oscar’s car to my loved ones and grabbed them into a warm embrace. My mom updated me on everything that had happened and also acknowledged my friends. She let me know what hospital he was at and we headed there.

The ride there was the absolute worst. The traffic was so slow, my friends were right behind us, and to be honest my anxiety level was beginning to burst. My little brother began to break down in the car just as we pulled up to the hospital which was very busy. I pulled him into my lap and patted his back letting him know I’m here. Just as we pulled up I saw both of my aunts and a few cousins standing outside the hospital. I hurried and jumped out of the car to get any news I could from my aunt. “Hey y’all, we just got here. But I’m pretty sure they’ll let you guys go back and see him for a minute.” My aunt said. My heartbeat began to slow; I felt relief begin to set inside me. “He’s ok?” I asked. I smiled for the first time in the past two hours all of this occurred. “He’s really ok?” The tears were still pouring but this time they were happy tears.

She gave me a look. My Aunt Keyonna gave me a look I will never forget. It was like “Baby I’m so sorry but…” looks. The tears began to form in her eyes. And I just sat there for a moment in disbelief. I was done for. I felt my knees getting weak and I started to stomp and scream and cry; I absolutely could not believe it. My dad was actually gone. It felt as though someone had literally ripped my heart from my chest and left me standing there in the cold. I looked at the sky, my vision blurred from the tears, just screaming at God, asking him why? Why had he taken my daddy from me?

I couldn’t help it — I threw a fit. I exploded right in front of the hospital. Like a two year old throwing a tantrum. Except that toy you took from that two year old, was my father. I totally blacked out. From everything. Everything was silent except for the cries that came out of my mouth. I could hear my aunt’s voice from a distance. She had asked if I wanted to see him. But I knew I wasn’t ready. I waited outside for a bit to try and recollect myself enough to walk in and see my dad.

I walked through the metal detectors, grabbed my things, and followed the hospital nurse to the room my father was in along with my family. We turned a couple corners, walked through some heavy doors and finally reached his room. Everyone immediately walked in but I had to take a deep breath before I made my entrance. I pushed open the door and there he was. Lying there, lifeless. A shell of what used to be the most incredible man I knew. I put my hand over my mouth to hold back the cries but they pushed through like ocean waves, as did my tears. There was no explaining the pain I felt. The disbelief. The hurt. The anger. I approached him, came closer. And grabbed his hand. They were still warm. He looked like he was asleep. So peaceful, which was the only thing that gave me comfort. I asked the nurse if I could hug him. And she let down the restrictions on the sides on the hospital bed. I slowly came closer and closer to him.

Finally I lay my head upon his chest: I cried and I cried and I cried. It hurt so bad. Not hearing his heartbeat. Knowing that this was real, and there was no waking up from this. I remember just wishing it was all a dream, hoping that one of my tears would have enough magic to save his life but it was too late for all that. I didn’t want to leave the room. And I already knew it was because I didn’t want to face reality. But I had to. I could tell this was going to be hard as well. I kept going in and out. Sort of through stages in a way. I would cry, then crack jokes about things he would do or habits he had. Then cry about about how I would miss all of those things.

It was late — around nine — when we finally left the hospital. And decided that I wanted to have a bit of alone time with him since this would be my last time seeing him. So I talked to him before I left. I told him, “Daddy, I just wanna let you know, that I forgive you. I forgave you a long time ago to be completely honest with you. I never held hate in my heart for you. No matter what you did or have done. You always have made me smile, and have made me proud. I will never love another man as much as I love you. And not a single day will go by that I don’t think about you. I can’t wait to see you again. I love you so so so so so so much Daddy — always remember that.” I kissed his forehead and ran my fingers through his hair before I looked at him one last time, I smiled a bit with tears still coming out of my eyes, seeing how peaceful and handsome my father was.

I made my way out of the hospital room.

Sensitive Psycho No More, Eli Bivins

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Here is the opening scene of Eli’s story about a teenager with anger management issues:

As I sat outside the principal’s office I evaluated my body: My shirt was torn at the collar, and I had lost one shoe. Blood flowed down my arm and off my fist like water from a faucet. I didn’t know if the blood that was on my fist was from me or who I got into it with. I didn’t really care.

The door next to me opened and Principal Willis stepped out. Principal Willis was a tall black man. Six four, with a full on beard. He was built — the attraction of the girls at school. He always wore the same type of attire to school: a white top with black bottoms and black or white shoes. But this attire changed daily. One day he’d be wearing a white button up, with black slacks and black dress shoes. The next, a white tee, black jeans and white vans.

He turned and looked at my face and sighed, “Not again Jonathan.” He then looked at my body and saw the blood on my arm. “Come on, let’s get you cleaned up.” This was a regular routine now. I wasn’t proud of it.

We walked through the halls, our footsteps echoing off the walls and the ceiling. Different color lockers lined the walls. I forgot why. I rarely noticed because I never used them. I figure it’s just decoration, ya know? Color the lockers different colors and it makes the school look less shitty than it already is.

We took a few more steps and then I guess Principal Willis had enough awkward silence because he cleared his throat in an exaggerated manner. “So. Care to explain?” Principal Willis asked. “I know you. I’ve known you for years. I know there’s always a reason why you tend to…get into situations like this. But even with that this is unacceptable behavior. If you want we can take the long way to the bathroom and you can just talk and let everything out. You can even cuss if you need to just keep it quiet….but I need to know. Why?” he stared at my arm and I knew he had nothing else to say until I explained myself

“Donny wouldn’t stop talking about me,” I said. “He called me some bitch and told me I wasn’t shit. He told me I was lame because we didn’t have a lot of money.” I froze to let all that sink into Principal Willis’s head. “I didn’t care. But then when he realized that he went on to calling my mom a bitch and my dad a deadbeat…” I froze and clenched my fist as we turned around the corner and walked up the stairs. “I hit my limit when Ms. Johnson stepped out and he called me sensitive psycho and knocked me out of my desk….the adrenaline hit my head and I blacked out. When I came to Ms. Johnson was pulling me off of Donny and somebody else was calling an ambulance. She sent me to you without letting me grab my things, hence why I only have one shoe.” I wiggled my foot so he could see, even though I knew he saw it when he came out of his office.

He nodded his head, acknowledging everything I told him. We reached the top of the stairs and made a left. We were on an empty floor, I knew why we were going this way. If I lost myself and started cussing there was no one around to hear. He was trying to keep me from getting in more trouble than I was already in. Like I said, this was a routine I wasn’t proud of.

Puff Puff Pass, Chastity Smith

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He was so selfish. None of this would have presented itself if you would have just kept the weed out of your lungs. “ASSHOLE” I thought on the inside. Therefore, I was seven I couldn’t say it on the out. It was five days after my birthday. Last thing I received was a pink bike that I was begging him for two months. Oh yeah and a surprising death. So bad I didn’t even remember what happened that day. I was in bed waiting for my mom to get up. She said, “Once we get up and ready we can go to Girls Inc.

It was a summer camp I go to all the time. Loved going to that place. It made me so happy inside. Because I got to hang out with young girls my age. Who enjoyed doing the same activities I loved to do. They had singing, step, dance, acting and performances. It was the second to last week there. The girls and I were preparing for the step showcase that Friday at 6 pm. Daddy loved coming to my performances. And I love seeing him and momma’s face filling the blue seats. My friend Nailah and I were just about to hit out solos in the piece. Until my mentor Jasmine came to get me out of class to go home. I was highly upset. Well not until I came outside. I saw momma about ready to cry. I said “Is everything okay momma”?  She said four words that put a throw up feeling in my body.

She said “Daddy’s in the hospital” — instantly I felt like someone just punched me in the stomach. Entering the car I thought about all the times I didn’t care about the cigarette in his mouth.  Because I didn’t know it would have a major impact on my life. Pushing people left and right I arrived at Christian Hospital. Moving so fast momma couldn’t keep up with me. Yelling “CHASTITY WAIT ON ME” she said. I couldn’t wait — a huge waterfall was about to start bursting out of my eyes. My best friend, my rock, my everything was hurt.

I turned left, then right. Opening up each curtain on each room just to see if it was him. (Opens Curtain) Nope not him, (Open Curtain again) Not him. My feet were hurting so bad for a seven year old; I was moving so fast. Finally I found him in a mental condition. For the first time I had to question whether or not Lewis J. Smith was my father. His black pale skin was so cold; eyes were rolled back to his head and nails were extremely dirty. I felt it in my soul that he was dead. There were so many tubes in his body. One for his heart to keep it beating, another to put medicine in his body, and one that was soaking up all the drugs he consumed. Doctors was on their third bag already for changing all the shit in his stomach.

The anger built up more and more. I was worried, confused and disturbed. All these emotions stirred up into my soul. Why would he do this to himself? Did he not know the consequences to his actions? Did he not understand that a child needs a father in their life? SO DAMN SELFISH! Now you have all of the family taking time out of their day to come and check on your ass. For a problem you could avoid. A decision you chose to make. Well I’m here now. Sitting down in the cold blue chair by his side, I shiver. Never have I ever held on so tight to his hand. I’m so used to the grip and warmth of our hands colliding.  It was awkward because it was so cold now.  Because it was just me. That hole that wasn’t filled because our hands weren’t touching all the way.

“You did this,” I thought. Never have I ever felt a cold hand that kept me from my daddy. When we hold hands they touch. Creating warmth, comfort and protection. I didn’t feel that. Now it was a hole in my heart. A missing piece that I can’t replace. Seventeen years now, and I feel numb to the situation. I guess being my age I’m supposed to be “understanding” meaning I have to justify his actions. Do you not know how frustrating it is when someone either ask you What happened to your dad? Or putting a check to deceased box? DO YOU NOT KNOW WHAT I COULD HAVE DONE WITH ALL THAT INK!! Instead of wasting it on all those check signs.

Whatever — it doesn’t matter. It was too much for a seven year old to take in. At that moment, nothing will ever be the same anymore. The good night kisses, warm hugs and just the idea of calling someone daddy.  That blue chair that was always filled at every performance wasn’t filled anymore. I didn’t want to perform that upcoming Thursday anymore. There was no point of me doing what I loved when the one I love is not there to support me.

Someway, somehow, I ended up staring at the forty six girls in red leotards. I just so happened to be the forty seventh young lady balled in tears in the corner. Trying not to draw attention to myself. Why was everyone so happy? Do they not know? Whipping off the pain off my face. I told myself, “Pick ya face up off the ground.” Getting myself together I hear Ms. Jasmine said, IT’S SHOW TIME. Hearing those three words turned my stomach into a peanut. For the first time in my life I didn’t complete.

Momma said he’s with you always. BUT HE’S NOT WITH ME! Now i’m left hanging on a wooded stage giving these people a sob story. Covering the little bit of lip gloss and mascara I began the show. Curtains opening up slowly. Front row seat I saw my momma sitting in the blue chair with my granny next to her. But it was a empty chair right next to her. Not remembering the choreography that was taught. I wanted to run to my momma so bad. Everyone was staring at me with the other forty six girls on stage. I stood out like a sore thumb. Finally, taking the bow on stage I ran so fast to get off. I was done suffering — never wanted to stare at the blue chair every again.

Blue October, Anonymous

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“One more step, just one more step and it’s all over,” he says, breathing deeply.  His feet are toeing the edge of the 18th floor balcony. His fears of the unknown had held him in this world for so long, but the certainty of yet another tomorrow brings a cold sweat to his brow and desperation to his mind.  He leans forward, holding onto the railing, his last grasp on life — all in that railing. His eyes close to the song his heart composes of random beats.

Colors flash behind his closed eyes and laughter fills his brain, bringing a strange calm with it.

***

I take a deep breath of air that had no place in a polluted city. My eyes pop open in confusion. I am no longer standing on the balcony to my run down one bedroom apartment. Instead of a concrete jungle I am surrounded by lush greenery. It looks to be a park in the suburbs. Out of my curiosity I start to walk around the park when I come across a playground with two small children playing.

“Hehehe, ahh Johnny! Stop it!” someone giggles in the distance. I turn my head towards the sound.

“No, Never! You stole my dino.” I say to a little girl with bright red pigtails.

“Annie?” I question, but she is no longer that little girl.  Annie is now Anne, and Anne hasn’t been around lately. I think this must be some other girl who just resembles her.

“Well, you got mud on my new dress!” the little girl counters to him. The little boy refuses to back down as he begins to deploy an arsenal of guilt inducing statements to the little girl. She however, has quite a bit of ammunition hidden up the sleeves of her mud covered dress and begins to match the boy wit for wit.

While watching the children bicker I can’t help but feel a twinge of déjà vu. The children are so much like me and Anne as children, always squabbling and trying to get back at each other.  I feel a cold chill run down my spine. The feeling overwhelming me could only be described as the hibbie-jibbies.

“I’m done Annie! We are no longer friends!” the little boy screamed in rage as he looked back at the girl and then continued on.

“Oh Johnny!  I’m sorry!  Please don’t do that!” The little girl pleaded chasing him his earlier transgressions forgotten.

“Here! Here’s your dino! Please take it. I am sorry!” she said thrusting the plush dinosaur towards him.

I stand frozen in place like a ghost had just appeared in front of me, and I guess I had just a seen ghost. I had seen a ghost from my past.  As the little boy had turned, I see a scar marking the boy’s right cheek.  I knew it was from a mishap with a glass coffee table and a toddler’s first steps.  I knew all of this because as I touched my right cheek I could still feel the smooth uneven skin of my own.

That was when I finally realized that Annie was indeed Anne and Johnny was me.

During this epiphany of John’s the children continued.  

“Johnny can we still be friends?” Annie sniffled on the brink of tears her voice shaking. Johnny was clutching the dinosaur to his chest protectively and turned his head away from her.  His eyes gleamed with the knowledge that he had the upper hand.  You could practically see the evil gears turning in his little head.  Johnny turned to respond, but as he saw the single tear that had escaped from Annie’s big blue eyes, he softened.

“Um, uh, I guess so,” came his reply. He was shaky and unsure of why he had been affected so much by a single tear.  However his weak response didn’t seem to bother Annie, for she had already launched herself at him before all of the syllables were out.

“Oh Johnny!  Yay! I’m so glad you aren’t mad at me! I don’t know what I’d do if you weren’t my friend.”  Annie rambles on as she sits on Johnny’s lap and she completely forgets her tears.  Annie is in her own world as she continues to ramble, and she is oblivious to the blushing, happy, and smiling boy that doubles as her makeshift chair.  Johnny is unaware of his jovial state simply glad to see Annie smiling.

I  am flabbergasted that I used to look at her that way even when we were so young and innocent. I smile and turn away from the freshly reconciled children. I remember how much I used to love that dinosaur.  The only other person who I allowed to touch it was my Mom, and that was only because she had gifted me with it when I had broken my leg climbing a tree in our front yard.  I walk down a couple squares of sidewalk when the air starts to shimmer. The blue sky of midday changes to fluorescent lighting as the park becomes a school hallway.  

John stood bewildered in the hall of his old junior high.

As I stand in front of a corkboard sporting brightly colored flyers condoning cheesy phrases and club announcements I take in my surroundings. The hall smells of sweaty gym socks and strawberry shampoo.  The girls tote floral bags, stuffed “A” cup bras, and poorly applied eyeliner. The boys sport bad haircuts, striped polo shirts and nearly identical Nike trainers. As I take in this generic display of awkward adolescence, the large swarms of tardy children rushing and ducking trying to get to class I notice something or rather someone.  Among the chaos I can see two preteens walking together and laughing as they tell kids to hurry to class.  They proudly wear a yellow sticker on their IDs that make them exempt from this warning.  They both are adorned in various band merchandise, with skinny jeans and broken-in Converse.

Annie’s hair is layered and most of the teachers presume that she had cut it herself.  Johnny’s hair is grown out far longer than what most see as socially acceptable. I can still remember my Mom’s distaste and blatant hatred of that haircut. I now can understand why.

“Oh my goodness! Did you see their faces?” Annie full-heartedly laughs, throwing her head back as she pushes back her fringed bangs.

“Yeah, but I still can’t believe they trusted us to be hall monitors together.” Johnny chuckles, as he tries to maintain an aloof yet slightly interested composure about himself.  

I laugh as my younger self attempts to appear “cool.”

“Oh, I never did learn, did I?” I sadly smile to myself. Annie looks up at Johnny with a look of complete admiration, while Johnny is completely unaware. The two pre-teens, are the perfect Hallmark picture of young love pushed together without realizing how they look at each other disappear around the corner.

The school hallway then dissipates and transforms into another setting. I feel a slight difference in the aura of this memory. I can feel anxiety and excitement wafting off my younger self, who I can identify as about fourteen or fifteen. It was the year that girls became a thing to me.

Johnny stands wide-eyed and pacing in front of the mirror.  His hands are nervously adjusting at the lapels of a tux his mother picked out.  Johnny thinks it makes him resemble a stuck-up penguin.

“Hahaha!” Johnny laughed as he imagined a bunch of penguins walking along the edge of an icecap with their beaks turned up towards the sky.

“Johnny, we’ve got ten more minutes or else you’re going to be late picking her up!”  Johnny’s dad called. Johnny was quick to snap out of his silly thoughts at his dad’s announcement.

“I’ll be right down!” Johnny calls quickly checking his styled gelled hair, bowtie, and suit.  In his nervous haste he rushed out of the bedroom, nearly forgetting something of great importance.  

“Oops. I can’t forget that,”  Johnny said grabbing a corsage from his dresser.  He was slightly out of breath from taking the stairs two at a time both ways.  Johnny was determined not to be late.

I followed behind as Johnny left the house, caught a ride in Dad’s old rust bucket honda and pulled up in front of a house that I couldn’t quite place.  Johnny got out of Dad’s car, and as we step onto the pavement I notice Johnny’s nerves have returned. His breath is deep and steady as he walks up the drive.  Dad was sitting in the car smiling knowingly ear-to-ear.  The enjoyment he is taking from his son’s discomfort is quite prominent.

Johnny reaches the cherry red door and freezes mid-air only centimeters from his goal.  He looks down at the corsage in his hand, then up to the sky. He takes a deep breath and only then does he gather the courage to knock.  The door opens after only two knocks because Mrs. Evans couldn’t contain herself any longer.

Mrs. Evans’ romantic mind goes into overdrive as she witnesses the antics of Johnny’s nerves. She struggles to contain her excitement from seizing open the door, before he has completely collected himself.

“Oh there you are Johnny.  My, haven’t you grown, I swear you get taller by the minute don’tcha?” Mrs. Evans fawns over Johnny. Johnny gives her a small awkward smile, helpless against her motherly tone.

“Uh, sure. I guess,” Johnny said uncomfortably and slightly unsure.  Johnny takes comfort in the normalcy of her banter and soon his nerves seem to fade.  That is until Johnny hears a light clearing of someone’s throat.  At this sound Johnny stands, and looks to the top of the stairs and he freezes.

Johnny’s hands fall to his side, the left one still holding the corsage, his jaw is slightly slack, and his eyes wide.  The amazement is evident on Johnny’s face and a shy excitement on the face of the angelic beauty descending the stairs.  She does so one by one, toe to heel and lightly dragging her hand along the banister.  The same banister that I recall sliding down as a child.

A subtle “wow” is heard from Johnny.  He is mesmerized, her fiery red hair is pulled back into some intricate updo that he is certain her mother had insisted she do.  There are a few curly tendrils that loosely hang down to frame her face.  She is wearing an emerald green dress that falls loosely around her knees and is modestly cut.  That is one thing that Johnny liked about her, she wasn’t like other girls who thought that the more skin showing the prettier. Of course she didn’t dress like a nun either, but she was fully clothed.  When Johnny finally gets the courage to look at her face, he is surprised.  He had never seen her wear more than a little bit of eyeliner before, but today is the exception.  Her gorgeous blue eyes are lined, the lashes adorning them longer (but not fake), the lids that cover them lightly dusted in gold, her cheeks are rosy, her lips glossed in light pink and her skin seems to glow.

Taking a step back he can barely believe his eyes.  This angelic creature is his Annie, but she seems so different.  She looks so feminine and beautiful.  Of course Annie has always been beautiful to him, but tonight her beauty was like an optical illusion. It had always been there but something had to shift before he could see it clearly, and when it did it’s suddenly  obvious.

“Hey,” Annie breathes with a small smile as she stands in front of Johnny.

“Oh, yeah. Sorry, hi,” Johnny manages as he jumps out of his trance, obviously frazzled.  Mrs. Evans giggles like a demented chipmunk at seeing this.  Annie simply chuckles and her smile grows at this.  

I can’t  help my smile remembering my awe, befuddlement, and nerves from that night.  

“Oh uh…yeah, this is for you.”  Johnny says remembering the corsage in his left hand and nervously laughs at himself.  Annie takes it from him smiling.

“It’s beautiful!  Um…would you mind?” Annie asks cueing him to help her with putting it on her wrist.  As he does so, he looks her in the eyes and then there is a bright flash.

“Oops.  Sorry to ruin the moment, but pictures!”  Mrs. Evans announces holding up an ancient Polaroid camera, not looking the least bit guilty.  With that the tension and the spell break.  Mrs. Evans, being  true to her word takes nearly a thousand pictures of the smiling couple, before they escape to the high school dance.

My smile beams wholeheartedly as I watch their escape.

***

They sit in the backyard of the Evans’ residence.  Annie has a mischievous smile on her face and a box behind her back.  Johnny is smiling stupidly with a gift bag hidden behind his back.

“On the count of 3!  1…2…3!” Johnny says.  “Happy One Year Anniversary!” They exclaimed in unison.  They then take the objects from behind their backs and hand them to the other.  As Annie throws mountain after mountain of tissue paper out of the bag, Johnny easily opens the box.  

“Wow!” he exclaims causing Annie to stop her progress and look up.

“Annie this is amazing!” Johnny says in awe as he holds the necklace between his fingers.

“It’s not that much.  Just promise me you won’t ever take it off,”  Annie pleads with her tone tensed seriously.  

“I won’t!” responds an equally serious and reassuring Johnny.  

At this I reach up and grasp at the hard metal that has never left my neck since that day. My composure betrays me as two tears manage to escape my right eye.  

Annie helps Johnny secure the chain with a satisfied smile and returns to her own present!

“Really…?  Johnny are you sure?” Annie asks looking down into the bag.

“Yep, plus, he needs a better home.  It would be pretty silly if a sixteen-year-old boy kept him.” Johnny says trying to play it off.

“But, he has always been yours; you don’t trust him to anyone,” Annie states.

“Well I trust you.” Johnny says matter-of-factly.  Annie grins then finally reaches into the bag and retrieves the plush dinosaur.  She holds him to her chest much like Johnny did as a child.  

Now there is no way I can hold myself together seeing this tears begin to seep down my cheeks again, but this time my lips are held in a melancholic smile through the tears. My vision becomes blurred from the waterfall spewing from my eyes. When they finally clear, I am in a dank lonely room the floorboards creak in awkward places and the only source of light is from a dust covered window.

Johnny sits in the window seat of the attic.  There are dark rings under his eyes; he appears a little skinnier and looks unkempt as he stares out the window.  Johnny looks to be now seventeen and he looks worn out.

“Johnny come on, please open up.  Or at least say something.  Please?  I don’t want to leave like this. Please just acknowledge my presence before I’m no longer here.” Annie pleads.  Johnny says nothing because though she is present, he is not.  Annie begins to cry and then she walks away.  Johnny still does nothing.  

“What are you doing?!  Get up!  Follow her!  Can’t you see that you’re wasting away without her?!  If you don’t go now, you’re just going to go through life for the next six years miserable and depressed and then you’re going to go numb like me!!”  I find myself screaming at the younger me, but the teenage phantom in the window can’t hear me. He is barely human now.

Johnny continues to watch as a crying Annie walks out of his life clutching a plush dinosaur.  

***

That was the moment when I realized three things; one, I was standing on the edge of the 18th  floor balcony on the cusp of life and death,  two, I was no longer numb and I could once again feel happiness, longing and anger. And three, the final and most important, was that I needed to find Annie.

John opened his eyes: a mixture of tears and rain dripped from them, falling together to the street below. His hands were still gripping the railing so tight his knuckles protruded out making them a milky white.Yet the cold metal bar no longer was his only hold on life.  Now he had a whole world to hold on to and it revolved around a woman who goes by the name of Anne.  With this thought, John climbed back over the railing and into his basic apartment.  As he walked past the phone, trying to find a phone-book he heard the beep of a new voicemail.

Hello John. Sweetheart. I know you’ve been under the weather lately, but an old family friend is flying in soon and they needed a place to stay.  So…I uh, gave them your address and they will be there soon. So, uh…call me tomorrow.  Bye.”  The message ended abruptly.  It was obvious that John’s mother was up to something though John’s mind was too preoccupied with its present task to care about her schemes.

Down on the street a redheaded girl exited her cab and exposed herself to the heavens that showered her in its tears. Still she held her anxious smile as she ran through the rain to the 18 story building that held an unsettling air around it. As her tiny figure made its way through the halls, she left hope everywhere dispelling the gloom from every corner. Soon she reached the 18th floor and reached the door at the very end of the hall. The lights flickered just like her confidence causing her lifted fist to stop centimeters from contact with the dirty olive colored door.

Her thoughts spun. Memories of a life she had left behind and her dreams of a future she thought she could never have pushed her forward. A light sound of knuckles tapping the dusty wood barely reached her own ears little less anyone else’s.

So in a final leap of faith she heaved a deep breath.

“You can do this Anne, just one strong knock!” she mutters to herself and Knocked.

Two phonebooks and half an hour later, there was a knock at the door.  At first I could barely hear it, the first one was so very faint and almost unsure I thought someone had accidentally hit it with their groceries . When I hear it soon after I get up from my perch on the couch to let in this so called family friend my mother had sent. I finally reach the door  after stumbling through the heaps of yearbooks, phone books, and pictures that now litter my living room floor. I turn the knob, opened the door, and freeze at what I see.

Standing there is the reason for my everything, my sorrows, the object of my affections and my only salvation personified. I can’t help but just stand there analyzing every miniscule detail of the petite redhead who stood shivering nervously in front of me.  She peeps shyly through her lashes up at me.

“Oh…uh, Annie?  I mean Anne. Sorry.” my words haphazardly stumble over and butcher . My shock at her presence is clearly evident.

“I, uh can go.”  Anne says gesturing behind her.  She took John’s stiff manner as rejection, but she hadn’t expected different.  Anne took his mother’s offer on a whim, but something deep inside of her truly wanted to be there.  

“If you want?” she questioned and her façade broke as she turned away, a plea in her voice just begging for him to want her.

“Wait! Anne don’t go.  Just wait a minute!” I exclaimed. I without thinking  reached up to the nape of my neck and unclasp the metal chain from its resting place.  Annie paused in her escape, but she still has her back turned to me.  With a sense of calm that felt foreign I stalk towards her the chain sliding and weaving through my fingers.  When I arrive behind Anne I don’t reach for her and she doesn’t  turn.

“This is yours.  I’ve never taken it off just like I promised,” I say proudly, as I gently place the necklace around her slender neck and carefully clasp it.  Anne then turns toward me slowly, her eyes wide and bewildered.

“You kept it, for all of these years?” Anne says stunned and a small tear forms in her eye.  

“Of course, I did.  You gave it to me.”  I utter shocked that she hadn’t expected me to. Anne, breaks from our shared gaze and starts digging through her bag and hides something behind her back.

“I have something for you too.” She states simply.  The object suddenly is no longer obscured.  My eyes widen as I analyze the presented object.  The soft green fuzz that is thin in some places, due to frequent cuddling over many years.  Stiff felt runs in a line down its back in an imitation of scales.

“This is no longer just mine, Anne.” my eyes moving from the stuffed animal up to her beautiful blue eyes, I am pleading with her to understand my words fully.  Slowly her lips part revealing the army of small pearls she sports in a large grin, which soon turns into a mischievous smirk.

  “I have something else for you.” Anne says her face gleaming and giddiness in her voice. “But first, close your eyes.” I quickly shut my eyes tightly at her request just hoping that she would still be there when I opened them.  Suddenly, I could feel she was directly in front of me; her toes the only thing left on the ground as she leaned into me.  Our lips collided meeting quickly and lingering.

As John’s large green orbs catapulted open and closed again.  His heart thundered as he jumped from the ledge of depression and fell 18 floors into the arms of his personal salvation.

“I Love you, Annie.” he murmured softly.

Teen Sequins Competition

Screen Shot 2016-08-27 at 3.07.04 PMSince our initial feature in 2015, we have had the privilege of reading over 200 poems from teenagers across the globe, as far-reaching as India, Singapore, and New Zealand. This year, we are making a special effort to reach out to schools in the U.S., to make sure that students in every state and every type of school are made aware of this opportunity.

The mission of our project is to celebrate the unique voices of teenagers by providing a platform for their work to be recognized and embraced by a literary community beyond the classroom. Participation in Teen Sequins is a distinction that any teen could happily include in a college or summer program application as evidence of their ambition, independence, and unique talent.

The Teen Sequins<http://www.giganticsequins.com/teen-sequins.html> feature takes place on the Gigantic Sequins<http://giganticsequins.com/> blog over the course of a week in August. Each day, a single poem representing an age group is spot-lit, alongside an introduction from the Teen Sequins editors. All submitting writers not featured are publicly given the distinction of honorable mention.

The final deadline for submissions is July 20th, 2017.

CALLING ALL POETS AGES 13-19: SUBMIT TO TEEN SEQUINS 2017!
Teen Sequins is an annual celebration of poetry written by teenagers! Every year in August, the national literary magazine Gigantic Sequins features a single poet over the course of a week, starting with age thirteen and ending the week with age nineteen.
Our goal is to show the world what we know: just exactly how vibrant, inventive, and moving teenage writers can be. Your voice deserves to be heard!
Submission Guidelines: 1. Send 2-3 poems, grouped in a single document, to teensequins@gmail.com, in a .docx or .doc format. Please do not paste poems in the body of your email.
2. In the body of your email, list your age, your email address, the name of your school and city, and a brief biography (any personal information of your choosing, up to 100 words).
Want to know more? Visit http://www.giganticsequins.com/teen-sequins.html to explore what we’re all about, and read our past features!

Short Story, Anonymous

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In the very beginning, cold soup and space travel were both equally improbable. Even with all my various faults and shortcomings, I still know that soup served cold and black hole transportation both stand against the natural laws of the universe, but exist anyway. That’s something Cliff, even with all his various talents and blessings, still never understood. Cold soup is disgusting. Inter-dimensional portals shouldn’t exist, decent people never peak in high school, and I don’t like music, so for the love of god, Cliff, please turn off the radio. These things are the pillars that hold up our universe, concrete and final. The universe, as it tends to do to the ranks of humans, knocked me flat on my ass and proved me dead wrong.

Things have always been this folded, but that wasn’t always so public to me. I am a normal teenage girl to my very bones. With my B-average grades, earth sign tendencies and perfectly inadequate boyfriend, I remain unremarkable. My universe folded in on me inside a Bulgarian restaurant. Donka’s Diner is like myself in the way that it too, is completely unremarkable. I hate Bulgarian food, actually. Cliff chose it the same way he does all of our outings, without consulting me first. He picks me up from my dad’s house at 5:00 pm, because I guess we’re secretly senior citizens and should eat before the sun sets. I climb into the rag, Cliff’s horribly named ‘89 camaro, and immediately turn towards him to get greetings over and done with.

“Hello.”

“Hey. You smell especially female today.” he says while throwing the car into gear.

I scoff. What a d-bag. I know he’s trying to provoke me, but I don’t bite. Not because I don’t have a sizzling retort, because I totally do, and it involves his traditionally “female” personality, but I don’t care enough about any of it to banter with him. I just want free food.

He turns to me, almost sheepishly. But I’ve already forgotten about whatever it is he was just talking about. So he opens his mouth and starts his usual spiel. Having already suffered through many car rides with nothing but Cliff’s incessant bitching and equally innumerable jazz discs, by the time he pulls into the lot, parks the car, climbs out, and shoves his keys in his jacket pocket, I have been successfully tuning him into white noise for the past ten minutes. He is, really, at the very core of our relationship, white noise. Like leaving your fan on in the middle of winter so you can fall asleep. Comforting, familiar, and freezing cold.

Donka’s Diner was mostly empty. Probably because it’s Bulgarian food, and who ever goes out for Northeastern European? Cliff, and now me too apparently. The inside, apart from the obvious lack of sentient life, is dingy and darkly lit. Everything is green, sort of. There’s no host, so we seat ourselves at a booth towards the back of the restaurant. Cliff sheds his trendy bomber jacket, revealing a white undershirt, and places it next to him. He looks good in the shirt, I think. Fitted to reveal his physique and the color contrasting with his medium-toned skin nicely. But I would never tell him this, mostly because he already knows it. I clamber into the booth and sit across him. There’s a vase of plastic flowers on top our vinyl table, placed against the wall. Our waitress comes with soiled menus and ice water soon after we sit down, and she too is completely unremarkable. As I pretend to read the menu, Cliff resumes his talking at me.

“-this audition I have on the 21st is really cutthroat, I mean the rest of the guys in my ensemble are taking it super seriously-”

“And you’re not?” I ask without lifting my eyes from the word ‘soups’.

“No.” He says, taking up a defensive tone. How dare I, a lowly non-prodigy, question the art of the brightest, youngest, rising star in the jazz world this side of the Mississippi River? “Of course I’m taking it seriously, it’s for a really important gig, Adah. I’m the only brass player in the whole ensemble, so obviously I’m taking it seriously.” Then he goes on to further explain how very seriously he is indeed taking this.

“The venue is really cool, I mean this gig is fancy. It’s pretty high class stuff here, Adah-” and on and on he goes. Gig. I hate that word. If I had a penny for every time my musical genius boyfriend said the word gig, I could buy a shotgun and finally blow my brains out before I ever had to hear it again.

“So have you all decided what you want, or do you need more time?” a woman’s voice asks from above. I realize that our decidedly non-Bulgarian waitress has appeared, and is now taking our order. Damn. I haven’t actually read the menu at all yet.

“I’ll take the Tarator, please.” Cliff says, flashing the waitress a bright smile simply because she’s a member of the female race and decidedly non-me. I search for what he ordered on the menu, hoping I can just piggyback off his order and alleviate myself from the burden of decision-making, but when I see what he ordered I nearly gag. Cucumber yogurt soup. Served cold. I’m appalled by the Bulgarian race of course, but the fact that Cliff ordered it produces a white hot anger within me. I can hardly stand to look at him.

“And I’ll have the Ovcharska Salata.” I say. Shepherd’s salad seemed to be the least nauseating thing on the menu.

“Alright, I’ll have that out for you two in a bit. Let me know if you need anything else.” As our waitress walks away, I find myself wishing I could think of something to ask her, if only to keep her company a little while longer. Not that it was especially great, but I find every minute I spend alone with Cliff today to be harder than the last.

“-Adah? Adah? Are you listening?” I hear Cliff say. I guess I wasn’t listening. Come to think of it, I don’t even remember when he started talking.

“Sorry, what’s that babe?” The use of an endearing pet name seems to placate him some, I so rarely use them. For reasons obvious. “I’m sorry, I’ve been a bit ‘out to lunch’ today, literally and figuratively.”

He reaches across the table and takes my hand in his. “It’s okay.” He say, tenderness heavy in his voice. “I know how hard this year has been for you. But you gotta keep moving forward, Adah. Live your life, look to nature and find peace. I know you can.” Easy for him to say. He has hiking boots.

Cliff loves me. And in some selfish, small, and entirely masochistic way, I love him too. At least, I used to. I think the part of me that feels human connection broke along the way, like a car battery finally fizzling out halfway across the Mojave Desert. Cliff and I have been boyfriend and girlfriend since the summer before freshman year, and now it’s winter break of junior year. It feels as if I’ve never existed without him. He is a constant hum; the one who holds my virginity in his back pocket and gives me the roses that are thrown at his feet. And now, in the middle of a dingy Bulgarian restaurant on a cold December day, with his hand in mine; I feel nothing.

I meet the dark eyes embedded in his warm brown head. He really is beautiful, long lashed and with the sharp face of a man. “Thank you Cliff. You always know what to say.” I squeeze his hand, eager to let go. With a smile on my cracked lips, I tell him I love him. I kiss him. Then I wait patiently for my food.

That comes not much longer after, placed in front of us by the waitress. Mine warm, and his ice cold. Disgusting. With my expectations extremely low, I prepare myself to dig in. At least it’s sustenance. But before I even take my first bite, something strange happens. Cliff’s cucumber-yogurt-vomit soup, which is cold like a slurpee, begins to bubble and steam with heat. Cliff starts to call the waitress back, but is cut off by something even more shocking. Rising from my boyfriend’s soup bowl is a fully sized hooded figure, covered in the green goop. The lights around us flicker, and I think I hear the waitress scream, but I can’t be sure. My hearing has turned fuzzy, like a radio barely picking up the station. Dark purple smoke billows out of Cliff’s soup bowl, which impossibly holds the being inside its very self, like a bottomless pit has opened through the china. The figure is now fully emerged from the white china bowl, and they rear their head right at Cliff. Lifting skeletal hands to remove their black hood, the gaunt face of a woman hidden beneath the fabric is revealed. Her demonic figure floats in the middle of Donka’s Diner, dripping with green goo. Her yellow, burning eyes fix on Cliff and bore right into his very being. Then terrifyingly, the woman opens her mouth, revealing long sharp incisors in layered rows, and begins to speak.

“Clifford H. Dunaway.” She speaks in whispers, slurs almost, that somehow echo through my skull; her voice the sound of yellow and purple and the darkest depths of the ocean. I am terrified to hear what else she has to say, and I can barely look at her. What was once Donka’s Diner is now filled completely with dark mist, as thick as smoke. The only light is emanating from Cliff’s bowl of soup, but what was once green upchuck is now an endless pit of white light, gently humming like a computer coming to life. Before I can register the impossibility, the absurdity of this, the cloaked woman speaks again. “Why would you ever take a nice girl like this one to go out for Bulgarian food? And you ordered the most repulsive thing on the menu and had to go and get it all over me.” She began to wipe of the green glop from her robes with her skeletal hands, flinging it onto the linoleum floor in disgust.

I turned to look at Cliff For the first time since our visitor arrived. His handsome eyes were widened to absurdity, his usual brown complexion turned white with fear. He was possessed by fear, looking like an invertebrate about to be crushed under boot. As usual, Cliff was no man at all in the face of conflict. Despite the fear, confusion, and wonderment that kept my blood pumping and my feet planted in that very moment, I was nevertheless ashamed of Cliff for being weaker than I. This shame is what stirred me out of petrification and made my voice work again.

“Cliff. Cliff! What the hell is going on here? Do you know? Why did- how did– a woman materialize from your Tarator?” I say, my voice sounding alien in my ears.

He turns to look at me, his face a white moon hanging in the purple smoke sky. He, for the first time in his life, is ugly. He looks about ready to swallow his own mouth. Thin-lipped and bloodless. A boy, lost in the reaches of space. Pathetic. Trembling.

Cliff avoids my gaze and speaks in a scratched voice. “Adah, this is Asenath. She’s… well she’s auditioning for that gig I was telling you about with a competing company of my current symphony.” He turns to the now-named entity. “Asenath, this is my girlfriend.”

Asenath looks at me with circular eyes, the color of mustard gas. A chemical warfare agent that burns my skin on contact under her gaze. “Oh, I’m well aware of who this one is, He told you about the audition? Must not like you very much.”

Cliff coughs, and Asenath rears her demonic head his way instead. Surprising me, Cliff meets her eyes. “Leave her out of this, Asenath. I didn’t explain anything to her.” Cliff looks at me quickly, his face grim in the haze around us. I can tell he’s trying to communicate something to me, trying to speak with his eyes. Something urgent. Something I can’t read.

He regards Asenath, again meeting her eyes. I’ve seen Cliff perform enough times to know that that’s exactly what he’s doing now. His face is pale but hard set, hands steady but his body swaying slightly. Wearing the mask of a fearless man to cover the face of a cowering boy. Cliff is trying to trick Asenath into thinking she doesn’t scare him. “So I guess you’re here to, what? Turn my body inside out from my throat then?”

Asenath only laughs, a manic one that sounds of space madness. “Of course not, Cliffy! Why would I come all this way just to do that when I could simply think you inside out from the comfort of my own galaxy? No, I’m afraid my mission is far more complicated than crushing bugs. I came here to kidnap you. Obviously.”

The restaurant falls back into silence, leaving only the sound of Asenath’s whirling portal. For a split second anyway. Once Cliff has processed what Asenath has said, and once Asenath sees this realization in his face, all hell breaks loose. Actually, more like hell opens wider.

Cliff tries to make a run for it, springing off the ground and hurling himself in what I’m assuming is the direction of the door. I watch, petrified, as he quickly disappears into the fog. Leaving me all alone. I hear Asenath sigh, and I whip my head around to look at her. What I assumed was a sigh of annoyance is quickly realized as a sound of utter joy. Her hands are clasped together at the base of her throat and she smiles wide enough to show all eight rows of her teeth.

Oh yes, I was positively drooling for excitement Clifford!” Asenath sounds absolutely giddy. Then it starts.

Despite my ringing ears, I hear the loud crash with perfect clarity. I can only assume it’s Cliff’s body, telekinetically slammed against the wall. Like a plug pulled in the bathtub, the smoke that has clouded the building has begun to swirl through Asenath’s portal like water through a drain. As the smoke begins to clear and my vanishing point rapidly expands, I can see that I was right, Cliff had been flown into the wall. He took down the hanging decor with him, picture frames and the like, his body in a rubble of broken glass and the Bulgarian flag wrapped around him like a swaddled baby. He lays in a heap on the floor, looking so small. I’m reminded of my Raggedy Ann doll from when I was little. His body raises from the ground, still tucked into the Flag of Bulgaria and covered in bleeding cuts. A bad gash on his temple. His white shirt staining red. Cliff’s limp and lifeless body is lifted into the air like a marionette, and he starts to move with the still-swirling smoke, like hair traveling with the bath water down the rabbit hole. Cliff moans, which eliminates my theroy of his death. As he gravitates towards Asenath and her portal, his eyes fly open and I think his body is starting to seize. Mid air he starts to struggle, like he’s bound by invisible ropes. I realize he’s trying to turn his body towards me.

“Adah!” he chokes. “Adah!” still thrashing with all his might. “Adah!” this time his voice shrill and shrieking. “My pockets, check my pockets! The keys to the rag are in my jacket!” Desperation taking over, he repeats this sentiment long after I heard it the first time, all the while moving across the restaurant and into Asenath’s open arms. She’s grinning like the cheshire cat, teeth bared and deadly. Manic looking. Her cloak whips around inside her own personal tornado. The air is almost clear now, and Cliff is mere seconds away from the demon’s embrace. He howls unintelligibly and she starts cackling uncontrollably. Her too-big yellow eyes glint lunacy. Her beam splits her face in two. Hideous. Mad.

Then, surrounded by purple mist and lit with a blinding white light from below, the hellion envelops my still-screaming boyfriend. A mess of smoky air and cloaks and the Bulgarian flag, they too go down the drain. With a pop! the portal closes like a giant’s eye, leaving no evidence of anything abnormal at all, besides a spinning soup bowl. That cracks and explodes, splattering me with tarator and lodging a porcelain shard in my arm as my only souvenir from Cliff.

All this happens within the span of maybe forty-five seconds.

I spot our waitress, who I entirely forgot about, collapsed in the threshold of a swinging door to reveal the three-man kitchen staff, all fainted too. I decide that these guys have the right idea, and my knees buckle and I crumple to the ground.