Peyton Meadows, “The Sea”

The day was cloudy, dark, about to storm soon. The dark
clouds filled the sky. The world seemed to be in black and white. She
just watched him leave, again.
He always leaves when she needs him most.
She decided to take a walk along the shoreline. Her long
brunette hair flowing in the wind. Her hair as crazy as the waves. The
long ivy dress could be seen from a good distance. The only colorful
thing on the shore. The sounds of the waves crashing soothed her,
the cold air blowing across her face. The water came up to her toes,
a chilled sensation that flowed up to her ears. The water was like ice,
cold and sharp.
She hoped to see him again. She feared this would be the
last time. The pain of seeing him leave again gets worse every time.
Every time she sees that uniform her heart breaks a little.
The sound of the waves became much louder as though they
were roaring at her, warning her to stay away. The water came up
to her knees, the bottom of her dress completely soaked. The wind
became stronger, pulling her farther away from shore.
The sound of a vehicle disrupted her peacefulness. She found
herself moving closer to shore. Making sure that this person knew
she wasn’t in need of saving. When she saw his pants, she knew who
they were. The sharp black shoes, the long ironed blue pants, with a
light blue button up, complemented with many pins.
“Becca, what on earth are you doing.”
“I – “she paused “I wanted to go for a swim.”
“This isn’t swimming weather, you know that. You come
here to think, not to swim.”
“Well, I could say the same to you. Don’t you have some
flight to catch, you know…” the air quotes came “places to be, people
to see.”
“Becca, I need to do my job. And I’m here because I didn’t
like the way I left things. I knew you’d be here; didn’t think you’d be
out here swimming trying to drown yourself.”
“I wasn’t trying to drown myself, one, two-“trying to think
of what to say next, “you shouldn’t have left things like that, you
shouldn’t have left me like that. I did come here to think. Think
about you and us and what it means when you’re leaving in a time
like this.”
“Becca, I’m sorry.”
“I’m done with the I’m sorrys Mitch.”
“I just don’t understand why you say things like that but then
say things like, ‘I want to marry you’, ‘I want to grow old with you’ ,
it just makes no sense” Mitch continued the use of the air quotes.
“Because I do love you Mitch, I’m just tired of trying, tired
of fighting for something that seems lost and gone, I want more
than “I’m sorry” I want you to prove you want to fight for us. To
prove you still want me.”
“I do want us. I do want you. I want you now, just the same
as I wanted you five years ago, the same as I’ll want you in ten years.
I want you forever, and I know ‘I’m sorry’ doesn’t do much, but that
is me trying. I need to learn how to change. How to be better, for
you. Everything I do has always been for you.”
They’re still standing far apart, yelling at each other. Their
bodies are both tense and full of heat amongst the cold air. Becca’s
stance breaks, her legs feel nonexistent, leading her to him so naturally.
His right hand holds her face ever so gently, his left wraps
around her waist holding her tightly to him. She begins to stand on
her tippy toes trying to reach his height. Her lips gently meet his,
a small gentle kiss. He moved his right hand down the side of her
body, pulling her closer, tightly.
She felt his fingers gripping her waist. Her hands were
found holding his face, rubbing the scruff left after a shave. The
kissing continues, unable to pull away from each other. Every touch
leaving an important impression.
Mitch plants the most passionate kiss. Holding Becca as
close as he can. As tightly as he can.

Larissa Fru Binwie, “Where My Umbilical Cord Is Buried”

Menteh is a close-knit community located in the northwest
part of the republic of Cameroon, a country located in central
Africa. Hugging two hills, my village of Nkwen is fed by cool, dry
North-Easterly winds rolling down across the savanna. It is here,
among the “Mgema-tikari” speaking people that I took my first
breath of life, right behind my grandmother’s kitchen. It is here,
behind her kitchen, that my umbilical cord was kept, closest to the
ever green and most fruitful plantain tree. It was the responsibility
of my grandmother to ensure the tree was kept healthy and fresh
through constant evening watering and palm-oil anointing to
invoke the blessings of our ancestors. This process continued until I
was a month old.
Born to a mother who was a farm owner and a father living
abroad, I spent my early childhood days tending to the garden, playing
with other children, and engaging in general mischief. Because my
mother was always away on her farms, I was practically raised by my
grandmother, a stern, no-nonsense matriarch with a soft side to her
only I could unravel. Illiterate in the language of those who have
been to school, the English language, my grandmother, utilizing our
vernacular, schooled me at a very early age in the ways of a morally
upright, humble, God-fearing young lady. I, my grandmother, and
sometimes my mother would together attend church services on
Sundays. During service the two adults would sing, stamp their feet
on the sun-backed earth in some kind of spiritual frenzy while I,
the child, would roam around playing hide-and-seek with other
children in the community.
It quickly came to the notice of my teachers during my
elementary school years that I had a special knack for articulating
both in the English Language and my local dialect. This ability of
mine placed me in a position where I was asked to represent my
local community during times of annual competitions in the forms
of debates, storytelling and reciting traditional folklore. Many a
time I found myself in the midst of some serious local community
debates and gossip. On the one hand, some community members
felt I was given some undue advantages: having a hardworking
father providing for me from abroad and a grandmother who
worked tirelessly to instill in me those positive values that would
carry me through in life. Others in the community felt some sort
of collective community pride in having me as one of them, a child
so fluent and knowledgeable in both the English Language and the
local dialect. I quickly grew to understand my little community was
a microcosm of life in general; those we interact with will always
have differing opinions about us no matter how hard we try to stay
balanced in our outlook.
Today I look back and miss all those I grew up with.
I remember knowing the location of every house in my little
community, everyone’s parents, and which family owned which
plot of farmland. I also remember being excited on days designated
traditionally as “kontri-Sundays,” for on these days farming was
forbidden. This used to give my friends and me time to eat, play,
harvest fruits (not considered farming) and catch up with stories.
I sometimes also miss the peace and quiet, the serenity of the
environment, including the humility and love shared by a people
who were predominantly farmers, hunters, and butchers. A people
who though illiterate took pride in their work and dedication to
support each other in the understanding that the pain of a single
community member can be lessened in a spirit of shared affection
and support.
My people consider the umbilical cord to be the essence
of life. When a child is born, a process usually carried out by a
traditional midwife (an elderly woman with years of experience in
childbirth), the umbilical cord is cut and wrapped in dried palm
leaves. The leaves are then smeared with powder and ceremoniously
carried to the spot where it is to be buried. One of the reasons
given for the burial of the umbilical cord where the child is born
has to do with the strong cultural belief relating to fertility and
healing. My people believe burying a child’s umbilical cord helps
the mother heal faster. Secondly, there is the belief that once buried
the cord communicates with the spirits in ways that enhance the
mother’s fertility, enabling her to have many more children in the
future. Tradition holds it that children will always return to their
roots, no matter how far off they wander. This ensures the village
(community) constantly reaps loads of material benefits from their
children after their sojourn to the wider world.

Autumn Osborne, “Desire”

The grass is cold and wet under my feet from the layer of
morning dew. The sun is just barely cresting over the far hills, and
light is beginning to show through the trees. I follow along the
river for what seems like hours, until finally the silhouette of my
destination reveals itself at the top of the mountain ahead of me.
The grand towers of the castle stand tall against the now shining
sun, and the thick, ivy-covered cobblestone that lines the walls
calls to me from afar. I thank the gods. At last, I have found the
clandestine fortress that has been searched for, for a millennia.
I somehow escape the cover of the thick forest and find myself
trekking through the tall grass of the fields that journey towards the
mountain. As each foot moves in front of the other I know I am one
step closer to the end of my quest.
When I finally find myself at the bottom of the mountain,
the singing of the sweet inhabitant of the castle is lightly carried
down to my ears. The music of beautiful Princess Desire is sought
out by all the gentlemen of the land, but I, now, am the only one to
have heard it in a thousand years.
I claw at the ground, desperate to get to her, and as I climb
the steep hill before me, soil pushes itself permanently underneath
my fingernails. Her singing gets louder and louder the closer I get.
My legs are becoming numb underneath me. This doesn’t matter,
however. I do not truly need my legs, as long as I get to her. I pull
myself further and further, until suddenly her singing is the only
thing that I can hear. There is no longer anything other than her.
The sounds of the birds and the trees have all completely vanished,
and there is nothing but an invisible rope around my waist pulling
me to her window at the top of the castle.
I have never heard anything as beautiful as the music that she
sings. And I know she is singing for me– if only I could just get to her.
I climb and climb and climb, not caring to look how far I
have gone. When I finally stop for a moment, I look up towards the
castle. Strange. I thought it had looked that far away when I started
up the mountain. No matter. I will get there.
I keep going, my arms and legs becoming so weak I am
certain they will simply fall off. Her singing is ringing in my ears
now. It seems to be the only sense that I still have. My vision is going
foggy, and the scents of the wilderness have disappeared completely.
I ascend further, and suddenly I catch sight of something in
the corner of my eye. I dare take a break to look to my left.
Another man. No, no. No. She will be mine. I rush over and
grab his shirt to throw him back down the mountain, but as I pull
him backwards, nothing but a hollow skull stares back at me. He
must have gotten here first but was too weak to make it to her. I
certainly will not be like this man. I throw his bones back down and
continue my trek.
I climb for hours, until the sun begins going down once
again. I do not stop. I just listen to the sound of the sweet princess’
music. She is longing for me too; I just know it. I stop to look up
at the castle. Still, it seems to be the same distance away. I push
and push as my legs shake and my clothes tear. Closer. I have to be
getting closer. This is just an illusion. I will make it. I know I will
make it. I will make it to her if it kills me.

Patrick Siniscalchi, “An Unfinished Death”

“For the thousandth time, it’s not funny,” I say to the wisp of
my former wife, whose opacity varies from translucent to so dense
I almost forget she is dead. Again, she dons the black jeans and
white button-down blouse she died in, not the simple navy dress I
selected for her funeral.
“You used to have a sense of humor.”
“I still do.” There wasn’t any point arguing with her prior to
her demise, and even less so now. If I flee to another room, she’ll
walk through the wall to continue the discussion.
She takes the chair opposite me and pulls out a nail file.
Whereas Marley’s ghost rattled chains, my wife constantly files her
nails like a woodworker coarse-sanding a piece of furniture. The
rasping reverberates throughout the house. I imagine the neighbors
complaining, then remember only I can see or hear her.
“Why must you always do that?” My body tenses with irritation.
“For the thousandth time, I’ve told you—they grow much
faster since I died. I’d always heard that your hair and nails continue
to grow, but this is ridiculous,” she says with a devilish grin, more
substantive than the rest of her form. She raises the back of an
open-palm hand to her face, regards her fingernails, and returns to
filing. I consider suggesting the grinding wheel in the garage when
she changes the subject. “Do you get lonely without me?”
I wait a long moment before responding. “Of course, I do.”
“Yeah, sure. You didn’t seem so lonely when you dated that
Gretchen from down the street last month.” She spits out her name
like something vile. “She appeared a bit too eager to date the poor
widower,” she says in a sad, affected, sing-song voice. With her
paused file resembling a violin bow, she delivers a side-eye glance,
then says, “She’s too young for you.”
“Well, it’s over, so it matters little now.”
“Yeah, she wasn’t too impressed with your performance, or
should I say, lack of it.”
“You’d have trouble, too, if your dead spouse was sitting on
the edge of the bed while you were trying to have sex!”
“Trying is the operative word here.” She chuckles. “You
could have closed your eyes.”
“I did, but I still knew you were there. You’re always there—
grinding your nails, stopping only to give biting commentary.” I stand
in frustration at the prospect of no escape. “When will you go?!”
“You know when.” Her presence, starting with her narrowed
eyes, solidifies with the coolness of her tone. After I can no longer
hold her gaze, she smiles and says, “You could make love to me.”
“It won’t work.”
“How do you know?”
“We’ve been over this. When you touch me now, it’s like
when you think there’s a bug on your arm, but when you look,
nothing’s there. Mist feels ten times heavier than your touch.”
“I don’t think you love me anymore.” Her sly grin reappears.
“Not this again.” Exasperated, I head into the kitchen, where
she is already seated at the table.
I brew a small pot of coffee while she grinds away at her
nails and my nerves. Out of necessity, I drink so much more of it
lately. Restful sleep is foreign to me, for she also invades my dreams.
As the coffee maker gurgles, I pull a mug down to the counter, then
grab a second one. “You want a cup?” She scrunches up her face
with a fake smile while shaking her head.
She says, “Why don’t you use the stevia in the little pineappleshaped bowl in the upper cupboard like you used in my last cup of
coffee? You know, the sweetener with something extra, something
undetectable, untraceable in it.”
“I won’t do it,” I say through gritted teeth.
“Oh, it’s not so bad… imagine two large talons clutching
at your heart. Then a vacuum develops throughout your body that
is quickly overtaken by a white-hot pain, which radiates through
every nerve. The last image your mind registers is the slightest curve
growing at the corners of your spouse’s mouth.” Her nonchalance in
describing the smile she mimics makes it even more unsettling.
“I said, I’m not doing it!”
“Not today, but one day you will.”

Brynn Lietuvnikas, “SteamPunk Revolution”

It was a feeling almost unknown in 2134. This thing couldn’t
see her, but she could see it. Mindy was physically the next best
thing to being inside of that tome. She sat with her back arched as
she curved over the book, a bundle of papers tied together. The book
wasn’t peering into her thoughts; it didn’t know how to document
the time she spent on one page and compare it to another. It created
this butterfly buzz inside of her stomach, which was ruined when
Plier opened the steel door to their concrete apartment. Mindy’s
heart rate escalated. The bright white ceiling lights seemed to dance.
Plier was supposed to have been out all night. He had taken the
12:00 P.M.-7:00 A.M. shift at the robotic hospital. She whirled to
the clock and found that it was already 7:45. She turned back to
Plier, whose eyes had never left her. He stared, and Mindy could
hear herself breathe. She hadn’t done anything wrong; what she was
doing wasn’t technically illegal.
When a minute passed without him speaking, Mindy had
to break the silence. It was a mounting weight she had to throw
off. “It’s just…smut,” she blurted. Plier smiled, covered his face, and
laughed bitterly.
“For you, it probably is. It is romanticized, I’m sure.”
Mindy’s face flushed with anger. When Plier called something
“romantic,” he meant “stupid.” Plier came forward, gently tugged
the book from her hands. If he had done it more forcefully, Mindy
would have fought back, but in this case, she just let the volume slip
away. Plier silently read over the page she was on.
Then he smiled. It was an expression full of venom. “So I
tell you, younger generation: they forged you in the smiths like
their machines and sent you out. Stop taking the updates to your
figurative programming. Stop plugging yourself in at night. Rise
with me and we will reclaim what they have taken–” He broke off in
laughter. “Is this man a preacher or a revolutionist? His tone is all off.”
Mindy’s nose scrunched up as her face tightened in on itself.
She began to shout something, but Plier’s soft voice cut her off.
“Well, he certainly isn’t an editor. Look at all these grammatical
errors.” He moved to show her the page again. He was inviting her
to see the book with his eyes; She refused.
“He had to get it out in a hurry.”
“Had to spread the Good Word?” Plier grinned, making a
reference to a long-lost religion. His smile quickly faded, replaced
by concern. “These words may be pretty, but they’ll get you killed.”
“I haven’t done anything wrong!”
“Not yet…” He read over the page one last time. His eyes
half-closed, too tired to fight anymore. Mindy wanted to take that
as a victory, but he looked too sad. He passed her the book back
with a sigh. In the morning, he’d say “You can’t fight them. They
have tanks; you have poetry.” But right now, he could only sigh.
Mindy got up. She went over to Plier’s bed on the other side
of the sporadically lit room. She pulled back the covers for him. He
nodded and crawled in. Mindy went back to her spot. She opened
her book again and started to read. She kept her posture better this
time. Out of the corner of her eye, she could see the light come on
from Plier’s tablet. His thumb scrolled across the screen, leaving a
data trail he couldn’t see, sculpting him in ways he didn’t know. After
an hour, he turned off the device and closed his eyes. Mindy put her
book down and went to sleep. She had a meeting in a few hours.

Naomi Sheely, “The Theatre”

I mock the audience’s unified gasp from the plot twist that
this love disaster has been building to. I can hear the crowd clearly
through the thick wooden doors that I pass on my way to my private
booth. What a bunch of ninnies. Even a blind woman could have
seen his betrayal coming. Maybe one could ignore the late nights at
work or the sudden interest in putting some extra time in at the gym,
but smiling when he’s texting someone else? No ma’am. That cannot
be excused. Neither can the fact that these simpletons were surprised.
I slow as I come to a door with a charred wood finish and
take a deep breath. For a moment, I can smell the fire, the power
smoldered into it. I caress my golden nameplate before entering.
A single white chair sits on the red plush carpet of the booth.
I quickly navigate to the seat, smooth the nonexistent wrinkles from
my bright red pencil dress, and fold into the comfort of the chair.
“You missed it,” calls a familiar voice from the booth to my left.
“I assure you, I missed nothing.”
A smaller, shocked gasp rolls through the audience at the
audacity of whatever tripe the mooch is spouting off now. I don’t
bother to turn my attention to the stage yet.
Instead, I focus on my neighbor’s booth and the light
scraping sound of drawing a tissue.
“It’s tragic, really,” she says over the sound.
“Is it?”
“Oh, you wouldn’t get it.”
“No, I wouldn’t.” I agree, dry eyes and bored with what we
have become.
I stand, sickened by the display and everyone here.
“Where are you going?”
I ignore her even as I hear the rustling of the trademark
navy-blue dress she favors.
“What are you going to do?” she tries again.
I run my fingers along the handle of the bat I keep perched
against the back wall before grabbing it firmly.
“What needs to be done,” I answer as I exit the booth.
The heavy wooden door slams shut loudly behind me, the
nameplate with its engraved “Anger” rattling in its holder.
I swing the bat confidently as I pass doors with their own
nameplates: Grief, Love, Joy, Anxiety.
I head for the stage, confident in my upcoming part, an
unwilling spectator to this travesty no longer.