Corvus Crump, “Photographs”

New Years Eve
Alex couldn’t stop talking, about how bad I was in bed, how
disorganized I was, how angry I got. Sometimes I’d help him. I’d
interject and paint word pictures about the rage and hate I’d feel.
And everyone laughed, I laughed, he laughed. But under the blanket
my palms bled where my fingernails dug into them.
Sean chimed in about his shitty ex-boyfriend and there was
someone else to disparage. Alex and the other guests left, and I
secluded myself in my room and tore my dresser apart. I was leaving,
far away, and I wasn’t coming back.
Fresh Air
There was a moment in my life when the work zoom was
the highlight of my day. I’d wake up from my nap and excitedly wait
for it to start. It was a gasp of air in an ocean. We started meeting
on the weekends to play games and strategize against our boss.
Hannah and I would talk for hours into the night about everything
and nothing while Sam cracked jokes and told me to go to therapy.
What I once only felt on the weekday zoom, I was
surrounded by. Even as our strategies failed and I lost that job, we
spoke constantly. Maybe I could travel to see them, they were close.
I missed them, though we’d never truly met.
The List
My mother sat in her cushioned throne and assembled a
puzzle as she wept. She explained endlessly. She wanted me to stay.
She wanted me to go. She was sorry about leaning on me. She was
a bad mother.
I wrote out everything I needed to move far away. I needed
a license and a car. I needed to sort out what I was keeping and
throwing away and buying new. I didn’t speak for a long moment as
she wept. I just wrote.
Days later she asked me for my list with a shaky voice and
puffy red eyes. I gave it to her, and she added things I hadn’t thought
of. We were ready.
All the zoom friends lived in the city. It was beautiful,
glass and bricks rising from the ocean before giving way to trees.
I traveled and stayed there for a time. I spent afternoons working
and went out with them late at night. Sam took me to their home
to watch tv and eat frozen pizza, we laughed until the sun rose and
slept under its gaze. Hannah took me to my first rock show, I felt
the guitars in my bones, saw people flail and collide in exuberance.
I felt loved.
On the last day of my stay, we assembled to play the weekly
game. I sat at a table I’d only seen on camera next to all my favorite
people. We played and laughed and told stories. We complained
and drank and smoked and left lighter than we entered. My hands
weren’t fists; my shoulders weren’t tense. I knew who I was, and I
was just me, something I couldn’t be alone.
On my way home I texted Alex that we were done. He didn’t
seem to care, but my rib cage loosened, and I could breathe again.
The zoom friends congratulated me over text. I was free.
“Have you considered moving there?” Sean asked in the
middle of me retelling my time in the city. I told Sean I couldn’t
afford it; it wouldn’t be the right path, I was already committed to
moving far away, they were expecting me there, they had prepared
for me there. Sean agreed and we moved on.
Once the sun had set with Mom and Sean asleep in their
rooms, as I texted Hannah, like I did every night, the plans started
to form in my head. It would be closer to family. I could keep my
new job. I could see my friends. I could do this.
A decade ago, when I could barely reach the pedals and
see over the dashboard, my mother took me down a dirt road and
handed me the keys to her car. A decade ago, I’d gone down that
road, terrified of the gas pedal, my whole body shaking.
For a decade, my heart would pump violently, and my fingers
would hurt with white knuckles upon the wheel whenever I drove,
my mother always by my side.
But in preparation for going far away, I got my license, and
now I could drive alone. My hands were loose upon the wheel, and I
could forget my heart existed. My only companion was the road as I
made my way to visit the city. I could see my friends every weekend
now. It was all I wanted in the world.
The city didn’t have anything to offer that weekend. No
games, no shows, no rallies. I went anyway.
Hannah inflated her air mattress, and we went grocery
shopping. We walked to the ocean at dawn and saw the sun break
through the water. We cleaned her apartment. We ate pears and
potato chips all weekend and traded album recommendations.
We did nothing, and yet I felt my stomach drop to my
waistline as I drove back home. There was no place I’d rather be,
and no one I’d rather do nothing with. This was where I would leave
to. This was home.
San Francisco
Mom and I traveled to see her brother die. Cancer had
sentenced him, and he wanted no more pain. Mom left every day
to help her brother prepare and returned to the hotel crying. She
hardly ate.
On the third morning, I awoke to Sam’s accusations.
Boundaries crossed, actions taken, inactions left to fester. Lies
from an unknown source whispered onto Sam’s tongue. My ribcage
constricted and my breaths became shallow. I screamed into the
darkness of the early California morning. I cried, I sent defenses
and questions to push against an electronic wall. I read Sam’s text
a hundred times, and I read its ending, “You know better, get your
shit together, goodbye.”
On the sixth day, Mom left to help her brother prepare for
his final hours. It took all day, and 18 hours after his medically
prescribed lethal dose of morphine, my mother’s brother passed.
We left the next morning, a pair suffering tragedies, she left hers
behind, I was catching up with mine. We landed in the city, and I
knew it would be my last time there. I’d never see them again. I was
It’s Time
The springs had worked their way through the padding and
fabric of my mattress. It tore through my sheets and my skin. I woke
up bleeding in the morning and started sleeping on the couch.
The dryer was broken, and all the laundry hung from a line
that stretched from the greenhouse to the porch. It rained most
days that month.
I felt hollow at work, every call arithmetic, and every meeting
a defeat. My performance was slipping, but no one else had noticed.
My car started filling with things once I was done using
them. My electric piano, my dress clothes, my hairbrush. It was
Far Away
I texted Alex last night. I wanted to let him know that my
grandmother appreciated his Facebook presence. We talked a little
about old times and old people. He didn’t ask me about my studies
or about my move.
My phone is still silent at night. I keep hoping, but they’ll
never reach out. I put on my headphones at night and listen to
Hannah’s music with my eyes closed, trying to remember that
night fondly. Moving far away isn’t all I thought it would be. My
room is donated to me, with paintings I didn’t choose and a bed
the wrong shape.
Tonight, I look at Alex’s little message box, with his face and
his dog’s smiling next to each other. I start typing 3 times and delete
each text. I close my phone and turn over to sleep. 500 miles is the
right distance for him. I think back to the city as my eyes begin to
flutter closed for sleep, and as I remember that single night sitting
around the game table with them, I realize that I love them.

Eric Schwartz, “The Yellow Dress”

“I was thinking,” he said.
John’s words startled his son, Gabriel, who was watching a
baseball game on TV with the sound off. They were sitting together
in the small room where John lived. Most of the time, they sat in
silence, because most of the time John was lightly dozing. Doctors
don’t give out predictions, but everyone knew John didn’t have much
time. He was going downhill fast.
“Hi, Dad. I thought you were sleeping.”
“I was thinking. Nothing serious.”
“What were you thinking about?” Gabriel asked, although
he wasn’t terribly interested in the answer. In recent days, he had
listened politely several times to John’s scheme to generate power
from building small dams over all the small rivers in the country.
Gabriel was prepared for more of the same. His father prided
himself on coming up with solutions to pressing problems.
“Could you get me some of that ice water first?” John asked.
Gabriel got up, poured a glass from the plastic jug on the
counter, and brought it back to his dad.
“How are you feeling?” Gabriel asked.
“Oh, I’m fine,” John said with a gentle smile. Gabriel had
spent the last two days with him, and he had noticed that his dad
smiled much more than on his earlier visits, and much more than he
did in younger days. A softness that Gabriel had never known now
seemed to suffuse his father.
“I keep thinking about the sunlight on her. It’s funny. Just
that. The sunlight. And her yellow dress,” John said.
“Who are you talking about?”
“Your mom.”
Gabriel was taken aback. His mother had died 10 years ago,
about 30 years after she left his father. She had remarried nearly
immediately after the split, while his father stayed alone and sadly
stoic for more than decade. His mother had been garrulous about
her reasons for leaving, but his father never spoke about their marital
problems, and rarely spoke about his mother.
“Mom? Were you dreaming about her?” Gabriel asked.
Recently, his father had been dreaming about people from his past,
dreams that were so much more vivid than these days spent in the
assisted living facility.
“I wasn’t really dreaming about her. I wasn’t sleeping. And
I wasn’t really thinking about her, I guess. Not all of it. I was just
thinking about a moment. Before you were born.”
“Just a moment, really. We had just started dating, and one of
those carnivals had come to town. Not a really big thing. A merrygo-round. I think some ponies to ride. And a small Ferris Wheel.
Her folks were there too.”
“They didn’t like you, right?” Gabriel was familiar with this
motif from his parent’s marriage.
John smiled.
“No, they didn’t. That was fine. She did. I was just thinking
of this moment. She came to the carnival with her folks. I don’t
think they wanted to come. They didn’t like those types of things.
But she wanted to come, and she was wearing a very simple yellow
dress. Pretty. It was a hot afternoon, but there was a breeze. And she
was so happy to see me – and I was happy to see her too, really. So,
she left her parents there – grumbling. And we went to get tickets
for the Ferris Wheel.”
John smiled, paused, and sipped from the glass Gabriel had
given him. He sucked a little on an ice cube, and then closed his
eyes. John’s breathing was slow, and Gabriel wondered if he should
go soon. These times with his dad were important, but his father
also tired quickly.
“That’s it. Just that,” John said after a couple of minutes,
startling Gabriel. “You know, we had some years together. We had
lots of good times. We really did. But I remember that time, maybe
the sweetest time. Maybe because it was so new. So much is really
sweet when it is new. That’s what I remember. That yellow dress.
And she was so beautiful. And the sunlight on her. And she was so
happy to see me.”
“That’s wonderful,” replied Gabriel, though he felt awkward.
The divorce had been years ago, but some dark bitterness about his
mother still lived his heart. “She was beautiful.”
“The best part, I think, is that it’s not just me,” John said.
His face contorted some, as it did when was holding back tears.
Gabriel was familiar with this expression, an expression he saw visit
his father with increasing frequency. “It’s not just me, I know that.
I’m leaving. Soon. But I think about your mom, and the sunlight.
That yellow dress. So simple. We were in love. That’s it. It was so
sweet. And it wasn’t just us. So many people had that. Have that.
Countless people. Different times. Different moments. All that
stays. That’s not going.”
John fell silent, but he was not sleeping, just looking at his
son. He stretched out his hand. John did not need to tell Gabriel
that this is something that he wished for him. John’s tears flowed
quietly down his cheeks. Gabriel felt his own tears on his cheeks,
gave his father’s hand a squeeze, and pulled back.
“Can I get you anything else, Dad?”
“No. That’s fine. Thank you. You should probably hit the
road. You’ve got quite a drive, I know.”
“I can stay longer, really.”
“No, that’s fine. I’m tired. All this strolling down memory
lane!” John laughed.
“Thank you for telling me about this,” Gabriel said. “Really.”
“Silly, I know. Funny. How many years has it been?”
“55? 60?”
“Something like that,” John said. “And I can still see her
there. Oh, her parents were not happy!”
Gabriel smiled – and rose. He would be returning again on
Wednesday; Gabriel reminded his father. They chatted a little about
the National League playoffs and the heatwave that was expected
this week. John asked Gabriel to turn off the TV before he left. John
said he was going to take a nap.
In the hallway, Gabriel passed by and greeted several
residents sitting in wheelchairs. One man seemed to recognize him
and said hello. At the front door, he met Doris, the shift attendant,
who gave him the visitors log to sign.
“How is your dad doing? Did you have a good visit?” she asked.
“We did, thanks,” he answered. “I think he’s doing better,
but we didn’t really talk too much. He’s doing OK.”

Jonathan Lacher, “The Princess, the Dragon, and the Tower”

Clarissa, Crown Princess of the Kingdom of Brethonia, was
not the biggest fan of parties. Too many drunk noblemen convinced
that they were the Divine’s gift to all women. Too many social
niceties that she had to keep track of for diplomatic reasons. And
far too few excuses for her to avoid wearing a corset.
But, there were certain occasions when she simply couldn’t
avoid attending a party. The celebration of an armistice with the
Kingdom of Wethage was the sort of event the Crown Princess
was expected to attend. If for no other reason than to reinforce the
fiction that there were no lingering grudges between their people.
So, Princess Clarissa was clad in her elegant red silks and
posture-stiffening corset. She sipped at her wine and did her best to
pretend that she didn’t feel a growing urge to throw the Wethagian
delegation out of a window. At the moment, Duke Siegfried of
Hermage, a Wethagian general, was droning on in her ear. Something
about horse breeding? She hadn’t really been paying attention.
“I suppose I can show you the mare when I return from
campaigning,” he said.
Clarissa was suddenly much more interested in what he
was saying. “Campaigning?” she asked, careful to keep her voice
consistent with her established tone of vague polite interest.
“We are riding north into the mountains,” the Duke
explained. “Going to deal with those dragon-riding barbarians.”
“I wish you luck,” Clarissa lied.
“Thank you,” he said obliviously. “Their leader is quite the
fearsome brute. A towering hulk of a figure, though dwarfed by the
terrifying red dragon he is always astride.”
Clarissa did her best not to preen and simply said, “Sounds
“It is, but it must be done. You should reinforce your own
borders,” he advised. “Our assault may drive some of their stragglers
into your lands.”
“You should speak with my father on that matter,” Clarissa
said while feigning an airy distraction. “I don’t know much about
military matters.”
“Maybe when I return from wiping them out, you and I
can continue negotiating a friendly settlement to our minor border
dispute,” he said with an attempt at a suave smile.
Clarissa did not see his smile. At the words “minor border
dispute” her mind flashed to memories. The searing heat of a village
as it burned. The acrid smell of rotting bodies as they lay piled in
the fields. The gurgling cry of a young boy calling for his mother
while bleeding to death. Clarissa’s desire to throw the Duke out of
a window intensified.
However, her diplomatic training was victorious over her
instincts. As much as she hated the way he was so dismissive of the
war between their countries, she simply gave a bland smile and said,
“of course.” With a polite farewell, she stepped away from the Duke
and mingled back into the crowd.
Clarissa quickly downed the rest of her wine and handed the
goblet off to a servant. It wouldn’t do for her to accidentally crush
perfectly innocent silver in her anger. Her search for something
to distract her was only partially successful; She happened upon
Vanessa, one of her handmaidens, trapped between a table and a
knight’s ego.
Sir George was rambling on about how he had bravely
defended Castle Belanglos during the war. Clarissa could only
roll her eyes. If she recalled correctly, Castle Belanglos was little
more than a supply camp with a dozen men and some palisades
protecting it from raiders. The latest intelligence report that she had
seen said that no Wethagian troops ever got within a 2 day march
of the place.
The princess considered embarrassing the knight by asking
more pointed questions about the mudhole he had garrisoned
when something gave her pause. Vanessa held her hands carefully
clasped behind her back out of the knight’s sight. There, her
fingernails were slowly elongating into talons and scarlet scales
crept their way across her hands to disappear into the deep maroon
folds of her sleeves.
“Excuse me, good knight,” Clarissa interrupted. “I’m
afraid I must steal my handmaiden away to aid me with some…
womanly matters.”
“Of course, Your Highness,” they both responded. Sir George
looked a bit disappointed but did not protest. Vanessa, however,
eagerly shot to Clarissa’s side and allowed herself to be led away. At
the princess’s lead, they ascended the spiraling staircase into one of
the castle’s towers.
“Thank you for rescuing me, Your Highness,” Vanessa said
as soon as they were out of earshot.
“I’m not sure if I saved you from the knight or the knight
from you.” At Vanessa’s questioning look, Clarissa leaned in and
whispered, “Your scales were starting to show, it wouldn’t do to
allow you to complete the process.”
Vanessa shook her head, energetically enough to shake a lock
of hair loose from the bun it was tied in. “I would never allow myself
to dishonor Your Highness by losing my temper in such a manner.”
“I don’t know,” Clarissa said with a smirk. “I’ve made great
use of your anger in the past.”
Vanessa smiled sweetly. “Allowing you to wield my anger
as a sword, in one form or another, is hardly the same as losing my
temper. If anything, it requires that I maintain control of my temper
more firmly than ever.”
Clarissa let out a soft laugh and bowed slightly to concede
the point. The two then arrived at the royal bed chambers. Clarissa
ushered Vanessa inside and then barred the door behind her. Vanessa
closed her eyes and walked the edge of the room, taking in a series
of shallow breaths through her nose.
Clarissa’s eyes followed her handmaiden as she passed the
features of the small room. A tapestry showing her lineage. A
window overlooking the keep’s courtyard. A four-poster bedframe
draped in silken sheets. An armoire displaying gold jewelry. A
closet where Clarissa knew her “hulking” suit of armor sat hidden
from view.
“We are free of spies, Your Highness,” Vanessa declared
when she finished her circuit. “Have you learned anything worth
discussing, or are we simply hiding from Sir George?”
Clarissa let out a very unladylike snort. “Not simply hiding.
Duke Siegfried will be leading a force into the Northern Mountains
to hunt the dragon riders.”
“How treacherous,” Vanessa said in a complete deadpan.
“Those mountains have many narrow passes. Many places a
forewarned dragon rider might stage an ambush.”
“My thoughts exactly,” Clarissa said with a smile. “I trust
you can make the necessary arrangements?”
“Of course, Your Highness.” Vanessa paused. “Is there anything
else you require, or should I begin preparations immediately?”
Clarissa studied her face intently but didn’t say anything.
Her eyes trailed to the loose lock of hair framing the side of
Vanessa’s cheek. Vanessa began to flush slightly under the attention.
Absentmindedly, a forked tongue snaked its way out of Vanessa’s
mouth. Her tongue reached up across her cheek and tucked the
loose lock of hair behind her ear.
Clarissa glanced in the direction of the bed. “I suppose there
is one other task you can perform first.”
The flush on Vanessa’s cheeks was joined by the brighter
red color of scales appearing from beneath the collar of her dress.
“Your Highness is feeling… territorial then? Shall I help you with
your dress?”
“Of course,” Clarissa said, and turned around to expose her
laces. After a moment, she spoke again. “I have half a mind to give
Sir George command of a front-line unit. Let the knight earn his
tales of bravery.”
“That would be a waste, Your Highness,” Vanessa said as she
began to unravel the lacing on the princess’s dress. “The man is a
supply officer through and through.”
“So defensive. You understand that I am not accustomed to
leaving rivals of any kind.”
Vanessa finished with the lacing on the dress and peeled the
silk from the princess’s shoulders. “Perhaps introduce him to Lady
Margret. She has expressed interest in acquiring a husband.”
“She has also expressed interest in entering these bed chambers.”
“Has she?” Vanessa asked as she started on the lacing of the
corset. “I hadn’t noticed.”
“You would remove one rival with another.” When she didn’t
receive a response, Clarissa continued, “I suppose I could introduce
the two. Consider yourself as having saved Sir George.”
“Of course, Your Highness.”
“Such deviousness,” Clarissa drawled. “Wherever did you
learn such a thing?”
“From your astute tutelage, Your Highness,” Vanessa said.
“After all, you have always told me that all is fair in love and war.”

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.