Gwen was nearly vibrating with excitement. Her head twitched on the pillow with barely restrained energy. In a mere thirty blinks, her alarm would whine, opening the gate for her to morning, to breakfast, to people! She blinked, one, two…skip a few…thirty! Gwen catapulted out of bed and frantically showered, finishing before the water was hot. She kicked her brothers’ doors open and slid down the stairs banister, whooping with early morning delight. In less than a thousand clicks of her eyelids, she would be at school.
“But when accusative pronouns are used to modify a person, they…” the professor hummed along at the edge of Gwen’s understanding, a bumblebee just out of swatting range. Her mind was swimming with consuls and conjugates, and her eyes started to darken, to droop. No! She couldn’t afford to fall asleep, to waste time. A wink of sleep threatened imperfect grades, unwatched spectacles; a life not lived to the fullest. She bent over her desk and copied. She could not afford to miss anything.
Catherine leaned back on a bean bag, moaning.
“You have no idea how exhausted I am, girls,” she whimpered. Gwen nodded compassionately, but Bella snorted.
“Try Theoretical Astrophysics first thing in the morning, Cat. Then you can pretend at exhaustion,” Bella needled. Cat jerked up. Maybe she was pretending, Gwen thought, as Cat snarled,
“It’s hard enough functioning after homework, but I can hardly fall asleep some nights, what with seeing the Dream Stalker on the news and all.” Bella instantly swallowed her rancor, and Gwen leaned in. Cat was trembling. “I just keep watching all the pics of his victims, and hearing how their bodies were all found in their beds, and just keep envisioning waking up to that, that horrid…pale…mask…” Cat dissolved into tears. Gwen and Bella awkwardly held her while she sniffled.
“Don’t worry, dear, the cops will catch him. He will make a mistake and they will catch him. They always do,” Bella consoled her. The killer always makes mistakes? Gwen wondered. Or the police always capture them? Something that Catherine had said was niggling at her.
“How do you know what color his mask is? How do you know he even wears a mask?” Gwen probed gently. Cat hiccupped, and then laughed.
“Poor, poor, Gwendolyn. Always behind the times,” Cat tittered through her tears, “look.” She pulled out her fancy new phone and showed her friends the screen. Gwen’s eyes quickly flitted around the frame of the picture, homing in on details. It was on “castorcitypolice.gov”, so the photo was no internet prank. It was a BOLO, which meant the cops were so desperate they had resorted to crowdsourcing. The picture itself was from a steep angle, probably a security camera. In the grainy darkness of the screen, a white-masked shadow was captured in profile. The mask was cold and featureless save for the black-rimmed eyeholes and aquiline nose; malevolence, fleeing the scene. Ice settled in her stomach.
“Oh, dearie! You’ve gone so pale,” Catherine cried. “I’m sorry. Now you won’t be able to sleep tonight,” she apologized.
“Or ever again, by the looks of her,” Bella teased, and the two of them burst into laughter, banishing their fear. Gwen swatted them away irritably. They had made her lose the count! Was she on eleven thousand five hundred sixty nine blinks today, or eleven thousand five hundred sixty seven? She had to keep the count. She could not…
The Dream Stalker seized Gwen’s wrist. His ancient, arthritic hand held her more firmly than fear. His face looked so naked without the mask, wrinkled and ugly, like a baby. His mouth writhed, and spat out,
“Hot.” Gwen nodded gently and dabbed the murderer’s forehead with a damp cloth. The old man eased his grip and snuggled deeper into his blankets. Gwen stood up and left him where he lay on the floor of the barn. She cleaned up the plates and cups, and hid his food and medication stores under a hay bale. With any luck, no one would find this lonely place; if they did, then all they would see was a homeless man, swaddled in woolen dreams. As she was laying out his breakfast for tomorrow, the legend turned and gazed at her with failing eyes. “The boys in blue will not find me, will they, girl? You did not tell them?” he pleaded. His voice quivered with fear. She patted his hand.
“I told no one,” she whispered, “no one. You are safe here,” she reassured. He nodded dimly, and shriveled into his bedding.
“Yes,” he rasped, “safe.” Gwen leaned over and kissed his brow. She was too late; he was already dreaming. Such a poor, wretched old man, she marveled. He had been great once; he had torn all up and down the East Coast, killing women in their sleep and leaving traces only to tease the “boys in blue”. That had been thirty years ago. He was old now, forgotten, his murders pinned on his younger brother—case closed. She was glad the man was so old-fashioned—he would be hurt that someone actually was killing under his name. She turned to go.
Gwen looked on the wall where the Dream Stalker hung his reminders; the straight killing knife, as sharp and cold as memory; the curved blades for ripping; the mask. Through unblinking black sockets the white mask watched. It was cold and impassive, sleek and sleepless. She fastened it to her face, and it fit as lightly and naturally as a dream that one returns to, after a long banal day.
The Dream Stalker ran on through the night, each footfall claiming the earth as her own. Her breath was calm and measured. Her hands were steady and full of steel. Her path was unwavering and sure. And in her head, the count.
Who am I? What do I belong to?
This woman, my father’s mother.
So mean, so German.
Am I like her too?
Everyone knows their generations.
What am I?
My father, adopted.
Who is he?
Does that mean I don’t belong to her?
Steinen, sounds German to me.
50% Greek they tell me.
I love it, but it’s only 50.
Where does the rest come from?
Learning, reading, fascination.
Picture, imagine, model.
Athena, Aphrodite, Artemis.
Greek myths become hobbies.
1/8th is German.
My “grandmother” I see.
No German, I say.
No never in me.
1/8th is Cherokee.
Where does that take me?
So small, does it really affect me?
Interesting, I say.
Maybe part of me.
The rest is lost,
Whatever I want it to be.
What can it be?
Whatever I want,
I look in the mirror,
I look in my mind.
Thick, dark hair.
I never burn.
Summer brings dark “olive” skin.
Big eyes, thick lashes.
Care-free, Daddy’s girl.
A family as big as the Mediterranean.
My mind speaks,
Love for the myths,
Love for the family,
Love for the art,
Love for the food.
What am I?
I am Greek.
I am 100%.
The wood is dark, the trees are cold—
Tall tales of danger here are told.
Black streams beneath the branches pass
To bring to life accounts of old.
This swamp, it has a soul I fear:
A threat it holds for mortals mere.
It seeks to bring within its fold
I touch the side of his face to make sure he’s really there. I pray that he’s not just a figment of my imagination, another delusion. I fear that nothing is real anymore, but he grounds me. He’s my anchor in this seemingly pointless existence. He makes me feel as if I’m not crazy, as if there’s nothing wrong with me. He tells me I’m perfect, and for some reason I believe him even when everyone else says my condition is getting worse. Those words that escape his lips, those sentences that seem to caress my inner being and soothe my broken mind are like heroin. He speaks as if every word, every syllable, is a secret for my ears only; whispering sweet, twisted lullabies in the night until I lose consciousness. I fear I will lose him, this perfect being that calms me so. I should feel rage, I should feel resentment for having to depend so solely on one lone creature, but I can’t feel any of those. I could never occupy such negative thoughts, not toward him, not ever. He tells me stories, describes to me worlds that I’ve never known. He told me that he was once an angel, a beautiful angel with wings as soft as clouds and color as white as freshly fallen snow. His face is always so wistful when he tells me these things, as if he longs or yearns for what he once was. I tell him he’s beautiful as he is, and that he needs no wings to make my heart soar. He always laughs at me when I say this, which I suppose I should be upset by, but I’m not, because his laugh is like elegant strings plucked from an old harp. He tells me we can be together forever, but there is one thing I must do first. He whispers corrupted schemes to me like they’re sweet nothings as I lie with my head on his chest. At first I’m fearful, but then I remember that he would never do anything to hurt me so I concede and do as he says. Doubt never enters my mind as I grab the knife and slice long rivers of crimson into my flesh. “We’ll be together forever,” he whispers again, and I feel the truth in his words. As I fall down deep into the dark abyss he catches me, and I know then that I am truly and forever his.
My eardrums were ringing from the recent flash bang that was hurled in my direction.
An explosion echoes on my eight, and I turn to see my brother in arms, Ace.
His mouth is open in a shout, but I can’t entirely hear everything.
I swiftly survey the surroundings.
Ace has a huge hunk of shrapnel protruding from him left knee, courtesy of a nearby grenade.
Dodging bullets, I manage to get to Ace.
Tourniquet is out and on his leg within seconds to help minimize the bleeding.
I sling him up over my shoulders and start looking for the nearest shelter.
“GRENADE AT THREE!”
As soon as the words are outta Ace’s mouth, our other brother Tony throws himself on it.
It’s gruesome out here.
Loosing brothers left and right ain’t easy.
Save the ones you can and mourn the ones you can’t.
In a warzone, it’s all about striving for survival.
Trying to keep yourself and your brothers alive for even just a few more hours.
Sarge grabs our fallen brother and cradles him close.
He takes Tony’s dog tags and the letter to his mom from his vest.
It’s never easy leaving a brother behind.
When you leave a brother, you leave a piece of yourself.
“Ya gotta lemme go Chief! I’m too heavy!”
I look at Tony and I look back over my shoulder at Ace.
“You’re my brother. You’re never gonna be too heavy.”