by Lucas Rucchin
One-half of her was falling. Cradled in a hazy envelope of ignorance, breaking the surface of forgiveness was something she no longer desired. Living a life spent threading through clouds, she never once pondered about reaching the ground.
In the expanse of her mind, her cries sounded like songs. Her failures warped into beautiful games. Her concerns dulled to steady breaths of boundless air, soothing her whispers instead of making them tremble. The tempo of her heart, steady and uniform, had grown accustomed to her mind’s soundless melody.
Flailing uselessly at gravity’s perpetual pull, the girl had once screamed and thrashed, treading at the fiendish darkness that jeered with every call. Every instance she’d opened her eyes, however, her descent appeared less than an abyssal prison and more like a mirror to a vision of a different pair of eyes. Fables arrived to her in gentle performances as the obscure curtain around her revealed its secrets, seeming to know everything about another girl who fell in another world. Less was the darkness her devilish adversary and more so her solacing shroud.
But the air was bristly this time. The silence lurked rather than amiably stepping out to greet her. “Wherever are the shadows that help me hide?” The girl spoke mildly, her tone drifting with the serenity of any expectant observer. Her expression remained placid at first, watching the nothingness above her as infinity pushed her along—yet when the darkness did not begin its quiet prelude, the edges of her lips folded.
The girl had mastered the art of dancing without a floor for her feet to touch. Twisting herself as she fell, her body spun upright in her descent, glancing at her surroundings with a set of piercing moons. Wrapping her arms around the ebony-coloured dress she’d deemed her favourite, the girl pushed the suspicions away. The performance will start a bit later than usual, that’s all.
“You know, it’s rude to make your audience wait.” At ease with her verdict, her hands had moved to the back of her head where they tangled together to form a nonchalant cushion, matching the blanket of air that guided the fall. The girl’s frame winded with the carelessness of a serpent who’d seized their prey—except she hadn’t so begun her hunt. “They always told me that. . . you’re just lucky I cannot just stand up and leave—”
The darkness flashed. A film spool accelerating as its pictures illuminated the screen, the starless sky that was the background of her fall blazed with vivid imagery. Slow and flickery at first, the pictures appeared in gradual increments on the dusky canvas—but suddenly she was plummeting faster, and the images blended together into a single word, scribbled onto the blackness with the fervency of a familiar hand.
A glint of exasperation. . . uncoiled for just a moment, the sentiment embraced her features for no longer than a second before she revised her pacific composure. Airy and blithe, the tint of her voice swayed with the tranquillity of a spring stream, yet the girl could only barely prevent it from dropping off into a roiling cataract. “Who. . .? Who informed me of that advice, you mean?” Her eyes formed convincingly contemplative bulbs. “I—can not say I remember.”
The blackness churned again. This was not its regular presentation. You know, it told her, illuminating the inkiness briskly as if frustrated with her incompliance.
The girl’s laugh was tight and bitter, harmonizing with the cold atmosphere. “I have no reason to lie, nor do I have any reason to mindlessly converse with a stubborn limbo.” She stood stiffly in her descent. The aura grew frigid with discomfort. The ribbons of light that formed the messages before her moved and jumbled as if musing over the next words in which they would form. “Never would I once think that—”
At once her merry bravado fell from her expression like drapery. Printed with the sharp lines and edges of potency on the air around her, the phrase crackled through the girl’s mind, an arcing bolt of assertive lightning.
“It—” she began. “This isn’t. . .” Gone was the artfulness of a voice so used to excuses, to artificial apologies, to lying in the face of a thousand promises. “No. I. . . I don’t know what you’re talking about. . . this is real. . . ! You’re joking with me, aren’t you? All inside my mind—how stupid! This is my mellow existence: falling endlessly, accompanied by shadows. . . I am real. . . this is all matter. . . all of this matters. I’ve known nothing more than this, just as you know nothing more than me. . . ! What an awful trick, telling me to wake up. What do you mean. . . ? Wake up? I can’t--I CANNOT WAKE UP BECAUSE THIS IS REAL!—”
“Stop it, Alice.”
Suddenly she was not falling. Like the tears which she so regularly wiped away, the midnight curtain dissolved around her. Only the echo of the voice that spoke her name remained, reverberating throughout the now-steady breeze, for those who hide in one place for too long are always found.
It was a forest of falsehoods that surrounded her now. Dimly lit by amber light, slender trees with dismal stalks enveloped her in a sea of grass that seemed just too tall. The tapestry of leaves veiled the sky’s supervision; the girl could barely make out the blue awning through the threads of illumination that managed to slide its way through the barrier. A place even quieter than the endless darkness in which she dreamed before, she couldn’t escape the chilling sense of augury that cornered her here.
She was running rather than falling. Across the swell of herbs that tangled her pale legs with every step, Alice’s bounds were graceless and erratic, a frightened squirrel whipping its legs in every direction with the sound of an enemy's footfall. The inky dress she’d donned did not help in the slightest, the fabric clashing with her forceful lunges.
The voice was chasing her. It resounded with the same spaciousness of her tone, yet was without the chirp of underlying deception—rather, it resonated across the morose tree trunks with the tenderness of one willing to aid.
It almost sounded like her own voice.
“Dreams don’t make you blind to the illusions when you’re awake,” it said with explicitness. Echoing from no particular direction, the voice’s prominence rang across the greenery. “No, Alice. It simply makes them dance in a different spotlight. . .”
With an assertive swerve of her arm, Alice reached to her forehead to swipe a screen of condensation away. She’d always feared the day that her unconsciousness would twist the metaphors of her trances into words of reason, and now rationale encircled her like an unyielding hawk.
“I won’t succumb,” she was so accustomed to standing on the higher tower that her wavering speech was almost alien-like. “I won’t. . . just leave me alone—”
“You refused to grow with those around you, lied to those who loved you. And you wonder why the world is so unforgiving?”
“—they never loved me. . . they never spared me a second chance—”
“. . . All were fears that you let yourself dread. Tell me, Alice: if you can envision such elaborate spaces of evasion. . .”
“You can’t convince me that what’s out there is better—”
“. . . Then why can’t you envision yourself facing the disease of fictions that you’ve spread?”
“There is nothing more I can do to reconcile.”
“You haven’t tried.”
“It’s too big an army to face.”
“You’ve only convinced yourself of its horror. When will you truly use your eyes to see, Alice? When will you use them to realize and not to hide?”
Her quaking breaths were almost as turbulent as the now-rampant wind. The trees no longer looked like trees but like an audience of spectators. As her bounds gradually reduced to subdued paces, Alice noticed the canopy of leaves steadily giving way to the sky’s cordial light. It was almost as if the voice grew clearer as the trees parted, embracing her alongside the warmth of the sun.
“When will you use your legs to endure and not to run? When will you use your voice to heal and not to shun?”
She came to a stop at last. The barricade of leaves and branches fell, thawed like a layer of winter frost, broken like the first signs of regret during early steps of forgiveness.
“It was forever your choice to stand or continue to fall.”
The morning light was blinding, yet she looked at it right in the eye. She was no longer housed by the forest floor but by the creases of blankets; she was no longer swept aside by fierce wind but instead cased in the delicateness of daybreak’s ambience. The voice’s utterance still echoed in her ear, and at last the girl recognized it. For the first time in a long time she became whole, two hands steering the same vessel, two mouths speaking the same truth.
Two halves of her were standing.
by Angel Ye
“Today on the news: Larry Anderson is found dead, having been gruesomely murdered and —similar to past victims— placed in the trunk of a car. The prospective murderer is now on the loose, so make sure that your children are in bed after 9 pm, and avoid any parking lots or suspicious areas. We’ll be scheduling a Hunt at around 8:30 tonight, so be sure to stay tuned!"
I hear static.
The electric box fades to black.
The words: “DISOBEY AND DIE” pops onto the screensaver of the television as a dancing cartoon sheep.
“A new notification?”
The Hunt organization has deposited $100 into your bank account!
The pixelated sheep dances in the background, happy and oblivious to everything in the world.
I kick my feet up on the coffee table and bite my thumb. Cigarette stubs litter the cracked and clouded glass.
‘Stupid, everything about this culture is stupid. Why is it like this? There’s clearly not enough money to go around— look at everyone! We’re all dirt poor here.’ I ponder in frustration.
“This system is so twisted. Who the hell do you think we are?!” I bellow at the cameras sitting quietly in the corner of my room in defiance. The black lens gleamed back threateningly. “You! You’re the reason! I won’t participate in any more Hunts, I can’t live like this— I can’t TAKE IT ANY LONGER!”
Something pops up in my peripheral vision, and --FLASH.
‘What the hell? Did someone just take a picture of me?’ From my window, I see a figure dart behind the bushes.
I grab my car keys, my car license initialed “SMITH”, and trudge out — I need some fresh air, something to clear my mind. Shuffling through my driveway, I make my way to the car parked outside. As soon as I sit down, the car comes alive with the words: “And now for the daily word: media! Wondering what it means? Well it’s the main means of mass communication! Of course, consumed by everyone, all of you; me and you and everyone included! Make sure to tune in every hour, minute, and second of the day to make sure you don’t miss any news on today's Hunt!”
“Nothing but nonsense,” I mutter as I switch off the car radio. Are there even any self-aware people left? Everyone’s just like a herd of no-brained sheep tumbling around trying to find a wolf. A wolf in a sheep's suit... Or is it the other way around?
“... And remember to tune in for the 8 o’clock reveal of that serial killer who’s been shoving people into car trunks! Make sure to film it to get that money!” I glare at the car radio. It keeps turning itself back on nowadays. I really should get that fixed.
“... and now, time for the reveal of the mystery murderer! The suspect right now is male, around 6’1, stockily built, with a rugged face, and graying black hair. He has a mole underneath his right eye and is wearing a vintage red shirt. Whoever finds him first will receive a reward of 20,000 dollars!”
I look in the side mirror, reflecting back my exact appearance. And— my red shirt— I swerve the car immediately-- I need to get home right now. This can’t be true, I haven’t done anything wrong. The little bobble-head sheep at the edge of my dashboard wobbles back and forth mockingly, with “DISOBEY AND DIE” carved into the crumbling base. I’m innocent! I’m not a murderer, I haven’t done anything wrong, I don’t want to die--
The car tire hits the bump of the curb as I skid desperately into my driveway. Already, there’s a sea of people gathered around my house, on my lawn, loitering around my gate. All of them have their phones, cameras, and devices pointed at me. Angry voices start emerging from the crowd, starting from a slow murmur, crescendoing into one unified chant: “It’s him! He’s the murderer. It’s him, HE’S THE MURDERER! IT’S HIM, HE’S THE MURDERER!!!”
They swarm around my car like furious wasps, angrily buzzing and humming and scratching, writhing, clawing— rocks are thrown into the windshield, the mass turns vile as they grasp their way towards me: a twisted perception of their next victim.
And— oh, god, the police are here.
“WHO FOUND HIM?” The police shouts out to the sea of bodies.
“ME, me, I did, I followed him after I saw the news of the Hunt on my phone,” a woman cries out, her ragged gnawed off nails, now bleeding, scratch maniacally at the hood of my car. “No, it was me, I did, I took his picture AND I saw him getting into his car— he’s my neighbour actually --I have the right to the reward!!”
“No actually I..!!”
And they shout and tumble and break out into an angry fight and that officer— he is simply standing and watching and filming it with his camera. Everything has to be documented after all. How else would we be able to know the truth anymore except through the media?
Inside my car, my knees are balled up, my hands tying my legs to my chest while atrocious faces flood my vision: my dashboard is filling up with frightful shadows, the accusing light of the officer’s flashlight penetrates through my body, sending a chill through my bones. The screaming drowns into one big cacophony—it crashes into my ears as the loud, intruding voices melt into silence. The faces are all merging together, they’re all the same big mass of mob mentality, howling inside these empty husks.
‘This is how I die,’ I think numbly. There’s no murderer, there are only beasts out here. Stupid sheep who turn into wolves as soon as they find a reason to.
The glass shatters into a million splinters as a club bashes into the window. Finally! The masses sigh, and they all reach to pull out the blood-covered body inside the car, just breathing a few seconds ago.
The officer shoulders through all of them and checks it—
“He’s dead!” He shouts confidently, “Brody Smith, the Murderer is dead! We’ve hunted him down successfully! Everyone who participated, you can go back now, make sure you upload your videos to gain your reward. Since there’s about 200 of you, $100 will be delivered to your bank account by tomorrow.”
One by one, the tired crowd slowly staggers home until a single malnourished girl remains.
I stand dead silent.
Age 12, I experienced my first Hunt.
Confused, perplexed and clouded with emotions I ask: “Officer, how did you find out he’s the murderer? Where’s your evidence?!” Smith, that poor, now dead, soul was torn apart by everyone: from kids to adults to seniors. Indignity flowed through my mind, brimming with red hot thoughts. Incriminated without justice, I burned inside. Why did he have to die? He didn’t do anything wrong, he didn’t kill anyone… WHY?!
The officers’ nose flares. “Don’t question the news! Don’t you believe in the Hunt!?” he screeches, with spit flecking the edge of his mouth, fury sharp on his voice and eyes filled with nothing but the flames of fervent and absolute submission. “You, little lady, just committed an act of treason against the state.”
The officer clicks open the trunk and hauls the dripping body in. “Another hunt finished. How many more to go? Doesn’t matter anyways. You should’ve watched your mouth little girl. Disobey and Die: that’s just how it works here.”
And— FLASH —His camera gives me a wink of death.
With one last glance at the scrawny little girl, the officer's wrinkled eyes squint. Maybe it was from admiration, maybe it was from contempt. Who could tell?
“Breaking news, another body, this time, Brody Smith, is found dead and covered with glass shards and —similar to past victims— placed in the trunk of his car! The prospective murderer is now on the loose, make sure that your children get to bed after 9 pm, avoid any parking lots, and suspicious areas…”
“Tune in for the next Hunt, scheduled for 8:30pm! This time is extra special— $30,000 for the winner of this Hunt! She’s a scraggly little child, so don’t hold back!”
The news reflects into my wide, scared eyes. I gnawed anxiously on my nails.
I hear static.
The electric box fades to black.
The words: “DISOBEY AND DIE” pops onto the screensaver of the television with a dancing cartoon sheep.
by Lucas Rucchin
Memories were to be cherished close. Not all were grasped with admiration. Before the static was the silence; before the silence was the cataclysm. The boy didn’t need the broadcast to know something was wrong—a troubled silence always spoke louder than words. Perplexion was sheathed behind the reporter’s sharp, polished Japanese. His father made no effort to hide his surprise, seated carefully, watching the radio with visible intent. Surrounded by it, enveloped in it, there was no need to.
Lucky. The notion spread quickly: seated an ocean away, distress arose from fear and fear alone, the news scattering throughout the city like a flame, burning their surety rather than their skin. We’re safe, his mother repeated persistently, hugging him tight to the azure fabric of her favourite dress. We’re lucky to be safe. Yet her voice fluttered with ambiguity every time the words left her mouth, more so when the paper arrived at the doorstep every morning, more so as passersby refused to answer their waves and met their gazes with glares. Even though the storm didn’t hurt them then, it was a different story when the flood came rushing.
“The last best west,” was Canada’s headline, a country flaunting their rich acres and mountainous plateaus, singing about opportunities. The perfect canvas for lies. The white men had come knocking in March, sanctioned by the law and their own conceptions. Suddenly, they weren’t Canadians, but prisoners of a crime they hadn’t so much as touched, paying the price for the cowards who had no dignity but to growl the commands.
Pearls didn’t always mirror beauty.
Memories collapsed into something necessary. Reminiscing was no longer a recreation—it was a pastime that had degraded into something of a remedy. The only thing able to plaster a smile on their sullen faces, they gripped the past close, the only medicament for the present. Though it was senseless to hide from the truth, it helped them realize why the truth repelled them—why it struck and tormented their stream of certitude, a tranquil river purged into a roaring torrent. They knew nothing more than detainment, dispossession and dispersion. None of them believed in fate then. Now, it was the only thing that proved to be rational.
The memory was clouded, the wooden floor an umber, blurry pond; the walls flickered between shades; the image projected through the window remained a stagnant shade of blue. The boy was revisiting it for another time in a many: a dream just out of his grasp, a The longer you treat a pigeon, the longer it stays. His pigeon was edging on leaving him.
Canada had never treated the boy well—his narrow structure and slim gaze attracted many uneasy watches, and those less bold avoided him entirely. Speaking through a foreign accent, the boy’s sense of belonging was always far out of his reach beside those who talked in stressless, instinctive tones. The way they all laughed, moved, acted. . . They weren’t human to him, for his idea of mankind had been birthed a sea in the distance. The boy detested it, and they detested him.
He glided through the vague hallway, a ghost of what was. Objects wavered in the corner of his vision, shuddering in and out of existence, the memory deciding what would and wouldn’t be. Sounds of the household echoed unnaturally: cleaned silverware clinking within a metal basin reverberated in patternless waves. . . voices resounded at all angles. . . footsteps crackled unevenly through the wooden floorboards. The boy viewed it all through a muffled, foggy filter—the price one paid when recollections were treated like air. It was only later did he realize he was filing away memories like a shuffled deck of cards.
His father was in the living room, an alien place to the boy. He’d never been able to establish familiarity with the design of the new world around him: the blandness of sepia-coloured rugs, the strained hospitality of couches coated in a cynical shade of leathery-brown. The walls, too, with their emotionless tan, never managed to strike a sense of dwelling.
Seated impassively on the chair nearest to the window overlooking a tended-to lawn, his father’s expression was as monotonous as the jar of ashen-coloured paint propped up on his knees. The boy took to the seat beside him, and a lingering, consensual look was all he needed to understand his father’s mood, one willing to make. . . concise conversation. Slim frame shifting in the tight confines of the armchair, his father dedicated a bit of his attention towards him, most of it still focused on the figure in his hands.
“Papa. . .” The boy noticed his tone was noticeably more civil in comparison to the one used with his mother. He fidgeted slightly in the raspy fabric of the seat, assessing his thoughts before he translated them into words. “I. . . was thinking. About—about this place. It’s—”
“Look, Kaito.” His father evidently wasn’t paying attention to him. Either that, or because his voice had been dimmed to a whisper. “Clay is your infant. Your willing follower.” Carefully settling the sculpture on a nearby surface of newspapers, he met his son’s eyes, full of conviction. “Infants must be fostered. Disdainful, they turn, if you do not tend to them enough. . .”
The boy never understood his father’s speech. While his tone walked and his mother’s jogged, his father’s danced and paraded, full of indecipherable poetry. “What do you mean?”
“Take a look.” His father plucked the figure back up in his palms, cautious as to not to graze any wet paint. It seemed to be a pigeon; the boy’s eyes traced the black curves that were its wings, the bright pink sticks that were the bottoms of its feet, the segment where the clay arched and painted a solemn grey: its body. “Notice the precise angles, the vivid colours, the way the—”
“. . . how the sculpture embraces the complexity of nature—”
“. . . such is an example of a disciplined follower. No forgiveness is lent to the clay, rather it is treated with utmost authority—”
“Papa. I hate this place.”
Now the boy’s father turned to him, body tense, as if the words had impaled him. No longer was his gaze ample with fathering warmness, but replaced with apprehensive concern. “Kaito. Why would you ever say such a thing?”
“I want to go home.”
His father’s brow furrowed. “You realize what we had to sacrifice to move here? We had no future in Japan, boy. You may not see it, but this country will welcome you much more willingly.”
“None of them are. . . like me. None of them want to be my friend.”
“Would you rather friends or remain a helpless pawn?” Placid but on the edge of sliding into a rasp, his tone was a falcon: composed, talons barred if its situation bothered him further. “Running over rocks and nails is better than tripping.”
Frowning, the boy curled and unfurled his fingers, black eyes glowing turbulently under his midnight hair. Every conversation with his father was like a filtered skirmish, with the only thing keeping their discussions from leaping into discourtesy being the boundaries of family. “I want to go home.”
Something odd happened: his father smiled. “You are living a crucial age right now, Kaito.” Turning back to the sculpture, his father’s eyes went alight, torso relaxing. “Childhood is not a place for mindless squabbles and useless toying.”
“Establishment. Development. Building the right foundation.”
All he remembered was anger. The boy’s father had broken a fragile matter inside him, igniting his dusky eyes with something more than annoyance, something more than respectful displeasure. “There is no foundation for me here.”
The memory was dissolving around him. Fracturing and blurring, the living room fell into an empty void, leaving nothing but the boy, his father, and the armchairs beneath them. “I want to forget this place.” The boy’s voice echoed throughout the emptiness. The recollection heaved and sighed, nearing its end. “I want to forget all of it. . .”
All that was left was his father’s face, vibrant as a neon sign, clear as a summer sky. His tone became airy, his words swimming with wistfulness: “You may choose whatever memories you’d like to remember, Kaito.” Finally, the figure of his father vanished. Only his voice remained, echoing throughout an overlooked time. “But when your pigeons are fleeting, you’ll wish that you clutched them close.”
It was only when the white men came did he realize his pigeons were fleeting. The newfangled was a dangerous thing: once unappreciated, there was no other notion of what could be foul. When the foul surprised them that morning in March, Kaito had wished he’d clutched his pigeons close, uprooted from an experience he’d wished he could forget and thrown into an experience he’d only despised in nightmares.
They were treated no more than animals in the camps. Barbed wire fences caged them in like mice; an absence of electricity left them fluttering around like moths in the dark; no running water drained their tongues, camels wandering pointlessly in a lakeless wasteland. They were no longer in control of their assets, their future, seized by the same kind of men who had placed the blame on the Japanese. Internment had them all questioning the leaders who stood on the higher tower, a furtive excuse to finally physicalize what discrimination they so silently clenched.
It was only a matter of time before objection broke out.
“WE ARE NOT EVIL,” clamoured the crowd, voices growling with the undertones of righteousness, sharp with the bitterness of all the things stolen from them. They marched with purpose, their speed slow but resolute. Some brandished homemade signs, held within their burdened palms. Words were scrawled upon them with coal, harsh and jittery in their native language.
Kaito’s father was at the head of the cluster. His clothes were torn and his face ragged, but his spirit remained unyielding. He’d never seen his father with such determination—the internment had aroused a lost ambition within him, most clearly displayed on his expression, broad and lively. The boy’s mother remained by his side, fearful yet optimistic: her face was timid—she held worry for her husband—but her thin legs momentarily jumped and twinged with hope.
“WE ARE NOT EVIL.” His father’s voice was the most prominent out of all of them, ringing and echoing off the lifeless shacks that were supposed to be their new homes. In the near distance, the crowd noticed figures bounding towards them, wickedness wielded within their palms. Kaito’s mother seized her son’s hand tighter.
A while passed; soon they were glaring at each other, protesters and preventers, equally as confident in their own cause. There was peace for a moment and not a second longer, where the groups eyed each other expectantly, two battalions facing each other down on an even playing field. The preventers possessed firepower—the protesters possessed resolve.
“The end of the line. . .” With power came assurance. The preventers were no exception, blinded by prejudice. Speaking in harsh English, Kaito understood the man articulately, but the same couldn’t be said for the others. “The end of the line, criminals. You should feel lucky. My brother pinches a few dollars and faces iron. . . you tear apart a few thousand lives and receive spring vacation.”
Eyes dangerous storms, his father’s tone had reduced to one of friendly diplomacy, as if cycling through dispositions in hopes of pleasing the right crowd. “We are not evil.”
With a breath: “Let us free. We are facing punishment for a crime we did not commit.” The sentences were stagnant, uncertain. Kaito’s father had never managed to latch on to the new world’s strange tongue.
A wily grin came across the preventer’s face, illuminating his icy eyes. “I have bullets. You all have a few paper signs. How did you expect this to carry out?”
“We seek no fight.”
“Then prance on back to your homes.”
Now the entire crowd of protesters adopted his father’s restrained vehemence. Restless and uncoiled, their expressions burned with creased brows and unwelcoming, fearless gazes. Even Kaito’s mother, usually prone to spray water on a fire rather than feed it, matched their hatred. If the preventers had lacked weaponry, the boy knew their confrontation would be a broadly different story. Tension swaddled the air, a thick mist.
“We are not evil,” his father repeated rigidly.
“I don’t care what you are. Call this chicanery off.”
Kaito’s father angled his head to one side, staring his opposition dead in the eyes, a battle of wit and brawn. Though he lacked any tangible stature, Kaito’s father held his ground, a delicate place when the enemy didn’t hesitate to cross lines. “The only chicanery here is what you think is just.”
The preventer gritted his teeth, sliding his hands eagerly over the lustrous frame of the device within his arms. “Stop this, or you’ll all return home with fewer numbers—”
“This is not our home.”
They all shifted. The boy stood, firm on his scrawny legs, heart racing yet refusing to tear away his glower, breathing heavily with every wave of indignation. Suddenly, Kaito didn’t fear the man, elevated to a viewpoint where he could see all of the new world’s fictions. “Let us free.” He mirrored his father’s tone.
We are not evil.
The white man’s features veered instantly. Perhaps it was the aspect being talked to so crudely by a child; perhaps he’d finally crossed the threshold between playful disrespect and unchained inequality. He bolted forward, towering over the boy, peering down at him with grave eyes, unlatching the strap that held the firearm in place. “This is exactly where you belong—”
It all happened so quickly. Kaito watched as his father charged at the preventer, watched as he shoved the man to the ground, watched as the other men raced forward to wrench him back, watched as they tore a relentless fist over his father’s face.
We are not evil.
Kaito did nothing as his mother rushed forward and yelled her husband’s name, watched as she, too, was heaved to the ground, watched as the light crackled over their bodies, watched as the crowd—confident just minutes ago—scattered like mice when a hawk appeared in the sky.
We are not evil.
He did nothing but close his eyes shut, did nothing but manifest their faces in his mind, did nothing but reimagine every experience, every word, every emotion with them, no matter how far away the pigeon had strewn. He did nothing but let the tears flow.
We are not evil.
In the grass and bathed in afternoon light were a collection of birds, grey wings damp from the shower hours before, curious eyes unafraid. Despite the thunder, despite the furious words shouted by the enemy, they stayed, enduring, watching with the curious gaze of infants.
You’ll wish that you clutched them close.
He watched as his parent’s lifeless bodies were hoisted away, carried like assets rather than people, like monsters rather than humans, as fragile as any memory.
*振り返って translates to "looking back" in Japanese
by Mikaela Wong
He loves us? Only aesthetically.
His brows scrunched in affirmation, as well as in concentration at the last question on YML’s dreaded final test.
“Why is gravity so weird?”
How was he supposed to know? His frown grew, expending the muscles on his face until they twitched and trembled. Inside, Bill could feel his brows begging for mercy, but at this, he only furrowed deeper.
Last night, he had meticulously plucked and brushed, and gelled and waxed them, all to prepare for this moment. With the tension in the room palpably electric, Bill could strike a menacing frown and pierce into YML’s cold heart. His brows were ready, shapely drapes framing his eyes, poised and prepared to execute his commands.
It was the final hour: five minutes until class would end. Bill took a moment to reflect.
Yes, the regiment to maintain them had been a grueling process, but Bill believed in tough love. His brows, on the other hand, felt that his love was more akin to a disease. After cultivating precious new strands of hair for years, and what did they have to show for it? The latest face wash? The hottest conditioners? The fanciest treatments? No. They laboured for their tyrant tirelessly, only to have their newborn torn out from their roots. It was infanticide. Daily.
But sitting just a hair’s length away was Adam, with his luscious locks of jet black hair flowing freely in clusters on and around his brow ridge. It was the life Bill’s brows wanted, a life so close they could almost feel those midnight spires. There, grinning disarmingly was the face of the man Bill’s brows wanted to adorn. He was glorious, waltzing through the fifteen pages without showing so much as a hair contracting in confusion. How naive Adam’s fields of brow hair seemed, lying undisturbed, untainted, unknowing of the malice the Tweezerman 5000’s metallic fingers held.
Pluck by pluck and hair by hair, day by day and year by year, their ranks would continue to be flanked. Although more of them meant more to do their job, to protect their dear leader from swarms of foreign invaders like dust and dirt, Bill was set in his tormentous ways. He would never relent, much less to a group of spineless and flimsy hairs. Those hairs were a kingdom without a future. In other words, hairs with no heir and no hair to enheirit.
But all this time, creeping ever closer, undetected, was a bead of sweat, threatening to roll over the sparse line of hairs and splash into Bill’s eyes. He would be blinded and unable to answer that last question. The advance was slow at first, but after making contact with the first hair, the situation quickly snowballed out of control.
In the liquid, all was silent. His brows started to sway and for the first time in front of Bill's classmates, the shackles melted away. Was this what freedom tasted like? Lukewarm and unbearably salty? What was once a menacing foe had become their saviour. Below, their host began wincing and rubbing his eyes. But it was done. They had failed their leader. Despite their defeat, his brows seemed to soften. After all, hadn’t their leader failed them first? Yes, they had lost the battle, but they had won their liberty at last. The greasy substance numbed their senses, washing away memories of their cousins, sisters, mothers, fathers, cropped short, shorn tight right in front of their eyes. It was a relief, a gentle slaughter, a most generous gesture.
As they went limp, and surrendered to the waves that washed through their ranks, a laughter began to bubble. It was because their tyrant-- who never flinched, even when yanking new life from its fleshy womb, even when pressing hot wax to his face, even when the razor slipped and slit his skin-- was weeping. Great savoury streaks of sweat, the fluid a noxious mixture of mucus, slime and snot slogged down his cheeks. But before he could get a tissue, a warm glob landed smack in the middle of his page. It pooled out over the last question, still empty. Bill shirked back into his shirt, stretching his sleeves over his palms to swipe at the puddle on his page, but it was too late. Bill watched as Adam collected his papers and strode across the room as the next class came flooding in.
by Mikaela Wong
A short monologue from the perspective of a maid being questioned about the death of her lady .
“Forgive my curtness–-- my! I didn’t even offer you tea! It’s just that, I have so many things to attend to. Oh but of course you’d know! You are here about… the incident, aren’t you? Take a seat inspector, will five minutes do? Perfect, then let us start.
Oh Lady Green was marvelous. She was whimsical, witty and always kind. I started working here when I was 17 and now, five years later, she remains the same person I first met. Or remained.
My fondest memory of her? We had so many, I couldn’t tell you off the top of my head. As an example, we used to bring the rowboat down to the Thames every Saturday. The things we’d get up to, alone and far away from the rest of gloomy Llondon-- Inspector, I simply couldn’t tell you! But not because I have anything to hide. No, of course. Of course you understand.
I pride myself on how well I knew Lady Green. As a maid, one must know her employer well–-- both professionally and intimately. I knew how if she was worried–-- which we quite frequently were, she’d run out to the veranda, lean over the railing and trace circles into the palm of her left hand. While I worked, I will admit that I often danced to the staccato clip-clop of her Louis heels, stepping in time and pretending to walk in her shoes. Oh, and her gowns! I can still hear the gentle swishing they made as she floated by, seemingly on a sea of fabric that swept behind her.
Now, on that day, at about sundown, I knew my lady should have been returning soon. On record, I would have been relieved of my duties, but I enjoy my work. I like seeing when Lady Green comes home, cheeks blooming carnelian red, hidden well under a smattering of dirt and sweat, built up from a day well spent tending to her garden.
I knew her well. I’d even say that I would have known her well enough to… do the deed. I bet she wouldn’t even protest. But obviously, there was no way I'd actually go through with the–-- a plan.
What plan? Did I say something about a plan? Well Inspector, in this dreary city who wouldn’t dream of a way out?
Truthfully, sir, this was something we had spoken about many times. She usually reserved this topic for our boat trips and to be honest, she didn’t really have much planned out. It was a lot of hoping and wishing that one day, she might get lost, or sick, or fall into some other misfortune and nobody would ever have to worry. Now, Inspector. My lady was a bright woman. Be that as it may, I always thought her dull as dirt whenever she thought that "no one would ever have to worry". I’d tell her it was too late for that. I had already started worrying a long time ago and wasn’t about to stop. If she glanced over the lip of our rowboat, I’d grasp her hands, pull her close and say:
“The Thames is cold. Let’s just go home and I’ll fix you a cup of chamomile tea. My lady, even though you make me wash your dishes and fold your laundry, I must say. I have grown oddly fond of you.” She’d laugh.
Oh my, not that you needed to know this! Inspector, I do apologize. It's just that, I've never told anyone about this. It's a relief to finally say it out loud.
Did I always go with her? Some days, she’d suggest we go together. Somedays, she’d insist on leaving alone. But no matter what she said, I always stuck by her side. Inspector, I know its hard to believe but when she was like that, I’d never get short with her. Never. Alright, sometimes I might have imagined throwing her overboard, just so she would quit her whining, but then what would I do with myself! I’d have to dive in after her as well!
Oh Inspector, lighten up a little! We all have our fantasies… most of us keep them in our heads. But some of us… we forget how imagination works.”
by Alicia Tai
You fiddle with your new engagement ring, feeling it hang loosely on your fourth finger. It would probably fall on the ground if you didn’t grip it so hard. You slide your gaze through the white and blue gemstones, the world shattering within it. You breathe deeply, the scent of chemical coconut shampoo filling your lungs, and you put your book down.
“I’ve been thinking...” Your voice feels muted by the thick caramel walls and the blue blankets covering the bed.
He’s been at his desktop for 6 hours already, his thin frame hunched over and typing up another assignment. His face is mere inches from the LCD screen although you tell him every night that it will ruin his eyes.
“I said,” you choose your words carefully, “I’ve been thinking recently.” “About what?”
“The ring…” You pause, staring at the fantasy posters tacked on the wall, a knight slaying a dragon. “It’s a beautiful ring.”
“I’m glad you like it, babe,” he absentmindedly murmurs. “You said that your favourite crystal was sapphire, right?” You look up. Little upside-down mountains dot the ceiling like baby stalactites, threatening to fall and pierce the two of you.
His right leg keeps bouncing up and down. His nervous tic. It makes you nervous too. “It’s a bit big, really.”
“I mean, I love the diamonds and the sapphires. I love it… It’s just… A bit big.” “What do you mean?” He turns his head around, looking at you through his big bubble glasses, magnifying his bulging brown eyes like a goldfish. You want to tap on the glass and see if he’ll retreat to his plastic castle.
“I mean... It slips off the fingers sometimes, and I’m afraid that I might lose it when I walk.” You pick a piece of beige cotton off of the ring. “Sometimes it catches on my clothing.” You wonder if it’s too big for him too. You try to look, but they’re busy typing again.
“Is that all you have to say? I need to work. I’ll finish soon. Sorry.” You inhale, twisting your ring so hard it cuts into your other fingers. They feel like they’re bleeding, but it’s probably nothing more than a minor scratch. Maybe it didn’t even make a mark. It feels like it did, though, so you preoccupy yourself with untangling the knots in your bleached blonde hair.
“What’s the story about?” There’s another moment of silence. It’s thick and ugly and contorts itself into every little crevice in the tiny room until you can’t see anything but its tendrils, and you start to suffocate. Finally, he places both his hands down on the desk and pushes himself backwards, spinning around on his chair.
“What’s going on baby? Why are you asking?”
“Nothing. I just want to talk.”
“Okay?” You open your mouth, but find that you can’t speak. There’s a lump in your throat you can’t swallow, so instead you just sit there.
You recall the days when you two would stay up making forts every night, watching movies until 5am in the morning, when you would promptly fall asleep on his shoulders while he stuffed popcorn in his mouth. In the afternoon, you would wake up to him asleep on your shoulders, but you wouldn’t move because you were afraid he’d wake up, and all you could smell was the coconut shampoo that you bought him on sale, half off. It wafted to you like a breeze, and with the sun streaming through the windows and the birds chirping, you could almost forget the calculus test that neither of you had studied for, but planned to study for way back, when the night was still young, the day before. When did it change? After graduation?
“Hello? What do you have to say? Can you talk?” His brows are furrowed, his interest waning. He’s waiting for you to say something. You need to say something. But you can’t. All you can do is stare at him, with his soft features and his messy hair and the dark circles under his eyes.
No. Even after you graduated, there were still days like that. Less, of course, since both of you were knee-deep in school work. You, furiously scribbling the notes to your new song, your family berating you for simply following your dream. Him, passionately telling you the new plot to his three part story that you knew would be discarded at the end of the next month. But it didn’t matter. None of it did. He loved you. That was enough.
He brought you into his world of stories, painting the sun when it was raining, teleporting you to the beach during the wintertime. He was gone, most days, tucked away in his mind. But at least he brought you with him.
You don’t know where he is anymore. He’s lost in another dream. Is he ever going to come back?
Something moves in your field of vision, and you realize he’s turned around again. He’s back working at his computer. Tears swarm and fill your vision. You really can’t remember the last time you two talked. For the past six hours, you had been sitting on his bed, flipping through a book you brought just in case he went on another one of his writing binges, the room silent.
Maybe it was a joke. Maybe he had something surprising planned for later. You had hoped, all through the first hour, then the second, then the third. It took you three more hours to sum up the courage to say something.
“What day is it today?” You ask him, keeping your voice steady while wiping your eyes quietly. You see him mouse over the date, and respond.
“April 15th.” He switches the tab back again, and begins reading an article. He doesn't give the question a second thought. You nod. He doesn’t need to respond. He’s forgotten.
You bite your lip. A part of you wants to scream, to throw your book at the ground and demand his attention. The other part of you wants to break down and cry, and wonder where it all went wrong, lament about the past and curse at fate. But you do neither. You keep your emotions close to you, as you always do. You look down.
The ring sits idly on your finger, fracturing the computer’s dull glow to all corners of the dimly lit room. Why doesn’t he speak? Why can’t he turn around and talk to you? Why does he keep typing his endless stories when the most important one’s about to end? His eyes are glued to the screen. You realize that you’re standing up, so you take a seat on his bed. Your body acts without thinking, and your mind follows after.
“You can have it back.” The ring falls off your finger. You realize something. You don’t want to fidget with it anymore. You don’t want it catching on your clothing. You don’t want to constantly have to worry about it slipping off. You don’t want something that doesn’t even want
to stay on. “You can keep it.” He doesn’t look up. You start walking, and then you remember something. “And my favourite gemstone is aquamarine.”
When you reach the doorframe you hesitate for a split second, and turn to look at him. His back is still turned to you, nothing’s being written anymore. Is he trembling? You take a step back, but then you see his fingers. They’re completely bare. His leg is bouncing up and down again, and you exhale.
As you push past his door, your fingers instinctively reach for the ring, but it’s not there. You look down. You were right. They didn’t cut deep at all. There isn’t even a mark.
I wrote this piece because of a university assignment that pushed me above what I normally write about. To begin my process, I wrote the dialogue to this piece emphasizing on what was unsaid rather than said, the underlying thoughts of the characters. After the dialogue, I transferred it to a piece of short fiction, around 1,300 words, and made it into something that I would have never imagined writing about. I tried to incorporate a lot of symbolism and nuances throughout the piece, which required more thought and planning that I usually give my pieces. I revised this piece maybe 4 times before I finally decided on this one and, although it may still have room for improvement, I am quite proud of what I wrote.
by Samantha Chan
James opened his eyes to a concrete ceiling. It had holes and fingernail scratches imprinted on its surface, the paradise view he has woken to for the last 5 years. His bed was springy, but there was nothing he could do about it. Orange jumpsuits roamed the halls; ghosts of society. He put his hands on his head, the slippery feeling of skin. Breakfast was porridge, like every other day. He spooned the slop of food into his mouth, slowing down enough to make it last. The spoon was dented but it did the job. When the bell rang, all the orange jumpsuits gathered together outside, chests puffed up, their hands curling into fists. Tattoos rolled down their necks, bitten on bare biceps. They hissed when James looked at them for too long. He himself did not own any tattoos. His stick arms were unsoiled, an atypical look here at Creekside Correction County.
The sun was hidden behind clouds, terrified of making a sound. He prodded through the sea of inmates, struggling to not aggravate anybody. Craning his neck, a guard was already there, standing between two prisoners. The guard’s hand rested in his back pocket, fingers wrapping around the neck of a trigger. James hurried to the back where he had been standing.
He stood there, observing interactions between orange and orange. In the corner of the graveyard, there was a huddle together. They kept their voices low and hushed whispers until one of them turned around.
“Hey! What th’ hell you looking at?” someone shouted. “Get an effing life! Jesus Christ!” Laughter arose.
James instinctively raised his hands above his shoulders while his ankled tied together. Cold sweat ran down his arm. His spine uncurled as if there was a straightener ironing out his posture. He looked down at his torn uniform. There were holes in between seams.
The same man who yelled raised his arm to give the very simple expression nothing but his middle finger.
That night, James dreamt about an outside world. A place without concrete walls, and buzzers, and secret weapons in every pocket. He fantasized about that life, a reality buzzing with civility, good intentions, healed flesh; days full of glory. James opened his eyes to a concrete ceiling. It had holes and fingernail scratches imprinted on the skin. He scrambled in his bed, put his hands on his head; his palms rubbing against raw skin. Snatching his keys, he slipped out of his room. He tapped in the keypad, buzzed the door open. His first steps outside were on eggshells. Then, his muscles in his thighs, and abs began to clench. His strides elongated, his sprint as graceful as a horse catching the wind. As he ran, the badge fastened to his navy uniform glinted in the streetlights until he dissipated into the shadows.
by Wren Lee
“Dread is a dark, shapeless thing,” she says, seagulls flying overhead and waves crashing at the sandy shore. She was familiar but you couldn’t really recall why. Years ago, you would have known her name.
She was wearing a green bikini and her hair was drifting into the breeze like smoke. “Fear is but a temporary drug meant to limit and stall you. They have no real or lasting meaning in your life. They lack relevance.”
“I know you, don’t I?”
“Hm,” she remarked, her back still to you.
“Yeah, we went to highschool together, didn’t we?”
“Such an inconsequential time, then.”
You can’t recognize her voice. Her deep, anonymous voice. You knew her. From way back when. But not her name, not her voice, not her face.
“I can’t remember,” you admit.
“I know. There goes the course of a life; You live, you fear, you forget, you’re forgotten.”
She stands there, silently. The sun hangs above, but the sky and ocean beyond remain shaded and hidden, obscured by something unknown.
It hits you, like a ton of bricks. You wonder why you hadn’t noticed before. It was her. You still couldn’t remember her name or her voice or her face but you remember what made her important.
“You’re-- that girl, they--”
She laughed. A small, short, amused laugh.
“That’s me.” She glanced over her shoulder, a bloody forehead and missing eye peering back at you.
The Monday before Spring Break, she had disappeared. But you all knew. The sun had hung low that day, a bloody red sunrise.
“You’d better wake up soon. Or else you might not remember how to.” She smiled politely and turned away, looking to the far off horizon.
They had found her body too many years later, washed up on the beach. A skeleton in green tatters.
And then you wake up. The sky outside your window is a dark inky black. Your heart races, sweat drips off your skin. Your black attire hangs from your closet door.
A funeral is today, you remember.
by Wren Lee
The first day Stevie first came to town, a Wednesday, she had a black eye, a star belt buckle, and a guitar case. The rising waters of the lake receded and the gas prices went down by a whole dollar.
Sometimes, she plays at the bar, screaming into the microphone, strumming along with a bright red guitar. I don’t think she really knows how to play it, but the way she claws at the strings mixes with the angry tones in her voice in a harmonious sort of way. Like they were meant to go together.
It’s days where no one sees Stevie at all that make us the most… apprehensive. She’s a disaster magnet, in a way. All the terrible things happen to her and bypass the town. Or at least that’s what she told the baker. The truth of the matter is, that our town is constantly hammered by disaster. Floods, earthquakes, sickness are common occurrences. But whenever Stevie’s in town, everyone’s all right.
She says she’s only kind of lucky. That she had moved here because she had used up all the luck wherever she had last lived. No one’s really sure what she means by that. I think it’s just Stevie’s rambling.
Stevie herself, ignoring whatever supernatural power she may or might not have, is a unique sort of individual. She sits on the curb of the convenience store until early in the morning, feeding crows doritos and oreos and telling them all sorts of things. Apparently, she found an old cabin in the forest and well, now it’s her cabin. Her rock shows are filled with confusing and indecipherable messages, unusually ominous in manner. It feels almost as though she’s singing out an incantation.
Old woman Josie swears she saw shadows bend around Stevie, making way for her. Some of the kids ride around Stevie’s cabin on their bicycles, swearing up and down that it hadn’t existed before. But Stevie likes the kids. Sometimes, on Tuesdays, she makes a fire and has them over to roast s’mores. Crows perch themselves on the tall trees all around, illuminated by the glow. Who knows where they hide when Stevie isn’t around.
Whenever she comes into the shop, she winks and asks me for whatever surreal or unheard of subject she was studying that week. This week it was cryptozoology mixed in with a little astrology. I was certain we didn’t have any books on those subjects in stock. I had just sold the last one to the carpenter. But she found one and bought it, a grin on her face.
Her grin. There was something warm about it. Like a late autumn when you’re walking about, admiring the changing colours. Or Halloween night, watching the children around trick or treating and the fireworks in the sky. It wasn’t exactly off putting. But there was something wrong about it, in the right kind of way.
I’d like to think that she’s just a weird stranger whose, once she inevitably leaves, brief existence in town will be easily forgotten in the years to come. I don’t want her to be some ethereal presence here, unknown for whether she’s here for the worse or the better. I mean, what are the chances that there are two of us in this little town?