Category Archives: 2022-2023

Excerpt from “That One Time” – Anonymous ’26

The stars are bright lights above me. They reflect off of the darkness of the night and the silhouettes of those who do not want to be seen. The stars are unique. They have the ability to show off the parts of people and things that wouldn’t be able to otherwise. For example, me, laying down with my body sprawled out across the park grass at two in the morning with silver tears sliding off my pale flesh and my long brunette hair carelessly thrown around me. The stars give me the peace I want. The peace I need, even. They can see and understand who I truly am. I can be myself here because who is going to stop me? The stars are powerful but they can not get upset with me for being me like the other people in the world do. 

My torso feels sealed to the ground as if the Earth is trying to pull me into it. What would happen if I just let it? I know that I have class tomorrow, and I know I should care that my dorm mates are probably freaking out right now. I have been avoiding their calls and texts all night. 

As much as thinking about tonight makes me want to stay here even longer, I do have the common sense to know that even if I don’t care: I. Can. Not. Fail. All of a sudden, the weight holding me down lifts, and I am free. I only pull myself half up so that I can swipe the loose grass off of me. I sit like this for a few minutes when I spot a carving in the tree that I hadn’t noticed before. I pull myself up fully now, stumbling back due to the sudden rush of blood around my body. 

As the carvings become closer into sight, I can make out that the carvings are the initials of some people with a heart around them. “AA+CG” were the initials. My mind speeds through thoughts: “Are these people happy? Who are they? Are they dating?” I’ve always been curious about the couples who actually last. I’ve never experienced true love like what is shown in the movies. They have all been unreciprocated. Some days, it makes me feel unworthy of love. Like maybe it’s my fault that it hasn’t happened yet. Other days, I know that I wouldn’t be able to handle it in the first place. Still, I hope it happens one day.

“Parabellum” – Logan Starta ’23

I’m slowly awoken by a bird chirping outside my window, a faint reminder of a past life that I haven’t seen for years. It’s all gone – a cushy house in the suburbs, a great job and the best family … it’s not what I want, but I now live my life as a nomad.

     I would begin this day like any other if it wasn’t for today’s date. It is September 30th, the third year since the war began. I lay awake in my make-shift bed and stare at the ceiling for a little longer today, silently thinking back to that day. How did we get here? I remember it so vividly. It was half past one and our quarterly earnings call was just wrapping up.  It was an awesome quarter, and I checked my phone to see if the market was as upbeat as I was on our news.  But we got buried in the back pages by the latest news on Biden, China, and Taiwan.  It seemed all anyone could talk about was President Biden’s recent trip to Taiwan. Sure, the tensions were high, but so what, the world kept turning.  Plus, the news of the great quarter was enough to steer everyone’s mind away from all the politics. I mean come on, that is happening in DC, there’s no reason to worry about it when I’m all the way up here in Chicago. Despite the distance, everyone in the office had an opinion. Rob, my hawkish coworker from accounting said “What do you want him to do? Just let China walk all over them?!  We need to show them we’re strong damnit!” Jeremiah, who sat in the office next to me just couldn’t resist and had to yell back “well now we’re going to go to war and it’s all his fault!”. I watched in dismay as tiny bits of food flew out of their mouth as they argued. However, their jousting match was cut short when the TV screens in our office switched from Bloomberg to a news alert. Even our VP, Sanders jolted out of his office and looked on in disbelief as big bold letters scrolled across the screen “BREAKING NEWS: CHINA BEGINS LAND INVASION OF TAIWAN WITHIN HOURS AFTER BIDEN DEPARTS”. The entire office sat in quiet shock. Our earnings announcement was a distant memory and Rob and Jeremiah’s debate was replaced with “what ifs” and “what next”? Silence fell over the office. No one dared to say a word for what felt like an eternity. Finally, some murmurs of rumors slowly started from the back of the room which then erupted into a roar of talking. My co-workers in the hallway ran in to see what the commotion was while in the meantime Jeramiah and Rob picked up right where they left off. This reinvigorated debate was once again silenced suddenly as the next headline came across the TV. “PRESIDENT BIDEN TO ADDRESS A JOINT SESSION OF CONGRESS AT 4:30 EST – UNITED NATIONS SECURITY COUNCIL CALLS EMERGENCY MEETING”.  Wow – our minds raced with only questions and no answers in sight. A few people tried to get back to work and you could hear the clack of a keyboard. However, their efforts to find normality were in vain, and no amount of typing could keep us distracted from the unanswered questions. Mr. Sanders told everyone “Take the afternoon off and I’ll see you bright and early tomorrow” as we walked out the door, Jeramiah jokingly said “yea, if any of us are alive tomorrow!” Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Rob turn around and run towards him yelling “Well what the fuck do you want?! The communists to just do what they damn well please?!” Rob goes one step further by saying “you know, I always knew you were a pushover bitch Jeramiah but this is a new low. Even for a degenerate piece of scum with no backbone like you”. As I watch from the distance, I see an abrupt swing from Jeremiah. Then a thud. Rob, a white collar trust fund kid from Hinsdale, never grew up around fighting so naturally, after that first swing, he retreated quickly to the safety of his car.

Unsure of what was coming next, I did the same. Once I was in my car, with the doors locked, I thought back to Jeremiah’s comment about if any of us will be alive tomorrow. It made me think about how fast the social constructs that prevent anarchy disintegrate when the first inkling of political conflict arises. Once I was finally on the road, I called my wife, Vanessa. Despite my obvious fear, I did my best to play the role of the intrepid man who was there to protect her. My façade quickly disintegrated though when I heard my 12-year-old daughter Lilly in the background. What sounded like a quiet whimper of “I’m scared”, made a tear roll down my face while I sat at the red light. I tried my best to console her with the usual “don’t worry honey” but I knew this time seemed different. “Hey!  Get off my car you damn xenophobes” I forgot about Lilly as a group of protesters blocked the entrance right in front of the Chinatown District. Lilly cried into the phone and flooded my speakers with her tears. Just at this moment I saw a protester light a rag hanging out of a bottle and preparing to throw it through a store front. I floored the accelerator as I ran through the redlight to get away from downtown as quickly as possible.  For the rest of the drive, I sat in quite consternation as I felt the anarchy in the air.

Finally, my safe haven, I was home. I turned right into the driveway with reckless speed and an ear-splitting screech that echoed throughout the neighborhood, but I couldn’t care less. I ran inside and grabbed Vanessa and Lily, holding them as tight as I could.  However, the comfort of our embrace didn’t last long. I soon found my mind racing again and the only thing I could do to quell my angst was turn on the TV. I sat in the middle of the couch with one arm wrapped around Vanessa and the other around Lily. We watched in frozen silence as David Muir finally said, “and now, the President of the United States”. As I heard President Biden’s first words, I was eerily reminded of President Roosevelt’s “Day of Infamy” speech. I was positive that he would ask the congress to utilize military forces to protect Taiwan. I mean how could he not? He promised to defend them and couldn’t afford to appear weak. Part of me believed congress wouldn’t act because it would mean going head-to-head with another global super-power.  If they passed this resolution, long gone would be the days of proxy wars. This would be a real conflict on a scale not seen since the Second War. I tried to tell Vanessa we were staying out of this one, but even she knew the rhetoric of the last few years posed a dangerous climate where a resolution like this may pass. All the overthinking, crying and frantic hugging made all three of us pass out right there on the couch until we were all woken up abruptly by loud cheering and booing mixed in. The late-night vote had concluded. The resolution passed the house and then passed in the senate 52-48. We were beyond stupefied. It felt like a fever dream, and I was dying to put it behind me as I drifted off to sleep with my girls. But there it was in the morning, every TV channel and radio station had non-stop war debates.  Would there be a draft? Will we be nuked? How will life change? I couldn’t handle listening to it anymore! I needed to clear my head by going for my morning jog and also pick up some groceries from the store on my way back.

It was eerie.  No one was driving to work.  The streets were desolate, and the sidewalks empty. The only audible sound of mankind was the neighbor’s sprinkler that was sputtering as I ran by. I finally made it to the store and discovered where all the people were. As the doors swung open, a can of tomato sauce rolled past my feet, and I saw Jeremiah with a gun in his waistband grab the last case of formula for his new daughter. I looked at him, hoping he would say something to me but all I got was a shove and a “get the fuck outta my way!” The sound of yelling adults, crying kids and a store manager who was desperately trying to maintain order only added to the fear. I grabbed as much as I could and ran out of the store to escape the chaos. Caught up in adrenaline, I began thinking of how I could barricade our house and convert the basement into a bunker. At this point I wasn’t sure what the future held but I couldn’t afford to not be prepared for it again.

“Herod” – Leo Rickard ’24

 It’s a cold night by the docks. Looking across the river, downtown lights glisten in the distance with all the performative early Christmas cheer of a city graced by a well-timed snow, and the young man with waxy skin and fire-red hair crushes a lanternfly beneath his heel. It shouldn’t exactly be here, seeing as the opening act of a quiet snowstorm is hardly a place for an insect, but there it is, mutilated, struggling in its dying throes as the young man watches its half-flattened, upside-down, scrambling agony with electric blue eyes and a certain sense of relish. Like the young man, it must have slept, waiting for the summer, but after unearthing itself from its shell tucked deep and far away, it found itself in winter; a strange, cold world that didn’t suit it. Now, one red conqueror goes still in the cold, and the other was cold to begin with.

There’s the beams of flashlights dancing down the road, puffs of cloudy breath escaping through scarves and black coat collars, the handles of a crate gripped tight in frosted gloves; the small convoy of six carries the crate by foot, wheeling it along on a metal cart and sprinkling salt in front of its path like ceremonial offerings. It reaches the young man, the darting sunlight-on-lakewater green eyes of the caravan’s tall leader meeting unnatural, unmoving blue ones. A beat passes, a small brake lever squeaks, the dock clunks and shakes slightly as the young man steps off it, and the green-eyed leader pulls down her scarf to speak. Her face, standing maybe a head over the young man’s, is thin and weathered, lined and rough, and most importantly human. She has lived a life of fifty years, deeply uncommon in a profession where most die early to the subtle and intricate violence of organized crime, you can see the molars pulled by her own hands and pliers in dusty warehouses, splatters of blood and vomit, and cries of feigned cluelessness with each strike of the mallet, all within in her lake-green eyes. To her, they are nothing new or haunting, but the young man is both, and she speaks cheekily to get this off her mind. It’s nothing new however, just a meeting of two terrible people.

“Well, we’ve got it. Do you want to pay us for our work, or do you want to continue standing there like a horror movie villain?”

He responds curtly, his boyish face showing something close to only twenty years, no lines, but sunken eyes and mannequin skin. His eyes are still, corpse-like, you can only see their unnatural blue, glittering in the LED torchlight.

“You will be compensated fairly; thievery from a state facility is no small feat. First, though, might I see the contents of the crate?”

She nods, and under her direction, the convoy lifts off the wooden lid. Inside, wrapped in white foam blanketed by warning notices and hazard signs, are the ancient, long metal fingers of destruction. A magazine for each to end a family line, long scope and silencer to cut men down far and quietly like a scythe fells wheat, beam emitter slung under the barrel to utterly unmake people, each aspect and avatar of death meticulously designed to fit together and commit atrocities. The weapons in the crate are unnecessary, cruel in design, purpose, intent, and many in number. They are to take a city, blasting away chunks of flesh until it is carved down to its knees, the wanton spilling of innocent blood just to change half-inch lines on a map.

He speaks again, tone of voice overly warm in the way that one might speak with an infant, ice blue eyes opened wide and no longer as glassy.

“Perfect! I can reward you all with this, then.”

He pulls a nondescript folder from his winter coat, and hands it to the woman, which she subsequently inspects. Inside, signified by strange flat coins and cards, is enough money to purchase something extremely rare and grossly unnecessary, several times over. 

She blinks, and choices begin to form within her head. 

She thinks how easy it would be to leave this young man, beaten dead and robbed, a few fortunes lighter in weight. It’s a decision she has made before with others she collaborated with, and one of nonexistent downsides; if he is carrying more money, she becomes rich. If he is not carrying money, she keeps the crate and the reward, and she becomes rich. If the robbery fails, she is killed as deterrence from future violence towards that particular figure, and thus the situation is no longer her problem.

Greed manifests, turns to wrath, and wrath becomes a brass knuckle strike to the young man’s skull.

It clangs, metal on metal.

He does not flinch, but snarls as he holds his hand to his stricken temple.

“I’m sorry. Is this deal unfair somehow?”

The convoy takes a step back, leaving lakewater green and ice blue locked in a cold standoff.

She strikes again, a metal-fortified punch to his teeth, but he weaves left first, and with a quick jab to her side, several of her ribs break. It feels like a hit from a crowbar, and it sends her reeling.

The young man raises up, steps back, and stands tall. Where he was struck, his snow-pale waxy skin is ripped and hangs loose like rubber, there is no blood or battered flesh underneath, but steel. Only now does it occur to her, Herod, the man in front of her, the master puppeteer behind the crate heist and its destructive contents, is not a man of waxy skin, fire red hair, and corpse-like blue eyes, but something underneath.

“I can see right through your sickly, green eyes.”

She reaches for a holster tucked away at her hip. Her convoy dissolves, stepping away and pulling guns, raising and pointing them in a dangerous confusion.

“Behind them is someone who wants to bludgeon and batter me beyond any recognition, leaving my empty-pocketed and destitute corpse to sink away from anything but the icy river.”

She grabs her handgun, and turns off the safety.

“We both wear masks, that doesn’t mean we have to take them off.”

She draws the weapon, points it towards the metal thing masquerading as a young man, and fires several shots. The convoy follows suit when the metal underneath swats the bullets away effortlessly, bounding over to her in an instant to grab her shooting arm, and breaks it into splinters over his knee. Taking the firearm from the ruined limb, the metal underneath -now more exposed by two dozen dime-sized holes which permeate the disguise- empties the magazine and ends the convoy even as they attempt to run, leaving them either broken or flailing on the ground.

She is on the ground too now, cradling a mangled arm as the metal grips her collar and begins to drag her to the river.

“I’m not going to give some great speech before you die, that’s pointless.”

She unzips the jacket, and leaps forwards, escaping his grip for just a moment before her ankle is gripped and crushed by steel.

“But you should know this.”

She is dragged along the snowy pavement, leaving a trail of blood that starts to trace into the riverside snow.

“You wear a mask of steel, armor your fists in it, to both mask the greed beneath and facilitate its performance.”

He stops for a second, taking the folder from her non-mangled hand, and tucking it back into his coat.

“I wear a mask to make my intentions clear; facial expressions of rubber, eyes of glass, hair of plastic to convey the power-hungry sentiments that the unmoving steel beneath cannot.”

He swings her by her crushed ankle, and she plunges into the icy river.

“We are both of metal, we are both conquerors, the difference between us is how we wear it. That is why you die.”

“Petty Thief” – Avery Litwin ’25

It was the perfect day to be a tourist.  A light breeze danced through the air, carrying excited laughter along the steps leading up to the Basilique de Sacré Coeur.  Julien stared for a moment to scan the enormous church stretched majestically into the blue sky uninterrupted by clouds.  Its ivory white exterior sparkled so brightly in the sunlight he had to avert his eyes and concentrate on a group of sunscreen-slathered tourists in front of him, yelling loudly and snapping photos of the beautiful monument perched on the hill in front of them.  Americans.  The perfect target.  Julien checked his watch and smiled.  10:00.  It was time to move in.  

He pulled out his iPhone and began snapping pictures of the enormous building.  Continuing to stare up through his camera lens, he strolled forward.  The breeze swooped in and a white butterfly darted in front of him, flying up into the heavens.  Suddenly, he stumbled forward, bumping into what appeared to be a 40-something year old woman, whom Julien guessed to be the mother of the two American children screaming at each other in front of him.  She lurched forward, as Julien slipped his hand into the right pocket of her sweatpants.

“Pardon, je suis désolé!” Julien exclaimed in what he intended to be a charming French accent, shaking his head apologetically and holding up his camera in his left hand as if to indicate he had gotten lost in capturing the beauty of the church’s architecture.  He stepped away from the woman who turned around, smiling sweetly in forgiveness.  Julien bowed away, hiding her wallet in his hand as she turned back around, yelling and struggling to contain her children.  What a fool.

He checked his watch again triumphantly, and began leafing through the woman’s wallet, thick with cards and receipts.  It was only 10:05 and he had already acquired 150 Euros and a credit card.  He chuckled and watched the sun glint off of his golden watch, sparkling like a jewel.  The watch was his most prized possession, the first thing he had ever stolen, although rather clumsily, as a teenager.  The clock’s long arm clicked and hit 10:06, awakening Julien from his reverie.  He scanned his surroundings, patting the pattern of seconds ticking by on his thigh.  Time to advance again.

A pair of women in buns and summer dresses were sitting at a table sipping coffee next to the basilica.  Parisians, Julien guessed, enjoying a late summer breakfast.  As the woman in blond hair leaned over to her friend, Julien noticed a black satchel resting next to her foot.  Target acquired.  He checked his watch again: 10:08.  He began jogging up to the monument, taking the stone stairs in quick but methodical and measured steps.  Tick, tick, tick.  Reaching the top of the hill, he cantered gracefully, a runner, past hoards of tourists, grabbing a loose phone in an oblivious gray-haired British man’s pocket in his stride.  Finally, trying not to pant, he reached the elegant pair sipping coffee.  In between long strides, he ducked down inconspicuously and slipped a wallet out of the purse near the table.  The women didn’t even look up from their excited gossip as Julien disappeared into the crowd.

The sun was high in the sky, glinting off Julien’s watch as he checked the time again.  It was only 12:03, and already, he had stolen two more wallets and another iPhone.  A successful morning preying on the parade of idiots marching in front of him, by any means.  He was in high spirits, practically floating as he ventured down into the narrow streets of Montmartre, chomping on a turkey baguette sandwich.  He scanned the parade of people passing by him.  The air was alive in a cacophonous symphony of laughter, yelling merchants, and feet clacking on the old cobblestone streets.  He was almost overwhelmed by the sunniness of the afternoon, brimming with potential.

Suddenly, a red ponytail caught his eye.  A young woman was standing a few feet away from him, clutching a green purse and appearing slightly lost, facing a crêperie, while nervously watching the constant stream of people flow in front of her.  Julien finished his sandwich and checked his left wrist.  Tick.  12:08.  He was ready to pounce.

He took a harried demeanor, and charged into the woman, aggressively bumping her into a man with dark sunglasses holding a cane Julien hadn’t noticed before.  He looked up as the contents of the woman’s purse flew into the air and the man tumbled and staggered clumsily backwards.  Julien, realizing he was about to fall onto the hard pavement, lunged for the man’s hand to steady him. 

 “Oh mon Dieu, je suis trop désolé!” he apologized gravely, stepping back from the chaos.  He leaned over to help the woman pick up the contents spilling from her purse: pushing a chapstick, an inhaler, and a pack of chocolate granola bars back towards her, catching a glimpse of his watch.  12:09.  She didn’t notice him sneaking her gold bracelet or car keys under his foot as she stood back up, blushing slightly, and took off into the crowd.  Tick.  12:10.  Julien spun around as he snuck his finds from under his foot into his pocket.  

He looked up and felt a ball of fire rise into his chest and expand into a flaming panic.  The man with the cane, a few steps away, was staring directly at him.  His breath stopped as his heart beat rapidly.  The man continued staring, his gaze piercing Julien’s heart.  Suddenly, a butterfly darted in between the two men, immobile like statues but ready to lunge into battle.  Julien turned to watch it glide into the air, and dive back down to the sidewalk, its wings flapping into the shadows.  With a start, he realized the man had not even altered his gaze in the slightest to watch the butterfly.

Julien laughed out loud, scampering back into the rhythmic procession of the Montmartre locals and tourists.  How stupid he was!  The poor man was blind.  He had not seen a single thing.  Julien sighed deeply, inhaling the exciting scent of patisserie, sunscreen, and sweat.  He gazed into the distance.  The holy Montmartre church stared back down at him as white clouds passed over the horizon.  He smiled, flipping his left hand to check the time.  Next to him, the man with a cane turned, stared at the monument, and snapped a picture.

No glint met Julien’s eyes.  He felt his chest drop into his stomach, as he pawed aimlessly around his bare wrist.  His watch was gone, stolen by some petty thief.  

“The Legendarily Legendful Legend of Legends” – Zach Kamenov ’23

In a time far before the great Mongol empire, you survey the land equipped with a fighting technique too fast anyone else to replicate. The kings always know who to fear, for serious trouble will come from even the slightest provocation. You trek across the great desert in search of a challenging battle. The vast sandy lands of attrition proved fatal to even the most prepared of camel caravans. But something must be out there; Something is going to fulfill your destiny. All you have to do is find it. 

In the distance, you spot a big castle made of concrete and steel with a moat around it, and approach. As you step foot onto the edge of the moat, the bridge of the castle drops down. Then a club of foes in Kabuki masks and pajamas step out, and demand a ransom; “You fell into our trap. Pay us a diamond and never return.” They just spoke with a Russian accent.

To fool and provoke them, you say nothing. “I see you do not talk. Pay like this!” . A foe pulls out his saber. But before they even try to attack, you pull out your saber and yell, “En Garde!” . 

The foes are so surprised that they fumbled with theirs, creating the perfect opportunity to strike. Victory! The foes have been defeated, but there is a valuable and interesting castle right in front of you, seeming free of guards.

You investigate the castle, finding some seemingly worthless role playing game cards that, upon reading them, allegedly grant you special powers. The cards are made of a reflective material, like ones that make up mirrors. You try to read the king’s card but a crown appears above your head in the reflection, startling you.

“Your majesty, King.” You turn around to see a group of peasants bowing before you. They looked straight out of the Russian taiga. You expected them to talk about you liberating them, but they remained silent, continuing to bow. You look back at the card, which says “Kings card: Observe this card, then look at the outside walls.”

After the strange ceremony, you venture outside of the castle, to get a glimpse of its architecture. The walls have pillars with markings that resemble ancient Egyptian leaders. Suddenly, dark clouds rush into the sky above, while a raspy and ancient male voice shouts, “You dare raid the sacred tomb of cards?”

“This castle isn’t big enough for both a hero and a villain,” you shout.

“Ha ha ha! You are a villain. I thought you were a fool!” the voice alleges.

“Enough talk, let me show you who the real villain is,” you challenge.

The old man, with long gray hair, a gray beard, and a sharp chin, appears behind you. He is wearing a knight’s metal armor, except without the helmet. He shouts, “En garde!” . He pulls out a saber and attempts to attack you, but hits the ground as you dodge his attack, bending down and his back cracking.

“Ah! Ah!” The man slowly rises back up.

“I don’t exactly feel old… but I certainly… will be… in the future!” The old man stands up and swings, missing again, stooped helplessly.

You easily disarm him, taking his saber, which has “The Legend’s Saber of San Andrés” inscribed on it.

“So you are a great young man so skilled at fighting, but you stole my powers. You will pay”, the man says, raspily. 

“Where did you get this from?”, you ask.

“It doesn’t matter,” he concludes.

“Thou hast stolen this?” you ask, more aggressively.

“Well, kind-of,” he admits.

“Justice will be served today, villain!” You pull out your saber into the air.

The old man gasps, “The hand on the saber!”

“What hand?” you ask.

The man nods, looking at the hilt of the sword. You look down at it, the hand beeping, saying, in a robotic voice, “5 seconds until self-destruct”. The hand explodes, knocking you unconscious. Everything goes dark.

You find yourself on your back, the old man stands above you. It is most certainly hard to defend against the waking-up-after-being-knocked-out cliché.

“That sword will be mine!” The old man swings again, this time with your saber, but you manage to doge his attack. You stand up.

“Gah!” The old man’s back cracks, stooped again. “Is this how you play the game?”

“Yes, old man. Evil has been defeated, and your hostages doth be freed,” you say.

“Let’s have a party, ey?” The old man suddenly stands up straight and starts moving as if he is young. Suddenly, “String Disco” by Kevin Macleod starts playing around you, and the sunlight becomes a changing shade of rainbow. The old man starts dancing expertly, while the people behind him dance with him synchronously. You would call this odd dance “The Backbreaker.”

You oddly enough do not want to question the old man, or perhaps crash this weird party.

They sing synchronously, “♬You’ll be late for work! Here’s Johnny… Wake up!♬”

The singers hit the last two words out of tune.

You can’t even think properly, because this all seems like just part of some made-up script, and nothing even matters anymore as an imaginary legend of legends. 

(Recap of the above story plays, with exciting music playing) . Male news reporter voice: Time for pa-a-a-art two! In the last episode, we covered the great legend of fencing and his interesting journey, the best in all of Luxemburg’s great desert! But that’s not all. More things start to unravel in the most unexpected way possible. Our master learns even the most iiiiiincredible moves! Watch now to find out. (Music finishes) . (Blackout) . (Sound of a projector screen ascending) . 

You find yourself in a cloudless desert much like the previous one… except with green sand. Perhaps this substance is tri-phosphoglyceraldehyde, a compound that causes unbearable chemical burns if placed in the mouth or eyes. You look at your hands to see an X-shaped scar on your left, but you can’t help but look around along the green horizon. Is this what the tiny country of Luxemburg looks like? Perhaps in the future? You have some concerns.

“Hey!” , a young male voice shouts behind you. An armored bipedal rhino stands upright at the top of a hill, a battle ax in the right hand, a shield on another. The rhino grins. You slowly approach the rhino, preparing to pull out your saber, but an army of more rises out of the mountain. They all take a few seconds to look at you. “Charge!” , the first rhino yells. They all rush at you. Your skills at fencing certainly cannot defend against an army of stampeding rhinos!

You hear one of the rhinos yell a war cry, then a war hammer flies from the stampede, landing perfectly in your right hand. The hilt has an inscription that says “The Ban Hammer” . 

The rhinos close in on you, so you swing the hammer as your last defense at the stampede. They all get knocked away effortlessly by the hammer. A second wave of fiery arrows approaches you, but you knock them all out of the way. Eventually, the first rhino you saw remains, grinning again.

“Thou knowest thou loseth,” you say.

“Not yet we’re not!” the rhino says, as an army of bipedal rhino archers rise out of the hill behind him. Their red bows glowing, luminescently. Oh dear!

They all fire flaming arrows at you, but you manage to knock them away with your powerful hammer. A flying saucer appears out of the sky and lands near you. The old man is piloting.

“Hop on!”, he shouts.

Defending yourself from the flaming arrows, you get on the saucer, and the old man pilots it away. You want to kill the old man after all that he has done, but your body seems to disobey your thoughts.

“What about the rhinos?” you ask.

“Eh. They won’t be a problem” he says. 

He lands the saucer near the base of a large pyramid with a dark entrance at the top. You want to ask him questions about the pyramid, but your mouth just would not move.

“This adventure is yours,” he says.

You get out of the saucer and climb the stairs. You go into the entrance at the top. There is a stairwell that leads downward into the darker depths of the pyramid. Probably something of extreme value, like a million tonnes of gold lying at the bottom. It is certainly something to consider investigating.

“Hey, ex-legend!” Another bipedal rhino appears in front of the entrance, grinning again. This one has a slightly larger frame than the one you first saw. He also has a helmet that resembles a viking one. 

“Who doth thou?” you ask.

“Now, Frigate!” the rhino yells.

“What frigate?” you yell. 

“The one who tricked you,” you hear from another rhino behind you. With suspense, everything goes dark and you hear a stomp noise. Oh well, if only you could have explored the darn pyramid.

You hear the old man’s voice with a dreamy echo, “Game over, son.” 

(Exciting music plays) I’m your host, Jo-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-ohn Wrath, and thank you for watching dreams channel two! 

“12:34” – Elaine Gombos ’23

The gear turns one notch; metal slides against metal. The pendulum makes one swing, left to right, tracing half a cycle exactly. An electric impulse counts the beats.

Each motion causes the second hand to click once, a phenomenon that occurs 86,400 times a day. Yet only one out of the 86,400 will prompt this message.

“It’s 12:34. Make a wish.”

And so they all do. Pencils drop mid-test. Commuters freeze mid-stride. Tennis players pause mid-swing. Words hang, half-spoken. The silence interrupts, tearing through the land at once. The piano’s note lingers, but its resonance is cut short, the music sliced into pieces. The water stops flowing and the refrigerator stops whirring and the birds seem to stop mid-air but don’t fall out of the sky.

All eyes close. 

It seems like forever until the second hand’s next tick. 

Margot sits in a silent high school classroom of fifteen with yellow walls and big windows covered by even bigger curtains next to an analog clock on the shelf. Her wavy hair is in a high ponytail, and her bright, baby blue sweater contrasts with the dull, faded brown of her wooden desk. Before the announcement came on, before she forced her almond, hazel-colored eyes shut, the last glimpse of the world she saw consisted of the bottom-right frame on page 58 of a new graphic novel her friend, Sonya, had lent her. Wishful Thinking: The Final Battle Between Opti-Missy and Depper’s Son was the title. The comic book leaned on a mega textbook of all-things-brainy standing open on her desk, perfectly shielding her idea of fun from the educator at the front of the room. In Margot’s peripheral, Sonya sat at the desk in front of her with her hand stretched back as far as she subtly could, a pink folded paper crane between her fingers. Margot’s hand reached forward under her desk, ready to receive it. 

Now all she sees are the ecstatic swirling outlines of the world a second before against the backdrop of her closed eyelids—eigengrau is the name of that color. She tries her hardest not to count the ticks; instead she wishes, like everyone else: good grades on the next test, enough to eat for dinner tonight, good clothes to wear, solid friendships, good colleges that will take her. Hopefully Depper’s Son will put up a decent fight before Opti-Missy defeats him for good. A good future doing something she loves, perhaps some wealth and property to pass on to her children when she passes…

NO. Forget that thought—can’t think of death during wish time. That rabbit hole would send her in a descending spiral in no time: her pet fish, her grandmother, her friend who disappeared ten years ago during this minute. It’s not like she remembers her thoughts after wish time anyways or that they will result in dangerous consequences, but she forces herself back on track: her mom’s health, her dad’s health, her sister’s health, her grandpa’s health, her dog’s health… 

The edge of her desk cuts into her outstretched arm and she can feel the lactic acid building up in her tensed fingers. No shaky arm, she wishes. Please no shaky arm. She hears the ticking: 49, 48, 47…

BAM! Margot jumps, retracting her arm and bumping into her desk. The sound was so loud it must have come from her proximity. Oh no. She simply cannot be responsible for another disruption during wish time. This time it really was an honest mistake though. With her eyes closed, she cannot see what she could’ve–

“Psssst. Hey, Margot.”

Margot’s eyebrows shoot up. Not even she has had the courage to speak during this sacred minute. 

“Open your eyes,” the voice demands with a certain urgency.

Margot raises her chin at the authoritative tone; she has always been antagonistic towards obeying orders. Yet, the corners of her mouth lift into a mischievous smirk at the invitation to what would most certainly be a loud, trouble-making adventure. So she compromises. She lets her left eyelid fold open. It’s funny she can’t see eigengrau anymore, despite her right eye still staring into the inside of her skin. 

First thing she notices: her graphic novel sprawled on her desk, exposed, and the textbook on the ground. So that’s what that sound was. Everyone is silent, eyes closed, still. She glances slowly to the left, fearing the movement of her eyeballs will somehow break the spell of frozen time. 43, 42, 41…

“It’s me,” says the voice. Margot whirls around and finds herself looking into a familiar face–one she hasn’t seen since childhood. It’s been ten years.

For the first time, Margot dares disturb the silence. “T- T- Toby?”

Her eyes water, but she doesn’t dare allow them to close. He is older now; his eyes and nose seem to fit his face better now. Yet his black hair is still as messy as it used to be. It’s a good look for him. 

“Come on!” His inflection is still the same, just like it was ten years ago. 

Margot’s giggle echoes throughout the silent room, as she rises from the seat. It stops her. She looks around at her educator, her class, Sonya sitting in front of her, the pink crane still in her hand. They are still and unmoving. They can’t see but they can hear. She has left them battling with their own instincts and curiosity. She’s been reckless. 38, 37, 36… There’s no saying what consequences she could face when the minute is over. 

“Wait no. How, why?” Margot slumps back into her seat, avoiding Toby’s face. 

“What do you mean?” Toby asks, his face full of concern. “Let’s go on an adventure, just like how we used to.”

“I- I just. You disappeared for years. Just vanished out of thin air. And now you’re back?” 

Toby’s smile hardens. His face is still, but something seeps into his expression, drowning his youthful joy. It’s pain, disappointment, hopelessness. 

“I can’t afford to get into trouble again,” Margot explains. “Last time, Sonya and I weren’t allowed to see each other for an entire month.”

Toby takes the paper crane from Sonya and holds it gingerly, “Of course. You’ve made new friends.”

“And I can’t afford to lose them.”

“But how about me Margot? You lost me, and this is your one opportunity to get me back. I just want to show you my world, the life I’ve been living.” He swings around to stand in front of Margot’s desk. “I promise you, they won’t know about it. I’ll keep it a secret. It’s not like you to turn down an adventure.”

“Wow,” Margot smiles. “I’ve just been successfully guilt-tripped.”

“Just doing what I’m best at.”

Weaving through desks and chairs and students, Toby leads Margot out of the classroom, out of the school, and under the unfiltered midday sun. Margot looks around, marveling at an opportunity to be omnipresent, to move through frozen time. She stares up into the sun for as long as she can, knowing that this is the first time she’s seen the sun at this exact moment. There are just three of them in the world now: Margot, Toby, and the sun that shifts ever so slightly in the sky with each passing second. 

They walk across the lawn, the soft, blue grass under their feet. Ten years have passed, yet they have so little to say to each other. But in a silent world, their movement speaks volumes, and there’s no need for words as well.

Suddenly, Toby giggles. 

“What?” Margot smiles.

“I’ve been trying to find you for so long. And now I can’t believe I finally have. It seems so surreal.”

“Just one stolen minute, eh?”

A soft rustling sounds to their left behind a silver bush, barely louder than the ambient noise that usually permeates the land. Margot jumps and grabs onto Toby’s arm, hiding behind him.

“Someone’s there. You told me I wouldn’t get into trouble well now someone’s there I’m gonna get caught what are we going to do?” she whispers frantically. Toby turns towards her. His face is full of ominous mischief. Margot stares, confused before realization dawns. She takes a step back, guarded.

“Can I still trust you?” The rustling abrupt stops, evidently having realized Margot’s presence. “You aren’t going to betray me, are you? Don’t get me in trouble.”

“Oh, shh, nonooonoooooooo shhh.” His mischief gives away as he tries to hold in his laughter but fails miserably. Standing up, he cautiously puts a hand on Margot’s shoulder and turns her around to face the direction of the previous rustling. “I just want you to meet someone.”

Margot’s jaw falls to the ground as Toby watches with a proud smile. “Opti-Missy???

Toby’s smile fades. “Who?”

“The red hair and pair skin and blue, almond eyes and black boots and most importantly, the silver suit. She’s straight out of my comic book!”

“Um. She’s actually my boss, but sure.”

Opti-Missy approaches Toby, eyeing Margot and raising an eyebrow. 

“I’ll explain later,” Toby says.

“You’re breaking protocol,” Opti-Missy states bluntly.

“But it’s for good reason!” Toby complains. 

Opti-Missy grunts and walks back to the bush.

Slowly, Margot leans towards Toby and whispers, “She doesn’t look very optimistic.”

“Why would she be? We’re all pretty depressed. They pick the people with no friends, no family, and nothing to lose to do the job.” Margot throws him a questioning look. “I’m the exception. I stumbled upon one ten years ago, because I wasn’t obeying wish time rules, so they had to keep me.”

Margot is silent. She finally speaks: “So that’s why. I thought you were dead. But you were just on a crazy, long adventure all along.” 

A beat. “Let me show you what we usually do,” Toby suggests. Always avoiding the hard conversations, he is. He pulls her towards Opti-Missy’s bush. To Margot’s surprise, Opti-Missy is not alone. A troubled teenager dressed in all black is crouched inside the bush, hiding from some unknown danger. He’s still, like everyone else at this moment, a snarky smile frozen above rugged stubbles on his chin. 

Margot’s eyes widen and she hears herself gasp. This feels like a fever dream. “Depper’s Son???

“If you were to ask me, this guy was probably on his way to rob the school.” Opti-Missy continues nonchalantly. “He’s carrying plenty of illegal goodies: a knife, a butane lighter, a fork, a whisk…”

Margot stares at the unfamiliar items Opti-Missy is placing on the grass. Toby’s watch rings: 20 seconds, it warns. 

“We should’ve caught you much earlier, but now’s not too late either. We’ll fix you up,” Opti-Missy whispers to herself. She daintily steps around Depper’s Son and crouches down again on the other side of him. Margot can’t help but think of all the stories of exhilarating battles she’s ravenously consumed over the years — the tension, the high stakes, the fancy technology, the ostentatious costume changes, the gaudy martial arts, the destruction. The truth is starkly anticlimactic. Depper’s Son is still immobile. 

Suddenly, Opti-Missy digs her nails into the person’s flesh. It goes in so deep that she must have come in contact with the bone. Margot gasps and looks away, anticipating the smell of fresh blood and the man’s screams. Neither occurred. Instead she hears the sound of a velcro tear. She turns back to see a built-in compartment deep within Depper’s Son’s arm that Opti-Missy is accessing. There are an array of buttons, most of which are flashing red. It’s all metal and plastic and multicolored wires.

Margot swallows the rising nausea and tries to open her mouth to speak. Instead, she clutches her own arm and takes two steps back.

Toby looks at her, concerned. “You okay?”

Margot raises a shaky finger. “How?… Am I?”

“It’s really not that bad,” Toby rushes to explain. “We make sure that everything is functioning properly within you. We stop you from getting sick or harming yourself and others, usually before you even realize there’s anything wrong with yourself. Simply one minute each day for reconditioning.”

A sudden revulsion arises within Margot. “You do this too?” 

  “I understand, it’s a hard pill to swallow at first — the truth.” Opti-Missy’s tone is the opposite of her sympathetic words. She tinkers with whatever is inside Depper’s Son’s arm. “But you’ll get used to doing this. It gets less disgusting after the first week or so. You’re just ripping apart velcro after you get under the skin and muscle.”

Margot turns to Toby. Her whisper is almost silent; her eyes do most of the talking, “Have you done this to me before, too?”

Toby looks away, ashamed. “Yeah, I had to. Last week. I was supposed to today as well, actually.” Margot is speechless. “Hey, hey. It’s always been just one button for obsession over death though, nothing serious.”

Opti-Missy shoves the thief’s flesh back into his arm and stands, wiping her hands on her suit. She addresses Margot, “I assume I’ll be seeing you tomorrow then?”

Margot backs away. “What? I can’t do this.” She looks to Toby, the reality of his offer for adventure dawning on her. He wouldn’t get her into trouble because he always intended for her to join him, to become invisible yet omnipotent. She would become the guardian of peace, of happiness, of safety. She would deliberately and superficially manipulate others to feign normalcy. 

Opti-Missy makes a clicking noise in her mouth while sighing, paired with another eyeroll. “You have no choice, now that you know everything.” 

“Margot,” Toby steps forward and tries to set his hand on her arm. “You’ll enjoy this, I promise. We can do this together.”

“You did betray me,” Margot sneers.

“Margot, come to your senses. Please! Better be the one doing it than the one it’s being done to!”

“I cannot possibly do that to Sonya! Just rip her arm open like you did to me! Control her!” Margot shrieks. “I’m not like you!”

Toby’s watch beeps again. 10 seconds, it says.

Without hesitation, Margot takes off sprinting back towards the school. The other two try to pursue her, but Margot knows that they cannot possibly risk causing more chaos once the minute is over. 

5, 4, 3…

She pumps her legs, urging the building to get larger and larger, closer and closer. Faster, faster.

“Margot! Margoooot! Are you really going to leave me alone? I need you here! Please!” Toby’s voice is pain and desperation, just like it was less than a minute ago, just like it was ten years ago. 

3, 2, 1…

This time Margot doesn’t fall for it. She doesn’t look back.

0. Everyone comes back to life. Pencils scribble and commuters bustle and tennis players finish their swing. The piano’s music continues right where it left off sixty seconds ago, a note spliced together. Water flows and the refrigerator whirs and the birds flap their wings on their journey East, once again. 

Margot is back in her seat, arm outstretched, behind two layered books standing on her desk. She stares at the eigengrau of her eyelids one second more than she needs to, before opening them. This time, she remembers the past minute. Every second of it. Sonya’s pink paper crane is gone–Toby had taken it. 

“Toby?” Margot whispers. 

Back in her world, everyone has come back alive, but not him.

“Starwatch” – Ayli Davidson ’23

“I think I may have accidentally put it in the pie.” 

“You think you might have put some of the incredibly powerful future-sight potion that I made into your pie?!

“Yes. To be fair, the vial looked exactly like the vanilla. And you decided to store it in the kitchen cabinets. Who stores potions in kitchen cabinets?!” Belle said. She paced through the kitchen as she held the phone close to her ear. Her husband, Julien, sighed over the other end of the phone. 

“Alright. Fine. You’re right. Where is the pie?” He asked. Ah. Now that was the question she hoped he wouldn’t ask.

“It’s at home, in the oven, but…” She paused her pacing, pinching the bridge of her nose with her free hand. “I definitely tasted the filling more than a few times before baking it.”

“Have you seen any visions yet?” Julien’s voice was quiet. He had made this potion for this year’s Starwatch Festival, coming up in just a few days. Every year, the small kingdom would spend a night under the stars in camaraderie with the Fortune Teller. This person was a sorcerer, chosen from volunteers, who was given a dose of future-seeing potion. Though it wasn’t required for the visions to appear, it is said that staring up at the stars soothes the pain and helps dull the senses for clearer visions. In the morning, the premonitions for the coming year would be announced. 

“No, not yet. I’m going to the balcony and I’m going to try to wait it out,” Belle said. Already on the move, she was collecting a blanket and some soothing potions to bring upstairs. Her familiar, a raven named Hera, carried her gloves she used for her own magic. They were black with white summoning circles carved into the palms, used to summon lesser spirits on the fly. Unfortunately, she doubted that her own magic, which involved communications with and summoning spirits, would be very helpful in this situation. 

“Belle, I’ll be home soon. Hang in there. And stay on the line for me. Please.” Now she could hear Julien’s worry. Still, she nodded, even though he couldn’t see her.

“Of course. See you soon, love,” Belle said. She left the call on and shoved the phone into her skirt pocket. She rushed upstairs as quickly as she could while continuing to avoid the various ingredients and potions strewn about the house. The first symptoms started to appear; her head started to hurt and her eyes felt strained by even the small lights lining the hallway.

The door to the balcony from the attic opened easily. She had come up here many times before. It was her favorite place to perform her own rituals, and it showed. The ground was stained with salts she used to contain what she summoned and the railings had many scratches and dents from times when her containment didn’t work as well as she liked. Belle made a mental note that they really needed to redo this balcony. Maybe she could move her work to the garden for the time being. 

Returning to her mission, Belle dropped the blanket onto the ground and spread it out. The small hurt in her head began to develop into a deep ache, one that hummed in her blood and pierced her bones. Her hands shook violently as she managed to drink the dose of pain-soothing potions, almost spilling it. Her brown eyes dipped in and out of focus. Hera dropped the gloves in front of her, and did her best to help Belle put them on with her talons. Normally, the gloves were meant to both summon spirits and to form a barrier between the user and the ingredients, so there was no chance of being dragged back to the spirit world with them. Belle took them as a form of comfort as she collapsed back onto the blanket, making her yellow skirt pool beneath her. 

It was late at night; the sun set long ago. The stars glowed bright in the sky, and the moon cast a faint light around her. The moon was a small crescent, almost a new moon. The town around her was empty with a comforting quiet. The only sounds were the faint songs of the cicadas on the trees below. 

The pain-soothing potion helped, but only for a moment. The soul-wrenching ache returned with a vengeance. Belle was frozen; any movement sent intense pain through her muscles. Hera squawked and shoved into her pocket to pull out her phone and lay it next to her. Once she had, she hopped onto Belle’s stomach to rest there.

“Belle? Are you there?” Julien’s voice came through the phone again. It comforted her, knowing he was on his way to be with her.

“Yeah, here. On the balcony now,” Belle croaked. Her voice was hoarse and she could barely hear it herself. 

“It’s gonna be ok, alright? I’m almost home. The visions… should be starting soon,” Julien went quiet for a moment again, before he started talking. About his work, what mischief his familiar, an otter, had gotten up to, what he had for dinner, what his new boss was like. Anything and nothing, trying to help by keeping her mind off the pain she felt. If this was the result of only a fraction of the intended dose of the potion, she couldn’t imagine what it felt like for the Fortune-Tellers. 

Belle appreciated it, but the sound of his voice was morphing into something strange. It grated against her ears, filling her with a sense of dread. Thankfully, blood began rushing through her ears, drowning out all other sounds. Her only comfort was the warm glow of the stars; wrapping around and embracing her.

A gash ripped through the sky, blinding light outshining the darkness of night. It grew and grew until it swallowed her whole, and she was somewhere else.

Belle stood in the middle of a long hallway. Stained glass windows lined the walls on either side of her, separated by hanging flowers. Strings of what looked like opals zigzagged through the air above her. Above those, the ceiling soared high, and, further down the hall, led to a massive chandelier. That was covered in opals, too, and the light from the candles refracted through them to throw rainbows across the hall.

Although she’d never been there, Belle guessed that this was the royal palace. And her suspicions were confirmed when the doors at the other end of the hall burst open. The King, or who she assumed was the king judging by the large crown on his head, stormed down the hallway and one of his advisors frantically chased after him. He had black hair, pale skin, and furious red eyes. He was much younger than Belle expected. 

The King was heading straight for her. Just as she was about to try and get his attention, he walked straight through her. Right. Belle had to remind herself that this was a vision of the future. No matter how real it felt, no one here could see her.

“Your Highness, we must start negotiations! They’re overtaking the palace walls, we don’t have a chance!” Belle followed the pair as the advisor started speaking.

“Call our strategists to the war room. I don’t care that it’s the middle of the night, we must push back against their surprise attack. I will not have a revolution during my reign!” 

Belle felt dizzy–A revolution? Certainly, their country was one of the few that still had a monarchy, but revolution? Her sight grew muddy. The palace around her smudged and twisted until she was somewhere else.

When Belle opened her eyes again, she was in a tent. It was quiet. At first the only sounds she heard were gentle footsteps on soft grass outside. If she really listened, she could hear the whispers of wretched screams in the distance. But then, a familiar voice met her ears. 

“The destruction of the inner wall was successful. It won’t be long now until either they offer a truce, or we overpower them.” Belle turned to see Julien, her Julien, at the helm of a table in the center of the tent. Her heart fell. There were three others around him, carefully hunched over the map of the kingdom’s capital draped on the table. His hair was longer, and she could see silver streaks peaking out beneath the hair’s usual dusty brown. And his eyes–they held an exhaustion she hadn’t seen in him before, dulled from their vibrant forest-green to a faint yellow. 

“She saw no further than this. We’re on our own now, our fate is in our hands,” Julien looked like he was going to say more, but he paused. He looked up from the table, directly where Belle stood. Her blood went cold as his eyes met hers, and the world around her disappeared again. 

The first thing she recognized was the smell of smoke. She felt it immediately fill her lungs and she doubled over, coughing. Her eyes watered. Belle stumbled forward until she was able to catch a glimpse of the world outside the smoke. The shock from seeing Julien faded, and her thoughts came racing through her. Is this what Julien has been doing outside of work? How long has he been doing this? Why did he decide to turn against the crown? Have I been complacent?

Why didn’t he tell me?

She was on one of the inner palace walls. Tears stung her eyes and the wind was so strong that it whipped her red hair out of its bun. She could see most of the capital from here, and it all burned orange with fire. Glancing down, she saw people scrambling up the side of the wall, gripping the near-smooth surface with hands slick with blood. Belle’s stomach churned. One person stood out, sprinting towards the wall not far below her and carrying a small box. They reached the wall, paused, and placed the box on the ground. They spent a moment tinkering with it before they got up and sprinted away again. Seconds passed before a blast shook the wall. Dust exploded up from the earth and the ground beneath her feet shook, throwing her to the stone floor of the wall. 

Belle slowly opened her eyes. The night sky had returned to its whole, peaceful state. The stars were the same place they always were, though she couldn’t see the moon anymore. She had probably been asleep for days. A few light-dancer bugs rested on the railing of the balcony. The breeze was nice, and she took in a deep breath, filling her lungs with crisp air for what felt like the first time in years. There was a weight on her chest, but a glance told her it was only Hera, fast asleep. Finally, she turned and saw Julien sitting on the blanket next to her. He smiled down at her. His eyes were green again; this was the Julien she knew. Maybe the vision was a mistake.

“Hey, sleepyhead. Are you back?” He asked. Belle nodded as she slowly sat up. She winced as a pain shot through her head for a moment.

“The palace just announced another ‘year of prosperity.’ I’m glad you probably didn’t see anything too bad, then,” Julien said. As Belle slowly regained awareness, her focus sharpened on him. Something was different. He fidgeted with his hands, turning them around each other over and over again. Her brows creased as she inspected him again.

“That’s all you saw, right?” He asked. There was an unusual edge to his voice. Belle slowly got to her feet with his help, narrowing her eyes as she inspected him. 

“Julien. You know that’s not what I saw, don’t you?”

As Belle took a step towards him, confusion lacing her voice, Julien flinched back. His hand twitched. Julien made no effort to disguise his emotions. Worry, shame, and fear filled his eyes as they stared at each other. Both of them stood stone-still, waiting for the other to make a move. 

The door back inside flung open, and Julien made his choice. He turned on his heel and sprinted into the house. Belle was hot on his heels, already summoning smaller spirits from her gloves in an attempt to catch him. 

They tore through the attic and down the stairs. Julien took a sharp left to his office. Belle nearly slipped, bumping into shelving in the hall. Knick–knacks and glass crashed on the floor behind her. That will be a mess to clean later. She scrambled after him. 

Julien’s office was a small room with all sorts of potion materials and instruments on the counters, but he grabbed the chair in the corner. He shoved it at Belle to slow her down, with little success. Past the office, they took the staircase down to the main floor.

In the living room, they brushed past the television, barely avoiding knocking it to the ground. Belle summoned another spirit as they rounded the corner to the kitchen. The only way for him to escape from here was through the front door. The spirit stretched and turned, reaching out for him. Last chance. It hit. Its hand clasped onto Julien’s wrist with an iron-like grip. He tried in vain to yank his hand away. She quickly moved around him, holding one hand out, until she was between him and the door.

“Julien, please just talk to me–” Belle’s pleas were cut off when Julien reached onto the counter behind him and grabbed a small potion vial. Glass shattered on the ground as he smashed it over the spirit’s head. A mournful sigh filled the room. It vanished, leaving Belle with a pain in her chest as the connection was severed. 

Julien tried to sidestep around Belle to get to the door, but she was faster. In a swift motion, she shoved him against the wall and summoned another spirit to keep him attached there. This time, there would be no escaping for him. Hera, after following them all through the house, perched on Julien’s head to watch.

Belle was just about to begin questioning him when the doorbell shrieked, making Hera squawk in surprise. She slowly walked towards the door, keeping one hand aimed at her husband to enforce the spirit’s strength. A quick look through the peephole in the door told her exactly who was there. Three men, dressed in purple officers’ cloaks and decorated with the highest-ranking medals, stood outside. 

Belle hesitated for a moment. Julien was still behind her, unable to move until she called off the spirit. 

“Don’t open the door, Belle,” Julien quietly called out to her, “Please. I can explain everything, I just–I need time.” Belle looked into his eyes. She saw sincerity. She had known this man for ten years. She trusted him. Belle turned back towards the door and put on her best smile. She knew what she had to do. 

Lowering her hand, she gave one last nod back to Julien. Gripping the doorknob, she pulled the door open just enough for the officers to see her.
“Good evening, officers. How can I help you at this late hour?” Belle said. 

“Hello, Mrs. Wittebane. I’m Officer Bailey. We’re here to speak with your husband. May we come inside?” The one in the middle spoke first. His eyes didn’t match his cheery smile. They were ice-cold and empty of care. They wandered, and she knew he was trying to see past her into the house.

“Of course, sir.” Belle’s hand gripped the doorknob tighter and she pulled the door open. In a fluid moment, she pulled off her gloves and slipped them into her pocket. 

They walked through the empty hallway into the main part of the house. She showed them all the rooms and let them take all the time they needed, a pleasant smile on her face all the while.

They found nothing.

“Untitled” – Ella Coury ’23

As I stared out into the beautiful nothingness, I thought about my day. I started off my morning by going to my local coffee shop. I go there almost every day because how could I survive without my daily large Americano, no cream? She wasn’t the usual old lady that memorized my order. She was young, elegant, and had the smile of a beloved queen. She greeted me like no other person has greeted me before. A smile was swirling deep inside me that almost broke through the surface before she looked beyond me. She wasn’t talking to me, she was talking to her good friend who had just walked through the door behind me. For a moment, I felt joy. I felt hope. That was gone in an instant. 

“Hey hun, what can I get for you?” 


“Hi uh let me see, what do I want today?… you know what whatever is your favorite I’ll take that,” I said with a big smile. 

I notice her eyes light up like Christmas lights when it hits November 1st. She gives me a warm smile and an excited giggle as she starts preparing my drink. 

“How long have you been working here?” 

“This is actually my first day. Can’t you tell?” She laughed a little too hard at herself because she spilled the almond milk everywhere. 

“That explains it. I come here every day and have never seen you. I’ve tried almost everything on that menu so I hope you are getting creative.” 

“Trust me, I am,” she said as she turned her full attention to the drink. 

As I waited for my drink, I sat on one of the four top tables next to the window with huge strawberry-red curtains, kind of like the beautiful barista’s cheeks. I have a weird feeling about her, something about her feels different. 

“Almost done?” 

“I’m actually finished. I hope you like it!” 

“Let’s see…” I take a sip pursing my lips to pretend I’m taking a minute to taste it. 

“It’s great. Could use better flavor, maybe vanilla.” I say with a sarcastic smile. 

“But seriously it’s one of the best drinks I have had” as I took a fake sip again to not make it obvious that I’m lying. 

  “Thank you,” she said blushing. 

“So how much will that be?” 

“Don’t worry about it, it’s on me”

“Are you sure? Come on, at least a tip.” 

“No I’m good, I had fun making it, and if you like it so much. It’s my treat” 

“Can I at least have the name of the pretty and now generous barista?” 

  “Eleana,” she said with a giggle reaching her hand out to shake mine.

I grabbed her hand and an electric shock went through my body making butterflies arise in my stomach. “Eleana, pretty name for a pretty face.” 

She blushes and giggles again releasing my hand. 

“Until next time, Eleana.” 

“Wait, your name,” she yelled as I start walking out the door. 

“Until next time,” and the door slams. 

I rise from the dock and start walking through the woods. I didn’t make a huge mess this time so I can walk in public freely. As I’m making my way through I start to hear the sound of cars driving fast down a road. I don’t have a vehicle of my own although that would be convenient for me. So I stop on the side of the road and wait for someone who would be stupid enough to stop their car to help a stranger. It took longer than usual but after a couple of minutes, I saw a woman slowing down her car and flashing her lights. As she approaches, I notice a familiarity within her eyes and features. She’s the barista. She gets out of her car and says “look who it is, no name man. I think this is next time.” I let out a big laugh. 

So fast forward a bit and I’m in her car. We are talking, laughing, listening to music and you know the normal things people do in a car. She was so eccentric yet elegant. She made me forget about my day. The funny thing was I never even told her where to take me. We were just driving. I find it a bit odd that she was just driving endlessly with a complete stranger that she picked up off the road. I could be a murderer for all she knew. For some odd reason, she is the first person that I have spent more than five minutes with and didn’t want to decapitate their head. I enjoyed her presence. Finally, she asked me where I was headed. 

“505 Hollow Road. It’s not too far just make the next left and drive straight for about two miles until you an old blue house.” 

“Wait… you live there?” she said very timidly. 

I could tell her demeanor completely changed. She was scared. Like she just let a murderer in her car. I knew why. My parents, my sister, and I all lived there together for almost my whole life. Not anymore (bet you could guess why). Once they “left” everyone started making very judgemental rumors about my family. She probably heard the stories. I don’t want her to be scared of me. 

“No, I’m house-sitting for the man that lives there. He’s kind of creepy but I never have to see him so I’m fine with it. It’s good money” I replied. 

“Oh thank god,” I could feel the anxiety release from her body. 

“That house. That family. The stories. Ever since I was a little girl it has spooked me. My friends and I would sometimes walk by that house on our way to school and the mother would be standing by the window just staring. She never spoke. Never waved. There was one time we heard screaming coming from the house. And she was still standing by the window, staring. To this day I cannot get her image out of my head. I feel like it haunts me. I know it’s terrible but I was sort of happy to hear of her passing four years ago.” 

I let out a laugh and she started laughing too. Except she was laughing because she thought what she said was so ridiculous. Yet I was laughing because of those screams she heard. Let’s just say I could have caused that. In my defense I told my sister not to scream, she was never a good listener. 

When we finally approached my house, the tension in the car began to rise. I noticed her hands turn white from gripping the steering wheel so hard. I don’t plan on hurting her. I like her too much. So I asked her to come inside for some coffee. She surprisingly agrees and we enter the house. She seemed excited. When she agreed she stared deep into my eyes and grabbed my arm as she nodded. I think my heart actually melted. 

“So how long have you been staying here?” she asked, looking around curiously. 

“Only one night. I don’t spend too much time here though because like I said it’s creepy.” 

“I can’t believe I’m actually here. I would have nightmares about being in this house and my dreams are actually scary accurate. I can’t believe you agreed to do this alone.” 

We make it to the kitchen and she sits. I never actually make coffee but I guess since that’s what I said I gotta make coffee. I get so nervous around her and I just end up saying whatever. Every time she looks at me, I get these butterflies that make my stomach turn. I don’t like it. But yet I don’t want to get rid of it. I don’t wanna get rid of her. I reach up to the cabinet and grab two mugs. I walk to the pantry and grab some coffee beans that are probably old and set them by the mug. I bend down to the drawer by the island in the kitchen to get out the coffee maker; I plug it in, get some water, and beans and begin to make the coffee. As I turned around to look at her to see if she wanted anything to eat, she stared at me very intently. 

“So you have only stayed here one night?” she said, looking away at the window seal. 

“Yep. I got here last night then went on a walk this morning and that’s where you found me.” 

Her gaze comes back to me with a sparkle of fear in her eyes, “Then how do you know where everything is?” 

Shit. I stare back at her not knowing what to say. She’s making me even more nervous now. She directs her gaze back to the window seal. Staring at it with tears in her eyes. 

“Why are you in this photo?” pointing to a family picture that was placed along the window seal. 

“That’s my family. I brought it here cause I bring it everywhere. My family is very important to me, I love them too much.” I replied, stepping closer to her. 

She winced, pushing her body back into the chair not looking at me. 

“It’s her.” she says, staring at the photo. She brought her eyes back to me and timidly expressed “That’s… her.” 

She tries to let out a scream before I lunge at her covering her mouth, “I didn’t want to do this.” 

Everywhere was just so far. How am I supposed to dispose of the body if I’m too lazy to carry her within more than a 1-mile radius? That’s how I ended up at this lake. I watched as her body started to sink to the bottom. A bunch of fish starts poking at his flesh making her go down faster. Within fifteen seconds, I could no longer see her body. Now I’m kinda sad. I miss her. I have the same feeling every time this happens. I feel like I have to mourn. Grieve the life lost. So that is what I will do. 

The air was cool. The water sound. The sky was as grey as some of my hair. I sat on the dock while I replayed the memories of the last few hours in my head. I thought to myself… Why? Why her? It’s funny how one person can change the whole course of the day, maybe even your life in just one simple moment. I thought this was that moment. My brain wasn’t even trying to figure it out. I was just numb. My feet were literally numb from dangling them down in the water. 

 Was that grief? I feel like every time people talk about grief they always talk about their guilt. What if they did something differently, would the outcome be different? I think I should get A+ for my effort. Caring is just not really my thing. I mean, neither is life. You can’t grieve death if you love death.