Posted on: August 29, 2013

When he was seven, Hunter slipped on his father's boat, fell in Lake Austin, and saw merlings. They were less magical and fantastical than he thought they would be; they were gaunt things with rigid bones and gray skin stretched thin. They were not the curved, fluid creatures of bedtime stories and animated films. They were, however, captivating. Hunter forgot everything: how to swim, his mother Elinor, even the importance of oxygen. His father jumped in and pulled him from the water.

There were witnesses. Witnesses who swore that the sopping wet boy's father had been a six-pack deep when he took his son out on the water. Witnesses who swore the father had a cap pulled low over his brow when the boy fell. Witnesses who swore the boy was under for almost a minute before the father jumped. It didn't matter how much was true. It mattered that Hunter's mother believed it

"Just tell her you saw them, Dad!" Hunter said. "I can back you up if you just tell her."

"When are you gonna quit this?" Hunter's father growled. "I didn't see them. You didn't either. You shut up about those mermaids."

"Merlings!" Hunter said. "They're merlings."

The merlings were real, and to deny them would be to lie. After his father left, he tried to convince his mother. Hunter drew pictures and plastered them all over his walls. His room was a chamber of Lovecraftian horror: shapes and angles forced by the rabid hand of an unskilled artist. There was one Hunter drew over and over again.

"The Harbinger," Hunter told his mother at dinner. He showed her his latest attempt, with rough calcified scales at the tail and sharp moldy skin. A wide mouth brimmed with dark pointed teeth. White eyes bulged.

"Where did you hear that word?" His mother forced herself to swallow a forkful of meatloaf.

"He told me. That's what he said he was called." Hunter replied. "I think I'm supposed to go back and find him."

His mother checked him into a children's psychiatric hospital. There, Hunter learned that he had likely experienced trauma falling in the water. The doctor said Hunter's father was an alcoholic, and although Hunter did not know that, he had figured out that he would probably die because his dad could not rescue him. Hunter's mind had invented angels of mercy to help him prepare to go to Heaven.

"But if that were true, I would've made real angels. Real angels are white and glow. They have wings, not fish tails." Hunter told his doctor.

Hunter learned that the mind does all kinds of funny things when you are scared. Maybe his mind played with shapes in the water. Maybe his mind played with how the light shined within Lake Austin. Hunter probably heard the word "harbinger" on TV. Hunter's mind knew what it was from context. When Hunter thought he was dying, he invented the merlings. One of them was his herald.

That's what the doctor said.

Hunter stopped talking about the merlings. Hunter stopped drawing them. Over years of therapy, the Harbinger faded into Hunter's memory.

But not Elinor's.

"I wasn't there for him," Elinor told herself.

She wasn't there when her son fell into the Harbinger's murky waters. She was across the street, "borrowing a cup of sugar" from Ted Vicars.

She wasn't there when the Harbinger called again. Her husband wrapped his truck around a telephone pole. The paramedics pronounced him dead at the scene. The coroner's report said his blood alcohol level was above the legal limit.

In the years it took for her boy to become a young man, Elinor saw tragic events as evidence of the Harbinger’s presence in her life. When the doctor suggested Hunter may be ready to leave the hospital, Elinor did not object. Good news was rare.

When Hunter came home, he was surprised by the house. Each room had been painted a different shade of watery blue. The living room was a shallow mountainside brook. The kitchen was a country pond, its surface just kissed with algae. Hunter's room was the top of Lake Austin when it glinted with sun.

Elinor's room - no longer his parents' - made him uncomfortable. It was the dark, deep inside of Lake Austin. It tugged at him, begging him to remember drowned nightmares. Hunter did not go in his mother's room. Hunter did not see her fill the tub and stare at it. He did not see her submerge herself, holding her breath under the tepid water. He did not see the inside of her closet, wallpapered with his old sketches of the Harbinger.

Hunter did not hear her call its name.

"I think we should go back to Lake Austin." Elinor said over lunch. "I think it would be good for us to confront what happened there."

"Mom, I don't want to go back in there. I don't think it would be good for me." Hunter stared at his spaghetti. The shapes were tangled curves, and for a moment he saw the ebb and flow of water and thought he might vomit.

"By Pennybacker! Not into the water, of course." Not yet. She could hold off a little longer. Maybe take scuba diving lessons first - just in case he wasn't near the surface this time. And really, who knew how deep Hunter had been?

When Elinor saw the bridge, she knew they were close. It was a low, wide arch the color of rust, and Elinor laughed at how it looked like water corrupted the structure. The amber curve did not dip into Lake Austin. It straddled the banks, but it was a false portal.

When Hunter saw the bridge, he inhaled sharply. Bad thoughts came to him, dark and evil things flooded his memory. The bridge transported Hunter back to that day he saw the merlings, that day he saw the Harbinger, that day he realized his father couldn't save him.

"The Harbinger." The word was a whisper. Neither knew who said it. Neither cared.

Shaking, Hunter pulled into the nearest parking lot. Elinor stepped out of the car without a word.

"See you soon." The voice creaked.

Photograph by: Emily Blincoe
Written by: Erin Justice


Posted on: August 26, 2013

Clark bent down and gripped the rail with his right hand. The vibrations surging through his callused palms indicated the train was just beyond the horizon. He traced the length of steel beams and wooden slats with his eyes until they became an indecipherable speck where the sky and the earth converged.

“This is it,” he reminded himself, suppressing any doubt that was stirring inside.

Clark had been contemplating this moment since pimples started forming mountain ranges across his chin and the sight of cheerleaders made strange things happen behind his zipper. Puberty transformed every fiber of Clark’s being, including his brain.

As his limbs, blemishes and cerebellum grew, so did the distance between Clark and the rest of humanity. While boys and girls timidly flirted in the lunchroom, Clark isolated himself in the library behind a fortress of comic books. When his family gathered around the TV for supper, Clark excused himself and retired to the basement, where he spent the rest of the evening lifting the rusty weights his father had been neglecting since his college days.

Clark outgrew the home gym within a month of his first bicep curl. Even the heaviest dumbbell on the rack – the 50-pounder – failed to challenge his rapidly developing arms. He peddled to a nearby gym in search of a heftier test, only to be turned away on account of his age. He pleaded with the owner to make an exception, but he wouldn’t look past the business-destroying lawsuit that would ensue if an unsupervised minor were to get injured in his facility.

Clark channeled his rage to his fists and slammed them into the counter like a sledgehammer, sending shards of glass scattering to the ground like a shattered basketball goal. As amazed as the owner was by the feat of strength, he was even more taken aback by Clark’s injury-free hands.

Clark fled the scene before the owner snapped out of his daze. When he rounded the corner he found a malnourished man hovering over his bike. He followed the track marks down the man’s arms to the pair of bolt cutters he was positioning around Clark’s bike chain.

Rage reignited, Clark bent down, grabbed a stone and chucked it at the junkie before he could bear down on his tool. The stone disappeared the moment it left Clark’s hand, reappearing in an explosion of blood, cotton and flesh as it tore through the thief’s right shoulder. The skittish man fell to the ground, clutching his bolt cutters until he became one with the parking lot.

“YOU SHOT ME,” the criminal yelled, gripping his shoulder as he squirmed on the concrete. “YOU FUCKING SHOT ME?”

Clark didn’t respond. He sprinted to the rack, unlocked his bike and lifted it from the bar one-handed as if it were a children’s tricycle.

“Where do you think YOU’RE going, you fucking PUNK,” screamed the injured crook.

Clark straddled the seat and turned the bike away from the criminal. He placed his left foot on the pedal and pressed down like a motorcyclist starting his engine. The wave of flexed muscles surging from his glute to his foot sent his shoe and the pedal crashing to the pavement. The metal square beneath his forefoot embedded in the asphalt like a cookie cutter. He wiggled his foot free from the strap and dismounted the bike.

“Take it,” he said, pushing the damaged goods towards the speechless drug addict.

The bike remained upright until the front tire collided with the thief’s knee, bending his joint with a deafening crack of bones and ligaments. He ran home as fast as his legs could carry him, which, according to the speed detector in front of his old middle school, was 38 miles per hour. Clark looked back to see what car triggered the radar, but he was the only object in motion at the moment.

Clark took a small hop and turned his sneakers sideways, attempting to stop on a dime like a professional hockey player, but the physics didn’t add up. As the soles of his shoes dug into the weathered sidewalk, the seams that held his footwear together exploded, sending fabric particles, and Clark, flying through the air.

Clark was ejected from his shoes like a driver without a seatbelt. He landed in a bush almost 30 yards from where his soles remained, once again, without the slightest hint of injury. Clark continued to sit in the heap of broken twigs and crumbled leaves.

“What. The. FUCK?” he asked.

As unlikely as it seemed, he could only reach one conclusion.


Clark sprung from the rubble as if floating on a cloud of indestructible joy. Fueled by adrenaline, he began putting his supernatural strength to the test. He knocked down a 30-year-old pine tree with a single punch. He lifted a car by it’s back bumper and pushed it around a parking lot like a wheelbarrow. And then, he saw the train track.

Clark returned the car to its parking spot and sprinted through the field. Fearing someone would mistake his actions for a suicide attempt, Clark ran along the locomotive road until civilization was out of sight.

When the train finally appeared in the distance, Clark got down in a three-point stance and prepared for the ultimate game of chicken. The morning fog cloaked him from the conductor’s unsuspecting view until they were too close for brakes. The conductor pulled down on the train horn, hoping to force some sense through Clark’s ears, but his mind was as one-tracked as his steel opponent.

At the point of no return, Clark reared up like an angry grizzly bear and flexed every muscle in his body. 


The librarian bent down and removed Clark’s headphones.

“Class or detention, Clark? Your choice.”

Clark scoffed, saved his progress and shoved his laptop into his book bag. He rolled back from the table and wheeled off to class as fast as his hands could push him.

Photograph by: Emily Blincoe
Written by: Mark Killian

Fake Soldiers

Posted on: August 22, 2013

With fake soldiers in fake armies, we fought over fake boundaries, rivers, mountains, and countries. Our fake generals led men on fake horses into fake battle, and the roll of the digital dice decided who stayed alive and who died on the electronic battlefield made up, at its core, of ones and zeros. On December 31st, 1999, my older brother and I, in our mid twenties, played RISK, the game of world dominance, on my Playstation 2. We retreated to our cabin at the edge of Yellowstone Park on the Idaho and Wyoming border with enough wine, beer, and potato chips to make it through the apocalypse. It was the eve of the Y2K disaster, when the world’s computers would send nuclear missiles into the air, where the World Bank and credit history of all the world’s people would crumble, and where fires would spark from the fingertips of civilized people thrown back into savagery without computers. Walls of snow, stacked five to six feet tall, surrounded the little cabin. The tops of baby trees peeked out from the snow, their lives too short to stand above the wintery ground like their elders that stretched up to the blue sky and, during the day, sliced the snow with their shadows. The sun dropped down behind the mountains before five p.m., and clouds drizzled more snow onto the already thick base that covered the ground. It was cold outside, but inside, the fire burned.

Two cigars sat on the end table near the sliding glass doors that opened up to the deck. They would be saved for midnight.

In the mid 1980s, my brother beat me at everything. It didn’t matter what we played, he had the upper hand, and as most older brothers do, he played the upper hand with a lot of weight. He bankrupted me in Monopoly — I went for the fat pigs on Wall Street -- Park Place and Boardwalk -- while he became the slumlord of the Avenues (Baltic, Mediterranean, Oriental, etc.), stacked up hotels, and made the district right after “GO” a money pit for my flying shoe. He outwitted me at UNO. He knew when to back things up, when to keep things going, and when to turn one of the wild cards I had saved up all game into my own demise.

One day, sitting on the floor of his bedroom, bored in the late days of summer when the 103-degree heat finally pushed us indoors, my brother laid RISK out on the floor. I was sick of losing, so earlier that year I vowed to never place another soldier in harm’s way. Hadn’t I killed enough men? Hadn’t I waged pointless battles on imaginary borders that never ended in peace? Countless lives of men thrown to the ground on the whims of their leaders who looked down on them from the comfort of a carpeted room in the middle of summer. Hadn’t I learned my lesson? No matter how much I fought, I would always lose it all, eventually being pushed into exile with no capital or government or land to call my own.

“Let’s play RISK,” he said. His eyebrows and lips turned upward with the vision of another imminent victory and the slaughter of my men.

“No,” I said. “I’m not playing again. I always lose.”

“Come on. What else are you going to do?” he asked. At the time, he was right. “I’ll even spot you Australia.”

My greed welled up inside of me. I could own a continent right from the start. I would own all its extra armies. I could demolish Indonesia and its people with two turns.

“I’m in,” I said, thinking he had sealed his own fate.

I owned Australia, and with much bravado, I pushed forward into Indonesia and Thailand before his Asian forces punished me on the Indian mountains and forced my troops backward. Then the onslaught came in full force, and within two turns, he had vanquished my armies, rolling the dice and his forces across the globe, pushing me out of Kansas and Ontario, cornering and conquering me on the Sahara, and, one army by one army, killing my Australian stronghold until I had one guy standing on Cape Pasley, begging for mercy. I had enough, and instead of waving my white flag with honor, I flipped the entire board upside down, tossing armies across the room, into the AC vent, onto piles of dirty clothes, and beneath my brother’s bed. I was done losing. If I couldn’t conquer the world, I couldn’t handle the thought of anyone else doing it. It was supposed to be mine, all mine.

“You cheated!” I yelled, the world upside down at my feet.

“I can’t cheat,” he said calmly, which made me even angrier. “The dice do what they do. I’m just better.”

“You cheated,” I yelled. Then I stormed out of the room and vowed to never play him again.

In 1999, some people far away from our secluded cabin partied, some sang along with Prince, some prayed, some hid in shelters, and others slept without worries — midnight in 1999 had finally come. We held our controllers in our hands and watched our armies fight on the screen. Our brains floated in a bath of wine, and our game of RISK had yet to be completed. We knew the game could stretch out for many more hours, so my brother grabbed the cigars from the table, and we walked out onto the snow-covered deck and beneath the moon. The cold surrounded us. It was quiet, very quiet, like there-wasn’t-another-soul-for-miles quiet. My brother looked at his watch and counted down to the end of the millennium, a slow methodical count that added to the feeling of seclusion. We knew that if things really did go to hell that night that we would be together out there in the wilderness.

“It’s time,” he said.

“Let’s do this,” I said. I wish I would have said something less cheesy, but none of us really believed in Y2K.

He handed me one of the cigars, lit his own in his mouth, and then handed me the lighter. I clumsily lit mine and inhaled the rich smoke into my lungs. It warmed my gut. We stood in silence for a few minutes. Snow flickered on its descent. At the end of my cigar, I saw the bright red flame that circled the cigar edges like the sun burning at the edges of a solar eclipse, bright reds sparking out from behind the curved edge, but beyond the cigar, no fires burned, no sirens screamed, and no missiles cut through the sky. We stood in the snow until the cigars burned down to the edges of our index fingers and thumbs. Then we walked back into the cabin to play a game between brothers.

Photograph by: Jaemin Riley
Written by: Kase Johnstun


Posted on: August 19, 2013

Anna has plenty of experience extracting ghosts, but possession is not her expertise. Suri, her most recent client, sits across from her at a tiny table in the bookstore cafe. Anna glances over her notes, knowing this case is out of her league, but unwilling to turn back.

“Okay,” she begins after clearing her throat. “Every November since you were fourteen, this ghost chooses to possess a man in your life, and claims that he - not the man, but the ghost - has spent lifetimes with you, that you belong to him. Eventually he disappears, but what prompts him to leave you alone?”

“A restraining order.”

Anna laughs appreciatively before she realizes that Suri isn’t joking.

“The first time I encountered the ghost, he possessed my father. Dad would get blitzed every once in awhile, but there was one time when he was saying all of these strange things to me, that I wasn’t his daughter, that he’s known me for centuries, that he’ll always find me wherever I am. My parents eventually split up and it only got weirder after that. I told Mom and she said I didn’t have to see him anymore if I didn’t want to, so I moved in with her and she got a restraining order because he was getting aggressive. When we called the police, you could see it in his eyes. Whatever was making him say that stuff was gone. His eyes were clear. I still remember how confused he looked when they handcuffed him.”

Suri scoots her chair closer to the table and leans forward to continue.

“It’s been a different guy every time. Someone would come along - a teacher, a co-worker, a complete stranger - and it would be the same script, past lives and all that crap, but I felt like I was getting to know him a little more each time. Sometimes, I could see him after he left one of their bodies, and he’d smile and wave goodbye as the police escorted the host away.”

“Has he ever missed a year?” Anna asks.

“Not one,” Suri whispers.

They share a few moments of silence, encased in the sound of the espresso machine and surrounding conversation.

“I guess we’ve got to wait for him to show up. In the meantime,” Anna says as she closes her notebook, “I need to do research and talk to some folks. You’ve got my number. Call me the minute you think he’s manifested. I don’t care if it’s a squirrel on your windowsill. Just call.”

“Okay. I will.”

They both stand, shake hands, and Anna walks away with a knot in her stomach.


“Yes, this is Anna. Who’s this?” she asks, holding the phone between her ear and shoulder, putting the groceries on the kitchen counter.

“Suri is mine. You got that?” the man barked from the other end of the line. “You won’t get rid of me so easy!”

Anna feels every hair on her body stand on end as she leans back against the pantry door.

As calm as she can muster, “Hey, man. No one’s trying to get rid of anybody. Where’s Suri? Is she okay?”

Anna can almost hear the sneer of his lips as he says, “1780 Rutherford Avenue. Come see for yourself.”


It’s 4:15 pm when Anna pulls up in front of the abandoned house. A few of the windows are broken and an overturned grocery cart is in the doorway. She closes her eyes, asks her dead mother for courage, and gets out of the car. Fearing the worst, she walks up the driveway and pulls the cart out of the way so she can get inside the house, which is empty except for trash and drug paraphernalia. She is drawn to the light pouring from the room down the hall, the door left ajar.

“Suri,” Anna calls cautiously.

She pushes the door open with her hand and spots the graffiti on the wall, some haphazard squares made with black spray paint and a message next to the window.

“ 4:33 you’ll see...”

Anna pulls out her phone to check the time: 4:30. She runs up to the window and looks out into the backyard. A man grins at her from beneath a tree and next to him Suri stands on a stool, gagged with her wrists tied behind her and a noose around her neck.

“Oh God, please,” Anna breathes.

The moment he lifts his foot to kick over the stool, there is a gunshot and he falls to the ground. Two police officers run toward Suri who screams through her snot-soaked gag, locking eyes with Anna through the window. Footsteps echo in the house behind her as backup searches the premises, following the tip Anna called in to the 911 dispatcher before speeding over to Rutherford, but the familiar chill of another presence brushes against the left side of her neck.

Suri’s voice is a distant cry, full of warning and remorse, “Anna! That’s him! Oh Anna, I’m so sorry!”

Anna takes in a breath as she turns to face the apparition. His appearance seems thick enough to touch, and he stands almost a foot taller than her, making him all the more menacing as he tilts his head to the side and smiles down at her.

“It’s dangerous to play games without knowing the rules, Anna.”

The sound of his voice both repels and lures every blood vessel in her body, desire and disgust making her heart pound in her throat. Anna realizes that Suri left out a very important detail about this ghost: he keeps haunting her because, deep down, she wants him to come back.

“What is your name?” Anna whispers, keeping her hands from balling up into fists as she waits for the one piece of information he is obligated to give her when demanded.


In a blink, he is gone as officers pour into the room with guns drawn.

Photograph by: Emily Blincoe
Written by: Natasha Akery

One Lucky Bastard

Posted on: August 12, 2013

Every evening he walked half a mile down to the 7-11 to buy his lottery ticket. On the walk there, he smoked his pipe. On the walk back, he cleaned out his pipe and chanted the Powerball numbers over and over again in his head.

When he got home, he’d turn on the TV and wait. 7-37-9-2-82-12.

For three weeks, he’d played the same numbers. 7 for July, his least favorite month. 37 for the age his mother was when she died, standing over the kitchen stove sautéing vegetables. 9, the age he was on that day, when he entered the kitchen, turned off the stove, and called his father at work. 2 for his two good legs, for his two good feet, one in front of the other. 82 and 12 for the street address of the 7-11. 8212 North Lucas Drive.

When he won the Powerball, the 7-11 would experience a boom in business, and they’d put his photo above the counter. 8212. You have to tip your hat to the places that bring you luck. He wasn’t sure how long it was going to take to win. Probably only another couple of weeks.

He’d been avoiding the lottery. His father had been pushing him for years, “Use it on the Powerball,” but he’d always resisted using his luck for straight cash. It seemed wrong. But his father was ninety. And people who are ninety should get what they want.

After his mother’s death, he noticed strange things happening in his life. At a school assembly a few weeks later, he fixated on the end-of-the-year raffle prize: a gift certificate to Shoe World. Though his name was in the goldfish bowl only once (other more goody-goody kids had multiple entries for good behavior), the principal drew his name. It echoed across the gymnasium. He bought the red high-top sneakers his mother had said were impractical.

The cafeteria always served pudding on the days he craved it. He aced multiple-choice tests without cracking a book. When his father was up for a promotion at work, he paced the perimeter of the office building, envisioning the scene, until his father emerged and high-fived him in the parking lot.

The closer he could get to the luck, the quicker it would deliver. When he decided on Brown for college (Harvard or Yale would be too suspicious), his father took him to Rhode Island to deliver his application in person. He took seven campus tours to cover the most ground. His acceptance letter arrived a few weeks later.

By the time he was in his sixties, he was using most of his luck on internet giveaways. They were less conspicuous, and he found he could speed things along just by surfing the individual sites for a few hours a day. He took an all-expense paid trip to Montana when he won a Marlboro contest, despite the fact he preferred pipe tobacco. He entered his second cousin Darla in the HGTV dream house giveaway, which she won. He won iPads and computers and free groceries and shopping sprees, most of which he gave to relatives who were sworn to secrecy. He liked things simple. He lived on his luck, but only in such a way that he could remain under the radar.

“You gotta do the Powerball,” his elderly father croaked into the phone. “It’s the ultimate test.”

“But I have everything I need,” he said.

“Just do it,” his father said. “Do it for me? Move me into one of those luxury nursing homes with the sexy water aerobics instructors. Come on.”

So he did. He walked to the 7-11 and played his numbers. 7-37-9-2-82-12.

“Is today the day?” Kevin, who worked the register, asked.

“Might be,” he said.

“Dude, if you win, you should buy me a car. The AC’s broke in my Fiesta.”

“Sure thing,” he said.

As he left the 7-11, he ran his hand over the top of Kevin’s car and let the cool freon vision wash over him. He made a mental note to stop by the mall tomorrow and enter the drawing for whatever car they were giving away in the rotunda.

When the bowtie-clad announcer on ABC pulled the red 12 ball from the tube, he reached for the phone and called his father.

The phone rang seven times before the electricity in his house started to flicker, then went out entirely. It was almost midnight. He’d try in the morning.

The next morning, the power was still out. He went outside and headed toward the 7-11. It started to rain.

“Dude, no umbrella?” Kevin asked.

“My power’s out,” he said. “Can I use your phone?”

“Whatever,” Kevin said.

He dialed his father again. Again, no answer.

“Do you have a pen?” he asked Kevin.

Kevin gestured to the pen chained to the counter.

He pulled out his lotto ticket and signed the back of it.

“Holy shit, no way!” Kevin yelled, snatching the ticket and holding it up in the fluorescent light. “We gotta call the news!”

“I don’t want to be on TV,” he said.

“Well, I do!”

Kevin vaulted over the counter and called to his manager, “Yo, Ray! You gotta check this out!”

He tried his father one more time. When, on the seventh ring, an unfamiliar voice answered, he knew it was over.

The paramedic told him a neighbor had found his father lying in the kitchen when she came to borrow some sugar. It was probably a heart attack.

“I won the lottery,” he told the paramedic.

“You’re one lucky bastard,” the paramedic said. “I mean, man. Wow. Forget I said that.”

“I’ll be there soon,” he said.

Out the window of the 7-11, the news vans were pulling up. The camera crews swarmed Kevin and Ray, who pointed and gestured in his direction.

The television clip would replay across the country. Kevin, popping and un-popping the collar on his 7-11 polo, says, “He’s gonna buy me a car! Today’s the luckiest day of my life!” Behind him, the winner of the $290 million dollar Powerball lights his pipe and walks away.

Photograph By: Emily Blincoe
Written By: Dot Dannenberg

A Conversation

Posted on: August 8, 2013

We both sat quietly. Our breath, labored at times, came erratically but somehow remained synchronized. We knew why we were there, but neither of us had the courage to break the silence and speak first.

I studied his face while he tried his best to avoid my eyes. His lips were thin and quivered slightly with each drag from his cigarette. His nostrils flared with every breath. His nose was crooked thanks to a break he sustained as a child. He told people it was from a fight he won at age 12; I knew it was actually from running into a sliding glass door when he was 11.

My heart stopped as his eyes came up to meet mine. Why was this so hard? We had spent so many hours together, unable to stop talking even as the bar dozed off around us. Every moment that I spent with him was full of lively conversation and just enough light-hearted banter to make it easy to consider him my best friend. Our relationship was effortless but carried so much weight, and his eyes conveyed that heaviness.

I held his gaze for a few seconds before I looked down, trying to find the bottom of my beer. We were both halfway through our second, and we didn’t seem to be coming up for air anytime soon. We needed the courage. Maybe I needed the courage.

He put out his cigarette and cleared his throat.

"So, this is awkward."

"Right? Why is this so weird? It's just us," I said, hoping this would prompt him to initiate the conversation we both desperately needed to have. I knew as I looked up at him that I had fallen for him and I could only hope that he had done the same.

I remembered meeting him two years ago. I hated him at first. He was cocky without cause, but I quickly grew to appreciate that about him. Even when I beat him in every Backgammon battle, he insisted that each victory came from beginner's luck. As infuriating as it was, we spent all of our free time forming an inseparable bond based on this silly competition. It became clear that we needed to address this once we both found ourselves out of our previous relationships.

He took a sip from his beer and let out a heavy sigh.

"The most important thing is that I don't want to lose you as a friend."

My heart stopped again, this time from the fear that he didn't want anything more than we already had. Doubt overcame every part of me and manifested itself as my mouth opened slowly and my eyes widened. He laughed at my reaction.

"That came out so poorly," he admitted, backtracking to lighten the mood a bit. "I just don’t know how to say this.”

He trailed off, leaving nothing but uncertainty between us.

I reached for one of his cigarettes and he followed suit. We didn't know what else to do in that moment to fill the silence. He lit a match and raised it to me. My cheeks flushed as we looked at each other through the flame. He looked at me the way he always did, but something felt new about his gaze.

“I want more than this,” he murmured. “I want to be more than your friend.” He paused again, struggling to find the right words.

“So, if you want to make a go of it, I’m game.”

“You really know how to woo a girl,” I said eagerly, trying to bring us back to some sense of normalcy. Smoke gathered around us and I asked the question I had been ready to ask the moment I entered the bar.

“What happens now?”

He took another drag from his cigarette and smiled his sly smile. I loved that smile.

“We just take it slow,” he said.

He was right. If we wanted to delicately transition this friendship into something more beautiful, we only needed time.

I told myself we had to take it slow, but I couldn’t resist building our life together in my head. It all worked out perfectly. We would get married and move to Omaha. We would live in a small studio while I worked as a freelance web designer and he went back to grad school. We would wait until I had established my career to have children. We would be happy and we would never fight, just like we never did now.

I tried to bury these hopes for the future and live in this moment. Whatever we build together will be perfect for us. I know it will be. It has to be.
He smiled at me again as he ran his fingers through his hair. His hand stopped at the back of his head as his forearm rested on his crown, exposing the tattoo on the back of his arm. I never really understood why he thought getting the same Viking compass as Björk would go unnoticed by our friends. It didn’t. I swore I would never let him live it down, but seeing it exposed at this moment felt comforting.

Once again, we found ourselves in a silence we didn’t quite know how to break.

“I have to go,” he uttered, his voice trembling. “I have to go before I kiss you and ruin everything.”

I knew he was right to walk away.

I couldn’t bring myself to say anything as he got out of his chair, and I couldn’t stand to watch him leave. Instead, I glanced at our glasses, two empty and two half full, and dreamed of our life together.

Photograph by: Whitney Ott
Written by: Valerie Gleason

Lord Guan's Altar

Posted on: August 5, 2013

“Detective Li, I just got a domestic violence call over at Redemption Towers. The patrol officer in the area is busy following up on an armed robbery. Do you mind watching the front desk while I look into it?”

It was 3:00 AM. It’d been months since Li had requested the shift change, but he was still unaccustomed to his new hours. He was restless, the prospect of manning the intake desk was unappealing. “I’ll take care of it,” he replied.

The Towers were a pair of government-subsidized residential buildings in Western. They were colloquially called Redemption Towers because the aggregate criminal record of its inhabitants rivaled that of Hong Kong island’s entire population. Naturally, the Towers were a hive for triad activity, so domestic violence calls were not unusual. The sidewalks leading to the Towers were swollen and cracked with age—damaged and neglected with no prospect for repair. Li sidestepped the disrepair and ignored the wary glances he received from residents as he made his way up Tower East.

The door to apartment 5B was askew and opened into a small kitchen, where the cabinets had been emptied. A doorway on the right led to the apartment’s sole bedroom. Alice was alone, sitting hunched on a twin-sized bed amidst a sea of debris from what appeared to have been dinner plates. She stared blankly at Li as he tiptoed his way towards her. A fresh bruise was forming on the left side of her swollen face and a streak of dried blood was smeared across her upper lip. She wasn’t crying, nor was there any indication that she had been.

“Let’s get you to the hospital,” Li said. She grabbed her purse and followed him out without a word.

The drive to the hospital was a hushed one and it wasn’t until she came out of the doctor’s office, cleaned and bandaged, that she finally broke her silence in the waiting room where Li was sipping lukewarm coffee.

“Thank you,” she whispered.

Back at the precinct, Alice was cautious in her narrative. Her boyfriend, a low-ranking member of the Three Brothers Triad, had beaten her. He’d discovered that she’d been stealing from him. But that’s where her story stopped—she refused to give up his identity and had no desire to press charges. The silence that Li had previously managed to dispel now persisted.

Alice was staring at a small desktop altar that sat above an old, dusty television in Li’s office.

“Do you believe he protects you?” She was referring to the ceramic icon of Lord Guan, angry and red-faced.

After a pause, Li replied, “No, I’d given up on gods a long time ago. After losing a wife and son to the triads, there’s not much energy left over for faith. That’s why you shouldn’t protect your boyfriend.”

She ignored his admonition. “Ironic isn’t it, Lord Guan, god of war, patron saint to cops and crooks alike. My boyfriend burns incense to him every morning. I’m sure your officers do the same.”

Alice continued, “How’d they die?”


“Your wife and son.”

Li was silent.

“I’m sorry, I shouldn’t pry,” Alice said.

“No, it’s alright. It’s supposed to be healthy to talk about one’s tragedies. My wife was kidnapped and shot—the price she paid for being married to a cop. And my son, well, death isn’t the only way you can lose a loved one to the triads…”

When Li realized he wasn’t going to coax any more out of her about her boyfriend, he drove her home.

It was early afternoon by the time Li’s shift ended. He stopped for dinner at Ang’s House of Curry and a cup of tea at Harmony’s before heading home. He was a regular at both spots. Routine, the doctor said, would help.

At home, he went straight to bed but was unable to fall asleep despite his exhaustion. There was an umbra of stubborn daylight illuminating the heavy curtains he had installed in a futile effort to imitate darkness. As Li lay in the stifling heat of the Hong Kong summer, he wondered if he would ever sleep again. He had changed his work schedule because of sleeplessness, which he attributed to the unbearable silence of the night. He hoped the urban frenzy, which broadcasted itself through his walls, would comfort him by mimicking the sounds his home had lost. It did not.

In his most sleepless moments, his mind wandered. Today, it was Alice. For hours he couldn’t shake the image of her milk-white innocence and fragility and the dark bloodied stains her gangster boyfriend had defiled her with.

Soon, Li was outside Tower East, coffee in hand. It was late afternoon. Sunglasses shielded his bloodshot eyes, burning in the way fatigued eyes do, from the sun. Each time he blinked, Alice’s face flashed before him. Blink. She’s smiling at him teasingly as her loose t-shirt flutters in the breeze. Blink. She’s looking down coyly as she combs her hair back behind her left ear. Blink. Her bare legs move back and forth as she shuffles her feet. Blink.

The air in the stairwell was stagnant. Beads of sweat trickled down Li’s neck and into the collar of his shirt as he made his way up to apartment 5B. The door was unlocked. Alice’s boyfriend was in the kitchen with his back facing the front door. Li heard shuffling in the bedroom—Alice. Blink.

The pistol quivered in his trembling hands as his exhaustion began manifesting itself. He pulled the trigger, striking the boy in his lower back. Alice appeared from the bedroom, letting out a bloodcurdling scream, “NOOOOO!”

As the boy’s legs buckled beneath the weight of his distorting body, he turned, revealing himself to Li. Li’s heart shuddered as he leapt towards the boy, in Alice’s arms now.

Li cried, “Danny? Danny?!”

He had lost his son twice now and there was cold comfort in the fact that he would never lose him again.

Photograph By: Jaemin Riley
Written By: Sam Chow

The Thing About Flying

Posted on: August 1, 2013

So where are you going? Are you going to New York? California? Asia? Africa? Are you going to float down the Seine? Did you just see Before Sunset and now you simply have to take a trip to the old world?

Are you ready for the food? Airplane food is awful unless you’re first class. Are you first class? If so, what’s it like up there? You can recline all the way back, right? Seriously? All the way? I heard they give you an iPad to watch movies on? Any movie you want? You’re not stuck watching the latest Channing Tatum movie with the rest of us?

Now be honest, are you nervous when you see someone of Arab descent on your plane? What does this say about you? Do you go out of your way to NOT feel anything about it? Is that even possible? Do you judge people that DO admit to being nervous about it? Do you think they’re close-minded, or racist, or hillbilly? All of the above? Do other Arab people get nervous when THEY see Arab people boarding their plane? Is it only the white person guilt? Or is it guilt at all? Maybe it’s just being cognizant of the situation. Maybe it’s just being aware. Maybe we can’t stop it even if we try because we watch CNN or MSNBC or FOX NEWS (But never all three) and we’ve all watched that footage, the footage you don’t talk about, footage that is the hardest footage to watch in the whole world. Every single time you see a plane you think about it. The two things are forever linked, stuck together by the cement glue of mankind’s wickedness.

But what are you going to do, right? You can’t drive to the Bahamas. Be realistic. You’re going to have to get on that plane. You’re going to have to get up around 3:30AM and sit through security and then you’ll probably be selected at one time or another and then you’ll be embarrassed and nervous as TSA Brenda gropes you and tells you to take off your belt. Nervous? Why? I don’t know! It’s not like you have anything to hide, right? But what about that little bit of weed you once carried in your backpack during a camping trip? The backpack Brenda is currently digging through. What if a little of that weed fell out of that shitty Tupperware container and it’s sitting in the bottom of your backpack, mixed among lint, a few coins and a broken pen? Goddamnit, they’re really digging through your bag. They’ve taken out your book. They’ve taken out your notebook. THEY’RE LEAFING THROUGH YOUR NOTEBOOK?!?! You make a joke that the only thing they’re going to find in there is poorly constructed short stories, but they look at you like you’re not supposed to speak and you just broke the golden goddamn rule, so they search more frantically and somehow through this whole thing you’ve decided that you do in fact have something to hide. They’ve turned you guilty.

So finally you put your shoes and belt and jacket and hat back on and you promise yourself you’ll never again wear cowboy boots to the airport regardless of how cool you think it makes you look. You take a deep breath and you find the departures board and you need food but FUCK ME THE PLANE IS DELAYED.


You take another deep breath and tell yourself you’re going to get through this. Not for one moment do you forget that you’ve paid $500 for this experience. This is like riding the world’s worst and most expensive rollercoaster. You find your gate and then you learn your fate. You ask Rhonda at the desk why the plane is three hours behind. She tells you it’s actually five hours behind, they just haven’t updated the big board. So you ask why the flight is five hours late. Rhonda curtly tells you that the plane you’re flying on is coming from Seattle. From Seattle it will land here and then from here it will go to Miami and then of course down to the Bahamas. Then she says that the plane has not yet arrived in Seattle. Your face must be doing something strange because Rhonda kind of grimaces and then the bitch actually smiles. So Rhonda, you ask, when does the plane get to Seattle? She says she doesn’t know, the system doesn’t tell her that much. There’s a big fat fucking blind spot in the system and your plane is somewhere in that grey area, like the goddamn Bermuda triangle. You literally say the words, “This is not fair,” and of course there’s a tone because Rhonda looks at you like you’re a fucking child and that phrase means absolutely nothing in the adult English language. That phrase lost its power after your tenth birthday party at putt-putt. You try to remember the last time you had a good cry, just really let it out.

So after three hours and two ten-dollar tacos that are so bad you have to throw the second one out after one bite, you head to the bookstore. You end up buying the new Dan Brown book for a small fortune even though you loathe Dan Brown AND his buddy Robert Langdon. Something has happened to you in this airport, you’ve turned into this walking, crying, bearded baby that spends too much money and gives zero fucks. You believe you dodged a bullet by not walking out with 50 Shades of Grey. You’ve lost total control.

Finally, you’re up and waiting. Group 2. You foolishly think this means you’re the second group to board, however you quickly learn it’s actually eighth to board after first class, rewards members, military people, old people, disabled people, people with babies, people with only one bag, and then finally, Group 2. You have to beast through the loitering Group 3 and Group 4 people, bumping into them, and they look at you with angry eyes because they know and you know that you’re going to take their space in the overhead bins. You smile.

Now you’re in the plane, in your seat. You think you’re all set. You’ve got a phone that’s dead, you’ve got a computer that you can’t open, you’ve got a Dan Brown book that you’re going to have to hate-read to get through. Eventually, you’ll get to the Bahamas and the beach and the fruity drinks and the sunburn. But first, a woman sits next to you. A big woman. A woman that looks at you and smiles and then says exactly what you thought she was going to say. She tells you that you remind her of her son. You smile, put on your headphones that are connected to your dead cell, and lean back and close your eyes. You think you’re safe until she taps on you on the shoulder and kind of leans in and asks the stupidest fucking question anyone has ever asked on a plane, and it’s worse because you knew it was coming.

She smiles, she leans, and she asks, “So… where are you going?”

Photograph By: Emily Blincoe
Written By: Logan Theissen

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