The Tour

Posted on: May 29, 2014

“This is it,” he says, opening the bedroom door. He flips on the light switch and steps out of the way, allowing me to move into the room. A small twin-sized bed is pushed against the wall, with a plaid comforter tucked military-style around the corners of the mattress. The room is bare—as if someone never slept in it. The mirror is clean and unblemished. A single comb and a tray of coins rests on the dresser. No photographs on the night stand. I turn to look at him. He shrugs, leaning against the door frame.

“This is my room.” He flicks off the light switch and nods toward the hallway. “The tour doesn't end here.”

We walk past the kitchen, and I notice a rotary phone mounted on the wall. “No one has those phones anymore,” I say, immediately regretting it. It’s as fixed as he is.

He leads me to the back of the house, toward a wall of tall, wide windows facing the back yard. The tree line is deep, and after sunset, the houses in the distance fade from view. The overhead lights cast our reflection on the windows. We look spectral. I see myself in the reflection, see this ghost woman move as I move. She sits down nervously on the sofa, and a man sits next to her, polite, and afraid to move.

My ghost self looks so calm and womanly, but I feel so small sitting in front of him for inspection. I can feel him wrestling with age and time and space all at once. He frowns.

He pulls a photo out of a book resting on the coffee table. The photo is cropped and faded. A young man sits on a picnic bench at a wooded campsite. His long, tan legs stretch out like tree limbs from his khaki shorts. He wears a bright blue collared shirt that pops against the green background. The young man's hair is thick and dark, pushed to the side of his face. A new beard grows around his giant grin.

“I wish you met this man,” he says.

We both wish a lot of things: that we aren’t forty years apart, that I am not just a young girl trying out womanhood, that he wasn’t married to the wrong woman for the last thirty-five years. We have a lot to wish for, and nothing can change.

I feel heavy, like I am starting to drift underwater. He is talking to me, but he feels far away. I can see the current pulling the ghost in the window down. I see her body start leaning toward the floor, and I realize I am falling into his lap. Those lean knees from the photo are no longer there, but instead they are knotted and gray like roots. I feel my heavy head drop to rest on his thighs.

I want to tell him that our situation isn’t real, couldn’t be real. Earlier, when he had come to pick me up, we stood in my kitchen. I was barefoot, my high heels strewn aside. I struggled with a bottle of wine, chipping my front tooth as I tried to pry the cracked and broken cork out of the neck. New to wine, I drank too quickly, choking down something more bitter than I'd expected. I was afraid for this man to look into my home, to see my childhood relics.

Would he notice the photos of friends on the fridge? Would he notice my diploma framed on the wall? The cat toys and women's magazines littering the living room? I thought of these things as marks of my new independence, but as his eyes moved around my kitchen, I felt young.

Now the wine from earlier catches up with me. All my nerves reveal themselves once more. I run my tongue along my front tooth, feeling the new jagged edge where it chipped. I lift my head, overwhelmed and too warm. I can’t see the ghost in the window anymore. Pulling myself from the couch, I stumble down the hall and toward the bathroom he showed me earlier. The bathroom he said belonged to his wife.

I lock the door behind me, hearing a rattle against the door. I look up to see hooks, each one shining with long strands of necklaces. I stand there, my feet sweating through my stockings. I peel off my tights and absorb the coolness of the tiles. I pull a long strand of beads from the hook, running my fingers over each section like a rosary. How many sins am I committing by being in this woman's home? How many sins am I committing by tempting this married man? What am I doing here?

The swirling in my head returns, and I drop the necklace, lowering myself to my knees and bowing my head over the toilet to vomit. I try to keep quiet. The wine is too much.

I flush the toilet, close the seat, and pull myself up against the counter. Opening drawers, I poke around looking for mouthwash or breath mints—something to take it all away. I pick through toothbrushes and combs and make-up. I find an old tube of lipstick; it looks familiar, one that maybe my own mother might have used. The dust on the cap leads me to believe it hasn't been touched in a while.

The ghost woman catches my eye in the mirror. She is pale but not sickly, but she looks tired, or is she older? I lean toward the mirror and pinch my cheeks—an old trick to add color to my face. I smooth the lipstick onto my lips, blending the color by rubbing my lips together. I reach for the necklace on the floor and wrap it around my neck twice. I clear my throat, inhale and walk out of the bathroom and into the den.

“Are you okay?” He stands up from the sofa, still holding the photo.

“Fine,” I answer, walking toward him.

“That's a beautiful color,” he says. “I've never seen anything like it.”

Written by: Whitney G. Schultz
Photograph by: Emily Blincoe

Before the Sun Sets

Posted on: May 27, 2014

The text notification light on her phone blinked brightly. Grace must’ve slept through the familiar ping ping sound it made.

did u hear aaron from hs was killed last week?

Grace had to flip through her mental yearbook. Aaron Crawford? That was the only Aaron she could recall.

what happened??

She stretched and browsed her emails while she waited for a response.

botched burglary apparently

How terrible, Grace thought. For a moment she felt her heart drop and she thought she might cry, but she didn't and got up to get ready for work instead.

As she idled on the subway platform, memories of Aaron came to her in snapshots. There wasn’t enough to draw from for Grace to create a more animated memory of him. It was always a static image. And yet, she did recall he was plain looking, but not unattractive. He was also tall, and broad-shouldered, and Grace wondered how big the burglar must’ve been in order to have taken Aaron down.

Grace lifted her hand as her train grinded by. The loud screeching of metal against metal seemed distant, though it wasn’t. Stainless steel, glass, and light blurred by less than a foot away from her. Her hand hovered gently over the speeding train, garnering wayward glances from her fellow commuters who unconsciously shuffled back.

The veil of life is thin.

The crowded train jostled her against the wall of warm bodies that surrounded her, forcing a physical intimacy she rarely shared even with her closest friends and family.

How many people on this car are carrying knives? Or anything sharp for that matter?

She caught the eye of the man sitting in front of her and imagined what it would be like if he were to stab her at that moment. There was nothing she could do to prevent it. Grace shook away the dark thought as she pulled her leather bag tightly against her chest.

At her desk, Grace sipped her latte. She barely remembered waiting in line at the coffee shop downstairs or the barista from whom she ordered her drink. It had all become part of her daily routine, her life had become one big reaction, and she knew it. But she accepted it without a fight. This was life. She saved up her money, looking forward to her vacations and occasional shopping sprees.

It’s enough to be alive.

She logged onto Facebook as she did every morning, browsing the generally mundane happenings of every person that had grazed her life. The top posts were all remembrances on Aaron’s Facebook wall. She hadn’t even realized they were friends on the social networking site.

She scrolled through the litany of messages -- “we will miss you” and “you’re in heaven now” and so on and so forth. And she clicked on the text box to type her own message to the ghost of Aaron’s Facebook profile page. As she paused to consider what she would say, staring blankly at the blinking cursor, she realized how inappropriate anything she could say would be.

Who am I to be sad?

And as Grace doubted her right to that emotion – the emotion she felt was reserved for Aaron’s friends, his family, not his acquaintances, not strangers – she questioned whether she was sad at all.

Her day proceeded as it always had, but Grace couldn’t shake the feeling that it had turned into a murmur of itself. Snapshots of Aaron continued to come to mind at random intervals, even when she thought she had finally forgotten about the whole ordeal. It was around noon when she realized she wasn’t remembering Aaron at all. She was remembering photographs of Aaron, actual photographs of him that she had probably seen online, posted by mutual friends.

Had we even known each other?

Her workday ended around five. It was still light out as she left her office building.

How was your day? Someone would ask.

Same old, nothing new. Grace would respond, but then she would realize and continue, Well, Aaron died.

With a great deal of concern, Someone would ask, Who’s Aaron?

She would hesitate before replying, I’m not sure, but we went to school together.

Grace wasn’t certain where she was going, but her stop on the Upper East Side came and went, and yet she rode on. It was only after the train came above ground – a curiosity primarily of the outer boroughs ­– that Grace realized she was on her way to her old Forest Hills neighborhood. It was bucolic for an urban suburb, with its heavily tree-lined streets and unusual quiet. She hadn’t been back since she went off to college almost ten years ago. Her parents moved out soon after she left, and most of her close friends migrated into the city proper. There had been no reason for her to return. Yet, as she got off the 75th Avenue station, she navigated through the streets as if she had never left. Grace found herself unexpectedly in front of a house she recognized, but not her own.

This is where the Crawfords lived.

It was getting dark now, the streetlights were clicking on. She had never really forgotten about that sky blue house with its bright red door. She only needed to be reminded. Grace wondered if Aaron’s parents still lived there and imagined that they did.

It was early spring. The trees had just begun to sprout their new leaves. Some leaves had already fallen, still green, but separated now from their only source of life. For the first time that day, a paralyzing sadness and anger overwhelmed her. She still wasn’t certain if those emotions were for Aaron.

Written by: Sam Chow
Photograph by: Daniel Vidal

Arbor Day

Posted on: May 22, 2014

On her last night in their little house, Allison stared out the back window, her eyes straining against the fading light.

The sun never really set in this little pocket of the New Hampshire woods. There was none of the pomp, none of the grandiosity, that accompanied the end of the day like it does in other places. The sun would just quietly slip behind the multitude of trees as the day passed from light to dark with only a brief foray into dim.

It used to be the only thing she missed, the one tiny imperfection in her otherwise story-book existence, until the trees took something far more important than a sunset.

Ever since their chance meeting at college, Allison said that she would gladly follow Jack to the ends of the Earth. When he found a teaching position at his alma mater, she proved it, moving with him to the tiny little hamlet in the White Mountains where he had grown up.

It was early spring when they bought their house, a little cabin nestled in shadow of the surrounding peaks. The house itself sat at the end of a mile long driveway, in a dense grove of stout, deciduous hardwoods. The thicket tapered off and gave way to a maze of spindly white pines and other evergreens as you climbed towards the ridge. She was mesmerized by the raw beauty of this untamed environment.

The isolation did not frighten her; in a way, it was a comfort. The University of Denver had taught her that she was not suited for the hustle and bustle of city life, and the quiet solitude reminded her of her family’s farm in Nebraska.

Except for the trees. Never had she seen so many trees.

While Jack was teaching, Allison spent her time on her own education; she devoured books on the indigenous flora, meandered through the woods, waded in the marshes, forded little brooks and climbed boulders. She reveled in her new world, learning its secrets.

On weekends, they would explore together. She would run from tree to tree, touching them, telling him of the wonders she had learned. Relishing her enthusiasm, he would flash his quiet smile and listen to her expound on the minutiae that differentiated the sugar maple from the black maple, or the white ash from the red.

Spring turned to summer, the world transformed from buds and blossoms into a great green mass, breathing and teeming with life. School was out. They had each other’s company all day, everyday. They made their own swimming hole by building a small dam on one of the little streams that danced through their property. Naked and alone, Allison and Jack splashed around, getting some relief from the heat and making some of their own. They screened in their porch and slept outside every night, serenaded by the lullabies that the woods provided.

And just as quickly as it came, summer was gone. The days got shorter and the nights turned cool. Jack was back to grading homework and preparing lesson plans. They moved their bed back inside and watched in wonder as Mother Nature got dressed in her autumn finery. For Allison, it was a revelation, an explosion of color the likes of which she had never seen, or even contemplated. She rambled through the woods, exulting in the myriad of reds, oranges and yellows. She danced under the trees as they dropped their leaves, like a child splashing about in the rain.

The first snow of winter was mild, a white dusting on the skeletal remains of the trees. Soon the entire world was blanketed with a thick layer of snow. But even this could not temper her passion for her surroundings. She ventured out some mornings, snowshoes strapped to her feet, marvelling in the silence that only winter can bring. But many days she was just as happy to stay inside, keeping their house cozy and warm, cooking hearty soups and stews on the old wood stove. She felt as if they were insulated from all of the harsh realities of the world, enveloped in their own little cocoon.

But no one is ever safe from the world.

Without power and phone, she had clung to the hope that Jack had ridden out the ice storm at school, or with his parents. But it wasn’t just the power and phone lines that came down. All over the state, thousands of majestic, towering trees, ensconced in a thick cuff of ice, had buckled under the added weight and crashed down, crushing whatever, or whoever, was in their wake.

It took two days for her to find out.

Warm and consoling, Jack’s family tried to convince her to stay after his death. Allison didn’t know what sounded worse, continuing on without him or leaving their home behind, so she tried to stay. She tried to pretend that she was okay, tried to pretend that the seclusion she had so loved wasn’t turning into desolation and despair. She made it four months.

In the end it was the trees that drove her away. The woods, once so inviting, now made her claustrophobic, straining for breath. The fitful bits of sleep she managed to get were littered with nightmares of the forest coming alive; the branches grabbing her, choking her, trying to swallow her whole.

She couldn’t leave the house that last night. She finished packing and found herself gazing out the windows, memorizing, remembering. The sunlight disappeared but she continued to stare, not stopping until the view of outside was replaced by her own reflection.


Allison smiled at the approaching sign.

                                                                                        The Good Life
                                                                                    Home of Arbor Day

Interstate 80 unfurled before her, a ribbon of blacktop that stretched as far as she could see. The horizon beckoned in every direction, unobstructed except for a few cottonwoods far off into the distance. The setting sun dipped behind the clouds, illuminating the skyline with a subtle pinks and purples. She rolled down the windows and took a deep breath. She scanned through the radio station, stopping on the classic rock station just in time to hear Janis Joplin belting out “Me & Bobby McGee” in her unmistakable boozy, bluesy drawl.

“Freedom’s just another word for nothin’ left to lose, and nothin’, thats all that Bobby left me.”

“Amen, sister,” she said as she wiped the tears from her cheeks. “At least we’re free.”

Written by: Ben Cook
Photograph by: Emily Blincoe

The Submarine Life of Cacti

Posted on: May 20, 2014

I am seeing cacti everywhere these days: an Instagram feed, foregrounding the frames of the TV show, Breaking Bad – and finally, in a sunlit glasshouse at the Phipps Conservatory, Pittsburgh. I should perhaps now amend my statement; it was after my memorable encounter with them at Phipps that I have begun to notice them everywhere.

Having explored room after room of luxuriant, almost obscenely green, tropical bushes and trees, it was somewhat a relief to encounter the cacti's austere beauty in the Conservatory's Cactus Room. And even though I had wholeheartedly admired the bonsai trees' micro perfection, the iridescent orchids, and the cocoa tree with its fat gold pods, embryonic chocolate bars nestled within them, I could not help thinking afterwards that the Cactus Room was undoubtedly my favorite one.

I wonder if it is because it appeals to my inner desert girl. Until recently, I grew up and lived in Muscat, Sultanate of Oman; the majority of its terrain is indeed a textbook dune desert, although I happened to live upon the fringes of its gravel desert. There are no cacti in Oman, but the flora is similar: minimal leaves, spare sculpted bodies, and a tenacious will to survive. Incidentally, desert also inhabits my bloodline: I belong to Rajasthan, India, which too is a desert and whose landscape does happen to be dotted with spiny, gray-green cacti. This combination of genes and happenstance probably explains my simultaneous inclination for both maximalism and minimalism; having been surrounded by minimalist landscapes, I naturally gravitate towards a pared down beauty and - yet, also occasionally and intensely crave fertile, lush bursts of color and texture.

As I roamed through the Cactus Room, I could not help but think about my first encounter with them when I was thirteen years old. It was during a pan-American trip, involving a detour through Arizona. After weeks of witnessing the glorious summer green, I felt as if I was meeting a familiar friend as the coach trundled through the desert: I thirstily absorbed the arid, fantastical wind-eroded rocks, the cerulean blue skies, and the garden of cacti. Even if the cacti themselves were unfamiliar, they looked familiar simply by the virtue of inhabiting a similar looking landscape. And in the Cactus Room, as I examined with interest this desert in miniature, admiring a succulent cheekily masquerading as a flower in bloom, I realized that these transplanted cacti had transplanted me back home...once again.

As I photographed the cacti – round and spiny, long and tapering - I idly imagined I had wandered into a fossilized ocean, the water long having receded and left behind these specimens in its wake. When I was a child, I would often go rock collecting in Oman, which is widely recognised to be a vast geological garden of sorts. As I sorted through the rocks, I would often discover ones bearing imprints of fossilized shells or plants or marine organisms: I realized that I was literally standing on an ancient sea-bed, the ocean having vanished millions of years ago as a result of plate tectonics choreography. For years, the rocks I collected accumulated in a corner of my backyard, becoming a pyramid of sorts; however, although even when my rock mania died and the pyramid disintegrated, I never forgot about those submarine fossils.

A few weeks ago, I had gone snorkeling for the first time in the waters of Florida Keys. I had swum just beneath the surface of its brilliant blue waters, cobalt blue and yellow-hued fish inches away from my face and peering down at the fecund coral garden blooming below. Growing up in Oman and regularly haunting its numerous beaches, the sea and the beach had always called out to me, defining me in a way that no landscape ever could. Even if I lived in the desert, I yearned for the sea. And yet, for all those years of frequenting the ocean, this was the first time that I had actually explored the depths of its interiors, seen and swam with its creatures and – understood it. The essence of the ocean was ultimately this submarine theater. And it was an ocean continents away that taught me that.

Standing in the Cactus Room, I felt a similar sensation to that of snorkeling beneath the ocean. After years of living in the desert, I had merely begun to see it as the desert, rather than composed of a mosaic of eccentric, intriguing characters and elements. But this is the thing about leaving home: you can only begin to define home once you have left it. Reflecting on the multiple homes that I had inhabited: Australia, India, Oman, United Kingdom and America, by way of birth or heritage or education or marriage, each journey and the subsequent new place I called home led to constant recalibrating of what home represented to me. Home, I realized, was no longer just a set of coordinates on a map: it was a sensation, elusive and ephemeral as a scent but just as palpable and memorable.

Here, in a doll-house desert transplanted in a glasshouse surrounded by an arctic Pittsburgh winter, I was conjuring up home: the desert as the ocean or vice versa. As I saw and experienced it, the two landscapes most familiar and dear to me had perfectly mashed in the cactus room at the Phipps Conservatory. As I walked around, soaking in this submarine and subterranean theater, I felt at home.

My wanderings in the Cactus Room brought me to an enormous yellow and green striped succulent and vibrantly hued, spiny cacti surrounding it. In my vision, it metamorphosed into a mutated octopus reigning over the ocean-floor: it looked as if it was in deep slumber with its sea-urchins and coral courtiers protectively guarding it. I knelt down, took its picture, and then left - lest it woke.

Photograph and Words by: Priyanka Sacheti


Posted on: May 15, 2014

Items confiscated from a Fairy-American arrested for fixed-gear biking under the influence of gluten-free alcohol. Jaemin Riley, The Disassociated Press
If you're not sure, think it silly, or are one of those individuals who's been rigorously tuned by scientific reason and deductive logic to dismiss those things which might be called “magic” or “mystic,” then this account may not be for you. But if you give me a chance, I may convince you that fairies do exist.

Our concept of fairies, like so many things deemed magical, has become warped and disfigured over time. The horrendous actions of fairies have been skewed by fiction writers of the past and present to conceal their true, fiendish nature. For example, Tinkaret, or Tinker Bell, the mad kidnapper of lost children; or SiĆ³g na bhfiacla (original Gaelic), The Tooth Fairy, clepto connoisseur of human molars and bicuspids. These new characterizations were created primarily to ease the integration of dwarf folk into society after the great dwarf massacres of 1609, which is interesting because dwarves aren't necessarily magical and fairies aren't necessarily small. However, the kind portrayal has had more ill effects than good as many dwarves are forced to work demeaning holiday and birthday performance jobs. Recently, a resurgence in distrust and fear of the dwarfish folk has been fueled by Peter Dinklage's role in the television series “Game of Thrones.” Many dwarves have deemed his performance incredibly empowering. That will be the only mention of the series, hand to God.

Fairies, or “good people” as the Irish refer to them, originate from the Celtic Islands – Ireland primarily. The Irish call fairies the "good people" because they're absolutely terrified of pissing them off. Fairies are spiteful little monsters. According to Irish historical documents, fairies have been known to cripple, maim, and curse for the most insignificant of transgressions. They mock families who have lost infant children, they torture the elderly for watering their flowers too heavily, and they've even killed a few people. Fairies, the real ones, are no joke. Some believe that the confusingly adorable, sarcastic character of the Irish evolved from being forced to cope with the surreal circumstances of living every waking moment in fear of offending these action-figure-sized (though not necessarily) beings who exist beyond the realm of normal observation. Such a life would drive anyone to drink, and probably worse, but the Irish are a resilient and clever people.

In recent years, reports of fairy-caused chaos are scarce. Fairies have seemingly disappeared, and are known contemporarily as cute, miniature angels that make orphan dreams come true. Though, every so often you hear of an individual who has suffered stranger-than-fiction tragedies for no apparent reason - obvious fairy meddling (not debatable). According to some, the long time lack of fairy meddling is due to the majority of fairies attempting to assimilate into common society. I wouldn't claim to understand the how and why of it, but I suppose such is the nature of magic – unfathomable, and certainly unfalsifiable.

Before discussing fairy integration, some fairy characteristics:

C1. Fairies are extremely territorial. This includes music, culture, and geographical locations.

C2. Fairies enjoy mocking mortal culture, but one should never mock theirs - hypocrites.

C3. Fairies do not handle criticism well, i.e., “fairies are not wrong, ever.” - every fairy.

C4. Fairies dress funny. Funny hats, goofy shoes, fairies just look funny, which is why it is often difficult to take them seriously.

1958, Bobby Fischer wins the United States Chess Championship, and the robust melting pot that is the United States is beginning to find some semblance of harmony – a suitable environment for fairy integration ground zero. The first attempt, a child prodigy named Theodore Kaczynski, is accepted to Harvard at the age of 16. Ted excelled in the field of mathematics and would even go on to teach at the University of California, Berkeley. Ted, the first man-adapted fairy, was to be a success, but then things went terribly wrong. Like some inverted Frankensteinian experiment, Ted suddenly went rogue on society. Ted, or the "Unabomber" as he will be forever remembered, was eventually captured, and the inherent anti-social nature of fairies would eventually be numbed via better cultural acclimation programs, but the first fairy-humanity merging attempt was, by all accounts, a tremendous failure. Luckily, only a few people lost their lives. In response to these events, the Fairy Federal Emergency Management Agency (FFEMA), a secret sub-agency of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), was created specifically to manage fairy-caused chaos. The agency consists of two middle-aged men who write a great deal of Tolkien fan fiction.

By the 1990's, fairies were starting to find their footing. The punk/grunge “scene” provided the perfect environment for new Fairy-American citizens to begin anew. Fairy-Americans found camaraderie and comfort in the new anti-establishment movement, and they've been here ever since.

Today, we know Fairy-Americans as Hipsters. Yep, that's where they came from, and all of that Kerouac, hip cat, jazzy bullshit had nothing to do with it. Are all hipsters assimilated magical creatures? Of course not. Some of them are just posers, or remnants from that great time in the 90's, but they all fit that fairy character mold pretty snugly. Though, if you're not sure if your company is fae or mortal, try the following: Abruptly interrupt the potential candidate dressed in a vintage care bear t-shirt, suspenders, lensless specs and a unicorn stickered fedora (C4) who is probably carrying most, if not all, of the items above, and is uninformatively discussing, a place/band/activity you've never heard of (C1) by asking, "What's so great about it?" When they mock you for not knowing, and begin their tired diatribe against mainstream culture (C2), calmly claim, "That is utter horse shit." Now, right before they snap back at you with rants concerning your ignorance and irrelevant allusions to works and authors they've read about on Wikipedia (C3), yell, "Fairies don't exist!" And slam your beverage down on a hard surface three times fast. They will either shrivel up and die, or wander off in a confused state of horror. Regardless, terrible conversation ended. Cheers.

Written by: Hunter Hirsch
Photograph by: Jaemin Riley

Law 203B

Posted on: May 13, 2014

My wife thought I was joking when I told her I had killed someone once.

“You’re such a shit. You did not!” she said with a smile, taking another sip of her wine.

“I did.” I said, no smile on my face.

We went back and forth like this a few times, her laughter growing more apprehensive each round.

“Alright,” she began. “If you did kill a guy, then how’d you do it?”

“You really want to know?”

She nodded.

“Well,” I said. “I stabbed him. Here… Here… And here.” I pointed to my stomach, heart and throat. “Are you sure you want to hear this?”

“Yes, I really, really do,” she said. Her smile had long since disappeared, her face flooded with concern. Should she fear me, or should she love me? Couldn’t she do both? These were questions her mind couldn’t answer. Or maybe it could but was too afraid to do so. 

“Okay…” I said, drawing in a deep breath. “First I stabbed him in the heart, then the stomach.” I paused to take a sip of my whiskey. “Then I cut open his throat.” I felt I had said too much at this point, but that’s what happens when you have almost four glasses of Knob Creek coursing through your veins.

She still wasn’t convinced I had actually killed somebody. But at the same time, she wasn’t convinced I hadn’t killed someone either. She gulped the rest of her wine, eager to refill her glass. I followed her lead and downed the rest of my whiskey.

As the alcohol made our minds heavy and dull, I continued telling my wife about the man I’d killed. I was twenty-three at the time, fresh out of college and living on my own along a small highway north of Lawrenceville. The man had knocked on the door of the house I was renting.

“I’m sorry to bother you,” he said. “But would you be able to give me a lift to the gas station? I ran out about a mile back.”

I couldn’t place my finger on it, but there was something about him that made me feel uneasy. His words weren’t genuine, and when he spoke, he filled the space between us with ill intention as thick and sticky as the air on a hot, humid day.

“Sure,” I said. “Let me just grab my keys.”

I came back to the door. The man wedged his boot into the doorframe and had a gun drawn. “Give me your keys,” he said. Up until that point, I had never been in a fight in my life, but at that moment, something inside me took over like a set of instructions my body had to obey. The next thing I remembered was looking down and seeing the man’s lifeless body lying in a pool of his own blood. His name, as the cops told me, was Robert Sanderson, a local meth head.

“I know this was self defense,” the police officer said. “Ain’t no doubt about that, but the way you killed this man… Looks like you really knew what you were doing here.”

After that night, my wife was cold and distant. She only said the bare minimum and came up with excuses that kept her away from the house as long as possible. I didn’t know if she was afraid of me or angry.

“What’s going on?” I asked over dinner one night. “Are you mad at me for what I said the other night?”

She didn’t answer, just stared down at her plate, nuzzling her food with her fork.

“Well?” I said, my voice swelling with anger.

Finally she said, “I want you to get the test.”

The killing gene test was developed five years ago by a scientist named Dr. Alex Sherman. One small drop of blood could easily identify if someone carried what Dr. Sherman called the killing gene. If you had it, it meant you were hardwired to become a killer, and the evidence supporting his research was overwhelming. And by overwhelming, I mean one hundred percent accurate. At first Dr. Sherman’s discovery was controversial, but pretty soon politicians began using it as part of their political platforms. This lead to the passing of Law 203B, or as it was more popularly referred to: the Killing Gene Law. The law required the pre-emptive arrest of anyone testing positive, even newborns. Once arrested, carriers were sent to specially designed prisons the press had dubbed Killer Camp. There are lots of theories surrounding what goes on at these camps, but no one knows for sure. Despite all this, the public still embraced the law.

“You can’t be serious!” I said. “I killed that man out of self-defense, and you know it.”

“I have to know,” my wife said. “I’m scared.”

As she finished her words, the world around me became fuzzy. My thoughts were suddenly mangled and confused. My body felt heavy and clumsy. And then everything went dark. I woke up a few hours later, tied to a dining room chair. My father-in-law was there. I assumed she was the one who tied me up.

“Candice told me everything,” he said. “We just have to make sure you’re not one of them. You understand, right?”

I didn’t say anything. I was too angry.

“The cops will be here in a few minutes,” he continued.

“Where is Candice?” I asked.

“She’s with her mother. Said she can’t come back until she knows she’s safe.”

During my third day at the Lawrence County Jail, an older doctor visited my cell late in the afternoon. With him were two police officers and a man wearing a suit, a lawyer I assumed.

Without any greeting, he jumped right into it, “I’m afraid you have the killing gene.”

“You’ll be transferred to killer camp in the morning,” one of the officers told me as he walked off, grinning sadistically.

Written by: Michael Williams
Photograph by: Whitney Ott

Tequila Sunrise

Posted on: May 8, 2014

“I am so goddamned hungover,” Nicole moans.

The thin queen mattress shudders from her restlessness, and Cheyenne groans in response. “Ohmigod, were you still asleep? I thought you were awake!”

“Mmmph,” Cheyenne manages.

She feels Nicole wiggle closer, her body heat radiating through a thin camisole. Nicole’s body brushes against hers and Cheyenne blushes. She wants to roll over and cup Nicole’s round face in her hands, kiss her and say, “I have been madly in love with you since orientation.”

Cheyenne swallows the words before they can escape. Along with their bitterness, she tastes stale tequila and beer. The room smells like old vomit and sweat, and Cheyenne concentrates on keeping her stomach settled. The fantasy yields to a more practical reality: sobriety.

Small miracle, Cheyenne thinks when she sees the dark shades drawn. The light might repel too many shadows and illuminate too many secrets, like desire, hunger, and lust.

“I think I’m still drunk,” Cheyenne croaks. The room spins around her and she closes her eyes.

“Lucky,” Nicole pokes Cheyenne in the ribs. “You can still fight it off.”


“The hangover,” Cheyenne doesn’t need to open her eyes to know Nicole is rolling hers.

“I thought that was like, an urban legend.”

“Think of it as an experiment. When people ask us what we did on spring break, we can tell them we hypothesized some metabolic shit.”

Nicole doesn’t know a lot about science, but she does know booze.

Cheyenne rolls out of the thin bed they share and stumbles toward the dresser, decorated with carved initials and school slogans by previous budget-conscious occupants.

“I would drink a gallon of water if I could,” Nicole continues from the bed.

“Is it gallons here?” Cheyenne paws through the drawer until she finds the tiny plastic bottle. She shakes it, and the rattle comforts and torments.

“Why wouldn’t it be?” Nicole asks.

“Metric system, right?” Cheyenne shoves the chair away from the mini fridge. The door swings open, and the bottle of water in front of her seems to glow.

“I don’t remember any of that,” Nicole pauses, “but whatever. I would drink a metric fuckton of water if I could.”

“Let me take these and you can have some,” Cheyenne pops three Advil into her mouth and takes a huge swig of water.

The burn hits her tongue first. When the artificial cotton candy flavor registers, she coughs vodka everywhere.

“Was that the vodka?” Nicole laughs.

Cheyenne looks over and Nicole’s camisole has shifted. The neckline is low, too low, and Cheyenne sees more of her left breast, the shape and tint of a nipple. She no longer thinks of sobriety. Fantasies conquer her concentration.

The night before takes advantage of this lapse.

The cloying sweetness of the cotton candy and the burn of the vodka commingle with the stagnant taste of old alcohol. The rush of sickness overwhelms her, and Cheyenne scrambles over a haphazard tower of luggage and a pile of skintight dresses and heels.

After excavating water bottles from the luggage and binge-eating their granola bar stash, Nicole and Cheyenne clean up and escape the hotel room. The sun is too bright, and Cheyenne worries that she didn’t apply enough sunscreen. Her pale peach skin has a reddish tint to it. Nicole’s skin shimmers bronze, contrasting with a microscopic turquoise bikini and oversized white cotton shirt. Cheyenne risks a glance at her cleavage.

Nicole angles a floppy hat over straight dark hair. Paired with the shirt and an obnoxious scarf tied around her thin waist, Nicole looks like a sexy pirate.

“Beach or resort pool?” Nicole asks.

“Beach is cheaper,” Cheyenne says.

“And creepier. I bet those Sig guys we met last night will be at the resort.”

Cheyenne doesn’t want to ask. Admitting she blacked out is embarrassing. The thought of hearing about some hot dudes Nicole wants to flirt with makes Cheyenne cringe.

When they enter the lobby, Nicole glides over to a couple of guys sitting in wicker chairs next to a pink marble column. She perches on the arm of one chair. Its occupant strokes her thigh with disturbing familiarity.

“Feeling okay, Cheyenne?” The other man stands up and offers her his chair.

“Sure, I guess,” Cheyenne says. The guy has a face like a ferret and disproportionately small hands. Cheyenne remains where she is and stifles a laugh.

“Spring break, right?” The guy shrugs his shoulders. “I don’t want to assume anything, but just in case - I’m Adrian and this is Tyler.”

Tyler gives a thumbs-up without looking over. Nicole monopolizes his attention, and he hers.

“Nice to meet you - again,” Cheyenne runs a hand through her long black hair and offers Adrian a wan smile.

“We were gonna lounge by the pool for the afternoon,” Nicole chirps. “Wanna join?”

“We’ll get changed and meet you there,” Adrian responds. “There’s a bar in the pool. I’ll take a margarita if you’re up for splitting it, or cerveza if you aren’t.”

Adrian pronounces it “cerveeeza” and Cheyenne wants to punch him.

“Aren’t they great?” Nicole gushes at the pool. Cheyenne leaves Nicole with her tanning lotion, which smells like lighter fluid and cinnamon. Less sexy, more pirate, Cheyenne thinks.

“I’ll be at the bar,” Cheyenne gags. She adjusts the waistband of her bikini so the tiny Greek letters on her hipbone peek out.

Cheyenne wades into the lukewarm pool and orders a Dark & Stormy. She leans against the counter and brainstorms ways to salvage spring break with Nicole and ditch the frat boys.

“You’re in Kappa?” Slender fingers graze Cheyenne’s hip, then linger. A petite Asian girl with a choppy red bob inspects her tattoo. The girl raises her arm and displays an elaborate one of her own, complete with the same Greek letters. “Hurt like a bitch on my ribcage, but it makes me feel so badass. I’m Whitney.”

“Cheyenne,” Cheyenne traces the interwoven knots down Whitney’s side. They are linked by their sorority tattoos and their inability to stop touching them.

“Tequila sunrise, please,” Whitney’s fingers brush against the length of Cheyenne’s stomach as she turns to the bartender. Both women know it is not an accident.

“You know what? Make that two,” Cheyenne smiles.

Written by: Erin Justice
Photograph by: Hannah Chertock

Ashes to Ashes, Rust to Rust

Posted on: May 6, 2014

She hated me from the start, and I felt much the same. I saw the way he looked at her, with her poodle skirts and her perky tits. I saw the smile in his eyes when she came to take his order and the way her phony little laugh made his cheeks turn the color of the strawberry milkshakes that she seductively delivered.

There had been plenty of other girls before, but nothing like this, nothing this serious. None of those girls, even the ones who helped him fog up my windows while parked at ‘the point’, had ever made him act this way. None had made his palms positively drip by flashing a simple smile.

But what he didn’t understand was that it wasn’t him she loved, it was the idea of him. With his James Dean looks and his rich parents and his quiet amiable ways, he made quite the trophy, the ultimate prize for a girl yearning for power and control.

He didn’t see her eye rolls when he wasn’t looking. He couldn’t hear the way she talked about him with her girlfriends when he wasn’t around, when they would giggle about how he had so much ‘potential’ and how easy he would be to change.

Blinded by her beauty, he couldn’t see the beast.

And I couldn’t tell him; it just didn’t work that way.

I’ll never forget what he said the first time he saw me.

“Wow, she’s perfect... Her body is in terrific shape… What is she, a ’41?”

The salesman nodded affirmatively.

“Straight eight?”


“How many horses?”

“115. With some work you could probably ratchet that up to 130. She’s plenty fast as she is though.”

“How many miles on her?”

“That’s the best part, the couple who just traded her in were the original owners, and they didn’t drive much. She’s got just over fifty thousand on her.”

“Fifty thousand miles? That’s it? In fifteen years?”

“Yup. You wanna take her for a test drive?”

“Oh yeah.”

He turned the key. We both knew. My days of languishing in a garage were over.

The first changes he made were subtle and small, the type of ornamentation that matters when you’re seventeen years old. He drilled out an eight ball for a shifter knob. He drilled dice to top the door locks and bought matching fuzzy dice to dangle from the rearview mirror.

By the time he met her at the hamburger stand two years later, we had rolled thirty thousand miles together and he had graduated from accessorizing to modifying. I was well into my transformation from a run of the mill family sedan into a bonafide hot rod.

She broached the subject on one of their first dates, making a muted attempt to hide her disdain.

“So, isn’t your dad a doctor?”

“Yeah, he’s an anesthesiologist.”

“Don’t they make a lot of money?”

“Yeah… why?”

“I just figured you would drive something a little… a little nicer than this.”

He looked at her quizzically.

“Nicer than this? Honey, this is a 1941 Pontiac Torpedo Deluxe. She’s a classic. Her name’s Bess.”

“Bess? You named your car?”

The same puzzled look.

“Wait and see, she’s not done yet, I still have the upholstery to do. The seats are going to be cream colored leather with red stitching.”

He started getting excited.

“And the paint, that’s just primer on her right now, pretty soon she’s going to be candy apple red with sunburst flames. And the chrome, everything is going to be…”

She cut him off.

“I just don’t understand why you wouldn’t want something new, like a new Buick, or a Cadillac. I mean, if I could afford it, that’s what I would have.”

And a Cadillac is what she got. It was a wedding present from his parents.

She had laid her trap for him on one of those foggy window nights up at ‘the point’. She may not have cared for me, but she sure didn’t seem to mind my backseat.

Six weeks later she told him the news. They were at the drive-in, watching Giant.

“I’m late.”

“Late for what?”

She gave him a condescending look.

“Oh… Late for that.”

He fidgeted in the seat.

“So, isn’t there a question you want to ask me?”

“Umm… Are you sure it’s mine?”

She flew at him in a rage.

“You son of a bitch. Get married… You’re supposed to ask me to marry you.”

Unfortunately, he hadn’t upgraded to the leather yet. The blood that poured from his broken nose would forever stain my clothbound seats.

Their nuptials were held as soon as his bruising healed, but his ego never recovered.

It wasn’t long until I was back to gathering dust in a garage, unfinished. His time and money were spent finishing college and medical school, on taking care of his family.

But he never forgot me.

He would steal away at night and come to the garage. Some nights he would tinker a bit, all the while muttering about her under his breath. Other nights he would slide behind the steering wheel and get transported to a better time, a better place.

Then one day, the garage door opened. He whistled as he walked in, keys in hand.

“Bess, old girl, I know it’s been awhile, but let’s see how you’re doing.”

Back in the day, he would’ve been more thorough. He would’ve kicked the tires, checked the oil and the transmission fluid, and made sure the radiator was filled. Maybe he didn’t expect me to start after so many years, and his excitement got the better of him when I turned right over and fired up.

He eased me out of the garage.

The first couple of miles were great, but soon, we both knew that something was wrong. By the time we limped back home I was completely overheated, white smoke poured from under the hood. He may not have been the mechanic he once was, but as a doctor now, he knew a terminal diagnosis when he saw one.

He stood on the porch as the tow truck driver loaded me onto the flatbed, his eyes red and moist. The front door opened.

“Honey, you need to take out the garbage.”

“Yes dear.”

He turned around and shuffled into the house.

She smiled as she shut the door behind them.

Written by: Ben Cook
Photograph by: Sophie Stuart

First Kiss

Posted on: May 1, 2014

Jenna told her father that she had band practice after school, so he didn’t need to pick her up until five o’clock. When the bell rings at 3:30, she makes a beeline for the girls’ bathroom and changes into a black miniskirt, fishnets, and knee-high combat boots that she borrowed from Liz. She’s too young and excited to realize that her outfit doesn’t make her adolescent body look any older. There’s something about being thirteen that makes you feel invincible. You got your period, you shop in the Juniors’ department, and boys look at your butt instead of throwing footballs at your head. She even has a grown-up haircut, stacked short in the back and long in the front, framing her face nicely apart from the acne chin-strap left in its wake.

Jenna coats her lips with Cherry Coke flavored Lip Smackers and puckers up for her reflection. She’s about to meet up with Kevin Peeler, a high schooler three years older than her. They exchanged screen names at a band competition a few months ago and would chat late at night about Buffy and the latest Final Fantasy. She must have filled up three notebooks of sappy love poetry and name-change drills as Jenna Peeler. When Kevin asked her via instant message if she wanted to hang out by the soccer field sometime, he didn’t hear her fall out of her chair and scream into the carpet with delight. All he read was, “Sounds kewl.”

Jenna walks out of West River Middle School, navigating through a sea of her peers gawking after her. The whispers fuel her giddiness and propel her forward down the path that leads to the recreational fields. She forgets to pop a Tic Tac as she concentrates on acting cool and mature for her age. Kevin’s already sitting on one of the bleachers when she approaches, wearing black jeans and a matching long-sleeve thermal. His nails are freshly Sharpied and he’s wearing the spiked dog collar he told her about last night. Jenna cannot stand how hot he looks right now.

“Hey, Kevin.”

“Nice boots. Knee-highs are sexy.”

“Umm, thanks.”

She wishes her skirt had pockets right about now, but decides to fiddle with her bookbag straps. Her stomach hurts and if this doesn’t go well, she’s totally going to have stress-induced diarrhea.

“Sit with me. Put your bookbag down.”


“You’re super shy in person. Don’t tell me you’re a poser?”


“Nah, it’s cool. So, I was playing FF7 last night and I finally got to the part where Sephiroth just goes total beast mode.”

“Omigosh, that’s so cool! I actually drew you a picture of him.”

She pulls out her binder and removes the sketch from a clear sheet protector, handing it to Kevin and smiling.

“Jenna, this is really good. Like his sword and eyes are perfect.”

She might piss her fishnets, she can’t believe how nice he’s being to her. He’s so freaking cool. His eyes are the deepest blue and his hair is spiked up just right. Jenna’s cheeks are getting hot and she’s trying not to breathe so fast.

“C’mere,” Kevin says, taking her hand.

She tries to straddle the bleacher without him seeing her granny panties, and their knees touch. Jenna’s head is spinning and she really doesn’t know what she’ll do if he kisses her. Before she knows it, his lips are on hers and his tongue is in her mouth. She feels awkward, wishing it was as easy as it looks in Disney movies. She’d spent so much time daydreaming about this moment, so many nights staring into the dark wondering what it would be like to have a hand behind her head and pulled into a kiss.

But it’s not what she was expecting. She realizes now as the romantic stupor wears away that he has braces and they’re catching her tongue. There are crumbs in his mouth from something he ate earlier and she’s pretty sure it was pizza and cookies. Instead of her gothic Prince Charming, all she sees is a sixteen year old boy who probably makes out with his pillow. Her first kiss is the most disgusting thing she has ever experienced. She can’t take it back. She can’t press rewind. This is it. Jenna lied to her dad for this.

When Kevin pulls away, he’s grinning like Sloth from the Goonies and rubbing her thighs with his hands. Jenna notices two small streaks of pizza sauce on the corners of his mouth. She offers a courtesy smile and then stands up, pulling her bookbag onto her shoulder.

“I should go,” she says. “My dad’s probably waiting for me.”

“Chat later?” he asks.

“Yeah, sure.”

Jenna walks away from the bleachers and back toward school, spitting every few steps as if it will help. Her fishnet stockings are starting to sag and that straddle left her with a wedgie she wasn’t willing to adjust with her back facing Kevin. It’s 4:35 as she walks up the sidewalk, and her dad’s here early. She gets in from the passenger side and sighs, hugging her bookbag to her chest.

“And how was your day?”

“It was okay, I guess,” Jenna says.

“Uh huh. Did you have an accident?”

“What are you talking about, Dad?”

Jenna’s annoyed, just wanting to go home and hide in her room for the rest of the school year.

“Well, you were wearing some really nice khakis this morning…”

Her eyes widen and she covers her face with her hands before turning to look at him.

“Dad, I can explain. I spilled my Powerade at lunch and Liz had extra clothes in her locker...”

“Those are clothes?”


When they get home, Jenna fights the gravity of disappointment as she climbs the stairs to her bedroom. She shuts the door behind her and leans back, making eye contact with Leo DiCaprio on the poster above her bed. Jenna closes her eyes and smiles. There’s still hope.

Written by: Natasha Akery
Photograph by: Daniel Vidal

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