Posted on: March 31, 2016

The tire pressure light came on as Jake cleared a speed bump. For a moment, he thought the damn thing just knocked some air out of the tires, but the thought was quickly dashed by the familiar dubdubdub of a flat tire.

“Shit.” He pulled onto the shoulder and killed the engine. Turning on the cautions, he climbed out and stepped around to the right front tire. Ripped to shreds.

He checked his watch. Seven thirty. Too early to call the office, but AAA might get him going again. He pulled out his phone and thumbed the power button.

Nothing. He held it down, but the screen stubbornly remained blank.

“Of course.” He tossed it in the passenger window. “Shit.”

The road was desolate, save for a rundown gas station and the remnants of a trailer park, its wretched speed bumps the one intact relic. The only sign of life was a blue pickup sitting in the station’s lot surrounded by potholes. It had a few dings, but it looked otherwise well maintained.
Jake approached the pickup slowly, craning his neck to see inside. A pile of old coats covered the passenger seat, but it looked unoccupied. He spotted a full-size tire mounted just behind the passenger door.

He glanced around. The lot was abandoned. The street was more or less unused, save for the odd commuter trying to shave a few minutes off his drive. He was alone.

Satisfied, he peered into the bed in search of a jack and tire iron, but it was empty. Another furtive glance, then he tried the passenger door. It swung open, and the pile of coats billowed out, forcing Jake back. He tripped and landed hard as it emerged and raised to its full height.

A hand appeared from beneath what was actually a single coat and reached towards Jake. It belonged to a large man in a larger coat. A huge smile beamed out from under a fedora.

“Didn’t mean to scare ya, Friend.” The deep, honeyed voice rattled in Jake’s chest. “I thought you were another of those damn kids out to boost Blue.”

Jake hesitated, then took the Coat’s hand, which was more like a bear’s paw. The Coat hoisted Jake to his feet. “No. Definitely not. I actually thought this vehicle was abandoned and was going to take the tire for my Benz.”

The Coat followed Jake’s gaze across the street. When he turned back, his grin was even wider. “So it’s a tire you’d be needing, is it?”

“Yeah, that speed bump ripped one of mine to shreds.” He motioned to the tire. “I’m not even sure it’s the right size, but--”

“Oh, it’ll fit. Don’t worry ‘bout that.”

“That would be fantastic.” He reached for his wallet. “How much do you want for it?”

The Coat laughed a full-throated laugh. “Friend, your money’s no good to me. If the tire’s what’s needed, it’s yours.”

Jake slowly returned his wallet. “There must be something you want.”

The Coat turned and leaned into the truck. “Oh, I do. But it won’t cost you nothin’ but time.” He produced a jack and a tire iron, then kicked the door shut with a large foot.

Glancing at the tire iron, Jake fought the urge to step back. “If it won’t cost me anything, what do you want?”

“Well, some time down the road, you’re probably gonna need something again.” He shrugged as though he were delivering an unfortunate but obvious truth. “Happens to all of us. But next time it happens to you, I want you to call me.” He started to remove the tire from its mount.


He glanced over his shoulder. “So I can come help, a’course.”

Jake’s brow furrowed. His gut was telling him to just go find a pay phone and call AAA, but something kept him where he was.

“We got a deal, friend?” The Coat was holding the tire like it weighed not a thing.

“So you’re lending me this--”

Giving, Friend.”

“Giving me this tire, and all you want is to do another favor some time in the future?”

The Coat nodded.

Jake checked his watch. Seven forty-three. “Deal. Can you put the tire on for me?”

The Coat’s grin grew wider. “Look, another favor already!”

“Looks like it.”

“All I ask in return is--”

“Another favor?”

The Coat winked. “But this one, you’re gonna do for me.”

Jake hesitated. “And that would be?”

Dropping the tire, the Coat spread his arms. “All you gotta do is set me free.”

“Excuse me?”

“Just tell me I’m free, and I’ll be on my way.”

“If you put that tire on in less than five minutes, I’ll tell you anything.”

He picked up the tire and started across the road. “Deal. Two for you ‘n one for me.”

Jake’s gut was screaming now, but he followed him over. When the Coat was finished, Jake checked his watch. Seven forty-seven.

“All finished, Friend.”

“Great. That was fast.” He checked out the tire, then looked back to the Coat whose grin engulfed his whole face. “Oh. Uh, now?”

The Coat raised his paws, suddenly ambivalent. “Only if ya want to, friend. Gotta be your choice.”

Jake shook his head and pulled out his keys. “Whatever. You’re free then.”

The man grinned, then removed his coat and hat. He helped Jake into the coat and placed the hat on his head. Humoring him, Jake appraised his reflection in the tinted window. Something didn’t seem right, but his mind was cloudy. He tried to pick out a clear thought, but they escaped him. The strange man clapped him on the shoulder and grinned. The clothes fit surprisingly well.

Taking the keys, the man walked around to the driver’s side. Jake followed him, his brow furrowed. “What’s happening?”

He winked again, then got into the car and started the engine. “Just remember, no one will set you free after one wish, so get ‘em to agree to two ‘fore you do the first.”

The door shut, and the Benz pulled away.


The moonlight bathed the gas station in silver. The road was empty, but an engine purred somewhere in the dark. Inside a dusty, beat-up blue pickup, a man in a dusty coat stirred. He climbed out and leaned against the hood.

Headlights soon appeared around the corner, and a car went too fast over a speed bump. It pulled over with that familiar dubdubdub sound. The driver got out and swore.

A voice called across the street. “Looks like you need a favor, Mister.”

The man looked towards the pickup. He could just make out in the moonlight where the voice had come from and started towards it.

Jake was grinning.

Written by: Michael Goldstein
Photograph by: Sophie Stuart


Posted on: March 29, 2016

Perry climbed over the garden wall. She never used the gate, loving the way the stone felt solid beneath her hands; always familiar. From her spot on the ledge, the tree seemed skeletal, almost bare. She found him there, surrounded by leaves the color of butter.

“They’re falling too fast,” Thatcher said when Perry waved from the wall. She’d been visiting this way since the early days of their friendship, and Thatcher’s house felt like home.

“I missed you at school today,” Perry said. She felt the handle of the half-broken teacup beneath her knee. Thatcher’s mom had added it to the other pieces plastered into the garden wall when they were little, and it remained Perry’s favorite spot.

“My mom doesn’t know I skipped,” he said, pointing to the backyard. Perry didn’t see her, but nodded. She swung her legs, careful not to disrupt the handle of the teacup beneath her.

“Ever wonder who we’ll be when we’re done with school?” Perry asked. “Like we’ll leave, we’ll love, we’ll become different people.”

Though the early September sun started to set, there was still enough light to see the way Thatcher squinted up at the tree, too much worry in the creases of his forehead. Leaves fell, seasons changed; it never bothered Thatcher.

But Perry understood. Sometime soon, there might be a full season in which everything changed.

“Would it help to pretend the future is a person? I always find talking to hypotheticals like real people much easier,” Thatcher said.

Perry jumped down from the wall to join him beneath the tree.

“Just imagine,” Thatcher said. He always seemed to be imagining other places, thinking about other people. And being friends with him meant dealing with the strange things he did or said, while everyone else just existed. “Future would say something like, Find someone you can share all your truths with. I think that might be love,” he said.

“Or maybe, Love is about being lost,” she said. “People seek happiness and think it’s love.”

Perry wondered if Thatcher would someday leave, and find something better; some place happier.

Maybe everyone tried much too hard to be happy in a world where they should be grateful. Or surprised. Or content.

Sitting here with Thatcher beneath the tree, she felt content.

“I don’t think I’ll be here,” Thatcher said, looking up at the tree like he saw something she couldn’t.

Thatcher’s words chilled Perry more than the wind turning the leaves inside out. She didn’t want him to talk about other places, even imaginary ones, because she couldn’t imagine Thatcher anywhere but here. Even his thoughts being elsewhere made her feel hollow.

She remembered the way Thatcher used to talk about a place he wanted to go, an address just as nonsensical as himself. And she imagined that 65 ½ now, a wrought-iron gate freckled from rust and old age, speaking in creaks.

“We should have tea,” Thatcher said.

Perry felt the future closing around her. She felt it in the way Thatcher needed to understand what might happen in a month or a year from now; seeking some distant happiness.

He walked back toward his house, but Perry didn’t follow. Instead, she stared at the pieces of glass on the garden wall, patterned with flowers and fine filigree. All of it had been whole once, broken by a past event Perry couldn’t remember. But knowing it already happened, that the pieces would remain where they were forever, made her feel better than anything else.

“Perry!” Thatcher called from the backyard minutes later. The way he said her name was nice; simple and honest and real.

“Do we have to?” Perry asked when Thatcher handed her a tea cup. He looked back at her with small eyes, pleading with her.

“Just one,” he said, and she knew it only took him one cup. He was better at reading tea leaves than skylines or wind patterns or even at reading her the past few months.

“No sugar?” Perry asked, sipping on the bitter black tea.

“It’ll ruin the reading. Now think of your question,” Thatcher said. He drank his tea and closed his eyes, savoring the liquid.

The way they talked about the future, finding their fate in tea cups, should’ve unsettled her. But such moments felt like worship: to the stars and their friendship; the profundity eclipsed by the simplicity of being here, now, with the promise of a hundred or so more moments spent just like this.

When she finished her tea, Thatcher took her cup, and swirled the remains three times clockwise, “For future events,” he said, but Perry already knew that. He tipped her cup back on the saucer without a sound, her future in practiced hands.

Perry focused on the way he stood, shifting from one foot to the other, as if the future were there waiting for him.

He dropped her cup without a whisper of what he’d seen, and then smashed his own against the tree.

“Thatcher?” she asked, too afraid to say anything else.

His voice creaked when he said her name, “Perry.”

He knelt to pick up the pieces of the cups before pulling her away from the tree, and she let him, because the ground smelled bitter like the tea. It caught in her throat and took her voice.


“The future scares me, too,” he said, brushing a leaf from the garden wall. He examined what was left of the cups, a bucket of mortar at his feet.

Together they pressed the pieces into an empty section of the wall. The small shards felt real in her hand. She knew they would exist one second, one moment from now. And that was enough.

Written by: Kayla King
Photograph by: Jennifer Stevens

The Man Who Made Bigfoot

Posted on: March 24, 2016

A plane flew Barker McMullin just south of the Arctic, but it was tragedy that drove him mad.

This was, of course, after he’d discarded his possessions via a heroic garage sale where he sold pretty much everything but his pants.

On a Delta flight he jumped over the Canadian border. From there, it was Bearskin Airlines to Flin Flon, Manitoba, arriving at an airport with the culinary offerings of a vending machine. From a brochure he learned that the mining town had been named after a fictional character, Josiah Flintabbatey Flonatin, from a novel called The Sunless City.

Barker wanted to live in a sunless city. He figured if he got pale enough he’d turn into a ghost.

From Flin Flon he hitched deeper north into the forest with a trucker named Zach, who told him he would die come winter.

This was all years ago.


He did not die that winter, nor any of the ones after. He built a cabin on a lake that had no name, so he called it Susan and Beau Lake -- the names of his dead. He did not want to forget his grief, so much as live in it for so long that he and it fused together, and in their new shared existence there would be limits to his self-sentience; like one’s inability to smell his or her own tang.

That was the idea, anyway.

But he could never quite get there. In the end he had to settle for some good old fashioned transmogrification, the final result of which was nothing more than an empty vessel; his body just a container to store organs and eyes.

To say that he was ruptured with grief would be an understatement. He lost track of years like you and I lose pennies. His beard grew long. His eyes dimmed. His skin stretched tautly over his angular bones.

And then Bigfoot appeared, nonchalantly, like she’d been there all along.

She materialized in the last moments of dusk, when the light of the world colluded with the brainy tendrils of imagination to create images that might not exist, and doubt in the ones that did. It was just the right environment for mythmaking.

As a shadow, she at first blocked his path. Only when he got closer did he realize her authenticity: her heavy coat of hairs, and peering eyes. They looked at each other with the look you give a funhouse mirror. And why not? In the dark, they appeared simply as fantastic deviations of their own images.

Maybe they were too tired for violence. Maybe surprise paralyzed them. But for an unknown amount of time they stared at each other through the woods, through the dark, and though we can’t speak for Bigfoot, the results of this encounter -- which finally ended with Bigfoot shuffling silently, far too silently given her size, into the woods -- laid the foundation for the next phase in Barker McMullin’s life.

Because of Bigfoot, his empty vessel would be full again. He would discover that the will to live was really just inspiration; the revelation of creation manifested in whatever form you chose: in progeny or business, architecture, guitar, politics, painting, law, or even sculpture.


Not long after their encounter, Barker McMullin left the woods. He rejoined civilization. Heading south, he parlayed his few belongings into cash, bartered down highways, and cut through the Canadian winter.

He made it back to America through Minnesota, and from the land of the lakes through the empty shelf of the plains -- all halcyon days and billboards -- he thought of nothing other than his muse. He found Oklahoma and with it, a fine new place to start.

Using the last of his funds he purchased a large block of cement. In the parking lot of the Good Gravy! Diner, across the street from the Industry Turbo Car Wash, he began to chip away.

The going was slow. The Oklahoma winds dusted up his allergies and diners came and went with questions of why and comments of neat-o, knocking him out of his artistic groove. But inside his brain stood such a comprehensive image of what he wanted that each hammered corrugation and crease, each wrinkle and line, came from his hands through his tools and onto, into, the cement block with a level of serenity he had railed against for so long that he’d forgotten its existence.

So perfect was the final product that he was never to make changes. He worked like an assembly line after that first statue. His muscles no longer sovereign in their action, but rather automatic; never spiritless, but instead glowing with the electricity of their flawless instincts.

That is what it felt like for Barker McMullin to make Bigfoot. Or at least, some form of her.

He hoped that in his concrete creations there was no extraction of spirit from his muse -- our myth -- and that his art (he really preferred not to call it that) was selfish. Narcissistic, if he was being truthful. He did not want to comment on the lore of nature, the extension of mankind’s industry, lumber or fish farms, spilled oil in the gulf, climate change or pollution. He did not have thoughts on the obsession of the missing link, or the proto-religion of evolution.

So when they asked him this and so much more; when they took pictures and wrote magazine articles; when they interviewed him and put him on camera; interrogated him on the psyche of the creator, the license of the artist, and the warrant of individuality in today’s changing landscape of taste and influence; he didn’t know what to say.

Flashbulbs, flashbulbs, what do you mean you don’t know? They threw genius at him and were appalled when he dropped it, and it shattered in the dirt.

Through it all, what he wanted to say was this:

A lifetime ago I saw curiosity in her eyes, and it made me want to marry her. I loved the idea that she found joy in the questions of things. And when those eyes were forever closed, I was gone. My body existed, but there was nothing else. And then I stumbled upon a myth in the forest. And in those eyes, fact or fiction they may have been, I saw that same curiosity. And it brought me back from the dead. And it inspired me to survive.

Written by: Logan Theissen
Photograph by: Kassie Ritman


Posted on: March 22, 2016

I never want to die alone, but it seems that’s my fate.

My gramma was found next to her dried up minestrone soup, rotting for three days. Choked on a piece of bread. I guess it was sad and all, but then who’d want to grow old like that anyway and be so withered?

One spring day, Ma overdosed outside a crack house downtown, age 29. It was shortly after Dad blew town, and I went to juvie. I never could resist a shiny red car. Ma was younger, I suppose, and definitely not forgotten, at least by me. But she had her urgent need to sneak out, leaving her with only an empty needle beside her when she kicked it.

Dying alone scares me more than taking my final driving test.

Every spring night, I’m called out to scour the streets freshly lined with fast-food bags from a healthy gale off the Flatirons. Something about that night air and my restless fingers are what tug at me. I become more alert once the heat from the Colorado sun seeps out of the tar roads and the crimson tail lights brighten my night. But I don’t want to be alone.

Tonight, I "borrow" my foster parents’ SUV. Big deal, right? It’s not like they’ll miss the car much, and they definitely won’t notice I’m gone. They’re those “look how generous we are” types who take in “special needs” kids, like me. They feel so bad for the way I was raised that they always forgive me. They’ll definitely forgive me tonight.

Against a beer-soaked bar’s edge, I make two new friends, a couple. Turns out these two lovebirds are college kids. Samantha smells like the spring tulips along the Pearl Street Mall. I didn’t catch the guy’s name. Started with a ‘ch’ sound. The music in the bar is thrumming too loud to hear the rest. When they introduce themselves and their majors, I pretend like I’m someone too, someone they want to know, someone with money and a car. And then, just like nothing’s wrong, we’re friends. They’re so cute together. I want to steal their love and keep it with me always.

They ride around town with me. I put on a great act of not being the teenager I am. We stop at a friend of Chance or Chase or Chad, or whatever. A fraternity party is in full swing, mostly on the perfectly manicured lawn and partially on the roof. Samantha and the C-word guy leave to grab drinks. I hang back like I fit in. My real self reminds me who I am as soon as they leave me alone with a pretty beefy-looking dude who asks my major. I don’t belong here. I’d never belong here. I panic until my friends return with a glowing drink in a martini cup and a shot glass. Once I have that little high from the smaller cup, I sway through the party and pretend I’m someone again. I keep the high going a little by grabbing drinks from the guy dressed in just boxers and a tie who’s cruising around with a serving tray.

I suppose I shouldn’t have had that last shooter. My stomach flips after I pass some guy, who hasn't moved from the juniper bush since barfing. But I can’t let my friends see that I can’t handle the liquor. It might give me away, and I need them.

Samantha asks me for the car keys. She hasn’t drank a drop, she claims. If she has been drinking, she’s a great actress. I can’t think straight, but the hum of the busiest roads aren’t far from Delta Chi and they call to me.

“Nope,” I say, dangling the diamanté-studded key ring just inches from her nose, yanking them back.

The night air cools, and my skin craves rain drops. A spring mountain storm makes every drive a little more fun, a little more dangerous and thrilling. But there are only stars above.

The guy, whose name I now desperately wish I could remember, says I need to walk a line to prove myself. Like I’d prove to him how buzzed I was. There was only one thing I could focus on at the moment, and that was the cherry paint of the foster’s Range Rover.

"Dude, my car. Don’t you trust me?“

“Yeah, come on!” Samantha giggles and hops in back.

After giving me a once-over, he bumps my shoulder and I catch the light, musky smell he applied earlier tonight, now covered over with eau-de-beer. Then, instead of a further fight, he climbs in the back next to Samantha.

He says, "Then let's get this over with. All right?”

I nod. We definitely will be all right. What’s that saying about groups of three? They’re a charm?

The engine grinds a little as I over turn the stupid key. Samantha flirts with the C-word guy in the back. Neither notices anything might be wrong. The tail lights of the car in front of me reflect a feverish glow as I turn on the headlights. I’m so giddy.

All is perfect with the world I realize as I screech out past the neon bar lights where we’d met. We’re out among the cars on Broadway. The smell of newness breezes through the window I’ve opened a crack. These two people, here in this car, are the best friends I’ve ever had, I think. They so trust me.

I cruise faster toward the crossroads of Broadway and Baseline. The green light switches to a warning yellow. I slalom around the cars that slow down and accelerate toward the intersection, light now a glaring red. I’ve finally found two people who can stand me enough to spend more than a few minutes with me, and I definitely don’t want to die alone.

Written by: Leni Checkas
Photograph by: Skyler Smith

Scared Straight?!.

Posted on: March 17, 2016

“Listen up, you petite cuts of FRESH MEAT,” shouts a towering figure wearing an orange jumpsuit as loud as his voice. “My name is ANVIL, and you’re in MY WORLD now.”

He flexes, sending a tidal wave of muscles and veins rippling beneath the vulgar artwork permanently etched into his skin.

“You know why they call me ANVIL?” he asks, his audience too young to seize a golden American Gladiators joke. “Because I’m BIG, I’m BLACK, and I SMASH HEADS.”

He emphasizes this point by slamming a balled fist into a callused palm, splashing the three nearest troublemakers with beads of perspiration. The human sponges–listed right to left like the old Old Testament–are Elsa, Ahmed, and Jamal. Elsa’s reaction is what you would expect from a snobbish blonde who’s every bit as frigid as the Frozen princess.

“O-M-G,” she says, her bottom jaw extending beyond her training bra.

“OH, pardon me, PARIS HILTON,” Anvil yells, unaware Perez is the only Hilton relevant to Gen Z-ers. “Did your FACE get in the way of my SWEAT?” he asks, hovering over her like an Alien to Sigourney Weaver.

Elsa straightens her posture and returns a smug grin, comfortable in the knowledge that “he has less right to touch [her] than a haunted house actor,” according to her lawyer mother.

“Sweat is the cleanest thing you gonna get on your skin IN PRISON,” Anvil says, and Elsa rolls her eyes, drops her chin and emits a mock snore.

Anvil rears back an open hand and pauses once he hears the Pavlovian throat clear of the guard loitering in the corner. Anvil would love nothing more than to smack the pearly white teeth and privilege out of her mouth, except parole.

“What are YOU looking at, ISIS?” Anvil roars, swooping his massive phalanges just beneath Elsa’s 14K-gold nose ring and stopping his pointer finger between Ahmed’s quivering pupils.

As a Syrian refugee, treading between Texans who don’t want him here and terrorists who want his head, Ahmed’s anxiety level is twice as high as yours when you see him board your plane. It’s not that he’s afraid of the large black man showering him with ethnic slurs and halitosis. He wasn’t even afraid of the prison itself. It’s the threat of deportation that really had him shaking in his didashah.

Unlike Spartan Races–where well-nourished fitness enthusiasts voluntarily traverse a paramedic-lined obstacle course full of intimidating obstructions like mud pits and flaming logs (monitored closely by firemen)–Ahmed and his family overcame gunfire, tumultuous seas, 60’s-era racism, and enough red tape to decorate a Target during Christmas season, just to rest their heads on US soil while we bomb theirs back to B.C. times. In Ahmed’s manic mind, it will all be for naught, because he got caught in a test-cheating scheme.

“You speak English, BOY?” Anvil asks even louder to make up for his lack of derogatory remarks.

“I do,” Ahmed answers in a tone so low only the K-9 unit could hear him.

“WHAT’D YOU SAY?” Anvil explodes.

“I DO, I DO,” Ahmed responds with tears waterboarding his words. “I’M SORRY! DEPORT ME, BUT DON’T PUNISH MY FAMILY.”

Anvil’s nose shrivels like he caught a whiff of his own breath and he puts some distance between himself and Ahmed.

“What about me?” Jamal says, waving his hands in Anvil’s peripheral vision.

“Boy, are you TESTING ME?” Anvil asks, biting his tongue to encourage Jamal to do the same.

“Nope,” Jamal says without an ounce of fear. “I was just wondering why you were skipping the black dude?”

Anvil exhales so hard each half of his mustache divides like twin Moseses are standing in his nostrils.

“Oh, I wasn’t passing you,” Anvil clarifies, “I was saving you for DESSERT, just like these other convicts are gonna do when they see your Usher-lookin ass in the SHOWER.”

“Awww, thanks Uncle Russell,” Jamal says, and Anvil’s face forms an expression it hasn’t worn since the cops kicked down his door on the night of his arrest.

“We’re going to need backup,” the guard murmurs into an inactive radio before dashing towards Russell with his baton drawn. Russell assumes a professional wrestler’s stance and an equally staged performance ensues.

“GET YOUR HANDS OFF ME, PIG,” Russell screams as the guard puts him in a chokehold so light it could pass for PDA, and together they backpedal out of the cell.

“Well, I hope you kids learned a valuable lesson,” Vice Principal Davis says, pantomiming relief by wiping his brow. “One day you’re stealing an answer key, and the next, they’re locking you up and throwing away the keys.”

Davis’s threat is undercut by his pride for his own pun, and the warden arrives just in time to save everyone from another bad joke. They head down the hall towards an iron frame where Russell’s massive arms dangle like a puppeteer with nothing to master.

“Jamal,” Russell whispers as they pass and grabs a piece of Jamal’s t-shirt, “why you gotta play me like that?”

Jamal shrugs.

“Nevermind that, why you here in the first place?” Russell asks with the most genuine anger he’s displayed all day.

“They thought I was cheating.”

“Well, were you?”


“Did you tell them that?”


“JAMAL,” Davis yells from the exit. “Come on! You’ll be back here before you know it.”

“HEY,” Russell says nudging Jamal in the chest before his chin hits his collarbone, “he probably knows y’all are taking me home next weekend.”

Jamal lifts his head and he and Russell continue the conversation with their eyes, looking away once the discussion becomes too honest.

“Keep your head up, Lil Homie,” Russell says, breathing deep enough to dam his tear ducts.

His hand forms a hardened ball that’s been used for destruction more often than reassurance. Jamal wipes his eyes and lowers his delicate fist towards his Uncle’s like the moon orbiting Earth.

“I’ll be back here before you know it,” Jamal says and sprints out of sight.

Written by: Mark Killian
Photograph by: Samuel Zeller

Until Next Time

Posted on: March 15, 2016

The ceiling fan whirred above him, cascading a wave of hot air upon his sweat-drenched forehead.The single bed he lay on filled nearly the entire square of the tiny room. Dirty clothes and torn blankets littered the remaining floorspace. In the corner, a small plastic plate held the remnants of a piece of bread, its stale surface coated in a layer of green foam. Three books lay by his bedside, their pages the only lifelines he knew. His ears probed the dust-coated air, listening for the footsteps that would signal the arrival of his daily routine.

He had dreamt, he thought, of the ocean. It was blue, just like he had seen in the pictures, with a green tint that exuded a sense of comfort to even the smallest of creatures. He had been swimming, feeling the vibration of the great body of waves that pulled him deeper into its intricate embrace. As soon as he started to surface, succumbing to the desire to see the crests of the ocean waves, a thick, tattooed arm inserted itself into water and grasped him in a chokehold, holding him in place as the water filled his lungs.

That was when he woke up. He didn’t get up – he knew what that would bring about; instead, he lay there, staring at his most constant companion whirring away as each of the five long blades maintained their insistent monotony. He was almost asleep again when the footsteps awoke him. His eyelids lifted reluctantly. He didn’t get scared; not anymore. After all, it seemed easier, almost pleasant, to maintain the appearance of supreme disinterest, even as his body shook with hatred.

As the footsteps neared, the lock clicked, the door grinding open to reveal the figure that had tormented him since he could remember. Only recently had the entrapment begun. He didn’t know why. He didn’t think to ask why. He just survived.

“Get up,” his ragged voice called. The boy was surprised, at first, hesitantly aware of walking into any traps. “You deaf, boy? Get the hell up! And put this on.” He tossed a shirt onto his bed.


It shouldn’t be much farther, he thought, checking his addresses as he sped through the puzzle that was the inner city. He drove fast, the impossibility of his to-do list an irritating itch that forced his foot to the pedal of the government-loaned vehicle. He had had ten visits scheduled already for that day; protocol advised that each visit take at least an hour, from entry to inspection to exit, and at least an hour and a half if any family was found in violation of health or safety codes. But, at ten visits in five hours, he hardly had the time or energy to pay attention to “protocol.”
As the always-one-step-behind voice of the rickety GPS system called out, he slowed to a stop, acknowledging the metal-barred staircase that led to the sixth home visit in what was turning out to be a longer day than usual. He approached the stairs, refreshing himself on the apartment number and the family name: Briggs, Briggs – 203B.

He checked his records: only one visit in the last two years had required a follow-up; this was going to be quick. His phone rang; he glanced at the number, ready to send it to voicemail before the name stopped him. It was his boss. The boss who, like everyone else, apparently, was swamped and yet still had time to assign him 47 cases in the span of a single quarter. He answered, feeling no urge to disguise the impatience in his voice. “Hello??”

“Kasey, I just got a call. I’m not sure how credible it is but I need you to check it out. A neighbor reports that she saw the Smith girl, you know, the one from the upper east side?”

“Uh yeah bu--”

“Anyways, she was apparently looking pretty beat up. If it’s abuse this would be their final violation. I want you to schedule an immediate visit. Tell them we’re doing surprise rounds or something, and let me know.”

“Okay, but I really don’t--”

“Thanks, Kasey. Keep me posted.” The click of the phone on the other end just about summed up the entire last quarter for him. Resisting the urge to break his clipboard and drive away, he continued making his way up the stairs. He knocked, waiting, as always, with pen in hand to give the same greeting he always did before making his way through the home.

A man answered. His gruff, unshaven face clashed with a suspiciously white shirt that tucked into a pair of torn jeans.

“Hi,” he grumbled, “we’ve been expecting you. I’ll grab Jackson. Come on in.”

Kasey stepped inside. No intro, I guess. He looked around. The dingy apartment reeked of stale food and what seemed to be smoke, though the eerie odor was masked by the overwhelming smell of cinnamon emanating from a candle in the foyer.

“This way, right in here. We know the drill.” He grumbled again. Kasey followed the gruff man’s voice, entering from the cramped foyer into the main living room. In the middle of the room stood the man, hand on the left shoulder of Jackson Briggs. He was 13, according to the records, though he looked about 11. He was short – maybe 5’2,” and, like his father, he wore a new-looking collared blue shirt tucked into blue jeans.


He kept his eyes straightforward, like he was told. The nails digging into his shoulder made certain that he gave nothing away. He was wearing his “new” shirt, after all, and for the first time since the last visit he had real denim jeans covering his bruised legs. The man with the clipboard stared at him, checking boxes as he turned his eyes towards the surprisingly clean kitchen. The hand on Jackson’s shoulder clenched harder, as if to squeeze every emotion right out of him. He flinched, withholding the scream that would tell the man with the clipboard to turn around; to look closely; to see the dark purple lines that his blue collar hid: the ferocious marks of the rugged attention he’d received since his mother left. He wanted to scream; to scream, and to leave. But he knew he couldn’t; he wouldn’t. He had nowhere and no one else.

“Okay, everything looks fine. I’ll send your report and be back next month.” The door slammed.

“Back to your room, boy.” The vice grip loosened. A single tear caressed Jackson’s cheek.

Until next time.

Written by: Tyler Wilborn
Photograph by: Daniel Vidal

An Apocalypse

Posted on: March 10, 2016

There once was a boy named Álfar. He lived in small dark cave, in a small dark city, in a dark world with his mother and father. Álfar loved his home, he loved the earthy smell of market days when everyone met to trade goods in the city centre. He loved the echoing sounds the tunnels made when he was alone in a quiet corridor. He loved the warmth and wetness of the mushroom caverns. Álfar loved the fire festival most of all.

Once a year the whole city gathered near the reservoir. They sat along the rocks, waiting while the fire spinners marched to the centre of the shallow lake. Álfar listened as the water slapped under their feet. He waited as the smell of the fuel from the torches drifted across the cavern. Álfar strained his eyes -- blurry from long months of disuse -- to catch sight of the first sparks. The sparks would be quick and bright white, but once the flames caught they would glow a deep warm orange. The fire spinners started slowly, waving the flames back and forth waiting for the drums. Then they would gain momentum, the drums nudging the flames to whirl faster, and the flames exciting the drums into a percussive flurry. The show swelled to a crescendo when everyone jumped to their feet and stomped into the lake. The splashes of water, reflecting the flames - hung like jewels in the air. There was no other time of year when Álfar’s world contained so much colour, so much light.

Álfar was a clever and curious boy who loved nothing more than exploring the mysteries of his world. He would sneak out of his house and wander through the long abandoned corners of the city. One day when he had ventured far from home, something different caught his eye. There was a greyness, not obvious at first, but growing the longer he watched. Álfar crept closer to the greyness and the closer he crept the brighter it became. He could also hear a sound, a gentle and repetitive hush; and a smell -- a freshness, almost like the reservoir, but different, softer, and colder.

Álfar crept closer until at last he stood at the mouth of a tunnel. He could see that beyond, it opened up into a giant cavern. He knew it could be dangerous but he couldn’t contain his curiosity, so he crept out from the tunnel and into the cavern. The room was so bright that he had to close his eyes against the glare. The whole room was filled with the light of sparks, white and searing into his brain. He stood shielding his eyes, and little by little he grew accustomed to the light. He could see then that the cavern was wider and more vast than any other in his world. None of the outer walls were visible, and the ceiling - coated in soft pink stalactites - was so far away it seemed unreachable. The entire cavern was filled with water, and it moved, lapping at the lip of rock where Álfar now stood. The water was the source of the repetitive sound, but there was something else that seemed to bring the smell to Álfar. It brushed against his skin, soft like breath, but bigger and cooler.

Álfar rushed back through the tunnels to the city. He told his mother about what he had found, but she just smiled and told him he had a wonderful imagination. He told his father who laughed and asked, “How do you dream up such wild stories?” Álfar told his teacher and she told him he shouldn’t tell lies. No one believed about the beautiful unending lake in the pink ceilinged cavern.

Many days passed and though Álfar hadn’t returned to the cavern, he thought of it often. One morning he woke to the rumblings of the earth. He and his family hurried with all the rest of the town to the reservoir. Rumblings happened from time to time, and sometimes parts of the city would cave in when they occurred. The reservoir was the safest place to be. They hurried through the tunnels until they found the passage blocked. The cries from those in front told them that the ceiling of the reservoir had fallen in. The people were trapped and panicked, and the rumbling became stronger. Dust and pebbles rained down on them and they screamed in the darkness. They were trapped, and their world was crumbling.

“We must go to the cavern,” Álfar cried out. “The one with the endless lake and the soft pink ceiling.”

The people were lost and afraid, and with nowhere else to turn, they followed Álfar. He led them through the tunnels while the world shook around them. They hurried through long-forgotten passages and passes until they too saw a greyness ahead of them. They climbed into the cavern and there was the endless lake, just as Álfar had said, but the world around was dark. The ceiling, hidden in blackness, was dotted with sparks -- glowing flames, infinitely far away. Álfar and his family waded into the lake as people continued to flood out of the tunnel. The water of the cavern was different than what had been found in the reservoir, it wasn’t silky and smooth, but granular and tasted of salt.

The last of Álfar’s people ran from the tunnel just as the rumbling of the world shook the cave apart and the roof collapsed. Then at last the world was still.

The people were quiet, gazing at the beauty of the vast cavern, knee deep in the salty lake. They waited as light crept into the world. The greyness grew, and they could see the ceiling smothered in pink splotchy calcifications, just as Álfar had told them. They stood hand in hand and watched as light and colour grew all around them.

Written by: Sarah Scott
Photograph by: Blake Bronstad


Posted on: March 8, 2016

In 1954 Jasper Johns painted his most famous work Flag. Forty two years later I would see it for the first time as a fifteen year old and it would carve a desire to paint into my heart. Twenty-one years and I suppose three months after that, I would see it again and wonder what the hell had happened to my life.

That sounds too dramatic. It probably wasn’t the way that, say, former heroin addicts wonder what happened to their life. It was more the way a middle-aged man, beer gut straining his belt, would look at his high school football picture and wonder where that kid went.

I was chaperoning a field trip when it happened. I was keeping my eye on the five kids I had been assigned to supervise. They were sprinting from room to room, eager to get the tour over with, more concerned with the day out of class than the art on the walls. I was trying to soak things in while keeping the backs of their heads in view when I turned a corner and saw Flag exactly where I had left it all those years ago. Have you ever run into someone you were once in love with? Not someone who left you broken hearted, but one you never actually dated? That way you have no bad memories of them, just some sense of things that never were? It was like that.

I stopped and stood in front of it. You have to stand in front of it to really appreciate its glory, all those underlying textures creating a depth that makes it so much more than a picture. The way that the white wasn’t really white and bits of text peaked through like secret messages, it amazes me and always has. And in that moment I remembered what paint smelled like. The sharpness of acrylic, the tantalizing asphyxiation of oils. I lived in those smells for almost a decade, and yet five minutes before I don’t think I could have brought them to mind. They lived in that painting.

“Mrs. Martin are you okay?”

I turned, seeing one of my students, Emma, looking at me.

“Yes, I just really love this painting.”

She smiled and nodded, “Oh, yeah, because it’s an American flag and you teach American history, right?”

No, not right. But how do you tell that to a kid who has to sit in your American history class the next day? Who probably sees you as the robot in front of the room that lives for nothing but to make them memorize the dates of the Civil War? Okay, that’s too depressing. Technically they know I have a life, but in the same way that I know George Washington must have snuggled with Martha; true, but hard to fathom.

“Yeah, something like that,” I replied because telling her any more wasn’t possible.

We looked at it together. She saw a flag. I saw the corner of my bedroom at my parents’ house, my easel, the paint stains on the carpet that made my mother crazy. I saw myself staying up all night in the summer trying to do what Johns did with Flag with as much success as one can expect at seventeen. I saw the stacks of canvases I have in the corner of my laundry room at home, covered with garbage bags because I just don’t know what else to do with them.

She moved on and I had the sense that I was slipping on my official duty. So I turned and hurried to find my group, looking back to give it one last glance. It sat there, waiting for its next admirer, and I said goodbye to it in my mind. I found my kids in the gift shop. They were laughing over a book of cubist nudes. Since they were at least trying to be quiet, I left them to it. And really, cubist nudes are pretty funny. I browsed near enough to them to still be a respectable chaperone. I thought about buying a book on Johns, for old times’ sake, but shrunk down in reproductions, they really are just pictures.

Eventually the rest of the students made their way through the exhibit and we left to wait outside for the bus. The November sky was gray and cold, and we huddled together for warmth in the bus loading zone.

“So what did you like best, Tariq?” I asked one of my students, trying to take my mind off the cold that was seeping into my sneakers.

“I liked the melting clocks one, although it was a lot smaller than I thought it would be.”

The others nodded in agreement.

“I liked the Jackson Pollock,” added Jordan.

“What? The drippy one? I could do that in my basement,” Tariq shook his head at Jordan’s apparent foolishness.

I laughed because that is what they all say, Pollock fans know that all too well. “No offense Tariq, but I doubt that. Maybe if you worked on it for a few decades.”

“Oh come on, Mrs. Martin. It’s just splattered paint.”

“No, trust me. Getting that feeling right, it isn’t easy.”

“How do you know?” Jordan asked.

I shrugged, “I used to paint.” I waited for someone to ask me about that, but no one did. Instead they turned and stared down the street, wishing the bus into existence. When that didn’t work Tariq turned back to me.

“So which one was your favorite? The drippy one?”

I gave him a smirk. “No, I liked the Jasper Johns flag.”

“Of course you do,” he replied.

“Hey, it’s not just because I’m the history teacher. I’ve always loved it, even when I was your age. It’s just so… deep. The colors and the textures. It’s a flag but it’s not a flag, you know?”

He blinked at me. “I don’t know, it just looked like a flag to me.”

Of course it did. And I guess in some ways he’s right. It is just a flag, a flag made of bits of paper, wax, and paint. And somehow, a piece of my soul, too.

Written by: Leslie Martin
Photograph by: Anthony Delanoix

A Beautiful Scene

Posted on: March 3, 2016

Friday, December 18th, 11AM:
Arrived last night and went straight to bed. I’ll never get used to flying. I don’t know how people do it on a regular basis. I skipped dinner, but wasn’t hungry, anyway. The conference doesn’t start until tomorrow, so I have a full day to wander around the city. I would be showered and dressed and all ready to go but I’ve been transfixed by the view from my window. It’s nothing out of the ordinary – just a couple of buildings - but it’s started to rain. I never get these kinds of views back home, and rarely does it rain.

4:20 PM:
Went out for a few hours, had some lunch and coffee and wandered around a bit, then came back to the hotel and took a nap. It’s still raining. I wonder what’s going on behind each one of those square portals across the street. I wonder if whoever’s behind them is thinking the same thing. I doubt it. They probably have better things to do.

11:10 PM:
They follow me wherever I go. They’re in the windows and storefronts and bathroom mirrors. It’s hard to come to a city like this and not be reminded. I might as well be back from where I came – the ghosts would be the same, but without the context, without the frame, without the ambience - and it’s aesthetics I’m most concerned with. Or at least that’s what I’ve always told myself. I fear that it will be like this every time – in every city – in every room.

Saturday, December 19th, 7:12 PM:
The conference was a fucking bore. Not that I expected it not to be. At least they paid for my accommodations and airfare. I’m back in my room. If I could smoke in here, I’d never leave.

9:40 PM:
It rained then too, but not heavily, not like this. The buildings are similar. I suppose buildings are similar in most big cities. And the greyness is the same greyness I recall while walking along those busy streets two and three years ago. But there’s something missing from this scene, some vacancy that needs to be filled. But it likely won’t be, at least not if I have anything to say about it. But I’m still enjoying the moment, or at least admiring it. I shouldn’t think too much.

Sunday, December 20th, 11:08 AM:
I’ve tried filling these past couple of days with moments I could maybe reflect upon in a year or two or ten and recall vividly and with some sense of fondness, but I don’t think that has happened. Last night at the bar, there was someone. She was sitting directly across from me with a drink in her hand. She looked about twenty-five or thirty. Her hair was dark, her skin slightly tan. She looked at me. I looked at her. This continued for some time. At a certain point, her glass became empty. I should have walked over, or at least called for the bartender. Instead, I kept sipping my Rum-and-Coke. Nothing good could have come of it, anyway.

3:34 PM:
I’d like to set up my camera and record what’s playing out so beautifully in front of me, but I didn’t bring the right lens. This means no close-ups of whatever’s going on behind those little square portals. It’s probably not that interesting anyway. It’s likely trivial stuff, similar to what’s not playing out right here in this room. Maybe they’re zooming in on me. Luckily, the rain partially blocks their view – and mine. Wide shots are better, anyway. They show you the whole picture. Wait, what am I saying? I just lied. There’s an entire world outside that frame.

8:08 PM:
I should start packing, but I feel lethargic. There isn’t much to pack anyway. I should just sit here and enjoy my last few hours in this little room in this grey city. It will all come back to me one day and then maybe I’ll appreciate it more. We never fully comprehend these moments when they’re actually happening – only in retrospect. There’s no need to take pictures. No need to press record on my video camera. No need write all of this down. I don’t need any of that to remember. No, I’m just going to sit here and let this scene wash over me. Maybe in a few years, I’ll recall it vividly and with some sense of fondness.

Written by: Jamie Naqvi
Photograph by: Sophie Stuart

Blood Town Forest

Posted on: March 1, 2016


A single letter sat in William Blood’s mailbox, the address for Philip Kaufman, in the corner. His aged hand, still creased from years of labor, shook it open.

“Dear Mr. Blood,” he read. “We regret to inform you that because of your refusal to pay your property taxes, and your refusal to show up in court, the Town of Lancaster, MA is confiscating the stretch of forest on Brockelman Road. Please report to our main office immediately.”

William stared at the letter until the words swam in front of his eyes. After a minute, he took a deep breath, folded it up with care, and marched to his car.

My family’s land, all I have left, and that bastard’s found a way to take it.

The fifteen minute drive felt like five, and then he’d found the building. Inside, he searched every hallway until he reached an open door that read KAUFMAN. A man in a brown suit sitting behind the desk looked up. William introduced himself, and the man got up, beaming.

“Mr. Blood, I’m glad to see you got my letter,” he said, reaching to shake William’s hand.

“You’re the man who’s taking my land.” William crossed his arms over his chest.

Phil shook his head. “I promise you, Mr. Blood, we wouldn’t do this if we had any other choice. Please, have a seat.” He turned back to the desk, getting a corner ready. “I’ll take you through the paperwork, and answer any questions you have.”

William took forever walking to the desk. Once Phil began explaining, William stopped listening. His body numb, he signed every dotted line until Phil clapped him on the back and thanked him for his donation.

“So that’s what you’re calling it?” William asked. “In your letter, you considered this ‘a confiscation.’” He pulled the paper from his back pocket.

Phil kept smiling. “Mr. Blood, you’re a respected man in this community, but you haven’t paid your taxes in full. Now, we could print that in the papers,” he said. “But you’re a good man whose only crime is not having the money. We wouldn’t do that to you.”

William scoffed, turning for the door. “Good day, Philip. Thanks for your time.”

That week, an ad in the paper declared that some hiking trails had been established in Lancaster Blood Town Forest. Seeing his name stuck in there, like he’d just handed the property over instead of fighting for it for years, left William struggling to sleep. The next night, he grabbed his sturdiest shovel, jumped in his car, and drove to Town Hall.

If he wants to treat my family’s history like a tourist attraction, then he’s got another thing coming.

Five minutes passed before Phil walked out. William waited until he rolled off down the road, and then followed, keeping ten feet behind until the man pulled up to a half-lit home. Parking along the road, William got out when Phil did. The man locked eyes with him and jumped.

“William! Are you well?” Phil asked.

“I’ve been thinking about the forest,” William said. He nodded to his car. “Come for a drive?”

Phil gaped, and then gave a nervous laugh. “That’s kind of you to ask, but I -- I’m expected, see.” He pointed to the house. The silhouette of a woman and child glided by the window, their laughs muted by the glass.

Just like my family, once.

“Won’t take a moment,” William said, and sat back down.

Phil hesitated, and then jogged over. “I have to say, I’m surprised to see you here, William,” he said when they headed down the road. “You know my office hours.”

William gave him a tight smile. “Yes, well, some things can’t be talked about in a mere fifteen-minute meeting.”

Phil twitched a nod and his Adam’s apple bobbed. “Of course. So, what’s on your mind?”

William turned onto another road. Finally, he drove them down the half-paved path to his “donated” forest, the trees thickening around them. Phil’s Adam’s apple bobbed again.

“I just wanted to enjoy the quiet here one last time,” William said, pulling over. His foggy headlights passed over a sizable rock beside them, his name engraved there.

“You’re really attached to this place,” Phil said, his voice a little too high.

William handed him a cigarette, wearing a real smile this time. “More than you know,” he said and nodded to the woods. “Shall we?”

Phil choked, smoking up the whole car. “What, hike? I just came from work.” He gestured to his dress clothes.

William shrugged. “If you look west, the trees fall away and you can see the sky. Good sight to smoke to.”

Phil hesitated, and then got out to lean against the hood.

William grinned. “Good man,” he said. He followed, pulling out the shovel behind him and rounding the back of the car. At the rearview mirror, he hung back. Phil sent another stream of smoke to the sky, the stars flickering behind it.

“You’re right, William,” he said. “The stars are beautiful here.”

William nodded. He expected his heart to pound, his hands to shake, but as he lifted the shovel and whipped it down onto Phil’s head, neither happened. The man just dropped to the ground like wet laundry, his cigarette a few inches off to the side.

With a deep breath, William stuck Phil’s cigarette in his mouth, opened his trunk, and looped a long twist of rope over his arm. Hitching up his pants, he hauled Phil up over his shoulder.

His knees shook with age. Sucking a breath through his teeth, William marched into the forest, counting to one hundred before dumping Phil at the base of a tree. A cool breeze blew by, but he didn’t shiver. Unfurling the rope, he tied a noose around Phil’s neck, and pulled tight, craning his neck to study the branches.

One loomed close, thick at the base and high enough that he could reach it without climbing. Standing back, he tossed the rope three times before it caught, allowing him to wrap it around the trunk for leverage.

Slowly, he pulled Phil up. His body jerked and twitched while he hanged, but by the time he got high enough to be out of sight, he stopped moving. The branch groaned as the body swayed.

Sighing, William tied a knot, and pulled a fresh cigarette from his pocket. The breeze cooled the sweat on his forehead.

“Oh, yes, Philip,” he whispered. “The stars above my land are the best.” Hitching his pants up again, he wandered back to the road.

Written by: Caitlin Mannarino
Photograph by: Kayla King

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