Ruby lips descending into salty brine. My lips. Bright light yielding to dark, fathomless depths on a midsummer’s eve where the sweltering heat of the sun still lingers in the damp night air of the goldfields. Eighteen years of growing up in each other’s company, budding feelings finally confessed—only to have the last night marred by the shattered delusion of something we were never meant to be. A first date gone wrong.
That day—the day you watched me die,
what were you thinking?
I know. You were feeling sorry for yourself, for the loss you would have to suffer so early on in your youth, and for having to conjure up an explanation plausible enough to avoid scrutiny: “My Darling Clementine, drowned!”
Does my death yet haunt you? Very well, poor dear, console yourself. Exchange one woman for another; touch is all the same. Rest your brow upon my little sister’s breast—see if it helps you to forget. Forget me. Forget you. You forget yourself.
Not I, though—I will never forget.
Clusters of lanky ash trees lining the brine pools before us bear mute witness as you snake your hand around my waist, seizing me with clammy fingers.
Clementine—kiss me. I can’t contain myself—I love you. You joke, surely, I think, until your fingers fix themselves under the hollows of my jaw, vice-like. I meet your gaze, alarmed by what I see—not the face of a friend, but something strange, twisted.
Your mouth is shaping lovely lies—deceit etched into the corners of your smile. Something heinous lurks there, heretofore unnoticed. I see it clearly now, reflected in your features, some hidden urge burgeoning to the surface. In your eyes a manic glee. Your tongue, a serpent’s tongue, moving to ensnare mine.
If this is love, I want no part of it.
Let go of me—are you insane?! You’re hurting me—
A gasp of breath, a stifled scream, a stumble and a fall. Followed by splashing, flailing. Silence. All at once, the mania flees your face. Not so very bold now. I recognize you again, but it is with
changed eyes. You pause in horror for a spell before departing, thinking I am lost and gone—for good.
I am not lost. Still here, fighting in that one suspended moment where you watch me drown and whimper to yourself, clasping your hands tightly around your arms—arms that were all too quick to release me—or was it push, rather? —as I tripped and fell. I struggle to keep my head afloat as the weight of my woolen dress pulls me down.
Yet, be it the work of some sick miracle or sheer force of will, I can still see your figure—clearly outlined—as my eyes lapse under the slippery film of the water. With piercing scrutiny I trace every movement in your face—those frantic eyes, that pale, trembling jaw…
Why do you tremble so, and not I?
Book Review: Anxious People
Book Review: Anxious People
A Clumsy Mischaracterization of Anxiety
Tully Mahoney ’23
Fredrik Backman is a multi-time bestselling author, making his novel Anxious People utterly disappointing and tacky. The premise of the novel is a bank robbery gone wrong that turns into a hostage situation in an apartment complex in Stockholm, Sweden. Simultaneously, it is a tale about how all of its characters’ backgrounds intertwine into a single storyline, which is outright predictable. A few themes that Backman highlights are generational differences, second chances, compassion, anxiety, and the difficulty of the human experience.
The premise of Anxious People is unfortunately unrealistic. For instance, its clumsy police officers are a father-son duo who quarrel about family drama and walk on eggshells around each other throughout the investigation. In real life, if father and son police officers could not properly interview suspects due to their underlying drama, their station would likely not allow them to work together. Furthermore, stations do not typically assign partners who are related because there are too many factors that would simply make them poor partners. This is just one example of Anxious People’s plot that is genuinely not feasible.
As its title suggests, the novel is about anxious people. However, its characterization of their anxiety is completely stereotypical, leaving Anxious People with a lack of depth. The novel delves into each character’s background, but each character is portrayed as having experienced some traumatic event in their past that made them the person that they are in the present-day setting of the novel. This commonality comes off as unrealistic to readers as well as a tasteless portrayal of anxiety. If the point of this novel is to illuminate the anxiety that plagues so many people, then the origin of each character’s anxiety should not be nearly identical to one another. The truth of anxiety is that some people have it genetically and others develop it due to certain events. Furthermore, everyone’s anxiety presents in different forms, and Anxious People fails to show such depth to the people with anxiety and anxious tendencies.
In addition, the characterization of each figure in the novel is cookie-cutter and flavorless. Each introduction of a new character is written identically, which makes the first 100 pages of the novel quite tough to remain engaged with—and there are too many characters to follow in the first place. Moreover, Anxious People consists of far too much narration and not nearly enough description. Backman does not give any attention to details, making the reader feel like an observer rather than a participant visualizing the action. This level of narration makes the novel’s plot confusing, as it is hidden under so much background context.
Backman also attempts to make Anxious People highlight fundamental truths of human existence. However, the revelation of these truths comes across as forced because the author deliberately tells readers the deeper meanings rather than revealing them through descriptive imagery. Some lines that exemplify this disappointing revelation are: “we are asleep until we fall in love,” “love is wanting you to exist,” and “personality is just the sum of our experiences.” These truths are not ground-breaking, earth-shattering epiphanies. Instead, they are reminiscent of advice a grandmother tells her grandkids while looking back on her life. Since Backman lacks depth in details and descriptors, he is unable to make these truths come across naturally in a way that would make the reader feel like they stumbled across a new revelation.
Backman’s style of writing has a learning curve for some readers. Chapters range from a typical writing style to a police officer’s investigation notes. Backman uses humor throughout Anxious People and, sometimes, his writing appears to be a stream of consciousness. Despite the novel’s shortcomings, Backman succeeds in producing a connection between characters and readers through his ability to create sympathetic characters. Indeed, the novel has the potential to make readers feel less lonely—since it ultimately seems to be more about lonely people than anxious people—and realize that their human experience is not so different from that of everyone else. If there is any lasting impact of Anxious People, it is certainly this.
by Sarah McLaughlin ’23
Why do I always end up wanting to punch myself in the face after making small talk?
This new girl comes into work, and I ask her if it’s still raining because I’m leaving, and she says no, and so I stuff my raincoat into my backpack, awkwardly crouching over in the desk chair and sort of holding the backpack up with my feet and I say something dumb like “guess I won’t be needing this anymore,” and laugh as if it’s funny, and she sort of laughs too but in a way like she pities me, and then I say something about how I wish we would get fall weather soon and how I hate the summer, and that’s true, but why do I say hate? It’s such an aggressive and unnecessary word in that context, and then she looks at me and says, “Well, I think you’re alone in that, Dillon,” and I’m just left staring at her like an idiot wondering how she knows my name.
And then after I stare and she turns away to sit at a desk and her small gold hoop earrings swing a little and glint under the ceiling light, I remember she was in my freshman-year writing seminar; she was the girl I thought had a nice voice and said thoughtful things about everyone’s essays, and I always caught myself staring at her just like I am now. I can’t for the life of me remember her name.
But I can check the schedule. It’s Lexi.
I’m not surprised she works here. I remember now that I read her narrative essay in our seminar. She wrote about growing up in South Dakota and having a crush on the quarterback of her high school’s football team. It should’ve been so silly. But, somehow, she made it captivating. I wish I could remember it fully.
When I was in first grade, I hung out with a group of girls who liked to sing Taylor Swift songs while we maneuvered our way across ladders and beams and monkey bars. I can’t remember if I got into her music because my dad put it onto the old MP3 player he gave me for my sixth birthday or because they liked it first, but I learned all the lyrics to the songs we’d sing either way. Spring rolled around and a sign-up sheet was put on the bulletin board in our classroom for the talent show. I thought about writing my name down because I had just started learning guitar. Then I saw the four girls walk up to the wall together and pencil their names one at a time. When they came back over to sit at our shared table, I asked what they were going to perform. For some reason, in my head, it was going to be four individual acts. But then one of them said they were going to sing “Love Story” and explained how they were going to dress up, the taller two in suit jackets and ties that belonged to their older brothers and the shorter two in white dresses with their First Communion veils. After that day, they spent most recess periods rehearsing on the blacktop how they would hold hands and spin each other in circles. I started sitting with a kid named Tommy who would hide in the corner by himself and organize his Pokémon cards.
I remember some girls used to see me and Tommy in the corner of the cafeteria and ask if he was my boyfriend. I didn’t have a concept of what that meant except that he was a boy and gave me his duplicate Pokémon cards so I supposed he was a friend. But I knew that word meant something different—I knew from the smirks on their faces, the way they’d flash their new adult front teeth I didn’t have yet, the way Avril Lavigne sung about a similar word—girlfriend—in another song I had on my MP3 player; I just didn’t know what. So I shook my head and didn’t say a word and neither did Tommy, and I just hoped they’d leave us alone.
On my street there was a kid named Zach, who I think was my age but was at least twice my size. There is a little creek that runs in the patch of woods behind my house, and I liked to catch frogs. In the spring, especially, they weren’t too hard to find. Catching them was the tricky part, but it is a skill I’d mastered over the years.
I think it was that same spring when “Love Story” was all over the radio when I caught a frog and decided to make a little home for it in a Tupperware container—without the lid, of course, but I picked one with sides tall enough that it couldn’t climb out. I put a little mud from the creek bed at the bottom and plucked some grass from my yard. The frog seemed to like it—at least, after a few minutes, he stopped trying to escape. I was so proud of my little architectural creation that I felt a desire to show it off, for somebody else to see it and appreciate it just as much as I did. So I did something I didn’t do often and brought the frog to the front yard, away from the creek, and down to the sidewalk. I sat cross-legged there, and the sun beat down on us, but I wore a baseball cap and the brim of it kept the frog shaded.
Minutes later, a few kids on bicycles and Razor scooters rolled along the street, almost passing me without notice, but they stopped and stared down at the girl with grass stains on her knees and mud caked under her fingernails holding a Tupperware container.
“What the hell is that?” one of them asked, and it felt like someone had dropped ice down my shirt; my mom had told me to never use that word.
I lifted the container up to show them and probably shyly mumbled something, too, although who knows if they were even listening. They stared, and smiles grew on their faces. I smiled, too.
“What are you gonna do, kiss it?”
They laughed in chorus. And that’s when Zach tossed his bike to the side, reached down into the Tupperware, pulled out the frog, and in one furious but careless motion threw it onto the ground with a wet splat and squashed it under his foot.
I don’t remember how it looked. I know my eyes were open, but it’s like time has censored the image.
When I step outside, letting the heavy door fall closed behind me, it isn’t raining—Lexi was right—but it’s misty, and the gray clouds shielding the sun make it impossible to tell if it has already set.
Batman: The Long Halloweekend
by Aidan Lerner ’22
October 30, 10:30 p.m., Pinehurst Avenue, Providence RI 02908
Jack Ryder shuddered as he hustled down the cracked sidewalk of Pinehurst. Even by New England standards, this was one of the colder October nights in recent memory. Jack paused to push his phony glasses up the bridge of his nose and looked up to see three hooded men slink out in front of him.
“Before we take everything you own, what’re you supposed to be?” the biggest one asked.
Jack, stammering, replied, “A-uh r-r-reporte-er.”
The men chuckled amongst themselves before closing in with menacing leers. Jack closed his eyes and braced for the impending mugging.
Suddenly, Jack felt the woosh of a cape and opened his eyes to see a flash of movement with a figure, cloaked in darkness, at the center of it. Batman! In a flurry of fists the Batman reduced the would-be crooks to a groaning heap. He turned, the whites of his eyes becoming visible under his cowl.
“Stay inside tonight,” Batman growled.
11:00 pm, The Flame, PC Campus
Director of Public Safety, Gordon, lit his cigarette and frowned. The Bat Signal was fully operational next to the Flame and the light shone against the full moon. Batman rarely responded to the Signal directly, but Gordon hoped that tonight he would show. This night, of all nights, Providence College needed The Bat.
A voice from nowhere called out, “Activity on Pinehurst. Taken care of now.”
Gordon’s eyes adjusted to take in the hulking figure of the Caped Crusader.
“That’s the least of our problems, Batman. I’ve heard rumors that Scarecrow is on the prowl off campus tonight.”
Batman stared at Gordon, impassive. “Well, what is public safety going to do about this, Jim?”
An exasperated Gordon responded, “We are doing all we can. We have a bus that drives people around now. But what can we do against the likes of Scarecrow?”
Gordon looked around, realizing he had lost sight of Batman.
Jim Gordon shook his head. Batman had slipped back into shadow, gone.
Gordon spoke into his walkie-talkie, “High alert tonight, everyone! New protocol: when people show up at the gate, we need to ask them where they are going and glare at them. Godspeed.”
11:30 p.m., Eaton Street
The Boy Wonder had grown accustomed to spotting his mentor in the shadows.
“I know where Scarecrow is hiding,” Robin declared. Batman revealed himself and turned to question his ward.
“It couldn’t have been that easy,” he remarked.
Robin replied, “There’s a house on Eaton called Gotham. That’s where he’s hiding.”
“How do you know that?” Batman asked.
Robin was enthusiastic to make his point known. “There were mass groups of kids stumbling outside, totally lost. Many of them cried about their emotional fears. They looked like they had no idea where to go.”
Batman stared at his protégé. “Robin, those parameters apply to every house in the immediate area. This is a college.”
“Well, I also saw a bunch of Fear Gas emanating from every window, and I heard Scarecrow laughing.”
Batman pulled out his trademark bat-a-rang. It was time to work.
October 31, 12:00 a.m., Harkins Hall
“Another night, another win for the Batsy crew, huh?” Catwoman whispered with her typical purr.
The Dark Knight smiled for the first time all evening. “Scarecrow is taken care of. Off-campus is safe again, for tonight at least.”
Catwoman smirked. “Why do you do it? Who are you under that cowl?”
Batman strode away with a flick of his cape.
“Who am I?” the Bat repeated, “Who are we? One heart. One heartbeat. One community.”
Catwoman gasped. She knew exactly who Batman was.
A Girl named Phoebe, a Boy named Avery, and a Man named Clyde
by Taylor Maguire ’24
The walls of the wooden cabin shuttered as if the ghost of Halloween’s past drifted through it. Everyone else inhibiting the lodge fell into a deep hushed tone out of fear that any loudly exchanged words would cause us all to be consumed by snow. The wall by the kitchen of the lodge was lined with various postcards from America, and there was a record player in the corner that quietly played Frank Sinatra songs. I sat in the corner alone, beside the window, watching layers of snowflakes fall with an old copy of Little Women I had discovered in the library around the corner.
Avery suddenly appeared at the bottom of the staircase. Avery was my best friend from college. We met in a Greek Classics class where the two of us would make fun of the statues we read about in Art History books. He walked over in his pajamas and curled up on the brown ottoman beside me.
“You seem worried,” he says.
“Oh I’m fine, the snow doesn’t scare me,” I reply.
“You are from Michigan,” he says.
“You didn’t get snow like this in California?” I ask.
Avery lets out a chuckle.
“What does Clyde think of everything?” he asks.
Clyde is the owner of the lodge where we were staying. He has a long, thick white beard that curls around his face, and a pair of cherub pink apple cheeks. He rents out rooms to travelers for a cheap price, and always makes anyone a cup of chamomile tea with bread and butter. Avery and I have stayed here a little over a week and in that time we have gotten to know Clyde quite well considering travellers typically stay here for two nights tops.
“Clyde believes it’ll pass, he’s more worried about keeping everyone warm,” I reply, turning a page in my book without really absorbing the words of Louisa May Alcott.
Clyde comes over and drops an armful of sweaters on the table in front of us. They’re wool and are woven into specific storytelling patterns.
“Don’t worry my youngest travelers, they’re clean, they belonged to my father years ago,” he says. I picked up the red one with a lion sewn on the front of it and put it over what I was wearing. Avery put on a forest green one that made his eyes appear to sparkle deviously.
“What was your father’s name?” I ask.
“Seamus Murphy. He was a fisherman. He left Ireland when he was seventeen and joined a bunch of other rugrat sailors. Met my mother in Switzerland and he built the lodge here with his own two hands for me and my four sisters,” Clyde replies.
“Clyde, you never mentioned you had sisters,” I say.
“Oh of course. There was Saoirse, Roisin, Clodagh, and Gracie. We all grew up in this cabin. You know, we were all very close. When we were kids we would run around the field and they would pretend to be fairies and I would play the Tolkien evil shapeshifter known as the Pooka. We were all guided by our fearless leader Roisin who had this wild imagination. Roisin was the one who tucked us in to bed each night and would read us classic American literature before we would fall asleep. She sewed us each stocking caps to wear in the winter, and she even taught me how to tie my shoelaces,” he sighs.
“I would love to see these female versions of you, Clyde. Where did they disappear to?”
Avery always had a knack of getting someone to let their guard down. He could get anyone to willingly divulge their buried secrets. It was a talent of his that was very similar to witnessing a car crash. It was too awful to ignore; you couldn’t look away out of fear of missing what would happen next.
“The dynamic of our relationship didn’t survive the burden of life’s adversities. Shortly after my father died from a heart attack, Gracie wandered off into the woods during a night like this. It destroyed my mother, but Roisin was never the same after Gracie’s disappearance. We stopped frolicking around fields, and began cleaning plates and sweeping floors in between schooling. She left home less than a week after her 18th birthday and I haven’t seen or heard from her since. Saoirse and Clodagh moved with my mother to America where they send me postcards every month or so,” he says.
“It’s a shame really. For such a beautiful home created through a parent’s love for their children to be abandoned completely in the alps of Switzerland,” Avery says. There’s a hint of suspicion in his voice that rings louder than I believe he intends it to.
“Beauty can be a misleading facade, Mr. Avery. Besides, if the tragic history of this home had not occured, I wouldn’t meet the strangers of this world like your charming self.”
“It is funny though that you picked out Little Women to read, Phoebe,” Clyde says, turning to me.
“How come?” I ask.
“That was Roisin’s favorite,” he replies. He stands up now.
“Well, duty calls. If you both get cold, I have some nice long stockings that you can borrow. Will make you look very dashing, Avery,” Clyde says, giving me a wink.
Clyde blows out a series of candles that linger around nearby tables, leaving the fireplace to serve as our only source of light during the storm.
by Kate Ward ’23
The painting had been sitting across from the Greek statue for the past 50 or so years, and she had never grown tired of looking at him. His body was strong but not in the ways women liked now; he was strong like a field hand or someone with a particular knack for swimming. His hair was wavy and, despite being frozen in time, she could’ve sworn it moved from time to time. It was as if he had been chained or was frozen in place and plaster was poured over him and occasionally his movements would break the plaster form. People were drawn to him like moths to a flame, maybe because he’s one of the only statues in a room full of paintings, or maybe because the whole museum was full of paintings and only a handful of statues.
She liked watching how the people “ooh”-ed and “ahh”-ed, and mothers smacking away children’s hands if they got too close to touching his smooth flesh. She was sure he wouldn’t mind if they touched him; he had a kind face, so she was sure he would be okay with a child. The family came to her painting next, the little kid pointing out the lamb that lay beside her, his head in her lap. The kid looked up at his mother and asked if she thought the lamb had a name, the mother shook her head and continued reading the panel of information next to the frame. The lamb did have a name, Kritios, in reference to the Greek sculpture “Kritios Boy.” She named him that when she discovered that the statue was Greek.
She had never heard of Greece or where it was, and she couldn’t pick up much information from the people passing by the frame and the thick coats of paint that smothered her made it difficult to hear. A lot of the time she would only understand if someone was pointing and looking to another for guidance like the child and his mother. She wondered what she could learn if the museum ever took her off the wall and transported her to that far away place. Or maybe she was there and didn’t even know.
The seasons came and went and visitors began to dwindle. She noticed the lights stayed off more than they were on, and the paintings across from her were taken down and packed into wooden crates. She looked down at Boy then back at the statue. She could’ve sworn his expression was more glum than it was normally. She hoped that wherever he was going she could come along and get to gaze at him a little while longer. The day arrived when her frame was lifted from its mounting and her vision was obscured with cloth and layer upon layer of clouded plastic…bubble wrap, she thought she heard someone say. With one last gaze, she saw that her statue was still rooted in place. Clearly there was no intention to move him. She was set inside a nest of shavings and other squiggly objects. Something slid over her, large and heavy, and then she was moving, and she knew she would never see her statue again.
For Better, For Worse
by Ellie Forster ’24
Margaret never liked when people made a fuss about her anniversary. Harold had been gone for almost a year now, and they hadn’t been a festive pair when he was alive. To act like that day was any different now just seemed silly. All she wanted was for Tim and June to come over, to have lunch like they always did, and be alone. It was just a Wednesday. That was all. Old friends would call, and she’d let the phone ring. Didn’t need reminders of a day fifty years ago, a day that no one else even understood. Only the ones who stood up on that altar could understand. Them, and them alone.
June and Tim rang the bell at 1:15, same as they always did. They let themselves in, and Tim went to the bathroom. June stood in the kitchen, the light surrounding her, touching her figure so gently it was like it was afraid of her. She wore a blue button-down tucked into an old pair of jeans. Her hair curled softly, and she had a yellow bandana holding it back. She turned to see Margaret standing there, a dish towel in her hand. The old friends smiled at each other, and when Margaret walked over, June took her hand and squeezed it.
The two couples had been best friends for 60 years, since middle school. They were each other’s best men and maids of honor. They bought houses on the same street, and the houses were one another’s. So much of the furniture in Margaret’s house had been picked out by Tim, they had just given him his own room to decorate. That parlor was the best room in the house, everyone agreed. Neither couple had ever had children, and nothing else could’ve possibly severed the bond they shared. They were inseparable.
June and Margaret sat in the parlor when Tim came in. He sank into a chair and smiled.
“I miss him.”
The women smiled and each took one of Tim’s hands.
“So do I,” said Margaret quietly.
Tim’s eyes shone, and his chest rose. “He’d be so embarrassed of me right now. He’d hate this.”
“Well, he’d definitely have some remark, I’m sure we can all agree about that,” June said with a laugh. Margaret looked at her, and her face flushed still, the same it had when they were kids. That laugh shattered her chest into a million pieces and offered her heart up, praying it would be taken.
Tim wiped his face and smiled. “That he would.” Then the old man took an envelope out of his jacket pocket and slid it across the table.
The women looked at it and saw the letter M written in elegant script.
Margaret looked up at Tim. “No.”
“It’s from him.”
Her heart sank. “For me?”
She sighed. She lightly took the letter and a knife from the table. She took out the small piece of paper and saw seven words in a familiar, soft handwriting.
I can’t thank you enough.
Margaret felt the tears come, and she felt her friends come to her side, Tim’s hand on her back as he, too, wept, and June pulling Margaret’s head to her chest, running her hands through her hair.
Fifty years earlier, four people stood on an altar as Harold and Margaret held hands. They said the words the priest told them to, and they were pronounced man and wife. Behind her new husband, Margaret saw Tim smile, and Harold turned to him as the crowd cheered. The men met eyes and grinned. Harold grabbed Tim’s hand and turned to face his wife. A hand squeezed Margaret’s shoulder from behind her, and Margaret turned to see June standing there, the sun intimidated by her glow. She hugged her, and as June laughed, she felt her chest burst. As they left one another’s embrace, Margaret kept June’s hand in hers. Then the happy couple shared a kiss.
When Least Expected
by Taylor Rogers ’24
Cupid’s thin, heart-tipped arrow strikes my skin at approximately 10:00 a.m., attacking me while I was suffering through yet another pointless Zoom call. The sneaky little bastard hit me when I was most vulnerable, as he knew I could not defeat him in my lethargic state. Lazily, my blood falls from the wound on my forearm, staining the precious notes and drawings scattered in my notebook. Thankfully, my fellow classmates and professor are unable to see my distress, nor hear my animalistic cries as I pull the stubborn god’s arrow out of my flesh. Once the arrow is laid on my desk, I find myself drawn to the object, its white coloration one that reassures me that yes, Cupid was the one who shot me, not my roommate who’s been reading The Hunger Games a little too much lately. This sacred arrow has an intricate scrawl lazily written along its base, the Latin impossible for me to understand. Thankfully, Google Translate exists, and I type the words into the search engine, eyes widening at the words’ meaning. “Love will come when unexpected?” I ask myself, too stubborn to attempt to comprehend this confusing meaning.
The words from the “divine” creature stick in my mind all day, causing me to ponder whether my potential soulmate is currently watching me while I walk around my campus, the snow below my feet making this task difficult to accomplish. His words plague my inner thoughts as I do my laundry, and I can’t help but glance around the empty laundry room, hoping my lover is here at the same time I am. I peek around every corner whenever I walk, hoping to see a pair of eyes that will make butterflies burst from my stomach or a smile that forces gibberish to fall from my chapped lips. As I diligently stare at the words on the paper, I can’t help but glance up from my notes, wondering if my soulmate opted to study in the nearly desolate library as well.
“What’d you do to your arm?” my roommate inquires as I enter our shared space, their indie music blasting from the tiny blue speaker neither of us could fathom living without.
“Got shot by Cupid’s arrow,” I bluntly respond, my words causing them to laugh. I take a seat in my precious blue bean bag, then gesture for my roommate to talk, since they most definitely have something to say about my “joke.”
“What are you, stuck in your Roman mythology phase again? That stuff doesn’t happen in real life,” the stubborn human elects to respond, and I decide not to press him on the whole “soulmate” concept that’s been playing tennis with the other thoughts invading my mind all day.
“Neither do zombie apocalypses, yet that doesn’t stop you from keeping an apocalypse survival kit stashed under your bed,” I point out, causing them to go silent. They select a new song to listen to. Eerily calm music streams through our plant-filled habitation while we begin slowly reviewing homework for the Zoom classes (for which we happen to pay $60,000). Silence fills the room, then my easily distracted roommate points to something on my desk. “Someone left that for you, by the way.” Curious, I rise from the beanbag, and walk over to the desk, immediately grabbing the small note. The complex calligraphy on this scroll is instantly recognizable, and I grin at the words written. Is this what Cupid meant by unexpected? “I’m gonna go talk to the person who left this for me, I’ll be back,” I assure my roommate, who seems to be too focused on the newest episode of The Walking Dead to pay attention to me. In seconds, I have made it to the elevator, ready to meet the person I’m destined to love forever.
“Shoot, maybe I just got Rick-rolled,” I realize as the song “Never Gonna Give You Up” blasts from somebody’s dorm room above me. Despite what the note claimed, not a single person is under the biggest oak tree on campus, nor are there any hints of a person in a giant, red hoodie. “I knew this was too good to be true. I guess I was expecting the person to actually show up, which went against what my arrow said anyways,” I say aloud, not caring if anybody spots me talking to myself. As I stand outside, Mother Nature playfully opens the clouds above me, small droplets of snow beginning to litter the ground around me. Cursing, I decide that today isn’t the day I want to get hypothermia, and I begin the brief walk back to my dorm. Each step feels wrong, as if Cupid’s bow is using me as an arrow, slowly drawing me back to the tree where nobody awaits me. However, I resist the tree’s strange pull, my efforts to get away causing me to bump into somebody.
I expect the heavens to halt, for the snow to suddenly stop falling, but nothing happens. Why did I think the person I collided into was going to be my soulmate? “Sorry,” I curtly say to the person, making eye contact with them briefly. Nothing happens, and I quickly look away from the person, who nods before continuing on their journey. I do the same, still wondering when Cupid’s going to magically work his magic and show me who I’m meant to be with for the rest of my life. The snow around me continues to fall, seeping into my blue, oversized hoodie that adorns my small frame. Yet, for the first time in a while, the cold air doesn’t wrap around me like a blanket. Instead, the snow seems to warm my cool figure, and I glance up at the calm, gray sky above me. As if giving me a thumbs-up of approval, the clouds stop sending snow at me for a second, then continues its merciless storm yet again.
Instead of returning to my dorm, I decide to wander around my campus, the divine above granting me warmth as I rediscover the school I fell in love with the first time I toured it. Snow artfully falls onto the buildings, dancing to its own music as I begin to do a dance of my own, skipping on the sidewalk and admiring the “gloomy” day nature has presented to me. The blue fades to black as my day goes away, and the rainbow of LED lights streaming from dorm windows begins to light my way down the twist and turns of the sidewalk, making me wonder if my soulmate truly is a person. With a smile on my face, I decide to slowly head back to my dorm, not wanting to leave the comforting embrace of the world around me. Snow joins me on the walk down the path, and I know this won’t be the last time I fall in love with Earth’s wonderful gifts. I find myself cured of the soulmate dilemma that threatened to destroy me earlier.
by Kate Ward ’23
As he took in the city view from the 20th floor of his apartment building, the lights flickered and dimmed. Methodically, as if there was someone going through a circuit breaker, each building went from a warm glow to a cold darkness. This wasn’t something new to Thomas. In fact, it happened almost every Friday night, and things stayed like this until early Monday morning. It gave the other species their own time to come out and do their business.
The society Thomas lived in was split between humans and an animalistic human hybrid called Gorcs. Well, at least that’s what everyone called them because they were failed lab experiments. The Gorcs would occasionally have extra limbs, wings, horns, various skin tones on one body, scales—anything was possible. The odd-looking were forced to stay inside until the lights were dimmed. It was not because of humans’ distaste for the other species, but because of how sensitive the Gorcs’ bodies were to sunlight.
Thomas watched from his window as the streets began to crawl, seething with Gorcs who were slowly emerging to make deals and slip into stores that had no vendors. He turned away and walked to his kitchen, preparing a late meal. Humans were allowed to go out at night but no one wanted to disturb the fragile peace that had been achieved after the 10 Years’ War that had erupted in the olden days between the Gorcs and the humans. Tensions were still high among some factions of Gorcs and humans, especially those who were poorer.
He enjoyed knowing that there was no governing body. It had dissolved after the war since the humans did nothing but kill their own and hoard money, jewels, and property. The two species had settled their own rules directly after the war at a meeting that had been declared by the two captains of each side. The rules are as follows: no light after 7 p.m. on Fridays, no fighting in the streets, and no attempt to rise to power. After the 10 Years’ War, people had decided that these rules were reasonable. Anyone who disobeyed would be swiftly reprimanded at a town hall. It was a dodgy society, and Thomas knew he could never be found out for fear of being thrown out or verbally destroyed.
As he ate, he watched the foot traffic move in the inky darkness. It was satisfying to watch the Gorcs move about freely. He knew what it was like to be an outcast, knew what it was like to have to live inside day in and day out. Finishing up, he piled his dishes in the sink and shuffled to the bathroom, staring at the mirror. The splotches had begun to pop up more and more, this time on his neck, face, and shoulders, all spots that would be more and more difficult to hide under clothing. If he was found out to be a Gorc playing a human, it might be bad enough that another war would begin. Taking off his shirt and trousers, more and more patches of greasy, oil-slick skin appeared. No one could find out. No one. He had kept it this way since he was a child, his parents helping and teaching him how to hide, how to act normally, how to navigate society. Thomas sighed and nodded, beginning to brush his teeth. As he spit a wad of toothpaste in the sink, he heard the distinct click of a camera shutter.
He had been found.
by Jay Willett ’20
When they sent me here, they didn’t expect me to survive. The atmosphere is too heavy to breathe, the water’s too thick to drink, the vegetation too poisonous. A mist of emerald encompasses the air between the canyon and the ship—I had to wait for the cloud to pass before venturing back outside. Vibrations reverberated throughout, clanging the metal against the limestone it was leaning on. I was surprised that the S.S. Oblivia held up upon crash landing. It did nothing but scuff the red and blue paint of the NASA logo. Gas was sizzling by, shrouding my view through the only circular window in the ship. The dashboard had an analog counter on it, which detailed how many hours the ship’s oxygen would last. The number had dropped into the single digits last night.
Pushing the red labeled “Emergency Exit” open led me into the ravine. Today I would make the annoying trek across to the lake. Most of the filtering technology was damaged in the crash, but Memphis worked his magic and scraped together a couple of working canisters. He explained to the group that the natural water here is drinkable if we remove the Arsenic and diluted the density of the liquid. I suggested we just boil it instead. Everyone snickered at that. This would probably be my last run for water. Even if it’s just me, the fresh water could only last maybe a day or two, but at least I wouldn’t die of dehydration. Although I’m not sure suffocation is much better. It’s times like this where I missed Memphis. He’d come up with a solution.
Strapping the empty canister on my back, I watched my step as I descended from where the Oblivia was lodged. My suit had about 34% battery left, enough to make a round trip without any breaks. I tapped the wrist nav, and the screen blipped on, illuminating my tired face with the orange arrows, pointing towards my destination. I’ve made this trip plenty of times, but the terrain kept changing, so it was hard to remember by memory. Yesterday there was a river of acid that stretched at the basin, but a landslide filled the gap overnight. Now the acid had pooled into mini lakes that I had to jump over. It wasn’t difficult considering the gravity was lighter than Earth’s—something like -4m/s^2? Memphis always loved to explain this stuff to us, but none of it really stuck with me. A habitual creature at heart, as long as I was told what to do, I’d do it.
Finally, at the end of the canyon was the entrance to the forest, the Shimogaki forest. Trevor named it after Sakura’s last name after she fell tripping over a root. Her helmet cracked and the gas flooded in. It was tough to watch. Lifting my legs to dodge the overgrowth was the least of my problems though—the clearing ahead would be my final obstacle before arriving at the lake. We called it the den, where our one and only predator lived. In terms of food, we had managed to ration the freeze-dried packets we found on Oblivia. It wasn’t tasty, but it’s not like there was any other life here to hunt, or vegetables to pick, let alone eat. The only thing that dwelled her besides us—
“HHHHERRRRRRR,” it growled from across the clearing. The flash of the scales blinded me; I activated the UV shade on my helmet. Humans couldn’t look at it, not with the naked eye at least. One claw scratch from it was all it would take; the radiation emitting from under its skin was enough to do it in an instant. We called it a predator, but honestly, I don’t think it eats meat, or anything for that matter. It doesn’t move unless provoked or threatened of its territory, and it just lays in the sun soaking up the rays. Approximately 20 feet long and 10 feet tall, the creature loomed over me like I was a pebble in its path. I fired the flare, the one that Memphis invented after it tore apart the others. The projectile flew meters above the lizard’s head. It steamed heat at the familiar object. Instantly the sky grew dark. I switched from UV to night-vision and made a break for it under its legs. All light was sucked in, it wailed in torment as it was robbed of its comfort. I didn’t have a void flare for the way back, though. I’d have to get crafty.
The Lake of Shadows laid in front of me. I named this one. The arsenic tinted the water a foreboding gray. After the Oblivia’s supply ran dry, I thought we were done for, but Memphis was convinced that this muck could be drinkable under the right circumstances. I lowered the canister under the surface, letting the solution leak into the filtering chamber.
“Still using that thing, huh?” Trevor said from behind me. I turned my head without lifting the cylinder.
“Oh?” I cooed, “you’re still alive? Thought the gas would’ve done you in by now.” Trevor chuckled, sitting in the shallows and dipping his feet in the poison. He left a couple of days ago, officially putting me on my own. He said he’d rather die out in the wilderness than in a prison.
“Me too,” he said. I pulled the filled canister up onto the shore, resting it between the two of us. It would take an hour or so for it to finish filtering. We both were staring at the setting sun, distinct from the sun we knew from home with its blue blaze. Trevor tapped the top of his helmet.
“You ever think about it?”
“Hm?” I looked over to him. “think ‘bout what?”
“You know—how it’ll end?” I guess I never thought about the end. I just kind of figured it would happen. I guess dehydration’s out of the picture, but everything else was still on the table. We weren’t expected to live this long. NASA sent us here, us prisoners of five, to test the living elements of the Strand. We weren’t human to them anymore, just monkeys they could send into space. The government called it a “more ethical capital punishment,” but I couldn’t really see how.
“I don’t know,” I responded, “but this is nice, isn’t it?” I pointed to the sunset; the cerulean beams were refracting off the bleak surface. The green clouds were pierced by the light, like heaven had split apart to let us in. Trevor chuckled again.
“Yeah, I guess it is.”