by The Cowl Editor on November 14, 2019


by Sarah McLaughlin ’23

I hear it as I push away the last needled branch that stands between me and the open clearing.

I’ve always been fascinated by frogs. When I was two years old, toddling around barefoot in my backyard, I saw one for the first time. Somehow, my chubby, little hands managed to corner it, pick it up, and hold it for a while. Either this frog was exceptionally well mannered or it was even more naive than I was.

In second grade, I kept one as a pet. I grabbed every relevant book in the library I could carry. I caught flies in jars and filled a mug with fresh water every morning to pour into the plastic terrarium my mom bought me for Christmas. Eventually, after sitting in front of it for a few hours one day, my chin resting on my folded arms on the kitchen table, I realized that it might not be having as much fun as I was—just squatting there, staring back at me, its white throat bobbing up and down, up and down. So I brought the terrarium out to the furthest corner of the backyard, opened the lid, and watched as it sat there for a few more minutes, black eyes unmoving, before deciding to jump out. It seemed so sudden, as if it were acting purely on a whim, but perhaps it had been pondering the pros and cons of its decision. Almost immediately, it blended right back in with the grass.

A few years later, we installed an in-ground pool. It attracted all sorts of creatures—squirrels, chipmunks, mice, birds. The birds were wise enough to take quick sips from the stone patio, but the other animals would often fall in the water, swim around in frantic confusion, and inevitably have to get scooped out by one of us with a net and released on the other side of the fence.

 The frogs, of course, ended up in there more often than anything else. Each summer morning, I’d walk out the back door, the patio cold and slick with dew underneath my bare feet, and I’d stand at one end, scanning for a tiny brown body with long legs pumping in a desperate breaststroke. If I saw one, I’d grab the net, dip it in the water, and chase the little guy around the perimeter until he finally ran out of breath. They never realize that you’re trying to save them.

When one of my friends found a mass of tadpole eggs in her pool, I couldn’t contain my jealousy. She knew me well, and she gave us half of them to raise ourselves. We brought a clear plastic tub of water to her house, and I held it on my lap on the ride home, now topped with a cluster of thirty or so tiny, marble-looking things. Each had a little black dot in the center that I knew—if all of those library books were correct—would somehow, within a few weeks, grow into a full-fledged frog. I could only imagine how awesome it would be to have dozens of new frogs all leaping out of the tub at once. Maybe, since I’d take such great care of them as they grew up, they’d let me hold them. Maybe a few would even hop right into my hands.

As their predicted hatch date grew closer, I spent more and more time laying outside on the patio, head resting on my arms, watching the eggs. It wasn’t until I awoke one morning to a shout from my mother downstairs that I saw them, though—tiny black dots, smaller than sunflower seeds, with wispy little tails that propelled them around the water without even creating a ripple in the surface.

There weren’t a lot of them, though, I quickly realized. Only a dozen or so had actually hatched—more than half of the eggs remained unmoving. When, after three days, they still showed no signs of life, my mother carefully scooped them out.

Nevertheless, my excitement heightened. I checked the tub every few hours for any signs of legs, even though I knew that first, they’d have to grow larger and more green.

Weeks passed, and the number of tiny bodies and tiny tails gradually dwindled. Legs began to sprout, but they didn’t even outnumber the original count of hatched eggs. Still, I watched them every day, waiting patiently for the moment when a fully-grown frog would swim to the surface.

And it did. One.

It looked so lonely in there all by itself. It swam in circles, bumping its webbed feet against the edge like the ones I fished out of the pool. So I lifted it out of the water, and before I could even move my arm away from the tub, it sprung from my hand and into the grass.

Stepping out of the cover of the trees, I plant my boots on the muddy shore. The pond—if you can even call it one—is small, shallow, and full of dead, bare tree trunks that stick out of the water like broken ribs, but it’s beautiful in its own way. The surface is motionless, like dark glass, the air quiet, not interrupted by even a cricket.

But I heard the splash. There’s not a single ripple in the water, but there must have been a moment ago. When I rustled the branch, something jumped.

It’s been a while since I’ve caught a frog. But maybe I don’t need to. Maybe just knowing that they’re still there—still hatching from eggs, still growing legs, still swimming, still jumping —maybe that’s enough.

Photo courtesy of unsplash.com

Candy Heart Warnings

by Sarah D Kirchner on November 7, 2019


by Sarah Kirchner ’21


It’s another late night at the office, which has become typical for almost the whole month. We’re behind on reports, and Frank keeps asking me to stay and work on them, so I have. I know I deserve a raise, but I’m too nervous to ask. It isn’t too bad, I had nothing to go home to anyways, except my tabby, Tiger. He’d be waiting for me at the door like he always does, purring between my legs and following me to bed. But tonight he’d be waiting a little longer for his bedtime treats.

The blue from the computer screen lights up my dark office. The city illuminates the rest of the space. All the lights have been turned off in the building. Everyone is home except me, working on the reports that my colleagues should be doing with me. The papers are scattered on my desk, and I have no idea when I’ll be finished, so it’ll be another Chinese food delivery night and midnight drive home. It isn’t too bad. Tiger would be waiting for me.

* * *

After hours of staring at the screen, my eyes begin to burn. My back aches from leaning over my desk, and my head is pounding from looking too closely at my computer. The Chinese-food smell is lingering in the small space and the one-too-many egg rolls are causing my stomach to turn. This is my body telling me to go home, and I know it’s right, but I’m determined to push through for another twenty minutes. Then, I’ll be almost halfway through the reports.

My gaze goes to the old Halloween candy in the bowl on my desk. I haven’t had the time to get rid of it yet, with all the added chaos going on. Through the transparent wall, I see the cleaning crew head into the bathrooms and a part of me is relieved by that. At least I’m not completely alone here. Rosie waves to me as she enters the women’s room and I give a small smile. We both know neither of us really want to be here, but we do what we have to do.

Returning to the candy, I see the candy hearts that Frank had left in my office last week. I had thought it was strange then, since candy hearts weren’t usually a thing until February. But, here they were, and for some reason Frank wanted to praise me for my hard work with them. A bonus would have been nice, too.

My body gives in and I grab the sugared hearts. Everything aches, but I know the sugar will give me the twenty-minute push I need. The egg rolls are still sitting in my stomach, but it’s not like the sugar can make me feel worse than I already feel.

Pouring them onto my desk, I pop a few into my mouth and allow my body to feed off the sweetness. The taste brings me back to middle school and Valentine’s Day treats. It reminds me of when Jeremy Wyler gave me a singular heart that read “Be Mine.” The cliché messages made the hearts even grosser, but anything tastes good at this time of night.

I stare closely at the screen, reading over everything I have written. My eyes linger on the candy hearts, which are watching me suffer. My eyes glaze over and I feel my body ready to shut down. It’s time for bed. It’s time to go back to Tiger.

I convince my eyes to refocus, and that’s when I see it.

Leave. Run. Watch Out.

With each heart, a new cryptic message awaits me. I hadn’t noticed them when I first started eating them. I had only assumed that they were the normal messages, like the one Jeremy Wyler gave me. I wasn’t expecting this.

I blinked a few times, trying to readjust my gaze in case it was my sleep-deprived body deceiving me. But even after a minute of staring at the same candies, nothing changes.

I glance up to see if anyone is around, but I’m still alone and the cleaning crew is still in the bathrooms. Did Frank know what these hearts said on them? Was it some prank? I grab the box to see if it said Joke Candy Hearts, or something out of the ordinary. But they don’t. Everything about the box appears normal, but I can assure you nothing about this is normal. They tasted fine, or at least as good as those things can taste. But nothing appeared different about them.

What am I thinking? This is ridiculous. It isn’t like someone poisoned me. And the messages were warnings, not so much threats. Right? Was Frank warning me? Was there something about the company that I didn’t know? Something that could be harmful to my job?

I shake my head. No. Crazy. I’m delusional. Sleep deprived. All of the above. I need to go home, get into my pajamas, and sleep this madness away. It would probably be another late night tomorrow, too, since I didn’t finish tonight.

As my computer shuts down, I put on my coat and grab my purse. I take the trashcan and slide the hearts into the bin, along with the box that holds the rest of the candies. Out of sight, out of mind. For good measure, I pick up the garbage bag within the bin so I can toss it on the way out. I lock up the door to my office, trying to not think about the ominous messages on the hearts. Behind me, I hear a bang and my whole body jumps. But immediately I notice it’s only Rosie leaving the bathroom.

“Sorry, Emily!” She calls to me. I give a quick wave of relief.

“No worries. Scared myself.” I laugh it off and head to the elevator. “Mind if I toss this in there?” I ask Rosie and point to the garbage bag on the cart.

“Of course, but I could have gotten that for you, sweetie.”

“I figured I’d help out since I’m here during your time,” I joke, and she laughs before grabbing the vacuum out of the supply closet. “Have a good night, Rosie.”

“You too, Emily!”

As I press the button for the elevator, my heartbeat finally starts to settle. Everything’s fine. Rosie is here all the time at night and nothing happens to her. It’s just me being neurotic and tired.

The elevator arrives in seconds and I walk in, relieved to finally be going home. I’m craving ice cream, but I know I’ve had too much junk food tonight, and the thought of having any more sweets makes me shiver.

I begin to descend, and I let out a long breath. Finally. Everything is okay. I’m away from the candies. I’m away from my office. I’m finally going home. There’s nothing to worry about. And with that thought, the elevator jolts to a stop. There’s static through the speaker and my blood goes cold.

The lights go out. 

“Hello, Emily.”

Candy hearts in a pile
Photo Courtesy of Pixabay.com

Welcome to the Neighborhood

by The Cowl Editor on October 25, 2019


by Daniel Carrero ’23

I wonder if I walked like you when I was your age. There was an innocent bounce to your step.

You probably thought me and Coz pulled up on you by surprise. You probably thought you walked onto the wrong block on the wrong day and ran into the wrong people.

Your legs were shaking and your voice was cracking, “I don’t want n-n-no problem, yo. I’m just walking home,” you said.

Coz smiled with all his teeth, “Where you from kid?” he asked.

You felt so small to me then, so insignificant. Your trembling was disgusting to me.

“I-I-I I-live–”

My stomach churned at the sound of your voice, “I-I-I what kid?!” I shouted, “You don’t know how to talk or something?!”

The only word you managed to squeak out, “Pine!”

Coz looked at me, “Oh, he’s up on Pine, huh. Wild ’cause I ain’t ever seen you before.”

I never took my eyes off you—I never blinked.

“So who told you you could walk on Maple?” I asked.

The more I stared you down the more I wanted you to make a move—needed you to. Curse at me, scream at me, or hit me, do anything but not run away. If you ran away then things would be worse. Those are the rules. “I asked you a question!”

Say something—anything, I thought.

“N-no one,” you whimpered.

Finally! Coz nodded and stepped back.

Grabbing you by the collar, I let it all out. I felt your teeth cut my knuckles. Another swing and your nose poured; blood smeared onto my hand. I shoved you onto the sidewalk and you begged me to stop. At that moment you made me hate you so much.

What the hell is wrong with you? I thought, Get up, do something! I kicked and I stomped and you did nothing. You cried. You pleaded for me to stop but you refused to make me. How dare you, I thought.

Coz grabbed my shoulder, “You can stop, Nigel.” I looked up at him but I couldn’t see his face. I only heard his voice. “That was good,” he said.

We knew where you lived. You stepped out your gate and tried to run when you saw us—you didn’t get far. Your eye was black and your nose swollen and crooked. Something in your eyes was different than before. Even though you knew you didn’t stand a chance, you didn’t stutter when you said, “Leave me alone!”

You stared me down and I remembered being you once. I knew how much you hated me—how much you wanted to bury me. That was good, it’s what we wanted from you.

Coz put his hand on your shoulder. “Welcome to the neighborhood,” he said. “Come with us.”