The Tragic End of Alexander the Ant
The sun rose very slowly over a large field of grass. It was a lazy summer afternoon. People were taking walks, having picnics, feeding the ducks, or just laying down. What they didn’t know was that right under their noses in the blades of grass was a little ant fighting for his life. Now the ant in question wasn’t in any danger, at least not yet, but he was fighting a battle between it and all the other insects in that field. Needle in hand and armor on, the little ant warrior was holding its ground–not letting any of his contestants survive. This ant was not alone because he had a partner who wasn’t nearly as into fighting monsters and was cowering underneath a tiny rock fearing for his safety.
“You know, typically when there are giant monsters we run away from them! Not go charging head first into battle!”
The knight ant just laughs.
“But then how would we win any glory? Come now, Clark, if we took the coward’s way out then someone would beat us to it!”
Clark just deadpans underneath the rock, his voice full of exasperation.
“Yeah but if you die, then where’s all that glory go? Have you thought about that Alexander?”
Alexander drives his needle into the head of a giant centipede and it falls to the ground, writhing as it dies. Once it does, Alexander sits down on its corpse and looks deep in thought.
“Where would all the glory go…? I do not know! But I am not dead nor can I die so that is a problem I do not have to worry about!”
Clark comes out from his hiding spot and carefully maneuvers his way through the battlefield, trying to avoid touching the scattered remains of other larger bugs until he’s made his way in front of Alexander.
“Please. You gotta understand that you aren’t immortal. You keep throwing your life at every giant creature hoping that by dying you secure more of a name for yourself but you don’t, all you do is put your own life in danger, why do you think I come on these horrifying adventures? It’s to be the voice of reason in your head that you clearly don’t have.” Alexander places a hand on Clarks shoulder and nods.
“I appreciate your concern, dearest friend, but you have nothing to worry about! There is nothing in this world that can kill me!”
Suddenly a huge shadow falls over Clark and Alexander, it falls over most of the land around them, they look up to see a giant pink monster. Its green spheres focused and centered on both of them. It lets out a booming roar. “Ant!” and a giant pink meat stick descends from the heavens smashing into the ground next to them causing the ground to shake intensely. Clark runs for cover.
“Shit! It’s a giant! We gotta go!” His gaze falls onto Alexander who hasn’t moved. “What are you doing? Get the hell out of there!”
But Alexander doesn’t move, instead he charges directly at the giant pink meat stick. Much to Clark’s fear.
“What are you doing?”
Alexander just laughs.
“Think of the glory!”
“You idiot! It’s like 400 times your size! You’re going to die!”
Alexander laughs again.
“I’ll only die if I’m killed!”
Clark shakes his head in confusion.
“Wh..What! That’s what being killed means, you idiot!”
Alexander had made his way onto the pink meat stick and the giant let out another loud roar.
“Mom! The ant is on my finger! I think it likes me!”
Clark continues to cower behind some blades of grass.
“It noticed you! You hear its war cry? Come down here before it murders you!”
But Clark’s pleading fell on deaf ears as Alexander was already making his way up the arm of the giant dodging hands and holding onto dear life when the giant shook its arm trying to get the ant off. By this point the small giant had started to panic because the ant wasn’t getting off their arm and had called a much bigger giant to come help. The bigger giant towered over the smaller giant. And was also trying to remove the ant. And yet Alexander evaded every attempt made. Which bewildered the large giant as they had never seen an ant move with such efficiency and skill. Throwing itself further up the giant’s body, unable to be squished. From Alexander’s point of view, he was unstoppable, they were no match for his speed and skill. And he was going to make his way up to the top of that giant. Meanwhile Clark, who had been watching the whole thing, stood there in shock. Alexander had done it. He had reached the top of the giant. Clark, full of disbelief, was stunned for a moment. He had done what was seemingly impossible. Clark’s mind raced with both excitement and worry. His friend made it to the top but wanted him to be safe on the ground again as soon as possible. Clark calls up to him again.
“Okay, you did it! You climbed the giant now, please get down here before you hurt yourself!”
But Alexander wasn’t done. He had climbed the monster and now he was going to slay it. Taking up his needle he stabs it into the top of the giant’s head causing said giant to wail in pain and start running in a direction. This causes Alexander to let out a triumphant cheer.
“I’ve got them on the run now! They’re as good as dead!”
Due to his triumph Alexander chooses to not come down, and due to the giant running away it separated the two ants from one another never to be seen again. A few hours later Alexander was found by a doctor and killed. Clark made it home safely, grieving the fact that he got separated from his friend. They sent out several search parties and all came back empty. They deemed Alexander dead. However, that wasn’t the end of his story as all throughout the ant kingdom stories were sung of the warrior ant that felled a giant by himself. And through those songs Alexander lived on.
Most people would say that there isn’t anything funny about death or losing a loved one however, when my grandfather passed I ended up inheriting what turned out to be something quite funny. My grandfather used to drive a red 2008 Cadillac, it has four seats and it belongs down in Miami with an eighty-year-old behind the wheel headed towards their weekly solitaire game. Or it should have some mid-fifty-year-old man shouting Billy Joel lyrics on the way to a seven a.m. tee time. My family and I call this car the red rocket. Despite being fairly old, this car is (what my Mom would call) zippy.
So, once summer hit I started taking the rocket to work, windows down, music up. The music that flowed from the car was everything but what an eighty-year-old in Miami would listen to. It was an eclectic mix of Bad Bunny, Steely Dan, ABBA, Logic, Kendrick, and the occasional Piece the Veil song. A twenty-year-old driving her grandfather’s car, heading to work at a children’s art camp. It’s ridiculous. My Mom got frequent text messages along the lines of “Saw Kate driving the caddy today!”
To that I would respond, “Okay but did they like the Bad Bunny I was playing?”
Like any teenager or young adult with the ability to drive and a fast car to do so, I started abusing the power gifted to me from my grandfather. I ended up buying an absurd amount of snacks and ice cream which earned a laugh from my Mom as I would pull into the driveway, Efecto by Bad Bunny thrumming out of the window. She thought it was incredibly ridiculous and my Dad thought it was great because he ended up bumming some of my snacks.
Aside from working at the art camp, I also worked as a nanny. The two kids, ages six and two, were immediately obsessed with the car and decorating it. They also wanted to be driven everywhere (that did not happen). The two year old, every day on our walk would see some other red car and immediately shout out “Kate’s car!”
Wrong. If there isn’t a bag of Spicy Doritos (the purple bag, of course) in the passenger seat and a flat Celsius in the cupholder, then that isn’t mine. I remember when I first started driving the rocket around, I desperately wanted to make it my own. After getting a phone holder and Aux cord, I wanted stickers and trinkets to hang off of my rearview mirror. Towards the end of the summer, my StabiliTrak and braking system needed to be serviced. My Dad got in the car and looked around, pointed at the moth sticker on my glovebox, and asked, “What is that?”
“Moth sticker from art camp,” I replied with a smile.
He chuckles a little and shakes his head before pulling away.
I’d like to hope that my grandfather is looking on and laughing from wherever he is and not cursing my name for decorating his beloved sports car and playing music you “can’t sing to,” as my grandmother would say.
Parasitic Hyacinth Flowers
By Taylor Rogers ’24
Parasitic limbs curiously crawl into my brain, their furry legs hitting the organ ruthlessly, not caring about the potential dents and damage they could cause. Gradually, they begin their descent, digging a hole into my precious prefrontal cortex, not reacting as my mood shifts from confused to irritated. These annoying bugs work on creating one of many entrances, sliding down the moist caravan they call an entryway, strategically planning to infect my innocent cells with their toxic virus.
Unaware of the infection that is soon to attack my immune system, I sit outside, admiring the hyamith flowers gifted to me this past weekend from my grandmother, the baby blue color our favorite, as it reminds us of the bright sky on a sun-filled day. These buds are just growing, slowly increasing in size the same way the parasites overflow my cranial cavity. Like me, these buds urge to be out in the sun and observing the weather, so I break out a smile and take the precious flowers outside with me. My flowers and I sit on the swing my grandfather crafted for my grandmother, the white wood digging into my exposed legs, which are barely covered in a pair of jean shorts nearing their last tear. Wind blows in my hair, the sun smirks down at me, and my flowers peacefully sit on my lap. Boredly, I glance around the peaceful neighborhood, making eye contact with someone who currently trims their overgrown hedges.
Suddenly, a gunshot goes off in my brain, jarring pain attacking my head as the parasites within begin to cheer victoriously, watching as my hyacinth flowers drop to the ground like a grenade. They watch as a mysterious figure strides down the street confidently, bending down to collect the flowers as an explosion goes off in their host’s brain. In seconds, a hand clasps my own, pressing the flowers back into my outstretched fingers with a grin.
“Think you dropped these, it’s a shame. They’re stunning flowers.”
Curiously, the parasites watch my interaction with the stranger, a few pausing their digging while others grin, knowing this is the perfect chance to wreak their havoc. Quickly, they invade this cortex, twirling strands of brain that are slender like spaghetti and manipulating them to their will, creating a Prince Charming out of a being who is simply human.
Stunned, I reel back at my sudden romanticization of the simple action, confused where this feeling has come from. While I am no stranger to attraction, the hyacinth flowers that have been tainted by another are strange to me now, the bare minimum morphing into something completely foreign to me. The hyacinth has shifted, the stems gingerly reaching out to the stranger and invoking me to ask this human a question.
“Would you like one? I have plenty more inside, my grandmother brings them to me often.”
Apparently, the parasites quite like this reaction, as the pain in my head temporarily halts, as if allowing me to explore the feelings suddenly forced on my previously pure brain. Matching smiles rapidly form on the stranger’s face as well as my own, and our hands briefly collide as I hand them a sky blue bud. Above, the parasites continue to observe, deciding to gingerly adjust my nerves so my conversation with the new person can continue while they conjure unknown sensations and feelings.
“You know, you’re really pretty.”
Small gasps escape my lips as something bangs against my temporal lobe, the parasites above just as shocked as I am concerning the compliment. Instinctively, I put a hand up to my head and rub the infected area, the stranger kneeling on the dewy grass in concern.
“If I knew complimenting you would result in such an adverse way, I wouldn’t have told you the truth.”
While I would roll my eyes at most for saying this, the stranger’s words make me laugh, an off-pitched melody escaping my chapstick-stained lips as the parasites continue to harshly attack me. Gritting my teeth, I mold my face into a grin, my hands fiddling with the hyacinth that drew this new character to me.
“Sorry about that, I just get migraines sometimes. Especially, oddly enough,when I see attractive people.”
Unlike the person standing before me, the parasites fail to appreciate my joke, savagely continuing to fumble my nerves as emotions come and go, my face failing to reveal the war that wreaks havoc on my anxious body. My newly found lover laughs, the sound causing the birds around us to giggle, the sun to shine a little brighter, and the parasites within to halt their attack. Despite their pause, my feelings still rebelliously combust, passion’s painful flames engulfing any doubts or confusion that I might be confusing love with lust, as attraction to me has only been sexual and short-lived.
“Don’t worry about it, really. I’ll see you around, hopefully your migraine disappears the next time our paths collide.”
Before I can protest and force the stranger to stay, they have left with a permanent reminder of me, the hyacinth flower swinging between his fingers as I resume the similar motion on my own wooden seat. The parasites within my brain finally hatch their eggs, evoking strange sensations throughout my body and turning this insignificant encounter to one equated with a myth I had never believed: love at first sight.
The True Christmas Spirit
Kate Ward ’23
Another day in the workshop—you know, it’s exhausting being an elf. We’re given shoddy tools and forced to work year-round. Do you know how insufferable it is listening to Christmas music all year? The good part is the Big Man sometimes shares letters from the kids with us, so that makes us all feel a little bit better. But my favorite part? The reindeer. We get to feed them sometimes and take them on long walks. But do you know how hard it is for me, an elf, to walk a reindeer? They’re fussy animals. I didn’t even want to work up here in the North Pole! I wanted to work somewhere warm with a wide variety of music and a diet other than Christmas cookies and hot chocolate.
We watch a lot of Christmas movies while we work, and a lot of them are extremely inaccurate to the elf lifestyle. The only one which got it right was Elf with Will Ferrell. We do have intramural sports and we do have quotas we need to reach! Plus, Buddy the Elf did a great job depicting our diet. I mean, I’ve never had spaghetti before, but I’m sure with all the sugar he put on it, it would be delicious. Our uniforms are the same as the ones in the movie but instead, the different colors represent our different ranks. I would do anything to get out of this workshop and out from under the foot of the Big Man, but he keeps us so busy that the only breaks we get are lunch, dinner, and sleep.
It’s not all holly and jolly here in the workshop. Instead, the mood is more like the claymation Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer with Hermie who wants to be a dentist. Sure, singing songs and building toys for all the little girls and boys is great, but I have dreams and aspirations! I wanted to be an archeologist, and now I’m making toys! What happened? We definitely skipped a few chapters. Anyway, I’ll leave it there—I need to get some sleep so I can get up and keep making Etch-A-Sketches for kids who will use them once then leave them at their grandparents’ houses.
Invocation of the Muse
Sarah McLaughlin ’23
It’s far too late for me to be lying on my back with my guitar in my lap and thinking about Homer.
Olive’s hanging out with some friends. She invited me, but I said no, to no surprise, and she told me to have a good night as she left with her purse and sensible flats. It’s not like she’s going to some wild Saturday rager; she’s going to sip Chardonnay and talk about Jane Austen with a couple of girls from the debate team.
I’m almost always invited. I feel bad that I almost always decline. When I mentioned once that I read Northanger Abbey, it piqued their interest, but I haven’t read anything else, not even Pride and Prejudice, and so I get left out of the conversation when it inevitably shifts to their unanimously elected, favorite author. Still, I enjoy the discussion when I can, though I never drink wine. I never drink anything. The one time I tried alcohol, the first weekend of freshman year, I had a panic attack and my roommate almost called 911. I convinced her I was fine while my mind told me I was asphyxiating and ended up sitting on the sticky floor of a locked bathroom stall with a damp cloth on my forehead, counting the seconds between breaths as drops of cold water trickled down my face.
When we first became friends, Olive used to tell me I was no fun, because truth be told, I am, and that means something coming from a girl whose idea of fun involves discussing the politics of the steel industry. But by now I think she understands and respects the fact that I don’t want to do anything. Well, maybe not respects, but she lets it be.
It’s not that I don’t want to do anything; I go to extracurriculars and to lunches at the mall and to see musicals at the community theatre. I simply draw the line at things I’ve never done before that have a high probability of ending in embarrassment. And that line happens to exclude a whole lot of things when one sip of hard seltzer is enough to shatter me.
You get drunk every now and then. Not frat-party drunk, that’s below you (you’d say), more like bottle-of-wine-in-bed-while-watching-a-Russian-film-with-subtitles sort of drunk. Do you remember how you called me once? Your dorm was a block away and you asked me if I’d bring you my copy of The Tempest because you knew I was reading it for class and you wanted to recite Prospero’s final soliloquy while standing on your bed and you were sad you didn’t know it from memory. I told you to go to sleep and not stand on your bed and that you could find it online if you really wanted. Then you started ranting about how your laptop could never compare to the weight of a physical book in your hands, and as you waxed poetic about weathered pages and cracked spines I laughed and laughed and thought you were going to cry.
The scene replays in my mind as my fingers run over the six strings, strumming a slow major seventh chord, going nowhere and meaning nothing. I think about Homer, how at the beginning of his epics, he opened with the invocation of the muse. I took some poetry classes thinking they would help me with songwriting, but they didn’t give me inspiration to write about anything grand or existential or even subtly poetic, like changing leaves or dust collecting on childhood bookshelves. I still write the same dumb lyrics about wine-drunk phone calls and I realize this is the only muse I can invoke.
I pluck an open B string and let it ring. Olive will come back soon, probably, and she’ll ask me how my night has been. I’ll say it was alright, and I’ll have written nothing.
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.
by Kate Ward ’23
The ice creaked and groaned, my pickaxe clanking dully against the ice. I could barely make out the animal we were meant to be digging out from the ice. The museum needed it by morning, an impossible deadline. I looked at my coworkers who were shivering and trying to coax a fire to spark in the icy cavern.
“It isn’t going to work, man, my hands are shaking too much,” Tommy said as he gave up on the fire and decided to light a cigarette.
“I thought you gave that up,” Jennifer gestured to the cigarette as she continued to try and spark a flame.
Tommy shook his head. “Tried patches and gum, even tried those flavored things kids like but-” a long drag and a puff of smoke, “didn’t work.”
“Work will keep you busy enough so you don’t have to kill yourself,” I mentioned as I swung my pick forward into the ice.
He grunted, “I been workin’ longer than you’ve been alive, boy.”
“Good, so you should be used to it by now,” I grouched. I hated Tommy; he never pulled his weight.
“He’s right you know, just help the kid out,” Jennifer said as she dusted her hands on her pants and slowly stood up, knees cracking.
“I don’t need to do anything. I am taking a break,” Tommy argued, a frown curling his lips.
I turned towards him fully, “Yeah? Taking a break? You’ll take a permanent break once this axe finds a home in your skull!”
Jennifer lifted a hand, a soft laugh bubbling from her, “Stop, stop, boys. We don’t need to do this.”
Tommy leaned against the wall of the cavern, nursing his cigarette. “We have plenty of time. But if you want to kill me, please do the honors so I can get out of here.”
I shook my head, pinching the bridge of my nose. “You are insufferable! I want to go home just as much as you do, so help me!”
Jennifer had fallen silent. I looked at her to support my point but instead, she looked petrified. Her eyes dilated, face going pale. “I don’t think you need to do any more work.”
“What do you mean?” I asked them, back turned to the ice wall I was working away at.
A foot emerged, then a tusk, as an enraged, rumbling roar shook the cavern. I dropped the pickaxe and staggered back a few steps. “I see what you mean now.”
“You two are both being dramatic,” Tommy said as he turned to face us. The cigarette dropped from his lips, hitting the ground with a light pat. “What on… God’s green Earth is that thing?”
“If you read the assignment, it’s the mammoth we are supposed to be transporting to the museum,” I whispered as the ice wall gave way and the beast emerged, slowly shaking the ice and snow from its woolly pelt.
Tommy picked up my pickaxe and held it defensively. “And why, pray tell, is it awake?”
“Why don’t you ask it?” I replied as I looked up at the looming creature in front of me.
“Why don’t we get the hell out of here?” Jennifer cried before starting to scramble across the frozen floor towards the mouth of the cavern.
The mammoth stamped its front legs, lifting its trunk as it released another mighty roar. I turned and started to move after Jennifer. Running was awful, it was a chore; it felt like when I try to run in my dreams, sluggish and lagging. I grabbed Tommy by the jacket sleeve and tried to haul him with me but the large man shook me off and ran toward the mammoth.
“Don’t!” I shouted as I slid to a stop, watching as he swung the pick at the mammoth’s tree trunk leg.
Upon impact, both Tommy and the mammoth howled and screamed. The mammoth swung its head and its tusks, catching Tommy and flinging him against the wall. Tommy hit the wall and crumpled in a heap. The mammoth grunted and charged at him, lowering his head angrily.
“Stop! Stop, no! Hey, look over here!” I picked up a chunk of ice and hurled it at the mass of fur. That only seemed to anger it further. It reared up and its front feet came down hard upon Tommy. Blood and chunks of his body splattered against the ice, then the mammoth turned on me.
“We’re out of time,” I whispered.
Golf Party: Civil War
by Aidan Lerner ’22
This past week, the Providence College senior class was torn asunder by a significant conflict centered around the bi-annual event, Golf Party. Sources confirmed that a portion of the class would have preferred to host the Eaton Street bash this past Saturday, while the other group fought to have it held this coming Saturday. The fallout has been devastating for all involved.
One student told me that, “We’ve been through a lot of adversity as a class. There was the time we all found hella snakes in the Ray food, the pandemic that killed millions of people: putting our future as students in doubt, and the time they renamed Suites. In my opinion, this is what finally broke our spirit.”
Another student relayed their harrowing tale teary-eyed: telling me that, “I have been dating my boyfriend since Freshman year. Yesterday, I found out he voted for ‘this Saturday.’ I broke up with him immediately. I could never be with someone who does not stand with the ‘Next Saturday-ers.’”
While the two sides seem unlikely to reach a resolution, they do agree on one issue. Late in the battle, a small group of radicals emerged who demanded that two Golf Parties be held: one on each Saturday. Spokespersons for both mainstream parties stated that this concept was, “sacrilegious and tantamount to nihilistic anarchy.”
I managed to catch up with Mr. S, the leader of this organization of extremists, and I asked him an impartial and not-at-all leading question.
“How do you respond to those that would say that this entire debate is stupid, pointless nonsense?”
Mr. S replied, “I would say come ask me at graduation whether I accomplished anything important. They have no idea what I plan to do next.”
“And what is that?”
Mr. S answered me confidently, “If we can manage to hold two Golf Parties, that is a massive achievement and a revolutionary moment for the student body. After that, I would like to do everything in my earthly power to make a lifelong dream of mine reality: throwing a party where a bunch of people wear cool stickers. Also, I’d like to end racism on campus. We’ll see what I can get done this year. I am sort of busy, and my GPA sucks. I should probably study every now and then.”
Lofty goals, indeed. In this reporter’s opinion, I’m free either Saturday so I’ll probably just head down with some of the boys if I see heads.
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.”