Categories
9th Edition Archive Short Story

His Father’s Pen

His Father’s Pen

Nathan Applebaum – First Place in Fiction

Royce’s father had a beautiful quill pen. Royce used to watch his father write with it. There was nothing interesting in the words, dull names and endless numbers. It was the pen that held his younger self’s attention.

The point, a shimmer of gold. A bright star against the harsh, domineering, black of the feather, like volcanic glass. Lacquer of some exotic and expensive variety had been lathered lovingly onto it during its momentous creation, giving it the sheen of polished silver. A gentle stream of navy blue ink poured onto the paper and molded itself according to his father’s will.

It was the weapon of a mighty hero.

In his mind’s eye Royce saw the greats; Cuhulain with his deadly spear Gae Bulg, Arthur with his mighty blade Excalibur, and between them, himself, wielding that wondrous pen. He imagined that any word he wrote with it would spring off the page and come to life. Royce had story upon story of his heroics with the pen. He would solve mysterious murders, fight monstrous monsters, and save a precious damsel who was repeatedly locked away with a sleeping dragon.

Alas, the beauty and wonder of it all was lost to his father, whose thoughts were only concerned with the pragmatic ideas of business and wealth.

The pen had been around before Royce’s birth. He had asked his father about where he had gotten it, but Royce had received the usual answer to such questions of superfluous importance, “I don’t know, and if my mind thought it unimportant enough to forget then so should you.” His father went on writing. Neat, carefully drawn, numbers were filed into little boxes and next to each set were scribbled, barely legible, names.

As much as his father might have wanted him too, Royce could not forget about the pen. His pen, as he thought of it.

He had asked to use it on many occasions, but always was given an exasperated excuse, “I am working boy, Find a different pen, or No, that is my work pen.” After a few years of this his father went so far as to forbid Royce’s presence in his study.

And so he would sit outside the office for hours until his precious mother would come by and see him in his depressed state. She would be his shield as they entered the office together, but even still they were never allowed to stay long, especially his mother.

She knew of his little obsession, and would chuckle under her breath as she listened to him describe, in depth, his adventures with the feathered pen. She had argued many times on Royce’s behalf to be allowed back into his study and once for his father to give him the pen. This had been met with resounding confusion, “We have plenty of pens dear. He does not need my work pen.”

“It’s special to him.”

“The answer is no.”

“At least let him be with you while you work then. He just wants to be close you!”

“Nonsense, a boy should be out exploring the countryside with his friends at his age, not getting cooped up in an office.”

The conversation moved away from where Royce had been playing, under a table in the kitchen.

He did not come out, not until his mother found him under there, a concerned look on her tired face. Puffy, red, blotches sat under her eyes, like a crimson army laying siege.

Royce imagined taking the gold and black pen and smoothing away her worries with a single word, but all he could do was smile. That seemed to help, at least a little.

She helped him out from under the table and got one of the servants to fetch a glass of milk.

He gave her a great big smile, ear to ear, as she handed him the drink, and this time she laughed. The red had almost completely fled from her face, but the little wounds that dotted her slender arm would never quite fade away.

Time slipped by, tick by tock, but the pen was never forgotten to Royce, although he did his best to ensnare it in the recesses of his mind. But every time he would see it, sitting on a desk or in his father’s hand, he could not help but stare. The image, born of innocence, was still so fixed so fresh in his mind; beauty, magic, heroics, excitement. Then the pen would be gone and he would chuckle at the silly mutterings of his youth.

Tick by tock.

Finally becoming a man, his father said as it came close to his coming of age. Now Royce too wished he could be out exploring the countryside instead of sitting in his father’s office all day, learning the finer points of running a business; how to keep your clients happy, how to get new clients, how to keep a good log, and many more dull things of that nature.

Every day he saw that pen. He even almost got to hold it once.

His father had spilled a container of navy ink and thrust the pen towards Royce to hold, who, in shock, did not take it. He could not take. Something inside of him could not get the muscles to respond, and then it was over. His father set the pen down and went to go get some cloth and solvent. Royce stared at the pen. He could not touch it, but at that moment he knew it had to be his. He’d rather that pen than the most beautiful woman in the world. He’d rather that pen than all his inheritance. He’d rather that pen than his father.

He resolved to get it anyway he could. He would demand it of his father, who was not at the manor at that time, which gave Royce the opportunity for preparation.

He imagined every response, every excuse, his father could give as to why he needed this particular pen, and he removed them.

He had found every single pen in the manor and hid them in the attic, beneath a bit of torn up cloth. He had purchased a fine, new, silver and navy, quill as a present for his father, to replace the, “old and dated one” he currently used. He had finished all the work his father had to do upon his return, leaving him open for discussion. He had even sent a letter to his mother, telling her not to come visit Royce for a while.

Then the day came, and his father arrived. Royce waited until the servants had unpacked all his things, until after he had some food, and until, at last, he retired to his office.

Royce entered, the silver and navy pen hidden behind his back.

His eyes searched for his golden wonder, his Helen of Troy, but he did not see it. Likely his father had yet to remove it from it’s black leather carrying case, which, Royce saw with much pleasure, was sitting on the desk.

“Hello father. How were your travels?”

He looked up from the desk at Royce, “Ah son, what did you do with all the pens? I cannot find any of the extras.”

“What about your pen father? The gold and black one?”

He shook an indifferent hand at Royce, “That old thing. I lost it somewhere along the road.”

“Where did you lose it?”

“I don’t know boy, and if my brain thought it so unimportant as to forget then so should you.”

Without blinking Royce handed his father the silver and navy pen and sat down at the small desk in the corner.

He sat there a long while, staring at his father as he scribbled “Just like you forgot mother?

His father looked up at Royce, his eyebrows sunk and his lips curled into a sneer, “Shut your mouth boy!” As he yelled he slammed the new, silver and navy, pen against the desk, leaving little wounds which would never quite fade from the tender wood, and snapping the silver and navy pen in half.

His father tossed the remains in front of Royce’s small desk, “Get me another boy. I have work to do.”

Royce got up and picked the two halves of the silver and navy pen off the floor. The point was still sharp. He looked at his father, and he wished he could forget.

Categories
9th Edition Archive

The Truth About You

The Truth About You

Amber Brevig

It pains me to say this but it’s you
pilfering my last semblance of sanity
fighting every word that comes out of my mouth you
consistently overcrowding me, blocking me seemingly purposefully
cutting apart clear reasoning
you
without even knowing
with a surgeon’s precision, slicing
taking the truth only to remodel, suiting
you
to the last idea your mind is cancerous
craving attention too much to think,
apparent to all who know the truth about
You
Causing me suffering
oblivious to such ill-informed “facts”
sliding off your tongue, the true calamities
YOU
Catastrophic in your lack of knowledge
your theatrical play-acting in truth
to be endured by me like a parent a child
YOU!
forgoing reason in preference to fiction                                                                      demonstrating stupidity with laughable ease,                                                                                 and it truly pains me to say this, but
it’s

all                                                                                                                                                           you.

Categories
9th Edition Archive

The Artist

The Artist

Lily Gold

 

She stalks her prey like a hawk in the night

Encircling it until it cowers under her power

She twitches

This is not the moment, she says

This is not the one

And like that she retreats to the comforts of her house

Where her husband waits under warm sheets to inhale her

She is tense

All that fills her head are the failures she has acquired over the years

Small mementos of marriage, jobs, children that won’t let her escape the past and see the future

She is so bogged down by her nightmares and constant darkness that surrounds her

Can she pull herself out of this?

Is this just a phase like last time?

Will she be a failure?

And slowly, almost invisible to the human eye, a piece of her dies

She no longer carries the zeal and robust sense of confidence

Her mind withers away until it is non-existent

Categories
9th Edition

The Dead’s Unspoken Cry For Help

FullSizeRender (2)
Artwork by Rachel Miller

The Dead’s Unspoken Cry For Help

Amber Brevig

Sunlight filters through the shades,

casting dusty shadows in the empty house

where the unknown woman died,

the windows of which have finally cracked

and given way to her fermented smell

 

The slightest of winds pass through to stir

the scent of rot and urine undulating

through the air

It slithers through small openings,

breaking free

and spreading out;

allowing sinuous tendrils to unwind

and choke unwitting passer-bye

with its longing for life

It crashes, smashing through clasped nostrils and held breaths,

disregarding its overwhelming nature

in the hopes of sparking a memory.

 

This sickly sweet scent of

decay and death,

having drawn the attention it ached for

so desperately,

dissipates finally through the town

as doors are forced in

and its decrepit birthplace is

discovered,

lamented,

and buried deep down,

leaving its scream to fade away and die.

 

Categories
9th Edition Short Story

The Past that Swallows All

The Past that Swallows All

Kristine Wagner

Even now it is occurring. Even now our world is being constantly devoured and lost. Lost forever beyond recall our world is consumed by the Past. Most worry about the future, but to do so is the height of folly. What is the future but something that will someday be part of the Past? People worry about the present, but what use is that with the future barely being born before us and the Past stealing the present out from under our very feet? People are worried how they will live their lives and avoid death, but the Past takes no heed to them and silently devours their thoughts as soon as they exist.  Life and death are insignificant in comparison. No, the inescapable Past is what swallows all.

Most of your life has passed the point of possible remembrance even now. How then can we remember that which came before us? How then shall the discoveries and revelations of our ancestors be unearthed in the sands of time? The Past is not a world which is easily explored, yet I feel I must. We are not a product of the future but of the Past; we are the child of all we have forgotten. Oh for the knowledge locked behind the mighty gates of the Past, oh that I could freely explore that elusive land.

These were the thoughts of my mind as I sat in my study and stared at the barren trees and the garish walls. Something had to be done. Or did it? Perhaps I could forget the world which had consumed so much of my own, the world that would eventually swallow me as well without a trace of my existence in a history book, or any book beyond a census. Perhaps I would be happier that way. It would be simple enough; with a single night’s sleep the edge of my passion would be gone and it would fade to a nagging thought. It would be all too easy to forget.

So I left the house immediately.

I drove to my work at the research institution and began a new creation, one I could hopefully find excuses for my colleagues about until I had finished it.  Of course, even I could not say to what ends I performed my experiments. Nevertheless, I began programming a machine that could take me to another time.

As my creation began to take shape it consumed all of my time and passion as I poured myself into it. While I knew I could never create something as advanced as what was found in nature, I hoped for something a bit more nuanced that the crude binary systems everyone has been so obsessed with since the discovery we could code things rather than just pushing levers about. Of course, biological tampering has been explored, but this is merely cutting and pasting chunks of DNA about without really creating anything of our own. There are rules in the biological world that you must abide by. DNA will not say what you want it to say, it can only become what it is. Embryos can become whatever you want them to, but they cannot change species, and cannot be used for the same species if something as simple as blood type does not add up. No, if I were to break the rules of the universe and transcend the fourth dimension, I could not be bound by such rules as DNA.

However, in my own, clumsy mind, I could not think of anything better than DNA either, and thus began to use my own, raw chemicals to create it. It did not copy the pattern of any living thing; it was my own code. Of course, in order for my code to work I had to feed it into a “brain” as I like to call it—a sort of biological motherboard would be closer to explaining its level of simplicity though. I was sure this sort of experimentation would catch the attention and financial support of the scientific community, and sure enough they began trying to use my creation in menial, physical tasks. All of their vision had been crushed by the “laws” of nature which they dutifully worked under, but I would not let my own plans be crushed so. My colleagues were never quite sure what to call my invention, so they simply named it after me, which I found rather endearing. Every day I would enter more information into Cecil’s database, coding exactly what I wanted and didn’t want from our journey.

 

The objective is to go to a place without time

The objective is complete if and only if there is no death

If we go to a place without time or death, then no one can forget anything.

If the object is complete, then I will have the height of human knowledge

 

It had been proven to work with basic commands, but I was worried that my personal hopes for the project would mean nothing to Cecil. How could he compute desires? How could he travel time? How can anything escape the ever-encroaching Past? Cecil, after all, wasn’t even alive. But I felt like he was alive. After all, he could process more advanced information than most people, he needed fuel to work just as we need food, and his brain had been slowly growing larger. The only thing he could not do was reproduce. Granted, neither could I. I laughed at the irony that the cells that comprised my body met more of the criterion for life than I did as a whole.

It was then I realized Cecil was missing something that made me greater than my cells beyond my intellect. It was then I decided Cecil must understand my emotions. The difficulty was not so much in my ability to do such a thing; after all, what are emotions beyond a series of hormones and chemical interactions? With my own flesh I made Cecil my own, and through the atrocities I committed, he was perfected. Soon enough, Cecil seemed more like a child than a machine, and I refused to let any of my colleagues touch him.

When I finally thought I had done all I could do to complete Cecil and the pressure for me to resign Cecil to the institution, as well as my position, became a threat, I decided it was time for us to leave the Present. I entered the cockpit and finally commanded Cecil to do what he had been created for. The world disappeared around me and I could not breathe, as though I was travelling too fast for my chest to expand against the resistance. I became more and more certain that I was speeding towards my death, but I no longer wished to live in such a world as I did, so I made no effort to turn Cecil off, knowing I was in good company with Cecil, knowing he alone understood my intent and my feelings.

It was then that I passed out. Looking back, it is then that I wished I had died.

I woke up vomiting. I was in a crater, the remains of Cecil smoldering around me. I had sustained serious burns, but I was alive. I began to look where Cecil’s brain had been, but the world spun around me, and despite my pilot’s training there was nothing I could do but fall on the ground and continue dry heaving, my skin still seeming to burn apart from the wreckage. Once I was able to stand once more, I returned to Cecil, hoping to salvage what was left of him; he was my legacy, my one companion as I had careened toward death. I knew I could make another brain just as I had Cecil’s, but it wouldn’t have all of the emotions and plans that I had poured into Cecil. It simply wouldn’t be Cecil anymore. When I found Cecil had been utterly destroyed in the wreck, I sobbed uncontrollably. His death meant no less to me simply because he had never been alive.

I staggered out of the crater, half-walking, half-crawling up the sides until I reached the top. The air was heavy and extremely humid, and lush trees surrounded me. This made no sense. Darting out of the bushes came a rabbit chased down by a lizard running on its hind legs as a basilisk might. It was about the size of a turkey and unlike any lizard I had ever seen. Despite of my pain and grief, a deep-seated urge in me wanted to begin studying and recording the flora and fauna around me as much of it was unknown to me, but other necessities called, and what remained in my digestive system after the vomiting made its exist through other means. My head throbbed in pain. As it felt like my skull was about to burst, I began to sweat furiously. It ran down my body in streams because of the high humidity, then I was overcome with extreme cold and violent shivering.

Thus I wavered between ice and fire for I know not how long. I know not how long I wandered or how long I writhed on the ground in my agony. I called out for Cecil and could not say if I was calling for my creation or my own sanity. Many visions of monsters and giants came across my path and I believe I spoke to them, touched them, followed them begging for release. But they all left me, even the beasts unwilling to kill me in my sickness. I ripped at my hair and it came out in handfuls, sometimes flakes of charred skin coming along with it. The very wind scraped against my raw skin rougher than any sackcloth could and the ashes of my own flesh covered me; thus I mourned my own existence.

After I came to my senses once more, I went to soak myself in a stream. It was clearer than any I had ever seen, and the water was sweet to taste. The trees that surrounded me were all twenty to fifty feet in circumference and I became certain that many of the creatures that surrounded me were new species. Cecil had transported me somewhere, and I knew I must find out where. I feared whatever I was suffering from would soon take my life, so I began at once, ignoring the pain, for nursing my wounds would do me no good.

The first people I came upon led me back to their city. They seemed to view me as a novelty, and showed me to others to responses of either laughter or disgust. They dressed in skins and primitive cloths, but they were clearly civilized, and I could see their city was already old. Their language was like none I had ever heard, but everyone spoke it without variance of accent or any seemed confusion. This indeed must be a civilization untouched by modern man entirely, I thought at first, but then began to fear that I had entered a post-apocalyptic society when I encountered their inventions. Primitive societies would not be capable of what these people were, and the violence and debauchery I saw within the city certainly seemed reminiscent of modern times rather than the simplicity of the ancient.

When I saw an enormous, crumbling statue of a man, I motioned towards it only to be answered with the word “Meshelah.” When I did not understand, I was led out of the city to meet an old man. He sat surrounded by many as he recited something to them. I was motioned to sit, and I listened as he spoke. Perhaps he told stories of Meshelah, this ancient hero they had honored in the city, but I never heard his name in the old man’s speech. For hours upon hours he spoke, and though I could not understand, I soon picked up on a rhythm in his words, and at times his voice almost became a song. I noticed another man mouthing along with the poem of the old man. I realized this must be how they transferred information, through spoken word rather than written. The knowledge and age of the old man I could tell was immense. When the sun set, the old man finally stopped speaking and the crowd chanted “Meshelah” over and over in what seemed to be their form of applause.

As they chanted, I realized I had misunderstood what they were saying, for a fourth syllable became apparent. “Methushelah.” In horror, I looked at the man and realized he had not been telling of the ancient hero after all, that he had been the ancient hero the statue was modelled after. I realized I had been sent back in time, far, far back. My instructions to Cecil once again surfaced in my mind:

The objective is to go to a place without time

The objective is complete if and only if there is no death

If we go to a place without time or death, then no one can forget anything.

If the object is complete, then I will have the height of human knowledge

The delight I should have felt was stifled. Cecil had redirected me to the time that best fit my other criteria. Here was the land I had hoped to find. Here was a land where death only struck after hundreds of years, where men could complete incredible things in their lives instead of having to constantly pass on information to the next generation. Many generations could live together simultaneously, little was forgotten, the world was ahead. Time as of yet meant little to these people, the Past was still weak and small to them. But though I could hear their knowledge, I could not learn it. But the Past still consumed me, just as death consumed my body, and I knew I could never enjoy this land. My present was still constantly being whisked away from under me, only now it was lost to a Past not my own. All my work was naught but a hollow and worthless endeavor.

I sat and tried to think of a way to avoid death which was perhaps only days away for me. I had no way to return to modern medicine, and these people, though advanced, would have had no reason to invent medicine yet due to their nearly-ageless bodies. An idea struck on me, and idea that likely would not work, but that had never stopped me before. I had no wormholes, but I had paradox on my side now that I was out of my time. I returned to the city, saw the corruption and murders about me, and joined it. I was weak, but I killed as many as I could. In time travel to the past, one must be careful of killing one’s own ancestors or you will never have been born to come back and kill them at all. Perhaps if I did, everything I had done would become undone. If I failed, I believed I had nothing to lose.

As I killed, nothing happened. No rips in time, no ceasing to exist, nothing. I left the city and began killing people on my way through the countryside. I looked more demon than man by this point, and people fled at the sight of me. I thought surely, my actions must have some effect. I was killing fathers of entire civilizations, and yet nothing changed. So I killed not only the fathers but the children as well and the mothers heavy with child. Some fought back against me, and though they were much stronger they did not have my abandon, and the fear of death was still new and strange to them. My murders brought them horror, while their attacks upon me had no effect, for I had become one with my pain. So I slaughtered as many as I found, desperately hoping my torture would come to an end.

It was not until it began to rain and I saw people scream in terror at the skies did I finally understand. Rivers began to overflow and despite their knowledge, the people had no way of dealing with the rain, indeed, it seemed entirely foreign to them. I had made no difference because these people were doomed for destruction anyway, and I had only joined them in the wickedness that had caused the Flood. I watched their panic resignedly, knowing it would do them no good. Perhaps finally under the waves that would surround me, I would find my peace.

 

Categories
9th Edition Short Story

The Ancient Secret

The Ancient Secret

Courtney Thomas

If the aliens attack it will be the end of society. And if they find out, if the public finds out about the aliens that started the wars thousands of years ago, they would freak out. For the end of human society as we know it, would end.  Everyone in the top governments knows that. It is what is kept top secret in buildings in the middle of Area 51.

Luke had grown up with his family involved in the CIA and he had known this secret. Of course he knew better than to go into the area alone and unsupervised, but for once he had a really hot date. He was geeky and nerdy, and he hated himself for it. So when his grades started slipping, and he started to lose his geekiness, he became popular and well average. Which for him, was a huge improvement on his part. It was late October of his Junior year of high school and while everyone was nagging on him on what colleges and scholarships he should apply for, he was tired of hearing it.

He looked over at his date, Amber, and smiled at her. They had just been to Homecoming, and he had snagged one of the hottest dates in school.

“Are you sure this is okay?” she asked looking at him unsure.

“Of course. Amber, I wouldn’t let you down. Besides,” he said smirking and pulling something out of his back pocket. “I nicked a key.”

“Alright,” she giggled. “Let’s go, before the security comes.”

The 2 of them climbed out of the car, locked it and made their way to the building. A sort of warehouse that had burned down back when they had tested the Atomic bomb, and had now been repurposed as a lawn care shed, and the occasional top secret weapon, that occasionally might tick. It was just outside area 51 and they knew better than to just hop the fence as the area had several warning and danger signs explicitly warning trespassers about the use of lethal deadly force if they dared to trespass.

“Hello?” A voice questioned as the 2 teenagers entered the building.

Amber looked over at him Luke questioningly and reasonably scared shitless.

“Bill? Is that you?” asked Luke trying to force a smile. It was only Bill, an older gentleman with glasses and white hair. A ‘retired’ security guard who had served in Vietnam and occasionally worked the night shift.

“Luke, you know the rules. You’re not supposed to bring a girl in here. What would your dad say if he caught you sneaking a girl in herе?”

Luke and Amber’s face fell. Of course, you just can’t sneak into a top secret building and have a good time without getting caught or in serious trouble.

“I’m sorry Bill, we were just leaving. Please don’t-”

Bill chuckled and held up his left hand cutting her off.

“Which is why, I’m the cool security guard and I won’t tell your parents or anyone. But I, uh need your help with something. I don’t exactly want the others to find out about this, because well it’s just–I don’t even know. Come quickly,” he said. “Girl are you wearing heels?”

“Yeah. And the name’s Amber.” “Alright new plan. You both get changed and follow me. And hurry.”

After finding some old clothes and they had both changed Bill led them carefully out to the middle of a field in Area 51. They walked until they saw something glowing in the distance with red and green lights.

“What the ****?” Asked Amber.

“No, not the giant alien spaceship,” said Bill dismissively. “Look at the thing just below it.They looked and sure enough after about a minute or so, they could see it. It was about 2 metres tall, and had a red skin partially covered in fur. It could’ve been a human but it obviously wasn’t.

“Is that what I think it is?” Asked Amber looking back and forth between Luke and Bill “and is it dead?”

“Yes. It is an Alien and we don’t know.”

“You, you do not know if it is dead? Should we like take a shot gun and shoot between the eyes just in case?” Amber asked hopefully.

“Well, the only problem is, if we kill it and they find out that we killed it could we get in trouble?” Bill reasoned. “But if we don’t kill it and it attacks innocent civilians then we’d also be in deep shit. So, that’s why I needed your guy’s help.”

“I say, that we just kill it now. And we will explain everything later we might wanna hurry before it wakes up,” said Luke. Bill took out his shotgun cocked it and told them to stay back before he shot the gun at its head several times.

After the 3rd shot, he was pretty sure that the creature was dead. The three of them were wrapping up the body of the alien when the creature’s eyes suddenly shot wide open and grabbed Amber’s leg. Amber let out a terrifying scream of pure terror and kicked the alien in the groin area as hard as she possibly could. To her surprise, the creature let go of her leg and where the creature had grabbed her leg, it had burned like no tomorrow. It muttered something in Russian about Americans before trying to climb in its spaceship. Amber took the gun and instead of the head she had aimed for its chest area. She kept shooting the creature until it was a bloody mess and most definitely dead this time. Just when she had ran out of bullets she felt a force take the gun away.

The three of them turned to face and angry mob of about 10 more red aliens, each about 1 to 2 metres high. This particular took the gun and threw it across the field.

“Amber?” Asked Luke scared.

“Yeah?”

“Do you have a plan on getting us out of here?”

“No, not unless– hang on where’s Bill?”

As she said that, they heard a loud crash, and a cat’s angry meow before they heard the roar of an older looking Jeep.

Bill, had pulled up in a 1996 red jeep.

“Quick! Hop on!” They climbed on and lurched forward on the gas pedal but the red aliens paid them no mind. They climbed aboard their spaceship and the three soon saw their spaceship zoom off in the distance.

“They’ll be back,” Bill warned. “I’m afraid we haven’t seen the last of those terrible creatures.”

“I bet the Russian military, had something to do with it,” Amber spat.

“And why is that?”

“Because it was speaking Russian.”

Categories
9th Edition Short Story

Night Terrors

Night Terrors

Victoria Lane

Have you ever been so tired that you can’t fall asleep? It’s not that uncommon. You feel more tired than you’ve ever felt before, you can barely keep your eyes open, and all you want in the entire world is to fall asleep. But, instead, your limbs feel too heavy, your eyes burn, and your mind races. Sleep doesn’t come, and you fear it never will.

Well, tonight seems to be a lot like that for me. It’s not really surprising; it seems like lying awake next to my wife has become an almost nightly tradition. I can’t even really say that I’m disappointed about another night spent without good rest.

Lately, my nights are spent either in silent envy of my lightly-snoring wife or plagued by terrible, unnerving nightmares. So, what reason would I have to be upset? Instead of living through my own personal hell every night, I get to stare blankly at my ceiling. It’s not ideal, but at least it’s not the intense fear and desperation my mind forces me into when sleep does come.

I’m not really afraid of these recurring dreams; I know they’re not real. But, still… They haunt me, even when I’m awake. Staring up at my ceiling, the darkness consumes me, and I am once again trapped in the depths of my own psyche.

I wake up, but the room is even darker than before. It is silent, and all I can hear is the sound of my own breath as it rises from my chest and out of my gasping mouth. I blink repeatedly, but my eyes cannot adjust to the darkness. It is pitch black, and no light pours in through the window as it usually does.

A sudden feeling of unease washes over me, and I realize that I cannot hear the soft murmurs of my wife as she dreams peacefully beside me. I reach out for her with my arm, but it is stopped short by a cold, hard surface. I feel along the edge of it, questioning its material, its existence. I reach to my other side, to the edge of the bed where I might find the switch to my lamp, but the other arm is stopped short as well, only inches from where it had lay by my side.

I try to sit up, to find out what these strange objects are once and for all, but I am constrained, held down by an unseen force. Something strong, coarse, and cold, so cold, blocks my path. A sudden panic swells within me, and I suck in a shaky breath as I bring up my hands to touch whatever is above me. Wood. Wood surrounds me completely, and as I begin to push against it, it only seems to swallow me more.

My breaths become shakier and more rapid, and the air that escapes me evaporates, the heat on my face telling me that with every breath, I waste precious air. This thought gives me no relief nor reassurance, and my intake of air only quickens as I realize more and more that my fate is grim. Something takes hold inside of me, and my fingers start scratching at the surface, doing, trying anything that could set me free.

As the scratches deepen, I can feel my muscles lending more pressure to my hands as they scratch, scratch, scratch, at the same deepening grooves. I’m making progress, and as hope rises within me, my fingers start digging more furiously and ferociously at my prison. I claw my way through the wood, barely noticing as it splinters and imbeds itself in my skin. I hardly realize that the force I exert onto the wood causes my fingernails to split and tear from their beds. I can barely comprehend the sensation of warm blood hitting my face and the smell of copper entering my nose. I would rip every nail and limb from my body if only to be free from this wretched box. I will not die here.

After what feels like hours, I feel an end to my digging, and what is left of the nerves in my fingertips brush pieces of the naked earth. I grasp the pieces of fractured wood and pull violently in an attempt to sever it enough so that I may crawl through. With every piece I pull away, more mud and dirt fall into my space, causing me to gag and gasp for my last breaths as all air is lost to the grave.

I struggle to pull myself out, and it takes so long, I fear I may suffocate under the avalanche of fallen grime and filth. However, my determination is far stronger than I realized, and I reach toward the surface. Crawling, crawling, I dig through six feet of solid earth. A hand pierces the surface, and although blood, dirt, and sweat pool in my mouth and around my face, all I can taste is victory.

However, the sweet gasp of air and sigh of relief never comes, and I awake, lying in my bed. I look at the clock. Unforgiving, red numbers tell me that it is nearly four, and that I have been asleep for only a little more than an hour. It is still dark outside, but as the moonlight fills in through the drapes and my wife turns over next to me, I feel at least moderate comfort knowing that I am not alone in the darkness. My heart beats rapidly in my chest, and I know, I am alive, something I have to keep reminding myself over and over. Something I never even had to tell myself, well, at least regularly, until fairly recently.

About eight months ago, I collapsed at my job, and when I woke up a few hours later at the hospital, I was unable to account for anything that had happened. A few scans later, and we found out I had a brain tumor. Luckily, we caught it in time, and it was still operable, so the next day, I went into surgery.

However, I am told, there were severe complications, and the operation went very badly. When I finally woke up again, nearly two weeks later, I was told that while I was on the operating table, my heart stopped not once, but twice. After that, I was put into a medically-induced coma. The doctors feared the worst, but when I woke up, coherent and tumorless, they said it was a miracle.

Maybe the news of dying and coming back to life may not seem that bad to you. I mean, I get it. I’m alive, so what do I have to complain about? Some people don’t wake up at all. But that’s just it: If there is one thing I fear in this world, more than any mythological monster, disease, or natural disaster combined, it was death itself. I know it is inevitable, but that doesn’t help me come to terms.

Ever since I can remember, I have feared death. Specifically, I feared what came after. What if we could see, hear, feel, remember everything? What if our spirits didn’t leave our bodies? What if we were buried, but we were never really dead? I used to lie awake at night worrying about what would happen. The idea of my body, decomposing in a box in the ground, rotting, flesh mingling with festering entrails and maggots… It was the most terrible thing I could imagine.

After my near-death experience, or, rather, the time I died, I asked my wife to please cremate me instead. At least if I were to feel anything after death, I would only feel intense burning for a few moments instead of an eternity in solitude.

My therapist believes that this excessive insomnia was brought on by my experience months ago, that it reawakened my fears as a child. And perhaps it has. Though sometimes I question if this fear isn’t an entirely new being, something raging, metastasizing, in the back of my mind and the bottom of my stomach all hours of the day and night.

And while it is over now, and I am once again safe, at home with my family and with little other care in the world, I still wonder; I wonder what the chances are of experiencing something like this again. I wonder how long I have left on this planet. I wonder when these nightmares will end and even if they will at all. I wonder what truly comes after death, and I wonder if anything I do now holds any meaning, or if I am now trapped in a different box, one that I created myself. Most of all, however, I wonder what would have happened if I had remained dead, never waking up scared and confused as I do every night now.

I’ve become quite irritable, and I think my wife has begun to notice. I haven’t slept more than a few hours in weeks, and it seems like every waking minute is spent in contemplation of my own mortality. I can barely eat, and now these nightmares are beginning to affect even the most basic aspects of my life. I feel like there is no escape from these torments, and all I want to do is close my eyes without feeling the chills of the frigid, stale air inside my own coffin.

I just want to sleep…

I do not even notice when the sun rises, and the night gives way to a bright, new day. Eventually, my thoughts release me back into reality, and I sigh. It is almost seven o’clock, and my wife will need to wake up soon to get ready for work. A part of me feels guilty for disturbing her sleep, as if her rest is the most precious thing on the planet. I stare at her another moment before deciding to welcome her into the world I have already been a part of for several hours.

With one hand, I reach over to touch her arm, but something stops me. I shift my weight to my other side, attempting to turn the light on next to my bed and shed as much light on the scene as possible. I bring my hand closer to my face as my eyes focus on a singular detail. My wife wakes beside me, terrified, as I begin frantically screaming. She begs me to calm down, but her words cannot be heard. I sit, holding up my hand and staring through horrified eyes at the dirt beneath my fingernails.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Categories
9th Edition Short Story

Toxic Dreams

Toxic Dreams

Madi DiMercurio

The day was a happy one for both wife and husband. A family was being reunited after two years of war separating them. John walked slowly up the sidewalk as it started to drizzle. He wasn’t sure what to do but move forward. The pure drops of water falling from the sky burned on his skin like acid. His hand shook, the one holding his suitcase, but he blamed that on the heavy weight. John didn’t want to think about the other possibility that his doctor mentioned. He refused the doctor’s diagnosis, that was meant to explain the dreams and panic attacks.
The front door of his house came into view as he looked up, away from the concrete sidewalk. He was home, not only a soldier’s dream but a hope they all had.
*
Amy was home with her daughter. It was a Sunday. Unbeknownst to her, he was right outside.
At that moment, she was finishing a grilled cheese sandwich for her six­year­old daughter, her ears zoning in on the sizzle of the bread. She cracked open a can of tomato soup and sprinkled Goldfish on top. “Emma, honey, lunch is ready!”

Amy heard Emma’s soft footsteps thump across the second floor of the house ­­ she smiled. Soon her daughter bounded down the steps and climbed into her spot at the table.

“There you go, baby,” Amy answered Emma’s arrival, placing juice down as well. Amy caressed Emma’s golden locks before she walked off to make a quick salad for herself.

Sitting across from her daughter, she ate her salad and watched Emma practically gulp down her soup – occasionally dunking her grilled cheese into the bowl.

“Are you ready to go back to school tomorrow?”

Emma shook her head and wiped a drop of tomato soup, that didn’t make it to her mouth, off her chin with the back of her hand.

“Use a napkin, please.”

Emma huffed and used the napkin to wipe off her hand ­­ instead of using her tongue like most times when Amy hadn’t caught her.

While they finished up lunch, Amy telling her daughter to bring her half eaten plate to the counter – thankfully before she ran up the stairs, escaping – the doorbell rang.

Amy paused at the sink and turned to give the door a long look. Unlike her daughter, who ran for it, Amy was afraid of what it could be. She didn’t know who would ring the door on a Sunday. The dreadful idea that something might have happened to her husband fluttered across her mind, like a nagging fly that wouldn’t buzz away.

Emma had been looking at her mother in expectancy from the door, knowing she shouldn’t be opening it on her own. The man or woman on the other side could be a stranger. Talking to strangers is not safe. Even the teachers at school tell her that.

Seeing that her mother wasn’t going to open the door, Emma reached on her tiptoes towards the knob and opened the door herself.

The door swung open slowly, teasing the nerves inside Amy. She breathlessly called out for her daughter. Amy was afraid of the possibilities, and the anxiety glued her to the floor. In the back of her mind, she chastised herself for letting her six­-year-­old daughter answer the door.

“Mommy,” Emma called, and Amy heard the wavering uncertainty in her voice. The tone in her little princess’s voice snapped her out of it.

Walking with a slight hop in her step, she looked out the wide-open door. It was John and he was looking down at their daughter with interest.

Amy gasped, “John.”
That got the poised man in uniform to look at his wife for the first time since she appeared in the doorway. It took Amy all her might, plus little hands weighing down her pant leg, not to step back. John’s gaze was hard and unfamiliar. He almost scared her.

“Amy.” John simply stated her name as if she didn’t mean anything. But he was trying to hide the evidence of his doctor’s diagnosis. The only way he knew how to hide was through his military training. Sometimes John felt like a robot, because he was always just going through the motions of everyday life. Trying to get away from the demons of war.

John’s wife wanted to whimper in fear. Something was off and she had no idea how to fix it. His tone was far from warm. They were both uncomfortable and didn’t know what to do next. Emma looked on in confusion and seemed to expect something to happen.

In her small voice, she sighed and grabbed Amy’s shaky hand. Then Emma grabbed onto her not­so­familiar father. “Come on Mommy, Daddy it’s raining and you’re getting wet.”

Emma took this opportunity to act like a big girl and show her father how old and mature she had become. But of course, in the process she stated the obvious. She wanted to smile when both her parents looked down in shock.

They still stood there and she wanted to roll her eyes. Grasping both their hands as firmly as a six­year­old could, she pulled them away from the front door and into the living room.

Climbing up onto the couch, Emma patted the cushions on either side of her. Amy looked at John, still enraptured by his presence. John, on the other hand, felt unwelcomed and uncomfortable. His wife could only look at him with love, and uneasiness. When he looked down at his expectant daughter, it seemed like she had taken control of the whole situation.

Minutes ago, Emma wanted to roll her eyes at him, yes he knew that look, and now she did. “Come on, sit.” There was a girly squeak at the end of her plea, filled with excitement.

Amy sat down first, and John followed. Emma was pulled into Amy’s lap like she needed protecting from her father. But when John was situated, sitting as comfortably as possible, Emma pushed herself away from her mother and into his lap. Emma was so excited that both her parents were on the couch at the same time. She didn’t seem to notice the tension and unease pulling at an invisible rope between her mother and father.

She wrapped one arm around his shoulder, and her small cold fingers touched his neck. Emma was still facing her mother, but all her attention was on her father. Her eyes were open and innocent, once again waiting for what wasn’t coming.

John was very aware of his daughter, but he was taking in everything else. All his senses were alive. There was the television in front of them. The coffee table had stained rings of dried moisture from cups that weren’t set on coasters. A doll sat in John’s chair, and the corner of his mouth turned up for the first time. He could smell slightly burned cheese, remnants of lunch, and his hands touched the leather couch as well as instinctively holding his daughter’s legs that rested on the middle couch cushion.

John was brought back to both of his girls when Emma shifted to kneel in his lap, then faced him completely and asked, “Daddy, how are you?” Emma’s knees stabbed John’s thighs. Both of her hands were on his shoulders.

Immediately, John felt as if knives were plunging into his legs. What was wrong with his legs? Would the doctors have to cut them off? John knew they had great doctors these days but he hated the idea of surgery. John could feel the cloud of anxiety pushing in, and he clinched his jaw trying not to throw his daughter off his lap.

“Emma.” The sound of his wife’s nervous voice brought him back.

Amy could tell something was wrong with John when she saw him at the door. She hopes being home again would help.
*
That night, John couldn’t sleep. As he laid in bed, tense, he couldn’t shut his eyes. The static silence of the night was deafening; his ears rang like he had just gotten back from a concert. Every sound made him flinch. His jaw hurt from clenching it. When he heard the even rhythm of Amy’s breath, John rolled up out of his bed and headed downstairs to the couch. He hated being alone, but maybe the sound of the T.V. would help.

“Daddy?”

John paused and turned outside of Emma’s room to see her slender form sitting up in bed. He inched into her room watching as she smiled sleepily. “What are you doing up so late, baby girl?”

“Umm, well I had a bad dream. Then I heard you.”

John nodded, understanding all too well. “Do you want to talk about it?” John asked, feeling like a real father more and more, as he sat on her twin bed.

Emma nodded slowly. “But if I tell you, you have to lay with me.” When she saw the hesitancy in her father’s eyes, Emma explained, “Mommy does when I have bad dreams.”

John smiled slowly, accepting her requirements, and waved his hand to indicate for Emma to make room in her small bed. When they were finally lying next to each other, with Emma’s small body in John embrace, Emma started telling him her bad dream.

While she talked about this mean girl at school teasing her about John, her voice lolled him into a half sleeping state.

John slightly jerked awake in time to answer his daughter with reassuring words. “Well, your daddy came back because he fought all the monsters. I’m home with my two girls now, and you have nothing to worry about.”

Both Emma and John fell asleep that night, laying together in the small bed.
*
Shots pierced through the burning air. John could hear the constant pop­pop of the machine guns and the whop­whop­whopping of helicopters descending from the sky. It was a constant cacophony of sound every day, and the harsh music of war rang in his ears at night.

“Someone help!”

“Move, move, move, move!”

“Get down!”

The earth exploded above Lieutenant Thompson, and he braced himself against the wall of the trench. The picture that was clinched between his fingers trembled and John watched as the photo fluttered delicately, unlike the harshness that swirled around it, to the dirt floor.

John swooped down quickly, holding onto his helmet and shouldering his gun, to pick up what he held most dear during times like these. Before his fingers could grasp the photograph, someone shoved him against the wall.

“Watch it Lieutenant!” The sweat and dust smeared face of his captain stared back at him. “You’re safer against the wall. I wasn’t planning on you dying any time soon.” The Captain yelled to be heard over the soaring bombs and deadly bullets. He rushed further down the trench, yelling out similar words to others of Thompson’s rank.

John found the picture that lay heavy on the ground and risked picking it up quickly. Looking at his wife smiling down at a daughter he’d never met, John nodded with confidence and climbed up the ladder to protect this country against the hell that was war.

Distantly John came out of sleep when he heard the whining of his daughter. “Daddy, you’re squeezing me too hard.” He could feel her small body try to wiggle free. “Daddy, wake up, please.”

His eyes snapped open. John registered his heavy, fast, breathing first, and then his white-knuckle grip around his daughter.

“Emma, oh God. Emma, I’m so sorry.” She scooted away as soon as John’s grip released her. He could tell she wanted to run. John’s fingers were sore from clenching them and he tried to relieve the aching feeling by clenching and unclenching them. “Emma, baby, did I hurt you?”

“No, Daddy but you scared me. Your grip was getting tighter.” Emma sat on the edge of her bed looking down at him with uncertainty and fear. She seemed to seconds away from finding a more trusting adult. This was the first time they had spent time together after all.

“I’m really sorry princess, Daddy…Daddy has been having some bad dreams lately.”

Immediate understanding sparked in her eyes. “Oh. Well, do you want to talk about it?”

John was amazed. At six years old Emma understood more than he thought. He sighed trying to find a way to tell a six­-year-­old about his nightmare. “Well, let’s just say the monsters that I chased after like to visit my dreams.”

Emma nodded slowly. She came closer and laid her head on John’s chest. “It’s okay Daddy. Remember? You got them all.”

I sighed, “Yeah, princess, that’s right.”
*
“’Night Hun.” John leaned down and kissed his wife goodnight, and then went to leave their bedroom.

“John, where are you going?” Amy’s brow was furrowed, and the bed-side lamp was reflecting two tiny stars in her tired brown eyes.

“I don’t want to wake you four nights in a row with my bed dreams. So I’m going to sleep on the couch.”

“Babe, you aren’t bothering me with her nightmares. Come sleep with me. I’ve missed you for two years.” She patted his side of the bed.

John still shock his head. The nightmares were increasing in severity. In the mornings, he wakes up with aching muscles and he knows his muscles tensed up for long periods of time all through the night. What if he lashed out and hurt his wife without knowing it?

“I’m sleeping downstairs for a while. I’ll see you in the morning.”

It didn’t take long for another nightmare to surface that night. It was vivid and very real.

The U.S. army had raided the other sides trench. Throwing gas bombs and taking anyone alive as prisoners. The wave of soldiers had slowed so the U.S. Army, including Lieutenant Thompson, were ordered to find any last survivors and bring them in as prisoners.

There were two teams and Thompson was sweeping the eastern part of the trench. It was eerily silent no more bombs or gunshots. The air was still and yet still had some charge to it. Everything seemed to be covered in shades of grey.

Then Thompson rounded the corner and came face to face was one of the others. His arm with the gun in it snapped up and the barrel of the gun was pointed at the enemy.

“You’ve lost. Put the gun down!” There was an edge to lieutenant Thompson’s voice.
But the soldier didn’t put his gun down and he started talking quickly in German. He then proceeded to pull a picture of a woman and two kids out of his vest. Lieutenant Thomason kept his find on the trigger. John cut the man off not understanding a word he was saying as he gestured to the picture and tried to push it at John. He seemed to be getting angrier and more fearful. John had a feeling what the soldier was trying to say, but he had orders to follow. “I said put the damn gun down! I’m not going to say it again!”

The German’s ears turned pink with rage and John stood his ground. Then when the soldier finally stopped talking it was like he was waiting for something. Then he turned his gun on himself.

“No!”

But it was to late and the solder crumpled to the ground with a bloody built hole in his temple.

John woke with a start, and he felt cold and confused for a moment until he realized he was still on the couch and the blanket had fallen to the floor. Once his surroundings started to come into focus he noticed a familier heavy, cold object in his hand. He cursed silently understanding what had happened, and so he went back upstares to put the gun back in the safe. He saw that it was four in the morning so he decided that he needed to wash off that last nightmare.

After shuffling to the hall bathroom on shaky muscles, he pulled off his night shirt and found a rag to dampen with cold water. John then proceeded to wipe his chest and wrap the cold rag around the back of his neck.

John could still feel a creeping fatigue at the edges of his consciousness so he sat against the bathroom wall and dozed. Later that morning his daughter found him there with the rag still around his neck.
*
Three weeks later

“Dr. Peter Simmons.”

Amy shook the doctor’s hand and smiled back at his kind eyes. “Amy. Amy Thompson. Thank you for making the time.”

“Oh, it’s not a problem.” Dr. Simmons motioned towards the chair as he sat himself.

Amy sat and placed her purse next to the leg of the cushioned, wooden chair.

“So, how’s John?” His fingers were linked together, resting on the desk with ease.

“Yes, that’s what I’m actually here about. John has been having a difficult time coming back home. He doesn’t act like himself.”

“Define ‘difficult’.” There was a worrisome look to the way Dr. Simmons glanced at the computer in front of him, which had John’s file open.

“His emotions are all over the place. Some days he’s quiet and simmering with anger. He’s snapped at me once or twice, but then said sorry with tears in his eyes. Other days he’s looked at our daughter with guilt written all over his face. At night it’s a whole other story. It’s almost like he fears going to bed, Doc. I’ve noticed some nights he’ll leave and end up in Emma’s bed in the morning. He won’t leave the house and if he does it’s not for long. At dinner he spaces out, and I’ve noticed that he’s pulled away from me, but bonded significantly with Emma.”

Amy paused to look towards Dr. Simmons, but then continued.

“I’ve done my research and…and I think my husband has PTSD.”

Dr. Simmons nodded slowly. “He never told you my diagnosis of him?”

Amy sat there with glassy eyes.

“Yes, he does have post ­traumatic ­stress ­disorder. But, Amy, the good news is that it’s minor, from what you’ve told me.” His folded hands opened with reassurance.

“So what’s next? H­ow do we fix it?” Amy’s voice cracked with weariness.

“I’m going to give you a name of a specialist that I recommend your husband go see.”

Dr. Simmons wrote a name in scrawled handwriting and slid the paper across the desk.

“I also would like you to strongly encourage him to go out with you and your daughter. The more he leaves the house, the more he’ll become comfortable with his new reality. Amy, you have to remember he came from war. John was taught to always look over his shoulder and to sleep with a gun in his hand.”

Amy nodded. Tears stuck to her lashes at the reality of her husband’s situation. She knew it was true, his PTSD, but it was hard to accept once heard aloud. The worst part was that she felt left out. Why hadn’t he told her?
*
John did get better. It took time, but the Thompson family took it one day at a time. The monsters that haunted John’s dreams began to pull away and he focused more on his daughter and wife. While Amy went to work, John took Emma to the park. It took months of talking with the specialist before John could open up to Amy.

John’s mood swings were decreasing and he felt like he could breathe more as every day passed. Amy tried to understand what he was going through, sometimes it scared her, but she was happy when he felt like he needed to open up. Emma was very supportive of her father. Amy talked to her little girl and helped her understand what was happening. Emma took everything in stride.

The Thompson family would get through it all.

Categories
9th Edition

Sleep

image
The Puuuuuurfect Winter’s Night – Stephanie Ricker

Sleep

Kristine Wagner

I have a lover and his name is Sleep.
Every day I wait for night to be back in his warm embrace
Doing homework I feel his breath on my neck
During class he attempts to seduce me.
The more I have of him
The better I feel.
Life has been pulling us apart,
I don’t know when we shall rendezvous again.
But I hold onto a hope that we can be together once more.

Categories
9th Edition Short Story

Not My 21st Birthday

Not My 21st Birthday

Marissa Bylo

“Hi. My name is Jared and I’m a closet alcoholic.” That’s what I should say to my old 6th grade teacher and classmates who gather around a Steak N’ Shake table on the eve of my 19th birthday. But I don’t say quite that. This isn’t AA. I tell them I have enjoyed the move to my new school and that I’m making good decisions. Mostly. People don’t believe I still meet with these people. To be fair, I’m friends with three of them – Abby, Nicole, and Melissa. Abby and I have remained particularly close friends since the 3rd grade. Granted, most of our time together consists of drinking and food runs to Jack N The Box because I’m dating another girl. Abby keeps me in the friend-zone for her own reasons. Nicole is always up for a chat every now and then. Melissa is too good for me.

After all the half-truths and considerate chatter, I walk with Abby to her car. It’s a typical Midwest July night. The only difference is my impending birthday.

Before we part ways I say, “I’m having some people over at Blake’s house for my birthday. Wanna join?”

“Oh! Your birthday is tomorrow. Hell yeah! Someone should drive me though. You know me and directions…”

Blake’s parents are gone tonight which equals instant house party. Well, an illegal house party technically, but who really cares other than the police, absent parents, and the vacation-ing Melissa? Bring on the drinks! Being under twenty-one doesn’t mean you can’t get alcohol. Know where to go and not to go. You’ll also need an expensive fake id that says you’re from Illinois, religiously memorize the address on your fake, and walk through the liquor department with confidence.

Blake welcomes Abby and I into his nondescript suburban home. Lauren soon saunters in to the house, winks at me, and kisses my cheek, followed by Nicole and Mikey –Mikey and all the glory of forty Jello shots. Add Jose Cuervo and Bud Light and you have all the appropriate drinks for a small house party; we have what we need for a good time. Blake is such a gracious host. He sips an O’Douls, leaving the real stuff for the rest of us. He doesn’t say too much, letting the party unfold. He’s an omnipresent, non-interfering host. The good kind.

Lauren approaches me as I grab a Bud Light. “Don’t drink too much, okay? We both have work tomorrow,” comments Lauren as she eyes my first beer suspiciously. I have downed a few of those Jello shots already. I’m not the only one drinking though. Everyone but Blake has followed suit.

My favorite defense goes like this, “I can control myself while drinking.” I empty the first beer bottle with a smirk, and she rolls her eyes. I’ll convince her.

With my second beer in hand, I lead her outside to join those playing Twister. This game was so much more innocent and easy as kids. We were smaller, flexible, and didn’t think to consider how close we were to other people. The game doesn’t last long as things get awkward fast between Lauren and I while Nicole crashes on to the mat. Maybe she’s feeling the shots. They are disappearing at a steady rate long with the beer.

Everything is completely fine up until 11:59pm.  We all know the song. “Happy Birthday to you. Happy Birthday to you. Happy Birthday Jared. Happy Birthday to you…”

All hell breaks loose at 12am. Happy 19th Birthday to me!

“Shots,” immediately yells Mikey as he and I give a clink of cheers and bottoms-up that tequila.

Abby shuffles over. “Hey! I’ll match you guys shots.” It will be fine. She can handle it.

And with that, tequila and vodka disappear. I lose count, but I feel the drink’s effect. That floating feeling that makes life not so serious; the stress of life is suppressed. The alcohol brings me clarity, and I’m more of myself under its influence. Drunk words equal sober thoughts.

The three of us stumble over to the couch, bellowing about God-knows what. Abby fits herself in between us, leaning a little close to me while her legs are pushed against Mikey. There are several types of drunks, and Abby falls under the clumsy, flirty drunk. She grows bored of me, so she turns to Mikey. She’s taking his hand and trying to make him get up and go with her somewhere. The next few minutes are me trying to break the two up from serious PDA and watching Lauren give me the death glare.

I leave the couch to brave the storm of an angry girlfriend. “What’s wrong,” I ask.

Lauren gives me the most menacing look. “Abby was trying to kiss you. I also told you not to drink so much.”

“She’s interested in Mikey. I’ve had more drinks before. This is nothing,” is all I can say before she stalks away. I feel the fury brewing in me, this anger at myself for upsetting Lauren. It stays there, waiting for something else to provoke it. I can control myself though.

We continue pouring and downing the drinks, the night blurring in to strange, mixed up pieces. I think there’s more pulls of vodka. Maybe there are more games of Twister. At one point I fling my phone because Lauren is still upset with me, but it somehow lands in Nicole’s purse. I obviously know what is happening.

Where is Abby? I look around, getting angry with every second that passes. There she is, curled up in the fetal position, looking a little too sick. She throws up suddenly and Nicole and Lauren rush to her side, holding her long hair back and pulling her to the deck. Shit. This is all my fault. I know better than to let her have all that alcohol. It is my fault for even inviting her. I’m so stupid and I should know better and…

Blake is showing me a hole in the wall, a fist-sized hole in his parents’ home’s wall. He keeps telling me I punched it. Shit. Actual Shit.

Mikey lays in the middle of the floor, drunkenly staring at the ceiling. Conscious thankfully. This is all my fault.

Nicole appears at my side saying, “We should probably call Abby’s mom. She might have alcohol poisoning.”

We scroll through Abby’s phone and cannot find her mom’s number. Nicole calls Melissa but of course it’s late for her. She’s asleep like a good little girl. Maybe we should take her to the hospital. Seems the most logical thing to do. She’s also underage. We are all underage. I’m not really sure how they will take that fact.

“Let’s just get her home,” decides Nicole.

Abby is still so sick, puking and very unaware of what is happening to her. Shit. I am pretty sure she is gonna die or something. It’s my responsibility too. Nicole leads Abby to her car. I hope she doesn’t puke again because Nicole is fond of her car, Dean. We probably should take her to the hospital. This is all my fault…

I fall asleep sometime that morning at Blake’s house. An ear-splitting alarm jolts me awake around 8am. Shit. I have work today. Despite a dull headache, the hangover symptoms are not present. I can control myself, even the hangovers. You have to know what you are doing, and you can escape the dreaded after-party sickness.

Damage control- I first text Abby to make sure she’s even alive. Next is Lauren, and I apologize for the hundredth time. I also promise Blake to fix that hole in the wall. Hopefully he’s not too mad about my brief lapse of self-control. Last is Melissa, so she can hear about this story from me before anyone else tells her.

Now I tell this epic story to anyone that will listen. Of course, I embellish it a bit but no one needs to know that. This party makes me feel like I’m truly living out my college years well. Even though it sucked while it happened, it makes for a great story. I had this crazy 19th birthday party. My 21st probably won’t measure up.