Categories
9th Edition Short Story

The WAFE

The WAFE

Courtney Thomas

St Patrick’s Day, Dublin, Ireland 2001

Erskine’s daughter had been killed just a few hours earlier. The killers, Culkin and Desmond, were Erskine’s old mates. The three blokes had served in the Irish Military together and had even been ushers — (groomsmen as those Americans called it)—in each others’ weddings, but that was all in the past. Erskine stood in the kitchen of his house, his arms folded in front of his chest, as he stared down Culkin and Desmond, who were now casually standing in his kitchen, as if they hadn’t just made Erskine’s daughter disappear just a few hours prior.

‘You bastards! Get the bloody hell out of my house!’ Erskine uttered raising his voice in Irish Gaelic, as he flipped them off and grabbed a knife, ready to pounce on them if they didn’t leave.

‘Now, now, Erskine, that’s not any way to greet old friends now is it? Can’t we just pay our dear friend a visit?’ replied Culkin in Irish, mocking hurt as he helped himself and handed them each a beer. ‘We just want to have a beer and talk – that’s all. Calm down. No one needs to get hurt. Now put the knife down before you do something you regret.’

Erskine did not want to put the knife down. He wanted to lunge right at the two men, slit their throats and beat them senseless. Suddenly, however, an overwhelming feeling of calm washed over him. No, he shouldn’t be calm. But he was. Culkin was controlling his emotions.

‘Fine,’ he said setting the knife down. ‘Now what do you want?’

‘You know exactly what we want. And you’re going to give it to us,’ replied Culkin.

‘And why would I do that? I’m not stupid,’ replied Erskine.

‘Don’t you want to expose the truth? We could put the WAFE on the control panel and become immortal,’ said Culkin. ‘Those stupid gandraoidhals would want to know the truth and we could give it to them. Remember? Like we used to talk about in the good old days?’

How could they forget that only the folks with magic, ledraoidhals (pronounced lay-dr-I-duals,) could know about nAirm Eiliminteach or WAFE? Uisce, Aeir, Dóiteáin agus Earth or WAFE. The Elemental Weapons; Water, Air, Fire and Earth.”

‘Good times, Remember?’ said Desmond backing him up.

‘I remember,’ said Erskine chuckling.

‘So do we got our mate back? Will you help us?’ Culkin asked laughing.

‘Please,’ asked Desmond backing him up again.

‘I won’t help,’ said Erskine. ‘We’re not stupid like we used to be. The gandraoidhals can’t know the truth, and the WAFE can’t be kept together on the control panel.’

‘Oh, come on mate,’ said Culkin as he stood up to grab another beer. ‘Just because Alois Eliáš was the last one to put them on the control panel doesn’t mean it would go bad if we did it.’

‘And besides,’ Desmond added ‘he wanted to protect the truth. If he hadn’t of poisoned those sandwiches then maybe things would’ve been different.’

‘Are you off your rocker? It backfired anyway, only killing that one Nazi Czech journalist, Karel Lažnovsky and then got him executed,’ said Erskine.

‘Served him right too for betraying his own country,’ said Culkin.

‘He was a hero,’ said Erskine

‘He wasn’t. That stupid Nazi Leader trusted him and he let him down. The bloody Prime Minister of the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, Alois Eliáš, had been trusted with control of the WAFE. If Chamberlain, Daladier, Mussolini and Hitler had never signed the Munich Betrayal, then they wouldn’t’ve given Sudetenland to Nazi Germany, and delayed war. They let the Czech part of Czechoslovakia keep their control of the WAFE, which they had had since the bloody First World War and that’s the thanks they got?’ said Culkin.

‘Well, it did delay war -‘ Erskine argued.

‘Look. I’m not saying Hitler was right,’ Culkin interrupted ‘But he shouldn’t’ve betrayed his own country. Which is why we need your help. We could make Ireland a very powerful country and you mate can help us. We could find the other three families that have the rest of the WAFE and put them on the control panel.’

‘Please. We could rule, the world. Make those pathetic gandraoidhals our slaves,’ said Desmond.

“Had they not learned anything? Surely they couldn’t be that stupid? Just because the gandraoidhals, (gan-dr-I-duals), didn’t have magic, didn’t mean they were meant to serve the ledraoidhal, (lay-dr-I-duals), the folks with magic. It just meant they didn’t have magic and couldn’t know about the WAFE or anything else ledraoidhal for that matter. That would expose our world to the gandraoidhals and nothing good could ever come of that.” Erskine took a deep breath and said,The WAFE is split across Europe on purpose. You’d never –

‘But we could,’ Culkin whined. ‘If they hadn’t’ve split the WAFE amongst four families instead of between a married couple, like Franz Ferdinand and his wife before World War I, then maybe -‘

‘If the WAFE is united, it could cause World War III,’ said Erskine.

‘It’s worth the risk though. For Ireland. Please?’ Desmond said jumping back in the argument.

‘Absolutely not. Never in a million years,’ said Erskine. His anger crept back to him, as he finally broke out of Culkin’s mind control.

Erskine grabbed his knife, stuffing it in his back jeans pocket, before he jumped on Culkin’s back knocking him to the ground. The two wrestled around the kitchen floor as Culkin tried to push Erskine off of him but wasn’t strong enough. Erskine managed to roll him over on his back and then pinned him down. He pulled the knife out of his back pocket and stabbed Culkin in the chest, leaving the knife in his body.

Erskine then stood up and tackled Desmond to the ground as he was trying to flee out the garage door. Desmond hit his head on a closet door on the way down, making it easy for Erskine to put him in a headlock with his right arm. He balled his left hand in a fist before punching Desmond in the stomach and then the face before making eye contact with him. Straight through Erskine’s thick glasses, his hazel eyes concentrated hard on Desmond as Erskine used his eyes to cause immense pain to Desmond.

Desmond let out blood curdling screams of pain, as the bones in his body ached. The pain was about ten times worse than being kicked in the balls. He grabbed onto a kitchen chair for support as he fought to stay upright and fight back.

‘Go to hell you bastard!’ said Erskine before grabbing a handgun and aiming it right at Desmond’s chest. He pulled the trigger and watched as the bullet flew through the air and entered Desmond’s chest. Instantly, Desmond’s body physically disappeared while his clothes, with nothing to support them fell to the ground in a heap. Suddenly, loud cries came from one of the bedrooms. He was about to go to them, but he looked over to see Culkin hanging on for dear life. He must have just missed his heart. He was barely breathing but miraculously still alive with the knife still in his chest. Erskine walked over to him before shooting Culkin to put him out of his misery. Culkin’s body disappeared just like Desmond’s had. The knife laid on top of the clothes with blood covering the blade. Erskine picked up the clothes before throwing them in a pile together on the kitchen floor. The clothes were both covered in a red and blue sticky substance, thicker than syrup and smelled like a strong mix of wine and grapes.

Erskine cleaned the blood off the knife before inspecting the kitchen, making sure that the only signs of the bad guys were their clothes. The cries from the bedroom had stopped. Once the kitchen was cleaned, he knew what he had to do. He finished his beer before strolling into the first bedroom and pushing the trundle bed out of the way. He lifted the quilted duvets on the daybed to reveal his grandchildren.

‘OK, you can come on out now. It’s safe,’ he said slipping to German granddaughter, Nicole, was only nine months old. Garrett slowly and hesitantly crawled out from under the bed as he looked around for his mother and the bad guys. Erskine picked up Nicole off the floor.

‘Shh. It’s OK. Look, here’s your dummy,’ he said calming down enough to finally revert to English as he gently rocked her, wiping the dummy on his pants before giving it back to her. “It’s a dummy, not a–what do those Americans call it? Soother, binky, pacifier?” He shook his head. It didn’t matter. He sang her a song in Irish, causing her to fall asleep as he put her down for a much needed nap.

Erskine picked up his grandson and carried him to the kitchen table, giving him a late lunch.

‘Papa? Where the bad guys go?’ asked Garrett pointing to the pile of clothes that were still on the kitchen floor. It was still covered in the red and blue sticky substance. The bad guys were nowhere to be seen.

‘To live with the devil,’ he said, forcing himself to stay calm. He didn’t want to scare his grandson by sounding angry.

‘Mummy live with devil too?’ asked Garrett.

‘No. Mummy is with God,’ Erskine replied as Conall, Garrett’s father, stumbled in plastered from the pub. No doubt he had been trying to drink away his grief.

‘Ya know what’s funny?’ Conall asked laughing as he slurred his words together.

‘No,’ replied Erskine humouring him.

‘Mario won’t grow. I threw the mushrooms, but he won’t grow,’ he slurred laughing. Erskine followed him as he stumbled into the living room before passing out upright on the sofa.

What was supposed to be a happy day had turned out to be a straight up terrible day. Erskine’s wife, Izabela, had disappeared of cancer a few years back, so it had just been him, his three grandkids Gabe, Garrett, and Nicole and their parents that had gone into town to celebrate the holiday. They were going to go to the St. Patrick’s Day Festival Parade like they had done every year, but it had been cancelled due to the Foot-and-Mouth outbreak. Without the parade, they had spent the day in town, trying to make the best of it. However, the day had taken a wrong turn when the bad guys had found them there and had killed or made the Garrett and Nicole’s mother disappear. And what’s even worse is that Garrett had seen his mother’s disappearance.

A couple hours later, the grandpa and the dad heard Nicole’s high pitched cries coming from the other room. She had woken up from her nap with a diarrhoea filled nappy and was covered in puke. Conall, now somewhat sober and awake, picked her up and carried her to the bathroom to give her a cold bath as he tried to soothe her cries, barely even looking at his daughter the entire time. He was trying to stay strong; he was after all, her father, but before he could even fill the tub, he took one good look at his daughter’s piercing green eyes and instantly broke down.

‘Y–you do it! I—Ich kann nicht,’ he said breaking down and slipping into German: I can’t. ‘I look at them and I see her. They look like Bridget too much. I need a drink. Like really bad,’ he said handing Erskine the baby and walking out the door. He stood there for a minute trying to just process what had happened. Realisation of what had just happened quickly hit him. He looked down at Nicole who was still crying.

Erskine tried to shush her while he calmed himself. It was common for ledraoidhals to slip into German when they were angry or upset, regardless of their nationality. Erskine had also gotten so worked up that he had slipped into German.

He was upset about his daughter’s disappearance and he could see the resemblance too, but that didn’t mean he’d just get up and leave. “Haven’t these kids been through enough?” Erskine finished giving her the bath, before he changed her into a new nappy and cleaner and warmer clothes. If his son-in-law was coming back, he wasn’t coming back any time soon. He had just lost his wife earlier that day. Erskine retrieved his grandson and led him and Nicole outside.

The air was thick from the rain. It could rain again anytime soon. In the opposite corner of the yard was a small grey and white wooden shed complete with a wooden ramp and next to it, was a run-down tomato garden that ran along the back fence. He let Garrett play with the footballs while he went to the shed and grabbed a box filled with needles, syringes, and two deep matching silver lockets with an F inscriptured on the front.

The showers from that day had soaked the small table outside. Erskine set the supplies on the table, and he dried off the chairs before scooping up Garrett, despite protests of wanting to continue playing football, and sitting down with both of his grandkids.

He picked up a needle and tried to prick Garrett’s left pointer finger despite Garrett’s cries of fear. After a few minutes of struggling, he finally managed to prick his finger before doing the same thing to Nicole, without protests. She was too sick to care and the only thing that kept her quiet was her rapid sucking on her dummy and being held. Steadily, he held his grandchildrens’ bloody fingers over the lockets. Their blood spilt on the lockets, drenching them in blood. The grandpa picked up one of the lockets and tried to open it. He set it down and tried again with the other locket, but failed. The blood sealing recognition magic had worked. It was an uncommon magic. He had worked with it before, but not for ages. Satisfied, he handed a locket to each of them as Garrett’s cries ceased.

Garrett traced his small fingers around it while Nicole just played with it, but didn’t trace her fingers around it. The grandpa had Garrett help Nicole trace her small fingers around it and the lockets opened. The grandpa went to take a closer look, but it snapped shut within seconds. The children traded lockets. Garrett traced his before helping his sister trace hers. Garrett smiled in victory, proud he was able to do something his grandpa couldn’t. Garrett and Nicole’s matching piercing green eyes widened in amusement as salty seawater gushed out of both lockets like a hose. The water’s current cleaned the blood off the lockets, as it soaked them and the backyard as a small weapon fell out of Nicole’s locket before instantly growing to its regular size.

The weapon was a cross between a sword and a gun. It had the handle and blade of a sword, but it also had a gun trigger on one side of it. The barrel of the gun was a mere perfect 5 centimetres in diameter, and the entire thing was 74 centimetres tall with a 42 centimetre blade and was 29 centimetres wide. The handle was blue and silver, as if somebody had spray painted it blue years ago. It had an intricate carving of a coral reef scene, complete with fish and seashells.

‘What’s that?’ asked Garrett pointing at it in awe. He had seen swords and guns before, but never together.

‘The Uisce (ish-ka) Weapon. The Water Weapon. It hasn’t changed since Alois Eliáš had it,’ he said looking at the weapon in admiration, and remembering the weapon’s history.

‘Can I play with it?’ asked Garrett.

‘No, that’s not a toy. You can hold it, but only by the blue handle,’ he said.

Garrett grabbed the weapon and his grandpa had him push the pearl button on the handle. The blade retracted into the barrel and the handle part of the weapon leaving it to look like a gun. The water stopped pouring out of the deep locket, and the gun shrunk back down as it pulled itself into Garrett’s locket, by itself.

Wanting to see it again, Garrett opened it again, but this time no water nor gun gushed out. Instead they saw an inscription on one side, and a picture of themselves on the other. A slightly younger boy was holding a younger girl, who sat on his lap on the top of a red slide, both were smiling wide at the camera.

‘Look Sissy,’ said Garrett pointing to the picture in his locket. ‘That’s you! And that’s me! What’s it say Papa?’ Garrett asked trying to show his grandpa only to have it snap shut again.

‘It says, “Mise agus mo dheirfiúr beag,“‘ he explained: Me and my little sister.

‘Oh,’ said Garrett understanding. Does Sissy’s say that too?’ he asked opening the locket.

‘Close but hers says “Mise agus mo dheartháir mór,”‘ Erskine replied: Me and my big brother.

Garrett kept opening and closing the locket, not understanding why nothing was coming out of the locket. The lockets were magical and had extension charms on them. Erskine had set up the blood recognition magic to keep the weapon safe inside the children’s lockets. For the next month, only Garrett and Nicole would be able to open or look at the inside of the locket. However, once the month was up, anyone would be able to open it, but only Garrett and Nicole would be able to retrieve the weapon from either locket. The lockets were linked, so it didn’t matter which locket the Water Weapon had shrunk back into.

Imrímid at park?’ asked Garrett: We play?, losing interest as he was giving up on the locket.

Erskine smiled but shook his head. He had been trying to teach his grandkids Irish, and Garrett sometimes blended the two languages together.

Ní anocht,’ Erskine replied: Not tonight. ‘It’s almost dinner,’ he said. ‘Let’s go inside,’ he said picking up Nicole and leading them inside.

Later that night, Garrett let his grandpa give him his bath and get him ready for bed.

‘How come we can open them, but you can’t do it Papa?’ asked Garrett as his grandpa changed him into his pjs. He finished changing him before he answered him.

Draíochta,’ replied Erskine: Magic, as he put Garrett to bed. ‘Your mother and your uncle had lockets like those when they were little. Geall dom that you’ll look after your sister and never lose your locket. I gcónaí!

Geallaim. I gcónaí,’ Garrett said: I promise. Always.

‘Good. Now if you want to be a football player you’ll need your sleep,’ said Erskine as he finished tucking his grandson in bed. He left the room, turning out the light and forgetting to turn on the night-light.

‘Papa!’ cried Garrett.

Erskine cursed himself, remembering the night-light and scrambling to turn on the night-light.

Garrett was too young to understand most of what had happened today. Part of him wished that Garrett would be too young to remember his mother’s disappearance, but the other part wanted him to have been older, so he would’ve had more good memories with his mother. How, he wouldn’t have to possibly grow up with just an alcoholic father. The father wasn’t alcoholic yet, but he had a feeling it was headed that way. Perhaps he would explain it to Garrett when he was older. How his mother had disappeared to keep the weapon safe. How the guys who had killed his mother had wanted to expose the truth. The truth behind the disappearing system, which the governments and the United Nations had fought to keep a secret. If the gandraoidhals knew the truth, society couldn’t live in peace. So any attempt to expose the truth had to be put down.

Erskine calmed Garrett down, as Garrett fell asleep thinking about playing football and always keeping his sister safe. Garrett was only able to keep part of his promise.

Categories
9th Edition Short Story

Love Through the Ages

image[2]
A Cherry Blossom Moon – Stephanie Ricker

Love Through the Ages

Marissa Bylo

Love was…

a tangible thing in elementary school; the special holographic Valentine’s Day card she selected just for him; how they held hands under the table like secret lovers in rebellion of the prude lunch ladies’ rules; their forbidden conversations on Neopets.com. Love was bold, disobedient. He smooched her cheek at a birthday party because his older sister dared him. She would never forget the name of the first one to cheek-kiss her (though she entirely forgot how his lips felt on her face). They picked on each other five days of the week, but this meant they liked each other. When they declared their future marriage to their first-grade teacher, she could only smile and nod. Their hand-drawn pictures sealed the deal.

That is, until the drama ignited and burned the blue and pink stick-figures standing in front of a church. Several boys lined up for her attention (and she couldn’t resist elementary-aged boys fawning over her).  Administrators assigned the lovers different teachers, and he eventually left the school. She was sad…for maybe a second. Other boys poked her sides, substitutes to hold hands with her and give upmost devotion. She forgot him soon enough, and he met other mean girls.

 Love was…

singling her out during the movie night and performing her favorite piano piece while in middle school. She closed her eyes, smiled that smile, and he hoped she felt the same about him. The butterflies killed his stomach as he watched her read the red Candy Gram he bought her, acknowledging her disdain for Valentine’s Day “but here was candy anyway”. He never admitted his feelings out loud though (surely actions alone were enough). Classmates cracked jokes about them being a couple. He just wished it was the truth.

Instead of him, she busied herself with Facebook, asking the wise guru behind the screen the initials of her soul mate. She and her best friend fit their crushes’ name into every song ever and sang the lines over and over until they exhausted the joke. Taylor Swift understood their boy problems. “You Belong with Meeeeee” echoed off white ceilings; if only he could understand that, then love would bloom, and they could be soul mates. If only.

He faded into oblivion as she chased after fantasies. She reveled in the miniscule amount of attention given by her older brother’s band mates; older boys were where it was at, whatever that meant. She braved the metal concerts, the flailing body limbs and crushing music, as their little fan-girl. That is all they ever saw in her. She didn’t mind; they jokingly called her Shawty and the nickname deemed enough for her.

As the years passed, her cheeks and lips remained un-kissed while other girls went through boys like a game; love was a competition. She was losing. She knew it. He was losing. He accepted it. Thirteen and fourteen-year-old lip virgins- it was surprising even at a private school.

The Friend Zone welcomed another victim to its clutches while they labeled her a Villain, a heartbreaker for not returning his ardent feelings. How could she not love someone who loved her so? But no one asked her who she loved. The band-mates and Jocks were a distraction from the boy she loved- her best guy friend. His gift of a wooden red rose clung to her mirror. She sang the Taylor Swift songs about him in the car rides home. The Friend Zone was a cruel abyss though. They wallowed in the abyss together, but alone.

 Love was…

writing #60, his jersey number, on her face at a high school football game; congratulating him on the win and him asking the whereabouts of another girl; sitting side-by-side at a bonfire with his enormous Letterman jacket draped over her shoulders like a cloak. He asked her to the homecoming despite the confusion of his friends; love knew no social bounds. They matched in their teal attires and danced the night away to corny love songs and dub-step. He lent her his favorite book, and she began running so she could join track with him. A couple that trains together stay together, even if they weren’t “officially official” just yet. They couldn’t even drive themselves to dates. His 16th birthday on February 14th would come soon enough. They could hold out forever.

She wore a red sweater the chilly November day that it ended. She finished the book (it turned out to be just as good as he swore) and left it on his desk; the book was like their kid, but she couldn’t claim custody of it. She cried on her best friend’s shoulder when she got home; no one had died, just a young love and the optimism of a teenager.

The next few months played like the typical breakup scene. Ice Cream? Check. Tears and Taylor Swift? Check. Angst-stricken poems about “young love now lost”? Done and Done. Independent vows bound her now -either cat lady or to a nunnery. Love belonged to the movies and pretty people. She found saving power in being the 5th wheel when she and her friends (and their significant others) dined and watched movies. She was an independent woman “who didn’t need no man”. She could bat her eyes, giggle, and spend her time with any boy that would allow it- even if he was still in the closet or a fellow-nerd who didn’t know how to declare his feelings for her.

She didn’t need anyone. Two years passed by in this fashion.

Love was unattainable, stupid, selfish, painful, silly, make believe…

until a Senior high school boy in plaid asked her to Dairy Queen on the fateful night of February 14th. Some important basketball game played on the television before them; they stayed enthralled with each other’s words. They spoke of future college plans, and the daunting realization that they would be split up soon hit; he put his arm over her shoulder in comfort. Then confessions of feelings spilled from chapped lips in cheap, red booths while ice cream melted. Their fingers intertwined during the car ride, and they declared to the world (or rather the people at the party) that they were, in fact, boyfriend and girlfriend. Now they needed her parents’ permission; they would need some convincing.

 Love was…

two heart-broken teens resurrecting their old-fashion ideals for love; conversing for hours in parked cars; eating breakfast foods for dinner; being wrapped in separate blankets while wishing on falling stars. It was tears and long hugs and not running away after dark secrets spilled out. It was losing lip virginity after a movie night. Love took on many forms as they were growing up. Suddenly, all the other loves became obsolete, false.

 Love is…

two twenty year olds arguing at Steak N’ Shake and him calling her dumb (she wasn’t even angry because he was right); the “I miss you/Can’t wait to see you/ Let’s elope” text messages that travel 200 plus miles between cellphones; staying together despite the naysayers who “just don’t understand our relationship”. Love isn’t this tangible object- no butterflies, rainbows, or fireworks after every kiss (minus one). Love isn’t competition- who can get the largest flower bouquet or be granted the status of “relationship goals”. It is celebrating three years of a relationship on Valentine’s Day even though deep down the day itself still annoys her. Greatly. Love means not giving up on each other. Simple as that.

What will love look like when they reach their 30s? Only time can tell. She only hopes that February 14th has nothing to do with it.

 

 

Categories
9th Edition

Consuming Words

Consuming Words

Isabel Manu

I wish.

I wish I possessed catastrophic words

Dangerously malignantly unsparingly piercing words

I wish my mouth poured with them deliciously

Or spat them out viscously

Killer words who are so maliciously

running out of my mouth in their infantries

I wish we possessed them.

Words pungent with havoc

Exploding, Erupting, Escalating

drowning you with their Mavericks of treachery

I wish I possessed murderous words

with their own fatalities,

Spurting out with so much brutality.

With no regards to the banalities

For they are on the verge of declaring insanity.

But society said SH

I wish my words raised goose bumps on your flesh

that they created such apocalyptic tragedies

With the death of your sanity being a formality

I wish my words were reeking with noxious fetor

that their truest nature something of a horror

I wish my words had their own poisonous diagnosis

Fatally almost explosive

Leaving your new self deformed and affected

stripping your being with the feeling of being molested

lacerating your beliefs like no one ever could

Scorching through every single person’s livelihood

Igniting wars and the genocide of stability

Leaving in ruins homes, cities, and countries

pillaging conformity and comfortability

But society said SH

I do not know how to put this so bluntly

I wish I possessed words with such violent measures

I hope they bring you the worst of displeasures

Words that you can not swallow so gently

Affecting you so intensely

Killing you so abusively

I wish I spoke these words

I wish I spoke these words

but society made me swallow them

and in silence my words shall succumb

So, SH

Silence

Categories
9th Edition

Straw Man

Straw Man

Kristine Wagner

You have made me a straw man,

Interpreting all my silences for bitterness,

Stuffing my head with opinions not my own.

When I tried to speak my own thoughts

You sewed up my mouth and would not listen.

You stitched on a pair of shiny button eyes,

Calling me unperceiving in your own denial.

All these pinpricks day after day

Do not garner the response you want,

For the straw man you attack

Has none of my blood left in it.

Categories
9th Edition Short Story

The Ones Who Disappeared

Adventure is Out There
The Adventure is Out There – Candice Lake

The Ones Who Disappeared

Kristine Wagner

The sheer size of the entryway astounded Noelle as she stepped through the door. She gripped her little brother’s hand tight as she stepped from the threshold, sinking deeply into the Persian rug. So this was the house they were going to tour, although no one seemed to have arrived yet. The rest of the tenth grade was taking the bus, but she had driven from picking up her brother from kindergarten. Her parents didn’t come home from work until well after her brother was let out, so guess who got to take care of him every afternoon after school? Noelle’s mom had gotten permission for her little brother to tag along on Noelle’s after-school field trip so she wouldn’t have to hire a babysitter, which Noelle was not the most thrilled about. It’s not that she didn’t love her brother, but there comes a time when a teenage girl just wants her own space. A place like this would be nice to have to myself. Noelle thought as she looked up at the vaulted ceiling and the magnificent chandelier that hung from it, then around her. To her left was a sitting area for visitors. Everything seemed to be made of dark walnut wood and upholstered in a deep blood red fabric.

But up a little farther up on her left was a narrow hallway, which seemed much too small in comparison with the rest of the entryway. Lining the hallway was a row of white doors with frosted glass panels, not unlike something you would find in a doctor’s office. Sunlight streamed through the door windows despite the hallway being too far into the house to have any windows to the outside for those rooms. Before she could ponder the impossible physics of sunlight in the middle of the house and the oddity of something so utilitarian and sanitized in a mansion of such obvious grandeur, her little brother suddenly let go off he hand and ran off down the hallway.

Why do I always have to be chasing after a five year old? Noelle wondered to herself as she ran after him. He ducked behind one of the frosted glass doors and it swung shut just before she could reach him. She yanked the door back open immediately only to find a windowless room about the size of a cubicle equipped with nothing but a plain desk. Surely this was the room he went in, she had pulled the door back open only a nanosecond after it swung shut, she had seen his shadow through the frosted glass. Noelle turned around frantically, but she saw nothing but white walls, a plain desk and herself. Wait what? She whipped her head back around and stared at herself. There was a full length mirror hung on the back of the door she had gone through. Suddenly a small figure darted across the view in the mirror. She jerked her head over her shoulder; she was still the only one in the room. She lifted the mirror off the hook it had been hanging on and used it to look over her shoulder. There was her brother, sitting on the edge of the desk, smiling and swinging his legs. She lowered the mirror and quickly looked around the room for herself: nothing. She lifted the mirror back up to see behind her and there he was. He seemed fine, but he clearly could not see her in return.

She stumbled backwards out of the room and the door swung shut immediately. Sunlight streamed through the frosted glass onto her face. The mirror, I forgot to put it back, she thought, trying to recover her mind from what she had just seen, or maybe not seen rather. She opened the door and looked at the back. The mirror was hanging there. She shut the door from the outside. Sunlight still poured through the frosted glass. She opened the door one more time and lifted the mirror again, to find nothing but a painted white door; no glass.

Filled with a sense of confusion she ran out of the room and back down the hallway to entryway. What was this place? What had happened to her brother? Why couldn’t she see him? Before she could collect her thoughts fully, the rest of the group came in through the door. Oh yes, she remembered, the house tour. Her eyes immediately fell on Andy, a boy from her grade. He strode through the entrance at the head of the group, and turned left into the sitting area by the door.

“Dang.” He said. “This place is nice.” He walked to take a seat, but as he did his head began to disappear. Noelle ran to grab his arm and jerked him back. He was still there; he hadn’t disappeared like her brother. Noelle was about to sigh with relief when she looked up into his face. It wasn’t there. His whole head was nothing but a dark blue blur, the insubstantial shadow of what had begun to disappear.

“Andy?” She called fearfully. Was he dead or worse?

“What just happened?” Andy’s voice came from the undefinable void which hovered over his shoulders.

“Where is everyone?” another voice asked. Noelle turned around; it was Martha, one of Noelle’s friends who must have been at the back of the group. But now the rest of the group was nowhere to be seen. In her panic over Andy, Noelle hadn’t noticed the loud chatter of the crowd suddenly silencing. The group had disappeared just like her brother had. Her heart pounded so loudly she was almost sure the other two could hear it. Martha’s muffled swear when she saw Andy’s head echoed around the room.

“They’re right over there.” Andy said pointing up the stair case to the right of the door. Noelle looked up the huge staircase the curved down from the upper floors like the tail of some gigantic beast. It was empty.

“What is going on?” Martha demanded, her glance darting from the empty staircase to Andy’s absent head. “What happened to Andy?”

“What is up with you guys?” Andy asked. “I’m fine; we should probably join the group.”

“There’s no one there! Your head is missing!” Martha shrieked at him.

“You’re off your head.” Andy retorted.

“No Andy,” Noelle said, leading him to a gold framed mirror hanging on the wall. “Your head is literally gone.” But as she looked into the mirror with him, there was Andy, head and all, and the last of the group could be seen walking up the stairs in the background. “Martha! Come see this.” Noelle yanked Martha over to the mirror. Martha gasped and whipped her head around to look at the staircase herself. There was no one there.

“Noelle, what’s going on?” Martha asked, her voice trembling.

“My brother disappeared. He just walked through a doorway and then he was gone. I don’t know how it happened but I can only see him in mirrors. Andy was about to disappear when I pulled him back and now the group is invisible too.”

“Disappeared? You mean you can’t see them? You can see me, right?” Andy seemed confused. “Why can you see me and not them and I can see everyone?”

“I don’t know,” Noelle replied tiredly. “I can’t see anyone who has disappeared except in mirrors, but only part of you started disappearing, your head. Maybe your eyes are in the other dimension or something, I really don’t know.”

“Like parallel timelines?” Martha gasped excitedly.

“Or the Matrix?” Andy injected.

“Or the Twilight Zone?”

“I always knew I was meant to be a super hero.” Andy whispered as Martha hummed A Whole New World in the background. “I’m a freaking super hero.”

“Guys! It doesn’t matter!” Noelle exclaimed. “We just need to find a way to get them all back. I need to find my brother.”

“Well, I saw him go that way with the group.” Andy said pointing to the stairs. “Let’s go.” They all started going up the staircase, which led to a passage lined with doors. “They’re going through that one,” Andy gestured.  Martha went to open it and Andy screamed. Martha froze and stared at him. His hands covered where his mouth presumably was.

“You just walked through Mrs. McCarthy.” He whispered, horrified. Martha cringed. Mrs. McCarthy, their teacher, was an ancient, frail, but lovable creature that looked like she could die from a common cold at any moment.

“Is she alright?”

“Oh yeah, she didn’t seem to notice, are you ok Mrs. McCarthy?” Andy called. “Mrs. McCarthy? Mrs. McCarthy??” He started towards the door, but Noelle held him back.

“You’re still in our world since you didn’t disappear all the way I guess.” Noelle explained. “She can’t see or hear you.”

“Well then how are we going to get them back then?” Martha asked. Noelle shook her head; lips pursed and chin quivering, then sunk to the floor with her face in her hands and began to cry. Andy sat down next to her and put his arm around her shoulders.

“We’ll figure this out, don’t worry.” He reassured her. “At least they all seem safe.”

“But how are we going to be able to see them again?” Noelle sobbed.

“We disappear too.” Noelle and Andy looked up at Martha in shock. “What?” Martha said. “They are all safe as far as we can tell, even Andy is surviving well in this amphibious state, we can’t seem to get them back, so we’ll have to go in with them. This place seems to be full of portals anyway. It shouldn’t be hard.”

“But we need to get them back out!” Noelle insisted.

“Perhaps we’ll have to go in to get them out.” Andy suggested. “Come on.” He pulled Noelle off the ground. “Let’s try to catch up with them at least.” Noelle would have been somewhat comforted by this if it hadn’t been coming from a headless classmate. As it was, she was hardly reassured.

Andy stepped through the door and vanished. Martha swallowed deeply and followed, disappearing as well. Noelle stood there with a lump rising in her throat. She didn’t want to be stuck in that mansion forever; she didn’t want to live in some alternative world. She just wanted everyone to reappear so she could hold her brother and go back home. What would happen once she disappeared? Her whole body shook. I can’t do it. She thought. But then she thought of her brother and she knew she had to. Shaking violently, she held her breath and did a mad rush at the door like she was about to jump into a freezing swimming pool.

She was in a sunlit hallway lined with white doors with frosted glass panels. Martha and Andy stood on either side of her.

“Where did you guys disappear to?” a boy snickered as he walked past with the rest of the group. Noelle started to protest, but Andy stopped her.

“No, don’t you see? This is the real world.” Noelle stared at him confused.

“But we saw those people disappear; we have to get them back.” She insisted.

“We were the ones who disappeared!” Andy exclaimed. “Don’t you see? We were on a tour of the medical institute near school. Your little brother was thrilled he was allowed to come along with us. Do you remember?”

“No.” Noelle said without hesitation.

“No, stop, think.” Andy said exasperatedly. “Maybe I can remember better because I was in the other dimension less than you were. Just try to remember how the day went. After school you picked up your brother for the field trip here at the medical institute.”

“But,” Noelle stammered, “the mansion…”

“Made no sense. It was physically impossible.”

“But I remember it all so clearly!”

“Do you remember how you got there?” Martha interjected. Noelle stared at her.

“Of course, it was huge; it was amazing the moment I stepped through the door.”

“Once you stepped through the door. I was amazed too. But if we had seen the outside of the mansion, why would we have been so surprised at how big the inside was? Can you remember the door? Or the drive there? Think Noelle.” Noelle thought, but she could remember neither the outside of the mansion nor the drive there, and as her memories of the field trip to the medical institute grew stronger, her memories of the mansion faded until she was convinced. They were the ones who had disappeared.

Categories
9th Edition Short Story

Of Mice and Mendel

Of Mice and Mendel

Kristine Wagner

 “My scientific studies have afforded me great gratification;

and I am convinced that it will not be long before the

whole world acknowledges the results of my works.”

Gregor Mendel

 

There are those few and fearsome teachers who are determined that their lessons will not be forgotten. Instead of teaching their students to become monkeys that spit information back to them, they endeavor to teach their students to think, a really quite tricky business if you think about it.

In science there are the discoverers, and also the sadly-overlooked keepers of the flame, who laboriously make sure information from past generations is not lost, and that the new generation rising up is building upon what has already been found so that science can progress instead of running in a continual loop of starting from nothing.

My Biology professor sought to do just that. Genetics was our topic of the day and Gregor Mendel was the man of the hour. That great scientist who had predicted so many years ago that his findings would be acknowledged by the world was right, but on the fateful Tuesday morning Biology lab that I stumbled into bleary eyed and deodorant-less, my  professor was determined to make sure it would also be understood. At least by the twenty students of his class. So he started from the beginning.

Gregor Mendel was a monk, an Augustinian monk if you’re interested in that sort of thing, but he is more commonly known as the Father of Modern Genetics, because between the ages of 34-41 he watched peas reproduce. Why peas? Well actually, good old Gregor did not start with peas, but rather studied heredity in mice, but his bishop thought it wouldn’t be fitting for him to watch Mickey and Minnie copulate, so pea plants it was. His findings laid the foundation for tons of important sciency stuff, but all of that is entirely over most of our heads. In fact, most of it would probably have been over Gregor’s head too, because while he was able to draw correlations between his findings, he could not determine their causes. It was 1865, genetics was just beginning, give the man a break.

Now genetics, as you can probably guess, has a great deal to do with genes. What is a gene? The simplest answer is a strand of DNA. These genes, these strands of DNA which are found in the nuclei of your cells, do not determine what traits you have. DNA has one function and one function only, and that is to be a code for proteins, and the proteins determine what traits you have. Same difference? So it would seem, but it’s really not.

Proteins are crazy little molecules, and can be or do whatever the heck they want basically. Proteins can be enzymes, which help break apart and bring together other molecules. Proteins can be pigments and decide whether or not a girl is hazel-eyed and merely pretty, or whether she has blue eyes and now meets the requirement for becoming a Miss America. Proteins determine your traits, and genes determine your proteins. Hold on to that fact, you’ll need it later. So my professor assured us all.

To ensure that we did hold on to this fact, our professor gave us a proposition. If we scored 20 out of 20 points on this lab, he would bump our midterms up to an A. This wasn’t much of an incentive for me since I already got an A on my midterm. So he made the deal a little sweeter. If someone who got the lowest grade on the midterm needed 50 points to get an A, 50 points would be given to everyone who got a perfect score on this lab, and the extra points would be tacked on to the next test. Considering his tests are about 60 points, I would be sitting happy with an A on the next test even if I only got a 5 point question right. Considering there were people who only got in the teens on the midterm, many eyes widened with hope. He smiled at us, said he would make the deal even sweeter later, and then returned to conducting the lab as usual.

To start at the beginning with our dear friend Gregor, you’re going to need to know about Punnett squares. Punnett squares are—you guessed it—squares. From dominate and recessive alleles you can determine the likelihood of pea plants being green or yellow with remarkable precision and only a two by two graph.

A thing of beauty if there ever was one.

This is the basic Punnett square scenario you will see in any basic biology class or textbook, and while it is important, my professor was not content with stopping there. After all, it is perfectly reasonable to go through the basic Punnett square without realizing that proteins come into play at all. Realizing the role of proteins is crucial for understanding genetics, but thinking the through the process is more than what any non-biology major would want to do in an 8:00 AM lab.

So my professor decided to give us a carrot. If we were able to explain the last scenario he was about to give us with Punnett squares without any help from him, he would give us an A for the whole course, and we would never have to show up for that 8:00 AM class ever again.

“This scenario I have crafted is a thing of beauty. I know what areas all of you have weaknesses in, and I am targeting them with this question. You will have to draw upon all your knowledge from the course up to this point to answer it. The answer is very simple, it will be staring you straight in the face, but you will not see it. Isn’t it scary I know you all that well? But if any of you can adequately explain the scenario I am about to give you with no help from me, you will never have to see my face again.”

This isn’t just some game anymore, is it?

This isn’t just some crazy monk watching peas, this isn’t just some useless information about Punnett squares that you will never use again for the rest of your life.

This is important.

This is getting to sleep in Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday again.

This is life and death.

This is war.

The last, fateful scenario he gave us had to do with mice, ironically enough. The last scenario was given to us as follows:

There are two types of mice, agouti and albino. Agouti is a type of brown mouse. A purebred male agouti is bred with a purebred female albino mouse, resulting in 12 agouti offspring, half male and half female. These mice are left to breed with themselves in an incestual paradise for a year (no wonder the bishop had reservations about his minks performing experiments with mice!) resulting in 384 mice total: 219 agouti, 96 albino, and 69 black. Explain this without using the internet.

I immediately whipped out my calculator to find the percentages for the third generation. 57% agouti, 25% albino, 18% black, so by that point it definitely wouldn’t be a 2×2 Punnett square in the end. But a 4×4 Punnett square usually resulted in four different outcomes, with the ratio of 9-3-3-1, and we only needed three outcomes.

“Hey, Kristine.” I turn around to see a classmate, Mike. “Do you want to come work with us?” I look around, everyone has divided back into groups around the tables in the back.

“Sure!” I said, gathering my stuff and moving to a table. A few other guys join, including Mr. Baseball. I don’t remember his actual name, but he misses class a lot and was one of the ones in need of the extra points. I start spitballing Punnett squares right and left. The black didn’t make sense; the scenario clearly stated there had been no mutations, and unfortunately it wouldn’t make sense to claim black was a combination of agouti and albino. Albinism was the lack of pigments, and I knew Melanism was when there was pigment overkill, resulting in entirely black animals, but if there were no mutation would melanism even be possible…

“What are you saying there Miss Wagner?” My professor asked, coming back to our table in his rounds around the class.

“Just how albinism is the lack of pigments and melanism is the…”

“Yes! Yes!” My professor affirmed enthusiastically. “And what are pigments?”

I stared at him blankly. “Proteins.”

“And what else are proteins?”

“Enzymes.”

“Yes! And what do proteins do?”

“Everything basically.” He grinned at me.

“Exactly Miss Wagner. You’re on the right track! You have all of the pieces, you just need to put them together!”

“But what track am I on? How do I know where to go from here?”

“Think! Proteins!” The professor gave me a wide, evil smile and resumed his rounds about the classroom. I returned to the scenario, even more confused than before.

The first generation seems fairly straightforward. Two agouti genes (G,G) across the top with two albino genes (a,a) down the side, creating all agouti offspring (G,a) assuming that agouti was the dominant gene. However, somehow, somewhere, they started reproducing black mice. Black couldn’t be a recessive gene because the original two mice were purebred. Where did the black come from?

Mr. Baseball hunched over his phone, trying to hide the fact he was googling for the answer. I knew it would do no good. The question was beautiful, the professor said, the answer was simple, he said. He smiled as he watched us all. He knew exactly what he was doing, making us all go out of our minds fighting for an A in the class. He was a bit of a sociopath. We got along really well actually.

It was nearly four hours into the lab. My lack of deodorant was beginning to become obvious. Our professor had not only succeeded in making us think with his little A for the whole course stunt, but he had driven many of us to skip classes and work in learn in pursuit of the ever elusive answer. Many flawless Punnett squares were drawn up, the roles of proteins were gone over again and again, DNA replication and translation into the amino acids was even well understood by all of the students. The professor merely smiled at us and told us we had all of the pieces we needed. But I did not have the time I needed.

It was 11:30. I gathered my papers.

“I’m giving up. I’m asking for the second hint.”

“No!” Mr. Baseball wailed. “You’re the smart one here! You’re our only hope!”

“Find a new Obi Wan,” I quipped back, and went up to the teacher. “I want the second hint.”

“You will want to hit yourself when you see how simple and logical this answer is, Miss Wagner.” My professor told me, leading me to his computer. I already wanted to beat my head against the wall, so I was not worried about sinking any lower at that point. And then he revealed to me the answer, which was in our eyes, truly a thing of beauty.

Reach back into your memories about how traits are determined. Do the genes determine the traits? No. What determines the traits? The proteins. In this case, there were two different types of proteins: pigments and enzymes. There was a pigment for black, and an enzyme that broke it down into smaller brown pigments.  If you have a dominant black pigment, you get a black mouse, unless you also have a dominant enzyme, whereupon you have a brown mouse. If you have a recessive black pigment, you get an albino mouse no matter if the enzyme is recessive or not. If you have a dominant black pigment and a recessive enzyme, then you get a black mouse. All three colors factored for with only two genes, one gene that codes for the pigment and one that codes for the enzyme.

I returned to graph out a four by four Punnett square and write up my paper to turn in. Everything was explained perfectly; everything made sense.  The logic of it all, the streamlined functionality, it made so much sense. The crazy professor was right, it was even rather beautiful how everything fell into place. Gregor Mendel became acknowledged worldwide years ago, but in that single lab another goal was met; a professor had all his students think through and understand the basics of genetics. The very, very basics, but any step forward in understanding is a moment to be rejoiced in, even if the motivation for it came from shameless bribery.

“Did I miss anything?” I asked, holding out my completed answer. He didn’t even look at the paper as he accepted it.

“I’m sure you have everything.” I thanked him and left, feeling like I had just exited some sort of psychology experiment. It was noon. The other students who held out for the extra points for the midterm got them, but it took 5 hours total. Not a single student was able to get an A for the rest of the course. But none of us will forget what we learned in that lab anytime soon.

 

 

 

Categories
9th Edition

Fairy Flowers

image[4]
Fairy Clocks by Stephanie Ricker

Fairy Flowers

Kristine Wagner

 

Every morning I walked down to give water

To the chickens and the ducks,

A bucket half my weight in one hand

My other arm stretched out for balance.

That is when I saw the fairy flowers.

They were shorter than the grass,

Their blooms no larger than my thumbnail was.

Four perfectly petite petals unfurled

From the slender leafless stem

In shades from ballerina pink to lavender.

Every year they appeared

Just after onion grass season

And just before the violets.

Most of the flowers I found in the grass

My mother dubbed “Weed Flowers”,

But I knew these were different.

These did not overrun gardens

Or stand out garish against

The side of crumbling sidewalks.

Only a dozen or so tiny flowers

Would grow in a grove,

In a little fairy circle.

 

Categories
9th Edition

Hold On

Hold On

Karina Mehmert

I know it’s getting harder

Harder to hold on

But no one knows that better

Than those who’ve loved you all along

It’s hard to see you like this

Especially when I can do nothing

But I know you can get through this

Please keep trying

If you won’t try for yourself

Then try for me

I wouldn’t ask this of anybody else

So please

Just try for me

I owe so much to you

You helped me be the person I am today

And there’s still so much left to do

Please don’t throw your tomorrows away

Don’t you know what’s out there

There’s so much we haven’t seen

Don’t you want to go out where

You can live just one more dream

If you won’t dream for yourself

Then dream for me

I wouldn’t ask this of anybody else

So please

Just dream for me

I want to learn everything about who you are

There are so many stories I haven’t heard

I feel like I’ve only scratched the surface so far

You know so much I hang on to your every word

I know so little about faith and life

You have a lot  more to teach me

You helped me see the world in a new light

But I’m scared of a world without you by me

When I look into your eyes I know I can do anything

I don’t want our time to be through

To me you are everything

I love you

So if you won’t hold on for love of yourself

Then hold on for your love of me

I wouldn’t ask this of anybody else

Because I believe together we are strong

Just hold on

Categories
9th Edition

Reaching the Shore

Reaching the Shore

Karina Mehmet

I don’t understand the phrase “battling depression”

I can barely do anything let alone hold my own against a restless, unforgivable force

I’m not battling

I’m taking a beating

Every day I feel wave after wave of doubt, anger, despair, hopelessness come crashing down on me

And I’m drowning in it

But when the feelings finally recede things don’t get better

Instead of being able to breathe it’s like I can’t anymore

I can’t take a deep breath or feel relief

Instead I’m numb

Enveloped in the silence that pounds in my ears

No ship can find me

No life preserver can lift me out of the dark depths

Instead I’m weighed down by my thoughts so I sink lower

Making it harder for me to swim back to the surface again

Some days I come surging out of the ocean and get a glimpse of the shore

Brimming with hope and gladness from finally feeling the warmth from the sun on my face

For feeling something

Some days I barely keep my head above the water

I strive to stay afloat amidst the chaos

Waiting to be caught off guard and submerged again

Some days I stay anchored to the ocean floor

Tethered there by my own thoughts and emotions that make the world darker, bleaker

Where no one is willing to dive deep enough

Or know just how far down I am

Because when they see me in my own private ocean the water usually appears calm

Only I’m aware of the degree of turbulence that happens just below the surface

But I’ve become exhausted from struggling to survive for so long

It’s hard to keep treading water when I start to think I might never walk on land again

So I’m not really battling

I’m just trying to not drown

And reach the shore

Categories
9th Edition

Dreams

Dreams

Victoria Lane

A young mind is infinite,

Filled to the brim with

Potential, possibilities,

Dreams.

You imagine what can happen in your life

And what you desperately want for it to be,

Until one day they tell you to “wake up,”

To realize that this is real life- not a dream.

And that burning passion inside your soul

Is deprived of oxygen,

And the brilliant lustrous gem it was,

Now, can barely gleam.

And again, they tell you to

“Move on,”

“Get real,”

Or “think about reality.”

Then you begin to doubt yourself,

And then you begin to believe.

Maybe you were wrong.

Maybe you should do what is safe or what is expected.

Maybe you should try to find your happiness

From a more practical perspective.

And every time we get told “No,”

“You can’t,”

Or “Nobody ever really does,”

Our once bright flame dwindles

Until the precious stone that was

Is no more than a dull, cold rock,

Extinguished from it, all chance at euphoria,

And absent of even the warmth of hope.

Then,

When all is lost,

And your heart is broken,

And all that remains is the empty shell

Of the person you’ve become and never wanted to be,

They will demand from you,

“Why did you give up?

You should have followed your

Dreams.”