CANVAS

Writers & Books’ teen literary journal

WINTER 2014

All articles originally published in Canvas Teen Literary Journal.

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or utilized in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, microfilm, recording, or by any information storage retrieval system, or used in another book, without written permission from the publisher.

Copyright © 2014 by Canvas Teen Literary Journal Cover art by Cheyenne Zaremba

ABOUT CANVAS
CANVAS IS RUN BY AND FOR TEENS. We publish quarterly and are open to writers 13-18 years old. Visit us online at: CanvasLiteraryJournal.com

TEEN EDITORIAL BOARD
ANA ANAYA, EDITOR AND COMMUNICATIONS DELANEY PALMA, W EBMASTER AND DESIGN TEAM JULIA TAYLOR, EDITOR AMELIA WILLARD, EDITOR AND PROOFREADER TORI WILSON, EBOOK AND TWITTER ALI WRONA, ART DIRECTOR, TUMBLR, AND DESIGN TEAM PETER WOOD, EDITOR AND CONTEST DIRECTOR VANESSA ZIMMERMAN, BOOK LAYOUT, FACEBOOK, COMMUNITY OUTREACH
AND

MANAGING EDITOR
NINA ALVAREZ

WRITERS & BOOKS STAFF
KRISTEN ZORY KING SALLY BITTNER BONN

OUR NAME

NAMING OUR MAGAZINE was the very first challenge we faced as a literary board. We wanted our title to mean something to us rather than just be a pretty sounding word or a clever pun. We debated word after word for hours. With each one we asked: when stripped down to nothing but a definition, how much weight did this word really carry? Finally, after two meetings of not finding anything that felt right, someone threw out the word "CANVAS" into the room. "TENT" The first definition of canvas is "tent." A tent is a solace, something that takes people out of the elements. We hope that this literary magazine takes people out of the crazy elements of their everyday lives and helps them relax. "FABRIC THAT PROPELS" The second definition of canvas is "the fabric that propels a sailboat when the wind blows." We want this literary magazine to propel Rochester teens into moving. We want this literary magazine to propel Rochester teens into writing, sharing, and talking about words. We want this literary magazine to propel Rochester teens into inspiring one another. "SETTING FOR A STORY" The third definition of canvas is "a setting for a story." Rochester is just the first setting of all our stories and we want this literary magazine to be something that represents Rochester and the people of Rochester, as those who understand setting often understand it is the people that make any setting what it is. "TO CONSIDER IN DETAIL" The fourth definition of canvas is a verb, "to consider in detail." We consider in detail each submission, suggestion, and comment we get regarding Canvas Literary Magazine. We just ask that you, in return, consider reading our amazing contributions and submitting your own work. We ask that you become a part of our ever-changing CANVAS.

CONTENTS
DISTORTION OF LOVE BY TESA FLORES................................................................................ 9 THE INMATE OF CELL BLOCK C BY FLINT DILELLA......................................................... 10 WHERE THE FIRST SNOW FELL BY ALISON LIU ................................................................ 14 I AM ME, SURROUNDED BY VANESSA ZIMMERMAN (FEATURED EDITOR) ...................... 15 ON REALIZING LEAVES WILL CHANGE REGARDLESS BY JULIA ALEXANDER........ 18 THE LOUDNESS OF SILENCE BY JONATHAN SCHMUTZER ............................................... 20 55 DAYS OF HUNGER BY AMIR MUSTAFAA ......................................................................... 21 PERSONAL DISPOSAL BY CAROLINE MCISAAC .................................................................. 24 NATIVE TONGUE BY CAROLINE MCISAAC ........................................................................... 25 TRADE PAINBY BY ANNA GAGLIANO .................................................................................... 26 A FULL MIND FOR EMPTY SOULS BY CHLOE HOOPER .................................................... 27 SONG OF A TEENAGE ROMANTICIST BY CHLOE HOOPER ............................................ 28 OUR STORY BY CAIRO MATHEBULA ....................................................................................... 29 MOTHS BY ANNA GAGLIANO ................................................................................................... 30 SERENADE TO A DARK NIGHT BY ANNALIESE TAYLOR ................................................. 31 A FRIGHTENING REALIZATION BY CHEYENNE ZAREMBA.............................................. 33 LINEAR BY ALETHEIA WANG .................................................................................................... 34 IN THE MEMORIAL BY TIM KOCH......................................................................................... 37 X MARKS THE SPOT BY AUBREY HACKETT .......................................................................... 38 WINTER MASKS BY AUBREY HACKETT.................................................................................. 42 I AM: SEX SLAVERY BY TEAGAN STUDEBAKER .................................................................... 43 SCARS BY AUDRY MATTLE ........................................................................................................ 45 RELIGION BY NATHAN KRAISS ................................................................................................ 47 MY FRIEND BY JACOB FERNANDES .......................................................................................... 48

WINNERS OF “THE BOOK INSIDE THE STORY” CONTEST ................ 49
1ST PLACE - IN BETWEEN THE LINES BY CHEYENNE ZAREMBA ................................... 50 2ND PLACE - THE FOX AND THE HOUND BY ANDREA TUFEKCIC ................................ 55 HONORABLE MENTION - BENEATH THE STARS BY PHOEBE HARTVIGSEN............ 57 ABOUT OUR SPONSORS ....................................................................................................... 61

FOREWORD
The first year of Canvas Literary Journal comes to a close as we publish our fourth issue, and it is truly amazing to see how much we have grown during that time. We have received hundreds of submissions over the course of the year, some from all around the globe, and are impressed at the quality of the writing. Our journal has, in the course of only four issues, grown from being simply a group of teenagers trying to share their peers' creativity with the general public to an outlet for publication for the youth of not only the greater Rochester area but the entire world. I would like to personally thank everyone who has submitted their writing to any issue; I believe I speak for the entire board when I say we are incredibly proud of all of your work. This issue also marks the first of our quarterly fiction contests. In our "The Book Inside the Story" contest, we challenged you to write a story where a book has important relevance to the plot. Though the number of submissions was modest, they more than made up for it in quality, and we have high hopes for the contests of the future. We hope you will enjoy this issue and the pieces in it; with over twice the number of submissions that we had in our last issue, there is surely something to appeal to readers of any taste. -PETER WOOD, EDITOR AND CONTEST DIRECTOR

Distortion of Love
Tesa Flores
Within seconds he was enchanted with her smile the way it illuminated. He knew right away that she was perfect that she was his living, breathing inspiration. She was beautiful unconventionally so. Seamlessly he slipped himself into her life. He showed her his artworks and he asked her if he could paint her. Her smile was magnetic. "Only if you make me a masterpiece." As he painted her she moved around on the couch she talked and he could feel his heart ache. He tried to reign himself in but he wanted her. His lust had transformed into love. The more he understood her the more he was drawn in. As she confessed her mistakes and he realized how broken she was his love deepened. No one had ever looked at her the way he did, she knew she was sacred for him and she knew that she relied on him. As they laid together she whispered that she only liked herself through his eyes. It had never occurred in her mind that she was something besides her perception. In his eyes she was golden, the most beautiful. They walked through life like a dream yet sharply aware of the depths under the surface. She wrote and he painted, and they created a universe.

The Inmate of Cell Block C
Flint DiLella

“W E GOT A LIVE ONE HERE, JOE!” One of the guards struggling with a new inmate called for help. Joe sighed inwardly to himself. “Newbies,” he muttered to himself. He walked out to the loading dock to find men being flung aside by a prisoner. Joe shook his head. He had seen situations like these, and he knew the simple solution. “Hold him still,” Joe said as the Taser buzzed in his hand. He swung it in a stabbing motion towards the prisoner’s neck. Electricity crackled and the man dropped to the floor, unconscious. Joe took a step back and looked at the five men who were not enough to take one man to a prison cell. He scoffed and shook his head. Four of them looked away shamefully while Eddie, the fifth one, said, “Hey, we just didn’t want to hurt him, ok?” “Why would you not want to hurt him? He’s a criminal,” Joe asked, looking at him incredulously. “Ya, but it’s not his fault,” Eddie replied. “Oh yeah?” Joe spread his arms with mock interest, “Enlighten me.” Eddie was unfazed by Joe’s sarcasm. “Ya, he’s insane. Keeps talkin’ to himself and muttern’ somethin’ about demons.” “Oh please,” said Joe, “I’ve seen plenty of ‘crazy’ prisoners here. All of them were fakers. One time a man openly admitted to being perfectly sane. Of course when they dragged him in front of the judge he put on quite a show.” Eddie shook his head. “This guy’s different, Joe, I’m tellin’ ya,” said Eddie, “There is somethin’ off about that guy. On the way over here he was shiverin’ somethin’ terrible.” Joe didn’t get it. What did the criminal’s shivering have to do with anything? Eddie must have seen it on Joe’s expression because he said, “Its the middle of summer, Joe. Its 90 degrees and rising, but come to think of it, I was a bit cold too. It was like we could almost see each other’s breath.” Eddie looked like he was trying real hard to remember something from the ride to the prison while the other four nodded in agreement. But Joe would have none of it. “Oh please. He probably just has a summer cold that you guys got from him. It’s all in your head. Maybe you need a couple days off,”

Joe said. That shook all bad thoughts and doubts out of Eddie’s mind. “Ya, maybe you’re right. I might do that. Thanks Joe,” agreed Eddie, “I haven’t been feelin’ too well anyway.” “Of course I’m right,” said Joe matter-of-factly, “Now, let’s get this prisoner in his cell. What’s his name?” Eddie picked up a clipboard and rifled through some papers, looking at the contents. “Says here that his name is Larz Tanning.” “Larz Tanning?” Joe scoffed, “What kind of name is that?” Eddie looked at him, not knowing how to answer that question. “It was rhetorical,” Joe said impatiently, “What is he in here for?” “Murder.” “Alright, we’ll put him in Cell Block C.” Eddie looked at Joe quizzically. “Why would we do that? There is no one there and there are open cells in B.” Joe was exasperated; he wanted to keep a special eye on Larz but couldn’t explain that without sounding like he was superstitious too. “Just do as I say, alright?” “Sure thing, Joe,” said Eddie. They dragged Larz into one of the cells and left him in a heap. Joe closed the door with a bang that echoed throughout the prison. The key twisted and the lock slid into place. Larz woke with a start. A little dazed and confused, he tried standing up to look around but failed miserably and fell, clutching his head. Joe, once again, scoffed and shook his head while walking away. Joe woke up with a grunt, hearing a prisoner, Larz, saying, “Hello! Hey, anybody there?” Joe thought to himself that if Larz woke him up for no reason, he was going to beat the pulp out of him. He got up from the chair he was sitting in and a half eaten powdered donut fell off his chest. Joe cursed quietly to himself but carried on to Cell Block C. Joe found Larz on his knees kneeling against the bars with his face halfway through with a ridiculous smile. “Ah, it’s about time someone came. I’ve been calling for hours! Or was it minutes? Ah who cares you’re here now and that’s all that matters!” Larz laughed at his own joke crazily. Great, thought Joe, he is a nut job. “What do you want, Larz?” “Did you enjoy the donut? I can see you have since it’s all over your face,” another crazy laugh erupted from Larz. Joe hated him already. It was like he could just strangle him from all of his frustration. But he kept cool and said, “I said, what do you want?” As he wiped the powder off his face. “Simple,” said Larz still smiling, “I want a pencil and a piece of paper.” “What on earth do you need that for?” “Why, for drawing of course! I’m really quite the artist you know,” Larz sniggered to himself once again. Joe rolled his eyes and disdainfully said, “I’ll be right back.” Joe walked back to his office and grabbed a pencil and a pad of paper. He got back to the cell and handed them to Larz. Jokingly Joe said, “Who’s the drawing for?” “It’s for my demons,” answered Larz in all honesty. Joe was taken aback. “Oh shut it. There is no such thing as demons. Don’t be silly.” Larz stopped drawing and looked up at Joe suddenly. “There are such things as demons. And they are around us all the time. Whenever you have the feeling you’re being watched, a dog barks at something that isn’t there, or shiver when you feel cold but are warm, that’s when

demons are around,” Larz finished his rant and went back to drawing. Meanwhile Joe was starting to get scared. But no, Joe is never scared, so he got angry. So angry he decided to challenge Larz. “Oh yeah? How can you be so sure that they are there when you can’t see them?” Joe felt pretty confident when he said this but was deflated when he hears Larz’s answer. “Because I can see them,” Larz said. He spoke again before Joe could say anything else. “Would you like to see one?” Larz asked. And before Joe could say no, he turned his drawing around to face Joe. What he saw he could not unsee. Two evil, twisted horns grew out of an ox head. But the ox head was attached to a blood-red man’s body that disappeared after the torso into a tornado of smoke. The arms were muscular and outstretched with palms toward the sky that held a fireball in each hand. But what were worst were the eyes, the black eyes that seemed to absorb everything. Like a black hole took in light, the eyes took in souls, devouring them until they were no more. The more Joe looked at it, the angrier he got. Angrier and angrier until he could take it no more. He reached through the bars of the cell and grabbed the pad of paper. “What are you doing?!” cried Larz. Joe didn’t bother to reply. Instead he ripped the drawing in half, then again, then again. Until all the anger vented out of him. Joe felt hands grip his neck and pull him towards the cell. “Do you have any idea what you’ve done! You’ve angered them, and now they’ll want revenge!” “Let go of me! What are you crazy?!” Joe yelled. The grip did not release nor slacken. “Eddie! Somebody, help me!” Joe could hear footsteps running down the hall as Eddie came to help him. Eddie stopped and pulled out his pistol and yelled, “Let go or I will shoot!” Larz didn’t need to be told twice, so he let go. Joe fell to the ground in a heap. Eddie helped him up and let Joe lean on him until they reached his chair at his desk. Joe sat down still breathing heavily. They sat there together for a while until Joe broke the silence, “He doesn’t belong here; he belongs in an insane asylum. I want you to put in an order for him to be gone first thing tomorrow.” Eddie nodded, “I will sir. But did you notice the gleam in his eyes? It was like he wasn’t even human.” “I did notice that. Now I want to forget it and him.” said Joe. But one thing he failed to notice was that Larz had taken the prison keys when he had Joe in a death grip. Joe decided to spend the night in the prison, just to keep an eye on things. He was peacefully dreaming when something woke him up. Joe stood up quietly and looked around. He heard a faint squeaking, as if an old door was being opened. He looked around for his belongings before venturing out in the prison to search for the noise. He found his flash light and pistol, but where were his keys? As soon as he realized where the keys must be he ran as fast as he could to Cell Block C. He got there to find Larz trying to close his cell door as quietly as he could. “Hold it!” shouted Joe as he pointed his pistol at him. Larz looked up and bolted away, there was no way he was going to get caught again. He was just making it around the corner when a shot rang out and Larz fell. Joe ran over to Larz who was now in a pool of blood, but somehow still living. Larz started to weakly chuckle. Joe couldn’t take it any longer, “Why are you laughing? Shut up! Shut up!”

“I’m laughing because you freed me,” said Larz. “What do you mean ‘freed you’?” Joe was very puzzled and confused. “I was their slave, I did their work. That’s how I could see them. And now, since you’ve killed me, they’ll want payment,” Larz said very slyly, “The demons will want you.” Larz laughed once again. That had done it for Joe. “Shut up about demons, will you?! They aren’t real, don’t you understand?! There is no such thing as demons!” But it was too late, Larz was dead. The insane gleam in his eyes was gone. Joe started to get scared, really scared. Suddenly he felt eyes on his back. There was someone watching him. Joe got up and looked around, but no one was there. He could’ve sworn someone was there, watching him, hunting him. He started to shiver, as the temperature dropped. It got to be so cold that he could see his breath and he crossed his arms to stay warm. “There is no such thing as demons,” He told himself, “There is no such thing.”

Where the First Snow Fell
Alison Liu

Shadows of the splintering chairs’ tangled legs are peeling from the wall, like sundust falling through tree limbs through holes in the ceiling.

It was a bowling alley once (you can tell if you look closely under the AEROSOL KIDS’ art to the kintsugi pins with dirt filling the cracks in place of gold)

and (it was said that) martin luther king sr inspired here, once.

FEATURED EDITOR

VANESSA ZIMMERMAN
I Am Me, Surrounded
A twisted family portrait this has become Weeds winding around my neck The very ones I planted Be cautious of what seeds you drop Within your spirit But I'm surrounded every day A woman caught in a withering marriage Trapped In such an insecure body Regretting Never bearing a child to call her own She is sadness She is depression. I see a man losing hope Living only To be disappointed time and time Again I see a man Who hates what the world has given him So little I see anger As he yells and snaps but, I see embarrassment In the eyes Of which are isolated He discovered that to him His best isn't good enough I witness a boy, Whose brain doesn't recognize his Own head Whose heart doesn't match his body And a soul Who seems just can't find its way home Becoming a child made of Tests Doctors And pills

With half-ass assumptions Branches Twisting and growing Off of autism, mood disorders and even ADHD I see a deep internal struggle One that no one understands Not even himself I see lost in all possible forms I see afraid I am me. Surrounded Accompanying myself With Sorrow Rage And scared And yes I will try giving An exchange Explaining, how I will take Their Sorrow Their rage and their scared And give them My love My compassion and tenderness Most times it starts off good Until I end up giving Rage to sorrow Sorrow to scared And scared to rage It looks like I'm just ripping everyone Off on false trade Keeping only the light To myself Because I've fought so long To grasp and obtain it! My intentions were never Wrong I just became Frustrated The constant Heavy Emotions Weighing me Down Each planting

A bit of their feeling Inside me. Eventually I need to exhale Exhale it Out I see a young woman in the mirror. With the fears of never becoming Successful Never amounting To anything And never falling in love And keeping it Because she's never witnessed love Before She rarely trusts Anyone Rarely believe in Anything And often Questions her purpose Of existence. I see weakness I see fearful I see worried And scared and sadness and rage And pitiful and lost And guarded empty I see me I see human.

VANESSA ZIMMERMAN is a sixteen-year old student at Wayne Central High School. There, she plays volleyball, softball, and runs indoor track. She is also apart of the Assets in Action program. Through Assets Vanessa is able to help out the community and her school to make it a happier and healthier environment. Her biggest passion began in second grade when she and her grandfather co-wrote her first poem about her favorite animal at the time...skunks. From there on it became her favorite pastime. Over the years, Vanessa has had poetry and artwork published in a comic book, a calendar, and three teen magazines. Through it all, Vanessa's main focus will always be directed to family, friends, and the people she loves and cares for.

On Realizing Leaves Will Change Regardless
Julia Alexander
I still hear the rusting swing set in our backyard creaking through the fall wind. But I only have vague memories of chalk drawings on the asphalt at the house we never finished unpacking in. Flashes of light come to my kaleidoscope mind, when I try to remember that stepping stone between real homes, between old and new normals. Leaves changed and died that year like every other. They cluttered our front porch giving the paint chips some company, and they broke and crumbled into dust underfoot as we ran to catch the bus. We spent our afternoons chasing the sunlight on our bikes, and we hid in our bedroom every night waiting for the alarms to stop sounding waiting for it to all be over. Our parents in the kitchen tried to explain to us that they were people. Just people, and they never knew any better than we did, and they weren’t cut out for this. They were never given directions on how to fall out of love gracefully, on how to unravel a family gently. Be, we didn’t understand. We couldn’t comprehend how the two people who pointed north and taught us to run towards it could admit that they were wrong about the orientation of the compass. Years later, I felt my strings snap under almost no pressure. I dug up my own roots and let weeds grow in their place. I let my own darkness consume me as I watched people untangle themselves from my veins. Leaves changed and died that year like every other. I ignored my best friends as they became strangers

just like I ignored piles of dead leaves in the front yard of our new house. Last October I watched an entire town of people unbecome themselves in the wake of a loss I have yet to find the words to describe. The sterility of cold classrooms contrasted embraces and a quiet longing to wrap myself in people who were unraveling in my arms. I grasped on to all the wrong people and expected them to map everything out for me. They never did. Leaves changed and died that year like every other. I wondered if his passing would always loom over me. I wondered if I would always count away from that day like a backwards time bomb, “1-day since destruction, 1-week since destruction, 1-month since destruction, 1-year since destruction.” I am still counting. 1-year since destruction I am still counting. I wonder if the changing of leaves will always remind me of the way his fingers swelled around rings and enclosed them within his skin until it rotted away. I think about him rotting away. Leaves will change and die this year like every other. I am still thinking about him unbecoming himself. I still think about his bloated body exploding into stardust. I still can’t tell which way is north, and I am not sure that I really need to know. I point my compass whichever way I please, hoping for the best. We are still trying to weave ourselves back together. I am still trying to orient my maps correctly.

The Loudness of Silence
Jonathan Schmutzer

The loud and unrelenting noise of silence. He pierces the air with his music, and continues his melodies. In the night he plays you his melodies until morning chases him away. He never stops. He never stops playing. He never stops singing. He continues to play when his music is not heard; the music of his mesmerizing notes, if his music has notes that is. He never stops unless death interjects but even in heaven can silence still be heard? He never stops.

55 Days of Hunger
Amir Mustafaa

I WAS LYING DOWN IN MY JAIL CELL, and too weak to move. It was my fifty fifth day of hunger, and I was preparing to die from starvation. My bones were brittle, and I could literally feel my organs shutting down every excruciating minute. It quickly occurred to me that it was visiting day, and I was going to see my daughter. That gave me a little energy, so I slowly rose to my feet, and put my weight on the wall to keep myself up. I had pictures of prisoners who were lost to hunger on my wall. Looking at their picture pained me to the point guilt. Should I have given up, and stopped them? I quickly shook my head. They were at the point of no return, and nothing was going to stop them from starving themselves. Not even their family. It was a tough year for the prisoners in Northern Ireland in 1981. We felt oppressed by the British government for being Irish and Bobby Sands, a prisoner, began a hunger strike because of it. I was in the hunger strike almost since its inception. I joined eleven days in, and all I could think about was my daughter Sophia while I was starving myself. A prison guard banged his fist against my cell and screamed, “Your family is here!” He took out his baton, and gave me a vicious look. “Hurry up.” I slowly walked out of my cell, and I didn’t know if I was going to even make to the visiting area. I was short of breath, and I felt lightheaded, but the prison guard’s face started to turn red out of frustration. “I don’t have all day. Stop mucking about.” Before I could walk into the visiting room, the guard pushed me onto the floor. “That’s for wasting my time.” A prisoner named Michael quickly helped me to my feet. “Thank you,” I said softly. “No problem,” he said. “I wish I was as strong as you. Bobby convinced me to join the strike a week ago, and I’m already thinking about quitting.” His wife waved him back over to his table. “I have to go.” I looked around the room to see if I could find my family. They were standing up looking around for me, and my daughter was standing next to my wife, Sarah. I slowly walked to them, and they didn’t notice me. I kept walking until I was right in front of them, and they still didn’t

notice me. “Hey Sarah,” I said softly. She looked at me with a weird look, as if she didn’t recognize me. “Jason!” Sarah screamed surprisingly. Everyone turned their head to look at us. “What happened to you?” I saw tears stream down Sophia’s face. “What happened to you, Daddy?” Sophia said. “I’m going along with the hunger strike,” I answered both of them. I sat down before I could lose my energy standing up. “I can’t believe you’re going along with these criminals,” Sarah said. “You only have two years left in this hell hole. Why are you doing this?” “I’m a symbol of hope for these people,” I answered. “Most people in here are never getting out, and they need my help.” She shook her head and began to cry. “I can’t see you like this,” she said. “It’s too hard for me.” She quickly ran out of the visiting area, and I had a feeling that was going to be the last time I saw her. Then Sophia looked at me for a few moments and sat down in front of me. “How is school going,” I asked as if things were normal. “Great,” she answered. “We started to learn multiplying yesterday.” “I wish I was as smart as you,” I said jokingly. We were catching up on each other’s lives, and she was talking about the new cartoons she discovered on TV during the hour we spent together. I told her about new friends I made in prison, and how important I was to them, and I even explained to her what a hunger strike is. I kept looking at a clock in the room ticking away the moments I had before the visit was over, and I wished time would have frozen, so I could stay with her longer. After our hour was up, the guards told us to go back to our cells. Tears began to stream down Sophia’s face again. “When are you coming home?” she asked. I hugged her and said, “Soon.” She took something out of her pocket. It was a silver necklace I gave to her when she was younger. “This helps me with the nightmares I have when you’re gone,” she said. Then she kissed me on the cheek and walked away. She looked back at me with a sad look in her eyes, and that look took the air from my lungs. That look told me she knew she would never see me again. Then I looked down at the necklace and began to cry. I looked around and realized that the room was empty, and a prison guard quickly walked into the room and immediately dragged me out. “You don’t seem to follow directions,” he said. “You must have become dumb from that stupid hunger strike.” He threw me in my cell with extreme force. The impact of hitting the floor broke some of my debilitated bones, and I screamed out in pain. I closed my eyes, and waited for my death. It was inevitable. Then I heard people approaching my cell. “God dammit, he’s the second one today,” someone said. “Drag him out.” I weakly raised my hand to signal I was still alive. “Damn I thought I was going to have to write another letter to a family. Take him to the medical area.” They picked me up, and I realized the person who was talking was the warden. He glanced at me for a moment. “It would have been funny if another hunger striker died though”

The guards took advantage of their chance of carrying me. They kept dropping me, hurting my broken bones further. One guard put his hand over my mouth to stop me from screaming. They finally threw me onto a filthy bed in the medical ward. “I hope you rot in hell you hunger striker,” one of the guards said before they walked out of the ward. I looked to the bed beside me to see Bobby Sands-- the leader of the hunger strike-- reading a newspaper. It was his sixty sixth day of starvation. He looked deathly ill, but he seemed to not care. He accepted his fate. He threw the newspaper on the floor. “The news never tells the truth. It’s all rubbish these days.” He looked at me. “I guess this is it. At least I’m going out knowing I didn’t give up, and the food here was nasty anyway.” “Do you have any kids?” I asked without thinking. “I have one,” he answered. “I hope he grows up knowing that his father never gave up and stood against oppression.” A smile came to his face, and he looked at a clock in the room. “Time passes by fast.” “Do you think the British government will listen to us?” I asked. There was no answer. I looked at him to see him slumped over with his eyes closed, and everything was over. The leader of the hunger strike was dead, and everything we worked for was done. Our oppressors were going to have their way. A few guards quickly took his body out of the medical ward with smiles on their faces, and I began to think about what I went through while doing the hunger strike. One memory struck me like a car. All of the prisoners were standing in a room, and the guards were holding fresh new civilian clothes. One of our demands was finally filled, and every prisoner had a huge smile on their face, but one of the guards started to laugh. Laughing and screaming, the guards began to rip every pair of clothes. I quickly shook the memory from my head. I looked over to where Bobby was lying before he died, and remembered his last words about time. Then a guard walked into the room carrying a tray of food. “The doctor told me to give this to you,” he said. “It’s your final chance, and your leader is dead anyway.” He placed the tray of food on my stomach. The tray consisted of bread, cheese, and roast beef. It smelled delicious, and if I ate again I could get better for my daughter, but then I saw a few prisoners lying down in the other beds. They had bruises all over their bodies from getting beaten by guards, and I started to think about what their future was going to be. I didn't want my daughter to know I gave up on thousands of people in that prison and Northern Ireland. I weakly pushed the tray of food off of my stomach, and it crashed to the floor. I closed my eyes, and went to sleep. When I woke up it was almost midnight, and a radio was on. A couple of prisoners were crowded around it with expressionless faces, and I heard someone on the radio say, “People around the world are protesting the treatment of the prisoners in Northern Ireland, and mourn the death of Bobby Sands. The British government is under pressure.” Then I looked at the clock on the wall, and it wasn't moving. Time finally froze so I could savor that final moment.

Personal Disposal
Caroline McIsaac
The feigned saccharine on your tongue makes my insides eclipse and my fists clench until they are bombs waiting to be dropped on the bed. I am not yours, so never touch me. Even if your tainted river runs in me, I have bled it all out by now and it is back on your hands. The words that I write are more powerful than you think they are. They reveal all of your secrets, all of your secrets that have kept me still like a chandelier that is ready to fall, ready to break, and silent like a miscarriage. With this poem, I’ll be throwing you out.

Native Tongue
Caroline McIsaac
Lonely is a language I grew fluent in as a child. I learned to speak it only in whispers as my mother was- and my father wasBeing by myself was a game that I could invent the rules for; and cheating was never an issue. At seven, when I hid in a closet for the first time, I’m sure it dawned on me that seven years later, I’d be doing the same thing with a bottle of wine and a handful of pills. (I’d had lots of practice doing things I shouldn’t, you see.) I’m not sure if I knew the that it would become a language I would scream out every night like an exorcism, an exorcism of “these hands cannot warm themselves,” but maybe I did. Maybe I did.

Trade Pain
Anna Gagliano
when [you] ask me what i [want] your eyes graze my thoughts and your selfish fingers jab that lump in [my] throat “speak up” you say how can i speak when my hair is unwashed and my [lips] haven’t turned up in days what i want? i want glittering emotions something i can feel no more liquor boys fooling me [not] anymore because i know your nails well by now and they haven’t left [my heart] alone

A Full Mind for Empty Souls
Chloe Hooper
I found a picture of you as a child (a genuinely smiling child) in the yellowing newspapers in my grandmother’s garage that were stained red around the edges. I wasn’t absolutely sure it was you because my glasses have broken and the world has just run out so I’ve been finding ways to make do. So I asked you one night as you were settled down for sleep who the person in the picture was and you turned your greying back to me gravely and I fell asleep wondering if you asked yourself the same thing.

Song of a Teenage Romanticist
Chloe Hooper

You kissed the apples from the centre of my eyes but now I’m sure it was more like biting. My September pen is failing to tell me why I’ve spent sixteen months fighting. I’m standing in this barren apple field and I have to say I’m not sure if it’s incidentally but these days I’m not entirely sure if you’re hugging me tightly or strangling me gently.

Our Story
Cairo Mathebula
OUR STORY BEGAN when you gave your heart to a girl who cared more about touching than feeling, a girl who cared less about your emotion and more about what her friends would say, a girl who preferred vanity to sanity, a girl who was going to stay just a girl for a lot longer than you were prepared to wait. Our story began when I gave my heart to a boy who wanted less of a love but more of a bragging right. A guy who saw me as less than a keeper but just something no one else could have, a guy who saw me as less of garden and more of a playground, you know; his fourth dimension, a place where he could lay down his insecurities, acknowledge his shortcomings ,forget his worst memories, realise his regrets then leave to do something he thought was better , and only come back when he needed to do that all over again and at that vulnerable age I was so accustomed to being nice I often couldn't realise when I was being used, so after being nice a bit too long and being used a bit too often, I began to wonder if there really was much of a difference. Our story began when we spoke for the first time, when everything else became irrelevant, when two very different space wandering planets collided, you felt comfortable enough to share one of your biggest secrets with me, at that time I was foolish enough to take something like that for granted, but I still ask myself who was really in the wrong? Was it you for being blind or me for being deaf? I remember you wrote me a poem that night, a poem about me, a poem about how finding me was like finding love, your heart had been deprived and how my website was the home page of your mind browser. But it really wasn't much of a poem more like an exaggeration of the heart, a misuse of the left ventricle, an ignorance of the brain. Our story still has a few more chapters left of my disinterested acting, wrong doing, foolish thinking, heartbreaking and the climax that embodies all of my regrets, shortcoming, mistakes and general mess ups but let’s skip to the next part and move on, but we have nowhere to move on to. Our story has hit a standstill, because each of the writers are at opposite sides of an intersection and are both not sure which direction is the safest to turn, so I’ll carry on making scenarios in my head, drawing my own conclusions and looking for reasons not to put my pen down, and hoping that one day we'll write another chapter, but my ink runs out as quickly as my patience so maybe this might just be another Edwin Drood mystery and remain unfinished.

Moths
Anna Gagliano

when you’re supposed to be asleep do you feel your ribcage shrinking and your skin begins to rip all the things that keep you restless flutter out

Serenade to a Dark Night
Annaliese Taylor
Oh she, the moon How bold, how bright Glowing strong Yet in another’s light How must it feel, lady moon To catch what isn’t yours? What emotions hide Beneath your dusty, rocky floors? Do you ever feel jealousy For the gifts you don’t possess Do you, like me, seek solace In stealing others’ specialness? How must you suffer, lady moon To see our Earth, day by day? To move around us And yet, to always stay? Do you ever tire of staring At lands of green and seas of blue And can you feel the eyes Of millions looking back at you? Do planets share secrets, lady moon? What do you know that we do not? What hides beneath those other surfaces That our scientists know not? Can you converse with all the stars? Old, and those whose lives have just begun? Do they sing songs of other lives far away Of another Earth, and another sun? Do planets tell stories, lady moon? Stories of humans who have landed there? Do they laugh at us, who think we know so much And yet, our knowledge is so bare? Maybe they tease you for being a moon For being so grey and small Do they know you stole someone’s shine Or do they really know you at all?

Oh she, the moon Ruler of the barren night Standing alone And in another’s light

A Frightening Realization
Cheyenne Zaremba
There are monsters in the moon beams there are shadows in the snow. In gossamer gowns and translucent tuxedos they dance at dawn and dusk. Interchangeable with the shadows sometimes there and sometimes not. They leave scars on the soil where their feet touched the ground where their arms grasped the air, where their wings took them up to the stars. There are demons in the darkness there are creatures in the cracks. With claws that cut and teeth that tear through flesh and muscle and bone. They’ve made graves of the beds and the closets buried bodies beneath the sheets, forced figures into the folds of suits. They’ve left holes in the hearts of the hopeless and they keep coming back for more.

Linear
Aletheia Wang
THE DRY BACKCOUNTRY OUTSIDE MY HOME is where horses play. Their hooves dance on the path in a staccato monotone, stamping dust into the pattern of the heated earth. As I watch them I think, yes, this is a wildness I can sympathize with. “Look,” I say, because there is a need for words to distract. In such an atmosphere brimming with vitality and youth, it is painful to see the woman beside me with every stark contrast brought to light. She squints at me in return, her face indignant and unfathomable. Luckily, the fire fades as quickly as it had ignited and she is my mother again. Beneath the drapery of her color-block afghan rest two laborer’s hands, but there is a certain poetry nestled beneath their chafed surfaces and sunspots. These hands have toiled, prayed, and become one with the earth beneath. My own hands are comparatively pale and lifeless. They bear no ties with my mother’s world. “Look,” I repeat louder, and am met halfway with the same immodest stare as before. The English word had slipped out before I could catch it. To her, the language is ugly; a medley of scraping vowels and stiff-backed consonants. Admittedly, English is vastly different from Tuvan, the language of our homeland. More importantly, Tuvan is a product of our ancestral livelihood as nomadic herders. Nature is such an integral part of its people that it manifests itself in their speech. I know my mother hates this new continent of twisted steel, but what other choice does she have? As her daughter, I must keep reminding her that she is, in fact, one of the lucky ones. Under Stalin’s orders, the Tuvan Republic was unofficially annexed to the communist bloc. Buddhist temples were demolished, squat factories raised, shamans persecuted, and instruments burned. Before Tuva was conquered not only by Russia but also by China and Mongolia, it belonged to an extensive Turkic empire that spanned Central Asia. The Turks developed a writing system, but in the tiny region of Tuva, oral traditions took precedent. In this landlocked country, nearly everyone is bilingual, speaking equally the languages of rock and earth. My mother was a renowned throat singer in Tuva, one of the few women to practice the art. It speaks of the torn history of the country – people, surrounded by powerful reminders of their own insignificance, adopted music as a second voice and communion. A spiritual depth must be attained to breed the deep, suspended rumbles and highpitched whistles, bitter basses and silver-spun sopranos. It is also

essential to know how and when to manipulate the feathered resonances that pluck the central chords by layers. Every tune seeks to invoke spirits or emulate the rushing sounds of animals, wind, and water. I have heard of singers climbing mountain steppes in search of songs to enshrine in the mausoleum of music. Throat singing leaves open space for nature to enter and add its own elements to the conversation. Ever since leaving Tuva, though, I have never heard my mother sing once. Perhaps the art of throat singing is too sacred to be performed anywhere but in its provenance. The Tuvan landscape, laid bare to wind, enables music to be carried great distances, nature’s amplifier. It must not be healthy to keep all that sound in a body, no matter how strong my mother appears to be. As we watch the horses’ flanks heave, I remember my mother’s preferred style of throat singing, termed ezengileer. The word’s distinctive beat evokes the thrill of galloping on a horse, to sing with the rhythms of a riding horse. The vocalizations of ezengileer are subtle, exquisite, and precarious; one flat note and the harmony falls discordant. Is this what clouds my mother’s eyes now, as the horses race away from us? ***** Once, my brother and I briefly returned to Tuva to collect the rest of our family’s belongings. As a welcome gift, the old villagers slaughtered an ak byzaa – a white sheep, less than a year old – by khöj ozeeri, the Tuvan method of killing livestock. Raising sheep, yaks, and goats is so central to Tuvan life that the vocabulary for livestock is embedded with details about each animal’s age, gender, fertility, and coloration. Each slaughter is performed with the intimate allure of a ceremony, or perhaps a ritualistic sacrifice to the nameless gods, reminiscent of birth rather than death. As the sheep was held down, one of the herders cut a careful incision in its woolly chest. Another herder, wearing his best clothes, stretched his callused hand into the animal’s hide to sever an artery. The snap rang in my ears for the rest of the day and I slept hungry. Yet the sheep neither budged nor uttered a cry, with the exception of two wavering baas near the end. It wore such a sweet expression of trust and contentment that I half wondered if it were dreaming. I have lately found that look in my mother’s eyes, which is unnerving. We argued just this morning – she had complained of something I no longer remember, and in a spasm of impatience I had hurled words back. Often, my mother is as remote and inaccessible as Tuva itself, a frontier between development and ritual, pinned at the west of Khakassia and to the north of Mongolia. But now she is sitting upright in the empty bathtub, evidently waiting for me to help her. Her face is calm, as if it had never known emotion, but I know better. I turn the faucet, which immediately begins pouring forth water to fill the rounded curves of the hard, lustrous tub. It hugs the promontories of her tired thighs, and she dips her hands in water to see it slide away. This was the way she once bathed me.

Seeing my face, my mother raises a weeping hand to cup my cheek. “Songgaar,” she murmurs. Go back to the future. Tuvans believe the past is yet to come, while the future crouches behind, waiting for the right time to pounce. I have never understood this notion, but it makes sense now as I bend over the bathtub, massaging shampoo into my mother’s scalp until the clinging suds and her snowy hair are no longer distinguishable. Everything makes sense in the shower. Vapor curls from the overburdened tap. I turn it off, swatting the thickly rippling air, but mist is tenacious. As it envelopes the room, a shred of moisture distances itself from the billowing cloud until it floats high above, where everything is clear and I can look forward to the day before. We naturally face the things we can see, including the past, which can be documented and brought to mind by things seen every day. In the train chugging through linear time, we are given a rear-facing seat to see things as they happen and get a better look as they fall back. The future crouches in an unrevealed place. If the future were in front, wouldn’t it be easily visible, easily defined? It stretches behind.

In the Memorial
Tim Koch
In the memorial is a memorial bench the is dedicated to a man I don't know his bench surrounded by colorful flowers that are inviting and warm In the memorial is a cold wind that isn’t uncomfortably cold, but cold enough to really enjoy the sun when it peeks about from the clouds and the trees cover the small wood chip path that runs through, the garden that they have created In the memorial there is a tall pole that has a flag of red, white, and blue and is a memorial in itself In the memorial the only sound that can be heard it the is the sound of birds chirping and the smell of flowers pervade the air not one smell or flower particularly In the memorial the feel of the hard wooden bench almost gave comfort the smell of flowers, the feel of the sun, the sounds of the birds, the look of the flower, But this is only in the memorial For the memorial is on an island of its own

X Marks the Spot
Aubrey Hackett
WHEN I WAS YOUNG MY GRANDFATHER READ me pirate stories before bed. I was captivated by the daring captains and the hunt for treasure. My grandfather spurred me on by hiding golden wrapped, chocolate coins around the cluttered house. I would skip off over the dusty blue rug, looking for adventure, my treasure map swinging from my chubby, young hand. The thick paper was covered in large X’s, marking where the coins were hidden. They always filled the sketched room on the map. “To make it harder for the other thieving pirates to steal your gold,” he always said. When I graduated from college, he cried; it was the second time in my life I had seen my grandfather cry. The first time, I remember sitting at the edge of a side road, the loose stones digging into my knees. I didn’t notice the pain; my attention was captured by the man next to me, and his shoulders were shaking. He finally looked up when the flashing lights appeared from further down the road. The light of the burning hunk of metal, once our family van, shone on his face, it caused an almost scary contrast with the glistening tears streaming down my grandfather’s cheeks. When I returned to that house, the house of my childhood, he was long dead. The walls were adorned with framed maps: some scribbled with rainbow wax, others in neatly arched, black ink. My memories and life covered those pale, cracked walls. Ten years of dust covered the shelves. My grandfather only dusted when forcefully coerced. While searching through the piles of books and random knickknacks, I found crumpled gold wrappers. More remnants of my vanished life, but everyone relies on these small remnants, now. Kids didn’t have childhoods anymore. It was change, live, or die. I glanced back into the dining room; the pair of feet wearing worn leather shoes peeked out of the door frame. Quickly running a dirty hand through my short hair, I stepped over the body before pulling my knife out of my long dead grandfather’s head. Life was easy back then, I hate how things are now, but we’re all trying to survive. To find peace. As I stepped over the bloody blue rug, my nose wrinkled at the smell, and I made my way to the back yard. My daughter was sitting on my old tire swing. “Was great grandfather there?” I nodded and wiped the dark red fluid off my knife. She sighed. My daughter had hoped she would finally meet the man who raised me. Hoped he wasn’t like them.

I pulled out the map of the city that I had found spread out on the dining room table. Big green X’s dotted the old paper: safe houses. My grandfather had set them up years before this all began. Everyone called him crazy. He was fine with that; it meant he was left alone. He said it was his ‘special intuition’. That or he was just paranoid. Every time he would tell that me he would glance over his shoulders and rush to close the blinds. My daughter said it was both; she’d read his notes and books. I grinned and nudged her shoulder. “Em, head to the car, we’ve got shopping to do.” She beamed and jumped off the tire, leaving it swinging and empty. I shivered and looked over at the tall wooden fence. It was dangerous to be outside for too long. I hoped our scent hadn’t been caught. I tossed her the keys to the car as she walked over. I bent so my knees dug into the soft dirt as I prepared one of our distractions. When the device’s timer was set, I wrapped my fingers around the strap of my bag and raced towards the car. As I was taking my time to not slam the door, my daughter pulled the car out of the dirt and onto the silent street. We were just about to pull onto the main street when the distraction’s timer went off. Fireworks arced into the pale sky, exploding with groundshaking bangs, followed up by the screamers. Good old screamers. I hated that kind of firework when I was a kid; they’re perfectly useful now. Em slammed on the brakes and we dove into the feet area of the front seats. I pulled out the black tarp we had picked up a few towns over and covered us both. After the last of the screamers died down, a new sound filled the small town. An ear splitting cry, shared by many mouths. I squeezed my eyes shut. Hundreds of feet, bare and cut, some with shoes loosely holding on, rushed past us. Or rather, stumbled and limped. I could hear them shrieking and calling out to each other like animals. As the sounds outside moved away, I turned to Em. She was grinning, and her eyes were wide with excitement. “That’s my favorite part,” she mouthed. I looked back at my feet. She grew up fast. When I was young, an 11-year-old wouldn’t know how to use a machine gun, drive a tank, or even a simple car.? After the herd was gone, Em drove us towards the first green X on our map. We drove down a leaf-covered road and parked alongside a dense patch of untamed woods. I glanced down at the map as my daughter slid off the black upholstery of our car; we were at the first storehouse. Her red rain boots crunched the dry leaves as she marched to an old tree. I noticed for the first time the small words under the X on our map. “A twist of white,” I chuckled. Grandfather always liked riddles, but this one was simple. Em had already figured it out: the old tree was a warped and knotted sycamore, its white bark stood out against the normal bark of the trees around it. My daughter lifted a trap door at the base of the tree as I walked over to help, and she handed me a case of canned food. My mouth watered as I began to imagine the taste of sweet pineapple and spicy chili. After we had loaded all three cases in the car, I took inventory. We had a combination of chili, carrots, peas, peaches, and pineapple. All together it totaled 36 cans.

Em was singing a song as I walked to the hood of the car. “Pineapples and peaches, don’t forget the peas, carrots and chili, yes, yes please!” I looked over at her as she stuck out her tongue and wiggled her fingers near her ears. I smiled and patted her head, and she picked up the map, and then pointed to the inscription below the next X. “Under a clump of strength of will and intuition,” she read. “Maybe it’s about trees again?” She ignored me and climbed into the passenger seat. “You drive; I need to think about this one.” To get to the next storehouse, we would have to head through a residential area: bad news. We didn’t want to alert another hoard, even if they locked and shut their doors whenever they went inside. Their hearing was much better than any human’s, along with their sense of smell. Good thing they were blind. Though we still covered ourselves with the tarp, Em said it might help mask our scent. I let myself slip back from reality and fall into my memories. A news report about a murder in New York City: the victim was covered in bite wounds, and their eyes had been ruthlessly torn out. Along with their hearts. This began to occur more and more often. Then one day there was a change in the pattern. The victims walked right out of the morgue. The entire military task force was called in to hold them back, but that didn’t last long, the victims, or as the police began to call them, the Changed, escaped, and began a massacre of the people of New York City. I had seen the video broadcast, seen the bloody eye sockets the dark holes in their chests, the bodies left in the wake rising up and joining the hunt. Some called them zombies, but the name, Changed, stuck with me. They were nothing like the zombies from the movies: they were smart, they could communicate, and they could hunt. I remembered pulling Em aside as panic and looting spread across the country. “Don’t scream, don’t run, and don’t breathe. Always take high ground and keep a barrier between the Changed and yourself. And always fight. Never give up.” She kept to those rules, and look where we are. More alive than the people who accepted the Changed. I shook my head and focused on the road then, setting up a distraction at the edge of the rural neighborhood. We planned to wait for the Changed to head towards the noise, then find the next green X. Things almost never go as planned. After the distraction went off, I was slowly driving the car down an empty road, when three Changed stepped out of the open door of a two story, paisley painted house. Everything slowed. I saw them turn their heads and stumble over the short hedges. I felt the whoosh of sound and the rumbled of the engine as I stomped on the gas pedal. I slowed my breathing, and grabbed Em’s hand. “Don’t say anything; maybe if we stay quiet they’ll think they imagined the noise.” I warned her as the first of the three laid its dirty hand on the hood of the car. She nodded and turned her excited eyes back to the Changed.

All three were now tracing their scratched hand over the hood of the car. My ears strained to hear the sounds of the Changed communicating, the high clicking and whispered chunks of words. One stuck out the most, it seemed like they were repeating one word over and over. “Warm.” One of the Changed, a young boy, leaned forward and rested his whole upper body on top of the hood. His grinning face stared straight at me. His teeth were stained red, and his empty eye sockets were a deep muddy red, and seemed to be staring deep into my soul. I shuddered as the tallest of the three, also a young boy, lumbered around to Em’s side of the car. A red hand slid across the glass as Em turned towards the window. She slowly raised her hand and placed it in the bloody shadow of the Changed’s. Her hand looked so small. My breath hitched as the Changed leaned forward and pressed its bloody cheek against the glass. “Warm.” It was louder that time. My daughter looked sad. Before I could do anything, she spoke, “Cold…” She turned towards me with wide eyes as splintered glass cascaded over her pale hair. She screamed as the hands gripped her hair and neck. The tips of it’s fingers were tinted a light blue. Two more hands reached in through the gaping hole that once was a windshield. They gripped her shoulders. Why wasn’t she wearing her seatbelt? My ears rang from the noise; I couldn’t think anymore. The Changed screeched as they pulled my daughter out over the hood of the car. And I was alone. I couldn’t see her. Turning the key was one of the hardest things I had to do in my life. As the engine roared back to life I looked to the passenger side of the car. A hand was pressed against the bloody glass, a small hand. Too small to be one of the three changed that attacked the car. The hand was Em’s. Deep scratches covered her cheeks and forehead. She was standing still, then she held up the knife I made her carry in her boot. “Can you unlock the doors please?” She asked quietly. I laughed, filled with relief as she opened the door. She sat on the black tarp, to keep the seat clean. The smell of blood was overwhelming, she was covered in it. I glanced over, and slammed on the brakes. There was a hole in her chest, broken ribs protruding from the red flesh. Her heart was gone. And there was a knife cutting an X into my throat.

Winter Masks
Aubrey Hackett
They say there’s something wrong. But isn’t there always? Cynical and silent. I crack far too easily. The tears fall like splintered glass. Feet drag through grey slush. Snow coats chilled skin. And wintered breath flakes away. Then I wake. Then I remember. How it is, who I am. Broken. Alone. So, so tired. You should never see, This side of me. Give me a moment to… Compose myself, To reapply the mask.

I Am: Sex Slavery
Teagan Studebaker
in a concrete box, lined with chains and cots, my captors keep me prisoner. the bed is stained, the sheets are torn, rust has formed in every corner. the cold concrete cuts my clean bare feet, as i am ushered to my place. as i am given a number, a man shouts and shoves me forward next to girls who look like me. i am nothing and i am no one, i am an item. i am a sale. i am less than human. -that is what they tell me. i am screaming, but they can’t hear me. my mouth has been sewn shut with lies they've grown inside my mind. they grip my neck, and hold me down, as hot breath lingers in my ear“i’ll kill your family” they say to me, as they pierce the needle through my skin. my bones are weak, the drugs are strong. why is my pain their pleasure? i am not sure, how much more i can take. the light has left my eyes. the hope has left my mind. i have no escape. i have been chained down.

i am lost, so lost, so confused at how normal this has become. how its possible to take someone’s life, someone’s identity, and strip them of that, and call them a number, rob their innocence, and turn it to pleasure. i am an item, a toy, a use, a sale, a profit, i am nothing. we now share the same mindset: i am no longer human, i am dead.

Scars
Audry Mattle
I will not show the scars That etch my arms And carve deep Into my poisoned soul I’ve done well at hiding Living behind a mask of fear, insecurity, and self-loathing I’ve even grown almost comfortable with being a shadow Of a shadow Shadow My life a dark vortex of negativity Hopelessness I am falling Falling But I see where I will land I have been there before I’ve been at the end Not wanting to live I know this What I don’t know is the face belonging to the out-reached hand So I don’t grab it I am scared I will not show the scars They scream my vulnerability Death used to seem so simple The times it stared right at me Luring me in with its seemingly peaceful eyes It should have taken me I did everything it asked The decision was easy That taunting bottle of pills Not unconscious Mirror It’s broken The shards cutting into my skin When hope and love didn’t exist

But something saved me that night And I saw a glimpse I’m not sure of what Now I don’t know I think AUDRY may want to live I mean Really LIVE To even show the scars But the confliction kills me more

Religion
Nathan Kraiss
Look inside a being and tell me What is it you see. There may be a light within, And you may believe it will shine out against some secret evil. But don’t kid yourself. There lies the root of all evil, The Palace of Death. Desires wreath, and cry out Scratching along the sides of your body. Always. Whispering. There is no good thing within, So focus your eyes above; not on yourself.

II. Look inside a being and tell me What is it you see. There may be darkness within, And you may think that it will grow turn you it a monster that kills. But don’t kid yourself. There lies a light deep within that no darkness can touch. The temple of the Hope. Friends laugh, and memories flourish Taking you back to remind you that there is still good left. Always. Whispering. There is always courage to be given within. True, there is light outside; but it may blind you.

My Friend
Jacob Fernandes
A lesson I have learned, in the past couple of months, is to be careful who you let in. My friend, you must be careful. When you let someone come in, you give them the key to one of the most fragile objects in existence: your heart. For there are plenty of wolves who hunger, who lust, who crave, to take your heart. It is their pleasure to do this, to tear you apart from yourself, to destroy the thing that keeps you going. Your passion, your positivity, your love, could all be snatched away. So be careful who you let in, for you can only take so much. And I leave you with this thought: Beware, my friend, beware.

Winners of “The Book Inside the Story” Contest
IN DECEMBER 2013 WE RAN OUR FIRST CONTEST. "The Book Inside the Story" Short Fiction Contest challenged writers to create a story in which a book played a major role. This could be any kind of book – an old heirloom from the protagonist’s grandparents, a wizard’s book of spells, the one book that the antagonist checked out from the library and never returned, whatever they could imagine… Our first place, second, and honorable mention will published here, on our website, in our eBook, and again in the Best Of Canvas issue coming out later this year. We want to thank all those who submitted, with special congratulations to our winners.

FIRST PLACE
Cheyenne Zaremba is a fifteen-year old tenth grader. She is homeschooled and is an artist, as well as a writer. Cheyenne hopes to someday write and illustrate her own books, but is also interested in careers in business, science, and photography.

SECOND PLACE
Andrea Tufekcic is a sixteen-year old junior at Webster Schroeder High school. She spends her days developing and dismissing story arcs, but occasionally one will wriggle out onto paper and become a story. She first began to write when she realized that the world was disappointingly devoid of magic and neat little plots, so she started to make her own. Writing is a joy and she is absolutely flabbergasted that her little scribbles will be read by an audience.

HONORABLE MENTION
Phoebe Hartvigsen is sixteen years old and in her junior year of high school. She enjoys writing, reading, and playing volleyball, basketball, and softball when not completely consumed by homework.

FIRST PLACE

In Between the Lines
Cheyenne Zaremba
THE BOOKSTORE HAD ALWAYS BEEN HIS HAVEN. He was never interested in following the other boys around as they took drags from cheap cigarettes behind convenience stores, or put their hand to some sort of ball in a game of sport. The bookstore had always been his place; they understood him - the books - they knew him better than anyone. He was welcomed among the unpurchased clearance items that knew the true meaning of worth, and the seldom entered corner of the adult section, where he wondered if any of the books ever actually left the shelf. The witches and wizards, heroes and villains, the girls next door and the boys who were larger than life, they didn’t judge him. They saw his vow of silence as a statement of acceptance. "We can tell him," they said, "because he will never tell anyone else." They trusted him with their secrets, their messages, hidden between the lines and in the subtexts. It wasn’t so much of a vow of silence as it was a guarantee. He was born without sound, no ability to talk, no words ever on his lips. He was mute, which made his reason for isolation all the more understandable to most. He couldn’t talk, so why put himself in a position where the one skill he lacked was most commonly used? He didn’t have to talk to anyone at the bookstore; in fact, nobody really talked at all there, and it was generally very quiet. The books liked him, but not just because of his eternal silence; he was routine. He arrived at the same time every day, with the same

type of drink in his cup, and he left at the same time every evening, exactly four and one half hours after he had arrived; the only thing that ever changed was the book. Sometimes it was a fantasy book, when he needed to be reminded that the monsters at school weren’t the only ones people had to deal with. When he was feeling a little euphoric, it might be a romance novel, but never anything that sold too well. He never read the books that everyone else was reading; he didn’t want to know what they knew, he wanted to know something different. Some days' people would acknowledge his presence, with a word, or a look, and he would feel a little bit important. Most people didn’t bother; they were busy enough with their own baggage to even think about anyone else’s. Today is a cold day with driving sleet, burning your face raw with savage force. For him, today is like any other day: school is hell, home is hell, but the bookstore is safe, and quiet, and full of something like magic. He sits in his usual place, his back against a shelf of ‘special addition classics’ and half-priced sticky notes, most of the packages ripped and empty. A tragic classical romance looks particular good to him today; within reach and thick enough that most students required to read it probably don’t. The cover is hard and purple, smooth between his palms. He has no idea that today will be different; the books know, the shelves know, even the torn sticky tabs know. They know that today won’t be a very encouraging day for the reading of the purple book, they know that he has a red pen with a missing cap in his pocket, and they know what frustration can do to a person; they’ve seen it enough times. They aren’t surprised when, on a day that was supposed to be like any other, he scribbles on the first page of a book he doesn’t own. “Is anyone even out there anymore?” He has so much more to say and ask and write. But today is not his day to write those things. He is unorthodox today; he leaves early, with tear stained cheeks and white knuckles. The books are afraid. They tremble on their shelves and in the hands of readers. He won’t return for several days or, they are afraid, not at all. A Friday passes, with reading heard from the children’s section…then a Saturday, with its young adult book club...and a nearly empty store on Sunday. But on Monday, the books are still and quiet. Something is different on this Monday or perhaps it is the same, because he comes in at his usual time. The books know that he has a black eye and bruises on his ribs and mind. The purple covered book is still on the shelf where he left it, unpurchased; something is different about it today, though, something about the book is new; he’ll know soon enough. “Is anyone even out there anymore?” still scrawled on the page in angry red pen, and below it in a round blue cursive, “I am.” He doesn’t know what’s more unlikely, the fact that someone picked this exact book off a shelf of others just like it, or the fact that someone out there might care. A frightening idea, that someone might see what’s really wrong. A shell of lies is only as good as the liar it conceals. The books know he still has a red pen with a missing cap in his pocket, and he knows this too, but nothing seems quite right. He’ll just read today, but 18,600-odd words in he’ll only remember two. When he

leaves, the books know he’ll be back tomorrow, but that’s all they know for certain. The books are right, the books are always right. He returns the next day, his black eye more yellow and purple than black, his finger nails bitten raw. Even though he’s 62 pages into the purple book, he’ll look at page one first and see something unexpected. “I know you might not want to talk to me, I know that the inside of this book might be the only place where you can be alone, and I know that I’m nothing but a stranger, but like I said, I am here.” Blue pen, round cursive all waiting for a reply from the angry red pen. He never meant to speak to anyone; it was always a rhetorical question. He’s not sure how to respond, conversation has never been his forté. “You don’t even know me.” Too harsh. “If I had wanted to talk to someone I would have friends.” Too pathetic. “Don’t waste your time on me.” Too much like a cry for help. The stranger is right, he doesn’t want to talk. Perhaps something positive would be best, something that will make it sound like crying out in frustration is something he seldom does, something that will make him sound like a depressed poet or a romantic, because those people are normal…right? “It’s nice to know the world isn’t as empty as it seems.” Yes, that’s the one, he’s sure of it. He holds the red pen carefully, trying to make the writing look natural, and relaxed…not hasty and afraid like the first red question. The books know he’s satisfied. He thinks he’s ended the conversation, made his way safely back into his shell of lies, and betrayed nothing of his true character. But they also know that he’s wrong. Today he’ll read like usual, and tomorrow when he returns he’ll have in mind to do the same. He’ll think that everything has gone back to normal. In retrospect, the books will realize that this was the day that everything changed. This was the day that the blue pen found the chink in the armor, and pulled…hard. “Maybe the world seems empty because you want it to be. Maybe it seems empty because you’re trying too hard to keep it away. Maybe you need to let go…” At first he doesn’t understand. Why does this person continue to waste their time returning to the same book in the same corner of the store? Why do they bother to come to the bookstore every day and write in an unpurchased copy of an unsuccessful romance novel? And then it dawns on him. He’s been doing the exact same thing. For years he’s frequented the bookstore in a repetitive fashion, and never has it occurred to him that someone else might have the same habit. How many times has he seen them, and not realized someday he’d be having a conversation with them in the front of a purple covered novel? How many times has he nearly brushed shoulders with the blue penned stranger? But they’re just that, a stranger. And all he wants to do is read, but the stupid blue pen keeps getting in the way of the words, trying to write another story between the lines and in the margins. “I don’t understand why you keep coming back. I was frustrated; I wrote in the front of a book…it’s over. Maybe you’re the one who needs to let go.”

He could write that, but it seems futile. The blue pen will have some sort of retort, pointing out features that aren’t there…or maybe they are there, maybe he is pessimistic and fed-up and maybe he just doesn’t care anymore. All he wanted was to read the book, so that’s what he’ll do. It’s not a particularly long book, or a difficult one. It doesn’t take much focus to read it. In a few hours he’ll finish it. He’ll read the final sentence, the author’s page of recognitions, even the publishing information and in every way he will be done with the book. Completely finished, he won’t have to touch it anymore, he won’t pick it up again, he’ll just go back to the way things were, and read a different book tomorrow. Or at least that’s what he would have done, if he hadn’t been interrupted. It’s late and the sky has grown dark with the absence of sun, the streets are bathed with car headlights and lamp light. But he doesn’t care that he’s stayed later than usual, or that there are messages on his phone from “friends” he was supposed to meet with, he only cares about finishing the purple covered book. Pages from the end, the books hear the bell above the door jingle, as it does when every customer enters, but this is a unique sort of ring. The books hear the sound of feet, padding quickly and lightly over the carpeted floor, and they see a light-haired head bobbing as the body it rests upon rounds the corner towards where he sits. He doesn’t hear any of this. He’s absorbed in the story as he always is, he doesn’t just read the words, he’s part of them. He doesn’t notice when a light-haired boy crouches down beside him, or when the boy begins pulling purple covered books off the shelf, or when he sighs audibly and pulls a blue pen out of his pocket. He only notices when the boy taps his on the shoulder and addresses him directly. “Excuse me, I’m sorry to interrupt, but I was looking for a certain book and I noticed that you happen to be reading a copy. Would you mind if I took a look? It should just take a second.” He looks between the boy and the purple covered book in his hands. There are plenty of other purple covered books on the shelf, and he doesn’t particularly want to give this one up. He pulls his red pen, still missing the cap, out of a deep pocket in his coat, and jots a note on an unpackaged sticky note that fell from the plastic wrapper above. “There are other copies…” He hands the note to the light-haired boy, whose mouth is agape, eyes focused on the red pen. The boy holds up his own blue pen. “I came here a couple days ago in a foul mood and found some writing in the front of one of the books…I was kind of hoping that I had found someone to talk to.” He puts the blue pen back in his pocket, and drops to resting on his knees. The red pen suddenly feels like it’s made of fire in his hand. What is he doing here? He should’ve left earlier like normal, he should’ve just left the book alone on the shelf, but no, he stayed and now he’s face to face with the round blue cursive boy. The light-haired boy bites his lip, eyes thoughtfully studying his firm grip of the purple book, the small tremble of the red pen in his hand. “Would you…like to get some coffee with me? My treat.” he asks, quietly, whispering almost, like he’s just remembered that his mother told him to keep him voice low when he was in the library or the bookstore.

The books feel the tension, he’s been caught off-guard with the red pen in his hand and they’re afraid that he’ll do something panicky. An opportunity for change, for friends, is staring him in the face. Maybe he doesn’t realize that, perhaps he isn’t thinking quite that far ahead…he could have just the “now” in mind. The nerve-wracking “now” where his hands are shaking and his stomach feels full of something buzzing, and he doesn’t know whether talking with someone will be worth the awkwardness. The books are so quiet; they lean forwards, waiting for him to press the red pen to the note pad and write. He can hear the cars driving by on the wet road, and the fabric of the light-haired boy’s jacket as he relaxes his shoulders. His hands are slick, and his chest feels like it's burning. This blue cursive boy came to the bookstore to write to him in the pages of a book. Now he wants to have coffee, he wants to talk, he wants to be with someone…him. He’s let fear drive him to this point, where he fell to screaming in pen because he couldn’t yell out any other way, and now to the point where he’s faced with someone who has expressed interest that he doesn’t know how to accept. He’s afraid of what will happen if he says yes; talking was never something he was good at. He’s afraid of what will happen if someone really knows him. But he’s so sick of being afraid, of running, of hiding, of ignoring problems that won’t go away unless he confronts them…and at this point, he’s more afraid to be alone than anything else. The books watch tentatively as he presses the shaking red pen to the note pad, and writes slowly. They watch him hand the light-haired boy a note, this one longer than the first. “I don’t drink coffee.” it reads. “But you can buy me tea instead.” The books know he thinks it will be just once, and that they’ll part ways and everything will go back to the way it was. But they know better than that. They’ve see it enough times. The first time will be the strangest, with awkward introductions and jumps from topic to topic, trying to find something they both enjoy. But the books know that he won’t give up. They’ve always liked him for a reason…he was routine. He would arrive at the same time every day, order the same drink, sit in the same seat by the window, and talk with the same light-haired friend. Only, unlike before, things would change. He would be different, occasionally even spontaneous, and open to new opportunities, even if they scared him at first. There would be a certain purple covered book that was never too far from reach, in a backpack or a car, or on a book shelf at home. A purple covered book with red a blue writing squeezed between the lines of the story. The books wish they could speak so they could tell him these things now. But they know it’s not that easy. The answer is always there, written in between the lines and in the margins, hidden in the back stories and the foreshadowing, disguised among the characters and the plot lines. The books know they are different from another, but in the subtexts, always there for anyone who looks hard enough, they all say the same thing: “The world is what you make of it; make it yours."

SECOND PLACE

The Fox and the Hound
Andrea Tufekcic
I AM THRUST INTO HER HANDS SUDDENLY, and She hugs me to her chest like the way all small children do to things they have thrust into their hands suddenly. A bright babble I don’t know yet serves as our background music. I’ve been talking to the other, older ones, and they all agree big meetings should have background music. I am happy. She puzzles over my squiggles later, and I feel them settle happily into her brain where they belong. I don’t know much what they mean (and, I feel, neither does She) but the message is inescapablewarmth, friendship, love, home. I am plonked down on the shelf but don’t spend much time there- She yanks me off and crows my squiggles in that bright babble to everyone. A small yellow furry thing is an often and eager listener, and She points at my squiggles and then to it, bright squeals pouring out. She is happy. One day, I’m plonked down and sit. I sit for a long time. When I am moved, I’m placed on a lower shelf, to make room for bigger ones with fancier faces. She doesn’t crow in that bright babble anymore. Her babble is not that bright anymore. The ones I sit with get replaced, get discarded, get forgotten. Soon only I sit, waiting. A fat yellow furry thing sniffs by me sometimes, chews me a little. She usually shoos it off, but not always. I have a tear in my top from when it munched on me unnoticed. Still, I sit.

She trails her fingers over my top slowly sometimes, reminiscing, then lets out a resigned sigh and tugs a bigger one off a higher shelf. I don’t like those bigger ones. They stay for a bit then move on, are replaced by even bigger ones with bright faces. I have a simple face, but I made her happy. These ones don’t. She doesn’t babble when She reads them- mostly She shouts and sighs and groans and for a long time doesn’t read them at all. Later this stops and She reads them all, quickly and almost shaking when She used to sleep, like they didn’t settle in her head right the first time, but they always move on anyway. The yellow thing stops chewing me, stops sniffing me. Mostly it sleeps, more and more each day. I don’t get torn She stands in front of us with a black bag, thinking. She picks one of the smaller books and puts it in the bag, shoves the rest over, grabs another, rearranges the order, grabs another, puts it in the bag. The yellow furry thing toddles out of the room. It has been asleep for a long time lately, and it walks slowly. She trails her finger over my top again, picks me up, looks at the bag. Then there’s a noise. I think it’s a shout. She drops me and the bag and runs. We sit on the floor for a long time. The yellow furry thing doesn’t come. Neither does She. She walks back in later, and I stare, as best I can. Her face is covered in water, and I wonder why she doesn’t crumble. She picks me up and stares. Suddenly I am self-conscious. All the others are bigger than me, with more squiggles and better faces. Will She put me in the bag? Another, smaller Her walks in, covered in water like She is. Smaller Her makes a babble noise, and She makes one back. Quietly, I get thrust into smaller Her’s hands. She hugs me to her chest, like all small children when something is thrust into their hands. She helps smaller Her with my squiggles, and I feel the warmth of a new mind to settle in. Warmth, friendship, love, home. Smaller Her’s mind doesn’t have enough of this. I seep into her, and smaller Her smiles. A bright babble fills the air again, and soon my squiggles are crowed just like they used to be. Smaller Her plonks me on her shelf, but I am never there for long. Sometimes She flips wistfully through my pages, and I feel the familiar echo of my squiggles in her mind. I am happy.

HONORABLE MENTION

Beneath the Stars
Phoebe Hartvigsen
SHE WAS ASSIGNED TO ME ON THAT FIRST DAY, and it was then that I noticed she looked sad. She always looked sad. I’d press my fur against her jeans and I could feel the sadness, the loneliness there, gnawing at her insides as she read. She read aloud to me, and I learned the sound of her voice. Memorized it. Fell in love with it. We read the same book every day. I heard the people talking once, and they said it was because of what had happened to her. They thought it was because she was different, because of the loneliness. But they were wrong. The people are always getting things wrong. She was small, hardly twice my size and without so much fur. Mine spiked out in unruly black tufts, but she never seemed to mind. She would walk into the library, her eyes downcast and long dark hair falling on either side of her face. Trudging at the back of the group, she would stare at the heels of the kids in front of her. The people with them would help each child find their dog and settle in to read. But she never needed help. She would walk toward me, her mouth flickering into a faint smile but her eyes dashing back and forth as if she didn’t want anyone else to see. She was afraid of herself. And it pained me to see. She would sit down on the floor close beside me. She’d stroke my coarse fur and tell me it was soft, look at my scraggly appearance and tell me I was handsome, kiss my ears and tell me she loved me. Then she’d rest her head on my chest and listen to my heartbeat. I knew she could hear it because she would say it out loud while she listened:

ba-boom, ba-boom, ba-boom. Every day, she reminded me that I was alive and every day she gave me a reason to be. The other children in the library switched dogs every week so that they could get to know all of us, but they didn’t try it with her. I never met any of the others but it didn’t matter. She loved me more than anyone ever had in my life, and I only spent one hour with her five days of the week. Perhaps it was low standards that drove me to satisfaction, but I’d like to think that it was something a bit more honorable. Because I knew she was coming, I always pulled our book from the shelf early so that it would be ready for her. But the people thought it had been left out and would take it right from beneath my nose to put it back. Eventually I would have to hold it in my mouth to save it from being taken away. The people are always getting things wrong. She always knew who got the book. She didn’t need to look at the teeth marks that the people missed, she just knew. “Did you get our book, boy?” she’d whisper, smiling at me. She knew I had, I never forgot. I’d nose it toward her anyway and she’d giggle. Lying side by side on our stomachs, we were equals. She’d begin to read and I’d rest my head on her forearm, watching her hands turn the worn pages. “Nobody loved her.” That was her favorite line. Or the one she feared the most. I don’t know how many times it was in the book but she seemed to add it in more than the author had thought was necessary. I felt her arm move as she traced the illustration on the page while reading the line again and again. I didn’t like to look at that page so I’d turn toward her face. But there was little consolation there. Every once in awhile, a person would come to check on us in our corner and they were always greeted by the threatening snap of the book being slammed shut. She and I would look up at the person, equally silent, equally patient as we waited for them to go away. It was after we’d sent yet another person creaking away across the old floorboards that she turned to me and whispered, “She doesn’t love me. She says she does, but she doesn’t.” I wriggled around and licked her on the nose. She giggled. She understood. But it was the day after that when she didn’t come. I waited in our corner with the book in my mouth. The group of kids came in, the regular assortment of people with them. They were loud like usual, but they were all loud. She was not with them. I waited. The people were talking. I could hear them behind the desk, their voices slightly high pitched. I ignored the sounds of the phone being used and the anxious murmurs. They didn’t matter to me. I was waiting. No one came to our corner. Finally, I stood up, my shaggy legs quivering slightly. I didn’t want to leave our spot in case she came and I missed her. I had to be there for her. But even if she didn’t come, I would still have to be there, wherever that was. I walked into the main foyer of the library, our book clutched tightly between my jaws. A trail of saliva ran down the plastic covering,

its zigzag pattern matching the path of my stomach as it flopped through my insides. The desk loomed above me. I placed the book safely on the carpet between my paws and took the opportunity to moisten my nose with a couple of hasty licks. I glanced around, panting nervously. A person came around the corner, running his fingers through his hair. He spotted me. “Oh,” he said, sounding slightly dazed. “Come here, boy.” He reached a hand out toward me, and I took a step back. I wasn’t ready to go back yet. I hadn’t seen her. He crept toward me and I knew I only had moments to make my decision. Sure, my job was minimum wage - but at least I had one. I had few genuine complaints I could make about it other than the somewhat depressing housing arrangements. My family didn’t live with me. My family was a girl I saw for one hour five days of the week. The book was back in my mouth as I lunged for the open door, my claws digging into the carpet. I slid through someone’s outstretched legs and I was greeted by a blast of cold air. My nails scratched on the pavement as I flew down the sidewalk. I could hear the clomping of boots on solid ground behind me, a sound which soon ceased, and yelling that melted into labored breaths. I was gone. It had been so long since I had run. I stretched my legs and let my tail fly like a flag at the stern. My eyes closed for a moment and I let the evening air wash over me, chilling my lungs and freezing my anxiety. I would find her. I knew where she was. The people would have gotten it wrong, as they so often do. I slowed, but still maintained a brisk trot. The ground became dirt and springy grass as I passed beneath a stand of trees. I had left the street behind but could still see lights peaking through the small strip of forest that split the houses from the river. The bank felt cool against my paws as I began to make my way along it. My nostrils flared as I searched for her scent, but the sound of the softly moving water unnerved me. I couldn’t concentrate with the terrifying thought just brushing the tips of my ears, the horrible image of a beckoning river and a little girl who I only saw for one hour five days of the week. I shook my fur and quickened my pace. I clenched the book even tighter between my teeth. Darkness was falling and I could see the first stars beginning to shine.

Then I smelled her. It was just a bit of a whiff on the breeze, really, but I knew it was her. As soon as I made out her dark shape outlined against the riverbank, I bounded forward. She was lying on her back on the tough strands of grass, her head resting on her upturned folded arms. She was smiling, almost grinning, in a way I’d only ever seen her do on special occasions. I suppose this qualified as one. She rolled her head toward me as if it was no surprise that I was there. She’d known too. “You remembered,” her eyes twinkled in the dying light. I placed the book on her stomach and she pulled her hands from beneath her head and clutched it between her fingers. She looked back up at the sky. “They lay on the riverbank together, laughing and counting stars. They never did reach a million, but it didn’t matter. They had each other. They didn’t need anything else but to stay together forever and sleep beneath the stars.” She hadn’t opened the book but I’d recognize the line anywhere. After all, I had heard it five times a week, every week. We sat in silence for a moment. She watched the stars with rapture and I watched the faint cloud that hung above her mouth every time she let out a breath. I sneezed and she turned back to me. She reached out a hand and I pushed my muzzle into it. The fingers were cold and I wiggled toward her. She swept her arm around me and I pressed myself closer to her. I rested my head on her shoulder and blew warm air on her cheek while she told me about the stars. To her, they were friends, ones that would listen and never leave. They each had personality and a story. Perhaps she’d made them up or maybe she just knew. It didn’t matter. I could have listened to her for hours. She quieted and I could hear her counting under her breath. I had never learned to count because the numbers weren’t in our book. But I listened. Her arm moved beneath my chin as she pointed at each one in turn. Eventually the movement stopped and she dropped her hand down to my back once more. She stroked my scraggly fur. “I didn’t reach a million,” she told me. “But it doesn’t matter. Do you know why?” She rolled over so we were nose to nose. Our book slid from her stomach and was pressed between us while soft clouds of breath hit my muzzle with little bursts of steam. I licked her chilled nose and she wrapped her arms around my neck and hugged me. “Because I love you.” She held me for a long time. Then we slept beneath the stars.

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