Masquerade

by Katie Liggera

photo by Lisa De Witte

where is the face
I saw yesterday
and the day before?
now it has morphed:
new expressions
plastered, painted
a new carving
etched upon skin
your soft smile

transformed

into a devious smirk
inviting eyes
now creased
into snake-like slits
calculating, contracting,
ready to attack me;
you’re not you

anymore
and tomorrow

I will wonder;  
which mask
you will showcase
which character
you will portray
in this masquerade?

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Anywhere But Here

by Rikki Wooden

There is no God in this dry, dreary town.

My bare thighs stick uncomfortably to the leather seat as I drive the blue 1979 Ford truck down route 51 toward Arizona. The air conditioner is not working which forces me to roll down all the windows. The heat pours in making my armpits sweat though it’s only ten o’clock in the morning.

I drive past the river where I’ve spent many summer days lounging. The calming lull of the water calls me, like a mermaid to a sailor, beckoning to let the sweet coolness engulf my body.

Up ahead on the corner is a sign with red letters saying: Monte’s Casino. Inside, people are sitting in front of slot machines that greedily eat their coins. Among the crowd, my mother works an eight-hour shift tending to players with coins jingling in their pockets.

At the red light, I see Hal’s Drugstore where my mother’s boyfriend, Tony, frequents.

I turn down the road to my house and pull into the driveway, and the car sputters to a stop. One day this piece of junk is going to break down, I think to myself.

As soon as the door creaks open, a voice calls out, “Annabeth?”

I walk into the living room where my mother is sitting at the kitchen table.

“Let me guess. You were at Emma’s?” Teresa’s eyes narrow. She’s wearing her all-black work uniform ready to leave.

“It’s not a big deal,” I roll my eyes. Teresa doesn’t have a motherly bone in her body. She had me at eighteen, the same age I am now. I don’t think Teresa wants to be a mother. The less I’m around, the better it is, she doesn’t have to pretend to be a mother, and I don’t have to pretend to be her daughter.

“As long as you weren’t with that McGraw boy.”

Lucas McGraw, a neighbor from across the road. His hobbies include hiking, rafting, and picking up girls (not in that order). Unfortunately, or fortunately for me, his neat, light brown hair gelled over to the side and pearly white teeth are no match for his dull and useless brain — which is radio silent.

 “You shouldn’t spend all your time at her house.”

“They invited me over. What’s the big deal?” anger creeps into my voice. I always wonder if she is jealous of Sander’s family relationship with me. I’ve known Emma since Pre-K when I threatened to beat up one of the boys who picked on her. We have been inseparable ever since. They often invite me over for family vacations, dinners, family movie night; even ask my mother and me to come over for Thanksgiving and Christmas. They give me something Teresa can never give me—a family.

“Do you think those people care about you?”

“It was just dinner, Teresa.”

“I can take care of you.”

“Microwavable chicken from a box is hardly a dinner.”

She doesn’t say anything and flips through a stack of bills.

“I’m glad you’re my daughter,” Teresa says turning toward me.

I laugh, shrugging. “What makes you say that?”

“Emma,” Teresa starts, “that girl has everything. Two parents who love her, a little brother, a scholarship to a university, even a freaking dog. God knows she doesn’t need that job. It’s just something fun for her.”

“You’re smart and brave…much braver than me,” she whispers to herself. “Nobody gives you anything. You make do with what you have, and you should be proud.”

It makes me uncomfortable whenever she shows me affection. It’s something she doesn’t often do. My life isn’t perfect, but it’s not Emma’s fault she doesn’t have a dysfunctional family. Teresa makes me feel like Emma is the Scarecrow in the Wizard of Oz trying to find a brain, and I’m the angry gatekeeper not letting anyone pass. Who cares about brains? Or courage? Just click your heels and disappear.

We look at each other for a brief minute. I stare into her chocolate brown eyes that reflect mine. Her body sags and her eyes swollen from lack of sleep. Right below the shirt sleeve on her right arm, a black and blue bruise peeks out.

“Did Tony hit you, again?” I say, electricity shoots through my veins.

Teresa shrugs. “He’s no longer our concern.”

I nod not quite believing her.

Her arms embrace me, and she inhales my scent. Her voice reaches out to me. “The things I would’ve done if I wasn’t stuck here. The world can be yours.” Teresa’s voice sounds light. We make conversation until it is time for her to leave.

The words echo throughout my head. The world can be yours. The only world I know is the unfortunate events that happen one after the other. Like my father, after he had one too many drinks and broke a beer bottle over Teresa’s head. I was six years old, and I held her hand as she got thirteen stitches on her forehead. When I was twelve, her then-boyfriend beat her to a bloody pulp. I walked five miles to the Sheriff station to report him.

I can still taste the metallic from the blood gushing out of my mouth from the fights where I faced Teresa’s many boyfriends, and when they became tired of hitting her and switched to me. I learn how to fight my demons; I don’t need Him, and He isn’t fond of me either. There’s no time for prayer when you’re on your knees begging for the pain to stop.

I’m out the door heading to the local ice cream shop on the corner. I’ll spend my day scooping ice cream for a lousy ten dollars, so kids can dope up on sugar and get sticky chocolate sauce on their fingers.

                                                            *

I walk in to Emma sweeping the gray marble floors. The red stools clean, the ice cream already on the counter, everything in place.

Emma sees me and throws the broom over the counter.

“Thank God you’re here. I almost died of boredom,” Emma snaps her pink bubblegum.

“You saw me an hour ago.”

“Yeah, but so many things happen since then. Did you hear that Mark is engaged?”

“I thought he broke up with Margaret?”

“They did, but now they’re back together. Just in time for a fall wedding. I love weddings!” she went on a mile a minute, “Oh, what should I wear? I think Mary Anne can whip me up something nice…you never guess who called me this morning after you left,” Emma grips my arms.

“Wh-

“Jacob! Can you believe it? After all this time, he wants to make amends. He spent all summer cuddling up to that Texan girl and now he thinks he can get back with me.”

“Unbelievable,” I mutter.

“He wants to go on a trip with me somewhere exotic like Hawaii or California.”

“What’s so exotic about California?”

“Movie stars live there, and there’s Disneyland.”

“You want to go to California just so you can meet movie stars?” I look at her skeptically.

“I always wanted to meet someone famous.” Emma’s eyes sparkle, “Like that one guy in the movie where each district has the battle to the death?”

“You mean Liam Hemsworth in Hunger Games?”

“No, he’s the guy who lost an eye in the superhero movie.”

“I’m pretty sure you’re talking about Chris Hemsworth.”

“Wait…. Those are two different people?”                                       

The bell on the door rings and a mom with two little kids come running in. The day passes by with little excitement. It is nearly 5 o’clock, and the place is empty. Emma is wiping down the tables while I’m refilling empty ice cream containers.

The door opens, a young man with neatly gel hair walks in. He’s wearing a red plaid shirt, dark blue worn jeans, and black boots. He looks deep in thought, glancing at the different ice cream flavors.

“Lucas McGraw it’s been a while, what can I get for you?” Emma bounces over dropping the supplies on the ground. Speak of the devil, and he shall appear dressed in light—or at least a plaid shirt and cowboy boots.

“Ain’t it beautiful out?” Lucas says with a grin.

We are surrounded by dirt and rock. The nearest sign of civilization is the McDonald’s that comes just before the WELCOME TO HELL sign.

“It sure is Lucas McGraw.” I give him a sad attempt at a smile.

“HA!” he snorts, his cheeks turning red, “I know that’s not what you’re thinking.”

“So, what brings you here Lucas?” Emma ignores our weird exchange.

“I just want to stop for a treat before I get on the road.”

He points at the container in the back. “Say, you mind if I can try the butter pecan?”

I scoop up a small portion on a spoon and hand it over. “Where are you going?” I find my voice asking before I can stop myself.

“Got a job in Little town, Arizona doing construction.”

“Wow, construction makes a lot of money.” Emma nods in approval.

“Yeah, I need a break from this town.”

‘I hear you,” I say, cleaning the countertop.

“Amen!” Emma chimes in.

“Say,” Lucas gets my full attention. “Do you ever get a feeling there is something more in life and someone, somewhere is just waiting for you to realize it?”

In this moment his piercing blue eyes reaches the depth of my soul and pulls out my deepest, darkest thoughts.

“But that’s just me,” he shrugs his shoulder. “I need to get out of this town, you know?”

“No, I get it,” I say, nodding. “Sometimes I feel like that too.”

“You’re going to Little town, Arizona.” Emma looks at him.

He shrugs not having the slightest recollection.

“It literally has the word little town in its name.” Emma and I share a look.

“All you need is one reason to leave. I know I can’t make any money here, so I got a job somewhere else,” says Lucas. “But anyway, I’ll take a small cup of peanut butter pecan,” he smiles leaning against the counter.

I nod and scope it in a small cup. “That will be $3.99.”

He hands over cash and puts some in the tip jar. “I’ll see you, ladies, soon. But hopefully not too soon,” he chuckles grabbing the cup. He waves goodbye and walks out the door.

“I can’t believe he got a job in construction,” I say, staring after him in disbelief.

“I can’t believe he gave us a $5 tip for a $4 ice cream,” laughs Emma.

“Well, we never said he was smart,” I put away the money.

“Dibs on the $5!” Emma snatches the money out of the jar.

“It’s going to get dark soon.” I glance outside.

 “I’ll stay here to switch shifts with Becky and Layla and you can head home.”

I nod my head and slowly make my way to the car. Inside, I sit perfectly still in silence staring up ahead. I think about my life and everyone who plays a role. My best friend Emma with a big mouth and a heart of gold. Then my mother who is barely in my life long enough to say hello but works hard for a living. Lastly, Tony, the scumbag who whirls through my life like a hurricane. Is this all there is in life? Is Lucas McGraw right about getting out of this town? There must be more to life than going home to a house of loneliness filled with empty bottles of regret. I’m afraid to go and leave everything I know behind. But I’m more afraid to stay.

                                                            *

I arrive home to the back door slightly open. I push it open to see beer bottles all over the floor. I walk into the kitchen, where dishes are in a pile on the counter and dirty clothes on the living room floor. Tony is here. He probably wants to get what is his and some of ours.

Tony sits in the brown leather chair facing the TV. His hand wraps around a cigarette, puffing poison into his body. He reeks of cheap alcohol and cigarette smoke.

Tony’s back is to me as I move silently towards my bedroom, but the floorboard betrays me and lets out a squeak.

“Come over here a second.”

My body freezes and my heartbeat speeds up. I walk over to the chair, cautiously.

“Go and make me something to eat,” Tony says in my direction, not taking his eyes off the television.

My throat becomes dry, and I force myself to speak, “We’re out of food.”

He mutes the show and turns his body. “Are we going to have a problem?”

I prepare myself to run for the bedroom before he charges at me with the cigarette and burns the inside of my thumb. I let out a single cry and drop to the ground. The searing pain jolts throughout my body. I scramble to the kitchen and throw open cabinets and drawers trying to find anything to protect myself.

He is right behind me and shoves me into the kitchen cabinets. I kick his stomach and get in a few more jabs before he grabs my left leg. His grip is firm, but I manage to pull his head toward my body at an awkward angle. I hit his shoulders and bring my knee to his lower abdomen several times and push him away.

I turn and run to the bedroom leaving him on the kitchen floor. I slam and lock the door and begin pulling out clothes from the closet as tears flood down my face. My breaths became shallow as I sit on my bed. Looking around the small room and realize there wasn’t anything personal. There are no photos on the wall of a happy family or cute decorations to brighten the room. I have no trophies or medals. Not even a single postcard from a vacation I can never afford.  These four white walls hold secrets of pain and anger, but not anymore. It ends now.

Tony slams his shoulders into the door. His thuds become more and more as he repeats, “I’m coming for you.”

I open the window and climb out, making my way to the truck just as he starts to break down the door. I jump in the car and turn the key, but nothing happens. Turn the key repeatedly hoping it would start; pump the brakes and turn the key, still nothing. I burst out laughing, slapping the wheel. I laugh so hard I made no noise and wipe tears from the corner of my eye. I open the car door and left the keys in the ignition.

I run around the corner past a group of kids playing in the sprinklers on the front lawn. The soles of my feet burn on the dirt path. Going down the familiar road away from my house to the only person I trust.

 “Tony…after me…hurry.” I say in shallow breathes.

Sensing the urgency, she takes off her apron and we run through the back doors leading into the back entrance of the parking lot.

With no sign of Tony, we jump in the car and peel away. At first, I look behind me to see if Tony is following us. But as Emma keeps driving, the more I feel at ease. I roll the window all the way down and lean my head out the window. Finally, I am able to breathe as the wind blows through my hair. It wipes away any abuse and bad memories from my life.

We sing along to “Unwritten” while saying goodbye to all the places in town. The yogurt shop where we spend many days (like today) gossiping and collecting a paycheck. Past Monte’s Casino where my mother is busy working, unaware her only daughter is gone. Past the single good memory of this town at the lake. I’m saying goodbye to all these places and the people in it. Although I hate to admit how scary it is to go into the unknown, I continue to put distance between myself and this town. With each mile, I gain a little confidence and energy. My spirit renews. My heart fills with joy as we continue to sing along to the radio.

Maybe God does exist. Just not in this town.

I don’t know where I’m going, but anywhere is better than here.

Romantic Realism, and Other Half-baked Things

by Samantha De La O

photo by Alexa Brennan 

When I write, I am able live in that space between romanticism and realism. I see things as they are while simultaneously envisioning them as they could be, if only human error and darkness could recede.

I was around the age of seven when I decided I would be a writer. I had it all figured out: I would move to a city, find a studio apartment, and live there alone save the small gray cat that would keep me company. I imagined my writing desk covered in my favorite books, with only a notepad and a typewriter for me to do my work on—I didn’t think much of computers at the time.

My parents supported this dream completely. My mother, a painter herself, encouraged me to write poetry, and my father introduced me to music, films and eventually books, all of which had a tremendous influence on the artist I was becoming. I won several awards for my poems as a girl, and I wrote countless stories and plays which my classmates performed in.

As I got older, the dream began dissipate. I forgot about the poetry and I had no taste for writing fiction. I tried to keep a journal once, but even that failed, because I was never in the mood to write. I did a lot of sketching in this time—a hobby of mine for as long as I can remember—but I never really thought to do anything with it. I guess I recognized where my talent lied. I may not have been in the frame of mind to write anything, but I knew enough to acknowledge that my enjoyment of sketching and painting did not equate to talent.

We were children who did not know the meaning of compromise, but I remember that relationship as fondly as I do my love for the stage.

When I was twelve, I signed up for theater at my junior high and fell in love with it. The exhilarating freedom of performing as a character on stage was like nothing I had ever experienced before, and I wanted more. It was enough to get me to continue with it for the next five years. I met my boyfriend, Tyler, in one of those drama classes. We played the leads in Rapunzel, my first high school play, and I fell in love with him sometime between then and the middle of that year. We were children who did not know the meaning of compromise, but I remember that relationship as fondly as I do my love for the stage.

I will admit, I did think that I could be an actress. My father wanted to be an actor when he was younger, and my parents met and fell in love in their high school drama class—being an actress just made sense to me, so I pursued it every chance I got.

The pursuit of stage acting led me to volunteer at my church, as an actress for their week-long summer day camp. For the first two summers I played fun characters, and I enjoyed it tremendously. But when it came time to sign up for a third summer, the summer I turned sixteen, something went wrong. The person who consistently ran the theater program and wrote the plays we performed had quit, and without a script, there was no point in having actors.

I do not recall the circumstances surrounding my volunteering to write the script that summer, but I know I did, though I was mildly terrified of what that would entail.

I do not recall the circumstances surrounding my volunteering to write the script that summer, but I know I did, though I was mildly terrified of what that would entail. As it turned out, I had no need to be afraid. I’d never written a full-length play before, so the process was challenging, but once we began to perform it, and people began to respond well to it, I began to visualize the dream of my seven-year-old self once more. I dated someone throughout this time, but he was not a part of this story. In all the time I knew him, he was never really a part of my creative life. He didn’t understand it, and at times I think he may have even been jealous of my passion—but that is something I will never know with certainty.

As long as I have been close to him, he has given me something to write about.

I would like to say that writing that play, and the two that followed it, was enough to catapult me into actively pursuing writing again, but as with all special things, it took a lot of time. It wasn’t until my sophomore year of college, when I took my first creative writing workshop, that I finally began to pursue fiction again. The stories I wrote for that class were not particularly good or special, but the feeling I had while writing them was enough to incite the passion I’d had as a child. It was in that creative writing class that I first met my now fiance, an immensely talented writer I deeply admire. As long as I have been close to him, he has given me something to write about.

I am not entirely sure why romance has been so thoroughly intertwined with my artistic growth. I suppose it was the daydreamer in me, altering her reality until it resembled the fictional mold she had envisioned. I craved romance, I think, because the emotions attached to it ran deep, and it was an experience I deemed worthy of recreating on a page.

There is, however, a realist in me that is one and the same with the daydreamer. I do not view the world with blind optimism. I know that romance ends and people separate; that our little world is as dreadfully vile as it is wondrous and delightful; that there are innumerable questions we will spend our entire lives calculating, only to discover that the answers never wanted to be found. When I write, I am able live in that space between romanticism and realism. I see things as they are while simultaneously envisioning them as they could be, if only human error and darkness could recede.

I like it there, and I don’t plan on leaving.

February 10th

by Madison Jones

photo by Alexa Brennan

Sometimes I like to think how it might have been

different;

if we hadn’t been thirteen,

brash, abrasive know-it-alls,

my vision colored with the authoritative regality of

purple

as we paced the hallway in loops, words spilling

like grape juice on your best linen tablecloth.

How what should’ve been pink was darkened to

purple

as the sorrow crept in for you but

I slid across ice in my lavender skinny jeans, laughing

and didn’t think of you all weekend.

I’ve spent the last four years making up for that.

Purple curtains hung like ghosts

as I felt the chill come in

but you thawed. You left me far behind you.

And now every February 10th I become that same melancholy girl,

dipped in that same lilac nostalgia for the time

my bare feet trampled aster

and stars twinkled into being in a violet sky.

Zaraphilla

By Jackson McCormick

art by Julianna Blacey

 “I want to show you something.”

     Those were the words that would change the life of John Baxter forever. They were spoken by John’s present lady of interest—a young woman with the far less biblical name of Zara—on their third but first official date. But I’ll get back to that when I’m done giving extraneous details about our protagonists.

     John Baxter was a twenty-two-year-old (soon to be twenty-three-year-old) suburban shitstain with a boring job and an ever-increasing, poorly compiled collection of fantasy novels that took up far too much of his room for him to feel like a proper adult. He and I are actually quite similar in that regard, though I like to think my tastes are a bit more refined, given that John likes to read dull authors who I won’t call out by name because they aren’t dead yet while I prefer the masterful works of Tolkien, Gaiman and that guy who wrote The Name of the Wind.

     Anyway. John, like most male protagonists, was quite the romantic but with just the perfect amount of social awkwardness to make his love life the kind of thing worth writing about. Zara, on the other hand, was not awkward at all, if you take ‘not awkward at all’ to mean ‘even more awkward than John but with an outgoing personality that made up for her awkwardness.’

     Zara enjoyed many things including music, theater, art and the like. She wore flowers in her hair when she felt like it and went bird-watching on the weekends. She rode her bike daily, argued with strangers about the validity of ethics and spent most of her Friday nights crying alone over empty bottles of bourbon. But there was something about her that neither John, nor anyone really, knew about her.

     Zara was secretly a badass fairy queen.

     That’s right, you heard me. A badass fairy queen. Why? Because why not. This is my story. Go away.

     You see, Zara’s full name was Zaraphilla and she ruled the otherworldly Queendom of Faraan, where she had had nearly all her heart desired. The one thing she hadn’t had, however, was true love. Thus, she used her sorcery to phase into our world in order to find her soulmate. I know, right? I’m a sap. Sorry about that.

     This is the part where I probably lose a few readers because this is the part where I reveal that John Baxter, in all of his boring awkward shitstain-y glory, was in fact Zaraphilla’s one true love. That’s the kind of story this is going to be. It’s only fair to tell you now. If you’re not into this kind of thing, please stop reading and go cry about it on your blog or something. Goodbye.

     For the rest of you, I must warn you that this story does not have a happy ending. I’m making this up as I go, so I don’t know what that ending will be exactly, but I know that it isn’t going to be happy because I’m currently feeling like a vindictive little shit. It’s nothing personal, it’s just how I do things.

*

     “I want to show you something,” Zara said as she nestled deeper into John’s embrace.

     John could hardly believe how perfectly the night had progressed. Literally. It had gone so well that he was having trouble conceiving that such a thing was actually possible—especially considering the fact that absolutely none of it had gone according to plan thus far.

     The night had begun at a local coffee house (as they so often do) where John had originally intended to be charming and witty but had ultimately fallen over all of his attempts at meaningful conversation, becoming content to stare sadly into the black abyss of his beverage. Much to his surprise, however, Zara had taken his hand in hers in the midst of this thirty-second existential crisis and John had looked up from his coffee to see Zara’s playful shimmering eyes gazing at him with what seemed to be something resembling affection.

     From that point on, conversation was easy. They bantered back and forth in such a way that my conscience forbids me from sharing it with you, as it would likely make you vomit.

     After leaving the coffee house, they wandered arm in arm to various romantic locations, one of which was a photo booth where they shared their first perfectly imperfect kiss and another of which was a lighthouse on a hill where the pair looked dreamily into the night sky. Now, they stood together on a pier overlooking the loveliness of the still, moonlit ocean, Zara’s head buried into John’s chest, arms wrapped snugly around one another.

     John found himself unable to say anything, for fear that he would ruin this perfect moment.

     Zara pulled her head back to look into his eyes. “I want to show you something,” she said again. “Something very beautiful. Something very…special to me.”

     “What is it?” John asked as he kissed her forehead and began stroking her hair.

     “Home. But I’ll have to steal you in order to take you there.”

     “I don’t follow.” He continued kissing her, swimming in bliss for the first time in years.

     “Actually, that’s all you’ll need to do,” she said, stopping his lips with her fingers. “Follow.” She stood on her toes and kissed him on the cheek. “Will you come with me?”

     “I’ll go anywhere with you,” he said, lost in her eyes.

     She smiled at him, deviously, but sweetly. “Are you sure? It might be dangerous.”

     “Steal me,” he said.

     Zara took two steps backward, taking his hands in hers. She stared at him awhile, her head tilted slightly, her eyes full of mischief. Then, she took off running toward the end of the pier, pulling John along with her. Before he knew what was happening, she leapt off the edge into the black water with John close behind her.

*

First interlude.

     I haven’t been able to stop thinking about you since the other night and, to be honest, it’s really irritating. Before I met you I had finally gotten to the point where I could have lived the rest of my life completely independently. Now, regardless of whatever ends up happening with us, I don’t think I can. I’ve never met anyone like you. I’ve never met anyone who simply accepts me for who I am. I’ve never met anyone who is so thoroughly my equal. And that scares me. I’ve never been so scared of anything in my life. But I suppose I’ve also never been so excited either.

     I’m afraid I’m going to push you away. I’m afraid you’re going to push me away. I’m afraid that you’ll wake up one morning and decide that you no longer have any interest in me. I’m afraid that you’ll meet someone handsomer and wealthier and more charming than I am. I’m afraid that you’re not as afraid as I am. I’m afraid that I’m falling for you too quickly.

     I’m afraid of the fact that you’re probably in the perfect position to ruin me if you wanted to and that all I can do at this point is ride it out, hoping for the best.

     I’m an idiot for writing all of this down. You’re probably going to think that I’m really clingy and weird, if not completely psychotic or worse, stereotypical. I shouldn’t be telling you these things. I shouldn’t be telling anyone these things. Then again it’s currently really late and I’m tired as hell so maybe that’s making me more emotional than normal. I guess I can use that as an excuse.

     This is the most pathetic goddamn thing I’ve ever written.

*

     When John opened his eyes, he found himself on warm white sand. A cool breeze tousled his hair as he stood and the gentle sound of crashing waves brought a peace over him that he hadn’t known in three years, twenty-six days and thirty-three minutes. He felt so peaceful, in fact, that he didn’t even cry out with terror as he realized he had been magically transported into an entirely new world.

     The shoreline stretched on endlessly, a calm sapphire ocean on one side and an everlasting field of golden-brown grass on the other. There were mountains in the distance, shrouded by clouds, and a forest nestled just below them. Unfortunately, John didn’t have much time to enjoy the view before shit started hitting the fan.

     Approaching swiftly was a pack of burly axe-wielding creatures with green skin, black beady eyes, protruding ivory tusks and snouts reminiscent of a pig’s. To make matters worse, they all wore black top hats and incredibly tacky old-fashioned suits with ascots snugly hanging from their throats.

     And as if all of that weren’t horrible enough, each and every one of them had a neck-beard.

     Had John not been too terrified to speak he might have exclaimed something along the lines of, “Sacred knickers of Mother Teresa! What the hell are those things?!”

     The beasts raised their axes and charged, howling guttural war cries. Luckily for John, however, I haven’t decided to kill him off yet.

     Just before they delivered John to a grizzly fate, a blue flash swathed its way across the line of advancing pig-men. Each of them collapsed, blood oozing from wounds freshly cut below their neck-beards. John stood gawking in disbelief, then let out a solitary scream as a bit of black blood got onto his peacoat. After a brief moment of mourning for the $200 he’d spent on the coat, he looked up to see Zara standing before him, smiling almost innocently.

     “Sorry about that,” she said. “Should have gotten here sooner.”

     She wiped pig-man blood from an intricately designed blade with a silver handle depicting a dragon spreading its wings. Instead of the very normal hipster outfit she’d been wearing before she was now adorned in an elegant dark blue dress with silver embroidery. A tiara decorated with sapphires rested atop her head and coming out of her back, spread wide on either side of her, was a pair of sparkling butterfly-like wings.

     “Holy shit,” John said.

     He instantly regretted that he hadn’t thought of something more clever to say.

*

     I’m making a narrative choice. I’ve decided that the unhappy ending to this story will be related to the fact that John Baxter is, in fact, not Zaraphilla’s true love after all. Originally I was going to kill one of them off or something but I like this direction better. I’m sorry to go back on my word. This is currently a fear of mine that I feel I need to confront.

     Zara led John by the hand carefully through open fields toward the forest. So far she had explained her true identity and that the two of them were currently in Faraan, Zara’s domain. John was having a bit of trouble grasping what was going on.

     “Wait, hold on,” John said. “You’ve been a fairy queen this whole time?”

     “Well don’t act so surprised, dear,” Zara said. “It’s not like I didn’t imply it from the get go.”

     “I’m pretty sure you actually didn’t.”

     “Maybe you just weren’t paying attention.”

     “I’m pretty sure that’s not the case.”

     “I’m pretty sure you’ve been staring at my tits at least twenty-five percent of the time we’ve been hanging out so I’m going to go ahead and call bullshit on that one.”

     “I…wait…what?”

     She swung around, then stopped, pulling him into an unexpected, passionate kiss. John slowly moved his hands across her back, though he couldn’t manage to fully embrace her before she pulled away.

     “It’s really very simple, my dear,” Zara said. “This is Faraan. Faraan is my Queendom. I’ve ruled it for thousands of years but I left because after dating literally everyone in the realm I realized that my one true love was not here so I went to your world to try and find him. I found you. I liked you. So I stole you. With your consent, in case you forgot.”
     “I didn’t expect any of this,” John said, scarcely able to contain his joy at being chosen by her.

     She smiled knowingly. “Don’t be so dramatic, darling. Come. My house isn’t far from here.”

     “You have a house?” John asked. “As in, a normal house? No grandiose palace or marzipan castle?”

     She stopped and turned on him again, this time with ferocity. “Don’t you dare ever bring up marzipan in my presence ever again,” she said, wagging her finger in front of his face.

     John stiffened. “Sorry.”

     Another smile, another kiss, and they were off toward the trees once again.

*

     After a long trek that really isn’t worth describing to you, they arrived at Zara’s home in the woods. It rested in the center of a clearing covered in sunlight, built into a massive twisting tree that rose majestically toward the sky, with a round red door waiting to be opened at its base.

     “This is my house, obviously,” Zara said. “I conduct all of my business from here. Or at least I did before I left.”

     “Who has been in charge while you’ve been away? And by the way, what the hell were those weird-ass pig things that attacked me earlier?”

     “To answer your first question, my Uncle Hallek. I’ll answer your second question at a more appropriate time.” Her voice sounded worried at this, though not enough to be alarming. As they approached, a booming masculine voice came out of nowhere.

     “Queen Zaraphilla!” the voice said. “You’ve returned!”

     “Hello, Home!” Zara said. “How are you?”

     “I’m well, I’m well. It’s been so long! Nearly two decades! Where have you been all this time?”

     “I told you, Home, I went to the land of the mortal people to find my one true love.”

     “Ah, yes! Yes, I remember that now! Who is this then?”

     John shuffled uncomfortably. “I…uh…”

     “This is John,” Zara said, clutching his arm. “He’s my one true love, I think.”

     “John? What a peculiar name he has! Aha! Splendid! Come inside and have a cup of tea, then.”

     Reluctantly, John followed an exuberant Zara into the talking treehouse. Once inside, he realized how magical her world truly was. Instead of the Bag End-esque interior he’d been expecting, John was greeted by an endless, secret grove of trees with glowing, neon white leaves and black trunks. The sky above was dark but bright specks of stars so fully filled it that it might as well not have been night at all. Bluebirds fluttered from branch to branch and white flowers blossomed at the bases of the trees.

     Zara turned to face him and held out her arms, a warm smile coloring her face. “Just the way I left it, though I’ve been considering remodeling while I’ve been away. Nothing major, of course. Perhaps a rushing river for the sake of dynamism. What do you think?”

     “That would be perfect,” John said, awe-struck and falling even deeper in love. It was in that moment, in fact, that he realized he was falling in love in the first place.

     With a carefree wave of Zara’s hand, a river appeared out of nowhere, directly under John’s feet. He didn’t have enough time to say “Oh shit!” before he fell into it. Surprisingly, however, the water was perfectly warm and ran gently past him, soothingly so. Zara laughed and leapt into the water with him. She swam over, then guided him by the hand to a small rise where they could sit together in the river.

     “Don’t worry about your clothes,” she said. “They’ll dry off the instant we get out of here.”

     “And here I was thinking we were going to take them off.”

     She patted him firmly on the shoulder. “We’re not there yet, buddy.” After a swift kiss on his cheek, she grabbed his hands and pulled his arms around her. John held on for dear life, irrationally afraid that if he didn’t she might float away.

     Little did he know that his fears, ultimately, would prove to not be so irrational as he hoped.

     They sat there awhile—sometimes talking, mostly in silence—enjoying the warmth of one another, looking at the manifested beauty of Zara’s imagination. On a whim, he leaned in to bite her ear, then once again looked up to see her playful shimmering eyes gazing at him with what seemed to be something resembling affection.

     “This is crazy,” she said, “but I think I’m already in love with you.”

     John was helpless to stop the stupid, annoying, entirely unfounded grin that spread across his face as he said, “I love you too.”

*

Second interlude.

     I’m sorry but I have to stop again. I don’t know why but I just have to. I can’t take this anymore. I hate everything about this story so far. I hate sitting here alone in my room wasting my time writing it. This was supposed to distract me—to make me forget about you until you came home. Now I’m pretty sure it’s doing the complete opposite of that.

     I want to go hang out with my friends but I’m too afraid to text them. I didn’t even say goodbye to any of them when I left the party. Well, that’s not entirely true. I said goodbye to Jessica. That’s beside the point, though. Actually, I don’t really know what the point I’m trying to make is.

     If you could go ahead and stop being so wonderful that would be really great. Thanks. Bye.

*

     Zara had left John to his own devices for a bit, as she needed to catch up with her Uncle—who apparently lived in her basement and never came out—regarding the events that had transpired in her absence. John was now lying on his back, still in Zara’s magical treehouse, looking up at the stars while his three most prominent personality traits argued amongst one another.

     Romantic John: “I’ve never felt so wonderful in my whole life…”

     Pragmatic John: “You’re being a fucking idiot, Romantic John.”

     Romantic John: “Screw you, man! I’m in love!”

     Pragmatic John: “Jesus Christ. You know how ridiculous you sound, right?”

     Apathetic John: “Who cares. It doesn’t matter anyway.”

     Pragmatic John: “Has it even occurred to you that you knew this woman for literally one week before all of this happened?”

     Romantic John: “So? True love is a thing, Pragmatic John! Haven’t you ever read The Princess Bride?”

     Pragmatic John: “No. And neither have you.”

     Romantic John: “That’s not the point!”

     Apathetic John: “There is no point.”

     Just as things were really heating up, Zara returned. John sat up, thankful for the interruption, though his internal argument was far from finished. He smiled at her but she didn’t smile back. Instead, she threw a sheathed broadsword toward him, which John failed to catch but quickly picked up.

     “What’s this?” John asked.

     “It’s a sword. You know, the kind that cuts things.”

     “I worded that question wrong. Why are you giving me a sword?”

     Zara grinned. “Because you’re going to need it. You and I are going on an adventure.”

*

     Moments later, Zara and John were, quite literally, flying into the west. Upon leaving her house, Zara had grabbed John by the hand and taken off, leaving John flailing with the wind behind her, barely able to keep hold of his new broadsword.

     “WHERE EXACTLY ARE WE GOING?” John shouted, desperate to be heard over the rushing winds.

     “WEST!”
     “YES, YOU SAID THAT. WHAT’S IN THE WEST?”

     “FARAAN CITY! IT’S UNDER ATTACK!”

     “UNDER ATTACK? WAIT…WHAT?!”

     “REMEMBER THOSE PIG DUDES THAT ATTACKED YOU EARLIER?”

     “NO. I’D COMPLELETY FORGOTTEN.”

     “DON’T BE AN ASS! ANYWAY, WHILE I WAS AWAY THEY DECLARED WAR ON US APPARENTLY. THEY’RE CALLED THE NAVAAK. THEIR KING HAS KIND OF A THING FOR ME SO HE INVADES EVERY COUPLE OF CENTURIES TO TRY AND KIDNAP ME. DON’T WORRY, THEY’VE NEVER EVEN BREACHED THE GATES. IT’S REALLY NOT THAT BIG OF A DEAL!”

     “NOT THAT BIG OF A DEAL?!”

     Before John could continue, Zara shot directly downward. As they broke through the clouds Faraan City came into view. It was massive and circular, spiraling gradually upward from the base of a hill. In the center was a towering palace with white walls and blue rooftops. It was the kind of thing you’d see in a Disney movie, probably.

     “Damn,” John said.

     “WHAT’D YOU SAY?!”

     “NOTHING!”

     “OKAY!”

     Outside of the city was a huge black spot which John quickly figured out was an army of top hat-wearing navaak. Cannon fire erupted from beyond their ranks as well as from the city’s walls.

     “HOLD ON!” Zara shouted. She banked left then downward, plummeting toward a large courtyard behind the city’s main gate. When they hit the ground, John failed to land on his feet. Thankfully for him, and the narrative, he hadn’t broken any bones.

     He stood, shaking off the dizziness, then looked to Zara just in time to see her flick her wrist and instantly replace the dress she’d been wearing with a dark blue double-breasted military frock coat with gold trim coupled with blue trousers and a pair of long, black boots.

     “Oh my God,” John said quietly to himself. “She is the one…”

     Zara’s eyes found him shortly thereafter. “Ah, John! You’re alive! How wonderful!” She waved her wrist toward him, clothing him in an outfit almost identical to hers, if a bit less extravagant. John could scarcely contain his totally irrational joy.

     “Queen Zaraphilla!” A man-fairy in an even less extravagant military frock coat soared down from the walls to meet them. “Thank God you’re here.”

     “What’s the situation, General?” Zara said with a voice more powerful than John had ever heard before.

     “The navaak have been shelling us for hours,” the General said. “No casualties so far but with these new guns of theirs I’m not sure we can actually hold out this time.”

     “Not to worry, General. I have a plan. Oh, also, this is John,” she said, grabbing him by the arm again with a sudden smile. “We’re dating.”

     John blushed.

     “I see,” the General said uncertainly. “Well, whatever you’re going to do you’d best do it quickly, Your Majesty.” With that, he returned to his post on the wall and continued barking orders.

     Zara turned to John with a grave expression. “I need you to promise me something.”

     “What is it?”

     “I’m about to do something incredibly dangerous. I need you to promise me, no matter what, even if I’m about to get brutally hacked to bits, that you won’t intervene.”

     “What the hell are you going to do?!”

     “John,” she said, her eyes furious, “promise me.”

     After a moment of grim hesitation John finally said, “I promise.”

     “Good.” She stood on her toes and kissed him passionately, then pulled away and soared over the walls.

     John ran up the ramparts to get a view of what was happening. He made it there just in time to see Zara landing right in front of the gates. The cannon fire stopped, the navaak backed away and a solitary figure came forth from within their ranks.

     “That’s their King,” the General said to John. “Mendock.”

     Mendock looked nothing like the navaak. In fact, he looked entirely human, apart from the wings that came out from his back.

     “He’s a fairy person,” John said.

     “Indeed he is,” the General said.

     Mendock wore a black crown and a foppish three piece suit—a black coat, black pants and a crimson vest. His hair was a shaggy mess of blonde and his eyes, as far as John could tell, were amber. He was tall, but not that tall. He was well-built, but not muscular. All in all, he didn’t seem that impressive but somehow carried a majestic air about him that John couldn’t help but slightly admire.

     “Zaraphilla,” he said. His voice was deep and, surprisingly, not creepy at all. “How are you, my dear?”

     This choice of words infuriated John, though he couldn’t figure out whether it was because Mendock had just referred to his one true love as ‘my dear’ or because the bastard somehow managed to be the most charming motherfucker John had ever encountered.

     Zara was not charmed in the slightest. At least, she didn’t show it if she was. I’m not going to tell you whether she really was or not because ambiguity is fun.

     “You fucking asshole,” Zara said. “How dare you attack Faraan when you knew that I was away!”

     Mendock grinned. “It’s good to see you too, darling.”

     “Yes, I’m sure it is. Now will you please do us all a favor and fuck off? I’ve had enough of your bullshit and I’m dating someone else now anyway.”

     At this, Mendock’s eyes narrowed. “Who?”

     Somehow knowing exactly where John was standing, Zara pointed directly at him. Mendock’s gaze shot sharply up at him. John waved awkwardly.

     Mendock drew his sword. “I challenge you, sir!”

     “Oh for fuck’s sake,” Zara said, her right hand massaging her temples in frustration. “You don’t get to challenge my boyfriend, Mendock!”

     Romantic John: “She called us her boyfriend!!!”

     Pragmatic John: “Ug…”

     Apathetic John: “Where are we?”

     “And why not?” Mendock demanded.

     “Because you’re in my domain, cockass! And I say you can’t!”

     “What say you, knave?” Mendock said, ignoring Zara and addressing John. “Will you fight me to the death in order to win the affections of this dear lady?”

     “THERE ARE NO AFFECTIONS FOR YOU TO POSSIBLY WIN, MENDOCK!”

     “WILL YOU FIGHT ME? OR NO?”

     Just before John was about to accept Mendock’s challenge, Zara drew her sword. “I’ve had just about enough of you, Mendock. We’re ending this now.”

     Mendock eyed her with what looked to be a combination of fervent hatred and undying admiration as he said, “So be it.”

     With that, Zara lunged forward. Steel met steel and bitter remarks met sarcastic comebacks as the two fought for dominance.

     “I can’t believe you’d settle for someone without wings,” Mendock said.

     “He might not have wings but at least he’s not a TOTAL DOUCHEBAG WITH A CROWN ON HIS HEAD INSTEAD OF A FEDORA!”

     “What in God’s name is a fedora?”

     “Nevermind.”

     Riposte. Counter-riposte. Counter-counter-riposte. For what seemed like hours the two nemeses battled one another until both the physical and emotional strain began to wear them down. John picked at his nails anxiously, biting his lip, praying internally that Zara would be okay. She made one last desperate charge, her blade pointed squarely at Mendock’s heart.

     For a moment it looked like she would make her mark. But at the last second he blocked the blow, then knocked her to the ground. Her sword flew from her hands, landing too far away for her to reach it in time. Mendock snickered as he rose his blade to deal the killing blow.

     Romantic John: “What do we do?! He’s going to kill her!”

     Pragmatic John: “You promised her you wouldn’t intervene.”

     Romantic John: “Piss on that! I’m not going to let her die!”

     Pragmatic John: “Don’t do it. She’ll never forgive you.”

     Romantic John: “I’m pretty sure she will, Pragmatic John. Haven’t you ever read—”

     Pragmatic John: “Romantic John, please. Please don’t. I’m serious. I’ve figured out why she made you make that promise. If you break it…”

     But John had no more time to argue with himself. In a craze, he made a running jump off of the wall, his sword raised high, plunging down toward Mendock. Before anyone knew what was happening, John landed directly on the bastard’s back, shoved the blade through his chest and then passed out as the pair hit the ground.

*

     As real world sensation began to return to him, John felt soft, warm sheets and a cool breeze blowing across his face. He opened his eyes to find himself in a small but royally decorated room. Mostly blue, of course. Zara was there, looking at an open window, still wearing her military uniform. Her arms were folded.

     “You broke a few bones but I healed them,” she said coldly.

     “Thank you.”

     “You also broke your promise.”

     “Good day to you too,” John said brightly, hoping to shrug off whatever foul mood she was in. It didn’t work. She looked down at her feet.

     “Faraan is safe from Mendock and the navaak forever because of you,” she said. “I suppose I should thank you for that.” She faced him then. “But I can’t bring myself to.”

     “I…um…what? Wait…God dammit…”

     “I should have known,” Zara said, her eyes now sympathetic. “I should have seen it in you sooner.”

     “Seen what? What the hell is the problem here?”

     “You’re a hero.” Her eyes lingered longingly on him awhile longer, then she looked down again. “You can’t possibly be my true love. I was too hasty in bringing you here. And I’m so sorry for that…”

     “Zara, no,” John said, leaping out of bed and heading toward her. She backed away, holding out a hand to stop him. “Please don’t say that. I love you. I love you more than I’ve ever loved anyone. I don’t know how or why but I just do! That has to mean something. That can’t just happen to someone for no reason.”

     “Please stop…,” she said, tears now falling from her eyes.

     “You’re amazing! You’re the most incredible, wonderful, kickass person I’ve ever met in my life! So what if I ended up killing that asshole for you? I couldn’t stand by and let him—”

     “I’m sending you back to the coast,” she said. “If you walk into the ocean you’ll wash back up in your homeworld. I’m sorry. This is how it has to be.”

     “NO!” John roared with a fury that shocked both of them. “After everything…all the fun we’ve had…all the joy we’ve already shared…you can’t just send me away…please don’t send me away…”

     To both Zara and John’s credit, neither of them averted their eyes. They stared at one another in complete heartbroken, loving, confused and wonderful silence until the Queen delivered her final decree.

     “You don’t understand.” Her voice quivered, almost timidly…but not quite. “You can’t rescue me, John Baxter. Not you, not anyone. No one can ever rescue me. That’s how things work around here. You broke your promise and now I have to pick up the pieces…”

     “What’s the big fucking deal?” John said, still in disbelief. Zara gently put a hand to his cheek. If he had known that this would be the last time he’d ever feel her touch he would have savored it far more than he did.

     “I love you,” she said, tears running down her face ceaselessly. “Goodbye.”

     With that, she flicked her wrist and John was suddenly transported several miles east back to the coast, landing on his ass. Slowly, he stood, then rose his head to the sky and shouted the only thing that stupid boys ever shout in situations like this.

     “WHAT THE FUCK?!?!”

*

Third interlude.

     Please don’t screw me up.

     Please don’t screw me up.

     I’m finally better.

     Please don’t screw me up.

*

     John sat alone on the beach, where he’d first arrived in Faraan. The sun hung high and lonesome in the sky as he stared emptily out at the still, sapphire blue ocean—stretching on in endless, melancholy silence. “I love you. Goodbye,” she’d said, daring him to leave her behind him and go back home to his own world. “I love you. Goodbye.”

     “I love you. Goodbye.”

     “Well if it’s all the same to you,” John said aloud to no one, “I’ve grown to quite like it here. I think I’ll stay. With or without you.”

     A part of him thought she might somehow hear him and, subsequently, answer him. But she didn’t. The only reply was the gentle crashing of waves and the distant singing of seagulls.

     A tear fell from his eye. Then another. Then another. Then another until he was weeping with his head in his hands. Not because this was how it always ended, even though it was. Not because she’d hurt him more than anyone that came before, even though she had. Not even because he knew he’d never love again, even though he wouldn’t.

     He wept because, for the first time in his life, he realized how beautiful the ocean was and how magical, how comforting, such loveliness could be.

     Suddenly, something landed at his feet. As he slowly rose his head, he heard the distinct, sweet melodies of chirping. His eyes refocused to see a little bird with blue feathers and a light brown chest staring back at him, singing. He wiped his tears away, though more continued to fall against his will.

     “Hello, little bird,” he said, holding out his hand.

     The bluebird then leapt joyfully into his palm, its playful shimmering eyes gazing at him with what seemed to be something resembling affection.

*

A final word.

     Our romance went about as well as I should have expected. It was wonderful for a few months, awful for a few weeks, and now it’s over. I wish I could say that I was hurt, or that I missed you, or that it was a good experience, but none of those things are true. The truth is, I never want to see you again. Not out of heartache or spite, but just because.

     Really, it feels like the only good thing that came out of our relationship was this story that I wrote for you. I don’t know if it’s actually any good, but I’m proud of it for some reason. I guess the sex we had was pretty great too. Yeah. Sure. Let’s go with that.

     I hope that you’re doing well. I hope that one day you find whatever it is that you need to feel happy and full and free. I hope you still read this story from time to time. I hope you still smile when you think about all the fun we had. I hope that you remember me fondly.

     I love you, goodbye.

     I love you, goodbye.

     I love you. Goodbye.

Intruder

by Julianna Blacey

photo by Nathan Walstad

Quietly I slip in,

and the doors close behind.

I walk down the familiar doors and past the pews,

where my soul had once aligned.

The voices of my family greet me,

with praises on their lips.

The sound I hear is one of joy,

and the words heavy with forgiveness.

I am not at home here,

One look and you can tell.

My lying eyes and my bloodstained hands are raised,

But I am just a blackened cave; an empty well.

People say I sound like an angel,

my voice is straight from heaven.

But if you were to open my mouth,

you’d be greeted with dust and the traces of a million sins.

I know I am an intruder.

Unworthy to even say your name.

But I can’t seem to shed the crumbling mask,

That hides my hurt and pain.

Chosen or Choice?

by Melissa Zeid

art by Julianna Blacey

The answer is simple, but oh so complicated: Judaism is much, much more than just a religion.

I hate to break it to you, but I am one of the chosen ones.

I wasn’t chosen just to get a big nose, curly hair, and an uncanny knack for handling money; I am one of the chosen people of the nation of Israel. I’m a Jew.

Or am I?

I ask this question because, according to some, I’m not Jewish. My Jewish heritage came to me from my father just as surely as I got his cheesy sense of humor. Traditionally, though, it is passed through the mother. So, if you ask any “real” Jew, I’m a little bit fake.

There’s another reason people might protest to my Judaism: I’m also a Christian. That’s right, folks, I worship YHWH but I also worship His son, Yeshua. If you didn’t know, Jews believe in the Old Testament and that alone; they’re still waiting for their Messiah. That being said, the fact that I believe that Yeshua, or Jesus as the goyim would call Him, is the Son of God is a little off-putting.

So why, you may ask, do I still call myself a Jew?

The answer is simple, but oh so complicated: Judaism is much, much more than just a religion.

Think about it for a second (or for a minute, a day, a month, a year…it’s pretty confusing.) Judaism is the belief that began with the people of Israel. An entire country. It wasn’t just a practice they followed, it’s who they were. When Jesus was proclaimed king of the Jews it didn’t just mean those who worshipped in the Synagogue. He was proclaimed king over all of Israel. There’s no way it’s just a religion. If I were to ask you what your race is, you might say Irish or Hispanic. My dad would say, hands down, that he is Jewish.

On the other hand, being Jewish does not automatically make you Israeli. My family actually immigrated to the United States from Poland during World War II; my great grandmother made the long journey to escape Nazi rule. It doesn’t mean that my dad can trace his heritage all the way back to the tribe of Judah. In this day and age, there is a difference between being Jewish and being from Israel.

Are you as confused as I am at this point?

Here’s the thing, the idea that everyone (including me) struggles with: it’s not just a religion, a race, or a heritage. It’s a combination of all of those things.

Here’s the thing, the idea that everyone (including me) struggles with: it’s not just a religion, a race, or a heritage. It’s a combination of all of those things. Judaism is about worshiping YHWH. It’s also about the suffering of those who came before you. My family was put in camps during World War II, you can find their names etched into stone on a Holocaust memorial in Germany. At Pesach, or Passover, we dip our fingers in salt water and eat bitter herbs, remembering the slavery of our people Israel those many, many years ago.

By claiming to be Jewish, I claim all of these things. I choose it as my heritage, my birthright. I even claim the aspects of my personality and my physical features that are shared by Jews around the world.

So, all of that being said, do I have any right to claim this birthright? Or, as I said before, am I just a fake claiming a heritage I have no right to?

In all honesty, many would say no, I’m not Jewish. I’m a Christian, raised in the church, a firm believer in Yeshua. Who I am, who I claim to be, is a follower of Christ.

But I also believe that I am Jewish, and the only difference between my father and me is that my savior is coming twice.

I know that I have not suffered the way that my father and the rest of the Jewish people have. I admit that I didn’t attend Hebrew school or have a bat mitzvah. I recognize that by choosing Jesus, some would say I am rejecting Judaism.

In my heart, though, I know that I am Jewish. Following Jesus, I truly believe, does not mean that I have forsaken my father’s people, the ancestors that endured suffering and even death for the sake of YHWH. It’s written on my face and across my heart. It’s in the name that I write daily, the one that is etched over and over in a wall in Dachau, Germany. It hurts me to think that people disregard the heritage that has been passed on to me, the one I claim with everything in me, just because I choose to believe that Yeshua was the Messiah prophesied by my people.

Ethnically, I am one quarter Jewish. To some, I’m not Jewish at all. My grandfather would say I’m not, my dad would say “sure, I guess.” But to me, Judaism is a huge part of who I am. I will always choose to claim this part of my heritage, one I believe that has been passed on to me by my father and my grandfather before him. I will cherish this gift for the rest of my life, and I will never forget what it truly means to claim the name of God’s chosen people.

LOVE POEMS FOR MY FRIEND(S)

poetry series by Melanie Leong

portrait by Lisa De Witte

This series is a tribute to the love friends have given us over the years. It’s about the feelings that arise when you’re in a close relationship with someone–romantic or platonic. It’s bliss and contentment but it’s also showing up when you don’t always want to and the natural questioning of if your efforts are worth it when relationships change. The series explores the highs but also gruesome lows that can unfold with knowing someone so well. Love poems are usually reserved for romance, but I want to explore the other sides of love. So here’s a little love for my friends.
-Melanie

[i]

you are wild green grass on a hot summer’s day. beads of welcomed sweat on tinted, not-yet-sunburnt skin. you are a cold chocolate milkshake and the feeling of pebbles rolling around in the palm of my hand as i idly stare at the clouds in the sky. you are an old yet familiar book i’ll never tire of reading. a piece of the cosmos they forgot to put in the sky. the tallest mountains with cruel, icy windstorms, and meadows full of soft soil and wildflowers you hate. that jean jacket with the implicit tinge of dull yet invigorating sounds.

(cover my eyes.)

you are a piece of me i will never fully own and will surely never forget.

[iii]

there’s something mystical about you. something these lines won’t convey, but i’ll try anyway.

frolic through the tress and sing songs of sweet honey. go to each end of the earth and be fully present in each moment. love deeply, without regard to the passing of time. be wild and free.

you encompass so much more than what this earth can ever hold.

thank you for letting me bear witness to these testimonies the cruel world will never fully understand.

[interlude]

and so it goes.

on and on,

and on and on.

and then there’s the dip, the quiet whisper of doubt that settles into the valley. nothing much at all,

until nothing becomes something with a harsher sound.

[iii]

two peas in a pod, until i outgrew it. and you never did.

what happens then?

we keep going and learning and being friends.

only if it’s worth it. (is it worth it?)

maybe in the end. (what end?)

but what about now?

what about loving tomorrow, and even today? what about having to love when you think about how you didn’t (don’t) have to?

it’ll be worth it in the end. (but will it?)

is it worth the gruel of loving? the not-so-glamorous loving that love really is? or is this the point when this isn’t loving anymore and it’s just hating? when does love become hate and hate become love? two powerful emotions, too powerful for each other. where’s the indifference? that’d be much easier.

it’ll be worth it in the end. (?)

[iv]

you are the energy i surely lost.

the leach of my existence.

nothing as tiring as you.

(nothing.)

yet you invigorate my tired bones. so pure, in an innocent way. you live in a world of naïve bliss. good enough for you, but not enough (never enough) for me.

i guess it was fun and grand, like a dream, honestly.

but this, this is reality.

[v]

i don’t know and i know i never will and i know we’ll never talk about it.

close enough to know but far enough to pretend everything’s okay. it’s an empty room and we’re talking about

the.

motherfucking.

weather.

we’re strangers now.

[vi]

i knew you but you never really knew me.

i was the golden object of your unbound affection, wrapped in glitter and sealed with a kiss.

nothing can come out of something so one-sided as this.

(and nothing did.)

[vii]

what was this anyway?

i just wanted to taste the fruit they all talk about.

and you wanted more? how did i know that?

(i did know that.)

from bright green buds to gnarled branches.

it’s dark now and i can’t see the stars.

there’s too much smoke around your eyes. you look like a demon now. why did i think you could have ever

looked

like

diamonds

in the first place?

[viii]

if there is such a thing as too happy, perhaps it is you.

(or perhaps i am just too sad.)

either way, you are indeed sunshine for my soul,

lifting all the sheets of dust from my heavy eyes, making me forget the inconveniences of life for a small fraction of this breathing.

what even is suffering?

perhaps it is too hard of a thing to even think.

[ix]

it was your openness from which you spoke so eloquently that reeled me in. (remember.)

you colored my gray world and introduced me to music i had never heard before. your humor was intoxicating and your demeanor much too grand for my little world.

you became everything i ever wanted, which was just more of myself.

(isn’t that beautiful?)

a sweet folk song pattering through lines of sarcastic wit, crescendoing with the true compassion of your soul.

don’t worry too much. let the bad times pass.

be there for each other.

(be there.)

you were more pivotal in my life than you will ever really know.

[x]

i’m glad to know you. we’ve become much more than i ever imagined.

a small room that became a mansion.

(a mansion.)

the walls built up and torn down and remodeled and rebuilt.

it’s an old house now.

(when did it become so old?)

there are rooms we haven’t entered in years. there are some places we haven’t ever gone.

i hope this mansion becomes an artifact of a distant past for centuries to come.

[xi]

strong and bright, you are light among these storms. some we’ve faced together, and some on our own.

what a rare and beautiful rock we found through thick grass and deep water. what a sight to see and hear and taste and smell. a strange notion to think that we are much more than two people on this planet. we are the ocean’s waves and the red rocks of the desert. we can conquer the mountains and the rivers and deep lakes and streams.

we were born among the same thread sewn by our mothers (and fathers).

and yet we are our own.

(very much our own.)

thank you for staying between the passing of seasons and changing of tides. this road’s not always easy, but we’re making big strides.

[xii]

you fill me with this unbridled love for the moment. i forget the anxieties of the day and just listen to the music and feel the wind cascading through the branches of my outstretched arms.

watch rivers flow and trees grow tall. with sand between toes, let words fall out onto lines on pages perfectly crafted into velvet strings i can’t quite claim to be of my own making.

(bear witness,) you are the color of my energy.

The Food of Friendships

By Madison Jones

Mid-September, freshman year, dinnertime. I am sitting with a group of faceless, nameless people, eating a dish I don’t remember, talking about a topic I have no recollection of. The first few months of freshman year were filled with dinners like this one: with random people I stopped talking to by the end of the semester and with food that is as unmemorable as the people I was eating with. This one sticks out, however, because of one thing–or, two things, rather: cheesecake, and Alissa.

Literally nothing else of that dinner stands out to me–just Alissa’s placement at the table (two or three chairs to my left), and how when I remarked on how I wanted some cheesecake, but was too full to eat any, Alissa offered to split a piece.

So we did.

But the connection I found in that half slice of cheesecake was unfathomable, unequivocal, and irreplaceable.

The cheesecake itself was fairly underwhelming: it was a chocolate marble of some sort, but the dark brown crust was a little soggy and the piece itself was a little too gooey from being out in the cafeteria for so long. But the connection I found in that half slice of cheesecake was unfathomable, unequivocal, and irreplaceable.

From there, Alissa and I became fast friends, which resulted in many shared meals together (as friendships often do). But there was something different about ours, something unique. Maybe it was the way a 30-minute plan for brunch could quickly turn into one hour, or two. Maybe it was because our meals always resulted in me crying because of the words of love and healing and wisdom she would pour into me. Maybe it was because of the way that we could go for weeks or months, even, without talking in depth at all, but as soon as we met up for dinner, it was if no time had passed. Maybe it was the way we stayed til the caf closed, every time, because the conversation was just too good to end.

Over countless plates of dry cafeteria chicken and mixed veggies, I poured my heart out to her. We indulged in rice and stir fry and each other’s company and never expected or asked anything of each other. We dined on soft, chewy pasta and soggy salads comprised of leftover lettuce, simply sitting in each other’s presence. We shared turkey and cheese paninis and garden salads; we cried over breakfast burrito bowls and tacos; we laughed way into the night over English breakfast tea with honey and London Fogs. We watched terrible Netflix movies with our steaming cups of pumpkin chai and our Chick-fil-a nuggets; we watercolored and snacked on Havarti cheese and crackers.

Of all the people in my life, she was the most constant, the most dependable; she was the most reliable and the best listener. Even as our schedules shifted and we got busier, I knew no time was lost and no feelings were hurt when we couldn’t see each other as often as we used to. And when we decided to start having weekly dinners every Wednesday, they became one of the highlights of my week. We would catch each other up on our weeks, our crazy families, our struggles, our insecurities; laughing until we cried and crying until we were laughing all over again.

It’s such an anchoring part of all relationships–breakfasts and lunches and brunches and dinners, midnight runs to Taco Bell, afternoon teas, sunrise coffee–it’s the stock of what builds relationships.

Food is such a funny thing in the way it forms community, and Alissa is one of the greatest examples of how this became apparent to me. It’s so unique in the way that it may start as just a meal, but it becomes a memory. It’s such an anchoring part of all relationships–breakfasts and lunches and brunches and dinners, midnight runs to Taco Bell, afternoon teas, sunrise coffee–it’s the stock of what builds relationships. It’s so easy to bond over dinner after work and brunch on the weekends, in fact, it can be THE way you bond–asking someone you don’t know to coffee and sharing your lives and opinions over lattes and muffins could be the catalyst of a lifetime friendship. Sharing a meal, or a snack, or food or beverage of any kind is one of few things that unite us all. It’s magical in the way that food is vital, as are relationships, for a healthy life. And it’s amazing that something so simple can bring people together in such a powerful way.

While she has since graduated and time and distance doesn’t permit us to be as close as we used to, I know Alissa is someone who will be in my life for a long time. And sometimes, I treat myself to a slice of cheesecake for her.