Black Tea

Written By: Danielle Ly

The tea was getting cold.

The two white china cups sat between us, filled to the brim with black tea - his favorite. I looked at the steam coming from the top, then back at the dark brown eyes of my dad. I looked away again.

“That’s really what you want to do?” He sounded as if he hadn’t spoken in years. A raspy sort of dry cough came after. He looked at me as if I had told him my biggest hushed secret, and he had never seen it coming. I reached for my tea, hoping the warmth would calm me down.

Whenever I was nervous I would shake a bit, it was sort of like feeling cold, but only in the pit of my stomach. I wouldn’t be able to talk very well because my whole jaw would vibrate with a nervous tension. I would always try to swallow the anxiety, but it would only bubble up, greater.

“Yes.” I said with as much confidence as I could muster.

My dad shook his head, reached for his tea and gulped it all. He poured another cup from the kettle beside us and sighed again.

“You’ll never make money doing that. You won’t be anything doing that. Is music worth starving for?” It wasn’t a question, because he already knew the answer.

I could feel my stomach tying itself into a knot, so I spoke before my tongue could too. “It’s not what you think anymore, ba. Art is not worthless. I can do so much with it – advertising, movies, shows – it’s so much more than it used to—“

“You won’t make any money that way. It’s not stable enough.” He raised his voice in the way only a father could. The way that made you feel the prickling of tears in the back of your throat.

I swallowed the lump and took a deep breath.

“But it’s my choice, isn’t it? I get to decide.” I told him. He looked at me and I could see the anger building in his face. He sighed it all out and shook his head repeatedly.

“I didn’t work and break my back every day for you to throw your life away on some dream.”

I looked down into my cold tea, staring at the bits of black tea leaves at the bottom of the cup.

My father came from a war torn country and a village with no name. He fought to protect the small group of people until eventually they had to run to survive. He had told me many times throughout my life how hard his had been.

He came here by boat when he was just sixteen. He never spoke much about the war or the escape – just enough to tell me how hard it had been. Along the unforgiving waves he had lost most of his family and friends.

My dad is a man of very few words. He prefers to let me and my mom do all the talking. But sometimes, when he would drink a bit too much with his friends before coming home, I would find him in the kitchen. He would be munching away on leftovers, that my mom had made, and the stories would come spilling out of him the way the ocean rushes to the shore – all at once and without any hesitation.

He had told me then of what life had really been like. Each story was a foggy memory, spoken from the drunk words of a man who had buried them deep inside. He told me of how he had hidden in a secret room in a staircase for weeks with his siblings. How he heard his mother die above them, and his father die beside them. He told me what gunshots sounded like in silence. He told me about how the ocean looks at night – pitch black and nothing. But you can hear the waves, you can feel them too. You just couldn’t see them.

He told me about mom’s struggles too, of watching her friends be taken by pirates that came to rob them on the ocean tops. My mother is the sweetest women, with a soft demeanor but a strong will. She never spoke to me about what happened when she escaped. She never really had to. I understood.

On most nights, he would recall what his village was like – a bubble of laughter, music, and dancing every night. The most delicious food and the most generous people. He would recall stories of his friends from home and we would laugh until our sides hurt, or until mom would come down and yell at us for still being up so late. She would stuff us with more food before forcing us to bed.

But some nights, we would be weeping in the middle of the kitchen, the food untouched, and only small whimpers of sound. My dad is a very strong man, but on those nights, I saw the boy he was when he left home – broken, alone, and scared.

My mom would come down, hug us both and send us off to bed with a warm cup of tea.

My mom and dad came to this country with nothing, they had barely any skills – they were both in their teens and couldn’t speak the language. I often thought about how difficult it was for them. To be alone in such a big place – and then to try to make it home.

My mom became a waitress, and then a cook, and ultimately a chef. My father became a carpenter and then a welder. They met at a house party when they were nineteen. Still though, they struggled. They struggled for years – barely making rent, barely able to eat. Barely anything. Mostly, nothing.

When my dad talks about struggling I know it comes from a place of love. He doesn’t want me to have to earn the life I was given the way he did. He doesn’t want me to struggle and be scared, to be lonely or to fail.

My dad and mom lived the hardest parts of their life, so that I could have better.

And I’ll love them always for it.

I reached over from my cup and placed my hand on his. His hand was rough, the skin thick from years of labor.

“You worked hard, broke your back every day, so that I could dream, ba.”

I watched him take a deep breath, watched his chest rise and fall before he finally reached his hand over to mine and held it tight. He didn’t say anything, and I didn’t either. We just sat that way for a while.

Finally, he raised his eyes to mine, and spoke.

“All I ever wanted was for you to dream, and hope, and succeed in a way that I never was able to. You are all the good that your mom and I have to offer, and all the struggles we went through was because we love you more than you could ever know. We will always be on your side. Whatever dream you choose.”

I held his hand tightly while all my love poured from me, the way tea pours from a kettle.




 

A Special Penance

Written By: Mark Shields

At this time of the year I know it's best to layer warm clothing. Regardless of the temperature really, I always feel colder than usual when I leave for my dreaded walk. Stepping outside I gently place the key in the keyhole and turn it to the right, I like to hear the solid thud of the bolt sliding into place, giving me confidence the door is locked. A brief sense of comfort, with few to follow.

I turn and lock eyes with my companion, who has been quietly waiting for me. I should be happy to be greeted by a familiar face. This one is too familiar.

"It's been too long James. Longer than last time."

"Let's hurry, I don't like being seen by the neighbours." It's late, and I am fearful of raising suspicions. With my companion on my left side we make our way almost in lock step down the street.

The changing leaves flutter in the light breeze, making that incomparable sound of fall. The ones already fallen scatter beneath our repetitive, methodical footsteps. The streetlights shimmer through the heavy, foggy air

"But really, why do we keep doing this to ourselves? They say time heals all wounds don't they?"

"Time won't heal hers" I mutter.

"That is true. But don't you wish it would all go away?"

“I don't think I'm capable of wishes. All my wishes are consumed by my desire for the opportunity to change the events of the past.”

Each time I make my way out on these cool autumn evenings, though it is too difficult for me to bear to recall in detail, I am delivered flashes of intense memory that sear into my conscience, which in fading prompt me to take this journey again. Transported back to that night, I hear the roar of the car engine revving and gathering speed, the crunch of bone under the tire, the splattering of mud on the fenders. Her muffled whimpers on the long drive out to the lake...

My hideous crime. Long forgotten by the society around me, surely documented in ink in some judicial archive, but written in blood on my hippocampus.

"How often do you think of how our lives could have been different?" My companion asks.

"Always, Matt in every moment it affects my thinking. It influences everything I do. Why do you ask me that everytime we do this?"

"It helps me understand why we do this."

"How? All it does is give guilt more power over me." I say with unhidden hopelessness.

"Exactly." My companion retorts with a sneer. His tone undergoing a predictable change.

My breath turns to ice crystals as I speak, which disappear as quickly as they arrive. How I wish that could be so for my body, that I could simply disappear - without guilt, without repentance. That someone, something could exhale and release me from this pilgrimage.

"You had one simple job that night. One simple job. If you could have kept hold of her none of this would have ever happened. She'd have gone back to her family; you and I, we'd have left all of this long behind and, dare I say, lived happily ever after. Now all we have is this, and it's your fault!"

"I lost my confidence that night." I say as I hang my head a little lower. “And I never got it back."

I remember the cool metal of the trigger warming slightly as my index finger began applying pressure, the recoiling force of the gun pushing me back again and again, the shattering of the driver side window...

The walk continues with a silence, perforated only by Matt's familiar questions, and digs at my constitution. I find moments of solitude in watching my shadow dance along the street, cast onto the fog by the streetlamps. Its jaunting movements unrecognizable in my own demeanor. I never seem to notice any other souls but ours on this journey. I'm not sure if its because they're not there or my mind is too frayed to recognize them.

A couple more corners turned. A few more blocks traversed.

Many would say I was lucky. I never faced earthly justice for my deed. I suppose that's true. I should be grateful, but gratitude has the weight of a feather while guilt has the weight of an anvil. Maybe a stronger person wouldn't cave to the guilt, he could go on seeking and finding pleasure. All I have is a compulsion to return to the vestiges of her. To ask forgiveness that cannot be granted. Asking a grave for forgiveness is a special penance. It's inanimate, apathetic response absorbs one's feeling into its permanent depths.

"I don't understand you, how you live with yourself. You're just pathetic, coming here over and over." Matt's quips turn to outright scorn, always as we approach the final corner.

"Stop it!" I plead with him, feeling a tear cooling as it wanders down my cheek.

The cast iron gates of the cemetery slowly become visible, the eternal torch drawing me there like a moth, inescapably. Any futile thoughts of turning back now disappear.

Once inside the gate silence grips the world around me. The air seems a little clearer now. I glance at the all too familiar names adorning the tombstones of strangers. I offer a solemn greeting to each of them.

"You're as scared now as you were then aren't you?"

"You know I am."

"You deserve to suffer like this, you ruined us! And it pains me to remind you each time we do this, but it must be so! You must know you can never escape! I need you here just like you need me!"

I have no response to his increasing hostility. They have become stains on my character, having been delivered for so long without being washed off. But where can you wash yourself when you've done what I've done - Destroyed a friendship, killed an innocent victim.

I place my left hand in my pocket and another familiar feeling travels from my finger to my brain. That cool metal of the trigger. I'm getting close now. I lighten my footsteps as one might when attempting not to wake a sleeping child. I don't want to disturb her. The path curves to the left slightly, I count three rows of headstones and make a hard right turn down the fourth row. I count the eight silhouetted stones along the way and stop at the ninth. Just enough moonlight washes the stone to let me make out her name- Emily.

"Maybe our presence here disturbs her as much as it disturbs you." he exclaims.

"Then it's a disturbance to which we are both fated, I have no other course of action."

"Yes you do. I know what's in your pocket. You always have another course of action. You're just too weak to take it. You come out here every time thinking you can make it right, that if you do it in front of her that will make it better, that she'll forgive you for what you did."

His words shatter me like the glass in the car. I remember walking up closer, seeing the blood on the inside windshield, the deformed set of legs stretched out from underneath the front left wheel. I look into her cold eyes as the last signs of life flicker away.

We both stand still for several moments. The epitaph, barely visible but which I could recite if ever prompted, reminds me why I make this morbid pilgrimage. Once again I lift my hand, empty, out of my left pocket.

"I'm sorry." I whisper, truly hoping that this time it will be heard. In return only silence. The air around me feels as though it has dropped in temperature by whole degrees.

After some time Matt places a hand on me. "Well, that was fun once again. Until next time?"

I look over my right shoulder, and gaze upon those familiar eyes, but find no words.

We both turn and step away from the plot, back to the leaf-strewn path. “In my heart, James, we'll always be together,” the ethereal last words of my companion who now drifts his way off toward the southwest corner of the cemetery. He has another grave to visit, one which I am always careful to avoid, and will never lay my eyes on as long as I continue to live. He will be there a long time.


The Eternal City

Written By: Cody Smith

The gates to the kingdom of heaven lay open before them, paid for by the lives of mortal men. A city protected by walls that stood proudly in front of them, made from solid stone and stretching up defiantly towards the sky, sheer, impossible to climb and even more impossible to reduce. The walls had mocked the men arrayed on the plains below, silently boasting of their strength. They would surely stand until the end of time, while nothing would remain of all who stood before them except bones and ash. Now, however, it was the men’s turn to boast of their own strength as the gate lay open before them, rendering the impressive defenses useless. The only thing that was more impressive than the great walls was the city that was cradled within their protective embrace.

The buildings of the city peaked up over the walls, reaching up towards the sky like giant man made trees, as densely packed as the ancient forests that used to surround the plain. The structures themselves were made from a variety of materials. Many were constructed from tile and timber, piled high and seemingly held together by magic, the structures themselves looked delicate like one heavy gust could send them toppling to the ground. Fewer of the structures were constructed from the same type of stone the wall was made of. Though few in number, these grand structures stood out on the skyline like stars in the night and could have been carved from the mountains themselves. What dominated ones attention however, were the illustrious buildings that sat high atop giant pillars carved from great slabs of marble. These awe inspiring buildings must be home to the divine because they surely could have only been crafted by the gods themselves.

The sun had just begun to make its sluggish journey across the sky and sat low on the horizon. The sunlight reflected magnificently off of the marble structures which caused the beams to dance before the eye. A gentle breeze tumbled across the vast plain, tugging at the grass and causing it to whisper in protest. Birds darted through the air, chasing one another and piercing the silence with their joyful songs, oblivious to the men below. The peaceful scene was a stark contrast to the chaos of the day before.

***

The sounds of battle had filled the air as the two armies clashed with one another. The metallic clang of the sword song rang out across the battlefield and reverberated across the plain. The dull thump of foot meeting ground, multiplied thousands of times over, could be felt more than it could be heard as the soldiers marched in unison. The happy bird songs were completely drown out by the harsh blare of trumpets as they issued wordless commands across the battlefield. The very worst of the sounds however came from the throats of men. Men who roared their battle cries at the enemy as they worked themselves into a killing frenzy; men howling in pain as they were bested by their foes and left to die in the dirt. Men, who had been wounded, cried out shrilly and begged for death and an end to their suffering. These helpless cries pierced ones soul and had the ability to melt ones courage the way fire melts wax.

***

Standing outside the city now were the fearless and the fortune favored: the men who had survived the battle of the day before. Each one a warrior forged in the fires of combat, they were imposing figures. Most were naked from the waist up displaying the scars that crisscrossed their torso, testaments to past battles fought. Thick cords of muscle snaked down the men’s arms, evidence of a lifetime of training with sword and spear. Their hair was the colour of straw and they wore it long and wild. All were armed. All looked dangerous. They stood in silence, trapped in emotional purgatory. Each man fighting his own personal battle with the demons that invade the soul, dulled to the point of numbness by the battle yet excited in what lay before them. None of the men had ever seen a city so grand and each was itching to see what kind of treasures lay within. 

The bugles of Brennus blare across the plain. The men advance towards the city.

Almost as one, the mass of men begin to trudge towards the open gate. The rhythmic “thud-thud-thud” of thousands of feet making contact with the ground dominates the quiet. The men grip their weapons tight, expecting the worst as they hope for the best in the face of what seems too good to be true. The first of the men reach the gate and begin to make their way through. They hold their breath through the darkness as the monster of imagination conjures up the foulest beasts awaiting them on the other side. They reach the other side and collectively release the breath they didn’t know they had been holding- Nothing. All is quiet in the eternal city.

As more and more men come pouring through the gate, silent commands are issued by the leaders among them. The men know their business and set to their work with grim obedience. Not a soul can be seen as the invaders begin to fracture off into smaller groups to search the numerous streets and alleyways. The narrow streets in combination with the tall buildings make the men seem small, like they are mere pieces in some grand game played by the gods. The tension is high as everyone proceeds with cation. Eyes dart left and right, ever warry of the possibility of enemies pouring out from the barred doors and boarded up windows.

The city of the seven hills is like nothing they have ever seen. It is an alien thing to them, built from marble and stone instead of wood and thatch. As they move deeper and deeper into the bowels of the city the grandeur continues to grow. There are buildings that are 4 and even 5 stories high. Outside many of these buildings, as if standing guard, there are incredibly life like stone people. At first they are startled by these lifeless effigies, but they quickly realize that they pose no real threat and that they are just that- lifeless people made of stone. Some recall the stories they were told as children about the creation of the first men. Could this be the place where the God’s reside? Have they in fact found the kingdom of heaven? The overwhelming stench of human filth quickly clears thoughts of such opulence from the mind. They push on deeper into the city. 

The narrow streets open up in front of the men giving way to a wide open space; a clearing in the forest of humanity. In the middle of the open space is the grandest, most impressive building any of the men have ever seen. Stretching high into the sky are giant marble pillars, each as thick as the thickest tree trunks, impossible to have been built by the hands of mortal men. Atop these marble columns sits a slanted roof top made, not from thatch, but from thousands upon thousands of clay roof tiles. The building is a daunting sight but the intricate carvings of the columns and roof top give it a delicate appearance, which is a stark contrast to its imposing size.    

Standing in a loose line across the entrance to this fantastic building are men. Real men, not the stone men they had previously seen back in the streets. They stand still and silent, calmly staring at the wild men who dare to intrude upon their orderly refuge. The only thing that moves on them is the heavy white cloth that they wear draped around their bodies. The folds of the material dance off to one side as the wind that is being funneled through the tall buildings whips them into a frenzy. It pulls at the men’s neatly trimmed hair which is the colour of wood, charcoal, and the mountains themselves. Some men stand proudly with hair that is as white as snow.

The two sides that now stare at each other across the open expanse are a pure contrast to one another. The one side is prim and proper with clothes washed, hair trimmed, and not a speck of dirt on their immaculate bodies. The other side is wild looking, with tangled hair and long beards, their brightly coloured checkered pants were grimy and more than one of the men sported bloodstains on arms or tunic. It was the very epitome of order, and chaos.

The two sides stare at each other as if frozen in time, each as unsure as the other on what will happen next.

A ripple makes its way through the crowd of wild men, like the wind that blows its way through the tall grass. Someone was making their way to the front. The men crane their necks to try and glimpse who is causing the commotion in the crowd. When they catch sight of the person, they quickly make room for him to pass.

Brennus stands in front of his men.

He looks like a shining war god come to earth standing in the place of honor at the head of his men. He wears a shirt of metal scales and an elaborate winged helmet made of bronze sits atop his head. The nose guard that reaches halfway down his face in combination with his thick golden beard and mustache make it so only his eyes are visible, this adds to his divine appearance. A thick golden mane spills out from beneath the helmet and reaches down to tickle the wolf pelt that he wears draped across his shoulders.

His eyes flick left, and then right as they scan the fundamental sum of order that stands in his way of conquest. A bestial growl bubbles up from somewhere deep inside of him as he observes these contemptuous creatures. Without uttering a single word, he strides forward with an aggravated step. It only takes two of these great strides before the rest of his men surge forward to follow their leader. The sound of thousands of men all moving at once, with jingling armor and weapons that clank against shield, is almost deafening as it echoes across the open space and reverberates from the buildings. Brennus’ heavy crimson cloak flares out behind him as he purposefully marches across the plaza. Each one of his steps, heavier than the last as his rage builds, threatens to shake the very earth beneath his feet.

 As he reaches the foot of the stairs that lead up to the great building, he does not pause. He grasps the hilt of his sword and, with a flourish, draws it from its resting place at his hip. A magnificent thing, it shimmers as it catches the last rays of the sun, made more magnificent by the man who brandished it. Again he does not pause as he reaches the top of the stairs. Sword held dangerously in one hand, he makes his way straight towards the line of men.

The line of men that stand beneath the great structure do not flinch as this monster of chaos comes barreling towards them sword in hand. In fact, beside the gentle rise and fall of their steady breath, they barely move at all. It was not fear that caused this paralysis. Brennus had experienced that many times before and knew what that looked like. This was a different kind of stillness; a stillness that oozed confidence and contempt, superiority even. Now that he was closer, Brennus could see that some even wore tiny smirks across their faces, like they knew something he did not. This strange confidence that emanated from the men in front of him made Brennus second guess himself. He slows his pace, almost to a casual saunter, as his head shoots every which way in search for signs of a trap. Confident that he sees nothing he stops a mere foot away from one of these men in the wall of enemies before him.

Brennus is a full head taller than the man he stands in front of. The man does not flinch as the giant that stands before him looks him square in the eye. The man’s dark hazel eyes are the only thing that betrays his humanity. As Brennus gazes through the window to the man’s most inner thoughts, he does not find fear there. Expecting to see a raging storm of terror lying just beneath the surface, he sees only an unyielding calm within the man’s eyes; an utter acceptance of death.

Maybe these men were gods. It would explain why they could stare into the face of death and destruction and almost welcome it upon themselves. How they almost seemed to laugh in the face of danger. How else could you explain their unbridled confidence while facing an armored foe, unarmed and wearing nothing more than a piece of cloth? Could it be possible that Brennus and his men had mistakenly laid siege to the birthplace of the divine? Had they mistakenly stumbled upon paradise but were too foolish to see? Were these deities about to bring down a fiery vengeance on him and his men that would be swift and absolute?

Brennus was unsure, but he was determined to find out. He walks up to the man in front of him, so close that he could feel the man’s breath on his face. His men wait silently behind him, ever vigilant for even the slightest threat to their leader. The two men silently stare at each other for what seems like a decade; both unyielding as they size the other up, both waiting for the other to make the first move. The other men present, on both sides, are as taut as the arms of a catapult just before they throw their heavy load skyward. They all wait on baited breath.

Brennus is the one who makes the first move. He slowly raises his hand towards the other man’s face, curiosity getting the better of him. His hand floats in between the two of them for a moment; the other man warily tracks its movement with his eyes.  Brennus reaches out and, looking for undisputed proof whether this man is even real or not, grabs him by the nose. The man reacts instantaneously and viciously to this invasion of his personal space. He drives the wooden staff that he is holding down onto Brennus’ foot. Brennus recoils, more from the shock of the action than the pain. He stares at the man with mouth agape, processing what had just taken place and surprised by the swiftness of one who had been so still just seconds before. The man continues to stare at Brennus, the slightest frown the only betrayer of what had just happened.

Rage finds its way onto Brennus’ face and courses throughout the rest of his body. He lets loose his war cry that splits through the silence like a blade through flesh. Brennus steps forward, long sword still in hand, and in one fluid motion he slashes upwards ripping it across the man’s chest. The man shrieks in pain as he falls back, blood pouring out from the gaping wound left by the vicious attack. The gods do bleed.

Like a rolling wave of thunder, the rest of the wild men roar their defiance and surge forward to cut down the men in front of them. The apparent divinity of these men was quickly being washed away in a stream of blood.

The kingdom of heaven was set ablaze that night. The Eternal City burned for the first time.     

         

 

       

Apartment 201

Written By: Danielle Ly

Her apartment is dusty. Not just on what little furniture decorates the room, but in the air, in the way it sits in my lungs. All the lights are off, except for her TV that glitches and flashes in the background of her living room. There’s a bit more light leaking in through the blinds from the street lamps below, but everything else is dark. I can’t see much. 

“Do you think...” I adjust my eyes to watch her speak in the blue light of her TV. Her voice sounds older. She pulls her cigarette to her lips. She breathes in smoke and blows out sadness. “...I could have been something?”

She lies half naked on her couch. Her skin is pale - had it always been this pale? And when I look at her through the darkness I see who she could have been. She was beautiful and mysterious and her smile felt like standing on the edge of a tall building with your arms out wide.

I think about how funny she was, how kind she had been. I think about what her laugh sounded like and what her mouth looked like when she spoke. I look into her washed out brown eyes. 

Yes. 

She could have been anything in the world. 

Now though, she lies with her scrawny legs dangling over the arms of her dirty couch. She is so tiny that the cushions seem to swallow her whole. Her hip bones jut forward and her rib cage, under her paper thin skin, look like speed bumps on a snowy white road in January. 

I look at her face, dotted with healing yellow bruises that look like spilled tea on pages of a book. Her hair is tangled and she keeps biting the skin of her lips - they’re only red because of the blood. She pulls more smoke into her lungs and I watch her body seem to sigh in relief. Or maybe it just caves in from the pressure. 

I force myself to look at her eyes now. They’re milky and bloodshot. Tears are streaming down her dry cheeks but she doesn’t seem to notice. Her chin is tucked in, as if her head is too heavy to hold up anymore. She lets the tears fall onto her chest and make tiny lakes on her collarbone. 

I look at the ground littered with needles and burnt spoons, empty clear bags with only specks of powder. 

I look back up at her, a skeleton playing pretend. She lifts her head, just barely, her cloudy eyes becoming dry and far away. Her chest is heaving in small bursts and I swear I can hear her heart beating, even at this distance. She takes a ragged breath in, and I hear the drop of the needle from her arm hitting the cracked hard wood floor beneath her. 

She smiles at me, and before I can even move, she’s left me. 

“You were already something.” I whisper into an empty room.

Initial

Written By: Danielle Ly

I trace my fingertip over the hollows of the tree, following the knots of bark. I press my cheek against it, hugging the tree close.

I miss you, often.

When there is a moment of silence in between the shouts of everyday life, I find myself far away. I see myself sitting with you, on the hood of your car, watching the stars. I can hear your voice sometimes, laughing on the train. I see your face in crowds of people.

And then in a rush, I am back to my life, running. After it all happened - not right away, but a many months later, when I was alright again - I still found myself taking days off to drive myself up to that hill, sit on the hood of my car, and close my eyes, pretending you’re still there.

I lean my back against the tree, pull my legs to me, and rest my chin on my knees.

I remember your funeral very well.

They dressed you up the way you hated. They placed white roses all over your much too big casket. I wanted to slip in with you before they lowered you into the ground - a life without you? I could never imagine.

I remember my eyes had been so tired from all the crying, I could barely see. Everything was strained and blurry. But your face was in such vivid detail. You looked like you were sleeping, and for a moment, I thought you were and I breathed a sigh of relief.

What a funny joke, I would have said when you opened your eyes. What a rude thing to do, I would have told you.

But you never opened your eyes again. You just lay there, silent and unmoving. And I cried more and more because I knew that you weren’t coming back to me.

No more late nights driving in your car, no more laughing until our ribs hurt, no more arguing over you being late to meet up, no more dinners at each other’s houses.

No more you.

I still cry, when I think a bit too much about what you would have been now, if you were still alive. You would have been so successful, and so happy. I just know it. I have to smile at that, that even without any proof - I feel it in my heart, the happiness you would have felt.

I hope you know, no matter how many years pass, you are always aching in my soul, a home away from home lies in my bones for you. You are my heart.

I face the tree again, running my finger tip over the indent that are your initials.

The loveliest name I would ever know.

Flirting with the Divine

Written By: Cody Smith

She is a cruel mistress...

She comes and goes as she pleases, as fickle as the wind, never staying long. She cannot be summoned, yet many yearn for her presence even if they don’t know her by name. She reaches out to many, man and woman alike, yet she favors the bold, the daring and the skilled. Those she touches are filled with a headiness that resonates deep within the soul. Those familiar with her touch become drunk on the very idea that she may grace them with her presence. A euphoric intoxicant that no man can get enough of, she is addictive.

She is like a graceful dancer or a familiar lover as she moves and works with you. She is always gentle but has the power to leave knees week and breath bated. Her lingering presence invigorates the spirit and leaves one entranced as they tap into the universal potential. She explores deep within you, never knowing what she might find, but always recognizing the shining beauty when she finds it. Once found, she lights the fuse and waits for it to explode forth into reality. Every explosion is unique and filled with subjective splendor.

The masterful among us recognize her influence and respect her ways. They cultivate ritualistic intent and prepare themselves for her next visit. Because when she does come she comes as sudden as lighting and, as if you were struck by lightning, courses through your veins and reaches out into the tips of your fingers. She is like the storm, you can prepare yourself for the thunder but you can never predict when the lightning will strike. The ethereal nature of her existence attracts her to the divine and, no matter how humble, whatever is rightly done is divine.

Give yourself to her fully. Let her become the captain of your ship made from flesh and bone. She will give and you will take. She will ask for nothing in return. She knows that her gift will help to bring beauty into this dull grey world, as it has for all of the others that have come before you. She entwines you with her harmonious grace, dragging you forth into the present moment. Moving through your limbs she creates majesty with your talent and entices others through your actions.

When she has had her way with you, leaving you breathless and worn, she moves onto the next man or woman. She picks those who have cultivated their skills and prepared themselves for her arrival. She aims her bow and strikes for the heart. She pulls light from the dark and beauty from the depths of the vast sea of human potential. The wise come to recognize her work and can see when she has moved the hand of another. A knowing smile appears on their face as they breathe the softness of her name. She is eternal and transverses time and space. She has known many before you and will know many more after you are gone.

She is fleeting, she does not stay long.

The Muse is a cruel mistress.

Soul Collector

By: Danica Power

 

The field was beautiful.

Miles and miles of land had stretched before ones’ eyes, rolling over small hillocks, slight mounds dotting the otherwise perfectly flat earth. The grass over it all grew thick and lush and high, reaching skyward like a thousand emerald ribbons being drawn to the heavens while still tied firmly to the ground. This image was made even more spectacular on days when a slight breeze slithered through the verdant strands, turning green fields into a grassy mirage, giving them the appearance of having transformed into a strange green sea or even stranger, rippling smoke. Unlike the sea which it could nearly, but not quite, be mistaken for, the field did not have the oceans’ graceful violence; it was softer, quieter and a great deal less threatening.

The green was broken up here and there by wildflowers, sprinkled as generously as stars in the sky. Purples and yellows were splashed most frequently, but blues and reds could be seen as well. The presence of the wildflowers usually meant the field was alive with movement, even without the transformative wind. Whether it was the flutter of butterflies or the hum of bees or other insects, the field spoke of life. The blue sky that shone overhead looked down on the living canvas; a beautiful piece of the world where everything was alive, and just being there made you feel whole, and at peace.

Yes, the field was beautiful, once.

The land now, however, was silent and dead.

The grass broken and trampled, the wildflowers buried beneath churned up dirt and the bees and butterflies chased away. The loss of the field was tragic, but a field could come back to life, return to its splendour.

The bodies that lay scattered across the field, however, would never return to their lives, never recall former glory; the life of the field could be resurrected, the lives of the dead soldiers were lost forever.

Hours before, the field had been full of the sounds of dying warriors; pleas and mutters to unseen angels and demons, cries for loved ones, sobs of pain and regret. Dying breaths.

Even before that, the field had been filled with the sounds of battle and of those cut quickly from their lives, without even a chance to whisper a prayer for them or another before they just ceased to be.

But that had been hours and hours ago.

Now, the field was empty of all life; even the carrion birds, who’d been circling overhead as the battle raged, had been chased away by the figure who wove among the bodies.

The cloaked figure made a strange sight, walking amongst the dead, like a reaper of sorts, with their black hooded head. Yet they did not have the imposing spirit of a bringer of death. The figure, in fact, was slight and walked with a strange sort of grace, hesitating over bodies as if saying a prayer.

Indeed, as her hood slipped back to reveal a shock of golden hair, one might think her an angel, and indeed it would explain the strange ethereal feeling she gave off, appearing almost to float above the bodies.

Or perhaps she was simply a looter, come to rummage amongst the corpses of war for small, sellable tokens or clothes.

She sought nothing so mundane.

Underneath the hair, beautiful features matched her beautiful locks. Her chin was small and narrow, delicate even. This led upwards into wide, high cheekbones that reminded one of a lion. Her lips and nose were statuesque; lips sensuously plump and a nose that matched her chin; narrow and delicate. This all, along with downcast eyes, unseen at first, were framed in a heart-shaped face.

She seemed normal in appearance. Or, at least, she seemed almost natural, save for some strangely unnaturally beautiful features. This idea of strange beauty would be dispelled by whoever looked at her as soon as her gaze lifted.

Her eyes were normal shape and size, of course, and sat where eyes should, but where a usual person has a dark, deep pupil and dynamic iris marking their orbs, she lacked an iris and her pupils were reflective, like those of a cat. Also like a cat’s, they were diamond shaped. And instead of white cornea, her eyes shifted with blackness, like dark pungent smoke caught in a marble.

What was strangest of all, however, was the strange emptiness in her eyes.

Despite this, her eyes being that strange colour and depth, there was a sweetness about her, an inexplicable innocence which contrasted heavily with the blood spotting the hem of her cloak and the oppressive darkness surrounding her.

It was not just an emotional darkness of so many dead, but a more tangible darkness, as well. The sky was deeply clouded, deep and purple like a fresh bruise. The clouds hung heavy in the sky, threatening rain. And indeed, thunder could be heard echoing overhead, like angry mourners looking down on the dead field and demanding, furiously why? The darkness was illuminated occasionally by lightning, but the sharp forks that leapt from cloud to cloud did nothing to dispel the darkness completely, and instead cast the ground below in an eerie light each time.

The rain, however, would wait. The woman had a job to do.

She picked her way over everything as if unaffected by it. And indeed she was.

For death was her summons.

She was a collector of souls.