Silence by Academy Monthly

      I run, chasing the other girl. She runs past me and the wind that follows brushes my face and my cheeks flush with excitement—and freedom. Her steps ring sharp like a harsh knock or shout in my ears. My feet, delicate, float above the hard cement making a soft noise like cotton. Everything I do is like cotton. Soft, delicate, and without substance. As I follow—which is basically all I can do at this point—I realize I am alone. With her. Her eyes narrow and she begins approaching me like a predator. I back away in surprise; her aggression is unprovoked, and she begins coming closer and closer. Too close. Suddenly, I’m scared of her. And confused. I thought we were friends, but her eyes are filled with coldness. Why does she resent me? 

     She examines me the way my mom picks out ducks at the market. Getting closer and closer, she looks at my neck, my hair, my teeth. The coldness in her eyes intensifies and she squints her eyes until they are so narrow that I can’t tell if they’re open or closed. For years, my appearance has not changed. I like the routine. I really like the compliments I get from the aunties when they point out my porcelain skin, thin fingers (they always exclaim “Aiaa! This one could be a doctor or piano player with those fingers!”), and my shiny hair. For some reason, my straight hair, glass skin, and dainty fingers anger her. The traits that our culture sees as beautiful anger her. And now, she takes that pride away from me with her grubby hands. They grab my tender cheeks and her sweaty palms palm through my freshly-washed hair. She is ruining me. She is making me ugly. The aunties won’t compliment me anymore. They’ll avert their eyes and compliment my height instead of my beauty. That can’t happen. No, I won’t allow that to happen. Tears stream down my face as I realize she is taking everything away from me—my beauty, my confidence, my culture. My life. 

I’ve never said anything to make her mad. I’m always silent because I’m always scared. I’m scared of angering others or letting them down with my stupid words or making myself seem weak. But now that seems like it’s already the case. In class when she speaks, her voice quivers like a freshly plucked string. She sounds unsure and timid, like she’s afraid of her own voice. But here, alone with me, it rings out loud and echoes in the hollow bathroom. Aren’t we supposed to stick together? We’re both outsiders, silent Chinese girls in this white school surrounded by white ghosts. She hates me. She rejects me. The one person who looks the most like me rejects me. The one person who is supposed to be the most like me rejects me. That hurts.

     In America, when the other kids run and shout and play, I am too scared to join in. What if their games have different rules? What if I ruin their fun? But back at home, where a little taste of China remains, I scream and shout and play. There, I know all the games. I know all the rules. And they accept me. There, everyone looks like me and I know what they expect. But outside, everyone is a stranger. I have no idea what they expect and no idea how to conform to please them. I have no idea how to please her. We are outsiders in this community, forever foreigners who try to adapt. But the truth is, in the end, the color of our skin and our smaller eyes mark us indefinitely. She hasn’t accepted that, but I have. 

I thought I had a friend, but maybe I have made an enemy instead. Maybe I have done something wrong. Maybe this is just how Americans behave. This is exactly why I’m always silent. 

“What If…” by Academy Monthly

Tom set a plate of food down gently in front of Daisy who was staring off into space, lost in her thoughts. Tom got himself his own plate and sat down across from her debating whether or not he should break the silence between them. He quietly coughed trying to get Daisy’s attention. It worked and Daisy seemed to snap out of her daze and realize that there was food in front of her. She remained quiet picking up a fork and shifting the food around her plate. Tom hated seeing Daisy like this, he couldn’t take the silence anymore, growing worried he spoke up, “Are you okay? What happened? Do you want to talk about it?”

Daisy remained quiet and continued to play with her food. Tom grew angry. Angry at Myrtle for running out into the street like a fool, angry at Gatsby for not stopping like the coward he is, and angry that Daisy had to witness it all. He couldn’t imagine having to witness the death of someone else and not being able to do anything about it. He pitied his wife for having to experience that. His anger grew rapidly to the point where, Tom slammed his hand down on the table, causing Daisy to flinch, and now he was cursing Gatsby under his breath. Daisy heard him and looked up, meeting his eyes for the first time tonight. Sympathy flooded Tom’s body.

“I’m sorry. It’s just what that man did was wrong. He’s a coward, he didn’t deal with the situation himself. I told you he was bad news. I told you since I first found out how he actually got all his money. He’s a coward.” Tom’s voice grew louder and louder as he continued, “He didn’t even stop, that bastard didn’t even have the decency to stop. He just kept going avoiding the consequences of his actions like he always does!” Daisy shifted in her seat nervously. “He’ll get what he deserves.”

“Tom,” Daisy said barely above a whisper.

“If not by the authorities then-”

“Tom,” Daisy said again, but Tom still didn’t hear.

“Then, then by me.”  

“Tom,” Daisy said a little louder now.

“I’ll make sure he pays for what he did to you.”

Daisy slammed down her fork with such force that Tom finally stopped ranting about how bad of a person Gatsby was and looked up at her with questioning eyes. Daisy shook her head, she couldn’t take it anymore. She couldn’t let Gatsby take the blame for something he didn’t do. “It was me,” she said.

“What? I know you were there, but Gatsby-”

“IT WAS ME, TOM!” Daisy yelled, truly speaking up for the first time that evening. “It was me, I did it,” Daisy said as her eyes started to water.

“No,” Tom uttered in complete disbelief.

“I was the one driving, not Gatsby. I was the one who hit that lady,” Daisy said not being able to say her name aloud. “I was the one who didn’t stop.” The words flew out of her mouth, tears filling her eyes, and once she was finished Daisy sighed with relief. Finally telling someone what she had done had taken all the weight off her shoulders.

For once in his life, Tom was silent. His mouth was wide open in shock and he slowly tried to process everything Daisy had just told him.

“After everything that happened at the plaza,” Daisy continued, “I thought driving would clear my head. I was thinking about everything that happened that day, and by the time I realized there was someone running at the car i-it, it was too late. I stopped for a second, but then I continued driving not completely wanting to know what would happen if I stayed. I was scared, Tom. So I left.”

Tom was dumbfounded. He slowly closed his mouth, the gears in his head started to turn. How was he going to fix this? Daisy couldn’t go to jail, he refused to let that happen.

“I know that I should turn myself in, they’ll figure it out sooner or later, but I am scared of what they’ll do with me and-”

“No. I can’t lose you. I will make sure nothing happens to you.” Tom said with a determined voice.

“How?” Daisy asked desperately. She saw no way she could get out of the mess she had made.

“We’ll skip town. Go back to Chicago or Louisville. Get a nice house out there and live there for a while. I was growing tired of New York anyway. We’ll be able to see your folks again. What do you say?”

Daisy contemplated what he had just said. She fiddled with the fork, in her hand, as Tom stared at her as he waited for her answer. Her eyes went back and forth, debating whether or not it was a good idea to skip town. It didn’t sound like a bad idea, she wanted to get away from New York, needed to after all that has happened. Still, she had an empty feeling in her stomach.

“We’ll start packing tonight and leave tomorrow. I’ll get a cab to take us to the train station. No one will be able to track us,” Tom said, knowing Daisy was not entirely convinced of his plan.

Daisy couldn’t have felt more relieved by Tom’s words. Maybe this isn’t such a bad idea, she thought until something in the back of her mind came to light. That one thing was holding her back, “What about Gatsby?” she asked.

The words hung there for a moment. Tom lowered his head, not meeting Daisy eyes. Daisy knew what that meant, he was hiding something. “What? What is it?” she asked.

Tom continued to stare at his plate as he said, “Look Daisy, the only way you can get out of this is if someone else takes the blame. It’s the only way.”

Daisy was taken aback. No this can’t be the only way. There’s always another way or I used to think there was. As much as she cared for Gatsby she cared about her own well being more. At this point she saw no other option, but Gatsby shouldn’t have to take the blame and what will happen to him and-

“So what if he goes to jail,” Tom said cutting into Daisy’s thoughts, “It’ll do him some good. He probably would have ended up in jail anyway with his past and what he does for a living. I’ve tried to tell you this from the beginning. He’s a bad guy, Daisy.”

Daisy sighed and nodded her head, “How early will we leave tomorrow?”

The Great Gatsby “What If…” by Academy Monthly

Nick’s words echoed pointlessly through Gatsby’s dazed, hollow head. He feared missing the opportunity to ever fulfill the dream of resurrecting his long lost relationship with Daisy. He raised his hand to halt Nick from continuing to speak in a way that seemed to Gatsby, out of Nick’s place. After a pause, Gatsby reached forward and carefully turned the doorknob like a teen sneaking through the house after a night out. When Nick caught a glimpse of Gatsby’s stone face he saw no doubt in Gatsby’s mind that he must salvage his relationship now, or he would never live out his dreams with Daisy.

His eyes met hers as he stepped into the room, and this time he was able to maintain eye contact. She was still standing, as though the tension that lingered in the air from their first confrontation was still too potent to let her sit down. Gatsby picked up on this and planned his actions accordingly.

“Sit down Daisy,” he said earnestly. The two sat down in unison, on opposite sides of the three person couch.

An uncomfortable pause.

“I want you to know that I tried to come back to you,” said Gatsby with visible effort.

“And I wanted you to know that I waited,” said Daisy as she raised her head to look at him. “I waited so long.” There was pain in her voice.

“When I was in Europe, pushing far into the enemy lines, there was no guarantee that the infantry would ever come fast enough. I only had one thing on my mind through it all.” As he spoke he reached his hand into his pocket and pulled out a circular piece of polished metal, slung on a ribbon, and reached his hand out to give it to Daisy. She took it in her hands as if it bore some previous meaning in which she was already familiar. “I was given a medal like this one from every Allied government. I was able to succeed in the Argonne battles because the thought of you guided me through it all.”

Daisy silently turned the medal over in her fingers. She looked at it as though she too was awarded the medal, as if she played an essential role in the achievement it represented. Based on her reactions, Gatsby decided to step up his approach.

“Remember the last afternoon before I went off? When I held you in my arms for hours in front of the slowly burning fire? We cared for each other so deeply in a miraculous way that we knew would be impossible to find twice in life. Remember how I kissed your head and you told me you would wait until I returned?”

Despite her reluctance to express the agony these memories were causing her, her response was shaky. “Yes, Jay.”

“I was so surprised the first time I discovered I loved you, but then it made so much sense.”

Gatsby’s truth, that he was vulnerably exposing, pervaded warmly into the air, easing the previous tensions. Daisy began to feel the deep repressed feelings she desperately walled off for years, begin to seep back into her body. Gatsby looked affectionately into Daisy’s eyes.

“I still love you, Daisy. I spent the last four years finding you.”

The strong emotions she so strenuously silenced surged through her, and she was overcome with acute nostalgia from her month of profound love with Gatsby. Her face collapsed into her hands and tears started pouring down her face.

Gatsby was overjoyed with the reaction, but it all meant nothing unless she openly confessed her love.

Daisy tilted her head up, exposing a confused concoction of pain and excitement. “I still love you too, James.”

A smile spread across his face, contagiously causing Daisy to blossom and sit up in her seat. As the two began to share stories about their lives after separating, they felt their connection growing ever closer. Daisy periodically burst into bouts of tears as the two began to unravel and reconnect. Time was no longer existent, and all exterior distraction faded into the meaningless background.

In the thirty five minutes between Nick leaving and returning, years of meaning and truth had been uncovered and revitalized between Gatsby and Daisy. They were so entranced with each others’ presence that neither of them even noticed Nick clumsily reentering. He stumbled in not knowing he encountering different people than those he had left a half hour before.

El Lobo en la Iglesia by Academy Monthly

“Madre María, lo siento. Dame perdón. I just need protection.”

The usual cold air lingers inside the ancient cathedral as the doors of Santo Angela de Foligno slam behind sixteen-year-old Dominicana Amayah Nunez.

The reason why she sought confession: a little knife. This barely seven-inch switchblade that a friend mysteriously obtained for her has driven her to seek shelter from sin. The fear of hurting someone she cares about barely overpowers her fear of adult men. The ones that wolf at her for developing curves as she makes her way to school.

The fear of being spoiled.

No one is around. The dimly lighted alter ahead is the only thing that can be seen. Jesús, José, y María. Amayah is as alone as she feels.

All of sudden, out of the confessional steps Father Lupus. A man from the homeland of República Dominicana. His broad figure stands over six feet; he’s physically imposing over everyone in the congregation. From his thick ebony hair, to his tawny brown skin, to the same dark hair that trails down his brawny arms. He doesn’t speak much, but, when he does, he’s able to command the sea like Moses.

Stepping into the dark box, Amayah shivers as she sits in the squeaking chair. The small box is barely big enough a person.

Darkness. The only thing that can be seen is the screen between them.
“Mi nina, di me all your sins, and you shall be forgiven.”
Silence, until-
“Dame perdón, Padre, for I have sinned. It’s been a three months since I’ve been in confessional.”
The stale air in the small dark box hangs above Amayah as she begins to collect her thoughts, to collect her sins.

“I... I went to school late three days in a row. I forgot to clean before leaving, and got into an argument with my mother... I... I’ve started to feel unsafe in my own city. I’ve begun to feel that no one is watching out for me...”

Amayah reaches for the blade in her pocket, clutching it for protection from the unknown threat.

Silence meets her again. Only the sounds of Father Lupus’ heavy breathing, his panting, is heard. Amayah looks over through the screen but cannot see anything but the yellow stained teeth of Lupus as he huffs, trying to compose himself for some reason. She doesn’t know why, but Amayah begins to prepare for a fight.

After more moments of silent, Father Lupus finally says, “You are never alone, porque our Lord is always with you. Make three Hail Marys, you shall be forgiven.”

“Muchas gracias, Padre.”

As she leaves the confessional to make her way to the pews in front of the statues, all Father Lupus can do is stare.

He holds the same stare those men do. The same stare that men give her as she walks down the street. The same thing that motivated the sinful tool inside of Amayah’s pocket.

No one knows about Father Lupus’ temptation: Amayah Nunez herself. She has sparked his interest ever since last year during her confirmation. After services, he would linger on her a little too long. Hold her hand a little too tight. Stand a little too close, barely containing his arousal.

As Amayah makes her way to the front pews to make her penance, Lupus stays in the shadows. Watching. Waiting. He lingers on her scent, his arousal grows as he gets closer to the pews.

Standing in front María of praying for guidance, Amayah is unaware of the internal battle in the man behind her.

When he gets closer, she can feel his hot breath on her neck. He is too close for comfort. He reaches out and caress one of her curls.

“P-Parde?”
It was all sudden. Amayah wasn’t prepared for what would happen next.

Lupus grabs her and throws her the ground. Bam. Amayah hits the floor hard. Shock. Lupus stands over her, towering over her, licking his lips.

“Mhm, you don't know how long I wanted this.”

He begins to unfasten his belt as he growls like a feral beast. All Amayah can do is whimper out a small plead for help. Her whimpers only make him get more aggressive. He crawls on top of her, and licks her neck, moaning with desire.

“No! Stop it!”cries Amayah.
The only response is a howl of laughter from the priest.
“You stupid, beautiful child. No one is here.”
His wolfish hands slide over breasts, ripping open her shirt, exposing her undergarments.

Only exciting him. Fear races through her veins--desire races through his. “No will hear you scream.”

His hands harshly run over her stomach, making their way to where they want to be. “You’re all mine. Finally, I can eat you up.”
It all happened so quickly. She didn’t know what overcame her.
One moment Lupus is dominating her. About to devour and deflower her. The next moment, Amayah is overpowering him.
Slash. The priest's abdomen is gashed open. Dios mío!

Lupus falls on his back, outstretched arms reaching on both sides, with a seven-inch gash in his middle. Amayah’s eyes flicker up to Jesús on the cross. Shakily, she crawls to the statue of Madre María, trying to catch her breath.

With her blood stained hands, Amayah raises prays.
“Madre María, lo siento. Dame perdón. I just need protection”

The First and Last Battle by Academy Monthly

A short story inspired by Sherman Alexie’s Flight.

Each day, I forget a different part of my old life.  It started with the small things first: which day my family sold eggs at the market, the color of the dress my sister, Paulina, wore to church.  Then the gaps in my memory expanded, until I couldn’t recall the taste of the oatmeal I ate daily on the farm, couldn’t remember the precise color of my mother’s eyes.  Everything’s disappearing under the cry of the bugle and the haze of rifle smoke.

But I don’t have time to think about what I’ve lost right now.  The past ninety-three days of my life have been spent in preparation for this-- the moment when I’ll find justice for my father and brother, for those who have met their deaths at the hands of savages.  Indian savages who slaughter and pillage and drink without restraint, who spill American blood on American soil. Indians who lay claim to what isn’t theirs, and will continue to do so if they aren’t stopped.  

We have every intention of stopping them.  

We stand to attention as the General approaches our ranks.  The men around me still, their snickers and quiet remarks subsiding as they observe the General’s somber expression.  With him is an old man, skin as wrinkled and beaten as the leather of my old mare’s saddle. The General reminds us of the battle to come and introduces us to the old man, Gus, an Indian tracker who will lead us to their village.  The place where they will meet their final judgment. The General reminds us of the settlers who perished, and I think once more about my father, who rode out with the men of our town to settle disputes with the Indians once and for all, who fought nobly to protect his land, home, and family.  I think about my brother, Elijah, who had been wearing the same uniform I am when he died with an Indian arrow buried in his chest. I fight to complete their work. I fight to ensure their deaths were not in vain.

We mount our horses and begin to follow Gus.  The General yells a flurry of instructions, his voice containing a sharp pitch, as if he, a hardened warrior, is experiencing the same strange excitement as us, soldiers entering our first battle.  He herds us into formation, and soon we are weaving between clusters of trees, amid open plains and fields, and the world becomes a murky blur of green and yellow and brown in the blistering heat. As we ride, I try to imagine the weight of a rifle in my hand, the heat it radiates as a bullet flies, the dull crack of bone splintering as that bullet hits its target.  For some reason, I don’t feel triumph as my imaginary bullet hits its nonexistent target-- instead, I feel an inexplicable hollowness. I try to imagine wrapping my hand around the hilt of my sword and driving it between an Indian’s ribs, and this time my stomach roils. I suddenly no longer want to think about the fight to come.

My mind wanders back home.  The dust flying up from beneath our horses’ hooves reminds me of the burnished gold of Paulina’s hair, and the muddied green blades of grass interlock like the fibers of our tablecloth.  The simmering heat transforms into that of those lazy days I spent with Elijah on the lake, catching trout and setting them free, talking about Elijah’s job with the railroad and the house he was going to build once he got married.  I meander down the hazy path of memory, and I wonder which one of these moments will slip from my mind in the next week or month or year.

I almost ride straight into the soldier in front of me, but stop in time.  We have halted. We stand atop a ridge overlooking the village. The General turns to us, and he has a gleam in his eye that I can’t read.  Before he says anything, Gus chokes out a strained cry, and our silent, rigid troops break into an unstoppable avalanche. We advance down the hillside in a cacophony of yells and hoots.

There is no grand ceremony upon entering battle.  There is no warning before the first kill. I barely blink before a bullet hits the first Indian.  Blood seeps through his battle garb, forming a red blossom. And suddenly there is red unfurling from every corner of my vision.  One soldier, a man whom I have shared meals with and who told me stories about his home in Colorado, rides over an old Indian woman with a horse whose hooves leave imprints dotted across her limp body.  Another friend of mine drives a sword into the stomach of an Indian man and wrenches it in a full circle, carving a gruesome arc into his skin. Little sound escapes his lips as he falls.

An old man tries to hobble away from a soldier on horseback, but he is shot in the back.  Another Indian nocks an arrow and shoots it at the soldier who killed his father, his grandfather, his neighbor.  The soldier falls from his horse, crying out as he lands on the shoulder that was hit. The Indian is absorbed back into the tangled mesh of men fighting, of bloodied bodies striking the ground.

I watch as a group of four soldiers-- my brothers in arms-- grasp a screaming woman by the arms and drag her away.  I do not look away when another soldier impales an Indian that has already been shot and repeatedly stabs him, until his whole upper body is a mess of punctured skin and blood.

I am frozen.  My arms are heavy by my sides.  I think of my father, of Elijah, of my mother and sister at home, whom I have sworn to protect.  I lift my saber and secure a target.

A small figure darts through the throng of fighters and I immediately lunge after it, leaping over the corpses of Indians.  After we have cleared the crowd, I gain some ground, and finally the Indian is within reach, within mere inches of the gleaming point of my sword--

My stomach drops.  It is a small boy, no older than Paulina.  He bares his teeth at me and draws back his bow string, but his blooded fingers tremble.  He can’t fight back.

This Indian could become another trespasser, invader, who tries to take what isn’t his.  But all I see is a small boy. The Indians almost took my father’s farm, almost left Paulina and my mother homeless.  I tell myself that completely eliminating evil is the only way for good to survive, that Americans will only be completely safe once the Indian threat has been eradicated.  But I still see a child before me, quaking in the midst of bloodshed.

Before I know what I am doing, I sweep the boy into my arms.  I pray that God doesn’t reserve a special place in Hell for traitors and deserters.  I pray that my father and Elijah can forgive me. I pray that this small boy doesn’t become a murderer.

Then I run towards the hills.  We are moving so quickly that the world is a streak, so quickly that my feet are barely touching the ground, flying.  I cradle the boy close. I do not look back.

The Deep, Dark, Ocean by Academy Monthly

As the anesthesia began to wear off, and I slowly started to regain movement throughout my body, I found myself surrounded by several machines and filled with the aroma of the old musty hospital gown around my body. As traumatic as my shoulder injury was for my playing career, I really didn’t mind all that much being able to lie in a room alone without anyone trying to talk to me. The moment I would step out of Sherman Memorial Hospital I would have to face what seems like a brutal reality. The hundreds of paparazzi flashing cameras and the swarm of screaming fans. It all seemed too much for me at the moment. I wished Dr. Shay could have given me more anesthesia, so I could go back to sleep.

After I managed to make it back to my hotel room, I was overwhelmed with the sight of hundreds of bright flowers, sappy “feel better” cards, and plush teddy bears. Still coming off the anesthesia, I felt tired. My eyes hurt from the brightness of the sun coming through the hotel window and my head was pounding from the shouts of kids asking for my autograph as I got out of the car. I slowly, but eagerly walked toward the bed to lie down to rest. Several hours catching up, but completely ignoring film from the previous game and an adequate room service meal later, I started to get ready for bed. As I drifted off to sleep, I began to reminisce about my life. As a little boy, being a professional soccer player was all I had ever dreamed to be. Aside from my deep love for the sport, I was also so interested in the authentic jerseys, the expensive cleats, and the soccer field surrounded by thousands of loving and devoted fans. It was everything I

wanted. Now, here I stand as the man I used to dream of becoming, but something doesn’t feel right. I spend every second of every day dedicated to the sport. After dreading soccer for so long I constantly I find myself contemplating why I am still playing. For so long, I have felt pressured from my coaches, parents, and fans to be the best all day, every day. The only break I’ve had from the sport in the past twenty-one years, was my shoulder surgery. Already, every source of contact on my phone was blowing up, talking about the moment I would be able to step right back on the field and continue on with my career. But did I really want too?

Soccer was fun as a kid, but for so long it has felt like a job. Well, it is a job. Without it, I don’t know how I could afford my lavish lifestyle. Shouldn’t it feel more to me than just a job? After all of the love I had for the sport as a child? Being the single child of parents who fought constantly, soccer was the only thing that took my mind off of the issues at home. Now, it seemed like soccer was bringing back those harsh memories, like negative nostalgia. The truth is, I didn’t want to take pictures with fans 24/7, go to training three times a day and follow a strict diet anymore. I didn’t want to be constantly analyzed by and critiqued by individuals watching or scrutinised by the media. Overtime, all the pressure from soccer was slowly leading me back into my childhood depression, and this time, I wasn’t sure if I really wanted to get out of it. I woke up to the chimes of my 6:00 AM alarm clock. A notification on my phone read, “press conference with Sports Illustrated”. I roll back over in bed and bury my face back into the pillow in distress. Oblivious to my significant injury, I land right on the stitches in my shoulder, reluctantly letting out a huge, “F**K!”. I reach for the Percocet, which the team’s doctor prescribed to me in abundance, resting on the edge of my bedside table. I eagerly pop a handful to stop the shooting pain that plagues my arm. The regular dosage just wasn’t cutting it, plus I’ve got incredible

tolerance....I know going to the meeting in my current mental state may not be the best idea I’ve ever had, but I decide to go anyway. As I stand up, I instantly become dizzy. Not thinking anything of it, I walk to the bathroom to brush my teeth. Just as I look up to the mirror I notice my vision starts to blur. All of the sudden, there were four of me standing in the mirror. At the time I reach for the handle to turn the faucet on, my body instantly collapses onto the floor. A bright light shines before my eyes. My whole life flashes before me. Visions of my Dad buying me my first soccer ball, the sound of my travel soccer team’s pregame cheer, and the incredible feeling of the first championship I had won. I lay there unconscious, my mind completely shutting off until it wandered into a delusion...

I was a dolphin now, swimming carelessly through the ocean. As my fins glided against the unfamiliar, I found a sense of relief. All of the stress and aching muscles in my body was gone, and I no longer had shoulders, so the weight of world needs a new place to rest. I swam with schools of fish by crowded beaches, but nobody knew who I was. For the first time in a while, I was just a nameless face in the crowd, and it felt fucking awesome. I was just a dolphin. Relaxed, carefree, embracing every part of the ocean I could, I finally felt happy. I was engulfed in complete serenity both emotionally and physically. Unable to hear the cheering from the large crowds, the harsh yelling from my training staff telling me to “go quicker” or “ that is not enough”, or the intensing flashing cameras, I finally found myself in bliss. The deeper I swam, the darker the ocean became, but I wasn’t afraid.

The voices of several doctors slowly started to rise...”J-James can you hear me...James, I need you to wake up now...James!”. My eyes slowly started to open. I woke up in the same room, in the Sherman Memorial hospital. Except for this time it wasn’t for my shoulder. The

copious amounts of pills I had taken had driven my body to go into a comatose state. My body ached more than ever, I didn’t have any idea of what was going on. The doctor told me my coach found me, he had security break down my door because I had been late for the meeting. I guess I hit the ground pretty hard because I can’t seem to remember much of what happened. I found it hard to breathe and I wanted to go to bed. The doctor told me I needed to stay awake so they could monitor my heart rate properly. Everything seemed like a blur and I couldn’t wrap my head about what was happening. I am tired and my whole body feels drained. I want to go to sleep so I don’t have to realize that not only is my physical battle beginning, but so is my mental one. I feel afraid of the truth, and no longer want to face society. I want to go back into the mirage, where everyone and everything around me is completely gone.

Blink by Academy Monthly

I.. well, I don’t play checkers for the game. Holden certainly does, and boy does he play to win. Me? Well, I play for the control. I get to choose where all of the pieces lie, and I can line all of the pretty little kings up on the other side and keep them there. Unmoving. Undying. In my control.

It’s a dreary day outside. “Raining like a bastard,” as Holden always says. We are playing checkers on the porch. Well, Holden is. I’m carefully controlling the perfect disks on the perfect squares of the perfect board. We’ve been here for an hour, chatting, holding hands, and playing when Holden gets this wrinkle in his nose like he’s smelled something bad. I’m about to ask him what is wrong when I hear it.

“JANE! ARE THERE ANY CIGS OUT THERE?”

My step-father.

I stare off into the distance holding in a tear, as Holden whispers, “Aren’t you gonna  answer him?”

I struggle to hold back tears. 

“JANE! I ASKED IF THERE WERE ANY CIGS OUT THERE!”

“Are you gonna answer?”

“JANE!”

I blink.

Suddenly I’m frozen in a moment, an instant that has replayed tens, hundreds of times in the years since my mother found this man, replaying again, in slow motion. He is standing over me, belt in hand. The sliver of sunlight peeking through the inky black curtains, drawn, sparkles off the silver buckle. My hand is on my shoulder, and it feels wet. I glance down, to see the muted crimson of my blood, on my hand, on my shoulder, on the torn front of my shirt. The worn leather of the whip curls, as his hand comes around, and I hear an unearthly scream, detached, and yet still in my voice. My step-father’s mouth opens.

“For Chrissakes, Jane! Are you ok?”

I blink.

I’m back on the porch hunched over, tears streaming down my face. Holden is kneeling over me, holding my shoulders, wracked with sobs. A single tear escapes my reddened cheeks and falls, slowly, glistening, shining and hits a square on the board. A red square. A bloodied square. 

Holden leads me, well, practically carries me over to the glider, where he sits next to me. He asks again if I am ok, but is only met with an unending flow of tears. I remember all of the movies, the parks, the games, we have played together. I remember looking into his eyes, and feeling a true sense of safety, of control, of home. The hours of holding hands, his broken hand, weak from smashing windows, and my weak hand, broken from years of my step-father. Holden asks once more, but then meets my tears with soft, sweet kisses, on my hands, on my neck, on my cheek. I desperately want his lips on mine, want the soft and careful persistence of his kiss. But he holds back. He can sense my fear. He can sense my pain. And he can sense as I stiffen at the view of my step-father in the window, and the tiny shake of his head.

I blink.

I am stuck in another moment. My step-father is stands over me once again, now with his hand on my neck, instead of my hand. His clothes have long come off, and I see the drunken fury in his eyes, a rage, insatiable by time. I can feel his rough hand on my throat, stopping the breath from escaping my lungs, keeping down the call for help that will call someone, anyone to my aide. But my real father is long gone. My mother does not care. Holden is nowhere to be found. I am alone. He pushes me back, and as I land on the bed, I feel the soft cushion of fresh sheets upon my bare back.

I blink.

Holden is holding me once again. He strokes my back in a soothing way, a million miles different from my step-father’s rough grasp. I gasp, suddenly short of breath, and scramble inside to clean up the tears, as well as the blood seeping onto my palms through the cuts my fingernails have left.

Escape From Death Row by Academy Monthly

The dirty walls of his cell were beginning to decay, but Harrison knew there was more work to be done. He picked up his plastic spoon and every night, for the past week, he pried away at the two feet thick concrete wall. He was only half way through and knew he needed to pick up the pace.  

Forty-eight square feet of solid concrete had been Harrison’s home for the past twenty-five years, eight months, and sixteen days. He slept on the bottom bunk and he had been roomateless for the past five years. His cell contained a small metal toilet, a tiny sink, an oval mirror with several breaks, and a long rectangular shelf. The shelf contained only one book, To Kill A Mockingbird. Its cover was ripped off and the pages were all bent. Harrison had read the book countless amounts of times and could recall every detail of the novel. 

It was around eleven ‘o'clock when Harrison continued to pry away at the wall in the far-left corner of his cell. It was blocked by his bunk bed, so the passing guards could not see the crevasse. On the ground, next to him, was a poster of Tom Robinson from To Kill A Mockingbird, which he used to cover his progress in case of suspicion. 

Hearing the clacker of shoes down the corridor, Harrison placed the poster onto the wall, hopped onto his firm mattress, and pulled his stained sheets over himself. Overcome with exhaustion, Harrison fell quickly into a dreamless sleep. 

Yawning, Harrison glanced at his clock, realizing that it was three o’clock in the morning and that the tunnel would not magically dig itself. If he ever wanted to escape, he would need to start digging and fast. His execution was scheduled to take place in three days. After numerous appeals, death seemed inescapable. He had been convicted of murdering his wife and their three children twenty-five years ago. 

Harrison tried to remove his covers and get out of bed, but something was preventing him from doing so. He could not move his head very well and could not feel his body, thinking he could be paralyzed. Suddenly, he flew out of bed and slammed right into the crusty mirror. After picking himself up he saw gray fur on top of his head and white fur on his belly. He was small with a tiny beak, two wings, and a tail. He could recognize this bird anywhere, knowing it was a mockingbird. 

Surprisingly, Harrison took only a moment to adjust to his new form. Without thinking, he flew in between the solid metal bars and into the long corridor of cells. He saw a tall, slender man and tried to hide himself with no luck, but realized it was not necessary. Harrison followed the man down the hallway, into another, and into the courtyard of the prison.

As he flew outside, he was almost taken down by a strong gust of wind. But he found the cool night air refreshing, especially because there were no bars holding him inside. He flew in circles for what seemed like hours upon end until the yellow-orange glow of the morning sun peeked out behind the immense forest. 

He flew for miles until he could no longer see the prison, but rather an endless path of green in front of him. He was lost with nowhere to go, no family to shelter him, and no recollection of where he was. Eventually he landed on a small amber branch to rest for a while. 

He woke up to the sound of a gunshot, almost knocking himself out of the tree. He looked down to see a small boy next to what seemed to be his father wearing the same exact outfit: a flannel shirt, jeans, and hunting boots. They each carried a rifle and next to them, Harrison spotted a deer. Its skin was tinted red and a puddle of blood surrounded it. The father bent down and pointed to the boy at a gray-brown squirrel in the distance. The boy laid down without making a sound, fired his shot, and retrieved his catch. 

 Before Harrison had time to process anything the boy was pointing his gun at him. He took one well aimed shot and Harrison fell twenty feet onto the rock-solid forest floor. 

...

“It was almost three months ago that convicted murderer Harrison Miller mysteriously disappeared from Stanton County Prison. He was on death row and set to be executed three days after his departure. After investigations into this baffling case, it was discovered that Miller was in fact innocent, which led police to apprehend the correct suspect. Miller is thought to have died in the expansive forest surrounding the prison. Anthony Waters, Channel Ten News.”

Lusting After Love by Academy Monthly

I look around for my girls and there they are. Queenie seems to saunter away with Plaid and Big Goon lumbering behind her, nowhere as graceful as the milky white swan in the center. Ignoring the young married lady screaming with her children about “candy they should’ve received but didn’t” near the powder-blue Falcon station wagon door, I feel my feet speeding up, heading towards the beauty and the beasts. Queenie’s bare feet slap on the hot pavement with a consistent thwap-thwap-thwap that gives me a rush of adrenaline like no other.

“God, what a hassle for a bag of herring snacks!” I yell impulsively. Almost instantaneously, Plaid swings around, her tan soft-looking bosom glistening with perspiration from the hot sun. She squints for a second, inspecting my ironed-white shirt and sweaty complexion with a kind of disgust, resulting in an incredulous, “And who are you?” Startled by her blunt deep voice, I stammer before replying with a quick murmur, “Sammy”. Suddenly, Big Goon halts her step, her frizzy black hair blowing in front of that unusual chubby facade, examining who would even dare to talk to her group. At last, Queenie glances back, her oaky bleached bun bouncing as she swivels around slowly on those prima-donna legs that make me feel oh so faint. She smirks as she sees me savoring this moment, the arrogance reaching her eyes and the tautness remaining in her neck. Once again, her voice startles me. It wasn’t as flat as before, but just as dumb and tony with a curt, “Oh, you were that cashier.” This time, I slid right down her voice into her actual living room. Her father wearing that same boring old navy suit with that bow tie from his birthday ten years ago, chatting with his colleagues about “how much the stocks have changed”. Her mother in a stiff plain dress, surrounded by “her best friends”, although she actually despises all of them (but is required to like them because of connections). The ornate glass plate of herring snacks remains untouched because the ladies are watching their figures for the upcoming wedding season and can’t have all that extra sodium. Their glasses are quickly drained and refilled with vodka mint spritzers, the conversations growing rowdy as faces flush and all is forgotten for a second.

Suddenly my parents’ lemonade and Schlitz in tall glasses with cartoons stenciled on them don’t seem that shabby anymore.

Lengel’s words ring in my ears as I ramble, “Well you see it’s a Thursday afternoon, which was my favorite shift, but my job was annoying because of my boss, so I quit. Now I can’t really remember why.” They stand in a huddle, surprised by my sudden outburst. Queenie begins giggling, a delicate yet rough snort that brings the joy back into my heart; her shoulders bounce as the sunlight hits her like a goddess in the limelight. My throat dries up and my heart races with excitement. Plaid and Big Goon are no longer relevant. All I see is her. Her pure shoulders, her blank canvas of a chest, just her.

Plaid and Big Goon reply with unheard phrases as their words blend into the background. Queenie pauses for a moment and erupts with laughter, the wind blowing her bleached hair back, bringing her ivory face into a look of peaceful serenity. My love shouts with a quick, “Why’d you quit again?”, her pearly whites shining in the sunlight. My mind races and words come flowing out, “Well, because of you. Nobody deserves to be treated badly, especially when you look like that.” Queenie’s smile quickly diminishes and is replaced with a grimace as her cherry-red lips turn down, “Oh.”

Struggling to understand the sudden change in mood, I wonder what she’s thinking. Is it along the lines of “oh wow, what a grand romantic gesture” or more like “oh wow, this stranger just followed me”. Implied by her dainty subtle shuffle away from me, I’m guessing it’s the latter. “I’m not trying to be creepy or anything, but it just wasn’t alright,” I stammer, trying to convey the clarity that she so desperately needs to understand. Big Goon juts in with a purposeful, “We aren’t those types of girls. Sorry, try again next time.” Her eyes glint with smug satisfaction as she sees my expression fall (to be fair, it’s probably her first time rejecting someone), and I am reminded yet again that I never quite know how girls’ minds work.

Queenie no longer acknowledges my presence as she slides the straps of her beige bathing suit back onto those perfect pure shoulders and begins walking away abruptly. The rest of the encounter is brief and my girls speed away briskly. So much for following through with the grand romantic gesture. Queenie’s mile-long milky legs saunter away from me in slow motion as though she knows I can’t bear to glance away. And she’s right, I can’t. Like I’m frozen in time, I watch my efforts vanish and the sting of rejection arrive. The sun burns my eyes as Lengel’s words ring in my ears; yet the backs of Queenie’s gorgeous legs never seem to hesitate, moving hastily along with purpose. Her bare feet slap on the steamy dark pavement with a steady thwap-thwap-thwap, bringing with it a sense of wistfulness that now overcomes me.

Something tells me those shoulders weren’t worth it.

Movie Night by Academy Monthly

This is a short story written from the perspective of a minor character, Max, in The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz.  Though Max only makes a brief appearance in the novel, he represents the potential for love and hope for a main character, Lola.  I attempted to convey the possibilities and dreams he carries through this first-person account.

When Lola called it quits, I felt like a bullet had travelled between my ribs, like there was a gaping hole in my chest.  But she’s one of the best things that has ever happened to me. I’ve been dreaming of her and Nueba Yol every night since she’s left.  The months we spent together keep playing on repeat, spooling out in my mind like some sad film reel. Usually I can kick some of the memories, find some peace, but there’s this one day that keeps coming back to me.

I remember that I picked her up a couple of streets down from where her school is, the one full of los ricos.  She never said anything, but I’m sure that the girls at her school would have given her shit if they saw her with someone like me, so I kept my distance.  Lola walked up with a serious face, her forehead a knot of worry lines, but she cracked a smile when she saw the reels under my arm. She settled onto the motorcycle behind me.  I felt the warmth of her breath against my neck.

You’re delivering?

Two reels.  Come with me?

She wrapped her arms around me and squeezed.  

We wove through the traffic, dust flying up from the road.  Lola liked my job; she enjoyed the thrill of zigzagging between bumpers, the high of defying the sluggish lines of traffic.  There were a couple close calls-- some idiota with a beer bottle almost rammed his car right into us-- but each time, Lola just laughed, a deep, rich sound.  I could feel the way her laughter made her chest vibrate, could feel the curve of her body against my back. The drive to the theater felt too short. I wish I could have held onto that feeling longer, of our bodies snug against one another, of us being one.

We walked inside and I handed one of the reels to the girl at the counter.  For the four o’ clock showing, I told her. I held up the second reel. Señor said I could have one screening room.

The girl shrugged and went off with the first reel.  Lola took my hand and we walked down the poorly lit main hallway.

You got us a room?

I nodded.  The viejo who runs this place likes me.  I always bring him his reels on time.

Which movie?

That’s a surprise.

We entered the theater, and Lola settled into one of the seats in the far back while I gave the reel to the kid handling the projector.  I sank into the seat beside Lola and stared at the blank screen as the lights dimmed and the room was cast in shadows. I didn’t realize that I was holding my breath until the movie flickered to life and ran through the title scene.  Lola grabbed my arm and looked at me with shining eyes.

The Incredible Journey.  You remembered it was one of my favorites!  Her eyes were still wide with disbelief. Where did you find this?

One of my tia’s friends has a husband in the film industry.

Lola leaned over and planted a kiss on my cheek.  The warmth of her lips lingered on my skin for a few minutes afterwards.

The movie was some children’s story, something about a group of animals that escaped or fled back home.  I lost interest in it. I spent most of the time watching her. In the gauzy light of the projector, she was transformed.  Her features shifted like clouds on her midnight skin; at parts, she looked thoughtful, her brow wrinkled, but then her lips would quirk up in a strange, half-smile, as if she was laughing at some joke that only she knew about.  She was luminous, emitting light and life.

I leaned over and whispered, Tu eres guapa.

She rested her head against my shoulder.  I felt it again-- the thing I felt rising when we were together on the motorcycle-- that feeling of wholeness, of warmth.  I didn’t think too much about it, just enjoyed being with Lola, until the movie ended. The lights sputtered back on and we stood.  The space between us grew. But the whole way out of the theater, Lola was smiling.

Did you like it?

She kissed me in a way that made my heart pound.  It was wonderful. Thank you.

We decided to walk along the Malecón as the sun set.  I listened to Lola talk about Oscar over the sounds of the waves and the rustling palms-- she missed him like crazy, worried about him all the time.  She even began to talk about her mom. I miss her, she said, in spite of her insanity.

As dusk fell, I told her about my plans to move to the US, about how I was going to make it big, earn enough money to buy cars and build my own house from the ground up.  Lola’s eyes were fixed on the ocean as she began to stretch her legs.

I don’t care about all that, Max, she said gently.  It’s really not so bad here.

I didn’t understand how she could say the DR wasn’t so bad after she had lived in America, but I stayed quiet about it.  We talked for a few more minutes, and then it got dark. Lola wasn’t supposed to be out too late, so we walked back to my motorcycle and began to drive home.  Lola was quiet during the ride. The night breeze whipped strands of her wild hair into my face.

Her abuela was standing in the doorway when we got home.  Lola thanked me again, hopped off the bike, and began to sprint-- fly, really-- toward her abuela.  I watched her, a shadow lined in moonlight, as the distance between us multiplied. It was then that I understood the feeling that had been mounting all day, defined it with absolute certainty.  The day, the moment when I realized that I loved Lola loops infinitely in my dreams; each night, I call out to her as she runs farther away, as she disappears.

Lunch by Academy Monthly

“Ok, we can do this Harmony. I can do this.” The girl in the mirror chanted this to herself repeatedly, as she pushed the frays of her hair down, and pulled her shirt outwards, as it fit a little too snug. The bell rang, signaling lunch had started. Harmony gave the mirror one last glance, and flashed a quick smile, her dark black hair gleaming in the light. She tried to push open the door, but it seemed to be wedged in the doorway. She pushed again, but the door wouldn’t budge. She groaned, frustrated, and gave another shove before the door inched open, and she headed towards the noises of the cafeteria.

After having shoved her way through the crowds of people that gave her discouraging looks and practically ignored her presence, she snatched up some food, and stared at the sea of people in front of her unsure where to sit. She looked down at her meal, a cup of golden corn with a single black bean on top, most likely having fallen in from some other dish. As she walked along, the bean bobbed around like her head as she tried to find a place to sit. Finally, her eyes stopped on a group of girls with golden hair. The light shined down on them in the same manner that light shined down on dolls in the toy store. Their matching smiles, caught her eye and she walked over. As she approached, one of the golden heads raised up and glanced over her, her eyes darting from Harmony’s tan skin to her black hair. Immediately, she gave a distasteful glance, but Harmony ignored it, and placed her tray down in the middle of the table.

“Hi, is anybody sitting here? I’m Harmony, by the way.” Harmony cracked a smile but got no smiles back in return. The girl who had given her a distasteful glance however, killed the butterflies in her stomach as she let loose a hearty hello.

“Hi Harmony, I’m Casse. I’d love to welcome you here, but, you see, this spot is already taken by someone else, so,” Casse threw another quick glance at Harmony, aiming her eyes at Harmony’s stomach. “Also, I don’t think we’d be able to squeeze you in here Harmony, sorry,” and tossed a light shrug, cueing the other girls to snicker.

Harmony felt a familiar lump forming in her throat, but forced out an “Oh, ok” before turning away. She took a deep breath and gathered her courage, and turned back again and asked, “Really? Who’s sitting here?”

Casse’s sly face turned to distaste before she plastered a crinkly smile on her face and nonchalantly let out, “Oh, somebody you probably don’t know. Besides, don’t you have anywhere else to sit?” Sneering, she said, “Like, somewhere with all of the other people like you or something??”

Harmony felt tears coming as she ran towards the doors. They seemed to be stuck shut. She kicked the doors open and marched straight for the bathrooms. The door slammed behind her. She held the cup of corn in her hand still, but the bean was gone. Harmony dropped the cup of corn, smashing it underneath her feet. Suddenly, a warm tear slid down her face. It quickly fell towards her feet, but she caught the tear in her hand before it sank into the golden mush.

“BRRRRRRRRRIINNGGG!!!” And just like that, lunch was over.

The Plan by Academy Monthly

The year was 2081, and everybody was finally equal under the rule of Diana Moon Glampers, the handicapper general.

George and Hazel were watching television. Hazel had a perfectly average intelligence; however, George’s intelligence was above average so he had to wear a handicap radio in his ear at all times. Thanks to the work of the handicapper general, they, along with everyone else, were perfectly equal.

The ballerinas on their screen were burdened with sashweights and bags of birdshot and their faces were masked so that no one seeing a free and graceful gesture or a pretty face, would feel bad about themselves. They were no better than everyone else and they were perfectly equal.

A ballerina stepped in to read an announcement and immediately had to apologize for her luminous voice, which was clearly above average. She continued her announcement in a grackle squawk announcing, “Harrison Bergeron, age fourteen, has just escaped from jail where he was held on suspicion of plotting to overthrow the government. He is a genius and an athlete, is under-handicapped, and should be regarded as extremely dangerous. If you see this boy do not try to reason with him.”

Just then there was the shriek of a door being torn from its hinges replaced by Harrison Bergeron proclaiming, “I am the Emperor! Everybody must do what I say at once! I am a greater ruler than any man who ever lived! Now watch me become what I can become!” The crowd watched on as Harrison tore off his handicaps. Underneath lay a man that would have awed Thor, god of thunder.

“Now I shall select my Empress!” he declared, looking down over his new subjects. A ballerina arose and glided towards Harrison who stripped off her handicaps revealing a blindingly beautiful Empress. The Emperor and Empress sprang into the air and remained suspended in air where they kissed each other. Harrison, having abnormal intelligence, anticipated that someone was on their way to attempt to defeat him and floated back to the ground with his Empress by his side. There they stood, ready when Diana Moon Glampers entered the studio, intending to kill Harrison and his hopes of a revolt. Harrison, predicting this, launched himself at her and, after a brief, fruitless resistance from Diana Moon Glampers, he came out on top, Emperor of the United States.

He faced the cameras and proclaimed, “I, Harrison Bergeron, have just defeated the Handicapper General. You are now able to remove your handicaps that have limited you your whole lives.” A collective sigh of content could almost be heard as the citizens of the United States released the burdens that had been weighing them down both mentally and physically.

* * *

In their home, George turned to Hazel, expecting her to be rejoicing with him; instead she was silent, wearing a grim expression.  

“Aren’t you happy, we’re free!” George asked.

“I was always happy, I was content with our sameness...” Hazel trailed off as she lost track of what she was saying. A video appeared on their screen of Harrison standing in the center of the studio, cloaked in deep purple, with his wife beside him draped in billowing white cloth. He began by outlining his rule in a strong voice saying, “Welcome. First of all, everyone who did not have a handicap, please report to the old handicap offices to be fitted for boosters, a new product that helps ordinarily average people better assimilate into our new society. Second, I encourage everyone to join me at my new offices to receive your new placement in this society. You will work alongside others in your trade that have been assigned based on their abilities. You will finally be able to live up to your greatest potential and realize, as I have, that handicaps don’t make for the perfect world. Instead, the perfect world is one where people are completing their roles for the betterment of this society and one of happiness through fulfillment and order. If you abide by my rules, this state will flourish. If not, it will disintegrate back into the dark ages.”

Within a short period of time all were assigned to their proper roles in the machine of society and they were beginning to become accustomed to and content with their new life. Harrison himself, having moved into his new office and role of emperor, was enjoying his newfound power. But, his desire for power and the sense of accomplishment that comes with it was far from over. He began to spend his time locked in his study, dreaming up ways he could gain more power and spread his ideas throughout his kingdom. When he finally emerged, he had compiled his ideas into a little book called The Plan and he demanded that people buy many copies of it so that they must cherish his brilliant ideas for the betterment of society. Some people, now able to think without interruption, began to see the flaws in Harrison’s seemingly perfect society, and argued that it was just like the handicap ages. They couldn’t truly be free because they were all assigned to their jobs and told what to think. Harrison, realizing that his people were beginning to turn on him, went back into his study. This time, when he emerged, he cradled his newest, greatest invention that would bring order to his society once and for all: a memory-erasing pill that would erase everyone's memory of the past ages and fill people’s memories with only basic concepts such as their name, and how to function as a human being. Harrison ordered everyone in his kingdom to take the pill and, after he made sure everyone had done so, he and his Empress took the pill together.

When they woke up, Harrison and his Empress noticed a note on their table stating that they were the rulers of the United States. They gazed over their kingdom, thinking about how they would govern their people. Suddenly, Harrison had an idea: what if there was a way he could ensure that no one was better than anyone else in any way and that they were all perfectly equal.

A&P: Reimagined by Academy Monthly

       I look around for my girls and there they are. Queenie seems to saunter away with Plaid and Big Goon lumbering behind her, nowhere as graceful as the milky white swan in the center. Ignoring the young married lady screaming with her children about “candy they should’ve received but didn’t” near the powder-blue Falcon station wagon door, I feel my feet speeding up, heading towards the beauty and the beasts. Queenie’s bare feet slap on the hot pavement with a consistent thwap-thwap-thwap that gives me a rush of adrenaline like no other.

       “God, what a hassle for a bag of herring snacks!” I yell impulsively. Almost instantaneously, Plaid swings around, her tan soft-looking bosom glistening with perspiration from the hot sun. She squints for a second, inspecting my ironed-white shirt and sweaty complexion with a kind of disgust, resulting in an incredulous, “And who are you?” Startled by her blunt deep voice, I stammer before replying with a quick murmur, “Sammy”. Suddenly, Big Goon halts her step, her frizzy black hair blowing in front of that unusual chubby facade, examining who would even dare to talk to her group. At last, Queenie glances back, her oaky bleached bun bouncing as she swivels around slowly on those prima-donna legs that make me feel oh so faint. She smirks as she sees me savoring this moment, the arrogance reaching her eyes and the tautness remaining in her neck. Once again, her voice startles me. It wasn’t as flat as before, but just as dumb and tony with a curt, “Oh, you were that cashier.” This time, I slid right down her voice into her actual living room. Her father wearing that same boring old navy suit with that bow tie from his birthday ten years ago, chatting with his colleagues about “how much the stocks have changed”. Her mother in a stiff plain dress, surrounded by “her best friends”, although she actually despises all of them (but is required to like them because of connections). The ornate glass plate of herring snacks remains untouched because the ladies are watching their figures for the upcoming wedding season and can’t have all that extra sodium. Their glasses are quickly drained and refilled with vodka mint spritzers, the conversations growing rowdy as faces flush and all is forgotten for a second.

       Suddenly my parents’ lemonade and Schlitz in tall glasses with cartoons stenciled on them don’t seem that shabby anymore.

       Lengel’s words ring in my ears as I ramble, “Well you see it’s a Thursday afternoon, which was my favorite shift, but my job was annoying because of my boss, so I quit. Now I can’t really remember why.” They stand in a huddle, surprised by my sudden outburst. Queenie begins giggling, a delicate yet rough snort that brings the joy back into my heart; her shoulders bounce as the sunlight hits her like a goddess in the limelight. My throat dries up and my heart races with excitement. Plaid and Big Goon are no longer relevant. All I see is her. Her pure shoulders, her blank canvas of a chest, just her.

       Plaid and Big Goon reply with unheard phrases as their words blend into the background. Queenie pauses for a moment and erupts with laughter, the wind blowing her bleached hair back, bringing her ivory face into a look of peaceful serenity. My love shouts with a quick, “Why’d you quit again?”, her pearly whites shining in the sunlight. My mind races and words come flowing out, “Well, because of you. Nobody deserves to be treated badly, especially when youook like that.” Queenie’s smile quickly diminishes and is replaced with a grimace as her cherry-red lips turn down, “Oh.”

       Struggling to understand the sudden change in mood, I wonder what she’s thinking. Is it along the lines of “oh wow, what a grand romantic gesture” or more like “oh wow, this stranger just followed me”. Implied by her dainty subtle shuffle away from me, I’m guessing it’s the latter. “I’m not trying to be creepy or anything, but it just wasn’t alright,” I stammer, trying to convey the clarity that she so desperately needs to understand. Big Goon juts in with a purposeful, “We aren’t those types of girls. Sorry, try again next time.” Her eyes glint with smug satisfaction as she sees my expression fall (to be fair, it’s probably her first time rejecting someone), and I am reminded yet again that I never quite know how girls’ minds work.

      Queenie no longer acknowledges my presence as she slides the straps of her beige bathing suit back onto those perfect pure shoulders and begins walking away abruptly. The rest of the encounter is brief and my girls speed away briskly. So much for following through with the grand romantic gesture. Queenie’s mile-long milky legs saunter away from me in slow motion as though she knows I can’t bear to glance away. And she’s right, I can’t. Like I’m frozen in time, I watch my efforts vanish and the sting of rejection arrive. The sun burns my eyes as Lengel’s words ring in my ears; yet the backs of Queenie’s gorgeous legs never seem to hesitate, moving hastily along with purpose. Her bare feet slap on the steamy dark pavement with a steady thwap-thwap-thwap , bringing with it a sense of wistfulness that now overcomes me.

       Something tells me those shoulders weren’t worth it. 

A Good Man is Hard to Trust by Academy Monthly

       The old fragile woman reached out in the efforts to grab his hands. Their eyes met, mirroring their individual fears back to each other.

       The Misfit placed his glasses back on the bridge of his nose and shouted, “No, what are you talking about?” The grandmother anxiously replied “I already told you, you're one of my own children!” He took another step back as his thoughts began to pile up in his head, like a dropped grenade in abandoned rubble, ready to explode.

       His mind flashed back to the empty cement cage where he had spent his days. He counted the marks on the walls, wondering if they had once held people’s hands as they attempted to claw their way out. The darkness surrounded him when he finally closed his eyes at night. The night had almost swallowed him whole, but the shrieking noises leaking from the other cages, never allowed him to fully find peace. He continuously battled back and forth with the other animal’s cries for help. Waking up to the relentless banging on the metal bars.

       “Look who’s twisted family sent the even more twisted a letter. Will you let me know what Mommy said to his little boy?” echoed from the officer's mouth as he dropped a letter at The Misfit’s feet.

       Viciously ripping the envelope open like a child on Christmas morning, The Misfit discovered a sheet of lined paper. His hands ran over the lines, curiously trying to distinguish the drops over the words that blurred the pen, until he quickly recognized the stains of tears that he was all too comfortable with.

       The letter began with “I know you will not know who I am, or why I am trying to help you. You might even question my true intentions, but I hope you can trust me, like you trust yourself. You know, me and you, we’re not that different. We both feel lost and unaccepted, but the difference is that I’m writing this waiting for my chicken to cook for dinner, while you on the other hand probably have a shift in the penitentiary kitchen later tonight. You are stuck somewhere you do not belong, and I want to get you out.”

       While stumbling through the pages of the letter, a map fell out containing the old blueprints of the state penitentiary with the words “Come to this. Tomorrow at 2:26 , during yard time. You will crawl in the pipes until you see two men waiting for you where the pipes open to up the river -Insider” branded over the layout of the sewage tanks. He ran his finger over the two words “The Insider” which first seemed meaningless, but somehow they provided the perfect amount of trust and comfort allowing The Misfit to trust The Insider.

       As the folded, lined and stained sheet of paper pressed against his chest in his front pocket ruffled in the wind, the grandmother quaked back and forth on her knees, in front of him continuing to beg. The words “Please. Please. You know, me and you, we’re not that different,” jumped out of her mouth, seemed to stand still. The grandmother's eyes shifted down to follow her heart as it dropped what seemed like stories underground.

       “It’s you. Isn’t it. It’s you. You’re the Insider!” yelled The Misfit.

       Her eyes couldn’t shield the truth anymore, they couldn’t protect her any longer. She stood up and reached her hand out to The Misfit. He raised his gun to meet her eyes, but his fingers slipped off the trigger when a cat,  hidden in the dark of night, pounced at his legs. Falling to the ground in agony, The Misfit watched as the grandmother’s family walked out of the woods, one after another. It then became apparent to The Misfit that Hiram and Bobby Lee were behind the grandmother the whole time. Wrapped around her finger, the two boys smirked in the back. The cat jumped into his caretaker's arms, as the grandmother ran her appreciative fingers calmly through his fur.

       “Why are you doing this to me? Why break me out of jail, to only turn against me?” Hiram and Bobby Lee then handed the grandmother the gun.

       “Don’t you see, sweetie? You killed your father! You think you're so innocent and undeserving of your pain. My son rots in his grave now because of you. Can’t you see ?I’m your grandmother, and I don't feel your sorrow, your emptiness, I only feel betrayed, and now you will too.”

       The grandmother's words danced in the air. They twirled off her tongue, cartwheeled around each of the children, to only fall, break, and crumble on top of The Misfits skull. The news hit him hard, as he began to weep.

       “When my dad laid on the kitchen floor with the nine stab wounds I had just inflicted, scattered throughout his body, he told me he was sorry for neglecting and making me feel unwanted. He knew all along I was a misfit, and his death enabled me to become something no one could ignore. I’m your grandson, you can’t do this to me. Forgive me for my sins. Please, I will spend all my hours longing to atone, just give me another chance.”

       The grandmother smiled as she raised her hand, and released the trigger. The bullet burst into his damaged skull. The darkness finally suffocated The Misfit, strangling his pain, and releasing his sorrow.

       “He was a talker, wasn't he?” Bobby Lee said walking over the dead corpse. “He would of been a good man," The Insider said, "if there had been somebody there to shoot him every minute of his life."

Lunch by Academy Monthly

       “Ok, we can do this Harmony. I can do this.” The girl in the mirror chanted this to herself repeatedly, as she pushed the frays of her hair down, and pulled her shirt outwards, as it fit a little too snug. The bell rang, signaling lunch had started. Harmony gave the mirror one last glance, and flashed a quick smile, her dark black hair gleaming in the light. She tried to push open the door, but it seemed to be wedged in the doorway. She pushed again, but the door wouldn’t budge. She groaned, frustrated, and gave another shove before the door inched open, and she headed towards the noises of the cafeteria.  

       After having shoved her way through the crowds of people that gave her discouraging looks and practically ignored her presence, she snatched up some food, and stared at the sea of people in front of her unsure where to sit. She looked down at her meal, a cup of golden corn with a single black bean on top, most likely having fallen in from some other dish. As she walked along, the bean bobbed around like her head as she tried to find a place to sit. Finally, her eyes stopped on a group of girls with golden hair. The light shined down on them in the same manner that light shined down on dolls in the toy store. Their matching smiles, caught her eye and she walked over. As she approached, one of the golden heads raised up and glanced over her, her eyes darting from Harmony’s tan skin to her black hair. Immediately, she gave a distasteful glance, but Harmony ignored it, and placed her tray down in the middle of the table. 

       “Hi, is anybody sitting here? I’m Harmony, by the way.” Harmony cracked a smile but got no smiles back in return. The girl who had given her a distasteful glance however, killed the butterflies in her stomach as she let loose a hearty hello.  

       “Hi Harmony, I’m Casse. I’d love to welcome you here, but, you see, this spot is already taken by someone else, so,” Casse threw another quick glance at Harmony, aiming her eyes at Harmony’s stomach. “Also, I don’t think we’d be able to squeeze you in here Harmony, sorry,” and tossed a light shrug, cueing the other girls to snicker.  

       Harmony felt a familiar lump forming in her throat, but forced out an “Oh, ok” before turning away. She took a deep breath and gathered her courage, and turned back again and asked, “Really? Who’s sitting here?”  

       Casse’s sly face turned to distaste before she plastered a crinkly smile on her face and nonchalantly let out, “Oh, somebody you probably don’t know. Besides, don’t you have anywhere else to sit?” Sneering, she said, “Like, somewhere with all of the other people like you or something??”  

       Harmony felt tears coming as she ran towards the doors. They seemed to be stuck shut. She kicked the doors open and marched straight for the bathrooms. The door slammed behind her. She held the cup of corn in her hand still, but the bean was gone. Harmony dropped the cup of corn, smashing it underneath her feet. Suddenly, a warm tear slid down her face. It quickly fell towards her feet, but she caught the tear in her hand before it sank into the golden mush.  

       “BRRRRRRRRRIINNGGG!!!” And just like that, lunch was over. 

 

CHEAP PIT BULL PUPPIES by Academy Monthly

       “CHEAP PIT BULL PUPPIES.” The sign was an omen. “This will teach those meddlesome teenagers” Jerome thought to himself, “It has to be a really fierce dog to make to really intimidate them”. Nothing made a dent on their presence in front of his business. Jerome was pretty sure that these kids were stealing hubcaps, tires, and car parts. All the things that he could sell for a decent profit. He had seen the kids scare off a few customers and he knew he needed to put an end to it.  

       Hercules, the biggest of all the puppies, stood out to Jerome right away. He watched for a few minutes to make sure he was big AND fierce. When Jerome asked about the big one, the shabby housewife replied, “Oh that one, he never stops. Constantly all over the others. He’s one tough cookie.” 

       Tough. That’s all Jerome needed to know. Hercules was coming home with him. Jerome imagined Hercules dominating the neighborhood. Nobody would dismiss him with the beast at his side. By the time Jerome pulled up in front of the Junkyard the puppy beside him, his future fierce guard dog, had morphed into a legendary attack dog. Jerome even began to worry that he better get a chain to keep him since a normal leash wouldn’t be strong enough. He had considered an obedience class at the recreation center, but Jerome now felt sure that this dog’s natural instincts would be all that was needed to protect The Junk Castle.   

       The ride home had Jerome so worked up about the dog’s ferociousness that he was a little nervous when he reached into the back of his truck to scoop up the little demon.  But as he lifted the dog into his arms Hercules lept up to lick his face. Inside the dog immediately made camp on Jerome’s favorite chair, flipping on his back seeming to beg for a belly rub.  

       Jerome had a pang of doubt which quickly subsided when the mailman approached and Hercules let out a roar that seemed impossibly loud for such a small creature. Jerome quickly chained the animal up to the dilapidated telephone pole which Jerome was not sure would be able to contain the beast’s power. 

       Hercules grew quickly and was already 110 lbs at six months of age. He was caramel colored fur and muscle. The kids had slowed down since the arrival of Hercules but eventually they started to test the waters. Jerome was ready to test the ferocity of his loyal companion. The day Jerome was waiting for came one afternoon when the hoodlums darted inside his fence line. Hercules barked as always but no effect this time. One kid was still poking around. Jerome opened the screen door and out darted Hercules. This was the moment of revenge Jerome had been imagining. Finally, they would get their due. 

       The dog sprinted toward the unsuspecting teenager. However, to Jerome’s horror Hercules stopped short, dropped to the ground, and rolled on his back inviting a belly rub. The kid stood in shock frozen. Hercules stood up and trotted over to his favorite chew toy and dropped it at the boy’s feet. The kid threw the toy, grabbed a bundle of copper wire, and booked it for the exit. 

      Shock and disgust eclipsed Jerome’s gleeful aura. Jerome went inside defeated.  Hercules trotted in behind him carrying the disgraceful toy in his mouth. When it dropped on the floor at Jerome’s feet Jerome knew this relationship was over. Within an hour Jerome had crafted a sign.  

      “CHEAP PIT BULL PUPPY.” 

 

 

Boy by Academy Monthly

       Paint the fence on Saturday and let it dry on Sunday; paint it again on Monday and then again on Wednesday; go to the fields with the other men to work; wear your working pants; cover your head to not get burnt; you are a man, a strong man, help the others; help your Father carry the cane back from the fields; help the men load the cane into the mill; help them carry the baskets and the carts back to the farm; help your sister carry the okra back from the tree; this is how you stand like a man; this is how you dress like a man; this is how you talk like a man; this is how you be the man I have made you, not the boy you want to be; ask your father how to grind the cane; ask your father how to wash it, how to store it, how to take count of the harvest; is it true that you are learning how to sew?; make sure you give your day clothes to your sister to wash; give your sister your farm clothes and your town clothes separate, they mustn't mix; make sure you give her your church clothes separate; they need to stay clean from the rest;  

       what is this dress I’ve found, did you make it?; you can not make dresses for you to wear; you can not sew clothes on your own; your sister can sew for you if you want, and not dresses; you will work the field and play with the other boys, not sew; you will play ball and roughhouse and throw stones with the other boys; you will wear pants and shirts and dress as the man I have made you, not the boy you want to be; I don’t want to play outside and fight and throw stones; help your sister carry the baskets of laundry, they are heavy; when you go to Sunday school, stay there, don’t run off with the other boys; say your pleases and your thank you’s to your father, he deserves it; do what your father says, or you will be punished; if your father asks you to carry something, don’t question him; if your father sends you to fetch something, don’t question him; if your father asks you to tell him something, don’t question him; this is how to bully a girl; this is how to let a girl bully you; this is how to please a girl; this is how a girl will please you; this is how you keep a girl by you; this is how you let a girl keep you; this is how you command a girl; this is how a girl will command you; do not let me see you kill a bird with all the stones you throw; do not let me see you hit a girl when she’s done nothing wrong; if you see a woman carrying a big load when you are down by the market, you go carry it for her; if you see an elder walking down the street with his cane, you go support him while he walks; if you hear somebody call for help, you go help them; do not let me see you disrespect your father, or your teachers, and much less me; do not let me see you sewing ever again; do not let me see you wearing skirts or dresses you’ve made, or I’ll cut them up; do not let me see you braid your hair, or I’ll cut it short; do not let me see you playing and dancing and singing with the girls, or I won’t let you sing or dance or play with anyone; you will go outside and play with the other boys; you will work the farm with the men; you will respect your father like he did his; you will think before you curse in front of me; you will do your work and your responsibilities like you’ve grown; you will be a man, not the boy you want to be; I don’t want to be a boy; then you are a man; I don’t want to be a man; well then. What are you? 

A Sparrow in a Twisted Cage by Academy Monthly

       By the window stood a purple vase filled with white tulips. Outside, a man was being rushed into the hospital on a stretcher by two workers; his face hardly recognizable behind the dried blood. They ran by a mother and her young son, who clutched him close to her. The tulips were wilting, losing their color, its petals shriveling and turning grey.

       Richard had left, his workplace demanding his immediate arrival. Outside the room, Mr. Mallard’s sister-in-law, Josephine, sat sleeping on a hospital chair, her chest moving up and down under the rhythm of her faint breathing. Her eyes were red and puffy, from the joy of seeing Mr. Mallard alive, as well as the shock of her sister’s sudden collapse.

       The man who died in the railroad disaster, Brently Mallardson, had his name misspelled in the list of casualties. Mr. Mallard had been far from the event. In fact, he didn’t even know it had happened. Soon, Mrs. Mallard was to have heart surgery performed on her in the next room. If she didn’t, death was likely in the coming years. However, the surgery had a success rate of only sixty percent. Her condition was stable… for now.

       The doctors said that she had suffered a heart attack, from the shock of seeing her husband alive, standing right in front of her. A day has passed since then, and in that time she had regained her consciousness. Mr. Mallard had waited thirteen hours straight as the doctors had tried to stabilize her. When she had finally awoken, Mr. Mallard had rushed from the waiting room to see her. Perhaps it was because he was so exhausted, but it seemed to him that his wife had lost something. She was still quite young, and the faint creases that lined her face had always hinted at the presence of strength. Now, those lines brought upon a sort of dull age; even her grey eyes seemed to have lost some color. Just a few seconds after he began speaking to her, she asked if she could be alone.

       The sopranino song of the sparrows rang outside the window, the same song that Mr. and Mrs. Mallard would wake up to every morning. Now, the resonating high pitch felt strenuous on his ears. He covered his head with his hands. It was a beautiful day, not a single cloud to taint the shockingly baby blue sky.

       He thought he had treated her well. At worst, they tolerated each other. Mr. Mallard wasn’t abusive. He wasn’t a drunk, he had a stable job with a stable income. He had a beautiful apartment, and brand-spanking new automobile. Around two years ago, his wife had asked him if she could get a job, just a part-time at a local shop. He denied her request, though in her best interests. He already made enough money to support both of them. What reason would she have to get a job? She belonged inside, where she was free of the worries of finance and job-hunting and god knows what else. The only thing she has to worry about is fulfilling her role by making sure Mr. Mallard has as easy a time as possible fulfilling his own. Isn’t that right? Isn’t that right? Isn’t that right?

       At this moment Mr. Mallard began wondering why he was asking himself this question over and over. He felt something begin to rise into his chest, something he couldn’t name. It was growing rapidly, so fast that it began to make his heart race. It pushed against his ribs, his collar bone, until it began to feel as though his chest would explode.

       The monstrosity began to take form. He recognized it, and in a crazed panic attempted to suppress it, to push it back to where it came. It was no use. The feeling was growing like a balloon, one filled with boiling water, burning his insides.

       The feeling was contempt. Contempt for Mrs. Mallard’s rebellious nature. Contempt for her disobedience. Contempt for her betrayal.

       As quickly as it had came, the feeling disappeared, popped like a balloon, as something flew through the window. He yelped in surprise and jumped backwards out of his seat, knocking down the window prop. It landed on a cabinet. It was a sparrow, with beautiful grey feathers that were lined with a tint of cobalt blue. They stared at each other for a couple of seconds. In its black beady eyes, he saw something that amused him. He saw defiance. Something as small and insignificant as a sparrow standing up to him? The idea was absurd.

       The sparrow flew towards the window, clearly wanting to fly away. It repeatedly hit its body against the window, rustling up its feathers. The tint of blue on its feathers seemed to call out to the blue sky; it was calling for the bird.

       He sighed, and stood up to release the sparrow. Just as he reached the window, he heard a loud clang from the other room, his wife’s room. Curious, he walked towards the room. He opened the door and saw his wife hanging from the ceiling by her neck, a fallen chair beneath her.

       The doctor had no other reason to explain her suicide other than fear of the surgery’s success rate--a fear that kills.

 

The Look by Academy Monthly

       As the sun begins to rise over the repeating brick row homes I feel as if I were a child again waiting on the front porch steps for the bright, yellow school bus.  It feels like just yesterday that my family and I were all sitting down at the dinner table.  My father had just arrived home from his fourth business trip that month.  However, his work folder, filled with his most important documents that us kids were “never allowed to touch,” I found hidden under his clothes in his closet when my mom requested for me to bring his dirty laundry downstairs.  Now that I think about it, there was a lot of dirty laundry.  But, it wasn't the folder that led me to believe my suspicions were true. When we sat down to eat, my mom was discussing how Maryanne came over today to help with gardening.  I asked my dad if he had seen the flowers she planted.  Right then, he shot me a look.  But it wasn't just a look, it was a nervous, you know too much, type of look.  It has resonated with me for 10 years.  After that memorable dinner, it only took a week for my mom to figure out that my dad had been having an affair with our neighbor and best family friend, Maryanne.   

       Thinking back on my experiences with men, I never had believed relationships were for me.  I am now 24 years old living in Chicago and have only been in one committed relationship.  However, it didn't end so well.  You know that one person who seems overly friendly, always going the extra mile for people, and talks to just about everyone? Well that's Lucas, my ex-boyfriend. I loved him more than words could say, which to me, is a dangerous thing.  

       Lucas grew up in a small town in Illinois named Carlton. Everyone in the town knew and supported each other.  It’s where his qualities are traced back to, unlike me who grew up in Chicago, and talks to nobody I haven't seen before.  If someone looks suspicious, my mother would say hood up, head down.  Anyways, Lucas had asked me if I would mind that Claire, his best friend while growing up in Carton, stayed with him for a week.  Apparently they hadn't seen each other in 5 years, which didn't come as a surprise to me because I never had heard the name Claire before then.  But now, the name will resonate with me forever. 

        Although I was super reluctant to say yes, I did.  Claire was supposed to stay at Lucas's for a week, although the visit was cut short.  When Claire arrived, Lucas introduced me to her.  I immediately took notice of her girl next-door look: blonde hair, blue eyes, and a smile that stretched across her entire face.  As I helped carried her bags up to Lucas's apartment, I couldn't stop thinking about Lucas and Claire being alone all night in his apartment.  The thought drove me insane.  We were planning to go to dinner the next night, which I felt was going to strange having another women with me at the dinner table with Lucas, even though Claire came across as extremely nice. In fact, in some ways, she reminded me of Lucus.  For most of the time spent at dinner, Lucas and Anna carried on and on about their childhood memories.  When they talked, my insecurities began to grow.  Then, Lucas looked over at me, and it felt as if it was the first time he had all night.  However, it wasn't his normal look he gives me, like he was admiring one of my characteristics. It was a look I couldn't let go of: It was the same look my father had given me ten years ago.  So, I stood up at the table and yelled, “admit it already, admit you two are having an affair.” Silence rippled throughout the restaurant as everyone turned their head towards me.  I felt vulnerable and I saw what love had done to me.  I ran out of the restaurant humiliated by what I just had done.  Shortly after, I discovered that my assumptions had been false, and I saw what my father had done to me.  I felt crazy. I had a decision to make, and I made the wrong one. I chose not to trust Lucas.  

       I still miss Lucas everyday.  Ever since the restaurant incident, I have yet to receive one call or text back from him. I constantly live with regret over my actions in the restaurant that night. Now, the sun is beginning to set under the brick row home I had lived in as a child. The wind roars as leaves swirl and dance in the air.  While staring at the house that I had spent my childhood years and accumulated so many memories in, I decide to do it.  I decide to let go in order to trust others once again.  I reach for my phone and begin to dial my father’s phone number.  Ten years have passed since I last spoke to him. He picks up and says, “Hello this is Tom Montgomery.” Hello is the word that sets me free.  

 

 

Aadhaya and the Sword by Academy Monthly

 

I wanted to name the main character “Aadhaya” because in Hindi it means “first power.” In the story, she demonstrates both physical power over the men who cross her and mental fortitude during her trying moments.

I also wanted to weave in elements of the caste system because it unfortunately still prevails in villages today; the caste system is a class hierarchy that Indian people are born into that dictated their job. At the very top were the Brahmins, or the priests. They lived in simplicity despite their high social esteem because they wanted to be close to god. The second highest were the Kshatriyas, who were warriors and lived in extravagant wealth. At the bottom were the Sudras, who were servants and farmers, and the “untouchables” who were toilet and street cleaners.

I wanted to name Aadhaya’s ultimate love interest “Bhadrayu” because it means “living a good life.” Though Bhadrayu is an untouchable (meaning that he literally cannot make physical contact with someone of a higher caste), he does not complain about his social and economic state and appreciates what little he has. I then named the Prince of Hyderabad “Sahib” because it means “master.” He exerts his power and sovereignty over his horsemen and over Aadhaya throughout the novel. He thinks that because he is a prince, everything in the world must go his way.

The story is a radical one from both a marxist and feminist point of view. Aadhaya proves both fearless and intelligent, and goes after what she wants. Though to a much lesser degree, even today’s India generally refuses to recognize the mental and physical power that a woman can possess. She does not worry about customs and social mores, as shown in her courage to speak out against the Prince and her ability to ask him to be a gharjamai (which is extremely frowned upon even today) and her love for Bhadrayu, an untouchable. Also, she doesn’t hold her tongue the way a proper young lady should; rather, she exercises her ability to advocate for her rights and undermine the gender hierarchy that she is supposed to abide by.

The tale is definitely intended for the young adult. To me, though the sexual element of the story is very brief, it aligns more closely with the original fairy tales by Perrault and Grimm, rather than their more child-friendly adaptations.

    Obviously, the sword is a phallic symbol that represents male strength. The reason why Aadhaya uses the sword in the end without training is to prove that the power that comes with fighting isn’t all that immense. Though fighting is considered a pursuit that is best left to the pros, Aadhaya proves that anyone can do it, and therefore, the Prince’s male power is quite fragile.

    Though Bhadrayu doesn’t have many speaking roles, he does prove to be the best fit for Aadhaya because they have known each other for their entire lives. Rather than falling in love with someone after knowing them a day, like in Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella, the love between Aadhaya and Bhadrayu works because they love each other for their personality and care for each other.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Payal1: golden anklets         Kurta2: a tunic        Beta3: daughter     Gharjamai4: A husband who lives with his wife’s family            Kshatrya5: Of the Kshatrya caste; a warrior or ruler                   Bhaiyya6: a term used to address unknown men; is Hindi for “brother”

 

“Coming, Father!” Princess Aadhaya of Amritsar exclaimed before lifting her petticoat to her ankles and hurrying through the corridor. As her payal1 jingled, she, too, shook with merriment, for today was her eighteenth birthday. And today, as her father had promised when she was young, she would learn to fight.

    But when she finally reached her father, she stopped dead in her tracks. Standing before the king was a broad-shouldered man decked in a silk kurta2 and golden shoes. Behind the decorated boy stood several elderly men and women. His family. Aadhaya’s father had arranged her marriage to the Prince of Hyderabad.

    Aadhaya, with a long and solemn face, took the Prince and bid goodbye to each of the forty-seven servants in her castle. The Prince, standing beside Aadhaya, scoffed with every embrace she gave. When Aadhaya finally stood before Bhadrayu, her personal cleaner, she broke down into waterfalls of tears. Bhadrayu and Aadhaya had been the closest of friends since childhood. Weeping on Bhadrayu’s shoulder, Aadhaya knew she could not leave him forever. She loved him. And, now, she would never learn that he loved her, too.

    “Father, I don’t see why I have to give up the castle. Or my friends. Or you! The palace is surely big enough for my husband and even his family. Why must I journey all the way to Hyderabad and leave you?” cried Aadhaya. The Prince’s family passed incensed glances and fervent whispers.

    “What are you saying, Beta3? You know that the Prince cannot become a gharjamai4! I raised you better than that! I am very sorry, Prince Sahib” The Prince scoffed again before taking Aadhaya by the arm and exiting the castle.

    Aadhaya cried before she boarded the carriage and sat in misery beside her new family. Halfway into the journey, the Prince looked at Aadhaya with brute anger and scolded “How could you embrace those servants of yours? How could you touch that untouchable? You called those sudras your friends? How does that make your husband look? And asking me to be a gharjamai. I ought to leave you here and find a new bride.” With every word, his voice got louder and angrier and the veins in his muscles began to bulge. A Kshatrya5, just like Aadhaya, the Prince had obviously been in battle before.

    “Fine! Find yourself a new bride. Leave me here. You might need servants and riches to survive, but I’ll make it here in the forest. Please, bhaiyya6, stop the carriage.” But as she stood tall to dismount the carriage, the Prince grabbed her and pushed her back onto the seat. They finished their journey in heated silence.

Princess Aadhaya cried every night for three years as she lived in Prince Sahib’s castle.

At galas, she was never addressed to personally. At parliament meetings, she was not to speak. All of the power and clout that she had under her father’s roof was gone. And, no one ever taught her to fight.

 

    One night, when the lights were off and her husband and family were in slumber, she tiptoed into the dining hall. Hanging on one of the walls was a giant sword with a golden and bejeweled handle. She quietly took the sword off of the wall and made her way out of the castle.

With only her sword in hand, she ventured into the woods to mark the beginning of her journey back to her home. Hopping on the backs of  the wagons of merchants, she had travelled a considerable amount. But, the Prince had set out to go after her and it was only a matter of time before he was to find her. Riding on his horse, he travelled much faster than Aadhaya did, and eventually found her asleep under a tree. Feeling vengeful, he lay down beside her and nearly began to defile her before Aadhaya woke up and pinned the sword to his neck.

“How did you wake up?” he cried.
    “Not everyone sleeps like a log. Like you.” Aadhaya smirked. “And why didn’t you bring a weapon with you?”

“I didn’t think I needed one.” the Prince replied with an oafish frown. “How was I to know that you would use my own sword against me?” As Aadhaya pushed the sword slightly further into the Prince’s neck, he let out a high-pitched squeal and begged her to release him. But once she did, he rode back to his palace to devise another plan to exact his revenge.

    Days and nights passed, and Aadhaya advanced further. Meanwhile, the Prince had called upon his army to find her. Walking near a farmer’s market, Aadhaya saw seventeen of the Prince’s horsemen stopping for food. In order to disguise herself, she cut her hair to just below her ears and stole a burlap kurta from one of the stalls in the market. She then took off, not bothering to hide from the army.

    A few nights later, Aadhaya finally stood before the city of Amritsar. With the stars of the night illuminating her way, she made her first step into the city. Immediately, Bhadrayu woke from his slumber and felt a pang in his heart. He did not know it, but his heart could sense that Aadhaya was nearby.

    The night progressed, and Aadhaya had finally entered the castle. Eager to see Bhadrayu and the king, she entered her father’s chamber, only to find him wide awake, with a dagger in his hand.
    “Who the hell are you?” bellowed the king. “And what are you doing in my castle?”

    “It’s me, father! It’s Aadhaya. I’ve run away! I’ve come back to live with you!”

    “A filthy trespasser and a liar. What do you take me for? My Aadhaya is a feast for the eyes. You’re an ugly peasant.” He glanced at the dirt on her face and her ragged clothes. “You’re dark and dirty. A common sudra. Go back to where you came from. I don’t know why you’re here, but if I catch you in this palace again, I will have my horsemen off your head.”

    With a heavy heart, Aadhaya left her father’s chamber. But, instead of leaving the castle, she went to see Bhadrayu.

    “Aadhaya!” Bhadrayu cried with joy before wrapping his arms around her in an amorous embrace.

    “You recognized me?” asked Aadhaya.

    “But, of course.” Bhadrayu replied. Aadhaya leaned in for a kiss, but Bhadrayu recoiled. “What are you doing? I’m an untouchable!”

    “Look at me. No longer am I a princess. I’m free to love you,” she answered joyfully and kissed him.

    They spent the night together and married the next day.  Living in Bhadrayu’s hut near the castle, Aadhaya finally felt safe. But Prince Sahib had not given up. His horsemen could not capture her, so he set out to do it himself, this time, with a silvery, sharpened sword at his side.

    Riding on his steed, he reached Amritsar in no time. When he came upon the hut, he saw Aadhaya and Bhadrayu. With arrogance in his every step, he marched to the couple.

    “Ha! Look at you now, Aadhaya. You left me and now have received your karma7. The only one who wants you now is an untouchable. But… come with me! I can make you beautiful again! I can shower you with gold jewelry and silk saris. You can have your old life back!

           “Yes, indeed. I have received my karma. I successfully ran away from your prison. I rescued myself. And now, I’m finally with the man I love. Keep your saris.”

    “That was not a request. It was an order. You board my carriage right now!” He waited for Aadhaya to come to his side. “No? Very well. You still have my sword don’t you? Hand it over to your little lover.” Turning over to Bhadrayu, he shouted “I challenge you to fight me for her! The winner gets to keep her!”

    Aadhaya rushed inside the hut to retrieve the golden sword. She came out and trudged toward the two men with her head facing the ground. She walked slowly and passively until she stood before the Prince. She stood for a minute, her head still down, and then snapped the sword at the Prince, commencing a duel.    

    “Aadhaya! No one ever taught you how to fight!” The Prince gasped while waving his sword in her direction.

    “Please, you imbecile. It’s just a sword. It’s not that powerful. Anyone can use it.” She laughed.

    They battled each other until sundown, when Aadhaya saw her opportunity to win the duel once and for all. “Maybe I should just go with you,” she conceded. Prince Sahib, elated by her surrender, brought down his sword. Aadhaya sliced her sword through the air and pinned him to the ground.

    “Now, get out of here! Away with you! Back to Hyderabad you go! That’s an order!” She hollered. The Prince obsequiously complied and rode away on his horse.

    Aadhaya turned back to find Bhadrayu frozen in sheer awe.

Karma7: The Hindu belief that God punishes or rewards a person for their every action.

“Aadhaya! That was incredible!” He exclaimed with wide eyes and a broad grin. Then, his face hardened. “I’m sorry that I didn’t help. I’m sorry that I only stood in place.”

    “Don’t worry. I had it taken care of,” she smiled. They embraced, and merrily strolled back into their hut, where they lived happily ever after.