Nonfiction Feature: Massacre by Callie S. Blackstone


It began on the couch he defined by his heartbreak—hauled alone one winter during an unexpected move when yet another woman dumped him. It began long before my turn at the game of dumping him, kicking him out of my own home unexpectedly. He had not learned how to treat women better as he aged; his cruelty had sharpened like a pointed stick.

Did it start there? Or did it start at a birthday sleepover, in which I was allowed to pick out the movie at Blockbuster to celebrate my arrival in this world, undesired even at that young age? When my friend selected Children of the Corn 2 and I nodded eagerly, always so ready to please, my mother took a second look. Really? She asked. I was young, second, third, fourth grade. She shrugged, laying the problematic nature of this decision at my young feet. 

While I have always been a people pleaser—someone who gave away her own gifted pajamas at her own birthday sleepover when asked, someone who let a man tell her how ugly she was only to come back begging for more—I was, before this, a spooky baby. I was born three days before Halloween under a Scorpio sun. I was born to a father who loved heavy metal and nazi zombie movies. I was always meant for darkness in all of its forms, and I grew up dreaming in vampire, in Bigfoot, in serial killer. Long before I was a people pleaser, I was a spooky pleaser. 

Growing up as a baby goth, there were certain horror franchises that I respected so much I grew to fear them without even seeing them, although very few movies actually scared me in the long run. Besides my dark scorpio nature, I believe I have always been drawn to horror because I am someone who was generated through trauma and continues to develop amidst trauma. I would test myself growing up, sitting through Children of the Corn 2 and watching Chucky alone in my basement. I could be exposed to all types of terror without breaking, without even emoting. I was resolute in my resilience and I would brag about it to others, laughing off film titles. The Ring? Please, that didn’t scare me. 

As I grew older, I consumed more and more, leaving little untouched. It got to the point that I wasn’t really lying—very few horror films scared me. 

Yet, there were those chosen few that seemed so sacred I had not touched them. Funny Games? No problem! I was even tempted to write the name of a more extreme horror film to make sure you, my reader, take me really seriously. To make sure you understand that I am not playing around. I am Big and Bad and Nothing Scares Me, so when I was abused by the father who created more horror than any movie or by any number of boyfriends, an uncontrollable army of zombies, it doesn’t really matter because I am brave and numb and nothing can touch me. I burn so clean and bright. 

But there are those films that I grew up respecting so deeply, feeding into their mythos, that I feared enough to avoid. 

I first watched The Texas Chain Saw Massacre on my abusive boyfriend’s heartbreak couch. That’s where it all began.



The film which you are about to see is an account of the tragedy that befell a group of five youths, in particular Sally Hardesty, and her invalid brother, Franklin. It is all the more tragic in that they were young. But had they lived very, very long lives, they could not have expected nor would they have wished to see as much of the mad and macabre as they were to see that day…

It is within this universe, defined by the mad and macabre, that some suggest the modern malefactor has his origins: massive, lumbering, obscured face yet still inherently male, wielded chainsaw, all that deafening noise, brought down on fragile flesh. 

The original film depicts five deaths. Only two involve the titular weapon. In reality, the true weapon of the film is the sledgehammer—artifact of the old ways—of how men slaughtered cows before they were replaced with machines. The Sawyer brood is the symbol of American men who have been robbed of their livelihoods, who are now aimless and churning with violence. Where can all of this violence go? What can purposeless men do with all of their anger? 

The creator of the film, Tobe Hooper, lists several influences, including the “lack of sentimentality and the brutality of things” as they were depicted on the news—he observed that the world was a brutal place, and his film would reflect this. 

The majority of the actors were unknown Texans, selected to portray real people—to portray someone the viewer could know, or could even relate to. Due to the low budget, filming days could last up to 16 hours for a month in a row; the farmhouse was decorated in real blood, the copper odor suffocating the actors, especially the man who portrayed Leatherface, who was only given one mask that had to be worn day in and day out.

Hooper noted that, “everyone hated [him] by the end of production,” because each actor feared their only violent scenes in the film, and none walked away without some level of injury. 



It began on the couch he defined by his heartbreak. He owned a DVD player and had a great movie collection. It was one of the things I had initially loved about him before I learned that there is likely a reason why several women have left a man before they reach a year together. He owned Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and he had scheduled it for our first spooky month together. 

He asserted that he loved horror, but throughout our relationship, I came to find that his tastes were mundane. He didn’t like black and white classics from the fifties, unknown exploitation romps from the seventies, cheesy films with low production values from the eighties. Can someone truly consider themselves a spooky baby if they get no pleasure from watching Basket Case? I mean, really? 

Perhaps one thing he loved more than horror and hurting women was planning things. He was an earth sign, so you may be able to attribute it to that; he was a man whose father had severe OCD, so you may be able to attribute it to that; he came from a cultural lineage of trauma and terror, so perhaps that’s why he enjoyed taking control. No matter the reason—and it was likely all three—he loved planning and had scheduled our October down to the minute. Each film was selected carefully, and they were decent for an initial Halloween together—I figured shit could get weird later on (spoiler alert: The movies didn’t.) 

I looked forward to watching Texas Chainsaw. While I can’t remember that night very well (it was likely viewed through the foggy haze of liquor, his secret cocktail ingredient tripling the amount of booze, something he would do because he claimed my sober body and my cunt were boring), I can picture it like any of those early nights: I clutched his large bicep with both of my hands, and he liked that. This was when my double-fisted approach still thrilled him. This is when I still held some worth. 

So there we were, likely drunk and on a run-down, budget couch from IKEA, watching Texas Chain Saw Massacre. I do know that I loved the physical quality of the film—give me anything 16 mm, anything gritty—I loved the way the shots were framed,and all that delicious screaming. If there is one thing that should be taken from this essay, it was that I discovered that Sally is the best screamer of any horror film. I say that with expertise, of course. 

I can easily imagine the tension I stored in my body going into the film: the way my muscles tightened, the way I gripped his arm like a giddy school girl (despite him telling me, later on, that I wasn’t sexy because I was too old—that men are primarily attracted to teenagers). I was afraid. 

But as the film went on, each of my muscles released like a blooming flower. I probably broke when Grandfather needed assistance while slaughtering someone: Something about the mask the actor wore likely led me to crack up, my laughter lining the night—especially if I was drunk. Then, the way Leatherface dances and dances at the end, moving the chainsaw like a baton—yes, I’m confident that by the end of it, I found the whole thing aesthetically pleasing and rather silly. 

And I’m quite confident because we had only been dating for five months by that point, and I hadn’t learned my lesson yet—that while I was too old to be attractive, I was definitely too stupid to have anything valuable to say—that when I opened my mouth and told him how I had braced myself for the movie, how it had washed over me, how I had emerged wet with blood alongside the final girl, Sally, he would have rolled his eyes and made the snarky comments he usually did when I shared my feelings or inner experiences (Not another trauma?)

I smiled through the blood. 



In 2020, true horror did not come to the world in the form of a faceless, unknowable, violent wave of masculinity; it came to the world in the form of a global pandemic. It came to the world shortly after he moved in with me. I found myself held captive by Covid, by a man who thought I was ugly and dumb, by my own trauma response to fawn instead of flee. I told no one about how he was treating me: I had ruined the reputation of previous men by complaining too much to friends. I kept my mouth shut and I wore my mask and I moved forward in the world, as everyone else did. I did my best to survive my home, which came to be a true haunted house: hands around my neck, insults rained down on my body while having sex—complete humiliation. I could find no relief from the poltergeist. Covid, an abusive work environment, an abusive home: I could not escape, I could not see other people. I was alone in a very small condo with a very small man who haunted my mind and body with his noisiness.

How can I describe how small I felt, what I was reduced to? What is it like to live with someone who you disclose personal things to, like a previous suicide attempt, and are only answered by being told not to use one of his guns because it would make him lose his pistol license? All while he wears his own form of mask—male progressiveness—and he just tells everyone you are the crazy one? And everyone believes him because he does so much good? And he gets very good at telling you that it is in fact you with the problem, that you are unsexy and stretch-marked out and that you should just relax and take it—it meaning his cock—and then punishing you when you do. 

Terror, complete and endless terror, no relief

only massacre



I have always loved October: fall, my birthday, Halloween. Despite being raised amongst explicit messages about my worthlessness and the fact that I was alone in the world and would only know terror, despite this worthlessness being reinforced by every man I would date: I have always defiantly relished my birthday. 

Yes, I am that person who may celebrate for the whole month or the whole week; yes, someone I went to my second elementary school with and reconnected with when I returned to that school district years later knew my birthdate down to the day and time. When I acted surprised, she stated that I had always made a big deal about it. 

I have always relished this month, this birthdate, this holiday, it is all mine despite what the world tells me—despite how my ex ruined my birthday tattoo and left me alone all night saying he was anxious, so he could go lay in bed and look at instagram models instead of watching a movie with his girlfriend–

it is all mine, deliciously mine 



And yet, when I finally fled him, lurched out of the relationship with literal wounds on my wrists, when I was finally free, when October emerged six months later, when it could finally be mine, I was terrified. 

He always planned everything down to the letter, and I always did whatever he wanted, and to be fair, it was often fun, but would I have gone to haunted houses in the middle of a pandemic and had people yell inches from my face? Likely not. And now that I was single? I definitely would not. And what was left for me, that hadn’t been tainted by the complete horror of that man? Would I skip Halloween altogether? Move on as if it had never been mine, as if the me before him and all of the others hadn’t existed, as if they had stolen everything from me? 

If only I could be so clean and empty, if only I could burn so bright, if only I had easily broke down all that I am and packaged it and given it away, so everything, down to the consciousness of pain and existence could leave me, my bones barren and sun-bleached, my soul long ago departed 

if only 



The first day of October arrived tentatively, a Saturday. I had no plans; I was still hiding out of fear of COVID-19 and my own pale face in the mirror. I knew I would watch a horror movie to honor the first day of spooky month. I opened the streaming service and moved to my favorite genre, folk horror. Simple enough. I wanted something classic, reliable, dependable—something I wouldn’t regret. Something that proved my tastes were good despite how he reacted the one time he let me plan Halloween—how I let him down so deeply—how everything about me, both body and mind, let him down so deeply. 

Folk horror is a lot of things; it is in part a commentary on what occurs when urban people encroach on the countryside and discover a different culture–a culture that appears backwards—a culture that is often violent. 

Texas Chain Saw Massacre stared back at me from the screen. 

Who will survive and what will be left of them? 

Leatherface is hunched over his chainsaw, in the midst of pulling the cord to get it going again, the teeth sharp and hungry. She waits for him on his hook, her mouth open in a dark scream. 

What happened is true. Now the motion picture, that’s just as real. 




Sally is in a gunny sack on the front seat of the proprietor’s pickup truck. She is screaming and sobbing and moving like an animal caught with her paw in a trap. The proprietor is laughing and laughing, watching the movement of her limbs against the burlap like a fetus stirring in the womb. His eyes light as he predicts the angles of her flesh through the fabric, stabs at her with a sharpened broom handle. Her shrieks are his pleasure. Her pain is met with his glee. 



How could I tell you what it is like, to be trapped and unable to breathe? 

Callie S. Blackstone writes both poetry and prose. Her debut chapbook sing eternal is available through Bottlecap Press. Her online home is Additionally, you can check out her work in Grub Street’s Volume 72, which features her piece “My body as the subject of a series of sketches drawn by my non-artistic (unless abuse is an art) ex-boyfriend”

Nonfiction Feature: Tea Training by Zary Fekete

I wave to the security guard as I approach. He smiles and takes out a little stool for me to sit on. I reach into my backpack and take out my latest purchase. It took me a while to find one just like his, but I finally found one at the big market behind the mall: a Chinese tea thermos. 

Since moving to Beijing six months ago, I have been impressed by the differences I see in the people walking and moving all around me in this city of 22 million people. There are thousands of different hair styles, clothing choices, personal phones. But one thing seems common to almost everyone—they all drink tea.

Tong Lei is the security guard who sits in front of my neighborhood compound. He serves as a kind of neighborhood watchman, handyman, and conversationalist all in one. I had my first conversation with him one week after moving into my apartment. He noticed that my bike chain was hanging loose, and we managed to understand each other through gestures. When I tried to pay him after he tightened it, he waved me off with an oh, you gesture. I brought him some chocolate chip cookies the next day. Our friendship began.

I moved to Beijing to teach English at a university downtown, but, like most foreigners here, I also hoped to learn some Mandarin. I take regular language classes, but the most important part of language learning has proven to be having one’s own language helper. For me, that’s Tong Lei.

The first few weeks were mostly filled with small talk about the neighborhood, about our families, about where his home town is (a small town in Anhui province). That was all my language could handle. But I felt like we had crossed an important language threshold when we started to talk about tea.

Tong Lei is forever sipping at his tea thermos. At first, I brought it up because I had just learned the Chinese word for tea (cha or 茶). I wasn’t ready for his response. He settled himself on his stool and thought for a moment. Soon he had launched into a long monologue, 95 percent of which I couldn’t understand, except for his repeated use of the word “cha.” 

After letting him finish, I responded with my most used Chinese phrase, “I don’t understand.” 

He thought this was very funny and slapped my knee. But from then on, he always brought up his tea. He measured his weekly days by which tea he was drinking… and why. Green tea for moods. White tea for teeth health. Weekends were dedicated to oolong tea. He spoke about oolong with a kind of careful reverence, claiming that his father had been cured from a long illness because of its medicinal value.

When he first told me he grew his own tea, I was intrigued. I asked if I could try it. His face changed slightly. He stared off for a moment and then asked me if I could be free for a chat after he finished work that afternoon.

I met him at the gate just after five, and we began to walk through the neighborhood. The apartment buildings nearest to the subway stop were the newest and best kept. Block by block, the buildings became shabbier. After about 10 minutes, we were walking through back alleys that weren’t paved. We finally came to a stop outside of a small concrete shed.

Tong Lei told me that this was where he lived. He stood for a moment quietly and then beckoned me to follow him. He brought me to the back of the grounds where the dirt sloped suddenly to a sunken pond ten feet below, its surface oily and studded with trash. It was one of countless water collection troughs that dotted the city, usually on the outskirts of a built-up residential area. The water was a dumping ground for a variety of trash that couldn’t find a home in the trash bins of the apartment complexes we had just come through. Tong Lei pointed to the far side of the pond where there was a small gathering of plants. 

“That is my tea,” he said. 

I realized why he hadn’t wanted me to try it. It grew very close to the black water of the pond.

I asked him if I could look at the plants. We walked to the other side of the pond, and soon I was surrounded by soft tea leaves. He stood next to me quietly and touched the leaves as he spoke. He said the plants were from his father’s garden. For the next few minutes, we walked back and forth between the rows. Birds flew quietly across the pond.

By the time we were walking back to my neighborhood the sun was low in the sky. I told Tong Lei I could find my way back, but he said he wanted to join me. We didn’t talk much, but the silence felt comfortable.

When we arrived at the gate to the neighborhood, I turned to him to say goodbye. 

“We will practice Chinese again tomorrow?” he said.

I held up my thermos. I said, “With tea?”

After a pause, he nodded and smiled.


Zary Fekete has worked as a teacher in Hungary, Moldova, Romania, China, and Cambodia and has been featured in various publications including Zoetic Press, Bag of Bones Press, and Mangoprism. He had a debut chapbook of short stories released in early 2023 from Alien Buddha Press, and a novelette (In the Beginning) was published in May by ELJ Publications. Fekete enjoys books, podcasts, and long, slow films. He currently lives and writes in Minnesota. 

You can find him on Twitter: @ZaryFekete

Nonfiction Feature: The Acolytes by Eva Niessner

Close your eyes, and imagine.

You are a 12-year-old girl and real boys do not like you, and you are not sure if you like them. But the ones in movies—the ones in films and TV shows, the ones in fantasy and sci-fi stories, the ones with wings and horns and fangs and elf ears—you like them. You like when they are nice, except you also like when they are mean. They’re hurting, maybe. They need someone to be kind.

Your heart beats faster when you think about being kind in this way, to this kind of person. There is something growing an inch a day inside you like a well-watered sunflower. There is something reaching for the light, and you do not know what it is named.

In real life, you know that boys will laugh at you or ignore you altogether. You have a moon face and a bob that curls up unstylishly. You exist at two ends of the academic spectrum, either raising your hand with feverish desperation to be called on because you know the answer or doodling or reading under the table because you cannot be bothered with long division. You don’t know any of the members of *NSYNC, and you can’t tell any of them apart. None of them can do magic, so you don’t really care. You check out fat books from the library and delight in how hard it is to fit them in your backpack. You are, in short, a hard sell to a boy your own age.

But your girl friends who also like elves and pirates and vampires, they don’t see anything strange about you. They can be just as loud, take up just as much space, when they see you in the hallway. They invite you to the movies and then to sleepovers so you can debrief over the men, men, monstrous men, the stranger the better. 

In real life, they like you for who you are. The stranger the better.

In real life, you start devoting yourself to female friends in a way that other girls do not. 

Do you like the male characters that you have all bonded over, or do you like the bonding with the girls more? Do you like writing longhand in the notebook about how they will fall in love with you all and take you to live in a mansion, or do you like the way they are delighted by your stories? 

Perhaps they are the same plant, a cluster of shared roots, but these feelings sprout separately, and they do not look connected from the surface. 


Imagine you are in high school and you can’t decide if you’re gay because you still pine for the men you see in the movies. You play at dating boys. You want them to like you, but when they do, you start to hate them. When they show you attention, you feel smothered. You notice their every flaw with scientific precision. You break up with your first boyfriend at your locker because you don’t even want to look at him anymore, even though he never did anything wrong. When you tell him it’s over, he makes a face that you’ve never seen before.

But you’re boy-crazy, right? Can you still be boy-crazy if you only want boys that can never be attained? You think maybe you’re girl-crazy too, but that is the part you do not say out loud. No one seems directly opposed to it—your parents voted for Obama and spin David Bowie records, and your grandmother speaks fondly of the gay men she worked with at a now-extinct airline. Still, you feel a little dizzy when you think about telling people you’re girl-crazy. It is easier to talk about elf men. It’s a little easier to believe that you will be the queen of his kingdom than that your feelings for someone else might be returned.

You want to believe this isn’t all there is. Boys who tell their sisters they’re fat, boys who share their girlfriends’ nudes. Boys who flirt with you as a joke, the joke being no one ever really would. Boys who follow your friends home until they agree to date them. Boys who do not know their girlfriends’ birthdays or eye colors. This can’t be all there is. Please, God, this can’t be all there is.


Imagine, now, you are in your twenties. You are openly bisexual. You are in graduate school. You’re doing what you love, right? You’re doing what you love? 

You’re studying creative writing and you’re going to teach and your dreams are coming true and you are so stressed that you have developed a persistent twitch in your left eye. When you look up reasons that might be happening to you, Google says that it may be caused by caffeine intake and anxiety. You have just received word that a family member checked in to an inpatient mental health facility, and you understand that now is not your turn to break down. Maybe next week. Maybe after this paper.

Really. You are doing what you love. Promise.

By now you have decided that you do not want an ordinary man at all, and your youthful attempts to date them look silly and costume-ish, like when you used to wear your mom’s homecoming dress, pretending to be a bride. You talk to women online. You meet people who don’t really fit into any kind of gendered category. You flirt. For the first time in a long time, you are pursued in a way that feels good by people who are your own people. Imagine a dog who keeps turning back to make sure it is being chased, a dog grinning as it runs. You like being chased. 

But it is the imaginary men who have brought you together. They are the reason you have met. They are the ones you’re escaping with, when the reality you’ve always desired is now making it hard to inhale all the way. You all felt the same way about the same men. 

There is a word for this now. Fandom. You aren’t unusual, now, people like you, the acolytes. All of you together, plotting their every move, making them kiss, making them beg, dressing them up like paper dolls in war uniforms and tuxedos and chain mail. Which man, you ask by creating these works, is most like you? Which one can you make most like you? When you write, who are you inhabiting? Who could love you like they love him?

You do not really doubt that you are a girl, but these men are not solid forms, they can be stepped into, they can be worn. You can give him life, in your stories, and he can give you confidence. You can imagine—you can imagine someone might love you with the piercing desire that this man, whichever one you’re thinking of, has been loved. He is not even real but he is so loved, and you are real but he has been exalted by a thousand keyboard clicks in a way that you can’t even get your head around. If he has died in fiction, he has been mourned in real life. If he has killed or maimed or betrayed, he has been forgiven. This, say the acolytes, pointing to a man who has committed atrocities, is my baby.

It is not strange to you that the other fans you talk to were brought to you by these sorts of men. The people you meet might also like baking and houseplants and true crime, things you enjoy independently of this fantasy world, but you would never have found these friends if these men had not been the chapel in which you all gathered. It is not strange to be connected by how you will hurt these men, in the privacy of your fiction and in the public square that is online fandom. It is not strange to bond over stories where they cry, where they lose one another, where they hate one another, where they cry again. These works are offered up to the crowd like a sacrificial lamb, tied and presented before a blade. 

The spectacle can be overwhelming, but it sends your blood rushing. It reminds you of being a girl and thinking about placing the bandage on the monster’s wound, how it might growl and pant and flinch but not run away. It reminds you of studying art history and seeing saints, dazed and sobbing, ecstatic at the sight of what no one else could see. You could be on the shuttle bus or in a common area on campus, but in another universe, waiting for him to appear, him, him, on your phone, in your head. 


You meet someone online. You meet a person who sees you like a medium sees ghosts. They see you like you have never quite been seen. At first, you imagine you need to put all this away, for their sake. You’re loved romantically by a real person now, so what do you need with your silly little monsters and villains? But no mad scientist can truly destroy their own creation, and you have spent years, decades, breathing life into these imaginary men. You cannot kill your darlings, not this late in the game.

And maybe you don’t have to. Your beloved is no stranger to this game. Maybe they like the same sorts of monsters and men. Maybe they have more to show you.

They teach you about space programs and about horror films. They’re a writer too. They wax poetic about Stephen King. And they show you Twin Peaks

Smarter people than you have had smarter things to say about the show for years, and you’re so new to it. The coronavirus has been making headlines for months by the time you get around to a show that was airing before Desert Storm. But you are struck by one thing above all others—the way that the unreal can be made real by force in this show.

If everyone believes in the same thing, isn’t that thing real? Maybe the show is a metaphor for abuse, for family secrets, for the way that girls will cry out for help in a thousand ways and never be heard. Maybe the world is simply cruel, and girls will be used, and the harder they try to name their own terms, the harder they will be trampled. Women in Twin Peaks suffer endlessly. Madonna and whore, sinner and saint, they suffer. 

Maybe that’s the way of the world, the real world.  

But maybe this show is also a warning and an invitation. We can create our own reality—at our own risk. 

You are loved by a person who encourages you. They are excited to hear about how your day went. They let you cry about the trivial and the terrible and hold you tight. This isn’t all there is, you want to tell yourself as a girl. There is more than a life being flirted with as a joke and a death wrapped in plastic. There is love, and it is real. 


You were imagining someone, all this time. If you are a certain kind of person. You were imagining a character that you loved in a way that felt like staring at the sun. And you still love them, even if it’s been years, decades, even. You may have a mortgage and a cubicle and a spouse and a Labradoodle and children and a Honda and a membership to a gym you never go to, but you also have him, living inside you like a dormant gene. You may never show symptoms again of your girlhood obsession, but he will be there, caught like popcorn in your teeth. 

Will you let him live inside you peacefully, or will you evict him by force?

Open your eyes.

Open your eyes, and maybe, just for a second, he will be standing in front of you.


Eva Niessner is a graduate of the Towson University’s Professional Writing program and specializes in creative nonfiction. Her work has previously appeared in Grub Street, and she has also been published in Baltimore Magazine.  She lives in the Baltimore area with her partner and cats. She enjoys ghost tours and caring for plants. 


Exclusive Nonfiction Feature: “To Whom It May Concern” by Olivia Mclean

Dear White people, To whom it may concern,


I am writing to you not as an “angry Black woman” or as an angry person of color but as a young, scared Black woman and as a young, scared person of color. I am writing this letter with deep sorrow, pain, and disgust. I am writing this letter today regretting it, as it should have never come to this. But nevertheless, today I am writing this letter.




Dear white people,


……We don’t hate you. We are tired. We don’t despise you. We are tired. It is by luck, by chance; that you are white. Just remember, you too could have easily been in our situation. And my question to you is, would you be able to handle it? The emotional, physical, and mental torment. I ask again: Could you handle it? Could you handle the unjust fear? The unjust inequality? The unjust hate? Could you honestly tell me right now you would be able to handle not only what we are currently going through, but what we have gone through for centuries?

……Some of you have to be excused or warned about certain historical events in history before learning about them. Why is that? Is it because of the gruesome details and pictures? Is it because your heart goes out to our ancestors? Is it because you are tired of learning the same thing over and over and you can’t bear to sit through a forty-five-minute documentary on what our lives were like? We aren’t warned before we are gunned down. We weren’t warned before we were enslaved, and we will not be warned in the future. Could you handle that? If you couldn’t handle a mere history lesson of a snapshot of our lives, I think I can answer for you. No, you could not handle any of it. Nor do you wish to handle any of it. So why should we? So don’t dismiss, misplace, or excuse my lack of gratefulness when I voice my annoyance and blatant disgust when I hear a privileged white individual say, “I understand how you feel.” 





Dear police officers,


……We do not hate you. We fear you. I question the system that provides us with people like you, people who vow to protect and serve. There have been too many times when you have gotten away with killing us. 

……And the question is, why? Is it because you believe we are inferior? Is it because  our existence threatens you? Do you feel like you are doing justice to your badge? Does it sound better when you internally justify it as doing your country justice? The question that cannot seem to escape my mind is: why are you all threatened by us? That question should not be answered through numerous unnecessary killings. That question is one for you and you alone to settle with your consciences. 

……Allow me to elaborate on who I am referring to when I say, “all.” Although this letter is dedicated to police officers, I do not solely mean police officers, but the systems that employ them, the people who create systems to ensure Black people do not succeed. I am referring to our medical practices and our justice systems. I am, although it may seem out of place, also referring to our school systems. 

……With that being said, I do wonder how you, our protectors and enforcers of “fair” law, go home and sleep at night knowing you killed innocent people and you went unpunished. How do you go home and kiss your kids goodnight when hours ago, in the blink of an eye, you took that opportunity away from someone else? How do you go home at night and hug your spouse, knowing someone will never get a hug again from their loved one because you decided, despite not having known a single thing about this Black individual, except the one or two things you interpreted as truth, that they didn’t deserve to see another day? 

……I wonder: how do you all come to this conclusion in a fraction of a second? Do you get a little tickle in your left foot? Is it more of a gut feeling? Does your right eye twitch?  Is the left knee quivering? It must be something special that is occurring, something so special that only police officers possess this knack for knowing, in such little time, the worth of one’s life.  How do you go home at night and wake up the next morning and make a fresh pot of coffee knowing a man will never walk this earth again because you decided it was his time to leave? How do you go home at night knowing you took so many opportunities away from not only the person you murdered in cold blood but their family too? ? How do you even go home at night?

……One? sixty? One-hundred? Two hundred and fifty? How many. How many more children, brothers, fathers, mothers, cousins have to die before this ends? How many more names have to go down in history before this ends. How many more riots have to occur before this ends? How many more stories do we need to tell? Our bodies were not solely placed on this earth for people like you to fire off practice shots like you are at a range. We do not exist, nor should we exist, only to become a landmark in history. We are human just as you are, and our history needs to stop being written for us. “Justice will be served” in reality means justice will be served to certain people.

……I would not wish this life on anyone. Not the life of a Black person but the fear of living the life as a Black person in today’s society.

……When will it end.




May 25, 2020

Dear George Floyd,


……Your letter will be the shortest. Not because I lack the necessary sympathy or empathy. And It is not because I lack the format in which I hope the words will flow my mouth and transfer onto this paper. My reasoning for keeping your letter the shortest is rather simple. There are simply no words that yet exist that can express the whirlwind of emotions I feel while writing this. To say I’m saddened by your death would be the understatement of the year. To think that you will never return to your family simply because a man took it upon himself to take your life disgusts me. I am sorry that you were in the wrong place at the wrong time. I am sorry that I am writing this letter. I am sorry that the system failed you. I am sorry. I am sorry. I am sorry. The tears that fill my eyes for you and for your family will not bring you back. The tears we all cry for you. The screams we scream for you, the fires we start in your name. None of it will bring you back and that is the worst part. No matter what we do you will not be back. I am sorry. I am sorry your life ended prematurely before you could reach your aspirations. I am sorry your family is one man less. I am sorry you will be a topic of conversation for generations throughout your family for something so troubling and I’m sorry all I can do is apologize for something that never should have happened to you or anyone. 


Olivia Mclean



I do not wish to be white or any other race. I wish for something that should not ever be one’s wish…equality. To say I want you all to look at me and not see colour would be an unfair and rather illogical request of mine. I want you all to see the colour of my skin, just as I wish to see the colour of your skin. However, I do not want to be judged for the colour of my skin, my hair texture, or the size of my lips. When I look at you all, I want to see the different shades of us that help make up the world we live in today. I want us to appreciate what has become so taboo as a topic in today’s society. No, our skin tone or other physical features do not and should not be the basis of judgment, rather a mere observation as we continue to make what should be natural, fair judgements based off what exists in one’s mind, body, heart, and soul, versus the minor details of physical appearance that we notice on the pathway to judgement.  




And to the public,


……Black lives matter. That seems to threaten and enrage many people. And what is heard in response is all lives matter. It needs to be understood that the Black Lives Matter movement is not one negating the struggles of others. It is making those aware of our struggle as well. To say all lives matter in response to that is, however, negating our struggle. To say you understand what we are going through and how we feel is false. You will NEVER understand the pain we live through for simply having darker skin. We need not negate the progression that has been made but we are nowhere close to the end nor should we be. If men and women are still to be taken from this earth because of their melanin…We should not even speak of the progression made thus far. We should be embarrassed to speak of progression in a positive manner.

……Violence is never the answer and I would never condone it, but hear me out when I say I understand it. I feel for those who choose violence. It has been years of fighting a fight that seems like a losing battle. It is not easy to fight for rights that everyone should have. It is not easy to see unjust things go without punishment. People get tired. People get angry. So one can’t be surprised when violence has become a means to an answer.





November 11, 2020

Dear 2020, 


……A letter is not sufficient enough for this year. Who would have thought we would live through a pandemic, Trump (the epitome of a patriarchal society), and everything else that spiraled down after he became president, on top of everything else wrong occurring during 2020. What can I say? We made it through multiple phases of the world being shut down and we made it through Trump. We have a ways to go, but all I can stomach saying right now is we made it thus far and that must go for something. I refuse to say anything else, call me superstitious…but I won’t risk it. 

……Two more months. 






……And I somehow feel obligated to apologize for my blunt choice of words or topic. I feel this need to make it clear that my intentions, which are not to (never will be to) hurt anyone, gather pity from anyone especially an unknown audience, or provide any more unneeded hate. 

……I wrote this letter not as an “angry Black woman” or as an angry person of colour, but as a young scared Black woman and a young, scared person of colour.  

……I wrote this letter with deep sorrow, pain, and disgust. I wrote this letter today regretting it as it should have never come to this. But nevertheless, today I wrote this letter.


Olivia Mclean



Olivia Mclean, an upcoming junior at Towson University, is working towards obtaining her degree in Exercise Science. She loves writing and finding creative ways to express what’s on her mind. She sees writing as a form of art, and one she can not imagine being apart from. She loves the idea that writing can express so many different emotions in various forms, and she hopes to continue exploring writing and learning from it.

Nonfiction Feature: “For All The Lost Dolls” by Kennidi Green

……My family consists of six girls, two boys, one father, and one mother. We were all forcefully compressed into a house in downtown Baltimore. I shared a room with one of my older sisters who believed it was her room. My two brothers slept in the bathroom, so whenever you had to use it, you had the beg them to leave and pray they actually did. My other sisters all shared rooms as well.

……I was a child who loved dolls. I carried a few dolls around with me well past my diaper days. Some dolls could talk, some could laugh, some had combs and some had hairpins. My favorite was a doll with red yarn for hair and a blue apron dress. I brought this doll everywhere with me. If I was eating dinner so was she. If I was playing hide and seek so was she. Being a girl attached to dolls wouldn’t go over well in any household, but especially not one with six girls and two boys.

……My brothers would laugh at me and find new ways find ways to torture my doll—and therefore me—every day. My sisters were either older than me and wouldn’t let me play with them or were younger than me and not fun to be around. My mother, a nurse, was understandably tired all the time and didn’t want too much bother from her kids. My father was my safety.

……My father had a voice like thunder and eyes like black marble. He was always good to me. I was his favorite. I looked just like him. My skin, my hair, my lips, my everything was reminiscent of my father.

……Every day when my father came home from work he would pick all six of his daughters up to receive a hug and a kiss. I waited every day for him to come home. I would hide under the bed until everyone had their turn and only then would I run out to my father for him to swing me around and kiss me on my forehead. One day my father came home, kneeled down, and took the hand which held my doll. My father said, “Look at Daddy’s hair.” I looked at his hair; it didn’t look any different than it had looked before. Was there supposed to be a difference? He continued, “Look at Daddy’s eyes” and as I looked at his eyes they too were also the same. They were brown circles so deep and dark they almost looked black and had burning red lines drowning in the whites. Finally, he said, “Look at Daddy’s skin” and his skin also looked the same as it has always been. Dark. Then he held up my doll, “Look at this doll’s skin.”

……The doll had skin that was the opposite of mine and my father’s. Light.“Your baby will never have skin like this. Your baby will never have hair like this. Feel Daddy’s hair.” I felt his hair. It was like cotton candy. “This is the hair your baby will have.” He then took my doll out of my hand. The doll who I played with more than my brothers and sisters. He took her and hid her behind his back. I never saw her again.

……I started panicking. Then out of his other hand, he gave me another doll. This doll was the opposite of the first doll. The first thing I noticed was her hair. It had coils, like mine. Her skin was deep and dark, like a  midnight ocean. Her eyes were as black as space.

……The doll’s name was Savanna. Savanna became my new best friend. She sat at breakfast with me. She was beside me in the car when the shadows stretched and rolled across us at night in the backseat. She was everywhere I was.

……However, she began to tear. A small tear where her legs met her back. She bled white blood. I panicked. She was in pain. I took her to my mother. She took out her cold thin needle and began to sew. I waited intently, holding my breath so I didn’t disturb my mother as she worked. Each stitch seemed like it hurt me more than Savanna. Savanna was strong. She will be fine. My mother saved Savanna and I was thankful. Then it kept happening. The stitches kept coming out. She dropped her white blood all over the floors in our house. If I happened to find it, I picked it up immediately and collected it to give to my mother. The rip got worse. And worse. My brother snatched her from me and swung her by the leg. She bled more. I screamed more. I ran to my mother hoping she would help as she did so many times before. Instead, she screamed, “I am tired of stitching up this damn doll!” My mother walked over to the window, spun Savanna in her hand gaining momentum, and flung her onto our neighbor’s rooftop. She needed help and I couldn’t reach her.

……From on top of a stool in the bathroom window, I could still see her. Only Savana’s tiny hand was visible. It was stretched out over the side of the roof, asking for me.

……With each passing season, I still visited my Savanna from the stool in the bathroom. When winter came, I saw her fingers covered in snow. I needed to make sure she didn’t have frostbite. In the summer, I panicked knowing she had no water. When it rained, I watched as the cold drops pounded on my baby over and over and over again. The weather was killing my baby. I needed to protect her.  I went to my father crying and told him what happened to Savanna. “Baby, you are too old for dolls” was his response. After three failed attempts to retrieve my baby from the rooftop, I unwillingly accepted her fate. She was exposed to the elements. The world was going to tear her apart. No one cared about her but me.


……As I grew, I no longer needed the help of the stool to view what was left of Savanna. After years, her hand still hung in a silent, sad call.

……She reached when I found “Dark and Lovely” to be oxymoronic.

……She still reached as I spread white paste in my hair and waited for the burn.

……When I realized perm couldn’t burn away my DNA, her little brown hand still stretched out to me. The scars of my blackened blood were invisible. 


…..She is still there.



……But, I’m much too old for dolls now. 



Kennidi Green is a nonfiction author from Maryland. Her writing draws from her own experiences as well from those around her. Kennidi is currently a graduate student at Notre Dame of Maryland University and will receive her master’s degree in Contemporary Communications in December.

Exclusive Nonfiction Feature: “Blood Brother” by Hannah Melin

……From that high, the cloudless sky was a threatening, disorienting blue. I rocked my head back and forth on the stone floor, feeling gravity’s pull just so I didn’t tumble upwards into a pale aqua abyss. I felt the wisps of my hair sticking to the tacky, drying blood of the altar. The metallic smell was overwhelming; the Mexican sun cooked the gore that ran down the dizzying steps of the temple. Hundreds of feet below me, a crowd screamed in a language I couldn’t understand. I looked up, away from the sky to the face of a madman. He stood above me, his blood-spattered form adorned with a feathered headpiece around which the golden form of Quetzalcoatl curled. He raised a stone dagger to the sky, and the sea of people cheered. 

……“I’m gonna cut out your heart!” he screamed, lowering the dagger into my chest. I shrieked as he carved a rough circle through my chest. I let the pain wrack through me, white-hot shudders that surge from deep below my stomach. The priest drew his knife deeper into me and my blood spurted up his arm, shooting up into the sky. With his free hand, he reached into the cavity that once was my chest, digging through the viscera until his fist closed around my heart. He jerked his arm back, ripping free my still-beating heart and raising it above his head.

……He threw his head back, speaking a word of power to the heavens. 


……I screamed.

……“Jesus Christ, kids!”

……Mom stared at my brother and me from the doorway to his bedroom, a laundry basket pressed against her hip. I sat up and pushed aside the black rubber knife we’d been using, its handle branded with a skull and crossbones that matched the pirate costume we’d salvaged it from. After three solid months of Sam and I using “savvy” as a preposition, Mom bought the costume at Costco. At nine, I couldn’t fit into it, but Sam was three years younger and half a foot shorter.

……“We’re playing Sacrifice,” he said.

……“I’m gonna get sacrificed!” I said.

……Mom sighed and left us to our game, returning to the laundry.

……Sacrifice was our favorite game. It had the highest rate of play frequency when counted with its variation: Wolf Pack. Wolf Pack had the same format, except instead of dedicating each organ to the gods, we’d sloppily consume them. Once every internal organ we knew the name of had been destroyed, we would swap spots and repeat. I always rushed my turn as the priest or the wolf pack. Sam whined about it. He spent too much time dutifully pantomiming the necessary blood spurts while I giggled and screamed. Still, for the life of me, I can’t remember if there was ever a time he refused to play.


……I saw my first horror movie in kindergarten. My best friend across the street (not to be confused with the best friend on the corner, nor the best friend in the house behind me) had a teenage older sister who wore black Doc Martens and listened to Nirvana and was the coolest human being I’d ever seen. One weekend, she let us into her bedroom where we gathered around her 12-inch CRT TV, and she popped in a VHS of Child’s Play. I sat close enough to the screen, eyes wide as I felt the static fuzz tickling my forehead.

……Mom found out that night when I refused to go to sleep unless she threw every single one of my dolls into a garbage bag and triple-knotted it. I fully conceded to her new ruling: no horror movies until you’re old enough to handle them. 

……In fourth grade, I found a battered copy of the Jurassic Park novel on a shelf in Mr. Ramirez’s English class. I asked if I could take it home.

……He shrugged and handed it to me. “You’ll put it down if it’s too scary, right?”

……I had a favorite part before I’d finished reading. The first time I read the scene, I immediately flipped the page and read it again, tracing and retracing the paragraph. Dennis Nedry, stumbling blind as he tries to make it back to his Jeep, the dilophosaurus closing in on him casually, like they know they have all the time in the world.

……He feels a hot slice across his stomach and catches something thick and wet in his hands. Right before the dinosaur takes his skull in its jaws, he realizes he’s holding his own intestines.

……After school, when I followed my mom around the kitchen, moaning and miming my guts falling out like a magician’s silks, she knew the horror movie ban could be lifted.

……It took longer for Sam to get interested. Gremlins had been particularly traumatizing: we had to throw out the VHS cover because he’d cry if he spotted it in the cabinet. With Mom’s permission, we rented a copy of Jurassic Park popping in the movie for him.

……Sam cried when the velociraptors made their way into the kitchen, sniffing the air for Tim Murphy as he shivered under a cabinet. It was okay, though. His big sister saved the day.


……Fake blood is one part water, two parts red food coloring, and four parts corn syrup. There’s no point in giving you a measured out recipe. You could use this for a one-off frat house prank, but you and I both know, deep down, it’s really not fun unless you’ve got gallons and gallons of it.

……And if you plan on having a lot of fun, throw in a third of a bottle of green food coloring and half a jar of Jif chunky peanut butter. 

……I highly recommend you express caution in the level of food coloring you add. It’s difficult to throw off the color entirely, so don’t stress about that. The issue is that too much food coloring stains your teeth and leaves a kind of chemical aftertaste at the back of your tongue. And don’t eat too much of it, corn syrup has way more sugar in it than you think it does. 

……Please put it in your mouth. It’s one hundred percent edible. I think it’s even gluten-free. You can make it organic or non-GMO or whatever you want it to be. If you like Reese’s Cups or Alfred Hitchcock, you can add some chocolate syrup to the fake blood. It works if you’re going for a viscera, mid-decay effect, usually applied to the recreations of Romero-era zombies. I’d even put it on ice cream.

……Sam’s blood is so thin and bright red you would think you put too much food coloring in. He bleeds faster than he should. It’s not the slow, viscous crawl of blood from the first kill of a slasher film, when the cops are searching the empty house for the single murdered body. It’s more like Johnny Depp in Nightmare on Elm Street.

……In elementary school, the sight of Sam’s blood always came with an event to be celebrated. He skinned his knee the first time he rode a bike without training wheels. He scraped his arm when he finally made it to the highest tree branch with me. He was spitting out pink froth after we’d tied a wobbly tooth to his bedroom door (I got to slam it shut). Once he ripped open his palm on a rusty fence when he tried to follow my cousins and me into a graveyard. Our uncle poured whiskey on it and wrapped it with duct tape before we helped him over the fence and chased him around the headstones.

……He gets nosebleeds. Not the type where you have to pinch your nose for thirty seconds and then maybe hold a tissue to it for a bit. It’s the kind where you have to get him a fresh shirt. And fresh pants. And fresh socks. 

……They can be triggered by a rough sneeze, a change in altitude, or a slight impact. I’ve caused them more times than I can count. The hardest part is trying not to laugh. It usually happens when I’ve tackled him or accidentally head-butted him during a wrestling match, and since we’re tangled up to start with, all of his blood gets on my face. His blood has this tendency to run down his face in a kind of jet-stream formation, so it looks like he’s just taken a bite out of a fresh corpse, and most of the time, any soccer parents or Chuck-E-Cheese employees who might be observing us tend to freak the fuck out. They’re concerned that they’ve just seen two siblings murder each other because at this point, I’m covered in as much of Sam’s blood as he is, so I have to be very careful not to laugh while they contemplate calling 911. I can’t laugh, of course, because I have to keep my lips carefully sealed since Sam nose blood is way grosser than other types of Sam blood (it’s warmer and saltier) and there is no way I’m willingly letting it get in my mouth.

……There was a special kind of excitement when the two of us set off real fear. It was the best kind of attention. It was the satisfaction of knowing we’d outsmarted the grown-ups, tricked them into a frenzy. It was something primal and new at the same time. It has to be the reason horror movies make millions on a hundred dollar budget or why people shell out their hard-earned cash to be chased by costumed killers at a theme park. There’s the adrenaline, sure, but at the same time, there’s a sense of superiority. When we’re the ones covered in blood, we’re separate from the rest of the world. We were a morbid alternative to society, and no one else was allowed in the club. It was just Sam and me, aching, giggling, and bloody.


……When I hit ninth grade, it was the first time Sam and I didn’t share a school. Even in kindergarten, his daycare was attached to the naval base’s elementary school. When we were in elementary school, I’d wave to him in the hallways. On Fridays, when the school had a bake sale, I’d buy him a chocolate cupcake with the quarters Mom had given me while we waited for her blue minivan to pull up.

……The summer before his first day of middle school and my first day of high-school, Mom told us we were moving from Miami to Orlando for the better schools and Dad wasn’t coming with us.

……I had this idea that Sam and I were going to band back together. I pictured us like The Outsiders, sitting together on concrete steps (an image I must have stolen from a movie; we never lived in a city). We’d been starting to drift apart in interest. I’d brought chapter books to his baseball games, and sometimes I forgot to look up to see him run the bases. I was convinced that with the divorce, we would have to rely on each other and develop this magical, unbreakable bond that would continue into adulthood. Then, when the inevitable zombie apocalypse came, we would fight back-to-back, taking on the planet with a pair of sawed-off shotguns.

……I thought I was right when Mom drove us to Orlando. We were staying at a friend’s river house. The heat haze made the front yard uninviting, so Sam hooked up his PlayStation to play the newest WWE game. I watched him set it up, the heavy metal music blinking on with the title screen. Without looking at me, he selected “Single Player Mode.”

……Over the next three years, we would go days without speaking more than a couple of words to each other. He usually had an insult to toss out when he passed me in the hall. I’d whine to Mom about him, making passive aggressive comments when he was in earshot. If we spoke to each other for longer than fifteen minutes, it always broke into a fight.

……There was no sass or humor to color insults. The fights were pure heat, breaking into physical attacks more often than not. We fought mercilessly. We didn’t pull punches, and we didn’t hold our tongues. We’d scream and swear and start again until Mom would send us to opposite ends of the house. 

……He made me cry constantly. It’s not that he deserves all the blame—I gave as good as I got. Once he called me a bitch and I bit him on the shoulder. He was only as vicious as I was. Actually, I might have been more vicious. “Dumbass” was his go-to insult, but seeing as I was in Advanced Placement courses, it didn’t really hit home. And I knew he usually wouldn’t hit me too hard. I never got sucker-punched, which I honestly might have deserved a couple of times. But I would cry after every damn fight. I felt cheated. There was no apocalyptic team-up. One summer, we were left to venture to a new town, a new school, and a new life without each other. I watched horror movies on Netflix after everyone else had gone to bed.


……When The Babadook was released in New Zealand, every horror blog I followed was raving about it. It would be months until it got a European release and even longer until it reached the States. Even then, the film wouldn’t have the budget for any kind of marketing. About a dozen arthouse theatres would be showing it in America, so my best bet was to find a digital copy as soon as the embargo broke. I scrubbed through websites until I found a high-definition version and the date was settled: Friday night.

……I connected my laptop to the living room television while everyone got comfortable. Mom and her boyfriend of the time curled up on one end of the couch. My best friend, another horror addict, sat on the recliner. Sam was stretched out on the carpet, a bowl of popcorn at his side.

……He was fourteen and a foot taller than me . He didn’t say anything to me as I started the movie. He didn’t say anything to me at all, usually, unless it was a passing insult.

……I grabbed a blanket and pulled myself onto the other end of the couch. Mom turned off the lights.

……Half an hour in, my best friend climbed under the blanket. The movie had David Lynch-levels of atmosphere with a New Zealand indie film budget. It was the type of movie that makes you stare at the edges of shadows too long just to double-check that they aren’t moving toward you. Mom and her boyfriend scooted in, making sure they can hide under the blanket.

……Onscreen, Mister Babadook slid into the woman’s house, crawling across her floor and scratching at her walls. Three knocks shuddered through the house and an unearthly voice spoke as the woman shivered in her bed.


……“Oh, fuck that,” said my mom.

……Flashing, the fastest the monster had moved the whole film, Mister Babadook crawled onto the woman’s bedroom ceiling.

……“Nope,” Sam said. He rushed from his spot on the floor to the couch, nudging me aside to grab the edges of the blanket. He huddled against me, breathing hard and hiding half his face under the corner of the cloth. 

……We stayed like that for the rest of the film, pressing against each other as the woman shifted into a New Zealand Jack Torrance. I hadn’t realized how big he’d gotten, somehow. Behind my back, my scrawny brother had shifted into a linebacker’s build. I leaned against him, his torso solid and warm. We both cursed and shrieked when the woman strangled her dog and took a knife to her son’s throat, holding our breath for the movie’s ending.

……The credits rolled.

……“Jesus,” he said. “That’s some scary shit, Hannah.”

……“Yeah, Sam. Some scary shit.”


Hannah Melin is a writer working out of Dallas, Texas. Her nonfiction writing has been featured in “Big Muddy,” “HCE Magazine,” “Heart of Flesh,” and “Whispering Prairie Press.” Her fiction has been featured in “Monkeybicycle,” “Night Picnic Press,” and “The Metaworker.”

Exclusive Nonfiction Feature: “Eponym” by Briana Richert

…….On August 30, 1997, my father’s half-brother, Brian, died of heart failure after a surgical procedure that involved the right ventricle. It was a medical curse upon his birth, finally inflicted at the age of 16. His parents–my grandfather and his second wife–were more than devastated.

…….About four months later, I was born and given Brian’s name with the addition of a feminine ‘a’ at the end. My father meant to memorialize his brother, gaining a daughter amidst the loss. Passed on to me, the name became a totem for the person he was and the person that I would be.


…….On car rides, in my teens, I would dramatically stare out of the window and contemplate my existence as I watched passing objects leave streaked motion trails. One day my mind turned to Brian. Who was he, this half-uncle who originally owned my name? What was he like? What if he was absolutely detestable? With no one mentioning Brian, I didn’t feel comfortable asking. But even if he was unpleasant, he was still a person, and he still had my name.


…….In the summer of 2007–when I was nearing ten years old–I had met my grandfather for the first time.

…….“Where are we going?” my sister and I asked.

…….“It’s a surprise,” said my father.

…….This “surprise” filled my imagination with all kinds of wonders. I was sure that we were going to Disney World or something of the sort. Instead, we arrived at a tall townhouse where two old people–a man and woman–waved to us. This is your grandfather, Dad told us.

…….My new grandfather told silly jokes and hugged far too tight. You’re going to break my back, I’d say, and he’d only hug tighter. Was he making up for time lost? On his arm was a faded, black glob of a young man’s face, the same face that rested in a worn-out print on his wife’s sweater and on many engraved tchotchkes and portraits around their house. In those blurred images of their obsessive grief–ten years after his death–I met Brian for the first time too.


…….It wasn’t until I was 21 that I’d seen a clear picture of him. Mom and I sat on the couch with a box of her wedding photos.

…….“There’s Brian,” she said, pointing to the light-haired boy with plump, rosed cheeks.

…….I asked her to tell me the little she knew about him. He was a sweet kid, she said, he was shy, quiet. I said that I was relieved to hear that he didn’t suck, and I liked the fact that he was shy like me. He was sweet, she repeated and told me a story that took place in his mourning.

…….At my grandfather’s house–after Brian’s funeral–the family circled and wept while remembering his life. I laid in my mother’s womb as she sat around their broken hearts, kicking to remind her of budding life. My kicking tickled her, she said, and in this room of sorrow, she couldn’t help but smile. I wonder if my fetal existence somehow knew we’d be connected.


…….In 2014, when I was 16, I reveled in angst and 90’s grunge and had a bad case of teenage depression. I wore flannel, band tees, Doc Martens, and I oddly adopted the modern makeup trends–Kylie Jenner’s overpainted lips. In my head, I was a punk-rock badass who hated the world. But I knew that everyone saw me as quiet and sweet because of my social anxiety and adorable
(abnormal) smallness.

…….That same year, after reading Kurt Cobain’s published journals, I rifled through our office supplies and found a notebook to pour my tortured soul into. On the dotted line, I wrote my name, and on the flipped side I penned “Rage Without a Reason.” My healthy and privileged life had no excuse for such anger.

…….Outside of this artificial need for rock-star profundity, I felt daily pains of self-loathing and loneliness in my depression and anxiety. After the terror of school–where I had no friends–I would run to my room and cry myself into a nap that lasted the day’s entirety.

…….In my journal I would write about wanting to die:

…….I honestly find no joy in living. I am a waste of matter. Why do I exist? I don’t deserve life. I’m not
appreciative of it.


…….On August 9, 1981, Brian was born. Doctors said that he wouldn’t live past a year, but they’d switched the ventricles of his heart and he lived longer. He grew up coddled with delicacy, softened and spoiled by his parents constant fear of losing him. Was he scared?


…….Writing this, I finally asked my father to tell me everything he remembered about Brian. He started with his condition and his death. Brian couldn’t play sports or do certain things, said Dad, but he still could have fun. I prompted him to tell me about Brian’s interests and found that he liked basketball, cars, rap music, and watching movies. He was the 90’s teen I wanted to be with his boots, long shirts, and baggy jeans. He was a sweet kid, my dad said. He was sweet, Dad repeated, and he was about to get his driver’s license.


…….As a child, I would give myself new names in order to become the people that I would have rather been. It was more fun to be Scarlet or Miranda as opposed to Briana. I had known of my name’s origin, but I didn’t give it much thought. I didn’t put in the effort until writing this. Brian wasn’t a person to me then. He had no meaning and was only a ghost of someone else’s memory–a
haunted eponym.

…….Now, when I’m anxious, I try to reaffirm my existence by telling myself my name and age. I am Briana Richert. I am 22 years old. I’ve never believed in affirmations, but saying my name aloud does something. Somehow in those letters, in the numbers of my age, my life is defined. Did Brian find solace in his name? Our name? He was Brian Richert. He was 16 years old.

Brian Richert’s Obituary

August 30, 1997, BRIAN P. RICHERT, loving son of Dennis and Vickey Richert, dear brother of
William, Dennis Richert III, Eric Smith, Tina, Kim, and Dennis Richard [sic] Jr. Also survived by many aunts,
uncles, cousins, nephews, and nieces.


Briana Richert is a writer and filmmaker from Baltimore, MD. She has a deep love for stories and creativity, owning too many books and watching too much T.V. as a result. She is currently a graduate student in the Towson University Professional Writing Program.

Nonfiction Feature: “Memorial Day” by Anthony D’Aries

The men are on the roof, cleaning out the gutters, backpack leaf blowers blaring. My sons stand beside their playground, mouths agape, and gaze up at them like they’re astronauts. 

…….“They’re on the roof, Otis!” Tucker shouts. “How are they on the roof?”

…….“But, Dad,” Otis says, frowning, “they’re killing our tomato plants.” 

…….He means the mysterious green vines that had sprouted out of our choked gutters. Almost a year’s worth of rotted leaves. Clogged arteries. I tell the boys this will be better for the house, that now the rain has somewhere to go. A rush of relief watching the debris blow into the air and fall like black snow. The relief of a long-overdue job completed. The relief of I need to get to that and I should really take care of that, the months and months of pulling into the driveway and looking up at the sagging gutters, wondering how much more they could take.

…….After the men climb down their ladders, load their trucks, and back out of the driveway, the boys get to work. They dismantle the multicolored hoses from a water toy and wrap them around their backs. They climb to the top of their playground. For the next half hour, they pretend to blow the leaves. 


Is anyone hurt inside?

…….The cop stood with one leg up on the curb outside our apartment. He chewed gum and watched me. He didn’t stare or squint as some cops do—he wasn’t looking through me—he watched like a cow beside a country road might look up and gaze at passing cars, mouth full of grass, chewing in slow, wide circles. He worked with clarity, precision. He was a surgeon knowing where to cut, which piece of the body to remove. 

…….The EMT put my shoes on. She shined a flashlight in my eyes and asked me what I took. Why? Why did you do this? What did I say? I remember the ambulance ride so clearly. I was relieved to be on the stretcher, buckled in, each limb fastened and secured, this stranger holding my hand and telling me she’s a widow, that her husband killed himself two years ago. And I was crying, in bursts and gasps, trying to talk through it and not recognizing my voice, unable to control the shape of my mouth, and it was a relief, overwhelming, frightening relief, an open valve, a sandbag slashed and emptied. 


“People Are Strange” by The Doors echoes from around the corner. It gets louder. Closer. A man on a motorcycle—the kind with trunks and antennae and a big, black wraparound windshield—roars up the street. Wicked, unwanted. Nine in the morning. A Tuesday. Day whatever of quarantine. This man in black is the only one on the road.


There’s a sewer pipe in our basement with a jagged crack in it. My father pointed it out to me the last time he was here. We made plans to fix it, before being in the same room became dangerous. All the materials are on the workbench—a stretch of PVC, rubber gaskets, a Sawzall and fresh blades—but I remember that day, years ago, when we had a party at my parent’s house, and their sewer pipe burst and a torpedo of gray water blasted my father in the chest. 

…….When I take the laundry out of the dryer or bring up another one of my kids’ toys, I look at the crack, certain it grows longer and wider while we sleep.


Tucker wakes at three in the morning and calls for me.

…….What’s the matter, bud?


…….I’m here.

…….Something was trying to kill you.


That same morning, both boys walk into our bedroom, sweatshirts wrapped around their backs, empty sleeves aimed at me and Vanessa. In their deepest voices, they say, “We’re here to clean your gutters.”


The House on Sunset Hill sounds like a Robert Redford movie. It was one of the first houses Vanessa and I saw, so perhaps that had something to do with it. Our feet still planted in our apartment—the leak in Otis’s ceiling or the radiators that banged so loudly in the night (only the night), like a crew building a railroad in the basement. And it wasn’t ours. We wanted to own something. 

…….Step back in time in this charming circa 1700s antique farmhouse.  

Thick wood beams. The sewing studio on the sunporch. The writing nook in the attic. Come on. 

…….“And the barn would be yours, too,” the realtor said. 

…….We’d watched enough HGTV to know there had to be a catch. No asbestos or lead paint? No radon? Too good to be true. Go with the Flow, the sign said in the bathroom. A wooden whale nailed to the wall. 

…….We made an offer. 

…….“Before we move forward,” the realtor said, “there’s something you should know.”

…….The previous owner shot himself in the barn. He was a carpenter. He’d built the barn and the additions himself. I thought about the circular saw blades, still tipped in sawdust. 

…….He was married. I don’t know if he had any kids. For a moment, the writer in me thought: Maybe this is fitting. Maybe we can breathe new life into this house. Maybe Vanessa’s sewing and my writing and Otis’s and Tucker’s laughter can redeem this home. 

…….We withdrew our offer. We couldn’t afford it.


Is anyone hurt inside?


So many podcasts. So many voices in my head. I’ve listened to Marc Maron’s show for years. I find his neurotic, angry, self-reflective rants entertaining, inspiring, gut-punching. Today, his girlfriend, Lynn Shelton, is sick. Not “it.” Not the virus. Something else. Strep throat perhaps. That night, on her way to the bathroom, she collapses in the hallway. The ambulance comes. A day later, she dies. 

…….I listen to the last show before Lynn’s death. Then the first one after. A different man’s voice in his throat. 

…….“I don’t even know if I should be out in public talking. But this is what I do.”


Tucker is still in Vanessa’s stomach and Otis is too young to remember. They unload groceries at the back door of the apartment. My laptop is open. My cell phone is beside the sink. Only my shoes are missing. 

…….For years after—sometimes still—I read into Otis’s questions, wonder if he’s trying to tell me something.

…….If Daddy dies, we’ll just get a new one, right?


Years before the virus, the workers in the hospital hallway tighten their respirators. One of them picks up a big spool of wire and carries it up the ladder. He rests it on the top step, removes a section of ceiling tile, and stands up straight. The other worker does the same. Their muffled shouts, their heavy breathing—two blue-collar Darth Vaders arguing about measurements and time.

…….“Should we be wearing masks, too?” I ask. 

…….The clinician tucks her clipboard under her arm. “What was your name again?”


…….“Anthony.” She nods and rips off a nametag from the stack in her hands. She glances at the workers and smiles widely. “I’m sure it’s fine. They would have told us if our health was in danger.”

…….I nod and smile and say OK. She walks down the hall; I wait until she’s in Group Room 1 before following her. One of the workers pokes his head out from the ceiling, his respirator and hair dusted white. I fill out my nametag against the cinderblock wall and stick it on my shirt. When I walk into group, I can still hear the men arguing through their respirators. 

…….I fill out name tags three days a week for months. When I get home after the meetings, I peel my name off my chest and throw it out. And then one day, after wheeling the garbage cans from the curb to the side of our apartment, I see my name stuck to the inside of the can. Upside down, smudged, but legible.


Otis’s and Tucker’s pet caterpillars enter their pupal stage. They crawl to the top of the canister and hang like little thin bats. The boys fight the urge to handle the canister, shake it. 

…….“Are they dead?” Otis asks. 

…….“Yeah, Dad,” Tucker says. “They look dead.”

…….I shake my head. “They’re changing.”


The logo on the plumber’s truck matches the insignia on his mask. His tan, bald head reminds me of my father. He walks into the basement and glances at the pipe, the crack now running the entire length of it. “Piece of cake,” he says, a smile in his eyes. 

His son, in a matching mask, helps him. They work in silence. An hour later, the father hands me a carbon copy of the receipt. 

…….“Just labor, pal. You had all the right materials.”

…….I had all the materials. I just needed help.


Rose, bud, and thorn. A game we play with the kids during dinner. Tell us something you loved about today, something you’re looking forward to, something you didn’t like. Their roses are Cheetos or SpongeBob or that we’re all together as a family. Their buds are Cheetos or SpongeBob or when we can go to the water park again. Their thorns, for the last three months, have been the virus. 


So many passwords. I make them all the same, turn them into daily mantras. 



…….After years of group meetings and dosage adjustments, after seeing Otis meet Tucker for the first time, after leaving the apartment in the city for a house in the woods, after learning that pipes don’t have to burst and sandbags can be moved, I use a different password: 



…….The butterflies hatch. They cling to the side of their netted cage. The boys leave them orange slices. After a few days, we take the cage outside and set them free. 

…….One butterfly doesn’t want to leave. Otis reaches in, guides it up the side of the netting. He holds it up high, on the tip of his finger. The butterfly flexes its wings but doesn’t fly. 

…….“He’s scared,” Otis says, more to the butterfly than me. 

…….“Yeah,” Tucker says. “Maybe he’s scared of the virus.”

…….Otis turns toward the house, and by the time he looks back at his hand, the butterfly is in the air, flying drunkenly across the yard. 


Vanessa orders masks for all of us. Soft, thin cotton. Green and black stripes. We tell the kids we’re ninjas. 

…….We stand on the front lawn, this family of ninjas, holding signs. Honk for Otis! Otis holds a sign that shouts, I’m Six Today!

…….A parade of strangers beeping and waving. Motorcycles revving engines. Tractor-trailers blowing air horns. A construction worker pulls over, puts on his ninja mask, and leaves a ten-dollar bill. “Happy Birthday, Otis,” he says. We never learn his name. 

…….Then the grand finale. The slow police cars and fire trucks, lights flashing, officers, firefighters waving. And a two-fingered salute from the EMT, drifting by in her silent ambulance.


Anthony D’Aries is the author of The Language of Men: A Memoir (Hudson Whitman, 2012), which received the PEN Discovery Prize. His work has appeared in Boston MagazineThe Literary ReviewSport Literate, and elsewhere. He currently directs the M.F.A. in Creative and Professional Writing at Western Connecticut State University.

Nonfiction Feature: “The Baby in Her Arms” by Patricia Feeney

……My mother’s touch was reserved for the baby in her arms. Caring for eight children restricted her contact to the latest arrival. She carried that infant, endless loads of laundry, and the weight of childrearing with an absent father whom she loved beyond reason.

……I watched infants calm in her sweet caresses and longed to take the baby’s place. I longed for my mother to swallow me with her arms. I imagined her touching me in the way of mothers on Leave it to Beaver, The Donna Reed Show, and Father Knows Best: running her fingers through the bales of my knotted hair or patting down a cowlick. I wondered what it would be like to be the child of a mother with generous hands.

……I learned to feel her hands by proxy. The third child and her first daughter, I held her babies, ironed my father’s shirts, and tracked her footsteps to the basement laundry room.   


……As an infant, my son shunned my touch. He had no interest in contact except to stand on my legs and clutch my shoulders, stiff-armed, while he ran surveillance of the room. I was a look-out tower. In preschool, he resented terms of endearment and nicknames, insisting I use his given name. He never adapted to the tousle of the hair, glaring at me if I breached his boundaries. When my son was a toddler, I spent hours with him on the family room floor, moving cars, ambulances, and firetrucks along a plastic roadmap that led to homes, schools, churches, and hospitals. Together, we wove stories about the lives of the people on these roads, and I learned who he was.

……When my teenaged son devoted hours to playing Halo, I read the game’s book-form trilogy and appreciated the magnetism of this imagined world. Though he accused me of caring too much, he cared for me in a surprising way: shoulder rubs, which I took greedily, knowing he would never let me reciprocate. He kneaded my muscles, mothering me as I drifted, drunk with comfort as he eyed the stuffed backpack on the family-room floor, ready for take-off back to his college dorm.   

……My son, now grown, was surprised to hear my recollection of his early years. He remembered running to me, my “warm smile,” and sleepy mornings “curling up like a cat” on my blue bath-robed lap. When he told me this, I hid my tears at his forgiveness for my imagined failings.

……He was my first-born, the child who made me a mother, an indelible gift. He was the child who taught me to love as a mother: to offer what is needed, not what I had hoped to give. 

……My daughter craved my touch. My infant girl lolled in my lap so lazily I feared her growth was delayed; it was not. As a toddler, she rested her head on my shoulder and slid her hand inside my blouse, spreading her fingers on my beating heart and nodding into sleep. In grade school, she nestled against me as we watched SpongeBob SquarePants, Hey Arnold!, and Lizzie McGuire. We held hands as we walked malls and cuddled as we listened to Britney Spears. I braided her hair as she fantasized about her future as a pop star. 

……Once, when she was nineteen, my daughter draped her reedy body across my lap and referred to me as Marmee, the mother in Little Women. I stroked the silk of her long mane and massaged her temples. I called her Boo.

……I wondered what it was like to be the child of a mother with generous hands. But I didn’t ask. Her body, pressed against my beating heart, was enough.  


……As my children assume their adult lives, my mothering days grow distant. I think of my mother, twelve years gone, and wonder what she thought of me as she grew old. Did she think she failed me? Is that a mother’s curse? Swamped by the bodies of so many, was she unaware of a child’s need for a singular touch?

……Some nights I dream of the mother of my childhood, images that follow me in daylight. Her athletic body, the lines of her young, unflawed face, her smile lit like candles. I remember the hint of Colgate toothpaste below the scent of interminable cups of coffee. Her voice that shed compassion on even the most unforgivable characters in her life. Her arms cradling an infant.

……I can almost feel her touch.



…….Patricia Feeney lives in St. Louis, MO, and teaches in Lindenwood University’s MFA program. She is a member of AWP and a founding member of the Crooked Tree Writers. Feeney’s work has appeared in the Muse Press anthology, Shifts; The Lindenwood Review; Inscape; Windmill; Adelaide; and Bayou Magazine.


Creative Nonfiction Exclusive: “Why I’m Like This: Tales of a Neurotic Wife” by Hali Morell

It was late at night and I walked into the kitchen to search the cabinet for some item I shouldn’t be eating, usually some kind of chocolate or pastry, and there it was: the silhouette of something scurrying across the countertop next to the sink. Okay, don’t panic. Maybe it’s not what you think it is. Maybe it’s just a lost little moth searching for the nearest lightbulb.

I knew in my heart, though, that I was wrong. And as I propelled my feet to take the steps over to the light switch on the kitchen wall and flip it up, that’s when I had official confirmation that my evening was about to take a horrifying turn. A roach. A word I can barely form my mouth to say…that’s how repulsive these brown antenna-headed speed-racers are. With my finger still on the light switch, it had already run behind a clear vase holding bamboo in water, a yellow etched, tinted wineglass passed down to me from my grandmother, and lastly, the Roasted Garlic Express: a giant plastic garlic that roasts the scented bulbs to perfection…according to my husband.

Not having taken a good, healthy breath in about ninety seconds, in one swift movement I exhaled deeply and stepped across the kitchen on my tiptoes to snag the blue flyswatter I had purchased at the 99 Cent Store that lived in the pantry next to the refrigerator. Gripping the swatter in my right hand, I raised my arm and prepared myself for war. Literally frozen in space, it took me another minute and a half to even contemplate trying to find this little fucker. It was hiding behind the garlic roaster, which I attempted to slide with the flyswatter, but given the garlic weighs about six pounds and the swatter weighs pretty much nothing, it soon became clear that this wasn’t going to work. I was going to have to physically move the garlic with the power of my hand. And with another huge exhale and a little bit of a whimper, I jostled the garlic just to say, “Hey! I know you’re back there and I’m gonna kill you with this flyswatter.” Before I could even finish that thought, there it went sprinting to its next hiding place…a place so hidden that I couldn’t follow. Somewhere between the countertop and the drawer it disappeared. And that’s when I got pissed.

Terrified and pissed is not a good combination. Especially for my husband, who was fast asleep in the bedroom and was about to be woken up by a completely freaked-out wife. Think Woody Allen as a woman, only hopefully slightly better looking, and then you’ve got a sense of what I’m talking about. I stood there, staring at him, hoping he’d sense my presence. After about a minute of him not sensing my presence, I sighed…loudly.

“What’s up?” he said.

Normally, I have the ability to ease into things in a calm manner. Usually there are medium-sized prefaces or intros leading into what I’m about to say. This wasn’t one of those times:

“Babe, I think we have roaches,” I said, grabbing my head in my hands and stomping and swaying like an elephant about to charge. “I don’t know how I’m going to sleep here tonight.”

“Oh, sweetie. You’ll be okay.”

I paced in the darkened bedroom. “No, no, I’m not going to be okay. This is bad. This is really bad.”

“I’m sorry,” he said and rolled over on his left side. He clearly wasn’t getting it. This was serious. And, I’ll admit that I was acting a tad passive aggressive. What I really wanted to say was, Can you please go in the kitchen and spray the shit out of all of our cabinets…like, now? I tried to pull myself together and get into a more rational place. I rolled onto my side of the bed and covered my face with my hands.

“I’ll call the landlord tomorrow and see if he can send someone over,” I said, taking on the role of a sane and together person. Okay, this is going to be okay. I can do this.

Thirty seconds later, I could no longer ignore the sensation of hundreds of roaches running all over my skin. I began slapping myself every two seconds. It was clear that I wasn’t going to sleep that night without some help. I remembered that someone had once given me an Ambien, which I had never taken. Where the hell did I put that pill? I rolled over to my husband.

“Either someone needs to knock me out or I have to get up and find a sleeping pill.”

And as he made a quick grunting sound, I knew that I was officially becoming annoying and needed to deal with this issue by myself. I was pleasantly surprised to quickly locate the donated Ambien, which I popped into my mouth followed by a chug of bathroom sink water. Okay, this was good. I was drugged up and looking forward to being blissfully unaware of whatever demonic works were occurring in my kitchen.


You should probably know that I had an experience in college. Well, I had a lot of experiences in college, but I’m referring to the one that directly has to do with this current situation and why my behavior may appear to be a bit extreme.

In brief, a roach-infested apartment in Boston. It was my senior year in college, and my friend, Heather, and I decided to become roommates. We found a place close to Fenway Park. It was sort of like another version of a dorm only there was no RA and you couldn’t just pop into anyone’s room to smoke a bowl or drop a tab of acid.

I entered the apartment with my ridiculously large suitcases that could’ve fit a family of giraffes standing upright. That night we shut out the lights and curled up in her room to talk and get more comfortable in our new place. After a little while, I decided to get up for some water. I turned on the kitchen light and that’s when I saw an image that, on my deathbed, I will remember vividly. What looked like hundreds of roaches scurried around not just the kitchen countertops, walls, and floors, but throughout every room of the apartment.

“Get up! Get up!” I yelled to Heather.

“What?” she yelled.

“Oh my god! Oh my god!” I flipped on every light switch in the place and then ran into Heather’s bedroom and jumped on her mattress lying on the floor.

“There’s roaches everywhere!”

“Oh, that’s so sick,” she said.

“What are we gonna do? How are we gonna sleep?”

And in the middle of a huge yawn, Heather replied, “Let’s not worry about it tonight. I’m so tired. We’ll call the landlord tomorrow.”

Apparently, she and I were not living on the same planet. I mean, was she insane? Sleeping? I felt completely alone and totally freaked out. Needless to say, I was awake and shaking the entire night. I strapped my Walkman to my head and tried to think happy thoughts, but they quickly vanished as soon as I opened my eyes to witness the community of roaches that had made this place their home. I imagined them gathering in groups, creating buffets, playgrounds for the little ones, drum circles. And while Heather lay fast asleep, I paced in the living room in my nightgown and Doc Martins ready to stomp the living crap out of them. By 4:15 a.m., I had finally managed to doze off on the oddly stained gray sofa that Heather had brought from home. My eyes popped open at 8:05 a.m. when Heather’s alarm went off. Oh yeah, I had to go to school. Well, this should be a productive day.

“Is it too early to call the landlord?” I asked.

“I’ll get his number,” she said.

Six hours later, Anwar, the landlord, was in our apartment. He was a large man in every way. Tall and round, his belly protruded over his waist like he had swallowed three basketballs. Anwar was not a happy guy, and as he sprayed the toxic chemicals under our kitchen sink, he spoke.

“You know, these are hard to get rid of. The last tenants had the same problem, but you can blame them. All the walls in here were covered with beer cans.”

“What?” I asked.

“Beer can walls. That’s why there’s roaches. This place will always be infested, I think. But I’ll keep coming to spray if you need me to.”

At that moment, I experienced a variety of emotions. Terror, rage, hopelessness. I wanted to take a shotgun and shoot the shit out of the former tenants; then I wanted to aim it at Anwar, who didn’t seem to care that his apartment was riddled with the lowest form of life; then I wanted a plane ticket back home to LA…in that order.


The weeks that followed were devastating. Roaches falling out of my clothes hanging in the closet, running rampant across my bed, spending quality time with me in the shower. You couldn’t sit, stand, sleep, bathe, or take a crap without being accompanied by roaches. Getting dressed in the morning was truly horrifying. First, I’d reach for my Docs that sat by my bed. I’d turn each shoe over and shake it. It was a good day when nothing fell out. Then, I’d put them on and walk to the closet, where I’d open the creaking door and proceed to shake every item of clothing. I’d select an outfit, pull it out with my fingertips, and then continue to shake it until every roach had vacated the premises. If it was a shower day, I’d find my flip-flops, open and shake the shower curtain at the same time, step on any roaches that had fallen on the floor, then check the ceiling for anything crawling, get into the shower, turn on the water, and watch the remaining roaches slide toward the drain and spiral down to the sewer. I’d reach for my shampoo, but not before checking every angle of it, and as I’d suds up, I’d swivel my head up, down, and all around. Those few seconds while rinsing my hair when I had to shut my eyes were some of the scariest moments of my life. I thought our cat Elijah would be helpful in terms of killing the suckers, but all she’d do was eat them, throw them back up, and eat them again.

At this point, Anwar was making weekly visits to our place. I finally lost my shit.

“I can’t live like this anymore! Do you have any idea what it’s like to be here? I haven’t relaxed in three and a half weeks! And I’m in college! And every time I open a book to study something, I have to kill these things. It’s hard enough to retain Great American Playwrights on its own! What the hell is the problem? Can’t you spray anything more toxic? How about just pure poison? Do you have any of that? Or, how about we move apartments? Maybe one on the top floor. I’m sure it’ll take them longer to find their way up there. I need help, Anwar! You’ve gotta help me, man!”

By now I was sobbing uncontrollably, and Anwar was staring at me with great concern. I was hoping he wouldn’t call the asylum and send two men with a straitjacket to drag me away. Actually, that sounded like a much better deal than my current living situation.

“Don’t worry. I’ll take care of it. Don’t get upset.” It was the first time he sort of smiled. It made me feel better…like I wasn’t so alone.

Over the next few days, Anwar had practically moved in with us. He’d work in the kitchen all day, gutting the cabinets, pulling out drawers. I’d pop home between classes, say hello to his legs as the rest of his body worked under the rubble, and after about a week, things were much better. Anwar had done it and now I could sleep without clutching a flashlight, shower without wearing shoes, and open a textbook without slamming it to the floor and stomping on it.


So, yes, I had an experience that was truly scarring. But now, with the Ambien surging its way through my brain waves, and my body gently sandwiched between my softly snoring husband and my purring cat, I could feel myself being carried away to a dreamlike state. And I whispered to the cat, “Let’s not worry about it tonight. I’ll call the landlord tomorrow.” Then he touched my nose with his paw. I wanted to tell him not to eat any of the roaches…that they weren’t good for his tummy, but I could sense that he was already falling asleep, and I didn’t want to disturb him.


Hali Morell is an actress, writer, teacher, and co-founder of The Missing Peace. Her work has appeared in Borfski Press, Evening Street Press, Avalon Literary Review, Broad River Review, Foliate Oak Literary Magazine, Forge Journal, The Paragon Journal, Pendora Magazine, The Penmen Reviewand Tower Journal