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If I Could Go Back
Ava Rose Weisberg ~ Poetry

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If I could go back 

To when I thought you had cared, 

Believed in your promises, 

And that you’d always be there, 

If I could turn the clock, 

And resume the time, 

Would I live it all over,  

If I knew that you lied? 

If I could go back  

To your smiles and flowers, 

To your hand in mine, 

And your whispers empowering-- 

Me to trust the process, 

To believe in you, 

Would I choose being happy 

Over knowing the truth? 

If I could go back 

Would I relive us again, 

Just to eventually shatter, 

Or save me the pain? 

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Schrödinger's Sister
Emily Masters ~ Short Story

Even for identical twins, my sister and I had always been close. We were Belle and Beth Colby. I wasn’t sure which one I was, and neither was my sister. I supposed most people would find that strange, having your identity so inextricably tied to another person’s. Though, my sister and I were a package deal, and we’d always been perfectly happy with that.  

Growing up, my sister and I always assumed our parents weren’t very well-off. The conclusion was easy enough to draw; even though our house had a guest room and a home office, my twin and I shared a room. We even shared the not-quite-a-queen-size bed.  

 

You’d probably assume something like that would make us resentful or competitive, but my sister and I weren’t like that.  

 

One of the biggest problems being twins with similar names brought were school system filing issues. My sister and I had never started a school year where the teacher had both of us on her roster. When we were younger, this issue seemed easy enough to correct. The teachers would smile indulgently and pull up a second chair to the desk, and we would almost never have to remind them to give us a second worksheet. Parent-teacher conferences, when my sister and I pressed our ears to the door to eavesdrop from the hallway, were always positive, with the teachers talking about what wonderful imaginations we had.  

 

Neither I nor my sister remembered for sure when the teachers stopped being as accommodating. We’d talked about it, and we just knew that one day, we stopped getting that second chair, and so we decided to alternate between which of us got the desk and which sat on the floor.

 

We occasionally got weird looks, but we were used to getting double takes. I remember making the connection at a young age that most people had never seen identical twins.  

 

Our assignments started to get more difficult to acquire around the same time---early middle school, I think. Frequently, one of us would politely say, “Ma’am, you forgot my sister’s paper.”  

 

For the first few days of a school year, that would work, but then the teachers started to get these weird, concerned looks. My sister and I started to realize we weren’t getting anywhere. After a while, we started writing ‘Beth and Belle’ at the tops of our assignments and completing them together. At first, we were worried we might get points off for cheating, but the teachers never said anything about it, so we assumed it must be fine. Less work for the teachers if we just submitted one assignment for the both of us.  

 

I remembered hearing our mom on the phone one day, about halfway through middle school. Looking back now, it felt strange that this only happened a year ago.  

 

It felt like a hundred years ago.    

 

My sister and I were working at the kitchen table on some essay or lab write-up.  

 

The most notable thing about the phone call was that our mom usually never whispered. Normally, she’d speak full volume to our Aunt Liana or even raise her voice if she was talking to a sales caller who couldn’t take the hint. That day, all we heard was the first snippet of the call: 

 

“Is this Dr. Delarosa? I’m calling about my daughter.” 

 

My sister and I looked at each other. We spent practically every moment of every day together. I could see it on my sister’s face that she was just as concerned that I’d hidden some strange medical emergency from her as I was that she might have hidden one from me.  

 

I shook my head, and she shook hers. Both feeling slightly disquieted, we returned to our work. Still, I kept hearing a few brief fragments from our mom.  

 

“-told the other doctors that it wasn’t normal, but they said it was a perfectly healthy phase-” 

 

“Please, I’m worried.” 

 

“-hasn’t gotten any better.” 

 

“Thank you, Doctor. I appreciate it.”  

 

My sister and I had nearly put the strange phone call out of our minds until a few days later, when our mom opened a package that had arrived in some official-looking wrapping. She let out an audible sigh of relief.  

 

“Honey?” she called.  

 

My sister and I looked up. We were used to the singular pet-name; we always imagined it was easier than trying to figure out what the plural of ‘honey’ was.  

 

Once she saw she had our attention, she unscrewed the cap of the bottle that had come in the fancy wrapping and tapped something out of it into her hand.  

 

“This is only an antipsychotic, honey,” she told us with a forced-looking smile, passing the single pill over to lay on the table in front of my sister. “It should help.” 

 

Her eyes were a little bit too shiny as she watched us take the pill and a glass of water into the bathroom.  

 

My twin and I were in complete agreement as we flushed the pill down the toilet, along with the other doses that followed.  

 

After all, there wasn’t enough medicine for both of us.  

 

It wasn’t until one night near the end of eighth grade that a realization tore through me like an earthquake splits an ancient tree.  

 

“How was school today?” our dad asked once my sister and I had set the table for dinner. He was looking exclusively at me. My sister and I noted before that our parents only spoke to one of us at a time, though it varied day by day.  

 

My sister started telling them about our science class of the day. That class was one of our favorites; whenever the class finished early, our teacher told us about theoretical concepts, scientific current events, or anything she thought we might find interesting.  

 

That day, the topic was Schrödinger’s Cat. To explain some of the weirdness that was quantum physics, you could picture a cat locked in a box with a capsule of deadly poison. If the cat consumed the poison, it would be dead, but if it didn’t, then it would be alive. However, until you opened the box and checked, you could basically think of the cat as being both dead and alive. It was the observation that locked the cat into only one fate, one possibility, one state of a single, concrete truth.  

 

Dad kept looking at me like he was waiting for an answer. My sister finally trailed off and motioned for me to go ahead and tell. She looked disappointed but not bitter or annoyed. That made sense, because we both knew that tomorrow, it was just as likely that it would be me he didn’t see.  

 

Our parents had never been good at telling us apart.  

 

I repeated my sister’s story about science class, and for some reason, the words of the Schrödinger’s Cat theory seemed to linger in my head as we brushed our teeth and changed into our pajamas for bed.  

 

That night, I stayed up later than my sister. She was the night owl of the two of us, but I clung to consciousness with my fingernails until the numbers on the digital clock read out 2 a.m. and my twin’s breathing evened out.  

 

I didn’t normally like being conscious when my sister wasn’t. It made me feel uncomfortably alone, stuck with the idea that if she didn’t wake up, the loneliness would be permanent. I looked at the corners up above me where I lay, listening to my sister’s slow breathing to assure myself that she was here, that she was alright.  

 

It took a while, but my mind wandered back to the topic that had been attracting my thoughts like a magnet since dinner. And I knew the reason I stayed awake, feigning sleep until my sister did, was that these thoughts were thoughts I would like to be alone with. All the while, the dark corners of the room loomed over us, boxing us in.  

 

A small box of a room. A cat locked inside with a capsule of poison.  

 

I wasn’t sure whether I was the cat or the capsule.  

 

One Colby sister.  

 

The truth had been staring us in the face for a long time. The world interacted with us as though only one of us was real. And I didn’t know which of us it was.  

 

I laid there, thinking. It took me most of the night to come to the conclusion that I knew all along.  

If I was the real girl, I didn’t want to be without my sister. I didn’t want to go on without her.  

 

But there was a smaller part of me, quiet and hidden deep down where the barbs wouldn’t show, that thought about the alternative.  

 

If it was my sister that was real, then I would rather cut both our throats than let go.  

 

The grip of stress released me once I had come to that conclusion. I loosened up and sank back into the pillows. Sleep felt moments away, and I felt lighter than I had since dinner, or maybe far longer. Maybe since the first time I didn’t get my own chair in a class.  

For a moment, that barbed and buried part of me rears up again, and I looked over at my sleeping sister.  

Honestly, what does it matter? As long as the lid of our box remained closed, as long as we continued flushing those medications away where they couldn’t hurt us, as long as we didn’t alarm anyone, then maybe our box never needed to open.  

 

I curled back into the sheets and matched my breathing to the slow rhythm of my sister’s. It wasn’t that hard to convince myself to relax, to push the issue, the very idea of the cat, the box, the scientist and the poison out of my mind.  

 

Because in the end, it didn’t matter whether it was her or me.  

 

One of us was bound to be real.  

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12 Steps Away
Joshua Humphrey ~ Flash Fiction

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Dqmpuzs mzp idufuzs ue dqmxxk iqudp. Xqffqde, iadpe, eqzfqzoqe, sdmyymd: ftqk'dq mxx eaoumx oazefdgofe. Iq bdqeodunq tmxxgouzmfuaze itqzqhqd iq mpadz ftq eodunq'e uzefdgyqzf. Iq omz odqmfq ymszuruoqzf iadxpe ftmf mzzutuxmfq itqzqhqd iq dqyqynqd dqmxufk. Mxx ftq qyafuaze iq rqqx itqz ftq eodunnxqe' dqrxqofuaz tufe agd qkqe; ftq vak, ftq bmuz, ftq xmgste, mzp ftq ykefqdk, nqoayq staefe. Uez'f ftmf ftq fdgq qhux ar nquzs m idufqd? Yayqzfe ar nxuee mdq odqmfqp vgef fa nq pqefdakqp mzp dqyuzp ge ar itmf iq paz'f tmhq. Ftqk yqpuomfq ge iuft iadpe azxk fa rgdftqd pmybqz agd eagxe. Ftqk dqyuzp ge ftmf mf ftq qzp ar agd vake, iq dqfgdz fa agd yueqduqe. Ftmf'e itk U puexuwq dqmpuzs; uf dqyuzpe yq ar yq.

Reading and writing is really weird. Letters, words, sentences, grammar: they're all social constructs. We prescribe hallucinations whenever we adorn the scribe's instrument. We can create magnificent worlds that annihilate whenever we remember reality. All the emotions we feel when the scribbles reflection hits our eyes; the joy, the pain, the laughs, and the mystery, become ghosts. Isn't that the true evil of being a writer? Moments of bliss are created just to be destroyed and remind us of what we don't have. They medicate us with words only to further dampen our souls. They remind us that at the end of our joys, we return to our miseries. That's why I dislike reading; it reminds me of me. 

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Pet
Jake Westerman ~ Short Story

She was the most beautiful person I’ve ever seen. I think I loved her. I think, anyway; I don’t actually know because I haven’t actually loved anyone before. Except my mom… I think? That didn’t matter right now. All that mattered was Jenna… and her boyfriend, Brad. I didn’t even know why he was here in the sculpture workshop – he didn’t like art, sculpture, cosplay, or anything that wasn’t football or Jenna. Brad and Jenna were some of the oldest seniors in the school; both had turned nineteen over the summer. Jenna’s birthday was June 7th and Brad’s was August 2nd. Still, I was older at twenty due to being held back. Twice.

Jenna’s platinum blonde hair shimmered under the intense lighting of the sculpture room. She looked like a lioness basking in the sun.

 

Brad caught me in his jagged gaze, “What are you looking at, Alex?”

 

I blinked before averting eye contact, “N-nothing,” I stammered, “And it’s Alexander. Not Alex.”

 

“Whatever weirdo.”

 

“Brad!” Jenna whined as she nudged him, “Be nice to him! You know Alexander is… special. And such a sweetheart!”

 

She beamed at me from across the workbench, but it didn’t seem like she actually saw me. Instead, it always felt like she was looking through me, and a part of me despised her for that. Still, her apple-green eyes were gorgeous enough to seduce eye contact from me, even though it tended to make me uncomfortable with others. She really was pretty… and super nice!

 

“Whatever,” Brad groaned, “I still don’t get why he’s making a creepy peacock suit.”

 

“It’s not a peacock suit,” I calmly insisted, “It’s a Sonic cosplay.”

 

“Right,” Brad rolled his eyes, “Babe, I think I’m going to go wait in the car. You won’t be too much longer, right?”

 

“No,” Jenna sighed, “Probably about fifteen more minutes.”

 

Brad made an obvious effort to look me in the eye as he kissed Jenna’s forehead.

 

Six and a half minutes after Brad left, Jenna looked up from her sculpture project.

 

“So why do you like cosplaying so much, Alexander? Haven’t you won a lot of cosplay competitions?”

 

“Yeah, I have 37 first-place medals,” I shrugged, “but I don’t care about winning. I just like making the most convincing costumes possible. Some take me months. The winning just kind of happens I guess.”

 

“That’s so cool, buddy!” Jenna’s cheekbones rose unnaturally high as she beamed at me, “But you never actually told me why you like cosplaying.”

 

“I’ve never really thought about it. I guess… It’s nice to feel like someone else, someone beloved by a lot of people for a change.” I glanced down at my current project. “Like Sonic.”

 

“Aww,” Jenna cooed as she leaned across the workbench to wrap me in her arms.

 

I didn’t quite understand why she was doing this, but I wasn’t going to complain. Jenna smelled nice, like a mix between the industrial glue I sometimes used for cosplays and cinnamon sugar. 

Jenna finally released me from her grasp and scooted back to her spot on the shop’s workbench.

 

“Well,” Jenna grabbed the strap of her backpack, “I should probably get going. See you later, okay Alexander?”

 

“Okay.”

 

She sauntered towards the exit of the room, hips swaying under the harsh light.

 

“Jenna?” She looked back over her shoulder at me before leaving.

 

“Yes, Alexander?”

 

“Thanks.”

 

“For what?”

 

“I’m pretty sure Brad was being mean to me.”

“Oh,” Jenna frowned, “You’re welcome, but I’m sure he didn’t mean it. He’s just…”

“Not nice?”

 

“No, it’s not that. He’s just a little rough around the edges. I’ll see you tomorrow, okay?”

 

“Okay.”

 

Jenna stopped before opening the door. She paused, seemingly frozen by indecision. Without looking back at me she said, “Hey do you have any plans for Friday?”

 

“Nope.” 

 

“My parents are out of town, and I’m having a little get together with some friends from the Cheer squad at my place. You should totally come if you want!” 

 

“But… I don’t know where you live.”

 

“Don’t worry,” Jenna giggled, “I’ll send you my address.” 

 

“Okay.” 

 

The week flew by as I worked on my cosplay and thought about Jenna. She had never invited me to hang out with her outside of school before. The only time we texted was when she needed help with physics homework. This was a big step in our relationship. Maybe –just maybe– she liked me like I liked her. 

 

I stopped to buy some flowers on the way over to her house because Google told me that’s what girls liked. I bought a pricey multicolored boutique of gorgeous flowers; I wanted Jenna to know I was serious. I was way nicer than Brad, so she would probably be happier and better off with a nice guy like me anyway. I just needed to get her to see that. 

 

I inevitably arrived at her doorstep, flowers in hand. My throat felt bloated with air, like a ribbiting toad. I burped the air out before ringing the doorbell. I heard girlish laughter and the shuffling of feet before the door opened to reveal Jenna. Her shiny hair now had waves in it, and her cheeks glimmered with golden sparkles and makeup. She looked like a goddess. 

 

“Oh my gosh!” Jenna beamed, “You came!” 

 

“Yeah,” I glanced down at my flowers, trying to summon any misplaced courage I could scavenge. 

 

“Aww,” Jenna followed my gaze, “Are those for me? That’s so adorable! Girls! Get out here and see what Alexander brought!” 

 

Before I could explain my true intentions, I was surrounded by a pack of beautiful girls beaming at me and cooing over me. 

 

I barely deciphered phrases like “That’s so cute” and “He’s so sweet!” between the gaggle’s gushing condescensions. 

 

“Y-yeah,” I stuttered before thrusting the flowers over to Jenna. A part of me enjoyed the attention, but another, more primal part of me hoped that the group’s ravenous attention would follow the flowers away from me. 

 

The actual party itself was anticlimactic; the girls painted each other’s nails and mostly talked amongst themselves about boys, strained relationships, and fraught love lives. It was depressingly stereotypical and surprisingly boring. I was so bored that I jumped at the opportunity when Jenna offered to paint my nails for me because ‘it would be so cute!’ 

 

I was similarly relieved when Max, Jenna’s large husky, entered the room. The girls’ conversation turned from the dull drone of high school relationship drama to a symphony of admiration for the well-groomed dog. Max’s tail wagged as he sauntered over to the group of girls. He flopped down onto the floor, rolled over, and gazed up at the girls expectantly. 

 

“He just wants belly rubs,” Jenna explained. 

 

“That’s so cute!” 

 

“He’s so sweet,” another girl commented as she reached down to give the dog belly rubs. 

The conversation drifted back to gossip, and I –once again– felt like a mere passenger in this discourse, totally robbed of any agency, investment, or interest. Luckily, Max grew tired of belly rubs and decided to make a scene. 

 

Catering solely to his animalistic instincts, Max trotted over towards Jenna, who was sitting across the room on a recliner. He then hugged her calf with his front paws and began to pant as his body moved back and forth. It was utterly uncomfortable and somewhat gross, but I couldn’t peel my vision away. 

 

“Max!” Jenna bopped him on his head, “Stop it! That’s gross!” 

 

After being hit on the head a couple times, Max walked out of the room. The girls’ conversation picked up again as if nothing had happened. 

 

“I gotta go to the bathroom!” I exclaimed. Everyone paused to stare at me. It was the first thing I had said in twenty-three minutes. 

 

“Sure,” Jenna gestured to the door of the media room, “it’s down the hall, to the right.” 

 

Before continuing to the bathroom, I found Max lying down, bored, on his doggy bed. I reached down to pet his head. He responded with apathy, eyes not even curious enough to drift up to me. I examined the gold tag dangling from his collar. It had a phone number on it along with his name. I unclipped the collar and took it with me to the bathroom.  

 

I let out a heavy sigh before looking at myself in the mirror. Was I really about to do this? I lifted the collar up to my neck and clipped it. All the anxiety and tension I felt dissipated with the snap of the collar clip around my neck. It just felt… right. I stared at myself in the mirror, wearing Max’s dog collar. The collar was loose around my neck; Max was a large dog, and I was a relatively small human. 

 

I had an idea. 

 

I took the collar off and stuck it into my oversized sweatpants pocket. I then found some chips in the pantry, which was something Jenna wouldn’t notice missing. I waved a chip under Max’s nose, which eviscerated his apathy. I lured him to my car with the alluring aroma of the chips. I gave him the whole bag once inside my back seat. 

 

I quietly returned to the house. Jenna had an expansive backyard. I opened the sliding glass door and surveyed the fence. Being so into cosplay has given me an eye for detail. Within thirty-six seconds, I had found what I was looking for: a loose wooden plank in the fencing. It was already warped, but I was surprised at how pliant the board was; it must’ve been much older than it looked. I bent the plank just enough to create an obvious, dog-sized opening. After the work was done, I walked back into the house and neglected to close the sliding door all the way. It was really so sad how Max had run away. Now it was my turn. 

 

I walked back to the media room where the gathering was transpiring. Before opening the door, I heard that they were still talking about boys, but –this time– they were talking about a specific boy: me. I decided to listen in from the other side of the door. 

 

“Jenna, you really are so nice.” 

 

“Yeah,” another bubbly voice concurred, “I don’t think he gets out too much.” 

 

“Most people at school think he’s a weirdo; I think you actually might be his only friend.”

 

“But Alex is such a sweetheart!” Jenna responded. 

 

“You really are an angel, Jenna.” 

 

“Aww,” I could somehow hear Jenna blush, “Thank you!” 

 

I opened the door. 

 

“Alexander!” Jenna acknowledged me with subtle panic, “Are you okay? You were in there for a while…” 

 

“Actually,” I clutched my stomach, “I’m not feeling good. I think I’m going to go home.” 

 

“Oh, I’m sorry, buddy. I hope you feel better!” 

 

“Thanks.” 

 

I didn’t sleep for the rest of the weekend. This wasn’t the first time I’d felt the electrifying rush of fixation, but this was different. This time, I would be able to escape the turmoils of my own life for longer than a convention lasted. This time, things would be different. I had to make sure I got this right.

 

It was painful, but I reminded myself of what was at stake, so it was worth it. I wore Max’s collar as I worked. I started by designing a mask with a snout. I worked all night long to make it convincing. I felt unbridled pride and joy at the result; it looked almost exactly like Max’s face. 

 

I worked in my basement, unaware of the time of day, or even what day it was. My phone buzzed. It was Jenna; she was asking if I knew anything about Max. Apparently, Max had run away after her little get-together. Jenna’s parents would be home by Thursday, and she admitted to being panicked. 

 

This was perfect. People tended to accept constructed realities more easily if they were in line with what they desired. 

 

No, I texted, and I probably won’t be able to help look for him. My family moved out of state over the weekend. Sorry… I didn’t know how to tell you at the party.

 

OMG, Jenna texted back, Make sure to stay in touch, k? 

 

Okay. 

 

That was surprisingly easy. I had half-heartedly hoped that Jenna would make a bigger fuss over my surprise absence.

 

I had spent days on the project, and it was coming together nicely. No offense to Jenna, but I doubt she had the eye for detail necessary to discern my disguise from the countenance of her actual dog. Over the time I kept Max in my basement, he would bark and howl every now and again. Instead of disciplining the dog, I made sure to record every sound he made, every bark, every pant, and every whine. I then stitched a simple audio device with Max’s various barks and whinnies into the throat of my disguise. I was close to perfection; I could feel it. 

 

Still, there was one last step in completing metamorphosis; I shaved Max’s fur and made sure to collect all of it. First, I sewed his fur into the parts of my disguise that covered my skin. Next, I stripped and began to sew Max’s fur into my own skin that the disguise wouldn’t hide. It was painful, excruciating even, but the results would be more than worth it. 

 

I wore the disguise –colored contacts and all– and looked at myself in the mirror. This was my magnum opus. A hairless Max growled at me in trepidatious recognition of another animal. I was ready. 

 

I unleashed the hairless and unrecognizable dog into the wild. I hope he had a good life, because I was about to take his old one. I drove to Jenna’s house but made sure to park my car a few blocks away. I left the keys in the ignition; it was the last time I’d need to drive anyway. 

 

I began my crawl across the neighborhood to Jenna. It was a mostly uneventful day in suburbia. There was no one out beside the occasional hum of a passing car. I noticed a flier with a picture of Max nailed to a splintered telephone pole. It had a phone number and address on it, which I recognized. It was Jenna’s address, the only address other than my own I had bothered to memorize. 

 

I continued to Jenna’s backyard. I managed to make it to Jenna’s fence without detection. Next, I squeezed myself through the Max (and myself) sized hole in the fence that I’d left myself a few days before. I saw Jenna through the sliding glass door; she sat on the couch, phone glued to the side of her face, talking to someone. 

 

I would’ve been anxious if I didn’t have total trust in my craftsmanship. I used the device on my throat to release one of Max’s barks. Jenna turned to meet my gaze through the glass. I watched her face as it danced through shock, recognition, and –finally– unbridled joy and relief. Jenna’s phone bounced on the cushions as she abandoned it to rush over to the door. 

 

“Maxie!” She patted her thighs in a summoning gesture, “I missed you so much!” 

 

I rushed over to her as fast as I could on all fours. She kneeled down to wrap me in an embrace. She smelled as great as she did the last time I saw her. I began to pant, mimicking a dog as she pet me. I could feel the radiant intention of Jenna’s gentle fingertips even through the fur of my disguise. I pressed my face against hers and began to sloppily lick her cheeks, covering as much surface area as I could with my saliva. 

 

“Aww,” Jenna cooed, “I’m glad to see you missed me too!” 

 

I was home. 

 

The next few days were a slurry of new experiences. Dog food didn’t taste amazing, but I grew to appreciate the consistency of it, just as I grew to appreciate the consistency of my newfound day-to-day life. I even discovered comfort and security within the confines of my dog cage; I had a strict, defined role that freed me from the everyday woes of attempting to fit into a society that didn’t care for or about me. And, of course, my new role allowed me some intimacy that I had only ever dreamed of before. 

 

This morning, like last morning and the morning before, Jenna–hair wet and eyes filled with sleep– came to let me out of my cage for the day. She opened the door to let me out and scratched me behind my floppy ear. I pressed my face into her groin and took in her smell. It was my scent, a scent only I got the pleasure of experiencing – Jenna halfway through her morning routine, a delicious culmination of lingering body odor and soapy product. 

 

“Max!” Jenna gently chided, “That’s rude!” 

 

I looked up at her behind innocent eyes. She regarded me with a soft smile. I flopped onto my back and held my limbs above me. I allowed my tongue to roll out of my mouth in anticipation. 

 

“Oh, I know what you want,” Jenna giggled, “Who wants belly rubs? You do! Yes, you do!” 

 

She reached down to cater to my implicit request. I felt her touch on my old, human skin, under the dog hair sewed into it. Jenna felt… euphoric. I yipped happily. I was her pet. I was hers

 

“Ok Maxie,” Jenna stood to her full height, “I gotta go to school. I’ll make sure to give you all the belly rubs later.” 

 

I almost felt bad for Jenna; school was another aspect of my old life that I was more than happy to jettison. Then again, school always seemed to be significantly less daunting to Jenna; she was popular, smart, athletic, and charismatic. It was still a mystery as to why she ever befriended me in the first place. 

 

The rest of the day passed slowly. I played with my doggy toys, but that only delivered a finite amount of entertainment value. I tracked the time until Jenna got home by watching the sun crawl across the sky. Luckily, Jenna should be home sometime soon. I used to be so particular about the exactness of measuring time, but it just didn’t matter anymore. Why would a pet need to measure time? 

 

I inevitably heard Jenna’s keys jingle in the front door. I skidded across the hardwood of the living room as fast as I could. She had cheer practice today. The tastes and smells after she got back from cheer practice were some of the best parts of my new life. I yipped happily as I rushed to the door. 

 

The door opened to reveal Jenna in all her sweaty, glistening glory… and her boyfriend, Brad. 

 

“Still,” Jenna didn’t pause her conversation while petting me, “I thought he’d text me more. I know a new school can be tough, especially for someone like him, but…” 

 

“It’s weird you were so obsessed with him in the first place,” Brad held his hand out in front of my snout, expecting me to meet his greeting gesture with a sniff, but I only wanted to sniff Jenna. 

 

“What do you mean by that!?”

 

“I’m just saying,” Brad continued to hold his hand out, “maybe he got some real friends that didn’t just keep him as a pet to show off how caring, compassionate, and amazing they were to the rest of the school.” 

 

“Oh my god Brad,” Jenna scoffed, “Are you really this jealous of Alex of all people?” 

 

“Jealous of that weirdo? Are you kidding me?” 

 

I couldn’t stand it anymore. What did Brad know about Jenna? What did Brad know about my relationship with her? I unhinged my jaw to fit Brad’s hand in my mouth, and I bit down as hard as I could. I made sure to leave a mark. I hoped the bite got infected and Brad died. 

 

“OW!!” Brad exclaimed.

 

“Max!” Jenna grabbed me by my collar, “Bad boy!” 

 

She yanked me towards my dog cage and threw me in before closing the gate behind me. 

 

“What’s wrong with him!?” 

 

“Maybe he just doesn’t like jealous assholes,” Jenna shot. 

 

“Whatever.” Brad regarded my bite. “I think you might need to take him to the vet.” 

 

“What? Why?” 

 

“Look at these bite marks.” Brad held his injured hand out to her. “They’re weird, right? Almost like his teeth are too blunt. Almost like a human’s…”

 

“That is weird,” Jenna conceded. 

 

Shit. I needed a distraction, but my options were severely limited by my confinement. Just as I thought my life was coming to an end, the doorbell rang. Jenna glanced toward the door before walking over. I had never been this lucky in my entire life. 

 

As the door creaked open on its hinges, all my relief left me; the person standing at the door was my mother. Shit. 

 

“Hi, sorry to bother you. You must be Jenna.” 

 

“Yes, ma'am that’s right.” 

 

“Oh, Alex told me so much about you! Thank you for being friends with my son.” 

 

“Wait, you’re Alex’s mom?” 

 

“That’s right.” 

 

“But...” Jenna hesitated, looking at her shoes. “Alex told me that he and his family were moving out of state.” 

 

“That’s the first I’ve heard of those plans.” My mother started to tear up. “I was wondering if you’ve seen him? He’s been missing for a few days now. He spends so much time in the basement, I just assumed he was there, but…” 

 

“I’m sorry.” Jenna embraced my mother in a comforting hug. “I haven’t seen him since he was here last Friday. I would’ve tried to text him more, but my dog ran away that day.” She looked back at me in the cage. I gulped. 

 

“That’s okay. I just… I just saw his car parked a few blocks away and hoped he’d be here.”

 

“What?” Jenna’s shock was palpable.  

 

“Excuse me.” An older woman with salt and pepper hair approached the door. “I don’t mean to interrupt, but I think I might’ve found your missing dog.” 

 

“Sorry, but I think you’ve got the wrong house.” Jenna released my mother from her embrace. “My dog came home a few days ago.” 

 

“Are you sure?” The woman gently yanked a dog out from behind her. It was Max, unmistakably. His fur had grown quicker than I expected. Still, his fur was significantly shorter than mine, albeit utterly recognizable. 

 

“He looks just like the picture.” The woman held out Jenna’s flier.

 

“You’re right,” Jenna said with a shocked expression. 

 

Max ran over to her, licking at her thighs. He then flopped over, looking up expectantly at Jenna. 

 

Jenna looked between Brad’s bitten hand, my mother, and Max. Finally, she slowly turned to regard me in the cage. 

 

A blood-curdling scream escaped her, a scream filled with horrific recognition.

 

She wasn’t just looking through me this time. 

 

She finally saw me. 

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To Do List for the Week
Vanessa Winders ~ Short Story

Monday 

  • Eat microwave breakfast. Bleh :P 

  • Get Milk. 

  • Get Stamps. 

  • Take new route to work to avoid construction, important don’t forget! You messed up your tires in the old route. 

  • Park in the other parking lot, the one without cameras. 

  • Go to work in the back door. Front is still being renovated. 

  • Avoid Jerry. 

  • Get work done on the Lamba Case. Fill in missing numbers for the spreadsheets from the ballistic lab because Jerry sure the fuck didn’t. 

  • File for two weeks’ notice. Make sure boss actually hears you. 

  • Eat lunch in different corner so you can avoid Rachel the cheater venting to you again

  • Switch out the Tylenol pills in the cabinet with the “cyanide decoy” after lunch. 

  • Make sure that Steph is on lunch before you leave, she always has a hangover.  

  • Slip the actual Cyanide into Jerry’s lunch, the leave after pretending to be friendly with Steph.   

  • Make sure to not laugh when HR sends out the ‘don’t prank poison your coworkers’ email again. Lol. 

  • Don’t crumple the bag, make sure that  “Jerry’s” name is clearly legible, so Frank steals it. 

  • REMEMBER! don’t put in a lethal dose for Frank, you don’t want too much attention just yet.  

  • Make yourself scarcest at this time, try doing something on a different floor. 

  • Make sure you’re not in the room or group that goes to the hospital when the dingbats charge down the stairs after the medics. 

  • Possible! Clock out early, if need be, try to before 3 since Frank eats late and you may be able to avoid being on the premises then. 

  • Make dinner at home. Without cyanide lol. 

  • Note to self, Act surprised when they call about Franks Poisoning if not in the building when it happens. 

  • Go to bed and sleep like the dead. 

  

Tuesday 

  • Drop package off at post office. 

  • Call mom. Edit-Lunch at 1 next week Wednesday.  

  • Get flowers for Frank, pass them off to his wife, Rachel, not his lover Steph. 

  • Park in the other lot again. Renovations extended, again, boo. 

  • Stay under the radar, Boss is pissiest on Tuesdays. 

  • Make sure you finish Frank’s part of the paperwork. Double-check the with the handwriting analyst that everything matches. The material for the charts will be in his desk.  

  • Don’t let Boss convince you to take back your 2-week notice if he tracks you down.  

  • Eat lunch in the break room. Like a normal person

  • Point out to Rachel that Frank ate Jerry’s lunch again yesterday. 

  • Try not to be noticeable when the cops show up because Rachel will make a scene again. 

  • Act surprised when the cops question you for leaving early yesterday, why I had. 

  • Whatever you do DON’T tell the cops about the stupid cheating love square in the office no matter how badly you want to vent. 

  •  Explain that mom is recovering from car crash as why you haven’t been at work a whole lot over the last 3 weeks. I.E. why you’re not in a lot of the camera feeds if they ask. 

  • If need be, show them the accident photos, the one with mom’s bloody face should get the point across. 

  • If they ask about you quitting show them the pics of the NEW lab you're transferring to. :D :D :D   

  • Eat out with the staff and listen to the theories, don’t giggle no matter how stupid the theory is, and DON’T tell them about Jerry cheating on Steph with Rachel when he doesn’t sit with her. Fucking Idiots.  

  • Make sure Rachel takes the flowers to Frank because it's going to piss Jerry off. 

  • Hope she files for divorce but probably not. Stupid bitch. 

  • Go home and start on the hole in your backyard if there’s still daylight, get the lamp from upstairs if it’s later. NEED to start on that today! 

  • Go to bed and sleep like the dead. 

  

Wednesday 

  • Get groceries. 

  • Remember your coupons. 

  • REMEMBER THE COUPONS!!! 

  • Stop by bank and store the powdered cyanide in the box, get the liquid one and the syringe, hide it under mom’s jewelry on your way out. 

  • Call Mom and tell her you pass it off at lunch. Send photos if she asks. 

  • Remind Mom to take her meds at the end of the call. 

  • Check in for your half day at work. YIPPIE!!! 

  • Politely back out of the coworker cry pile that will form because Frank took a turn for the worse or some shit. Dramatic bastard. 

  • Seriously though don’t go, finish filing the closed case files you’re going to be interrupted for sure

  • Get interrupted by Boss begging you not to leave. 

  • DON’T YELL AT HIM NO MATTER HOW RUDE HE GETS! 

  • Start cleaning out your desk instead. Get stuff in a box. 

  • Spend time with Steph on your way out to complain about Jerry with her.  

  • Be polite to Jerry when he asks you for advice on dealing with breaking up with Steph. Horny Cad should have broken up with her before hooking up with RACHEL! 

  • Fuck it, give him the middle finger he knows you know anyways. 

  • Don’t laugh in his face because he still hasn’t put it together about Steph and Frank yet, seriously.  

  • Clock out. 

  • Stop by Vet to pick up your DOG! <3<3<3  

  • Clear out a spot for the syringe in your kitchen silverware drawer, hide it under the divider. 

  • Make sure the needle is armed with a dose ready to go! 

  • Make two if need be you don’t know yet. 

  • Go home and enjoy that wine bottle mom sent last year. 

  • Don’t forget you have the day off tomorrow and to turn off your alarm. Yippee! 

  • Go to bed and sleep like the dead. 

  

Thursday 

  • Sleep in. Hell yeah! :) 

  • Have a nice breakfast with Steph at Sunrise Cafe. The one on Park Row. 

  • Remember to act concerned and surprised about her finding the “fake” pills when she inevitably brings it up. 

  • Mention how Rachel and Frank are arguing again. When are they not. 

  • Watch her squirm. Don’t smirk no matter how ridiculous she looks 

  • Drop Steph off at that tool Jerry’s house for her. 

  • Dramatically tell Jerry it should have been him instead of Frank. Ham it up, leave Steph and Jerry to hash it out, your work is done.    

  • Head to Vet again to pick up the late prescription. Baby boy needs his pain pills. 

  • Help mom schedule repair man over phone. 

  • Spend day with your dog!  

  • Make sure dog doesn’t tear his stitches. The goober. <3 

  • Start looking at new cars with baby boy! 

  • Make backup plans if the apartment you’re moving to cannot be ready at the time that sketchy son of a gun landlord said it would be. 

  • Send Rachel an email about how Steph and Jerry have probably hooked up again with Frank in the hospital like he is. 

  • Don’t reply to her angry text. Lol 

  • Go to bed and sleep like the dead. 

  

Friday 

  • Wake up early. 

  • Make sure dog gets walk, gently walk mind stitches. 

  • WATCH THE STITCHES! 

  • Skip breakfast you can eat at work. 

  • Remember to pack it! 

  • Make sure you’re still parking in the other lot, renovations still not done. 

  • Go to Rachel first and ask what she thinks about Jerry and Steph in person she’ll have calmed down now. 

  • Feed into Rachel’s gossip ideas. 

  • LOL don’t give away for the love of god that you know they were all cheating on each other.  

  • Set Rachel off with a suggestion that Steph is behind Frank’s hospital visit 

  • Don’t stop Rachel from screaming that to the rest of the office. 

  • Act flabbergasted when the cops show up again and start another round of questions, you know about PART of the cheating square. [ ] 

  • Act the part of a suspicious but concerned friend with Steph, make sure cops see. 

  • Actually do your job once the cops leave. You need to finish the data sheets for the handwriting results. 

  • Finish up Steph's part of the project because she a lazy ho that can’t work because she's sad that she’s being called out for her bullshit. 

  • I mean it's all true like fuck them though it’s their faults. 

  • Clock out. 

  • Once home write Boss an email that you may be unable to make the last week. 

  • Act surprised when new hire is already found. Oh my, he thinks he’s so sneaky.  

  • Graciously offer to teach the new hire the ropes. BE NICE! 

  • Go to bed and sleep like the dead. 

Saturday 

  • Wake up early. 

  • Park in the same new lot. 

  • Eat breakfast at desk again. 

  • Act friendly to the new hire when Boss introduces you. 

  • Act friendly no matter how annoying you know that person will be.  

  • Give a tour of the place.  

  • Keep acting friendly. 

  • Introduce your “friends” to the new guy/your replacement. 

  • Let Steph make a fool of herself. 

  • Hint that Rachel is cheating on her sick husband with Jerry to new hire. DEFINITELY tell the new hire that Jerry and Steph are still an item. 

  • Graciously leave the ensuing argument to finish the tour with noob.  

  • Finish the day by showing off your cubical to the new guy.  

  • Make sure all ALL of your stuff is with you, steal company supplies if you need to sell it harder. 

  • Clock out like a boss! 

  • Eat dinner early. Important! 

  • Wait patiently for Jerry the dead man to storm up to your front door. 

  • Calm him down by offering him cookies and an ear like always. 

  • Distract him with the healed dog. BabyBoy was only in the hospital because of his drunken ass! 

  • Make sure that he has his back to you when you stick the needle in him. 

  • Bury him. 

  • Plant the flowers on top. 

  • Go to bed and sleep like the dead. 

  

Sunday 

  • Act upset when they call to tell you that Frank has passed. 

  • Take the day off from work so you can mourn. 

  • Spend time with the dog! <3. 

Evidence taken from scene, October ****, registered for court use July **** 

Case File: LLLLLLLLL 

 

Note From Officer on Duty: 

 

        Found this planner in a locked tool chest under the suspect's bed, The ink matches the pens used in the suspect's cubical as does the ink and handwriting sample from the “fake” pills note. Checked the spot in the garden and found part of a hand, some of the fingers were missing, found one in the doghouse, and part of the flower bed had been dug up by a dog. The rest of the body was mostly intact with the exception to the back of the body which was bruised post-mortem by a book-like object. Bruises match the binder dimensions, binder was found separate and placed in different evidence bags. 

 

Chain of command sign  _______________________________________________

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Sinking
Madison Milligan ~ Short Story

I could not swim but I refused to drown.

 

I was a citizen of the unknown. Known to us, but to the rest of the world, a shrouded mystery best left untouched. I suppose some have tried to find us. I bet they never returned. 

I was a citizen of the city above the darkness. One might think that meant that I was a citizen of the light. From the outside, I’m sure the city looked that way. Bright buildings painted white. The marble castle towering from the center, reaching its spires towards the sky, touching the clouds. The clouds, too, were white. It hardly ever rained. 

When it rained, we didn’t leave our houses. We all felt the same fear, the same despair, the same terrified interest as we watched it from inside of our little white houses, which were all the same too. 

The rain wasn’t fresh. It was dark and pungent. And it led to the one place we all feared the most. 

 

The water. 

The water below the city was murky and dangerous. It surrounded us. 

None of us knew how to swim. We had never been taught. There was no point, because if you entered the water, it wouldn’t matter. 

We avoided the crumbling outcroppings, the twisted trees stooping low to caress the swirling lake with their branches. I heard that the water burned the leaves that touched it. Melted them. I was too scared to look to see if that was true. We all avoided looking at the water if we could. I suppose we were afraid that it would somehow ensnare us, lure us, reach out and pull us to it. That we would become mesmerized by its expanse like by a witch’s spell, just like the trees had, the trees that burned. 

We were told stories of what could live in those depths, what would happen to us if we fell in. Stories of the people that left the city. They told us that if we listened closely enough, we could hear the faint screams of the victims of the water, echoing from deep beneath the surface. 

They instilled fear. They never gave us answers. 

None of us had seen what lived there. But they told us of the bones that rested at the bottom of the lake. Cracked. Chewed up. We didn’t need to see the shadowy figures they told us about to be afraid. 

We never heard screams from the city. The things that happened were swift. Silent. I don’t know if they were painless, or if the screams of the taken were locked away somewhere none of us could hear them. 

Even now, even after all this time, I am scared to talk ill of the city. They can’t find me now. But what if they could? I dread what would happen to me then. 

The city was impoverished. We had no trade. The authorities took what little funds there were for themselves. There were more of us than there were of them. But we were weakened, malnourished, afraid. We did not rise up against them, could not rise up against them. The authorities kept us from leaving. They took away those who tried, those who even spoke of it. Here, we knew what to expect and what we had to do to stay alive. Out there was the unknown. Our fear of the water kept us compliant. Our fear of the water kept us from leaving.

 

For some, the city was too much. The unknown seemed like a better prospect. The city tried to keep us from hearing the truth, to keep us quiet, but rumors spread like leaves in the wind. They tried, but they could not control our voices. 

Some people jumped from the cliffs hanging over the treacherous waters. I’m sure their deaths must have quick and violent. A fast drop and a crack of bones as the water broke their bodies and swallowed them whole. Others climbed down the cliffs to the edge of the water, softly, quietly, drawn-out. The lake accepted them in a smothering, deadly caress. The authorities told us they were hypnotized. They didn’t say by what. 

Maybe it didn’t matter. They knew we wouldn’t ask questions. Asking questions got you killed. 

I lived with my sister for the years after my parents disappeared. 

The authorities refused to tell us what happened to them. With clipped tones and thinly disguised threats, they maintained that they didn’t know and that our parents chose to leave. The weapons in their belts glinted. 

It wasn’t just governmental officials that pretended like nothing was wrong. Neighbors, friends, distant relatives. They quickly changed the topic if we mentioned our parents. They told us that we were imagining things. Our parents weren’t taken. They chose to leave. No one seemed to care that no one ever left the city. That it wasn’t possible. 

Or at least, they didn’t care on the surface. Their eyes betrayed them. They were filled with fear, sadness, pity. It made me angry. I didn’t want their pity. I wanted my parents. 

My sister changed after our parents disappeared.

 

I had always remembered her as smiling, cheerful, energetic. As bright as sunlight in midsummer, beaming down on me. Her warmth radiated around her. I basked in it. They say that blood is thicker than water, but our bond ran even deeper than that. She made me feel like I could do anything, be anything. I adored her. 

I remember playing with her in the hot sun during those summer days before I knew anything. She pushed me on the rickety wooden swing tied to the tree in the yard. She spun me around and around until I was laughing and dizzy, toppling over onto the soft grass. She picked me up and let me rest my head on her shoulder when I skinned my knees on the rocks.

 

She missed our parents just as much as I did, or maybe even more, but she tried not to show it.  

She cared for me when I missed them, when I was sobbing. She tried to take just as good care of me as they did even though she was only four years older. I never saw her cry, but sometimes, when she thought I was asleep and couldn’t hear her, she would. I would lie with my back to the paper-thin wall that separated us, listening to her wracking sobs. I never told her I had heard her. I never went to comfort her. 

Oh, how I regretted that for years to come. 

The days before it happened, I noticed her acting strangely. I caught her eyes lingering on me more often, longer. She hugged me. She told me she loved me. 

The morning she left, her goodbye felt different. More loving. More final. 

I should have known, then. I should have known. 

She left her keys on the kitchen table. The table still had four chairs arranged around it, even though only two were occupied now. I grabbed her keys and followed her out the door. 

Maybe if I had noticed earlier, I would’ve gotten there in time. Maybe if I had realized why her goodbye had sounded so final, I wouldn’t have been too late. Maybe if I had comforted her, been there for her, she would still be there standing next to me. Maybe. Maybe. 

Maybe. The word haunted me. 

Footprints in the path. Diverging. Stumbling. Descending. A forbidden climb. Down the face of the cliff. A bit of blood staining the stone, like from the cut of a finger. To the outcropping. Overlooking the waters. My sister. 

My sister. Staring down. Turned away. Away from me. Her face obscured. Looking down. The water.

 

A step.  

 

Comprehension dawning. The roar of the wind in my ears. Running. Tripping. Falling on the path. Kneecaps stung. Tasted blood. Hand outstretched. Towards her. My sister. Turned away.  

Head raised. Tried to scream. Voice carried away, away by the wind. 

Step. 

Stumble. 

 

Jump. 

 

Tumbling out of view. Couldn’t see her anymore. 

 

My sister. 

 

No. 

 

My sister. No, no, no. 

 

Splash. 

 

And then silence. 

 

 

It was shattered by my scream. A prolonged, strangled sound. It pierced my ears. My vocal cords felt mangled. They burned. Even the wind couldn’t wrench the sound away from me. It lingered in the air.  

I ran to the edge of the cliff she had climbed down. I strained my eyes over the edge of the outcropping. Staring at the water. Searching the water. There was nothing but the waves lapping against the rocks below. 

 

No blood. No body. 

 

I refused to believe it. It didn’t sink in. I was numb. I felt sick. I wanted to cry, I wanted to scream, I wanted to sob, I wanted to plunge myself into the water and find her, I wanted to hurt something, I wanted to hurt it, I wanted to kill it, I wanted to make it give her back, I wanted to yell at her, I wanted to shake her, I wanted to drag her up the cliff and hold her, I wanted to comfort her, I wanted to jump, I wanted to jump off, I wanted to run away, I wanted to hide, I wanted to wake up. 

 

Wake up. Wake up. 

 

But I didn’t wake up. 

 

I don’t remember how I got home. I don’t remember much. The authorities came. They went. Cold eyes. Cold questions. No remorse. 

 

I lost her keys. I couldn’t bring myself to go find them, to go back to that place. I sat in my seat at the kitchen table. Where there used to be four, then two, now there was only one. I was truly alone. I sat at the table and cried.  

Emotion washed over me in waves, like the waves on the rocks. The pain never faded. The pain was always there. 

That could have been the end. 

But it wasn’t. 

A month went by. I stumbled through life. I felt meaningless. Everything seemed duller. 

She haunted me. 

Not just in my memories. My dreams were filled with her. The same dream. Over and over. She was in the lake. In the water. Alive. I watched her. She would notice me. A smile, a real, happy smile. The kind of smile she had before everything happened. The kind of smile that made me forget everything. She called my name. She told me we could be together again, if only I had the courage. She reached out to me. To touch my face. 

And then I woke up in my own bed. Drenched in sweat. Shaking. Coughs racking me. I felt like there was water in my lungs. I felt like I had been drowning. I shook it off, shook off the sweat. Shook off the water. 

I was going insane. I was losing my mind, what little of it was left. I felt like I should be bitter. She haunted me. But I missed her. I yearned for her. 

The moonlight was harsh that night. Trickled through the windows. Blinded me when I awoke. The sweat soaked through my sheets. I got up to wash my face.  

But I went to the door. Grabbed the handle. Opened it. Felt the cool night air. 

The best way I can describe it is an impulse. 

Even that doesn’t really describe it. An impulse is more conscious. 

It felt guttural. Instinctual. Habitual, even though it was not. I was led by something, something that felt subconscious. I was half-awake. Maybe I was sleepwalking. 

I followed the path. And then I diverged. 

Stumbling. Descending. A familiar climb. Down the face of the cliff. I cut my finger on the stone. A bit of blood, left behind. To the outcropping. Overlooking the waters. Step. Looking down. Step. I was afraid but I was driven forward. Step. 

I looked down. 

A face stared up at me. 

 

Out of the water. 

My sister. 

My sister. 

She called my name, softly. She sounded the same as she always did. Her face was pale in the moonlight. Almost translucent. Whole. Unbroken. She was not resting at the bottom of the lake. She was there, right in front of me. Not swimming. Not drowning.  

 

Floating in the water. Calling for me. Reaching for me. 

 

I wanted her to touch my face. Hold my hand in hers. Brush my hair with her fingers as I laid my head on her shoulder. As she comforted me. 

 

All I wanted was comfort. 

 

I was lonely. 

So lonely. 

I didn’t want to be alone anymore. 

What was there to be afraid of anymore? 

What was there to care about…anymore… 

She reached her arms out, like she expected a hug. I reached my hand out too, longing for her.

Reached my hand to the lake. Reached my hand to the water. 

Step. 

The edge of the outcropping crumbled beneath me. I stumbled.  

And I plunged into the waters below. 

I screamed for her, bubbles flying out of my mouth. Water rushing into my lungs as I choked on it. It stung. 

Something was embracing me. She was embracing me. The water was embracing me. The darkness was embracing me. I was embracing myself. The surface had forsaken me. It was rising further and further away. I couldn’t see the moon. I couldn’t see the moonlight. It was cold. 

I could not swim but I refused to drown. 

I was falling. 

Sinking.  

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