We received many wonderful stories this semester. Here are a few of favorites.
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The word reverberates through the empty tunnel, duplicating itself over and over again as it gallops over the train tracks and off into the dark. A girl’s cheeks flush with excitement, an oddity within the box where she once stayed. But now the rigid, cardboard walls of obedience, no longer in arms reach, begin to fade from memory. Two years, three years, maybe even an entire lifetime without pulse and finally her pretty suburban life burns in the wake of vivacity.
She turns with a giddy spin, pointing her flashlight. There he is.
A boy giggles in admiration, “Come here.”
Some fake reluctance and a couple twisting steps forward places the girl a breath’s distance from the boy’s chest. There’s a drum being beaten furiously in there. She smiles. He smiles.
With a great shove, she’s off, laughing hysterically as her feet trace the tracks.
“Sara, fuck!” the boy says laughing, still able to feel the girl’s hands on his chest. “I can’t see shit!” but these words are lost, drowned in the cacophony of laughter and rocks kicked up and against everything.
A slightly human hum finds its way to Sara, now hundreds of bounds off. The distance makes the boy’s voice sound like one of the forgotten tunnel lights that now brings no life to the dark but an endless, lonely buzz. She’d turn back but there’s a feeling in her stomach. A good one.
She brings her fingers through her distressed hair and wipes away a bead of sweat that tickles her temple. The flashlight is off. The darkness is cooling and she closes her eyes. It feels done with, the insecurity, the cardboard walls. A shadow’s shadow she considered herself, but what now stood in the tunnel was alive and had worth. Sara shuts her eyes for a moment, then opens them to a blackness that is new.
The girl’s name catches her as it ricochets off the walls and into the distance.
She turns. A small bright light is in the subway closer to the boy, their only flashlight clutched firmly in the girl’s right hand.
The boy’s voice finds her again. This time much cleaner in tone “Sara there’s a train, fucking run!”
Run. Now there’s a drum in her chest beating louder than the boy’s was. The flashlight is on and Sara’s hair bounces off her back as her legs carry her quickly away from the light and into the dark.
The flashlight comes back on.
Platform. Where’s the fucking platform.
The drum beats.
Now crude, painted figures and deformed letters emerge from the dark as the light spreads across the un-groomed tunnel. The darkness is gone and now the dirty grafittied walls watch on silently as the girl’s tomb grows brighter and brighter. There is no platform, only rails and rails that are infinite and laughing at the girl as her strides land quicker and harder. Behind her the boy’s steps grow closer and closer till he is by her side.
“Come on Sara!”
Now Sara’s drum is beating louder than the voice telling her to move.
“Sara! Come on!” The boy is panicked. It is no longer dark at all and there is thunder in the
tunnel, booming behind the two. Sara squints through the tears now forming in her eyes and
points the flashlight.
Come on Sara! Keep running!
The boy plants his hands on the yellow painted cement platform ridge, throws his legs over and onto the waiting area and immediately turns to reach out for the girl. A crowd of waiting passengers are taken aback by the boy and watch on with confusion as the rumble of the train grows in power.
Sara’s feet clap against the tunnel floor in quick succession. Fifteen feet. She can feel the floor shake. Ten feet. A tear falls from her left eye and trails off towards her ear. Five feet. It’s too much. She cries out as if the sheer force of her scream could carry her the few remaining feet to the boy’s reach. She reaches out for his hand and squeezes with all her might.
With one swoop the boy swings Sara up and away from the tracks. Her drum is beating uncontrollably. They look into each other’s eyes, both starved for breath. He laughs. She laughs.
The world is spinning with excitement, crumbling down upon any foundation of understanding
what it means to be alive. There is no right or wrong. There was nothing before, there is
nothing to come. All that shines is the fluorescent glow of present tense.
Sara stops laughing, her stomach filled to the brim with flutters, places her hands on the boys
chest and with another great shove, sends him back down onto the tracks.
For a moment the thunder stops, but the drum, the drum pounds with furious passion, filling
the room, echoing endlessly through Sara’s existence.
It echoes years ago and it echoes on and on, but now, in this very moment, it roars
uncontrollably as a girl’s smile reflects across the many windows of a train.
By Nicole McGuire
Dizzying waves of heat bounced up off of the asphalt from the unrelenting shine of the sun. The road was an unending straight shot from the city, where it first met with buildings of different colors shapes and sizes, until it wound out to scenes of golden grass flying out of the ground, sticking its hands out towards the sunlight searching for something. Eventually this road met up with a lusher scenery, from a world of gold to a world of green. It made its way towards beautiful trees that would make any building kneel before its grandeur, and any human painfully crane his or her neck in order to catch sight of the tops of these majestic towers only to realize its an impossible task. And then past the forest of mighty trees miles and miles up the road, where the landscape is no longer lush greens but a blend of different hues of red and brown that make up the harsh rocky mountains that push each other down in order to rise higher to come that much closer to the sky, there is a man in his jeep.
The road weaved, naturally following the landscape of the mountain terrain. He sat in his jeep, the radio set to a decent volume, at which he wouldn’t lose track of himself, and he continued along the road. He had started out in the city with its familiar sights and sounds and had followed along to the golden fields, where the air held the scent of the heat and the sharpness of the cow manure, and then he had reached the forest, where he could taste the moisture in the air and feel the green energy scorch through him as he continued along. Never stopping. He had to get to the cabin, where his family was hosting a large reunion, with too much food and too much noise, but in all its years never him. He had missed so many family reunions, work took up too much of his energy, and he was a careless son in the first place. But he would not miss this year. His father had finally come out of the hospital, neither better nor worse, but it was a wake up call for himself to be there for his father while he still could.
The sun was starting to set as he continued down the road, he had just about another 45minutes until he reached the cobbled drive of his folks retired place. And he had another half tank of gas left in him, he could almost picture the surprised faces of his family members as they saw him walk through the oak arched doorway. He could see his sister looking at him with a proud face, and his nieces running at him full speed having not seen him for a couple years. His aunts and uncles would all laugh and argue over who had won the bet, but the best would be his parents. An old graying pair they were. His father was a retired butcher that had owned his own store but eventually had passed the business down to his son in law, never to admit that he was too old for the business he had said he wanted more time for his wife and that he wanted to give the man his daughter married something wholesome to do. His mother owned a bookstore, a warm and cozy place that gave off the scent of old literature. It was full of natural lighting and couches that swallowed its users, it was her pride and joy. Most of his childhood was spent hiding in the corners of the bookstore, getting lost in the worlds the authors created. He couldn’t wait to see the surprise on their faces, the man smiled to himself as he pictured these scenes in his mind. His mother’s tears, his father’s pride.
He continued along the empty road picking up speed seeing that there were no other cars nearby. He reached over towards the radio dial and cranked up the volume on one of his favorite songs, smiling to himself he started singing a long and patting the steering wheel to the beat of the drums. Just as the chorus picked up he noticed a flash of brown through the branches of the brown trees that were scattered along the side of the road immersed between the large rocks that adorned the landscape of the area, he once again reached over to turn down the volume, never once taking his eyes off the road. But it was too late.
The flash of light golden brown appeared again as he turned the volume down, he watched as the delicate creature became a blur as it attempted to cross the road, through a narrow break in the rocky terrain. The lengthy slender brownish legs of the deer carried it almost entirely across the road, but it stopped short managing to still block off some of the road. He spun the steering wheel to avoid hitting the animal, but lost track of himself in the maneuver. Reaching for the wheel with as much force as possible he tried to stop himself from crashing into the broad face of the large boulder adjacent to the road. He managed to avoid the crash into the jagged slab of rock by turning the wheel and riding along it side by side, unfortunately this windy road continued with its hairpin curves and he shot straight across the road towards the metal barrier.
I looked up to see the metal pipe way that was keeping me from a horrible accident. There was no time to turn the wheel or to stomp on the breaks, everything was working in slow motion, until life continued on in with its cruel speed. I saw my family’s faces flash before me, the sheen of tears that filled my cousin’s eyes as they laughed too hard, the intensity in the eyes of my aunts and uncles as they had friendly competition, the years of pride that my mother and father had shown me. In seconds I managed to witness a lifetime. But I was determined to come out of this alive. I wouldn’t be stopped least of all by a damn deer.
As the sun finished its descent the car broke through the metal barrier in a loud crash that rang out across the empty countryside. While the car didn’t smash into any of the big boulders that lay scattered throughout the area, it continued on its choppy path of bumpy earth, mowing down trees and plowing into smaller rocks until it eventually ran into a large fallen log and rolled over on itself. In the darkness the only sound heard was the groaning shriek of metal. A red glow from the brake lights filled the darkness, reflecting off of the dreary broken looking branches of the nearby trees, with a heavy feeling, until that too eventually faded leaving no recollection of any accident.
By Kimberly Kaufman
When Amy Mason realized what she was looking at, an advertisement for a studio apartment fit for one, she panicked, closed the browser, and deleted her Internet history. She put her phone in her weathered black purse and stuck her hands in her jacket pocket, shifting her feet in her loafers as if it was the most casual thing to do. She was standing at the end of the platform, because it saved her three minutes walking home and was always the least crowded. She looked up at the computerized sign on the wall. The train wouldn’t arrive for another ten minutes.
The ad had pictured a small studio on the first floor of a dark blue Victorian Italianate. The studio had no oven or kitchen to speak of, just a microwave, a hot plate, and a sink. It had crown molding on the lavender and grey walls, and the main room featured an original brass chandelier. There was even a claw foot bathtub, painted red. Amy looked around her at the posters in the tunnel, one for a new Disney movie her daughter would want to see, and another for an online dating app. She thought of her mental to-do list for that evening: start making dinner, go over Aidan’s math homework with him so he didn’t fail, and make sure Rosey got her medication if J hadn’t already done that. Then hopefully get to sleep before 11 PM. She was determined that tomorrow would be one of those days she remembered to turn on the lights while getting dressed, so she wouldn’t be wearing black slacks with her blue suit jacket, like today. Or better yet, maybe she’d have time to pack her own lunch instead of just the kids’.
She pulled out her phone again as she waited for the train. She was going to start playing a game, maybe the one with the candy that killed time, when she smelled something. She looked up and saw that the other passengers around her had walked away. Those that were still looking up from their phones stared at a limping man walking in Amy’s direction. His head jerked slowly as he walked: to the left with one slow step, and to the right with the next.
The man wore a burnt orange jacket with a stain on the front that was either spilled coffee or vomit. Amy suspected the latter. His hair was just long enough to stick to his left cheek, but not enough to cover the oozing welts on his face as much as Amy would have liked. There was an odor about him like feces and chemicals, like he’d fallen in a portable toilet and then baked in the sun. He reached his hand out towards her. She could see his eyes were green, with a yellow film over them, like the zombies in the TV show Aidan liked to watch.
“Excuse me, ma’am, can you spare a dollar,” he asked. He blinked rapidly and then opened his eyes wide. His voice was haggard, but also loud, echoing through the Civic Center station. She sensed in her peripheral vision a few more people on the platform look up from their phones.
Amy would never in a thousand years have spared a dollar for him. She had worked in the maternity ward as a social worker right after grad school, and knew the signs of meth addiction. It was after those six months she had vowed both to find a new career, and to never give money to the homeless again. Grant writing, albeit boring, was a welcome change.
“I can’t help you,” she said, looking down at her phone. She expected him to go away, but instead he took another step in her direction, until he was just an inch or two from her face.
“I said,” he repeated, “Do. You. Have. A. Dollar?” The last word was filled with saliva and spite, and the yellow film in one of his eyes started to pulse. He tilted his head: chin to the left, chin to the right. His eyes would not let her go.
“I’m sorry, sir, I can’t help you,” Amy said, taking a step backwards. She just wanted to get on the train and away from him, from everything.
The man dove head first onto the tile floor, and started banging his fists. “No, no, no, no-no-NOOOOO” he wailed. Phlegm bubbled up from his throat. His whole face was pink now. He started to cry, the scattered welts on his face becoming moist and dark brown.
His once-white Keds, now grey, were coming apart at the seams. He flailed his body as if his limbs were stuffed with cotton balls and attached by threads, and rolled off the platform, onto the tracks. Amy slowly started to walk away, towards the others. But she couldn’t do it. She stopped walking, physically unable to move her legs any further from the man on the tracks. She couldn’t just let him die. She turned around and ran back.
“Hey!” She shouted from the edge of the platform. “Get out of there, there’s a train coming in 5 minutes!”
The man continued to sob. He laid facedown, clinging onto the tracks, one with each hand, like he was trying not to fall off a cliff.
“Hey!” She yelled again. But he had stopped moving. She looked at the electronic sign with the incoming trains. Four minutes. People were staring at him but no one was coming over to help. A tan man in a black and white striped long sleeve shirt ran over from the middle of the platform, yelling for someone to call for help.
Amy put her purse on the platform and lowered herself, legs first, onto the tracks. She dangled by her arms for a second or two until she let go. She looked up at the list of incoming trains. Three minutes now. She grabbed the man by the jacket and he wailed like a lamb being pulled out for the slaughter. One of the lights above her went out, casting the tracks into shadow. She heard the wave-like roar of the train through the tunnel and when she tried to lift the man once more, he had become heavy, like he’d swallowed a bucket of nails. She jumped up to grab the edge of the platform, and tried to pull herself back up.
Amy stared into the black space of the tunnel, trying to make sense of the darkness as the train sped through. It was just a black void, like the photo album her mother had given her but she hadn’t the time to fill. The pages stayed black forever, while the pictures of her children’s birthdays filled her shoeboxes and were transferred from one phone to another, year after year and into eternity. She closed her eyes for a minute, thanking whatever benevolent entity had brought the MUNI attendant at that last minute, helping both her and the man onto the platform before the train arrived. They had asked if she was ok, if she needed a minute and what had happened, but she had felt dizzy and told them she needed to go home and give her dog medicine. Which was the truth, even if she had felt stupid the moment the words left her mouth. Now that she was sitting down, she felt limp and weightless, like her own shadow.
When she opened her eyes, Amy instinctively reached for her purse. She had fallen asleep. She was the last one on the train. The fog was so thick she couldn’t see more than two feet ahead. She gathered her purse and jacket and got off the train. As soon as she was on the platform, the train sped away.
Now that she was at Ocean Beach, she thought she might as well call her family to say she would be late, and take a much-needed walk. Maybe she’d walk the ten blocks home, or maybe she’d just walk along the beach for a while and take another train. She got out her phone and called J, but instead of ringing, the call disconnected. Amy looked at her phone. No reception.
She looked around at the platform and realized this was not the Ocean Beach station at all. That stop was outside, in front of some salt-air eroded mid-century buildings, and a café, where you could smell the ocean and the air was clear. All of the stops after the Sunset tunnel were outside, but this station was underground. Although she couldn’t see far because of the fog, a wind swept through, making Amy believe this was a larger station than most.
Nobody else was there. Amy heard a guitar and singing somewhere under the pounding of the wind. A folk song, maybe. The deep, thunderous voice filtered through the tunnel, echoing into all the spaces she couldn’t see. Not knowing what else to do, she walked towards the sound of the music. It was coming from the end of the platform, where the cool-toned lights ended and the darkness began. It sounded like a Johnny Cash song. J liked Johnny Cash and would play him in the car sometimes, but she didn’t recognize this song.
As she walked forward she saw the singer emerge from the fog, first as a distant shadow, and then a bulky shape. Finally she saw the body of a thin young man with long blue hair holding a guitar. His guitar case was open on the floor in front of him. The lining was dark blue velvet, the same color as his hair. The blue, greasy hair was combed back, slightly receding, and his natural brown roots had grown out half an inch. He wore a leather jacket, and had dark, wide-set eyes and an aquiline nose. He looked right at her, nodded and smiled. He was missing one of his front teeth. The song sped up ever so slightly, as he sang, “I sat by her grave, and I whisper my tears/ I see the noose above but no death do I fear.” Perhaps this was an original song.
Amy had seen him before, playing in the train station in the Tenderloin and Financial District before her first child was born. She remembered hearing those Johnny Cash songs- this guy only ever played Johnny Cash and some originals- when she had been angry, or sad, or just having a regular day. Unlike the violinist or the opera singer, she had liked the music he played, and he pulled off Johnny Cash’s voice with a precision she hadn’t minded hearing when she was heading into work. She’d always wanted to give him money whenever she walked by, but she was shy and was always either rushing to work or speeding home. She remembered reading a newspaper article about him a couple years back, but couldn’t remember what it was about.
Amy waited patiently while the singer finished the last thirty seconds of his song. When it ended, she dropped a dollar into his guitar case. She watched it float down onto the blue velvet, the only money anyone had given him that day.
“Do you know which way to the exit?” She asked.
He didn’t say anything, only smiled and started into the next song. But he nodded his head in the direction behind him. She thanked him and kept walking.
The fog was beginning to thin, and she could see she was now walking through a large tunnel with concrete walls. She put on her coat and stepped around some large, black puddles. As she walked, she reached out her arm and grazed her fingers against the wall. They were soft, like a pillow. She pushed her hand in further, and felt something fleshy and wet. Amy quickly pulled her hand out.
Amy began to shake and quickened her pace into a run. This couldn’t be real. She finally saw a sign that read “EXIT” in red and white letters next to a wooden ladder. For the second time that day, she was glad she never wore heels. She slung her purse over her chest and started to climb. The ladder seemed endless, and even though the fog had continued to thin, there was no ceiling in sight. After a minute or so of climbing, Amy looked up and saw a circular opening. She pulled herself out of the hole.
Amy was trying to catch her breath when she remembered what the news article had been about. Paul “Rata” Moreno, the “Country punk singer,” after struggling with depression and drug abuse for most of his life, had committed suicide at the young age of twenty-eight.
Amy started to shake violently, whether from the cold or the landscape before her, she wasn’t sure. She looked around, seeing a smoldering, burned out San Francisco. She saw now that she was at the Ocean Beach station, except this version of the station was underground. Waves lapped around the dilapidated buildings. The shoreline had moved up a quarter of a mile from where it had been the last time she had been there. When she looked at the skeletal buildings, so many of them missing roofs and doors and whole sections of paint, she knew that, somehow, the city had been like this for years. A large, orange sun hung low in the sky, and purple and brown clouds were moving in from the east. As a pair of rats cautiously ran over to greet her, Amy prayed she would wake up and find her family gathered around, waiting.
By Adina J. Pernell
Misty Temper was a strange name for a girl to have. Most people didn’t believe her when she said that was her name. Some would laugh. It was funny she mused; a redundancy really, and an understatement.
Her first victim was Gideon Sparks; a bartender who owned a heavy metal dive bar called The Rusty Nail. Gideon proposed to her with a day right out of her most gothic fantasies. She awoke to breakfast in bed, a single black rose on her tray. Gideon slipped back underneath the black velveteen comforter with her, his broad dark brown chest glistening with the sweat from their love-making in the early morning light. He smoothed back her long twisted locs and caressed her shoulder.
“You still haven’t touched your French toast,” he mumbled as he nibbled her neck sweetly.
“OK, OK” she giggled “I’ll eat the damn toast.”
Misty lifted the tray and on top of the frosted toast was an onyx ring. Her heart nearly burst she was so happy. She tried the ring on, holding it up to the faint light and it sparkled darkly against her skin. They were so perfect for each other she thought. They had to be the only African-American Goth couple around for miles. They honed in like two corresponding satellites. She loved his mysteriousness. He would be gone at odd hours of the night, but she never questioned him. He did run a Bar after all.
She worked nights too at the local morgue. How trite she thought that she should work there, given that she was into gothic culture. Her crazy friends always wanted to visit her there but she wouldn’t let them. There’d be no molesting the dead on her watch.
She made her way out the house to where her late model sedan was parked and noticed to her chagrin that the key was staring back at her from inside, still stuck in the ignition. She’d been in such a rush last night to get to Gideon that she’d locked herself out her car.
“Ah fuck me,” she yelled. She remembered that Gideon had mentioned something about keeping a slim Jim in his work shed. She never went in there because it was his private domain. Sometimes he’d be in there for hours doing wood working. Once inside the shed, she tried the drawers in a red tool chest. The slim Jim was nowhere to be found. In her haste to get to another chest she tripped over a hack saw that was on the floor and fell against the wall, noticing it gave way a little. Investigating further, she found a wooden panel and slid it back.
Misty cupped her hands over her mouth to stop the flow of vomit that stuck in her throat. The boy inside must have only been about six or seven. He was enclosed in a plastic bag next to a bottle of embalming fluid. It didn’t take her long to put two and two together. She carefully placed the panel back and went to call AAA roadside assistance.
Night had long since fallen, gripping the city in its cloying embrace. The Rusty Nail closed at 2 am. Misty waited in the driveway for Gideon to come home. His vintage Harley rumbled like a beast as it crawled to a stop on the driveway. He dismounted the bike and ran to grab her in a sensual bear hug.
“Hey baby,” he growled, his hands cupping her butt.
“Hey,” she smiled with effort. “Gideon,” she began, “let’s do something different tonight. Something wild”
“Sure,” he grinned. “What you got in mind? I’m game.”
“I always wanted to make love in the wild. Somewhere secluded. Like we could drive out towards Santa Cruz – out in the middle of nowhere.”
“Your wish is my command baby”, he drawled seductively.
They parked off the roadside nestling the bike in a groove of trees. She got off the bike and gave him a long slow kiss.
“Now I want you to get naked and let me worry about the rest,” she smiled coyly.
He lay down on the grass compliant. He looked so vulnerable that she had to remind herself of her resolve.
“Tell me you’re deepest fantasies,” she whispered. “I want to know all your secrets.
“You already know mine honey.”
She looked at him quizzically as she tied each wrist and both ankles to four tree stumps firmly with a rope she had brought from the shed and stored in a knapsack.
“I was wondering what you were gonna do with that,” he smiled.
“Do I know all your deepest, darkest secrets love?” she asked finally revealing a secret of her own. A large kitchen knife freshly sharpened that day. “I’m guessing you’re into some really freaky shit right?”
He looked up confused.
She pouted dramatically looking down at him balancing the blade between each hand.
“You looked so perplexed. Let me enlighten you ‘babe’. Isn’t that what you like Gideon – babies.”
She pulled out the knife and lifted it up high in the air over her head. Reality dawned in his stare.
“Oh yes ‘babe’ you’re finished.”
Before she could hear any explanations or apologies she struck with a swift blow. The knife savagely sliced through bone, muscles and sinew. Blood spewed everywhere. This was gonna be a bitch to clean up she thought.
They’d never find Gideon’s body when she was through. She burned all his remains and scorched the spot where he was killed. She rode his bike to his house and parked it. Now all that was left was to play the devastated fiancé. She was devastating all right she thought with a wry laugh. She buried the little boy’s body in a beautiful meadow. After everything had died down she’d send a letter to his parents telling them where he was, letting them know the perpetrator was dead and would never hurt anyone else again.
Nine victims later Misty stood behind the Rusty Nail in the Alley watching her latest conquest. She only killed them when they deserved it she thought. And now it was almost a disease within her. She craved to see their pathetic whining in the final moment. Contestant number 10 had murdered a woman in this very alley three weeks ago. She saw it happen when she was dumping the trash outside her ex’s old place. One minute the murderer and his victim were there and the next, gone. But she knew what she saw.
Here she was outside of his old place. Gideon’s. His name lingered in her mind— just barely escaping her lips. The feel of the knife was invisible in her hands like an ever-present echo even though she had long since disposed of it along with the body. That first crime was etched into her palms like a tattoo. Then as she stared down at them as if they were strangers to her, a sound scuttled behind her.
It happened then, just like it had to the victim. She saw a flash of him, blonde, exotic looking. Electric blue eyes bored into hers and he grasped both of her arms with crushing force and slammed her into the side of a building in the alley. His body moved like lightening as his sharp teeth tore at the side of her neck and sucked mercilessly and savagely. She could feel something vital draining away and dissolve before her eyes along with her vision just before everything went black.
She woke up in her ex’s apartment. The evening came, and with it a restless, burning hunger. Instinctually she knew she was different. Everything was brighter, faster, smoother, and more graceful. Then it dawned on her that she probably wasn’t even human. Then again she hadn’t really been human since the evening she’d stepped into that shed. She smiled bitterly, cutting the inside of her mouth on accident and tasting the blood raw and metal sharp against her tongue. She felt something surge within her that was ancient and primal, fierce and strong. From her lips a keening sound issued shrill and animal.
“Hell Yeah!” she shouted into the night sky.