Gissel Gomez is a seventeen-year-old Mexican American artist. She is the Editor-in-chief of her school’s literary magazine, and her artwork has been recognized by several publications. Beauty is her main inspiration and can only hope for people to stop and stare at her work.
I lit a cigarette on my way to the grocery store. There was something in the wind that made its light sputter, so I offered it mine, to breathe life in the transaction. I store every cigarette stub I ever birthed in a box. I feel bad simply throwing into the trash or onto the sidewalk what had once been alive. There are a handful of stubs at the bottom of my purse that have not yet been embalmed for their funeral rites. I simply haven’t gotten around to it.
I used to save the Boy’s stubs too. This would make him laugh as I stole them from his grasp, or caught them in my palms as they dropped, softly if I was catching a baby. He dropped one on the sidewalk once and I got on my hands and knees to save her from mutilation. He laughed.
The Boy laughed like the wind. Which means everything. I think that is why I loved him even as he swept me away.
I used to keep the graveyard under my bed, until He complained of the smell. It was like living at the bottom of the bonfire. So, I exhumed the corpses to my kitchen cabinet. It is unfortunate one will open a door expecting to find a plate only to be met with death. The Boy threw them out once as if it was a favor. After he left the next morning I pulled out the trash and got on my hands and knees to find every last body.
He dropped them on the sidewalk often. Mostly in the night where no matter how hard I tried I could not save their souls. I would cry in the bathroom at a funeral without a body. Then I would kiss him till I came back alive with tears to spare another day.
When the baby dropped between my legs, the doctor blamed the smoking. I laughed at him like the wind then brought what was left of living to flame. The smoke tasted cool against my skin.
I could never save a stub The Boy did not give me willingly. Which means everything. I think that’s why I loved him because some days he would come home with a palm of cigarette stubs, and caress my hair as I performed the funeral rites under his watch.
My graveyard is public property. For my corpses and his are all treated the same. Cleaned softly with a tissue paper and then returned to a cigarette case, as if they were never born at all. In that way, there are always ghosts, though I never know if I or he created them.
When the Boy was looking for a plate and found a shoebox filled with ashes in my graveyard, right next to a stack of cigarette boxes that could never be used and were in use, he lit a cigarette and left the house. I found the stub by the front door when I came home. I was careful not the step on it as I opened the front door, just slight enough to not let the cold in. I imagine by now, the wind must have carried the corpse away, that body, I did not kill but still did not venture to care for.
Norah Rami (she/her) is a pun connoisseur, professional cloud watcher, and writer from Houston. A member of Houston’s Youth Slam Poetry Team, Norah’s work has been published by Prospectus and Brown Girl Magazine as well as shared at local venues. She is a current senior at Clements High School.
A tumbleweed blew by.
It was as dead as the rest of the small frontier town: dry, shriveled, a husk that was once a lively plant. The earth was cracked and dry, the sky a pale and unforgiving yellow. The hands of the clock tower pointed to high noon, and despite having ceased movement years ago, they still happened to be correct, just for this one passing minute.
Two figures stood on opposite ends of the main street, eyes shaded by wide hats with hands hovering over their belts. Off to the side, a pair of horses watched, bridles tied to the rotting post of the abandoned saloon. They had seen this showdown hundreds of times before, and would no doubt see it hundreds of times more.
Both outlaws sharply eyed a bird pecking at the ground. The scrawny thing wasn’t going to find any food in such a desolate land, but every day at noon, it returned nonetheless. Didn’t the simple thing know it was just wasting its time, tapping at the soil in a daily exercise in futility? The first outlaw squinted a little, teeth biting down on the straw in her mouth. The second curled his chapped lips. Having finally resigned its fruitless quest for seed, the bird between them spread its wings and fluttered off to wherever it came.
As soon as the bird’s tiny feet left the ground, two gunshots broke the silence of the dead town.
The wide hat of the first outlaw was blown off her head, her scalp only narrowly grazed by the bullet. The second outlaw’s hat, however, was the least of his worries. He staggered backwards, his head had been blown clean through. The chunks of skull and viscera never hit the ground, but evaporated into a thick black smog that hung in the air like a ghost. The first outlaw didn’t seem satisfied, sliding her revolver back into its holster on her waist as she sprinted to her horse, and pulled a long shotgun from beneath its saddle.
Running to the still standing man, she unceremoniously blew his head clean off, the blast knocking him to the ground. The wounds were exuding more thick, foul-smelling smoke, as though hell itself were reaching through his body and clawing its way into the real world. She blew a second hole through his chest, opening the coach gun’s breach and replacing two empty shells with a pair stuffed with silvered buckshot.
“In the name ov’ the Lord,” She loudly declared, firing her weapon indiscriminately into the body that still flinched and smoked with every shot, “deliver ‘is unholy spirit n’ta Hell, cast this devil n’ta the deepest pits a’ fire ‘n brimstone, t’whence it may never return!”
She chanted for several minutes, invoking curses belonging to every religion and tongue, interspersing them with a double-aught chaser whenever she thought she saw the body move through the dark haze it produced. Once satisfied with these curses and banishments, she returned to her horse once more, retrieving a large jar of holy water and dumping much of it over the smoking husk. Then, she salted the body. Then, garlic. Then, drove a crudely silvered knife into where she imagined his heart would probably be. She used the buttstock of her shotgun to hammer in a few wooden stakes, just in case she guessed wrong. After lighting her lantern, she tossed it on the barely-recognizable mash of smoking remains, engulfing them in oily flame.
She watched the body for a long few minutes, hardly bothered by the suffocating plume that the wind blew into her face. The pillar of smoke hung high in the sky, thick black as tar and infesting the area with the rancid smell of death. Once she was satisfied, she returned to retrieve her hat, before retiring inside the abandoned saloon. Small book in hand, she began taking notes as to the exact procedure she’d undergone this time–her exact words, her exact actions, every last detail.
It wasn’t until the sun hung low that the woman heard the saloon doors creak open behind her.
“Sonnuv a bi–” Her curse began, cut short as a revolver’s bullet pierced the side of her head. Her entire body slumped to one side, hand reaching out to grab the bar top to prevent falling from her stool. A disgusting black smog poured from the wound in her head.
A man stepped behind the bar, sliding his revolver into its holster with a dejected frown on his face. His shirt was full of holes, beard singed and body a dark ashen color as though he’d lain in a campfire. There were uncountable faint scars on his chest and face, although the longer one stared, the harder they became to perceive.
He reached up on the alcohol shelf, fingering through dusty empty bottles before finally discovering one which still contained some diluted liquid. Pulling a pair of small glasses from beneath the splintered wooden bar, the dry man filled both as equally as possible, sliding one towards the hand of the woman still in the process of righting herself. In exchange, he flipped her notebook around, squinting at the poor handwriting.
“Garlic’s a no-go.” The woman commented, running her hands through her dry hair. The deathly fume pouring from her temple had faded, what was once a lethal wound replaced by nothing but a scar.
“Donno why you even tried, we ain’t vampires.” He commented, raising his dusty glass to his lips.
“I don’ know, I jus’ thought… I don’ know. We’re runnin’ out’v shit ta’ try.”
“You might be, I’ve got plenty more ideas.”
The woman scoffed, taking the second glass. The whiskey was ancient and spoiled, it barely tasted like anything, but it was ritual at this point. “Y’said that yest’rday. Y’hit my hat.”
“Still shot first. You’re getting slow.”
“Got’ya today, didn’t I?”
The man gave a brief chuckle and a small nod of acknowledgement, swirling the faded liquid around his small glass. Neither of them got much out of the near-empty bottle, but it wasn’t the whiskey they sat in this empty saloon for.
“I’m gonna’b awful lonely once I send’ya t’Hell, huh?” The woman mused, after a long minute of silence between them.
“Don’t count on it. Tomorrow’s the day I put you down for good.”
It was the woman’s turn to scoff. They’d spent countless years locked in this halfhearted contest, she hardly let herself hope for such sweet release. Maybe one day one of them would discover the miracle necessary to break their unholy curse. Both were beaten, whipped, they’d outlived everything that mattered to them. They shared a hollowness, a dryness, a certain solidarity two outlaws cursed with immortality could only experience. His lips were chapped and split. Her hands were dry and rough. Their nails were chipped and eyes dull. They were tired, but they were each others’ only lifelines.
So, the two drank and spoke for a time longer. Once the moon was high, they mounted their horses and went their separate ways. The fire from the lantern oil was still smoldering on the dusty main street when the weary pair rode past. The moon set, the sun rose, and come midmorning, a pair of figures rode into the otherwise derelict settlement. They exchanged a few brief words, before taking their places.
A tumbleweed blew by.
Mag Callaghan is a student attempting to study English and Education in cruel and unforgiving rural Ohio. Their interests involve visual arts and flash fiction writing, as well as tabletop role-playing games, acquiring keychains, and describing themself in the third person.
It is a warm summer morning, the sun is bashfully peeking over the mountains, filling the mansion with a wonderful warm glow. The halls are empty, and eddies of dust swirl around. My golden frame glimmers in the morning sun, and I stretch my arms out as far as they can go. I flutter my eyes daintily. Another glorious day.
A loud jingling sound emanates from downstairs, then a loud creak. Astonished, I peek out of my painting and glance down the stairs. An elderly woman has entered the building. Her face has melted with age, covered in liver spots. Next to her is a middle-aged woman. When they look my way, I quickly meld back into my painting, assuming the position I was born in. The two women begin to search around the house, my house, rummaging through drawers and file cabinets. I feel my blood pressure increasing with everything they move out of place.
Something seems off about the older woman. Her eyes seem like cruel copies of my own eyes. Her hair is a faded version of my own golden hair. On her finger is the same ring that I wear! I am outraged as I recognize this hag. I hear the younger woman climb up the staircase, the younger woman fixated with an old piano. She sits on the old stool and opens the lid. When I am sure that she isn’t watching, I slither out of my frame. When I touch the sleek wooden floor, my delicate foot makes no sound. The woman begins to play, and I recognize this melody. It was something she would play when she was younger; however, her skills are greatly diminished. My eyes narrow as I approach her, standing silently behind her. What a cruel imitation of my eternal beauty. Suddenly, her head whips around, shouting in fear as she sees me. I zoom back into my painting, quickly resuming my pose.
The younger woman rushes down the stairs, wrapping her arm around the elderly woman, who is as pale as a ghost.
“Are you alright!?” the woman asks, panicked.
“Y…yes… I thought I saw someone behind me…” The elderly woman mutters, her eyes not moving from my painting. “But it was nothing…”
“I think we should go,” the young woman says quietly.
The pair leave quickly, closing the door behind them. Once more, I am alone.
William MacLeod, 15, has been writing poetry, short stories, and novels before kindergarten. This is his second published work, his first being a poem put in the newspaper of his small hometown in California. When he’s not writing, he enjoys other creative hobbies like drawing and painting, or spending time with his cat: Gwyneth.
There was a girl at my school who never spoke a word. She had turquoise hair, a septum piercing, and she wore a green hoodie like a shell. We all called her Turtle Girl.
I don’t know why I called her that and laughed with the other kids. You see, I was unpopular like Turtle Girl. The only difference was that I talked, and she didn’t.
One day, some bullies hit me at recess. I wasn’t much of a fighter, so I took it for fear of worse. The other kids watched from a distance, some trying to defend me but most doing nothing. Turtle Girl sat on her own, away from me, the bullies, and the other kids. She chewed her sandwich and looked bored, until suddenly, she wasn’t. She stood up, walked over to the biggest bully hitting me, and she left her shell just like that. She rolled up the sleeves of her green hoodie and hit the bully.
When the bullies retreated, Turtle Girl left the scene. She didn’t say a word, just walked away. While the other kids talked, I followed her, spewing thanks and wonder. Turtle Girl remained silent.
Eventually, frustrated by her silence, I asked her, “Why did you help me?”
Turtle Girl blinked at me. “You looked like a turtle going into its shell,” she said, rolling back down her green sleeves. “I thought I’d help you, because you don’t have a shell.”
And just like that, she returned to her shell and resumed her lunch.
I never called her Turtle Girl again.
Patricia Jane Donato is the aspiring author of short stories, novels, poems, and maybe even graphic novels. When she’s not writing, she’s reading, walking in the woods, drawing manga, or chatting with her friends. Patricia’s work also appears in The WEIGHT Journal and Cathartic Literary Magazine.
Through depicting myself in the side view mirror- watching, horrified, as the trash floats toward the car- I hope to bring awareness to the effects of global warming and pollution. The words “current pollution levels are more damaging than they appear” and the murky city skyline represent the foreseeable state of our world. While the car drives away from the pollution, it enters the untouched Antarctic realm, symbolizing life and growth. My piece highlights the deprecating impacts of climate damage and initiating change.
Ally Chen is an ambitious sophomore student attending a high school in Northern Virginia. She has long been interested in art and has been actively creating pieces since around age five. Although it fluctuates, Ally’s most preferred style is realism! Her passion for art grew throughout the years, especially during the quarantine period of 2020, where she found an abundance of time to take advantage of. During quarantine, she used art as a way to entertain herself and relieve mental stress. She now uses it to help children in healthcare centers through a youth-led nonprofit organization. Aside from art, Ally also enjoys travelling and spending time with family!