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Written by ASHernandez in portal Publishing

The Lancelot Lie (an excerpt)

Premise: What if the most famous love triangle of all time had been a lie?  The truth would have destroyed it all, but the lie immortalized Camelot.

Audience: Young adult

 

The boredom was clearly setting in, he looked more like a trapped animal than a king waiting for his queen.  Arthur never enjoyed sitting still for long, and he loathed excessive pageantry.  Everything was certainly excessive tonight.  It had to be.  This marriage could save Arthur's reign, or signal the end of it.  The hall was awash in all the finery that existed in the kingdom, resulting in clashing colors of opulence.  Major and minor nobles were jammed in alongside merchants and landholders, each straining to be one inch closer to the center aisle.  No one wanted to miss the grand entrance procession that a queen of such standing was expected to have.  Her father was a wealthy king, from a wealthy country, and it was obvious to anyone who had seen the escort caravan arrive.  It was the presentation of gifts brought by this caravan that now had Arthur so restless.  He did thankfully remember to show appreciation for each gift as it was announced by the emissary.    

     Finally, the end of the long line of chests, wagons, performers and servants was reached.  Now the aisle stood empty all the way down to the hall's closed wooden doors. Arthur seemed to regain full focus as the emissary spoke again.  "Good King Arthur, I have been charged by the High King Leodegrance to present you with one final gift of the greatest value.  The King sends to you his only daughter, Guinevere, in the hopes that a bond between your two kingdoms can be forged in friendship and love."  Arthur stood up so fast that for a moment he looked as if he was about to charge an enemy.  A split second later, barely noticeable, he settled into a formal stance on the dais and nodded towards the emissary.  The great doors opened as the crowd hushed and turned to lay eyes on the new queen for the first time.  A single figure could be seen standing in the wide gulf of the doorway.  

     After an hour of the vibrant and busy procession of gifts, the quietness of this lone figure was a shock to the system.  The onlookers fell completely silent in confusion.  Then she began to walk, slowly but with intent, her eyes never leaving Arthur.  This was not the queen that was expected, there were no jewels dripping off extremities, no fine gown flowing behind her, not even a crown on her head.  Instead, she wore a simple shift of pale cream that seemed to barely dare to touch her skin.  Long fine yellow hair flowed loosely down her back and greedily caught reflections from the torches for it's own purposes.  Even her feet were bare.  The servants in the hall were more finely dressed than this queen, but no one would have mistaken her for a servant.  She seemed more goddess than queen to all that saw her.  Confidence without arrogance, strength without cruelty, power without harshness, a nobility that was deeper than just a birthright.   

     When she reached the base of the dais, she knelt on one knee as a knight would have, looking up directly at Arthur.  He had the look of a man lost in a daydream, seeing only her.  "My dearest Lord and King, my father has sent you many riches and treasures in thanks for our union.  I have no such treasures of my own, so I come to you with only what is mine to give, myself."  She did not shout these words, or whisper them, but spoke pleasantly and clearly in such a manner that all in the hall heard her. This was not a frail princess thrown into marriage, this was an equal for Arthur.  For a moment no one breathed, no one moved, not even the king.  One heartbeat, than another and still another went by with everyone locked in this perfect second of simplicity.  A very slight grin from Guinevere broke the King's frozen state and he reached down to take her hands, raising her to her feet.  The hall erupted in loud cheering and applause, dozens of the women in the crowd brushed away tears as the king brought his queen up next to him.  Arthur and all of Camelot fell hopelessly in love with Guinevere.   

     As the cheers rolled over them both, Arthur knew with certainty, he would tell her the truth. He would tell her everything. 

     

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We are a literary agency seeking fresh talent. In 200 words or more, demonstrate your writing talent. We will be in touch with any and all promising participants throughout the rest of this quarter.
Written by ASHernandez in portal Publishing
The Lancelot Lie (an excerpt)
Premise: What if the most famous love triangle of all time had been a lie?  The truth would have destroyed it all, but the lie immortalized Camelot.
Audience: Young adult
 
The boredom was clearly setting in, he looked more like a trapped animal than a king waiting for his queen.  Arthur never enjoyed sitting still for long, and he loathed excessive pageantry.  Everything was certainly excessive tonight.  It had to be.  This marriage could save Arthur's reign, or signal the end of it.  The hall was awash in all the finery that existed in the kingdom, resulting in clashing colors of opulence.  Major and minor nobles were jammed in alongside merchants and landholders, each straining to be one inch closer to the center aisle.  No one wanted to miss the grand entrance procession that a queen of such standing was expected to have.  Her father was a wealthy king, from a wealthy country, and it was obvious to anyone who had seen the escort caravan arrive.  It was the presentation of gifts brought by this caravan that now had Arthur so restless.  He did thankfully remember to show appreciation for each gift as it was announced by the emissary.    
     Finally, the end of the long line of chests, wagons, performers and servants was reached.  Now the aisle stood empty all the way down to the hall's closed wooden doors. Arthur seemed to regain full focus as the emissary spoke again.  "Good King Arthur, I have been charged by the High King Leodegrance to present you with one final gift of the greatest value.  The King sends to you his only daughter, Guinevere, in the hopes that a bond between your two kingdoms can be forged in friendship and love."  Arthur stood up so fast that for a moment he looked as if he was about to charge an enemy.  A split second later, barely noticeable, he settled into a formal stance on the dais and nodded towards the emissary.  The great doors opened as the crowd hushed and turned to lay eyes on the new queen for the first time.  A single figure could be seen standing in the wide gulf of the doorway.  
     After an hour of the vibrant and busy procession of gifts, the quietness of this lone figure was a shock to the system.  The onlookers fell completely silent in confusion.  Then she began to walk, slowly but with intent, her eyes never leaving Arthur.  This was not the queen that was expected, there were no jewels dripping off extremities, no fine gown flowing behind her, not even a crown on her head.  Instead, she wore a simple shift of pale cream that seemed to barely dare to touch her skin.  Long fine yellow hair flowed loosely down her back and greedily caught reflections from the torches for it's own purposes.  Even her feet were bare.  The servants in the hall were more finely dressed than this queen, but no one would have mistaken her for a servant.  She seemed more goddess than queen to all that saw her.  Confidence without arrogance, strength without cruelty, power without harshness, a nobility that was deeper than just a birthright.   
     When she reached the base of the dais, she knelt on one knee as a knight would have, looking up directly at Arthur.  He had the look of a man lost in a daydream, seeing only her.  "My dearest Lord and King, my father has sent you many riches and treasures in thanks for our union.  I have no such treasures of my own, so I come to you with only what is mine to give, myself."  She did not shout these words, or whisper them, but spoke pleasantly and clearly in such a manner that all in the hall heard her. This was not a frail princess thrown into marriage, this was an equal for Arthur.  For a moment no one breathed, no one moved, not even the king.  One heartbeat, than another and still another went by with everyone locked in this perfect second of simplicity.  A very slight grin from Guinevere broke the King's frozen state and he reached down to take her hands, raising her to her feet.  The hall erupted in loud cheering and applause, dozens of the women in the crowd brushed away tears as the king brought his queen up next to him.  Arthur and all of Camelot fell hopelessly in love with Guinevere.   

     As the cheers rolled over them both, Arthur knew with certainty, he would tell her the truth. He would tell her everything. 
     
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We are a literary agency seeking fresh talent. In 200 words or more, demonstrate your writing talent. We will be in touch with any and all promising participants throughout the rest of this quarter.
Written by Analytic

Orphelians: Beginning

BLOODY EYES

I’m the really strange new kid in school. Nobody knows me and nobody’s friends know me, but in my case that’s nothing different; nobody knows me anywhere. I don’t even know myself, and nothing is scarier than that.

OK, I’m wrong: there are scarier things. That’s why I’m here. My coming means your school has cancer and doesn’t know it. It’s weird being bad news wherever I go, but for you it’s a mixed bag. Just like you won’t know who I am if you see me walking the halls, the cancer walks the halls too, and you don’t recognize that even if it walks up to you, smiles, and says your name. That’s why it can be better for you if I show up: because nothing else can do any good.

Nothing else can keep you from dying.

So, like I said, mixed bag.

In this school it started fast. I was already getting the looks. I don’t mean the ordinary stares you get when you’re new. There were a lot of those, like you’d expect. Four preppie girls going the other way down the hall interrupted talking into their cells to stone-face me all at the same time, just for half a second; three jocks stared and laughed, and I heard “there’s a” and missed what; some skater-looking guys standing protectively around a locker like they had their stash there just looked, and maybe thinking I might be one of them, this bony redhead nodded at me. I’m tall, six feet, and kind of thin and move weird, and I dress in old jeans and either a leather jacket or a jeans jacket. None of it was expensive even new except the leather jacket, which I wasn’t wearing today, and maybe they thought I looked like one of them. I nodded back, being friendly, but I knew I wouldn’t be one of them; I wasn’t one of anybody.

It was the other looks that were freaking me out. Already it had happened four times. Twice the looks had come from behind or way off to one side. When that happens, it feels like something is crawling up my back, and there’s a creepy warm feeling like somebody standing right behind me is breathing on my neck. I don’t look around or give any sign I know.

The other two times it was face to face. Once it was in the eyes of a computer geek who passed me in the hall, and once it was in a sideways glance this tall jock girl in a basketball jersey gave me as she looked up from her iphone. When it’s that way, my vision gets this dark flicker for a second, like I’m about to go blind, and something even darker looks out at me from eyes that don’t belong to it. Right afterwards the eyes the look is coming from get red, like they have pinkeye. In a few seconds they go back to normal, most of the time.

“Where to, gimp? What’s in the case?”

Oh, yeah, I have a limp. It’s not too noticeable, but it makes me walk a little funny.

I stopped and looked up. I hadn’t been paying attention, and three kids had moved out to block my way. The one in the center was the one who spoke; he was big, black, maybe six four, and he had a Mohawk and tats of a red guitar and a white skull on his arms, while his two friends had shaved heads. With the straight leg jeans, Mohawk was probably going for a retro punk look.

I looked down at my battered brown instrument case. It was about four feet long, narrow, and looked like nothing special. It is, though, and I hate it when it draws attention. I had already had to open it for security on the way in. Hopefully these guys wouldn’t make a point out of messing with it. I didn’t want the kind of attention I’d get sending them to the hospital.

I shifted the case to my left hand, across my body in front of me, real fast. They blinked.

“It’s my strings. I’m really getting the looks here. What’s up with that?”

“You’re weird looking,” Mohawk said cautiously, but his words just kept me going.

“Not those looks,” I said, kind of worrying out loud. “I mean the Dark Looks, where something else is using a kid’s eyes to look out. It’s creepy, and if it happens enough to people, their eyes start bleeding from the corners. Do you know anybody in school with bloody eyes?”

Their expressions changed even more. I hadn’t meant to say all that out loud; I just forgot. I have this major problem with forgetting, and I mean big-time major problem.

One of the shaven heads got this wary look and started to say something, but without looking at him, Mohawk grabbed his shoulder, and he stopped.

“Nope, we ain’t seen that, and you talk weirder than you look. What’s your thing? Can’t tell if it’s playin’ the world, or you really trippin.”

Great, I thought, as they did a quick fade out of my way, now there’d be stories about me. At least they’d left before I’d had time to answer Mohawk’s question and blurt out what my thing was. That would have just made it all worse. It’s not like I can do anything about it.

Great start, Lem. I haven’t even been in this school five minutes, and I’d made problems for myself already. What was its name, anyway? I should know the name of my new high school. While we’re at it, what city was I in?

I had forgotten. That figured. Oh well, I was on the way to the office. They’d know there.

“Nobody knows me,” I muttered to myself. “Nobody.”

SHE OF CLEVELAND says: GHOSTS! LURKERS!

SHE OF CLEVELAND says: “Nobody knows me.” Hah. That’s truer of me than him, except for you guys. That’s right: I know you’re there. So you found my message board. I’m the only one who can post on it, so don’t even try. If you do, I’m going to have to kill myself or maybe go for electric shock therapy, because the freakin’ board is on my hard drive, not online, and this part really bites, but I thought you ought to know: you’re all imaginary. I created this board and you.

[Multiple Rejected Posts]

SHE OF CLEVELAND says: HEY! Don’t you people listen? I give you just one rule, and you--

NEMO7 says: You didn’t forbid imaginary posts.

SHE says: Oh. Well, yeah, I guess that makes sense for imaginary posters.

HORNDOG90 says: Yee Hah! Way to go, Nemo 7!

NEMO7 says: Our details have been coopted. Only the names remain, and those are changed. Why?

SCHIZO2 says: I hope you did that, She of Cleveland, or someone is hacking us, and nobody’s safe. Oh, and not that I care, but you talk like you’re 50 or something, Nemo7.

NEMO7 says: I do not!

SHE OF CLEVELAND says: Yup, I did it, and deleted all the siggys. Pictures and places in your details? Don’t you want to be safe? Even Avatars show stuff about you. Siggys with links when you’re not online? Really?

NONEXISTENT34 says: You know, madam moderator, you’re coming across as kind of paranoid. I bet you’re not even from Cleveland. Why? Do you have some deep secret?

SCHIZO2 says: Don’t case on her. Paranoid is just another word for careful.

SHE OF CLEVELAND says: You are so right, Schizo2. It’s not so much that I have a secret, Nonexistent34; I am a secret: the greatest secret of all. I’m a seer. I know things before they happen. That’s weird by itself, and dangerous too, but what makes it a million times more dangerous is I’m an Orphelian seer--the last one--and that means that what I see…

ETHEREAL6 says: What’s an Orphelian?

SHE OF CLEVELAND says: you’ll know soon enough, and it so isn’t pretty. Anyway, I’m the most hunted person on earth, in a secret way. If anyone found out I was the Seer--anyone--

SOMATOTYPE68 says: I’m guessing y’all don’t have too many friends offline.

SHE OF CLEVELAND says: True, but I bet that’s true of a lot of people online, and there’s one person that’s not me I know more about than anyone else does, including himself: Lem.

EHEREAL6 says: Who is Lem?

NONEXISTENT34: How did you get to know anyone well?

NEMO7: How could you know more about someone else than he does himself?

SHE OF CLEVELAND says: Lem seems like he’s about seventeen, but he worries he might be older: way older. There are the weird dreams, the musical instrument he carries everywhere, the Voice, the way dogs act around him, his freaky memory, the fits, and why he’s always running into us: the Orphelians. Lem doesn’t understand any of it, but me? I understand--some of it. I know him, Nonexistent34, because sometimes I see his life through his own eyes, as he lives it. That’s because of who and what he is; I know some things he doesn’t about that. Seer, Nemo7.

HORNDOG90 says: So you can see him naked if he’s looking in a mirror or something?

SHE OF CLEVELAND says: OK, I’m getting the feeling your board name fits you really well, Horndog90. Be careful, or I’ll cut you off, and don’t even think about making a joke about that.

[A short pause in posting follows.]

NONEXISTENT34 says: It sounds like Lem’s life really sucks.

SHE OF CLEVELAND says: It does, but it’s really entertaining. I may not have friends--OK, sorry, don’t flame me, I know you guys are now; I mean people who actually exist--but Lem is like this constant webcast I’m always tuning in on, and it is brain-tearing, dog-freaking, spoor-shedding weird. All that happens in the next few days—oops. My bad. Brain tearing doesn’t happen--yet. There will be lots of tarantulas, though, and who doesn’t like lots of tarantulas?

ETHEREAL6 says: Many of them? Crawling all over the place? Ew!

HALLUCINATION16 says: I get needing to be alone, but don’t you want to meet him?

SHE OF CLEVELAND says: Good question, Hallucination16. Sometimes. Wouldn’t it be freaky to see myself through his eyes? I know so much about him, but he doesn’t even know I exist. If I do meet him, it better be soon. In a year the Orphelian Evolution will be done, Lem and I will probably be dead, and so will everybody else. Not existing has its advantages, posters.

HORNDOG90: We’ll all be dead? But I need to have way more sex!

NEMO7: What we are, She of Cleveland, indeed our whole “nonexistence,’ is more complicated than you realize.

SHE OF CLEVELAND says: You’re offensive, Horndog90, and what is going on here? You imaginary types are way feistier than I thought you’d be. If I were anybody else, I’d think I was going crazy, but I’m as sane as you guys are. Going now, and only I know when I’ll be back.

—She of Cleveland

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We are a literary agency seeking fresh talent. In 200 words or more, demonstrate your writing talent. We will be in touch with any and all promising participants throughout the rest of this quarter.
Written by Analytic
Orphelians: Beginning
BLOODY EYES
I’m the really strange new kid in school. Nobody knows me and nobody’s friends know me, but in my case that’s nothing different; nobody knows me anywhere. I don’t even know myself, and nothing is scarier than that.
OK, I’m wrong: there are scarier things. That’s why I’m here. My coming means your school has cancer and doesn’t know it. It’s weird being bad news wherever I go, but for you it’s a mixed bag. Just like you won’t know who I am if you see me walking the halls, the cancer walks the halls too, and you don’t recognize that even if it walks up to you, smiles, and says your name. That’s why it can be better for you if I show up: because nothing else can do any good.
Nothing else can keep you from dying.
So, like I said, mixed bag.
In this school it started fast. I was already getting the looks. I don’t mean the ordinary stares you get when you’re new. There were a lot of those, like you’d expect. Four preppie girls going the other way down the hall interrupted talking into their cells to stone-face me all at the same time, just for half a second; three jocks stared and laughed, and I heard “there’s a” and missed what; some skater-looking guys standing protectively around a locker like they had their stash there just looked, and maybe thinking I might be one of them, this bony redhead nodded at me. I’m tall, six feet, and kind of thin and move weird, and I dress in old jeans and either a leather jacket or a jeans jacket. None of it was expensive even new except the leather jacket, which I wasn’t wearing today, and maybe they thought I looked like one of them. I nodded back, being friendly, but I knew I wouldn’t be one of them; I wasn’t one of anybody.
It was the other looks that were freaking me out. Already it had happened four times. Twice the looks had come from behind or way off to one side. When that happens, it feels like something is crawling up my back, and there’s a creepy warm feeling like somebody standing right behind me is breathing on my neck. I don’t look around or give any sign I know.
The other two times it was face to face. Once it was in the eyes of a computer geek who passed me in the hall, and once it was in a sideways glance this tall jock girl in a basketball jersey gave me as she looked up from her iphone. When it’s that way, my vision gets this dark flicker for a second, like I’m about to go blind, and something even darker looks out at me from eyes that don’t belong to it. Right afterwards the eyes the look is coming from get red, like they have pinkeye. In a few seconds they go back to normal, most of the time.
“Where to, gimp? What’s in the case?”
Oh, yeah, I have a limp. It’s not too noticeable, but it makes me walk a little funny.
I stopped and looked up. I hadn’t been paying attention, and three kids had moved out to block my way. The one in the center was the one who spoke; he was big, black, maybe six four, and he had a Mohawk and tats of a red guitar and a white skull on his arms, while his two friends had shaved heads. With the straight leg jeans, Mohawk was probably going for a retro punk look.
I looked down at my battered brown instrument case. It was about four feet long, narrow, and looked like nothing special. It is, though, and I hate it when it draws attention. I had already had to open it for security on the way in. Hopefully these guys wouldn’t make a point out of messing with it. I didn’t want the kind of attention I’d get sending them to the hospital.
I shifted the case to my left hand, across my body in front of me, real fast. They blinked.
“It’s my strings. I’m really getting the looks here. What’s up with that?”
“You’re weird looking,” Mohawk said cautiously, but his words just kept me going.
“Not those looks,” I said, kind of worrying out loud. “I mean the Dark Looks, where something else is using a kid’s eyes to look out. It’s creepy, and if it happens enough to people, their eyes start bleeding from the corners. Do you know anybody in school with bloody eyes?”
Their expressions changed even more. I hadn’t meant to say all that out loud; I just forgot. I have this major problem with forgetting, and I mean big-time major problem.
One of the shaven heads got this wary look and started to say something, but without looking at him, Mohawk grabbed his shoulder, and he stopped.
“Nope, we ain’t seen that, and you talk weirder than you look. What’s your thing? Can’t tell if it’s playin’ the world, or you really trippin.”
Great, I thought, as they did a quick fade out of my way, now there’d be stories about me. At least they’d left before I’d had time to answer Mohawk’s question and blurt out what my thing was. That would have just made it all worse. It’s not like I can do anything about it.
Great start, Lem. I haven’t even been in this school five minutes, and I’d made problems for myself already. What was its name, anyway? I should know the name of my new high school. While we’re at it, what city was I in?
I had forgotten. That figured. Oh well, I was on the way to the office. They’d know there.
“Nobody knows me,” I muttered to myself. “Nobody.”









SHE OF CLEVELAND says: GHOSTS! LURKERS!
SHE OF CLEVELAND says: “Nobody knows me.” Hah. That’s truer of me than him, except for you guys. That’s right: I know you’re there. So you found my message board. I’m the only one who can post on it, so don’t even try. If you do, I’m going to have to kill myself or maybe go for electric shock therapy, because the freakin’ board is on my hard drive, not online, and this part really bites, but I thought you ought to know: you’re all imaginary. I created this board and you.
[Multiple Rejected Posts]
SHE OF CLEVELAND says: HEY! Don’t you people listen? I give you just one rule, and you--
NEMO7 says: You didn’t forbid imaginary posts.
SHE says: Oh. Well, yeah, I guess that makes sense for imaginary posters.
HORNDOG90 says: Yee Hah! Way to go, Nemo 7!
NEMO7 says: Our details have been coopted. Only the names remain, and those are changed. Why?
SCHIZO2 says: I hope you did that, She of Cleveland, or someone is hacking us, and nobody’s safe. Oh, and not that I care, but you talk like you’re 50 or something, Nemo7.
NEMO7 says: I do not!
SHE OF CLEVELAND says: Yup, I did it, and deleted all the siggys. Pictures and places in your details? Don’t you want to be safe? Even Avatars show stuff about you. Siggys with links when you’re not online? Really?
NONEXISTENT34 says: You know, madam moderator, you’re coming across as kind of paranoid. I bet you’re not even from Cleveland. Why? Do you have some deep secret?
SCHIZO2 says: Don’t case on her. Paranoid is just another word for careful.
SHE OF CLEVELAND says: You are so right, Schizo2. It’s not so much that I have a secret, Nonexistent34; I am a secret: the greatest secret of all. I’m a seer. I know things before they happen. That’s weird by itself, and dangerous too, but what makes it a million times more dangerous is I’m an Orphelian seer--the last one--and that means that what I see…
ETHEREAL6 says: What’s an Orphelian?
SHE OF CLEVELAND says: you’ll know soon enough, and it so isn’t pretty. Anyway, I’m the most hunted person on earth, in a secret way. If anyone found out I was the Seer--anyone--
SOMATOTYPE68 says: I’m guessing y’all don’t have too many friends offline.
SHE OF CLEVELAND says: True, but I bet that’s true of a lot of people online, and there’s one person that’s not me I know more about than anyone else does, including himself: Lem.
EHEREAL6 says: Who is Lem?
NONEXISTENT34: How did you get to know anyone well?
NEMO7: How could you know more about someone else than he does himself?
SHE OF CLEVELAND says: Lem seems like he’s about seventeen, but he worries he might be older: way older. There are the weird dreams, the musical instrument he carries everywhere, the Voice, the way dogs act around him, his freaky memory, the fits, and why he’s always running into us: the Orphelians. Lem doesn’t understand any of it, but me? I understand--some of it. I know him, Nonexistent34, because sometimes I see his life through his own eyes, as he lives it. That’s because of who and what he is; I know some things he doesn’t about that. Seer, Nemo7.
HORNDOG90 says: So you can see him naked if he’s looking in a mirror or something?
SHE OF CLEVELAND says: OK, I’m getting the feeling your board name fits you really well, Horndog90. Be careful, or I’ll cut you off, and don’t even think about making a joke about that.
[A short pause in posting follows.]
NONEXISTENT34 says: It sounds like Lem’s life really sucks.
SHE OF CLEVELAND says: It does, but it’s really entertaining. I may not have friends--OK, sorry, don’t flame me, I know you guys are now; I mean people who actually exist--but Lem is like this constant webcast I’m always tuning in on, and it is brain-tearing, dog-freaking, spoor-shedding weird. All that happens in the next few days—oops. My bad. Brain tearing doesn’t happen--yet. There will be lots of tarantulas, though, and who doesn’t like lots of tarantulas?
ETHEREAL6 says: Many of them? Crawling all over the place? Ew!
HALLUCINATION16 says: I get needing to be alone, but don’t you want to meet him?
SHE OF CLEVELAND says: Good question, Hallucination16. Sometimes. Wouldn’t it be freaky to see myself through his eyes? I know so much about him, but he doesn’t even know I exist. If I do meet him, it better be soon. In a year the Orphelian Evolution will be done, Lem and I will probably be dead, and so will everybody else. Not existing has its advantages, posters.
HORNDOG90: We’ll all be dead? But I need to have way more sex!
NEMO7: What we are, She of Cleveland, indeed our whole “nonexistence,’ is more complicated than you realize.
SHE OF CLEVELAND says: You’re offensive, Horndog90, and what is going on here? You imaginary types are way feistier than I thought you’d be. If I were anybody else, I’d think I was going crazy, but I’m as sane as you guys are. Going now, and only I know when I’ll be back.
—She of Cleveland

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Written by rachelmannino

He could keep her.

Desks lined the walls of the trailer in a u-shape. Switch boards, computers, monitors and walkie-talkies littered the battered tabletops. A few plastic chairs, a lawn chair and several armless black office chairs roamed about the room. Only two of the chairs were occupied.

A pair of mismatched brown and green eyes glanced up at her. The woman had a pointed nose and chin in elfish proportions. She hung up the phone and stood.

“Who’s this? A new phone operator?” She looked Michelle up and down.

“Yes. I want you to be nice to this one.” Youssef glowered.

“I’ll be nice if she’ll be nice. And if she knows the difference between taking calls and sitting on her ass. The last one you brought me didn’t.” She blew a bubble with her chewing gum and popped it on one side of her mouth.

“She has lots of experience. Be nice to her.” His glower turned into a menacing stare.

Michelle took a step forward. “Hi. I’m Michelle.” She extended her hand.

The other woman looked at her through narrowed slits. “Mandy. This here is Connie.”

Connie was busy cursing out whoever was on the other end of the line. Michelle winced as a particularly colorful phrase echoed off the linoleum floor.

“I have six years of experience at the Adopt-a-Family hotline for the homeless. Now I’m the program manager full-time. I just need a part-time job for the weekends.” She folded her hands in front of her and waited. This was the real interview.

Mandy’s eyebrows rose. She shrugged. “When is she starting?”

Youssef turned to her.

Her mouth dropped open. “Well…I can start tomorrow and work on Saturdays if you need someone for that day.”

Mandy snorted. “Honey, we need someone for every day.”

She swiveled in Connie’s direction just as the older woman hung up the phone. “Connie, we’ve got a new one.” Mandy jerked her thumb at Michelle.

Connie surveyed her through choppy black bangs. “Well, it’s about time. What shift is she taking?” Connie took a gulp from her coffee cup.

“Saturdays. Do you mind working nights?” Mandy looked at her.

She shook her head. “No. I can do Saturday nights.” No use going out on Saturday nights if you don’t have the money anyway.

“Good. I’ve got an appointment with an Italian Stallion. This job’s been eating up all my free time.” Connie licked her lips.

Mandy rolled her eyes.

“Then we’ll see you tomorrow.” Youssef beamed.

“Yes, thank you.” She shook his sweaty hand.

The trailer door popped open. A long shadow fell across the entrance. It materialized into a man. Tall and broad-shouldered, he ducked his head to enter.

Michelle held back the gasp on the tip of her tongue. Her surroundings bled away, leaving her alone with the man in the doorway. She didn’t want to be alone with him. He was too handsome, too beautiful. She might do something stupid, like giggle or trip over him, or stare at his chiseled jaw.

Coffee brown eyes met hers. A little tremor ran down her spine to tickle her stomach. Michelle was stuck, her heart racing. She couldn’t move a muscle.

His perfectly formed lips curled up under a Greek nose. White teeth stood out against the cinnamon of his skin. The smile was lazy, confident. Like a lion stalking around his pride.

He spoke. Michelle blinked at him. Her addled brain tried to make sense of the words before she realized that he was, in fact, speaking a different language. Youseff responded to him, and that brought Michelle back to the present and the trailer full of stale cigarette smoke and people staring at her.

“Michelle?” Youseff frowned at her. It took her a beat to realize that Youseff was introducing her to the Greek god.

“I’m sorry. I was lost in thought.” She fumbled for the man’s hand.

The moment his warm palm slid over hers, she knew it was a mistake. She didn’t want her hand back. He could keep it. He could keep her. All of her.

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Written by rachelmannino
He could keep her.
Desks lined the walls of the trailer in a u-shape. Switch boards, computers, monitors and walkie-talkies littered the battered tabletops. A few plastic chairs, a lawn chair and several armless black office chairs roamed about the room. Only two of the chairs were occupied.
A pair of mismatched brown and green eyes glanced up at her. The woman had a pointed nose and chin in elfish proportions. She hung up the phone and stood.

“Who’s this? A new phone operator?” She looked Michelle up and down.

“Yes. I want you to be nice to this one.” Youssef glowered.

“I’ll be nice if she’ll be nice. And if she knows the difference between taking calls and sitting on her ass. The last one you brought me didn’t.” She blew a bubble with her chewing gum and popped it on one side of her mouth.

“She has lots of experience. Be nice to her.” His glower turned into a menacing stare.

Michelle took a step forward. “Hi. I’m Michelle.” She extended her hand.

The other woman looked at her through narrowed slits. “Mandy. This here is Connie.”

Connie was busy cursing out whoever was on the other end of the line. Michelle winced as a particularly colorful phrase echoed off the linoleum floor.

“I have six years of experience at the Adopt-a-Family hotline for the homeless. Now I’m the program manager full-time. I just need a part-time job for the weekends.” She folded her hands in front of her and waited. This was the real interview.

Mandy’s eyebrows rose. She shrugged. “When is she starting?”

Youssef turned to her.

Her mouth dropped open. “Well…I can start tomorrow and work on Saturdays if you need someone for that day.”

Mandy snorted. “Honey, we need someone for every day.”

She swiveled in Connie’s direction just as the older woman hung up the phone. “Connie, we’ve got a new one.” Mandy jerked her thumb at Michelle.

Connie surveyed her through choppy black bangs. “Well, it’s about time. What shift is she taking?” Connie took a gulp from her coffee cup.

“Saturdays. Do you mind working nights?” Mandy looked at her.

She shook her head. “No. I can do Saturday nights.” No use going out on Saturday nights if you don’t have the money anyway.

“Good. I’ve got an appointment with an Italian Stallion. This job’s been eating up all my free time.” Connie licked her lips.

Mandy rolled her eyes.

“Then we’ll see you tomorrow.” Youssef beamed.

“Yes, thank you.” She shook his sweaty hand.

The trailer door popped open. A long shadow fell across the entrance. It materialized into a man. Tall and broad-shouldered, he ducked his head to enter.

Michelle held back the gasp on the tip of her tongue. Her surroundings bled away, leaving her alone with the man in the doorway. She didn’t want to be alone with him. He was too handsome, too beautiful. She might do something stupid, like giggle or trip over him, or stare at his chiseled jaw.

Coffee brown eyes met hers. A little tremor ran down her spine to tickle her stomach. Michelle was stuck, her heart racing. She couldn’t move a muscle.

His perfectly formed lips curled up under a Greek nose. White teeth stood out against the cinnamon of his skin. The smile was lazy, confident. Like a lion stalking around his pride.
He spoke. Michelle blinked at him. Her addled brain tried to make sense of the words before she realized that he was, in fact, speaking a different language. Youseff responded to him, and that brought Michelle back to the present and the trailer full of stale cigarette smoke and people staring at her.

“Michelle?” Youseff frowned at her. It took her a beat to realize that Youseff was introducing her to the Greek god.

“I’m sorry. I was lost in thought.” She fumbled for the man’s hand.

The moment his warm palm slid over hers, she knew it was a mistake. She didn’t want her hand back. He could keep it. He could keep her. All of her.


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Written by LynnSollitto

Born in My Heart: A Bittersweet Adoption Blessing A Memoir of Adopting Through Foster Care

Prologue

Now, Let's Be Honest

Winter 2012:

For once, the air is void of screams.

I examine my children’s faces glowing in the flickering light: Eli, a tall, lanky boy with blue eyes, reads a book and snuggles between his sisters. Paige, a petite 3-year-old with blonde hair, drapes herself across his shoulder, a touch too close. Four-year-old Payton bites her nails as she examines the book, leaning back a bit too far.

I hold onto this peaceful moment, filing it away for the times to come, those times that are a nightmare from which I cannot wake.

Because things are rarely this peaceful. More often than not there is yelling, screaming, tears, and so much noise that earplugs don’t help.

When my husband, Andrew, and I began the process of adopting through foster care, we didn’t realize raising traumatized children would be so difficult. We thought all they needed was love.

We were wrong.

Andrew and I always applauded each other for doing a great job raising Eli. He was an easygoing child who understood boundaries and the consequences for crossing them. Therefore, it would stand to reason our experienced parenting would heal any damaged child we adopted, molding her into an extension of our family.

We were so humbly proud that we wanted to adopt an older child and were willing to tackle almost any problem, from any background. For practical reasons, we couldn’t have a child in a wheelchair, and I didn’t think a child with Reactive Attachment Disorder would be a good fit for our family.

“I’m too selfish to raise a child like that,” I told Andrew. It was probably the most honest I was with myself during that time.

Andrew and I always wanted to adopt through foster care, wanted to make a difference by taking in a child who needed a home.

We walked down the long road to adoption, taking fifteen hours of foster care training and humoring the foster-adopt agency as we sat through parenting classes. We wrote autobiographies, which included everything we’d done wrong and every horrible thing we experienced. Then we relived these times during multiple interviews. Eli was interviewed too, as much as a four-year-old could be. We underwent fingerprinting, physical examinations, and background checks. We were forced to be vulnerable, the social workers invading every intimate detail of our lives.

People would tell us how selfless we were to take in a foster child. They’d say, “It takes a special person to do what you’re doing; I could never adopt a foster child.”

They meant adopt a potentially screwed up child.

I’d shake my head and say, “No, no, I’m not that special, I’m just doing what God has called me to do.” But my ego absorbed the accolades and I shared our decision to adopt with anyone who would listen, just to stroke it more.

I went to hell and back over the next few years. My ego was dragged through the mud, tarred and stoned, ripped wide open until only tears of humility could sew it shut. I messed up, not because of what I did but because of my motives for doing it.

And I’ve paid for it. God, have I paid for it.

But the most difficult questions I’ve had to relive are these: When it’s all said and done, was this the right choice for Andrew?

Or Eli?

Or me?

Or was it even the right choice for my daughters?

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Written by LynnSollitto
Born in My Heart: A Bittersweet Adoption Blessing A Memoir of Adopting Through Foster Care

Prologue

Now, Let's Be Honest

Winter 2012:

For once, the air is void of screams.

I examine my children’s faces glowing in the flickering light: Eli, a tall, lanky boy with blue eyes, reads a book and snuggles between his sisters. Paige, a petite 3-year-old with blonde hair, drapes herself across his shoulder, a touch too close. Four-year-old Payton bites her nails as she examines the book, leaning back a bit too far.

I hold onto this peaceful moment, filing it away for the times to come, those times that are a nightmare from which I cannot wake.

Because things are rarely this peaceful. More often than not there is yelling, screaming, tears, and so much noise that earplugs don’t help.

When my husband, Andrew, and I began the process of adopting through foster care, we didn’t realize raising traumatized children would be so difficult. We thought all they needed was love.

We were wrong.

Andrew and I always applauded each other for doing a great job raising Eli. He was an easygoing child who understood boundaries and the consequences for crossing them. Therefore, it would stand to reason our experienced parenting would heal any damaged child we adopted, molding her into an extension of our family.

We were so humbly proud that we wanted to adopt an older child and were willing to tackle almost any problem, from any background. For practical reasons, we couldn’t have a child in a wheelchair, and I didn’t think a child with Reactive Attachment Disorder would be a good fit for our family.

“I’m too selfish to raise a child like that,” I told Andrew. It was probably the most honest I was with myself during that time.

Andrew and I always wanted to adopt through foster care, wanted to make a difference by taking in a child who needed a home.

We walked down the long road to adoption, taking fifteen hours of foster care training and humoring the foster-adopt agency as we sat through parenting classes. We wrote autobiographies, which included everything we’d done wrong and every horrible thing we experienced. Then we relived these times during multiple interviews. Eli was interviewed too, as much as a four-year-old could be. We underwent fingerprinting, physical examinations, and background checks. We were forced to be vulnerable, the social workers invading every intimate detail of our lives.

People would tell us how selfless we were to take in a foster child. They’d say, “It takes a special person to do what you’re doing; I could never adopt a foster child.”

They meant adopt a potentially screwed up child.

I’d shake my head and say, “No, no, I’m not that special, I’m just doing what God has called me to do.” But my ego absorbed the accolades and I shared our decision to adopt with anyone who would listen, just to stroke it more.

I went to hell and back over the next few years. My ego was dragged through the mud, tarred and stoned, ripped wide open until only tears of humility could sew it shut. I messed up, not because of what I did but because of my motives for doing it.

And I’ve paid for it. God, have I paid for it.

But the most difficult questions I’ve had to relive are these: When it’s all said and done, was this the right choice for Andrew?

Or Eli?

Or me?

Or was it even the right choice for my daughters?




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Written by YoungWriter in portal Publishing

Demons

Do you remember when you were four years old,

When you didn't care about how your body looked.

When you didn't know how it should look.

You didn't care about what you ate or what you weighed.

You didn't even know what perfection was.

You were just purely you.

Who even told you what flaws were?

Who told you what was beautiful,

And what was not?

Who had the audacity to ruin your perfect self image.

And start a world of impossible standards.

Who created the demon inside of you?

The demon that has now taken over your life.

The one that made you care more about the number on the scale,

Or the blemish on your face,

Then your self worth.

The demon screaming inside of you,

Hammering in the message that you will never be loved,

Not unless you meet an impossible list of "perfection".

A list filled with thigh gaps, tiny waists, big eyes and perfect skin.

A list that will tear you apart.

The demon hollows out your insides,

Taking away any joy you had left in your body,

Until there is nothing.

Creating an abyss that will never be filled.

It makes it so all you can think about is everything you are not.

You'd rather starve than eat.

You would rather cut your arms,

Than look at yourself in a mirror.

The demon will not stop until you hate yourself.

Until you loathe your very existence,

And cry yourself to sleep.

It will keep on growing and growing,

until you fade away to nothingness.

You have to take away its power.

Look away from that magazine,

And step away from that scale.

Stop thinking about what your not,

And embrace who you are.

Stop caring about a space between your thighs,

Or a timepiece like figure.

And start caring about you.

Your body is your only home.

Stop treating it like its broken,

Or messy.

Stop trying to clean and fix your already perfect house.

The only one who can kill the demon

Is you.

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We are a literary agency seeking fresh talent. In 200 words or more, demonstrate your writing talent. We will be in touch with any and all promising participants throughout the rest of this quarter.
Written by YoungWriter in portal Publishing
Demons
Do you remember when you were four years old,
When you didn't care about how your body looked.
When you didn't know how it should look.
You didn't care about what you ate or what you weighed.
You didn't even know what perfection was.
You were just purely you.

Who even told you what flaws were?
Who told you what was beautiful,
And what was not?
Who had the audacity to ruin your perfect self image.
And start a world of impossible standards.

Who created the demon inside of you?

The demon that has now taken over your life.
The one that made you care more about the number on the scale,
Or the blemish on your face,
Then your self worth.

The demon screaming inside of you,
Hammering in the message that you will never be loved,
Not unless you meet an impossible list of "perfection".
A list filled with thigh gaps, tiny waists, big eyes and perfect skin.
A list that will tear you apart.

The demon hollows out your insides,
Taking away any joy you had left in your body,
Until there is nothing.
Creating an abyss that will never be filled.

It makes it so all you can think about is everything you are not.
You'd rather starve than eat.
You would rather cut your arms,
Than look at yourself in a mirror.
The demon will not stop until you hate yourself.

Until you loathe your very existence,
And cry yourself to sleep.

It will keep on growing and growing,
until you fade away to nothingness.

You have to take away its power.

Look away from that magazine,
And step away from that scale.
Stop thinking about what your not,
And embrace who you are.

Stop caring about a space between your thighs,
Or a timepiece like figure.
And start caring about you.

Your body is your only home.
Stop treating it like its broken,
Or messy.
Stop trying to clean and fix your already perfect house.

The only one who can kill the demon
Is you.
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Written by Pyrus

Snapshot

Curiosity stares through tinted glasses

at railway tracks that glint darker in the sun;

the house crow that pecks on the ties in between

looks only slightly greyer than its shadow.

The diesel smoke and incense mist

lie faintly over red painted benches

that infrequently decorate the station platform.

Glass doored cabinets in miniature stalls

hold jars of hard candy, myriad pan filling

and sugared tamarind sweets to charm the mouth,

brightly coloured foil packets of biscuits and sweetened milk cake

lie sulking on the icebox, liberally filled

with ice cream and badam milk, mishti doi and lassi,

chilled soda in orange, brown, and green,

sealed bottles of water for people to please.

People and more people with stranger clothes and faces

scurry and stumble, then scramble and hurry

up the overbridge and down to platform number four

with sari and suitcase, toddler with a missing shoe.

Cartons of fresh iced fish to be sold a thousand miles away

settle comfortably on the floor of the parcel compartment,

painted blue, like all the thirty and one passenger coaches

tailing the rusty red engine that punctuates the chaos

with sleepy sighs and anxious whistles.

Footsteps and wheels run briskly here,

yet time runs ever slowly still

in rhythm with the ceaseless chant –

“cha~i coffee! co~ffee chai! cha~i coffee!…”

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We are a literary agency seeking fresh talent. In 200 words or more, demonstrate your writing talent. We will be in touch with any and all promising participants throughout the rest of this quarter.
Written by Pyrus
Snapshot
Curiosity stares through tinted glasses
at railway tracks that glint darker in the sun;
the house crow that pecks on the ties in between
looks only slightly greyer than its shadow.
The diesel smoke and incense mist
lie faintly over red painted benches
that infrequently decorate the station platform.
Glass doored cabinets in miniature stalls
hold jars of hard candy, myriad pan filling
and sugared tamarind sweets to charm the mouth,
brightly coloured foil packets of biscuits and sweetened milk cake
lie sulking on the icebox, liberally filled
with ice cream and badam milk, mishti doi and lassi,
chilled soda in orange, brown, and green,
sealed bottles of water for people to please.
People and more people with stranger clothes and faces
scurry and stumble, then scramble and hurry
up the overbridge and down to platform number four
with sari and suitcase, toddler with a missing shoe.
Cartons of fresh iced fish to be sold a thousand miles away
settle comfortably on the floor of the parcel compartment,
painted blue, like all the thirty and one passenger coaches
tailing the rusty red engine that punctuates the chaos
with sleepy sighs and anxious whistles.
Footsteps and wheels run briskly here,
yet time runs ever slowly still
in rhythm with the ceaseless chant –
“cha~i coffee! co~ffee chai! cha~i coffee!…”

1
0
0
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We are a literary agency seeking fresh talent. In 200 words or more, demonstrate your writing talent. We will be in touch with any and all promising participants throughout the rest of this quarter.
Written by SparklySadSong

quatre.

The time was 9:45.

Adrienne met nothing but empty space when she rolled over that morning.

She could smell coffee and could hear the faint murmur of commercials on a TV. Where was she? This wasn’t her house. The sheets weren’t as soft and the room wasn’t as large and the blankets weren’t as warm. But the memories of the night before trumped everything she knew to be good before. And she couldn’t remember at the moment but something felt just a tiny bit wrong with that.

Jordan woke up to nothing that morning, too.

He fixed his own coffee and listened to the news on the radio on the way into work. His wife was spending the holiday at her mother’s in Pennsylvania, leaving himself, the cat, and the entire state of Maryland to themselves for the weekend. He parked in his normal spot at the office and changed into his scrubs in the nearest bathroom. He hadn’t thought to shave the morning. But she’d said she liked guys with stubble, hadn’t she?

Eva reapplied her lipstick.

For the third time. Her hands shook behind the receptionist's counter even as she recorded appointments and checked insurance cards. There was nothing about her job that was stressful. The clients were kind, the atmosphere was pleasant enough. Tropical fish flitted by in the large glass tanks; kids received stickers for cavity-free checkups. It must be her coworkers, then, that made her uneasy. Just one, actually.

Levi turned off the TV and turned off the Keurig.

The shower was running, so he left the conquest of the night before to her business. He flopped onto the bed and ran his fingers through his shaggy, dark hair absentmindedly. His mind wandered, and he found himself turning his lover’s wedding ring (which had been banished to the floor among last night’s revels) over and over in his palm. She was a consenting adult and no one would ever know besides them. What was the big deal over, anyways?

Adrienne took her time getting dressed; the least amount of talking she had to do, the better. Shame and guilt mixed with passionate memories in the mind and filled her with a nervous energy she hadn’t felt in years.

Jordan finished the cleaning 4 and a half minutes earlier than normal. He wanted to talk to her, the new girl. She was pretty and petite and so not his wife. There was nothing wrong with speaking to someone, he reasoned. There was nothing wrong with being friendly. He’d never cheat.

Eva looked up from her phone exactly twice between appointments. Her fingers hovered over the screen of her phone as she chose directions to swipe on Tinder. She’d just moved to the area four months before but heaven help her if she didn’t bring someone home by Thanksgiving. She could feel a male gaze on her and she was nearly afraid to look. Every man in the office either had a ring or swung the opposite direction sexually. Yet the gaze persisted. Heavy. Constant.

Levi decided he wanted what he wanted; that little things like previous commitments shouldn’t get in the way of what he, what they had. There was no way they would’ve met like that if there wasn’t a reason, a purpose. Some people were star-crossed, and others weren’t, and that was that. Her husband was a fool for not appreciating her the way he should. And that was that.

Adrienne wracked her mind for the last time she’d felt wanted like that. Her husband seemed so, so, so… disconnected. He was always running the other direction. She was no longer the object of his affection. She knew he wasn’t cheating because he never would. But there was something. She couldn’t remember the last time a kiss wasn’t out of habit. She couldn’t recall the feelings that’d so clearly been present in Facebook memories and Timehops of them together. There’d never been a fight or a disagreement that had caused it, per say, just a series of compromises and contentions that had never been truly sourced or satisfied. And, for some reason, she was OK with that. She’d grown tired of fighting for something she didn’t really want anymore. So she’d stopped. And, as cruel as it sounded, she realized that that was how it was. And that was that.

So what to do when an attractive stranger offers to jumpstart your car? You give him your number because what could it hurt?

Jordan thought about texting his wife, he really did. He remembered when they used to text all the time. They’d used to everything all the time. She’d been one of the most fascinating aspects of his life at one point - surprising him by walking across campus just to eat lunch with him every so often, inviting him home for the holidays, playing April Fool’s Day pranks on him and his roommates. She’d been unpredictable and open minded and blissfully young and he loved her for it. But the working world is not college. Debt, both monetary and emotional, can take a toll on a person. He owed her the kind of emotionally support she seemingly effortlessly gave to everyone she knew and he didn’t know how to make good on that promise. Tuition costs and car loans meant changes to the way they lived their married lives, and that meant taking on two full-time jobs. Somewhere in there they’d lost the freedom they’d had as college kids to explore and, without meaning to, that loss had settled deeply within their relationship. And Jordan knew that. He just didn’t know how he knew or what exactly to do about it. So he let things go. And even as he felt the balloons lift away he loosened his grip. Not because he didn’t care, but because he was too scared to ask for balloon-holding instructions.

Eva was nervous. Her social anxiety meant that she was constantly concerned about the way others not only interacted with her, but also how she believed they perceived her. She was constantly caught between over and under estimating other’s actions and words. She was right, she did indeed feel eyes on her. But her initial estimate had been wrong. Instead of the hungry, nearly animalistic gaze she was accustomed to as a young, attractive woman from a big city, this gaze was different. It was kind and deep-searching. The difference between the focus level of a classroom laserpointer (piercing, but taunting in the sense that it’s only on you until something else comes along) and the focus of a rose-colored night light (peaceful, overarching, but also, in a way, subdued) - she could feel it. She looked up, timidly, and saw a pair of friendly brown eyes looking in her general direction. She felt the corners of her mouth pull up in a slight smile and relaxed. Her body knew before her thoughts did he’s OK. She nodded at him slightly and smiled as he sat down across from her. Here we go.

Levi was a hookup kind of person. He believed in love but he also believed in getting what he could while he was still young enough to get it. He was nearly 6 years younger than the woman he’d slept with last night and he could feel something in the back of his mind telling him to tie her down while he could. It was time to start thinking about settling. Levi was attractive. He’d had scores of girlfriends in high school and college before he’d dropped out during junior year for a job. Levi wasn’t dumb - he knew that marriages existed for a reason. But he also believed more strongly in fate than he’d care to admit. He also thought more with certain parts of his body than others sometimes. The woman in his bathroom at the moment had been a combination of those two factors working together. But looking at the picture on her lockscreen (he’d moved from the ring to her phone in his absent minded quest to cover her things with his DNA) he saw two people who’d been bonded by a thing that was maybe slightly stronger than a good 4 hours of sex. He was frustrated in more ways than one and decided that a talk had to happen. He got up and tapped on the bathroom door.

Adrienne dashed away a hot tear in the bathroom. She cried when she felt any deep emotions - happiness, sadness, anger, surprise, fear - and now was no different. The guilt she felt nearly overrode her symptoms. Why did she feel it now? Why not last night before she’d gone through with it? Hell, they’d gone out for a proper date first. This hadn’t been a simple hookup. Not for her, anways. She was a planner, even though her day-to-day schedule wouldn’t have let anyone see that. Adrienne was fiercely independent and knew what she wanted. She seized opportunities whenever possible. When the man who wasn’t her husband had asked her out for drinks, she’d said yes. When he asked to go bowling, she’d said yes. Then she’d ask him out for drinks. Then he’d invited her to dinner. She’d said yes. She’d also shaved and bought a new bra (something she hadn’t done in the past 3 years of her marriage.) She’d known what she wanted then. So why didn't she now? A tap on the door snapped her out of her thoughts. She opened it slowly, wiping away a final tear as she did so.

Jordan got up quickly from the pleasant conversation he’d just had. Something itched at the back of his mind. He’d had a thought. Something his wife had said forever ago. The new girl had been even more beautiful in person than she had looked from behind the frosted glass of the practice. Was it something she’d said? They’d had nearly nothing in common - he’d grown up in the country; she was from the city. He had three brothers and she was an only child. She was a glass-half-full, he was a glass-half-empty. But there was something - a word, a mannerism, something that reminded him of his first love. He didn’t know what, but whatever it was had jolted him out of focus. It wasn’t her looks, he decided. She was petite and fair, almost the polar opposite of his wife’s tall, more curvaceous build. His wife’s hair was usually pulled up, while the woman who’d just nodded at Jordan while excusing herself from the front desk, had a blonde pixie cut that perfectly framed her soft features. He decided the similarity might be more subconscious, but that the reminder of the woman he’d promised himself to was enough to force him to do the right thing. He stepped outside, flipped through his most recent calls, and found “Adrienne.” He sighed, and hit “Talk.”

Eva watched from the receptionist desk as Doctor Milton headed outside. Her heart skipped beats. He was charming, all right. He was incredibly charming. Was it really so wrong to like the taste of his attention? He was a successful dentist, handsome, and he’d managed to make her genuinely laugh in the short amount of time they’d spoken before he’d abruptly gotten up. Normally, her mind would be searching for something she’d done wrong, but instead her brain ran wild with thoughts of the future. Eva’s mind had picked up on the fact that his gloves could be hiding a ring. That maybe this was too good to be true. But another part, surprisingly, didn’t mind. She liked being in the glow of a night light. She liked how he’d opened doors for her over the past few weeks. How he’d handed her her coat when it came time to close the office. How he’d subtly made his presence known for weeks before approaching her. His attention was not an amount she felt she couldn’t handle. She hurriedly wrote down her phone number on the back of an appointment card and slipped it into his coat pocket. If it was meant to be, he’d find it.

Levi’s hand hovered over the door as Adrienne’s phone rang. His “Hey, I was thinking we could talk…” was cut off by Adrienne running past him into the bedroom as she pushed every button on her phone except the green “accept” one. She dashed back to him and pulled him onto the bed. He was surprised, but not unpleasantly, and caressed her as she wanted. She pulled him close, but not before he saw her phone screen go dark. “Hubby” had called. Levi’s mind threw the words “danger” and “caution” before him but his second brain and his devil-may-care personality took over. This was meant to be, wasn’t it?

Adrienne’s ring fell back to the floor, this time rolling under Levi’s bed. Jordan made his way back inside and smiled sadly at Eva, who smiled back broadly.

The time was 11:30.

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quatre.
The time was 9:45.
Adrienne met nothing but empty space when she rolled over that morning.
She could smell coffee and could hear the faint murmur of commercials on a TV. Where was she? This wasn’t her house. The sheets weren’t as soft and the room wasn’t as large and the blankets weren’t as warm. But the memories of the night before trumped everything she knew to be good before. And she couldn’t remember at the moment but something felt just a tiny bit wrong with that.

Jordan woke up to nothing that morning, too.
He fixed his own coffee and listened to the news on the radio on the way into work. His wife was spending the holiday at her mother’s in Pennsylvania, leaving himself, the cat, and the entire state of Maryland to themselves for the weekend. He parked in his normal spot at the office and changed into his scrubs in the nearest bathroom. He hadn’t thought to shave the morning. But she’d said she liked guys with stubble, hadn’t she?

Eva reapplied her lipstick.
For the third time. Her hands shook behind the receptionist's counter even as she recorded appointments and checked insurance cards. There was nothing about her job that was stressful. The clients were kind, the atmosphere was pleasant enough. Tropical fish flitted by in the large glass tanks; kids received stickers for cavity-free checkups. It must be her coworkers, then, that made her uneasy. Just one, actually.

Levi turned off the TV and turned off the Keurig.
The shower was running, so he left the conquest of the night before to her business. He flopped onto the bed and ran his fingers through his shaggy, dark hair absentmindedly. His mind wandered, and he found himself turning his lover’s wedding ring (which had been banished to the floor among last night’s revels) over and over in his palm. She was a consenting adult and no one would ever know besides them. What was the big deal over, anyways?

Adrienne took her time getting dressed; the least amount of talking she had to do, the better. Shame and guilt mixed with passionate memories in the mind and filled her with a nervous energy she hadn’t felt in years.
Jordan finished the cleaning 4 and a half minutes earlier than normal. He wanted to talk to her, the new girl. She was pretty and petite and so not his wife. There was nothing wrong with speaking to someone, he reasoned. There was nothing wrong with being friendly. He’d never cheat.
Eva looked up from her phone exactly twice between appointments. Her fingers hovered over the screen of her phone as she chose directions to swipe on Tinder. She’d just moved to the area four months before but heaven help her if she didn’t bring someone home by Thanksgiving. She could feel a male gaze on her and she was nearly afraid to look. Every man in the office either had a ring or swung the opposite direction sexually. Yet the gaze persisted. Heavy. Constant.
Levi decided he wanted what he wanted; that little things like previous commitments shouldn’t get in the way of what he, what they had. There was no way they would’ve met like that if there wasn’t a reason, a purpose. Some people were star-crossed, and others weren’t, and that was that. Her husband was a fool for not appreciating her the way he should. And that was that.

Adrienne wracked her mind for the last time she’d felt wanted like that. Her husband seemed so, so, so… disconnected. He was always running the other direction. She was no longer the object of his affection. She knew he wasn’t cheating because he never would. But there was something. She couldn’t remember the last time a kiss wasn’t out of habit. She couldn’t recall the feelings that’d so clearly been present in Facebook memories and Timehops of them together. There’d never been a fight or a disagreement that had caused it, per say, just a series of compromises and contentions that had never been truly sourced or satisfied. And, for some reason, she was OK with that. She’d grown tired of fighting for something she didn’t really want anymore. So she’d stopped. And, as cruel as it sounded, she realized that that was how it was. And that was that.
So what to do when an attractive stranger offers to jumpstart your car? You give him your number because what could it hurt?

Jordan thought about texting his wife, he really did. He remembered when they used to text all the time. They’d used to everything all the time. She’d been one of the most fascinating aspects of his life at one point - surprising him by walking across campus just to eat lunch with him every so often, inviting him home for the holidays, playing April Fool’s Day pranks on him and his roommates. She’d been unpredictable and open minded and blissfully young and he loved her for it. But the working world is not college. Debt, both monetary and emotional, can take a toll on a person. He owed her the kind of emotionally support she seemingly effortlessly gave to everyone she knew and he didn’t know how to make good on that promise. Tuition costs and car loans meant changes to the way they lived their married lives, and that meant taking on two full-time jobs. Somewhere in there they’d lost the freedom they’d had as college kids to explore and, without meaning to, that loss had settled deeply within their relationship. And Jordan knew that. He just didn’t know how he knew or what exactly to do about it. So he let things go. And even as he felt the balloons lift away he loosened his grip. Not because he didn’t care, but because he was too scared to ask for balloon-holding instructions.

Eva was nervous. Her social anxiety meant that she was constantly concerned about the way others not only interacted with her, but also how she believed they perceived her. She was constantly caught between over and under estimating other’s actions and words. She was right, she did indeed feel eyes on her. But her initial estimate had been wrong. Instead of the hungry, nearly animalistic gaze she was accustomed to as a young, attractive woman from a big city, this gaze was different. It was kind and deep-searching. The difference between the focus level of a classroom laserpointer (piercing, but taunting in the sense that it’s only on you until something else comes along) and the focus of a rose-colored night light (peaceful, overarching, but also, in a way, subdued) - she could feel it. She looked up, timidly, and saw a pair of friendly brown eyes looking in her general direction. She felt the corners of her mouth pull up in a slight smile and relaxed. Her body knew before her thoughts did he’s OK. She nodded at him slightly and smiled as he sat down across from her. Here we go.
Levi was a hookup kind of person. He believed in love but he also believed in getting what he could while he was still young enough to get it. He was nearly 6 years younger than the woman he’d slept with last night and he could feel something in the back of his mind telling him to tie her down while he could. It was time to start thinking about settling. Levi was attractive. He’d had scores of girlfriends in high school and college before he’d dropped out during junior year for a job. Levi wasn’t dumb - he knew that marriages existed for a reason. But he also believed more strongly in fate than he’d care to admit. He also thought more with certain parts of his body than others sometimes. The woman in his bathroom at the moment had been a combination of those two factors working together. But looking at the picture on her lockscreen (he’d moved from the ring to her phone in his absent minded quest to cover her things with his DNA) he saw two people who’d been bonded by a thing that was maybe slightly stronger than a good 4 hours of sex. He was frustrated in more ways than one and decided that a talk had to happen. He got up and tapped on the bathroom door.

Adrienne dashed away a hot tear in the bathroom. She cried when she felt any deep emotions - happiness, sadness, anger, surprise, fear - and now was no different. The guilt she felt nearly overrode her symptoms. Why did she feel it now? Why not last night before she’d gone through with it? Hell, they’d gone out for a proper date first. This hadn’t been a simple hookup. Not for her, anways. She was a planner, even though her day-to-day schedule wouldn’t have let anyone see that. Adrienne was fiercely independent and knew what she wanted. She seized opportunities whenever possible. When the man who wasn’t her husband had asked her out for drinks, she’d said yes. When he asked to go bowling, she’d said yes. Then she’d ask him out for drinks. Then he’d invited her to dinner. She’d said yes. She’d also shaved and bought a new bra (something she hadn’t done in the past 3 years of her marriage.) She’d known what she wanted then. So why didn't she now? A tap on the door snapped her out of her thoughts. She opened it slowly, wiping away a final tear as she did so.

Jordan got up quickly from the pleasant conversation he’d just had. Something itched at the back of his mind. He’d had a thought. Something his wife had said forever ago. The new girl had been even more beautiful in person than she had looked from behind the frosted glass of the practice. Was it something she’d said? They’d had nearly nothing in common - he’d grown up in the country; she was from the city. He had three brothers and she was an only child. She was a glass-half-full, he was a glass-half-empty. But there was something - a word, a mannerism, something that reminded him of his first love. He didn’t know what, but whatever it was had jolted him out of focus. It wasn’t her looks, he decided. She was petite and fair, almost the polar opposite of his wife’s tall, more curvaceous build. His wife’s hair was usually pulled up, while the woman who’d just nodded at Jordan while excusing herself from the front desk, had a blonde pixie cut that perfectly framed her soft features. He decided the similarity might be more subconscious, but that the reminder of the woman he’d promised himself to was enough to force him to do the right thing. He stepped outside, flipped through his most recent calls, and found “Adrienne.” He sighed, and hit “Talk.”

Eva watched from the receptionist desk as Doctor Milton headed outside. Her heart skipped beats. He was charming, all right. He was incredibly charming. Was it really so wrong to like the taste of his attention? He was a successful dentist, handsome, and he’d managed to make her genuinely laugh in the short amount of time they’d spoken before he’d abruptly gotten up. Normally, her mind would be searching for something she’d done wrong, but instead her brain ran wild with thoughts of the future. Eva’s mind had picked up on the fact that his gloves could be hiding a ring. That maybe this was too good to be true. But another part, surprisingly, didn’t mind. She liked being in the glow of a night light. She liked how he’d opened doors for her over the past few weeks. How he’d handed her her coat when it came time to close the office. How he’d subtly made his presence known for weeks before approaching her. His attention was not an amount she felt she couldn’t handle. She hurriedly wrote down her phone number on the back of an appointment card and slipped it into his coat pocket. If it was meant to be, he’d find it.

Levi’s hand hovered over the door as Adrienne’s phone rang. His “Hey, I was thinking we could talk…” was cut off by Adrienne running past him into the bedroom as she pushed every button on her phone except the green “accept” one. She dashed back to him and pulled him onto the bed. He was surprised, but not unpleasantly, and caressed her as she wanted. She pulled him close, but not before he saw her phone screen go dark. “Hubby” had called. Levi’s mind threw the words “danger” and “caution” before him but his second brain and his devil-may-care personality took over. This was meant to be, wasn’t it?

Adrienne’s ring fell back to the floor, this time rolling under Levi’s bed. Jordan made his way back inside and smiled sadly at Eva, who smiled back broadly.
The time was 11:30.

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Written by Jessica_Gorbet

Welcome to the Family

Forget what you’ve heard about Valhalla. I’ve seen your mortal depictions. They’re all wrong. You’re missing its bellow of vitality. The miles of walls hung with chain-mail rippling like a silver sea. A roof of beaten gold pulsing like a blazing summer sun. The clamor of the fallen warriors and battle cries of the Valkyries. Valhalla, hall of Odin. Odin the High King. Odin the terrible.

Odin soon to be related to me by marriage.

The High King rose from his throne at our approach. He was broad-shouldered and firm, but there were lines on his face and his hair was iron gray shot with silver. He fixed me with his one fjord blue eye. The eye that some say can tell truth from lie.

“High King.” I dropped to one knee like a warrior. I don’t curtsy.

“Rise, Inga, daughter of Gymir.” Odin commanded. “Is this not a glorious occasion, the marriage of your sister to Frey? Does it not speak of further peace among our realms?”

“A glorious occasion,” I echoed.

Odin frowned. “Are you certain she is yours, Gymir? She offers so few words.”

My father fidgeted beside me, obviously regretting his previous admonition. Well, maybe he shouldn’t have said our lives depended on my ability to hold my tongue while in Valhalla. “You are gracious to honor us with this feast,” I offered, trying to match the King's formal tone. My gaze slid to Odin’s sword.

His eye gleamed. “Balmung,” he said, though I knew its name. Give me some credit. I live in a realm of ice, not under a rock.

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Written by Jessica_Gorbet
Welcome to the Family
Forget what you’ve heard about Valhalla. I’ve seen your mortal depictions. They’re all wrong. You’re missing its bellow of vitality. The miles of walls hung with chain-mail rippling like a silver sea. A roof of beaten gold pulsing like a blazing summer sun. The clamor of the fallen warriors and battle cries of the Valkyries. Valhalla, hall of Odin. Odin the High King. Odin the terrible.

Odin soon to be related to me by marriage.

The High King rose from his throne at our approach. He was broad-shouldered and firm, but there were lines on his face and his hair was iron gray shot with silver. He fixed me with his one fjord blue eye. The eye that some say can tell truth from lie.

“High King.” I dropped to one knee like a warrior. I don’t curtsy.

“Rise, Inga, daughter of Gymir.” Odin commanded. “Is this not a glorious occasion, the marriage of your sister to Frey? Does it not speak of further peace among our realms?”

“A glorious occasion,” I echoed.

Odin frowned. “Are you certain she is yours, Gymir? She offers so few words.”

My father fidgeted beside me, obviously regretting his previous admonition. Well, maybe he shouldn’t have said our lives depended on my ability to hold my tongue while in Valhalla. “You are gracious to honor us with this feast,” I offered, trying to match the King's formal tone. My gaze slid to Odin’s sword.

His eye gleamed. “Balmung,” he said, though I knew its name. Give me some credit. I live in a realm of ice, not under a rock.

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Written by Sairdysue in portal Publishing

SASSAFRAS ROAD

My parents and Dana linger behind me as I kneel down beside the freshly-packed earth, the place where my love lies to rest. There is no stone yet, only freshly turned earth to mark the spot. I place my hands on the ground, the smell of fresh soil thick in the air. In front of where Jimmy lies, is his mother’s stone, and his father’s, and beside that, a tiny angel stone I didn’t notice before, for Charlotte. And behind that, and to the left, is a little girl’s stone—my own. The one that shouldn’t be there, because I didn’t die.

And then, a thought flits around in the air, and lands on my shoulder. It tells me that someday, in the distant future, when a stranger turns down a dead end road and happens upon a small country cemetery, and pauses to read the stones—they’ll never know. They would never see the stone of an old man and connect it with the four-year-old girl’s nearby. They would never know the way that time can be only an illusion, a small fragment of what really is. They would never know that I loved Jimmy with all my heart and soul. Or that Sassafras Road is simply a loop in time, a place where time bends in a circle, rounding in upon itself.

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Written by Sairdysue in portal Publishing
SASSAFRAS ROAD
My parents and Dana linger behind me as I kneel down beside the freshly-packed earth, the place where my love lies to rest. There is no stone yet, only freshly turned earth to mark the spot. I place my hands on the ground, the smell of fresh soil thick in the air. In front of where Jimmy lies, is his mother’s stone, and his father’s, and beside that, a tiny angel stone I didn’t notice before, for Charlotte. And behind that, and to the left, is a little girl’s stone—my own. The one that shouldn’t be there, because I didn’t die.

And then, a thought flits around in the air, and lands on my shoulder. It tells me that someday, in the distant future, when a stranger turns down a dead end road and happens upon a small country cemetery, and pauses to read the stones—they’ll never know. They would never see the stone of an old man and connect it with the four-year-old girl’s nearby. They would never know the way that time can be only an illusion, a small fragment of what really is. They would never know that I loved Jimmy with all my heart and soul. Or that Sassafras Road is simply a loop in time, a place where time bends in a circle, rounding in upon itself.


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Written by Newloveamy

The Adventures of Eliza Crane

Part the First

Chapter One

When she came to, she was trapped. Eliza had been bound into one of Grandmother Alexandra Jane’s heavy carved mahogany chairs, her squarish wrists tied with strong cord to the arms, her ankles bound to the legs. She flexed her hands—her man hands, as her mother called them—and tried to loosen the binds. Her efforts were of no use. They had trussed her like a hog. But not really, for Eliza knew what it meant to be hog-tied. She had seen hogs being carried through the streets in Chinatown, although she wasn’t actually allowed to go to Chinatown. She wasn’t allowed to go anywhere.

Eliza did not know how long she had been in her room. She didn’t even know how long she had been in the chair. She felt confused, as though she had a fever. She tried to call out, but found that she could not even manage a moan. She closed her eyes and tried to clear her head. She didn’t remember being put in this chair. The last thing she remembered was being snatched from Market Street, picked up and thrown into the back of Grandfather’s buggy as though she were a piece of baggage. Who in their right mind tied a girl to a chair? Probing her hazy memory, Eliza remembered her grandfather holding her down and forcing the spoon between her lips, while her mother hovered in the background.

“Swallow!” her grandfather had ordered, and when Eliza had refused, clamping her jaw shut, he had broken her clenched teeth loose by wrenching the spoon sideways and shoving it into the back of her mouth. Half of the sick-sweet brown stuff had dribbled down the front of her nightdress. She remembered the last thing her grandfather had said, before he had thumped from the room.

“You,” Grandfather had said, rolling his great eyes and shaking his forefinger at her. “Are more trouble than a wild Apache and worth less than a rabid dog.”

Not long after she had swallowed the stuff, she had felt a great heaviness in her body, and then dizziness, as if she had spun around in circles for too long. She had felt like she was going to fall asleep, but instead of falling asleep and dreaming, she had seen—actually seen—a great dark bird, maybe a raven, maybe a hawk, the size of a horse, resting on the bedpost, regarding her in her chair. It had spread its wings, which grew suddenly miles across, and cawed, making a ripping sound. Its great wings grew so that they engulfed the house, covering the great white mansion from cellar to attic eaves. The raven opened its maw and the world went in, everything—the girl, her body, her room. Then the bedroom furniture floated by—there went the desk and the mahogany chair and the wardrobe and the vertiko and the chiffonier. The great carved bed lifted up and sailed into the gullet of the bird. And then the drapes unloosed themselves from the windows and began to flap, flap, flap, right along after the furniture. And then whole house lifted up—Eliza had watched as her house lifted and was sucked, as if by a gyre, down into the beak of the monstrous bird. And there, inside the house inside the hawk’s mouth, stood her father, who was dead and could not stand anywhere.

“Papa?” Eliza had whispered and reached for her father. “Papa?”

The world had jolted again, and she was upright in a field, no, an ocean, no, she was hovering. The birds and leaves and vines woven into the carpet’s lush terrain had begun to move under her feet. They turned to spiders, beetles, snakes and worms. The pulls on the drapes writhed like eels, wriggling and wiggling up and down. Who was she? Where was she? She was not on the floor; she had never been on the floor. Eliza tried to get up—or dreamed that she tried to get up—but found that something was keeping her from moving. Then she was drifting again, like a schooner stuck in the doldrums. She was in a boat…and her mother was there, no, it was the bird again, flexing its horrible claws. She cried out But I am inside you! I am in the belly of the bird.

But still she had put a hand over her face, trying to protect herself from the great and terrible thing that lurked above her. The room rocked and rocked, as if she were on board of her father’s vessels. They were together, in a state room, sailing for the Orient. The breeze that blew in from the opened porthole was tanged with salt; she could taste it on her tongue. She put one hand out the porthole to feel the sea wind; sails cracked and jostled like live things. The sails were the shirts of giants, whickering against the ship’s twin necks, the huge mast poles. And her father was sitting at the huge desk in the captain’s stateroom, dialing a compass across a map.

“Eliza?”

“Yes, Papa?”

“Come and look at this map. Let me show you the way.”

She had perched on the arm of her father’s chair. “Show me, Papa. Show me the way to go.”

While Eliza was occupied with her attempts to swim out of a sea of laudanum, Lavinia Crane was in the front parlor, regarding her father-in-law across a great expanse of Persian carpet. She thought: he needs to trim his eyebrows. Making no attempt to control the motions of her own face, she made a little moue of distaste, thinking of how, in general, most men were wild animals. The Colonel, in turn, sourly studied his dead son’s wife, wondering why God had seen fit to burden the world with women. Surely He could have found a better method of propagating his greatest creation than via the sorry vehicle of Eve. The horloge clock on the mantle ticked audibly, as the two sat on the Louis XIV chairs, which Jake Crane had had shipped from an antiques dealer in New York not long before his death. Lavinia had never liked the chairs, thinking them out of tune with the rest of the room’s decor, but they were too fine not to display.

“Well.” said the Colonel.

“Well,” echoed Lavinia.

“Now we await the physicians.”

“Await the physicians,” murmured Eliza’s mother.

Without acknowledging that Lavinia had spoken, the old man got to his feet and struck idly around the firedogs with his cane.

“Your daughter’s case is so difficult I have consulted with Conway, and he has asked two specialists to call at the house this evening.”

He managed to make all this sound like it was in some way Lavinia’s fault. Which, presumably, he thought it was. For who else could possibly be to blame? The bad blood the girl had inherited from her father, of course, but that was beyond his control. Just as his son had always been beyond his control. Eliza’s grandfather made a sort of snorting sound deep in his throat, and sharply rapped the floor with his stick.

Lavinia frowned, and then repeated his words. “Consulted with Conway.”

Eliza’s mother had learned long ago, in the first bloom of her youth, that by merely repeating back to men what they had said, one could make them feel as though they were carrying on a brilliant conversation. And so it had gone on, until Lavinia had found herself essentially unable to complete a sentence. In her mourning clothes, she had become like a mina bird, black, shiny, and given to mimicry. All the worse, she knew it, and for the most part, did not care. It was hard work making conversation, and when did any man give two figs what a woman had to say? After the death of her husband, Lavinia Crane had given up a great many things, some difficult, some painless, and conversation was among the easiest to let go. And though Jake Crane had died some eight years earlier, Lavinia remained in deep mourning. It was less of a state than a calling, for Eliza’s mother had found new meaning in a matrimonial connection with death. It improved her relationship with her deceased husband: It was more straightforward to love Jake when he was under the ground than above it. Lavinia had found her husband…confounding, not to put too fine a point on it. She was aware that her daughter believed she only loved his money, but this wasn’t true. Or it wasn’t entirely true. It had just been that they were not very well matched, and had nothing in common, and yes, she had married him for the money, but she had had to. And just how did you go about explaining that to a nearly grown female child who thought her dead father was God?

She realized that Colonel was looking at her with even more than his usual amount of irritation.

She repeated the last word she could remember him saying.

“Specialists.”

For a long time, English had felt like a foreign tongue to her, every word reticulated and coruscated, every syllable more mysterious than the last. Spanish was in fact her first tongue, the tongue of her mother’s family, though she hadn’t spoken it for years. But she spoke it in her mind, and in her dreams. Lavinia knew that she appeared to others as mysterious as a foreign creature, her heavy-lidded eyes betraying so little that she might have been carved from stone. This was intentional: Her mother had raised her that way.

“I’ll be in my study,” the Colonel snapped, and marched out the door, not bothering to wait for a reply. Lavinia toyed with the jet beads that lay across her meager bosom. She hoped that it would be well after dark before the specialists arrived, for servants’ eyes were sharp, especially Lucilla Simpson’s new maid, who seemed to be peering at the Crane household at the most inopportune moments. She closed her eyes and allowed herself exactly one ragged breath, before taking up her embroidery needle and her embroidery.

“Eliza Jane!” Her grandfather had her by the shoulder. “Awaken, child!”

Eliza opened her eyes to see her grandfather standing over her, two bearded men behind him. Her neck ached, and her hands were swollen in their bindings. She wondered if the flow of blood had been entirely cut off to her hands, and how quickly one could begin to suffer the gangrene. She ran her tongue around her mouth: she was not gagged, but it made no difference. She might as well have been, for when she tried to speak, she made only a rough croaking sound. She could not speak. Oh, how her arms ached! Her whole body hurt; she felt the same as she had when she had rheumatic fever, and had been consigned to her bed for weeks, joints aching, first burning, then shivering. Then, as now, she had had no liberty. But an affliction of the body bore no similarity to this affliction of the mind. She closed her eyes, feeling the remaining effects of the drug swimming in the currents of her veins. She was adrift, and in her mind’s wake, she saw herself as she was: a girl with pale skin and dark hair, her face pinched and her arms bruised. She had a vague notion of how she must look to these doctors: like a madwoman. And this notion made her feel afraid.

“These doctors are here to examine you. Now behave. They are fine men, at the top of their field.”

Her grandfather motioned to Rosie, who came forward, frowning, to untie her wrists. “Be good, now, mavourneen,” Rosie whispered. “Don’t ye cause no more trouble.”

Eliza tried to rise on her own, but staggered and fell into the waiting arms of the maid. The feeling came painfully back into her legs, prickling sensations running up and down her calves. She bit back a cry of pain, and avoided her grandfather’s eyes. She did not want him to see that she suffered; she never wanted that. She tried to avoid his eyes, which always seemed to land on her with dissatisfaction. (Although the Colonel had likely felt unsatisfied since he had last fired on a Reb.) He had come to live with them after her father died, taking charge of everything from the hiring of scullery maids to the length of the wicks in the lamps. Her own father had run from this man, and Eliza had tried to do the same. But she couldn’t run anywhere at the moment; she was weak as a newborn kitten. Rosie helped her into bed, half-carrying her as she swayed on stiff muscles. Her nightdress was stiff with sweat and spilled liquids. The slats of the back of the chair had been so hard that she felt like they had been welded into the flesh of her back. Now she slipped woozily between ironed white sheets. Her stomach heaved, and she shut her mouth to keep from retching.

“As you can see,” her grandfather declaimed, speaking so that he could likely be heard at least three blocks away, “the girl is unstable. We’ve had to bind her for her own safety and protection. In the last year, she’s run off half a dozen times, consorting with common street trash, with thugs and public women.”

Her grandfather paused, giving her a look that had withered battle-hardened men. Eliza looked back, saying nothing only because she was uncertain that she had yet regained the use of her voice.

“Her mother and I fear for her sanity.”

Eliza scoffed, and the doctors looked at her with diagnostic curiosity. Her grandfather was being absurd. She had never consorted with anyone. All she had done on her journeys out of Nob Hill was to walk, and walk, and walk some more. She had just wanted to see things. What was so strange about that? What was so wrong with that? She had wanted to see the wharf, and the Chinamen with long queues down their backs, and women selling fruit in the street, and the dice players squatting in alleyways. She just wanted to know her city, the women with shopping baskets, the factory workers, carrying their box lunches. Once she had even seen an Indian, with actual feathers in his hair. She had just wanted to look. She had never met a thug or a harlot. She was starting to wish she had. She had met someone, but he was not a thug. And he certainly wasn’t a harlot. Eliza let out a little giggle at the thought, and everyone in the room looked at her. Her grandfather sighed and gestured toward her, looking impossibly exhausted.

The two doctors, who might have been twins in their pointed white beards and gold wire-rimmed pince nez, nodded gravely in unison.

“My son was not in his right mind, and I fear the girl has inherited her father’s insensibility. He was…he was a disappointment to me. After his death, I came here to care for his widow and…” he made a dismissive gesture, flicking his wrist in Eliza’s direction, “this…this girl.”

“Don’t say that,” Eliza whispered. “He was not crazy.”

“Hush, granddaughter,” her grandfather commanded. “These doctors will examine you now. Be good, for once.” He turned slightly toward the doctors, who despite their eminence, seemed to shrink. “They are,” he said, his lip curling, “men who specialize in women.”

“Yes, that’s right, sir,” one of the men spoke up. “I believe it to be a complaint of common hysteria. I believe when we examine her we will find that her womb has wandered—“

Her grandfather thrust up a hand. “I do not wish to know the particulars of my granddaughter’s condition. I wish only to see her cured. Please, gentlemen, rid her of this madness, and restore her to sanity.”

The last thing she wanted was for these doctors to touch her, but she knew better than to fight the Colonel now. She was too weak. Tears started in her eyes, and she closed them, not wanting anyone to see. Nor did she need to see her grandfather to know what expression he had on his face. A tall man, with a chest pushed forward like a pigeon, he still behaved as though he was leading the charge at Appomattox. He turned smartly on a polished boot heel, and started to leave the room.

“My good sirs, please pull the bell if she will not…comply. The servant will remain here to assist you.”

Eliza shrank back into her bed, still holding Rosie’s hand. The two doctors loomed over her, each placing a big black medical bag on top of her counterpane. A tremor went through her as the two men, in a mirrored pantomime on either side of the big bed, opened their bags and began to withdraw shining instruments.

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We are a literary agency seeking fresh talent. In 200 words or more, demonstrate your writing talent. We will be in touch with any and all promising participants throughout the rest of this quarter.
Written by Newloveamy
The Adventures of Eliza Crane
Part the First
Chapter One
When she came to, she was trapped. Eliza had been bound into one of Grandmother Alexandra Jane’s heavy carved mahogany chairs, her squarish wrists tied with strong cord to the arms, her ankles bound to the legs. She flexed her hands—her man hands, as her mother called them—and tried to loosen the binds. Her efforts were of no use. They had trussed her like a hog. But not really, for Eliza knew what it meant to be hog-tied. She had seen hogs being carried through the streets in Chinatown, although she wasn’t actually allowed to go to Chinatown. She wasn’t allowed to go anywhere.
Eliza did not know how long she had been in her room. She didn’t even know how long she had been in the chair. She felt confused, as though she had a fever. She tried to call out, but found that she could not even manage a moan. She closed her eyes and tried to clear her head. She didn’t remember being put in this chair. The last thing she remembered was being snatched from Market Street, picked up and thrown into the back of Grandfather’s buggy as though she were a piece of baggage. Who in their right mind tied a girl to a chair? Probing her hazy memory, Eliza remembered her grandfather holding her down and forcing the spoon between her lips, while her mother hovered in the background.
“Swallow!” her grandfather had ordered, and when Eliza had refused, clamping her jaw shut, he had broken her clenched teeth loose by wrenching the spoon sideways and shoving it into the back of her mouth. Half of the sick-sweet brown stuff had dribbled down the front of her nightdress. She remembered the last thing her grandfather had said, before he had thumped from the room.
“You,” Grandfather had said, rolling his great eyes and shaking his forefinger at her. “Are more trouble than a wild Apache and worth less than a rabid dog.”
Not long after she had swallowed the stuff, she had felt a great heaviness in her body, and then dizziness, as if she had spun around in circles for too long. She had felt like she was going to fall asleep, but instead of falling asleep and dreaming, she had seen—actually seen—a great dark bird, maybe a raven, maybe a hawk, the size of a horse, resting on the bedpost, regarding her in her chair. It had spread its wings, which grew suddenly miles across, and cawed, making a ripping sound. Its great wings grew so that they engulfed the house, covering the great white mansion from cellar to attic eaves. The raven opened its maw and the world went in, everything—the girl, her body, her room. Then the bedroom furniture floated by—there went the desk and the mahogany chair and the wardrobe and the vertiko and the chiffonier. The great carved bed lifted up and sailed into the gullet of the bird. And then the drapes unloosed themselves from the windows and began to flap, flap, flap, right along after the furniture. And then whole house lifted up—Eliza had watched as her house lifted and was sucked, as if by a gyre, down into the beak of the monstrous bird. And there, inside the house inside the hawk’s mouth, stood her father, who was dead and could not stand anywhere.
“Papa?” Eliza had whispered and reached for her father. “Papa?”
The world had jolted again, and she was upright in a field, no, an ocean, no, she was hovering. The birds and leaves and vines woven into the carpet’s lush terrain had begun to move under her feet. They turned to spiders, beetles, snakes and worms. The pulls on the drapes writhed like eels, wriggling and wiggling up and down. Who was she? Where was she? She was not on the floor; she had never been on the floor. Eliza tried to get up—or dreamed that she tried to get up—but found that something was keeping her from moving. Then she was drifting again, like a schooner stuck in the doldrums. She was in a boat…and her mother was there, no, it was the bird again, flexing its horrible claws. She cried out But I am inside you! I am in the belly of the bird.
But still she had put a hand over her face, trying to protect herself from the great and terrible thing that lurked above her. The room rocked and rocked, as if she were on board of her father’s vessels. They were together, in a state room, sailing for the Orient. The breeze that blew in from the opened porthole was tanged with salt; she could taste it on her tongue. She put one hand out the porthole to feel the sea wind; sails cracked and jostled like live things. The sails were the shirts of giants, whickering against the ship’s twin necks, the huge mast poles. And her father was sitting at the huge desk in the captain’s stateroom, dialing a compass across a map.
“Eliza?”
“Yes, Papa?”
“Come and look at this map. Let me show you the way.”
She had perched on the arm of her father’s chair. “Show me, Papa. Show me the way to go.”

While Eliza was occupied with her attempts to swim out of a sea of laudanum, Lavinia Crane was in the front parlor, regarding her father-in-law across a great expanse of Persian carpet. She thought: he needs to trim his eyebrows. Making no attempt to control the motions of her own face, she made a little moue of distaste, thinking of how, in general, most men were wild animals. The Colonel, in turn, sourly studied his dead son’s wife, wondering why God had seen fit to burden the world with women. Surely He could have found a better method of propagating his greatest creation than via the sorry vehicle of Eve. The horloge clock on the mantle ticked audibly, as the two sat on the Louis XIV chairs, which Jake Crane had had shipped from an antiques dealer in New York not long before his death. Lavinia had never liked the chairs, thinking them out of tune with the rest of the room’s decor, but they were too fine not to display.
“Well.” said the Colonel.
“Well,” echoed Lavinia.
“Now we await the physicians.”
“Await the physicians,” murmured Eliza’s mother.
Without acknowledging that Lavinia had spoken, the old man got to his feet and struck idly around the firedogs with his cane.
“Your daughter’s case is so difficult I have consulted with Conway, and he has asked two specialists to call at the house this evening.”
He managed to make all this sound like it was in some way Lavinia’s fault. Which, presumably, he thought it was. For who else could possibly be to blame? The bad blood the girl had inherited from her father, of course, but that was beyond his control. Just as his son had always been beyond his control. Eliza’s grandfather made a sort of snorting sound deep in his throat, and sharply rapped the floor with his stick.
Lavinia frowned, and then repeated his words. “Consulted with Conway.”
Eliza’s mother had learned long ago, in the first bloom of her youth, that by merely repeating back to men what they had said, one could make them feel as though they were carrying on a brilliant conversation. And so it had gone on, until Lavinia had found herself essentially unable to complete a sentence. In her mourning clothes, she had become like a mina bird, black, shiny, and given to mimicry. All the worse, she knew it, and for the most part, did not care. It was hard work making conversation, and when did any man give two figs what a woman had to say? After the death of her husband, Lavinia Crane had given up a great many things, some difficult, some painless, and conversation was among the easiest to let go. And though Jake Crane had died some eight years earlier, Lavinia remained in deep mourning. It was less of a state than a calling, for Eliza’s mother had found new meaning in a matrimonial connection with death. It improved her relationship with her deceased husband: It was more straightforward to love Jake when he was under the ground than above it. Lavinia had found her husband…confounding, not to put too fine a point on it. She was aware that her daughter believed she only loved his money, but this wasn’t true. Or it wasn’t entirely true. It had just been that they were not very well matched, and had nothing in common, and yes, she had married him for the money, but she had had to. And just how did you go about explaining that to a nearly grown female child who thought her dead father was God?
She realized that Colonel was looking at her with even more than his usual amount of irritation.
She repeated the last word she could remember him saying.
“Specialists.”
For a long time, English had felt like a foreign tongue to her, every word reticulated and coruscated, every syllable more mysterious than the last. Spanish was in fact her first tongue, the tongue of her mother’s family, though she hadn’t spoken it for years. But she spoke it in her mind, and in her dreams. Lavinia knew that she appeared to others as mysterious as a foreign creature, her heavy-lidded eyes betraying so little that she might have been carved from stone. This was intentional: Her mother had raised her that way.
“I’ll be in my study,” the Colonel snapped, and marched out the door, not bothering to wait for a reply. Lavinia toyed with the jet beads that lay across her meager bosom. She hoped that it would be well after dark before the specialists arrived, for servants’ eyes were sharp, especially Lucilla Simpson’s new maid, who seemed to be peering at the Crane household at the most inopportune moments. She closed her eyes and allowed herself exactly one ragged breath, before taking up her embroidery needle and her embroidery.


“Eliza Jane!” Her grandfather had her by the shoulder. “Awaken, child!”
Eliza opened her eyes to see her grandfather standing over her, two bearded men behind him. Her neck ached, and her hands were swollen in their bindings. She wondered if the flow of blood had been entirely cut off to her hands, and how quickly one could begin to suffer the gangrene. She ran her tongue around her mouth: she was not gagged, but it made no difference. She might as well have been, for when she tried to speak, she made only a rough croaking sound. She could not speak. Oh, how her arms ached! Her whole body hurt; she felt the same as she had when she had rheumatic fever, and had been consigned to her bed for weeks, joints aching, first burning, then shivering. Then, as now, she had had no liberty. But an affliction of the body bore no similarity to this affliction of the mind. She closed her eyes, feeling the remaining effects of the drug swimming in the currents of her veins. She was adrift, and in her mind’s wake, she saw herself as she was: a girl with pale skin and dark hair, her face pinched and her arms bruised. She had a vague notion of how she must look to these doctors: like a madwoman. And this notion made her feel afraid.
“These doctors are here to examine you. Now behave. They are fine men, at the top of their field.”
Her grandfather motioned to Rosie, who came forward, frowning, to untie her wrists. “Be good, now, mavourneen,” Rosie whispered. “Don’t ye cause no more trouble.”
Eliza tried to rise on her own, but staggered and fell into the waiting arms of the maid. The feeling came painfully back into her legs, prickling sensations running up and down her calves. She bit back a cry of pain, and avoided her grandfather’s eyes. She did not want him to see that she suffered; she never wanted that. She tried to avoid his eyes, which always seemed to land on her with dissatisfaction. (Although the Colonel had likely felt unsatisfied since he had last fired on a Reb.) He had come to live with them after her father died, taking charge of everything from the hiring of scullery maids to the length of the wicks in the lamps. Her own father had run from this man, and Eliza had tried to do the same. But she couldn’t run anywhere at the moment; she was weak as a newborn kitten. Rosie helped her into bed, half-carrying her as she swayed on stiff muscles. Her nightdress was stiff with sweat and spilled liquids. The slats of the back of the chair had been so hard that she felt like they had been welded into the flesh of her back. Now she slipped woozily between ironed white sheets. Her stomach heaved, and she shut her mouth to keep from retching.
“As you can see,” her grandfather declaimed, speaking so that he could likely be heard at least three blocks away, “the girl is unstable. We’ve had to bind her for her own safety and protection. In the last year, she’s run off half a dozen times, consorting with common street trash, with thugs and public women.”
Her grandfather paused, giving her a look that had withered battle-hardened men. Eliza looked back, saying nothing only because she was uncertain that she had yet regained the use of her voice.
“Her mother and I fear for her sanity.”
Eliza scoffed, and the doctors looked at her with diagnostic curiosity. Her grandfather was being absurd. She had never consorted with anyone. All she had done on her journeys out of Nob Hill was to walk, and walk, and walk some more. She had just wanted to see things. What was so strange about that? What was so wrong with that? She had wanted to see the wharf, and the Chinamen with long queues down their backs, and women selling fruit in the street, and the dice players squatting in alleyways. She just wanted to know her city, the women with shopping baskets, the factory workers, carrying their box lunches. Once she had even seen an Indian, with actual feathers in his hair. She had just wanted to look. She had never met a thug or a harlot. She was starting to wish she had. She had met someone, but he was not a thug. And he certainly wasn’t a harlot. Eliza let out a little giggle at the thought, and everyone in the room looked at her. Her grandfather sighed and gestured toward her, looking impossibly exhausted.
The two doctors, who might have been twins in their pointed white beards and gold wire-rimmed pince nez, nodded gravely in unison.
“My son was not in his right mind, and I fear the girl has inherited her father’s insensibility. He was…he was a disappointment to me. After his death, I came here to care for his widow and…” he made a dismissive gesture, flicking his wrist in Eliza’s direction, “this…this girl.”
“Don’t say that,” Eliza whispered. “He was not crazy.”
“Hush, granddaughter,” her grandfather commanded. “These doctors will examine you now. Be good, for once.” He turned slightly toward the doctors, who despite their eminence, seemed to shrink. “They are,” he said, his lip curling, “men who specialize in women.”
“Yes, that’s right, sir,” one of the men spoke up. “I believe it to be a complaint of common hysteria. I believe when we examine her we will find that her womb has wandered—“
Her grandfather thrust up a hand. “I do not wish to know the particulars of my granddaughter’s condition. I wish only to see her cured. Please, gentlemen, rid her of this madness, and restore her to sanity.”
The last thing she wanted was for these doctors to touch her, but she knew better than to fight the Colonel now. She was too weak. Tears started in her eyes, and she closed them, not wanting anyone to see. Nor did she need to see her grandfather to know what expression he had on his face. A tall man, with a chest pushed forward like a pigeon, he still behaved as though he was leading the charge at Appomattox. He turned smartly on a polished boot heel, and started to leave the room.
“My good sirs, please pull the bell if she will not…comply. The servant will remain here to assist you.”
Eliza shrank back into her bed, still holding Rosie’s hand. The two doctors loomed over her, each placing a big black medical bag on top of her counterpane. A tremor went through her as the two men, in a mirrored pantomime on either side of the big bed, opened their bags and began to withdraw shining instruments.

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