Inferior

We both stare into the barren wall of Dr. Bäcker’s office, striving to dissolve the moment into nothingness. Peter, our newborn son, has been diagnosed with mongolism. His face is flat, his eyes and ears are tiny, and his entire body is supposedly smaller and stouter than it should be. He will always face developmental and functional issues, the specialists say, and he will never be able to sustain life on his own.

The doctor straightens his spectacles and tells us we can take as much time as we need to process the news; he will be a few rooms over, preparing the lethal procedure. The obtrusive examination table swallows me whole as reality sets in. Emmerich sits in silence, his icy hands clasped firmly around mine. I see compassion in his eyes, but only for me. He releases my hands and turns towards the solitary window. Through it looms a darkened sky scattered with flecks of snow.

I close my eyes and run my hands over my now empty stomach, rocking back and forth slowly. There was no way we could have known that our precious bundle would turn out to be a burden. Yet, I do not mind. But as I stare at my husband’s back, I realize that he does. I want to ask him so many questions. I already know the answers, though, and it makes me shiver. He would not have gotten me pregnant had he known. He claims it is more his fault than mine, as if taking the blame makes the situation any better.

I feel his presence behind me as he pulls me in for a hug, but his breath on my neck causes my throat to tighten. “Shall I let Dr. Bäcker know? Gisela?”

I look back at him and wish we had never met. Not because of our child, but because of his lack of consideration. Emmerich is always thinking of himself, and I am only a thought because I sometimes bring him happiness and pleasure. He finally caves under my gaze, shoves his hands in his trousers, and looks out the window again. His stature is one of defeat, but also one of gentleness, and for a moment, I can see my old Emmerich again. But then he straightens his uniform—his pride and glory—and turns back to me, not as a husband, but as a soldier. His eyes are darker now, any traces of softness have vanished from his face. He will do anything for the Führer, even if it means harming his family.

I slide off the table and reach for my jacket. It is clear to me now that our love has changed drastically like our country. I cannot find renewed hope in either. Emmerich’s eyes widen as his mouth narrows. He places one knee on the ground, his sapphire eyes searching for mine for signs of allegiance. He opens one arm and beckons me to come. I take a step towards the door, my arms wrapped tightly around my body in a meager attempt to stop the chill overtaking my soul. He stands up again, fists clenched, and he beckons me to return to the table.

“We need to get this over with now,” he says.

The love is gone from his voice and replaced with a stoic tone usually reserved for his Nazi soldiers.

“I will let the doctor know we are ready for it to be euthanized,” he says.

I yank the door open before he can stop me and sprint towards the nursery where they are holding my last loved one hostage. Everything will be alright. Everything must be alright.

The Devil’s Playground

Andy skidded to a halt and whistled at her Shiba Inu to do the same. The dog halted and trotted back towards Andy, its red sesame fur gleaming in the sunlight. She had come to the perfect stopping point on her favorite Journey album, Infinity, and she slowed her breathing as she removed her earphones. Andy wiped the sweat off her forehead with one hand and used the other to smooth down the back of her auburn french braid. It was still intact, mostly. She had just finished twisting the lid off her Nalgene when Kitsune plopped down next to her feet. His tongue dangled aimlessly from his mouth, and he began to eyeball the water bottle.

“Good little stud!” Andy exclaimed. “I bet you’re thirsty too.”

Kitsune’s ears perked up, and Andy smiled. He barked at her, and then sat patiently.

“Give me just a sec, ok, little fox?” Andy said.

Andy reached into her backpack, her slender, pale arm squeezing through the hole she had made between the zippers. Her nose wrinkled as she fished around until she finally felt the cool metal of the water dish. Once they were both hydrated, she sprawled out on the soil and looked up at the Colorado sky. Andy sucked the clean, but dirt tainted, air in through her mouth and nostrils. The earth smelled rich, and two mountain chickadees chirped and flitted about in the branches above her. Bees and flies buzzed all around, squirrels argued in the trees, and if she listened closely, she could hear a creek running off to her left. A gentle breeze flirted with a few flyaway strands from her braid, lifting them up and down ever so slightly. It was anything but silent, yet it was peaceful.

“This is how life should be, Kit,” Andy said as she exhaled. “It’s like a playground I never want to leave. How about I tell work to screw off, and you and I run away and build a hovel in the woods?”

Kitsune just stared, his face stuck in a typical wolfish grin. Andy sat up slowly and glanced at her watch to gauge how much time they had left to hike. Once she saw that it was almost three, she shoved a protein bar in her mouth and pressed forward when her phone started buzzing in the back pocket of her cargo shorts. Andy’s eyes narrowed, but a smile crept across her face when she saw the image on the screen. It was a photo of her best friend doing what she did best: plopped down in front of a huge monitor at work, giant mug in one hand, a Red Bull in the other—and of course, clad in massive headphones that only served to further dwarf her already petite head.

“Hey, Jade! How dare thou naggeth me when I ventureth out on a mission!” Andy said.

“You weirdo,” Jade said. “You weren’t answering any of my texts, which is perfectly normal for you and all, but—”

“Eww, I text back at least once a day,” Andy said, feigning a provoked voice. She looked back towards Kitsune, only to see him wandering off to the left of the path.

“—as I was saying,” Jade laughed, “I just wanted to know if you were going to make it back for Kim’s twenty-fourth birthday party tonight? It’s at Old Chicago, but people will most likely go downtown after that. I think the turnout should be around fifteen people, so it should be a fun night. Andy? Are you even listening to me?”

“Yeah, sorry, Kitsune just up and walked off, so I got distracted for a moment. But I don’t know. I mean, I’m planning to be back in town this evening.” Andy paused for a moment. “I just don’t know if I feel like going out. Twenty-four isn’t that big of a deal anyway, is it?”

“It’s a big deal when it’s a good friend that you’ve known for years, and especially when your best friend is going. No way are you making me go it alone, Chica. Besides, you and I both know you could use some more interaction with, well, humans.”

“Fine, I’ll be there,” Andy said as she grimaced and started walking towards the break in the path where Kitsune had disappeared. “But be advised that I chose the veterinary field for a reason. I need to go, but I’ll touch base when I’m back in town, ok?”

“Whatevs! I’ll talk to you then. Love your face!”

“I love you too!”

Andy shoved the phone back in her pocket and stared off into the endless array of aspen trees. Their cream and black crackled skins seemed to be taunting her, unwilling to render up any secrets to the whereabouts of her beloved companion. She crouched to the ground, face only inches from the dirt. This technique worked well for Aragorn in Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers when he was tracking the hobbits, but Andy couldn’t make anything out in the muddled soil sprinkled with leaves and twigs. She let out an exasperated sigh, rolled her eyes, and strayed further away from the path.

“Kitsune! Here boy!” Andy paused and strained her ears. She repeated it several times and tried to stall the heat rising to her cheeks. “We only have a few hours left of hiking,” she muttered under her breath. “Please don’t ruin this.”

Andy’s pace quickened and she continued calling out. She stopped abruptly when another break in the trees opened up to her right. It looked like it was some sort of path, though it was not one well-trodden. Andy chewed her bottom lip for a moment and then turned right.

——

Roughly twenty minutes later, Andy’s path concluded at a dead end. She tore off her Columbia jacket and used it to mop the sweat off her forehead. She grabbed a jagged stone and was prepared to throw it at a nearby tree when she heard a noise in the distance. Andy started to call out, but stopped suddenly when she recognized human voices. She anxiously ran towards the sound, hoping these people had caught sight of Kitsune. As she drew closer, Andy could make out two distinct male voices.

“Come on, man, are you almost done with that already? I don’t want to be out here much longer.” The first man’s tone was strained, and his speech pattern was rapid.

“Then maybe you should shovel faster!” The second man’s voice was gruff, and he spoke with a much more eased cadence. “You’re the reason we’re in this mess, not me.”

“We were both apart of it! Just because I was driving,” The first voiced paused for a moment, and then lowered his tone, “I shouldn’t have listened to you.”

“Here you go again, you idiot. I’m freaking tired of hearing you whine about this. What’s done is done.” The second voice continued and muttered something unrecognizable from Andy’s position.

Andy inched closer and set her backpack down quietly, her heart rate rapidly increasing. She peered around the trees and could make out two figures about fifty yards away. They were both holding shovels, but only one appeared to be using them. There was a substantial amount of dirt piled in front of the men, and it was obscuring her view. Armed with her mace and a Jungle Survival knife, Andy soldier crawled towards a fallen log that rested about ten yards away from her initial hiding place. She reached the log and wrapped her hands around its moss-covered surface. It was brittle and somewhat moist, and she was soon enveloped in the earthy scent. From here she could make out what appeared to be an industrial garbage bag. It was resting just a few feet from the men and the dirt pile.

Andy scanned the first man up and down. He was actively shoveling, clad in a dark hoodie and beanie with torn jeans. He was lanky and as pale as (if not paler than) Andy. She narrowed her eyes further as she honed in on the counterpart that was reclined against a tree next to the bag. He was partially covered, but it was clear that he was a shorter and sturdier man. He had a brown gristly beard, and he was wearing a camo hoodie and a trucker hat. A can of beer was in his hand, and Andy guessed it wasn’t his first of the day. The skinny man threw his shovel aside and cursed.

“I’m over it, dude. My arms are shot and we have to get out of here.”

“Chill out,” Gristly Beard said. “Sit down and have a beer with me real quick.” Skinny started shaking and sprinted towards the bag.

“No way. Help me get her in here. I want to get the hell away from this place. Hear me?” Skinny began frantically dragging the bag towards to the fresh hole. Gristly Beard just chuckled

and threw his beer can in the hole, causing Skinny to curse again. Andy’s breathing slowed and her body tensed up. Her knuckles grew white as she gripped the log, watching helplessly as the bag was tossed into the human-sized grave. Gristly Beard polished off another can of beer while Skinny began shoving piles of the fresh dirt back into the hole. Andy swallowed and finally came to her senses. Her phone. She needed to call for help immediately. She needed to be a safe distance away first, however, so she slowly inched her way back towards the backpack. She had only made it halfway when her back pocket began to vibrate and Michael Jackson’s “Beat It” started to crescendo. The volume was set at level two, but it was enough to draw the attention of the two men in the clearing. Andy gasped and backed up on all fours.

“What the hell was that?” Gristly Beard said. He stood up and scanned the woods around him. Skinny cursed again and clutched his shovel like an ax.

“It came from over there,” Skinny called out, running towards the fallen log. “This can’t be happening.”

“Shut up and let’s do something about it then.”

Andy’s eyes widened and she couldn’t hold back any longer. She stood up and sprinted back towards the path.

“There!” shouted Gristly Beard. “There’s a girl running away.”

“Crap, crap, crap!” Skinny said. He was already following in her footsteps and gaining momentum fast.

Blurs of cream, gray, and black raced by her peripheral vision as Andy dodged small bushes and rocks. Branches whipped in her face, and she held her arms in front of her haphazardly to block the impact. She was increasing the distance between her and the pursuer when her foot caught an up-curved branch. Her stomach tightened as she fell, and her head made an impact with the trunk. Her world instantly went dark.

——

Andy blinked rapidly as her eyes adjusted to the darkness. She reached up to touch her head, but her arms—and legs for that matter—were bound roughly behind her back with a rope. Her initial instinct was to call out; however, she let the urge die away. She was lying down on her side in a mostly dark room. The boxy, wooden material underneath her supplied little to no comfort. She couldn’t make out much in the room, save for a single pane window with a sheer, paisley curtain obstructing most of the outside view. The last beams of light were cascading through the window, and Andy’s heart started to sink with the sun.

The door to the room was shut and it was deathly quiet all around. Andy’s resolve returned, and she struggled to sit upright. She paused every few seconds in between adjustments, straining to hear if anyone had caught onto her. The window was ideal for Andy’s height, and she hopped towards it. She fell once and had to back up against a wall to get into a standing position again. Once she reached the window, it revealed a solitary dirt road winding away from her prison. Aspens and shrubs created a blockade around all sides of the road, and there wasn’t a soul in sight. Andy’s body tensed up, and she stumbled back. She attempted to wriggle out of her bonds, but her small wrists and larger hands created an impossible barrier.

Andy was seated on the chest again when she heard tires and an engine running in the distance. The color drained from her face, and she prayed it was a kind person as she hopped to the window. A tan Ford Ranger came around the bend and stopped about twenty feet away from Andy’s window. She bent her knees, leaving just her eyes and forehead peeking over the sill. Skinny jumped out of the driver’s side and slammed the door. His face was crinkled and distraught as he walked around and opened the truck bed. Gristly Beard stumbled out of the opposite side, a bottle of Jack Daniels in one hand and a cigarette in the other. He walked a few paces and fell, laughing all the while.

“Never thought you’d be a murdered and a kidnapper in less than two days,” he howled, “You’re Hollywood material now, man.”

Skinny glared as he shoved some items in a sack and closed the truck bed.

“Can you stop joking for like five minutes? I’m already freaking out so stop trying to make my situation worse.”

“Pfff. Why you acting like you have any other options?” Gristly Beard slurred. “She saw us with Jenny’s body. It’s either her life or our freedom now, and I ain’t one to sacrifice my freedom for others. Not even you.”

“Her life? Dude,” Skinny said. “Don’t say stuff like that. There’s gotta be some other way. Jenny was an accident; look where that’s got us. You can’t be suggesting that.”

“Whatever. Lemme know how long that works for ya,” Gristly Beard said as he stumbled towards the shack.

The two men reached the front door, and Andy heard footsteps in the adjacent room. She took advantage of their stomping and hopped quickly back to the chest. She threw her body on top of it and closed her eyes. Her breathing was rapid and it seemed to echo through the room. She hoped it wasn’t noticeable.

“Go check on her,” Skinny said, his voice muffled through the door. Gristly Beard laughed in response.

“You think she hopped away in the last hour? I did everything short of hogtying that girl, and the only reason I didn’t is because you didn’t bring enough rope. She ain’t going nowhere.”

Andy heard footsteps approaching and the metallic sound of a lock being turned. The man didn’t say anything, but she could feel his looming figure peering down at hers. The musty air began to fill with the smell of day-old booze, and Andy’s stomach turned. His breathing was labored and slow. Andy prayed it somehow masked her own exhales. The door slammed, and a single tear ran down Andy’s cheek.

“She’s sleeping like a baby,” Gristly Beard said. “You want me to do it or what?”

Silence.

“I was riding shotgun in that damn boat when Jenny checked out,” Gristly Beard continued, “and I’m not about to be tied into your mess. If you’re too weak—”

“Dude, for real, stop being so chill about all this,” Skinny whispered. “This isn’t a joke, and this could worsen our situation. I’m still trying to figure out if we have another option.”

“Whaddaya mean another option?” Gristly Beard said. “Jenny is dead. Dead, dead, deader than my childhood puppy. It doesn’t matter if it was a boating accident. You and I both know that because there was a death involving alcohol and cocaine, we’re as good as jailbirds.”

“Two wrongs don’t make a right, and this only worsens our situation.”

“Yeah, so what’s the holdup?”

“Because I don’t think I can do it, ok? And even if I could, what if we got caught with that blood on our hands? That’s so much worse. It’s too much of a risk.”

The room was silent for a moment, and then Andy heard the popping sound of a canned beverage being opened.

“It’s a worse risk to keep her alive,” Gristly Beard said. “No one’s gonna to look for that white trash whore you dated for three weeks. She told us she had no family, and she’s a third-string stripper from Detroit for crying out loud.” He paused for a minute, waiting for Skinny to respond. “This girl, though, we have no idea who she is or who might be looking for her.”

“Right,” Skinny said.

“Right? That’s all ya got? I know I’m right, so now we need to do something soon, cuz’ if we don’t, our entire plan is ruined. She knows what we look like, and if she has half a brain, she probably figured we weren’t planting a garden in the middle of the woods.”

“I know, brother, I feel you. It doesn’t seem like we have a choice,” Skinny said.

“Why are we still talking then? I’ll do it. I just need a few more.” Gristly Beard said.

“Just give me a little more time, please? I want to make sure there are no other options before we both have blood on our hands again.”

“Fine, well I ain’t waiting around bored as hell.”

Footsteps echoed and a door creaked. Andy heard the truck doors open and close, and a few minutes later the steps returned to the other room. A laptop powered up and welcomed someone by the name of Sean, and it wasn’t long before theme music could be heard in the background.

“You have one episode’s worth of time to figure this out, Ben. If you don’t have your solution by then, I’m getting rid of the girl,” Gristly Beard said.

“Ok,” Skinny said. “Where did you put her backpack? I want to look through her stuff.”

Gristly Beard must have gestured because Andy never heard a response. The adjacent room seemed to settle down, aside from the laptop noise which was loud enough to muffle subtle sounds from her room. Andy had no idea what show was on, but she estimated she had at least a minimum of thirty minutes. She tried working her wrists around her bonds again, but it was to no avail. Everything she needed was in her backpack, but it was in the other room with Skinny’s grimy hands probing through it. Since they were just now going through her belongings, Andy wondered how thoroughly they had searched her. She sat up slowly and positioned herself so she could lie down on her right side instead of her left.

She took in a quick breath and let out a sigh of relief as she felt a sharp object press into her skin through her cargo pocket. Her knife was still there. She immediately lowered herself to the ground and started rubbing her cargo pocket button against the edge of the chest. The button’s resolve eventually weakened, and it popped off and rolled across the floor stopping right under the window. Andy instinctively started to cheer, but caught herself and breathed deeply. She climbed back onto the chest and placed her bound feet against the wall. She heard her phone ringing in the other room and wondered if anyone was looking for her.

With her back pressed against the chest, she eased her body over the edge, attempting to be as upside-down as possible. She jostled her body with the momentum from her feet against the wall, and the knife finally slid out and landed with a thud on the dusty floor. Andy tensed up and listened. Not a stir. She guessed that it had been at least twenty minutes now, so she quickly slid down to the floor. The light from the day had ceased, and Andy felt around in the dark for several minutes until her fingers grazed the blade of her knife. She was so caught in the moment that she neglected to hear the theme music playing, signaling the end of the show.

“Alright, time’s up. Did you come up with some genius plan?”

“I don’t know what else to do. I just, I just don’t like it, dude,” Skinny answered.

“Then I’m gonna do it and get this night over with. You follow?”

There was no answer.

“I’ll take that as a yes then,” Gristly Beard said.

Andy heard a chair scoot. She grabbed the blade. She hurriedly angled the knife towards her bonds, cutting her hand in the process. She began to cry out but bit down on her lip instead. Footsteps echoed all around the next room. Andy tried not to imagine what Gristly Beard was planning. She finally released her hands, sliced the bonds off her legs, and jumped up.

“At least she’s asleep. It will make it easier, right? Do you think she will feel any pain?” Skinny’s voice was detached and distant.

“At least no one will hear,” Gristly Beard said. “The nearest gas station is a couple a miles up the road at least.”

Andy’s breathing slowed as she formulated a plan. She awkwardly readied her knife and stood directly behind the door. Light poured into the room as Gristly Beard’s boots creaked on the cabin floor. Andy didn’t wait for her eyes to adjust and she lunged out and immediately began slashing at his neck area. She hit her target several times, and Gristly Beard collapsed on the floor, blood spewing from his wounds. He never had a moment to react due to his drunken state, and he didn’t mutter a sound as he died on the floor. She backed up against the wall, body numb and heart pounding in her ears. His blue eyes stared back at her, and Andy felt a chill run through her as his body transitioned to an empty shell.

Another chair slid back in the adjacent room, causing Andy to snap out of her trance. She saw a small handgun lying a few inches from Gristly Beard’s body. She grabbed it. It felt cold and foreign in her hands. She tried to remember what her uncle said about hunting and guns a few summers back. She was drawing a blank.

“Are you done yet?” Skinny shouted. “I thought you were using the gun, not the knife? Sean?”

Andy, laden with adrenaline, rushed out into the next room. She aimed the gun at Skinny and held her shoulders high, trying to still her shaking hands. Skinny eyes widened as he took two steps back. Andy surveyed the room. There were two folding chairs centered around a cheap card table with a laptop resting on top. A few Wal-Mart bags and food wrappers were thrown in the corner, and Andy’s backpack was in the middle of the floor next to the bag from the truck bed, contents all spread out. Skinny stood between her and the door, and he kept fervently glancing back at it.

“Hold up,” Skinny pleaded. “I didn’t do anything. This isn’t my fault.”

Andy gestured with the gun to the doorway she came from. “Go in there.”

Skinny’s face was contorted and fearful, and it reminded Andy of Donnie Wahlberg in The Sixth Sense. He sprinted towards the canvas bag in the center of the floor. It only took him a few steps to get there, and within moments, he was pulling another gun out of the bag. Andy closed her eyes and pulled the trigger. The sound of the shot made her wince, and she opened her eyes, she saw Skinny writhing on the floor, screaming obscenities all the while. The bullet had penetrated the region between his left shoulder and chest. Andy knew better than to remain frozen this time, and she sprinted for the door.

——

Andy had no idea what time it was when she spotted a gas station in the distance. She had followed the dirt road up roughly a mile, and it turned into a paved highway that she continued down on for a few more miles. She had been jogging for at least forty minutes, yet, not one car had passed her. The stars and waning moon were bright, and they had made her run less treacherous. Andy stared up at the sky and wondered where Kitsune had run off to. She hoped Jade had started to worry by now, and was maybe even looking for her. She fought back tears as she pushed the door to the gas station open. The bell chimed as if it were welcoming her into a sanctuary. A short, stout man with white hair and a handlebar mustache looked up from his newspaper, eyes wide.

“What’s wrong, miss?” the man said.

Andy vaulted over the counter and began searching in a frenzied state.

“Don’t you have a phone here? We have to call the police immediately!”

Despite the man’s protest, Andy located his personal belongings and started to dial 911 on his cell phone. She was getting ready to press the call button when she heard a car pull up outside. Andy froze and looked out the window. It was the tan Ford Ranger. Skinny stumbled out.

“Now hold on a minute, young lady. You best be telling me what’s going on.”

“Duck!” Andy screamed as she hid behind the counter. The attendant shook his head and walked towards the door. Andy watched horrified as Skinny pulled out a gun and aimed it at the attendant’s head.

“Hand her over, old man. I know she’s here,” Skinny said, voice cracking. “I don’t have time for this. Don’t make me hurt you.”

“I’ll do no such thing.” The attendant was shaking, but he held his ground. “You get out of this store right now. The cops are on their way, so I’d leave now if I were you.”

“You’re bluffing.” Skinny’s eyes were wide as he searched every corner of the room. He finally stopped and looked at the attendant with soulless eyes. “Dammit, it’s too late. Sean was right.” Without warning, he pulled the trigger, and the attendant dropped to the ground.

Andy shouted, alerting Skinny to her hiding place. His shoulder was bleeding profusely through a makeshift bandage, but he still managed to move quickly in spite of the wound. Andy grabbed her gun, hoping it had more than one bullet. Skinny ambled towards the counter and dipped his gun over the edge. At the same time, Andy moved from her hiding place and rolled out underneath the swinging door. Skinny turned around just in time for Andy’s bullet to make a clean pass through his stomach. He shot the gun as he fell to the ground, missing Andy by mere inches.

——

The police found Andy crumpled in the furthest corner from the door, chin resting on her knees and eyes glazed over. The bodies were sprawled just a few feet from each other, and blood covered the ground. Two guns rested side by side. One officer’s radio cackled about a body found in a cabin several miles up the road. The incidents were most likely related. They offered her food and water, all the while prying for details. She wouldn’t say a word. Andy was wrapped in a blanket and carried to the highway patrol car. As she neared the vehicle, a familiar face looked out at her through the window. Kitsune started frantically pawing at the glass as the officer reached to open the door.

“Is this your dog, ma’am? We found him several hours ago. He was running down the highway like he had a mission.” The officer shrugged when Andy offered no reply.

She climbed into the car and wrapped her arms around Kitsune’s thick neck.

“Your friend, Jade, gave us a call a few hours ago. We’ve had the forest crawling with rangers. She’ll be happy to hear that you’re ok. Do you want to give her a call? Or your family?” The officer said.

He sighed after waiting for a moment for Andy to reply, and finally started the engine. Andy stared out the window, watching the gas station get wrapped in yellow crime scene tape. It soon disappeared from her view, and Andy was once again surrounded by her favorite playground: nature.

——

Andy watched from the doorway as the pastor wrapped up the message. The funeral was comprised of less than fifty people, but all of them were sniffling and wiping their eyes. It was a simple church, and the set-up for the occasion was equally minimal. Wooden pews were adorned with nothing more than a brief program on the deceased’s life, and the casket lay closed on top of the stage. Andy stifled a cough, but a little girl seated in the very front row turned back to look for the source of the noise. Her eyes were bright despite her evident sadness, and she twirled blonde strands of her hair while she gazed at Andy. The plump woman seated next to the little girl turned to see what distracted her, and the woman’s eyes met Andy’s. Andy looked away and shuffled out of the room.

——

Kitsune gazed at Andy, his amber eyes unblinking. The apartment was quiet, save for the raindrops pelting against the window. Andy reached down to rub Kitsune’s head, forcing herself to feel the different textures of his fur. An hour had passed, and she was no closer to beginning her to-do list. She raised her body off the edge of her bed and trudged towards the kitchen. Kitsune’s ears perked up and he sprinted towards the corner where his food bowl was stored. Andy walked past his dish and fell into the bean bag in the middle of the living room. Kitsune whimpered from the kitchen.

“Crap, I’m so sorry, boy.” Andy’s voice was monotone as she reached for the television remote.

She turned the cable on and switched it to Channel 11 News before heading back into the kitchen. Kitsune sat patiently, the curvature of his tail preventing it from wagging back and forth excessively. Andy tossed aside the measuring cup that rested atop the food storage bin and proceeded to dump some into the bowl.

“And this just in, Bob,” the female news anchor squawked from the television. “The two men responsible for last month’s murder of gas station attendant John Rowsey, and for the kidnapping and attempted murder of Andrea Lowry, have been officially been connected to the homicide of a Detroit girl, Jenny Dawson.”

Andy abruptly set the food bin down, leaving Kitsune’s bowl overflowing with little morsels. Her cheeks reddened as she looked at the faces on the screen.

“Yes, Tina,” the male news anchor replied, “It appears that Benjamin Kutchara and Sean Brown had been connected to another death prior to the incidents that occurred on July twelfth. From the looks of the autopsy, twenty-one-year-old Jenny’s causes of death were drowning and brain trauma. Traces of drugs and alcohol were also found in the body. Experts believe that the factors suggest it may have been a substance-induced boating accident. The investigation is still on-going.”

“That’s terribly sad, Bob,” the female news anchor shifted her papers around as she spoke. “It makes you wonder how the lone survivor, Andrea, is doing. What a courageous, young— “

Andy shut the television off and threw the remote against the wall. Kitsune ran and grabbed the remote in his mouth, dropping it at Andy’s feet.

“Thanks, Kit,” Andy exhaled slowly. “I know you’ve got my back. You need to go for a walk? I sure could use one.”

Kitsune jumped up at the mention of a walk and trotted to the door. Andy glanced at her hiking boots that sat alone on the furthest corner of the doormat. They were covered in a layer mud and sprinkled with a film of dust. She stood there for a minute and chewed her lip, and finally went into her bedroom. She appeared moments later in moccasins and grabbed Kitsune’s leash in one hand and the boots in another. Zipping up her rain coat, Andy sprinted down the stairs and stopped just outside of the dumpster enclosure. She tightened her grip on the leash, and in one sweeping motion threw the boots over the side.

——

“I’m so glad you came out tonight,” Jade shouted above the pounding of the bass. “You’ve been through a lot, but staying cooped up like that isn’t good for anyone, you feel?”

Andy stirred her drink repeatedly with a straw and looked up from the table. Her shoes kept sticking to the ground and the room smelled of Wal-Mart perfume, gym lockers, and nicotine.

“Yeah. I needed this.” Andy forced a smile that anyone could have instantly seen through. Jade propped both elbows up on the table and pulled her glasses further down the bridge of her nose so she could peer at Andy from above them.

“Now, honey,” Jade said in her best motherly voice. “Are you going to turn that frown upside down and have fun with the other kids tonight? That boy by the bar has been staring, and I think he wants a playdate.”

Andy didn’t look where Jade was gesturing and nodded her head in agreement. Jade shoved her glasses back in place and pushed her chair away from the table.

“Wow, that one always gets you.” She grabbed Andy’s arm and they made their way to the patio, weaving in and out through the sea of belligerent twenty-somethings. There were several men out smoking on the patio, but a fierce glance from Jade cleared the prime seating next to the balcony. The crisp air tainted with cigarette smoke smelled like the weekend, and Andy stared up the stars.

“Ok, seriously, please talk to me.” Jade finished off her drink and took a sip from Andy’s. “Eww, vodka cran again? We gotta work on that. But not tonight. What gives?”

Andy turned her gaze from the night sky and looked at her friend. Jade’s sleek black hair was pinned up in a messy bun with some side bangs sweeping just across the top of her glasses. Her spaghetti straps kept falling off her narrow shoulders, and Andy reached out to put them back into position.

“I don’t know what you want me to say,” Andy started, “There really isn’t much to talk about. It was a scary night and I try not to think about it.”

She grabbed her drink and downed it in one sitting. Jade’s eyes widened.

“Wow. Ok. Let’s slow down on drinks going forward, k?” Jade’s voice softened. “I don’t blame you for not thinking about it all the time, but don’t you think you should confront that night at least once?

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, like, relive what happened, see how it impacted you, take something from it, and move on?”

Andy glared and looked back towards the sky.

“Yes, if life and situations worked out perfectly like that then maybe your idea would work. Please, just stop offering suggestions on something you know nothing about.”

“Ouch. Sorry for trying to help. I’m just concerned because your mom said you haven’t been back to work still or even enrolled in your fall post-grad classes yet, and, well, I just miss my best friend.” Jade squeezed Andy’s shoulder. “Let’s just forget about it for the night, and go from there?”

Andy slipped away from Jade’s touch and grabbed her purse.

“Maybe another time. I’m not feeling this tonight after all. You have a good night, though.”

Jade didn’t get a word in before Andy disappeared through the bar door.

——

Andy looked down at the address in her hand for the fifth time. Kitsune got up on two legs and place his paws on the edge of the gift basket.

“Little fox, get down. This isn’t for you,” Andy said as she sucked in some air. “Ok, let’s get this over with.”

Andy raised her hand and pushed the doorbell twice. Kitsune sprawled out on the ground, enjoying the sun rays beating down onto the sidewalk. Footsteps approached and the little girl from the funeral opened the door. She revealed a toothless smile and waved. Andy cleared her throat.

“Hi. My name is Andy. I, uh, is your mom home?”

The plump woman appeared behind her, concern in her eyes.

“Honey, who is this?” the woman asked.

“I’m sorry, ma’am. Mrs. Rowsey, right? My name is Andy. Andrea. I’m the girl who was at the gas station. The night of—“ Andy wiped away a stray tear rolling down her cheek. “I brought this for you guys.”

She shoved the gift basket in Mrs. Rowsey’s direction and turned to leave.

“Wait,” Mrs. Rowsey said. “Thank you for this. I thought I recognized you from John’s funeral. Would you like to come inside? I was about to make some sandwiches for lunch. We can use some of the cheeses and meats in this gift basket.”

Andy knelt down to pet Kitsune. The little girl just continued to smile, and Andy noticed that she was slowly inching towards Kitsune. She lifted her head to look back at Mrs. Rowsey.

“I’d actually love that. Do you mind if my dog comes in?”

“Of course not, we love animals. Call me Lisa, by the way. This is my daughter, Mary.”

“Hi, Mary.” Andy tugged Kitsune closer to her. “This is my dog, Kit. Would you like to help him inside? He could use some play time.”

Mary giggled and softly took the leash from Andy’s hand. Andy followed them inside, and a felt the edges of her mouth start to turn up.

“Thank you,” she whispered.

Malicious Intent (Villanelle for Creative writing class)

Bethany Herold

29 July 2015

ENG 221 1N1

194 Word Count

Malicious Intent

Are you happy with the malicious path you have chosen?
Your rumor spreads like wildfire, engulfing everything pure and whole.
Sticks and stones may break my bones, but your words are truly poison.

You claim you speak truth, but only cause confusion.
Hostile whispers in the dark send shivers through my soul.
Are you happy with the malicious path you have chosen?

These accusations are unwarranted and unproven.
Does not your hatred take its toll?
Sticks and stones may break my bones, but your words are truly poison.

From some misguided mindset you seek out restitution.
Brazen actions allude that you are vying for control.
Are you happy with the malicious path you have chosen?

Careless onlookers sneer and seek my social execution.
Tears well up in my eyes as I resist the urge to crawl into a hole.
Sticks and stones may break my bones, but your words are truly poison.

It may appear your vindictive ways have won.
But in reality, you have inspired me to achieve a goal.
Are you happy with the malicious path you have chosen?
Sticks and stones may break my bones, but your words are truly poison.

Sunset Beach (Poem assignment for Creative writing class)

Bethany Herold

22 July 2015

ENG 221 1N1

128 Word Count

Sunset Beach

The water is pulled gently away from the shoreline.

Sea-foam left behind mirrors the remnants of a bubble bath.

The kelp is now alone, its emerald green strands

tangled up like a spinach salad.

A cry echoes from above, and a seagull dives down and glides

just above the waves. Her feathers ruffle in the salty wind

as she disappears where the sky meets the sea.

The sun is just above the horizon, and for a

moment, everything becomes one.

The sky is yellow, then orange, then red, pink, and purple.

Darkness sets in,

creating perfect silhouettes of the pine trees atop the rocky cliff ledge.

But the moon shines on brightly still,

its luminescent being a lighthouse for all creatures,

creating a path from land to eternity.

A Night to Remember (Flash Fiction Project for Creative Writing Class)

A Night to Remember

Catherine squinted under the Colorado sun as she guided her horse through the archway that led to the homestead. She tightened the reigns as she neared the corral, and her mare came to an abrupt stop. She sat there for some time, and reluctantly dropped her feet to the dusty ground. Her second-hand petticoat had seen better days, but she had done her best to maintain the fabric. She glanced towards the house that sat less than one hundred yards away. It was a decrepit shell, with two front facing windows and a makeshift chimney coming up the left side. An abandoned barn was set back to the right, hidden in the shade of a giant pine tree. No other structure was visible from her vantage point. After trying up her mare, she shuffled cautiously towards the porch.

The old wood creaked underneath her tiny frame, and she raised her hand to knock on the door. A minute passed, and no sound could be heard within. She began to knock again, but in the spur of a moment, reached directly for the doorknob. It swung open slowly, moaning all the while. Catherine sucked in a deep breath, expressionless, and she passed the threshold. Her boots echoed throughout the dark room for several steps before she reached a window on the closest wall. She tore back the curtains and light filtered through the dirty glass, casting shadows about the room. The air inside was stale, and an eerie silence settled in. She frantically ran back outside, grabbed a rock, and placed it against the door to block it open. She stood there for several minutes, twirling the loose strands of hair that had escaped her bun.

Catherine reached down into her boot and pulled out a derringer. After cocking the hammer, she straightened her shoulders and stepped inside. Her eyes darted about, adjusting to the light, finally settling on fireplace located opposite the window. A cast iron pot hung from the ledge, and a skillet was set close by. She let her gaze wander, surveying the rest of the meager items that made up the dwelling. Weapons and traps decorated the walls, along with the furs of wildlife. A table stood solitary in the far left corner, save for a rocking chair embellished only with a battered cushion. A tin cup and flask adorned the table’s surface, and were the only items not covered in a layer of dust and grime. A dresser was placed nearby, and a wash basin rested atop. Catherine’s gaze finally made its way to the largest object in the room that was most concealed from the stingy light.

She took two steps towards the bed and, her eyes having been adjusted to darkness, was able to make out the figure of a man lying upon it. His broad back was turned towards her, and a ragged quilt was pulled up around his shoulders. It was unclear if he was breathing. She started to aim, but hesitated, creeping closer until she reached the edge of the bed. It was faint, but evident that his stomach was slowly moving in and out, his belly budging through the worn fabric of his long-johns. She could smell the whiskey on his breath, even with the distance. His white hair was greasy and combed down towards his pillow where his beard lay matted with unknown fluids. Catherine’s temperature rose, and she restrained herself from raising the gun. Beads of sweat began to form on her forehead. She grabbed the skillet and poked the man in the shoulder. He did not stir. She prodded again, filled with aggression, and the man rolled over on his back, choking as he came to.

His eyelids shot open, revealing black eyes that showed both shock and smugness intertwined. Catherine displayed her weapon as she stepped back. The man began to cackle, but was overtaken by a coughing fit. He grabbed a stained sheet from under the quilt, and when he removed it from his mouth, fresh blood covered it. The man regained composure, and stared back at Catherine, taunting her with his eyes alone. Realizing that he was bedridden, she aimed the derringer at his head. She redirected it at the last moment, eyes burning with hatred. Her finger squeezed the trigger, and the seconds slowed as the bullet left the barrel and found its way to the man’s genitalia region. The man’s eyes widened, and he emitted a gurgled cry that was reminiscent of an injured wild animal. Catherine ignored his screams, working quickly to start a fire with the flint and steel she brought in her apron.

He pleaded with her, but she continued to work diligently and started a flame within the minute. She pushed his meager furniture towards the growing flame, and rushed back to the bed for one last look. Satisfied with the man’s hopeless demeanor, she pulled out a doll, and reflected on one of her prized childhood possessions. A cloud came over her eyes, and she shoved the doll hard against the man’s chest. She knelt down next to the bed, her face only inches from his. “Don’t worry,” she whispered into his ear. “This won’t hurt a bit, remember?” She forced a grievous smile, and retreated. She cast one last glance before she stepped outside, and saw true regret in her abuser’s eyes. That was all she needed. She slammed the door as smoke began to fill the room, and returned to the corral. She sat there for hours, watching the house turn from wood and sod to ashes. It was nightfall by the time the flames had died down, and the coals had nearly cooled. She breathed in the clean night air, and screamed until her voice broke. A single tear ran down her cheek, and a small smile spread across her lips. She jumped up on her mare and rode off into the night. At last, she was free.

Thunder Over the Bay (Conversation Piece Project for Creative Writing Class)

Thunder Over the Bay

Nick loosened his tie and laid his gray suit jacket on top of the picnic table as he strode across the yard towards the black doghouse. Caleb was sitting cross-legged in the grass, clad in raggedy jeans and a Portland Trail Blazers sweatshirt. Both father and son shared the same silky chestnut hair that contrasted their pale skin. Caleb’s brow furrowed as he delicately traced the yellow bat symbol painted on the front of the doghouse. The inside read Bruce.

“Hey Champ,” Nick said. “Your mom made some tuna casserole. Come on inside before it gets cold.”

“I hate being called Champ. And I hate tuna casserole. Bruce always eats my tuna casserole,” Caleb said, refusing to look his father’s direction.

“Look Cha- uh, Bud. I know Bruce’s death was hard on you.” Nick stopped as he flinched and then swatted at a mosquito. “But he was old and had a good life with us. Besides, we can always find you a new friend.”

Caleb turned abruptly to face him, narrowing his large, hazel eyes and tightening his lips. “Like how you want to replace mom?”

Nick could feel the color starting to rush to his face. A loud roar filled the yard, and he looked up at the clouded sky, optimizing on the distraction provided by the Coast Guard rescue helicopter.

“Think they are going out to rescue stranded boaters? Looks like a storm is coming in quick,” Nick said as he sat on the ground next to the freckle-faced ten-year-old. He grimaced as he made contact with the earth, and realized this decision meant he’d have to expedite his trip to the dry cleaners. He pulled out his Palm Pilot and moved the reminder up a day on his calendar. Caleb continued to stare at his father, all the while keeping a constant and firm facial expression. He was unimpressed by the common occurrence of an overhead helicopter, and began to rip up blades of grass.

“Listen Bud, everything is just fine with your mom and old man. We have our fights, but most mommies and daddies do.”

“Mommies and daddies?” Caleb retorted. “Don’t talk to me like I’m a baby. I’m not stupid. You’re gone all the time on work vacations or whatever you call it, and Mom says it’s with other ladies from work. Mom tells Aunt Ashley about it on the phone when you’re gone. I know things, a lot more things than you think. And don’t call me Bud either. I have a name. You should know, you gave it to me.” Caleb fiercely pulled up a nearby dandelion and blew hard. Its wispy florets burst apart and were carried away in a damp and salty breeze. The sky began to darken, and a handful of seagulls squalled as they passed over the yard on North 19th Street.

Nick had taken his tie off, wrapping it and unwrapping it repeatedly around his right hand. He took a calming breath and awkwardly placed his hand on Caleb’s left shoulder.

“Look, no matter what happens with your mother and I,”-Nick stumbled for a moment when he saw fear in the boy’s eyes- “and nothing will, you and I will always be pals.” Caleb shirked away from his touch, unconvinced, and stared at the earth. Nick looked down at his watch. “How about we say forget the casserole, and head downstairs to watch the Seahawks preseason game?”

Caleb frowned and then jumped up and climbed on top of the dog house. He pulled a tennis ball out of his sweatshirt pocket and began to toss is it in the air. A faint sound of thunder rumbled in the distance, and the sky began to turn the color of a charcoal sketch.

“Is that a yes?” Nick persisted.

“I hate the Seahawks. And baseball.”

“It’s football, Champ, football. And apparently you hate everything this fine summer evening? You normally love watching sports with me. You’re even wearing my old Blazer hoodie.” Nick stood up and cracked his neck. His body had seen better years, but at the age of thirty-eight he felt he was in better shape than most. “Whadaya say? I’ll even explain the plays to you during the commercial breaks.”

“Why can’t we ever do something I like?”

“We do all of the time. Why, just last weekend we went to that art show down on the boardwalk.”

“Yeah, for like one hour,” Caleb said. He threw the tennis ball at his father who caught it with ease.

“See, look at that arm! You’re an athlete like your old man!” Nick glanced back at Caleb and realized the art show was still a very alive and sensitive topic. “We saw everything there was to see, Bud. There was no reason to stay any longer.”

“You never asked if I was ready to go.”

“Well, I thought we had spent adequate time there.”

Caleb jumped down and reached inside the doghouse. He pulled out a book and swiftly tucked it inside of his sweatshirt.

“Aw come on, your mother and I told you to stop hiding crap in there.”

“It’s not crap. Mrs. Jenkins says to always have a book close by, and this one is my favorite. It’s about a guy who doesn’t need friends. He just needs his wolf, White Fang.” Caleb smiled for the first time, reminiscing about tales of the Yukon Territory. A cloud passed over his eyes as he also recalled he no longer had a canine companion. Gentle raindrops began to fall, and the boy sprinted towards the Douglass fir that resided in the outer skirts of the yard. He quickly reached the base and climbed up with the ease of a squirrel.

“Well thank you, Mrs. Jenkins, as if my son needs any more social anomalies,” Nick muttered under his breath. The rain was falling harder when he reached the tree, and he pushed his Palm Pilot further into his pocket.

“Ok, Bud, that’s enough. I get it. Let’s go inside, ok? We don’t have to watch the game. We could even order a pizza! No kid hates pizza. At least no kid of mine,” he said with a forced smile.

“I..” Caleb started.

“Hate pizza? Really now?” Nick said, rolling his eyes. The thunder hit again, but it was a roar this time, and much closer.

“I just want to be alone.”

The rain was pouring steadily now, and a flash of light struck in the distance.

“Bud, you’re alone enough as it is. You need friends, people friends. Maybe it’s a good thing Bruce passed on, because God knows you could, well, let’s just say human interaction is a good thing.”

“Shut up!” Caleb said, a tear trickling down his check. “Bruce was my best friend. He cared more about me than kids at school, and he loved me more than you do. I wish you were dead and Bruce was here.” The last part he whispered, but continued to hold a steady gaze all the while. Nick’s fists began to clench and he reached for the lowest tree branch.

“That’s enough!” he said, adrenaline coursing through his veins. “I have tried to be patient with you because of that damn dog’s death and all, but your attitude needs a major adjustment, Champ.” The branch weakened under his weight, but he pressed on anyways. “You get down this instance, or I’ll ban you from your precious books for a week.”

Caleb moved up several more branches, not easily hindered by the detrimental weather. Nick didn’t fair as well, and continued to struggle up each limb. The aged tree reached a height of twenty-five feet, and Nick had made it nearly halfway up. Caleb was another two feet up, and remained persistent in his climb.

“I’m going to run away,” Caleb said, squinting his eyes to guard his vision from the rain that was now blowing sideways. “I’m going to the Yukon.”

“You wouldn’t last two hours on your own,” Nick shouted against the wind. He reached for a large branch that was slicker than he had anticipated. He lost his grip, and then his balance, and fell several feet to the ground below. He remained motionless, limbs sprawled out in a contorted manner. His Palm Pilot lay just inches from his head, broken.

“Dad?” Caleb yelled. “Stop it, I’ll come inside. But I’m not watching your stupid game.” His facial features relaxed, and a cold ice ran up his spine. “Dad? It’s not funny. I’m coming down. Dad? Dad?” Thunder rolled in the distance.