Flash Fiction, Short Story

Existential Angst (Act III) – Esteban Mayorga

6 months later…

Act 3: Why me? (again)

I can’t sleep.

Every night, i’m kept awake by the screams from that day, from that night.

God i’m an idiot. How did I not realize what I was about to do? How did I not feel it happening? How could I let it happen?

The day started with the sound of war. Jets of flame arcing from entrenchments full of pyromancers, setting everything ablaze and creating a dense haze that you couldn’t breath in without choking. We fought tooth and limb, but there was something out there destroying us, picking us apart limb from limb.

It was another speedster, even faster than me, but this guy had no problems with killing. He pulled bullets out of the air and shoved them down the throats of those closest to me. He tore their vocal cords out and then used them to strangle my friends, my family. It was horrific, going into that world where everything but me seemed to sluggishly drag through the air, and then watching someone run through like a psychotic little kid. He was grinning the whole time, the bastard was in a state of ecstasy.

I charged, and I guess he didn’t know about me either, because the look on his face said that he needed a new pair of pants right then and there. I tackled him to the ground and started beating him, just ramming my fist into his face over and over and over. He clearly had no idea how to fight, but he did know enough to use his speed against me. He started vibrating like a bomb about to go off, and I had to let go to stop my arms from getting burned off.

A second later, and he was already halfway across the battlefield, and what I saw terrified me more than anything else in my miserable little life. He had a 9 inch combat knife in his hand, and it was drawn back, ready to thrust it right into Valentina’s eye.

I ran after him, and it was like the whole world stopped. A real stop this time, no drifting through the air like molasses. Except for him, standing there, the knife dripping closer and closer to Valentina. I didn’t stop running though, not for a second, not even when the world stopped.

I launched myself off my feet into his midriff, and we both went cartwheeling through the sky. I hadn’t really noticed how fast I was really going. We landed and all his ribs broke, at the least. My left arm was about as beat up as it could possibly be, and I have no doubt it broke in too many places to count just then. I ignored it. I just wanted him dead. I really, truly, wanted nothing more than to end his life.

I hoisted him by the collar and ignored the pain jolting through my left arm, drawing my right arm back like a piston, preparing to murder him.

I hesitated for a split second, and he opened a solitary eye, the lashes lazily whipping through the air like fishing rods. I looked into that eye, and I saw him as a human being for the first time. I saw that he had desires and hopes and dreams and urges.

And it made me hate him all the more. It made me hate the fact that a human being could  do the things he had done. An ache to end his life blossomed inside of me, and I obliged.

I put every ounce of fury, of hope, of desperation and cynicism and disdain into that strike. I felt the air burn against my skin as my arm twisted out of it’s chambered position, any and all body hair ignited; and soon after my skin followed suit.

My fist made contact directly between his eyebrows, and I felt his skull fold in on my hand at the same time every bone in my forearm shattered and punctured the muscle. Thousands of tiny bone fragments speared through his brain tissue before what jagged crushed remnants of my arm went straight through his head.

That punch actually created a shockwave. A shockwave. And not just enough to break some windows, but enough to put a dent in the whole city. One of the thrusters that kept the city afloat was wrecked, and the city started falling from the sky.

To this day, I have no idea how I survived that blast, but if I can break the sound barrier with my fist, I guess I shouldn’t be trying to apply logic to my body. I lost consciousness right as we started falling, and I didn’t wake up until last month. Valentina and the rest of my family found me, and some of the cryomancers kept me alive by just straight up freezing me.

Apparently the world at large had no idea super humans even existed, so when a flying city crashed into rural kansas, the news exploded all over the world. Every survivor of the crash, including myself, was put into an intensive care facility for at least a month. When the first of us came to, our story was told, and we became international celebrities. Funny how people love an underdog story, even if the underdogs did a few messy things, like murder en masse and raze buildings.

Valentina and the others pieced together what I did, and they built me up as the hero of the revolution. When I came to, I was heralded as a war hero, and the U.S. government offered us shelter and whatever else we needed until we could set up a real life here.

I decided to make a rather unorthodox request when they told us this.

The repair and restitution of the flying city as a school for superhuman individuals. When this inevitably raised some eyebrows, Valentina and I prepared a speech to try and persuade the government and the public to my way of thinking. I gave it yesterday, and it went something like this…

“I realize that my adoptive family and I have fought long and hard to bring down that city and those who stood behind it. But now it has been destroyed, and there is nowhere for a superhuman to learn control. We have no safe haven as a new species, but we desperately need one. What will happen now, when a superhuman is born to an ordinary family? When will their power manifest? During school? What will their power be? Spontaneous combustion? There must be a safer way to handle superhumans, and I propose we use the city and the systems it already had in place. But to avoid the rather obvious problems brought about by it’s previous leadership, I propose that this city be controlled with total transparency to the outside world. Whoever made it in the first place is not gone, make no mistake. There is a force somewhere in the world that made a substantial profit off of my people. I intend to stop that force by shining the light on it for all the world to see; to stop it from taking advantage of us ever again, and I need that city to do it. Please consider my request.”

Now, either that sounded like the ramblings of a madman, or it was very persuasive indeed. Fortunately, it seems like the politicians at least found it persuasive. People are saying the vote is expected to pass by next week.

I still can’t sleep at night. Half my family is dead, and I probably could have stopped it somehow. I still hear their screams at night. But i’m hoping that what i’m doing now might atone for it. I’m trying to make the world a better place, because no one should ever have to feel their arm going through another human being’s skull. Especially not if that’s the last thing they ever get to feel with that arm.

Now, I could just settle down on a farm in kansas, milk dogs, sheer sheep, that kinda thing. But I would be out of place. It’s not home. Home is on that city, training with what’s left of my family. Home is going to be helping those like me, helping my people survive.
Maybe here, of all places on all planes of existence, isn’t such a bad place after all.

Short Story

Existential Angst (Act II) – Esteban Mayorga

3 months later…

Act 2: A Whole New World

Well, hello there. It’s been awhile hasn’t it? A great deal of shenanigans has been going down, and I haven’t really had time to tell stories.

But, the final push is planned for tomorrow, and there’s a break in the fighting as both sides prepare; so I guess i’ll just have to take this time to tell you what’s happened so far.

I went back to Valentina and told her about my change of heart, and she lit up like a christmas tree. She actually hugged me. I’m not saying it wasn’t nice, but it was just such a sudden shift from her usual stony demeanor, it caught me off guard.

She really believed what she was doing was right. With all her heart, you could see it in her eyes. She gained my respect right then. She started talking about her plans to free the rest of us, and what she would do after we won, and she said it all with a smile on her face. Admittedly, the smile was a little disconcerting when she went into details about how to best massacre government forces, but the sentiment was still there.

So I asked her, “what now”? Her response? “You have no idea what you’re in for”. And she was right.

Every day, instead of going to our lonely apartments after school, we met somewhere on the city. It was usually either an abandoned building, set to be torn down soon, or at some of the larger apartments owned by members of our little army. We trained, and we planned, and we gathered equipment in secret, preparing for war. There were only about 20 of us in all, and most of us were college aged or seniors in highschool , but there were only about 200 government officials all in all, and the majority of them weren’t powered.

Training was hard at first, and I wasn’t exactly trusted by the rest of the group. After all, would you listen if some supposedly crazy powerful kid showed up and you had to treat him as a leader? Of course not, people have to be shown their leader’s capabilities. Well, after our first raid, they never questioned my ability again.

We had been preparing for our first operation for about 2 weeks; a small raid on a supplies warehouse. If all went well, it would look like some Private Military Company or Research Corporation had ransacked the place, and the government would have no idea they had a revolution on their hands yet.

Unfortunately, things did not go well.

A security guard went for a bathroom break at exactly the wrong time; he found davey and I climbing in through the ceiling vent. I knocked him unconscious in less than half a second, but the government are clever bastards, as it turns out. They had these implants put into all the guards, and if any of them experienced excessive physical trauma or unconsciousness, an alarm would be set off.

So the alarm went off, and the stealth operation turned into a war zone. Everything was on fire, then it was all frozen, then electricity flowed through the ice and metal support beams like a raging river. We used our powers without control, causing maximum damage to everything around us. I didn’t kill anyone, but i’m one of the few that can say that. The whole world was chaos after we got rid of all the guards, and we knew there were more coming, but half of us couldn’t even walk. My legs were fine, so I had to carry each person individually back to one of our hideouts, and then run back for another. In the end I carried all 19 other members a mile back to base, and then I threw up and fell over.

When I came to, Valentina gave me a rundown of what happened after I passed out.  We won, but all of us were injured in some way, and our excessive display of force caught the eye of the government. They didn’t know exactly who we were, but they knew someone was planning to take them down.

“But hey,” she said, “at least no one is going to give you crap about being a kid anymore”. And she was right. Finally, they accepted me as one of them. It was pretty wonderful. The only short jokes I heard were affectionate, and I felt like I finally had a family.

So we carried on. We refused to give up, instead, we declared full scale war on the government that oppressed us. We got sympathisers to set put up posters advertising the movement when no one was watching, we took territory on the edge of the city for ourselves and stopped going to school altogether. The government tried to label us as terrorists, but it wasn’t working. We were winning the hearts of the people over, and our numbers were growing. The total student population was only about 2000, and the members of our little club swelled from 20 to 30 to 60 to 100 quickly. That doesn’t mean we weren’t without our losses. Davey got killed early on, and Valentina only has her left arm still attached now. There have been others, but I don’t want to go through their names. It still hurts.

We’ve taken more than half the city now, and the only thing left of any importance is the high school. About a quarter of the student body sided with the government. A couple people who hold their convictions high and believe they’re doing right. A whole lot of psychos that just love killing and see the government as their best possible employer. And a few that just don’t know anything else in their life or how they could get on without big brother watching over them. Those are the ones I really feel for. But nothing is going to stop us now. We’ve come too far, and I still haven’t taken a single life.

I’ve never wanted to kill, or even hurt others. I hold it as one of my highest moral achievements that I haven’t killed anyone in this bloody war.

But tomorrow, if anyone gets in my way, if anyone gets in the way of the freedom my family has died for, that my family has sacrificed life and limb for, I will put them in the ground.

And I won’t lose any sleep over it.

Short Story

Existential Angst (Act I) – Esteban Mayorga

Why me?

Of all places.

Of all possible places, in all possible planes of existence, did I really have to be here? It’s not like I chose to be here, or was born as part of some centuries old legacy foretelling the horrible doom of the human race, or anything actually interesting. In fact, I was just dumped here as a baby 15 years ago and no one bothered to tell me who brought me or if I even have a family.

And if it ever crossed my mind to leave, I would simply be shot. Thank the shady, nameless, government organization that collects superhumans and stuffs them in a floating city for that. They say its because superhumans are too dangerous to be released into the “normal” population. Doesn’t make them sound any less like comic book villains.

Today is the first day of my sophomore year of high school. This is where they train us to act as everything from assassins and bodyguards to intelligence operatives and soldiers, depending on your skill set. No seriously, they’re actually doing that. The government is pretty much just a comic book villain, i’ve mentioned this already.

So the idea is generally that we’re supposed to make friends here and be all happy for a few years; before we become the world’s cutest little murderers that could at the tender age of 18.

Yeah, it hasn’t exactly gone well so far.

Well, freshman year started off well enough. My abilities hadn’t kicked in yet, so I might as well have been in training for the CIA or S.H.I.E.L.D or something like that.  My grades were good, I did well in combat training, and I generally pleased the all seeing big brother style governing body.

But then, something unfortunate happened. I started Doing very well in combat training. my reaction times got quicker and quicker, and so did everything else about me.

I started processing everything in split seconds, my body started reacting and moving faster than anyone could see, I started hitting harder than anyone else could, and they started telling me I was the most naturally talented fighter they had ever seen. I bristled with pride. I made friends, friends that respected me and looked up to me.

And then about halfway through the year, something happened so fast time stopped. I had been sparring with Daniela, the only person in class that could still beat me. I lost focus and the next thing I knew, her knee was flying towards my face like lightning, I instinctively threw a punch at her face knowing it would never have time to connect, and then…

Nothing happened.

Everything in the whole world slowed to a crawl, her knee sluggishly dragging through the air like so much molasses. I had already drawn my fist back to my face, and I realized that my strike had connected and she was dripping backwards, her knee following a new path.

I had discovered my power.

They moved me into the true school, the school for superhumans. I was classified as a speedster, rank 6 out of 10; 1 being Usain Bolt on crack, 10 being so fast you could smash atoms by snapping your fingers.

It was at here I discovered something truly, gut wrenchingly, terrifying. Teenagers don’t have souls. They are far too cruel and hopped up on hormones to have souls.

Superhuman hormones are what you would get if you threw normal hormones, crack cocaine, and the blood of a virgin in a blender and then fed it to an entire frat house. Except the frat kids try and outdo each other by seeing who can throw cars furthest.

Long story short, being the weedy kid with glasses, and being an irritating smartass in a school full of those people doesn’t mix well. I immediately started making more enemies than friends, and tensions heated until they boiled over and exploded right in my stupid, stupid face.

I got into a fight with the resident alpha jock, and we ended up demolishing the gym by way of him being a pyromancer/maniac, and I may have accidentally drunkenly made out with someone’s boyfriend somewhere in there, and there might have been some other stuff I greatly regret now…

Needless to say, Big brother was not pleased.

I was sent off to do hard labour in the worst parts of Russia for summer vacation, which was in no way shape or form fun. Or painless. Or free of head trauma.

But enough of the troubles of last year, let’s talk about how this year is going. You might say, “what could possibly go wrong? It’s only the first day after all”.

And there was a time I would have agreed with you. That time was before today.

As it turns out, i’m one of the highest ranking powered individuals in the world, and that tends to draw attention from time to time.

Today, attention came in the form of Valentina Valentine during first period, who is dedicated to damaging the vital organs of those who might question and/or insult her name. My kidney still hurts.

She sought me out  because she wants me to join a little unofficial “club” she’s starting. The objective of this “club” is to overthrow the oppressive government by way of excessive force and bloody revolution.

I told her to bugger right off and leave me alone, which she wasn’t too happy about.

Now, don’t get me wrong, i’m all for revolution, but does it really have to be so bloody? I honestly have no interest in becoming a murderer, that’s why i’m all for revolution in the first place.

She says she can’t do it without me. As someone of my power ranking, I would be a figurehead in this revolution. I would be a general, someone to rally behind. I would be responsible for all of the death and suffering and liberation and freedom and happiness it might cause. I don’t know if I can handle that.

Another option was presented to me during lunch, just 10 minutes ago.

Here I was, eating lunch by my lonesome on the roof of the school. I love it up here. You can see down to the ground below the city; and the horizon seems to stretch forever.

Sometimes I try to figure out where we are by looking at the land or the ocean. Sometimes I just think about jumping off that roof and landing in what looks like kansas. Living on a farm, learning how to herd sheep and milk dogs or whatever they do.

Anyway, my little game got interrupted by a government official, all bald headed and fancily dressed and the like. Turns out Valentina isn’t the only one who wants to put my powers to use.

The school wants to put me through an accelerated program, and turn me into an undercover intelligence operative by next year. I could be the best. I could get anywhere in the world in the blink of an eye, snatch classified information out of someone’s hands and put it into different, very wealthy and very generous hands.

So here I am, wondering which side will involve the least death and destruction, trying to choose between the lesser of two evils hell bent on destroying each other. Of all places, I had to be here?

My head sinks into my hands, fingers tussling and combing through dirty blonde hair. One of those little ticks I get when i’m stressed. While the government option isn’t exactly a moral victory, at least I wouldn’t be hurting anyone. Not directly anyway. I wouldn’t be doing any murdering.

But everyone else would. Valentina says she can’t do it without me, but that doesn’t mean she won’t try. What if she tries without me and fails because i’m not there? What if I cause her and those that follow her to die meaningless deaths? What if she fails and we keep going through this system, committing the worst atrocities known by mankind because we’re better at it?

Can I really sit back and let that happen?

No, I really can’t.

Besides, what’s the worst that could happen?

Prosetry, Short Story

The Time You Set Your House on Fire – Samantha Forsyth 

Put off by the smell of gasoline. It was hard to ask yourself to abhor your senses. To walk out of the front door without saying goodbye and disregard the dizziness when you smelt the petrol. It’s the feeling of breaking your own nose with movements quick and uncontrolled when you were running through the hallways, and now you’re pouring a trail that starts and ends out the front door. You’re unsatisfied just being happy. 

It’s not enough until it’s burnt. Until you can see a fire consume itself in real time. Your mother makes you breakfast everyday in that house and your father shares the paper with you. You won’t ever have to worry about losing them again because you know you’ll be able to keep the ashes if you decide you want to. Now you can run your fingers through every memory of early childhood and bathe in the question of permanence. Stand before the destruction you’ve created. 

Short Story

You’re Looking Younger Each Day – Brooke Safferman

“If there’s anything I hate, it’s the sound of children laughing. Especially in the summertime,” he said. The couple rocked back and forth, slowly, on their front porch. She was 26he was 32.

“My! However could you say such a thing, Denton!?” she exclaimed. Her steady rocking never ceased.

“I mean it, Maggie. I shiver at the thought of us growing. Growing and growing and growing.” Each morning, they would go outside to their porch. The chairs never changed, but their owners grew every day.

“Well, Denny, I’m rather excited about growing! Just think – we will have the Law to take care of us, then! No responsibilities whatsoever. When we lose our teeth and the sharpness of our thoughts and the ability to walk without assistance, it won’t ever be our fault, Denny! No, I’m excited for life to take its natural course with us.”

“Youth… who needs it…” he grumbled.

“Now, Denny, I’m serious! Stop that talk!” She swiftly rose from her chair. It continued to rock, even without her presence.

“Oh, Maggie… you’re looking younger each day. Younger and freer, without a care in the world. With your long, long legs pale and delicate. Your eyelashes have so much fringe! My word, what fringe you have! And those lips…” With a smirk, she took his hand and led him into the house. His heart sunk in his chest at the sight of how beautiful her body was, each curve highlighted by the sun trickling in through the windowpane. Gossamer curtains tickled the screens pushed open. She was so young. Almost a child, even. One day, he’d be without her.

Short Story

An End to a Moose – Esteban Mayorga

“Damn Mooses. Wait. Meese? No, but it’s definitely not Mooses. Moosen? Oh, what the hell am I doing? This is not a time for grammatically correct Meese.”


My increasingly nonsensical internal dialogue comes to an end as the moose thing glares at me. “Never again”, the words echo through my head as I assess my current situation. My torso, my arms, my thighs, they all ache with the gathered efforts required to climb my way up this damnable mountain, I can’t feel what raw skin hasn’t been scrapped off hands, my lungs burn, and my body is on it’s last legs. The thing continues it’s glare, it’s gaze that of a predator, hungry for a quick meal. I only have one way out.


My hand slowly reaches for my weapon, a desperate attempt not to startle the moose thing. It doesn’t work.


Caution is thrown to the wind as the moose charges, fangs bared, all seven nostrils flaring. I dive out of the way, and the moose plows straight through one of the walls of the already rickety wooden shack we’re fighting in, bringing new meaning to “architecturally questionable”.  I unload 3 shots from my oversized revolver which all miss their mark due to the massive inaccuracy of a weapon this size.


The sound angers the moose further, adding to my already growing list of problems as it turns and charges again. My sword leaves its sheath and embeds itself in the Moose thing’s antlers with a dull thunk, just in time for the thing to toss its head, snapping the sword in two at the hilt. The Moose thing rears back before charging with renewed vigor and an new cutting edge embedded between its aggressively pointy antlers. I am going to ruin whoever designed my gear for this assignment.


Trapped between a Moose and a not so hard wooden shack wall, I opt to go through the wall rather than the moose. I drive what’s left of my sword through a brittle plank, then tug and yank with my entire upper body to try and get the damnable thing back out. I look over my shoulder, my vision shaky and blurred, my arms and shoulders burning from my continuous attempts to retrieve the shitty sword, and I see that my time’s up. The moose thing is practically on top of me, it’s 7 eyes now up to 14 as far as my vision is concerned.


I can either try and go through the wall with just my own weight, or I could use the moose’s force to help me through, If I can manage that without being impaled or otherwise maimed.


I hop and curl into a ball, twisting in the air so my feet meet the moose’s head. Time slows down as I kick with every ounce of energy left in my body, my heels shuddering with the impact, the force traveling through my body, jostling my bones violently, vibrating my jaw, the sounds reverberating throughout my head.


I feel something break as I get launched straight through the annoyingly sturdy shack wall, time still crawling past at a fraction of what it should be. A glorious sunrise hits me like a brick thrown at 60 miles an hour, my eyes unaccustomed to the dancing rays and deep purple-orange sky after such a long night. My body hits the ground, rolls, and is thrown into the air again, snow cascading in waves around me, shards and planks of what used to be the shed cutting through the waves like unassuming sharks thrown into the sky by some sadistic force. I bounce twice more, each time bringing less snow up with me and allowing for more light to refract brilliantly off the partially melted waves, if only for a fraction of a moment.


After a painfully long time, the world returns to normal. Well. As normal as a world with mutated predatory moosen is want to be. I start feeling the impact from the wall, from the ground, from the moose. It hurts. Bad. My ankle is broken, no doubt, I have at least three cracked ribs, a punctured lung if i’m unlucky, and a spine that’s seen better days, like that time Jill pushed me off the roof of her house and I landed on my neck. Good memories.


I slowly, very slowly, pick myself up off the ground, applying as little pressure as possible to my left arm and right ankle. It’s then that I see the blood.


A trail of it, little drizzles upon the snow, punctuated by craters and pools of the stuff, leading all the way to my right foot.


A river of blood is running from where I stand, the snow steaming and diluting the blood with clear, clean water. The coppery stench of it reaches my nostrils, nauseating and warm.


I double over, my body feeling the sharp, stinging pain of a wound that went straight through military grade combat boots, feeling the life drain out of it and into the snow. I don’t know how long I lie there, shaking, shuddering, before I realize what i’m doing. I realize i’m giving up. I’m letting my life flow away into the snow, to be used by some woodland creature. Maybe a moose.


Well screw meese.


I look around me, and assess my situation again. I’m lying on the cold, hard, snow covered rock of a mountaintop, ribs broken, ankle shattered, god knows what the hell happened to my arm, and i’m bleeding out while wondering why I haven’t been maimed to death by a demon moose.


I smile when I see why.


My right foot, while having been shattered and flayed a fair bit, broke the shitty sword a second time, and drove the fragments straight into the moose’s stupid shitty brain.


I cannot emphasise the passion with which I detest the very existence of meese at this moment. No, really. Fuck meese.


With a sense of relief, I reach into my coat, and pull out the school mandated emergency beacon, a bulky rectangular device, just big enough to be uncomfortable in a pocket. I will kiss whichever brilliant moron made me take it with me when I get back.


My arm burning with the effort, I weekly flip open the reinforced steel-plate cover on the front of the device, and with all the force I can draw from my aching body, I slam my fist into the big red button underneath. It’s the most satisfying thing i’ve ever felt.


I tear off my boot and gingerly wrap my mangled foot in a tourniquet, before crawling over to the moose and propping my head up on its warm belly.


I start drifting into a comfortable sleep, my body slowly waning itself off adrenaline as a last thought passes through my head before I pass into peaceful blackness.


Fuck Meese.

Short Story

I Would Never – Brooke Safferman

I Would Never

By Brooke Safferman

Before I got expelled from Worthington Hall during the Spring semester of my freshman year – I’ll tell you why later – I learned the true meaning of what it is to love someone. I’m not talking about my boyfriend, Wesley, although I can tell by that scowl on your face you think I should have been in love with my own boyfriend. Ideally, I’d like to say yes, that Wesley captured my heart and it was love at first sight and all that other crap you see on television. But it’s not like that. Not at all.

Wesley and I grew up together, so I know how immature he is. I don’t trust him to be faithful, not after what I’ve seen him do to some of my best friends, but he tolerates me and I tolerate him and that’s why we work. Sometimes convenience in a world of chaos can act as an oxygen tank for two people who would otherwise slowly suffocate.

I met Cassandra through my best friend, Katie. They were roommates although I don’t know how they possibly got along. Katie and I were known as the “ice queens”, because let’s be honest here, we both had a lot of issues. Daddy cheated on Mommy with practically every lady from the Darien Country Club, but Mommy still took him back every time, which is understandable considering the only thing handsomer than Daddy’s face is his bank account. Other than this hobby of his, Daddy is the sweetest person in the entire world. Which causes me to hate him. I think men are rotten, but Wesley’s alright. In fact, his mother was one of Daddy’s latest conquests. That was a personal problem for Mommy, though, because she was best friends with Wesley’s mother. Not anymore, that’s for sure! Katie’s mother had tons of boyfriends, mainly bartenders or cabana boys down where she’s from in Palm Beach. I really ought to get my ass down to Florida, now that I think of it. I’m tired of these boring Massachusetts people. They’re all just like me, except not as pretty or rich or smart. I’m actually quite smart, but I’ll only do what I need to in order to get by. I always only do what I need to in order to get by.

Enough background knowledge! The day before my expulsion, Cassandra wore her hair in a medium-brown fishtail braid, like she did almost every day. It was so effortlessly beautiful. She was so effortlessly beautiful.

I watched her walk into our dorm, but frowned when I noticed her rain boots were that hideous shade of olive. Over half the girls in our grade owned those same boots. I had them before anyone else did, but then Katie, who’s super into art, painted them this metallic gold to make mine stand out. She knew we had to take action. Being mediocre is a dangerous thing, you know.

“Cassandra! I love your boots,” I cooed, brushing a strand of her hair behind her ear that had broken lose from her braid. “Olive is so ‘in’ right now.” I offered her a smile, and then looked down at my own feet. My fuzzy socks were developing a hole in the toe. Shit.

“Thanks, Athena,” she breathed happily, not taking her eyes off my own. I didn’t want her to return my feelings. She was too pretty and too sweet.

Normally I hated sweet people. Sweet people, I thought, were just playing some sick game of pretend. It was only a matter of time before they cheated on your mother with all the women at the country club.

My stomach felt a little weird, admitting to myself why Cassandra was looking at me in that way, but I’m not really sure how to describe the feeling. I guess my lower stomach burned in the way it did in the late afternoons when I skipped breakfast and then had almonds with a glass of lemon water for lunch. I did this four times a week to maintain my size 0 frame. Empty.

I followed Cassandra into her room, acting like I wanted to hang out with Katie. “I want to hang out with Katie,” I said. I can sound very, very casual when I need to be.

“Katie’s actually working on her final portfolio now in the art building for an hour or so, then she has a quick horseback riding lesson at the stables before dinner. You’re welcome to stay and do homework with me, though!”

I checked my watch. 3:15PM. Technically, it was my mother’s Cartier, but I grabbed it from her nightstand before moving into Worthington Hall. 18k gold. Nice, right?

“Sure, I can stay and do homework with you. Let me go grab my books.” On my way out of her room though, something bizarre happened.

Danny,a senior, or as Worthington Hall called a “6th former”, was standing in the hallway. He and Wesley played together on the boy’s Varsity Football team, and Wesley idolized him. Danny was the captain, of course. Only the best for me and Wes!

“Hey, Athena. You’re always looking so pretty, huh?” In that moment, Danny was the lion, I, his antelope. “Where’s Wesley?” he purred into my ear, his caustic saliva misting my tragus. “Get the hell out of the freshman girl’s dorm, Danny. You don’t belong here.” I backed away and narrowed my gray eyes at him. I’ve been told they’re quite commanding.

“Actually, I’m tutoring Katie’s roommate in physics,” he snickered. He was vile. “I’m guessing you know Cassandra through her. Finals are just two weeks away, and she’s doing pretty shitty when it comes to problem sets about centripetal force.” Danny was going to do pre-med in college, and he always gave some schpiel about not wanting to rely on just his trust-fund and how important it is to be self-sufficient when it comes to financial matters. Whenever people asked why he wouldn’t just work at a hedge fund like his father, he always replied he didn’t like his father much. Welcome to the frickin’ club, buddy!

I rolled my eyes, dismissing him and walked a little further down the hall to my own room. I began picking up the books I needed off the floor – I requested a single room because I don’t tolerate anyone else’s messes but my own – when Cassandra came in. Her cheeks were flushed, and I didn’t like it. “What’s up, Cassandra?”

“I’m so sorry, Athena. Danny said he got the time mixed up! Our original meeting time was 6:30PM but he wrote down 3:30PM. I didn’t want to make him leave, and he said he’ll tutor me now.”

“I’m sure you don’t want to be alone with a guy like him, though. He’s like, the world’s biggest narcissist and he’s not even that cute. Like Wesley has way better arms than he does. Seriously, I can still do homework with you. It won’t bother me if you guys talk because I’m going to have my headphones on, anyway. I love me some Madonna when I do history projects!” I never listen to music when I do my work, and my smile was clearly forced – but then again, when is it not?

I never give my true emotions away (like I told you, Katie and I are the “Ice Queens”), but for some reason, my voice startled trembling a bit. I really did not like the idea of Danny alone with her in her room. “You’re too pretty and too sweet to be alone with him!” I said, slamming my hand down on my desk. Despite my worrying, I admired my nails. They were flawlessly French-manicured, per usual; Su at the salon was such an angel!

Cassandra’s lips parted slightly, her already-flushed cheeks deepening in color. “I like him, Athena.” That’s all she said, and she said it quietly. Then she left.

I sat there for a few minutes and then began to work. About ten minutes later, I heard Cassandra’s voice again. This time, though, she was screaming – loudly.


Luckily, her door was unlocked. I opened it to find that Danny was attempting to force himself upon her. My eyes met his and he said nothing as he pulled his pants back up and hurried out of the room.

“I’m so sorry he hurt you,” I whispered, my eyes watering. I offered Cassandra a tissue from the box perched on her dresser, and she blew her nose. She looked so young sitting there on her bed, not being able to comprehend what had just happened, the blankets half-fallen onto the floor. “Just rest.” She followed my orders and took a nap. Now that she was sleeping, I didn’t have to keep it together. I shut my eyes tightly and blinked them back open to let the tears fall. I needed to forget what I had just seen, as impossible as that sounds, so I sat down at her desk with her physics homework and finished the whole damn thing. She deserved a break after what she went through. Danny can mess around with me, I thought, but someone gentle and unassuming like Cassandra clearly can’t fend that creep off.

Katie and I met up at dinner, when I told her what happened. “We have to tell the Dean of Students. He can’t just get away with that. What a little prick,” Katie said, chewing on her seventh stick of celery. I hadn’t even touched my own.

“I think that will cause more problems, Katie,” I said slowly. “I think we need to keep this to ourselves so we don’t cause any more stress for Cassandra than she’s already dealing with.” Cassandra was still sleeping when Katie and I went to dinner. I didn’t wake her up.



Katie stared at me, eyes wide and glaring, so I stared back. Reluctantly, I picked up a celery stick and rolled my eyes. I hate it when she gets that look on her face. She and I both know very well that it means I’ve lost the argument. Wesley strode up to the table – Friday night was Date Night – and the two of us left Katie there to clear my celery-covered plate. “Remember to use protection, lovebirds!” she shouted after us. We looked back and just laughed. But when Wesley turned to face forward again, I was still looking back. She shook her head slightly. There was no way I would tell Wesley about this. Danny was his role model!

The next day, Katie told the Dean of Students what happened because I refused to. Katie warned me that I would have to talk to the Dean eventually because I was involved, but I told her that he could go bite my (perky) ass. I figured the Dean would just let it slide, anyway, because Danny was graduating after finals, which were only two weeks away. Nobody would get punished so late in the game, especially not Worthington Hall’s shining-star athlete on the fast-track to medical school. I had no idea how wrong I was.

I was walking (strutting would probably be more accurate) out of the dining hall after lunch, but stopped short when I heard a male voice shouting. I peered around the wall into the lobby of the dining hall building to investigate what was going on.

“They’re talking expulsion,” Danny said, hands shaking. He was surrounded by all the rest of the kids on the football team. Wesley’s eyes widened as they met mine.

“GO,” he mouthed, “GO, GO, GO.” But I couldn’t go. I couldn’t stop listening to what Danny was saying.

“I’m gonna kill her. Wherever the hell she is, I’m gonna find her and kill her. Have any of you guys seen Athena today?” He turned to Wesley, enraged. “You knew about this, pretty boy? Did she tell you she was gonna be a little tattle-tale?” He thrust Wesley up against the wall, pinning him down. A portrait of some “Headmaster Swinton” from over five decades ago hung above them on the wall. What would Headmaster Swinton have to say about this violence unfolding!?

Everyone was tugging Danny off of Wesley’s arm, but not before he punched my guy in the stomach – hard. “Come on, guys.” Danny led the bevy of buff boys out of the building. Wesley, on the other hand, was crouched down on the wooden floor, wincing and holding his stomach. I ran over to him, placing my hand over his own on his stomach, and gave him an Advil from my Longchamp backpack. “Thanks, babe,” he breathed.

Later that night, I finished the six hours of homework we were assigned on a daily basis. Taking a shower after study hours is the greatest luxury known to Worthington Hall-kind. I flip-flopped my way into the bathroom and turned the water on hot. After I drew the curtain, I thought I saw a shadow. Unfortunately the latch on the door of the shower stall was broken, so the curtain was the only barrier I had from onlookers. If a girl was going to get a good look at me, I’d only want it to be Clarissa, although anyone would be lucky to see me without any clothes. I reached down to shave my legs, when in a blurry instant, the curtain was drawn aside and Danny got in with me, his arms moving towards my throat. I slashed his arm with a razor. “WHAT HAVE YOU DONE, YOU CRAZY BITCH, WHAT HAVE YOU DONE!?” He ran out of there, his white t-shirt quickly turning a deep maroon. His arm continued bleeding a river of blood, through his fingers covering the vein in his left arm. What had I done, crazy bitch, what the hell had I done. I wrapped my towel around me, not even bothering to use my beloved Turbie Twist on my hair, which is long and blonde and straight and perfect. It takes a lot of products to keep it that way. But it’s worth it. I’m worth it.

I was hyperventilating as I realized what I needed to do. Still in a towel, I snuck out of the back entrance that the janitors use to take out the trash of the entire building. There’s a dumpster out there that nobody ever would look through. I tossed the razor in, and hurried back inside to my room. Whether the goosebumps on my arms were from the chilly Spring night air on my wet skin or from fear, I wasn’t really sure. Nor did I care. All I could think about what would happen to Danny.

At that moment, the siren of an ambulance could be heard across campus. I looked out of my dorm room window, which had a view of the quad, like all of the other dorms did on our small campus. The circular driveway around the quad was infiltrated with students, RAs, and teachers. Oh, and the ambulance. They were all surrounding Danny, like everyone always did, but what struck me as peculiar was that he was holding a men’s razor in his hand. What? He had flip-flops on his feet and a towel around his waist. His t-shirt was nowhere in sight. He looked like he was crying as they tied a tourniquet on his bicep. It was all so bizarre. I cranked my window open as hard and fast as possible so I could actually hear what was being said. Unfortunately, it was my name.

“Athena attacked me in the shower,” Danny continued with a sob. “She took my razor, and she said she was going to kill me for what she told the Dean I did to her friend. She’s delusional. I never did anything bad to Cassandra. I tutor her in physics, and I’m also her friend. Cassandra’s a great girl. I would never hurt her.”

My eyes scraped the scene, scoring through the people to find Cassandra. She was there, all the way at the back of the crowd. All eyes turned to her.

“Did he really attempt to rape you, Miss?” Oh joy, the police had arrived, and I hadn’t even noticed.

Cassandra knew I was mean, but she knew I wasn’t insane. I wouldn’t go after him, unless it was for self-defense. If somebody was about to kill me, you can be sure I’d kill them first!

She didn’t take her eyes off of Danny’s razor, which for some absurd reason, was still in his hand as the paramedics loaded him into the back of the ambulance. “I… I…”

“Miss, please answer the question, and answer it truthfully.”

“I liked him. I kissed him first. I asked him to take his shirt off. I told him to take my shirt off, too…” Cassandra trailed off as she began crying hysterically.

“It’s okay, Miss. There, there. It’s okay.” The two policeman each placed a hand on one of her shoulders. Right, because that is so comforting. A shoulder touch.

I couldn’t believe it. Katie had told the Dean what Danny did for Cassandra’s frickin’ well-being and Cassandra totally threw her under the bus. I was heartbroken. Like I said, never trust sweet people. They’ll always make you sorry for believing in them, in the end.

I looked around for Wesley, but I didn’t see him anywhere. Katie was nowhere to be seen, either. I tried to sip some water from my Worthington Hall tumbler mug, but it dribbled all over my chin because my entire body was trembling. I was still in my towel, but I couldn’t change into anything else.

I had been… framed.

My legs went weak. I collapsed on my bed and my vision began to go blurry. The posters on my walls – Marilyn Monroe, Audrey Hepburn, Jackie O – were getting fuzzier to the point where they were simply blobs of grayness.

Wesley and Katie pushed open my door, both out of breath and eyes full of tears. I knew the police would soon follow. I looked at Katie, unable to offer her my signature fake smile. She said nothing, but I could see the apology in her eyes.

“I would never,” I said.

Short Story

Mountains Are Hard to Overcome – Brooke Safferman

The box of crayons lay on the coffee table, stains from early-morning espresso tattooed on the mahogany. Leona rose upon her four-year-old legs and waddled her way over from her napping mat to empty out all of the colors from the Crayola carton: Cerulean, Yellow Green, Green Yellow, Fuschia, Purple Mountain Majesty… Purple Mountain Majesty. Leona asserted her dominance over the crayon, pressing with as much force as her pudgy hand could muster until the tip shrunk away into dullness.

“Nice picture, Leona! I’ve never seen a purple person before in my life, but you’ve done a great job. Is that a tutu on him?” her father exclaimed. “Huh! Maggie, come look at Leona’s work!” Leona’s mother clacked across the marble floor in practical heels that were the perfect companion to her equally-practical pinstripe pant-suit.

“Oh, Leona!” Maggie’s voice echoed upwards thirteen feet to the ceiling. “Tell Mommy and Daddy about your pretty picture. James, go grab the video camera! We should save this.” Leona’s father galloped out of the room, searching for the Sony camcorder. Maggie peered over Leona’s shoulder to get a better look at the drawing. She bit her flawlessly manicured cuticles when she saw. “JAMES. You didn’t tell me that Leona drew… this! Come back in here right now. We need to talk about this!”

When he returned four minutes later, he pressed the “RECORD” button despite his wife’s displeasure, and Leona began her artist’s statement. “Purple Mountain Majesty is my most favorite color. It’s my favorite because it’s very pretty and so is the person I drew. He is a princess, because both boys and princesses are my favorite, too!” Leona giggled, kissing the princess.

James’s eyes widened as he whispered, “Should I keep recording?” Maggie bit her lip. Nodding her head, as making quick yet sound decisions was a talent of hers, she sat down on the burgundy leather couch and patted the cushion beside her. Leona loyally clambered up next to her, waving her picture in her mother’s face.

“Leona, aren’t people white or black, usually? You know people aren’t purple, right, sweetheart?” Eyes locked between mother and daughter. James puzzledly attempted to zoom in with the camera with no avail.

“You can’t tell if a person is good or bad if they are white or black. That’s why I picked Purple Mountain Majesty, because that is a color I love. So, I know this person is nice.”

Maggie flipped open her pocket mirror and applied her “Perfectly Passionate”-hued lipstick, which she always thought demanded attention. She turned to her husband. “James, shut the camera off.” James fervently shook his head in protest. “James, I mean it. Turn it off. Now.”

“No way, Maggie. Let her keep talking. Ask her more questions.”

Maggie blew a forceful breath out of her nostrils, and shut her eyes. “Fine. So Leona, honey, why on Earth did you make such a pretty princess be a boy for, huh? Mommy knows you love both boys and princesses, but princesses can only be girls!”

James finally turned off the camera. “Maggie.”

“What? It’s true! You want her to think that boys can wear fairy tutus and princess crowns and prance around as they please? I’m doing her a favor here, James. I’m doing us a favor.”

At that moment, Leona scrambled off the couch and plopped down next to her nearby arts-and-crafts box. She unscrewed the cap to the pink glitter, and poured the entire tube onto the form of the princess. James and Maggie’s eyes flicked back to meet each other’s glances.

“Spreading hatred is the opposite of doing us a favor. Let her do what she wants.”

“No! I will not have my little girl confused about the way things should be. Boys cannot be princesses, and people are not purple. End of story.” Maggie stood up, reaching for her structured leather briefcase. The cross-body style was practical, something Maggie not only adored but also used to rationalize paying $1,258 for it at the local Neiman Marcus. She was home for the afternoon only because her sister was coming into town. “And Jenna will be here any minute, and I expect you to be nice this time.”

Maggie clacked off into the master bedroom to change into something less office-ready, leaving James standing in the family room by himself. His brow furrowed. There’s nothing wrong with princess boys! Lee-Lee’s just a little kid; she can do whatever the hell she wants. Maggie needs to stop being so strict all the time. He kneaded his stubble a little too forcefully as he contemplated, leaving a red spot along his jawline.

Leona dumped the glitter off of her picture. It was only sticking to the tutu because she had squeezed some glue onto it, an action unnoticed during her parents’ mêlée.

“Maaaa-gieeeee!” Maggie’s twin, Jenna had the type of voice that made a guy wish he magically had earplugs lying around in his pockets. James stifled a groan.

“JENNA!” Maggie scurried across the floor, assaulting her sister with a hug. She had put on jeans and a cardigan, which although more casual than her pantsuit, were still very sensible.

“Hey, Jenna,” James mumbled. If Jenna heard him, she didn’t show it. The 28-year-old sisters compared everything constantly – careers, love lives, manicures. Competition was the norm with these two, and it gave James a tension headache. He shuffled into the bathroom to worship the Excedrin gods. Leona, on the other hand, worshipped Jenna.

“Leona, look how pretty you are! And my God, so grown up! You’re going to drive all the boys crazy with desire.” Jenna stroked Leona’s fine strands of strawberry blonde strands hair as her gaze drifted to The Drawing.

“I drew a boy right now, too!” Leona’s smile, lacking front teeth, was enchanting enough to cause Jenna to accept that there was a purple boy that looked like a princess waving around in her face.

“Can I get you some coffee.” Maggie didn’t wait for an answer because it wasn’t spoken as a question. She hurried into the kitchen and began fumbling with the Keurig.

Jenna reached out and held Leona’s paper in her hands, running her index finger upon the sticky glitter. “Leona… Oh, Leona, you did draw a boy, didn’t you?”

James emerged from the bathroom, massaging his temples. “She did a good job, Jenna. Purple Mountain Majesty is a great color. It’s a color of inspiration. Mountains are hard to overcome. You need a lot of strength, especially mentally, to climb them.”

“I know this. I think it’s beautiful, James. It might not be Maggie’s cup of tea, but I am a big fan of the arts. Can you get us some tape?”

Jenna took Leona by the hand and together they strode out of the room. That lady is so damn high and mighty, James thought. He soon joined them, tape dispenser in hand. Jenna pressed Leona’s drawing up to the girl’s bedroom wall with one hand, and gestured with the other to James for him to come over and help her out.

“There!” He smiled, smoothing the tape against the wall. Leona clapped her hands, her giggle frolicking throughout the room.

“NO.” Maggie stomped in, brusquely setting the coffee mug she was holding on Leona’s dresser. She made her way over to her daughter’s offending wall décor.

“Stop, Maggie!” Jenna tried to pry her sister’s hands off of the picture but with a final tug, Maggie obtained the purple-hued male princess in her well-groomed clutches. Jenna could only stare, unable to disguise the hurt in her eyes.

James stood back, raking his fingertips through his hair. If they were going to start arguing, he was not going to stay. Leona looked up at him, her rapidly blinking eyes wet with confusion.

“Come on, Lee-Lee. Wanna do something fun? Let’s go get you some ice cream!” Nodding, Leona locked an arm around her father’s leg, and wiped her nose on his jeans. He didn’t care for them much because they were a little tight in the seat, but Maggie insisted they looked great. They were from True Religion.

“James, wait.” All eyes shifted to Maggie. “Don’t go.” She looked. Her husband and little girl were going off to have fun without her.

“Why not? So I can watch you teach our daughter to buy into all this hatred and bullshit we’re force-fed to believe!?” He was next to his wife now, pointing one shaking finger at the paper in her hand.

“No,” she whispered, gazing down at Leona’s masterpiece. She began gently swabbing away tears with her thumb.

“Why, then?” he asked softly, placing his palm on the small of her back.

“I need more tape.”