Dying Souls like Dancing Storms - Idris Mansaray (2nd Place)
Morgan stroked her straight black hair, twirling the split ends around her bony index finger. The warehouse was a maelstrom of loose bodies bumping to the music. They moved liked jello, sinking and rising to the beat. Between the stale air, and the sweating room, she wondered how any of them had time to breathe. It was all enough for her to vomit.
“I’m gonna look for the bathroom,” she said. She felt a sweaty palm tug at her hand as she got up, almost seating her back down.
“Don’t be gone too long,” they said.
“Mhm,” she said, as she walked away without looking back.
She squeezed through the mosh pit. She fell disarray as her legs almost gave out from under her.
Something brushed her cheek as she edged on. Another yanked her leather jacket. She winced and clutched her twitching forearm.
“Hey Sexy, wanna dance?!”
“No, thanks,” she said. She broke free from the fingers clamped around her arm and continued to squeeze between the cracks in the crowd at a quicker pace.
Morgan walked in the shadow of the dancers, a deep, dark valley that ended in a hazy smoke of tears and joy. They screamed and laughed and cried, all in a blend of pleasure and pain. She knew that more than half of them were running on caffeine, among other things. Deep within her, she felt something in her chest howl in grief.
Morgan found the restroom at the end of a short hallway in the back of the warehouse. Dirt lined the cracks in the stone wall to the entrance. When she entered, she took a look at her ashen face. Dark bags ran under her eyelids, highlighting her bloodshot eyes. Blood trickled from her nostrils to the edge of the ceramic sink. She patted her pockets, feeling nothing this time.
Morgan clenched her nose tightly before dipping her head back into the air. She convulsed in pain. The touch of savage hands clawing at her body was burned into her thighs, and the image had melted behind her eyelids, oozing out each time she went to sleep. The red scars that cursed her had faded away, but she could still feel jagged nails digging into the lines of her neck. And now, as the she felt the sting of those same hands clutching her throat, she understood how her madness had slipped from her dreams and into her reality.
She slowly unclenched her nose and brought her head back down. A rush of blood streamed down her nose and onto the faucet. Her eyes widened, her gaze fixated on the reddenned sink.
Slowly, she turned away from the mirror and opened the bathroom door.
Morgan left the restroom in a blind stupor. She felt her face burn up in a hot blush. Her vision blurred and her nose bled as she fell back to earth. She toppled under the weight, slumping to the dirt caked floor.
Her eyelids fluttered. “Please don’t go,” she said
But nobody came.
Ships That Pass By - Jeffrey Cournoyer
Ships at a distance have every man’s wish on board. Men at our village go out every day picking through garbage for something of value, or casting fishing nets hoping to chance something that will fill either the pockets or bellies, or just sitting and letting what they consider a miserable life waste away as they dream of the green grass of metaphorical hills.
These are the broken men, the men who gave up. They convince themselves that if they keep turning over trash, if they keep casting their nets and lines, if they keep dreaming of what could be. Then one day things will change. That one day, a god somewhere will smile on them without any real effort of their own.
These men held hope in the ships that pass by the village. These ships keep their broken beliefs alive. The men say, chant even, that the ships prove that the world is a big place and someone will save them. Someone will care. Someone will be the god that smiles on them. I wonder how long they have waited.
These are not the only men in the village, though. There are realists. The realist resides in the churches and turns to the cross because he knows no one will help him. These people rest their hope on prayer because it’s better than believing in man. They go to the broken men and plead with them to join them, and when they do not, they scold the men and go back to their homes and churches. Both groups are wasting away, hoping for the same thing, but they fight over the source.
The rest of the people in the village are not in either camp. We may still go to the churches and pray, or we may still go out with the broken, but we live our lives. We find joy in the people around us. We band together and struggle through adversity. We do not wish for a miracle, but we make our own with our own efforts.
Our lives are not as bad as the glance from the window view will suggest because the people we love will get us through somehow. The tender embrace of mothers and fathers keeps out hearts beating. The jokes of grandmothers heal wounds better than bandages. The games played between sisters and brothers quench thirst and contain the rage of hunger. And God was not in the men on boats, or the places the realist goes to worship, but in the eyes of my grandfather, whose looks provide me with every miracle that I need.
Why God Crumbles the Moon - Paul Macdonald (1st Place)
The Boy hated the pigeon after he killed it. That’s not entirely true, his brother made him hate it. They dared him to throw the rock. “Now I’m certainly embrujado, cursed,” he thought.
He killed it in the park where the neighborhood dead ends. When he was little, his mom took him on the swings there. His brothers once convinced him if they pushed hard enough and he pumped hard enough, he could go all-the-way-around. He knew he had never seen a kid do it, but he believed in his older brothers—the Big Boys, as his mom called them.
There’s a sandbox with Tonka backhoes and dumptrucks. His brothers told him China was opposite to America. One day someone would dig a hole to China. He didn’t understand how China could be opposite to America, but he believed them. The sand got darker as he dug until he hit a tarp. Scared, he filled the hole and stayed away from the sandbox for un rato, a little while, as his mom said.
There’s a stream that runs through the park. It was built to redirect rainwater from the neighborhood. Its rock bed was poured concrete—the gravel was only there after the home-owners association protested. It was shallow enough for children to wade through it, but the Big Boys insisted it was faster to hop from rock to rock. But the rocks were too mossy and far apart, and trips ended when someone fell into the water. The Big Boys said the stream connected to the Chesapeake in the end. That’s the truth of it, more or less.
There’s a pavilion for barbeques, but the Big Boys used its roof for stargazing. They said you could see the stars better on the roof.
“We’re closer to them up here,” they insisted. Once the Boy cried when his mom forbade him from stargazing.
“But it’s una luna llena, a full moon,” he cried.
“Es peligroso, too dangerous,” she said. He ran outside the house to cry in the grass. He couldn’t hear his brother’s footsteps over the cicadas droning. His brother laid down and pointed at the moon.
“Do you know why the moon shrinks?”
“God crumbles the old moon into stars.”
“Why does He do it?”
“Crumble the moon?”
“Don’t you see? Stars fall down now and then, he has to fill the gaps.”
But now the pigeon lay in front of him. I didn’t think I would hit Him. I didn’t even aim, I closed my eyes. Stupid dare. But he killed Him all the same. He felt like little David, who slayed Goliath with a rock. But Little David became a King, the boy was just embrujado, cursed. Embrujado for closing his eyes, that was worst of it. He heard his brother’s footsteps through the silence.
“It’s just a pigeon.”
“I killed it.”
“You’ve killed spiders.”
“It was innocent.”
“So was the spider.”
His brother had laughed when the pigeon fell from the tree and hit with a thump. No fluttering. No feathers. Just a thump.
The Boy began to cry. The pigeon had fallen and he couldn’t crumble a moon to fill the gap. He was no God, no David. He was embrujado. And he hated Him for it. That’s the truth of it, more or less.
Fantasy Sex With Jimi Hendrix - Idris Mansaray
On Thursday nights, when I work four to ten at the Puff n’ Stuff Gift and Smoke Shop, I like to dream that the girl in the mural across the street is me. Of course, I would never in a million years put my hair into a french braid. Still, it was those slightly narrowed eyes and her perfectly right tri-angled nose that captivated me the first time I saw it. Pastel green sagebrushes and red carnations grew around her in her own personal winter wonderland. Somebody painted this beauty like that, and I desperately wished somebody would’ve created me like that.
A girl could dream.
A shame that the only place you can find this delicate rose was adjacent to a convenience store for junkies with a half-baked rhyming name. The day was almost over, and my fingers itched in excitement. Before long, I’d be able to go back to my apartment and practice guitar like I had done every night this summer.
My boss, Gene, passed me by as I stared from the top window at the mural across the street. He looped back around after seeing my absent-minded gaze. Gene stood in front of me with a mean stare. He pinched his earlobes and then tugged on them.
I bit my lip and then ripped Hendrix from my ears.
“Yeah?” I said. Gene crossed his arms.
“Are you not in the “Puff n’ Stuff Gift and Smoke Shop?”
“I am,” I said.
“Then act like it.” He said it sternly, and it made me think he was actually proud of this dump.
“Sorry,” I said. I took my earbuds out of my phone and leaned against the register. Gene didn’t move, and instead, looked over me with wary eyes.
“What are you listening to anyways?” he said. I shifted uncomfortably in my navy blue flat-top shoes.
“Oh, just Hendrix,” I said while looking down at my phone screen as if I had forgotten. Gene’s dirty green eyes widened.
“Ahh, good ol’ Jimi!”
He said it like he knew him personally.
“Hendrix was the ultimate figure of masculinity. In all of his best songs, he’s either running away from his girl or running her over. Hey Joe, Crosstown Traffic, Hear My Train A Comin’, It’s all heartache doll.”
“My name’s Kate,” I told him.
“Yeah, ok,” he said. A few responses to this started swirling in my head, but I wasn’t looking to get fired.
“You obviously know nothing about Hendrix if you think he was some kind of man’s man here to stroke your ego,” I said through gritted teeth. Gene shook his head.
“You just don’t get it. Girls back then only listened to Hendrix because he was sexy during a really, really unsexy time period. They just wanted to be dominated, and Hendrix knew that.” Gene then grabbed a hookah from one of the shelves. He angled it diagonally to his body and began thrusting his groin onto its base.
The guy was humping guitars and playing under his legs in front of excited white girls in a time when—Gene was cut short when we heard the door swing open from downstairs and the wind chimes echo. He looked between me and the stairs, then set the hookah down.
“Er—you can go I guess. This is probably the last one for the night. I’ll close up early today, my treat,” Gene said. I grabbed my leather jacket as soon as I heard “go” and walked downstairs. The customer signaled for my help, but I passed them without looking back.
I was too scared to pick up my guitar when I got back to my apartment, so I headed to bed early.
For the next twenty minutes, I couldn’t even close my eyes, fearing Hendrix would rise up in his red bell bottoms and psychedelic colored headband. When I did fall asleep, everything seemed to be okay. I dreamt I was on a snowy mountain playing my guitar. Green sagebrushes and red carnations grew from the fingerboard.
Horror - Will Skinner
The boy emerged from the tree line and stopped. He looked across the patch of wasteland that separated two forests. It was polluted and tainted by age-old nuclear fallout.
The boy was gaunt, dirty, and wore rags for clothes. He stood in the unearthly meadow and let his eyes wander. In the distance, he saw a house. It stood alone on a small hill in the middle of nowhere. It seemed uninhabited and must have sat there for years.
One word repeated itself in the boy’s mind: “Refuge”.
He ran towards the house as fast as his scrawny legs could carry him. As he neared the house, he noticed all the windows had been blacked out. He stepped up onto the front porch, and suddenly, a cool, tingling sensation raced across his skin, making his hairs stand on edge. Suddenly, the boy became anxious, not knowing what was behind the front door.
He knocked on the door. No answer. He knocked again, but much louder this time. Still no answer. He reached for the doorknob and grabbed it. It was cold. He struggled to open the door, but he barged his way in, falling to the floor while doing so. He stood up and brushed himself off.
The boy looked around the room. It was empty. The floor and ceiling were dark, red, and they pulsated like muscles. The walls looked like an endless black void.
The boy was now shaking uncontrollably. He was uncomfortable, and he wanted to leave the house immediately. He turned towards the front door, but it was gone. It had vanished like it was never there to begin with. There was no way out of the house. Fear sank in and overcame the boy’s body, paralyzing him.
The house was no place for refuge. It was a place of horror.
He stared into the endless black void where the door used to be.