Category Archives: Short Story

Viv’s World

by Nels Hanson

In the shade of the locust I could smell the scent of the hanging bunches of yellow blooms. The high clusters of finger-shaped leaves moved gently in the soft wind, filtering the light in shifting bars that played across the patrol car’s brown hood.

The wide expanse of blue-green lawn, dotted with pine and aspen and red maple, each tree an island in its own lake of shadow, had the air of a wild but well-manicured park, of somewhere north, perhaps in Canada.

There was the tart sweet tang of moist mown grass.

The white house with its three gables, blue roof, the long open porch and white cane rockers, the chairs on either side of tall windows with open sky-blue shutters, was delicious with the appealing immaculate neatness of a dream.

Sheriff Blair walked up the painted steps. He knocked at the old-fashioned door, which opened before his knuckles finished tapping at the pane of etched glass.

A handsome, white-haired man smiled and waved at the car after greeting Blair and shaking his hand. Then he turned, calling to someone in the house.

Hat in hand, Jack Blair stepped through the door.

“Blair’s the best,” said Ray Bell, Blair’s deputy. “I’ve been worried about him.”

“Don’t worry,” said Sergeant Glad. “We’ll crack it.”

Gazing up from the pleasing shadow of the honey locust, at the pristine sky that touched the tips of the snowy mountains, I almost said, “Sure,” as if all contorted problems were about to disentangle with the ease of an afterthought.

“It’s an odd crime.” I felt the balmy air against my face. “The hovercraft angle may be a break.”

“It makes sense to me,” Bell said. “Except for the hills. I don’t know if it could handle uneven ground.”

“I thought we ruled out the helicopter,” Glad said. “Too noisy.”

I was happy to let Glad and Ray Bell work it out. Here was Montana, at last, all I had hoped and hungered for as I’d counted the days in violent smog-bound Fresno. I remembered last night, when I woke in the chair before the fire the color of the cobalt flower and the startled deer was trapped for an instant in the cabin with the door half ajar—as if Ellen had just stepped out and was waiting in the ferns where the silver river passed.

I turned from the lovely house to drink in the sea of blue, clipped grass, and my heart turned over—

I reached for my gun.

“Roll up your window!”        

“Hi, Charlie!”

Bell ignored my warning, putting his hand out in greeting at the great black bear moving fast in muscular strides across the lawn.

The animal reared up, walking on two legs, six feet tall, its front claws gesturing outward. Glad had his hand on his shoulder holster.

“Hi, fella,” Bell said as the bear collapsed, going down on all fours and loping the remaining five yards to the car.

“No gum today. I forgot. Anyway, it’s not good for you. Viv says it’s off your diet.”

Bell ruffled the thick black fur between its ears.

The bear poked its long head into the car, sniffing and looking over at Glad, then stood up, placing two paws on the windowsill.

“You ever petted a bear?” Bell said.

Glad reached out a slow hand.

“Easy Charlie,” Bell said.

Its mouth opened showing rows of white teeth and Glad jerked back.

“He won’t bite,” Bell said. “Will you, Charlie?” He squeezed its black nose. “He’s like a big dog.”

Glad put out his hand and the bear licked his fingers with a wide dark tongue.

“Wait till I tell the kids,” Glad said.

The bear stretched its neck across Bell to reach Glad. It nosed at the silver tips of the string tie Glad had bought in Clovis.

I lifted my hand and the bear turned, alert, sniffing at my palm.

“Go ahead,” said Bell, “feel between his ears. He likes that.”

I stroked the glossy head, then a big ear, and again the bear opened its mouth in a satisfied yawn.

In a reflex I brought back my hand but the bear leaned over the seat, trying to lick me on the cheek.

“Okay, big fella,” Bell said. “You’ve met everybody. You’ve smelled us and we’ve smelled you.”

Bell grabbed its neck and the animal drew back, pulling its head from the car and dropping its paws to the ground, rubbing its side against the door.

“God,” Glad said. “He’s big.”

“He’s a pushover,” Bell said. “Aren’t you, Charlie?”

Charlie threw back his whiskered muzzle in agreement.

“Where’d they get him?” Glad asked. “He just runs loose?”

“Four years ago some hunter killed his mother. The Stones took him in. Viv bottle-fed him. He was just a cub.”

“Not anymore,” Glad said. “What’s he eat now?”

“He’ll eat anything. Won’t you, Charlie? Meat or berries, fish or the bark off a tree.”

I had settled in my seat, secretly slipping the gun into its holster, when something moved at my right elbow and I started again, leaning toward the steering wheel.

“Look. Here’s Blossom. Come to say hello. She won’t bite either.”

I sat up, expecting Charlie’s mate, and registered the tan narrow neck. Her face was a foot away.

I looked into the doe’s large dark eyes, the same eyes I had seen last night—after I dreamed Ellen was alive and kissed my ear as I caught the cool scent of the indigo flower’s  many rings of petals—before I woke before the blue fire and the little deer’s face was next to mine.

She had panicked, hit the fireplace, then spun and leapt in an amber streaming flash out the open door and I had almost followed—I could see my white shirt flicker as I disappeared among the shadowed pines and Ellen’s voice whispered at my side:

“Without coat or gun, Lambert hurried forever into the cool night, into the darkened green world—”

“Here, honey—” Glad waved his hand at the other window, but the deer didn’t move, staring back at me.

I raised my hand slowly and the doe’s wet, perfect black nose touched my fingers.

“She’s awfully pretty, isn’t she, Phil?” Glad said.

“She’s beautiful,” I said as I felt the fur like velvet along the bridge of her nose.

Who are you? I thought. Who sent you?

“What else is around here?” Glad said.

“Don’t worry,” Bell said. “No pet rattlesnakes. Just Charlie and Blossom. And Viv—”

The deer pulled back from my touch, alerted by some sound silent to human ears. Now a screen door slammed.

The doe turned with a clatter of shiny hooves on the gravel.

“Are those animals bothering you?”

A slender, attractive woman in her 50’s or early 60’s, with neatly cut short silver-gray hair, in boots and jeans and a Western shirt, stood on the porch.

“You shoo them away if they make a nuisance!”

“They’re all right, Viv,” Bell called.

She held a brown paper bag as she started down the steps, and the deer ran toward her, the bear hurried heavily around the front of the car.

“Hungry, are we?”

The animals smelled at the sack as the trim woman lifted it high in the air.

“Get back now,” she said firmly, “or I won’t give you any.”

The doe waited, then dropped her glistening nose. The bear stood still on all fours, head raised, attentive.

“That’s better. We’ve got company.” She threw two large cookies out onto the grass as the deer bolted and the bear like a talented but overweight sprinter quickly ambled toward its quarry.

“Hi, Ray.”

The woman smiled and approached the car.

“Your friends probably think you’ve brought them to the zoo.”

“Hi, Viv,” Ray said. “Nice to see you.”

“I brought you some oatmeal-nut and raisin.” She passed the bag into the car. I could smell her perfume, faintly, like fresh mint.

Or wisteria, the bunched blossoms hanging like lavender grapes from the trellis in the yard—I could taste their sweetness above the locust blooms.

“Is that the missing flavor?” Ellen’s voice had whispered at my ear as I felt her warm breath. “The blue flower?”

“Viv, this is Lieutenant Lambert, and Sergeant Glad, from Fresno. This is Viv Stone.”

“Nice to meet you, Mrs. Stone,” I said.

“Call me Viv.” She had dark-blue eyes nearly as large as the doe’s, a shapely, straight nose, and a generous smile.

She was a beautiful woman, I saw that now, the short hair and lack of make-up couldn’t hide it. She must have broken hearts as a girl. She was still breaking hearts.

“All the way from California, to see the Big Sky. Then this—” She shook her head. “It makes me ashamed.”

“No one’s been hurt yet,” I offered.

She stared at me with her navy, almost purple eyes.

“I mean people,” I amended awkwardly. “Just the livestock.”

“That’s true, ” she said. “So far we’ve been lucky—” She lifted a graceful hand and pushed her silver hair back, exposing a small ear and a clear lovely jaw.

“Things been quiet here?” Bell asked.

“So far so good. Knock wood,” she smiled, softly tapping at her temple. “When some of these people get up in arms they get some odd thoughts.”

“Isn’t that the truth? Bigfoot and aliens. Lieutenant Lambert here—”

“Phil,” I said.

“Phil helped Jack break that ring of survivalists, a couple of years ago.”

“Those bombings? Didn’t they—”

I nodded.

“A young couple,” Glad said.

“Just married,” Bell said. “On their honeymoon. Backpacking.”

“Terrible,” Viv said, then quickly, almost nervously, smiled her lovely, heart-wrenching smile. “I’m happy you fellows are here.”

“You’ve got a nice place,” I said.

“It’s great,” Glad said, grinning from under his wide new Stetson.

“I’ve been after Lloyd to get rid of the antlers in the wagon, for Blossom’s sake. I want to make a planter box. But all in all, I guess we think we’re in heaven, don’t we, Ray?”

“We are,” Bell agreed.

Now in tandem the bear and deer came up on either side of her, nuzzling her empty hands.

“I’ve got my kids,” Viv said. “What more do I want?”

And yet her smile and friendly voice were edged with an elusive sadness, her beauty was fragile and austere.

“I guess they’re my kids,” she said, petting their backs. “The ones I never had—”

Was the sweetness her response to the disappointment that the world was ugly when it might have been beautiful? When she’d shaken her head at the mention of the murdered newlyweds, I’d caught a ghostly glimpse of Ellen in the way the corners of her mouth had fallen.

“Do you know why,” my wife had asked me once, “the mix of guns and roses?”

The bear thrust its head through the window again, toward the sack on Bell’s lap, and Viv slipped a quick hand under its chin.

“Come on, you. You’ve had your snack. Anyway, we’re getting ready to eat.”

I imagined the four of them sitting together at the table, like something out of “Goldilocks,” and felt a pang of envy. All was well, within the borders of Viv’s country.

“I’ve got potatoes on. And chicken with country gravy. I asked Jack if you folks could stay, but he turned me down.”

Fool! I thought. Why not?

“Thanks,” Bell said. “We’re on duty.”

“I imagined you were,” Viv said. “I thought I’d ask.”

“Nice talking with you,” Glad said. “And meeting your family.”

“They’re a handful,” she said, “but I love them. Don’t I?” she sang as both Charlie and Blossom lifted their heads toward her.

“Thank you for the cookies,” I said.

“You’re most welcome. Maybe you can come again, for dinner, when this awful thing blows over.”

“We’ve got ’em all summer,” Bell said. “Maybe we can get ’em to pull up stakes and move to Montana.”

“Wouldn’t that be nice!” Viv said.

I could almost see the tall slender candle flame waving within her slim form. It rose and fell with each new gust of feeling. Someone should guard her always, so no clouds crossed her sun.

“Phil here is unattached,” Bell put in. “A widower. Jack and I have been trying to interest him in Beulah, Betty’s sister.”

“She’s pure gold,” Viv said to Bell. “She’s a jewel, an utter jewel.”

“Phil has nearly got the case all figured out,” Bell said. “He’s pretty smart.”

“We’ve got a ways to go—” I began modestly, then stopped. Bell’s remark was addressed to Viv.

“She’s a bright girl, very bright. She comes out a lot, to Sunday dinner. Always something new, something she’s read. You’d like Beulah,” Viv said, turning her lavender eyes to me. “Did you ever read Pilgrim’s Progress, about Beulah Land? In Hebrew her name means ‘married.’”

“That’s quite a recommendation. I’ll have to give it serious thought.”

“Don’t wait too long,” Viv said, looking closely at my face. “You’ll lose out on the chance of a lifetime—”

She swiveled, suddenly, both animals at her heels. She gestured with a hand, and the deer and bear ran around the corner of the house.

“She’s something, isn’t she?” Bell said. “Viv was in the movies.”

I felt myself believe it all again, America and Viv Stone and her peaceable kingdom, every bit of it. As she reached the steps Viv looked back and waved, then went into the house.

“She’s a real pretty woman,” I said. I realized the color of her eyes kept changing.

“And she likes Beulah,” Glad said.

“Yeah,” Bell said. “I’ll have to get Betty to call her.”

It was as if I heard a bird singing, a song and bird I hadn’t missed in 20 years, whose existence I had almost forgotten until now.

It all came back, like last night’s dream of Ellen and the sapphire flower she had offered across the silver stream like the river beyond the cabin, before the doe nosed my ear and I woke before the coals like blue diamonds or cubes of ice . . . .

Nothing had changed, there was a psychopath still on the loose, the Night Slayer, but I was happy—

The front door opened and Blair and Lloyd Stone stepped out onto the porch, shaking hands. Stone smiled widely and raised an arm. Blair came down the steps and got into the car.

“You guys meet the family?”

“They’re something,” Glad said.

“You got any more surprises?” I asked.

“Beulah,” Bell said. “Your sister-in-law. Viv thinks it’s a good idea.”

“Well,” Blair said, starting the car, “she ought to know.”

“You want a cookie?” Glad said, holding up the bag.

“Sure,” said Blair. “You guys getting hungry?”

“Hungry as a bear, huh, Bob?”

“That’s right,” Glad said.

I watched the white house and blue lawn, then the red barn and bluer silo beyond the wagon of white antlers as Blair started down the line of poplars and the slanting shadows that fell across the road of silver gravel.

“What’s next?” Glad asked.

“Web Olson’s place. He’s our kingpin around here, last of the cattle barons,” Blair said. “A wealthy loner.”

“Web’s getting up there, isn’t he, Jack?” Bell asked.

“Must be near 100. Still packing the Colt double action.”

I turned once more, like Ronald Coleman in “Lost Horizon” as he looks back at Shangri-La, to catch a last glimpse of the house and wooded park down the corridor of trees—

Viv’s world, where deer and bear walked in peace and I’d remembered Ellen holding the azure dahlia whose strong sweet scent matched some thing or person I couldn’t name.

The End

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Filed under Issue 7, Short Story

Journey of the Generations

By Moria Attias

I cannot say when this journey began. Perhaps it was when we were in the car, or maybe earlier when the date was set. Perhaps it’s even earlier, when it was scheduled the time before, and the time before that one, and the first time as well. Maybe it’s a two-year-old journey, from the moment my mother started her dialysis treatment.  Or is it a ten-year-old journey, beginning with the treatment for breast cancer my mother received, which damaged her kidneys. Perhaps it’s a fifty-year-old journey, back to when my grandfather died from the same illness. If so, I have no idea how far in our family tree it goes or when it stops, since it seems this is my heritage as well, like the artistic hand the three of us share, my grandfather, my mother and myself. No one in our family has it, like no one has our blood type. I prefer to start telling of this journey from the morning of the surgery, a Wednesday morning, the 16th of March 2011.

I was attending interviews all over the north on Monday and Tuesday, and I awaited another one scheduled on Thursday as well. When I woke up that morning I expected a day off, interrupted only for a few hours by the quest of taking my little cousin from kindergarten home, at quarter to four in the afternoon. My sister, stubborn as a rock, did not wake up that morning. She volunteered earlier to join our mother and to be with her during the surgery, which was set for the fourth time already in Zefat’s hospital. The purpose was to take out a tube in my mother’s chest, used in order to replace my mother’s blood with a clean one. She had another one in her arm, serving the same purpose, so she didn’t need this one as well. Since I was already awake by nine, I took my sister’s place and not long after ten, we were all in the car and father drove it up to Zefat.

The way up there was difficult for my father, who only a week earlier had surgery himself to remove a lump of cancer from his leg. I was there with him that day, when he was subdued with morphine. That was also the day my sister told me a kidney was found for mother. The transplant was what we were waiting for these past two years. When my sister told me that, we were walking on the bridge connecting the hospital my father was in to a mall, over the too many roads below. My sister said, “We need to start saving money.”

What for?”

They found a kidney for mom.”

Really?

Yes. The surgery will be in Russia. They found her some donor.”

Who? The macher?”

Yes.” We were half way over the bridge and I was more worried than happy, perhaps because of the somber tone of my sister. I expressed some concern about the way it will all happen, and how can we trust them to give her a good kidney in Russia, where horror stories come from. My sister said we should not worry about it, yet when I talked to father about this he simply shrugged, saying there is not much to be done but to trust our insurance company.

By the time we got there we were all irritated, after reminiscing about the past attempts of my mother to do this surgery there. Father didn’t want to go all the way into the hospital because of his throbbing leg, so he left us in the entrance and drove away to visit his aunt in the village of Shamai not far from there. While my mother and I were sitting and waiting (we waited for two hours), she expressed her complaints about this place, how neglected it is and swore this is the last time she is coming all the way there for this surgery. If it won’t happen today, she said she will do it elsewhere. I thought the architect did a great job, making the hospital feel like a box of glass to those who were inside of it, a box of glass in the midst of a mountain chain.

Mother and I read a daily newspaper we found there together and talked somewhat about politics. Somehow we got to the subject of her fellow patients in the round, twelve-bed room of the dialysis treatment. She said that the Arab ladies who come there never speak to anyone besides their daughters, and that they are always there with one of their daughters. I asked her if she feels jealous of them, that they always have company during the four-hour treatment, twice and even trice a week sometimes. My mother said that sometimes she does. “Sometimes it’s better when you have someone to talk to, and you don’t need to call the nurse for every move you want to make. You know, since I can’t move my right arm.” I knew.

Finally we were moved to the surgery area, which I claimed should have been more secured and closed to the curious eyes of every guest. It wasn’t so, and I understood any complaint about the state of neglect the hospital was in. It took some time, as expected, until we got in and were separated by the most unstable doctor I have ever seen. He had a limp and seemed to twitch every now and then. I was left alone with the other guests, whom I learned to despise after only five minutes of eavesdropping on their conversation. A skinny, blind, frog-face woman was talking about her plastic surgeries, and how she managed a doctor husband, which I did not mind much until she started telling racist jokes to an elderly couple. When stressed, I tend to develop hate towards uncaring company around me.

When my mother came out only thirty minutes later she said she felt dizzy and can still taste the anesthesia. She said that the nurse was right to call the action of this surgery “pulling out.” It seems the twitching doctor had some difficulty pulling out the tube and he had to pull hard. The image of a grandfather pulling a carrot out of the ground came to my mind. It didn’t take long until we were back in the first room for a short rest. Father was with us shortly afterwards, and before we were back in the car we grabbed a bite to eat at the hospital’s cafeteria.

Soon you will be able to eat anything you please,” I reminded my mother. The treatment not only meant exchanging her blood twice a week, but included also a diet my mother had a hard time keeping.

Watermelons and mushrooms.” Some of her favorites.

Bananas and melons.” She said in response, adding some other favorites she misses. I thought of salt. She was not allowed to eat salty foods, something she missed even more since she doesn’t like sweets at all.

Soon.” I said.

When we got home and after I made her a small dinner according to the diet’s prescription, I asked her if she is excited about the surgery, about traveling all the way to Russia. Surprisingly, she answered she was not. “I will probably get excited when it will be closer, or when I will actually be there.” She said. “Right now I don’t see a reason to get excited.”

A journey ends, only for another to begin. When does a journey end? Is it when you are back at home after a long day outside in a strange place? Is it when you finally find what you where looking for? Or perhaps it is when you defeat an enemy? All of the enemies? Perhaps it’s when you lay to rest eventually, when you die and the journey of your life ends. Perhaps it never ends, and your genetic package keeps moving on, from generation to generation, from grandfather to grandchildren, forever moving, forever changing, forever in a journey.


 

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Filed under Issue 6: Creative Non-Fiction, Prose, Short Story

The Kid’s Speech

By Ido Yakuel

After it happened for the third time that day, he felt like he was about to burst into tears. “I hate this,” he thought to himself. “I just hate it, and I hate this world, and I hate myself.” I guess that when you are 13 years and a few months old, there are three main things that are inevitable – you tend to be overdramatic, you want to get every desire fulfilled the moment you wish for it, and you insist on counting the few months when you say what your age is. In that sense (and in many others), he was not extremely different from anyone else his age; a typical teenager indeed.

Other major characteristics of puberty did not really bother him. He had face creams that were probably made out of nuclear fallout, for they wiped his zits out as quickly as the Iranian regime wipes out its opponents. His ratty mustache, which had just begun emerging from under his respectable nose, seemed quite cool and grown-uppy to him. Even his height, that summed up to a total of 150 unimpressive cm., did not make him feel concerned or less of a man. It was his voice.

He had, well, a girl’s voice. He was afraid, worried, terrified, that his voice would remain feminine for the rest of his life; a mark of Cain on his vocal cords. His parents tried to soothe him by repeating the “this is just a phase” mantra, and explaining that even Raphi Ginat was not born shouting “D-E-F-E-N-C-E” in a deep baritone voice. Occasionally that made him calm. A little. When he had spent time with other boys that were his age, he noticed every small nuance in their voices. Most of them sounded girly just like him, and some of them were even worse. Occasionally that comforted him. A little.

But these feelings were momentary. One thing, just one small thing, was all that was needed to make him instantly draw back into his shell of low self-esteem: a phone call. Whenever he answered the phone and someone who did not know him was on the other side of the line, they mistook him for a girl. For that reason he ran away from ringing phones as one runs away from lepers (unless one is specifically fond of ugly rashes). But sometimes, when he was home alone (and because his family had yet to possess the wonder of an answering machine), he had to answer. The dialogue was always the same:

“Hello. Is Mommy home?”

“No, she’s out.”

“Am I speaking to her daughter?”

“No, it’s her son.”

“Oh, I’m so sorry. Can you please tell her that (enter random ego-crusher’s name here) called?”

He knew that it was not the caller’s fault that his voice was feminine, but why should he care? He was humiliated, and that was what mattered. And so, he never told his parents who called. That was his retribution on everyone: the caller for not recognizing him as a manly man; his parents, who genetically screwed him; and God, just in case he hated when people do not deliver messages.

Some months later, when he was 14 years and one month old, his parents had had enough of their kid’s shenanigans and bought an answering machine. One day he was home alone, and the phone rang. The answering machine, which was supposed to take the call after 6 rings, chose to play hard to get. After no less than 18 rings, he knew he had no choice but to conquer his fears and pick up the phone. He took a deep breath, cleared his mind from negativity, and answered.

“Hello. Is Mommy home?”

“No, she’s out.”

“Is it her son?”

“No, it’s her… wait, what?”

In that second, just like Pinocchio after he was touched by the blue fairy’s magic wand, he suddenly became a real boy. Just to be sure, he recorded a message in the answering machine, and was stunned by the results: he had, well, a boy’s voice. For some reason, he decided to rush to the bathroom mirror in order to examine himself. He discovered that he was much taller than he remembered, and he even saw some hairs growing on his chin and not just above his lip. How could he not notice this huge change in his persona? How did he not see that he was becoming a (soon to be) man?

Only today, in retrospect, he realizes why he missed it: back then, he was only 14 years and one month old. At this age you are still overdramatic, still impatient, and still counting the months; you tend to miss a lot of things when you are like that. If only he could, he would call that 13 years and a few months old kid and tell him to calm down, and that everything is going to be just fine.

On second thought, it’s better off that way. That kid needed to learn some things on his own, and he probably would not have answered the phone anyway.

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Filed under Issue 6: Creative Non-Fiction, Short Story

Naked Jerusalem

By Ahmad Kaiyal

Jerusalem, the city I loathe most.

Since my first few days here as a university student, I think, the most striking or most prevailing feature about this city is its grayness. Everywhere is a shade of gray. Even on sunny days the city seems to lay low in solemn gray as if the bricks of the city conspire to outstrip the sun. The whole city sometimes feels like a big jail compound. If you walk through some neighborhoods you would notice the barred windows. That always kept me on edge.  I always thought to myself, “It must be to keep people from plunging to their deaths.” Can I blame them?

I had just finished working. Another day at the office: transcribing, translating, transfiguring my time at the outskirts of the city.  It is evening time on a Friday, naturally, no buses are to be found and I could not or would not wait for a taxi. Kanfei Nesharim was swarmed with Orthodox Jews, going out on a casual stroll or on the way to a synagogue. I turn off my iPod for fear of committing sacrilege. Having been met with some suspicious gazes, I walk a little bit faster.

I am not a religious man. I don’t fear God, but I do fear his people, especially when they come in large numbers. I begin my pilgrimage, destined to my Mecca, a small room in building number sixteen of the French Hill dormitories .It’s a straight line from here to the central station. I’ll probably feel less unsafe there. Once I get over myself and my phobia, my pace slowly subsides and I try to free myself from my prejudice. I try to look beyond the coats. There are families enjoying the fresh air on undiscriminating sidewalks. I should do the same.

Night is almost evenly spread on the city. Shadows of buildings and trees extend and lay down, weary of a long day, for a moment or two before the obscure, inspective street lights beam down on the pavement.

I loathe Jerusalem the most on weekends. It is not a city on weekends, just a silhouette of one. Finally I reach Jaffa Street. I see that it is after ten on the central bus station’s big clock I see how the Via Dolorosa (way of suffering, that is) came to be here in this city. The motion of the city dwindles slowly as I make my way through Jaffa Street heading towards downtown. The city is thinly veiled in yellow lights and fog falls down like a handkerchief wrapping the streets. There is no one on the street, and it feels as if the city is abandoned. Walking for a few minutes without meeting anyone, I almost believed that to be the case. The buildings line up on each side of the street, buildings of no remarkable height with bolted doors. There is hardly any of outstanding countenance. Here stands the faceless homogeny of the city. This, where whatever was melts with whatever is.

On Mahane Yehuda, I notice an old man in rags dragging his feet across the brick road of the old market. His back turned to me, while the arched ceiling of the market embraces his little existence, quite a picturesque spectacle. That`s when I began to notice the architecture of the city. The arched windows, like inverted smiles looking up, the sly cornices elegantly crowning the building’s tops. I can imagine how it might be easy to fall in love with the city when no one walks the streets. The night brought an order that fled with daylight. It was waltz to a shy moonlight. The balconies overhang on the sides of the street, eavesdropping on the sound of the lonely steps that happened to pass. A flower pot, here or there, would occasionally be caught spying on passersby. Being clueless about the technicalities of architecture, I could not name the styles that composed the landscape as I am most certain there is more than one. Not even the roadwork and preparations for the light train could ruin the experience.

Zion Square had no soul in view to offer either. Perhaps it was cold that night. It was a good night regardless. However, this is the part where it gets tricky. I need to get to French Hill. I know where French Hill is but I don’t know how to get there. (Well, not directly). I decide to take a shortcut. I remembered the last time I took a shortcut. I ended up in a neighborhood where mavet la`aravim would be ceremoniously painted on the walls. I actually got lost there and it took me quite some time to find my way out. I had to go through narrow streets, small cramped heavily populated areas. This is haredi Jerusalem, home of the ultra-Orthodox, the area between Jaffa Street and HaNevi’im Street.  It was on a day like today; a Friday. No wonder I hate Fridays. All I remember is me thinking, “Don’t talk! Don’t talk! Don’t talk! Act normal.” Express an interest in that building over there, or this garbage can over here. Don’t act suspicious when a mob of people could pass by. Good times!

Back again, Zion Square, I take a shortcut. All I know is that I should head eastwards or Arab-wards or anywhere-wards just not here-wards. And I do, very silently avoiding eye contact whenever an eye contact was possible. Until I reach the Arab side of the city. It’s dead on this side too. Friday is a holy day for Muslims. Gotta love Fridays. I still feel a need to walk fast. And look around every now and then to make sure no one is following. There is practically no one on the street except for an old tourist couple that I met next to a hotel. Everything is closed. I can even feel the sky closing in on me. The buildings on this side exhibit a rougher terrain. Government buildings are characterized by high fences and blockades on entrances. There is a lurking threat here, a concealed fire awaiting ignition. And everyone knows it. Everyone knows that Jerusalem is a war zone.  That is the tragic irony. The peace “God” bequeathed us with.

I could never feel safe in Jerusalem. With all the mosques, churches and synagogues I know that when someone pulls a knife out and politely stabs you, God is nowhere to be found. I could not help my anxieties and fears when I was outside and for the most of it I like to believe it is only in my head.  I like to believe that there is something I do not see or do not understand which others, obviously, see in Jerusalem. Slowly into the night, I fade out of the city and into my residence thinking…

“There is a certain beauty to this city. There must be. There must be.”

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Filed under Issue 6: Creative Non-Fiction, Short Story

A Fish Out of Water

By Arye Dobuler

I began my studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in 2008 after a seven year hiatus from high-school. During that period I served in a combat reconnaissance unit, volunteered in the US as a youth coordinator in Great Neck, New York, for the Jewish Agency, and managed a pizza shop.  So hitting the books again, listening to lectures, giving in papers and taking tests were not an easy transition for me. This new stage in my life was complicated even further by a three-week stint of army reserve duty on the Golan Heights smack dab in the middle of the semester. It took me a while to get back into the groove of things but as the last month of my first semester of university drew to a close, I was pretty sure I had a good handle on the material and was confident that I would do well.

   It was near the end of December and I had spent Shabbat by my parents’ house in Beit-El. My friend Alexis was just wrapping up her Birthright trip and we were scheduled to meet the next day. It would be the first time in eight years that we saw each other and we were both really excited. We had met and become close friends during three consecutive summers that I had worked in a camp in Atlanta, Georgia. Amazingly we had maintained a very close friendship over the years via the phone and skype. She had extended her trip a week just to spend time with me.

   So after Shabbat ended and my cell rang with her number on the screen, I was naturally surprised when I picked up and heard her crying hysterically.

   “Lexie, please calm down. What’s the matter?” I asked, genuinely puzzled.

   “The army will draft you and I won’t get to see you!” she replied with loud heart wrenching sobs.

   I knew what she was referring to, especially after I had calmed the same fears voiced by my parents that very afternoon.

The whole Southern front with Gaza had been heating up for months with thousands of rockets and mortars being fired at Israeli civilians. The government had finally had enough and it seemed like things were gearing towards a major operation that would eventually include a ground invasion. Plus of course there was the desire to rescue Gilad Shalit, a young IDF soldier who had been kidnapped in June 2006.

   “Don’t worry,” I explained gently. “I really don’t think that I will be called up. I just finished three weeks of reserves and this won’t escalate into an all out war. The army has plenty of other soldiers you know, they don’t need me.”

  I heard the sobbing subsiding and Alexis sniffled, “I guess you’re right.” Then, trying to sound more optimistic she added, “So where are we going tomorrow? You want to just meet up for dessert or have dinner?”

   Before I could respond, I heard a call waiting tone, and I asked her to wait a moment. I switched to the other call and heard: “This is an automated message from your reserve unit. Please input your personal I.D. number for verification.”

   I was stunned, and thought that perhaps this was just a cautionary drill to test the phone systems. I pressed in my code and held my breath as the stilted female voice continued, “This is not a drill. This is not a drill. Report to your emergency assembly points in four hours. This is an emergency call up order.” The words echoed in my aching head as I switched back to Alexis.

   “Who was it?” she asked suspiciously.

   For a moment I was speechless, a thousand thoughts running through my head. A mental checklist of all the things I would need to grab and pack already forming in my mind. “Lexie, sweetie I’m so sorry. I’ve been called up. Maybe it’ll be over in a few days and I’ll still be able to see you.” I wanted very much to believe that myself.

    I heard a sharp intake of breath and the crying resumed, softer this time and somehow with more sadness. “Just promise me you won’t do anything stupid.”

   My mouth felt very dry. “I’m so sorry. I have to go get ready. I’ll call when I can.” I hung up and slowly walked towards the staircase leading downstairs to where both my parents were. As I walked down, I saw my dad typing away at the computer keyboard and my mom near him reading a book. I dreaded what I needed to say. I cleared my throat and said quietly, “Abba, Ima, I have to go. I was called up.”

   Shocked silence was the only response for a moment. Then my dad stood up and hugged me. My mom just buried her head in her hands and wept, and all I could do was stand there awkwardly, my throat constricted. This was my third emergency call up and I was only 25. My history with the army was loaded. I had been injured by a bullet through my left arm in a gunfight in an Arab village in the Southern Hebron hills during my regular army service. I returned to my unit a month later. In 2006, a year after my release from the army, I got my first emergency summons and went to fight in Lebanon. The second call up was classified. Now here I was with a third one. My heart hammered with a mix of adrenaline and dread. The scars on my left arm felt strangely itchy and tingly. This was happening again!

   The clock on the wall showed 12:14 AM. There were no busses at that hour so I asked my father to drive me to Jerusalem. I quickly got into uniform, laced up my red boots and packed whatever gear I had into a green duffel bag. I gave my mother a big hug and kiss and told her it would be alright. She just whispered, “Please be safe.”

   The drive into Jerusalem was very quiet, neither my father nor I breaking the thundering silence. What could we say? I tried very hard to keep positive. Maybe the threat of invasion would cause Hamas in Gaza to stop firing and back down. Maybe we wouldn’t need to go in after all. Maybe I would be home in a few days. Maybe…

   My dad pulled up to the curb near the assembly courtyard not far from the northern entrance of the capital. Hundreds of other reservists were pouring in. I recognized a few drawn faces that turned my way. My father and I both stepped out of the car and he wrapped me in a bear hug. “Be well. Stay safe. May God watch over you. I love you and I’m very proud of you.”

   “Thanks Abba. I love you too. Please tell Ima not to worry. I’ll be in touch when I can. Hopefully this will be over soon and everyone will return safely.”

I gathered my duffel and went to join the others queuing in line to sign in that they were present. After I registered, I was ushered onto a waiting bus and when it was full the driver shut the doors and drove off heading north. My unit specializes in the Golan area and I assumed like the rest of the men that we were being sent up to deter Syria from possibly getting involved when things commenced down south. When we arrived at the supply base, we signed on for our weapons and combat equipment. Sergeants and officers were directing the flow of men and trying to organize everyone into their respective companies, platoons and squads.

   After eating a quick breakfast, we headed down to the firing ranges to zero in our rifle sights. Rumors ran rampant about what, if any, roles we might play in the coming days, and how long this conflict might last. Everyone had an “inside source” but of course it was all nonsense. No one except perhaps the battalion commander and upwards knew where we were headed.

   Wild speculation continued until late that Sunday night, as everyone gathered around empty barrels that had been filled with wood and lit to keep the men warm. That’s when our captain came out and told us to gather our gear. We were going south to train and prepare to join the invasion force. The men hustled and soon we were headed south. Those that were smart and able slept, but my mind just kept flashing through scenarios and working out possible tactical situations that might arise.

   When we arrived at the desert base down south not far from the Gaza border, we were all exhausted. The officers showed us where to stow our gear and showed us the tents that would be our homes for the duration of our stay there. We all crashed into the narrow canvas army cots and fell asleep. It would be the last night of ‘good’ sleep for a while. From the moment we woke up early Monday until Friday afternoon, we engaged in various battle drills and close-quarter combat refresher courses. Navigation, equipment and weapon proficiency tests were thrown in as well. Our cell-phones were collected by army intelligence so no one could give any critical info that might somehow be leaked to the enemy. Before I gave mine up, I called my parents and Alexis, who was leaving that Sunday. I told them that I would not be able to be in touch for a while, that I thought of them frequently and I hoped to return home soon. They responded with profuse well wishes and tearful prayers.

    By Friday evening we were part of the land blockade around Gaza and awaiting orders to cross the border. The weekend passed tensely and with utter dullness; the calm before the storm. We watched as rockets from Gaza repeatedly arced into the air, trailed thin streams of dirty white smoke, flew over our heads and exploded several kilometers into the rear. Each time our teeth clenched and we prayed no one was hurt. IAF planes overhead flew sorties and struck terrorist positions and headquarters.

   We watched and we waited. Each of us caught up in our own thoughts and private inner turmoil. The time passed agonizingly slowly. During a final briefing by the battalion colonel, we received word that regular army infantry units had just crossed the border. Our turn was rapidly approaching. A sleepless Saturday night followed, and most of us just gazed at the flashes across the razor wire fences of the border.

   “Form out. Check your gear. Let’s go!” shouted our company commander at around 3:30 a.m., in the darkness of Sunday morning, the 4th of January.

   My heart raced and I stretched my cold, cramped and fatigued body. I remember thinking that it was so strange, as we stood in the desert to be so cold. The nights were freezing nightmares and the days were only slightly better. It was an unusual cold spell that we were not properly prepared for; just another added discomfort. But those thoughts were pushed aside the moment I fell into place in my column as it started crossing through the gateway and into the barren no-mans land beyond. I checked to make sure all the soldiers in my squad were accounted for. Satisfied, I concentrated on what lay ahead. As I stepped across the border, towards the distant outskirts of the northern Gaza community of Beit-Hanoun, a deeper feeling of icy cold gripped my heart. The safe embrace of Israel was gone and I was once again on enemy territory.

   For the next eighteen days my unit and I fought through Beit Hanoun and beyond into Beit Layhia. We encountered mortar fire, snipers, booby traps and sporadic gunfire unleashed from Hamas militia hiding in tunnels and windows. The fighting was close-quarters and terrifying, but it would take too long to fully detail here. Suffice it to say, that I considered Gaza to be hell on earth.

All of us just wanted to accomplish the mission and return to our lives. This thought was hammered home when, hunkered in a house for shelter, I came upon one of my fellow staff sergeants, a burly tattoo artist whose arms were covered with twisting and snarling dragons. He was a real tough guy and an excellent soldier. As I came near I noticed that he was crying. For a second I stood awkwardly, not knowing if I should retreat and leave him be, or try to find out what was wrong. This is not the kind of man you expect to see crying. The dilemma was solved when he noticed me and in a choked voice said, “I really miss my wife and kids. I just want to see them.” For some reason, that to me was incredibly touching. I just silently patted him on the shoulder and moved on to check with the other soldiers.

   On the morning of Wednesday the 21st, we were told that a ceasefire had been agreed upon. All around, the gunfire and explosions were dying down.

   The intelligence officer notifying us probably expected to see relief in our weary faces and hear cheers of happiness. But all that he saw were tears in some soldiers’ eyes and angry determination in others. I was among the latter. We had not finished our mission. Shalit had not been rescued and Hamas had not been overthrown. No one wanted to stay, and all yearned for home, but we were willing to stay and fight. That however, was not up to us. Within hours we were pulled out and packed into buses for the nearly four-hour ride up north to the supply base where we returned our weapons and combat gear. I made a round of phone calls to notify friends and family that I was safe and coming home. Unfortunately, Alexis had already left the country and so I would email her that I was safe when I got back home. After the calls, those of us returning to Jerusalem boarded buses once again and settled in for the ride home.

    I remember stepping off the bus by the central bus station. It was 2 a.m. Thursday morning and I was in a filthy uniform and nearly falling off my feet from extreme exhaustion. I couldn’t think properly and all I wanted was to go to sleep. I couldn’t return to my parents’ house so I hailed a cab to my dorm room on Har Hatzofim. When I got there, I collapsed into bed and fell into a fitful sleep, echoes and images of the battles flooding my mind.

   I awoke at around 10 a.m. and groggily stood to take a long well-needed shower. The accumulated grime of the past few weeks washed off in a small river of black. When I was done I made the regrettable choice of going to class. There was only a week left to the semester and my brain was so addled, I could hardly remember what we were studying. I had missed in total almost seven weeks of my first semester due to army service, and I was now feeling terribly pressured about the impending finals.

   Sitting in class, after receiving many warm greetings, I couldn’t help but feel that something was wrong. I didn’t feel like I belonged. Life had continued as usual while the war was raging and even now people spoke about trivial things and smiled as if nothing had happened, while I was still hearing gunfire and feeling shockwaves of explosions.

   Thank G-d, no one in my unit had been killed, but about half a dozen were wounded. I could still vividly hear the cries for a medic after Roee took two bullets to the lower stomach when we were clearing out our first house. What was I thinking coming back now to a place that felt like la-la land? I looked down at my trigger finger on my right hand and saw the small callous that lay between the first and second digits. It was so alien in this academic environment. I felt disoriented and silently struggled to breathe. My brothers-in-arms were still in hospitals and I…I was a fish out of water.

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Filed under Issue 6: Creative Non-Fiction, Short Story

I Don’t Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

By Yaeli Greenblatt

Wednesday morning’s clock rang, and I hopped out of bed. I don’t take my time in the morning because I might start missing the sweet comfort of my bed, and change my mind about getting up. After assembling my things in a bag, I went to the kitchen cupboard, grabbed a banana and chocolate flavored energy bar and was off. When I arrived at the university cafeteria area it was already class time so the place was pretty much deserted, perfect for catching up on some reading. Tobias Wolf was first, and then Maya Angelou’s “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.” It was beautifully written, and I immediately felt close to the protagonist. She was innocent but self-aware, and charming, really charming. By the time I got to the part where her stepfather abuses and rapes her, to the part where she describes the physical feelings, the way her body changes, I started feeling nauseous. I felt like gravity was changing inside of me. So I decided to take a break and maybe get some food to settle my stomach. I get dizzy pretty often because of low blood pressure. The dizziness didn’t bother me at first, but when I reached the coffee stand it got too strong for me to stand. I sat on the floor taking a minute to collect myself. I had already picked out what I wanted: a pastry with goat cheese and pesto. In my head, I was already berating myself for being a drama queen, making a spectacle of not feeling well. I stood up, and –

____

There was darkness. Then there was a dream I was trying to wake up from. The first thing that I remember when I gained consciousness was the sound of my own voice. Not from the outside but from inside my own body. Screaming and gasping for air. Then I felt the cold on my face. I was sweating. Then more sounds, like a volume button that was turned on, like in the movies. I heard people in a large room far away and more people talking anxiously close by. Not familiar voices. That’s when I realized what happened. At the same time, the floor rematerialized under me. I wanted to get up but my body was not yet obeying commands. I started moving my arms trying to reassemble, but producing more of a crawl. It came out like one of those floor exercises we do in modern dance class. “In and stretch, don’t forget to breathe.” Finally I managed to sit up. I just couldn’t stop crying. Through the hysterics I wanted to be myself and started asking all the analytical questions: “What happened?” and “How long was I out?”

 The action film in front of me continued though, through a light haze of detachment: Paramedics, an ambulance, my mother at the hospital yelling at random people: “Why is she not lying down? Someone get her some water!” Aharon also showed up looking composed as usual. Actually he was really scared. He told me so afterwards, and then I remembered that his face looked a little white. My dad never actually made it there. He rushed to Hadassah Ein Karem Hospital, parked his car and went up looking for me, only to discover that I was in Hadassah Mount Scopus on the other side of Jerusalem.

 After doing the complicated neurological examination which entailed walking in a straight line and touching my nose with my finger, I apparently proved my stability as well as my sobriety. Nevertheless, they had to do some tests “just to make sure.” The first one was hooking me up to some alien looking devices. Electrode thingies were glued to my head while disco flashing lights went on and off. I passed that one with flying colors. Aharon said that the wires around my head looked like a crown and took a picture with my phone. That made me feel better, though I don’t think it looked like a crown at all. Next they took me to the alien ship for a CT (cat scan). Contrary to my prior belief, it did not involve kittens walking all over you. Instead I had to close my eyes and was driven back and forth on a treadmill table that made funny noises. It felt like they were sending me by fax; whoever received it said that I was fine.

I’m on the wide spectrum of epilepsy. I had heard that term before, “has this ever happened to you?” the smiling doctor asked me, his official looking clip board blankly waiting for my answer. It had happened before. Six years ago, while I was up north on a pre-army program I had fainted while giving blood. Similarly, I got sent to the hospital except this time it took my mother a little extra time to get there since it’s a four hour drive from Jerusalem. Though, with her magic mother powers she made it much faster and was there by the time I got out of the hospital. I always suspected my mom could teleport if she really wanted to. That time when we went to the doctor, epilepsy was only an option, a scary bad word that we were hoping to avoid. We did avoid it for a while, deciding I had just fainted and sending that word on vacation for the next six years. But now it was back, and after more than one incident it’s harder to ignore.

So, I’m on the wide spectrum of epilepsy which really means nothing but a percentage of likelihood I’ll fall down again. I don’t work well with math, so that percentage didn’t make an impression on me. I used to think epileptics all walked around with bicycle helmets on. That would be ironic since I don’t even know how to ride a bike. What it actually means is that my mom will be hysterical over me for a while, and that I have to take a pill every day. My dad looked it up online and found a long list of side effects. “It’s not likely that you’ll get any of them, but let us know if anything unusual happens.” So my life turned into a collection of symptoms. Did I sleep late, did I not fall asleep, my head itched a little, I forgot my phone somewhere. Do all these things mean something? Nothing is just nothing anymore. The emotional things are the worst. Am I really happy today or is it a side effect? Maybe paranoia is on the list as well; I can hardly say I didn’t have that before. Every little thing could be a symptom. So when my leg started itching I felt obligated to tell my mother. That was a mistake. She showed up at my house 15 minutes later insisting that we go to the allergy doctor. I’m not an expert on doctor etiquette, but that seemed like cheating on the other doctor. The one who said on the phone, “it’s O.K, just let me know if it spreads.” So we went to the allergy guy. It was Purim and he was wearing a funny jester hat. He was the nicest doctor I ever met. After taking one look at my foot he said I should stop taking that pill immediately. Turns out, my mom was right, I was allergic to the medication and that rash was an infection.

 It’s been a couple of months since the whole ordeal and I still can’t make up my mind which is more troubling: worrying I might lose consciousness at any minute, or worrying about the damage medication might cause my body. I still carry those pills around in my wallet, mostly as a talisman. As if they will protect me just by being there. Also, they remind me. Generally it’s good to forget, makes it less likely to happen again; but every once in a while I see that shiny silver packet of pills and know that there is something in me that I just have to deal with. Even if it never happens again, it’s just there. The memory of completely losing control.  The worst thing is that I don’t think I’ll ever go back to reading that Maya Angelou story. I hope it turned out all right. I hope that girl grew up strong and put it behind her. What I really hope is that it never really happened.

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Filed under Issue 6: Creative Non-Fiction, Short Story

Life is Tough! Deal with It!

By Milana Badalov

You go to school every day. You work your butt off to be the best. You succeed. You are the best in your class.

You grow up; it’s time to go to the army. You get a strangely long shortcut and go to university first, but you are always holding in your mind the six years you’ll have to give back to the army. In university, you work so hard that you eventually faint from weakness, which the doctor called “over-exhaustion caused by lack of sleep.” Despite it all, you finish your first year with a smile. Your GPA is close to the one you had in high school.

A month or two before your second year in college you get this innocent white piece of paper in your mail box: “Back-to-Service Order.” You start preparing yourself for the boot camp you knew you’d have to go through. You get ready for it. You buy all the stuff you think you need. You know that’ll last only a month.

On the morning of your quasi-recruitment, you put your uniform on, hoping that you look authoritative. The time is 5:37 a.m. and you’re waiting for your friends at the railway station. You slept for two hours and feel like you’re heading towards the unknown. The thing that everyone else usually does by the age of eighteen, you’ll go through in your twenties.

Passengers pass you by, look at you, and admire you. You feel so proud – now you’re a soldier in the Israeli Defense Force. Your friends arrive, you get on the train, and you take a seat and wait. They talk, they laugh, and they have no worries. You sit there like a stranger, hoping that everything will be alright.

You get to the stated time and place. You go through some bureaucratic paper work and then finally you get on the bus to the camp. The commander sets some rules, don’t do this, do that, blah, blah, blah…. You sit there and wait. You’re doing what you’re told to do, you function. No room for judgment. For two weeks you don’t think, you just function. Suddenly they take you to this place full of ammunition. You are terrified. You think to yourself, “I am a future army English teacher, why the hell do I need to hold a gun?!” You try to stay optimistic, you don’t think about what you’ll soon have to do with this gun. After a long day of running around, you’re dismissed to bed. But don’t you ever forget your gun!

4 a.m. You should hurry up; you have to be downstairs at the roll call in twenty minutes. You manage to get there on time. After that you’re served the junk they call breakfast. You’re heading towards the firing range. Oh my G-d, you’re actually going to activate this heavy piece of metal.

Time passes. It’s already 16:05, and you’re still waiting for your turn. They call your number, so you enter. You put the little pointy bullets into the cartridge, as you were instructed. Now, after about two weeks of hibernation, your brain has started to work again. The first thought you have is that you hold a killing machine in your arms. You can literally hurt someone. These thoughts reinforce your fear, especially when you are so clumsy.

“First five are test shots, ready? On my call, fire!” yells the platoon commander. “Fire!” Everyone expects you to pull the trigger. You hear the sound of the first discharge. Your shoulder hurts as if it was kicked. Your hands sweat. You wonder what the hell just happened and then you realize that you fired your first shot. You pull the trigger another four times. You’re shaking. You feel too much adrenaline in your veins. Your uniform is wet. You are breathless. You don’t like it at all. You continue following the orders of your supervisors. You finish the first round. You go outside and pick a corner to sit in. It’s dark. You remove your bullet proof vest, your M16. You crash on the floor. You start crying.

You think to yourself that no one should feel this terror. You realize that naïve and helpless children must do this right after their school years are over. But you also realize that your country has no choice. If our finest boys and girls wouldn’t protect us, we wouldn’t exist. You sit there all by yourself and think whether it is worse being the shooter or the target. Your only consolation is that in two weeks your life will continue…

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Filed under Issue 6: Creative Non-Fiction, Short Story