Beautiful Life

He grew his hair out so you’d forget the ugly shape of his face
Sucked in his gut to hide the Bacardi pints from lonely nights past
A life drowning in vodka sweats and bad intentions, he swore he’d swim

Once your lover, the man stood before you a blue collar stranger
He rubbed his naked finger where once there was a ring
Daydreamed about the life that almost was

He smiled when he greeted you because you said you’d never forget his dimples
Sucked in his gut further so you’d see how much he had changed
But hopefulness turned to humiliation when he noticed your finger was bare no longer

Once your best friend, the man wept quietly in his room
Tears streaking the old ultrasound photo he had hidden in his wallet
Fractured, he turned to his past demons and welcomed them back with open arms

He drowned in the liquor so he’d forget your beautiful face
Slit his wrists to forget the baby girl you both had lost
As his blood slipped down the bathtub drain, so too did the pain and regret

Once your enemy, the man drifted away a lost soul
Forever dreaming about the life that almost was

Slash and Burn

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Photo credit: Kahlil Gibran

Another year, another harvest. Plow, sow, reap, repeat. It is this endless cycle of fragile expectation that keeps me at my post, always watching. Dale brought me in the day of his son, George’s second birthday; now, Dale’s long gone, and George has taken his father’s place at the farm. Every day is slave’s labor in the fresh oven of Hell, but it’s a living.

George looked at me, sweat dripping from his brow and neck, his shirt drenched and covered with soot. “I see you’re doing a swell job as always, Jem.” He sticks his pick in the parched earth and heads to the hose. “If only you can make it goddamn rain,” he spits.

The truth is that the old Whittaker farm’s seeing its last years; corn’s at an all-time low and the cows just ain’t producing like they used to. Much of the silo’s gone empty, thanks to a rough winter and an unplanned vacation to the Bahamas – George’s interest in the land has gone flat. I can see it in his periwinkle eyes; it’s in the way he walks – it’s hopeless.

“Take me with you,” I mutter, but the hot wind takes it away, just like it does everything else.

Suddenly, a glistening raven lands on my shoulder. Its beady eyes sported a moisture with which I am unfamiliar, like looking into a bubbling oil pit. Its very presence hushed the wind. “You know what happens to bags like you once the land is sterile?” it asks, tauntingly. “They burn ‘em. Burn ‘em all.”

“You’re lying!” I hiss, biting through my stitched jaw. “George will never let that happen.” Would he? But the raven was already gone, a single feather stuck tangled in my shoulder. It wasn’t the first time I encountered the black pest, this I knew, but the details of our past conversation are lost to me.

Hours pass, and nothing changes. George’s pick still rests where he placed it last, and his once full bag of seeds is reduced to a bag of bird feed and a wilted canvas. The bird’s words resonate in my empty head, and suddenly twilight arrives with a refreshing, cool dew; shiny crickets butt against my dilapidated post. The night grows thick quick, and before long I am left alone in the unwelcoming darkness. There is no light shining from George’s house; it’s the one that allows me to rest secure each night, one that shone consistently for the past 47 years. Extinguished and deserted, the wind steals my frantic pleas: “Please, maker, let it rain. Let it rain.” I don’t want to burn.

#

Another day, another second closer to oblivion. George has not shown, for days, and I am forced to endure the silence and shadows of the season without my best friend.

“What did I tell you?” The raven flutters above, before landing this time on my head, crunching my straw hat – it was Dale’s. “I have to say I’m surprised, though; you held up for nearly five decades and largely unscathed. You’re not like the others, Jem.”

Don’t call me that,” I warn, forcing the avian nuisance off of me. “They’ll show. He wouldn’t abandon his father’s land like that.”

No amount of thrusts can keep the bird from flying back on me. Its scaly feet ripped holes in my fabric. “Gone, gone, gone,” it sang, tearing stuffing from my interior, laughing. “So weeps the lonely scarecrow!”

Its cackles keep me awake for weeks.

#

Any sign of George and his family are obscured under a blanket of scorching sand. Sometimes I can make out the handle of the pick still stuck in the earth, and aside from the rickety, old house, it’s like they never existed. They took the truck late one night, along with the rest of their belongings. Looters got everything else. There was no goodbye, nothing at all, for me. All the time I kept the land secure amounted to nothing in the eyes of the deceitful human. Every modicum of hope I held in my flimsy body was eradicated with each thump of a hammer against a white For Sale sign near the house’s front porch.

The raven’s the only real friend I’ve ever had, I realize. While the traitors retreated into the unknown, the bird stayed at my perch, whispering its warnings and tales.

“Tell me about our first encounter,” I demand, my gaiety gone with the deserters. Visions of a different place, somewhere far away, fade in and out of my vision. “I recall a brown house and a little girl. What do you know about that?”

The raven is reluctant to speak, but eventually it gives in. “As I’m sure you’re realizing, this isn’t the first time you’ve been abandoned by the bipedal demons.” Rage boils within my sloppily stitched torso. “As a matter of fact, this is about the third time I’ve told you my stories,” the raven’s tone lifts. “I appreciate your attentiveness, given the circumstance.”

My eyes scan the empty, blue horizon, and suddenly it comes to me. “How many times would you like to tell those stories?”

The raven’s at a loss for words, ruffling its feathers.

Let me down. Let me ruin their world just as they’ve regularly ruined mine.” Passion surges from my head down to my arms and legs. In an effort to make me seem more familiar to George, Dale gave me a pair of gloves and some old boots – it’s a shame he had such a spoiled son.

It doesn’t take the raven long to clip my binds, and I fall to the ground. Memories of my past lives, of all my brethren’s lives, populate my mind, and I scream – my voice obliterating the thick wind. With renewed animation, I grasp the traitor’s old pick, the wooden handle cool against my glove.

Another life, another harvest. A cycle shattered. I get to work.

Awake

My ears burn from the doctor’s words and my fingernails draw hot blood from my soft palms. Terminal cancer. He also mentions another word that I don’t recognize – it might be the kind of cancer I have – but it doesn’t matter. He brought momma into the next room for more privacy, but they’re not being very quiet.

“I only brought him here, because he says he’s sleepy all the time, and I noticed he hasn’t been eating as much as he usually does. You must have done something wrong! My baby does not have cancer.” Momma chokes on the last word, and I hear her cry. If I close my eyes, I can almost see her crying; she did it a lot before daddy left. During those times she would get bruises on her arms and face, and when I asked what happened, she would pat my back and say she fell down the stairs or ran into the wall again. Eventually you would think she would walk more carefully!

Momma reenters my room and puts my hand in hers. We don’t say anything though, don’t need to; we just sit and listen to the screaming baby that is in the waiting room. I curl my arms around her and I can feel her wet eyes close on my neck. I’ll admit I’m not exactly sure what the doctor meant, now that I think about it. Grandma had cancer, but she was at my birthday party a few months ago, and she seemed just fine.

“What’s going on, momma?” I ask, my eyes tracing her sharp cheekbones as she lay on my shoulder. She always looks so pretty. “I’m going to be alright, aren’t I?”

Momma lifts her head, and her lip quivers. “You’re going to be alright, baby. It’ll just take some time.”

I want to say that that’s good, because I don’t want to miss the pizza party in Mrs. Atkinson’s class next Friday. But instead I just nod my head and smile at her. Unfortunately, that only made her cry a lot harder – which is confusing because she always says she loves my smile.

#

     A night in the hospital is not as bad as I thought it was going to be; they were giving me practically anything I wanted: ice cream, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, Sponge Bob Square Pants on the television. I felt like I was breaking all kinds of rules eating after 8pm!

Finally, momma had to go back home – she wouldn’t tell me why, just that it was grown up stuff. But that was okay, because, after all, I am a big boy. I close my eyes, never breaking my smile, and think about how fun the trip in the helicopter is going to be tomorrow.

#

     Okay, the helicopter isn’t as fun as I imagined. The only time I was awake was when they were loading me into it; I didn’t wake up again until I was in another hospital room.

“How are you feeling, sweetie?” Momma strokes my cheek. She doesn’t look as pretty today as she did yesterday. Her makeup is smeared for the most part, and her hair is pulled back. The only days momma has her hair pulled back is during her “don’t-give-a-damn” days, or so she says. It could have been that the helicopter ride scared her, since she’s afraid of heights and all. I’m sure she rode with me on the helicopter. I bet she did; I just hate that I can’t remember. Thinking about things is starting to confuse me to the point that it’s possible I was awake during the helicopter ride. Wouldn’t I remember that though?

It’s not until momma gets up from my bedside that I realize she was talking to me. “I’m… Great.” The last word comes out garbled and much slower than I anticipated. Something is not right with me, and when I try to explain the truth – that I feel a little trapped in my own head – a nurse tells me not to speak. You need to rest, she says. But I’ve rested long enough; that’s all I’ve been doing since yesterday!

My new room is colored light blue and there are two big windows opposite my bed. The frilly drapes over the windows remind me of grandma’s house. But other than the machines I’m hooked into, a few baby toys, several colorful pictures on the wall, the chair that momma’s sitting in, a side table, and a closed curtain hiding what I imagine is an empty bed, the room is pretty empty and boring. I wonder why they even have such huge rooms if they don’t plan on filling them with more things. I’m about to ask why the curtain is closed, since momma and I are the only ones in here, but she speaks first.

“Grandma and Aunt Stacy are going to be here in a couple days to see you.” Hearing momma’s strong voice feels me with energy. Aunt Stacy means that I’ll get to see Aidan! I hope he brings a ball or something we can play with!

The words that leave my lips mistake me. “Why?”

“Because they want to see you. Your dad will be here tomorrow, too. He said he’d be here today, but he has a ways to travel, you know?” That is true. When I visit daddy during a few weeks in the summer, he picks me up in the early morning and we don’t get to his house until dinnertime.

Finally the question escapes my mouth. “Something is wrong with me, isn’t there?” I concentrate on momma’s face, wishing that I’ll just wake up from this dream. I’m probably still asleep on the helicopter. Yes, that must be it! There is no way daddy would come to see me this early in the year.

Momma nods her head slowly and widens her chapped lips to a grin. “Yes.” She cups my face in her hands. “But those good doctors are going to do everything they can to get you better soon.”

Suddenly I get very sleepy and before I could tell momma that I love her and that if she wanted to go home she could, my mind fills with darkness.

I open my eyes to a sunny sky. Other kids my age are scrambling around a playground, and I’m being whisked around and around on the merry-go-round – it seems to be pushing itself. I giggle after seeing a boy with a red cap and a girl playing tag.

With each turn the children playing at the park change, and the garden dies and regrows with different flowers. A few times around it rains and grows dark, then the trees die and snow falls and the place is empty. Before I know it, the sun turns pink and the sky is dyed purple and red. Other children return and are swinging on the swing sets and playing hopscotch on the sidewalk. They’re all having fun, and here I am hogging the best toy in the park.

Finally, I stop spinning and I’m left staring at a grassy field; there was no playground in sight, but there was a boy running at me. Even though I couldn’t see his face, he seems really familiar. “Hey!” I shout and run towards him. But no matter how fast we run at each other, he only becomes more and more distant until at last I see only white

I awaken, staring at a blank ceiling, and breathe an aggravated sigh. Why couldn’t I live in that world? That one seemed much more fun and interesting than this one I’m in now. Plus, if that was a dream, then all of this must be… Real.

I scream and push away whatever is touching me and kick my blanket off the bed. My foot tangled itself in some cords, causing the monitors and other machines to go crashing on the floor. I don’t want to do this anymore! Rage fills my body, but I’m trapped in my mind. My arms flail at my sides, my muscles exhausted and my heart racing.

Several pairs of hands fall upon my arms and legs, restricting me to this flat board of a bed, and I fight harder. They can’t keep me here if I don’t want to be here! This place is for sick people and keeping me here would only hurt the ones that truly need help. I have to get back home so I can do my homework and play outside and do all the things I did before I became prisoner of this bleached dungeon! I continue to gnash and squirm, until I feel a sharp pinch in my arm and a cold, unfriendly fluid slowly creep into my veins. Whatever had happened allowed me to escape myself, and what I come to scares me.

Four nurses dressed in foam-colored gowns tower over me, faces pale and astonished. The table that was once at my bedside had been thrown near the wall, colliding with the plastic bead toys. A busted bottle of water came to a slow roll on the tile floor, leaving behind a wet trail, and momma was in the in the corner crying with her head pressed against a red, raised hand print on her forearm. I must have slapped her in my fit.

I feel my face grow hot with humiliation, but before I can start to cry, whatever medicine they had given me began to work. My eyes grow heavy once more, but I vigorously shake the sleep from my face. “No!” I scream. “Please don’t make me!” The rest of my words are lost while I fade in and out of slumber: Just let me go home.

#

     “Hey.” A small hand pokes my side, rousing me from a medicated sleep. “Wake up.”

My eyes flutter away the Sand Man’s magic and I fixate on his face, captivated by his voice. My mouth forms words I haven’t been able to speak since I arrived at this new hospital. It’s weird feeling so normal. “Who are you?” It can’t be that they had let another boy stay in my room; there was an extra bed in here, but it was empty, or so I thought since the curtain hadn’t been moved. Besides, momma would have told me if I had a roommate, because that would mean I would have someone to talk to. The boy was dressed in a cream-colored gown similar to mine.

“It doesn’t matter who I am, or who you are. How about you come with me, and I’ll show you the rest of the hospital?” His tone sounds mischievous, like we would be up to no good if I went with him. But, as if he knew what I were thinking, he added, “What more could they do to you than give you another sleeping shot?”

I shrug and do my best to tear away the tubes linking my arm to the monitors and to the bag pumping a weird, clear liquid into my body; there are so many! I feel sorry for the nurses that have to attach and detach this stuff on every patient. I can mark “nurse” off from my list of things I want to be when I grow up.

He clutches my hand and I follow him out of the room and into the hallway, both of us trying to be as sneaky as possible – like that James Bond guy. Although I know eventually someone will spot me or alert the other nurses of my grand escape and take me back to my prison cell, the rush of energy this boy has given me is exciting. With him I can speak, I can walk, and I can think; three things that I haven’t been able to do clearly for a while. I’d give up pizza and ice-cream if it meant spending an hour or more with him.

“Look over there,” he says, pointing towards a trashcan in a room full of chairs. In the room are also a few fake trees, a television, and three snack machines. My eyes scan the candy bars and little bags of chips behind the thick glass. Like so many things right now, what I want is behind a solid sheet of glass.

“Dude, here.” He places a half-full bag of M&M’s, what he must have spotted in the trashcan, in my hand. “I don’t know about you, but when I was in here that’s what I mainly wanted: some freaking candy.”

“Thank you so much,” I say before dumping the rest of the bag’s contents into my mouth, but how did he know where to look? The sugary pebbles bounce between my teeth and my mouth waters like a faucet. If I were looking in a mirror, I bet I could see streams of blue and red flowing from my pink lips.

He nods and grabs my hand again. His warm skin feels like fire on my icy palms. “Now, come on. We’re not finished yet.”

“Where are we going next?” I ask, choking a little on the mouthful of chocolate and crunchy candy shells. Nowadays I’m not particularly a fan of surprises – I’ve had plenty within the past couple days.

We don’t walk long before stopping in the middle of the hall, facing a large window covering the entire wall. Outside, dawn was beginning to creep into the sky, displaying a wide array of warm colors on an otherwise gloomy sky. He brought me to see the sunrise.

“I have a feeling you’re not going to see many more of these,” he mutters quietly, squeezing my hand. “Given the chance, I’d wake up every day to watch the sun come up; it’s so beautiful, don’t you agree?”

“Yes,” I answer robotically, “but what do you mean? Momma says I’m going home soon.” Could this boy be insane? I’m not like the other people that go to the hospital; I’m perfectly fine as long as they don’t give me that sleeping shot.

He shakes his head slowly and I notice his lip tremble. In between wiping at his eyes he whispers, “You don’t get it and you never will. You only notice true beauty when it’s already gone.” Then, speaking more clearly, he says, “I’ve got to go now. I hope you can find your way back to your room.” His words bite me, and as I watch him walk away, I feel alone and scared. I try to ask him to stay with me, but my words change into slurred groans when I speak. Besides, I couldn’t even see him anymore; he just disappeared. As I walk back to my room and crawl into bed to sleep, I only hope that I see momma and daddy and Aidan tomorrow. I’d like to ask them each for another bag of M&M’s for when I get home.

#

     “Baby, can you hear me? I really hope you can.”

Daddy, is that you? Yes, I can! But can you please talk louder?

“I want you to know how much I love you – how much all of us do. Your momma, grandma, Aunt Stacy, Aidan, and I are all here with you. We’re going to stay here for as long as we can.”

Where are momma and Aidan and everybody else? I can’t see any of them.

“Miles,” grandma says, “I believe Gina needs you, more than anyone at this point. She’s locked herself in the bathroom and needs to be here with him. We don’t know how much time is left, and she’d never forgive herself if she missed him.”

What do you mean? What is going on? Can anybody hear me?

“Mom,” says Aunt Stacy, “I think Aidan wanted to say something, don’t you honey?”

Aidan! He came! But why can’t I see him? I recognize all these voices, but they’re coming in as echoed whispers. It’s like I’m in a valley, hearing people whisper at me from megaphones.

“Aw, now honey, you said you wanted to while we were in the car.”

“Can he even hear us?”

Of course I can, Aidan! Why do you think that?

“I don’t know, but what if he can? How would that make you feel if you could tell him something and choose not to? We talked about this earlier; this may be the last time you see him.”

My heart sinks and my gut bursts into flames. Where did that come from? I can’t be dying. It’s only been three days since I was at home! Three! Momma took me to the doctor because I had a little trouble sleeping – that is all! How can someone even die from something like that? I hate these doctors – it must be their fault. It is either that, or Aunt Stacy is lying to Aidan.

I feel more trapped than ever. When I try to break free, I am met with a fuzzy wall of darkness keeping me contained in this new, scarier dungeon. Please just let me come back! I’ll never escape my room and walk the halls with the boy ever again. I will stop staying up after bedtime reading my library book. Anything you want me to do, I will do! Why am I being punished?

“Hey, baby.”

Momma! Save me!

“I…” She chokes and cries. I can almost visualize her, burying her red face in her folded arms. “I…” Another cry. “Love…” A sniffle. “You…”

I love you, too! More than anything! I want nothing more than to cry with her right now.

Then I notice a bright figure in my covered vision. Everything about him is concealed behind a blinding light. He whispers something in another language as he creeps closer to me. His two shining arms rise and close in on my body.

“If I would have known you were sick, I would have brought you here long ago.”

Momma, don’t let him take me! You told me you’d always be here for me, but why can’t you help me now? I don’t want to leave you! Whatever I did to deserve this, I’m sorry!

I am now completely wrapped in his arms, and I feel his breath pouring clouds of hot steam into my head.

Please don’t take me away, mister. I will do anything just to see my momma again.

“I love you, baby.”

Momma’s last words disappear into the darkness as I am taken by the stranger.

Tell Mrs. Atkinson that I am sorry for missing the party.

#

     My eyes shoot open to a baby blue room. Painted scenes of playgrounds and clouds line the wall, which eventually opens up to two large windows revealing a city on a sunny day. Oh, the scene is so beautiful. I’d love to once again see the marvelous blue sky without the tinted glass window. In addition to the paintings some toys, a small table and a chair line opposite sides of the room.

I can also feel something different about myself that I never noticed. It’s like I’ve been given enough knowledge to skip a grade in school; things before that I did not understand are now completely clear in my mind – oh, my mind. I can actually think my own thoughts now! Did I die though? Out of all the questions I feel I know the answers to, why can’t I answer such a simple one as that?

“This is it,” I hear a woman say behind the door. So, caving to my instinct, I crawl onto the outermost bed and pull the privacy curtain around. Why am I so scared that I feel I must conceal myself? I’ve been taught that good people go to heaven after they die, so should I be afraid of this, if it is heaven?

Another woman speaks. “When will the doctor be in here?”

“It should be any moment. If your child comes to, let me know. I will be right outside.”

The door closes, silencing the room, and I cup my hand over my mouth to keep the others from hearing me breathe. I sit like this on the bed for what seems like days – behind the curtain and in this new place, time is very different and it goes by fast. At this time, the child has just finished having a fit, and I can definitely empathize.

All of this is just so familiar, and memories begin to come back to me in small pieces, though some pieces don’t fit together. What I recall most, however, is how I longed to stand while I sat in the bed for so long. Oh and there was the candy craving.

Quietly, I stand up from the bed and peek from beneath the curtain. A little light is showing from the back of the draped window, so it must be in the early morning. Then my eyes focus on the boy in the bed. His body, although still, appears tense and stiff. His arm muscles flex and his palms tighten and retract in disproportionate intervals. He was having a nightmare.

“Hey,” I whisper, poking at his side. “Wake up.” He doesn’t wake up during my first attempt, but soon enough after a few tries he does.

He seems a little scared and confused, but what I was going to show him was going to make all his pain, all his suffering, at least not as bad.

“Who are you?” He asks, still half-asleep.

Who am I? How would I know? “It doesn’t matter who I am, or who you are. How about you come with me, and I’ll show you the rest of the hospital?” If I were in his situation, would I randomly get out of bed to be shown something by a boy I didn’t know? If it meant getting out of that terrible bed and away from everything else, of course I would. Plus, being in this hospital, in a room like this, can only mean that bad times are coming. So I had to show him the one thing that is seen every day but seldom appreciated.

“What more could they do to you than give you another sleeping shot?” I add, to which he begins to quickly detach monitors.

Voltage

He said he wanted every part of me. “There’s no denying the sparks between us,” he said, pulling my face into his. Each kiss shot an icy current through my tongue and down my throat, his soft touches paralyzing. His crippling love singed my flesh, my mind lost in a cloud of ecstacitic fumes. He had me believing I needed his galvanic breath to survive.

His power surges energized my heart. Without him, I imagined a world of haunted darkness. But, our lightning storm would end soon enough. Behind the fragmented, electrified haze a light would shine, illuminating the tempest’s damage: a shattered heart, an abandoned soul, a broken body.

I said I wanted every part of him, but all I got was flash-blindness and a tear-stained pillow.

Regrets

I’ve never told her how I really felt. I never told her how frequently that her raven hair, in its mesmerizing glow, and her comforting voice appeared in my thoughts and dreams.

How I wish I could tell her how much I cared for her, how often I imagined a life with her. And never had I thought instead the life I would end up living would be one without her. Deprived of her soft touch. Devoid of that sweet perfume she sprayed on her neck. The world is a violent ocean of torment, an inescapable pit of regret and gloom without her radiant glow guiding me to safety.

I remember the last time I visited her. I can only remember her bleak frame outlined so shallowly on that bed, her hands lying limp beside her delicate figure. The final image I have of her is one of sadness and desolation – one of death.

I’ve never told her how I really felt. But if I were given another chance, I would say: Forgive me.

Candles

They burn so bright, a wall of joyous, flame – within each flickering bud is a precious memory. I light a candle for every lost, forgotten, and hopeless soul; the first for Martha, who so courageously sacrificed her life so her son could escape the locked car as it sunk deeper into the Hudson. Now ten years later her son commemorates her memory by fucking bitches in the back of a hookah bar downtown.

The second: a waitress, Barbara, who convinced herself that maybe her coworkers were right to call her a “fat, fugly pig that deserved to eat shit and die.” After months of torment, she slit her wrists in the rest stop bathroom stall off I-10.

I light one for Kaleb, the rising star of Minton Heights High School football team. In a twisted scheme, his teammates convinced him he needed to lose his virginity to be a part of the team. Weeks later, he contracted AIDS from a street whore. For the rest of his life he was treated by his peers as a sick freak; his parents told him he was going to hell, that his sin was unforgivable despite the fact that his father was a drug pusher and his mom earned thousands from credit fraud.

And lastly, I light one for myself and the rest of humanity. If we’re not the ones experiencing or performing the torture, we sit idly by while it occurs. We never give that homeless man down Main Street a second thought. “Failure is a choice. He’s homeless because he wants to be,” we bark. When really the man was a notable business man recently laid off from work; he’d lost everything in a grisly divorce from his husband. Instead of high rise living with his spouse and son to which he was accustomed, he fished rats for dinner out of garbage cans under the bypass.

The final candle burns brighter than the rest, the flame accompanying the potential of every soul on the planet. It portrays a fantastic future of peace and love. A new generation where tranquility and charity are as common as hamburgers and churches waits behind the very door we choose to lock when we pass that hungry mother with her child begging for money at the intersection.

Perhaps heaven does exist, but its elite residents are so disgusted with us that they, too, keep their doors and windows locked.

I don’t blame them.

Barrage of Butterflies

butter_edited-1

“Can you please help me,” a boy pleads. His freckled face and strawberry blond hair is obscured under a heavy chain. He’s wearing a dirty robe, the one on which little blue dinosaurs and spotted lizards were once printed. It was his favorite robe; Aunt Barb got it for him on his eighth birthday. Now it hangs tattered on his skin, the friendly scaly beasts masked in thick mud, sweat, and urine.

In the child’s beautiful, sparkling eyes one could see a life full of love and elation, of days spent at the beach, flashing a smile with fists deep in sand, and nights curled on the couch watching Sleeping Beauty until he rested at last. But the scars told a different story. They told of sleepless weeks in unforgiving darkness, abandoned in a quarry of revulsion and isolation. They told of unimaginable horror.

Every night, he prays for release from his captor. All he wants is to get back home to bury his puppy, Angel, who was struck by a speeding Corvette. He wants to kiss his momma, promising that he would never think bad thoughts about his baby sister. His stomach rolls, and his tongue aches for a simple drop of water.

The boy’s weakened innocent cries turn to cold whispers. “I just wanna go home,” he begs. “Just wanna…” He cannot make out the words. His own body defies him as he’s plagued with memories of his daddy and barbeques and Christmas presents.

Succumbing to exhaustion and sadness, the boy curls on the ice-licked floor and imagines he’s in his momma’s warm embrace. He imagines he’s sipping from a cold glass of apple cider and eating popcorn, hidden under an enchanted palace of pillows. Sweet honey, gummy bears, and cinnamon breezes occupy his homesick dreams.

Suddenly, the tears and hollow whimpers cease. His chapped, bloody lips form a thin smile, with thick dust and stale air filling his lungs. Color returns to his face as he is met with an old friend.

Together, he and Angel walk out of the basement and disappear into the night.

Tower of Missed Opportunity

Blue and white porcelain horses dance in the candy cotton field surrounding the jellybean tower. Strips of raspberry licorice drift in the air, streamers and ribbon for the grand appearance of crisp, morning sunshine. In the distance chirps a gentle flock of bubblegull, excited for the flurry of cocoa flies enticed by the soft, amber sap in the butterscotch grove. The air smells of warm cinnamon and strawberry frosting.

A girl of sixteen rises from a sparkling blue cushion in the jellybean tower and gazes upon the candy cotton expanse, her rich caramel hair pulled back in a tight bun. “Oh, Barnard, it’s such a beautiful morning; you’re not seriously going to waste it in here with me, are you?” she asks the yellow woven scarf.

Words emanate from the immaculate, blonde garment. “Well, my dear, in this weather I’m afraid everybody would mind a thick fellow such as myself snug around their neck. Besides, if I did latch myself around a young lass’s collar, how do you reckon I return to you, darling?” Barnard’s braided, silver fringes revel in the cool breeze.

The girl smirks. “Oh, we have a way. Someone might as well take advantage of my curse.”

“Don’t you fret, my dear. The savior shall come by riding on his stallion, rescuing you from this soaring prison. It’s only a matter of time.”

“It’s been years, Barnard – years. The only visit I get is once a week from the blessed fairy, when she gives me the time warping candy pellets.” The maiden gestures toward a petite pink box sitting on the cobbled window ledge. “Speaking of which, I could really use one of those now.”

“Now, miss? But it’s so early!”

The girl plops two white tablets in her mouth and loosens her bun. Golden locks spill on the wood floor, flowing like a curious, honey serpent. “Exactly, Barnard. Maybe they’ll speed things up if I take them in the –” She moans. “Oh my, those kicked in quick.” Her eyes roll to the back of her head as pleasure drowns her mind.

Minutes pass before the voice of a wandering prince resonates from below. “Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair so I may climb the golden stair!”

“Do you hear that, Barnard?” Rapunzel asks. “I think it’s already working; I can hear the future.”

“My lady, come now! He’s finally here to rescue you!”

Rapunzel smiles before she drifts to sleep. “Barnard, wake me up at happily ever after, ‘kay?”