The Back of the Bus

By Ashley Nelson

The back of the bus was a dangerous place.

There was an unspoken rule that everyone seemed to know.

If you were too small to look over the seat,

you didn’t belong there.

The front of the bus was where I belonged.

I sat with strangers and gazed back at my brother and sister.

They told me I couldn’t sit with them.

I wasn’t cool enough; I was too small.

Then came the day I made a mistake.

I sat in the back of the bus with the big kids.

My brother and sister weren’t there to stop me.

I wish they would have been;I wish I had just listened.

It started off with careless teasing.

My backpack was too childish.

My hair was too messy.  

My dimples were too ugly.

Then one of them sat beside me.  

She was nice at first and said she liked my light up shoes.

I didn’t realize she was mocking me.

She said she would help me with my math.

I smiled and got out my worksheets.

She took them from me and tore them in half.

“Oops,” she had said.  “Can you help with mine?”

She pulled a heavy textbook from her backpack.

I didn’t know it was happening until it already had.

I didn’t hear it at first.

I didn’t feel it at first.

I certainly didn’t expect it.

Then I heard it.

I heard the SMACK

and I heard the CRUNCH

as the book slammed onto my little chocolate stained nose.

Then I felt it.

My nose beginning to swell,

and I felt the warm blood dripping down my chin.

and staining my favorite blue shirt.

The bus pulled to the side of the road.

The girl changed seats.

She said I hit my face on the window

and shot me a menacing glare.

I was quiet at dinner that night.

I didn’t tell my brother or sister.

They didn’t keep me away, because I was too small;

they kept me away because everyone else was.

Purpose and Bison Parades

By Lydia Abigail Metzger

Splashing and thundering

Troops of bison

Dance their heavy dances

On their own, trail,

the river stays ever rambunctious

under many hundreds of mighty

hooves.

Young, those tawny cows

That frolic so triumphantly,

they leap as if they have won a war,

a victory,

songs of jubilee rise from the

fierce noise

of mass movement over

rolling plains.

Noticing the gray blue mountains,

and here a truth is realized,

they are owned by this army

and its allies,

and its enemies,

but not by us.

Grazing on the slopes,

they look as if to say

a million things,

but not to us.

There is purpose in bison parades.

Mess and All

(Inspired by the first line of “Stand It” by Ashley Ralr)

By Lydia Abigail Metzger

She curls up.

She can be unraveled.

But who would want to see that,

Who would want to see her in a mess.

Tangled and fringed,

no,

she looks better like this

she is better like this

but,

this, is not her

and so

she stands,

and stretches,

she makes the world see her

her mess and all

her imperfection.

And how

the stars shine brighter,

the wind smells fresher,

and the people are beautiful once more,

all with their own messes;

they are so amazing,

to her.

Free Not to Speak

By Robin Housekeeper

There are things that we can not say,

and stories that we can not tell,

we have no choice,

it is what we have learned,

we are given the right though,

the right to have our voices heard,

but we get silenced by others because they don’t think the same,

so are we really free to speak,

or are we free to not speak,

to hold our tongues and not speak our mind,

to hide what we have to say,

welcome to America,

you have the right to free speech,

and free press,

but they will get taken away from you.

Brittle Star

By Jenna Thurmond

Isolated. Alone. Disgusting. That’s where I find myself now. All because of some dumb mermaid looking crap. Look, when some magical creature shows up on your doorstep telling you it’ll grant you some wish, never try and manipulate the system. Never try and kill the thing. Or you’ll end up like me. I’m not even sure if I’m me anymore, actually. My mind is here, my memories are here. But my body isn’t the same. I’ll never be the same again, and it’s my fault. I see that now. Maybe if I had found a less vengeful mermaid.. Hell, I’m lucky I even found one, and now I’m asking for one with certain redeeming qualities? It’s that kind of stupidity that landed me in my sticky mess to begin with. Anyways, enough with the now. I should tell you my story, I guess. It’s more of a “how-to” manual on what NOT to do if you meet a mermaid.

 

I used to think I was the best thing since deep fried jalapenos. You could walk down the beach and know you were headed the direction I was, because you could smell all the confidence rolling off of me. I never wore any scents besides that because the two would create some mean combination. I spent most of my life surfing, both for sport and competition. I was good too. Way too good. My bedroom walls were lined with trophies and ribbons I had won since the ripe age of 6. I got way too ahead of myself and imagined my own surfboard brand, my own competition named after myself, the works. Despite this, I wasn’t one much for people. Wasn’t good with them, didn’t like them, didn’t talk to them. I stuck to myself, and spent all the time I wasn’t surfing, staring at the skies, memorizing the patterns of constellations, and the phases of the moon. I went exploring a lot too, which is how I found her.

One particular night, when the moon was nothing but a small sliver, I was feeling extremely restless. My body didn’t want to slow down, and begged me to venture out. Didn’t take much to convince me. The sand was always the prettiest when it was night time. The moon gave it this almost opalescent look. I wasn’t out for long when I saw her. I had no idea what it was at first glance. Kind of looked like a hunk of seawood washed up on shore. But then it glittered. It was different than the sand, and the closer I got, the more I could see that. It was deep, amethyst color. The whole thing, like it was carved out of stuff. It looked snake-like, at least at the bottom. But it was too big to be any snake I had ever seen. I wasn’t sure if poking it would be a good idea, or if I’d end up dead. Maybe someone had a fancy snakeskin purse they lost of a cruise ship, and it got all shredded up from the current? That would be the world’s biggest purse. No way. I was too far away to see any details, so I got closer and saw what completely rocked me. The top half of the snake (more fish, now that it was clearer) was completely human. I can’t say completely. The skin had more of a scale-like texture, but had the color scheme of normal flesh. I couldn’t believe my eyes. Then it spoke. At least, it sounded like words. They were gurgled, animal, and barely audible. I didn’t respond, only stared. I wasn’t sure how to respond. Does it even speak English? Do I ask it to repeat itself? Kind of like it read my mind, it did exactly that, only this time I heard it, clear as day.

“Ocean..”

The voice sparkled like the light off of a prism. If light had a sound, it would be this. For some bizarre reason, I knew what it wanted. I picked up the creature (human half, I was not touching that fish butt) and dragged it to the water. It was lighter than I expected. In fact, there was almost no weight to it at all. I wasn’t sure how deep to take her, so I dropped her off when the water got to my shoulders. She sunk below the water, and I waited. I panicked. Did I drown her? Could I go to prison for this? I shook the thought off. This wasn’t even real; I probably got slipped some acid in my drink at the Okahana Smoothie Bar. But then, as the human half of her shot above the surface, I realized this was no bad trip.

 

“Well, are you just going to stand there and stare at me like some dumb starfish?”

I couldn’t help but stare. She was clearly refreshed, and incredibly beautiful. The scaly texture of her skin vanished, and a smooth pearl was left behind. Her eyes were pure aquamarine, and her lips a faint coral. Her hair was long- so long I couldn’t even see the tips, and an exact color to match her eyes. Astounding. The longer I stared, the more a storm seemed to brew within those large eyes.
“Look, I don’t have all day, do you want a wish or not?” she asked.

I blinked, finally, and figured it would probably be safest for my health to respond.

“Uh, what?”

Of course. I always had the best responses. She rolled her stormy eyes at me.

“I forgot how dumb humans are. Do.. You.. Want.. A.. Wish..?”

She put unnecessary emphasis on every word, in the most rude way possible. Obviously seafish ladies weren’t exactly too keen on being friendly.
“A wish for what? I didn’t ask for anything from you,” I said hesitantly.

“Don’t you know the deal? You save me, I gotta grant you a wish in return. Some washed up system from the olden days, I guess, but if I don’t, the seawitch’ll come after me, and I’m not about to try and patch things up with her after that. So just tell me what you want so I can leave, okay?”

This was unbelievable. Things like this just don’t happen. Except they were. Right now. And I was acting like some fool.

“Well, I don’t know what I want.. Are there any limits?”

She shook her head, the beachy waves of her hair flowing like a waterfall with each movement.

“Nah, not really. I mean, I can’t control people’s feelings or the actual balance of the earth, but besides that, you’re welcome to whatever.”

The boredom in her voice dripped onto the cool sand.

“Is there a deadline? Like, say I wanted to think about it for a day and have you come back tomorrow; will my wish expire?”

She glared at me, and her eyes turned a deep, angry shade of rose. Amazing. Her eyes gave away her emotions. Good thing people weren’t like that, because an idea was already being birthed in my head.

“I don’t really have a choice, otherwise I’d say flap off and I’d just swim away now. I have a life to get back to, you know. But fine. Tomorrow, sunset. Be back here, in this exact spot. And you better have your mind all figured out by then.”

“I will, I promise.”

With that, she sank back into the waves, and I was left alone to figure out exactly what I was going to do.

 

In retrospect, I probably should have realized it was a bad idea to piss off a mythological creature. But I wasn’t thinking about that. As soon as she had left, I began thinking of all the ways I could get unlimited wishes from her. She wasn’t a magic genie, and I knew as soon as I made my choice, it was over. But some deep rooted, selfish desire took over me that I didn’t even realize I had, and I needed more.

I went home and began researching everything about mermaids. You end up in some crazy parts of the internet when you try and find legitimate information on something nobody except the insane believe exists. I did find one source, though, that seemed like it could be true. According to this, mermaids’ tails were filled with a sort of substance- males were powder, females had a gelatin, that, if extracted, could provide you with one wish per spoonful of whatever it was you had when thrown into the ocean. It gave step by step instructions on how to properly get the wish stuff out of the mer-beings. I memorized it, spending all night figuring out how exactly I was going to do this. I perfected my plan, and once the sun started to rise and I realized I hadn’t slept at all, I went to bed dreaming of my plan. I made sure to set an alarm an hour before sunset to gather my supplies.

 

Sunset came way too slow. I had arrived at the spot fifteen minutes early, but I had too much adrenaline running through my body to not feel anxious. My fingers danced over the sharp knife in my pocket, and fear kicked in. What if she knew? But how would she know? Maybe she could read minds, too. But then she would have known something was fishy yesterday when we first met. I was going to be okay, especially when I got everything I ever wanted. I wasn’t even sure what all I was going to wish for, but it was going to be epic. This felt the slowest fifteen minutes of my life, but finally, the sun crouched down to go to sleep, and sure enough, the girlfish splashed out of the water, nothing but irritation painted on her face.

“Let’s get this over with, I have somewhere to be in a half an hour,” she sang in that gorgeous voice of hers.

I sure would miss that.
“Alright, alright. Don’t you have to be closer though, so we’re not yelling?”

She kind of rolled her eyes at that, but for once, said nothing back, so I got down to her depth in the water, which was about half my torso. My heart was pounding, my hands were clammy, and I was probably sweating enough out of my forehead to raise the water level.

“What’s the matter, never been this close to a beautiful girl before?” she smirked, those eyes turning a venomous, snakey green.

I wanted to find a way to keep those orbs alive, and changing, but that was a little too on the creepy side. I would miss those, too. My hand curved around the handle of the blade, and old fish carving knife my grandfather gave me.

“Have you heard the tale of the man who caught a mermaid?” I said, completely dissolving her question.

Puzzlement wrote itself on her face.

“No, it’s probably a fool’s tale anyways; no human has ever managed to catch one of us. We’re too sly, too slippery, too.. sempiternal.”

She was so cocky it made me want to spit.

“Rumor has it, the man accidently caught a mermaid while he was hunting whales, and the mermaid begged him to let her go, in exchange for anything he could ever want, but just once. That wasn’t good enough for the man, so determined to find a loophole, he killed the mermaid, cutting off her tail. He tried everything he could, but once he cut open the tail, he discovered this iridescent gelatin inside it. He found out that if he took just a small amount of the gelatin, and tossed it back in where the mermaid came from, each time his wish came true.”

Puzzlement turned to fear. Yellow flashed in her eyes like lighting.

“Haha, very funny,” she said anxiously. “I don’t believe those myths, they’re just made up. Can we get back to the real reason we’re here now? Story time is officially over.”

I laughed.

“Myths are born from some nugget of fact, and I guess this myth is about to be tested.”

I lunged at her, my hand sore from tightly gripping the blade. But I was too slow. In one smooth, seamless motion, she slipped out of the way, and the only thing I sliced was the dancing water. I looked around, panicked. Was she gone? How did she do that?! I didn’t even blink, but she had managed to avoid me. This wasn’t good, and my stomach felt it. It churned like the foam in a tide pool. I tried to calm myself down. She was probably just gone, and I’d never see her again. But it couldn’t be that easy. I waited, not moving. Nothing. Safe. I turned back to the shore, and that’s when I heard that voice, now a lot scarier than bewitching.

“You really are as dumb as you look.”

 

She didn’t look the same anymore. Before, she had been like a goddess, with a heavenly aura of gold. Now, everything was dark. Her eyes, her hair, her skin had even turned a shade of glimmering charcoal. She looked like a creature born of nightmares, and I knew this is what she really looked like. This other her, that was just a mask, probably put on so that she wouldn’t be feared. But now, all of that was over, including me.

“Hey, I’m, uh, really sorry about that. It was a mistake, it was stupid, I was selfish, you can forgive me though! I’ll never do it again. Alright? I’ll even, uh, donate my entire life savings to a charity. Work part time at a pet shelter. Feed the hungry on my weekends. Sound good?”

She cackled, her laughter ripping apart the sky.

“You really think doing a bunch of good for the world will make this okay? You have no idea what you got yourself into, idiot. You never fight a battle you don’t have a chance at winning. And for that, well, I’m sure you know that wish of yours is invalid now.”

She looked just like a volcano about to erupt, with lava inching its way through the tips of her hair. I couldn’t beg for mercy, because I knew it would do nothing. She had no mercy. My life was over.

“Just get on with it and kill me already.”

Again, the volcano of her voice erupted.

Kill you? Oh, what a riot. Killing you would be a blessing. Too easy. And we’re forbidden to kill. Nature doesn’t allow it. But I can change you. Make you into something everyone fears. Make you into a creature of pure isolation.”

It was at this point I began to wish I would just wake up. This had to be a nightmare. Tremors were shooting through my body like mini quakes, and then I felt the worst pain I had ever experienced in my life. It was like having every bone in your body shattered- at the same time. It was a headache that felt as if I had snorted and entire factory of Pop Rocks, and having every bit of my flesh scraped off with a potato peeler. It was inexpressible agony. But I couldn’t scream, because my voice was gone. I clenched my eyes shut throughout the entire thing, and then, it was gone.

 

Opening my eyes, I immediately realized something was off. The beach was gone, and I was surrounded by water, looking straight into the eyes of the mermaid. There was nothing on her face but evil pride.

“Aren’t you going to figure out what you are now? Oh wait, I have the perfect thing, just for you!”

She held up a mirror, carved out of sea glass and embedded with emerald. Staring back through the mirror was a creature I had never seen before, probably because it was one of a kind. It was the ugliest shade of green, layered with a pale peach. There was only one eye, but that was all it needed, because it took up most of the face. Massive jaws with yellowing tusks jutting out of the top. It moved its eye to look at the fins, which spanned the length of a two canoes from tip to tip. You couldn’t even see all of it in the small mirror, but I did not believe that could be me. There was no way. This was some kind of joke. The mermaid shook her head.

“No joke, this is the real deal, kid. I guess I can’t call you kid anymore, though. Maybe something more suited to your new shape, hmm? Like.. pūpuka ‘aihue..”

I tried to remember the language I had once known well, but it was foggy. Everything in my mind was. Then, it hit me. Ugly thief. She laughed, and it was the last laugh I would ever hear.

“Never, ever, ever betray a mermaid. Not that you ever can again.”

 

That was two years ago, maybe more. Time means less to me now, and I try and keep track of the days, but the longer I’m like this, the most animal I become. I still have all my memories, and sometimes, I think of what I used to have, and I cry. It feels like crying, anyways. I don’t know if I can anymore. My life has becoming swimming, eating small fish that try and twist away from me, and avoiding any human contact. They would cut me open, use me for science. Part of me thinks that would be better, but for now I stay in the darkest part of the ocean. Alone. I’ve never seen that mermaid again, but I know what I would do if I did. I would ask for that wish I never got. And I would wish for my old life back, because you never truly realize how good things are until they’re gone forever.

Angel Wings

 

by Ashley Nelson

 

Angel wings flutter

in the midnight breeze

as the mother lays her head to rest

and wanders off to sleep.

 

Sparkling stars dance

in the dark night sky

as she kisses their heads.

and hums her lullaby.

 

Biting wind blows

in the wintry cold

as she sings to them softly

and tightens her hold.

 

Bright streetlights flicker

on the empty path

as she tiptoes down the hallway

to escape her wrath.

 

Autumn leaves rustle

in the midnight breeze,

as he strikes and beats

ignoring her desperate pleas.

 

Slithering serpents grin

in the bright yellow moon

as his laugh fills the air

and he whistles his evil tune.

 

Angel wings flutter

in the midnight breeze

as the mother lays her head to rest

and wanders off to sleep.