"Be neither a conformist or a rebel, for they are really the same thing. Find your own path, and stay on it."

—Paul Vixie

And You Are Lost

By Brooke Kohl

And the world is black, and you’re floating through it, and you don’t know which way is up or which way is down or which way to go to be free. You close your eyes in an attempt to block out the all-consuming darkness, but that only heightens your dizziness. You reopen your eyes and  move your hand, and you feel it move, but you can’t see it, and it feels so unnatural that you can’t see your body or anything around you. You clench your fists, needing a physical sensation that can assure you that you have not completely faded into the darkness, that you are still you. 

And they just laugh and laugh, because they did this to you. Laugh and laugh, because this is what happens when you are weird, or different, or do not conform to whom they want you to be. Laugh and laugh, because you are never going to be free from this cage of darkness that is seen as a perfect punishment. Laugh and laugh, because you’re already so crazy that the only effect the cage will have on you is killing you. Laugh and laugh at what you have become. 

And you want to cry, but the darkness is crushing your ability to create tears, crushing your chest as it tries to heave and sob and let out all of your emotions. Soon your emotions will be completely gone, torn away like the physical world. Soon nothing will matter to you, because everything will be gone except your shell of a body that will have nothing left to control it. 

And you want to scream out in pain, because right now it feels like you are being squeezed out of your body, it feels like nobody cares about you and nobody loves you or has ever loved you. You hear their voices, and you clap hands to your ears to block out the words you can’t make out. 

And you feel alone, even though you know there are countless people watching you, watching you from ten feet away, watching you from screens stretching to all the corners of the world. 

And you lose yourself in this black void that they have trapped you in. They succeeded. 

But you can’t let them win. 

You feel yourself tumble 

                down 

                                down 

                                                down  

into the abyss that has swallowed you whole. 

But you reach out and grab the walls, and strain your muscles as you 

                                                pull 

                             yourself 

                  out. 

And you draw all the remaining power that you have, and you push with all your might on the walls caging you. You push against the monster in your mind that is telling you that you need to fit in. You push against the monsters of this world who make you feel like you need to fit in. You push against everyone who has ever made you feel disgusted by yourself. You push and you push until you finally break free. 

You’re finally standing in the sunlight, and you throw your head back and let yourself glory in the rays of sun as they hit your skin, the warmth spreading throughout your entire body and giving you the strength you need to be who you truly are. 

Photograph by Zehava Shatzkes

sometimes i Worry

that who i am is all wrong

i think too much

i talk too much

i ramble

i rant.

 

sometimes i Worry

all they see is an ice queen

who’s arrogant

and mean

and jealous.

 

sometimes i Worry

my friends are just pretending.

i’m too quiet

i don’t party

not cool enough

not funny enough

not good enough.

 

i Worry

that altogether

i’m simply not enough.

 

i Worry

so i pretend.

i sculpt myself into what they want me to be.

my personality is fluid.

my friends and my family 

know two different people

who look the same.

identical to the eye,

opposite in the mind.

 

sometimes i Worry

i’ve pretended for too long.

i don’t remember who i was

before i learned how to act

before i put on a show

before i changed.

 

i molded myself into a different being entirely.

in trying to please the others,

i forgot what pleased me.

 

i don’t remember what it’s like

to look in the mirror

and be happy with the girl staring back.

 

i don’t remember what it’s like

to smile and laugh

without the little voice nagging me:

what if this is fake?

sometimes i Worry

i Worry my facade is too obvious.

i Worry my clothes and my hair aren’t right.

i Worry that even when i laugh

it is a fake laugh

something perfectly timed and practiced

so well

that i have fooled even myself into thinking it is real.

 

i Worry too much.

i Worry so much

that i can’t breathe

or move

or talk

all i can do

is cry.

 

i’m sorry.

i’m sorry i can’t express myself without falling apart.

i’m sorry if i judge you to distract from the fact

that there is so much more to judge

about me.

 

please don’t ask if i’m okay.

i will say yes,

but i’m not.

i don’t know how to truly be okay.

so i lie.

 

sometimes i Worry.

i Worry that Worrying is all i am.

Sometimes I worry

By Talia Berg

I Have No Name

By Avigail Warshawsky

A name is an identity,

And I don't know who I am.

I'll meet someone new, and ask them their name.

I become a new person.

I start closed off,

Don't let them know me,

This way I can get to know them first.

I get an idea of who they are,

Then decide who I will be to them.

 

I can't have a name.

Because If I were to give myself a label,

I would be locked in a guarded cage

with the person the name belongs to.

 

Without a name, 

I'm able to make sure I'm liked by everyone.

Because how can't they like someone 

who was made custom for them.

Icarus's Substitute

By Eliana Birman

Feathers and wax 

Should've been able

To support the body of a little boy.

And although Icarus failed, 

I tried again.

And this time, 

the sun didn’t care

If I fell to my death.

The wax didn’t melt off my back. 

I flew ever upwards.

I made it to the sun. 

I disobeyed my father.

I proved my point. 

But am I proud of what I did?

Artwork by Eliana Birman

The Pit

By Gabe Greenfield

I steal another glance. Him, of all people. Him. I’m disappointed, to say the least. To say the most — I’m mad. Not just angry mad. But socking-my-only-

companion-for-the-foreseeable-future-in-the-face mad. Crazy mad, screw everything up mad. But it is what it is. I do a 180. We make eye contact. I can’t take it. I turn back around. My legs start moving. I should stop. But I don’t. I walk. I keep walking until the mechanical movement carrying me stops. I pause: physically, mentally, spiritually, in all senses of the word. Time for the next song. I press play. By the beat of this new drum, I turn around. Less mechanical and more forceful this time. I retrace my steps. Through the thicket and through the vine, I sigh and enjoy the fleeting moments in which I don’t have to face him. I approach where I had left him. He’s not there. Or am I not there? Am I lost? My head starts to pound. My world starts to shake. But it is not the wind causing the leaves to rustle. It is him. Disgust turns to horror turns to humor as a smile etches itself onto my cracked lips. And as I turn one last time it is too late. The knife makes its way toward my chest. But it is no knife and this is no jungle. This is a ball pit and he is a friend. Just two silly boys playing a silly game in a silly story in a silly world.

Why Can't Anybody Hear Me?

By Rosie Fellig

The blood flows around me. 

I hear their heart beats,

I hear their thoughts, 

I watch their lips. 

I’m sweltering, 

I’m packed into them,

Skin to skin - 

But I am so alone. 

And I try to reach out and touch them, 

So they might hold me back. 

So they might listen to my pulse, 

How heavy it beats in my veins. 

That they might alleviate the greatness of the pain 

That they might bear the confusion with me, 

But they laugh and they taunt. 

 

 She says I should go along with them. 

Accept their jeers.  

‘Roll with the punches’

So I sit at night and count the bruises.

That's all I can do.  

Eclipse

By Annabel Kermaier

eyes slightly. He whispers something, and I lean closer, feeling his words tickle my ear as he tells me, “I love you.” And now I’m crying, tears dripping onto his blankets, because that sounded like goodbye. And I tell him back, “I love you, and I’m not ready to lose you,” and his face twists in pain. I feel guilty for hurting him, but not enough to wish I could take it back. They tell me not to make this harder than it has to be. How could I? How difficult does it have to be to save his life before I should give up? He speaks again, just as quietly but more forceful somehow, “I love you. Goodbye.” Then he slips; I can see him slipping away from me.

 

Three seconds.

This is it. I can feel it. I know. Outside the window, the moon eclipses the sun; rivers run backwards. I clench his pulse between my fingers. If I hold on tight enough, will it stay? Will he? Who am I if he is gone? The sun dies; the rivers evaporate to feed my tears. This is the catastrophe I expected. In this room, he inhales one last time, and the darkness thickens around us, the greedily grasping shadows and sucking gaps stretching, reaching for him. In one last desperate bid, I whisper — for it is too heavy now for free speech — to the darkness: “Take me instead.” A pause, a hesitation. A drawing back. He exhales and quickly takes another breath, not wasting the chance. Then the darkness around him clears, and something presses on my eyelids. The window brightens behind gauzy curtains, but the light cannot pierce the blackness now surrounding me. Rivers run their course, fish swim in the sea.

I feel the pulling, and the sliding. My world is frictionless; it lets me go. I let go. He sits up in bed and horror contorts his face. “I love you.” I’m not sure which one of us says it. I die. The sun lives.

Photograph by Zehava Shatzkes

Three months.

There should be earthquakes and volcanoes, hurricanes and plagues and other signs of calamity. Something should have happened; I should have known about this before now. My thoughts kaleidoscope out and then coalesce into the realization that he’s still talking, even though the most important thing has already been said. How do you respond when you find out the sun is going dark? What do you do when the one thing you could always lean on splinters underneath your hand? It’s obvious, isn’t it? You fall.

 

Three days.

I have to let go. That’s what I’ve been hearing all this time, from everyone I speak to: You have to let go. My mother, calling from Arizona with tears in her voice but iron in her words. My friends, in the condescending way of people who think they know better than you what you have to do. The one thing I haven’t done is let go. It would be easier to let go of part of myself. Now, I squeeze his hand even tighter. He tilts his head toward me, and I slide my chair even closer. He whispers to me, I whisper back. I hold his hand, he holds mine. He looks happy, and I mirror him, but all I can think is that soon this will all be gone.

 

Three minutes.The rattling noise of his breath pierces me with sharp relief. The same noise that has tormented me and filled my nightmares has become the only sign that he still lives. The monitor next to his bed stutters, and panic fills my throat. Then it bleeps again, and he opens his eyes

Balance

By Katie Nachmani

The ultimate goal of blending in is misunderstood and wrongfully viewed as mischievous, 

However, which timid voice quivered at the sight of those of higher status?

Those that envied their confidence, but valued their own selves more dear.

These are the ones who run over glass to escape the sad reality of conformity

They attempt to seek what will tip the satisfying balance, 

The unfortunate, fatal, balance of being yourself, while disguising yourself in darkness

Emptiness swallows them whole, as they try and pry open the cold and tough walls put up.

There is a brutal expectation to stay true to oneself, 

As life moves forward and this battle forever remains 

But this pressure lingers, in the back of their minds, to teach rather than to sting.

Different, but not Special

By Hannah Friedman

December 3rd, 1981:

 

A baby girl, around three months old, crawls across the blue and white checkered carpet of a small, modest, third floor apartment on Sylvester Street. Thumps of shoes can be heard on the stairs as a man jogs down in the black suit he typically wears, holding the brown briefcase he typically holds. Hey sweetie, he says, with a growing smile that highlights the blooming wrinkles of his face— wrinkles that hint to the story of his long work nights. He grabs the toddler and lifts her high above his head, beaming as the girl laughs loudly. “You are the cutest baby in the world,” he says. And so she thought. 

 

March 21st, 1987:

 

A young girl, around six years old, sprints down a hill that is covered in vibrantly colored flowers. The freshly cut green grass tickles her legs as she races her friend, a boy with orange glasses. The girl hears her name being called by a man at the bottom of the hill, in the black suit he typically wears, holding the brown briefcase he typically holds. Hey sweetie, he says, with a ginormous smile that showcases the wrinkles on his face— wrinkles that suggest he has worked hard over the past few years. He thrusts his arms out at the girl and gives her a big hug, and she smiles. “You are the prettiest girl in the world,” he says. And so she believed. 

 

July 30th, 1996:

 

A teenage girl, around fifteen years old, bikes along a rough street. Small pebbles tap her legs as she pedals faster. She and her friend, a boy with orange glasses, are travelling to the nearby park. The two of them settle down on a bench and, together, watch the sun slowly set, painting a rainbow of colors across the sky. She lays her head on his shoulder, the two of them taking in the art glowing before their eyes. 

After the eventful evening, the girl rushes home, realizing she had stayed out past curfew. As she slowly opens the door, she tiptoes across the blue and white checkered carpet, each creak in the floor making her shudder. Suddenly, a light turns on. A man, in the black suit he typically wears, holding the brown briefcase he typically holds, is sitting cross-legged in an armchair, tapping his watch fervently. Hey sweetie, he says, the wrinkles on his face now very refined and clear— indicating that he has worked diligently during his many years at the company. He looks furiously at her, a look that implies he demands an explanation for her tardiness. Unable to help herself, she giggles, a laugh so contagious that the man can’t help but chuckle along. “You are the funniest girl in the world,” he says. And so she assumed. 

 

April 9th, 2005: 

 

A matured young woman, around twenty-four years old, drives down a highway to her first day at her new job. She opens the car window ever so slightly, and takes a large breath of fresh air to calm herself down. Her hair soars behind her from the air bursting through the crevice, and she feels as if she’s in a movie. Breathing fast, she parks the car, pulls open the door, and welcomes herself to her new workspace. Across from her office, through a clear window, she sees a man, in the black suit he typically wears, holding the brown briefcase he typically holds, waving at her. Hey sweetie, he mouths, the wrinkles now covering most of his face— telling the story of his hardworking life. She smiles back at him, both excited and nervous to begin working at the company. 

Later in the day, her boyfriend, a man with orange glasses, surprises her with a bouquet of vibrantly colored flowers. She can see that he’s sweating. He kneels down and says, “You have been my best friend. I brought you vibrantly colored flowers, same as the flowers on the hill we used to run down. I love you, and I want to spend the rest of my life with you. Will you marry me?” Stunned— but in a good way— and crying a happy cry, she accepts his proposal. The man from across the hall walks over and congratulates her, leaving his brown briefcase on his desk. “You are the luckiest woman in the world,” he says. And so she thought. 

 

December 3rd, 2008:

 

A lady, around twenty-seven years old, journeys to the nearest social center along with her husband, a man with orange glasses. We want to buy a child, they say in unison. After showing proper identification, the worker walks from behind the desk with a three month old toddler and a small slip of paper. The child and the paper are handed over to the couple, and the lady reads the paper. Written on top of it are lists of phrases, and, next to them, ages and times at which to say them. One of them reads, “You are the cutest baby in the world” - three months old. At that moment, an understanding strikes the lady: she is not special. She is not the cutest, or the prettiest, or the funniest, or the luckiest girl in the world; she is exactly like everyone else. 

The lady and her husband return home and lay the girl down on the floor. The baby girl, around three months old, crawls across the blue and white checkered carpet of a small, modest, third floor apartment on Sylvester Street. Thumps of shoes can be heard on the stairs as a man jogs down in the orange glasses he typically wears...

Trust

By Zehava Shatzkes

To her waiting 

Open palm 

 

But that pristine 

Trust 

She crushed it 

Shattering it 

The shards 

Mixing with the tears 

Drowning me 

Pulling me down down 

Down into the 

The lake of my sorrows

Seeping out of me 

Pooling on the floor 

Tears freely flowing

Like a dam 

Contained for years 

Finally opened, 

the Deluge streaming forth 

 

I trusted her 

With every breath 

And heartbeat 

My delicate trust

I handed over 

If my friends jumped off a bridge

By Benjamin Garger

“A bridge, huh?”

“Yup.”

So, it finally got to that level of weird. For the last month, my friends have been doing these really weird Tik Tok challenges. For the sake of fitting in, I took part in most of them. Eating chili peppers, eating spoonfuls of cinnamon, flipping bottles, and obsessing over fidget spinners. Now my friends were jumping off a bridge.

“You’re jumping, and?”

“We’re jumping off of the Brooklyn bridge.”

“Ok.”

I could do that. No biggie. I just had to choose a smart way to jump. I assumed my friends would do the same, but it was not safe to take wild chances like that.

“Cool. I guess I’ll jump.”

The next day, we all gathered at the Brooklyn bridge. I elected to go last, so that I could record my friends during their jumps. One by one they jumped, and physics did the rest. Not long after, I was the only one left. 

“Now it’s my turn,” I said to nobody and walked back to our rented car. As I neared the end of the bridge, I looked over the side. The dirt was about two feet below the bridge’s sidewalk level. I clambered over the side and hopped down to the dirt below.

“That wasn’t so bad.” Too bad my friends had decided to jump to the water. I had made reservations at a nice restaurant for when we were done jumping.

Scattered Feathers

By Gabe Greenfield

You may call me a pessimist, but my negative attitude is a result of how you treated me. The feathers of my feelings are flying through the air from the gaping hole in the pillow of our relationship. Can you save these feathers? Can the pillow be restitched? The answer is up to you, but the wind is picking up. The first time we met passes over the city where we began. My trust in you flies over the river where you caught me when I fell. Our happiest times land on the hill where we were on top of the world. Our intimacy glides down the chimney of the house we called home. The pillowcase is empty, and now it’s too late. Our memories lie trampled under the feet of the million ways you hurt me. But what do I know, I’m just a pessimist.

Paint by Number

By Mia Hahn

She ran, as fast as her short legs were willing to carry her. Though they ached, though they begged her to give out, she ran.

       The bleak, grey sky that day was nothing short of misery. For her to stay hidden under the thick fog, though — a blessing. From whom? She did not know, nor did she care. Those who vowed to protect her were long gone, anyway.

       Her skeletal fingers cradled a small piece of cloth as she made her way through the side streets, ducking and avoiding any Silver-Faced guards. The ridiculous, predictable paint. How it started, she —

       A raw pain surged through her knee as she hit the ground. An announcement capsule surrounded by rats had caused her to trip. What was more ridiculous than the paint was the fact that even now, paperless and plasticless, the news still ended with the urchins of the streets.

       She rubbed at the pain, half berating herself for not noticing the capsule. What was worse, however, was when she saw her blood had spilled.

       “No!” she cursed. She had nothing but that piece of cloth to wipe away the too-quickly drying blood. Sighing and scolding tears that threatened to fall, she swiped the cloth along the street. She was careful not to touch the embroidered name: Elide.

       She lifted her knee slowly, attempting to stand despite the open skin, when she heard the call of those Silver-Faced guards.

       Cursing again, she inched her way behind the closest wall. It was an effort to hold in the cry of pain or to slow her breathing to a near stop. The guards' thumping boots echoing through her chest didn’t make it any easier.

       It didn’t matter, though, because she would not yield. She would not be painted away.

       Once she was sure they were gone, she eased herself up.

       Gradual yet firm, she made her way across town. After a while, she landed in the manufacturing warehouse. Moss and rust trickled from every corner of the building, barely making the place liveable. Despite staying here for as long as she had, the putrid smell surrounding the warehouse punched her nose each time.

She knocked five times, pausing between the second and third beat.

       Sounds of locks pierced through. The door creaked open.

       Shoulders sighed with relief as Elide made her way into the room.

       “You’re late,” a stern voice chided. “Scared us half out of our wits.”

       Pale arms wrapped around her and squeezed. The scent of white peaches and dust was just enough to replace the horrid smell. The small voice attached piped up, “You’re alive!”

       Elide looked fondly at the young girl who had become a sister over this dreary era. Stroking her dull, brown hair, she squeezed Aysha back.

       “Of course I am.” Elide let go of the girl’s embrace and looked at Alistair, his stern face still the cool portrait of stone. “And I was late because I almost had a run-in with the Silver-Faces.”

       Though she didn’t think it possible, Alistair became more still. “What are the Silver-Faces doing in this part of town?” he breathed.

       She didn’t answer. Not that she knew it, anyhow. Instead, she reached into her oversized coat pocket and took out a few pieces of stale bread.

       Aysha’s eyes widened at the sight, all thoughts of the Silver-Faces vanishing. “How did you get that?”

       “It doesn’t matter.” Elide handed a piece to the younger girl. “Slow down or you’ll hurt your stomach,” she scolded when Aysha scoffed down the food.

       As Elide made her way to the far side of the room to give Alistair his share, he stopped her, pointing to her knee. “You’re hurt.”

       “I hadn’t noticed.” She gave him a lazy but crude smirk.

       “What happened?” he whispered, shielding his voice from Aysha.

       “I didn’t yield, I was not painted away,” Elide said, laminating their mantra. 

       Before he could respond, Elide handed Alistair his bread. He begrudgingly took it, knowing better than to press the conversation.

       Elide curled up in a corner of the room, a makeshift cot beneath her. As she drifted off, her fingers slowly began to clench the idle piece of cloth.

“Your name is Elide.” Not just a statement, but a command to remember.

       The woman staring down at her with dreary, hazel eyes — the same she herself wore — gripped Elide’s face tightly between her too-thin hands. She let one hand fall and drift to her pocket. When it emerged, the woman was holding a piece of strikingly white cloth. Spread on the lower corner, her name was embroidered in neat script.

       “Remember that,” the woman commanded.

       With eyes now blinking too hard, yet not hard enough to wipe away what began to well, the woman picked up Elide and placed her a few feet under the ground. The dirt inched into every crevice of Elide it could find.

       She barely heard her mother’s next commands of not leaving, of pretending to smell of death if someone passes, of finding somewhere safe… if such a place still existed. With a final kiss on her head, Elide saw the tears finally begin to fall before her mother knocked her unconscious.

Elide awoke with a start. Making sure the cloth was still in her pocket, she inched over Aysha's limp body, smiling as she did so. Aysha had undoubtedly crawled next to her for warmth some point late at night.

       She took a few deep breaths, trying to shake away the memory, as she made her way to the window. Though it was covered, she could see little flecks of light flickering through some holes.

       “Couldn’t sleep?” Alistair asked from behind, nearly knocking her down from the sound of his footsteps.

       “Don’t sneak up on me like that!” she hissed.

       He gave a humorless chuckle and sauntered next to her. They stared at each other for a long, motionless moment before Elide broke, tearing her gaze away and back to the window. Despite herself, despite him standing right there, the image of his eyes lingered. They were piercing blue, unlucky and risky, but a sight to be seen. At least for her hazel eyes, she could pass them as brown if you didn’t look long enough.

       She couldn't remember the last time she’d seen someone else with different colored eyes than brown.

       Walnut brown eyes! The right color! The phrase echoed through her and she shivered.

       Brown eyes. Brown hair. Glowing skin bordering on silver. The more burnished, the better.

       She rolled her eyes at the thought.

       Then, she felt those sapphire blue eyes staring at her. Alistair made to say something, but she interrupted. “I should probably go back to sleep. Another long day tomorrow.”

       He muttered something incoherent to her still sleepy ears, then nodded.

       She did not go back to sleep for a while. Instead, she thought of the next day. Of the day after that, too. And each day that would follow. The sheer overwhelmingness of it made her sick.

       She held Aysha closer.

       No, thinking of tomorrow would do her no good. Not when there was no certainty that it would come.

       She looked over to where Alistair still stood by the window. She — well, no. Thinking of that wouldn’t do any good, either.

       I will not yield. I will not be painted away. She squeezed her piece of cloth tight and fell back into a fitful sleep.

Awaking the next day, Elide’s body was left in a state of aches. She quietly examined her knee, sighing in relief when she saw it had already begun healing. 

       Alistair, it seemed, had gone back to sleep in his corner of the room. She was glad he finally let himself rest. Since the day they met, he was constantly moving, never staying still long enough to remember where he was.

She shook Aysha slightly to let her know she was leaving. The girl mumbled her acknowledgment and fell back asleep.

       Elide left the warehouse in swift motions, glad that the sun hadn’t yet risen. As she made her way across town, she was acutely aware of the additional guards that crawled the city limits. Ever so carefully, she eased through the sewer pipeline as she had countless times before. The strong smell of rotten fish swarmed into her nostrils. She held in a gag. Crawling through to the other side, she was barely conscious of the excrement and bile that glazed her fingers.

       At last, she arrived outside the town, eager to claim the food that had been discarded by its denizens. She breathed a breath of fresh air before realizing whose feet she stood at. Heart immediately sinking, she froze in place.

       She steeled her stomach, willing to squelch her own vomit as Silver-Faced guards stared down at her. Before she could move, before she could even think of doing something, dense, leaden chains wrapped around her, rendering Elide immobile.

       She yelled until her throat turned raw and her tongue stuck to the roof of her mouth like dry honey. Head throbbing, body flailing, she was thrown into a stark white room.

       She hadn’t another moment to think, a moment to remember her friends in that warehouse waiting for their food to arrive. A woman in white walked in, her skin glistening as she did.

       She reached for Elide’s shirt in an attempt to pull it off.

       Elide refused. I will not yield. I will not be painted away.

       More Silver-Faces entered, neither male nor female, and held her down while the woman in white stripped her bare.

       She yelled, yelled, yelled.

       They wouldn’t change her… they wouldn’t!

       But two more women came and cut her hair, leaving her with a fine breeze to brush her now naked head. She wished to see her transformation, to at least know what they were making her into. But there was no mirror, no reflection in a window.

       She felt cool dye graze her head, and, as the cool brown paint dripped down, she knew. Knew then that she was powerless. That she could do nothing as they changed all that she was.

       We are the same. The message incessantly rang in her ear. Brown hair. Brown eyes. Silver skin.

       She panicked then. Where was her cloth?

       We are the same.

       Your name is Elide!

       Brown hair. Brown eyes.

       You have friends waiting for you.

       Silver skin.

       I will not yield.

       We are the same.

       I will not be painted away.

       Brown hair. Brown eyes. Silver skin

       Your name is…

       We are the same.

       The last thing the girl — with brown hair and brown eyes, standing average at 5”4, and dressed in all white to compliment her silver skin — remembered was a white cloth being ripped into small, insignificant pieces.

Photograph by Brooke Kohl

Over the Bridge

By Tamar Rosenfeld

The first time they did it, I went along for the fear that they might alienate a newcomer like me. The second time, I wanted to impress my new friends. This third time, I’m not so sure. Maybe I thought it wasn’t that dangerous; if they assured me it was fine, that must be true. Maybe I was scared of the consequences of disobedience, of what they would do if I said no. Maybe I didn’t realize that their magnet of friendship was eerily irresistible, dragging me to the brink of the bridge. Maybe I thought it wouldn’t affect me in the profound way that it did. Maybe I thought I wouldn’t feel its waves of impact gushing through my body, swimming in my veins, flooding my senses until they went into overdrive.

       I didn’t realize that they’d taken away the safety cord. At least not until it was too late, too late to think of an excuse for declining their offer, too late to turn on my heels and run run run until the bad feeling in my gut disappeared. It truly was the experience of a lifetime, like they all said. The wind slamming into your face, whistling in your ears, removing all of your worries with the brute force of windswept nature. The freefall, your stomach climbing to chest and your heart plummeting, until finally the rope pulls taut and you ricochet, unconstrained, flying back into the clouds. Still, I should have known better, but what other option did I have? I couldn’t oppose them, not even when all logic pointed in the other direction. So I followed, unaware that they were using my blind faith against me. 

       When I buckled on my harness, I didn’t notice the missing weight, didn’t realize that I was never tethered to the concrete bridge until I stepped over the side of the railing. Until it was too late. Panic clouded the edge of my vision, darkening the excited tears squeezing out of the corners of my eyes. Gasping for air, my mind spun, fighting to grab onto one coherent thought, just one solitary thought - one thought I was sure would be my last. The only thing I could think of as the water surged closer and my adrenaline overpowered the blood coursing through my body and my heart beat faster than the speed of sound and my throat seemed to be unable to catch a single breath and my arms were searching for the safety cord that wasn’t there all along and one thousand unsaid words bubbled over at the tip of my tongue and I knew it was over — 

       The only thing I could think of was: had they planned to twist their murderous knife into my heart from the first time they did it? Too bad I was too blind, too blind until it was too late.

Conformity

By Josh Kaplan

I did not conform

I did not spend every living moment with them

I was not like them

I did not conform

 

I am different

I am not like them

I do not conform

I was told I was different

I was not like them

I did not conform

 

I was less “normal”

I was not like them

I did not conform  

 

I was more “crazy”

I was not like them

Curious Waters

By Eliana Birman

Skylar Thompson had always been a follower. 

       When her friends began to ditch school, she went with them. They went to the beach and had fun, but she always had a nagging feeling that she was doing something wrong. When her parents started walking to the river every day, she could never muster up the same enthusiasm that they had to go to the water. But she went with them, because family walks had the potential to be enjoyable. 

       When her cousins decided to go on vacation to Venice and boat around the city, Skylar booked a ticket and went along with them, even though she didn’t understand the appeal of a city built on canals. 

       The whole trip felt off. Why was everyone walking around as though in a trance? And why did Skylar feel completely normal? She wondered if her family and friends were pulling some kind of practical joke on her. But the Venetians were acting that way too. Was it something in the air? In the ground? Maybe it was the water. That’s where everyone was being lured to day after day— everyone except for her.

       When Skylar got back home, she immediately opened up her computer. She fervently searched on website after website, trying to find out what was going on with the world, why it was so odd. Nothing. As the clock struck midnight, she finally gave up, letting the exhaustion of her jet-lag take over. 

       When morning came, Skylar was excited to see her friends again. She called and texted them, but she never received a response. Why weren’t they answering her? She had a gut feeling that this had something to do with the trance that everybody except for her was being pulled into. She decided to go to the nearest river, sure the water was causing her friends’ absence.

       But she was too late. Her friends had become victims of the water. They had found their way to the bottom of the river, and she wouldn’t follow them this time.    

482° F

By Hannah Friedman

“482 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s the temperature a computer overheats at. Remember that. It’s important for you to know since it’s the temperature you must set them to. It’s the temperature needed to destroy them.” 

       I stare at the ceiling, analyzing the spinning fan, instead of listening to the important rules the chief technician is laying out. I pinch myself. This is important, Sylvia. You must pay attention. If you intend to be a great computer technician like your father and your brother, you must listen. 

       I have been dreaming of this moment my whole life, and it’s finally here. My initiation into the computer technician task force. We are considered the most powerful and most prominent people in society. Our job is to destroy illegal computers citizens have been hiding. We break into homes; we tear down walls; and we burn the technology until it is nothing but thick silvery liquid. 

       Technology used to be very important to society— it was used for everything imaginable. It was both a good use of time, and a waste of it. Personally, I don’t see what’s so bad about technology. I don’t understand why it has to be outlawed. I joined this movement so my father would approve of me, and to gain the honor from the country like my brother did. But deep down, I know that approval and honor aren't enough to justify the destructiveness of the cause. Would it be so wrong to rebel? Would the consequences be severe? 

       It’s scary, though. My family would lose their honor. Plus, it’s so much easier to burn humans than computers: Humans burn at only 111 degrees Fahrenheit. 

Supernova

By Gabe Greenfield

swallowing all around it.

But once again, I am small,

and only so much can fit.

 

In a universe full of stars 

Who am I to be

I’m just another sun

In just another galaxy

 

And somewhere else

there is someone else 

whose star shines even brighter.

 

a universe full of light 

Leaves me full of darkness

The sun is not so bright

When compared to other stars.

The suns of other galaxies 

Are blinding next to ours.

 

The same applies to me,

whether I like it or not. 

What I think is so substantial

Is really not a lot

 

The fact that I’m so small

never ceases to blow my mind.

this explosion, a supernova,

Makes me feel confined

A mental black hole 

Photograph by Zehava Shatzkes

A Scrumpled Receipt

By Josh Kaplan

A receipt. Nondescript. Non-specific. Non-unique. Simply a receipt. The store is non-existent. The item, no longer able to be found. But a trace remains. A receipt. A receipt. A receipt. Something that we do not think about but throw into our bags and ignore. Nothing special, but unique in its own right. Something meant to be forgotten but remembered by a picture. A receipt; a receipt from a time very different than now. A receipt. 

October greatness

By Rosie Fellig

Perhaps this will be the beginning of greatness. 

Perhaps this, if a heavenly force may allow it, may be a time that I'll never struggle to remember.

 One that will become an exceptional anecdote to my children; a tale that will glow on its own accord. 

The incredible intensity of the world's unexplained happenings might be transpiring in my midst. 

Maybe, 

Maybe this is the beginning of everything that will matter. 

This gloomy day. 

Perhaps my sorrow is just an inclination of what's yet to come. 

 The warmth and the crispness in the air feel promising. 

 

The earth might be reaching to me, 

It might be calling my name. 

And the greatness that I’ve always dreamed, 

The one I claimed to forget, 

May be just within my grasp.

Perhaps if I just answer the calls,  

It’ll be all i'll ever know.

Free

By Rachel Halpern

I’m just a vessel of my own memory

Turning each thought over slowly

Agonizing over what went wrong again and again 

And again

My wiser mind revealing darker folds then I had thought 

 

Tracing the pad of my thumb over red raised ridges

lines where I pushed my beliefs into shapes too sharp and small 

A waterfall in a bottle

Butcher’s twine crisscrossing the slab of brain, sawing into nerves, pressing them into throbbing ache

gone 

 

gone gone gone 

Scars of healing stretch across my skin

Marks that show me I’m not empty

I’m just free

Everything Happens For a Reason

By Yaffa Lofstock

2020. A year for the books. A year that people will remember for the rest of their lives. A year that caused most teenagers to have long-lasting mental health damage. A year that was different than any other year in the past. But, was it ultimately a year of change for the better? 

       This was something that constantly kept Cindy up at night. She hated her life. She lived with her step-mom, Karen, and two horrible step-sisters, Carly and Chloe. Quarantine forced her to spend even more time with them. Actually, not with them, more like taking care of them. She was their maid, but not by choice. Her mother died when Cindy was very young, so her father eventually remarried. Once her father died, his wife took control of Cindy’s life, and there went any free will she ever had. When her school shut down for two weeks in the beginning of March, she was a sophomore in high school. School was Cindy’s only escape from her dreadful home life. School was where she could live her life the way she wanted. Unlike most children in her grade, she wasn’t excited whatsoever when she found out that her school was closing. She couldn’t imagine spending every second of every day, waiting on her family hand and foot. It was enough to serve them after school, now she had to do it all day? Then, she remembered at least she had Zoom school. Still, the thought gave her chills.

       A few months later in the middle of May, Cindy couldn’t take it anymore. She was so sick of her “family,” she didn’t know what to do. She decided to take off from school one day, and let her mind have a break. If anyone deserved it, she did. She was taking a nap in her room in the attic, when she heard a buzz. She checked her phone to see who could be texting her. It was sent by the most popular boy in her grade to their grade group chat. His name was Liam and every girl in Spring Lake High School was obsessed with him, including Cindy. Liam had invited everyone in their grade (which consisted of 72 kids) to a backyard movie night tonight in his insanely huge backyard. Even though he had no clue she existed, she felt a strong yearning to go. Karen will never let me go! Cindy thought, ugh, what’s the point? He doesn’t even know me! Still, when she went downstairs to prepare dinner for everyone, she decided to subtly bring it up. Just then, Carly and Chloe barged through the front door, panting, as if they had just run two miles. Really, it was just their way of over exaggerating to bring all of the attention towards them. “You will never believe what just happened!” They didn’t wait for anybody to ask, and honestly, nobody was going to. Their own mother was on the phone talking to her friend, and probably didn’t even realize her daughters had come home. Three hours past their curfew. “Even though we are in the grade below you, Cindy, and at a rich prep school, we are just so popular and known by everyone, that we got invited to Liam’s house for a backyard movie night tonight!” Chloe bragged. They both knew about her crush on him, but it was unclear if her sisters truly liked him, or just wanted to torture Cindy. Either way, her heart had shattered. She needed this break. It was bad enough she wasn’t physically in school anymore. Now she couldn’t even see her grade again without her step-sisters being there?! “Wow that sounds so fun,” Cindy responded bluntly. Should I tell them I was technically invited also? “Well, actually, I was also invited”. Their jaws dropped. “That’s it. I’m telling mom you can’t go” Chloe shot back. Then, they grinned and went upstairs to change into their overpriced clothes. She couldn’t believe her step-sisters had the nerve to prevent her from going. She set up the dinner table faster than ever before and sprinted to her room.

       Later that night, after crying for hours, she picked up her phone to distract herself and realized she got a missed call from an unknown number. She decided to call it back, but there was no answer, only the following message: “Cindy. You do not know who I am, but I know who you are and understand what you are dealing with. I can help you go to the movie night. I can turn your hand sanitizer into a self-driving car that can take you. The only problem is that you need to be back before midnight, otherwise it will turn back. Meet me outside in five minutes so I can transform your car.” She was extremely grateful for this mystery person. She ran to her closet to find her best pair of jeans and a casual white shirt.  Cindy also grabbed her favorite mask—a black mask with white hearts all over it. She turned her bedroom light off so it looked like she was sleeping, and snuck out through the window to meet this person. When Cindy got outside, her “fairy godfather” was no other than Anthony Fauci! If anyone could help her, it was him. And just as quickly as she had gotten his phone call, she was on her way to the movie night. When she arrived, she noticed a few of her classmates, but her eyes were scanning the backyard for Liam. He was wearing a black sweatshirt and blue jeans, and she couldn’t help but stare at him as he threw a football around with his friends. She found a spot on the ground close enough to him for her to stare at him and the screen simultaneously, which was exactly her goal. Halfway through Jumanji: The Next Level, she put on her mask, and went up to the small snack table that was set up to grab something to eat. Cindy opened up her pack of pretzels and turned to walk back to her seat while still looking at the screen, so she wouldn’t miss anything. Then, she bumped into someone and her pretzels went flying and then eventually all over the ground. She felt the stares of a million eyes and her face immediately felt hot. She looked to see who she bumped into, and of course, it had to be Liam! “Oh wow, I am so sorry—” she struggled to find words to say next, but he cut her off anyway with a chuckle, “You’re good. The movie was getting a little boring anyway.” She smiled as they both picked up all of the pretzels. As they walked back to their seats, they continued to talk and realized they actually had a lot in common—they both loved animals and wanted to pursue a job with animals when they were older. They also both loved the same sports teams. Cindy and Liam didn’t realize they were still talking, until people started shushing them. “Here take my number and we can continue this later,” Liam said suddenly. She was shocked. “Thanks, I will definitely use it!” She cringed at her awkwardness but he didn’t seem to notice. A few hours and multiple movies later, she checked her phone to see what time it was, still grinning from her eventful night, and she gasped. It was 11:58. She had two minutes to get home and Liam did not live two minutes away. She quickly jumped up and started running to her makeshift car. “Hey, where are you going?” Confused, he added, “Wait, I didn’t get your name!” He tried to run after her, but it was too late. She was gone.

       Cindy got home at one in the morning. After her car turned back into hand sanitizer, she had to walk the rest home and she was terrified. When she climbed back into the window, there stood Carly and Chloe. “Well, well, well,” started Carly. “Look who’s finally home. And where were you all night?” 

       “Uh, well you see, I was actually...”

       “We know where you were! We saw you with Liam! How could you talk to him? You know Carly called dibs!” Chloe yelled. Cindy didn’t know what to do. She wanted to scream back at them, but she couldn’t work up the courage. “Ok,” they said. “We are going to make a deal with you. Either you give us your phone, or we tell mom where you were and she will make your life miserable… more than usual.” She decided to give them her phone. Even though she couldn’t text Liam, at least they didn’t know her password.

       The next morning, Cindy awoke to loud noises coming from the living room. She went downstairs to see who was at the house at nine in the morning, and there stood Liam with his parents. “Well it isn’t my mask,” Karen said sharply. “It’s mine.” Everyone turned around. But, it was only Carly. “You don’t look like the girl I was talking to last night.”

       “Well that’s rude! I’m just not wearing makeup!” She put the mask on one ear, but then struggled to put it on the other. “I don’t think it fits, sorry.” Liam almost grinned but held it back. The second Cindy had walked into the room, he’d known the mask was hers, but he enjoyed watching Carly attempt to put it on. “Can I let her try it on?” He pointed to Cindy. “Cindy’s just the maid. It’s not hers,” Chloe remarked.

       “No, I would like to try it on. Thanks Chloe.” She rolled her eyes. Cindy took her mask and put it on, and no surprise there, it fit perfectly. “I knew it! From the second you walked in, I knew it was your mask!” They both smiled as they looked into each other's eyes. “But, I didn’t catch your name, what is it?”

       “Cindy. Short for Cinderella.”

I'll take you the sun

By Rosie Fellig

“The sun, it’s tilting.” I nod. 

“It’ll explode one day.” He says, point blank. 

“Maybe that isn’t such a bad thing.” I look at him. He stares back, squints a little. I can tell he’s reading me. He inches closer to me, the tall weeds grazing his tan legs.

“Maybe.” He starts to run through the field and pulls me with him. 

“Where are we going?” I ask.

 “To the sun.” He laughs. 

  I shout.

“Today is the day!” 

He follows my lead.

“Today is the day!” 

We run to the sun. We run for an escape. 

The world shakes under us but we continue running. 

“Today is the day!” 

“Today is the day!” 

I watch him let go of everything. It feels like we could run forever, side by side. He flashes a smile when he catches me looking at him. 

“What are you looking at!” He says loudly, swallowing his breath.

“You're beautiful! I yell back.

The idea of burning in the crimson flames ahead keeps me focused. 

And

 then, 

A flash of light, 

A head pounding sound, 

A gunshot. 

And then he was on the ground, his sprinting form just a few seconds prior a distant memory, his smile replaced with a grimace, his hands limp. 

I kneel beside him, sweat dripping from my face. 

“Henry oh Henry.” 

I caress his soft brown hair, stroke his youthful cheeks. 

I lie next to him so our eyes meet. 

“We should have run faster.” He groans. 

I nod and cry silently as I shut his lids. 

He cries along with me. 

I watch him go. I watch him leave. 

“I’ll take you to the sun.” 

And then the familiar sound ringed through out the dim field once more, 

And as the sun came down 

We left together.

Artwork by Sarah Cohen

Enough is Enough

By Mia Hahn

So

Enough is enough.

I’ve wallowed in my tears enough;

I’ve had my time to fill the river.

Now

It’s time to stop.

And this time,

Yes, I promise this time,

My voice, despite its still rawness,

it still burning into tiny flames,

still stuck shut like sticky honey,

My voice yells over the clinging of her bells:

Enough is Enough.

And maybe,

just for today,

That’s enough.

Enough is enough,

I shout, my voice turning

raw and

burnt

from the single exclamation,

my throat constricting as I gulp for

gasps that do not exist,

all the while my shout

has been drowned out

by the ringing of today

her bells merely single octaves

above mine.

Yet somehow,

she overpowers me and my voice

that I’ve not only crafted

but perfected over these long years.

An Awful, Very Bad, Very Very Bad Trip

By Josh Kaplan

We boarded a plane to go to the Bahamas. We took off smoothly at 9:00 am from John F. Kennedy International Airport. 

       Forty-three minutes later: “This is your captain speaking. We seem to be losing altitude and are working to regain control of the situation.” 

       A sudden lurch, a sudden tilt, and in the blink of an eye, the plane went straight into the ocean. (Or so I think. My brain is pretty messed up from this crash). Before I knew it, I was holding onto a log, drifting in the water. It was a long night. 

       In the morning, I saw some trees, I saw land, I saw hope. However, upon arrival, I realized that the situation was bleak. This was a desert island, the one I currently live on. Fortunately, I survived. However, a few hours later, another log floated to the Island. Holding onto this log was a man. 

       I soon learned a few key facts: 1) This man was named Paul. 2) He was a British knight (and demanded you call him Sir Paul) 3) He also survived the crash. To put it bluntly, life was pretty miserable. However, we decided to split the island in half, and I haven’t seen him in forever, it must be a year or two of seasons, but it feels like an eternity. 

The Club That Stands Still

By Caleb Ottensoser

The dingy lights hung overhead, illuminating the many hopeful creatives that would dare descend to this place of judgement. The stench of burnt cigarettes gave the club a smoky yet elegant feel. Food was served but was rarely eaten. The abundance of alcohol being consumed was enough to stave off hunger. Applause was rare, for these people were so world-weary that few things surprised them. However, when someone put on a worthy show, the sound was deafening.

 

My first time, I was a young and naive man, for god sakes, I wasn’t even smoking yet.  I was an outlier, an optimist surrounded by pessimists. The club can hold one in a trance, lure its victim to a place where time seems to have stopped. As time passed, I grew more ingrained in the club’s culture. My taste in music was planted firmly in jazz. One cigarette became five, my affinity for whiskey skyrocketed. Alas, my liver never fully recovered.

Artwork by Naomi Strupinsky

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