The Art of Finding Solace

By Corey Reed

I found comfort in the wintertime during my thirty-minute walk through the snow and overflowing streams to the school bus stop every morning. Something about that muted, muffled atmosphere comforted me. The trees didn’t quake. The birds didn’t chirp. Thick snowflakes softly fell around me, adding to the pillow-like, un-ploughed path under my feet. All was still and suspended. “Do What You Have To Do” by Sarah McLachlan played on the iPod I bought with my first ever paycheque, and I smiled warmly. It was the most peace and solace I had ever found in my life so far – even with wolves stalking me through the trees.

One day, one tiptoed onto the road in front of me, growling mildly. I knew that fear inspired their hunger much as writing inspired my escapism, so I continued walking forward to what I was certain was death. At that time, I welcomed it, for lately the abuse and pain was at the boiling point for me. The wolf snarled, rearing up onto its hind legs. Suddenly, there was a look in its eyes of fear and hesitation – a look I had often. As I continued walking towards it, back straight and refusing to break my stare, it plopped a few steps forward in the snow. In the muted cold, the snarling subsided. Before I knew it, the wolf was a nose-length away from my chest.

“Just do it. Save me.” I pleaded anxiously.

It licked my hand. 

I hesitated for a moment. Do I dare pet it? I must be out of my mind, I thought. But sure enough, I pressed my lightly gloved hand onto its head, stroking it softly. The wolf closed its eyes, grunting through its nose in appreciation and nuzzling into my coat, nearly knocking me off my feet. Here was a creature misunderstood by so many, having an “I know, hang in there” moment with another misunderstood creature. 
I have never looked back since. Don’t believe me? Doesn’t matter. I know it happened. I’m alive because of it.

Today, I’m so glad to be in debt and stuck in a dead-end job. No, seriously–and I have a good reason for it: I survived the journey and did it all myself. I’m not one of those people who wishes to be dependent or “cling” to their parents. I flourish in the distance.

Never were my childhood aspirations cut down. My mother supported me, doing her best to guide me onto the right path despite her addiction and mental-health issues that were never properly diagnosed. My father is, well, another story. I find great comfort in hammering away at these keys about his “influence” – it’s almost therapeutic. 

Dad left mom in 2000, leaving me under the impression that it was due to her battle with the almighty bottle. While I knew this was one issue, I wasn’t stupid. I knew there was more to it, and found out when I was forcibly removed from mom’s custody and forced to live with dad – and his newly wed husband. 

To all potential parents out there – never force your child along with you on your own “redemption” journey as your captive yes-man.

I didn’t think of becoming a writer until my late teens – when I had a lot to write about, and plenty of “inspiration.” Beforehand, I wanted to be a naval architect, but then it shifted to being a video game concept artist. As my taste in careers changed with me, the insults, put-downs and negativity began. Dad’s words bore into my head like a riveter’s hammer.

You’ll never make any goddamn money off of that.

Use your head.

Don’t be stupid for once.

Do it on the side as a hobby.

Hobby. 

I vehemently detest that word. It is an insult and disgrace. If I pursue something as a career, then it is due to my utter passion and admiration for it. I don’t wish to maintain it as a mere plaything–something to return to in my downtime and fuck around with. This is how I feel about my writing, which received much the same reaction as my passion for concept artistry did–well, at first, anyway. Once dear old dad took the time to peruse my early work, he began to notice that his son possessed more than the ability to fragment families and be a selfish, egotistical pot-smoking prick – unlike himself. 

You make sure I get a dedication in your first book.

Are you going to write a gay love story in honour of (insert current squeeze’s name) and me? As a thank you for everything we’ve done?

I want the first copy.

Just write something.

My hatred and hostility towards my father have fuelled my creative writing in a monolithically powerful manner. Think about it - to hide your sexual identity for over 35 years, “fall in love” with the girl next door to please everyone but yourself, live a double life, fuck around on her the whole time, have a child (as a result of a broken condom, as I was told by him), use her addiction as an excuse or “way out” of your false life while punishing and devastating her on the way out the door with half of her stuff, then to marry your current sweetheart from the bathroom stall of a local Swiss Chalet–but not before tearing your child from their mother who had been working sixty-five hours a week in the fast-food industry while battling alcoholism to make ends meet? It boils my blood. However, my blood fills my pen, so to speak. In a way, his disregard for everyone but himself has helped me–in some twisted non-parentally correct manner, albeit. 

I remember working simply for the sake of working. I longed to be out of the house, out of that hole of deceit and snobbery. I missed playing Grand Theft Auto with my mother, going to the movies and enjoying each day fully. She would become sloshed, but I knew it was a disease that she had to fight. I never resented her for it. If anything, her mental state irritated me more–it was like living with an eleven-year-old from the sixties who understood nothing about the modern day. But I still loved and respected her, even with her annoyingness. How could I not–look what she had tried to provide?

I was never allowed to return to that atmosphere again once I started living with dad–and dad number two. If I didn’t remember to walk the dog that they picked out, named and brought home without involving me in the process, I’d receive a fist across the face. Didn’t want to join them in watching their daily four hours of soap operas on the only television in the house? Then it was off to my room–after being told I was spoiled and selfish, of course. 

I’m worried about him. Is he doing drugs?

I bet he’s just masturbating and playing fucking Nintendo.

He needs to learn to get a fucking life and grow up.

He has no friends. Who’d want him? Not like he does anything.

In my teens, struggling with acne like so many, I was shoved against the wall while he would “force” my skin to submit to his malevolent intentions. I still remember the bruises from that fucking towel rack knifing into my back. Bastard. 

You weren’t helping.

You look like one big ball of pus.

Learn to take care of yourself.

Stop crying and grow up.

You’re so lazy, and it shows. Just look at you. Skinny, pimply and anti-social.

I remember, you sick psychotic fuck. 

You’d like to forget and put yourself on a pedestal, but I will always remember for both of us. This was in my teens, and by then I had decided that enough was enough – I would pursue a life as a full-time novelist and escape. Something was so comforting about creating stories and novellas that made use of the anger, hatred and bigotry that filled my life as a sort of “fuel for the fire,” so to speak. To concentrate pain into beauty resonated heavily with me, and always will. This was what got me into writing and further inspired my push to pursue a diploma in Professional Writing later on. Use what you’ve got, I’d think. Well, I’ve got heartbreak and despondency. Let’s use that.

It’s worked pretty well so far.

Eventually, dad number one was laid off and had to relocate us to where dad number two’s family lived – a hovel of a town called Hawkesbury, which borders Ontario and Quebec. Still under eighteen, I had little choice but to comply–mom was out of rehab for the fourth and final time and battling her own demons. We moved to dad number two’s great-great-grandmother’s old house in the Laurentians. A seemingly endless forest, a 40-minute drive from civilization, surrounded us. Wolves walked past my window at night in the winter. A carpet of ladybugs infested the house in the humid summer. 

It was at this time when I had my encounter with nature in its most raw, pure and incorruptible form. That moment with the misunderstood wolf in the muted winter of 2009 resonated with me like nothing else. That creature was afraid of me–as much as I was of it. But I met it with respect and confidence, much in the way that I learned from that experience to meet my aspirations and wrench them into reality–even if it meant I had to do things myself. I woke up.

So I moved out as soon as I hit eighteen. I packed my paltry belongings and relocated to Ottawa. I regret nothing except not doing it sooner. Since moving away, my past has continued to haunt me–albeit in a manner that helps more than hinders. I still fuel my work with my pain and trauma, because–as I’ve noted earlier–it heals me to transmute my torture into innocent beauty within the confines of the printed word. I tend to tell dark, despondent stories–it’ll always be that way, and it doesn’t bother me–but I am proud of them, and can see the quality present on the pages. 

That’s what I’m trying to get across–you need to be the author of your pain and experiences. Cry, bleed, sweat, ejaculate, and piss on every page. Use yourself–especially if you feel that next to nobody has any use of you. Use your inner outcast in your work, and exorcise your feelings of exclusion in the real world. This is the true art of writing; make it as damn personal and authentic as possible–even if it is horrific and shocking–and don’t worry what others think. Ever.

I took the time to reflect on my past because we can’t have a present without recognizing how our histories have helped us grow. Sure, to some I’m likely fifteen years more mature than I ought to be, and am not the most social person around (I’m not crazy, I just revel in independence), but I know that I have what it takes to get through life. 

There’s so much more that I wanted to include in this piece–but I didn’t want it to be a “pity party” essay. It is meant to be a lesson in self-confidence. As I’ve grown, so has my writing. All of my early work has been burned and eradicated. It is garbage. My best work is from the past five years–what I’ve written since moving out on my own, falling in love (something I never thought I would feel), moving in with my boyfriend and his roommate (an ex-philosophy professor, at that) and forging a path of my own. This is because I can fully appreciate my past. I’m actually thankful for what happened, because I’d never be anywhere near as unashamedly decent of a writer as I am now. I’d still worry what people think. Now, I believe in my ability. I will become a full-time novelist. I will. Ironic, isn’t it? When we learn to turn our pain and horrors of the past into a tool to build our future, anything is possible.

Therefore, I feel that this isn’t a story about my life.

This is just me. 

Me, unashamedly showing all creatively inclined, misunderstood people out there that it does get better. You just need to put yourself first. The only voice that should echo in your head and make decisions for you is your own.

Let me conclude with a moment that I’m glad to have experienced–one that I’d have missed if I didn’t learn to believe in myself, forge my own way and use the past to my advantage. Meeting Margaret Atwood at the 2015 Ottawa International Writer’s Festival, I had a brilliant moment that solidified my confidence that I’m on the right path. After waiting for 40 minutes to have my books signed, all I could muster (in my anxious mentality at the time) to say was how nice it was to have a writer like her to look up to.

“You know what is even better, though,” she said quietly, smirking her famous smirk and giving me a twinkly, transfixed stare, “is when you have someone to look down to.”

That’s pure Atwood, right there. Never have truer words been spoken to me. Immediately, I thought of dear old dad.

I get to look down at him now. 

If I didn’t want to pursue my passions and forge a path towards making a living out of it, then I would have been dead years ago. You can survive your struggles, also, dear reader. There is always a way out – and the obvious one is giving in to the torture of others. Don’t limit your years and let them win. Don’t whine and wander about looking for a pity party, either. Do it yourself. It really is true that if you want something badly enough, you’ll damn well get it.

Like my encounter with the wolf, you may experience a “wake up” moment or epiphany to help you realize what you need to do for you. In the end, it isn’t how you get to where you want to be in life that matters. What matters is that you get there. You are the key to your own future–don’t be suffocated by the rest of the world. Keep breathing and claw through the pain towards a better life. If you have to cut ties or break into uncharted territory, then so be it. Eventually you will get there–if you are determined enough to do so. That is the true art of finding solace.
So go for it.

Photo Credit: Corey Reed


COREY REED

An Ottawa-based writer, born in Cobourg, Ontario. A shortlisted winner of the 2014 National Capital Writing Contest, Reed is currently studying Professional Writing at Algonquin College to further hone his skills. His passions include ocean liner history, Art Deco design, fiction writing and everything to do with Stevie Nicks.

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Speech is Silver but Silence Isn't Golden

By William Au

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"Take those earphones out of your ears!"

I looked at my father whose face was flush from frustration.

"You don't have to listen to music all the time," he said.

I raised the volume of my music player and replied, "It's fine."         The rickety elevator groaned as it pulled into the third floor.           I followed my father out the cab, careful to keep myself two steps behind him. From where I stood, my father's back looked small,     like a turtle without a shell, a being vulnerable to all the pitfalls in the world. We passed by the dorm's reception desk and lounge, which was filled with geriatric patients staring at a gigantic TV.
In the lounge was a cage filled with twittering canaries the residents ignored. Every room on the floor shared the same appearance, similar to the indistinguishable recesses of an underground cavern. My father and I entered a room on the left side, which was lit by a wall light affixed above a hospital bed with an incline.  Three women stood beside the bed, conversing with each other in hushed voices. One of them wore a thick jacket and gripped the strap of a travel bag. My aunt from Australia weaved between this trio, heels clicking against the floor, as she rearranged bundles of flowers and provisions. She saw us enter and gave a brief nod of acknowledgement. I returned the gesture and looked at the person sleeping in the bed—an older woman whose mouth hung open, taking in breaths that shook her entire body, like a house settling in the cold. This woman was my grandmother.

Since I was old enough to walk, I remember my grandmother being confined to a bed. I didn't share a close relationship with her during my childhood because I was a  child, self-centered in my interests and preoccupied with having a good time. My interactions with my grandmother were always instigated by other relatives and usually went like this:

"William, talk to your grandmother."

"Hello, Grandmother."

"Ahh-"

"She wants to know how you're doing in school."

"I'm doing well; I'm passing, for the most part."

"Ah-"

"She wants to know if you've been a good boy."

"Yes, I listen to my mom and dad."

"Okay, you can leave now."

Back then, my grandmother was just another adult, a stranger who seemed like a permanent fixture in my life.
 
Until 1959, polygamy was legal and widespread in Vietnam. My grandfather, Chau Au, operated an auto garage in Saigon while being married to three women. His first wife, Muoi Tu, was the oldest of the three and my paternal grandmother. Her age and position made the rest of the family address her with the name "Eldest." After my grandfather passed away from illness, my grandmother immigrated to Canada with five of her children. A couple years after I was born, she suffered a stroke that paralyzed the lower half of her body and ruined her ability to communicate with words. She couldn't use the bathroom by herself or change her clothes without assistance. After becoming immobile, she spent most of her time watching Chinese pop singers perform on a 13" CRT television, sleeping, or lost in thought.  

My grandmother was a resident of Saint-Vincent Hospital, an extended care complex located near the heart of Ottawa's china town. She didn't speak any English and only left the place when my relatives were free to host her on holidays or weekends. When I was old enough to attend high school, my father started leaving me alone with her to perform errands or consult the nurses. She was always listless and despondent until someone engaged her in conversation. Her eyes sparked to life and she would start moving her fingers to articulate her feelings. Sometimes she even laughed in a gravelly voice that sounded like a putting engine. When we were alone, my grandmother always invited me to join her in conversation but I couldn't understand any of the guttural sounds she made. Also, I wasn't a good conversationalist and knew little about her, save for the fact that the only hospital food she touched was the applesauce and milk. In the end, I managed to resolve our communication barrier by throwing out questions and watching if my grandmother nodded or shook her head. She wanted to know about my friends, school life, and plans for the future. However, my responses were often vague or incomplete because I was embarrassed to talk about myself. It wasn't until later visits that I removed my filter and learned that I could make her laugh by interjecting gestures and caricatures of people in my stories.     This behaviour is now a habit that I find hard to break.

I stopped by the hospital a couple years back to see if the place had changed. I climbed an asphalt slope to a set of double doors beneath a concrete awning. From what I saw, most of the hospital was the same. Nobody removed the replica of the building that dominated the foyer and the smell of human waste and disinfectant still hung in every hallway. To my surprise, the gift shop still had gaudy, gold decor and sold polyester balloons, get-well cards, and lottery tickets. The attendant in the elevator was new, though. Ever since the management installed an atrium on the first floor, I started to suspect that they were trying to present the hospital as a place more grandiose than it really was. Regardless of the renovations, I'll always remember the hospital as a plain room with a turquoise curtain that split the room in two and obscured the window. 

As I grew older, my visits to the hospital became less frequent. I was preoccupied with school and relationships and didn't start seeing my grandmother again until her health took a turn for the worse. During this period, I spoke to her only once or twice. Every time I went to the hospital, my grandmother's room was filled with a mixture of my aunts, uncles, and their families. I often left and went downstairs because I didn't want to get in anyone's way. The only time I was alone with my grandmother was the last time I saw her. The creases lining her face were darker and a coughing fit accompanied her every action. She beckoned and pointed at the cabinet beside her bed. Inside the top shelf was a deck of battered cue cards, yellow with age. Each card showed an illustration of an object with a description in both Chinese and English. I asked  my grandmother if these were for me and she nodded. I was confused; I stopped attending extracurricular language classes long ago and showed no interest in starting again. My mind raced with questions, but I said nothing; I didn't want to appear ungrateful or incapable of accepting goodwill. My father returned from buying egg tarts, my grandmother's favourite pastry. I thanked my grandmother for the gift and sat in the corner of the room. I left that evening without asking my grandmother about the intention behind her gift.  

My grandmother passed away a week later. My father was at work and didn't learn that her health vitals were failing until it was too late.   I wasn't allowed to go with him when he left for the hospital; I didn't want to stay behind, but I understood that it wasn't my place to be there.   At the time, I wasn't sure if my desire to follow my father came from a sense of obligation or regret from not visiting my grandmother more. In retrospect, my priorities and reservations back then weren't that important. I should have been true to myself during the moments that mattered, instead of letting fear hold me back and deny myself from a relationship with my grandmother. 

A year later, I had a dream where I was standing next to a canopy bed in a white room that lacked both boundaries and a ceiling.               My grandmother lay in the bed with her fingers clasped together. She was still wearing her trademark hospital gown and a blanket covered up her legs. We shared a brief conversation where she told me I was a good boy and gave me instructions to look after a baby. My grandmother smiled at me and shrunk into an infant wearing a pink sleeper. I woke from my dream and went downstairs. I was surprised to see the rest of my family awake and contemplating in their pajamas. I tried to break the ice, but everyone kept interrupting me with snippets of how they saw Grandmother in their sleep.  

I don't believe in the concept of reincarnation, so I consider the specifics of that dream to be nothing more than the product of an active imagination, but I did take the message to heart. After my fourth year in high school, I returned for a semester to complete a missing art credit. I was unable to register for university that year, so I volunteered at a neighbourhood daycare that took care of Iris, my cousin who was born earlier that year. Four months later, the daycare closed down because of dwindling clientele. From then on, taking care of Iris became a full-time commitment. I woke up at five in the morning every day, walked to my uncle's place, and slipped upstairs. Iris was a light sleeper. She would cry when her parents left for work unless I coaxed her back to sleep with a baby carrier. I made many fond memories with Iris that year.

On a typical day, I changed her diapers, read her books, gave her baths, and brought her to the park to play and perform calisthenics. Not everything was fun and games, but I don't regret a single moment of our year together. It's been five years since then and now I have another younger cousin named Katherine. I didn't have the opportunity to look after Katherine, but I try to maintain a relationship with her and all my younger relatives. I don't have much time these days to spend with family, but I do my best to be a person they can approach for help or guidance. 

Once in awhile, I search my dresser for the deck of cards my grandmother left me and take a stab at memorizing familiar, but elusive Chinese characters. When I hold these cards in my hands, I can't help but wonder where and when they became a part of my grandmother's possessions. Perhaps she bought these years ago, from a roadside vendor or the airport in Ho Chi Minh City, in preparation of a new life in Canada. Having these cards doesn't improve my Chinese, but they're still important to me; they connect me to my grandmother, a memento that serves as a reminder of how time flies and where to place my priorities.

Photo Credit: The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Norfolk District (David Kidd)


WILLIAM AU

William Au is a student in the Professional Writing program with a love for storytelling that spans every medium of expression. His free time is spent sleeping, partaking of new experiences, and indulging in books and films. He helps run the Video Game Club at Algonquin College and collects children's books.

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Lions Camp Dorset

By Samantha Meijer

“I get knocked down, but I get up again, you're never gonna keep me down.” Chumbawamba's Tubthumping song blared through the 3500-square-foot banquet hall's speakers, while the camp coordinators danced down one of the centre tables. The guests visiting for the week joined in the excitement, as I, merely seven years old, took it all in. It was the first night at Lions Camp Dorset, a place in the Muskokas where dialysis patients and their families could vacation together. It was also the first night of an eye-opening, life-changing experience. 

My mom, my two sisters, and I drove approximately four hours to get to Dorset, Ontario – thirty-eight minutes away from the town of Bracebridge, Ontario, and right on Deer Lake – where we spent the week with my mom's childhood friend and his wife – our Aunt Rose and Uncle Karl. Even though we weren't blood relatives, they considered us to be their nieces, and were therefore welcome to the camp. Many of the nurses also knew my mom because she'd worked with them during her nursing days, so we didn't have an issue getting in. My uncle, a later-stage dialysis patient, had been chosen from a list of applicants to go to the camp, for a week of relaxation and medical care. 

Like many dialysis patients, my uncle couldn't go on vacations, as treatment was always a necessity. Dialysis is the only treatment for kidney disease - the deterioration and destruction of the kidneys’ filtering units, keeping the kidneys from removing waste from the blood, among other things - and is life long, unless you're able to receive a kidney transplant. This means that when he came to visit us in Ottawa – from his home in St. Catharines – we had to schedule appointments with a private clinic on Baseline, or at the Riverside hospital, giving him the chance to go farther than the Niagara region and still have his treatments. But Lions Camp Dorset caters to the needs of patients with kidney disease. The camp understands the care patients with kidney disease need and are willing to offer it as part of the relaxation process.

Lions Camp Dorset offers patients on dialysis the opportunity to “experience the great outdoors,” and get away from the stresses of life. It allows guests with kidney failure to unwind and have fun, while still maintaining their scheduled treatments. During their stay, guests and their families can spend their time at their cottages, by the water, in the rec hall playing pool and watching movies, at the park, at the tennis courts, at the indoor pool or hot-tub, or even away from the camp in either the town of Bracebridge or Santa's Village. 

After the first night of camp and the first night of fun, we spent the next couple of days cramming as much as possible into the days we had with one another. In the first couple of days, we spent our time swimming and paddle boating, a pastime that saw my towel in the water more times than it was around me. We would have liked to use the indoor hot tub as well, but the tornado that ripped through the area weeks before had caused some electrical damage, and it was deemed unsafe. So while my uncle was off at his first treatment, I spent the time jumping into the deep end with my water wings on. There I'd stand at the edge of the deep end and yell “catch me” to my aunt. Then I would jump, and come back up sputtering water in her face. She didn't care though; she was enjoying the fun time, something my uncle wanted. Every time he went for treatment, we would make sure he was all right, and then go and have fun in the water, on the tennis courts, or even the putting range. It sounds awful, but we had fun, because he wanted us to have fun. He was happy if we were.

Canoeing only came because another woman at the camp was willing to take my sisters and me out. My mom and uncle couldn't manage that form of exertion because of his treatments and my mom's arthritis. This meant that my aunt was left to take us out. We only got so far before we started going in circles because none of us could figure out which way to paddle. The woman, who had been out with her grandchildren, saw our attempt and offered to take the three of us out instead. Nothing against my aunt, but her attempt was as good as ours. 

The following afternoon was spent with many of the other guests, enduring the log challenge. The log challenge required you to line up on a log with other guests, and order yourselves depending on when your birthday was. The object of the challenge was to get in order, without stepping off the log. This meant we had to work together to move across the log, never touching the ground until the challenge was complete. That same afternoon, we fed the chipmunks. My uncle would give us peanuts, and we'd just hold them in our palms. The chipmunks would come right up to us, eating straight from our hand.

Later that evening, we went back to the banquet hall and played a couple of rounds of bingo with many of the other guests. This was a different kind of bingo though. Instead of winning money, guests were required to provide prizes that couldn't cost more than a toonie. This brought us to a little corner store in Dorset called Dwight Market. There, we were able to pick up our groceries, our prizes, some souvenirs, and a bonus of ice cream. We then headed back to camp, where we prepared the food for the potluck bingo night, then made our way back to the hall. Bingo was fun that night, but what I recall most was the lucky penny key chain I chose. A lucky penny seems like a weird choice, especially since pennies are no longer in existence, but it acted as a reminder of the fun I had that night.

By midweek, we left camp and headed to Santa's Village. We were able to go because we'd received family passes from the camp, and therefore spent most of the day at the village in Bracebridge. Santa's Village is a little like an amusement park with rides ranging from Santa's roller coaster and summer sled (jet boat), to a merry-go-round and miniature train.

Santa's Village is for any child who still believes in Santa Claus, but also for the young at heart. At Santa's village, I found that adults didn't have to grow up. They could spend the day experiencing fun through a younger set of eyes, and enjoy an afternoon filled with the dulcet sounds of laughter. It's unbelievably contagious, letting you escape the realities of your own life, even if it's only for a couple of hours.

One of the first things we attempted upon our arrival to the park was the reindeer roller-coaster, and I say attempt because it was a ride I was unsure of. When you're seven, a roller-coaster seems like a scary thing if you're not interested in fast rides, or if you've never been on anything other than a five cent merry-go-round in Port Dalhousie.

My aunt went with us while my mom snapped photos, and after the first ride, I was hooked. I dragged my aunt onto the ride a number of times, even though she complained she felt sick every time she went on. She went on for me though, and kept going for me because that's what made me happy.

That's also the day I gained two new grandparents. We went to see Santa and Mrs. Claus, who were happy to see us out with our mom and grandparents. Suddenly my aunt and uncle had become my mom's parents, and yet, they didn't care. They took it in good fun, and it gave us something to laugh about later on.

Meanwhile, my uncle got his treatments. The camp’s clinic looked like a space hub, where robots sat charged for use. The machines hummed, their spindly wires connecting themselves to the tissue of the human they needed to make contact with. To the imaginative mind, a dialysis clinic could appear like something more than it really is, and quite scary. People sit in chairs, tubes inserted in a vein in their neck, chest, or leg, pumping  the waste out of their blood in order to help maintain a certain quality of life. However, at Lion's Camp Dorset, even though the same procedure went down three days a week, it doesn't seem that scary. To the seven-year-old mind, it's fascinating what these machines are capable of. 

On the last day of my uncle's treatment, we went to the dialysis clinic – in our bathing suits – and took turns taking photos with him. There I was, a pink towel wrapped around my bathing suit, hair sticking up at all ends, smiling from ear-to-ear. My uncle sat in the chair beside where I stood, the same sort of smile spreading across his own face.

That same night, we had our own campfire. We had had one with the other guests, sharing food and drink, but this one was ours. I sat next to my aunt, close to the marshmallows, devouring as many as my stomach could handle. We sat around the fire, watching the crackling flames grow, and I could feel the heat on my arms. As I would say at the age of seven, “it was a honking big fire.” We toasted and burned the marshmallows – browned marshmallows are all right, but charred are even better.

We continued the night with singing and laughter, something that lit up the darkness that the fire's light couldn't reach. Two memorable songs are imprinted in my mind, memorized like you memorize the acronym for the planets in the solar system. The first was like a theme song for my uncle, one he always sang. The second was my aunt’s song – or one of the many she sang. 

Song 1: 
A peanut sitting on a railroad track, 
His heart was all a flutter, 
Along came a choo choo train, 
Toot toot peanut butter.

Song 2:
Oh little playmate, come out and play with me,
And bring your dollies three, climb up my apple tree,
Slide down my rain-barrel, slide down my cellar door,
And we'll be jolly friends forever more.

Oh little playmate, I cannot play with you,
My dolly has the flu, boo hoo, hoo, hoo, hoo, hoo,
Haven't got no rain barrel, Haven't got no cellar door,
But we'll be jolly friends forever more.

“I get knocked down, but I get up again, you're never gonna keep me down.” The journey at Lions Camp Dorset came and went, the week of new adventures finally over. I was sad to be going home, for I felt that the adventure had only just begun. But, my visit had introduced me to new people, and new experiences, ones that would be imprinted in my mind forever. The patients at Lions Camp Dorset didn't let the disease keep them down, and it didn't keep their families down either. The lions that worked together and fought together are the true lions of Dorset, uniting in the endless battle of life.

As a young adult looking back on this experience, I've realized that strength is more than the ability to lift when others can't. It's the will to fight and to never give up on life. Two years have passed since my uncle's death, and still, there's an emptiness felt whenever a day goes by without one of his spontaneous calls. But, those lessons of strength have kept me living, keeping him alive as well.

Photo Credit: Debbie Meijer


SAMANTHA MEIJER

Samantha is an avid reader and writer, who finds relaxation in the imaginary worlds she creates. Her non-fiction work has been published for the Canadian Wildlife Federation, and she has won awards for her short fiction in the annual Remembrance Day Legion contest. When she's not writing, Samantha is sketching famous or familial people.

CWF | Royal Canadian Legion

A Wet Raccoon

By Adam Brown

There was only one thing I hated about spring: the water. Even with winter being over, meaning my family and I could finally eat after months of idleness, I would always be discouraged by the flooded fields, the overflowing tunnels, and the mud stuck between my toes. The year before I met my mate, I was in one of those hard, grey tunnels that Man makes, stuck on an island from a rush of water that came out of nowhere. I had to swim through filthy water for what felt like an entire night until I finally found a way out of that place. The things we do to mate! Not like I found one anyhow, being covered in excrement. Anybody could have smelled me from a horizon away and thought, “Man!

I had waited, against the demands of my mate and our children, an extra couple of days after the snow had melted to begin the epic hunt for both food and a new burrow. Food always came first of course, but a new burrow was a necessity. Soon Man would send dogs after us, and the night birds would be after our children. I dreaded seeing such creatures. I let out a long yawn and savoured the dusk as I emerged from the burrow that spring, after my fourth long winter. Looking round the forest, I wondered where to begin. I was tired already, and had a long night of walking ahead of me. I scavenged the area for hours until I found something across a patch of hard man-ground; a large dead tree in the middle of a small clearing. It had been used before, but it would do as a temporary spot. I searched on for food.

BrownAdam_Racoon.jpg

After the clearing, I continued in the same direction for a short while, until I came to a massive field. It was perfectly flat, and had white lines going all across. It had Man all over it. Still, the berries and other food grown in the forest would not be found until midsummer, so I didn't rule out the possibility of stealing food from Man, risky as it was. I advanced alongside the treeline, making my way closer to where Man live, following my nose through the artificial smell and towards the scent of food.

I made a dash across the field towards the place of Man as soon as I had reached the tip of the forest. As I approached, I realized how foreign the world of Man was to me. Structures as tall as trees and as wide as rivers were everywhere, with these strange dim suns coming out of every one. A fool would have been drawn to them and I’ll admit I was curious, but it wasn't worth the risk, with the lives of my family at stake. I drove the dim suns out of my head, and followed my nose closely. I didn't have long to go until I found what I was looking for.

I'll never forget the first time I saw those things. At a glance, they appeared to be burly black dogs, however so still that they had to be a work of Man. They had this shimmer to them, like a river that reflects glimpses of the sun. All huge, black shiny stones they looked like. I soon came to understand them better, as the smell of food inside them caused me to tear one open. It was filled almost entirely of food, like a juicy worm or an egg. As soon as the hole was torn, leftovers came toppling out of it, but not with a flow like blood or yolk. It was much more solid. It was like a giant food egg with different kinds of food inside of it.

After being bottled up in the burrow for so long, not smelling or tasting sweet food for almost a whole winter, I could hardly contain myself from devouring the contents of these black food eggs. Such smells, although mixed with the putrid odours of Man, intoxicated me with a hunger I had never before felt. I continued to rip through, even though I thought I'd heard a rumbling or sorts, sounding distant but also close, as if muffled by trees.

This is where I first saw Man. Part of the structure opened from in itself, and a small youngling appeared, maybe about the size of three or four raccoons. Of course, I was as scared as I had ever been, but the thought of food was still fresh in my mind, the smell as present and pungent as ever. “You won't take this food from me Man!” I growled and hissed at him. He shot me a fierce look back, although it was shaky and half-heartedly. I could tell me wasn't used to confronting animals like me, but I was also vulnerable, just as he was. So we stared each other down, both of us snarling and growling every so often. There was someone saying something in Man-speak in the distance, probably talking to this youngling here, but his stare did not falter, nor did mine.

He held something in his hands, a long straight white branch with thin twigs coming out the end. He readjusted his grip around it, and I could tell that whatever it was, he was inexperienced with it. The voice of Man continued to cry out in the distance. All this time, we had been creeping closer to one another, waiting to break out of this trance of battle and attack the other. I had moved right under one of the dim suns coming high out of the structure, and it opened, just like when the boy had emerged. But, instead of another Man coming out, a splash of rain hailed from up above. I rushed away instinctively when I had become wet, and continued running until I had gone back into the forest and arrived at the tree in the small clearing again. I caught my breath and my thoughts.

It would be a long while before I dared go near the homes of Man again.

Photo Credit: Tammy Grimes


ADAM BROWN

Adam is a writer, skateboarder, and happiness enthusiast born and raised in Ottawa, Ontario. His spare time is ideally spent outdoors skateboarding or exploring nature.

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Pick Up

By Dani Murdock-Landry

I know you won't pick up, but let me say a few things.

I love you. You always knew that – I hope you knew that. I told you so often. And you would always smile, even if we were fighting or there was something wrong in the world. Between the two of us, there was a safe space. It's always been that way.

We've always been together, even before we were together. We both knew that. When you'd yell at me to push you higher on the swings, and that time when you had to come pull me out of the deep end of the pool at that stupid high school party because you were the only one I'd ever told that I didn't know how to swim. I was the only one you could cry to when your cat died, because your mother hated cats and didn't know you were keeping one in the shed. 

Sometimes, you were the only one I could go to. And sometimes, I was the only one you could go to. So we made the distance between us shorter, so we could always go to each other when we needed to. We had to a lot, didn't we?

I need to go to you now. You're the only one I can go to. I need you. I need you more than I've ever needed you before.

But you're the only one who can't be there for me this time. Or ever again.

I never had to imagine what it would be like to live without you. I don't want to have to start learning. 

I know you can't pick up. I love you.

I miss you.

Photo Credit: Soopahtoe


DANIELLE MURDOCK-LANDRY

Born in Sudbury, Ontario, Dani always had a penchant for adventure. Her reading was avid to the point of getting her scolded in school, and she began writing once she realized that she had stories to tell too. Writing every day and collaborating with friends across the globe, she has a mind full of worlds that need sharing.

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Ignition

By Samantha Meijer

Adrian sat in his borrowed snow-removal truck, which promoted the logo of Toronto but did little else. He hadn't taken the truck out for weeks, which was probably the reason why he was just fired from another job. He'd been expected to return it that afternoon, but had taken it upon himself to schedule its return for the following morning.

You know you won't get this past dad.

His sister's voice resonated in his head. Of course, his father would be mad, seeing as it wasn't the first time Adrian failed to accomplish something. However, he'd probably be more steamed with the fact that Adrian had just been kicked out of Ryerson, the university where his father worked as a Professor. What could be worse, though being yelled at for the umpteenth time, or the silent disappointment he'd see encroaching upon his father's eyes?

He left the truck, slamming the door shut. He figured he might as well make it known he was home, rather then slink in like a wounded animal. His dogs barked at the noise an uproar of yapping that wouldn't end until either he or his father forced the argument to a close. His feet crunched on the new blanket of snow neatly compacted on their drive while his hands seemed to burn from the sudden attention they were receiving from the cold. He interchangeably blew on them as he scrounged through his pockets for his key to open the front door – which he'd soon learn was unlocked. As the lock clicked into place behind him, his German Shepherd came bounding toward him, followed by the miniature poodle which came up and sat behind the Shepherd's front paws. Adrian patted both before relieving himself of his wet clothes.

“Come here, Adrian.” The sternness in his father's voice echoed through the empty house. “Leave Hunter and Booster out in the hall.”

He entered his father's office, closing the door behind him. His father didn't look up, but rather continued to scribble on his notepad as he spoke.

“Take a seat, I'll speak with you in a moment.”

Adrian sat in a lounge chair by the fire as he waited for his father to finish. The fire was merely coal, but a heat could still be felt as though the burning embers had only just been extinguished. The window behind him frosted over from the winter storm, let some light filter in. It left a portion of the office in darkness. Adrian rubbed his hands together to stay warm while his father continued to write under the heat of his lamp. Finally, he clicked his pen and placed it on the desk. Turning his chair, he faced his son.

“So, Adrian?”

“So, what?”

“I'll thank you to not snap at me. I'm not in the mood for your arrogance.”

“And I'll thank you, to stop lecturing me. I'm not one of your students.”

“As of this morning, you're no longer anyone's student.”

“Harsh, Dad.”

“True, no?”

“Yes.”

“Yes, what?”

“Yes, sir.”

Adrian moved closer to his father.

“What the hell, Adrian?”

“What? I flunked out. It's not like it's never happened before.”

“Not to a person who always got straight A's... up until four months ago.”

“Yeah, well, things change.”

“I know we're coming upon the anniversary of Lena-Marie's death, but—”

“But I shouldn't blame myself, right? Then you can't keep blaming me for her death.”

His father's face held the expression of pure shock. “Adrian Elias Steiner, I never—”

“You never blamed me for sneaking out of the house with Lena-Marie, for taking the car and driving it up a pole because some drunk asshole cut me off, or for letting her die all because I couldn't pull her from the burning car in time? You never blamed me?

His father remained silent.

“That's what I thought.”

Adrian, disgusted, began to leave the room. His father waited until he was at the office door before pulling him back into the conversation.

“Sit down, Adrian,” His voice was less firm and sounded more open to seeing reason. Adrian walked back over in a huff. “I just want what's best for you.”

“What's best for me?” Adrian scoffed at his father's remark before continuing, “What's best for me would be to get out of this hellhole like Tobias did, live in Ottawa and live the life I want to live–not a life in your shadow. What's best would be to walk away from you and hope one day you'll see I'm more than another face in the crowd you lecture to. You'll see I'm more than that student who comes to you with questions, ones you seem to have the answers to. Maybe one day you'll recognize I'm not the burden you see me as, and eventually come to acknowledge me as your son.”

With that statement ringing in the air, he left his father's office.

“Adrian, please don't walk away from me,” his father said, his voice holding the tone of one begging for forgiveness. “What do you want from me?”

Adrian, I can't be that buffer anymore. Please leave before you say something you'll regret.

“I want you to blame me for Lena-Marie's death,” Adrian muttered. He turned and addressed his father again, “If you can't figure that out, then I have nothing more to say to you.” Not caring to grab his winter clothes or wallet, Adrian left his father's house — but not before choosing to ignore his sister's voice and speak his final words to his father. “You can add being fired to the list of disappointments you have for me, a list I know you keep in a drawer somewhere.”

***

The church ceiling, with its wooden arches branching over one another, broke the blue coating into sections. Each contained a number of stars, seeming to glow in the dim of the church's light. Small, half-mooned windows sat below the stars, depicting God's angels in the gloom of the winter storm. They blocked out all light from the moon, leaving the balcony section in darkness.

Adrian stared at the ceiling as he lay on one of the middle pews, the pew he and his sister had etched their initials into when they were five. His heartbeat was steady as his body took in the peace and warmth of the candles burning around him. He only sat up when an elderly woman passed his pew, staring contently at his state of being. He watched as she chose a candle and lit it for prayer. Adrian appeared intrigued by her steadiness and self-certainty as she knelt and prayed to the unseen. His curiosity was peaked by her half-hour procession of kneeling and praying every time she lit a candle. What he didn't see was the moving of her lips, repeating the same phrase — he looks like my Phillip. By the time she was finished, each candle had been lit.

“If it's not too personal, I'd like to ask why you've lit so many candles.”

He blocked her path as she came down the aisle, forcing her to break her solitary procession.

“I light candles for those I've lost, and for me, that's been a few too many, but also for those who are searching for peace tonight.”

“How often do you do this?”

He'd gone back inside the pew, beckoning for her to sit. She took his request and sat. When seen up close, she was older than she appeared. Her wrinkled skin hung loosely on her bones, showing a frailty in a life outlived.

“I come here every night around eight.”

“You're willing to drive in this weather?”

She laughed a soft melancholy laughter.

“No, I take the bus.”

“But why light every unlit candle?”

“In order to put life back into the lives of those who are here, and ignite the memory of those long passed. Tonight, for instance, I lit a candle for my son who's passed, and one for you.”

“For me? But you don't even know me.”

“I don't have to know you to realize you need a little light in your life.”

Adrian's face reddened.

“Thank you,” he said, taking her bony hand in his own.

She just patted his knee and left, leaving him alone once again.

I think it's time to go home.

His sister's voice moved him from the pew to the back of the church. He scrounged through the pockets of his jeans, again for his keys, before running out to the truck. He started the engine, turned up the heat, and propelled himself out of the church's lot.

***

The call came over the wire at ten. An accident had occurred on the westbound lane of Highway 2, twenty minutes prior to the arrival of rescue personnel. The first to the scene was an officer who had been waiting around for his shift to end. He was about to call in when his radio crackled with the latest update. With lights flaring, the officer rushed to the scene. He spotted the bus first — it was parked on the wrong side of the road, headlights blinding his vision. He only spotted the truck once he'd gotten out, for it was buried in the ensuing snowdrift. One of the rear lights was out while the other blinked as quickly as the officer's rapid heartbeat. He ran back to his car to grab his flashlight and rope. He tied one end of the rope around his waist, secured the other end around a nearby tree and then descended toward the truck.

The compacted snow around the door made it impossible for the officer to pry it open. He could only look through the window at the position of the driver, who was strapped in tightly and hanging limply toward the passenger seat.

“It's my Jeremy all over again,” he thought. “Down here!” he yelled as he heard the fire engine and paramedics pull up.

The firefighters were down first, bringing the Jaws of Life with them. The officer was told to step aside as they took over and began their extraction of the driver. He was pushed further back when the paramedics scaled down with their gear, only giving him a small opening to view the process through. Once the door had been pried open, the fire officials moved aside to enable the paramedics to check the driver over. They inspected his pulse and then, using their penlights, checked the head gash and the driver's pupil reaction. The officer left the paramedics to search the truck and then radioed in.

“Dispatcher, the accident victim — a young man no older than twenty — will be taken to the hospital momentarily. No identification was found on the scene, but his plates read 3-S-C-T-A-L.”

“10-4,” the dispatcher responded.

***

After the final statement had been taken, the last passenger from the bus gone, and the call made to his chief, the officer drove over to the hospital that the paramedics had mentioned. He parked near the emergency entrance and went straight to the desk.

“Excuse me, could you tell me about the man brought in from the accident on Highway 2?”

“You a relative?”

She didn't look up from her paperwork as she answered.

“No, just the first officer on the scene.”

“Oh, his family's in room 131.”

He thanked her and headed over. The sign on the door read 'Family Waiting Room,' and as he walked in, he spotted two men sitting in steel-backed chairs. The younger of the two was rubbing the older man's back while he sat with his head between his hands. The young man, sensing another presence, looked up at the officer. He whispered something to the older man before coming over to where the officer stood.

“Were you the officer on the scene?”

“Yes, Officer Hurst, Reginald Hurst.”

The young man took the officer's outstretched hand.

“Tobias.”

Photo Credit:  Sam Meijer


SAMANTHA MEIJER

Samantha is an avid reader and writer, who finds relaxation in the imaginary worlds she creates. Her non-fiction work has been published for the Canadian Wildlife Federation, and she has won awards for her short fiction in the annual Remembrance Day Legion contest. When she's not writing, Samantha is sketching famous or familial people.

CWF | Royal Canadian Legion

Maybe Next Time

By Sean Lalonde

It was only because of her eyes that I knew who she was. Everything about her was different but her eyes were the same, haunting me with the ghost of who she used to be. Her hair was shorter, only at her shoulders and not silky like it used to be. A scar took up the left side of her face. Her once healthy frame was sunken in and emaciated. Her arms were filled with track marks. She wore practically nothing despite the cold chill of the autumn air and a dress that was old and too tight.

I have known a million different kinds of pain. I have known the pain of dragging the cold metal object across my arm, tearing up the flesh. I have known the pain of being told, at only seven years old, that my father was dead. I have even known the pain of my own mother telling me she wished I would just kill myself already. All of that pain combined couldn’t come close to the moment I finally found her. The pain ripped through every part of me like never before.

Part of the reason I was out here looking for her every night was because I still loved her. All I wanted to do was reach out and hold her and nurse her back to health. The other part was my overwhelming guilt. What if’s played in my head over and over. What if I hadn’t shared a bed with her only because I was angry and lonely, just to break her heart, knowing she wanted more? What if I hadn’t made her promises I wasn’t committed enough to keep? Would she have ever slid that needle into her arm if I had been a better person? Would the person she had become, the person ready for a committed relationship, have been with the girl of my dreams? The girl she used to be.

“What are you doing here?” she asked.

“I didn’t think you’d notice me.”

“Most people notice when someone stops in the middle of the street.”

It was nice to hear her voice again. I focused on the sidewalk, dragging a loose rock under my shoe. The guilt crashed into memories and I played them in my head every night that I spent out here looking for her. They all stopped when I saw her.

“You look awful, Kass.”

“You’re not even looking at me.”

“I can’t.” My voice cracked.

“You look pathetic.”

“Do I?” I asked, risking a glance up at her.

“You think I don’t notice you walking these streets looking for me every night? Well, here I am, tell me what you need to so you can sleep easier at night.” Her words stung.

“I miss you.” It was truly that simple.

“You left me remember?” she said. How could I not? I remember so much, it seemed to be the only thing I could remember. I remembered her sobbing on the phone, asking me why I was doing this, but my focus was on the girl sitting on my bed waiting for me. I remembered her calling me in the middle of the night because she had a nightmare. I remembered that she was always reaching out a hand for me and I would just turn away, but when I finally looked back her hand wasn’t there anymore.

“Quite well actually. I was a kid and I just wanted everything.”

“And now you’re an adult who has nothing.” She turned to walk away and I panicked. I couldn’t let her go yet, I wasn’t ready for her to leave.

“I think I have more than you.” I regretted the words the second they left my mouth, but I couldn’t think of anything else to say to keep her standing there. One of the things I remembered so clearly was her anger. She could spark up at the smallest of things. As long as she was angry, I knew she wouldn’t walk away.

“Excuse me?”

“You’re out here with barely any clothes on, in the middle of fall. You’re skinnier than I have ever seen you and it looks like something has been eating your face. It isn’t too hard to tell, Kass.”

“What the fuck do you want from me? You’re the one out here looking for me remember? If you are so much better than me, why are you wasting your time?”

“I want to help you get off this,” I said and she laughed sarcastically. “Seriously, Kass, let me help you get clean.”

“Keep dreaming, lover boy, this isn’t one of those pretty scenes in a book. This is real life.”

“Does this really make you happy?” I asked. I searched her eyes for any hint of doubt.

“I gave up on happy. It wasn’t meant for me.” she said, digging in her purse before pulling out a cigarette.

“It could be,” I said, quickly pulling out my lighter and holding out the flame. She eyed me for a few seconds before leaning forward to light her smoke.

“Maybe in another life time,” she said, looking at her pack, debating before she offered me one. I took the cigarette and lit it before turning to stand beside her, looking out at the street. It was dark, other than the dim lighting coming from the street lamp. The old neon sign from the ice cream shop across the road hummed in its struggle to stay lit. I listened to it, just enjoying feeling her close to me again. How many nights had I been looking? I had lost count, but this moment was worth all those sleepless nights.

“I wish you would give me a chance,” I said, before blowing out a long stream of smoke.

“Funny, I used to feel the same way towards you,” she said.

I smiled despite the sting. Memories flashed back of her crying on the phone with me. Her pleading and holding onto my arm, nails gripping into my skin as she repeated the words ‘Please don’t leave me.’ But I did. I pulled my arm out of her grip, leaving long red marks, and walked away.

“Maybe funny isn't a good choice of words,” I said, forcing a grin when I looked at her.

“Words were always your thing not mine,” she said. She smiled at something playing in her head and I could only hope she was thinking of us.

“You did okay.” I took a long drag from my cigarette. “Do you ever think of those times?”

“I try not to.”

“Fair enough.” I nodded and looked at her shoes. I tried to think of more things to say. More pleading words.

“You need to stop thinking of it too. They were from another life,” she said, her hand touching my arm. My skin tingled where she touched me and I wanted to pull her against me to feel it all over. It had been so long since I felt her touch.

“Why can't it be now?”

“Because we aren't the same people anymore,” she said and took her hand away.

“But maybe it will be better now,” I said. She looked at me, her eyes burning into my soul. For a moment I felt like maybe she was considering it. I hoped that she would come with me.

I was too lost in my own thoughts to realize the man who pulled up to the curb.

“Hey, you want a ride?” he asked. I turned to look at him.

He was a middle-aged guy with salt and pepper hair. His face was rough with stubble and his dark brown eyes didn't even try to hide the fact that he was looking at her breast and not her face. My chest tightened and I dug my nails into my palms. I need to protect her from scum like him.

“You don’t have to do this. You can come with me,” I reminded her. She forced a smile and touched my face. I leaned down into her hand that was cupping my cheek.

“It was nice seeing you. You look good. Stop doing this to yourself, okay? I'm sorry, but I hope I never see you again,” she said, before placing a light kiss that lingered on my lips.

I stood frozen as she took two steps backwards still watching me before turning around and getting into the passenger side of the car. I watched until I could no longer see the tail lights in the distance. I would try again tomorrow, maybe by then I would find the magic words I was searching for.

Photo Credit: Zsolt Dreher


SEAN LALONDE

Sean Lalonde is a 23-year-old Professional Writing student. He doesn't take life too seriously, and tries to laugh about tough situations. He strives to do the best he can in every aspect of his life and enjoys documenting his journey in a humorous way.

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Just As Night Ends

By Roxanne Pepin

“You want some?” he asked.

“Yeah,” she answered, taking a seat beside him on the sofa.

She didn’t ask him what it was, but she dipped the tip of her finger, slightly wet from nervous sweat, on the end of one of the lines and brought it up to her mouth. The powder had more sting to it than usual as she recalled having burnt her tongue earlier that day on a scalding cup of coffee.

“MDMA,” he said, watching her.

“I know,” she said as she pulled a bill from her pocket and rolled it up, brushing away his offer at the one he had just used. She knew all too well that it was the same one everybody had been sharing that night.

The first time Jane snorted drugs was when she was seventeen and with her best friends, Smith and Bailey, back home. Smith had taught her many things and one was never to share straws with anyone.

“You may know what’s on the table, but you don’t know what other substance or disease has been in that straw,” he had said.

She turned back towards the guy on the couch after she had done the line. The Hello Kitty dinner tray the drugs were placed on gave her an odd sense of nostalgia as she remembered Saturdays spent replaying the same Kitty and The Beast VHS until her mom dragged her out to run errands.

Tasting the drugs at the back of her throat, she motioned to the ice cooler beside the table with a look of ‘may I?’ on her face.

“Yeah, help yourself. You’re Jane right?”

“Thanks,” she nodded. “Is this your place?”

“Yep, Cal said you might be coming by. You’re new in town, right?”

“Yeah, I’ve only been here since Wednesday. I’m staying at a hostel right now, until I find an apartment.”

She had left home to get away from it all. Drugs had surrounded her for the past few years. They were what her relationships were built upon and ultimately destroyed by. She’d lost friends because they’d learnt better and no longer wanted to be part of the constant whirlwind that comes with the life of party drugs. Yet here she was, right back into it.

I can’t help it if it was offered to me. I just met these people and right now I can’t afford to be choosey with friends. When I meet new people that are different I’ll just cut ties.

She had accepted an invitation to a party from a stranger and hadn’t known what to expect. She hoped it wouldn’t be this, but had prepared herself for it anyways. She needed to relax; the first few days in a new city are always stressful. When she’d accepted Cal’s invitation at the coffee shop earlier, she’d told herself that one night couldn’t hurt. This was the beginning of a journey. Maybe she would be faced with exactly what it was she had left behind in the first place, but it was just one night. Easy to forget.

“Bring a friend or two if you want,” Cal said.

“I don’t know anyone in this town yet. I moved three days ago.”

“That’s chill, come make some friends then.”

Looking in the mirror that night, she wondered exactly what made him think she would fit in. She looked over the dark jeans and white t-shirt that she had been wearing all day and felt just like everyone else.

Couldn’t be more plain, Jane.

She thought of changing but didn’t want to seem as though she was trying too hard. This guy seemed pretty laid back and after all, he had said it was nothing fancy; just a few people getting together – “shooting the shit,” as he put it.

Now she was sitting on the sofa and started to feel lighter. The air conditioner in the corner seemed to be throwing snowflakes her way. Jane watched as they caught the light and scintillated mid-air. She sat and imagined them entering her body and making their way through her blood stream, tingling at the end of every vessel until she started to shiver.

“It’s pretty cold in here. You mind turning down the AC a bit?” she called out.

“Hah, no problem, Jane.”

Someone’s laugh echoed in the room as Jane suddenly became aware that the radio had been turned on. The music reverberated on the matte white walls as the stranger’s laughter kept beat with the song playing in the background. She was sure that she’d heard this song before, but didn’t care enough to try and think about where or when. Jane sat in silence nodding as she pretended to listen to the people around her talk. She’d managed to make some small talk when Cal came in but, in truth, she was just enjoying the trip. By her calculations it had been about an hour since she’d taken them. She definitely sensed that she was peaking.

Jane started nodding her head in time with the music and the laughter, but stopped when she sensed someone looking her way. She was craving things she couldn’t pinpoint and she wasn’t sure if she wanted to drink, dance, fuck, or lie down on the cold cement balcony.

A news announcer came on the radio and she couldn’t help but notice the way he pronounced words and the way his tone seemed to imply that he didn’t care who was or wasn’t listening. It reminded Jane entirely of Smith – he was King of not giving a shit. It made her wonder why she should care about any of these people. She bit her tongue, trying to ignore the overwhelming feelings taking over. She then stood up, announcing that she needed to use the washroom. Picking up her purse and walking through the front door of the apartment, she simultaneously heard Cal calling out that the the bathroom was upstairs and the radio announcer monotonously retelling the day’s events causing the death of a young adult in a nearby town.

Jane walked down the lit streets as she searched the sky for a glimpse of the moon. With all the clouds, there was no hint of its existence that night. She watched as the lights from stores and coffee shop signs bounced off of the windows of passing cars. She had nowhere else to go besides either the party or the hostel she was staying in. Jane couldn’t bear going back to either of those places now. The way that people stared at her with a sense of great wonder was something she couldn’t face with these feelings rushing through her right now. People at the hostel wondered where she was going if she wasn’t travelling the world like they were. She kept walking, the streets now completely unfamiliar to her, and decided she couldn’t do it this way. Jane needed to go home and get the help she really needed. She was an addict and it was about time that she stopped denying it.

Leaving was easy. She hadn’t stayed long enough to find a place of her own or unpack her bags yet. She got on the bus and, this time, the two-hour ride wasn’t filled with dread, despite feeling longer than necessary. By now, Jane just wanted to be home. She wanted to clear her room of anything that would remind her of the world she was leaving behind.

Now Jane lay on her bed, the one she’d spent her nights in while growing up. She stared at the same grey walls she could picture with her eyes closed. They were still the same grey shade that reminded her of all the paved driveways on her street. On the shades still hung thumbtacked photos of her, Smith, and Bailey – the inseparable trio from grade five through high school.

Nothing has changed. There’s that same hole from the time I kicked my shoe up to the ceiling.

It was the first time Jane had done cocaine. She and Smith had come back to her house since her parents were gone for the weekend and found no need to be quiet, bursting into laughter as she erupted through her bedroom door, kicking off her shoes. She had a habit of being a little eccentric. It was also the first time they had kissed. They agreed that they shouldn’t make a habit of it. The kiss was exactly what Jane had longed for, and she did want to complicate things, but Smith was right. They’d known each other far too long and too well to go down that road now. Besides, he had a girlfriend that he cared about. This was years ago, yet still it made Jane’s gut clench as she looked up to the ceiling.

She didn’t tell anyone that she was coming back and didn’t plan on telling most of her friends. Jane had decided to keep her distance, thinking that maybe it would make everything easier. The only exception was Smith. She needed to call and tell him she was back in town. After all, he was the only one who knew ahead of time that she was going to leave. He had pleaded with her not to go, having argued that there were many people here who cared about her. Still, Jane had said that this was what she needed and left anyway.

She picked up her phone and held the button down for voice commands.

“Call Smith Jeffereys.”

Her phone obeyed and dialed his number.

Smith’s voicemail was the only answer. Jane didn’t bother leaving a message. She continued to unpack the bags she had just filled only a few days ago, pulling out a white envelope that she didn’t recognize. She sat on her bed, turning it around in her hands and wondering what was inside. Holding it up to the light, she could make out a smaller sized paper with dark handwriting but couldn’t make out what it said. Jane was reluctant to open the envelope though, as she could feel a small shell-like shape inside that she could only guess was a pill capsule. Paying careful attention, she ripped open the end of the envelope furthest from the note inside. The way the paper ripped reminded her of when she was younger, carefully ripping out magazine photos to make collages. Jane found the esthetic of the ripped paper more pleasing than the clean cut a pair of scissors would normally provide.

She took her time, as the perfectionist in her needed the rips to be straight. Jane pulled out the note as the capsule fell onto her bed. She figured it was from Smith, and one glance at the handwriting proved that she had been right:

Dear Jane,

In case of emergency.
Don’t miss me too much, ha!
I’ll see you soon.

SJ
P.S. New stuff, supposed to be great.

She took the capsule to the bathroom without a second thought and flushed it, knowing if she kept it around that the temptation would be too strong. She’d already considered popping it into her mouth as soon as she saw it fall onto the bed.

Jane decided to call Bailey. She usually picked up on the second ring, but this time Jane almost hung up before she heard her reluctant greeting. Bailey’s usual cheer and brightness evaded her as Jane asked how she was.

“Hey Bails, do you know where Smith is by chance? I’ve been trying to get a hold of him.”

“No one told you? Jane, Smith died. He’s dead,” Bailey said, evidently trying to swallow back tears but having failed. “He… he overdosed.”

Jane didn’t know what to say and didn’t need to. She heard it as Bailey started crying and cut the line. She stared at her wall as her phone vibrated with two new text messages:

Message 1/1:

I’m sorry, I couldn’t keep going, Jane. The autopsy said heroin overdose. It should have been me too. Smith said he got Molly from this new dealer he met. We were supposed to do it together that night, but I was in a bad mood and

Message 2/2:

didn’t feel like it. He said it was fine and went out with Chris instead. Maybe if I were there it wouldn’t have happened. I should have just gone with him, Jane. It’s my fault he’s dead. I could have saved him.”

Right now Jane wished she hadn’t flushed that pill down the toilet; if there was a moment in life she wanted to escape most, this was it.

Photo Credit: Mateusz Stachowski


ROXANNE PEPIN

I’m Roxanne Pepin and I am a Professional Writer, blogger, realist, cyclist, and cat lover at large studying at Algonquin College, in Canada’s capital city. I am an aspiring fiction writer and copy editor who writes for my fellow fiction lovers, music lovers, book worms, cycling enthusiasts, tea devotees, and real-time, high-on-life junkies.

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The End of Adolescence

By Matt Miller

I would like to recount a story of youth. 

A story so trivial, I am almost embarrassed to consider it so dear to my heart. A story about how I, Zane, grew up–just a little.

In such a story, words of farewell are inevitable.

“You feel better when you talk, and you feel better when someone hears you out!”

That’s something that she would have said.

They’re words that I came to believe in during our time together.

I don’t think of myself as a nice person. I am well aware of my dark side and I fed it as a means of comfort. For me, that was simply being an observer of other people’s misery, quietly listening into their problems.

There’s nothing more comforting than knowing you’re not alone, and in return, they get “the story off their chest.”

It was a mutually beneficial relationship that I orchestrated with many clients throughout my senior year of high school. If someone had a serious problem, I would of course direct them to the police, young men or women’s shelter, or a guidance counselor.

During high school, I felt as though nothing would ever change. I would come late or not at all, talk to very few people outside of my “business," and go home. I didn’t get along with my parents back then, and as a result, would stay out until about five or six in the morning. Once they left for work, I would come home and sleep until noon.

I had no relationship with my parents because of that. They didn’t acknowledge my existence. No dinners together, no celebration of birthdays, no outings. Not even a “move out.” I just wasn’t there. A spectre so insignificant that they didn’t even care to scold it.

It was in a setting like that where I met Charlotte.

We met in a small coffee shop by the school. Her eyes locked onto mine.

“You’re a nuisance.”

“What?”

“This little game you’re playing. You’re a nuisance.”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

Charlotte reached over the table and grabbed the scruff of my shirt.

“You know exactly what I’m talking about. I found out about you from someone you spoke to a few weeks ago. My friend Riley. Do you remember what you told her?”

“I’m a busy man. I don’t keep tabs on every single thing people come to me about.”

“She was suffering from depression and came to you about it. Shortly after, she attempted to take her own life. I’ve seen the messages you sent to her. Your advice was absolute shit.”

Her grip on the scuff of my neck grew tighter. She stared into my eyes with such intensity, that I could not meet them back.

“I can’t control how someone decides to take my advice.”

"Charlotte, let go of my shirt."

“You’re far too dangerous to let out of my sight. You should be lucky I don’t turn you in right now. From now on, you’re under my supervision. You disobey once, and I take all the texts you’ve sent to Riley straight to the police.”

That was how I met her. That was how we began to spend our school days together.

“Wake up... Wake up, its 7:30... Get out of bed now.” Not even twenty-four hours after I first met that annoying girl, there she stood over my bedside.

“Why the fuck are you in my room? How did you even get up here?”

Charlotte pointed to the door. “I knocked on the door and your parents guided me up here.”

I bit the bottom of my lip.

“So you met them, huh? What did they say?”

Charlotte tilted her head. “Nothing. All they did was point in the direction of your room.”

I groggily sat up. “Ugh, okay, fine, whatever. Just get out so I can get dressed.”

The two of us left my house at 7:45 AM.

“You don’t say bye to your parents before leaving?”

“We don’t talk at all.”

“Oh…well, look: if we have to spend time together, then we might as well get along. Do you want breakfast?”

I stopped walking.

“Why would you offer me that? We’re enemies. Did you forget what I said to your friend? You sure were mad about that yesterday.”

“I’m livid about it. But for those of us who work, a small breakfast is nothing. If I’m going to drag you to school, you might as well learn something. Just pick whatever and I’ll buy it.”

Eventually, I gave in and bought a plate of waffles with Nutella.

“I did say anything…” Charlotte said, counting the few coins left in her purse, “but...”

I choked out an awkward thank you and began to eat.

“You sure are hungry. When was the last time you ate?”

I think back.

“I don’t know.”

“In the past 24 hours?”

“Yeah….probably. I think so, anyway.”

Diving into the waffles, a small glob of Nutella fell onto my white shirt.

“If you don’t want to go to school like that, we can run back to your house…”

“It’s fine. I’m used to not having clean clothes.”

Charlotte silently returned to her meal after that.

The two of us finished our breakfast. At the school gates, she warned me that she would be there to walk me home at 4 PM, sharp.

“And don’t cause any trouble before then.”

Upon entering the classroom, there were whispers…

“Isn’t that Zane?”

“At 9 AM?”

“Why does he even bother at this point?”

“Look at his shirt.”

I stared out the window for the entirety of the day, listening to the chirping of the birds, watching as the sunlight shone through the trees and ignoring everything both the teachers and students were saying.

For a few months, being awoken by Charlotte, going to school with Charlotte, catching up on sleep during the day, and being walked home by Charlotte was my new daily life.

And maybe, just maybe, during the loneliest of nights, I would look forward to seeing her the next day. On one autumn day on our way home from school, as both the setting sun and falling leaves dyed the town orange, I decided to ask Charlotte a question lingering on my mind.

“What made you want to help me?”

Charlotte spun on her heel.

“Because I want to work with youth, Zane.”

“Why is that?”

She bit her bottom lip.

“I guess there’s no reason why I can’t tell you. My sister committed suicide last year. And then I almost lost my friend to the same thing this past spring.”

“You mean the girl that I talked to.”

“Yeah, Riley.”

“How is she doing now?”

“She’s alive and recovering. But her attempt left her with some severe injuries.”

My teeth clenched.

“Why didn’t you ever tell me that?”

Charlotte put her hand on my shoulder. “Because you’ve been making improvements to your own life, Zane. You can’t be totally blamed for what happened. You were just one of many things that made her do what she did.”

“I don’t get it. I don’t get why you were able to forgive me for what I did. I don’t get how we can sit here and talk like this.”

And then…

She hugged me. Out of nowhere, she had hugged me.

“C’mon, Zane. If I can’t even get one delinquent back on the right track, how can I possibly hope to save lives?”

Yeah.

It was then.

I’m sure that’s when I fell in love with her.

“Zane…I owe you an apology too. I wanted to blame it all on you. I didn’t want to consider that any of the blame could lie with me not noticing. I didn’t want to have to analyze the things I said. I didn’t want to have to feel responsible for both what happened with my sister and my friend. I used you as a scapegoat, Zane.”

“You can’t just read people’s minds, right? I don’t think it was your fault. What I was doing back then was wrong. What I said was wrong.”

“Zane,” Charlotte began, “If there’s one thing you learn from your time with me I want it to be that people who need help will often not ask for it. There are some things people can’t say, even if they really want to. I think I somehow saw that in you, Zane.”

I’m sure that moment is when I fell in love with the annoying, persistent, stubborn, but yet sweet, forgiving and caring girl who saved me from myself.

But I couldn’t tell her that, no matter how much I wanted to.

***

Charlotte and I stayed together right until she graduated.

“You’ve graduated from my care, Zane!”

She said that to me with a smile on her face as she pat my back.

“And you graduated from high school.” I said, putting on the best smile that I could muster. “I guess I’m finally free from you.”

“Yeah….I’ll be going away to University in September.”

There was a sound of sadness in her tone.

“That’s great,” I said.

My words were followed by a long silence.

“I’m sorry. I can’t think of anything else to say.”

At that moment, the one thing I did not want to happen occurred.

My eyes began to water.

“Are you okay, Zane?”

“It’s just hard for me. I’m sure that you and all the other graduates will go on to have happy lives, and for people like me, life will be hard, and I’ll be all alone in this city…”

Charlotte began to tear up, as though my tears were infectious.

“It’s not like I want to leave you either, Zane! But if I stay here and don’t move forward, then what will I have taught you? You’re capable now. You have your work in on time, you’re far more polite and you even eat better.”

I chuckled.

“But waking up on time still seems to be out of my reach.”

Charlotte smiled through her tears.

“Let’s work hard, Zane. I believe in you.”

***

Life was difficult for me after Charlotte left. In the autumn and the frigid winter, I searched for a job, but there wasn’t a single one that I qualified for. I was unable to stay in school and lived my life on the frigid winter streets.

“I’m sorry.”

My homeroom teacher had apologized to me.

“You’ve been much more serious lately, Zane, and yet –”

“I know,” I said. “By the time I smartened up, it was already too late.”

The teacher wiped his eyes under his glasses. “This kind of thing…for me to have to send a youth out into the world like this…it’s not easy for us either, you know.”

For some reason or other, he gave me a reference and we shared a cup of tea.

That was the end of my school days.

“I’m sorry.”

Those were the only words left to me in this lonely reality. They were all fourteen years of school had left me with.

“Charlotte, Charlotte, Charlotte.”

I repeat her name to myself. Just hearing it gives me a little bit of courage. The name of the girl that I love, who I’ll never, not once in my entire life, say that I love.

I’ll never say it.

Not even once. Not for the rest of my life. The girl who taught me how to care for others, and showed me that I was capable of caring for myself. I will someday fall in love with someone other than her, who is no longer in this town. There’s no way for me to catch up to her anymore.

Even so, in my eighteenth year, someone saved me.

I was saved by my first love, who will never know how much she did for me. With resumes in hand, I repeated her name to myself, and passed through the gate of the school for the last time.

Photo Credit: Scott Boyd


MATTHEW MILLER

Matthew Miller is a 22-year-old aspiring writer from Ottawa, Ontario. He enjoys entertaining stories, good music, immersive fantasy, and one thing that brings them all together: video games. His dream is to become a novelist while enjoying life to the fullest.

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Predator

By Mikayla Spitse

I look beside me at the man who is not my husband. I watch as his chest rises and falls, eyes still shut as he soaks in the bliss of an orgasm. This is not the first time I’ve slept with a man who is not my husband. He is but one of the many I’ve known, I never go back to the same man twice. I’m careful not to leave any trace of myself with them in their bed. Use payphone only, never give names, barely speak. We both have business to attend to and we leave it at that. I have perfected this technique. I look at the man I have fucked; I don’t even know his name. I don’t mind.

Suddenly I feel thirsty. I get up to go to the washroom.

“Where are you going?” he asks. I smile at him.

“Water,” I say motioning to my throat. He cocks an eyebrow at me because he thinks he knows what’s coming. But really, my throat is killing me. I lean over the sink cupping my hands to catch the water. I can’t get it into my mouth fast enough. It’s not enough. I put my mouth as close to the faucet as I can and sip from it like a fountain. It’s not helping. I walk out to ask him if I can get a glass and find him sleeping, his head rolled over facing away from me, his thick neck bulging towards me. I feel a flush over my body; I’ve never felt this before. Is it guilt? No, it couldn’t be, it never has been. I walk over towards him to gather up my things, leave before he gets up and asks for more. He wasn’t satisfying the first time–don’t want a repeat. I bend down by his bed to grab my shirt and his neck is in my face. I black out.

As I start to regain consciousness I become aware of a taste in my mouth reminiscent of the smell of coins. I look around to find myself lying in a pool of blood.

Fuck, I think. I must have knocked my head.

That would explain the taste of blood. I search for the wound with my fingers and find none. I look up at the bed and see the sheets are stained red. Slowly, I rise up from the floor. I almost let out a scream before I throw my hand up to my mouth. In the bed lies the man I have just slept with, his head detached from his neck.

I couldn’t have done this. I go back into the bathroom; my face and mouth are covered in blood.

There is no fucking way.

Really–how could I? My teeth, average sharpness of any other person on earth, could not have possibly gnawed through the flesh, muscle, and bone of this man.

Simply impossible.

I debate on calling the police.

Can’t do that. You’ll be put away for murder AND known for adultery.

And as simply as that, I leave. I clean myself up, dress, and leave. This man never knew my name, and I never knew his–and now he is dead. As I get into my car I feel the effects of shock wear off and I begin to panic. I still think it’s impossible, but the evidence was there in front of me, on me, and in me. I chewed the head off a man. I grab a grocery bag from the backseat of my car and throw up. I wait a few minutes for my breathing to return to normal, and then I start my car and drive home–to my oblivious husband. Just like any other afternoon of cheating, I return to him, make him dinner, and ask how his day went. I admit, I’m surprised by how well I have handled the fact that I just killed a man. In fact, I feel a little exhilarated.

My husband asks me for sex and I oblige like always, still high off the rush. I wonder if I’ll bite his head off when I’m finished with him too. I don’t love my husband, but I still hope that I won’t do it. He would be traced to me for sure. He isn’t some stranger I found on Craigslist. After we finish, I fall asleep. When I awake the next morning I touch my face. It’s clean; my mouth doesn’t taste of blood. I look to the side of the bed my husband sleeps on. His head is still attached to his neck and his chest is still rising and falling, slowly. I feel a brief moment of disappointment before I remember what the consequences of killing my husband would be. I wonder, perhaps, if the incident the day before was a fluke. Some weird fit of dehydration. I need to know.

I crawl out of bed and go downstairs to my laptop. A quick search on Craigslist and I find a semi-attractive man with a toned body who’s looking for sex. I copy down his number to take to the phone booth down the street, once my husband leaves for work. I always get a rush off of doing this, but today it is completely different. I am a scientist about to conduct her most anticipated experiment. I honestly can’t tell what I want my outcome to be. In a sick way, I hope it happens again. I want to remember it happening.

Yeah, you’re fucked up. I think to myself. I don’t care. The high was too great. The high of cheating and the high of murder…

I’m never coming down.

Sure enough, after the next affair the same thing occurred. Sore throat, blacking out, waking up, finding the head detached from the body. This time there was absolutely no surprise. I wonder to myself, however, why after being with my husband the previous night it did not occur. For some reason, the urge didn’t extend to him. Perhaps because sex with him is more mandatory and less pleasure oriented.

Over the next few weeks the news finally starts making the connections. I sit on the sofa with my oblivious husband, sipping my tea as news reporters stand baffled by the story. I feel God-like, although it would probably be more appropriate to feel more Satanic. Nonetheless, I feel fucking great. My husband sitting beside me is shaking his head.

“There are some seriously crazy people out there,” he says, mournfully. He’s always been soft, too caring of others even when he doesn’t know them. I admired it when we met. Now it just frustrates me.

“Who do you think did it?” I ask him. I’m curious to know what others are thinking of me. He furrows his brow.

“Probably some drug addict. Someone hooked on some crazy drug like bath salts or something.” It takes everything in me not to laugh.

“Yeah, maybe.”

Since the news story aired it’s been harder for me to find men. They’re all on high alert now for a crazed killer and not taking any chances. I’m getting bored. The rest of the week holds no promise for me; online ads, seeking women to have sex with, are disappearing in my surrounding area.

Another detail was added to the story this week; they found a woman’s hair in the bed of one of the dead men. They say that they’re going to go back to other crime scenes and check it over again. I’m sure they will find more. Damn it, I should have thought about that. My fun is being taken away from me. I spend the rest of the day pouting, sexually frustrated and bloodthirsty. When my husband comes home he senses my tension, and with a sly smile begins kissing my neck and tugging at my clothes. I sigh and give in. At this point, I don’t even care. I haven’t been with another man in weeks, and if this is as good as it gets, I guess I’ll take it.

I wake up with the taste of blood in my mouth. I don’t look beside me; I know what is lying there. I am not sad about it, but I know that I am fucked. My luck has run out. I am no longer shrouded in mystery- my husband is dead in bed beside me and there is no one to blame but myself. They will run the hair samples they collected at the other crime scenes to mine and they’ll be a match. There is no denying it now. I am a killer, and soon the world will know my name.

Maybe I don’t hate the sound of that.  

Photo Credit: Nate Nolting


MIKAYLA SPITSE

Mikayla is a Professional Writing student who makes bad jokes and expects people to laugh. She aims to work with Vice one day. 

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Snake Bite

By Stephen Trolly

July 15

There are a lot of animals in the swampy woods of the southern states. I’ve seen eagles, an osprey or two, half a dozen owls (including one very unfortunate barn owl), a few bears, two moose, more deer than I can count (I hate deer for reasons that the front of my car will be very happy to explain), a timber wolf, and a coyote. My favorite animal that I’ve seen back there is actually kind of boring by comparison. It’s a snake. Interestingly enough though, it’s actually a poisonous snake: a cottonmouth. So, it’s not just a poisonous snake, but a really big, amphibious, and poisonous snake.

August 3

I don’t know why I like this snake. This one - it honestly sometimes seems to be following me around - has a long white stripe on its right side. I’m glad about that stripe, because one time, I went up to a cottonmouth that didn’t have it, and it tried to bite me. For some reason, this one never has. It just follows me around while I’m out walking. It slithers along quietly, doesn’t make any noise, doesn’t scare anything away, and eats a few mice or squirrels or whatever it catches. I’ve thought about giving it a name. Normally, only animals that I kill accidently get names. That barn owl? I named him Jeffery. Don’t ask why. It was just the first name that popped into my head. That was sad. It was sitting in the middle of the road at eleven o’clock at night. It was facing the other way, and by the time I had realized that there was something in the road, it was too late to stop. It turned around, looked at me, and tried to take off, but no. Feathers were everywhere, and I had to get my windshield replaced. I think I’ll name the cottonmouth Draco. He’s my girlfriend’s favorite character from Harry Potter. I don’t see why she likes him. I find him to be a whiny little prick.

September 21

For some reason–probably that of my personal safety–I never leave the house during hunting season. The thought of being out there and being mistaken for a deer or a bear or something is entirely unappealing. But I can’t help wondering about Draco. I never give him food, so I don’t know why he’s friendly to me. Well, maybe not friendly, but close enough. I wonder if he’ll try to tag along with some hunter while I’m not around. Does that sound like betrayal? It does to me. But the damn hunters won’t know he’s safe to be around. SHIT! I have to go out there. I don’t care if I get shot. I need to make sure that Draco is okay.

September 22

Draco was fine. I know that I was an idiot, making sure that a snake was safe. I wasn’t while I was out there. I saw two hunters that had their guns raised before they saw me. It’s not smart to wear a brown jacket outside during deer season. To make things worse, I actually asked one of them if they had seen Draco. I didn’t use the name. Believe me when I say this, I’m really not insane, but I do know how it looks. I was running around in the backwoods, in a brown jacket, in hunting season, looking for a cottonmouth, which I have named Draco, because I think I can tell it apart from every other cottonmouth. I know, I know. I’m such an intelligent person.

October 3

I’ve decided that the only way to keep Draco safe is to bring him inside with me. There are tons of mice and rodents and stuff running around that he can eat, and I have a pool out back. It’s the best thing for both of us. I don’t have to worry about him, and he won’t get shot because he got too close to a strange hunter.

October 8

Draco doesn’t seem to like it inside. He keeps trying to get away. Yesterday, he actually got to the fence that I built to keep him in the yard. I’m glad I built it now. Otherwise, he might have disappeared.

October 11

Emily broke up with me yesterday. Even worse than that, she blamed Draco. She claimed that I was so obsessed with “that stupid snake” that I didn’t have time for her anymore. Whatever. She’s always been high maintenance.

October 15

Draco doesn’t like it in the house, I know. So, I think I’m going to turn the pool into a swamp. He should like that. Then he won’t have to leave. He’ll like it out there, and I’ll always know where he is.

November 1

Draco doesn’t like his new swamp. When I took him out to show it to him, he tried to bite me. He’s still got the white stripe on his side, so I know he hasn’t gotten away, but I never thought he would try to bite me. He never has before. I wonder if he’s sick.

November 4

I think Draco may have gotten a piece of me with that bite. My leg really hurts, and it has swollen. But I can’t go to the hospital. If they find out that Draco bit me, they’ll take him away, and then they’ll probably kill him. No, I just have to live with this.

November 5

I know what I have to do. I’ll let Draco escape, and then tomorrow I’ll go and see the doctor. My leg is about to fall off, so I don’t think that it can be saved, but I’m not letting them get Draco. He needs to be as far away as possible before I leave the house. I hate to say this, but I think we’ll both be better off without each other.

November 8

I was right about my leg. They couldn’t save it, not that they didn’t try. Since I waited so long before going in, they had to amputate almost to the hip. At least Draco got my left leg. I need my right one. They said I was lucky I’d lived that long. But, either way, Draco is gone. I’m not sure how to feel about it. I know he’s out there, safe and happy, but, he was here for so long. I know things are better this way. It’s just hard to accept.

November 13

Emily came by today. She said she was just passing by, and wondered how I was doing. I doubt that we’ll start dating again, now that we both know that I’m such an idiot, but at least we can try and work this out as friends. Then again, her being nice could have something to do with me being a cripple now. It’s not like I still have a pool that she can come and use. For some reason, people are always sympathetic to idiots.

November 14

Maybe I’ll get a dog. 

Photo Credit: Fons Reijsbergen


STEPHEN TROLLY

Stephen Trolly is a 20-year-old novelist and screenwriter. His primary focus is in fantasy and dystopian worlds of his own creation. He is a student at Algonquin College.

These are the blogs of my associates. I find them useful. 

The Character Spectrum | What's So Funny

The Garden Below the Web

By William Au

There are places in the world that people avoid for no clear reason. These places may be as mundane or commonplace as an empty room or a hallway. The truth is that people instinctively avoid these areas because they house creatures of myth that prey on humans who are naive enough to approach–for example, children.

Laura's mother didn't leave work until late in the evening, so she always ate her supper at a local diner. Sometimes she brought her meals home because she hated to be alone at public places. However, Laura didn't feel like going home tonight. She pressed her back against the main entrance and watched passersby brace the cold to return to their abodes before nightfall. Fall came early this year, bringing gusts of wind that snatched people's breaths and voices.

Laura looked at her watch. Only an hour before Mom calls,
she thought. Since she was eight, she followed a routine of returning from school alone and watching over the house.

I'm already in middle school; she doesn't need to check up on me anymore.

In an effort to improve her mood, Laura took the long way home through the old city core. She found the solitude of the deserted sector calming and loved to gaze at the collection of ramshackle houses, while walking along the uneven, empty streets. She was a regular who knew how to navigate the winding alleys and forgotten streets.

Laura was almost home when she stopped in her tracks. There was a vacant lot, hidden behind a wooden fence, which she'd never seen before. As she drew closer, she heard a melody coming from the other side of the fence. The song was haunting but beautiful, like a lament for the dead, and captivated Laura unlike any song she knew. She circled the perimeter and found a gap among the rotting boards that was large enough for her to squeeze through.

The music died when Laura entered the lot. She saw nothing but a long field overrun by weeds and garbage. She stepped into the tall grass and felt glass crunch beneath her heel. There were broken bottles and rubber tires everywhere and even an old leather couch nearby, once loved but now forgotten. Laura wandered aimlessly around the dumping ground until she spotted a person sprawled in a bed of red spider-lilies. She was concerned but reluctant to approach because a black cloak obscured the stranger's face.

Suddenly, there came a shout from the opposite end of the field. The voice belonged to a boy with fair skin and dimples on his cheeks. He was running towards the wounded person who dangled one arm in the air, in a gesture for help. Laura didn't want to be a part of the ensuing drama, so she slinked away and hid behind the couch. The ground collapsed as soon as the boy stepped inside the field of flowers. He plummeted down the chasm and his echoing voice became the only trace that he was here.

Laura started to tremble when she realized that only the boy fell. Beneath the dirt was a web of thick, transparent thread, which suspended the other person above the hole. As the person rose to their feet, the cloak slipped from their shoulders and revealed an abomination with gangly limbs and a mouth that stretched from one ear to the other. Two segments of differing size formed its torso, which was smooth like porcelain.

“It's pointless to hide, human. I can smell you.”

Laura jumped and turned to run, but the creature spoke again.

"There's no longer an exit."

Laura looked at the fence and saw that the opening she'd come from was now warping and sputtering sparks. Her eyes searched for a means of escape and settled on a long piece of glass by her feet.

"That won't help you."

Laura looked up and found herself staring into a pair of red, sunken eyes. She stepped back.

"What are you?"

“Shouldn’t introductions come before questions?”

Laura said nothing. It flashed a smile that showed off its sharp teeth.

“M-my name is Laura.”

“I am Mesothelae. The pleasure is all mine.”

Laura groped the dirt for the shard of glass.

“There's no reason to fear me. I cannot harm you.”

She gripped the glass with both hands and pointed it at the creature.

“I don’t trust you.”

"You see, the faerie folk and human scum may share a less than amicable history, but I am sworn to an oath that forbids me from harming human or entering their dwellings without permission."

“What about the boy from before?" Laura asked. "You signalled for him!"

The faerie smiled.

“I only recall him approaching me and falling on his own."

"Why are you keeping me here?"

“I need you to get something for me."

"What is it?"

"An apple," the faerie chuckled, pointing at the hole in the ground, "That only grows down there. Also, think before you ask any more silly questions."

"Tell me where this apple is and how to get it."

"That's for you to figure out."

Laura gave the fairy a dirty look and peered down the hole. She couldn't see the bottom.

"What do I get from helping you?"

"I'll let you leave my domain."

"Can I trust you?" Laura asked.

"Of course, I have no reason to deceive you."

"Stop smiling."

"I can't help it; I'm in a fine mood.”

She slipped the piece of glass inside a pocket.

I have to accept this monster's proposal to return home.

Laura begrudgingly shook Mesothelae's hand and leapt down the hole.

The hole was actually a narrow tunnel that tapered off into an expanse of sky. Through the cracks in the clouds, Laura saw a wasteland of sand and dead trees, moments before hitting the desert below. The sand cushioned her fall but didn't stop the pain that knocked her out.

The sound of screaming brought Laura to her senses. She began scanning her surroundings for the source, but then realized that the noise had come from her. After taking a few breaths, she lifted her body off the ground and made sure that nothing was broken. Laura heard traces of melody amidst the howling wind and followed it eastward, in the direction of the sun. She reached a small clearing, where a group of children were singing a song.

Stepping and slipping                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       We fell that day                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 Into a place far from Heaven

If you lose to temptation                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 And satisfy your needs                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   You 'll lose what makes you human

We want to leave                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               But it's an impossible dream                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         Unless we obey the ruler of this domain

There's only one way                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       For us to be saved                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             Someone else must suffer in our place

If we eat skin (that's red)                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               And flesh (that's white)                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 We'll once again walk on the surface

All of the children had eyes that lacked irises and wore rags that were difficult to distinguish from their ashen skin. There was one child who stood out from the rest. He was slumped on the ground and there were bruises all over his body. Laura saw the boy's face when a pair of children dragged him by the hair to a mat laden with jet-black fruits and meats. He was the boy from earlier, who fell down the hole. They shoved food into his mouth and forced him to swallow. The rest of the children ceased their singing and watched with rapt attention. Suddenly, he began to sputter gobs of black blood and heaved until he passed out from the loss of life in his body. A sapling emerged from his spew and aged into a tree bearing blood-red apples.

The children clamoured beneath the tree, but their celebration was short-lived. One of the children pointed at the sky and everyone started to cry from fear. Laura followed their gaze and saw Mesothelae descending from the sky, like a puppet on a string. The faerie swept the children aside with its long arms and scuttled up the tree on all fours. After settling on the highest branch, Mesothelae plucked the nearest apple and devoured everything but the core. It threw the remains of its meal into the crowd. None of the children moved.

"Good!" Mesothelae chuckled. "This time, you all know what you want."

The faerie continued to eat until a single apple remained.

"Here, children. This is for all your hard work."

The creature raised the apple in the air and crushed it with one hand. The children scrambled for every morsel they could salvage.

Laura watched the events unfold with a growing sense of despair – she needed a plan. An errant core bounced off her head, which she scooped off the ground.

Maybe I can use these to grow more apples.

She dug out the seeds and rolled them in her palm until she felt something prick her hand. The seeds were digging into her flesh and drinking from her scratches. She watched the seeds fill with blood and start to pulse, like a beating heart. Laura reconsidered her half-hearted idea from before and pushed her way into the crowd to gather the apple cores that lay in the dirt. Her actions didn't go unnoticed. Mesothelae climbed down from its perch and called out to her.

"Your time is up, Laura. The tree is barren and you have failed to retrieve its bounty. What have you to give me?"

"These."

Laura revealed a handful of seeds. Mesothelae laughed in response.

"Your desperation speaks for itself! I asked for fruit, not an empty promise."

The faerie laughed again and encouraged the children to join in. Laura ignored them and pulled out the glass shard in her pocket. She squeezed the jagged edge until a steady stream of blood ran from her palm. She cupped the seeds in her hands and fed them with her blood, letting them become red and plump before scattering them with all of her might. An outbreak of saplings grew from the trees and soon everyone was standing inside an orchard of blood-red apples. The children ran to satisfy their hunger while Mesothelae stood still, numb from shock.

"You lose, Mesothelae. I kept my end of the bargain. Now take me home."

A look of anger spread across the faerie's face and contorted its smile into an ear-splitting hiss.

"You gave me your word!" Laura yelled.

"I haven't forgotten, and I won't forget the shame I feel at this moment. You will regret trifling with me."

"Oh, cry me a river. Stop being a sore loser and get me out of here."

Mesothelae gave one last growl before spitting a thick cord of thread that passed through the clouds and pierced the crust of the ceiling.

"Climb."

Laura grabbed the makeshift rope and climbed until she was high enough to feel the moisture in the clouds. Suddenly, the thread started to sway in a violent manner. Laura looked down and saw a mob of children pushing and shoving each other for a spot on the rope. The closest ones shouted at her.

"Don't leave me here!"

"Take me with you!"

"Save me!"

Laura felt the thread stretch and strain against the weight of the procession dangling below.

I have to leave this place.

She wielded the shard of glass again and dragged it across the thread until it split in two. Screams filled the air. The glass slipped from her fingers when she heard the first of the bodies hit the floor. Laura couldn't stop her body from trembling but she trudged onwards, up the remainder of the way to the surface.

When Laura was back in the vacant lot, she immediately ran for exit, which looked normal again. Fear took her exhaustion away and allowed her legs to carry her home. Without taking a break to recuperate her strength, she ran the shortest route to her house, through the streets with the most people and lights.

Laura's mother came home hours ago. She sat in the living room with the low buzz of the TV keeping her company. She heard the front door slam and rose from her seat to meet the approaching footsteps. Her blood turned to ice when she saw her daughter, who was bleeding and wearing clothes torn beyond repair. She staggered forward and hugged her daughter. Tears filled Laura's eyes as she returned the hug.

"I've missed you, Mom."

Suddenly, there was a knock on the front door.

"Is anyone home? I'm looking for Laura."

Laura looked at her mother and raised a finger to her lips.

The visitor laughed.

"Don't be so cold. It's me, Mesothelae."

"Go away!" Laura yelled.

"But I brought some friends who wanted to see you."

A cacophony of children's voices erupted from the other side of the door. Laura fell to her knees and cried. "Please, leave me alone!"

"That is too much to ask, Laura. These children want revenge and you're the one who took away their chance at returning to the surface!"

"But aren't they outside your domain right now?" she asked. "You are all free – you need to realize this and stop following this jerk around!"

The voices of the children faltered and fell silent.

"Do not listen to her!" The faerie roared, "Think of what she did to you during your hour of need!"

"I could say the same about you!"

The children left the entryway in a stampede and drowned out Mesothelae's protests with the sound of their feet. The hazy light of dawn broke into a new day. Laura walked to the window and watched an unhappy faerie chase a group of fleeing children well into the morning. She sat by the windowsill until the familiar commotion of everyday life coaxed her to sleep. Her mother carried her to bed. Safe in her room, Laura dreamed of a desert that was far beneath the earth and empty, save for a disgruntled creature on a tree, in a great big orchard.  

Photo Credit: Justin Taylor


WILLIAM AU

William Au is a student in the Professional Writing program with a love for storytelling that spans every medium of expression. His free time is spent sleeping, partaking of new experiences, and indulging in books and films. He helps run the Video Game Club at Algonquin College and collects children's books.

Facebook | Algonquin Videogame Club

A Strong Cup of Tea

By Geordin Crosbie

Justin's insides wretched as the onset of the medicine began to take control of his consciousness. He doubled over and clenched his stomach as a rush of nausea enveloped his body. His vision began to reverberate and his pupils began to resemble dinner plates. Every inch of his body poured sweat. The sudden change of reality put him in a panic, so he began concentrating on his breath in vain attempt to navigate himself back into a sense of calm reality. He breathed in slowly, deliberately. This effort was futile though, as he was about to enter another dimension entirely.

Sensing his fear, one of the Shamans kneeled down at his side and began her duties, that of which was to provide him safe passage through the spirit world. She was the lighthouse at the other end of his consciousness that would beckon him home. The voice that navigated him through the rocky shores of self discovery. She placed one hand on his hip, and with the other, began brushing him gently with the ceremonial herbs of the rainforest. Then she began to sing. The sounds of her Icaro floated softly through every channel of his mind and guided him into a trance.

Introduce me into your body

From there I will speak to you

Introduce me into your mind

From there I will enlighten you…

Forty minutes would pass before the psychedelic properties of the ayahuasca really took a hold of him. His vision began to breathe, colours began to warp, and regular consciousness ceased. His heart rate increased dramatically, and the intense thoughts that already pervaded his mind swirled into a contradicting mess of fear, joy, and hysteria. In his minds eye, began a great activity.

…Introduce me into your heart

From there I will give you heat…

The medicine was more powerful then he could have ever imagined. He began to dry heave as another wave of nausea hit him. An intense burning sensation began from the tips of his toes, then to his stomach, and from there to his throat. Mucus dribbled from his mouth and nose as he rolled slowly back and fourth on the gazebos wooden floor. His lungs struggled too satiate his need for oxygen due to the humid Peruvian air. He rolled over on his back and reached out into the distance as the first wave of images began. At first they were nothing more then nonsensical geometric patters and vivid bright lights, but soon after they developed into an alternate reality. He looked around the gazebo at the faces that were once familiar and started to tremble as they began shifting and morphing into some of his greatest fears. The first wave was the spiders.

…My voice will whisper to you

Things you do not think you know

Within you, you will find

The answer to your being…

The massive tarantulas paced around him ever so slowly as if to taunt him. They also hung from the rafters, slowly edging their way down from the silk that suspended them. Justin sat frozen in abject terror. He could not move or speak. The spiders inched closer and closer to him and began to hiss.

The snakes appeared next. They appeared from the floorboards and slithered around every inch of his body, wrapping around his arms and torso in preparation for constriction. One of the snakes slid over his shoulder and twisted its frame around so it was face to face with him, then it spoke gently.

“What is it that you fear?” Justin was still frozen. A single tear started to slide down his cheek. The snake was now so close that its forked tongue was brushing against his nose.

“Do you fear us, or do you simply fear death?” One of the spiders was now balancing itself on his head, the tips of its legs resting ever so gently on his scull as if in a Demi-plié. Another began spinning a web around his arm.

“Why do you fear death?” asked the snake. The final wave of horrors began to emerge from the floorboards–this time in the form of giant beetles, scorpions, and centipedes. They swarmed him. The scorpions pierced his flesh with their stingers, the beetles chewed away at his arms, and the centipedes burrowed themselves into his ears and nostrils. Justin was despondent, yet through the horror he could hear the faintest whisper of hope in the continued Icaro of the Shaman.

…You will hear my snake's voice

Sneaking into your hearing

You will see my light without seeing it

Through you senses....

And my warmth will follow you

Further than the coldest cold

And I will be part of you

Dust cast into infinity…

After hearing these words Justin suddenly found his voice. He began to slowly rise from his fetal position.

“I don’t fear death; I’m afraid of what lies beyond it.” The apparitions sneered and recoiled upon hearing these words. They began to scream in unison.

“You are weak! Cancer has already robbed your children of a mother, and now they will grow without a father. All their hopes and aspirations will fade and decay as surely as your flesh.”

The apparitions lunged towards him en masse with intent to kill, but not before Justin muttered in acceptance of the situation.

“It is out of my control. If this is how I have to go, then so be it.

With these words, the hallucination began to dissolve all around him. A blinding white light obscured his vision, followed by an overwhelming need to purge the fear. Crippling nausea enveloped his body. He then threw up all over the floor of the gazebo and shit himself. Justin wretched until his body could expunge no more, then began to recede into further hallucination.

…Two serpents intertwined,

That talk to you without telling

That tell you without speaking

Nothing…

He closed his eyes and after a few moments a new scene emerged from the darkness. In front of him stood his dead wife, as well as the rest his family. They gazed at him intently. Some were smiling, some were laughing, others were crying. His wife glided slowly towards him. The shimmering, multi-coloured lights that engulfed her blinded Justin from recognition, but once she spoke he knew it was her. She knelt down, pressed her palms against his cheeks, and spoke softly.

“You are walking the medicine path now. More pain lies ahead, but you have to face it.”

“I can’t take it anymore, Leslie,” replied Justin.

“You can, and you will. You have to.”

“Why?” She turned around and motioned towards their children.

“You know why, but the why is not what is important right now. The pain will heal you. That is all that matters.”

“I don’t understand.”

“You don’t need to understand.”

Tears started to stream from Justin’s eyes. “When will I see you again?”

“Much faster then you’d think. In your dimension it will feel like a blink of an eye.” His wife moved forward and hugged him tenderly. She whispered in his ear.

“You have to forgive yourself, Justin. Forgive yourself, and forgive those who betrayed you. It’s the only way you are going to make it through this.”

“Make it through what?” Before she could answer Justin's hallucination dropped him into another scene entirely. This time he was in his grade school gym locker room.

…I am the energy asleep within you,

Awaken me now

I want to ascend

to unravel you,

To cross the zero

To close that circle

Where peace sleeps in a distant dream…

Justin paced around the locker room. Everything seemed familiar to him. He ran his hands along the tile walls as he walked through the corridors and breathed in its musty air. He made his away around a corner and watched as his younger self sat on his teacher’s lap. He recoiled upon recognition of the event. Every fibre of his being wanted to be free of this situation—to be free of the memory. Yet he could not move. Just like the last vision he was frozen in perpetual horror. He tried to look away, but his gaze was locked. Agony and dread flooded his body as he was forced to watch the scene that played out before him. His teacher rubbed the child's back in a circular motion while speaking to him in a muted tone.

“You know you can trust me, right?”

“I know,” replied the child. Justin's heart ached for some form of tangible respite, but nothing came. Even still, the Shaman’s song still played in the back of his mind— the ever present speck of hope.

…When the blue reaches your face

And the moon over your head

We will go to their meeting

and you will forgive those who would betray you

Justin became crestfallen as the man’s hand drifted toward the child's pants. Blue moonlight began to peak through a distant window and illuminated the two of them. The scene was twice as clear as before— the moon acting like stage lights. The child rejected the mans advances and told him to stop, but he wasn’t listening. He pressed on until the sounds of the child's crying echoed throughout the locker room. Justin’s mind went into another bout of mania, but this ceased once his thoughts stopped on what his wife had said.

“You have to forgive him, as well as yourself.”

Suddenly, as if film reels had been spliced together, the scenes in which Justin’s hallucination was taking place in, began flipping back and forth rapidly. In between the scenes of the locker room, Justin caught momentary glimpses of another child going through similar trauma.

It took a moment for him to realize what he was watching, but soon figured out that his gym teacher was going through a similar ordeal. Upon realization, Justin was unfrozen.

“I forgive you.”

Once the words were spoken, everything assumed a relative calm. The sounds of the children crying ceased, and his teacher and younger self vanished. All that could be heard was the low humming and chattering of an air condition unit. Before Justin could catch his bearings he felt a tap on his shoulder. He turned around, and standing in front of him was his wife and two children. He began to cry as they all stepped forward in unison to embrace him. Through tears, his wife spoke softly.

“This is where it gets amazing. Follow us.”

Hands interlocked, Justin, his wife and their two children started walking towards a paradise. Before they entered, Justin took one last moment to stop and listen.

…And my voice will guide you through the betrayal

Replacing fear with strength

By the power of forgiveness and love…

Photo Credit: Iva Villi


GEORDIN CROSBIE

Just a 23-year-old Irishman stuck in the city that fun forgot, cutting through the bullshit one story at a time. My hobbies include pretending I’m a scribbler, navigating sobriety, and consuming lemon-flavoured libations. I imagine myself becoming a famous writer one day, but if that doesn’t work out, I can always fall back on cooking professionally and screaming at people. 

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Decisions, Decisions

By Jenn Fryer

Jonathon has made a choice. He did not like to make choices. Sophia made the choices, but she was dead; because of the last choice Jonathon made. So Jonathon has made another choice, and now things do not look so good for him today.

Today was one of those rare perfect-weather days, where the sun stands guard in a sky generously powdered with clouds, while soft warm breezes gently brush across your skin. Jonathon didn’t notice the breeze, though. He was fixated on the weeds framing the plot before him. Not so much focusing on the weed itself but rather focusing in an effort to overcome the deep rooted churning of dread building in the pit of his stomach. Today Jonathon’s choice would arrive, and from here, there was no going back from that decision.

The only good decision Jonathon can ever remember making was the day he decided to get married. In a fit of adolescent lust and rebellion, Jonathon chose to marry Sophia. Well, perhaps, chose is the wrong word to use. He didn’t so much choose as he simply stood by and accepted the decision of his bride-to-be. That is how it was with Jonathon. He avoided choice. It was not a fear of commitment, clearly. It was simply a fear of making any decision at all.

Until the day he met Sophia, all decisions were made for Jonathon by his parents. In a home where choice was equal to deviance; where deviation from a choice made by a parent, was considered a vicious act of disobedience, Jonathon learned quickly, through Pavlovian law, to fear making decisions at all.

Decidophobia is what they call it. No, seriously, it’s a real thing. Jonathon looked it up. And when he couldn’t decide if he trusted the described phenomena therein, he showed Sophia. She said it was accurate, that the description fit perfectly. Therefore, Sophia decided that – as identified and outlined by the philosopher Walter Kauffman – Jonathon had Decidophobia.

Tiny, sweet, electric Sophia. With one light, feathery touch she caught Jonathon's attention wholly as a young teen, and with her pouting blood red lips and decidedly set ways, she kept it. He stood no chance. He had no choice. So when she said, "let's get married", he immediately ran to the nearest jewelry store and picked out the shiniest, but cheapest ring he could find. Because let’s be clear, while Jonathon may have been enslaved by his lover, he was still answerable to his banker.

Unfortunately, Sophia did not see things quite that way and exchanged the ring the next day, deciding upon a sleeker, more modern cut – or so she explained. Jonathon, in turn, sold a rare, 1915 Cracker Jack Christy Mathewson baseball card to cover the difference. It was a one-of-kind card, but, then again, his Sophia was a one-of-a-kind gal. Jonathon didn’t even hesitate.

Twenty-five years they were married and Jonathon loved every single minute of those twenty-five years. He loved his wife. He loved the way she commanded their life as efficiently and effectively as an admiral rules his ship. He loved the home Sophia chose for them to share; where he parked his Robin-egg blue compact car – Sophia’s favourite colour– perfectly to the side of their peach batten-board bungalow on the ¼ acre of green manicured lawn. He even loved the mangy little rat that had brought home one day during their fifth year of marriage. Jonathon loved everything about his life and all his wife brought to it. He doted on her as if she were the silky remnant of a rare flower.

To be clear, Sophia was happy as well. She truly loved her Jonathon and his especially easy-going ways. The unlimited support for all her decisions was what she treasured dearly. She had tired long ago of being told what to do in life and held choice to her heart as tightly as a young mother might hold her children – which is an appropriate simile, seeing as neither Sophia nor Jonathon ever had any children. They only had choice, and Sophia made every single one carefully, firmly and completely.

She knew what others said. She recognized the murky smiles of condescension from other men and the jealous snide side-smile of the women. “It was clear who wore the pants in this relationship” they would say. Sophia didn’t care. She was very comfortable in pants. She was a modern woman. And besides, as I have already said, she loved her Jonathon and dedicated the entirety of their marriage to ensure he was protected from the one thing he feared most. With Sophia, Jonathon lived free of decisions and completely unburdened by choice. Together, they lived an idea life of marital bliss.

Still, even Sophia took a day off from decision-making every once-in-a-while, and in a rare moment of impulsivity, she decided she wanted a surprise on her birthday. This year, she told Jonathon, he would choose her birthday cake. He would surprise her with his choice and together they would enjoy that surprise. Jonathon expectedly blanched and stuttered over his words as he tried to gently remind his loving Sophia that decisions and choice were not his forte. But, decision and choice were Sophia’s, and she had decided firmly that Jonathon was choosing the cake this year.

So soon, he stood before the bakery window, agonizing over which cake to bring home. After an hour and a half of staring at other customer choices, he finally settled on a light lemon cake with a simple French vanilla icing. It was perfect for his Sophia, he felt, as it exemplified the beauty found in nature’s simple gifts – well, that and it was the last cake left.

Happy to have made this decision, Jonathon rushed home, cake in hand, to show Sophia. When he opened the front door to the house, she came running excitedly, ready to see what selection her husband had made. Jonathon placed the box proudly on the dining room table and lifted the lid so that she could see. Her smile spread wider and she ran back to the kitchen for plates and forks. “Forget dinner, Jonathon, I want dessert now.”

Maybe if she had waited, until after dinner, before cutting into the cake, events wouldn't have taken such a nasty turn. Maybe if he had capitalized on his knowledge of the ingredients that went into making the splendid cake, and included a list of them to boot, maybe then disaster could have been avoided. Perhaps if he had done that before she took her first bite, it would not have been her last.

But he didn’t. Instead, Jonathan had cut Sophia a generous piece while they both giggled over the falling crumbs and excitedly licked their lips. He then took her fork from her small hands and scooped up an equal amount of cake-to-icing ratio, and placed it neatly onto her waiting and open mouth.

It is impossible to describe the delight that sparkled into her eyes, nor imitate the deep satisfaction she mumbled as she reached for her second bite. Sophia clearly loved Jonathon’s choice. She turned towards him with a look he had never seen before; a sort of surprised wonder. She was thrilled.

Soon, the soft pink circles of her cheeks glowed towards a deeper red as Sophia began to fan herself, coughing slightly on the second bite she had just swallowed. Jonathon, always the attentive spouse, reached for the glass of water nearby and handed it to so she could gently wash down this delightful choice he had made.

As he held the glass towards her, he noticed that her smile had stretched so tightly across her cheeks that her eyes looked swollen. He watched in horror as tears began to run down her face and she grabbed at her throat making deep animal-keening sounds. She dropped so suddenly that Jonathon didn’t have a minute to decide upon what to do. He simply stood in stupefaction as his sweet Sophia’s head hit the corner of the table before her body hit the floor. And for several minutes, he continued to stand, unsure whether to directly aid his dying wife or run for more qualified help. In the end, it was a neighbour who called 911, having stopped by with perfect timing to drop off a birthday card. Jonathon, having this choice made, knelt by his dying wife’s side and held her hand until her ragged breaths ceased.

It turns out, Sophia had a peanut allergy. Not something you would think a husband would be unaware of after twenty-five years of blissful married life. Yet, Jonathon did not know. But he didn’t have to know. Sophia had made all of the decisions.

And this brings us right back to today. This moment as Jonathon kneels awkwardly and pulls the weeds, watching with unusual intent as the roots detach from the comfort and hold of the soil. This moment as he awaits the stonemason’s arrival, bringing with him evidence of Jonathon’s final decision for Sophia: her Epitaph.

He had tried to do this last week. Tried to choose the right words, the perfect turn of phrase. His sister-in-law decided upon the light grey of the stone but insisted he must, at least, decide upon the words that would be used.

The stonemason had presented him with a photo album of his previous works and popular wording from other clients. For Jonathon, the choices all stood as accusations. All implying the guilt he readily felt for having made such a catastrophic decision. Each time he looked at the options presented, he instead saw his wife’s beautiful face distorted in a purple and red death. In the end, he could not make the choice, so he left with the decision unmade.

However, last night, in a moment of unnatural assurance, Jonathon decided upon the words that would introduce his wife to the world of the undead. They were, quite possibly, the most accurate word choice he could have made and yet, they still stung slightly with an accusation that Jonathon had decided he deserved.

Now the stonemason was arriving with the finished piece, etched gently but deeply onto a light grey stone for all to see. “Here lies Sophia Annette Slater. Whose life was not measured by the number of breaths she took, but by the moment that took her breath away.”

Photo Credit: Simon Stratford


JENN FRYER

Jenn ‘Niffer’ Fryer is a mother, a wife and a writer, enthusiastically scribing her way through life as it continues to entertain her pen.  Currently in her second year at Algonquin College’s Professional Writing program, Jennifer is actively putting her skills as a writer to positive and affecting use, both in her community and beyond.

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AC Official Pedestrian Guide

By Emily Theelen

Post-secondary education can be challenging for reasons you might not expect.

Here at Algonquin, we understand that navigating stairways, corridors, and other areas dense with pedestrian traffic can be confusing, especially for beginners. May this guide act as a reference for the best practices, or Inconsiderate Walking (IW) when traveling on campus. Once you feel comfortable, the escalator and sidewalk guides will help you prepare for the next level in our graduated walking system: shopping malls and streets. 

Doorways: If a door is about to swing shut, rushing through before it closes is a great way to avoid germs by not touching door handles, or having to remove your hands from your pockets altogether. The person behind you will understand.

Speed: Please move at whatever pace you see fit, those rushing to get to class on time need to learn better time management. 

In groups: Staying with the group is important. This can be ensured if everyone walks in a horizontal line at the pace of the slowest member. Be sure to exude confidence and avoid breaking the very important conversation you are having. Do not waver until oncoming traffic concedes. 

Cell phones: GPS is a great tool for navigating. We suggest you keep your eyes on your phone and walk slowly to avoid getting lost. Alternatively, you may want to text someone you know for directions. Dragging your feet ensures consistent contact with the ground and the sliding noise will notify other pedestrians that you’re there. Remember not to look up. If you choose to talk on your cell phone during your travels, be sure to do so loudly with earbuds in to keep others guessing. 

Holding your phone up to your ear with your elbow out as far as possible from your body ensures the best reception.

Stopping: When there’s an opportunity to socialize, stopping abruptly to start a conversation in traffic helps maintain the lasting college relationships you will make. Taking a selfie preserves the memory, giving collateral for validation on social media later.

Traffic Flow: Keeping to the right is traditional and outdated, especially on narrow stairways. Please take the side you find convenient regardless of the flow of traffic. The college has placed decorative medians to help you think outside the box. 

Please disregard oncoming traffic. We pride ourselves on our students’ problem-solving skills, especially when traveling around groups.

Music: If you wish to listen to music, please be inclusive and use your phone speakers so the rest of the hallway can enjoy your music.

This guide covers the basics of walking like most others on campus, and we recommend that all students focus on themselves at this critical time of personal and professional development.

Photo Credit: Olivia Vanderwal


EMILY THEELEN

Emily is a spoiled firstborn and an aspiring editor. She has a Bachelor of General Social Sciences from the University of Ottawa and works part-time as a waitress. In her spare time, she can be found in her apartment compiling her imaginary sneaker collection on Pinterest, snacking, and balancing on her head (sometimes at the same time). 

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Red or Green Nation?

By Olivia Vanderwal

It’s 2015. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has announced that marijuana is finally legal all over the country to purchase and smoke. Stores and lounges open their doors for the first time, and the country is in an uproar. 

Some are saying it is the apocalypse. The “devil’s grass” is now freely accessible to the people, Conservative-party supporters are rioting to stop to the prohibition, threatening to bomb Parliament, setting cars on fires, breaking anything in sight. Everyone else is high in the streets stealing food from the grocery stores, blowing their skunk-smelling smoke in babies’ faces. 

More than 75 percent of Canadians aren’t showing up to work. Everyone is either overdosing on THC or too burnt out to leave their beds. Hospitals are full of people with obstructed bowels, as they were munching too many snacks, and bursting their guts from uncontrollable laughter. 

“Everyone needs to lock their doors now,” a frightened mother tells reporters before a weed addict eats her too. The end of productivity is upon us; businesses are shutting down due to lack of activity and workplace accidents. Every highway is backed up coast to coast with millions of car accidents, many of which have been fatal.

Trudeau explains, “it’s great for taxpayer revenue.” The sales of marijuana have reached over a trillion dollars – stoners are everywhere! 

Everyone is turning to meth now, because once you try marijuana, meth is the logical next step. Drug dealers are making millions; Canada has become one big party. Krazy Q, the top meth dealer in Canada says he’s ecstatic with the business. “Even children are shooting up these days! It’s pretty dope man!” He thanks Trudeau for letting him move up from small-town weed dealer to the big leagues. 

As people start losing their jobs, the poverty rate rises to over 45 percent. People are in the streets, begging for more marijuana. They are selling their children for their next fix, to smoke up another time. 

Refugees are fleeing Canada to Syria to escape the freedom Trudeau has thrown at them. “There’s too much freedom in this country,” Conservative refugees all cry as they jump into their 150-foot yachts. 

The country begins over populating, for there isn’t a single person who has cancer. Everyone has been cured and there are not enough businesses open now to employ them – not like they really wanted a job; they are too busy munching and napping. 

Everyone is enjoying movies, there hasn’t been a bad movie review since the announcement of the end of the prohibition. Same goes for restaurant reviews – the food is always great! The art of writing a review is lost; everyone knows it’s going to be awesome if you just get baked!

“Real Change!” Trudeau promised, being the first prime minister to tell the truth in his platform. That silly kid. 

Photo Credit: Márton Berta


OLIVIA VANDERWAL

Olivia Vanderwal is a wanderlust enthusiast,  a writer of delicate words, a player of all things acoustic, and a singer in and out of the shower, determined to follow a career in the writing industry. She hopes to dive into scriptwriting for television, while dipping her toes in the songwriting business and also juggling a novel of her own one day. Keep her in your prayers.

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Tinder: Setting Online Dating Ablaze

By Kayla Randall

 There has got to be more to dating in the 21st century than looking at someone’s Facebook profile picture and their name, deciding whether or not you’d sleep with them, and swiping left or right. Left means no, right means yes. As a lefty, I’m automatically offended, but that’s a discussion for another day.

If you don’t know what Tinder is, I’ll give you the brief version. It’s a dating app for your phone that allows you to see other people in your area. If you’re interested and swipe right, and they’re interested and swipe right, you become a match. From there, you can chat each other up and see if you’re interested in more than just their face.

It’s superficial, and I hate it.

But if Tinder is good for anything, it’s an ego boost. When you see someone you’re attracted to and swipe right, and then you find out they swiped right too, it’s like hearing a chorus of angels. It’s like your inner narcissist just shot up with heroin and fell into a refreshing pool on a hot summer’s day. Beautiful; blissful.

And then you look at the person’s bio and there’s something about Netflix and chill and “we can pretend we met in a coffee shop.” Really? I want that to actually happen. I don’t want to lie about it and then have sex while an old episode of Friends plays in the background! What happened to old-fashioned romance? What happened to getting picked up and having dinner and seeing where things go from there?

What the hell happened?

The worst thing about it has to be finding people that you know on this stupid app. Or, almost worse than that, finding people who know people you know. Because then it becomes a dilemma: if I swipe right and match, great, but what if they tell the people we both know about us meeting on Tinder? And what if it doesn’t work out? Then there’s that awkward “oh, well it didn’t work out but we know the same people so there’s that off chance that we’ll see each other at a party.” And what if we actually see each other?

No, thank you.

It gets even weirder! I had the app on my phone when I went home over the summer, and the moment I opened it, I was looking at a guy I’d gone to high school with. High school, where you know everything about their relationship history, right down to who they got down and dirty with on prom night. Ridiculous.

I’m not saying that Tinder is a bad idea. If you’re looking for casual sex, put that in your bio and you’re golden. If you want a relationship, same thing. And it’s a lot more appealing to the younger crowd. Better to be swiping left and right on your phone than paying the creepy eHarmony guy to set you up with your “perfect match.” Ugh.

Tinder is a way to connect with the people you’re interested in. But so is Facebook. And Twitter and Instagram and Snapchat and so on and so forth. If you’re looking for a lay, Tinder is the place to be. But as for something deeper than Netflix and chill? Maybe not.  

Photo Credit: 4Photos


KAYLA RANDALL

Kayla Randall is a 20-year-old aspiring novelist with a passion for coffee, books, and driving around her hometown. Eldest of five siblings, she often misses home in Mississauga, but is still having the time of her life living in Ottawa and trying to make her mark in the literary world.

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What Good is All That Power?

By Mikayla Spitse

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If you asked someone to state a fact about one of the Kardashians, even if they weren't a fan, more likely than not they would have a few things to say. If you asked someone to state a fact about animal rights, unless they were an advocate for these rights, you’d probably receive a few glazed stares. We live in a culture where it is more common to see headlines about the latest celebrity scandal than an actual news story. We can’t escape it, whether we are in line at the grocery store or even reading a newspaper. Celebrities are everywhere. They are held in high regard, and clearly have a lot of power over people- but what good is it?

We have many people of great influence, whether they deserve it or not. Using their power to promote themselves further rather than making real strides to benefitting and bettering our world. Why? We have seen that it’s not impossible for people in this position to use it for good.

Take Harry Potter star Emma Watson for example. She has spoken up about women’s rights time and time again. She has taken a clear stance that it is time for women to have equality, and many have people listened. Even this past week, comedian and former host of The Daily Show, Jon Stewart and wife, Tracey McShane, opened an animal sanctuary to raise awareness about the mistreatment of farm animals. These are two very famous people standing up for important causes; the same causes we stand up for.

Why is it so important for celebrities to stand up for a cause? Well, the only real difference between the average person and a celebrity speaking out about an issue is this: People will more likely listen to the latter. Ridiculous but, it’s the truth. If people see their favourite celebrities getting passionate about a cause, they will most likely join that same cause. If people are willing to spend hundreds of dollars copying the look of their favourite actor or actress, why wouldn’t they take that money to help fund a cause that same celebrity endorses? If more celebrities advocated for important rights and issues, more people in society would follow suit. Everyone cares about something, so why all the magazines filled with petty celebrity conflict? If people cared half as much about human rights as they did about which celebrity was cheating on who, we would quickly start to see a real change in the world.

We often think that we live in an ever changing, quickly advancing world but that is only true in a materialistic sense. More people are busy creating the new iPhone, or new app, or new clothing line. If people spent more time and energy starting up charities, or endorsing the ones that already exist, we’d all be better for it.

So celebrities, it’s time to use all that fame of yours to make this world a better place. As Uncle Ben from Spiderman would say, “With great power comes great responsibility.”

Photo Credit: Pikawil


MIKAYLA SPITSE

Mikayla is a Professional Writing student who makes bad jokes and expects people to laugh. She aims to work with Vice one day. 

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Amazing Amy Disappears

By Kayla Randall

What have we done to each other?

The opening lines of the box office hit, Gone Girl, begs this question of couples, struggling marriages, any relationship we might face in our day-to-day lives. What have we done to each other? A foreshadowing to what this cinematic wonder holds for its viewers. What have Nick and Amy Dunne done to each other, and how did they let this happen?

The story that unfolds in the next 149 minutes has become a masterpiece for the new age, a drama surrounding a husband who has or hasn’t committed a devious crime, and a wife who’s going to make sure he’s punished as she sees fit. The film’s screenplay was written by Gillian Flynn, author of the novel we see unfold onscreen. Directed by David Fincher, Gone Girl keeps you on the edge of your seat until the credits roll.

On the day of their five-year wedding anniversary, Nick Dunne – played by Hollywood-favourite Ben Affleck – returns to his home in Missouri to find that his wife is missing. Doing what any other confused and probably slightly terrified husband would do, Nick calls the police. They bring him in for questioning after finding a few problematic pieces of evidence around the house. We learn that Nick and Amy Dunne have an interesting relationship for a couple that’s been together five years – Nick seems to know next to nothing about Amy’s day-to-day life.

As the mystery becomes more complicated, we are treated to flashbacks to earlier moments in Nick and Amy’s relationship. The first night they meet – full of witty banter, a magical first kiss in a sugar storm, and a sneak peak at what happened between the sheets. The night Nick proposes to Amy, amid the flash and glamour of a release party for Amy’s mother’s new book, Amazing Amy Gets Married. We learn that Amy’s parents essentially wrote a better version of their daughter’s life and published it over the years. The plot thickens.

Staying true to any good crime-fiction movie, Amy has left a series of clues for her husband – a scavenger hunt of sorts that she puts together for their anniversary every year. As the police begin to uncover these clues, all signs start pointing to Nick Dunne as his wife’s killer. But is Amy Dunne really dead?

A few more clues from the past, read aloud by Amy herself as entries from her diaries over the years, and we get a bit more insight into the Dunnes’ relationship. Nick Dunne in real life seems to be a different person compared to the Nick Dunne we see in Amy’s flashbacks. While their marriage is far from picturesque (life never is, even in some movies), Nick and Amy are the perfect pair. Nick loses his job and they move from New York City to Missouri after his mother falls ill.

In the present, however, we learn that Amy Dunne has much more to her than the gorgeous, blonde, trust-fund baby she’s initially presented to be. She’s brilliant, conniving, and exactly the woman Nick married.

Rosamund Pike, who plays Amy, delivers one of the most haunting performances of her career, the perfect Amy Dunne, the villainess you want to win. You want her to get away with it. She makes your hate Nick Dunne with every fibre of your being before the first 60 minutes are over.

Without giving too much away, the final scenes of Gone Girl will leave you begging for the answer to another, bigger question:

How did we end up here?

Photo Credit: Jason Nelson


KAYLA RANDALL

Kayla Randall is a 20-year-old aspiring novelist with a passion for coffee, books, and driving around her hometown. Eldest of five siblings, she often misses home in Mississauga, but is still having the time of her life living in Ottawa and trying to make her mark in the literary world.

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Expanding Horizons

By Michael Houle

Cities Skylines is the most recent release from Paradox Interactive, a Swedish developer based in Stockholm. With previous titles such as Mount and Blade, Magicka, and the Penumbra games, Paradox has built quite a legacy for itself. The question becomes if the newest arrival in the Paradox family is a welcome gift, or the red headed stepchild.
 
Cities Skylines is a city building/management game. The concept is to build a city with numerous districts and boroughs wherever they crop up. It gives a great reign of control and responsibility to the player; every action has reward and risk. If you build the sewage to run up river, and the water reserve downriver, sewage flows into the drinking water. Green energy is renewable, but more expensive in the long run. Think of a more advanced SimCity.
 
The game itself looks gorgeous. Every asset from the maps to the tools look excellent. Even minor details on buildings look great despite the lack of focus the camera allows. The city feels alive with cars always puttering around, while garbage trucks and school buses run their routes around the city.
 
There is a fairly standard beginning to the game: you choose your map, build the first few roads, and zone the town. A simple enough start which gradually leads into a game of great depth. Soon it forces you to consider locations of industry, business, and residential buildings, all of which require their own needs such as recreation, nearness to power and resources, beauty, and local wealth. People’s complaints will be made very clear to the player running the town through a system called Chirp. If the AI (artificial intelligence) have any complaints about pollution, improper zoning, disconnected power or plumbing, the player will hear no end to the complaints.
 
That being said, the game makes most of these problems easy enough to solve. Running power through buildings requires that only one building be hooked to the source of power while the water runs through tubes under the streets without needing to micromanaged into every single house. This can cause some undue frustration as the routing of power and plumbing can get confusing and cut from time to time, which usually sorts itself out over a matter of seconds. The infrastructure is also fine-tuned, whether a new road needs to be straight on the grid, curved slightly, or bend widely away. This opens up many new options for designs of cities, suburbs, or other districts.
 
This leads into the creation of districts themselves. Districts are one of the more popular innovations within the game. Districts allow for separation between differing parts of your city. If there is a policy you want in the suburbs, say a reduction of taxes, but still want to keep the taxes regular for the city’s residential area to encourage more movement into those areas, you can do so. Or, if the regular, default industry is causing too much pollution, or not producing enough jobs you can create a new district with a farm or logging industry. Of course, you can also simply keep everything nice and clearly separated.
 
The game also features at least a quasi-storyline. It is structured around growing your city from a small hamlet to a bustling metropolis. Each level brings with it a reward, like new loans, new buildings, and new policies for your districts or town at large. The city grows when the needs are balanced, and have an influx of industries and businesses to compliment the town’s residential tendencies.
 
Overall, the game itself runs very well. Beautiful, responsive, and intuitive to a tee. It tries to go above and beyond the call of duty at times, making the game addicting beyond compare. If I had to simplify the game, I would have to rate it as an 8.5 out of 10.

Photo Credit: Noel Abejo


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MICHAEL HOULE

Michael Houle is an insatiable reader, writer, gamer, and musician, and a critic of everything written, programmed, and performed. He is currently in the process of destroying his enjoyment of everything. Michael has been running tabletop games for years, starting in his freshmen year of high school to the present.

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