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Malik

Malik was returning from his third job interview this week. In his
seat on the bus home, he felt a hazy nausea in his gut thinking
about the nonchalant attitude the last interviewer had…like they’re
gonna call me…not! His new shoes suddenly seemed to pinch the top
of his left toe, and there was a blister on his right heel from the
constant rubbing he felt with each step he took. He remembered the
salesman in the department store saying, "…these boots will be
perfect for a man like you…" whatever that meant.


He gazed out of the window at the buildings and small stores moving
past. As if for the first time, he was struck by all the ‘employed’
people scrambling within and without, seeming to show a resigned
boredom on their faces as they moved. They looked as if there was no
alternative to that life of busywork that paid them just enough to
return next week and do it all over again.

The street hustlers he saw knew, though. He could spot them
anywhere, their alert, anxious eyes, darting around while trying to
look ‘normal’ at the same time. They moved with a hungry urgency
that ‘straight’ folk just didn’t have. They knew their life was in
their own hands, because nobody else would give them one.

At least they had the right idea, he thought, even if they were
going about it in the wrong way. Every one of them he ever talked to
kept their big dreams and talked about what they would do when they
"got over… like Grover."

He smiled as he thought about Bruce, who begged him for a dollar
every time he saw him, but also told him about some scam he was
running on the ‘marks’ out there. A ‘mark’ was anybody who wasn’t
running his own scam; which probably included him too. Bruce called
him ‘book sense’ soon after they met twenty years ago, and hadn’t
let up yet.

When Malik didn’t have a dollar one day, Bruce told him, "Damn, man!
When you gonna get paid? What’s all that book sense gon’ get you,
running to Charlie with your suit on and your hand out? They ain’t
giving no real paper to folk like us!"

I guess he thought Malik should get smart and get a hustle like
Fred, his brother, who was a mail carrier with the Post Office. Fred
managed to slip a little grass and coke in with the bills and junk
mail he delivered daily - for his ‘special’ customers.

He pondered Fred’s fate and his own plight, when his reverie was
interrupted by a boisterous passenger getting on the bus…

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One of my best memories is from when I used to sit starting out my window at night when I was younger. On nights where I couldn’t sleep I would turn and sit up in my bed and open my window and just hang my head out. I had pushed my bed underneath my window for that reason. I would look out through the trees in my yard at the lake across the street. My neighbor had a gazebo  at the waters edge that always had these white icicle lights hanging down year round. The best nights were the ones with the chilly night air when the mist would swirl around, hovering a few feet off the ground. Moonlight would bounce around reflected by the water droplets suspended in the air. The southern air thick and damp, and I could breathe in the peace and comfort that came with the smell of earth and pine trees. I would sit for hours staring, thinking how lucky I was that I had such beauty right within my grasp. Content. I would get out my journals and write, all the thoughts inside my head, pondering things that never would have crossed my mind in the day. Those books were filled with my deepest feelings, about what life and beauty really meant. I thought about how one day I would do something where I could share my thoughts, I had so much to say. I wanted to be able to show people that I matter. To find a voice. So much has changed, and I forgot about these nights. Now flash forward, and I  remember the peace I knew as a child when I was content where I was. Now my night is overcast with the starless city sky. I sit in the road smoking a cigarette wondering why I felt like I had to move across the country to feel like I was doing something with my life. I came here to get away, but I feel more trapped than ever.

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Circa 1909 [Gold Leaf God]

“Every time you sigh, a flower dies.”

“Nuh-uh.”

“You wanna be a flower killer? Go right on ahead. Keep poutin’. I’m tellin’ ya, darlin, that wind blown outta your mouth gotta blow somewheres. And them flowers? Them flowers are delicate things, ya know.”

She tucked a dandelion behind her ear. Scrunched her brow.

“Would I kill people named after flowers too?”

“I reckon you’re catchin’ on, Eileen. Might be hope’a makin’ ya into a ‘spectful woman after all.” He winked.

He was joking of course, but Eileen knew to take such things seriously. Especially coming from a preacher-man who was sitting next to you shucking corn. It was serious business, corn-shucking, or so she thought. Her pa talked it up quite a bit—she was too young to work out in the fields, and she disliked being stuck home with pastor Chapman. Eileen was Catholic, see, and she knew all about the Holy Wars. Started wondering if they’d ever come to America. Started wondering if she was already in a war.

A gust of wind almost escaped her larynx, but her cells convalesced and—fighting milk-tooth and door-nail—she swallowed it back down. She wasn’t a murderer. She didn’t want to be at war.

Daisy Upchurch, the county schoolteacher, died that night.

Later, at the funeral she told Liam Keppler that she killed things just by breathing wrong. He gave her a flower. Then they went down to the basement of the funeral parlor and picked the flower apart.

Eileen cried because she thought she’d killed the nice woman who’d taught her to read.

Liam cried because he knew he’d never get to go to school again. His pa’d already been trying to get him to Sei ein Mann! and drop out in order to help with the farm.

The flower was dead. A lot of things were dead.

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Monologue about death

‘I know it’s horrible when someone dies. Death creates holes in people’s lives, holes that are hard to fill. It makes people cry, it makes people shiver. It’s not a good thing. But that doesn’t necessarily mean it is a bad thing either because you know, the weird thing is.. it satisfies me. It’s not that I want people to die, it’s just that I don’t mind them doing so. I think they were meant to be. The death of others advances my story, it gives me something to deal with. And when I do, I’ll grow. I will be a stronger person, someone with experience, someone to look up to. I know it will be hard to get there, but it’s worth it, and I embrace it, because sooner or later I will advance someone else’s story as well.’

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Eleanor

I like the new house. It’s small and still smells like old people and cookies from the past occupants. These people were tea drinkers. I can tell from the light stains on the carpet that haven’t come out yet and the unused tea bags left in the kitchen drawers. I’m pretty sure they had grandchildren as well. There are fading tire tracks on the bottom of all the walls in the living room left by a boy who must have loved trucks but had no understanding of gravity. The backyard is spacious and has a lone, black tire hanging from the thick branch of a large oak tree. I couldn’t help but jump on the swing as soon as I saw it. I never had a back yard in New York. Surprisingly, the tire held my weight as I rocked back and forth, the wind making a mess of my curly hair.

From the backyard there is a beautiful view of the mountains and trees that seem to enclose this community. Lush and shifting chromatics of green and brown paint the land below the skyline. I can just imagine the sunrises in the morning as the colors peek over the shortest rock formation to hit the lawn and light the sky. My bedroom looks out onto the scenery and first light will illuminate my room, the books I have haphazardly piled and the boxes that aren’t going to be unpacked anytime soon. I haven’t experienced a sunrise yet, but in my minds eye, it is beautiful. The people who used to live here must have enjoyed it greatly. They set up two chairs around a singular table all pointed in the direction of the mountains. Messy white rings from tea condensation cover the table top. I can’t imagine a better way to start the day. However, I would rather my day start by day at ten instead of six.

Despite the added bonus of a tire swing, I can’t decide if I prefer this house to our old apartment. It had the familiar musk of old books from the store downstairs and the promise of stories that withstand the test of time. All of my things had their place and all of the places had things. I could be blindfolded and navigate my way to any room in the layered features of the apartment. My height was etched into my door frame and my magical milestones were etched into the walls of the training room. The kitchen bore the bearings of the last great fight between my parents, a memory I was too young to keep, but the room had not forgotten. That apartment has chronicled the misadventures of my dad and I for as long as I can remember.

I prefer the smell of old books to cookies, but this new place has a history that excites me. A normal family has lived here. They have loved here, grown here, and learned here, all without the comfort of magic. I can’t imagine living such a mundane life, yet the evidence is all around me. 

Dad always tried to make me live as normal life as possible, forbidding the use of magic outside the house. Apparently, it is what my mother would have wanted. I obeyed him for the most part. I’ve loved without magic. I’ve grown without magic. I’ve learned without magic. But, when anything went wrong, I always had magic to lean on. These people didn’t. This house is foreign, but I can have a future here.

The people in the town are nice as well. Before my dad and I were finished unpacking I made a friend. I have to admit that’s a record time even for me. His name is Kyle Doyle. It might just be that he’s uniquely nice, uniquely good looking, and not representative of the rest of the population.

In the middle of unloading all of our boxes, my dad had disappeared into the house, and I had decided to take a break as well. From the front lawn, I was staring out at the mountains. I could feel it all from the grass that engulfed my bare feet. All of nature lived and breathed around me. Even though I miss the old apartment, I’m so glad we moved away from the city. This is the first time in my entire life that I’ve felt like I can be myself. I can feel it all through my entire being, the strong presence of the distant mountains, the bold river that carves a path through the rocks, the trees that stand tall, and the soft grass beneath my skin all connect. There is magic here and I feel more connected to it then ever before. 

I felt the steps of the boy before I noticed him walking down the street in the middle of the road. He walked with his hands in the pockets of his khakis and his shoulders hunched over.  The sleeves of his blue flannel were rolled up to his elbows and his flip flops slapped noisily against the asphalt. He had the face to look like one of those brooding heroes you find in books and movies, but to me he just seemed like a sad- no devastated- young man with no direction in the world except wherever his feet seemed to take him. Nothing else mattered to him except for what was going on in his head at that moment. I silently watched him pass the house until he finally broke out of his heart breaking stupor.

 When he spotted me, he literally stopped in his tracks, doubled back around the truck, and then stuck out his hand to introduce himself. “You’re new! I’m new.” He said with an instant smile that brightened up the dark features of his face. “Well new-ish.” He qualified, as we shook hands, “My name is Kyle Doyle. Do you need help?” He took the liberty of sticking his nose through the back of the van, survey the last half of our unloaded things.

“No thanks,” I say, trying to be polite, but it didn’t seem like he was going anywhere anytime soon. I lifted myself off of the ground, excitedly engaging in conversation, “How are you new-ish?”

“I was born here. Lived here all my life. Well that’s not saying much. Everyone who is born here lives here all their life. The Parkers have been here forever, same with the Farrers, and the Durkins. No one moves away. Not for good at least. But, that’s not what you asked. Back to me.” Kyle rambled slightly, trying to put his thoughts into words. “I moved away a year ago when I was fifteen to go train for gymnastics. Obviously, I’m back now. I count myself as new.”

I question his definition of new. I don’t know how much changes in a small town over the course of a year. I’m guessing not much, but its obvious he’s terrified that nothing will be the same as he remembered. “So I’m guessing you were good at gymnastics.”

“Oh yeah. One of the best for my age, but my family had to move back home for personal reasons.” Kyle’s head jerked to look at the house next door before turning back to me. “Can I invite my friend down from his room to help you move in?” He asked, moving the conversation in the direction of his thoughts.

“Sure,” I shrugged. I didn’t need the help, but the more the merrier. It’s nice knowing that I won’t be completely alone when I walk through the school hallways tomorrow. 

Kyle walked over to the house next door, picking up small rocks from the ground on his way. He situated himself below one of the second story windows and started to throw the rocks upward against the glass, bellowing to the sky, “Oh Romeo. Romeo. Where for art thou Romeo?”

I couldn’t help but laugh, confused at his odd behavior. After no reply, Kyle threw a bigger rock at the window, clearing his throat to shout, “I said! Romeo. Romeo. Where for art thou Romeo?”

The window glided open and the head of Kyle’s friend popped out. He was rubbing his eyes, warding against the brightness of the sun, which his messy hair seemed to reflect. He had a boyish face, acne galore, and a playful glare going on as he stared down at Kyle. “There are so many things wrong with what you just did.” He complained, “Knocking would be much easier and quieter. I could ignore you if you knocked on the door. But here you are quoting Shakespeare in the wrong context and it’s like you’re trying to start a war with me. You know why my name is Jesse, you idiot.”

“Stop being no fun.” Kyle scoffed, “I don’t know if you’ve even gotten out of bed today, but you have a new neighbor. Come on down and introduce yourself. Stop being a weird hermit person.”

Jesse looked at me with his brown eyes, giving me a small wave before he disappeared into his room. Kyle started to walk back over, apparently satisfied with his work. “Is he coming down?” I asked.

“Of course he is. You’re pretty.” Kyle shrugged as if that was a fact of life that didn’t need explaining. “I never got your name by the way.”

“Eleanor. Eleanor Ivison.” I smiled. Jesse exited his front door quicker than expected and sprinted to catch up with Kyle.

Jesse jumped on his friend’s back, sending them both tumbling to the ground. They slide across the grass. Jesse’s shirt hiked up so half of torso was exposed. Kyle made it to his feet first, pushing Jesse down as he got up. Kyle ran up to me like a little puppy, his smile wide. Jesse  picked up himself from the ground and caught up to his friend. He extended one his hand around Kyle, a goofy smile on his dirt streaked face. 

“Eleanor Ivison this is Jesse Hanford, but everyone calls him Jesse. He was new once too.” Kyle introduced us.

When I shook Jesse’s hand the weirdest feeling came over me. With any mage that has even a tablespoon of magic, I can spot them from a mile away. But Jesse took me by surprise. When our palms touched, I felt the magic teeming inside him, thrashing but bound deep within. His eyes stayed locked with mine unknowing, yet years of potential magical energy raged underneath the ignorance. 

Honestly, it could have been all a part of my imagination. I’ve never met a mage who didn’t know that they had magic. Jesse didn’t look special. He had on a wrinkled shirt, slightly worn jeans, and nothing about his goofy smile, which revealed the dimple in his left cheek, particularly struck me as the makings of a cunning or powerful mage. He is just an average teenage boy. Before letting go of my hand, Jesse gave it one last squeeze as if he didn’t want to let go. I wonder if he felt my magic like I felt his.

I’m usually good about asking the right questions to get the answers I’m looking for, but how do you ask someone who might or might not have magic whether they know that they have magic or not. Whether they know about the Great Families, the Great War, and the Great Exodus. How do you sum all of those greats into one tiny question? I don’t know.

I had to ask him something so I asked “You were new, too?” expecting him to explain how he was from Galos, the dimension where all mages originate. I was expecting a long winded answer like Kyle or at least an answer that had a magical explanation. Usually everyone, mage or human, jumps at the opportunity to talk about themselves. Not Jesse.

“Adopted when I was a kid.” He stated simply as if that explained everything. “Why did your family decide to move here? No one decides to move here.” He added with a laugh that light up his face.

“It’s just my dad and I.” I answered automatically. I know my dad and I are a family, but I still felt like I had to correct him. When people say family, they usually think of a mom and dad and probably some siblings thrown in there somewhere, but it’s just my dad and I and that’s all we ever need. “We moved here to get away from the city.” I said, answering his question.

“Well you’re not officially away from the city until we help you finish unpacking.” Kyle interjected, already leaning over to pick up a box. I didn’t need these guys to help me. My dad and I packed all of our things and we could just as easily unpack them. These guys weren’t going away, but I didn’t want them to go away.

With the two boys in tow, I led the way into the house. I briefly contemplated whether I should stop them outside the door and warn my dad about the impossibility that is Jesse. But that would be no fun.

They walked through the door, unabridged and set the boxes along the wall with the others. Kyle immediately turned around to go back to work, but Jesse stayed inside, his feet rooted to the ground. He had one of our older books in his hands. He gently ran one of his fingers down the leather spine, examining the binding deliberately before taking great care as he opened to a random page. He breathed in the smell of the book, his chest rising and falling as his fingers lightly lifted the edge of the parchment, turning the page. He looked at the words with great care and concentration on his face, his fingers hovering over the pages, tracing the letters but never touching them. 

“Can you read that?” I asked, Jesse while sneaking up on him to peek at the page he had turned to.  

He jumped slightly at my words but valiantly tried to keep his composure after that. He’s looking at words that describe the Great War in excruciating detail, but it’s not in English. All of the books we own are written in Varish, the mother tongue of all mages. “Nope.” He answered, “It all looks like doodles to me. Can you read it?”

The correct answer was yes, and if he were a mage he could read it to. But I couldn’t exactly say that now could I? Instead I gave the closest answer I could think of, “It’s my dad’s.”

Jesse instantly set the book down on the top of the pile in the box. I’m sure if I hadn’t told him that he could have stood in that spot for days, examining, but not understanding, that one book. “Sorry.” He said, “I like old books and this is the oldest book I’ve seen. Where did you get it?”

“It’s been in the family for years. Most of these books have. I even have more in my room.” I told the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

In that moment, my dad sauntered around the corner, the earth shaking beneath his feet, just as Kyle walked in the room, trying to show off with two boxes in his hands. He dropped them immediately at the sight of my dad. He took a step back as if he wanted to disappear into the walls, looking behind me I saw that Jesse had done the same.

“I see you’ve already made friends, Ellie. No surprise there.” My dad said in his cheery voice. I can see how other people may be intimidated by my dad. He’s a large guy. At least twice the size of an average man and completely covered in muscle. He has thick eyebrows that make his face look menacing. People say I inherited his cheekbones but they cast shadows over his already dark skin, making him seem angry to an outsider even if he’s not. Some of my old friends asked me whether he was in the army or the navy. One person even asked if he was a part of Seal Team Six. It’s ridiculous what people think of him. My dad ran a bookstore in the city, and he has run a bookstore all his life. He wouldn’t hurt a fly let alone another human being. 

“That is Kyle and this is Jesse,” I introduced them and my dad set his sights on Jesse, forcing him to creep back out of the woodwork and into the living room.

“Nice to meet you Mr. Ivison,” Jesse said, reaching out his hand. My dad’s hand easily engulfed Jesse’s.

Their hands only touched for a moment before my dad bellowed, “Get out of my house,” making himself sound more menacing than he is in reality.

“Sorry, sir.” Jesse lamented, his voice soft as he started scampering out the door with Kyle in tow. “We’ll leave now.”

I followed them out the door, not sparing a glance back at my dad. “I’ll see you two in school tomorrow, right?” I called out to my two new friends as they walked towards Jesse’s house.

“For sure,” Kyle called back, waving his hand in the air with a smile.

I’ve been thinking about Jesse all afternoon. My dad saw it too. The brief flash of raw power within Jesse. It’s not just my imagination. Jesse has magic and it’s powerful magic, more powerful than anyone I’ve ever met before. The crazy thing is he doesn’t know. I don’t understand how that much power can live within a person without them knowing. I never knew a small town could hold such big secrets, and I didn’t know I was so lucky that he would live next door to me.

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Self-Published Kindling

John found an ad on Craigslist: “FREE BOOKS. Self-published. Paperback. Could be taken apart to use for craft projects, or for kindling.”

The advertisement made me very sad. It could be a story in itself— only a little more cumbersome that Hemingway’s famous Shortest Story Ever. The trials and tribulatons of a lifetime were contained in that one ad.

John decided to call and ask about the books; It turned out to be a lawyer from Boulder who had self-published a novel and spent a lot of money on a lot of copies, but then hadn’t had time to market them.

“It’s called The Physics of Caribou Creek,” John said.

“Cool,” I said. It was the type of name I wished I had come up with.

“The worst part is that someone under one of the Big Six was interested in it. No, I don’t know which one. But they weren’t going to publish it unless he took out some of the ‘spiritual stuff,’ whatever that means. Doesn’t that suck?”

“God. Seriously? Wow. I can’t believe the shit they get away with.”

“I know, right? Everything’s trimmed and tailored to fit the mainstream. Not an ounce of diversity.”

“Well, no. Can’t have any diversity,” I said. “It has to be something everyone will like for them to bother publishing it.”

“It’s sick how they’ll give best-selling publishing packages for a celebrity tell-all but can’t risk anything on a new story from a new author.”

“New authors might not sell. New stories might not sell.”

“Fuck that,” John said. “There’s no good literature unless you take risks publishing something new.”

“Might not sell,” I said, looking around the empty bookstore, shelves neatly stocked with self-published books.

“So, anyway,” John went on, opting to ignore my self-depreciating jab at our store. “He decided to self-publish so he could keep the story as he wanted to tell it. I don’t know who the fuck he went through, but it sure wasn’t no print-on-demand site. He wound up with, like, a garage full of boxes of books but no one to sell them to. He works as a lawyer so he didn’t have time for marketing. And you have to be your own marketing company to move any amount of self-published books, but a whole garage full?”

“Jeez,” I said. “So he’s just going to give them to us for free?”

“That’s what he said. We just have to go pick them up in Boulder.”

“Well, looks like we’re going to Boulder,” I said.  

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Runaways

Taco scampered along wooden shelves, knocking bottles to the floor as she went. Desperately searching, she continued to scurry along the wall. None of the brightly coloured bottles contained what she was looking for, and she quickly grew frustrated, before hearing a sharp call from outside, ‘Taco!’

Her head snapped to the sound, ears perking and whiskers twitching. Eoin’s voice rang out again and Taco darted from the shelf, knocking it from its nails as she leapt toward the shack’s rusty, tin door.  As she pushed the door open with her head the harsh sunlight pressed against her face, briefly blinding her. She opened her eyes to see Eoin motioning toward her, shouting. She dashed toward him and leapt into his arms, nudging intensely against the soft lining of his wine-red mess jacket. Without warning Eoin pressed Taco tightly against his chest and turned to run with a great sense of urgency.

‘They’re here,’ he whispered to her.

Eoin ran across the dry, orange sand, dust whipping from his shoes, elegantly trying not to trip on wayward rocks. Nearby was an olive-drab, metallic motorcycle, covered in satchels on one end and with two a lights at the front — the kind of bike they would have used in a war. Eoin vaulted across the seat just as several booming gunshots rang out in the distance. A couple of rounds hit the bike and knocked Eoin to the floor. Taco flew out of his jacket and across the sand, but composed herself quickly, her four white paws sliding against the dust. Eoin sat on the motorcycle and began to rev its engine, waiting for Taco to jump into one of the satchels on the back. Once she was safe, with only her head outside of the bag, Eoin tore the motorcycle from its standing and let out across the desert sand. His messy, black hair blew across his eyes. The gunshots followed them, but were too far away to make any sort of accurate shot on the speeding vehicle. Eoin turned his head to check on Taco and smirked as she sat comfortably in her satchel, the red handkerchief around her neck blowing in the wind, a pleasant smile on her face. She meowed in acknowledgement before burying her head inside the bag.

Eoin continued to drive, knowing that those shooting at him would be sure to follow and he had to make a break away as quickly as he could. What started as a simple loot could quickly become dangerous in the desert, you weren’t safe anywhere except the neon cities and even then it was risky if you had the wrong face. The dustlands, as they were often referred, were home to an amount of dangerous people and creatures. Since the exodus of the cities hundreds of years ago, the deserts had spawned all sorts of dangerous mutants and bandits. Those who remained in the cities slightly too long before escaping had become strange, corrupted creatures, and had begun to spawn amongst themselves and cause further mutations. An unexpected encounter with any of these ‘corrupted’ could quickly lead to an early demise — or worse, corruption — if not handled carefully. They were fearful to the sight, some weird splices between man and beast, others simply sentient towers of goo and ooze. It was an encounter with these beasts that led to Eoin’s companionship with his bipedal cat and best friend Taco. Perhaps the most dangerous encounter in the dustlands though was simply other people. After the exodus, people began to live in the desert, and many stayed there for generations. While some were humble and perfectly pleasant farmers or likewise, many became vicious bandits, stalking others for their food and valuables, with no scrutiny as to who they kill or, in particularly terrible cases, torture. Such bandits were in all likelihood who Eoin and Taco had just encountered. The only way to be safe in the dustlands was with a fast vehicle like a motorbike, but conversely that was also a great way of drawing unwanted attention to yourself. Had they been caught, it probably would have been as simple as murder and theft. Eoin carried an old-fashioned revolver for safety, but bandits were often heavily armed and always greatly numbered.

Taco had been scouring an old tin-shed for a valuable substance, the most precious commodity in the dustlands, while Eoin kept watch outside. Taco’s nimbleness and cat-reflexes were of great use to the pair in the desert, and so Taco was often sent out to loot places that Eoin would struggle with. She was an oddity in herself, a black and white cat that could — when she liked — stand on two legs, and with a strange aptitude for understanding human language. She spoke though, like any cat, in meows, which Eoin almost seemed to understand himself. Everyone in the dustlands was looking for Midnight, one of many strange, sought-after substances, and in fact the rarest. It was usually in the form of a crystal-like rock, of dark purple colouring. Like the others, each of varied colour, it emitted a strange and beautiful glow. The bottles Taco had found in the shed contained some of the other crystals, lighting the shed through glass bottles with their neon rainbow. There hadn’t been any Midnight among them. Many of the others were common enough that they did not generally need to be gathered. The presence of all of these crystals though meant that there had probably once been Midnight there, but they were too late. The precious nature of Midnight stemmed from its ability to prevent sleep. It did not necessarily force you to stay awake, but Midnight radiated a strange chemical which seemed to abate any fatigue in its owner. It couldn’t keep you awake indefinitely, and its power wore out quickly, but the ability to skip a couple of nights of sleep with seemingly zero negative consequences was hugely useful, particularly in the dustlands. In the desert, the most dangerous thing you could do is sleep. Sleeping left you vulnerable, and unless you had a party large enough to warrant guard-shifts, you were incredibly susceptible to surprise attacks at night. If you could afford it, you could spend time in the cities, but very few people could. Large sections of the city were still uninhabitable, and those that were had become home to truckers and such in the lowermost sections, and the rich noble folk in the tall towers above them. It was a hard world to break into, but it was the dream of many to do so. The higher you were in the city, the safer you were from bandits, corruptions, and whatever other dastardly abominations the dustlands would so often throw at you. Midnight had a high price, and so selling it and the other crystals was seen as one of the only ways to truly make a living and finally break out of the desert. So, naturally, everybody wanted as much Midnight as they could carry. So they could stay awake long enough to gather more.

The sun was setting, and Eoin and Taco took shelter under a set of raised cliffs in a long, outstretched valley. Eoin took their tenting from a satchel on the bike and began to set it up while Taco fussed over the cooking at a campfire she had somehow started. After he had set up the tent, Eoin withdrew a couple of glass bottles from a bag. They each glowed a brilliant white as Eoin set them down upon the rocky dirt. The crystals in these jars were Midnight’s yellow cousin, Solar. Solar was perhaps the most common of these substances, and was used primarily for simple outdoor lighting. These lights could not be used for too long, though, as anything that would draw attention was avoided. The pair sat around the campfire, tearing meat from the bone. They had been lucky enough to find a couple of uncorrupted animals to hunt and were making the most of it. While animals did still exist in the dustlands, many of them had been mutated much like the people had and, obviously, eating a corrupted animal would more than likely not be pleasant. So when Eoin came across a couple of perfectly healthy sandcows — huge, lumbering creatures that slowly roamed the desert in small groups — he could not help but take the opportunity and by the end of the day had filled several bags with meat. After they had finished eating, they nullified the Solar and took rest; Eoin hung his coat on an outstretched branch and settled in his sleeping bag, while Taco wrapped herself in a pink blanket she had taken a liking to a long time ago.

The morning’s plan was to spend the day making it to the nearest city. If they travelled well and uninterrupted they could probably make it there by early evening. The cities did not span particularly long distances, but did stretch ambitiously in to the sky. Because of this, despite the huge distance between cities, it was reasonably easy to spot one that you were even remotely close to. In fact, as they slept, the brilliance of the nearby city tore through the darkness in the distance. The cities were full of dark grey, black, and blue buildings; all of them painted with harsh metallic tones. At night, though, they lit up with dazzling light. Long strips of burning green neon adorned the rising skyscrapers, and brilliant red signs gave light to pathways. What at day looked like a pile of abandoned metal spires, at night would become a beautiful, glowing empire. The cities were filled with various establishments of all sorts and sizes. The lower, almost underground level was darkened by the tall buildings, lit only by neon, and was generally home to bars and slums. Truckers delivering supplies between cities made up the majority of patronage at such bars, as well as travellers and various undesirables. Above that was residency, where people who could afford to stay in the city were allowed to live. This ground-level was, in most cities, particularly pleasant. Thanks to the huge walls surrounding them, people generally felt safe to walk around as they pleased. While some undesirables occasionally found their way in, they were more often than not swiftly dealt with. As such, cities were bustling hives of commerce and society, compared to the silent emptiness of the dustlands surrounding them. As the city went higher the people became more wealthy and far more secretive. Still, many of the buildings were empty, and often uninhabitable due to continued contamination, which in most of the cities had been locked down to particular sectors. Some of the smaller cities remained entirely devoid of human life, inhabited only by corruptions if anything at all. Hunters and looters would often try their luck in these ghost cities, but very few returned alive. The remaining cities were run by a form of government referred to as The Family. This government spanned across multiple cities throughout the dustlands, and held its power strictly with an iron fist. In many ways The Family was seen as hugely corrupt, though nobody had any choice but to obey. Generally though, if you stayed out of their way they were of nothing but help to you. They often had specialised police forces for dealing with corruptions and lawbreakers, as well as to prevent bandits from entering the cities and causing havoc. These police were more akin to a private military than law enforcement, and were responsible for a large number of unjust imprisonments and deaths. Despite this, they were indeed efficient at keeping the towns safe, and the citizens relied on them.

When the sun began to rise, Eoin and Taco were already wide awake and packed. Eoin leant against the motorcycle waiting for Taco to get ready, and watched the sunrise. He could think of few more beautiful things than the sunrise, and treasured every day he lived he to see it. The dustlands were dangerous and Eoin knew he may not have long. He worried about Taco. She was a bright cat, no less, but she would have no hope in the desert without him.

The dusted motorcycle roared through the valley and left into the mouth of a seemingly endless desert. The deep yellow dust was broken by nothing but the long stretch of grey, asphalt road and the vague silhouette of a distant city rippling in the sun. Eoin sped towards the skyscrapers, hoping for as few interruptions as possible, not only for time’s sake but safety’s too. The first few hours of the journey came quickly and easily to them. As the motorcycle thundered down the road Eoin caught a glimpse of something in the distance; a petrol station sat in the sun. Hopefully, he thought, it was not deserted and had an incoming supply. It would be useful to refill the tank and maybe a bottle or two as well. As they grew closer to the station Eoin took notice of a large, white board — it appeared to be a sign. To his relief, written upon the sign in large, red writing was ‘Open’. Eoin pulled up alongside one of the bowsers and dismounted his bike, Taco remaining inside her satchel. He walked toward the window of the small, decrepit building to see if he could find the owner. All the windows were boarded up with huge, metal sheets, as was completely normal of the dustlands. Petrol stations in particular found themselves victims of bandits incredibly often, but many owners were too stubborn to give up and instead heavily armed themselves. Some station owners even had a chart or tally of how many kills they had, for bragging rights and to scare off potential looters. Eoin knocked on the door, which had also been covered, and waited for a response. A couple of seconds later, a small panel on the door slid across and two eyes were visible behind it.

‘What do you want?’ a voice hissed.

‘I’m after petrol, sir. Seems like a good place to get it,’ Eoin remarked.

‘Yes. Yes indeed. Come in, come in.’

And with that the door heaved open and revealed was an aging, diseased looking man. He still had enough meat on him but generally radiated a sense of sickness. Eoin became increasingly weary, but a sight like this was not uncommon. He followed the man inside.

‘Let me, let me just flick the pumps on for you.’ The man stuttered.  

‘Right.’

The man scurried behind the counter and fiddled around with buttons. Eoin glanced around the store, noticing its barren shelves and run-down walls. Such a sad looking place, he felt bad for the old man. He turned back to see a gun pointed toward him. An old, bronzed thing, large and with a single barrel. He did not have time to reach for his revolver, and instead raised his arms and said, ‘Don’t shoot. I have nothing of value to you, I’m sure.’

‘We’ll see,’ retorted the old man, coughing as he looked out the open door.

Outside there were three masked men heading toward Eoin’s motorcycle, seemingly dressed as mechanics. The men began to rock the bike as they rustled through each satchel, looking for valuables — in all likelihood Midnight. They wouldn’t find any, but Eoin feared what they would do when they found the cat. The old man remained with his gun pointed toward Eoin. They made eye-contact, and Eoin held it tightly, unblinking. He waited for a chance. Taco had long since been awaken by the shaking, and lay dormant in the bag, eyes widened and staring at the opening, waiting for it to come undone. Finally it did, and a hand entered. Eoin heard a man scream and retract his hand from the bike, he snickered as the old man looked to see what had happened. When he returned to face Eoin, a long, silver barrel was pointed toward his face.

‘Throw the weapon to me, and don’t move.’ Eoin ordered, and the man did so.

By the time Eoin made it outside, the man who had met with Taco’s claws was trying to wrestle her from his arm, and the other men were trying to grab her in the confusion. One of them managed to land a blow on her stomach and she squealed loudly, but remained steadfast with her claws dug in. Before the man could even withdraw his fist, a gunshot exploded in the desert air and he dropped, clutching his side. The bandits all turned to face Eoin, his red and silver revolver outstretched and smoking. They froze.

‘Taco, get down,’ Eoin said quietly.

Taco withdrew her claws and dropped to the ground, before happily scampering toward Eoin, rubbing against his leg and purring. Eoin motioned the two remaining men away from the bike with the barrel of his gun, and trailed them with it as they cautiously hobbled toward the inside of the petrol station. He cast the old man’s weapon in to the desert, before picking up Taco and placing her in the satchel. He watched the station door slam shut as he pet Taco on the head, before mounting his bike and starting the engine.

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                Some things you can help, some you can’t. I learned that at age eight, playing Monopoly with my sister and never understanding how she managed to make thousands while I was lucky not to end up in jail six times in a row.

                “I win again, bro,” she would say.

                “I’m not your bro.”

                “Whatever, it’s three to zero this week, bro.”

                “I don’t really know how to play, Josa, and will you stop calling me bro?”

                “Hey Ma, I won again and Mina is sore,” and so Ma would walk into the room, phone in hand, eyes wide open at the impending drama.

                “I’m not sore, I can’t play, but she just keeps calling me bro.”

                “She is super sore, Ma. Bros don’t know how to lose.”

                “See that?! Could you cut that out?”

                “Oh come on Josa, leave her alone.”

                “What can I do if she is a horrible loser?”

                “I’m not! I didn’t say anything about losing.”

                “You’re the biggest cry baby, bro.”

                “Cut it out, both of you,” and just like that we were silent. “You oughta teach her how to play instead of making fun of her like that. You should be embarrassed. And don’t mind what she calls you, Mina. Don’t be silly,” and so I didn’t mind anymore.

                “Whatever, bros. How about another round, Mina?”

                “Yeah, okay.”

                “Cool, bro.”

                I lost every time we played; I just thought she knew something I didn’t. She was my sister, I trusted her. That was fine. I was nine when I realized she had been cheating all that time. It took a little less innocence here, a little watchful eye there, and I quickly became the undisputed queen of Monopoly. Some things you can help, some you can’t until you bend yourself just the right amount.

                The trick was that she didn’t know that I knew. She kept doing her thing the same way, whatever that was, and she didn’t notice I’d changed my thing. That was fine, she trusted herself. I was on a two-week winning streak when she stormed out of our bedroom, saying she’d never play anything with me anymore. “Cool, bro,” I thought. Some things you can help, some you can’t until somebody shows you how.

                At age twenty, I decided to leave. I didn’t know what I was leaving, but it didn’t matter. One day I thought about it, the next I was gone. I trusted myself, that was fine. Some things you can help, some you don’t want to.

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Writing Non-fiction-- An excerpt from a novel

After I charged the laptop at McDonald's, where I wrote for almost three hours while the children played and ate dinner, I decided to keep writing till the battery died. And then I might keep writing, in my notebook. I don't always have that sense of urgency, that motivation, so when it strikes, I like to take advantage of it till it runs dry. After we returned to the motorhome, I gave Sophie my old day-planner to color in, and Lyric a stack of receipts, and I told them that if they could leave me alone and color good while I wrote until bedtime, they could have some cookies.

“I'm writing, too,” Sophie said, as she wrote 'SOPHIE,' 'LOVE,' and 'MOMMY,' over and over again in on the blank pages of the calender. They were the only words she knew how to spell, and she only knew her capital letters. “I'm writing, too. We're authors. We're both authors.”

Rigby went crazy barking, and after a minute, I realized that the long-haired man from the red Explorer with the expired tags was at our door, trying to get my attention, apparently afraid to knock on the door because it was already half-open.

“Hey, your man isn't around, is he? I was just going to ask him if I could give him a couple dollars to smoke me out before bed tonight.”

“John's at work, but I'll tell you what. I'm gonna smoke tonight after I put the kids to bed. You can join me.”

“That would be awesome, that would be awesome.”

“You're in the red Explorer, right?” I asked.

“Yeah, but I'm parked over there.” He indicated the main parking lot, east of our little alcove, towards the gigantic Wal-Mart building.

“Okay, tell you what. I don't want to leave the kids after I put them to bed. I'm gonna take them to Wal-Mart to go to the bathroom before bed, and on my way back out here I'll come get you.”

“That'll work. Thank you so much.”

He left and I came back inside to write. I sat back down, wanting to finish a chapter, and the kids kept coloring. I looked up a minute later and realized that the man had moved his red Explorer over to a few spaces away from our motorhome, where I could see it out the passenger window of our motorhome. It was really more of a maroon color. He sat in the driver's seat with the door open for air, like always. I kept writing.

A few minutes later, there was a knock on the side of our motorhome, and Rigby went crazy barking again. I opened it, and this time it was Melissa, the woman with the cats in the RV at the end of the alcove.

“Hey, have you seen Polar Bear around?” she asked, indicating an area behind her. Against the far end of the alcove, there was a truck whose owner she had warned me about.

“Is he the guy that lives in that truck?” I asked, pointing.

“No, Polar Bear's the one in that.” She pointed to the Explorer.

“Oh, he was here earlier but I don't know where he went.”

“S'alright, just wonderin'. Did that guy ever get his stuff together?”

“Who, John? My husband?”

“No, that guy... What was his name?”

“Oh, Sam. Yeah. We drove him back down to Commerce City yesterday after he fixed our truck. He's got a place till the end of the month and then we're gonna help him bring his stuff up here.”

“What, the end of this month or the end of next month?”

“The end of May. He's only got like another week. It's a tough situation.” I meant the anticipation of homelessness once it becomes inevitable. At least we had only been forced to deal with that for forty-eight hours or so. “Hang on, what's your name again?” I asked.

“Melissa.”

“That's what I thought, just wanted to be sure,” I said.

“Where is your husband, speaking of?”

“He's working, he works till midnight.”

“Oh, really? That's great. I didn't know he worked. That's awesome.”

“Yeah, what a world we live in where you can work two jobs and still not be able to pay rent.”

Then Axel appeared, exclaiming, “Hey, sweetheart, how've you been?” and Melissa excused herself, indicating that Polar Bear had returned.

“I've been alright, I've been alright.”

“You guys get your truck running?” he asked, as both of the children appeared behind me. Their fondness for Axel has never decreased since the New York cheesecake.

“Yeah, yeah, Sam got the brakes fixed and then we were able to get our extra tires out of storage, so now it has tires and everything.”

“Good, good, I bet thats a relief to be able to drive again.”

“Sure is,” I laughed.

“Well I been 'bout as busy as a three-legged cat herding turtles in a frozen pond. Thinkin' about getting rid of his one-ton.” He meant his truck/ dump-truck hybrid.

“Oh yeah?” I asked. I had never heard that expression before.

“Yeah, got a couple guys keepin' me on a retainer, it's really great. Now I can get something a little smaller for these jobs. It's great. Listen, I'm pretty busy but my friend in Canada is gonna send me my-- my stuff down. You know, my stuff.”

“Oh, your writing?” I asked excitedly.

“Yeah, my writing. Listen, I been meaning to get down to your bookstore, I'm sorry I haven't yet. Been meaning to and I'll get down there soon.”

“Oh, it's all right, I can't wait to read your stuff. We'll get it published.” He grinned. Then, a woman pulled up behind Axel in an SUV with a large rooster perched on the edge of a dog-food bowl in her passenger seat.

“Is that a chicken?” Sophie asked, appearing behind my skirt.

“Yeah, it sure is,” I said. Axel and the woman were talking.

“See, those are new England stripes. The grey,” Axel said, pointing at the bird, and the woman thanked him and pulled away. Axel bid me a farewell and I went back to my writing. Nothing I could ever make up, I thought, could ever top real life. No point in ever writing fiction, unless it was just selling fact as fiction so people would read it.  

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Homeless-- Chapter Two of a story about how shitty Jack Kerouac is

 

 

The money had run out in December. We had moved out here in September. I had laser aberration surgery for an immunodeficiency-related cervical cancer, which sounds very sci-fi and futuristic, at the Wichita Surgery Center on September eighteenth, the date our lease ended at our duplex in Wichita. We stayed in a hotel that night while I recovered in a daze of hyrdocodone, and the next day we left the hotel and drove west with all of our belongings in a U-Haul on the back of John's truck. Packing all of our belongings while I prepared for surgery was one of the hardest things I have ever done.

In October we had opened the business, and it was small but it was going well. Authors and publishers around Colorado started getting excited about us. I was in remission from both cancer and lupus. We still had plenty of operating capital. And then we got a letter from my insurance company, and they weren't going to pay for laser aberration, and I should have known that hydroxychloroquine and immunosuppressants would give me cancer. In November, I paid my hospital bills. And in December, we ran out of money.

I don't mean we were low on money. We had zero point zero zero dollars in out bank account.

Still, we showed up to work every day, even though no customers did. We might go a week without a single browser, let alone a purchase. On Mondays we went to the food pantry and got as much stale bread as we could carry. We applied for food stamps. We applied for as many jobs as we could. I sold every ounce of silver or gold that I had inherited from dead grandmothers. We burned wood for heat instead of using gas or electricity.

In January we got an eviction notice while waiting for my student loans to be transferred to our bank account. I was taking classes, still, at Wichita State University; they were all online classes and I took them remotely. I was still enrolled under a pre-law scholarship that covered my tuition, but in our dire circumstances, I decided to take out the loan available to me.

We paid rent and avoided eviction by less than forty-eight hours. We paid some more hospital bills. We bought Lyric a used mattress, donated his toddler bed, and bought him a new duvet emblazoned with Batman. We purchased some stock for the bookstore from more well-known independent authors and publishers who could afford to turn down a consignment contract. We did alright in February. We signed a lease addendum to move from the isolated upstairs unit in Old Town Marketplace to the more attractive window-front unit. We found graffiti and mural artists willing to embellish our walls for a book-trade. We opened shop again in a much more visible location. But we didn't make enough money. And we couldn't make March's rent.

The day before we were evicted was the day of Central Elementary's Craft Fair. The school was holding the fair to raise money to benefit their sister school in Uganda, and one of our clients, Jason Gage-- an illustrator, rather than an author-- had purchased a booth for the fair. But he found himself over-committed, having also signed up to play the didgeridoo at a lunch-time performance at the craft fair, and his sister unexpectedly came to visit, so Jason bequeathed his booth to us, and we took him up on the offer.

I set up my booth at my assigned table in a hallway near the principal's office, next to a mother selling a variety of felt-bird mobiles hanging from a hand-welded frame, and across from a teacher and her six-year-old son selling knitted scarves. John and the kids helped me to carry in stock, and then they left to go seek assistance.

I arranged our newsletter sign-up sheets and stickers adorned with our logo and flyers promoting upcoming events, along with dozens of books I had selected to bring for the fair. To be fair, people did buy books; mostly the children's book that Jason Gage had illustrated, as the children recognized the name of their art teacher, but other books as well. I wrote out receipts and entered credit card numbers and reloaded our bank account webpage-- over and over and over again-- waiting for our tax return to show up. The tax refund should have been for over six thousand dollars, due in part to my excessive medical bills the previous year. The tax return should have been deposited into our bank account on February twenty-eighth, but on March sixteenth it still hadn't arrived. We had just gotten the eviction notice the evening before, upon returning from work after nine o'clock that Friday night, and the tax return was our last hope. We knew our rent was late, and the previous week, I had emailed our property manager a copy of our tax return and its expected deposit date, begging for a little more time, begging for no eviction while we waited on our tax return. I got no reply. So I suppose we were expecting the eviction, but we weren't expecting to have less than forty-eight hours' notice. We weren't expecting it to be over the weekend while nobody's office was open.

Still we kept waiting on the tax return, even as the hours disappeared before us and our eviction time crawled closer. But there wasn't much hope that our bank account would be updated on a Saturday. There wasn't much hope that anyone's office would be open on a Saturday; but still, John drove with the kids from county building to non-profit organization to payday loan shop, looking for any way to keep us in our apartment. Everywhere was closed.

At the crowded craft fair, I gave my elevator-speech about carrying books from local, independent authors and never sending our customers' money to the Big Six publishers in New York; I expected the same polite feigned enthusiasm I received from browsers at the bookstore, and I got plenty of it, but I also sold book after book, more than we had ever sold in a single day before. More than we had ever sold in a single week. I watched the stack of receipts stack out, eagerly totaling the sales. We owed a thousand dollars in rent, but even if we paid it, we would still be required to pay three-hundred dollars in court fees to reverse the eviction.

I totaled the sales receipts: Fifty-three ninety. Eighty-seven twenty-one. A hundred and twelve thirty-six. A hundred and fifty-two sixteen.

As the craft fair neared to its close, I gave up hope that we would make it. To have sold more books at one time than we had ever sold before, and yet to still be so far from making rent, was humiliating.

I sat on the stoop outside a side-door of the elementary school, clutching a box of promotional materials and leftover stock, crying for an hour before John picked me up, children in tow. The truck bed was full of liquor-store boxes, meant for our inevitable move; although to his credit, John had bought only a single can of beer.

John took the children and me home, and he unloaded all of the empty boxes for me, filling our back porch and living room. Then he left to go back to work while I was to pack our belongings. He had already packed all of books and DVDs into liquor-store boxes and had taken them to our shop to store in our back room. The empty bookshelves stared down at me.

I didn't know what to do with the children, because it was their nap time but I needed to be able to pack their clothes from their closet, so I put the miniature VHS player in their room, and put on an old movie, and told them that they didn't have to go to sleep but they needed to stay in bed.

While desperately searching the internet for some resource that would allow us to stay in our apartment, I had come across a checklist meant for those packing for 'potential homelessness.' The list was divided into time frames:

 

What to do if you may become homeless in the next couple months.

What to do if you may become homeless in the next two weeks.

What to do if you may become homeless in the next couple of days.

What to do if you may become homeless in a few hours.

What to do if you recently and unexpectedly became homeless.

 

I had skimmed the 'next couple days' section, desperate for a resource I hadn't heard of yet. Rent relief, homelessness prevention, family togetherness; all offices were closed for the weekend. But still I had culled some information: Keep all the birth certificates together in one backpack. Keep the toothbrushes here, too. Find a friend who might let you store the possessions you won't be able to carry with you. If you have any favors to call in, or anyone who will lend you money, try to borrow as much as you can because you need it now. Keep it all somewhere safe, like in a bank. Keep about fifty dollars with you somewhere safe, like in your shoe.

I wondered what you were supposed to do if fifty dollars was all you had.

We didn't have any friends or any favors to call in, so I started packing backpacks. I went through our file folders, taking the ones we might need; taxes, birth certificates, immunization records, health insurance. Everyone's tooth brushes went in my backpack, too.

I packed the children's backpacks, which were fairly small. The plan was to pack everything that couldn't fit in the backpacks into trash bags and liquor store boxes, and take them to a storage unit; the only problem was finding a storage unit open on a weekend. Since we didn't know if it would happen, I didn't plan on us being able to pack the extra clothes, and I packed everything of importance into the backpacks; A t-shirt from Sophie's first dance recital, with her name on the back along with the forty other performers. A dinosaur t-shirt I had bought Lyric at a museum. A fair balance of long-sleeve and short-sleeve shirts; I didn't know what the remainder of March or April would bring. Every pair of long pants the children owned, which was not many, and a pair or two of shorts. And lots of socks and underwear. Then I started packing everything else into trash bags.

“What are you doing?” Sophie asked, and I pretended I didn't hear her the first time, but it was unavoidable when I returned to their closet with a second trash bag. The kids were watching Disney's Hunchback of Notre Dame.

“Well, sweetie, we might be moving soon, so I'm packing up our stuff just in case.” I still had hope that we'd somehow, some way, come up with the money before two-thirty the next day.

“I want to stay here,” Sophie whined.

“I know, sweetie, but these apartments aren't very good for us, so we're going to try to find better ones,” I told her. How do you put a positive spin on being homeless for your three-year-old child?

When John came home, I had already packed most of our clothes and was working on the dishes, moving them from cupboard to box in an automated, unstopping motion. I was so scared of running out of time. The children were happy to see John and told him gleefully about getting to watch a movie instead of taking a nap. John tore me from my mechanical, emotionless motions, squeezing my arms against my body in a tight hug, halting my work. I breathed against his warm chest, savoring his scent and hard chest against my face. It's the only place I've ever felt really safe.

Words would be wasted on me, unlike his embrace, so John didn't say anything. He just held me for a few minutes before moving on to the children.

“Alright, guys, I got all these boxes here.” Our living room was strewn haphazardly with dozens of boxes. “I think we should make a castle or something. What do you guys think?”

The children helped John clear out a space in the living room, pushing all the boxes against the walls, and then they built the perimeter. They stacked Svedka and Bud Light and Grey Goose boxes to make walls taller than themselves. I worried that there was something sinister in the irony; how would they remember this frolic if we ever wound up inside of a cardboard box. I supposed that homeless people didn't actually live inside boxes, but then again, I really didn't know.

They built a castle tell enough for Daddy to sit inside with them, and they built a roof from flattened boxes, and turrets and towers to scrape our low ceiling. The children played inside their castle for a long time, and then John brought out a ball.

The kids had never been allowed to play ball in the house; we had a security deposit to worry about. But now we weren't getting it back anyway, and John launched aLyric's child-sized basketball ball at the cardboard castle, knocking out a turret.

The children's mild disappointment quickly dissipated when John handed the ball off to them and they realized that they would be allowed to play, too. I only watched. John devised a catapult from a stretchy exercise band, and all three took turns launching the ball at the castle until it was flattened. Then John and I put the children to bed and our work began.

I helped John carry out our antique Motorola record player, and we loaded it into the truck for John to take to the shop; the record player now functions as our coffee table, as I have mentioned. We loaded a few other things to take the shop that we couldn't carry and didn't want to leave behind, mostly furniture: an office chair, a filing cabinet, an antique or antique-looking bookshelf.

While John was gone I finished packing the things in the kitchen: Dishes, appliances, and the contents of our spice cabinet.

When he returned, I had dumped out an old trunk full of Christmas decorations on our bedroom floor; We had thrown out all of our Christmas decorations when we left Wichita, but had inherited this trunk from the woman next door when she moved. Tacky cotton-ball Santa Claus crafts littered the floor, and I filled the trunk with things I didn't want to leave behind: My collection of antique cameras, some dresses my grandmother had sewn, a Raggedy Ann doll she had made as well. My high school diploma; although I doubted I'd ever need it to prove my graduation, I figured better safe than sorry.

John and I went to sleep, curled up together on our mattress, with an alarm set for early morning.

When we awoke, we took a long shower and made love, uncertain of when the opportunity might again arise. While the children were still sleeping, we packed John's truck with the trunk full of things I couldn't stand to lose and the liquor-store boxes of dishes and the trash-bags of clothing, and John left for the only storage unit that was open on Sundays. I boiled all the eggs in our fridge in one pot we had left out, and gave the children cereal with the end of the milk, and yogurt because it wouldn't keep either. I dug boxes out of closets, like the box of bug spray and sunscreen and water floaties we only used in summer months. Another box with a table-top charcoal grill, half-a-bag of charcoal, and grill tongs and spatulas. All our sleeping bags. Our mildewy tent. The kids' box of dress-up clothing. A box of cleaning supplies. I stacked them up in the living room for when John returned.

I told the kids to each pick out three toys, and I put them in a shoe box. Sophie picked a Batman action-figure, a Rapunzel barbie doll she'd gotten for Christmas, and a Sleeping Beauty of the same type as Rapunzel, but whom she'd gotten from a garage sale instead. Cat Woman went back into the plastic toy dresser after much deliberation. Lyric picked three action figures from a Jurassic Park set that had belonged to John when he was young. I wrapped the plastic toy dresser up with tape, so that the drawers would stay shut. It went into the living room, too, to wait for John.

I filled a box with bubble bath, shampoo, the extra brand-new toothbrushes we kept under the sink to replace the children's tooth brushes just in case they got strep or the flu. I packed extra soap, unopened toothpaste, lotions and body sprays. I filled a trash bag with towels and bedsheets. I folded up the children's blankets, Lyric's Batman duvet and Sophie's pink one with princesses. I stacked them up on the couch with their pillows. John returned from the storage unit with an empty truck bed and a storage-unit key and plenty of complaints about hidden costs and required insurance. I helped him carry out the mattresses, the boxes, the children's toy dresser. I cried a little more and he hugged me and he left. It was noon and I gave the children hard-boiled eggs and whatever cheese we had left, along with the end of the fresh apples.

I started packing the things we would need with us, which would not go to the storage unit, and I placed them on the couch with the all our blankets: The backpacks with our clothing, the birth certificates and toothbrushes. A shopping bag with Rigby's food and water bowls, and the rest of her bag of food. The laptop computer, still open so that I could continue to reload our bank account page, still waiting for the IRS to rescue us.

John still had not returned, and we had an hour and a half before the sheriff was scheduled to come, so I cleaned out our cooler and emptied the contents of our fridge, along with the rest of the boiled eggs. I packed the nonperishable food into shopping bags, along with a can opener. Crackers and peanuts. Fruit snacks.

John still had not returned and I was getting nervous. And then I got angry. The property managers had the nerve to kick us out with so little notice, on a weekend when they knew no resources would be available. They hadn't returned my email. They hadn't faced us to give us the notice. They posted it on our door , while we were at work, when they knew we wouldn't see it until after their doors were shut for the weekend. They had wiped their hands of us. I wanted to make them feel ashamed.

I climbed up on the couch, balancing on top of the folded duvets, and I scrawled a message in Sharpie on the wall:

“3.5 million homeless Americans.

    1. million are children.

Today, my children are 2 more.

Thanks.”

 

It was childish and rude, but then again, so was refusing to look at my face while putting my children out on the street.

 

John returned, and he looked at my message on the wall, but he didn't say anything. Instead, he loaded the blankets and cooler into the truck. The kids and the dog got in, too. It was just after two o'clock, and the sheriff was scheduled to evict us at two-thirty, and we didn't want to chance meeting him. We didn't want our children to hear the police tell us to leave. We'd rather them think we were leaving willingly.

John came back inside after the kids were in the truck, and he picked up our hall closet door-- which wasn't attached to the frame, and had never been repaired no matter how many times we contacted the maintenance department-- and threw it down to the ground in our narrow hallway. He balanced on it, then bounced up and down until the wood cracked. We weren't getting our security deposit back anyway.

We left the front door unlocked and pulled out of the apartment parking lot, then stopped on the side of the road in a little slice of suburbia that was no longer ours while we deliberated where to go next. We decided on a motel in town where we knew a lot of homeless people lived. It had thirty or so units in a U-shape, with an RV park in the middle, and the office at the top of the U, which faced Main Street. It had been in business for eighty years and we assumed that at one time, it a camping spot and motel on the outskirts of town, but now it was surrounded by gas stations and urban squalor. We knew homeless people lived there because a few months before, a Longmont police officer was honored for redirecting a homeless man and his middle-school daughter to that RV park instead of ticketing them for parking illegally at the fair grounds.

We inquired about vacancies at the motel, but they were full and cost two hundred dollars a week anyway. We weren't quite sure what to do next so we went to a park so the children could play awhile. I wore a big brown baja hoodie that enveloped me like a shell and came to my knees, but I started to get chilly as the sun set. I had also been too nervous to eat lunch, so I was getting hungry as well.

“You've been homeless for two hours and you're already cold and hungry,” John remarked. “This does not bode well.”

We ate hard-boiled eggs in the truck, rolling them on the outside of the door through the open window to break the shell. Rigby ate hard-boiled eggs too.

It was getting dark, so we headed to our shop. No other shops in our building were open on Sundays, so we had the empty building to ourselves. The lights in the window-front shops, including ours, stayed on all night unless you turned off the breaker, so we thought it best to leave them on. This meant that anyone on Main Street could see into our shop, and the back room was full of our belongings and was only about fifteen square feet anyway, so I turned the couch and set up our chalkboard and other furniture to block one corner in the back of the room from the view of late-night pedestrians that might pass by on the Main Street sidewalk. We spread out the children's blankets in that corner, and we slept there, side-by-side on the hard ground.

In the morning we ate breakfast at the homeless shelter and went to one of the many offices that had been closed over the weekend. They helped us to apply for lottery-based housing assistance, and we turned in all of our verification forms after a hectic day of photocopying, but then the county office was notified that due to the American Budget Sequester took that took effect on March 1st would eliminate certain county funds, and lottery-based housing assistance was indefinitely postponed. We spent our days trying to find food and fresh water and a shower while we ran our shop, unaware until mid-April that our names would never be drawn because the lottery would never take place.