edited by KELLEY KIDD
This month — in keeping with our storytelling theme— we asked three writers to tell us a story. We were delighted to receive back three compelling, unique pieces that reflect the immense range of the kinds of stories that can be told. Each of our writers also shared a bit with us about their storytelling process and experiences. You can get a peek into their remarkable & talented minds here.
We invite you to explore the worlds they created, below:
On the TGM
by Caitlin Cassidy
On the TGM* from La Marsa to Avenue Habib Bourguiba, I sit in the first seat of the first car. I watch an elderly man argue with a younger woman and refuse her a seat beside him, because she is first, neither elderly nor handicapped, and second, a woman. The TGM police intercede on behalf of the woman, shouting at the man about human rights! how we treat our women! progress! shame! One of the men in uniform point out that there are no other people requiring accessible seating present and therefore, to deny this woman a seat “away from the sun” is not simply an insult; it is wrong. And not simply wrong, but illegal. The man barks back, and the police tell him, in fewer words, to remove himself from the train at the next stop. At the next stop, the man does not. He does, however, invite the woman to sit across from him. And that is the end of that.
I marvel at the scene, at what I perceive to be a clash of old and new worlds — the state, tradition, gender norms and generations colliding in front of me. And though I find myself aligning with the woman and against the old man, strangely, some part of me empathizes with him, is curious at the very least and sympathetic to his, well, was it ignorance — organized, entrenched, instructed?
At the next stop, Brian, a friend, boards the train and sits next to me. I whisper to him, loosely reporting in English what I have just witnessed. A Tunisian boy, who I guess is around 15 years old and seated across the aisle, eyes us cautiously. At the next stop, he slides into the seat beside Brian: “I understand English.” I smile and reply in Arabic with my name (I insist on Arabic, he on English) asking him the same and learning in little time that he has learned to speak impeccable English entirely on his own through conversation with tourists during his six month term as a bus driver. And here I am, four years of formal study, coherent at best. His eyes are kind and he speaks about school and his mother and anime and the U.S. and he whispers, as if he were speaking his darkest secret for the first time, “My dream is to live in Florida.” And his eyes light up as he says it, and I so desperately wish I could say in a way — in a language — in words that would do my sentiment justice (and therefore Arabic more likely than English) that I truly, deeply hope he gets there some day. If only to discover that home is far more beautiful, slower, more reverent. But still — he might find his way to the beaches of Florida, so that he could know it was within his power to have a life and happiness there. I wish that for him.
*Tunis-Goulette-Marsa, or TGM, is a rail line in Tunisia linking the capital Tunis with other cities such as La Marsa and La Goulette.
A Dog’s Best Friend
by David Hecht
The rice finally ran out yesterday. The black beans a couple weeks before that. Cheese, once an integral part of almost every meal Jean ate, had disappeared from her diet entirely. She had never been a big meat eater; her father’s butchery business imprinted too many horrible sights and smells upon her childhood. But a black Suburban loaded with short ribs doesn’t seem so bad when you’re feasting on the occasional squirrel or rabbit, cooked on a spit over a small fire. It had been some time since Jean and Harvey had such a feast.
Harvey was always there for Jean, but that dynamic definitely accelerated as the world crumbled around them. He was the source of that occasional rabbit. He had always been where she turned for cuddles, companionship, and affection, but now he was the only option left. Jean was steadfastly confident he was all that allowed her to keep her sanity, and that was before the two of them fled the chaos and upheaval with a CR-V full of looted supplies to search for survival in the forest. She remembered how happy Harvey was then. He was standing in the too-small passenger seat, savoring his first trip in the front seat, a necessity of all their supplies crammed into the backseat. He had his neck extended and craned out the window, his shades-of-brown coat shimmering in the sun, his white-tipped, paintbrush tail smacking her in the face as she drove 95 without any fear of getting a speeding ticket; the police, if there were any left, had better things to do than stop a fleeing girl and her dog.
Harvey was sitting beside her now. His neck was bowed, his chin almost to the orange and brown leaves on the forest floor, and his hazel eyes looking up longingly. Jean knew this stance well. He did it every morning and night, before the forest, before the meals cooked by campfire, before—. Harvey was ready for a meal now. A meal Jean could not provide. The food was gone, with only luck and survival skills left. But building a fire with the aid of quickly dwindling lighter fluid was all of the latter she had. As to luck, there was only one day she remembered having that: when she happened into the shelter the exact same morning that Harvey moved into the very first cage. It was love at first sight.
“Dinner will be ready soon, buddy,” she said, resolved on what she had to do. To steel herself, Jean wrapped Harvey in her tightest embrace. She kissed him, first on the head, then the cheek, then the nose, then over again. She squeezed him tight, never wanting to let go. Then she went into their tent, grabbed a green, IKEA knife, and sat down next to him.
She held out the knife, one of their last still sharp after the months of heavy use. She looked at it, an arm’s length away. She looked into those hazel eyes. They were staring at her, and a whine — so high pitched Jean could not be sure she really heard it — came out of Harvey’s still-closed mouth. She took a deep breath and quickly, firmly, she bent her elbow back.
Jean lay there, crumpled and broken, as life drained from her. Her eyes met Harvey’s once more and found understanding there. With her last, dying strength, Jean smiled.
by Amber Butts
Before the beginning, Manodi stopped spinning. According to an 8^728102.729834 report, the planogyn decreased at an alarming rate and could no longer sustain the planet’s high velocity spin. Its atmosphere had been disrupted by magnetic storms built up by generations of unrecognized trauma. Over the years, the storms multiplied. Manodians had no idea what was causing the storms, but with both planogyn and speed lost, Manodians weren’t strong enough to lead, let alone continue to grow.
Half of the population decided to take rest in the trees. The other half made homes beneath the burning lake. They trusted and feared the planet’s decision about their future.
With no spin, the planet began to sink in on itself.
Ogyni bubbles could have sustained the planet for decades without proper planogyn. Powered by the planet’s core, these sweet smelling, purple, spherical ringlets with green orbs running through them were the planet’s last hope. The last known sighting of an ogyni bubble was 1.5 millennia ago.
A curious thing decided to leave home and figure out the cause of the storms. It sliced a breaking point in the atmosphere. Before the point was closed, hatching birds entered the ecosystem.
They tore out every ogyni bubble.
Hatching birds have two heads, separate torsos and share a single foot. They’re gold tipped with beautiful, soft feathers and silver skulls. Their eyes are dark blue.
Once the thing left home, it was not allowed back inside. Manodians despise deserters.
The slice grew and more hatching birds populated the planet. They were directed by the absence of its spin. They didn’t like to compete with the wind to fly.
Kegella, a foreign water mercenary and scientist, had been assigned to monitor the planet’s pulse at birth. She felt what was happening immediately and notified the elders. The elders declared Manodi uninhabitable and chose more promising lands to engage with.
Though Manodi was not her born planet, Kegella named it home and stayed.
She grew her house in Dobi. Dobi was sanctioned the safest known area for non-hatching birds. She hoped to find a trace of an ogyni bubble.
One day, she awoke to a warm darkness and poured herself. She did not think it, had not done it before. It came naturally. As she poured, she moved throughout the land, shaping new things. She was moving in space, in a separate, more textured dimension. Though she retained her consciousness, she walked into into the world around her, became it. She found that she could not make decisions while she poured, but as she relaxed into the experience, she was able to witness her own movement and note what was happening around her.
Kegella soon realized that she was moving far beyond herself, and when she reached the land’s core, she paused. At that moment, something threw her.
She couldn’t breathe and almost poured out of herself. When water mercenaries pour out of themselves, they die. They lose their consciousness to the pour and can no longer observe or document the things they’ve seen.
Once Kegella steadied, she realized she was in a new place. This Place smelled like her garden. She felt around and something came to her.
It spoke without words and burned a symbol into her arm. Still in her pouring form, she wondered how she knew her arm had been burnt. She realized she could smell the smoke.
The thing tested her by grabbing a strain of her history, both past and future. It asked and tested. She didn’t remember what the test was, but before she knew it, she was pulled further into the soil.
She saw more of the things squatting around a knimble treelike faucet. They were all rich colors: deep browns, reds, yellows. She was in some kind of meeting. She was to remain silent, what was happening was beyond her. When she began to speak, if that was what she could call it, she was thrown again.
“Girlboy”, It said. “The only reason you are here is because we will it. Do not forsake this gift by asking your silly questions. And stop thinking so loudly.”
Kegella didn’t know how much time passed between her being below and arriving in her house, but in a moment she was home. Under the tips of her fingernails was a mix of blood and soil. Her right arm had a large ‘S’ shaped mark on it. She felt charged, but everything was a half-memory.
Confused, she went to her garden and poured into her favorite plant. It was purple with blue, orange and yellow bulbous roots sprouting from the center. She loved how it welcomed her water and spent more time in it than usual. She felt clear.
After a few moments, she heard a sound and stilled. A creature that tugged at some recently forgotten piece of her memory walked up to her.
“Asani,” she said as she remembered the earth colored creatures she had met. The Asani were the soil dancers who cultivated the land and flew beneath the soil. The test and the meeting flooded back into the front of her memory. They had been looking for their sibling, the one who had left the slice in the atmosphere, and wanted to know if she could help locate it.
This Asani was the curious one. It had unrooted and traveled through the soil. It remembered the planet’s trauma. It knew what they had to do and how. They would save the planet. They would begin.