Wednesday, April 2, 2014

The Strike of Madness, or what it Seems

by Jacob McNeel

Even though my view of the outside world was obscured by the nearly blinding light of a candle, the bright flashes of lightning were clearly visible through the poorly crafted glass windows.  I had been waiting a long time for this night.  The parchment laid out on the table before me was covered in smudged ink from all of the times I had tried to revise it.  My thoughts were muddled and dark, but still very clear to me from behind my thick round glasses.  The experiment that I thought would only exist in planning, was finally coming closer and closer to becoming reality.  Tonight I would prove wrong all of the people who didn't believe in my ambitions.

          The room was small and had a musty odor to it.  This usually only happened when it rained, but I was used to the smell by now simply due to the fact that the year had been so wet.  I grabbed my ink-covered parchment and quill pen and slowly began to head for the door to the laboratory.  The torches that hung on the old stone walls cast a rather eerie glow over the room, which was of course my personal preference.  A servant carrying a candle bowed to me as she walked the opposite way down the hallway, clearly not knowing my thoughts or intentions.  If she had known what I was about to do, the look on her face would have been worth more than any life or precious gemstone.  A soft chuckle escaped my lips as I gripped onto the old rusty doorknob that was attached to the laboratory door, I was rather pleased with myself.

          The laboratory was pitch black inside, as the cool air and rain blowing through the open windows had put out all of the torches.  I grumbled a bit at the sight, knowing I was going to have to light them again sooner or later.  Now was not the time to light torches though, as I had more important business to attend to.  I returned to the hallway and grabbed one of the already lit ones off of the wall and returned, this would surely provide me enough light for my experiment.  The lightning was also proving to be a viable light source, as it illuminated the whole lab every few seconds.

          The list of things required for the night's activities seemed rather immense, and I was definitely not looking forward to fetching all of them.  I was going to require a various assortment of beakers, a metal table, chains, belts, and a ‘willing’ participant.  Thankfully I had already collected most of the supplies, this would make the night much easier.

          The door creaked slowly open as my personal assistant slowly entered the room.  I turned around to see the newcomer and smiled slightly.  He looked very much like me, short with messy white hair, red eyes, and pointed ears.  The boy's name was Cricket, and was a result of a previous experiment done on nothing else but a cricket.  Even though he didn't speak very well, I knew that his simple nod was meant to be taken as a greeting.  I got up out of my seat and went over to him, gently taking a stack of papers out of his small hands.

          The boy had been doing some work for me, secretly of course, on where I could get what I needed for my experiment.  He had been spending the past few nights going from town to town in search of the perfect participant.  After reviewing the papers, I nodded to the boy and handed him the stack of papers that I had removed from his hands just seconds ago.  Cricket disappeared back into the eerie glow of the hallway to fetch my ‘volunteer’.

          The dirt covered teenager soon returned, dragging an equally dirty cloth sack behind him.  I knew what was inside of it, but I could not help wondering what all of the servants and guards thought of the rather conspicuous package.  Did they know what Cricket was dragging, did they have any idea what I was up to?  If so, I was going to have to do quite a bit of explaining tomorrow when the castle staff got together for breakfast in the dining hall.

          I took the cloth bag from him and heaved it over my shoulder, laying the body inside onto the metal experimentation table that I had set up in the corner of the room.  After checking the body to make sure it fit my specifications, I looked at Cricket and smiled in reassurance.  Just as I gave this smile, a flash of lightning shown through the window, illuminating my figure and casting a rather malicious looking shadow on the old cobblestone walls.  I hoped that the storm wasn’t coming to an end, as it provided a nice atmosphere to the current situation.  I waved to Cricket, silently telling him that it was alright for him to go clean up and change into a set of dry clothing.

          Once I was alone in the room, it was time to get to work.  I wish I had planned this out better beforehand.  Hooking the rusty clamps up to the figure’s extremities was proving to be extremely tedious, and the chill that I was feeling on my neck was not making the job any easier.  I would have closed the windows, but the smell of the peasant’s clothing would have been far worse than any amount of cold.  I have no idea how long it actually took me to finish getting the body all hooked up to my equipment, but I eventually completed the task.  Somehow, I had managed to get them all into place without waking the man on the table before me.

          I decided to take a break for a bit.  The stress in my own bones could be felt after handling the body for so long.  I had been trying so hard not to do anything that may wake him that my arms and legs had actually began to shake a bit.  The beakers needed to be attended to, so at least they gave me something to do while I waited for the jitters to go away.  The beakers were just a simple act of rinsing and filling, various chemicals being poured into them. As I messed around with the oddly-shaped glass bottles, time once again slipped away from me.  I ended up getting so absorbed in them that two hours had soon passed.  This time lapse would have usually not been such a big deal, but the night was dying, and I needed to finish before morning.

          A squeaky clean Cricket once again appeared in the doorway, his presence made aware to me by a gentle squeak of his vocal cords.  I motioned for him to come over and stand beside me, and he quickly and efficiently followed my orders.  The boy had always been a good assistant, but tonight he had proven his worth even more than before.  He was an odd individual, but it was understandable when one remembered the fact that he used to be an actual cricket.  I was extremely proud of him, as he was my most successful experiment to date. My own creation. Hopefully what I was going to do tonight would prove to be just as successful.  My plans would most likely be clear to anyone observing by now.  I was planning to take the man as my own, to have a second servant.  He of course wouldn’t replace Cricket, but it would be nice to have a bit of help around the laboratory.  It may seem cruel to some, but I wasn’t too concerned about morals.

          It was at this point that Cricket and I began to secure the body so the experiment could begin.  We strapped his arms and legs down and tied them again for a back-up.  Neither I or my smaller assistant knew exactly what was going to happen when the chemicals began to flow through his veins, if anything would even happen at all.  Cricket grabbed the edge of the beaker table and slowly wheeled it over to me.  The wheels were old and rusty, making a rather nasty screeching noise as they rolled on the rough stone floor.  My hyper-sensitive ears instantly began to hurt at this sound, but I knew that it was necessary.  Finally the noise stopped  as the old rusty cart came to a stop beside me.  The glowing chemicals in the tubes all released their own smell and color, and the smell brought me back to experiments of past days.  In my life, it was a rarity to experience nostalgia such as this.

          Soon, another presence could be felt in the room.  I heard or saw nothing, but was clearly able to feel someone watching me.  As I turned around, I saw the servant from earlier at the door, a horrified look on her face as she stared at the unconscious body on the table.  This made me smile a bit, thinking of my thoughts just a few hours earlier.  The look on her face was just as amusing as I thought it would be.  When she saw that she had been seen, the female quickly ran from the door and disappeared down the dark hallway. Nobody would believe her when she told her story.  Cricket walked over to the door and closed it slowly, locking it to make sure that we would have no more unexpected guests.  The next step was the most important and sensitive of them all, and we could not have anybody intruding on our work.  I patted the smaller boy's head as he soon returned to my side.

          Cricket began to hand me various beakers, which I began to pour into the large fragile tubes that were now hooked to the body through small needles contained within the rusty metal clamps.  They were an invention of my own creation, one that I was quite proud of.  This assortment of magical chemicals and liquids is what would eventually contribute to the man’s reanimation as my servant.  Even though it might have seemed that the order of liquids being poured was random, there was actually a very specific order to them.  I put some of the beakers that Cricket handed me to the side and used others right away.  By the time that we were done dumping the beakers, glowing liquid was beginning to drip off of the table and onto the floor, forming a sort of glowing square along the edges.  Cricket tried to get me to clean the beakers before we continued with the experiment, but I did my best to tell him that there was not enough time.  It was more important that we finish the experiment before things went sour.

          The metal table's wheels made a noise similar to the beaker table before it as Cricket pushed it towards the other side of the room, but it was slightly lower pitched and not as painful.  The rain drops could be heard hitting the crude glass-paned windows as the storm only seemed to get worse.  The smaller boy walked back over to me and looked up at me, a look of curiosity in his face as he wondered what I was going to do next.  There was only thing left to do.  I reached up onto a small shelf and removed a small vial of dark red fluid.  I had spent months researching this substance, this mixture of chemicals which would allow me success in my endeavors.   Cricket glanced at me, and I looked at him in return.  As we both approached the table to complete the experiment, a large explosion knocked both of us back, ringing painfully in my ears as I quickly felt my eyes open.

          The room was quiet, the rough fabric of the crudely woven blanket scratching against my skin as I held it closely against my form.  I looked around the room, seeing all of the other guards as they slept soundly in their own beds, a sigh coming from within my lips.  It had all been a dream, and I was still nothing more than the runt of the castle guard.  There was obviously still a few hours before the sun would rise, and there was nothing else I could do besides go back to sleep.  Tomorrow, the daily grind of my life will continue, without Cricket, and without my experiment. But one day, one day I will finally get to have my own strike of madness.

What’s in a Name?

by Thao Nguyen

After researching books, the Internet, and interviewing my mother, I have discovered what my name, Nguyễn Thị Thu Thảo, means.  To start with, "Nguyễn” was chosen as my last name,  in Vietnam, the last name is given first because Vietnamese tradition states to take the surname of one's father. Nguyễn is the most common Vietnamese family name.

In addition, “Thị” is my middle name; Thị (Diospyros decandra,) is a tropical tree in the Ebony family. Its flowers are white. It is a popular tree in Vietnam. “Thị” usually used popularly in the middle name of Vietnam woman. Also, everyone always calls “Thị” if they don’t know the name of women. In addition, “Thu” is my second middle name and is known as “Mùa thu” which means fall in United States. The fall scene is beautiful and romantic, according to the culture of Vietnam conception; If the women was born in fall then they will have happiness and be lucky in life.

Lastly,"Thảo" which means "grass" or "obedient" in Vietnam. It came originally from Chinese-Vietnamese language. Three of my family’s generations had four persons with my first name. All of them have passed away. My family has used “Thảo” currently as the first name for five persons including me. More importantly, the name "Nguyễn Thị Thu Thảo" was chosen because my mother believed that in giving me the name I would be beautiful as leaves in fall. My beloved ones and my friends call me “Thu Thảo” known as “grass in fall”.


Source of Information

Chinese-Vietnamese Dictionary Commercial Press 2005 1st Edition

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Flicker of the Past

by Seth Woracek
A captivating sky gazes down on this night. My nighttime stroll brings me to the mounting figure of an apple tree facing the coast. It stands before a flooded stairway leading toward an ancient town lost within the waves. I rest against the tree to view the water that glistens beneath the moon and the stars. Lying there, I can hear the wind's whisper and the seagull’s cry as he stands on top of a crumbled pillar. On my left I find a white flower hidden in the shade of the tree. I pluck it and hold it near as I wonder to myself: Did these flowers bloom before the people of the old town? Did this tree live back then to greet them with its pleasant shade and fresh, red apples? Did they come here like I am to stare toward the sea? Such answers only exist in the past. The only ones to have witnessed those lives are the lights that flicker in the night.


     *This work is based on Venkatesan Chennai’s “Illustrator Painting Art Work”. It is posted on his account, venkatesanmu.

Secret Ingredients

by Natasha Dearness

I always tell people that my Memere was one of the most amazing people I ever knew and would ever know. She was kind, and loving. She was strong, and sure. She gave all her time to local charities and church work. She may have been old, but she was young at heart. I still laugh about the times I spent with her. We had simple rules for visiting her. The first was to never tell you were coming to visit. The second was to never eat before you went and the third was to always tell her that you had already eaten so that she would only make you eat one plate. “You're too skinny” was her favorite phrase. She was always cooking- in her 90's and still running the household. Watching her cook was an amazing site. She quickly chops ingredients from her garden and tosses them into her giant pots. She carefully weaves pies and decorates cakes. The aroma of her meals fill the streets. The flour caked on her apron is a pleasant and familiar look. If she doesn't have guests, she'll feed the neighbors. Everyone loves Memere and she loves them. In fact, I believe that love was her secret ingredient. All she ever wants to do is make others happy. She dedicates her life to her family, friends, church, and charity. Her birthday is always a grand affair. She throws a huge block party for everyone to celebrate life in general. It literally brought the neighborhood together. She never asks for anything in return. When she died over 300 people from across the world (people from England, France, and Russia came). We all met up at her house and reminisced about the times we had shared. Our favorite memories could all be boiled down to or add up to one day to celebrate it all- her birthday. She wanted more than anything to spread joy and happiness, so we all decided to carry on. The tradition of Memere's block party is still alive and well. It serves as a day of remembrance and a day to come together and celebrate each other. In my family and in those touched by this amazing woman, cooking is not just something to feed our empty bellies. It is a time to share, connect, love, and celebrate. My Memere passed down more than memories- she passed down a way of life.

Figurative Poem

by Michael Odle

It taunts and festers within,

The disease,

Like a shrill voice echoing in the fragile membranes

It is the Siren’s cry on the ocean of the brains

An ethereal throb sounding something like

Charles Dumont’s “Non, je ne regrette rien"*

Asking if it is all just a dream

(After all “a dream is a wish your heart makes”)

For Society would have us believe

The malefactor of morality is harmless

That there are a million other ways

To disappoint

And so, we give in

Readily accepting

The sweetest, most desirable pain

That is the Sacrifice of our conscience


*No, I have no regret

August of ‘69

I remember the day my grandmother took a step out of her shy and quiet self to talk about how I reminded her of herself in her early twenties. Upon this point in my life, my grandmother basically lived in mute until that one sunny August day in 2009.

 Suddenly, without hesitation, my grandmother started talking about the Woodstock music festival, as if like she was having a flashback.  With peace, love, and a wide variety of young hippies, she explained the life and love of how Woodstock changed her life forever.

 “Boy, I’m going to tell you this because your vibrant, pot smelling, long haired wearing reminds me of the most glorious three days of my life.  I was 23 at the time” she said “and I had no home other than protest rallies and random shelters I would stay at that reached all four corners of the United States.”  She explained that two days before the festival, she and some other anti-war hippies were in D.C. at the Fight for Your Right march.  The group decided that the next stop on their so-called peace tour would be Bethel, NY where Woodstock was going to be held.

 “We packed our things and picked up a few more hikers heading up north.  After a day and an acid trip later” she said they had reached Bethel.  “Lines of cars, law enforcement and shoeless folks covered the road for miles that led up to the entrance of the famous music festival of 1969.”

As she was explaining this I could only ask myself, is this story going somewhere or is this story going to take a wrong turn only to try and scare me out of my free-spirited ways?  Nonetheless, I sat there, stoned. I did not care where this story was going I was just enjoying her story of an event I could have been a part of.

 With peace, love, drugs, and what I am assuming was not much common sense, my grandmother said the group ditched the van due to the traffic and walked their way up to the entrance of the festival.  “Best part of the festival wasn’t the music, love or drugs but was not having to pay for our way into the festival.”

She explained how all three days played out in August 1969.  From the acid trips, the nakedness, and even the overdoses, she said the festival was similar to that of a bi-polar person.  “There were up’s and downs during the three days, but nothing is never perfect.”

 She concluded her story: “son, you only live once, and you can’t find whom you really are unless you live the way you want to live,” not the words I would ever expect come out of my grandmother.  I might be far from a peace loving hippy of old, however, I will continue to live freely and find where I belong in this world I call home.

Cosmos of Eden

by Kaytlyn Preitauer
There you are! My dear books it’s been much too long since I last saw your pages.

Oh how I’ve missed your whispering with each turn, coaxing me just one more chapter.

You are deceiving to outsiders with your quiet colors, holding all the sounds of nature waiting to be seen

If only they dare peek, but it’s a secret I intend to keep.

For I hold the world within my palm and taste the milky way upon my tongue while stars dance and burn before my eyes. I am everywhere and everything: the grass, the breeze and the sea.

I prefer the willows shade to swimming the cosmos. They need no help from me and spin onward without my presence. I am but a small star to their deep universes.

 There is no crown or sword here, only rivers and ponds.  And I busy myself with the many nothings that can take my whole day before I blink.

This Eden is mine alone and I will walk it many more times before I am done.

Though time is a thief and I know it will come long before I am ready like night rising up to shroud the day, I will move from shade to sky like a bird taking flight.