The Claw

by Michael Pixley

 First place, fiction, Heard/Alexandria Detention Center writing contest, August 2021

I’m alone and am so terrified. My bones are rattling as if I am in Antarctica and the night chills are overwhelming to my soul. But where I am, it is lukewarm although you couldn’t tell by the pebbles of sweat that sit on my forehead. The bathroom is completely blackened as I lay down in the tub with the curtains closed. It is eerily quiet other than the steady “thumps” that continuously tap the door, hoping to make their way inside. I know that she knows that I’m here. I just pray that she forgets about me. Oh I pray.

 

As the tears strain to leave my eyes, I cringe at the burning sensation that sits behind my eyelids. I told everyone, “This is an Apocalypse. This is the end of times,” but “Nooo, Alijah, you watch too many late night cartoons,” they say. Now it’s just me, alone, with blood-stained pajamas on and to be honest, I’m truly devastated as these colorful power ranger pj’s were my favorite and are now ruined. If I make it through this, I’ll never look at another Toy Ranger as long as I live. I mean it’s God, I wish those “thumps” would just go away!

 

This all began the spring of 2020. I remember sitting in my 3rd grade classroom, listening to Ms Clark teach division. Honestly, math isn’t my best subject, let alone division, however, when Ms Clark uses food analogies in her math equations, I find it generally easier to understand. As she cheerfully showed 12 slices of pizza drawn on a whiteboard and began dividing it by half…….I first noticed something. A cough. It was nothing out of the ordinary but it wasn’t the arbitrary cough that piqued my interest, it was what happened after.

 

Tommy coughed again and again and again…..until blood trickled on his bottom lip. “Tommy, dear, are you okay?” Ms. Clark asked nervously. The whole class looked at Tommy and was wide-eyed as Tommy slid off his chair like rain slides down a window pane and began convulsing profusely. “Oh, my God,” screamed Shanice. The children followed suit with their own outbursts until Tommy suddenly stopped moving. Ms Clark, at his side, ordered my classmate Bryan to go grab the school nurse immediately, while she ran to her desk wistfully to call the principal, Mr. Jones. My mind was numb with anxiety, and awe as I sat still watching the whole spectacle. I’ve never witnessed anything like this before, although my youngest sister experience mini asthma attacks occasionally, they in no way mirror this situation. Several school officials rapidly rushed in the room, attending to Tommy who was now breathing slowly with closed eyes and trembling lips. He was drenched in sweat as if he just got finished playing handball. That was the last time I saw Tommy.

 

Things got extremely hectic after that day, and I can honestly say, things have never been the same. A week later, Shanice suddenly began missing class, amongst Jessie and Laura. The school informed weary parents that similar sicknesses to Tommy’s were reported in several other children from the same classroom. They were taking precautions by advising students to wash their hands frequently and cover their mouths if they sneeze or cough. Those precautions became futile when different kids (and teachers) throughout the school developed these horrifying symptoms. The superintendent closed the school in hopes to contain whatever germ seemed to be spreading. After a week without school, a news broadcast flashed across the television, shaking the nation.

 

“A new virus is spreading uncontrollably throughout 15 states and counting, as many are hospitalized with cold sweats, flu like symptoms and a cough that induces blood,” chimes reporter Tasha Gray. “If you inherit these symptoms, please go to your nearest hospital to receive proper treatment before they worsen! And please, cover your mouths as the CDC proposes that the strain is extremely contagious.” I remember my mom’s eyes terrorized with worry as she glared at the screen. She glanced my way, beckoning me to come close to her as she reached out for my arm. “Alijah, baby, I don’t think I’m going to let you or your sisters return to school for the rest of the year. Whatever this is seems dangerous and I won’t let my babies turn ill,” my mom insisted. Little did she know, schools would not reopen. Not only did learning facilities shut down but so did restaurants, swimming pools, amusement parks and even National Sports abruptly halted as the virus took its toll.

 

By the month of July, the world was brought to its knees. The virus now prototyped as “The Claw” (due mainly to the fact that people who caught the virus reported feeling a “tight constriction” wrapping around their bodies as if it has its claws dug deep in them) was monstrous to say the least. People would get sick, go to the hospital, get better in 3-4 days and leave perfectly fine. Or so it seemed. People who were seemed : “recovering patients,” began doing abnormal things. Some would forget their names all of a sudden and walk aimlessly around not knowing who or where they were. Others would laugh uncontrollably in the middle of their sleep until they stopped breathing and blacked out from a lack of oxygen. But the most interesting were the ones who complained how incredibly hungry they were, eating their whole fridge, even if the items were raw or uncooked. Then they would eat their fingernails, dirt, plants and worst yet, even their own pets.

 

My mom began working at home (she works on a computer with numbers painted on the screen, (she’s an accountant ((I think))) and constantly monitored Angel, Asha and I hoping that we would never show signs of “The Claw.” One week ago from today, my mom was cooking my favorite meal, spaghetti and meatballs with garlic bread, when we both heard a loud thud upstairs. “Baby, go check on your sisters, I told them to stop jumping off that bed,” my mom shouted distractedly as she opened the oven. “Ok, mom,” I chuckled. I ran upstairs by two’s and checked Angel’s room first. I could hear voices bouncing off the walls from her Ipad, that was sitting untouched on her purple dresser. “Angel,” I called out. “Where are you?” I heard a soft whimper and walked hastily to Asha’s bedroom door, which was slightly ajar. “Alijah, look,” Angel cried. What I saw made my stomach churn. Asha was laying on her floor, blood running down her eyes and mouth, as her legs were distorted at an odd angle underneath her. “Mom, come quick!” I yelled with panic oozing out of my voice. As my mom entered the room, she let out a shriek as she scooped Asha up and rushed her to the garage. “Both of you, put something on quick and meet me at the car. Let’s GO…GO!” she screamed. Angel and I broke out of our trance and put our clothes on hurriedly and ran to the car to accompany our mom and Asha.

 

Arriving at the Washington Trauma Center (WTC) was a traumatic experience of it’s own accord. Doctors running around hectically with bloody scrubs and shifting eyes, nurses screaming names over clamoring patients and families huddled together, issuing silent reassurances to each other. The scariest part were the bright yellow space suits. Many hospital officials had them on as they attended to patients. It all looked so surreal. “Please help my baby. PLEASE,” my mother cried; breaking my thoughts and bringing me to reality. Many spacemen rushed to our aid, taking us immediately to an empty room, closing off the sounds of Armageddon. Two days in an insulated, air filtered corridor, Asha amazingly recovered rapidly. The doctors did explain that she was diagnosed with “The Claw” but suffered no major inflictions. With no cure to offer, she was ordered to drink plenty of fluids, eat lightly and rest as much as possible. The doctor advised my mom to bring Asha back if any underlying symptoms returned.

 

A day later, things were grimm as my mom and Angel grew sick. They both barricaded themselves in their rooms in an effort to prevent me from catching “The Claw.” Yesterday, Asha began giggling in her sleep so much, it became a nuisance. I walked in her room to find her laughing so ridiculously hard, it looked like it hurt. I tried to wake her, but she flailed wildly, kicking and swinging, while laughing at the top of her lungs. She punched me twice on my forehead and just as I grew angry enough to slap her, she abruptly stopped. I called her name repeatedly to no avail and to my unerving dismay, I knew at that instant, I was going to be one sibling less.

 

I ran to tell my mom about Asha until I heard a weird slurping sound pertruding from Angel’s quiet domain. I stumbled into the door and what I saw nearly knocked every ounce of breath out of my lungs. “Ali…jah, I…..can’t…..stop eating…..so hungry,” the woman who could no longer be my mother uttered to me as she stuffed handfuls of Angel’s innards into her mouth. What was left of Angel was indescribable. Because I wish I could forget what I saw, I won’t even begin to indulge in that painful memory. My mother rushed to me and grabbed my shirt with blood soaked hands. “Just let me eat one finger my love,” she exhaled. I pushed my mom away with all the might a 10-year old could muster and ran into the hall. I debated on going to my room and hiding in the closet but that’s the first place I’m sure she’d look. I locked eyes on the bathroom door down the hall and immediately sprinted towards it. Once inside, I locked the door and placed the dirty clothes hamper under the knob. I jumped in the tub and laid on my back, as I closed my eyes and prayed I’d wake up from this horrendous nightmare.

 

“Thump….Thump….Thump….Come out sweetheart, mommy’s going to feed you. Aren’t you starving?” Her voice drips with a musical serenade that almost makes me open the door and believe she’s genuinely going to give me some food. Trust me, it’s been a whole day (I think) and my stomach is growling like a mountain lion. My mind is racing in a million directions as I contemplate my options.

 

I cannot stay entombed in this bathroom forever. I’m sure my mom will eventually walk away. “Thump….Thump….” Please just go away! Who knew “The Claw” would grasp the world with a deathly grip, consuming anyone who enters it’s presence. It has left it’s imprint on society and I don’t know if things will ever be the same. The house phone goes off like an alarm for 3 long, loud rings and then suddenly it’s quiet. An engrossing silence enveloped the house that hasn’t been heard of in hours. She must have finally given up. I edge out of the tub and creep towards the door and gently place my ear to the center of it. Nothing. I guess I’ll take my chances. Before I lose courage, I move the hamper and turn the knob. Light brushes through the hall windows and it looks unnaturally peaceful on this unpredictable morning. I tiptoe pass the rooms and head down the steps. One step creaks and I hold my breath and stand as still as a Michael Angelo statue. Nothing. I continue my journey to the front door and I notice red hand prints smeared up and down the wall adjacent to the entrance. The door is wide open. I step outside without ever spotting my mom and begin running down the street until my legs burn and my chest hurts. I see an ambulance up ahead and paramedics standing outside of it in their flamboyant space gear. As I get closer, I see them placing a woman on the back of the vehicle, strapped to a stretcher. “Hey, that’s my mom,” I yell out. The paramedics look my way and begin to approach cautiously. I’m sure I’m an outrageous site. A little boy with soaked rusted PJ’s in the middle of the street with only socks accompanying my feet.

 

As the spaceman begins to ask me a question, I hear a horrible sound echo. I can’t even believe my ears. It makes my heart stop in my chest, prickles of goosebumps dance on my arms and sweat trickles down my face. And then I hear it again and I know it’s all over. I’ve met my foe. It is no superficial being. It is an entity that does what it does best. As I cough once again and again and again…..I realize the tight vice grips squeezing and clutching at my body instantly introducing itself as nothing other than…………The Claw!

 

            The End

            I dedicate this to my 3 beautiful children Alijah, Ariyah and Aliyana. My oldest child Aliyana and I trade endless scary stories and I was so intrigued that I manifested this story through my growing inspirations. I am truly inspired by their creative minds and will continue to implement what I learn from them and place it on paper, in my heart and in my daily stride. Thanks for reading!!

Local Inmates Win Awards for Creative Writing Contest, The Zebra, September 6, 2021

One of our favorite parts about our annual writing contests that we hold with the Alexandria Adult Detention Center and the Arlington County Detention Facility is the enthusiasm of our returning judges to be part of this event. Each of them has a strong background in writing, editing, and publishing, and each year they tell me and our authors (during the awards ceremonies) how much they appreciate this honor. Our judge Mary Wadland, Publisher and Editor in Chief of The Zebra Press, gives an insightful and interesting glimpse into what she learned and how she felt reading these inmate’s stories. “The Claw“, the first place fiction winner from the Alexandria Adult Detention Center, “had me on the edge of my seat…”, she write. Me too. Read Mary’s entire feature here.

Mental Love

D. Miller

First place (tie), fiction, Heard/Alexandria Detention Center writing contest, August 2021

May 17th, 2017 (New York City) — The bathroom faucet is running as I splash cold water on my face, looking up to see my reflection in the mirror. The moon cast its silvery light across my face revealing a wide-eyed, gauntly gaze staring back at me. This couldn’t be me, could it? Night after night for two weeks I’ve had the same dream, leaving me baffled. It never changes. I’m walking through a field of tall grass with a mature maple tree looming in its center. A woman swings from an old tire hanging from a lower limb, her back is to me as the wind flutters her rich auburn hair. She looks over her shoulder spying me.

“Who are you? Do we know one another?,” only spoken words I could muster in this unconscious mirage. Facing me finally all I saw were her eyes, her gaze illuminated her hazel eyes surrounded by a green ring. She seems happy to see me… I feel the same way. This is crazy, right? Caught in the rapture of her eyes, she opens her arms to greet me. Holding her in my arms I … POOF!! I’m jolted awake in a cold sweat. The simple words of who, what, when, where & why flood my mind. Is she my future love? She means a great deal to me… right? Now to figure out the face that go with the soul warming auburn locks. Face equals a name. Searching the old memory bank of women who I know, work with, and those passing on by.

Nothing. Shit!

Tired & stressed to the max, I sat at my desk the next morning going over notes for todays pitch of a new study. S.P.I.E.S.— 007? You wish — short for Schizophrenic Penitentiary Inmates Education Study, it’s a long title. I know… The research being done is ahead of its time. Think what we will learn about the makeup of schizophrenia genes — the early signs & opening doors to finding cures. Those who are acutely affected to be reversed and a vaccine to prevent it for all others.

Ring, ring, ring. “Bradly Allen, how may I hel —“ I said after picking up my office line. “Okay, thank you. Uh huh. I’m on the way Connie,” I replied before picking up my notes and heading to the elevator. Connie’s our scheduling executive, she does it all. From meetings to family vacations for the top brass here at Cranial Research Institute (CRI). We’re a research study group with mental health patients all over the United States, plus here at Sinai Hospital in Manhattan.

There are occasions of field work on special projects, like, SPIES. The connection of schizophrenia & incarcerated people has been my baby for five years or so. Minorities & poverty stricken families have the hardest time seeing doctors for regular visits, mental health counseling isn’t an option for most. Here we can learn about the inmates mind, possible past episodes or warning signs before being diagnosed, if ever. Straightening my tie & displaying my million dollar smile, I walk through the blonde oak door say,

“Welcome everyone, lets get started.” The clients are none other than Baron of Devonshire and his business partners — investment lawyers. Hopefully we’ll get the contract signed today.

After lunch everything in my office was ringing, beeping or chirping. How can I concentrate on rewriting the contract with added agreed compromises? Oh well, full participation, decorative home furnishings in the interview rooms is what Baron Maxwell Anthony Thomasson IV — aka MAT — wanted. Only the best technology & personnel to run the trials at “The Point” (highly secure prison for mentally disturbed criminals).

MAT said, “Mr. Allen you will have 168 test subjects, ranging from 12-81 years old. Only two are housed separately from the others, and you’ll see why…” Intrigued by what he meant, but also thinking that I’m not the one who’s running the project abroad. Wakening from my thoughts he was still saying “…I expect your presence & leadership on this expedition. Also you’ll be guest at Whispering Willows, my country house.”

With that tidbit of information, a hand found the arm of a chair as I fell back down from his shocking statement. Mr. Carrington, President of C.R.I., could only shrug his shoulders while lifting his palms to the ceiling. Hearing his voice in my head, I already knew what that meant.

“Shut up and go, or we lose the deal. Then I’ll fire you.” Why me? Hands covering my face, thinking “three months abroad won’t be so bad…will it?”

Travel plans were made by Connie once she was contacted by bailiff Johns, MAT’s secretary. A private lear jet & ground transportation was waiting for the ten man team. S.P.I.E.S., filed team consisted of * Research Assistants (RA’s): Robert Collins & Veronica “Roni” Williams * Electronic Mech. Tech’s (EMT’s): Eugene Stiles & Daniel Johnston * Head Researcher: Dr. Lauryn Mallory & Dr. Phidas Bryant * Lab & Radiology Tech: Lucy & Lionel Chen (twins) — cool right. * Clinical Psychologist: Elizabeth (Liz” McCall. Lastly myself as the Psycobiologist & ring master extraordinaire.

Behind me the younger staff members — 30 & below — are getting familiar with floor plans, assigned rooms and staff names that work in the seventeen bedroom country house. Hmm… wonder what his “regular house” looks like. The three doctors are sleeping, we’re due to land in two hours. So, I’ll join them for a last chance at peace & solitude. Touching down at 1700 hrs (5 pm) British time, we cleared customs with appropriate visa’s, passports & Government documentation for the substantial equipment (14 cases — custom military lockers), all worth $1.6 million.

Forty-five minutes later I was pulling the emergency trunk holding rations & solar powered gear, in case of natural or manmade cataclysms. Storing cases & luggage in the four waiting SUV’s, we climbed inside ready to go. While driving we saw an extravagant rose garden off the two lane road we were on. Unaware that this was part of MAT’s country estate. Stopping in front of an open wood & steel dungeon-like door, where we were greeted by forty members of Baron’s staff and family. Curtsies and handshakes propelled us into the foyer behind the dungeon door, where we met the Head Butler, Mr. Whiteford. He removed our outer garments handing them over to a waiting maid, she wore a tight black skirt, green Oxford shirt with the family crest, black flats & lip gloss that sparkled on her full pouty lips. All the men were quite excited by her look.

Three months won’t be so bad after all.

After squaring myself away I was summoned for dinner in the formal dinning hall. Open collar dress shirt & slacks will hopefully pass the “formal” dress code — it’s all I brought. We were housed in the west wing of the mansion, on the second and third floors. Making my way to dinner, I stumbled upon Lucy Chen decending the staircase of the upper floor, she smiled which made me return one to her. Offering my arm to escort her down, we clamored on about this fabulous house and the rooms within it.

“My suite is joined to the Ladies Library, how cute is that. Oh there’s a solarium as well next to Lionel’s suite too,” she said excitedly. Taking our places behind our seats MAT & Krystal (Baroness) entered gracefully while we all bowed and curtsied. Taking their places at the head of the onyx lacquer table, inlaid with gold filigree leaf designs, we were able to start our first course — celery & cream gazpacho. Conversing with an investment lawyer (Emilio), I felt pin pricks in my left thigh, it was Lucy. Shrimpfork in hand giving me the hint of rescuing her from Sir Carters animated chat about dung beetles and their digestive process for the eco system.

Trying not to snicker while raising my arms tapping my wine glass for a toast. What the hell… here goes nothing. “On behalf of CRI we’d like to thank all of you for welcoming us into England & your lives. A special thanks to the Baron & Baroness’ hospitality and graciousness of their home also believing in the S.P.I.E.S. trials. With God’s will I’d like to bless us all with kindness, love & patience… Oh! God bless the Queen!”, glasses raised clinking while “Here, Here” is cheered all around. Multiple people started conversations while I resumed my seat, now Sir Carter’s informing me about the types of bug the Queen allows in her rose garden — God help me. Lucy silently mouthed “thank you” as she rose headed to the powder room down the hall.

Enjoying the mint ice cream with handmade chocolate pirouetts, plates where cleansed leaving a sweet and refreshing feeling. The gentlemen retired to the study, while ladies donned the tea cart heading to the parlor. Seeing the credenza laid out with pipes, cigars, cigarettes and two thumbed tumblers filled with 100 year old burbon, we couldn’t wait to pick our poison.

First up, Lord Willis trying to convince Daniel, Phil & myself that the NFL is a shite organization — to funny. Now a shouting match, US vs. Brits on the NBA players being washed up only to flee to European & Asian Leagues. Wiping tears from my eyes at the mention of Dennis Rodman, I spy the grandfather clock by the fireplace chiming at half past eleven. Lost in thoughts of preparation — interview rooms decor & equipment setup — Phil calls my name.

“Bradley… Bradley, what do you think of the British women we’ve seen so far? Bradley!”

“Oh sorry man, in my head. Umm, the women they… they’re very lovely if they all look like the Baroness & the maids. I wouldn’t complain,” I said as MAT smiled.

All the guys laughed whole heartily as if what I said was all lies — making me blush on the low-low. MAT’s study distorted the laughs and conversations in the hallway near the main staircase. Lionel crept over slidding the pocket doors open only to be greeted by the twin. All she said was “Hi me,” with the biggest smile her face could hold.

“It’s the twin-lepathy, we’ve had it forever. It comes in handy at work,” he said glancing over his shoulder.

“I know it was her.”

“Great to know,” I said as Lucy winked at me. Such a small gesture from a friend & co-worker, that make me see her in a new light. Her smile seemed more alluring along her dark hair, cascading over her right shoulder in a waist length braid. My pulse stirred. At the ancient age of thirty-five, it seems like I’ll never met “the one” who can acquire my pledge of Love & more. Time to look closer to home — or work — with other interest besides quality research reports & brainiacs to talk shop. If she continues with the small sexy & flirty gestures during our stay, I can ask her out. Coffee, lunch, drinks or… or something.

Hesitation? Not here especially if she’s just looking for friendly extras only. As she chats with Phil, I ask myself, “Can she be the one in the dreams? Are her eyes hazel with a green ring?” Awe hell, I’ve never looked before. “Damn it Brad, pay attention! You’re surrounded by beautiful women everyday… Everyday you only see the work & not the person. Wake the fuck up!” My conscious said while kicking me.

Log entry: 6/14/17 (Mon).  Location: Devonshire, GB

— S.P.I.E.S. Trial —          Facility: The Point

_________________________________________________________________________

Notes:  Access badges given out for entrance passageways. Interview suites are family room style, not sorrowful solitude. Staff introduced to following guards: Sgt. Helmsly (supervisor), Office Treavor (male) & Officer Smithers (female); all seem eager and competent. Their knowledge of daily habits of subjects will be a major asset. Start interview tomorrow if Daniel & Eugene have equipment up & running. “Big Gulp Crazy” is how the guards refer to inmates, 7-11 puns, go figure. Midafternoon: EMT’s done, Lab’s up and rooms staged. 4 subjects to be interviewed. Now with their Family inventory, childhood story plus 6 basic MH questions. Authorization of recording, videography, biological test & imaging scans; All signed by subjects.

_________________________________________________________________________

Subject: Browne, Stanley. Age: 47. DOB: 1/28/70  Home Status: Orphan

Parents: Browne, Paul & Stien, Bette     Siblings:  unknown

 

Childhood Summary: (Browne, S — speaking) At 4 years I was left on the rise of a church. I sat in the cold rain until parishioners showed up in the morning. They feed, bathed then picked up boy babies heading to the orphanage. Lost, alone & bloody unwanted, I ran away at 15.

Q1: What age did you notice there might be something mentally wrong?

Stanley Browne: Well… Sir I’m not sure. I didn’t know there was any such thing until my early 30’s. Taking a swipe at it… uh, maybe 12 or 13 years old, when manhood came.

Q2: Did you ever seek help?

SB: No, I acted out, leading me to run with the ruffians of the alleys.

Q3: What age was your first criminal act & charge?

SB: I’m sure 15 I went to jail for burglary.

Q4: What or who lead you to commit your first crime?

SB: With no real family there wasn’t many options for me on the street. No food or shelter, only an attitude & knapsack of clothes. Breaking into empty flats to stay dry & eat. I found permanent place but no money for necessities, so back to burglary. Caught with a .38mm after breaking into Tower House (upscale). Guy came home & found me loading up his fine gold wares. I shot him 7 times then ate’m.

Q5: When did you start seeing a MH specialist consistently with medication?

SB: Bollocks! Help for me… Not til I arrived here. 7 years back.

Q6: What’s your diagnosis?

SB: Mild Schizophrenia & Clipmoanic (Kleptomaniac). Stealing is a comfort.

_________________________________________________________________________

Watching Dr. McCall thank Mr. Browne for his honesty & hoped to see him again. Exiting, Officer Treavor was there to escort him back to his cell. Hailing them from the adjacent room to stop, I said “As you’re our first group, I’d like to say thank you.”

Browne & Treavor looked at me ask “Why?”

With a grinning reply of “That’s my good manners. Once the others are done, please jot down your favorite foods. Skies the limit! Give ‘em to the Sgt. by Wednesday, celebration on Friday.”

Nodding as he walked back Browne mumbling to himself, smiling with more pep in his step. Sgt. Helmsley popped by at 4:15 as we packed up ready to go for the day.

“Just leave those on the desk, thanks,” I said.

“Uh, well… well you may want these request rom the inmates seen,” he said drily.

“Ah, forgot about that. Is that a problem Sgt.? Replied while crossing my arms.

Authoritatively he stated, “No, but you will be faire to a ll the other inmates. I assume that you will do this again at the end, right?”

Fuck…“Yes we are with the staff too,” said while pulling out my phone to make the note. Driving along, my mind drifted to the dream. Whoever she is I can’t stop thinking about her fragrance & how her skin will feel once in my arms. Feeling a twinge I starred at my pants seeing an erection. I really need to get laid, my thoughts going left.

December 6, 2012, in early afternoon groomsmen, bridesmaids, flower girls ring bearer and the groom — me — were in place at the altar. On time! Anxiety and perspiration building waiting for the bride to enter. Fifteen minutes later an usher brought a folded napkin down the aisle, looking her I took the napkin.

The scribbling read, “Sorry.” She didn’t… No!  She… she jilted me! Tears falling freely from my 6’3” muscular frame. Helplessly, I faced God wailing and embarrassed beyond all means. Leaving a shattered & crumbled heap of nothing at the pastors feet. After that there’s nothing, its been locked away (File name “Soul Snatcher”).

My mother checked me into St. Mark’s MRC for Catatonia, the next day. My mind was reduced to one word, like a scratched record. “Sorry” fucked me up.

Don’t ask what they taught me, but after fourteen months, two weeks & three days… I walked out a fixed man. That morning was the best day, released and headed to a job interview at CRI. Paying it forward, I needed to help those suffering find themselves again. Two years, nine months and sixteen days later, look at me now. Help comes in many forms, you just have to ask for it.

Long story short my bride was pregnant by her ex. Now she’s a single mother on welfare. The ex ended up marrying her best friend. Karma’s a bitch, aint it.

Adjourned to the upstairs library following dinner, Phil, Lauren and myself sat by the oversized hearth. Sipping English tea, while sitting on on 17th century chairs, we discussed todays findings and hypotheses of the subjects.

Lauryn stated, “With these subjects, it seems that adolescent puberty (10-14) is possibly their psyche trigger. This changes the conscious thoughts…” interrupted by Phil’s rude addition, “Quite right, the conscious now pairs with the subconscious inventing characters that are helping or hindering them to relate reality from fantasy. Deflection & assimilation of these emotions, thoughts and wants become chaotic. Thus resulting an undiagnosed, schizophrenic teenager,” he said winking at Lauryn.

Reviewing their statements plus the test results and questionaires, we have a wealth of new unfounded information. Nodding in agreement my cell phone rings, retrieving it reveals the boss on the line. He must still be in the office with the time difference.

“Mr. Carrington, good evening,” said as I excused myself to the far window. “Hope I’m not disturbing anything. I’m calling for a verbal report on your first day,” he said while the elevator chimed in the background.

“No problem sir, we’re able to interview four subjects. We’re reviewing as you were calling. Lauryn & Phil believe…,” said as my cell vibrated on my ear. Not listening to Mr. Carrington’s dramatic take on what I’ve told him, I checked my W.I.M.P. (work influx message portal), seeing Lucy’s message: Come to the lab when you can. Lucy C.

Minutes later excusing myself, I headed for the back stairs leading to the unused Larder our makeshift lab. Opening the door showed both Chen’s jotting notes with a microscope between them. “What’s all the fuss about?” playfully I said.

“We found some similarities in three sets of test samples…,” she said in one breath.

Lionel continued, “Bradley look!” pointing at the slides. “We’ve found a mutated chromosome,” as I peered into the lens showing triple split hematological samples.

Flabbergasted, my mind reeling in awe, I give them celebratory hugs. Lionel, the non-emotional hermit, side skipped walking out the door muttering curses at me to only slam it.

Still embraced she looks up at me, her eyes hazel… with a green ring, captured my soul. How come I’ve never noticed before? Lost in “what if” she makes the first move. Guiding my lips to hers for the sweet supple kiss to linger on my trembling lips. “What happening?” I whispered as the scent of daisy’s and jasmine overwhelmed me. Tightening my grip around her waist, pulling her closer to me. Desperation came over me, I didn’t just want her, I needed her, hopefully she needed me too.

Breathlessly stepping back to see her eyes dancing revealed water droplets, Lucy is the water in needed. Drinking her in, my mouth opened and shut as she spoke.

“Don’t leave me, I’ve waited so long for you to see me,” her voice less than a whisper. She continued, “For two years I’ve dreamt of a male silhouette, his touch on my skin, his scent branded in my olfactory, while the sun rays penetrate my soul. Mr. Carrington offered Lionel and I positions at CRI, touring the building you shook our hands welcoming. us. Do you remember? You…. Your cologne trailed you, and I knew that scent, the silhouette dream man. I tried to get closer to you by advancing in the company, but still nothing. This was my last try, I was giving up.”

Tears escaped from the eyes I knew so well. Her dream was my dream. Our dream. But how? Not aware I was nearing her again, the table was her perch. Kissing while shedding her clothes, shoes fell, buttons flew and pants were snatched off. Her hand roaming the muscles of my chest there was no more talking just bodies shifting, excessive moaning, hurried respirations & enough body heat to fry eggs. Our wants, our needs. Slid her to the end of the table kissing her neck, breast & navel until my hands grasped… God she felt good. Teasing her with lavish kisses I fell into a dreamy seventh heaven state crossing her golden plain.

Climbing back down the hill through the forested valley, stumbling and lashing out to drive back saplings to reach the Ho-lee water. The water give man the strength and penetrating ability to drive forward. Following the stream north, I spied a man in a boat. Paying homage to him gifted safe passage to the Chalice I seek. Speaking in tongues brought a whirlwind vortex, around the boat as a helping hand guiding through the rapids Donning my blackwood staff in its prophylactic sheath, headway was made around the mounds of rock & currents in to the cave. Scraping my staff against the tight enclosed cave walls to and fro, the Ho-lee land comes to view.

The sight before my eyes brings a breath taking euphoric emotion, only tears can explain. My sheathed blackwood staff guided me against the Chalice’s walls, protection when thrusted in the waters. Picking up my pace, running sweat dripping down my entire body to the forbidden door. Fighting crashing waves that guarded the entrance, I heard my name whispered as the succulent ground thrashed beneath me. “Bradley… Come to me, I can be yours,” said the Chalice. The blackwood reverberated in hand as beads of water soaked through the sheath. Restless movements, clawing and a rapid drumbeat called out to me as the wood became overly engorged with the waters essence, taste, feel & sound. No longer a staff but an appendage of me, we were one.

Holding back her waters she spoke to me, “Find me, take me, I need to be with you.” Wishing I could speak to her, I mumbled “I need you too. I’m yours now & always.” Facing the crystalline cervical passage, power filled excitment, submissiveness & positively scary long for her pulsed from the blackwood. Still mumbling through tantalizing pain I cried out “I’ll honor, protect & love you, if you’ll have me.” Wrapping both hands around it felt strangely wonderful. The weight of my palms running up & down its engorged sheet sent quivers to every nerve. Behind the door she said, “Don’t stop, feel the power caress your soul.” Abiding her words & closing my eyes to her lights as the doors opened, I felt her spirit. A kiss was laid on my wanting lips. “Give yourself to me. Let me drink you in” echoed around me. An authoritative discharge cut thru me, “Take me, it’s yours!” That moment the wind and water rose around us. Pulse racing, sweat dripping had me struggling to breath as my heart and soul poured out for her. The Chalice was now filled with my essence. Her lips parted, giving way to our coexistence. Walking over and pulling her into my embrace she whispered, “I am yours & you are mine,” in my ear. Knowing now what it is to be wanted & loved, I basked in the ambience hearing the heartbeat of one.

Hearing faded screaming in the darkness around us, I reached out for her. Slowly blinking my eyes a bright light started to appear, I…

“…Beeeeeeep!” Good morning,” I heard.

Springing up covered in sweat confussed of my surroundings, blinking away the haze showed me where I’m at. An automated voice sounded. TV? Rescue team? Mom?… NOT BY FAR! “Current time — 7:15 am. Breakfast: Oatmeal, eggs, milk and juice. Lunch: Pea soup…,” the speaker announced. Standing barefoot on the cold floor shocked I hear uncontrollable laughter — it’s me. Which meant I’m really…. The door opened eyes captivated on what’s in her hand, I barely hear, “Mr. Allen lets get ready for eletroconvulsive therapy!” A chippy woman said. “Do you remember me, I’m Lucy,” while holding out a straight jacket. All I could do was laugh to keep from crying.

This story is purely fiction. Created by a vivid imagination while incarcerated at William G. Truesdale Detention Center @ Alexandria, Va. Characters and locations mentioned do not exist in reality. Thank you for the opportunity, I hope you were entertained.

—D. Miller, (1A Women’s Program Unit)

Ashenvale

by Nicholas DeLuca 

Fiction, Heard/Alexandria Detention Center writing contest, August 2021

It’s somehow already been 5 years. Half a decade about gone in what feels like an instant. If my parents had lived to see me become this would they understand or be with the few outside ready to lynch me? If they were alive I wouldn’t have become this.

Maybe they wouldn’t approve of what I’ve become, but surely they’d be okay with what I’ve done. Everyone knew he killed them. No one may have truly known, but they knew. 5 years ago he killed my parents, then flaunted it at the funeral. He did it to torture me.

I didn’t instantly turn to the dark magic; I tried every other path. I wasn’t naturally magically inclined, I wasn’t blessed in the faith, I didn’t join some army or group of forest pretenders. I used what was available to me. Everyone in Ashenvale heard stories of Ancient Spirit that used to haunt this Gods’ forsaken island. It was used to frighten kids, but instead they strengthened me.

My first trip to the island at 15 led me to a discussed Book of the Dead. In worn condition it was still usable. The first year I was scared and I only tried one or two spells half heartedly. Then at 16, he went to far. In his cups as I was roaming the streets in thought, he found me. He told me to cheer up and perhaps one day I’d learn to thank him. As he strolled away, I rushed home, grabbed the book and used it to kill a rat I had caged. Then it all just clicked.

The years flew by as I studied. I drew more and more from the town as I began to feed off the new power. I became paler and kids stayed away from my parents’ cottage. I was able to do more and more as more pests died, then weren’t dead, then died again. Then just last week I went out and got my revenge. I didn’t murder him, despite his pleas for it. Once I was done, I let him loose as a shell of a man only able to admit his crime over and over again. Limbless.

Now the town’s small militia is standing outside and I’m forced to commit to a path I never asked for. I animate the human skeleton near me and exit the house.

Before the Captain could begin his plea, I unleashed my assault. The Captain was dead before he could ever reach me. Without a leader there was little, if any, coordination among the found remaining guards. Two began attacking the skeleton as the others charged me. I decided to take their weak hits to free the skeleton from harm. As the cries of their comrades filled their ears and me and my skeleton filled their eyes, fear filled their hearts. Soon after silence once again found me.

Dispatches were more than likely sent out and who knows what the townspeople may do if their protectors don’t return. I didn’t have much time so I gathered my essentials and left, skeleton following close behind.

I wasn’t ready to flee Ashenvale just yet. Since becoming attuned with my new powers, the island I found the book radiated great, dark power. I knew it was the tomb of the ancient Necromanier’s Spirit. I didn’t know what I may find in there, but I felt like something in there could help me. I made my way to the shore on foot then used a long forgotten canoe to get to the island well past the middle of the night.

To my surprise, the entry way to the tomb was open. For years I attempted to open and never succeeded. I was prepared to destroy it to gain entry but tonight it almost seemed like fate had opened it. Whether ill or favorable fate…Who knew?

-Tomb of the Necromanier-

In a way I was let down as I finally entered the crypt to find, well, a crypt. 4 stone coffins stood before me covered in centuries of dust, but remarkably no mice scurried and no plant was breaking through the cracks. The room was remarkably dead.

The coffins were unremarkable, however, clearly not trapping any powerful spirit or holding some treasure. Across the room was another passage way with what looked like stars. I lit a torch and started towards the aforementioned passage.

Halfway across the room, a grinding of stone began to fill the room. As I looked around, the four coffins were opening and out of them came four decaying skeletons. Call it a hunch, but I knew this welcoming party wasn’t just for show as I prepared for battle.

Once again, me and my skeleton split the foes – two each. I was hoping to dispatch one before they reached me, but my shot was off. As the two I was facing began their assault, I lost track of which was already damaged and after another round of blows, I defeated one. I watched my skeleton drop to the floor, but noticed one he was fighting was weak and obliterated it. Still defending my remaining one, I animated another skeleton from the countless bones. No longer outnumbered the remaining enemies didn’t take long to finish off.

Honestly, I was sufficiently wounded enough that I began to question my skill. The slaughter of the guards went so easily that I felt unstoppable. I still had confidence, but was now humbled.

It took some time to heal my wounds enough to be ready to move on. I had to hope no one was on my trail to execute some plan the guards weren’t enough for. When I finally felt well enough, I made my way down the stairs.

It was hard to tell what room I then stumbled upon. The room was fairly large, almost as large as the last, but it also had an extremely long, narrow hallway at the opposite end.

Before I could further examine the room, a spirit began manifesting in the middle of it. The spirit was teal and translucent with a relative humanoid shape. The only real discernible features were its long hair and overgrown beard.

“You’re close. Only two trials to go.” The voice seemed to fade in and out and seemed to come from within me rather than where the spirit was. I was about to ask it about the trials when it spoke again.

“There’s no time, It’s taking everything I have just to project this short distance. Succeed and you’ll be rewarded with unimaginable power.” As the voice faded away, so did the spirit.

Before I could even process what had happened, I noticed movement from the long narrow hallway. I cursed myself for not noticing the sight of the countless mangled corpses before me. All were missing one or two legs and crawled towards me. Luckily, they moved slowly so I was able to defeat four of the eight attacking corpses. The skeleton was able to take two down before it fell to their clawing hands. I only sustained two light blows before only I remained in the room.

Feeling more confident and experienced, I animate another skeleton and begin walking to the other end of the room. The spirit said 2 trials remained, so assuming the defeated horde was one, that meant only one more remained. So far things were manageable, but I could see any of them could have been my death if things only went slightly worse. The spirit didn’t return so I was walking in the next trial blind.

As I made my way down the final set of stairs, I truly was blinded by what I saw. It was a sphere of pure light. It was light, but at the same time something more. The light looked contained in the sphere. There seemed to be movement almost as if the light where smoke. As I took a step forward a booming voice stopped me.

“Leave,” the voice commanded, “leave now and you will suffer no further harm. This area is forbidden by all, save Paladins and Clerics.”

Paladins and Clerics? The order was responsible for this? I tried to push my luck asking, “How do you know I’m not a Paladin?

“Death emanates from you and I sense no light within you. I am a holy sentinel set by the order to protect this tomb. There will be no more warning, leave.”

Wanting to strike first, I sent forth a bolt of the Void at the Sentinel. To my relief, the bolt seemed to strike the protector and deal some sort of damage. Once my skeleton made it’s approach, a blinding light held my vision as I helplessly felt beams of energy striking me. Once my vision returned I resumed my attack. Occasionally, the sentinel would release its inner light damaging everything in the room. The more I attacked, the dimmer and dimmer the light became.

After several minutes of fighting, the light faltered and seemed to collapse in on itself. Once it was gone, the room was a pitch black that forced me to fumble on the floor in search of the torch I dropped. Once it was found and relit, I approached the only other object in the room, a great stone altar.

The altar was completely covered in ancient runes that I scarcely recognized. When I reached out to trace the runes with my hand, I had to recoil as if touching fire. A chill ran through me as I contemplated what it meant that this spell designed to harm and contain such an evil spirit also burned me. Pushing those thoughts away, I began wondering how to free the trapped spirit. I attempted to put all I know into one blast of dark energy, but as I was channeling the spell I felt the power emanating from the coffin fill me and amplify my spell what felt like a thousandfold. As the energy reached a critical point I was to forced to release it.

The blast hit the stone and shook the whole tomb which felt impossible given I was so far underground. Surely I had just caused an earthquake. Then as the shaking stopped my torch went out then I heard the rattling of bones as the magic animating the skeleton failed. Then a voice filled the room, and for a moment I felt like I made a horrible mistake.

“Ah…” the voice said almost as if relaxing on some exotic tranquil beach.

The Return

The Return

Bianca Astore Bowman

Second place, Nonfiction, Heard/Arlington County Detention Center, August 2019

Richard paused in the forest to listen. He didn’t think anyone had followed him. But he was growing paranoid. The rustling behind him was probably just the wind through the trees. Though he didn’t feel any wind now. No breeze to dry the sweat accumulating on his forehead.

He had to keep moving. He couldn’t afford to hang around waiting for the fickle wind to start back up. A handwritten note in his jacket pocket was summoning him forward. It had been left at his apartment door, now miles away: “Midnight. Old oak.”

He knew better than to follow its demand. To come back here —toward the old oak of his childhood playground, the old oak he had grown to hate, the old oak where he had last seen his father-terrified him. But his obsessing mind had won out. He had left sure-footed as a cat, but now, he wondered if curiosity wasn’t going to be the downfall of them both.

With the wind still absent, he continued forward. His legs simultaneously alive with energy and unsteady as a sapling in a storm.

The anticipation of what he would find at the oak made him miss the subtle breaking of fallen branches a careful distance behind him. Thoughts of his father’s muffled yell the day he had gone missing overshadowed an equally muffled cough, now a few meters away. Memory of his pre-pubescent legs racing and tumbling, searching in vain for his father, still filled his head as he now came upon the very man he had been looking for ever since.

“Ricky…I only did it to protect you.”

But the sounds of the forest had caught up to Richard and were wrapping a blindfold around his eyes.

His world now buzzing with darkness, he was guided to a sitting position in front of the old oak. The bark clawing its way through his jacket. More noticeable was his pulsing heart, thundering heavily in his head.

“Dad?”

“Ricky — I hope you’ve lived the best life possible. I love you more than anything, I didn’t think they would come for you so soon…I thought you had more time.”

The unnatural sounds of the forest now added their voices.

“Your old man’s right, kiddo, he does love you. Talked about you every damn day.”

“But he was wrong to think we still had use for him. We need someone nimble, someone new. And he made us a deal, Ricky.”

“We need to collect our debt, the one your daddy left to you. We need to keep you around awhile. ‘Til it’s come due. Ain’t that right, old man?”

There was a scrambling to Richard’s left. His father’s voice, now farther away, pleaded out to him.

“It’s only a little bit left. I tried to pay it all back, I tried. I know you can do it, son. You won’t be greedy like me. They’ll treat you alright, they won’t hurt you. Just a few jobs. Just a bit of time and we’ll see each other again. I’ll protect you again. It’s been my only job. It’s all I’ve done. You weren’t one of my mistakes.”

His father’s words merged with the sounds of the forest.

Ricky had returned to the old oak. He had found what he was looking for. He had won the game of Hide and Seek.

He had lost the prize.