Words & Music Club
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01. WRITER

Eric Doucette 


02. THEME

Balance


03. MUSIC INSPIRATION

Jets to Brazil:
*******


04. WRITING

Alpha
_________
I got it one time
And so consistency shall reign.
Everyone's your life coach.
Teach you how to play their game.

When you're 25
The rules still haven't changed.
And you start to realize
There are no other games to play.

I am an alpha supreme.
My frame is finished goods.
Prop me up in front
With god before the flood.

I will be the lead.
Begrudgingly, the lead.
________________

Beta
_________
The path will go left.
And I follow to the end.
With nothing gained
I start again.

The path will go right.
And I follow to the end.
All patterns of light
But my time is a sin.

I am a beta test
For the one who will take me over
In the end.

Are they with the starting blast
Until the end?
________________

*****
_________
I am always here.
The void of blackness lives.
Your problems won't arise
Unless I say they ever did.

I am the reason that you are.
From nothing comes your bones.
No way to say how far
But find out on your own.

I am the weight
Upon which
You grow.

I am the weight
Upon which
We all float.
________________

 

01. WRITER

David Beuthin


02. THEME

Balance


03. MUSIC INSPIRATION

Code Orange Kids:
Colors (Into Nothing)


04. WRITING

youth fleeting from inside my body
but staying true on the outside
reasons my world is contrasted

treated the choices
consumed by dreams
neither work favorably

cold to touch
I brought you down with me
shook my worlds until collision

truth be told then
live so graceful ascend to the knowledge
we find the surface
we find each other

 

01. WRITER

Michelle Lukezic 


02. THEME

Balance


03. MUSIC INSPIRATION

Brandi Carlile:
The Story


04. WRITING

Some friends and I do this thing called Question of the Day (QoTD). We take turns being the question’er, and everyone always answers. A good question, in QoTD, is defined by how profound the insights are in our answers. 

QoTD: Other than friends/family what do you miss most about your hometown?

… (easy question, not very deep, should be able to nail this in a sentence or two) …
… (trying to answer in spin class) …
… (trying to answer on walk home) …
… (trying to answer as I put the dishes away) …
… (I don’t miss anything from my hometown) … 
… (I really don’t miss a goddamn thing from that place) …

Well, miss… no.
I miss absolutely nothing.
But, value… maybe.

Artifacts.  

The train tracks... where we walked and solved math problems… adoration.
The coffee shop... where we discovered our music… infatuation. 
The basketball courts where 3-on-3 in the sun and all the fucking cursing coalesced… thrill.
The slope under the bridge… where we made-out… exhilaration.
The library… where we developed our love for research and books… curiosity.
The lunch table… where we sat quietly watching each other’s back… empathy. 
The park… where we would draw in our sketchbooks… acceptance.

The desk… where the paper with the red ink resided… disappointment. 
The swimming pool… where they pointed and laughed… humiliation. 
The phone… which received the call saying Cindy had to be put to sleep… grief. 
The journal… read out loud to all the classmates… rage.
The gravel… where I bit-it face-first… mortification.
The scale at the doctor's office... where the nurse chuckled... embarrassment. 
The drive-way… where I sat still after the eight-hour car ride back from Ohio… loneliness.

… (sigh) …

Everyone's hometown has these artifacts. Right? 

… (hometown) …
… (miss) …

I suppose I don’t miss my hometown one-bit.
It is not a place I want to go back to.

But those seemingly ambiguous artifacts;
I can not deny that they profoundly define me. 

 

01. WRITER

Katie Mizell 


02. THEME

Balance


03. MUSIC INSPIRATION

Mitski, Xiu Xiu:
Between the Breaths


04. WRITING

Motherhood. I’m new to it.

And at the same time I have been a mother for eternity.

11 weeks in this world. 39 weeks in my womb. Infinity in my soul.

I thought I was prepared, as prepared as anyone could be, for the realities of motherhood but I couldn’t have been. Nothing can make you ready for the moment you have such fragile perfection in your arms. And thank god for that, because if I had known I never would have done it. It’s too frightening, and too fulfilling, to dedicate yourself to caring for a new life.

Fulfilling because a missing piece of you has been found.

Frightening because you will lose everything that you were, and are.

When I was pregnant I pulled a tarot reading for myself, just out of curiosity, to see what might be coming my way. I remember the hand: Ace of Cups, The Devil, and The Tower. I fixated on The Tower because it symbolizes destruction. It scared me; the image of a massive pyre, burning in the night.

Because of that card I spent much of my pregnancy in fear. When the universe tells you that your pregnancy will destroy you, fear is a reasonable reaction. My pregnancy was high risk, was that what the card meant? Was my life in danger? Was my baby in danger? There were days when The Tower haunted me, and I knew I would fail somehow.

But Felix was born, my body recovered, and I thought maybe the cards were wrong. Then, a few weeks ago I remembered that card and realized just exactly how right it was.

The birth of my son did destroy me.

In motherhood I was torn down. Nothing of who I was before him remained in the wake of his arrival. I wasn’t Katie, wife and witch, I wasn’t the armchair comedian and book lover I remembered, I was only mommy. I felt so honored to be just that. I could see the flames of motherhood licking at my feet, burning away everything I was before. I wanted to drown in the warmth of it. I had lost my identity entirely.

I stared into the sleeping face of my son, marveled at the miracle of him, and then I laid him in his bassinet, and sat there remembering what it was to be Katie, with no baby at my breast.

Since that moment my faltering steps toward self-discovery haven’t taught me much about who I am. I regularly find myself back at the beginning, struggling to back away from the consuming warmth of mothering.

Every day I am faced with a choice: be a mother, or be wholly myself. Making the choice leaves me guilty every time. Either I feel like I’m neglecting my son, or I feel like I’m neglecting everything I am without him. I struggle to set him down, to allow myself to exist without the desperate connection we share. I see how easy it would be to let go of who I am and never look back.

But every so often there is a moment of balance, a single breath where I know myself as everything I was before and everything I am now. I cling to that moment, where I am not afraid, and I am not burning, and I am not lost. I hold my son tight. I hold that moment tight.  He knows who I am. I know who I am.

 

01. WRITER

Brian Stout


02. THEME

Balance


03. MUSIC INSPIRATION

Atmosphere:
God Loves Ugly


04. WRITING

I moved to Ypsilanti for school in summer 2002. I rented one-bedroom apartment on the wrong side of the tracks of the city that’s on the wrong side of the tracks. Arriving fresh from Flint and being a broke student, I blended. I reveled in the low thump of my neighbors bumping Jay-Z and the contact buzz of my GN’F’N’R-loving neighbor who always blasted those hockey games a little too loud. Poor. Ugly. Happy. Just like the Avail t-shirt. A last blast before adulthood set in.

A few months earlier, I’d discovered that there was a whole world of hip hop talking about more than cars and girls and money. I became obsessed. The message wasn’t all that different from my punk rock and emo favorites from the preceding few years, but somehow it sounded more empowering when rapped. I felt a confidence emanating from it where I thought my indie rock heroes were commiserating and I was encouraged to continue to stare at my belly button. Sean Daley, El-P, Aesop Rock, and peers seemed to say, “Yeah, I’m messed up. What of it? Still got a life to live,” instead of “I’m so sad. Guess I’ll LiveJournal or hunker down in my apartment.” 

Nevertheless, my neck was still sore from gazing at my navel. I moped out to Ryan Adams, Interpol, and Jets to Brazil just like any card-carrying mid-twenties indie rocker did. And I latched onto the relentlessly downbeat one-liners in Control. The influence of Americana seeped in further after 9/11. For most of my friends, the closest we came to patriotism reborn was discovering protest songs from earlier times and bumping “Makeshift Patriot” by Sage Francis.

The CD burning parties started as soon as I hooked up with a couple friends who had also moved to the area from Flint. All of us broke students. All of us music lovers. No Spotify or bargain subscription services to satisfy our need to discover new music.

But we did have computers with CD burners (paid that extra $150 to get that standard on my Dell desktop), and CD-Rs were a bargain at 25 for $25.00. When we were particularly broke, we would even share those. What’s a dollar or two among friends, especially if it meant converting someone to one of your idiosyncratic favorites?

It went like this—once a month on Saturday nights:

  1. Bring the last few CDs you bought, including any special requests. Or bring ones you really want to share with others. We were all pretty familiar with each other’s collections.
  2. Bring some beer, even if all you can swing is a couple of 40s.
  3. Bring your blank CDs, and be willing to share if needed.

I wasn’t convinced that I needed to spend $12 on Bright Eyes’ latest opus, but I was happy to give it a shot for a blank disc. It turned out to be the one that helped me get past the preciousness to see the talent sandwiched in between indulgent intros and long-winded outros. I got to indulge in many bands I’d heard of but not yet heard, like Rilo Kiley, Milemarker, and many others, and to fill in the holes of discographies.

And I was happy to provide another copy of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot or Source Tags and Codes upon request, while encouraging friends to burn a copy of Emergency Rations or Fantastic Damage or Labor Days, too.

We also had great debates. I remember having a heated one over whether Turn on the Bright Lights, YHF, or Source Tags was the best record of 2002.  

Do people still do this in person? Don’t tell me if they don’t. So much of my misspent youth was wrapped up in talking music, raising glasses to the soundtrack of our lives. If not, something major has been lost. It seems like none of us have the time for this in mid-life, and I imagine that's good. Be glad that it happened, be glad that it was.

I wore my scars like the rings on a pimp that year. The next year Atmosphere encouraged me to find a balance. I probably burned that disc a few times for friends, too.

 

01. WRITER

Sam Moore


02. THEME

Balance


03. MUSIC INSPIRATION

Uyama Hiroto:
Yin and Yang


04. WRITING

At some point, the night had stopped arriving as it ought to over our town. Most days were blanketed in daytime and sunlight, and the night would only arrive in fits and spurts. It would appear at random, sometimes only for a few moments and, at best, maybe half an hour, as if were nothing more than a large cloud that had passed in front of the sun and billowed away shortly thereafter. Then the night would fade away like a heavy fog at dawn, and the world would be coated in an orange glow once again.

            A couple times a week I would work at a small restaurant in town, washing dishes after school. Walking home late at “night”, the sun only ever got as low as dusk. I had taken for granted just how soothing the night could be after a long days work. A deep blue sky, a slight breeze, a crescent moon hanging like an ornament. It seemed right. The natural flow of things. When I got home I put on a sweatshirt, heated up a cup of tea, grabbed a book, and set up comfortably on the porch. The grasshopper that keeps me company showed up right on time as usual, flittering his way onto the porch. He had started showing up right about the same time the night had stopped doing so. He perched himself on the railing in front of me.

            “Is that tea I smell?” he asked, bouncing up and down the railing. “Judging by the looks of you, I’m betting we both had long days. Why don’t you spare me a few drops of that tea and we’ll talk it over?”

            I could always count on him to show up with his hands out, asking for a sip of tea or nibble of fruit. But it’s not like I couldn’t spare such tiny portions anyway. The trade-off was some much needed company to an otherwise lonely house. After school, I would usually spend time at the library and keep to myself when I got home. I smiled a tired smile and stood up, snatching a leaf off of the tree growing by the porch. After coiling up its edges to keep it from spilling, I poured a few drops of hot tea into the leaf and set it down for the grasshopper. The grasshopper sipped up a droplet out of the leaf and let out a deep sigh of relief.

            “Jasmine green, is it? A good choice. You know, not many people would assume it but I’ve got quite the refined palate when it comes to tea. You live as long as me, you pick up on these things. I’m quite proud of it, actually. Anyway, what’s on your mind?”

            “It’s the night. Or rather the lack thereof. Ever since it stopped appearing normally, it feels like everything is—”

“—Out of balance,” the grasshopper finished. “Right you are. Many had taken the night for granted and assumed it would always be there for us. Who’s to stop it from disappearing if it feels underappreciated?” The grasshopper paused to take another drink, then continued. “And now the balance—daytime and nighttime—are off. You can see its effects in the world around you. Just as the world needs sunlight to stay alive, so too does it need moonlight. The trees are withering and turning pale. So are the grass and fields. Even this leaf you poured my tea into is slightly pallid. The world—all of us—need to breathe in the night air if it has any hope of getting better. Big, deep gulps of night air in our lungs. You and I, I can tell we both need it. Otherwise, I fear things will only get worse.”

“But how can we convince the night to come back? The only time lately I ever witness it for long stretches of time are while I’m asleep, in my dreams.”

At this, the grasshopper’s antennae perked up. “In your dreams, you say?”

“I never remember much,” I said, digging around in my mental drawers, trying to find any useful details. “It’s always night. Clear and tranquil. That much I know. I think I’m moving through a forest, like I’m trying to get somewhere. Or maybe find someone. But I never get far before I wake up. I feel like I’m wandering in circles. The rest is too hazy, too foggy, to recall.”

“I don’t think this is any coincidence,” said the grasshopper, scratching his chin with a long appendage. “The dreamworld and the night world are similar, both strange and full of magic. Sometimes they overlap, making it difficult to tell which one you’re really in. I believe the key to fixing the balance lies somewhere in your dreams.”

 

The town grew ever restless, literally, as the night continued to hide its face except for its brief appearances once every few days and at worst, once a week.

            “I can’t seem to sleep normally,” an older woman had told me at work. “Sleep only comes in fragments, just the same as the night.”

            “How come this only happens in our town?” said a classmate. “Nothing amazing ever happens here. Nothing, except for this. Our town is the worst.”

            “Business is bad,” my boss had said at work. “My employees are exhausted, sales are down, and I don’t know what to do. Somebody needs to do something. But how do you make the night come back like it’s supposed to? It’s like it’s been stolen away.”

            The world itself seemed to be losing steam as well. The sky had begun draining of its color, its normal vibrant blue seeping away into a colorless hue. The bark of trees was turning the color of dirty snow, its leaves doing the same and growing too weak to hold onto the branches. It was like approaching the end of autumn, but sapped of any beauty.

            Someone did need to do something. Luckily, the grasshopper and I had been working on a plan.

 

“Here’s what you’ll do,” the grasshopper had said. “Every time you have a dream that takes place at night, I want you to treat it like it’s real. Remember that the dreamworld and the night world can overlap, the same way the sun is sometimes out during the rain. So each time you have that same dream where you’re trying to navigate that strange forest, I want you to immediately write down what you remember from the dream the second you wake up. Where you went, what you did, what directions you took.”

            “We’re making a map?”

            “Precisely.”

 

            After several weeks of writing and plotting, we had a functioning map. The forest in my dream was always the same one, and we wanted to find out what was in the heart of it. Hopefully something to bring the night back in its proper form. By jotting down what I remembered after each dream, we had begun honing in on the center of the forest.

            “Left, then right, over the small brook…”

            “Past the owl perched on the sad-looking tree—”

            “—but not too far past, or you’ll wind up back at the beginning.”

            “Right. The rules of the dreamworld are strange like that. By the way, why don’t you refill my leaf with more of that tea? I’m no help without it, you know.”

            Looking over my tattered notebook full of scribbles, directions, a map and key with symbols, I could tell we were close. I knew where to turn, which places to avoid, what to look for. Each dream I got a bit further in, scribbled down more notes, and got closer to something. What it was, I couldn’t be sure yet but I knew it was within reach. Hopefully it was the key to restoring some much-needed balance.

            In the meantime, the town was getting worse. The vibrancy of our little world was all but gone. Without the night to keep things in balance, the world was growing weary. What once resembled a colorful painting now looked like a crudely sketched image done with a dull pencil.

            “I really hope I figure out what’s at the center of the forest in my dreams soon,” I had told the grasshopper one “night”, which was much closer to dusk. “I know I’m close. I bet the next time this dream occurs I’ll make it there. And I hope you’re right about it being the key to fixing things.”

            The grasshopper didn’t seem worried at all. He languidly nibbled a small piece of melon I set on the porch and took his time responding. “I wouldn’t worry about it if I were you,” he finally said. “It either is or it isn’t. One or the other. Nothing you can do about the outcome, right? All you can do is try and find a solution. Look high and low, overturn every rock, see what turns up. After that, it’s out of your hands, isn’t it?”

 

Sure enough, the same dream returned several days later.

            The night is beautiful in my dream. The moon is full and beaming and stars blanket the sky. A couple tuffs of clouds billow by lazily, enjoying the deep blue sky like they’re floating on a peaceful lake. The forest is thick, but patchy enough that the moonlight shines through the trees and branches and leaves and brings enough visibility to get around. It isn’t so much dark as it dipped in a mellow, deep blue.

            I always begin in the same spot, a tiny meadow with a chopped down tree stump in the center that looks like a lonely chair in an empty room. From there, through trial and error, I could make my way in closer to the heart of the forest. There are vague, subtle paths in this forest if you know where to look. I’ve been here enough and studied its clues enough to get a sense of direction. Sometimes it’s in the way the grass clears at certain points, forming a path. Or the trees line both sides of small clearing like they’re creating a hallway. Lucky for me, this knowledge always stuck with me even from the real world into the dreamworld. It seemed the grasshopper was right—the dreamworld and the nightworld do overlap.

 As I crept further in, I had passed a small brook and was approaching the deepest point I had reached thus far. There was a large tree—the largest I’d seen in this forest thus far. It stood like a wooden giant guarding some sort of treasure. I had gotten tripped up here a number of times, taken a wrong turn, and found myself back at the start. The last time I made it here I had woken up before getting the chance to test my hypothesis on what the clue was, telling me where to go next. I stared at this wooden giant, sizing it up and down. A long, craggly branch stuck straight out in the front of the large tree as if it were an accusatory finger pointing back at me. But on second thought...

“I think I’ve finally figured you out,” I thought, and then turned directly around. My hypothesis was correct—it wasn’t pointing at me, it was just pointing back the way I came. And sure enough, when I turned around I didn’t see the small brook I had recently passed. I had cracked the code—I was somewhere else.

The forest had switched over, very abruptly, and taken me into a new section of its woods I hadn’t seen yet. I was in a circular clearing with such thick trees hanging overhead that the moonlight struggled to find its way through. In this circular clearing were four different paths—four perfectly clear, visible clearings I could take between the thickest set of trees in the forest.

I looked around. This had to be the final bit before I reached the heart of the woods. Just one problem—which of these paths was the right one? There was only a one-in-four chance I’d choose correctly.

I soaked in my surroundings, trying to grasp any subtle hints the woods were leaving for me. Then, without hesitation, I chose.

 

I was walking through what seemed like a tunnel of trees, their trunks forming walls on my side and their branches blotting out the moonlight above. This had to be it—the last stretch before I had reached the heart of the forest. Just a bit further and I’d be there. But would I find a key to restoring balance to the town? Or was this still nothing but a dream, and nothing would be waiting for me once I got there?

            After some time, the “tunnel” ended. The trees cleared, forming what felt like a large room in the middle of the woods. The sky came into full view, deep and blue and starry, as if a giant lid had been removed overhead. The full moon shone down, coating the world in a watercolor blue. In the middle was a lake, serene and still as glass, with a tree stump at the edge of the water. The stump looked like a chair positioned in front of a large desk. I sat down and waited: I had arrived at the heart of the woods. Now what?

            Suddenly there was a stirring in the water, a tiny splash that began zipping back and forth. The stirring grew, picked up speed, then abruptly stopped. All was quiet and still. I waited. Then, a fish the size of a van surfaced before me, splashing water onto the dry land and sending waves pulsating from around itself as if a meteor had just crashed into the lake.

            The fish’s seafoam scales looked like armor, the whiskers hanging off the sides of its face making it appear kingly and wise. A long stem drooped from the top of its head down in front of its face with a glowing lure at the end in the shape of a crescent moon. The crescent moon lure dangled like a fancy ornament. The fish spoke:

            “You must be awfully clever to have made is this far,” he said. His voice was deep, firm, but not harsh. He sounded genuinely surprised, if not impressed, at me being here. The fish swam back and forth several meters, eyeing me up with skepticism, then continued. “You picked up on the clues in this forest and solved its riddles even though it took you a number of tries getting lost. That is no easy feat. Tell me, how did you solve the final riddle? There were four different paths you could have taken and you chose correctly. What was the key?”

            Sitting in front of this giant fish, seated on the tree stump at the edge of the water, I felt like I was being interviewed by an intimidating boss for an important job. “The key was the wind,” I finally said. “I chose the path where the leaves were pointing in the wind.”

            The fish let out a single deep, kingly chortle. “Clever, clever. You are the first person to arrive here, you know. After I had stolen the night away from over you and your town, I had dropped this specific dream you are currently having into the heads of many. Like scattering seeds over a field to see which ones would grow, I waited patiently to see if anyone would figure it out. Follow the breadcrumbs, so to speak. I must admit my faith was running low.”

            “So this is nothing but a dream?” I asked.

            “Of course it’s a dream,” said the fish. “But it seems awful real, wouldn’t you say? In any case, I’m sure you didn’t come all this way to ask me if this was a dream. What drove you to come here?”

            “The night. Without it, our town is withering away. The balance is off. You said you stole it away—could you return it?”

            The fish jumped up and fell backwards as if it were plopping into bed after a long day, resulting in another explosion of water and waves. It resurfaced after a moment, and stared up at the night sky.

            “The night. Of course I could return it, if I wished. I’m sure your town is withering and upset, but thus far nobody had wanted to do anything about it. Can you really say you miss a thing if you never go looking for it once it’s lost? You didn’t deserve the night and the balance it brought. Or perhaps you never wanted it much in the first place. In my kindness, I even spared bits and pieces of it here and there over your town. This, too, made no difference. Even after I scattered this dream over your town, none given it a second thought. Look about you: the night is strange and wonderful, is it not? I could keep it all here for myself, where it would go to better use. If I returned the gift of night back to you, could you honestly tell me that it wouldn’t go to waste?”

            I tried to think of a response, anything to counter his argument. I had ventured though these strange woods, solved its puzzles, and made it all the way here. But now I had no way to answer this final question. Insects chirped behind me like gossipy witnesses to a court trial, awaiting the judge’s decision.

            “I don’t know,” I said, finally. “All I know is that I had to make it this far, and I had to try to convince you to return that which you took. We need it. Without it, there’s no balance. But maybe you’re right. We squandered away a gift and took it for granted. If nothing can be done, then I will leave now.”

            The fish stroked one of its whiskers and let out a deep, grumbling sigh. It blew the stem and crescent moon lure that hung from its head up into the air as if it were a strand of hair it was trying to get out of its eyes. “You are right. It was a gift, and you all had ignored what it meant,” the fish said. “Still, you made it all the way here. You kept trying, even though you got lost many times, never giving up. You proved me wrong when I thought nobody would bother with doing so. Perhaps I was too swift in my judgement, my fins too grubby in their taking. I did steal away the night, but I think it is time I returned it.”

            “I am glad you came here,” the fish added before diving back underwater, creating another explosion of splashes and waves, and then dream was over.

 

Slowly, the night returned in full over our little town. Like a flower in bloom, the color and vibrancy returned and the withering came to a halt. The day and night were balanced again.

            “So he really did return it,” the grasshopper said one night after I explained to him all that had happened. “Truthfully, I wasn’t sure if he would.”

            “You sound like you know of him personally,” I said.

            “Do I? Well, if you live as long as I have you run into all sorts of characters along the way. It’s possible we’ve crossed paths, but my memory is a bit foggy these days. Who knows?” Then, he added under his breath, so soft I doubt he knew I heard him, “Perhaps he and I ought to catch up over tea soon to make sure the night is never stolen again.”

 

After that night I never saw the grasshopper again, nor did I ever again dream of strange forests and giant fish. The night has, to this day, not been stolen from our little town since then.

 

01. WRITER

Tylor Sherman


02. THEME

Balance


03. MUSIC INSPIRATION

Blue Scholars:
Evening Chai


04. WRITING

"If you're listening to this, then you're already dead." Joanna tweaks the transformer spool and leans in closer to the lead contact. This is her ninth time talking to the dark empty room and it may be the last time before the packs arrive. She tries again. 

"You're in this room somewhere. I know it." Despite the extraordinary circumstances, this sounds just as stupid on the ninth try as it did the first. "I'm sorry to bother you," she says. "But I need your help."

After what feels like fifteen minutes she unlocks her phone. Three minutes have passed. She fumbles through a stack of paranormal books written by television actors, straining to read in the phone screen light. The static box hums with jumbled radio signals, but there are no voices rolling over the white noise. Those TV shows are bullshit.

"Alright, Mom, where the hell are you?" Joanna's voice shakes with desperation. "You're just as unreliable now as you were when you were here." 

The packs have been seizing north-end neighborhoods for days now, and there's not much resistance up there. Most of those wealthy homes fled before fighting began. Joanna's dorm is in the Blocks, where students can still afford housing. Down there, most of the students stayed. To protest. To move supplies and food around. To fight. 

Joanna's childhood home is between the two worlds, a blurry line between periphery and core. It's far enough to avoid her parents day to day, yet just a two-stop bus ride away. Still, it's been a year since she's been back, and if it wasn't for the insurgency, she probably would've stayed away forever. And she plans to once she gets into that safe. 

Chapter 7 in "Ghost Calls” recommends trigger objects that your dead family members enjoyed or used in everyday life. You want to coax them out, it says. You want to make them comfortable. On the table, she has a jumbled collection of pieces from a sewing kit, no needles. She's seen too many horror movies where the white people invite their own death. Beside the spools of thread she has a nail file buffer block and her mom's favorite cigarettes. There's a mini-golf pencil and a single sheet of lined paper. She worries there's not enough static electricity in the room. She worries she didn't really know her mom that well.

"I'm running out of time Mom," Joanna says impatiently. "You're in here somewhere. You'd never leave this house. This is your chance, let me fucking have it." Chapter 4 discourages provocation. Joanna doesn't care. Two decades of silent treatments and cheap shots was enough. She was happy to let them go, right along with the broken nose and police report. But even in death her mother controls her life, locking Joanna's passport in the safe as ransom just days before the accident.

Now, Joanna has one chance to flee before the insurgents shut down all the airports in the midwest. She's not staying to fight. Who would she fight for? Her roommate said fight for the city, but she hated this city. An education was supposed to help her get out. Now she's relying on junk science and a dead relative to get her back the one affluent possession she owned. She takes a last swig of whiskey, her thumb blistered and warm from rubbing the flask's smooth metal like a worry stone. 

Either fireworks or bullets rattle outside. She pushes away her makeshift microphone and throws the static box against the wall. She closes her eyes and starts to cry but no tears come out. She tries one final death roll before abandoning her dumb idea. 

"Mom. Listen to me. I need you. I am sorry I wasn't who you wanted me to be. Maybe we could've fixed it with time. But we didn’t, okay? I was hurt. I still listen to your voicemails, the mundane ones where you check in or ask me about something you could've just googled. You felt responsible, but this is how you can even it out. Help me, please."

It startles her at first. The sound. The lights. Electronic tones mapped to keypad numbers, lit up in a synchronized dance. 4-5-9-8. Of course.

She hears a click.

The tears finally fill her eyes. 

 

01. WRITER

Robb Anthony


02. THEME

Balance


03. MUSIC INSPIRATION

Cake:
The Distance


04. WRITING

I approached the beam and locked eyes with the first guardian. We met in the middle and locked arms. Shoving back and forth I finally bested him when he lost his footing and fell to his death. The second and final guardian stood at the ready, I planted my feet and pushed off. Accelerating at full speed I threw myself at him, taking him with me off of the edge. I was the new king of chicken.

 

01. WRITER

John Duffy


02. THEME

Balance


03. MUSIC INSPIRATION

Alex Cameron:
Politics of Love


04. WRITING

White Knight

A play in one act

 

Before long children will see
what their parents have hidden in them.

History won’t wait a hundred years to settle accounts,
and the poor will descend on your cities
to satisfy their hungers.

Then I want to see you, amigos of progress.

                                                                                          —Arqueles Morales
                                                                                                                                                                    

CHARACTERS

Michael Marvash - 35
Bill Marvash - Michael’s father, business owner, 65

SCENE— A nondescript restaurant. Downstage center is a table with two chairs. Michael and Bill are enjoying beers.

______

MICHAEL-So any family news?

BILL-Oh, shit. Well, not family news but personal news, I guess. You know that girl I wanted to adopt?

MICHAEL-Yeah, the one whose mom was having trouble?

BILL-Yeah, we were giving the mom propane cause she didn’t have any heat and her trailer park wasn’t doing shit. So, I kinda fudged some info with the county to get her $4000 and we’ve been supplying her with free heat for a while. Anyway, she come in a while back, responding to an ad we placed in the newspaper for the apartment above the office.

MICHAEL-You guys rent that out? I thought it was just like two small rooms and a bathroom?

BILL-Yeah, it is, but we figured, shit, let’s rent it. So this gal come in and I’m like, hey, you’re Heaven’s mom, right? That’s her daughter’s name, Heaven. And she was like yeah, that’s right. I’m here about the room. So we rented it to her and she was up there for probably six months. Anyway— think you know where this is going.

MICHAEL-Oh, god. Lemme guess. Things didn’t work out.

BILL-Well Child Protective Services was on her ass something terrible, so we hooked her up with all sorts of dishes and stuff from Target. Things seemed cool and CPS cooled down, so we figured everything was OK. But then money started going missing downstairs and we were like, shit, Who’s the thief?  Brandon, my yard guy, found out about these cameras that you can use with your phone, so we set one up and sure enough, she was breaking in downstairs in the middle of the night and fuckin stealing everything out of the cash drawer! Shit, we lost a lot of money.

MICHAEL-So, what happened? You kicked her out? So what?

BILL-We kicked her out, but… [beat]I wanted to do everything I could to get her to stay with her daughter. That kid of hers was the sweetest kid. Debbie and I were gonna adopt her, too. Shit, we were actually gonna adopt her and take her home with us so the mom could get herself together and have a stable place. Deb even said it might strengthen our marriage.  You know, help us to refocus or something.

MICHAEL-OK, but what happened after she got kicked out?

BILL-Well, I’ve kinda been supporting her for a while.

MICHAEL-Like, how long?

BILL-A while...

MICHAEL-OK, so where is she now?

BILL-Well, she was living in some other apartment nearby, and things got to be pretty good. I always wondered about her friends—you know, some of them were pretty rough. But she managed to get a car somehow. Someone else musta helped her, and she managed to get some furniture and some of the shit you need when CPS workers come through to make sure that you’ve got a stable place. So they came through and this gal was ready. Everything looked good and she got to keep Heaven.

MICHAEL-If her friends were kinda shady, how did she manage to get a car and furniture for the apartment?

BILL-I dunno...

MICHAEL-OK, you obviously bought it all for her. Why did you do that?

BILL-I may have had something to do with it. But anyway, this gal was in trouble and she needed some serious help. 

MICHAEL- Oh my god, but you—

BILL-You know those funds you see on TV? Give to this place and they’ll help people? That’s all bullshit. Total fucking scam. I figure, just reach out to people individually and help out, you know? Reach them directly. So I helped this gal, and things were looking pretty good.

MICHAEL-So where is she now?

BILL-Well, my buddy who's a Flint cop called a few weeks ago, middle of the night. Ugh! He said, man, I hate to do this to ya, but this gal’s seven months pregnant and she’s sleeping on bare concrete tonight. We picked her up and she needs some help. The apartment’s in your name, so is there anything you can do? I said shit, called my bail bonds guy, got her outta there. Cost me about $1500 bucks.

MICHAEL-Holy shit, what? You bailed this woman out of jail? You have a bail bonds guy?!

BILL-I know. I know! It looks bad, but she’s seven months pregnant and she’s in fuckin jail. I mean, Christ, what are you gonna do? You’re able to help someone, you help ‘em. So she got out, and she settled back into her place. Few months later she had her kid. His name was AJ.

MICHAEL-Was CPS involved? I mean it seems like they would be.

BILL-Well, she had a tough relationship with them. She said she’d never let them come and take her kid and sure enough, she was dropping dirty and they knocked on her door one night. She was fuckin dropping dirty and she’d been droppin dirty for a while. That means she wasn’t passing her drug tests.

MICHAEL-I gathered that, yeah.

BILL-I mean she had to give regular samples to the state and she was dropping dirty, so they came. And before they could get to the point where they were gonna take the kid, she packed her shit up and went to Alabama.

MICHAEL-Wait, what? she just fuckin uprooted everything and moved to fucking Alabama? Does she have family down there or something?

BILL-Family, friends, yeah, I guess. Someone down there was helping her out. It was tough for her. Her son is, eh, Afro-American, and she was trying to get away from the baby daddy as much as CPS, so Alabama seemed like a good bet. But she was only there for a few weeks. On my way home from Florida last week, she called me out of the blue, wanted to know if I wanted to take the long way back to Flint, drive through Alabama and meet up.

MICHAEL-Jesus, I bet you actually did that, too.

BILL-No way, couldn’t take things that far. Anyway, by the time I was loading the truck up to drive back home, she called me again and said she was back in Michigan. Real erratic sounding, too, like something was wrong. I told her we’d meet up when I got back and we set up a time to sort things out. She said she was worried about CPS and that she’d kill anyone who ever took her kids from her. Anyone who even tried to take her kids away, she’d kill em. She said it just like that. That’s when I said, whoa, I don’t know about this program. I gotta get off a this porch, if you know what I mean. So I said we’d meet up in Michigan, but I wasn’t really cool with this new thing about killing people, you know? Something was up.

MICHAEL- So is she back in the apartment now?

BILL- I got a call… [long pause] from a state cop. Monday night. He said the landlord of the apartments called him, said someone had kicked the door in. It was the baby daddy. He’d come by, and… [struggling]

MICHAEL-And what?

BILL-She’s dead.

MICHAEL-Jesus, what!? You just learned about all of this three nights ago?

BILL-[crying now] She’s dead. Guy killed her. Apparently the neighbors heard everything going down. He went in there, evening time, and around 3am someone finally called the cops. Neighbors said they thought it was some kinda fuck fest thing going on, but this guy raped the shit out of her and killed her before taking off. Cops said there was heroin all over the place, stains on the walls, everything.

MICHAEL-Oh my god, I’m so sorry. Do you think—

BILL-So, I called Brandon, got him and his helper buddy Zach to go over there and replace the door. They had to replace some louver doors inside, too. Landlord was real cool about it, didn’t say anything and let us get out of the lease. We still had seven months left on it too, but they were like, just pay us for the rest of the month and get the fuck out of here. I just threw down bills, glad they were willing to work with us. Brandon’s carpentry work was great, but he told his gal friend who just so happens to be Debbie’s sister. Shit! I was like, to Zach when we were at work, I was like Zach, I gotta bone to pick with your boss. How the hell did he tell Debbie’s sister about the apartment? Zach was like, Shit man, Brandon said: Hey, Bill’s got me over at that murdered woman’s apartment changing out doors’ and then she was like, ‘What?’ And then he told her. So that’s how it went. Debbie knew, so it wasn’t like—I mean she knew about this gal, she just didn’t know about the apartment and everything else.

MICHAEL-She knew that you were supporting this person but she didn’t know the extent to which you were supporting her?

BILL-The extent, yeah. She didn’t know, but she’s a very understanding person and she was cool with it. She just said, damn Billy, I just hope that kid of hers doesn’t look like you! Ha! Can you believe it? After all that.

MICHAEL- Eek. So this whole thing just played out over the last few days? Where are her children? Where’s the boyfriend?

BILL-They’re with foster care. The guy’s on the run. [beat] I went over there, to the apartment, when Brandon and Zach were finishing up, and I looked around, looked at how they were living. It was awful. Shit everywhere. They even had bills that they’d rolled up, like, for narcotics and shit. [imitates what he believes is doing narcotics] I took one that was rolled up with a rubber band and I put it in my desk drawer at home—

MICHAEL-Why the hell would you do that!? You touched it? The coke bill? Isn’t that, like, something the police have to catalogue or something?

BILL-I kept it as a reminder. I gotta stop helping people. I gotta stop this shit. I gotta get balanced out. Kill this white knight shit. Kill the horse. Sell the armor. I’m not helping anyone anymore. I can’t do this. Only family.

MICHAEL-Well, I think—

BILL-Only family, everyone else, fuck ‘em. You’re on your own.

MICHAEL-Look, you remember that time that that rock band from California came through town? They were in that RV and they came by because they had a propane leak and another three weeks on the road. Their fridge, cooktop, none of that worked. You remember? You worked underneath that RV for two hours to fix a ruptured hose, you refilled their tank, and you only charged them cost on the propane. It was like six bucks. For better or worse, this is what you do. You help people in trouble.  To give that up because of this whole thing would be a mistake. Plus, no one in your family needs the kind of help you’re talking about. We should be thankful for that, if anything.

BILL-[Lost in thought] A gal came in the other day looking for a storage unit. I was like, OK. She got one. I gave her a deal. Then she said her chimney was collapsing, needed a guy. So I called Brandon, and he went out to her place and said it’d be like five grand. So she came back in and said she needed help moving her furniture. I was like, sorry, honey, I don’t know anyone. Maybe you can call your friends. I mean shit, can you believe it? I can’t help ‘em, man. I can’t help ‘em. None of ‘em.  Next day I told Brandon about her wanting help, and you know what? He congratulated me for saying no. Said if she wanted stuff, she could get a job like the rest of us. Make an honest living, that kind of thing.

MICHAEL-How did that make you feel?

BILL-Good. It was good. I paid him a little extra for his trouble, which he seemed to appreciate. He’s almost done paying off that piece of shit truck I sold him, too. You know I made a grand on that deal? Spiffed it up, sold him the note and he’s making payments. Said I shoulda charged him more! Seriously? Can you believe it? I’m not too concerned, anyway. I’ll get it out of him. I’ll get it out of him.

[Fade out. Curtain falls.]
 

 

01. WRITER

Benjamin Champagne


02. THEME

Balance


03. MUSIC INSPIRATION

Prefuse 73:
Pagina Dos


04. WRITING

Balance Exposition

Absence Gallons Talons Happens Chaplains Actions Adams Dragons  Wagons Captains Athens Albums Captions Rations Passions Atoms Cannons Saxons Barons Cabins Fashions Mansions Sanctions Fractions Spasms Canyons fathoms stallions phantoms tantrums canons saddens falcons palance vallance counterbalance assassins companions contractions distractions transactions attractions imagines battalions italians examines infractions contraption abandons medallions extractions silence semblance parlance agence larrance orgasms

There it is.
(That’s how we start and end a stream of consciousness)

Do you feel out of sorts?
Is the feeling that maybe, things aren’t right?
Spinning plates.

Looking for a good time call,
Maslow.
Call yr preacher.
Call the alien.
Call inside yourself and answer yourself.
Run your hand along a felt wall.
Run your hand along a thigh.
Answer yourself.
Absence.

I saw the scales of justice without her blindfold
2018 and i’m on the internet.
I have over 25 tabs open and I’m learning so much.
I look into all of their eyes.
Weighing is no longer the concern.
I run my hand along the mouse.
Answer yourself.
I type it in.
Answer yourself.
22,000 results.
The first three are paid for.
Click
Answer yourself.
Time well spent. Everything has been imagined.
Thought of beforehand.
One million pixels. One million queries.
3.2 a second.
Answer yourself, chattering away in your head.
Always looking for a good time,
Answering yourself.
On this side there are infinite options
On the other side is simply a mirror
            That you can reach your hand into
            And answer yourself

 
Balance

01. COVER ARTIST

David Beuthin


02. THEME

Balance


03. MUSIC INSPIRATION

Protomartyr: 
Maidenhead