YARN http://yareview.net The YA Review Network Fri, 23 Mar 2018 19:27:16 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.4 The Day Garrett Rogers Made Me Cry http://yareview.net/2018/03/the-day-garrett-rogers-made-me-cry/ http://yareview.net/2018/03/the-day-garrett-rogers-made-me-cry/#comments Tue, 20 Mar 2018 12:00:55 +0000 http://yareview.net/?p=8993 We’re so pleased to present our first fiction story of the 2018 season, a happy-sad tale about getting through tough times. 

By Matthew Kok

Every two months, Garrett performs at assembly. He times it out, so people will keep thinking he’s so good and so talented, but doesn’t overdo it by performing too often. If he sang at every assembly every week, then people would think he’s showing off. He is showing off, that’s just how he masks it.

I hate it when we’re all crammed into the cafe and he steps up there with a guitar. He says hi to the entire school with that little Southern twinge that he says he got from “growing up in Georgia for the first few years of his life.” I know he’s putting it on because it always gets a little stronger when he’s on stage. The whole crowd has this electricity, a bunch of the girls always whisper to each other. Not only grade 11s, either, almost the entire High School. Then he sings, and I hate it even more because he’s good. He’s damn good, and he doesn’t do the country-pop bullshit that I expected him to when he first walked up there with his H&M checkered shirt tucked into his pre-ripped jeans. He sings folk songs real slow, and sometimes he makes people cry. One time, he sang this song by a guy I couldn’t even really pronounce the name of until I googled it, Townes Van Zandt. The lyrics weren’t all lovey-dovey or anything, really it was kind of about keeping going through life. I liked the song as a whole, but at the beginning, he grinned to himself and sang the first few lines. The song had him singing to his “babe,” which, first of all, weird. Like, switch the word to “infant” in your head. Then, he wouldn’t say he loves her or needs her, but he’s gonna “get” her? And in the last line, he says he won’t do her wrong, which, apparently, makes up for all that. Jen, right next to me, and some other girls in our grade went “Woo!” like he had proposed to all of them at once. All I could think was, that bastard.

Guitar © Lucas Boesche https://unsplash.com/photos/VkuuTRkcRqw

After assembly walking to our lockers, I tried explaining it all to Jen. “I mean, why would you even want that to be sung to you? He won’t tell you he loves you or needs you, but he’s gonna ‘get’ you? That’s so messed up!”

She gave me a look that said I was being an idiot. “You want to be got?” I asked. “Nobody wants to be got.”

“By him?” she said, and smiled. “Sure I do.”

“But why? It’s like you’re his, and now you have to like, do what he says or some shit.”

She stopped at her locker and turned to look at me while she scrolled through her combination one-handed. “Obviously it’s not literal, Andy. It’s just a term. If he tells me he wants to get me, and I want him to get me, then it’s not creepy. If he was, like, a guy following me down the street—”

“Give it 5 years.”

“—then it’d be terrifying,” she said through a grin. Probably grinning because she could imagine it too. “But it’s Garrett.” She said his name like he was a guy in a movie, walking out of the ocean with teeth shining and abs rippling, instead of a guy who wears too much flannel and buys designer belt buckles.

“Okay, well I know he’s not saying he’s literally gonna capture you, but he’s still telling you, right? Like you have no choice in the matter.”

She shrugged. “True, but also you’re freaking out over lyrics he didn’t even write.”

I folded my arms. “As if he’s talented enough anyway.”

“I thought you hated the lyrics.”

“Shut up.”

She pulled out a binder and her science textbook and closed her locker. “He’s confident,” she said, “or at least he sings like he’s confident. If he wants to “get” me, I still choose what that means. You’re just freaking out ‘cus you’re jealous.”

The bell rang, and I realized I didn’t have my books or anything yet. I was going to be late, and Jen knew it too, but she just grinned at me and walked away.



My dad works from home. He’s the hardest working person I know. He’s been like that for a few years now, ever since it became just us. Our apartment isn’t huge or anything, but since he lost his job, he’s been supporting us doing odd jobs and picking up any kind of work he can find.

He started doing yard work for our apartment building at a slightly cheaper rate than the company they used to hire, but he does it all himself. The owner of the building rents out a weed-whacker and a lawnmower for him to use. After a few weeks, he busted the weed-whacker on a part of the fence, so he took it into our living room and he’s been fiddling with it ever since. It takes up about half of our kitchen table, where we eat sometimes, but it’s not a big deal since the table’s mostly for storing random stuff anyway.

He also does occasional construction work. When one of his friends, Barry, doesn’t have enough men, he’ll call up my dad. There are a couple hard hats strewn across the apartment, some reflective vests. He has gloves and blue jeans crusted with little bits of cement on the floor of his room. His room is the messiest part of our place. His jeans always seem so stiff, too, lying on the floor, never in that comfortable mushed-up position. It’s like his jeans get filled with concrete, and there’s no bend to them.

Along with all that, he started proofreading essays for some students at the college down the road. He’s good at math, too, so he helps some people with tax forms in our building, mostly older people that have trouble reading the forms, or again, college students or recent grads who don’t know what they’re doing. The thing is, he has to advertise both these jobs all the time, so he prints out flyers, one for essays, one for taxes, and cuts the bottoms into the little tear-away bits with his number. He got a deal on bulk printing, and he needs to keep putting new ones up around our area if he’s gonna get new customers, so he prints out like 200 at a time of each. There are massive stacks of paper around our living room at all times, one for each type of flyer, and a few smaller stacks according to the way he organizes the essays and the tax forms.

He’s always most tired on the days when he’s been busting up pavement and putting it back, and has to come home to read college essays. “These kids are useless,” he says, leaning his head on his open palm, elbow on the table, covering paper in red ink with the other hand. I never want to be that useless.

I am sometimes, though. The anniversary was coming up, and when that happens, Dad sinks into his office chair even more than usual. Jen knows the date too, though, and comes around a lot, so today we were chilling, watching The Wire on the couch. Dad was in his office. All of a sudden, on the TV, there was a scene in a strip club. There were all these women walking around, like fully nude.

One of the strippers walked up to one of the detectives and offered him a lap dance in a really hoarse voice. I pointed and said, “That one’s you.”

Jen squeaked, then laughed. “You shit,” she said. “She looks like she smokes three packs a day.”

I listened to the low bass from the show’s club music, as we were silent for a minute. “Is your dad still quitting?” she asked.

“Not really, but he’s cut down a lot.”

She glanced to the ashtray on our little balcony, overflowing with butts. I kept looking at the butts on the screen.

“Is he…” she trailed off. I looked at her, and I could tell she had something she wanted to say, but wasn’t saying it. I wasn’t sure if I wanted her to. She looked at the screen and said, “That one’s you.”

A skeevy thin guy who obviously made the women uncomfortable scratched at his own arm as the detectives went over to talk to him. He spoke in a thin, nasal voice, like it was barely getting out. I laughed, and reached across the couch to shove Jen. She shoved me harder, so I fell into the armrest. I stood up and tried to look intimidating, but she just got up laughing and shoved me again. I stumbled backwards a bit, bumped against the coffee table, lost my balance, and fell against the wall, so one of the tax stacks exploded. My stomach dropped.

My dad came out of his office, greying beard and all. “What are you guys?– Oh, godDAMN IT.”

I froze. Jen froze. The world stopped.

I could see my dad gritting his teeth, calculating in his head how many hours of work it was gonna be to fix my mistake.

“Oh my God, Dad, I’m so sorry, it was an accident—”

“We didn’t mean to, Mr. B, I pushed him—”

“I can figure out how to put them back together just tell me how and I can do it,” I said, bending down and scooping papers up. I was trying to restart the world again and racking my brain to remember what I knew about taxes from TV and things I’d heard my dad mention, but he didn’t yell again. He put his hand to his forehead like he was checking if he was sick, and he said in a quiet voice, “No, it’s fine. It’s fine. It’s not that big of a deal.”

“I can help you put it back together,” I said.

“No, it’s fine. They don’t have to go back to Ms. Coretta until next month, so I can spread it out. It’s fine. I can spread out the work a little bit.”

It was quiet as my dad went over to the fridge for a drink. “Wanna take a walk?” Jen offered. I nodded.



“Lockers Galore” © Tyler Nienhouse https://www.flickr.com/photos/flakepardigm/3870181537/

It had been almost two months since Garrett’s last performance. Assemblies are always on Friday, and it was Tuesday. During lunch, we get to walk around and eat wherever we want, so I was looking for a friend to hang around with when I saw Garrett talking in hushed tones to Stacey, one of the girls he flirts with all the time. He was sitting next to her, holding a Coke. He always drinks Coke for some reason. She was sitting down, with one hand on his leg. I decided to go over to them. “Hey Garrett, hey Stace,” I said, as I got there.

“Hey,” said Stacey.

“Hey dude,” said Garrett. God, I hated him.

“Are you, uh, gonna sing on Friday?” I asked, realizing I had no purpose for talking to him other than to interrupt his perfect little world for once.

“Yeah, actually, ah’d been plannin’ on it,” he said, with that stupid, probably fake Southern accent, “How’dja know?”

“Oh, I was, um… I was only wondering. I know everyone loves it,” I said instead of, because I can read you like a book, you piece of shit, and you always time out your attention-grabs the same way.

Stacey smiled and touched his arm lightly, “I didn’t know you were gonna sing on Friday! That’s so fun, I love it when you sing.”

“Ah, well, thanks to both of ya,” he said, with that stupid, humble grin. Jen came over to join us, punching me on the arm.

“Hey Stace, hey Garrett,” she said, probably trying to keep the longing out of her voice.

They both nodded at her, and Stacey looked at him. “What are you gonna sing?”

“I was thinkin’ I’d sing this song, “Slow Parade,” by A.A. Bondy. One of ma favorites.”

“It sounds nice,” said Jen, “I love it when people show talents at assembly, like when you sing or Vic plays the piano. It’s honestly the only interesting part.”

“Ah, it’s not that big a deal,” said Garrett. More stupid, fake humility.

“Maybe not for you,” said Jen, “but it’s not as easy for everyone. I think it’s brave, too, to put yourself out there like that.”

“I—” I blurted out. They all looked at me. Shit. How could anything I say compare to Garrett’s angelic, self-absorbed voice? “I was actually—I was thinking about doing something,” I said. Shit.

“What?” said Jen. Shit, shit, shit.

“Oh, you play?” asked Stacey, Garrett glancing at her then me.

“No, no,” I laughed, “I, um—” shit, shit, shit, “I wanted to try… stand-up.”

Jen’s eyes widened. “Aw, nice!” said Garrett, clapping me on the back way harder than he needed to. “You’re a funny dude, I’m sure it’ll go great. Didja already tell Rob?” Rob was the English teacher, in charge of planning the assemblies.

“Oh, no. I was, uh, looking for him, but I couldn’t find him so I’ll just bring it up tomorrow. It’s fine, y’know. No rush, right?” Perfect, that way I could “forget” tomorrow.

“Oh, no worries man, he always hangs around the tech booth with the boys,” said Garrett, “I can go ask him to give you a slot.”

I gaped at him. The bastard was calling my bluff. He knew I was talking out my ass. There’s no way he would offer to do that for me. He wanted me to crash and burn.

“Yea!” I said, feigning excitement too loudly. Loud enough that Stacey kind of recoiled. I caught myself. “That’d be—great,” I said, as Jen’s eyes continued burning holes in the side of my head.

“Awesome,” said Garrett, “I’ll go let him know now. C’mon, Stace.” He gestured to her and they both got up and headed over to the caf. They waved at us as they went.

Jen folded her arms. “What the hell? You don’t do stand-up.”

I didn’t know what to say. I looked at her. I started walking toward the doors of the school, and she walked alongside me. “Now you’re just not talking?” she said. “Why did you lie? Are you that jealous of him? Are you trying to be Garrett right now?”

“No,” I said, pushing the doors out and stepping into the sun, “I’m not trying to be fucking Garrett.”

“So why did you lie?”

I kept walking. I always talk at the wrong times—shoot my mouth off talking to Garrett, bother Dad when he has to concentrate.

“Andy,” she said, and grabbed my arm. We stopped. “Why did you lie? You can’t just ignore me.”

“I—” Everything was happening at once, I couldn’t back down now, I felt myself about to cry or something. I leaned against the wall of the school and pinched my own arm, so that Jen couldn’t see. “I don’t know, okay? I don’t know.”

She stepped over to the other side of me, saw my fingers pressing into my arm, and slapped them away. “What’s wrong with you?” she said, not accusing, just sad and surprised.

I knew what was wrong with me. Six years ago, I was 11. Car crash. A Dodge Ram swerved across the boundary and into my mom. I bawled my eyes out for a week, until the tears stopped coming. Still, even after that, I couldn’t think or speak or do anything but eat and sometimes sleep.

My dad and I spent the days before the funeral quiet, moving from couch to bed to shower to couch to bed. I never once saw him cry. I heard it at night through the wall. He spoke at the funeral, but even then, it was just what everyone expected of him. He didn’t actually say anything about her. I don’t think he was able to. I wouldn’t have been.


“I’m gonna… I’m gonna do it, okay?” I said, in between deep breaths to keep my voice steady.

“Of course that’s okay,” she said, as if I’d never had to worry. Maybe I hadn’t. “Are you okay? You’ve been acting weird. I know the anniversary is coming up—”

She let the words hang there for a second. I could tell she wanted me to say something. I looked away.

“—and, if you need anything, tell me, okay?”

I swallowed and nodded. “Okay,” I said, and then the way she looked at me I knew it would hurt her if that was all I could say. “I can’t… talk about it right now. But I think, like, some day I will? Is that okay?”

Jen nodded, pursing her lips a little. Then, she hugged me for a long time, and it stopped me shaking. I don’t know how she knew to do that.



When I got home, Dad was in the kitchen, sandwich in one hand, looking over some tax forms with a calculator in easy reach. “Hey Dad,” I said, dropping my bag by the door and stepping out of my shoes.

“Hey buddy,” he said, turning to grin at me, then looking down at his work again. “How was school?”

“Pretty good.”

“Oh, like yesterday, huh?”

“Yup,” I said, walking behind him to take the other sandwich he’d made.

“I think Friday last week was pretty good too, actually, funny how that works.” He grinned to himself.

“Mystery I guess,” I said, taking a bite, and with my mouth full decided to take advantage of his good mood. “Hey, do you have any favorite comedians?”

He stopped and looked up, like he’d written the answer on the ceiling earlier. “Mmm, have you ever heard of Stephen Wright?”


“Oh, he was great. I think he had a cameo on That 70’s Show, but he had the best deadpan out of anyone. He could say something ridiculous with a straight face, and in this low gravelly voice.” He turned and leaned against the counter, talking with his hands a little. “And everyone would think ‘what?’ and then they’d get it, and crack up. His stand-up was great. Why do you ask?”

I shrugged. “Just curious. He sounds cool. I’ll check him out.” I turned to bring my sandwich to my room and figure out what the hell I was gonna do about Friday.

“Oh, hey,” Dad said, catching me. “It’s kind of crunch time for me over the next couple nights. Are you good to take care of your own breakfasts and lunches? Might be takeout for dinner.”

“Works for me,” I said, and turned away again. Crunch time.

The next three nights at home were spent like the days after she died, quiet. Dad’s work was piling up. He had that look he gets when he’s stressed, and all times seem like the wrong time. I sat on the couch, trying to write comedy, watching comedy, seeing if I could make myself laugh. “Have you ever noticed,” I mumbled, “how if you give, like, a serial killer or an IRS agent or a great white shark an acoustic guitar, people still like them a little more? Like, he could be actively stabbing your wife, and you’re just thinking, does he know ‘Wonderwall?'” I snorted at that one, and my dad looked up.


“Oh, nothing,” I said. He looked back down at his work.

I wrote the guitar one down, because might as well. The anniversary was coming up on Saturday, and I didn’t really feel like laughing, so if something made me chuckle even a little, I wrote it down.



Friday, I found Jen before assembly. She was sitting outside the art studio, reading.

“Hey,” I said, approaching her.

“Hey! You all ready?” She cocked an eyebrow.

“Probably?” I said.

She nodded. “Alright then—” folding up her book and leaning back—”let’s hear one. Gimme your opener.”

“You’re gonna hear it in a little while anyway,” I said.

“Well, I wanna hear it now first.”

“C’mon, I don’t—”

“Private show!” She clapped her hands together like she was summoning a servant. “Indulge me.”

I stayed silent. She started reading my face, and then looked a little annoyed. “Oh, no no no, you are not backing out on this!”

“Jen, c’mon, I don’t do stand-up, it was stupid to—”


“I’m gonna embarrass myself, you d—”


“Jen, I don’t want to do it.”

“Yea, but you said you would.” She sat there with her arms crossed, as if she was the one I had made the commitment to. The bell rang, which meant we were all supposed to file into the cafeteria for assembly. I was scared, and she could tell. “Do you not have any material ready?”

“No, I have some.”

She stood up, book in hand, and started walking. I followed mindlessly. “Did you laugh writing it?”

“I guess.”

“Then it’s funny!” She glanced at me as we walked. “Don’t back out. If you go up there and bomb, tell everyone you were just trying something new. But don’t back out. Tell fart jokes, who gives a shit.”

I laughed at that idea, and even considered it for a moment, but then we were quiet as we got into the folding chairs they put out for us each week. I sat on the edge of our row, so I could make a break for it if I needed to. A few teachers got up and talked at us, and eventually Rob called Garrett. He stepped up onto the stage, designer belt buckle, designer flannel shirt, designer pre-ripped jeans. He said hi to the audience, and they all sighed as if he were perfect and real. “It’s been,” he said, kind of catching on his words, “it’s been a kinda rough time for me lately. Um—”

I stared up at him.

“—my—my uncle passed recently, and he had been a father to me in a lot of ways.” The entire room was silent, as Garrett Rogers bared his soul to the audience. “So I wanted to sing this for him. I’ll stop talking now.” He laughed sadly. “Here we go.”

He sang, slow. The lyrics were shadows and rain, not getting girls. Nobody “woo”d this time. It was tragic, and he was such a stupid, good singer. He got through to the first chorus, and his voice wobbled a little. I wanted to cry, but I couldn’t. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to cry because of the song, or because he was upstaging me so damn hard that I would actually have to cancel now. I couldn’t even think about that anymore though, because he was back into the chorus, and you could tell he was fighting to keep his voice steady. He was losing a little. He was underwater. But at the end, he belted it out, and it sounded like his throat was filled with tacks. The last note hovered in the air.
He stepped back as the audience exploded. He waved to everyone as he got offstage. Everyone was clapping, a bunch of people in our grade stood up. They were all so happy he’d performed and sad for him all at once, and I guess so was I, he had performed so well, but still, all I could think was, that bastard.

Rob went up. “Thanks very much for that, Garrett. That was utterly beautiful.”

He called me up. He said my name, he said “Andy.” I looked at Jen like headlights were flying at me and there was nothing I could do. She gave me a sympathetic look, mouthed I’m sorry, and then shoved me, in my chair, out into the aisle.

My chair slid on the linoleum and everyone kind of giggled. I didn’t remember standing up and walking to the stage, but then I was there, microphone in hand, looking at everyone I knew.

Microphone © Bogomil Mihaylov https://unsplash.com/photos/ekHSHvgr27k

They all looked at me. I didn’t say anything. They all kept looking at me.

Jen kept looking at me. I didn’t say anything, and now I had been quiet a little too long for someone holding a microphone. I couldn’t believe they made me follow that bastard. I looked at Rob, and he was kind of shifting awkwardly, like he might stop it if I just stood here for a little longer.

Jen stood up from the crowd, cupped her hands around her mouth and yelled, “Talk, you idiot!”

Everyone laughed. “Alright, alright, Jesus,” I said. “There was this one time. I was a kid, and my parents and I were at a park—” my voice broke a little—”or something. Whatever! You know, parks.” A few people in the crowd snorted.

“So at parks there are always geese, always, and I don’t know if you guys know this,” I said, and then stopped for a second. I realized tears were coming out of me. I could feel them running down my cheeks. But, I was speaking fine, and I couldn’t stop now. “But, geese are terrible. They’re the worst. Besides them shitting everywhere, they’re also mean. Kids don’t generally understand this, and I was a kid, so I just thought geese were grown-up ducks. Like, there are two types of bird in parks: ducks and geese. One of them is bigger, so obviously that one’s the momma, right?”

People were actually laughing. “So I had little pieces of bread or pop tart or whatever food we had appropriated for the waterfowl, and I toddled up to this goose, probably like my size.” I crouched down to kind of give the image, holding my arms up like there was a massive goose in front of me. “And offered it some bread like a nice, normal member of the animal kingdom, and it looked at me, and it hissed. Did you know that geese hiss? Geese hiss. I was offering it peace, and it flared out its wings, and was rearing back to wreck me with its hell-beak, and then out of nowhere.” I smiled remembering, and crouched down further. “My mom sprints over from the bench and straight tackles this goose.” As I said it, I kind of mimed it out, and everyone laughed hard, and I saw Jen laughing too, with surprised eyes, and it occurred to me that I had never told her this story before. “But when you tackle a goose they don’t go, ‘oh, okay, sorry to bother you,’ and descend back down to hell, no, they get extra pissed.”

“So this goose,” I said, as more and more waves of laughter rose and died in the audience. I was more animated than I had been all week. “Is just wailing on my mom, and she’s trying to stand up, and my dad has run over and, you know, try and help his wife and child. He kicks away the goose, scoops me up, and all I remember is being carried as my parents sprinted away from three or four geese.” People were starting to recover, finally, and I had nothing else to say.

I wasn’t sure when my own tears had stopped, or even if they had. Jen was smiling and crying a little and clapping. I knew everyone else was clapping too, but I couldn’t even hear them.


Matthew Kok

Matthew Kok lives and works on the unceded territories of the Coast Salish Peoples, including the territories of the xʷməθkwəy̓əm (Musqueam), Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish), Stó:lō and Səl̓ílwətaʔ/Selilwitulh (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations, or Vancouver, BC. He is a prose editorial assistant at PRISM international. He has poetry available in The Scrivener Creative Review and The Lampeter Review, and he is currently working on a memoir that braids his family’s stories with his own. He would love it if you emailed him, at mattkok95@gmail.com.

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Outtakes from “The Poet X” http://yareview.net/2018/03/outtakes-from-the-poet-x/ http://yareview.net/2018/03/outtakes-from-the-poet-x/#respond Tue, 06 Mar 2018 13:00:35 +0000 http://yareview.net/?p=8928 Because we are the luckiest YA literary Journal around, we get to share these fabulous outtakes with you from Elizabeth Acevedo's "The Poet X." Happy reading!]]> Another stroke of luck for us here at YARN, and for you, dear reader, because we get to share with you these gorgeous outtakes from “The Poet X” by Elizabeth Acevedo. One of our most anticipated reads of 2018, this book is finally out in the world today, so you can rush right off and get your own copy as soon as you’ve read these snippets. Happy book birthday to “The Poet X,” and hope you all enjoy it as much as we do!

from The Poet X

Below are two pieces of text that did not make the final cut for “The Poet X.”

“On Talking,” the first one was written during the early stages of Xiomara, the main character, falling for her love interest Aman. I think it gets across that initial wonder of feeling like everything the person you like says holds immense gravity. There is another poem in the novel that is like a sibling to this one and I didn’t think I needed both, but I do think some of the figurative language here shows how Xiomara sees the world.

Throughout the novel, Xiomara is challenged with a writing prompt from her teacher, Ms. Galiano. The pattern is that Xiomara always writes the rough draft as a poem that usually shows a lot of what she really things, but the final draft is always an essay that’s scrubbed down from what she actually believes and is a more curtailed version of her actual thoughts. The second piece here, “When I Grow Old” was a rough draft.


I am used to using words.
Throwing them like knives
to pin a joker to the wall.
To hoarding them in my cheek
like a hamster; saving them for
a better day.

Aman, he does not say much.
His words are like a girl’s
sweet sixteen song,
a married couple’s first dance,
a song that isn’t always played on the radio
but when it breaks open the silence
it marks an occasion to love.

Assignment—Rough Draft – What do you think your older self would think of you now?


Years from now
when wrinkles
decorate my skin
like henna

when my bones rattle
mimicking a bag of coins
when my hair is no longer
full and thick
but this wisps of moon

I will shake my head
a wistful smile tugging
at the corner of my lips

taking a walk
down the streets of memories
I will wonder at younger me
who thought she knew so much,
who knew was so confused,
who needed rules—if only to break them

I will wonder at the girl I once was
and think, “If only she knew what I know now,”
and be so thankful that she didn’t.

Elizabeth Acevedo is the youngest child and only daughter of Dominican immigrants. She holds a BA in Performing Arts from the George Washington University and an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Maryland and she is a National Poetry Slam Champion. “The Poet X” (HarperCollins, 2018) is her debut novel.

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​2018 – Poetic, Humoristic, and Beyond! http://yareview.net/2018/02/%e2%80%8b2018-poetic-humoristic-and-beyond/ http://yareview.net/2018/02/%e2%80%8b2018-poetic-humoristic-and-beyond/#respond Wed, 28 Feb 2018 14:00:55 +0000 http://yareview.net/?p=8935

Welcome to the 2018 season of YARN! Compared to last year, we are teasing our forthcoming season a bit earlier. Why, you may ask?

Elizabeth Acevedo

Amanda Lovelace

Joy McCullough

Brendan Kiely

These brilliant authors – and maybe a few more – will expose not only their souls through their honest, thought provoking work, but will share their thoughts on writing and YAlit and beyond right here starting on March 6th!

“laughing” © Daniela Goulart https://www.flickr.com/photos/asleeponasunbeam/8498351362/

And, to sweeten the writing pot, we are hosting our first ever Humor Fiction Contest this May with guest judge, debut YAlit author Nisha Sharma, whose forthcoming book, My So-Called Bollywood Life” makes her the perfect person for the task. It also doesn’t hurt that she is a YARNalum!

Why a Humor Fiction Contest? The world is a chaotic and illogical place at times and the refuge of humor and laughter is a place we can all share, together, and universally acknowledge that knock knock jokes can be funny every once in a while. Or in the words of Langston Hughes, “Like a welcome summer rain, humor may suddenly cleanse and cool the earth, the air and you.”

And, as always, we will be publishing phenomenal fiction, poetry, and essays from adult and teen writers alike who will inspire you to use that Christmas napkin you won’t have any functional use for until November for some spontaneous verse or character outlines or the first sentence of  the rest of your life.

So, say it with me, What’s Your YARN?


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How to Ruin Your Senior Year, In 10 Days, In 3 Simple Steps, As Told by Judith Sloan http://yareview.net/2017/12/how-to-ruin-your-senior-year-in-10-days-in-3-simple-steps-as-told-by-judith-sloan/ http://yareview.net/2017/12/how-to-ruin-your-senior-year-in-10-days-in-3-simple-steps-as-told-by-judith-sloan/#comments Thu, 14 Dec 2017 13:00:31 +0000 http://yareview.net/?p=8900 Humorously, tragically, a perfect love story goes awry. 1. Set Up a Really Great Life With a Really Great Boyfriend and a Really Great Best Friend[...]]]> Humorously, tragically, a perfect love story goes awry.

By Laura Gonzalez

1. Set Up a Really Great Life With a Really Great Boyfriend and a Really Great Best Friend

This step can take particularly long to achieve. You shouldn’t count it into the ten days. I advise that you don’t even decide to ruin your high school life until you have step one complete. And make sure you do not proceed to Step 2 and Step 3 unless you’re absolutely, positively, entirely sure you want your life ruined.

This step is the most fun: set up a really great life with a really great boyfriend and a really great best friend.

Pick a boyfriend like Ronaldo Newman: captain of the debate team, student body president, National Honor Society president, and a state violin soloist. He’s also incredibly attractive. He looks a little like Clark Kent. Not the Clark that’s Superman, but the Clark who works at a newspaper, complete with the thick, black framed glasses that gave him the adorable studious look. It was a wonder that a guy like Ronald Newman even liked me in the first place.

It has to be the best relationship you’ve ever been in. Make sure he’s the guy who calls you Gorgeous instead of Judith, even when you get a sty on your eyelid that makes you look like an ogre and prevents you from wearing mascara for four days. Make sure you pick the guy who thinks that your mousy brown hair and slightly upturned nose and chipped blue nail polish is cute.

“chipped nails” © Gabriela Serrano https://www.flickr.com/photos/gabrielaserrano/5303084267/

Pick the guy whose dumb jokes make you laugh until your sides threaten to rip apart and you have tears streaming down your face. The guy who you can talk to for hours about how scared you are that you might be too dumb for college, how you feel like you’ll never have enough time to love him, and how moving away from your mom is the scariest thought ever. The guy who will help you theorize the science behind why we get our best ideas in the shower, also what the guy who invented pencil grips went through in order to invent pencil grips.

“I bet he had a callous as big as Jupiter on his middle finger,” he says.

“No, I bet he had it on his ring finger,” you say.

“Who uses their ring finger to grip a pencil?” he says. And you smile at his goofy smile. You cozy up tighter under his arm that’s draped around your shoulders.

Say something like: “I do, you jerk!” And then do that awful sounding snorty-hiccup laugh you can’t help but do when he scrunches up his nose and the corners of his eyes crinkle.

It will be a moment that you will always remember. Because who else would talk to you about the pencil grip inventor? And who wouldn’t run away from the sound of your hideous laughter? Answer: your guy.

Find a guy like Ronaldo Newman, and be the only one who calls him Aldo. Date him for two and half years.

Make sure your best friend approves, and is along for the ride. A best friend like mine, Micra Watson. Ensure she’s your polar opposite. This is the only way she’ll tell you like it is (unless, you’re the opinionated one in the friendship, then scratch that). If you’re like me, pick a girl who likes to dye her hair unnatural shades of red even though she was born with natural red hair. Who performs magic tricks with makeup and turns you into a better-than-average version of you for junior prom. Try to pick her at a young age, like eight, so you can grow up together. She knows the ins and outs of you. She knows that you don’t like being photographed on your left side and that purple lipstick makes your teeth look too yellow. Learn the ins and outs of her too. Know that her favorite color is black even though she admits it’s not really a color. Know that it hurts her teeth to hear people chew ice. Make sure she’s the girl who comes over to watch movies with you even though you have vomit in your hair from the food poisoning you got at Mr. Won’s China Palace. She should be the friend you trust to cut your hair when she decides she wants to cut hair for a living. When she accidentally cuts too much and makes you look like an ugly Victoria Beckham-wannabe, laugh. Don’t cry in front of her. Tell her you love it when she cries about how sorry she is.

“It’ll grow back,” you’ll tell her.

“It’s horrible!” she’ll say. “Don’t try to make me feel better!”

“I love it,” you’ll insist. And then you two will hug like you haven’t seen each other in two million years. Hug each other until you feel like one of you will suffocate.

Do not pick a best friend who will try to steal your boyfriend. Instead, pick a girl who likes bad boys so you can like the good ones. And whatever you do, make sure you and your best friend don’t stay mad at each other for too long. Make sure the worst fight you ever get in is the one when she took the last chicken wing even though you called dibs. The friendship has to last until your senior year of high school. You have to make plans to go to the same college. She has to be the one you’ll make a pact with to marry in case you both wind up still unmarried at 50.

She has to be with you through thick and thin. Make sure you pick someone who supports you in whatever you do. And who loves you like a sister.

When you truly feel like you are on top of the world: Stop, take it in. Cherish it. Stand there. Think about how nothing in the world could bring you down. Think about how great life is. Think about how lucky you are.

On Christmas Eve, stare at how handsome your boyfriend looks in his dark jeans and chestnut brown sweater. Don’t even be mad that he blends in with the wall behind him, the wall with every family photo from the last ten years. Don’t be mad that his brown sweater clashes with the sequined black dress you and Micra both decided to wear. And even though your tiny, cluttered living room with the outdated pleather couches and the laundry basket in the corner that’s hidden not so stealthily with a Christmas blanket over it is not that romantic, kiss your boyfriend under the stuffed Santa with the torn hat and large ears that your mom insists on pinning above the entrance to the living room even though the pins stuck through the hands make it look like a sacrificial lamb. Smile at your best friend who is standing inches away from you, her third soda in one hand and a brownie in the other. Her red lipstick has smeared slightly, and her dress has a dollop of frosting on the sleeve. Hug her in front of the Christmas tree that is so tall, the top bends against the low ceiling.

“Merry Christmas” © Sadie Hernandez https://www.flickr.com/photos/sadiediane/4212845204/

Grin manically. Say: “I love you both so much!”

Pull them both in into a hug. The kind where they could both possibly suffocate. Plant another sloppy kiss on your boyfriend’s reddened cheek.

“We should all three be roommates when we graduate. You can pay rent Ronaldo,” your best friend giggles. She is hyper from all the sugar she has consumed by then. She smashes her lips against your cheek. The three of you laugh manically even though it wasn’t even really that funny.

Pose for a picture when your mom comes around with the camera.


Only then, will you have completed Step 1.


2. Get In A Fight With Your Boyfriend Over Something Stupid, then Accidentally Get Drunk, and Hook Up With a Douchebag

This step is self-explanatory. I will still explain.

On Christmas Day, you’ll have to get mad at your mom for making you go along with the family to visit your Aunt Gertrude. Aunt Gertrude is your dad’s old secretary whose last name is also Sloan. She will likely insist that your families are related until her dying breath, but she isn’t your real aunt. She will also claim that she was blessed with good genes and will never have gray hair, but you’ve seen the boxes of red hair dye in her bathroom. There is no way that someone with skin as wrinkled as hers doesn’t have gray hair.

Get mad, and be a brat about it. Complain about how she hugs you too hard and gets cat hair all over your clothes. Complain about how her house smells like a sickening blend of mothballs and cat poop. Complain about how she always insists that you eat whatever she’s made and how, nine times out of ten, it tastes like feet that have been soaking in sweaty socks overnight. Get meaner and say Aunt Gertrude’s breath always smells like onions and speculate that whatever gift she gives you will likely be a reflection of her awful taste in clothing. Imagine her in her gaudy printed dresses and stockings that are always halfway down her ankles, and shudder. Tell your mom that you already had plans to spend the day with Aldo’s family. Tell her you still need to exchange gifts with Aldo. He hasn’t given you your gift and you haven’t given him that nice collage you made and that nice watch. Insist that Christmas gifts given after Christmas are not the same. When she doesn’t relent, send an angry text to Aldo about how mad you are at your mom. Tell him you won’t be able to make it.

When he doesn’t text you back in the next hour, send him an angry text about how he never listens to you. You know it’s not true, but say it anyway. You’re angry; you have to take it out on someone. When he calls you at Aunt Gertrude’s, ignore it. You’re not that mad anymore because Aunt Gertrude gave you that nail polish set with 43 different colors that you’d been eyeing at Target, but you feel like you still have to be mad.

When he calls you later, when you’re home from Aunt Gertrude’s, ignore that one too. Realize that you don’t even know why you were ever mad to begin with. Call him back. When he sends you to voicemail, realize you’ve made a mistake.

He texts you in the morning, to tell you he’s sorry that he fell asleep. You’re out with your mom getting Christmas candy fifty-percent off at Wal-Mart. Your phone is in your purse and you don’t feel it vibrate. When you call him, it goes to voicemail. He went hunting with his uncles and doesn’t have service out on the ranch. But you don’t know this. Get mad.

Play phone tag for the next three days. On December 30th, tell him not to forget that you two had plans to go to Jill’s New Year’s Eve party. She throws one every year, but now that you’re seniors, it is going to be bigger and better. When he tells you, “I’m sorry, Gorgeous, but I forgot,” and says he’s spending New Year’s Eve at his grandma’s house, get upset

“Seriously?” you say. You don’t like the way your voice sounds, and you feel bad for a second. But you haven’t seen him in days. You have a right. Don’t worry.

He ignores your sass and asks, “Do you want to come with me? Everyone will love to see you.”

Say: “No. I already have plans. Remember.”

This will make him upset too. “Babe, come on. Don’t do that.”

You answer: “You did it first.”

He sighs. You stay silent. Your silence is seething, and his silence is pleading.

“I miss you. How has your week been?” he asks. “It feels like I haven’t talked to you in forever.”

“Yeah, because you haven’t,” you say. You know he just wants to smooth things over, but you’re still mad. You can’t help it.

“Don’t do this, babe,” he pleads.

“Well then, don’t ignore me and cancel our big plans!”

“I’m sorry,” he says. “It’s just been–” Don’t let him finish. Hang up.

The next day, spend two hours getting ready for the party. When he sees the picture you’re going to post of you and Micra, you want him to be upset that he wasn’t there to see you look so great. Before you leave, take a swig from the unlabeled bottle that Micra has stashed under her bed. Only a sip.

When you get to the party, it’s already in full swing. People forgot about how uncool it was to show up early, and a large crowd of sweaty teenagers are already bobbing to the beat of a song with no words. All have red cups and beer cans in their hands. It’s uncomfortably warm in the house despite the open doors and the high ceilings, and you feel yourself start to sweat underneath the long-sleeved dress you wish you hadn’t worn. A girl teeters by on her heels and grabs your arm for balance. Whatever’s in her cup splashes onto your toes and you cringe. She gives you a slow sloppy grin with glazed eyes before stumbling past you.

The music makes your heart vibrate behind your ribcage, and you can’t hear a word Micra shouts. Smile at whatever she says. Lead her through the mass of bodies and into Jill’s giant kitchen, where people are standing and shouting into each other’s ears. They cluster around a table where they cheer each other on as they try to flip their cups over. Grab a drink. You don’t usually drink because Ronaldo doesn’t like it, but you’re mad at him, so do it. Drink Micra’s drink too. Laugh when she tells you to slow down. When she turns around to talk to someone you don’t really recognize, fill your cup back up. Drink it before pulling Micra away to go dance in Jill’s massive living room.

Somehow, end up losing track of Micra. End up dancing with some guy you vaguely recognize, but you can’t be too sure because you’re still thinking about how mad you are about Aldo. Plus your vision is kind of hazy. Realize you are a lightweight. Drink the drink he hands you anyway.

Make sure he’s kind of cute. When his hands slip onto your waist and slide down your hips, smile. He’ll smile back. Think about how jealous your amazing boyfriend will be.

When he pulls your hand to lead you away from the crowd, follow him. When he falls onto a crowded couch that’s been pushed into a corner, follow him. When he pulls you onto his lap, fall into it.

Forget about the time that Aldo showed up at your house at two in the morning to take you to IHOP the night before his debate tournament because you told him you were craving pancakes. Forget that was the only time he ever placed second at anything in his entire life. Forget that he didn’t even care about his measly second-place trophy because spending time with you was winning enough.

Forget about all that. And instead, when this guy smothers your face with his, don’t stop him. Ignore that his lips are harder than Aldo’s. Ignore that they’re colder and don’t make you feel as good. Just keep letting him kiss you. Jump when you feel his clammy hand creep up your leg. When he runs his hand up your side to grab your boob, forget about the fact that your elbow is digging into the stoned guy next to you. Forget that the couch smells like cat pee and the boy’s locker room hallway. Forget that you aren’t even sure of his name. Pull back and smile at him. Pretend that it isn’t the most unromantic thing in the world.

Hear your name.


Ignore it.

Only listen when a hand grabs your shoulder and gives it a hard yank.

It’s Jill’s voice. It’s Micra’s hand.

Jill is surprised. Micra looks horror-stricken.

Glance back at the boy. He’ll smile. You—don’t smile. He doesn’t even seem that cute anymore.

Realize what you’ve done.


Jill and Micra promise not to tell a soul. It doesn’t matter. People saw. The boy is Jason Sanchez. Realize he is not known to keep his mouth shut.

He’s going to tell his equally big-mouthed friends.

Everyone will find out.

Including Ronaldo.

Cry more.


3. Try, Embarrassingly, to Fix Things

Between Step 2 and Step 3, there will be 4 days left before school starts again. During these four days, you should call Ronaldo relentlessly. To the point where it becomes near-harassment. This should be no surprise — he doesn’t answer. Be surprised anyway. Stay in your bed and cry off and on for these four days. Only leave your room on the day your mom orders pizza. You might be a horrible person, and you might not deserve the pizza, but it makes you feel better until you’re bloated and heavy with dough. You feel worse. Leave Ronaldo embarrassing voicemails. Beg for him. Also pray that he doesn’t replay them to anyone. You sound crazy. You are crazy.

Promise you were drunk. Say there is no excuse. Say you love him.

Cry when he doesn’t call back. Cry more when Micra won’t call you back either.

“Through thick and thin.” Remind them both. Get excited when Micra finally answers.

Be upset when she says, “That was really messed up Judith. I just—Ronaldo needs someone right now and I’m here.”

“I need someone right now!” you yell into the receiver. You feel her grimace through the phone.

“I’m with Ronaldo right now, Judith,” she says and then hangs up quietly.

Feel betrayed. Despite the circumstance, your best friend has done the one thing no girl is ever supposed to do. She ditched you for a boy. Obviously, cry more.

At school on Monday, everyone will look at you. Word travels fast. Plus, your face is so swollen it looks like someone stuck a balloon pump under your skin and inflated all the semi-decent parts. You don’t have halfway decent mascara job anymore, and your hair looks like you bathed in canola oil and then forgot to take a shower. Congratulations are in order because you have been the first girl to break Ronaldo Newman’s heart.

Show up at his locker like you usually do. Everyone will be watching. Beg him to listen to you anyway. He’ll sigh in frustration. He’ll walk away.

Spend lunch at the tables outside by the dumpsters. You are trash, so it’s where you belong. Plus, it’s time to plot your way back into Aldo’s heart. You are not very bright, so it’s going to take a serious amount of effort. Tear up when you remember that Aldo was the smart one.

Come up with an elaborate plan to meet him after his last class. You know his schedule better than you know your own. Skip your last class in an effort to calm your nerves and practice your lines. You struggle to keep down the bag of Cheetos you eat as you watch the digital clock blink every second.

When the clock strikes 4, the bell rings.

Aldo is the first one out. Ignore that Jason Sanchez is ten steps behind him, a sick smirk on his face.

Smile at Aldo. His smile falls when he sees you. He has his backpack slung across only one shoulder, and his t-shirt is a little wrinkled. He looks adorable.

Speak when he stops. Ignore the fact that everyone else has stopped around you too.

Take a deep breath.

Say: “There is really no excuse for what I did.”

He casts his eyes to the left. He shifts his weight, pulls his backpack up. He looks past you.

When he answers, his voice is low.

“I don’t want to do this.”

Clear your throat. Ignore your pounding heart. You only practiced your speech in the mirror of the downstairs girl’s bathroom.

“I know it was stupid, Aldo. I had too much to drink,” you say.

He’s shaking his head slowly. He isn’t meeting your eyes.

Pull your backpack off your shoulders. Pull out the collage you made him for Christmas, the gift you never got to give him. Hold it up. Your best memories are pasted across the board, laced with lines of puff paint and tiny drawn hearts. All the times you made stupid faces for the camera. All the times he kissed your forehead. Every formal, every dance, every time you laid your head across his chest. All the candid photos of him laughing at something stupid you said.

He doesn’t look at it.

Instead, he puts a hand on it, moving it away. Feel the tears form. Pull out the watch next. Rip it out of its box.

Show him the engraving on the back. He doesn’t look. Read it aloud. ‘Til the end of time. Love, J. It’s cheesy. Your face flushes when you say it.

Scramble for his wrist. It’s difficult to see through your tears. He tugs his arm back. Hold on tight. Accidentally pinch him with your chipped nails. He winces and yanks his arm back.

The halls are still quiet, but the air has grown thick. On all the faces, intrigue has been swapped out for horror and pity. Raised eyebrows turned to gaping mouths.

This was your grand master plan. The Judith Sloan Master Plan, like all things, a failure.

“Keep the watch,” he says.

Someone in the crowd gives an audible gasp.

“I don’t want it,” he says. His words slam at you with full force.

You’re crying. You gasp for air.

“Please, just listen to me,” you say.

“I can’t even look at you.”

Make sure you say something like, “Aldo, please!” Make sure you grab his arm. Make sure you cry. Make sure you cry harder when he flings your hand off. Make sure you know this is straight out of a scene of an embarrassing soap opera.

He turns around and says, “Don’t call me Aldo anymore.” Apologize again. Still, everyone is watching. He says, “Don’t, Judith.”

This is the first time since you’ve met that he hasn’t called you Gorgeous. That’s because you are no longer Gorgeous. You are just Judith Sloan with the upturned nose and chipped blue nail polish. The Judith Sloan who cheated on her boyfriend.

Watch, through blurred vision, as he saunters down the hall. Watch as he stops at the locker you used to lean against. When the crowd begins to clear, see a familiar fiery head of hair in the same spot you used to lean against. Watch Aldo open his locker. Watch the slow smile spread across his face. Recognize it as the smile he used to give you.

“New Red Hair” © Ed Devereaux https://www.flickr.com/photos/devtc33/4769885738/


You feel the same way you did when your 2nd grade teacher wanted you to sing Rockin’ Robin for the talent show despite your lack of singing ability. Only this time, it’s less acceptable to run off stage. It’s not cute, it’s disastrous.

Watch as she picks up an arm, clad with a million familiar bracelets and places her hand on his shoulder. Her unchipped nails match her hair. Her fingers linger. She drags them down and gives his elbow a squeeze. Her lips move, his smile returns. Now she is Gorgeous.

Step 3 complete.


Laura Gonzalez lived most of her life in Edinburg, TX and has been a self-proclaimed writer since she was writing about mermaids at age 6. Today, she holds both her bachelor’s and master’s degree from UTRGV. She usually writes when she’s supposed to be doing something else (like homework) and is working on novels that she eventually hopes to publish. When she’s not writing, she’s probably reading or at the movies. She also thinks she’s kind of funny and can be found on twitter at @iammlauraa

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Our 2018 Pushcart Nominees http://yareview.net/2017/12/our-2018-pushcart-nominees/ http://yareview.net/2017/12/our-2018-pushcart-nominees/#respond Fri, 01 Dec 2017 18:52:04 +0000 http://yareview.net/?p=8889 We're thrilled to announce this year's nominees for the Pushcart Prize Anthology.]]>


We’re thrilled to announce this year’s nominees for the Pushcart Prize Anthology. Each year, small presses nominate many wonderful stories and poems for publication in this distinguished anthology.

We love all that we’ve published over the course of the season, and so choosing only six titles to nominate is difficult. It requires much discussion — many, many emails! With these nominations we hope to see YA represented alongside fantastic writers from such a wide swath of genres and writing styles. 

Congratulations to our winners!

Short Fiction:


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At the End of the World http://yareview.net/2017/11/at-the-end-of-the-world/ http://yareview.net/2017/11/at-the-end-of-the-world/#respond Tue, 14 Nov 2017 13:00:41 +0000 http://yareview.net/?p=8874 One of our two fabulous Honorable Mentions for the 2017 Halloween Fiction Contest – a gripping story about a monstrous future. 

By Ashley Storm

The only thing worse than a Nazi skinhead is a Nazi skinhead at the end of the world saying, “I told you so.” ‘Course, now Dirk, my troglodyte stepbrother, has dropped all the race war bullshit and acts like an alien invasion was what he and his friends had planned for all along. I have to admit the stockpiled guns and ammo, the MREs that taste like cardboard, and the hidden cave in the woods have come in handy, even if it makes me sick to think of the reason they had it all. Nothing’s more equalizing than an apocalypse.

“Fort!” © jyllish https://www.flickr.com/photos/jyllish/2796195309/

“Run, asshole!” Dirk races by, followed closely by a couple more members of the group. They yell at me too.

“Come on, Demon!”

“What’s wrong with you, man?”

“Demon! Run!”

I should listen, and run with them to the safety of our hideout. Instead, I slow my pace. More and more, I’ve been fantasizing about death. I’ve considered a gunshot to the face, but rule number one at the end of the world is don’t waste the ammo, and as much as I hate Dirk and his merry band of racists, I have to admit it’s a good rule. Jumping off a cliff or a bridge could work. Then again, you hear of people surviving falls, and a slow death in agonizing pain would be pretty shitty.

Being devoured by a forest fire started with alien-tech flame-throwers? It would be painful, yes, but quick. And I wouldn’t be the first since their arrival – or even the billionth – to die by fire.

I fall to my knees and look up at the lush green canopy. The leaves provide a shield against the blistering August sun, but when the fire reaches them, they’ll burn to ashes.

We’ve been running all afternoon, first from the alien ships, and then from the spreading wildfire. I’m tired. Tired of running. Tired of being surrounded by monsters, human and non-human alike. I may be the last decent person on Earth. I think I am. There’s no evidence to the contrary. There are few humans left, but the ones I’ve come across have all been variations of Dirk & Co. Hateful. Bloodthirsty. Ready to kill.

Am I any better? I’ve done terrible things. Does it matter that I hate myself for the things I’ve done to survive?

Something hurtles through the underbrush. A squirrel. It scampers past and I swear it looks at me as though I’m insane. If it could speak, I’m pretty sure it would echo Dirk. Run, asshole!

Something larger crashes toward me. A girl. Dirty and sooty. I can’t even tell what color her hair or skin is. She stumbles in the dense understory of the forest and falls. Hard. She struggles against the thorny tangle of brush and screams in frustration. I’m ready to die, but it’s clear that she’s not.

Would a decent person let a girl die at the end of the world? I don’t think so.

I push up from the ground and sprint to her side to drag her out of the weeds that have nearly swallowed her. Once she’s on her feet, we run, fast and hard. The winds shift, and the fire no longer pushes in our direction, but it could come roaring our way again any minute. We reach the rock wall that leads up to the cave hideaway. “We have to climb,” I tell her.

The climb is difficult, which makes the cave a good hideout. She doesn’t hesitate. She grasps one handhold, then another, heaving herself up the wall. When we reach the top, she collapses to the ground, gasping for air. Falling down beside her, I wait for my pounding heart to slow back to normal.

She turns to look at me, tilts her head to one side, and reaches out to touch the mask that hides my face. It’s blood red with an evil grin. It was part of a devil costume. It’s uncomfortable, especially with the full beard that’s taken up residence on my face. No razors, shave cream, or indoor plumbing at the end of the world. Dirk makes fun of me for wearing the devilish face, but I know it freaks him out. It freaks everyone out.

“Halloween,” she says.

“Every damn day,” I respond.

“Without the candy.” She smiles, but it’s bittersweet.



Dirk and the half dozen others who share our cave hideout stare at her hungrily as she chugs water from a canteen. None of us have seen a woman – any woman – in weeks. Aside from rotting corpses, that is. We come across one from time to time, some fresh enough to still tell their sex.

She says her name is Lacy. Even caked with layers of dirt, she is lovely. I can see now that her hair is the color of autumn leaves, the dark orange ones, my favorite. I wonder if I’ll live to see autumn. Do I want to? Looking at Lacy, I think I might.

Dirk clears his throat. “I think they’re finished playing with us for the night.” Everyone murmurs words of agreement.

In the movies, alien invaders always have a mission: to mine Earth’s resources, to share knowledge with us, or to dominate the universe. Turns out we’re just here for their amusement. They could end us quickly. Instead, they toy with us. They chase us in their ships, pushing us where they want us, into rivers, off of cliffs, into other bands of humans who shoot first and ask questions later. They rain fire down upon us. Sometimes they simply vaporize us with their lasers. It’s like a video game, but we’re the targets. And no one knows the end game.



Dirk and the gang love to hunt. They enjoy the kill. That we have meat to eat, well, that’s an added bonus. They make me want to vomit, but the smell of an animal roasting over a fire touches something deep in me. Something primal. All thoughts leave my mind until nothing’s left but the desire to calm the grumbling beast in my stomach. It’s been over a week since we’ve eaten fresh meat, but Dirk and Co. managed to kill a wild turkey today. I swear nothing has ever smelled so good.

“Why do you wear the mask?” Lacy asks. Her question pulls me back to the present.

My mouth had been watering at the smell of roasting meat, so I have to swallow before replying. “It hides my face.”

“Devil Mask” © konsumterra https://www.flickr.com/photos/konsumterra/2097823362/

“Why do you want to hide your face? Are you gross under there? Are you Night of the Living Dead under there?”

I laugh at the Beetlejuice reference. That was one of my favorite movies. Before.

“Maybe.” I smile, but she can’t see it.

The truth is, I grabbed the mask out of the box in the basement two nights after the ships appeared in the sky. The first day of the attack. The day my mom and stepdad were vaporized in the blink of an eye.

Dirk and I somehow survived. “Stop crying, asshole,” he said as he ransacked the house. My stepbrother hadn’t called me by my real name in years, and I appreciated the bit of normalcy in the midst of the world dissolving around me.

He grabbed a rifle and a handgun from the gun safe and stuffed his pockets with ammo. “I know a place. But we’ve got to stick together or we’ll never make it. No effing tears!”

But I couldn’t keep them from sliding down my face. It struck me that I didn’t know much about the inner workings of the human body. How were tears formed? Were they stored somewhere? Could you run out of them? I put on the old Halloween mask so Dirk wouldn’t see me cry. But once the tears ran dry, I never took it off. Now it’s part of me.

Lacy’s eyes drift lazily from the fire to me. “Do you ever take it off?”

AJ, a friend of Dirk’s, laughs, and a few others join in. They’ve been eavesdropping. “I’ve never seen Demon’s face. Not once.”

“That is his face,” someone chimes in. “Dude’s a beast.”

The group laughs, but it’s a nervous laughter. The mask makes them uneasy. They never know whether I’m smiling, or frowning, or flushed with anger – about to snap. To them, I am Demon. Not alien, but not normal, either.

“Hey, girl,” Dirk says, changing the subject. “Where you from?”

“Around,” she says.

“A little girl shouldn’t be out there all alone,” AJ sneers. “You need a strong man to protect you.”

She snorts. “Like you?”

His nose flares with anger. He starts for her. Before I’m even standing, a knife slices through the air and slams into the ground less than a centimeter from his shoe. We all turn to stare at Lacy.

She has another knife ready, the blade balanced between her fingers. “Thanks, but I can take care of myself.”



Dirk and Co. have been asleep for hours. Lacy will hike out at dawn, when there’s no danger of tumbling over a cliff in the dark, but for now, she sits with me by the fire. It’s nothing but dying embers, glowing orange in the night. Perfect for roasting marshmallows. But there are no S’mores at the end of the world.

“They call you Demon.”

“They call you Lacy.”

“That’s my name.”

“Demon’s mine.”

“Has it always been?”

I shrug. “It is now.”

“What was it before?” She’s staring at me so intently that it feels like she’s looking through the mask.

I don’t answer. I don’t like to think of the past. There’s no going back, so what’s the point?

“It’s not who you are,” she says.

“You don’t know me.”

“I know you pulled a stranger out of the woods when you didn’t have to.” Her hand brushes the cheek of my mask. “You really should take it off.”

Just like that, I’m a regular 17-year-old guy worried that the gorgeous girl will think I’m hideous. I’m average, at best, on a good day. After weeks without a real shower, with dirt and tears and sweat and God knows what else collecting under the mask, maybe I am Night of the Living Dead under there.

I shake my head slowly. “Maybe someday.”

She nods. “I’ll hold you to it. Someday.”

We listen to the crackle of the logs in the fire, the crickets singing their evening song, the hoots of the barred owls. It almost feels like a normal summer night. It almost feels like Before.



It’s early. The last of the stars are dimming, and the sun has begun its slow creep from the horizon. Lacy and I sit on a boulder outside the cave while Dirk and the others sleep. They won’t wake up for hours. We venture out for supplies when we need to, but otherwise, we mostly hide in the pitch black of our cave, and most of that time is spent sleeping. I wonder how many generations it will take for humans to devolve into slimy, blind cave fish.

She’s washed the grime off her face, and she’s so beautiful it’s painful. Nothing has a right to that kind of beauty at the end of the world.

She holds up a piece of rope. “My ponytail holder broke. Think anyone will miss this?”

“Nah. It’s all yours.”

“Thanks.” She twists her hair into a bun and ties the rope around it. “I’m heading out in a few minutes.”

“Leaving so soon?” My feeble attempt at a joke doesn’t hide the disappointment in my voice.

She leans into me, nudging me playfully with her shoulder. “I want you to come with me.”

My eyebrows shoot up in surprise. “Where?”

Does it matter? Dirk and his buddies have kept me alive this long, but until I met her yesterday, I wanted to die. Now, there’s a faint glimmer of hope that something good and pure still exists in the world.

“About ten or so miles from here there’s an old church. I live there with my family.”

Family. Suddenly my heart aches with all I’ve lost. “My parents died in the first attack.” Along with most of the world.

She nods knowingly. “Mine too.”

Oh. “I’m sorry. But you still have family?”

She chews her bottom lip. “I didn’t know them before, but they took me in. I owe them everything. The congregation. There are about forty members of the church.”

I snort. “Do you pray and sing Kumbaya? Sacrifice lambs? Things like that?” Before the words have finished spilling from my mouth, I feel like a colossal jerk. “I’m sorry. I –”

“No,” she interrupts, her voice hard. “We don’t sacrifice lambs. But we do sing. We haven’t completely given up on life, like some cave dwellers.”

Shame wells inside me. “No offense.” I pick nervously at the few threads still straining across a hole in the knee of my jeans. “It’s just . . . I have a hard time believing there’s a God. Why would he allow them to destroy his creation, you know?”

Her face is serious, thoughtful. “Maybe they’re gods, too.”

“Have you ever seen one?”

She shakes her head. “Just the ships.”

I nod. I haven’t found anyone who has actually seen one.

“Why are you out here all alone?”

She frowns. “I was looking for . . . supplies. Then it started raining fire. They pushed me here.” She’s silent for a moment. “Maybe they wanted us to meet.”

I chuckle. “Yeah. We’re contestants on their new reality TV show.”

She laughs. “The Bachelorette meets Survivor.”

We laugh until we’re gasping for air. It’s not really funny, but there are few things to laugh about at the end of the world. When the laughter fades, neither of us says anything for a long time. We bask in the first orange-gold rays of sunlight. It’s a new day.

“I’ll go with you,” I say.



The cave has a small opening that you have to crawl through, but after ten or so feet it opens up into a large chamber big enough to stand in. I gather supplies in a backpack: guns, ammo, food. Okay, so I’m stealing, but theft is a fact of life at the end of the world.

As I’m crawling out of the cave, I hear someone behind me.

“Asshole,” Dirk hisses. “What are you doing?”

“Shhhh.” We scramble out on our hands and knees. I stand and slowly turn to face him. He’s already on his feet.

“What are you doing?” he repeats.

“I’m leaving.” It’s hard to say the words. We have a bond, whether I like it or not. We’ve never been friends, but we have known each other most of our lives.

“Don’t go.” Despite our shared history, the plea in Dirk’s voice takes me by surprise. “We have everything we need here. We’re surviving, man.”

“I want to do more than survive. I want to live.” For the first time since losing my parents, tears sting my eyes. I turn away from him even though I know he can’t see.

“Damon.” He’s the only person alive who knows my real name, and he hasn’t said it in years. “If you leave here, you’ll die.”

He could have left me behind to die the night of the first attack, but instead he brought me to the cave. Because family is family, and even if you don’t like each other, it’s hard to walk away. I understand that now.

Without turning back to face him, I whisper, “Take care of yourself, brother.”



It’s a grueling hike, so Lacy and I spend most of it in silence. When I think I can’t take another step, the trees open into a large clearing. In the middle sits a weathered church that may have been white once. It’s too open. Too exposed. Suddenly I long for the safety of the cave.

Sensing my uneasiness, Lacy pats my back. “We won’t ask you to handle the snakes for at least a month.”

My head snaps in her direction. I’m relieved to see a grin on her face.

“No snakes?” I say.

“No snakes,” she promises.

“But you do sing Kumbaya?” I ask with a mock shudder.

Lacy laughs. “No Kumbaya either.” She looks toward the church and then at me. “You can go back, if you want. It’s okay. I’ll understand.”

I start to walk toward the clearing, but she grabs my hand. “Wait.”

I turn to look at her. “Yeah?”

“You’re not Demon.” She reaches up to remove my mask. I let her. As soon as it’s off, I feel naked and exposed. Weak.

“That’s better,” she says.

“I doubt it.” I brush my beard with my fingers. She’s looking at me, really looking at me. No one has done that since I put on the mask. She sees me, and doesn’t seem to hate what she sees.

I smile shyly, and she smiles back. “Damon,” I say. “My name is Damon.”



“Abandoned Church” © Bill Devlin https://www.flickr.com/photos/billdpix/15240032771/

Lacy introduces me to a tall man with a toothy grin. “This is Preacher.”

“Welcome, welcome,” he says, pumping my hand up and down. “We’ll be eating soon, but I bet you’d like to clean up first. Am I right?” The broad smile never fades. It’s been so long since I’ve been around a happy person that it’s unnerving.

Preacher leads me to the bathhouse. I was expecting something out of a western movie. Barrels of water, sponges on sticks, that sort of thing. Instead, it’s more like a shower at a campsite. Modern plumbing doesn’t exist anymore, but he shows me a hand pump that releases water from an overhead container. He hands me a bar of soap, and it smells so wonderful that I can’t help but hold it to my nose and inhale deeply.

“Nice, isn’t it?” Preacher asks. “Some of the ladies of the church are excellent soap makers.”
I expect him to leave, but he continues to talk. It’s a little strange showering in front of him. I wish I still wore the mask.

“Everyone has a role to play.” He prattles on about different church members and their jobs.
I work the soap into a lather to wash my hair. There’s something stuck in it that doesn’t want to wash out. Finally, I give up trying. I’ll just cut it out. I need a haircut anyway.

“Take Lacy, for example. She’s our best recruiter,” he says.

Wait. What? “Recruiter?”

“Yes, didn’t she tell you? She left a few days ago to find a young, able-bodied person to join our flock. And she came back with you.”

“No,” I say with a frown. “She didn’t tell me.” What if she had run into Dirk first? Would she have brought him instead of me?

Preacher goes on, as if I hadn’t said anything. “She never fails to find a worthy specimen, our Lacy.”

Specimen? I’m annoyed now. I know I shouldn’t be. Even if she didn’t care who she brought back, I’ve won the end of the world lotto. Shelter, food, that glorious bar of soap. So what if my role is the able-bodied young man? I’ll probably end up doing manual labor, but I have no right to complain.

After I’m clean, truly clean, for the first time in recent memory, Preacher leads me to a picnic table stacked high with food. Roasted meat. Plump vegetables from the gardens, red tomatoes and summer squash and countless types of lettuce. There’s even sweet tea.

“Eat your fill, son.” Preacher pats me on the back and leaves to mingle with his congregation.

As I’m polishing off a second chicken leg, Lacy appears at my side. “It’s nice to see a human under all that filth.”

I laugh. “For the first time in a long time, I feel human.” It’s the truth, and there’s no point in denying it. The cave had supplies to keep us alive, for awhile anyway, but the church has gardens and rain barrels and soap. “This place is amazing.”

“It really is,” Lacy says. She tucks a loose strand of red hair behind an ear. “When you’re finished eating, we’ll start the welcoming ceremony.”

“The welcoming ceremony? I don’t have to sing or dance, do I? You said no Kumbaya.”

She grins. “Nope. You don’t have to do anything but stand there while everyone welcomes you.”

“I guess I can manage that.” There’s doubt in my voice. I’ve never liked being the center of attention.

She laughs. “I have faith in you.”



I really do just have to stand in place. One by one, the members of the congregation approach, welcoming me to the church. Afterward, they form a circle around me, clasping hands. Preacher is the last to shake my hand. He gives me his trademarked toothy grin. “We all have a role to play, son.”

He joins the circle and grips the hands of those on either side of him, completing the circle. They slowly take a step back, and then another. As they back away, they whisper something I can’t make out. It’s unsettling.

“What?” I call out. “I can’t hear you.”

In unison, they tilt their heads upward. Organized religion has always made me a little uncomfortable, but this is downright creepy. Every instinct in my body says to run. I look at the circle of clasped hands, searching for the weak length. I’m ready to make a mad dash, Red Rover-style, when I spot Lacy.

She’s not looking up with the others. She’s looking at me. She gives me a reassuring smile and I relax. This is just some sort of ritualistic acceptance into the group. Weird, but religion often is.

A burst of wind hits me from above, nearly knocking me to the ground. It feels as though twenty helicopters are hovering above us. I raise my head and see the shiny metallic bottom of an enormous ship, not quite gold, not quite silver, not quite copper. Otherworldly.

They’re here.

Adrenaline pulses through me, and I make a mad dash to break free of the circle. After one and a half strides, my joints lock in place. I’m frozen. A spotlight shines directly on me and I can’t move a muscle, not even my eyelids to blink. I watch, helpless, as the circle of people fall to their knees and hold their arms to the sky. They’re no longer looking up. They’re looking at me.

They’re still chanting, a little louder now. And louder still. Their voices crescendo as my body is lifted off the ground. Unable to move, to scream, I finally hear their words.

“Thank you for your sacrifice. Thank you for your sacrifice. Thank you for your sacrifice.” They’re shouting now, as my body nears the ship. I hear a hatch open, or maybe just feel it, but I can’t look up. Oh, God. What are they going to do with me? I pray, possibly for the first time in my life, begging God – any god – to save me.

The voices abruptly stop. All but one. From below, Lacy calls to me. “We all have a role to play. Thank you for your sacrifice, Damon.”

A blinding light envelops me, swallows me, until there’s nothing but darkness. I was right. All the good and decent people are gone. At the end of the world, only the monsters are left.


Ashley Storm is a tattooed lawyer who is passionate about civil rights and children’s books. She lives in Kentucky with her husband, 4 backyard chickens, an English Angora rabbit called Mr. Fluffypants, and an evil cat who rules them all. Her current works-in-progress include a middle grade novel and a chapter book series. Member of SCBWI.

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The Survey http://yareview.net/2017/10/the-survey/ http://yareview.net/2017/10/the-survey/#comments Tue, 31 Oct 2017 12:00:20 +0000 http://yareview.net/?p=8841 Enjoy the winner of our Halloween Fiction Contest judged by the brilliant Rin Chupeco. 

By C. McKelway

My father doesn’t believe in the afterlife. You die and then you’re dirt is what he says, and he’s not a big fan of dirt. He likes things clean. Down-on-your-knees-with-a-scrub-brush kind of squeaky clean. He used to wash all the places on me that needed a good scrubbing, but Mama made him stop. “Run,” she said. “Run faster. And keep that bathroom door locked from now on.”

I was little. I didn’t know better. I’m in high school now, but I’d wager if he had the chance, he’d still be trying to clean me up.

I been taking a survey. Door to door, like the census workers. They came around here last year with their clipboards and all kinds of questions. Who lives here? How many rooms in your house? Own or rent? They went door to door asking, polite but greedy for information.

Mama filled out the forms. “It’s just us three in this house now,” she said.

Shows what she knows.

I’m not asking people how many rooms they have when I go door to door. I’m asking about the afterlife.  Who gets in, and what they see is what I want to know. Mrs. Henley, down the block, is older than Methuselah. She can likely see what’s coming. Not with the good eye. It’s the cloudy one that’s looking at somewhere I can’t see.

She says, “Why, aren’t you just the sweetest thing. How in tarnation did you know chocolate-chip cookies were my favorite? And how is your mother? Better?”

“Cookies” © Débora Lacortte https://www.flickr.com/photos/dcortte/7982680854/

Everyone opens wide for cookies, and in I come with my clipboard and questions.

I don’t say who gets into the afterlife. Death makes up his own mind, and I imagine he decorates the way he sees fit whether you like his style or not.

Mrs. Henley has lace curtains in her kitchen and doilies on her living room chairs. She favors a floral motif. The couch with its big blue flowers is worn shiny and dull, both at the same time. I wonder what she’ll sit on in the afterlife, so I ask.

“Why Honey! Everyone knows you stand in the choir. No need for sitting by the TV. Not up there. Everyone is busy singing out praise in the afterlife.”

My dad says, you come into this life naked and alone, and you go out that way. I don’t think he knows what he’s talking about.

Mrs. Henley has photos all over the walls. She holds her daughter’s hand in the one over the TV, and everyone is smiling. Mama used to hold my hand. She painted my room sky blue. “The prettiest blue there is,” she said. One other time she said, “Hold my hand, honey, there’s lots of traffic.” She doesn’t need to watch me now. She’s got enough to do worrying for her own self.

Maybe if she ran faster, once upon a time, back when my dad was coming around courting with his big smile, and his fists all tucked quiet down in his pockets, she’d have less to worry about.

He says, “Loretta, what happened to you? You used to be so lively.”

“You happened.” That’s what she says when she says anything at all.

I asked Mama to take my survey and she said, “Now you run on out and close the bedroom door. My poor head aches something awful.” And no wonder. Death had his heavy shadow laying up on Mama’s head. He had a bad smell. I bet that’s why my brother screamed and kept on screaming before he died.

At the funeral Mama said, “There is no pain in the afterlife,” and I said, “Is it warm and sunny and can I go there?” I didn’t get an answer, just a hug that hurt my ribcage and like to squeeze my insides out. She doesn’t do much hugging now. I’m older and anyway, she’d have to get out of bed.

Death wants something. He won’t say what, so I have to keep my eyes open. The devil’s in the detail as they say. And I’m not screaming no matter how bad he smells. You can put that in the bank. Having Death for a friend is not everyone’s cup of tea. I’m not blabbing about it all over town, or up and down the aisles at Walmart. Even so, I’m not deluged with social obligations, and no one sits with us on the bus.

School is loud. Everyone looking each other all up and down is a noisy activity. I’m doing it too. I can’t seem to help myself. Neither can Death.

Julia’s dad bought her new everything this year. It’s not every day you start high school. She wears a lot of yellow, and it looks real nice. I don’t think Death cares how nice she looks. Far as I can tell, he’s not picky about clothes. Not what he wears. Not what anyone else is wearing. He likes looking around in the school. He wouldn’t come here with me if he didn’t. It’s not for the Algebra.

“Hey Julia. Looking good,” I say. And I’m not lying. She knows it as much as everyone else. It’s as plain as the nose on my face. All that long blonde hair. I particularly like how she fixes her nails so most days they match her shoes, or her jean jacket. It doesn’t impress Death any. It’s hard to say what gets his attention.

“Why thank you,” she says.

Julia has a smile for everyone. She can afford nice. Death isn’t riding the school bus with her or sitting at the cafeteria table while she eats. He could clear a space at her table for his own sorry self if he had a mind to. I take a good look up inside his hood. He’s wearing his usual face. Nothing special. I don’t think he wants anything from Julia. I’d feel sorry if he was sniffing around her fingernails and yellow clothes. I’d try to warn her. Not that she’d listen to me no matter what I said.

“I’m taking a survey. Can you answer a few questions?” I take a step toward Julia with my clipboard. She takes a step back.

I want to know what she thinks about the afterlife, what it looks like. How you get there. What you do all day. I don’t figure girls like Julia give this much thought. When you go someplace you never been, you should have ideas about what you are going to see. Mama says people go, just like that. She snapped her fingers and opened a pill container, swallowed a pill and set the water glass back on the bedside table. It was half empty.

I take another step toward Julia and make my face pleasant, as pleasant as I can. I don’t look like a rock star. I take after Dad, which isn’t a bad thing.  “It’s just a quick survey,” I say and take a pen out of my bag.

“Why I’d love to, but I can’t right now. How about at lunch time?” Julia is perched on her toes like a finch on a dead branch fixing to fly south. She pulls her sweater up over her shoulders like it’s not ninety degrees in here.

Julia has the nicest white teeth. I think Death prefers them less even, and maybe a bit worn down by years of chewing. My brother’s two front teeth were missing. The grown-up ones hadn’t come in yet. I think Death makes exceptions when he really likes someone. I asked him to take my survey. He just smiled and showed me his own teeth.

I look for Julia at lunch, like she said I could. Her table is crowded. Everyone is laughing at something, and no one makes eye contact with me. I put the clipboard back in my bag, and my eyes roam around looking for my cousin Jolene. She’s got a new boyfriend, so it’s not like it used to be. She had lots to complain about over the years and I enjoyed that. I complained too.

“It’s hot enough in this town to knock up sheep,” I’d say. That’s an expression my dad uses. I’m accustomed to it, but a lot of people cover their mouths when I say it and most giggle. Jolene used to think it was funny. Now she gives me a look when I put my tray down next to hers. She takes Joey’s hand and I watch her link their fingers.

I get ready to dump my tray when I can’t stand the way they look at each other anymore. “See you,” I say. I’ve only got the banana left and Death will be waiting for me in the ladies room. He’s my best friend, but it’s not the same. He’s as silent-as-the-tomb, no matter how I complain or what rudeness I entertain him with.

The survey is running about sixty-forty. Sixty percent are with the peaceful afterlife and forty percent are with my dad, anticipating cold, dead dirt. This is important. I shook the clipboard at Death once. He kept his eyes closed, all tuckered out like. He didn’t even point one of those fingers up in my face. That’s what he gets for staying up all night, breathing and pouting.

“Most people are counting on something nice. They say their good deeds are rewarded. They have plans too. Who they’re gonna visit and how happy everyone will be to see them,” I told him, loud and up in his face, so he would notice.

Death just pulled back inside his hood. But I could still smell him.

“Are you listening to me?” I said.

On Wednesday I take Mrs. Henley another batch of cookies. Peanut butter. I am keeping an eye on her. I think she knows something.

“Why, aren’t you sweet. Looking out for an old person like me. I just love peanut butter cookies. I expect they are about my favorite.” She holds her front door open wide, and in I come.

“Always watch your back!” © Craig Sunter https://www.flickr.com/photos/16210667@N02/16419909842/

Death doesn’t usually tag along. He doesn’t care about cookies and he won’t look at the survey sheets. Today he plops himself down next to Mrs. Henley, close up, like they are old friends, relations even. I am admiring his red tennis shoes and the comfortable way his thigh rests against hers, when Mrs. Henley takes a bite of the cookie.

Death takes his hood down. Now that’s something new, so I pay close attention. Even though I don’t like what I see. That’s not a face anyone would want in the yearbook.

Mrs. Henley puts her hand to her throat and coughs. She looks at me. I run to the kitchen for a glass of water. When I come back out, Death has his hand down her throat. Her eyes are open as wide as I have ever seen. She has her hands up. Each finger stretched out as far as it will go, but there’s nothing for them to grab.

“What do you think you are doing?” I say. He can’t be bothered to even turn his head. And I thought we were friends.

Mrs. Henley has one eye almost closed. It’s the good one. The cloudy one is looking at somewhere. One of her bedroom slippers has come off with the kicking. But it’s no use. Death has a grip on what he wants and he is going to get it. Mrs. Henley can’t tell me anything. Even if she wanted to. Death’s arm is down her throat, tugging and pulling. His hoodie is wet with sweat. His grunts are ugly. Nothing I want to hear. Pigs are more genteel.

And finally, he’s got what he came for. I hear Mrs. Henley give it up with a sound I cannot describe and don’t want to remember. It’s in his hand –- like a trapped moth. He stuffs it in his pocket.

I close my eyes. The smell is bad, and I promised myself I wouldn’t scream. I eat a peanut butter cookie and wash the empty plate in Mrs. Henley’s sink. I dry it with her pink dish towel. She won’t be needing it but I hang it up to dry.

Death is slumped on the couch. He won’t look at Mrs. Henley and I won’t either. I don’t like the way her eyes have gone deep inside. I never imagined her mouth could open so wide.

I take out my clipboard and thumb through my surveys. Mrs. Henley was in the sixty percent. Why honey. Everyone knows the good go to heaven. Sometimes I write down exactly what they say. There is a space for comments at the bottom of the survey sheet. I point to Mrs. Henley’s answers. Death just sighs and lifts his hood back up. I put the empty cookie plate in my bag.

“What did you take from her?” I ask, but he doesn’t answer. He taps his pocket. I can hear something in there scrabbling around, trying to get out. He follows me outside and I close the door.

“You can’t come with me anymore,” I say. But Death hovers over my shoulder, shiftless and slow. I’ve told him to beat it more than once. But here he is. “Why me?” I ask. He shows me his broken teeth.

“Where are you taking that?”

I don’t get an answer. My dad would punch his lights out. You’d better cough up an answer when Dad asks a question.

I cook dinner on Thursday, and Death sits at the kitchen table while I wash up. I made hot dogs and beans. Dad was not impressed. Beggars can’t be choosers, I think, and he knows how to cook. I don’t say anything. Even Mama can’t get away with comments like that anymore. I go out on the porch to ignore what I know is coming. Dad doesn’t come out but I’m in for it anyway. He doesn’t lose interest in retribution no matter how long he has to wait.

I don’t have a survey from the next door neighbors. They aren’t home much. Tonight their car is parked right out front and the lights are on inside the house. I can hear their air conditioner groaning its cold into the heat. I go next door and knock. It’s the mister who opens the door. When I offer him a cookie and show him my clipboard, he calls his wife.

“It’s that girl from next door,” he says into the back of the house. I hear her footsteps clicking along the wood floor.

I’m alone on the porch. Death must be in the bathroom or something. Finally, getting rid of whatever was in his pocket. It was squeaking and scratching all last night and I wish he wouldn’t sleep standing up like that. “Get on in the closet,” I said. “You are keeping me awake.” And in he went, but I could still smell him and hear the thing in his pocket. “Why don’t you take a vacation,” I said. He didn’t say anything, just went silent like the dark under the bed always waiting for the other shoe.

“I think she is selling something,” the man of the house says before he returns to his chair and opens the newspaper. He doesn’t think I need to be watched. His wife will deal with me and my cookies. I should have come before dinner because he needs to think about where he is going, just like the rest of us.

“I’m taking a survey,” I tell her and step in, holding the plate out. She takes a cookie and I take a seat on the couch. The windows have blinds, not curtains. I can see the dust on the louvers and in the stripes of light that come in from the street. Mama always said she was glad that light pole was not in front of our house.

“What’s this survey for? A school project?”

“Yes, a project.” That’s easier than the truth — Even if Death’s not at your house sniffing around today, you still need to do some thinking.

“Well, all right.” She takes the clipboard and I watch her check off the boxes. She is one of the dirt ones.

“Honey,” she says towards the man of the house. “How do you spell cremation?” But he is reading the paper. She spells it right. She didn’t need to ask him.

“Have another cookie,” I say.

“I have to watch my waist,” she says and sneaks a look at her husband, heavy and reading in his chair. “Well, all right then, for later.” She puts a cookie in her pocket and gives me a conspiratorial smile. I give one back. I’m glad Death isn’t interested in this house. But when I leave, he is sitting on their porch swing, waiting for me. All pale and sweaty in the cold streetlamp light.

“I thought you’d gone on vacation,” I say.

The missus pushes the door open. It wasn’t all shut up and closed. “Did you say something?” she says.

“Thank you,” I say. I don’t want him taking a look at her shiny floors or the newspaper. Getting ideas. She should shut the door up quick. But, she steps outside onto the porch.

“Why anytime,” she says, and brushes her hair off her forehead. “We’re neighbors, now aren’t we?”  

“GRITA!!!!!!” © Krynowek Eine https://www.flickr.com/photos/krynowekeine/2608424336/

I hear sirens, having their way with the dark. I look back. Death is not on the neighbor’s porch swing. The ambulance stops in front of my house, its red light spinning.

I watch my feet go down the neighbors’ steps onto the sidewalk where Death is waiting. He is right in front of my house and now I see his pocket is full.  I open my mouth and scream. Someone has to do it. Right and loud. So it matters.

My dad opens the door, and two men from the ambulance carry a stretcher inside. Dad closes the door.

“You better take good care of that thing in your pocket. Give it a pretty sky blue room with a fine view. You hear me?” I look up under Death’s hood. I know he heard me. I take his hand. It’s sticky. That something in his pocket has gone all whimpers and sighs. I know what it is and who he got it from.

I take each step up, one at a time, onto the front porch. I open the door to home. Death comes too, holding my hand in his.  



C. McKelway lives in Maine in a haunted house where plants die from lack of attention and socks disappear into the dryer, never to return.

She graduated from Barnard College and sometimes misses the bustle of NYC.



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2017 Halloween Fiction Contest Winner, Honorable Mentions, and Finalists http://yareview.net/2017/10/2017-halloween-fiction-contest-winner-honorable-mentions-and-finalists/ http://yareview.net/2017/10/2017-halloween-fiction-contest-winner-honorable-mentions-and-finalists/#comments Tue, 24 Oct 2017 19:50:23 +0000 http://yareview.net/?p=8831

© Laura Williams McCaffrey


We’re thrilled — and chilled — to announce the results of our 2017 Halloween Fiction Contest.

We’re also so grateful to Rin Chupeco for her insight and generosity as a judge, as well as her donation of critiques and a signed copy of Bone Witch

Without further ado:

  • Winner: “The Survey” by Cathy McKelway ~ We’ll publish this on Halloween.
  • Honorable Mentions: “The Shell of Light” by Elizabeth Maria Naranjo and “At the End of the World” by Ashley Storm ~ We’ll publish both of these soon. Keep your eyes open for them.
  • Finalists: “The Transplant” by Katie Altstadt and “The Seance” by Candice Marley Conner.

Many thanks to all who submitted!


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It’s Time to Submit! http://yareview.net/2017/10/its-time-to-submit/ http://yareview.net/2017/10/its-time-to-submit/#comments Sun, 01 Oct 2017 12:00:18 +0000 http://yareview.net/?p=8820 Submissions are now open, and we're eager to read your wonderful short stories, poems, and essays. ]]> Submissions are now open, and we’re eager to read your wonderful short stories, poems, and essays. 



© Laura Williams McCaffrey


We’re rested and refreshed after out summer break, and we already have a few things in the works for Spring-Summer 2018 season. We’re also excited to read what’s on your desk — and add it to the next season. To find out more about our editors, assistant editors, and readers, check out our Meet the Editors & Readers page. Also, remember to read How to Submit. Then sit at that desk, polish your work, and send it our way!

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Laura’s Marked is out in paperback http://yareview.net/2017/09/lauras-marked-is-out-in-paperback/ http://yareview.net/2017/09/lauras-marked-is-out-in-paperback/#comments Thu, 28 Sep 2017 12:00:45 +0000 http://yareview.net/?p=8814 We've nudged Laura to step up and mention that her novel Marked is now out in paperback.]]> Laura can be a bit shy about promoting her own work — it’s so much easier to cheer for other writers. But we’ve nudged her to step up and mention that her novel Marked is now out in paperback. 


For those who don’t know already, in Marked, sixteen-year-old Lyla lives in a bleak, controlling society where only the brightest and most favored students succeed. When she is caught buying cheats in an underground shadow market, she is tattooed—marked—as a criminal. Then she is offered redemption and she jumps at the chance . . . but it comes at a cost. Doing what is right means betraying the boy she has come to love, and, perhaps, losing even more than she thought possible. Graphic novel–style vignettes revealing the history of this world provide Lyla with guidance and clues to a possible way out of the double bind she finds herself in.

Sally Cantirino illustrated the graphic novel-style vignettes, which are incredibly cool. I wrote about creating the mixed-media piece of the novel for Adventures in YA Publishing.

Kirkus said of Marked that: “McCaffrey’s society has a Dickensian feel to it, with a heaving, discontented underclass dominated by the barons who control the source of power and the inventors who wield it. An original, textured page-turner.”

I’m thrilled and honored that it also received praise from SLJ, Booklist, VOYA, Bulletin for the Center of Children’s Books, and ALAN Picks, which you can read about on my website.

Like all of you, I have a lot of projects on my desk, but whenever there’s something to celebrate, I do. Thanks for all the love and support, here on YARN and elsewhere in the YA literary world.

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