January's theme was fear.
"Thanatophobia" by Olivia Neidich
She lay next to me.
Her cold frail hand on my knee
I wept and prayed,
to go back,
to our great memories.
Knowing how bad life will be,
without you for centuries.
“The Devil” by Mance Ranne
Gaze into glass
Stare into mine
And exchange questions
What is your
Full name, now?
Avoid my eyes
I might just
Decide to leave,
Though bound by
Wax outside me,
Spice by wool
I look pretty
I captivate you
I want to
Hold you and
Trap you here
Right in mirrors
Don’t look away
Avoid my eyes
You might just
Get your answer
Somewhere swimming in
My molten lies.
“The Monster in My Life” by Lily Tepe
My heart has been broken before,
By selfish men,
By foolish men,
Leaving its pieces on the floor.
I barely manage to put the pieces back together
When it breaks for the millionth time.
What’s left is the pain,
Like a thief leaving the scene of the crime.
After all that has been done I still find an ache in my soul.
The loneliness that consumes me,
Is what makes me fear all.
So I continue to go out into the world,
Only to find my heart be broken again.
"Tourmenter" by Nomie Khishigjargal
A Relentless And Resentful Torment
Hits Me Like The Heavy Hail
Beats Against The Windshield
And I’m Exceeding The Speed Limit,
Only I Don’t know In What Direction
‘This God Forsaken Rustbucket
Is Going In.
The Wind, Coming Through The Windows
Is Deafening, As If I Needed Another Reminder
About Just How
I Realized The Jarring Reality Of Adulthood.
I Immediately Wished There Was A Reset Button On My Own Existencethe
very essence and foundation on which my thoughts are built on,
and violently shakes
from the moment i wake up.
i am bound by my unattainable perfection
and an insatiable weariness
which forces me to think about things in
a horrifying light
sedition for the better version of myself blooms like the vibrant poppies of spring, but is
"The Unseen Vermin" by Jennifer Sawicki
The clock ticked to the overwhelming silence drowning the room. A foot
thumped softly on the cold tile flooring. Eyes jerked around, impatient, and somewhat
in a nervous state.
The doctor’s office wasn’t too busy. The empty seats opened up the room
making it feel bigger than it actually was. A front desk lady focused on the glowing
computer screen as her fingers tapped away.
John stared down at his sweating palms. The doctor had set up an appointment
with him. He figured it was a check up on his symptoms. The medication John had
been using slowly started to fade away with their effect within the first few days.
His eyes blinked rapidly, little specks of black plodded around the corners of his
Keep it together, he thought as he shoved his nails into the soft flesh of his
hand. As more time passed the worse John would get and the more he would start to
see. The multi-legged, plated bugs would crawl from hiding spots and reveal
themselves. They crawled around on his skin and they made him itch to a point of
rawness. They bit and dug into the surface of his flesh; blood trickling out of the small
puncture wounds. John would flare his arm outward; a failed attempt to get the small
creature off of him.
A few waiting patients threw glances in his direction. He could only smile at
them pretending it was only an uncomfortable itch. The eyes would judge and after
some time they went back to their devices and papers.
Time went by slow and painful. John was now the last one in the office. The dull
white lights created an eerie environment and with a look around he would conclude
that he was, indeed, alone. From his perspective, not even the front desk lady was in
John furrowed his brows and stood uncertainty. “Hello?” his voice croaked in a
pattern of a question. There was no answer and he started to shuffle over toward the
desk. His heart pounded and seemed to sync up with the clack of the clock. His nails
dug deeper into his palms as he lurked closer to the desk.
With one last call, John spoke, “hello?”
His body suddenly froze, his heart stopped dead. Chills sauntered throughout
his thick bones, his mind went numb. He couldn’t speak, his tongue tripped up in his
mouth. He stumbled on his words, and took a few steps back; a horrid expression
plastered onto his face.
The women laid on the ground half mutilated. Flesh hung off her body in
various places, holes covered her skin, and blood pooled onto the floor.
John put his hand to his mouth as bugs ripped and climbed throughout the
women’s body. His heart out-paced the clock and was now the only thing that he
could hear. John with a great swiftness turned around, ready to run out of the door.
With a hard thump, he ran into the doctor and stared up at him startled.
Large stringy insects were crawling in and out of the man’s eyes, nose, and
mouth. John let out an exasperated yelp and fell backward onto the floor. His feet
kicked his body back along with the scramble of his hands. His breathing picked up at
the horrific sight in front of him.
Abruptly, John felt himself shake in a way. A wave of confusion melded
together with his fear; for there was no one else around him.
John suddenly heard a voice in the back of his head. He squinted his eyes and
rolled to his side. He noticed the dreadful image had started to fade and that he was
on the floor, flat.
“John! John wake up!” he heard a stern voice say.
He was shook again and he opened his eyes completely, seemingly out of his
daze. John felt beads of sweat on his forehead and glanced around. The doctor, the
front desk lady, and a few other helpers were crowded around him, worry across their
“Oh thank god,” the lady spoke in relief.
John rubbed his head.
“What happened?” he asked.
The lady was the first to answer, “you started to freak out all of a sudden. I
didn't know what to do so I ran and fetched the doctor. By the time we got back you
were already on the floor shaking and spazzing out.” She took in a few deep breaths.
John tried to recall falling to the floor in such a manner, but the only image left
in his brain was a rigid black bug that crawled underneath his skin.
"Blossom, Dear Fatherland" by Maxwell Payne
Heavy footsteps echoed across the thin, shoddy walls that constructed our apartment in Berlin. The endless clacking of heels against the hardwood floor continued, back and forth, pacing. I peered hesitantly inside the kitchen, careful not to let my father see me peering in.
He seemed to be muttering to himself, but what exactly he was saying was not clear. Several words that I was not allowed to say were repeated many a time, accompanied by a curled fist hitting a countertop or a boot kicking the wall.
Mother sat at the table, just across from where Father was quietly melting down. Her frustration was more of a silent one, a deep brooding that gave off a chilly aura to any who her gaze fell upon. Her chin sat on the tops of her hands, interlocked together, while her eyes closed in what almost looked like prayer. She began to speak, eyes still closed, “I’ve done the math over in my head. If I take on another job, perhaps washing clothes or baking, I can-”
He cut her off with the slam of a fist against the table, rocking the glass vase that sat perched atop it, “There is no use for that,” he spoke through clenched teeth, biting back harsher tongues, “half of the women in Deutschland are already doing that, nobody will take your services,” he turned his head towards the ground, palms flat on the tabletop, “and besides, this is my responsibility as the man of the house.”
She did not flinch at his anger but opened her eyes to look at him harshly. “Let me do what I can, Ald. You need not bear this alone. We can even put Engel to work, if need be.”
Upon hearing my name, I stepped forward out of the doorway, hands wound around each other tightly. “What?”
Mother sat up immediately and walked over to me, “Oh, mein kleiner Engel. Come to deine mutter.” She outstretched her arms in a gesture for me to hug her, and I reluctantly accepted, being picked up, her hand resting my head against her neck as she bounced me lightly in her arms,
Father rose from his position and leaned down to look at me eye-level, still being held in Mother’s embrace. “Now, listen Engel. The world has forsaken Deutschland, they have pushed our faces into the dirt,” in a show of concern for what he was about to say, Mother began to turn me away from him, but he grabbed my face with one hand and pulled Mother’s shoulder back to face him with the other, “But we are strong, mein Engel. You always fight for Deutschland, hear? Fight for mother and I, Engel, even if you must stand against the world.”
As I walked to school on a cold morning, Father’s words reverberated throughout my head upon seeing a poster being torn down from the hard brick. Large writing on the poster read: Who is Adolf Hitler? with text underneath that I couldn’t make out. The men looked to be policemen and turned to see me staring. One of them called out, “Hallo! You, there! Be on your way!”
I walked away quickly, but with questions racing through my mind, and recalling the night before: Father was still working in a factory since his shop went bankrupt when I was but a young child, and he had turned to the drink to ease his worries. He was yelling quite loudly about something to Mother, and a complaint from the neighbors was sure to be filed once again, “We are living under the rule of spineless worms! They censor Hitler from speaking only because he dares expose the tyranny of the Judes!” I had no idea who the Judes, or Jews, were at the time, only that he despised them for ruining Deutschland.
Mother’s forehead rested against her open palm, fingers laced between her fine hair. She was not a shouter when she became mad like father, but instead gave off a threatening aura. She chastised him, “Quiet, Ald. You’ll wake Engel. And the whole verdammt neighborhood while you’re at it!” She never rose her voice, but only said things sterner, and he quieted down, albeit, with reluctance.
Adolf Hitler, a front soldier from the Great War, was an up-and-coming politician of the Nationalist Socialists, and a favorite of Father’s. “You know why I lost my shop? The Judes conspired against me, Marta, and they’re conspiring against all of Deutschland!” Mother only responded by running her fingers through her hair and letting out a heavy sigh of annoyance. He continued, “Herr Derkheim, you know him? From two blocks away?”
“Of course I know him, he runs the grocer we used to buy from. They did have the most delicious bread….” She trailed off, looking away from him and at the wall.
“I think it was him, Marta! He did this to me!” He pointed his finger at her accusatorily while his other hand held the half-empty vase that used to sit on our table, now filled with liquor. His back slumped forward and he struggled to stay on his feet.
Her head snapped back to him and she laid her hands on the table, standing up. She narrowed her eyes and said with a stern tone, “And what did he do, Ald? Was he the one who borrowed money he knew he couldn’t repay? Is he the one who spends our money on drink?”
His face contorted into one of anger, “I fought in the war. I deserve more than-”
“You were conscripted, don’t act like you’re some noble war hero. You’re a damn coward, and I know that now.”
Her words were too sharp for him, and he smashed the vase to pieces on the table, splattering alcohol and pieces of glass onto Mother.
That was the last time she spoke sternly with him.
“You wish to join the SS Waffen?”
“Ja.” My voice shook slightly, but I tried to calm myself by remembering Father’s words. Fight for Deutschland.
“And your full name is?”
“Engel Hardtman Friedrich.” Across from me sat a frighteningly tall man dressed in an impeccably pressed uniform. He wore a constant scowl that stretched across his face, and his brow was always furrowing as if he was consistently finding more things to be displeased with. He reminded me of my father, but hardier and more demanding.
After France had succumbed to Hitler’s conquest of Europe, more and more young men fled to the conscription stations around Germany. I was one of them. I suppose I wanted to be like my father, or what he once was, and maybe even a better man than that. I could think of no greater honor than serving under the command of Hitler, with his hypnotizing oratory skills. At a rally I once attended where he spoke, the people around me (and myself included) were crying tears of joy. It seemed for the first time we had a leader who truly looked to the future, who united us under a common banner. We cried as one.
I was sent out to the Eastern front-lines, fighting the Soviets. Upon reaching the first military camp I was to stay at, my hopes were crushed by the weight of the pressure before me. Men were starving in the freezing cold, their bodies malnourished and tinted a pale blue with a thin sheet of ice covering their skin. In several tents, you could hear whimpers and screams of pain from the sick and injured, with some men having their limbs amputated as a treatment for frostbite.
“Look, boys. Fresh meat.” An older-looking soldier said as we passed by. His face was wrinkled, with snow, dirt, and blood trapped in the folds. He and several others were huddled around a ridiculously small fire, trying to catch any flicker of warmth they could. A few even spat in our direction, muttering “schwien” under their breath.
This was not the glorious battle and march of comrades in arms that Father had spoken of. This was not the signs of victory I heard and cried to so many times. A small part of me had feared this when I signed up, that everything I had heard was a lie. I tried to calm myself by envisioning the Deutschland that would be created once we were done fighting: one of brotherhood and perfection, free from criminal degenerates who wished to undermine us.
That was what I frantically whispered to myself as I shot at Soviets, running through smoke and kicked-up dirt, the stench of gunpowder heavy in the air. Not much could be heard through the gunfire, all except screaming coming from wounded men on both sides which I blocked it out by humming the tune of Deutschlandlied loudly to myself.
In the heat of battle, when bullets barely missed my body, there were many moments when I forgot what I was supposed to be fighting for, and instead acted only as a wild animal does when cornered: attack and run. Death could not claim me. Many of my comrades in arms acted the same, valuing the individual over the state: the largest German sin in existence.
After three months of this pattern, when my morality was just as starved as my bruised and decrepit body, I craved food so desperately that I resorted to stealing others’ rations. I resented how my ribs seemed to carve out a hollow crevice in my torso, mocking my fragility from under my uniform. It wasn’t long before I was caught punching another soldier in the face, the same one who called me “fresh meat”, over a loaf of bread.
As I saw his jagged nose run with blood and his throat constrict under my hands, I remember humming:
Deutschland, Deutschland über alles!
While still out on the Eastern Front, I was stationed farther South, resulting in less frostbitten limbs and insanity. I was told that although I’d be removed from combat, it was of the utmost importance that I never impart my duties to another soul, and I was constantly reminded of the oath I swore under when I signed up for the SS.
Upon my arrival at my new post, I was dumbfounded once again. It had a much nicer atmosphere compared to the unforgiving front lines, wherein the stench of death followed me still. The camp itself was filthy, being filled with and built by Judes, but it was absent from the cries of pain and tone of animosity that my fellow soldiers had previously displayed. Now, we greeted our comrades with a simple “Heil Hitler!” and a formal salute. The structure and orderliness with which it was all carried out seemed infallible.
What I did notice, however, was that the layout differed from most labor camps I’d seen or been informed of. I could see that far past the hordes of people mindlessly wandering about and into the hills, was a large facility reminiscent of a coal factory.
Stepping out of the transport, I noticed a white powder raining over the camp, but it was too warm to be snow. I caught one between my fingers and it disintegrated almost instantly while giving off a faint heat. “Heerführer, what is this?”
“Ashes, every day at two in the afternoon. You’ll get used to it,” his voice began to swell with pride and joviality, “think of it as a snow that is not only beautiful, but one that beckons the restored glory of Deutschland with every flake.” He gave me a smile and hit me hard on the back, startling me so I stumbled forward in a loss of balance.
A large metal gate covered the front entrance, and above it was a sign which read Arbeit macht frei. Work sets you free. Free from what?
As I found my quarters, I was greeted by the other guards already stationed there with a hearty “Seig Heil” and I tried to wipe the dusty ashes off my uniform. One older gentleman sitting on a cushioned chair spoke up, “Don’t bother with that, son. You’ll never clean it all off. Let the Judes do it for you.” His voice was calm, yet it bore the confidence of an elder’s experience. A quick look around the room made it clear that these quarters were far above anything at the front-lines, and probably most other camps. The chairs and beds were upholstered with a soft linen, and the wooden table was covered with foods and delicacies I would have previously thought unattainable in these conditions, including various liquors. On the wall, a large portrait of Hitler stood framed, with soldiers marching behind him.
“Say, what is this white stuff, exactly? And what are the smokestacks behind the camp?”
“Ruhe, Friedrich. You shouldn’t ask questions you don’t want the answers to.” He lifted up a glass full of whiskey and took a swig, wiping his chin after he was done. Another man sat idly on a chair next to him, reading, while the third lay on his bunk, eyes closed.
“Why wouldn’t I want to know?”
He looked off to the side and gave a sigh of annoyance, and he opened his mouth as if about to make a snarky remark until the soldier who was presumably reading chimed in with a dry tone, “It’s the Judes. They’re done away with.”
“Done… away with?”
A guard I saw stationed at the front gates burst in, almost knocking me over. “Transport!” He shouted, and several of the men stood to attention and immediately rushed out the door following him out.
One of them grabbed my arm and ordered me to follow, “Come, Friedrich. It’s best you know protocol as soon as possible.” I hurried out with him, gun in hand until we arrived upon a large mass of Judes being unloaded. Their blank uniforms sagged on their decrepit bodies, which bore the same marks of malnutrition and neglect the front-line soldiers wore. Their faces were hollowed out, the edges of bone amplifying the sharp shadows that fell across the camp. One man tripped and fell as he stepped out, and immediately a soldier grabbed his arm and dragged him across the ground, he frantically tried to grip the dirt with his other hand to prevent being yanked away. He let out a few guttural noises of pain and shouted in protest till the guard hit him hard with the butt of his gun.
The guard shouted at the others to form two lines, and systematically the weak and sick were sorted out from the healthy. A mother stood crying out for her son to be kept with her, hanging onto him despite the guard’s shouts. He, once again, hit her in the head with the butt of his rifle, leaving a large red gash covering her forehead. He grabbed the child, who was clearly sickly, and forced him into the other line.
When I tried to parse how I felt about all of this, it was too ambiguous to describe. My officers had always told me, it’s not that the people themselves pose an immediate threat, but the blood within them, what the Judes can become, that we must fear. But how could I fear them, these sickly people? The unnecessary violence made my heart sink, as it is one thing in defense, but these people are like an animal beaten down, domesticated, they have no vigor in their hearts. Are we putting down dogs?
As the lines began to march forward, the small boy started off in a sprint away from the guard, and towards my direction, seemingly aiming for a small gap between buildings to hide away in. I stepped back instinctively, but the officer ordered us to shoot. The others pointed their guns at him, but none had a clear shot but for me. In an instant, my fears of retaliation from the others melted away, and I dropped the gun and ran to pick him up in my arms, as I envisioned my mother doing the same when I was young. Shouts came at me, but I blocked them out with another verse from Deutschlandlied Mother used to sing to me:
Einigkeit und Recht und Freiheit. Für das deutsche Vaterland!
As I chased him, I heard the shouts and footsteps of the others following behind me, and I could only barely tell where he had run through the haze of the tension and realization of what I had just done.
I cornered him around the back of a building, with the dark shadows of a sunset cloaking our locations. He pounded at the wall, sobbing out of frustration for his failure. He turned to meet my gaze, face covered in dirt save for the streaks of clear skin his tears left. Most of his hair was gone, seemingly pulled out, and what would normally be the plump and youthful face of a ten-year-old boy was replaced with sunken eyes, dried blood and scabbed over cuts, and a broken will. He backed up against the wall and began to sink down it slowly, the tears drying, and he spoke up with a raspy and barely audible voice, “Go ahead, I have nothing without mein mutter.”
He looked straight into my eyes, unafraid. He had lost all fear. It was as if all of his childlike fears of the world had transferred to me, and I felt sharp pang hit my chest as I snapped back to reality. My heart felt as if it was going to explode, cold sweat dripped off my brow, and I was paralyzed. Fear had gripped my throat, and I gasped for air.
I was not afraid of the surefire harsh punishment I would receive as a result of my actions, or afraid of the cold death that awaited me, and not even afraid of being inferior to the Judes.
No, I feared for my dearest, my one love, mein Deutschland and her future. I feared how she would fair under people like I, our unfounded fear. And as I felt the cold, unforgiving barrel of the gun push against the back of my head, I sang:
Blüh' im Glanze dieses Glückes, Blühe, deutsches Vaterland!