Come Here

“Come here,” he said to her patting the bed beside him.

He had come over earlier that evening, and after a tightly packed joint, some dancing in the yard, and a few light kisses, he was feeling close to her, wanting her.

‘Come here’ his brown eyes said, drawing her in.

“What…” she charmed back at him, “what do you want?”

She knew what he wanted and after several stolen glances, a star filled night, and the warmth of his hand, she wanted it too.

She came to him, laying down on the bed. She let her hair fall onto his chest, tickling his bare skin, before setting the entirety of her weight upon him.

Strong, steady, sturdy she thought.

He touched her back, running the large tips of his fingers up and down her spine, paying particular attention to the raised black lines of her tattoo.

He couldn’t help but to find her wild, and she couldn’t help but to feel sexy.

Her body ascended with his hands and she raised her head for a kiss. They kissed. Long and hard, tugging at each other. He that way for her, her this way for him. Taking turns.

Their lips traveled, each kiss striping away something new: on a neck, discomfort; a back, selfconsciousness; on a hip, underwear. They explored each other, both there to be seen, felt, and known.

That is… until he bit her.

She felt the sharp pain sting across her thigh, a tender and soft area that he couldn’t resist nibbling on.

“Oww!” she giggled trying to stay cool, “don’t bite me.”

A smile snuck on to his face. She had said the command too lightly, and he didn’t think her serious.

“Like this?” he said, going for another chomp.

She moved, quick as lightning, drawing her flesh from his mouth. She gave him a sterner look, but there was confusion in her eyes, confusion that he mistook for play.

He gently rubbed the reddened area where the shadow of his mouth lingered.

“I’m sorry,” he said, still too jovially, so they continued on, a bump in an otherwise calm night.

He kissed her, and she kissed him back. Back to exploring, back to breathing, back to feeling…

CHOMP.

She couldn’t believe how he hadn’t listened, and he couldn’t read her upset because it was gone before he could see it. She was well on her way to not feeling, and he had no idea.

He smiled down at her, and she looked up through him.

He nibbled her neck and smoothed the hair from her face.

He bit her chest and rubbed the nipple below. He thought she liked it, and she thought the less she moved the sooner it would be over.

She played her role: making her noises, moving her moves, breathing her breathes. It was old hand. Very old hand.

Soon one deep breath found her, bringing her back to the surface. He was chewing on an earlobe, harder than he expected, and she pushed against him. He smiled to see his wild girl return and dropped his teeth to her neck again.

She pushed away from him.

I am strong, she thought.

Each move he made to bite her again, she pushed him away.

I am brave, she thought.

He smiled, having fun with their gentle roughness.

He broke through her guard to place a kiss on her lips, he wished to remind her it wasn’t real, show her his care. She pushed away from him, confused: was she playing?

She was still making her noises, still moving her moves. She couldn’t tell if she liked it and he was convinced they were happy.

He went in for, yet another bite and her small arms held him off.

“You’re so strong,” he chimed, taking pride in her feist.

But he was much bigger than she, and in a move, he had flipped her.

I am mighty, she whimpered, defeated.

Her voice was lost in the covers and he never heard her. With a final nip on her shoulder, he straddled her and loved her.

She breathed her breaths and stopped feeling.

#DoYouSeeUs?

Please come and stand on the front yard of the University of Michigan’s Angell Hall (435 S. State St Ann Arbor).

Dec. 31st, 2020 from 5-6pm

We will be ending our year with a final cry for assistance in providing best health and safety outcomes for the unhoused community. Ann Arbor needs to come together to challenge U-M’s commitment to their mission and values, to our community, and to their own calls for systemic change.

Accept respect or expect dissent.

*Masks and 6ft social distancing are required. Signs welcomed.

** If you are uncomfortable standing with others at this time, or cannot join for other reasons, please use #DoYouSeeUs? to help spread the word. Posting pictures and videos is just as helpful as attending.

Do You See Us?

As of November 2020, a 24.5 foot statue of a young woman’s face with hands covering her eyes was erected outside of the University of Michigan Museum of Arts (UMMA). A piece by Spanish artist, Jaume Plensa’s, ‘Behind the Wall’ collection was gifted to the University of Michigan for display.

“This new work is arriving at a critical time in our country and world, prompting deep reflection on deliberate ignorance and collective inaction,” states UMMA Director, Christina Olsen1.

This message is much needed to address today’s social injustices. However precise, the statue is even more ironic.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the University of Michigan was approached multiple times to provide emergency shelter for the unhoused population in Washtenaw County. A collaboration between Public Health, Ann Arbor City, Washtenaw County, the Shelter Association of Washtenaw County, and local citizen groups, sought resources to provide an indoor space where people could safely stay throughout the shelter-in-place orders established on March 23rd, 2020. The groups reached out to the University of Michigan for assistance, but none was provided.

“The request was not successful and alternative options had to be found,” reports Washtenaw County Commissioner, Jason Morgan, reflecting on the situation.

Morgan, and a team have been working since April to coordinate shelter provisions for those living outside throughout the pandemic. During the lockdown, the Red Roof Inn was used which offered direct access to showers, day time shelter, and the ability to isolate or quarantine if need be. The plan worked in the moment, but was overall unsustainable. In October, the hotel closed, leaving many outdoors.

With the number of COVID cases rising throughout the county and the days getting colder, the need to find indoor shelter has come once again.

In September, Ann Arbor City Council member, Elizabeth Nelson put forward a resolution to get the university to the negotiation table. Nelson expressed concern for those who are affected now, as well as those whose housing insecurities are still to come.

December 31st marks the end of the Center of Disease Control’s moratorium on evictions. With employment fluctuation, and many still not receiving unemployment benefits, officials are concerned about the growing number of unhoused individuals in the coming months.

Nelson’s resolution calls for the University of Michigan dormitories or other potential spaces to be opened to non-student community members. This being best practice for improving health and safety outcomes. The resolution passed on September 21st, and a meeting was scheduled to develop this effort. However, the meeting was postponed and has yet to be rescheduled.

Ann Arbor City Council was not the only group to make this request from the university. The Washtenaw Camp Outreach (WCO) put out a list of their demands for the unhoused community. They too asked the University of Michigan to open the dorms.

“U of M should step up,” says Greg Pratt, WCO member. “It’s like they don’t see us as part of their community.”

Perhaps he’s right, however, even their own students have not gotten the response they’ve asked for. On December 3rd, president of the Central Student Government, Amanda Kaplan, spoke at the University of Michigan Board of Regents meeting. Ms. Kaplan gave an impassioned speech also putting forth a resolution advocating for shelter assistance. Kaplan later confirmed that nothing had been done. No one seems to be able to get a hold of U of M.

For an institution to so proudly summon a voice for sight, it seems odd to refuse assisting the community in which they are deeply embedded.

In September, the University of Michigan decided to bypass the concerns and recommendations regarding in-person learning. Students from all over the world stepped onto campus and into Ann Arbor. As a result, the number of Covid-19 cases in Washtenaw County  spiked, causing an end to in-person learning and a return of many students back home. While U of M is assisting the Public Health Department in providing testing and contract tracing, it seems there’s potential for more.

In March, 2020, Suffolk University in Boston, MA initiated a program to utilize empty dorm rooms to house the unsheltered. With little notice, or true understanding of all the details, they jumped into action.

“This was unthinkable, quite honestly, two months ago or three months ago and now it’s right here on our doorstep. There’s no briefing and there’s no procedures in place to deal with this,” reports Boston Mayor Marty Walsh2.

“We stand ready to help in any way,” Suffolk University President Marisa Kelly said in a statement. “Boston is our home, and the University takes very seriously its responsibility to be a good citizen at a time when we are all being called upon to pitch in and help.”2

By the end of April, Sonoma State University in California had also set up a similar scenario. Apx. 150 individuals were placed in temporary housing to fully align with the state and federal mandates.

“We see this as an opportunity under these trying circumstances,” said Barbie Robinson, director of Sonoma County’s Department of Health Services.3

An opportunity indeed, to be a leader and best.

This is not to say the University of Michigan has been fully removed. In April, 2020, senior researcher for U of M’s Poverty Solutions Department, Jennifer Erb-Downward, published an article displaying the struggles and increased risks this population faces. Erb-Downward outlines potential solutions at the local, state, and federal levels, calling for protective plans at each. She lists using dorms and alternative spaces such as recreation and convention centers as temporary shelter.

In an interview, Erb-Downward raised concern that with the ending of the CDC’s moratorium, the number of people unhoused will increase.

“There is a huge number of people at risk,” says Erb-Downward.

One in every five Michigan rental households has fallen behind on their payments because of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the Michigan League for Public Policy.4

Erb-Downward discusses, in her article, the already strained resources of shelters throughout this time. She adds with the potential of more people coming, a new practice needs to be considered.

“It’s possible; complicated, but possible.”

What it requires is innovation, creativity, and inclusion. It takes leadership, empathy, and a commitment to common good. It takes us adhering to our words and making them our work.

Even with aligned missions and values, solidarity statements, and artistic calls to be the change, the University of Michigan continues to sit this game out.

The Reading Of Judith Wozinski


I have a hard time going into the water. Something that has confused my parents who had both been lifeguards and swim instructors in their youth. Despite their greatest attempts, I failed to ever learn how to swim. I took my aquatic hesitance as a symbol of resistance, understanding myself as a rebel to the world and to my family. I was my own person and that alone would dictate my underwater adventures, not a learned ability established by my guardians for my guardians. 

I now, as I’ve aged, have passed the fault on to astrology. I’m a fire sign: naturally illuminating, easily shifted, and eternally at conflict with water. The one time in my life I got close to completing suicide, it was my plan to jump from a cruise ship dock, extinguishing my light forever. 

A few weeks ago, I began a journey to understand my role in this life. What was my purpose, and for that matter, what was purpose overall? I was a woman in search of answers and I found the office of Judith Wozinski: an older bejeweled mystic whose hovel was filled with charms and gems from around the world. 

The office was small and covered wall to wall with curios. There were petosky stones on a chest in the corner with other shells and various fossils. Skeletons of animals sat on shelves.  Jars of embalmed fetuses and a taxidermied owl in flight overlooked the area as books were strewn on almost all surfaces. A calculus book laid open, weighted down by a large pair of glasses. I must have interrupted some very intense reading. 

A statue of Shiva caught my eye, hanging in the corner. Her feet were dancing in mid-air above a quad-colored dream catcher. The bronze wasn’t exactly feng-shui against the black, yellow, red, and white web, but it fit into the full image of the room. Though she touted herself as a psychic, her space held more of a philosophers’ feel. 

I moved through the small shop, checking out all the intriguing items, and was hit by a slight odor. It was a musky and sharp scent, but natural and somehow calming; the likely culprit being a colorful, bright terrarium in the corner. Upon closer inspection, the tank housed a pair of spotted leopard frogs who had found solace on a warming branch under the heating lamp. Below them was a hand-made forest landscape with fallen branches, moss covered stones, dewed leaves, and a puddle of water mimicking a small pond. In the water swam seven tiny tadpoles in various stages of growth. Some had sprouted back legs, but still used their tail. Others had grown front legs and were learning how to get along on land. They were enjoying life down in the stinky tank. Enjoying the feel of the sun on their faces, despite it being a snowy winter’s eve in December. 

“Come sit” sang Judith as she appeared from behind some curtains. She pours me a cup of tea and waifs the steam as it mists her face. 

“I like your office,” I say, taking her in. “ You have very interesting things.” 

“Oh thank you dear. I like to keep life about me. It helps me remember.” Judith points to the frogs.

“I see you have met the darlings” 

“Oh… yes,” I say, taking a seat. “That’s a nice set up you’ve got.” 

“They are my muses,” Judith gushes. 

Internally I groan a bit. Muses? Was she serious? I take a deep breath and Judith notices. 

“You judge me?” She questions, looking disappointed. She had obviously thought more of me. 

“I’m sorry?” Trying to feign misunderstanding. 

“Don’t think I didn’t catch your shifting in the chair, dear, the flair of your knees. That moment of hesitation. You judged me and this reading will only go so far unless you own it.” 

I was stunned.

“I… well, umm… “ 

“Oh, take your time, sweet. This is a heavy load I’ve dropped upon you and you have every right to take a moment to digest it.”

So, I do. I take a moment and a deep breath. I felt suddenly flushed. Judith had left me rattled; feeling both ashamed and yet somehow comforted. And curious. What had I missed? She was right, I had judged her. I let four little words tell me her story. 

“You’re right. I judged you, I’m sorry.” 

“Thank you,” says Judith graciously. “Let me offer you a piece of advice for moments like these in the future. When next you feel faced with an unknown, take a moment and before you judge, try curiosity.” 

The idea struck me and so I formed a question. 

“Okay, so… hmm. What do you mean the frogs are your muses?”

“Good question, darling. Would you join me at the tank?”

“Of course.” 

I took the last sip of tea and made my way across the room. Judith was standing there seeing deep into the habitat. She was filled with an illuminating beam. She seemed to be emitting sunshine. I noticed the two adult frogs had chosen a closer branch to bask in her glow. 

“Look at them, so happy. Enjoying life down in their little pond. Such an easy thing to make, a home. But a life. It takes a lot of energy. 

“Of course, your electric bill,” I respond, thinking too small. 

“Oh that too dear, I suppose,” Judith says with a chuckled grin. No doubt chiding me for being young and naive. 

“What we have here is a terrarium, a small bit of Earth habitating outside of nature. A perfectly preserved environment that is surviving, if not thriving.” 

Judith playfully battered the glass, stirring the tadpoles listening to her story. 

“I don’t create the environment that lives here. I just provide the tools and turn on a light. Sure, there’s some occasional upkeep, but overall everything here works together as it should. A community, and within it, a family.” 

She taps the glass again noting the tadpoles had gotten bored and gone back to their tadpole games. 

“So, they are you muses because..?”

“They remind me how life is meant to be. Living by just being.” 

I took a minute with that, and another deep breath. It seemed I would be getting much more from this reading than anticipated. Judith walked back to her table. Though I had many more questions, it seemed she was ready to give a different set of answers. 

“Good, let’s begin.”

Judith Wozinski unwrapped from a cloth a brown scuffled deck of elongated cards. She held the pile out towards me. 

“Shuffle please, three times, in any way that you know how.” 

Growing up playing cards at camp, I had become a good shuffler, and Judith marveled at my ease. 

“Now, hand them back to me please.”

She laid out the cards in three neatly stacked piles. 

“Choose one, please.”

I pointed to the middle deck and she removed them, combining the outside piles and placing them back into their wrapping. From the remaining deck, she proceeded to lay out ten cards in a peculiar pattern. 

“Interesting,” Judith hums. 

She looks at me, studies my face, and then goes back to the cards. They are all face down, so I’m not understanding what she sees. 

“All of your cards are inverted, dear. All except one.” I can’t quite tell if she thinks that’s a good thing or not. 

She flips the first card: The Emperor. 

“Hmm… You’re a powerful woman. You’ve achieved a lot in your short life. You’ve done much to climb the tower, but you’ve noticed the Tower is falling, and that’s why this card is inverted.” 

She flips the next card: The Chariot.

“Ha! Spirited, I like that. You’ve come all this way on brute strength and will alone, tools that will never leave your shed. However, this card is inverted too, which seems to represent a new understanding that there’s more to life than just pushing through it.”

She flips the next card directly on top of the last: The Queen of Pentacles.

“Ah,yes. The Queen mother herself to confirm it. You’re learning to nurture life: your own, your community, and your environment. She’s trumping your chariot and asking you to slow down. Don’t just be on the ride, enjoy it. She’s inverted because you still have work to do, but reminding you that you have all that you need to succeed.”

Judith’s words caught me off guard. ‘You have all that you need to succeed.’ A phrase my mother used to say. To hear it from Judith’s mouth sent a shiver up my spine. 

“Take a sip of tea, dear. We aren’t quite finished yet.”

As I did, she flipped the next card: The Nine of Cups. 

“A battle indeed,” said Judith looking at me over her bifocals. I had lost the moment when she retrieved them, and was noticing their presence for the first time. 

“You are a warrior, I see now. The wars you have won. These cups are deceiving. They look as though they can be filled, but they are trophies. Eternally empty. In time, you will turn away from them and look toward the infinite potential of the sea.” 

I shuttered. I could almost feel the seabreeze on my face, the mist, but it was only Judith pouring more tea. 

Another card: Page of Pentacles.

“You’re at a fork in your life. You can see, though, that there are not two, but three paths: the two in front and one behind. The one behind is the only option with a map. You’re ready to risk it all, putting your chances up to luck. Not normal luck though, the kind you make for yourself. This card is inverted to say that you’ve already set forth the transition.” 

“The moon comes next,” she flips another card. 

“She represents the opposite to all things. You have a talent for seeing two sides. Harnessing this power will always produce greatness, but as is the nature of all things, that greatness could be good or evil.”

“So know the power that I hold and use it wisely?” I interrupt. 

“Wisely indeed,” Judith whispers. 

She flipped the next card and chuckled: The Hermit.

“The time of the hermit is over my dear. For far too long you’ve been holding back, holding in. This card is inverted because you’ve already started to open yourself to new thoughts, and ideas. Keep going.” 

Another card. 

“Hmm, the page of swords can mean the surfacing of new ideas, curiosity, intelligence. However, turned upside down like this, it comes as a warning. Your ideas have energy and your words have meaning. Make sure that you are following through.”

Judith paused, looking at me with concern as though I had suddenly turned green. 

“How are you doing, dear heart?”

“I’m doing fine; this is actually really interesting. I feel… Well, I don’t quite know, but it’s not bad. Please continue.” 

There were two cards left to be revealed. The first: The four of pentacles.

“Lots of stars in your sky tonight dolly, you’re calling a five-pointed light. Though this is another warning about not allowing it to shine. The inversion of this card tells me you aren’t jumping all the way in. It’s a hesitance that disturbs all these other cards.”

The final card laid beneath Judith’s fingertips. It had been the only card upright and the last to be exposed: The World.

As Judith flipped it, I noticed the tears growing in her eyes. She gazed lovingly at the brown scuffled omen. The card was a picture of a woman bathing in a blue abyss. It was an odd color of blue in that you couldn’t tell if she was immersed in the sea or the sky. 

“This means everything dear. You will succeed, you must.”

And Judith Wozinski left it at that. 


Judith lit a cigarette before beginning to clean up. She huffed on it as she carted the teacups back to the kitchen. She thought that the reading had gone well, another happy customer. The young girl hadn’t had enough to cover the full fee of her hour, but Judith didn’t mind. It had been delightful to read for the girl. Judith had in fact felt energized by it. She sat down in the client’s chair to finish her Virginia Slim and immediately noticed how hot the seat was. 

“Hmm…” 

Judith was collecting the cards when she noticed a bird in one of the illustrations. She didn’t remember ever seeing birds on this deck before, the pictures were generally devoid of animals all together.

She picked up another, the Queen of Pentacles. What looked like a hawk was located high on a branch behind the royal woman. It was positioned in such a way that the creature looked almost as though he were perched on the queen’s shoulder.

Judith scanned each card from the reading and found that somewhere in the illustration was a bird of some sort. She grabbed the remainder of the deck and shuffled through. Just as she had remembered, no other pictures had any trace of animals whatsoever. 

A single card fell from the middle of the pile and Judith recognized it immediately. A shadowed figure in a hooded robe with a tall walking stick held in his skeleton hand: death, a foreboding sign of great transition. She held the omen close trying to stay calm.

Death certainly meant a storm was brewing, but it wasn’t inherently bad. All things had the ability to be two in one, but Judith had a sour feeling. With a final glance, she noticed for the first time that the rib cage of the cloaked figure was actually the skeleton of a large bird. 

Judith suddenly went into a trance. She could hear herself breathing, thinking, knowing, speaking.

“The child of the center comes, the one who can see light in the dark. Wanderer of the woods. The one who speaks to owls, guided by the hawk. The middle path is all this child knows, and it will show her the meaning of suffering. The infinite confined.” 

Judith coughed and sputtered, her cigarette lost to the floor. She couldn’t remember what she had said, but she knew she had spoken something important. She quickly covered her tarot deck, putting them away, wondering after the young woman who had just left her shop. 

The Sacred Combination

It all started with the dream. 

I had just gotten home from a shift at the shelter and was completely exhausted. My feet hurt, head ached. All I wanted was a shower, a shot of whiskey, and some sleep, not necessarily in that order. 

I got myself taken care of and settled into bed. Most nights, to actually close my eyes would have taken an hour at best, but this night was different and I was out right away. 

I suddenly found myself in a white room. It feels incorrect to call it a room really as the walls were so white that the seams between them had all but disappeared entirely. The only object in the room was a black coffee table with a small box sitting on top. 

The box had a built in seven-digit combination code with dials to change the numbers. As I went to touch it, a person popped up. 

“Hello there,” s/he said. Even after taking a second of pause to investigate the being in front of me, I was unable to tell whether they were male or female. 

“Welcome,” they continued, offering a little bow. 

“And, where am I being welcomed to exactly?”

“The center,” they said. “Welcome to the next step. Warning, it’s a turn.” 

“Do I want to be in this ‘center’?” 

“Ha,” they chuckled. “We don’t care much for ‘wants’ with these things. They kind of either come or they don’t. Few really want them because many don’t even know they exist.” 

“And this box?” I ask, picking up the small cube. 

“That’s why you’re here.” 

“Why I’m here? Why am I here?”

The being took the box from my hands and placed it back onto its surface. 

“To put in this code.” 

“To the next step…”

“Yes, to the turn.”

“Okay, to the turn… Will I like this turn?” 

The being laughed lightly again. 

“We don’t care much for ‘likes’ either.”

“Right, well why would you,” I reply snarkily. 

“Exactly.” 

“Okay, so where do I get this combination?” 

“You should know it.” 

I found myself stunned. I had no distinct memory of this code I was somehow meant to know. No one had ever slipped me any paper detailing the digits to place that would open this lock. 

“How… How would I know this number?” 

These numbers actually. Seven significant numbers given to you throughout your life.”

“Given? By whom?” 

“By us. The ones who knew them before you.” 

Despite my interest, I was beginning to feel confused. A sense of foreboding came over me, a deep feeling that I’m not certain I can fully explain. 

“By you?” I ask. “Okay. So if you know them, can you tell them to me?”

“I don’t have to. You already know them.”

“I DON’T THOUGH!” 

“You do,” they stated peacefully.

“And what if I don’t figure out this combination?” I ask, getting angry.

“You must.” And that was that, they disappeared. 

I stared for a long while at the box in the white room. I picked it up, put it down, fiddled with the dials, and attempted to input some random options. No luck. 

“HOW DO I DO THIS!?” I shout to the world. 

There’s no one in the room so the asking seemed futile. Until, suddenly, the room shifted, and instead of a completely white space, it was a comfortable little office with a barcalounger and a bookshelf. 

The shelf wasn’t any higher than my chest, but it was filled to the max. The books weren’t great pieces of literature or well-worn works of fiction, but instead albums, pictures of…me. I picked out the first one and began to thumb through the pages. 

It was the album of my birth. Each picture held so many faces, people who were still alive and others who have since gone, surrounding me, holding me, loving me. Page after page, row after row, the photographs celebrated my arrival to this world. I closed the book in silent and happy reflection.

The front of the album was covered in beautiful markings. Strange icons and symbols that made little sense to me, although they seemed to work together. One glyph stood out amongst the others: a line over an inverted triangle over a crescent moon with small curves encasing a single dot. 

Three. The day of my birth, the first number significant to me. 

I put it into the box. The dials clicked and turned into place, and when it settled, a dim green light appeared, shining from behind the number. 

“Must be right.”

I returned to the bookshelf, feeling slightly more capable than before. 

I looked through a few more albums, before finding one that was as ornately decorated as the first had been. The signs and symbols on the front were different, however, they didn’t seem as celebratory. They felt grim. I opened the cover to find a blank page. In fact, most of the pages in the large album were blank. I ran my thumb along the edge until I found a break that stuck out. A lone picture of a young me, laying on a bed, crying. 

“Six.” The number came to me clear as a bell. “It has to be six.”

I put the figure into the box and low and behold, the green light got brighter. 

“Okay, I’ve got this – two out of seven, we’re almost there!” 

On to another album, another chapter. 

The next book was very small, nothing more than a short pamphlet really, but there were three sections to it. 

The first was a woman I knew, but didn’t know. Tina Turner, a star beyond stars. I Might Have Been Queen” titled the page, my favorite song from her 1984 album. I could hear the lyrics play as I studied the pictures of myself dressed as Tina every year for Halloween. 

“Soul Survi-vah, on the riv-vahhh, but it won’t stop…”

The photos are adorable and I find myself leering lovingly at the spunky young girl, rocking her heart out into her pink plastic microphone.

“Soul survi-vah, on the riv’vahh, but it won’t stop. I know the sacred combination. Soul survi-vah on the riv-vahh, but it won’t stop.” The song played on in the background. 

The second section was just one photo, taken not so long ago. There I sat, in an overstuffed chair, with my newly checked out library book in hand: ‘1984’ by George Orwell. 

“Hmm… Okay. Seems the next number has something to do with the year I’d guess.”

I tried a variation of combinations: 198, 984, 489, 891. Nothing. I turned to the third section of the album, and there I was, sitting at the computer creating my first ever email account. 

jbrenn948@hotmail.com… 948!” 

I input the numbers and on came the green light. 

“Holy shit!” I exclaimed. “I really was given these numbers, over time. Only two left.”

There were at least a hundred more albums on the shelf.

“Which do I choose next?” 

BUMP, BUMP, BUMP.

“What in the hell is that?”

BUMP, BUMP, BUMP, BUMP…

“Sounds like… music. Carribean music. No, Cuban music!”

A colorful spine caught my attention as its baseline seemed to rock the shelf that held it. I grabbed it from its space and was delighted to find the inside filled with sunlight. The book was shining and emitting sounds despite any obvious reason as to why or how. The beat was beautiful and movement was inescapable. I started to dance and wiggle, and without ever getting to the pictures, I knew the number was seven.

“This is Cuba, where I got my domino necklace.” 

It was a charm that had arrived in my life upon traveling to the small island and had not left my person since. I put the number in. No green light appeared. 

“It must be seven, it has to be.” I tried putting the number in again. Still no light. 

I looked through the pictures which were indeed of myself and the necklace; dancing, eating, singing, learning. 

“That must be it, there’s something wrong.” 

I looked through every photo, coming upon the final two. One of my mother holding a tiny baby in her arms, eyes brimmed with heavy tears, and another, a close up of the domino: six and one. 

“Oh my god.”

I remembered back through the stories of my childhood, my mother telling me of her difficulties having children. Six miscarriages she had around me. Three before and three after. I was the one in the center. The one in six. 

Carefully I put the numbers into the box, hoping I was right. The little green light flashed proving I was. 

“3-6-9-4-8-1-6. That’s the combination?” 

Up popped the person. 

“Hello again!”

“Hello,” I say. “Did I do it? Did I solve the puzzle?”

“Not much to solve really, you already knew the code.”

“Can’t you just be happy for me huh? Proud? Nothing?” 

They chuckled. 

“Congratulations,” they said flatly. 

“Well thanks. Now what?” 

“Finish.” 

“I have, I found all the numbers I needed.” I turned to the box.

“Hey! What the heck? There’s an extra digit. You said it was only seven!” 

“I lied. Sort of.” 

“Well, where do I get the last one?”

“You don’t get it, you give it.”

“Huh?”
“The last number is not for you to find, but instead for you to give to the next one who will need to enter it.”

I have to come up with the next one? How do I choose?”

“I can’t tell you that.”

“Well, how did you choose the number you gave?” 

“I can’t tell you that either. Mostly because it’s been so long I actually don’t even remember.” 

“Great help you are.” I turn back to the box. “Okay, okay think here JB, think. What number would be important for the next person, the next… me, to retrieve?” 

The room slowly began to turn back into its crisp white origins. It started at the back and moved throughout until the shelf was replaced by the coffee table and the walls were erased of their cozy configuration. The being was still there and they sat on the edge of the table. 

“Don’t think about it too much,” they cautioned. “You already know this number too.” 

“How did I get through my life never realizing I was collecting numbers this way?” 

“As I said before, few ask for this space to arrive as many don’t even know it exists. Hard to be conscious of something that doesn’t appear until it does.” 

“Your riddles are a bit off-putting, you know that? Just thought I would say.” 

They smiled. 

“You’re no expert conversationalist either, but I thank you for letting me know.”

Ignoring their last comment I searched my mind. What is the one thing I want to pass on to the next generation? What could fit into this code to make sense for them. I thought about all the albums and the pictures found inside. There was something that tied them all together, but what was it?

“Me!” I thought. “Duh – me. I’m the constant.”

“Almost,” they said. “Not me, but…”

“I.” 

“Not ‘I’, but…”

“1. One us, one life, one person, one history. I am one.”

“We are one,” they said, finally smiling. 

“We are one.”

I put in the final number into place and the space around me changed again. This time the room was pitch black.

“HELP! I CAN’T SEE ANYTHING!”

“Then make something up,” they said through the dark.

“WHAT?! I’M REALLY NOT IN THE MOOD FOR MORE OF YOUR RIDICULOUS RIDDLES! WHAT DO I DO?”

“Imagine the path forward.”

“Imagine the path? Imagine what path?”

“Any path you so chose.”

“Imagine the path. Huh, okay.” 

With a single thought, a path arrived in the darkness. It shined a bioluminescent blue light. I began to imagine that beside the path were flowers, and in no time at all, they appeared. 

“I can bring to light anything that I imagine?”

“Welcome.”

The Runner

She laid there, mangled, beautifully arrayed on the ground before him. Her hair was black, ink-like in its tone, and it swirled in a hurricane around her head. She was covered in the day’s makeup. It ran down the length of her face, melted away by the tears, sweat, and struggle that prefaced her death.

There were bruises on her skin, all over her body, and just under her rib was a three-inch gash where the knife had entered. There was only a small amount of blood found beneath her wound, which indicated that the cut had been made postmortem. The bruises were the clue to her true cause of death, there’s a particular pattern that fingers make when squeezing the life out of another human. 

Her shirt was ripped, the bra beneath cut open exposing her breasts. A sterile gauze pad had been placed over her chest in a feeble attempt to provide modesty. She was dead on the ground in front of him, the most vulnerable of states, what could modesty do for her now? He was glad for the gauze all the same. 

Her green running shorts had been shredded, cut up the left side to the waist. It was done with a knife, surely the same knife that had caused the gash in her side. The cut cleaved the skin of her thigh, and judging by the amount of blood present, he knew she must have been alive for this one. The underwear beneath had evidently been ripped away. There was evidence of a struggle, but no damage to her organ. Usually in cases like these, ladies were all torn up. Huh… brave girl, Vincent thought with a smile, I hope you kicked his ass honey. 

Lower, her legs were tangled, broken into an unnatural formation. There was a small round bump where her snapped femur tented the skin, and more knife wounds carved into her legs. 

Both feet were bare, apart from her socks and the big toe of her left foot had been severed. Vincent carefully removed the crusted cloth to expose the wound beneath. The blood made it difficult to see, but Vincent noted the watermelon colored toenail polish that covered the tips of her other toes. Pretty color, he thought, scribbling some notes in his pad. Vincent knelt down to grab the grey sneaker sitting adjacent to the body, grateful for the chance to look away from the body for a moment. He studied the shoe, noticing that the match didn’t seem to be anywhere in sight. She had, somewhere, lost one shoe, or else the killer taken it with him. Find that other shoe Vincent thought, making another note in his pad. Now that he thought of it, he realized the severed toe was gone too. Find the toe, find the killer, Vincent. Simple. 

Jesus, he paused looking back at her, at the face where still lingered terror, she can’t be any older than Colleen. At that his stomach lurched, thinking of his only daughter suffering what this girl had… We don’t even know her name. 

Vincent stood deciding to take a break outside. He was feeling faint and obviously confused, as he quickly realized he was already outside, standing in the middle of three plush green pine trees. 

It was a small space, and dark though daytime. At night, Vincent knew this place would be completely invisible. Blocked on all angles, and thick with branches, there was no way to see into the cavern from the outside. It was a wonder they located her at all. He brought his thumb nail to his lips and said a silent prayer for the young, exploring girl who had found her. 

Vincent heaved over and began to crawl under the branches, trying not to disturb the crime scene, but old age and arthritis made things harder than they used to be and he didn’t quite make it through. Needing to be free of the space, he frantically pushed at the branches bursting through the trees. 

“Hey, careful there!” one of the officers shouted his way, playfully. Vincent shot him a glare full of anger, putting the young pup in his place. The officer quickly busied himself with some arbitrary task, wishing he hadn’t chosen that moment to try out being chummy with his higher ups. 

Vincent walked to the evidence table set up a few meters away. 

“Any updates on who she is?” Vincent asked hopefully. He had named her ‘The Runner’ when he first arrived at the scene, but after spending time with her, next to her, it felt too insensitive, too impersonal. She was human and he wanted to know her name, he needed to know her name. 

“Nope,” said the tired, sun-drenched officer, “still Jane Doe.” 

Damn, thought Vincent Damn


Vincent sat, exhausted, at his desk. It had been a year since finding his Jane Doe and it seemed he had tossed and turned every night since. Sleep rarely came easily to him these days, but this was getting to be too much. It was the third night in a row Vincent hadn’t slept at all, and coffee was starting to have no effect. His legs felt heavy, his arms the same. He found that walking around had become particularly difficult, almost painful. His arms had somehow forgotten how to swing correctly, and it was throwing off his balance. He found himself bumping into things so often that he now had bruises in some strange places. 

“You look like hell, Vinny,” his captain said. “Go home, take a nap, get some food in ya, fuck your wife, and remember how good it is to be alive. For Christ’s sake, your bringing the whole office down.” 

Vincent hated when his captain called him Vinny. He had asked to be called by his full name several times since the beginning of his career, but the captain was adamant that employee nicknames boosted morale. Vincent wasn’t convinced as he had earned his title, ‘Vinny, the Poo’, as a junior officer, 30 years prior. He had been on patrol when an old man, in his underwear, had escaped the protection of his family and was yelling obscenities at people on Fifth Ave. When Vincent approached the man to ask some questions and take him home, the old man smeared his own feces on the front of Vincent’s brand-new blue jacket. His Captain, then just a sergeant, had laughed so hard that he couldn’t assist in subduing the gentleman, who had started to fight to get away from the police. Vincent broke one of the man’s ribs trying to hold him down, something he still felt great guilt over to this day. 

“Yeah, Maggie’s been upset with me, trying to get me to take a vacation” Vincent responded. 


In truth, Vincent’s wife, Maggie, had become increasingly concerned about him. She had noticed his inability to sleep as of late and had told him that previous to the insomnia he was waking her up at night, flailing around covered in sweat. 

“They’re just bad dreams, Maggie” Vincent had tried to tell her. She gave him a skeptical, side-long glare and dropped the subject.

Vincent knew Maggie was worried. He had found some of the case files that he kept in the basement rummaged through. He found her in the kitchen one morning, preparing lunches for the kids. When he asked her about the moved materials, she glanced away, ashamed of her intrusion. 

“Why do you keep all those pictures of her?” Maggie asked quietly trying not to sound offensive, “I thought that case was considered cold?” 

Vincent shivered at the thought of Maggie seeing the disturbing crime scene photos. It hurt him to think of her keeping those images in her mind, haunting her in her sleep as they haunted him. 

“WHY WOULD YOU GO THROUGH MY THINGS!” he yelled, not sure why his sadness had so suddenly turned to anger. 

“I’m sorry,” was the only response that Maggie could give. She put down the knife she was using to cut up some watermelon and walked out of the kitchen. 

Vincent stared at the knife lying next to the fruit. He stood to finish the job his wife had begun, but images began to swirl in his head. The shocked face, the black tangled hair, the carved legs, the missing toe with the watermel… 

“Oww! Shit!” Vincent had been so lost in memory that he had cut deeply into his finger dripping blood on the melon he was chopping. Furious, he carried the fruit to the back door and threw it down, smashing it onto the hard wood of his deck. 


It was another two years when a second death came across his desk. Another runner who had been overpowered in the night, taken behind a tree, brutalized, raped, and killed, the big toe of her left foot missing. Vincent demanded that he be put on the case. This is my chance, he thought excitedly, I’m finally going to get this bastard. 

Absolutely not, Vinny” his captain replied. “You had problems letting go of that last girl. The department doesn’t have the funds to see you in therapy three times a week again.” However, Vincent had insisted and in the end the captain had no choice but to relent. It was true that no one on the force knew the first case as well as Vincent did, and despite it being cold for over three years it seemed clear that not a drop of information had leaked from Vincent’s mind. 

“Alright, alright,” the Captain said with a sigh, shaking his head, “Go get ‘em, but if I hear you’re starting to lose it, I’m pulling you.” 

I won’t lose it, Vincent thought, this is my chance.


“The cases are clearly tied,” he told the woman sitting across from him, her legs piled neatly on top of each other. “The missing shoes, the missing toes for Pete’s sake! I know they are all connected, I don’t care what DNA evidence says!” 

Vincent had stopped sleeping again. After another year, and a third killing, he was ravaged by night sweats and terrible dreams that felt more and more like reality each night. While he had not been present at any of the three murders, he was starting to visualize them intensely. He had studied the three cases thoroughly and had become intimately knowledgeable about the crimes. 

Vincent had turned the boiler room of his basement into a second home office where pictures and notes were taped to every wall. Vincent didn’t tell anyone about this home office, or the documents he had wrongfully been scanning and taking out in his briefcase near daily. He made sure to keep this from his therapist, worried that she would tell his Captain, officially kicking him off the cases. 

“I’m worried about you Vincent,” his therapist spoke softly, “have you gotten any sleep recently?” 

Vincent thought before speaking, he had worked so long with convicts that he had almost perfected their ability to speak without incriminating themselves. 

“No,” he sighed, choosing honesty, “not for a while now.” 

The therapist uncrossed her legs and leaned in towards Vincent, gently placing her hand on his knee. 

“I can’t help you Vincent if you don’t tell me what’s going on. The last two sessions, all we’ve been able to discuss is the case.” 

Vincent shifted uncomfortably in his seat. He let his head fall chin to chest, allowing a small tear to fall onto her hand. 

“Can you tell me about the dreams?” she continued. Vincent shook his head, refusing to make eye contact again until the session was over. 


Ring, ring, Vincent’s home-office phone cried out. It was almost midnight and Vincent had just managed to catch a wink in his chair; but, now startled, he picked up the phone.

“Vinny,” his Captain’s voice was clear through the receiver. “Vin, I need you to come down to the station as soon as possible.” 

“Another girl?” Vincent asked apprehensively. He wasn’t sure he could manage the life of another dead runner. 

“Nah, Vin, even better. I’ve got a young lady down here who thinks she has your man.” Vincent was up and running before he could let the Captain know he was on his way. 


She sobbed in front of him, forming puddles of tears on his desk. 

“Is he a danger to me?” she managed to get out between whimpers. 

Vincent offered the young woman a box of tissues. 

“Let’s just start with why you think he might be our perp. Tell me why you’ve come in today.” 

The young woman reached a slender arm into her bag. Vincent observed her, noting that she was young and petite like the others. 

“Do you run?” Vincent asked while she was still searching for whatever was in her purse. “No,” she said softly, slightly confused “I’ve had too many knee surgeries to be a runner.” Thank God for that thought Vincent. 

He watched her as she struggled to remove something from her bag. She looked nervous, anxious; as though whatever it was she was about to hand him would ultimately end a part of her world.

“I don’t think I can do this” the young woman said. 

She pulled her arm out of her purse, empty-handed. Vincent understood, but was getting frustrated. Lack of sleep and the excitement of finding his killer had him agitated and he wanted to get this part over with as soon as possible. He knew that she knew who he needed to find, he just knew it. Even so, he made sure to keep his composure, this girl was a victim too, maybe even a witness if he was lucky. 

“I know you want to protect him, honey, I know you do. This man, he’s your…?” “Boyfriend,” she said into the sleeve of her shirt. She was wiping away tears and snot, snorting a bit to catch what the sweater could not. “He’s my boyfriend, we’ve been seeing each other for almost two years.” 

Vincent quickly ran through his timeline; the couple had begun dating sometime between the second and third murder. This could mean that she might remember something, odd behaviour, bloody clothes… something. 

The two talked for hours before it became quite clear to Vincent that if this girl had truly found his killer, she had absolutely no knowledge of his evil deeds. So, what brought her here today? 

The young woman twirled the straps on her leather bag until she found the courage to reach back in and pull out the reason for her visit. 

“Here,” she said, placing a small Ziploc bag in front of Vincent. “This is how I know he’s the one you’re looking for.” 

Vincent reached out to grab the bag, but upon recognition his fingers refused to grasp it. In front of him laid a small, shriveled big toe with a vibrant watermelon painted toenail.


“Confess.” Vincent said with a touch more whine in his voice than he had intended, he was tired of playing these games. They had arrested the young woman’s boyfriend two days ago, leaving him in a holding cell with the intention of loosening him up. The tactic hadn’t seemed to work, as Vincent had been interrogating him all day without any progress. 

“He’s toying with you Vin” the Captain said plainly, pulling Vincent from the room. “Let someone else go in there for a while, give yourself a break.” 

No, thought Vincent, this is my case, my kill. If anyone was going to get this fucker to talk, it was going to be him, and Vincent knew it. He walked back into the room, slamming his hand on the desk to wake the scruffy man who had fallen asleep at the table.

“Why are you keeping me here?” the man asked. “From the sound of it, you’ve got enough evidence to build your case. Why all this work for a confession? Sounds like something’s not as firm as you’d like.” The killer smiled. His teeth had large brown stains from the cigarettes he continuously asked for. They were otherwise straight, but his smile still gave him a greasy, evil look. Devil thought Vincent. 

“Just trying to tie up some loose ends. See we’ve got witnesses th-” 

“No, you don’t,” the killer interrupted, grinning. “If you did, I’d have been in a line up a long time ago.” 

Now Vincent was truly losing his patience, he could feel his anger brimming, stretching his seams. It took almost all of his focus to keep from killing the man right then and there. 


It was almost a year later, and Vincent sat in his chair. It was the same chair he always sat on, every single day. Vincent had not spoken to anyone in seven months, and before that his only words were just incoherent whispers. Vincent would spend long hours staring out the window. He liked the window, he liked the feel of the evening sun beaming down on his face. 

Vincent didn’t see with eyes that saw, if that can be made sense of. He looked more in directions than at any one particular thing, and he never quite seemed to process what he was taking in. In truth, Vincent had turned so inward, fallen so deep into his pit, that a bomb could go off and he’d still be sitting there, in his chair, staring out the window. 

“Vincent honey, we made dinner, let’s go to the kitchen.” Maggie took Vincent’s arm and lovingly wrapped hers around it. She led him into the kitchen where their daughter Colleen was sitting at the table. Colleen had moved back in with her parents after Vincent’s mental breakdown. She wanted to help with her dad and her two younger brothers, who were just graduating from high school. Besides, Vincent, at times, seemed to get agitated if Colleen was gone for too long.  

Maggie sat Vincent in his favorite spot and made him a plate. 

“The boys are at soccer, honey, just in case you are wondering why they aren’t here.” Maggie wasn’t sure how well Vincent could comprehend his environment, and since he no longer spoke, it made her feel better to sometimes help narrate his story. She felt it was making sure that if he was in there, worried or scared, he would be calmed by her filling him in. She was happy to do it, she loved him. He’s been through so much thought Maggie at least now he seemed happy. 

“Knock, knock!” The Captain joked as he entered through the side door. “Just me.” The Captain had been increasingly present for dinner these days, and often stayed long after to sit with Vincent on the porch. Vincent liked the feel of the wind on his face too. 

“How’s it going Vin?” The Captain said reaching down to place a hug on the silent man. This was their ritual, they did it every time. “Maggie” He said kissing her on the cheek, “Colleen”, he said squeezing her shoulder. “How’s was everyone’s day?” 


The Captain sat in his truck after getting home that night. Dinner was good, he thought, Maggie’s getting better. He remembered Vincent saying once that he was the cook of the family, priding himself on his pulled pork tacos. 

The Captain sank his head into his hands and started to cry. His cry grew incrementally until suddenly he realized he was punching the steering wheel. “FUUUUUUUUUCCCCCKKK” screamed the old man whose hand was now bruised and bleeding. He was beginning to feel like he was spinning. Breathe champ, he thought, breathe, you’re all right.  But he wasn’t all right. In fact, he was worried that he was slowly going crazy. His thoughts drifted to Vincent, as they always did, and he began to replay the tape in his mind. 


It took all his focus to not kill the man right then and there. Vincent forced himself to breathe, nice, even, and slow. He did not want this killer to see him begin to unravel. 

“Tell me what happened the night of the murder,” Vincent said plainly. 

“How could I know detective, I wasn’t there to see it.” His greasy smile had returned to his face, knowing there was no way the police had solid proof, he’d been perfectly careful.

“Confess,” Vincent said seething. He could feel something strange beginning to happen in his body, it was almost as if a part of him had lifted off the floor, hovering meters above his standing, angry body below. He knew he couldn’t go much longer, he needed to show him the one piece of evidence that connected him wholly to these crimes. 

Vincent left the room and retrieved the small bag a terrified, young woman had trustingly put in his hands just days ago. He placed it in front of the killer, pointing the toe towards him so he could see the pretty color of the toenail. He picked up a number of pictures from the crime scene and shuffled through them. Finally, beside the toe he placed a photo of a foot, the foot of his first victim missing a watermelon colored big toe. 

The scruffy man looked at the picture, then to the bag. He paused for a moment, then glared at Vincent. Vincent noted that the killer seemed to be in complete and utter surprise. The moment was fleeting, but Vincent could see the terror in the killer’s eyes, the recognition of defeat. He never thought he’d get caught, Vincent noted. 

“Looks like you got me, cop” the murderer spat in disgust. 

“Confess” said Victor, knowing that he finally had him. This is my win, he despaired, I’ve been waiting for such a long time

To Vincent’s surprise, the man began to talk. He stared right at Vincent, barely peeling his eyes away for a second. Vincent was caught, entranced by the killer’s words. The killer picked up the toe and started at the beginning. He boast of how he had stalked her, watching her run through the park night after night. He told Vincent about one evening, when he dared to get a bit closer, he heard her breathing heavily, steadily, and under her breath chanting ‘You are strong, you are brave, you are mighty’

“She used to run through the field to the baseball pitch,” he said with his greasy grin. “She would lay on the mound, staring up at the stars. She looked so little, all alone in that big open field.” 

The killer told Vincent how she would pass by the three plush trees around 10:15pm, a perfect time to snatch her as most of the neighbors would be going to sleep. 

“People are less likely to intervene when they are tired. Much more likely to pass the task to another, hoping that someone else will take care of whatever is the problem.” 

Vincent up until this time had worked hard and done a fine job managing himself. He sat there, across from this criminal who had committed the acts he had dedicated the last five years of his life to studying, listening to him coolly discuss the murder of this young woman who had found her way into Vincent’s heart. The killer observed Vincent’s face. He could see that though he was putting on a calm demeanor, inside he was boiling. 

“So, you grabbed her. Then what?” asked Vincent. Stalking was a few years in the rig at best, he needed a confession for the murder charge. 

“You sure you wanna know what happened, cop man?” his grin returned. “You’ve been studying this, haven’t you? I’ve been your subject for years now. How many times have you wished for this moment? The one where you get to play bad cop, look me in the face, spit in my eye, and haul me away for murder, huh? How many times have you looked at these photos,” he slid Vincent the stash. “Do you keep them in your room? Under your pillow? Do you have them hanging in your basement, in a room only you get to go in?” 

How did he know that? thought Vincent. 

“You’re asking me a lot of questions, but you’re not answering mine. What happened the night of the murder?” Vincent turned on a recording device and spun it towards the killer. 

“I grabbed this one by her pony tail. She managed to kick me in the balls before I was on her completely, I made her pay for that one.”

Vincent’s heart rate was increasing, and he was starting to find it difficult to take deep breathes.

“She freaked after I cut her leg, started flailing. I tried to get her underwear off, managed to grab a piece even, but she was fighting me so much I had to stop to break her leg. I remember her face paled when she felt the snap; she sure calmed down then.” The killer chuckled. 

Vincent remembered the small bump on her leg where the bone had cracked and come up, but not through the skin. The thought sent an intense shiver up Vincent’s spine. His hands started to quiver, so he rang them in dis-ease. 

The killer continued to talk in depth about the murders, pelting Vincent with grizzly details, without stop. Vincent began to shake. He glazed over for long moments at a time, small offerings of refuge for himself. He dazed in and out of the killer’s oration, the glorification of his gruesome atrocities. He was jumping between the three murders as easily as if he were reading a story. Vincent was hearing the words that confirmed all he had ever believed about the case and he was beginning to lose it. 

“I couldn’t get her to shut up, she kept crying. I wasn’t afraid anyone would interrupt us, but it was giving me a bad headache, you know?” 

Vincent could see the girl laying on her back, hoping, fruitlessly, that someone would come to save her. It was at that point when the room began to spin for Vincent. That small part of himself that had retreated to the ceiling, watching the scene from above, had returned to take more of him away. 

“How ya doing cop man?” the killer sleazed seeing the sheen of sweat developing on Vincent’s forehead, “had enough yet?” In reality, Vincent had had enough. He needed to be removed from that room before any more damage could be done. But he stayed in his seat, listening to the animal before him. The one door in the room remained closed, no one was coming in to stop him, no one was coming to help Vincent. 

Vincent knew that people were counting on him, that the justice for these girls depended on him. The pressure was killing his head, he found that forming words was becoming more difficult too. 

“You wanna know what her last words were, cop man?” 

The taunt was killing Vincent, he hated nicknames. More and more images flooded his mind. Vincent felt himself oscillate between the terror and hopelessness of the victim, to the rage and power felt by the perpetrator. The fluctuation almost made him sick. Vincent wanted so badly to put his hands over his ears, to stop listening to the vile spilling from this man’s mouth. He wanted to curl up on the ground, hugging his knees for comfort. He could hear a small voice in the back of his head; it was faint, but clear. ‘Help me’ she cried, the toeless runner in his mind, ‘help me.’ The voice repeated over and over, getting louder every time. ‘Help me, help me.’ 

Help me, help me,” Vincent began to mumble. Vincent could no longer hear the words of the killer. In truth, the killer had stopped talking watching this grown man shrivel before him. He beamed at the effect he was having on Vincent, it was clear that he was driving the detective insane. Vincent realized that at some point, he had in fact curled up on the ground, that he was rocking himself quietly chanting “help me.” 

“You’re absolutely right, cop man, her last words were ‘help me’.”

In the end, the man had confirmed that he was the culprit to all three murders and was led away for booking. Vincent had gotten the confession he had waited so long for, but at what price? He lay in the corner rocking, with his thumb pressed to his lips as though he were praying.

“What in the world is he muttering?” the captain looked on in horror at the scene. He had been watching from behind the two-way glass and had intervened when he saw Vincent fall to the floor. 

A sergeant, who had once as a junior officer tried to playfully tease Vincent, walked over to the fetal man, and leaned down close so that he might hear. 

“’Help me’. He’s saying, ‘help me’.” 


The Captain hadn’t been able to stop this recording in his mind since it started, about three days after the confession. At first it was just flickerings: small things he had heard the killer say on the other side of the glass, Vincent going to the ground, rocking as he covered his ears like a child.

Later, full scenes came, long chunks of time where he watched his past-self stand by while a serial killer tormented his friend to insanity. 

The Captain shook his head, running his hand through what was left of his hair. He stopped to massage a tense area that had been giving him a headache all week but found the muscle unwilling to budge under his tired fingers.

Maybe he deserved the headache. He was beginning to believe the small voice in his head telling him he was a terrible person.

Why didn’t I help my friend?’ the Captain thought, ‘Why didn’t I stop him, do something to protect him?’

These thoughts had been keeping him up at night. They chased him around in the daytime too, and he had started to find he wasn’t getting as much work done as he used to.

Others had realized this as well. In fact, earlier in the year, he had been reprimanded for letting a case go uninvestigated. He had placed the folder in his desk mistakenly and forgotten completely that it was there. His mind had been in other places these days and it was hard for him to find focus.

Everywhere he went, he thought of his friend. Thought of him sitting in his sad little chair; thought of his kids, hugging the shell of their father. He thought of the killer, of his eyes boring holes into Vincent’s mind, his evil smile ripping at the spirits of all who could hear his confession. The images got so bad, he had started to have dreams about them.

Who Gets To Vote

From the beginning, voting has been an essential tool of democracy. The ability to choose our representation, the candidates who will fight for the needs and wants of our communities, is an intrinsic part of being civically engaged in the United States as well as other democratically oriented nations.

While this right has been consistently provided to a few here in the US, there are a great many actively denied their participation. Since the nation’s inception, groups such as Black Americans, women, the current or previously incarcerated, and other minorities have had to fight for their place at the polling stations.

Throughout our history, as the right to vote was won by these groups, new and improved ways to stop their voices came into play. We call this voter suppression, and it can take multiple forms including legal restrictions that impede access to intimidation tactics, aggression and violence.

In 2020, a year built on turmoil, it should be no surprise that our society is beginning to shine a light on the inequities built throughout our institutions. With a deeply divided presidential election taking place this year, voter suppression reared its ugly face once more.

In Michigan, there has been a longstanding ban against transporting folks to the polls on Election day. A state law passed in 1895 made it a misdemeanor crime to hire transportation for ambulatory voters unless they are physically unable to walk. Historically, this law was passed to limit or at least lessen a type of voter fraud called ‘vote-hauling’, which looks something like:

“I’ll give you a ride if you vote for my candidate.”

In our modern day and age, many organizations throughout the state use transportation as an opportunity to make sure that their clients, who may have limited access otherwise, are able to vote. Due to a federal court upholding of the state law on October 22nd, 2020, these organizations must stop the transport or be at risk of penalty, which can range from 90 days in jail to a $500 fine.

“It is extremely disappointing to see a federal court actively disenfranchise Americans and we are exploring next steps to determine what would be best for the voters in Michigan,” said Guy Cecil, chairman for Priorities USA.

Disappointing indeed. There was a silver lining to the scenario, though, and may groups were able to secure volunteers. The law does not say anything about free rides, so transportation companies can offer vehicles and drivers as long as it is done on a charitable basis and there is no reimbursement for time or gas.

In Ann Arbor, the Shelter Association of Washtenaw County was able to coordinate with Estella Express who provided 100% free transportation for those at the shelter to the polls. Estella is normally hired to take people to and from the airport, but donated her time and vehicle for the day to support the cause.

Loopholes are possible, but should they be necessary?

Getting people out to vote is difficult enough. However, voters experience more disincentive upon arrival. Registering to vote can occur up until the day of the election. It must be completed at the City Clerks Office, and you must have a form of ID and proof of residency. This could be a piece of mail that reflects the address on the identification, something often taken for granted by those who are consistently housed.

For individuals experiencing homelessness, this can be an immediate and insurmountable barrier. Addresses on forms of ID are not always current or local to where the individual is hoping to vote now. Transportation to their polling places could be impossible to secure, and so many choose to change their registration residency. To do so, that piece of mail is imperative, but not always available meaning individuals are turned away, voiceless.

These are barriers within our policies and procedures, but what happens when access is restricted by the people?

For months we have been seeing the divide deepen in the United States. This particular election has been a spark igniting anger and, unfortunately, danger.

Prior to the election, Michigan’s Secretary of State, Jocelyn Benson, attempted to ban open-carry of guns to the polls. The attempt was thwarted by the Michigan Court of Claims who ruled the law illegal as it did not go through the proper process. After an appeal was made, the decision remained firm. Guns could enter the voting arena.

One might inquire as to the necessity for armed weapons in a democratic proceeding such as choosing our next president. It seems there are two potential reasons: protection or intimidation. If for protection, the question is from whom? If for intimidation, the question changes to are we willing to allow this?

Appeals are currently in place to contend with Michigan’s transportation ban as well as the open-carry policy at the state and federal level. While change will come too late for this election, let us come together to decide what we want to see in the next. Always remember, the people are the power; our voices of today are the reality of tomorrow.

Blood Moon


The alarm blared, denoting the time as 11:23pm, thirty-seven minutes before the start of the young woman’s shift. 

Her sleepy dog stretched voraciously, unwilling to give up the comfy heater that was his owner. She scratched under his chin for a bit, giving him a kiss on the nose before swinging her legs over the side of the bed and climbing out. 

She lurched down the stairs finding her feet less inclined to move than most evenings. She was sore from her earlier run. She ran some water on her face, chewed the leftover pizza on the stove, and packed her bag, slinging it over her shoulder before heading out the door. 

It was a lovely night, but there was a shiver on the wind, an uneasiness, and she was more than a little curious at the slight red tinge of the moon. 

“Odd,” she noted, hopping in her car, glad to find she had enough gas to get her to work and home again. 

————————————————–

The floor was quiet; all of her men wrapped in their wool blankets, snoring on their mats. Every once in a while a quiet whisper would leak from someone’s mouth, giving small insight into their world of dreams. The young woman always felt honored in these moments. It isn’t often you get to peek inside the mind of others. 

Though she had quite a bit of work to complete, she decided to take a moment to draw. Drawing had become a safe haven for her in the recent months, a place where she could see her own reflection. Tonight, after about half of the picture was complete, she realized she was drawing the goddess, Isis, her wings spread ready to launch. 

She was just finishing a portion of the bodice, when a noise stirred her. The sound came from the bathroom, but all of the men were still asleep. 

The young woman crept to the door, providing a single rapping of knuckles for politeness. 

“Excuse me, is anyone in here?” she said into the empty restroom. Not a soul answered her, she was alone amongst the stalls. 

The sound had stopped and so she rejoined her blooming piece or art, but it didn’t take even a second of sitting before she heard it again. This time she was certain someone was there. 

“Odd,” she noted again, this time a bit more hesitant. She had seen with her own eyes, just moments before, that there was no one in the room. 

Chalking it up to her imagination, the young woman went about her nightly business, finding need of herself in finishing the laundry. 

The Doja Cat playing in the background was drowned out by the formulaic movement of folding towels. Connect two corners, connect four corners, cross, cross. The same pattern over and over, fifty towels later. 

A shift in the air broke her concentration. The shadow passed by the door and lingered long enough for her to get a look. It was nothing, she thought. Just more of my imagination. 

The young woman put down the fifty-first towel and stepped into the darkened hallway. While she was well practiced at seeing in the dark, she was unable to make out the figure before her. What she did notice was the quiet that had fallen over the floor; snores gone, breathing arrested, little snipes of dreams stolen. 

“He..hello?” she brought the words to her lips. Trembling, terrified. What was this? 

“Girl….” The darkness said in a shadowy tone. It stared at her without movement. 

The young woman’s eyes went big, she could feel them pressing against the inside of her eyelids, threatening to fall to the ground. 

“Girl…” it spoke again. “Why have you called me?” The voice was deep and untouched by light. 

“C-called you? I haven’t…”

“You have called me!” The anger rose. 

The young woman searched her mind. Perhaps she was dreaming; she had fallen asleep to the hum of the dryers. Or even, she had failed to wake up at all, allowing her dog to cozy her in, missing her shift altogether. 

“Why have you asked me here?” The voice did not increase in volume, but seemed to take more shape than it originally had. The silence on the rest of the floor continued. 

The young woman wasn’t sure she could answer the question. She wasn’t fully aware of what was going on. Though she had to admit, the day had not been entirely normal. 

—————————————————

She pulled into the driveway and smelled the smoke. She had built a small fire with friends the night before, and put it out when the crew disassembled. Now, the flames seemed to have resurrected themselves, continuing to consume a large seared log. 

The young woman thought to douse the flames again, however, something else pulled at her mind. 

She had, a few months back, been reading about her African roots. The young woman had been seeking information on the previous rites and rituals of her ancestors and found an unusual piece of “magic”. 

‘Blood is powerful, blood is rich, it will help you catch a snitch. It will help you grow your dough, seal your love, save frostbit toes. It will help you pay your dues, save your ass, walk in others’ shoes. It will kill you where you stand, whether on sea or on land. Be careful with this savage beast, for on your soul blood loves to feast. It will tell you all the lies, unless collected from your thighs.’ 

An old fable, not to be taken too seriously. The young woman didn’t believe it was true, but found the topic interesting enough. 

She originally held the final portion of the riddle to be the location from which to poke or cut oneself. It took her awhile to realize it was referencing menstrual blood. 

Once the young woman deciphered this part of the code, she immediately took to saving a bit of her next cycle; placing it in a vial to freeze for later use. Why not, she thought. Couldn’t hurt to try. 

As the fire burned in her backyard, something told her it was time to cast a spell, time to see if the old rhymes were true. 

She placed the glass piece, filled with frozen blood, against the burning log. As the fluid began to heat, it bubbled up and out of the vial, spilling onto the embers, cackling with each touch. 

As though in a trance, the young woman began to walk clockwise around the fire’s circular pit. She couldn’t help but imagine herself stirring a large cauldron. She could almost feel the tornado spinning at its center, winds pushing her forward in pattern. 

She couldn’t hear the words that were coming out of her mouth, but she could feel them. Even beyond the syllables and consonants was their vibration ringing from the back of her tongue. Her throat on fire as the smoke crept into her lungs, stung into her eyes. 

The blood boiled, bubbling over the lip in a fluffy pile of desiccated plasma. It turned from bright red, to a hearty purple, to dull brown crumbling bits. Finally, with only ash left, the young woman stopped chanting. She stopped circling, and the fire stopped laughing. All was deadly calm.

After a few moments, her dog brought her back into life by barking at the new neighbor with feigned aggression. 

“Enough,” she told him and herself alike. “Enough.” 

—————————————————————-

“Why have you called me here?” 

The unanswered question. The young woman shook. This can’t be… It just can’t be. 

“Be not afraid child,’ the shadow continued. “I’ve not come wanting.” 

The young woman gained whatever courage she could muster. She wanted to bring the figure into the light, she wanted to see the face that spoke to her. 

“Would you mind stepping inside? It’s awfully difficult to see you out here in the hallway.” 

The shadow did not budge, but continued looking onto the young woman as though ready to pounce. 

“I do not prefer the light. I choose to stay hidden. I do not fear the darkness, just as you’ve no need to fear me.” 

“Well then… what do you want?” The young woman asked, still unsure. 

“You called me here child! Was it not your blood seeping into the wood? Was it not your essence, the one true deity of this realm? You have sacrificed life to bring me here, now what is it that you need?”

The figure was still widely veiled, but the bottom of her cloak was observable as a portion lay within the path of the laundry room light. The covering was thick with beautiful designs, symbols and icons of vast variety from flowers to moons and stars, planets, trees and mountains. 

“Who are you?” the young woman inquired. If she was supposed to need something from the figure, best first understand who she’s asking. 

The shadow, which was congealing more into stature by the minute, stood up straighter, her chest pressed out to show her humble confidence. She stood where she stood and there was no questioning that. 

“I am that which you have offered, the sacred feminine. The connection between energy and Earth, blood and humans. I exist in everything and everything exists in and because of me. I take the lives you give. Absorb and realign. I am life, life as it is known by all and forgotten by many. The Black Madonna, ancient, wise, the two-in-one.”

The young woman tried to find her bearings. Still unsure as to whether or not she was dreaming, the woman determined the figure was not there to hurt her. 

“The two-in-one… Black Madonna? What are these things?” 

At this the figure became enraged. Her voice Thundered, swirling throughout the hallway, certain to wake everyone in its path, but no one moved, least of all the young woman. 

“How dare you invoke me, without knowledge of me! You play with the unknown, you should have been burned.” 

The Black Madonna’s fury scared the young woman and she knelt in humility. 

“I’m sorry, please,” she begged, “I only wished to learn more.” 

“And, why should that be my waiting?” The Madonna started to dissipate. 

“No!” she yelled. “Please don’t leave.” The woman hung her head knowing she had wronged the spirit, defeated, shamed. “I really do want to understand this.”

“What brought you to the knowledge to call me?” 

The young woman thought over the studying she had been doing the past few months, looking at some of her roots, her history. She had come across the idea of the blood and fire ritual when reading an old anthropology text from her college years. She found a tribe in East Africa who ritualized their cycles, tying them to the path of the moon. 

The woman remembered her time in Cuba, seeing the ritual sacrifice of a pig. Watching the small animal drained onto an altar, then cooked for the community to share. The offering of one life for many others, a sacrifice that is necessary at its base. 

She remembered stories of burning leeches in the flames, who had imbibed themselves on powerful people; remembered the words about the sacred abilities of blood and that it could be used to make wishes come true.

Something inside her remembered and she knew that she knew what to do. 

“I can’t say for sure, but it just came to me.”

This seemed to jar the Madonna. The spirit had reformed enough to take mostly human shape, though the face waned in and out. The oscillating, smoky eyes shifted, but did not leave the young woman. 

“I can feel your truth,” the Madonna said, unwavering. “I can feel the truth of your soul. Perhaps the question is not who am I, but who were you?”

At this the spirit’s hand reached out, grabbing the young woman. She rested her palm on the woman’s brow, squeezing her unearthly fingers into the crown of her head. 

“Show me yourself: present, past, and future.” 

The Madonna stepped forward into the light and the young woman looked finally into the eyes of the apparition. Her mouth agape in horror as the figure in front of her stared back with the young woman’s face. Like looking into a mirror, everything the young woman did, appeared on the Madonna. 

“Are you…me?” The young woman squeaked out.

“I am all. You are one, I am two.” 

How distorted, to see herself in mirror image, but speaking different words to her. She knew now that there was no dream she could have that would imagine this. She must have stumbled onto something very old and very real. 

After what felt like several minutes, the Black Madonna removed her hand, retreating back into the dark and her foggy construction. 

“I see why you have called me,” the Madonna spoke. “You are on the hero’s quest, you’ve lost your map, and a touch of your sanity.” 

The Madonna began to fade away as she spoke. 

“You need more time, not much, but more. To find yourself. To find who you were.” 

“But if you saw my past, you must know who I was. Can’t you tell me now?” The young woman begged. The Madonna was right, she had been seeking out herself for years now, trying as many things as she could think to find the sacred combination; who she was and her purpose here in this world. 

“To waste a wish on knowledge is to give up on the path. As soon as it is given to you, your path will change. Only you are allowed to give yourself this knowledge. What I can tell you is what you wished for in your conjuring of me. Think back to the fire.” 

The young woman tried to focus all of her attention on those moments looking down at the flames, seeing the vial expand into the bloody cloud of her essence. In her mind, she retraced each step around the pit, and found herself back in the vortex of her slow meditative path. She fell into the rhythm and suddenly the words she spoke started coming back to her. 

I wish for the strength to continue, I wish for the sight to see, I wish for the fight for life, and to be in the places I need to be. I wish to have the power to know what is right from wrong, I wish for safety in the quest, and a companion to come along. I wish for the guidance of my ancestors, who have bred in me the way, I wish for their voice to know the things to say. I wish only for truth and completion in this task, and that I find the answers to the questions that I ask.”

The young woman teared as she heard the words repeated back to her. Lyrical, sweet, yet profound and guiding. How had she known these words? How had she developed such a complete rhyme without any thought at all? She looked to the Black Madonna with heavy liquid brims. 

“I said all that? I made that wish?” 

“Yes,” said the Madonna, “So granted.” And she vanished. 

——————————————————

She was finally home. The sun was brightly welcoming a new day and all the young woman could think to do was to go to bed. 

She wandered into the bathroom to clean up and pee one last time, and found herself stopped in front of the mirror, leering lovingly at her reflection. She thought back over the evening and the visitation that she had, and just as the Black Madonna crossed into the young woman’s mind, she appeared to take over the reflection. 

“Whoa, I can call you whenever I want?”

“Yes, but you should only call when there is need,” returned the Madonna. “You now carry my energy. Frequent it with care.”

“Thank you.”

“I know you are still learning, so I want to make sure. You remembered to seal the gateway, yes?” The Madonna asked.

“The gateway? Like the fire?” The young woman flushed realizing that she had simply walked away from the flames in the pit, she did nothing to extinguish them, or as the Madonna said, seal the gateway. 

The young woman, afraid to tell the truth, kept asking questions.

“What happens if you don’t seal your spells?”

The Madonna lowered her head. “Terrible things. You leave space for others to come through. How did the fire go out?”

The young woman thought on this for a moment. “I believe that it started to rain.”

“Rain? Good! A natural source of water would seal it. But, how long was it aflame?”

“I don’t know.” Again, the harsh embarrassment of getting caught not knowing what you’re doing plagued the woman.

Before leaving the Madonna looked her deeply in the eyes, she placed her etherial hands on the woman’s shoulders. “Seal your spells, and be careful of what might come.”

“What might come?”

“You left a gateway to the spiritual realm open and unattended. Yes, be careful. You could have released something far more terrifying than any of us yet know.”
And she vanished from the mirror.

A Divided Land

As the purple jeep pulled up to my house, I couldn’t help but wonder what this get away would hold for me. This was a new step in a friendship, the perfect bonding holiday: the up north cabin trip.

She squealed to a stop, jamming the gear into neutral. She didn’t stop the truck. She just looked at my in her fake Ray-bans and gave a nod. Ready for me to hop in and get on the road.

It didn’t take long before I saw the first one, Donald Trump has his supporters everywhere, but they were still few and far between.

My bubble is fairly liberal. My friends will vote for Biden. Most of their neighbors will vote for Biden. There’s not a lot of variety here in the opinion that Donald Trump needs to leave office. It’s not everyone, but certainly most.

However, as Ypsilanti slipped away from me, and the temperature dropped a few degrees, I knew that my bubble had burst.

It was about an hour from home when I realized the significant increase in Trump-Pence paraphernalia. They were no longer in spots, but in groups. Three houses in a row, five houses in a row, not a Biden outlook in sight. Sigh.

I was forced to recognize the division in our communities. And what’s worse? I was let wondering one thing: was I safe?

Here I am a young, Black woman in this rickety old Wrangler next to this badass Puerto Rican/Chinese chick, out in the middle of ‘Make America Great Again’ land. Twice the car conchs out, failing to start. She jimmies it, giving the clutch a good talking to, and rips the ignition until finally it turns over. I can’t help but wonder what might have happened if it hadn’t?

In the times we are living, political party has more acutely been synonymous with violence. Trump followers are assigned faces such as Kyle Rittenhouse, the white 17-year old who murdered two protesters in Kenosha, WI; Adam Fox who was the lead instigator in the plot to kidnap Michigan’s Governor Whitmer; and the many other national terrorists who have come before and after them.

Political party has more acutely been synonymous with race where the Karen’s of the world come to lend their wicked words, and racist ideology as well as deep seated structural wounds start to ooze into the open.

If we were stuck, would we be met with violence? With bigotry? How about kindness? Or at least feigned acceptance?

I don’t know. But it was all I could think of as the engine sputtered to life..

To Write

This is my first post, my attempt to take a passion and make it into an art, a craft, and maybe even a living. I don’t know where this will go, I only know that it’s the first time I felt power in awhile. The energy of an ‘AHA’ moment can do some incredible things.

So, here I am, sitting under a window, freezing my butt off trying to lower these bills, writing my first blog post. Who am I? Goodness, if you know, please tell me. I’ve spent the last thirty years trying to figure that out, cheers to at least one more.

I guess that’s what this blog is about. An adventure to find the adventure of my life. I’m sharing it because I’ve seen and done some badass things looking to find ‘me’, I’ve learned and experienced more than I sometimes can convince myself is real. Maybe, if I can put those moments into the world, it might work to connect us that much further. Because if I know anything from these age old years, it’s that is just us in this life, all of us together. And that’s a pretty powerful thing. We need that power now more than ever. Let us take it and remember JustUs.