Categories
Arts and Entertainment

Klara and the Sun Review

By Thomas Faulhaber

[ Minor spoilers. Nothing that would ruin the book.] 

Klara and the Sun is Kazuo Ishiguro’s latest novel, just being published this past March. You may know Ishiguro from his earlier hits The Remains of the Day and Never Let Me Go. I first encountered his work when I read Never Let Me Go a few years ago. Never Let Me Go is about the lives of human clones raised so that their organs may be harvested once they mature and deals with how they view themselves and how they choose to spend their lives knowing that they will die young to save others. It takes a simple but fascinating sci-fi premise and then makes it entirely about the people most deeply involved in that premise, never taking a more macro view and only giving us glimpses of the world beyond them through their interactions with other characters. 

Klara and the Sun is the same way. It is about the life and spiritual journey of a robotic “Artificial Friend,” or “AF,” named Klara, whose purpose is to keep her owner, Josie, from getting lonely. The book is laser-focused on painting an emotional picture of each scene, and sensory details are mostly left up to the reader’s imagination. Many key details are left ambiguous or saved until it is necessary to reveal them. For example, throughout the book it is mentioned that Josie’s boyfriend, Rick, can’t get into a good school because most schools don’t accept applicants who haven’t been “lifted.” Only at the end of the book is it revealed that “lifting” refers to gene editing, and that it can sometimes be dangerous, but no further detail is given. 

Another example I like is how the AFs themselves are never given clear physical descriptions. We know that they have expressive faces, that they have humanoid bodies with limbs and fingers, and that they are similar in size to the teenagers they keep company, but we know they aren’t indistinguishable from people because everyone Klara encounters is instantly able to recognize her as an AF just by looking at her. We never know what the giveaway is, or even if they look like people at all. Perhaps they wear shirts that say “AF” on them, or perhaps they have shiny metallic skin. We never find out, and I think it’s better that way. Because the book is a story about a non-human observer learning about the human psyche by observing people’s interpersonal and internal conflicts, it is purer and more succinct when it focuses on the psychological aspects of each scene. 

Klara and the Sun is a book about spirituality in two different ways. First, like Never Let Me Go, it explores the life of a conscious person with a single known purpose, separating them from people in general. The difference is that the clones in Never Let Me Go passively await their fate, which will eventually be imposed on them by forces outside of their control, while Klara seeks by her nature to achieve her purpose. At the end of the book, Klara feels she has achieved her purpose, and is content to do nothing but sit alone and think indefinitely without even considering her ultimate fate. This is emblematic of the difference between AFs and humans in Klara’s world, since a human would never feel at peace doing nothing with no one, day-in-day-out, just patiently waiting for death. Klara values nothing other than keeping Josie from being lonely, and her life inherently has meaning in this way. The central question of spirituality is that of purpose, so Klara is a story about a conscious being with a singular and concrete purpose in life, which she can reach before death and then feel completed, and how she views us humans who have no such luxury. 

The other important spiritual conflict in the story is far more unclear. The AFs believe that the Sun is a higher power. Klara prays to it directly twice in the book, and she receives visions when she does so. Whether or not the Sun is actually supernatural in this book is a question which is kept in the reader’s mind throughout the whole story and never clearly answered. I was confused about this when I finished the book and it’s the main reason the story left an impression on me. I’m not totally convinced this is truly a mark of skill because leaving an important question open-ended isn’t difficult and can appear lazy, but I’m still thinking about it, so I think it was at least a good choice for that reason. 

The one complaint I have about Klara is that the dialogue is very awkward. You’d expect a robot to talk in an awkward, overly formal way, but so do all of the human characters. The characters use vulgar language a couple of times in the book and it feels very forced and out-of-place, like Ishiguro knew how stiff it all sounded and included occasional swearing just to mitigate that. Other than that, I really enjoyed the book. Wikipedia says Sony is going to adapt it into a movie which, as you can probably guess based on what I’ve praised about the book, I don’t think is a great idea, but I could see it working with a bit of creativity.

Categories
Avalanche Creative Writing Magazine

The Sphinx, and the Boy with no Fear

By Sophia Flamoe

There was a boy they said had no fear. He was scared of nothing and no one, and thus, he believed himself a god amongst humans.  

His name was Cygnus Bane, and unlike the legend, he wasn’t always so fearless. Cygnus Bane came from the worst sort of family for a boy like him; the seventh son of a seventh son, of a poor farmer, Cygnus was all but guaranteed a life of no acclaim and no fortune. But Cygnus wanted more from his lot. He had heard whispers of a witch in his village, a woman said to be able to do unexplainable magic, and grant any wish the heart could desire.  

Cygnus had long watched his village be assailed by the ferocious sphinx that lived in the nearby mountain range, and came down to block their only trade route. Many a hero had risen up to best it, but they could not, for this sphinx, besides having the strength of ten strongmen, was sly, he could not be caught, and he could not be tamed. Cygnus’ own brothers had lost their lives to the wild beast a few years before, and though his brothers had been strong, and cunning, and wise, they had been no match for the sphinx.  

Cygnus believed himself wise, and from that wisdom, he had decided that the reason the sphinx had not been bested was because each of his foe’s had been too scared to be a real threat. That if they had even the slightest bit of courage, they would have been rid of the cursed sphinx years ago. And though the loss had taken its toll on his family, Cygnus did not shy away from pointing out his brothers’ cowardice when facing the sphinx, that each one had died because they were no match in valor to himself or the sphinx, stating that, despite the fact he was barely a man, only just entering adulthood, he was brave enough to face the sphinx. Finally, having had enough, his mother cried that if he were so brave as he claimed, he should face the sphinx himself, and not come back home until he had vanquished the beast. Scorned, and embarrassed, Cygnus left his childhood home, unaware that this truly would be the last time he ever set foot inside it.  

The sphinx sat on the outskirts of the village, in the middle of The Traders Path, looking for an unwitting traveler, or stupid villager for its next meal. When Cygnus approached, the sphinx was picking something out of her teeth with one long, curled talon, and though Cyngus tried, everytime he got within 100 feet of the beast, he could not move any farther. His fear had rooted him to the ground, unable to do the very thing he so believed himself capable of. Cygnus tried all night, and in the early morning, when he had managed a scarce few feet more, the sphinx finally noticed him  

“Oh great hero!” The sphinx crooned, slinking closer to the not so great hero. “Have you come to vanquish the terrible blight? The sphinx who has no match, and no equal?” 

Cygnus stammered, mouth hanging open, and then snapping closed with every passing second, “I-I’m not afraid of you!” he managed, accentuating his words with one tiny step towards the sphinx. 

The sphinx’s smile only grew, “Tell you what, boy-hero, I have grown weary of my games, each foe your village has sent has been dismal in comparison to me, and I find no pleasure in their demise. I wish to leave and find a smarter village to conquer, but someone must solve my riddle! If you, weak minded as you are, can solve my great riddle I vow to leave your village and never return. If not…” The sphinx’s eyes narrowed into slits, and she slunk closer to Cygnus, lips pulling back to reveal three rows of razor sharp teeth, “I will take you and your cowardly little town, and eat you all in one bite!” At this, she snapped her teeth together in a mime bite, sending Cygnus tumbling back over his feet, and then running back into the village to escape the horrors he had seen. As he ran, the sphinx called after him, “My riddle is this; ‘What is something all men have, but all men deny. Man created it, but no man can hold it?’ find me, boy-hero, and give me your answer, you have one year!” Cygnus felt as though the sphinx’s voice followed him all the way through the village.  

Cygnus, having not bested the sphinx, and feeling even more ashamed, found he could not return home, and with no where else to go, and nothing else to think, Cygnus found himself remembering the whispers of the Witch in the Wood, who could grant him any wish his heart desired. And Cygnus wished to be afraid of nothing, and no one. 

When he arrived, the witch looked at Cygnus, and did not seem surprised. 

“The fates have told me of your arrival.” She said, her voice like honey on glass.  

“I wish to be fearless.” Cygnus said, trying to stand up straighter over the hunched witch, chest heaving with every breath.  

“Bah!” the witch guffawed. “Everyone wants something, but no one wants to pay the price. Child, do you know what comes with your asking?” 

“I’ll do anything! I’ll pay you anything!” Cygnus said, trying to muster the courage he wanted so badly. 

“Not for me, you insolent boy! For you!” she cried, throwing her hands wide. 

Cygnus felt his fear taking over, “How do you mean? 

“You will learn. All in due time.” She laughed, jagged and hoarse, and pointed a bent finger at him. “Do you accept your fate?” 

By now, Cygnus had grown tired of her games, he thought her a mad old crone, and was reassured in his righteousness, “Yes!” he cried, overjoyed at the ease with which he was achieving his wish. “I accept my fate, and any cost that comes with it!” Cygnus would become fearless, he would face the sphinx and return victorious, and his family would be sorry they ever doubted him.  

At this, the witch lit up, a faint green glow surrounding her like a halo, and Cygnus felt the hair on his arms stand on end. From her shriveled finger a blast of light shot out, and hit Cygnus straight in the chest, knocking him backwards into a shelf of herbs and vials of liquid.  

When he stood he found he no longer feared the witch, she was just an old woman, too eager to flaunt her magic to be any real threat. He found he no longer trembled at the memory of the sphinx, and knew that should he face her, he would win by courage alone.  

“Now hear this, boy,” the witch called, as he walked towards her door. “You are not yet strong enough to best the sphinx. Go, fight the beasts terrorizing the villages over the world. Make a name for yourself, get stronger, but do not be hasty, do not be brash. Have courage, but do not insult. If you do this, then, and only then, will your fight against the sphinx yield you a victory.” 

Cygnus, who had always been partial to impatience, thought her warning presumptuous, and tiresome, he was strong from a life spent working the fields with his father, and now that he could feel no fear, how could he lose. But he did find some truth in her words, many had fought and lost against the sphinx, and the thought that he could gather some fame before returning home- that his family would hear of his bravery and valor- was too enticing an idea to pass up. So with a brief nod in the witches direction, Cygnus left her hut.  

Cygnus did travel, he fought monster after monster, saved village after village, and not once did he lose a fight. He took his time to think over the sphinx’s riddle, and after a year, he found he had the answer. He was so thrilled at his success; against the monsters, and against the riddle, that though his ego had swelled beyond measure, he believed himself capable of fighting and winning against the Sphinx, for how could he not? He had won every fight he’d since started! 

And even if he weren’t strong enough, he’d solved the riddle! So what would it matter! 

When Cygnus returned to his village the people called out to him, overjoyed, for the boy-hero had come to vanquish the terrible sphinx.  

Cygnus passed right by his home, and his family, without even a glance; they would see, and they would be sorry. 

By the time Cygnus had reached the edge of town where the sphinx lay, a crowd had gathered behind him. Somehow by his not being afraid, they didn’t seem to be so scared either. 

“Oh great sphinx.” Cygnus called, raising a bronze sword in the direction of the beast. “I have come to finish what I started a year ago!” 

The sphinx squinted at him for a moment, then her face lit up, “Ah! The famous boy-hero! Come to finish me off have you? Have you solved my riddle or are you relying only on your… strength.” At the word strength, the sphinx flashed her three rows of teeth, but Cygnus only smiled. 

“I’m not afraid of you, beast, I have something all the rest didn’t; courage. And an answer. To your riddle. 

An Idea!” Cygnus pronounced with a swell of his chest. “An Idea is the answer to your great riddle! 

You see, your riddle was rather easy really. Any fool could have solved it. And to think, I’d heard of your mastery over the spoken word and riddle, and all this time it was just talk. It hardly took any time at all for me to solve, and it is quite dull I have to say. I would make a better master of riddles than you.” Cygnus had begun to gloat, his ego having swelled so large in his travels and victories that he had begun to believe himself invincible, incapable of any wrong or misstep.  

At this, the growing crowd around him gasped, for no one had ever spoken to the sphinx in such a way, and Cygnus turned towards them, raising his arms in a symbol of victory. 

The sphinx-who had never been spoken to like this- had started to become angry, this boy-hero had grown to think himself greater than the sphinx, wiser, more cunning, stronger. And because Cygnus could no longer feel fear, when he saw the sphinx approach, he did not see it for the danger it was. 

“You’re wrong.” The sphinx said, now right beside Cygnus, who’s attention still remained on the crowd. 

“About what?” Cygnus asked, turning, finally, back towards the sphinx. 

“The answer to my riddle is not ‘an idea’” the sphinx said, advancing on Cygnus, a smile curling her mouth. 

 Cygnus again pointed his sword at the sphinx, but it was no use, in one clean bite, the sphinx swallowed him whole.  

For the boy with no fear did not know when he was fighting a losing battle, and a boy with too big an ego wouldn’t back out even if he knew the price.  

True to her word, the sphinx ate and destroyed the remainder of Cygnus’ village, and then flew to find a new, smarter village to toy with. 

With the death of his town, came the death of the legend of the great boy-hero; Cygnus Bane, who was afraid of nothing and no one. The world had forgotten the would-be slayer of monsters. All, except, I suppose, for the sphinx, who thought back on the boy-hero ever so often.  

And of the true answer to his riddle; fear.

Categories
Arts and Entertainment

They Both Die at the End: A book about seizing the day that ultimately didn’t.

By Kalli Dahlberg

*SPOILERS AHEAD, OBVIOUSLY* 

They Both Die at the End is a popular young adult novel written by Adam Silvera. Silvera is an up-and-coming YA author. They Both Die at the End is Silvera’s third and most popular book.  

Silvera’s third novel focuses on two teenage boys, Mateo and Rufus, who receive calls from Death-Cast, a company that accurately predicts death. Rufus and Mateo suddenly have something in common: They both have less than 24 hours to live. Mateo and Rufus are strangers, but through an app called Last Friend they find each other to make the most of the rest of their lives.  

Silvera uses an interesting concept rooted in tragedy that helped the book become a New York times bestseller. The Idea of Death Cast was compelling and the romance between two Latino men supplied more representation in a predominantly white and straight genre, especially since the book is written by a Gay Latino man.   

The inevitability of Rufus and Mateo’s demise added emotional elements to the book that resonated with a lot of people (judging by its 4/5-star review on Goodreads). I expected a book that is so widely praised for its emotional end and depth to leave me reeling, so either I’m heartless or this book is not as good as everyone says it is.  

Silvera’s writing choices do more harm than good. Random POV’s from other characters make the novel appear disorganized and remove focus from Rufus and Mateo. The whole point of the book is that Mateo and Rufus have a limited amount of time left, so why distract from it with other characters who serve little importance to the plot? The worldbuilding is also woefully underdeveloped. The backstory and motives of Death Cast are left up to the imagination of the reader, no one in the novel questions or explains how or why a mysterious corporation can correctly predict your death. The pacing of the book also leaves much to the imagination, Rufus and Mateo are perfectly likeable characters, but we simply don’t have enough time to get to know them, the books’ fast pace makes the emotional conclusion feel unearned. Rufus and Mateo’s love (and their deaths) are quick and leave you confused. Thanks to Silvera’s rush to kill them, both Mateo and Rufus die in very careless and lazy ways, making the reader question the whole point of the book. 

Above all Silvera’s biggest mistake is relying too heavily on the emotional elements of the story, the main example of this is the book’s title, its attention grabbing and curiosity evoking, but it reveals the end, making it hard to form emotional attachments to characters that you know are going to die. Silvera’s writing relies on a non-existent emotional attachment to make the end sad and deep but reading the book you have time to prepare yourself for the tragic conclusion, the “plot twist” is spoiled the second you read the title. While Silvera attempts to kill off his characters in a shocking and unexpected way that will elicit emotion, the only emotion you feel is relief that it’s over. 

 However, it cannot be ignored that many people will see themselves represented in Silvera’s writing. Books written by people of color and or LGBTQ+ people are not common, the white and straight saviorism in YA novels is insidious. Silvera did something important with this book. However, for me, the negatives far outweigh the positives. 

Categories
Arts and Entertainment

Kids Are All So Alone (when puberty hits)

Savage breath bashed the swamp’s surface, turning it a dieted black sort of color. Crash into one another, crash, crash. The swamp had been still for eternities and eons and decades and years and months and days and now. Now it was something of a fairy tale how it cranked and battered and willowed and walloped. The blue dragonflies were gone, the birds’ cries whipped away with the wind too many minutes ago, and the leaves shattered. The grass attacked the mossy marsh that held up nothing but itself and the now vanished children. Their games and laughs were distant. The booming clouds had starved not just the water but the air of its regular flavor. From something usually so sour and stagnant it was now the vividly fresh vibrant unraveled cleanliness of a star. So far away and so clear; so old and decaying, its new marks were old marks turned so dry and liquid-cracked it looked nothing but crystal to a face millions of miles away. Too new for this land, too old for this day. His cries chalked into the air and slammed down right at his feet, dust in scattered bits. They poured and poured from his pounding head, from his veins came the wails of lost. He held a shield of cries to that new day not for self-defense but for fear. The day had vibrated out to spread and spread and spread and the boy sat still then. Then it battered in, walloped around, and willowed its way into the lines of that water and moss and grass. Greyish marsh oozing with grey water caressed the boy in his suit of horror, familiar land clinging to another familiar face. Bubbly cheeks bounced tears in steps from his eyes to the weeping grey.

Categories
Arts and Entertainment

Days on Days on Days…on…Da…n…..ay…….s……..o…………ys……………………

A substitute teacher has no pride, joy, or love other than whatever beautiful city they construct in their own mind.

Mr. Jeffrey loved his job. Most every day, he would meet new children, spread the joy of learning, eat his lunch in an empty classroom and stare out the window (if there was one). Windows large, high up, ground level, looking out at nature, out to the city. If there was a window, Mr. Jeffrey would set one of the student desks in front of it, whip his feet up to the top of that usually wooden and soft worn surface and glare out into space, mindlessly observing moving life while mindlessly chomping on his tuna salad sandwich with chopped celery and white crust-free bread. His time for ease. His eyes could slide from one object, student, tree, bus, car to the next and his inner machinery would slowly wind down, he would forget about anything, everything. He was very loose like jelly during lunch period. No matter what was outside, this was time for Mr. Jeffrey to bathe in his clear and cool successes of substituting for 15 years, a pool that had been filling each weekday and become progressively more and more refreshing. Today’s window was enormous with eight different panes, three floors up and overlooking a large grass field. As the grey sky pounded the ground with its flowing and monstrous dark shapes, the grass seemed to scream back in vibrant green to the black water-filled figures above. How was that floor so green? Kids tap dancing on top in an endless circle, cheerful devilish grins, old pine trees scattered on the field’s edge but somehow retreating in aged, slow motions awa—

—snap.

Tuna sandwich gone. Oh, criminey! There had been a change to the attendance list for 5th, he needed the printed copy from the faculty office. Mr. Jeffrey quickly wiped down the mini-desk with a Clorox wipe, slid it back into place two spots from the front of the class, and skipped to the door. Turned the knob on the door, and hustled down the hall, making sure not to run. Checked the black Timex digiwatch. Three minutes until lunch ended. Down the stairs, right,

turned the knob on the door,

FACULTY OFFICE

Mr. Jeffrey entered and headed straight to the printer. At first, he did not notice Mr. Lucile pouring himself a fresh one from the pot in the corner. Until the door closed. Then Mr. Lucile’s thick nose breathing filled the room with an unpleasant wheeze. Mr. Jeffrey did not look up. He was checking to see if the attendance sheets were there. Mr. Lucile sipped his Joe and turned to eye Mr. Jeffrey. He had seen the guy around but not thought much of him. As if his barely existent tiny smile, perfectly ruffled strands of hair, straight back, pale skin, and slightly untucked brown button up had camouflaged him against the crowd of students. But made him stand out, too?

“Mr. Jeffrey, yeah?” Mr. Lucile gurgled from his thick chin through a mouthful of coffee. Mr. Lucile spared him a quick glance.

“Yes…see I must go…just, uh, see if all the sheets are here.”

“You’re that one sub I see all over. Who you got today?”

Mr. Jeffrey looked up, breathed in, and played along: “Mrs. Donda.”

Mr. Lucile’s colorful, chunky face turned the color of a white, round saucer. He uttered a suffocated chuckle.

“Holy shit and you got fifth now. Bunch of damn demons is what they are, that fifth. Sure, there are probably some good kids, but that main group. When the right kids get together it can be too much. Violent, man.”

For just a moment Mr. Jeffrey’s face scrunched up. He was confused, nothing of the sort was written on the teacher’s notes, perhaps she forgot. Then he dipped his toe into that clear pool and felt cool ease relax his face. He had dealt with all kids.

“I am sure it will be alright. Mrs. Donda did not mention anything out of the ordinary for fifth period. I will be able to handle these children, care for them.”

The fuck? Care for them? Mr. Lucile closed his eye slits and bellowed laughter from deep inside his stomach.

“This ain’t no damn day care. Care for them like I care for my stupid dog, if you want to, but don’t give them anything to grab hold of and tear at. You know what I mean? Donda talks about them like…I mean she doesn’t even talk about them at all anymore…but when she did it wasn’t no good.”

“I understand. Everything will be completed in proper fashion.” The bell rang and bounced off everything in the room, most notably Mr. Lucile’s bulging belly.

“Bye now,” and Mr. Jeffrey turned and strode to the door, turned the knob, and promptly exited.

“Odd duck, man,” Mr. Lucile murmured to himself. Sipped his Joe.

_______

“Phones in the bucket, please.” A reluctant moan filled the room. Mr. Jeffrey trotted around the room with a plastic red pail outstretched. Minimize distractions, take away their connection to the seventh-grade version of real (virtual) life. 

Chunk, chunk, chunk.

 Pink phone, yellow phone, silver phone, all those pretty colors. Mr. Jeffrey was always amazed how free these children were to have phones so young. So young. They did not even know a life without texts. Could they ever detach themselves? Cyborgs in a cyborg world would not even realize they are part robot until someone really told them, he guessed. They would probably never know.

“Phone, please.”

“You give me your phone,” said a child who looked up with a wide smirk. He was wearing a bright orange shirt and had strong features.

“Phone, please.”

“I don’t have a phone.”

“What is that shape in your pocket, then?”

“My pencil.” Laughter. “Look, sir. I’ll give you my phone if you show just how far up your ass your tighty whities go.”

“Phone, please.”

“‘Phone, please.’ Are you a robot? ‘Phone, please.’ What’s next? ‘I’ll be back.’ You know that movie? Terminator. Classic.”

Chunk. A golden phone with a black case landed expectedly on the top of the pile.

After several more chunks, Mr. Jeffrey started up to the front of the classroom, but walked right into a white sneaker that shot out at the last second. His frail stature fell quietly to the floor and his hands hit the wood with two thuds like lifeless hooves, and pain shot through Mr. Jeffrey’s bad knee as it smacked the ground. He winced but held in a sharp squeal, slightly shaken and exhausted on all fours like a cow just prodded and electrocuted and fit into a tiny metal box in one of those giant factory farms. He felt like a dying animal. It rained phones, some attacking the kids in the next couple rows.

“BAHAHAHHHAAAHAHA.” For a second everything in the room morphed into that sound and a flood of hate crashed into his mind, but Mr. Jeffrey speedily regained his cool, scuttled into a crouch, and retrieved every phone faster than anyone would have thought possible for this weak substitute. He stood up and looked directly at the child with white sneakers. The laughter died.

“Come sit in the front of the class. Now.” A grin from the rosy cheeked boy with fresh clothing turned into a straight line along his mouth; he slumped to the front of the class, away from the orange shirt. His eyes flashed from an evil confidence to nothing more than shaking remorse. Normal teachers would whip or mangle that child. Mr. Jeffrey had been taught (by himself) that composure spread to others if applied in the right degree. Accountability for these children was one thing, but past a certain point its roughness bred even more fire and chaos. He had been bullied, beaten, and attacked by countless children, but never destroyed. If he showed anger, he would lose, and they would savagely rip at his flesh. The principal’s office was an option, but he needed to show them he could handle himself. Before and after his lunch break, during business time, substituting had become more than teaching to Mr. Jeffrey. Behind the pleasant surface of “desire to teach” and “better our future generations” and “make parents proud,” it was an internal game of control that he wanted to externally win. Years had taught him how to seize that power.

“I’m really sorry,” said a small girl to Mr. Jeffrey, who looked to him like she was always ready to learn. Her bob pinned hair sat steadily on top her head and she stared at him with an expression of sorrow. He nodded, marched to the front of the class, and clawed at the attendance sheet with his skinny fingers.

Without a tinge of embarrassed flush on his face, “No more funny business. I am Mr. Jeffrey, your substitute teacher today. Let us begin the attendance. Alabaster, Maddy?”

“Ugly!”

“Alabaster, Maddy.”

“Here,” whimpered the girl in the front row who had apologized. Mr. Jeffrey quickly looked up at her with gleams of loving sympathy in his eyes. But that soon faded as well. Emotion was forbidden for a substitute teacher. It was at this moment that he really noticed the layout of the room. In the back flocked a murder of crows, all sitting in their own desks but still hunched over one Bright Orange Shirt, all with beady contempt floating in their eyes just inches above permanently molded smirks on their crystal sharp beaks. One sullen crow brooded in the front row. Their heads constantly twitched and moved around looking for a threat, victim, something to pester.

“We’re all here tighty whitie Jeffrey. Twenty on the list, twenty in the class.” Mr. Jeffrey scanned the class with an unnaturally rapid glance of a hawk eye only obtained by the meticulously studious substitute teacher. He counted twenty, same number of students as listed on the attendance sheet. To Mr. Jeffrey’s left, the clouds had thickened to a dense black-grey forest, and began to squeeze several raindrops onto the large window. The air outside had shrunk into hiding and turned into a murky reflection of the forest above. All this overshadowed and fogged up the vivacious green floor that was a grass playfield. Mr. Jeffrey began again and completed the attendance with no more than fifteen interruptions. The Orange Shirt had a name, and it was Horace. A seemingly ancient name to Mr. Jeffrey. Horace had been the center of everything for a long time, only knew what it meant to control, only knew how to win the lust of those around him. Horace did not view those below him as less than, everyone had just lived so long in their respective places. Things were just the way they were.

“All right class, today on the lesson pla-,” and at that moment from one scrawny hunched crow exploded the loudest belch ever heard at Jefferson Middle School, a great feat for such a famished animal, Mr. Jeffrey noted. No, that child meant no harm he was just playing around. Accident at that. The murder laughed and laughed, really screaming laughter, and that disease spread to the outer rimmed desk students, who stifled grins and tried to hold back bursts of giggles. Loudly, “THE LESSON PLAn today involves finishing your annotations. I am sure you know to what I refer. This should take no more than 20 minutes, and then on to the next task of outlining your initial response to ‘The Lottery.’”

                Papers ruffled out from some, most students’ backpacks, while Horace slid out of his chair and flew to the very back of the class. He whispered something in a husky boy’s ear. Chester was wearing a blue Texas Rangers baseball cap, too small for his head. The hat reminded him to throw like Nolan Ryan when he stepped on the mound. Whatever news Horace gave him turned his face sour and despondent. He shook his head slightly. Horace firmly placed his hand on Chester’s shoulder. That physical feel was so comfortable to Chester, so loving as he felt nothing but stale and stinky air press against his shoulder at home. That orange touch soothed Chester. His face drooped into a deep expression of calm urgency. Horace uttered a slight snicker, patted his shoulder, and smoothly glided back to his seat. Mr. Jeffrey saw none of the finer details in this confrontation and was just asking Maddy if she would not mind handing out “Anyone Can Annotate” sheets to students who had lost theirs. He turned around to face his (Donda’s) desk and began organizing its surface. Ha, managing maniac children and aligning pencils. What “juxtaposition.” That’s a good literature term. Was it juxtaposition though? He was not entirely sure. And then Maddy shrieked. A shriek that penetrated the ears and skin and bones of everyone. That noise was interrupted for Mr. Jeffrey by a shot of pain to the back of his head, something so sudden it faded as quickly as it came.

Then the scream vanished.

The scream was whisked away by a non-existent wind pounding through the classroom. Mr. Jeffrey still stood facing his (Donda’s) desk, and only a dull and faint tapping could be felt on the back of his skull. To his right, outside the window, lighting attacked the murky air from the black forest above, thunder quickly following. The rain was no longer squeezed out like juice but banged against the window, sounds Mr. Jeffrey could not hear. Silence infested his brain, which made that dull tapping seem slightly louder. He whipped his stringy neck around, to look at the twenty-three empty seats in Mrs. Donda’s classroom. The room seemed to bend, the walls falling down on him, raising up, falling down. He stared in wide-eyed horror at the absence of life. Dim light illuminated all the desks that stared back at him like dead fish, waiting. He could not move, was paralyzed at the death in front of him. Then came a noise which sent knives of ice into Mr. Jeffrey’s veins, stinging his heart. Thump, from behind the door leading into the hall, opposite the window. Mr. Jeffrey yipped and clamped his eyes shut, heart frozen but beating rapidly in his chest, ears, head, and fingers to melt the icicles of fear. He opened his eyes and the room began to feel normal again, welcoming to his sight, warm and pleasant. The walls had stopped falling, the tables were just tables, and he realized the children must have just gone out for recess, yes. Thump, again. Like a big, dead animal being picked up and dropped. Like a cow. He creaked his neck to look at the door, and it called for him.

Won’t you dine with me, Mr. Jeffrey, said the door.

NO, NO, NO! cried Mr. Jeffrey.

He stepped towards it; no longer in control of his body.

Tiny little people were tap dancing in his head, spinning, and singing to him. In an endless, timeless circle. They giggled and frolicked and cheered when he moved towards the door. They laughed and laughed at each step, loving Mr. Jeffrey, oh wonderful Mr. Jeffrey, yay Mr. Jeffrey, oh yay! Thump. From the crack at the bottom came a deep orange glow, comfortable and safe to him now. He was one foot away and stared at its beautiful flat face, the faded and knowing surface of a gorgeous—woman? (did he know what that looked like?). He lifted his steady yet weak fingers to the door, clasped ahold of the soft silver knob, warm to the touch, and imagined all the love he could feel. Then he imagined what would be behind. The glowing and smooth wood turned rough; splinters jumped up from its surface, snarling and chomping at him, looking for meat. Behind that door he imagined decay and rotting faces and upside-down grins and drooping, melting eyeballs. Clocks running and spinning, there was no time; every day was the exact same behind that door, that was his life. The children didn’t matter, he never had any power. He imagined himself behind that door: just a sack of meat teaching the same type of children with razor talons and space black eyes every day who were always hungry. They slept with stardust and were ancient demons not from this planet but some sharp world that snapped bones and sucked out marrow like sweet apple juice. The tiny little people cheered. He screamed loud, so loud, but he could not hear his scream it drowned in a deep blue-black lagoon. He did not want to open the door. But it was too late, he was already turning the knob.

Black.

Maddy’s own shriek came back and washed away the memories to a deeper, more permanent place in Mr. Jeffrey’s soul. A place overcrowded with identical memories. He opened his eyes and stared at the bright red laces of a baseball, inches from his face on the floor. He felt an agonizing ache on the back of his head. Overpowering that was a great fear which clenched onto his gut when he saw one student (Simon?) rushing to the door that led into the hallway, panting “ohmiodohmigodohmigod.” There was no laughter in the classroom now. Mr. Jeffrey pulled his face off the floor and jumped to his feet. He took one step towards the door until he felt a wave of dizziness or uncertainty splash over him. He had to grab hold of the desk with his right hand to stay upright. He was losing control.

He cannot reach that door. “NNOOO,” Mr. Jeffrey bellowed at (Simon?) who was just about to turn the knob. He charged forwards like a tipsy bull, and Simon stood in awe at a substitute wavering crazily and madly, tripping and falling towards him. Mr. Jeffrey shuffled in his pockets for the key ring and pulled it out, sweaty palms sifted through the keys, and Simon looked into the eyes of a madman who jammed a piece of metal into the lock and turned. An old door that locked on both sides. “Mr. Jeffrey, are you alright?” The child asked from a distant place, far away. Before turning to address the class, Mr. Jeffrey closed his eyes, inhaled, and cannonballed into his clear, cool pool. It had turned into an orange hot, sticky, boiling liquid that scorched his brain. He moaned from deep pain and spun around. Rain fell heavy through the ceiling and the walls on his clothes and hair, which stuck mercilessly to his skin.

Mr. Jeffrey’s mind was melting.

Thunder bashed above him while chips of lightning illuminated his murky surroundings. Tiny little people tap danced and giggled and whistled and sung in a timeless circle around him on a vivid green floor. The rain hammered his head to grey mush, but it did not touch the tiny little people. Mr. Jeffrey collapsed to the grass. Then they flew eagerly at him with their wings and ripped at his flesh with their beaks.

—snap.

Tuna sandwich gone. Oh, criminey! He had to get the printed attendance list for 5th and 6th from the faculty office. Mr. Jeffrey quickly wiped down the mini-desk with a Clorox wipe, slid it back into place two spots from the front of the class, and skipped to the door. Turned the knob on the door, and hustled down the hall, making sure not to run.

Just another day at school.

Categories
Arts and Entertainment

Delayed Movies

With the Covid-19 pandemic wreaking havoc across the world, many things have changed about our everyday lives. One example of this is the lack of new movies being released. This is due to the fact that most movie theaters remain closed, and many productions have been forced to shut down due to members of the cast and crew getting Covid. Below is a list of movies that have been delayed due to the pandemic, with information on their updated release dates. 

Some movies that have been delayed include: 

Black Widow: 

Marvel’s Black Widow was originally going to come out in theaters on May 1st , but was delayed to November 6th, and then again to May 7th 2021. Set after the events of Captain America: Civil War, the 24th movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe stars Scarlett Johansson, Florence Pugh, and David Harbour. 

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Wonder Woman 1984: 

Although they finished filming at the end of 2018, the second Wonder Woman film starring Gal Gadot and Chris Pine has been pushed back to December 25th, seven months after its original release date, June 5th.

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In the Heights: 

In the Heights was directed by Jon Chu, with music and lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda. The musical was set to be released in theaters on June 26th, but its release date has been delayed until June 18th 2021. The film is based on the stage musical by Hudes and Miranda written in 2007, and it stars Hamilton actor Anthony Ramos.

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Ghostbusters: Afterlife: 

The fourth movie in the Ghostbusters series, starring Finn Wolfhard, Carrie Coon, Mckenna Grace, and Paul Rudd was originally set to come to theaters on July 10th, but its release date has been postponed to June 11th 2021. Even though this is the fourth movie in the series, it is the direct sequel to Ghostbusters (1984), and Ghostbusters ll (1989), and is set thirty years after the second film.

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Dune: 

This science fiction film starring Timothee Chalamet and Zendaya was originally set to be released on December 18th 2020, but was pushed back to October 1st, 2021. This is the first of a planned two-part adaptation of the novel, written in 1965 by Frank Herbert.

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The Eternals: 

Marvel’s The Eternals directed by Chloe Zhao was going to come out in theaters on November 6th, but was postponed until February 12th 2021, and then to November 5th, 2021. This movie is intended to be the 26th movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and takes place after the events of Avengers: Endgame.

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James Bond No Time To Die:  

The 25th installment in the James Bond film series, and Daniel Craig’s fifth and final film in the series was originally set to be released on April 8th, but it has been pushed back until April 2nd, 2021. Development started in 2016, and No Time To Die will be the first James Bond film distributed by Universal Studios.

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Uncharted: 

Uncharted starring Tom Holland and directed by Ruben Fleischer was set to be released on December 18th 2020, but has been delayed until July 16th 2021. This movie has recently finished filming after more than ten years in development.

West Side Story: 

West Side Story directed by Steven Spielberg was going to come out on December 18th 2020, and was postponed until December 10th 2021. This movie is the second film adaption of 1957 Broadway musical, the first movie was released in 1961.

Free Guy: 

Free Guy starring Ryan Reynolds, Taika Waititi, and Jodie comer, directed by Shawn Levy was originally set to be released on July 3rd, but as of now it has been pushed back until December 11th

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Bios: 

Bios starring Tom Hanks and directed by Miguel Sapochnik was going to be released on October 2nd, but has been delayed until April 16th 2021. This upcoming science fiction drama film finished production in May of 2019.