Check out the 2017-18 YAC Zine by clicking the image above. It will take you to a PDF download link. Happy summer reading from the YACs.
By Abigail Horton
You do not remember how long you have lived in the suburbs. For that matter, you have difficulty remembering a life before the suburbs at all, concrete feelings replaced by an intangible knowledge that there should be a world outside.
Once, you tried to ask a neighbor how long you have lived there. You approached a woman whose age had been erased by botox and whose hair was probably bleached.
“Uh, excuse me? How long have I lived here? I’ve kind of lost count,” you admitted, embarrassed. The woman pursed her lips, raised an eyebrow, then promptly slammed the door.
Then, you blinked and realized it was your house. It had always been your house. To be fair, it was difficult to tell in a neighborhood where the only distinction were what municipally approved color scheme were present along with what municipally approved garden were there, but regardless, it was your house. Slightly puzzled, but not as confused as you should have been you entered. Soon, the woman was forgotten. She was never there.
The AC won’t turn off in your house. You tried to once. You won’t try again. That is a wise course of action.
The squirrels are a menace, causing your neighbors to arm themselves with chemical repellents, traps, BB guns. They are ready. You are not.
You tried to leave the suburbs once. You climbed into a large Japanese made vehicle with the AC on, the AC was always on, why wouldn’t the AC turn off? You drove, strictly adhering to the 35 mph speed limit, you drove that way for hours, passing the same muted houses on the same gray streets. Finally, you relented and stopped at a house to ask for directions, seeing a woman’s silhouette in the window. You walked up and knocked, then laughed at yourself. There was no need to knock. This was your house. You had never left.
The fuzzy socks that lived in the armoire persisted off of chocolate chip cookies. They would sneak down at night, one at a time, using their sticky bottoms to propel themselves by lifting up their middles. The chocolate chip cookies were held in a bag in one of the lower cabinets, which the socks opened with their top parts, putting a cookie in there to take up to their families.
The fuzziest sock always went first. For many years, that was a purple, extra-large wool one who had lost its partner years ago. When the humans noticed, they threw it out, which then lead to a civil war between the socks who wanted to install a democracy and the ones who were fine with the system of the fuzziest first and in charge.
If the humans noticed the excess fuzz and lint on the ground, they didn’t attribute it to their thinning socks. But, no matter how thin the socks got, or how fuzzy the battles that day had been, the two sides always came to a truce in order to retrieve the cookies.
In the end, after much fuzz was shed, the socks who were in support of the old system won, and the new leader because a grey women’s sock. It still lead the charge every night, from the armoire where the socks were kept, down the wall, across the bedroom carpet and kitchen room hardwood, to the lower cabinet where the cookies were held.
It went on like this for years, with no human ever noticing the socks move or the missing cookies. It went on all the way until the family split apart and moved away, taking half of the socks to a house with tile floors, where they were barely needed, and a house with painted wood, where they were worn every day.
Even then, the socks continued. The ones in the hardwood house had a hard time finding the cookies, searching every corner of the house until they eventually gave up and starved off, one by one. The ones in the tile house found them eventually, in a cabinet underneath the sink, but even there, they weren’t as steady of a supply as they used to be.
As if to add insult to injury, the socks in the tile house were further split up. They were displayed one day, while humans walked among them, picking them up, feeling them in their hands. One by one, they were picked up and taken off, and the remainder were thrown out.
When my sister wore her bathing suit and swam, I wore mine and swam with her. When she wore her Harvard sweatshirt and went around town, I wore a dress from a thrift shop and followed her. When she wore a hospital gown and laid in a bed, I wore my pajamas and laid in my bed. When she wore a long black dress and laid in a casket, I wore my evening dress and sipped a martini.
By Emma Davis
You are walking through a graveyard not far from your house. It has just rained. The air smells crisp, fresh. Like dewy grass. The wet stone of the headstones smells, too. You can’t describe it, but it smells like something. Something cold and ancient and wet. You want to lean over and touch them, the tombstones shaped like crosses and monolithic rocks. You want to feel their cold, ancient, wet surfaces.
You keep walking. The air feels lighter after the rain. Like all the pollution has been washed clean from the air. Where did it go? Into the
concrete. Into the sewers. Into the earth, into the cold soil of the graveyard. Into the decomposing coffins of the men and women and children lying six feet beneath our feet. Does it hurt? The pollution, does it hurt? Does it burn their skin and eyes like it does to the living?
You keep walking, past monolithic marble statues of angels. Past the stony cold mausoleums that protect the stony cold corpses of Klansmen from the polluted rain. Past everything. Where are you? You don’t know. You have just been walking, walking. You look down at the small, triangular stones hardly protruding from the dirt. Names are carved on them, names that don’t sound like yours. You crouch down and stare at them. You stare at these names, carved into the stones in the ground. You are in some out-of-the-way little plot over here, but it feels important. There is just something about the air. As if somehow, someone forgot something in this little plot. It feels like the people here, the people with the small, triangular stones placed in the dirt for remembrance are trying to tell you something. Trying to tell you that they might have been something, might have been someone, even though no one cared for them enough to let their families give them carved crosses and mausoleums to protect their bodies from the rain. Trying to tell you that they were forgotten. You look up. You realize that this was the “non-white” part of the cemetery.
You cannot leave here. You cannot abandon these people who have been forgotten, abandoned for so many years. You cannot leave these people who were not considered people. You cannot leave them to be eaten away by the pollution. You continue staring at the segregated graves. The graves of the men, women, children. The graves of the loved ones who were not loved by society. The people who were left behind, ripped and thrown aside like dirty rags. Invisible, even in death. You scan the tombstones. Scan them for something, even though you don’t know what it is you’re looking for. Your eyes land on a single, little triangular stone. There’s nothing special about it. But there is something. You begin walking. Walking towards it. You don’t know why, but you just keep going. You get nearer and nearer, until you finally reach it.
The grave-marker itself is blank, but on the stone is a note, a piece of weather-beaten paper, crudely taped to its empty surface. It is nothing special, just a few words. An epitaph. But there is something about it. Something that sends chills rippling up your spine. Something that makes you stop and read it over and over again. This is what it says.
Here lies a child.
An unnamed youth.
Unwanted by society,
Unseen by the men
Who did not care enough
To spare his life.
By Alison Child
My nerves are shot. My chest is constricted. I can’t breathe. I’m trembling. I am stagnant, afraid, and unable to move. Throughout my short life I have never been so terrified, yet so helpless. I’m chilled to the bone with sweat and my teeth are chattering. My throat is sorely red from screaming with such fierceness that my ears failed to register the sound. A frantic, deep flutter pounds against my neck as my heart struggles to keep me alive. Tears numbly fall through my cheeks, indistinguishable from the sweat.
I whimper hoarsely against my will and I swiftly bite my tongue. I ball my hands into fists against the pain, the rigid texture of chewed-off nails digging into my flesh. My eyelids quiver, straining against the blinding shadows that confine them. It wouldn’t have mattered if I had just shut them, but they refused.
I take a shuddering breath through my nose, dust clinging to the walls of my throat, and exhale loudly through my mouth. The sound rattles in my ears and I purse my lips to capture another whimper.
I plaintively lift a fist from my hip, and pound against my coffin door.
Knock knock knock.
Let me out.
Alison shared this with Leo
By Leo Earl
The spot on my hoodie beneath my neck is completely soaking wet, it’s funny, because the only thing I can think about is how it feels different from what I expected. I don’t really know what I thought having sweat soaked clothing would feel like, but I definitely didn’t think it would be burning hot and sticky. It felt like someone was pouring molasses made out of my own hot tears down my neck. I can’t move but from my back, the world is endless amounts of blue, it feels much more vast and empty than I remembered, almost icy. It feels like it’s filling me up everytime my heart knocks against my temples. I can’t remember how long ago I started shaking with every single breath but it seems to be normal at this point. God I’m a mess. All I do is go out for a little morning walk and suddenly I’m lying on the grass, unable to move, while sweat entangles me in its burning noose. Hours or perhaps it was a matter of seconds pass before I manage to pull myself up into a sitting ball of broken human, my entire body rattling against the wind. I remember her telling me, eyes dancing around my face, that my heart was like the universe, it could never be too full and it held colors so vibrant that the common man would ogle at its brilliance. But my insides feel more like a black hole, empty, hollow, drowning in darkness. I don’t want to move. She would’ve unwound my burning arms, clasped so tightly around my stomach and placed them around her neck, gently pulling me up until my entire body weight leaned into hers. You think too much she’d say, like I was a being a silly little child. Perhaps I was. But it’d never feel like she believed that. She’d start to sway us back and forth in a gentle, silent waltz, holding my fragile body like a precious jewel. I’d try to talk, push out words to explain myself but she’d just roll her eyes, put down the words my love, you don’t need them today. I’d try to argue but my throat would be burning and eventually I’d give in and let myself melt into her rhythmic box steps. Perhaps this is how death will come and greet me, curled up and shaking, grass covering my entire backside, drowning in sky, completely empty.
Leo shared this Elaina
Everyone my age remembers where they were that day. The signal was strong and focused, concentrated at 9MHZ. It originated from a seemingly empty piece of space, about 20,000 AU outside the heliopause, in the near Oort Cloud.
Initially scientists were stumped by the message. It contained an opening sequence, four different numbers, and an identical closing sequence. Every 5.52 hours; or the half life of Mendelevium-257, a new message was sent, contained the same opening/closing sequence (what scientists began to call the header), but a new set of four numbers.
The breakthrough came several weeks in, when a brilliant Mongolian mathematician realized the numbers correspond to the same thing. The first number was a prime, the second a Fibonacci, the third was a perfect number, and the fourth was a Pell number. They all corresponded to the same number; the number of their term.
For example, if the message was sending the number ‘2’, it would first send 3 (the second prime), 1 (the second Fibonacci), 28, ( the second perfect number) and then 1, (the second Pell number).
What the message was trying to tell us was, however, completely unknown. A Breton computational musician, working in tangent with his young son, revealed that the first half of the header was in fact a version of the Transformers theme song, with the words taken out and each note mapped to a octave with twelve notes, then forced back into an eight note scale.
In the Transformers, the titular Transformers learn English by monitoring the internet. This was pointed out by the Breton computational musician and his son. Attention turned to the second half of the header, which seemed even more complex than the first.
A bright young Canadian, analyzing the second half of the header, realized it was the cosmic background radiation, amplified by 10^4, and varied specifically at time intervals. Mapping these variables by time, he revealed a sequence in binary.
The binary sequence was 000 0010, 000 0101, 000 0100. Observing this, the Canadian boy noted that they correspond to three ASCII control characters, START TEXT, ENQUIRY, END TRANSMISSION in that order.
Hurriedly, the numbers transmitted were tried as ASCII characters, but it failed to match up. Variations on the numbers were tried, but, remembering the earlier musical manipulations, an alternating sequence of base eight and base twelve, with the modulo of each number taken when divided by its base ten equivalent, was established.
The message stopped transmitting just as we finished deciphering it. It had been 110 days since we had first received the message, and in those 110 days the message source had moved 2640 AUs closer to us, consistent with a spacecraft going 150,000,000 km/hr or 3000 times faster than anything we had ever built before.
Based on radio telemetry, we deduced that the transmitter had initially been still, and had accelerated up to its current speed over the course of the 110 days. It was accelerating at a rate of 56,818 km/hr2
A theoretical physicist working out of Mauna Loa showed significant apparent disortians in the stars at point the message was first received from. These observations were consistent with the expected Schwarzfeld radiation from a rapidly decaying wormhole.
The message, fully translated, was published internationally and simultaneously on every bit of media on earth.
Internet, TV, Cable news,
Newspapers, magazines, books
Mailers, telegram, radio
Spinny sign held by a guy outside of Taco Bell
Carved on bullets in warzones
Planes flew it on banners
Planes wrote it in the sky in their exhaust
Detonated onto the side of the Black Hills in South Dakota
Carved into clay
Whispered in awestruck voices
We’re no strangers to love
You know the rules and so do I
A full commitment’s what I’m thinking of
You wouldn’t get this from any other guy
I just wanna tell you how I’m feeling
Gotta make you understand
Never gonna give you up
Never gonna let you down
Never gonna run around and desert you
Never gonna make you cry
Never gonna say goodbye
Never gonna tell a lie and hurt you
We’ve known each other for so long
Your heart’s been aching but
You’re too shy to say it
Jonas shared this with Sonya
The summer I was twenty-five, I rented an apartment without looking at it. It hadn’t required a down payment, nor any additional time before renting it. My old landlord was evicting me at the end of the week, so it was that apartment or the street.
Or maybe I could move back in with my mother, if I could find her. She’d gotten in the habit of sending me old-fashioned postcards in the language of the country she was in, each one. I have never learned to read any of the languages, so I’m not sure why she bothered. I’m pretty sure that she had never learned them either, based on the number of times “ابنة” was  printed, over and over again. Besides, my mother never seemed to be the type to learn other languages.
So, off to the apartment I was. It was only on the day I moved in, when the smiling reception lady asked who I was there to see that I realized how out of place I was.
The apartment was nice, though. It was filled with light, painted in pastel colors. The rules, though, drove me crazy. I had to be in bed by nine and couldn’t play any music or have too many people over.
I worked much more that summer. Mostly that was because every time I went home, there were several old ladies who talked at me about the old times, rambling and rambling without a point.
One of them, who only came up to my chest, muttered something in French every time I passed her in the hallway. She lived just two doors down from me.
The French bothered me. More than one boy had tried to flirt with me in French because of my overly French last name, but I didn’t speak a word of it.
It also reminded me of those infernal postcards that my mother kept sending me in languages I didn’t speak. One of them had a picture of the sun rising over a non-descript beach resort. It was postmarked from Malaga, Spain. And, naturally, it was written in Spanish, even though I couldn’t get past ¿Comó estás?
La madrugada aquí está despampanante. Viviré aquí por dos mesas más, y, después, moveré a marruecas. Espero que estás bien. Veo que tú estás en chicago ahora. Es una ciudad muy especial. Nunca te dijo este, pero yo nació en chicago, hace muchos años. Por favor, me escribes una carta en repuesta.
Con besos y abrazos
The day that postcard arrived, I went out to the post office to check the mail. The receptionist usually delivered the mail to the old ladies, but I figured I should save her the trouble. Besides, I didn’t need my mail delivered to me, just like how I didn’t need the on-call paramedics or the 24-hour reception.
I was walking back to my apartment, postcard in hand, when I noticed that the door two doors down from mine, that of the old French lady, was open.
There were a few young men going in an out and the door kept opening and shutting. I went into my apartment to set the mail down, and then I went over to talk to one of them.
The woman who always spoke French to me was dead. They were having an estate sale, as she had no family.
Barely an hour later, and they were ready. I went in. All of her stuff was arranged in neat rows, although there wasn’t very much of it. Most of it was old lady junk, sneakers and porcelain figurines.
There were also a few old photo albums, which I was surprised by, as they had said the old lady had no family.
Three volumes were full of pictures of a bright-eyed baby. A girl, who grew up to have long, lanky limbs and pale skin. It wasn’t until the very last picture of the album, a very faded, brownish one that I realized I recognized her. The picture showed her, now a young woman, in a short dress, surrounded by a few other young men and women. One of the men was wearing a brown leather jacket and had one arm around her.
Her. The daughter of the lady who spoke French to me. My mother.
After that, I felt stupid for not recognizing her earlier. She had very distinctive eyes, and they were present in every photo, looking levelly at the camera.
Next to the table with the photo albums, there was a cardboard box of postcards. They looked like the ones she was sending me now, more like paintings than photos, each one written in a different language.
Out of curiosity, I starting looking at the dates. My mother had sent one every month for a few years, then slowed down to one per six months, then one a year, then one every two years, then they stopped all together.
I sat down on the floor of that small room, feeling my breathing in and out. Maybe all of those times the old lady had tried to stop me in the hallway, she was trying to tell me this. Maybe she knew I was her granddaughter. And maybe not. I would never know, now.
I stood up, wondering what to do. I could try to claim my grandmother’s stuff. But I didn’t really want it.
So, instead, I just put the photo albums in the box of postcards. Then, I walked down to my apartment and set them instead the door.
I looked a little longer at the postcard my mother had sent me. An idea occurred to me, so I walked back, two doors down, and bought one of the language dictionaries that my grandmother had stacked on her bookshelf.
Then, I went down to the post office and bought a card with pastel colors.
Hola I started. Estoy bien.
The dawn here is stunning. I will live here for two more months, and, after, I will move to Morocco. I hope you are well. I see that you are in Chicago now. It’s a very special city. I never told you this, but I was born in Chicago many years ago. Please, write me a letter in response.
With kisses and hugs,
Madeline shared this with Cassidy.
I think in numbers. I know that’s a little strange, but I like them better than words. When I was a little kid I used to say it was because they’re hard and not fluffy like words, just like my bedroom floor is hard on my back so I sleep on it instead of my Optimum Model 2 mattress, which makes me feel like I’m drowning in the ocean.
I think in numbers. The Cheerios in my bowl aren’t stale or round or scrumptious or soggy. No. There are 27 of them, which is an odd number with the factors 1, 3, 9, and 27. My brain hurts sometimes and counting the Cheerios makes me feel better. 1, 3, 9, 27.
I think in numbers. When I get to the Special Education classroom, my teacher Miss Patty smiles down at me and says, “Hello, Jonathan.” She is wearing a red and purple plaid shirt and she has on bright red lipstick.
“What do you say, Jonathan?” My mom nudges the small of my back.
No touching no touching no touching.
I know what to say, but I look down and keep my mouth shut because you can’t say hello in numbers.
I think in numbers. I take a piece of blank paper out and a green pen and I begin to write out the prime numbers. I have just gotten to 89 when a girl comes over to me. “What’s that?” she says, sitting in the chair across from me, which is too close.
I keep writing. She speaks again.
“Why don’t you draw pictures like the other kids?”
I force myself to look up. The girl has straight brown hair and very dark eyes. There is a bruise on her left cheek that has the mold of a fist. The hairs on my arm stand up. She doesn’t look like Miss Patty.
“I don’t like pictures,” I say. “I like numbers.”
“Oh.” She nods with comprehension, and points to number 89, which I have put a tick mark beside. “Is that your favorite?”
“You know. Like…the one that’s the most special to you. Kind of like the best ice cream flavor. It just makes you happy.”
“No. I don’t have a favorite.” Because I don’t. The numbers aren’t special or happy or an ice cream flavor. They’re all the same. They’re all just numbers, spanning on and on as they inch closer to infinity.
“Oh,” she says again.
I think in numbers. The chess board has 64 squares and I am winning. My opponent is a small blonde boy named Albert who has cerebral palsy and a blue wristwatch.
He hits the clock once with a shaky finger. I move the rook up three spaces and hit the clock. He captures my rook with his bishop and hits the clock. Then he gives me a thumbs-up.
I give him a thumbs-up too, because I like thumbs-ups. Albert doesn’t talk, but we can understand each other through chess and writing and hand symbols.
He thinks in numbers, too.
I move my king one space to the right. He advances his pawn one space forward. I move my queen two spaces diagonal and capture a knight.
I think in numbers. But the world is not made up of numbers. The world is made up of people and words and noise and laughter and screaming and happiness and terror. The world is loud, and numbers are quiet.
I scream for 152 seconds while Miss Patty struggles to keep me in the straitjacket. “It’s for your own good,” she says. “So you don’t hurt anyone.” I scream even louder and pound my fists because I want to tell her that I don’t want to hurt anyone. But I don’t say anything because the world is already so big and loud and full of words and I don’t want to make it any worse. I think in numbers, and numbers are quiet.
I think in numbers. When my mom comes to the Special Education classroom to pick me up, the only other person left besides Miss Patty is the girl with the fist-shaped bruise. I am writing out my prime numbers list again. She is reading a book in the opposite corner of the room.
“We need to talk about Jonathan,” Miss Patty whispers to my mom. She doesn’t think I can hear but I can. “I’m not sure this is the best fit for him.” They leave the room. The door shuts quietly behind them.
I write down the number 141, flip the paper over, and continue on the next side.
Why don’t you draw pictures like the other kids?
I put my pen down and look up at the girl with the fist-shaped bruise across the room. It is much easier to study her when she’s not looking at me at the same time. Her hair falls over her face as she reads. It reminds me of the green silk curtain with yellow spirals on it in our living rom, the one that always ends up covering the couch when Mom leaves the window open and the wind starts blowing it around. The girl tucks her hair behind her hair. She’s pretty, I realize, with a start. It is a strange realization to have, and for a minute I think it might be big and loud inside my head like words and noise, but it isn’t. It’s quiet, like numbers. She isn’t pretty like pretty people on television, like Jennifer Lawrence or Michelle Pfeiffer. It’s different.
She looks up and sees me studying her.
She walks over.
I think in numbers. The girl with the fist-shaped bruise sits down across from me. “Are you still working on your prime numbers list?” she asks.
“Can I see it?”
I nod again and turn the paper towards her. She studies the list carefully. She bites her lower lip as she reads. When she’s done, she picks up the pen and scribbles something at the bottom of the page.
“It’s called pi,” she says, turning the paper towards me. “Have you heard of it before?”
I shake my head. I feel myself starting to get a little nervous. It doesn’t look like a number. I’ve never seen it before.
“You can’t right it out using digits, like the rest of them. Well, you can, but it would take forever. Because pi is different than the rest of the numbers. It’s non-terminating.”
She thinks in numbers, too.
“It’s my favorite,” I say, pointing to the strange new number on the page. New things are uncomfortable. But uncomfortable is okay, I realize.
When my mom steps back into the room, her eyes are swollen and red. She smiles at me. “Time to go, Jonathan.”
I think in numbers. I count by fours in my head while my mom explains “the situation” to me. She tells me that they won’t make me talk but that I have to be more controlled. She tells me that maybe this school isn’t the best option for me. She tells me that it is so hard for her to find a good place for me because knows I don’t like school.
“Second chance,” I whisper. “Please.” I think of the pi symbol the girl with the fist-shaped bruise showed to me.
My mother’s lips break into a smile. She takes a deep breath and nods. “Okay, Jonathan. Second chance.” She looks at me through the rearview mirror. “Life will always have second, fourth, eighth, sixteenth chances for you if you learn from them. Second chance.” She begins to hum. For once, I don’t mind.
I look out the window. I think in numbers, but at least I’m not alone.
Sonya shared this story with Adam.