In our Summer issue, we brought you some great selections from more than 140 entries to our 20th Annual Creative Arts Collection. Here are a few more:
by Natalie Uy
"In Mexico, I had the fortune to quickly take a macro shot of a scarlet macaw before he flew away," Natalie Uy writes of her photo. "The complexity of something as simple as a feather is stunning."
by Dylan Mathews
He lay on the brown, snow-smattered floor of the clearing, his chin on his folded arms, and high overhead the wind blew in the tops of the jungle gym. They said war changed a man. That a piece of metaphysical prose which comprised the human condition was irrevocably fragmented from a psyche in the throes of battle. They said that when the pretense of civilization was left behind in pursuit of the primal heartbeat of conflict which anchors humanity to the animal pond of origination, a return to innocence became but chaff in the winds of time. They said you’d catch an awful cold if you didn’t wrap your scarf all the way into your jacket like mom showed you, and if you come home sniffling again then don’t expect a free day out of school, because you know better than that, young man.
Bobby Jordan watched his breath dissolve in the air before his eyes while he slumped against the cold bars of his cell. He stuck his hands into his jacket. He peered through the confines of his makeshift jail to assess the guardsmen. They were a scrawny pair. No more than green recruits. One of them certainly couldn’t help having been fitted in a viridian jacket, but his cohort had no such excuse.
Sliding to the ground against the back of his cage, he gave a reflectively rueful look to the sky. Defeated. Captured. Dishonored. Imprisonment afforded one a hideously prolonged span of time with one’s personal demons. Where was the bright-eyed young man, eager to leap into the thick of combat? How could he have been so brazen as to thus let his friends down? Could he ever muster the courage to look them in the eye, should he ever escape this prison of icy metal? Had that one snowball really hit him when he swore it only grazed the tip of his hat, and that Bradley was being totally lame? Such were the deliberations of a broken spirit. He forced himself into a brief reprieve from this introspection by the observation of his guards.
They were nervous. He could sense it. They’d fallen silent some time ago and taken to pacing back and forth, and their last exchange of information had been the half-hearted assertion that the course of battle had become “super boring.” One of them appeared fixated on something just beyond the low, snow-covered hill which cast a shadow over their iron confinements. The other noticed.
“Stop being a sissy!”
“You keep looking over there all scared-like!”
“So? Wait, nuh-uh!”
“Just keep your eyes on the prisoner, all right?”
“Well, the scout’s down and we don’t have anyone to watch the hill.” The scout had, in fact, sustained a considerable injury in the earlier sortie in which Bobby had been captured, and had been extracted to headquarters to have said splinter extracted.
“Scaredy-cat, you’re scared! It’s not like they’re coming back anytime soon after the beating we gave ‘em last time. Their lieutenant-assassin(1) ran away so fast her bow fell out!”
“Huh? No it didn’t, I saw her!”
The guard pointed to the little piece of green fabric lying in the snow a few feet outside the bars. Bobby caught sight of it, and felt the weight of that inhuman deprivation of liberty melt from his heart like the last remnant of snow from the seesaw’s hinges. The guards stepped outside to inspect the hair ornament. They never heard the snowballs that took them in the sides of their heads.
It took the two fresh-faced sentinels a moment to become aware that they were presently white-faced with snow before promptly keeling over to the ground, unsuspecting victims of ambush, one of them muttering something to his cohort to the effect of the insidious military tactic being totally unfair.
Mary and Andy leaped from their cover of the bushes atop the hill and dashed past the fallen foes, storming the fortress of worn iron and shattered hopes by slipping past its two-foot-wide gaps, a clear flaw in the design of its apparently civilian-minded architects. Bobby found himself hoisted to his feet, still staggered by his being suddenly thrust out of the oppressive fog of despair into the brisk, rushing waters of liberty.
“The guard change,” warned Mary as the three of them stumbled back out of the prison, and as if on cue, a sleepy-faced veteran ambled into view. He scarcely had time to dodge a projectile hurled his way by Andy before crying out, “Prison break! P…prison break!”
The world boiled. The three escapees darted forward like a dodge ball held underwater in a pool for a while hurtling toward the surface, and the newly awakened hive of the enemy began to buzz from every direction. A storm of powdered projectiles roared around them, its eye centered on the three as they sallied forward into the very jaws of death, their passion a defiance of the fate that equalizes all mortals and the rules they set up before recess started. Bobby kept his head low as he sprinted forward, embracing the sting of the harsh January wind. Mary was the stronger runner, and she kept the lead, while skinny Andy formed the rear guard. The biting cold, his shortness of breath, the stitch in his chest, the heckler among the enemy ranks exclaiming his projectile to have “so hit him just then,” none of it mattered any longer. Mary scooped up her bow as they passed it, grateful for its service as a decoy. Almost seamlessly, the three ceased to be the mere bold soldiers storming through enemy lines, but Napoleon’s vanguard at Jena-Auerstedt, spearheading the Corsican’s hubristic bid against the Prussian army. At least, so Andy would recall upon doing his book report on Napoleon for history class next year. Bobby was imagining himself mounted upon a bold destrier, and poets in the hours to come would give him an A for effort. Nary a word was spoken as this noble retreat was carried out, yet volumes uncountable were communicated betwixt the three.
Mary was the first to cross into martial asylum—the merry-go-round past the picnic tables. As her comrades dove onto friendly ground behind her into the arms of their friendly allies in arms, the girl stood on the border of their territory and took on the yoke of negotiation for the tactical cease fire following their escape.
“We’re safe now, y’all can’t get us!” the young diplomat opened the floor.
“What? Nuh-uh, no fair!” came the poignant rebuttal.
“Yeah-huh! We can’t get hit while we’re in the base!” She clung to one of the metal bars of their gyrating base of operations to drive her point home. Her allies bobbed their heads in concurrence.
“Hey, you did that to us when you ran off!” interjected one of the dishonored guardsmen who came staggering after the rest of his battalion. It was a fair point, and Mary expressed her consternation at the diplomatic tension by biting her lip.
“Yeah, but it was super cool!” called Admiral-General Eric, to the begrudging muttered consent of combatants on both sides of the field. Amidst the murmurings, Ryan, acting Brigadier-Cyborg of the enemy side, raised his hand to address the others.
“Very well,” he conceded, “in light of the enemy’s display of great courage and bravery in the line of duty... twominuteceasefirego!” Ryan took off in the opposite direction, shortly thereafter followed by the rest of the army to reconvene, and a ragged cheer went up.
“All right, enough chitter-chatter soldiers, fall in!” barked Mary. The others consented, hustling to attention as she took her place atop the center of the base while trying to not get dizzy as it rotated. “Sir Brian, what’s the situation?”
“Not good, ma’am,” replied the grizzled veteran, “three more went down in the last volley while you were gone, and Ensign Nick was checked out for a dentist appointment. All’s left is me, Artillery Captain Patrick, Engineer-Commandant Stephanie, and ... uh ... the new kid who brought the helmet.”
“I’m Thorin Oakenshield!” protested the youth.
Mary gave a solemn nod as she evaluated the ragtag remnants of the am1y, cleared her throat, and addressed her compatriots with what would later be vaguely remembered as something to the effect of, “Men, women, allies, paragons of courage and virtue, lend me your attention that we might strike forth into the breach once more before this waking dream of life closes its mercurial eyes to us! If the hour of man be a vapor, then worry not whence it issued or to what it will fade, but know that there are no others with whom I would have greater pleasure to be thrust forth into the unforgiving vicissitudes of Ere bus’ fire!(2)” She drew a stick from the ground and scrawled out a crude map of the battlefield in the snow. “They’ll come around from the north(3) bend of the old oak tree, and if we move fast, like right now, we can hide in the bushes here,” she indicated, “and catch them by surprise.” She stood back up and gave the company a hard stare. “Now who’s with me to kick some dang butt!”
Their de facto commander’s sudden outburst of profanity took a few of them off-guard, but an inspired cheer nevertheless rose up from the headquarters. Armed with courage, the determination born from the fiery trials which test the limitations of human nature in the universal struggle which has plagued mankind since the days of Cain, and an old pudding cup Andy found by the garbage can, the soldiers mobilized to set up their ambush.
Nobody had responded to the second bell. Squinting as she begrudgingly trudged out into the light of the midday sun, Ms. Jennings of Fairfield Elementary cupped her hands and called out to the first grade class. Silence. She caught herself swear under her breath and ventured further to investigate the sudden leave of absence, concerned that last week’s lecture on avoiding dead animals found in the playground had fallen on deaf ears. It was about halfway to the swing set that she picked up on a muffled chattering from the vicinity of the old tree she’d been pestering the custodian to have taken down, and she paused as her attention drifted to an object standing out against the fresh Iowa snow. She bent down to pick Mary Hammond’s green bow off the ground when the hedges exploded and something cold caught her in the back.
1. Military hierarchy was established with considerable effort by a ceasefire meeting at the Swing Set Convention of Last Tuesday. In accordance with the military tradition inherited from the common laws of the combatants and Sally’s dad who was in the reserves, Lieutenant-Assassin (0-5) was established to fall between the ranks of Ninja-Colonel and Major-Spaceman.
2. In truth, this was a roughly patched-together string of rhetoric half-remembered from a secondhand account of her grandfather’s viewing of a series of historical documentaries, but the effect was more or less equivalent.
3. Mary was super good at geography, able to recite the four indicators of orientation with nearly 90 percent accuracy now.
"Ernest Hemingway was a very great, very serious author," Dylan Mathews explains. "Anything he writes gives you this mental image of him, sitting in a candle-lit room, typing with his brow knit in deep reflection of the gravity of his own work and the masculine heroism intermingled with inevitable mortality. That's the face I assign him as he gave For Whom the Bell Tolls its title. It reminded me of the deadly severity of 'tag' and 'hide and seek' as a kid, so I wrote 'For Whom the Bell Makes a Really Loud Noise,' because Hemingway's hypermasculinity reminds me of kid's games. This one is about a snowball fight."
by Jennifer Draganchuk
Jennifer Draganchuk completed "Timeless" in 2011 on an 8" x 10" canvas. She poured fabric paint randomly onto the canvas and used a toothpick to swirl it.