By Brook Cheuvront

I can feel it. The cold that never sleeps, the monster that keeps me chained here locked to my chair, a prisoner contained within an elaborate labyrinth, that asks me questions I cannot answer, piling up to form unsurmountable walls that I bang upon with my fists, screaming for help, for a key, for something to let me out out out of this palace that I call my mind, this palace of darkness and death whose only denizens are specters, staring out of eyes that see nothing, voices that whisper softly as a lover does of promises unkept and lies to be told, of someone whom they haunt and seek to make their own, myself, trapped within these claws searing into my flesh, look, look, can you see? Do you notice the wounds I carry in my eyes, the past whose stories are drawn down in my hair, the fingers raw, red, used to clawing for hope, for freedom, for escape?

It began in March, on an early Tuesday morning, spitting snow, although only the mountains and I could tell you that this was the warmest snow of the year, delicate flakes melting as soon as they graced the warm face of the ground. I was walking, as I often did in those days, attentive to the movement of the smaller entities of the great rivers who trundled undisturbed over rocks in their hurry to escape the cold ice of their home mountains, their voices a song not unfamiliar to my soul. I moved along the familiar trail, my feet crunching and cracking against a layer of icy snow that coated the ground, with each step attempting to push my own thoughts out of my head. I am so focused on winning this battle that I do not notice where my feet take me, guided solely by the past. When I reach the end of the trail I finally release myself from my internal battle, looking up into the eyes of the dying sun and for a moment I think I see a flash of red hair and it all comes racing back to me that day that day that day-

You cannot pin down a monster. You cannot contain the uncontainable. Eyes that do not sleep will catch you when you stop, breathless, exhausted, extinguished. No swords, no crossbows, none can slay a monster who has spent eternities contained in a wailing depthless darkness. 

A warmer Friday night. The cicadas were humming again, filling the air with that strangely discordant sound of home. My truck bounced along the old dirt road, my only companions the fireflies sparking in the fields, tiny fireworks that would flash and fizzle out, on to grace a new space with their light. I had the window rolled down so I could feel the warm air on my face, as comfortable as a weighted blanket. I drove until I reached the familiar crooked tree, its summer vibrancy cloaked by the veils of the night, its turns and twists as familiar to me as the wrinkles in my palm. I started up the road, gradually applying more pressure to the pedal as gravity sought to tug my truck back down towards the tree, making my way towards the houselights that danced like fireflies in my windshield. I pulled into my usual spot and got out of the truck, feet kicking up a maelstrom of dust around me. He was already waiting for me by the front steps, a smile on his face and a beer in his hand. His face, darkened by hours spent in the sun, was shaded under a cowboy hat that he’d paired with jeans and a t shirt, a departure from his usual flannel. He walked up to me and clapped my shoulder, hands roughened by a life spent on the farm. 

“Good to see yer agin, thaught you might ne’er turn up to see the place.” I smile back at him, remembering all of the days we’d spent together, of all of the times he’d talked about his home, his farm, as if not even heaven could rival it. 

“I’ve just been busy,” I said, clasping the hand on my shoulder firmly, in the way that I hoped disguised how much I was shaking, shivering despite the smothering heat of a summer night. He nodded and then patted the hand that rested on his, lifting it for inspection. 

“I ain’t seen this on’ yet,” he said, pointing at the tattoo that follows the curve of my wrist. I am definitely shaking now, uncontrollably, feeling the panic rise in my stomach as his eyes soften in sympathy. 

“Whut’s it say?” he asks kindly, voice dropping below the drone of the cicadas so I have to lean closer to him, close enough to wear I can smell the musk of the beer on his breath. I swallow and attempt to focus on his question, to keep myself here, in his yard, on this night, in this moment, as I say, “Spitfire.” 

Its path was not always discernable. The monsters veils itself in piles of clothes left unfolded, dwelling in the tatters of countless sleepless nights, sleeping beneath mountains of blue texts left pining for an answer.  It hides its form there, hide glinting with promise. 

Early in the sleepiness of the morning, deep in the dredges of the night, I was at Food Lion, mindlessly pursuing a seemingly meaningless request made before the day dipped cautiously into the night. 

“Eggs.” Two blooming eyes, the color of sunflowers, turned their attention upwards from the shopping cart. I ruffled the dark hair that cascaded turbulently down, a waterfall knowing no laws of nature, preparing my response to such a demand. 

“You’re quite right, darling. Eggs. And maybe some marshmallows?” 

The shopping cart lurched, unable to contain such levels of excitement. Golden sunflower eyes turning again, hesitant under an unfamiliar sun, as she said in a small, piping voice,

“And maybe something for mom?” 

I smile softly, pushing down hard on the dam in my throat that keeps me from answering, fingers taming the wildness of that waterfall, keeping my mind firmly planted in this world in the sacred times of the night, a world where anything can seep between the cracks of reality and impossibility, unnoticed and unmeasured by the harsh truth of the world.

Roaring, strangulating, the fear of a thousand souls contained within one ceaseless howl. The monster tears into my mind, through my soul, leaving only shredded remains of what was, of what might have been. There is no question of what is. That question’s tombstone lies already weathered, forgotten and irrelevant, soulless, and alone. 

Today was a Grandmama Day. I woke early, feet slapping against the concrete, to start the engine of the old, gray Tacoma that squatted like a toad in my driveway. After a quick breakfast I leaped into the car, turning onto the flat, empty highway, finding freedom in the open expanses that greeted me. I flicked on the radio, my hand tapping against the steering wheel, gold wedding ring glowing in the light of the morning sun as my fingers dance to the perfection of an ACDC guitar solo, losing themselves in the precious memories of the rhythm. I watched through the window as the moon slipped into the vibrancy of the dawn, pale face hiding shyly beneath velvet curtains. I flicked my turning signal, the car lurching off of the interstate and onto the exit whose number I had committed to memory, reciting it to myself over and over again like a prayer as I flew down the highway. Another flick of the turn signal and I felt through my body the road change to gravel, and I bounced, finger no longer tapping a uniform, steady rhythm. I eased the car come to a stop, and my body jolted forwards, my mind urging me to open the door and then I was out, breathing the damp, muggy air, the all-consuming hum of the cicadas overtaking my world. My feet crunched against the gravel as I sprinted onto the porch whose deck I stained last summer, pants and hands coated in that sharp, stark stench. The screen door bangs behind me, loud as a gunshot, and I pause in the entryway, relaxing in the smell of bleach and cigarette smoke. 

“There you are, my darling.” My grandmama’s voice booms from above me, her thick accent buoyed on the humid air. I fold myself into her waiting arms, safe within the jungle of scarves and apron that for the moment are all I need to make up my world. She leans out of the embrace, her wide face crossed with wrinkles like fault lines, cracking the beauty of a once formidable wilderness. Her eyes crinkle at the edges, blue as old as a Himalayan lake, narrowing to glacial streams as she surveys my face. 

“You look unwell.”

She frowns, circling my face with golden, cracked fingers that if I focus my vision, resolve themselves into golden rings, engravings telling the history of our family. 

“Where did these scratches come from? You ain’t been out in them woods again, have you?” Golden rings trace those three long red lines that stretch across my cheek, trackers following in the footsteps of a wolf, eager to know its origin and its destination.  

I open my mouth to speak but the memories clog my throat, memories of oaken eyes that had danced in the sunlight of those forests, that had not been there when I had stood alone in the bathroom with the knife, wanting nothing more but to stop the roaring pain in my head, to pull out the thorn that was the memories of her, the other half of my soul, my being. 

When I do not answer she folds me deeper into her chest until my world has narrowed to an apron stained with blood from the morning’s work, to nothing but her and the clock ticking softly on the wall.

It smells like blood gone cold, a stench that would stop you dead in your tracks, if you had dared to move in the beginning. The monster stares down at me and I am acutely aware that I am no longer in control. I cannot remember the last time I was allowed to feel my own feet, to hear my own voice, to speak my own words. All that I have, all that I am, belongs to it. The monster is all consuming, all enveloping. There is nothing beyond it. There was nothing before it. It is eternal. 

She laughed, throwing her head back so her hair caught the sun, deep red strands turning to golden fire that sparked her oaken eyes. She reached her hand towards me, and I lean my head into her tough, feeling the fire of her ignite my being, happiness coursing through me. We’re sitting in a hotel bedroom, stark white sheets marking the boundaries of the bed, pink fingers of the dawn parting the curtains of the window, each racing to be the first to be granted the honor of gifting her with her crown of gold. She tilts my head so that I’m looking up at her, a goddess resplendent in her oversized ACDC t shirt and runner’s shorts. “The taxi is-” 

We’re sitting outside, in the dark, forbidding gloom of the city, buildings towering over us, indomitable, unsurmountable. I do not fear them as I normally would. She stands beside me, warm hand anchoring me to this Earth, to her presence, the only familiarity in the gray homogeneity of the terrible structured unknown that surrounds us. I squeeze her hand and she looks up at me, her oak eyes losing none of their wildness, untamed by all the forces of this city that would seek to destroy such a precious anomaly. 

“I think….,” she says, before trailing off, her voice a small glacial stream running its course through a meadow, its majesty holding echoes of a great glacial ancestry. My heart leaps at those two words and I can feel the panic roil in my gut, unable to be extinguished by even her light.

I scream in agony as the monster’s claws tear into the flesh of my mind and I can feel my consciousness fighting, fighting back with claws of its own as I gasp for breath, begging, pleading with every fiber of my tattered being for the unfathomable pain to stop. I inhale shakily-

Her head rests on my shoulder, a rosebud resting on the sidewalk after a rainstorm, its beauty fresh and timeless as we stare out into the rain. I hold her tightly against me, as if I can keep her here by force, even though I know it is impossible. I close my eyes and breathe deeply in her scent, so uniquely indescribable. 

I stroke my hands down her waterfall of hair and think about our child, who has inherited the same wildness of spirit that lives in her mother. I think about mornings and evenings spent together, just the three of us, no one else in the world in those precious moments where life seemed to stand still, eggs cooking in the skillet, coffee floating through the house, the clank of dishes after dinner. I think of stolen moments together, before I knew they were stolen, just the two of us, dinner on the pier, the lights dancing as we move our feet, rhythmic, over the dock in a way that only we can hear, interrupted only when I stumble, disrupting the symphony of her feet. I think about all of these things, and I tilt her head towards me, those oaken eyes that always, always mean home and I say, “Spitfire, I love you.”

I am sitting in the blue room. Outside, a sound machine whirrs, a safe that keeps my secrets locked safely away from the prying ears of the world. The woman sits across from me, her dark hair pulled tightly into a bun, glasses perched on the edge of her nose A yellow notepad sits balanced in her lap. She scrutinizes through her glasses my red, raw fingers that clutch the edge of the soft chair, my frizzed hair streaked with gray that stands on end, my eyes that hold no soul, not anymore.

“Tell me about your wife.”

I open my mouth to speak but I forget it does not belong to me. The monster rears its head, jaws opening wide revealing yellow teeth dripping with nightmares and promise, but of course, she can’t see that. In my mind I howl as it nears my neck, breath hot, teeth extended, puncturing the skin-

Brook Cheuvront (she/her) is a first year from Newland, NC studying English and astrophysics. When she’s not studying physics on the 2nd floor of Davis, she can be found running various roads in a 20-mile radius of UNC.