His eyes are each a different color. One moss green and the other a pale blue. He smiles with a smile stretched just a bit too wide. 

“Come here, child.” His voice is soft. Sweet. Too sweet, like the concoctions used to catch flies. 

The rats peer out at us from the crevices and cracks in walls and under furniture. They are motionless, their eyes dormant but glowing red, waiting the low, unmistakable call of their master. 

“I need a favor, Piper.” 

“A favor?” His left eyebrow arches. 

They warn me to stay away from the Piper. He is dangerous, they say. Especially to my kind. I never knew what that meant. I met the Piper long before they had a chance to warn me. 

The night had been bright from the half-moon and her entourage of stars, but the tunnel under the earth was black and damp. 

My stepbrother called my name over and over from the other direction, his voice growing more desperate with each echo, but I pressed onwards into the blackness, further and further under the earth.  

Scurrying and scratching soon joined the sound of my panting and the faint calls of my brother. I knelt down to meet the glowing eyes of Demetrius, a favorite servant of Piper. He sniffed me several times and crept closer, his comrades watching from the shadows. I could only see them because a dim reflection of light caused their eyes to cast a reddish glow. There were hundreds of them. Before me and behind me.  

I followed them until reaching a pale light and a ladder leading up into the dwelling place of Piper. 

When I crawled out of the manhole, dirty and intrigued, he’d gazed at me just as bewildered. 

A strange, sixteenth century coat with a lacy design and frilly sleeves, a common man’s trousers, and huntsman boots. He was bent over sewing and snipping a lady’s ball gown when I shoved open the cover and practically fell onto his floor. 

The room and decorations were delightful. White walls with paintings and the occasional tapestry. 

He’d straitened and lifted his glasses up over his mess of curly, brown hair. Then, he’d smiled. 


I’d glanced back at the tunnel, but none of the creatures followed save Demitrius who attempted to leap up into his master’s hand but was met with a blow that sent him spiraling back down the hole. 

“They’re not allowed in this room, and they know better,” Piper said, kicking the lid back over. He stood too close to me, with his eyes too wide and his grin too big. It was almost comical. 

Our walk through the woods is short and scattered with conversation. 

Finally, we reach our destination. 

Piper stares down the black abyss with a frown.  

“Is this really what you want?” 


“What is Piper’s real name?” I’d asked my stepbrother once.  

He’d shrugged and shuddered. “Who cares?” 

(Excerpt about a character I am working on. From the same story as “Breakfast”)
Photo by Anne Nygård 


Save Myself

Save Myself

I can feel Ashton’s eyes watching me, even with my face turned to the TV. The Office is on. He slowly gets up and walks toward the kitchen. I try not to watch him. He returns with oatmeal cookie flavored ice cream, and he walks right up to me, right to the edge of my side of the couch before asking, “Want any?”  

I feel like saying, No I don’t want any of that healthy crap you keep around here, especially not that garbage tasting ice cream. Instead, I say, “No.”  

He moves to the chair closest to me, the one facing the TV, and he just stares with the little pint of ice cream folded in his arms. He doesn’t even have a spoon!  

I realize that I’m staring, but he doesn’t seem to notice. Or care. So, I don’t care.  

His face has an empty expression. Illegible. Protected. Or maybe that’s just my angle. 

Part of me wants to hug him and fall on his chest in tears. The other part of me wants to scream at him. Part of me aches with pity, and the other part blames him for bringing this on himself. Part of me wants him to never leave me, to always love me, to somehow rescue me. The other part wants him to be free, and to escape the toxicity of my presence.  

My shoulders naturally start to curve around themselves. They do that when the feeling creeps up inside me like a snake. I look back at the TV and try to focus on what Jim and Dwight are saying, but I can’t.  

I remember the time when Ashton first taught me to take a decent picture by myself.   

“That’s one of the things that drew me to you,” he’d said smiling. “Your terrible selfies.”  

We were at the beach, and the sun was setting. Ashton wanted to be a photographer, but it was too big of a risk so he majors in accounting. He just takes pictures on the side.   

After I attempted suicide, he stopped going to classes.  

“You want to capture all the light that you can,” he’d said, coming up behind me and holding my hands as I tried to aim the camera on my phone. While I was playing in the water, he looked through the pictures and then started taking more.  

“Mine weren’t very good, were they!” I’d shouted over the waves. He had smiled and taken a picture of me.  

I don’t know where the depression came from. It didn’t hit me like a wave. Not at first. It crept up on me slowly, like how the setting sun carries off light until even the twilight fades. I don’t remember if I ever actually felt sad. It was more like emptiness. A hollow feeling. I would spend a long time, maybe hours, staring in the mirror at myself, trying to see something, but all I could see were features. Blue eyes. A nose. Brown hair. And I lost track of time.  

Any time I did feel emotion, I still don’t think it was sadness. It was more like anger. Once, I sat down and tried to figure out who I was angry at. My mom? Ashton? God? And then I realized that I wasn’t angry at anyone else. I was angry at myself.   

But why? What had I done?  

So, I would stare at myself, trying to find the dark lurking secret.  

There is something wrong with me. I can’t figure out what it is, but there’s something wrong.  

People picked up on this, and I tried to get away. I tried to tell them that I was fine, and when they didn’t believe me, I became angry. If there was something so evidently wrong with me, why wouldn’t they go away? So I tried to push them away. I tried small, angry remarks that grew in time to screaming sobs.   

I remember Ashton’s stare when the sobs were choking my throat. Finally, he’d said, “You’ve changed.”  

I think I may have thrown up after that.  

They stared, and the pain was so evident on their faces because they didn’t know how to help me, and I hated myself even more for hurting them. I pushed them away because I just want to protect them from my drowning emptiness.   

But, when they did finally give me what I wanted, to leave me alone after all of my fits and torments towards them, I would feel the sting in the back of my stomach like a knife carefully and precisely prodding itself against my insides. And I would lose the ability to breathe. No more tears. No more words. Just pain.  

But for all the pain I’ve caused, I certainly deserved it.  

Sometimes, there is this voice at the back of my mind faintly gasping and pleading, but I can’t understand what it’s saying. I don’t even know what it wants. 

I close my eyes because Ashton is looking at me again, and my cheeks are wet.  

When I first got out of the hospital, Ashton was there. He followed me home. He followed me back to my apartment. He was angry. He yelled. He became sad. He wept. He tried to be happy, made jokes, smiled, and told me that he loved me. And finally, he began staring at me, stupidly, silently, the same way he’s been staring at me since. I keep waiting for him to leave. I hope that he does while still wishing he won’t.  

What does he see in me anymore? What did he ever see? Haven’t I hurt him enough already?  

My first night back at my apartment, I told Ashton to go home. He didn’t. I found him sleeping on my couch the next morning.  

When I open my eyes, Ashton looks me over from head to toe like he used to. I wait for the pain and pity to color his face a paler shade, but it doesn’t.  

“I’m not leaving.”  

“No,” I whimper, like I’m a little child who is desperate and has just been denied the only thing she ever wanted.  

“I’m not going anywhere.”  

I wait for him to throw the ice cream aside and rush to me, grabbing my hands with tears in his eyes and begin pleading with me like he did last week. And the week before.  

I can’t save you, you understand? I would if I could, but I can’t. If you can’t pull yourself out of this, you need to get therapy. I’ll take you. Okay? Please, darling. I will be right here. Start praying. Ask God for help. I certainly do. Start reading again. Read Job or Psalms or A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream. Eat some chocolate. Start a journal. But, you have to want to save yourself. You understand?  

Instead, he looks back towards the TV, eyes glazed.  

“I’ve already told you what you have to do to fix this.”  

I know. I’ve known all along what I need to do, but I just… I don’t know how to cling to the side of me that wants to put in the work it will take to crawl out of this, to cling to the side that wants him to stay.   

I get up and squeeze myself next to him on the little chair. I’m shaking and doing my best to keep my face from contorting into that hideous expression I make when I cry.  

He doesn’t look at me, but he puts his arm around me.

Photo by Jordan McQueen   


Nice Book

Nice Book

I’m not sure why, but the doctor’s office is always cold. The temperature difference was obvious as soon as I’d walked through the sliding double doors. The parking garage had been two blocks away, and walking that distance in 98-degree heat had me sweating. Maybe that’s why the cold air inside the building had felt stark enough to cause goosebumps on my arm.  

I had no idea if I’d come in the correct doors. Nurses in masks and other people walked by me briskly, sometimes even bumping into my shoulder, but in too big of a hurry to care. The elevators were easy enough to find, and I looked over the TV screen that showed the different offices of different doctors on different floors. It was overwhelming, but I finally found Dr. Samvel’s office. Floor 3, Room 316. 

When the elevator door opened, I walked slowly, analyzing the number of each room I passed. Room 316 was at the end of the hall.  

The waiting room was empty except two other people. We were pretty spaced out, an air of gloom settling over each of us. I pulled out the copy of the email I’d printed off to make sure of the room number, the time, and everything else that Dr. Samvel’s secretary had mentioned. 

My hands trembled slightly, but I figured it was because I was just cold. Even the secretary – or nurse, whoever sat behind the sliding window – wore a thin black jacket over her scrubs. 

I figured the wait would be a while, despite arriving precisely on time, so I pulled a book out of my bag. I kept the back down on my lap as I read. 

The story in the chapter I was reading mentioned the history of William Marshall, his cruel father who had abandoned him to be executed, and the kind king who had refused to do so. 

I nearly jumped when a nurse opened the doctor’s door and called out for someone. Before I had a chance to return to reading, someone else walked in. Instead of an older loner, like most people in this part of the large medical institute, it was a mother and her daughter who looked to be around eight or nine. The child wore a smile, which lifted some of the heaviness off the room. They sat along the wall, directly in my line of view, but I went back to reading and didn’t think anything else about it. 

When the nurse returned to call for another patient, I nearly jumped again. From the corner of my vision, I could see that the little girl was staring at me. She smiled and held up a book she’d been reading. It was the same one that I had. I returned the smile, a little embarrassed that I had lifted the book off my lap enough to someone to see it. 

It wasn’t that I was ashamed of what I’d been reading, it just wasn’t a book typical of someone like me, but it wasn’t a book typical for a little girl either. 

We were the only three in the waiting room now, and the mom was busy on a phone call. The girl tilted the book over to show me how much she’d read. That’s when I noticed the cast on her arm. She then craned her neck like she was trying to see my place as well. She was much farther along than me. I tilted my book to show her too. 

Excited, she flipped back to a previous chapter and held it up. I shook my head. It was still too far ahead. I counted up the pages till my next chapter. Three. I held them apart and lifted my book to show her the chapter and the three pages I still lacked. 

The girl flipped back further to where I was, then mouthed the words William Marshal? I nodded. She went ahead several chapters and pointed at the pages. Sad, she mouthed.  

Her mother noticed her holding up the book and gently pushed it down against her lap. Then, she noticed me and smiled. I returned the smile as best I could. The mother was beautiful and wearing a business suit and three-inch heels. She made me feel very insecure for some reason. 

The girl began flipping to the back of the book when the nurse reappeared and called for me. I stood, tucking my book into my bag. The little girl stared after me disappointed, so I forced a smile. I didn’t know what else to do. 

The checkup went well. Nothing had spread. 

“The patient who is coming in after me…” I began, but Dr. Samvel raised an eyebrow, as if he believed I should know better than to ask about another of his patients. “That little girl,” I persisted. “She was reading the same book as me.” I pulled the book up near the top of my bag to give Dr. Samvel a glimpse. 

He smiled and said, “Yes, I know who you mean.” 

“She’s going to be okay, isn’t she?” I thought about the cast on her arm, wondering if she even knew better because of the good mood she’d seemed to be in. 

“Well… she isn’t my next patient, if that’s what you’re asking.” He raised another eyebrow at me with a stern expression, as if he’d already said too much. 

“Thank you.” 

I got up to leave and thought about the mother, her perfect nails and confident smile. Had she been wearing a wedding band? What would happen to the little girl? Did her daughter even know? 

“Keep up those dietary changes, and we may not have to do anything invasive,” Dr. Samvel called out. “Talk to Melissa up front about coming back in another six months.” 

I waved goodbye over my shoulder as I walked away to talk to the lady up front about my next appointment. Despite getting used to the temperature, I had chills again. 

As Melissa went over the different dates for potential checkups, I felt someone lightly hit my arm. I looked down to see the little girl. 

“Nice book,” she said grinning up at me, even as her mom gently pulled her away and down the hall towards the examination room. 

“Nice book,” I returned, and I smiled, because I didn’t know what else to say. 

Photo by Annie Spratt  




Cordelia likes to quote Shakespeare in arguments or “life defining” moments, and every now and then she’ll set an alarm to wake up in the middle of the night just to look at the stars. 

Arnold is a “pacifist.” He doesn’t fight for or against anything. He just laughs and drives and nods his head at anything Cordelia says, and his round blue eyes gaze out the window like he’s a prisoner from underground who only gets to see sunshine once a year. 

These are my kidnappers. 

Cordelia and Arnold don’t believe that old ladies like Diana should have leopards living in her house, even though Jay and Stella, the ravens, told me that I had been born in a cage, and Diana bought me to keep me from living in a cage so I would get live in a very large house with a massive yard, running and catching the moles and forcing them to tell me something interesting in exchange for letting them go and wearing a diamond studded purple collar and drinking milk out of a porcelain dish. 

Cordelia turns around and grins at me. 

“Baby likes ‘The Time of My Life.’ don’t you? Yes, leave it on, Arnold.”  

Baby. That’s my name. That’s the best thing that Diana could conjure up when thinking of a word that would epitomize me. That’s also the name for an infant human. Adorable little creatures that smell good and are so lickable that you just want to carry them around in your mouth. But I learned that, even as a small leopard, opening my mouth around humans, especially infant humans, makes everyone get unnecessarily loud. 

Geoffrey, John’s Doberman, told me it’s because my kind normally have very dangerous instincts. He’s heard a lot about leopards from John and Cathy, who aren’t thrilled about the idea of John’s mother having one in her house. 

I like Geoffrey, but anytime John is around, he acts like something is stuck up his rear. It’s the act that “guard dogs” have to put on. Even his ears are fake. And he once had a tail, but the humans did something to make him “look the part.” I don’t think I would like my humans if they tried to do something like that to me, but dogs are strange.  

He told me that Diana thinks all of my ancestors living in cages has cured the wild streak in me, because “wild animals don’t know about all of the great things like Television and Good Morning America and Shakespeare like us cultured animals.” I don’t know how much of that is true, but I know that I don’t feel the same about Diana as Geoffrey feels about his humans. 

“What if Baby eats you while you sleep!”  

Diana had scoffed. I had also scoffed. I’d sooner eat a mole than that bag of loose skin. Or I’d eat Geoffrey. Or one of the ravens. But I never had to work for my food. I didn’t even have to jump on Gary like I had as a small leopard. He would just give me the food if I sat and waited. Actually, jumping on him makes him panic so badly that I might not get anything to eat. At first I had thought that an animal had to act excited to see a human feeding them to encourage them to do it again, but apparently that doesn’t apply to leopards. 

Humans, in theory, would be better to eat than other creatures. Because there’s hardly any hair on them, the skin would be more edible. In theory. But skin isn’t very good. It’s the blood that’s good. Cordelia and Arnold have yet to learn this, and I hope they learn this soon or else I will have to start acting up again. I do know that eating a human is very bad because it upsets other humans to the point of them wanting to kill you. Even if you have to kill a human to protect another human, you do not eat that human. 

Cordelia turns the radio up and starts singing along to another song from the movie Dirty Dancing. It seems like such a strange thing. Dancing. When I first saw humans flailing themselves around, I thought it similar to dancing weasels disorienting prey, but then they rub themselves all over each other and fling each other around, so I thought it was a mating ritual. No. Humans don’t use it for hunting or mating. They just like to flail around with music. 

Cordelia turns the music down but continues singing the song. She smiles at me, bobbing her head. She thinks I like it when she sings. 

When Arnold and Cordelia first kidnapped me, they acted so frenzied that they forgot to feed me for a while. I could smell the confusion and fear all blended with adrenaline, but this only annoyed me. Finally, I had to start acting up.  

I learned early on that humans dislike when you use the bathroom in undesignated places. They also dislike the act of marking one’s territory. I couldn’t let this slide, even in my old house, so I had to be crafty. But not when I want them to know something is wrong. Humans are bad at understanding unless I do something intentionally wrong. It’s not that they don’t want to understand. They just can’t. Like with this pair. Arnold had been extremely upset to find his newly marked vehicle, but it hadn’t been enough. So, I left.  

Humans are harmless. What could they harm me with? Their soft skin, flat teeth, or short nails? Unless they managed to slip a cage over me, I would be fine. I went off in search of other humans who could feed me. 

I found a house, it was smaller than my house, but I sat at the door. It was night, and since humans cannot smell, in the dark they are utterly useless. So I began scratching at the door. Nothing. Then I climbed to the roof to find a window of some sort. That’s when Cordelia had showed up. Her anxiety hit me in the face as strong as soured milk. 

I sat and watched her from the roof as she tried to call me down. Then, she began to sing. I was confounded and amused. So strange, even for humans. 

The lights in the house came on, and the man who opened the door was not happy. He and the others in the house thought she was “drunk” or “high” and used all sorts of terms like “trashy.” Attempting to explain that there was a leopard on their roof did not help things either. Poor woman. She should have given me food. 

They had made a call to the “police” and tried dragging her inside, but Arnold had showed up. Then I heard something terrifying that resembled a shriek and a whine. I remember having heard it once before, but I had been very small then. It made the hair on my back stand up. I jumped from the roof and raced Arnold and Cordelia back to their yellow, boxy shaped vehicle. They gave me food. A “hamburger.” It was disgusting, but I was hungry.  

Once back in my partially cloth, partially yellow sponge back seat, I began examining Arnold and Cordelia to discover what these new terms “trashy,” “drunk,” or “high” meant. Certainly, they don’t dress like Diana, John, Cathy, Martha, or Stewart – the only humans I’ve ever known. They speak somewhat differently, too. But they don’t seem like the type of humans who would cut Geoffrey’s ears or tail. 

Ever since that night, Cordelia believes that I enjoy hearing her sing. I don’t care for it, but Arnold does. I can tell by the way he bobs his head and glances at her frequently with a settled smile.  

He rarely speaks to me, and it’s usually only to say “Nobody puts Baby in a corner!” And I agreed, because put in a corner, I would certainly find a way out. But he says this much too often for it to be for my sake. Almost every time, Cordelia will laugh, and he will look at her with a more excited smile than he usually wears. I think they would make good mates since humans, similar to ravens, like to have only one mate. But Cordelia doesn’t seem to think of him that way. Their smells of affection don’t add up.  

Humans are strange, even stranger than ravens. They don’t even talk about it. Even a raven will ask another raven to be his mate for life, and if she refuses, he moves on to find another.  

I’ve never cared to have a mate. Maybe if I ever encountered another leopard, but even then, I don’t think I would care very much about them. Well, maybe if we were always together I would. I would like to meet another leopard, but Arnold and Cordelia are taking me back to Diana. 

“Back to South Carolina, Baby! You ready to go home?” 

Apparently Diana was giving away a lot of money to whoever brought me back. It was strange thinking of myself as being stolen. I had always stayed because I’d wanted to. When Arthur and Cordelia had lured me into following them, it was because I had been curious. They smelled differently than the humans I was used to being around. Once inside the yellow vehicle with the adrenaline cooled and somewhat shifted from fear to contentment, Cordelia had exclaimed, “We’ve kidnapped a leopard, Arthur! Just let that sink in. A leopard!” 

That’s when I learned that to “kidnap” meant taking a leopard, maybe something else, away from its home. So, Cordelia and Arthur were my “kidnappers.” 

They then began to tell me that I belonged in “the wild,” and it was wrong for Diana to keep me on her massive property with her big house. The only reason I would want to go to “the wild” would be to see another leopard. They’d taken my jeweled collar off and told me I was free, probably thinking, like most humans, that I could not understand them. 

Soon they began asking each other how long it would take for “the old lady to put out a reward for returning her dangerous cat.” Then Cordelia would turn and scratch the bridge of my nose and tell me that I wasn’t dangerous. I was a “sweetheart.” I was Baby. 

They’d been so happy to learn about the reward. Their anxiety faded and intermingled with joy, and Cordelia sang more often. I was also relieved. I’d enjoyed watching the mountains turn into fields with long grass and other plants until the trees appeared. Not skimpy, weak trees, but massive glorious green trees that made my heart throb like there was something inside of me that just needed to run. They would let me out to climb and jump and play. I loved those trees, but I returned to them when I was hungry. I would give up my trees to keep from going hungry. That’s why my home is better than the trees or this moving, yellow box. 

I will be happy to be home to see my croaking Jay and Stella, my stern Geoffrey, my anxious Gary, my saggy Diana, and my porcelain bowl full of milk. 

Photo by Dustin Humes