the painter

Written by Nicole Mousicos
Art by Tom Balabaud


i.

I’m dreaming of you, again. 

If only I could paint with my eyes closed, if only I could paint in my dreams. Thrumming a heartbeat with serenity, your form comes at me etched in velvet, blurred at the edges, igniting a wild ecstasy in the veins. I feel I can touch you. Yet, your body dissolves like sand between my fingers. What are you, to live beyond my sight? Your laughter bubbles in my chest, and I wake smiling. I wake alone. 

You sleep peacefully on-one-side. One-arm-tucked-beneath-the-other, one-arm-around-pillow, one-arm-around-me. I doubt you are as deep a sleeper as you think. We often move together, and you smile every time I kiss your forehead. 

The nights are colder. The warping seasons, the sharper cuts to the wind. The bed is colder, I wake alone. 

ii.

This room is boundless in its silence. The easel is turned upward, your beautiful face against the sky. My thighs cramped minutes ago, yet I stay, palette against my right forearm, merciless, at work. The minutes thump against the wooden floor. Time ticks above and the sunlight sears, illuminating the speckles of dust like loose ashes. It is easy to forget that the world exists. I must remind myself of what it was that was here before you. Truthfully, not much. 

iii.

There is your mother, shy of forty, calling me sir, please, my daughter, her portrait. She must think I am a man. There is your father, shy of fifty, clearing his throat, taking my hand lightly. He must think I am a woman. And I see you, flashes of blue and silver, eyes like pale moss. The most beautiful painting I have ever seen. 

And I take their money, breathless, senseless, half-in-love, quarter-mad, one-eighth-too-lucky, one-eighth-too-terrified-to-move. 

iv.

I have learnt very little. I know even less now. I sat in front of the canvas for years and I wore the poor fucker down. You asked, swiftly, about pencils and watercolours, oils and brushes, perspective and easel and canvas. I couldn’t tell you much. I asked you about poetry, and with a grin like dynamite, you simply showed me. 

I remember you, behind the walls of a castle, betwixt a maze. Wonder in your eyes, pulling me at the hand, boundless in ambition. I caught your pale-white and hardened fingers, bejewelled in silver. I remember you in white, teardrops falling from the sky, as it snowed along the markets. You hate the coldness in my hands, I can’t help it. I drew your spine in one sitting, did I ever tell you? I planned our fates along birthmarks and freckles, where you’d drag me from both feet; I coloured your skin in blushes and smeared hot red curses for your lips. I needed your neck, again. I needed to be buried in it. 

In swarms of green, laps of trees and the melodies caught in your throat, I burned you alive. Nothing would ever be good enough, a perfectionist’s curse. At the mercy of the canvas, I remember you, scarred, stammering, speaking-slowly then saying-nothing-at-all, silence. Then, the paintbrush in your hand, urging me to finish.

v.

I wake, alone. The distance between us is palpable. I wake up soaked in your colours. I don’t paint. I have to paint, to paint, to remember. Choked on sobs, forced eyelids open, I’m dreaming of you, again. 

Universe #29

Written by Terra Ungson
Art by Katrin Korfmann


I don’t recall when I first realized that I was myself, but I remember that she was my first memory. Her cry was my first breath; she looked at the sky and I knew what light was—and I was not light.

Over the years, she climbed trees, chased dreams, and forged friendships under the sun while my fists clutched at branches and my back scorched beneath its torrid heat. My form ached to stretch in fields and rest beneath streetlights. My limbs longed to reach for her, hoping that she would recognize me.

In another universe, we would have been sisters. But these circumstances never changed our ways. I wonder if she would recognize me now without sound, nor depth, nor color. What have I become if not merely an echo or ripple? Maybe somehow she would see the smoke and for a moment, remember what we were. Maybe then she would be able to understand a piece of me, or at least the version of me in this universe. But she is too cautious about starting a fire.

I’ve been trying to recall what it feels like to touch something—the sting of a fresh cut, the itch of a healing wound, the regret of a picked scab. Her light, though, is well nurtured, and she will never know these agonies. She will only feel the comfort of balms and bandages; her cries will be soothed by lullabies and popsicles.
Every part of her that pulses or throbs is left for me to feast on, and although I find it agonizing to be pulled in by her presence, I only ache because I am refused her touch. In this universe, she is loved—and I am only meant to watch.

juliette.

Written by Ari Chattoo
Art by Lukas Rychvalsky


brass knuckles and bruised cheeks,
how many secrets can we keep?
oh juliette, juliette, wherefore art thou juliette?
sneering in the shadows with the rest of us gutter rats she reigns,
odorous aura of cigarettes and roses, strawberries and poison.
“down the rabbit hole you go, little one”
she says each time i fall into her sticky-sweet honey trap
no one will ever have what we have.
oh juliette, fair juliette, would you kill for the one you love?
yes, she says, today, tomorrow and forevermore.

To Write At Midnight

Written by Atticus Payne
Art by Jairo Alzate


Here we are, at this same desk where I once worked from eight ‘til two (only the bloodstains are new). I’m sobbing, as you’d expect from a person who’s just seen the broken body of their closest friend. There are tears, and yet it’s not sadness I hear; not yet. Would you understand my fear? 

It’s the questions that won’t stop echoing between my ears, behind my eyes, in snaps and pops of the brain. My brain: it’s fried. It must be. 

Has she left? 

Have I killed her? 

Let me start at the beginning, then you must judge me.

This clockwork, slam-on-the-gas-every-hour-till-you-crash way of throttling through as days, weeks, months slip by that I’ve chosen, and now, now I am paying my dues. I love it, and I hate it, and I could not stand to live any other way—

I’ve tried, take my word on it. Every holiday, I give it another go. That vague fantasy gasped for in frazzled minutes barely coherent from the mad rush, sparks seeming to singe my fingertips as I pause for just a moment to try to think, think beyond the problems and fires of the day; in those precious sober seconds I blink and beg for the space of those calm, lazing holidays that stretch from day to day. What it was, to be empty and bored enough to imagine. To create. Those moments, I’ve filed away particularly well while the rest of the memories blur. Some turns of midnight, they’re the only thing I carry from the last day to the next: that surety that I am parched for the spring of blissful emptiness.

And when it comes, I waste away. Really, I do. There’s something to this routine I’ve turned myself an addict to, so much so my sanity crumbles the morning I wake up later than 10 and the sun is beating down on my eyelids, shaming me for the control that sweet sleep has wrest. With time stretching on, unimpeded from deadline to deadline, so do my thoughts that spiral beyond the safe zone, heading straight for torpor and the pain of being, ever so simply, bored again. I crave boredom, every passing day,

yet on the morning of emptiness, I balk at its weight? 

It’s like this: I miss the silence. Once upon a time, workless days meant writerly nights, slamming back long-brewed tea at midnight and tapping away at a five-year-old manuscript. Once upon a time, there was that blissful silence in the darkest hours, so magnificently stretching across the space from the cliffs of dusk and dawn, wrapping coolly into a sacred cocoon with space only for two. What it was to carry another voice in your head–a voice that wasn’t yours. 

It’s all muttering worry now. The characters have been shushed away, stuffed into blocks of half-hours stolen from unstopping days and silenced every other minute. They won’t even bang at the windows of my brain again. Not when I beg. 

What a gift it was to write at midnight. What a treasure to have that elusive flow. Which patron of magic gave me that just-right flow, and why did she take it away? 

Has she left? 

Have I killed her? 

I swear I didn’t mean to. She just wouldn’t work anymore.

Please Don’t Read This

Written by Suchita Senthil kumar
Art by Noah Black


i.

Please don’t read this because I don’t know what these words are. I don’t know whom these words belong to. 

For the few seconds it takes them to travel from my brain to my fingers—a process that takes nine-thousandths of a second—they are mine. Doesn’t that mean each letter I type belongs to each one of those nine thousands of one second? These thoughts, I don’t know where they’re coming from. But I’ll have you know, they’re not mine.

And since you’ve been reading this, these words are yours too. When you read this, what do you see? The loops of the Os, the straight lines of the T and Hs, and swirls of the Ss. Do you see behind white screen and black letters a writer who has forgotten how to write? 

ii.

You see her in her room at 01:38 AM on a Friday, typing words that don’t belong to her on a Google Document, which also doesn’t belong to her. Here you have two questions. One, why is she so fixated on owning things? And two, does she often refer to herself in the third person?

The answer to the latter: yes.

You see her sitting at a table draped with curtains for a tablecloth. A glass bottle with a money plant sits atop her desk amidst headphones, charger wires and the laptop she keeps staring at. A single branch stretches towards the ceiling, a futile attempt to reach the sun.

You see her raising her hands to the skies, faith in every God she has ever heard the name of. She does not realise light cannot pass through cement. She does not realise surrendering cannot occur until she loses first.

iii.

Please don’t read this because the more you read this, the less it remains mine. But if these words weren’t meant to be mine to begin with, what good does it serve for me to own them? If they were mine, whatever that is supposed to mean, wouldn’t these words stay within me? 

They wouldn’t ring in my ears, an awful sound of wavelengths mismatched and discordant frequencies. They wouldn’t congest my trachea waiting to erupt from my lungs. If they weren’t mine, they wouldn’t have left their grotesque dryness on my fingertips as they begin to appear on the laptop screen.

When the writer learns to surrender, the words belong to the reader.

Your eyes skim through these words, capturing words from the next line even though you haven’t reached there yet. They say only morals, characters and the stories stay back with readers, but what happens to the words? Now they’re just black lines and strokes against a white screen. But if words could transcend into a tangible form, what would you do with them?

You could drop them into glass bottles to place over your studying table. You could string them with red wool and hang them from the nails on your walls. You could tuck them in between the folds of your clothes, in the darkness beneath your eyes and drink them from your palms. 

iv.

You have a silent voice in your head. 

You hear it every time you’re reading a story. The scientists call it subvocalization but you think it’s not poetic enough for a phenomenon so glorious as that. Bold words sound different from italics which both sound different from words underlined. Each voice has a different cadence but they all sound like you in silence.

Sometimes, you hear another voice in a silence so different from yours: please remember what I’ve written, please remember me.

Anxiety

Written by Atticus Payne
Art by Edvard Munch


Here is a look into my most recent anxiety attack. A strange, practically manic trance.

Breathe. Breathe. As simple as an inhale and an exhale, yet so perfectly constructed, yes? What fantastic machines we are, fashioned organically by the creator. What there is in a breath. The pull of your diaphragm, the expansion of the chest cavity, pressure in and out. Calm. Calm. Think of breath. Remember? A swallow. Air rushing in, filling your lungs, oxygen squeezing in countless miniscule alveoli within the lining. Shh. Do you remember? The way it works? And then, next, the gaseous exchange. Oxygen in, carbon dioxide out. Fascinating, like clockwork. Yet adaptive, unlike metal and wheels. Aerobic turns to anaerobic respiration, burning glucose and oxygen to form adenosine triphosphate and setting your muscles, each cell that knits into tissues that pull on joints, bones, movement through this strange, dangerous environment. How well made we are. How I long to praise you, oh God. How I wish I could hear you now. Yet here you are, at the heart of everything, as you must be, just as you were previously, yesterday night when I wondered at the vastness of this existence. What is man that you condescend to him? Who am I that you would hold me up in pain? And yet the greatest One stoops to care over every human, contemptuous as we remain. Remember, remember. He has never, will never, can never leave you. He is here. Even now, he is here. In remembering, do you not feel him? That is how you know, in this time. That is how we all must know him. In words, in memory of all he is. Bits and pieces that come up at just the right time to prompt you every which way. In the storm of screams, here you are also. And you are unafraid. So what should I fear? It is all in your care. All I need do is wait and do the best I am able with the controls I have been given. That is all. How doable.

callisto

Written by Jessica Liu
Art by Leah Prodigalidad


Callisto was in love. 

And she was terrified, because she was a Hunter of Artemis. And Hunters weren’t supposed to fall in love.

But who was she kidding? 

It wasn’t like it was something she could control. It wasn’t like she could restrain her heart like she did her prey when they pulled and pulled on the nets that Britomartis wove.

It was wrong. So wrong. And it was wonderful.

Callisto was in love with a fighter, with lithe and strong limbs, hands and veins that ran like rivers she bathed in. She was in love with a leader, eyes that glinted silver like the stars, or perhaps the moon, with quiet determination. A friend. A teacher, a-

“Dreaming again, Callisto?”

Callisto woke with a start.

Artemis was standing above her, one hand on her hip, the other gripping her bow, a teasing smile on her face.

“Yes, my lady,” Callisto stammered. “I- I mean- no, my lady, I-“

Artemis smirked.

“Oh, Callisto,” Artemis shook her head in amused resignation. “What am I to do with you? I’ll have to keep an eye on you, won’t I?”

Yes, you will.

With an easy grin, Artemis jogged off into the clearing, and Callisto laid back down with a sigh.

That was close.

Callisto closed her eyes again, and let herself drown in her fantasies.

Lips, hands, curves, hands, collarbones, beautiful, beautiful

She rested a cheek on her forearm, knowing she would drift off any moment, and no doubt dream again.

She always dreamt of the same thing. She always dreamt of her.

Artemis, the goddess of the hunt, whose arrow never missed her prey, had captured Callisto’s heart.

Wordless

Written by Atticus Payne
Art by Leah Prodigalidad


Would it surprise you that most days I now know not what to say? This roving, writhing, writing mind that reaches to engulf every sensation, touch, rush, impulse in words of ringing rightness…is left limp and still at the scrape of your presence. 

You have that strange effect.

And I may regret if I say not what my chest bursts, rattling, ribcage cracking, lungs groan to speak of this falling safety you’ve found for me. For if I hold my breath and let this pass, let it expand and then push out yet again, what if this careful carded castle simply came and went and fell to dust? If it were not immortalised, would I remember the exact shade of your light as it warmed my tingling skin, pricking the hairs of my neck in delicious excitement for something so new and true and altogether quite frightening?

Yet here I am, and as I try, my mind scatters these fragments of memories to reflect in muddled imagery that could never properly capture the calm rock-ing hold of your hand against my leg, my head against your neck, your words in seven languages stumbling to keep this sacred calm in human empirical sense. Indescribable, we decide. Deity must have brought this lovely flame alive. Those words, once twisted on your tongue, now slipping freely into air—

Do I have that strange effect?

Closer now, and still, so foreign to the real form of things. How, how, can I show them what you’ve given me? See, I should not have even tried. But now I have started and so must see it through; you see, don’t you? 

Should I cast these words to rest, then, my heart, my dear shaking heart? These lines, that I ever promised I’d write my first real love poem about, then nearly never saw through for having waited too long. Is this where they deserve to lie? 

Perhaps I will be stingy with this sacred secret of mine. Who above Him could know how long this whim will keep for? So I’ll lock those words away, leaving only the imprint of this wisp I promised to put down someday. 

How fortunate am I, that someone loves me enough to be made light and whole simply by my presence. 

And how I love you, my darling love. And how I wish to rush far ahead past constraints and know the true extent of love. But that is not the will of the wise, and to them, we yet answer; though not the same person, for now of yet the same mind. 

So I will breathe, and I will wait, and stand on the edge all the same, obstinately wordless to my description of you, of I, of us. For that, I must beg your forgiveness, and too, hope that you will never forgive me. This most grievous wrong, that you allow. 

And so do I. I am sorry.

Playing a Song on the Piano

Written by Miriam Fernandez
Art by Bryan Geraldo


Every time she played a chord of a song on the piano that had lived for years and years, the same piano that her parents had played together when they were younger, she would close her eyes and remember. 

She would remember the first time she saw the ocean. The place her family visited every year after, building sand castles and running happily. She would bring books sometimes, sitting in a chair as the sunset appeared. Picture after picture, videos and videos of times that appeared again in every note that she played on the piano. 

She would remember building a treehouse with her sister. It was a place filled with puzzles, pencils, pens, lots of journals, and plants–mostly roses, as her sister liked them the most. She and her sister would run to the treehouse after school ended, each trying to get there first. She knew she was faster, but she also knew that if she got there first, she wouldn’t be able to feel the warmth of the sunlight. She wouldn’t be able to close her eyes, wouldn’t feel the flowers and the leaves of the trees as they ran. So she would let her sister get there first and soon, she would be there too.

She would remember when her family left their home. She had grown up there, a house surrounded by many trees and other houses where she met her friends. On afternoons when she didn’t have homework, or at least didn’t want to do her homework, she would rest on a tree–her tree–and read. She would bring a pillow with her every time and sometimes she fell asleep. Peaceful. That’s how she felt there. And even though they left, she knew that it was her home, her tree. 

And she would remember the first time she played a song on the piano and the instruments she learned to play. And the movies she would watch with her family and when her family surprised her on her birthday. And then the notes would finish, the song would end, and she would open her eyes again, happy to have remembered everything.

Persephone

Written by Jessica Liu
Art by John William Waterhouse


Persephone went with Hades willingly–that’s what people didn’t know.

Hades hadn’t kidnapped her. She chose to go. And she hated herself for it, but if she was presented with the choice again, she wouldn’t have changed a thing.

She still remembered the first conversation she had with him, complaining about her dad’s overprotective authoritarian parenting.

“Yeah, Zeus can really be a douche, sometimes,” Hades said.

Persephone laughed, a surprised cheery sound. She hadn’t heard anyone other than her mother be so blunt about her dad in a while. It was refreshing.

“That’s for sure,” Persephone looked at Hades. Like, really looked at him. 

No one had ever stared at Hades so intently before, and he felt self-conscious.

“Is- is my hair-” he raked his nails through his dark, curly hair, matted from his constant helmet-wearing.

Persephone laughed.

“Your hair’s fine,” she told him. “I just always thought your eyes were black.”

“Are they not?”

“No,” she decided. “They’re indigo. Almost purple. Like an iris, or a hyacinth.”

“Yeah, right,” he scoffed.

“I’m serious.”

“You’re full of shit,” his cheeks were burning. She could make the lord of the underworld blush. 

Time seemed to stand still when she was around him. She couldn’t remember the last time someone had asked her so many questions about herself. He asked her what her favorite fruit was. Pomegranate. What her favorite flowers were. Hyacinths and petunias. Her biggest pet peeve. Her mother chasing away all the men who came near her. 

As they were parting, Hades whispered, “Come on, Persephone. Meet me after the sun sets.”

So she waited until it was dark, and slipped on a dress far too light for the drafty cold night.

Her mother was still asleep. She told herself she’d be back before sunrise. She ran through the meadows where she’d lived her sheltered life, picking daisies and eating persimmons. It was later than she’d ever been out, and she was meeting a man she’d met only a few days prior. She should have been terrified. 

“Persephone,” Hades stepped out of the shadows. He had picked a narcissus, whose petals looked like watercolor splatters of mustard and ivory, and pinned it behind her ear. 

Oh, all the things she wanted them to be.

They made her giddy with hope, with possibility. They kept her up at night, when she was entertaining scenarios that only ever played out the way she wanted them to in her mind, in her dreams. 

So when he asked her to go to the Underworld with him, how could she say no?

“I’m scared,” she had said at first. 

“What are you scared of?”

“I’m supposed to be scared of you.”

“And are you?”

She was silent. And he didn’t make any attempt to reassure her, or convince her. He just stood there, quietly staring at her, with those unnerving midnight eyes. Was she? She should be. He was everything her mother had ever warned her about. 

“No,” she whispered.

He smiled, a light curve of his lips.

“Okay,” he said. “Then I don’t see what the problem is.”

He held out a calloused hand. Persephone took it, and they disappeared into the night. 

The underworld was much different than Persephone had imagined it. It wasn’t dark, it wasn’t fiery, and it didn’t look like a place of torture. But the occasional wails from souls reminded her that it was. She shuddered, and stepped a little closer to Hades. She was so glad she wasn’t mortal.

She followed Hades to his throne room. 

Persephone was falling. She never meant to. But she couldn’t help it. A little bit at first, and then all at once.

One day, Hades came into her room. Something was different, and she could tell. Words spilled from his mouth, and all the blood rushed to her ears, blocking out everything. 

“I’m so, so sorry,” he ended.

About what? Sorry about what? 

Persephone didn’t understand. She didn’t understand what was going on. Whatever “it’s not you, it’s me” bullshit he had said wasn’t making sense. And she definitely couldn’t see clearly with the blurry film that had formed, obstructing her vision.

How many girls had seen their reflection in those eyes? How many girls had he promised the underworld?

Her narcissus looked like a lie, was picked by a cheat, felt like goodbye and reeked of deceit. 

Her mother was already waiting for her back at home with a knowing smile. 

She knew that little girls were a dime a dozen, and a man would never stay. 

It was winter. All the wildflowers had wilted. Fuschia and violet daydreams faded into the umber of a distant palm tree. 

What was a first love if not ephemeral, to have lost it as quickly as it arrived, have it come and go when the seasons change?

She met him in October; he came with the autumn leaves. Left a chilly night in November, whispered goodbye like a winter breeze.

Her eyes were rivers. Her heart was glass. And nothing had ever hurt as bad.

All the things she wanted them to be.