In the summer of 2016, my eighth-grade English teacher took over fifty of her students on a trip to Ireland and Scotland. From the early stages of planning to the actual day we left on our international flight, it’d been more than a year and a half. By then, I had finished ninth grade, and hadn’t been in Mrs. Rowley’s class since mid-2015. Leading up to the trip, there were several meetings where we discussed itineraries and decided on chaperones for our five-person groups. I was lucky to get partnered with four of my good friends from middle school. Our months of waiting would soon be worth it—and after a nearly seven-hour plane ride to Dublin, I set foot in Europe for the first time in my life.
Right after leaving the airport, our tour group stopped by Howth Cliff Walk. A scenic hiking loop along the Irish Sea, we were welcomed to the country by a warm ocean breeze. A distant lighthouse, and ships passing beside the cliffs, I wish we could have spent more time there. But we were already head- ing into Dublin, ready to have dinner—the only problem was that we were all exhausted from jetlag, and many of us started falling asleep in the dim lighting of an Irish pub eatery. Over the next few days, we visited several historical sites, like St. Patrick’s Cathedral, and the Library of Trinity College. Both are grand buildings; the former with its gothic architecture and stained-glass windows, and the latter’s endless collection of literature, with one room alone containing over 200,000 books. We also visited Kilmainham Gaol, a prison built in the late 18th century that’s now just a museum.
The most memorable spots in Dublin, though, were where me and my friends made our own memories. At a multi-level toy store downtown, we played with Legos and giant pianos. At the giant Papal Cross in Phoenix Park, we struggled to keep our ice cream cones upright in the ensuing rain. And beneath the nearly 400-foot Spire of Dublin—a giant metal needle that pierces the sky—an Irish woman approached me and my friends, asking if we could help her put a bracelet on. We chatted briefly, and she was sur- prised to know we were only fifteen years old.
Before we even left on our trip, some of the tour guides implored us not to mention politics to anybody we ran into—the Brexit referendum had happened just days earlier, and the 2016 U.S. election was fast approaching. As young as we were, most of us didn’t care enough about world events to have any meaningful discussion about it. Bracelet lady was kind (and neutral) in her conversation, but there were certainly a few moments where the locals couldn’t help but mention Trump to us.
And who could blame them? What else would you ask an American tourist about? We didn’t have much to say, con- sidering we couldn’t even vote. But it was interesting to see how foreigners interpreted American politics—it was a perspective I had never experienced before. We soon wrapped up our time in Dublin and headed to Northern Ireland by bus. One of the last stops we made was at Titanic Belfast, a museum located in the very shipyard where the doomed ocean liner was constructed. The building’s shiny, metallic exterior stands as high as Titanic once did, its appearance (ironically) both ship-like and iceberg-like. As June neared its end, we said goodbye to the Irish and boarded a ferry for Scotland.
After a 2-hour voyage, we disembarked in Cairnryan. The first thing we saw was a landscape of rolling green hills that became more astounding the further we traveled into the country. Living up to Scottish stereotypes, our tour guide blasted bagpipes over the bus’s PA system the entire drive. We went through Dumfries and Glasgow, stopping at two places along the way: the Robert Burns Birthplace Mu- seum, and the Gallery of Modern Art, respectively. It was late by the time we arrived in Edinburgh, so we settled into our hotel. The next day was rainy. We started at Dunsapie Loch, where we fed bread to swans. It was a serene morning, peaceful—it could’ve been out of a storybook. Things were more hectic at Edinburgh Castle, being one of Scotland’s more popular tourist destinations.
My favorite part of the day, though, was at Princes Street Gardens. Edinburgh Castle sits atop a cliff, facing into the city; and at the bottom of that cliff, there’s a little park. I still remember looking up at the castle from that angle, dark brick against a dark sky. There was a merry-go-round there, and it looked so out of place. It had really started to rain by then, so we didn’t stay long, but I made sure to take a picture before we left. Me and my friends ran down the street, trying to find some cover from the downpour. We eventually huddled under a giant bridge, hoping for the weather to subside. We must’ve forgotten we were in a country infamous for its inclement weather. So we gave up and trudged through the rain back into town.
The following day, the bus took us into Stirling, where we went through more rural Scottish locations. The first was the picturesque Aberfoyle, a village right at the base of a mountain. The skies were a fore- boding gray, but luckily things stayed dry. Part of our itinerary included a “dog show,” and I was unsure what that entailed. It turned out to be a border collie herding around a bunch of ducks, leading them up and down ramps—definitely worth the price of admission. We also hiked around Loch Katrine, in prepa- ration for the following day’s loch: Loch Ness. While it was exciting to visit such a famous cryptozoo- logical site, the highlight of Loch Ness was undoubtedly the Centre & Exhibition we went to afterwards, where we learned more about the history of Nessie. Even the museum was uncertain of the beast’s existence, because at the end of every room, interactive screens assaulted us with big red question marks. It was almost like they didn’t want us feeling too sure of ourselves.
The last two days of our trip were probably my favorite. On one of the most breathtaking bus rides of my life, we entered the Scottish Highlands. No matter what direction we looked in, all we saw was green. Grass-covered mountains encircled us, low clouds rolling in between peaks. We stayed the night at the Isles of Glencoe, a beautiful hotel situated right on the water. Through big glass windows we watched sailboats glide across a foggy lake like listless ghosts. I still remember when we first walked into the lobby; as if some higher power knew I would be there, one of my favorite albums (The Black Keys’ Turn Blue) was playing over the radio. We spent the night in bunk beds and woke up at daybreak to leave for our last major stop on the trip.
The Glencoe Visitor Centre was the perfect introduction before roaming the Highlands. It offered geo- logical details of the surrounding mountains, historical information about the area, and environmental facts on the flora and fauna. We were then free to wander as we pleased. Although we all started in our original groups, it wasn’t long before I broke off to explore on my own. I followed worn down paths, ducking beneath trees and trailing old fence lines. The sky was overcast, and the air was cool. At one point I found a picnic table, green paint flaking away from damp wood; at another, I discovered a small pond surrounded by willows. It was all too scenic—something reserved for postcards or desktop back- grounds.
Realizing our scheduled time at Glencoe was nearing its end, I started to head back to the tour bus. My only problem was that there were no other people in sight, and few distinct landmarks to guide me. Intertwining paths didn’t help either, and for a few minutes I considered myself lost. Luckily, I stumbled across a trail that led me right back to the visitor centre. But even if the worst had happened, if I became stranded in the Scottish Highlands, I don’t think I would’ve minded too much. There’s no better place to go missing.
Within the next day, we would board a plane home, and spend nearly twelve hours on different layovers. In our last flight to Baltimore, me and my friends were the only people on a single-aisle passenger plane. We arrived in Maryland late at night, and my parents were there to take me home. Each of my souvenirs I carried in a lime green suitcase—which, miraculously, had gone undamaged the entire trip. That is, until the baggage handlers at BWI threw it too hard and dented the frame. I haven’t been back to Europe since then, so my suitcases have gone unscathed. But I’d risk all my luggage if it meant the chance to one day return.
“THE QUEEN’S WRATH”
Four elegantly carved sandstone pillars stood proudly within the massive circular throne room. Each pillar had intricate carvings along the length of the stone, indicating the history of the people. At the head of the room, beneath a massive stained-glass window sat the Queen’s throne. A chair much big- ger than the queen herself, made of a darkened sandstone. On each armrest were deep grooves revealing the grainy texture beneath the smooth throne’s surface. The marble floors before the throne bounced the light of the sun about the room, all of which created a prism of colors through the windows lining the hall.
Klega sat upon the throne, scraping the sharp glass tips secured on her knuckles into the grooves. Her guardsmen were transporting the spy which was caught just within the city walls. No one knew how long he had been within the city slowly learning to report back to the Empire.
Prisoners were not usually brought before the Queen, but per her request, she wanted to carry out the execution herself. The spy would not talk, but she wondered whether she could be convincing enough for a few words before the man’s death.
Klega heard the footsteps of her guardsmen as they approached with the spy in tow. Two guards- men drug an older, fragile man into the throne room and threw him before her. He had done well, at- tempting to hide himself in city attire to blend in. The tan tunic covering his body was bloodied and the headdress was set out of position.
The man was undoubtably Imperial. He was not adorned with the distinct jewelry worn by the city folk. Klega was careful with the laws, as to keep the Empire’s presence within the city as minimal as possible. They were not trusted; rather, hated due to the excessive amounts of threats with war. Klega didn’t use violence as a means to contain, control, and influence, but to keep order. Execution wasn’t frequent within the city. Only when truly necessary.
The man’s arms were bound tightly behind his back, and he struggled to straighten up on his knees to look at the Queen. As Klega gazed at him, through the blood, both dried and flowing through the wounds on his face and body, she felt a twinge of recognition. She squinted her eyes, focusing on a woven necklace hanging from the man’s neck.
Klega stood from her throne, stepping forward to swipe the necklace off of the man, slicing the side of his throat in the process, causing him to emit a pained groan.
“You assumed I wouldn’t be able to see through an enchantment?” The façade encompassing him and altering his appearance fell away. At Klega’s feet knelt a younger man. Anger swelled within her as she was able to see who truly had been brought before her. Not a common Imperial spy, but Thyril.
Klega took hold of Thyril’s hair roughly, the glass claws slicing into the top of his head. He let out a breath, clenching his teeth together as the pain radiated through him.
“I should have killed you before, when you tried to convince me to work with the Empire. With that bitch of an Empress.” Klega seethed, digging the claws deeper into Thyril’s skull, causing blood to trickle down his face. “I was merciful. I let you go. I see now that I was wrong, as you have joined them, just as you wished for the city to have done.” Klega held onto Thyril’s hair and placed her other hand around his throat, leaning in closer.
Thyril kept his jaw clenched as he was forced to stare into the angry eyes of what would have been his wife. His Queen. The task he was chosen to do was to spy for the Empire in the city, as he knew it well, and assured the Empress he would not be caught.
“Have you anything to say?” Thyril didn’t move. He looked away.
“Your head will speak for itself once I sent it to your Empress.” Klega pulled Thyril’s head back, exposing his neck. From her side she unsheathed a glass dagger.
“She will burn this city, and all of you.” Thyril’s voice trembled, causing Klega to smile.
“Glass does not burn.” Klega swiftly swung the dagger through Thyril’s neck.
Thyril’s body fell over with a thud. Klega turned to her guardsman with Thyril’s severed head held in her grasp. “Send this to the Empress immediately.” The guardsman nodded, taking the bleeding, severed head from the Queen. “In the ocean with what’s left.” Once the body was quickly hauled off, Klega was left alone. The only remnant of Thyril’s exis- tence sat in a pool of blood in front of her throne.
As Klega took her seat, using her skirt to remove the blood from her dagger, she let out a sigh.
“I was to marry you,” she spoke aloud to herself, setting the dagger onto her arm rest and using the cloth of her skirt to remove the blood from underneath her glass claws. “What a fool that would have made me.”
“THE MAKING OF A BALLAD"
Rain pattered against the poorly sewn cloth fabric of my tent that morning. A few streams of rain- water trickled down through the slits cut into it from the night before, which wet my face and provoked a much less welcoming morning. One of their arrows was still stuck in the support stake as well, catch- ing some of the water on its fletching.
I grabbed it, figuring it could be put to better use in finding something to eat, even though I still lacked a bow.
Mist covered the mountaintops above me, and a fog was setting in within the valleys below. Though it seemed remote enough, I shouldn’t have dropped my guard and built the fire so high the night before. It was clear then, and the gods above shimmered and danced about. The fire must have acted like a lighthouse in Ithlir’s Bay. The slavers no doubt avoided me, and the thieves no doubt came straight for me. If it weren’t for the fumbling oaf rearing their pack, I would’ve never been ready for them.
After putting my pack together I tried to scale down the mountain, following the tracks of those thieves in hopes of finding their hideaway for the guardsmen at Beklow. Though in hindsight I should’ve known they would’ve cared little about thieves and more about extorting the fisherman out of their morning catch. I, at least, intended to catch one with a bribe before he mad shore. The trail wasn’t hard to follow. That scrawny lad I surprised in the brush must’ve weighed more than he appeared. His comrades seemed to have dragged him by him shoulders, leaving deep imprints into the trail despite the fresh mud. Before long I heard a few voices echoing from behind the rocks just before me. Two men at first, arguing between each other about something or another. They were clear- ly foreign, as even I had trouble discerning what they were going on about. I did make out one word though. “Thaeri.”
At first I thought about going on as I’d originally planned. I’d found their hideaway after all, and that was all I’d originally planned to do. But curiosity, my regrettable trait, got the better of me.
I climbed the boulder beside me and peered down to the two conversing men. They were sat just outside a cave, grumbling in their indistinct Emberonic dialect. Brutes by all accounts, no doubt arguing about who gets the last bite of the morning’s pheasant. I then looked beyond them where the rain poured through the canopy of the trees unrelenting on a crudely built cage. In it sat the elf I’d heard them mention. She was huddled against her chest, keeping herself warm I thought. She was so soaked by the rain I couldn’t discern whether she’d been crying, but the blood which ran through the cuts on her back spoke louder than the men below me.I slid back down the boulder and rummaged through my pack for the coin purse I’d nicked off the scrawny lad. Maybe I could barter with them I thought. Separate them so they could get their leader, then free the elf and be on my way. If anything, her family would offer me some sort of reward for free- ing her. Something to make it worth my while.
I tightened my belt and unlatched my sword from its sheath before stepped around the rock.
“Morning gentlemen, crummy day, isn’t it?” My laugh was met with silence. Not a great start. “Ahem. Well, the old millet down in Beklow said I might find some goods here for a fair price, and I may even have some you’d be interested in as well?”
Finally, the grey bearded ogre of a man stood up, but sadly his expression didn’t seem all too welcoming. Nor did the axe he began to raise up from his side. “No trade. Go away.” I smiled up at him. “Come now, I’ve got some excellent items here I know two fellows like yourselves could use.” I dropped my pack onto the ground and opened it, hoping that would at least entice one of them. “Leave, Imperial!” He stepped closer, this time fully lifting his axe from his waist. “You won’t be getting through to them like that.” The elf girl spoke with a somewhat matter of fact and calm tone. For someone locked in a cage with lashings across their back, she seemed much too content.
Luckily for me I am stoic when surprised. “Oh? Well perhaps for you then?” The axe swung inch- es from my face, landing into the wooden crossbars of the cage. “Quiet filthy Thaeri! Imperial, leave!” The elf girl smirked as she shrugged her shoulders and sat back down against the other side of the cage.
I looked back up at the brute, having lost a bit of my patience. “Well, you must have done superi- or who will do business with me. Go fetch him. I’ll wait here and share some of that pheasant with your friend here.” The other man showed no sign of friendship toward me. He also didn’t seem to speak the common tongue, so he just waited for his cohort’s reactions.
The axe wielder did not seem too much care for my company. He pulled the axe from the cage, splintering the rotting wood in the process. “You had chance Imperial. We’ll take goods, and you!”
I live for these moments. Clearly my silver tongue could use some honing, but thankfully I’m much more skilled with a sword. As his axe fell forward, I jumped aside, pushing it down into the dirt with my free hand. My other I used to draw back my sword, and with one quick motion I thrusted for- ward through the man’s stomach. Steam hissed into the morning air as his blood coated the end of my blade. I smiled up at the man as he looked down at me with rage in his eyes. “You should’ve just been civil. I was willing to overlook your visit last night.” I sighed. “Oh well.”
As I drew my blade from the man, his friend was already stood and on his way toward me. He only had a short mace. No doubt for intimidation rather than actual fighting. I readied myself, but be- fore he could even reach me the ground below him separated and his feet began to sink into the mud. In the few meters it would have taken him to reach me, he’d completely sunk into the earth. His muffled screams quickly faded and were replaced by the quiet sounds of rain trickled through the branches.
The elf girl had stood up, her hands glowing with green arcane residue. “You could’ve done that the entire time?” I was somewhat irate as she’d not only stolen the stage, but also caused me to let sym- pathy into my heart for no good reason.
The elf smiled and flicked her wrists, cutting off the flow of magic through her body. “I was waiting for something exciting. Your performance was adequate enough I suppose.” She pressed her hand against the cage and the wood folded away like a cloth.
Her clothing was clearly of the northern kingdom. A long brown dress with verdant inlay. Her ears were decorated with silver rings, and on her unsleeved arm she had a glowing vine tattoo. She reached that hand to me. “Eitheen. And you’re Akrius, correct?” I hesitantly accepted her hand, nodding my head. “I am. Have you heard of my songs perhaps? I haven’t been to your lands in quite some time, but I’ve no doubt left an impact.” Eitheen laughed softly. “Indeed you have. In fact, that’s why I’ve come down to this country.”
With no warning a branch swung from the nearby pine, knocking me back and causing me to drop my sword into the mud. Vines erupted from the earth and wrapped my hands behind me. Then two more emerged and did the same to my feet. I fell into the mud with a thud as Eitheen stood over more smiling. “You have quite the bounty in The Scaled Wood, Akrius. I’m honestly surprised I’m the first to have found you.” She chuckled an annoyingly smug chuckle. “This will make a lovely song, would it not? It will remind those like you not to cross us.”
Soon enough I was being pulled away in a carriage, the rain dampening my face as each bump in the road caused me to regret my sympathetic trait once more.
WILL B. BRAUR
“I’M A CONNOISSEUR OF ROADS”
River Phoenix’s cornflower blue eyes, tinged with blood, squint, peering far out into the distance at the hazy point where the hills meet the horizon. Awoken, in a post-narcolepsy daze, he stands alone, wavering in the sun on the median of a deserted stretch of highway. “I’m a connoisseur of roads. I’ve been tasting roads my whole life. This road will never end. It probably goes all around the world.”
This scene from My Own Private Idaho is one of many without context as to what events placed the characters where they happen to be, scenes unique to the 1991 cult film. The film’s confusing style of cinematic storytelling and its crop of eclectic characters make My Own Pri- vate Idaho neither inspirational nor relatable. As I watched it for the first time, I was surprised to find myself relating to Phoenix’s character of Mikey Waters, a rugged street hustler in search of his estranged mother. I am quite positive I stand alone as one of very few who can say that.
I wrecked my first car during the winter of my penultimate year of public education. The airbag deserves soul credit for keeping the crash from ending worse than it did. For the most part, I was alright. However, my car definitely was not. I watched the silver Hyundai Sonata as it was towed away, glass and debris trailing behind it. Thankfully, just short of a month later, a Jeep Wrangler officially replaced the Sonata via a drive home from Bedford, Pennsylvania, through the dark hours one crisp February evening.
My driver’s license is valid in the United States. My passport recognizes me as a United States citizen. I live in the United States. However, the roads that bind the lower forty-eight are what I consider Home.
Roads are what truly make a location. They connect homes to places of work, farms to markets and restaurants, cities to their suburbs. We spend our whole life on roads. They bring us to our daughter’s wedding, deep in the autumnal forest. They rush us to the hospital when a child is being brought into the world at 3:00 A.M. Cumberland, my hometown, is ingrained in my mind through the views from roads: trees forming an emerald tunnel that snakes through The Narrows, the Henderson Avenue bridge from which all the gleaming tops of churches sparkle in the sunlight for miles.
When I laid eyes on my Jeep for the first time, I will admit I was not all that impressed. The bond my car and I formed on the open road is what has made me so attached to the hum of its engine and the whistle of the air when the windows are down. Allegany County is vast when you look at it from the road. I have spent hours scouring its avenues, highways, and streets, gravel paths, winding ways, and one-lane tunnels. The love of my fingertips on the wheel is a love I had never felt before these last few years, yet the love is a feeling part of me has subconsciously longed for my entire life. In a sense, there is no wonder that I call the roads my home. To a fisherman, his boat and his fishing pole are what make his home. To a pilot, his home is his plane and the never-ending horizon. As an angsty young man, the road offers an escape from the world. The ability to trav- el on an undiscovered path, somewhere that can still be so close, is incredible. Fisherman find comfort in the rhythm of their boat chopping through the water. Casting a line draws their mind away from their worries and redirects the focus only on the task ahead: catching a fish. Driving consumes my mind. Watching the median disappear under my tires and seeing the trees whirl past has a calming effect; a similar effect to the one Mike Waters experiences in My Own Private Idaho. When life is at its most hectic, Mikey finds himself standing in the middle of that same road: the road he stares down and calls “a one-of-a-kind place. One of a kind ... like someone’s face ... like a fucked up face.” We all have that “one-of-a-kind place” that brings us serenity when life spirals off its tracks. That place takes the form of an elderly woman in a rocking chair, a walk along train tracks, arms outstretched for balance, or the tune of elevator music on the way up to the office. That place is Home.
The little old doll maker is putting the final touches on my face. Her hands hold no shake as she paints those last two eyelashes. She only shakes when she puts me in the box, a sad smile on her face. “Off to Arles with you,” she says as she puts the lid on, drowning me in darkness. I don’t know what’s in Arles, but I’m excited for a new adventure.
I’m stuck in the dark for what seems forever. Eventually The lid is replaced by the beautiful smile. Her face radiates like an angels. “Oh thank you Mama and Papa,” the person looking down at me says as she caresses my hair. “You are welcome Charlotte. What will you call her?” the one Charlotte called Papa asked. Charlotte looks down at me for a moment. “Emilia.” “That’s a beautiful name darling. Make sure to take special care of her,” the one called Mama says. Charlotte hugged me tightly to her chest. “ I’ll take good care of her Mama.” From the moment Charlotte pulled me out of the box and hugged me to her chest, we were insep- arable. She held my hand as Papa chased us around the Eiffel Tower. Mama made us matching tutus after we watched the New York Ballet. I think there still might be some sand in me from our day at Venice beach in Italy. It was all going to change though.
Last night Mama and Papa were rushing around the house trying to grab all they could. When they went to wake Charlotte, she didn’t stir. They picked her up and left. They’ll be back once they realize they’ve forgotten me.
The house is void of laughter. All that fills it are the whizzing sounds from outside. The whizzes are followed by enormous flashes of light and booms that rumble the whole house. I fear the house is going to come crumbling down. I wish Charlotte was here. She always held my hand when she was scared. Now I’m scared and need my hand held.
I have no way of knowing how long I’ve been here. The mice have formed a family much like the one I used to have. A Papa that protects everyone, a Mama that gets food, and a Charlotte that plays.The house shifts. Footsteps, a sound I haven’t heard in so long, echo through the otherwise silent house. Could this be my family finally returning?
As they get closer, I see that it is not any of my family members. It is a man with a funny look- ing hat. I see something on his back. I think it is a gun. Mama’s not going to be happy. Guns are not allowed in the house. The man walks closer to me.
“My little Addie would just love you.” Tears stain his eyes as he picks me up. He takes his satch- el and puts me in it. I don’t know what this strange man thinks he is doing. I belong only with Charlotte and have to wait for her to come back. I sway back and forth as the man starts to walk. His water canteen almost crushes me. There are words being said outside the bag, but they’re all muffled to me.
The whizzing sound is back. It’s louder than I’m used to. I can feel the ground rumble through the man. I start to sway faster. The man must be running.
1943 I don’t know how long I’ve been in this dark bag. The only time I see light is when the man opens his bag to grab the canteen or to put it back. I don’t like the dark. Sometimes he does pull me out of the bag. It’s normally at night and inside an abandoned build- ing. He’ll hold me, brush my hair, and try to clean off as much debris from my dress as possible. 1944 We’re outside today.I can always tell when we’re outside. Everything gets louder. I wish I could see the sun. I bet Charlotte is somewhere enjoying it with Mama. The whizzing sound is back and louder than I’ve ever heard it. I feel light for a moment, as if I am flying, and then I am being crushed. My ears ring from the boom. 1945 I’ve been trapped in the bag for so long. I no longer hear whizzes and booms, but cars and sirens. I feel the sun shine on me for the first time in, well, I can’t remember. Someone has opened the satchel, but the light is too bright for me to see. The satchel is lifted. Voices buzz around me in what I believe is excitement. I sway in the bag as the person holding it begins to walk. The satchel is opened once again, but instead of sunlight, I see the most beautiful smile. I am pulled out of the bag only to be wrapped in a hug so tight, I fear I might break. That is okay though because after all this time, it is Charlotte’s arms I am wrapped in.