Brittany Foley, BFR Staff

She stared at the computer screen, at the cursor that continuously blinked in and out of existence until her vision blurred and she had to shake her head to bring herself back to the present.

Work, work, work, always work to do. Dozens of old Post-it note to-do lists that she threw into the trash and then rewrote anew every day. She had two essays due the upcoming Friday and a midterm the week after that and even with the pressure increasing and the stress piling on with every day that passed, she couldn’t find it in her to start an essay.

She sighed and looked out her window, wishing for something, anything, to give her an excuse to walk away from the computer without a tinge of regret. As she looked across the courtyard, it took her a minute to realize that someone was staring back at her.

Her heart caught in her throat and she pushed herself backwards, toppling out of her chair and onto the dusty dorm-room carpet. For a dazed moment, she forgot what had startled her until she heard her window slide open.

Damn the people who decided not to put a latch on the windows.

She scrambled to her feet and spun around, facing the man that was, at that moment, climbing through her window and into her room. Her room on the eighth floor of the building.

How in the hell did he climb eight stories?

He caught her eye and, as if he knew what she was thinking, grinned maniacally.

Again, her heart threatened to choke her as she backed toward the door, reaching behind her for the knob. She didn’t dare take her eyes off of the man. Chances were that he was waiting for her to turn around so he could rush at her and grab her.

Is this happening? Is this really happening to me? How is this happening to me?

At that moment, all she wished was to be sitting back at her desk, struggling to write an essay. She’d write five essays if she needed to, if only this strange man would climb back out the window and leave her alone.

A high-pitched shriek tore her away from her wishful thoughts and somehow it was possible for the man’s grin to extend further across his face. She lunged for the knob and tumbled out into the hallway.

For a moment she was alone, catching her breath and wondering what in the hell was going on. Then doors all along the hallway started slamming open and her terrified floor mates rushed out, eyes wide and mouths open in shock. Shouts of terror escaped the pale-faced students as they collectively ran for the elevator.

All around her, chaos ensued.

One second, she was running alongside one of the students she had Econ with and the next, a man in black appeared from one of the doorways and grabbed him around the waist, pulling him into one of the rooms.

Every second she expected to feel a hand on her arm, a voice in her ear telling her to scream, to scream as loud as she could even though it would be of no use. She knew that if she felt that hand, she would fall silent, let herself be pulled into the closest room and allow whatever sick thing they wanted to do happen. Because what could she do? She never was an athlete. She wasted time watching movies and reading books. The only exercise she got was the walk to the coffee shop in the morning.

In the space of seconds, she had reached the elevator when suddenly the hallway was plunged into darkness. The screams of the students around her grew louder and she felt her head spinning and the darkness closing in on her. Hands shoved her towards the stairwell but she heard the cries of students on the floors beneath her and knew that running down the stairs was futile. Rather than allow herself to be pushed down the stairs and to her impending doom, she forced her way to the part of the stairwell that led to the roof and sat down on the steps in defeat. She put her head on her knees and waited for that hand and that whisper to whisk her away.

After a minute of sitting there on the cold concrete steps, feeling her legs go numb and the blood pumping through her heart, the cries started to become more sporadic and suddenly she felt the need to live spur her to her feet. Holding her breath, she pushed herself against the wall, feeling the metal bar press against her back, and made her way up the stairs.

She would hide at the very top. A sad attempt at survival but an attempt at the least. Silence encased the building and even the quiet tap of her foot on the next step seemed to echo in the hallway. Finally, she made it to the top step and folded herself into the corner to wait.

How many minutes had passed? It felt like days.

The silence strangled her while the darkness watched and she felt herself slipping away.

She wasn’t going to make it. She was going to die tonight, in this poorly kept hallway with lint sticking to her jeans and gravel and dust embedded in her palms. She—

“Hello.”

And she felt a clammy hand wrap its fingers around her arm.

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By Georgia Peppe, BFR Editorial Staff

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This charcoal and ink drawing was inspired by Frank O’Hara’s poem, “Lana Turner Has Collapsed.” I had always loved the poem, and was inspired to draw this image when my English GSI this semester said O’Hara was one of her favorite poets. This poem had always haunted me, especially as someone who grew up in Hollywood, California, the place where Turner finally crumbles. I had always imagined a crashing to the floor, a crumpling occurring simultaneously with a curling up into a fetal position. Either way, this collapse is very disorienting to the reader considering that people remain upright for the majority of the day and that with the exception of sleeping, our verticalness somehow embodies both our humanity (animals remain on all fours) and liveliness. O’Hara profits off this association and presents the glamorous Lana Turner who has collapsed and lays there as the poem ends with an address of “get up, we love you.”

Carolyn Insley, BFR Staff

There are a lot of trees in New York City. No, I don’t mean Central Park—of course there are trees in the park. I mean it’s like someone looked around at this dark grey place and thought, “Hey, why don’t we just plant a bunch of shit so that when they try to say New York City is cold and unforgiving, well, they won’t really be wrong but at least they can look up and say it into the trees.” And I’m not saying they’re those beautiful rust-colored trees that line New England streets They’re really just plain, average, nothing special trees, but they live in New York City. They breathe the bad air, endure the yuppie brunch conversations, and live in and around the garbage just like the rest of us.

“Hey”

“Hey, what’s up?”

“What can I get you?”

“Oh, uh, coffee. Iced. Black. A morning bun too.”

The disinterested barista scooped ice into a clear unmarked cup and contemplated quite philosophically the grit beneath her nails. She held the lever down with the other hand until the cup was brimming with overpriced stale coffee. She didn’t look once at the cup and yet, managed to avoid spilling a single drop. Her name tag read “Kate.” Kate seemed like a pretty average girl, working a pretty average job. Minus the transition metal addiction.

“Hey, lady, are you gonna stand there and stare at me all day, or are you gonna pay for this?”

“Sorry, Jesus. Here.”


“Is anyone sitting here?”

The small Asian girl barely looked over her hip, square glasses before refocusing on her fancy tablet decked out in indie label band stickers. Granted, she had large headphones on and couldn’t have heard the woman who asked. Not that it would have been polite to take her headphones off when she saw someone mouthing words at her so he or she didn’t have to feel like a total idiot and look like they were talking to themselves. God.

“Okay, taking that as a no. Thanks.” She said under her breath as she sat down at the little corner table for two. It was raining outside and her coffee was ice cold as it warmed the palms of her hands as she peered outside at the soggy grey people on this soggy grey day. >>(Too Dr. Seuss-y?)

“Hey. Is anyone sitting here?”

“Oh, no go for it.”

“Actually, I just needed the chair. Sorry.”

The tall and unusually broad-shouldered man stopped, hand on the chair, and contemplated the potential immensity of the situation. The girl sitting before him, now slightly embarrassed (in the cutest possible way), was looking to him for his next move. He didn’t particularly consider himself a determinist, but maybe this was it. Maybe this was her, the girl of his dreams…

The low, slow hum of the chair dragging across the “distressed” wood floor was excruciating.  

Cindy Ho, BFR Staff

“Your mother brought this spinet with her when she got married.”

I know what the word “spinet” means. I read it in a novel last week and then I found it in the dictionary, so I know that it’s a name for a type of very short piano. My siblings just call this a piano, but I think my uncle calls it a spinet because he likes to be scientific.

“Since you’re probably old enough to learn how to put some new life in this thing, it’s high time it got a new friend.”

My uncle slides the wooden cover into the piano and the keys are revealed. The white keys are tinged with yellow, like my uncle’s teeth. I climb onto the bench. I can’t quite reach the pedals, but hopefully that isn’t important. I stare at the black and white blocks that fit together like a jigsaw puzzle. This belonged to Mama and it belongs to her ghost now. I don’t think I should be doing this, but I can’t tell uncle that I think Mama has a ghost because he’s a doctor and doctors don’t believe in ghosts.

“Go on. Press one of the keys.” He points at the little blocks and smiles at me. “What, you think it’s gonna bite you?”

Of course it won’t. The keys may look like teeth, but they’re not in a properly functioning mouth, so they couldn’t do anything to me. I expected better from a doctor, really. I put a finger on one of the white keys and press down.

I blink. I’ve never heard a sound as clear and pretty as this before. I press on some of the keys next to it. So the piano can make its voice sound different the same way a person can, but unlike a person, a piano can make several different sounds at once. Maybe a piano is actually many people.

“Go ahead and get a feel for all the different pitches.”

Pitches. So that’s what the different sounds are called. The black keys are like bridges between the pitches of the white keys, and the white keys that don’t have black keys between them are so close that they don’t need bridges. So that’s how it all works.

I come across a white key that sounds like the beginning of the song my sister sings when she’s kneading dough. If I can find more and put them in the right order, maybe I can make the spinet sing the same song. Except I don’t think that the spinet can make the words. But at least it will sound nice.

“Here’s a book that your mother had.” There’s a long piece of wood with hinges that’s stuck on the spinet, right above the keys and right under the big gold letters that I can’t read because they’re too fancy. My uncle flips it down so it makes a little shelf that he can put the book on.

The book explains that the curly shaped “S” is called a treble clef, the ear-shaped curve with the two dots after it is a bass clef, and the lines that they sit on are called staffs. A curly line hugging the left side of the staffs makes the two sets a grand staff.

And then the notes, which are the different black shapes that are either hollow or solid and sometimes with lines and flags sticking out, and then the sharps and flats which are the black keys, and the names of all the notes. The names are not names like Eva or Philip, they are just letters. The name of the first note of the song that my sister likes to sing is called A. And the next one is B, which is one black key away from A. And the next….

Rebecca Olson, BFR Staff

It has been so long that I no longer remember whose sadness weighed so heavily that night. But something flavored the darkness as we drove, through desert empty without sun to warm it, over mountains made bare by the raw eye of the moon, past trees who shed their skirts and raised bare arms to the sky.

I didn’t know where we were going, but the night insects flashed their wings, illuminated in the headlights, and the desert seemed to swallow us, coaxing my eyes open with the light of its stars to watch the rhythm of stones and trees swimming past the window. Now and then the sky opened, revealing a thread of color, and filling me with a longing for spring, for trees, for my home in soft green hills, and for me, this was enough.

When I was hungry and needed to pee I asked my dad to stop the car, but he wouldn’t stop, and I began to think of my mother, of the light that shone through the gingham curtains in our kitchen, of the hours I spent there doing my math homework or talking to my friend on the telephone, each of us unable to say goodbye but throwing the word back and forth until one of us gave in. I thought of that warm kitchen and I drank it into my body like milk. I asked my dad again if we could stop but he didn’t answer.

The silence in the car was so thick that it filled my throat, and it was into this silence that we flew, gathering speed on the empty highway, my father bent over the steering wheel, serious and heavy in his red flannel shirt.

I didn’t ask where we were going, only “What makes them so dark?”

“What?” He asked. “The trees, the mountains, the earth, the sky?”

I realized then my father was weeping, quietly, and without knowing why I watched the darkness grow wings, expanding to fill the silence in the car. I was alone, maybe for the first time, with this broken man my father who had helped me build rockets and sandcastles, and I was afraid. In the darkness he suddenly seemed small.

It was several minutes later, after we had climbed the road that wove like a black snake through the mountains and entered the national park, that my father explained how canyons are formed.

“It’s from the erosion of rivers,” he said, “the rock on either side tends to be stronger, while the rock inside the canyon is softer and more easily weathered over the years by wind and water. Here, for example, the rain falls in torrents, and the soil is so hard that when it rains the water has nowhere to go but to flow down into the river, the Colorado River, down and down and sometimes overflow its banks.”

We pulled into the parking lot then, maybe it was four o’clock in the morning, and my dad walked to the edge and looked down, into the empty canyon. I stayed in the car at first, afraid of the cold and the dark and of my father, but soon I opened the door and stepped out into the moonlight. I didn’t take his hand, but stood beside him, looking down into the depths.

Regan Farnsworth, BFR Staff

We all know genre fiction. Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter are the most well-known examples, but most any fantasy (Eragon, A Song of Ice and Fire) or science fiction (Ender’s Game, Dune) counts. These kinds of stories, while many are popular, are rarely if ever touted in academia, and often lack credibility in terms of intellectual merit. “Literary fiction” books such as Catcher in the Rye and The Great Gatsby take their place, in literal classrooms and in discussions of academic nature. I posit that works of genre fiction—written well, of course—have no less a capacity for meaningful intellectual contribution than any work of literary fiction.

The simplest way to distinguish between genre fiction and literary fiction is the focus on plot versus thought, respectively. Literary fiction is often introverted and reflective, while genre fiction focuses on actions and reactions. This makes the idolization of literary fiction for academic and intellectual study seem obvious: any work that goes into the thoughts of a character and the ideas of a theory is surely going to be more worthy of thoughtful discussion and consideration. This seems only natural—events do not provide insight into mentality or philosophy.

Yet to take this stance fails to heed some of the most fundamental advice given to writers of all fiction: “Show, don’t tell.”

This is the crux of my argument. Anyone who picks up one of the literary fiction examples listed above, or even books a bit more ambiguous such as Fahrenheit 451 and 1984, recognizes immediately and inevitably that the author is trying to tell you something. There simply isn’t enough plot, enough “story,” for the intent to be anything else. A message or allegory or symbolism so blatant that, while the message may be entirely valid and important, the book or story becomes immediately less about the characters within and more about the ideas and thoughts it discusses, dissects, or encapsulates.

This is not true for those books of genre fiction that focus on events and happenings. We get wrapped up in what happens next, in the characters and relationships and developments. We are not being told, we are experiencing. This is how humans learn—not through the raw consumption of knowledge but through the experience and test of that knowledge. Thus, in genre fiction we are granted the opportunity to learn from the experiences of our characters, and derive lessons and concepts that are personal and more real than the metaphorical lecture of literary fiction.

This is not to say literary fiction is inferior, either, and certainly these two categories are arguable and occasionally ambiguous. I mean only to say that we should not discount a work’s intellectual merit solely because it has ogres or lasers, because it may be that laser-toting ogre will face hardships that mirror your own, and in doing so indirectly provide insight into your own life, rather than tutor you directly on matters of lost innocence or obsession and affluent debauchery.

Marie Maier, BFR Staff

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When you spend your days following train tracks, the past of your surroundings is unveiled quietly, laid out around you. The tracks run through the land, the ones safe to explore, or safe enough anyway, don’t lead to your future; they are a sidewalk for window-shopping through the past. You can follow and follow the paths that have been trail-blazed by others, without seeing anyone. But the remnants are there. The marks left by the ones crazy enough to have gone where you are now. The ones that started this hidden-treasure, hide-and-seek game. The tracks stretch on for a mind-numbing forever, they lead to the secrets that the earth holds. You have to follow them to find your way there and home. But maybe the tracks are your home.

Caroline Riley, BFR Staff

When I tell people that Lolita is my favorite novel, I usually receive a reaction straddling the line between fascination and horror. Yes, I know what it’s about. It wouldn’t be my favorite book if I hadn’t read it too many times to count. Yes, I think it’s disturbing. It’s deeply disturbing in a way that still leaves my skin crawling and stomach churning. Yes, it’s still my favorite book.

Lolita is not a work to be taken lightly. First published in 1955 by its author, Vladimir Nabokov, it delves into a plot narrated by professor Humbert Humbert, who enters into a sexual relationship with a twelve-year-old girl after she becomes his stepdaughter. Its narrator is more than unreliable: Humbert is manipulative. His narrative deliberately intends to mislead, to deceive, to trick the reader into believing his side of the story. Cloaked in beautiful, romanticized language, Humbert’s first person narration has the power to strategically persuade the reader that his relationship with Lolita is amorous rather than abusive, beautiful rather than horrifying. Even more unnerving, sometimes it works.

Lolita challenges us in more ways than one. It attacks a controversial subject in jarring, heartbreaking ways. It forces us to listen to a self-described “murderer” wax poetic in dulcet tones about non-consensual sex with an underage girl. It confronts our moral stances and attempts to break them down, evoking sympathy for a narrator with whom we would never want to identify. It is not, in any way, shape, or form, an easy book to read.

This being said, Lolita teaches us how to read. It informs us that as readers, we are just as malleable as the novel itself; our perspectives and positions can ebb and flow just over the course of a single narrative. It presents us with a self-conscious “fancy prose style” whose goal is implicitly to confuse us into feeling slightly less disgust and slightly more pity toward its narrator. As readers, we are responsible not just for the words on the page, but also for their subtle connotations, hidden meanings, and cunning agendas. From first page to last, Lolita presents us with a narrative perspective and then begs us to question it, to read more deeply, more closely.

John Milton wrote in his 1644 speech “Areopagitica,” “I cannot praise a fugitive and  cloistered virtue, unexercised and unbreathed, that never sallies out and sees her adversary, but slinks out of the race, where that immortal garland is to be run for, not without dust and heat.” Humbert Humbert, armed to the teeth with clever wordplay and exquisite language, is this adversary. As readers, we are called to consider not only the literature that supports our viewpoints, but also the literature that tests them. Without a doubt, Lolita tests us. It requires us to read with a critical eye. It forces us to face the immoral disguised in beauty. It inspires us to decide how to stand our ground not by default, but by battle.