To 2015 - 2016

By Molly Friedel

  1. Untitled
    By Leila Mohammadizadeh, 12
Cadiz looked down at the red flower spreading across his abdomen. He could feel the bullet lodged in his skin, could feel the way it had shredded his stomach and torso, could feel the sticky heat of his organs as they pressed against his hand.
“Oh,” he said, and with his free hand, he reached up and snapped his neck.
Cadiz awoke when the stars were still screaming and the creatures of the day didn’t dare to show their faces.
The desert sand was cool underneath his back, and the night sky draped him in a blanket of black so invitingly peaceful he was tempted to snap his neck again. He sat up instead.
Yawning, he clasped his hands above his head and stretched his back. After a moment, he dropped them with a contented sigh and glanced at his hands. Still sticky. Still bloody. He exhaled in annoyance.
He pulled up the hem of his shirt, also still sticky, already knowing what he would see. A ragged, white scar on the left side of his abdomen had duly recorded his eighty-seventh death. So it goes.
In one fluid movement, he pulled his shirt off, using it as a towel to wipe the majority of the dried blood off his hands and torso. He scrubbed at his skin until he decided sand wouldn’t stick to the remaining blood, figuring that he’d be fine without a shirt as long as it was still dark out. If he was honest with himself, he’d rather suffer under the scorching sun anyway then have the sand stuck grating against his skin.
Dropping his shirt, he pushed himself to his feet, wondering where his Automag had gone to. The pistol was fairly large as pistols go, and considering the desert wasn’t particularly brimming with life, he was slightly concerned at its disappearance.
He supposed it could be hidden beneath the sand or have fallen down a dune, but a more likely scenario was that Artesia had stolen it when he’d been dead.
Unfortunately, the Grim Reaper’s navigational accuracy wasn’t exactly up to par, and he always awoke in the same relative area, but never the exact location of his death. Now that he’d been dumped somewhere random back in the Harenam Desert, he’d have to go searching for Artesia again in order to get his Automag back. He gave a last glance around for the pistol.
It was at times like this when Cadiz sorely wished the Grim Reaper was as materialistic as humans. He liked that Automag.
Artesia did not like that Automag.
She was not a fan of thirty-ninth century weapons at all, but recognized that she lived in a changing world and some things just couldn’t be helped.
She had pitched a tent in the more arid part of Harenam, where the ground was less heaping sand and more dried out dirt. She’d only been here a few weeks but figured Cadiz would find her eventually. Harenam was only so big. Cadiz would regenerate every couple days anyway.
She took the Automag in her hands, rubbing her thumb over the shiny, silver metal. An unused cartridge sat patiently inside. She frowned upon noticing it, glancing at her own twenty-third century gun half tucked in her backpack, her Kimber Custom pistol, empty and gleaming triumphantly. She looked back at the Automag and tilted her head.
Dyssodia stood patiently outside, existing outside of thirst, as camels do. Artesia examined the Automag a moment more before laying it on the small, collapsible table inside the tent. Brushing past the thin fabric, she warmly dipped her head in Dyssodia’s direction. “Hey, girl.”
Dyssodia gave her a baleful stare, and then promptly spat in her face.
Artesia laughed, wiping her face with her sleeve and using her other hand to rub Dyssodia’s neck. “Thanks,” she said sarcastically, blinking camel spit out of her eyes. Unable to hold back her grin, she added, “Keep an eye out for him, alright?”
She disappeared back into the tent before Dyssodia could grace her again.
Cadiz groggily returned to the land of the living again for the ninety second time now. So it goes.
He scowled, shaking his head and feeling sand fall out of his hair like rain. He pushed the heels of his hands against his eyes in an effort to block out the glaring sun. The rays pushed through his fingers, pounding, “Pay attention to me, pay attention to me.”
He took a hand off his eyes but didn’t open them. Waving it above his head, he mumbled, “Shut up, attention addict.”
The sun didn’t deign him a reply.
Sighing, he pushed himself to his feet again, painfully blinking his eyes open. He forced himself to take in his surroundings, studying the array of particularly high dunes to his left contrasted with the flatter sand to his right. So he was around Petram, then. Petram, where the dunes disappeared like ashes in the wind in favor of hardened dirt.
Running a hand through his hair again, he started in the opposite direction of the dunes. Artesia hated the messy sands of Harenam; it was a safe bet to assume she was closer to where piles of sand didn’t stretch wistfully into the sky.
It was also safe to assume she’d never stop stealing his Automag.
Cadiz shook his head. “Attention addicts,” he muttered disdainfully.
He would’ve gone after her, anyway, whether she’d stolen it or not. There are only so many ways to pass the time when death isn’t an option.
Artesia sat on Dyssodia’s back because logically by sitting on a camel one becomes taller. Logically if one is taller, one can see farther. Logically if one can see farther, her impatience will be more quickly satisfied as she would sooner see the object of her impatience because where is that boy and what is taking him so long.
She sighed, closing her eyes and running a hand through her hair. The Automag flashed through her mind again, silver, silver, silver, and still loaded. How many times had it been still loaded and she hadn’t noticed?
Artesia had prided herself on her winning streak. She liked to think she was the sharpest shooter, quicker than even Cadiz. She liked to think that the past sixteen wins were hers to savor.
She opened her eyes again, staring into the hazy horizon.
Perhaps they weren’t.
Cadiz could see Artesia even though he knew she couldn’t see him.
The horizon was too hazy, the sun too strong. The desert was kind that way.
Cadiz considered himself well protected as he sauntered towards her small tent. Granted, it would be at least nightfall before he reached it, however the dry ground was much easier to walk on then the mounds of sand that lapped eagerly at his feet.
He considered not showing up, considered turning around and wandering back out into Harenam. He let himself slow to a stop, let the humid desert air clam up around him as he mulled this over. No more dying, at least not by her hand. No more careful pretense of pulling the trigger.
The sun beat down on him.
Cadiz dismissed the idea. He was too bored to really go through anything of the like.
He also really liked that Automag.
The sun was setting at the edge of the Harenam horizon, vibrant orange and reds like a cactus blossom, dragging black ink across the sky in its wake.
Cadiz breezed into Artesia’s tent as if he lived there, seating himself next to her on her bed and stretching his arms. “Long time no see,” he said cordially in response to her guarded expression, before dropping his arms, clasping his hands and resting them in his lap. He fixed her with an equally guarded look, eyes flickering to her hands and then back to her face. “My Automag, if you please?”
Artesia kept her gaze on him for a moment before slowly transferring it to the slim weapon clutched in her grip. Keeping a neutral expression as she ran her eyes over silver, she told him, “It’s loaded.”
Cadiz didn’t give her a second glance. “How kind of you. May I have it now?” he pressed in the same carefully level voice.
Artesia raised her eyes to him scornfully. “I didn’t load it. You loaded it,” she accused him, putting the Automag abruptly in his lap. “You loaded it last year and never shot it. Not once.”
The Automag was a whirl of silver in Cadiz’s hands as he spun it around his fingers, examining it critically. He shrugged one shoulder nonchalantly. “I shot it quite a bit, thank you,” he corrected her, still gazing at the Automag.
“Not at me.”
Cadiz looked at her curiously, momentarily silent. “You’ve been out in the sun too long.”
“I have not. Your stupid, latest model gun is loaded because the last time we took three steps, turned around and fired, I was the only one who pulled the trigger.” Artesia folded her arms, glaring at him. “Check it.”
Cadiz duly checked it.
“It is loaded,” he agreed.
Artesia kept up her glare. “And you loaded it.”
“And you’re crazy,” Cadiz imitated her tone, and stood up, sliding the Automag in his belt. “You ready?”
Artesia scowled at him, but she stood up also, reaching for her backpack and pulling her Kimber Custom out of it. “I’m ready for you to play fair.”
Cadiz stilled, fixing her with a strange look. “Play fair?”
“Fair,” Artesia said firmly, and walked stiffly outside.
Harenam nights were quiet.
They were both silent as they walked a couple yards away from Artesia’s tent, ducking away from Dyssodia as they did so.
“What is this, the seventeenth time now?” Cadiz asked suddenly, not bothering to look in Artesia’s direction as he did so.
 “Yes,” she said shortly, not deigning him a glance either.
“You’ve won all the previous ones,” he commented, letting his hands rest in his pockets in an effort to keep them warm. He stopped walking, still staring out into Harenam.
“Because you never fired.” Artesia walked behind Cadiz, pressing her back against his.
They stood back to back in silence for a moment. Artesia closed her eyes, exhaling softly. Her grip tightened on the Kimber Custom.
“Play fair, eh?” Cadiz said under his breath.
Artesia’s eyes flashed open.
“Play fair,” she said flatly. “Shoot your damn gun.”
She could feel the upwards and downwards movements of Cadiz’s bare shoulders against her back as he shrugged. “As you wish, princess.”
Artesia rolled her eyes.
Cadiz cocked his Automag. The sharp crack echoed into the night before leveling out into a low hum. She could hear his excited breathing.
Artesia cocked her Kimber Custom. It made a soft click, and then stayed silent. She took a deep breath. “On three.”
“On three,” Cadiz repeated.
Artesia and Cadiz took a step forward.
Artesia took a step forward.
Cadiz spun around, eyes wild. In two strides he was directly behind Artesia, Automag muzzle pressed firmly into her back. Artesia froze.
For a moment, the only sound was their breathing.
Then, Cadiz breathed softly in her ear, “I never play fair.”
Artesia stared blankly into the distance in front of her. She could feel the bullet lodged in her skin, could feel the way it had shredded her back and spine, could feel the sticky heat of her blood as it flowered against her shirt.
“Oh,” she said, and with her free hand, she reached up snapped her neck.