By Students in Honors 87W: The Art of Neil Gaiman at UCLA
Copyright © 2016 by Tara Prescott. All rights reserved. Please note: The copyright for each story contained in this volume is retained by the respective author.
Honors 87W Editorial Board: Melanie Gharehptian, Cynthia Huang, Kimberly Juarez, Alexander Kim, Erik Knall, Rachel Maples, Brandon Pham, Tara Prescott, Ranger Saldivar, Melissa Smith, Dalia Sherif, Shabnam Tabesh, Andrew Takeda, Shuming Wang.
This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the author(s) except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
PO Box 951384
Los Angeles, CA 90095
We would like to extend our thanks to UCLA’s Writing Programs, the College of Letters & Science Honors Collegium, and the Honors Faculty Advisory Committee for supporting Dr. Tara Prescott’s proposal for a writing course dedicated to the work of Neil Gaiman.
Thank you to Wendy Morris, Director of Programs at UCLA’s Mildred E. Mathias Botanical Garden, for arranging a tour for this project, and Phillip Kwan and the talented group of volunteer docents who share their passion for conservation and conversation in the garden. If you’re ever on the UCLA campus, you simply must stop by the Mildred E. Mathias Botanical Garden. It’s a treasure.
Thank you to Marty Brennan, the Copyright and Licensing Librarian at UCLA, who advised our class about permissions for their creative work. If you are interested in publishing any of the stories in this collection, or want to ask the authors to see more of their work (or to offer them jobs!) please contact Dr. Tara Prescott or the individual authors.
And most importantly, thank you to the brave and bold writers who shared their stories in this collection. They dedicated a lot of time to analyzing Neil Gaiman’s work, dreaming up their own stories, and completing several rounds of revisions. Thank you Cynthia, Melissa, Erik, Shabby, Alex, Kim, Mel, Brandon, Shuming, Ranger, Dalia, Rachel, and Andrew (whose story lent its title for this collection). If life were a Gaiman story, you’d clearly be the everyday students suddenly thrust into UCLA Below, ready to conquer the Beast of the Trojans and save the incoming freshmen, all in time for a cup of tea.
by Tara Prescott
by Cynthia Huang
by Melissa Smith
by Shabnam Tabesh
by Erik Knall
by Alexander Kim
by Kimberly Juarez
by Melanie Gharehptian
by Brandon Pham
by Shuming Wang
by Ranger Saldivar
by Dalia Sherif
by Rachel Maples
by Andrew Takeda
I grew up loving and respecting short stories. They seemed to me to be the purest and most perfect things people could make: not a word wasted, in the best of them.
—Neil Gaiman, Trigger Warning
In the winter quarter of 2016, nineteen students enrolled in Honors Collegium 87W: The Art of Neil Gaiman at the University of California, Los Angeles. This writing course, designed and taught by Dr. Tara Prescott, introduced students to a wide range of Gaiman’s texts, including his jewel-like short stories. The class met twice a week to talk about stunning stories and scary tales and what lessons students can learn about their own writing by reading Gaiman. They wrestled with Reddit, read picture books on the floor to each other, and even held class on their own one day when their professor was stuck in a meeting.
Learning to write requires a lot of reading, and one of the best ways to improve your writing is to read writers you love and try to practice a bit of their magic on your own.
So that’s what the class set out to do. On January 28, 2016, the class met at the Mildred E. Mathias Botanical Garden on UCLA’s campus for a special writing assignment. The garden is named for a former professor in UCLA’s Department of Botany (one of the few women faculty members at the time), and director of the Botanical Garden from 1956 through 1974. Dr. Mathias was a horticulturalist, environmentalist, and champion for the protection of tropical forests and her legacy lives on in the garden, which is open to the public and hosts events to promote knowledge about biodiversity, environmentalism, and appreciation for nature. The Mildred E. Mathias Garden is a “living museum” filled with trees, flowers, plants, grasses (and yes, turtles)—an essential resource that contributes not only to UCLA’s teaching and research mission, but also to the well-being of its students (). We all need a place to connect with nature, especially when living in a metropolis like Los Angeles.
On that day, the class met in the Nest, an outdoor classroom, and volunteer docents took students on a brief tour around the garden, talking about its history and some of the incredible specimens it contains. The assignment was to explore the garden, observe its features, and use it as inspiration for writing a story in the style of Neil Gaiman. How they interpreted this topic—in terms of theme, writing style, rhetorical choices, narrative structure, etc.—was up to each student. American Turtles offers a selection of stories that hatched from that sunny winter day in the garden.
In his 2015 collection Trigger Warning, Gaiman describes the short story collections that he loved most as a child. “My favorite collections would not just give me the short stories but they would also tell me things I didn’t know, about the stories in the book and the craft of writing,” Gaiman writes (xv). In that behind-the-scenes spirit, we present thirteen stories written by thirteen students, with each story followed by a short author’s note that offers a glimpse into the genesis of the story and the aspects of Gaiman’s work that inspired it.
We hope you enjoy them.
Penny for Your Thoughts
A lone Wind wove through the bamboo grove, extending her long fingers to brush the leaves as she passed. From the smooth, dark green stalks that glided under her tender touch, to the light and fibrous bamboo leaves that laughed with her every tickle, the peaceful ambience calmed her. She recalled the popping firecrackers and clinging cymbals from the village below earlier in the night, peppered with the sounds of children laughing and the whiny twang of instruments guiding the lion dance. She could still remember the majestic, playful lion blink his friendly eyes at the children before standing up on his hind legs to greet the parents. The festive Lunar New Year Celebrations were too lively for Wind, but she still enjoyed the happiness that radiated from every corner as enemies and neighbors alike put aside their differences to wish each other good fortunes for the upcoming year.
Wind quietly smiled to herself when a sudden coldness burned her finger. She glanced at the bamboo stalk she was touching and was surprised to find it black. Slowly, the plants around it absorbed this new dark pigment, as if a calligraphy brush had painted them all. As Wind slowly backed away, the leaves stopped their conversations and the bamboo creaked towards her. She began to panic and turned around to run when she locked eyes with the dark figure behind her. A red face, frozen with sad eyes but a hyena-like smile, with dagger teeth to match.
The creature cocked its head at Wind before swiftly wiping his hand across her forehead. Wind felt herself turning cold, ice cold, then she burned with the power of ten suns. She raced away from the clearing, leaving only scorched tracks behind.
Toni cocked his head, panting like a dog, before he turned towards the sleeping village below and stumbled onward.
At the first house he slipped into, he heard three bodies breathing, then a fourth, soft, whisper of a breath. A baby. Eyes gleaming, he let his senses guide him towards the little body. Oh, he could barely contain his excitement. Babies always contained such pure energy, perfect for a tired demon like him. He followed his senses into a small room, where a lone baby slept peacefully in a small bed. Toni panted for a while, just staring at the baby. The baby began to rustle before opening her big eyes. Baby and demon stared. As the baby was about to begin crying out, Toni passed a quick hand over her forehead, leaving her cold, then burning hot and slowly turning an inky black. As the baby began to wail, Toni quietly crept out of the house and into the neighboring house, leaving behind a pair of groggy, then terrified, parents.
It wasn’t an easy life for Toni. Unlike snakes and other cold-blooded creatures, he couldn’t just bask in the sun to receive warmth and energy. No, he had to obtain it from other living beings. The sources were those who were newly born, still containing lots of energy and love from their parents. It was a hard life, but eh, it’s not like anyone would miss those babies. They hadn’t had time to make an impact on anyone’s life, really. After visiting a third of the village and waking up every household in the village, Toni trotted happily back to the bamboo grove, never noticing a pair of curious, alert eyes that stared at him from a small window just a few feet away.
“We must do something about this,” Long thought to herself.
Long was a mysterious girl. With sesame black hair, her stunning green eyes stood out. Upon her arrival on earth, it was said that fireflies danced around her family, welcoming her. These fireflies would later be known to her, and her only, as fairies sent to protect her. Rather than cry, she roared so fiercely, her amazed parents immediately named her:
Long, dragon. She was very observant and quite intelligent. Even before she began school, Long helped to explain their decrease in rice production from a broken water pipe, and that the presence of bugs came and ate their tea leaves at night to explain the year the tea never matured. Her secret, of course, was the fairies that talked to her and guided her. In fact, it was those fairies who had woken her up that night and pointed out the demon to her. She knew what she had to do.
The next day, Long bravely took a knife and made a small slit in her palm. She let the blood drip onto a white envelope usually used to give money to family members of recently deceased relatives. As it slowly stained red, each fairy made a mark on the envelope so that it would curse whoever touched it. They also tucked small coins inside, stained with poison.
That night, Long attended a baby shower for one of her neighbors. As the adults were drinking and celebrating in the kitchen, she quietly snuck into the nursery, where the baby was sleeping, and slipped the envelope under his pillow, making sure not to touch the baby. She also made sure that a few coins stuck out and were easily seen. Then, she drifted back to the party and left with her parents a few hours later.
That night, the entire village was awakened by a horrible shrieking from the house that had hosted the baby shower. As the parents rushed into the nursery, they saw a small demon slowly dissipating into the air, a red envelope clutched in his hands. Their baby continued to sleep peacefully. Long went to see the house with her family and seeing the red envelope on the floor, warned everyone not to touch it.
“You see, a demon has been cursing our children. Demons love money even more than energy and youth, so by placing this poisoned envelope underneath his pillow, the demon went for the money instead of the baby, saving him from harm,” Long explained calmly.
The entire village was shocked by her wisdom. They thus made it a tradition from then onwards to always give children red envelopes filled with money to sleep on top of during the Lunar New Year’s to ward off any demons and evil spirits.
Neil Gaiman once said that fairytales are some of the most important stories a child can read. Following suit, I decided to re-imagine the meaning behind the Chinese tradition of receiving red envelopes during Lunar New Year’s by incorporating Gaimanesque elements such as the use of natural elements, having a strong female protagonist, and the fight of good vs. evil. While I could not achieve the same mysteriousness that Gaiman effortlessly creates, I hope that my story had a bit of a darker side, albeit less gruesome than usual.
Wendla and the Boy Next Door
Wendla had spent the entire weekend on the couch and was proud to say so. She had finally completed her mission of watching every retelling of Peter Pan she could find, from the childish cartoon version to the teen romance retelling she knew and loved. She had set this goal at the start of her weekend, unlike her peers who were setting goals for how much alcohol they could steal out of their parents’ stash without them noticing. Wendla was comfortable being alone, and told herself that she had made the choice to be alone every weekend, and not that her peers had made that choice for her.
As the last credits of the weekend scrolled the screen, she assured herself that the sense of accomplishment she got from a good marathon must far outweigh any potential enjoyment she would get from surrounding herself with her peers. The screen soon turned black as Wendla repeated this self-assurance and was off to bed.
One can only imagine her surprise as she finally settled into her pile of blankets and was swiftly rattled by a banging noise coming from her window. She decided to ignore it and blame it on the wind, as one learns to do towards the end of childhood, and soon settled into sleep.
It felt as though it couldn’t have been more than a blink of an eye when Wendla was harshly awoken two hours later by the sound of a door slamming. Knowing that her parents were on vacation and the neighbors wouldn’t be back until the morning to check on her, she decided this noise she could not ignore. Wendla decided to confront the mysterious sound and swiftly armed herself with an old bat from her childhood softball days. Sure it was smaller than preferable, but she convinced herself it offered at least a guise of protection.
Wendla slowly made her way towards the sounds now coming from the kitchen, silently yelling at herself to just call the police, oddly reminiscent of what she always yelled at the characters in her horror marathons. Against her best sense, Wendla continued in the direction of the noises, and found herself almost too nervous to turn the final corner into the kitchen to face her foe.
Suddenly, she got a burst of confidence and rushed into the kitchen with her eyes closed and bat swinging side to side as though that could help protect her. When she heard nothing in response to her frantic attack, she garnered the courage to open her eyes and found a young man who appeared her age, though it was dark and hard to tell. The young man was staring at her amusedly from behind the protection of the refrigerator door, awaiting the end of her clumsy attack. This was a far cry from the psycho-ax-murderer-zombie that she was expecting; in fact this was a pleasant surprise in the form of a mildly attractive young man.
“Just what do you think you’re doing in my house in the middle of the night?!” cried Wendla accusingly.
Though she found the boy attractive and was in an odd way happy to see him, she wasn’t about to let a home-intruder go without a few questions.
“I came all this way just for you to yell at me? I thought after the weekend you’ve had, you would be overjoyed to see the legend in the flesh,” stated the boy mischievously.
Wendla knew this couldn’t be true, she knew that the boy who never grows up was a fairy tale, nothing but fodder for the imaginations of children.
As she stared in puzzled awe at the fictional being in front of her, the boy continued his kitchen raid biting into anything that looked to be vaguely edible. Just as the boy was about to mistakenly bite into a raw egg, Wendla was brought back to her senses and continued her incredulous interrogation of her surprise guest.
“Even if you are who you seem to think you are, why would the infamous Peter Pan come for me? And how would you even know I was watching your story?” questioned Wendla.
“Well you see, I have always been fond of stories, especially those involving myself, I couldn’t miss your marathon!” teased the mysterious young man.
He continued his search for something to satisfy his seemingly insatiable appetite as Wendla stumbled through thoughts of what to do next. She knew this couldn’t be happening, knew that “the boy who never grows up” was a myth, and most importantly she knew that no one was around in her house but her and this stranger. And that last fact both excited her and made her all the more nervous.
“Assuming you are who you say you are, where’s your fairy? And why aren’t you flying, like the stories say you do?” Wendla questioned accusingly.
“Well you see, my fairy isn’t too fond of loaning me pixie-dust when she knows I am traveling to see another girl, possessive little creature that she is. I’m afraid she hardly loaned me enough to make it here. I’m grounded for the time being. That is, until she misses me terribly and comes to rescue her poor Peter,” the snarky boy explained.
This impossible story was adding up and Wendla’s curiosity about the young man was growing with every word out of his mouth. This was the mythical boy that her childhood fantasies were full of. He was here to finally rescue her from her lonely benign life, here to make the change she had been praying about for years. The young boy was cunning and able to read the thoughts crossing his counterpart’s mind as he saw the waves of emotion pass over her face. He knew that he had accomplished just what he had come here to do.
“Why don’t you go back to sleep, in the morning we can figure out how to get enough pixie-dust to get us both back to Neverland,” suggested the young man as he inspected a small vial with a powdery residue coating the bottom. “It looks like I have just enough in here to cast a small spell. Surely not enough to take flight…How about I guarantee you good dreams for the night? Just a small sprinkle overhead should do the trick!”
Wendla was still very suspicious of her surprise guest, but decided that no harm could come from a few sparkles being dusted over her head. She knew better than to take a drink from a stranger at a party, but no one had ever warned against a mere sprinkle of dust.
She hesitantly agreed and the young man swiftly sprinkled the pixie dust over her head. He escorted her to her bedroom as she began to stumble drowsily. She leaned on him for support, genuinely surprised at the fast pace at which she was drifting off to sleep, to her good dreams, and tomorrow, to Neverland. The young man placed her head on her pillow while Wendla sleepily murmured a small “Thank You” as she closed her eyes and drifted further away.
The young man looked back at her as he closed the door, safe in the knowledge that his Wendla would never grow up. The young man continued his stride to the street and walked swiftly towards the next house with toys strewn about the yard, clues as to who its young residents were.
As he turned to enter this house he tore down a sign with his face and the words “WANTED Dead or Alive: ‘The Sleepy Slaughterer,’” as he prepared to perform as Peter Pan yet again, and claim his next victim.
This story was largely influenced by Gaiman’s retellings of fairytales, his misleading titles, and his tendency to place just one aspect of the story out of the norm. Gaiman fills his retellings with twists and dark nuances to break the expectations that his audience has of their beloved heroes and princesses. In this modern “retelling” of the story of Peter Pan, the boy who never grows up is merely a farce. The readers of this version of Peter Pan face a possible reality in which both the story and the fictional being exist. Influenced by the Gaiman trend of adding a touch of darkness to such beloved stories, our Peter is not a young boy who can fly and never grows up, but a crazed young man that takes advantage of the naivety of children and young adults and swiftly commits a series of murders. He is not the hero that the audience has come to expect, but instead an unlikely villain.
This story also utilizes the strategy of a misleading title, so as not to give the reader an idea of the story they are about to be retold, similar to Gaiman’s “Snow, Glass, Apples.” The audience is left to go on the path of the story with the protagonist, and is thus undistracted by their preconceptions of what the story of Peter Pan should be. The last main Gaiman influence is changing just one aspect of the story to make it out of place. Much like Gaiman’s short story “How to Talk to Girls at Parties,” the overall scenario of the story is rooted in a relatable reality that could easily be the audience’s reality, yet there is still an aspect that is out of the ordinary. The reality in which Wendla and “Peter” meet is one that the audience can relate to, yet the instance of a home-intruder claiming to be Peter Pan strains that reality, and pushes the story into a universe all its own. Gaiman is an unparalleled author that can easily inspire new pieces through his narrative and writing techniques, much as he influenced the direction of this short story.
The Moments That Haunt Us
She stood at the edge. And as she stood she remembered. After all, what was the harm in that? She had already come too far to turn back now. She knew that she had to jump in order to leave this place and forget.
But before that she remembered. She remembered the first time that she had seen him. His raven hair caught the afternoon sunlight and shown almost as brightly as his clear, blue eyes. He was even wearing a Byrds t-shirt and she just knew that it wasn’t in an ironic way; he genuinely liked their music too. It suited his tall frame perfectly. He had an authentic alternative rock vibe around him, but it was in contrast to his bright and humorous tendencies. This contrast made everyone gather around him with intrigue. The mischievous glint in his eyes is actually what caught and held her attention in the first place, and no matter how hard she tried her eyes would no longer deviate from him.
From then on, she followed him everywhere. It was merely an obsession. And even though all of her friends and family told her to stop, she could never do such a thing. It was out of her control. He had her heart and she was bound to follow her heart wherever he took it. She followed him everywhere from the park to the beach and to the zoo with its bird sanctuary. She followed him all day and night, for every day and night. She even waited outside of his window for him to go to sleep every night and wake up every morning. She would wake up at the crack of dawn just to ensure that she could watch him get up too. On those mornings, she felt like she was the only thing in the world that was awake, apart from the earthworms in the soil of the garden under his window. She would often kick the dirt up and force the worms out to keep her company as she waited for him to wake up. On most mornings she would even try to sing him a lullaby or a wake up song outside of his open window in hopes that he would hear it and fall deeply in love with her. However, she knew that her singing voice was no good. Her friends likened it to the sounds of a dying animal, but it didn’t stop her from trying. She even went as far as to leave little gifts outside his door so that he would take notice of her. They were nothing crazy, just little bits and pieces of nature that she had found and admired: a luminous pearl from the beach, a polished stone, and a shiny hairpin that someone had dropped in the park. All just beautiful odds and ends.
However, he never noticed. Not even once.
And eventually, the months and months of being ignored got to her. Her love started to shred her heart into pieces and she lost her will to live. No amount of consolation could save her. She was an empty shell while he walked around casually toting her heart around with him. And he didn’t even know it. She needed to put an end to the misery she was feeling. She needed to leave this place and forget everything about him.
This is what had brought her to the edge. She inhaled deeply as she looked at the bustling city street below her. People walked all around below her. They reminded her of the ants that she always saw from far above, marching in a line to and from work. She could see that life was moving on without her already, so what impact could her death really cause anyway? She wondered if her friends or family would miss her when she was gone. She wondered if she’d regret her decision to leave. But ultimately, she wondered if he would feel even the tiniest twinge of anything after she left this place for a better one. It was all for him. Maybe this way he would know that.
She took one final breath.
And she jumped.
And she flew, fast and far.
After all, she was just a raven. She was never destined to love a man in the first place.
A few days later, he noticed that something was different. The constant presence he had felt for the past few months was gone. So was the endless cawing outside of his bedroom window in the mornings. The shiny objects had also stopped appearing outside his front door. However, he really didn’t make any of these connections since he wasn’t all that bright. He just noticed that something was off. And then he went about his daily business while listening to the Byrds on his way to work.
There were quite a few things that I incorporated to make my story Gaimanesque. First, I feel that my plot twist at the end, where I revealed that my protagonist is a bird, would make Gaiman proud. I also think that he’d really appreciate all the hints that I left in my story: the title, the raven hair of the boy, the Byrds T-shirt, the singing that sounded like a dying bird, the zoo with the bird sanctuary, the shiny gifts that were left outside of the door, and the fact that she often saw ants from far above. I think that Gaiman would also applaud my reference to the Byrds as well, since he is a believer in incorporating music groups into his literature. I also tried to literalize the saying “the early bird gets the worm” with the scene outside of his bedroom window in the mornings. Gaiman often does this switching of the metaphorical/figurative into the literal. Finally, I tried to incorporate as many random details to create imagery as I could to try to match Gaiman’s descriptive writing style.
Lunch with the Gardens
Gentle shimmering obscured a giant white koi as he danced morbidly through the pond.
“Today’s the day,” he thought to himself, drifting apathetically through his small enclosure. He eyed the shadowy light as it streaked through the surface. “Morning Joe,” White Koi nodded at a passing turtle. Joe’s on his way across the pond. He’s so well travelled. He’ll probably stay there for a couple days and come back with a new poem about spring.
White Koi looked at his watch, and realizing his tardiness, he picked up his gate and swam underneath it to the main river. Just then, Joe’s son came careening around the corner and slid under the gate. “Morning Joe!” Mr. Koi yelled over his shoulder as he dropped the gate. Entering the streamway, his spirits lifted. He was less apathetic at least. He always feels better after a couple of Joes in the morning.
Mr. Koi lives at the midpoint of an artificial stream. Of the 400-foot stream, he lives 200 feet from either mouth. Every day, the stream flows from south to north, emptying a small reservoir in the south and filling a similar reservoir at the north end of the garden. It does this from midnight until noon. Then, it flows from north to south from noon until midnight, emptying the reservoir in the North and filling the reservoir in the south. When it flows north, the residents of the garden refer to it as the Nile and when it turns to the south it is called the Mississippi.
Every day, Mr. Koi swims south to work, and every evening, he swims north to go home. Mr. Koi hates his commute. This morning, he growled to himself as he fought upstream to get to work. A crayfish drifting in the opposite direction caught a branch and shouted at the white koi,
“Waht’s da prawblem mahn!”
“The problem sir? I have no problem, but it seems I am always swimming upstream.”
“Well if ya don like it, then stahp swimmin’.”
“I can’t stop swimming, I’ve got to get to work!”
“Dat’s Da Nile Mahn! Ya jus gaht ta go wit da flow,” and as he said “flow,” he released the branch that held him in place and drew out his last syllable. “Oooooooh,” he sang as he drifted to the north. Meanwhile, White put his head down and swam South.
After a dreary morning, lunch arrived with the usual afternoon pellet hail. Mr. Koi collected his lot and went to a bench on the bank to relax and enjoy his food. As he munched his pellets he dwelled on his coming retirement. “Today is the day,” he thought again. He had put in his thirty-five years, and despite the daily drudgery, he was sad to let it go. He thought about the goodnight he would bid to the night custodian Mrs. Yipee that evening. A final good night to close his career. Before he could stop himself, Mr. Koi felt tears welling in his eyes. The sun was at its zenith now and the heat was heavy in the air. Sweat from his brow mixed with his tears. Mr. Koi leaned into the bench and stared into the blue sky.
The gentle babble of a small waterfall drifted through the air as it conversed quietly, incoherently with an onlooking robin. The waterfall appeared to be describing a terrible tumble he took earlier. As he pantomimed cascading down a short flight of steps, the robin began to lose interest. “A bit too stream of consciousness for me,” chirped the robin to himself as he took flight in search of better lunchtime company.
As Mr. Koi wept, sleep overcame him. The sun beat down, and his gills swelled. The salt from his tears cracked his parched lips. Before he woke, his mouth gaped and his eyes bulged. His scales flaked and his eyes stared unseeing into the blue. Belly up, the heat dried him and his watch stopped.
A raven, flew overhead. It cawed, bidding the garden good day before rushing off to work after his lunchtime break.
In writing my short story, I did my best to embody the aspects of Gaiman’s writing that most naturally suited my writing style. In this way, I made my characters unusual personifications, littered the writing with wordplay, and included superfluous imagery and description. I also included non sequitur humor and allowed for a reader-motivated theme. I left the storyline sufficiently open ended such that any themes are provided by closure from the audience. Still, I kept it specific enough to satisfactorily end the story.
A Flash and a Pop
He opened his eyes for the first time in a long time. There was light. It was so deep and so thick that it looked pure white. He reached out to run his fingers through it, and felt it expand. It spread outwards, dissipating. He nearly drowned in it.
It was an ocean, and then the light spread out so thin that he only saw blackness. Then, smaller bursts of light. They were brief flashes, appearing localized from his perspective. More and more sprung out of the darkness, like a firework’s dance of magnesium sparks flaring outwards just before the sound wave catches up.
Then, it became very, very dark. And as the darkness became increasingly intense, it was thicker than curdled blood. It was so roaringly intense that it squeezed and compressed everything around him; he reached out a hand but was swallowed in black. Nothing.
He opened his eyes for the first time. He knew nothing. He saw everything. He saw light become discrete as the process repeated itself. In a particular flash this time, he noticed a particular spark. The spark looked like a ball of fire. It was a nuclear explosion, so large and so dense that it outweighed itself. Not a flash, really, but a prolonged burning. It looked as if it were nearly frozen in time, half a degree above absolute zero.
There were colder spheres, too. Smaller. He watched millions of seeds, all different shapes and varieties, rain upon the ground, and, as if sending their momentum of impact back towards the sky, they shot flowering stems of life blossoming toward the sunlight. A billion times over, the outgrowth rose and fell, each time imperceptibly altered, somehow more beautiful and more knowledgeable.
Things, too. They crawled and squirmed and glided and soared and trotted along. A thousand legs, turned eight, turned six, turned four. As the Sun changed, the Earth changed, and as the Earth changed, the things.
All this light, it fed this wet rock. He watched parts turn white. Turn green or brown. Then gray. Gray with two-legged things. Did they look up? Did they…see him?
• • •
Albert was an average male. He got out of bed and he brushed his teeth and he went wherever it was people his age went during the day. He didn’t think he would ever make it in the history books, but he fancied himself, to one degree or another. Albert wasn’t special, no, but he couldn’t accept being an ant, either.
Albert was a religious man. He knew God was behind the making of all this. Some god. He had studied many religions in the books of Wikipedia. Occasionally, Albert would answer, with a shrug, that he was simply agnostic. But God was behind the making of all of this. All 470 square miles of his hometown, all 13 square miles of Europe that Albert had visited on that one trip. And all 0.000001% of the ocean that Albert could see up to the horizon. He didn’t need to fill in the blanks. God was a wonderful creator.
God had a plan for Albert; he knew this somehow. So Albert had a lot of weight on his shoulders, because he knew there was a certain person he was meant to be. His story mattered, and not just for the five hundred and twelve people Albert met in his lifetime. Albert had to follow his true path. It was the proper fulfillment of destiny. Even after Albert continued on to Heaven, his story would remain with the others’ for whoever it was that read them. Of course, Albert didn’t believe in Heaven (as seen on TV). Obviously, Heaven wasn’t right there up in the clouds over his head. Probably more like the thermosphere. But wasn’t it dark up there?
• • •
It was always dark until he opened his eyes again. Maybe it was just his imagination, but Aeon had to be sure—Aeon, Bennu; He had many names. Aeon Google-earthed the little thing looking up at him and studied it closely. Why did it not crawl about? The things with two legs were somehow different. For one, they constructed exceedingly thorough nests. And they had all sorts of convoluted behaviors that did not make sense to him. Perhaps the things had no more nests to build…
Still watching, Bennu began to blink. Each time with a colossal thud, the world before him appeared again and again. He watched, and the thing flickered through nearly identical scenes like a broken film reel. Albert was a small-time lawyer; a pauper; a guy with a desk job; a guy with a desk job again; a tragic accident. But eventually, Albert morphed into someone else. As the reel kept flickering, Albert blended into the people around him, faces all the same and interchanging, all variations of the same cycle. The things were indistinguishable, like a colony of ants. They would create some of the most magnificent anthills Bennu had ever seen, if he could only remember.
All in the debris of this stellar birth, on this mossy rock, at some distant corner of the universe, these things had looked up. They looked up, they wondered, and they sought out answers. They were beginning to figure it all out.
Bennu paused, forgetting what he was doing here, and feeling a bit embarrassed. What was he looking at? Earth was gone now, and he could feel the darkness pulling him in. Once again Bennu had no memory of before, but the whole situation felt eerily familiar. Though he didn’t ever know what all this was, Bennu grasped the dimensions that confined him. He found it ironic that space was so barren and quiet, there being in certain places firestorms that could swallow up all of Hell in a single, delighted gulp.
Cosmic bodies continued to drift in Bennu’s direction. He did his best to slow everything down, but it was always difficult towards the end. As the abyss took its last breath, Bennu wondered about the things he saw. In that fleeting moment, briefer than a blink of an eye, those things had recognized him. They knew him. Him, for Christ’s sake. And He closed his eyes, relieved, for He was not alone.
This story was written with a Neil Gaiman style in mind. I love to think about the universe, and about our conception of space and time (though I hate how trite that phrase has become). Really, I think about our lack of conception. We are infinitely and unfathomably dwarfed by the size and age of the universe—or a single galaxy, even. I’ve a bit of a working hypothesis regarding the whole “infinite dimensions and realities” thing that comes from string theory—although I should note I have no real education surrounding the matter. We think of the “Big Bang” as the beginning of the universe, and with it, the beginning of space and time. Some thermodynamicists or hobby cosmologists might tell you about the “Big Crunch,” or “heat death,” or in some form or another, the idea of the universe reaching maximum entropy and collapsing back into a point. Under this notion, the universe might from some other frame of reference (i.e. a really sped up perspective) look to be one giant explosion and then compression back to a singular point.
It’s all very cyclic, and the thought occurred to me—if the universe is being created over and over again (Big Bang after Big Bang), and has been doing that since forever, infinitely, then every possible scenario that could ever exist is bound to happen in one Big Bang or another (by the definition of infinity). Space and time are being created anew every cycle. We think of an infinite series of realities as coexisting. What if they are each their own Big Bang?
As Neil Gaiman might, I took this idea of mine and played with it, making it literal. My character is born again and again. We learn that he doesn’t remember anything from before, only what has happened since he first opened his eyes. Like Gaiman, I drew from mythology to name my character: Bennu is the ancient Egyptian version of the Phoenix; Aeon is literally the deity representing time in Greek mythology.
I think my story as a whole plays with the egocentricity of the human perspective; I still use it even as I critique it. Also, I avoided establishing any concrete setting; I liked that it made my story feel more abstract. The idea of writing this story began as I was standing in the UCLA Botanical Garden with the rest of our class, and noticed an intricate furl in the stalk of a palm leaf. I wondered how it could have gradually evolved to develop right in that spot. Imagining the generations of plants that would lead to the one before me, I had my first glimpse through the eyes of Bennu.
I sort of naturally let the story do its thing. I played with using different perspectives, as Gaiman would, to try to give the story multiple angles, instead of using a singular omnipotent narrator. It was fun to use an ironic tone in narrating Albert’s part. I also tried my best to foreshadow, or at least to give hints towards what the hell I was talking about. The story initially contains more vague and abstract language, so that the reader does not immediately understand what is going on. Further in, I shift to prose that offers more concrete facts about the story and provide some names, so that the puzzle is easier to complete—delayed gratification. As Neil Gaiman does, I tried my best to write a short piece that throws the reader off, forces them to participate in creating the plot, and provides a twist at the end that reveals the premise of the story.
The Silence of Silas Shaw
I am used and forgotten, but my purpose forbids me from expecting a different result.
My existence is composed of long nights and short days that blend into each other. But despite the mistreatment that I receive during the day, I continue to look forward to the moment when the sun rises above the buildings and the commotion of hurrying footsteps fills the air.
Back when I was young, I was the envy of my kind. Beautiful skin and a strong body. I was sought by everyone because I was the most reliable of us all. However, time is merciless. In my old age, I have become a sorry sight to see. I have scratches all over me and my legs are discolored in several areas. My arms have long lost their firmness and my left arm is easily dislocated. My back receives the worst abuse as the sturdy frame I was once complimented on is becoming limp and flimsy. I know that my days are numbered.
The end of my life is decided the moment I am no longer deemed useful. Tall men with suits discuss the fate of a couple of my companions and myself with little remorse. Their voices are cold and factual, for the men will soon find replacements for us. We are filled with fear and hatred for being tossed away after serving so well. It is heartbreaking.
On the day that the men come to take me away, I remember those who were kind and cruel. I was used nearly everyday, but there are those that exploited my presence. With their multitude of pens and pencils, their anxiety caused them to absentmindedly etch their ink into my arms and scratch my beautiful skin. “Silas Shaw” were the first words that were tattooed on my body after a young boy engraved the name onto my arm. Every once in a while, others would trace over it with their sharp tools, deepening the letters that became a part of my identity. They also kicked my back until the footprints became permanent. Incapable of defending myself, I took the injustices for I was meant to serve and I consoled myself with the thought that not all who used me mistreated me.
There were those that were kind. They treated me with the utmost care and carefully massaged the scars instead of creating new ones. They would probably be the only ones that would notice my absence. And despite the thousands of individuals that I encountered, I remember every single one of them.
I am carried onto a truck and secured along with the others—also broken and mistreated—as we venture forward into the end.
At our destination, the sound of the blades in the machine is deafening. One by one, we are thrown into the contraption and cease to be whole. I think about how all the endless thoughts that I have ever had will remain unspoken and with the end of my life, silence will fill the void. When it is my turn, I thank the universe for my short existence and I bid farewell to my life. It is over soon which is all I could ever ask for.
When the girl enters the lecture room, she knows something had changed. The chair in the middle row had been replaced with a new sleek model. “Silas Shaw” she had called the old chair, after the elegant name written on its arm. It had been her favorite place to sit. The girl enjoyed tracing over the writing with her fingertips and attempted to fix the dangling arm at the beginning of every lecture, but every day found the chair in a worse state than when she left it. She felt a sense of serenity and security with the worn seat and overused arms. She thought it had history and character that many of the other chairs lacked.
Although she wishes the chair was still in the room, she will forget about it within a week.
There are authors who welcome their readers into their story by grabbing their hand and introducing you to their world. They excitedly paint a picture with such precision and detail that people lose themselves in the story and renounce reality. They guide people through a carefully constructed path. There is joy when you come across stories such as these that cause people to yearn for more. Neil Gaiman is not this type of author. Gaiman will open the door, but will not hold your hand through the story. He leaves subtle hints and small clues that you have to search for and with every clue that you find, the story becomes more confusing then when you began, until the end is revealed. His scavenger hunts are alluring nonetheless. But there is a satisfaction in reading Gaiman’s stories that cannot be found in reading other works. It is a constant collaboration with the reader as his vague descriptions allow the reader to construct the path with him as opposed to walking down a path that has been made. There is a sense of accomplishment after reading Gaiman’s texts because he made you work for the story he has created. As his readers, we tend to open the door to a familiar setting with surprises we never imagine.
The aspects of this story that are inspired by Gaiman are the mystery and vagueness of the introduction of the protagonist. The reader does not know much about the main character, which is a personified object, until its true self is revealed at the end. This causes the reader to form sympathy for an inanimate object. It also shows a point of view that is almost never thought about. My intent is to create a story in which the readers felt a sense of desolation from the character and hopelessness. Like most of Gaiman’s stories, the ending is not always happy, but the world continues.
I Am Matt Gallagher
The night was young. The date was March 3rd. It had become a tradition for Derek and I to enter the Angeles National Forest every year on this day. We had started doing this at the ripe age of sixteen, our most rebellious period filled with heavy drinking, partying, and lots of girls.
“You didn’t forgot the 12-pack of beer this time did you?” said Derek.
“No,” I yelled.
Fifteen years have passed and Derek still jokes around about the time I stupidly left the beer in plain sight in my bedroom. I had stood outside a liquor store all day pleading to every adult who passed by to have some sympathy for a seventeen-year-old teenager who simply wanted to experience getting drunk for the “first time.” Of course this was more my “hundredth time,” but a little white lie never hurt anyone.
As we made our way through the forest, we finally arrived at the meeting spot. We loved this part of the forest because we were surrounded by the biggest oak tree on the west coast. Derek and I had become national forest experts, being able to walk this path while blindfolded. Every time we ventured into the forest, we carved the date on a log nearby to keep track of our time spent there.
There was something that I loved about the forest, and Derek seemed to feel the same way. Nothing ever changed. It was as though when we were in the forest time had frozen. No time had passed and we were once again teenagers who wondered what our future lives would be like.
“Remember how we brought those two Australian foreign exchange students here that one night?”
“This was a real chick-magnet,” I laughed.
In reality, it was the farthest thing from that. Derek and I would bring a lot of our friends here to drink, thinking that this secret place would make us look cool. Many girls however, thought differently. They always remarked how it was strange that we would drink here. Many people believed that the forest was haunted and in the end, our plan made us seem less “cool” than we had hoped.
Derek and I didn’t pay attention to what everyone said. We continued to come to our favorite spot. We drank to forget about everything that was happening in our lives. My parents were going through a divorce at the time and Derek had just found out that his father was cheating on his mother. The forest was our place. It was not tainted by the memories of all the bullshit that was happening in the one place where we should have felt the safest, our homes.
We were both already on our fourth beer. Derek had reminded me not to drink that much. He had tried to quit, but could not find the strength to do it.
I believe that everyone thought we would give up drinking after what happened on the night of March 3, 1998. For some odd reason, I started thinking about that night, or the bits and pieces I remember of it.
On March 3, 1998 Derek and I had decided to visit the forest for the last time that year because Derek’s family wanted to relocate to North Carolina in hopes of obtaining a fresh start after the cheating scandal erupted. I remember feeling that it would be that last night that Derek and I would have our secret adventures. I knew I was not just losing a friend, but a brother. It was that night that we bought two 12-packs of beer and even managed to get a hold of a bottle of vodka that was in Derek’s house. We wanted to drink the night away, knowing that the next time we would meet would be that September in Washington DC, where we would both be attending Georgetown University.
The next memory I have of that night is waking up in a hospital bed, confused about what exactly had happened to me. I had a massive headache and casts on my left arm and right leg. The doctors came in asking me how I was feeling and all I kept thinking was, “What happened that night?”
I got the full story two days after when Derek woke up. He seemed to have remembered everything that occurred.
According to Derek, we had finished the beers and the entire bottle of vodka. We were so drunk that we had forgotten our way out of the forest. Derek told me how it kept getting darker and how our flashlights had stopped working. Both of us could hardly walk since we were extremely intoxicated. At some point in the night, Derek and I separated, hoping that if we both took different paths one of us would find the way out and come rescue the other.
My mother told me she had filed a missing persons report when we didn’t return home by midnight and search and rescue teams were quickly sent to find Derek and me. I was found on March 5th and Derek was found one day later.
I try to force this incident to leave my mind. I never talk about it with Derek anymore. Every time I bring it up he always changes the subject. I still have yet to understand why he is so affected by what happened that night. Is there something he is not telling me?
“How is the job search going?” I ask Derek. After the incident, Derek decided against going to Georgetown and started taking classes at a local community college in Los Angeles.
“It’s not going too well. But enough about me, when do you find out about whether or not you got the promotion?”
“They will let me know at the end of this month.”
Seeing Derek struggle always hurt me. Something had changed in him after the accident, but I knew that I needed to respect his wishes and never talk about it again. Derek had recently gotten divorced and lost his job working as a manager for a local hardware company. I was living a completely different life than he was.
I got married seven years ago and now have two children, Emma and Analina. Upon graduating from Georgetown with a Master’s degree in Aerospace Engineering, I was offered a job at JPL. For the first time in a long time I was happy with my life. Everything had turned out better than I had ever hoped for.
When Derek and I would come to the forest, we had drunken conversations about how we were scared that our lives would become just like our parents’, filled with so much anger and resentment. That was not the case for me. I was genuinely happy.
As I sit here alone on March 3rd, I cannot help but think about how Matt had an entire future ahead of him. He lost his chance at life on that fatal night in 1998. If you were to put him and I side by side, everyone would have said that Matt was going to be the successful one in life. He had so many dreams and aspirations. One night, while sitting in this exact place, Matt drunkenly confessed, “I’m going to change the world when I grow up. I know it’s a stupid thing to say, but I am. Watch me Derek. I’m unstoppable.”
I quickly laughed when he said it, thinking that Matt was out of his mind. Now as I sit here, I wish that I could watch him change the world.
I think I am becoming an alcoholic, but I’m trying to stop myself for Matt.
As the sky becomes darker and there is a slight breeze, I can’t help but ask myself what would have happened if they had found Matt that night. Why was I the only one to survive?
When I learned that Matt’s body had never been discovered, I thought that life had no meaning anymore. In a way, I still question what I am doing here. I drink hoping that I will find an answer to the question that haunts me every single day, “Why?”
I take my last sip of beer before finding my way out of the forest for what I think will be the last time. In the midst of silence, I can feel Matt’s presence. I remember when the two Australian girls that we invited to the forest kept talking about how it was haunted. Maybe it is.
I look to my right and see a figure.
“Where have you been all this time my dear old friend?”
This story was inspired by Neil Gaiman’s short story, “The Thing About Cassandra.” I was inspired to write a story that incorporated the theme of reality vs. fantasy. Gaiman also tends to write all about childhood innocence and the components that define the teenage years of many individuals. I used all these elements in “I Am Matt Gallagher.”
The Man of Sand
If you die in an elevator, be sure to push the Up button.
Knock knock. The sudden sound at my bedroom door awoke me from my slumber. I looked at my clock: 3:00 A.M. I had no idea who it could be. For all I knew, I was home alone that night. My parents had left for the weekend with my older brother for his college tours, and they wouldn’t be back until tomorrow night. Peering out through my bedroom window, I saw the thunder and rain crashing onto the ground. I arose from the sheets and walked toward the door. Knock knock. There it was again.
I inched toward the door. My hand grasped the handle, and slowly I turned the knob. When I opened the door, the creature I saw before me was something from a horror story. Standing about three feet tall, it had a large crooked nose and smelled of spoiled meat. Its hands were scraggly and muddied with dirt. It wore a torn garment with frayed edges that dragged to the floor, and its feet were alien-like—with its toes extending several inches toward my one. It slowly tilted his head upwards toward my face. That’s when I realized this creature didn’t have eyes: where its eyes should have been were two shiny copper pennies.
“Who—what are you?” I demanded. My first instinct was to slam and lock the door, but the creature had already made its way through the doorway and was walking toward my bed. The creature didn’t reply. I wasn’t sure if this “thing” even spoke English. Without a tiny bit of hesitation, it began digging through my closet. It threw all my clothes, books, and papers all over the ground. It seemed as if it was searching for something. Then, it tilted its head upwards toward the top of my shelf.
It spotted my conch shell, and it immediately reached out and grabbed it. I figured that after finding what it was looking for, it would leave my bedroom. Instead, it began to shake the shell vigorously above its face. What was left of the sand inside the shell began to fall into its mouth. Was he eating the sand? I couldn’t tell. When it finished, the creature ran over to my fish tank in the corner of my room. I could tell it was becoming very excited, as its legs and toes began to dance in excitement and anticipation. I wondered if it was going to finish off its meal with my two goldfish.
To my surprise, it began digging through my fish tank and scooping handfuls of sand. It stuffed the handfuls one by one down its throat. It was quite a sight. By this time, I was so startled at what was happening in front of me I didn’t know what to do. I was tempted to grab the creature and throw him out of my room, but at the same time I wasn’t sure what it would do to me if I angered it. It seemed to be minding its own business, pretending as if I didn’t even exist. When there was no more sand left in my fish tank, it started walking toward my bedroom door. I shouted, “Who are you? What are you doing here?” Slowly, the creature turned around. With its round penny eyes, it stared me down.
In a deep voice, it told me, “How dare you question my identity. You do not recognize me? Must I identify myself to you?” The creature leaped onto my chair and seemed to prepare itself to jump on me if I said anything that didn’t please it.
I fidgeted uncomfortably. There was no way I had ever seen this creature before in my life. I responded, “You can’t just come into my room and make a mess out of it! Who are you?”
A slow smile crept upon his face. He roared in a menacing laughter that pierced my ears. “Me? Why, I am who you think I am child. I am the Sandman.” And with those words, he disappeared into a flash of light.
Beep beep beep beep. I woke up in cold sweat to the sound of my alarm. I looked around my room. Everything was in its normal location. I spotted my conch shell in my closet, and my fish tank was full—with its two goldfish and sand. I sighed in relief that it was all a dream. I slowly got out of bed, ready to start my day—until I heard a soft, yet unmistakably present sound at my bedroom door: knock knock.
The opening of this short story (the quotation) was inspired by Neil Gaiman. In many of his works, Gaiman begins with one or more quotations. In this particular short story, the quotation sets the mood by creating a sense of alarm and danger. The first paragraph of this story also echoes the element of mystery that is apparent in many of Gaiman’s works. Additionally, while reading Gaiman’s stories, the reader is sometimes confused as to what is going on. He often purposefully leaves out crucial details until the end to create this sense of confusion, and I attempted to match this idea in my work by not revealing the identity of the creature until the end. Another aspect of this short story that was inspired by Gaiman was the replacement of Sandman’s eyes with pennies. This idea of objects replacing eyes was apparent in Gaiman’s Sandman comic books and his novel, Coraline. As a whole, the story also matches Gaiman’s often shocking and repulsive descriptions in his short stories. The creature in this story is not something that anyone could relate to, and it is something the average reader would fear or be disgusted by. The last element inspired by Gaiman was the literalization of the name, Sandman. In this story, the Sandman is literally a man (creature) who eats sand.
If we look at the world without thinking about our own desires, we can see how everything is connected and part of the same whole. If we only think about what we want for ourselves, we can only see things as separate and disconnected.
—Lao Tzu, Verse 1
Separated by a murky strip of water, two peninsulas stared into each other’s souls. The circular domes stood like massive hives, etched with numerous baying docks and launching pads where flying drones and helipods could attach themselves to the surface.
From there, if given access, members of the crew were scanned, implanted with identity codes and then funneled into the superstructure. Mostly, the superstructure involved traders who were willing to put up with the pain of the time freezes, hoping that the strain on the body would be worth the large profits. It was rare that somebody from the East would cross over and of course those from the West were prevented from doing so, if they had not taken the Oath of Barrenness at sixteen.
Tao stood staring at the row of trees that caressed the shoreline as she stepped off the pod. The Westland lay before her as it once had twenty years ago. Pushing past the traders she walked towards the path to the left of the docking bay.
She was surprised how familiar the smell of the pine trees was, even this close to the pods you could still feel their call. She now stood on the edge of the forest. She knew what was beyond the pines…mortality, illness, decay, and death but she also knew she was being called home.
The Tao is what eventually wears down the sharpness of a knife, untangles knots, and softens the glare of bright lights.
—Lao Tzu, Verse 4
Tao turned for the last time and looked deep into the heart of the East Bank; its row upon row of steel buildings pierced the skyline, sending a shiver through her. Bright lights flashed constantly, never a time for peace. Everyone just doing… doing… doing. The fog began to loom under the darkness of the sky, covering the tops of the city.
Tao turned to face the narrow path before her and as she stepped onto the pebbles, she felt its familiar embrace beneath her feet. She had forgotten too much for too long. She stepped into the woods ready to journey home. Her mind was a mix of peace and questions. Were Mother and Father still alive? Was the cabin still standing? Would the people of the village take her back?
The questions were endless. She walked on, busying her mind with what people back on the East Bank would be doing now. A laugh escaped her lips as she saw Sym playing thought chess. His mind was exceptional at producing the telepathic board. Not many could hold the image and move the pieces with enough concentration to find the winning combination. She looked at the setting sun and her mind shifted to the party life of the East, always a party. She could hear the streets buzz and lights flicker in her head, the hard concrete that hurt her feet and the nightlife that never ended. Noise, lights, laughter, screams all became unsettling memories.
Tao peered under her left wrist to check the time. The deep blue liquid glowed through her transparent skin, catching her eye. A silicon vial ran map-like up her arm pumping the elixir of life into her body. She was surprised how quickly the direction had changed since she set foot back onto the West Bank and the color, once totally deep red, now was electric blue, moving in the opposite direction, it was almost to the middle of her arm where the mark of infinity was tattooed in deep emerald green.
Tao stopped and rested by the large maple. Its leaves now deep red as autumn drew near. She traced the green sideways eight on her arm and laughed at her immaturity and lack of understanding. She looked to the sky and screamed, “I was only sixteen; sixteen is too young to take the Oath!”…too young to know the consequences but the hum pods flying over the canopy drowned out her cry.
The Oath of Barrenness was sworn through a public initiation before the Mayor of the East Bank. All sixteen year olds that wanted the buzz of the East, the promises it held, lined up and denounced ever having children for the ability to live forever. Tao had seen her grandmother’s beauty disappear before her eyes as her body weakened with age. Death was the only end here. Death had frightened her; she could not understand why anyone would choose death over immortality… so what if you could not have children, children would only overpopulate the East Bank.
Her face sunk in sadness as she remembered looking around for her parents. They could not bring themselves to come to the initiation. They were too embedded in the old ways, the old religion. She remembered her mother’s voice just before the initiation. “This is your choice, we know this, but we cannot pretend we are not saddened. Never forget your name Tao. Never forget you were named after the old ways, the great book of wisdom. Let it flow through your veins, no one knows where it comes from; it is the source of Nature and your name is our gift to you.”
She then placed an old well-worn copy of the Tao in her hand. It was wrapped in cloth and tied with dried grass. “Remember,” her mother’s words were soft and warm, “the more the heart moves, the more blood it pumps, I quote the Tao, Verse 5, but you can never truly know its meaning until you live as a mortal.” After her mother left the room, Tao placed the book under the floorboards of her room before leaving. Why would she ever need the old ways in the East! This was the last time she saw her mother and father.
Unity and separateness look like two very different ideas, but they really come from the same source. This is called mystery, because it is hard to understand. It is like something hidden inside something hidden. It is the beginning of all mysteries.
She made her way into the clearing. There it stood. Her cabin. The wood had worn with age but it was hers. At the door, a tree was intricately carved around the eight. She knew her parents had returned to the Earth. They had returned to the soil.
Without looking back, she silently walked to her room. She knew it was under the floorboard three steps forward, two steps to the right of the door. There lay the Book of Tao, 81 Verses, exactly as she left it.
Sitting in her mother’s old rocking chair, she gently unwrapped the book with the grass roots disintegrating under her fingertips. She placed her left arm next to the eight and gently traced over it with her fingers. The monotonous drone of the helipods broke her train of thought. She closed her eyes as her arm throbbed with pain as the vial changed. She felt the swell of her stomach. Finally, she understood.
The female spirit lives forever. It is the spirit of the mother.
Throughout “81 Verses,” I drew inspiration from Neil Gaiman’s short story style by mimicking his use of quotes before the individual paragraphs and the use of short paragraphs in the body of the narrative. The quotes that I used are from an old Taoist book, 81 Verses of the Tao, that was written by a Chinese philosopher about our treatment of others throughout our own lives. Similar to Gaiman, I picked quotes that would give a preface or introduction about the story and tried to use quotes as a segue between different themes.
The Dream was planted.
Everyone has a dream. Some are short-lived. Some dreams are persistent creations, like a maddening mosquito who overstays its welcome and whose perturbing presence eventually administers a painful experience upon the psyche of those around it.
Vlad Culicidae lives by the power of Dream.
His appearance was dreamy, in a physical and spiritual sense. His black miniature compound eyes were captivating. He was a fortune teller and his eyes appeared so profound that many people felt strongly attached. He wore a bright velvet cape that elevated his status. His specialty was predicting the future of his clients based on the dreams they came and told him. His predictions were outstandingly accurate, and word of his power spread throughout the world. His business, which started small, soon boomed into an international success.
The Dream started to grow, slowly.
Vlad’s presence was infectious in many major countries in Asia, South and Central America, Europe, North America, and the Caribbean. However, his presence was most notable in Africa.
He was quite a buzz, there.
Vlad’s daily routine was going to a random warm spot in each town in different continents and setting up his fortune teller booth. He did not have to go looking for people as he knew they would come to him, eventually. The more people that came seeking predictions the easier his job.
His dream job was reality.
The Dream came to him one day and told him what he must do. “Follow your Dream, but do not follow your own,” Vlad remembered.
An old Dream was turned to dust.
People kept coming to him and disclosing all of their dreams to him. He showed them on his crystal white orb an image of a tall pale thin man with black starry eyes. “This is the image of your nightmare, the personification of Death,” he told his clients. Vlad’s response to the identity of the apparition was, “It’s the Sandman who will visit you in your dreams, grip your pillow tightly and remember to fear the entering of the night.”
The nightmare fuel is full, at last.
Vlad set upon the second half of his day visiting homes. He could see the alarm of fear present in the sleep-deprived eyes of the clients he had seen during the day. “Now it’s time to sleep,” he thought to himself as he landed stealthily on his victim. He injected them with his proboscis and soon they had the sleep he felt they needed. He was not designed to do so, but it did not hurt to get a little snack in return.
The plant of Death was ready.
Flying away from his latest victim, Vlad took delight in his dream job. He was glad to get rid of the nuisance that had prevented him from achieving his full potential. He was halfway in thought when a gothic black figure forced him to evade. Landing, Vlad took notice of a girlish figure who he knew all too well.
A dream in danger of Death.
Vlad knew the charming figure before him was Death personified even though the ankh around her neck contrasted with his knowledge. “You have been quite busy,” she said while staring down the adversary.
“I can’t help it, I was made like this,” he responded.
“You were made to inject nightmares into people, but that was not enough and you had to kill my Dream,” she exclaimed with a tone of sadness.
“He was not fit to carry the burden of Dream, so turning him into a pile of dust was only appropriate, and now the power of Dream is where it belongs,” he boasted. “Besides, even if you could do something to stop me, my power will live on.”
A dream match was soon to happen.
Death did not hesitate to attack and Vlad did not think twice about running away. He knew all he had to do was keep running and he could escape her, there was no need for combat. He had the power of Dream and his own so there was no need to risk anything. He began to take notice that she had been keeping up for a long time. He decided it would be best to hide and conceal his energy and let her pass him by, as his size gave him the advantage. He looked down on the ground and noticed a patch of flowers. A single purple-tinted flower caught his attention immediately. He thought it would be best to hide inside that plant and wait out his pursuer. Vlad made a dash for the flower and he felt oddly connected to it.
A powerful Dream consumed him.
“Pay the price, I am your life, I am your pain, I am your Dream, made you real,” proclaimed a voice. The purple Venus flytrap began to grow larger and soon a tall figure began to tread the earth.
“Nice to have you back Dream,” said Death as she watched Dream take his full form.
“I thought I would never regain my full body again, after my own nightmare creation had smashed my dreams,” he explained.
Two dreams had become one.
“Well Vlad certainly did cause us to obtain quite a negative reputation,” Death explained, “You and me are now perceived as negative images.”
“To think I created him with the hope he would help me spread dreams and make my dream job easier,” he sighed.
Dream embraced Death and Death had a Dream.
Following that day, Dream came to own a helm in the shape of Vlad’s facial features. Dream did so as a reminder that they were both one. He added the dust that was a part of his vanquished form to his bag. Finally, to avoid giving anyone more power than they should have, he locked most of his power in a ruby as a reminder for caution.
Vlad’s presence had left a lasting impression on people’s dreams. Dream and Death were now seen as negative symbols. Vlad’s legacy extended beyond his death. From the day he died, the world was aware of a new flying menace. Vlad had recreated himself. Mosquito swarms infested all corners of the world. Some of them were as powerful as the original; others were not as feared and were captured for further examination. Eventually, the disease some carried was able to be neutralized, but it could never be eradicated.
The dream of Vlad lives on.
Nightmare fuel is in no short supply.
Neil Gaiman’s Anansi Boys inspired me to develop a mosquito origin story. His novel is inspired by the Anansi of West African folklore. He stated that to develop a story it is best to begin with thinking about a folk tale and ascertain, “What does that mean? What does that mean for the rest of the world?” I took his advice and thought of a mosquito and the African folklore explanation for why mosquitoes buzz in people’s ears. In the folk tale, the mosquito kills an owl after spreading a chain reaction of panic. Found responsible, the mosquito now buzzes around people’s ears to find out if everyone is still angry at it. I also took Gaiman’s The Sandman: Overture and got the idea for an origin story based on the creation of a nightmare. Like the Corinthian, Vlad Culicidae, whose name comes from Vlad the Impaler and the Latin name for the mosquito, is a part of the nightmares I could see Dream creating (and not expecting to disobey him). Also, I realized that I could not talk about references to Gaiman’s work without specifically utilizing Dream and Death. I could create an interesting short story on the mosquito’s origin and subsequently show, “What does that mean for the rest of the world?” Clearly, my short story shows the implication of the existence of mosquitoes and what their purpose is in life.
Everything around them was green. Actually, not just green but many different colors. And oh she knew. She knew she was surrounded by color because she could now see.
She saw the sunny and the shady trails, the tall and the short trees, the old and the young turtles, the big and the small leaves; and she saw him. She saw him in his black and orange vivid coat.
“Do you like it here?” he asked.
“Yes!” she eagerly replied, “I can now match the sound of running water to a stream, the smell of wet dirt to mud, the taste of mangoes to gold, and a warm sun kiss to bright light. A whole new world! That’s what I see!”
He laughed like a joyful god; which is how… you know, how they laugh.
The days passed as he showed her around. They seemed to have walked in circles for the last few days; or at least that’s what she thought.
He again told her, “This (pointing at the same bluish short palm tree) came from far lands in the south; and that (pointing at a dark red spiky plant) belongs to the motherland.”
“Ah.” She was not surprised.
“You have nothing to say again?” Growling and staring at her.
“I have a bit of a frog in my throat.” Frightened, while holding her collarbone with one hand and her neck with the other.
Roar! He jumped at her and shook her violently like a ferocious god.
Ribbit ribbit, cough. And he dealt with the matter.
He stood her up, fixed his whiskers and continued, “this gloomy stream runs all throughout and it was dug by many. And those poor things were donated and arranged in it nicely.”
“Who?” she asked.
She rolled her beautiful dark brown big eyes like a frustrated goddess; which is how princesses roll their eyes.
“Men! Humans! Mankind! Who else?” Crying as a desperate animal.
That was the last time she felt his penetrating, and not so intimidating, breath on her neck again. Cinnamon asked for her pair of pearls, and followed the signs back home wishing she had had the same resolution as her mother’s aunt.
After reading “Cinnamon,” I was left wishing the story didn’t end (the way you feel with most of Neil Gaiman’s short stories). So this is more or less a follow-up of the story after the tiger and Cinnamon go to the “jungle.” I appreciated how Gaiman’s story was beautifully crafted in a simple but meaningful way. Thus in my story, I attempted to capture some of Gaiman’s descriptive and literal writing strategies as well as some of his “Cinnamon” characteristic phrases. For instance, writing short paragraphs, turning “have a frog in your throat” into a reality, and throwing key elements or hints from a different story of his (while keeping a decent amount of mystery). Although this is not exactly how I think Cinnamon’s story would have unraveled, the idea of an artificial garden in the eyes of a somewhat dark writer could have sounded like this.
In nature, there are certain undisputed truths. In human nature, there are uncertain disputed truths.
For example, where you and I may see a bird and recognize that it is, in fact, a bird, and that a flower is a flower, and a river is a river, and so on and so forth, young Hannah would see the bird and inexplicably describe a rhinoceros. When she would attempt to paint a red fire engine, her teacher would admonish her for painting it deep blue.
You see, Hannah saw the world in opposites. Opposite images, concepts, numbers, ideas. You could ask Hannah to add 2 plus 2 and she would respond,“0.” When the rest of the town bemoaned a stormy, cloudy day, Hannah would only feel the rays of the sun on her face.
By the time she was 6, adults had had quite enough of Hannah’s “antics,” as adults are known to possess very small amounts of patience, and are wont to ignore anything that is not utterly obvious and accepted. Yet Hannah’s parents, doctors, teachers, and any passing adult authority figures were quite at a loss in what to do. It seemed Hannah, much to their chagrin, simply would not stop seeing things oppositely.
At the age of 9, Hannah was enrolled in a class with children like her, ones who saw extraordinary things in the seemingly mundane. Yet this class was different than others before it in that her teacher, Merl Lin, was quite appreciative, encouraging even, in Hannah’s ability. He did not correct her when she claimed to see a swan in the painting of a bear, instead, he agreed with her.
One day, in the moments between the final bell’s ring and the scraping of chairs being pushed back in a mad dash for the back door, Mr. Lin called Hannah to his desk. Hannah patiently waited for him to finish drawing the lesson notes on the whiteboard before he turned to her.
“Hannah, I want to tell you something. And this is something you cannot tell your parents, or your friends, or the other teachers, or the woman sitting next to you at the train station, or anyone else. Is that clear?”
She stood as solemnly as a 9 year old about to be informed of a big secret could, and nodded quickly.
“Good. What I want you to know is this. A long time ago, in a place not far from here, a few people got it into their heads that they wanted to rule above everyone else. And in a short period of time, they accomplished their goal. Not through violence, not through politics, but through people’s imagination. You see, imagination is one of the most powerful forces in our universe, yet it is extremely undervalued. As people grow older, they spend less and less effort on the maintenance and care of their imaginations, so much that they become susceptible to influence. And these few villainous people had the brilliant and devastating idea that they would feed hate, sadness, and misery into everybody’s imagination until they looked to the only people that could imagine a better world, the tricksters themselves. However, their influence could not reach everyone. A few people, like me, and like you,” and here he smiled, “are immune to their power. And you mustn’t ever, ever, stop seeing things in opposites because then they will have turned you, and you will be just like everyone else.”
And at this he stopped smiling, looked over his shoulder through the porthole behind him, and quickly escorted Hannah out of the classroom.
Not knowing she was never to see Mr. Lin again, Hannah went home that night, ate her macaroni and cheese, listened to her parents kindly ask each other how their respective days went, and smiled.
For this story, I really wanted to evoke Neil Gaiman’s unique style of writing, and I am hopeful I was at least a little “Gaiman-like” in my word choice and sentence structure. I also wanted to do my own “Gaiman twist” at the end of my story, since those are usually my favorite part of his short stories. Finally, like Gaiman, I included a well-known character in a subtle way, which readers may have realized if they read the teacher’s name out loud. The title of my story is in line with the theme of opposites, as writers often put their acknowledgements at the end of their works. I picked the name “Hannah” since it reads the same forward and backward, so the opposite of “Hannah” is still “Hannah.” Perhaps the people who have untouched imaginations all have palindrome names.
Benjamin’s eyes stretched open lazily but with all the awareness of a hawk when the alarm buzzed. It would happen today. Benjamin was not normally one to concern himself with the boy’s trivial goings-on, but this one would affect life for the both of them.
“Aw man. Time to go already?” The boy – Andrew – directed the question at no one in particular, stupidly. Benjamin might have been amused at the penchant for senseless babbling had it not kept him up so many nights. “Okay buddy, in you go.” He felt a pair of greasy teenaged hands wrap around his body before the lift. “It’ll just be a little while.” The world instantly shut into blackness. The box.
Benjamin had a long, albeit scattered, history with the box. It was the box that took him to the classroom for show-and-tell, it was the box that took him to the doctor man when he had the infection, it was the box that first took him to the glass in the boy’s room from The Store (Benjamin still remembered the pounding of the boy’s excitement echoing even in his own chest) when Andrew was still a snotty-nosed, Nilla-wafer-guzzling toddler.
“Bye, buddy. Mom says I can’t take you to college.” The box eventually lifted – it always did – and Benjamin found himself, for the first time in years, on grass. Real grass, not the plastic garbage from inside the glass. It felt – Benjamin struggled for a word – bold? Like this moment was the beginning of a grand new adventure, like every other moment was just a stepping stone for – no. Those were the boy’s thoughts, though someone in Benjamin’s situation may have thought them as well. Not bold. Natural. The grass felt natural. Benjamin took a step forward, into a new life.
“Ooh look, Missy! A newcomer!” Benjamin blinked. His head turned toward this unfamiliar voice, and he found himself face-to-face with two beady black eyes set into a leathery green head. A turtle. And another, just behind. Like the grass, it had been years since Benjamin had seen another of his own kind. “Hi, what’s your name? Are you here to stay as well?”
“Roosevelt, settle down. You mustn’t come across so strong to strangers. Hello now, welcome to the Garden. I’m Missy, and this is Roosevelt. Would you like to meet the others?” A maternal tinge softened the second voice.
Benjamin blinked again, still shocked by the pair before him and wholly unable to comprehend what sort of self-respecting turtle has any business chatting with him, of all things. Still, his curiosity was piqued.
“Others? How many others are there? What is this place?”
“The Botanical Garden. It’s where we turtles come to live after our owners can no longer take care of us.” Missy smiled beakily. “Let’s see, with you here now, that brings us to forty-four, I believe.”
Benjamin rolled his eyes. Owner. Andrew was no more his owner than he was Andrew’s. Sure, the boy kept him in the glass, but he also served food at Benjamin’s command. Which reminded him, he had already missed a meal today.
“I’m Benjamin. I suppose I’ll meet the others.”
“Yay!” Roosevelt squealed. Idiot.
The three turtles made their way down a grassy bank to a pond. And then Benjamin saw them – just as Missy said – turtles. More than Benjamin had ever seen in his entire life. And yet…
“What’s going on? What is this, nap time?” Benjamin tried not to let his alarm register on his face.
There were maybe twenty-five turtles in his field of vision, but they were all absolutely frozen, transfixed by some unknown force. Some floated aimlessly in the pond; others stood on the bank, statue-like.
“Hmm? Just watching,” Missy replied, dismissively. “They’ll let you know when they’re done.”
“Done? Watching? I don’t understand.”
“Ooh, Missy! He doesn’t know! Their owners! They’re watching their owners!”
“Roosevelt, enough. Yes, dear. Watching. Through your owner’s eyes. Try it.”
Benjamin was quite nearly certain by now that a great practical joke was being played on him. And no less, he thought, than by these fools. “Err, no. I don’t do that. I, uhh, can’t.”
“Nonsense.” Missy’s eyes glistened proudly, ready to share one of the great truths of her kind. “You have a connection, don’t you? To your owner. You feel what he feels.”
Benjamin couldn’t help himself from rolling his eyes again at that word. “That’s ridiculous.”
“I don’t think so. You can tell when he’s hungry or tired. You feel his happiness, his sadness because they echo in you.”
Missy paused to wait for Benjamin to nod or agree, but he just stared ahead. Could it really be true? He knew what she was talking about, like a sixth sense to the boy ever since The Store, but he had never thought about it.
“That’s not all you can do with that connection. Think about it. Try to remember the last time you felt him, and imagine your eyes in his head. Concentrate.”
Benjamin couldn’t believe he was about to do listen to Missy, but figured he had nothing to lose. He closed his eyes and delved into himself – only to find, to his dismay, the presence of the boy. I guess I couldn’t get rid of him forever, Benjamin mused.
“Yeah okay, now what.”
“‘Now what?’ Enter his presence. Become him.”
Another eye roll. Benjamin sighed and – he couldn’t believe it – saw. He saw a pair of arms – the boy’s arms – unpacking a suitcase. Grabbing bundles of socks and shirts and who-knows-what and stuffing them into drawers.
“Moving into a new room and he still doesn’t bother to fold his shirts,” Benjamin sneered.
“Help him. Guide him to do what he needs.”
Benjamin snapped out of Andrew’s perspective, startled, and raised an eyebrow in question. “You’re kidding.”
“No.” Missy smiled a knowing, eternal smile. “Feel your flippers. Feel them become his arms. The arms will listen.”
Still in disbelief, Benjamin obeyed. He closed his eyes, delved, found Andrew. It was easier this time. Andrew had moved onto the pants, still stuffing them haphazardly into a bottom drawer. And then he stopped. The arms opened the top drawer, reached inside, and picked up a single T-shirt, now wrinkled. They folded. They returned. They repeated for all of the other shirts, and then they closed the drawer.
“So this it, then? I’m going to sit here in this pond and fold his clothes for the rest of my days? That’s what all of the others are watching?”
“Oh dear, no. The others are… They’re busy keeping… You see, the humans are stupid.” Benjamin smirked. “They don’t know how to survive on their own. The only reason I’m not watching right now is that Stephanie is sleeping. Otherwise I’d be keeping her from running out into traffic.”
“But then why do we care? If the boy drowns at sea, or your girl runs into traffic, what difference does that make?”
“The connection!” Roosevelt jumped in. “You have to help the boy! If he dies, then so do you!”
“You’ve got to be kidding,” Benjamin groaned. Idiot.
The initial concept for “American Turtles” called for a group of turtles calling on their omnipresent former (human) owners to solve a central turtle problem. Upon writing, though, I felt that a more WWNGD twist would be to reverse the relationship so that the humans depend on the turtles for assistance in their human problems. Working from the same premise that the humans donate their turtles to the Garden as they move away for school, I chose to incorporate laundry as the archetypal zone of conflict for American humans at college.
Whereas the humans of American Gods bring with them physical manifestations of their respective gods/spirits/deities to America, the turtles of the Botanical Garden simply retain a mental connection to their owners. As an additional distinction, the human-god connection is (per my understanding) the source of conflict, while the turtle-owner bond is the key to resolution. Slowly, “American Turtles” grew less like American Gods and more like The Matrix (or, more recently for me, Sense8).
Overall, the elements of Gaiman’s works which contribute to “American Turtles” include uniting the supernatural with the real world (The Sandman, Neverwhere, etc.) and symbolic names (Benjamin, Missy, Roosevelt are different people also named Franklin, for the turtle characters). I also attempted to include Gaiman-like descriptions (“greasy teenaged hands”) when possible.
The sequel (if it happens) will recount Andrew’s outing to The Fraternity Party, where Benjamin saves him from his own awkward attempts to meet girls (à la “How to Talk to Girls at Parties”) and/or a belligerent drunk.
About the Contributors
Melanie Gharehptian is freshman at the University of California, Los Angeles. She is hoping to major in Communications and minor in Film. Melanie enjoys traveling to Peru every summer to visit her family. She is a proud film geek who loves watching indie and horror films. Melanie hopes to work in the entertainment industry one day as either a screenplay writer or a director.
Cynthia Huang is a lady of shyness, lady of thought, lady with love for all Gaiman’s taught. This is the biography of a microbiology girl. With a love for her Taiwanese heritage and all the food that comes with it, Cynthia enjoys sharing traditions that her family has upheld for generations, trying to reconnect with her roots even while growing up in the Bay Area. She’s always looking for ways to delight her taste buds, so let her know if you have any food recommendations. Her mouth and stomach will thank you.
Kimberly Juarez is a Political Science undergraduate student at the University of California, Los Angeles. She frequently travels home to South LA to visit her family and dog. In her free time, Kim and her two younger sisters explore the multitude of exciting worlds hidden in their bookshelf.
Alexander Kim is a 4th year undergraduate student studying Biophysics. He entered UCLA as an Astrophysics major, and the classes he took will always be a source of inspiration for him. Alex hopes to attend graduate school for a combined MD/PhD program. He enjoys science, art, nature, and music (hip hop above all else). For fun, Alex likes to go to shows with friends and dance.
Erik Knall is an aspiring physicist from Sunnyvale, California. He is still finding his way through the vast sea of writings by Neil Gaiman. He finds Gaiman’s dedication to “making good art” refreshing and inspiring. Erik’s favorite Gaiman work to date is the short story “Harlequin Valentine.” Especially when it is read aloud by Neil Gaiman himself.
Rachel Maples is a third year History and Gender Studies student at UCLA. She generally prefers dogs to people, excels in Harry Potter trivia, and craves any type of weather that isn’t always warm and sunny. To find her on campus, simply look in any shady spots and listen for the telltale sound of her complaining about various television shows.
Brandon Pham is a third-year undergraduate student at UCLA majoring in Microbiology, Immunology, and Molecular Genetics and minoring in Biomedical Research. Brandon’s favorite work from Neil Gaiman is Coraline, a short novel that recounts the tale of a young girl who enters a strange, mysterious new world and saves her parents from the clutches of her evil “other mother.” The eerie elements in Coraline inspired Brandon to incorporate similar themes into his own short story. In his free time, Brandon enjoys biking at the beach, snowboarding, and hiking.
Tara Prescott is a Lecturer in Writing Programs and Faculty in Residence at UCLA. She is the editor of Neil Gaiman in the 21st Century and co-editor of Feminism in the Worlds of Neil Gaiman and Gender and the Superhero Narrative. Although she loves all of her classes equally, she can’t help but feel that the contributors in this collection truly were stars that fell from the sky and materialized into students, à la Yvaine from Stardust, and they brighten her life with their knowledge and humor.
Ranger Saldivar is a Molecular, Cell, and Developmental Biology major who is currently a freshman. He comes from a small city called Escondido, which belongs to the county of San Diego. His favorite genres of stories have always been mystery, fantasy, and horror. Reading Neil Gaiman’s stories, Ranger easily came to enjoy the author’s dark writing style. Being a life science major, he drew inspiration from both sources to create an elaborate story that paid homage to them. Ranger definitely recommends reading Gaiman’s stories as it was an enjoyable experience for him and he hopes his own story is just as entertaining to read.
Dalia Sherif is a senior studying Physiological Sciences at UCLA. Growing up in the busy border town of Tijuana, B.C. Mexico, Dalia discovered her passion for traveling, adventure and medicine. She has camped out in the Saharan desert; bungee jumped into the Central American jungle; and dissected a couple of human bodies in lab. Dalia is doing research on body donation programs so let her know if you are interested in giving her a hand. Anatomy is fascinating to her, so finding this raw, dark yet satisfying element in Gaiman’s works truly stuck with Dalia. She recommends Gaiman’s illustrated pieces, as she will continue to enjoy them on her way to medical school.
Melissa Smith is a Spanish Community and Culture major at UCLA, dedicated to pursuing increased educational equality throughout the state. Coming from northern California, and growing up in forests, allowed Melissa to transform the story of Peter Pan into a personalized narrative cherished in days of pretend-play. Pulling inspiration from the corner of nature that is the UCLA Botanical Garden, the story of Peter Pan came back to life—though this time with a twist. The childhood narrative of northern California trees and boys who fly is shifted in this story to account for the odd juxtaposition of a garden-oasis in the midst of a bustling city.
Shabnam Tabesh is a graduating 4th year at UCLA studying Communications who is originally from Wisconsin. After her graduation, she hopes to go to South Korea and teach English abroad for a year or two before returning to the U.S. and pursuing a career in entertainment. She loves all things movies/TV/music related from both the U.S. and South Korea and she would love to work in an entertainment job that connects these two places together. Her hobbies include anything to do with pop culture, finding creative ways to avoid the gym, eating any and every type of food, and spending time with friends and family (especially since she rarely sees her family and friends from home).
Andrew Takeda is a fourth-year student at UCLA with a major in Microbiology, Immunology, and Molecular Genetics and a minor in Biomedical Research. A native of Escondido, California, Andrew can be found eating, sleeping, and crossword puzzle-ing from Hedrick Summit to Boyer and everywhere in-between. His foray into Gaiman’s works has (figuratively) carved a place in his heart for The Sandman and Neverwhere, and he waits optimistically for a Los Angeles-based sequel to the travels of Richard Mayhew. As he prepares for life after UCLA, Andrew encourages readers to keep their friends close and their turtles closer.
Shuming Wang is a sophomore at UCLA studying statistics and economics. Raised in Sydney, Australia, Shuming competes on the UCLA men’s rugby team and in his free time also plays golf and basketball. Although he lives in Los Angeles now, Shuming loves Sydney’s great outdoors and is an avid fan of Australian Rules Football. Outside of rugby he’s involved in the Cultural Affairs Committee at UCLA, helping organize the Jazz Reggae Festival. He enjoyed delving into the fantasy world of Neil Gaiman through the different mediums Gaiman writes in. Shuming drew inspiration from the science fiction and fantasy nature of Gaiman’s works for his writing and he would definitely recommend Gaiman’s books to others.
A class of students at UCLA focused on the work of master storyteller Neil Gaiman. For inspiration, they set out for the day into a hidden garden on campus, a place of prehistoric ginkgoes and mysterious streams, and began to write. This collection of thirteen original short stories inspired by the works of Neil Gaiman is the result of that sunny winter day.