Vol. 1: Overture
By Dawn Saas and Nic Frankenberry
Powered by the Apocalypse and the work of D. Vincent Baker
as well as
Urban Shadows by Andrew Medeiros and Mark Diaz Truman
Microscope by Ben Robbins
Content Warning: Drug Use, Gender Dysphoria, Implied Sexual Violence, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Depictions of Severe Depression and Anxiety
Melika Ghazi’s hand shuddered as she took the joint from Sabine. Sabine couldn’t help but notice Melika’s shaky hands. Melika took a deep drag and coughed out a swirling pillow of white smoke.
The dissipating cloud was whisked away by a spring breeze that tore across the second floor balcony where Melika and Sabine leaned against the railing. Sabine Almeida’s cropped mop, a feathered hallucination of purples and pinks, refused to budge. Melika’s shoulder-length black hair flew across her face.
The hair isn’t fooling anybody either.
Melika bent her head down as she brushed her hair out of her face. As the last tangle of her knotted mane went up into a ponytail, Melika was greeted by Chad’s cramped backyard, which was swimming beneath her in a haze of grass and anxiety. A couple dozen students and townies were packed behind the brick red rowhouse, red solo cups full of beer and liquor. A Hodges bro was blasting aggressive house off into the Oakland night.
Melika and Sabine were perched on a narrow balcony above the yard that connected the master bedroom to one of the guest bedrooms. Melika passed the joint back to Sabine.
“Your hair looks good up.”
Melika blinked twice and then smiled. She fought to keep her brown eyes from watering.
Sabine’s more practiced lungs inhaled for nearly 20 seconds and then filtered out the smoke in controlled jets from their nostrils. Sabine never coughed after a toke. Melika would have been more impressed by Sabine’s lung capacities if she hadn’t seen this trick so many times in the last four months. It ranked among the less impressive of Sabine’s particular parlor tricks.
Melika watched Sabine bob their head to the music. Somebody else must have gotten the aux cable. The pummeling dance track was still EDM, but the musicality was jazzier. Melika thought she heard an actual saxophonist playing on the track and not just a sample.
Melika was starting to think that if she took another hit from the joint, she might even be able to dance with Sabine.
Who would want to dance with you?
Melika looked down and studied the crowd. A group of Omikron Epsilon Delta freshies wearing rave glow paint on their faces were taking jello shots. The paint flickered against a crescent moon. OED was the only co-ed frat on campus. Melika had been a sister since this time a year ago, but this was her first OED party the whole semester. Down in the thick of the action, another group of dolled up freshies were serving drinks in formal tops and their underwear.
Is that Eric from Spanish? Holy shit, is that his…?
“Eric Haversham’s dick is pretty much always visible from at least 50 meters. It would be impressive if he ever lasted longer than 90 seconds”
Sabine was also studying the crowd below. They were not in OED. They didn’t meet the pledge requirements although Melika suspected the rush committee would have made an exception if they knew what Sabine was actually capable of. However, Melika had pledged to keep Sabine’s secrets to herself.
Melika followed Sabine’s steely gaze to Eric’s bulge. Sabine’s russet hands clenched on the balcony. “Couldn’t eat pussy for shit either.”
Melika started laughing… deep, bellowing guffaws but the music was so loud that nobody on the ground could hear her. Sabine let Melika’s laughs and then giggles subside and started to pass the joint back to her when the door to the guest bedroom opened.
A man in his mid-30s stepped onto the balcony. His layered auburn hair reached just to the nape of his neck, and he was wearing a purple, satin paisley vest over a white shirt and black silk pants. He reached into his vest and started to pull out a vape pen but then noticed Melika and Sabine standing on the other end of the balcony. He stopped and put the vape pen back in his pocket when he saw the joint in Sabine’s outstretched hand.
Melika knew the man although he was paying little attention to her. He was OED’s faculty sponsor at Hodges and an alumni of the Columbia chapter. Professor Arnoldson started taking great, theatrical sniffs of the midnight air.
“Is that a medicinal sativa?”
Sabine looked the beggar up and down, winked at Melika, and then swiveled with joint in hand towards their guest.
Professor Arnoldson brushed his hand against Sabine’s as he took the joint, and Melika was fairly certain the contact wasn’t accidental. Sabine grimaced, and Melika’s suspicions were confirmed. Professor Arnoldson took a heavy drag, making cutesy, nonchalant faces about how casual this was. Melika and Sabine were not impressed. When Arnoldson finally exhaled, a prismatic river of purples and reds snaked out of his nostrils and whistled out of his mouth. Melika thought the melody might have been Sondheim. He took a second, smaller drag and then handed the joint back to Sabine. Arnoldson bowed his head, and then returned through the guest bedroom door.
“How old was that guy?”
Sabine offered the joint back to Melika who shook her hands no. Sabine shrugged and took their own drag.
“That’s Professor Arnoldson. He wrote that play”
“The one that won a Tony a couple years ago. It was about a haunted schoolhouse. The protagonist was a teacher that was the childhood lover of the 16 year old ghost that still haunts the classroom. It was all about what it means for them to still love each other now.”
“That sounds fucking gross.”
“What is that guy doing at Hodges?”
Melika was about to tell Sabine the rumors of Dr. Arnoldson’s sudden departure from New York when the master bedroom door swung open.
Chad was standing in his balcony doorway. He was slumped against the door frame, and he had a full wine glass in his hand. He was wearing his black bar frames which everyone knew were purely for show. Melika suddenly became aware of her contacts getting dry and how her glasses were at her and Sabine’s apartment. Melika was also getting cotton mouth. She couldn’t tell if it was cause she was high or because of how long it had been since she’d had sex or even masturbated but Melika was pretty sure Chad was looking hotter than normal in his argyle sweater over an untucked dress shirt and jeans that hugged his ass for days.
Sabine ran to Chad and hugged him and some of Chad’s “wine” sloshed on Melika’s dress, and Melika realized he was drinking vodka straight from the wine glass.
Chad pulled away from Sabine and looked them up and down. Sabine was in their fitted pinstripe suit with the thin red stripes.
“Sabine… we need to make out. Right now.”
Sabine threw their arms around Chad, and Melika watched in quiet awe as the pair sloppily mauled each other.
Chad disentangled himself from Sabine and then straightened his disheveled hair back into its regular, immaculate coif. Chad turned to Melika and offered his hand, and the pair did the OED handshake which Melika had never quite gotten the hang of. She couldn’t bend her fingers at just the right moment to interlock in just the right ways with her brothers and sisters. Chad leaned back against the doorframe and realized Melika was still staring back and forth between him and Sabine.
“My boyfriend doesn’t mind. He’s made out with Sabine too,” Chad dramatically whispered.
“You’re a better kisser than Kyle.”
Chad finished off the glass and then looked at Sabine with complete seriousness.
“That was like really hot… does that mean I’m pan?”
Sabine shrugged their shoulders and smirked. Chad disappeared inside his own head and lost grip on the wine glass he was holding which fell on the stone base of the balcony and shattered.
Chad summoned what little remaining concentration he had and whispered.
The shattered glass collected itself and reformed as the spilt vodka congealed in the air. The glass and liquor finished re-arranging and the whole, filled glass returned to Chad’s hand.
“Party foul averted.”
Chad tossed the vodka over the side of the balcony, narrowly missing an OED server in in a speedo, smeared in a haze of bright orange paint.
“We should do that again sometime.”
Chad gave Melika the peace sign and then stumbled back into his bedroom, shutting the door behind him. Melika turned back to the crowd that was slowing down but hadn’t yet begun to disperse. It was Midterms.
That you won’t be taking.
Sabine sidled up by Melika and rested their head against Melika’s forearms. Melika’s tense posture relaxed. Sabine was half Melika’s height, and Melika stooped down a bit so she could rest her head against Sabine’s.
“Do you need to go home? We can head out if you want.”
Melika shook her head no and Sabine wasn’t sure how intentional the forcefulness of the shake was.
“I’m fine. I need to do this.”
Sabine grabbed Melika’s left hand with both of their own and squeezed tightly.
“And you have. You don’t have to feel bad if you can’t do more.”
Melika sandwiched Sabine’s hands with hers. “I know, but I can. I… have to.”
Melika and Sabine stood in silence on the balcony for nearly a minute. The house music stopped reverberating the pane glass sliding door that led to Chad’s room. Chad stumbled out of his kitchen door downstairs.
“One of our lovely neighbors… FUCK YOU MR. KOWALSKI… complained about the noise so we shall celebrate our freshies Bloom inside.”
The party was starting to retreat inside when Sabine and Melika heard the singing. Melika recognized the melody. Sabine did not. The voice was soft and sad. To Sabine it sounded like home. Not the home they knew with their mother and not the home they were starting to make with Melika. It felt like a place they’d only been once. A home they had never been able to know. Sabine saw the cave and the waterfall, the moss and the orchids. They could smell the earth and taste the breeze.
The singing stopped, and Sabine was back on the balcony. There was a girl they didn’t know standing at the balcony’s other end, staring off into the night. The girl was white and had thick, curly brown hair. Her nose was wide but handsome, and she was in a dark green dress that fell just past her knees.
Melika’s reaction to the song was more traumatic than nostalgic. From the first bar, Melika found herself back in the elevator. Feeling swept away by the melody’s twisting descents. Thinking about Natasha Khan and Victoria LeGrand and the first time she took acid and played Blue. Doubled over by the drugs inside of her, carrying her down a dizzying, nauseating rollercoaster she desperately wanted off of. Gutted by her inability to escape that night and this song and everything that had come to bear.
Sabine waved at the woman.
“Dios mios… you can sing.”
The girl kept staring.
“Hola, chica. Esta bien? Gringa. Que droga tomaste?” Sabine turned to Melika and shrugged.
“I don’t think she speaks Spanish.”
Sabine turned and saw Melika looking like she’d seen a ghost. The blood was receding from Melika’s hearty, brown face, and she was getting deathly pale.
“Robin…” Melika saw Sabine looking at her in confusion. “That’s my Big. I haven’t seen her since she graduated. I didn’t… I didn’t know she could sing.” Melika said the last line with a confusion that Sabine knew was deeper than simply not being aware of someone else’s hobby, but Sabine didn’t feel she had time to explore the issue further.
“We should try to sober her up, huh?”
Melika nodded and was taking ginger steps forward to try and stir Robin from her trip when a man stepped out from the guest bedroom. It was Todd. It was the man from the elevator. He was in a black blazer over a white t-shirt and gray dress slacks. His hair was a picture perfect crew cut. He grabbed Robin’s hand and gave a minimal nod towards Sabine and then stopped when he saw Melika. After a moment’s pause, he collected himself and seemed to not have a concern in the world.
“It’s a trance. She’s working on a new incantation. Practicing that melody really zonks her out. Thanks for taking care of her… it’s been a long time, Melika.”
Without another word, the man closed his eyes, and he and Robin disappeared from the balcony, leaving nothing but sparkling emerald dust in their wake. Melika’s heart started racing.
“Sabine… we need to go.”
Sabine embraced Melika with a tight hug.
“Yeah. Let’s get out of here.”