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**PRINT: Our 30th broadsheet, GIVES BIRTH TO MONSTERS, by Chicago-based Spencer Dew, is a tale of one man's small heartbreak, the backdrop to a contemporary landscape of well-meaning but ultimately shallow political activism, fractured communicative lines, and more ultimately enduring drives toward total inebriation. In classic Dew fashion, he'll have you laughing all the way to brink of the void. Dew is the author of the short-story collection Songs of Insurgency (2008). This issue also features excerpts from our David Foster Wallace collaborative mini-tribute by THE2NDHAND editor Todd Dills and Bellingham, Wash.-based Doug Milam, author of our 27th broadsheet

DRINK IT IN Damian Caudill
MIXTAPE: LA LA Quincy Rhoads
HIDEOUS BOUNTY: G.O.D. | Andrew Davis
NEW ADDITION TO 'I AM IN HERE': our tribute to DFW Pitchfork Battalion

Jasmine Neosh

Neosh is studying writing at Columbia College Chicago, where she cofounded the Silver Tongue Reading Series, and is a past winner of the Windy City Story Slam.

My first thought was of a herd of lemmings. We all watched as the skywriter's words stretched beyond recognition, the silver tail of the y a dagger being thrust into the horizon, smoke bleeding out from the Avalon's insides like the trail of a deep wound. The skywriter's plane let out a long groan, and I thought of a herd of lemmings being run against their will toward back-breaking rocks and a sapphire sea that was ready to swallow them up.

Columbia College Fiction Writing Department

Even after the sirens went dead and the traffic on adjacent Lake Shore Drive began to loosen, I stayed behind on the beach, scanning the tops of the waves for some sign of the pilot. Just as everyone else on the beach had, I saw the spray of the water when the plane finally hit, saw the wing severed and various black mechanical bits go flying in all directions as the force of impact shredded the Avalon like wheat. From the very beginning, it was less a rescue than a recovery mission. Men in uniform sifted the lake for the black box and body parts. An eight-hour search yielded nothing. The last words of the plane hung in the air awkwardly for almost a half-hour before dispersing, and the forensics team grumbled to each other as they sloshed through the waves ashore like failed gold-seekers from a riverbed. One of them let a reporter take a picture of him shrugging. He told them that if it was indeed a terrorist attack, it was the stupidest terrorist attack he had ever seen.

When we were sixteen, it was one of those things that we said to each other to prove how romantic our souls were.

"I'm going to go to stunt pilot school and become a skywriter, and I'm going to write poetry in the sky for you."

Mark would brush the hair away from my eyes, holding my hand in his other hand, looking into my face with the most sincerity and seriousness, and I loved him for that. It was going to be the most beautiful crime in history.

By the time I was nineteen, the whole thing seemed creepy and condescending. If he tried to grab my hand, I stuffed them both in my pockets. If he tried to brush the hair away from my eyes, I ducked. On the fire escape of his apartment, the night of his birthday party and his last in Chicago, Mark leans his head against a brick wall and makes his Whining Face.

"Holly," he says. "I know you've had a lot to drink tonight. I know this isn't you speaking."

"Oh, fuck you."

I lean against the hand railing and look to see if anyone in the party is eavesdropping. I see a girl in a white dress standing in the living room. She hovers alone above the record player, scratching the back of her ankle with one dainty toe. "You'd better go in there," I say, turning back to him. "She's waiting for you."

Mark pretends to roll his eyes, but for half a second, I see him glance into the living room. He comes alive and tries again to take my face in his hands.

"Holly, when I get to California, I'm going to go to stunt pilot school and I'm gonna--" "Oh, would you cut that shit out already?"

In the living room, someone, probably the girl in the white dress, slips a Joy Division record onto the turntable. The people inside play some stupid drinking game and in bare feet, holding the ends of the "Farewell" banner around her shoulders, the girl dances a slow twirling dance across the living room rug and stares up at him, as if he is a star she had just made a wish upon.

"You have to go," I tell him. "I'm going home. It's been a long day."

I go to hug him and he says, "I don't like long good-byes."

"Well, then," I tell him. "I guess you're in luck today." I wrap my arms around his shoulders and plant my lips on his temple. While my head is against his throat, I can feel him glance into the living room again and he lets go before I do. "Have a nice life."

He squeezes my fingers and climbs back in through the window. As a display of chivalry, he keeps them out, palms up, waiting for me to climb into them. I shake my head and point at the ladder dropping down into the courtyard and he gives me a grim wave good-bye. I return it, swing my leg over the railing, pretend to climb down. I stay on the ladder just long enough to watch him return to the living room. As I expected, the girl in the white dress knows he is upset. She rushes to him, puts her arms around him. He doesn't talk for long and what little conversation there is ends in a headshake. He loosens his tie, rolls back the sleeves of his dress shirt and kicks his shoes into the corner. I watch them dance to an old love song that we loved, his last with a girl before the highway, and for many years, that is how I would remember him. He was gone and I was fine with that. And then this happened.

For days after the crash, I had dreams of an albatross being torn apart by its own speed.

Every television set that I passed showed Mark's plane slicing across Lake Michigan, from multiple angles and in high definition. God bless the electronic era. I got phone calls from lots of old friends asking if I thought that was the same Mark Benjamin, and wasn't Avalon his pen name in high school?

For the first few days, the newspapers ran full-color front-page pictures of the wreckage and the descent. When these got boring, they started running photographs of the half-finished message floating ghostlike in the sky over the city. "Thank y." Though Mark's sister had come forward early on and handed over the message he had left on all of our machines telling us where to be that day, local journalists were in love with the idea of terrorist attacks and suicides. They ran pictures of Mark everywhere, smiling, laughing, innocent and handsome and young. A lot of his old friends also came forward, and they played his messages on the air for everyone to hear, sobbing, a lot of them. It was only a matter of hours before the journalists showed up at my door, asking for a statement or a clarification on my relationship with Mark, asking if I had gotten contacted, what I thought this all meant. I told them that Mark hadn't tried to contact me at all since he'd left for college, that we were out of touch for many years, and if he had wanted to contact me, he would have had no way to do so. After I had slammed the door on the last one, I dropped my cell phone and my answering machine into the garbage disposal, and I sent off my television to charity.

"Hey Holly, it's Mark...

"Um. Listen. So I'm in Chicago, and I'd really like to see ya. I'm not going to be here for too long, I'm just passing through on my way to New York, but if you're not doing anything on Sunday at around 3 o'clock, I'll be hanging out at Foster Avenue Beach. You know where.

"Um. So yeah. Give me a call, if you get this before then.

"It'd be really nice to see you.

"...'kay, bye."

After I threw my television away and stopped reading all the newspapers, I had dreams of clouds that burned when the sun hit them.

After a while, like everything does, Mark and the crash of the Avalon and the strange message floating over Chicago became old news. Police were worried for a while about copycat suicides but as far as we all know, no one even tried. Even for a whole generation of depressed teenagers, the whole thing must have seemed too hokey and cliché to imitate. I picture them rolling their eyes at the mere suggestion.

"Writing words in the sky and then killing yourself? Please, I wrote that poem when I was twelve."

Mark's friends tried to get in touch with me and seemed baffled at the fact that I no longer had a phone. I attended the funeral and stood in the back with dark sunglasses on. I looked around for the girl in the white dress and didn't see her. Then I realized that for the life of me, I could not remember what she looked like.

"It's weird that he never tried to contact you," his sister said. "He said he was going to."

"I haven't had a phone in years," I tell her. "I don't even talk to anyone from high school any more."

"That's tragic," she said.

"Not really," I said.

When I was sixteen, I painted landscapes. I photographed the city from afar and wrote poetry about love that never actually mentioned Mark. He wrote me a letter once, after he told me he was going away for college, and it included a list of purging exercises to keep me from getting too bogged down in the things that could swallow me in their sadness. It was a pretty stupid list, full of metaphor that I didn't understand and imagery with too much slippage, but we were sixteen, and I loved it. I found this list kept in a box in my basement, a bit damaged by water but still legible. I glanced over the words, traced the grand, looping script and put it away again.

"This is one of those things," the letter ended. "that you are to show no one until your death bed, or until your first heart-to-heart talk with your children."

For days after everything stops, I have dreams of Mark on the fire escape outside of his first apartment, leaning his head against the brick wall, a grown-up's tie loose around his neck, the tails of his white dress shirt hanging out in the back.

I have dreams of a wall that the sun hits in the morning, and letters as large as a small plane that say to the sky, "you're welcome."

I don't know what the televisions ask or what the newspapers ask or what our awful friends ask when they see it. I don't know if anyone else takes credit for it.

I call Mark's cell from a payphone and am surprised to find that I can still reach the voicemail. I leave him instructions on dates and times, where to go, what to make of the things he finds when he gets there. I don't know if anyone ever hears it or if anyone ever shows up but I hope they do. It would be a shame for something so beautiful to go completely unnoticed.

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