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What are the Genres of Creative Writing?

The Black Bear Review boasts about accepting work in all four literary genres, but what does that mean? In simplest terms, genres are used to organize, categorize, and classify literature. The four primary genres of creative writing are fiction, creative non-fiction, poetry, and drama.

Fiction: The fiction genre includes all works conceived primarily out of the writer’s imagination. Although fiction may include some elements of reality (names of real-life towns or natural phenomena), it relies on make-believe events to drive plots that often parallel, rather than recite, real-life circumstances. Some examples of fiction form are the novel, short story, or novella.

Creative Non-Fiction: Writers of creative non-fiction develop stories based on true to life events but often infuse their own personal views and experiences in their work. Creative non-fiction pieces go beyond fact to appeal to readers through story, experience, and imagery. Some examples of creative non-fiction forms are personal essays, book reviews, memoirs, interviews, and cultural criticisms.

Poetry: Poetry includes writing meant to be heard out loud as well as read on the page. Although poetry can take many forms, its foundation is built on a balance of rhythm, imagery, metaphor, and other techniques used to communicate abstract ideas to readers. Poems may be structured (haikus, and sonnets), unstructured (free verse), or even appear to read as a narrative (prose poems).

Drama: The genre of drama can include both the fictitious and the fact. In a drama, the story is primarily conveyed through dialogue between characters. It may reference sound and movement, but much is left to reader’s imaginations. Drama includes movie scripts, ten-minute plays, screenplays, and written stage productions.

*Much of the information in this article has been taken from “Imaginative Writing: The Elements of Craft” by Janet Burroway and “Write Moves” by Nancy Pagh. We recommend looking into these books for yourself. They’re excellent resources to add to any writer’s toolbox!

Meet Our Editors

If the Selkirk Saints only had one player on the ice they wouldn’t be very successful. Here at the Black Bear Review, we like to think of ourselves as Selkirk’s Literary Saints. A team dedicated to a common goal, the publishing of a professional community literary magazine. Much like the Saints, each of our editorial team members has a position to play.

Kiala Löytömäki (Editor): Kiala Löytömäki is a third generation queer femme of Sami, German, English and Italian descent. They use the mediums of painting, poetry, writing, ink illustrations and textiles to weave together stories that bring forth messages of healing, pain, grief, beauty, and shadow. Their creations are an everlasting moment where past, present, and future collide and the cycles of birth/life/death are constantly turning.

Liv Sapriken (Editor): Liv Sapriken lives in Crescent Valley, but spends much of her time inside her mind creating a world where she can travel from one universe to the next without leaving her bedroom. She is known as someone who can’t follow rules, but prefers to think of herself as someone who knows how to weave through them. A romantic at heart, Liv is looking for submissions that entertain, evoke emotion, and fill her stomach with butterflies.

Rhianna Rimmer (Editor): Rhianna Rimmer is a second-year UAS student at Selkirk College. She has lived in the Kootenays for a little over a year and loves being surrounded by mountains and trees. She is passionate about true crime documentaries and podcasts – really anything remotely ghoulish.

Riley Polovnikoff (Editor): Riley Polovnikoff lives in Thurms, BC, and is a second-year student at Selkirk College. As an editor for the Black Bear Review, he is looking for emotion in the pieces he reviews – he wants the writing to make him feel. He also believes firmly in a good pen: the Pilot V5 Precise with the hi-tech point is his favourite. When he is not working on schoolwork or writing he could be found moonlighting as a DJ in the Kootenay area.

Shelby Rosen (Editor): Born and bred in Castlegar, Shelby Rosen is a second-year Creative Writing student at Selkirk College. When she is not studying or consuming numerous cups of coffee, she may be spotted handwriting out her thoughts and ideas or lost in a novel. She is a sucker for romance and drama and loves being a part of the writing community where vulnerability is valued and connections are always being made.

Paige Harwood (Managing Editor):  Paige Harwood is a current UAS student at Selkirk College and a two year resident of Castlegar. Passionate about both writing and editing, she is excited to be a part of the Black Bear Review’s editorial committee and help foster the talents of future Kootenay authors. It is her goal to see the production of a magazine which offers emerging writers an opening into the often intimidating world of publishing.

Almeda Glenn Miller (Faculty Advising Editor): Almeda Glenn Miller is the author of the poetry collection begin with the corners (Big Bad Wolf Press 2014) and novel Tiger Dreams (Raincoast 2002). Her short stories, essays, and poetry have appeared in Prism International, Grain, Dandelion, Event, Room, Antigonish Review, and Ploughshares quarterlies. Her Random Acts of Poetry on Kootenay Columbia is an ongoing project that began in the spring of 2015. She is currently writing a tryptch Novella – Before, During, and After – due 2019. Her other recent projects have included Big Bad Wolf Press, Black Bear Review, and White Buffalo. She has been teaching creative writing and literature at Selkirk College since 2000.

Renée Jackson-Harper (Faculty Advising Editor): Renée Jackson-Harper, B.A. (University of Toronto), M.A. (York University), is a PhD candidate in Canadian literature at York University and a faculty member in the departments of English and Creative Writing at Selkirk College. Renée is a faculty advising editor on the Black Bear Review, Selkirk College’s student run literary arts magazine, has served as a founding editor of The Pine Beetle Review at Okanagan College, and as the editor of Uncalibrated Magazine in Jasper, Alberta. Her creative work has been published in The Puritan, Contemporary Verse 2, Prism International, The Goose, Room, Event, The Trinity Review, aired on CBC Radio’s “A Verse to Summer” and on Kootenay Co-op Radio and has been longlisted for the 2015 CBC Poetry Prize and the 2016 Prism International Poetry Prize.

Laurie Carr Cover illustration

Earning Back My Stripes

For a long time, I rejected my culture and everything that connected me to it. This might have been my way of repressing painful memories of what it was like to grow up in a hurting country or just what society had taught me, that assimilation and survival of the fittest are analogous.

Now, a “hurting country” can mean many things. The Honduran people impeached our president when I was very young. That’s when I learned the word provision could be used to mean ‘all the food on the shelves that was jam-packed with preservatives, because “you never know when the grocery stores will be back in use again”’. Corruption made Honduras a hurting country. The idea that fair Latinos were worthy of promotion and hire, while  “coloured” Latinos were not,  also made Honduras a hurting country. So, I chose to pride myself in the fact that because of my mother’s Colombian nationality, I wasn’t fully Honduran. I wasn’t property of the hurting. I had a way out.

Now when I look down at my hands, I see the seasons that have weathered my identity. I see a girl who is afraid her crush will not like her because of her skin colour or because her eyes are not the colour Nicholas Sparks says they should be. I see a girl who worries if the person she’s talking to only hears the word she mispronounced. I am taken back to every moment I’ve felt alone.

I am ten years old, I have a crush on a sweet boy with light brown hair and fair skin. He looks like the boys from the shows I like to watch after school. You can find his skin colour in the box of crayons easily, so it’s not difficult to draw him surrounded by asymmetrical pink hearts. He “asks me out” the only way you can, when you’re in fourth grade, on the last day of the week. When Monday comes, I forget we are “dating” out of nervousness. He becomes angry and tells me that he only wanted to date me to make the pretty, blonde girl in the other class jealous. “Nadie quiere una negra de novia de todas formas,” he explains. “Nobody wants a black girl for a girlfriend anyway.”

I am thirteen years old, new to a middle school I never wanted to attend. I realize people romanticize the idea of mixed-race families, “halfies.” So, I quickly learn that my mixed citizenship is an asset, even if the airport control officials may not agree. When people ask me, ‘what I am,’ I answer with only part of the truth: “Half Colombian.” They quickly assume I am half white. To them, being “half” means your other half is white by default, and my family photos do not necessarily disagree. This gives me a free pass at being part of this secret club of people who get to bask in the privileges of Arian descent. I’m not lying, I am mixed; I’m just not white.

I always envied my dad’s gift of blending in with his expected-North-American look. No one has ever told him to “go back to his country.”

I am fourteen years old, I show my aunt a picture of the boy I like. “Chele, tan lindo! Pá mejorar la raza,” she says excitedly. “Fair-skinned, so cute! To better the race.” That’s the first time I hear that: “Pá mejorar la raza.” Only then do I find out that was exactly what my aunt told my mother when she married my “white” dad.

I am seventeen years old, my social studies desk-mate turns to me after I say something funny enough to make him giggle. He looks at me as he says, “You know what, Sofia? I’d date you if you were white.” I guess that was meant to be a compliment. Little does he know I wouldn’t date him regardless of the colour of his skin.

I choose to stop speaking Spanish to my siblings. It is in part for comfort and mental ease but also because I don’t want people thinking of us as “those immigrants.” I add Nutella to my arepas and prefer cheesecake to my grandma’s torrejas. I tell people my favourite dessert is pumpkin pie, not trés leches. They wouldn’t understand, anyway.

I am eighteen years old, watching the movie “Coco” at home with my sister. We’re both crying. We’ve never seen a children’s movie that portrays us as more than maids or cleaning ladies. We see culture – our culture – and appropriate representation. We hear Spanish, not the broken English my friends make fun of at school.

I am nineteen years old, and my college roommate gags at the breakfast broth my mom taught me how to make for when I feel ill or homesick. She laughs at the concept of “white privilege” and says that there’s no use trying to fix racism if it’s unconscious. Before closing the door, she says, “everyone knows white people are better anyway.”

I am frustrated with my college friends’ political views. They don’t understand those they support are hurting people like me. They don’t get that their ignorance and words hurt me and make me feel embarrassed of who I am. Their thoughts on “my kind” make one thing clear: to them, we aren’t people.

A friend makes fun of me for talking too much. Little does he know, it’s my way of “helping” people so they don’t have to waste their time wondering whether I speak English or not. I speak it. Fluently.

I am now nineteen years old, working for a human rights organization, crying over a children’s game called “In the Shoes of an Immigrant.” A game I wish had been around when I was young so I could have learned that immigration is not a sin, that not knowing the language does not make me dumb, and that my classmate covering her hair is not a sign of oppression but of pride and culture.

I am nearly twenty years old, racing against time to recuperate all the folklore and culture I have dismissed and repressed for so long. I am reading books that have been sitting on the shelf, learning back the grammar that my desire for ignorance made me forget. I am dancing again and singing Gloria Estefan at the top of my lungs. I go out in the sun freely, not scared of becoming darker. I have understood that people are people, that another woman’s beauty does not mean the absence of my own. I have unlearned hate. I understand and forgive ignorance, but I will not stand for it; instead, I advocate for education. Proper education. I advocate for equal rights across the board. I now hold onto the fact that I deserve a life of dignity just as much as any and everybody else.

This was inspired by twitter user @kimmythepooh’s post. You can find her post at https://twitter.com/kimmythepooh/status/1030606408365027334

Seed-Saving Our Family Tree

It always starts with two
Two who begin the thing
Who are the trunk of the tree
The trunk of this tree

History repeats, retreats
        Past
down the trunk rooted firmly
to feed from the first mother,
swallowing the whole of the world,
        Those grand-folk stories at twilight
back every tangled direction,
set by generations before,
        Now dirt
a family network trailed back
        Homemade
to an old-world order,
building blocks laid
13 billion years, before life,
        At the beginning of time
in a resting period
when all was pure potential,
a pairing of form not yet made.
A limbo of all-alluring beauty,
        Ah! The wait —
        Attraction beguiling
before the singularity moved
for no reason but that it could
        And why not?
– a leap into nothing
holding all the possibility of a universe,
a charging thrust,
        Creation!
the first instant, a separation.

It always starts with two         
Two who begin the thing
Who are the trunk of the tree
The trunk of this tree         

Occasion reaches forward, recreating
        Future
up, branching recklessly,
blowing in the arms of the first father,
spit forth into the whole of the world,
Raucous grandkids at        
dawn’s light        
forward every opportune direction,
stemming from generations before,
Now blossoming        
a family network expanding out
Homespun        
through birthed family order,
forming blossoms
at the tips of branches,
Until the end of time        
a flowering period
when beauty abounds,
a coupling not yet made.
A limbo of all-alluring potential,
Ah! The wait —        
Attraction beguiling
where bees will buzz
for no reason but to prosper,
And why not?        
– the leap into a pollen-rich feast
holding all the possibility of fruit,
a deep dive,
Creation!
another coming together.


 

 

        It always starts with two
        Two who begin the thing
        Who are the trunk of the tree
        The trunk of this tree

But what if the tree should be cut?
Today?
What then?
So then just go ahead —
Plant the seed
The one you’ve been saving
In your pocket
Since you last walked
The Old Growth Trail
Under the cedar

And gazed in awe at its girth,
the tangled sprawl down below the dirt
homing to a birthplace at the core,
the perfect straightness drawn up, beyond the sky
hooked to a point in the heavens
around which all-else spins.

         That old cedar.
No other will do
Inception!
Its seed-germ the recall
of all that came before, and
of trees yet to be.
Take it
Plant it
So it goes
On and on
All my relations.

It always starts with two
Two who begin the thing
Who are the trunk of the tree
The trunk of history

Laurie Carr Cover illustration

Issue #4: Launch Party! Thursday April 19

Join us on Thursday, April 19th at Expressions Cafe, Nelson for a celebration of up-and-coming local writers at the Black Bear Review launch party, featuring readings from the current issue and from this year’s winners of the Kootenay Literary Competition.

Doors at 7
Readings at 7:30
Expressions Cafe, 554 Ward Street, Nelson

Admission by donation. All proceeds go to the Black Bear Review, an independent magazine edited and designed by Selkirk College Creative Writing and Digital Arts students.

A NEW BEGINNING

New Canadians – First Place

 

On October 20, 1954, my mother and I boarded the ocean liner, Vulcania, from the port of Genoa, Italy. As I was very young, (almost 4 years old), the enormity of this trip did not fully register. However, I do have some recollections of the journey. I remember waving to my Nonno from the deck of the ship and my Mom crying, not knowing what this phase of our live would bring. I cried too, as the little white handkerchief that I was waving slipped out of my hands, and drifted slowly down into the water. The journey took 13 days, and the seas were rough. Mom did not have a good experience as she suffered from seasickness. I, however, was fine. One of the other passengers would take me to dining room for meals, and ensured that I was entertained.

On November 4, the liner arrived at the port of Halifax, N.S. I distinctly remember wet snow, a new experience for me, was falling as we entered a large, cold building nothing like the terminals at airports and ports today.

We were among the many passengers that disembarked and we stood in line to await our turn to be greeted by immigration officers. We had received clearance in Italy by immigration officers, and Canadian doctors ensuring we would be welcomed to Canada. I looked around and there I saw our big, brown wooden truck with the few possessions that we had brought with us.

The next phase of our journey was to take the train across Canada to a little town called Grand Forks, BC, where my Dad was living. He had arrived in Canada in 1953. Now a new adventure was beginning. The trip went smoothly until we arrived in Winnipeg. One of the other passengers had a young child who became ill. He and his mother were taken off the train so a doctor could examine him. As my mother tells me, the young lad had been eating too many chocolates. The said doctor insisted that we, too, were to be taken off the train. My mother adamantly protested, to no avail, that I was not ill. The porter took our suitcase off the rack and threw it out the window! Thus we had no alternative to alight from the train. Despite the fact the doctor determined that I was not ill and that we could continue on our journey, we were stranded in the Winnipeg station. By the time the doctor completed his examination the train had departed.

Mom was very upset and concerned about getting food for us. Fortunately, a kind employee showed Mom the way to a small store, not too far from the station, where she could buy some food.

The next morning we resumed our journey. It was onward through the Rockies toward our final destination, Grand Forks, B.C. There we waited until the next train arrived and we were once again on our way. As we continued o travel, I recall a couple on the train gave me a treat of salted peanuts. Mom tells me my reaction way “Non me piace”. I don’t like them!

 

It was dusk when we arrived at the Grand Forks station. I recall seeing my Dad wearing his grey hat and grey coat. As Mom and I stepped from the train, my Dad greeted us with a warm embrace. At last we were reunited!

Our small house was in a very welcoming neighbourhood. Mrs. Rossi, an earlier Italian immigrant, helped Mom when lack of English posed a problem. Hear and dear to me was Mrs. Lulu McCabe, a retired teach who kindly entertained me and helped me learn English. Mrs. McCabe and I would sit in her screened porch talking. She was so kind and generous. She was the first in the neighbourhood have a television. She invited us to watch “Don Amice” who hosted a circus show. After the show, we would be treated to tea and cookies.

Mr. James Donaldson whom we called “Mr. Jim” was also a welcoming neighbour. Shortly after our arrival he appeared at the door with a radio and his instructions to Mom to listen to the radio faithfully as this would help her learn English. In those days, there were no ESL classes for new immigrants, and so CBC became our teacher. To this day, both Mom and I are aficionados of CBC Radio. “Mr. Jim” became surrogate grandpa. Every Christmas, he would arrive at our home with gifts.

Over the years, our family grew with the birth of my three brothers. Mom and Dad continued to work hard to provide for our family. Dad became a millwright at the Grand Forks Sawmill and spent all his working days there. Mom, a talented seamstress, sewed countless garments for us, and for the ladies in the community.

My parents decided to move to Canada because WWII had devastated Italy and work was scarce. The yearning for a better life and more opportunities led them to make this daring move. Through hard work and great courage, my parents were able to provide us with all we needed. Education was their foremost desire for us. With their hard work ethic, guidance, and great love, they paved the way for us to achieve our goals and become productive members of society.

In 1986, my husband and I, and our two daughters travelled across Canada. This was an emotional journey for me as we stopped at the various cities that Mom mentioned in our family lore of our initial cross-Canada-journey, particularly Medicine Hat, Winnipeg, and pier 21, Halifax.

To this day, I thank my parents from the bottom of my heart for their courage and foresight in making this bold move. What a risk it was. Who knew what the outcome could be. This move proved to be the best thing they could have done for my brothers and me.

I am an incredibly proud Canadian and I thank Canada for calling for immigrants in the 1950’s. It is my hope that just as I was given this tremendous opportunity, our country will continue to be open and welcoming to others looking for a safe haven and a new beginning.

ABOUT AN UNFORGETTABLE GIFT

 

Adult New Canadian – First Place

Foreword:

I met the old man only once, almost 30 years ago. But his words of compassion and wisdom spoken to me in a heart-breaking situation changed my awareness of life forever. My gratitude for his gift is still present; just as much as my shame not even to have thanked him.

 

…And About Dreams, Farewells…

 

The first years of my life my family lived in a bombed-out city in post-WWII Germany. We resided in a wet, cold ruin with a shared smelly outhouse in the yard. Rain constantly dripping through the ceiling was the only running water source. However, playing in the remains of the destroyed chaos was always an adventure for us kids, scary, when we ran into traumatized adults and stranded hobos in rags and old army garment, all former rank badges carefully removed. They hunkered down in whatever shelter they found and either tried to chase us away or draw us near. Exciting, when we played WAR, the only game we knew. In fact, it was no play for us, it was real. Gangs of boys constantly and brutally fought over property control. Younger boys fought for power over housing blocks, older ones over roads, while the oldest battle for control of entire quarters in the city. Small girls like me were not accepted as soldiers but were tolerated to assemble ammunition in the form of clay and dirt balls with a stone inside. I came home always dirty, often bruised and bleeding – and got punished for returning so filthy with my precious clothing a mess. But nevertheless, next day was a war-day again.

I was six when my family moved to a small but newly-built apartment in a remote house outside of town. It was surrounded by endless wheat fields and other agricultural land, beautiful to watch when the wind moved the grains like waves. There were no playmates and playgrounds around, not even a yard or a garden. In this isolation I was lonely. The world of books became my universe which nourished my phantasies and dreams. And here my wish to have a dog became almost an obsession.

My dream unfulfilled until Ben, a beautiful short-haired black and white Border collie with tiny ears came to join my life. I was 25 then and a teacher. Three years later, unexpectedly and out of the blue, many other dreams came true.

The man I was having a love affair with called me at school.

“Could we meet after work? I want to show you something.”

It was a beautiful sunny spring day when we drove a narrow winding road to a remote forested valley just minutes outside a small village. He stopped at a dilapidated old Tudor style house romantically nestled under two big chestnut trees in full bloom and surrounded by slopes overgrown with forest and old fruit trees. Next to the house a big square pond with ducks and other water fowl nested. I could not believe my eyes when I spotted a rare kingfisher, beautiful in his opalescent feather coat. Behind the pond green meadows with flowers and willows stretched out as far as one could see with a creek meandering through it feeding the pond. Then the waters flew through a tunnel underneath the house before they fell over a huge rotten wooden millwheel. We were at an abandoned old water mill, a romantic and somehow unreal picture, just like one of the phantasy drawings in my childhood fairy tale books.

Never before had I seen a more beautiful and peaceful setting. No wonder I immediately fell in love with it.

“If you can imagine living here with me, I’ll buy the place,” my friend said.

Of course, my answer was yes.

He and I shared a great affection for nature, animals, and outdoor activities, and yes, I was in love with him. A few months later, when Ben and I moved in, the neighbour’s kids greeted me with two little female kittens, a long-haired black one with white paws and a grey tabby. I named them Black Panther and Yellow Tiger. Soon we got more and more animals and started to operate a hobby farm along with our professional lives.

My happiest moments every day came at feeding time after finishing farm work in late afternoon. I called the animals. Our horses, Dixie, my big chestnut gelding and hazel-coloured Syracuse, no matter how far away they were grazing, galloped to me at full speed. Tony, our big hand-tame deer buck and his herd of does and offspring raced to be fed by hand; the buck with his big antlers eager to get the most. Our chickens, ducks, house and Canada geese came from far and near, running, flying and swimming. Nick and Tim, my Canada geese kids, I had bred from eggs in an incubator and fostered after a fox had killed their parents, followed in my footsteps all the time anyway. Obviously they regarded themselves human rather than animal and stayed away from their bird species. Ben seriously performed his self-chosen herd-dog job gathering the sheep, Fanny and Frieda and their three little ones, who were already waiting at the gate of their pasture. The cats, four by then, watched the whole turmoil in Sphinx like grace sitting in the windows of the horses’ stables. I was perfectly happy. All my childhood dreams had become true.

I lived in my paradise for 11 years caring for my animals. But over time my partner, a workaholic businessman, and I slowly drifted apart. However, the day for me to move-out came almost as suddenly as my move-in-day a decade earlier when I learned that he had gone on a business trip with another women. Then and there I decided to leave. Within a week I arranged to join a roommate friend and her teenage son in their big old farm house. I packed my belongings, contracted a company to move my things.

A crew of three men arrived, two strong lads and an old man who looked far too weak for this kind of job. They worked hard, and although the youngsters did most of the heavy lifting, the old man did his share. We didn’t talk much. I was trying hard to keep the pain of leaving under control. From all my animals only Alex, my young Border collie, could go with me. He came after Ben and would share my life for the next 12 years.

When the truck was ready to go the old man gently touched my arm.

“I lost my wife and only son last year in a car accident,” he said in a soft, low voice. “Life goes on.” For a blink only we deeply looked into each other’s eyes. I recall his were dark, but I have forgotten his face. This very moment eased my sadness and an unexpected calmness replaced it. Not immediately, but time later after my sorrow had eased and I had thought more deeply about the old man’s words I became aware of what he had wanted me to know: whatever happens, in any situation, if we only see our personal feelings, our very own pain or happiness, we might lose the sense for what really matters in life.

Yes, I thought. I am 39, my life will go on.

 

…And New Beginnings…

 

Afterword:

 

Imagine the old man as a Gypsy Future-teller.

Let me read your palm and I’ll give you a foresight, he could have said.

 

I see how many wonderful surprises life will have for you. Very soon you’ll fall in love again. This time it’ll last. You’ll go on a big journey. You’ll quit teaching. You’ll move to a foreign country named Canada. You’ll find an even more beautiful paradise on the other side of the ocean. I see a log house in a lovely valley, at the banks of a crystal-clear untamed river, surrounded by forests of huge old trees and snow covered mountains and wildlife you never have encountered. I see you enjoying new activities. You’ll be underwater scuba diving, climbing tops of mountains, kayaking wild waters, canoeing uncrowded lakes, skiing down hills. You’ll be writing, filming and photographing. You’ll make new friends among humans and animals. You’ll be able to communicate in another language. You’ll be happier than ever. And besides, all memories of the happy old days remain to be yours for the rest of your life anyway. And at the end, looking back, it only counts what you have made of your life.

 

30 years later now. Yes, life went on better that way. And this will be another story…

Strong

Youth – First Place

 

“My time’s run out,” Queen Isdron says. The dying woman is ashen, her voice steel. “Tomorrow you will be Queen.”

Although this frozen statue has raised me since childhood, her looming death doesn’t inspire grief in me. She’s a hard woman, feared throughout her land of ice. She summoned me here tonight with a final message. At dawn, the Prophets will perform the Death Ceremony. They will cut Queen Isdron’s hair to strip away her power.

“Come,” Queen Isdron commands.

I lean down so my lips almost brush her clammy forehead. She extends a hand smelling of rot and digs fingernails into my neck. They’ll leave crescent-shaped bruises to match the ones on my forearms and back from days past. My face remains impassive, just as Queen Isdron taught me.

“I made you strong,” she whispers. “I transformed a weak Veikur Skinner’s daughter into a Queen. You can’t fail.”

I nod. Sick as she is, the terror evoked by the sight of her is only slightly less potent than usual. Her hand drops heavy to the fur blanket covering her muscular body. I have been dismissed. Hooded Prophets escort me from the room.

Vinnukona awaits me in my chamber. Like all Veikurs, her head is shaved to deter her from rising above the strong. As the Prophets have proclaimed, hair is power.

Her face hints concern as she bows. Only Vinnukona can understand my feelings at this long awaited moment. Although nothing but a Veikur servant, she has always been reliable. She was there to stave off homesickness and to soothe me when I awoke from a nightmare. When I cried, Queen Isdron punished Vinnukona for defending me.

But Vinnukona is beneath me. Any hint of affection I show towards her is a sign of weakness. So, I ignore her. I stroke Blade, hanging at my hip, and stare out the window at the snow-covered city soon to be mine. From here, the hundreds of Veikur dying from cold and starvation in the streets are concealed.

****

I dream of my Veikur family for the first time in months. I dream of the night the Prophets summoned me.

Mama had just come home, hands coloured red from a day spent skinning animals. Sakla, my sister, snuggled up behind me on a pile of scrap furs. Through a crack in the door I could see snow falling, falling, falling.

Then, I couldn’t see snow anymore because the crack in the door was filled with darkness. The door opened and Prophets seeped over the threshold. I knew they’d come for me. Mama started screaming, but she was too tired, too weak. Sakla fought so hard, her shrieks for me bled. It was no use. The Prophets took me by the arms and said, “You are to be Queen, we have foreseen it.”

****

I bolt upright, clawing air. Vinnukona is at my side in an instant.

“What’s wrong?”

“Nothing,” I snap.

My mind is a traitor, showing me the faces of the scum I came from. Queen Isdron worked hard to raise me above my shameful past.

“Are you sure?” Vinnukona presses. She cares too much.

“Yes.”

The weeks following the summoning had been painful. I even cried tears for my family. Queen Isdron spent much time curing me of the notion that I needed people. Now I know better. The Veikur are weak because of their dependence on others.

Dawn is hours away. There’s a rap at the door. Vinnukona answers it, returning with a parchment scroll. As she passes, she tenderly smooths a strand of hair sticking to my forehead. I smack her hand away.

Vinnukona’s mouth tightens. “I’m not the one you resent,” she says. “Shed this facade that Queen Isdron has created around you.”

“It’s no facade,” I say, mirroring Queen Isdron’s indifference. “This is who I am.”

Vinnukona exhales. “Surely you’re not that infected by Queen Isdron’s poison. Where’s the girl who swore never to become like her?”

I turn on her. “That girl was weak.”

“That girl could have revived this city with her bare hands.”

Ice fills my stomach, sharp and lethal. “How dare you question me! I should send you to Gilt-Prison with the rest of your Veikur family.” I spit the word Veikur.

 Vinnukona hardly flinches at my threat. She has a way of looking at me that sprouts seeds of shame in my conscience. “You forget you were a Veikur once.”

I stiffen. “I’m a Queen.”

Vinnukona’s next words are quiet. “Hatred does not equal strength.”

I snatch the scroll from her hands. Three words march across the page in Queen Isdron’s rigid handwriting.

Your last execution.

I straighten my belt and turn my back on Vinnukona.

“Fetch my cloak. I’m going to Gilt-Prison.”

****

Gilt-Prison is where nightmares spawn. The walls drip defeat and anguish. The first time I stepped inside, it was to cut the hair of a delinquent rich boy. He pleaded as Blade sheared his hair, cutting his power. The echoes of his shrieks haunt my memories.

Queen Isdron awaits me in the shadows. She sits in a wheeled chair pushed by Prophets. Her wine-ringed eyes do not waver from my face.

This is my last test. Never again will her presence turn my knees to slush. My heart quickens. Years of tortuous lessons have led to this moment.

We navigate the catacombs to a cell packed as full as a Veikur shack. The newest additions force skeletal arms through the bars as we approach.

Queen Isdron indicates a curled figure at the back. I unlock the door and stride inside. As bold as the Veikurs had been when separated by bars, they scurry away like rats fleeing winter when I enter. Blade swings from my belt.

I shove the limp Veikur out of the cell into the harsh circle of light. She collapses before Queen Isdron as I draw Blade. The weapon has taken many lives.

The Veikur hunched in the spotlight looks up and the shadows slough from her features. I can see every detail, revealing a familiar face. Gilt-Prison stops breathing.

This mess of bones propping up scraps of skin is my sister, Sakla. The girl who kicked scrawny legs at the Prophets at my summoning. I freeze. If it weren’t for Queen Isdron’s bold presence, I’d have lost my composure.

Ever since that night, I’ve been conditioned to feel repulsed at any mention of my family. But here is my sister, an arm’s length away, and I only have an urge to weep.

She has changed. Scars slash arms and legs, blood crusts over stubble on her scalp, and she’s thinner. But her eyes are alive and I detect the spirited girl from my memories.

I know Queen Isdron is amused beneath that chilly exterior.

The last test. I should’ve known Queen Isdron would never leave without making one last scar on my soul, like those marring Sakla’s limbs.

I stand before the insensible Sakla, numb to the core. The sand in my hourglass is nearly out. I must act.

Am I strong or weak? A Queen or a Veikur? Who am I?

“Have mercy on me,” Sakla says, “The cold took my mother, the Prophets took my sister. Whatever I’ve done, my life’s punishment enough.”

She hugs herself and I see my own broken reflection. That could be me, at the mercy of a ruthless Queen. In a way, she’s part of me. How can I hurt a part of myself?

Vinnukona’s words from earlier disturb my mind.

“Hatred does not equal strength.”

As a Queen there’s only one option. Compliance to Queen Isdron’s rules.

Deep in my roots though, I’m a Veikur, and standing over this lionhearted girl, I can’t remember why that’s such a bad thing.

When the Prophets summoned me, Sakla did not crumble. And over the years, Vinnukona has risked so much for my sake. What have I ever done? Surrendered to the Prophets dictations and groveled before Queen Isdron. Maybe it is not the Veikur who are weak but me. Killing my flesh and blood will not toughen my skin.

Sakla says, “Please.”

Blade falls from my hand. “I cannot do it,” I say.

Queen Isdron’s face is unreadable and an icicle of panic skewers my brain. But I also feel a sense of release. For once I have done the right thing.

Queen Isdron stands from her chair, her infirmity momentarily gone. She plucks Blade from the floor.

“What are you doing?” I ask.

“Giving you a final lesson.” She grabs a handful of my hair before I can back away and wrenches.

“What happens when a Queen displays weakness?”

Queen Isdron raises Blade to my scalp and slices through the first strands of hair.

My screams resonate louder than those of the rich boy who met the same fate. My hair falls past my shoulders and litters the stone.

Queen Isdron murmurs, “You are weak.”

Beyond the walls of Gilt-Prison snow is falling, falling, falling.