On Katie Byrne

Crackling energy bit the air at her approach and it was hard to miss her entrance. She had a way of striding into a room, as if into a castle under siege, she here to vanquish the enemy’s champion fighter. For armor, she wore a dark smile and snapping eyes, her sword the lightning dancing on her lips. Her battle cry was a dragon’s roar and her mighty footsteps shook the earth. Come to fight her prepared or don’t come at all. For when you clash with her, you’ll find yourself cut down with one snarky comment, bleeding out on the floor as she saunters past you in search of a worthier foe.

On Mariah Hendon

Some described her as ‘bright’ and ‘bubbly,’ and I supposed she was, most of the time. I happened to know she had a flickering blue flame trapped in a corked glass bottle, one small enough for her to hang from a delicate chain, which she wore around her neck, hiding the whole ensemble beneath her shirt.

Some described her as ‘bright’ and ‘bubbly,’ and I supposed she was, most of the time. I happened to know she had a flickering blue flame trapped in a corked glass bottle, one small enough for her to hang from a delicate chain, which she wore around her neck, hiding the whole ensemble beneath her shirt.

To my eyes, the little flame glowed right through the fabric. Sometimes, I couldn’t tell if she wore it or if it smoldered inside her rib cage, where her heart ought to be. If she caught me looking at the fire, she would hold her finger to her lips. “Shh…”

One day, when we were alone, she slipped the bottle from beneath her shirt and held it out on her upturned palm. She wore a fierce expression that had nothing to do with me and everything to do with proving the world wrong.

She uncorked the bottle and poured the fire out onto the ground, like hot, molten liquid. It caught on the dead grass and roared upward in a shower of golden sparks. In a blink, it was higher than our heads, hungry red, devouring everything.

I tasted the smoke of burned up dreams on the back of my tongue. “What is it?” I asked.

She placed dark sunglasses over her eyes in one smooth motion, the better to watch. The lenses reflected twin dancing suns back at me. She smiled and said, “Passion.”

As the fire ate the forest around us, I put my hands out toward the heat. “Passion,” I agreed.

On Joshua Kyle Watson

In a quiet back way, I met a colorful alley cat. Or, I should say, I stumbled right over him. He’d been basking in the sun in plain sight, minding his own business. Yet I, in my absentmindedness, hadn’t even seen him.

In a quiet back way, I met a colorful alley cat. Or, I should say, I stumbled right over him. He’d been basking in the sun in plain sight, minding his own business. Yet I, in my absentmindedness, hadn’t even seen him.

But then it was me sprawled on the cobblestones, surprised to be there on the ground, and him looking sidelong at me, still in his posture of relaxation but equally surprised at my bumbling arrival.

I’d expected him to run off then, as you well know cats do when they meet the toe end of your clumsy feet. Instead, he just curled his tail closer to himself and shut his eyes in apparent bliss. It seemed the warmth of his chosen sunbeam held more appeal than acknowledging my slight against him.

When I shifted to be on my way, I too found myself loathe to go. I wondered if he was a magic cat who made those near him feel content. Or maybe we were both just caught in the thrall of a lazy afternoon. Either way, I stopped there in my journey for a while and sat against the wall next to him. Until the sun had shifted down behind the buildings, we listened to the buzzing hubbub of those passing the alley who were too busy to pause and enjoy a little sunshine.

On Steven Watson

He was a steadfast guardian of all he held dear. An appraising look at the approach of a challenger. A dismissive smirk if he found you wanting; a quiet laugh when you measured up. If you didn’t get distracted by the long eyelashes, you found he had clever eyes, the sort that could pierce you down to the depths of your soul. I daresay I made it a point not to test him too often.

He was a steadfast guardian of all he held dear. An appraising look at the approach of a challenger. A dismissive smirk if he found you wanting; a quiet laugh when you measured up. If you didn’t get distracted by the long eyelashes, you found he had clever eyes, the sort that could pierce you down to the depths of your soul. I daresay I made it a point not to test him too often.

A warning: find your place with him.

For me, though, he was a warm, murmured greeting to anyone who walked in the room. Assuaged anxiety. Unless you pulled some truly heinous trick, it was impossible not to feel welcome in his presence. If he counted you among his friends, God help any of your enemies who came looking for trouble.

On Susan Amos

There was a mother bear in the language department at my university.

There was a mother bear in the language department at my university.

I don’t know what I expected from Weird Things Agriculture and Mayhem University (though judging by the name, they at least had their priorities straight). I can tell you it was not a fierce woodland creature teaching me how to pronounce “oso.” When I looked around at the rest of the class, I saw they weren’t even fazed, just copying down verb conjugations because they were going to be on the test. Duh, pay attention, Vera.

She was a mother bear not only because she had two sons for whom she would level armies with a single swipe of her mighty paw. It was also because she protected her students from the other wild things that roamed the halls. It turned out that to get around in the Business Department, you had only to keep up a steady stream of Spanish numbers in order to pass through safely, but they couldn’t be the same numbers twice. I learned this when she accompanied our class the first time, down the stairs past the Business floor. The entire time, she growled melodic accounting figures as some kind of patchy shadow thing skirted around us, hissing and spitting because it could get no closer.

I worked to commit the foreign words to memory. Someday, they might save my life. More importantly, though, they could get me that A. My bear teacher was more than willing to award good grades to those who survived the semester.

And her tests.

On Jenette Baker

When I was still a small creature, she steadied me on the back of a horse, like a solid anchor at my back, one that could never be unseated. The day I held the reins for the first time, she placed her hand over mine to help me guide our mount. If I fell off, she picked me back up, dusting me off and checking for injuries.

When I was still a small creature, she steadied me on the back of a horse, like a solid anchor at my back, one that could never be unseated. The day I held the reins for the first time, she placed her hand over mine to help me guide our mount. If I fell off, she picked me back up, dusting me off and checking for injuries.

She had a healing way about her hands. All the neighborhood kids would bring little injured animals to her, asking her to save them. Half the time she knew it was too late, “but I will try,” she would say. She’d cup the baby bunnies and mice in her warm palms and feed them every couple of hours. All day, all night. When they didn’t make it, she shed tears for them. When they did, she joyfully released them back into the wild.

I learned how to dig small graves in a corner of the property, but it wasn’t a very big graveyard. She saved most of her patients.

Hands wrapping wire around a t-post. Hands digging holes to plant flowers. Hands playing with puppies, petting horses, clasped in my dad’s hands. Wrapped around me in a hug. These are my memories of her and of her strong, capable hands. With them, she could do anything.

On Acacia Munn

If my sister was a tree, then this woman was the wild wind in her branches.

If my sister was a tree, then this woman was the wild wind in her branches.

How she soared. Like an oil-slick Camaro down an empty, lamp-lit highway, all contenders eating her exhaust fumes. She had cool factor in spades, from her black eyeliner to her skinny jeans to her mouthy attitude. You might tell her how to live, but she wouldn’t listen. She had her own way to go.

A woman like that, raising a couple of kids… I know someday, she and her family will be hell on wheels, burning rubber on their way to global domination along the world’s fastest racetrack.