Septemus 33


Dear Sept,

What a week. I bought you a chemistry set. You’re so smart and curious. I honestly thought that it would be a good idea.


And it was, at first. You were taking measurements, mixing ingredients, writing down everything in your notebook.

I should have supervised you more carefully. I can’t believe I left you out there alone, with vials of acetone, benzene, and ethanol.

What was I thinking?


I smelled the smoke first, and when I got outside, you were calmly walking away from the fire. I panicked.


Once you were safe, your panic kicked in, and you ran screaming towards the street.

Hearing your screams forced me to focus. I grabbed the extinguisher from the porch and went at it.

“Wait on the sidewalk!” I yelled.

“Come with me, Pops!” you yelled back.

“I can’t! Just go!”


At last the fire was out.

We were both OK.


The house was OK, too, surprisingly.

The chemistry set was ruined. I’m not getting a new one.

You seemed OK. I was worried that the fire might trigger old traumas, but you calmed down pretty quickly. I was the one who was tense.

The next day, you played at the dollhouse, eyes closed and singing, like you do:

Star brother, brother-star.
Listen brother-star,
My house was on fire!


“Hear me brother-star,
I have a new house.”

“Is that a new song?” I asked you.

“No,” you replied. “It’s an old one. It’s Manny’s song. He had a fire, too, and he had to get a new house. Will we get a new house, Pops?”

“No,” I replied. “We’re staying here.”

“Good,” you said. “I like it here.”

Me, too.

I don’t know who Manny is, if he’s one of your imaginary friends or one of those that you somehow talk to when your eyes are closed.

Either way, his song brought you peace.

Sometimes I feel that we’ve got invisible helpers spread through the universe, bringing us strength when we need it–courage, comfort, resilience.

Maybe that’s who Panda, Rocket, and Manny are–some sort of connection to your first home, in a way I might never understand.


Keep being a mystery, son. You really are a star boy.


Your pops

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Author’s Note: Whose song is that? Why, it’s Manny’s, from Allysimbuilds’ Alienated!  You can hear him sing this song to Septemus in “Burn.” Thanks, Ally, for the song and for the singing!

Whisper 2.25


Dear me,

I’m still shaky inside. I’m hoping that writing will help me calm down. But it won’t make things right. Nothing can right what happened tonight.

The evening started so happy. Shannon called after the lecture to ask if I wanted to come to her bonfire. It had started to snow that afternoon, and the idea of a blazing fire while snowflakes fell had me feeling excited. Maybe we’d roast marshmallows or build snowmen–away from the flames, of course!

I was so excited I smiled the whole ride over.


Shannon was just lighting the fire when I arrived, and the heat was already melting the snow along the slope.


We played our guitars. Shannon taught me the riff to an old protest song she loved. The chord changes were challenging, and all of our attention was engaged. I loved playing with her.


I kept playing the riff, and Shannon began to improvise. The snowfall, our rapt attention, the way our music combined, I didn’t think I could get happier. And how is it that the moments of extreme happiness usher in extreme danger?


Corrinne’s screaming broke through our music. But by the time we reached the flames, we heard only the fire’s roar through the silence of snow.


I felt Death’s shadow.


So many times, I’ve seen this figure.


One of the zombies that had gathered around the fire began cackling madly.


She said horrible things–jokes I can’t bear to repeat, and she laughed until she grew hoarse.


Corrinne’s ghost smiled.


I’ll never get over the way she approached Death so gracefully, with full acceptance.


Had she done this on purpose?

Then, I heard Shannon weeping.


I snapped out of it as quickly as I could. Maybe that’s why I still feel so shook up, because I tried to be brave for Shannon.

“It was my fault,” Shannon was saying, over and over.

“It wasn’t,” I told her.

“It was. I shouldn’t have built the fire. I shouldn’t have added the extra logs. I should’ve stayed with Corrinne. I knew she was overtired and stressed out. She’d been wearing herself down all semester. I shouldn’t have bought the keg. Do you think she was drinking?”

I tried to comfort her as best I could. What could I say? We didn’t even know exactly how it had happened.

“It was an accident.” That was all I could think of. “It wasn’t your fault.”


I stayed most the night. The cops came. There were forms to fill out. There was talk of investigations and insurance stuff and whispers that the sorority would be disbanded. Shannon sat numb on the couch through it all. Eventually, she went upstairs to sleep, and I came back to the dorm.

I keep going over it… how we were so happy, and then–tragedy.

I’ve been googling “Happiness Tragedy.” “Happiness Leads to Tragedy.” “Joy Danger.” It hasn’t helped. Or maybe a little. I’m less jumpy. But I don’t have any answers. I don’t know what I can say to Shannon tomorrow to help her feel better. I don’t know why this had to happen.

This is one of those times when I could use that quiet voice that Mom said was always there, waiting to whisper to us. But when I listen, I just hear the silence and the flames.

Hang in there,


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