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We all experience death and loss. We lose those we love. We cry, we sob, we mourn, and then we carry-on. Forever, long after the gaping wounds have scarred over, we bear the marks of the grim reaper’s sickle deep within our souls. These stories give eloquent witness to that most private of pains. Our own death looms on the horizon; sometimes the final foe loiters ominously near, imminent like an impending storm; sometimes—happier times—this foe rests in the unconscious recesses of our minds, abiding there like some distant and nearly forgotten nightmare. At all times, death menaces us with its inescapable tentacles. This volume explores—neither fully embracing nor coyly evading—the mysterious forces that pull us toward finitude, toward life’s inevitable demise. If you’ve confronted the glint of the grim reaper’s eye or if you mourn for those who have paid the last full wages of mortal existence, this volume aches with you. These stories were written for you. William Walz’s “Far From Home” narrates a deeply moving journey toward death, an elderly man’s final return to the home of his youth. It contains, I do believe, some of the most stirring prose that has ever passed before human eyes. Michael Bitanga’s “Last Call” records a conversation with the voice of death itself, the lead character bravely offering the inquiries that most of us ponder—but fear to vocalize. In “Shadow in Peripheral Vision,” F I Shehadi boldly investigates that glimpse of something that we almost see from time to time. This presence, an image only vaguely caught in the corner of one eye, is our own death. Nothing is more senseless than war’s orgy of death. Karen Scott’s “Prayer for the Dying” mourns the meaningless losses and bloody gore of war in Scotland’s kilt-clad past. Tom Stiner weeps with those who can neither accept nor deny the sudden loss of one so-loved. “If I’m Not Here When You Get Back, Call Me” opens with a note of throbbing pain, then crescendos with peaceful release. Few writings on death portray the utter emptiness of death more directly than does Mason Shoen’s “Olive Grove.” Death leaves physical holes in the souls of those who mourn the pointless absence of life in Shoen’s gripping account. Losing anyone is difficult, losing a parent is overwhelming. Memories—undimmed by the passage of time—provide pungency to the mourning in Scott Evans’s tale of becoming an adult orphan. The mere thought of a lost spouse—a nightmare reaching into her nocturnal unconsciousness—is enough to haunt Melba Pena-Davis’s literary self in “Haunting Memories.” Even when her frightened awakening removes the nightmare from Pena-Davis’s lead character, she is left with the sure and certain knowledge that she has been granted only a temporary reprieve from death’s terrors. Even though a decade has passed since we experienced the collective trauma of 9-11, that event—its needless horrors, its noble sacrifices, and its cruel murders—still lingers in our personal and social psyche. Joshua Lane’s “The Day the World Tuned In” gives us yet one more opportunity to grieve over the corporate losses we experienced on that day of national despair. Finally, J P Behrens helps us to explore the pained and confused mind of a troubled high school valedictorian. In “The Final Statement,” Behrens allows a tortured teenage mind to speak his final piece about school-bullying, parental disregard, and social isolation. It is with respectful pleasure that we present these stories to our readers.
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